HC Deb 28 March 1960 vol 620 cc1034-65

Considered in Committee.

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]


7.10 p.m.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, at the end to insert: Provided that none of the additional moneys authorised to be borrowed by virtue of this subsection shall be applied for the purpose of the purchase, importation, or distribution of liquid methane gas. We put down this Amendment to elicit information, rather than from the point of view of opposing the Bill, because of the apprehensions which exist particularly in the coal industry. During the Second Reading debate the Minister referred to the importation of liquid methane on a commercial scale and said that critical examination would be given to such proposals.

We are worried about this development. We should like to know what amount of the money to be borrowed is to be devoted to building bigger shins to be used for the importation of liquid methane, and what will be the effect on the coal industry. A short time ago there was talk among important people in the gas industry of ships of 20,000 tons to be used to carry liquid methane to this country. That statement was made during the election by the then Chairman of the Gas Council. Such a policy would lead to a huge reduction in the consumption of coking coal. At present we are faced with the closing of 240 pits in a period of five years, and I remind those hon. Members who favour licences for private mine owners that such owners would have to carry some of that burden.

The County of Durham produces gas coal. There, under existing conditions, the manpower in the coal industry is to be reduced to about 70,000 by 1965. If, in addition, we have to face the possibility of liquid methane being allowed to come into the country in the proportions which are envisaged, the position will be worsened. In Durham there are large modern collieries on which thousands of pounds of capital have been expended. They have a hundred years' reserve of coking coal. The production at those collieries will be affected if the contemplated imports of methane are sanctioned, and the manpower will be still further reduced. The coal will be left in the ground and our miners will be unemployed.

The collier trade has faced bad times because of the competition from oil and it will receive a further blow if liquid methane is imported into this country. The collier trade on Tyneside and Weir-side will be affected and there can be no hope of ship owners building coastal vessels if the future trade for such vessels is taken away.

Again and again I have raised the question of the ever increasing importation of fuel which makes us dependent on imported fuel while our indigenous fuel remains under the ground. I believe that policy to be dangerous both from an economic and a strategic point of view. It should be the duty of Parliament to see that we make the best use of our own resources. We fear that the sum mentioned in the Bill includes an amount of money to be devoted to the future development of liquid methane imports. I say to the Minister that such a policy is a death sentence on the Durham coal field, and that many people now employed in the gas industry will become unemployed.

7.15 p.m.

It is argued that liquid methane must be imported in order to enrich our gas, but is that really the case? Or is it that the Gas Board wishes to use the possibility of importing liquid methane as a threat to induce the Coal Board to sell coal at uneconomic prices? I have heard experts in the gas industry say that they want a free choice to enable them to buy in the cheapest market, because they consider the price of coal to be too high. I heard of that policy years ago when it was described as a cheap fuel policy and it caused distress and havoc in my county. Can the Minister tell us whether any of the money is to be spent on the building of ships designed to be used for the importation of liquid methane on a far greater scale than at present?

The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill indicates that the Minister has considered the pro- gramme of expenditure of this money. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether any of the plans envisaged will result in a further contraction of the coal industry in Durham because of the importation of liquid methane gas on a large scale? We have put down the Amendment because we apprehend that the future for coal will be bleak, and the further importation of liquid methane will worsen the position. This is a "bread and butter" question for the people who work in the mines in Durham, and therefore I seek an assurance from the Minister on this point. Our job should be to ensure that our own coal is used. I should be grateful if the Minister, with his knowledge of the schemes involved, will allay our fears or give us some information on the point.

The Minister of Power (Mr. Richard Wood)

I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). He said that the Amendment had been put down, not because of any opposition to the Bill, but to get enlightenment. I appreciate his attitude, and I hope to be able to provide the enlightenment for which he asks and remove the fears which he has expressed so that there will be no need to carry this Amendment to a Division.

I understand very well—indeed, I said so on Second Reading—that apprehensions may be entertained by a number of hon. Members about the possibility of the importation of liquid methane. I certainly understand those fears as expressed by hon. Members who represent Durham constituencies. The position regarding coking coal in that county is one which we are watching with immense care. Anything which may have a considerable effect on the demand for coking coal must cause apprehensions in the minds of hon. Members who represent Durham constituencies.

I tried to express my views on the matter during the Second Reading debate. I hope I shall not go over too much of the same ground now in giving to the hon. Gentleman the answers which appear to me to be convincing in the present circumstances, and in the absence of any demand from the gas industry for these importations of liquid methane on anything but a trial scale.

First, I ought perhaps to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to page 5, paragraph 6, of the Gas Council's brochure, "Gas Looks Ahead", the last two sentences of which says: It is impossible to say accurately how the present plans of Boards will require modification should new supplies of gas and methods of production begin to be introduced in conjunction with a National Grid". These are all possibilities which I mentioned in my speech on Second Reading. The last sentence of that paragraph states: Any such modifications would fall within the later years of the present programme, and an amount of £25 million has been included to allow for them but has not been allocated to any particular Board. The Committee will appreciate that proposals of this kind, which the Gas Council may make to me in connection with the possibility of importing liquid methane are similar, although not the same, to the unknown proposals which it may at a later stage have to bring before me in connection with such things as a national gas grid. For the moment, I must direct my attention and that of the Committee to the possibility of these imports being proved to be economically beneficial and to seeing whether, in fact, there may or may not be a case for them.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested to us that these imports would definitely reduce the demand for coking coal, and he has gone so far as to say that they would be the death sentence of the Durham coalfield. For various reasons, I cannot agree with such a summary judgment. I can see a number of situations in which, as I think the hon. Gentleman would agree, the importation of liquid methane would not necessarily lead to a corresponding reduction in the use of coal.

First, there is the possibility that methane may be a source of very cheap gas. That will at least be agreed as a possibility by all hon. Members. This would be to the great advantage of the gas industry. Methane would also introduce the advantages of being free from sulphur and carbon monoxide and, in so far as it created a genuine new demand in these ways, it would not be detrimental but actually beneficial to the coal industry. That is the first reason why I believe the hon. Gentleman's judgment is too summary to be wholly true.

Secondly, these imports, if they took place, would be very largely used to meet the peak load or other requirements. This peak load and the other requirement which I have in mind are normally, as the hon. Gentleman knows, supplied by carburetted water gas or oil gas. Therefore, if methane imports replaced them they would not be replacing coal but replacing oil, and that, I think, from the point of view of the coal industry would also be beneficial.

Thirdly, there is the important consideration which the hon. Gentleman mentioned of processes of total gassification, such as Lurgi, which produces lean gas and which needs enrichment either by methane or some other enricher. Therefore, methane in this case would seem to me to be likely to help to maintain the existing markets and possibly increase them for gas made from coal.

These are the arguments which, in my opinion, entitle me to take a perfectly open view at this moment of the possibilities of methane gas. But as I said in the debate on Second Reading: The appraisal of this experiment … calls for a very high degree of critical care. It may be some time before the Gas Council puts its proposals to me. When it does so, I undertake to examine them urgently and to report to the House as soon as I can."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 253.] If after such examination—which I should certainly do with all the claims of the coal industry and all the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention tonight in mind—it becomes quite clear that liquid methane gasified in a particular area could have substantial economic advantages, I am bound to admit I should then find it profoundly difficult to justify refusal to use it and a decision to use indigenous resources, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, regardless of cost in a nation such as ours, which is bound to exist, live and thrive on international trade.

I have given an undertaking, and I hope I can convince the hon. Gentleman that it is with great sincerity, that the whole future of the coal industry and of the gas industry, which is very important to the coal industry, is bound to be taken into consideration if and when such proposals as we are considering at the moment are made to me. I believe, as I said on Second Reading, the criticism of liquid methane at any price viewed the matter too narrowly. If, in fact, methane led to a rejuvenation and a new lease of life for the gas industry and assistance to the gas industry, as I believe it may, it may not be detrimental but actually beneficial to the coal industry.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his careful answer to the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) placed before him. It is, of course, quite natural, if the quantities of coal which the Gas Council will be using are reduced from 65 per cent. to 55 per cent. in a few years, that my hon. Friends, from the Durham area especially, and, indeed, from the whole of the coalfields, are worried as to where this process will eventually lead us.

There are even wider considerations than that. I recently listened to experts discussing world fuel supplies. One expert opinion assesses the amount and. indeed, the life of natural gasses as very short indeed. They believe that the exhaustion of world supplies of these gasses is going ahead at a very great pace. If that is so, it would be a great mistake to base our future planning development within the gas industry on a type of fuel which may quite speedily not be available to us.

In contradistinction to that, we also have the fact that when we look at efficiency in coal burning it is the case that that efficiency has gone ahead far more rapidly in the last decade than in any other period since we have had a mining industry. Therefore, following that case at the moment, it appears to be an easy way out of our problem to import methane, but we may well be overlooking the long distance view, which may be a complete inability to get such gasses because of the rate at which they are now being exhausted, the relatively low supplies in the world and the increased efficiency with which we can now use coal.

One sees, for instance, in the United States that there are very big increases of coal-burning in the power stations which are now being placed nearer to the coalfields. This kind of development may, in some strange way, bring us back to the point where, given a continuance of these developments, there could be very little doubt that coal for the production of electricity, gas and so on would be a far better economic proposition than many of the new ideas for replacing coal.

7.30 p.m.

When we look at the fact that shortly there will be such a terrific call on the world's fuel power supplies as other nations become manufacturing nations, it is as well to remember that at the moment one-third of the world's population is using seven-eighths of the world's supply of power. I follow the point made by my hon. Friend that in this connection we have one indigenous product, coal. We all know that as mechanisation increases throughout the world it will not be possible for such a relatively small proportion to burn up so large an amount of the world's power supplies. We may be investing in types of fuel which will no longer be available in a relatively short space of time. In that wider setting we also have to deal with problems of the gas industry.

The right hon. Gentleman gave what information he could on the question of the importation of methane. I take it that he does not yet know whether it is considered to be an economic proposition. We should like to know whether he has yet received any plans of any type from the Gas Council. For instance, does he know of any efforts to replace the methane "Pioneer"? How many voyages have taken place so far? Is it contemplated that there will be boats of greater tonnage than the methane "Pioneer" to make the importation of methane a more economic proposition? One hears this and that on this subject. In the coalfields the stories go around and cause very considerable apprehension among coal miners, who very naturally are worried about this matter.

If it is possible, either now or in the immediate future, to give us further information as to the state now reached by the Gas Council on the question of building larger ships or anything of that type, although it would be bad news if the right hon. Gentleman said that was to be done, nevertheless we would far rather know the position than have the present apprehension.

I hope the Council itself will be seized of the fact that there is this enormous increase in the efficiency with which we are now able to burn coal and that there are dangers of what may now look a rather fanciful modern scheme in a short space of time turning out to be not what it appears. My information from scientific sources is that natural gas is now being used at such a pace that, in comparison with the amount of gas reserves, it cannot go on for a very long time. If that is so, I would have thought it a far better proposition to invest more in our home indigenous fuel, coal, than in imports of this kind.

I have no intention of pursuing this matter, but I ask that the right hon. Gentleman should keep us closely informed on these developments. If he can give more information on the points I have raised I should be grateful to him.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I have the honour of representing more than 75,000 electors in this House. Among them is my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). I want to support the point of view he has put forward this evening.

From time to time we see passing this House colliers going to the Wandsworth Gas Works for the South Eastern Gas Board. The day before they pass here they start in my constituency. They bring coal from mines there, among them the one in which my hon. Friend served his time in the coal industry. At one time that colliery company and Wandsworth Gas Council, which has been absorbed into the South Eastern Gas Board, were closely interlocked both in their directors and in the people who held the capital of the two concerns. Therefore, it is a matter of the utmost concern to my constituents and other coal mining constituents in the Durham coalfield as to what happens on the issue which has been raised by my hon. Friend.

I am bound to say that the more the Minister of Power sought to reassure us the more alarmed I became. Because this methane would greatly popularise the use of gas, it was thought that that would lead to a greater consumption of gas coal. That seems a rather peculiar deduction to draw from the high testimonies which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the qualities of methane as a gas producer. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring, said that he did not intend to pursue the matter very far tonight, but it would be wrong for me to leave the Minister under any delusion that this is a matter which is not giving the very gravest concern throughout the whole of the County of Durham. I can speak of that from my personal experience and the experience of other mining areas which in the past have supplied fuel to the various gas undertakings of the country.

It is no easy thing to meet miners after their experiences in the years between the two wars, still with a haunting feeling of fear when they see anything that tends still further to deteriorate the prospect of employment in their industry. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is one thing for him to make the speech he made here tonight where we are far from a coalfield and another to repeat that statement in an area where men know that their livelihood depends on what is to happen. I ask him to realise that there is a very deep anxiety which broods over the areas where coal has been mined for a very long time for the production of gas. Sometimes they are unable to take the kind of philosophic view which the right hon. Gentleman asked us to take this evening.

They are not Luddites; they are people who have given their lives to this great industry, which was at the basis of our nineteenth century prosperity. Men now in the industry have seen their position as the primary producers of the wealth of this country being steadily whittled away by the competition of other fuels and other ways of producing power. They have served this country well in the past in circumstances of daily danger, as we all know, and they are entitled to be considered by the Minister and his colleagues in any decisions which have to be made.

Mr. Wood

I hope that I did not give the impression when I spoke earlier that I did not in every way share the kind of concern of which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has reminded us. I think I said that I appreciated the apprehensions which must be felt—particularly with memories of less pleasant times—when any suggestion of this kind is made or is considered a possibility.

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to remind the Committee, looking at it, perhaps, in the opposite way from the way I first looked at it, that both my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I, on Second Reading, I think, spoke about the immense fight which faced the gas industry. I think that that statement of ours won a certain amount of approval in the House and hon. Members generally agreed. The industry is up against it. It has a fight on its hands, and I hope sincerely that it will fight successfully. I am quite certain that my own approach should be to give the gas industry every chance— I hope that, here again, I shall carry hon. Members with me—to compete successfully with other fuels and to win the fight. If the gas industry could show me that liquid methane was likely to be of very great benefit to the industry, I do not believe that it would be either right or wise of me to refuse it.

Indeed, if I asked the gas industry to go into the fight with at least one of its hands tied behind its back because I would not agree to something which it thought likely to be beneficial, then I should be guilty not only of being unfair and unwisely treating the gas industry, but I should be rightly blamed by those, like the right hon. Gentleman, who are interested in the coal industry, because, if the gas industry does not succeed and does not win the fight, the coal industry will be about the greatest sufferer. That is why I am quite sure that I ought to look into these proposals, if or when they are made, with an open mind, having very much in view the sort of considerations which we have discussed this evening.

The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) asked me several questions about the possibility of building other ships, and so forth. In the absence of any proposals—none has yet been put to me by the gas industry—I am unable to answer any of his questions except the one he asked about the "Methane Pioneer", which referred to the past. The "Methane Pioneer" has made seven experimental voyages. I understand that it is not to make any more experimental voyages. The gas industry is assessing the results of those trial cargoes before making any proposals, if, indeed, it does have any to make to me. That is the only answer I can give the hon. Gentleman.

On Second Reading, I promised that, when proposals were made, I should certainly take an opportunity to report them to the House so that the House would be able, by Question and Answer or in other ways, to express a view upon them. I repeat that undertaking tonight.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)

I rise to make only a short speech because I heard the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) remark that it would be extremely unwise to base the fuel and power policy of the United Kingdom on the supply of natural gas because, he said, the supply of such gas may be exhausted in a very short time. Of course, we hear this argument weekly, monthly and even yearly, and, in my view, its validity must be assessed in two ways—from an assessment of the proved reserves which are available, and the possible reserves in the world.

It is right to remind ourselves that, so far as oil is concerned, Kuwait was not an oil producer until 1945, yet the reserves of oil located there are roughly equivalent to those in all North America, Central America and South America. Natural gas is a valuable product in the United States of America, in Canada, in Venezuela, where it is flared, in the Middle East, in Hassi R'mel, Algeria, in Libya, and at Lacq, South-West France. There is no question about the available supplies drying up in the years to come. It is inexhaustible in supply.

The other point made is that we should make the greatest use of the resources we have available from home and abroad. My right hon. Friend put the point succinctly and quite advisedly, in the best possible way. First of all, he has to decide upon the feasibility of the experiment and then to decide whether the experiment would lead to a reduction in costs. Against that background, we must remember that it is the duty of the Gas Council to supply the community with fuel at the cheapest possible price and give the best service to the customer. If it is to work towards that end, the use of natural gas may lead to a valuable source of fuel.

Another factor which should be underlined is that methane, not containing carbon monoxide, is non-toxic; in other words, it can kill only by asphyxiation. Also, being lighter than manufactured gas, it tends to rise very rapidly and is, therefore, less likely to lead to explosion than manufactured gas. Moreover, the calorific value is very much higher than that of manufactured gas which we have in the United Kingdom.

I hope that, in the years ahead, if a proposition is forthcoming, the Gas Council will consider a vessel of 10,000 tons, or perhaps 20,000 tons, which would make it an economic proposition. This should be carefully examined. We must consider all our fuel supplies comprehensively and, on this basis, the gas industry has a close interest. The gas industry is run by one of our national corporations which must pay for itself; it exists on a competitive basis and, for that reason, we should endorse any sound policy which it advocates.

I appreciate very well the apprehension felt by the National Coal Board but, in this context, let us look back a few years to 1896 when the Flag Acts were repealed. There was much controversy then because, so it was said, the motor car on the road was a menace to the horse and carriage, and a man with a red flag was obliged to walk in front of it so that the car should not exceed four miles an hour. People said that the motor car was a menace and it ought to be put off the road—

The Temporary Chairman (Dr. Horace King)

Order. We are not discussing the motor car industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to the Amendment before the Committee.

Mr. Skeet

I was referring to the motor car, Dr. King, to show that we have to be in keeping with the times. If we find a source of fuel which can be advantageous to us not merely in the 'sixties but perhaps in the 'seventies, we should look at it from that angle. There is, naturally, apprehension in the coal industry, but, on the other hand, we must look to the future to find anything which may work to our national advantage. That was the reason I in- troduced the subject of the motor car and the Flag Acts. It was simply to illustrate how legislation can impede innovation.

I think I have made my argument sufficiently clear and I need not on this occasion reiterate what I indicated on a former occasion when I said that we should give the Gas Council an opportunity of trying this experiment because it may be much to the advantage of the whole community.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

Speeches of the kind we have just heard from the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) cause a great deal of apprehension. The hon. Gentleman, apparently, is concerned only about economics and costs and he is not at all concerned about social consequences. There is no advantage to this nation in saving 10s. a ton on coal and paying £3 or £4 a week to an unemployed collier. We must strike the proper balance in these things.

I wish to reinforce the views expressed by my hon. and right hon. Friends. South Wales is as much concerned as Durham about this matter, as I am sure the Committee will appreciate. We heard this story a long time ago. It applied to coke ovengas in the first place. We saw coal not being taken to the small gas works. The gas works were being shut down. At the same time, we saw the waste gas which used to be burnt in flares above the coke ovens being piped into the gas system. That could be justified, although it had very serious consequences. It was a product of the coal. It did not have the social consequences of the introduction of liquid methane gas from Canada, or wherever it may be.

What has not been taken into account is that this is a matter of obtaining material from hard currency areas.

Mr. Skeet

Would the right hon. Gentleman say that the Middle East and the French zone are hard currency areas?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am speaking of the operations of "Pioneer" which is fetching gas from the hard currency areas. If we are to believe a member of the Gas Council who came to South Wales a fortnight ago, he said that "Pioneer" had made seven trips and the Gas Council was engaged upon evolving permanent plans with no indication of the economic side. If we are to import methane gas on a large scale, what are we to do with coke oven gas?

All these matters should be balanced. I do not object to the Gas Council carrying out experiments to ascertain what is right on balance, not purely in the interests of the Gas Council but in the interests of the national economy. Certain things may be very much in the interest of the Gas Council but they may damage the national economy in general. If this is to be the method, we must ensure that the social consequences of its introduction are adequately considered. We do not want to keep men in the pits. We want to give them a chance to live. It is unwise and uneconomic to introduce a system of this sort and save a bit on gas but impose something upon ourselves at great social cost because we are not prepared to consider the consequences.

I ask the Minister to ensure, when he makes his report to the House, that the Gas Council, in putting forward its plan, will let us know the economics of the matter. We want to know how much will be involved. We want to know the cost of gas provided by the coke ovens. The Llanwern plant is coming into operation in South Wales. This, I am told, will produce so much gas that it will knock out many of the generating plants in the Midlands. It is no use bringing in methane gas if the gas from the coke ovens is to become surplus to our needs.

I hope that these considerations will be kept in mind. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that no new method should be introduced until we are in a position to deal with the social consequences. It will be of no benefit to this nation to have derelict valleys in Durham or South Wales in order to save a "bob" or two, or part of a penny on a therm of gas.

Mr. Blyton

As we have a chance to return to this matter, and although the Minister's reply was not reassuring to me, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lee

I beg to move, in page 1, line 15, at the end to insert: Provided that no order shall be made by virtue of this subsection unless the Minister is satisfied that adequate financial provision has been and will continue to be made for a comprehensive programme of research into the technical and commercial possibilities of the total gasification of low-grade coals. As I said on Second Reading, I have the greatest admiration for the way in which the Gas Council is tackling a very difficult problem and the imaginative way in which it is setting about the job of carrying out more and more research. This Amendment is not to be taken as a criticism of the efforts which we are happy the Council has made. We require more information on the important subject of the total gasification of low-grade coal.

We know from the 1959 Report and from the pamphlet which the Council produced that some work is being done on the Lurgi plant. We know that the Council is hopeful of being able to burn much more low-grade coal than has been possible in past years. While we agree that the Lurgi plant is probably the best thing that we have had so far, we are also conscious of the fact that the Council has not, as yet, told us that it intends to expand beyond those plants in Scotland and the West Midlands. Great stocks of coal are piling up, many of them of the low-grade type. Whether or not we agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) about the rate of deterioration of these stocks, it is, nevertheless, obviously right to find a vehicle which will enable us to utilise as much low-grade coal as possible at the earliest possible moment.

We hope that the Minister will say something about the extension of the two existing plants. This matter is tied up with much of what the Gas Council stated in its Report about the need for a national gas grid. These things are allied, and, while we wish the Council well with regard to what it has done up to now, we should like to know about its plans for the future to give a bigger supply of gas from the total gasification of coal.

These are the reason for the Amendment. We hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that, while the Council has carried out these two projects, it looks upon them merely as a pioneering and experimental effort which will be speedily followed by an extension of this development in the industry. I imagine that all sides of the Committee would welcome such an extension.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

The Amendment refers to the technical and commercial possibilities of the total gasification of low-grade coals". The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has applied himself only to total gasification in plants of the Lurgi type. He made no mention of the total gasification of coal underground, which is a matter of equal importance.

Between 1946 and 1951, the Chief Scientist's division of the then Ministry of Fuel and Power spent very large sums of money at a place called Newman Spinney, near Chesterfield, in firing underground thin and generally sulphurous; or gassy seams of coal which it would be uneconomic to mine as coal and bring to the surface in an endeavour to sell commercially due to the poor grade of the material and the high ash content. Experiments were then conducted in my constituency, at Bayton in Worcestershire, in an extensive area west of the River Severn, where a fault had left a large number of thin and sulphurous seams of low-grade coal lying close to the surface and in many instances totally exposed. On one occasion the then Minister of Fuel and Power, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd), and I myself visited the experimental plant at Bayton, and it was actually running and producing gas on a modest scale between 1951 and 1954 when mysteriously it was totally closed down.

8.0 p.m.

My purpose in intervening in the debate on the Opposition's Amendment tonight is to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to say what has become of all these experiments. We spent very large sums of money. I know not whether the money was spent by the Ministry or by the National Coal Board or by the Gas Council or by the gas boards or an amalgam of all of them. But the plain fact remains that in many parts of the world, notably the U.S.S.R., they deal with their low-grade coals, which it is not an economic proposition to mine and sell commercially as coals, by underground gasification and by feeding the resultant coal gases into a gas grid or main which is a very easy and convenient method of total gasification, but below ground and not above as in the Lurgi plants.

Mr. Lee

The hon. Member is referring to a very important matter. I remember when we had great hopes of that here. I wonder what his information is on this? Mine is that economically it was quite a failure here. I think in the Soviet they have much wider seams.

Mr. Nabarro

I have read all the extensive technical reports on this matter and in certain parts of the country it was not deemed to be an economic venture. The plain fact remains that we have invested very large sums of money on a national gas grid and bringing to the surface and mining by conventional methods substantial tonnages of low-grade coal with a high ash content which is then carbonised at gas works or burned at power stations. This was the object of the experiments on low-grade and thin coal seams in my own constituency and in the Nottinghamshire coal field. There is an opportunity here for the National Coal Board in proper co-operation with the local gas boards. The resultant product is coal gas, of very high quality —I am told, much higher quality than is produced from a Lurgi plant—when fed into the gas mains.

I would ask my hon. Friend whether in his reply he will tell me, first, what was the total capital expenditure at Newman Spinney near Chesterfield and Bayton in Worcestershire on these extensive experiments conducted over a period of seven or eight years on total gasification underground of low-grade coals. Secondly, I should like to know whether it is the policy of the North Coal Board or the gas boards or the Gas Council or an amalgam of all of them to continue underground gasification and on a commercial production scale. Thirdly I would ask, if the answer to the second question is negative, why not?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. J. C. George)

The speech of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) on this Amendment reflected the great anxiety felt about the future of the coal mining industry especially among those who live in the mining areas. I fully understand the desire to be assured that everything possible will be done to press on to make the best and widest use of our main indigenous raw material. Here at least is one subject on which there can be no difference of opinion. I willingly accept the responsibility for the Government and the nationalised industries concerned to press on with all zeal to that end. I think we all—the Government, the nationalised industries and the Opposition—speak with a united voice. One need only look at the publication of the Gas Council, "Gas Looks Ahead" to see how the Council looks at this very important matter. In paragraph 20 it says: The main object of the Council's research in the field of gas production is the development of new processes which can make use of poorer quality coals and of alternative fuels as raw materials. The total gasification of oil and coal at near atmospheric pressure and at high pressures is being studied, and pilot stage work is now in progress. The Council adds towards the end of the paragraph: … it is expected that in due course total gasification will be the major method of gas manufacture… During the Second Reading debate my right hon. Friend made his position quite clear on this important matter of research into the total gasification of coal when he said: These needs for new developments in the industry underline very clearly the importance of the research that is being carried out. A fairly wide range of research is being carried out at present. There is study in many directions of high-pressure reactions of both coal and oil with steam, oxygen and hydrogen. I have already mentioned the Lurgi process. Again, there is the possibility of hydrogenating coal to produce a complete town gas."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March. 1960; Vol. 619. c. 254–5.] The Gas Council repeats these assurances in its Annual Report for 1958–59. In paragraph 27, referring to the experimental work which is being done at Partington it says: The ultimate objective of the experiment, however"— which is a very big experiment indeed— is a process for the hydrogenation of coal … Everything indicates that all concerned, all who are affected by the future, all who can devise research, are very much seized of the need to press on as fast as possible in finding ways and means of using the cheaper, lower grade coals by the method of total gasification and, as the hon. Member for Newton said, there is every evidence of the sincerity and eagerness of the Gas Council.

Already we have two Lurgi plants being built. He suggests that I should tell him something about the future with regard to extending the use of the Lurgi plants. I would say that I, as an individual, felt that to go on from the Lurgi plant at Westfield and the second at Coleshill before we had any real experience of operating these expensive units in this country would be taking a bit of a risk and that it would be unwise to rush and build up these plants in many places till we had some experience. The fact is that we shall soon have some experience because the Westfield plant is expected to come into operation in the autumn. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that everything is up to schedule there, and we shall soon begin to get experience and gain confidence.

I can assure him that the gas boards in other areas are studying the possibilities of extending the use of Lurgi plants, but it has to be remembered that the Lurgi is a plant which cannot be built just anywhere. It must be built where there is a large, adequate supply of cheap coal. Therefore, we cannot paint a picture of the plants spreading all over Britain, but the evidence is there that everyone concerned is seized of the importance of extending research into the use of low-grade coal by gasification.

My right hon. Friend's predecessor was anxious about the subject a long time ago and appointed the Wilson Committee. We are eagerly awaiting the Wilson Committee's report on all aspects of the further uses of coal, and we hope that it will give attention to the hydrogenation process as well as other means of extending the use of coal. We eagerly await this report, and hope that the Committee will pronounce on the usefulness and advisability of extending the research at present being practised.

It must not be felt that because there is a desire for a greater amount of research into the gasification of coal there is not a lot being done already. A great deal is being done. The Lurgi plant in a way is research itself. A great deal of money is being spent on research into a slagging gasifier to improve the Lurgi process and get it to work at higher temperatures and give a higher quality gas. The keenness of all concerned is evident. The Amendment would add nothing to that keenness. When one considers the capital programme for research which my right hon. Friend must approve and one notes the numerous items which come under that heading, on which my right hon. Friend has to decide with the advice of his Scientific Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Fleck, I think that it would be inappropriate to single out this one item for attention and write that fact into the Bill.

I appreciate the keenness to see research being extended, but I do not think that writing this into the Bill would make anyone keener than they are today. Between now and the making of an Order there will be an opportunity for the House to see whether this keenness is being kept up and research is being carried out, but the whole subject is being covered by the Wilson Committee, and it may wish to point out what other roads we can follow to achieve the end of using low-grade coal. Between now and the coming into force of an Order made by my right hon. Friend there will be time to judge the Minister, the Gas Council and the boards on the question raised in the Amendment.

As to underground gasification at Newman Spinney and elsewhere, serious attempts were made to find whether it was an economic process. A fair amount of money was spent. I cannot at the moment give my hon. Friend the Meanber for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) the total sum, but I will write to him and give him the actual expenditure. The final decision to cease operations was made on the ground that the project was uneconomic and that no good purpose would be served by continuing the investigation.

Mr. Nabarro

Who made the decision that it was uneconomic? My hon. Friend was not at the Ministry at the time but he will recall that the experiments were conducted by the Chief Scientist's division at his Ministry. Who decided not to continue with underground gasification? Was it the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the National Coal Board, or the Gas Council?

Mr. George

My hon. Friend will recollect that after the initial experiments were carried out, the process of underground gasification was turned over to the National Coal Board, in association with private interests, and at the end of the day the decision not to proceed with the experiment was made by the National Coal Board.

Mr. Lee

I have no wish to press for any further explanation and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Lee

Before we part with the Clause, I should like to raise one further point. In the course of our discussions we have agreed on both sides of the Committee that we are looking at what we hope will be a comparatively new gas industry. We hope that before long the gas industry will be using more modern methods than have been possible hitherto. We know from reports we have had of the very great successes which have been achieved by each of the twelve area boards in establishing a more rational system within their own boundaries and a system of new piping which has made for a safer industry and an industry in each of these areas which gives the public a far better quality service than was possible before.

Now we are entering a phase in which we are all looking at the possibility of a national grid rather than a regional organisation. Has not the time come when we should look again at the organisation of the industry? I take second place to none in my admiration of what the twelve boards and the Gas Council have done. They have done an extremely fine job, but if we are to reach a point when gas will be produced from coal at greater distances than ever from the areas where it will be burned and an era when we shall see the development of a national grid, in the sense that we have it in the electricity industry, it may well be that the time will come shortly when we had better look at the structure of the gas industry.

At present we have the Gas Council and twelve practically autonomous boards looking after the regions. Now we may be able to look at the industry from a much more national point of view and it may well be, because of the changes which we know are coming, that it would be better for us to consider whether the existing type of organisation gives us the best returns in national terms.

The Times newspaper published a leading article on this very subject on 21st March. Some of us had been discussing this matter for weeks without actually deciding whether or not we should raise it in the House, but The Times said: When the Act was passed the present technical circumstances were not envisaged. At first sight they would seem to point to the usefulness of creating a body for gas analogous to the Central Electricity Generating Board. The case for this is strong. But whatever administrative changes are made it is desirable that they should provide adequately for co-ordination not only within the gas industry but also, where it is appropriate, between all the nationalised fuel producers. I think that is a very wise suggestion. It may well be that the time has come when with advantage we could look at the structure of the electricity industry—

The Temporary Chairman

I do not like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the debate is going a little wide of the Clause, especially if the hon. Gentleman intends to talk about the electricity industry.

Mr. Lee

I am using that, Dr. King, as an illustration of something which I wanted to point out about the future of the gas industry and of what we may well desire to see in the industry if we are to have national results as distinct from the great successes which we have had regionally up to now. I have taken the opportunity on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", to suggest to the Minister that the Gas Council may well care to look at this matter. I do not know whether we can ask for a report on it, but I should like to know the reactions of the Gas Council and of the Minister to a type of development which, at first glance, I should have thought would have been appropriate in the new period into which we are now moving.

Mr. George

I am sure that the area boards would be heartened by the com- plimentary things which the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has had to say about the new gas industry, for, indeed, a new gas industry has been created since a very high proportion of present output comes from modem plant. I agree with the hon. Member that it is a safer industry, and every day the Gas Council is seeking ways and means of making it safer for the future. It is an industry with a great tradition, which undoubtedly has been helped in recent years to transform itself so as to face the future with confidence, while appreciating the battle which lies ahead.

The hon. Gentleman then looked into the rather distant future. When one talks about the national grid and about mighty gas-making units built in our coalfields, one is not talking of tomorrow but of a fairly long time ahead. Of course, it is right that we should talk about it, because it may be that in present-day developments the foundation of a national grid could be laid and eventually come to fruition at the time when we can achieve mighty units situated in the coalfields.

I would think that the pattern drawn up when the industry was nationalised has shown itself to be a sound one, and it is worthy of note that very soon gas will cross the boundaries of the areas for the first time. The problem will make itself felt increasingly and, when the national grid and mighty plants are there, someone will have to consider whether this is still the best way. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is interesting and gives us food for thought, although the time for it is not now. The main thing which has emerged from his speech is his confidence in the industry and his appreciation of what it has done. I am sure that all he has said will be appreciated at the headquarters of the different area boards.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

Reference has been made to gasification and hydrogenation. I shall not make a long speech, although my interest, and that of some of my hon. Friends who are still in this House, has been longstanding. Has the Minister made any inquiries about the substantial sum of public money given to a certain big firm in this country to carry on research into the possible hydrogenation of coal? That happened as far back as twenty-five years ago, and we have never had a report on it.

Further, the Minister appears to be rather pessimistic about the possibility of gasifying coal in its natural condition underground. Has he made any inquiries as to the success of experiments in large-scale gasification that have been carried on for some years in Russia, in what are known as the Gorlovka coal mines in the Donbas Coal Basin?

The Temporary Chairman

I hope that the hon. Member will deal with this point briefly. We have been discussing gasification on a previous Amendment, when he could have spoken at length on that subject.

Mr. Davies

I do not intend making a long speech, Dr. King, I can assure you. However, we are on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", and if the discussion of hydrogenisation and gasification was in order on an Amendment to this Clause, I foil to see why it cannot be in order when we are discussing the entire Clause and all its implications. At any rate, I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee in arguing that point.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman in all sincerity that he should make inquiries into the two matters I have mentioned because, sooner or later, the possibility of both—and, in particular, hydrogenation—will be raised again and again on the Floor of this House when we deal with coal, either directly or indirectly. That is all I wish to say at the moment.

Mr. George

Since the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) spoke about the hydrogenation of coal being of continuing interest on the Floor of the House, I hasten to reassure him that hydrogenation is an ever-present concern in the minds of the members of the Gas Council. The Wilson Committee is at present studying its possibilities, and we hope that it will say whether the present research is along the right lines, or, if not, along which lines it should be pursued. Hydrogenation is undoubtedly a live issue in the Gas Council, as I have said already.

With regard to the substantial sums granted twenty-five years ago, I have not the benefit of any information—

Mr. Davies

What happened to them?

Mr. George

I will investigate and will communicate with the hon. Gentleman. The underground gasification of coal in Russia is rather a long journey to take tonight, but I have some knowledge of what is taking place there, and I will send the hon. Gentleman a note on this subject as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Nabarro

Before we start with the Bill, I want to make one or two comments on investment by the gas boards and by the Gas Council. It will be recalled that during the Consolidated Fund Bill debate on 16th March my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) raised a matter concerning investment in am advanced meter readers' college at Mere in Cheshire, a capital investment being carried out by one of the gas boards. He was promptly ruled out of order by Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I do not dwell upon that point because it is not appropriate for debate on the Third Reading of this Bill, but it caused me to make researches and I discovered that whereas this Bill raises the total of borrowing powers, as will be seen in the Explanatory Memorandum, from £450 million to £500 million for the entire nationalised gas industry, and in certain circumstances enables my right hon. Friend to go as far as £525 million, the annual amounts for investment in the gas boards fall within the appropriate sections of the annual Finance Act.

The interesting feature is that it is not within the rules of order to debate on the Finance Bill individual capital projects in the gas industry. Thus again, as I said on the Iron and Steel Bill, once this Bill leaves the House today, covering investment by the gas industry for between four and five years ahead, no Member of the House of Commons can challenge any item of capital investment by any one of the gas boards, save only in retrospection—a matter of from eighteen months to two years after the investment has been carried out.

That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. This Bill stretches forward for investment purposes for four or five years ahead. I hope, on the Finance Bill, to find ways and means of moving Amendments to capital investment in these industries in order to enable the House of Commons to give prior sanction to capital investment in the instance of the gas boards within the global borrowing powers under this Bill. That is how these matters are related, but it is strictly in order now. not only to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power to respond to this inquiry by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford, as to what is the purpose and what is the cost of this advanced meter readers' college at Mere in Cheshire, and notably the final part of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech, which I have since checked. My hon. and gallant Friend said: For eighteen months or so I have tried to obtain this information from the Minister. In correspondence, I asked him point-blank how the public can ever find out how much this building cost, and what the other expenses are. The reply I received this morning is that the public 'have no statutory or prescriptive right to the information.' "—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 1350.] I see that my right hon. Friend is nodding his head in agreement with that statement, and I believe that he wrote the letter to my hon. and gallant Friend saying that the general public— have no statutory or prescriptive right to challenge any item of capital expenditure by a nationalised board. Nor, evidently, has a Member of Parliament. For the reasons which I explained in my speech earlier this evening and on former protests of this kind, once a borrowing powers Bill is through the House—this Bill covers five years ahead—no Member of the House of Commons can challenge, by Parliamentary Questions, on the Consolidated Fund Bill or the Finance Bill, any of the items of investment, the wisdom of it, the economy of it, whether public funds are being wasted or not, and, I repeat to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whether the taxpayers' money is being wasted. I take the view that it is taxpayers' money; he does not, but I do.

This is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Of course, the gas industry has to have this extra capital. I do not object to the borrowing powers in this Bill, but I strongly object to the fact that only once in every four or five years can I criticise what is deemed by other persons to be wasteful expenditure by the board; but I propose to find ways and means of doing it on the Budget this year by separate votes.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir W. Ansiruther-Gray)

I hope that the hon. Member will not go too far in forecasting what he proposes to do on the Budget. I think that we must confine ourselves to the Third Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Nabarro

As always, I am deeply grateful for your guidance and support, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in this difficult position in which I find myself. Of course, you are underlining the difficulties which I am trying to put to the House this evening—the near-impossibility of a Member of Parliament doing his job in the context of allegations of wastefulness by these boards. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt?

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I certainly do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I think he is well enough out of order without me helping him.

Mr. Nabarro

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman wishes to usurp your duties, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. However, let us stop the squabble and get on with the Bill.

The point I want to make about the sort of allegation which appeared in a Sunday newspaper yesterday week about the gas board—and it involved its finances—is that this is evidently my one opportunity in four years to challenge that sort of thing. Not that the Parliamentary Secretary will give me any answer, of course. He will refer me to the Chairman of the Gas Council. The Chairman of the Gas Council will refer me to the chairman of the gas board, and then I shall not get any satisfaction. But I will record this complaint in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because that is the kind of thing which Members of Parliament ought to be able to challenge and vote about.

I hope my hon. Friend does not reply saying that I can raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment, because I know what sort of a stuffy answer I shall get late at night in an Adjournment debate. I quote from the Sunday newspaper: The Gas Board in the port of Southampton takes it duties seriously. So seriously in fact that it sent eighteen men to make sure that the housewife who ordered a cooker, water heater and boiler got exactly what she wanted…. First, an inspector palled to see if the main was large enough. Then, a salesman arrived to sell the cooker which had already been bought. Then, a second salesman arrived to sell the stove that was already on order. A van driver arrived with a new meter. A fitter called to fix it. Then two labourers arrived to fix a new main. A lorry driver and his mate delivered the new stove. An inspector called to look at it. A van driver collected the old meter. Another van driver delivered the new heater. Next came a fitter to check the water temperature. Another fitter arrived to check the stove. And a lorry driver and his mate arrived to take away the old one. An inspector turned up to check the water heater which had been damaged in transit. Finally, another inspector called to check and pass all the new installations. This was a total of 18 men to carry out a simple installation which, pre-nationalisation, would have been done in a matter of hours by one fitter and his mate.

The cost of this sort of thing is falling on the local gas board. If that cost were not incurred the Council would be finding a commensurately larger sum from its own resources to finance capital investment and would not be coming to the House for an equivalent sum. This is the sort of complaint which Members of Parliament constantly receive in respect of the nationalised boards. Some of them are justified, some of them are not. This complaint was in a Sunday newspaper called The People on 20th March. For all I know, it may not be a valid complaint.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My difficulty is to know whether this complaint can be remedied by anything in the Bill. We can discuss only what is in the Bill.

Mr. Nabarro

I realise that and I am skating, as always, on very thin ice, but, as Mr. Speaker wrote to me the other day, no doubt my ingenious mind will find ways and means of raising these matters. It is related to the Bill because had this money not been spent, then the sum required under the Bill would not have been as large as it is.

Mr. Lee

Surely the hon. Member should have moved that we purchase a copy of The People.

Mr. Nabarro

I will leave the Southampton case. My point is that, other than on the borrowing powers Bills once every four or five years, we have no means whatever of securing any redress in respect of complaints such as that. I do not take the Parliamentary Secretary's view that it is none of the business of a Member of Parliament, or that it is not the taxpayers' money which is involved. I take the view that we are voting too much money in this borrowing powers Bill for too many years ahead, and I shall seek to remedy that in a few weeks' time by endeavouring to regulate the sum on an annual basis so that the money is spent in such a way that we do not deal with it in retrospection two years later when we debate these industries on the report and accounts of the board concerned.

Of course the gas boards must have this extra capital, for the most part. It is for that reason that I support the Motion, "That the Bill be read the Third time." But I do so warning my right hon. Friend once again that he will get no more money out of me. I am fed up with his predatory habits in regard to the National Exchequer. I am fed up with his extravagance.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

On a point of order. Would a discussion on the invention of gas be in order, for if there had been no gas there would be no Bill?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think we should not discuss a hypothetical case. So far, no hon. Member has endeavoured to discuss the invention of gas.

Mr. Nabarro

I will return to what I was saying when I was so frivolously interrupted by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who has not been in his place during the debate on the Bill and whose absence, of course, we have deplored. I am sorry that I cannot provoke him to a further intervention. I was saying to my right hon. Friend, when I was so frivolously interrupted, that I am fed up with his predatory habits in regard to the national Exchequer, I am fed up with his extravagance, and I do not like him sitting there in the position of the biggest spender in the Government. Nobody is nodding dissent. He is the biggest spender. He authorises more money for these nationalised boards than all the remainder of the Ministries put together. I shall be much sterner about this on future occasions and endeavour to keep him in much better order than that in which I have succeeded in keeping him during the last few weeks.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. George

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power is suitably terrorised by the peroration of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and looks forward with dread to the years that lie ahead. I and the House have been entertained by the tale of what my hon. Friend will do to the Finance Bill when it reaches the House, but that is not really our concern this evening. We are dealing with the Gas Bill and its borrowing powers. Underneath that umbrella my hon. Friend asked about Mere College which is the responsibility of the North-Western Gas Board.

This is an example of the cases which have been raised throughout the years through the desire of individuals or of Members of Parliament to discuss single items of capital expenditure by nationalised boards. There are thousands of individual items of capital expenditure every year, and it would be quite impossible and intolerable if every one of them were open to examination by any individual demanding particulars about it. That is what would follow from giving way on this occasion. The matter has been discussed for a long time now. This item is just one of many, and it would be intolerable if access were given to individuals or members to items of this nature.

Mr. Nabarro

Is the hon. Gentleman refusing this?

Mr. George

This has been refused for a long time.

Mr. Nabarro

Will the hon. Gentle-give way?

Mr. George

Not again. I have dealt with the general argument that it would be intolerable if individuals or Members of Parliament were to obtain access to each individual item of capital expenditure by the nationalised boards.

Mr. Nabarro

Why not? We have paid for it.

Mr. George

We have heard complaints about the inability of this House to discuss examples of alleged waste by the boards. My hon. Friend mentioned that at Southampton he picked out another one and put it on record. I took an interest in that rather sensational report. As is usual with such reports when cut down to size it has not the same appearance at all. He mentioned that two salesmen called to sell a cooker already bought. He did not reveal that they were not from the Gas Board.

Mr. Nabarro

Who were they employed by?

Mr. George

I said they were not employed by the Gas Board.

Mr. Nabarro

Who were they employed by?

Mr. George

He also spoke about the cooker and the water heater being bought and all the people coming to put them in. The cooker was bought from one source and the heater from another, and the respective people came to do their respective jobs. It was not the Gas Board at all. It does not serve a good purpose to pick up sensational newspapers, accept all that is in them, and bring them to the House without checking, as my hon. Friend has done. It is a serious thing to bring them to the Floor of the House no matter how attractive or colourful their stories may be.

My hon. Friend spoke of too much money being spent too many years ahead, and accused my right hon. Friend of extravagance. I am sure my hon. Friend has some experience of industry —whether small or vast, I do not know— and if he has experience of vast industries he will know that in order to be able to plan ahead and execute their plans they must have the knowledge that the finance is forthcoming. They cannot be subjected to continual investigations about those plans. They must have ahead of them a reasonable period of freedom from interference. That has been the view, rightly, of this House. It might not be the view of my hon. Friend, but in all humility I suggest that in this case he is wrong and that it is right and proper that the boards of vast industries should have a reasonable time ahead to plan and execute their plans.

Mr. Nabarro

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, does he not recall that when I referred to the extract from the Sunday newspaper I deliberately said that I was not in a position to say whether those allegations were valid but that they were allegations and ought to be replied to? Why does he deliberately twist those words? Let us have another answer?

Question put and agreed.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.