The Government continue to provide financial support for the NCB's work on coal liquefaction so as to encourage its development towards a technically viable United Kingdom technology, to give it the best chance of reaching commercial maturity and therefore securing for itself a successful position in the long-term market for synthetic fuel processes.
Why are the Government making so many excuses for not taking a more positive lead in this exciting project? Will the Minister admit that the withdrawal of private sector finance was a major influence in the Government's becoming so dilatory in the matter? Will he confirm that all the major and most important technical difficulties involved in the process have now been overcome?
The Government are in no way withdrawing support. They are concerned, as they have been all along, to ensure the technical viability of the project, and the acceptance of the four conditions that I mentioned to the House in November 1982, in response to the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), who cannot be here today, and we all understand why, and who apologises for his absence. The position has not changed. My hon. Friend's support and interest are just as keen from Flint as they are from here.
Does the Minister understand that in north-east Wales we are very concerned and rather suspicious at the delay in making further statements on the project at Point of Ayr? Does he understand that, with so much mass unemployment in north-east Wales, if the project were to go ahead at Point of Ayr the construction industry as well as the mining industry would have a major boost? Does the Minister accept that if he were to make a statement in the middle of the election campaign, rather than to this House, it would be taken badly by those concerned?
We should not get too excited about the subject because of electioneering. The hon. Gentleman has been a legitimate and consistent supporter of the project. I know that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West will be pleased to know that, if all goes according to plan—and there is no reason to doubt that — work on detailed engineering, procurement and construction will begin in mid-1984. There has been no check to the process since the last announcement to this House in March.
Does the Minister realise that his party will go into the election with the tag that the Conservative Government smashed to smithereens the prospect of getting a quick start on the oil-from-coal process? What is happening now at Point of Ayr? Does the Minister realise that all we have had from him for several years are excuses, and not very good ones at that?
I thought that I had just made clear what was happening. I did so in reply to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), who has a particular constituency interest. It looks as though construction will go on in midterm. Whatever passion is raised on the issue, there is no point in encouraging the throwing of money at issues. It serves only the vanity of politicians.
The Government are concerned to ensure that the technical and commercial long-term prospects for the project are realised. That is the aim of the policy, and we shall continue to apply rigid disciplines to the use of taxpayers' money.