HC Deb 30 January 1984 vol 53 cc11-2
12. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the progress being made on Government plans for the liquefaction of coal.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Considerable progress has been made since the hon. Member last raised this subject. Babcock Woodall Duckham has been working since last November on the specification, design and costing of the NCB's 2.5 tonnes per day coal liquefaction pilot plant. The Government and NCB are making equal contributions to this phase of work, which is expected to be completed in the autumn. Good working relationships have been established, and I am pleased with the progress being made.

Mr. Dormand

Is it not significant that yet again the Minister refuses to give any figures? Why are the Government so stubborn and doctrinaire about an issue on which there is widespread support for public investment in such a project? Is it not ironic that a country such as ours, with massive coal reserves and some of the best scientific coal expertise in the world, should be trailing rather than giving a lead in this important matter?

Mr. Shaw

I do not entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures. He will recognise that much progress has been made, as evidenced by my original reply. He is, however, right that this is an important technological development. For that reason, great care has been taken to ensure that in the pilot process the technology is correct. Some changes have already taken place. That is why this is taking longer than both the hon. Gentleman and I would wish.

Mr. Barry Jones

When will the project come into production? Is the Minister aware that when it does it will give an immense boost to north-east Wales, where, in the county of Clwyd, unemployment now totals 24,000?

Mr. Shaw

I note the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter. He will be aware that the chairman of the board recently visited the plant. The board will assess the results of the pilot work and will then decide whether to proceed with the next stage—the full production unit. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance as to when that will be, but no doubt as soon as favourable results are obtained.