HC Deb 12 May 1986 vol 97 cc429-30
1. Mr. Barron

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what progress has been made in the development of the liquefaction pilot plant at Point of Ayr.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Hunt)

The National Coal Board has now begun construction at Point of Ayr. Commissioning is expected in late 1987.

Mr. Barron

I welcome the Minister's statement about the start of construction. However, is it not true that the public funds that were committed to this project by the last Labour Government have been severely reduced by this Government and that the size of the plant has also been severely reduced? One of our major competitors, Japan, is spending £127 million on non-nuclear reasearch, 56 per cent. of which is being spent on research into coal gasification and liquefaction. Has not the Government's intervention since 1979 impeded the introduction of coal liquefaction and of other uses for coal?

Mr. Hunt

No. This is an important project for the National Coal Board. Its process, which appears to be one of the strongest technically, produces a premium synthetic crude which is easily refined into aviation and other transport fuels. Under this Government, public sector commitment to research and development into coal utilisation is in excess of £100 million.

Mr. Raffan

Is my hon. Friend aware that the beginning of the construction of this pilot plant is widely welcomed in my constituency as evidence of the Government's commitment to coal to oil liquefaction? Is that not a tribute to the NCB's foresight and determination to ensure that Britain has a share of the potential market opportunity when there is an increase in the price of oil relative to that of coal?

Mr. Hunt

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that the board has advised me that the project is on schedule and within budget. Civil engineering work began on 6 January and completion is expected in August.

Mr. Eadie

Is it not ironic that the Minister should have the audacity to come to the Dispatch Box and praise the project as one of the best in the country, when that same project was on the table in 1979 and it has taken the Government nine years to make up their mind? In essence, we have a laboratory scheme at Point of Ayr. Nevertheless, the Opposition endorse the conversion of the hon. Gentleman and his Government. We also endorse the NCB's enthusiasm, but it has taken nine years for that to happen.

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman seeks to make political points out of a project where there is no room for such petty points. The coal industry has had its best deal since nationalisation from this Government.

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