Oil companies are not the most popular group in the House, on either side of the Committee, and it is a demonstration that the Government have the right answer in the Bill that there has been no criticism from any hon. Member about the fact that the Government have seen it right to give some £800 million back to the industry over four years. The silence and the lack of criticism constitute praise of the Government and a recognition of the strength of the industry's case. They are also recognition of the major role that the industry is now playing within our economy.
I remember that the Chancellor in his Budget speech tried effectively to put the North sea and the contribution of the oil revenues into the context of the overall economy. We should not forget that about 200,000 people are employed directly in the North sea, either by the oil companies or by the oil supply companies. Many hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the companies that make the hardware that goes into new developments. We should not forget that the oil industry has a fine reputation for ordering from United Kingdom companies. I recognise that the right hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) had something to do with level of ordering from the United Kingdom, as did my hon. Friend the Minister. None the less, the oil industry has played the game as regards ordering from the United Kingdom
I give an unreserved welcome to the changes. Over the past two years I have never made any secret of the fact that I have been extremely unhappy with the level of taxation on oil companies, particularly those oil companies faced with developing new and marginal fields. I admire the way in which the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) presented what was undoubtedly a rather difficult case, because he could not be seen to be overtly supporting the oil companies but he had to acknowledge the logic of the Government's case. I rather regret that when we went through the same arguments this time last year in Committee the hon. Gentleman did not feel able to support the various amendments that I moved, arguing for a reduction in oil taxations.