§ 16. Mr. Albert Roberts
asked the Secretary of State for Industry why the continued import of sperm whale oil is regarded as essential to the leather industry.468W
§ Mr. Cryer
The principal uses of sperm oil in the leather industry are to soften naturally harder leathers and to give greater "run" and "handle" to higher-grade leathers, such as gloving leathers. Though substitutes are in limited use in certain processes in the leather industry, satisfactory substitutes are not available for most of the oil's applications.
My Department has, for some time now, encouraged a co-ordinated approach to research into substitutes. The British Leather Manufacturers' Research Association is currently running a research programme, funded by my Department, aimed at learning more about the unique properties of sperm oil; this follows an earlier study which culminated in the publication of a report in July 1976 entitled "The Utilisation of Sperm Oil in the Leather Industry", a copy of which is available in the House of Commons Library.
Approximately half of all United Kingdom leather products are treated in some way with sperm oil. Until an effective substitute is found any major interruption in the supply of sperm oil to the leather industry could severely damage employment, and the industry's significant contribution to exports would be unavoidably diminished. My Department is encouraging research into substitutes so that we will be in a position to end our reliance on sperm oil, but, unfortunately, that position has not yet been reached.