Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that, when we produce enough oil for our own consumption, we shall retain enough of it so that we do not become the only net oil exporter in the world with oil shortages?
The policies which will be followed at that time will be monitored carefully by the Government. At present, many of the contracts entered into were engaged upon some time ago. Obviously these will be reviewed in the future.
Does the Minister not think it lunatic that oil will be exported during the 1980s whereas there will be a shortfall of about 50 per cent. in the 1990s, when the United Kingdom will be importing oil which may be difficult to obtain and very much more expensive? Does he not think that the Government should try to change the policies which have been in force?
The latest estimate of oil production in 1980 is between 90 million and 110 million tons. It is unlikely that Britain will remain self-sufficient after the 1990s, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's estimate is accurate.
Why should the French, who have no oil resources, seemingly have enough oil for their inhabitants, while we in this country have to go short? Can the Minister explain why the Conservatives are now suggesting that Government intervention is needed to resolve this problem instead of allowing free market forces to operate? Or is that what he is trying to tell us now?
The hon. Gentleman has misinterpreted what he reads in the press. It is certainly not the position that this Government are advocating intervention. Quite the contrary. We have laid down certain guidelines for oil companies, consumers and distributors. At present, these are working without too much difficulty. We are confident that our position in this matter will ultimately prove successful.
Will the Government seriously consider making an early statement on depletion or conservation policies for oil? We do not want to export enormous amounts of oil in the 1980s and be left with little oil in the 1990s.