It is sad that the hon. Gentleman did not attend the meetings of, or hear my remarks before, the Select Committee. I said that it would have been perfectly possible to have done what he suggested — there is here a straight political divide between myself and the hon. Gentleman—but that we saw no point in keeping it in being if its function was simply to trade in oil at the market price, a function which others were perfectly able to do.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is devoted to state organisation and interference in trading in this and other matters. However, so long as BNOC is not performing the function that it had before in relation to avoiding destabilising the market, and is simply trading at the market price, that purpose is, in our view, outdated. I am sorry to have to repeat that, and I do so for the hon. Gentleman's benefit.
Clauses 4 and 5 and schedule 3 make the financial provisions to enable the agency to perform the responsibilities that I have described.
I have paid tribute to the effective way in which the staff of BNOC have worked in the past. The board of BNOC is paying particular attention to the question of assisting the staff, the majority of whom will have to move from the corporation, although, as I have pointed out, some staff will be needed for the new agency.
The board has already told its staff the terms of the compensation arrangements for those who become redundant. That is a matter for the board, but I understand that the terms are in line with benefits paid by oil companies generally when staff are made redundant.
During April, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Mr. Roy Grantham, the general secretary of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff, and discussed the genuine anxieties felt by the staff. The corporation is providing special counselling services to help those who will become redundant. I am sure that the board will do all that it can to ease the transition and to solve the genuine problems faced by those whose careers will be disrupted as a result of the Government's decision.
The Bill is a direct consequence of changes in the oil market. Given those changes, although BNOC served an extremely useful purpose in the past and, as I have acknowledged, served it well, I do not believe that there is any longer a need to maintain a public body to carry out the activities that I have described, many of which can be equally well carried out in the private sector. The new small agency will be better geared to the limited functions that we are retaining. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.