HC Deb 05 April 1971 vol 815 cc26-8
30. Mr. Harper

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research is being undertaken, under the supervision of his Department, to produce gas and oil from coal

Sir J. Eden

Although this is primarily a matter for the industries concerned, the Department keeps under review developments in other countries.

Mr. Harper

That answer is disappointing and short-sighted. Is the Minister aware that the United States of America is planning to meet future energy requirements by obtaining oil and gas products from coal? As the recently concluded agreement in Iran with our oil suppliers will cost our balance of payments £100 million, rising to £400 million by 1975, added to which is the recent oil agreement with Libya, concluded on Friday last according to the newspapers, which adds another £40 million, is it not imperative that we start to seek alternative forms of oil supplies? What better than to get it from coal?

Sir J. Eden

What matters is that we get it at an economic price. The position has been unchanged since acceptance of the report of the Committee on Coal Derivatives in 1960, which then recommended that the prospects of making oil from coal economically in this country were so remote that no further technological work directed towards this objective should be undertaken. On the subject of gas, the hon. Gentleman knows that since those days North Sea gas has made a considerable difference.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is my hon. Friend not aware that the major industrial users in this country, such as electricity and steel, are now bringing coal from the other side of the world, including imports from Australia? Would it not be advisable, before we start turning our minds to derivatives such as oil and gas from coal, to produce enough raw, bituminous coal here for all our industries, without going to the Antipodes for it?

Sir J. Eden

I am aware of the fact to which my hon. Friend draws attention, as also, I am sure, is the National Coal Board.

Mr. Eadie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when he speaks of the 1960 report on derivatives, he is well out of date and out of touch with the situation today? Would he not agree that we are facing over the next few months an ever-increasing cost of importing oil amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds? Would he not agree that if this were costed, the cost of an oil-from-coal installation would be equal to that the installation at Longannet of a coal-fired power station which at present is being completed in Fifeshire? Is he aware that the Michael colliery has millions of tons of coal which could be used for getting oil from coal?

Sir J. Eden

There has been intensive research over a number of years into the possibility of converting coal to liquid or gaseous fuels. The information which is available is enough to make it clear that the economics do not justify further work on this.

Mr. Costain

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that coal in the United States is won by private enterprise? That is one of the reasons why the Americans can make oil products economically from it.

Sir J. Eden

I am equally aware that the pithead prices of United States coals can be taken as approximately half of those operative in the United Kindgom.