HL Deb 22 July 1942 vol 123 cc1027-44

THE DUKE OF MONTROSE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, what number of vehicles has been sanctioned under the scheme for converting transport vehicles to producer gas propulsion, what mileage they have run and what fuel they have used; and to move to resolve, That the scheme for converting 50,000 transport vehicles to producer gas propulsion, approved by the vote of this House on April 28, should be prepared and put into force as soon as possible.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name I would like to remind your Lordships that it was on April 28 last that we passed a Resolution in this House in favour of the production of 50,000 plants and the conversion of 50,000 vehicles for the use of producer gas as a motive power. Nearly twelve weeks have gone by, and we have not seen—at least I have not seen—any official statement or any authoritative statement as to what progress is actually being made towards the accomplishment of our desire that this scheme should be prepared and carried through as soon as possible. Therefore I thought that I would take this opportunity to-day of asking my noble friend the Minister of War Transport if he would be good enough to tell us what progress has been made.

I understand that the scheme under review now has been considerably boiled down, and that instead of 50,000 plants under production or in view something like 10,000 is the figure now envisaged. I would say, in passing, that most of your Lordships will realize that in recent years the powers of this House have been considerably restricted and that fact should make us all the more jealous that such powers as remain to us shall be respected. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, will tell us that, if it is true that our scheme for 50,000 plants has been reduced to 10,000, be has some very good reason for that change. Otherwise I think we shall justly resent our view being set aside. I feel, myself, that if the noble Lord envisages only 10,000 plants then the scheme is really too small to bother about. It would make no difference practically to the national position in the matter of oil and it would be too small a scheme to justify the appointment of a special director and the creation of a special department. But I hope that the noble Lord will say to-day that he does accept the 50,000 vehicle scheme and that the 10,000 which he is discussing from time to time with his advisers is only a sort of first instalment.

I may say in passing also that I was very sorry indeed to see that the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, as special director of this scheme had been terminated, or that he had been moved on, whichever way you like to look at it. I would say to Lord Leathers that that appointment of Lord Ridley was in our view an excellent one. He commanded confidence, he was enthusiastic on this scheme and he spared no pains to master his subject from A to Z. We all felt that if anybody could make a success of this scheme he would. Now, almost as soon as he has been appointed, he moves on. I hope his enthusiasm did not make him inconvenient.

I expect the Minister of War Transport will tell us that his chief difficulty is that the Minister of Mines is unable to find the necessary coal and that therefore he cannot put the full scheme into production because of lack of fuel. Well, the lack of coal was entirely the fault of the Minister of Mines. He knew at the beginning of the war that factories were being put into commission for making munitions, and he knew that, as those factories came into commission, they would require coal, and that there would be an increase in the demand for coal in consequence. Yet he allowed 70,000 miners to leave the coal face and go into the Army without making any provision whatever for recalling them if necessary. If there is a shortage, therefore, it will be his fault. I hope that the new Fuel Controller will begin his work in more fortunate circumstances. I saw in The Times yesterday that Mr. Lawther, the new President of the Mineworkers' Federation, said that, now that the miners had received the various things for which they had been fighting for years, they should pledge themselves to produce all the coal that is required. I hope that my noble friend Lord Leathers will take an early opportunity of seeking the co-operation of Mr. Lawther, and of getting the miners to give him the necessary coal to produce the amount of suitable fuel required for the gas-producer scheme.

I expect that the Minister of War Trans port will also tell us that he has difficulty in persuading the Minister of Supply to give him the necessary steel. Let us take the figure of 25,000 tons of steel, which would go a long way towards giving us the producers necessary. With 25,000 tons of steel it would be possible to build only two small tankers, and two small tankers would never carry all the oil which could be saved if that amount of steel were used to allow producer plants to be manufactured. Steel invested in producer plants instead of ships would therefore be very well invested.

I should like to know how many producer-gas plants, have actually been sanctioned by the Ministry of War Transport, and how man have been put on the roads since April 28 last under this scheme. I should like to know how many miles they have run, and what fuel has been used. The noble Lord will recollect that I criticized the Government plant on a previous occasion, and I am afraid that some of my remarks did not meet with his approval. I understand that an order has been placed for two or three thousand gas-producer plants to the design of Messrs. Tilling, the big omnibus proprietors. If this first order has been placed for this design, it seems to show that the Government design cannot be very successful, and that I cannot have been very far wrong in criticizing it. However, if the Minister has gone to Messrs. Tilling for his gas producers that is a step in the right direction. I have always advocated that the Minister of War Transport should place his confidence in the private manufacturers of plants, who know by experience what they are doing.

One thing is quite obvious. On April 28 the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, said something about compelling some owners to convert their fleets of vehicles. If compulsory powers are to be used in any way whatever, the operators concerned ought to have freedom to choose what plant they will use, especially as they will have to pay for the conversion themselves. If operators are to have freedom of choice of plant by reason of the fact that they are paying for the conversion themselves, then the Government should give to private manufacturers of plant the same priority in regard to materials and fuel that they enjoy themselves; otherwise the private manufacturers will be unable to make the plants. Different plant is required for different services, and it would be a mistake for the Minister of War Transport to urge everyone to use the monopolistic or Government plant.

The other day I was asked by a very high officer of the Air Force to come to see him to discuss the producer-gas question. He told me that they were looking for 1,000 lorries, but that he did not wish to make any heavy call on petrol, and wished the lorries to be fitted to run on producer-gas when necessary. I told him what the position was, and that the Minister of War Transport had said that the Government would have priority of materials and fuel, while private manufacturers would come second. He told me that he did not want the Government plant, because it was a trailer plant, and involved using rubber tyres; he said that he wanted a private plant of some sort. In view of the fact that private manufacturers cannot have equal priority with the Government, I do not know what has happened in this regard, but it has certainly hung up that order, anyhow.

I think that the Minister of War Transport would be well advised to try to work hand in hand with the private manufacturers. In Sweden, at the beginning of 1940, there were only 3,000 producer-gas vehicles; Sweden depended on imported oil, in the same way that we do. By reason of developments in the war situation, however, Sweden lost the means of importing oil, and the Swedish Government accordingly appealed to the private engineering firms of Sweden to help them out of their transport difficulties, with the result that they now have 73,000 producer-gas vehicles and 20,000 agricultural vehicles fitted for producer-gas. All this has been done in little more than a year, simply by leaning on the experience of engineers and designers who know what they are about. I feel that if Sweden can obtain that tremendous increase in the number of power plants by the help of private manufacturers, we can do the same. I understand that a scheme has been put before the Ministry of War Transport by a body called the Mobile Producer Gas Association. This is a body composed of experts and manufacturers of plant, and under this scheme I understand that they are ready to pool their experience and to standardize all parts which are common to all designs—piping, flanges, bolts, nuts and so on. That should greatly simplify the whole matter. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to give favourable consideration to co-operation with that Association, and to taking advantage of their knowledge and experience.

I was a little astonished at the answer which my noble friend gave the other day to my noble friend Lord Barnby on the question of fuel. My noble friend Lord Leathers spoke a good deal about anthracite, and I rather gathered from his remarks that anthracite was regarded as the only suitable fuel for producer-gas work. It is nothing of the sort; it is not even the best fuel, because its lacks reactivity. But the main point was that the noble Lord said he was going to arrange that fuel would be made available at those points in the country where the vehicles would run. How is all this anthracite going to be made available? I understand it will go by train. Surely that means congesting the railways more than they are congested already, which would be a great disadvantage. I would prefer that the country was regionalized, and that fuel should be used in each region which is produced in that region. And not only anthracite, but all the other carbonized fuels, which in quantity are fifteen times as great as anthracite. Why bother about anthracite? Why not use the stuff which is fifteen times as great? Why are factories still left idle which can make fuel? I have tried to get information about one factory and have never succeeded. Why is it idle to-day? And yet that factory can produce 1,200 tons per week of the best solid motor fuel, and fuel for which about 90 per cent, of the operators are asking. It produces a solid fuel which is equal to 10,000,000 gallons of oil a year. Not only that, but in producing the solid fuel it produces 25,000 gallons of "once run" oil and tar which can be refined. I cannot see why that factory should be idle. It would not be allowed to be idle in any other country in Europe.

The noble Lord said that he would give this question of fuel intensive study and experiment. He said he would undertake that it should be available for extensive study and experiment. But is it the duty and business of the noble Lord to devote intensive study and experiment to the fuel question? Surely not. What is the Fuel Research Board for? What is the British Coal Utilization Research Association for? There are two bodies receiving large financial support from the Government, and it is their job to study this matter intensively. All that the noble Lord requires to do is to ask a question and he will get any answer he likes, on any fuel. I feel that a Minister should be like a cobbler, and stick to his last. This question is serious because the position has not improved since April 28 last. We have lost possession of the oilfields in the Pacific. We have lost possession of oilfields in Burma, and the Germans are trying to cut off the connexion between Russia and the Caucasus. If Russia loses the Caucasus oil supply we shall have to supply oil as well as other munitions to Russia. How can we supply oil to-day unless we have some alternative fuel available to which to switch over all the transport? There is no available oil to send to Russia to-day from this country. It is no use saying we must tighten our belts. If the noble Lord heard all the things that are said in big munition areas like Clydeside about the insufficiency of 'buses, and standing in queues after working all day, he would understand the bitterness about the cutting down of petrol. The only thing that can be done is to develop an alternative system of propulsion and use producer gas.

I know that people have said, "Why don't we have more mass raids on France?" We had a big raid on Cologne and it was like a tonic to the country. Everybody thought that now the tide had turned. And they thought it still more when the Prime Minister said in another place that this was only the first of many. There has not, however, been another raid for a long time. Why? I do not know. But the public say that those great mass raids made vast inroads on our fuel resources, and until the shipping problem is less serious than it is to-day we shall be taxing our oil resources further than we can afford by having such mass raids. It is the same with the Second Front: until we develop an alternative system of propulsion we are handicapping and preventing the maximum use of our fighting resources. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the scheme for converting 50,000 transport vehicles to producer gas propulsion, approved by the vote of this House on April 28, should be prepared and put into force as soon as possible.—(The Duke of Montrose.)


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Duke on the broad lines on which he spoke at the conclusion of his speech. We stand today in this House in the most extraordinary position, seeing that only five years ago I ventured to move in this House that we should take steps to make ourselves independent of foreign oil for the Navy and the Air Force. I quoted my noble friend Lord Gain ford, who is here, and he agreed with the statement I made, that by an expenditure of £130,000,000 we should within five years undoubtedly be independent of foreign oil for our Navy and Air Force. That stands on record and can be found in the Official Report. My noble friend Lord Crewe was present, so were others of my noble friends here who, though they do not agree with subsidies as a rule, were convinced it was right. It would be a great advantage, we said then, in helping to solve the problem of unemployment. We said it was vital that we should make ourselves independent of foreign oil for the internal combustion engine for our Navy and Air Force. And we stand here to-day knowing full well that if the Minister who then sat on that Bench opposite had said "I agree," and had done it, the whole face of the war would have been altered and the prospect of victory, which is now remote, though certain, would be near.

I would say to my noble friend in all seriousness, do let him realize the folly we committed then, of which there is no doubt whatever. We could now have been in a winning position, and we are not—all because of our failure then. I remember that at that time I was referred to Lord Cadman, a great man, and incidentally a great friend, and he pointed out to me that, owing to the large number of our tankers, and owing to the different parts of the world from which we drew our oil, though the matter hung somewhat in the balance, and though he did not dispute my figure of £130,000,000, on the whole the Government were right. He was speaking as the expert on whom the Government very rightly relied. But how tragically wrong he was, for, as we know, the submarine menace is at least three times as great as was then foreseen, and sources of oil have been overcome and overwhelmed by a great foreign Power to a degree that was never foreseen. I implore the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to act as did a very great British seaman long years ago when the British fleet had suffered a series of reverses. He stepped aboard his ship and said, "Bring me all the orders that have ever been issued by my predecessor." They were brought to him, and dramatically he tore them all to pieces and said, "Now let those be thrown overboard." I suggest that to him as an example. Let him bring his new mind to bear upon this problem, remembering that if his predecessor had said "Yes" when he said "No," the whole nation, the whole Empire, would have been better off. Will he bring his new mind, his brilliant mind, to bear, casting aside all the considerations of the past which were so foolish, so wrong, and take a step forward to make us independent and able to enforce the will of the nation in all parts of the world?


My Lords, before the Minister replies, I hope you will grant me a few minutes to ask for elucidation of one or two points. As has been said before, Lord Leathers made it clear to your Lordships on April 28 that he had decided to order 10,000 Government emergency producers of the improved type, Mark III. That was again referred to by my noble friend in the debate in your Lordships' House on May 13. In another place, on June 25, a question was asked of the representative of the Ministry of War Transport with regard to utilizing the various firms designing and manufacturing producer-gas units and suggesting that the facilities these firms have got should be used for this particular purpose. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, in his reply, said: The design of producer chosen for public service vehicles has been successfully operated for a considerable time by one of the largest omnibus interests in the country. That reply is at variance with the policy laid down by my noble friend Lord Leathers in your Lordships' House, when he made it quite clear that it was the Government improved emergency producer that was to be manufactured. No reference was then made to manufacturing the apparatus coming from the brain of Messrs. Tillings, who are the "omnibus interests" referred to.

Perhaps your Lordships would bear in mind the following points, and no doubt they will be elucidated fully by the noble Lord in his reply. Firstly, on April 28 it was made clear that it was a Government improved emergency producer that was to be made. Secondly, the producer referred to in another place on June 25 was the Tillings producer—a producer different in important features of design from the Government emergency producer. Thirdly, what I shall call the Mark I Government emergency producer, as referred to in previous debates by my noble friend the Minister of War Transport, was not a success. Fourthly, the latest type of Government emergency producer, Mark III, shows a considerable improvement, yet has a comparatively short experience of running mileage at the back of it when considered in comparison with the Tillings producer and the B.C.U.R.A. producer. The main point is that the answer given in another place as to the policy of the Government seems to be completely at variance with the policy expressed to your Lordships' House so clearly by my noble friend the Minister of War Transport.


My Lords, some of you will remember that this subject of the development of gas producers for road transport was fully discussed on April 28. At that time I informed your Lordships' House of the Government's decision to equip some 10,000 vehicles with producer-gas plants. Those of your Lordships who have practical experience of production will know that after a decision has been made a considerable time must elapse before you can secure anything like large-scale production. Indeed, I should say it will be several months from the time of the decision before anything like a large number of these plants can possibly be expected to be in operation. Your Lordships would like to know just what progress has been made since the Government's decision. Two types of improved Government apparatus have been developed—and here I should say that one of these types of improved Government producer is the Tillings type which has been referred to to-day. These two types constitute the wet (or water) filter system and the dry filter system. The water filter system is preferred for all those types of vehicles engaged on regular runs, going into garages at more or less stated intervals, so that in the process of things the garages can be so arranged as to have the necessary facilities for maintenance and therefore be able to work with considerable satisfaction. Of that particular type some 2,500 have already been ordered. When the works are able to organize for this manufacture and, in the language of the technicians, are "tooled up" for the big production, I can say we should have a production of about 400 per week. The other type of producer—the dry filter—is better for that type of vehicle owned by people who run relatively few. It would not be possible for them so to arrange in their garages for the necessary maintenance of these plants, because there would be only relatively few to be dealt with.

Therefore it has been necessary for us to decide upon two types, and I think I can claim quite fairly that I did not precisely Say what the Government type of produce was. It was an "improved Government emergency producer." I knew at the time there would have to be certain adjustments that would make for the very best results from these plants. After the most careful consideration, these two types have been decided upon in conjunction with the industry that will have to operate them. I feel that we shall be able by closer study that we are giving this matter, to order a further number of the water filter type so that that number is increased to about 5,000. So far as the dry filter type is concerned, we are just on the point of completing—we have just completed—designs in respect of them, and within a few days I hope to be able to place an order for 5,000 of that kind. In that way we shall reach the absolute ordering of the full 10,000. For the latter type I am sure we can say that the 400 per week will be achieved as soon as the works are really organized and "tooled up" for that production. I feel that that is the most satisfactory" way of dealing with this matter, and no time has been lost in producing that result. I am glad to say that most of the big manufacturers of these goods vehicles are co-operating with us, and have agreed in principle, through their organization and their agents, to arrange for the fitting and the connexion of these Plants. It is only in this way, using the very highly developed industry that it is that we can hope to make a success of this matter. All these things are definitely arranged, and I would emphasize that only in that way could we expect to get the result that we aim at.

Then as to fuel, I assure your Lordships, as I did when this matter was first discussed, that the provision and distribution of this necessary selected fuel requires a good deal of planning for. We have planned and the plans are complete. We have now to elaborate those plans in some detail, but we shall have the necessary provision of fuel for use by the plants at the time the vehicles can be on the road. I have said, I think only last week in your Lordships' House, that in the meanwhile stocks are being accumulated by the operating companies and otherwise so that we can have something in hand. In that way we have taken care of the fuel position. I notice that the noble Duke stressed that anthracite was not really the best fuel for this purpose, but I would say here that it is only anthracite, plus a little low-temperature coke, that can be made available. Substantially only anthracite is available to us for this purpose. I know the noble Duke had in mind that we should resort to activated high-temperature coke. I think on the last occasion when this matter was fully discussed, I dealt with that subject. It is not possible for us to distribute over the country that selected gas coal to the somewhat limited number of gasworks that can retort that kind of coal so as to obtain the result that would be necessary. The coal is required for other destinations. Vital war work cannot be disturbed as it would be if there was a redistribution of that fuel.

It is not possible for us, as we see the position at the moment, to rearrange the distribution of that necessary special gas coal for this purpose. That being so, I am restricted in the main to anthracite fuel, and I do not think we ought to speak disparagingly of this anthracite fuel. Although it is not activated, very good results indeed are achieved by it, and it, may be that before long it will be possible to suggest to us a means of activating the anthracite coal itself. That has already been referred to, and I hope that will be pursued in the hope that a better result still can be obtained from the anthracite fuel. I expect to have the whole of the arrangements completed for the distribution of fuel and for accumulating stocks all over the country, so that we can have stocks in hand against the demands that will be made upon us for fuel when up to 10,000 of these producers are on the roads.

The noble Duke referred to another plant. I was not able to ask him the name of the plant, but I think he must have referred to Cinder Hill. Cinder Hill is a plant which the noble Duke knows quite well. I can only say this, that some time ago a very close evaluation was made of that plant to decide whether it would be right and proper to change its process in order to make good many things that are not right about it, and so to use it for the distillation process. The report is quite definite that it would be uneconomic for the country to do this. But I will promise the noble Duke that I will not let it rest there. I will have the matter investigated further. Of course I do not determine these things myself. I know exactly where to go to for expert advice on these matters of fuel, and it is because I know where to go that I have been there and am acting upon the advice given to me. They have said to me in plain words that it is anthracite fuel that I must rely upon for any immediate development of producer-gas plants; therefore my hands are somewhat tied.

I think this ought to be said. When the noble Duke divided the House, if I understood the position aright, it was mainly on the question whether we should order that all these plants should be Government emergency producer plants or whether we should open the matter up for all the known plants then being made. That was, I think, the question. At the same time the House was pressing me very hard for movement in the matter. It had suggested more than once that delay was very dangerous, and that the aeroplane itself was never developed by waiting until perfection was achieved. I was guided by the House. As soon as I took this matter in hand, or very quickly afterwards, a decision was reached to go forward with this large-scale experiment. I do say that we can only get through with the 10,000 in the quick time that we are aiming at if we concentrate on those particular plants set up in two types. The noble Duke really cannot have it both ways. We shall have what we aim at in quick time only if we keep in the main to this particular type with the two variations. I feel that I have tried to meet the wish expressed by the House in shaping that course.

I would like to say that it is not at the moment a matter of steel that is the bottleneck in this matter so much as it is a matter of fuel, limited for the moment, as we are, to anthracite fuel. But I will not leave it there. I cannot, however, see at the moment how we could possibly promise to-day to engage in a bigger programme than 10,000. What I would like to do, and what I propose to do, is to keep to the 10,000 of the types that I have referred to. That does not in fact exclude the small number of other makers going ahead with their own plants. I do not think they will be able to do much, but I should like to feel that they were kept in action if for no other reason than that we should have the benefit of the experience which they will gain in this further experiment between now, say, and the end of the year. I am absolutely in agreement with the noble Duke when he says we should not jettison any experience which these other people may have. I am not an advocate, I will tell your Lordships, merely of the Government producer; I would like to see many others at work. That is the only way we shall ultimately secure the real advance that matters. But I have had to shape my course within the limits that I know exist to-day. As has been said in this House before this afternoon, I have had to face the realities of the position.

I think it would be wrong if I did not make a reference to Lord Ridley. I do assure the House that there was no disagreement between myself and Lord Ridley. I was very happy indeed in the selection I made in the appointment of Lord Ridley in the first place. He set to work with an understanding of this subject and with great energy, and we were all in consequence fired with more enthusiasm probably than we should have had otherwise. It was unfortunate, and unfortunate for me, I think, that there was a need to secure the services of Lord Ridley in another Department of the Government. I released him with great reluctance. I talked it over with him at great length. He was also very reluctant to relinquish the position, but it was an opportunity for the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, to render yet greater service to the nation in another sphere. I left the whole matter with him to decide, and he elected to go into that sphere where, as I say, he could contribute more to the war effort. Nothing at all attached to any difference—no difference existed—and we have had to go forward in that interrupted way as best we could. I would like, however, to tell your Lordships how grateful I am for the services rendered to us by Lord Ridley during the comparatively short time he was with us. I do not think we could have reported the progress which I report to-day but for the excellent work he did in relation to this subject, and I would ask your Lordships to believe that I am very sorry to have lost his services. We, however, shall not lose a day. My one object will be to go forward in the fulfilment of these undertakings which I have given to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before I refer very briefly to the speech of the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, I would like with permission to refer to the proceedings yesterday. After the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor had replied to my Amendment on the War Damage (Amendment) Bill I rose and in accordance with the privilege of the House——

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT CRANBORNE) (Lord Cecil): My Lords, the noble Lord is out of order in raising that matter at this moment. He can do so on another occasion.


I was raising a point of order, but I will defer to the opinion of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. It involved a denial of the usual procedure of the House on which I have taken advice. My intention now is to refer very briefly to the speech of the Minister of War Transport. I am sad and disappointed. I had hoped that he would reply to the gesture of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and tell your Lordships that he would tackle this problem on a bigger scale. The whole thing has been predicated on the hypothesis that domestic fuel can be substituted for imported fuel and that there was a great saving possible. There has been reiteration of the need for saving shipping. On this ground there has been an appeal for large-scale increased production in domestic agriculture. What would have been the position if the Minister of Agriculture in urging this big increase had been obliged to admit that while the scheme was feasible there were no implements with which to do it?

The Minister of War Transport has reported that the scheme must be confined to approximately 10,000 units. He did not tell us if they were built in units as trailers. There has been reiteration that trailers for many purposes, apart from the objection of the increased use of rubber, are not suitable. He admitted that his hands were largely tied. I realize that this matter is an involved technical matter on which many Committees have sat. The position now, since the resignation of the director whom the Minister of War Transport appointed to deal with this matter, has caused much doubt in people's minds. I admit that in the past I had no technical knowledge of this, but I have gone to the trouble of reading a great deal and I have spoken with many people who are authorities on the subject, and I think there is no doubt that there is solid backing for the alternative larger schemes put forward in the belief that a real saving of fuel can be achieved.

We recognize the many calls on the Minister for vital decisions—I would like here to acknowledge his courtesy in giving me opportunity for a short conversation with him—and I think my noble friend who has moved this Resolution must regret that it has resulted in the Minister having had to put in a full afternoon's attendance in your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, something can be achieved. I would appeal to the Minister to accept the constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and at least appoint an engineer of standing who would give people confidence that this matter is likely to be developed on lines which promise early effective results. It would be a saving of his time because he would not then have to demolish the anxieties and suspicions as to the influence of vested interests. If he cannot see his way to do that, then I submit it would be much more honest to say that what was hoped for is not an immediate possibility and that the matter must be laid aside for the duration of the war.


My Lords, those of us who are interested in this question acknowledge that the noble Lord has met us to a certain extent. My own feeling is that, I will not say half a loaf, but a portion of a loaf, is better than no bread. But nevertheless, I want to say that we are not satisfied and that we do press the Government at the earliest moment to extend the experiment which they are making. As I have said in previous debates, this matter has been taken up by a great number of other private firms and really it is no longer in an experimental stage. The Government ought to push forward with it to a greater extent. Having regard to the position in which some of us were placed on the last occasion when this matter was before your Lordships' House, I would like to suggest to the noble Duke that he should not divide the House to-day, but rely on the Government realizing what is the feeling in your Lordships' House and in the country in regard to the increased production of these vehicles.


My Lords, may I with the permission of the House add one word of explanation? The decision which we took, I would remind your Lordships, was taken on the recommendation of a very expert Committee that had sat, had experimented and had had sustained trials carried out up to a certain period. Those trials were not sustained to as great a length as we should have liked, but we asked for the Committee's report a little earlier than we should otherwise have done so that this House might have it. I do feel that there is progress being made with the different types of producer plant. That Committee is still sitting. It has been transferred to my Department from the Minister of Mines Department. My suggestion is that a little later on, when certain improvements that are now in hand have been completed, the Committee should again take up the matter of sustained trials of other plants. I made my decision on their report before, and I would like to be guided by a further report from them in view of these further developments which are now taking place.


My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend the Minister of War Transport for the information which he has given us to-day. I must say, though, that I feel that had the noble Lord taken the private manufacturers more into his confidence, and worked hand in hand with them to a greater extent, he would now have been in a position to say that there were several hundred, perhaps 1,000 or even 2,000, more vehicles on the road than is actually the case. A great number of manufacturers, as my noble friend Lord Gainford said, have long got past the experimental stage with regard to producer gas, and I understand from what the Minister has said that he will not be in a position to go forward for several months. With the assistance of the manufacturers we should have had plants, but I cannot help feeling that a bottle-neck has been reached—a bottleneck in the matter of co-ordination and co-operation with the private manufacturers. The noble Lord certainly did not satisfy me on the question of priority. He did not say that manufacturers would have the same priority as the Government, It is all very well to say that you do not stop manufacturers making plants. In my view, if they are not given priority that has the same effect as stopping them. Therefore, I would like to have had an assurance that not only do the Government look to private manufacturers to go on and produce plants but that they will give them the same priority as the Government themselves enjoy.

As regards fuel the noble Lord said that the plant would not be economic. How much expenditure by the Government in this war has been economic, I would like to know. Thousands—no, millions of pounds have been spent by the Government in ways which are not economic. Here is a fuel which 80 to 90 per cent, of people concerned in the matter are asking for because it is the best fuel. There can be no argument, in the present circumstances, based on a contention that it is not economic. However, with these remarks I will accept the advice of my noble friend Lord Gainford and will not push my Motion to a Division, or rather will not ask leave of the House to push my Motion to a Division to-day. I shall watch the progress made by the Government in this matter, and if it is not much better than it has been, then within two or three months I shall raise the question again. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.