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Coal Industry

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the phasing of investment in the coal industry.

The phasing of investment in the coal industry, within the annual capital approval set by Government, is a matter for the National Coal Board.

Will the Minister comment on the decision by British Petroleum to withdraw its promised investment in the coal liquefaction scheme at Point of Ayr? Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that the decision will not prevent further Government investment in the scheme? Does he agree that Britain could lead the world in this technology and that a shortage of further investment, at least to replace the BP withdrawal, would be nothing short of criminal?

There is a later question on the Order Paper on this issue. To the extent that the Government might not invest, may I make it clear that the Government offer of £5 million aid is still open and is still contingent upon the National Coal Board securing a significant contribution from private industry? It would be premature to comment further.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that reply, and his reply to my written question last week, entirely fail to explain why the Government do not approach the EEC for an increased stake in this vital enterprise which may be marginal for the United Kingdom but is vital for Europe as a whole?

I accept and understand my hon. Friend's constituency interest in the matter, but, as I explained to him, two points should be made. First, of course, the EEC is already putting up the maximum proportion of aid available from the coal gasification and liquefaction programme of the Community's alternative energy demonstration scheme. Secondly, the Government set great store, as does the whole of the industry—which wishes to see such projects succeed—on a substantial private sector participation. That is a crucial feature of the success of this long-term project.