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Volume 649: debated on Monday 20 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Power what estimate he has made of the effect upon coal consumption by the gas boards of the importation of natural gas from North Africa during the next 10 years; when supplies will commence; whether he is authorising capital for further Lurgi plants as well; and whether he will publish the objections to natural gas importation of the National Coal Board.

Imports should begin in 1964. In the year 1965–66 it has been estimated that about 800,000 tons of gas-making coal previously allowed for in the industry's development plans will, in consequence, not be needed. But if the methane scheme had been rejected, alternative oil products would have displaced most of this coal. No proposals for the erection of a further Lurgi plant have yet been put to me. The objections of the National Coal Board to the methane scheme have already been published in the Report and Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that two deductions might be made from his Answer: first, that the imports of methane, his new policy, cannot have any substantial influence on coal-mining matters in the early future certainly not within four years; and, secondly, that even when the impact is felt after 1964 it will be restricted to less than 1 per cent. of the annual output of mined coal in this country?

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to explain. The Select Committee gave the opinion that approval of the methane scheme would reduce the proportion of coal used to make gas from 71 per cent. to 69 per cent. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friend should have said 2 per cent. instead of 1 per cent.

My right hon. Friend's arithmetic is clearly faulty. He has not accurately related the 800,000 tons per annum figure with the assessed output of coal mined in this country of 200 million tons per annum, which he stated himself a few weeks ago, relating to the period 1964 to 1966. If he directly relates these two figures, he will find, will he not, that my figure of less than 1 per cent. is indeed strictly accurate?

To clear up the confusion between my hon. Friend and myself, let me say that he was relating it to the total coal production and I was relating it to the total production of coal used for gas making.

Does the estimated reduction of 800,000 tons in 1964 mean that there will be more pit closures?


asked the Minister of Power on what dates his Department had consultations about the extent of the natural gas deposits in Holland; and with whom those consultations were held.

My Department has kept in touch informally with the Dutch authorities about the recent discoveries of natural gas in North Holland. At present there is no question of the gas being available for export.

How does the right hon. Gentleman account for the Council of Europe stating in April, 1961, that these deposits were of very considerable significance? At what date did he start investigating them, and how far has he taken consultations on the matter?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have made considerable investigations about this in a number of quarters over a long period. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: the deposits are of considerable importance. I am convinced from the inquiries that I have made that there is no present possibility and no future certainty of natural gas being available for export from Holland. I should not like to go further than that.


asked the Minister of Power if he will issue a White Paper on the importation of methane from the Sahara, showing with respect to those companies with whom contracts have been entered into for the importation of methane, the location of the deposits concerned, the financial and commercial details of the companies and the terms of agreement between the Gas Council and the companies, details of the capital investment proposed by the Gas Council in Britain, the alternative arrangements if supplies are interrupted and the objections of the National Coal Board to the proposals.

No, Sir. I am not responsible for the commercial arrangements and I have made a statement to the House on the factors which affect the public interest.

The right hon. Gentleman's answers to Questions No. 10, 12 and 13 show that there is considerable mystery about this matter. If he says that he must take responsibility for an economic answer, then must not the Government take responsibility for a political and military answer? Surely we need all the facts before deciding whether the right hon. Gentleman's economic answer is correct?

I do not regard it as my responsibility to give to the House facts about commercial negotiations and arrangements reached by the nationalised gas industry. I regard it as my duty to give information where my responsibilities are involved but, as the hon. Member will agree, this question goes much further than that and asks for a White Paper about all sorts of matters which are outside my responsibilities.

Would it not be wise to go a little slowly until the future of Algeria and the control of natural resources in the Sahara are decided?

That is obviously a matter which I took very carefully into consideration before taking my decision. Having considered it, I decided that it was right for the Gas Council to go ahead.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.