HC Deb 22 July 1974 vol 877 cc1026-7
11. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with the present structure of the power producing industries.

Mr. Varley

I announced on 11th July the change which I consider most urgent—the creation of the British National Oil Corporation. I have no further plans for immediate change but recognise that adaptations may be required to meet new situations.

Mr. Steel

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of a new Electricity Act, which would encourage both local authorities and private industry to generate electricity and enable both them and the present electricity boards to sell heat as well as power?

Mr. Varley

That is an interesting suggestion, which I shall consider.

Mr. Tugendhat

Reverting to the answer about the British National Oil Corporation, do the Government believe that there is a place for United Kingdom-owned and United Kingdom-based private enterprise concerns in the North Sea? In view of the "ring fence" provisions in the White Paper—obviously the Secretary of State will have to flesh them out a good deal—there is grave concern among many private enterprise concerns that the Government intend the BNOC to have a monopoly of the British stake in the North Sea.

Mr. Varley

That is not the case initially. Certainly the corporation will take charge of whatever participation can be negotiated in existing licences. It will be the Government's agent when we take participation in future licences, and I envisage that it may well have licences in its own right, but that will probably take time.

Mr. David Stoddart

With regard to the electricity industry, is not the present situation in which we have a board responsible for generation and other boards responsible for distribution a most unsatisfactory way of running the industry? Will my right hon. Friend consider the unification of the industry?

Mr. Varley

Certainly over the last four months we have been busy on coal industry policy, North Sea oil and gas policy, and nuclear policy. I hope that in the months ahead I shall be able to turn my attention to some of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and by my hon. Friend.