§ THE DUKE OF MONTROSE had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the further loss of oilfields in the East, and to move to resolve, That a scheme for converting 50,000 transport vehicles to producer gas propulsion, with a view to saving 500,000 tons of petrol for the Fighting Services, shall be prepared and put in force as soon as possible.
§ The noble Duke said: My Lords, in rising to move the Resolution standing in my name, I must say I feel rather in the position of the old gentleman we sometimes meet on the steps of our clubs who always whispers the same thing to us. I think we call him the club bore. I only hope your Lordships will not designate me the bore of the House of Lords. But I am induced to speak on this subject of producer gas once more because when I last spoke on it, on March 11, the position was very serious, and I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Leathers, the Minister of Transport, would have produced a scheme that would give us an alternative supply of fuel to petrol for propulsion purposes. Well, six weeks went by and we heard nothing, and the position is more grave now than it was then. We have lost more oilfields since March 11. India and Australia will now be cut off from about 2,000,000 tons of oil which they have hitherto got from supplies in the Pacific and in Burma, and we may have to make good that supply to India and Australia. That means a tremendous drain upon our 711 tankers, which have to make long voyages round either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, carrying oil for India and Australia, and for the use of our aircraft in those seas, and of our submarines and so forth. It makes a tremendous call on our tankers, and I feel that, if the position was serious on March 11, it is to-day infinitely more serious and that it is imperative that we should do something—actually do something now—to provide an alternative power to petrol. The only power that we know of that will be of any use at all is producer gas.
§ A lot of people have said to me: "If producer gas is the alternative power, and if it can perform all that you say it can perform as regards efficiency and reliability and so forth, why is it that our country has never taken up producer gas before now?" I said, that all the other great nations in the world have taken it up. "Well," my friends ask, "Why has not this country taken it up? We have always had oil, why not producer gas?" The answer to that is very simple. When the late Lord Fisher was First Sea Lord he decided to have an all-big-gun ship, the "Dreadnought." He said to me often then: "If we have this big "Dreadnought" then we want a lot of gunners on board, and we must make room for them by setting rid of the stokers. Therefore, it is imperative that we should have oil for the Navy, and convert the Navy from coal to oil." From that moment oil and the development of oil resources all over the world became the principal concern of the Government of this country. Parliament voted several million pounds to invest in oilfields and in the development of oil, in order to build up tremendous resources of oil all the world over and thus ensure our naval defence. We also had predominant shipping at that time, which made it very easy indeed to bring oil to this country from all over the world and store it in nil our great ports. With oil being developed all over the world, and the facilities for shipping and distribution so easy, why should we bother our heads about any alternative system? As things were then, there was no reason to worry about producer gas. Other countries had not the same facilities for oil. They also had long haulage over their railways, and it was therefore necessary for them to consider alternative systems. They all turned to producer gas.712
§ Things are different to-day. With the development of air attack, with a large proportion of our oil stored above ground, visible from the air, visible in many places from the sea—all outstanding targets—and with the activities of the submarine and the possibility of invasion, which Ministers of the Government never cease to tell us is going to happen, the whole position has altered. No one could say that our defence in this country is satisfactory or certain unless we now begin to build up an alternative power to oil for transport, and for factories and other purposes in case our oil is damaged or we cannot get sufficient. That is the position to-day. That is why it is so important that we should try to go in for producer gas now.
§ Perhaps I should give a little résumé of what has happened in developing producer gas. When the subject was last dealt with in this House the feeling was pretty certain that nothing would be satisfactory unless it was done on a large scale. What we wanted to make was a real contribution to the war effort. I am sure neither your Lordships nor the country are in any mood now for half-measures. There are between five and six million tons of petrol being used annually in this country, apart from what is required by the Services. These five or six million tons of petrol are essential to keep our road services efficient and working. I am quite sure nothing would be any satisfaction to us unless we could sec our way, by introducing producer gas, to save at least ten per cent, of the petrol now being used on the roads. If we wish to save ten per cent., we must aim at converting at least 50,000 vehicles from petrol to producer gas, thereby saving 500,000 tons of petrol for the Services. It is obviously no use going to die trouble of developing a scheme to save petrol unless it is going to make a difference from the national point of view. Going in for a scheme affecting 10,000 vehicles or so will not make much difference at all; it is not worth doing. If the thing is going to be worth doing, let us take our coats off, roll our shirt sleeves up, and save at least 500,000 tons. Let us show we mean business, and do something worth while for the nation as a whole.
§ I wish I could think and believe that the Government are in favour of this 713 scheme. My reading of what has happened in the past is that the Government have rather a poor record on this subject. Let me remind your Lordships that shortly alter the outbreak of war, about September 28, 1939, I was pressing for very early action on these lines. Six weeks alter I pressed for action in your Lordships' House the Government came forward with a Report which was presented to the House. It was the Report of a Committee on the emergency conversion of motor vehicles to producer gas. In regard to this Report the Lord President of the Council at the time, Earl Stanhope, drew attention to the fact that it was then advocated that we should put 10,000 vehicles, or producer gas. He went on to say that gas-producer vehicles could be used for delivery work and other work, although they were much more suitable and economical for long-distance haulage. Suitable fuels, he stated, were available, and he went on to say that there was enough fuel in the country then to supply 10,000 vehicles. That was what happened in 1939. It was then disclosed that there was a Committee under Sir Harold Hartley which had been working on the question ever since 1937. This Committee's Report also provided for the conversion of 10,000 vehicles. There was good hope that this number of vehicles would be put on the road. The Government not only promised to put 10,000 vehicles on the road, but they also promised to provide fuel in the shape of anthracite coal and low-temperature coke. The low-temperature coke was to be found by installing low-temperature works in the Midlands.
§ The Lord President of the Council stated that he hoped, after this encouragement, that very soon there would be a large number of vehicles working on the road using producer gas; and if we eventually developed a real alternative to petrol, as efficient in performance and economical in operation, the Government hoped the vehicles would be at once taken up by traders. What was the result? The result was that nothing has happened. Nothing has really happened in all these two and a half years of war A few vehicles were made, and the Government brought forward a producer of their own. With great modesty the Government said: "We do not claim any particular originality for our design of Government producer." They were quite right, because what the 714 Government did was to go round to private manufacturers and say: "We know very little about this subject. Will you let us see your plans?" The manufacturers said they were ready to help the Government, and sent the Government their plans. The Government took out particular parts here and there from the different plans and then dished up a kind of engineering haggis containing goodness knows what. But it never worked. The Government vehicle, so made, was an absolute failure. The London Transport Board, one of the most efficient vehicle working companies in the country, took quite a large number of the parts and tried them on their omnibuses here in London, but they have discarded them all. Then there is 'fillings, another successful 'bus company. They designed their own producer; they would never trust the Government producer. Now, after a promise of 10,000 vehicles, there have come along, after about two and a half years, a thousand producers. I do not believe there are more than one hundred of the Government producers on the roads to-day.
§ The Government producer has been an absolute flop, an absolute failure, and, therefore, we want something better. If we are going to have a scheme now to produce 50,000 vehicles we want something better than the Government producer, something that can be relied upon. If my noble friend is unable to produce a scheme with a new and successful producer, there is another scheme which has been prepared for 50,000 commercial vehicles and the saving of 500,000 tons of petrol. This scheme will be carried into effect by three of the largest industrial concerns in the country. When I say "industrial concerns," I mean concerns like the British Coal Utilization Research Council, which is a body supported by Government funds, containing the highest authorities on coal, a body that knows all about coal and all about gas and is probably the most experienced body of that kind in the country. In addition to the British Coal Utilization Council there is the I.C.I. We all know the I.C.I. as one of the ablest, most scientific, most powerful industrial and scientific bodies in the country. Then there is Vauxhall Motors, one of the largest and finest firms of practical motor engineers in the country. The British Coal Utilization Council, the Imperial 715 Chemical Industries, and the Vauxhall Motor Company will combine together and produce that scheme. They have spent thousands of pounds upon it.
§ If I am asked, would I support a resuscitation of the Government producer which has been an absolute failure, or a much larger scheme produced by three firms of the highest standing and most scientific equipment in this country, I say I would take the scheme of the practical men who understand what they are doing. I believe their scheme would be a success. That is the scheme which, unless my noble friend can produce something better, I wish to put before your Lordships to-day for a decision. This scheme has been examined and has proved its worth. I have been associated with producer gas probably longer than anyone else in this House. It is now thirty-five years since I first took a ship to sea under my own command equipped with producer gas as a propelling force. It was the first ship in the world to go to sea under producer gas. After thirty-five years, during which I have studied the question, I think I can now with confidence recommend to your Lordships a scheme which will relieve the present difficulty in regard to petrol. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved to resolve, That a scheme for converting 50,000 transport vehicles to producer gas propulsion, with a view to saving 500,000 tans of petrol for the Fighting Services, should be prepared and put in force as soon as possible.—(The Duke of Montrose.)
My Lords, I intervene in this debate because for a very long time I have not only been identified with the coal trade, but I have also taken a very keen interest in research work. I am conscious that the efforts that have been made by scientists have really proved to be successful. As I said when we debated this subject last, the method for producing gas has passed the experimental stage, and now it is only left for the Government to adopt a scheme which has every possibility, and indeed every probability, of being really successful in dealing with this question after it has been investigated so thoroughly by some of the most able scientists in the country. The object which twenty-five years ago the Industrial and 716 Scientific Department had was to try to solve this problem connected with the importation of a foreign article named petrol. They dealt with it very carefully for twenty-five years. It was as far back as 1881 that I took a personal interest in the production of benzol by helping to create in this country a plan which would produce benzol from coal. I then felt certain that it was only a question of time before gas could be produced so as to be a propelling motive for vehicular transport. In 1917 the Fuel Research Board was established. We realized at that moment that the heavy fuel required for the Navy was essential in the interests of the Admiralty. We also realized that there was an ever-increasing demand for the lighter fuel, and that demand has been growing steadily since 1917, during the last war, to the present time, when petrol is in such great demand.
That we ought to try to find a substitute is, I think, admitted by everybody. In 1937, with Government assistance, the Coal Utilization Research Council, to which the noble Duke has just referred, was established. In the last five years we have become quite satisfied that there can be a substitute for petrol as a means for propelling vehicles, and that we can save petrol for the nation. Great credit is due to the scientists for the way they have worked, and they have not, perhaps, been given adequate credit for what they have done. The way in which scientists have devoted themselves to this object and have solved it is a veritable triumph for them, and it is lamentable that now, when we are in danger of losing the petrol we require for our aeroplanes and other services, we should nesitate to adopt a system by which petrol may be saved through substituting producer gas for it. If the Government say that we have not got coal at the present moment from which to produce this gas, then I would say that some months would elapse, even if the Government accept the scheme to which the noble Duke referred, before the plant and the vehicles could be manufactured, and therefore it would be some months before coal would be required for this particular purpose.
My next point is that the coal industry is the only industry in this country which has not been given a fair show by the Government. They allow munitions factories to double and treble the number 717 of persons employed, they allow the chemical industry to be doubled or trebled in personnel, and of course they allow aeroplanes to be produced in ever-increasing quantities. I take no exception to those facts, but what I do take exception to is that at the same time, when coal is absolutely vital to the nation, they have withdrawn 50,000 of the very best young men from the industry. Everybody is clamouring for more coal because coal owners are not allowed to produce the coal which it is in their capacity to produce. It is known that in Wales there are very large fields of coal which could be developed at once and that collieries maintained at the cost of the Welsh coal owners are not allowed to be opened. One of the collieries of my own firm could produce large additional quantities of coal if we were allowed to employ more men A great number of the men from the mines are well satisfied to remain in the Army. They are the most courageous and the bravest men that could join the Forces. They fight side by side in a way no other body of men will fight, and I am not surprised that officers do not want them released from the Army. But the production of coal is of vital importance to the country. The Government are now trying to ration coal. Why are they trying to ration coal? I can understand rationing rubber, I can understand rationing food, I can understand rationing a great number of commodities brought from abroad, because of the shipping position. But we have the coal at our very feet. It is there ready to be produced if only the Government realized the position.
It is on these grounds that I think it is necessary that the Government should no longer play with this thing. Previous Presidents of the Board of Trade have taken an interest in this subject because they have been connected with the subject of scientific and industrial research, and I hope that the present President of the Board of Trade will make such representations to the Minister of Labour, and to those who control the number of men in the Services, as will result in the release of miners and their return to the industry. This morning I received a document from the Mines Department—I do not know whether it is public—giving directions to coal owners about helping the men who are released from the Services, either by advance in pay, or giving them tools, or making arrangements for 718 their clothing, so that they may commence work at once. That may be an indication that the Government are going to do something, but we want more than 5,000 men released. That is the only figure I have heard. We ought to have 35,000. Many men, I believe, could be released by contractors who have practically bribed the men out of the collieries by offering higher wages in munition factories, in work on aerodromes, and so on. The men we want are young men who are mechanically-minded and who will be able to do the kind of work that is most wanted underground now when work is nearly all mechanized. It is not the old men with shovel and pick that we want so much as the young fellows who are mechanically-minded. If we can get them into the mines there is no reason why this scheme should not be forthwith adopted. I beg to support the noble Duke's Motion.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. I spoke in the last debate we had on this subject in your Lordships' House, and I would like to say now that I have no interest whatever in any particular scheme or in any gas producer. For some years, however, I have been interested in the subject from an academic point of view, and I have felt that producer gas was something that should be developed for the general benefit of the country. Since the last debate I have taken the trouble to go very thoroughly into the history of this subject during the last four years. I have done it quite independently of the noble Duke and I find that every word he said, no doubt as the result of information from other sources, is substantiated. There is no doubt whatever that the Research Department of the Ministry of Mines evolved a scheme and produced a gas producer. I have heard the names of haulage firms, people whose names are household words, who took them and in every case they have returned them as being useless.
At the same time that the Ministry's gas producer was sent to these firms the gas producer to which the noble Duke referred—and which is referred to in the scheme, of which I hope my noble friend the Minister of Transport has a copy—was sent to these particular firms. They are now running satisfactorily as they did 719 from the day that they were delivered. These machines have run hundreds of thousands of miles. They are on the road to-day running all over the country. I do not want to say anything in the least unkind, or to throw stones at anybody, but it is perfectly obvious to me, having studied the whole question, that there is a feeling of jealousy on the part of the Ministry of Mines and those who were responsible for bringing out the scheme which has proved a failure. There is some feeling of jealousy and they do not want someone else to succeed where they have failed.
As those of your Lordships who have studied the question can readily see, and as my noble friend who spoke last pointed out, there is every probability that after the war we shall not be running our cars on petrol but shall be using gas. That is clear if one looks into the development of producer gas in Sweden—I am told that Sweden is the most up-to-date country—in Germany, in Italy and in Japan. Gas is much cheaper. It is quite easy to see that its use would not suit a great many vested interests. As has been already said, the Government themselves have sunk a lot of money in oilfields all over the world, and, of course, there are the big oil companies. I am going to make a great appeal. We are in a very dangerous position in regard to fuel for our road transport. There is no doubt about that; otherwise the Government would not be putting these petrol restrictions on everybody. I am not asking that we should bother with the private car, but I am convinced that this scheme which the noble Duke has put before the House can be carried out and that 50,000 vehicles—Government lorries and commercial lorries—can run on this producer gas and relieve the great necessity for importing so much petrol. I beg all those people who may be a little small-minded about this, and may be thinking to themselves: "Well, we have made rather a hash of it," to admit that now. The crisis is too serious for holding back; so now let us get on with the scheme.
Most people know, and I hope the Minister of War Transport knows, that this scheme has been proved to be a success right up to the hilt. I beg those who are holding back, from some, perhaps natural, feeling of disgruntlement 720 because others have succeeded where they have failed, to sweep all that aside at a time like this, when the whole country is in such a terrible position of crisis. I make that same appeal to the vested interests and to all those who are interested in the supply of petrol to this country. I am quite certain, in view of what one sees going on, that it is necessary to deal with this matter at once. It cannot be delayed. The bombing has begun here again. We have, as the noble Duke said, these vast stores of petrol throughout the country. Well, supposing that unluckily the Germans were to drop bombs and burn up a great deal of the petrol that is stored here to-day: where would the necessary transport, the road transport for commercial and war purposes, be in that event? What would be the position of the transport used for carrying raw material from the ports to the factories that produce aeroplanes, guns, and other war materials?
I say that this matter should be dealt with at once; that it is probably the most serious matter before the country to-day. That the necessary steps can be taken with the greatest possible ease, I am absolutely certain. Only to-day I went to see one of the biggest business men in this country. I did not know he knew anything about this matter. He said, "Are you going to the House to-day?" I replied "Yes." He said, "Are you going to do anything about this producer gas? It is absolutely essential that it should be pushed for all it is worth." I said that as a matter of fact I did propose to say a few words to try to push it. I hope that my noble friend the Minister of War Transport has seen this Report. I understood that it had been sent to him some time ago. I am quite certain, having heard a great deal about his reputation as a business man, that if he read that Report, he would say to himself: "I must get on with this as quickly as possible." I make this appeal to him: that he should go straight to the War Cabinet and ask that this matter be taken out of the hands of any other Government Department and put into his, and that he should get authority to implement this scheme at the earliest possible date. I beg to support the noble Duke.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, after the three very excellent speeches to which we have listened, I cannot feel that there can be many of your Lordships who are not 721 fully convinced of the desirability—in my humble view, the urgent necessity—of immediate steps being taken by His Majesty's Government along the lines of the proposal so ably put forward by the noble Duke. As my noble friend who has just sat down has said, the arguments adduced on former occasions in favour of some such measure as this were, it seemed to many of us, quite unanswerable. Then surely, having regard to the present situation as we see it, the progressive deterioration of the oil and petrol situation to-day, those arguments are all the more impressive. I venture to think that the proposal is a modest one. I do not agree that it is too large a proposal at all. I think that the very modesty of the proposal before us only serves to enhance its value and importance and will commend it the more, I hope, to your Lordships.
The scheme which we have before us provides for the saving of 500,000 tons of petrol imports. Suppose we translate those imports into terms of other commodities. If we do so, their significance may perhaps then become a little more clear. If that 500,000 tons took the form of wheat, it would be sufficient to provide every household in the country with a 2 lb. loaf every week throughout the year. If we translate the figure into terms of meat it would be sufficient to make up all the reduction in imports of beef, mutton and pork which we have had to suffer during the course of the war. I see my noble friend the Minister of Food with his eye upon me. I only hope I shall not have to substantiate these figures, though I think your Lordships may take it that they are correct. In terms of armaments, this tonnage would be equal to the weight of all the aeroplanes in the world. In terms of tanks, it would be the equivalent of the weight of 25,000 of those engines of war; that is half the number that we are told should be our target for the final assault and defeat of the enemy. We see, therefore, that, modest as the proposal is, the figures are of far-reaching importance.
As is well known, and as has been said many times, all the Axis Powers use producer gas to a very considerable extent, and have done so for years. It has been estimated that by its use these Axis Powers save today something in the region of two million tons of petrol a year. It is really a deplorable situation that, 722 in spite of appeals to the Government for the last four years, we should still be told that no action can be taken in this country because of road trials and reports from investigation committees which have to be awaited. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, with all the weight and authority of his many years of experience, told us on March 11, and has told the Government again to-day, that this matter has passed its experimental stage. I am confident that the other difficulties mentioned by the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, on the last occasion are not insuperable. One finds it difficult, therefore, to banish from one's thought the suspicion that the real reason for this protracted delay has been some-thing quite different, and that it has been due to plausible and specious arguments advanced by vested interests.
It is rumoured in the bazaars that the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, is really himself favourably impressed by this proposal, and I must say that I thought that the tone of his speech on March 11 appeared to be favourable to the idea. I only hope that he has guarded himself against the snares of obstructive and destructive influences, which can assume all sorts of guises, sometimes of charmers, sometimes of aggressors. You remember that Ulysses, after leaving Troy, and when approaching the domain of the sirens, filled the ears of his crew with wax and had himself securely bound by them to the mast of his ship, for these sea-nymphs were alleged to charm with their music all those who heard them to such a degree that the unfortunate mariners were compelled to cast themselves into the sea to their destruction. By this protective strategem, Ulysses and his crew passed safely by. That is one form of protective strategy. If less attractive and more sinister influences try to get at the noble Lord, if indeed evil counsellors there be, then I could wish that it were possible for the noble Lord to emulate Perseus, who, he may remember, after slaying the monstrous Medusa, tucked her Gorgon head under his arm and was wont to display it to the gaze of all unfriendly folk, thereby turning them instantly to stone.
But perhaps, after all, no such extreme measures will be necessary in this case, and we may hope that the noble Lord may tell your Lordships in a few moments that 723 His Majesty's Government have decided to accept the Motion before the House, and that they intend to put this proposal into force forthwith. I believe that the noble Lord can rest assured that a bold scheme of this nature, well conceived and energetically prosecuted, is bound to succeed, because the whole country will be behind it.
My Lords, there is something rather unaccountable in the reluctance of the Government to face up to this proposal. Personally, I do not hold very strongly with the vested interest theory, because long experience of this country and of its people has taught me that there is nothing that they dislike so much as moving out of a rut into something not already well worn for their feet. I remember in connexion with the products of our own country a series of debates, every one of which showed an unfathomable reluctance to rely upon material which could be obtained at home when, for some commercial reason of the past, those materials had been obtained from abroad over a succession of years. Many noble Lords will remember that before the war we had a series of debates on the storage of wheat as a protective measure. This ran counter to ordinary commercial practice up to that time, and it was consequently turned down by the Government until war had begun, when it cost them at least double what it would have cost them had they put it in hand before. However, they did not mind that, and they will not mind this; they will not mind, apparently, if the crisis does supervene before we are ready, if we have not taken the steps which people like the noble Duke have pressed on us for so many years.
There is no difficulty in seeing the proportions of this problem. Sweden—which, after all, is a smallish country—had by the end of August of last year 46,000 producer gas vehicles on the roads. The noble Duke asks for 50,000 for this large country. All the other countries, as has been pointed out already by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, have taken steps to increase, and to go on increasing, their fleet of producer gas vehicles. Why do we alone dangle behind? Before I sit down, I should like to suggest that the difficulties may not wholly lie with the Government. It may be better that 724 private firms should take the business in hand, and, as far as production is concerned, I feel sure that it would be better; but the Government might well grant facilities which would make production easier, which would deal with the question of priority, and which, when the vehicles were produced, would make the services in connexion with them and the supply of the vehicles more certain. I should have liked, had I had an opportunity to consult the noble Duke, to see the suggestion made in this Motion that one of our big trunk roads should be placed at the disposal of, and serviced and supplied for, producer gas vehicles; because, after all, it is not sufficient to build the vehicles; you have to keep them supplied and see that they are serviced by people who understand them. We might pick out one trunk road and do that. At any rate that should be considered as a possible way of approaching the matter.
I should now like to deal briefly with another product of our own, not coal, but a product which we have never attempted to develop in any way whatever until the last three years. I refer to charcoal. When this war began we were importing, I think, two-thirds of our charcoal. It became evident after a short time that charcoal was indispensable for our war industries, and I have a letter from the charcoal supply officer saying that every sort of charcoal which is being made in this country is wanted for vital war industries. Why are we not told that? Why is nobody encouraged to produce charcoal? Has any noble Lord seen anything in the papers to the effect that the Government want people to supply charcoal? I do not think so. Is it realized that farm tractors in Switzerland are now working largely on charcoal, and that the great difficulty about using charcoal is the expense of transporting it, owing to its bulk, from one area to another, but that in the case of the farm tractor that reasoning does not apply because the charcoal can be made on the very edge of the field to meet the needs of the tractor for ploughing the land? Why do not the Government go further into these matters? Why do not they encourage, instead of discouraging? I do not believe in the vested interest idea, but I do believe in the rut idea, and I beg the Government to come out of that rut.
My Lords, I was unfortunately not present when the 725 Motion was moved by the noble Duke, so I may perhaps be covering some of the ground which he has already covered; but as I was at one time interested in this subject by being Chairman of an Advisory Committee at the Ministry of Mines on alternative fuels, I would like, with that experience, to say a few words. That Committee was appointed over two years ago now, and reported to the Mines Department in August, 1940. We made a fairly complete survey of the position at that time with regard to various alternative fuels, including producer gas, and we evolved a scheme which we thought would encourage the use of gas producers and develop the methods of employing them. I have no doubt that our proposals, made more than eighteen months ago, would now be out of date and would probably not be applicable to present conditions. I do not say that our proposals were the only ones which could have been made use of, but I do think that in any case it would have been possible for the Government to have pushed the alternative fuel business a great deal harder than they have done, whether they had listened to us or not.
With regard to the Motion we are discussing to-day, which is part of this problem, as I understand the matter it is a question of fitting 50,000 vehicles with gas producers. I do not know whether any figures have been mentioned in this debate, but, the way I see it, that involves a consumption of about 1,000,000 tons of coal a year. It involves the expenditure of about £5,000,000 to make the producers and fit them to the vehicles, and the simple, or fairly simple, relationship between petrol and coal is that a ton of petrol is represented by about two and a half tons of coal when used in a gas producer. Those are approximately the right figures, and I do not see why we should not have been working up to that scale of things by now. It is true that before the war began the Government did start a policy for investigating the use of gas producers and the availability of fuels for them, but unfortunately there never came a moment when those responsible were able to say that it was the time to put the thing on the market seriously and to try to develop it.
I think the difficulties which really prevented this were entirely at that time due to the fuel position—not that there was 726 then a shortage in the total tonnage of coal or coke available, but that the specialized fuels required had not by then been developed. The gas producers which we had in this country in those days would only work on a special form of anthracite coal or upon low-temperature coke. A further difficulty is that the coal has to be fairly accurately sized; it has to be about three-quarters of an inch or less in size. And it has to have a very low ash content. These are two rather difficult conditions to satisfy simultaneously. The situation was that nobody would start making gas producers because there was no fuel, and nobody was going to make any fuel because there were no gas producers. On top of that there was the fact that a gas producer, though a perfectly practical piece of apparatus, is not so nice to use as a tank of petrol, and at that time it made a considerably higher wear on various parts of the engine, thereby increasing the cost of operation. Those were the considerations with regard to fuel and the use of it.
The producers at that time were the Government emergency producers, which did work and still do work on those fuels, and there were various others of proprietary makes, with varying degrees of practicability. But the fuel situation with regard to the special fuel required was very difficult, and I believe still is. Referring to the 50,000 suggested producers at the moment requiring, as I have said, something like 1,000,000 tons of coal a year, I do not suppose—though here I speak without any real knowledge—that more than a quarter of those could run on anthracite, in the sense that I do not think enough fuel would be available for more than that number; and with regard to low-temperature coke I believe even fewer. It is therefore absolutely necessary—and this was clearly seen at the time—to increase the range of fuels available. Experiments were conducted at that time in various directions, mainly or entirely with the object of finding a fuel which could be made in certain types of gasworks plant with a not very great modification of technique. How far those experiments have gone I am not absolutely certain. There is no doubt that fuels have been made in small quantities which are practicable, and there is no doubt that a producer has been made which will burn them.
727 I think the producer I am referring to is the one referred to by the noble Duke in his Motion. But it is absolutely true to say that that producer, though at work, has not been in the hands of the public long enough for operating firms to give a very clear picture of how well it works. It seems to me that, however advanced the design of that producer may be, there is room, and in fact there is a necessity, for the development of the older types of producer which will work on anthracite and low-temperature coke, as well as for the more modern developments which will work on a much wider range of fuels. That, I think, is the right line to take now. I would like to refer to what my noble friend Lord Teviot said—namely, that although—it is true it was a long time ago—many of the original firms which had the Government emergency producers to start with sent them back because they did not like them, it is perfectly true that they worked quite satisfactorily, and I understand that the more modern development of that producer is even more satisfactory. My impression is that it is fundamentally of a type which is less flexible than the other types, and will always require a narrower range of fuels, and that is a reason why a further development should be encouraged alongside the present modern gas producer.
I do not believe there is any jealousy at all between the Mines Department and the Fuel Research Station on the one hand and the private firms engaged in this development on the other. At the time I was interested in this subject, it was comparatively easy to get all concerned with it to discuss together and compare notes together. One had the feeling that there was a serious attempt to pool knowledge and make progress. That was my impression at that time, and I believe it is still the case. As to whether these machines should be fitted to trailers or mounted on the trucks, or whether to new or to old trucks, is not the principle of this argument, which is somehow or other that coal should be used for propelling trucks by means of gas producers. It is a perfectly practicable scheme. It may be more costly (except as a fuel, which is cheaper per mile) but it can be done.
Before leaving the subject, I should like to remind your Lordships that not 728 only producer gas, but coal gas can be used for driving cars. It is slightly more efficient than making gas from coke in the gas producer, but it has more serious limitations as to methods of storage, handling and so on. For local distribution services, for short runs, for taxicabs and small radius business, coal gas at atmospheric pressure in a flexible container is a practicable scheme and it has an advantage over producer gas in that it reduces the power of the engine less than producer gas does. It is much cheaper, but now I suppose the difficulty will be to get the rubberized fabric necessary for the container. Two years ago a good deal could have been done in this respect. Coal gas can also be used compressed in cylinders and mounted on vehicles. That also is a perfectly practical idea. I doubt if it would be possible to get the machinery and cylinders for carrying the gas now. In either case, whether coal gas with atmospheric pressure or pressed in cylinders, it is perfectly practicable. It does no harm to the engine like producer gas is apt to do, and it is relatively cheap once the apparatus has been found.
There are various ways in which coal gas can be used—such things as testing and running-in engines, keeping fire engines warmed up at night and a lot of uses for which stationary engines are now employed. Perhaps the total amount of petrol saved would not be great, but it would be substantial enough to be noticeable. I suppose that if the present proposal of 50,000 as the number of producer-gas vehicles is adopted, it would be possible to convert perhaps between 5,000 and 10,000 to coal gas as well, saving, perhaps, 400,000 tons of petrol in the one case and 50,000 in the other. One regrets the fact that there has been in this country practically no development of electric vehicles or steam-driven vehicles. At one time there was a large number of steam-driven vehicles in use, but they have largely disappeared owing to taxation. I do not suppose it is practicable now for anyone seriously to consider manufacturing steam engines in the middle of our vast production programme, but it is a matter for regret that, among other aspects of development before the war, the incentive for us to be self-supporting in the matter of home-produced vehicles was entirely absent.
729 I do not think, either, that it is a question of vested interest. I believe it is a question of too many Departments being concerned. Up to now the Mines Department, the Petroleum Department and the Ministry of Transport have been responsible for various stages of this problem. It is absolutely essential that it should be taken charge of by one of them, and also that a clear statement of policy should be given as to whether the Government think it is really necessary, right and advisable to use coal or coke instead of petrol, and, secondly, how they propose it should be done. It is only the Government that can do that from the policy point of view. At the present time it is not possible for any independent firm to start making a large number of producers or get a large amount of fuel. The system of allocation and priorities prohibits that. As well as that there is this factor, that if this form of apparatus is necessary it must be used by and reserved for essential vehicles, and it is only through some Government agency that it can be so allocated. There has been for some time a lack of indication of what the Government's policy is. There has been very little encouragement to anyone in these methods of saving petrol, and it is time the Government made a very clear and definite pronouncement of what they propose to do and how they propose to do it.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I feel sure we are all indebted to the noble Duke for once again having brought this matter to the notice of your Lordships' House. We have listened this afternoon to two eloquent appeals, backed by the most cogent arguments, by the noble Duke and by my noble friend Lord Teviot. The latter rather suggested that the attitude of the Ministry of Mines was more or less based on past experience with regard to the method adopted for producer gas. The noble Lord who has just sat down hit upon the real trouble, and that is that there are too many Departments trying to deal with this particular subject. The result is there is no real responsibility, and as long as this division of authority exists very little progress will be made. I should have thought it was quite obvious that in a matter of this kind, which is transportation, the Ministry of Transport: should be primarily responsible. After all, the Mines Department has only to do with the fuel which it is suggested should be used. It would be 730 just as sensible to suggest that because a railway locomotive uses coal, the railways should be placed under the control of the Ministry of Mines.
What I have risen to suggest is that representations should be made to the Government, especially to the War Cabinet, to decide definitely which Department is to be responsible in the future for all these questions in connexion with producer gas. The Ministry of Transport should understand and should be able to advise upon the technical arrangements and the organization necessary. Lord Phillimore said, in effect, "Leave it to private enterprise." He must surely realize that private enterprise is quite helpless unless the necessary supplies are forthcoming. It is only the intervention of the Ministry of Transport, who can make arrangements with the Ministry of Mines as to how much coal and how much coke are to be available, and with the Ministry of Supply as to how much steel can be allocated for the production of the necessary fuel, that can enable any scheme to work. Unless that can be done by a responsible Ministry and by a responsible Department the private concerns will not be able to get much further. I would, therefore, make this appeal to the Government. I am sorry the Leader of the House is not present at the moment but I hope at any rate that he will convey to the War Cabinet—it is rather difficult for the Minister of Transport to inform the War Cabinet—that this House is anxious that the Transport Department should take over this business and run it. Unless the War Cabinet intervenes and lays down the principle that all these matters, which concern the subject that the noble Duke has raised this afternoon, are to be directed and controlled by one Department, then I feel sure no progress will be made.
With regard to this scheme, I do not think the noble Duke would expect the House to endorse any particular scheme at this stage. That is surely a matter for the Department concerned, assisted by technicians and experts. I feel sure, however, that the Minister of Transport would be willing to consider the scheme of those who have gone to such trouble in preparing it, and that it will receive every support at his hands. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, replies, he will be able to give an assurance that this 731 matter will be considered at an early date. There is no time to lose. As the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, pointed out, the matter is urgent. As has been the case with so many other things that have happened in the last two or three years, we are too late in this matter. How is it we are always so late in these matters? I hope that the noble Duke, if he is not satisfied with the reply of the Government, will take his Motion to a Division, so that the House may, after four or five debates, be able to express a definite opinion upon this matter.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, many of you may remember that the Duke of Montrose and I, before this war, constantly urged your Lordships to support an appeal for the production of oil or gas from our own coal, and not to rely so much, or indeed if possible in the long run not to rely at all, on imports of oil, and, therefore, petrol. Your Lordships may also remember that Lord Gainford, who spoke to-day, agreed to a figure which the Duke of Montrose and I had thought out, that for £140,000,000 we could make the whole of the Navy and the greater part of our transport entirely independent of foreign oil and petrol. Your Lordships may further remember that in the long run the Government came down with a bump on the side of saying that it was better to rely upon the elaborate arrangements we had made of tankers and storage. Now I claim to-night, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, who is in no way responsible, to say that just for once we were absolutely right and the Government were utterly and irretrievably wrong. Of that there is no doubt at all.
Very likely no one could have foreseen, not even the then Government, the all-wise Government which so many of your Lordships remember, could have foreseen three things, notably the collapse of France with all that it has meant for us, the overrunning of Norway, and the great radius of far-ranging aeroplanes making the submarines more deadly. In addition to all these things is the coming in of Japan, so that now we find ourselves fighting against a most formidable enemy in a place from which much of the oil came, with the resultant danger to our oil supplies, of which 86 per cent. comes from the American Continent. Our oil supply is menaced by an entirely new 732 menace that was not foreseen. It is not for me to say that the Government were to blame for not foreseeing all these things, but they did in fact not foresee them, and the noble Duke and I did again and again say, "Do not depend upon foreign oil." We say it again, and this time I trust the Department concerned will pay attention to our plea.
§ THE MINISTER OF WAR TRANSPORT (LORD LEATHERS)
My Lords, it will be in the recollection of your Lordships that the use of producer gas has been discussed in this House on several occasions, and as recently as March 11. I think you will not desire me to go over once more in detail the past history of this subject, or to explain what has already been done by the Government as regards producer-gas vehicles. I would, however, like to emphasize that any large-scale extension of the number of producer vehicles in service must entail some diversion of industrial effort, some loss of efficiency in our road services, and some transference of solid fuel supplies from existing uses. A heavy responsibility, therefore, rests on the Government to ensure that full advantage is taken of the best material, the best advice and experience available, and that the best methods are worked out of getting good service from producer-gas vehicles on the road. We must not wait for perfection. We should have done much harm if we had rushed into operating any ill-conceived or hastily-devised scheme. I can assure the noble Duke that I have constantly in mind the prospective supplies of liquid fuel. Indeed, this is the decisive factor which has influenced the Government in proving the large amount of technical work which has been done on alternative fuels generally, and on producer gas in particular.
We have recently had two Reports, one on the availability of fuels from the Committee under the Chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the other an interim Report which was specially called for from the Technical Committee on Producer Gas. I regret that for security reasons it is not possible for me to make public the contents of these Reports, but they have been of great value. His Majesty's Government have decided that immediate action should be taken to require operators to equip as soon as practicable 10,000 commercial vehicles with 733 the apparatus known as the Government emergency producer, and recommended by the Technical Committee. I ought to add here that the Government emergency producer is not the one originally designed, which is said to have proved a failure some two or three years ago. A tremendous amount of work has been applied to the Government producer as well as to others. The whole of these resources have been combined and pooled. The present Government improved producer is the result of all those experiments, and it is that producer that the Technical Committee have recommended that we should apply.
Before they made that recommendation they had closely under review every producer that is in operation. There has been, I assure your Lordships, no keeping back on anybody's part. They have put into this consideration everything that has been valuable, whether produced by Government or by private enterprise or in any other way. There has been no narrow view taken of this subject. The object has been, I assure your Lordships, to produce the very best result that it is possible to get. As a result of this consideration this Technical Committee, drawn from the industry and all other sources of information, have decided that the Government improved emergency producer is the one that we should adopt. That is the one we intend to adopt following that advice. We shall not necessarily stop at that total, but it represents an immediate objective.
I should like to add that the particular scheme which was referred to by the noble Duke is known to us. That system requires for its use not anthracite fuel, not low-temperature fuel, but high-temperature coke. Even then, when that high-temperature coke has been produced from the selected fuels that are necessary in order to give it the life and substance that it needs as compared with ordinary gas coke, it has to be activated by the addition of an alkali, and in order that that may be done very extensive plants in chosen places in the country have to be erected. Not only would that take a very long time and hinder our really progressive start, but it would be quite impossible to secure the priority necessary for these materials or for the erection of these extensive plants.
734 The noble Duke asked for a programme of 50,000 vehicles. He may say that to aim at 10,000 is to nibble at the problem, but that would be an entirely mistaken view of the situation. Our rate of progress must be properly related to such considerations as availability of fuel and productive capacity. I do not propose to go into such matters of detail as selecting the type of vehicle suitable for conversion. These are questions for discussion with the road operators, from whom I am sure we shall receive the co-operation we are entitled to ask for in this war-time measure. I assure your Lordships that we at the Ministry of War Transport, to whom this subject has now been transferred for attention, will not let it go. We intend to push this project forward with all possible speed. Discussions, to which I have referred, are necessary, but they will not be allowed to impede the rapid progress of the scheme. The Government are in earnest in their intention to take the fullest practicable advantage of this measure, and I trust, in view of what I have said, that the noble Duke will see his way to withdraw the Motion.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, many of your Lordships who, like myself, were victims of education at the so-called best public schools, will have envied my noble friend Lord Ailwyn his lucid memory of the classical legends and their facile application to political situations. We turn in sympathy to my noble friend the Minister of War Transport. I think he has had to face an ordeal which seldom comes to a Minister after so many lucid, knowledgeable and emphatic speeches in condemnation of the failure of the Government to take action over a period of no less than five years, or even longer if we take the statement of my noble friend Lord Mottistone. In the face of that, when we expected to have an elephant, to pull a mouse out of his hat must have been as disappointing to him as to your Lordships. I was cheered to hear him say he will not let it go, but that he intends to proceed with the utmost speed and vigour. We welcome that statement. The situation certainly calls for it.
This is a parallel of inaction similar to a great number of omissions which have been followed by the disasters we have experienced in the recent past. Let us look at it. There are two angles—one the elementary appeal to save imported fuel 735 and the other a highly technical angle which has been dealt with admirably today by the noble Duke. I would like to repeat ray sympathy with the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport. We believe he has been the victim of an unpleasant legacy. At the same time I would like to felicitate him again on the suspicion which we have that he, anyhow, is sympathetic with action. Therefore he will be the first to admit that this is a case where there has been absence of essential action by the Government. Let us be fair and say that there are difficulties in war-time, but still over a period such as that to which my noble friend Lord Mottistone has just brought his weighty memory of emphasis, surely something ought to have been done.
I return to the first of the two angles of this problem, that of saving imported fuel. My noble friend Lord Teviot, in a most fluent and eloquent appeal, covered ground which I will not venture to cover, but I am sure he will have influenced your Lordships very strongly. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, with his usual fluency, again put reasons why we should have been disappointed. I think he was generous in dismissing the suggestion of vested interest. Let us look at it frankly. Are we to assume that there have been no instances where vested interests have retarded necessary action in the prosecution of the essential preparations for war? Here is a case where action is taking place after delay when there has been reiterated assurance that there was no need for action. I see the Minister of Food in his place. Are we to assume that no shipping-space would have been saved if the Government in 1939 had taken action with regard to the national loaf? Was there no opposition from the millers? I am ignorant of these facts.
§ LORD BARNBY
I fortunately anticipated the assurance of my noble friend. But we all have recollections that there was tardy action in that matter in the last war. In contradistinction we have admired the anticipatory actions of my noble friend in so many matters in connexion with food in this war. But now there are plenty of other cases where essential preparations were not made. It is for that reason that I emphasize the 736 question that if action was not necessary or desirable before, why has it suddenly become necessary now? And, if action is going to be taken, why not proceed with a really comprehensive scheme? We suspect that my noble friend will have an extremely hard task to convince the Cabinet Committee to achieve the priorities which would be necessary completely to put into effect the full scheme of the mover of the Resolution. We felicitate him on the success which he has attained. But if he succeeds in getting concurrence in these essential minimum priorities, he must have an open mind as to whether the priorities conceded should be applied to one scheme or to another. Steel, coal, labour—the requirements are inescapable whatever producer is adopted.
I look now for a moment to coal, a subject so familiar to so many members of your Lordships' House. It is a significant thought that this sudden decision may not be dissociated from what is believed to be—if we correctly interpret the Press—a rising temper, a rising tide of feeling, towards the Government on the coal question in general, and fuel rationing in particular. The proposals for rationing fuel have not been received with any degree of friendliness in another place up to now. There is doubt as to the wisdom of them. As to the need to conserve coal there can be no question. I emphasize the question—and I hope that this may have the attention of the Leader of the House—how is it, if coal can be saved, that use has not been made of the Press for making an appeal to the people of this country to take voluntary action? It would be natural, one would have imagined, for some thought to have been directed to taking action along those lines. We have seen very full and wide publicity efforts by different Government Departments to emphasize different phases of Government policy. My noble friend the Minister of Food has certainly not been backward in using publicity for that purpose, and, of course, with good results. But no attempt has been made to appeal to the community through the medium of the Press to practise economy in the consumption of fuel for domestic purposes.
Incidentally, as I see that my noble friend the Leader of the House is in his place, I should like to say that one wonders how machinery for this Government expenditure works, and how the expenditure 737 is directed so as to be most effective. I hope that the question of an appeal to the country for voluntary effort will receive his attention. It may be thought by some members of the House that reference to that point, at this moment, is not akin to the subject, but I would remind them of my noble friend's speech on March 11 when he emphasized—and it has been confirmed by other speakers to-day, particularly by my noble friend Lord Gainford, who spoke with all the authority of his great knowledge of, and long association with the trade—that coal is only one of the essential considerations in this matter taken as a whole. It is suggested that a saving of coal can be achieved The Government propose saving ten million tons of coal. If, as we are told, there are four million tons of coal raised a week, that is two hundred million tons a year. It is only necessary to take the pre-war distribution of coal in different directions and the proportions in which it is used for different purposes and compare this with present conditions, and then it can easily be measured what may be the current domestic consumption. It is known that, so far as many of the public utilities are concerned, there has been a wrong direction of improper fuel to specific boilers. This, of course, results in additional consumption of coal. Whatever may be the extent to which that takes place, there is undoubtedly an expenditure which could be saved. With regard to the proportion which it is aimed to save, I suggest that it could easily be saved as against what is wasted in these directions now.
We had a most interesting contribution to the debate from Lord Ridley. He spoke with all the authority of close study of this question. It is curious that the Report of the Hartley Committee to which the mover of the Resolution referred in his opening remarks was published in 1939, but was not proceeded with. What the Government then did was to appoint a Committee under Lord Ridley, and he has told us how he and his colleagues proceeded to examine the question. But we have no knowledge that their Report was ever published. It was never published. I would appeal to my noble friend to see that it is published, because it may be thought that the proposals he has now put forward to your Lordships as alternative to those put forward by my noble friend, the mover of the Resolution, are 738 a re-hash of what was recommended in 1939. In the interim we have had the Ridley Committee which has reported, and the Report has never been published. Are we to assume that there has been no progress on the technical side since 1939?
Now that brings me to the technical side. That is much too delicate and difficult a matter for me to go deeply into, and I shall be careful not to say anything to lead to my being accused of ignorance. Of food I know nothing, and of technical matters relating to this question I know nothing. Obviously, there are grounds upon which the technicians may be expected to find great difficulty in deciding between the respective merits of the proposals. But I would appeal to every member of the House to remember that the mover of the Resolution has put forward a scheme with which are associated the names of most prominent and responsible organizations—the Imperial Chemical Industries, the Vauxhall Motor Company, and the British Coal Utilization and Research Association. It is difficult to feel that this scheme is to be lightly dismissed as not being practicable. It may be that both schemes could with advantage be used, but that again is a technical matter which is difficult to assess.
Emphasis has been laid on the fact that, apart from the question of coal, difficulties in regard to steel and the question of the priorities in that regard would preclude the possibility of the construction of the necessary activating plants. In the scheme of which I have received a copy, and which is referred to in the Motion before the House, there is set out what is the amount of steel, the amount of coal and the amount of labour which would be required, and I think that these amounts are small in comparison with what would be justified in a case so important as this. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has told us that since 1937 it has been emphasized in this House that action should be taken to anticipate the possible need to conserve imported fuel, and successive debates in your Lordships' House have stressed that point. I confess myself completely mystified by the attitude of the Government. Since the earlier debates I have taken the trouble to read a great deal more about this matter, as other noble Lords have done, 739 and the more one reads the more one is convinced that here is a glaring case of omission. If there has been omission in the past, there is need for the most courageous and constructive action now; and we know that the Minister is a man of courage.
In conclusion, I would remind your Lordships that on March 11 the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, emphasized that action in this matter would mean the diversion of solid, and therefore home-produced, fuel which was in great demand, and that the problem involved considerable technical difficulties, and that that seemed to be the explanation of the development taking longer than could have been expected. I remember that in the autumn of 1939 there was a strong feeling in this House that the direction of the war was insufficiently aggressive. We were appealed to at that time to refrain from criticism, and to give the Government of Mr. Chamberlain a chance. It was suggested that it was unpatriotic to criticise. Fortunately the present Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, has emphasized that constructive criticism is to be welcomed. It is in that spirit that I have ventured to ask for the indulgence of your Lordships this afternoon, and it is in that spirit that I beg the Minister of War Transport to superimpose on his brilliant record of civilian commercial experience, the record of a great Minister, and to admit that he knows how to cut his losses. On those grounds I beg him to reconsider the decision which he has conveyed to your Lordships to-day.
My Lords, I hope that you will bear with me for a moment, because I should like to submit a few suggestions on this matter which I hope that my noble friend Lord Leathers will take into consideration. Frankly, I was disappointed at the measure and scope of the noble Lord's reply. I understand that only a small programme for the production of the Government emergency producers is to be launched, and that some 10,000 units are to be manufactured, whereas the Motion before your Lordships mentions a figure of 50,000 as being required. The Government design, as your Lordships will remember, was first produced some two and a half years ago. I was very interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, that there have been 740 modifications of that design in the intervening period, but as to what those actually were the noble Lord was conspicuously silent. The noble Duke who raised this matter said that a thousand of the Government emergency producers had been made, and that a hundred of them were in service. I believe those figures to be correct, and if the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, would be interested to hear the details, I could tell him of one place where at least forty of those units are now lying idle and unused.
Your Lordships will have heard of the Mobile Producer Gas Association, which is a private enterprise representing the bulk of those interested in this particular development from the points of view of design, construction and operation. What do the commercial vehicle users and private vehicle users think of producer gas units as such? At the present moment I think it would be fair to say that approximately 1,500 are on the road. I am not counting any of Government design that may be on the road, but 1,500 of other designs are on the road, and those 1,500 have covered a total mileage of some 15,000,000 road miles to date. To give some idea of the scope of the firms supporting the Mobile Producer Gas Association, I may mention that one of them has converted fifty-seven different makes of vehicle. Your Lordships will appreciate, therefore, the scope of the work that has been done.
These firms have to-day a manufacturing capacity of 122 units a week. That number is not being made, of course, owing to the shortage of material, but possibly about 25 units a week are being produced. If the materials were made available, however, the number of units produced could in about four months be raised to about 500 a week. I feel that proper account has not been taken of the experience of these users. Since the Government emergency producer was made two and a half years ago, these other units, as I have informed your Lordships, have covered 15,000,000 miles, and valuable experience has been gained. That experience has in part been transferred, through the agency of the I.C.I., the B.C.U.R.A., Vauxhall Motors and others, into the design of the central-draught producer referred to by the noble Duke. Your Lordships have therefore been considering, in the main, two types 741 of producer gas unit—the Government emergency producer, referred to by my noble friend Lord Leathers, and the central-draught producer referred to by the noble Duke; and it was the noble Duke's scheme which suggested that some 50,000 of these units should be manufactured.
A great deal of reference has been made to the fuels which are available and usable. The fuels which the Government producer will use, or can use, are low-temperature coke and anthracite, raw or activated. The B.C.U.R.A. unit can use low-temperature coke, high-temperature coke activated, or anthracite activated. The process of activation, as your Lordships know, consists of impregnating the solid products with sodium chloride. The B.C.U.R.A. producer gas unit has been tested against the Government emergency producer unit by many transport firms and Government Departments, and a total of well over 140,000 road miles has been covered. Producer gas units are but a step along the road of the changes brought about by the shortage of certain fuels, and may—and in my opinion will—lead to the re-development of the steam car; but we have got to bridge the situation before that and therefore to develop the producer gas unit to-day. I would like to suggest to my noble friend Lord Leathers that he should take note of these broad facts and request the Royal Automobile Club to organize, say, a 2,000-mile road trial, at which all the various types of producer-gas units that are available could be submitted. Such a trial could be very effectively carried out by the Royal Automobile Club, perhaps under its Chief Assessor, Colonel Mervyn O'Gorman. That would show, beyond any question, which is the most effective of the various units that have been referred to in your Lordships' House from time to time, and would at the same time in its results demonstrate to the users of commercial vehicles the effectiveness, running costs, and operational experience generally of these particular devices which are new to this country at the present time.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I should like to say a few final words on this subject, and first of all I should like to tender my sympathies to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, on his finding himself the only apologist in this House to-day for the Government producer. There are one 742 or two points to which I would draw attention. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that this Government producer which is going to be put on to 10,000 vehicles is not the one that we had experience of last time. All I can say is that this new producer, as far as I know, has never experienced any extensive test—nothing compared with the tests of the other producers—and therefore it is practically unknown to the public and to all those engaged in the industry. If the noble Lord had given some assurance that part of that 10,000 order for producers would be allocated to other forms of producer which are better known and of which there has been larger experience than of the Government producer, then I would have withdrawn my Motion right away. I ask the noble Lord particularly: Are all the 10,000 producers to be this Government producer, practically unknown to the public? His answer is that the 10,000 producers must be the Government producers—all of them. I should have said that the right thing to do was to allocate the 10,000 equally among the different makes, so that we might have the benefit of the experience, tests, knowledge and science of a variety of people instead of your special Committee.
§ LORD LEATHERS
I think I ought to say a word here. The Technical Committee have had before them, I repeat, the whole of the producers that are on the roads and available for service today. It is not true to say that the Government producer is unknown. The Government producer has had a greater mileage test than any of the others. But all these producers have been under very close review and test, and what we now say is the result of all that testing and review. The reason why I have to give the answer to the noble Duke that the 10,000 Government improved producer must come first is that in no other way could we hope to reach in a reasonable time the number of 10,000. The 10,000 must be of one kind in order to have a big measure of mass production. At the same time, however, there is no reason why other producers should not be made, but it just means that they have to take second place while these 10,000 producers—our immediate first objective—are being mass produced.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
I accept that statement, but I ask also what kind 743 of manufacturers have put up this alternative scheme? I ask that they should have the same equality in the allocation of materials as the 10,000 producers which are to be made by the Government, because it seems to me that if the Government producer cannot stand on its own legs in open competition then there is evidently something wrong with it. I feel that as this thing is being paid for by public money the public will demand that there should be equal rights for all makes without any preference.
§ LORD LEATHERS
May I say a word in answer to that? The Technical Committee have not found themselves able to recommend to the Government the development at the moment of the B.C.U.R.A. apparatus. I was rather unwilling to say that because I did not want to strike a note about the B.C.U.R.A. not being recommended by the Committee. I should like to feel that the B.C.U.R.A. apparatus came forward and was a real success, so that later on it would eclipse the Government producer and give us something still better. That time has not yet arrived, and that is why we are going to move now. I have responded as best I can to the urgency that has been asked for, and I
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.