§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In 1257, it is reported by an early English chronicler that Queen Eleanor removed from the City of Nottingham on account of fumes and the obnoxious atmosphere caused by the burning of sea coal in the city. The week before last, the City of Nottingham announced the fact that it proposed to introduce a smokeless zone. No doubt, students of the processes of Parliamentary democracy will regard the lapse of 698 years as being normal progress. In 1307, another early English chronicler reported a Royal Proclamation prohibiting artificers from using sea coal in their furnaces in the City of London, and commanding them to return to the fuel which they had originally used. There was the reported execution of one offender. Hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House should observe that there is, in the Bill before the House today, no penalty of a capital character; we shall defer consideration of that matter until Thursday next.
In 1307, a Commission of Oyer and Terminer was appointedto enquire of all who burnt sea coal in the city, or parts adjoining, and to punish them for the first offence with great fines and ransomes, and upon the second offence to demolish their furnaces.Nothing, however, of a momentous character was done, and, as late as 1578, after a lapse of 271 years, it was reported that the Company of Brewers, through one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, in the Chair of the House of Commons, offered to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the First to desist from burning sea coal in their breweries and to substitute the burning of wood. In 1595, Thomas Owen from South Wales suggested that he might be allowed to transport a smokeless fuel, anthracite, to the City of London in an attempt to abate the noxious smoke. So far as my researches have been able to tell me, that was the earliest attempt made to substitute smokeless fuel for raw bituminous coal.
1423 The most interesting historical tract on the smoke problem was probably that of 1661 by John Evelyn, Esq., submitted to King Charles II under the name of "Fumifugium," and the following extract has particular interest, as this incident occurred a mere matter of 294 years ago. John Evelyn said:That this Glorious and Antient City, from Wood might be rendred Brick and (like another Rome) from Brick made Stone and Marble; which commands the Proud Ocean to the Indies, and reaches the farthest Antipodes, should wrap her stately head in Clowds of Smoake and Sulphur, so full of Stink and Darknesse, I deplore with just Indignation.But I will infer, that if this goody City justly challenges what is her due, and merits all that can be said to reinforce her Praises, and give her Title; she is to be relieved from that which darkens and eclipses all her other Attributes. And what is all this, but that Hellish and dismal Cloud of SEA-COALE? which is not onely perpetually imminent over her head; but so universally mixed with the otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied by a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habits of their Bodies; so that Catarrhs, Phihisicke, Coughs and Consumptions range more in this City than in the whole earth besides.Evidently Sir Hugh Beaver was not in any way original in what he wrote in his recent report on this subject of smoke abatement (Cmd. 9322), for the quotation I have given is a description of the air of the City of London of 200 or 300 years ago.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I quite agree, but we mean business today, after a lapse of several hundred years.
Parliament took very little notice of this problem until 1819, when a committee was first set up to look into the matter. There was a further committee in 1843, and yet another committee in 1845. There was some very limited legislation in 1845, and again in 1868, in an attempt to restrict the fumes and smoke from railway engines. In the Public Health Act, 1875, there is a modest smoke abatement Section. In 1926 came the Public Health (Smoke Abatement) Act, which contained some rather indefinite powers, but nevertheless it was a step in the right direction. In the 1936 Public Health Act are various 1424 Sections which sought to abate the smoke nuisance but made no provision for the establishment of smokeless zones or for the control of domestic smoke. Nor was there any provision for the prohibition of dark or black smoke. The enforcement of the smoke abatement provisions was somewhat circuitous. If a major local authority, such as Manchester, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent or Newcastle-on-Tyne, wished to obtain smokeless zone powers, the authority had to go through the expensive process of promoting a local Act of Parliament.
In 1946, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe presided over an important committee on fuel and power matters and made recommendations, which have never been implemented in full. The general effect of them would have been very similar to the recommendations in the Report of the Beaver Committee. In 1952, there was an even more voluminous fuel and power report known as the Ridley Report. Here again, only one or two recommendations have been implemented. It was not until the great London fog of December, 1952, when 4,000 lives were lost in the area of Greater London, that the Beaver Committee was established to inquire into the causes of smoke pollution and to make recommendations.
The Final Report of that Committee was presented to this House in an admirable and concise form in November last year. It is therefore extremely propitious that we should be giving full consideration to the recommendations of that Report today. The latest phenomenon was, of course, the incident on Sunday, 16th January, 1955, when, at midday or shortly thereafter, a dense smoke cloud engulfed Central London and caused such alarm that, it is reported, many men and women fell upon the pavements and prayed to Almighty God for deliverance, thinking that the end of the world was imminent.
Now, perhaps, I might pass to the economic aspects of this problem. What is the cost of smoke to the nation? Sir Hugh Beaver estimated, probably fairly accurately, that the total loss in current circumstances is of the order of the huge figure of £250 million per annum. He sets out in Command Paper 9322 how the figure is arrived at. He includes in one group direct losses, and in a second group indirect losses.
1425 Direct losses include such items as excess repair and repainting of buildings, excess damage to the stocks of wholesalers and retailers, particularly stocks of a perishable character, excess replacement of household goods, additional lighting in a smoke-polluted area through the denial of adequate natural light to the people who live in it, extra medical services— to which I shall refer in greater detail in a moment— extra cost of laundry to 15 million households, and the corrosion of metals in public works undertakings and establishments of every description.
In this connection, the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) will readily be able to confirm that the British Electricity Authority estimates that it has to spend £834,000 a year to combat the corrosion of metals. I would not wish to exaggerate that figure by suggesting that the whole of it is due to smoke pollution of the atmosphere, but certainly a very large part of it may be attributed to that cause. Sir Hugh Beaver says, and I believe the figure is as accurate as it was possible for his Committee to assess it, that the direct cost of smoke pollution is in the neighbourhood of £150 million.
In the indirect costs Sir Hugh Beaver lists transport losses, delay, and congestion arising from fogs in major cities. He refers rightly to the loss of time in industrial and commercial establishments from illnesses caused by intense smoke pollution of the atmosphere. He referred to the loss in value of crops growing in areas of an industrial character generally and farmlands nearby. I think he rather understates this cost.
It is very instructive to record an experiment that was carried out a few years ago with the growing of a lettuce in the open air. The lettuce was planted on the outskirts of an industrial city where the sootfall had been carefully measured and shown to be at the rate of 42 tons per square mile per annum. The lettuce grew to a size of 140 grams. A similar lettuce was planted in the middle of a heavily smoke-polluted area where the sootfall had been measured to be 539 tons per square mile per annum. This was a comparison of a relatively clean area on the outskirts of an industrial zone with an intensely smoke-polluted area in the middle of the city with something like 13 times the sootfall per square mile.
1426 The result was that in the middle of that industrial area the lettuce grew to a size of only 44 grams, in other words less than one-third the size of the lettuce on the outskirts. Can we really believe that the loss in value of crops is only £10 million per annum as Sir Hugh Beaver suggests in his Report? My view is that the figure is certainly very large and a good deal greater than £10 million per annum.
Were the Bill before the House implemented in full over ten or 15 years, the cost to the nation in capital investment on all counts is estimated to be £50 million per annum. That would be an investment, in order to recover an estimated loss of £250 million per annum, excluding coal, a sound investment indeed on economic grounds alone and a complete justification for the policy that I am seeking to promote.
More grievous than the general economic losses to which I have referred is the loss in respect of coal. It is not generally realised that intense pollution of the atmosphere, notably by dark smoke, is a result of the emitting, mostly from industrial chimneys but also from domestic chimneys, of particles of carbonaceous matter which are the result of imperfect and inefficient combustion of raw bituminous coal.
This nation's coal position is critical. I say this in no party political or partisan spirit. Here are the facts. In 1952, we produced 224 million tons of coal. In 1953, we produced 224 million tons of coal. In 1954, we produced 224 million tons of coal. Each figure has been adjusted correct to the nearest million tons. Does anybody dispute, therefore, that coal production is static? But last year coal consumption rose by 6 million to 7 million tons, and my right hon Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has been obliged to resort to a policy of importing substantial quantities of coal, which this year will run to 3 to 4 million tons, and to sponsor on a considerable scale the conversion of coal-burning plants to oil-burning plants, in order to balance his coal budget. I aver today, as I have averred previously in the House, that Britain uses her coal resources prodigiously badly. Waste on an immense scale is going on. An international organisation wrote only last year that Britain burns coal more wastefully than any other nation in the world.
1427 One of the results of the inefficient burning of coal in Britain is the smoke fogs which afflict the majority of our industrial areas, and I make no pretence on this fact: there are hon. Members in the House much better qualified than I to talk on the medical aspects of this problem, and my principal concern with the Measure is in the conservation of our primary, and nearly our only, raw material—coal.
Does anybody deny my assertion about the wastefulness with which we are burning coal when Sir Leslie Hollinghurst, Chairman of the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, said recently that we were wasting 9 million tons of coal a year through inefficient boiler practice and associated matters in industry alone? Does anybody deny the wastefulness with which we are burning coal when we pause to consider figures of this kind— and I will give the origin of these figures in a few moments: in the industry which produces building bricks in continuous kilns, the highest yield is 44.7 tons of bricks for the consumption of one ton of coal, whereas the lowest yield is 4.8 tons of bricks for one ton of coal. In other words, the most efficient kiln in that industry burns roughly 2 cwts. of coal for every ton of coal which the most inefficient continuous kiln burns.
The second example is to be found in laundries. Everybody knows that laundries use large quantities of coal. The most efficient steam laundry in the country has an out-turn of 5 tons of clothes for every ton of coal burned. The most inefficient laundry produces only 0.4 of a ton of clothes laundered for the use of a ton of coal.
I can quote many more examples of that kind, including breweries, possibly one of the best cases to cite. I find that the highest yield in terms of beer brewed is 112 barrels for one ton of coal burned, whereas the lowest yield is 18.5 barrels for one ton of coal burned, so that the ratio between the two is that the most efficient brewery is burning only one-sixth of the coal burned by the most inefficient brewery.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has immediately recognised the source of these figures. It is the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Fuel 1428 and Power who quoted them in a paper which he read to a professional body in London, only a matter of a few weeks ago.
The vital point here is that the dark and black smoke referred to in the Bill is the concomitant of the inefficient burning of raw bituminous coal. It is often said as a defence by industrialists and others—and a very feeble defence it is—that the poor quality of the fuel which they receive is the cause of the black smoke they emit from their chimneys. Nothing of the sort.
The poorest grade of coal may be burned in an industrial boiler house without the emission of dark smoke, providing that the boilerhouse is equipped with a chain grate or other form of mechanical stoker, notably an under-feed mechanical stoker, providing that there is proper thermostatic control in the boilerhouse, providing that there is a correct draught to the boiler, of a primary and secondary character, and providing that the boiler-man or fireman is himself fully trained, and providing that the boilerhouse has adequate smoke recording and alarm equipment, which in my view ought to be compulsory in every industrial boiler-house in the country.
If, in spite of all I have said, adequately supported by professional bodies and others, industrialists feel that they cannot burn the quality of coal available to them, why not let them convert their basic fuel supply to oil, which is virtually smokeless and which will give economic results which are at least as satisfactory as, if not better than, present results when burning coal?
The conscience of the country, as I said earlier, was shocked by the loss of 4,000 lives in December, 1952. Doctors tell me that those deaths were very largely caused by asphyxia, by people literally being choked to death by the impurities in the atmosphere and the contraction of the human air passages due to intense irritants in the atmosphere, such as sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide.
I will not endeavour to give a critical analysis of the case, for I understand that members of the medical profession will probably be able to speak later in the debate, but there can be no reasonable doubt that not only were a large number of lives lost on that occasion, not only are innumerable lives lost as a result of 1429 intense smoke pollution of the atmosphere year by year, but equally serious is the steady erosion or shortening of life caused by the heavy air pollution of industrial and urban areas.
I have gone right outside the Beaver Committee's Report to search for facts and figures in the medical field and I will quote Mr. Edward MacLellan, a Harley Street surgeon, who advised me on a number of aspects of this problem. What he wrote will not find universal agreement, but it will find general support within the medical profession. He wrote:It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the alarming increase in the incidence of cancer of the lung is associated with the fouling of the atmosphere by smoke, exhaust fumes and the offensive and deadly eructations of gas works, power stations and so on. There are more than twice as many victims of cancer of the lung in the towns than in the country and the mortality from lung cancer among workers in the gas industry is double that of the general population. It is a fundamental truth that if a part of the body is to be kept healthy it must be used thoroughly otherwise it tends to get out of condition and to degenerate prematurely. Such pre-degenerate cells, if stimulated by cancer-producing agents, are more likely to become malignant than healthy cells. The city dweller rarely uses his lungs to their physiological limit. Often the only time he takes a deep breath is when he takes a long pull at a cigarette—thereby exposing these sensitised cells to still another potential cancer producing agent. The tragedy of cancer of the lung is that it so often attacks men in the 4th or 5th decade of life, when they have reached the peak of their usefulness and when their responsibilities towards their families and the State are at their maximum. Cancer-producing substances have been extracted from fog and from exhaust fumes and, by their application, cancer has been produced experimentally in animals. It is probable that similar substances are present in tobacco smoke but a man can smoke tobacco or not, as he pleases. Most of us are destined to live and work in large towns and must of necessity inhale the atmosphere provided by God and polluted by permission of the local government.That is one of the things this Bill seeks to remedy.
To return to the Beaver Committee's Report and its medical aspects, it says that in Britain in 1951 there were 49 times as many deaths from bronchitis and similar ailments per 100,000 of the male population as there were in Denmark. I do not dispute that Denmark has sea on three sides of the peninsular. I do not deny that of course there are different geographical circumstances, but I do 1430 aver that the tremendous disparity in figures of deaths due to respiratory ailments is an indication of the incidence of chronic air pollution in Britain. The Beaver Report says:There can be no doubt that the effect of air pollution on health is wholly bad, whether measured positively in relation to growth, well being and joy of living, or more negatively in terms of death, disease and the economic loss which goes with incapacity to work.I turn to the Bill and deal first with an exclusion—a specific exclusion—the smoke from railway engines. Sir Hugh Beaver recognised in his Report, Recommendation 5 on page 34, that there should be legislation in connection with railway engine smoke. That I regard as quite impracticable. It was tried in 1845 and again in 1868. In fact, railway engines cannot be made to consume their own smoke. What we are doing in the form of the £1,240 million modernisation and re-equipment programme of British Railways—a cardinal feature of that programme is the large-scale electrification, including diesel tractive equipment—will lead to the abatement of smoke. I congratulate Sir Brian Robertson, Chairman of the British Transport Commission, for stating on behalf of the Commission—this is the first nationalised industry to do so—that it is the policy of the industry to embrace and support the recommendations of the Beaver Committee. Sir Brian said, in introducing his modernisation and re-equipment scheme two weeks ago:The Commission are very well aware that they are responsible for a share, not as much as is generally believed but still a share, of that unpleasant phenomenon known as smog. They receive complaints from time to time from people who live close to their lines and they often find it very difficult to answer those complaints. Conversion to electric and diesel traction is the only effective way in which British Railways can relieve themselves of their responsibility for this nuisance.I am sure every hon. Member will wish to join with me in congratulating Sir Brian on his commendable alacrity in responding to the recommendations of the Beaver Report.
The Bill before the House today is Beaver, nearly the whole of Beaver, and practically nothing but Beaver. If hon. Members turn to the Bill and the Beaver Report, they will find this connection between the provisions of the Bill and the recommendations of the Committee. Clause 1 of the Bill is strictly permissive in character. It affects local authorities 1431 and is recommended by the Beaver Committee in Recommendation 6 (1), smokeless zones, on page 34. Clause 2 of the Bill—(Smoke control areas)—follows Recommendation 6 (2) of the Report. Clause 3, dealing with smoke from industrial furnaces, is Recommendation 4 of the Report. Clause 4—(Grit-arresting plant in certain furnaces)—is Recommendation 2 of the Report.
Clause 5—(Dark smoke from chimneys of manufacturing or trade premises)—is the total prohibition of dark smoke after a given date and relates to Recommendation I of the Committee. Clause 6—(Scheduled works and processes)—is Recommendation 3, suitably amended to allow the large and major local authorities to have total autonomy in the matter of controlling emission of smoke, fumes, grit and associated matter from all establishments within their respective areas, subject to Ministerial declaration.
Clause 7 (1) and Clause 7 (2), dealing with the duties of local authorities, are, respectively, Recommendations 10 and 11 of the Report, and Recommendation 12, calling for increased penalties, is embodied in Clauses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill. If hon. Members seek precedents for what is written in the Bill, I may tell them that the drafting follows very largely model Clauses and also Sections already contained in a large number of local Acts of Parliament, already appertaining to various parts of the country. Therefore, in one respect the Bill before the House might almost be considered a consolidating Measure, because it would bring within the ambit of general legislation what already exists in so much local legislation, but, of course, would relieve local authorities in future, from the heavy expense of obtaining a special local Act of Parliament in order to be able to create smokeless zones or smoke control areas within the respective areas of the authorities concerned.
I have been criticised for omitting four recommendations of the Beaver Committee. I wish now to tell the House why, for there is a powerful reason in every case. Recommendation 5, dealing with railway engines and colliery spoil-banks, is a question very largely within the existing powers of Ministers under the nationalisation statutes. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to seek additional legislative powers on those points. 1432 Recommendation 7 is very largely within the ambit of existing Exchequer grant facilities. I see the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) opposite. He has spoken to me about the controversial issue of whether it should be the Exchequer that carries the whole cost of providing replacement of domestic grates or whether such expenditure should be partly rate-borne. That is a matter which may be argued later. I do make provision in this Bill for a Money Resolution following. It is therefore open, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today, to deal with this financial matter at a later stage.
Recommendation 8, on the determination of minimum standards for domestic appliances, is, I believe, within the existing powers of Ministers. Recommendation 9, calling for a variation in Purchase Tax rates, is clearly not a matter for legislation, for the Chancellor only recently, in his famous "mink and mops" Orders, was responsible for varying Purchase Tax rates without seeking new legislation.
For those reasons, I say that nearly the whole of what is legislatively practicable and possible is embodied in the Bill before the House. Much has been said in the public Press and elsewhere about the cost of carrying through a clean air policy. It has been said on many occasions that large sums of public or Exchequer moneys are required. That is quite wrong. A few simple explanations may suffice to answer that point.
Three groups of interests are broadly concerned with a clean air policy—the nationalised industries, the whole of provate industry and commercial premises, and residential property, whether owner-occupied or on a tenanted basis. Nationalised industries have complete financial autonomy, subject only to granting of permission for raising overall sums of capital by the Minister of Fuel and Power and subject to Treasury guarantee given from time to time by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
So far as private industry is concerned, I dispute at once that private industry needs a subsidy for re-equipment to abate smoke from its chimneys. I do not think—let me say this slowly and very deliberately—in any circumstances that a subsidy should be granted by Parliament to private bodies and private interests for doing those things which in their own 1433 interests and in the national interest they should do without monetary incentive.
During the passage of the last Finance Bill, on an Amendment introduced by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland), we debated the loan scheme for industrial fuel efficiency. If hon. Members would take the trouble to refer to the speech which I made on the Report stage of that Bill, they would find a complete exposition of the fact that it costs an industrial firm nothing to go to the Government for a loan to replace equipment for fuel efficiency and, therefore, for smoke abatement purposes. I do not see that we need have an additional subsidy.
I have not consulted the Federation of British Industries; I have no intention of doing so. The Federation may have its own views on this subject. I shall continue to argue that industry must finance itself in this matter, and in any event fuel conservation—
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
§ Mr. Nabarro
—as my right hon. Friend nods his agreement at once—must be a profitable investment. Why should industry not invest in something that will bring it handsome dividends? If any individual firm cannot afford the initial finance, that firm can go to the Government for a loan on very generous terms.
There remains only the question of residential property. There is provision in Clause 1 (2) and 1 (3) for local authorities financially to assist householders to replace grates. Certain replacements may be carried out by owner-occupiers under Schedule A maintenance claims and a good deal of the cost recovered. The Exchequer grant to local authorities may be manipulated so as to reimburse local authorities with a substantial part of the cost involved. Under Clause 11 of the Bill we can, if necessary, consider at a later stage whether any direct subsidy should be brought in.
I have only one further matter shortly to deal with: namely, sulphur pollution of the atmosphere. Many people think that any attempt to abate smoke is valueless unless one deals with the parallel problem of the emission of sulphur fumes from chimneys of all descriptions. One cannot burn coal, coke or fuel oil with- 1434 out emitting sulphur in the form of sulphur dioxide and, to a lesser extent, sulphur trioxide. A certain amount of these substances is retained in the ashes but most of the sulphur gases go up the chimneys into the atmosphere. There is no known method of removing these sulphur gases, except in the case of large establishments such as power stations, and even there the cost is very high for the equipment.
Sir Hugh Beaver says, in paragraph 56 of the Report, that even if all the power stations washed their flue gases and recovered the sulphur from the fumes, still 75 per cent. of the sulphur problem would remain untouched. Sir Hugh Beaver says furthermore that a great deal more scientific attention is required to this problem in an effort to find practical means of removing sulphur from flue gases in the case of both industrial and domestic establishments, and particularly blocks of flats, but it depends on scientific progress whether that desirable end can be reached within a measurable length of time.
There has been a good deal of criticism as to whether smokeless fuel supply could support a policy of the kind that is embodied in the Bill. My reply to that criticism is very short. Hon. Members should read Appendix XI of the Beaver Report, contributed by Dr. Foxwell, a past President of the Institute of Fuel, in which he sets out the position with very great accuracy.
No doubt, if the House of Commons legislatively embraces a clean air policy, the policies of the principally concerned nationalised industries—namely, the National Coal Board and the gas boards —would suitably be reorientated to provide for an adequate supply of smokeless fuels such as coke and anthracite and of such proprietary commercial fuels as "Phurnacite," "Rexco," "Coalite," and so on, to furnish in total, a suitable supply, for domestic needs.
The crux of the problem is that, Sir Hugh Beaver rightly observed, we can reduce 80 per cent. of the smoke-pollution in the black areas of the country within 10 to 15 years. To do that means replacing only—I use the word relatively—19 million tons of raw bituminous coal burned in domestic establishments by an approximately 1435 equivalent quantity of smokeless fuel in any or all of the types I have mentioned.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power nodded his agreement when I enunciated my views on the progress of smokeless fuel production at a rate commensurate to the introduction of additional smokeless zones envisaged under the Bill. It is a question of the co-ordination of the national policy of my right hon. Friend, of nationalised industries and local authorities, all of which is perfectly possible and practicable.
I said at the outset that my backers and I, in connection with the Bill, mean business. We mean business this day. In the event of Her Majesty's Government being able to give an assurance that they will introduce, during this Parliamentary Session—I repeat, this Parliamentary Session—a comprehensive Measure, including all necessary financial provision, to give full effect to a policy of clean air on the general lines recommended by the Beaver Committee, my colleagues and I who are associated with the Bill would be prepared, after a full debate today, to seek the permission of the House to withdraw my Bill. I have referred to the Government introducing a Bill because I realise that the question whether such a Bill could be taken through all its stages would depend upon the exigencies of Parliamentary time. In the event of the Government giving the assurance which my backers and I seek in this connection, we would do our utmost to facilitate the passage of such a Measure, this Session.
I repeat that if the Government give an assurance in the terms I have indicated, then, and only then, will we be prepared to withdraw the Bill today. In other words, one way or the other we propose legislatively to embrace, this Session, a clean air policy. Whether the Government do it with their own comprehensive Measure or whether we do it with the Bill that we place before the House today, suitably amended during the later stages, is not a matter of great personal concern to me. All I am interested in is that there shall be a clean air policy for this nation and that appropriate legislation shall be placed on the Statute Book, in the form of a Clean Air Act, before the end of the present Parliamentary Session.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I am sure that the whole House, and, indeed, the country, is indebted to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in deciding, on being fortunate in the Ballot, to introduce this Bill. The hon. Member is one with whom we on this side have had many battles in this Chamber, but no one would deny that he has made himself expert on this subject in the time in which he has been in the House and that he has shown great public spirit and determination in the way that he has pursued this matter, month after month, in the House and outside.
Having listened to the hon. Member's speech, one could not but agree that it represented a fair historical survey of the whole situation and brought us, stage by stage, to a point where we can say that we are within measurable reach of having clean air in this country. I congratulate the hon. Member on his speech and wish him every success with his Bill.
Neither the hon. Member nor those of us on this side of the House who back the Bill pretend that it is a fully comprehensive Bill and, of course, no Private Member's Bill can cover a subject like this in the way in which it ought to be covered. I hope, therefore, that the Government, having considered the whole question of the Beaver Report, may have come to the conclusion that when we have had a reasonable discussion in this Chamber and an exchange of views they might themselves find it possible to introduce a comprehensive Bill. I am sure that nothing will suit the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his backers on this side of the House more than that the Government should embrace the Bill, so that we may go forward together as a Council of State, as Parliament is meeting this morning, to clean the air and have a healthier and better nation as a result.
It is not very often that we in this House can approach a Measure with such a degree of unanimity as that with which I am certain we shall approach this Bill today. We shall have our different points of view, of course, and my hon. Friends from the Black Country will feel—
§ Mr. Robens
I should have said "The Potteries."
They will feel that the Bill does not go far enough and that they have very special problems. My hon. Friends who represent Sheffield will also have special problems, and so will those hon. Members who represent mining constituencies.
I do not think we should confine our appreciation and thanks to the members of the Beaver Committee and Sir Hugh Beaver, although I do thank them most warmly. We must remember that through the years there has been a procession of committees, such as the Ridley and Egerton Committees and others, and organisations like the Smoke Abatement Society, all trying to do a first-class job of work. There have also been individuals. I will not mention them, since they are so numerous and it would be invidious to select one or two, although their names come readily to my mind. Large numbers of people have spent their private money in research into all sorts of ways of producing better smokeless fuels.
Today we have reached a point where we are reaping the advantage of the culmination of the work of many unknown people, besides the work of public-spirited people who have sat on committees appointed by successive Governments. It is, therefore, appropriate that we should express our appreciation to those, known and unknown, who have enabled us to have access to an enormous amount of information. Without that information it would be quite impossible for us to approach this subject today.
I do not propose to go into the details of the Beaver Report. The hon. Member for Kidderminster, in his historical survey and his account of the problems of pollution, has dealt admirably with the Report. There is no need for repetitive speeches, saying that we ought to have clean air, because I think that that is generally agreed. I want to turn to two or three points which, I think, are important and ought to be mentioned in this debate.
We have been given figures of the possible saving to the nation if we had a comprehensive scheme of efficient coal combustion. A figure of £250 million has been talked about. It is also said that we might easily save quite quickly 10 million tons of coal a year if we 1438 had complete combustion. All sorts of experts have given all sorts of figures of the amount of coal that could be saved. The highest figure that I have seen is about 70 million tons a year. No one denies that at least 10 or 20 million tons of coal a year could be saved.
It is a great tragedy that year after year coal is produced at the cost of human life and because the deaths which occur are isolated cases throughout the mining areas they receive no public comments at all. If there were a pit disaster every year in which 480 men were killed, I do not know what public opinion would say about it, but I do not think that it would be possible for an industry to stand up to a disaster every year which at one fell swoop robbed 480 men of their lives.
Yet, since the war that is precisely what has been happening in coalmining, but because one is killed here and one or two there and the fatalities are spread over a wide area and are isolated they receive no real publicity. Although the public often complain of the price that they pay for coal, I am afraid that they do not realise the enormous cost of coal in human life, and the suffering, anxiety and sorrow that coal production unfortunately brings about. No one can represent a mining area or live in a mining village or have close contact with the mining community and not come across many cases where the breadwinner has died early in life through a pit accident. For the rest of their lives the cost of coal bears very heavily upon the widow and her family.
In those circumstances, it is criminal that we should waste coal which has cost so much to produce. I hope that the Government will introduce a comprehensive Measure and, indeed, make it a criminal offence to waste coal in such a way. We have no right to accept such a terrible loss of life. Added to that loss are the tens of thousands of men in South Wales and elsewhere who are suffering from pneumoconiosis and will never be able to work again. We have no right to expect that coal should not be used properly. It should be made a criminal offence for it to be used wastefully and we must provide the means by which it will be no longer necessary for it to be wasted as it is wasted today.
1439 This country can maintain its position in the world as a great industrial nation only as long as it has a plentiful supply of fuel and power. Once the plentiful supply begins to disappear, production must obviously decrease. We cannot have production mounting at a rate of 5½ to 6 per cent., as it did last year, unless we have the energy, the fuel and power to back it up. I am sure that there is no one in the House more sorry than the Minister of Fuel and Power about the decision which he has had to make about exports. He must cut down exports this year in order to provide British industry with more coal.
The Minister knows, in addition, the terrible cost, particularly in dollars, of American coal which, obviously, we must import. If, therefore, we can save 10 million tons of coal quickly it seems absurd not to do it. If we relate the cost in the loss of production and the cost in the payment of dollars to America for their coal, it is clear that the gain is on the side of the nation. Therefore, it seems to me that from the human standpoint the purposes of the Bill are right. From the country's economic standpoint, we cannot afford not to have a Bill of this kind.
As the hon. Member for Kidderminster so correctly pointed out, the demands for fuel are greater than they were and have outstripped increased production. There can be only one end to that—exports going down and increased imports from the U.S.A. There is no need for that. I leave the matter with these two points: the human aspect and the economic aspect.
I hope the Government will find that they are able, before the debate concludes, to recognise the force of the arguments put forward not only in this House today but in the various reports which have been submitted through the years from eminent people, and will be able, later, to bring forward a really comprehensive Measure to deal with this problem in an energetic way.
If the Minister is able to say that that will be done, I can assure him, on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, that such a comprehensive Bill will have our blessing, and that we shall do all we can to expedite its passage through the House.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), at the beginning of his speech, did not misunderstand the motives either of myself or of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), when he declared that we believed that this Bill was not sufficiently radical or comprehensive. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has often spoken on this subject in this House, but never, I think, more convincingly and more attractively than he did today; and may I say, before I go on to criticise the Measure, that all the work he has done, the enthusiasm he has shown, and his very deep knowledge of this subject, have gained him the respect of everyone in the House.
Mention has been made of human suffering and human death as a result of atmospheric pollution. The figure of 4,000 deaths was quoted with reference to the great smog that afflicted us in this area in 1952. But, in actual fact, the correct figure was not 4,000 but very much higher, for, indeed, 4,000 was the number of deaths within a few days of that period, whereas those who died from respiratory disease in excess of the average by 21st February, 1953, was an additional 8,000. Even though it may be argued that there was influenza about in the January and February, we know that the number of deaths directly due to smog was very much greater than 4,000.
Why do we seek to reject this Bill? I believe that the reasons which will be put forward will meet with the understanding and approval of the House, and, I hope, with the understanding and approval of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. When he gave notice that he intended to bring before the House legislation framed in a private Measure which would be based upon the recommendations of the Beaver Committee, I wondered why he had done so. If what he had in mind was to bring pressure upon the Government and the Minister to hasten the time when we should have legislation brought forward, then I congratulate him wholeheartedly; as, indeed. Sir Hugh Beaver did at a recent meeting. But it should be noted that Sir Hugh 1441 also made it quite clear that, in his opinion, success would not be achieved unless a clean air Act had behind it all the force of Parliament and the combined efforts of the many Departments concerned.
My right hon. Friend made it clear that if a comprehensive Measure is brought forward, such as the hon. Member for Kidderminster has asked for today, saying as he did in his own interesting fashion, "One way or the other I want this," I and my hon. Friends would work for "the other way"; but I know that the hon. Member for Kidderminster will not be very disappointed if it be the other way, as long as we get it. If he were to succeed, and this Private Bill, as it stands, were placed on the Statute Book, we would be bitterly disappointed, because it would not go far enough for us.
My criticism of the Bill falls into two main parts. In the first place, as I have indicated, it is not comprehensive enough. That is due, in part, to the fact that it is a private Measure, and, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster has pointed out to the House, he has felt it necessary to leave out certain legislative recommendations put forward by the Beaver Committee. They fall roughtly into the two parts, which he described and which I will not dilate upon—the fiscal changes which are involved and the powers of direction exercisable by Ministers under the nationalisation statutes.
With reference to Recommendation No. 5 in the Committee's Report, which he has had to leave out, I vividly recall hearing the late Sir Herbert Williams speaking on 10th March last in this Chamber, when he referred to the pollution of the atmosphere by railway engines. I think he reminded us that if the railways paid forfeit by way of fine on all the penalties involved as a result of air pollution, we could pay off the National Debt.
In the context of this part of my criticism of the Bill, I should like to stress that if we were to succeed ultimately in achieving what all of us on both sides of the House desire, the Minister of Fuel and Power would be an even more important personage than the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That. I think, was made clear indirectly throughout the whole of the speech of 1442 the hon. Member for Kidderminster in moving the Second Reading. On 26th January, the "Manchester Guardian" pointed out what it thought was the crux of the problem, using these words:The crux of the problem will be to find enough smokeless fuel for the householder.I think that is true.
When we discussed this point last in the debate of 10th March on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, in which the City of London asked to be empowered to do certain things, including their wish to have a smokeless zone, I pointed out that coke was already in free supply, but it was not profitable to sell it in small quantities. We know that there are many householders, certainly in a city like London, who have no storage except for small quantities. Coke is bulky to carry, and it is more profitable to handle and sell coal or even slack—at that time we were discussing nutty slack—than coke.
We therefore know that the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have to assist us. The hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) made in that debate what I think was a telling point when he spoke of the high price of coke. He asked that there should be a 15 per cent. discount in price to householders where smokeless centres or smoke-controlled areas are created. I thought that was a very good and practical suggestion.
It is my personal opinion—and I know that most right hon. and hon. Members will agree with me—that if we are ultimately to succeed we shall need all the influence and all the energy of any Government which is in power. Assuming that we give ourselves 10 years to achieve an 80 per cent. reduction of pollution of the atmosphere, it means that there is no time for delay; it means that no half-measures can be tolerated and it means that the country must be made to understand that it is a paying proposition.
Let us glance for a moment at the financial stake which is involved, and this brings me to another reason why I feel that a private Bill is not suitable. Adding the wastage of heat from fuel which is badly used to the £250 million a year which it has been estimated is lost, we get a figure of £300 million a year. The Beaver Committee made it quite clear that these figures are based on the 1443 most conservative estimates. But if we assume that they are correct and that it is £300 million a year, it means that in the last 30 years we have suffered a loss of over £10,000 million. We have sustained that loss since I first went to Stoke-on-Trent, for it is just about 30 years ago since that happened. That the nation has had to suffer such a loss is a grievous matter.
This does not in any way take into account ill-health or premature death from the type of ailments that the hon. Member for Kidderminster mentioned. They are, of course, chronic bronchitis and bronchial asthma with the attendant complication like emphysema; bronchiectasis, heart failure and, of course, cancer of the lung. I do not want to say much about the medical aspect of atmospheric pollution, for other hon. Members who follow me will have more time to do so, but the figure of comparison between Denmark and Britain is a frightening one. That the death rate from diseases of this kind in this country should be 49 or 50 times higher than in Denmark is something of which we ought to be ashamed and which we should do everything in our power to alter.
The second part of my criticism of this Bill is that there is nothing which would protect the farmers from the increasing toll that flouride contamination is taking of their cattle, nor, indeed, does the Bill directly take into account the effects of sulphur gas upon human health. The hon. Member for Kidderminster referred to agriculture and to sulphur and I am very glad he did. He put questions to the Minister, asking him to take note of what is happening in agriculture and if he would consult with the N.U.F. and the National Union of Agricultural Workers because of the serious effect of this pollution on the growth of crops.
I think he had in mind the effect on the growth of lettuce and vegetables. I remember that when I was a student at Leeds the professor of organic chemistry was interested in this matter and he used to grow lettuce and vegetables at Hunslet and Holbeck, and compared them with those that he grew in Round-hay. If one looked at the photographs of the actual specimens it was astonishing and pitiful to see the effect of this pollution on food. It is as described by the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
1444 I am surprised that there is no mention in the Beaver Committee's Report of fluorosis and its effects on cattle. This is a very serious matter. It affects not crops so much as the cattle that eat the crops contaminated with fluorides. This brings about sickness in the animals, great suffering to them and ultimate death. In the constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South there is an experimental farm called the Fenton Manor Farm. I think the hon. Member for Kidderminster would find it most interesting to go there and see what is happening to the cattle, to see what occurs under test conditions and to see the pathological specimens of bones from cattle elsewhere which are fed on crops and grass which are contaminated by fluoride compounds. We know full well the danger and we know the loss they cause to agriculture in the destruction of cattle. We also know something which is more important, for we know we can prevent this loss.
I will give one example which I think will illustrate the point. In North Staffordshire, just outside Stoke-on-Trent, one very large firm took action. It was noted in July, 1942, when tests were made, that fluoride deposits from the smoke of its installations were contaminating the surrounding fields and farms to the extent of 560 parts per million. When the war was over the firm took action. In May, 1953, after installing preventive plant, the contamination was reduced to 17½ parts per million as against 560 and towards the latter end of 1953 it was down to eight parts per million.
We are thinking in terms of putting two parts a million of fluorin in water for people to drink, and, therefore, I think it is fair to assume that eight parts to a million contamination of grass would leave cattle virtually unaffected whereas 560 parts per million means that they must inevitably die after the most serious agony.
It has been argued—and I think most authorities will agree—that the worst pollution is sulphur dioxide either by virtue of its own action as an isolated gas or through its synergic effects when it combines with sulphuric acid mist. This is responsible not only for the destruction of our buildings, metals and paint, but for the destruction of health.
I am advised that when measuring tests were made in the great fog of 1952 that afflicted us it was noticed that there was 1445 a distinct parallel between smoke concentration and sulphur dioxide concentration. That is a very important point, and in the debate on 10th March last I declared that I felt we were on the right lines if we diminished smoke because we should have less sulphur dioxide. Now I wonder whether I were entirely correct. I am not sure I was. I think it is possible to argue in another way. Measurements not only in London but in Pittsburgh over many years show the same parallelism, and the fact that there is another argument shows how the frontiers of our knowledge are changing and how flexible we must be in our attitude.
Let me give an illustration from the Report of the Beaver Committee. Paragraph 74 suggests that coke, which is at present used for central heating by commercial concerns and public authorities, should be used in the domestic grate, and instead of it, oil should be substituted in the central heating plants. If this were done I wonder whether it would not inevitably mean a greater concentration of sulphur dioxide in the very hearts of our great cities, for with the 4 per cent. sulphur in oil as compared with 1½ per cent. sulphur in coal, more sulphur fumes will come out in the air unless action is taken to prevent it.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
Before the House takes those figures verbatim, it should be remembered that other authorities have quite different views as to the sulphur content of fuel oil. For instance, one of the greatest authorities of the Shell Mex organisation argues that the content of fuel oil is 0.8 per cent. sulphur, not 4 per cent. That makes a great difference.
§ Dr. Stross
My hon. Friend may be referring to a very refined form of petrol. I am referring to heavy oil, diesel oil, which is used in central heating apparatus, and I am basing my figures on those presented in the Beaver Report.
Of course, it is known that almost all the sulphur can be taken out of oil, but the process is an expensive one. Had I time, I would go further into that matter, but future generations of hon. Members will be standing here and will be discussing this very point, namely, how can we take the sulphur out of coal by suitable washing, and what precipitating methods must be used to get the sulphur 1446 out of the oil before we burn it in central heating installations?
I want to plead with the hon. Member for Kidderminster to withdraw his Bill, but only on the condition he made, namely, that the promise given us by the Minister on 25th January must be explicitly offered to us again today, as I am sure it will be, with a further promise that at the earliest possible moment in this Session we shall have our Bill. I think that his draftsmen could achieve that. We do not want this Bill to be given a Second Reading in case there be any misunderstanding anywhere as to the fact that we believe something much more comprehensive is needed.
A change occurred on 25th January when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government stood at the Box opposite and said: "I will implement every recommendation of the Beaver Report." My hon. Friends and I say that there are things outside the Beaver Report which need careful consideration; that the Beaver Report is not necessarily the last word on this matter, and that the frontiers of our knowledge will be moving from time to time.
We feel, therefore, legislation is needed which will be flexible, which will be carried through stage by stage, rather like the Clean Food Bill which this House passed not long ago. Apart from one rather contentious matter, all sides of the House were in agreement on that Bill, great improvements were effected during its passage through the House, and we achieved an instrument which will be useful to us not only in this generation but to those following after. We must have similar legislation for this purpose.
For too long we have treated the air we breathe as if it were an open sewer. Our purpose in opposing this Measure is to declare that there shall be no time lost in cleaning up the atmosphere as our ancestors cleaned up water. There is much we do not know about this problem at present. I remember a colleague of the hon. Member for Kidderminster saying this on 10th March last. The late Sir Herbert Williams then said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 2313.]1447 I thought he had never spoken more attractively than on that night when he was speaking on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill.
Yes, there is much we do not know, but we know enough for action, and it is action that we demand. We demand legislation which will be progressive, flexible and determined, which will carry the whole House with it, and which will have behind it all the powers of Government.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I beg to Second the Amendment.
It was my privilege before the war to be associated with some of the greatest working-class characters who have had the privilege of representing our fellow countrymen in this House, and time after time they raised this issue. I can remember people who thought it was below their dignity to be connected with this matter, but my hon. Friends pursued it time and again, and it would be wrong of me, having been associated with them, not to mention that today. I am referring to great men such as Joe Batey, Joe Tinker, Tom Cape, Jimmy Welsh and a few others whose names do not come to mind at the moment.
Today, thanks to the work that they and others have put in on this subject, it has now been lifted on to a higher Parliamentary plane. Our thanks are due to the Beaver Report and to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has put in a great amount of work and who has had to work behind the scenes in order to make himself so well-informed. Representing, as we do, areas which have suffered more from air pollution for generations than any other part of the country, it would be wrong if we did not take the stand we are taking today.
I am one of the first to give credit where it is due, but on this issue I am sorry to say that our country is the most backward in the world. The areas which can be proved by statistics to have suffered the worst are, in the main, those where people work the hardest and where the greatest wealth per person of the population is produced. It has been a national scandal that resolute action was not taken on this question long ago.
1448 When we first read a copy of the Beaver Report in the Library, we wanted to accept its recommendations with both hands, but then we detected one or two weaknesses. We consulted well-informed people in our locality and, as a result, on 3rd December last we put down an Amendment during the debate on the Gracious Speech drawing the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the Command Paper on air pollution and requested that its recommendations should be implemented. Therefore, we are determined that, unlike so many Reports which have been published, this Report shall not lie in the files or on the shelves of the various Ministries gathering dust, but shall be implemented on this occasion. Consequently, we are very pleased at the action which has been taken today.
I have before me the Government statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman on 25th January. I detect certain weaknesses in it, and it is to be hoped that they will be dealt with today.
We welcome the steps that have already been taken, which we regard as steps forward, but we in the City of Stoke-on-Trent and in the large industrial area embracing Birmingham, Stoke, Crewe, Manchester, and especially Salford—about which I shall speak later, because the way we have allowed men, women and children to suffer in that area for generations is simply tragic—have been dealing with the problem for generations. I myself have been dealing with it for 25 years. We have had report after report, but no action worth talking about has been taken by anyone.
It is to be hoped that as a result of the development of public consciousness through the publication of the Beaver Report—it is because of the Report that there has been a quickening of public consciousness—we at last mean business. Now that we are armed with the finest Report dealing with the problem that has ever been published, we are asking that it shall be implemented to the fullest extent, and if any weaknesses can be detected by specialists and other well-informed people, we hope they will provide us with evidence so that we can have a Bill, either this Bill or some other Bill, of an improved character which will deal with the problem.
1449 We consider that the time has arrived when the Government and local authorities should have compulsory powers. No longer are we satisfied with what was contained in the Minister's statement, that the Federation of British Industries and other people will consider taking voluntary action. The days for voluntary action on this issue have gone. It is compulsory powers that the Government ought to have, and it is compulsory powers for which we and other enlightened people throughout the country who are acquainted with the facts and have seen the evidence in their localities are asking today. Any Bill, no matter from what quarter it may come, which does not contain within it resolute action based upon compulsory powers will receive our opposition.
Sir Hugh Beaver, who has proved himself to be a great public-spirited man, needs no other monument; the work contained in the Report is a monument to him and all who have been associated with him in its preparation. According to the "Manchester Guardian" on 7th January, Sir Hugh, dealing with the Bill and the problem, said:… that he could not see how all this could be secured by means of the Private Member's Bill which had been proposed by Mr. Nabarro before the Government attitude had been known. He congratulated Mr. Nabarro, and suggested that his action might well have been the decisive factor …I believe there is a good deal in that:… in bringing about the promise of Government action, but he thought a really effective clean air Bill should have behind it all the prestige of Parliament and the combined resources of public servants in the many Departments concerned. Sir Hugh's chief anxiety was that whatever legislation was finally put on the Statute Book it should provide for really effective administration.It is that for which we are asking today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) drew attention to a really tragic scene in the centre of my division, where there is a farm which was worked for years by a man named Godfrey Smith. He wrote letter after letter to me. I wrote to all the Ministries concerned, but could make no headway at all with any of them. Eventually I was so discouraged that I nearly threw in my hand. I was discouraged by the medical profession. I was discouraged by the then medical 1450 officer for the district, who was conservative-living and had old ideas and had not brought himself up to date to deal with modern problems arising out of new processes introduced into industry.
Then I went to meet the man, and I was so impressed by his sincerity and his determination to carry on if he could that I felt I should be lacking in my duty if I did not pursue the correspondence with the various Ministries. After years of correspondence, which went on all through the war, it is to the credit of the Ministry of Agriculture—especially the scientific men and women who work behind the scenes; we often lose sight of what we owe to them—that it acted.
The result was that the Ministry bought up the Fenton Manor Farm, suitably compensated the farmer—he is now retired and living in the Isle of Man—and started a research and experimental centre there. It has now been found that the fluorine deposits on the grass and other vegetation there have a deadly effect upon cattle. So impressed were we by this that my hon. Friend and I and others arranged a visit to the farm. We saw one of the most tragic scenes that it had ever been our lot to see.
I am not well informed technically, but I will tell the House what I saw in my own way. It was obvious that the cattle were living in agony. I have never seen such emaciated cattle in my life, and I have done a bit of travelling. The calves were very small. As we walked round. the research officer, to whom I want to pay a public tribute, explained to us what was taking place.
On one table there were beautiful, healthy, strong bones. On another there were bones from cattle that had died on the farm, but these bones were like chalk and were brittle and hollow, and it was obvious that there was something seriously wrong. The research officer then explained why the cows were in agony. I understand that bones in certain parts of cattle have a function to perform when calves are being fed before they are born; the bones hold the calves up. However, bones affected in this way are weak and brittle, and in some cases they break. and this brings about the agony that the cows suffer when they are having calves.
I always believe that what affects cattle must affect human beings, but some of 1451 the medical people in the area said, "Oh, no, there is nothing in that." As a result of reference to this matter in the Press, I was sent evidence from the United States of America. The United States Army authorities had carried out an investigation which had shown that the fluorine had a very serious effect on the teeth of people living in certain parts of America. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that there has been criminal neglect on the part of the Ministries responsible and that it is time the problem was dealt with, and before we part with any Bill we intend that a Clause shall be inserted to deal with the problem.
I wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture about it again on 10th January last. This is the reply that I have received, with which we are not satisfied:The main purpose of the experiments which are being carried out by the Ministry's Veterinary Laboratory at the above farm is to obtain more scientific information about the nature, incidence and effects of this form of poisoning in cattle. Examination is being made of all possible methods of alleviating the possibility of fluorosis in cattle; in addition, we are studying under ordinary farm conditions the effect of normal contamination of pasture with fluorine compounds from industrial sources, and collecting information …That is all right as far as it goes, but a sense of urgency in this letter appears to be lacking. It is that to which we draw attention today so that the Ministers concerned can do something about it. Then the Minister of Agriculture concluded his letter by saying:As regards the question of responsibility for the pollution, I am afraid I can do no more than repeat what Tom Dugdale said in the letter of 31st July, 1953—that in the Stoke-on-Trent area there are a large number of possible emissions of fluorine, and it is not possible to ascribe them to any particular works.Let me make it clear that I am making no reflection on the present Minister, who has not been in office long enough to do anything on a large scale. I am the last one to make a reflection on him, because he is a man for whom I have great respect for his record in the House and outside. It is because it has been proved that here is a matter of a serious character that I am asking for it to be treated with a greater sense of urgency.
I have here a confidential document published in 1951 which was circulated 1452 to a certain number of people. Information contained in this document should not be treated as confidential. It is issued by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. It is a very fine document, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, who has a great deal of experience in the medical profession and who lived in Richmond House in the centre of the most seriously affected part of Stoke-on-Trent, has made a special study of this problem. I am bound to take notice of what he and other of my hon. Friends who are members of the medical profession say. They say that sulphur dioxide is the most serious pollution that we have in this country.
An area within a few yards of where I have lived all my life has the highest daily average of sulphur dioxide pollution. It is in places like Salford, Trafford Park and, in particular, Stoke-on-Trent and other similar highly industrialised areas where, according to this confidential document, we have suffered for generations. When I think of young children suffering from croup, men and women suffering from asthma and bronchitis and then hear the figures for Denmark, I believe it is time that we acted in a strong way to deal with something from which we have suffered for many years.
I had intended to give instances of where Minister after Minister has answered Questions in the House in a most complacent manner during the past 10 years. We do not have to thank them, nor the Ministries, for taking resolute action. We have to thank Sir Hugh Beaver, his committee and the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who has taken advantage of his Parliamentary rights resulting from the Ballot to give us an opportunity of speaking in this way.
I want to make quite sure that all the principles of the Beaver Committee are implemented, but I want to ask the Minister a number of questions before we part with the Bill today. Will he give unequivocal answers to five questions? Do the Government intend to implement in full the Beaver Committee Report? If so, when? Can the Minister give us a time? Is it intended to deal with fluorine fumes and grit gases? Is it intended to apply compulsion in carrying out the Beaver Report? If so, then we will act upon them.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
Although the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) asked that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, we realise, of course, that their interest in achieving the results which the Bill proposes is no less than ours. Nevertheless, in one or two respects I have found it difficult to see what they are aiming at.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said something which I find a little difficult to reconcile with the object of the Amendment. He thought that none of the Ministries and none of the Ministers concerned had, in the past ten years, done anything useful about this matter. He said that we did not have to thank them for any action taken, but to thank Sir Hugh Beaver and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
He should, nevertheless, realise that Sir Hugh Beaver was able to make the Report only because his Committee was set up by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Fuel and Power, with instructions to report in detail on this matter to the Government. So the three Ministers concerned seem to be at least in great measure responsible for what we are debating today and for the fact that we have here a basis of knowledge on which to legislate.
The second point which I found a little difficult to understand was that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central began his speech by saying that he regarded the Bill as inadequate because it did not deal with a number of points about which, quite rightly, he feels very strongly. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South went on to say that he and his hon. Friends were determined that they would get some action on this matter, either through this Bill or in a comprehensive Bill from the Government. But the way to get the Bill today is not to move that it should be rejected.
Suppose the Minister of Housing and Local Government does not, in fact, make any comprehensive promise that adequate legislation will be brought in. What do they do then? Will they still force a Division on the Amendment, which, if 1454 carried, means that they will get nothing, no Bill at all? They will have to make their policy a little more flexible than it appears to be at the moment, if they are to be sure that we get some legislation, or an opportunity to proceed further with legislation, on the matters which we all have at heart. I am sure they will take these tactical considerations into account, if the need arises.
I do not propose to detain the House for very long on a matter in which we are substantially agreed and on the technical details of which there are many with much greater experience than I, but there are one or two points with which I should like to deal. This is not, of course, simply a technical and scientific matter. It is an economic matter to a considerable extent. It also has very great relevance to the whole question of town and country planning. In some places we are able, right from the beginning when we are planning the layout of new towns, housing estates, and so forth, to do a great deal to see that smoke emission is kept down to an absolute minimum. In other parts of the country we have a thoroughly bad situation which we must improve, and where improvement has to be limited we have to make the best of it; but we cannot altogether separate the three aspects.
In my constituency, for example, there is not very much industry, but one of the few industrial installations is a not very large iron foundry. It is slap in the middle of many acres of closely-built residential property—long rows of small houses with a foundry slap in the middle. For a long time the complaints which the local authority and I received from people living near there were continual, and they were often heart-rending. The amount of smoke, grit and soot which is emitted, taken in conjunction with the amount of noise, rendered that place a considerable nuisance.
As a result of the company concerned taking advice from the Ministry's experts and going into the matter with the local authority, which was also interested, a very considerable improvement has taken place, but the fact remains that the thing ought not to be there at all in the middle of a residential area, and that in any conceivable plan for redeveloping that area of course it would not be there.
1455 The question which arises is, to what extent is it a reasonable and economic proposition to spend considerable sums of money on converting the plant for something which by definition is in the wrong place and which will not remain in that place for a very large number of years, because in many industrial areas redevelopment is only a matter of years—perhaps sometimes five or ten and, at the most, twenty? This is a question which any Government must take into account when legislating.
There is also another economic question of considerable importance. To what extent ought compulsory powers to be taken to deal with the proper use of fuel and the proper control of smoke—powers which may involve inspection, regulation, the creation of new crimes and the enforcement of new law—and to what extent should we rely on largely economic incentives and deterrents to secure our objects? This is an immensely wide and complicated subject which clearly one cannot go into any detail now, but I should have thought that we would all wish that the maximum possible could be done by using the economic incentive and deterrent.
For example, if the nationalised industries dealing with fuel and power could be prevailed upon to adopt a pricing policy which would adequately reflect the relation between supply and effective demand for their products, we might get somewhere near the solution of the problem. It is no use a Minister or a conference of heads of nationalised industries allocating the market according to some arbitrary decision taken at the centre, and saying, "We will switch over from solid fuel to gas here and electricity there."
In fact, the consumer is the person who, in the last resort, has to decide this matter, and he ought to be given a fair chance to do it on the basis of economic cost. Until that is so, we shall never really be able to decide what it is that the consumer wants and how he is best to be given it. I do not myself believe that there is nearly as much scope for changing over from solid fuel to gas and electricity for continuous space heating in domestic premises as many people believe. I think that in the long run it will be generally recognised that for continuous space heat- 1456 ing solid fuel is probably the most efficient of the lot.
Furthermore, we have to go a very long way further than we have so far got in controlling and regulating the emission of smoke from power stations before I shall view with much satisfaction a large switch-over from coal-burning appliances to electricity in residential areas. Living, as I do, almost under the shadow of a London power station, and having seen what it leaves not merely on the curtains in houses and flats, on the window sills when the windows are open, but on one's car when one leaves it outside, I cannot even venture to imagine what it does to the inside of one's lungs.
Nothing or very little has been done to make that nuisance any less than it was 20 years ago, to my certain knowledge. There has been a lot of talk about it, but very little has been done. It is expensive—we all know that—but then, as we all know, the results of the emission of smoke, soot and sulphur are also expensive.
Finally, a few words about compulsion and inspection. The Bill has been criticised in some quarters on the ground that it would not merely involve administrative difficulties but would constitute a new and unjustified interference with the private rights of the citizen. I do not believe that this is either a true or a justifiable contention in this instance. Of course, the Government must take great care when framing legislation of this kind, but the whole history of social reform in this country proves that there is no reason why the Government should not decide that something is an unmitigated evil and simply prohibit it from being done.
The law says that nobody shall commit murder, but it does not go into immense detail to say how one is to prevent oneself from committing a murder. It simply says that murder shall not be committed and leaves the public to obey. I believe that that is very largely the principle which should underlie legislation in this respect. It can be extremely dangerous and tend to stultify the success of a Measure if one goes into too great detail in legislation, and in regulations and orders, to say how a law of this kind shall be enforced.
For example, in a block of perhaps a hundred flats, one chimney might emit dark smoke and one would see people 1457 clambering up and down stairs to try to find from which flat the smoke was coming. That would be an intolerable situation, and it is not really necessary. The thing can be done much more simply than that.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will say how the mind of the Government is working in the matter of the framing of legislation and its enforcement. In the meantime, I hope very much that those who support the Amendment will not press their opposition to the Bill so far that we do not get any legislation at all on the subject. I commend the Bill to the House in the confident hope that either it or a similar or better Bill presented by the Government will secure almost unanimous support.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I think all of us here today must speak in great humility because we realise what a tremendous problem is set for anybody who has to deal with this question. Nevertheless, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who introduced the Bill, and I am determined myself to support it, in spite of what has been said by my hon. Friends on this side of the House. This is a Measure which, even if it does not go the whole way, and is passed without the fuller Government legislation which is so necessary to make a complete scheme, would go a very substantial way towards what I think the whole House, and probably the whole nation, desires.
To begin with, the Bill contains a Clause which will give local authorities power without having to promote special Bills and without having to designate in those Bills the precise areas with which they intend to deal. They will be given a general power under which they can, at any time, make an order for a smokeless zone, and, without the consent of the Minister, proceed with it, without having to go through the lengthy procedure of getting a Bill through this House. That alone would be welcome, and would be welcomed in particular by the authority for which I speak—the London County Council.
The proposals in the Bill for dealing with the emission of dark smoke and for the compulsory establishment of plant to prevent it are most admirable, and I 1458 should like to see them put into operation as a forerunner of what we hope will be a more far-reaching plan. Naturally, the L.C.C. is hoping that the Government will announce this afternoon that they intend very shortly to introduce a comprehensive Measure that can deal with that part of the recommendations of the Beaver Committee which the hon. Member for Kidderminster has been reluctantly compelled to leave outside the scope of his Bill, for the reason that a private Member does not possess the same powers as the Government. I hope that such a Measure will be introduced, incorporating all the recommendations of the Beaver Committee.
My authority would like me to express in this House its determination to co-operate with the Government when they bring in the Measure which is so much desired. At the same time, it also says, as local authorities are in the habit of saying to Ministers, that the Government must make really good financial provisions in their Bill, so that local authorities may be placed in a position in which, financially, they can get on with the job. In particular, it would like to have rather more than the £500 which is all it can spend at the moment on investigating the problem.
It would also like to be able to go on with research work, in conjunction with Government research bodies, and to help the Metropolitan borough councils in the London area. who are likely to be the most important administrative bodies. At the same time, my authority would like to see the establishment of a joint committee, covering the whole of the Greater London area, so that there may be proper co-ordination of planning.
I think it would be appropriate that I should add my quota to this debate, not only because I am a member of a great authority which has to face an enormous smoke problem, but because I have privately taken a very large interest in this matter for very many years. I had what I might call a good pre-service domestic training. I started as a very young child by helping in the house, and, had hon. Members in those days been able to see me, they would have seen a very grubby character, who shook the mats all over herself, and very dirty mats they were, because it was a very dirty, smoky atmosphere. They would also have seen a grubby-faced child, who had 1459 to clean an old-fashioned range, build up the fires, cook the dinner, clean up the stove and do all the jobs that really make one very dirty. By the time I came to womanhood, I had decided that there was to be no more of that dirty work for me. I decided that I was going to have my house run in a clean and decent fashion, so on being married I immediately installed an electric fire.
In a house, electric fires have the great merit of being easy to light and clean and of producing very little dust, making the work of the housewife much simpler, but, after a time, I came to realise that, in doing this, I was conferring a benefit on other housewives, because I was not adding to the smoke in the atmosphere, but was helping to keep the atmosphere clean. As time went on and new kinds of grates became available, I was advised that I could economically burn solid fuel and could have an advantage which electricity did not give me cheaply; that is to say, I could get my water supply warmed and the rest of my house comfortably warmed during the cold period of the winter.
Therefore, quite recently, I installed one of the new smokeless grates. I took the precaution to make sure that I had a back boiler to the grate, so that I could have hot water, and I burn "Coalite." My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) will no doubt tell me that in burning "Coalite" I am doing as much injury to myself as if I were burning coke. If that is so. we are being set a pretty problem, and I myself have heard much argument about it. I have listened, so to speak, both to the "doctors and the saints" on this matter, and, like Omar Khayyam,Ever more came out by that same door wherein I went.This matter is a question of what is the ideal form of fuel that should be burnt in the home, and, as far as I can see from talking to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, it boils down to the fact that, ultimately and ideally, we should use gas and electric fires. I am not averse to that, but we must realise that the ordinary person likes the radiant open fire, and we are likely to have more success in encouraging people to be smoke-conscious by taking them through the stage of the smokeless solid fuel fire.
1460 In this respect, careful co-ordination of plans will be needed so that, while the National Coal Board makes available smokeless fuel in the first years, it is not ultimately embarrassed if my hon. Friend proves to be right.
These are all very real problems, but if we could have a scheme which would reach fruition in fifteen years, there would be time to educate public opinion, to resolve many of these difficulties, and to remove from the atmosphere this dangerous sulphur dioxide, fluorine, etc. We should get on with this job, because we are now wasting our resources and incurring needless expense. We could lighten the burden of the housewife and cut out much of the washing and cleaning that goes on, not only in the home but in offices and factories, in which there are enormous cleaning bills.
I want the housewife to be aware of these things. Even if she goes to Brighton she will be able to keep her hands and fingernails clean for more than an hour at a time, while if she goes to Geneva in the summer she will find she can go for a week without having to change her handkerchief. The fingering of handkerchiefs renders them dirty and unusable almost at once here. In countries like Switzerland snowy washing can be produced without the use of "Persil," soda or the latest detergents and bleaches, yet it will compare with anything that the best British housewife can produce in an industrial city. Black dirt and smoke discolour our washing.
I live about one-and-a-half miles from Clapham Junction Station, reputed to be one of the really black spots in the country. I have curtains that ought to come down and be washed every week, but I cannot do that. No housewife could face that kind of thing. I remember the great relief caused in the Old Kent Road in my constituency when the Gas Board decided to discontinue the use of the gas works there and take the work to a more modern plant at Greenwich. When living at Earlsfield I used to be on top of the railway station. I was never free from soot all over my house, especially on the window sills and in the wash-hand basins. People in Rotherham, Sheffield and other parts of the country can tell a similar disastrous story of filth and muck.
1461 I suspected some years ago that what made our clothes so dirty was not only a nuisance but a menace. We learned only a couple of years ago that this smoke is a killer, especially of people who have delicate chests. I am not very strong, but I have a very fine pair of lungs. Yet I find that even the atmosphere in the House of Commons sometimes makes me very tired. If I yawn I am taking in the deepest breath I can. Hon. Members may take what comfort they can from the fact that their yawns will enable them to take full advantage of the stimulating and health-giving properties in the atmosphere in this House.
I welcome the Bill very much. I want to say how very complicated the whole problem is, yet how much we shall be in the hands of whoever has to administer the Bill. Take the question of conversions, such as the putting in of up-to-date apparatus; the L.C.C. has been busy on this job ever since the war and in my constituency have fitted up gas-fired coke fires. This is a very nice clean job, but produces all the horrible sulphur fumes that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking tells us about; but it makes the working of the back-boiler easy, producing magnificent supplies of hot water.
What did I find? After a comparatively few London County Council flats had been fitted with coke-consuming grates, the coal merchants in that area complained of a very serious shortage of coke. The L.C.C. have now converted about 12,000 dwellings, mostly on the basis of the tenant paying extra rent in respect of the improvement. The private landlord can do a similar thing, and we hope he will be encouraged.
The Beaver Report suggests that local authority tenants should be required to use smokeless fuel, but local authorities will find it extremely difficult to enforce such a condition of tenancy. The sanction would be for the tenant to be turned out, but local authorities cannot turn tenants out so easily. There would be a public outcry. Conditions and sanctions that are not enforceable are most undesirable. That part of the Beaver Report will have to be thought about very carefully.
Some time ago the London County Council looked into the possibility of establishing a smokeless area in part of the East End where new buildings were 1462 going up. There was a possibility of utilising waste resources from an electric power station nearby. We found that there would have to be an extremely expensive installation to connect the plant to the estate. Moreover, the expense would have to be borne by the first lot of tenants who came into the early part of the estate as it was constructed. They would have had to pay such an extravagantly high rent to meet the cost that we could not go ahead. We found no possibility of getting Government help, or of the British Electricity Authority doing other than was most economical for an industrial firm to do. The scheme has had to be abandoned, although I believe we can go ahead with electric fires.
The imposition on the tenant of the need to have electric heating and cooking constitutes a heavy charge on the ordinary working man's income, and that is something which the local authority has to consider very carefully, as, indeed, it must consider very carefully every central heating scheme which it puts into its houses, even though such schemes are designed to deal with this menace.
I have given one or two instances of the difficulties which local authorities, particularly my own local authority, meet, but if we can have a bold, imaginative scheme and can be given generous financial provisions by the Government, then I can assure the Minister that he will have the utmost co-operation from the London County Council and, I think, the generous support of hon. Members.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
There is a grave danger that, if things go on as they are, the House will find itself unanimous, and that always makes speeches monotonous, however well conceived they may be. For the benefit, perhaps, of those who may catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, I propose to address myself to the contrary view on this problem.
I am one of those who feel that there is a good deal to be said against action in the form which this Bill proposes. Since I have already, in the last 12 months, been accused of being associated with the "dirty food lobby," and since I do not want also to run the risk of being associated with the "dirty air lobby," I want to make it clear to the House at the outset that, although I am opposed to the 1463 Bill, I recognise that a problem exists and that some action upon it should be taken.
I am no industrial expert, nor am I a doctor or scientist of any kind, and I therefore propose to address myself, much as did the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), in her most interesting speech, from which I shall borrow a little, to the effects which this Bill would have upon housewives, householders and the domestic sphere generally. I must also confess that to this extent I am biassed: I am one who has a great liking for a pleasant, open coal fire on a Sunday afternoon or evening. That is a bias which I confess, and I imagine that I speak for a number of menfolk, at any rate, when I confess it.
Moreover, I have an instinctive reaction against a Bill which invades people's houses and, as the hon. Lady says, in the areas where it is enforced condemns them to either a gas or electric fire or to the burning of non-existent smokeless fuel. Because I have an instinctive reaction against such a Bill, prima facie I regard it as bad, and I ask whether there is anything to overcome my prima facie objection to it.
First of all, I look at the enforcement provisions of the Bill for, after all, there is not much point in legislating unless we have enforcement provisions. I wonder whether it is generally realised by householders, and housewives in particular, that not only does the Bill condemn them eternally to the use either of gas or electric fires, or of smokeless fuels which are virtualy unobtainable, but it also ensures that they will have added to the list of those who have the right to go round—since there is no other means of doing it—and enter their houses and inspect what is going on there.
We are told that it will be an offence to emit smoke from a chimney. Presumably somebody will have to enforce that provision. The Beaver Committee, in paragraph 122 of its Report, makes it clear that local authorities must have Learns of qualified enforcement officers—"smoke control officers" I think the Committee calls them—and presumably if local authorities are to prosecute anybody for emitting smoke, they must tell their officers to shin up the roof of a house and 1464 take a bottle-full of smoke which, in the approved fashion, they will divide into three parts, one part to be given to the householder and one to be taken away by the inspecting officer.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My hon. Friend talks about bottles, but if he reads the Bill he will find a reference to Ringelmann. That is not an unknown formula in this country, and it is a good deal practised and accepted under city ordinances in the United States and Canada, which are countries blessed with far greater supplies of fuel and power than is this country and which, nevertheless, have far more stringent regulations in principal cities to prevent the emission of dark smoke. All of those regulations are based on Ringelmann provisions, which are perfectly practicable and perfectly justifiable in a court of law.
§ Mr. Higgs
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I had observed the reference to that name in the text of the Bill, and I was only speculating as to how anybody who proposed to enforce the provisions of the Bill would obtain the necessary evidence in order to apply the Ringelmann test. I do not know precisely how that test is applied, but I am sure it cannot be applied from the footpath outside a house to the smoke which is coming from the chimney and that it will be necessary to get at the smoke somehow. I do not say that this is necessarily a fatal objection to the Bill. All I am saying is that the general public, and hon. Members in particular, should recognise that if they accept the Bill they are accepting at the same time the enforcement of its provisions.
I also react unfavourably at first to a Measure which provides, as this Bill provides, that a householder may be punished for a second offence of burning coal by six months imprisonment and then by a fine of £500. It is true that that is a maximum penalty, but the fact remains that a Bill which imposes a penalty of that magnitude on a British householder for burning British coal in a British grate needs careful scrutiny. Prima facie, as I say, a Bill of this sort needs at any rate substantial justification.
What is the justification? Primarily, it is the Beaver Committee's Report. I have made a study of the Report 1465 although, as hon. Members know, it is a very technical document. May I make this observation about the Committee itself: every member of the Committee was a technical expert. It is true that in matters of this sort research must be carried out in the first place by technical experts, but I have a feeling that, between the technical experts and the implementation of their recommendations, there ought to come another filter. We know well enough the reputation of expert witnesses. We know the intolerance which the expert often feels towards the point of view of the common man. I feel that this is a Report on a very technical subject by technical people, and I look at it with the sort of suspicion which the wise juryman employs when he looks at the evidence of an expert witness.
Moreover, it is admitted in the Report again and again, in dealing with different aspects of the problem, that a great deal of research remains to be done not only on the causes of atmospheric pollution, but also upon its effects and consequences and on the remedies which will have to be employed to meet them. A substantial list is given in Appendix III of matters which still require a considerable amount of research. That colouring of the Committee's Report makes it suspect to me, although no more than suspect. It detracts from the value of the evidence.
Perhaps I may give a couple of examples. In the section which deals with the effect of atmospheric pollution upon health, a conclusion is drawn that pollution has a considerable effect in causing bronchial diseases, pneumonia and similar diseases. When we study it, we find the main fact which leads to that conclusion is that more people who live in towns suffer or die from those diseases than people who live in the country. It is a very big jump from that fact to the conclusion.
There are many reasons why people who live in towns might get diseases of that kind more than their cousins in the country. It may be because they spend more time indoors and get less fresh air, or take less exercise and use their lungs less, or it may be because those in the towns see less of the sun. I am even naughty enough to suspect that it is because they suffer more from central heating and electric fires, which do not promote 1466 ventilation as the good old-fashioned open fire does. It is a very big jump from the fact that more people die in towns than in the country to the assumption that it may be due to smoke; it may be due to petrol fumes.
I am also naughty enough to view with suspicion the calculations made about the economic causes of the various evils at which we aim legislation in these days. I suspect that if we added together the cost which it is calculated the country suffers every year in loss of assets from smoke pollution, the loss it suffers from the common cold and from traffic accidents and delays, we would find that we had lost more wealth than we had ever had to lose. I view these calculations always with the gravest suspicion. Sometimes, also, as a sort of by-product of the same thought, when I hear a discussion of this kind following a discussion on road accidents and road safety and, perhaps, of the common cold, I come to the conclusion that this race is a race of headlong suicidal maniacs.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Has not my hon. Friend fallen into a fallacy? If these factors, such as the common cold and so on, together prevent the creation of wealth greater than we do in fact create year by year, there is no necessary absurdity in that. It might well be that if these factors were absent our creation of wealth would be more than doubled. The argument he has put forward defeats itself.
§ Mr. Higgs
There must be some limit. If my hon. Friend thinks there is no limit, he is a greater optimist than I am. The point I was trying to make is that I regard these economic calculations as being carried so far that they defeat themselves by their own obvious absurdity.
Having made these criticisms of the basis on which the Bill is placed, I do not go so far as to say that I do not think there is a very serious problem to be faced. The next question, therefore, must be whether legislation now is necessary and, if it is necessary, whether it should be in this form. It is upon those 1467 two issues that I find I draw conclusions other than my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who introduced the Bill.
Quite recently, we were given a very considerable list of local authorities which already have taken powers, in Private Bills, of the sort which my hon. Friend is seeking to give generally by this Bill. There are already a great number of local authorities, most of them representing the sort of areas where the problem is at its worst, which already have the sort of powers the Bill seeks to give. There is a limit to the amount of smokeless fuel which can be produced. There is a limit to the amount of appliances available, at any rate for domestic use. If so much research is still to be done, surely it would be wiser to push ahead with progress in those areas where already they have powers and leave general legislation to apply to the whole country until we have more experience, until there is greater research gained by the application of the principles in those areas already covered.
There are many administrative steps that could be taken which would assist those areas which are worst affected and which already have the necessary powers. One has to consider not only the advantages of a Measure of this sort, but its cost. It is worth while pointing out that the man most concerned of almost everyone in the country, Sir Charles Ellis, scientific member of the National Coal Board, has been reported as saying that to put down plant which would produce the smokeless fuel of a quality which would just possibly get by—no more than just good enough—might cost the National Coal Board £200 million. That is his estimate of the cost. It is perfectly clear to anyone who has experimented with smokeless fuel, as the hon. Member for Peckham and I have, that it is in most unsatisfactory supply and likely to be so for some time. I have been persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster and others like him to install these modern appliances, but I find that all I can get is coke, which is unsuitable. Anthracite, "Coalite," "Phurnacite" and all other types of fuel which I ought to be able to get are not available.
Surely before plunging into legislation of this sort some factual satisfactory assurance that smokeless fuel will be 1468 available in the sort of quantities in which people are going to need it should be given. We should remember that when someone has taken out the old-fashioned coal grate and installed some appliance which will burn only anthracite, it is no good saying, "Well, you can get ordinary house coal." Nor, as I read the Bill, will it be any good saying one may burn wood peat, or any other substances so popular in the countryside. Surely the more sympathetic remedy, more in accordance with the way in which in this country we normally make progress, would have been to give inducements of one sort or another.
Surely the proper way is by using the Budget, not necessarily by direct subsidies, but by ensuring that the right kind of fuel is available at the right kind of price and attractive appliances burning smokeless fuel available in the right quantities. That is the sort of way in which we ought to begin to make progress of this kind. In the end, it may be necessary to introduce legislation to deal with die-hards like me, who insist on having a coal fire when the whole of the rest of the country has been converted. That may be necessary in the very end, but it is much more likely that we shall get the people to follow if we give them some sort of inducement.
Financial inducement may be costly, but the other way has its costs. For instance, the British Electricity Authority said that if it were compelled to do what the Bill requires it to do to its plant it might cost between £140 million and £250 million in capital expenditure and it would add to the cost of maintaining the additional machinery, which would put up the cost of producing electricity by 12 per cent. The purposes of this Bill may be very desirable, but is the country prepared to face among the other costs an increase of 12 per cent. in the case of electricity?
§ Mr. Robens
If the matter were to be personal, would the hon. Member pay a 12 per cent. increase in the cost of fuel to save the life of a member of his family? He does not really believe that all this expenditure must be made at one and the same time? Will he say at what value he puts human life?
§ Mr. Higgs
The right hon. Member puts his question to me in his own way. If it were a question of saving the life 1469 of someone and there were no other means, I would pay 12 per cent. on top of my electricity bill, but when we are discussing a Measure of this sort, we have to weigh the whole of the pros and cons. No particular argument will settle the argument one way or the other. A number of questions have to be balanced. The housewives—I am putting it from the domestic angle—will realise that this will not be free. The British Electricity Authority says that it will put 12 per cent. on the cost of electricity. The National Coal Board says that it will cost whatever £200 million represents when expressed in terms of the price of fuel, and already the price of coke, anthracite and other slow-burning fuels is quite considerable compared even with ordinary coal. Those are the sort of arguments I am putting, and I do not suggest that any one of them is conclusive or that we can make the answer quite so simple as the right hon. Member would have us believe.
Another respect in which research is still needed is the possibility of developing domestic grates which will burn coal in a way which will not be harmful to the neighbourhood. The Beaver Report makes observations about progress which has been made in this way. Progress has already been made in the design of flues and grates which will bum ordinary domestic coal less detrimentally than the old-fashioned grate used to do. Progress must be made further, but the Bill, apparently, abandons all hope that we shall ever arrive at a grate which will burn best Cannock coal and burn it without detriment.
I should like to be far more certain than we are, apparently, from the present advance of research that nothing can be done in that way before I would abandon once and for all the coal fire. I should want to be satisfied that within the 10 or 15 years that the Bill will require to reach fruition nobody will invent a method of burning ordinary house coal domestically without polluting the atmosphere.
It may well be that grates and chimneys will improve, or that it might be possible to do what apparently can be done to a factory chimney and fit a filter on the top to take out a large portion of the pollution. Why it cannot be done to a private house, I do not know, but I should like to be certain that it cannot 1470 be done before committing myself to the Bill.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Does the hon. Member suggest postponing a decision 10 or 15 years to see whether the improved grates have been invented in that time?
§ Mr. Higgs
No. I said that already a large number of local authorities in the worst affected areas have taken various powers in private legislation and that we should confine our efforts during the next 10 years to those areas where the question is most urgent and should wait until more experience has been gained in those ways before we legislate in general for the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Higgs
The Bill will not help those areas which already have the powers, or, at any rate, it will help them very little. Before we legislate generally, questions of the kind that I have mentioned should be the subject of further research. It might well prove that when the final answer is found, the Bill which then would be brought forward would be the better for having waited and that those areas whose need is most urgent would have made more progress in the meantime.
We ought to be told whether, in addition to preventing the burning of coal in the appropriate zones, the Bill will also prevent the burning of wood, peat and other things that people commonly burn. This is a small point but, on the other hand, a lot of people burn logs and they ought to know whether the Bill will prevent them from doing so.
I was surprised when reading the Beaver Report to find that the National Union of Mineworkers was never consulted and did not give evidence before the Beaver Committee. That is surprising, because coalminers are very much concerned with this problem. Not only do they produce coal and not only is it sought to ban from British homes the product which they produce—at any rate, in its simplest form—but by and large the great majority of the miners live in areas which are badly affected by this problem. They and their wives, therefore, among others, are the people who will be most closely affected by the Bill in their homes.
1471 I do not know what the National Union of Mineworkers would say if it were told that its members could have their free or concessionary coal and take it home but must not burn it. I do not know what they would say if told, "You cannot have your coal any more because it is no good to you, but you can have coke or a chit for so much free gas and electricity," or what the workers in the gas and electricity industries would say when they learnt that the miners were getting free gas and electricity because the law no longer allowed them to burn coal. Points of this sort, while obviously not conclusive, nevertheless require elucidation. So important a body of people as the National Union of Mineworkers ought at any rate to have been consulted.
I for one, therefore, while I recognise the grave importance of the problem, am always a little frightened of premature or panic legislation, and when there is scope, as there is, under existing legislation for considerable progress to be made while we gain experience, I feel that this Measure is ill-timed and in the wrong form.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I do not know the constituency of the hon. Member who has just spoken—
§ Mr. Winterbottom
—but I do know that he trod upon dangerous ground. Some time ago he opposed what might be called an effort to bring cleanliness to food and some people said that he was in favour of dirty food. By reason of what he has said today, some people may say that he is in favour of dirty air. I agree, however, with some of the things that he said.
While I congratulate the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) upon the idea of the Bill, there are many things in it that I should oppose. My opposition would, perhaps, be different to that of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), but I still think that in the Bill the hon. Member for Kidderminster has left undone many of the things which he ought to have done and has done those 1472 things which he ought not to have done; and that there is very little health left in the Bill.
I should like to make a quotation from Clause 1:A local authority may if they think fit contribute the whole or part of the expense necessarily incurred by any person in executing works or in providing, altering or adapting any fixtures, fittings or appliances for the purpose of complying with the provisions of an order under this section.Coming, as I do, from a district which is misnamed Brightside, one of the dirtiest places in the country, I should hesitate to commit the Sheffield City Council to pay for the industrial filth that comes from the industrial premises in the Brightside area. Therefore, I should oppose Clause 1, because I believe that the responsibility for meeting the expense of ensuring clean air should be borne by those responsible for polluting the atmosphere.
At the same time, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kidderminster on one thing. I believe that his energy and inspiration have contributed largely to a very deep study of this serious and urgent problem and led to the attempt to try to force the Government to do something. The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) spoke of the smog that covered his car and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) spoke of the filth in Clapham Junction Station. When I heard both of them I almost felt like saying that they did not know the extent of the problem.
In my district a man could sweep the flags in front of his house of the red shale which covered them and an hour later, even though he was wearing Army boots, he could still tell without looking at the pavement that it was covered with shale. It comes from a gas plant covering three or four acres. Those who have television sets in houses a quarter of a mile away have to have them cleaned every month because of the filth. If the hon. Member for Bromsgrove lived in those conditions he would speak rather differently.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The hon. Member is mistaken. While there is a special Sheffield Section to the Act, the authority cannot deal with the result of smoke emitted from gas or electricity undertakings or nationalised undertakings or with the problem of alkalis. One of the important recommendations of the Beaver Committee is that establishments such as these should be brought within the scope of the alkali inspectorate. That is a clear indication that at present municipal authorities cannot deal with that most serious problem.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I said that the hon. Member for Kidderminster had done certain things. I approve of Clause 6, with certain reservations, and I will deal with it later.
I want to say something about the conditions under which people have to live because the type of production in which they are engaged is necessary to the economy of the country. Within a mile of my own house there are many factory chimneys. In the middle of those chimneys a new electricity power station has been built. The condensation from the towers of the station brings sulphur and grime right into the middle of a new housing estate.
Conditions are so bad in one district that if a widow cleaner were blindfolded and taken to a house and the bandage over his eyes were then removed he could tell whether or not the house was facing the electricity station by examining the effect of the sulphur on the window panes. Those are the conditions in which people in Sheffield live. Those who are not prepared to face up to this situation ought to be compelled to live in Brightside.
In congratulating the hon. Member for Kidderminster on what he has done to bring the Government to a realisation of the situation, I want to add that the municipal corporations have also contributed a great deal in that direction. I know that the Minister has seen representatives of municipal corporations during the last fortnight and that they have pressed upon him what I feel most hon. Members are pressing upon him today. It is that he should accept the 1474 principle that the Government will introduce a Bill during this Session to give effect to the recommendations of the Beaver Committee. If the Minister will accept that, there are one or two suggestions which I should like to make to him.
The first is that in connection with the introduction of a Bill he should consult representatives of the municipal corporations, and especially the representatives of those corporations which have to deal with the difficulties caused by sulphur, grit, red shale and things of that kind. He should take their advice on how far he should give powers to local authorities to deal with those difficulties.
Secondly, it would be utterly unfair to saddle a corporation like the Sheffield City Corporation with the responsibility of meeting the financial burden involved in dealing with the problem. It might amount to many shillings in the rate per £ in a city, whilst people who live in places like Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Bromsgrove get away with it for nothing. After all, it is the important industrial centres which make it possible within the economy of the country for the hon. Member for Bromsgrove to enjoy his Sunday afternoon by the fire and the evening walk in clean air to take away the effect of the time spent by the fireside.
I want the Government to take seriously into consideration the question of how clean air is to be financed and how they may take a little away from those who have lived in beautiful atmospheres so as to bring relief to those who live in the filth. I speak feelingly on the subject because I believe that it is the responsibility of the Government to bring all possible relief to those who have suffered a long time.
I am in a difficulty at the moment because I do not know whether my next remark will be within the bounds of order or in accordance with the traditions and customs of the House. I have no doubt that I shall be told if I transgress.
There is a custom in this House that when the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod comes to the door of the Chamber he solemnly knocks three times and craves permission to enter. We never refuse that permission. When he knocks we know that he is going to come in. We are in a position like that with the Government today. We cannot say, 1475 because they have not officially announced it, that they are prepared to accept the principle of introducing a Clean Air Bill this Session with a view to carrying it through all its stages before the autumn. Nevertheless, we know that they are going to do it. If they agree to do that, and this Bill and the Amendment to it are withdrawn, I suggest that they should seriously consider the wording of Clause 6 of the Bill which is now before the House.
I know the difficulties of the rural authorities. I know that, in the main, they cannot provide the experts who can deal with the problems of sulphur, grit, and so on, because the product of a penny rate in those districts does not allow them to pay for expert advice. But that should not preclude cities which are gravely affected by this problem, and which can provide expert advice and are prepared to provide it, from being given the power to prevent this great nuisance.
I should like the Government seriously to consider adopting Clause 6 and, at the same time, making it possible for those authorities which cannot provide expert advice by reason of financial difficulties to have, in some other way, some voice and power within the districts over which they have to control to prevent even the nationalised industries from spilling their filth over the area. I am hoping today that the spokesman for the Government will say to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, "You have done your best; you have not done enough; we will accept the responsibility for you."
I hope that the Government will promise to the House a Bill which can be carried through all its stages and receive the Royal Assent this Session, and which will bring relief to those people who, for many years, have suffered from this serious industrial problem.
§ 2.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Although the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) began his speech with a broadside directed against the Bill before the House, it was clear before he resumed his seat that he was in sympathy with its object. In that respect, he differed only from one hon. Member who has spoken in the debate.
1476 This is the first time I think that I have found myself in direct disagreement with the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs). Unlike him, I believe that the method which this Bill adopts is in the line and tradition of our most successful public health legislation and of those successive great Measures which have dealt with the working and living conditions of our people over the last 100 or 120 years. Those Measures applied just the methods which this Bill seeks to apply; namely, that when a definite evil is ascertained, to the continuance of which public opinion is strongly adverse, then, as soon as avoidance and prevention become practicable, that evil is defined and a prohibition imposed upon it by legislation.
After that prohibition has been imposed, it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) said, for the public and the economy to adapt themselves to the new situation created. Incidentally, I believe that the indirect reactions over the whole field of fuel and power and over the economy generally as a result of this, or an equivalent Measure, will be far reaching. But it is not the business of Parliament to approach these matters by seeking to control the individual methods adopted for the prevention or diminution of an evil. Parliament's duty is to define the evil, and, if avoidance by one method or another is practicable, then to prohibit it.
I suggest it is from this point of view that we should examine the Bill before the House. It makes many important changes in the law; but two I would single out as the principal changes. The first is in regard to non-domestic smoke pollution. Hitherto, under the Public Health Act, 1936, industrial smoke can only be dealt with if it constitutes a nuisance. The emission of industrial smoke as such is not an offence. Under this Bill, the pollution of the atmosphere by industrial smoke will, as such, become an offence three years from now. We have to ask ourselves whether that is a practicable prohibition, whether it is a reasonable one, and whether it is one that is required by public opinion. There can be no doubt that the answer to all these questions must be in the affirmative.
The Beaver Report says:… with few exceptions, no industrial chimney need normally emit more than a light 1477 haze of smoke if the combustion arrangements are adequate and are properly operated.In other words, it is perfectly practicable for this continuing abuse to be eliminated within a comparatively short time.
As to its financial practicability, we have the evidence of the scientific member of the National Coal Board, Sir Charles Ellis, thatsmokelessness and efficiency are bound together, and in attempting to achieve smokelessness we are facilitating the attainment of the highest efficiency.In other words, the cost to industry itself of avoiding smoke pollution is precisely nil. Again, to quote paragraph 28 of the Beaver Report:… The whole cost will normally be recouped by the consequent savings in fuel.We cannot, therefore, be in any doubt that it is perfectly practicable, subject to exceptions for which the Bill makes allowance, for this grave nuisance to be terminated in the very near future.
That there is a real public demand for it to be terminated. I have equally no doubt. I understand that in America newspapers have the amiable custom of photographing local chimneys which are particularly blameworthy in the matter of smoke emission, and publishing the pictures, with no comment, but simply with the name and address of the firms concerned. I wish that my own local paper in Wolverhampton had a similar custom. If they had, they would not run out of material for their picture page for a good many months. I have even wondered whether I should go so far as to abuse my privilege in this House by reading out a list here and now of the worst offenders. I will only say that the reference which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) made to breweries and laundries seemed to me to come very near the mark.
So we have the conditions which justify legislative prohibition. It is perfectly practicable; it is costless to industry to comply with this prohibition; and it is a prohibition demanded by public feeling, which has rightly been stirred up in the last few years.
The other great change which this Bill makes in the law is that it brings pollution by domestic smoke for the first time within the ambit of general legislation. It does so in two ways—by generalising the power to make smokeless zones, which 1478 has hitherto only been obtained by the expensive process of a private Act; and, secondly, by introducing for the first time, on the lines suggested by the Beaver Committee, a kind of intermediate stage between smoke pollution and the smokeless zone, namely, a "smoke control area," and enabling local authorities on their own initiative, subject to the agreement of the Minister, to create either smokeless zones or smoke control areas.
Again, let us ask the same question, is this practicable? Is it practicable as regards expenditure? Of course not over night; but no one expects this transformation to be effected over night. When we read in the Beaver Committee Report thatin the majority of casesof domestic housesthe total cost of conversion should not exceed £10 a house; for converting a single, open fire it might be less,it is quite clear that we are operating within the limits of what is practical politics.
The availability of the various fuels which would contribute to smokelessness or be burned in a smoke control area has been discussed at various stages in this debate. Once again we must remember that we are not dealing with something to be brought into force tomorrow—then, indeed, there would be a severe problem—but with something which will come into force area by area over a period of 10 or 15 years, as and when in those areas it is practicable to introduce it.
In those circumstances, I think we are entitled to give great weight to the words on this subject of the Report, when it says:Whilst we should not care to predict to what extent the solution will ultimately depend on coke, we are entirely satisfied that from the sources we have indicated enough coke Could be found to permit the creation of smokeless zones and smoke control areas as fast as the administrative action and the replacement of appliances would permit during the next five years at least.In other words, we have got a sufficiently practical basis for making a start on this. I entirely dissent—I am sorry he is not here—from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, who remarked that we might be able to do this job better in 10 or 15 years time than we can now and therefore should wait 1479 for 10 or 15 years before we make a start.
I am not going to trouble the House by reminding them how the Beaver Committee proved that in the long run smoke reduction and smoke elimination in the domestic sphere will mean a saving to the individual housekeeper and also to the nation at large. That was a point that was strongly brought out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I believe this principle is the most important single element in my hon. Friend's Bill, because the omission of domestic smoke from Measures of smoke prevention or abatement has hitherto largely vitiated their effectiveness. We cannot overlook the fact that the domestic chimney, in the thickly populated areas with which we are mainly concerned, is at least as important a source of domestic pollution as is the factory chimney. "No cure," as the Beaver Committee says,can be found for the heavy smoke pollution of our cities and towns unless the domestic chimney is dealt with.So prevention is both practicable, economically and physically, and also essential. The Bill tackles, in the manner in which our earlier social and public health legislation proceeded, this great domestic evil of our towns and cities.
I am particularly happy and proud that my hon. Friend allowed me to be associated with him, because I not only represent a Black Country constituency but my family have lived in the Black Country for generations. Over 100 years ago Dickens described the Black Country as a place where asfar as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly form which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air.Conditions of that full horror have long ceased to exist even in the South Staffordshire Black Country; and in my own lifetime I can remember considerable improvement in the state of the atmosphere over the towns of the Black Country. Nevertheless, the time is ripe now for a drastic step which within a measure-able period—let us say, of 10 or 15 years—will make the description "Black Country" once and for all obsolete. I 1480 hope the House today, either by passing this Bill or by accepting the pledge of an equivalent Measure to take its place, will lay the foundations of the last stage in this process of social improvement.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I think there have been three main criticisms of this Bill. First, we had the points so clearly made by my hon. Friends who represent Stoke-on-Trent, which were to the effect that this Bill, although valuable in its content, could not fully tackle at the present state of our knowledge some of the problems we are faced with in air pollution, particularly the problems of sulphur discharges of one kind or another. But I think they will agree that that is no reason why we should not now go as far as we possibly can. Their arguments seem to me to lead not so much to a negation of this Bill, but rather to urge the introduction of a wider measure of further research, which is badly needed, and the immediate necessity of a Government Measure, which I think we all hope will be forthcoming.
The second criticism was the one dealt with so very effectively by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), when he referred to the objections raised by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), who seemed to suggest that we were thinking in terms of wide changes to be brought about within a matter of the first year of the operation of this Bill; or of any successor Bill that may be brought in. No one believes that for a single moment. I thought three-quarters of his argument against the Bill were destroyed by this completely wrong basic assumption that we were going to proceed in this immediate manner.
Then there was the criticism advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), a moderate and, on the whole, a helpful criticism. He seemed to accept the view, which I do not think is substantiated by any reading of the Bill, that the main charge for tackling the problem of industrial smoke would fall upon the local authorities. Indeed the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) made it perfectly clear that he believed that this problem should be met by private enterprise itself at its own cost. 1481 Certainly, I do not think there is anyone who believes that the whole or, indeed, the major part of the cost of the proposals under this Bill would necessarily fall upon the local authorities.
I represent in this House a part of the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne which has a peculiarly shameful record in this matter. Not only is air pollution in Newcastle particularly severe, but, indeed, we have been the main cause of it over the greater part of Britain for the last seven centuries. We have the proud record of supplying the very sea coal that was objected to way back in the thirteenth century by keels that came down from Tyneside. And Queen Elizabeth, when complaining about the smoke in London, mentioned specifically the smoke poured out by Newcastle coal. Therefore, those of us who come from the North-East bear special responsibility for this problem.
Newcastle itself suffers severely in this respect. Eleven tons of what our medical officer of health rather romantically calls "aerial sewage" falls every day upon the town. I could think of other names for it. Unfortunately, not only is the concentration worse in Newcastle than in most other areas, but it is getting worse instead of better, although many of us feel that with general improvements within existing powers we could tackle the problem.
I do not think that Newcastle has been particularly remiss in using existing powers but, since the problem is getting worse, it is another argument against the hon. Member for Bromsgrove. He seemed to think that we could carry on with our present processes, and could hope for the best until there is more adequate proof of the need for such a Measure. I do not know what further proof the hon. Gentleman wants. The stuff we are getting down our throats day by day and year by year should be sufficient proof.
The position in Newcastle has aroused a really outstanding amount of public anxiety and protest. During the last few years there has been in the city a growing demand for action. Public meetings have been held in all parts of the city, demands have been made, and the local authority has been busy preparing its own type of legislation, but naturally does not want to embark upon the cost involved in 1482 Private Bill legislation if there is any chance of other legislation becoming available. One cannot object to that. That is why I am anxious that either this Bill or an even more adequate Measure from the Government should come forward this Session.
There has been reference to the general effect of smoke in the atmosphere. One of the most serious problems from the point of view of general health is the way it cuts off the public from sunshine. Here plenty of figures are available. According to the latest figures of the Newcastle Medical Officer of Health, an area between 12 and 15 miles outside the city gets 450 more hours of sunshine in the year than the city itself. When, unhappily, the North-East coast is not greatly favoured with sunshine in any case, it is a matter of great consequence that we should be denied that much. So one of the important features of these proposals is that they will help to give us more sunshine than we have had hitherto.
I am greatly concerned with the health aspect, because I have had some responsibility for it in the past. Although it is difficult to get accurate and detailed facts about the relationship between air pollution and health, it is true that there is a close link between bronchitis and other chest complaints and air pollution. In Newcastle, we have started an important detailed medical survey of the city into chronic bronchitis and its causes, which I hope will provide a great deal of important information.
This inquiry is being pursued by the main teaching hospital of the city in co-operation with the medical officer of health and others concerned. We are hoping that there will be a general feeling of good will towards the inquiry and that everybody approached will help in every way they can. Knowing how anxious many people are that there should not be too many inquiries into our personal affairs, we are all the more anxious that this inquiry shall have the fullest possible support.
In my own constituency, particularly down by the riverside, it seems that almost every second adult man is suffering, from bronchitis of one stage or another. It is a serious and notable fact, and on many occasions attention has been called 1483 to the severe effect which air pollution has on the death rate from bronchitis and its disabling effect. Those directing this inquiry have made it clear that out of every 11 days' work lost through sickness in an average year one is due to chronic bronchitis, and one out of every 30 men employed loses 14 days each year, again due to bronchitis. These facts make clear the urgent importance of this matter.
Professor Pybus, of Newcastle, who has spent most of his life in investigating cancer problems, has made clear in his letters to medical journals, particularly to the "Lancet" recently, that in his view there can be no doubt about the link between air pollution and cancer. He goes further than the Beaver Committee in this regard. It is very cautious, as no doubt it should be, but other medical opinion which has given this problem much study is prepared to go a great deal further. All this means that it is vital for action to be delayed no longer.
I am anxious that no hope of added subsidy or financial assistance to householders and others shall delay the immediate action which householders and others could be encouraged to take. The suggestion that in a few years' time some financial encouragement could be given might only delay what we want done. Therefore it is important to make it clear that, under existing powers, a good deal can be done from the financial aspect. I am thinking of the improved grants that can be made available under the 1949 Housing Act as amended by recent legislation. In many cases the necessary alterations to grates and to heating systems should be part of the improvement of property which we all want to see carried out and for which grants are already available. So there is no reason why that part of the work should not go ahead.
I am prepared to support this Bill if the Government cannot give adequate assurances. Whether this Bill goes forward or other measures are taken, I hope that local authorities now will be encouraged to call local conferences to work out the possible lines along which smokeless zones and smoke-controlled zones might operate in their areas. There should be conferences with all sides of industry and householders to give some indication of what this would mean for 1484 them, so that they may be encouraged to make early preparation for what they will be required to do eventually, and in order that the transition may be smooth. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to give all the assurances that we want. If he does not, I, and, I hope, my hon. Friends, will support the Bill.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
This, I think, is one of the best debates that I have attended in the House for a long time. It has been interesting and extremely instructive. I do not think that anybody who has listened to it could fail to have been impressed by the wide knowledge of those who have taken part and the deep sincerity with which they have approached the problem.
I should like, in particular, to thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), to whom we all owe the debate. I congratulate him upon his initiative in the whole matter, and I also congratulate him, as other hon. Members have done, on his most admirable speech, which contained historical allusions which, I am sure, delighted the whole House and also showed the profound nature of the research and technical studies which he has made and the time and effort which he has evidently devoted, not just now but over many years, to the whole problem. It was a stroke of good fortune that he drew the lucky number in the Ballot, good fortune not only for him but also for the House.
Let me say straight away that if my hon. Friend has been pushing us along a little, nobody resents it less than I do. There is, I am sure, no difference of opinion—at least, I have not heard of any yet—in this House and very little outside about the desirability of preventing, as far as possible, the pollution of our atmoshere. There is also, I believe, very little difference of opinion about the fact that it is already high time that we adopted the positive measures which are necessary to achieve that end.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) said earlier in the debate, it was precisely because the Government were impressed by the importance and the urgency of the question that in 1953 they appointed the 1485 Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Beaver. I should not like this opportunity to pass without paying my tribute also to Sir Hugh. I had the privilege and pleasure of working with him at the Ministry of Works in the latter part of the war. As one or two hon. Members have said, he has added a fresh page to his record of public service, one for which the whole nation is indebted to him.
As I have said, it was because of the sense of urgency which they had that in 1953 the Government set up the Committee of Inquiry. Its Report was published shortly before Christmas. I submit to the House and, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, that we have not really been dragging our feet since then. No time has been lost. During the Recess the Government studied the implications of the Report, and when the House reassembled I was able, on the very first day, to announce that, while we reserved our position, as it was quite proper that we should do, about individual recommendations, the Government accept in principle the clean air policy advocated by the Committee.
I know that when one talks on the Continent about accepting something in principle it usually means that one disagrees altogether with everything, and it is usually the beginning of a speech of opposition to the whole idea; but, in our English language when we say that we are in agreement in principle it means that we approve the broad lines of what is proposed. When the Government do so in the present case it also commits them to taking action to implement it, and I can assure the House that that is so in this instance.
As I have said, we are in agreement in principle with the policy advocated by the Beaver Committee's Report, and it follows, naturally, that the Government warmly support the objectives of my hon. Friend's Bill. We all admire the boldness, enthusiasm and pertinacity with which he has brought it before the House. Since we support the objectives of the Bill, our natural inclination is to support the Bill itself, and I can assure my hon. Friend and others who are sponsoring the Bill that it is in that spirit that we have examined the text of the Measure.
1486 In its Report, the Committee defined the principles and objectives of a clean air policy. However, the process of translating them into an Act of Parliament inevitably raises a number of doubtful points which do not necessarily emerge in the text of a Committee's Report, points which one way or the other must be resolved. Some of these points may be of great importance to large sections of the community and may involve technical problems of considerable complexity. Wrong decisions might well prejudice the effective administration of the policy and easily lose us the goodwill of those whose support is essential for its success.
The implementation of the policy will, as hon. Members well know, have considerable repercussions upon the design of industrial plant and industrial re-equipment plans in general. It will extend the responsibilities of local authorities and entail the recruitment of a substantial number of technical staff and also their training, because some of the more technical people are rather rare birds. Quite serious problems are raised by the considerable expansion which would undoubtedly be involved. As for the prohibition of smoke from domestic chimneys, this will involve changes at the family fireside which, at first, may not be universally welcomed.
If the new law is to be intelligible, practicable and reasonable, it must, we consider, be devised and framed in close consultation with those who will be most directly affected. In particular, we consider that we must have full consultations with local authorities, with industry, both employers and trade unions, and with various technical bodies whose advice we need.
As I told the House last week, these consultations have already started. They are going ahead satisfactorily, but, of course, they are not yet completed. In the light of these circumstances the Government have considered whether we could advise the House to adopt the text of my hon. Friend's Bill and we have most reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot do so for the following reasons.
First, the drafting of the Bill is, in our opinion defective, in certain major respects; secondly, it departs in some ways from the Beaver's Committee's 1487 recommendations, not only in those ways to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster referred in his speech today, but in ways which we feel present certain quite serious difficulties; thirdly, because the Bill has of necessity been framed without full consultation with industry and with local authorities; lastly, through no fault of the hon. Member, because the Bill does not and, of course, could not contain the financial provisions which are necessary to make it fully effective.
We have also considered whether the Government might, during the Committee stage, help my hon. Friend to redraft and reshape the Bill and, at the same time, introduce the necessary financial Clauses, but there are quite serious difficulties about that. In the first place, I doubt whether it is really desirable for the Government to infuse large sums of public money into Private Members' Bills. The sums, although my hon. Friend regards them as trifling, do amount to quite considerable totals. For instance, one sum to which the Beaver Committee referred is £15 million over the next five years and there are various other expenses involved. But it is questionable whether we should infuse large sums of public money into Private Members' Bills. If this practice were to develop generally, there is no doubt that the whole character of Private Members' legislation would be changed.
Secondly, there is a limit to the extent of the changes which it is proper to make during the Committee stage of a Bill. Even assuming that it was right for the Government to give the Bill its financial teeth and that there were no constitutional objections to altering radically the form of the Bill in Committee, we are still up against a serious practical difficulty, which is that it would be most undesirable—and we should not be prepared to do so—for the Government to table their Amendments until the consultations which they are having with industry and local authorities are completed. It would make a nonsense of these consultations, if, half way through, we were to table Amendments to a Bill in the House of Commons. However, by the time that these consultations are completed, I fear that the Committee stage of the Bill in all probability would be nearly over.
1488 Those are the difficulties which we see. In all the circumstances, I feel—and I think this view is shared, as I judge from some of the speeches made today, even by those supporting and backing the Bill—that it would really be much better and would avoid the risk of the confusion, if we were to have a Government Bill.
I should explain to the House where we stand on that, because I think that that is my main task today. I do not propose to enter into discussion of the merits of the policy. There is general agreement about the policy we want and the time for the Government to explain exactly where we stand on each proposition will come at a later stage. So far as Government legislation is concerned, this is where we stand.
As soon as the consultations to which I have referred are completed, the Government will frame and introduce a comprehensive Measure, including the financial provisions needed to make it effective. The Bill will follow the general lines of the recommendations of the Beaver Committee. I say "general lines," because I want to make it clear that that does not preclude us from considering other additional, or alternative proposals, such as have been put forward by various hon. Members during the course of this debate.
I can make no promise—and the House will not expect me to do so—about the date of the introduction of the Bill, except that there will be no avoidable delay and it will, of course, be introduced during the present Session. Whether the Bill will get through all the stages this Session will largely depend on how far it proves to be an agreed Measure. But, judging from the speeches to which we have listened today, there seems to be a very good prospect that hon. Members in all parts of the House will do their best to facilitate its passage.
I think that, on the whole, everyone, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, is agreed that a comprehensive Government Bill would be much more satisfactory than the limited Measure which is before us today. Hon. Members have to choose between a small bird in the hand and a bigger bird in the bush, and I have no doubt that they will choose wisely.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I am very delighted to have the opportunity briefly to thank the Minister for the announcement which he has just made. The whole House—there may be one or two exceptions—received his statement with relief and delight. We are very pleased that he should have been able to say that he could introduce his Bill this Session.
I should like to thank him, also, for the kindly references which he made to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who is, as it were, my leader on this occasion, and his references to Sir Hugh Beaver. They both deserve congratulation and I should like to join in what he said about them, particularly about Sir Hugh. I also happened to work with him during the war, although in a much less exhalted capacity than did the right hon. Gentleman. I well knew the vigour he would bring to his task and I was not surprised when the final Report of his Committee appeared.
I backed this Bill following an effort on my part to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might have asked for mention to be made in the Gracious Speech that a Bill of this kind would be introduced. As soon as the final Report of the Committee was produced, I wrote to one of the London evening newspapers a letter, which was published, suggesting that he might well try to secure the insertion of such a statement in the Gracious Speech. No doubt he was unable to do that because of the shortness of time; or could it have been that later the Ballot for Private Members' Bills took place and the hon. Gentleman put his Bill before the House? One way and another the process seems to have been accelerated. I have nothing to do but to thank the Minister for having accelerated the process.
I take a special interest in the Bill because, though only for a brief period, I was responsible for looking after the public health of the nation. It was very much impressed upon me then, if I had never known it before, that prevention is better than cure. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) reminded us, the proposals in the Bill follow in the tradition of our great public health Measures.
1490 We have had to impose compulsions to carry them out. There was a great rumpus at one time about compulsory vaccination. There were probably similar protests about the tuberculin testing of cattle, or the imposition of other compulsions about public sanitation. No less a philosopher than Herbert Spencer protested against compulsory sanitation and the formation of the sanitary districts which afterwards became the local authorities of the country. All these steps were approved by public opinion in the course of time.
Though the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) sounded like those who criticised Lister and Pasteur in their time, perhaps before another generation has passed he will begin to approve and applaud and feel that he took a little part this afternoon in paddling this canoe safely to the shore.
I have another reason for special interest in the Bill, not merely because of the acquaintanceship I made at the Ministry of Health with these great problems of public health and because I have become aware more than ever before of the injury that we do ourselves in depriving ourselves of sunshine. After all, we live by sunshine. We are able to eat only because the sun's energy is converted into chlorophyll. We are able to keep ourselves warm only because the sun's energy has been converted into coal and other materials. Yet, in this country, where we have very little sunshine, we deliberately deprive ourselves all the time of what we might otherwise have by polluting the atmosphere.
It is not only because of these general considerations that I support the Measure and want to thank the Minister for promising to introduce a Government Bill, but because I represent a constituency which is very closely affected. I think I may be pardoned for mentioning that fact very briefly. Other hon. Members, naturally, have referred to experiences in their constituencies. For five years I represented part of Cardiff. Whenever I went there to meet my constituents in what we loosely call a "surgery" to hear their complaints, grievances and difficulties, I rarely came across any instance of anybody suffering from respiratory disease. Cardiff is a city blessed with a supply of Welsh coal near at hand, and the whiteness of its 1491 public buildings bears testimony to what can be done when a smokeless fuel is available.
Then I moved to Middlesbrough. I do not think that it is any exaggeration to say that when people come to me in Middlesbrough—not, of course, with medical complaints because those I could not deal with any way, but about their pension or other difficulties—half of them are suffering from chronic bronchitis. In the City of Middlesbrough, in 1952, no fewer than 372 tons of solid matter were dropped upon the town. There are in the town 10 gauges which record what pollution takes place. They are scattered all over the town, from areas in my constituency which are anything but residential to areas in the constituenciy of the hon. and learned Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon) which are quite desirable residential districts. Each of these 10 gauges records tarry matter, ash and combustible matter.
The presence of tarry matter is specially significant. Middlesbrough has joined with other local authorities in a Tees-side Smoke Abatement Committee which made representations to Members of Parliament for the area. The Committee has done splendid work. It has visited factories in the area and explained what might be done to reduce atmospheric pollution. It has conducted propaganda in the newspapers and in other ways to persuade the general public of the contribution which the ordinary householder can make.
At the end of it all, the Committee was bound to tell the Members of Parliament that it could not get any further without compulsion. It really was not possible for the Committee to do as the hon. Member for Bromsgrove suggested and, one by one and each separately, to promote Private Bills. Some of them are small and poor authorities. Piecemeal legislation is no use in a situation like that. The smoke and the polluted atmosphere does not know local government boundaries. It spreads about from place to place.
The Committee said that if we were to have smoke-free zones it would have to be done as part of a regional, if not a national, plan. Most of the members were emphatic in asking us to do all we could to secure that public legislation 1492 gave to the whole of the local authorities the powers now possessed by Manchester and a few other bodies.
That is one of the main reasons why I wished to use any power I had to forward the Bill. I am sure that compulsion is necessary. There are 39 factories and industrial establishments in Middlesbrough listed as likely to cause atmospheric pollution, according to the records of the Tees-side Smoke Abatement Committee. Suggestions have been made to all of them and only 16 of the 39 have adopted any of the proposals which might have been adopted. Included among those 16, needless to say, are some of the largest and most important steel works.
It is inevitable, now that we have reached this stage where private good will and the public endeavour of local authorities with limited powers has done its maximum, that we should have further compulsion by the State. I am sure that the Minister was right not to attempt to indicate at this stage what will be in his Bill. Having had experience of the drafting of Bills, both as a civil servant and as a Minister, I fully appreciate that he will need to have consultations and that he cannot introduce the Measure immediately.
The Minister has taken a bold step forward in saying that he will introduce legislation this Session, and I am very grateful. I know that I am speaking on behalf of all right hon. and hon. Members who placed their names on the back of the Bill submitted today in thanking the Minister for what he has said. We on this side of the House will gladly support him when he introduces his Bill and give him personally all the credit he deserves for what he has told us today.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I should like to add my word of thanks to the Minister for the announcement he has made this afternoon, for which, I am sure, we are all grateful. I should like still more to add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has introduced this Bill and focused public attention in this way. As he pointed out during his admirable speech, this question has been a growing nuisance for at least 500 years, and my hon. Friend will take his place as one 1493 of the chief people in history who have helped to solve this great problem.
As other hon. Members have done, I should also like to say a word or two about my particular interest in my own constituency. We have heard very little about Lancashire conditions today, and we know, many of us only too well, that that part of the country has for a great many years suffered, probably more than any other part, from this nuisance. In my constituency, the borough of Middleton, which is just outside Manchester, is an ancient town with great textile traditions, but along with this goes a great difficulty in regard to smoke and the problem of smoke abatement. There are in the borough some 5,000 acres, with a population of 40,000 people, which is rapidly increasing to an expected total of 50,000 in the next two years, as we are extending housing estates in order to relieve the Manchester congestion.
When we in Lancashire are not devoting our entire attention to combating Japanese and Indian competition in textiles, we devote a great deal of attention to the question of smoke abatement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned that throughout history there have been many individuals who have contributed a great deal in trying to solve the problem created by smoke. I should like to mention one individual, who has occupied a most important place in this matter. About a century ago in Middleton, there was a Mrs. Hopwood, of Hopwood Hall, who realised the difficulties concerning smoke abatement, and who, at her own expense, for many years appointed her own inspectors to bring her evidence about excessive emissions of smoke from chimneys. Not only did she have her own inspectors, but she went to the expense and trouble of bringing cases before the courts to try to do what she could to help what was a great local problem in those days. I am further informed that it was due to her, possibly—though for this she probably did not receive altogether grateful thanks—that there is no railway through the town, owing to her great aversion to the smoke created by the engines.
The difficulty which local authorities have had up to now is that ii has been most expensive to promote Bills to prevent excessive smoke in their districts. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1494 for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) pointed out a few moments ago, this is not a matter for local districts but for wide area legislation. Our neighbours in Manchester have their clean area, but that helps them little when the wind blows from Middleton and carries the smoke from our 45 big chimneys into Manchester. In the same way, smoke from neighbouring districts can easily effect us.
In the past, local authorities have had quite inadequate powers to deal with this nuisance. For that reason, we are all very grateful today for the promise of the Government to introduce legislation during this Session. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) said, it is no use abolishing smoke unless there is sufficient suitable fuel to meet the requirements of industry. This country lives by industry to such a large extent that it is up to the nationalised bodies dealing with fuel and power to see that there is sufficient appropriate material available to provide for its needs. It would be serious if smoke were prevented at the expense of the closing down of factories. That is not likely, but the possibility must be seriously considered.
We have been covered with smoke for so long that we consider it a necessary part of our lives. I believe that to be entirely wrong and incorrect, but we have allowed it to grow up through the centuries and have accepted it too easily. For that reason, I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster for the work he has done today.
When one motors over the hills in Lancashire on a bright, sunny day, one too often sees an immense amount of black smoke belching from factory chimneys, while around, on the hills, is brilliant sunshine and a lovely day. One sees the valleys, the mills and the surrounding houses shrouded in smoke and dirt. That is largely unnecessary, and I hope that it will soon be a thing of the past.
A few days ago I was flying home from Africa. As we approached the British coast we were in most brilliant sunshine but we could see a pall of smoke beneath us. We came down gradually and then plunged into that pall of smoke, leaving the brilliant sunshine behind us. By radar, we soon made out way through 1495 the cloud and emerged near the edge of the runway at London Airport, about 200 feet above the earth. Below us, as we approached the airport, was the traditional fog and smoke cloud of London. Above us was the brilliant sunshine. We look forward to the day when there will be brilliant sunshine all over the country.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
I am sure everyone is delighted with the statement which the Minister made to the effect that the Bill could be withdrawn because of the Government's intentions. Before that was said I was in a difficulty, halfway between supporting the Bill on the ground that it would compel the Government to bring in a comprehensive Bill, and supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) who said that the Bill was not good enough and ought to be defeated in order that a more comprehensive Measure might be placed before us.
I intervene to put one or two points which may be of interest to hon. Members. At this point I wish to declare my personal interest in this matter. For some 20 years I have been professionally engaged in engineering, and I am chairman and principal shareholder of a company which all this time has been manufacturing and installing mechanical devices for efficient fuel burning. The Bill is very close to my heart because it concerns the very thing in which I have been professionally engaged and have been studying for 20 years. If we placed on the Statute Book a Bill obliging people to burn fuel more efficiently, creating less waste and less smoke, it stands to reason that the kind of product that my company is now making would be in even greater demand. I want to devote my remarks this afternoon particularly to one section of the industry which will be thus engaged—the oil-burning industry. There is also the under-feed coal stoker, but it is to oil-burning that I want to devote my attention today.
I believe it is necessary that an Act should be placed on the Statute Book making the emission of unnecessary smoke, grit and dirt a criminal offence. That has to be done, but I want to point 1496 out that a great increase in efficiency in firing is now taking place. This has been quite fantastic in the last two or three years and, incidentally, not very surprising. Industry and private individuals in their homes are at last becoming aware of the need to burn fuel more efficiently.
When fuel and labour were cheap, as they always were until very recently, it followed that an industrial community burned fuel without much care. Quite recently both fuel and labour have become very expensive items and, precisely because they are now expensive, all of a sudden industry and other consumers of fuel are naturally paying some attention to the way in which it is burned. Hitherto, they did not seem to care. Anything could be thrown into a furnace and it would burn, whether it was liquid or solid. Now it matters, and because it matters people are burning it more efficiently.
Nevertheless, because the pollution of the atmosphere is a social crime, it is necessary continuously to generate public opinion on the subject, and the great service which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has done to the community and the House is that he has introduced a Bill which has had a great deal of publicity, which has generated public opinion and which has made people more than ever conscious of the fact that it is advisable to burn fuel efficiently and is a crime to produce smoke and grit and to foul the atmosphere.
What quaint people human beings are! Here we are concerned desperately with the pollution of the atmosphere—I am about the fourteenth speaker—and we believe that if we put an Act upon the Statute Book things will get slightly better over 15 years. I was told this morning that in the "Manchester Guardian" last week Bertrand Russell explained that if a little trouble in Formosa brewed up the atmosphere would be so polluted that the human family might be extinct in six months—and yet nobody has mentioned that today. Obviously there are all kinds of ways of polluting the atmosphere, but today we are concerned with fog and smoke.
One of the criticisms of the campaign to clear the atmosphere has been levelled on the ground that solid smokeless fuels 1497 are not easy to obtain and may become even more scarce in future. We must admit that over a period solid fuel and the derivatives of coal will become increasingly scarce and increasingly more expensive. That is the nature of the product. Human beings in this modern world are not willing to go into the bowels of the earth to dig coal. Moreover, when it has been brought to the surface it is a very precious chemical and it seems profligate to burn it simply to raise heat.
Another consideration is that as productivity increases—and it is increasing nowadays by leaps and bounds in a geometrical progression—although we may be able to increase the product and reduce the number of individuals concerned in making it, we shall find that the increase in the product bears a direct relation to the power consumed in making it. If we double the product we shall double the consumption of power. In other words, we shall double the consumption of the fuel which generates that power. As the product increases, so fuel will be more and more in demand.
I do not believe that solid fuel—that is to say, coal—can hope to keep pace with the demand which the world can expect within the next decade. I do not think we need lose much sleep about that, for God has provided—as he always does—an alternative field. I think we passed into the oil-burning era some years ago but have only just noticed it. There is almost any quantity of oil available for the next decade or two for use as smokeless fuel. The geologists are now saying that if we go on tapping the oil resources of the world those resources will soon be completely exhausted. Do not let us worry too much about that, for by the time we get to that situation atomic energy will be available.
Ever since I have been in this industry, at intervals of every year or two one has noticed that some geologist prophesies that the amount of oil available in the world will be exhausted five, 10, or 15 years hence. Some five years later another geologist prophesies that in five, 10, or 15 years the oil resources will be exhausted and, 15 years after that, another prophesies the same. I think there are almost unlimited supplies of oil available, and every year we are discovering where it is. It can last very much longer than most of the pessimistic prophecies which are about.
1498 To all of us it seems clear that the demand for oil is rising fantastically fast. In the last 12 months its increase has been staggering. That does not surprise me, because the differential is suddenly changed. The public discovers the change and the whole conjunction of circumstances makes for increased demand. If we talk to oil companies, as I have done, about the availability of oil in the near future, they hesitate to give an answer as to how much is available.
It seems to me that the oil companies are a little disturbed at the demand for fuel oil and lighter oils because they say that at the same time as Governments are creating circumstances in which oil can be produced for fuel purposes there is a greater demand and they restrict, by fiscal and other means, the consumption of the light derivatives, that is to say, petrol.
One cannot get fuel oil without at the same time creating petrol and cannot sell fuel oil at a cheap price unless one can sell lighter derivatives at a higher price. The oil companies are wondering whether they may be building up too great stocks of petrol and be unable to provide space for storage of the fuel oils which may be needed. This is a problem which I present to the House. We produce petrol for transport and fuel oil for burning in about the same proportions out of crude oil when we crack it. If we want a lot of one half of the product and will not take a fair amount of the other half, we may find ourselves in difficulty.
I would reinforce what the Minister said, that when public opinion is generated and this Measure is later on the Statute Book the demand for machines or gadgets and stokers for burning fuel more efficiently will grow. There may be a bottleneck in relation to the technicians who install the machinery. I think that very true and very important. At present, my experience is that we supply in the oil-burning world more than half the total number of domestic oil burners in this country and export a lot of others. The bottleneck is not production; we could double or treble production in a short time very easily. The great difficulty is to get these things out and installed and looked after.
All appliances for burning fuel scientifically are horribly temperamental. They are not nearly so easy to fix and 1499 to look after as one might at first imagine, and there are extremely few technicians in this country who understand the job. In other words, as demand and production of the machines is increased, if they ate to be installed we must increase the number of technicians who understand them and can install and look after them.
That, again, will be a slow process. It will grow with geometric progression in a certain way, because as soon as there are more technicians they can teach others by the actual practice of taking a mate out on a job and training him. But in this country, as far as machines for the efficient burning of fuel are concerned, we are extraordinarily backward.
For example, in both France and Sweden some 15,000 domestic oil burners are now being installed every year. One of the oil companies gives the figure for this country as only 1,000. I think that that is too small and that it ought to be double that figure, but even if 2,000 oil burners a year in the domestic field are being installed in this country, the figures in France and Sweden are 15,000 a year and a million are being sold each year in the United States of America.
As we change over from selling, as now, just a very few oil burners to the large quantities of France and other countries, the trade can only manage this as and when more technicians can be trained; and this will inevitably be a slow process.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
In his references to smoke pollution, the hon. Member referred to making it a criminal offence. Surely, he meant a civil offence—in other words, not to send the offender to prison but to impose a suitable fine or punishment.
§ Mr. Usborne
I am not a lawyer. What I meant was that it should be an offence. If it were made a civil offence and it were committed repeatedly, it might be necessary to send the offender to prison in the end—I do not know. What I meant was that it should be an offence which would carry a penalty.
Whereas I think that a Bill of this kind should be introduced, I admit that it will be extremely difficult to enforce it. I can visualise a thousand snags to it—there are all kinds of difficulty; but I 1500 believe that they can be generally overcome, more particularly if we remember that it is public opinion that we need to develop and that if we can create a climate of opinion which recognises that a smoky chimney is "a criminal offence," that it ought not to happen, that it is quite unnecessary and that it fouls the atmosphere, we will generally find that the country will be more efficient.
I realise that even if we could keep the air fairly clear of actual smoke, the chemicals and acids in the air which are produced even by the combustion of smokeless fuels are nevertheless noxious. Being an engineer in this trade, I am about to quote a figure or two. I am not, however, impressed by my own figures or anybody elses's. In this business, more than anything else, one can extract reliable figures to prove absolutely anything, and five minutes later it is possible to extract equally reliable figures to disprove it. It is extremely hard to get them at all accurately.
In Sir Hugh Beaver's Report, it was indicated that 50 per cent. of the smoke that now causes anxiety to the population in the urban areas is produced from domestic chimneys. In other words, half the problem is a domestic problem. As far as I can see, oil may have to be used, and is being very much increasingly used, in solving that domestic problem. But let us watch the question of sulphur dioxide content.
I said in an intervention a little earlier, and I should like to repeat now, that whereas the Beaver Report states that in solid fuel, either in coal or in coke, the sulphur content is somewhere between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent.—and let us admit that it does not all go out in the atmosphere but falls out in the clinker and ash—the sulphur content of oil is somewhere between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. The Report makes that statement about oil in the course of dealing with the domestic problem. Sir Hugh Beaver has evidently received expert advice on the point, but I should like to put to the House another piece of expert advice.
Shell Mex and B.P. employ a Mr. Gollin who is an expert on technical problems like this. In a brochure published recently by them there is a technical analysis which shows clearly that the sulphur content of fuel oil used in domestic 1501 installations is 0.8 per cent. Therefore, when we are worried by this problem, do not let us forget that statistics are most unreliable.
In industrial installations one generally burns the heavier fuel oil, and the sulphur content of that as distinct from the domestic fuel oil is higher. As against this, one should remember that in liquid fuel oil nearly all the sulphur gets into the atmosphere, whereas if one burns solids a good deal is kept in the clinker and the ash. On the other hand, it is technically much easier to extract sulphur almost completely from fuel oil, and, it is not a very expensive job, whereas it is much more difficult to extract sulphur from solid fuel. That point should be borne in mind.
It is most important that the Government should introduce their Bill at the earliest date. It will be a very difficult Bill to draft and, because of its complications, it almost certainly will not reach the Statute Book this Session.
§ Mr. Usborne
He promised that it would be introduced, but he did not promise that it would reach the Statute Book this Session.
§ Dr. Stross
My memory of the Minister's words is that the Bill would be introduced and, in view of the fact that it is apparently an agreed Measure, it would be implemented and enacted.
§ Mr. Usborne
I did not understand the Minister's remarks to mean that. If that be true, so much the better.
§ Mr. Usborne
Let the House try to make it so, but if we rush the Bill through we may have a law which will be much more difficult to enforce. I am never very happy about having on the Statute Book legislation which is almost totally unenforceable.
I repeat that 90 per cent. of the objective which we seek to achieve can best be achieved by influencing public opinion, by the publication of pictures of smoking chimneys, and by giving publicity to inefficiency and to the knowledge which industrialists have that 1502 it is best to burn fuel without generating smoke, because smoke more often than not is a waste of fuel. Public opinion can do more on these lines than legislation can hope to do, but nevertheless it may be necessary to have legislation to support public opinion.
I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Kidderminster for having done so much, for being so successful in producing his Bill and provoking the Government into putting theirs now before the House. The Minister said that the Government had not been dragging their feet. On a Friday we are all prepared to believe what the Minister has said, but by Monday I for one will be quite confident that had not the hon. Member for Kidderminster had the luck of the Ballot and done what he has done, the feet would have dragged considerably more. Therefore, on behalf of my constituents in Birmingham, which is a smoky area, though not quite as smoky as it is sometimes alleged to be, I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Kidderminster for introducing the Bill.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I shall be very brief indeed because, in view of what the Minister has said, most of what I have wanted to say need no longer be said. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has achieved his object in bringing forward this Bill, and he is greatly to be congratulated on the active and effective role which he has played in this matter.
The House and the country are also indebted to Sir Hugh Beaver and his colleagues, and I think that credit should rightly go also to the Ministers who set up that Committee and thereby initiated the Report to which we have been so often referring today. But I think that we should bear in mind another extremely important factor in this matter. That is the great fog which hung over London in December, 1952. Both the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said that there were many people who had been interested in this matter for many years. They had agitated for clean air for many years but they did not get very much public hearing until that dramatic fog in December, 1952.
1503 It struck the public imagination, made this subject news and filled the newspapers. It was interesting to see the way in which those remarkable climatic conditions over three days gave a temperature inversion at about 300 feet over London, put a lid on London 300 feet high and concentrated under that lid all the filth that London normally pours out. It brought home to us in a way nothing has ever done before just what we do to our atmosphere.
As one hon. Member said earlier, we have been for years using our atmosphere like an open sewer. That fog brought home to us very dramatically what an acute concentration of impurities can do. But I have always held the view that one cannot ignore the effect upon health of the diluted concentration of impurities that we are living in day by day in a city like London, and which is experienced in many other large cities in this country.
I feel that time is of the essence in this matter, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend was able to announce that he would introduce a Bill this Session. I hope that the House will give it a speedy passage. I am sure that everyone will agree that that is the intention, and if those who do agree will express their agreement shortly, then I think that we can pass the Bill this Session.
I think that the hon. Member for Newcastle - upon - Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), who described the effect of this pollution on health, understated the case. One naturally looks at its effect on respiratory diseases, but it affects the health of people who live in the big cities in almost every way. The respiratory diseases have their own effect, and I think lead on to the cardiac diseases, and so on, all the way through. Those who live in the great cities, through deprivation of sunlight and the inhaling of damaging sulphur gases, diminish their whole health and diminish the oxygenation of their blood and they are less healthy, less strong and less vital than those who live in the pure atmosphere of the country.
I do not want to say any more in view of what the Minister has said except to draw his attention to one or two particular matters which I hope he will bear in mind when he is framing his Bill. 1504 One is that my hon. Friend's Bill today rather concentrates, naturally enough, on smoke and visible pollution. I am very much disturbed about invisible pollution, and sulphur pollution in particular, which represents a more complicated and technical problem. What we primarily need is more research though I hope that nothing will be held up by waiting for research. Let us take the second best until we can get the best.
Secondly, may I offer my right hon. Friend some thoughts about fuel which may not be practicable but which are my own views? In places like London, where there is a tremendous concentration of human beings in different households, I am not sure that the burning of solid fuel in any form is really a satisfactory solution. I am inclined to think that what is called town gas is the right answer for London, or electricity generated under suitable safeguards at suitable distances. The by-products of gas can be burned in what may be called the secondary areas of lesser concentration, but I do not think that oil burning and coke burning is going to be a proper solution to London's problems.
Just as one aspect of that may I say that I hope we shall not press on, as it is said we are to, with the replacement in London of electric locomotion such as the trolleybus by diesel oil buses. Do not let us forget the pollution of the atmosphere from road traffic. Diesel fumes and the carbon monoxide of the ordinary motor car exhaust reach a fantastic concentration in certain atmospheric conditions in streets in central London. There is nothing more damaging to the general health and vitality of the human being than a consistent breathing of a fair concentration of carbon monoxide in the air.
That is all I ought to say since I know that certain other hon. Members wish to address the House on this subject about which they have experience and authority. I trust that my right hon. Friend will press on with his Bill and will not wait on things like sulphur for research and the final results of experiments before proceeding with his Measure. Let us get on with what we can so that we can banish at the earliest moment "those dark Satanic mills" about which Blake wrote and which have done so much harm to this great industrial people.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I should like to add my word of congratulation to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), not only for his clear exposition of his Bill, but for the fair way in which he put his case. I am less enthusiastic about this Bill than he is, for the reason that, as a doctor, I know something of the results of polluted air upon health, and it is my belief that those results are almost entirely due to sulphur oxides which I do not think will be appreciably decreased by this Bill.
It is unfortunate that whilst we can see smoke we cannot see the much more dangerous sulphur oxides that come off in combustion, and yet I believe that these are much more serious than smoke. As has already been said today, as much sulphur fumes come off from the burning of oil fuel, coke and many forms of smokeless fuel as from coal. Further, we get these sulphur fumes equally from complete and incomplete combustion.
I am rather alarmed by this Bill, because it may give a false impression to the public that all is being done to safeguard their health, whereas I believe that is not the case. I want to deal shortly with the effect of sulphur oxide pollution upon health in two forms, namely, in the case of the smog and also in the ordinary pollution of a city which we find every day.
It should not be forgotten that the Beaver Committee was formed because of the serious events of 5th to 8th December, 1952, when so many people died and when the health of others was affected so seriously that they died later. In Pittsburgh, they have cleared the atmosphere by anti-smog legislation, but the conditions of the atmosphere in this country and Pittsburgh are different. When our atmosphere is overcast, it is not only clouded by smoke but more often by cloud, because we have a much more damp atmosphere than many other parts. And whilst one can put up with a fair amount of sulphur dioxides in breathing dry air, when sulphur is dissolved in droplets of water, the concentration is much greater and therefore much more serious.
May I quote a word or two from a leading article in the "Lancet" of 2nd November, 1953, because it puts the case 1506 much more clearly than I can do. It is as follows:Sulphur dioxide dispersed as one part per million throughout a gaseous phase might be relatively safe, but dissolved in droplets giving a local concentration thousands of times greater it will produce a strongly acid respiratory rain, which may readily produce bronchial spasm and oedema.There can be no doubt that it is the sulphur oxides which do the harm, and it is suggested that smoke may come into the picture because sulphur dioxide on particles of smoke be more easily oxidised into sulphur trioxide and formed into sulphuric acid. That may or may not be true. I do not know of any very clear evidence for it but, even if it is true, it is bad enough to have sulphur dioxide producing sulphurous acid, if not sulphuric acid, in the air we breath.
The evidence of the case I am putting in the case of smog is shown in the Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the Borough of Lewisham, Dr. Smithard. He pointed out that in the smog disaster of December, 1952, the worst parts of the borough were where there was most smoke, but he goes on to say that in his opinion smoke by itself is not likely to cause sudden death or even quick death, the much more likely cause of this being the irritant action of oxides of sulphur.
Now I will deal shortly with the other case, steady and continuous pollution of the atmosphere by sulphur and its effect on health. The Beaver Report pointed out that the incidence of bronchitis is greater in this country than in many other countries. The Report also states that bronchitis is much more prevalent in urban than in rural districts. It gives figures to that effect. A leader in the "British Medical Journal" of 4th December last said:Chronic bronchitis, for instance, though difficult to define clinically, is three to five times as common in general practice in polluted industrial towns as in more fortunate areas.I believe that it is the sulphur which really does the harm. I also wish to quote from a very valuable article written in September, 1954, by John Pemberton and C. Goldsberg, of Sheffield, who… found a distinct relationship between bronchitis mortality and air pollution by sulphur dioxide but none between bronchitis and pollution of the air by solid matter such as soot.1507 We have all seen the destruction to stonework of the Victoria Tower and regretted it. If we pass by the railings at St. Margaret's we see that they are eaten away where not protected by paint. Does anyone suppose that it is the smoke or the tar that eats away the railings or destroys the Victoria Tower? I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, whether your lungs and mine are not much more vulnerable than either of those things. Is it not reasonable to suppose that the sulphur which injures such structures is likely to injure us in a much more severe form?
I do not feel that the Bill will take us very far as far as the health of the community is concerned, which is the only thing which gives me any justification for speaking. I know that the ridding of the atmosphere of sulphur oxide is a very complex and expensive problem. All I suggest is that the problem will not be solved by a childlike faith in smokeless fuels and smokeless areas.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
I shall not speak for more than two or three minutes, but there is one point which ought to be brought out in consideration of the subject of the pollution of the atmosphere. It appears to me that the debate has ranged around the cleaner utilisation of solid fuels and the elimination of soot and dirt in the utilisation of coal. There is one very important point that ought to be kept in mind in the attempt to solve this very serious problem of air pollution.
Sufficient attention has not yet been given to alternative sources of heat and power. What about schemes which are still blueprints for the utilisation of the latent power that is available in all the rivers and estuaries around this country, the Severn Barrage, for instance? There would be no smoke, because there would be no coal. There would be no fumes. The sooner this Government, or some other Government, give more serious attention to the utilisation of this hydro power the better. This power lies to hand around our coasts.
I hope that the Government will very seriously consider the possibility of doing something along these lines in the Bill to which the Minister referred this afternoon. I am confident that there are ways of 1508 cleansing the atmosphere in the utilisation of solid fuels. But, in addition, I hope that the possibilities of the utilisation of this latent power by the use of hydro-electricity, harnessing of rivers and estuaries, will be given far more serious consideration than has yet been given.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I rise to say two things. I want to endorse the thanks and the congratulations which have been offered by my hon. and right hon. Friends to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) on his notable success today. Ever since he first came into the House he has laboured to make the Government. the House and the nation and even the most recalcitrant of all, Ministers of Fuel and Power, understand the vital problems which fuel and power policy involve. I hope that today we are taking a decisive step towards a solution of the most urgent and the most grievous of these problems. If so, it is thanks to the hon. Member for Kidderminster and I am sure that neither the House nor the country will forget what he has done.
The second thing I want to do is to welcome, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), the declaration made by the Minister. We are very glad that the Government are now to bring in a Bill and we hope that it will be passed this Session. I venture to add a warning to the Minister and his possible successors. The Government support the policy of the Beaver Report, but that policy cannot be made effective by legislation alone. It will need resolute and imaginative administration from all concerned, by Government Departments, local authorities, and elsewhere. It will need the cooperation of a number of Government Departments. Above all, it will need adequate financial support.
In the past, I have sometimes tried to bring home to the House the heavy economic losses caused to the nation by certain social evils. They are losses which do not appear on the debit side of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's account. They are losses which do not enter into the consciousness of most people until, with a shock of surprise, they learn of them. Road accidents cost the nation at least £150 million a year and the cost is rising, an annual charge. 1509 Rats consume £30 million worth of foodstuffs every year, a major item in the balance of payments account. Now Sir Hugh Beaver tells us that smoke and the waste of coal costs us the fantastic sum of £300 million a year. They do not appear in the Chancellor's accounts, so the Treasury has treated them in the past as though they did not exist.
I tried, not very long ago, to get a subsidy of £3,000 for the Smoke Abatement Society, which has done magnificent work and achieved real and very important results. I failed to get it—a one-hundred-thousandth part of the annual loss which we suffer now. This problem must be taken very seriously indeed. I hope that the Beaver Report and the speeches of the hon. Member for Kidderminster and of my right hon. and hon. Friends today will have persuaded the Government and the administration of the country that air pollution is a major social evil, that the promised Bill must deal with it in a drastic fashion and that we cannot effectively tackle the problem without large-scale investment.
When I say "large-scale investment" I mean investment on a large scale, for £300 million is the interest at 4 per cent. on £7,500 million. There must be large-scale investment by the Government, by local authorities and by private firms. I hope that the Government will ensure that this can be done without the injustice to local authorities of which my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) was afraid.
In any case, we promise that, if the Minister's Bill will really do the job, we will help him to get it quickly through the House. We also promise that if a General Election should interrupt its progress the new Government will reintroduce the Bill and make it law.
I end by thanking and congratulating again the hon. Member for Kidderminster, the Smoke Abatement Society, 1510 which has lent him and his supporters such great help in the last few weeks, and also the Minister, who has promised us action which will end our evil practice of treating God's air as an open sewer.
§ Dr. Stross
In view of the declarations and promises which have been made by the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Nabarro
In asking leave to withdraw the Bill I hope that I may be allowed to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for his unequivocal promise to introduce during this Session a comprehensive Measure which would have all the financial provisions necessary to give effect to a clean air policy.
I should like to couple with those thanks to him the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough East (Mr. Marquand) together with eight other hon. Members of this House, of all parties, who have combined with me in the last few weeks in making today's debate possible as a result of my very good fortune in winning the first place in the Ballot.
Finally, my thanks are due to the Smoke Abatement Society of Great Britain for its unfailing help, technical advice and guidance during the last few months.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion and also the Bill.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.