HC Deb 02 December 1953 vol 521 cc1160-2
The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a short statement about air pollution.

The Interim Report of the Committee on Air Pollution is being published today. I will, with permission, circulate in the Official Report a somewhat detailed statement regarding the action which the Government have taken or propose to take in this matter.

Mr. H. Morrison

I am sure the House will agree that this is a very important matter on which there is widespread public interest. I appreciate that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to circulate is somewhat long, but it is not very satisfactory that on a matter of this importance he should not inform the House what the Government propose to do in relation to something which is causing a great deal of public anxiety. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could give us that information today, or perhaps on some other occasion?

Mr. Macmillan

I thought it would be easier for everybody, first, to have the Report itself, and then to have a longer statement than I should like to inflict upon the House today when it is waiting for two other debates, and then, in the light of a debate, or whatever procedure would be best, to elucidate the matter. I thought that would be more convenient to the House than firing at it a long statement which it is very difficult at the moment for hon. Members to take in. I have only done that because I thought it was the best way for everybody.

Following is the statement: The Interim Report of the Committee on Air Pollution is being published today, and the Government have given it careful consideration. As the Committee points out, the problem of air pollution, and of smoke in particular, has been the subject of study and research over a long period. Among the measures taken in recent years to reduce smoke, are the development of domestic heating appliances, including improved types of open fires, which will burn smokeless fuel efficiently and well. These appliances have been installed in all local authority houses built since 1948. For this winter, the domestic allocation of coke has been increased from 1½ to 2 tons. The Ministry of Fuel and Power provide a fuel efficiency advisory service to industry, as well as special loan facilities to industry for the installation of fuel saving equipment. Statutory powers to establish "smokeless zones" have been conferred on a number of local authorities. As the Committee emphasise, it must be accepted that the complete cure of pollution, if indeed it ever be attainable, is bound to take many years. The Committee are now embarking on a detailed examination of the many practical difficulties involved in further measures. The "smog" which covered Greater London for five days, 5th to 9th December, 1952, was of exceptional density and duration. Nevertheless, similar conditions may recur in London or in other towns. The Committee have considered what precautions might be taken to avoid during the coming winters the worst effects of "smog." On 17thNovember, before the report was submitted, doctors were authorised to prescribe masks under the National Health Service for patients suffering from heart or lung disease living or working in an area where smoke-polluted fog is likely to occur. Following the Committee's recommendations, the Government have already arranged for the Meteorological Office to issue through the usual channels warnings when serious fog is expected to prevail for at least 24 hours in areas of normally high pollution. These fog warnings will be accompanied by advice to the public about the ways in which they can help to reduce smog and its ill effects. The Committee's report stresses the fact that the largest single producer of smoke is the domestic consumer. Everyone therefore has both a duty and an opportunity to help. Householders in large towns who are dependent on solid fuel and who normally burn coal should, wherever possible, lay in a stock of, say, one hundredweight of coke or other smokeless fuel for use in periods of persistent fog. Even a mixture of coke and coal will greatly reduce smoke. Stocks of coke at gas works are high and supplies are readily available for the reserve hundredweight to be kept in readiness by those who normally burn coal. Those already burningcoke will benefit from the increase of half-a-ton in the coke allocation (from 1½ to 2 tons) recently announced. When persistent fog is forecast:

  1. (1) Coal fires should not be banked up at night.
  2. (2) Those who can use smokeless fuels should confine themselves to those fuels during periods of fog.
  3. (3) Rubbish should not be burnt nor bonfires lit while the fog lasts.
  4. (4) Elderly people and those suffering from chronic heart or lung conditions might be helped by wearing a mask or scarf wrapped round the mouth and nose if they have to go out in the fog.
  5. (5) The general public should refrain from bringing motor vehicles into densely-populated areas.
Smoke-control measures in industry, shops, offices and hotels, etc., should be brought up to peak efficiency at once and checked at frequent intervals throughout the winter. Special efforts should be made to prevent smoke when stoking. Much of the smoke from factory furnaces can be prevented and it is the responsibility of managements, particularly in times of fog, to see that smoke is kept to the minimum. Managers of industrial plants, hospitals, offices and other establishments should keep a special check to ensure that dark smoke is not emitted from their chimneys either by day or night and particularly in the early morning. This check can best be made by the installation of a simple smoke-density indicator. The report contains drawings of simple devices which can be made up cheaply by most small works. Copies of these drawings can be obtained from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and from the Department of Health for Scotland. The fuel engineers of the Ministry of Fuel and Power are working in co-operation with the inspectors of the local authorities in a special drive to bring home to managements the importance of fuel efficiency in the interests of smoke abatement. Full use should be made of these services by any business in doubt as to its proper course. All these measures together, if conscientiously carried through, will help to alleviate and reduce the injury which might be done by another series of "smogs" this winter. The Government are studying further steps which might be taken to ensure application of these measures and make them more effective, while awaiting the next report of the Beaver Committee.