I am delighted to say that we have received 115 applications covering 81 blocks in the 12th round of licensing. In addition, 37 companies have applied for acreage covering a further 66 blocks in the separate frontier round for the difficult areas north and west of the Shetland islands.
This is my hon. Friend's first question since his knighthood and I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate him. It is undoubtedly true that a stable, fiscal regime, predictable and well-established criteria for licensing and an oil and gas market that maximises private sector investment are the keys to economic success. Some of the interventionism in the oil and gas market which the Labour party has made it clear that it would deploy would be counterproductive to the success record of the 1980s continuing into the 1990s.
Our interventionist policies concerning the safety of men and women who work on rigs and platforms are far superior to those that the Government put into practice.
On the licence negotiations, must not companies satisfy the Government about the environmental impact of their work? If so, could not the Government institute some of the recommendations in Cullen at this stage of the negotiations—for example, recommendation No. 17 on page 390 of the Cullen report which talks about the need to implement safety regulations and goal-setting objectives? Why do not the Government introduce some of those recommendations now?
First, there is no question about the Government's commitment to implementing measures that will enhance safety in the North sea. The Government have been quick to respond fully to the Cullen report and to make it clear that safety is the No. 1 priority and that the recommendations will be implemented in full.
If the hon. Gentleman connects his specific point with his first point about interventionism, he will note that Lord Cullen recognised that it was vital that private sector operators should provide a safety case for each platform and should set up a safety audit and that, working with our outstanding inspectorate, they should have the assistance of the public sector to ensure that we enhance safety in the North sea.
As for environmentally sensitive blocks, the operators in the licensing round who wish to develop those quadrants must ensure that their environmental case is sound and persuade my colleagues in the Department and Ministers that that is the case.