HC Deb 27 January 1953 vol 510 cc828-31
5. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the last occasion on which an inter-Departmental committee inquired into the cause and effects of fog; and what action has since been taken to combat the worst features of this type of weather.

Mr. H. Macmillan

This is an important problem. So far as I know, no inter-Departmental committee has investigated the weather conditions which cause fog; I believe they are generally well understood. As regards the prevention of atmospheric pollution, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply the Parliamentary Secretary gave him on 18th December.

Mr. Dodds

Does the Minister not appreciate that last month, in Greater London alone, there were literally more people choked to death by air pollution than were killed on the roads in the whole country in 1952? Why is a public inquiry not being held, seeing that inquiries are held into air and rail disasters which do not affect so many people? Is consideration being given or will it be given to initiating a much more thorough investigation, on the lines of that conducted by the American Government in 1948? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report? It begins with: The whole nation was shocked when 20 people died as the result of fog in the last week in October, 1948, in the town of Donora, Pennsylvania.

15. Mr. Janner

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many local authorities have sought and obtained special powers, since the war, to deal with the pollution of air by smoke in their areas; to what extent the operation of such powers has proved effective; and whether he will consider the introduction of general legislation dealing with the subject.

Mr. H. Macmillan

Twenty-seven local authorities have sought and obtained special smoke abatement powers since 1945; in addition, two county councils have obtained powers for the use of district councils in their areas. The effects of these powers, as distinct from those available under the general law, cannot be readily assessed, and I am not satisfied that further general legislation is needed at present. I am, however, keeping this aspect of the matter in mind.

Mr. Janner

But is not the Minister aware of the fact that disastrous results are following on these powers not being exercised, and is he not prepared to do something further to urge local authorities to attempt to exercise the powers vested in them?

Mr. Macmillan

We do what we can but, of course, the hon. Gentleman must realise the enormous number of broad economic considerations which have to be taken into account and which it would be foolish altogether to disregard.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Will the Minister take into account the great economic waste that results from the bad use of fuel, and will he use all his powers to persuade the Government to carry out the recommendations of the Ridley Committee to avoid that waste?

Mr. Macmillan

We are doing that to a great extent in our new building, but it is a big undertaking to alter the whole of the present fuel system of the country.

Mr. Gibson

Is the Minister aware that this is also a very serious human problem and that during the fog period in December the death rate in London was the highest it has been for a comparable period for over 50 years? Surely some step must be taken to implement the Ridley Report or some other proposals in order to avoid fog trouble in large cities?

Mr. Blenkinsop

Can the right hon. Gentleman at least encourage local authorities in the development of a smokeless zone, which seems the most profitable way of tackling this problem?

Mr. Macmillan

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there are dual problems of the right kind of fuel and apparatus in which to burn it, and to think that we could suddenly change the whole country in the twinkling of an eye from one system to another is ridiculous. On the other hand, we are making steady progress in the use of new designs and methods and in making them, if not universal, at any rate almost universal, in the new houses and in other ways. I think we can say that we have made as much, if not greater, progress in the last year as has been made at any other time.

23. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what representation his Department has on the Atmosphere Pollution Research Committee; or in what other ways he co-operates in the work of this Committee.

Mr. H. Macmillan

My Department is represented on this Committee by the Chief Inspector of Alkali Works.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

What is this Chief Inspector doing as a result of the 6,000 deaths that took place in the Greater London area in December as a result of the fog? Is the Minister aware that his complacency in dealing with this problem is creating a lot of dismay, and is he further aware that the increasing use of modern domestic fires, which burn all night—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] —using such smoky fuels as nutty slack, is adding to the number of—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]. Mr. Speaker, may I have your protection?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member is generally in need of my protection, but I think he would make his supplementary question more easily audible and less interrupted if it was shorter.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the Minister aware that the increased use of these modern appliances, which burn all night, using fuels like nutty slack, have during his tenure of office added another 250,000 fog-producing and air-polluting flues in this country? What is he doing about this?

Mr. Macmillan

I answered the Question which the hon. and gallant Member asked me: which Member of my Department sat on a particular Committee. Whether the Committee dissipate or generate fog is another problem.

Mr. Dodds

Owing to the amazing display of apathy, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.