HL Deb 26 July 1939 vol 114 cc565-606

5.43 p.m.

LORD AILWYN rose to draw attention to the matter of our fuel supplies in time of war, and to urge upon His Majesty's Government the necessity for instituting without delay a national fuel policy based upon the use of British coal, afloat—both in His Majesty's Fleet and in the Mercantile Marine—and upon the use of alternative fuels derived from British coal ashore—both in our heavy road transport and in industry as a whole—thus releasing this country from its present position of highly dangerous dependence on foreign imported oil; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my motive in placing this Motion on the Order Paper is, first, to place the issue of our fuel supplies in time of war clearly, unemotionally and without adornment before your Lordships; secondly, to try to persuade your Lordships of the real danger of the existing position; and thirdly, if I am fortunate enough to carry the House thus far with me, to suggest the remedy for combating this danger. I may remind the House that this is not the first, nor yet the second occasion upon which I have troubled your Lordships with this matter, and lest it be thought that mine is a lone voice crying in the wilderness—in other words, if I may be forgiven the expression in your Lordships' House, that I have a bee in my bonnet—I should perhaps preface my remarks on this occasion by saying that I speak for an ever-increasing body of opinion in the country, and particularly for those with whom I am associated in what is known as the British Coal Campaign, consisting of a number of independent persons having no connection of any sort or kind with coal or oil, and no interests to serve other than the good of the country and the better attainment of national security. It may well be that greater weight will be attached by your Lordships to the view, which I shall expound for this knowledge that they are shared by a body of men, many of them eminent in their several spheres, who have studied this question in all its ramifications ceaselessly, tirelessly, with an open and unprejudiced mind. With these opening remarks I will, with your Lordships' permission, turn to the Motion.

The world of industry and transport to-day operates to such a preponderant extent on oil that if it is withheld the national life is paralysed. In this country not a propeller of a single ship of His Majesty's Fleet, and less than half the propellers of the Mercantile Marine, can revolve; not an aeroplane can rise from land or sea; our mechanised Army, our road transport, many of our factories—all are silent, motionless and ineffectual, without the motive power of oil which gives them life. Whence comes this vital commodity? Have we oil in this country? Are there any supplies in the Empire? I will not weary your Lordships with figures or statistics; I have given them before; I have them here, if anyone should care to see them. Suffice it to say that in the year 1938 no less than 92 per cent. of our oil supplies came from foreign countries, the remaining 8 per cent. from British sources. In spite of long, costly and sustained efforts to find virgin oil in this country, only an insignificant quantity has been discovered.

When I use the term "insignificant" I am naturally using it in a relative sense—in relation, that is, to our immense requirements. What are those requirements? In 1938 we imported into this country no less than 13,450,000 tons of oil, an increase of 700,000 tons on 1937. Year by year our consumption steadily increases, and I would remind your Lordships that these figures relate to peacetime requirements. When we come to consider what our requirements are likely to be in time of war, we are faced with the obvious difficulty that we have no real experience of a major war being waged tinder modern conditions upon which to draw, so that any estimate of our oil requirements in war time must be largely a matter of conjecture. But it is generally agreed that those requirements cannot be less than double the quantity that we require in peace time, even with the strictest rationing of consumption by non-essential users.

When one considers, for example, that a modern large high-speed bomber uses approximately a gallon of petrol a mile, which mens that one of these aircraft in one journey of 300 miles consumes no less than one ton of fuel; when one considers further that it takes approximately three tons of crude oil to produce that one ton of petrol; when one considers, in short, that a bomber uses a gallon of petrol a mile, more than three gallons per minute, and that one ton of crude oil produces only sufficient petrol for one of these aircraft to go fifty miles and back, it will be seen that we very soon arrive at staggering figures. One of our leading technical journals, in discussing this matter a few weeks ago, gave a rough estimate of 4,000,000 gallons of petrol as our possible daily consumption in war time, an equivalent of over 4,000,000 tons a year. That is petrol requirements alone. Be that as it may, it is clearly a fact which nobody will be found to dispute, that without vast quantities of oil arriving in this country secure from interruption we shall be unable to wage war so long as we have no alternative to exclusive dependence on imported oil. That, I submit to your Lordships, is a plain statement of fact of the position in which we stand to-day.

I turn to the dangers of that situation in war time. First and foremost it has to be admitted that we have no control of any sort over the sources of supply of over 90 per cent. of the oil that we import. We have to depend upon the good will of the foreigner, who may or may not be sufficiently friendly disposed towards us to release the oil. Over 40 per cent. of our 1938 supplies came from South and Central America, the great bulk from Venezuela. When we recall the history of our experience with the Mexican Government a little over a year ago, involving the expropriation of our oil supplies in that country, and when we reflect upon such things as the prevalence of strikes, unrest, and so forth, in the various oil fields, I venture to think that he would be a brave man who would characterise this source of supply—our major source—as an assured one.

Over 17 per cent. of our 1938 supplies came from the United States of America. What is America going to do if a major war breaks out in Europe? I suggest that she is going perhaps to mobilise her own forces. At least she is going to speed up her own rearmament, resulting in an increased demand for U.S.A. oil for her own purposes. This will almost certainly tend to reduce the amount which will be available for export. Add to this the complete uncertainty as to future Neutrality Bill legislation, and I think we can fairly say that there can be no cast-iron certainty about our supplies from the United States of America. Nearly 20 per cent. of our 1938 supplies emanated from Persia—Iran. Whatever the extent of our financial control in this field we certainly have not got the physical control, which is the thing that really matters, and a stroke of the pen by the head of that State would be more than sufficient to end our concession there. I will not take your Lordships any further along this particular aspect of the dangers that beset us so far as the sources of supply are concerned. Over 75 per cent. of our oil supplies emanate from those three major sources which I have named.

Let us turn, secondly, to the question of safeguarding these vast supplies in transit to this country, assuming that the oil has been released at the source. Every gallon of oil has to be transported over thousands of miles of sea, in tankers, requiring convoy and escort protection against enemy action by aircraft, submarine, and surface raider. The tanker, moreover, requires convoy, I should have added, in ballast as well as when loaded. The tanker moreover suffers from the disability of being only a half-time ship. She brings oil to these shores, and then has to return empty to the source of supply for more. The collier, on the other hand, carries a full cargo of coal on her outward journey and brings back a full cargo of foodstuffs or raw materials, on her homeward journey. I need not stress the uneconomic process of such a limitation, nor the serious implications involved at a time like the present, when we are short by something like 2,000 vessels of the number which we had available in 1914. Then with regard to our oil from Iraq, it has to flow through hundreds of miles of pipe line, easily cut in a hundred places by a mere handful of marauding Arabs, or other ill-disposed persons, and controlled by pumping stations highly vulnerable to hostile action from the air or from the ground. Protection, therefore, will be essential in war time for this very important source of supply, involving dispersion of our military effort and so a weakening in theatres of war where maximum strength should be concentrated. So much for the aspect of transportation.

Thirdly, there is the question of finance. At first sight it might appear that at times like these, when we find ourselves spending, during so-called peace, well over £1,000,000 a day on rearmament, the matter of payment for our oil supplies is a very minor and unimportant matter. I must remind your Lordships, however, that even during the Great War, when the demand for oil was infinitesimal compared with the world's requirements to-day, the price of oil soared. It rose to £20 per ton, and as I have stated in this House before, there was a case of one of His Majesty's ships that had to pay no less than £32 a ton for replenishing her tanks with oil, which costs £3 a ton in normal times of peace. When one considers the immensity of the demands which will be made by all countries engaged in another world war, will anyone challenge the possibility that the price of oil may well be forced up to say £40 or even £50 per ton? Even in these days of astronomical figures I suggest to your Lordships that an expenditure of something in the nature of £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 a day on our oil supplies alone, is a consideration not to be lightly ignored. I would also venture further to remind your Lordships of the Johnson Act in the United States, which prohibits the granting of loans to nations defaulting on loans floated during 1914–18. In other words, our oil has to be not only fetched but paid for.

Fourthly, and lastly, of the dangers which I am asking your Lordship's to consider in this matter of our oil supplies is the possiblity of oil exhaustion in the world. Let me say that I recognise that this is a debatable point. On the one hand we are told by the spokesmen of the oil authorities themselves that, on the basis of present-day world consumption, the proved oil reserves of the world will be exhausted in another twelve or fifteen years from now. On the other hand, when we venture to quote this presumably authoritative source we are told by those who deprecate any allusion to such a possibility as oil exhaustion, or difficulty of supplies, that the expression "proved oil reserves" does not mean anything at all to do with what such a definition would appear to mean—that it in fact means something completely different. Far be it from me to attempt to unravel such a highly technical tangle. One knows that oil, unlike coal, is a very elusive substance, and that fields dry up unexpectedly and new fields are discovered. There can clearly be no certainty of unlimited fresh fields appearing, and as I shall in a moment or two be asking your Lordships to consider the greater use of British coal in our national life, it would be well to state here, as a fact and not as a debatable point, that the stocks of coal embedded beneath our feet in this country are known to be sufficient to last something in the nature of 500 years.

To sum up the points which I have endeavoured to put thus far before your Lordships: Our capacity for waging war, should such a catastrophe be forced upon us, is dependent upon an assured supply of vast quantities of oil emanating from foreign countries, which firstly may not be released for our benefit at the source; which, secondly, has to be transported in half-time ships across thousands of miles of ocean, requiring convoy and escort protection against enemy action; for which, thirdly, we may have to pay ransom prices; with the possibility, fourthly, of oil exhaustion supervening and paralysing our national life. I submit to your Lordships that such a situation—and I have endeavoured to give your Lordships a true appreciation of the position—is fraught with the gravest dangers, and I ask you to say that immediate steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to minimise these risks, which manifestly imperil the very existence of this country and of the British Empire. The remedies which I propose are outlined in the words of the Motion, and I respectfully ask for your Lordships' patience and indulgence while I do my best in the fewest possible words to develop them.

In these days of air power and mechanised Armies vast quantities of petrol are essential in order that these services may function, for, as is well known, these arms of our Defence Forces stand alone in their inherent incapability at the present time of using any alternative fuel. For every ton of petrol there are two tons of residuals to be disposed of, for, as I stated a few moments ago, it takes three tons of crude oil to produce one ton of petrol. The only feasible solution therefore, is to burn the fuel oil and Diesel oil under boilers or in engines both afloat and ashore. Not only will this ensure useful disposal, but it will guarantee the solvency of the oil trade. I ask your Lordships' particular attention to this: the existence of air power and of mechanised Armies definitely entails oil power, not only in the air and on land, but on the sea as well. Or, to put it in a different way, a great and expanding demand for petrol requires a reciprocal oil fuel policy at sea. Hence we have a 100 per cent. oil burning fleet and a 50 per cent. oil burning merchant fleet.

Oil shortage in the event of war would be unlikely to occur in the opening weeks of hostilities. The reserves which we are told are being steadily built up in this country and in the Dominions will be sufficient for a time, presumably, to offset reduction of imports caused by enemy or other foreign action. But what will happen in the event of a protracted war? So far as the Air Force is concerned the probabilities are, I submit, that the reserves of petrol in the country, plus the amount made available by the drastic rationing of all private and commercial supplies, will be sufficient to see the initial intensive air war through to its inevitable conclusion, which, in the opinion of many people, will be air exhaustion. The war will then settle down to the long, grim struggle of the last War, and indeed of all wars, in which, as ever, sea power will be unquestionably the deciding factor. Now if we are to exploit to the full this factor of sea power it is imperative that our Fleet and Mercantile Marine shall have complete and unfettered mobility and freedom of movement.

How is this to be achieved beyond any possibility of doubt when the motive power of our ships is controlled by the foreigner? The only certain means is to be independent of imported supplies of fuel, or, in other words, to rely on our own inexhaustible stocks of coal in this country. The day has, unfortunately, not yet arrived when we can produce all the oil that we require from our own indigenous coal. Nevertheless—this is perhaps a slight digression, but I venture to repeat the conviction to which I was bold enough to give expression in this House fifteen months ago, that, in spite of the Falmouth Report, the accomplishment of that much-to-be-desired result will be achieved in due course. But it is the present, and not the future, with which we are vitally concerned, and it is surely clear that we must therefore lose no further valuable time in safeguarding our ships against a shortage of oil by enabling them to burn coal as an alternative should the emergency arise.

So far as the Navy is concerned, we hold that this safeguarding capacity can be achieved by dual-firing all ships of new construction. We say that it is possible to build an efficient dual-fired warship equal in speed, armament, and protection to the exclusively oil-fired ship, involving little, if any, addition to personnel, and only a slight increase in displacement and cost. There is no intention that this dual-fired ship should be capable of steaming at full speed on both fuels. Any such condition would at once entail prohibitive increase in size and personnel, and would be quite impracticable. The proposal is very simple—to build into all new ships sufficient bunker space to contain the necessary coal to enable the ship to develop on coal the horse-power requisite for steaming at moderate speed. It would not even be necessary to carry the coal at all, so long as oil was available, or until its supply was threatened.

Our approaches to the Admiralty regarding this question have been unfruitful, their attitude being merely a resolute non possumus. The replies which I have rereived from the Government Bench on each occasion when I have raised this issue in your Lordships' House have been, if I may say so, unimpressive and unimaginative. They have consisted largely of reeling off a list of technical objections in the course of which certain figures were given purporting to show the impracticability of incorporating any such measure as that advocated—figures which bore no relation whatever to realities or to the modest proposal put forward, and conveniently ignoring the main issue, which is not a technical one, but a strategic, economic and political one. Considerable prominence was given in the Press to the Admiralty announcement in the statement accompanying the Navy Estimates for 1939 that after "detailed investigations of the claims put forward in favour of a return to coal-burning in warships" they found that such a measure "would impose such a handicap on our ships as to be definitely unacceptable."

On that statement I would simply say this, that no "detailed investigations" applied to a ship designed to burn oil could possibly prove conclusively that a return to coal is definitely unacceptable, and there is a widespread and disquieting belief that the Admiralty "investigations" were, in fact, confined to a ship designed for exclusive oil burning. Our contacts with the Admiralty have only served to confirm this impression. If this belief is unfounded, the Admiralty should refute it, because the conviction is growing that the slight additional displacement and cost inherent in the use of coal as an alternative is being used as a pretext to confirm a predetermined policy of exclusive reliance upon imported oil. The Admiralty have admitted that coal-firing might be an advantage in the case of war near home. Farther afield, on the other hand, in the Far East for example, they have maintained that oil is an advantage, on the score that it can be obtained from local sources, whereas coal would have to be transported from South Wales. Modern methods of coal burning however have completely undermined this Admiralty contention, for the reason that Australian coals, and indeed all Empire coals can now be used efficiently. Furthermore, the present position of affairs in the Far East would scarcely seem to justify the Admiralty's former optimism with regard to the continuing availability of oil supplies in that part of the world.

We are forced reluctantly to the conclusion that the Admiralty have set their face ruthlessly against the use of coal in any shape or form, and this conviction is strengthened by the decision that even the new Royal Yacht is to be oil-fired. This decision has been received with incredulity and dismay; for, whatever objections the Admiralty may see fit to maintain against coal burning in warships, none of them can possibly apply to the Royal Yacht; and surely it would be a happy gesture, and more in accordance with the fitness of things, if His Majesty's Yacht were to sail the seas fired, as heretofore, by British coal. It is very much to be hoped that reconsideration may be given to that entirely deplorable decision.

A further indication of the Admiralty's unwillingness to consider the use of any fuel other than foreign oil is to be found in the case of the convoy escort warships. These vessels would appear to be eminently suited to burn British coal, their function lying far from the front line where high speed is regarded as essential, their duties being to remain with a slow moving convoy and protect their charges from enemy action, by surface, undersea, or over-sea raider. It is surely a completely wrong conception and rank heresy to suppose that such craft must be capable of extreme speed when such capacity involves the use of that invaluable fuel oil, every gallon of which is required for other essential services.

And so I would ask your Lordships' most earnest consideration of this vital matter of the safety of the Fleet in war time. Let it not be forgotten that in the last War, when our oil requirements were a tiny fraction of what they are to-day, and when our means of conveying and defending that oil were far greater than exist at the present time, so grave became the shortage of oil in 1917 that over 400 liners and cargo ships had to be fitted to carry oil in their double bottoms, to the exclusion of large quantities of food. The dual-firing of all new ships destined to join the Fleet proper, and the coal-firing of all ships whose function will not bring them into the front line, are measures that are surely dictated by the urgency of the times. As one of our leading ship-owners writes: Since it would be a high point of strategy on the part of our enemies to withhold oil from us, it would be inexcusable not to provide against such a contingency. To have the facility to burn our own fuel in such an extremity would represent a safeguard altogether beyond computation. To be without it might mean irreparable disaster.

Before leaving the matter of the Fleet I should like to take this opportunity of tendering my thanks to the noble Earl, the First Lord of the Admiralty, for kindly offering me at the end of last week facilities to meet two of the technical heads of Admiralty Departments. The time was too short for me to avail myself of this offer, for clearly, without technical experts present on both sides, I might have resembled the fly walking into the spider's parlour and getting quickly enmeshed in a highly technical web. I am none the less grateful for the offer. I must remind the First Lord, however, that I am approaching this matter from a far broader aspect that the merely technical one. May I also say that in reply to a recent question in another place the Admiralty admitted for the first time—this is important—that it was possible to build a dual-fired warship having the same military characteristics as the exclusive oil-firer if the extra tonnage and cost were accepted? This answer shows clearly that, as a result of a frontal attack, the Admiralty have been driven from their front-line trenches which they have held for so long with great tenacity—for their contention until then had always been that no dual-fired warship could possibly match the exclusively oil-fired enemy ship. They are now hanging on by their eyelids to their second line of defence, and trying desperately to consolidate what is clearly an untenable position, for how can a little additional weight and cost possibly be held in the balance against the complete safeguarding of the Fleet?

I turn to the almost equally vital case of our Mercantile Marine, and when we talk of sea power it is well to remember that it is cargoes which really matter, the main function of the Royal Navy being to protect our own cargoes and to deprive the enemy of theirs. While it would be incorrect to say that the decrease of one thousand tramp steamers of 2,000 tons gross and over under the British flag as compared with 1914 is due to the abandonment of coal in favour of oil, it would be true to say that it is a contributory cause. In the days of coal-burning, when coal was exported from this country for the use of our ships, employment was found for large numbers of tramp steamers which, by earning an outward freight on their coal cargoes, successfully competed with foreign ships for homeward bound cargoes, thereby enabling our Mercantile Marine to more than hold its own even against tramp shipping heavily subsidised by foreign Powers.

What are the forces militating against a return to coal-firing in the 50 per cent. of our merchant ships which to-day burn oil? Firstly, I suggest, that political measures such as quotas, restrictions, and central selling schemes, instead of promoting an extended use of British coal, have, like many another unsound remedy, produced a reverse result. The price of bunker coal has risen to uneconomic figures, and many shipowners have been forced to draw their supplies from the Continent. What a situation to have to contemplate! The richest country in the world with our incomparable coal supplies, a country whose prosperity has been built up on our coalfields—and our own shipowners being forced to go to the Continent for their coal supplies! It is a Gilbertian situation if it were not so utterly tragic. Government action is clearly necessary here, and should be taken at once if our shipowners are to be induced and encouraged to burn British coal.

Secondly, it is not known nearly as widely as it should be that, with modern methods, coal can be burnt as economically and with the same consistency as oil. A collier's holds can now be emptied into a ship's bunkers by machinery without dust. Conveying machinery can feed coal from any bunker to the machine-fed furnaces, and the ashes can be extracted by machinery and ejected into the sea. Stokeholds are painted white, and in them a few skilled men watch gauges and occasionally touch a switch or turn a wheel. They are cool and clean, and no coal or dust is to be seen. Coal in itself, though black, is cleaner and healthier than oil, which is also black, for there is no reek of oil, and engineers working in modern coal-fired boiler rooms have said that they prefer them to oil. Coal-burning ships can now be as smokeless as oil burners, for the reason that the coal is mechanically forced in underneath the fires and the draught forces the smoke upwards through the fire, thus converting it into a smokeless gas.

Again, in modern closed furnaces, both air draught and coal feed—and so boiler furnace heat and power—are all under complete control, which was not the case when furnace doors had to be opened for shovelling in coal by hand. With furnace doors never opened, and control complete, furnace heat regulation is as easy as turning a gas flame up or down, the gas in this case being the air supply. That old curse of coal firing—the frequent cleaning of boilers—is a thing of the past, for with mechanical firing the coal is always moving, and ashes and clinker are pushed away and drop into a trough for mechanical removal. Consequently coal fires can now be as clean as oil fires. Finally, coal furnaces can now be of any desired length, and machine-fed coal furnaces 22 feet and even longer are in daily use. It is true, in fact, to say that coal has emerged from the dirty, smoky, muzzle-loading stage of stokers, shovels, and fatigue into the clean and smokeless machine-gun stage of mechanical firing. These remarkable developments in coal combustion are peculiarly adaptable to the faster cargo ships and liners, but it is probable that in the slow tramp steamer of 9–10 knots the extra cost of a mechanical stoking plant would be unjustified and hand-firing would still be the most economical method of propelling such ships.

I apologise for troubling your Lordships with these technical details, but I have thought it expedient to do so in anticipation of the many technical objections which were put forward by certain noble Lords on former occasions, and with which perhaps they may have been preparing to assail me to-day. I have informed myself of these facts, not only in conversation with engineers in daily touch with these matters but by personal visits both ashore and afloat—ashore, at the Battersea Power Station, a few minutes walk from your Lordships' House, where no less than 10,000 tons of coal a week are mechanically fed to the furnaces—afloat, on board one of the Southern Railway's train-ferry steamers operating between Dover and Dunkirk, an ideal testing ground for mechanical stokers due to the exacting conditions obtaining in cross-Channel work, involving quick accelerations and retardations and thus requiring maximum flexibility.

What progress, if any, is being made in the restoration of coal-burning in our merchant fleet? It may interest your Lordships to know that an order has recently been given for a new 22-knot coal-burning cross-Channel steamer, her boilers to be fitted for this mechanical firing. Two new passenger liners of 6,000 tons, with this same modern system of coal-burning, will shortly be running between Calcutta and Rangoon. This is satisfactory as far as it goes, but your Lordships will agree that this is only a start, and far more encouragement is necessary if things are really to be got going in this direction. One gladly welcomes the recent action of the Government in giving some slight preference to coal-burning ships when framing British shipping subsidies. This should certainly be some incentive to our shipowners, but the greatest encourage- ment of all, of course, would be for the Admiralty to give a real lead in the matter, to abandon their exclusive oil-mindedness, and their uncompromising veto on the use of coal in men-of-war, and to call for designs forthwith of dual-fired first-line warships and coal-fired second- and third-line ships. Is it too much to hope that while there is yet time the Admiralty will make this move so urgently required and so set the example to the Mercantile Marine—that great service with which the Royal Navy is so proud to be so closely associated?

Finally, the question of our land transport and industry as a whole. If the restoration of coal-burning in ships is of paramount importance for the restoration of national security, and for recovered prosperity, the substitution of coal derivatives for petrol and oil on land is only second in importance. Your Lordships will be aware of the rapid strides which have been made in France, Germany, Italy and many other countries in the use of producer gas as a substitute for petrol and Diesel oil, with the active encouragement of the Governments concerned. I saw a few days ago a report showing that Russia also is now producing no less than 32,000 producer-gas vehicles. According to the Bulletin of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, the experiments which have been carried out in Russia with vehicles equipped with producer-gas plants have proved so successful that the Soviet authorities have decided to go ahead with construction on a large scale. While it is true that in this country there has recently been a considerable awakening to the economic and technical advantages of this fuel, derived from our own coal, the melancholy fact remains that so far as achievement is concerned, we are a long way astern of other countries. This is in no way due to our inferior technical knowledge. On the contrary, the results obtained in this country and the excellence of British plants, no less than the unique suitability of our coals, have been universally acknowledged.

When I raised this matter in your Lordships' House in April of last year, I was informed that the Government had this question under very serious consideration, and your Lordships were assured that "the Government are actually taking action at the present moment." That was in April, 1938. I certainly have no wish to embarrass His Majesty's Government, but I should be grateful for any information that the Minister can give as to what this action was, or has been in these last fifteen months, in regard to this matter, for the results of this serious consideration and action taken have been deplorably unfruitful. We have the mortification of seeing, for example, a big City Corporation replacing their worn-out tramways, not with trolleybuses dependent for their functioning on British coal but with motor 'buses burning foreign oil. In what other country in the world could we see such short-sighted fecklessness, to use no stronger term?

And yet it is difficult to blame local authorities who may be ignorant of the pressing need for a greater and more extended use of our own coal in the interests of defence. It is the Government's duty to educate the public on this point, and to insist that the time has arrived when the needs of national security positively demand the introduction of British and Empire fuels wherever their use provide an economic and efficient performance. That they do fulfil these conditions has long been demonstrated, and producer-gas is an eminently suitable fuel for heavy long distance road transport such as 'bus and lorry, for tractors, barges, fishing craft, coastal vessels and stationary plant. I may be told that the Government have already done their part in that they levy no tax in respect of such fuels, and that the heavier producer-gas vehicle pays a lower rate of vehicle tax. While acknowledging these benefits, it must be said that they are not far-reaching enough.

In the case of compressed town gas, an excellent fuel, the gas bottles, like the producer in the producer-gas vehicle, should not be included for taxation in the unladen weight of the vehicle, because existing regulations force the slightly heavier gas vehicle from the 30 mile per hour to the 20 mile per hour class. The accumulator in the electric vehicle is not counted as part of the weight, and surely the same concession should be granted to compressed-gas and producer-gas vehicles. When it is remembered that private and commercial supplies of petrol and oil will be drastically curtailed in the event of war or emergency, and when it is realised what added employment will be given in the coal fields through the extended use of coal and its derivatives, it is surely the duty of the Government to assist to the utmost in the development and use of these British alternative fuels, now, and not wait for an emergency to arise.

One final word. I desire to stress, as I have done before in your Lordships' House, the great unwisdom and the grave danger of storing our vital oil supplies in these great tanks above ground. Many of your Lordships must have seen them and their extreme vulnerability must have occurred to all observers. Our policy of reliance on foreign imported oil entails the building up of immense reserves in this country and other parts of the Empire, and it is clearly essential that these precious stocks should be housed in such a way as to reduce to a minimum the risk of destruction by enemy action. They should, of course, be placed underground. Other commodities can be dumped in a hundred different places—in sheds, in sidings, on wharves, in open fields, if necessary. Oil alone, our most vital requirement, must have a container for its reception. Hundreds of thousands of tons of oil will be required to arrive in this country every week in time of war in tankers from overseas, and must be unloaded without delay in order that the tankers may turn round and go out for more. Where are you going to put this life-blood of the nation if the containers for its reception have been bombed out of existence? May I urgently beg His Majesty's Government to give your Lordships the assurance that no further time will be lost in building underground storage, whatever its cost, and so safeguard these vital reserves and whatever supplies manage to reach this country in time of war? May I also beg for an assurance that the Government are satisfied that the necessary tanker tonnage is available, and that port facilities exist for handling the vast quantities of additional oil which will be required in war time, observing that some of the ports used in peace time may not be safe for the work of discharging in war?

I have done. I have to ask your Lordships' pardon for keeping you so long, but I have endeavoured to put before your Lordships as concisely as possible the plain unvarnished facts of a situation which in the opinion of many of us who have closely studied the whole question bears the germs of desperate peril for this country and the British Empire. The sands are running low. Once before, within the memory of most of us here, the country was saved at the eleventh hour by the Government steping in and over-riding the objections obstinately sustained by technical experts. I refer, of course, to the institution of the convoy system in 1917 by which measure this country was saved from starvation and the Allied Powers from capitulation. There may yet be time to ward off still greater disaster if the Government will show vision and courage and resolute determination to take immediate steps to deal with this Achilles heel of our national defences. I beg to move.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for a few minutes only, but I must congratulate the noble Lord on the very closely reasoned case he has presented to your Lordships. That gives me the greater pleasure because I always approve of a Conservativé Peer attacking the present Government, and I am glad to see so many Peers with naval experience here ready to assail the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty. I have had experience of this question for many years, because the mining members of my own Party very naturally have pursued it with great vigour. I want to say immediately that of the three parts into which the noble Lord's Motion may be divided I desire to support him on two, but with regard to the third, that of coal firing in the Navy, I feel bound to support the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty in resisting it. I do not want to go into details on that point. The military objections are to my mind overwhelming, and I will mention only one in particular. That is, that a warship taking in oil fuel in a harbour if attacked by aircraft could immediately get her guns into action. If she was taking in coal she would be helpless for some considerable time. That is one of the many military considerations of which one must not lose sight.

On the other hand, I quite agree with the suggestion that it is the Government's duty to encourage, possibly through the subsidy, the building of merchant ships to burn coal. That, I think, is a thoroughly sound policy. I do not know whether the noble Earl has the figures, but I think it would be interesting to hear how far we have gone in the production of oil fuel in our own country. The noble Lord spoke of our marvellous reserves of coal, but all that coal, of course, can be turned into heavy oil and petrol and lubricating oil, and it would be interesting to know how much is being produced now after all the money and all the efforts spent on hydrogenation and high temperature and low temperature carbonisation. I do not know if the Government are watching the latest developments in the synthetic treatment of coal. The leading method, of course, and the one that is best known, is the German Fischer-Tropsch process. There are disadvantages in adopting that, because we have to pay royalties, but the British process, I am told, is making considerable progress and sounds most promising. I hope the Government are going to look into it and encourage it if it is at all possible to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, spoke of storage and of the vulnerability of oil tanks. That depends largely on where they are placed, but I am advised that oil tanks are not only difficult targets to hit, as was shown in Spain in recent months, but also that they are not so vulnerable as might be supposed. It is very difficult, I am told, to set them on fire. But they ought to be placed geographically where they are not so exposed to air attack. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, in being a little worried about the tanker position. I know it has been engaging the attention of the Government for a long time, and I do hope they have made long-term arrangements with the American tanker companies. If they have American tanker ships on long-term charter, then I do not think the American Neutrality Act will matter so much. I do not want the First Lord of the Admiralty to say anything which would give away secrets—one of the difficulties of debates such as this is that so much information which the Government ought to have would be rather mischievous to give to the House—but at the same time I agree that we must not let the First Lord of the Admiralty hide completely behind the plea of public interest. We have a right to know that the country is safe in this matter.

Now I come to the third part of the Motion, and I do support what the noble Lord said about encouraging the use of road vehicles which are not dependent on petrol, both those which are electrically driven and those which use producer gas. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I believe will speak, and he has great knowledge of this matter, but I would like to support what has been said about the necessity of greater relief from taxation of such vehicles because of the added weight which they require. May I make this further suggestion? I think myself, from such study as I have been able to give to the subject, that there is a case for the building up of reserves of producer gas plant of the type which can be adjusted to existing motor vehicles. The Government are storing tractors for agricultural purposes, and I should have thought that the same argument would have justified the encouragement of a shadow scheme or the actual storage of producer gas plant.

I can imagine that the First Lord of the Admiralty will produce the usual argument, which is perfectly sound, that we have to keep the trade routes open in time of war, and that if they are kept open we can bring in oil; but I think there is a reservation needed there. I think a case can be made out for doing all we can to relieve the Navy of responsibility for trade routes so that it may be left free for other duties. The more we can store in this country while we have time to do it, and the more we can produce in the way of home fuel, and the more we can economise in fuel in the way suggested, the better it will be from a naval point of view. The Fleet has very wide responsibilities to-day—wider than ever before—and if we can relieve the Navy of responsibility for the trade routes as far as possible I think that would be sound strategy. The Government, we are told in the Press, are taking advantage of the phenomenally low price of wheat to buy wheat and store it in Canada. That should be extended in all directions, particularly with regard to oil.

With regard to what the noble Lord said about the ability to last out a war, the information I have about the German oil situation throws a ray of light into his rather gloomy picture. I am told that the German oil situation is most critical and far worse than ours, and that it would be difficult for the Germans to last in any way more than three months if they were so foolish as to plunge into a war. But we must not take comfort from that only. Their only chance is a lightning war. We, as always, have to be prepared for a long war, almost of exhaustion and attrition—we hope it will not be too long—under modern conditions. It is the longish campaign that rather alarms me. I cannot help feeling that the Government's broad plans are rather based on the medium campaign. We may have to be prepared for a very long campaign, and the long-range remedies to which the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has referred in two thirds of his Motion I should respectfully like to support. I know the First Lord is very much of the same mind in these matters, and I hope he will give your Lordships some comfort.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to go into the merits of the case except to make an appeal to my noble friend opposite, for the purpose of this debate, to realise that if he would slightly amend his Motion he would probably have on his side, notably the noble Lord who has just addressed us, and also a great many other noble Lords who have supported me in my campaign for having home-made fuel for the Fleet—and, indeed, the whole Board of Admiralty. As he will see, he asks that we should institute without delay a national fuel policy based upon the use of British coal, afloat both in His Majesty's Fleet and in the Mercantile Marine— And then he goes on: and upon the use of alternative fuels derived from British coal. That is, home produced fuel, ashore, and all the other matters. If it were to read: The necessity for instituting without delay a national fuel policy based upon the use of British coal it would leave the First Lord of the Admiralty free to say, "Well, of course, for most of our ships, and indeed for all our newest ships, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that we must have a liquid fuel"; but he would be bound to say—I know he would—that if he, speaking for the Board of Admiralty, could have home-produced fuel to burn in our ships, whether it were liquid or solid, he would be compelled to support this Motion, for the reasons that the noble Lord has just given.

It is obvious that the Navy would rejoice if they could have home-produced fuel. It is a pity to try to pin them down to using our coal in a solid form. All the men I have spoken to say that some of the ships, or most of them, would prefer to use it in a liquid form. As we all now know, it is all the same thing, it is all carbon, and you can turn the solid into the liquid; but the process is expensive. There are three methods, and the last of them, to which the noble Lord has referred, is a very satisfactory one—the new synthetic method. But there can be no doubt that if the proposal that I made three years ago, that the Government should spend £40,000,000 on making the Navy independent of foreign fuel, had been carried out—and my noble friend on my right here will, I think, not quarrel with me when I say that with that £40,000,000 that could have been done—the Navy would now be independent of foreign imported fuel. Now I appeal to the noble Lord to get us all on one side by making the Motion read in that way, and then I cannot think that there is more than perhaps one man in this House who will not accept it with both hands.


My Lords, if I may answer that suggestion for one moment, if what the noble Lord proposed had been done, then clearly my Motion would never have been put forward. It is because it has not been clone, and because we cannot produce at present anything like our requirements of oil at home, that I have brought forward my Motion.


But should the noble Lord not make his Motion read in that way, so that he would not condemn one part of our ships—namely, our warships—to the use of coal, while, if he uses the words "alternative fuels," he has it in his power now to prevent the Government from wriggling out of the very awkward position in which they have been placed by their refusal adequately to encourage the use of home-produced liquid fuel?

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for rising to address you on two consecutive days on the subject of coal, but I feel so strongly on this Motion that I feel bound to enter the lists again. I must support what has been said by Lord Mottistone on this matter; but I believe that the noble Lord's Motion is primarily that the Navy should go back to coal and use coal firing. There are a very large number of objections against it. I think he is prepared to allow the Navy the use of oil produced from coal, but I doubt very much whether the £40,000,000 suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, would produce anything like the oil we require to run even half His Majesty's Fleet. This section of the Motion, dealing with His Majesty's Navy, has been debated in your Lordships' House on many occasions, and I fully realise that the noble Lord refers to the design of new warships. He suggests, however, that technical reasons should not enter into any argument against his proposed policy, because they do not exist. Technical objections, I am well aware, may not be of any moment as regards the Merchant Navy, but when it comes to His Majesty's Navy those technical objections certainly exist and are of great importance. I hope I shall not weary your Lordships if I give you a few of the technical objections all over again which have been given in your Lordships' House before.

Oil has a much greater heating value than coal and is much more uniform in heating quality; therefore it must follow that a ship has a greater steaming radius from the use of oil. Another point is that oil does not deteriorate in storage; in hot climates coal deteriorates quite a lot. Moreover, with oil there is no ash; with coal there is a good deal of ash. Oil takes up less space in storage than coal, and an important point to notice is that the oil bunkers can be completed to within 95 per cent. of fuel stowage; whereas with coal bunkers that is not possible, as you must leave room for men to get inside and trim the bunkers down so that the stokers can fire the coal. Therefore it must mean that you must provide a much larger space in a ship. Also I think there is bound to be a great difficulty of hatches for reserve bunkers, and if you have a dual-fired ship you must have reserve bunkers for the coal. If you have these reserve bunkers for the coal, it must entail additional hatches through the protective deck, which again weakens the structure of the ship, especially against aerial bombardment, because you are going through the protective deck. In addition, a number of holes in the bulkhead are necessary when coal is used, in order to extract it and get it down to the stokeholds. This again means a further weakening of the ship's structure and of course a danger of leakage.

Many arguments have been brought forward in favour of the protective effect of coal in bunkers in His Majesty's ships in the event of war. This is a very doubtful protection; it is only protective in the event of bunkers being completely full. If they are half full and have been trimmed, then there is very little protection left. Refuelling of oil-burning ships is about three times as quick as with coal, and in emergency can take place at sea; this is an absolute impossibility with coal. When a warship is coaling, as was pointed out by my noble friend on the opposite Benches, it is very difficult for that ship to protect herself against an aerial bombardment; whereas with oil she can shut off the valves and be ready for action at a moment's notice. Another point to note is that when a warship is coaling practically the entire ship's company have to be employed on the work, and if they have to go into action almost immediately afterwards they are hound to be not so fit to fight the ship as they would have been if only oil storage had taken place. Dual firing by means of mechanical stokers, or otherwise, for coal, must mean increased weight and, therefore, less speed and armament for any particular size of ship, and smaller steaming radius. Also, what is perhaps more important, a very large increase in personnel would be required, with all the attendant increases in accommodation, victualling, etc. I think it is the general view of most naval officers that technical arguments in favour of oil are so strong that they outweigh any strategical advantages that might be obtained from the use of coal.

I will now turn to the proposed policy as a whole. Apart from technical objections, I think it is true to say that every country that has a large fleet is in the same position as ourselves as regards oil supplies, except perhaps Russia and the United States of America. Again, the only coal really suitable for the Navy is found in Wales, whereas oil can be obtained in various parts of the world where our fleet may be stationed, and colliers taking coal out to these various stations would be just as vulnerable to the enemy as oil tankers bringing supplies of oil to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has referred in his speech to the proposed new Royal Yacht for His Majesty, and said that it would be desirable that she should be constructed to be coal-fired. Surely the noble Lord would be satisfied if this vessel were to use oil produced from British coal. The noble Lord also referred in his Motion to alternative fuel derived from British coal that might be used in our heavy road transport. I have made a very careful study of this matter, and as President of the Transport Producer Gas Association, I can assure him that very great strides have been made in industry in the design of suitable gas producers for road vehicles.

I had hoped, to-day, to be in a position to congratulate His Majesty's Government on the help they are proposing to give to this new industry, in order to produce a well designed gas producer plant. I understand that the Government Fuel Research Station at Greenwich has been working on the design and performance of such a plant for many months. So has industry, and surely it would be well for the country that the knowledge gained by the Government research station at Greenwich and that of industry should be pooled. The Department of Industrial and Scientific Research was formed specially to co-operate with industry and make grants, with Treasury sanction, for experimental purposes in co-operation with industry. To have industry working in one direction, and the Government in another direction, is surely uneconomic. I hope His Majesty's Government will consider this point carefully, and bring the two parties together at the earliest possible moment. The conservation of our oil fuel in time of war is of paramount importance, and anything that can help in this direction, I would suggest, should be given the very fullest support possible under the circumstances.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, in the old days, when wooden ships gave way to iron ships, a similar controversy to that now under discussion about oil and coal took place, but scientific development and progress could not be checked, nor will they be now. The policy which the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has adopted in his endeavours to persuade the Government to change their attitude on the subject of coal appears to be founded on the old adage that constant dripping wears away a stone. Ever since the last War, successive Governments have considered the merits and demerits of coal and oil for use as fuel for the Navy. Each consideration—whatever the political hoe of the Government in power, and whatever the constitution of the Board of Admiralty—resulted in a definite decision that the Navy should continue to be oil-fired. More recently, the present Government submitted the whole problem of fuel policy to a Sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which, I believe, investigated it with great thoroughness. The conclusions of the Committee have in large part been made public, and they do nothing to support the contentions of the noble Lord who introduced this subject for debate. Nevertheless, the noble Lord and his like-minded friends persist, in season and out, in drawing the attention of His Majesty's Government to the necessity of reversing a policy which definitely has the support of the most experienced advisers on whom the Government can call.

The reason for this insistence is that the noble Lord and his friends detect, in the Government's present policy, a state of "highly dangerous dependence." It is remarkable, however, that they perceive that dependence only in one of its many facets. It is invariably dependence on imported oil which alarms them. The fact that the national life is also dependent on imported wheat, on a whole range of other imported foodstuffs, on imported rubber, and so on, does not apparently disturb them in the least. Nor are they able to detect that a similar dependence is shared by all other European Powers. France has virtually no indigenous production of oil; Italy also is almost wholly dependent on imported liquid fuels; Germany, in its progress towards autarchy, is now, at great expense, able to produce some 35 per cent. of its peace-time requirements of oil from home sources. Nevertheless, such are the advantages of oil firing for naval purposes, and so essential are the products of petroleum to all modern military operations, that these and other countries, dependent though they are on imported oil, use liquid fuel, with few exceptions, in their naval vessels, and must rely in every military operation upon continued supplies of imported liquid fuels.

The essential fact is that every great Power is dependent on imported supplies for some of the vital requisites of war. Attempts are made, as we are well aware, to evolve national substitutes for these imports or, more frequently, to accumulate reserves of vital imported substances. It is common knowledge, for instance, that the Governments of all the great Powers, including ourselves, have recently accumulated large stocks of liquid fuels and have thereby assured that the dependence of which the noble Lord is so fearful shall be mitigated, at least in the opening phases of hostilities.

I thought it remarkable that, in drawing the attention of His Majesty's Government to this matter, the noble Lord should have restricted himself as he did to fuel for the Navy, the Mercantile Marine, heavy road transport and industry as a whole. These categories suggest that the noble Lord is at present concentrating his attention on the heavier oils alone. The Navy and Mercantile Marine consume fuel oils and Diesel oil. Heavy road transport operates on types known as road fuel oils. "Industry as a whole" may consume any type of oil, but industry as a whole in this country is even now mainly a consumer of coal or of power derived from coal. What, I should like to know, does the noble Lord suggest should be done about the fuel for aeroplanes, for the lighter forms of road transport, and for all the mechanically operated tanks and vehicles used by the Army? Presumably, these are not to be produced from British coal, or the noble Lord would surely have included them to strengthen his case and to draw the attention of the Government to his case still more forcibly. If, however, they are not to be produced at home, are they still to be imported? I suspect that the noble Lord was covering himself, that he realises fully the fabulous expense and the virtual impossibility of rendering this country independent of imported oil. I have no doubt also that he realises that the plant which would be needed to produce all the oil he wants from coal would be so vulnerable a target, and so strong an incentive to bombing, that it would probably become inoperable from the moment hostilities began. The noble Lord referred to the great tanks for storage and the necessity for putting them underground. He did not mention that very large plants would have to be erected to carry out the policy which he suggests.

The outstanding fact is that, if war broke out, we and every other belligerent country would be in a state of highly dangerous dependence on many things. We, for example, would be dependent on the Navy—but I refuse to believe that we should be highly dangerously so. The Navy, in all its activities, is dependent upon speed. And to attain the speed comparable to that of the ships of other oil-fuelled navies, we can only rely upon the use of oil. The coal-fired ships of the noble Lord's happy imaginings would be as well equipped for modern war as would the tortoise in a race against the hare. Unfortunately, we cannot carry the parallel further and expect other naval Powers to fall asleep.

I have often wondered what motive inspires the noble Lord in raising the issue around which the present debate is centred. It cannot, I think, be an anxiety for the efficiency and the welfare of the Navy. His experience as a serving officer must surely have taught him that, in matters of operating efficiency on naval vessels, coal cannot compare with oil. The only possible motive which I can detect is a desire for increased prosperity in the coal industry. If that is so I suggest, with all respect, that the noble Lord is embarking on an unhealthy and dangerous cruise. Greater prosperity for the coal industry will never be attained by attempts to force coal as a fuel upon unwilling users, or by endeavouring to cause its re-adoption for purposes in which it has been supplanted by a more efficient fuel. I suggest therefore that the noble Lord should try another line of investigation for the betterment of the coal industry. No industry has ever progressed which has set its mind and its heart upon a return to days which have gone for ever. Progress depends on aspirations towards an ideal. Even if the ideal is not immediately attainable, it acts nevertheless as a stimulus to initiative. In endeavouring to attain it, something will be accomplished; and in the fulness of time the accumulation of even small accomplishments results in an entire change of use, in a greater adaptation to existing conditions, and in enhanced prosperity for the industry concerned.

There were two points made by the noble Lord at the opening of his speech to which I should like to refer. He said that the volume of oil in the world was very limited. I think he mentioned a figure of twelve years. That figure is totally incorrect; the amount of oil in view to-day far exceeds that. The other point was when he spoke of oil being brought over in the late War to the exclusion of food. I happened to be the responsible officer for dealing with the use of double bottoms in tankers, working under the Minister, Mr. Walter Long, and I may tell the noble Lord that not a gallon of oil was brought to this country in replacement of a pound of food. The orders were given that when a ship was departing from the other side of the Atlantic it was to come laden with other products than oil unless it could not be fully laden with them, and then only the double bottoms were to be used and to be filled with oil.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, my excuse for intervening is that on a former occasion when this matter was raised in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, I took part in the debate and dealt with the question of road transport from the point of view of economy of fuel consumption. Since that time I am bound to say that I have been greatly discouraged to find that more has not been done by the Government. I hope that the noble Earl in replying to-night will devote some part of his speech to that particular aspect of the question. It was raised in a relatively limited form by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, because, very naturally, he devoted the bulk of his speech to developing the marine side of the question. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, also referred to it, and spoke with the authority of the position which he holds in this particular field. I am sure that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, for raising this matter again, and your Lordships will agree that for care in the preparation of his speech and the brilliance of its presentation he deserves our thanks.

I was, to say the least, surprised that the noble Lord who has just sat down, who at least cannot escape the suspicion of having definite leanings on this subject, should have insinuated that my noble friend Lord Ailwyn in raising this question spoke for the coal industry. I imagine that what led him to raise it was his intimate knowledge as a serving officer, and the enthusiasm which, on patriotic grounds, he devotes to the examination of a case which he is particularly competent to follow. I should have thought that: in your Lordships' House a matter of this importance would have attracted a larger attendance, especially of noble Lords who are interested in oil—and there are many—and in coal. I am surprised that we do not see here to-day more noble Lords who are interested in coal, because when it is a matter of their own particular interest in coal I notice there is a very large attendance in your Lordships' House.

In developing the question of oil for road transport I do so from the wider point of view of the protection of sterling. That has not yet been mentioned in this debate. Surely if it be true that 92 per cent. of our total imports of oil are from other than Empire sources, the strain on sterling of the importation of oil must be an appreciable one. For that reason it is difficult to understand the reluctance of those Departments concerned, particularly the Ministry of Transport and the Treasury, who control the registration and taxation of vehicles, such as battery vehicles, vehicles running on gas, steam vehicles or producer gas vehicles. In all these cases it is a matter of regulation to allow such vehicles to carry the same pay load at the same speed and with the same tax as other types of vehicles. It is obvious that that must depend on agreement between the Departments. There cannot be in that matter the same technical controversy as there very naturally is between marine experts on the question of oil or coal at sea. My two terms on the Central Electricity Board enabled me to see at close quarters the astonishing changes which have taken place in the thermal efficiency of coal combustion and the relative cost of current under the thermal and hydroelectric systems. I wish to support my noble friend who initiated this debate in the emphasis he placed on how the conditions for the use of coal at sea have been entirely changed.

I finish on this note, that surely there cannot be grounds for this disinclination on the part of the Departments concerned to give more sympathy, if not to give actual encouragement—and it is in their power in many directions to give ample encouragement—to the development in this country of a supplementary means which may be available on a big scale in case of war for road haulage by a propelling medium other than oil. The controversy is a technical one as to matters of cost. I do not propose to enter into that. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with any figures, but it is incontrovertible that we are spending immense sums of money and putting a tremendous burden on the taxpayers of the country for varied purposes, while other countries—France, Italy, Germany, Russia, japan—have all taken strong Government action to encourage a supplementary means for the protection of their mobility in possible time of war, apart from the consolation of the exchange in time of peace. The encouragement of road transport is a means of security in time of war. I do not need to remind your Lordships of the vulnerability of the railways and the flexibility of the roads; but I finish on the key that if, as we are assured, the consumption of oil on land, at sea, and in the air is a vital test of our staying power in war, surely then ecenomy in the use of that fuel for road transport internally is vital. That is the appeal that I make to the noble Earl. If he is not able to give us much in detail at this late hour, I hope he will at least urge the Government Departments concerned to give greater sympathy to the representations made to them from various angles of this important subject.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships a few moments only. I have heard the noble Lord who introduced this subject raise it before in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord is a naval officer, and speaks no doubt with the idea of giving us the benefit of his experience as a naval officer. The ground was very well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who dealt with most of his arguments, but I would really ask the noble Lord, as a naval officer, to tell us how a destroyer flotilla of the British Navy could possibly operate on coal and carry out its work. It can only be done by providing completely double crews for all the duties concerned. You could not possibly expect your crews, having been out on patrol or some special duty like that, to come in and re-coal the ship and go out and carry on with thorough efficiency. I always think the case of destroyers is perhaps the best test to apply to arguments on the subject of oil versus coal.

I hope I may say a word on the subject of producer gas. I have not an oil share, and I am not directly or indirectly connected with oil, but I am interested in the production of vehicles to run on producer gas or on oil, or even trolley-buses. The firm to which I belong makes all of them, and it is a matter of complete indifference which we make. With regard to producer gas, there is a system now which is capable of running road vehicles on producer gas. In fact the firm to which I belong has made several vehicles already, and one is being tried out extensively in this country. The conclusion we have come to is that it is impossible to operate the producer-gas vehicle in peace time on the existing basis of taxation. I am afraid the Government will have to go into the matter from the point of view of taxation generally, and see how taxation is distributed over heavy commercial vehicles before it is really a commercial proposition to run a vehicle on producer gas. The Government might go into it, and I hope the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, will be able to give us some little assurance on this subject. I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, in what he said and also what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Barnby. I do think the Government could do a good deal to encourage the use of producer gas, and perhaps something might be done to encourage the use of steam vehicles in the heavy commercial vehicle industry. At this late hour I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but I trust the Government will be able to offer us some encouragement.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, as several noble Lords have said, this is far from being the first debate on this subject we have had in your Lordships' House. I am afraid nothing I am likely to say is going to convince my noble and gallant friend Lord Ailwyn. I observe, however, that he remarked that we had been driven from our front-line trench. May I suggest that he has been driven from his front-line system, because the claim he put forward to-day is very much less than he put forward in the past? I may say, to begin with, that of course the whole question of fuel supply is constantly in the mind of His Majesty's Government. We recognise to the full the difficulties of exchange, and we realise that in time of war that situation is going to be much more difficult. Therefore, if it were possible with equal efficiency to run the whole of our services on home-produced fuel, no one would be more anxious to do it than members of His Majesty's Government. May I remind my noble friend that, as has been said by, at any rate, one other Peer, every single country in the world is running its Navy on oil fuel, and with the exception of the United States and Russia every one of them is dependent on imported supplies?

My noble friend stressed the great danger in which this country is placed by being dependent on foreign sources for its oil supply, but, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Cadman, oil is only one of the things which we have to import into this country. Food, raw materials of all kinds, all sorts of objects, some of them of great bulk, have got to be imported into this country, and if we fail to import them into this country we lose the war. Of that there can be no question. That is why the Navy counts as the Senior Service, and not only as the Senior Service but as the one on which the whole country depends for its security. We might lose battles in the air, or we might lose battles on land, but if we lose the battle at sea we are finished, because starvation then stares us in the face. Therefore when we realise the vital importance of our imports into this country, let us realise also that oil is only one of those imports and therefore the duty of protecting it is but one of the duties which is laid upon the Fleet. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, when he stated that the more we could lighten the burden that lies upon the Fleet in regard to the escort which is necessary for materials to be brought to this country, the more will the Admiralty be pleased. The burden is so heavy that the more we can reduce it the better and the greater is the safety of this country.

But let us realise the practical side of the question. If you are going to limit your ships by compelling them to burn coal, you are going to put them in a position in which they are likely to find themselves inferior to the ships of the enemy. Therefore you will be placed in the position that you will very possibly lose your battle at sea, and although you have your alternative supply of fuel close at hand, nevertheless you are not in a position to defend your material as it comes into this country. I thought my noble and gallant friend had given up his front-line system. My recollection of what he said on the last occasion is that we should revert to solely coal-burning ships. I may be wrong, but I did happen to look at part of the debate, and that is the impression, going through the speeches, which came to my mind. Now he does not even ask for dual-firing. What he does ask for is one or two boilers in which coal will be used while the remainder of the boilers in the ship will be oil-fired. That is, of course, a very different matter, but it still raises the most tremendous practical difficulties.

In the first place you cannot burn oil and coal under the same boiler unless you have an entirely different system of boilers from what we have now. The oil-fired boiler is anything up to twenty or more feet in length, and if you have coal-fired boilers they cannot be more than 7 ft. 6 in. for the reason that the stoker cannot shovel coal further than that. I believe that if any of your Lordships were to try to feed coal to a distance of 7 ft. 6 in. you would feel it was full long enough. If the boiler is mechanically fired you can have the long boiler that is required, but you must also have the machinery and equipment which have to be put in for mechanical firing. You have to have first of all your hoist to carry the coal up to a height well above the boiler, because even though you may fire your boiler at the bottom and push your coal in by the mechanical stoker at the bottom of the fire, none the less your coal has to be delivered at the top of the hopper. There has to be a hopper going down to feed the mechanical stoker which is at the bottom of the boiler, and therefore your coal has to be conveyed from bunkers near the bottom of the ship up to the high level where it can be fed down into hoppers and conveyors. I think my noble friend Lord Teynham pointed out that that means holes in decks and holes in watertight compartments. If your Lordships will examine the plan of modern ships, particularly those that are being built now, you will see that in order to increase the safety of the ship and to protect her both from air and underwater attacks, the sub-divisions are very considerable. Therefore the moment you put in these conveyors and these hoists you very seriously reduce the safety of the ship, and make her much more vulnerable.

There is a further point. These conveyors and hoists go almost inevitably into parts of the ship where otherwise you would have your ammunition hoists. I was examining plans only last week. The noble Lord says that the Admiralty are hidebound about this, but to examine the problem I invited him, as he told the House, to come and see for himself. I hope he and some of his expert friends will do so. We have had some so-called experts. One, I think, had never seen the inside of a warship, but he knew about mechanical coal stoking, and when he saw what a ship was in plan he realised that it was quite impossible to adapt that system to a ship. I hope my noble friend and some of his experts will come and see these things on paper, because it is much more easy to explain from a plan than I can hope to do to your Lordships' House. He will find that the experts of the Admiralty have gone into these matters with extreme thoroughness, and they are fully prepared to discuss the question, to point out their side and to listen to the other side; but I can assure my noble friend that, having approached the subject with an open mind, I myself was absolutely convinced, and there can be no question whatever about it, that as regards His Majesty's Fleet, it is essential that we should continue to rely on oil firing.

Let me give one or two figures only. A dual-fired ship, such as the noble Lord suggests, of course increases the tonnage of that ship by some 20 per cent. That means that either she has to have largely increased horse power or she has great loss of speed. It is difficult to give exact figures, because it depends on the number of coal-fired boilers put in and also whether you have mechanical stoking appliances or hand appliances. It makes an immense difference. Taking hand appliances, this is what happens. In a 10,000 ton cruiser, dual-fired as the noble Lord suggests but by hand, we should lose 12½ per cent. in maximum speed, and have 25 per cent. reduction in maximum endurance, and a 50 per cent. increase in the engineer complement. My noble friend does not believe it, but he is not an engineer, and the engineer officers after all are experts on this matter. Let me tell him that he is not entirely correct in saying that there are now no coal-fired ships in His Majesty's Navy. There are a few small ones, and it happens that I have had to go into the case of two of them, the reason being this. With coal-fired boilers—of course they are very old ships—the number of the crew is far higher than it is for an oil-fired ship, and the result is that the living conditions in these coal-fired ships are infinitely inferior to those in the oil-fired ships. I found that those conditions are nowhere near up to the standard which is required in His Majesty's ships now for the amenity of the crews who live in them and who in an emergency will have to fight them.

The noble Lord suggested that as regards escort vessels they had no need for speed. I wonder whether, if I appointed him to an escort vessel and the convoy was attacked by a submarine, he would not then think that he needed extreme speed forthwith. After all, the duty of the escort vessel is not only to protect the ships in the convoy but to destroy the attacking ship, and then what we require, if there is an attack, is that the escort vessel should go at whatever speed is necessary—probably extreme speed—to attack the submarine or whatever ship it may be which is attacking. He suggested also that it required no increase in personnel. But if you are going from cruising speed to a higher speed you cannot do that with your coal boilers and so your oil-fired boilers must be kept at sufficient heat to develop full speed. Both types of boilers have to have their crews there. Those who take the risk of low speed often endanger their ships.

As regards the statement made in another place that it is now possible to build a dual-fired warship that is equal to an oil-fired warship, that is true if you are prepared to increase the size, increase the horse-power and generally to make a very much larger vessel. But, of course, you then get an entirely different type of vessel with characteristic disadvantages in many other ways. For instance, very large cruisers for many kinds of fleet action have great disadvantages. There are many advantages in having small cruisers, for instance, in night action. I do not want to go into more technical detail, because I may be revealing things which everyone would agree should not be stated in public, but I may say that, although it is technically possible to produce a dual-fired warship, at any rate it has very many disadvantages. If the noble Lord comes and talks to my experts, I think he will see that those disadvantages are so material that we have no alternative but to come to the decision we have.

He referred to the use of coal in the Mercantile Marine. I wonder whether he is aware that the Secretary for Mines summoned a conference in February, 1937, to consider the extended use of coal in merchant ships. As a result of that a Committee was set up which reported in July, 1938. They reported that for certain types of ships oil had considerable advantages, but that in regard to ships of 1,500 to 8,000 steam horse-power coal undoubtedly could hold its own. The Committee said, and the Government agreed, that many shipowners are entirely unaware of the modern methods of coal firing or of the greatly improved boilers that are now in use, and of the advantages to be derived from that type of fuel. We are doing our best to assist the use of coal in ships by giving a preference in the building subsidy of 1s. per ton in the case of tramp steamers and 1s. 6d. in the case of cargo liners. But, as the noble Lord said, one of the disadvantages of using coal is the very high price of bunker fuel. The matter has been brought to the notice both of the coal-owners and of the shipowners, with a suggestion that they should get into conference together and see if lower prices cannot be arranged. In several cases that has been successful and the price has been brought down materially, to the great advantage both of coalowners and of the shipping community. There is, however, one point which has not been mentioned. Some mechanical stokers require a very special type of fuel. It is entirely incorrect to say that they can use Australian or Welsh or any other fuel that is available. They can only use one type and a certain size of fuel. The subject is one of great difficulty. The noble Lord may be interested to know that as a result of the policy which I have just mentioned, of giving a preference to coal-burning ships, 63 per cent. of the vessels so far notified to the Board of Trade as having been ordered under the recent subsidy are coal-using ships.

I turn for a few moments to the use of coal in industry generally. There are some sections of industry in which oil fuel has marked advantages, and we must remember that many of our industries have to be in competition with those in other countries which often pay lower wages and possibly lower taxation. I think it will be agreed that the Government would be entirely unjustified in bringing strong pressure on such people to use coal when they find it better to use oil. But the idea that oil is being very widely used in industry is, I think, one that is entirely incorrect. People have an exaggerated idea of the respective amounts of oil and coal in use. The estimated annual value of coal used in industry on shore is £80,000,000 against £3,000,000 for oil. The balance is a very large one indeed, and when I remind your Lordships that the Fuel Research Station is constantly endeavouring to encourage the production of suitable fuels and to bring their advantages to the notice of consumers, I think it will be seen that there is hope that the preponderance of coal will at any rate at least be maintained.

Now I turn to the subject of heavy road transport. Several noble Lords have mentioned the question of the turnover from tramways to other kinds of mechanically - propelled vehicles. Of course in a great many cases tramways have turned over to trolleybuses. It is rather interesting to notice that tramways in the past ten years have consumed only 721,000,000 electrical units in 1937–38 as compared with 794,000,000 units ten years earlier. That deficit, however, has been more than replaced by the greater number of electrical units consumed by trolleybuses. That figure has risen from 12,000,000 units to 203,000,000 units. The result is that tramways and trolley-buses together have increased their consumption of electrical units from 806,000,000 in 1927–8 to 924,000,000 units in 1937–8. That is the last complete year for which figures are available. It is, of course, true that a very large number of large towns have preferred the ordinary petrol motor 'bus, chiefly because of its flexibility. We have seen in London how the population has moved out from the centre to the suburbs. You have to adapt your transport to where your population lives. Therefore it is natural, where there are old cities not quite certain where their populations in the next ten or twenty years are going to live, that they should have a system of transport which could be switched over from one route to another without the difficulty of having to alter wires and the other arrangements required for the trolleybus. But we do endeavour to encourage all those local authorities to go for trolleybuses and electrically-driven vehicles in preference to petrol, pointing out, as no doubt my noble friend Lord Ailwyn would warmly approve of, the danger that there may be shortage of petrol in time of war and therefore severe rationing.


Can the noble Earl give any indication of the proportion of power units required for the propulsion of 'buses within the municipal areas, in comparison with the power required for road haulage in the country as a whole which has taken the place of rail transport? The proportion to which he has just referred, which is illuminating and extremely encouraging, must be a very small proportion of the total problem.


I am not an expert on transport matters, but I imagine that the trolleybuses are almost entirely in urban areas and not in country areas, for the obvious reason that in country districts the wires are tremendously expensive to put up. I imagine that in country districts the ordinary motor bus would naturally be able altogether to undercut the trolleybus in the cost of installation. I do not know that I have put it quite clearly; what I want to say is that the cost of installation of the trolleybus, when you run it in a country district, would be so high that I cannot imagine that it would be preferred to the ordinary motor 'bus run on petrol.


I appreciate the noble Earl's explanation, but I do not want to run the risk of this matter failing to reach the Departments concerned, principally the Ministry of Transport and the Treasury. The problem should be met by concentration on road haulage, and therefore on concessions which would come from the present taxation to encourage road haulage and the replacement in it of imported fuel by other agencies for propulsion. My remarks were based on that proposal, which has the object of diminishing the drain on sterling.


Knowing my noble friend, I thought at first he was going to go for horse transport! He did not know that my noble friend Lord Cadman had started life as a great authority on coal power and had come to oil later. I do not know whether he likes his first or his last love better; I would not be so indiscreet as to inquire; but he knows a great deal about both. As regards the heavy motor vehicles, as I said, I am not an expert on these matters and therefore there is not very much that I can say to the House, but I can assure your Lordships that the Fuel Research Department has been investigating that subject very closely. As my noble friend Lord Teynham knows, all sorts of experiments have been made; we are very closely in touch with the producer gas experts, and I understand that very considerable progress is being made in that direction.

I am not at liberty to say more than that at this moment, but I would point out to your Lordships that, while several noble Lords suggested that the electrically-driven vehicle should have its batteries included in the weight, the Ministry of Transport say that the electrically-driven vehicle—I refer to the battery-driven vehicle, not the one supplied by overhead wires—really does not compete with the ordinary petrol-driven vehicle. I believe its speed is very much less, and certainly its radius of action is very much less, and therefore it is not really a competitor of the petrol engine, so you cannot very well compare it with the producer gas plant. On the other hand, the producer gas plant has the great advantage that it runs on a non-taxed fuel, and the petrol vehicle is, of course, extremely heavily taxed. The noble Lord suggested that we should do even more for the producer gas vehicle. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Howe would suggest that the tax on petrol should be increased, so that a greater preference should be given to the producer gas vehicle, but I should be rather surprised if he would!

I do not think I can say more on that side. I should just like to say one or two words on the question of reserves. I can assure the House that this matter of fuel supply in time of war is constantly before His Majesty's Government and is under constant examination. My noble friend Lord Mottistone suggested that if we had only followed his advice we should be over-produced with the fuel we required from the coal of this country. May I remind him of the findings of the Falmouth Committee, which investigated this subject with great care, as he knows? They came to this opinion, and it is an opinion which His Majesty's Government have accepted: In general a policy of depending on imported supplies with adequate storage is the most reliable and economic means of providing for an emergency, and they cannot recommend the reliance of the country in war time on supplies of oil from indigenous sources established for this purpose unless any particular aspect of the case can be shown to be exceptional. The reason for that decision was, I understand, the one given by my noble friend Lord Howe: that these big establishments required to convert coal into oil are themselves a very great mark, a far bigger mark than the actual oil tanks required to carry the oil to this country. Therefore from the point of view of safety from air attack the oil tank is to be preferred to the factory which converts coal into oil.

As regards the protection of those reserves, I am afraid that is a matter which, as your Lordships will fully appreciate, although perhaps I might be prepared to inform your Lordships privately, I am certainly not going to state in public to this House. It is one of the matters that no doubt those who bear us no love would very much like to know, and they are certainly not going to get it from me. But that point, I may say, has not escaped the notice of His Majesty's Government, and if ever those oil reserves were attacked, I think that people would find that it was not a particularly healthy performance, or one that was particularly successful.

I have answered or tried to deal with most of the points that were raised by my noble friends in this debate, and I can only say that it is a matter of great importance and one that we are constantly considering. I should have liked very much to win over my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, who with such great ability has brought this Motion before your Lordships' House, and if he would only come and visit us at the Admiralty I should hope that he might be converted to our side.


Could the noble Earl tell me about the port facilities for taking the increased quantity of oil in war time?


Yes, I think I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I understand that he asked whether it would be possible to land in the ports of this country the increased quantity of oil that would be required in war time. Yes, that has been under investigation constantly, and we are thoroughly satisfied from that point of view.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour you will not expect me to deal with many of these points that have been raised. I should like first of all to thank the noble Earl for his usual courtesy and for the very full way in which he has answered my points. Certainly with the greater part of what he has told me I am reasonably well satisfied. I am, however, extremely disappointed over the question of the Fleet. I am sure that what the noble Earl has said he genuinely believes to be the fact, but I can only repeat in two words that, so far as the Fleet is concerned, the dual-fired ship retains her full steaming and endurance qualities as an oil burner. There is no question of not wanting the ship to burn oil; the only point is, if the oil is not there, have a safeguard. However, I will not keep your Lordships any longer. I am a little sorry that the noble Lord who spoke from the Cross Benches, Lord Cadman, should have thought it necessary or helpful to impute certain motives to me in moving this Motion. I think if he had listened to my speech he might have realised that I was raising this Motion on one ground only—namely, national security. Those who have spoken against my proposals have attributed to me statements and arguments which I have never used, and have then proceeded to demolish them to their complete satisfaction. I thank noble Lords for having taken part in the debate, and clearly I have no alternative but to ask permission to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.