Now that Britain is an exporter of oil and is to be an exporter of liquefied petroleum gas, has the Secretary of State given any thought to the possibility of our seeking to join OPEC at some stage in the future? If we were to do so, and if our membership were to be accepted, would we not be able to play a very useful part in forming OPEC's future policies?
There have been a number of rather jocular references to British membership of OPEC, which subject has certainly highlighted Britain's entry into the world oil producers' league, and by 1980 we shall be the tenth largest oil producer in the world. The Government have no plans to join OPEC. On the other hand, it is a fact that our common interests and the common experience that we can offer, world-wide, in the export of equipment and in other ways indicate that our voice will be listened to—and I think that it is already listened to with some interest in other oil-producing countries.
When my right hon. Friend meets some of the leaders of these ex-colonial territories, will he tell them that the recent arrangements that have been made in respect of the Gulf-Conoco deal are not an example of what he intends to do in the future about further participation plans and that not only shall we have the ability to purchase the oil, which at present we have got only from the Gulf-Conoco deal, but we shall also, under the new participation plans, control it as well as own it?
My hon. Friend will remember that, in the case of the Gulf-Conoco agreement, the National Coal Board—the NCB (Ex)—was a one-third full partner in the operation, and therefore the participation deal with Gulf-Conoco reflected that public participation to the full extent of the one-third. In the case of the arrangements with Burmah, the BNOC is acquiring the Ninian field and it has been agreed that Burmah Overseas Development Limited will have a majority BNOC stake. I think that as my hon. Friend observes the development policies he will see that there is some merit in flexibility, though our intention to acquire a right to 51 per cent. of the oil is one that is embedded in Government intentions.
Has the Secretary of State forgotten that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), said that Britain would be seeking to join OPEC, and specifically said that he did not make his reference jocularly? Has Government policy changed, or is the Secretary of State indulging in yet another demonstration of his interpretation of collective Cabinet irresponsibility?