HC Deb 10 April 1956 vol 551 cc123-53
Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

I beg to move, in page 26, line 17, after "may" to insert: after consultation with any local authority or county council appearing to him to be concerned". Perhaps it would be convenient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider this Amendment with the following Amendment in my name—in line 23, at the end to insert: Provided that in the case of a provision of a local Act which appears to the Minister to be unnecessary having regard to the provisions of sections nine and ten of this Act, the power conferred by this subsection shall not be exercised without the consent of the local authority.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, if that meets the wishes of the House.

Mr. Johnson

The purpose of these two Amendments is to reassure those local authorities which already have local Acts dealing with smoke and which feel they should be consulted or that their consent should be sought, as the case may be, before those Acts are repealed. The matter was discussed on Committee stage when my right hon. Friend said that he would look into it and see if a suitable form of words could be found to give that assurance and I hope he will accept the Amendment.

Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Withenshawe)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I second the Amendment in the hope that the Minister will accept both Amendments to help local authorities, such as mine, which have been in the forefront of the battle for clean air for so long.

Mr. Powell

I would recommend the House to make this and the next following Amendment which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) said, would have the result that the smokeless zone provision of a local Act cannot be repealed without the consent of the relevant local authority and that other provisions cannot be repealed until after consultation with the authority.

The difference is justifiable on the ground that I think the House would agree that it is wrong that the citizen should be subjected simultaneously to two separate requirements in respect of the same matter. For example, there are regulations governing the height of chimneys in certain local Acts which differ in regard to penalties or details from those now standing in the Bill. It would clearly be undesirable that the provisions of the Bill should be brought into force while the local provisions were still unrepealed and the citizen did not know by which code he was governed.

8.30 p.m.

Perhaps it might be of interest and use to the House if I were very briefly to indicate the relationship, particularly financially, between the smokeless zone provision in local Acts and the smoke control provisions in the present Bill. The financial provisions, of course, apply only to work which is done after an Order declaring a smoke control area has been confirmed. Therefore, in cases where smokeless zones exist and where all the necessary work of adaptation has been done, of course no question arises of any advantage from making a smoke control area Order. In future, after the Bill comes into force a local authority which wishes to benefit by the financial provisions of the Bill will naturally make a smoke control Order under this Measure.

There remains the transitional case where a local authority may have a smokeless zone under its local Act but where not all the necessary work in implementation, adaptation and so on has yet been concluded.

Mr. Nabarro

I am now thoroughly confused. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what happens in the case of Manchester? He will have read the third leader in the Manchester Guardian today? What happens in the case of local Acts of Parliament affecting this matter in Manchester in which there is no "unsuitable fuel" defence as is provided in Clause 1 (3, c) of this Bill? What is the position of Manchester? Is it to have an unsuitable fuel defence after this Bill reaches the Statute Book or not?

Mr. Powell

The position after the Bill reaches the Statute Book will be that if a local authority wishes to profit by the financial provisions of this Act it can proceed under the Act, but if it does not, there is no reason why it should not continue to proceed under its local legislation.

I was dealing with the transitional case where a local authority may have a smokeless zone under a local Act but where not all the necessary work has yet been done and where it might decide that it would like to obtain the benefit of the Bill for the remaining work which was left to be done. In such cases my right hon. Friend will be prepared to confirm a smoke control Order under this Act which will enable the outstanding work to attract grant under the Act, although, of course, in order that there should not be two simultaneous codes applying to citizens in the same area, it will be necessary for the relevant smokeless zone provision to cease to have effect before the smoke control order comes into force. I thought it might be of interest if I explained how that transitional arrangement can be made if local authorities so desire.

Mr. Ede

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell me what is the exact significance of the three words, "or county councils" in this Amendment? A county council is a local authority in England. There is no definition in this Bill of a local authority in England. There is a definition as to what a local authority is in Scotland. There it is to include a county council, but in England and Wales a county council is a local authority and the words, "or county council" appear to be unnecessary in this Amendment.

Mr. Powell

For some purposes, the Bill is read in conjunction with the Public Health Act, 1936, for the relevant purposes of which "local authorities" does not include county councils. It is therefore necessary that those words should have been added here.

Mr. Ede

Thank you.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 26, line 23, at end insert: Provided that in the case of a provision of a local Act which appears to the Minister to be unnecessary having regard to the provisions of sections nine and ten of this Act, the power conferred by this subsection shall not be exercised without the consent of the local authority.—[Mr. E. Johnson.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Powell

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

At this late stage in proceedings on the Bill, there is no need for me to recapitulate those events, which are fresh in the memory of most of us, which in the last two or three years have intensified public interest in the purity of the air. Changes of many kinds in the techniques of using fuel and generating power have made it possible to impose much higher standards and much stricter requirements than would have been practicable as little as a decade or two ago. The Bill represents an attempt to capitalise our gains by giving statutory force to the codes of good conduct and good practice which are now attainable.

In the Bill, which replaces the existing code of the relevant part of the Public Health Act, 1936, the guiding principle throughout has been enforceability. Both the House, which gave the Bill a Second Reading, and the Standing Committee, which considered it in detail, were agreed that nothing should be put into it which could not and would not be enforced. Such a Measure as this would fail if its provisions were not in every respect practicable and if, therefore, the courts or the local authorities—or, what matters in the last resort, public opinion—did not support enforcement.

We have, therefore, sought to avoid some of the characteristic faults of the code of 1936, with its large prohibitions and its large avenues of escape and the dependence of that code on the concept of nuisance. Instead, the Bill has proceeded by the method of dividing the whole sphere of pollution of the air into its various sectors and imposing requirements which were appropriate to each of them.

In three of those sectors, full-scale prohibition will be enforced. The emission of dark smoke, not only from furnaces and chimneys, but also from railway engines and from vessels in ports and harbours, becomes an offence per se, and the purpose of such temporary or exceptional defences as are expressly defined in the Bill is to render enforcement everywhere else the more certain and easy. Our old familiar friend the "best practicable means" defence of 1936 has gone in regard to dark smoke.

For all new furnaces with substantial rates of fuel consumption or which burn pulverised fuel, equipment to prevent grit and dust emission is an absolute requirement. In this direction, too, the "ifs" and "buts" have gone.

Finally, in the smoke control areas which will be established on local authority initiative under the provisions of Clause 9, the emission of smoke will itself be an offence. Here, too, such few and narrow exceptions as are provided for are intended to have the means of facilitating and tightening enforcement. In this connection, it is fitting that once again, as has happened so often throughout the proceedings on the Bill, a tribute should be paid to the pioneer work of the authorities which have had smokeless zones under local Acts and have successfully operated them. Outside these three sectors, absolute prohibition would have been inconsistent with the principle of enforceability.

In regard to the emission of light smoke, if I may coin that expression to describe what is not dark smoke, the Bill requires that all new furnaces shall be as far as practicable smokeless and that the emission of grit and dust from both new and existing furnaces shall be reduced to a minimum. It also takes the opportunity, where the nuisance provisions of the 1936 Act still apply, to simplify and facilitate prosecutions under that Act. Sheer technical practicability has also dictated the provisions of Clause 15, which deal with the problem of children of air pollution, those processes of the kind listed in paragraph 99 of the Beaver Report. Without entering again into our long controversies on the subject of Clause 15, we shall, I think, all agree that a means has to be found for keeping an eye on these problem children for so long as they require that treatment, and that co-operation between an expanded Alkali Inspectorate and the local authorities is the best tutelage to which to entrust them. As soon as technique permits in the case of any particular process, that process must be taken out of Clause 15 and dealt with under the other provisions of the Act.

Thus, for enforceability's sake, the Bill combines requirements of varying strictness in varying circumstances but I believe its whole tendency will be to promote a rise in standards everywhere, to intensify public interest in the prevention of air pollution, and to direct the work of science and technology into the solution of the problems which are still outstanding.

Some of these problems it has been impracticable to touch at all in our present state of knowledge and technique. I have in mind particularly the problems of sulphur pollution about which the Beaver Committee and many hon. Members have spoken, certainly without any exaggeration. I repeat here what I said in Standing Committee, that I hope this will not be the last Clean Air Bill in the Parliamentary lifetime of many hon. Members now present. But it would be quite wrong to have waited any longer to put this new code on to the Statute Book. Later legislation which future advances in science and technology will make possible will have to fill the gaps which we are leaving, and which we know we are leaving, in this Bill. There would have been more gaps but for the intensive examination to which it has been subjected, both by the House and by the Standing Committee which devotedly considered it for thirteen successive sittings and which made in the Bill a number of very substantial improvements To mention only a few of those improvements, there are the new Clauses dealing with the height of chimneys and with the measurement of smoke. There are the provisions which cover furnaces outside buildings, and also those which deal with smoke arising from the burning of waste substances. Those are only a few of the very many improvements for which my right hon. Friend is indebted to the criticisms and suggestions of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

When this Bill reaches the Statute Book, it is the intention to bring its provisions into force as soon as practicable. Those dealing with the establishment of smoke control areas should be in force before the end of the year, and all the remainder of the Bill is intended to be in effect in approximately two years' time.

The interval will not be wasted, for the passing of the Act will put all those concerned upon notice as to what are the future standards and practices which are required of them, and even before the relevant appointed days come along very real improvements in equipment and practice ought to have taken place as a result of this Bill.

If I may be allowed to end with a personal word, it cannot be often that a member is lucky enough to commend from this Box on Third Reading a Measure of which he supported the forerunner as a Private Member's Bill from the back benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) had the good fortune early last year to be able to strike while the iron was hot upon the anvil of his own favourite subject. He did me the honour of allowing me to put my name, along with those of several others from both sides of the House, on the back of his Bill. I hope he will allow me to congratulate him on seeing its heir and successor pass the House tonight, though I know he would be the first to acknowledge that this Bill, as it leaves the House, is the work of many hands, and its implementation will depend on the co-operation of all.

8.45 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I have pleasure in following the Parliamentary Secretary. I think that those of us here who found the thirteen weeks of Committee work at times perhaps a little tedious were sustained always by the knowledge that we were playing our part in promoting a Measure which will, I think, be regarded by those who are interested in public health as a most important addition to the public health law.

We have been involved in all kinds of technicalities, and I do not think it would be wrong to say that at times both sides felt somewhat bemused and bewildered. Nevertheless, we have struggled on, and now that we have come to the end I feel a tremendous satisfaction in thinking that I have played some part in bringing the Bill to Third Reading. I like to think that I have stood both at that Box and at this Box to assist in the passage of Measures to help ensure that we have clean food, clean milk, and now clean air.

Mr. Blenkinsop

And clean water, too.

Dr. Summerskill

I missed that, but I have been trying to think of other things we can clean, too.

This is an important Bill, and here I must say a word about the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), for I think we have seen him at his best during the passage of the Bill, and I am sure all of us have welcomed the contributions he has made to our deliberations.

I am very pleased to think we have established the machinery of the Clean Air Council which will ensure that we shall be kept informed of what is happening. I agree that there is much more to be done, and I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary stressed the fact that we are only at the beginning of our work, for it would be quite wrong to think that this Bill will ensure clean air. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) is not here, because during the passage of the Bill he has repeatedly emphasised that the important thing is to remove sulphur from the air.

Technicians tell us that there is no practical way of doing this. However, I am not a bit dismayed. I am quite certain that in a few years' time another Bill will be passed, and I hope that, if I am not too tottery, I shall stand at that Box and shall be able to say, "A few years ago we had no idea how to remove sulphur and other noxious fumes, including fluorine, from the air, but now the technicians say that it can be done." So we move on this long road of public health legislation, and I think that all of us here tonight are proud to think we have established another landmark upon it.

I have been a little sorry for the experts. I assume that many of them have been following our debates. So many of them have been confounded. I must comment again that it is extraordinary that so many experts who have given advice on this subject have proved to be wrong. It is a most curious thing that so many of them apparently have devoted all their academic lives to the subject only to hear amateurs like us deriding them. They must find that a little difficult. The outstanding case was the Amendment which we recently discussed whereby "ten tons" had to be changed to "one ton".

I thank the Minister for his kindly co-operation in the Amendments which he has accepted. I am sorry that occasionally we have had to force him into the Division Lobby. Nevertheless, I think that we have been tolerant, and we have felt very appreciative when he has accepted arguments from this side of the House.

I think that the Minister will agree, however, that the Bill contains certain defences which can be used by the antisocial individual. These give us a great deal of concern. While the use of authorised fuel can be a defence against the emission of smoke, the Minister tells us that he has no intention of authorising fuel capable of emitting smoke. We hope that this undertaking will be binding upon his successors, otherwise the Bill will completely fail in its important provisions.

It has been mentioned on several occasions, the last time by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), a former Home Secretary, that Ministers come and go. I quoted the Water Act, 1945, to show how a Minister of that day appointed a Committee and his successor decided to abandon that most important body. It gives some of us who have been in the House for many years cause for apprehension when we listen to Ministers giving undertakings, which perhaps cannot be incorporated in a Bill, and we wonder whether their successors will honour those undertakings. We hope that in this important respect it will be the case that the undertaking will be honoured.

The passage of the Bill has been marked with very little acrimony. Harmony has prevailed. Harmony always should prevail in the passage of a Measure designed to protect the health and well-being of the people. I look forward to the day when hon. Members who have shown their interest in the Bill will again be called to serve on yet another Committee to consider a Bill far in advance of this one. I am sure that they will serve as faithfully, as well and as expertly as they have done in the case of this important Measure.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Nabarro

At the outset, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) for the references made to our combined activities during the course of the last 18 months. It is almost without parallel in parliamentary fortunes that a private Member should have won first place in a Ballot for Private Members' Bills within three weeks of publicaton of the voluminous report of a Committee established by the Government, namely, the Beaver Committee Report, on this issue.

The fact that I was privileged to bring in a Private Member's Bill was due largely to the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who happens now to be the Parliamentary Secretary, assisting in the piloting of this Measure, for at the time he gave admirable advice in the drafting of what was a most complex Bill. Undoubtedly, no Private Member's Bill of that kind could have begun to succeed without the co-operation of the other side of the House, and the fact that we succeeded on 4th February, 1955, in securing the cognisance and support of Her Majesty's Government for the ensuing legislative Measure of a similar kind, was in no small degree due to the support of hon. Members opposite. In fact, the success of ensuing events could not have been achieved without their help.

I must say, however, that I am not entirely satisfied with the Bill in its present form. The Parliamentary Secretary has wisely observed that the co-operative efforts of many agencies will clearly be required before any full implementation of the policy of clean air can be achieved in this country. We shall require the co-operation of industry, both private and nationalised. We shall require the co-operation of the local authorities, of private persons dwelling in houses in various parts of the country, of Her Majesty's Government, and of many bodies and agencies which, by their co-operative effort, can achieve what we all have in mind and in view.

The trouble with a somewhat abstract matter of this kind, is that while all piously pay lip service to the desirability for a policy of clean air, the individual person and the individual firm are often less than anxious to make their own personal contribution towards the success of the policy. I use those words with due care and prudence.

In fact I find, amongst people with whom I have talked on this important topic, a good deal of scepticism about the prospects of securing really clean air in what the Beaver Committee referred to as the black areas of the country, notably the heavily industrialised areas. The sceptical folk are inclined to say that they and their forebears have endured since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, heavy smoke in all the industrial districts, and that it seems hardly practicable for those areas to be rendered free from smoke.

I had, what I thought was an enlightening and stimulating experience last Friday afternoon, in Manchester. I was privileged to be addressing a meeting at the Engineers' Club in Albert Square, which is in the middle of Manchester's smokeless zone. I had driven there from Kidderminster, through Birmingham and the Black Country, through Wolverhampton and through the Potteries. I had seen heavily smoke-polluted districts and yet, in the middle of Manchester, in the middle of this smokeless zone—I was speaking in a room on the fourth storey of that building—I looked out upon air which was as clean and as pure as the air in the village of Broadway, Worcestershire, where I live.

It was, indeed, extraordinary to me that there could be this identity of air conditions, as between a village in rural Worcestershire and the centre of a vast industrial city such as Manchester, the smokelessness of the centre of which has been created by the foresight and skill of the Manchester City authorities during the last ten years. This should be evidence that what has been achieved by a local Act of Parliament in one heavily built up area in the North-West can be achieved elsewhere. I suggest that the sceptics will still say, "Oh, yes, but the smokeless zone in Manchester is very small. Think of the vast areas elsewhere that we have yet to clean up." Before I see this Bill depart from this House I think it is instructive for the British House of Commons to view with approbation what has been achieved in the American city of Pittsburgh.

There the city conditions were ten years ago similar in many respects to our black areas. Their local ordinances—or to give them our expression, local Acts of Parliament—were not dissimilar in character to what, during the last few months, we have built into the Bill before the House tonight. I think that the whole House will be interested in the latest available statistics from Pittsburgh. I say this because they are a measure of the tremendous success that can be achieved within one decade in this important realm of social progress and reform, provided that there is enthusiasm and a co-operative spirit between all the agencies and bodies to which I have referred.

The City of Pittsburgh reports that between 1945 and 1952 the number of hours per month of moderate smoke were reduced from 701 in 1945 to 263 in 1952. The hours per month of heavy smoke were reduced from 226 in 1945 to only 21 in 1952. The total hours, as an aggregation of moderate and heavy smoke, were reduced from 927 in 1945 to only 284 in 1952, or a reduction of not less than 69 per cent. A reduction of almost seven-tenths in just seven years.

It is evident from that if we, notably the local authorities who are responsible for what the Beaver Committee referred to as the black areas, tackle our atmospheric pollution problems with the same enthusiasm as has been displayed not only in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but in St. Louis, Missouri, and many other American cities, and with the full support of Her Majesty's Government, and with parallel legislation in days to come on the issues raised and provisions recommended by the Beaver Committee, which it has not proved expedient or legislatively practicable to include in this Measure, the black areas of Britain may achieve what has already been attained in the U.S.A.

I hope that the Bill will receive its Third Reading tonight and will swiftly pass through another place. Before I resume my seat, I should like to record my most sincere and grateful thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister for having met me on so many controversial issues. I hope he will forgive me—I say this in a spirit of due contriteness—for having agreed to disagree with him on two fundamental issues. It takes a lot to make a right-wing full-blooded Tory vote against one of his own Ministers, and I voted against my right hon. Friend once in Committee and have voted against him once more this evening because I fundamentally disagreed with him on the two issues concerned. None the less, he has produced a fairly good Bill, and I hope that the results and the success achieved by the Measure in the years ahead will be a monument to his personal perspicacity and tenacity throughout the protracted stages of the Bill.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

In these days when the world has seen the cult of the personality discarded it is very nice to hear the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) doing the same thing before sitting down. Those of us who were privileged to be members of the Standing Committee on the Bill never thought we should see this moment arrive, but it is in keeping with the general pleasantness of the occasion that both Front Benches should congratulate each other upon the co-operative efforts and now even the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who almost brought the Government down at one stage during Committee, has been able to recant in a proper manner.

It is true that the Bill is a great step forward, and I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) and other hon. Members in paying tribute to the Government for what they have done. Nevertheless, it is proper to say, as my right hon. Friend mentioned and as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, that this is not the end of the matter. A great deal still remains to be done.

Although I give the Bill every support as far as it goes, I am one of those who still feel that it does not go far enough. It still leaves a lot to be desired, and it is to those matters that I wish to direct attention. Local authorities will be particularly disappointed at what my right hon. Friend described as the escape Clauses. I am sorry that those Clauses have come through the Committee and Report stages without serious interference. That is unfortunate. I believe that they place local authorities in an impossible position.

I have discussed these Clauses very carefully with the authorities in Birmingham which have to implement them, and the officials there are still firmly of the opinion that it will be practically impossible to prosecute or to contradict evidence put forward by defendants under the terms of the Bill. We do not have far to look. In the case of dark smoke, in Clause 1 (3, b) we find that it would be a defence to prove: that the contravention complained of was solely due to some failure of a furnace or of apparatus used in connection with a furnace, that that failure could not reasonably have been foreseen, or, if foreseen, could not reasonably have been provided against, and have the contravention could not reasonably have been prevented by action taken after the failure occurred. It is all very well to put language of that sort in a Bill, but we must stop and think what it means in practice.

In Birmingham we have a chief smoke inspector who has an establishment, because the Birmingham City Council is particularly concerned with this problem. If a smoke inspector observes a contravention, as the Bill is now drafted, he will have to stand aside and observe the contravention for a time. When he is satisfied that there is a prima facie offence, he has to enter the building. His position is more difficult if he waits outside the building until the offence has ended so that he gets the fullest possible information. It will be possible for an inspector to report an offence and to get his local authority to proceed and for a long period to elapse before the case goes to court. No contravention of this sort will come up in a magistrate's court within two months of the offence occurring, and it will not be until then that the local authority will know what the defence will be.

We are not bothered about good industrialists, because we know that they will take reasonable steps. Bad industrialists need not tell a local authority what their defence will be. Local authorities may have to take an army of experts to court to hear the defence and then try to destroy it. That is an impossible position for local authorities. In Committee I mentioned the example where a furnace bridge collapses. It would be impossible for the furnaceman, the manager of the firm, or the smoke inspector to be able to prove whether or not that had happened, unless the furnace were allowed to die out to permit an inspection. Nobody can believe that that will happen, and if the furnace bridge did collapse, it would allow air to enter and would thereby create black smoke.

I take issue with the Minister who earlier said that nobody had contradicted the fact that unsuitable fuel must create some smoke. The Minister said that he had discussed the matter with several expert organisations. Some of us have asked the Minister to visit our local authorities. I extended that invitation on behalf of the City of Birmingham. I do not know whether the Minister has contacted Birmingham City Council. If he has done so, I shall be delighted to hear it. It is the view of the Birmingham City Council that there is no ground for suggesting that unsuitable fuel must cause smoke. Will the Minister tell us whether he has contacted National Smoke Abatement Society, a very important body with experts and upon whose Committees large local authorities are represented?

I regret the new rate of burning solid fuels of more than one ton per hour which has been agreed today. Again the figures are most revealing. It is proved that in Birmingham since the war 87 per cent. of the furnaces installed since 1946 are capable of burning at the rate of one hundredweight per hour or less and 76 per cent. are capable of burning at the rate of one ton per hour or less. So it will be seen that most of the furnaces being installed in Birmingham will be excluded from the provision regarding plans passed and agreed by the local authority. Where local authorities are in the position of having to implement these measures one would have thought it reasonable that they should have power to see details and plans of the furnaces erected.

I am sorry that the Minister has compromised on the figure of one ton. That figure is to be welcomed when compared with the original figure of ten tons, but it does not go far enough, and I am sure that this House will eventually have to consider this matter again. I am certain that local authorities will press strongly for an improved figure.

There are two other points I wish to mention and to which I hope attention will be paid by the Minister. The first relates to the Government's fuel policy. It is no use the nation starting out on a clean air policy without having some idea of what sort of policy is to be followed. The Government should be thinking in terms of an adequate supply of smokeless fuel for the smoke control areas which will gradually come into being. They should consider the economic factors of a clean air policy; how much smokeless fuels will cost. We have heard nothing about that, except that there will be adequate supplies of coke. That is one type of smokeless fuel, but there are others which some of us consider preferable. The Parliamentary Secretary, who has become almost an old friend of mine during the Committee discussions on this Bill, has said nothing at all about the Government's policy.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom

The hon. Gentleman has made a speech. It was a small one, but he did make a speech.

Mr. Howell

I am delighted to know from that intervention that the Parliamentary Secretary has made a speech. Although I did not have the privilege of listening to it, being a betting man I am prepared to accept odds that the hon. Gentleman said nothing about the Government's policy regarding the supply of smokeless fuel, which is an important consideration to all of us who have an interest in this matter. It is hopeless to suggest to local authorities that they should embark on a policy of creating smokeless zones when the Government say nothing at all about the provision of an adequate supply of smokeless fuel and what the price of it will be. We have heard nothing to encourage householders to change from coal to Coalite or coke, or similar fuel.

A problem which is still left untackled is that created by sulphur and diesel fumes. That is not dealt with in this Bill though it creates a sickening, nauseating and growing evil. I do not blame the Government because the provisions of this Bill do not touch that problem. Everything could not be included in one Measure. I was happy to learn in Committee that the problem of diesel fumes is being considered. There is a growing medical opinion that these fumes represent one of the greatest modern dangers to health, particularly in regard to cancer, and I hope that if we are concerned to have a proper clean air policy the Government will continue to give urgent consideration to this matter.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

The hon. Member has just made a statement about the effect which diesel fumes have in connection with cancer. Can he substantiate that? Is not he aware that Dr. Doll says that there is no connection between the two?

Mr. Howell

I was saying that there is a growing medical opinion to that effect, and I believe it to be so. I am quite aware that some medical authorities say that it is not so, and that in this matter science has not reached perfection, but many medical officers—including the Medical Officer of Health for Birmingham, as I know, having served for six years upon the Birmingham Health Committee—are of the opinion that all the statistics show that there is a very close connection between diesel fumes and the growth of lung cancer.

I am not arguing that this is an absolute fact, but it is certainly true that diesel fumes are nauseating and sickening. There is a case for the Government taking much more positive action, and doing much more research into the effect of diesel fumes, if only to stop the nauseating effect which they have upon most of those who live in confined city centres. The Government should take steps to determine the matter once and for all, and set the public's mind at rest in the light of this growing medical opinion.

Most of us, however limited we feel the Bill is, will do our best to make it workable and to assist the Government in every way, but we must have a public education campaign in respect of it. There are millions of families in the country who are so attracted to the old-fashioned coal fire that the very thought of departing from it will be horrible to them. The Government must bear in mind the fact that when local authorities implement the Bill, with more and more smokeless zones, they will face a great deal of opposition. Now that the Bill is shortly to go upon the Statute Book the Government and local authorities must realise the necessity for this public education campaign. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House, and other enlightened people in the country, will be only too happy to join with the Government in such a campaign.

I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Government, the hon. Member for Kidderminster and others who have played a pioneer part in preparing the Bill, and I hope that it will not be too long before we have a second instalment, so that we may really have a clean air policy instead of the partial one which we will have as a result of this Measure.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)

I merely want to express very briefly my support of this Measure, and to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) at this stage in the Bill's passage. It is described as a Bill "to make provision for abating the pollution of the air." I come from industrial Lancashire, and have the honour to represent the constituency of Heywood and Royton, which I would prefer not to have described as one of the black areas. If it has to be described by a colour then I hope that it will be described as blue.

For many years in that part of the country we have suffered from the disagreeable effects of air pollution. Indeed, in company with many other industrial parts of the country we have suffered from air pollution ever since the Industrial Revolution. It is a district where the incidence of bronchial disease is very high, and although air pollution is, perhaps, only a contributory factor, I am sure that medical opinion would support the view that it is a serious menace to health.

If this Measure will reduce the degree of air pollution it will, I believe, deserve and command widespread support. Something of which none of us can be proud is the fact that for many years we have at one and the same time polluted our precious air and wasted our precious fuel. Air pollution implies that. It would not be reasonable to suggest that a change will be made overnight—that would obviously be quite unrealistic—but I believe that a reasonable balance has been struck between what is desirable and what is practicable. I would only add once again a word of congratulation to my right hon. Friend and to all those other right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this very worthwhile Measure.

9.22 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

Most of my hon. Friends and most of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been congratulating the Government tonight have been speaking from their experience in industrial constituencies in the North of England. On this occasion I have to congratulate the Government as the representative of a London constituency. Indeed. I am congratulating the Government through a Minister who also sits for a London constituency and who knows, as I do, that the conditions of this city of ours so far as clean air is concerned are really quite deplorable.

Those of us who have lived and worked in the city know that it is unnecessarily dirty and that it suffers horribly from smoke that could be avoided. That is the reason why some of us who have worked so hard on the Bill congratulate the Minister on what he has done so far. But one of the problems which worries us is the extent to which the escape provisions in the Bill are to be used by delinquent smoke producers. Ultimately, the success of a clean air campaign will depend not on administration or on the actions of the local authorities, nor even on prosecutions; it will depend on whether manufacturers are induced to produce really efficient furnaces and fireplaces. That will be the real measure of success.

The Bill uses the word "practicable over and over again. That means that so long as somebody can show that every practicable effort has been taken to prevent smoke there shall be a defence. That, really, is doing no more than arguing for the best, but the best, as we all know, is the enemy of the good. What we have to do is to get the manufacturers of furnaces and fireplaces to undertake the necessary research so as to see to it that it is almost humanly and mechanically impossible to continue the pollution of our towns and cities.

I hope that the local authorities, the law, the Minister, the Clean Air Council and all the organisations that are to be responsible for seeing that this Bill, when it becomes an Act, works properly, will also see to it that every encouragement is given to manufacturers, whether by competition or by appeals for new designs, to stop this pollution at the very beginning. What is important is not so much what is put into the furnace as to ensure that the combustion machine itself is an efficient converter of fuel.

If we can induce a real sense of urgency in this problem among the manufacturers, I believe that in a few years' time we shall be able to make London a clean, pleasant and beautiful city in which our people can go about their work happily and live decent, healthy lives. If the escape Clauses are to be used simply as an excuse for saying that we are doing our best and can do no more, we shall have wasted fourteen Committee meetings and several days spent on the Floor of this House.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Moyle

I wish to join with my colleagues in extending to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary a word of congratulation on achieving the Third Reading of this Bill. One matter on which they may both reflect with great pleasure is that it happens to be a Bill for which there is no precedent and no blueprint. I think this is the first comprehensive piece of legislation in this country which we have introduced in the fight against air pollution.

We have suffered under the Minister of Housing and Local Government for the last two or three months. First we had him on the Housing Subsidies Bill. Then we had seven weeks of him on the Clean Air Bill. I must say that he is the finest stonewaller of a Minister I have ever met. In fact, he reminded me vividly of the days of George Gunn, the opening bat for Notts., who, as everybody knows, could keep his wicket intact all day and, indeed, until the morrow and be content enough to score at the end of the day only fifty runs: but he kept his wicket intact, and so did the Minister.

During the last two days on this Bill in Standing Committee the Minister scored a few excellent boundaries in the form of the Clean Air Council and modifying the Inspectorate by marrying the local authorities to the centre, and those two boundaries, with one or two more, relieved an otherwise monotonous and colourless long innings.

It is a matter of considerable satisfaction that this is a better Bill now than it was when we first went into Committee. The finest thing in the Bill is the Clean Air Council, and I am not much concerned whether it is a statutory body or not. What is so important is the fact that the Minister has agreed to undertake the chairmanship of this advisory body and to accept gladly the responsibility of himself submitting a report to the House, which of course will canalise interest in the field of air pollution and will certainly give us every opportunity of criticising the Minister in relation to his Parliamentary accountability for the fight against air pollution.

I share the view expressed by some of my hon. Friends, as well as by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), that the most unsatisfactory feature of this Bill is the defences provided in Clause 1 in particular and to a lesser extent in Clause 2.

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) in relation to this problem of smokeless zones or, as I prefer to call them, smoke control areas, because I doubt whether we shall get any smokeless zones.

I should not have mentioned this tonight in this connection but for the optimistic reference by the Minister in Committee when speaking on smokeless fuel as a factor in producing a smoke control area. He said: What we are doing is to press forward to the utmost practicable extent to increase the quantities of smokeless fuel which will be available in the years ahead."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee B, 6th March, 1956; c. 327.] The Beaver Committee said in its Report, as the Minister will recall, that practically half the air pollution from smoke came from domestic chimneys. Coal is the basic fuel from which all smokeless fuel is produced. Since I had the temerity to suggest to the Minister in Committee that he should take steps to nationalise the private industries concerned with the production of smokeless fuel, I have been brought into touch with one or two of the directors who are responsible for the private production of smokeless fuel.

The position as I see it is that the National Coal Board is responsible for the production of coke and Phurnacite, but other smokeless fuels are produced by private enterprise. Unless the National Coal Board tackles this problem in co-operation with the Ministry of Fuel and Power we are not likely to get anything like a fraction of the supply of smokeless fuel necessary to the task of establishing smokeless zones.

I am informed, concerning smoke control areas, which are among the main objectives of the Bill, that unless we get adequate supplies of smokeless fuel there is no possibility of anything like smokeless zones being set up, partly because the air pollution comes largely from domestic chimneys and partly because the price of smokeless fuel is prohibitive. I used the figure of 10s. 6d. a cwt. when I spoke in Committee and I have since been advised by people who know that the price in fact reaches about 12s. 6d. a cwt. The cost of producing smokeless fuel involves such a heavy capital expenditure that it is not likely that we shall get adequate supplies of this fuel unless the National Coal Board seizes the opportunity and becomes the major producer of smokeless fuel at a much lower price.

I mention these facts so that in replying to the debate the Minister may perhaps have something to say about the supply of smokeless fuel at reasonable prices. It seems, in the light of what the experts in private industry, concerned with the production of smokeless fuel, have told us, that unless the Government ease some of its credit squeeze or unless the National Coal Board gets down to the job there is no likelihood of our getting anything more than a mere percentage of the smokeless fuel that is required to bring about any improvement in air pollution caused by smoke.

Those are my main observations. I should not have used the time of the House so extensively on smokeless fuel had it not been for the Minister's rather optimistic observations on the subject, and the advice which I have received from those people who are much more competent to know about the serious difficulties with which they are faced in seeking to ensure an adequate supply of smokeless fuel.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom

I am almost at a loss for words. With the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) recanting and everybody praising everybody else or sitting at the mercy seat, it is rather difficult for me to express that inward glow of satisfaction that I am an unredeemed sinner. I have gloried in this Bill: I have enjoyed it right from the beginning because I have tried—although I fear that I have failed—to make it a really effective Clean Air Bill.

The Government have produced a Parliamentary Secretary who has argued the Bill in a very good way. I congratulate him on his performance, but the Bill is still a bad one. For thirteen Committee sittings and two full days in this House we have been sailing towards the horizon of clean air, with our engines full astern and our flag half-way up the mast. In that mixed metaphor I am saying that I am still very unsatisfied with this Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary listed all the beneficent things we had done by way of amendment, but that was very easy. What was much more difficult—and the Parliamentary Secretary has done it well—was so to list them that one does not show the things we have done which are not beneficent. Against the minor Amendments which have been conceded, I would point out that the defence provisions in the Bill, especially the definition of "best practical means" in terms of combination, will make it awkward for local authorities to sustain successful prosecutions against the worst offenders.

If a great deal of progress is made under this Measure in the very near future, it will be because there has been discussion about clean air, because there has been parliamentary debate on the matter and the general public and employers are prepared to co-operate. A great many have gone far beyond what the Bill would at the moment require, but there are bad employers and bad industrialists—people who will take advantage of the defence provisions and not do what is right about equipment.

We have been debating something which goes even beyond the health of the community; we have been debating something which is connected with its economic condition. The Government have just published a pamphlet on the economic conditions of the country. It should give rise to a great deal of disquiet when we realise that Britain is badly equipped to meet competition in the world and that we have to survive as a nation by importing all our raw materials. It is not without significance that if this country is to survive as a first-rate industrial Power it can only do so with the best machines. Strangely enough, the best machines are those which do not emit contamination into the atmosphere. From that point of view alone this Bill ought to have made a much more valuable contribution to our industrial and economic development.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that we have done very well with the Bill and have said that the "best practical means"—one of the phrases used in the courts for a long time under the Public Health Act—has now gone and that there are now no "ifs" and "buts". There are some "ifs" and "buts" in these defence provisions. A great many lawyers will soon enrich themselves by trying to find ways and means of applying defence provisions and opposing defence provisions. It has been wrong to include in the Bill those defence provisions which will be used, I am convinced, as a means of escape to avoid doing what is right and proper, in terms of equipment, to free the air from the noxious poisons from which not only people but the economic condition of the country suffer.

With the Parliamentary Secretary, I hope that this is not the last Clean Air Bill. I should be very sorry if I thought that, except for what happens in another place, our legislation for clean air was virtually finished here tonight. I do not believe that even the Beaver Committee went as far as it could have done in its recommendations to improve the health of the country and equipment, so that it would make its full contribution to the nation's economic well-being. The Beaver Committee could have spent more time in Sheffield. By going into various places in the city it could have learned far more than it did from its brief visit there.

We have put one or two teeth into the Bill and we have slightly improved it, but we have given it nothing like a full set of dentures. We have done the best we could, and in the circumstances we have made all that it was possible to make of it. Even so, with all our efforts, I do not believe that the Bill will meet the country's needs in purifying the atmosphere and saving us from the tremendous cost of these impurities in the air, which the Beaver Committee estimated at £250 million a year.

Those are my sentiments on Third Reading. The Parliamentary Secretary comes out of these debates with great credit for his courtesy and kindness in handling a difficult subject, but that does not prevent me from saying that I am still disappointed, even though we have nearly reached the end of the road.

9.43 p.m.

Dr. Stross

The Minister will remember that on Second Reading I had the honour to speak last from these benches. I finished my speech by asking him to take careful note of the things we wanted by way of improvement in the Bill, and then by saying that if he consented to our requests I was sure he would be proud of his child. When the Minister rose to speak, he said he was not so sure about that except that it was apparent that a good time had been had here by all. That was because everybody in turn had criticised the Bill on Second Reading.

At that time, it appeared as if the Minister, after the most careful scrutiny and consideration of the whole matter with his experts, had made up his mind that he had gone as far as he reasonably could without harming industry or the cause generally that we all had at heart. I think, however, that he must now admit that some of his fears were not well founded, for he has been able to give us some very real further improvements. I note that when he goes abroad, as he has done lately, he commends his child to other countries and asks them to follow suit by assuming paternity over similar legislation.

All of us, on both sides, have found the transactions of the Bill during Committee quite fascinating. To a medical man like myself, it has appeared throughout not as a piece of normal legislation connected with industry, but as a piece of preventive medicine, and a very important and exciting piece. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) feels as pessimistic as he does. His advice was so very valuable during the Committee stage, but I am quite sure he is mistaken in thinking that very little has been done by this piece of legislation.

The real parents of this Bill, of course, were misery and death, to say nothing of squalor and disease. A few years ago we had the great fog, which cost us so many thousands of lives in Greater London; and the House will perhaps have noted that this last winter a further thousand people died as a result of what is called "smog" in London itself, as compared with the normal year.

It is that which has forced this legislation upon us. The fact that we have had to wait so long should not make us too ashamed, for is it not the first piece of comprehensive, national legislation of its kind in the world? In saying that it is comprehensive and national in character, I believe that it has gone as far as, if not further than, anything else on a national scale anywhere in the world. There have been other fragments of legislation, state by state or city by city, some perhaps a little more comprehensive than this. This, however, is national legislation, and I do not at all object that the Minister should boast of his child when he goes abroad and commends it to other countries. I am sure he is absolutely right to do so, and we, too, are all proud of it.

If there are two faults in the Bill, they are due to two factors. The first, as has already been pointed out by the Parliamentary Secretary, is the limitation of our scientific knowledge, which prevents our doing all we would like to do. We do not as yet know how to cleanse the atmosphere of sulphur or carbon monoxide, for instance, produced from the exhausts of petrol or diesel motor vehicles. When we do know, we shall. I am sure, press forward with a second Bill in order to bring about what is desirable.

The other limiting factor is the consciousness that industry is not working in all branches at the same level; some sections of industry are backward as compared with others. We must give them reasonable time to bring themselves up to date. That has been one of the reasons why escape Clauses—like the one we have dealt with today, perhaps—have been inserted in the Bill. None the less, taking the Bill as a whole, all of us on both sides have been very happy to participate in it. It is something we shall always remember.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) will have noted that when he introduced his Private Member's Bill I opposed it and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) supported that opposition. We did so because we were satisfied that a Private Member's Bill could not give us the comprehensive type of legislation which we now have. At that time, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, said to me—if I might quote words of his spoken behind the Chair—"Are you sure you are doing right in opposing this Bill? Is not a bird in the hand worth more than two in the bush?"

Nevertheless, we took the risk, and I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Kidderminster understood full well at that time what our motives were. I am sure that he is now as pleased as we are that he then failed to get his Private Bill through so that, after a short time, we might have this particular Measure.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

First, I would refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who said I should be proud of the paternity of my child. Nowadays, personal leadership is out of fashion. Collective leadership is the order of the day. I think we can all agree that this Bill represents a collective effort, and that we can all join in paying tribute to the collective paternity of the child. [Laughter.] If the doctors on the opposite benches object medically to that description, I can only say it was not intended in that sense.

The right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) referred to the harmony which had characterised our discussions. That harmony has been due in no small measure to the leadership displayed by the right hon. Lady herself. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that everyone in every part of the House and in the Committee upstairs, if one can describe a Committee downstairs as a Committee upstairs, has played his part in bringing about this happy result.

I should like to add my word of appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). There were times when perhaps we did not feel that his absence delayed our progress, but we were genuinely sorry that in our consideration of the Bill, in which he played such a big part, he should have been kept away through illness from some of the proceedings. I would say to him what, I am sure, he will be fair enough to recognise, that the Government have also had something to do with this Bill. At the same time I am the first readily to recognise that my hon. Friend's Private Member's Bill did something also to put pressure upon us and to accelerate the timetable. It was not, as he knows, the Bill's origin, which was, of course, in the Beaver Committee's Report, but I have no doubt that the introduction of his Bill at that psychological moment did make quite sure that no time was lost in introducing the full-fledged Measure with the necessary financial provision which, of course, it was not possible to include in a Private Member's Bill. We all pay our tribute to my hon. Friend for his determination and pertinacity in the pursuit of this object.

I am sure the House will join with me in expressing our appreciation again—for it has already been done by several hon. Members—to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think everybody has appreciated his profound grasp not only of the Bill but, what I admire so much, his grasp of pretty well every other Measure even remotely connected with the Bill. He seemed able, as I certainly could not, at a moment's notice, to quote any Section of any Public Health Act without the slightest hesitation. I do not know how he does it. He seems to have a Bradshaw mind. I do pay my tribute to him for the absolutely invaluable help and support I have had from him throughout the passage of the Bill.

The Bill is, of course, based upon the recommendations of the Beaver Committee, and I must once more say how much we owe to Sir Hugh Beaver and to the members of his Committee. Although in the original drafting of the Bill and by Amendments in Committee we have made a number of changes, some of them quite important, we recognise that the foundation and the structure of the Bill rest upon the recommendations of the Beaver Committee. We have had from that Committee a really fine piece of constructive work. As the House remembers, the Committee was set up as a result of the public consternation at the deaths which occurred in the great smog of December, 1952, in London, when about 4,000 people died. The Government at that time decided not to confine the inquiry strictly to smog, but to give the Committee wide terms of reference with regard to air pollution in general. I think that the results fully justify that decision.

The Committee's Report did much more than recommend preventive measures. It not only awakened public opinion to the threat to health of smoke, grit and dust, but also to the appalling material destruction which they caused, estimated by the Committee to represent about £250 million a year. Furthermore, the Committee reminded us all that the emission of excessive smoke implies an inefficient use of fuel. It estimated this waste of fuel at about 10 million tons of coal a year. In the present state of our economy and our balance of payments, we certainly cannot afford a waste of that order.

I mention these points because, as the hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) said, we need not only legislation but also an effort of education and propaganda to arouse public interest in this whole subject. I believe that the Beaver Committee's Report did more than anything that has been done in the past to arouse public interest in support of this policy. I also wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the debt which we all owe to the pioneering efforts of certain local authorities like Manchester and the City of London and others, which have led the way in promoting a clean air policy through their own local Acts.

This is not the first time that Parliament has enacted legislation to deal with air pollution, nor, I am sure, is it going to be the last. Nevertheless, I think that we can claim that this is far and away the most comprehensive Measure yet introduced on this subject. If hon. Members glance at the Fourth Schedule of the Bill, they will see that it repeals all or part of twelve Acts and replaces them by a unified code, which establishes for the first time a comprehensive control of smoke, grit and dust from all sources, including domestic chimneys.

An encouraging feature about the whole of our proceedings has been the wide support which this policy has evoked not only in the House but among all concerned outside. This fact has emerged clearly from my consultations with local authorities, with industry and others, and, as is evident from their speeches, from the contacts which hon. Members have made in their own constituencies with local authorities and with industry and expert bodies. The same warm support has been evident throughout in the House. Sometimes it has been a trifle too warm, but that is a fault on the right side.

On Second Reading, I said that I did not want what I described as "watered-down clean air". I went on to say, … I am prepared to consider any advice and proposals which may be offered in Committee … to make the Bill as effective, tight and strong as possible consistent with what is practicable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1330.] I hope that the House feels that I have done my best to implement that undertaking. Some hon. Members no doubt would have liked the Bill to have been a trifle stricter at certain places. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) quite fairly said that the Bill represented a reasonable compromise between what is desirable and what is practicable.

I am sure that all would agree that in any case the success of the Bill will not depend upon prosecutions and penalties. It will depend finally upon the sincere belief of local authorities and industry and the general public in the policy of clean air and their determination to see it through. Personally I am confident that this belief and this enthusiasm will be forthcoming and that we shall have the hearty co-operation of all who are concerned with this policy. As new discoveries are made, new Bills will have to be passed to translate them into legislation, but we should not underrate the significance of the step that we are now taking.

The right hon. Lady rightly said that this Bill is another landmark in social progress. Like her, I am happy and proud to have had the privilege of playing my part, together with other hon. Members, in introducing this important Measure of reform.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.