I wholeheartedly agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has said about welcome proposals. We are talking about 11 changes. In all fairness, the Government have met more than half of the requests made by the industry. Admittedly, it is a last-minute repentance. Indeed, they have inhibited the development of the North sea in the past two or three years. My right hon. Friend mentioned the suggestion that every six weeks there would be a new field. That means, at the very best, that there would be an agreement by the Minister—what is called the annex B sanction — every six or eight weeks. I would be very surprised if that were bureaucratically possible. Nevertheless, I accept that we are talking about smaller fields than we approved in the early 1970s.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is very loyal to his Government; indeed, excessively loyal at times. On the other hand, he can be extremely bold in his candour about them. The Government have failed several times to deal with oil taxation. However, on this occasion, I agree that they have done very well in the Bill. I certainly would not criticise the provisions. We are told that the amendment is to act as a peg. It will not involve voting, but offers a means to talk about petroleum revenue tax. I hope that the Government will consider petroleum revenue tax and the possibility of a fall in the oil price.
The hon. Member for Canterbury spoke about oil prices falling from $39 to $29·50 a barrel. That 50 cents is important. If Nigeria has difficulty with its oil sales, the chairman of BNOC has warned us that we might have an oil crisis, even over 50 cents. In that case, the Government would have to admit fairly quickly that, although PRT has not changed, they would have to respond to a drop in oil prices. Fortunately, no Government have had to face up to that yet. They have always had to deal with rising oil prices, and therefore with companies making a lot of money. However, falling oil prices would have a substantial effect on companies. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has not given in on the basic rate of PRT, but that he will keep a careful eye on it if the oil price drops.
The Government have not given an inch over the taxation of the smaller fields. I refer to the fields mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, which we shall develop in the next 10 years. They will be tiny compared with the splendid Brent and the Forties fields. There will be smaller fields of less than 100 million barrels. Therefore, we should tax them less. The industry must find out how to get the oil out more cheaply. That is a problem, not for the Government but for it. However, the Government have a serious problem in deciding how to tax the smaller fields in a way that will produce the yield in volume of oil and also revenue. After all, there is a possibility that the North sea oil province will become very unattractive to overseas investors.
I am sorry about the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Canterbury. The Government have given inspiration to the industry, not so much by what they have done arithmetically in the concessions, but by giving the impression that, despite what they said in opposition, they are not willing to tax the oil industry for ever and ever, amen. They now realise that they have gone too far. The hon. Member for Canterbury talks about the eleventh hour—or perhaps it is the twelfth hour. The Government have just managed to stop the fall-off in North sea development. We have just managed to stop the spread of international opinion that the North sea oil province is not worth investing in, because taxation is too onerous and there are other attractive provinces elsewhere. I give the Government credit for that. For two years they have been sinful, but the fact that they have been converted to Christianity at the eleventh hour is a blessing, and we should rejoice in that. I agree that what they are doing is quite sensible. However, the Government should consider further not only the price of oil—which I hope will not change — but the so-called marginal fields. The oil industry expects them to look closely at that.
We often forget that the gas fields in the shallower seas, particularly in the Southern North sea, are possibly at risk if we do not look more closely at the structure of taxation. It is proper and correct that we, the elected representatives of the people, should demand a proper return to the people from the development of these resources. At the same time, we cannot, by our insistence, and against ourselves, impose taxation that is too high. That is just silly. The Government have awakened to the fact at last. They have made a great advance in the Bill but there is a little more still to do.