HC Deb 22 June 1959 vol 607 cc851-3
48. Mr. Stones

asked the Paymaster General what is the estimated cost of the liquid methane experiments; and to what extent an estimate has been made of the effects on future demand for coal.

Mr. Maudling

On the first part of his Question I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on 14th May, 1959. It is too early to attempt an estimate of the effect, if any, which the use of liquid methane might have on the gas industry's consumption of other forms of fuel.

Mr. Stones

Is it not a fact that large shipments of liquid methane gas coming to this country will prove very costly and probably hazardous in the broadest sense? Is it not also true that large importations of methane gas will seriously affect the mining industry, particularly the mines around Durham which have been affected over the last few years? Are we not in danger of casting away the substance for the shadow?

Mr. Maudling

No, these are still experimental shipments and the point is to discover whether it is possible, as it may be, to produce gas for the consumer at substantially lower prices by the importation of this methane than it is produced at present.

Mr. McKay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that production of coal up-to-date this year has been about 3½ million tons less than last year? Is he aware that consumption of coal is about 8 million tons less and, therefore, we are over-producing? Is it not true that if opencast mining were abolished we should still have enough coal? What do the Government intend to do about this important question?

Mr. Speaker

I understand the Question is about methane.

Mr. Woof

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a recent successful experimental shipment carried enough methane gas to supply a town with a population of 40,000 for twelve months? Does he agree that there will be economic and social consequences inevitably arising through this stage of advancement? Does he not think that further development of this commercially exploitable process ought to be given much more serious consideration?

Mr. Maudling

I cannot confirm offhand the figures the hon. Member has given, but I agree that this is a very serious matter. The point is that the Gas Council is now conducting experiments. When those experiments are ended, it will be necessary for the Gas Council to put a proposal to the Government. Then we shall be able to consider the technical, economic and social consequences. I am sure it would be right to continue the experiments and to find the facts first.

49. Mr. Woof

asked the Paymaster- General to what extent recent information in the hands of his Department gives reason to believe that the importation of liquid methane will prove both success ful and economic.

50. Mr. John McKay

asked the Pay master-General what consultations have taken place between the Gas Council and the Government regarding the importation of liquid methane.

Mr. Maudling

There was full consultation between my noble Friend and the Gas Council before he agreed that the possibility of liquid methane proving a valuable and economical addition to our gas supplies justified the present experiment. An assessment of the results of the experiment cannot be made until the trial shipments are completed.

Mr. McKay

While the Government are considering this matter, do they realise that with this importation of cheap gas and cheap oil they are killing the mining industry and creating a position in which there will be serious trouble if something is not done about it by the Government?

Mr. Maudling

I do not accept, nor does the National Coal Board, that we are killing the mining industry, nor that we should deny that there are possibilities of a cheaper source of supply.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Do I understand that there were consultations between the Ministry and the Gas Council over the development of methane? The Ministry is responsible for fuel and power. Are there to be consultations with the National Coal Board, the Generating Board and all who supply fuel and power?

Mr. Maudling

The Gas Council asked permission to carry out certain experiments which we considered to be of a highly enterprising character, and my noble Friend was quite right to give it permission to do so.

51. Mr. Mason

asked the Paymaster-General how many shipments of liquid methane have been brought to this country; whereabouts this is being stored; and whether he is satisfied that all precautions have been taken in the interests of safety.

Mr. Maudling

Two trial shipments have been landed, and much of the liquid methane has been used. Temporary storage is at Canvey Island. Safety is receiving paramount consideration at all stages of the experiment.

Mr. Mason

Whilst recognising that this is an experiment which has new dangers, because of the concern there is about it, will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House, first, what the dangers are both in transport and storage, and, secondly, in view of the questions which have been asked, will he inform the House of the coal equivalent of these shipments?

Mr. Maudling

I think I have already answered the point about coal equivalent, but I could not give that offhand. This is a delicate experiment and we are gaining experience on how better to handle it with complete safety.

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