HC Deb 04 March 1976 vol 906 cc1671-702

10.11 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the proposals for EEC Directives for limiting the lead content of petrol and for biological and air quality standards for lead as contained in documents R/3113/73 and R/1150/75, and the outcome of the Government review of lead in petrol.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment, in line 4, at end add accepts the principle of reducing the maximum lead content of petrol to 0.40 grams per litre as proposed by the EEC; and, whilst recognising that this will have an adverse effect on the United Kingdom balance of payments, nevertheless calls on Her Majesty's Government to take appropriate steps to achieve this aim by staged reductions".

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention and that of the House to the last phrase of the motion in the name of the Prime Minister and his hon. Friend's which says: the outcome of the Government review of lead in petrol". I understand from a Written Answer given by the Minister of State last Friday that the he intends to tell us during his remarks what the outcome of the Government review of lead in petrol will be. However, I understood that it was the custom of this House that any motion moved contains an expression of opinion or fact in its wording, refers to a matter on the record, a matters of common knowledge or to a document, paper or instrument which is before the House and which may have been obtained two or three days previously. However, in this case it is true to say that no such piece of paper and no such document exists. Therefore, the House is being asked to reach a decision on a matter which the Minister will put before it only verbally. I am not suggesting that it is thereby out of order. Quite clearly it is on the Order Paper and therefore in order.

If my understanding of the matter is correct I hope that, perhaps, the Select Committee on Procedure will look at it because it puts hon. Members at a dis- advantage in scrutinising the proposals, particularly as the motion appeared on the Order Paper only yesterday.

Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The object of these debates is to put to the Government the views of the House on important matters that arise in the Community. It is exceedingly difficult to put any valid opinion this evening if the Government have achieved a degree of knowledge and understanding of this problem which is not shared with the House. I in no way wish to suggest that the debate should be ruled ineffective, but I believe that by their actions the Government have made it exceedingly difficult for the House to carry out their wishes in this matter.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), and to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who gave me ample notice that he would raise this matter tonight. The hon. Member has probably done the House a service because his remarks will undoubtedly be noted by those who can attend to such matters in the future. However, that is not me.

Mr. Howell

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker, for your ruling. Perhaps I may say to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) that nothing is further from our minds than attempting to be in any way discourteous to the House. It is true that in debating the motion we are seeking to debate the effects of the EEC Directives. I hope that we have not got the matter wrong, but I certainly undertake to consider the points that have been raised. The Government thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if during my contribution I gave an indication of the Government's thinking upon the Directives before the House. I have no doubt that if the House wishes to return to the subject at other times, it will be able to do so. If it is thought in any part of the House that any discourtesy has occurred, I apologise. That was the last thing that we intended to bring about.

I start by dealing with the history of these matters. There are two separate Directives, one for limiting the lead content of petrol and one for biological and air quality standards for lead. In 1972 the then Government announced a three-stage reduction in the amount of lead in petrol, to take effect as follows: the first stage, in January 1973, was to reduce the maximum level of 0.84 grammes per litre to 0.64. Stage two as proposed for 1st January 1974, but that was postponed until 1st November 1974 because of the oil crisis. Under the stage two programme the level was brought down from 0.64 grammes per litre to 0.55. It was further proposed that there should be a stage three to come into effect from 1st January 1976, when the level was to have been reduced to 0.45 grammes per litre. This was deferred, as I think the House will recall, in view of the full review which we were considering of the economic and medical implications.

That is what has got us into the little difficulty that we have been discussing. It was because the Government announced at that time that there would be a full review before the announcement of any further reductions, and because we have now conducted that review, that we thought that this debate was the right time to acquaint the House with the results of our review, which was well known to the House.

A further part of the history of the matter is that on 9th December 1974 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy announced that no further reductions would be made pending the review to which I have just referred.

This matter has been considered by the Scrutiny Committee, and it is as a result of the Scrutiny Committee's recommendation that we are having this debate.

I now turn to the two Directives. I deal first with the Directive which sets biological and air quality standards to protect the health of the population outside the place of work. I will give the proposed standards in that Directive. I deal first with the biological standards. Those are that 100 per cent. of the population should not exceed 35 micro-grammes of lead per 100 millilitres of blood, that 90 per cent. should not exceed 30 microgrammes of lead per 100 millilitres of blood, and that 50 per cent. should not exceed 20 microgrammes of lead per 100 millilitres of blood. On the second part of this Directive, dealing with lead in air, the proposal is for an annual mean level of 2 microgrammes of lead per cubic metre and that a monthly median level of 8 microgrammes should be attained.

Compliance with these standards would be monitored by taking blood samples on a uniform basis and measuring the level of atmospheric lead in large urban residential areas. The various States would be required to take the necessary action where the levels I have quoted are found to be exceeded.

Perhaps the House will allow me to make a progress report. The United Kingdom has taken a wide range of action to prevent possible risks to public health from lead sources. In respect of both Directives it is the totality of lead in the atmosphere and in petrol to which we have to have regard. Lead can be consumed in a variety of ways. It can be consumed not only from breathing but from eating and drinking. Food and drink possibly play, in some parts of the country, a greater part in this consumption than the air that is breathed. We have taken a wide range of action, and especially monitoring action. Large- and small-scale monitoring exercises are being held to assess the problem of lead water pipes in soft-water areas, a situation to which we shall no doubt increasingly turn our attention as more factual and scientific evidence becomes available.

There has been a limitation of the lead content in paints for indoor use. It has been limited by voluntary agreement to 1 per cent. There has been a limitation by regulation to 0.5 per cent. for toys. Pencils and coatings are limited by regulation to a lead content of 0.025 per cent. The EEC proposal for paints is nearly ready to go to the Council. I understand that there is a further proposal for toys which is now at an early stage of drafting.

Foodstuffs is another area in which there has been a great deal of activity. The lead content is limited by Lead in Food Regulation 061 to a maximum of two parts per million for most food items.

There has been much activity as regards cooking utensils. Concern has been expressed in some quarters. The regulations are based on BSI standards for ceramic tableware, cooking ware and storage vessels. There are limits for lead and cadmium in solution. The EEC proposal for ceramics is nearly ready for the Council. Another proposal for enamel ware is at an earlier stage of development, but no doubt it will come forward in due course.

Having outlined the area of our concern and activity, I hope that I shall be able to offer a measure of reassurance. Practical measures of tackling potential risks at source are the best way of preventing individuals absorbing too much lead. The present Government and the Conservative Government have always supported such measures. We now have a wide-ranging monitoring and survey system available in potential risk areas which ensures that we are alerted to any possible dangers to health. By monitoring the physical environment, such as air and dust, the people by means of blood sampling and analyses, we believe that we are succeeding in our objectives. These surveys on the whole, have been reassuring for the general population—people not especially exposed to lead effects, and they provide a basis for remedial action where an undue exposure to lead has been discovered.

I turn to some of the criticisms of the Commission's proposals. We believe that the proposal in the Directive goes a little too far, because the scientific evidence, despite several years' work, is not clear enough, in our judgment, to justify precise standards. Precise standards imply that anybody with blood lead levels over the limits, or exposed to air lead levels over the limits, would be in danger. My professional advisers do not believe that to be the case. In this country we believe that, until further scientific evidence becomes available, we should follow the sage advice given to us by the Royal Commission.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Does the Minister accept that there are areas in Glasgow and Manchester where there is a higher lead content in water, due to the use of lead pipes for conveying that water? As a result of the combination of an increase of lead in the blood stream through drinking water, which might not necessarily be harmful, with an increase of lead in the blood stream by inhaling an amount of lead, which again might not be harmful in itself, dangerous situations might develop. Will the Minister take that factor into account?

Mr. Howell

Yes. I shall deal with that matter if I have the opportunity to reply to the debate later. The position as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) is an area of concern, and we are taking action to undertake a much more detailed analysis and survey of people at risk, particularly because of the lead content in old water pipes and in water generally.

The Government believe that we should rely in this respect on the Fifth Report of the Royal Commission. Let me state briefly what that would achieve. First, we should set targets to be achieved—targets that can be amended or changed according to standards adopted in the light of further evidence. Secondly, by this means we would ensure that action is taken as necessary to deal with particular sources of lead pollution. This requires the identification of potential areas of risk. We are already taking this course through extensive monitoring programmes. The proposals are inadequate in that respect, but they can be suitably amended.

We should like to see the Directive amended. The Government will seek to do this in Brussels. We seek to amend the Directive so that air-lead monitoring is used to identify areas where exposure is higher than as defined in the target level. Secondly, blood-lead monitoring is to be used where such areas have been identified, to assess the effect on public health. We believe that that kind of approach would indicate more clearly whether detrimental effects have arisen and, if so, where and what action might be needed.

I turn to the second Directive, on lead in petrol, in relation to which there is a more immediate demand for action. Let me deal first with medical advice in regard to those who may be at risk. The original programme was based on the advice of a former Chief Medical Officer. The advice on which the Government are now acting is based not only on the advice of that chief medical officer but on the fact that he agreed with his predecessor.

The advice is that the total quantity of lead emitted from vehicles should not be allowed to exceed the 1971 levels and, if possible, should be reduced below those levels. This is supported by the Physical Environmental Sub-Committee which is a Department of Health and Social Security advisory body, bringing together leading professional and academic opinion on the medical effects of air pollution. It advised that although the proof of risk is not categorical, at present levels it would be prudent to reduce exposure where possible. Of course, particular concern should be shown for those people especially at risk, notably the very young.

The Commission's proposal is based on the same principle as that of the Chief Medical Officer's advice to the Government—namely, that emissions of lead from petrol should be kept to the 1971 levels. Therefore, there is no disagreement in principle between the Commission's proposal or the advice which the Government have received. However, there is a difference in connection with the timing and the levels of the controls which are proposed. We think that the Commission's proposal takes account of the desire of some member States to fix very low limits for lead in petrol.

The limit proposed from 1st January 1976 was, in fact 0.40 grammes per litre. The European Parliament recommended that the date should now be 1st January 1977, and that a second stage reduction to 0.15 grammes per litre should not take place until after a review in 1979. Germany is already at a lower level, and most other member States are believed to be prepared to accept the 0.40 level, although the timing may vary between one State and another.

There is, of course, a serious balance of payments aspect to the argument, which has to be weighed against the health factor to which I have just referred.

To keep within the 1971 levels would mean cutting the maximum lead content to 0.50 grammes per litre now, to 0.45 in 1978; and to 0.40 in 1981, given current trends of petrol consumption. The additional balance of payments costs arising from following that policy would be about £70 million between now and the end of 1980.

The Government have taken all these factors into account as well as environmental opinions, and have decided to accept the advice of the Chief Medical Officer as the only responsible line that we could recommend to the House. No absolute proof of risk is available, but clearly prudent steps are necessary if we are to avoid any degree of risk. Further, more, such a policy would bring the United Kingdom close to the position adopted by most of the member States.

Therefore, it is the Government's policy, on which of course I shall be happy to listen to opinions from all parts of the House, that we should adopt the Commission's standard of 0.40 grammes per litre by 1981. I hope that the House will be convinced that there is no difference of principle between the Government and the Commission.

I inform the House that before implementing the first stage we would, of course, approach the oil and motor industries with a view to reaching agreement on how soon the first further reduction to 0.50 grammes per litre can be applied. If we went immediately, as the Commission proposes, to its level the cost to the House would be not £70 million—the cost of the Government's proposals—but £170 million on the balance of payments. The House will therefore see what an important issue of economic significance this is.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Has my right hon. Friend taken into account the fact that we shall be producing our own oil in that period? In a letter to me he gave the impression that he had not taken that into account and was referring only to imported oil.

Mr. Howell

I hope that I did not give that impression. My hon. Friend is right on the ball. I have given the House the facts about the balance of payments. I was about to make the point that another excellent reason, linked with the balance of payments consideration, for staging the reduction in this way is that as British oil increases in quantity by 1981 we should be able to reach these levels in the knowledge that the additional oil necessary would come from our own sources. Therefore the three-stage reduction would almost entirely coincide with increased productivity from British oil sources.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

If the tetraethyl lead is taken out of the petrol, more oil will be needed and therefore more oil will have to be imported. There may be a miraculous turn of events in the North Sea, but I think that supplies will be insufficient and that more oil will have to come from the Middle East anyway.

Mr. Howell

The figures I have given of the cost to the balance of payments take account of both the increased production of British oil and the factors the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has referred to. The net effect of them, as far as we can calculate, would be a cost to the balance of payments of £70 million. If we adopted the EEC proposal the cost would be £170 million. If the lead is taken out of petrol it becomes less efficient. That means that more petrol is needed to achieve the same result.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

My right hon. Friend's announcement is important, but will we be better off by 1981 or will we simply stand still over that period, in view of the prediction of the increased volume of traffic?

Mr. Howell

Our calculations are based on present market trends in the use of petrol, allied to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bedford.

The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) accepts the principle of reaching a level of 0.40 grammes per litre as proposed by the EEC and endorses that principle. I am grateful that it recognises the United Kingdom balance of payments problem. That is obviously a major consideration for us. It urges us to reach this level by appropriate stages and also to keep the matter constantly under review, which the Government certainly will do.

Therefore I hope that the House will think it right, having heard my hon. Friend, to accept the amendment, and I would advise that course of action.

Our decisions on lead in petrol conform with all the medical advice that we have received and will keep the amount of emissions down to the level of 1971, in line with the advice from the Department of Health and Social Security advisory committee.

We shall continue with research into the problems of lead and if there is further evidence of risk to health we shall consider moving to lower limits even more quickly than I have already announced.

At present, the evidence does not justify the precise standards for lead in air or in blood proposed by the Commission, but we shall seek agreement on identifying and tackling the areas of risk. Our decisions are in conformity with the spirit of the Commission's proposals and I have pleasure in commending them to the House.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

Although these procedures may not always seem satisfactory to some hon. Members, we welcome the opportunity of discussing these matters of some significance. The significance of lead levels in blood to mental and physical health is undoubted. This is also one of our first opportunities to discuss environmental issues in a European context and we welcome that.

Environmental quality objectives are important not just for those working and living in the United Kingdom but for those who trade and travel in Europe. I think we are agreed that the setting of objectives is the right approach. If the Community can agree on the objectives, member States can be left to choose their own ways of achieving them.

I think we are also agreed that absolute emission standards are a thoroughly unsatisfactory and inflexible way of trying to achieve these environmental objectives.

Almost any environmental improvement costs money—in some cases a great deal—and it is wise to identify areas where we can get the best results from the economic, scientific and medical resources which are in limited supply.

Lead presents a difficult problem because, as the Minister said, there are conflicts of opinion among experts about the facts and even more about the interpretation of the facts. This uncertainty indicates that we should speak with caution and err on the side of caution in our decisions, especially as children are particularly at risk.

There is not yet sufficient evidence to enable the medical profession to identify the children at risk. There is the relatively easy problem of clinical symptoms—though we cannot be sure at what level these appear—and the more worrying sub-clinical symptoms. Behaviour patterns can be affected by the level of lead in the blood and it appears possible that this occurs at much lower levels than was previously thought likely. The reduction of lead in all areas is a desirable objective.

Lead can be absorbed by ingestion and by inhalation. It is both an acute and a chronic poison, and we wish to minimise the burden of lead in the body. The Minister gave a progress report on lead in the atmosphere. Only a small percentage of blood lead levels is attributable to lead in the atmosphere.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)

Is that an established fact?

Mr. Sainsbury

If the hon. Gentleman studies the evidence in this country, the United States and elsewhere, he will find it is accepted, even by those who press for an absolute ban on the use of lead in petrol, that the link between lead in blood and lead in the atmosphere is about 1:1. Therefore, even a high lead level in the atmosphere of 10 micro-grammes per cubic metre increases blood lead level only by 10 microgrammes per millilitre. That level would occur only if one stayed in that atmosphere all the time. A person standing on the divide on the M4 would be in that sort of atmosphere, but not many of us would want to spend our lives there. That is not to minimise the size of the problem. Anything that increases the body burden of lead is undesirable. If the lead in the atmosphere increases the body burden of lead, anything that we can do at a reasonable price to diminish the amount of lead in the atmosphere is worth doing, but lead in the atmosphere is by far the smaller part of the source of lead in the blood.

Mr. Skeet

Does my hon. Friend accept the view that more lead enters the body through food and drink than enters it through the atmosphere?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend has anticipated my next words. I did not intend, for personal reasons, to dodge the issue of food and drink. It is a matter of general agreement that food and drink are sources of ingestion of lead. Water is one of the most worrying sources, and contributes much more substantially than does lead in the atmosphere to the body burden of lead. Nearly all foods and nearly all types of drink, including beer, contain some lead.

I have been looking at the list, which ranges from wines to winkles. They are all equally guilty. The highest lead contents are to be found in herbs and molluses, but none of us is likely to diet exclusively on those. Tomatoes have a relatively high source of lead, and most vegetables contain lead. The Minister said that the effect of growing vegetables near smelters was being monitored. Another area which is his responsibility is the use of sewage sludge as a fertiliser, which increases the lead content of vegetables. This aspect is being monitored and studied. The United Kingdom has regulations on lead in food which closely control the lead content in food and drink and can be regarded as a standard that other countries could well decide to emulate.

We need Community standards on the monitoring of lead content in food and drink. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to Community standards for paint and toys being now well advanced, because these constitute other major means in ingestion of lead. In children, paint and toys are more usually the sources of lead when one gets particular problem cases. The cases I have heard of have nearly all been attributable to paint or toys, and not to food. So if we can push on with more rapid Community progress on standards for paint and toys and food, it will be very welcome.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have your protection? A number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, which will last only one and a half hours. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State took half an hour. Can we have a little protection from the Chair?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I am confident that everyone is aware that this debate lasts for one and a half hours. A number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak, and we have an amendment to be moved. I can say no more.

Mr. Sainsbury

The fact that we are discussing two Directives and a serious problem is not irrelevant to what the hon. Lady has said.

I turn now to the second Directive, because I think that one can really accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the first. The second goes rather too far, however. The real problem is the need to identify the danger areas, particularly when one has such dubious scientific evidence on the analysis of blood.

The second Directive has the more important economic consequences and we want to be cautious about it. The Government's proposal could be held to be sufficiently cautious.

Many references have been made to what is happening in the United States. I looked up the reports of the hearings in the United States Court of Appeal in the case between the Ethyl Corporation and the Environmental Protection Agency, and ended up by being even more confused as to the scientific validity of petrol as a great cause of the lead level in blood. The court said: The Office of Science and Technology has refuted the medical, evidence that supposedly supports the EPA Administrator's desire to reduce lead content of gasoline. OST finds the Administrator's position in this regard unsupported by the evidence. We have a great conflict of scientific evidence here, and in this situation it seems to me that we ought to move forward with some caution. Therefore, I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about a phased programme which will allow us an opportunity to monitor and hear about the experience in other countries, particularly the United States and Germany, where they are conducting experiments on lower lead content in petrol and evaluating the economic effects as well.

Such a programme would also enable us to consider more fully the possible use of lead traps, which might be a cheaper way of dealing with the problem of reducing lead emission. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a cost of £70 million. Although that might be much less than would be incurred by moving straight to the Commission's suggestion, it is still fairly substantial.

The Government's approach is right, and I think that the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) will agree that it is not out of sympathy with her amendment, because it allows us to speed up, if the evidence shows that we should do so, the reduction in the lead content or, alternatively, to change the programme if other evidence emerges. We support the Government's approach here, and we believe that it is in conformity with the spirit not only of the Commission's proposals but of the amendment.

10.55 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

L beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add accepts the principle of reducing the maximum lead content of petrol to 0.40 grams per litre as proposed by the EEC; and, whilst recognising that this will have an adverse effect on the United Kingdom balance of payments, nevertheless calls on Her Majesty's Government to take appropriate steps to achieve this aim by staged reductions". I thank my right hon. Friend for indicating that he is prepared to accept the amendment.

It is almost 12 months since I initiated a debate in the House on a number of public health hazards, including the dangers of the use of lead in petrol. We seem to have moved some way since that time, but each time we have a debate on this subject I find myself becoming more of an absolutist concerning lead in petrol. I am moving rapidly to the position where I should like to see lead disappear from petrol altogether. In spite of the modest nature of my amendment, that is my basic view.

With the conflict of evidence we have, and the dilemma that we and other countries are in today concerning balance of payments and financial difficulties, we are in some danger of minimising the health hazards and of maximising the financial difficulties. It is very difficult to keep the right balance between the two.

As to the health hazards, we already know—we have been reminded again tonight—about the lead that we absorb into our bodies from food and water and in other ways. We know that this can cause damage to the brain, to the nervous system, and to the heart. We have been reminded that children are particularly vulnerable in this respect. It seems nothing short of madness, in these circumstances, deliberately to add lead to petrol as well.

As the United States Environmental Protection Agency has pointed out, petrol is a source of air and dust lead which can be readily and significantly reduced in comparison to these other sources. There is steadily growing evidence linking lead as a causative or exacerbating factor in dulling the mental processes of children, and also in hyperactivity and other pre-delinquent behaviour disorders in children.

Additionally, in this country and in America there have been studies on stillborn children which have shown grossly elevated levels of lead and/or cadmium relative to those found in normal healthy children.

In the past, with health hazards, we have often tended to minimise the dangers until they became so obvious that we could not neglect them any longer. I believe that the subtle and insidious nature of lead poisoning puts us in danger of doing that today, and it really is urgent to remove this self-inflicted poison as rapidly as possible.

The suggested 0.40 grammes per litre in the amendment is a modest requirement and, as we have been reminded, it complies with the EEC Directive that we are discussing. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, the amendment allows for the reduction to be in stages. My right hon. Friend has indicated the Government's view of those stages, but I hope that the stages will not be so protracted as my right hon. Friend has indicated, and that it will not be necessary to take so long about it. I am not at all sure—I am not convinced by what my right hon. Friend said—that there will be any real cash benefit in so doing. It is difficult matter. We have to take the figures we are given. But I hope that if my right hon. Friend finds, when he comes to it, that he can do it much more quickly without the financial difficulties he envisages, he will do it, if possible, in one fell swoop, or certainly more quickly than he has suggested.

I hope that eventually we shall be able to go as far as Germany has done and as the EEC Directive requires us to do eventually, and get to the second stage figure of 0.15 grammes per litre.

Although I have not included this point in the amendment, there is some concern that it can be a waste of time to control maximum lead levels in petrol unless some way is found of discouraging petroleum companies from increasing average lead levels. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this point. It is outside the scope of the debate, but it is an important matter.

It has been suggested that this problem could be tackled in various ways—possibly by a tax on organo-lead petrol additives. Since these compounds have no technical uses, other than as petrol additives, the tax would be selective, in effect, but it would deal with the problem. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that, if necessary in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In any case, coming back to the amendment, in taking action in this country my right hon. Friend will have the advantage of studying the results of the dramatic reduction to 0.15 grammes per litre introduced in West Germany at the beginning of January. It is early days to assess the West German results, but they can be important for us in what we are doing here. They seem to indicate—in fact, this is confirmed by Esso Europe—that low lead petrol will give the same performance as previous qualities". I do not believe that my right hon. Friend sees that as a possible difficulty tonight, although in previous debates it has been raised as a possible difficulty. West German experience seems to indicate that it is no longer a difficulty.

Mr. Sainsbury

I think that the correct phrase is not "will", but "can be made to", and at a cost.

Mrs. Butler

I want to mention cost later.

We also know that leaded petrol causes more engine wear, more silencer corrosion and greater deterioration of lubricating oils, as well as more pollution from exhaust emissions, than equivalent lead-free grades. This is the point about petrol price increases and the cost of new refineries. According to the West German experience, both of these fears seem to have been exaggerated. My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen a recent article in The Sunday Times which made that point. We may not appear to take too much from this, but it may be helpful.

I recognise in the amendment the balance of payments difficulties involved in reducing the lead content of petrol with a consequent increase in oil imports as a result, but it looks as though these difficulties will be less than the Department anticipates. My right hon. Friend quoted some alarming figures, but, in reply to the article in The Sunday Times to which I have referred, Professor Bryce Smith, in a follow-up letter, quotes the United States Environmental Protection Agency's report. I have quoted that in the House before. It is to the effect that low lead regulations…will have a minimal effect on crude oil requirements during this decade. I do not know how the Americans have arrived at their figures and I do not know how we have arrived at ours, but there is such a disparity between the two that one wonders whether the balance of payments difficulties are as great as we are anticipating. I hope that they will not be.

Overriding everything else must be the question of the health dangers. These are so serious that I think this is a very modest amendment. I am glad that the Government are prepared to accept it. It will not only be valuable in itself; to the many environmentalists and members of the general public who are worried about lead pollution it will be an encouragement that the Government are moving in the right direction. I hope that the amendment, though modest, will be a springboard for immediate action to reduce the lead content of petrol significantly.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)

I should like to concentrate on what has been called the second Directive but is in fact the first—that dealing with the lead content of petrol. What the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) said will serve to illustrate, as well as one can, the fact that the doubt in this field about environmental, cost and health factors is so great as to make one, in normal circumstances, almost wish to divide against the motion. But since we are asked only to "take note", that seems a contradic- tion in terms, so I will not persist, as the Minister will be glad to hear.

I have three essential points to put. First, this Directive was put down and recommended for a debate over 14 months ago. This is an admirable example of an issue which could profitably have been discussed at a much earlier stage, instead of the Government trying to creep under the curtain of the House to get what they want done in the Council of Ministers. The views of the House could have been taken into account and an on-going discussion might have resulted. Certainly the enlightenment supplied by the early part of the Minister's speech was fairly limited. It did not reflect the anxieties that I expressed in pursuit of the point of order at the start of the debate. This is an indication of the need to get these things debated in good time.

The second consideration relates to health and the environment. I do not speak as a hard-hearted man, indifferent to the health and environment of the nation. I was for many years a member of the Clean Air Council and have taken a great interest in these matters for a very long time. But I realised from my membership of that admirable body that a great deal of doubt hangs over the question of dangerous substances in the atmosphere.

At a time when the sulphur content of fuel and gas oils was very much under discussion, one of the Council's chief medical advisers said that he had spent the equivalent of weeks with his head in a compartment deluged with SO2 and that the sole result was that he had escaped any attack of the common cold.

Knowledge of the health hazards involved is very limited. If that doubt needed to be illustrated, hon. Members may have seen a brief article in The Times at the end of last week about a subject treated by the Proceedings of the Royal Society, in Volume 192, No. 1106, 31st December last year. It concerned the endeavour to identify the accumulation of lead in different parts of the body, to see whether that degree of knowledge could lead to any conclusions about the deleterious effect of this material in the kind of conditions in which people are exposed to it in this country. The issues involved there are strictly scientific and medical but such is the absence of profound knowledge about the impact of these materials on the human body that it is sufficient to say that we believe they are dangerous and that we should therefore go in for some programme of suppression.

This is a kind of pagan superstition which affects us in this matter as in so many other things. Hundreds of things can damage the human body, taken in sufficient doses and in sufficiently damaging conditions, but until we have a profound knowledge of the subject it seems extraordinarily unwise to say that we will handle something we do not know about by means of restrictions we do not understand. Yet that is precisely what is proposed here.

Mr. Hooley

Surely, if there is a great degree of uncertainty it is more sensible to proceed on a cautious and restrictive line than to allow an accumulation of poison to go ahead without knowing what is going to happen.

Mr. Davies

On that basis one could very well start on a cautious programme for restriction of the intake of potatoes. That is being brought about by economic factors at present, but it would be possible to produce people, if they were determined enough to do it, with just sufficient arguments to show that the intake of starch in large quantities and in disadvantageous conditions could be extraordinarily damaging to the human frame. One could do the same in practically every area of activity. That is what worries me from the environmental and health point of view.

It is not that I am against these measures. I am strongly in favour where there is definite proof.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the danger about the whole Directive is that it does not have those precise parameters or any indication of the scientific base on which it has been reached?

Mr. Davies

I agree. The Minister quoted the Commission, saying that proof of risk is not categorified—a rather curious expression—but I am sure that he intended to say that there was no evidence. That is perhaps the truth.

I was a little perplexed by some of the Minister's remarks about the econo- mic considerations. If we assume that there is a saving in external account arising from the happy circumstances of an increase in production of crude oil from our own indigenous sources, it must be right to say that the displacement of imports is just as much a saving as the limitation of imports by other means. One either presumes that one will sell externally, and thereby enjoy the benefit of the revenue derived from the production of oil, or one off-sets it against internal consumption. Therefore, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's balance of payments arguments stand up, and I ask him to reconsider them. They do not seem to be very well thought out.

But some of the other economic considerations are very profound. In talking to the European Parliament in November the Commissioner gave some of the figures. He pointed out that moving to the 0.4 grammes per litre position, which is what the Commission proposes, involved the Community in a capital undertaking of 300 million dollars, and that the annual costs would be about 150 million dollars. He said that the effect in terms of net waste against a programme of maximum economy in the use of energy is about 8,000 tonnes a year. That seems to me an anomalous proposition. There is insufficient knowledge on the health and environmental factors to expose ourselves to those costs.

The Directive proposes that there should be just the mean operation by making the regular grade 0.15 grammes and the premium grade 0.42 grammes and any admixture following the line of the average between those two. But to move to the 0.15 grammes means exposing ourselves to capital costs of 650 million dollars and an annual cost of about 350 million dollars.

On inconclusive evidence it is extraordinary to use such funds at a time when we are talking about the need for economy and are, for instance, agonisingly contemplating our inability sufficiently to aid countries in a desperately bad condition. It would be ridiculous to imagine that sums of that kind would procure in this continent improvements of the kind which, if they were used in India for example, would be overwhelmingly more important to people's health.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Alf Bates (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

I join the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) in talking chiefly about the document relating to lead in petrol. Lead is put into petrol in the form of tetraethyl lead or tetra-methyl lead as an anti-knock compound to provide the most economic method of upgrading petrol to give a higher octane rating.

I want to state my constituency concern at the beginning. These lead products are made for this country by the Associated Octel Company, which has its major plant, employing more than 2,000 people, in my constituency. Clearly, any attempt to reduce the use of the products will have a serious impact on jobs. But I must say to the House, as I have said to people in the company, that I would not support the manufacture of those products if I thought that they were a serious hazard to health. However, I believe that they are not.

It is true that the ingestion of lead in large quantities is seriously harmful to health, but there is—and always has been, well before the invention of the motor car—a constant ingestion and excretion of lead. That creates a balance in the blood. It is not a curse of modern civilisation. Even in fairly primitive communities, people have quantities of lead in the blood which are comparable with those of people living in our own society.

The concern which has been expressed is emotionally understandable but rationally misguided. Under normal circumstances man has a balance in the blood of between 10 and 40 micrograms per 100 millilitres of blood. There is nothing wrong with that. It is abnormally high levels that are dangerous.

What we should be doing, instead of playing about with the small quantities of lead in the atmosphere, is to examine and eradicate the causes of those peculiarly high levels. That is not what we are doing here. We are arguing about marginal amounts of intake.

Both the documents, with their emphasis on lead in the atmosphere, are misguided. First, they give a misleading impression that current levels of lead in people's blood may be dangerously high. That is not true. I refer to the White Paper from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last year on the Regulations about lead in food. Evidence there from the Department of Health and Social Security's working group appears to contradict some of the evidence that my right hon. Friend has put before the House tonight. On page 23 we read: We do not consider that the presently available information is sufficient to indicate a potential hazard to halth at presently accepted normal blood lead levels. Secondly, and most important, the documents give the impression that lead in the atmosphere is a major contributor to lead in the blood. That also is not true. Paragraph 6 of the DHSS evidence, on page 20 of the White Paper, says: Food is the major source of lead intake for the general public and is estimated to provide about 200µg lead per day in the UK. There is a considerable body of evidence that it is not airborne lead that is the problem. The interdepartmental Report, "Lead in the Environment and Its Significance to Man", is clear about this in a number of places. After examining the problem, it says in paragraph 39 on page 15: Hence in the great majority of cases, airborne lead seems unlikely to account for more than a minor proportion of the total lead uptake of the body. In the following paragraph the Report is more specific: Data for the UK are sparse, but one study found no general relationshilp between airborne and blood lead levels. More extensive American experience shows that over a range of airborne lead levels of 0.17 to 3.39 µg/m3 —that covers the typical ranges of rural and urban environments— no significant correlation exists between airborne levels and blood lead levels of exposed people.

Mr. Silverman

Has my hon. Friend considered the Report of the working party on lead pollution round Gravelly Hill—Spaghetti Junction is in my constituency—where precisely the opposite is shown and where, over a period of four years, the blood lead level has almost doubled?

Mr. Bates

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman). I shall deal specifically with the situation at Gravelly Hill shortly because a considerable amount of work has been done on it, most of which is statistically quite insignificant.

The Report shows that, with the observations that are possible, the matter has very little to do with the modern ascendency of the motor car. In part that ties up with what my hon. Friend the Minister said. At page 8, paragraph 21, the Report refers to the concentration of lead in city dusts in urban streets. It gives some figures for them and says: Very similar concentrations were observed as long ago as 1928. At page 19, paragraph 54, the Report refers to an important point about children, who are, naturally, a major cause for concern to many hon. Members. It says: The most common cause of lead poisoning in children is the ingestion of lead-containing paint. It is in those areas that we should be doing our major work and not on lead in the atmosphere. Lead in the atmosphere is amenable to control but we should be controlling it without evidence of harm to health. The Report says quite specifically in paragraph 76: Even though there is no evidence of harm to health from present concentrations of lead in urban air, this is one source amenable to control. That is why it is being done.

I have quoted those general reports in some detail because it is necessary to counter the source of the Report that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington mentioned in relation to Gravelly Hill. These general reports, tying together a number of findings, make it quite clear that the small specific reports are not true.

The process of measuring the small quantities of lead in the blood is extremely difficult. Most of the results, by themselves, are statistically insignificant. One or two way-out figures have been used to suggest results that are not the case. Taken together they produce the lack of evidence which the more general Report of the inter-departmental working group shows.

Work carried out by Butler, MacMurdo and Middleton near the Gravelly Hill interchange shows that the concentration of lead in the atmosphere in residential areas nearby is only about one micro-gramme per cubic metre, although it is slightly greater more directly on the road- side. The Department of the Environment confirmed that position in a Press release in May 1974.

The second question to which we have to address ourselves is whether lead in the atmosphere anyway itself leads to a significantly increased level of lead in the blood. The evidence is clearly that it does not. I should like to refer to the Sixth Report of the House of Lords on the European Communities, which dealt specifically with one of the documents before us, R/1150/75. In the first paragraph on page 5, the Report says: Nevertheless the proposed standards would not significantly reduce the blood lead level of the population since 1 microgram of lead per cubic metre of air only raises the blood level by 1 microgram per 100 millilitres. We should compare that 1 microgramme per 100 millilitres with a normal blood level of up to 40 microgrammes and the very large amounts that we take in by way of food and so on.

I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak in the debate. I merely want to say that in addition to the various reports to which I have referred, not only is it quite clear that the DHSS working parties believe that there is no serious evidence that we should go ahead with the proposed level, but it is also clear that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State thinks likewise.

In reply to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about an experiment in Frankfurt and the German experience, my right hon. Friend gave, in my view, a very balanced and good reply, two paragraphs of which are important. I wish to quote them. My right hon. Friend said: It is possible that reduced blood leads will be observed, but this is not certain, since respiration is only one of the pathways of lead to man, even in cities, and any changes may be outweighed by variations in man's major sources of lead, namely food. In the second place, if blood lead levels in Frankfurt preceding the action are comparable with those measured in our own great cities, then according to our present knowledge, they will in themselves constitute no risk to human health. Hence any small reductions that are observed may have no real benefit.

Mr. Hooley

As all this is so innocuous and so unnecessary, can my hon. Friend explain why it was that this country had every intention of proceeding to the 0.40 level until the oil crisis, and we abandoned that not on health grounds but on economic grounds only?

Mr. Bates

I think that this country decided, as did the Americans, to move in that direction on the basis of some very flimsy evidence, much of which, as the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) said, is now being counteracted by further and more detailed evidence.

On the basis of the information that we have, I believe that it would be quite wrong to proceed in the direction that the European Community is suggesting, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Knutsford will take the opportunity of joining those of us who intend to divide the House against it.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

The hon. Member for Bebington and Elles-mere Port (Mr. Bates) has turned out to be one of the world's greatest experts on this subject, particularly on the lead content of petrol. The House will have been very impressed by what he said.

Mr. John Davies

It was extremely interesting.

Mr. Dykes

Indeed. The hon. Gentleman's comments were extremely interesting and relevant. Although he "went on a bit"—according to the expressions of one or two of his hon. Friends—the House should nevertheless be grateful to him for raising some of the legitimate doubts that the technologists and the respectable apologists of our present lead levels in petrol are entitled to put forward for public consideration. We should bear in mind that, as the hon. Gentleman and others have implied in the debate, some of the anxieties have been rather exaggerated, as far as one can tell, and the other side of the coin needs to be shown as well for the public gaze.

That is notwithstanding the relevant and persuasive argument in the amendment which has been accepted for debate, and apparently accepted by the Minister of State. Nor does it in any way nullify the Minister's understandable concern to have a coherent, pragmatic, rational and reasonable programme for reducing content figures over the next few years.

From what I can gather, there was a general welcome for the conclusions of the survey and for the figures put forward for the targets up to 1981. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) reminded the House that it was 14 months ago when the Scrutiny Committee recommended this complicated subject for debate. Once again, the House is faced with the perpetual and not merely perennial problem of the manner in which it deals with EEC legislation. It is a problem irrespective of our views for or against membership of the Community. That is a major debate long since resolved. The House has been forced to grapple for one-and-a-half hours with possibly the most complicated and difficult subject that has appeared in any Community document so far.

There has been a delay of 14 months to suit the Government's own timing before the matter goes to the Council for draft Directives on lead content to be further considered. These are extremely old documents and the matter has dragged on for a long time.

I hope that the House will be spared this sort of difficulty in future. A one-and-a-half hour debate is not sufficient to cover such a difficult matter. However let us try to be constructive. Although I do not possess the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), I share my hon. Friend's anxiety that we are beginning to become a little too obsessed with some of the environmental and pollution dangers from all sorts of matter, let alone that which is covered by this debate.

I have been glancing through the reports of the debates in the European Parliament, and the anxieties of a number of my hon. Friends who are members of the Conservative group are reflected in the debate that took place in November 1975. My hon. Friends opposed the Directive pertaining to the composition of petrol because of the many doubts about target figures, minimum threshold objectives, cost factors and adverse balance of payments figures applying to other member States as well as Britain.

There is also the difficult problem of harmonisation. The Community is a large geographical area and there are bound to be difficulties if we have a maximum or minimum threshold harmonisation objective for this extremely complicated subject. There are bound to be different difficulties for different member States and different regions in the Community. An obvious example is whether we should have the same insulation standards for a factory in Sicily as for a factory on the southern tip of Greenland, if there are any factories in Greenland, which may be a debatable matter.

Mr. Anderson

Should not our own standards be more stringent as traffic densities are much higher in Britain than elsewhere?

Mr. Dykes

I know what the hon. Gentleman is getting at. To be more accurate, the answer should be "No". This subject is far too complicated for a sophisticated legislature to deal with in this manner. Far more research work is needed. As laymen and as politicians we are bound to be impressed by the sort of utterance made in the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities on this subject by Sir Richard Doll, Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford University. He said that he and others were disturbed that blood levels of lead in this country were approaching a danger point. We are bound to be impressed by that sort of opinion. When the Commission produces highly complex Directives and there is excessive pressure for over-rapid harmonisation, the Community can get into difficulties.

It is right, despite all the difficulties and shortcomings of this debate—and, regrettably, some of my hon. Friends who wished to take part in the debate were unable to do so—that we should collectively give a generalised welcome to the draft Directives, subject to the Government being able to process their policy position effectively at the Council of Ministers when these matters are further discussed. It would be very pleasant if the Minister, in replying, would say a little more about the consultations with the petroleum industry. He referred very quickly to this matter, and we would like to know more about it.

Subject to that, and to our reservations, we welcome the Directive. Nevertheless, we hope that next time we have a complicated subject of this nature to deal with the House will be treated more fairly by the Executive.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell

I am sorry that the House has not had more time to deal with this Directive. This is a question of our procedure. It is not my fault.

Much of the debate was taken up with points of order. I thought it right to give way on four occasions in my opening speech in order to be courteous to the House, and I tried courteously to give as much information as I could—

Mr. Skeet rose

Mr. Howell

I am sorry. I cannot give way any more. This is what the Government are saying—

Mr. Skeet rose

Mr. Howell

No, I am sorry. I have only three minutes to deal with a debate on a subject of enormous complexity. I apologise to the hon. Member, but I cannot give way.

I want to deal with the point about the 14 months' delay. When he thinks again the right hon. Member for Knuts-ford (Mr. Davies) will realise that this is not a case of the Government's stalling. This is not the Government attempting not to have a debate. To suggest that is less than fair. The reason for the delay is that which I gave the House a long time ago. We had grave doubts about the validity of some of the scientific propositions on which these Directives were based. Many months ago, therefore, I said that the Government would conduct a major medical and environmental review. That is the reason why it has taken 14 months.

I believe that one hon. Gentleman kindly said—rightly—that we had to involve Harwell and to obtain the advice of Harwell on the whole range of the Directives. There was no attempt on our part not to have a debate until now.

There is no doubt that in isolation lead in petrol does not constitute a hazard to health, but there are other factors to be taken into consideration. I said that it is the totality of the lead that we absorb that matters. Even lead in petrol, and breathing lead in, can have adverse effects on the lives of young children. As many hon. Members have said, we have no exact scientific evidence to produce, so we have to make a judgment, based on the advice given to us by our medical officer of health and the specialist advisory committee.

It is difficult to reduce the amount of lead in food. The question of lead in water has also been raised, and that is another great difficulty. I have no time to deal with that question, except to say that we are working urgently on that problem. But one thing that the House should do—it would be very guilty if it did not do it—is to keep the levels of lead in petrol at least to the 1971 levels recommended by the European Community. That is what we are proposing to do. We have had medical advice that that is the right thing to do.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has been speaking for three minutes. Under Standing Order 3(1)(b), if you feel that a matter is of sufficient importance and has not been adequately debated in the time available, you have a discretion to adjourn the House.

I submit that that is the situation in relation to this Directive, in the sense that it is a complicated matter, a costly matter, and one that has caused a great deal of public concern. There is a clash of opinion, and the Opposition have complained about the view taken by the Executive. Five of my hon. Friends wish to speak. In my submission, this matter has not had sufficient consideration, and I therefore ask for your protection—and ask that you protect yourself in this matter—by suggesting that you should consider whether we should

It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the

adjourn without your putting the Question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I regret that I am not prepared to accept that proposition.

Mr. Howell

In the 10 seconds remaining, I would like to say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates), that we accept that most lead comes from food. We accept the evidence, which is quite clear, in respect of the average person. We accept that the primary aim of the Directives is to eradicate sources of undue exposure. That is the purpose of some of the modifications we are suggesting to the EEC about its Directives.

Again, in general, there is no relationship between airborne lead and the levels of lead in the blood resulting from other exposures from which we suffer. However, lead from petrol can get into people, especially young children, and that I submit must be the dominating factor which the House must take account of at present.

The question about the balance of payments considerations was raised. It is correct to say that taking lead out means a higher oil requirement—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 20, Noes 6.

Division No. 82.] AYES [11.40 p.m.
Anderson, Donald McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) MacFarquhar, Roderick Stoddart, David
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Urwin, T. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Marks, Kenneth Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Penhallgon, David
Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Reid, George TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Loyden, Eddie Rodgers, George (Chorley) Mr. James A. Dunn and
Lyon, Alexander (York) Silverman, Julius Mr. J. D. Dormand
Cockcroft, John Skeet, T. H. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Mr. Alf Bates and
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Winterton, Nicholas Mr. Alistair Goodlad

Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I take it that we may continue this debate at another time? This is a vital matter and several hon. Members who wished to speak on the amendment, as well as well as on the substantive motion, did not have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What hon. Members are able to debate is a matter for the Government to decide.

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raised the question of the time element during the last debate and compressed what I wanted to say so that the Minister had time to reply. The Division figures show there was a case for the debate to be adjourned. As it was not possible for you to do so before the Division, can you tell us the conditions under which hon. Members might expect to be able to do this? Without the protection of the Chair, the method of conducting business could be brought into disrepute, which is something none of us wants to happen. What balance of considerations may we expect on this matter in future?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already given my decision on this matter and I see nothing to add to what I said then.

Mr. Dykes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not incumbent upon the Government to inform us of their intentions in this matter? The House has been left high and dry and the Executive has not arranged the business properly. What do the Government intend to do? Can we debate this matter again at a very early date? It is an important subject.

Mr. John Davies

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government have undertaken that matters recommended for debate by the Scrutiny Committee should be properly debated by the House before they are proceeded with in the Council of Ministers. In the light of events tonight, it would be difficult to suggest that this matter could be considered to have been fully debated within the terms of the Government's undertaking.

Mr. Denis Howell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall see that the matters arising from tonight's events are drawn to the atten- tion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I am quite certain that if he had been here, he would have voted. The distinction between that situation and the attitude of Opposition Members who said that they wished to reduce the amount of lead in petrol and to support the Government and then failed to vote to do so is difficult to make.

The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) raised a point of substance. When Directives involve complicated matters on which there is considerable feeling in the House, the question whether one-and-a-half hours is sufficient time for debate has to be considered. It would have to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and, no doubt through the usual channels, discussions would take place.

The Government have followed the normal practice of putting down a motion which allows for a debate lasting for one-and-a half hours. We take note of the situation which has arisen because of the complicated nature of the issue. No doubt my right hon. Friend will report back to the House when he has had time to consider it.