HL Deb 02 March 1987 vol 485 cc441-2

3.4 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Viscount Davidson.)

Lord Ezra

My Lords, without in any way wishing to impede the Third Reading of this very important Bill, I should like to draw attention to what I consider to be an important aspect of the future prospects of the British coal industry; namely, the development of new methods of combustion of coal. There are very big prospects in this respect and I am concerned about the relatively small effort in terms of funding relating to the combustion of coal compared with the development of nuclear power.

I should like to ask the noble Viscount, in the interests of producing the most effective combination of energy prospects for this country, whether he will ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy if he is prepared to talk to British Coal about further funding of new methods of combusting coal with all the environmental benefits that they would entail. I believe that such methods could be a big advantage both to the nation and the coal industry, and it is a course which should be pursued at the present time.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter on Third Reading, as he was unable to be present at the Committee stage to move an amendment along those lines. It gives me an opportunity briefly to state the Government's policies on research and development into coal use technologies.

The Government cannot lay down specific rules as to the relationship between the amounts spent on R&D in the coal industry and in the development of nuclear power; nor, in our view would it be appropriate to do so. Not only are the costs of R&D in the two industries widely divergent but those industries are also at very different stages of development. The Government's objective in relation to coal R&D is that it should be sufficient to secure efficient exploitation of United Kingdom coal resources. In principle it is not government policy to carry out research themselves. It is for British Coal to identify its major R&D needs in relation to its marketing and financial objectives. The Government carry out or contribute to R&D only where this is required in support of government policy. The Government are satisfied that there is an adequate R&D programme relating to coal use technologies to meet their broad objectives.

Not only British Coal but also the CEGB and British Gas plc have R&D programmes covering aspects of coal utilisation. Expenditure on these programmes, including government and ECSC contributions, is expected to exceed £70 million in this financial year.

I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy has every opportunity to keep under review the development of coal use technologies in the context of public sector energy R&D overall. Forward R&D plans for the nationalised energy industries are submitted annually to him for approval. He receives advice on those plans from his Advisory Committee on Research and Development, which, as the noble Lord is no doubt well aware, includes eminent figures in academic and industrial research as well as representatives of industry.

I hope that what I have said in reply to the noble Lord will satisfy him that the Government are fully aware of the importance of research and development in coal combustion technology and, where such work does not fall naturally within the programme of any of the energy industries, are themselves actively support-ing work in that area.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed.