HC Deb 25 February 1991 vol 186 cc635-7
10. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what support his Department is giving to the investigation of the prospects for clean coal technology.

Mr. Wakeham

My Department is currently reviewing coal-related research and development and this summer will publish a document setting out our strategy. Much important work on clean coal technology has already been carried out by British Coal and others.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that environmentalists should be greatly encouraged by the Government's clear commitment to clean coal technology? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but my right hon. Friend may like to remind them that the Government are contributing £17 million to 15 separate projects.

Mr. Wakeham

I confirm what my hon. Friend said. The current programme of more than 15 projects which are under way or planned has a contract value of more than £80 million and my Department's contribution is more than £17 million. I am not satisfied that we are doing enough. That is why we have set in hand a study to find out what more can be done.

Mr. Eadie

It is refreshing for the House to hear candour from the right hon. Gentleman about the investment in clean coal technology. Is he aware that the investment, which is running at about 3 per cent., is pathetic? In the quest for clean coal, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider Monktonhall colliery which, although it produces more or less sulphur-free coal and has received £14 million of investment, has been mothballed. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider reopening that colliery? It would result in jobs as well as sulphur-free coal.

Mr. Wakeham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of what we are doing about clean coal technology, but Monktonhall colliery is a matter for British Coal's management, not for me.

Dr. Michael Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that clean coal burn technology is important for not only the future of the British coal industry but the environment? Does he agree that it is important also in ensuring that we achieve the maximum use of our indigenous industry? Does he recognise that, although we may be in the lead in terms of research and development and investigations into these techniques, we are somewhat behind in building demonstration plants? Will he undertake to find ways to encourage the building of demonstration plants? That work can be done in various ways. It does not always involve Government money.

Mr. Wakeham

Yes, indeed. Recently we announced the provision of an additional £3.7 million towards British Coal's topping cycle project at Grimethorpe. That brings the Government's support for the project this year to £9.2 million and clearly demonstrates our commitment to supporting clean coal technology. We have set up a coal task force, a new advisory body to develop new strategies and project selection methods, and United Kingdom industry is strongly represented on that task force. That shows confidence in the way forward.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Secretary of State agree that the failure to back the demonstration plants which the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) endorsed is putting British plant manufacturers at a disadvantage compared with their competitors in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and France? Would not it be better to put some money into that work? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that more money was spent tarting up his Department's headquarters than the Government are investing in clean coal technology?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no idea about that last point. I had no responsibility for those matters. I would support any project that was worth while and could be shown to have a commercial future. The first projects that we demonstrate must have the possibility of being economically viable in the long term.

Mr. Hind

Does my right hon. Friend agree that coal will not have a future as an electricity-generating fuel unless the technologies of decarbonisation are improved to a level at which CO2 emissions are much lower? My right hon. Friend's efforts in that regard are greatly appreciated by people who work in the coal industry, as those developments will give them a future.

Mr. Wakeham

Absolutely. My hon. Friend knows that most of the new power generation projects in the next few years are likely to be gas-fired projects. It is important that research and development should occur so that coal is increasingly thought of as a fuel to be used and is seen to be environmentally safe.