Oral Answers to Questions — Opec

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd May 1976.

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Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex 12:00 am, 3rd May 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has plans to meet with his colleagues from the OPEC countries.

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

I have discussed matters of mutual interest with representatives of OPEC countries on a number of occasions and will continue to do so as opportunity offers. I have, however, no specific plans for such meetings in the near future.

Photo of Mr Timothy Renton Mr Timothy Renton , Mid Sussex

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?

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

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.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that an independent Scotland will be a net exporter of oil and that England never will be, and that Scotland will therefore he eligible and England never will be?

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

I am sure that Sheikh Yamani and others will note with interest what the hon. Gentleman said.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

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?

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

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.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East

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?

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

I can only say that no ministerial consideration has been given to an application to join OPEC—though as to the presidency of OPEC it would be open to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) to apply for that individually.