HC Deb 11 July 1972 vol 840 cc1407-10

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the powers of the Alkali Inspectorate in cities in order to reduce or eliminate the emission of all waste or toxic gases which pollute the atmosphere; and for connected purposes. The great expansion of the chemical and other industries has seen the people of Britain becoming aware of the possibility of environmental damage, harmful to the ordinary citizen, by the seemingly uncontrolled pollution of the atmosphere. [Interruption.] The emission of waste and toxic gases and other noxious matters is now the subject of intense public discussion. [Interruption.] The rôle, numbers and location of the members of the Alkali Inspectorate are matters of public debate in many areas of the country including my constituency. [Interruption.] With——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I point out to hon. Gentlemen leaving the Chamber that the hon. Member is entitled to be listened to in silence.

Mr. McBride

Only 24 members of the inspectorate are listed in a Parliamentary Answer given on 26th May. That figure in operation in Britain seems to be an inordinately small premium to pay for such a country. The emission of sulphur dioxide, sulphur trioxide, fluorine and other odoriferous, health-damaging gases occasioned by technological advances in industry, particularly in chemical manufacturing processes, the incineration of toxic wastes and industrial materials, creates in modern conditions the necessity for a reappraisal of the rôle of the Alkali Inspectorate, which is now different from its rôle when it was set up under the 1863 Act. It is very different, too, from the days of 1906 when the Alkali and Chemical Works Regulation Act was passed.

The Act, in dealing with the appointment of inspectors, has no definition of any qualifications. Modern industrial conditions make this a necessary prerequisite of appointment which should be incorporated in law. The number of inspectors must be increased to permit the inspectorate to be located in the principal cities of England and Wales. In Wales there are only three such inspectors. There is no inspector stationed in the second city of the Principality, part of which I have the honour to represent.

The law must ensure that the inspectors, in dealing with emissions to the atmosphere, work on levels determined by Government scientists to ensure that the levels of emissions do not constitute a hazard to health. The standards of emission should be published, as should all agreements entered into between industry and the inspectorate. In discussing and formulating such agreements the inspectorate should be empowered to act in conjunction with the local authorities. This is a three-way process.

There should be incorporated in the Bill the power to set up permanent testing teams within the inspectorate for special duties within the conurbations. The inspectorate should be empowered by law to publish the location of the head office of the inspectorate and the identity, address and telephone number of the inspectors. This is a matter of public interest, and such information should be carried in all publications listing personnel of Government Departments.

It should be written into Statute that all monitoring instruments should be erected under the supervision of members of the inspectorate, and all arrangements for the location of these instruments, the collection and the assessment of instrument-recorded readings should be the sole responsibility of the inspectorate. The inspectorate should be invested with powers making it the watchdog over the health and legal rights of the community at large in all matters affecting the purity of the atmosphere, and it should submit for debate to this House an annual report. The inspectorate should be empowered to compel all plant in its area of operation to reach new standards of safety in the elimination of emissions causing air pollution, such standards to be laid down by Government scientists. The inspectorate should also be empowered to control any industry which does or might emit air-polluting gases. That control should be absolute and comprehensive.

In 1970 1,621 companies were required to register under the appropriate Act and to be subject to the supervision of the inspectorate. When we look at the numbers of the inspectorate the need for more inspectors becomes apparent. It should be invested with legal powers to make public all the facts relating to emission data. In the United States there is a tough and brutally uncompromising attitude towards air pollution. In one State emissions are prohibited by law and companies have to post performance bonds from which are deducted the penalties imposed by the court. We should follow that example, which also applies in the case of breakdowns.

Where factories fail to reach the required standard after going into production, there should be a legal requirement upon them to do so. At the recent Stockholm conference a report prepared by the U.S. State Department mentioned the problem posed by the emission from the motor car. The report said: Motor vehicle hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions from 1975 models be governed by standards which require a reduction of 90 per cent. from emissions allowable under 1970-model-year standards. The 1976 models shall conform with standards requiring a 90 per cent. reduction of oxides of nitrogen. In the First Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution at paragraph 75 it was stated: There is uncertainty about the long-term effects of exposure to low concentrations of the gases emitted by motor vehicles. The Air Pollution Unit of the Medical Research Council is working on this problem. The American proposals might well be incorporated into our legislation with advantage. The present legal description of using "best practical means" to combat air pollution was all right 66 years ago but industry has progressed since then and conditions obtain now which were unknown at the time of the framing of the original Act. This indicates the need for legislation to supersede the obsolescence of the present Statute. The Bill would stimulate the interest of the public and industry and induce the co-operation of all concerned to ensure the control of air pollution.

The easy anonymity and standards of Victorian times must be replaced by emission laws of the 20th century. The time has come for the inspectorate to "go public" and take the public into its confidence. Laws should be made with public knowledge so that the standards of the Government scientists are fairly and publicly applied in the interests of the whole British public. As the Alkali Inspectorate is officially described as Her Majesty's Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate, it must be invested with powers clearly defined by and enforceable at law for the maintenance of the purity of the atmosphere. The air we breathe should be clean and fresh; there should be no contamination. In my view it would be the wish of the British people that legislation should be enacted to achieve this.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. McBride, Mr. Alan Williams, Mr. George Thomas, Dr. John Cunningham, Mr. Crosland, Mr. Roy Hughes, Mr. John Morris, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Orme, Mr. Heffer and Mr. Brian Walden.

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