HC Deb 20 March 1940 vol 358 cc1992-7
Mr. Attlee (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can make a statement on the steps he is taking to secure the most effective use of home-produced substitutes for imported fuels.

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

Yes, Sir. The effective use of home-produced substitutes for imported oil is a subject of such wide scope and importance that it calls for the mobilisation of the best technical and business experience available. I accordingly appointed Sir Harold Hartley as honorary adviser on the development of home-produced fuels and asked a number of leading representatives of industry, finance and technical science, under the chairmanship of Sir William Bragg, the President of the Royal Society, to make a rapid survey of the subject in the light of war conditions. Within a month this authoritative body completed its survey, and on its recommendations the following six specific problems are being investigated simultaneously:

  1. (1) The production of oil from coal by synthetic processes, under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Sir W. Jowitt);
  2. (2) The products of low temperature carbonisation, under Lord Henley;
  3. (3) The liquid products of high temperature carbonisation, under Mr. Davidson Pratt;
  4. (4) Alternative fuels for internal combustion engines, under Major the Viscount Ridley;
  5. (5) The development of the use of colloidal fuel, under Mr. Irvine Geddes; and
  6. (6) The more efficient use of fuel generally, under Sir Clement Hindley.
Interim reports were asked for wherever possible in order that immediate action might be taken. I have in fact received a report on the recovery of benzole. This report indicates that already additional crude benzole is being recovered at the estimated rate of 15,000,000 gallons a year, and that an extension of voluntary effort should secure a further 12,000,000 gallons a year. I should like to express my appreciation of what has already been done by voluntary effort and to appeal to those who are not doing so, to recover all possible benzole. The maximum production of benzole of all qualities is urgently required in the national interest.

A most valuable survey has also been completed which shows how our production of tar creosote and pitch can take the place of imported fuel oil and bitumen to the extent of some 300,000 tons in the current year. Arrangements have already been made for making use of these products in this way.

The House will appreciate that a number of highly qualified men are giving a great deal of time and thought to this work, and I wish to express, on behalf of the Government, gratitude for their valuable assistance. I am circulating a fuller statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Attlee

Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that on any recommendations made very vigorous and immediate action will be taken?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, I can give that assurance, and I think it is borne out by the fact that having received some interim reports, action has at once been taken which will result in obtaining in the current year some 32,000,000 gallons of substitutes for imported oil.

Mr. Shinwell

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that he has said nothing about the production of synthetic petrol and that there are many existing installations which are not in operation that could be put into immediate operation if the Hon. Gentleman cared to take the necessary action? Is he also aware that he has spoken only of a number of laboratory experiments similar to numerous experiments that have been conducted over a long period of years, that the time for laboratory experiment is past, and that immediate action is necessary if we are to become less dependent on imported fuel?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The synthetic processes he has mentioned are under examination with a view to action by the committee under his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyme (Sir W. Jowitt).

Mr. Higgs

Is my hon. Friend aware that the statement he has made will be received with considerable satisfaction by the industries concerned and that business men will be gratified to know that the Minister is making use of external technical experts?

Mr. A. Edwards

In view of the fact that there is a general impression that this committee is favourably disposed to the Fischer-Tropsch process, will the hon. Gentleman give special attention to what is called the synthetic oil process, which has been developed in this country, which has all the advantages of the Fischer process, which is almost identical with it, and which, if it were developed here, would not have to pay fees abroad?

Mr. Lloyd

This process is also under examination by that committee.

Mr. Batey

Why did the Minister appoint these committees to deal with low temperature carbonisation and hydrogenation when there are already plants at work in this country? Have we not sufficient knowledge and experience of these processes without wasting time in making further inquiries?

Mr. Lloyd

The question is whether or not they ought to be extended.

Mr. Mathers

Is the Minister taking into account the value of the contribution that can be made by the Scottish shale oil industry?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Shinwell

Should there be any doubt in the mind of the Minister and that of the Government whether the experiments which are already in operation should be extended in what is necessarily a war emergency? Does not the hon. Gentleman think that in the circumstances we had better have a full Debate on this subject?

Mr. Messer

Do the inquiries include the production of methane gas, and has the hon. Gentleman seen the report of Middlesex County Council, who say that they can produce it at 11d. per gallon less than petrol?

Mr. Lloyd

That is included in the Inquiry into alternative fuels for internal combustion engines.

Captain Alan Graham

Seeing that most of these processes came before the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research at least 15 years ago, and also came up for consideration during Lord Baldwin's first Government, 1924–29, can my hon. Friend explain why, in view of the urgent necessity which now exists, speedier action has not been taken?

Mr. Lloyd

It must be understood that the value of these various processes for practical application on a large scale varies considerably and that one of the things which is being considered at the present time by practical men and technical experts, is the best way of developing processes that are really useful.

Mr. Attlee

May I give notice, in view of the vital importance of this matter to the country and the need for action being taken, that we shall raise the matter at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Batey

May I ask—

Mr. Speaker

Notice has been given that the subject is to be raised in Debate.

Mr. Batey

Yes, but this is very important.

Following is the fuller statement:

In November, 1939, Sir Harold Hartley, C.B.E., M.C., F.R.S., was appointed Honorary Adviser to the Mines Department on the development of home-produced fuels, and, early in December an authoritative body, consisting of leading representatives of industry, finance and technical science, was set up to consider and review in the light of war conditions the scope for the substitution of imported fuels by home-produced fuels and to recommend what detailed inquiries should be undertaken with a view to securing the best use of home-produced fuels in war-time.

The Chairman of this Committee was Sir William Bragg, O.M., K.B.E., P.R.S., and the members were as follows:

Lord Cadman, G.C.M.G., D.Sc, LL.D.; Sir Harold Hartley, C.B.E., M.C., F.R.S.; Lord Hyndley, G.B.E.; Sir David Milne-Watson, Bt, LL.D.; Sir Edward Peacock, G.C.V.O., D.C.L.; Lord Perry, K.B.E., LL.D.; Sir Thomas Royden, Bt., C.H.; Mr. George Thomson.

In a unanimous report, submitted on 8th January, 1940, this Committee made a rapid survey of the fields into which detailed inquiry might usefully be directed, and recommended six specific problems for prompt investigation, which could best be secured by the appointment of six separate committees to deal with the problems concurrently. In pursuance of this recommendation the inquiries were at once set on foot, and the committees have been at work for some time past on the questions remitted to them. The terms of reference and constitution of the committees are set out below.