HC Deb 06 December 1961 vol 650 cc1396-9

4.4. p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable new measures to be taken to abate the emission of diesel fumes from vehicles. The Ten Minutes Rule procedure got off to a remarkable start this Session with a rip-roaring performance yesterday by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). I cannot hope to emulate the hon. Member for Oldham, West, or to entertain the House as he did, and I have no wish to detain the House unduly. The Bill which the hon. Member attempted to introduce yesterday was, in any event, a case of "Hale" and farewell.

I would not suggest that the hon. Member's Bill was altogether "sunk without trace", because I am sure that Parliamentary historians, and, indeed, many others, for years to come will look back on the hon. Member's performance yesterday with considerable interest and also with considerable amusement. The fact is, however, that neither the hon. Member's Bill, nor, as he was frank enough to tell the House yesterday, the hon. Member himself, has been saved. I very much hope that I will be somewhat luckier in my attempt to introduce my Bill today.

I must tell the House that this is the third Private Member's Bill which I have sought to introduce. I fear that some hon. Members may well consider me to be an intolerable fusspot and busybody. I confess that I feel a bit of a humbug, because I have often said that this country has had too much legislation in recent years and that what we require is a holiday from further legislation, yet here I am attempting to introduce my third Bill. All I can say in my defence is that all my Bills, like the housemaid's baby, have been small ones. Furthermore, the Bill which I now seek to introduce—a Bill to reduce the danger, damage and nuisance caused by diesel fumes—has the same objective as had my previous Bills, which are now the Litter Act and the Noise Abatement Act. The aim is to try to keep Britain, in this crowded and industrial age, as a pleasant, clean and peaceful country in which to live.

I would add that all three of my Bills have been suggested and asked for by my constituents. It is particularly those of my constituents who live alongside main roads, especially in the hilly districts of Northumberland, of whom I am thinking today, because sometimes their lives are made almost intolerable by the belching of diesel fumes. Indeed, it is not only they who are sufferers from diesel fumes. My fellow motorists also suffer, both from the skidding caused by diesel fumes depositing oily soot on the highways and from the bad visibility caused by dark or black diesel smoke.

It is interesting to note that, in the first instance, both the Litter Act and the Noise Abatement Act were opposed by the Government of the day. I cannot say that I have had much encouragement so far from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport for introducing today's Bill. However, although my right hon. Friend may be somewhat lukewarm about the Bill, it has, nevertheless, found considerable favour in other quarters. The public regard diesel fumes as being not only annoying and sometimes almost asphyxiating, but also as being entirely unnecessary.

There is no doubt that the call made by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at the last annual meeting of the Automobile Association, when he asked for action to be taken to curb the menace to health and safety of excessive diesel fumes has given this campaign, if I may say so with respect, a great fillip. A little later, His Royal Highness, in another context, tendered some advice about "gentlemen pulling their fingers out". In this case, I rather think that he would like the reverse to happen. At any rate, in view of His Royal Highness's interest in this problem, I believe that it will be comparatively easy for it to obtain the Royal Assent. It is the early stages of the Bill which cause me some concern, and, in particular, the attitude of the Minister.

The Bill would seek to abolish, or, at any rate, to abate, the nuisance and danger caused by vehicles emitting dark diesel fumes. It would seek to do so by empowering the Minister to make regulations under the Road Traffic Acts to enforce the use of all or any of a number of different devices, be they additives to put in the fuel, or filters or scrubbers or for the use of vertical exhausts.

I do not say that all these methods are yet practicable. It is probable that some are still premature, but in this field, as in so many others, the wind of change is blowing and almost daily new proposals and new devices are coming forward for the elimination of diesel fumes. One difficulty one comes across in dealing with a complex matter of this kind is the contradictory advice one gets from experts. They do not by any means always agree on this subject, but as someone has said, what is an expert but the common man away from home?

Anyway, all the experts agree that proper maintenance of the engines is the best answer to this problem, for if the diesel engine is properly maintained and driven, there is no need at all for objectionable black smoke to be discharged. The prime aim of the Bill would, therefore, be prevention rather than cure. The aim is to encourage proper maintenance. Today, with a whole scale of new devices and new meters coming on the market it is comparatively easy to achieve the objective of correct maintenance.

Once again, other countries are, unfortunately, ahead of us in our attack on this problem. America, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany already have their legislation. Lebanon, I believe, has even gone so far as to solve this problem by banning the use of diesels altogether.

Here, the very reverse is happening. The number of diesel vehicles on the roads of Britain has quadrupled in the last ten years. Their number has increased, in fact, from 88,000 in 1950 to 374,000 in 1960. I suggest to the House that this steady growth in the use of diesel vehicles is all the more reason for Parliament reviewing the problem and taking reasonable steps to prevent these diesels from becoming too much of a menace. I very much hope, therefore, that a Bill on the lines I have indicated will he acceptable to this House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Speir, Dr. Broughton, Wing Commander Bullus, Sir M. Stoddart-Scott, Mr. Thorpe, Mrs. White, Mr. Ellis Smith, Dame Irene Ward, Mr. Francis Noel-Baker, Mr. Parker, Mr. Ronald Bell, and Mr. Russell.

  1. DIESEL FUMES 40 words
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