§ Debate resumed.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, in December, 1932, the noble Duke raised 1087 a somewhat similar question to that which appears on the Order Paper to-day and on that occasion he was given a very full reply by my noble friend Lord Templemore, which referred to the steps that the Government had taken to encourage the production of oil products from coal. Since then three other additional measures have been placed upon the Statute Book and have been debated at some length either in this House or in another place. I need, I think, only refer to them very briefly. The first was that an import tax of £1 per ton was imposed on all heavy oil as from April 25, 1933. Besides assisting the coal industry in meeting the competition of imported oil, this tax also constituted a substantial preference of a penny per gallon on all heavy oil produced from coal and its derivatives, as these oils of course do not pay any duty.
I might mention here that since that tax was imposed, just over a year ago, information is available to show that larger quantities of creosote are being used as fuel oil, and there is every hope that this may lead to the production of a larger quantity of creosote from the coal tar available. The estimated production of creosote during the past three years has been: in 1931, 63,000,000 gallons; in 1932, 55,000,000 gallons, and in 1933, 65,000,000 gallons. In a discussion on the Navy Estimates in another place, on March 12 last, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty stated that creosote was a welcome substitute for petroleum fuel in an emergency, and that the Admiralty had used about half a million tons of it during the War and after the War.
I would also refer shortly to another Act which your Lordships will recollect, the British Hydrocarbon Oils Production Act, giving a guaranteed preference for a period of years on all motor spirit produced from indigenous coal, shale, or peat, or from substances obtained from those materials. As a result of this guarantee, as the noble Duke has mentioned, Imperial Chemical Industries, Limited, decided to erect a commercial scale hydrogenation plant at Billingham, and that plant is expected to begin production early next year. I may mention that this process can be used for the production of fuel oil, and although under present conditions it will, for economic reasons, be used mainly for the 1088 production of motor spirit, during an emergency it is considered that this process may afford a very valuable additional source of home-produced fuel oil. Samples of this fuel oil have also been tested by the Admiralty, who are satisfied that it is of suitable quality.
A new Act, designed to encourage the search for natural petroleum in this country, was also submitted to Parliament this Session and is now on the Statute Book, and I need not worry your Lordships with an explanation of it. I think the noble Duke will recognise, from the action which the Government have already taken, that they are fully alive to the importance of this matter, and of giving every help to the principal industries of this country. The other suggestions which the noble Duke made will be carefully examined to see what additional action by Parliament may be necessary at any time to give, an increased output of fuel oil. I have very little further information that I can give to the noble Duke, but I hope he will be satisfied with the short explanation which I have given him.