Oil (Sufficiency)

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th June 1979.

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Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West 12:00 am, 11th June 1979

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the United Kingdom to be self-sufficient in oil.

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

I expect North Sea oil production will reach the same volume in 1980 as United Kingdom oil consumption. However, imports will still be required of grades of oil not available from the North Sea.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

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?

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

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.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedford

Would not the Minister agree that the question of self-sufficiency is a bit of an illusion as we have to import the heavier oils? Does this not involve a problem of presentation if the public fail to appreciate the need for restraint when we have an abundance of oil available from the North Sea?

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. Self-sufficiency can only be maintained by means of swaps. Since the North Sea oil is the light end of the barrel, there will always be a requirement for certain imports of heavier Middle Eastern oil in order that the refining model may be followed.

Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East

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?

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

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.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

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?

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

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.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

Will the Minister consider incorporating oil in the common agricultural policy to ensure that there is always a surplus?

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

No doubt the whole question of oil will be related to other questions within the EEC.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock and Port Glasgow

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.

Photo of Mr Hamish Gray Mr Hamish Gray , Ross and Cromarty

The Government are at present carrying out a general review of oil policies. A statement in accordance with their findings will be made in due course.