§ 29. Mr. Macfarlane
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the Chairman of the British National Oil Corporation.
§ Mr. Gray
When the Secretary of State next sees Lord Kearton, will he point out to him that there is considerable concern among many of the oil companies which are engaged in consultations with the BNOC regarding participation agreements about the autocratic attitude being adopted by the Corporation? Will he point out that that is not likely to encourage companies in their future development programmes and will he condemn such an attitude?
§ Mr. Benn
Every little murmur of criticism by the oil companies against Britain and British oil policy has been amplified and expanded by Conservative Members. Every one of their predictions about the impact of our policy on the development of the North Sea has been proved wrong. If the Conservative Party thought about the national interest instead of simply the commercial interests of the international oil companies, this country would make a lot more progress.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Will the Secretary of State please convey to the Chairman of the British National Oil Corporation that the growing disquiet arises because the BNOC has so far given no clear indication of what it will do with the fast accumulating stocks of crude oil in this country? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that that is why Professor Odell has been recently added to the long list of his Department's employees?
§ Mr. Benn
I employed Professor Odell because I believe that he has a notable rôle to play in advising me on the relations between other Governments in the world and the oil companies with which they deal. The problem is not the problem that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it was that we inherited a situation in which not one drop of North 12 Sea oil was as of right available to the British people. That was the position which we have had to correct. The disposal of the North Sea oil which the BNOC has is a matter of great concern.
§ Mr. John Garrett
Has my right hon. Friend asked the Chairman of the BNOC for a report from his technical staff on whether the depletion policies and procedures being used by the international oil companies in the North Sea are in the national interest?
§ Mr. Benn
One of the problems of depletion policy is determining how to use the instruments available in such a way as not to damage the investment but to see that the oil is used and that the pace of development conforms to the national interest. In the draft document which is going to the Energy Commission on 28th November—it was published two or three weeks ago—there is a passage on that. I shall send a copy to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Watt
When the Minister meets the Chairman of BNOC, will he discuss the situation arising in the North Sea, where many of the standby vessels are operating under flags of convenience and, as a result, do not have to abide by any safety regulations? Is he aware that many of the vessels are unseaworthy and the crews untrained in first aid? Will he impress upon the chairman the necessity of the oil companies employing only vessels that fly the British flag?
§ Mr. Benn
This point has been raised with me, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have no powers to determine the vessels employed by the oil companies, and we are therefore limited as to what can be done. However, I am trying to get trade union representation extended offshore because, on safety matters, union representation is the best possible guarantee that safety regulations will be carried out.