HL Deb 11 March 1942 vol 122 cc237-58

THE DUKE OF MONTROSE had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That in view of the continued deterioration in the oil supply in the East, the addition to the strength of the German Fleet, the prospective heavy demand on the American oil supplies, and the vital importance of reducing the strain on shipping in handling large imports of oil, immediate steps be taken to economize all possible petrol for the use of the Services in the war, by introducing producer-gas propulsion for motor transport on the largest possible scale.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I rise to move the Resolution standing in my name. I am not forgetful of the fact that I have spoken to your Lordships on this subject on several occasions in the past, and I return to it once more only because, at the end of the debate on the last occasion on December 9, I said I was dissatisfied with the position as we left it then. I asked the noble Lord who then replied to me, Lord Templemore, if he could give me some assurance that this question of finding an alternative supply of power to petrol could be dealt with in a practical way, and the noble Lord I am sure did his best to give me that assurance. But I am sorry to say that I was very far from being satisfied. I said that I would return to the subject again unless something eventuated. That was on December 9. All December went by; nothing eventuated. All January went by; nothing eventuated. All February went by; nothing eventuated. The first ten days of March have passed, and I do not know yet of anything that is going to happen. I spoke to the Minister of Mines and he told me that they were waiting for the Report from Lord Henley's Committee which might be received within a month or six weeks. When we get that Report a month or six weeks will be required for its consideration, and then another month or six weeks will be taken up in framing something after that consideration. Subsequently, another month or six weeks will be occupied, perhaps, in legislating and doing something practical with regard to this Report. In fact, altogether about six months will go by before anything is definitely done.

But the Government have had, to my knowledge, two and a half years to look into this question and to make up their minds definitely whether they can do anything to provide alternative power to petrol. Well, if you cannot make up your minds in two and a half years, what can you expect to do in six weeks? It is no use waiting any longer. We must do something practical. If it was urgent in December the position has grown very much worse now. It has been aggravated seriously by the loss of our oilfields in the Far East. The position now with regard to the oil supplies of our Fighting Services is really getting serious. We have lost oilfields on the west side of the Pacific and to-day we learn that we are losing oil supplies and refineries in Burma. This really means losing our oil supplies in the Indian Ocean too. If a time ever comes when we shall try to recover naval supremacy in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean, it means that we shall have to take all our oil round with us for supplying all the needs of the Navy and the Fleet Air Arm. By just so many tankers as you have to send round with the Fleet will the service of tankers for transporting oil from America to these shores be curtailed, and that of course will shorten supplies here.

And now a word about the Middle East. How is the oil supply position there? We know that there is going to be a tremendous German push to the Caucasus for the sake of the oil there. We hope and pray that that push will be defeated. But so many things have gone wrong, and there have been so many miscalculations in this war that nobody can say for certain whether that push will be defeated or not. If it were successful our oil supplies from Iraq and Iran and the Persian Gulf generally would be very gravely affected indeed. Looking further West, how about supplies from South America; from Venezuela and Mexico? We are very fortunate in being able to get oil from there, but it is a long and dangerous voyage to these shores. We lose a number of ships on that voyage. Then again the Axis propaganda in South America is very severe and very active. There is a close affinity between the peoples of South America and the peoples of the Axis countries. We hope that we may still continue to get oil from South America, but it is not a dead absolute certainty.

Then we look to the United States, which have been of the greatest possible assistance to us. They have sent us simply marvellous supplies of everything, including munitions and oil, but the United States have never had very big requirements for oil for their Fighting Services in the past. To-day the United States are building up the greatest Navy, the greatest Army and the greatest Air Force that the world has ever seen belonging to a single nation. Their demand for oil may reach astronomical figures. Nobody can say, when the United States have supplied their own requirements, how much oil will remain to be available for us. Looking around the world, is there anybody who can say definitely that the position with regard to oil supplies is satisfactory as it is to-day? No one can say that, and, therefore, as I said before, if it was urgent in December that something should be done for the sake of our own Fighting Services, it is now imperative that something should be done.

Your Lordships know perfectly well that almost everything in our Fighting Services depends on oil. It is no use adding battleships to the Navy, tanks to the Army, and big bombers and fighters to the Air Force unless they have oil to operate with. Without petrol, without oil, they cannot operate, and if they cannot operate we may as well—to use vulgar parlance—go out of business and put the shutters up. We know, of course, that tankers are being sunk, and that our shipping generally is suffering. The Prime Minister said the other day in the House of Commons that we had had serious shipping losses in the last two months. The losses had been worse than those which had been experienced for a long time, they might get worse yet, and a great proportion of the ships which had been sunk were tankers. That is a very serious thing. We are the only great nation in the world to-day that has no alternative power to petrol. All the Axis Powers have it; Germany has it, Italy has it, and Japan has it. They have all gone in for producer gas and synthetic petrol as alternative powers to oil for their Fighting Forces. That brutal nation, Japan, before ever she went to war, in view of the shortage of oil, brought forward a five-year plan to make synthetic petrol and establish gas production in her country. She spent £24,000,000 on it and, more than that, she passed a law making it compulsory for every vehicle in Japan not only to be fitted for petrol but to be fitted for producer gas as well.

The Axis Powers know that we are the only nation that has not gone in for a system of alternative power. What is their view? They say: "Oh, we may be losing submarines, but what about the losses of Great Britain? And what are they doing about it in Great Britain?" The answer to that last question really is: "Nothing." All the Government can say is: "Pull in your belts." A little while ago the position with regard to oil in this country was not satisfactory, and the Government said we must restrict the supply for private cars. A little while later the position was still unsatisfactory. The Government said that they must cut down supplies still further, and restrict the supplies for public transport vehicles, thus gravely inconveniencing munition workers. It was the policy of "Pull in your bells" again. The position continued to be unsatisfactory, and those engaged in the distributive trades were told that instead of distributing their goods every day, or three times a week, they must do so only on one day a week, much to the inconvenience of their customers. Again it was a question of "Pull in your belts."

The Axis Powers are able to say: "We may lose submarines, but we are sinking tankers, and all that the British people can do is to pull in their belts. If we sink enough tankers, there will come a day when they can pull in their belts no further, and then we shall have got them, because they have no alternative to petrol." That is a serious position, and its effect on the morale of the people of this country is bad. To sit still and to pull in one's belt is not a policy but an expedient, and an expedient will not win a war. What we have to do is to devise a constructive system of fighting. We want a fighting policy, not a policy of sitting still and pulling in our belts. To carry out a fighting policy we must have an alternative to petrol. We must be able to say to the enemy: "You may go on sinking our tankers, but we; are going to develop our sources of power at home, where we have the finest coal supplies in the world, for maintaining our transport, no matter what you do." That is a constructive policy and a fighting policy I which will appeal to the people of this country, and for which the support of the people will be obtained far more strongly than it can be for a policy of sitting still and telling them to pull in their belts and suffer discomfort.

Your Lordships will ask what we can do. First of all, whatever we do for the utilization of producer gas must be done on a large scale. I have good authority for saying that the Axis Powers have 200,000 vehicles running on producer gas to-day, and those 200,000 vehicles are saving them about 2,000,000 tons of petrol a year. I do not know that we could do anything as big as that, but it is no use having merely 10,000 vehicles; that will make no difference as a matter of national policy. We could, however, do half what the Axis Powers have done, and have 100,000 vehicles, or at least we could have 50,000. If we had 50,000 vehicles, it would save 500,000 tons of petrol a year, which is a very big proportion of all the petrol used by the Fighting Forces in a year. That is worth doing. Why not adopt a constructive policy and put 50,000 vehicles right away on to producer gas, and save 500,000 tons of petrol a year? Something of that kind should be done at once.

There will, of course, be difficulties, but difficulties are made for man to surmount, so let us get over them. People will say, "Where are you going to get the coal to work the gas producers? It will require about 2,000,000 tons of coal, and the Minister of Mines says that the output of coal will only just cover our present requirements." I do not regard the position there as impossible. We know that the output per miner has fallen considerably lately. I believe that the output per day used to be 25 cwt. at one time, but it has now fallen to 22½ cwt. Why should not we appeal to the miners to help us to defeat the U boats? Let us ask them to help us to save our shipping by providing an alternative to petrol by producing 1 cwt. of coal a day more. If they do that, we shall have two or three times as much coal as is needed for the whole scheme. We have not made a proper psychological appeal to the miners. It is one thing for the miners to go on turning out coal for our munition works and so on, but it is another thing to say to them, "The extra cwt. of coal which we are asking you to produce each day will be used to change over from petrol to producer gas, and you will be directly helping us in the Battle of the Atlantic." If we make a proper psychological appeal to the miners, I believe that we shall find that the output will be increased by at least 1 cwt. a day, and that will be more than we shall need.

Then people will say, "What about the steel? We have not got the steel." The steel required, however, is no more than would be needed to build two tankers. Tankers can be sunk at sea with all their steel and all their oil, and the men on board may lose their lives. The same amount of steel, if used for developing producer-gas plants, and plants for the lorries, would not be lost, and it would produce far more production power than ever two tankers will carry. From the point of view of steel, therefore, this would be a good investment.

We may also be told that there is no man-power available. There is the manpower available. American soldiers are coming into this country in thousands to-day, and I am sure that we could withdraw from the Army the necessary man-power to build up this scheme. The scheme can be carried out, and, in my view, it should be carried out, by a public utility undertaking, on which the Government would be represented, and which could be answered for in Parliament by some Minister. I am sure that the whole scheme could be carried out within eight months from now, but we must begin at once to build up from slow beginnings to the full scheme, whatever it may be. I do not advocate any special scheme, but I do advocate that we should begin now to do something practical. I ask your Lordships to support my Motion. I know that I have a very great deal of support in the country to-day for doing something practical to meet the shortage of petrol, and, if it should go out that the Government are obstructionists in this matter, the country will want to know why. I am sure that it would be the greatest mistake for the Government to give an unsympathetic hearing to this appeal to develop an alternative source of power in the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves in the matter of oil supplies.

Moved to resolve, That in view of the continued deterioration in the oil supply in the East, the addition to the strength of the German Fleet, the prospective heavy demand on the American oil supplies, and the vital importance of reducing the strain on shipping in handling large imports of oil, immediate steps be taken to economize all possible petrol for the use of the Services in the war, by introducing producer-gas propulsion for motor transport on the largest possible scale.—(The Duke of Montrose.)


My Lords, I should like in a very few words to support the Motion. Your Lordships well know the amount of labour, thought and energy expended on this subject by the noble Duke for years past. Other noble Lords also have interested themselves and have done their best to interest successive Ministers in this important matter, notably my noble friend Lord Barnby, who I hope will be intervening in this debate later. I, in a humble way, have on two occasions been privileged to address your Lordships on this same matter, while discussing our fuel supplies, in 1938 and 1939. In April, 1938, I was informed that the Government had this question under very serious consideration, and your Lordships were assured (I am quoting from the Official Report) that the Government "are actually taking action at the present moment." Four years ago! In July, 1939, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, said this: I can assure your Lordships that the Fuel Research Department has been investigating this subject very closely. All sorts of experiments have been made. We are very closely in touch with the producer-gas experts, and I understand that very considerable progress is, being made in that direction. At that time it was well known to the Government that very rapid strides had been made in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Russia and in other Continental countries in this matter of producer gas. It was equally well known to them that our technical knowledge in this country was no whit inferior to that obtaining on the Continent, and that, as I ventured to say to your Lordships three years ago, the excellence of British plants no less than the unique suitability of our coal has been universally acknowledged. With the information, therefore, which was then in the possession of the Government—that is four years ago now: the noble Duke referred to two and a half years, but I submit it is four years since they had this information—there is no reason whatever why to-day there should not be very large numbers of motor vehicles on the roads, let alone such things as tractors and stationary plant, operating on producer gas, thereby saving thousands and thousands of gallons of that oil and petrol the supply and conservation of which would appear to be, with each day that passes, a matter of increasingly urgent and vital importance.

And yet, in spite of Government assurances, here we are, after two and a half years of war, still pleading with the Government to do something. Your Lordships were told as recently as the 26th February last—a fortnight ago—that the Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Henley were expected to be presenting their Report to the Secretary for Mines "within a month or six weeks." We were further told that the trials of new types of producers and filters were being supervised by a Committee under Mr. Shearman. Committees and trials, trials and committees—and still, after two and a half years of war, no visible result. One must not anticipate, of course, the reply of the Minister this afternoon, but it is perhaps permissible to express the hope that something a little more robust and substantial than the frugal repast provided by the Government on former occasions may be set before your Lordships to sustain the hunger and, anxiety of many of us who for years have been asking for bread and been given a stone. Surely the time has come to put an end to indolence, apathy, and these seemingly delicate and endless operations of "exploring avenues" and "turning scones." These dreaded assurances of careful and serious consideration emanating from the Front Bench have really assumed by now an almost sinister aspect, their invariable result being a further period of stagnation and masterly inactivity. Can anything be more despairing?

The House was further informed on the 26th February in this connexion that there is at present no surplus of coal. To me this present shortage of coal supply is the most fantastic and heartbreaking thing of all. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has on more than one occasion quoted to your Lordships the words of that eminent man the late Master of Trinity, Sir J. J. Thomson, who pointed out that the value of our coal deposits in this country was greater than that of all the oil and rubies and diamonds in any other country in the world. Yet, in spite of the experience of the last war, we were told in the course of the debate on coal supplies in your Lordships' House on the 1st October last that during the winter of 1939–40 the supplies available from the coalfields were barely sufficient for all our needs. In June, 1940, after the collapse of France and the withdrawal of the demand, for exportation, of something like 500,000 tons of coal weekly, instead of carrying on in the mines and re-allocating that surplus to home reserves, what happened? Output was curtailed, and a drain from the coalfields was permitted throughout the summer of 1940, resulting in very large numbers of the best hewers of coal in the country joining the Armed Forces.

I have no intention of wearying your Lordships by continuing that sorry story—the difficulties of getting men out of the Armed Forces once they arc there are well known to you. I only refer to this matter of coal supplies because it is germane to the issue which we are discussing this afternoon in so far as one of the difficulties alleged to exist in the supply of solid fuel available for conversion is that there is no surplus of coal at present. I do not know to what extent the anthracite seams in this country are being worked to-day. As your Lordships know, anthracite is a particularly suitable fuel for producer gas, and if a sufficient supply of low-temperature coke or charcoal is not forthcoming, then surely something could be done to accelerate the supply of anthracite.

In any case, I suggest that it is an insult to your Lordships' intelligence to be told that nothing can be done in this matter. Alternatively it is straining the patience to breaking point to be assured after all these years that the matter is still receiving the serious, sympathetic and careful consideration of the Government. I am inclined to say, a murrain on all sophistries, a plague on polemics and evasions! The times are far too serious for complacency in this matter. It is imperative if we are to win this war to sweep away now, once and for all, all supineness and lethargy. They are contemptible qualities at all times—I have no doubt we have all of us been guilty of them at times; but, whereas it is possible to condone such weaknesses in peace-time they become unworthy and unpardonable in a world at war, when the country and the Empire are facing the dangers which confront us to-day.

I see a vision of certain eminent and wicked men appearing before the Recording Angel and being asked to state what in their opinion were their besetting sins here on earth. I see them, I hear them, reciting carefully and honestly and meticulously their manifold iniquities, many of them very unimportant, trivial, almost negligible. I see the Recording Angel brushing them aside as of no importance and then fixing his eye on each one of them in turn, sternly addressing them: "Between you, you were once in positions of trust enabling you to do your best to retrieve the years which the locusts had eaten. You failed to safeguard and to exploit wisely the coal supplies of your country—the inexhaustible coal supplies upon which the prosperity of your country was largely built up. You allowed your coal industry to be neglected. You muddled the transport of coal to the people. You thereby allowed your people to go short of fuel and even to feel the pangs of cold. You neglected the introduction of producer gas and the saving" of oil and petrol that would have resulted, thereby causing serious shortage of these fuels in your country's gravest hour and inflicting hardships and discomfort on countless people. You allowed this state of affairs to come about in a country blessed above all others with an abundance of that greatest treasure that any country can possess—coal." And I see the Recording Angel indicating to them their somewhat sultry destination, and as he turns to the Chief Stoker hovering near, I hear him say, "Hot it up!"


My Lords, I would pay tribute to the pertinacity of the noble Duke who has raised this question again. His advocacy is very vehement, but it is to the point. We have often heard the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat speaking on this same subject of the importance of a greater quantity of coal for producer gas. In 1915, with the help of some very able scientists, I established a department for research work in coal when I was at the Board of Education. We got a Vote of £2,000,000 even in war-time for the purpose of research work. That is a number of years ago. We have since, as a Mining Association, devoted very large sums to research work for the production of coal, for the utilization of coal, and for economy in the use of coal; and several organizations devoted to trying to secure the better use of coal in the form of gas producers have been established. The Coal Utilization Research Association has spent large sums of money and done very good work. The Government, through the Fuel Research Station, have done very good work. At Greenwich they have an establishment of a rather more technical character which has also done very good work. Yet we have been going on much too slowly in trying to secure a fuel which will replace petrol.

Petrol is an expensive fuel to employ, and in war-time it is extravagant for us to use it if we can use gas. I am quite aware that Lord Henley's Committee have not yet reported, and perhaps the Government may say, "We are waiting for the Report of Lord Henley's Committee." Meanwhile a great many people have been at work using this kind of gas for the propelling of automobiles. I am told that at the present time there are seventy-five firms at least with vehicles at work which are run by coal gas. Yet the Government have not done anything of an important character to help the movement which is going on. This movement has passed the experimental stage. What I want to point out to your Lordships is that tests of these vehicles have been made repeatedly by scientists as well as by the people who arc operating them, and they have proved a success. The matter has passed the experimental stage, I repeat, and it ought now to be adopted by the whole country in increasing strength, as suggested by the noble Duke. I have to put in a caveat. At the present time it may be a little injudicious to advocate the use of coal for producer gas when every ounce is required for our furnaces and our munition works, and when we are all trying to do what we can to save coal to enable our munitions to be produced. At the same time something more ought to be done in the way of utilizing coal to save petrol, and I trust that the Government to-day will be able to tell us they are going to take a real step forward in this matter.


My Lords, I shall detain the House for just one moment. There are certain perfectly clear facts that appear to me to come from this debate and also from my own personal observation on this subject for some considerable time past. The first fact that seems to me to be undoubted is that this can be done. As the noble Lord who preceded me has said, there are quite a number of vehicles on the road to-day which are using this particular gas already. The next point I should like to impress on the noble Lord who is going to reply is this. I hope the Government are not aiming at getting something that is quite perfect. If we go on trying to get something that is absolutely the last word in efficiency we shall never start at all. You only realize that large word, "efficiency," by trying things out in a practical commercial way. Another fact that emerges very strongly seems to be that the necessity for producer gas, which my noble friend the Duke of Montrose so stressed, is absolutely proved right up to the hilt. Another fact is that with a very little further effort on the part of the miners, ample coal can be produced for this purpose. I feel that the miner, if he is appealed to, particularly now, will respond with that little bit extra which will so help the country. Finally, I hope the noble Lord will bear this in mind. I have every reason to believe that if the Government are a bit nervous about taking the risk, if facilities are given to other people, the matter will be carried out, and work will begin at once.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Duke, may I first remind your Lordships of what has already been done by the Government as regards producer-gas vehicles, and explain certain aspects of producer traction which must be taken into account before coming to a decision to increase the number of producer-gas vehicles on the road? Thanks largely to the work of a Committee set up by the Government in 1937, we were able, shortly after the outbreak of war, to put on the road producer-gas vehicles of a design which had the advantages of simplicity of construction and of operation. The merit of what has been called the Government emergency producer is shown by the fact that since that date these vehicles have run between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 miles in commercial operation, using anthracite and low-temperature coke as fuel. There are three reasons why steps have not been taken to secure a large increase in their numbers. First, in any producer driven vehicle there is an unavoidable loss of efficiency as compared with petrol, due to loss of power, loss of pay load, and increased maintenance. Secondly, it would mean the diversion of solid fuel which was in great demand. Thirdly, the construction of producers would entail a diversion of labour and material greatly in demand in many other directions.

Our supplies of petrol have been so far adequate for essential purposes, but the Government took certain steps to further the development of producer-gas vehicles against a possible urgent need for them in the future. First, to encourage the use of producers on commercial vehicles, certain concessions as regards taxation and statutory requirements were granted. Secondly, they arranged and financed investigation directed to widening the range of suitable fuels. Thirdly, they set up a Technical Advisory Committee, including representatives of eleven leading transport organizations, six of which were actually doing research and development work on various form of producer. Thus the experience of these firms was pooled with that of the Fuel Research Station and the organization was in being for testing any fuels or new producer-gas equipment. Sustained road trials are now being carried out under commercial conditions. All those who have had experience of this problem agree as to the considerable technical difficulties involved; the development has consequently taken longer than we had hoped.

The noble Duke has now asked for an immediate and substantial extension of the number of producer vehicles in service. From what I have already said, your Lordships will realize that any such programme would entail a large diversion of industrial effort, a loss of efficiency in our road services, and heavy diversion of coal supplies from existing users. Before sponsoring any such drastic extension, the Government must discharge their responsibility for seeing that we adopt the best technical solution of the problem, and we must be certain of getting good and reliable service from producer vehicles on the road. I do assure your Lordships that we shall not wait for anything like perfection, but there really is a very great difficulty in putting before the road organizations at the moment an equipment that has so far justified anything like a big extension. The road trials that are now proceeding are showing rather better results than any before them, but I do urge that we must wait a sensible time for these road trials to show whether just those disadvantages or imperfections that must be overcome can be overcome before anything like a real large-scale development takes place. I say that because the strain on our transport resources is heavy and increasing, and we must not lightly do anything to lower the efficiency of our road services or to delay the flow of goods.

At present there are two designs of producer under trial, both of which it is hoped would extend the range of suitable fuels—the B.C.U.R.A. producer and the modified emergency producer. The Government are bound to await the result of those trials, and will not make a decision until they have satisfactory evidence with regard to them. On the important question of the availability of fuels under present conditions, we hope to have the Report of Lord Henley's Committee in a fortnight. This, I would assure your Lordships, is a decision that I can stand by because the Report is now definitely in the course of preparation. I assure the noble Duke, also, that it will not be a case of waiting all those rotating six-week periods before there is made a definite decision about it. I would like to remind your Lordships that I am interested in this matter first as Minister of War Transport, and in regard to the roads of this country we have to keep up a continuous flow of goods traffic. I would really welcome, and would do everything I can to encourage and promote, any system other than petrol that will drive these vehicles satisfactorily, because not only does my responsibility extend to roads but it extends also to shipping. I have heard a good deal to-day about the shipping problem. I can assure your Lordships that on that I am very knowledgeable, and I fully apprehend in all the calls we have to meet that we may at some future time be in a position of greater jeopardy with regard to our imports of liquid fuels. I am therefore concerned from both angles of this problem, and I would like the House to feel that so far as I am concerned, and so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, there will be nothing dilatory on our part in dealing with this matter.

Before concluding I must remind your Lordships that the final decision as to the extent to which producer gas should be employed must depend not only on the achieved efficiency of the producer vehicle, but also on the relative availability of selected solid fuel and oil, and on the competing demands for labour and materials needed to manufacture pro- ducer-gas plant. My honourable friend the Secretary for Mines has discussed this subject very fully with the noble Duke. Until we know more of the results of the trials now in progress there is nothing further which I can say, except that I would interject this remark, that we are pressing very hard for a quick report, it will be an interim report. These sustained road trials, if carried out at their full length, would take quite a long time to complete. I think it may be said that a very satisfactory experience could be recorded in an interim report, and I feel that we should have that before us simultaneously with receiving the Henley Report, so that the matter can have the fullest consideration from all angles immediately. I had hoped that the noble Duke would have postponed his Motion until I was able to report progress, since he was made aware of the very early time at which these reports are going to be made known. In view of these circumstances I feel justified in asking the noble Duke to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be very grateful for the patient, considerate and courteous explanation which the noble Lord has just given us on this matter. There can be little doubt that the House was looking forward with great interest to the statement that the noble Lord was going to make. Before coming to the House today many noble Lords, seeing on the Paper the Motion of my noble friend, will have felt sympathy with it. Broadly speaking, if there can be an economy on imported fuel, it is in the national interest to make it. Therefore the noble Lord who has just replied for the Government will have the fundamental sympathy of the House in that respect. I would add that I feel that he did give us some consolation when, in his last appeal to the noble Duke, the mover of the Resolution, he said that on behalf of the Government he was pressing hard for an early interim report. To that extent the speech of the noble Lord is consoling. As a whole, however, it is far from reassuring and I have a suspicion that the House will have an uneasy feeling, as my noble friend Lord Ailwyn said, that there is a suggestion of some sinister influence at work here.

I intervene with some diffidence because no case could have been made with greater clarity or conciseness than by the noble Duke. He repeated appeals which he had made before in your Lordships' House. I think this is the fifth debate in the last five years. My noble friend spoke with great eloquence and professional knowledge and I think he met with great sympathy in your Lordships' House. I have no such knowledge, technical or professional, but I have followed the matter with considerable interest and that is why I feel justified in intervening. There are two angles to this question. There is first the administrative question, whether anything has been or should be done, and there is also the technical question. The noble Lord who replied for the Government suggested that it would be improper to come to a decision until far more investigation had taken place. It is for that reason that I feel far from satisfied with the reply.

I thought that in the previous debate the Minister of War Transport might have put a more detailed reply in the hands of my noble friend who then spoke for the Government, but to-day my noble friend—and we appreciate it very much—has himself come here and given us an explanation of the position as it is to-day. He spoke with great fluency and rapidity, and I was not able to get down his words; but he has the knack of hat tricks and he gave us three sequences of three reasons. I see the noble Lord the Minister of Food sitting on the Front Bench. If all the Committees of which we have heard today were hens and did not produce more eggs than these Committees have done, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would not be able to give us much food.

I turn to the technical side for a moment. I realize that it is an extremely controversial question. I personally have no interest, direct or indirect, in anything to do with road transport or fuel. The matter became of interest to me simply because I read technical papers about it, and the more debates I have heard in your Lordships' House the more interested I have become, and the more convinced that there was deliberate intention to postpone this thing. Think of the arguments there were between the railways and the road transport interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, said, why not take a decision? We heard before the last war that we wanted a better type before making progress. You can go on a long time waiting until you get a better type. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, with his ripe knowledge of matters affecting coal, gave strong support to the noble Duke. These are impressive facts. Following up previous debates, grievous disquiet is caused in the minds of several members of your Lordships' House.

I suggest that we have had an example of postponement of final decisions even to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has just told us that he is going to increase the extraction of flour from wheat from 75 per cent. to 85 per cent. That has been the subject of argument ever since the last war. The Government have at last decided to take the plunge. Take the defence of aerodromes as another example of indecision. The matter was insisted upon in debates of the most emphatic and aggressive character in both Houses of Parliament, and at last the Government agreed to take a step which presumably might have been taken sooner. Another point I want to make is in regard to the employment of coal and steel. I realize the difficulty at the moment of getting coal, but as a member of the Central Electricity Board, one of the largest users of coal, I make the suggestion that, owing to the administrative maldirection of the coal available for boilers of different character, the carbonization of coal is very inadequate, and that often the wrong coal is sent to the wrong boilers. The result is that coal is squandered and a lot of electricity-producing equipment is put out of commission.

Then there is the question of steel. Again, I may say that I have no interest in steel and know nothing about it, except what I have heard as a past President of the Federation of British Industries. If there was more progress in using prefabricated reinforced concrete in the construction work now going on there would be a great saving of steel. Here again is a matter of controversy which is occupying the trade Press a good deal. There are allegations that the Government are not progressive in the matter of using pre-fabricated reinforced concrete as a substitute for steel construction. I remember that when I was President of the Federation of British Industries, a suggestion was made of pooling railway wagons, but vested interests jumped in. The war has brought about the pooling of wagons, and it might just as well have been done before the war.

Then there is the question of the dislike of the operation of these things. Well, buy them with a subsidy. You may say that a subsidy may be an expensive matter. How about the agricultural subsidies? Are we not paying money in that way to induce people to do things and to get production? The question of cost in this matter could be solved, I am sure. Ask any resident of the district of Thornton-le-Moor about the cost of the plant that has been erected there. The figure runs into millions, not one million. The plant has been half constructed, and then there has come a change of policy. Why, the cost of that is many times what the cost of this would be. The noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Government reminded us that at one time the Government had given great assistance by removing many of the difficulties and disabilities which have existed. But the Treasury and the Inland Revenue authorities undoubtedly opposed this on taxation grounds, as was brought out in earlier debates, and there was at that time some suggestion that vested interests had delayed action in this matter.

Another instance of delay occurs to me. This happened in the early days of the sugar beet industry. There was exactly the same delay and exactly the same opposition. I ask the indulgence of your Lordships to bring these precedents to your notice because, as my noble friend Lord Ailwyn has said, this is not a matter of recent occurrence. It is a matter which has been going on for a number of years. I was much impressed by the proposal of the noble Duke, the mover of this Motion, in appealing for something to be done, that this matter should be taken out of the hands of private interests and put into the hands of a public utility company. As one who has sat from the beginning on the Central Electricity Board and has seen how it works, how, under statutory authority, civilian agency has achieved what has now proved to have been the greatest war precaution the country has got, I have a natural belief that there is a distinct merit in that way of doing things.

It seems that here is an instance of need for a decision by the War Cabinet. Lord Ailwyn, in what I am sure we all agree was a most eloquent and most convincing speech, brightened by that touch of humour which we all admire, told us of the suggestion that here was a case of delay of decisions in high quarters, and it seems that the War Cabinet might well be required to take some decision in this matter. I say, with due respect, to the noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Government, the noble Lord who has the great responsibility of being Minister of War Transport, that he is in the unfortunate position of being, in this matter, subject to the Minister of Mines who, in turn, is under the Board of Trade. Now I naturally have the greatest confidence in the extent to which that side has been brought forward by my right honourable friend the present Minister of Supply, so recently President of the Board of Trade, but it would seem, or at least it is suggested, that action is lying partly with the Minister of Mines and partly with the Minister of War Transport. Doubtless there are means of co-ordinating this.

In conclusion, I would suggest that in a matter like this, where there is admitted technical controversy, there is need for it to be handled in a manner different from other questions in regard to which time exists for decisions to be taken. The appeal of my noble friend based on the contention that increased coal production would save lives will, I hope, bring a response from those concerned. But there is surely going to be imposed on the Government and on those Departments concerned during this period a great responsibility. That is inevitable because they can be most easily pinned as those with the greatest responsibility. While repeating my expression of gratitude to the noble Lord who, speaking for the Government, was doing his best to deal with what is a poor case, I have to add that it was done in a manner which is insufficient and did not adequately allay the anxiety which is felt with regard to the matter. For that reason I support my noble friend, the mover of this Resolution.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the speeches which have been made regarding my Motion. I was particularly struck with the speech of the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport. I think I may say that this is the first time in your Lordships' House that I have really felt that I have got some support for my plea for this alternative power to petrol. As I say, it is the first time that I consider I have got support, and I really feel greatly encouraged because I am impressed by the noble Lord's sincerity. I confidently believe that the noble Lord really does mean, if he can, to build up the necessary industry for this alternative form of power. It would not serve any useful purpose if on this occasion I were to press my Motion to a Division. I know that your Lordships will be perfectly sick of my going on like this, putting forward Motions time and again, and each time ending up in the same way by withdrawing them. But I feel that I am justified this time. I do not know if the noble Lord can give us any assurance that he will do something within a definite period, will go so far as to say that if nothing happens within one month I will again come forward.


My Lords, I think that would be keeping me within too narrow a period.


My Lords, that is the last thing which I wish to do. I do not wish to embarrass the noble Lord or put him in any difficulty. I should like to know that he is really dealing with this matter. There are so many Ministers with a hand in it—there is the noble Lord himself, the Minister of Mines, the President of the Petroleum Board and a few more. I wonder if there is co-ordination—that word beloved of all civil servants. I wonder if there is real co-ordination.


My Lords, may I just tell you that there is the fullest co-ordination in the Lord President's Committee which is attending to this very subject.


My Lords, if the Ministers can really coordinate, the difficulties which the noble Lord has mentioned can be got over. One of the difficulties which we mentioned related to construction and conversion. It is easy, however, to fit producer-gas plant, when you have it, to new lorries. They can be built for utilizing producer-gas power. That is a simple matter. Another difficulty related to the need for a big effort on the part of manufacturers. Did not the Axis Powers have to make great efforts to get their manufacturing plant organized? Have not they had to encounter troubles about material and labour? Of course they have. Those troubles can be got over. Am I to understand that we cannot do what the Axis Powers have done, that the difficulties are too great? Surely not. If the Axis Powers can get over these difficulties, so can we. I do not attach any importance to these difficulties at all. And I am sure that the right thing for me to do now is to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.