HC Deb 10 March 1954 vol 524 cc2306-61

Bill read a Second time, and committed.

Mr. Speaker

I observe that there are two Instructions after the Second Reading of this Bill. They both concern the question of pollution of the atmosphere by smoke. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), in whose name the first Instruction stands, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stress), in whose name the second Instruction stands— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to insert provisions requiring the Common Council to publish an analysis of the atmosphere annually for at least ten years, commencing in the year 1954— would agree to a general debate on the two matters, the Questions being put separately later.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I think the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and I have the same general purpose in mind, and I imagine that the debate could take place on the Instruction in my name, if the hon. Gentleman is agreeable.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I am not quite sure whether the debate would necessarily take place on the Instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), but I am sure the House would find a general debate more acceptable.

Mr. Speaker

I will first of all call the Instruction standing in the name of the hon. Member for Croydon, East; on that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central can make his speech, and then there can be a general discussion. I will thereafter put the Questions separately if so desired.

7.1 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 4.

It may seem a little unusual that I, who happen to be a Liveryman of the City of London and therefore entitled to vote in their various proceedings, should apparently be opposing something which they want to do, but fundamentally that is not my purpose. My main purpose is to obtain a debate on air pollution. As hon. Members are aware, as a result of what happened 15 months ago Her Majesty's Government appointed a Committee to study this problem, and the interim Report has been available in the Vote Office for some months.

I do not think the Clause which the City of London have got in their Bill is very satisfactory, and in due course I shall make some comments on that. I have no desire to go to a Division on the inclusion of the Clause, but I think it is desirable that steps should be taken to remedy this nuisance. I have made those preliminary remarks in order that hon. Members who are not quite familiar with the purpose of some of us who have tried to get a debate on this important subject of air pollution, may know what our purpose is.

Fifteen months ago a major tragedy took place in the Greater Metropolitan area, and, judging by Press reports, I think my constituency was the first victim. I remember reading in one of the evening newspapers that the number of deaths in Croydon due to bronchial and other troubles was so great that the undertakers could not bury people in time. From that moment I have taken great interest in this strange problem. I hope that the conditions which prevailed then will never be repeated. There were very peculiar atmospheric conditions which lasted for five days, and the results were very serious indeed.

Before I go further, I must declare a minor interest. I think it is very minor, as my remarks will indicate. I happen to be chairman of a company which makes automatic stokers. When automatic stokers are used, coal is burned more efficiently than it otherwise is. That, however, is not my primary purpose in speaking, but I thought I had better declare that interest in case there is any misunderstanding. My purpose is to try to avert another tragedy of the kind that happened 15 months ago.

I do not know whether everybody realises the magnitude of the tragedy. I remember putting down a Question to the Minister of Health asking how many deaths had resulted from that strange atmospheric condition which prevailed for about five days. Naturally, it is not possible to be sure, but the Department thought there were about 4,000 deaths in those five days. Hitler bombed us—he bombed Croydon very badly—but in six years he killed only 40,000. The fact that one-tenth of that number of deaths occurred as a result of five days of smog shows what a strange condition has arisen.

I have read this interim report, and I have consulted a large number of people. I have never taken more trouble in getting information for a debate than I did for this one, so I may be over-prepared, which is sometimes a bad thing. It sometimes spoils one's speech if one is over-prepared. I have taken an enormous amount of trouble. I have consulted doctors, chemists, fuel conversion experts and all sorts of people whom I thought might have information bearing on this very strange problem.

I am quite satisfied that scientific knowledge at the moment is inadequate and that nobody has the answer to the problem. The purpose of myself and my hon. Friends who are supporting me is to try to stimulate interest in a problem of outstanding magnitude, because although we may have a major tragedy only occasionally, I am quite satisfied that a lot of people die all the year round, in small numbers, in penny packets, from this cause. We get terribly excited if there is a railway disaster. The Member for the constituency concerned asks a Private Notice Question. But nobody asks a Private Notice Question about people dying from this cause, although such deaths occur every day. I am trying to stimulate interest not merely in this Chamber but outside in this very grave problem

I happen to have been brought up as an engineer. I have forgotten most of what I learned, but I did not quite forget it all. I was more of an engineer, mathematician and physicist than I ever was a chemist, but every engineer knows enough about chemistry to be able to tell whether the other fellow is leading him up the garden path.

What comes out of a chimney?—a great variety of things, I have written them down. First there is soot, which is finely divided carbon. It is virtually amorphous. Then there is sulphur dioxide, which is the vital thing that we have got to discuss. Next there is grit, which is very unpleasant. I think the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central is always objecting about the grit which falls on his constituency.

Another thing is carbon dioxide, which is what we used to call carbonic acid gas, and it is very unpleasant. It will not support life, but it is not poisonous. I believe that the Dead Sea is so called because there is about a foot deep of carbonic acid gas on its shores, which causes small animals to die. The nostrils and mouths of human beings are such that one does not die from carbonic acid gas.

Then there is the dreadful poison, carbon monoxide, which results in people who are working on their cars with the engines running in their garages suddenly dying. They cannot smell, taste or see it. It is a very bad poison. I hope that on this last point we shall have some contribution from our medical experts.

Then there are tarry particles. These are the result of the gasification of coal. As everybody knows, if tar is rubbed on the body frequently, the result is skin cancer. I hope some consideration will be paid to tarry particles. Whether this is worse than cigarette smoking I do not know, but my impression is that it is worse. These things that come out of chimneys are the cause of our troubles. They not only come out of factory and power station chimneys, but also domestic chimneys. Indeed, many people think that the domestic chimney is the worst of the lot. Whether it is, no one knows, for there cannot be any accurate statistics on the subject.

Of course, the domestic chimney is not as bad as it used to be because there are not so many chimneys spouting smoke. Most of us have electric cookers and heaters and gas cookers and heaters. The number of fires burning in the ordinary house is very much smaller than it used to be. The picture has completely changed. I came to London in 1909, and when I used to undress at night my collar was in a filthy condition. It was covered with dirt, with soot. It was very unpleasant, but it was good for the laundries. However, the soot did not kill people. I see several distinguished doctors in the House, and I hope they will all join in the discussion. I do not think that soot is the major trouble. I think it is sulphur dioxide.

If hon. Members will take the trouble to read this Report, if they have not already done so, they will find that in certain respects it is rather inadequate. I do not blame the Committee for that. It is clear that the scientific knowledge of this subject is inadequate, and what is needed is an intensification of research so as to find the causes of this trouble. Diagnosis must precede cure. Then there will come the difficulty of finding a cure, which, I think, will be exceedingly great.

Let everybody who talks about this subject say to himself, "Sulphur dioxide." There are in the country a lot of domestic fires, antiquated, very bad, with masses of smoke going up the chimneys. I think a good case could be made out, although I hate controls and regulations, for a greater enforcement of the laws and regulations concerning chimneys on fire. The first and simplest prevention of chimney fires is more frequent sweeping. Whether we should prescribe that everybody should have his chimney swept once a year or twice a year, I hesitate to say. If we were to do so, there would be, perhaps, a violent reaction from the public. However, I am quite sure that the domestic fire is an evil, and I have done my best in my domestic life to use domestic fires as little as possible.

Smoke is no new issue. In recent years, much before the tragedy of 15 months ago, local authorities were promoting their Private Bills, having seen what the City of Manchester had done, to get powers to establish smokeless zones. I think 17 local authorities altogether obtained those powers. Manchester and Coventry are the only two that have given affect to them. I understand that ray hon. Friend the Member for Withing-ton (Sir R. Cary) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later on, because in the central part of Manchester the local authority has established a smokeless zone, with some success, I gather. I think the area is quite a small one, but I think there has been considerable success. However, my hon. Friend will tell you all about that when he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.

The other local authority is that of Coventry. I do not think we can draw any conclusions from what has happened at Coventry, because the area where the smokeless zone was established was the part of the city that Hitler blasted and there are only two domestic premises in the area where the smokeless zone exists. So I do not think we can draw any conclusion from there.

The 15 other local authorities that obtained the powers have done nothing. Local authorities are very dilatory, and they are rather like sheep. If the sheep see one of their number go through a hole they all follow. So when the local authorities saw one getting these powers they all thought they would like to get them, but they have not all done anything about them. I am concerned with the City Corporation, which is rather like that, as I shall explain in a few minutes' time.

Then we have the problem of the motor car. The motor car consumes petrol or diesel oil. The buses are driven mainly on diesel oil. I am certain that there is a lot of sulphur in petroleum. If we could see it I am sure we should see noxious gases coming from buses and motor cars. These noxious gases are invisible in the main. I think sulphur dioxide is virtually invisible. I know carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are invisible.

Of course, the emission of gases from motor cars and buses is at a very low level. Many people are worried about the effects of motor transport in relation to this whole problem. I do not think it is a very serious problem. All these gases are heavier than air. Therefore, they are close to the ground. Any small dog, any cat or pigeon in London would have died from these noxious gases were they not dispersed. I never remember seeing small dogs or pigeons or other birds dead in the streets of London, and I have wondered why they were not killed by noxious gases from motor cars. It is a rather interesting point. Other hon. Members who are scientific and medical experts may take a different view, but somehow or another these emissions do not appear to me to do much harm, because if they did all these small creatures would be dead. I wish we could apply sulphur dioxide to the starlings in Trafalgar Square. However, they are too high up.

Roughly, on the average, coal contains 1½per cent, of sulphur and petroleum of 4 per cent. It is very important that people should realise the difference between that 4 per cent, and 1½ per cent. Sulphur dioxide combined with moisture, according to my chemical knowledge, although I am not very good at chemistry, produces sulphurous acid. Combined with oxygen from the air it becomes sulphuric acid, and I believe that that is the main cause of the attack on our health and the buildings in our cities. Sulphur dioxide is the father and mother of sulphuric acid. Therefore, if we can reduce the sulphur dioxide we can protect our public buildings and our health.

I have discussed this matter with friends of mine, doctors and others, and I have been supplied with some rather interesting information about sulphur. If the House will bear with me I should like to read out some of this information. We do not advertise doctors, so I will call my informant a Harley Street doctor. He tells me that the two products which cause more harm to health are sulphur dioxide and the particles of tarry matter, but he doubts whether particles of soot, ash or grit do much harm. He points out that the body has its own machinery for arresting the descent of solid particles in the lungs and bringing them up to the surface. He says: First of all there is the filter effect of the hairs in the nose, and then there are the cilia in the windpipe which are like minute hairs which work constantly in an upward direction and which carry small solid particles back to the mouth for rejection. The smog mask will filter most of the solid particles, but this, in my view, is the least important part of the problem. Sulphur dioxide is intensely damaging to people who have asthma or any chest condition which is associated with spasm of the air passages. A great many elderly people get a bronchitis during the winter which is associated with a certain amount of broncho-spasm, and this is greatly intensified by sulphur in the atmosphere. This makes it extremely difficult for them to get air in and out of their lungs. It produces violent attacks of coughing, which puts a tremendous strain upon the heart muscle. Sulphur dioxide is not filtered by any kind of mask, and it seems to me the only way to reduce the morbidity and mortality is by preventing the pollution of the atmosphere with sulphur dioxide.

Dr. Stross

Hear, hear.

Sir H. Williams

I am glad to hear a medical man agree with that statement. I have consulted my personal doctor who is rather knowledgeable on the subject, and he takes the same view.

The Committee on Air Pollution in paragraph 5 of its Report says: Both medical opinion and chemical investigation indicate that the deleterious effects of the oxides of sulphur are greatly enhanced by the presence of smoke particles and our conclusion therefore is that the first objective should be to prevent the emission of coal smoke and oil smoke, and of grit. By smoke we mean solid particles of soot, fine dust and minute liquid droplets of tar and oil. What I urge is that we should have a good deal of scientific investigation into this problem because I do not think anybody knows the whole truth. I have learnt a great deal as a result of my inquiries during the last three months. What I know about the subject would fill more books than most people's knowledge of it would, but what I do not know about it would fill all the books in the world. We are in an intense difficulty in that we do not know the facts.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

We are agreed that action should be taken.

Sir H. Williams

But what action?

Clause 4 says not a word about sulphur dioxide. Clause 4 (9) says: Nothing in this section shall apply to smoke emitted from a railway locomotive. I have in my hand the statutes enacted between 1845 and 1849. When our predecessors passed the Railway Clauses Act in 1845 they enacted Section 114, which stated that every locomotive engine to be used on railways should, if it used coal or other similar fuel emitting smoke, be constructed on the principle of consuming its own smoke, and if any engine was not so constructed, the com- pany or authority using it should forfeit £5 for every day during which the engine was used on the railways.

The year 1845 is a long way back. Yet my friends of the City Corporation have been blackmailed by the Transport Commission to include in their Clause: Nothing in this section shall apply to smoke emitted from a railway locomotive. That is monstrous. As an engineer, I know that there are difficulties in producing a locomotive which can consume its own smoke, but the forfeitures of £5 which ought to have accumulated as penalties ought now to be enough to pay off the National Debt.

I hope that the City Corporation will stand up to the British Transport Commission—I do not say that they can do it at once—and insist that they shall not bring masses of smoke into the City of London and, even worse, into other parts of London, if other Bills are promoted to prevent this appalling pollution of the atmosphere. The railway locomotive is at its worst when it is at rest in a railway station.

Considerable efforts have been made to eliminate sulphur dioxide from power stations. Only three power stations in the world have ever had plant designed for the purpose. One is the power station built by the Fulham Corporation and now owned by the British Electricity Authority. It has a sulphur dioxide washing plant, but it is out of action. There are two others left in the world. One is the Battersea Power Station, which uses coal, and the other is the Bankside Power Station, which uses oil, just the other side of the river opposite St. Paul's.

These devices are not only failures; in my judgment, they are worse than failures and are aggravating the problem. I am told—I have made considerable inquiries—that the washing, which involves fantastic quantities of water, eliminates about 85 per cent, of the sulphur content. But it has a tragic result. It so cools the fumes that when they come up the chimney their temperature is so low that they are heavier than air. Any hon. Member can test this any time he is on the Chelsea Embankment. If he looks at the Battersea Power Station, he will see that the smoke does not go rapidly up into the sky. We should remember what a chimney is. It is a curious kind of pump which draws the smoke up, and the smoke should come out at the top at a considerable speed and go right up into the air.

If hon. Members will look at Batter-sea Power Station they will find that, instead of that, the smoke is pluming downwards. Although 85 per cent, of the sulphur has been removed, the amount of stuff which is coming down to earth is much greater than if the plant had been entirely wiped out. I am told that the cost of the installation at both Battersea and Bank-side was about £1½million. I am also told that in the case of Battersea it is equivalent to adding 8s. per ton to the cost of the coal, which means adding to the price of electricity, and yet the plant is failing in its purpose.

The great tragedy is Bankside. All the experts on amenities said that we must not destroy St. Paul's Cathedral. I agree; but today St. Paul's Cathedral is in greater peril of destruction through sulphuric acid because there has been insistence upon the Bankside Power Station using oil fuel instead of coal, with a 4 per cent, sulphur content instead of the 1½per cent, in coal. Bankside also has the washing plant. St. Paul's is in much greater peril than if its friends had not taken the action to insist upon the British Electricity Authority installing that plant.

In passing, I understand that the Arts Council insisted upon the design of the Bankside Power Station. The result is the filthiest looking chimney that I have ever seen in my life. Hon. Members who look across at the power station will see a foul looking chimney; it has nothing like the grace and charm of the Battersea Power Station chimneys. We should never allow the Arts Council to do anything at any time. I have spoken at greater length than I intended, but it is an interesting problem in relation to scientific, engineering, social and health factors and everything else.

A paragraph in the Report deplores the fact that bonfires should be lit during fog. About four months ago during a fog a gentleman came to see me at my office and said "I think the people in Hyde Park are barmy. It is very foggy, but they have been burning up the leaves there, and so the place is foggier than ever." That is an attack on Her Majesty's Government. Why bonfires which produce masses of smoke should be lit whenever there is a lot of fog, I do not understand. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will pass on to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Works that in future bonfires should not be lit in Hyde Park when fog is about. It must not be thought that every day of the week is Guy Fawkes day.

I have started a debate which I hope will be fruitful in stimulating people to think about a problem which, in some parts, at the moment is intractable. It is a very difficult problem. None of us, not even the scientists, know all about it. I know that a lot of research is going on. As a result of my inquiries during the last three months I have learnt a great deal from experts of one kind or another, from fuel combustion experts, doctors and everyone else who is interested.

Let us play our part in stimulating inquiry into the vitally important problem of preserving our buildings, our health and our laundry. All these things are important because, one way or another, they are all part of the cost of living or the cost of dying. There is a great problem to be solved, and it can only be solved if the House of Commons, as it has so often done in the past, can stimulate public interest in the matter.

7.29 p.m.

Sir Alfred Bossom (Maidstone)

I beg to second the Motion.

My remarks will be confined to a very limited field. I should like to say at once that I am very strongly in favour of smoke abatement. The good intentions of the Bill are very much to be desired, but they do not go far enough. There are two very serious omissions. There is no provision in respect of two conditions which have been alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). However, generally speaking, we have not had much experience in the matter in England. We have experienced the unfortunate results that have occurred, and we have suffered the damage and the ill effects.

Many hon. Members will remember how parts of the stone pinnacles and pieces of stone used to fall off the river facade of the House on to the Terrace. Stones of the wall have had to be dug out and replaced by new ones, as anyone can see today. I understand that the cost of that was double the cost of the original erection of the whole facade. That sort of thing is going on all over London, and it is undoubtedly due to sulphuric acid penetrating and disintegrating the stones. There is no mention in the Bill of anything to attempt to prevent that.

My hon. Friend referred to St. Paul's Cathedral. I was one of those who objected to the erection of the power station on the other side of the river because of these very serious possible conditions. But it is there, and I believe that as the years go by we shall see damage to St. Paul's in the same way as we have seen it on the exterior of this building, unless some preventive action is taken. I think that the winds which have been blowing smoke over the river from the Doulton Factory in the last century have a lot to do with the damage to this building.

There is one city in the world which has had more experience of this than we have had, and with which we in this House have a close relationship, and that is Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh they have in the university a British room which is made out of the fragments, if I may so call them, of our old blitzed Chamber, which were taken to America with the permission of the Speaker of that day, and which has been erected there in what is there called the Cathedral of Learning. At one time, that great city was the dirtiest in America. Four years ago there were passed local ordinances that no smoke was to be allowed to come out of any chimney anywhere except from hospitals, and that hospitals which were started by voluntary contributions would have this prohibition applied to them, and they could have no further emission of smoke, after five years.

I was over there last year, and I happened to see a building, of which I was the architect in the earlier part of this century, constructed then of light glazed tile. When I saw it 25 years ago its walls were blacker than the dark oak walls of this building today. Now the smoke is stopped and the exterior has been brushed down and it is as clean as when it was built. So are dozens of the other buildings. If Pittsburgh can accomplish these things, we ought to be able to do the same here and I am certain that with an effort we can.

Pittsburgh today is abnormally clean— it is one of the cleanest cities in the world. The owners of the buildings have taken to having their buildings being given a cleaning treatment, and one can go round the city and see buildings as bright as the buildings in Washington where there are no factories or manufacturers at all. It is cleaner than any city in England except a few on the coast. In New York, which by nature is a fairly clean city, they are now advertising: "We are going to make our city as clean as Pittsburgh"; but they have not succeeded in doing that yet.

My hon. Friend has just referred to the British Transport Commission having its railway engines exempt from this control of smoke. What has New York done about this matter? New York has laid it down that no train shall come within a radius of about 15 miles of New York unless it is moved by electricity. The New Yorkers have banned all smoke coming into the centre of that town from the railway. As my hon. Friend stated, over 100 years ago, in 1845, we were told that we must not have any smoke from railway engines. In 1868, the Regulations of Railways Act required that every engine must consume its own smoke. But we have done nothing about that. We must do something about it, if we are to end this most undesirable condition.

I do not want to go into technical details about smog, such as we had in 1952. Incidentally, bad as it is, that condition is improving, because I see that though there were 4,000 killed in 1952, 12,000 died in 1880 from the same cause. We are getting better, but the improvement is nothing like good enough or quick enough. During the smog of 1952 the total number of applications for beds in London hospitals was double the number at that time of the year, and four times the normal number of people were suffering from respiratory diseases. There is no proved connection yet between fog and that sickness situation, but the coincidence is so remarkable that we cannot ignore it. First, we had the fog and no wind, then there was a number of deaths and double the normal number of applicants for hospital beds. All these things cannot happen at one time without some connection between them. I think that these are matters which we must actively inquire into now.

As I have said, there are two serious omissions from the Bill. First there is no mention of an intensified research campaign to ascertain the exact chemical relationship, as I am sure every medical man in this House and outside will agree. This we must have. We must also have a wide-ranging constructional investigation to see what can be done in the vast number of the different chimneys themselves. Smoke is coming from small houses and big houses, factories and power stations—they are all sending filth into the atmosphere. We have to see if there is anything that we can construct or add to these chimneys so that the smoke is consumed and detrimental fumes eliminated. We must do this; we must not let the smoke damage people and buildings. We must not have the development of smog on the scale that we have had it in the past. London can be infinitely cleaner and healthier; and it is our task here in Parliament to do our very utmost to bring that about.

7.36 p.m.

Dr. Baraett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I beg to move, "That—

Mr. Speaker

We can only have one Question before the House at a time. I will give the hon. Member an opportunity at the end of the debate to move his Instruction if he so desires. He can now make his speech, but he will have to make it on this Motion.

Dr. Stross

I am sure that the House and the country are indebted to the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) for his speech, for the work which he has done in preparing it, and for the excellent results which, I am sure, we shall get as a result of the publicity given to this matter.

I find myself in agreement with the whole of his attitude throughout his speech. The fact that my hon. Friend and myself were insisting that there should be research so as to give us in- formation does not in any way mitigate our agreement with what the hon. Member has said.

At the end of his speech, he mentioned the question of tarry particles. He did not dilate on that point. In one country which we know of—I am speaking of Iceland—the whole of the capital city and the whole of the surrounding area is entirely free of smoke, and the incidence of cancer of the skin in that country is exceedingly low. In the whole of that country they have only had four cases in five years, 1944–49,. and I wish that the incidence of this disease in this country were similar.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Manchester, and I note that in the first leading article in "The Manchester Guardian" this morning his name is mentioned, and the whole article is devoted to this subject. I do not know whether the hon. Member has seen it. It is a very interesting article. I am not going to quote from it at length, but what it asks is what we are asking here tonight.

We are asking what the Government are going to do about this matter. The article states that until recently the Government did not know their own mind and felt rather luke-warm about the problem. The Government felt: how can we encourage people to have smokeless homes if there are not enough appliances to substitute for the old faulty ones and if we have not enough supplies of smokeless fuel. That is understandable. But today the situation is different. We are told that there is plenty of coke available, although it is not easily transported to peoples' houses when they want it, for certain reasons. It is not popular with those who sell it because it is bulky to carry in small bags and they do not appear to be making much profit, so they prefer to peddle their dirty coal and nutty slack instead of clean fuel.

We have to overcome problems of this type, and we ask the Government to assist us because the preludes towards assistance are now present in a way in which they were not present a few years ago. It is right to say that Manchester was the pioneer city in this matter, and although I am the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, I think that I am able to say that what Manchester does today London does tomorrow. It has been noted that at two observation posts in the City of London the amount of solid matter that falls per square mile per month is 20 tons. That is about half the figure for the dirtiest part of Manchester.

It is not enough just to know how many solid particles fall. Everyone who agrees with what the hon. Member for Croydon, East has said knows that what we want to know is how much sulphur dioxide there is, and how much is being turned by local atmospheric conditions into sulphuric acid mist, for it is this mist which damages the buildings, and it cannot be beneficial to the mucus membranes of our bronchial tubes. My medical colleagues can well understand how easily sulphuric acid mist, created out of sulphur dioxide or sulphur trioxide —which is also emitted—must irritate the bronchial tubes and cause asthma and chronic bronchitis.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom) spoke about the smog of 1880.

Sir A. Bossom

It was 1868.

Dr. Stross

I have a number of data about different attacks of smog, but I have not got particulars of that one. I have details about 1873, 1880, 1892, 1948 and 1952. I shall not trouble the House with those details because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall only say that in London alone, in the six years from 1941 to 1946 inclusive, fogs have occurred in December, January, and November, in that order of frequency. During those years fogs occurred in those months on 23 per cent, of the occasions with a visibility of less than 550 yards and on 08 per cent, of the occasions with a visibility of less than 30 yards— really black fog, where it was almost impossible to see. On six occasions the fog lasted for two to three days, and on two occasions for three to four days.

During the last attack it was noticed that the cloud of poisonous material, which lay all along the valley and enveloped us, was not very high. I am advised that Blackheath, which is only 150 feet above sea level, was at one time during the attack almost entirely clear, and that on one occasion Battersea Power Station chimney was seen quite clearly protruding above this fog. That chimney is 337 feet high.

Now I come to the question of what is the real danger to us, smoke or sulphur dioxide, or something else, and, when we have made up our minds about it, what action should we take. I have never heard the problem posed so clearly as it was by the hon. Member for Croydon, East tonight. Smoke was noted most at County Hall, Lambeth, Westminster, Southwark and North Woolwich. I believe in that order of concentration. That smoke was between three and 10 times the normal concentration, and the sulphur dioxide was found to be roughly six times its normal concentration. That, again, was worst at County Hall, Westminster, and in the City. The correct tiling to do is to attempt to clean up any one, or all, of those areas.

When we examine the matter we find that the concentration of sulphur dioxide runs parallel with the concentration of smoke. The less smoke, the less sulphur dioxide. That provides us with a line of attack. That does not mean that if there is no smoke there is necessarily no sulphur dioxide, but we are attacking the problem in the right way if we get rid of the smoke. The poisonous effect of sulphur dioxide is said to arise at a concentration of 10 parts per million, inhaled over a few hours. In the London smog, however, it never rose to more than 13 parts per million, and we are left to wonder whether it was sulphur dioxide alone which was responsible for the trouble.

The hon. Member for Croydon, East also referred to this point, and doubted whether sulphur dioxide alone was responsible. He mentioned carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid mist. We are left to wonder whether there is some unholy marriage between these substances. They act synergistically—which means "working together "; it is a horrible word, but it is the one which is used—and bring about much more damage than any one of them working alone.

All we can do is to echo what has already been said tonight. We do not know enough about the subject, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said, we know enough to make a start. We should start by cleaning up not one district but a much wider area. The City is going to try to clean itself up. but the prevailing wind is such that it may get less benefit from the attempt than its neighbours. To get the best results we must have smokeless areas in Westminster, Fulham, Chelsea and Kensington. That is the minimum requirement if we want to achieve a real improvement in this area and save the priceless buildings in Westminster.

Some of us are a little suspicious about the change in the use of the domestic fire grate. A more efficient domestic grate has been installed which burns economically and will keep a fire burning all night long. This is a great benefit to people who are not blessed with servants and who have to get up in the morning to make their own fires. That applies to most of us. We sometimes have to arise very early, or our wives do, to see us off to work. Most people put slack and ashes on these modern fires overnight, and during the dark hours they give off smoke.

The atmosphere is then more moist than it is during the day, and that is just when we get the conditions which form a prelude to the manufacture of smog. With a power station giving off water vapour into the atmosphere and factories situated nearby pouring smoke out of their chimneys, the combination of moisture and smoke tends to cause smog.

Those who live in industrial areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, or even here in London, should do everything they can to take the advice which has been given by the hon. Member for Croydon, East. We should insist upon the Government forcing local authorities to act more quickly than they have done. Up till now they have been the pace-makers, and the Government, in their wisdom, folly, or ignorance—I do not know which it is, and I am not blaming them, but I shall be from now on—have been compelled to soft-pedal and say, "You cannot move as quickly as this." We should take note of what Pittsburgh has done, as described by the hon. Member for Maidstone, and move forward very much more quickly.

7.50 p.m.

Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)

I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom) for making it possible for us, for the first time since the original Measure proposed by the Manchester Corporation, to consider on a rather wider basis the establishment of smokeless zones.

As I listened to the hon. Baronets I could not help thinking of a story told to the House two weeks ago by my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. H. Strauss) about the American who was so horrified at what he had read in the newspapers about smoking that he gave up reading. So, as I listened to the hon. Baronets, I could not help thinking that with all these new terrors in the atmosphere—sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide—much the most hopeful course for the average citizen would be to give up reading. Perhaps, in another direction, that might alter the representations made by hon. Gentlemen opposite three weeks ago about the threat of under-employment in certain industries.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East for paying a tribute to Manchester for taking the initial step in the creation of a smokeless zone. Manchester was once described by John Stuart Mill as the vestibule of hell. In the old days it was a place where it not only rained but which existed under an umbrella of dense industrial smoke which, while it might have poisoned its citizens sometimes, did not detract from their energies in making it one of the great Victorian assets of the Industrial Revolution.

It has always seemed to me to be fitting that the great city of Manchester and its corporation should be the pioneers of the smokeless zone, and I only hope that, when this Bill reaches its final stages, the City of London will embark upon the same course for the centre of our City here. The powers taken by the Manchester City Council were obtained in the 1945–46 Session of Parliament but, of course, it was not possible to proceed at once.

Much negotiation, both with occupiers of houses and users of fuel, and with the different boards, had to be undertaken before eventually, in an area consisting of 105 acres, Manchester was able to proceed with the establishment of the central smokeless zone, after due notice, on 1st May, 1952. That has been so successful that it is now intended to extend that central area to between 450 and 500 acres, which is only 100 acres less than the 600 acres required by Clause 4 of this Bill.

Of course, when we reach the outer fringes of the city we come up against the purely residential areas. It is much easier to begin a smokeless zone on corporation estates, where there is some degree of uniformity. Where, however, there is freehold or tenanted property, a certain degree of public re-education is required in regard to the burning of fuel, and much may be required in the manufacture of new installations of heating apparatus to take the place of the ordinary fire grate. I think I shall be expressing the sentiments of everyone in the House when I say that one of the greatest comforts in the world is a good open coal fire. Often when travelling round badly hit areas in the bad old days of unemployment, people said to me that, even before a little more food or warm clothing, they would like some fire put back into their grates.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stress) raised the question of the fuel supply to individual consumers and small owners of property. I think he read, as I did, the extremely interesting leading article in today's "Manchester Guardian," where the following paragraph appears. I invite my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to pass it on to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. It states: At a recent meeting with representatives of towns with smokeless-zone powers the Ministry of Fuel admitted that it found itself embarrassed by a carry-over at the end of the winter of a million and a half tons of coke, with no prospect of getting rid of it unless the authorities made haste to establish many more smokeless zones. That paragraph in the centre of the leading article in the "Manchester Guardian" prompted me to telephone this afternoon to the superintendent in charge of the coke order department of the North Thames Gas Board. I was shocked to learn that the citizens of London are being charged £6 3s. 2d. for a ton of coke. That price is far too high.

Of course coal is sorted into eight groups. Before the war I used to represent in this House a mining constituency, and I used to watch at the pithead how difficult it was to sort coal on the screens into three groups. Now we sort coal into eight groups and sell them at graded prices beginning with the top group at £7 3s. 2d. a ton and ending with the eighth group at £5 3s. 2d. a ton. It is a little difficult for the average housewife to turn to an alternative fuel at those prices and to find that, without variation, the price of coke is £6 3s. 2d. a ton.

In establishing smokeless zones and to encourage the burning of that most essential fuel, coke, which is part and parcel of this plan, I beg the Government to consider giving a 15 per cent, discount to tempt people to turn away from the ordinary coal-burning grate to the new forms of installation in which the smokeless coke-burning fire can have its greatest effect.

I want to add one further word in praise of the City of Manchester, which it is my privilege to represent in this House. I was a little troubled in my mind three years ago as to whether the plan for the smokeless zone would be a great disappointment. I have been astonished to discover how successful the experiment has been, and how justified will be the extension of the central area. A smokeless zone does not mean, of course, an escape from the desperate fog we suffered, not only in London but in other cities, in that tragic December week-end in 1952, when I think the death roll came to 4,000.

I remember that on that afternoon of Saturday, 5th December, I left my constituency by road at 4.30, though I was begged by many of my constituents not to make the attempt. In driving with my wife from the edge of Derby and again from the edge of Bedfordshire I encountered no more than conventional country evening mist. As I approached the traffic lights on the rising ground at Barnet I said to my wife, "This looks like journey's end." Within five minutes after passing over the brow of the ridge in St. Albans I dropped into the desperate fog of London, and it was rather like flopping into a bowl of brown Windsor soup.

If it had not been for the gallant energies of a young man who was driving from Wigan in a lorry with very bright tail lights, I should not have made London at all. It took me four hours to get from St. Albans to the centre of London, but not to my own home in Westminster. I found myself in the London Passenger Transport Board's garage at Dalston. The chief deputy-inspector who was on duty that night saw that I was suitably entertained until, at 9 o'clock next morning, piloted by a 'bus, I was able to reach my own home in Westminster. I hope that this debate will lead to other elaborations by which we may make our cities brighter, cleaner and more pleasant places in which to live.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) have rendered a great service to this House, to the country in general, and to the industrial areas in particular, by initiating this debate. Whilst listening to the debate, I have been thinking of the past 20 years and of how the debate revealed one of the organic weaknesses in our special form of democracy. All the theory and all the time spent on this subject are not an atom of use unless they are translated into action. I have sat in this House with some of the finest characters that it has been my privilege to work with, and I remember how, in my early experience here, night after night we raised this issue, but relatively speaking very little action has been taken in the case of the industrial areas.

I remember a very distinguished Member of this House, Miss Rathbone, saying to me that one had to raise an issue again and again for 25 years before it could begin to be acceptable. That might have been all right in the old slow coach days, but we are now living in the jet age. People are looking to this House, to the local authorities and to people who accept responsibility to act in a modern, mid-20th century way and not be content to travel at the speed of the Victorian period.

When one tries to have this problem of smoke abatement dealt with, one is met almost everywhere with complacency, inertia and frustration. I hope that our debate tonight marks a new start. Up to now I have been in almost complete agreement with everything that has been said in this debate. I hope that the debate will continue on the basis of common agreement, that we really mean business and that we shall insist that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government shall undertake to report to the Prime Minister and other Ministers that it is the united desire of this House that action shall be taken to deal with this problem.

I am privileged to belong to the people of an area which has suffered more from a polluted atmosphere than any other area in this country. I do not ask the House to accept my view. I refer hon. Members to a report which is in my possession. It contains a very elaborate map showing clearly that the greatest pollution is in the area extending from Manchester to Liverpool and from Liverpool to Stoke-on-Trent. The density of population in that area is greater than it is in any other part of the country. Mountains of wealth have been produced for generations in that area, but scores of people have had their lives needlessly cut short because no action has been taken to deal with this problem of pollution.

I speak with a little emotion, not only because I live in that area, but because I consider myself a lucky man. Today I stand here almost as strong as ever I was, yet six years ago I was on the verge of passing away. Thanks to the very best medical attention and careful nursing and everything that could be done to save life, I no longer suffer as I did then from asthma and bronchitis. But scores of people who are as good as any of us here are tonight lying sleepless in their beds because they have contracted some respiratory disease and have had their difficulties increased because we in this House have not insisted upon action being taken to ensure smoke abatement. I have not had the privilege of visiting America but I understand that one of the blackest spots in the world used to be Pittsburg.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

So it is, even now.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) said that the air over Pittsburg is now as clear as one would like to see it.

It occurred to me that if the authorities in Pittsburg can ensure that condition, we can do it here. Things are happening in America which are undermining democracy, but we should give credit where credit is due and it is due to the Americans in this case. I understand that outside Pittsburg there is a great steel producing centre. A few years ago it suffered from a terrible fog which brought disaster and catastrophe of the kind suffered in London just over a year ago. I listened with great interest to The hon. Member for Withington when he gave the House the benefit of his experiences when he drove into London in the great fog. A report has been published on experience outside Pittsburg, and now action is being taken on that report. When are we to take action on this Report?

My former hon. Friends, Joe Batey, Joe Tinker and Bill Bartley, with whom I sat night after night in this House, used to raise the question of the danger of burning coal tips. Those tips are still burning in the Stoke-on-Trent area and many other areas. I am reminded of a great experience my hon. Friends and I had a few weeks ago. In the centre of my division there is a large farm. The farmer's name is Smith and he used to write to me. My daughter, who assists me with my correspondence, got upset because we received so many letters from this man. I worried the different Ministries and kept up the pressure because I thought this man had a case. Then I began to detect that some of the Ministries thought the man was going a bit so-and-so. Nevertheless, I pursued the question because I thought he had a case.

Greatly to my satisfaction and, from an individual point of view, but regrettable from the point of view of the public, the following happened. The Ministry of Agriculture sent an expert team to this farm to investigate the conditions. As a result of their report they took the farm over. The man who was farming there is now in the Isle of Man. He was suitably compensated when the Ministry took over the farm as a research and experimental centre. My hon. Friends and I received a lesson there a few weeks ago. I hope the Minister will convey to the Ministry of Agriculture our great satisfaction about what has happened. We want to place our thanks on record.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It is not quite clear what the Minister of Agriculture has to do with this Bill.

Mr. Ellis Smith

It has this to do with it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we are discussing pollution and I was providing concrete evidence of how pollution takes place in this area. It has been the custom in this House for a connected story to be told in order to prove a case. I was proceeding to give the House the benefit of our experience by telling this connected story. The Ministry of Agriculture conducted an inquiry at this research centre. They have a number of very public-spirited scientists doing a fine job there. They deserve all credit for what they have done. My hon. Friends and I were taken round the farm and were able to see the effects of a new process which is beginning to pollute the air of this country to a great extent with serious effects. During the war, a number of new processes were brought out. That was all to the good because it assisted in the prosecution of the war, but those processes are still used and all kinds of pollution is being poured into the air. This raises new problems.

A few weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, who was the main mover behind the scenes in this matter, organised a conference in Stoke on the question of air pollution and the effects of dust. A number of doctors spoke at the conference and it had a very fine effect on all who were present. One of the doctors said to me, "You see the canal outside? You would never think of drinking that?" I said, "No." He said "You are breathing that every day.'' That is what is happening in the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Fluorine is being poured into the air. It is deposited on the vegetation of the district and when cattle are grazing they eat grass on which there are fluorine deposits.

We were shown bones and teeth from healthy cattle. Those bones and teeth were strong and good, but we were also shown bones and teeth taken from cattle on this farm and they were brittle like chalk. After an explanation, I saw the terribly cruel effect of fluorine being poured into the air and on to the cattle. If nature has an opportunity of functioning in the ordinary way this has very little effect on life but, as the result of bones being weakened, cattle, when giving birth to calves, suffer a terrible effect. That has been registered on paper, on grass and by diagrams by scientists who are doing noble work at that farm. If fluorine affects cattle like that, although it may not have the same effect on us, it is bound to have an effect on us within limits.

I ask that action should be taken on the many reports which have been published about what is being produced in the industrial areas. People there are producing goods as they never produced them before. We owe it to them to do all we can to preserve their health. In addition, it would be of fine psychological effect to people in the industrial areas to prevent pollution. If one goes into the country one comes home refreshed and feeling better. That is the effect of country air, and from a business point of view, if for no other reason, we should do what we can to clear the air of industrial areas so that we can get the best from our people and they can lead the lives they deserve to lead.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of making another contribution on this subject. I think of the days when my hon. Friends used to raise the question of burning pit heaps. Scientists say that some of the bad effects of pollution come from those heaps. Surely the time has arrived for the Minister to take action. I am pleased that the debate has been initiated because we have had an opportunity of making our contribution on behalf of the people concerned in this matter.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Like other hon. Members, I should like to pay my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom) for initiating the debate. But we should not allow it to move off to the general question of atmospheric pollution by fumes because there are Acts on the Statute Book to deal with those things. What is needed there is administration. There are very stringent provisions against the pollution of the atmosphere by means of noxious fumes. What is really wanted for that is the application of the Statutes which are already on the Statute Book.

What we are discussing now is the rather more mystifying problem of the effect of smoke from the domestic fire and the newly introduced big heating and electricity plants in our great cities. One of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East was the necessity for further knowledge. He referred to the disquieting fact that oil-burning plant, which to many of us seemed to be one of the solutions to the problem, is four times as bad as coal-burning plant because its fuel is four times as rich in sulphur as coal is.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The right hon. Gentleman, who has been Minister of Agriculture, knows that, while what he has said about administration is true, action is not taken. Will he take account of the report of the Committee on Air Pollution which stated that sufficient is already known of the cause, effects and cure of air pollution to enable the broad problem to be appreciated, measured and action taken?

Mr. Elliot

We ought not to mix up tonight the question of heavy pollution by chemical fumes, of which only very few people are guilty, and the general crime, of which we are all guilty, of putting another knob of coal on the fire and letting the smoke go up the chimney, thereby producing the conditions outside which we all deplore.

I feel that we ought to look more closely at the remedies proposed, as well as at the problem, when I learn that the use of the great oil-burning plants is worse for the atmosphere than the use of coal in the domestic grate. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East pointed out that the installation of purification plants in two great power stations in London was, as he contended, actually increasing the injury instead of diminishing it.

It is no use simply saying "Let us take action." Action was taken in the two great power stations in London by installing washing plants. If it is true that the installation of the plants has actually accentuated the difficulty instead of diminishing it, that shows that, in addition to action, we need further research and investigation to make sure that we are going the right way about tackling the problem.

Fog is, of course, no new problem in London. I suppose that one of the finest descriptions of fog ever written was that by Dickens nearly 100 years ago It makes one gasp even to read the pages of the book. But fog is certainly not confined to London. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. (Mr. Ellis Smith) spoke about the heavy fogs and difficulties of the industrial Midlands. Coming from Clydeside, I know the venom and bitterness of the fogs of that region. The Glasgow fog will challenge comparison with any fog in the world for thickness, smell, taste and acidity. We regard the fogs in London as a mere beneficent kind of cotton wool compared with the vehement onslaught of the results of our industrial fumes upon our lungs.

Yet we must remember that during the last 100 years respiratory diseases have greatly declined. Let us not feel that we are being beaten in this matter. Great advances have been made. The chief advance has been in the case of tuberculosis. Progress is certainly being made, on the whole, and we ought at any rate to be encouraged by that.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Thanks to medical science.

Mr. Elliot

It is true that medical science has done much, but it is also true that the air is, on the whole, cleaner than it was in the days of our youth. One does not get one's collar in such a frightful mess at the end of a long day in London as one did 30 or 40 years ago. Glasgow is still a fairly dirty city and one has to change one's linen more often in the city than in the country. However, it is not as bad as in the days when I went to school there.

We have made advances and we can make further advances, but we want to make sure that the further steps are the best that we can take on scientific lines. Let hon. Members think for a moment of the enormous concentration of motor vehicles in our great cities. Many of us must have felt a little uneasy in a traffic jam, sitting beside a number of exhaust pipes pouring out noxious exhaust fumes. Yet, in spite of that, the substitution of horse traffic by motor traffic has led to a great improvement in the health of our people, and, more particularly, to a great decline in infantile mortality.

When there was horse transport and horse dung was widely spread in the streets of our cities, we got what was called "the third quarter's rise," the summer and autumn rise in infantile diarrhoea. In those days one got a very marked curve in the infantile mortality of the great cities. That third quarter's rise has now disappeared entirely.

I do not think we can say that the great concentration of motor vehicles is producing the kind of upset in our lung diseases that we should have expected, when we see the great blocks of traffic in the London streets. We see these great canyons between the buildings filled with a mass of vehicles which are burning the air and replacing it with exhaust fumes containing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. One feels that one ought to come out of it feeling very ill indeed, but on the whole we do not come out of it feeling as ill as we should expect.

Dr. Stross

Has the right hon. Gentleman not noted that in a thickly populated area where there is a great deal of smoke, like the central Middlesex area, the incidence of cancer of the lung and the death rate from it today is three times as high as in the case of tuberculosis in the same area? Therefore, will he not be a little careful about suggesting that the absence of horse dung is the only factor or even a primary factor?

Mr. Elliot

I am speaking about infantile mortality. I am sure that my professional colleague will agree that we practically never get cancer of the lung in infantile mortality, for it is not one of the causes. I was merely saying that the disappearance of the summer illnesses among small children is closely connected with the disappearance of horse-drawn traffic and horse dung, and its substitution by the air-polluting motors. I merely say that that particular cause of illness has very largely disappeared.

Each of us will need to search his own heart and conscience about this question of smoke pollution. If local authorities have not pressed in this direction, it is largely because we have not pressed them. None of us willingly dispenses with a coal or other open fire somewhere about the house. If it must be, then it must be, but we shall all feel the lack of something. Again, I think that research and examination into the production of smokeless fuels of one kind and another, which will still give us open fires as well as the absence of the pollution of the atmosphere, is something for which we should strive. In our rather muggy, moist climate a small point of intense radiant heat is a very good way of warming oneself.

We do not like those uniform temperatures which commend themselves so much to the Americans, living in their radiator-heated atmosphere, which is uniform all over. There one cannot find any spot near which one wants to sit, and there is no way of getting away from the uniform temperature, because the heating of the house is under thermostatic control. If one opens a window all that happens is that the heating apparatus works harder than ever to keep the temperature up to the point from which one is trying to lower it.

We have special conditions of our own which we like to deal with according to our traditional ways. Therefore, we are asking the Government to do a difficult thing. We are asking them to make a pronouncement by means of which we can get rid of the evils, but still retain the advantages of our traditional systems of heating. I think it should be possible to do that, but it is something that will require a good deal of thought and care, and certainly a good deal of support from us, the rank and file.

After all, we are the people who are creating a great deal of this pollution. We know that quite well. Yet, in spite of it, when I go home I shall probably pick up the poker and give the lump of coal in my fireplace a good hard wallop. I shall see the smoke going up the chimney and shall say, "Thank goodness it is not coming into the room."

The difficulties of the City of London and of the other great cities are certainly very great. We ought to be able to make them much cleaner than they are at present. In particular, we ought to be able to deal with the problem of sulphur dioxide, which is, after all, closely allied to oil of vitriol—one of the most corroding things in the whole chemical range. We are distilling this substance from our fuel and pouring a gentle rain of it all over our buildings and into our lungs. It killed nearly a score of big, strong, cattle a year or two ago at the Smithfield Show. Those cattle were perfectly capable of pushing down a door or knocking their way nearly through a stone wall, but they could not stand the air at that fatstock show.

We should not, however, be unduly insistent tonight upon the Minister giving us an immediate pledge of action in the matter. We shall have to investigate it a good deal further before we can put into force laws which may mean that the housewife will have to do without her hearth fire. It might well be that that would clean up London, but it would diminish the pleasure which we all have in life, and would lessen in other ways the pleasure of living in a city. In that way we might actually injure the health of people, and to that extent diminish the advantage which we hope to get from action.

Therefore, while I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us an encouraging reply tonight, and while I agree that the air in our cities ought to be cleaned up, I say again that it will require a great deal more scientific advance before we know exactly the lines along which we ought to go. I think we shall find that the necessities of London, indeed the necessities of Britain, will demand treatment rather different from that which it has, perhaps, been possible to use in Pittsburgh, and other places which have not the same climate as we have here.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I wish to add my word of thanks to the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) for raising this subject this evening and to say how profoundly I agree with him that the real source of trouble is the sulphur oxides and not the smoke. We were all appalled some 16 months ago when we learnt that some 4,000 people had died as a result of the fog. But we should remember that a lot of those were people suffering from bronchitis, tuberculosis, and heart disease —lives which needed just that dose of fog' to finish them. I do not think that a similar number would be affected today, and we must not regard a severe fog as something that may happen at any time with similar results.

The hon. Member for Croydon, East said that he had seen very few or no animals dead on the ground during the period of fog. This is strange because sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide are heavy gases, and they collect near the ground. In the Smithfleld Show it was the fatstock on the ground floor that died or had to be killed. None of the pigs and sheep on the first floor suffered appreciably. Certainly none died or had to be killed.

I live near here in a fifth floor flat. I noticed during the fog period when I went home how much better the atmosphere was on the fifth floor than at street level. I would say to the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) that in my flat I did not poke the coal fire when I got home, because I am sensible enough—I will not say that, but I am fortunate enough not to have to pollute the atmosphere because the flat, though not centrally heated, is heated entirely by gas and electricity. It is in the lower regions of the air that atmospheric pollution is worse.

I maintain that the cause of the trouble is sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide and I think the evidence is conclusive. I do not believe that smoke has very much to do with it; it may have a little but the main trouble is the sulphur oxides. Pittsburg has been quoted, but the atmospheric conditions there are entirely different from London or most of Britain. Sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide in a dry atmosphere influence health very little. It is when they are present in a damp misty atmosphere, as in fogs, that the trouble occurs.

I suggest that the effect of smoke is mainly, if not entirely, that the fine particles of grit and dust form nuclei on which the atmospheric moisture condenses. The result is that where there is smoke there is a finer mist of sulphuric acid and it is that which does the harm. If my contentions are correct then smokeless zones can be of very little value, though they are provided for by the Bill.

There is evidence that in foggy conditions there is nearly as much sulphur oxides in the air in the middle of Hyde Park as around its edges or elsewhere. If we do no more than merely develop smokeless areas we shall not do much because, although people pretend that it is not so, there is as much sulphur oxides given off from coke or smokeless fuel and nearly twice as much from the burning of oil as from coal.

We have got to go much further than these smokeless zones. Indeed, I want to suggest that it is possible that smokeless zones may even do harm. There is evidence that in cases of fog it is cold as much as smog that is dangerous. People in smokeless areas who do not happen to have coke or smokeless fuel may put out their fires and because of the cold they may suffer more. Obviously the right thing to do in the case of fog is to put out the fire and to turn on an electric heater if one has one. What is required is more research. We may perhaps usefully have smokeless fuels, but do not let us expect too much from them until we know more of the real cause of the trouble, and how it may be prevented.

8.41 p.m.

Sir Harold Webbe (Cities of London and Westminster)

I have no intention of following the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) to give up breathing, but I must say, after listening to the highly-informed speeches tonight and to the vivid description of the conditions under which we seek to exist, as given by my medical colleagues, that I think we are all extraordinarily lucky to be alive at all.

This has been a most interesting debate, and it has been on a very reserved and balanced note. I hope very much that the Press, in taking note of what has been said, will show a sense of proportion. After the tragedy of a year ago, there was a great deal of nonsense written, and a great deal of unnecessary alarm was caused to all sorts of people who felt that they were suddenly faced with a completely new and uncommon danger. They rushed about seeking fog masks, which we are assured tonight would not be of the slightest value, and shrieking hysterically at the Government or anybody they met to do something about it.

Serious as this problem is, we must get it into a proper perspective. There has been too much use of this absurd word "smog." "Smog" is a comparatively new edition to the American language. I think it was coined to describe a state of affairs in atmospheric pollution of which we have no experience at all in this country, except to a comparatively minor extent a couple of years ago. It arises from conditions which do not obtain anywhere in this country, and certainly not within one million miles of London.

The old English word "fog," which covers everything from a light sea mist which in Scotland passes for bright sunshine, to the London "pea-souper," is a sufficiently adequate word for any ordinary Englishman. We must remember that, in spite of the alleged inaction of everybody in every possible direction, the incidence of fog in this country is far less frequent and far less serious than it used to be. The "pea-souper" which, even in my young days, was a regular institution, is now a rather unusual phenomenon.

One fact certainly emerges from the debate, and it is that there must be more research. From what I have heard tonight, it seems that we are suffering from three troubles—sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and dioxide, and soot. Of those three, the dangerous one, sulphur dioxide, is emitted by coal, by coke and by oil, with oil the worst of them all. If with our present state of knowledge, we are to tackle this problem, there is, therefore, only one way of doing it, and that is to forbid the use of any of these three fuels, which will leave many people very cold. Carbon monoxide can be disposed of entirely only by stopping the automobile industry, which would solve our traffic problems as well. But the fact is that these problems are not within reach of solution until there has been a great deal more technical research.

I feel that it is almost necessary to ask the indulgence of the House if I return for a few moments to the subject of the Motion before us, which is Clause 4 of the City of London (Various Powers) Bill. The Clause provides for the establishment of a smokeless zone within the City boundaries. No one, except the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), has suggested that that might be a retrograde step. It has generally been accepted that at the very worst it must be an improvement and must assist in the solution of the general problem.

There have been some criticisms of the Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) suggested that the City of London was following others like sheep through a hole in the hedge. But the City of London is not the least bit jealous that other local authorities have already obtained powers to create smokeless zones. There is a very good reason why the City of London should seek these powers at this moment. We are just embarking upon the colossal business of rebuilding very large areas of the City of London. When we are going in for such big building operations, surely that is the most appropriate time to take powers to establish a smokeless zone so that in the new buildings, at least, preparations will be made to prevent the emission of smoke.

My hon. Friend also complained that nothing was said in the Clause about sulphur dioxide. Having heard the many statements tonight that very little is known about sulphur dioxide and how to deal with it, perhaps the City Corporation has shown great prudence in not attempting to deal with it in a Clause of the Bill. But in fact there is a great deal in the Clause about sulphur dioxide. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) told us that the more smoke, the more sulphur dioxide there was. Any measure, therefore, which reduces the volume of smoke automatically reduces the volume of sulphur dioxide.

My hon. Friend also suggested that the City Corporation had been blackmailed by the railways into leaving railway engines out of the Clause. It is a question not of blackmail but of horse-sense. What would be the use of putting into the Bill a Clause which prohibited railway engines from coming into the City of London? We cannot talk such nonsense as that in a Bill which is to be brought before the House. Of course railway engines must come into the City of London, and it is up to the railway authorities to carry out their duty to make those engines emit as little smoke as possible. It is further up to British Railways to get on with the electrification of their railways so that we may be freed from the smoke nuisance in the City.

Comparison with New York is quite pointless. New York railways are all electric. It is true that many longdistance trains have to change their engines outside New York and haul the trains in by electric power, but it is not conceivable that within reasonable time we can effect such fundamental changes in London as that. Therefore, for the time being we must be reasonable and sensible about the railways.

Another complaint was that to create a smokeless zone in the City of London would not be of great benefit because of the prevailing wind, and it was suggested that the proper area to create it was in Fulham, Westminster and Chelsea. If that is so, let those authorities go ahead and get the powers, but let us not use that as an argument for objecting to the City of London obtaining and exercising powers of this kind within its own area. They cannot do any harm; they must do some good.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maid-stone (Sir A. Bossom) complained that there was nothing in this Bill about promoting intensive research and experiment. Surely anything of that kind would be hopelessly inappropriate in a Bill promoted by a local authority. It has nothing to do with it. The local authority has recognised the need for research, but it is not for it to take powers to provide it. That is surely a matter either for the Government or for other appropriate authorities.

I want to say a word about the Instruction to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central has appended his name. He asks that the Committee should include in the Bill a statutory provision whereby the City Corporation should publish annually statistics with regard to air pollution. I hope he will not press that, because for many years before 1941, when the apparatus used was destroyed by bombing, the City kept regular—not annual, but monthly, weekly and I think even daily—checks of the pollution in the City area. In 1948 it was able to re-establish its observation and testing station, and that information is currently obtained and is always available. From time to time, any significant figures are published in learned society journals and appropriate places of that kind.

The information is always available to anyone who is sufficiently informed to understand it and sufficiently interested to seek it. Therefore, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not ask the Committee to burden the Corporation with yet another demand for a regular return which, in my submission, can serve no purpose, and the whole point of which can be met in existing conditions without any fresh machinery or fresh requirements.

This long debate has ranged a long way beyond the City of London and a long way even beyond the question of smokeless zones. All that the City of London ask is that it should be given powers to make a beginning. It does not believe for a moment that what it is doing is in any sense a solution of the problem of fog or air pollution. What the Corporation believe, as practical men, is that this is a contribution towards such a solution. I hope that the House will agree that this Bill should go to the Committee unhampered by any Instruction as to the way in which it should deal with it.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I think we are indebted to the City of London for enabling us to discuss this matter tonight—and at not too great length, I think—because, as has become quite apparent, it is a 'matter about which many people are deeply concerned. It is right that this opportunity should be taken to discuss it fairly fully. I hope the opportunity will be taken by the Government to express their views about the future. Many local authorities are considering this matter.

Many local authorities have prepared their Private Bills. Many of them have gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare zones they may designate as smokeless zones. They are all anxious to know what the views of the Government are on the matter. The proposals of some local authorities, I believe, have been turned down by the Minister, for reasons which I do not know and that may be perfectly valid. However, there is a great deal of doubt in the minds of local authorities generally about what they ought to do.

Now that we have had some little experience of their value, I think proposals of this sort should be taken up by the Government, thus making it unnecessary for the local authorities to present Private Bills, because if these powers are desirable for London and Manchester and other towns that have taken them it is probably desirable that local authorities generally should have them. We should like to hear what advice the Parliamentary Secretary can give us about that.

I know very well the difficulties. In the not so long distant past I myself occupied a post similar to that which the Parliamentary Secretary now occupies. I know the difficulties the Ministry at that time had to face, when we were being asked our opinions about these matters, and when various voluntary organisations that have the support of the Ministry were pressing the desirability of smokeless zones and of purifying the atmosphere. In those days there was the problem of the lack of suitable fuel and the problem of the lack of suitable appliances that could be made readily available. We had not had the experience then. We have a great deal more experience now.

We have had some conflicting evidence about the effect of smoke upon health, and whether smoke includes the more noxious particles or not. Whatever may be true about that, there can be no doubt about the damage, the general hardship and the difficulties caused by smoke. Therefore, there can be no doubt about the desirability of getting rid of it. Whatever further steps need to be taken about gases, and so on, which may do the most serious damage, and whatever may be the rights and the wrongs of the case argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), we certainly do need to tackle the problem of smoke.

We have been agreed tonight that we do need a great deal more research, and if the debate has done nothing else it has certainly made clear the need for the Government to give all possible support to further research. That ought not to hold us back from giving approval to the proposals put forward by the City of London, or hold us back from asking the Government whether the time has not arrived when they should themselves suggest proposals for giving these permissive powers to local authorities. I think it is very hard on local authorities that they have to go through this very expensive procedure in order to get something which is generally regarded today as reasonable and proper.

There has been a good deal of discussion this afternoon about the size of the area which ought to be involved. I think that, on the whole, the evidence of Manchester suggests that even a relatively small area can do some good. Perhaps I may put it this way. Probably the greatest good that it can do is to encourage a steady widening of the area. What I think is true of Manchester is that the very fact that certain measures have been taken in a rather narrow area in the centre of Manchester has made us all the more conscious of the trouble that remains, and, therefore, those that are in the area where they have been obliged to take measures—expensive measures some of them—in order to clean up their own area, are, of course, in the front line of the campaign to extend the area.

Sir H. Williams

A non-domestic area is easier than a domestic area.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Whatever the area, I think that it is good because, although we can make only a limited attack at the beginning, we get the good will and support, as Manchester has shown, from those who are immediately affected for the steady expansion of the area. That seems to be the experience of Manchester and, therefore, it seems to me that we should not necessarily accept the point put in the Report. There it seems to be suggested that unless we have a very wide area indeed, it is perhaps not worth while going forward. I do not think that is so. Even though the results may be limited, it is well worth getting them.

I know that this has been discussed very much in the area, which I know best, of Tyneside. If we start tackling this matter in Newcastle on our own, as I hope we shall do, we shall not get the full benefit unless we can extend it gradually throughout the whole Tyneside area, because we are all offenders throughout Tyneside. Nevertheless, I think that we should be ready to start, even on a limited field.

I am sure that we all agree that this is of fundamental importance and that the Government should now give increased support to research into these problems. It is all too clear how much we all need to know. I also hope that the Minister —and understanding all the difficulties he still has to face—will be able to say that the Government are at least considering the possibility of giving more general advice to local authorities about smokeless zones, as I think that is a practical first step forward. I hope that when we give our support to this Bill, as I am sure we shall today, we shall, at the same time, feel that we are taking a valuable step forward in this whole matter, and we certainly congratulate the hon. Baronet on introducing it. I never expected lo be in the position of congratulating him, but that just shows what unlikely things do happen. I congratulate him on initiating this debate, as others have done, and I certainly hope that it will produce valuable results.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

I think that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) made a valuable contribution when he referred to the disastrous fog we had last year, but I think that can be applied out of its context and unduly exaggerated. As he rightly said, although there was a very serious loss of life during that fog, the people concerned were mainly those who were in a very bad state of health already. Although that in no way mitigates the feelings of those connected with them, it is a relevant consideration here.

Having said that, I want to join issue with the hon. Member for Barking on the rest of his speech. This is a matter in which we ought now to go ahead and in which the Government ought to encourage local authorities to go ahead. There has been a great deal of talk about the need for more research. With respect to hon. Members who have expressed that opinion, I suggest that most of the facts about the matter are common knowledge and that we should not be put off and have our purpose deflected by a lot of talk about the need for further research.

What are the basic considerations? The trouble is caused by carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and what is called soot or smoke in its general sense. This is not really so complicated a matter. There are two almost exclusive sources of sulphur dioxide. It mainly comes from smoke, and in so far as it does not come from smoke out of chimneys, it comes from the exhaust fumes of vehicles.

Therefore, when we strike at smoke, we are also striking at the main source of sulphur dioxide, and if we follow that up with some other kind of measure directed against the discharge of exhaust gases in city areas, we shall be striking at the only two significant sources of sulphur dioxide in city air. Therefore, it is not so complicated a matter. The same is true of carbon monoxide. Thus, as a first step, the problem is how to control smoke emission.

The hon. Member for Barking suggested that smoke, as distinct from sulphur dioxide, did not really matter. I think he is wrong. I will tell him why. I do not think he is right in saying that the significant factor is gritty nuclei of condensation. I assume that he is referring to water vapour and not sulphur dioxide, because sulphur dioxide is present as a gas in these dangerous fogs. I take his argument to be that water fog is more likely to occur if there are gritty nuclei of condensation present on which the water vapour can condense.

I do not think that is true. I do not think it is true anywhere in the atmosphere under a height of about 20,000 feet, and I believe that that would be generally agreed. One gets excessive super-saturation of the atmosphere with water vapour above about 20,000 feet because there one has not got sufficient nuclei of condensation. Anywhere below that very high level there are always ample nuclei of condensation.

The distinctive factor which makes city fogs is hygroscopic nuclei of condensation which lead a fog to be formed in a bad city area, even where the relative humidity is perhaps only 95 per cent., by the progressive enlargement of hygroscopic nuclei, as I am sure the hon. Member for Barking will agree.

Therefore, what we are really concerned with as regards the frequency of fogs is to have as few hygroscopic nuclei as we possibly can, and inasmuch as nearly all of these come from smoke and exhaust discharge, we are back right where we started in the matter.

Therefore, I say to the hon. Member and to the Government that there really is a single problem here, and that is the discharge of smoke from chimneys and then, as a subsidiary point, the discharge of exhaust gases from internal combustion engines. If we can solve those two problems we shall not have either (a) an unusual frequency of any kind of fog in a city area, or (b)a form of pollution of fog which is dangerous to health.

The right course for the Government is to tell local authorities that the main lines of action are already understood, and are clear and simple, and all that is needed is that they should press on with this problem, which has been neglected and put aside for too long. It is one fully capable of solution by determined and persistent action, and I am delighted to see the City of London taking rather belated but none the less welcome action. I hope that the House will speed this Bill on its way tonight, and that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that the Government are fully behind it. We want to press on at full speed and see that no more time is lost on further research or anything else.

Mr. Hastings

Will the hon. Member say whether he agrees that smoke without sulphur dioxide presents very little danger, whereas sulphur dioxide without smoke, and in the presence of moisture, is a very great danger?

Mr. Bell

I had intended to deal with that point, but I wanted to be as short as possible. The relevance of it is that once a fog forms there is a stable layer of atmosphere in which the sulphur dioxide is trapped. If the fog does not form, although we may have a stable layer in the morning by radiational cooling of the ground, the sun very soon breaks through and we get rid of the dangerous layer of sulphur dioxide. It is the fog which conserves the dangerous layer of vapour, and that is why the prevention of the formation of fogs has a direct bearing on the concentration of sulphur dioxide.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I am not going to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) because I did not understand it, and I had the utmost difficulty in gathering what it was all about. I want to talk about something much nearer the earth, and the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply gives me a real opportunity. Nobody has any doubt that some action should be taken by the Ministry as soon as possible on this very important matter which has caused us all so much concern.

The hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) referred to the fact that Manchester was an example to the rest of the country, but if he will refer to the leading article in today's "Manchester Guardian" he will find that the first city referred to as being a pioneer in this idea is Salford. Manchester is in close proximity, and because of that there is an old saying, which is well known, that what Manchester thinks today England thinks, tomorrow—and, in fact, Salford thought yesterday. It was in advance of Manchester in this respect.

I could paint a picture and go into lurid details, just as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), about the conditions in my constituency. Salford has got down to this question and has decided to make three smokeless zones. It had permissive powers, and had everything prepared to go on with the scheme in the areas of Lower Kersal, Weaste and Duchy Road. When it had its plans ready the Ministry set up an inquiry into the city's decision and, as a result, the town clerk of Salford received a letter from the Ministry on 26th May, 1952. The letter said: Sir, Salford…Smokeless Zones Order, 1951. I am directed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to refer to your letter of 5th February, 1951, applying for confirmation of the Salford…Smokeless Zones Order, 1951, and to say that, having considered his Inspector's report on the Inquiry held on 2nd October, 1951, and after consultation with the Minister of Fuel and Power on the question of supplies of smokeless fuels, he has decided that he would not be justified in confirming the Order at the present time. I am to say that in reaching this decision the Minister has had particularly in mind information from the Minister of Fuel and Power that adequate supplies of smokeless fuels are not likely to be available and the fact that the extensive conversion of existing grates which would be necessary would consume more steel than can be spared at present. Yet all the evidence before the inquiry mentioned in this letter from the local officers of the Ministry of Fuel and Power showed that smokeless fuel was available, and also, at the same time, people in the Ministry of Supply regional office were able to say that it was possible to provide the necessary steel for the conversion. In spite of that, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government turned down the scheme. Of course the letter was not signed by the Minister, but it says that this was the decision of the Minister and I am sure that he would not desire to shelter behind the fact that he had not signed the letter.

Tonight we have been speaking of the great need for this experiment to be started in the City of London, yet only as recently as 1952 the city which I have the honour to represent was refused permission to go on with a scheme for which it actually possessed the necessary powers. Therefore, I am glad to precede the Parliamentary Secretary, and if the hon. Gentleman says that the Ministry is in agreement with what has been said in the debate, I hope he will say that Salford can get on with its scheme at the earliest possible moment. Because of that, I support everything that has been said, and I submit that in this instance the city of Salford must have preference over the City of London.

9.18 p.m.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

I am glad to get in at the last moment on a subject in which I have long been interested, not only from the sociological point of view, but also from the medical point of view, having served in a sanatorium and in a tubercular dispensary dealing with this sinister and deadly disease. If it can be arrested before it has reached a certain stage, many lives can be saved, but when there are huge cavities in the lungs nothing that can be done from the point of view of medical treatment, food or inoculation will save the patient and give him a normal life.

I shall content myself with three brief quotations. A great deal has been talked about the different substances in the atmosphere, one of which is sulphur dioxide. I shall read a quotation from a Government publication, the last interim Report issued on this subject. Sulphur dioxide is generally regarded as the most serious of the gaseous pollutants because of its harmful effects on structures, metals and other materials, on agriculture and, in all probability, cm health. In winter, even in the absence of fog, the concentration of sulphur dioxide in the air of towns near ground level may be 17 to 35 parts per 100 million volumes of air; the normal summer concentrations are very much lower. We have opportunities in this country even in our climate and even in the concentration of large cities to do something to tackle this problem.

I am speaking on behalf of the city of Warrington, in which tuberculosis is a very dangerous disease. Many of my constituents fall victims to the disease and die of it whereas, if their cases could be properly handled, they could be saved. Given a free hand, I could prevent 50 per cent, of the deaths from tuberculosis in my constituency, provided that I was allowed to prepare the ground during the first three years of the onset of the disease. Every year I have watched rising statistics relating to a situation which I know is avoidable. The poorer people in my constituency, as a result of the layout of the city as much as the lack of proper food and treatment, are doomed to an early death which I know to be avoidable.

Another recent official document states: The areas most susceptible to severe ' smog' are therefore those which experience a high frequency of fog and in which urban and industrial density produce large amounts of pollution…Within these areas are the black spots in which the gravest conditions recur and where the evils of air pollution are most pronounced and most persistent. It is here that the need for amelioration is most urgent. Granted good food and good surrounding conditions and the opportunity of breathing God's free air now and again and not even necessarily all the year round, many of these victims of tuberculosis would recover. I do not know why some hon. Members appear to be laughing, because "God's free air" is a term which is used by doctors quite frequently. In any event, if experts on tuberculosis had their way, within 10 years they could reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in this country by 75 per cent. I deeply regret that there is so little time today to speak on a subject of this kind. We have sick disabled individuals fighting for breath as a result of a disease which doctors know is preventable but which threatens their lives because their own fellow men have failed to provide the proper living conditions that would have enabled them to be saved.

I ask that there should be a hundredfold attempt to increase the campaign for the treatment of tuberculosis in this country in every way—treatment by food, by good living, by medicines and good surrounding conditions, but above all by good living conditions and housing. If that were done, with what pride would we look back in 10 or 15 years. The doctors would be proud of their work and the citizens of different towns would be proud of their work. Money would have to be spent, but wonders could be worked in dealing with a preventable disease like tuberculosis.

I have seen babies born of tubercular mothers and fathers and my opinion has been asked. I have said, "In 10 years that child will have tuberculosis and in 15 years it will be beyond hope." As a medical man I have had close contact, sometimes for a series of years, in fighting this deadly disease which, once it gets a grip, never lets go. Stop it before it gets a thorough grip and the susceptible person can be saved, otherwise the road is straight on to a death which cannot be avoided and nothing in the world can help. I only hope that the combating of this disease will receive the favourable consideration of this House, if not now, on some subsequent occasion.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

This is the first occasion on which I have heard the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) make what one could call a full-length speech, and I should like to congratulate him. I have heard him make many interjections and I feel that if he would concentrate on speeches instead of interjections, he would be helpful to the House and to the country. He was right to emphasise the horror with which we all view the growth of tuberculosis. He was right to emphasise that the discussion, which has gone on since 7 p.m., concerns a means designed to bring it to an absolute minimum. I should like to feel that, as a result of this short discussion, we shall get from the Government, certainly in the matter of air pollution, the means of bringing about that desired result.

I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary will have to pay some attention to what was said by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle). My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), in opening the discussion, made a very telling point that 17 local authorities had obtained powers to establish smokeless zones, but that only two of those authorities—Manchester and Coventry—had made any effort to give effect to those powers. I feel that the House and the country ought to know whether the experience of Salford has been that of other parts of the country. Salford has the powers and the will to give effect to those powers, but in some way or another, possibly because of some technicality of the Ministry itself, it has been frustrated when trying to do so. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us about this. If it is not so, one would like, in a friendly way, to criticise the authorities which have the powers and have not made effective use of them. If it is not their fault but the fact that the requisite permission has not been forthcoming from the Ministry, we must direct our fire at the Ministry.

If the Parliamentary Secretary can tell the House and the country that it is the policy of the Department to encourage local authorities to take these powers and, when they have done so, to give all the help the Ministry can to give effect to those powers, the debate will have been well worth while. If we can get that assurance, it will mean that a debate which has gone on for about three hours will have done very much more good than the debate last night which went on until about six o'clock in the morning, and it will show how great good can come out of little things.

The other message that we can send out from the debate is to ask people to help themselves. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East pointed out very vividly how we can all help in our individual capacities, even in such a humble way as resisting lighting our bonfires in our gardens when fog is in the air. His appeal to whoever is responsible for the cleaning up of our London parks was a very good one, and I hope that the Minister will take his words to heart.

I felt that my hon. Friend's reference to the efficiency of stoking in the power stations was one which ought to be borne in mind by the people who are responsible. If stoking is efficient and regular, one gets a draught running through the furnace which will burn the particles instead of their being left half burnt to go into the atmosphere to the detriment of the general public.

We ought not to forget the figures quoted by my hon. Friend. It is a fact that in December, 1952, in about five days smog led to the death of about 4,000 people. In six years of war, with all the mechanical contrivances that Hitler's Germany could produce, it took six years to bring about 40,000 deaths.

From the point of view of really helping in this very necessary drive to minimise the dreaded disease of tuberculosis, nothing has a higher priority than the topic which we are discussing. Nothing has a higher priority, if one is looking to the health of the country, than ensuring that the poisons and the particles of dirt which cause disease are eradicated from the atmosphere, if that is at all possible.

Mr. Ellis Smith

We are all in agreement on that. The question which arises is when we are to act.

Mr. Nicholls

I am joining the hon. Member in adding my voice to ensure that the Government give a lead. Instead of waiting for other Bills to give powers to certain parts of the country, the Government should obtain powers to cover the whole of the country, with the object of ridding the atmosphere of the dreaded pollution.

9.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

We have had a very long and interesting debate on what has proved to be a most absorbing topic. When he was congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that very unlikely things happen in this House. Something very unlikely has happened to me tonight. It has been a unique experience. As Parliamentary Secretary, I have never listened to a debate in which there has been such unanimity and—I will not say lack of hostility—such a small number of points directed at the Ministry. It has been a very great occasion for me. Everything has been very harmonious. I can only hope that this sort of thing will be repeated, but my own inclination is to think that that is rather unlikely.

Anyone who has listened to the debate must have been impressed by the sincerity and ability of some of the contributions which have been made from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East is to be congratulated. He is shrewd and experienced, and I would almost call him a wily politician. He has found a device which he has properly used tonight to enable us to discuss air pollution. How he finds his way through the labyrinths of the procedural orders of the House is something which baffles me.

We have had a very wide debate, and I shall not be able to answer some of the varied points which have been raised regarding the effect of the various constituents in the air on the incidence of tuberculosis, because I am not qualified to give a technical dissertation on those points. We have also had a good contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir A. Bossom) who has had great architectural experience both in the New World and in the Old World, and who has a great deal of knowledge of the conditions in Pittsburgh and New York. We are also grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) for his scientific discourse, buttressed by his medical training on this issue.

We are discussing tonight the narrow issue of this City of London Bill, but that issue has been widened into a debate on air pollution generally. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) described this narrow issue as being solely one of whether or not there shall be a smokeless zone in the City of London. On that point, I think that the whole House is agreed that there should be such a zone, and I have no hesitation in saying that the Government hope that this Bill will go through. We would like to congratulate the City of London on bringing it forward, and I take it that as a matter of course my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East will be withdrawing his Instruction later on.

Mr. Royle

Does it mean that, because the Government give this Bill their blessing, Salford will get its Bill?

Mr. Marples

I shall be dealing with Salford a little later on. I dare not omit Salford, because I was born not far from that great city.

Words are very imprecise, and the Press have used the word "smog." I am not quite sure what it means. It has been used in a sense which I do not think is doing any good in dealing with the problem of air pollution. As far as I understand it, smog is visible smoke in atmospheric conditions of fog. But here we are discussing two issues, the narrower one of which is a smokeless zone in the City of London which can make a limited, but very useful contribution towards overcoming the problem of air pollution generally.

The smokeless zone is a narrow section of a much wider problem. The "Manchester Guardian" have said that it is time that the Government made some pronouncement about their policy and their intentions. The Government are determined to do all in their power to conquer the evil of air pollution, and it is obvious that they will have to do so in a crowded island with 50 million inhabitants and with large numbers of people living in what are called conurbations, the intense living conditions which we all know so well in the Black Country and Manchester.

It is necessary that the Government should do everything in their power to make absolutely certain that a method is discovered of ensuring that the air we breathe is pure, fresh and wholesome. This is no lukewarm intention. I want to make that quite plain. The Government are enthusiastic about this matter, as I will try to show during the course of my remarks.

Tackling a problem of this nature is exactly the same as tackling a medical problem. First there must be a diagnosis of what is wrong and then action must be taken to put it right. The diagnosis must be thorough and accurate and the action must be undertaken with determination, energy and imagination. There has been some debate today regarding what is the diagnosis. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) and to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), and it was quite clear that we are not all wholly in agreement on some of the technical causes of air pollution. Therefore, the first thing must be to analyse air pollution and then to get rid of the undesirable elements in the air when we find out what they are.

On the wider issue of air pollution, the Government have set up the Beaver Committee which has already made an interim report. On the Committee are a number of distinguished and learned scientists who are devoting themselves to this problem. I think we ought to thank them. The Committee's terms of reference are: To examine the nature, causes and effects of air pollution and the efficacy of present preventive measures; to consider what further preventive measures are practicable; and to make recommendations. The Beaver Committee can therefore go into the whole wide field of air pollution and not merely the narrow issue of smokeless zones. It has done that because, in the first report it says that air pollution: … includes not only smoke, gases, dust and grit from chimneys, smoke from locomotives and ships, exhaust gases from internal combustion engines, but also the fumes, gases and products of chemical works and industrial processes, and airborne dust from other sources. It is not only the visible constituents of air pollution but the other invisible gases in the air which must be analysed before we take remedial measures.

After listening to this sincere debate tonight, it is my intention to send a copy of our proceedings to the Beaver Committee and to ask it to investigate the suggestions made by hon. Members on all sides of the House. The suggestions will be analysed and, if not practicable, will I hope be shown as such. At any rate they will be investigated. If any other hon. Member has suggestions and sends them to me I will forward them to the Committee. Here it would be desirable if it went from this House how grateful we are to Sir Hugh Beaver and his Committee for undertaking this rather difficult task. It looks like being much lengthier and more comprehensive than we thought when the Committee was set up.

In opening this debate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East said that he had a little scientific knowledge earlier in life. From the quality of his contribution I judged that very little of that scientific knowledge had departed from him during the years he has been in the House. Some of his suggestions were most interesting. I will not follow up all of them—such as his criticism of the way in which the Royal Fine Arts Commission build chimneys—but I will certainly pass on with great emphasis what he said about sulphur dioxide. He is quite right when he said that, scientifically, we do not know sufficient of the problem. If the Beaver Committee recommends that there should be more scientific research I can assure the House that the Government will take notice of such a recommendation.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Beaver Committee, within reason, to expedite its report?

Mr. Marples

Yes, but if it is to be a thorough report we must give the Committee time to investigate it thoroughly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove pointed out, when diagnosing what is wrong one must be sure that the diagnosis is correct. For instance, we have already taken remedial action by installing washing plants in power stations which, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, have proved wholly ineffective. If action precedes diagnosis it will almost certainly end in lamentable failure. But, whatever the Beaver Committee does, we should urge that its recommendations should be carefully considered and be as accurate as possible within the shortest possible time. I would not like it to be pressed by a time limit at the risk of it making incorrect recommendations.

The narrow issue of a smokeless zone for London is a limited but useful part of the attack on air pollution. But it must not distract us from other remedies. The Government for their part—and this is the policy which the "Manchester Guardian" wants us to announce—welcome this. But it must be proceeded with carefully, because it is no good having such a rapid expansion that the Ministry of Fuel could not provide sufficient of the necessary smokeless fuel. It ought to be a carefully planned expansion so that the installation of smokeless zones keep pace with the appliances available and the smokeless fuel which can be used in them.

The Government are keen on that. They would greatly welcome it, and the Ministry of Fuel and Power—I had a long chat on this subject with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon —would welcome it for this reason. It has larger quantities of smokeless fuel than it has had for a long time. The reason for that is that new oil refineries have given this country larger quantities of oil, which are being used for industrial purposes. That in turn is releasing coke, which is now freely available for our homes, so that the Ministry of Fuel and Power believes it is in its interests to stimulate production as well as the consumption of smokeless fuel.

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) said that in 1952 it was stated there was hardly any smokeless fuel and no steel, and he referred to a letter written about that. That letter was written almost two years ago. This Government came into power in 1951, and the letter was written in May, 1952. At that time we were short of steel and we did not have the smokeless fuel. Now we have sufficient steel and smokeless fuel. It is a different kettle of fish.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

Is there sufficient fuel?

Mr. Marples


Mr. Pargiter

And does the hon. Gentleman classify coke as a smokeless fuel for this purpose?

Mr. Marples

I should like to answer some of the points made earlier by hon. Members. I do not want to talk the Bill out, so if I do not give way to hon. Members, I hope they will understand.

I was asked whether the Government were really serious on this issue of having smokeless zones. All I can say is that on 11th February we had a meeting on this very point with a certain number of local authorities, and the answer to the hon. Gentleman for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East is that we had to await the outcome of that meeting and subsequent meetings to see if we could get agreement with the local authorities. We have to decide whether it would be better to give guidance, but apart from that the initiative has been taken. A meeting has already been held and we think that some good will flow from it.

There is the difficulty about getting people in the country to adopt these modern fuel-saving appliances in which smokeless fuel is used. The first difficulty, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove said, is we all like an open fire. In this respect there is no more conservative body of opinion than the miners. They get a free issue of coal and it is very difficult to get miners to use coke instead of coal.

Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)


Mr. Marples

No, I cannot give way.

Mr. Slater

On a point of order. The Minister has made a statement which is incorrect, and I want to give him this assurance—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Slater

Well, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

It is not a point of order. It is a point of debate.

Mr. Maiples


Mr. Slater

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has not disclosed any point of order.

Mr. Slater

On a point of correction.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is not entitled to raise a point of correction.

Mr. Marples

I am sorry, but I did not mean my remarks in any offensive way.

Mr. Slater

I know that.

Mr, Marples

It is well known that the miners receive a free issue of coal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, it is part of their wages, and I know in one of the new towns—

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)


Mr. Marples

No, I cannot give way, but I think in the interests of peace and this Bill I had better depart from the point, though I should like to assure the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) that I did not mean it in any offensive way whatsoever.

The second thing we must remember is that people are reluctant to pay for these appliances. My hon. Friend said they were using electric and gas cookers, but unfortunately they are using fires as well because 12 million houses in this country have open fireplaces, and that is too many if we are to have a smokeless atmosphere.

As the "Manchester Guardian" points out this morning, the price of smokeless fuel is also a deterrent, because it is fairly high. The difficulty is that if the gas company brings the price of coke down, it has to increase the price of gas, which is not a very popular measure. However, I will forward to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel anl Power the observations of the hon. Member who telephoned the North Thames Gas Board.

The Government want to see the installation of these grates in the old houses and to make sure that we have a steady supply of smokeless fuel to fill those grates. The House might be interested to know some of the proposals which we have in mind to encourage people to buy fuel-saving appliances. My right hon. Friend had a great deal of success in persuading people to accept the People's house, and he did that by having demonstrations throughout the country so that everyone could see the house in three dimensions and assess what it would be like to live in one.

We propose to do exactly the same with improvements and conversions. A Bill dealing with this subject it now in Standing Committee, and when it is on the Statute Book, or even before, we propose to hold demonstrations in as many local authority areas as possible, where we can persuade the authority to agree. We propose to have two or three improvements and conversions in the centre of their cities, and to leave the houses open to the public for two or three months. In the improvements and conversions we shall include fuel-saving appliances and we shall show how much it will cost in rent per week to have one of those appliances fitted.

I have seen that procedure carried out on quite an elaborate scale at Southwark by the London County Council. The L.C.C. has persuaded quite a number of tenants on the 56 acres of property which it bought from the Church Commissioners to instal fuel-saving appliances which burn smokeless fuel. If we can show a housewife a fire in the kitchen with a good back boiler from which she can draw hot water, and that the cost will be only 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week extra in rent, then I should have thought the housewife would want that sort of fire. At present she has to boil a kettle on the gas stove to get hot water.

By that sort of measure we hope to take immediate action and to do what we can to carry public opinion with us. It will not be easy. I hope hon. Members in their constituencies will do all they can to persuade people to adopt this type of appliance, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove said, it is not very easy to persuade some people because there is not the bright, attractive focal point in the decoration of the room when there is no open fire. I will pass to the Minister of Fuel my right hon. Friend's suggestion that there should be a smokeless fuel-saving appliance which at the same time looks attractive from the point of view of the decoration and homeliness of the room.

I commend the Bill to the House and hope that it may proceed upstairs. I hope the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central will not press his Instruction. I gather he does not intend to do so and I am grateful to him. I am sorry that I have not been able to answer many points which have been raised but I can assure the House that the Government mean to do what they can to take the people and local authorities with them, persuading them that it is essential for the smokeless zones that we should have this type of appliance installed in our houses. I hope the House will send (he Bill upstairs without a Division.

Mr. Speaker

Sir Herbert Williams.

Sir H. Williams

Mr. Speaker, I know that I have exhausted my right to speak, but perhaps with your leave and that of the House I might make one observation.

Mr. Slater

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely other hon. Members who have not spoken should be given an opportunity to contribute to the debate if they desire?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member whom I called is the hon. Member who moved the Instruction. I called him for the purpose of ascertaining what course he intended to follow.

Sir H. Williams

If I may say so, I think this debate has served a valuable purpose. I think it was of a very high standard, and I am grateful to hon. Members on both ides of the House who have contributed to it. This is a problem of great complexity. None of us knows the real answer, and I think the ventilation which has been given to this matter ought to produce valuable public reaction. I feel, therefore, that I have been justified in the course that I took. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

I take it that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) does not wish to move his Motion?

Dr. Stross

I propose not to move it, Mr. Speaker, since I never intended to press it.

  1. LUTON CORPORATION BILL (By Order) 5 words