HL Deb 15 March 1976 vol 369 cc6-8

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether enough research effort is being made in Britain to develop small power units that run on diesel fuel for use, for example, in family-sized cars in order to reduce energy costs.


My Lords, considerable research and development work is being carried out in this country, with the aim of improving the fuel economy of road vehicles. A proportion of this effort is directly concerned with the further development of the diesel engine for various applications, including use in private cars. My Department keeps both the state of knowledge, and the need for research, in this field under constant review.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that helpful Answer. Is he aware, or will he accept, that the retail price to the private user of diesel fuel is 62p per gallon including VAT, compared with 77p per gallon for four-star petrol, involving a saving of nearly 20 per cent.? Is the noble Lord further aware that the fuel consumption of a two-litre family car is about 26 mpg when run on petrol and about 32 mpg on diesel?


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's word for the difference in price of the fuels, the figures for which I have not got in front of me. On fuel consumption, my understanding is that the difference between a diesel engine and a petrol engine can be as much as 20 per cent. to 25 per cent., but only in heavy traffic conditions. At high speeds the difference in fuel consumption is not very great, if, indeed, there is any difference at all.


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that every British taxpayer now has a considerable stake in the British motor industry? All over the Continent small diesel-engined cars and vans are being used in a pollution-free and very economical way. Is it not fair to the British taxpayer that the British motor industry should be encouraged to develop these smoother, quieter, small diesel engines, and so avoid a flood of imports in later years?


My Lords, I am aware that the British motor industry is doing considerable research in this area and that it attaches considerable importance to it. But there are considerable disadvantages in the use of diesel engines; in particular, the noise, the weight and vibrations. A considerable amount of development probably needs to be done before a diesel engine can be installed in the family car for the same price as a petrol engine.


My Lords, I realise that it is not strictly germane to this Question, but can the noble Lord say whether any advance is being made with regard to electrical propulsion? There would be tremendous advantages to the environment if this method could be pursued more actively than it is.


My Lords, I cannot answer that point without notice.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that any major transformation in as large an industry as the steel industry entails a fuel-depleting pump-priming operation to erect new equipment, and this matter must be looked at in its entirety?


My Lords, I am not aware that that supplementary question arises from the Question on the Order Paper, but if the noble Earl cares to put down a Question, I should be happy to look into it.


My Lords, is it not a fact that diesel fuel was relieved of some tax in order to encourage public transport? Would the same comparatively low rate be applied to diesel fuel if it was used by a large number of private motor cars?


My Lords, I do not think it is for me to speculate on what future Chancellors of the Exchequer might do in such a hypothetical situation.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the majority of London taxis probably use diesel engines, which are not particularly noisy and do not cause a great deal of vibration? Does he also agree that one of the chief difficulties of a diesel engine—starting from cold—could be avoided if petrol starting could be used, as has been customary with agricultural tractors?


My Lords, I am interested to learn about the advantages of petrol starting, of which I was not aware. It is quite true that the vast majority of taxis in London have diesel engines. I think they vibrate a little more than the engine of the average family car. Of course, diesel engines are particularly useful in taxis because, as I said earlier, in urban conditions, with heavy traffic, there are considerable fuel economies to be made, but not when travelling at high speeds.