Is it not an utter scandal that the Secretary of State and the Government are attempting to destroy the fine partnership between the British Gas Corporation the British Petroleum, which has developed the best offshore oilfield that we have? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the current negotiations, and in particular what part he has played in them? We have been told time after time that this is a commercial decision by the British Gas Corporation. Why have the right hon. Gentleman and his Department been having secret meetings with some of the bidders to control them so that they present an acceptable bid?
The principle of the matter has been debated in the House on several occasions. It has been voted on, Parliament has decided and it is now up to the British Gas Corporation to carry out the will of the House of Commons and Parliament. The British Gas Corporation sought my guidance on the bids that it received, and in formulating that guidance it was necessary for me to seek some elucidation of the bids.
This has been a very important revelation, because time after time Ministers have said that this is nothing to do with the Government, and everything to do with the British Gas Corporation. Which bidders has the right hon. Gentleman met? Did he ask the British Gas Corporation to meet the bidders, or did he seek to meet them in order to achieve an acceptable bid?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is well understood in the west midlands that the Government wish to dispose of Wytch Farm and to encourage exploration in the North sea, but that those who are dependent upon lower oil prices would not wish the Government to give the impression that they can influence the price of oil so as to keep it up and would much rather that the Government state more clearly that the price of oil is dependent upon market forces?
Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that he has put no pressure on the British Gas Corporation to reduce its valuation of Wytch Farm? Can he assure us that the valuation is a proper one, given by a nationalised industry acting in the nation's interests? Whatever conversations the right hon. Gentleman has had with the bidders, can he say that in the last analysis he cannot refuse British Petroleum if it wishes to buy Wytch Farm?