HC Deb 19 February 1958 vol 582 cc1340-64

10.0 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Clean Air Act, 1956 (Appointed Day) Order, 1958 (S.I. 1958, No. 167), dated 31st January, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th February, be annulled. In praying against this Order tonight, I have no intention of trying to delay the operation of the Act. I would ask the House to recall that, when this very important Act was put on the Statute Book, in 1956, it was decided that there would be a lapse of about eighteen months—indeed, the time that was mentioned in the House was the beginning of 1958—before an appointed day was fixed. The purpose of the appointed day is to allow the authorities to bring pressure to bear on industrialists and others responsible for emitting black smoke from their various premises, and the period between the passing of the Act and the appointed day was intended to provide time for industry to review its plant and apparatus to meet the requirements of Sections 1 and 2 of the Act.

I hope that you will not call me to task, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I want to explain how I propose to approach this matter. I think it is right and proper that, before the House assents to this appointed day, it should be assured that the Government and the local authorities have taken action to try to remove any opportunity which industrialists might take to evade their responsibilities under certain parts of the Act.

Mr. Batey, a senior inspector at Sheffield, has said that Sections 1 and 2 of the Act were so framed as to render the Act abortive. May I remind the House of the provisions of Sections 1 and 2?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but would point out that we cannot discuss the merits of the Act.

Dr. Summerskill

I have no intention of discussing the merits of the Act. I wish to ask various questions so that the Government can assure the House that they have taken steps which will ensure that this Act will be implemented. If they have not taken those steps during the past eighteen months, I feel that 1st June should not be the appointed day, and I hope that I shall not be out of order if I approach the matter in this way.

The purpose of the Order is to establish 1st June as the appointed day, and we want to know whether that should be the appointed day or not. We cannot give our assent to that date until we are told what steps the Government have taken to remove the chances of abuse of certain parts of the Act. That was why, in the first place. I was going to quote the relevant parts of the Act which I am afraid might be abused. Section 1 (3) states: (3) In any proceedings for an offence under this section, it shall be a defence to prove either—

  1. (a) that the contravention complained of was solely due to the lighting up of a furnace …
  2. 1342
  3. (b) that the contravention complained of was solely due to some failure of a furnace or of apparatus used in connection with a furnace …
  4. (c) that the contravention complained of was solely due to the use of unsuitable fuel …"
My first question is: what has been done to ensure that our fears were groundless, that industrialists will not try to take advantage of this part of the Act and thereby infringe the law? I have heard that a committee of the British Standards Institution has advised the Government of the best means of countering any abuse. Is that correct? What has the Clean Air Council done about research during the last eighteen months? During the passage of the Bill, we asked that the Clean Air Council should be set up and should make certain investigations to ensure that certain industrialists would not infringe the Act. Has there been research into smokeless fuels and the firing of furnaces and locomotives? During the passage of the Bill, we were told that the firing of furnaces was a most important matter and that a stoker who had not been trained could be responsible for the emission of black smoke.

I have also been told that local authorities have received offers of help from the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service. Is there evidence that those offers have been wholeheartedly accepted by local authorities and industrialists, or are some of them dragging their feet? It is very important that the House should know what has been happening during the last eighteen months, because we would not have accepted the Government's suggestion that the appointed day should be postponed for perhaps eighteen months or more if we had not believed that action of this kind would be taken.

I feel strongly about this matter, because in Warrington the atmosphere is so full of grime and smoke that it is estimated that 260 tons of impurities are deposited on every square mile of Warrington every year and that in the town centre the fall-out is more than one ton a day to the square mile. We have 360 chimneys belonging to industrial and public buildings, all of which, of course, are the concern of the inspectors of the local authority.

Has the Ministry made inquiries of local authorities throughout the country, particularly those authorities responsible for the administration of what might be regarded as the dirty towns, the industrial towns where the atmosphere is polluted, about whether they have investigated various industrial premises and given advice and already tested smoke, and so on?

I think that it was on the Third Reading of the Bill that a number of hon. Members mentioned publicity, to which I attach much importance. How much publicity has been given to the Act? Have radio and television been used to educate the public? I have observed that television has been rather disease-minded lately and it would be encouraging to learn that it has taken an interest in making the public health-conscious and given some publicity to the great importance of the Act and of the appointed day, 1st June.

It is necessary to mobilise the good will of local authorities, industrialists and the public if we are to make this Act effective. I find it extremely difficult to understand why, when people recognise that they must have clean water, clean milk and clean food, they disregard the harmful effects of polluted air. Publicity is, therefore, of the first importance.

I should like to know how many smoke-control areas have been established; what area of the country they cover, and how it relates to the average of 300,000 acres a year which must be attained if we are to cover all the black areas, as the Beaver Committee thought we could within the next fifteen years? In a newspaper this morning I observed that Oxford had established a smoke-control zone, but that it had been given certain rather curious exemptions, which the Minister has no doubt noticed. I should like him to comment upon this matter.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. Lady is getting away from the question of the date.

Dr. Summerskill

I will come back to that question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

On the subject of fuel, if we accept 1st June as the appointed day it is necessary to know what fuel is available. Can the Minister tell us what smokeless fuel is available, and also whether it has been explained to housewives and others that smokeless fuel is equal to coal in its heating properties and has no injurious fumes? These matters are extremely important if the public is to be persuaded to accept these measures.

I should like to know what local publicity is being carried out, and whether the Government have thought it necessary to see what local authorities are doing. My town is having an exhibition lasting a week. The local papers are alerted, and a great deal of publicity is going forward. Is this action being repeated in other industrial towns? Unless it is the project will not be successful.

I was very impressed with the little book "Clean Air for You", recently published by the Solid Smokeless Fuels Federation. I should like to know how widely this book has been distributed. Has it been distributed only to the converted? The Government should be responsible for its wide distribution.

Finally, it is impossible for inspectors to do their work efficiently unless there are sufficient of them. During the Second Reading debate one hon. Member said that there were not a sufficient number. That was over eighteen months ago, and I should like to know what the Government have done about it. Are the polluted areas well served? I do not ask the Minister to answer in respect of all towns—although there is a certain degree of pollution in every town—but if he can concentrate upon industrial towns I shall be very pleased.

If the questions that I have asked can be answered, we shall be only too happy to assent to 1st June as the appointed day, but if the Government have not taken the necessary action we shall have to consider whether another day should be appointed.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

This Statutory Instrument is a very important one; it is the first to be issued by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government under the principal Statute—the Clean Air Act, 1956. It is true that about three years have elapsed since this important topic was first fully debated in the House, in February, 1955, in connection with a Private Member's Measure which I was privileged to introduce, about three or four months following the publication of the Beaver Report, but a great deal of progress has been made.

I think that my right hon. Friend has moved with all reasonable speed in the provision of this Order and the fixing of the date for the prohibition of dark smoke both from industrial and domestic chimneys as 1st June, 1958. In fact, having regard to all the circumstances—they are complex circumstances, as the majority of us who took part in the lengthy debates on the Clean Air Act know—I doubt whether it would have been possible for my right hon. Friend to have produced this Order at any earlier date.

I propose to touch on a number of matters to which the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) referred. Chronic atmospheric pollution has been much in the minds of a large number of people in London and elsewhere as a result of the two recent major railway smashes at Lewisham and Dagenham both of which could be directly attributed to the very thick fog at the time. It will be many years before this state of affairs may be cleaned up, but a good start has been made and we should endeavour to relate the position of this Order under the main Statute to the fuel and power position.

We recognised, when the Measure was going through the House, and with the greatest respect to those who place the health of the nation as a first priority, that the principal economic benefit which would flow from this Statute and the particular—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is going far from the subject of the Prayer.

Mr. Nabarro

I am coming back to the date 1st June in one minute, if I may be allowed to finish my sentence.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member may not finish his sentence if it is out of order.


Very well, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will start the sentence again.

I was saying that this is related to the fuel and power position, as the right hon. Lady observed, for she wanted to know whether adequate smokless fuels had been provided or were envisaged. The reason that 1st June is written into this Order was on the advice of the Minister of Power as to the availability of fuels to uphold a state of smokelessness. It is not possible to achieve that state unless adequate and proper smokeless fuels are available, and that is the relationship between this Order and the fuel and power position.

A lot of nonsense is being talked today by ill-informed people who consider that Parliament is endeavouring to do away with the coal fire under this Order. Nothing of the kind. All we are endeavouring to do is to cause people to burn fuel smokelessly, and abundant smokeless fuels will be available for the domestic consumer who will commit an offence after 1st June if he allows dark smoke to be emitted from his chimney. There will be abundant smokeless fuel in the form of good quality house coal, coke, gas, electricity, and oil. All are smokeless fuels and have been taken into account in arriving at the date 1st June for the bringing into effect of this prohibition on dark smoke. That is the domestic side.

The industrial side is equally important, and I thought it rather unfair of the right hon. Lady to infer, as she did in the early part of her speech, that the industrialist was dragging his feet. I do not think that he is.

Dr. Summerskill

I included the local authorities as well.

Mr. Nabarro

I will come to the local authorities in a moment.

I think that this passage from the Beaver Report, is pertinent: More than half of all the smoke comes from industrial sources and railways, but for each ton of coal burnt domestic chimneys produce twice as much smoke as industry and discharge it at a lower level. But industry is responsible for 50 per cent. and industry, during the last eighteen months since the main Statute was passed, has been re-equipping boiler-houses in an effort to achieve smokelessness. In this it has had the advice of the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service.

We know that boilermen are not being trained fast enough; that there is a shortage of good trained men for that skilled task in industry and that complete smokelessness from industrial chimneys cannot be achieved unless an adequate number of trained men are available for the purpose. But in the last couple of years industry has made good progress. I do not think that there will be an undue number of local authority prosecutions involving industrial chimneys after 1st June, because the great majority of factory boiler-houses have achieved a sufficient standard of efficiency to assure smokelessness in accord with the advice set out in the Beaver Report.

A word about the black areas and the applications which have been made to my right hon. Friend for smoke control areas. The black areas referred to in the Beaver Report amounted to about 300,000 acres. Only 13,000 acres have so far been covered by smoke-control areas. That amounts to about—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not sure how this argument relates to the Prayer.

Mr. Nabarro

I will come to that point in a moment. It is only a matter of 4½ or 5 per cent. Would my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tell us the total acreage of smoke control he hopes to achieve by the end of the year? I want to emphasise, without straying outside the bounds of this Statutory Instrument, that it is the first of many that may be expected under the main Statute, and that in one month we shall have one—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This is not the first Order under a Statute.

Mr. Nabarro

It is the first Order implementing the main Statute. We shall have another in a few weeks, dealing with special processes transferred to the Alkali Inspectorate and the enlargement of its responsibility. I would ask my hon. Friend what additional steps he hopes to take before 1st June to increase publicity for the measures of smokelessness contained in the Order and how far he intends to give local authorities, and through local authorities members of the general public, information on this subject.

The right hon. Lady referred to the Clean Air Exhibition in her town in the next week. It follows many such exhibitions which have already taken place in the Midlands and, in particular, in the Black Country, one of the worst referred to in the Beaver Report. It is twelve months ago that I opened the first Clean Air Exhibition in West Bromwich. The second followed in Oldbury and Halesowen, and the hon. Member for that constituency and I were associated with one another in a similar venture. Exhibitions of this kind ought to be held in every one of the black areas covering all the 300,000 acres in the Beaver Report, if the general public are to be properly informed about the objectives of this Statute.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding at present. A few days ago I listened to four people debating on the B.B.C. about this Order and the date fixed 1st June. The panel was asked whether the Government would provide appropriate fuel to enable chimneys to be rendered smokeless, and every one of the members on the panel, in the course of their answers, demonstrated that they knew nothing whatever about the legislation. The general public was wholly misinformed. I hope that my hon. Friend will take steps to see, as far as he is able, through the instruments or agencies for the implementation of his policy, which are the local authorities, that the public are very much better informed before the Order becomes effective in four months' time.

10.23 p.m.

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

The Minister may well feel that his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has taken the Minister's duties upon his own broad shoulders in replying to this debate, but there are certain very important matters to which we want the Parliamentary Secretary to reply, if he will be so gracious, later in our discussion.

This Order not only brings into operation the provisions of the Act relating to dark smoke, but fixes 1st June as the operative date for the provisions dealing with grit and dust from furnaces, abatement of smoke nuisances and the application of the Act to railway engines, vessels and Crown premises. It brings into operation not only Sections 1 and 2, but Sections 9 and 10 of the Act. Section 16 deals with nuisances short of dark smoke. There is no doubt that the general public's main interest is in the dark smoke provisions. It is no doubt mainly on that point that hon. Members will have an interest in the Order.

In my constituency we are fully aware of all the problems of dark smoke, grit and dust, and are very much concerned with nuisances of all kinds. There is great hope in the constituency that there will be a very considerable and noticeable change on and after 1st June. Our anxiety on this side of the House is whether, in fact, the Ministry has taken sufficient action, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, between the passage of the Act and today to ensure that as from 1st June we shall get the improvements that we have every right to expect.

In discussing this matter with my local authority in detail, certain points were raised on particular matters on which the Newcastle authority hopes it may be possible for more information to be given. It raised the question of the adequacy or inadequacy of the inspectorate. Naturally, it is doubtful and worried about that matter. It raised an interesting point on the question of measurements. It was not certain that there will be an adequate supply of the apparatus now available for making the job of the inspector easier when satisfying himself about the operation of Section 1 in relation to dark smoke, whether it comes within Shade 2 of the Ringelmann Chart, which will be brought into operation by this Order by 1st June.

There is a device on the market, or coming on to the market, called a "smoke scope", which my local authority is anxious to be made more fully available. It is a device which enables an inspector to see much more clearly whether or not an offence is being committed and helps him enormously in his judgment. The authority is anxious to know whether the Ministry can do anything to assist in making this small device more fully available.

There is the question of what is being done by industrialists themselves about warning systems in their works. There are provisions in the Act by which the Minister can make regulations requiring firms to attach photo-electric cell warning systems, or systems of that kind. My local authority is concerned that those forms of apparatus should be in- stalled prior to the coming into force of this Order on 1st June. It wants to know whether the Minister intends issuing any regulations dealing with this matter, as he has power to do under the Act.

Then there is the very important question which affects many local authorities, including my own, as to whether the Minister intends to make provision prior to the operation of the Act about the period of emission of dark smoke. He has power to do that. In many local authority areas emissions of less than a certain period of minutes are not regarded as constituting an offence.

Authorities want to know whether, prior to 1st June, the Minister will issue any instructions about whether the period is to he two minutes, whether there is to be a period at all, or what it is to be. Those who will have to operate this Act under the authority given by the Order which we are being asked to pass tonight should know what, in fact, are the conditions under which they will have to carry out their work. Those are the points which I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary on that matter.

In addition to the dark smoke which I have mentioned, and which is mainly an industrial matter under the definition in the Act, there will probably be relatively little domestic smoke which will come under Shade 2 of the Ringelmann Chart. People are also concerned about the provisions concerning dust and grit. Indeed, many people are more concerned about them than about anything else. Certainly, in Newcastle, we are concerned with dust and grit, and there are many nuisances of that kind.

People want to know from the Minister whether on the date that these Sections of the Act become operative he will have ensured that full action will be taken by the various industries which create these nuisances, among them the power stations, to abate them, and whether the Minister has had any further consultations on the matter.

There are, of course, very serious difficulties involved in this. We want to be quite satisfied that people are not being led up the garden path by the Order in hoping for more than they are to get. We want to be quite sure that when the Order becomes operative we shall actually get a real improvement in conditions. We do not want to be fobbed off with anything less. We are anxious lest the Ministry has not taken sufficiently energetic measures between the passing of the Act and now to ensure of its becoming fully effective on the appointed day.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

So that I may keep within the bounds of order, it seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that I am forced to address myself to the question whether or not I agree with the appointed day being 1st June. That was my understanding of the Ruling given by Mr. Deputy-Speaker, who has just vacated the Chair. However, I think I am entitled to ask the Minister for certain assurances before I decide what action I shall take at the end of the debate.

I was astonished at the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) who, I thought, turned Queen's evidence tonight. Indeed, he spent the whole of his speech defending the Government before he even knew what the Minister was going to say on the Order. What an astonishing turn-about on the part of the hon. Gentleman having regard to the fight which, to his credit, he put up during the Committee stage of the Bill upstairs.

It is no use the hon. Member for Kidderminster trying to persuade us that there are ample supplies of solid smokeless fuels. That is an important question to which, I think, we are entitled to have an answer. The other day I addressed a Question to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I asked him what was the extent of the supplies available of solid smokeless fuel, how much was provided by private enterprise and how much by the nationalised industries. The Answer which I was given, and which is very material to the selection of this date of 1st June, is that 95 per cent. was produced by the nationalised industries and only 5 per cent. by private enterprise.

If those figures are still correct, I am entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what answer he has received from the National Coal Board and the National Gas Council about their ability to produce sufficient supplies of solid smokeless fuel to meet the needs. It is all very well the Minister speaking of coke as a solid smokeless fuel but, in considering a smoke control area, it is no use talking to the workers about coke, because they cannot burn it in a domestic grate unless they have the fuel appliances necessary to consume the fumes from the burning coke.

The first question which I want to ask, therefore, is: if we agree to the date of 1st June, can I tell my constituents that ample supplies of solid smokeless fuel will be available by that date? At present, it takes no less than six weeks to get an order for solid smokeless fuel met by any local coal merchant.

The second question which I want to ask the Minister is: why have we no information about when the Order is to be laid for the extension of powers under the Alkali Acts to embrace additional industries such as iron works and lime works, and what will be the appointed day for it?

Mr. Nabarro

On a point of order. I was stopped by your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, because of certain references which I made in my speech. I now submit to you that a process under the Alkali Acts, and a process which is being transferred to the Alkali Inspectorate, to which the hon. Member has referred, does not come within the scope of the Order, which deals only with dark smoke, grit and dust.

Mr. Speaker

I did not hear the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) refer to the Alkali Inspectorate.

Mr. Moyle

I shall put myself in order, as I should have done if the hon. Member for Kidderminster had not intervened. I think I am in order in reading the Explanatory Note on the Order, furnished by the Ministry: This order brings into operation on the 1st day of June. 1958, the remaining provisions of the Act including provisions relating to the prohibition of dark smoke from chimneys, —here is the important point— and measures for dealing with grit and dust from furnaces … I have been asked by my local authority, the Halesowen Borough Council, exactly what will be the position of the local public health inspectors from 1st June, 1958. The authority wants to know exactly what their duties will be as inspectors, having regard to the fact that those industries which emit grit and dust and cause air pollution by their processes are brought within the scope of the Alkali Inspectorate.

Foundries can be taken as an example. All foundries emit grit and dust from their furnaces, grit and dust that also affects the foundry workers. How will the foundries be affected on and after 1st June? Who will be responsible for inspecting and reporting the grit and dust that is emitted from their furnaces and which pollutes the air, and may affect the health of the workers? Will it be the local public health officers, the Factory Inspectorate, or the Alkali Inspectorate? Those questions have been asked of me by my local authority, and they are germane to my decision whether or not to support the proposed appointed day.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Brightside)

When I look at this Order, see that the appointed day is to be 1st June, and remember what my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) has said, I wonder whether to oppose the Order unless I have specific assurances from the Parliamentary Secretary about certain dark smoke emissions from certain industries. The local authorities in districts where there is heavy pollution, in particular from the metallurgical industries, are worried about what is to happen if this Order is passed tonight, and its provisions become applicable as from 1st June next.

This is a rather complicated matter. We are told that the Act will operate against dark smoke emissions and the emission of grit and dust from furnaces, but, at present, nobody knows what is to happen in the metallurgical industries which, up to now, have not been affected by any provisions at all. Can the Parliament Secretary tell us whether those industries are to be brought under the control of the Alkali Inspectorate? Many local authorities expect them to be.

The metallurgical industries have been exempt from the provisions of the various Public Health Acts since the middle of the last century. Hitherto, no real consideration has been given to their dark smoke emissions. The Clean Air Act takes that exemption from them, but, so far, we have not heard what is to happen to them.

Again, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen has already asked, who is to administer this Act? Who is to control the emission of dark smoke in the metallurgical industries? The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said that it will be the Alkali Inspectorate. I know that it will be the Alkali Inspectorate, but the Minister has not told us so yet. The question is whether or not it is going to be the alkali inspectors. Section 17 (2) of the Clean Air Act gives the Minister the authority to invest power of control in respect of the emission of dark smoke from metallurgical industries and alkalis in certain districts, where he is satisfied that the local authority has the necessary inspectorate to deal with this problem.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Gentleman is badly confused. An Amendment was moved in Committee to the effect of what he is now saying, and it is the fact that the Government were defeated in Committee on this point, but the Government wrote it back into the Statute when it reached the Report stage.

Mr. Speaker

In any case, I would point out that we are not dealing with the Act here.

Mr. Winterbottom

I am dealing with who is to deal with the metallurgical industries when these provisions become effective on 1st June. We should be told who is to deal with the control of the emission of dark smoke from these industries. I represent a constituency in Sheffield where there is quite a number of iron foundries and steel works, the managements of which will be wondering who is to control the emission of dark smoke. What is more, the local authority inspectors, each of whom is qualified to deal with this matter, find themselves in a dilemma because they do not know whether they will be given the right to control dark smoke in these industries in Sheffield.

I have had representations from the civic authorities, who point out that at the moment, with only this Order to guide them, they are confused as to what they may or may not do on the appointed day on 1st June. I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is his intention to consult local authorities in districts where he has clear proof that there are sufficient smoke abatement officers who have passed the necessary examinations, and have all the qualifications and the ability to deal with the emission of dark smoke in the metallurgical industries, and whether he is prepared to consider applications from those local authorities to be scheduled under the Act to deal with this problem.

That is a very important matter at this time. We are nearly in March. There are about four months before these provisions become effective, and the confusion among many of the local authorities will not be allayed, and order will not be brought out of chaos, unless the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the local authorities in some of the heavy industrial districts, where inspectors with the necessary qualifications exist, whether or not they will be authorised to deal with the whole problem of the emission of dark smoke.

If the Parliamentary Secretary will not deal with this situation, this confusion among local authorities will not be dispelled. If it is not his intention that dark smoke in the metallurgical industries is to be scheduled under the Alkali Regulations of 1906, and if it is his intention that these emissions shall be dealt with by the Alkali Inspectorate, will he give us some information at this stage as to whether there has been a sufficient increase in the number of alkali inspectors? When the Bill went through, there were only seven in the whole country—totally insufficient to deal with the problem. We voted only £40,000 to provide an increased Alkali Inspectorate. Will the Minister give us an assurance that there are now sufficient alkali inspectors to deal with those districts which remain, even excluding those which could deal with their own cases if Ministerial permission were given?

The local authorities are asking these questions, especially in the heavy industrial areas of the country. They want to know where they stand and what the Order is to mean when it is applied. They want to have some clarity of explanation so that they may know what they have to do.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

This is an important occasion, and the situation in the metallurgical industries must be considered very carefully. I do not want to take up too much time tonight, because a wide discussion would be out of order and many pertinent questions have already been asked, but I find it hard to believe what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) and the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) have said, that the Government intend, as a corollary to the implementation of this Order on 1st June, to provide that all these industries should come under the scope of the Alkali Inspectorate.

As the hon. Member for Kidderminster said, we had very passionate discussion about this matter in Committee. The Government were defeated, and when they put the provision back into the Bill, we had from the Minister a pledge that local authorities able to do the job would be allowed to do it. I do not want to pursue that point—I know that it might be out of order—but it is germane to say that local authorities which have been building up their staffs, and preparing for this Order to come into operation, have the Government's pledge on the other matter well in the forefront of their minds. If the Government are now going back on their other pledges, that is very serious. I am sorry to hear it, and I hope that the Minister will allay our suspicions about it.

We all know that most local authorities have not got an inspector specifically charged with the task of enforcing anti-smoke legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) was quite right to ask for information as to how far local authorities will be able to enforce this Order when it comes into operation. Sanitary inspectors themselves, who mostly tag this sort of duty—

Mr. Blenkinsop

Public health inspectors.

Mr. Howell

I will tell my hon. Friend that not every authority has agreed to its sanitary inspectors being known as public health inspectors; most have, but not all. For the sake of greater accuracy, however, I will say that public health and sanitary inspectors who have to perform many duties under the Rent Act and under public health Acts have not the time to make the Order work.

We are entitled to know whether it is a Parliamentary formality that we are making 1st June the date for the coming into operation of the Act for most of its purposes, or whether the Minister now has information that enforcement will be a reality. We should like some detailed information on that score.

I also wish to ask some extremely important questions about two other Ministries. The first question relates to Crown premises. These include hospitals; and hospitals are among the worst offenders in polluting the atmosphere with smoke. Under the Clean Air Act they were specifically excluded from prosecution. There is another very detailed method of dealing with hospitals and other Crown premises. We are still getting frequent breaches of the provisions of the Clean Air Act and public health Acts from hospitals, and I should like to know from the Minister what discussions have taken place with his colleagues in the Ministry of Health to ensure that when the Act comes into operation hospitals will take speedier remedial action than we have seen in the past.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It depends on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend is right. However, the Order leads us to suppose that things will be rather better after 1st June than hitherto.

We who are interested in local authority work, and also the public, are entitled to information about this. Health education is important, and in this respect public psychology is extremely important. It is not much good having an army of smoke inspectors going round our cities demanding that householders cease the emission of black smoke from their chimneys when hospitals are still emitting very large quantities of black smoke and local authorities cannot obtain speedy redress. I should be obliged if the Minister would say something about that.

The same argument applies to the railways, and this brings in the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I assume that the Minister has had from the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation assurances in this respect which will be more satisfying to us than the ones that we were given during the Committee stage of the Clean Air Act. We are all aware of the great palls of smoke which hang over locomotive yards. If the Order will help to prevent the emission of black smoke from locomotives, that is all to the good. However, in our earlier discussions we were told that the British Transport Commission complains about the quality of the fuel which it receives and says that the smoke is caused not so much by the railway operatives as by the fuel because it is not satisfactory. I wonder what information the hon. Gentleman has about this.

That leads me to the important subject of fuel supply. I have recently tried to get smokeless fuel and I can say that it is not true that there are large quantities of smokeless fuels which are suitable alternatives for the householder. Only recently it took me a considerable time to get two bags of Coalite and I had to order them well in advance. My fireplace cannot burn coke and I am left with the choice of burning coal or Coalite. This is an extremely important matter, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us adequate information about it.

If we do not receive adequate information on all these subjects, many of us, on both sides of the House, will believe that the Act cannot be effectively administered. That would be a considerable disappointment to many local authorities and well-intentioned members of the public and would, in the long run, do harm to the cause of seeing that the air is clean. It would be far better for the Government to implement the Act with thoroughness and efficiency from the start.

11.1 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

The subject which the House has been debating for the last hour is highly technical and I confess at the start that I wish that I had some of the technical knowledge of some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite and the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill). I will make a broad statement on the Order and in the course of doing so hope to deal with some of the major questions raised by hon. Members and then to end by answering some of the more detailed questions put to me.

As the House knows, the Clean Air Act was given the Royal Assent on 5th July, 1956. Certain provisions of the Act were brought into force on the first appointed day, 31st December, 1956. The right hon. Lady asked whether local authorities had been discharging their obligations under the Act. The most important Sections brought into force by the first Order were those requiring that new furnaces should be smokeless, that dealing with the height of chimneys, that empowering local authorities to make smoke-control areas and preventing the emissions of smoke from colliery spoil heaps, and so on.

Most of those provisions are within the province of local authorities. My information is that the majority of local authorities have been conscientious and assiduous in seeing that these provisions, particularly those about new furnaces, are enforced.

The right hon. Lady asked me whether I would give some information of a general character on the progress which we have made in these matters and I hope briefly to refer to that in a few minutes.

The Order now before the House brings into operation the remaining provisions of the Act which deal with the prohibition of dark smoke, controlling the emission of grit and dust from furnaces, smoke nuisances, and the prohibition of dark smoke from railway engines and ships. I think that I am right in saying that the matter to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) referred is also covered by the introduction of this Order.

The Government are laying the second appointed day Order several months in advance of 1st June because they think it right to give proper notice to those who will have to comply with the remaining parts of the Act and to those who will have to enforce them. I think that the House will agree that industry, whose boilers and processing furnaces are so largely responsible for dark smoke, should have adequate notice. There is, however, power under the Act for my right hon. Friend to make regulations providing for exemptions from the ban on dark smoke for certain limited periods. This point was touched upon by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). These exemptions are simply designed to enable operations like fire cleaning and soot blowing, both of which may cause short bursts of smoke, to be carried out without offence under the Act.

We have already drafted certain regulations under Section 1 (2) and have been having consultations with the local authorities and with industry during the last few months. It is our expectation that we shall lay these regulations before very long. In any case, I can assure the House that they will come into force on the second appointed day, namely, 1st June. I appreciate that there is a certain amount of feeling in parts of the country about the latitude that the regulations will allow to the industries affected. The periods of time will be very limited ones, but it is essential, in the interests of efficiency, that they should be allowed.

References have also been made—which I did not expect—to the position of certain industries, notably the iron and steel industry in Sheffield, under the law as it stands. The hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) referred to this matter. I hope that I may be forgiven if I make a purely passing reference to the position. We have in draft an Order—an Alkali Works Order—which my right hon. Friend expects to come into force on 1st June of this year. That order will be laid in pursuance of Section 4 of the Public Health Act and not under the Clean Air Act. Without it, all metallurgical processes would remain under the Clean Air Act, but we intend to lay an Order which will have legal force on 1st June.

Mr. Winterbottom

It is quite clear that there will be an Order bringing the metallurgical industries under the Alkali Acts, but since local authorities have controlled the emission of dark smoke, except by the alkali industry, up to now, will they now be allowed to control the emission of dark smoke by the metallurgical industries under Section 17 (2) of the Clean Air Act?

Mr. Bevins

I think that I can give the hon. Member a satisfactory answer.

The position in the City of Sheffield is not an easy one. It is quite true that representations have been made to the effect that the Minister might consider making an Order under Section 17 (2) of the Clean Air Act. On the other hand, it has been represented by the British Iron and Steel Federation, and by the employers' organisations, that certain processes—not all—in the iron and steel industry should be scheduled under the alkali legislation. Without going into detail, I would say that that decision has been taken by my right hon. Friend in the sense that I have indicated, but if, at a later date. Sheffield should wish to make representations to secure its own point of view, they will be considered.

Mr. Moyle

Between now and 1st June will the Parliamentary Secretary consider the position of the local public health inspectors in carrying out these duties in relation to the central inspectorate?

Mr. Bevins

The fact that it is the responsibility of the public health inspectors is clearly understood by the respective local authorities. They understand the intention of my right hon. Friend that the Alkali Inspectorate should remain responsible for a limited number of these processes as from 1st June. I have been asked to say something of the general character of the progress made under this Act.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member will not go too far. There must be some bounds to this discussion. He has defended the Order before the House by referring to a number of regulations to be made at some time in the future. I felt I ought to allow that because I found it difficult to understand the argument otherwise. But this is not the time for a general report on the operation of the Clean Air Act.

Mr. Winterbottom

May I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary is within the complicated business of certain industries? Although it may be a little wide of the mark, it will be helpful to many local authorities.

Mr. Speaker

I had not heard what the Parliamentary Secretary proposed to say because I uttered my caution before he started, but if he can keep within the bounds of order the House will be glad to listen to him.

Mr. Bevins

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I am in the predicament that a number of questions have been asked which are not strictly relevant to the Order, but I did not like to disregard them altogether out of respect to the House and to you, Sir.

I was asked about smoke control areas. So far, my right hon. Friend has confirmed 10 Orders covering about 11,000 acres and nearly 7,500 buildings. In addition, three Orders for smokeless zones under local Acts were confirmed last year. I agree that this is only a modest start, but 16 further Orders involving about 1,200 acres have been submitted for confirmation and another 51 proposals covering about 61.000 buildings have been provisionally notified to my right hon. Friend. These provisional applications are made largely to check on the availability of smokeless fuel and all the information which I have been able to secure goes to show that none of these Orders is likely to be held up because of difficulty in procuring smokeless fuel.

Further, about 15,000 houses in local authority estates are to be made smokeless by tenancy conditions. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that some local authorities have not evinced the enthusiasm for clean air that they might have done. It is perfectly true that some have been rather less enthusiastic than others, but it is certainly the intention of my right hon. Friend to stimulate all local authorities by persuasion.

The right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington asked a question about the Oxford smoke control area. That application will very shortly be before the Minister for his consideration. I do not think that I can add to that for the moment.

A number of hon. Members asked questions about publicity for clean air. Only last week my right hon. Friend circulated all local authorities throughout the country, urging them to take advantage of Section 25 of the Act, which invites local authorities to provide publicity and information. In addition to the efforts of various local authorities up and down the country, which the Minister naturally applauds, we at the Ministry are in process of issuing a number of additional leaflets, and we have in preparation a television film on the subject

The right hon. Lady also asked about the Solid Smokeless Fuels Federation. That is, I think, a private organisation, which has produced a booklet on the subject of smokeless fuels. That booklet is being made available to all local authorities.

So far as public health inspectors are concerned, I am advised that the position there, although by no means ideal, is a good deal easier than it was a year ago. We shall certainly require to keep careful watch on that side of the question, and the Minister has every intention of doing so.

The Clean Air Council was set up only in July of last year, and its functions are to advise the Minister on the general problems associated with air pollution and to make recommendations about priorities in matters of research.

I can assure the right hon. Lady that the two particular problems to which she referred are very much in the mind of the Clean Air Council, but at present it is too early to say what particular problems will engage the attention of sub-committees which the Council will probably be setting up.

I apologise if I have gone rather wide in my reply, but I was perhaps a little tempted by right hon. and hon. Members

Mr. Blenkinsop

May I put one point, which is within the Order, which is the question I have been asked by my local authority: whether it is proposed to make any regulations to cover the apparatus to be installed by factories to check whether their smoke is dark smoke or not?

Mr. Bevins

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the Minister is considering the desirability of making regulations covering that point.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the Parliamentary Secretary's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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