Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 29th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 6:15 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, I was intrigued by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about the traditional support given by the Labour Party to the coal industry and I thought of the enormous burden that now rests on the shoulders of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, because of his position as sole occupant of the Labour Back Benches. I beg the House's pardon, because the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has just appeared. That makes two.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, makes an important point. Very little is being done in this country to advance the cause of clean coal technology. Indeed, it is not many months since one of the effects of NETA—the electricity trading arrangements—drove DRAX almost out of business, operating for only four hours out of 24. That was not a clever move, because DRAX power station has the greatest amount of flue gas desulphurisation in this country. The noble Lord is correct to say that there is a huge amount of work being carried out in other countries and that should be the case here.

I remember a visit I made some years ago, as a shadow energy spokesman, to the Coal Industry Research Establishment, just outside Cheltenham. There I encountered a technologist who appeared to be working on his own on the underground gasification of coal as a much better way of exploiting our coal resources than by sending men down the pits. I put my arm around his shoulder and said, "My friend, I don't know whether you realise it, but you may have the entire future of the coal industry on your shoulders". I do not know what became of that research, but it is one of the ways in which—through underground gasification—one can produce a product that can be treated effectively with a variety of refining techniques and produce what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, seeks: the ability to take heat from coal without generating carbon dioxide and other noxious gaseous emissions. We ought to be doing that.

After consulting briefly with several people in the electricity industry, I found that they had not heard of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and they felt that to introduce it at this stage might be premature. But I hope that the Government will take seriously the comments of the noble Lord about the need to step up research on clean coal technology. It is essential because, as the noble Lord said, we have hundreds of years of reserves and it would be foolish if a technology were devised that we could not use. Although we may not feel able to support this particular amendment, the thought behind it is extremely important.