HL Deb 18 December 1979 vol 403 cc1529-31

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, hearing in mind the difficulties with the supply of minerals which are likely to arise in the future, they will pay for surveys of our own resources and promote increased smelting capacity of mineral ores in this country.


My Lords, the Department of Industry already funds a comprehensive programme of minerals investigation designed to promote the economic development of our indigenous resources. This includes mapping and reconnaissance programmes carried out by the Institute of Geological Sciences, which aim at providing necessary geological information on which subsequent minerals exploration by companies can be based; and there is also the Mineral Exploration and Investment Grants Act 1972, under which the Department is empowered to pay contributions of not more than 35 per cent. towards expenditure incurred on searching for and testing certain mineral deposits. Increases in smelting capacity are a matter for commercial judgment. Any application for Government assistance would he considered against normal criteria.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Viscount for that reply, may I ask whether he would agree in the first place that the exploration grants are not very successful in encouraging firms to do the work, no doubt because they are afraid of not getting planning permission to exploit something that they have found? Would he, secondly, think that perhaps the right policy might be to tend to leave our resources in the ground until they are really needed because there is a world-wide shortage; and, if so, does he also agree that it is important to press ahead with exploration to a greater degree than we are doing today?


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for those supplementary questions. The planning position is one on which we are certainly interested to receive views, and have already received views, from all concerned. We believe that discouragement has not only centred around the planning situation. There is more than one opinion whether the planning stage in exploration should be treated on its own or as part of a possible final exploration. We are looking at this closely. As far as leaving the resources in the ground is concerned, I believe that we have enough resources to develop the minerals that we need in the shorter term. I believe that the balance of the programme is about right. If some of our mineral resources are to stay in the ground successors may be happy. We believe that the necessary degree of exploration will continue with the funds that we are supplying.


My Lords, does the Minister think that that is necessary, seeing that the Government are bent on destroying the steel industry at the present time, and on doing the same thing to the steel industry as they did to the coal industry in the past 20 years?


My Lords, those are largely separate questions but, as to the fact that the steel industry has considerable problems, it could be, in your Lordships' opinion, that this is because the problems have not been adequately faced in the past.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, will the noble Viscount tell me when the primary plan to complete the palæozoic exploration of the sub-surface rocks in the South-East of England will be completed?


My Lords, I will look into that question and let the noble Earl know.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount a further question to do with smelting. Does he agree that if we can promote more smelting in this country it will be a safeguard against the time when supplies of smelted ores may not be available from abroad while the ores themselves might still be available? Therefore, does he regard it as a good insurance if it is possible to encourage more smelting here?


My Lords, as I have said, I think the decisions as to the installation of new smelting capacity must be mainly commercial. If installations were undertaken in our assisted areas at the moment, and if the criteria of additionality to GTP (which are the new criteria) were to apply—and I think they would—considerable assistance is available. I do not think that one can go further than that. One must recognise that smelting is usually done where the minerals are dug.

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