§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. W. F. Deedes)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill fulfils an undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government nine months ago. It is based on the recommendations of the Committee, presided over by Sir Hugh Beaver, which reported its conclusions just a year ago. I should like to say straight away, and not for the first time, what an immense debt we owe to Sir Hugh and his colleagues for the work that they did.
We think that the Bill represents a big step forward in combating the scourge of air pollution, the evils of which are by now widely known. It outlines a series of practical steps which we believe will make, within a short term of years, our towns and cities cleaner and healthier places in which to live. Since 80 per cent. of our population are urban, it follows that the Bill bears upon the health of at least three-quarters of our people. I hope that much of it will be common ground between us.
This is not the first discussion that we have had on the subject. As there is a good deal to be said about the proposals, I do not intend to take much of the time of the House in discussing the background of the Bill. The facts about the evils of dirty air have been most convincingly stated by the Beaver Committee, are widely known and, I think, as widely accepted.
Nor need I stress the need for legislation. Sir Hugh Beaver's Committee concluded that our law on smoke pollution was inadequate and required radical revision. A weakness of the smoke abatement provisions of the Public Health Acts is, as many hon. Members know, that they do not directly prohibit smoke, however harmful or unnecessary it may be. It has to be proved that something from a particular chimney constitutes a "nuisance." Moreover, the Acts make 1222 no significant provision for smoke from domestic chimneys.
In passing, perhaps I should refer here to the initiative which some local authorities have already taken under local Acts particularly for establishing smokeless zones. In this respect we owe a great deal to their initiative. However, I think it must be accepted now that the problem requires general rather than local powers.
The next thing I want to stress is that we have not been idle in the months since the Beaver Committee reported. There have been consultations with industry and with representatives of the local authorities. I can say that they accept, indeed support, the broad principles of the Bill, subject, of course, to reservations on certain particulars.
As hon. Members will have noted from the last Clause of the Bill, this is a United Kingdom Measure and its provisions will apply generally in Scotland as in England and Wales. The differences concerning Scotland do no more than reflect differences in Scottish legislation and procedure. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate will be available during our discussion to deal with any particularly Scottish points.
Now I turn to the provisions of the Bill. Its main purposes are well summarised in paragraph 2 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, and I will now say something about each of these four principal objectives. The first objective of the Bill is to prohibit the emission of dark smoke from chimneys, railway engines and vessels, and these provisions follow closely the recommendations of the Beaver Committee. We accept that dark smoke is a nuisance, an evil, and generally is quite unnecessary. Given sound equipment and careful operation, bituminous coal can nearly always be burned in industrial furnaces without producing more than a light haze of smoke.
Clause 1, then, insists upon the efficient use of efficient plant. What is to be expected is that there are circumstances in which the emission of dark smoke is unavoidable, and such exceptions are based on technical considerations. When a furnace is first lit, or during soot blowing; there may be short emissions of dark smoke. For these and for breakdowns, for defects which could not have been prevented or because suitable fuel could not 1223 be obtained, some allowance must be made. We must face the fact that these provisions will involve improvement and alteration of many industrial plants.
It was on this account that the Beaver Committee recommended a seven-year period of grace in which to show that it had been impracticable to effect the necessary improvements which might be considered a defence by means of certificates issued at intervals of one year or less. That we accept and that is the purpose of Clause 2. I am aware that there has been criticism, and no doubt we shall hear more of it during the debate this afternoon, that these first two Clauses offer too many loopholes. We do not think so. At a later stage we will willingly discuss in detail any proposal designed reasonably to tighten up these Clauses, but in all that we propose we have to be realistic, and I shall have more to say about that later.
The second main objective of the Bill is to see that industrial furnaces installed in the future can be operated, as far as is practicable, without emitting smoke. That is self-explanatory. Clearly, it is right to insist upon proper standards for new installations.
The third main objective—and we are still discussing the industrial sphere—consists of provisions for reducing emissions of grit and dust from furnaces. It is made obligatory for all to use such means as are practicable to minimise the emission of grit and dust from all furnaces, new or existing. The operative word here is "practicable" and hon. Members will find it defined at some length in Clause 28 (1), the interpretation Clause of the Bill.
We have to recognise that effiective action is not always practicable. The problem here is not quite the same as that of smoke. Smoke can be prevented, or largely prevented, by efficient combustion arrangements, but effective prevention of grit and dust calls for special plant and that, I think it will be accepted, especially in the case of small works, may present considerable difficulties. We have to ensure that large furnaces to be installed in the future, which are likely to emit large quantities of grit and dust, must be properly equipped. That, broadly, is the effect of Clause 5. All new furnaces which burn pulverised fuel or large quantities 1224 of other solid fuel, will, in future, be equipped with efficient arrestment plant.
These three provisions which I have just summarised covering smoke, grit and dust, deal with industry. The fourth, to which I now turn, is concerned with smoke from other sources, that is to say, domestic and commercial premises. We should not under-rate the contribution which must be made in this fourth category if our proposals are to be effective. Nearly half the smoke in the air comes from our domestic chimneys and hon. Members may remember that on this point the Beaver Committee reported:No cure can, therefore, be found for the heavy smoke pollution of our cities and towns unless the domestic chimney is dealt with. In our view there would be little justification for requiring industry and commerce to take all possible measures to prevent smoke, often at considerable cost, if the problem of domestic smoke were not also tackled.In many ways this is a much more difficult problem than industrial smoke. The bituminous coal can usually be used with little or no smoke in industrial furnaces given efficient methods. In most of the fires used for domestic heating, it cannot be so used.
The prevention of domestic smoke will be a major operation involving radical changes in fuel use, involving problems of supply, large-scale alterations of domestic appliances and, of course, a great degree of public willingness. We propose that this operation should be carried through by the gradual extension of smoke control areas similar to the smokeless zones already established in a number of towns under local authority powers. Clause 8 of this Bill empowers local authorities to establish these areas by means of orders confirmed by the Minister.
§ Mr. Deedes
The order may apply to specified classes of building or it may exempt classes of building or any particular building. Much of this, as any hon. Member knows whose area may already be under one of these local schemes, is no more than an extension of the powers which a number of local authorities have got under their local Acts.
1225 What is new is the provision which we have made for the payment of grants by local authorities and the Exchequer towards the cost incurred by the owners and occupiers of houses in making the necessary changes to appliances. To the cost, the Minister may make an Exchequer contribution equal to 40 per cent. of the approved expenditure. I think that the simplest way to put it is to say that the ratio of cost would be borne as follows: by the owner or occupier, 30 per cent. or less; by the local authority, 30 per cent. or more, since it may contribute more if it wishes; and by the Exchequer, 40 per cent. No doubt these figures will be under discussion later and all I will say now is that we believe they represent a fair distribution between the main parties concerned.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The hon. Gentleman said that nearly half the smoke which pollutes the atmosphere comes from domestic chimneys. Has he any figures for the amount of sulphur pollution by domestic chimneys, compared with industrial chimneys? Is it, as I have been informed, about a quarter, not a half?
§ Mr. Deedes
What I said was based on generalisations on the subject. I accept that. If there are figures to be obtained on the subject I will do what I can for the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
This is very important, because the hon. Gentleman is developing the argument that he is preventing the emission of black smoke from household chimneys. We cannot have any form of combustion without the emission of some form of gas and the absence of black smoke means a higher sulphur content than there would have been with black smoke.
§ Mr. Deedes
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue we shall reach in a moment the point which is causing him concern.
I should perhaps stress that this is not a battle for the open hearth. It is not part of our intention to put a sudden end to the open fire which remains, if not the most efficient, certainly the most popular, method of heating living rooms. Sir Hugh Beaver's Committee recognised that this would be a long-term policy and referred to a period of fifteen years before 1226 the black areas would be covered, and we recognise that progress will depend very much on the willingness of local authorities and of the public to co-operate.
In order not to take up too much time on this part of my speech, I have deliberately given a summary of the Bill. As hon. Members have had the Bill in their hands perhaps for longer than is usual, I hope that may suffice. Having dealt broadly with the provisions, I should, however, like to touch on several other matters which I know are uppermost in the minds of hon. Members concerned with this subject.
First, of course, is the question of smokeless fuels, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has given a great deal of thought. In the black areas alone fuel consumption of about 19 million tons of house coal will eventually have to be replaced by smokeless fuels, and the course of transition must largely depend, I think it will be accepted, upon developments in the fuel industry. We believe that this objective can be gradually achieved over a period of fifteen years. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power will be present during the debate and will gladly intervene on any matter of detail of special concern to any hon. Member. For my part, at this juncture I will not enter into more detail on the question of smokeless fuel.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) referred to sulphur, and I should like to say a word about that. We recognise that sulphur gases are one of the most harmful forms of pollution, perhaps the most harmful, but the problem of prevention is intractable and cannot be cured, in the present stage of technical knowledge, by legislation. The Beaver Committee recognised that. Its Report did not recommend any legislative measures to deal with the question of sulphur.
The problems are technical and progress must be in the development of a satisfactory method of removing sulphur dioxide from the flue gases of large fuel-burning installations such as power stations, and research into methods of preventing or reducing the release of sulphur when fuel is burned. The Government have accepted the Beaver Committee's recommendations that the most 1227 efficient practicable method of removing sulphur should be used in new power stations in or near populated areas in future, and research on aspects of that problem is being pressed forward.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
In respect of the power stations and gas plant, have the Government accepted this as a problem to be tackled immediately—and by "immediately" I mean within a reasonable time from now?
§ Mr. Deedes
I have stressed the difficulties, without further research, of doing anything immediately. I do not want to accept the phrase used by the hon. Member, for I think the word "immediate" would be misleading. We accept that the most efficient way of removing sulphur, the most practical method, should be used at new power stations, and that will be seen through.
§ Mr. Deedes
I said new power stations.
I want to say a word about the administration of these proposals. We recognise, as do many hon. Members, that the Bill will impose immense and increased responsibilities on the local authorities. For all of them it will be a formidable task, and very much depends on them. That hard-worked band of sanitary inspectors, who already have a great many duties—on top of them such current duties as slum clearance—will have a heavy additional load, and there may be problems of additional staff. I think it is fair to say that these additional responsibilities, which may involve problems of technical staff and the need to find them, are in some measure an answer to those who think we should go further and faster than the Bill proposes.
This additional load on local authorities brings me to another anxiety which has been expressed—namely, the proposal made by the Beaver Committee that the work of the Alkali Inspectorate should take in a wider field of responsibility.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
How does what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the responsibility of local authorities fit with the White Paper sent out to local authorities by the Chancellor 1228 and the Minister of Housing and Local Government last week asking for more economies?
§ Mr. Deedes
I said that in the policy for clean air—which we have already discussed—over a term of years the responsibilities of the local authorities will gradually increase. As to the timing, I shall have something to say towards the end of my speech about when those responsibilities will arise.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Does not the hon. Gentleman mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has killed the Bill before we have discussed it?
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not accept that for a moment and I do not think what I have said about the additional technical staff who may be required for this purpose is in any way inconsistent with anything in the White Paper.
I was referring to this anxiety about extending the field of the Alkali Inspecstorate. The principle has long been accepted—ever since the original Act at the beginning of the century—that the control of pollution from certain industrial processes should be the responsibility not of local authority officers, but of a central body of highly qualified technical inspectors. I do not think that there has ever been a quarrel over that principle. For that reason a number of chemical and other industrial processes are already registered under the Alkali Acts.
I should stress that an extension in the field of alkali responsibility should not be regarded as diminishing the powers or rights of local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "It definitely does."] As we have already seen, they will have sufficient to do on their own account and the second thing is that the intention in extending this field is in no sense to give exemption, but rather to ensure that control is effectively exercised by qualified inspectors familiar with the problems of the industry with which they have to deal.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us how many bodies are employed by the Alkali Inspectorate and how many it is proposed to employ when the Bill becomes law?
§ Mr. Deedes
Not without notice, but we will get the information for which the hon. Member has asked.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
The Alkali Inspectorate has seven full staff and two chief inspectors wholly engaged on administrative duties. How can they be expected to deal with the Alkali Acts?
§ Mr. Deedes
Their field of responsibility is being extended and their personnel will have to be increased and is being increased.
I want now to refer to the Clean Air Council. The Beaver Committee did not suggest, and we do not think it necessary, that this should be a statutory body. But we do feel that a body such as the Clean Air Council should be set up which the Ministers concerned could consult on ways of effectively implementing our clean air policy. I can, therefore, say that we accept the Committee's recommendations, and in due course my right hon. Friend will announce the Council's composition and terms of reference. That will mean a Clean Air Council about which a number of hon. Members have expressed themselves between the date of the Bill's publication and today.
The Bill will come into operation on the appointed day or days. There can be different days for its different provisions. The Beaver Committee thought that a period of three years from November, 1954, should elapse before the dark smoke provisions were put into force and we agree that that is desirable. Local authorities will, possibly, also profit from the short period of preparation for the tasks which lie ahead. But it seems to us desirable that as far as possible the other provisions of the Bill should come into operation simultaneously which will give them and the Bill far greater impact.
It is, therefore, proposed that all the provisions referring to industrial smoke, grit and dust should come into operation in the early part of 1958. The intervening two years, I need hardly say, will not be treated by anybody as a respite, but as a time for active preparation, and that was the point I made when I referred to future timing. The smoke control area provision need not wait until 1958. In principle, the provisions are the same as those which some local authorities already exercise, but we think it would be unreasonable to hold back the financial assistance which 1230 the Bill gives to householders and therefore we propose to fix the appointed day for Clauses 8 to 11 which cover this aspect as soon as practicable after the Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
The third point in connection with the appointed day—in my opinion the most vital of all—is the appointed day to which reference is made in Clause 2. Would my hon. Friend tell us what he has in mind in regard to the appointed day in that context?
§ Mr. Deedes
It seems to be fairly clearly stated in Clause 2. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and others will wish to discuss that in greater detail at a later stage. At the moment, I have nothing to add to what is already in print.
In some quarters a feeling has been expressed that the Bill is not sufficiently comprehensive and that it does not go far enough. That is always a very easy charge to make. There are very few examples in recent history of where a committee or Royal Commission has reported and had its proposals put into terms of legislation so quickly after the report has been published. There must be members of a good many Royal Commissions whose tomes are now getting dusty on various people's shelves who would rejoice if they had seen half as much done with the recommendations they made. Of course, it is always possible to say that the Government should have gone further and faster.
But the success of the Bill will not depend only upon what the Government or Parliament now enact. It will depend just as much on our being able to get whole-hearted—not just willing—cooperation by industry, trades unions, local authorities, employers, householders, and so on. If we are to get a move on, which is the wish of all hon. Members, we must be sure that the best is not made the enemy of the good.
§ Mr. Hobson
As the hon. Member is enlisting the aid of the trades unions, I must respectfully point out that stokers have already been proceeded against for creating smoke.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not entirely follow the relevance of that remark.
A prerequisite of wholehearted cooperation is a general acceptance that it 1231 is a practical, fair and sensible programme. That is the merit, indeed, I would say the necessity, of a carefully balanced programme, not so fast, I willingly concede, as some hon. Members would like to go, certainly not as slow as others would wish. We believe that, broadly, the Bill strikes the right mean and, accordingly, that is why I recommend it to the House.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
Would the Parliamentary Secretary refer to Clause 15, which deals with railway smoke? It seems to us that that Clause goes no further than present legislation on railway smoke, and that has proved unworkable. I do not know whether he knows that the St. Pancras Borough Council recently prosecuted the British Railways Executive, which pleaded guilty to a charge but was acquitted. The local authority came in for some very unfortunate remarks from the magistrate. This appears to go no further than that.
§ Mr. Deedes
In the long run, there is no wholly satisfactory answer to this save the progress which is being made in forms of combustion other than steam, the diesel, electric, and so on. In the short-term the Bill provides the means of prosecuting anyone who is guilty of allowing a railway engine to do what the factory does. What the consequences should be—and that may be what the hon. Gentleman is considering—I will not predict, but the point he has raised underlines what I said earlier about the need to be practical and not to go beyond the point where what is suggested will work.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
For my part, I find that a Parliamentary occasion of this kind affords me the greatest satisfaction, because both sides of the House are to debate a most important reform, about which we are all agreed in principle, although, after hearing the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. I feel sure that he will find that a great deal of criticism will be levelled at him on account of what he said.
Nevertheless, today we shall discuss a reform the good effect of which cannot be calculated. I was rather disappointed that the Parliamentary Secretary, who had a great opportunity this afternoon, did 1232 not seem to be seized with a sense of urgency. Indeed, his handling of the matter was a little inhuman. This is a most important human problem.
The Parliamentary Secretary began by saying that he did not think it was necessary to tell the House just why this Bill should be introduced, but, later, he was not consistent. In his peroration, he said that the success of this Bill will not depend upon the provisions in it, but upon the whole-hearted co-operation of the people, the local authorities, the trade unions, and the housewives. Why did he not open by telling the people—I am sure his speech will be quoted on the radio tonight, because it is a most important reform we are discussing—just why he proposed to introduce the Bill?
After many years of identifying myself with certain reforms, I have discovered that before a reform is acceptable, it is necessary that public opinion must be informed—that comes first—and, also, that the public conscience must be roused. Does the Parliamentary Secretary think that, after his speech, he has roused the public conscience? I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because I have been a Parliamentary Secretary I have been through it myself and I know precisely how he feels.
§ Mr. Deedes
My impression was that the public conscience had been aroused by now, and that the public were looking to the Government to do something about it, with this result.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The Parliamentary Secretary must surely appreciate that one provision of the Bill is to try to change the fireplaces of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman knows precisely what the British character is like and how traditional we are. I would not admit that the statement which he made about fireplaces, and what he extracted from this Bill, will encourage people to be willing to have their fireplaces changed. There should have been a more human approach, and I do not apologise for saying some of the things that I think the Parliamentary Secretary should have said. Perhaps, the hon. Gentleman is flattering me, and will say that he knew I would say them myself, and, therefore, that he need not do so.
1233 On different occasions, I have been a spokesman on a clean milk Bill, and a clean food Bill, and now it gives me tremendous satisfaction to support this Clean Air Bill, which, we hope, will reduce in some degree air pollution. A few months ago, when I was the Member of Parliament for Fulham, West, I would have felt very srongly about this matter, but now I am the Member of Parliament for the industrial constituency of Warrington. [Interruption.] Certainly, I have been very well-chosen. My interest in and knowledge of this question is considerably greater. In fact, when I have spoken for a few minutes more, hon. Members will realise how warmly and emotionally I feel on this subject. This should not be a campaign; it should be a crusade. I thought that the hon. Gentleman, in his last few sentences sounded as if he was advocating a go-slow policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was."]
In the public library of Warrington is a report issued in 1876 on the nuisances caused by the industrial works of Lancashire and Cheshire. It was issued by the Lancashire and Cheshire Association for the Suppression of Noxious Vapours. It was a statement of rather unpleasant facts, which struck a rather helpless and defeatist note. It appeared that in 1876 the forces arrayed against this rather helpless industrial association were too strong for them, and were likely to become stronger. Since then, Warrington, like other industrial towns, has made periodical protests, and I want to read this quotation to the hon. Gentleman, who perhaps will alter his go-slow policy.
In 1901, in a little paper called "The Dawn," published in Warrington, there appeared this statement:Warrington is choked with smoke, poisoned with foul smells and rendered hideous with staring chimneys.Time went on, and later, "The Dawn" said:The scene from the top of the parish church spire, far away below you, is exactly like the three weird sisters in 'Macbeth.' The adjacent chimneys belch their blackness out into the poisoned air; a score of other chimneys close at hand contribute to the gathering cloud; and over the remoter portions of the town it broods In one unbroken pall. Poor Dr. Gornall, the medical officer of health, once got into dreadful trouble at a sanitary congress, by referring to this frightful local scourge.1234 I hope I shall not get into trouble on my return to Warrington, though I do not believe that will be the case, because Warrington now has progressed, and its people will be very depressed when they read the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, after having endured this nuisance for nearly a century.
On 6th June, 1952, the "Warrington Examiner" printed this letter from a woman, and I quote it to bring the matter up to date:Just how much sun, I wonder, does the town's smoke pall withhold from the unfortunate resident? Brush against a privet hedge in any local suburban garden and one's clothes are marked as badly as if one had stumbled against the grate. The spring flowers have a hangdog air here with smut-spotted and bedraggled narcissi carrying little charm. Even the advent of summer cannot lift the veil of atmosphere pollution. Though many householders then do without coal fires, the dust and grime become even more obvious in the sun's rays.Can the Parliamentary Secretary still defend a go-slow policy? Since 1952, Warrington Council has introduced some byelaws to improve matters a little, but these are the conditions in our industrial towns in 1955.
It is curious that the public are not more concerned with this problem, which vitally affects the well-being of people in the industrial areas. While people become incensed by the spectacle of food being handled by dirty hands and served in unhygienic surroundings, they seem to accept the inhalation of dirty air with a fatalistic indifference. I have been thinking about this matter before coming to this debate, and perhaps the explanation is to be found in the fact that eating and drinking call for a deliberate act, and it is possible to reject dirty or unsavory food. Breathing is generally an involuntary act. Air is invisible, and impurities are only noticed when they are conspicuous.
These figures will illustrate the point. The body takes in about 3,000 gallons or 38 lbs. of air each day—seven times the average weight of food and drink combined, and the Mellon Institute has reported thatMore people are devitalised, disabled and poisoned by the impurities contained in smoke-polluted air than by the noxious ingredients in food and water.It would be wrong to overstate the case and lead people to think that the implementation of the Bill would eradicate 1235 certain diseases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), who, I hope, will be called in the debate, will emphasise.
There has been great exaggeration in some quarters. Smoke pollution does not produce diseases peculiar to itself as does, for instance, polluted water. It must be regarded rather as a contributory factor in diseases which are attributable to other causes. Much of the ill-health for which smoke is probably most directly responsible is in its early stages not recorded, for the symptoms are not classified as a disease.
In view of conditions in Warrington, I want to emphasise this point—and this relates to the very welcome statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that it is intended to establish a Clean Air Council. I wish to make this comment on the subject of disease so as to rouse the public conscience and also to make it clear to the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend that if the Clean Air Council is established it must be made effective. It must not become just one more committee.
I refer to bronchitis, because I believe the figures about bronchitis in Warrington have been mentioned in the national Press. Bronchitis can appear in any area, but an individual who is exposed to a smoky atmosphere might well develop it whereas he might be free if he lived in a smokeless atmosphere. The serious effect of smoke in relation to pneumonia is not that it directly causes it or makes it more dangerous in the acute stage, but that it impedes the normal healing process. The incidence of cancer of the lung is undoubtedly higher in areas where the degree of air pollution is greatest.
All this is substantiated by the mortality and morbidity statistics for my own constituency. It was stated in a newspaper recently that in Warrington mortality from bronchitis was the highest in the country. I invited the Warrington Medical Officer of Health to comment on this and he sent me a letter which, I hope, will prove to the Parliamentary Secretary that he must make haste. The letter said:I have been misquoted by the Press as stating that our deaths from bronchitis were the highest in the country. This may well be true, but I have no national figures for all the areas. The fact does remain, however, that our death rate from bronchitis is consistently higher 1236 than the average rate for England and Wales. Equally, also, deaths from cancer of the lung and bronchus are much higher in Warrington. It is also interesting to note that deaths from cancer of the lung are much higher in the borough than in the adjoining rural district, which approximate closely to the national average. In the last six years I have noticed that diseases of the chest, and also of the nose and throat, are unusually prevalent in Warrington.I have said that I want to bring this to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, because until he spoke I did not know that the Government had changed their mind. Of course, I understood from the Bill that they had rejected the idea of a Clean Air Council and I intended to emphasise the importance of the matter.
I want to speak about research, a subject which the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned. If the Clean Air Council is established it will have an opportunity to ensure that there is adequate research. The whole question of the sulphur-dioxide content in the air, and its effects, is one which calls for most detailed investigation. Some of my hon. Friends who have spoken to me on this subject feel that this is the crux of the matter. I was disappointed to find the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary waved aside this most important question. He must know —by now he must have read the speeches and the reports of many authorities—the importance of the presence of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere.
Indeed, some people go so far as to declare that the Bill will be of little value because it does not face up to that question. These problems do not concern only those hon. Members who represent urban areas. Smoke cannot be harnessed. I understand that the National Farmers' Union—I do not know whether it has made representations to the Ministry—is far from satisfied with the provisions in the Bill for the prevention of fluorosis, a disease which affects the bone structure of cattle with the most disastrous results.
I remind the Minister that there is evidence, which is most important in view of our need to produce more food that cattle in the counties with much industry are more affected by tuberculosis than those elsewhere. In fact, I have discovered that the percentage slaughtered under the Tuberculosis Order is approximately four times as great as that for the rest of the country.
1237 While we tend to dwell on the effect of air pollution on the physical condition of the population, I should like to say something about the aesthetic considerations and how the Bill relates to them. Factory workers living in a smoke-laden town, denied brightness and colour, deserve our special sympathy, for these conditions affect their whole outlook on life. Not only are they condemned to uncongenial and dirty work, but they emerge into a world which bears all the ugly marks of their industry. When I describe the conditions in the industrial towns of the North, I am conscious of the fact that the Bill, if it is implemented properly, will change the attitude to life of some of the workers in these places.
It is astonishing to think that a man can be charged with and convicted for a single physical assault but that, on the other hand, he can assualt the olfactory, visual and auditory senses of all his fellow townsmen for the whole of his life and still remain within the law. I should make the punishment fit the crime. I should like to see every guilty man who allows a factory chimney to emit volumes of dark smoke compelled to live within the vicinity of the factory. That would make the Bill effective within a year. What the owner of the factory does today is to have a chimney belching forth filthy smoke while he runs off into nearby pleasant Cheshire and lives there.
The Warrington magazine which I quoted called for a St. George to destroy the dragon of smoke in Warrington. I have never quite seen either of the Ministers sitting opposite in the rôle of St. George, but I must say that this weapon which has been put into the hands of a St. George opposite is so blunt that it may not even wound the dragon, much less kill it.
While the Bill adopts the principal recommendations of the Beaver Committee, it has been hedged by so many savers and waivers as to render it abortive unless we exercise the greatest vigilance in its administration. It seems to have provided a mesh through which the indifferent or the incompetent producer of smoke can escape. Indeed, listening to the Parliamentary Secretary, it appeared to me almost as though the Government had deliberately framed the Measure so as to let industrialists escape.
1238 One need go no further than Clause 1 (3). This Clause prohibits dark smoke from chimneys, but then gives any factory owner the chance to plead successfully that the fuel used was unsuitable. That makes nonsense of the Bill, complete nonsense. The lowest grade of fuel can be used provided the equipment is efficient and there is a skilled man in attendance. Surely the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend must have had advice on the subject. They must have known the simple fact that the lowest grade of fuel could be used, and still the chimney would not emit smoke, provided the equipment was efficient. Have not they been told this?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I thought that this was elementary. I was advised by a number of people who are experts, and if the Opposition can get such advice, surely the powerful Government can. If that is so—
§ Dr. Summerskill
—why are they allowing the inefficient, incompetent factory owner or indifferent factory owner to escape in this way? We should like to know why. We should like to be told specifically if the Minister knew that the lowest grade of fuel can be used in a furnace, and, provided the equipment is efficient and there is a skilled man in attendance, there need not be the emission of dark smoke. We want to know, because if he did know that, then why has he allowed to escape the factory owner who is indifferent to the needs of the people living in the vicinity of his factory?
Let us go on to Clause 2. It has already been mentioned, but I think that the Minister will hear this again. This anti-social dark smoke producer is to be given seven years in which to continue to infect the neighbourhood—seven years —and help to produce the mortality and morbidity figures such as I have read out from Warrington. In 1875, there was this Report about the conditions in Lancashire, and yet in 1955 the Government come to this House and say, "Let us give them seven years more before they are expected to do anything." How can the Minister defend that?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Surely the right hon. Lady will agree that this report, written in 1875, was available in the years between 1945 and 1951? Why did she not get her hon. Friends to do something about it?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I have an excellent answer to that. Does the hon. Gentleman know how the Beaver Committee was set up? The Beaver Committee was set up after representations were made by the Labour-controlled London County Council. The Committee made representations to the Government, and said that this must be dealt with immediately. Perhaps, if the hon. Gentleman had been here, he would recall that between 1945 and 1950 the Welfare State was established in this country, and that we spent day after day and night after night tramping through the Division Lobbies introducing reforms which his hon. Friends should have introduced fifty years ago.
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is not a good excuse to say I am wasting time. The hon. Gentleman put the question.
I recognise that this is a highly technical subject, and in this matter I have the highest respect for the experts. I have consulted the experts and whatever I say on this question of Clauses 1 and 2 is as a direct result of consulting the experts. Therefore, I think it only right and proper that in my criticisms of details of the Bill I should quote experts which hon. Members on either side of the House will respect and recognise as men who have no particular political affiliations, but are anxious only to ensure that the air of Britain is made cleaner.
The annual conference of the National Smoke Abatement Society was recently held, during which many authorities spoke on this Bill. I have chosen—and I think that the House will agree that it is a proper choice—to quote the Superintendent Smoke Inspector of Sheffield, Mr. Batey, who should, I think, know a great deal about the subject. His speech was reported in the "Municipal Journal" of 14th October. This official, I think it will be agreed, uses very strong language for an official. Mr. Batey's words were reported thus:If the Bill were accepted as it stood, the off-spring would be still born—strangled by 1240 timidity; denied the breath of life by ineptitude.The first section was most commendable but as soon as they reached line 10 they found that the Minister was given powers to exempt 'classes of case' and 'limitations as may be specified.' Unless the Minister's discretion was applied with the greatest discrimination and only in exceptional circumstances, the power in the Bill, to license smoke could not be denied.Three well-nigh impregnable barriers to successful smoke prosecution were built up by the Bill—lighting-up, failure of apparatus and unsuitable fuel.The 'unsuitable fuel' defence could hardly ever be rebutted, for the fuel alleged to be unsuitable would necessarily have been consumed during the commission of the offence! The defendant would always state that it was the best he could get, and that in any event its unsuitability only came to light when it actually produced dark smoke instead of the light haze which he had been led to expect. Unforseeable technical difficulties would also be pleaded and these two defences would either exonerate or severely mitigate the offence.Lighting-up of furnaces could be accomplished either carelessly or with a minimum and defined standard of smoke emission.'Where maximum strength was wanted in this Bill we have a maximum weakness which was not even thought of in the outdated legislation contained in the Public Health Act. 1936,' Mr. Batey declared.In considering the grit and dust paragraphs beginning in section 4, the immediate difficulty of 'any practicable means' arose and when they looked for the definition of 'practicable' in section 28 they found that it was fatal to the purpose of the Act.Mr. Batey says that ineptitude—a very strong word for an official—was shown in the use of the word 'practicable.' The word was used no less than 12 times in the first 13 pages of the Bill (and these were the pages that mattered) with varying grades of qualification.The greatest disappointment of the Bill probably lay in the grit and dust provisions. No standards were laid down whatever. If a firm have installed grit arrestment apparatus and was not using it or allowing gross inefficiency in its use, how could the local authority take suitable action?Then, on the subject of fireplaces,Dealing with section 8 on smoke control areas"—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure that the right hon. Lady will admit that of the three defences she quoted—the first in regard to breakdown, the second in regard to lighting-up, and the third in regard to unsuitable fuel—the first two are absolutely valid reasons for emitting smoke, as the Beaver Report recommends. The only one which is arguable is unsuitable fuel. 1241 The first two the Beaver Committee recommended as being valid causes of smoke emission.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am sure the hon. Member heard what I said. I mentioned the question of unsuitable fuel and explained it quite carefully, but in the quotation which I have read Mr. Batey mentions the other two factors. I emphasise the factor of unsuitable fuel, which, the hon. Member agrees, calls for criticism.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
May I, through my right hon. Friend, ask the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Navarro) a question? Will he also agree that a machine now exists which, when properly controlled by trained people, emits smoke which is of such a limited quantity, even during the lighting up stage, that it is not discernible?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I now turn to the question of fireplaces. The House will agree that to change the fireplaces of the nation will be a big administrative job. The Parliamentary Secretary talked about fuel and administration, which are Committee points and we shall raise them and move suitable Amendments when the time comes.
I want to quote what Mr. Batey said about Clause 8, because it is so easy for hon. Members on this side of the House to be charged with not being authorities on this matter, and with not having the knowledge of the advisers of the Government. Having been a Minister myself, I know perfectly well that the Government can call upon the finest advice in the country. Therefore, when challenging a Bill of this kind, we try to produce evidence which is of equal weight to the advice proffered to the Government. Dealing with Clause 8, Mr. Batey says:The criticism must be made that they did not know what 'undue smoke' meant. In a smoke control area any smoke was 'undue.' Again, a false criterion was established regarding the Minister's power to exempt a particular type of fireplace. The criterion should not be whether a particular fireplace could be used without producing undue smoke; they should only concern themselves with whether or not any smoke was produced; not with whether the emission of undue smoke could or could not be avoided.He goes on to make a fairly small but important point in relation to Clause 11, which refers to the adaptation necessary in a dwelling-house, and he says: 1242…surely it was essential that gas ignition is provided for on domestic fires, and this being the case, subsection (d) should specifically mention this point.We shall bring that matter up during the Committee stage. It will be difficult to sell this to the housewife unless gas ignition is provided. Mr. Batey makes the point that the fitting of gas ignition points would be a very expensive alteration in the average house.
That is what was said by the Superintendent Smoke Inspector of Sheffield. The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health also had a conference on this subject, at which Sir Hugh Beaver and Dr. Scott, the Chief Medical Officer of the London County Council, spoke. For many years Dr. Scott was Medical Officer of Fulham, and I happen to know him extremely well. I have always been impressed by his academic knowledge, his well-informed mind, and his common sense. I secured a copy of the speech which he made following Sir Hugh Beaver at that conference. He was concerned about the opportunities which the Bill afforded to guilty men—"guilty men" being my own term—to escape their obligations. He said:There are various savers and exemptions under Clauses 1 and 2 which make it clear, among other things, that in the Government's view it will take at least seven years before any necessary re-equipment of industry will be complete.People like Dr. Scott are not critical unless they feel very strongly about a certain matter.
Last Saturday I went to my constituency. I had not mentioned the Bill until Saturday afternoon, but the "Warrington Guardian" was sent to me during the week and in it I found headlines which surprised me, because I did not realise that the people there were so well-informed upon the Bill. The headline read:Alarming Escape Clauses In Clean Air Bill.I mention this merely to prove to hon. and right hon. Members opposite that the people are intensely interested in this matter—at least those living in those areas whose air is polluted. Two letters were quoted in the newspaper, written by people entirely unknown to me. One was from a Mr. Sydney Duguid, who, before the war, had served as a co-opted member 1243 of the North-Western Regional Smoke Abatement Committee. He wrote:As a life-long worker for fuel efficiency and smoke abatement may I add that the present 'Clean Air' Bill, as far as it refers to industry, fills me with alarm. If it were passed as at present written, the taking of a smoke observation by a sanitary inspector and subsequent action in a law court would become a major operation for any local authority, and with only a very remote chance of securing a conviction. The Bill details as 'defences' the hackneyed excuses, made down the ages, by those who have poured filth into our atmosphere. If these objectionable escape clauses are not removed we shall be in a far worse position to deal with industrial smoke than we are at present under the Public Health Act, 1936.Although I have been critical, I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will not think that I am critical of the principle of the Bill. I am merely anxious to strengthen the Bill and make it effective. I want to see these people compelled to take some action. The Government are being too lenient with the industrialists. If they really felt strongly about the matter; if they felt passionately anxious to clean the air, they would not have produced this kind of Bill. I hope that between now and the Committee stage they will take these criticisms seriously. They are the criticisms not only of hon. Members behind me, but of some of the most responsible men in the country—men who are recognised authorities in this matter.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
It is a source of no little gratification to a private Member that Her Majesty's Government should honour an undertaking and a pledge given personally to him upon the occasion of his Private Members' Measure. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the alacrity he has displayed so early in this Parliamentary Session in honouring the undertaking he gave on 4th February this year, to the general effect that Her Majesty's then Government would introduce a comprehensive clean air Measure to replace a Private Member's Measure which, in fairness to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, I should say was signed by six Members of the Opposition and supported by five Conservative Members—the Bill being presented by myself.
There I have to halt in my commendation of the Minister's activities. He has 1244 introduced a Clean Air Bill, but if I were asked to say what I think of it in a few words, I should say that it is a partial clean air Measure. In this complex and vitally important matter, it is necessary at the outset to have in the Bill an unequivocal declaration that it is national policy to secure clean air. Sir Hugh Beaver thought the same. In Cmd. 9322 he wrote:It is basic to all our recommendations that at the outset it should be made the declared national policy to secure clean air, and that a statement to this effect should find expression in the new legislation…Therefore, on the Committee stage I shall ask the Committee to amend the Bill to include a new Clause 1, the short title of which shall beDuty of Minister in relation to clean air,and the text of which shall be as follows:It shall be the duty of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to promote a policy of clean air and to secure by all means the execution by local authorities of such a national policy.These words are not new. In Section 1 of the Water Act, 1945, is a similar text. I have lifted the text straight from that Act. It will be a simple declaration to display the determination of Parliament. That is essential at the outset.
There are many serious short-comings to the Bill. It is ill-drafted. It is much too leisurely, it has wide escape routes and—I speak as a Tory, as an employer and as a member of the Federation of British Industries—the hand of the Federation of British Industries is writ large between the lines. I ought to know. I presented a much tougher Bill to this House last February and members of the Federation of British Industries tried to dissuade me.
The economic consequences of smoke are very great and of such urgent importance today, mostly on account of our national fuel and power position. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power was responsible yesterday for launching a national campaign for greater industrial fuel efficiency. The Prime Minister, addressing the National Union of Manufacturers at lunch time today, put this at the head of all the matters to which he alluded in his speech.
On whichever side of this House we may sit, and without commenting upon matters affecting nationalisation, we know that the coal position is most critical. In 1245 the last three years, coal production has been almost stationary. This year, 1955, as the result of the unfortunate strike in South Yorkshire, and through many other causes, coal production is no less than 3½ million tons lower than last year and the two preceding years. The tendency seems to be for coal production to continue to fall. I doubt whether there would have been an autumn Budget had it not been for the very heavy burden of having to spend £80 million on coal imports this year, largely from North America and paid for in dollars, supplemented by additional expenditure on foreign exchange to bring in more and more fuel oil as a substitute for coal. The burden of these imports was largely responsible for the necessity for an autumn Budget.
In the past, I have been critical of Her Majesty's Government in fuel efficiency matters. Today I compliment my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power on his new fuel efficiency campaign, for it is indeed propitious. The Measure before the House, although of great consequence on health and social grounds, is fundamentally of importance to all of us, because it is the only practicable means of legislating for fuel efficiency. By legislation we can only attack the visual evidence, namely smoke, of the inefficient burning of coal, which continues to be our primary source of fuel and power.
I have used the term before, and it would not be out of place to use it again this afternoon. The concomitant of the faulty combustion of raw bituminous coal is dark and black smoke. It is against the dark and black smoke from industrial chimneys that the spearhead of the Bill should be directed. There may be misapprehension in this matter, so let me add that domestic smoke, though injurious because it is discharged at a low level, is rarely or never dark and black. Dark and black smoke contains millions of particles of half-burned bituminous coal and is the result of faulty combustion in industrial boilerhouses.
There is a prodigious waste of coal in industry today, as the Minister of Fuel and Power made clear when he launched his campaign 48 hours ago. There is a vast difference between the coal-burning-efficiency standards of the best and of the worst within a single industry. I will not fall into the error of generalising by saying that all industry is guilty of wasting 1246 coal in its factories and boilerhouses, for that is manifestly not so, but I would quote again to the House some of the information derived from the chief scientist of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. For instance, a survey of brick-making in continuous kilns showed that, for a comparable output of bricks, the most efficient coal-burning brickworks used one-ninth of the coal used in the most inefficient brickworks, a ratio of 1 to 9. It is that kind of thing which is largely responsible for the emission of dark and black smoke into the atmosphere. All this is covered by the first two Clauses of the Bill, although somewhat inadequately.
I turn to the comments made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) about the suitability of fuel burnt in industrial boiler-houses. The lowest grade of coal, even slurry, may be burned in industrial boiler-houses practically smokelessly, and with only a light haze of smoke emitted but no dark or black smoke, provided that a series of conditions is complied with. There must be, of course, a chain-grate mechanical stoker of suitable design and replacement of the tens of thousands of boilers that are still hand fired in outdated and obsolescent boilerhouses all over the country. A mechanical stoker is essential. There must be a correct primary and secondary draught to the boiler, and there must be correct lagging of the steam pipes and smoke alarms and recorders. There must be a fully qualified boilerman in charge of the boiler. If these conditions are complied with, then the very lowest grades of coal may be burnt in any industrial boilerhouse almost smokelessly.
§ Mr. Hobson
The hon. Gentleman is making the position a little too facile. If there is no smoke, given the conditions which he has stated, there will still be a very high sulphur content. It is a question of dealing with the sulphur.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed. A whole section of my speech deals with sulphur. At the present, I am talking about dark and black smoke, which is a separate, although an associated, problem.
The effect of inefficient burning of fuel in industry and of the urgent need for fuel economy have been expressed by 1247 many authoritative persons. Let me quote from the most recent declaration made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power when launching his campaign. He said that if proper regard were had to these matters this winter—that is the coal winter which started on 1st November, last Tuesday —we could save 2 million tons of industrial coal. Sir Leslie Hollinghurst, Chairman of the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, has put the figure of saving at 9 million tons per year, based on proper boilerhouse practice alone. Sir Hugh Beaver, speaking at the Scarborough Conference of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association, put the coal-saving possible from industrial usage as high as 20 million tons per annum. Sir Frederick Simon, Professor of Thermo-Dynamics at the University of Oxford, has put the saving even higher, and he is supported by Sir Oliver Lyle. The two questions are linked. I repeat that the only way of attacking the wasteful use of coal in industry is through the visual evidence of dark and black smoke, and that is why, in my view, the first two Clauses of this Bill are of the greatest importance.
There are very real dangers and pitfalls in endeavouring to make progress towards too many objectives at one and the same time. I have arranged my priorities, in this very complex matter of the abatement of atmospheric pollution, under four distinct headings, and I quote them in order, in my opinion, of their relative importance.
The first is the attack on dark and black industrial smoke and encouraging greater industrial fuel efficiency. That is the first recourse for the reasons which I have given this evening. The second, which is more widespread, much more diverse and much more delicate politically, if I may say so to my right hon. Friend, is the domestic fire, which is covered in Clause 8 of the Bill, dealing with smoke control areas. As the smoke control areas are created, so the domestic fires in those areas must be operated smokelessly, and that brings in the difficult matter of adequate supplies of smokeless fuel, which must be increased at a rate commensurate with extension of smoke control areas.
1248 The third of these considerations, in order of priority, is one which the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), in view of his own constituency, would probably place first, namely, the special processes referred to by Sir Hugh Beaver in his Report relating to metallurgical works, carbonisation works, power stations and chemical works, which, in the past, have been within the ambit of responsibility of the Alkali Inspectorate.
The fourth, and the most intractable—the one which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) referred to in his intervention a moment ago—deals with sulphur oxides, notably S.O.2, and I feel bound to quote exactly what Sir Hugh Beaver said in his Report. We should be making a great mistake in this House if we encouraged the general public to believe that it is possible to burn solid fuel in this country without emitting sulphur oxides. We would equally be making a very great mistake if we encouraged public opinion to believe there is some easy means of preventing the emission of sulphur or even the recovery of sulphur from the oxides contained in the flue gases.
Sir Hugh Beaver, who was supported in his opinion by some of the most foremost experts in the country on the problems with which we are concerned this afternoon said:No known methods exist whereby the greater part of the sulphur from industrial and domestic chimneys can be prevented from being poured into the atmosphere in the form of corrosive gases. The increasing use of town gas, a fuel virtually sulphur free, will assist in reducing sulphur pollution, and the use of electricity will have the same effect when the sulphur problem at power stations has been solved. There will still remain many uses of fuel, such as steam-raising, for which the most expensive refined sources of energy will be too costly. There is thus no present prospect of substantially reducing the emission of sulphur oxide from general industry or domestic fires. This is an important issue which requires further attention and it is one of the matters which we recommend for intensive research.The point about intensive research was made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington, and I can say from my own knowledge that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and practically every other agency of that character, whether of a governmental character or connected with private industry or otherwise, is pursuing this problem; but, so far, no ready answer has 1249 been found, other than the vastly expensive plants for washing flue gases at power stations. Sir Hugh Beaver in his Report referred to the Fulham station, which had such an apparatus before the war, and the use of which was discontinued during the war. It is now being put back into use.
I warn the House that power stations are the biggest single coal consumers in the country. It is often the case that one power station uses as much as 1 million tons of coal in a year. An undertaking of that kind can possibly afford—I am not saying that it can—vastly expensive plant to extract the sulphur from the flue gases, but quite certainly hundreds and thousands of other agencies, which are allowing sulphur to pass into the atmosphere, cannot take similar steps, particularly the ordinary domestic hearth, which is the simplest form of solid fuel combustion in general use. Therefore, I think that it would be a mistake if we devoted too much of our time today to talking about sulphur emissions. It is so largely a matter of scientific development.
May I pass to my principal criticism of the Bill. I have explained, as I see it, the urgency of fuel efficiency in industry and the paramount importance of Clauses 1 and 2. The seven-year dispensation, in extremis—I emphasise in extremis—in Clause 2 is far too long. I do not wish to make invidious comparisons with my right hon. Friend, but I pondered this point before my Private Member's Measure last Session. It is no use legislating for the elimination of dark smoke unless we can, by the use of mechanical stokers, thermostats and all the rest of the boilerhouse equipment required, meet the sudden demand that this legislation would inspire.
I came to the conclusion that the proper period was three years. I shall move, during the Committee stage of this Bill, when we are dealing with Clause 2, to delete seven years and to substitute three years. It is a matter of great urgency, and I hope that I shall carry with me right hon. and hon. Members on both sides. Why I say that the F.B.I. hand is writ large between the lines of this Bill is because it was members of the F.B.I., representing industrialists, who have been responsible for persuading the Minister to put three years up to seven. They say outside this House that Nabarro 1250 is a dizzy idealist. The interesting thing is that I have fired more boilers than most hon. Members in this House; I have operated more boilers than most hon. Members, and I have been responsible for more boilers than most hon. Members. I know how to fire a boiler.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
We have had experts quoted. Will the hon. Gentleman now quote another expert?—what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said about the waste of coal at Bournemouth?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Yes, Sir. I was accused on the last occasion of being unduly egotistical in this matter. I would, therefore prefer the hon. Gentleman, or one of his hon. Friends, to quote what I said at Bournemouth, and I am perfectly happy that they should do so. I shall seek to reduce the seven years in Clause 2 to three years.
My second point is with regard to unsuitable fuel. I shall seek the total elimination of Clause 1 (3, c). That is the subsection which allows a defence on grounds of unsuitable fuel. There is no unsuitable industrial fuel, provided the boiler house is properly equipped and the boiler man fully trained, and it is for that reason that I say that the subsection should be eliminated. That criticism refers to Clause 1 (3, c) at the head of the page.
My third criticism is in regard to the duties of the Alkali Inspectorate. I support the general view that that Inspectorate should continue to be responsible for the special processes, involving metallurgical works, carbonisation works, power stations and so on, which are referred to in the appropriate section of the Report, except those in the areas of the large local authorities, provided that those authorities can demonstrate to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government that they have the necessary technical staff and facilities available to supervise such processes.
The large local authorities to which I am referring are only few in number—say the City of Birmingham, the City of Newcastle, the City of Liverpool, the City of Sheffield, the City of Stoke-on-Trent and the City of Bristol. There may be others, but I quote those six.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Manchester should come high on the list in view of its great success with smokeless zones. I am not quoting them in order of importance, but I say that so long as they may demonstrate to the Minister's satisfaction that they have the technical staff and facilities available to deal with the complexities of the special processes, the large local authorities should be granted total autonomy.
I remind my right hon. Friend that, by and large, the areas of the big local authorities are the black areas and I believe that the policy of clean air is indivisible. It would be a grave mistake for this House to place in the hands of a local authority the enforcement of the conditions of the Bill in regard to smoke, and to leave in the hands of the alkali inspectorate the enforcement in regard to special processes in such cases.
§ Mr. Orbach
Referring to the Alkali Inspectorate, has the hon. Member looked at paragraph 6 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, where it states that £40,000 per annum is to be put aside for the whole of the work? How many inspectors are we to include in the technical staff? Will they even cover the catalogue of towns and cities he himself has listed?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am dealing with principle. I am in sympathy with what the hon. Member says, and we can no doubt deal with it during the Committee stage.
My fourth point is that there must be demonstrated clearly a desire for a national policy in support of clean air. Fifth, the definition of smoke is quite ridiculous. The definition in page 19 reads:'smoke' includes soot, ash, grit and gritty particles.We all know what smoke includes. What we want to know is what smoke is. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will say how difficult it is to define it. I know all that. I got seven experts together last January to draft a definition of smoke. I derived my definition from the established practice of American and Canadian cities where they have demonstrated over a long period of years that their definition can be supported in the courts.
My sixth criticism is that Sir Hugh Beaver was emphatic in requiring that every local authority should submit to 1252 the Minister an annual report of the progress being made in implementation of what will be the Clean Air Act. There is no such requirement in the Bill. Seventh, there is no provision for the improved training and ultimate certification of industrial boilermen. Eighth, the tax incentives recommended by Sir Hugh Beaver in respect of industrial fuel economising plant, and the smoke prevention equipment should have been placed in the Finance Bill which has succeeded our autumnal Budget. Someone evidently forgot about it.
My ninth point is that, for Clean Air policy to be effective and thrusting, a Clean Air Council should be provided as part of the legislative instrument, and not by administrative action. My tenth criticism is upon something which I think is of great public importance and concern. Why are we abandoning the homely phrase that has secured recognition in all parts of the country in the last few years—"smokeless zone"?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Manchester blazed the trail, I agree, but I am not arguing about who started it. I am saying that the transposition of "smokeless zone" to "smoke control area"—a cumbersome and meaningless phrase—is a bad one, and that we should revert to "smokeless zone."
Those are just ten matters which will require amendment in Committee. There are no doubt another 20 or 30, and though my right hon. Friend has rightly said from time to time that this is largely an agreed measure—in that it is not controversial in a party political sense—it is evident that if this Bill is to be truly effective, we shall have to give it a very great number of teeth that it does not at present possess. Much greater urgency must be imparted to the Bill, all escape routes must be closed, and a large number of deficiencies must be remedied.
Although I have been somewhat critical of my right hon. Friend this afternoon, I should not like to conclude without saying to him, that I am sincerely grateful for the speed with which he has brought in this Measure, and the honourable fashion in which he has sought to implement—badly advised, no doubt, in many important regards — the undertaking which he gave to me last February.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I must first, though somewhat belatedly, thank the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) for the excellent Clean Air Bill which he introduced last February, and say that we have all been delighted with his speech this afternoon. I have particularly noted his ten points of emendation, and in the case of nine of them I am in complete agreement. I am prepared to argue his tax reliefs point, and I want to make a small correction in regard to one other. The Alkali Inspectorate is not completely in charge of all the metallurgical processes. That is one of our difficulties, because at present the duties of that inspectorate and those of the smoke abatement officers overlap. Prosecutions very often fail as a result.
The hon. Member is well known for his youthful enthusiasm and I sympathise with him because he has exercised a restraint which, I know, must have been irksome. I promise to make up for that restraint in what I am about to say to the Minister. I do not propose to deal with problems of smokeless zones and of the domestic grate. With a name like mine I can hardly do so, but I want first to quote a statement made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in a debate on 4th February last. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1955; Vol. 536, c. 1488.]Those words and that speech by the Minister persuaded the hon. Member for Kidderminster to withdraw his Bill. A specific promise was given that the Government would introduce a Measure on the general lines of the Beaver Committee recommendations.
What have we got to implement that promise? We have this Clean Air Bill. It is a miserable, hypocritical shadow of the Bill compared with that which was introduced by the hon. Member for 1254 Kidderminster. The Minister claims that it implements what he said he would implement. In fact, it almost completely ignores the Beaver Committee recommendations. What is more, by implication it seeks to minimise the air pollution problem that the country is facing.
Who fathered the Bill? I should like to know. It was certainly not the Beaver Committee. I should not like to think that Sir Hugh Beaver would claim that the Bill embraces even a tenth of the Committee's recommendations. Whoever fathered it has produced a stillborn child. I agree with the quotation by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) from Mr. Batey, the Sheffield Smoke Abatement Officer. If it is a stillborn child, it is because it has been killed by timidity and denied life by Government ineptitude.
I want to ask a very important question which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will pass on to the Minister. When will the Government realise that the problem of air pollution is not an amiable sideline to which they can just give lip-service? When will they realise that it is a matter of major social consequence to the health of the community and absolutely vital to the economy of the nation?
I suggest that air pollution by smoke, grit, fumes and filth is now unnecessary, in spite of what the hon. Member for Kidderminster has said. It can be eliminated by the most modern forms of technology and machinery. I want to prove that. I have a report from Sheffield University which constitutes a practical and effective contribution to the solution of the problem. Sheffield itself is a very dirty city, although it has a golden gate. The fact that it is dirty is not the fault of the city fathers. Sheffield was the first city in the country to employ a smoke abatement officer. During the course of time the city fathers have done all they possibly can, within the limits of the law, to make Sheffield's air clean and pure. The law hinders them.
At Sheffield University a great deal of research has been carried out particularly in relation to the metallurgical industries and the industries now controlled by the Alkali Acts. It is because of that that I introduce the University's Report. It is 1255 by Dr. Sarjant, of the University, who has come to this conclusion:The smoke problem is due to two main causes: (i) the use of old-fashioned appliances and outmoded techniques, for which there may be no valid scientific reason, and (ii) the lack of application of existing knowledge, either from lack of interest or ignorance.It is because of these things that the Sheffield City Council has not been able to tackle the problem. I believe that if the Beaver Committee had spent more time in Sheffield than its casual morning visit to the city, had gone round the industries of Attercliffe and Brightside, and had understood the history of Sheffield as a developing industrial city, it would have published recommendations in regard to scheduled industries quite different from those in its Report.
I will tell the House what the Committee would have found. It would have found that industrialists do not generally replace machinery because doing so would be in the interests of the health of the community. Industrialists do not willingly and voluntarily judge replacement from the point of view of public health and well-being. The Committee would have found that the scheduled industries are now protected by law and take advantage of that, till all the efforts of the medical officer of health, the smoke abatement officer and Sheffield's excellent health committee are rendered completely abortive.
I know that not all industrialists are reticent about changing machinery. Many in Sheffield have done a good job in replacing obsolete machinery by machinery which does not emit nuisances. It is because it is now possible to replace obsolete plant by machinery which does not emit air pollutants that I challenge the Minister to face a very simple fact.
British industry will never again rise to world industrial supremacy unless it is in advance of the rest of the world in mechanisation. It is not without significance that modern machines do not emit filth into the atmosphere. "Public health" is synonymous with "modern mechanisation." The Bill completely ignores the wise pressure which, with an effective Measure, could be brought to bear upon British industrialists to make them install machinery capable of competing in world markets. I know that this is a great problem and that it cannot 1256 be done instantaneously. Nevertheless, we are told that the Government stand for economy. I wonder what kind of economy the Government stand for. Is it parsimonious economy or wise spending?
We cannot afford to waste the amount of motive power which goes into the atmosphere and which, according to the Beaver Committee, costs no less than £250 million a year. That does not include waste from the incomplete combustion of coal in domestic hearths. I am with the hon. Member for Kidderminster in his continual pressure on the Government for fuel conservation. Unless the Government promote a really efficient policy, which should be pursued side by side with an effective clean air policy, they will go down in history as the Government who stifled the industrial life of Britain.
I turn again to the Beaver Committee's recommendations. The Committee said:Enough has been said to prove that air pollution as it occurs in this country today is a social evil of the first magnitude. It not only does untold harm to human health and happiness; it is a prodigal waste of material resources. Expenditure on curing it would be a fraction of the savings which would result from the cure.The hon. Member for Kidderminster reminded us of power stations. When we are trying to cure this country of the impure air we all breath, especially in the industrial areas, we not only have to think of new power stations being built and new gas plant being installed, but of the people who, for many years, have lived under the shadow of power stations and gas works. We ought to have some regard for them and bring relief to them. The Government have failed in this Bill to respond to that challenge. I say categorically that they are guilty of a grave misuse of their power and, therefore, are guilty of treachery to the industrial life of Britain.
I want to criticise the Bill itself. A great many things have been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington and the hon. Member for Kidderminster. The Bill contains familiar words and familiar exemptions such as "classes of cases" and "limitations as may be specified." It provides defence in the case of lighting-up, in the case of failure of apparatus and in the case of unsuitable fuel. All those things are known to sanitary inspectors, medical officers of health and smoke abatement officers. In Sheffield, it is almost 1257 impossible to get a successful prosecution against a big industry by reason of these defences, but it is possible to get a successful prosecution against a minor offender. The difficulties of local authorities to sustain prosecutions is one of the considerations which has not been taken into account by the Government.
Unless drastically amended, subsection (3) of Clause 1 will become a charter for the emission of dark smoke. That is the danger of the Bill; there are so many defences, so many limitations and there is no clarity in what we call the scheduled industries scheduled processes, or on the application of the Alkali Acts to many of industries of Sheffield and district. Nearly all the industrialists, if they have the will, can use the Clean Air Bill to perpetuate nuisances from which we suffer.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Except the householder, and even in that case it is only effective in smokeless zones to be set up under the Bill. After all is done and said, if a prosecution is lodged against a firm for the emission of dark smoke and the excuse is made that unsuitable fuel had to be used that excuse must be accepted in the court of law because the fuel by then has gone up in smoke and there is no remaining evidence. Time after time proscutions have failed because of defences such as those provided in this Bill. I believe that the Bill will give licence to many industrialists and all it will do in the interests of clean air will be to retain the status quo.
I wish to deal with the problem of Sheffield itself. The district I have the honour to represent in this House has one of the highest deposits of soot in the country. In 1954, the average deposit formed was 40.28 tons per square mile per month. That included periods when factories were closed. The highest recorded deposit was 69.28 tons in Attercliffe and Brightside. I ask the Minister what he intends to do to bring relief to people who live in an atmosphere of that kind. I want to know what he intends to do in regard to the metallurgical processes and the application of the Alkali Acts. If his reply is according to this Bill, even though we amend the Bill on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Kidderminster and if every one of those Amendments is accepted by the Minister, the difference 1258 in Attercliffe and Brightside will be less than half of 1 per cent. in terms of mitigation of the nuisances from which they suffer today.
Through the Parliamentary Secretary, I say to the Minister, withdraw this puny, miserable Bill. It is not worthy of any British Government. It is not worthy of the people who have to do the dirty jobs of the country, for it will bring no relief whatever to them when finally it is applied to the industries which create nuisances.
I say a final word in respect of the Alkali Acts. As I said in a question to the Parliamentary Secretary, there are nine alkali inspectors. Provision has been made for an extra expenditure of £40,000. How does the Minister hope that such an insufficient staff will be able to conduct the necessary inquiries in order that in any process clean air provisions will be applied to those industries under the Alkali Acts? It is physically impossible. We would need an alkali inspector in every big town. That is unnecessary. Why should we duplicate the services? The services could be carried out by smoke abatement officers, if they were given powers by means of an effective Clean Air Bill.
At the moment, there is difference between the smoke abatement officers and alkali inspectors as to the range of their duties. Why not canalise the whole of those duties under the smoke abatement officers of the towns? If a town cannot afford the services of a smoke abatement officer, the present law permits the use of these officers on a wider basis than that of the area of a borough council. The retention of this power under the Alkali Inspectorate is wrong and I think that the Beaver Committee was wrong in making such a suggestion and in trying to widen the scope of the scheduled processes. I believe that a more effective method is to remove the idea of remote control and to give to the man who knows the local circumstances and pitfalls the right to deal with the problem on the spot.
I hope that even if he does not withdraw the Bill, the Minister will have second thoughts about the Alkali Inspectorate. I speak from the knowledge that the Association of Municipal Corporations has unanimously pronounced in favour of the proposals I am advocating. 1259 The hon. Member for Kidderminster said that the Bill emanated really from the offices of the Federation of British Industries. Will the Minister tell us what took place when the Association of Municipal Corporations sent its representative to discuss the Bill with him? The Parliamentary Secretary said today that the Bill had the blessing of the Association, but that is not the view expressed in the Association's official publication, which says that it is at variance with the Minister on almost every important Clause in the Bill.
This is not a Clean Air Bill. It has been conceived in the befogged imagination of the Government and the best thing that they can do is to withdraw it as quickly as possible and to bring forward a really effective Measure to the House as early as they can.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
Like both the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) and the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), I represent a constituency in the middle of some of the worst polluted air in the country at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. In addition to the normal pollution of smoke and fumes, we have the particular problem of cement dust, which gets into everything in the homes of my constituents and of people in adjoining constituencies. So bad had it become, in fact, that recently the local authorities for that part of North Kent felt that they should come together in an advisory committee to discuss atmospheric pollution in general and, in particular, pollution by cement dust.
I think that within the last day or two all hon. Members have received a circular from that committee issued from the Town Hall of the Borough of Dartford. The circular states that the committee has met the local Members of Parliament for the North Kent area, which is perfectly true, but the circular contains the implication, which I should like to remove from the minds of hon. Members who may have read it, that the six Members of Parliament for the area have collectively agreed to support the list of proposed amendments which the circular contains.
I am quite certain that that was not what the advisory committee intended to 1260 say, but I am authorised to make this statement, not only for myself but for my two hon. Friends who were with me on that occasion. I believe that I speak also for the three hon. Members from the other side of the House who were present when I say that, whatever may be our views individually, collectively we have not pledged our support for the list of amendments.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
As one of the Members concerned who was present at the meeting. I confirm what the hon. Member has said. I am sure he would agree that great enterprise and initiative was shown by the local authorities concerned and that they deserve congratulation for it.
§ Mr. Kirk
Yes, but there was that misunderstanding in the circular which I wanted to clear up. I did not want anyone to think that we were committed to that list. I am sympathetic to some of the suggested amendments, but not to all of them, and some of them I hope to discuss in my remarks.
As far as I can see, cement dust, in particular, does not figure in the Bill. Of course, there is a very rational reason which the Minister would give to me if I were to put the point to him. He would say that all the powers necessary for dealing with cement dust already exist in the Alkali Act, 1906. To some extent that is true, but it is also fair to say that those powers, certainly in North Kent, do not seem to have been widely effective. Although an immense amount of money has been spent by local cement firms during the last few years in fitting precipitators and so on, the pollution by cement dust in the area is still appalling. It is sad and regrettable that no attempt is made in the Bill to collate the existing legislation relating to cement dust and to make an attempt to clean it up.
I strongly agree with what the hon. Member for Brightside said about the Alkali Inspectorate. We rely on that Inspectorate at least to keep this nuisance down. It would be fatal if, as a result of the extension of the Inspectorate's powers by the Bill, it could not devote so much time to the problems with which it is already concerned. What is much more important is to have more alkali inspectors who would be capable of keeping a much closer watch, particularly on this one aspect of cement dust.
1261 Neither am I convinced that the penalties provided in the Bill are large enough. Again quoting the local instance of cement dust, it is probably far cheaper, although I do not say that any firm would adopt this line, for a company to pay a fine of £100 than to fit the necessary equipment to deal with the pollution. This also is a point which will have to be considered in Committee.
We in our area know of the interest which the Ministry takes in our problem. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary very kindly gave up some of his time to come and look at the problems in that part of the world. If the Bill is effectively operated—and that is essential—it will help to a certain extent in our problem, for I believe that a lot of the cement dust would normally be blown away and widely scattered without doing damage locally were it not for the other noxious gases in the atmosphere which tend to drag the cement dust down. If it is possible to clear away a lot of the noxious gases, and particularly the sulphur pollution, although I know this is a tricky matter, that will help in clearing some of the cement dust pollution.
There is another and more general point that arises from my particular problem. Of the cement dust which is produced in the constituency of Gravesend, a very great deal is exported. With a good wind, we reckon that most of it will descend on the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), the Government deputy Chief Whip. That annoys his constituents and, no doubt, makes him a little bit peeved also, and at this stage I have no wish to annoy the deputy Chief Whip. One must, therefore, stress the necessity for co-operation between local authorities if the Bill is to be a success.
I can conceive of an area being strongly polluted from a factory in another area although the local authority affected is not anxious to take action against the factory. The Bill should embody provision for appeal to the Minister in the case of a local authority which is unable to persuade a neighbouring authority to take action. Also, on the lines of the advisory committee to which I referred earlier, it might be not only possible, but advisable, to have area pollution committees, as well as the Clean Air Council envisaged by the Bill, which could meet from time to 1262 time to discuss the various problems on a local authority basis.
I doubt whether we shall ever achieve 100 per cent. efficiency, and I am certain we shall not do it with the cement industry, but if people could be convinced that every practical effort is made to lessen the appalling pollution which now takes place, at least they will be prepared to accept the situation. There is no point in concealing the fact that great resentment is felt against the cement companies in my part of the country, who have done all that they can do to keep down the pollution. There is great resentment because people do not think that everything possible is being done. I fully agree with those who have said that the Bill needs tidying up, but if we can put through a Bill which will make smoke and pollution abatement really effective, we shall lessen a good deal of the ill feeling against big firms in heavily polluted areas.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)
I would first apologise to the House for taking up its time by further considering the matter already raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), but it is a measure of the intensity of the public feeling on the matter that I do so. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the public conscience. The public conscience in north-west Kent has been so stirred that there is such an intensity of feeling as I have never previously known in the years I have lived there.
Hon. Members on this side of the House occasionally take pleasure in pointing out that we in Britain have some things that are bigger and better than the Americans have. In north-west Kent we have the biggest concentration of cement plants in the world, but it gives me no pleasure to say that because they are a source of pollution so great that it has to be seen to be believed. Some notion of how great it is may be gained when I say that 4½ million tons of cement are produced in that area and in one place alone in one month 105 tons of dust fell in one square mile. Perhaps from these figures hon. Members can appreciate the degree of the nuisance. That was equivalent to the whole of the dust that falls in Westminster and all Central London.
Therefore, we suffer in north-west Kent to a degree which is unequalled anywhere 1263 in the country. This is an all-party matter, and I associate myself with what the hon. Member for Gravesend said, that in attending the meeting of the Thames-side Advisory Committee we did not, any of us, commit ourselves entirely to the recommendations that were made.
This dust is scattered widely. It pollutes the air. It affects health. It obscures the sunlight. It fouls the plants. It makes more difficult the saleability of plants in the area, part of which is rural. It falls on clothes and on the windows of houses and cars.
It is a grave nuisance to the whole population, and that nuisance has led to petitions and to a visit by the Parliamentary Secretary, for which we are grateful. It has led to the setting up of the Thames-side Advisory Committee, now a joint committee. I had the privilege of being chairman of the inaugural meeting of the Committee, although I am not now directly associated with it. That Committee has very carefully collected statistics, and I believe that it is the start of a further move in the right direction of the abatement of this nuisance and in the promotion of measures to deal with it.
I want to place on record now the deep anxiety of the whole of my constituents. We have been told at great length about the ineffectiveness of this Bill. There is great anxiety amongst my constituents as to there being no hope whatsoever of any elimination or control of this nuisance in their area.
I want to urge on the Government what has already been urged upon them by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), that local authorities should, under the Bill, be given the power to deal not only with smoke but also with those things which are at present reserved to the Alkali Inspectorate. I have no quarrel with the Inspectorate. The inspectors, some of whom I have met, are men of great ability, great experience; men who are conscientious to the greatest degree. However, I think it is obvious to anybody who has read either of the two Reports produced by the Inspectorate in recent years that the amount of work which they have to undertake as their present duty is far too great at the moment. Therefore, if their duties are enlarged, that will place a burden on the Inspectorate too great to be borne.
1264 The right answer is to give to the local authorities the same powers to deal with this nuisance as have belonged to the Inspectorate—and not only the local authorities in the big towns. They should be given also to joint committees of smaller authorities where they have personnel for them.
This is a tremendous task. What disturbs the local authorities as much as this problem is the fact that not only are we not going to be able to deal with the dust but we are not going to be able to deal with the smoke emitted from the chimneys of the cement industry and others scheduled under the Alkali, &c. Works Regulation Act.
This problem is an acute one. There are twenty-three precipitators in northwest Kent. Last year five were out of action at one time. There seems to be grave doubt in the minds of the local authorities whether enough is being done to control this nuisance. Many people in north-west Kent feel that if those industries had been under penalty something would have been done much more quickly. It is very likely that the five precipitators which have gone out of action would not have gone out of action all at once.
Research is highly important. In the States there are ninety-eight laboratories and one public foundation carrying on research into this matter. I do not want to minimise the importance of the research by the cement industry, because it has done a great deal, but it would reassure the local authorities if more research were done by public bodies. One cannot deny that the feeling exists that although research is being done it is in many cases subordinated to that of research into production problems.
We are grateful to have had the statement today about the Clean Air Council. There should be a Clean Air Council sitting continuously, and with responsibility for the direction of the research, so that we can hope that in the future there will be some alleviation of this grievous problem.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)
The two hon. Members who have just spoken, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) and the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving), will forgive me if I do not follow the problem 1265 to which they have specially directed their speeches. I would rather join with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in welcoming the Bill. I cannot speak with the knowledge with which he speaks, but as the representative of the constituency in which there is Trafford Park, where we have probably one of the greatest concentrations of the most varied industries in the country, a constituency in which my constituents suffer at all times and in various degrees from the effects of contamination of the air, I do speak about this subject with a very real interest in the problems with which the Bill is concerned.
While I welcome the Bill, I agree with what has been said about the fact that it does not go far enough. And it does not go quickly enough. The Parliamentary Secretary claimed that the Government had acted quickly upon the recommendations of the Beaver Committee, but what really matters is not that we legislate quickly but that we should legislate in a way that will produce results quickly, and that, I think, the Bill fails to do.
There are two compelling reasons, in my opinion, in the present state of the country's economy why we should take determined action. The first is that every ounce of coal saved by efficient combustion means gold and dollars saved, and the second is that in a state of full employment every hour saved from ill health means extra production. Those reasons alone seem to me fully to justify intense action and adequate expenditure and research. Yet throughout the Bill there seems to be a tendency to provide loopholes which will delay achievement of the Bill's aims.
Reference has already been made to Clause 1, which allows as a defence against emitting black smoke the fact that suitable fuel is not obtainable. Clause 1 (3, c) is about as effective an escape clause as could be provided. When it is not an exaggeration to say that, with suitable methods of stoking and draught control and with proper control instruments, even unsuitable fuel can be burned without producing black smoke, surely the need to save coal, gold and dollars, and to promote health and increase production, justifies the closing of this loophole which the Clause provides.
1266 I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster has announced his intention to move to delete the subsection. I hope that he will be successful in doing so. I believe that somewhat similar arguments could be brought against the provisions of the Bill dealing with grit and dust, but I do not intend to take up the time of the House in deploying those arguments now. I want to turn to the effect of the Bill upon the Alkali Inspectorate.
Clause 13 will increase the work laid upon the alkali inspectors. I know that some local authorities feel that the work of the inspectors should be transferred to them, or at least that the duties relating to smoke from special processes should remain with them. On the whole, I think that the balance of argument supports the proposal in the Bill, and I could not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster in suggesting that, in the case of the larger authorities, the work should be transferred to the authorities.
It was suggested from the benches opposite that Manchester was a good example of a local authority to which the powers of the inspectors could be transferred. As a representative of a constituency outside Manchester, I feel that the problem of the Manchester area can be better tackled by the present alkali inspectors than by each local authority having its own inspectors. But is the Minister satisfied that his present inspectors can cope with the additional duties? If not, does he feel certain that he can secure the additional inspectors with the necessary qualifications? We must satisfy ourselves that if we are going to place extra work on the inspectors they can undertake that work and that, if they cannot, we are sure that we can secure new men with the right qualifications.
I recall that when, two years ago, we persuaded the then Minister to appoint an additional inspector for the Manchester district he had the greatest difficulty in obtaining the services of a suitable man. He finally solved the problem by continuing in service an inspector who was due to retire. Therefore, we should be satisfied that any necessary additions to the staff can be made before we lay fresh duties upon the Alkali Inspectorate.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry 1267 of Housing and Local Government said about setting up a Clean Air Council, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, I would much prefer to see that provided for in the Bill. A council of that kind could do useful work to inculcate the idea of clean air as a worthwhile national policy. It could also do good work in co-ordinating research. One of our great problems, and one to which we are fully alive in my constituency, is the problem caused by sulphur. It is a problem which, above all, calls for intensive research.
Clause 19 empowers a local authority to undertake research. That is all to the good, but is the Minister satisfied that sufficient research on a national scale is being undertaken and that sufficient encouragement is given to industry to undertake research into its own problems? I believe that a Clean Air Council, given the right powers, could be a useful body to encourage and co-ordinate research and make available to other industries and local authorities the results of individual efforts.
Our need, in our present economic circumstances, to use our coal efficiently and to promote good health so that we may increase production is such that the extra cost and effort involved in tightening up the Bill would be well worthwhile and would pay a full dividend. I wish the Bill well, but I hope that between now and the Committee stage the Minister will re-examine it with that same realism as that with which he examined the housing subsidies. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members want realism. They have been asking for realism in this matter, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine the Bill with that same realistic outlook and will decide to tighten up its provisions between now and the Committee stage.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
Like all hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken so far, with the partial exception of the Minister, I want to pour my contribution of dark smoke on the Bill. I want to deal with it from the only aspect from which I am capable of doing so, and that is from the health point of view. Whether it is a good or bad Bill must depend on what exactly we mean by "clean" as applied to air. If we 1268 mean by "clean" freedom from smoke and grit, then in time I think the Bill will have the effect of producing a cleaner atmosphere. And, from the health point of view, one ought to admit that it may reduce to some extent the incidence of cancer of the lung, because that dread disease—although its cause may be associated with smoking—appears to be more common in smoky and industrial districts. On the other hand, if we mean by "clean air" air free from impurities and substances inimical to health and well-being, I suggest that this is a very poor Bill indeed.
It is unfortunate that, while smoke can be easily seen and recognised, the much more important oxides of sulphur are quite invisible to the eye. In a dry atmosphere they do not hurt us very much. They cause irritation of the eyes, but they do not have a very great effect. In a moist atmosphere, however, in the presence of dust or smoke—and there is dust everywhere in our atmosphere—the sulphur dioxide combines with water to produce sulphuric acid.
This point was put in a leading article in the "Lancet" of 7th November, 1953, in a much better way than I can put it, and therefore I hope that I may be forgiven for quoting it. It says: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.I believe that that is what happened in the great smog epidemic.
As has been said several times today, the parent of this Bill is the Beaver Report. That Report was inspired by the invasion of the Metropolis by smog in December, 1952, which killed off 4,000 people and caused bad health to many thousands more. Does any one doubt that the main cause of this was sulphur oxide? Dr. Smithard, Medical Officer of Health for Lewisham, investigated the matter. He found that the highest mortality was in proximity to the source of excessive smoke, and he added that it is not the smoke but the irritant action of oxides of sulphur which is most likely to be the cause.
It is not only in times of smog, however, that the action of the oxides of 1269 sulphur is so serious. They affect the health of people in industrial towns throughout their lives, and nearly every day of the year, at any rate whenever the atmosphere is sufficiently moist. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) that it is significant that Warrington has had as its last two Members of Parliament members of my profession, because Warrington had the highest death rate from bronchitis in this country for males between 45 and 64 during the years 1950 to 1952. There are runners-up for other towns, such as Salford and Oldham, come pretty near. But pride of place goes to Warrington, where the death rate from bronchitis for these ages is four or five times greater than in seaside and country districts.
In addition, there is a great deal of lost working time from bronchitis due, in my view, mainly to sulphur fumes. In 1950 there were 16 million days lost by bronchitis, which accounted for 10 per cent. of all time lost by illness. It may be asked, what evidence is there that this was caused by sulphur dioxide? Sheffield was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winter-bottom), who pointed out the research work being done there. I want to refer to another useful piece of research work done by Sheffield doctors. Dr. Pemberton and Dr. Goldberg worked out the amount of bronchitis in county boroughs of England and Wales, and they found a significant correlation between the sulphur dioxide in the air and the severity of the bronchitis in these towns.
There is, of course, nothing new in this. Sir Hugh Beaver mentions it in his Report. I will read briefly what he says about sulphur dioxide:One of the most deleterious products of the combustion of fuels is sulphur, present in the form of its oxides, mainly sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is discharged into the atmosphere with the chimney gases wherever fuel in the form of coal, coke, fuel oil or unpurified gases is burnt. The degree of efficiency of combustion does not affect the quantity of sulphur dioxide evolved.Yet the word "sulphur" is not mentioned in this Bill. It does not even propose a clean air council or, as I would prefer to call it, a pure air council. The Minister told us that such a council would be formed. I, for one, would much prefer a statutory council which had considerable power for initiating research.
1270 I know that in Clause 19 the local authorities are allowed to spend money on research but this is a national problem and a very difficult one and, if I may say so, a very costly one. If we are to make our towns and cities healthy again we must clear the sulphur from the air. How can it be done? Well, as has been suggested, something can be done by scrubbing the air from the chimneys of our factories and power stations. Something can be done to remove the sulphur from coal. A great deal can be done to remove the sulphur from fuel oil but, unfortunately, at present it is an expensive process. What is needed is a committee which will keep this matter in mind at all times and which will have power to institute research even if it costs money.
In the Press a short time ago Sir John Cockcroft was reported as saying that in twenty years' time, in 1975, nearly half Britain's electricity would be generated by atomic power, saving 40 million tons of coal a year and consequent pollution of our air by sulphur oxides. I suggest that such a development would result in greater improvement in health than a dozen Bills like the one we are considering today.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I know that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) will forgive me if I do not follow the points which he has made. It would be wrong of me to attempt to do so in view of his great medical knowledge of the subject which he has so ably put before the House.
This is one of those pleasant occasions when we are discussing a Bill on whose general purpose we are entirely agreed. The varying expressions of opinion which my right hon. Friend will have heard, some possibly put more forcibly than others, are so merely because we have different views on how to make as good a Bill as possible out of the Measure before us. I want to pay a tribute, as other hon. Members have done, to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) for his initiative in this matter. I was particularly glad to note what he said about the importance of the Bill as regards fuel efficiency. That is rather apt to be overlooked when we are considering the health aspect.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to previous local legislation and said the 1271 time had now come for general legislation. I entirely agree with him about that. It might save a great city like Manchester, which has done so much in local legislation, from being inundated by smoke from places like Stretford and Salford just outside its borders.
Although we welcome the Bill, all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have the honour to represent the City of Manchester are a little unhappy about some of its aspects. One is that although the Bill provides for smoke-control areas, it does not appear to contain any powers at all in regard to smokeless zones.
The House will be aware that Manchester has been very active for a long time in trying to deal with the smoke problem. As long ago as 1936 the corporation tried to get the railways electrified in order to abate the smoke nuisance in the city, and in our corporation Act of 1946 we obtained power to prohibit smoke in certain areas by the establishment of smokeless zones. We have found those powers most effective and most useful. We have up to the present created four smokeless zones in Manchester covering some 400 acres, and we are now surveying further areas with a view to making them smokeless zones.
In the sixth recommendation in paragraph 121 of the Beaver Committee Report it is suggested that local authorities should have power, by means of Orders requiring confirmation by the appropriate Ministers, to establish both smokeless zones and smoke-control areas. In the smokeless zones of Manchester the emission of smoke of any kind from any premises is prohibited, but it would appear that in the smoke-control areas for which the Bill makes provision the emission of smoke is permitted so long as it is caused by an authorised fuel. There seems to be a very considerable difference between smokeless zones and smoke-control areas. It may be a small point, but it is one about which Manchester feels very strongly.
The seventh recommendation of the Beaver Committee says that financial assistance should be provided by local authorities and the Exchequer towards the costs incurred by householders in converting appliances in smokeless zones and smoke-control areas. But, I would repeat, the Bill does not deal with smokeless 1272 zones; it refers only to smoke-control areas. We feel that the Beaver Committee's recommendations about smokeless zones ought to be implemented and included in the Bill so that local authorities, provided that they can convince the Minister of their case, will not be prohibited from establishing smokeless zones for lack of suitable legislation.
The Bill provides that financial assistance from local authorities and the Exchequer should be made available towards the cost incurred by owners in converting their houses in smoke-control areas. The Beaver Committee recommended that similar assistance should also be available in the case of smokeless zones; but such assistance is not made available by the Bill. The result is that when local authorities like Manchester establish smokeless zones under their local legislation, owners and occupiers of premises in such areas will be deprived of the financial assistance which they would get if they were included in smoke-control areas. It appears that financial assistance is available only in the less effective smoke-control areas and not in the more effective smokeless zones.
There is another point of very great importance to Manchester. Clause 29 (4) empowers the Minister to repeal any provision of any local Act which appears to him to be unnecessary having regard to the provisions of the Bill. Under that provision the Minister could repeal the provisions of the Manchester Corporation Act, 1946, relating to smokeless zones. I hope that the Minister will give the House an assurance that the power will be used only upon application by the local authority concerned.
I hope that the Minister will also be able to assure us that he will look into the question of the smokeless zones, which seems to be of considerable importance, with the idea of bringing them within the scope of the Bill. He will thereby do much to improve a Bill which I am sure commends itself to the House as a very real attempt to deal with an extremely serious problem.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)
As the debate has gone on, it has been apparent that more and more major criticisms have been levied against the Bill. I agree entirely with the criticisms which have been made, and one appreciates the difficulties 1273 of various hon. Members with regard to certain nuisances in their constituencies; but I want to say straight away that the danger from black smoke has been grossly exaggerated. It is not black smoke which is the danger. That can be obviated by increased electrification, and I do not see any reason why we should not have had in the Bill provision for compulsory electrification of factories and workshops.
Reference to the real, deadly problem has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings). It is the problem of sulphur, particularly from power stations. References have been made to Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield, and other places, but one of the worst spots in the whole of Britain—I challenge the Minister to contradict this—is northwest London. This arises not only from the railways at Camden Town; it arises from the Borough of Willesden, where I have lived for many years and have worked in the power stations. There are three power stations there, and only one is modern.
Those power stations are emitting what appears to be colourless vapour. It is nothing more nor less than sulphuric acid gas. That has been proved beyond a peradventure. There have been repeated delegations to the Ministry of Health from outraged residents led by hon. Members representing the two Willesden constituencies, and they have taken with them furniture coverings and curtains which have been absolutely rotted away within a month. That is the real problem.
Another danger which is omitted from the Bill—it was touched upon by my hon. Friend the (Member for Barking—is the emission, in car and lorry exhaust fumes, of carbon monoxide gas. A really dangerous situation is now arising in large cities where there is traffic congestion. What are the Government going to do about it? Carbon monoxide gas is odourless and deadly poisonous. Considerable quantities of deadly carbon monoxide gas arise from the dense traffic jams that we get nowadays. What are the Government doing about it? What research is taking place?
A reference has been made to the railway problem. We could electrify the railways. If they are replaced by diesels, that will increase the problem of carbon monoxide poisoning taking place in the large stations. If the Parliamentary 1274 Secretary is in doubt about that, let him go to Leeds Central Station, where diesel locomotives come in on the local lines. He will smell the other gases, although he will not smell the carbon monoxide, of course, and they are all very deleterious to the health. The Government is going forward with practically complete dieselisation—if one may coin the word—of the railway system. Why not electrify it and restrict the smoke nuisance to the power stations and the power station areas? Why accelerate a new form of poisoning as a result of dieselisation?
I want now to deal with the question of household fires. If the Government are to compel people to install these coal-saving grates and to burn fuel with a poor calorific value, they will get less smoke, but they will get a far more deadly emission of poisons, particularly in the sulphur content. I am amazed at the lip service and, indeed, the praise that is given to these smokeless zones. These smokeless zones in the City of Manchester and elsewhere get something far more deadly than smoke from household fires. I defy anybody to contradict me on this matter or to produce scientific information to the contrary.
This problem must be considered, and do not let us think that just having a smokeless grate will mean we are not poisoning the atmosphere. In fact the pollution is infinitely greater in the smokeless zones than pollution with black smoke. Where there is the burning of coke in large quantities, or the burning of any other form of fuel other than coal, sulphur gas is still emitted.
It is far too easy for the Government to talk in terms of smokeless zones and to suggest that they are laying the foundations of what is required to give Britain a clear atmosphere. The only way in which a smokeless zone can be obtained in any town is by the use of gas or electricity and it would, of course, be politically impossible to compel people to have gas or electric fires instead of coal fires. But that is the only way in which the smokeless zones can be obtained, and we should not assume, merely because we see black smoke, that the atmosphere is being polluted. In fact, in the smokeless zones where there is no black smoke, the atmosphere is far more polluted and dangerous.
1275 The Bill should contain Clauses compelling workshops and factories to be completely electrified. That would avoid the use of boilers and the emission of smoke from the boilers. That seems to be a practical proposition and, indeed, many progressive people have already taken that step. As for the railways, we should think again about dieselisation. We should have electrification.
That brings me to my main point, the emission of poisonous gases from power stations. Let me say at once that the Government are not tough enough—nor was the previous Government—about the siting of power stations. Why do they have to be centred on the periphery of London and other industrial areas? There is no reason why they should not be in more sparsely populated areas in the country, as long as there is sufficient water. We followed that policy during the war with the construction of power stations on the outskirts of Reading and near St. Neots instead of cramming them on the periphery of London. When thousands and thousands of tons of coal are being burned each week in the power stations, the problem in only being aggravated.
Why cannot the power stations be dispersed? It is no use the Minister of Fuel and Power telling us that the power stations would not be so economic, because when one is generating at high voltages, as is done today, the loss in potential is insignificant as far as the cost per kilowatt is concerned. Not only have we put power stations on the periphery of London, but we have built Bankside and put Bankside on to oil burning. Most hon. Members were concerned about the beauty of the architecture and whether Bankside would affect the graceful campanile of St. Paul's and the avenue that led up from the River Thames.
Has an analysis been made of the escaping gases from Bankside power station? If so what was the sulphur content, and can we have any information about the beryllium deposit? There one sees a beautiful white plume. Hundreds of tons of oil are being burned and that beautiful white plume is mostly deadly sulphur.
§ Mr. Hobson
I am referring to the new one. That is the only one burning oil. I am referring to the folly—not the economic folly, that is another story—of having oil-fired boilers, and I want to know the sulphur content and the beryllium content.
§ Dr. Stross
My hon. Friend will remember that Sir Herbert Williams made a special point of this in October, 1954, when he said "If the plume of smoke falls down, as it generally does as a result of washing, and is not dissipated by being a hot gas, the danger is that it falls nearby and the effect on health is worse than it would otherwise have been."
§ Mr. Hobson
I heard that speech, and with the technical knowledge in my possession I agree, and I speak as one who has worked for more years than I care to remember in power stations. It is absolute folly to build power stations burning coal, and now oil, in the densely populated parts of cities. It is stupid and there should be a policy of dispersal.
Having said that, I want to pay tribute to the British Electricity Authority, to the municipalities and to the power companies for what they have done in trying to avoid the nuisance. Thousands of pounds have been spent. I have installed brand new pumps and in twenty-four hours they have been eaten with sulphuric acid. We have lined them with rubber and met with a certain degree of success, but there is no practical way of getting rid of sulphur from the gases in power stations where gas washing takes place.
The Government should make this matter a top priority, because sulphur in any form of gas is easy to eradicate in the laboratory. A fifth-form schoolboy could do it merely by introducing caustic soda or ammonia, but it is when we come to translate that eradication into the field of industry and applying it to modern industry and modern power stations, that we fall down. If capital were made available—and in our large boiler firms we have combustion engineers second to none—in a short space of time the problem could be eradicated.
I was very pleased to see in the Bill one Clause—it is the only one with which I am in entire agreement—about the compulsory instalment of electrostatic 1277 precipitators. These are highly successful, and I think it was the North Metropolitan Electricity Supply Company at the Brimsdown power station which pioneered it to a great extent. There is not the slightest doubt that as a temporary measure, until we have found out how we can wash gases and get rid of the sulphur, the electrostatic precipitator is the way out. It is the only way known for dealing with the cement dust problem in Gravesend and Dartford. I am very pleased that in the Bill there should be this reference to electrostatic precipitators.
I want to turn now to the question of inspectors. Where are we to get them? We cannot use the ordinary sanitary inspectors for this job, which is a highly skilled task. We did the job during the war and during the fuel crisis of 1947, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster knows. We had to go round the power stations asking if combustion engineers, charge-hand stokers could be released, to be sent to various factories still burning coal in their boilers to try to teach men how they should stoke the boilers. The Government will find, when they come to operate this Bill when it becomes law, that it will be practically impossible to do so.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene? There are very considerable arrangements already in existence for the training of industrial boilermen and stokers in all parts of the country. The fact of the matter is that, in the courses organised in the last two or three years, a number of places available have not been filled, and only 700 industrial boilermen were trained last year out of a total of 75,000, and that figure could be multiplied two or three times over.
§ Mr. Hobson
The majority of the boilermen are employed in the power stations, and they are pretty efficiently trained. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that point, and I am sure I am right. The fact of the matter is that the Government must undertake some form of training immediately. The hon. Member for Kidderminster and I are in agreement that here is the real trouble.
There are, however, other things that can be done. I do not see why there should not be consultation with the British 1278 Electricity Authority and the experts, like Babcock and Wilcox, the big boiler people, but we ought to make it compulsory for the stacks of power stations to be two and a half times as high as the highest part of their buildings. The higher the chimney stacks are before these gases are discharged into the atmosphere, the greater is the distribution of the gases, because it is spread over a considerably larger area and with a much smaller density. It is even argued that there is complete dispersal in those circumstances. That is a provision that might well have been included in the Bill.
As the Bill is drafted, I think it will be a lawyers' paradise. I have here some decisions which were given by judges in appeal cases in the various courts in regard to the emission of grit. The most famous case was that of Manchester Corporation versus Farnworth, in which it was pointed out that the first thing to be proved was whose grit it was, and that it was impossible to do. We have had that sort of experience in Willesden, where it has been demonstrated to be an offence. The real point about this aspect, as I see it, is that when this Bill becomes an Act, after we have mauled it—and I hope improved it—judges will still say: "Provided that you are taking steps to mitigate the nuisance, you are complying with the Act."
I know the problem, and the fact is that this Bill is a little premature. After the smog of 1952, everyone "got the breeze up," but that smog was confined to London, and the reason why those gases were confined to London was not only on account of its geographical situation, but also to the number of power stations in the London area. That was the real trouble, and therefore we have this Bill.
We shall have to look at the Bill very carefully and improve it, but the real message I should like to leave with the Government today is that they must press on at all costs in dealing with the question of the emission of carbon monoxide from the exhausts of ordinary motor cars and lorries, and also deal with the problem of sulphur pollution, particularly where large quantities of coal are being consumed. If they do that in the next seven or eight months, we may succeed in making this a workable Bill and a credit to the House.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) made a rather disturbing speech, in which he suggested that we might be doing more harm than good. For example, the hon. Gentleman suggested that, in regard to domestic fires and the provisions in this Bill in that regard, that against all the black smoke which we may be prohibiting, we may have to set the fact that we may be producing something even more deadly. Not only did he say that, but he defied any hon. Member to contradict him, and no hon. Member did.
It gave me quite a turn. I thought that, if the hon. Gentleman is really right and we are doing more harm than good, then it is time that some of the experts—and I see quite a lot of them on both sides of the House—ought to tell us so; but none of them have had the courage to get up and contradict the hon. Gentleman. I therefore hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will reassure us by saying that we are really doing some good in this Bill, if not all the good that might be done.
When the hon. Member for Keighley says that the Bill is premature, I hope that that is not the opinion of the Minister or of the House. It seems to me that one step along this road is better than no step, and I therefore support the Bill in the same way as the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), who opened the debate for the Opposition. Like her, I come from a smoky Lancashire industrial town, and although the figures of bronchitis in Warrington may be very bad, the smoke that hangs over my constituency is, I think, sometimes worse than that at Warrington. Warrington is surrounded by a plain, and the wind comes sweeping in from the sea to blow the smog and smoke away. My constituency is in a cup in the hills, and the smoke sometimes lingers for a very long time.
I often wonder if the scientists, who seem to be considering the possibility of making rain nowadays, have not considered the possibility of making artificial wind. Why not blow away by some giant's hand this smoke that hangs over our large cities, such as that which hung over London for four days and killed 1,000 people per day in 1952? Have they not considered the possibility of producing 1280 some kind of artificial wind which would blow it away, which might have saved the lives of those people, and would also have saved the lives of all the cattle which died at Earls Court at that time?
To all the reasons that have been advanced in favour of this Bill, and there have been some very strong ones on the grounds of health, I want to add one, not only on the grounds of health and economics, but on social grounds also, which I think is important. I am sure that the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington will agree with me when I say that one of the difficulties that we have in Lancashire in attracting new industries to areas which require them is the fact that the appearance of our towns is so very disagreeable.
People who do not know the sterling worth of Lancashire are apt to be put off by the appearance of these towns, and thus people who might otherwise consider coming to settle there and bring new industries to these places feel that they cannot subject their wives and families to the ordeal of this industrial smoke. They think it would not be fair to do so, and one cannot blame them if they have not been brought up to endure it. I feel that on social grounds, and also on the grounds of the proper distribution of industry and labour, it is very important to cure this black smoke and to get rid of the pall of smoke that hangs over our industrial towns, particularly in the North of England.
While this Bill will help towards that end, it is not going to abolish—and I am delighted to hear it—the open fire. That fact cannot be repeated too often, because undoubtedly there is a resistance in the population to this kind of Bill, because people have got it into their heads that, somehow or other, the open fire is to be done away with.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I had the distinct impression, and thought of making a short contribution to the debate on the subject, that the open fire was to be done away with.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
No. We were strongly assured by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the Bill did no such thing. I think I must be right in that, or my hon. Friend would have corrected me. Therefore, unfortunately, we shall be spared a speech from my 1281 noble Friend. I am sorry if I have prevented such a speech, because it is always such a pleasure to hear from him.
The Bill does not abolish the open fire. I am glad that that has been emphasised. Whether or not it will abolish black smoke, I am very doubtful. Speaking as a lawyer I agree with what the hon. Member for Keighley had to say about the enforcement provisions. The Parliamentary Secretary was at great pains to say that perhaps more than the actual provisions of the Bill, the success of the operation depended upon the good will of the population, of industry, the trade unions and so on. Whenever I hear a Minister appealing for good will and cooperation in enforcing a Measure I assume that that usually means that he is none too sure of the enforcement provisions in the Bill itself.
I think that my hon. Friend is quite right to be doubtful of them. Not only are there obvious defences in Clause 2, which have been commented on, but the whole Bill is drafted in the modern form more as a manifesto or proclamation than as a law. It is a sort of propaganda leaflet designed to educate rather than anything else. Clause 19, which no doubt is very valuable, I should not have thought necessary except for propaganda purposes. Surely, local authorities already have power to:arrange for the delivery of lectures and addresses, and the holding of discussions…for the display of pictures, cinematograph films or models, or the holding of exhibitions…Surely they have those powers now. The only point of putting it in a Statute supposed to create the law of the land is for propaganda purposes. As a lawyer, it seems to me that this is a misuse of the Statute. Statute is designed to create and enforce the law of the land, and not to create public opinion for which purpose there are other organs.
Clause 15, on railways, has rather an old-fashioned ring, too. It reads:Section one of this Act shall apply in relation to railway locomotive engines as it applies in relation to buildings, but as if for the references to the occupier of the building there were substituted references to the owner of the engine.Subsection (2) of the same Clause says:The owner of any railway locomotive engine shall use any practicable means there may be for minimising the emission of smoke 1282 from the chimney on the engine and if he fails so to do, he shall, if smoke is emitted therefrom, be guilty of an offence.I am not sure how many individuals in this country own railway engines, but there cannot be very many. Perhaps there are one or two dock companies, though I should have thought very few, and one or two very large constructional works and quarries. Of course, most railway engines are owned and controlled by British Railways.
We know from the experience of St. Pancras Borough Council that the ordinary provisions for enforcement against British Railways of existing legislation—and this really goes no further—are quite inadequate. The St. Pancras Borough Council, at great trouble and expense, tried to do something about the scandal of Camden Town. Although a plea of guilty was entered, nothing whatever happened about it, and the magistrate took the view that the proceedings were a complete waste of time because all the expense came out of the public purse, anyhow.
If that is to be the sort of way in which the law is enforced in connection with the emission of smoke from railway engines—and the Bill adds nothing to it again it is more an exercise in propaganda and exhortation than one in law. Another point on which I should like a little explanation is on the Clause relating to Crown premises. If one read Clause 17 by itself, one would get the impression that the premises under the control of the Crown—and quite what is meant by that I do not know—are having especially severe measures directed against them; but in fact the opposite is the case. The Bill is not to apply to the Crown and I should like to know why not. After all, the premises occupied by the Crown are most extensive.
However they are defined, and there may be differences in definition on that, the Crown has very great resources and is far more able to comply with the rather expensive provisions of the Act than many subjects. I do not see why the Crown should not be subject to the Bill in the same way as anyone else, and as it often is in many Acts of Parliament these days. Why has it been given these privileges, because Crown immunity is certainly a privilege in matters like this? Is it simply that it is more convenient 1283 that the Civil Service should automatically get immunity, or has the matter really been considered and are there very good reasons why the Crown should be treated in a special way?
I hope that saying that does not seem ungrateful to the Government, nor indeed to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) who has spurred on this vital work from the moment the Beaver Report was received. Both he and the Government moved very swiftly in the matter. We have been provided with a very good basis for a Measure which no doubt will be improved in Committee. I hope that we shall not be daunted by the alarming views of the hon. Member for Keighley, who gave me quite a turn, and I hope that we shall—
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I cannot refute his views because I do not know about these chemical matters, but I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster that they are all wrong; and if anybody ought to know, he should. I am happier at the end of my speech than I was at the beginning.
I hope that the Government will consider putting more teeth into the Bill, extending it to the Crown, and extending it effectively to the nationalised concerns such as British Railways. If they do that they will have earned the thanks of all the people, and there are many of them, who dread the coming winter. They have to live in these smoky towns, whether London or elsewhere, and at this season of the year they are literally in fear of their lives. If some message goes out from this House tonight giving them the prospect of some action, then we shall have done a good day's work.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
I have listened very patiently both to the introduction of this Measure by the Parliamentary Secretary and to the speeches that have been made from both sides of the House. This Clean Air Bill will give the people a false sense of security as to the Government's ideas for making the air cleaner where action is so much needed in our large industrial areas.
1284 I hope I shall not appear presumptuous when I say that I feel that the Government ought to have introduced a Clean Air Bill with the same provisions as did the City of Manchester in 1946. For years we have been planning a cleaner city and looking forward to the time when the industrial life of Manchester would not in any way pollute the atmosphere. We have succeeded very well in the last nine years. We have pioneered clean air in smokeless zones.
As the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) said, we have 400 acres in the City of Manchester free from pollution, and that covers four zones. We are not satisfied, and we are still considering the idea of extending the area even more. But we should not have achieved this had we proceeded under a lifeless, spineless Measure of this kind. This has been described as a Clean Air Bill, but in the Preamble it states that it is a Bill to make the air less polluted than it was. That is really all that this Bill is.
There must be great disappointment with this Government Measure' among hon. Members on both sides of the House. A few months ago I supported a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). We then had some specious promises from the Government about what they were going to do and we were asked, "Would it not be better to have a Government Bill?" We have waited and we are very disappointed, because nothing short of smokeless zones will achieve the desired result. This idea of smoke-control areas will achieve very little. The Government should have gone the whole hog, as we have in Manchester, where, if it is known that there is to be no smoke within a certain area, there is no need for technical inspectors, because the slightest sign of smoke is reported. There is no need for the kind of inspectorate to which so much reference has been made today.
We in Manchester pioneered smokeless zones, but, because we have been as good as we have, we shall get no financial assistance under the provisions of this Bill. Only local authorities who try to have smoke-control areas will receive financial assistance. Authorities which have done the job properly, such as Manchester, are to be excluded completely.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I would remind my hon. Friend that Manchester is in the centre of a 40-mile radius which is the blackest in the world.
§ Mr. Lever
I agree. But we do not want to be excluded from financial benefit because we have been so thorough going in the measures we have applied. Heaven knows, we in Manchester have been badly neglected over financial benefits under this Government. We get nothing from the Exchequer equalisation grants, and now we are to be excluded from benefiting financially under this Bill because we have done the job too well and not in the half-hearted manner proposed in this Bill.
I wish particularly to emphasise Clause 29 (4), where it states:The Minister may by order repeal any provision of any local Act which appears to him to be unnecessary having regard to the provisions of this Act…When this Bill is discussed in Committee, we should consider allowing those local authorities operating under local Acts to continue to do so unless they apply to be exempted from the provisions of the local Act. Then we in Manchester would feel safer and be able to plan ahead without the sense of frustration and uncertainty which is created by this Bill.
Speaking as a lawyer, I consider that anyone could defend a person charged with any of the offences committed under the Bill. This Measure not only creates statutory offences but also creates statutory defences. Far from creating a "lawyers' paradise," I think that any layman could study it and say, "If I say this, it will be a good enough defence." Indeed, I feel that this may affect full employment in the legal profession rather than the paradise to which reference has been made. Seriously, I consider that this Bill needs a bit of starch. It requires toughening up. I hope that we shall do that and make it a worthy Measure so that the people of this country may get the clean air for which they so much yearn and which is absolutely necessary if we are to give the younger generation the opportunity of enjoying the healthy life that has been denied their parents.
While I support the principle of a Clean Air Bill, I deplore the content of this Bill. I can speak with authority on behalf of Manchester when I say that this matter has been considered very care- 1286 fully there. We are disappointed that smokeless zones are excluded from the provisions of this Bill and that no financial benefit will be enjoyed by those authorities like Manchester who have provided smokeless zones. We consider that Section 29 ought to enable local authorities still to enjoy the benefits of local Acts such as that under which we in Manchester have acted so energetically. We are proud of what we have achieved in that city and, when this Bill becomes an effective Measure, we hope that others will follow our fine example.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. E. W. Farey-Jones (Watford)
My hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said he wished that wind could be artificially manufactured in his part of the world. During the last few days there has been wafted across the Chamber from the Opposition benches a number of hot thermal currents which I feel have been artificially manufactured and which we have certainly felt on this side of the House. The right hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) stated specifically that she, in common with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, was anxious to improve the Bill. I think it true to say that all the speeches to which I have listened, whether hon. Members were speaking as lawyers or technicians, have been designed specifically to try to elevate the Bill according to the point of view of the speaker.
The right hon. Lady referred to a Bill of 1875—
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
—a Report of 1875. She indicated that it has taken all this time to produce even this Measure. However much lawyers may seek to improve the Bill, in the long run, whatever capital outlay we expend in industry, it is the fuel with which we feed our fires which will result in clean air.
Clean air zones are not necessarily non-poisonous zones; far from it. I am quite sure that some hon. Members opposite are as terrified as I am by the fact that while vast and increasing quantities of coal are going to the electricity and gas undertakings, year by year the quality of that fuel is steadily declining. Whatever capital outlay is expended and whatever scientists may do, unless the quality 1287 of the fuel fed into the furnace is improved, the position will continue to deteriorate. We owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) because it is as a result of his efforts that we have the Bill. He deserves commendation.
This year we are importing about £80 million worth of foreign coal. Anyone who adopts a realistic attitude to this matter knows that we shall be compelled to continue to do that for many years to come. For the next ten or fifteen years we shall have to import foreign fuel in increasing quantities, irrespective of what happens in relation to atomic fuel or anything else. In connection with smokeless zones and non-poisonous zones, if there is one section of the community which can do more to make this Bill a success than any other, it is the coal mining industry. I am not singling anyone out for blame; I am saying that because our production of coal is going down—and we heard today that it has already gone down by 3½ million tons this year—coal of an ever-diminishing standard of quality is being delivered at factories and power stations.
The question of clean or non-poisonous air is being studied not only here but, very scientifically, in the United States and Germany. We should take great care to ensure that incalculable capital sums are not wasted on the avoidance of the penalties imposed under the Bill. The right hon. Lady took considerable objection to Clause 1 (3, c) which she said provided an escape in relation to inferior fuel. I suggest that there is a real reason for that Clause. Until this year all our electricity authorities had delivered to them, by the National Coal Board, coal and fuel of a prescribed quality. That standard is to be dropped because of the fall in the production of coal. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that when he replies.
Lastly, I would draw the attention of the House to a series of successful experiments with high carbon coke in foundries, which have been carried out in the United States and in Germany. If we say that we shall get clean air purely by legislation we shall mislead everybody. We shall get it only if we insist upon the provisions of the Bill being enforced—and a fundamental condition for the attainment of our 1288 object is an upgrading in the marketing and handling of coal and fuel, not only for factories but also for private homes.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I cannot recall an occasion quite like this, when both sides of the House have been almost unanimous in condemning the means by which the Bill seeks to achieve its aims. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), that the Bill is a manifesto—although I suggest that the right term is a propaganda leaflet.
The Minister has been very good and has listened to the debate from the beginning, but his entry into the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has not been very auspicious. Last week he announced his abdication of responsibility for housing the people, and today he shows that he is not anxious to enter the field as "King Smog." The Bill breaks down simply because of his enthusiasm to foist upon local authorities a responsibility, which he should accept as a duty, to see that everything is done to provide the people with clean air.
In drafting the Bill, the Minister has seen to it that whatever territory he already possesses he will keep. He has rigidly stuck to the retention of the Alkali Inspectorate. I speak with a great deal of feeling about this matter—
§ Mr. Moyle
—because my constituents have looked forward to the Bill for some time. My constituency contains firms which have been and still are pioneers in the manufacture of chemical, agricultural and pharmaceutical products, but my constituents have to pay the price for that. They have suffered air pollution not merely from grit and dust but also from some of the invisible fumes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) referred.
Anyone who has experienced such things once will not wish to experience them again if he can avoid it. The smell is not only indescribable but is now identified by names which I dare not repeat in the House because I should soon be called to order if I did. This public nuisance in my constituency, caused by the fumes which infect the air, 1289 has been the subject of representations from time to time not only by myself on behalf of my constituents to the Minister concerned, but also by adjacent local authorities. What has happened? Inspectors have come to the area and investigated the complaints. They have issued reports. As a result we have been told that everything which can be done has been done—in short, that every practicable measure which can be taken by the firms concerned has been taken by them.
Something more is necessary to meet the deep resentment expressed by those affected by this continuous air pollution. It would be more satisfactory if the Minister were to inform the localities concerned that there is no method by which this air pollution can be successfully combated, instead of merely saying that the firms concerned are doing everything practicable to deal with it.
I heard the Parliamentary Secretary introduce the Bill, and I must confess that I share the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) on the casual way in which he introduced it. He looked at some Clauses and promptly passed to the next. I wonder whether he is aware of the deep resentment felt by the people who are affected by this pollution.
Is he aware of the deep resentment felt by the people of South Thames-side about the continuous belching of cement dust by night? I speak as a victim of it. When one wakes up in the morning one finds the whole district overlaid with a grey dust—the shrubs, the garden produce, everything infected by this repeated emission of cement dust, particularly by night. Something more will have to be done, and a greater sense of urgency will have to be shown by the Government if the people are to be expected to accept this experience of smells and air infections which they have to endure as the price for the continuance of these admittedly important industrial establishments.
In my constituency we are engaged in high priority work. Everybody understands that. Nevertheless, the Minister of the day must convince the people that all scientific knowledge available is at the service of those who have to endure, day after day, the indescribable smells and the pollution of grit and dust with which they have to live day by day.
1290 In defence of the Minister, I must say that I hope he will not abrogate his responsibility for the central Alkali Inspectorate. How can a local authority deal with it? The areas extend beyond any one local authority. It is impossible for a local authority to deal with undertakings responsible for the operation of certain important chemical processes. They have not the expert technical knowledge to do so.
The Minister cannot extend the territory of the existing Alkali Inspectorate, already overworked, without adding to its expert personnel. Everybody knows that the existing personnel is totally inadequate to deal with the air pollution caused by various alkali establishments throughout the country. Now another whole range of industries is to be brought within the scope of the Inspectorate and we are entitled to ask the Minister whether the Inspectorate will be strengthened to match the obligations provided for in the Bill.
May I deal next with the additional responsibilities which it is proposed to place upon the shoulders of the sanitary inspectors? The sanitary inspector has a lot to do at the moment. I hardly think that the chief sanitary inspector of an authority possesses the essential qualifications to understand and deal with smoke abatement and gaseous fumes. I have no desire to see this work taken out of the province of the chief sanitary inspector, but I think there is a strong case for the appointment of a smoke abatement officer with the necessary technical qualifications to deal generally with these public nuisances.
An encouraging fact which emerged from the Beaver Report is that fuel efficiency and smoke abatement are complementary and are good economics. There is a complete identity of interest between employers, smoke abatement and fuel efficiency; the three go together. There is no ethical obligation imposed on an employer by the Bill; it is a question of economics right the way through. The Beaver Report makes that clear.
I cannot understand why the Government are so lackadaisical about fuel efficiency, in view of the provisions in the Finance Act last year enabling fuel equipment to be installed on easy terms, in both loans and interest, and in view of the general conviction shared by all 1291 of the importance of making coal work harder and avoiding its waste.
In the circumstances, I should have thought the Government would seriously consider inserting a provision in the Bill fixing an appointed day—giving a few years' grace if they like—and instructing the industrialists of this country and other large coal consumers that unless they install modern fuel equipment to achieve a reasonable standard of fuel efficiency, they will be guilty of a criminal offence under the provisions of a Bill concerned with smoke abatement and fuel efficiency. Those are some of the points I should like the Minister to consider and I hope he will deal with them in his reply.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
For a very long time I have thought of this question of the pollution of the atmosphere which we breathe as one of the most important matters that ought to engage the attention of Parliament. The injury to health caused day by day and year by year by the breathing of polluted air is almost impossible to over-estimate.
I differ from some hon. Members who have addressed the House today in that I think this Bill makes a valuable contribution towards rectifying that state of affairs, but the Bill has some limitations and defects which I hope the Government will in due course correct. So far as I see, the Bill is limited to the effects of combustion, a point to which the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) referred when, for example, he spoke about cement works. There are important sources of atmospheric pollution not caused by combustion, and something ought to be done about them. As many hon. Members have pointed out, the Bill relates primarily to smoke; it is a smoke abatement Bill and does not concern itself with those noxious fumes of various kinds which are poured into the atmosphere but which are not smoke.
In my opinion, which I know on previous occasions I have shared with the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) and others, it is those fumes and not smoke—the solid particles—which constitute the main danger to health, although of course I think, as I am sure 1292 other hon. Members do, that the solid particles must do some damage to the health of those who breathe them. It is the gases, in particular the sulphur gases—sulphur dioxide—which make the great ravages in public health. I think this Bill is very valuable because it introduces steps to get rid of smoke and solid particles.
I think we ought to bear in mind that if we can get rid of smoke we shall have taken an important step towards getting rid of poisonous gases. They may still be emitted and pollute the atmosphere, but, after all, we are concerned with poisonous fumes polluting the atmosphere in its lowest 100 feet. So long as they do not pollute that part of the atmosphere which is against the ground and is breathed by human beings, we need not be so much concerned with the fact that they are polluting the atmosphere generally.
In this country we have only too frequently atmospheric conditions when the layers of air against the earth are regrettably stable. This city is famous for that. The great fogs which hang over us, sometimes for days upon end, mark conditions of that kind. As hon. Members know, they are caused by the cooling of the earth during the night, and the main factor which makes them persist is that the sun's rays cannot penetrate through to warm the earth and allow convection currents to clear the bottom layer away. In my experience, the main reason for that has been that smoke accumulates in the bottom stable level of cold air and prevents the sun's penetration so that, instead of the bottom layer being churned up during the morning, it persists throughout the day until the next night. So we get the dreadful carry-over from night to night, which produces the awful fogs we sometimes experience in London, Manchester and other cities.
If we can get rid of the smoke, with its screening effect on the sunlight—the smoke with its hygroscopic particles which themselves create fog—we shall have taken the first and, in my belief, the most important step that we can take in getting rid also of the pollution of the atmosphere by noxious gases as distinct from smoke pollution. So I think this Bill is a very important Bill. It is only a smoke abatement Bill, but smoke abatement is the easiest problem to deal with 1293 and all other problems of atmospheric pollution are mixed up with it.
I would say to my hon. Friends, let us press on with this smoke abatement as vigorously as we can, knowing that we shall have taken the first, simplest and most concrete step towards solving all the other problems of atmospheric pollution. It certainly will not solve them all. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister to look at the general law relating to public nuisances. In the past smoke has been rather left out of the law of nuisance. Of course it can constitute a nuisance and a private individual can obtain legal remedies on account of smoke, but on the whole it has been such a usual thing for every man's chimney to be turning out smoke that I cannot remember any case—although I dare say there has been one—where smoke alone has been the nuisance complained of.
On the other hand, poisonous and often malodorous fumes to which the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen referred have been the subject of particular attention already. Many local authorities have powers in Private Acts to proceed in the case of smoke and fumes nuisance, and under the general law proceedings in respect of fumes and smells are fairly frequent under the law of public nuisance, but not nearly frequent enough. I certainly want to see the law strengthened, either in this Bill or apart from this Bill, in respect of those fumes. But I should say to my hon. Friend that probably it is mainly a matter of administration and enforcement of the existing law, and if we had the men—
§ Mr. Bell
I accept what the hon. Member says.
There is the general law of public nuisance, and if what the hon. Member has just said is correct, certainly there is an unanswerable case for putting a Clause into this Bill to repeal that provision of the law. I believe the hon. 1294 Member said that a proviso is embodied in various Private Acts. I suppose it is a model Clause saying that such a provision shall not apply to the alkali industries. If so, it would be possible to draft a Clause and put it into this Measure applying the general law of public nuisance quite expressly to the alkali industries and any others which pour out noxious fumes.
I am sure that it is primarily a matter of enforcement, as in many other matters—for example, in relation to motor traffic, for which we already have laws concerning matters like defective lights and brakes. The law simply is not enforced. So also in relation to poisonous fumes, the principal difficulty is that, because either of lack of manpower or inertia, the law about them is not enforced. Because of its importance, I think that it should be enforced.
There is one further point, which concerns fumes from road transport. Several other hon. Members have referred to this most important consideration. The volume of fumes poured out each day is simply terrific. From the ordinary petrol engine, carbon monoxide—to which the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) referred—is poured out in vast quantities in the crowded streets of our cities; and from diesel engines there are those thick glutenous fumes which we see when we are driving on the road if we are unlucky enough to get behind a diesel lorry. If one is driving up a hill, one can scarcely see either the lorry or the hill for the fumes which come from the exhaust.
Against all these nuisances, no action appears to be taken. There is, for example, the provision of the law that a person shall not leave a motor car stationary with the engine running. It is done very frequently, I am afraid, but I have never known of a prosecution for it. I do not think that those who are responsible for enforcing the law are at all fume-conscious.
The Government should try to make the country acutely conscious of the damaging effects of the fumes that come from all kinds of motor transport. I look forward to the day when an internal combustion engine will not be allowed in the centre of London. I am sure we should not allow diesel vehicles there now, and I have said so frequently. It is 1295 quite wrong that we should be expanding the number of diesel buses in central London and it is wrong that we should permanently accept the ordinary petrol internal combustion engine in the centre of London.
I should like to see a Clause in the Bill giving a date—say, ten years hence—after which no internal combustion engine would be allowed in central London. I think that something would soon be found to put in its place if it were known that in ten years' time those engines simply would not be allowed in. The damage which they cause to health is sufficient to justify so drastic a step.
I welcome the Bill, with all its imperfections, which I recognise. It is a valuable step forward. While I hope that it will be amended and strengthened in Committee, I am principally anxious to see it speeded on to the Statute Book so that this step forward, at least, should be consolidated.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
As many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate, perhaps the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) will forgive me if I do not follow him either along the course of natural science which enthralled us towards the beginning of his speech, or along his other animadversions on the Bill, except to say that it was a masterpiece of understatement to refer to the Bill as having some imperfections. When the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary come to deal with it in Committee, they will find that stronger language can be used.
I wanted to refer—I am sorry he is not now present—to the speech of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones), which, again, was a masterpiece, but this time a masterpiece of irrelevancy. What he said, in effect, was that we must be realists and that, in fact, we could not afford the Bill. I do not want to do the hon Member an injustice, but that is what I think he tried to say. I propose to deal with this matter as a realist and to put a realistic point of view.
We have all been in danger of emulating the wartime bomb bore who described his bomb as the biggest that ever landed. In this case, we say that ours is the dirtiest 1296 city or constituency. At the risk of being, as it were, a dirty-constituency bore, I want to say for a riverside constituency such as mine that realism is really required.
In 1954, we had 115 deaths from respiratory diseases. In 1952, when the great smog hit London, 50 people died as a result of the four days of smog from 6th to 9th December. What we have to consider is not whether the Bill will result in the expenditure of a lot of money, but whether it will save the lives of Londoners, and particularly those who live in the Thames Valley, as my constituents do. Many of them live on marshy ground which is quite unfit for human habitation; but the houses were built there during the Industrial Revolution. They always have a pall of moisture over their heads that collects both smoke and smog. These people really must have their lives protected. We cannot go on in this fashion with the mortality that we are getting.
There has been a good deal of discussion about the incidence of sulphur in the air. The Parliamentary Secretary did the House a disservice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), at the opening of the debate, asked for particulars about the amount of sulphur that is being produced, and the hon. Gentleman did not know. I know how much sulphur is being produced because I happen to have read the Beaverbrook Report. [Laughter.] I apologise. In another world I used to work for his Lordship, and I would never have used such a diminutive for so strong a master. The Beaver Report makes it quite clear that from the 205 million tons of coal consumed in 1953, about 2 million tons of smoke and 4.4 million tons of sulphur were emitted. These figures, of course, are absolutely terrifying. I did not know, and I am sure that the nation does not know without reading the Report, that so considerable an amount of sulphur is emitted every day.
Industry and the railways between them are responsible for something like seven-eighths of the grit and four-fifths of the sulphur that is produced. Under these conditions, why are the Government so tender to industry? Why have they been so permissive to industry? Why are they saying that industry has seven years in which it can put this trouble right? In 1297 fact, it is more than seven years—it is seven years from the appointed day, which may mean eight or nine years. We do not know when the appointed day will be. We do not know how long the Bill will take to get through both Houses of Parliament. During all that time, those people who are putting four-fifths of the 41 million tons of sulphur into the air each year will be allowed to continue and to get away with it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington quoted from some scientific and technical journals, but I wish to repeat what was said in the "Medical World," which is not, I understand, a paper associated with the Labour Party. Its issue of 17th October criticised the Bill considerably, and it used these pregnant words:Surely, public health and industrial efficiency are complementary and not antagonistic.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I am sure we all agree with that. This means, in effect, that the Government will be pressed very hard in Committee that the period of allowance given to the industrial companies should be considerably less than seven years. Why should not the many factories making a profit out of the processes which cause the emission of this smoke charge against their profits whatever is necessary to ensure the smoke is not emitted? Why should we have to wait until new machines are put in? Technicians and engineers are perfectly capable of seeing to it that the existing boilers, the existing furnaces, consume their own smoke. I know that the sanitary officers of the City of London, who have to deal with noxious gases in the neighbourhood of Fleet Street from the great industry housed there, see to it that those gases are dealt with. They inspect the machinery quite regularly in the interests of the people of the City.
One of the things I am disturbed about is the use in the Bill of the word "practicable." Everything can be excused if it is "impracticable" to do anything about it. Anything can be defended if "practicable" means cannot be adopted. What does it mean? Who is going to decide whether a thing is practicable or not?
One hon. Gentleman opposite—I think it was the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke)—referred to Clause 19, 1298 and said he thought it was ridiculous to give powers to the local authorities to give lectures and show films illustrating the deleterious effects of smoke emission. I am not sure of that. I am not so sure that St. Pancras Borough Council would not be well advised to spend a little money in giving such advice to the magistrate who suggests that nothing can be done about smoke from locomotives because it is a case of one public authority suing another public authority. Unless the Government show determination, and determination to cut down the period during which people can evade their responsibilities, magistrates of that sort are going to treat these matters very lightheartedly indeed.
In my constituency people are worried about the permissive Clauses of the Bill. Suppose the surrounding boroughs decide they will not do anything under the Bill. Is Deptford to receive the smog coming up river when the wind is in the South or the South-East? At what stage is the Minister going to step in and say, "You have got to do something about this smog. I insist upon it." There will be some councils, not so progressive as my own, who will find that it is in their interest, or in the interests of some people in their boroughs, not to make the necessary order. We cannot go on playing about with the lives of the people like this. We have to make industry do the things necessary to safeguard the lives of the people and we must therefore insist that statutory powers are both given and used.
I wish the Bill nationalised coal processes. I wish there were a Measure for that. I am sorry that when the Labour Government nationalised the mines of the country they did not also nationalise coal distribution—though I shall not deal with that now, because I should be out of order if I did—and did not also nationalise the processing by which the smokeless fuel is produced. Had they done so we might have got somewhere by now with cleaning the air. The fact is that today if one wants to buy a ton of smokeless fuel in my constituency one has not only to pay £1 a ton more for it than for other coal but one has to wait six months before one gets it, and then one is rather lucky to get it in six months. There is no guarantee that the Minister of Fuel and Power will procure the necessary smokeless fuel—none at all. The way he is going on he will be extremely lucky to 1299 get even a small percentage of what is required.
There is one thing which worries us on this side of the House, and it is born out of our deep suspicion of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. We have very good reasons for our suspicions in the White Paper just published about housing subsidies. Why is it that the compensation specified is to be paid to the owner or occupier? Why should it be paid to the owner, when in many instances it will be the occupier who will pay for the putting in of the necessary smokeless fuel consuming grate? Why does the Bill call for the prosecution of the occupier? Will there not be cases in which the owner will decide not to do anything, that he will not install under the order the smoke consuming grate? Yet the occupier himself may be unable, because he is too poor, to pay to have the necessary equipment put in. Is the occupier to be prosecuted then?
Why is it that the local authorities have to pay any share of the compensation for which the Bill provides? Local authorities, by the time they have dealt with increased rents under one order and the increased rents under the alteration of the Rent Acts, will find themselves in a difficult position enough. It is too bad that the Government demand that what should be a national charge is instead to be a charge on the local rates. This is not a local problem. It is a problem which concerns the health of a very large number of our people, and the cost of such an instrument for preserving and safeguarding the health of the people ought to be borne by the national Exchequer, not by the local authorities. The local authority in my constituency feels most strongly about that.
Finally, I want to deal with the question of diesel exhausts. We know that in London in a very short time all the trolley buses are to be taken off the roads, and certainly many of them will be replaced by diesel buses. I do not know whether the exhausts of the diesel engines causes cancer of the lung or not. I do not suppose anybody knows, but there is a deep suspicion on the part of some medical people that it is possible that they do, or that they have an influence and an effect towards cancer. I do not know, but the length of time it takes for cancer to develop, what may be called 1300 the latent period, may be five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. Thus it is a frightening risk we are taking, and taking without a full knowledge of the facts.
An hon. Member has referred to the discomfort one feels if one follows a diesel bus. It is a discomfort which is often caused because the exhaust box is dirty and needs attention. That is why from diesel motors run properly, whose exhausts are properly clean, there is only a reasonable amount of smoke. We know—do we not?—that under the Tory Government's policy of handing back to private industry the nationalised lorries, attention to those lorries will be less than it was and that the lorry drivers will not have the maintenance of their vehicles they had before. Already we see great gusts of smoke coming from those lorries, which clearly are not being operated properly. What in this Bill will make people right faults of that kind?
What is to happen in London on damp, muggy days when our narrow streets are choked with buses standing still with their engines running? Any day one can see Regent Street choked from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus with stationary buses emitting smoke all the time. Do we know how dangerous this is? Are the Government concerned to have research to find out the facts?
I have seen in California the long-distance lorries going from southern California into Mexico, running along the Pacific coast, with their exhaust pipes coming out of the top of the vehicle, so that gases do not go on the ground. I do not know whether that is a good thing or not. However, I certainly feel that we are playing with the lives of our people. Medical science is agreed that smoke has certainly some influence on cancer, and one would have thought that this Bill would have given an opportunity for research further and further into the subject. But it does not.
The Government are too worried about seeing to it that industrialists are not put out too much. They are too worried, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who does not particularly sweeten the political atmosphere of the House but who on this occasion did a very good job in making the speech he did—
§ Sir L. Plummer
—as the hon. Member for Kidderminster said, about not upsetting the F.B.I., which is handing down the policy.
I hope that those of us who look forward with pleasure to many happy weeks in which, morning after morning, we shall be in Committee on this Bill will band together to improve it.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) referred to the use of the term "practicable" in connection with the Bill. He will recall that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in introducing the Bill, said that the Government could not feel that there were any loopholes or escape clauses in it, that we could deal with offenders and that "practicable" was clearly defined in Clause 28. I have looked up Clause 28, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can tell me what it means. It says:'practicable' means reasonably practicable having regard, amongst other things, to cost and other financial consequences, to local conditions and circumstances and to the current state of technical knowledge and 'practicable means' includes the provision and the maintenance of plant and the proper use thereof;".It would have been helpful if the framers of the Bill had consulted the Oxford Junior Dictionary for a definition, because the definition in the Bill will not help anybody. Judging from the interventions by lawyers on the other side of the House, it is fair to say that this definition will provide a "pheasant and port dinner" for more and more lawyers all over the country if the Clause is adopted in its present phraseology.
It is extraordinary that we are having the Second Reading of the Bill this week. We have had the Chanceller calling for a credit squeeze and introducing in his Budget higher Purchase Tax to help our balance of payments problem and our fiscal position, yet, in one of the most important Clauses of the Bill, owners and occupiers are to be asked to introduce new domestic grates and other homeheating appliances. These, we are told, will be more difficult to obtain now, and 1302 certainly they will be dearer. The Minister who introduced the Bill wants to have them to ensure clean air, and the Chancellor is making it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain them.
Another extraordinary thing about the introduction of the Bill this week is that, if it becomes law, this time next year hundreds of thousands of people will be guilty of an offence. Under Clause 12 it will be an offence to make a bonfire. It is most unseasonable to suggest at this particular time that the Clause should be adopted. But, seriously, can the Minister envisage any means of disposing of garden rubbish except by bonfire?
§ Mr. Orbach
I hope that in Committee the Minister will amend the Clause to allow us, if not to get rid of our garden rubbish, at least to remember a one-time illustrious if misguided Member of the House.
The Bill emphasises the failure of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, because throughout it there is a demand for adequate supplies of smokeless fuel. Today, no one knows, and we have been given no indication, whether there are adequate supplies in any area. What will happen when we have more smoke control areas? If the Bill is passed and smoke control areas are declared throughout the country, the demand for smokeless fuel will be enormous. Are supplies to be left to private enterprise, or is there to be some indication with the passing of the Bill of parallel action on behalf of the Ministry of Fuel and Power by the National Coal Board to ensure adequate supplies today and to meet the demands of tomorrow?
How much smokeless fuel is available now? What steps is the Minister taking to meet the demand? What areas will be adequately covered? Is the Minister going to plan distribution, and will there be priorities? Will smoke control areas have the fuel first or are laggard local authorities to be allowed to have the supplies as well?
The Bill pinpoints peculiarities and anachronisms in the Government's actions. We are exporting Welsh steam coal and anthracite, perhaps two of our most effective smokeless fuels, and we are importing coal of distinctly low grades. We are told by experts on both 1303 sides of the House that it is possible even when using low-grade fuel, provided that the furnace is efficient and one has a skilled stoker, to reduce the amount of smoke or to prevent the smoke from polluting the atmosphere. The point is, have we the skilled stokers? I know that the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service is promoting the training of stokers and that London County Council and other local education authorities run classes in stoker training, but that training is hardly sufficient. We are told that there are 700 trained stokers available. We want not only the training of stokers but a number of other things as well which will guarantee their employment.
The Ministry of Works is perhaps the worst offender in this respect. It does not employ a skilled stoker in the many Government enterprises and establishments which it has under its control. As a result, not only is much coal lost but also we have the emission through chimneys of the grit, noxious gases and smoke of which we all complain. The Ministry of Works and Government Departments are paying men to stoke their furnaces labourer's rates, plus twopence an hour while employed on steam boilers. If they employ men at these wages, irrespective of any knowledge or experience on a seasonal basis—they sack them in the summer—they cannot be serious about the Bill.
I have some knowledge about this matter because, at the hospitals of which I am chairman, we spend £50,000 a year on coal and coke. We have found from an examination that we made that, in hand firing, by employing skilled stokers we can save one in every four tons of coal. By automatic firing, if we were allowed to have automatic hoppers, we could save between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. The Government will not allow us to have the hoppers.
The Government say to hospitals that they must not be responsible for any capital expenditure and that where there is a worn-out boiler in a hospital it can be replaced only with a boiler of the same type as the old one. I have had installed for £18,000 a new boiler which is of exactly the same type as the boiler that was installed 53 years ago. If we had been allowed to spend a further £1,400 I could have obtained an automatic hopper 1304 that would have saved between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of coal and at the same time would have guaranteed that the surrounding air would not be as polluted as it is at present.
I suggest that the Government should take a firm and helpful step by supporting a national scheme for training stokers and guaranteeing stokers in their employment regular work, treating them as skilled or semi-skilled. They should break with Civil Service tradition and give the men a bonus for actual fuel savings.
I am concerned about the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford of the nuisance created when one authority can have its air polluted because laggard authorities in the neighbourhood refuse to act. In giving the Minister, as we do in almost the final Clause of this Bill, power to withhold or to relax any declaration, at the same time power should be given to a local authority which feels it is aggrieved to go to the Minister and appeal against a laggard or reluctant authority which is allowing smoke to pollute the air, not only in its own district but in districts nearby.
In a smoke survey begun just before the war by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, it was revealed that in a district four miles east of Leicester 30 per cent. surface smoke sulphur dioxide came from Leicester, 25 per cent. came from Birmingham which was 30 miles away and 45 per cent. came from elsewhere. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will himself amend the Bill, but if he will not, some of us will put down a Clause which we hope will govern that case.
We have had a reference to Chalk Farm and to the difficulties experienced by St. Pancras Borough Council in obtaining a prosecution against the railway authority. I live at Chalk Farm and I suffer a great deal from these noxious gases and the smoke that pollutes the surrounding atmosphere. At the same time I represent Willesden, where we have Willesden Junction and three enormous power stations.
We have talked about the practicability of doing anything about railway engines. But may I suggest to the Government that they follow the precedent set in New York State at least 30 years ago to my knowledge? I remember when first I went to New York that I was interested to find 1305 that no steam locomotive went into the city. Thirty miles out of New York City the steam locomotives have to be uncoupled and electric traction locomotives take trains into the city. There is no reason why we should not adopt the same process. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider it.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government said that there is to be a Clean Air Council. I hope that there will be representatives of the National Coal Board, of fuel conservation bodies and of the general public on that council. I emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend, that adequate money should be put aside for research. I do not want to argue with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson). After all, he is a constituent of mine, and I am sure that when he goes to vote he puts a cross against my name, but he frightened me, as I am sure he frightened every hon. Member of the House. I am sure that what he said was correct, but even so, I still want to go ahead with this Bill.
We recognise the fact that most people in this country live in densely populated areas where the air is contaminated. My area suffers particularly from this painful and annoying nuisance. My constituents write to me feelingly upon this subject. I have made representations to the Ministry and to the various authorities about it, because not only have we three power stations in the area but we are building an extension to one which is bigger than the other three put together, and they are almost the three largest in the country. I hope it will be agreed that the pollution for which they are responsible leads not only to ill health but to industrial inefficiency.
This is particularly noticeable in the industrial concentration in the Borough of Willesden, eloquently misnamed "Park Royal." There is nothing regal about it and nothing can grow there because of the noxious gases we get from the different power stations—
§ Mr. Orbach
Yes, from Sir Hugh Beaver's emporium. Driving past the Acton Lane power station, as I have to do frequently, I find that visibility is 1306 almost nil because of its belching chimneys. Central Middlesex Hospital is less than a quarter of a mile away, where we specialise, amongst other illnesses, in thoracic complaints, and where we helped to deal with the rather painful disease that settled on this country as a result of the smog in December, 1952.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) has already spoken about the ill-health aspect of this problem. I want to say that we are disturbed about the laundry which the housewives wash painfully and carefully and which, as they hang it out, gets dirtier and dirtier. If we could get rid of smog and dirt we might not have so much "Tide" and "Daz" and "OmO" and the rest of the nonsense which we get through our letter boxes every day, and the fabrics we use would not disintegrate.
In my area I find that the pride of suburban householders suffers and the gardens become patchy because there can be little growth where there is such painful pollution of the air. Also the fabrics of our buildings need constant attention. This building, the Palace of Westminster, has been in splints since I was a child, and it will go on being in splints when I am carried off, because of the smoke, the grit and the sulphur in the air.
We have used coal for 1,000 years and we are still not using it properly. We still have not counted the cost. We have waited for this Bill a long time, but I am wondering whether it is the Bill that we have been waiting for. In introducing it the Parliamentary Secretary said that we must not go too fast. No one wants to go too fast. Perhaps we ought to go slowly, but let us be determined about it. I suggest that we have to go further in strengthening this Bill in order to make it effective. I want to thank Sir Hugh Beaver. I hope he is listening to this debate and seeing, like the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), how his ideas are being buried deeper and deeper by the Government which possibly he supports.
Sir Hugh Beaver was not the first one to take up this matter. Neither was the Report of 1875 the first one dealing with it. In the old days Parliament was a body which laid down the laws. In Edward l's time there was a proclamation that there should be no use of coal in London while Parliament was in session, 1307 In Elizabeth I's time the proclamation was repeated. There was an attempt by Londoners in 1648 to prohibit Newcastle coal from coming into the city. In those days the country used only one million or two million tons of coal yearly. Now we use 4 tons of coal each a year, representing 170 million to 190 million tons of coal annually.
Although we support the Bill, none of us has been wholehearted about it, not even the Parliamentary Secretary, who introduced it in the most doleful tones in which I have ever heard a Motion or Bill introduced during the 10 years that I have been in the House. I hope he will be a little more enthusiastic about it now that he realises that it has a long Parliamentary history behind it.
We must strengthen the Bill in Committee. We must make a real start with the task of cleaning the air of our cities and, at the same time, conserving supplies of hard-won fuel. On the basis of our existing laws, it would be possible, through determined effort, to secure definite reductions in pollution. The Minister must have the courage to ensure that a start is made.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach). We on this side of the House definitely support every word of the Bill.
§ Mr. Yates
I do not mind saying it. We have smoke in The Wrekin. This was where the Industrial Revolution originated. We have tremendous difficulty about smoke near Dawley, Dosely and Oakengates.
The attitude of our industrialists towards smoke is not satisfactory. For many years they have polluted most of our rivers, and it has taken a long time to persuade them not to do so. We have had to form all sorts of associations to protect our rivers from the industrialists who have been discharging stuff into them, ruining the fish and countryside. Industrialists have also for a long time been discharging smoke into the air completely regardless of the people round about. It is high time that a Bill like the 1308 present one was brought forward. Such a Bill must have teeth in it.
§ Mr. Yates
Perhaps we may get them from the National Health Service!
In any case, I shall do all I can to help the Bill and to ensure that some real provisions are put into it so that what legislation we pass in this House may become effective in the country.
Last week I had a letter from a person in the Lightmoor area saying that rubber was being burnt in an open yard. My correspondent asked what could be done about it. I said that I did not know what could be done. However, if we have a Bill of this nature, the local authority can at once say that such a nuisance must stop, and will be able to take the necessary action against the industrialist.
There is little point in my labouring the subject any further. I have listened to it being fully discussed. I shall be very glad to give all the assistance I possibly can, now and in the future, in order to make all our industrial areas more pleasant and brighter places in the new Britain.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
Most of our time today has, quite properly, been taken up with the problems of great cities, such as Manchester or London, where both the extent and the intensity of the problem are most felt. I want the House also to consider other areas which are newly scheduled for heavy industry.
It is sad to go into the heart of a great city and find hanging over the place a pall of smoke which is also a threat to health and well-being. There is another kind of sadness. When we go outside places like Manchester or, speaking of my area, Wolverhampton and Wednesfield, into what ought to be sweet countryside, which is not only important to the people living there but constitutes the lungs, the health and the hope of leisure and play for the people in the most heavily congested industrial areas, we find new factories built there, and they are belching black smoke so that the hedges are burnt up and the mothers, although having green fields around 1309 them, have to call their children in from their gardens because they are black from smoke. There is also the question of laundry. We all know the whole story.
When I first saw the Bill I was dismayed. I was doubly dismayed. I was dismayed because I was directly concerned and generally concerned that so little relief would come to Wednesfield and Wolverhampton and other heavy areas. I was also dismayed because for seven years, and perhaps more, recently established factories will be permitted to cause an unnecessary nuisance in many of the new industrial areas as well.
The Government having brought in this little mouse of a Bill—and it is to the credit of the Parliamentary Secretary that he should sit on the Front Bench looking not wildly enthusiastic about his offspring—having at least given us this opportunity, I hope that the House of Commons can now step in. The Government propose, but the Members of this House can now dispose, and I feel much more cheerful after having heard the tenor of the discussion today. It has been fine to feel that Members in all parts of the House are trying to address themselves to the problems of health, to the problems of industrial sanity and well-being that lie behind the Bill.
I hope that when the Bill is considered in Committee it will be possible for hon. Members in all parts not to feel that they have to obey party Whips all the time. Party Whips are important, but there are more important things both in the House and outside. I hope that hon. Members will try to look at the issues on their merits. We are especially obliged to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He is not always our favourite son, but in this respect he has certainly worked very hard and with great integrity. Anyone who has ever stood up against vested interests will know that it took a great deal of courage on his part this afternoon to say quite bluntly that when he looked at all the escape Clauses in the Bill, when he looked at the seven years before anything can be done—and he knew what he was talking about—his view was the Bill had been framed, not on the merits of the subject, but after a great deal of pressure by the Federation of British Industries.
1310 We have the opportunity to put that right. There are some of us who do not pretend that we come to a debate of this kind armed with technical knowledge. That is why it is essential that a Measure should be framed which would aid us as residents, constituents and hon. Members. I have investigated the position in a number of factories in my constituency. We have had the co-operation of the management, the local residents and the local authority. We feel we are getting to the bottom of the problem, we are told everything possible is being done to minimise the nuisance, and then a little later we find that nothing or very little has been done and things are as bad as ever.
I should like to be able to ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government to send us whenever there is a conflict between the local sanitary inspector and the local works management, an expert, someone who will look into the matter with complete austerity. [An HON. MEMBER: "Austerity?"] Yes austerity. I am not trying to make politics out of this. We should then have an expert view of what is technically possible and we should be advised so that neither hon. Members nor constituents would be unfairly attacking any factory in their area, but if nothing was being done in the light of modern knowledge we would be able to say so. If the factory was not playing the game it could be dealt with.
It is a sorry business to think in terms of a great many prosecutions against factories being carried out by local authorities. Give me experts who will come to my own area and give us their judgment about what can be done and what has been done, and we will deal with the factory. We shall not have to go to law against a factory, because if that factory is confronted with informed public opinion which has authoritative knowledge on its side, it will have to bow to that public opinion. I think that would be a much saner way of dealing with this matter than if we have to go through complicated, long legal processes. Obviously, the Government cannot give us a Bill like that.
We call this a Clean Air Bill. Let us also hope that it will be a clean politics Bill, because if it is we shall be able to get rid of some of the unfair pressures upon us. We must remember that we have, on the one hand, the Chancellor's 1311 squeeze on local authorities, and, on the other hand, business interests showing anything but enthusiasm for the measures which they will be required to take. I therefore hope that there will be close cooperation between hon. Members representing the heavy industrial areas and those from the countryside, so that everybody will help to improve the health and industrial sanity of this country, and resist the pressures of those who would make this Bill so much less worth while than hon. Members of this House have it in their power to make it.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Having lived and worked all my life in the worst affected area in the world in regard to air pollution, I cannot approach this problem in the same complacent manner as many others have done.
I differ fundamentally from the approach of many hon. Members with regard to the alleged incompetence of the Government. I would defend the Government against the charge of incompetence. They are armed with the best legal knowledge that can be tendered to any body of men. They are armed with expert advisers, and with the best draftsmen in the world for framing Bills of this kind. What I do charge the Government with is that they have not framed this Bill in the interests of the people of our country, but have framed it as a result of the desires of the organised employers of this country—the same people who will ruin this country unless this House and the people assert themselves against it.
Within forty miles of Manchester there is the most polluted area in the world, and the greatest density of population. Does any right hon. or hon. Member of this House doubt that? My greatest wish at this moment is that this Chamber was packed with right hon. and hon. Members, not to hear what I am saying, but to listen to the facts which I have extracted from the Statistical Digest for 1954 issued by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, showing the degree of smoke pollution throughout this country. Within forty miles' radius of where I have lived all my life, there are the people to whom I belong, who are as good as any other people in any other part of the country, 1312 who are condemned to live in these deplorable conditions, and look like being condemned to continue to live there for many more years.
We have not just raised this problem in this House last week or the week before on behalf of the people whose interests we represent; we have been raising it in this House for twenty years. If any hon. Member doubts the figures in the Statistical Digest, he should see HANSARD for 11th July, 1955, columns 140 to 148, where are set out all the facts and figures proving that the Ministry of Fuel and Power's Statistical Digest is correct, and showing scientific recordings of conditions in that area.
Therefore, representing some of the people who suffer most as a result of asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, and living myself among them, I would have been a coward if I had not sat here today every minute that was necessary in order to try to catch the eye of Mr. Speaker to give me the opportunity of speaking on behalf of the people I represent. For centuries the people of this area have turned out millions of pounds worth of wealth; yet they are still forced to live, in the mid-twentieth century, in the same conditions in an area in which more scientific development has taken place than in any other part of the country.
This is the way we are treated. The City of Stoke-on-Trent wanted its own transport system. On 8th February, 1937, the Conservative majority in this House prevented us from getting it. In 1938 the City of Stoke-on-Trent asked my right hon. Friend the late George Tomlinson and myself to submit a Private Bill on mining subsidence. At the end of the day, in our innocence, we were delighted, but the mine owners and their sons finished our Bill in their own Lords, when it went to the other place.
When the Beaver Report was published we were delighted. We wanted to seize it with both hands, and we said so in this House. We sent letters to prominent people who had assisted in its preparation, so delighted were we. This reflected itself in the municipalities and in the people in our area. But now we get this Bill against which hon. Members on both sides, irrespective of political differences, have built up one of the blackest indictments that I have ever heard built up 1313 in this House against a Measure of this kind.
When we last discussed this subject on 4th February, 1955, the Minister said, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT at column 1488, that there would be no avoidable delay and that the Bill would be introduced in that Session. Two months passed and then we had the General Election. There is always something. It is now 10 months since we were promised a Bill to implement the very fine Report which the Beaver Committee prepared. This is the Bill. There is no need for me to indulge in much criticism of it, because from both sides of the House sufficient criticism has been made.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary some questions. If the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will say that he will consider them. We know that he cannot be present for the whole of the debate, and I shall be satisfied if the Parliamentary Secretary is good enough to convey my questions to him. The first question is whether he will allow democracy to operate in the Committee. The second is whether he will ask the Minister to use his influence with the Chief Whip not to put the Whips on. In return we will give an undertaking that those of us who are allowed to be members of the Committee will be satisfied if the Committee will consider the facts which we put before it. We will not ask the Committee to accept all we say but we will produce document after document to prove the facts.
First, we will produce statistics from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research showing particulars for the whole country. The next document will be the Ministry of Fuel and Power Statistical Digest, and we will produce other Government publications. All we need do is to ask hon. Members to consider them. We will be satisfied if they will consider and suitably reflect upon what has appeared in those publications.
In 1950 the City of Stoke-on-Trent had an excellent plan prepared for improving that part of the city where the workers live. One of the proposals in the plan was to deal with air pollution. In 1952 we were forced to agree to a public inquiry, which I attended, and where scores of well-paid legal people were present in order to prevent local democracy from operating in that district. 1314 It is five years since the plan was prepared and three years and ten months since the public inquiry was held. Yet it is still held up and we are now faced with a Bill of this kind. After the way we have been treated throughout the years of the industrial revolution and after the black indictment which has been built up by the Beaver Committee on this matter, we are now presented with this Bill.
Had there been time for me to do so I should have quoted from excellent statements made at the public inquiry by our town clerk, who is a public-spirited man trying to reflect the desires of the local people. In statement after statement he pointed out the seriousness of the atmospheric pollution in this area. In the centre of Fenton and Longton I have watched processions of Sunday school children on Sunday afternoons. The boys and girls have appeared spotlessly clean, the girls in white, with their lovely hair. I have seen the black smoke pour out over them, even on a Sunday afternoon.
In the centre of Fenton and Longton on a Sunday, especially at night, one may see belching smoke pouring out, and therefore one can understand the indignation which is reflected. No man worthy of the name, whether he be a city councillor or a Member of the House of Commons, could fail to be prepared to speak in the manner in which I am speaking now.
It is true that some improvements have been made, and I am the first to give credit where it is due. But these are the facts. Between the pre-war and post-war periods to 1954, approximately 3 million tons of coal has been saved by more efficient methods in our area, but approximately 400,000 tons of coal is still being consumed by the pottery industry. There are 380,000 tons consumed by the federated employers, and superimposed on that are the non-federated concerns and others, plus the local gas undertaking and the black smoke-polluting tileries, collieries, railways, steelworks, chemical and engineering centres; and then in addition we have the tips caused by the collieries in the area.
Along the main road between Fenton and Stoke-on-Trent trees were planted some time ago. Not one is growing at the 1315 present time. In the centre of my Division is a large farm. Year after year I wrote to various Ministries voicing complaints on behalf of the farmer. Eventually, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agreed to make an investigation. The Ministry bought out the farmer and now the farm is being used as a Ministry research centre.
One can understand the demand for a far better Bill than this. We are appealing for a Bill to deal with the problems from which we have suffered for centuries. We suffer not only from smoke but from chemical fumes, fluorine fumes and fumes from diesel engines.
I should have liked to continue, but I am satisfied with having had this opportunity of saying a few words. I have made my contribution. My hon. Friend will follow it up with other facts and figures. During the Committee stage I hope that we shall be given other opportunities to make the Bill worthy of 1955.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Boyle (Salford, West)
In the minute or two at my disposal I want to make one or two points quickly. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has made most of the points which I wanted to make in relation to the problem of Salford and the Manchester district. I leave it to the House to decide, from what has been said by my hon. Friend about the area which he represents, whether Salford is the worst area in the country for air pollution.
The main point I want to make is the one which I tried to make when I interrupted the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. I am glad that the Minister is present, because I should like to know exactly where we stand in this matter. As I said in my interruption, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Housing and Local Government last week sent a very cynical message to local authorities, impressing upon them the necessity for economy. I am wondering whether it will be possible for them to carry out the provisions even of this miserable Bill in the light of that message.
I want to know how a local authority like Salford can be compelled to economise and, at the same time, carry out the terms of the Bill. In July, 1952, my local authority made representations 1316 to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor with regard to the establishment of smokeless zones. Those representations were turned down. Circumstances in Salford could have been considerably improved if the local authority had then been allowed to introduce smokeless zones. The reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor were that there was insufficient smokeless fuel and insufficient steel available to alter the grates in houses. Is the Minister quite satisfied that those two difficulties have now been overcome?
I want to emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friend about air pollution being a national responsibility. The Bill provides that a local authority shall pay seven-tenths, or may pay the whole, and that the Minister may pay four-sevenths of the seven-tenths or two-fifths of the whole. That is not enough in the circumstances which exist in my constituency.
People who are compelled to live all their lives in industrial areas are very unfortunate. There is a Lancashire saying that, "Where there's muck there's money." That never applied to the workers; it applied only to the cotton and steel masters. Many other things besides money accompany muck in areas such as that which I represent. The people who live in salubrious and purer areas should share the cost of this improvement, instead of the whole burden devolving upon the people in industrial areas, who have many other problems to face. I wish that I had time to develop these arguments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has been very kind in allowing me to speak for a few minutes and I am very grateful to him. The Bill will go to a Committee—and it will be some Committee.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I know the Minister will accept that a Bill of this type, however good and well-framed it may be—indeed, even when we have finished with it—still represents a marriage between two principles—that which we desire and that which we can practise. It is a marriage between the desirable and the practicable. Such a marriage of principles, like many marriages, sometimes brings with it a little antagonism.
1317 I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power is in his place, as he has been in his place all day. May I therefore point out an example from my own area of which he is as cognisant as I am and which shows that it is possible to bring about an end of pollution of the atmosphere to a great extent with, as many hon. Members have said, great saving in fuel.
The City of Stoke-on-Trent consumed, in the pottery industry, in 1938, 850,000 tons of raw bituminous coal a year. Since then we have saved 500,000 tons a year and are now using only 350,000 tons. I give fair notice to those manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent who are still using raw coal that their colleagues who have turned to alternative methods of firing, gas and electricity, have found it profitable as well as reasonable, while the citizens of Stoke are finding the air so much better and cleaner that unless one knew the city, as we have known it intimately for so many years, it is almost impossible to understand how it has occurred.
In every possible way, therefore—from the point of view of the conservation of our coal supplies, the achievement of clean air, economy and making higher profits—there is a great deal to be said for a Bill of this kind, if, as hon. Members have said, it has teeth in it and is enforced. As the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) rightly said, if anyone's hand is written heavy in this Bill who has short-sighted or selfish views about it, in the discussion we shall have to erase the marks made.
I am sure that the Minister will accept that the problem which we are discussing has three aspects. The economic aspect has been discussed, but no one has reminded us of the enormous wastage in money which was pointed out in the Beaver Report—roughly £300 million a year. In other words, over 30 years a sum of £10,000 to £12,000 million is wasted. This expresses the financial loss, but it does not in any way express the degradation and squalor, the pain and disease, associated with it.
The social aspect has been mentioned fairly fully. I need only say that 30,000 deaths a year from bronchitis alone in this country is too high a figure. It is between 20 and 50 times as high as the figure in the Scandinavian countries. My right 1318 hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) was too shy to admit that which she knew—that Warrington has the highest death rate from bronchitis amongst the large cities and large towns. Its death rate is 321 per 100,000 compared with 78 per 100,000 in the rural areas of this country.
In addition to the incidence of cancer of the lung, bronchitis and emphysema, there is also the aesthetic aspect which I must mention: The corrosion of some of our loveliest historic buildings if they fall within this network of squalor is something we can face no longer. We must have a remedy for this, and the remedy will have to be against sulphur and sulphuric acid rather than against smoke.
Very strong opinions have been expressed about sulphur, but I thought the evidence given to the Beaver Committee and accepted by most scientists was reasonable, that we do not get sulphuric acid formed unless we have a smoky particle and, in addition to a smoky particle, we must have some water. Then sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide gas dissolves into the drop which is corrosive to buildings and deadly to the lungs.
§ Mr. Hastings
May I ask my hon. Friend whether there is any experimental evidence for the statement he has just made?
§ Dr. Stross
May I put to my hon. Friend in furtherance of what I have said that, in Regent Street on any day when traffic is heavy, he will find that the sulphur dioxide increases in one hour by one part in 200,000—that is five parts per million. In the smog, the great fog of London, it was only 1.3 parts per million, but it was the smog that killed. It is not Regent Street that kills, even if we get this high density of dry gas.
§ Dr. Stross
That is some evidence that in the Beaver Committee Report there was good commonsense when it said that we did not know yet how to get rid of sulphur, but strong protestations were made about the research which ought to be done about it. We can go on to get rid of smoke. There is this sort of synergism, this unholy marriage, between material particles of water vapour and gas, which causes the acid which bites into the lungs and buildings. On that I 1319 think the House is agreed, and beyond that I may agree with my hon. Friend. I hope he will now give me a little peace and let me get on.
It is not making a party point when I point out that half the working-class population of this country—half the workers, and that means 12 million people —and their families live in these grossly polluted areas, and that the cost to them of smoke pollution has been worked out per family of four at roughly £20 a year for cleaning up the filth that surrounds them and loss of wages through illness from respiratory disease. The Minister has been complimented for being a realist in tackling the housing subsidies, which he declares he will remove. As they affect the houses which are to lose them, they are estimated at £22 a year per house. I wonder if I may say this to the Minister? He will be forgiven more quickly for taking off housing subsidies if he will take very great care to give back the £20 a year which these people also have to lose because they face greater risk of disease and are surrounded by squalor.
Almost everybody in the House today has pleaded for a small Council of State to consider this Bill in Committee. The hon. Member for Kidderminster laid down his conditions very firmly. I can give him due warning that I am going to support every one of them. Of course there will be a few others from all of us. We must be patient and understand the position of the Minister and put forward first-class arguments. If those arguments really stand up, I am sure the Minister will know exactly how to deal with us and will accept everything reasonable that we put forward.
I find myself very much in disagreement with some hon. Friends who criticised the Parliamentary Secretary because he introduced this Bill very shortly. I know very well what was in his mind—at least, this is what I think. He knew that there was a Second Reading of what is really this very Bill on 4th February this year, when the hon. Member for Kidderminster introduced his private Bill, which I opposed for reasons which, I know, the hon. Member well understands. Before that—I think, in October, 1954—in the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, we gave directions to the Committee upstairs in order to force a debate, which 1320 was very much like this debate. That being so, I was grateful that the Parliamentary Secretary gave the rest of us more time, and I therefore do not blame him.
§ Dr. Stross
Exactly; my hon. Friend would not have got in otherwise.
The shortcomings of the Bill have been pointed out very bluntly but sincerely to the Minister and his colleagues. They have all sinned by sins both of omission and of commission. I need hardly point out what they were, but the fact that we are to have a Clean Air Council does whitewash them a little. I hope that the Clean Air Council will co-ordinate research, and particularly that it will initiate new research on the dangers of pollution from vehicles and as to how we can extract sulphur from the fuels that we are using, and research, I hope, on radioactive pollution from carbonaceous matter.
It was a very serious matter during the great fog. As hon. Members know, the atmosphere of London is examined every day for ionising radiation. During the great fog, the Medical Research Council found that there was a vast increase. This was because constantly one gets the minimal amount of radiation coming from the soil itself; a great deal comes from carbonaceous matter and none of it could get away because of the fog which held it all in. We here in London who had to live through it were breathing in air which was grossly contaminated by ionising radiation.
If, therefore, we are to have a Clean Air Council to do all that, it will also be able to present to us each and every year an annual report. That will be very important. We give the Minister due notice that the House will never lose its interest in this matter, not in any part of it. If we have a promise of an annual report in the way suggested by Sir Hugh Beaver, I think we shall be content.
§ Dr. Stross
Naturally, if there is an annual report.
Another sin of omission has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for 1321 Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) under the heading of the plight of the farmers whose soil is blighted and whose pastures are utterly ruined by fluoride and other contaminations. I will list only a few more of the sins. The Minister knows very well that everyone is agreed that there are too many avenues of escape for the industrial offender. He knows too that hon. Members have accused him in the Bill of setting his sights too low.
We are not happy about remote control by an Alkali Inspectorate. I was very attracted by the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster when he said that when the Sanitary Inspectorate is strong, it should be allowed to do it all. The Minister will find that local authorities are demanding that right now. Where there is no inspectorate or it is very weak, and where there is heavy industry, particularly if it emits noxious fumes, we must extend the Alkali Inspectorate or do something similar.
On the escape clauses, we are all agreed —the Minister has noted it—that paragraph (c) of Clause 1 (3) must go. That is the paragraph dealing with unsuitable fuel. Only the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) had the courage to get up and show he did not know what he was talking about. Most of the rest of us knew, because the Beaver Committee considered this very carefully, and its words are very clear. I quote one sentence:Although the coal is often blamed we are satisfied that coal quality by itself is rarely the cause of excessive smoke.Every engineer says the same thing, too, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster has been saying it for a long time, and we on this side of the House accept it. So the Minister knows that, of course, we shall ask him to drop that one.
About the other two we shall have some discussion, but, obviously, when firing is going on it cannot be guaranteed that there will not be some dark smoke for the first few minutes. As far as faults and breakdowns of machinery are concerned, we can leave that for discussion in Committee. When I accused the Minister of having fixed his sights too low, I was of course referring partly to the seven years delay, which could very well be three years rather than seven.
1322 Then there is the frequent use of the word "practicable" and of such phrases as "practicable steps" and "practicable means." When we study the definition in Clause 28, we discover that the word "practicable" is said to mean…reasonably practicable having regard, amongst other things, to cost and other financial consequences…There is a very serious principle involved in this. We think it is foolish at this stage in our civilisation, in the environment we have created for ourselves by our industry and our mode of living, to say that costs and financial consequences must limit what is practicable when it is a matter of saving life and health. It really is shortsighted; it is out of date, it is out of time. The cost of avoiding pollution of the air is a rightful charge against the profits of any undertaking in this country. That is a principle we want the Minister to accept. We have proved that profits benefit handsomely when we clean the air, the profits made by the manufacturers themselves, and they are in Stoke-on-Trent the keenest advocates now of clean air.
It was not always so. In the days when Arnold Bennett was a child the air was so polluted in Burslem, which is in the Stoke-on-Trent, North constituency, and the mother of the Five Towns, that one could at midday walk along its streets unseen so often was it black as night.
I wonder if the Minister will have a fresh look at Clause 5, which is concerned with grit arresting apparatus. We are told here that no furnace is to burn more than 10 tons of fuel an hour, unless it is fitted with plant for arresting grit and dust. Here is a strict provision to prevent grit from being emitted. I have made inquiries and find that of the thousand furnaces in Stoke-on-Trent there is not a furnace that consumes 10 tons of coal per hour. I wonder how many furnaces there are in the country that do. At any rate, we are likely to ask the Minister to turn that 10 tons into five tons when we are in Committee, and give him our reasons.
The Alkali Inspectorate has been mentioned by many hon. Members, and I think the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary know—they will have received representations—that the local authorities 1323 take this problem seriously—that is to say, those local authorities that are seriously affected by this plague—and look upon it as an affront to their own sanitary inspectors that there should be this remote control. In Stoke-on-Trent the sanitary inspectors are extremely capable people, and there they can handle every aspect of industry in our own city. It is unsatisfactory to have to rely on an inspector in Birmingham, in solitary state, who comes along at intervals, but cannot ever come when there is an emergency, and when we have skilled people of our own who are doing the work each and every day. That is why the hon. Member for Kidderminster was quite right in the way he put his claim that the inspectorate in the big cities can handle the whole of this problem without having recourse to the Alkali Inspectorate.
Moreover, the inspectorate in this country affirm that the metallurgical and other industries do not need the special treatment that is being given to them, and unless we give the technician, the engineer and the inventor fresh scope, we shall never get rid of this problem. If we are careful with the Bill, if we show that we mean business by the time the Bill is enacted, then indeed the inventor, the engineer, the technician and the scientist will solve the problems for industry as easily as they were solved for us in the Potteries in the remarkable changeover that we have experienced.
There are penalties in the Bill. They seem very high for a householder at £10 and extremely low for the industrialists, who might well be the Central Electricity Authority, the Gas Board, the National Coal Board, I.C.I. or some other enormously rich concern. I know that the Minister will not expect us to pass that provision by without a little discussion, and I am sure that we shall be able to have a full exchange of views in Committee.
We have all enjoyed the debate enormously. All of us know that we are going to improve the Bill, and all of us know that this is the first of many Bills over the next 100 years. To be in today at the beginning has been a very remarkable experience for me and, I am sure, for everybody who has participated in the debate. This is the beginning of 1324 something very big. We must make sure that it does not start in a faulty fashion. We must make quite certain that the country knows that we mean business in this matter and that we shall not neglect or betray the people.
Those who have flown the flag for us in this matter, organisations like the National Smoke Abatement Society, have put us all in their debt. We all know in the House that legislation is not everything and that we must have education and agitation. The organisations that have helped to educate us and who have agitated for so long have done something for which we are all grateful. If we succeed in doing almost everything that has been suggested today, I am sure that the Minister will be proud of his child.
§ The Clerk-Assistant at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.
§ Whereupon Sir CHARLES MACANDREW, The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair as DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
I was a little surprised at the last remark of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) when he said that I would be proud of this child. I am sure that I shall be very proud of it, but I should not have thought so if I had judged from the speeches made during the debate today. The hon. Member also said that everybody had enjoyed the debate. I think that that is quite true. A good time has been had by all.
First, I should like to say how much I thought the whole House appreciated the very sincere and colourful speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill). We all appreciate the knowledge with which she spoke, and also the great sincerity with which she put forward a cause which is of importance to the whole country and is of particular importance to areas such as the one the right hon. Lady represents in the House.
We are all united in our desire to make progress in this respect. The right hon. Lady described the Bill as a big step forward, a great social reform, and it is in that spirit that we approach our 1325 task. There is certainly no difference of opinion about the desirability of this policy. 'There is general agreement on both sides of the House upon the objective of clean air, and the enthusiasm for it which was demonstrated today reflects the widespread interest and support which I believe exists in the country.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady was a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when she accused him of advocating a "go slow" policy and criticised the tone of his speech. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said, in winding up for the Opposition, we regard this as the second review. We have already had one debate—I do not know whether the right hon. Lady took part in it—on this subject when the background of the picture was fully set out. That is why I thought my hon. Friend was right on this occasion in not concentrating on the general background, which had been thoroughly set out in a most admirable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). We thought that the important thing was to set before the House the provisions of the Bill as clearly and concisely as possible. Like all so-called agreed Measures, this Bill has been hotly debated today. I only hope that I shall have an easier passage when I introduce the Housing Subsidies Bill shortly.
A lot has been said about loopholes and escape clauses and about the use of the word "practicable." I ask the House to believe me when I say that I do not want, any more than any other hon. Member wants, what I might term, though it is a very mixed metaphor, "watered-down clean air." What we all want is a Measure which will be effective and workable and which will achieve results as quickly as possible. It is in that spirit that we have put forward this Measure. We have taken an immense amount of time and pains in considering the precise form of every Clause I have spent hours and hours myself in working on this Bill. We have had numerous consultations with all who may be concerned with this problem.
I would say to hon. Members, however, that is does not serve the purpose which we all have in mind to ask people to do something that is not practicable. By all means, if hon. Members wish, let us look at the definition of that word 1326 during the Committee stage, but it is not the slightest use to ask people to do something that is not practicable. All we should do would be to kill the whole policy if we produced a Bill which was so difficult to carry out that in practice the administration would have to allow evasions of various kinds if the whole thing was not to make nonsense.
Our intention—it still remains our intention, and I am prepared to consider any advice and proposals which may be offered in Committee—is to make the Bill as effective, tight and strong as possible consistent with what is practicable. I believe that is the intention and desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House. If we start with that objective, I think we can discuss calmly in Committee whether it is practicable to go further than we have suggested in the Bill. My present information is that we have gone as far as practicable, but let us by all means discuss any further extensions or the removal of any qualifications which have been included in the Bill. I ask hon. Members to accept that my intention and purpose, and the purpose of the Government, is precisely the same as that voiced in so many eloquent speeches during today's debate.
We have been criticised for not including in the Bill a statement that clean air is a national policy. I take no exception to such criticism, but I should have thought that the fact that a Bill was being passed by Parliament to provide powers and finance for the promotion of the object of clean air was in itself clear, conclusive evidence that Parliament and the nation were anxious and determined to promote clean air as a national policy. Nevertheless, if importance is really attached to the point, I am prepared in Committee to examine the possibility of including some general introductory Clause such as has been suggested, though I do not think it will' add anything to the Bill. I have no doubt that I shall get into trouble with my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), who complained that an Act of Parliament was not a medium for propaganda. However, let us hear the issue debated in Committee. I assure hon. Members that I shall approach it with a completely open mind.
A great deal has been said about the provision in Clause 2 for a seven-year period—the right hon. Lady and other 1327 hon. Members criticised it—during which existing furnaces may be temporarily exempted from the prohibition on dark smoke. Having listened to the speeches, I think it is generally recognised that some period must be allowed for industry to modify its equipment in cases where existing equipment is not capable of functioning without producing dark smoke. The criticism, as I understood it, was that seven years was too long for this purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster urged that it should be reduced to three years. He said that industrialists had "got at" me and induced me to raise to seven years the three-year period provided in his Bill.
With all respect to my hon. Friend, I would draw his attention to the fact that the proposal originated not in his Bill but in the Beaver Committee Report.
§ Dr. Stross
In the Beaver Report the period was from the enactment of the Measure and not, as is suggested in the Bill, from the appointed day.
§ Mr. Sandys
If we can agree on that, I am prepared to make the appointed day for this purpose to be the day after the passing of the Bill. So there would be only a day difference between us. It would take that time to bring in the Order, so we can probably agree on that.
Then there was a good deal of discussion about the defence which is provided for unsuitable fuel; that is to say, it should be a defence in the event of a prosecution to be able to show that suitable fuel was unobtainable. That seems to be eminently reasonable but it has been argued that unsuitable fuel can still be burned without making smoke.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am advised that that is not correct. I am not an expert on these matters, but I am advised that even with efficient stoking and the most modern plant, it may not always be possible to avoid the emission of dark smoke, if unsuitable fuel has to be used.
§ Mr. Sandys
We are not talking about minimising at the moment. Almost any type of hand-fired furnace would inevitably produce some dark smoke when 1328 burning slack containing a high proportion of fine coal—and not only hand-fired furnaces. If that were so, one might consider making it necessary to introduce mechanical stokers, but I am advised that certain types of mechanical stokers will also produce some dark smoke if highly-caking, volatile coals have to be used.
I should like to point out to the House, and it seems to have escaped notice during the debate, that Clause 1 (3) (c) applies only if it is proved that dark smoke from the unsuitable fuel could not have been prevented. In other words, the fact that suitable fuel was not available is not by itself a defence. What has to be shown is that suitable fuel was not available and that everything possible was done with the unsuitable fuel to avoid the emission of dark smoke. It is very difficult to say whether one ought to impose a penalty on somebody who used the best fuel available and took all possible measures to avoid the emission of dark smoke.
§ Mr. Nabarro
In the circumstances would my right hon. Friend consider a compromise which I think is ingenious? I did not invent it, technicians invented it and it was embodied in the Private Member's Bill to which he referred; namely, to define the maximum volatile content of the particular fuel used, the effect of which would be very greatly to narrow the avenue of escape as a defence under this provision.
§ Mr. Sandys
If it is desired slightly to narrow the loophole, I will certainly consider that, but it would be better to raise that point during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Hobsonrose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I have a large number of points to answer, and I should like to answer as many as I can.
Several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) and the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever), spoke about the position of Manchester and of other towns which have introduced smokeless zones by local Acts. The hon. Member for Ardwick said that we should go the whole hog, like Manchester—those were his words. I was in Manchester the other 1329 day, and I went up to the top of one building to have a look at the effect of the smokeless zones.
§ Mr. Sandys
There was some coming up at that moment, unfortunately. None the less, the effect was very marked and very impressive. One could see a very clear sky when one looked up from this inner area, and could see a great deal of haze all round.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
May I ask the Minister a question about this, because it is most important? We in Manchester are very proud of our smokeless zones, but my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) has seriously disturbed our minds—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in regard to the efficacy of smokeless zones. In effect, what he said was that they could be a trap, and could be worse than our being without them. My hon. Friend said that they could be worse for the simple reason that the sulphuric content is still there, while there is no visible sign of smoke. I should like the Minister to say something about that.
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not want to go into rather difficult technical points. I am advised that that is not correct, but I could not possibly go into it now.
§ Mr. Hobson
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene? This is an important point. I made a very categorical statement, while the Minister replied with another which was equally categorical. I am asking the Minister if he can give any proof whatever that immediately we stop black smoke from issuing, we are not burning a fuel with a higher sulphur content, as in the case of coke, for instance, or an anthracite fuel, and which, further, contains considerably more carbon monoxide gas, which is even more deadly.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am not an expert, and if I am wrong, I would ask the House to forgive me, but I am advised that coke emits the same amount, or roughly the same amount, of sulphur as the same quantity of coal—
§ Mr. Sandys
—but since we get the same amount of heat from a smaller quantity of coke, the quantity of sulphur emitted is smaller. I may be wrong, but this is such knowledge of the subject as I have been able to acquire in the course of the debate.
§ Mr. Sandys
We are all agreed that Manchester has been one of the most successful and outstanding pioneers of the clean air policy, and so have certain other cities. I can, as the point has been raised, assure the City of Manchester, and other cities which have established smokeless zones, that nothing in this Bill will undo what they have achieved.
It has been suggested that the smoke-control areas provided for in this Bill will be less effective than the existing smokeless zones which have been established in certain cities, and less effective than the smokeless zones envisaged in the Beaver Report. That is quite incorrect. Under the Bill, a local authority can establish a smoke-control area, in which all smoke of every kind from any premises is completely prohibited. That is made perfectly clear in the Bill.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
Does that apply where there are factories in the area which have been exempted as scheduled processes?
§ Mr. Sandys
Perhaps the hon. Member is right; there is just that one limitation.
I am trying to make it quite clear that the smoke control areas provided for in the Bill can be every bit as effective as smokeless zones already provided or smokeless zones as envisaged in the Beaver Report. The local authorities may, if they wish, grant such exemptions as they think fit, just as they can do now under their own local Acts, and there is no difference there.
Anxiety has also been expressed about the proviso to Clause 8 (2), which lays down that it shall be a defence to say that nothing but an authorised fuel was being used. That is a point that worries Manchester, and there was something about it in the "Manchester Guardian" today. I assure the House that it is not the intention of the Government to authorise for this purpose any fuels that are not smokeless.
1331 I have been asked questions about the future of local Acts. We are not contemplating any wholesale repeal of local legislation. However, some local authorities may find it convenient to have their local Acts repealed, and to operate in future under this Bill, which provides financial assistance which is not otherwise available. I can give this assurance. We should not, of course, propose to repeal any local Act except after full consultation with the local authority concerned.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington and others, spoke about other forms of pollution. In particular, the hon. Member for Barking dealt with the medical aspects of the problem, and referred to the serious effects upon health of sulphur and other fumes. We all recognise the seriousness of this problem but, unhappily there is no complete answer to it as yet. We must accept that fact for the moment. As the Beaver Report stated quite bluntly, there is no known method and no present prospect of eliminating the greater part of the sulphur which is discharged from industrial and domestic chimneys.
I was asked about research. Research into the problem is being energetically pursued by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and various other research organisations. The Central Electricity Authority is at present constructing a full-scale pilot plant for carrying out extensive trials at a power station. I have with me a long list of the various research projects which are going on, but I am afraid that I cannot assure my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen that it includes experiments for the creation of artificial wind.
Several hon. Members have asked about the position of the alkali inspectors and there has been a certain amount of difference of opinion on that subject. The hon. Members for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom), Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) and Kidderminster urged that their functions should be transferred, as far as possible, to local authorities. Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey), took the opposite view.
I think we must recognise that very few local authorities would be able to 1332 take over these functions. They would find it almost impossible to recruit technically qualified staffs. In any case, the Government will have to increase—and probably double, from ten to twenty—the number of alkali inspectors. These inspectors are very rare birds. Whatever hon. Members may say, this will not be at all easy, but it would be very much more difficult if local authorities generally were also competing for the very few available experts.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has any proposals for increasing the number of sanitary inspectors and possibly of less qualified workers who might help them to do the work in connection with inspection?
§ Mr. Sandys
I shall be happy to try to say something about that on another occasion, but I cannot do so now.
I should like to say something about cement. Cement works were scheduled under the Alkali, &c., Works Regulation Act, in 1935. Since then dust-arresting plant costing about £2 million has been installed in these works, and I am advised that the equipment is now catching about half a million tons of dust a year which would otherwise be discharged into the air. It may interest the House to know that I have been informed today that those responsible for the only cement works in the Thames-side area which is not already equipped with electrostatic precipitators—I am referring to the Bevan's works—have now decided to install this equipment at a cost of possibly £250,000. I think that news will be welcomed by all hon. Members interested in the subject.
I was also asked about the various appointed days under the Bill. Separate appointed days can be fixed for the various provisions in the Bill. I have in mind to bring into force Clauses 8 to 11, which provide for the creation of smoke-control areas, within a few months of the passing of the Bill. As I said earlier, I propose to bring Clause 2 into force immediately after the passing of the Bill. Clause 2 lays down the seven-year period during which temporary exemptions to furnaces may be granted.
We all feel, and I hope that what I have said this evening makes it clear—
§ Mr. Sandys
It is absurd to say that I am not answering. I am taking one point after the other. I have scarcely said anything else. I know that the hon. Member for Keighley is out of sympathy with the policy, but I think that he is also out of sympathy with the majority of hon. Members in the House.
I think that we are all united in our determination to eradicate what is a great social and economic evil; what is a menace to the health of our people and a source of disgraceful waste and destruction. Together I hope that we may, during the Committee stage, do what we can to improve this Bill, and make it an effective instrument to achieve a common purpose of great national importance. I can assure the House that I shall consider sympathetically any Amendments likely to advance this great national cause in which we all believe and which we all sincerely wish to serve.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
I wish to put a point to the Minister. I have here the list of non-scheduled and scheduled works in connection with cement. The point is that here the unscheduled cement works areworks in which aluminous deposits are treated for the purpose of making cement.They are excluded from the Bill, and only certain parts of the cement industry are included.
§ Mr. Blackburn
This Bill will mean an alteration in the equalisation grants. Does not the Minister think it all the more important that there should be a change in the payment of those grants, that they should be made to district councils and not county councils? It seems very unfair that the urban areas in my constituency should help to subsidise the rural areas in the pleasant parts of Cheshire.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).