HC Deb 11 November 1959 vol 613 cc527-48

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10th November]: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Smoke Control Areas (Exempted Fireplaces) Order, 1959 (S.I., 1959, No. 1207), dated 10th July 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th July, in the last Parliament, be annulled.

Question again proposed.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. William BIyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

When this debate was adjourned last night the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) was in possession of the House. I can only assume that he did not expect the debate to be resumed until 10 o'clock tonight. Obviously, that is the reason for his absence.

I wish to support the Minister on this Order. I support him because I feel that it is a contribution to the coal industry in its present plight. I gathered from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) that he wants local authorities to have full power of determination and discrimination and he urged the use of a Swedish fireplace which, he said, burns smokelessly. I must put it on record that we of the National Union of Mineworkers disagree on the question of powers to local authorities to discriminate between the use of coal fires and oil.

If the Minister were to bring forward an Order to exempt this from the provisions of the Clean Air Act, I should support him so long as it did not mean the use of wood waste, as my hon. Friend said it would. I have seen this furnace, which is a good one, but that is not the question before us tonight. Anything that can be done to help the coal industry has my blessing. I hope that if this appliance, which seems to be the basis of the case which was made, is any good, the Minister will bring the proposal for its use before the House, so long as it fulfils the desired requirements under the Clean Air Act.

If this Order is annulled these appliances will be subject to local authority sanction. As the House is aware, since February this year I have been pressing for fair play for the coal industry as against the use of oil-burning furnaces under the Act. What my hon. Friends are asking is that coal should not be left at a great disadvantage with oil under this Act, because, while the Order might affect coal, as I shall show later, it would leave oil furnaces exempt from the provisions of the Act and coal furnaces would be subject to the sanction of local authorities. That would be the result of this Prayer and it is a situation with which I cannot agree.

If coal is to be competitive with oil, it must have an equal chance with oil in the domestic field under the Clean Air Act. Under an Order made in 1957, under Section 11 of the Clean Air Act, general exemption was granted to oil-burning appliances in smoke control areas, but individual exemption had to be obtained from local authorities for coal-burning appliances even though they were capable of being worked smokelessly. I have always argued that this places the coal industry at a great disadvantage in competition with oil. The Economist of 25th July this year commented that over a period when so many other elements had been compelling industrial consumers to switch to oil this discrimination had given the coal industry a legitimate "grouse". It said that efficient modern equipment burns one fuel as smokelessly as the other.

In April, 1958, the Coal Board made representations to the Minister of Power asking that exemptions should be granted, by order, in respect of furnaces fired by mechanical stokers in the smoke-controlled areas. In February of this year, in a debate on fuel and power policy, which I initiated, I asked for an Order to be presented to Parliament granting exemption to furnaces fired by mechanical stokers, and I again raised this subject in May of this year, when I referred to correspondence between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Minister. In that debate I expressed my delight that the discrimination against coal seemed likely to be removed.

The whole question has been thoroughly examined by officials of the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Housing, in consultation with interested bodies. I believe that it was finally agreed in principle that general exemptions should be granted to coal-burning appliances fired by mechanical stokers, other than those which burnt pulverised fuel, if these were installed on or after 31st December, 1956. The exemptions were conditional upon their proper installation and maintenance, and upon the use of a suitable fuel.

An Order to this effect was laid before the House on 15th July, and the Ministry of Housing issued a circular, No. 44/59, asking local authorities to give individual exemptions in favour of appliances installed before this date if they were capable of working as smokelessly as those exempted by the Order. The circular also drew attention to the fact that pulverised fuel furnaces were capable of almost smokeless operation. The Coal Board undertook to make available supplies of coal for these appliances.

I would emphasise that the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers attach considerable importance to the Order. In July of this year there was a publicity campaign in the national Press following the Order then made. Attention was drawn to the new freedom given to install mechanically stoked coal-burning equipment. This campaign pointed out that the Order, by increasing the long-term demand for bituminous coal, would mean more work for those connected with the production and distribution of coal. A leaflet was issued by the Coal Board and circulated to many interested bodies and persons, such as architects and industrial concerns, and this leaflet has had a good effect.

In the "Revised Plan for Coal", which we cannot argue tonight, reference is made to the exemptions being granted by the Order. Assumptions have been made, in the plan for future demands for coal, concerning the advantages which are expected to be derived through the exemptions embodied in the Order. While I believe that the "Revised Plan for Coal" is too optimistic in relation to the future consumption of coal, unless the Government underwrite the plan to ensure consumption of 200 million tons, nevertheless, in this important field of consumption, the Board is entitled to have fair play with its chief competitor—oil.

Reports from consumers since the Order was made leave no doubt that the campaign by the Board in drawing attention to the exemption of the mechanical stokers has been effective in dissuading many of those who contemplated converting to oil. To annul the Order would be unreasonable and would force the coal industry into a position of inequality with oil in the smoke controlled areas. It would throw out of balance the National Coal Board's "Revised Plan for Coal" by unnecessarily reducing demand. The future for coal is bad enough without making it worse. The Order is a little help in the difficult future coal faces, and therefore I support it.

It is now being slowly recognised that coal, properly used in efficient appliances, does not produce smoke and that for many purposes it is better value than oil. If the annulment motion is carried, it will inflict disabilities on coal furnaces compared with oil. It will reduce the demand for coal still further, and I emphasise that it will upset the balance of the "Revised Plan for Coal" about which we will say much more at some other time.

The Order is of great value to us and, whatever may be the value of the appliance advocated by my hon. Friends last night and the freedom they want for local authorities, it must not be at the expense of the livelihood of men in the coal industry. The annulment of the Order would do great harm to them.

Nothing which has been said in the debate justifies us in supporting the Prayer. The Order is of some help to us in the industry in sustaining a market for our fuel. There are difficulties ahead, and these will be further aggravated if the annulment is carried.

The National Union of Mineworkers supports the Order. So does the National Coal Board. There have been months of agitation to get the Order and I therefore ask the House to support the Minister.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

My intervention will be brief. Indeed, it would have been nonexistent had it not been for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). I am sure that my hon. Friend and those who feel like him will not accuse me, or those of my hon. Friends who are calling for the annulment of the Order, of wishing in any way to prejudice the already difficult position of the coal industry and the workers in that industry.

The whole of my hon. Friend's speech was devoted to emphasising that an efficient mechanical stoker can eliminate smoke altogether, because he has just said that it has been established that, properly used, the burning of coal in proper conditions need not result in the emission of smoke. My hon. Friend's argument was that mechanical stokers, if introduced, will eliminate smoke.

The terms of the Order seem to deny that assertion, although I am in no position to say which is correct. The Order says that certain fireplaces can be exempted from the ordinary conditions relating to smokeless areas provided that the fireplaces are … so installed, maintained and operated as to minimise the emission of smoke. The Order, therefore, does not call for something that will prevent the emission of smoke.

We could no doubt have an interesting debate on the issues of how far it is necessary to accept smoke conditions or minimised smokeless zones in the interest of maintaining the consumption of coal, or how far it is desirable, in the interest of the elimination of smoke, to restrict the prospects of the coal industry, but, with all due respect to my hon. Friend, neither his speech nor the Order is addressed to those issues.

What my hon. Friend is saying about the support of the Board and of the Union for such measures to be taken in smokeless zones—by the use of mechanical stokers or whatever it may be—as would ensure that coal shall be used to the maximum so long as it does not infringe the essential purpose of the Act, has really nothing much to do with the Order. The Order does not extend that protection to the coal industry. By the Order, the Government give a blanket decision affecting all local authorities and all smokeless zone experiments irrespective of local conditions.

Even without this Order—and this is the main point of my hon. Friends and myself—that protection still exists, because it must be accepted that any reasonable local authority that is sufficiently concerned about smokeless air to set about experimenting with a smokeless zone, will realise that, where the installation of mechanical stokers of any kind—or any other kind of appliance—enables those furnaces to operate to the maximum efficiency, with coal or with other fuel, and, at the same time, prevents or minimises the emission of smoke, it should go ahead.

Local authorities already have the powers, and the Ministry has already circulated those authorities which intend to introduce smokeless zones, advising them of the possibility and the desirability of carrying on their experiments whilst maintaining the minimum emission of smoke by the installation of this kind of appliance.

I would say, therefore, that this is not an attack on either the Coal Board or the coal industry. Withdrawal of the Order would in no way reduce the effect of the Minister's advice to local authorities. We are therefore entitled to assume that local authorities have sufficient sense of responsibility in these matters. We must also accept the fact that what might be applicable to the conditions in one area might not be so suitable to the conditions of another.

Our argument is that the withdrawal of the Order would simply mean that local authorities—advised as they have been by the Minister, and conscious of their responsibilities both to their own citizens in regard to clean air and to the coal industry in the national interest-would still have power and authority to carry out the provisions of the Order, but would, at the same time, be in a position to adapt, modify or extend those provisions within the terms of the Minister's advice and the provisions of the Act without being tied hand and foot, if I may so put it, to the man at Whitehall before starting their experiments.

It is for that reason that, in spite of what my hon. Friend says—though in full sympathy with most of his case—I suggest that the main argument for the withdrawal of the Order is not destroyed, and I support the demand for its withdrawal.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I have a special reason for wanting to say a few words on this Order. I represent the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham which burns more coal than any other Metropolitan borough, and I hope this will recommend Fulham to those of my hon. Friends who are concerned for the coal mining areas. It is also a borough which has been eager to use its powers under the Clean Air Act and it has made use of them, so I hope that will recommend Fulham to the Minister.

The anxieties that a borough in that position feels about this Order are these. First, it appears from the terms of the Order and from what one knows about the matter in general that these fireplaces will emit a certain amount of smoke. As I understand it, the Minister, in order to make the Order, has to be satisfied that they do not emit a substantial quantity of smoke. What we are worried about is this. In an area where a good deal of coal is burned and where there may be a number of undertakings in which fireplaces of this kind are or will be installed, will the total effect of that be that there will be so much smoke about that people in the neighbourhood will wonder whether there has been any point in making a clean air Order at all?

The second anxiety is that this Order must, by its nature, make a distinction between the treatment of industrial undertakings and of the ordinary householder in the matter of clean air. When the borough I represent made its first Order affecting an area in the centre of the borough, there was a certain amount of local anxiety because the clean air Order involves the householders in the neighbourhood taking a certain amount of trouble and puts them to a certain amount of expense, though if the local authority uses its powers fully and wisely that expense can be kept down to a minimum. The question was naturally asked by a number of householders, "Are we going to be put to expense and trouble, while various industrial undertakings in the borough are able to go on doing as they like?" If the impression were created that that is how the Clean Air Act will work, it would make it very difficult indeed for local authorities.

I read in a newspaper recently of a case where a person in a certain locality collected a very considerable following and embarrassed his local council greatly by carrying out an agitation against clean air Orders simply by stirring up feeling among the domestic householders. I hope that boroughs that have had the courage and foresight to make brisk use of their powers under the Clean Air Act will not find that they are put in a difficult position by the public being able to say "You put us householders to this trouble and expense and now it is not really going to clean the air at all."

The third anxiety is that mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd), and that is the apparent invasion of local freedom and judgment which seems to be involved in the Order. If these exemptions are necessary and there are good common-sense grounds for them, could it not be expected that local authorities would have made the exemptions as they are empowered to do?

I am surprised at the Minister introducing an Order of this kind. Some time ago when we were discussing the Local Government Act he was a passionate enthusiast for increasing the number of issues on which local authorities would be able to decide for themselves. Indeed, in some cases we seem to be prepared to entrust to local judgment matters which on grounds of national welfare ought really to have been decided as matters of national policy. Now, apparently, he is making a matter of national policy something on which a local authority could reasonably be expected to make a good judgment for itself.

I do not pretend to the technical knowledge about the use of coal, the nature of furnaces and so forth which is possessed by all my hon. Friends who have spoken. I have tried to put the point of view of a borough in which a great deal of coal is burned, a borough which is trying to keep its air as clean as it can. We have not yet heard the Minister. It may be that he can say something which will genuinely remove these anxieties. I urge upon him that it is very necessary to remove them, if the facts make it possible for him to do so, so that he may have the hearty cooperation of local authorities in carrying out the provisions of the Clean Air Act.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

The Minister will no doubt know that when the Clean Air Act went through the House of Commons it seemed to many local authorities, particularly those in mining districts, that it went through with a great deal of haste, especially since very few smokeless fuels would, apparently, be available when smokeless zones were created. We remember, also, that, within a few months after the introduction of the Act, the Minister was forced to bring in an Order allowing mechanical stokers to be used in smokeless zones, because it appeared that coal was to be a fuel not to be used any longer and, therefore, even the many large establishments which could use mechanical stokers were not to be allowed to use that type of fuel because they had not even a mechanical stoker. However, the Minister relented on that.

There is now this further Order, dealing with the type of fireplace to be used and how it shall be maintained, and requiring that it shall not emit more than a certain amount of smoke. From my point of view, there are certain objections, though I would not take my objections to the extent of wishing to prevent the Order going through.

First, I wish the Minister seriously to consider sending out a directive to all local authorities, if he intends to press forward quickly with the establishment of smokeless zones, asking them to give sufficient notice to the Coal Board marketing departments so that they can have the necessary quantity of smokeless fuels available, particularly in mining areas. As hon. Members will know, although the mining areas provide the coal, they do not often prepare the right type of smokeless fuel. These processes, or the pilot plants for them, are usually in operation many miles from the Midland coalfields. It is, therefore, necessary for the appropriate type of smokeless fuel to be readily available if a smokeless zone is to be created.

Coal ought to be given its chance, even in the smokeless fuel form, to compete fairly with oil, gas and electricity. Every time a smokeless zone is declared, with all the requirements about what type of fireplace or stove shall be used, what type of fuel should be burnt, and so forth, every consumer of fuel in the area immediately thinks that coal is a banned fuel. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the Minister to make sure that local authorities give sufficient notice to the Coal Board's marketing departments so that they may make sure that the right fuels are readily available.

I come now to a more serious problem, particularly from the point of view of mining constituencies such as mine. In all mining areas, miners have a free, or virtually free, allocation of coal for use in their homes. I shall not labour the point, but it is absolutely necessary for the Minister to recognise it. I ask him to imagine the difficulties facing local authorities in mining areas when preparing notices dealing with the type of fireplace which must be installed where coal is the main fuel in thousands of households. The local authorities will have a tremendous task before them if the change is to take place. The Minister must do something about that. Miners receive coal as part of their wages. This is a practice which has been recognised for many years and it cannot be discontinued. The Minister should ask local authorities urgently to try to come to an agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers so that miners who receive concessionary coal can be allowed a smokeless fuel instead to the saving of the districts concerned.

My constituency is as urgently in need of clean air as any other area. Areas like mine are blackened by the chimneys of different industries and the mining industries. I ask the Minister to consult with local authorities to see whether they can urge the National Union of Mineworkers to come to an agreement whereby the miners will receive smokeless fuels so that it will not be necessary for them to make this terrific transformation in the type of fireplaces in their homes for which he is asking in this Order.

10.16 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I am always glad when the House wishes to debate the crucially important subject of clean air, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) for having raised it and given me the opportunity of explaining to the House the reasonable grounds on which the Government felt it right to make the Order.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who joined with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in supporting the Government. My hon. Friend made an apology to me last night, because, having reserved the lime from 10 o'clock to 11.30 to be present and to take part in the debate, the debate came on late, as hon. Members know, and it was not possible for him to clear himself from other engagements in order to continue his speech, which, as the House knows, he would certainly have wished to do had he been able.

The Government are determined to see that the Clean Air Act is a success. I can hardly agree with the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) that the Bill went through with inadequate discussion. However, that was before my time. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Brightside described me or the Act as insipid.

Mr. Winterbottom

I was talking about escape clauses in the Act and about the exemptions which the right hon. Gentleman now proposes, thus making the whole of the policy on clean air insipid.

Mr. Brooke

With respect, I do not agree with the hon. Member, but we both have our points of view.

As I have said, I and the Government are determined to make the Act a success. We intend that rapid progress should be made in establishing smoke control areas in cities and towns in those parts of the country which are most badly affected by air pollution.

If I may digress to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley about miners' coal, that is a matter which hardly falls within the scope of the Order, but I can assure him that it is a subject in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power has been interesting himself. There are very difficult problems to be solved, as I am sure the hon. Member will be the first to realise, but I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend. We have discussed the matter at meetings of the Clean Air Council and I hope that a satisfactory solution may in due course be found.

In that context, I should like to pay tribute in the House to the work of the Clean Air Council, a statutory body which was set up by the Act and which meets regularly under my chairmanship. It is widely representative of all those concerned from one angle or another with the task of removing pollution from the air, and I, for my part, gain great benefit from being able to discuss these matters with the Council.

As I say, we intend rapid progress to be made in establishing smoke control areas. That was why I sent out a circular to local authorities ten months ago asking for faster progress and requesting them to prepare and submit five-year programmes to me. But if smoke control areas are to be set up quickly and successfully, there must be smokless fuels for the small domestic fireplaces and stoves. There is no other way at present of reducing smoke from the ordinary domestic fireplace and the like, except by burning a solid smokeless fuel, unless the householder goes over to gas or electricity.

The supply of solid smokeless fuels is limited, although it is a great deal larger than many people allege. It is, however, limited when compared with our total use of fuel. For that reason, it would be generally impracticable to require smokeless fuels that are badly needed for the small domestic fireplaces to be used in industrial boilers and furnaces. There would not be enough solid smokeless fuel. Indeed, the progress of smoke-controlled areas would be held up. Therefore, the industrial boilers and furnaces must continue to use either coal or oil, but whichever they do, they must use it with as little smoke as possible.

I think that it is generally accepted that furnaces which are properly designed for burning oil and are properly installed and maintained can be used with very little smoke, not wholly without any haze of smoke at all, but emitting very little smoke. That was why it was thought right to exempt these oilfired furnaces on suitable conditions in the previous Order of 1957.

Now, however, we come to the point that, not all, but many of the mechanically-fired coal furnaces can also be used with very little smoke. It was suggested by some hon. Members that the Government were introducing this Order so that the coal industry might be given some artificial help. I say here and now that this is not a case of bending backwards to try to help the coal industry out of its difficulties. It is rather a case of the Government seeking to be absolutely fair to the coal industry. It would be clearly inequitable to treat mechanically-fired coal-burning furnaces which could burn virtually smokelessly in a different manner from the way in which the Government had already said, and Parliament had approved, that oil-burning furnaces should be treated.

The question which exercised us in the Government was how to be sure that exemption by a general order was given only to those mechanically-fired coal furnaces which were virtually smokeless. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), in his brief speech last night, had time to refer to the chain grate stoker. I think that it is generally accepted that, when correctly operated, a chain grate stoker can be used almost without smoke. It can also use a wide range of fuels and it responds well to changes in operating conditions. But the advice that I received from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power was that in addition to the chain grate stoker, other types of mechanical stoker could also be used and operated virtually without smoke, provided that they used the right fuel and were correctly operated.

There would be considerable disadvantage in discriminating between different types of stoker in the matter of exemptions, for it might have meant that a stoker could not be used in those circumstances where it was the right stoker to use and, perhaps, where no other type would suffice. Therefore, it did not seem right to discriminate between one modern type of stoker and another. All the same, the feeling must prevail that general exemption for all classes of mechanical stoker, regardless of age or obsolescence, would be going too far. It is common knowledge that many of the older types create an amount of smoke which clearly would not be tolerable in a smoke-controlled area. That is known to local authorities. It is certainly known to the Government. The solution we adopted, therefore, was to limit the general exemption in this Order which is being prayed against tonight to mechanically fired furnaces which were installed on or after 31st December, 1956. That was the first appointed day under the Clean Air Act.

As the House knows, the Act requires that new furnaces should so far as practicable be capable of smokeless operation, and also that these new furnaces must, when installed, be notified to the local authorities; but the older furnaces, those which were installed before 1957, are not exempt by the Order, and in their case full control remains with the local authorities, subject to the advice which I ventured to give local authorities in that Circular 44 of 1959 to which reference was made a minute or two ago.

The advice I gave was that if these installations are capable of being used virtually without smoke then the local authorities ought to exempt them in their smoke control orders. If they are not capable of being used smokelessly or virtually smokelessly then the local authority ought to discuss with the owner the possibility of improvements to bring them up to a standard which might be exempted.

In all cases, the House will see, exemption granted under this Order or under smoke control orders will be conditional. It will not be absolute. It will be necessary still to instal and maintain and operate a furnace so as to minimise the emission of smoke. It will also be a condition of exemption that the right type of fuel in the case of a mechanical stoker should be used.

In reply to the hon. Member for Barnsley I should like to say that the National Coal Board has agreed to take steps to see that the right fuel is available for mechanically fired furnaces in smoke control areas. I keep in very close touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power on these matters, and I know that he is in equally close touch with the Coal Board.

The hon. Member for Fulham repeated—

Mr. Mason

Why make the Coal Board responsible? As the local authorities are themselves responsible for declaring smokeless zones, would it not be better for them to give information on what areas are to be made smokeless and also which smokeless fuel is required? To give the Coal Board the chance to compete with these other fuels the responsibility should be put on the local authorities themselves, who are declaring their control zones, to send notice to the Board. I ask the Minister to consider sending a directive on these lines.

Mr. Brooke

I must confess I had not heard of any difficulty about this. From the hon. Member's speech it rather sounds as though local authorities declare a smoke control area on a day and that the next Monday it becomes operative. That is not, of course, the case. What the local authority has to do is submit proposals to me, and then it has to make an order, and then that order has to be confirmed by me, after it has been advertised, and after, if necessary, a public inquiry has been held to hear any objections.

It certainly has not come to my notice that the Coal Board's marketing people were kept in doubt up to the last moment whether there was a likelihood of a smoke control area being formed. I will certainly look into it, and if the hon. Member has any specific information to give me about difficulties arising here I will certainly do my best to clear them up.

Mr. Winterbottom

If we are to make the local authorities sorts of merchants to direct that a particular type of fuel is to be used according to the type of mechanical stoker, ought we not to realise that, having taken by exemption order certain boilers or furnaces or fireplaces, call them what we will, outside the scope of the local authorities, we shall encourage very little interest from the local authorities in trying to merchant the type of fuel which is necessary?

Mr. Brooke

I may have misunderstood the hon. Member, but I do not think that it is exactly a matter of the local authority trying to merchant the necessary type of fuel. The hon. Member for Barnsley was concerned that the National Coal Board should have ample notice of where a smoke control order was likely to come into force so that the coal industry should have as good an opportunity as any other industry to sell its wares in that area.

Mr. Winterbottom

If a given industrial concern has installed, under the Order, one of the exempted types of furnaces, it is the business of that firm to see to the type of fuel which it will have to burn in that furnace. It is the business of the firm, as it is that of the householder, under the Act to see to the type of fuel required in the smoke control area.

Mr. Brooke

I entirely agree. It will be up to the firm to get the fuel required I thought that the hon. Member for Barnsley was raising a wider question, going beyond the needs of one firm.

The hon. Member for Fulham indicated three possible criticisms. He is very anxious, as the Government are, that we should carry public opinion with us, as well as expert opinion. One or two of his criticisms have already been mentioned by hon. Members who spoke last night. If I may take them as he raised them, one was that the Order would give too wide a cover to all types of mechanical stoker. There might not be much smoke from any one of them but collectively there would be too much and the local authority might not be able to control it. But, as I pointed out earlier, the local authority can act if any of these exempted premises are being operated in such a way that they produce more than a minimum amount of smoke.

All these are designed to be virtually smokeless. Nobody is producing or trying to install a coal-burning furnace that is of a smoky character now. Indeed, that is one of the things which the Act effectually prevents. Therefore, if any furnace is markedly producing smoke that might build up with smoke from others into a smoky atmosphere, the local authority can take action against that one.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Fulham raised the objection that householders and industry were to be treated differently. The point here is that if one is to try to have both those classes of consumer on absolute parity, one may again bring the clean air movement to an end, because there is not sufficient solid smokeless fuel for all the domestic consumers who will want it and also for all the industrialists who may need to use it. Therefore, one has to strike the right balance and try to achieve a result which will be fair to everybody and at the same time enable the clean air movement to go forward.

Modern industrial furnaces can be used to burn coal or oil with very little smoke. As I have explained, it would be impracticable to require them to burn wholly smokeless fuels. It does not seem possible to avoid that kind of distinction or discrimination between the industrial and the domestic consumer. We must also, of course, bear in mind that the domestic consumer is free to burn oil in a domestic heating boiler that he may have and that oil cannot be burnt wholly without smoke, and, certainly, it is possible to operate modern mechanically-fired coal appliances with as little smoke as with an efficient oil-burner.

Mr. Winterbottom

The right hon. Gentleman will agree that oil for domestic purposes falls into the category of one of the authorised fuels, and that if smoke is emitted as a result of the use of an authorised fuel there can be no prosecution. Surely it is fair to say to the right hon. Gentleman that we must compare like with like, bituminous coal with bituminous coal, and the use of bituminous coal by a domestic user in a smoke control area can result in a prosecution. When there is exemption in respect of fuels which are best fitted for the boilers in question and discrimination in that the industrialist is allowed to use bituminous coal in an exempted furnace, there can be no prosecution. So, to determine the difference between the domestic consumer and the industrialist, we must compare like with like.

Mr. Brooke

I think that the hon. Gentleman is straining at a gnat, even if he is not swallowing bituminous coal. The truth is that oil-burning furnaces are exempt. But oil cannot be burnt without creating any haze at all, and there are modern mechanically-fired coal-burning installations which, if properly operated, will create as little smoke as oil does. There the two are in equality. I quite agree that one may take small points and say that the industrial user is not being treated in exactly the same way as the domestic consumer, but if one presses that to the end of the argument, then the point at which we shall arrive is that we have to slow down the making of smoke control orders and the extending of smoke control areas because the solid smokeless fuel will have to be burnt in industrial furnaces and will not, therefore, be available for the extra domestic fireplaces where we so badly need it.

The third point of the hon. Member—he thought he could have a crack at me about it—was that this was taking away from the local authorities' exercise of discretion. I am always sorry to do that—nobody more so than myself. The difficulty about the exercise of local discretion in a matter of this character is that it creates uncertainty. Some industrial undertakings have up to now not always been sure that if they put in a mechanical stoker their local authority might not refuse exemption when it established a smoke control area in the neighbourhood, and what would then happen. Were they to chance their arm and hope that they would not be prosecuted for occasional unavoidable smoke, or should they take the stoker out again and use some other fuel?

One could foresee considerable practical difficulties arising in that way, and the Order which I am asking the House to agree to creates certainty for the future in the case of the modern properly operated mechanical stoker while it still—I put this to the hon. Member for Fulham—leaves local authorities with a substantial measure of discretion about older installations.

The hon. Member for Brightside, if I may come back to his speech of last night, referred to the Swedish Escomb apparatus, and he questioned whether the Government were doing sufficient by way of studying the principles on which that apparatus was based or carrying out sufficient research to see whether the ideas embodied therein could be applied more widely in this country.

I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman that officials of my Department and of cither Government Departments have inspected the experimental stove, which, I think he knows, is a Swedish stove. It appears to us that it has possibilities. It also appears that to realise those possibilities a good deal of development work may be required to be done. This is a stove which works on the downdraught principle. I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware that there are systems in this country—one of them, indeed, is incomporated in the Ductair Unit mentioned in this Order—which work on just the same principle.

When the hon. Gentleman questions whether the Government have shown enough initiative in these matters, I would like him to note that the British Standards Institution, at the request of the Government, set up a committee to prepare standards; for small domestic appliances that would be capable of burning coal with substantial smoke reduction. I greatly hope that that committee will successfully complete its work, and then we may be able to give guidance on its findings.

Mr. Winterbottom

I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. As soon as the findings of the committee are available, will they be available to Members of the House who are interested in this problem? It is imperative that we should know just exactly what the Government are doing in this respect so far as domestic appliances are concerned.

Mr. Brooke

I will certainly do my best to keep hon. Members who are interested in touch, and if there is any news which I think would be of interest to them I will make sure that the hon. Member for Brightside and other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken an active interest in this question are informed. Of course, as regards development work on larger industrial type installations, the manufacturers of the equipment are constantly and continuously engaged in trying to improve the efficiency and smoklessness of their equipment. The British Coal Utilisation Research Association is also engaged in seeking to develop a new type of miniature chain grate mechanical stoker of high efficiency for use in small furnaces.

There are just one or two other questions. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) asked why the two small appliances had been exempted in this Order and whether there was to be a long list in future Orders. In both cases the manufacturers applied for exemption on the ground that these appliances were nearly smokeless. We examined them, the claim seemed to be well established and that was why they were exempted. It is possible that other applications for the exemption of various types of appliances will come along, and if they do will examine them and judge them by their design and by their performance.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

The point I was really making was that it was most unusual in an Order of this sort to describe an appliance simply by mentioning a particular stove manufactured by a particular manufacturer. I wondered whether there were reasons why particular specifications were not put down, because one can imagine a manufacturer changing the design of a stove, and, from that point of view, the public would not know whether it was a stove embodied in the Order.

Mr. Brooke

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and he will appreciate that we are feeling our way in this matter. These are two appliances for which the manufacturers claimed that they were entitled to exemption, and, having examined them, we came to the conclusion that their claims were justified. It may be that we can deal with this matter in a more generalised way in future, but it did not seem to us to be right, when there were these two appliances on the market and clearly distinctive, that they should have exemption withheld from them just because they were the only two.

I am sorry that my speech has been so long, but I have tried to deal with the points as they have been raised, both last night and tonight. There seems to the Government to be a strong case that exemption should be given for many mechanically fired furnaces from a complete ban on smoke in smoke-controlled areas. The question is which mechanical stokers should be exempt and whether they should be exempted by the Government or by the local authorities.

On the second question, it seemed to the Government that a greater degree of certainty was required. It is for that reason that we have, perhaps, slightly impaired the discretion of the local authorities. Of course, we discussed the matter with the local authority associations beforehand. On the other question, it appeared to us that a distinction should be drawn between the modern mechanically fired furnace which was installed nowadays and the many older furnaces which exist and which certainly do not have the same claim to general exemption.

As I said, we are feeling our way in these matters. With the help of Parliament, the Government are engaged in a great campaign to remove the pollution which has been the curse of the air of this country for one hundred years or more. As the Minister responsible, I do not claim for one moment that we shall never make a mistake or that we shall always get it right first time. This is pioneering work, but in the circumstances and because of the need for certainty in this matter and because it seemed to the Government that we should make every effort to seek to treat coal and oil on an equal basis here, we have come forward with this Order and I trust that in the circumstances the House will feel that I have justified it.

Question put and negatived.