§ THE DUKE OF MONTROSE had the following Notice on the Paper: To move to resolve, That in connexion with the Government scheme for controlling road transport, and in view of a prospective further reduction in petrol supply, this 204 House is of opinion that the time has arrived for developing the use of producer gas as an alternative system of propulsion for haulage. The noble Duke said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, I am not forgetting the fact that I have addressed your Lordships on this subject of an alternative fuel to petrol for motor transport on several previous occasions, and I hope your Lordships will not classify me too readily as a bore. I know the subject can be very dull, but at the same time I feel I have some justification for once again bringing it before Your Lordships' notice. Members of the Government have been at great pains, going up and down the country, telling our people that we may expect an invasion. Indeed some Ministers have gone so far as to say that an invasion is certain. Personally I do not attach much importance to the idea of an invasion unless we lose command of the sea and command of the air. But if we are going to retain command of the sea and air, then we must have in this country ample supplies—I might go so far as to say unlimited supplies—of oil and petrol. Without oil and petrol our Fighting Services must come to a standstill and we should be entirely at the mercy of the Huns.
§ The unsatisfactory part of the oil position, to my mind, is that as the number of our enemies increases our sources of supply of oil diminish. As an island nation we produce no oil in this country, and there can be no question that if our sources of supply of the necessary oil shrink we shall be in a serious position. It is reasonable therefore that we should begin to prepare for some alternative system of propulsion for our motor vehicles which will not draw on our oil supplies. I feel that the alternative system that we should seek to initiate and develop is that of producer gas. When we talk about producer gas your Lordships will probably remember that during the last war we saw quite a number of vehicles in our towns running about with great balloons on the roof. That was town gas, but I am talking about producer gas which is made on the vehicle as it runs. One great advantage of producer gas over town gas is that it has a much wider range of action. Moreover, it is very much cheaper than town gas. You can make producer gas, per vehicle mile, for about one-third the cost of town gas.205
§ Another important point is that if your transport depended on town gas and a big bomb hit the gasometer, the whole of your transport would come to a standstill. But, in the case of producer gas it is made on each vehicle, and it is most unlikely that every vehicle in an area would be immobilized at the same time.
§ There can be no question that, in these days of the war, our duty is to develop producer gas as an alternative means of propulsion to petrol. Well, what have we done during the last three years of war to develop this alternative power? What have we done to prepare for a possible emergency during which our oil supplies might be cut off? My answer is that we have done nothing at all. We have just sat in this country waiting for something to happen. Well, I do not feel that that is good enough, because there can be no question that if, by any chance, our oil supplies were cut off—and we know that they have to pass through great dangers in getting here—the whole of our Fighting Services and our transport services would come to a standstill. And we have done nothing to prepare for such an emergency. I feel that we should do something. The position is so unsatisfactory, not because we have not got the means of developing an alternative system of propulsion like producer gas, but because we have been too lazy, or too complacent, to develop it.
§ We have in this country ample sources from which to develop the producer gas system for motor propulsion. One reason why we have not done so hitherto is, I suppose, that we got oil so easily in days of peace that nobody thought it worth while to develop producer gas. Another reason would be that in the late Lord Fisher's time, when we switched over from coal firing of our warships to oil burning, the Government of the day, and all successive Governments, were exceedingly anxious to develop the oil business. So anxious were our Government to do this that they took shares in a number of oil concerns. I believe they took 2,000,000 shares in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, for example. It would be very difficult for a Government interesting themselves so actively in oil suddenly to turn round and begin giving encouragement to an opposition form of power like producer gas derived from sources here. That, as I say, would be a reason why we did not develop this extra form of power. Another reason would be that people in 206 this country seem to think that producer gas is still in the experimental stage. It is not. It has been in use on the Continent for many years. I believe that in France they have to-day something like 50,000 vehicles running on producer gas. I know that in Denmark they have 40,000 vehicles running on it, in Sweden 60,000, and I saw it stated in the Press, as coming from the Ministry of Information, that the Germans have 160,000 vehicles running on producer gas simply for the sake of saving petrol for their Fighting Forces.
§ There is, in fact, nothing experimental at all about producer gas. One day recently, when I was coming to your Lordships' House, I stood at a spot near a factory in Renfrewshire. Suddenly I saw two large lorries carrying about 10 tons of steel girders approaching. I noticed that there was something different about them, and when I came to look at them more closely I saw that they were vehicles driven by producer gas. I said to one of the drivers: "Where have you come from?" He named a foundry 250 miles away. He told me that they had been driving all through the night. They had come all that way carrying 10 tons of steel girders and the vehicles were propelled by producer gas. It is quite obvious from experience, both on the Continent and in this country, that we have available to our hands an alternative power to petrol if we choose to develop it. Now there is no question that the Government of our country have not been active in developing producer gas propulsion, but they have actually been trying to penalize anything we have done privately in that direction. One thing which they did was to put a heavy tax on all vehicles fitted with producer-gas plants. If you had a three-ton lorry driven by petrol it paid such and such a tax, but immediately that lorry was fitted with alternative producer-gas plant it became liable to the incidence of a great deal more in taxation. That was the way in which the Government suppressed our development of the producer-gas system. On the Continent the Governments have been extremely active in the other direction, and have given grants up to £50 on every vehicle fitted with producer-gas plant. On the Continent they try to develop this form of power by giving subsidies and grants. In this country the Government try to suppress it by means of additional taxation.207
§ I think the time has now come, in view of the dangers before us, to do something active about developing this additional system of propulsion. I think I am right in saying that the Minister of Transport has just decided to form a pool of lorries. I do not know how many vehicles this pool will comprise—it may be 5,000 lorries or something like that—but I understand the Minister of Transport intends to use this pool as and when required for transport and for giving relief to the railways. There is a chance now! I congratulate the Minister on forming the pool, but I will never be satisfied unless at least half of the vehicles in the pool are fitted to run on the alternative power of producer gas alongside the petrol system. Now is the chance to do this. It may seem as though I was asking your Lordships to approve of something very extravagant in suggesting that we should fit, say, 3,000 vehicles, or even 5,000 vehicles, right away with these plants. I do not think I am asking of your Lordships anything extravagant.
In 1937 the Government appointed a Committee, under the Chairmanship of Sir Harold Hartley, to go into the whole question of producer-gas propulsion. Sir Harold Hartley's Committee reported to Parliament in 1939, and in the summary of their conclusions they say:
Provided suitable equipment and fuels are used, producer gas can be regarded as a practicable alternative fuel for motor vehicles, and can be recommended for use in an emergency for certain types of road transport.
They also say:
'' The annual supply of fuel suitable for producer vehicles which is likely to be available is estimated to be sufficient for several thousand vehicles at once and approaching 10,000 in the fairly near future.
Sir Harold Hartley's Committee went into the whole question, and reported that producer gas is an efficient fuel for propulsion, and that in 1939 there was sufficient fuel in this country to drive up to 10,000 vehicles, if they were fitted at once. The position as regards fuel has, of course, improved considerably since 1939.
§ A good fuel is just as essential for producer-gas vehicles as good petrol is for motors. We have in this country various sources of fuel. First of all, there are certain anthracite coals—Welsh anthracite and Scottish anthracite—and there are 208 various charcoals, such as wood charcoal and peat charcoal. There is also low-temperature coke, which is a synthetic fuel derived by the distillation of coal. All these fuels are available for use now in various quantities. We must try to avoid drawing on coal which is likely to be used for making munitions, and therefore, to my mind, the most suitable fuel of all is low-temperature coke, especially if it is made from what are called non-caking slacks. Non-caking slacks are very poor fuel indeed for burning under a boiler or in fires, and there is a very small demand for them; but, if they are distilled, then from a practically worthless fuel it is possible to obtain a first-class medium of propulsion, so that that seems to be the fuel to use. On the Continent charcoal is used. We have never been able to obtain enough charcoal in peace-time by reason of the utter neglect of our afforestation, but to-day, when we are felling so much home timber, there is certainly a fairly large supply of charcoal available if we care to use it. So far as peat is concerned, we have, of course, a very large supply of peat in this country, and in fact almost an unlimited supply. Peat charcoal is certainly very effective—I have often made use of it—but it is very difficult to handle. The difficulty with peat is that it is more liquid than milk; there is more water in peat than there is in milk—or perhaps I should say more liquid! It is therefore, as I say, a very difficult fuel to handle, and that is why I think that we should use low-temperature coke.
§ It seems to me utterly wrong that there should be to-day a factory capable of making synthetic fuel and high-grade synthetic aviation spirit which is standing absolutely idle. I shall not say in public where that factory is, but I have given a note of its name to the noble Lord who is to reply. That factory—which, as I say, is at present standing idle—is capable of turning out something like 45,000 tons of low-temperature coke, which would be enough to drive 3,000 lorries continuously, and in addition would turn out 250,000 gallons of high-grade synthetic aviation spirit in the course of the distillation. In addition to that, it would turn out 4,000,000 gallons of oil, which could be refined and used—light oils, middle oils and heavy oils. That factory, I repeat, is standing absolutely idle to-day. In Germany such factories as this form our principal 209 military target, because we realize their tremendous importance to the aviation of Germany. It is a pity that we ourselves do not realize how important such a factory is.
§ I believe that the Government have appointed another Committee to go into this question of producer gas. It seems to me to be a case of one Committee after another. First of all there was the Hartley Committee, which went into the whole question, and I also remember a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Ridley, which also went into the whole question, but I never saw its Report. Now I understand the Government have appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Henley. I do not know how many more Committees we are going to have, and I do not know what Lord Henley's Committee are going to do. I think that they could do nothing better than get this idle factory started. What is the good of another Committee going into the whole question of fuel supply again? We have in this country a Fuel Research Board, under the auspices of the Government, which has been functioning for years, and on that Board are some of the best scientists in Great Britain and in the world. What they do not know about fuels is not worth knowing. We have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in maintaining the Fuel Research Board and in carrying out all their experiments, but we have seen very little fruit from all their labour and from all our expense. Why not make use of all their knowledge? Why not make use of all the money that we have spent? Why not be content with the Fuel Research Board? I suggest that Lord Henley's Committee should confine themselves to getting the idle factories started, and also to marrying the supply of good fuel to the installation of plant on motor lorries.
§ I very rarely address your Lordships on any subject without trying to make a constructive suggestion. I feel that, if your Lordships will support this Motion, the time has come when we should stop talking and do something. I should like to see the Minister of War Transport set up a separate department in his Ministry to go into this question of an alternative motive power to take the place of petrol. I should like to see him map out all the long haulage routes in this country from London to the North, taking Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield on the 210 one hand and Newcastle and Hell on the other, and going through Carlisle to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I should like to see him allocate lorries fitted with gas producers to deal with long haulage along those main routes, so as to relieve the congestion on the railways. I should like to see sites chosen along those routes for serviceing the motor lorries and supplying the fuel. I should like to see a school started to give prospective drivers of these lorries short courses of instruction, because, if we want satisfaction, a man who is going to drive a producer-gas lorry must know what he is doing. It seems to me that if we develop a scheme of that sort, with three to four thousand lorries relieving the railways and utilizing the long haulage routes, with service stations for fuel and serviceing and a school for drivers, the whole thing could be put into operation in six or eight months.
The Minister of Transport, speaking the other day in London, said:
'' War transport of all forms of tonnage must be organized and run for war purposes. Our duty to-day is to see that every transport unit, whether it is a wagon, lorry, or barge, contributes the last ounce to victory.
A very wise statement, too, but I will add this: transport never will contribute the last ounce to victory until we place it in a position to save the last gallon of petrol for the Fighting Forces. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in connexion with the Government scheme for controlling road transport, and in view of a prospective further reduction in petrol supply, this House is of opinion that the time has arrived for developing the use of producer gas as an alternative system of propulsion for haulage.—[The Duke of Montrose.]
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I am sure we are greatly indebted to the noble Duke for bringing this subject to the attention of your Lordships' House, and the admirable speech he has made has covered most of the ground, so that there is not much more to be said. But in addition to the reasons he has advanced for conserving the motive power of our transport and forming a reserve supply, I would also suggest that there are two other considerations—namely, the economy in shipping space involved in transporting fuel oil from overseas, and the necessity of husbanding our resources in foreign 211 exchange; for all the fuel that we import from overseas has to be paid for by this country. I suggest that those are two considerations which have a bearing upon this subject. The noble Duke has already, I think, proved to us the practicability of introducing the gas producer and of equipping vehicles for using producer gas in this country, and he has told us what has happened in other countries.
I believe that as long ago as the year 1938 Italy had 5,000 passenger vehicles and 1,000 lorries equipped with gas producers, and the Italian Government paid two-thirds of the cost of conversion. In France as far back as 1938 there were 6,000 vehicles run on producer gas, and the Government exempted these vehicles from taxation for two years. In Sweden there are 2,000 omnibuses, 14,000 lorries, and 6,000 other vehicles run on producer gas, and there is a rebate of 50 per cent. in the tax imposed on petrol-run vehicles in the case of vehicles run on producer gas. Even in Switzerland the Government have given a subsidy in order to provide 1,000 vehicles run on producer gas. The noble Duke told us what is happening in Germany. There, as far back as 1937, 2,000 vehicles had been adapted for running on producer gas, and to-day there are 180,000 lorries and 66 inland waterway vessels which are run on producer gas. This, I understand, means a saving of 680,000 tons of oil this year, and I believe it is anticipated that next year the saving will be as much as 1,000,000 tons of oil. That shows at any rate that this is a feasible proposition—there cannot be any question about that; whereas in this country up to now there are fewer than 1,000 vehicles being run on producer gas even after two years of war.
This subject might be summed up in two problems—the problem of fuel production, and the adaptation of vehicles and the production of new vehicles especially fitted and especially built for producer gas. On the question of fuel, many experiments have been already carried out, and I understand that two bodies have been dealing with this matter, first, the British Coal Utilization Research Association, and, secondly, the Fuel Research Department. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply what co-ordination has been established 212 between these two bodies; to what extent are they working entirely on their own, and to what extent the conclusions they have reached have been co-ordinated and acted upon. Obviously it is in the national interest that whatever is done should be the result of the joint research of those two bodies which have been dealing with it. I would suggest that, before these conclusions have been actually put into practice, some advisory Committee might be formed which would include not only the research organizations themselves but also the manufacturers who would be responsible for turning out the plants and the gas producers, also the fuel suppliers and the operators; so that from the practical standpoint the result of the Research Committees' work can be fully investigated before mass production is put into operation.
The same, I think, applies to the appliances which are intended for the adaptation or the conversion of existing vehicles. I believe that the great problem is the provision of steel, and this involves not only the Ministry of Mines and the Fuel Research Department but also the Minister of Supply, because it is impossible either to adapt or convert the existing vehicles or to provide the steel necessary for the production of the fuel required, unless this steel becomes available. I understand the steel is needed for the ovens in order to produce the synthetic fuel as well as for the adaptation of the vehicles. One hundred tons of steel will equip 400 vehicles, and if 1,000 vehicles were converted in this way we should save 2,500,000 gallons a year, or 10,000 tons, of oil. I imagine that from the point of view of economy the expenditure of 100 tons of steel would pay for itself over and over again.
The last point I wish to suggest is that, as this whole subject is still more or less in the stage of experimentation, the first steps should be taken in those areas where the fuel is actually produced. Motor omnibuses and lorries in areas like South Wales, Durham, and parts of Scotland, where the coal is to be found and the fuel is available, should first of all be converted before vehicles in other areas are dealt with, and also these vehicles should be supplied, as the noble Duke has suggested, for long-distance traffic in order to relieve the congestion that we all know exists on the railways at the present moment. I cannot help feeling that, with 213 proper organization, in view of the fact that the running of producer-gas vehicles is at least one-third of the cost of running petrol vehicles, with encouragement from the Government, and some relaxation in taxation on these producer-gas vehicles, something would be done and done very quickly. It would reduce our dependence upon foreign supplies, and it would also be the means of improving the general transportation in the country. For these reasons it gives me great pleasure to support the Motion of my noble friend.
§ VISCOUNT PLUMER
My Lords, if I may I should like to say a few words as regards the position of commercial motor users on this question. The commercial users are perfectly willing, and have been perfectly willing, to try out gas producers, but they have found that the relaxation of taxation which they were offered in 1940 was not sufficient to cover the prime costs of having gas producers, and, secondly, there was another very large cost for the maintenance and renewal of certain parts of the gas producer. There was also great difficulty in procuring the proper fuel. These points have caused at least two of the firms who have been using gas-producer plants to go back to heavy oil and abandon their gas producers. I feel that if, as the noble Duke has said, it is essential that the commercial users should be encouraged to use gas-producer plant, certain concessions as regards taxation should be made in order to make it worth while for them to use it.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Duke for having been good enough to send my advisers a copy of the notes of the speech he has just delivered so that I should be able to prepare my reply. As regards what he said, he accused the Government of having done nothing in this matter during the last few years. I cannot agree with him at all, and I hope, before I have done, to prove to the noble Duke and to your Lordships that the Government have made every effort and have done a very great deal. Your Lordships will know that there was, first of all, the Hartley Committee, which was quoted by the noble Duke. In 1940 it published designs for a Government emergency producer which has proved satisfactory under working conditions in commercial service. Further improvements have been made 214 since that date, and have been tested in operation by the road transport organizations represented on the Mines Department's Committee. Research work has been continued by the Fuel Research Station, the British Coal Utilization Research Association, and other organizations. I am informed that during the past few months progress has been rapid, and it has been possible to arrange tests of new types of producers and filters on vehicles engaged in long-distance transport.
The noble Duke also said that this kind of locomotion had been penalized by the Government. On the contrary, the Government have encouraged it By modifying various regulations that operated to the disadvantage of vehicles using producer gas. For instance, by the Gas and Steam Vehicles (Excise Duties) Act, 1940, allowances were made for the weight of gas equipment carried on goods vehicles in computing the duty payable. Permission has also been given in specific instances for producers on trailers to be drawn by omnibuses—this is the only exception to the rule that an omnibus may not draw a trailer at all—and the general restriction to thirty miles per hour in the case of motor cars drawing trailers has been removed for motor cars drawing gas producers.
As a result of these concessions, I must say His Majesty's Government expected that there would be a great increase in gas-driven vehicles, but the contrary is the case. There are several hundred gas-driven vehicles of all kinds now in operation, but owners and operators in general show considerable reluctance to convert. The chief reasons for this are undoubtedly, first, the loss of power hitherto inseparable from conversion to producer gas; secondly, the increase in operating costs; and, thirdly, the fact that, although the strictest economies are enforced in the issue of liquid fuel, it has up to the present been found possible to meet the needs of all essential transport from that source. Here I may say that the position of liquid fuels is, as your Lordships are aware, continually in the minds of the Government. There have been cuts lately, and for all I know there may be cuts in the future. The position of liquid fuel is under frequent consideration and is by no means lost sight of. I need hardly add that His Majesty's Government are as well aware as is the noble Duke or any of your Lordships 215 of the disadvantage of having to import the whole of our oil from overseas. It is hoped that the disadvantages attendant on producer-gas operation will be reduced by improvements in equipment, but in the meantime they constitute factors which have to be taken seriously into account in a situation where the fullest possible use must be made of the manpower and the transport facilities available.
In particular, this is true in connexion with me recently announced Government road haulage scheme to which my noble friend referred. One of the main objects of this scheme is to provide and maintain a fleet of vehicles as a mobile reserve which can be swung rapidly from point to point to supplement ordinary forms of transport in the event of a sudden emergency or breakdown. It is essential to the efficient working of the scheme that these vehicles should be in the best possible mechanical condition, and should not be in any way restricted as to their mobility by being unable readily to obtain adequate fuel supplies. For these reasons it is not thought possible, at any rate for the present, to convert any portion of the fleet to producer-gas operation. Here I should like to refer to another point mentioned by the noble Duke. He said that he knew of a large plant in the Midlands which was derelict, and he wanted to know why this plant was not at once put into operation. The Government Departments concerned are well aware of this plant, and I may say it is semi-derelict at the present time and its technical efficiency is at least doubtful. The plant has been very fully investigated on behalf of the Department, and even if the technical difficulties of operating the plant could be solved, a great amount of labour and raw material would be required to get it working again.
A further check on the extensive use of producer gas is the limited supply of fuel which is suitable. Charcoal, which was referred to by my noble friend, is not manufactured on a large scale in this country, and the charcoal that is manufactured is required for other very urgent war purposes. The quantities of low-temperature coke and anthracite which are known to be suitable and which can be diverted, although substantial, are not in themselves sufficient to serve the needs 216 of more than a very small proportion of commercial transport. There are, indeed, possibilities of diverting other types of fuel, and, as your Lordships know—in fact it has been referred to with some scorn—a Committee has now been set up, under the Chairmanship of Lord Henley, to examine the measures which would be required to increase supplies from all these sources. My noble friend who raised this matter complains, first, because the Government have done nothing, and then, when the Government set up a Committee to inquire into it, he says there are too many Committees. However, I will leave that matter by adding only that the Report of this Committee will be examined with great care to see what may be the scope for further development from the fuel point of view. I hope your Lordships will appreciate the fact that whatever may be the technical possibilities, the ultimate decision as to the extent to which it may be possible or desirable to extend the use of producer gas must depend on the relative availability of coal and oil supplies, and on the possibility of diverting from other purposes the large amounts of steel and labour required for the manufacture of producer-gas plant.
I should like now to refer to the speech of Lord Davies. He asked me if there was any co-ordination between the Fuel Research Station and the Coal Utilization Research Association. I can tell the noble Lord that the Mines Department is in very close touch with both these bodies, and acts as a clearing house for the results of their research. The noble Lord then suggested that an Advisory Committee should be set up to examine these proposals before they went any further. I cannot give him an answer about that, but I will see that a note is taken of this suggestion of the noble Lord. I do not think that there is anything else that I can say on this matter. I have done my best to deal with the noble Lord's Motion, which, of course, I cannot accept, and I hope the noble Duke is not going to expect me to do so. If he does I shall have to ask your Lordships to support the Government in refusing it, for the reasons that the Government do not consider it advisable at the present time to base the Government transport scheme on the use of producer gas, and also that the Resolution assumes—and in fact the noble Duke said so—that His Majesty's Government have 217 done nothing in this matter. That I most emphatically deny. Therefore I hope, after what I have said, that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw his Motion.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, the convincing speech of the noble Duke who moved this Motion will, I am sure, have had great effect on your Lordships' minds, and convinced you that this is a subject which is entitled to very serious consideration. In the course of his speech he indicated many technical points which if would be outside the scope of a debate in this House to deal with. The noble Duke was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who also brought forward some convincing technical points. I am sure that other members of your Lordships' House, like myself, have been favoured with a memorandum which will have convinced you as to the interest he personally has shown in this matter for a very long time, and the knowledge which he personally possesses in regard to it. In those circumstances my noble friend who replied for the Government was, I think, faced with a difficult situation, but he discharged his task with his usual skill, courtesy and consideration. I am sure the noble Duke who moved the Resolution will feel grateful to him for the manner in which he did this, replying as he did, I would repeat, under great difficulties, because this is an extremely technical matter. Considering the number of debates which we have had in this House and in another place in the last four years on this subject, and the speeches of importance and authority which we have had upon various aspects of it, one must come to the conclusion that it is not a subject which can be lightly dismissed.
While the Resolution deals primarily with the question of fuel, which now falls under the charge of my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, on the other hand it deals particularly with road transport, and I think it is a matter of regret that the Minister of War Transport, whose talents we all admire so highly, should have been denied the further admiration that he would have received in your Lordships' House to-day if he had been present personally to deal with this intricate matter. When I say this it must not be inferred that I am disparaging in any way the reply of the noble Lord for the Government, who, I repeat, dealt with the matter 218 in an admirable way within the limits of the information available to him; but I submit that this is a matter that should have received the attention of the Minister of War Transport who has the privilege of being a member of your Lordships' House.
The history of this matter is such as gives ground for our accepting with reluctance the assurance of my noble friend who spoke for the Government, that everything possible has been done and it being done. While the noble Duke complained that Committees have succeeded one another, my noble friend who replied for the Government said they were doing all they could. "Look," he said in effect, "at the large number of Committees we have appointed." But the appointment of Committees should promise results. I forget the exact date on which this matter was last debated here, but the announcement has been made that a Committee was appointed in 1939 and reported. The last thing I can trace in regard to the matter is a reply which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, was good enough to give in your Lordships' House, to a question I put in July this year. He said that research work was still being actively carried on. In that reply he drew attention to the various Committees which my noble friend in his reply mentioned to-day, and the noble Duke has referred to the latest Committee presided over by a member of your Lordships' House. That certainly ensures that the matter is being explored; but it is results we want.
What are the practical, common-sense points that we gather from the presentation of the case by those in your Lordships' House who are qualified by knowledge to make it? It is said that an adequate development in this country of this type of road transport would result in an appreciable saving of imported fuel. As my noble friend has not dismissed it, we have grounds to assume by default that that is the actual situation. He said that 180,000 vehicles are known to be operating in Germany, and I have seen figures which show that the actual fuel required to run one vehicle 30,000 miles per annum is seventeen tons of domestically-produced fuel. With 50,000 vehicles there would be a saving of some 850,000 tons of motor fuel. I hasten to repeat that I do not propose to venture into any technical questions on a subject which is 219 strictly within the technician's field, but on the broad question of common sense, if there be this possibility of an appreciable saving of imported fuel at a time when tonnage is of vital importance, then the Government should assure the House upon the point.
The noble Duke quoted the conditions in other countries besides an enemy country. I doubt not that he satisfied himself as to the correctness of that statement. The matter of taxation is one which was alleged to have been disposed of in the reply which my noble friend Lord Snell was good enough to give me in July. He gave an assurance that all these inconveniences referred to to-day with regard to taxation had been removed. If we really want to save tonnage, and if in this way we can save tonnage, is not the right thing to give a bribe to those who are possibly going to achieve this saving of tonnage? My noble friend quite rightly said that this will involve making plants for producing fuel and will involve priorities for equipment and so on, but that consideration applies to every one of the varied war measures which your Lordships have approved of the Government putting into effect. In the past in debates in your Lordships' House there were allegations or insinuations that there had been forces at work, or at least influencing the minds of those in authority, which were disinclined to develop anything which might be hostile to oil interests. As I see near me one who has been associated with oil interests, I was glad to get an assurance that those allegations, which were probably unjustified in the past, are now certainly out of the range of possibility. That removes the suggestion which has been made in the past, which probably was always wrong and which certainly can now be absolutely dismissed.
Then what are the causes which delay this matter? They lead one to the suggestion that there has been a reluctance to recognize that Committees must move faster and that reports alone are not adequate. To be dogmatic on technical grounds would be hazardous for anybody, and I am sure none of your Lordships will venture into that field where, as in previous debates on the dual-firing of warships and so on, there is much controversy. On the possibility of the saving of 220 tonnage by encouraging road users by-whatever means may be possible to substitute this type of vehicle for types which customarily employ imported fuel, there is the question of the best balance. I appreciate the point made by my noble friend that it does introduce the question of balance between the employment of man-power on the development of the equipment and plant for making this fuel and the saving of tonnage. The Government, who are in possession of figures, alone can make that decision, but after the convincing speeches on the part of the mover of this Motion and Lord Davies, who succeeded him, I feel that the assurances which have been forthcoming to-day have not been adequate. I hope that my noble friend will press very strongly for speed in this matter.
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships more than a minute or two, but I should like to emphasize one or two points in regard to this extremely interesting matter and to support the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Barnby. Reference has been made to low-temperature coke as one of the suitable fuels for producer-gas units, and to the difficulty of securing the necessary material for the manufacture of the requisite ovens. But low-temperature coke is only one of many fuels which may be used, and in view of the fact that those working the anthracite seams are on short time, and of the fact that anthracite is particularly suitable for producer-gas units, I feel that that is one fuel that might be used in an accelerated programme to a far greater extent in the future than it has been in the past. As to the question of delivery services in the country, which have had to be stopped in certain cases and in other cases are exceedingly difficult to maintain, there we have a particularly good case in regard to the use of producer-gas units. They would serve a dual purpose in that they would allow the displacement of the horse-drawn vehicles now used for those delivery services, thereby making possible far more efficient delivery services and saving the large quantities of corn now fed to the horses which could be better used for human consumption.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I would like to say one or two words in reply to my noble friend Lord Templemore. He said, as I understood, 221 that he thought commercial firms are opposed to this idea of using producer gas. I know that when vehicles fitted in this way were subject to a special tax some firms were opposed to incurring the cost of putting plants on their vehicles, but when that tax was taken off just before the war seventy firms, to my knowledge, immediately asked for quotations for fitting their vehicles in this way—seventy firms of the highest possible standing in this country. Some were concerned with fitting one vehicle, some with two, some with three and some even with four vehicles. A total of 200 vehicles started to run just before the war. Therefore, if there were seventy firms willing to adapt their vehicles to producer-gas propulsion before the war, there are 700 or perhaps 7,000 prepared to do it to-day, with the cost of petrol what it is.
The noble Lord may not realize this, but I am speaking with knowledge of the facts. I know that two public-service vehicles, thirty-one-seater omnibuses to be accurate, are running to-day on roads in the Highlands, and that they have already covered 156,000 miles, on producer pas. And the experience gained with them indicates that the cost of the fuel is 59 per cent. cheaper than petrol. Now does the noble. Lord actually believe that a commercial firm will not favour changing vehicles over to producer-gas propulsion and saving 59 per cent. on the cost of fuel.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, if I may interrupt for a moment, I would point out that it was not a question of what I believe. What I said was that firms were unwilling to make the change.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, there is no doubt: whatever that the economy is outstanding, and it is very important to recognize that the demand for transport is increasing. I have here a note of remarks made by the Lord President of the Council, speaking in another place the other day, regarding the erection of new munition factories. He said not only that these factories were being built, but that the lives of the men and women working in them were in the charge of the Government. In this connexion, there arose a very important question regarding the transport of workers engaged in factories situated at some distance from their homes. The Lord President 222 of the Council said that the Minister of Transport was looking into this question. Then the Leader of this House, Lord Moyne, speaking the other day with reference to the subject of agricultural labour, referred to the fact that 10,000 agricultural labourers had been warned of, or threatened with, prospective calling-up, and said that there were 28,000 Italian prisoners of war who could be used on the land, but the question of transport arose.
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, if I may, I would explain to the noble Duke that I was alluding to the sea transport necessary to bring the Italian prisoners from the other side of Africa.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to say so, he cannot transport 28,000 prisoners without using petrol which is required for the Services. The whole question is bound up with the increasing demand for transport, which is connected with the increasing demands for munitions and other supplies. The only way we meet this increasing demand for transport is by cutting down petrol supplies, telling people to stand in queues for over-crowded omnibuses and so on. The proper course is not to cut down transport but to develop it on a new line, and meet the requirements of transport for agriculture, or the factories, or anything else.
I think I may say I was very disappointed with the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Templemore. I worded the Motion with a view to having a Resolution and a vote upon it, but I have been advised by those who know more about policy than I do, that it would be highly undesirable to have such a Resolution because it might be misunderstood—abroad, especially. People abroad would soon realize that we have only one system of transport, and that is petrol, and this might induce them to make further attacks on our oil supplies. It may be injudicious, therefore, for me to press this to a vote. I would ask the noble Lord, however, if he cannot give me some better assurance than he has already done that this question will be tackled in a practical manner. If he cannot give me such an assurance I shall take the liberty of returning to the subject as soon as possible, when we meet again after the new year, and then I shall press it to a Division without fail. I beg to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.