HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc5-7
7. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what amount of money the Government have spent, over each of the past three years, on a national research programme for the development of low-cost energy from coal; and if he will make a statement on the kind of co-operation that is taking place between the United Kingdom and other countries on this type of research.

Mr. Tom Boardman

None. The primary responsibility for research in this field rests with the National Coal Board,although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility to approve the general lines of the board's research activities. Almost the whole of the board's research and development programme, which amounts to £5.3 million in the current year, is aimed at mining coal at the lowest possible cost and increasing its competitiveness as an energy source. There are also a number of proposals for collaborative research being processed through the European Coal and Steel Community machinery with a view to attracting support from Community funds. The board is also continuing to co-operate with the United States of America on a very substantial basis.

Mr. Wainwright

The Minister gives the impression that the Government are not very interested in research into the use of coal as a low-cost source of energy. What encouragement is he giving to the National Coal Board on the fluidised bed combustion system and the coalplex system of burning coal? If it is true that there are more than 33 million tons of coal in stock, what plans have the Government to ensure that the coal is used? Will the Minister consider having another word with the Central Electricity Generating Board about the two oil-fired power stations it wants to build?

Mr. Boardman

On the last point, there are continuing discussions. With regard to the general research programme, my right hon. Friend is advised by the Advisory Council on Research and Development for Fuel and Power, which takes a keen interest in the adequacy of the programme. With regard to fluidised bed combustion, the hon. Gentleman is probably aware that a joint company has been set up by NCB, NRDC and BP to exploit fluidised bed combustion, and experimental work is going ahead on a collaborative basis with the United States.

Mr. Laurance Reed

Given the rapid depletion of world oil resources, surely it is not too soon for the National Coal Board to be thinking about restarting its research programme on how to devise an economic means of extracting oil from coal?

Mr. Boardman

My hon. Friend knows that a lot of work has been done on this, and a lot is going on now with the United States of America. Close touch is being kept with those developments although the conditions there are somewhat different from those which prevail here.

Mr. Cronin

Does not the Minister agree that the stumbling block of the coal industry for a long time has been the lack of a long-term coherent fuel policy? Is it not unfortunate that the Minister shows such lack of interest in the research that will provide him with the answers to this question?

Mr. Boardman

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not regard support of £5.3 million per annum as demonstrating a lack of interest in the research. A great deal of research and collaboration is going on and the hon. Gentleman will remember the Coal Industry Act and the large amount of public funds being used to support the coal industry.

Mr. Adam Butler

Will my hon. Friend ensure that at least some of the new generating plants are dual-fired, rather than only oil-fired?

Mr. Boardman

All questions of fuelling are being given careful consideration, and all these factors are being taken into account.

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