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Ministry Of Power

Volume 645: debated on Monday 24 July 1961

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Cross-Channel Electricity Cable

4.

asked the Minister of Power when the cross-Channel electricity cable will start to operate; what is the capacity; what economies will result in capital investment in the electricity supply industry and to the consumer; and whether he will make a statement.

The cross-Channel cable is expected to be working commercially before the end of the year; its capacity will be 160 mega Watts; the capital saving from its installaton will be about £3,400,000, but this economy will not significantly reduce the average price to the consumer.

Will not my hon. Friend agree that the reduction of capital costs in the electricity supply industry, which is the most voracious of all the nationalised industries in the matter of capital investment, should occupy his attention continuously, with a view to the expansion of these cross-Channel cable facilities, and will he consider them in the context also of a Channel tunnel?

I have no doubt that when experience has been gained in the working of this cable and the exchange of electricity between the two countries the matter will be further studied. The question of a Channel tunnel is not one for my right hon. Friend.

Methane

5.

asked the Minister of Power what volume of liquid methane has been imported during the past 12 weeks.

Is the Minister prepared to make a statement to the House on the proposal sent to him by the Gas Council? Further, could he define as clearly as possible what expectations his Department has received from the National Coal Board of the result of importing methane gas produced by coal in order to benefit both industries?

This is a complicated matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have received proposals from the Gas Council which I am considering. The competitive ability of the Coal Board to produce coal for the making of gas is one of the matters which I am taking into consideration. What I have promised to do is to make a statement to the House when I have reached a decision and to tell the House of the factors on which my decision was based.

Is it likely that a statement will be made on this subject before the House rises?

Durham Coalfield (Gasification Plant)

6.

asked the Minister of Power what financial authority he has given to the Gas Council for the installation in the Durham coalfield of a Lurgi-type gasification plant.

Is the Minister prepared to give serious consideration to the establishment of a Lurgi plant in the North-East if the Lurgi system proves an economic proposition? Further, does he appreciate the importance of the time factor to the Coal Board in the practical economics of operating Lurgi plants, especially when the Coal Board is to review its finances as a consequence of the Government's recent White Paper on the Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries?

I shall give consideration to the setting up of further Lurgi plants if the Lurgi process turns out to be fully competitive, but it would be dishonest of me to raise too much the hon. Gentleman's hopes about Lurgi plants being built in Durham because, as I understand it, the qualities of Durham coal are not thought most likely to be very suitable for the Lurgi process.

Before giving consent to such proposals as the Lurgi project, will my right hon. Friend consider the advisability of (1) importing methane, and (2) the cracking of suitable petroleum feed stocks imported into the United Kingdom, which would produce gas at an economic price?

I am considering broadly the methane proposals, the use of petroleum feed stocks and the Lurgi process, all as part of one consideration.

Does the Minister realise that the proposed imports of methane are to come from some of the most politically unstable parts of the Middle East? There is trouble now in Algeria and Tunis. May we have an assurance that he will not sanction the import of methane until he knows the results of the studies made by the Gas Council and the Coal Board as to the success of the Lurgi process?

I could not go so far as to say that I shall definitely wait for the outcome of the studies, but I shall certainly wait until I am myself satisfied about the comparative merits of the different ways of making gas here.

Apprenticeships, Scotland

11.

asked the Minister of Power whether, in view of the shortage of apprenticeships in Scotland generally, and in Fife in particular, he will take steps to ensure that the coal, gas, and electricity undertakings play their full part towards a solution of this problem.

The coal and gas industries in Scotland have well established schemes for apprenticeship training, and are increasing substantially the number of apprentices. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland tells me that the two Scottish Electricity Boards are also playing their full part.

The Minister would agree, would he not, that that is a rather vague answer to the quite specific Question on the Order Paper? Does he recognise that there are very limited opportunities in Scotland generally and in Fife in particular for apprentice training? What steps is he taking, in conjunction with the nationalised industries, to ensure that these opportunities are fairly spread? In view of the very limited opportunites in Scotland, is he satisfied that Scotland is getting its fair share of apprenticeships?

I will certainly bring to the notice of the nationalised boards the importance of spreading these opportunities. The hon. Gentleman indicated that he was a little dissatisfied with my Answer. Perhaps a rather more satisfactory answer was given in "Signposts for the Sixties", which, perhaps, he has read. It stated:

"The nationalised industries are making a magnificent response."