Coal Supplies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 1950.

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Photo of Mr Morgan Price Mr Morgan Price , Gloucestershire West 12:00 am, 12th December 1950

I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I raise a somewhat different aspect of the fuel crisis through which the country is passing. We have been discussing questions concerning production and the economic and political considerations which arise there-from. As the debate has shown, some of these questions have been rather controversial, although it has been an objective discussion on the whole. Far be it from me to suggest that what we have been discussing up to now is not extremely important and vital to the country. But there is another aspect of this problem which is less controversial.

I am Chairman of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee, which is an all-party organisation, and we are especially interested in how to save coal. Scientific research has placed in our hands weapons which are not being fully utilised. The public are inclined to look upon scientific inventions as something which will do extremely exciting things. When we first became aware of the immense possibilities of the use of atomic energy, the public began to think that we might be able to do away altogether with the use of coal and other fuels.

But I would call attention to the fact that so eminent a scientist as Sir Henry Tizard has warned us that, even if considerable strides are made in the practical application of atomic energy from uranium, it will take at least 20 years or more before atomic energy can give us much benefit, and certainly nothing like the benefit which would come from economy in the use of our existing fuels. That is a very important statement. The importance of this question of economy in the use of coal is also shown by what Oliver Lyle has to say in a pamphlet entitled "Efficiency." He calculates that by the proper use of fuel-saving appliances as much as 80 million tons of coal can be saved a year.

Robert Foot, who has conducted a similar investigation, takes the view that £217 million worth of fuel could be saved. The fact is that our present use of coal is extremely wasteful. Professor Simon, thermodynamics professor at Oxford University, has produced a table showing that open fires are only 15 per cent. efficient—in other words, 85 per cent. of the coal is being wasted—that closed stoves are 40 to 50 per cent. efficient, and that central heating is 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. efficient. Our overall fuel efficiency today is such that some scientists think we could save, if all the fuel-saving methods were adopted, half of the 200 million tons of coal we consume a year.

But I do not want to overpaint the picture. It is an ideal solution to suggest that all known fuel-saving appliances could be used. The fact is that these appliances would cost an enormous amount of money, and the outlay would be greater than the economies obtained. But there was a letter last Thursday in "The Times" from Oliver Lyle in which he pointed out that by using what is known as the "back pressure" system for steam production in certain industrial processes, a saving of £100,000 a year could be effected for a one-time outlay of only £120,000. This is something which is obviously much more practicable. There are also people who take the view that if the brick industry used a certain class of insulated brick, a coal saving of between 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. per annum could be effected, while at the same time providing better conditions for the workers in the industry.

The worst offender in this respect is the electric fire. I put a Question to the Minister yesterday, in which I asked what could be done to restrict the use of electric fires that are extremely wasteful in fuel, and I have already had letters from irate people, mostly outside my constituency, to the effect that I am suggesting that old people should be deprived of heat and light during the winter. What I am suggesting is nothing of the kind. Those who have these fires must go on using them at a time like this. What I was suggesting is that measures should be taken to discourage their future use and encourage other methods which are more efficient. There are, of course, quite a number of other means which can be used.

There is another difficulty which we have to face in connection with the production of fuel-saving appliances. I know these mean more steel, and that is a bottle neck at the moment. However, I would suggest that in the matter of priorities for steel, these utensils should be high on the list, because I am certain it will help the national economy tremendously. Today I received a letter from a manufacturer in my constituency. In the Forest of Dean we are not only coal producing but coal consuming and there is a manufacturer who is producing a special kind of stove which will save fuel. He will probably have to shut down because he cannot get the steel for these stoves. So I suggest to my right hon. Friend that perhaps steel will be put high on the list of priorities for this purpose. My belief is that we should use all the resources science has given us to help us in this crisis. I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be kind enough to deal with some of the points I have raised.