§ 7. Mr. Kenneth Carlisle
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to introduce an eighth round of licensing for North Sea oil exploration.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Hamish Gray)
We are considering what further exploration opportunities on the United Kingdom continental shelf might be made available, but I cannot yet say what the timing will be for an eighth round of licensing.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. Will he tell the House the up-to-date position for onshore licences? Will he confirm that there is considerable interest in onshore licences, apart from what is in prospect for the eighth round, and that we as a nation should seek to develop all potential sources of energy?
§ Mr. Gray
Onshore exploration continues to attract considerable interest. For example, 102 exploration licences, 39 production licences and 14 mining licences are currently in force. Since coming into office the Government have awarded nine new production licences and 43 new exploration licences. A number of further applications for both types of licence are currently under consideration.
§ Mr. Stoddart
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the remarks recently made by Mr. Philip Shelbourne, the chairman of the British National Oil Corporation, on taxation and on the inability of the corporation, and perhaps other oil companies, to invest in future exploration?
§ Mr. Marlow
On the most likely assumptions about future discovery and depletion, for how long will this country be self-sufficient in North Sea oil?
§ Mr. Rowlands
Did not the Government sell British companies short in the seventh round? Were not less than 40 per cent. of the operatorships offered to British companies, and was not less than half the equity interest given to British companies? Will the Minister at [east reverse that trend in the eighth round?
§ Mr. Gray
The seventh round has been an unqualified success. More than 123 companies applied, which was an all-time record. The proportion that has gone to British companies is extremely creditable. The main point at issue is whether the trend to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be reversed in the eighth round. I do not see how it would be possible for us in the eighth round to make better progress than we did in the seventh. However, w hen the time comes, we shall see whether the round attracts the same interest.