§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I am grateful to have this opportunity of raising the subject of lead pollution, under class VIII. I think that I have almost lost count of the number of times that I have been involved in debates on lead pollution, but the nature of these debates has 407 subtly changed over the years. The change is due to the steadily accumulating evidence that the fears that some of us have had about the danger of adding lead to petrol are now shared by the general public and are backed up by a growing number of authoritative researches.
Some of these researches include the studies of child behaviour by Dr. Oliver David, of the Brooklyn Medical Centre, Dr. Needleman's findings at Harvard University, and the recent report on "Spaghetti junction" in Birmingham, to which the Minister who is to reply wrote the foreword, in which he admits that it gives some indication that there may be a problem of lead intake for some preschool children living in central areas. Even more recently, Dr. Gerhard Winneke, of Dusseldorf university, has carried out a study that yields supporting evidence of a connection between a chronic increase in lead absorption in early childhood and neuro-psychological injury.
With these and a number of other reports, I have been disappointed that the Government are sticking to their intention not to reduce the lead added to petrol to 0.40 grammes per litre before 1st January 1981. I had hoped that with this evidence they would bring the date forward, because it is still a good two years ahead.
I also pay tribute to the work of people like Professor Bryce-Smith, of Reading university, and Dr. Stephens, of Binning-ham, who have been very painstaking in their work on lead pollution and are very helpful.
At the very least, I believe that the present programme should be speeded up, and I shall ask the Minister whether he can tell us whether there is any intention of doing so. I seriously question whether this further research, which was indicated in reply to my Question to the Secretary of State for Transport on 6th December, is necessary before proscribing lead additives in petrol altogether. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what further information the Government are seeking in those studies.
The original justification for adding lead to petrol is scarcely valid in the light of modern developments, such as new 408 anti-knocking alternatives, for example, and now that the United States, Japan and West Germany have been using virtually lead-free petrol, apparently without serious problems, for varying periods, it would seem that only the will is lacking in this country to follow suit.
I know that some of my hon. Friends who are expert in this matter will have something to say later in the debate, but I want to turn to a favourite argument of Ministers replying to debates on this subject, namely, that lead is a danger in many ways other than in petrol. One of the most persistent sources of lead poisoning is represented by the 2 million and more kitchen taps that are supplied by water through lead piping.
There are numerous studies of the risk caused to unborn children from this source, because there is a link between children's mental retardation and the lead content of the water drunk by their mothers during pregnancy. Nobody supposes that all these lead pipes and cisterns, or even a fraction of them, can be replaced within a reasonable period of time. This is, therefore, a source of danger that it is difficult if not impossible to remove. Certainly it cannot be done without considerably more financial help to householders to replace lead pipes and cisterns.
But lead is also absorbed through food, as is evidenced by the recent proposals for the revision of the lead in food regulations and by the concern of the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee to seek reductions in the lead level in the diet of young children, in addition to its specific provisions for a maximum lead level of 0.2 mg. per kilogramme in specific infant foods.
Despite regulations, canned foods not specifically marketed for children are another source of lead contamination because of the use of lead-containing solders to seal the cans, These should at least be labelled as unfit for consumption by infants and young children. The fact remains that, for example, fish from British coastal waters, which young children may eat, have been found to contain an average of as much as 0.66 mg. per kilogramme of lead.
Even more significant, lead levels in vegetables and fruit, which are so important to young children, will, in 409 general, be in excess of the maximum "baby food" lead level if they are grown near busy roads, as a result of fall-out from exhaust of petrol-engined vehicles. Levels ranging from five to 55 times the "baby food" level can be expected, and sometimes even more, and there is no prospect of reducing this significant source of food contamination while lead continues to be added to petrol.
Nor can we expect to eliminate the risk to children living in old premises that are decorated with paints that have a heavy lead content. Where children pick at and bite this old paint, as many do at a certain age, they will continue to be at serious risk.
I conclude that as so many of these traditional sources of lead hazard to children will remain it is even more important to tackle the one task that poses no real technical problem, namely, the complete removal of lead from petrol, rather than to argue, as successive Ministers have done, that because it is only one source of lead pollution we should not regard it as a matter of urgency.
I am indebted to an authoritative American paper for a description of the exact nature of the damage to children that lead pollution can cause. This states thatDue to the very rapid rate of brain growth, the young animal or child is at greater risk for lead-induced neurological damage than the adult. In humans the ' growth spurt' begins during the sixth month of pregnancy and continues into the third or fourth year (of childhood). Permanent neurological deficits can result from an insult to the brain during the growth spurt. Studies of children malnourished during the first two years of life have shown permanent adverse effects on learning ability and general adjustment.So when we are considering the lead pollution reaching children in aerosol form, from car exhausts or imbibed by children from lead-polluted dust in the vicinity of roadways, that is what we are talking about—an insult to their brains which can cause permanent damage.
The paper continues:Taken together the several reports (of studies in children) strongly suggest that both decreased cognitive functioning and an increased frequency of behavioural abnormalities become evident in groups of school-aged children who have been unduly exposed to lead during the pre-school years.410The behavioural aberrations, which include hyperkinesis "—I was not sure what that meant, but I looked it up in the dictionary and it is "purposeless, uncontrolled muscular movement "—short attention span and impulsive and aggressive conduct appear to be more important than minimal intellectual deficits in impeding progress at school.When I read that, I was reminded that a few weeks ago I had a visit to my constituency advice centre from a young woman who had come to see me about a supplementary benefit problem. She had her little boy with her, a child of about 9 years of age. He behaved like a wild animal, constantly hitting and kicking his mother—and me, until I shut him outside—and it was impossible to reason with him or to get through to him in any way. I am not suggesting that his behaviour was caused by lead pollution, but if lead in the atmosphere in the busy traffic area where he lived had aggravated his condition it would not be surprising. Even if children suffering from lead pollution have only a fraction of his abnormality, what a problem they present to the community as well as to their parents and teachers.
The Secretary of State for Transport said, in reply to my Question, that studies are being put in hand to estimate the cost of possible longer-term options for further reducing emissions of lead from petrol. I hope that he will balance against those costs the total economic cost of a national IQ deficit of several points attributable to lead and the cost of lead-related behaviour disorders to society. If this were done the scales would indicate that the cost of using lead-free petrol, whatever it might be, would be cheap at the price.
There is much more to be said, which I shall leave to my hon. Friends, but I hope that the result of the debate will be to move the Government nearer to removing the one form of lead pollution that we have readily under our own control—the pollution that we continue to create by adding lead to petrol.
§ 11.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
I am pleased to join in the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who has taken a 411 close interest in many health matters, particularly preventive medicine. It is appropriate that she should have opened the debate.
I congratulate also the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who has taken this cause unto himself and has fought hard on this matter after an initial constituency background to the problem. He has taken the discussion further with all his work and research.
Professor Bryce-Smith is a constituent of mine and I have a number of other constituents who take environmental matters very seriously. That is why I am taking part in this important debate.
Oil companies have been using small amounts of lead in the manufacture of petrol for about 40 years. This is not a new problem. It has always been the most effective way of producing the petrol quality needed and has been used in the belief that it did not give rise to health hazards. It has always been felt that it improved the quality of petrol and that that was important.
In 1971 the Government carried out an inquiry into the effects of lead on health. The chief medical officer of health stated that levels of lead through exhaust emissions at that time did not constitute a health hazard, but that in view of the increasing number of cars on the road it would be advisable to take steps to avoid an increase in the total level of emissions. As far back as 1971, anxieties were beginning to be expressed that because of the increasing number of cars and emissions the problem of lead pollution should be looked at.
In 1972 the Government announced a series of reductions in lead levels in petrol to take place over a period of years and were given the oil companies' voluntary compliance with these proposals. The oil companies worked with the Government and began to consider reductions in lead levels.
In March 1976 the Government made a further announcement on lead levels, requiring a reduction from a maximum of 0.55 grammes per litre to 0.50 grammes later that year, with further reductions to 0.45 grammes by 1978. Oil companies have carried out these reductions, and it ought to be made clear that we are the people who must decide these levels. 412 Oil companies will merely carry out our instructions. We cannot always pick on the multinationals. It is our job to cite what is right and proper. The amount of lead used in petrol is entirely within the control of the Government, who take into account very seriously any potential threat to health.
The main point of the oil companies is that, given that emissions below a certain level have not been shown to be harmful, the use of lead is a far more effective and economical method of producing the quality of petrol needed for cars in current use. Any alternative would require the use of extra crude oil and high investment costs for new plant.
We have a particular problem, because we promote the small motor car. That requires a high lead intake into a gallon of petrol to make it work to the high performance expected by the customer. This has been a pressure in this country more than in many others. It has not been such a problem in America, with its large cars. Even Germany has not experienced the same problem. I am not defending the oil companies ; I am trying to express a balanced argument.
We do not know how much it would cost to remove the lead from petrol and meet the requirements of car engines, but a Minister, in answer to a Question tabled by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, said that it was estimated that it would add £30 million a year to Britain's bill for imported crude oil.
There have been many studies on lead. The hon. Member for Wood Green mentioned several of them. We have had the Gerhard Winneke report, from West Germany, which is of importance ; the report by Dr. Herbert Needleman, of the Harvard Medical Schools, and the report by Dr. Robert Stephens, of Birmingham university. The hon. Member for Perry Barr will take a particular interest in his report. We have also had a report from Dr. Oliver David of the Medical Centre, Brooklyn, who studied the effects of lead on delinquency. Professor Bryce-Smith has also made a report.
Professor Bryce-Smith is dogmatic about lead. In any discussion he would say "Just a minute, lead in pipes is just as lethal if one does not run off gallons of water before one boils a kettle." We must keep the matter in balance. The 413 professor is a strong advocate of reducing the amount of lead in petrol.
One of the most interesting recent reports is that which caused excitement on both sides of the House because it was thought that it was being hushed up. I refer to the report from Harwell, which was instigated by the Government and the oil companies. One of the most interesting issues that came out of the report was the following statement:When volunteers inhaled the ambient lead aerosol while seated near a motorway or travelling in cars in heavy traffic, the average deposition (deduced from the lead concentrations in the inhaled and exhaled air) was 61 per cent. near the motorway, 64 per cent. near a busy roundabout, and 4.8 per cent. along urban roads. The results near the motorway were in line with those for the wind-tunnel experiments. Those from the urban roads were higher than expected from the laboratory work for reasons that were not fully understood. Impaction of larger particles in the urban aerosol in the upper respiratory tract may have contributed to its high deposition ".That proves that although the motorway is one of the principal offenders—particularly in areas such as "Spaghetti junction "—when there is a traffic bottleneck and a constant coming and going at traffic lights there is a high concentration.
Our local environmental health officers carried out some experiments with cabbages in an area near traffic lights. It was found that there was a high incidence of lead on the surface of those cabbages. It could be argued that a person should wash the cabbages, but if he has an allotment near such an area and he always feeds from that allotment, he constantly takes in lead. That is a serious matter.
If we accept the problem, what are the choices of cure? We may start by saying that we should reduce the lead content in petrol. We have heard the arguments of the hon. Member for Wood Green that that is possibly the answer. However, there are problems to be faced. There would be a cost to the oil industry. There would be a cost to the nation. It is calculated that the price of oil would increase by about 10 per cent. if lead additives were removed completely. The increased cost might be less if there were a phasing out. There is also the cost of the new cracker devices in the refineries. That cost would be passed on to the consumer. That factor must be taken into account.
We must consider the cost to the consumer. The cost of petrol could easily in- 414 crease. For environmental reasons that may not be a bad consequence, but it is a factor that must be taken into account. The cost of cars may be more expensive. A side effect may be that the cost of running cars would increase. In my opinion we should opt for the filter system.
The Warren Spring laboratory has done some work on filtering systems. A system for the average motor car to filter lead and other bad additives in the atmosphere, such as carbon monoxide, could remove many dangerous substances and give us a cleaner environment. I understand that Warren Spring undertook considerable research and that unfortunately it has been put to one side. I urge the Government to try to promote that research, because a filter system may be one of the easiest ways of dealing with the problem.
I have spoken to a number of people in the motor car industry and they calculate that it would cost about £100 per car to install a filter system. I accept that that seems quite a large sum, especially as the system has to be renewed about every two years. That is one of the disadvantages. Such a system would filter the lead and the carbon monoxide. That may be the best approach. The cost to the nation of removing lead overnight might be more than we could stand, bearing in mind, for example, the high cost of petrol deliveries.
The Government should consider the options. They should tell us that they have considered the various approaches, that they have all the scientific evidence, and that there is no need for further evidence. The Government should produce a White Paper to set out the way in which they visualise the problem being tackled. The production of a White Paper would allow the House to argue the matter in a reasonable and informed manner.
As the hon. Member for Perry Barr so often says, we constantly hear Ministers saying "We are considering the matter. We want more research." Surely there is enough evidence. We do not need any more evidence to tell us that there is a problem. We need the Government to present the options.
The first option is to remove the lead. That may be expensive and may create more problems than it cures. The second option is to introduce and install filter systems. There may be disagreement with 415 my figure of £100. I have made a number of inquiries and have been told that that would be the approximate cost, but I could be wrong. At least we should know which is the best alternative. There is a serious problem for those in urban areas.
I ask the Government to provide the various options and not to continue fobbing us off by saying that there is a need for more evidence and more facts. We have enough. Now is the time to produce the evidence, so that we may find the best way of dealing with the problem. That is what I hope will emerge from the debate.
§ 11.58 p.m.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
The fact that we can take in lead from various sources should not lead us to say "The air is only one source of lead pollution, and we must take a balanced approach. We must have a sense of proportion." Far from that being so, that fact should lead us to the view that it is even more imperative to do something about that source of lead.
The case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) is unanswerable. I was surprised to hear the argument that I have just outlined coming from the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant). I do not think that a balanced view should be taken. The more sources of lead that there are, the more imperative it becomes that we tackle those problems that can be tackled. It is astonishing that the argument about the cost to the oil industry and to the nation is still heard.
I have no objections to a White Paper, but I agree that such a White Paper should talk not about the need for working parties and more research but about doing something. However, I am sceptical about the hon. Member's approach, because there is a danger that he is creating further problems and obstacles. The most straightforward and correct thing to do would be to remove substantially the lead from petrol.
The matter is urgent. The fact that it has been treated in a low-key manner, with bland statements and reassurances, has produced a kind of crisis. We are very late in dealing with this situation, 416 which has been dealt with far more satisfactorily by other countries—particularly West Germany and the United States, whose praises I do not normally sing. Compared with these two countries, our position is disgraceful.
The latest reports show that we are breathing in three times as much lead as was previously thought. We are breathing in a metal that is a very strong poison in small quantities. It is suspected of disturbing the growth of nervous systems in young persons and reducing intelligence in children. I am pleased to see the work that has been done by the Yorkshire Post in this regard. But this is a matter that should not be left to the press, though the Yorkshire Post does deserve our congratulations.
Undoubtedly there is evidence from West Germany and the United States, some of which has been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, that more lead is taken in by children than was previously thought. The effects of this at the higher levels of what was previously regarded as "normal" can be absolutely devastating.
There can be no greater cost to the nation than to have our children taking into their bodies a substance that causes impairment of intelligence, amounting to seven points difference in IQ. United States evidence shows that there are subtle effects on the brain, causing psychological and behavioural problems.
I have no doubt that in mentioning the case of the little boy who came to her surgery my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green was remembering the discussions we had on the Select Committee dealing with battered children. Over and over again we heard of babies and toddlers with inexplicable behavioural difficulties for which doctors could find no explanation or treatment. This caused unbearable stress, which sometimes led to ill treatment. It is intolerable that we should sit idly by, as we have been doing, instead of tackling what might well be a contributory factor to this.
I understand that a working party on lead pollution, particularly from car exhausts, and its suspected effects on children, is now to be set up by the DHSS. Quite candidly, I do not really want a working party to study that. If 417 the working party comes out with different results from those of the West German and the United States experiments, shall we be expected to say that ours is clearly a work of better quality and that we believe it all and are all reassured? I shall not say that, and I am sure that many people in this country will have the same reaction.
If the results of a fresh working party apparently contradict the work that has already been done, it will be viewed with considerable scepticism. If the results confirm the work that has already been done, it will only have caused extra delay, and we shall still be faced with the problems, which are supposed to be so difficult, of cost, of balance of payments, and so on. The problems will not have disappeared. It is a completely mad way of dealing with the problem.
I believe that the Government could get themselves far more justifiable credit in this matter if they were to say "We have been late in dealing with this. Now we have evidence that the problem is worse than we thought and that people are breathing in more lead than we thought, and the effect of breathing in this lead is detrimental to children. Therefore with all speed we shall take action about it."
I am absolutely sure, speaking from the Midlands, and from a constituency based to a great extent on the manufacture of cars, that the reaction there to such an announcement by the Government would be of overwhelming gratitude. It is precisely areas such as the Midlands, with the network of motorways, motorway junctions and built-up areas, that are at risk from lead pollution. It will be an unbearable irony if fathers who are helping to make cars are put in the position that, because of the unsuitable nature of the fuel put into those cars, their own kids are damaged by the resulting fuel emissions. I believe this to be demonstrably the case and I urge the Government to take very early action.
In West Germany, where the Government have taken such action, the Minister concerned—the Minister of Transport—has said that there has not been a significant increase in the demand for crude oil in the German Federal Republic. He has said that the reason why the Government took the step they did was that they realised that the concentration of lead 418 compounds in automobile exhaust gases constitutes a health hazard for the population. If the West German Government can recognise a health hazard for their population, surely our Labour Government in this country can recognise a health hazard for our population. Surely they can take action at least equal to that taken in West Germany.
In West Germany, according to the Ministry of the Interior, as a result of the action taken, the lead content of the air has been reduced by up to 60 per cent. If my right hon. Friend the Minister of State were associated with that sort of development, it would be something of which he could be for ever proud. It would be far more important than being a purveyor either of drought or rainfall.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)
I am a curer, not a purveyor.
§ Mrs. Wise
Sometimes the cure was worse than the complaint. My right hon. Friend has an opportunity here to take note of these points and to do something about them. If he does, I am sure that there will be a favourable response from the population. If he does not, there will be trouble about it. At present, this discussion is largely at the level of the scientists ; it has not penetrated very much into the mind of the person who came to the surgery. She is not conscious of this sort of thing, but she will become conscious of it, and the amount of anger that will be engendered among people, and the fear that they will experience, will be enormous.
However careful the steps that have been taken, it is not possible to keep these things to a restricted audience. It is impossible to do so. We are now on the verge of this issue becoming very much part of the consciousness of ordinary people. They will not be prepared to put up with talk about the balance of payments or the cost to the oil industry when they think that their kids are threatened by this kind of trouble.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green described this as an insult to the developing brains of our children. It is an insult to the Members of this House and to British people in general to think that they will tolerate this situation indefinitely. If the Government do not 419 take note of the insult to children's brains, they will have to take note of the fact that we will not tolerate our intelligence being insulted by dilatoriness on this matter.
When my right hon. Friend made his reassuring statements in the past I do not believe that he could have been aware of the information that is now available. It is precisely because he has made reassuring statements that I look to him to be even more zealous in correcting this matter, now that it has been shown quite clearly that the lead is there, is being breathed in, and is a danger to our infants.
There is also the fact that the streams of particles that are not breathed in are dropping down into dusts, including household dusts. Because of the things that kids do, such as licking their fingers, they are taking in more lead that way. It also drops on to soil and vegetables. As a result, all those who have allotments or gardens near roads will become conscious of the fact that in growing their own food, because they think it is more healthy, they may be taking in more poison than may be contained in the stuff at the greengrocer's.
The fact that these particles are able to find their way into the soil, vegetables, water and air, and in this way are taken into the human body and stored, is something that this House cannot ignore, and something on which the Government must take urgent action.
§ 12.14 a.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Like the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) initiated this debate, mainly for two reasons. First, she has followed this subject for a far longer period than I. She has been in the House a long time and has pursued the problem with great diligence. Secondly, it shows that the benefit of spreading the load around on the Ballot for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate means that one does not have to wait until debate No. 25, as I would have done, but can take part in debate No. 2.
I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. I hope that he will answer the debate rather than 420 read out the prepared speech that he has brought with him, because I have not yet seen him make any notes. I make that point in a friendly spirit, because I do not want to cause any trouble.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that he has not yet seen me make notes because so far I have anticipated every point that has been raised in the notes that I have prepared.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is excellent. It is a pity that when I last raised this subject, on the last Consolidated Fund Bill debate in the early hours of 2nd August, my right hon. Friend was on the other side of the world, following his duties at the Commonwealth Games or the World Cup. I shall not repeat that earlier speech, but I am entitled to refer to four topics that I mentioned to which no answers have yet been given. I shall give the column references from Hansard if my right hon. Friend wants to reply to them, but if he has come prepared with the answers, that is even better.
The topics related to the report of the working party on lead pollution in Birmingham, following the study around "Spaghetti junction" initiated by the Minister four years ago after my Adjournment debate of 2nd April 1974, one month after I became a Member of this House. So my interest in the subject dates almost from the day that I took my place here.
The Birmingham report is now being quoted in academic journals, in the Harwell report, for instance. It has been described by some academics—perhaps unfairly—as a fiasco and has suffered many other criticisms. There has been no answer to the questions that I raised as reported in Hansard, at column 573 of Vol. 955.
I talked then of the survey, techniques and about how the sample of children was obtained. The parents were to blame for the poor response, and there was a follow-up, but those conducting it did not seem sufficiently aware of the problems of the inner areas of Birmingham. They therefore took an artificial sample of children in Sutton Coldfield, which changed the point of the exercise and distorted the figures. We still have not been told why these techniques were chosen.
I raised a more substantial point in cols. 574 and 575 of Hansard about the 421 hospital where the children had to go. Why was it Good Hope hospital, when the children could have gone to the children's hospital in the city centre or to Dudley Road hospital, either of which could have done the blood level checks? It is difficult to ask parliamentary questions about a report such as this although it was published by the Department of the Environment.
At col. 576 of Hansard—I hope that the Minister will not gloss over this—I said that although we have reduced the amount of lead per litre and plan to reduce it still further, we shall still, by 1981, be pushing more lead into the atmosphere than we are today because of the growth of traffic.
§ Mr. Denis Howell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is in dispute, as is everything that we shall say tonight. That is why we shall keep pressing. My statement was not refuted by the Minister on that occasion. There is evidence that the lead in the atmosphere will increase as the tonnage of traffic grows.
I wish to deal with foreign experience, particularly that of West Germany, in more detail. At column 578 of Hansard I quoted information that may have been incorrect. It was from an article that appeared in the Yorkshire Post in October 1977. Mr. Ratcliffe was quoting American motor industry moguls who claimed that reducing the levels of lead in petrol resulted in a lower overall cost of motoring. This took into account an extra 4 cents a gallon for lead-free petrol. Maintenance savings at 1970 prices, according to a Mr. Gunness, who gave evidence before the sub-committee on public health and welfare of the United States Congress, would have been as much as $45 on a year's 15,000 miles of motoring. So the net cost of motoring, which is what concerns the motorist, is reduced.
What contact has there been between my right hon. Friend's Department and the American motor industry? Clearly this massive industry has an interest to defend. If it is making these claims the British Government should be taking cognisance of them. We are often told that British Governments do anything that American Governments tell them. It would be nice if the American Government would tell our Government to reduce the 422 lead content of petrol. Perhaps that is how we shall get action in the end.
I hope that at some future date we shall get answers to the points that I raised on the report on lead pollution in Birmingham, which has caused considerable disquiet in the city and in research circles.
I wish now to move on to the two reports published by the Warren Spring laboratory in the summer of this year. They were reports on what is known as the multi-elements survey. They dealt respectively with the first and second years' results. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what routine steps were being taken to monitor the level of lead in the atmosphere in urban areas. My right hon. Friend answered that the Warren Spring laboratory had measured lead levels at 20 urban sites over the past two years and he said:The results of both these studies will be published shortly.—[Official Report, 12th July 1978; Vol. 953, c. 654.]When I saw, on coming back after the Summer Recess, that there had been no press comment on this matter, I tabled a Question asking when the reports would be published. My right hon. Friend informed me that they had been published in August and copies had been placed in the Library. I thank him, because copies were enclosed in the answer to me.
I do not think, however, that publication meant putting copies in the Library. I rang the Warren Spring laboratory and asked the research director how the reports were published. There is no price or Command number on the front of them. I asked how we were expected to know that the reports had been published. I was told that every quarter a list of all the laboratory's publications was compiled and these were sent out to libraries, to researchers, and so on, and that people could pick out of those reports anything in which they were interested.
I said that the reply was unsatisfactory. I confirmed that neither of the reports had been sent to Professor Bryce-Smith or to Dr. Stephens, at Birmingham university, the two main dissidents in the argument. One would have thought that if the laboratory had had something positive to say in defence of the status quo, it would have drawn the attention of those two gentlemen to it. It did not do so, and 423 therefore I am left wondering about the reports. There has been hardly any press comment. I do not think that a press statement was issued when the reports were published. I looked in the Library and I was unable to find one in the box.
Three points must be raised about the Warren Spring report. These points all come from the first year's results, because that is the report that contains the discussion. It is quite clearly stated there—as if there were any doubt about it—that the lead in the air, which is what was being measured,is considered to arise mostly from the use of lead alkali anti-knock derivatives used in petrol-driven motor vehicles.There seemed to be some doubt where the lead in the air came from in some of our parliamentary Questions and debates. Quite clearly, the report says "mostly ". I have now seen figures stating that 95 per cent. of lead in the air emanates from petrol-driven motor vehicles.
However, the significant thing about the report was that lead levels had been measured, plus those of other dangerous metals as well—arsenic, beryllium cadmium, and so on; I shall not bore the House with the whole list, because we are dealing only with lead—at 20 different sites around the country. Many of the measurements at these sites were taken at 30 ft. to 40 ft. above ground level. Basically, they were not taken at a level of air that critizens are breathing. They were certainly not taken at the level of air that little five-year-olds are breathing. I shall quote a few examples because they are useful.
At the manor clinic location at Ridgeway Road, Sheffield, the monitor was 10 metres above ground level. At the civic centre, Newport, Gwent, it was 10 metres above ground level. At Lanchester polytechnic, in Coventry, the monitor was located 25 metres—over 75 ft.—above ground level. At Market Buildings, Vicar Lane, Leeds, the monitor was 15 metres above ground level. There was one monitor 4 metres above ground level. That was at the transport depot, Lime Street, Grangemouth. I think that that was the lowest-placed monitor of all of them.
In all 20 locations, lead, as opposed to all the other metals, stood out like a sore thumb as a major pollutant. The system 424 that was used was the threshold limit value divided by 40, and a mean percentage was taken. On every occasion lead was well into ordinary digits. In some cases it was 31. In others it was 21, 21 and 15. Altogether metals were below I and well below .1 in many cases.
The last point to which I refer in the Warren Spring report, because it is important, is in respect of the part of the country that I represent and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State represents. In the references to the first Warren Spring report, on page 9, reference 10 says:Data from a confidential report.Looking up what item 10 refers to in the column of pollutants, in table 3, I find that it is aUK industrial midlands report.It says1973. No further information from this report can be supplied.I should like to know what that report is. No one in Birmingham or the Midlands to whom I have talked knows what that report is. I cannot for the life of me see why that report, which is now quoted as a reference in order to put tables together in a Government report, is classed as confidential and why it is said that no further information can be obtained.
That may not be one of the points that my right hon. Friend will mention tonight. He seems to be indicating that it is not likely that he will do so. I should like an assurance that someone will give me an answer at some time about that report. I know that my right hon. Friend will at least look into that matter.
We have heard a lot about the experience of West Germany. I shall not take up a lot of our time, but it is important to bear in mind that the Germans are closer to us than are Japan and America. The Germans are fellow members of the Community. That is something that my right hon. Friend supports. He nods with approval. One would suppose, therefore, that if there were a reason for the things that have been done in Germany, in terms of social and health policies and environmental protection—they have cut the amount of lead in petrol to one-third of what it is in Britain, to .15 grammes per litre—we might have some lessons to learn from the West Germans.
425 A citizen of Britain, a Mr. Albery, has had occasion—I shall not go into the background or the reasons why—to write to various Governments and companies asking them various questions. One of the letters that he wrote was to the West German Minister of Transport, dated 19th July. He asked a series of questions. I shall not read them all. I shall certainly not read all the answers, because my right hon. Friend has had copies of all the correspondence. But it will be for the benefit of the House and of the record if I mention at least two or three of these. The first question was:What made the West German Government decide that the EEC level of .45 grammes per litre of lead was too high, and that a reduction should be made to .15 grammes per litre?The basis of the answer, from the Minister for Transport, was:The basis of the West German Government's decision to enact legislation for the lowering of the lead content (of petrol)… was the realisation that the concentration of lead compounds in automobile exhaust gases constitutes a health hazard for the population. Lead and its compounds have long been recognised everywhere as one of the most toxic elements in existence. The lead emissions of exhaust gases are particularly dangerous in this respect since they occur in the form of minute particles which reach the pulmonary tract in respired air.It went on to state—this is where I got the figure of 95 per cent:Over 95 per cent. of the total lead in the atmosphere is derived from lead added to petrol.".One of the further questions asked by Mr. Albery was whether there had been any problems about makes of motor cars. We are a motor manufacturing nation. We live on our exports. This is, therefore, an important point to be taken on board. Mr. Albery asked:Are there some makes of car which cannot run on this low-leaded fuel without adjustment? If so, what adjustments have you found to be necessary and about how much do they cost?The answer was:According to the reports received from car manufacturers, lowering of the lead content of petrol has caused no major problems except in the cases of a few makes with high-compression engines. In this context, the agreement between the motor car and petrol manufacturing industries which led to the definition of minimal standards (of petrol)… is most important. The maintenance of these minimal standards is constantly being checked.426 Mr. Albery asked a further question:Have any benefits been shown?That is, benefits from the change in the law.
The answer was:According to the Ministry of the Interior… the lead content of the air has been reduced up to 60 per cent.The lead content of the air in West Germany has been reduced by up to 60 per cent. by the passage of this law.
The next question was:Did it force any refineries out of business? Perhaps the smaller ones?He offered a gateway in his question. The answer was:No refineries have been forced out of business.Mr. Albery then asked how they managed to cope with the energy changes required and what they had been able to do to keep the octane level high, although they had low-leaded petrol. The answers are lengthy, and it would not be fair to read them in full, because my right hon. Friend has all this information.
One interesting point which has come out of Mr. Albery's investigations relates to the Ford Motor Company. It is well known that the company manufactures in this country and in West Germany. All the Capris and Granadas sold in this country are made in West Germany. The components are the same. In Germany those cars have to be able to run on petrol containing one-third of the amount of lead that is used in this country. That is common sense.
Ford has claimed in writing that all Ford cars sold in this country since 1975 were able to run on low-lead petrol—the same amount of lead in petrol as in West Germany. They will require some modification, because the octane level has to be increased, but they are able to do it. Therefore, there cannot be any argument by our motor manufacturers. That point has to be borne in mind because of the multinational nature of our motor car industry. Ford will obviously claim not to he responsible for causing brain damage to children. It will claim that its cars are able to run on low-lead petrol, if it is available. We cannot blame Ford for that, but that seems to have passed by the Department of the Environment.
Of course, we shall hear a lot from my right hon. Friend about balance of 427 payments, costs and everything else. He indicates" No."
§ Mr. Rooker
Well, something; not a lot. I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a quarter-page Mobil advertisement in The Times—late— lamented—on 22nd November headed:British is not necessarily best.The advertisement refers to differences between North Sea and Arabian crude oil and what can be done with it—for example, how much petrol can be obtained from a barrel of crude oil, and so on. It says:Since Beryl crude is lighter, it produces more petrol and more jet fuel. Arabian crude on the other hand is excellent for lubricants, which cannot at present be produced commercially from Beryl crude. Arabian crude is also fine for heavy fuels and bitumen… A £120 million project is under way to construct a new Fluid Catalytic Cracker (FCC) and related equipment. When the FFC unit is installed we'll be able to upgrade the barrel' —to make an extra 800,000 gallons of petrol a day from the same amount of crude run.Mobil is saying, for all to read, that given the nature of its own investment it will be able to get more petrol out of a barrel of North Sea oil than it does now. It is already getting more petrol out of a barrel of North Sea oil than out of a barrel of Arabian oil.
Arabian oil might be used for lubricants, but the lead deposits in the engine that do not go out of the exhaust pipe, but are stuck in the sump, damage the lubricating oils. Those oils, according to Mobil, are imported from Arabia at a great cost to the balance of payments. The very oil that costs more and we have to import is being destroyed by the additives that go into it when it is in the engine. Therefore it must be changed more often, and so we need to import more.
My right hon. Friend must meet the point made in the advertisement. I do not know whether Mobil is telling the truth, but one presumes that if it takes a quarter-page advertisement in The Times it has something to tell the world.
There is a remarkable silence from the oil companies on the question of lead pollution from petrol. Some would say that there is a conspiracy of silence. For 428 the first time the oil companies are blazoning to the world what they can do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) has a constituency interest. Octel, the only company that makes the lead additive, is based in his constituency. Octel's library, which has been surreptitiously purged, contains documents produced before 1974 which state that the company knows that the lead is damaging and that it is concerned about the matter. Those documents are available, but they have not been published. Why not? Why cannot my right hon. Friend ask the oil companies to publish all the documents, so that there are no confidential or secret reports? I know that those are emotive words. No Minister likes to be accused of hiding a secret. No doubt we shall hear more about that.
§ Mr Rooker
Before we do, I want to deal with the Harwell report. I shall not quote from the published copy, but I shall make three points about its contents and the assumptions made, after I have talked about the cost. What has bred suspicion about the report is the fact that, in the words of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy on 22nd November 1978:The research was sponsored through the Institute of Petroleum."—[Official Report, 22nd November 1978; Vol. 958, c. 622.]In that reply to a Question by me, he did not say that the research was sponsored by the Department of Energy, the Department of the Environment or the Department of Health and Social Security. He said that the total cost was £119,000, about 67 per cent. funded by central Government.
My hon. Friend gave me the exact figures on 30th November, in a Written Answer which appeared in column 264 of Hansard for that date. He said that the total of £119,000 was funded 32 per cent. by industry—I am not sure what that meant—18 per cent. by the Department of the Environment, 42 per cent. by the Department of Energy and 8 per cent. by the DHSS. I am worried about the fact that there has been some industrial sponsorship.
What is the status of the Institute of Petroleum in funding or sponsoring a 429 report published under the aegis of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, with the names of respected researchers on the front? The report was also funded by the International Lead Zinc Research Organisation.
It makes me wonder whether such organisations are paying for research to be done in a public institution. I seriously question whether it is in the public interest that work on public health, carried out in the public sector, should remain unpublished, in some cases, because the industrial sponsors say so. My right hon. Friend nods his head. In my question of 30th November I asked the Minister tolist all research projects carried out at AERE in the past 10 years on the subject of lead pollution where any part of the cost has been contributed by private industry.I was told that in addition to the two reports bearing the name of Dr. Chamberlain, of which this is the second, there had been:two other projects, one costing £4,400 and the other £9,500. Both were 100 per cent. supported by industry and commissioned on the basis of commercially confidential contracts. In these circumstances the Department is not able to publish the reports and I regret that further information cannot be given."—[Official Report, 30th Nov. 1978; Vol 959, c. 263–4.]I put a direct question to my right hon. Friend. Will he undertake to ask the sponsors of these reports to give their approval to the publication of the reports? My right hon. Friend can refuse to ask the question, but it will not cost him anything if I ask it. It would be interesting to know what the sponsors would say. They have used public sector investment at Harwell, funded by the taxpayer, to produce reports directly affecting the health of citizens of this country, yet the reports are not to be published because they say so. That is not good enough.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am not sure which of the reports that my hon. Friend says have been commissioned at Harwell have not been published. I shall look into this and write to him. To the best of my knowledge, all of the reports affecting my Department, which we have commissioned—certainly dealing with this specific matter —have been published. Whatever my hon. Friend says about sponsorship, does he not agree that in this area the reputation of our scientists at Harwell is 430 so pre-eminent, and their integrity is so much beyond doubt, that it would not matter who sponsored their report; they would most certainly, as pure scientists, insist upon their findings being published? In spite of my hon. Friend's criticisms, there can be no doubt about the validity of the work done by these scientists.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am not impugning anyone. The tragedy is that I have to stand up and make this point. I am forced to this because of the answer to my Question. My Question related to lead pollution and work done at Harwell in the past 10 years, wholly or partly sponsored by industry. There have been four reports. Two have been published. Two others, funded wholly by industry, have not been published. This was at the request of the industrial sponsors.
Either my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy was giving a bona fide answer to the House—it is an answer not to me but to the House of Commons—or he was not. I do not believe that industrial sponsors ought to be able to do this. It is not as if they are dealing with new products; we are talking about public health and the public interest.
If new products are involved and there could be commercial problems, that ought to be said. It has not been said. My Question related to lead pollution. I did not talk about product development.
§ Mr. Durant
May I deal with the point about these reports? The first thing that the hon. Member should realise, as the Minister has said, is that the integrity of the scientists is not in doubt. It is a common practice for scientific establishments of all sorts to undertake scientific work sponsored by whoever. In scientific establishments it has always been the custom that the publishing of those reports is in the hands of the sponsor. That is a right that the person who has paid to have the research carried out should have. The hon. Member should not suggest in what he is saying that the scientists would "bend" the report. They would write their report without fear or favour.
The argument is about publication, and I think that sponsors have a right, if they have paid for it, not to have the research published if they so wish—if their purpose 431 is to get information for their own industry.
§ Mr. Rooker
But if the industry itself were more open on the subject there would not be the suspicion, and if the Government's own reports were not partly paid for by private industry there would not be the suspicion. This point must be made. I understand what is said about farming out research contracts. The Rothschild report spoke of research contracts and about research establishments going out to get business. That is a fair point, and most of what the hon. Gentleman has just said has validity, but in this context I cannot see why the reports should not be published. All I am asking my right hon. Friend to do is to ask the sponsors, via Harwell, whether they would have their work published. I cannot see anything wrong in asking. If they refuse, we shall know where we stand.
§ Mrs. Wise
I am anxious that my hon. Friend should not retreat on this matter. My right hon. Friend said that there was no doubt that the scientists would insist on these things being published. We were then told by the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) that it was common practice for sponsors to say "No, you may not publish ". But these are matters of public health, and that should be overriding. I do not care twopence if the reports cost £4,000 or £400,000. When public health is concerned, if work is done in public institutions there should be publication of the results. The House should insist on it. I hope that my hon. Friend will not retreat on that at all.
§ Mr. Rooker
Clearly, I could not if I wanted to. But I am not retreating. Because it would come better from a Minister of the Crown than from me, all I originally asked my right hon. Friend to do is to ask the sponsors whether they will allow their work to be published. We ought to have an answer at some future date about that.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am happy to respond to my hon. Friend now. This is the first I have heard of the earlier reports, and I shall inquire into the matter and write to him. I know that he will give full publication to any reply that I send to him. He always does.
432 The point that I want to make with all the emphasis that I can command, certainly in regard to the work that we ourselves commission—and I think that this would apply to any others—is that the reputation and integrity of the scientists at Harwell, and in particular Dr. Chamberlain, who has been responsible for the two reports commissioned by my Department, are extremely high. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not challenge that. I am grateful to him on that account. Therefore, there can be no valid question about who sponsored the research, if the research itself or the results of the research are published and the scientists' integrity is beyond challenge, as I believe the position to be.
§ Mr. Alf Bates (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)
My hon. Friend mentioned the Associated Octel company and suggested that there were reports by that company, or sponsored by it, which had not been published. I think that my hon. Friend insinuated that they were not for the company's own purposes. Could my hon. Friend tell us which they were, so that I may inquire about it and pass the matter on?
§ Mr. Rooker
For reasons that will be obvious to my hon. Friend when I explain them to him, I cannot tell him at this moment, in the Chamber, but I shall tell him immediately I sit down. There is no secret about it. For various reasons, if I mentioned it now there could be a bit of a problem for the rest of the debate, and I do not want to put the debate in jeopardy. I shall put my hon. Friend on the right track and tell him who has these reports. I shall not go into that matter further. It is not a red herring; it is an important point of substance.
It is true that I alleged that this was a secret report. I know that a few hon. Members on the Opposition Benches said that it was not going to be published. It is true that the draft that I saw had a note on it "Not for publication ", and it is true that since then I have been told that all reports from Harwell have" Not for publication" on them. But it did not have the word "draft" on it. If I had seen the word "draft" in the title and the note "Not for publication ", I 433 might have thought "It is obvious that it is a draft ".
This report came via the United States, to the knowledge of academics in this country, with an international reputation. They did not even know that the report was being put together. But when they asked their colleagues—because all these academics are colleagues, whoever pays the bill—" Could we share your work in order to review, comment and so on?" the reply was "No. You can't have it ". When they were told that, quite rightly they thought "Ah, it is a secret report ". That was a natural conclusion to draw. Then, when I saw the report that I was given, not via the Reading university professor, and saw the weights laid out on the front page, I, too, had to draw that conclusion. The report has been published since, and I thank Ministers for it. One has to accept the assurances that it was fully intended to publish.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) made the claim that we were sucking in three times more lead than was thought in the past. I hate to contradict her, but the report did not state that as such. It stated that we were getting three times more lead in the blood from the air we breathe than we thought we were
The amount of lead that we are taking in is exactly the same, but the point remains that if we are getting more in the blood from petrol, and so on, we are getting less from food and everything else. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green said, we can do something about the lead in the air, because 95 per cent. of it comes from petrol. It is more difficult to do something about the lead in food.
Their findings would have been acceptable if the Harwell researchers had used the estimates of the intake of lead from food acceptable to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but they did not do that. They used an estimate of the intake of lead from food as 270 microgrammes per day instead of 170 microgrammes per day, as the Ministry of Agriculture states. I did not get that figure from the answer to my own parliamentary Question, which shows that I should read my answers more carefully. But I got an answer recently from the Ministry of Agriculture which stated, in 434 reply to my request for a statement on the progress of reducing the lead intake from food:Weekly ingestation of lead from food and drink by the average person is about 1.2 milligrammes."—[Official Report, 5th December 1978; Vol. 959, c. 516.]Divide that by seven, and we have the 170 microgrammes per day.
Why did the Harwell researchers not use the Ministry of Agriculture's figure for the intake of lead from food? Why did they drum up the figure of 270? It was because, by using the higher estimate, they underestimated the amount of lead coming from petrol. That is the natural response. They did the same with another aspect.
In a letter to New Scientiston December 7th, Professor Bryce-Smith commenting on the Harwell report, said that the report had used a main figure of 15 per cent. gastro-intestinal absorption rather than the figure of 10 per cent. used by the World Health Organisation. I should have thought that what was good enough for the WHO would have been good enough for the Harwell researchers. If they are disputing that WHO figure, let them say so. Again, the effect has been that the Harwell researchers have underestimated the amount of lead in the blood that comes from petrol.
The Harwell researchers used as the figure for lead intake from the breathing in of air what Professor Bryce-Smith called the "unrealistically low figure" of 15 cubic metres per day, which was assumed to be the volume of air respired by the average man. The United States National Academy of Sciences, in the report "Airborne Lead in Perspective 1971 ", stated that 23 cubic metres is a better estimate for reference man—the man engaged in light working activity. Again, the figure used by the Harwell researchers would have the effect of underestimating the amount of lead absorbed in the blood from petrol.
Given that they came up with a figure three times greater than they had come up with before, and given that there were at least three factors in the report which combined to make them grossly underestimate the figure that they had come up with before, what are we left with? We are left with a figure that no one can trust. 435 It is three times greater than their previous figure, and, based on this estimate, there is a good chance that it may be even higher. Cognisance has to be taken of that.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt tell us about the committee that has been set up. We have heard a lot about committees looking into this matter. In reply to a Question of mine the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security told me that his Department was establishing a working partyto review the overall effect on health of environmental lead from all sourcesHe added:Professor Lawther has agreed to be chairman of the working party, which will include other members of this Committee and experts in the psychological and developmental testing of children."—[Official Report, 13th November 1978; Vol. 958, c. 70.]One of the functions of the working party will be to review the memorandum sent to my right hon. Friend by the Conservation Society in September, following a meeting that he had with the society earlier in the year. The document was entitled "The Health Effects of Lead on Children: A Review of the Literature published since 1976."
The working party was announced in answer to a Question of mine. I had asked—this is a major plank of my argument tonight; I do not suppose that my right hon. Friend will have an answer, and if he does not I shall understand, but perhaps he will assure the House that he will provide one—the Secretary of State for Social Services whether,when the working party referred to in his reply "—the one to which I have referred—is established, he will publish full details of all members, drawing attention to any who have been involved in research wholly or partly sponsored by private industry.That was a legitimate Question. If these people are to make up the working party, and if what they say is to be the basis of Government policy, it is legitimate to ask whether any of them have been involved in work wholly or partly sponsored by private industry.
I did not get my Question answered. I was given a list of all the members, which is fair enough. At the end of his reply, my right hon. Friend said: 436All members of expert committees advising my Department in the field of toxicology are required to declare to Ministers and the chief medical officer any current pecuniary interests—for example from consultancies—in the fields in which they advise."—[Official Report, 29th November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 272–73.]I did not ask that; I asked whether we could be told which of those members had been involved in research wholly or partly sponsored by private industry. I am aware that anyone joining a Government establishment or committee would declare an interest in any current research that he was undertaking in the field. That is fairly obvious. I understand that, but that was not my question.
§ Mr. Rooker
Of course it is typical. Nevertheless, the Question was not answered. Why? Because of the worst motives on my part, I have to assume that there is something to hide.
I have not counted the members—there are about nine or ten—but perhaps every one of them has been involved in such work. I want to draw the attention of the House to two members of the working party. It is important to know whether these people have a clean slate, as I shall call it, and will consider the matter objectively. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can tell me why the Question was not answered. Perhaps, also, he will give me an assurance that he will undertake to let us know whether these people have been engaged in any of the work to which I have referred.
It has been put to me that the composition of the working party gives grounds for believing that this exercise is more political than medical or scientific. That is a serious accusation to make against a high-powered committee, but it is a challenge that has to be met with substantive answers.
§ Mr. Spearing
Did my hon. Friend say that he was making that accusation or has he said who made it? Perhaps he could tell the House.
§ Mr. Rooker
I was coming to that. I have been feeding out the answers that I have been getting to anyone who has expressed an interest in this subject, because there are points that I shall not pick up and do not understand, and if 437 anyone has a feedback he will come back to me.
Professor Bryce-Smith wrote to me. I shall not quote all his letter, for many reasons, not just because of its length. No one will deny that he is highly regarded and has spent a considerable time on this subject. I have never met him, and have spoken to him only twice on the telephone. He wrote:A number of the persons named are not known to me "—he does not know everybody—as having worked in the fields of environmental lead or lead toxicology. Of those that are known to me, the majority, if not all, are on record as denying the reality of the phenomena most in question, namely adverse effects on mental functions in children caused by lead levels below those which produce the classical symptoms of clinical lead poisoning.I must underline that he went on to say:I am not making any reflection on the integrity of any particular member.It was a general statement on the group as a whole and the professor was not casting aspersions on any of his colleagues in research. He makes that abundantly clear, and I repeat it for the record.
I have checked some of my sources during the day because I had not come across them before and I understand that Professor Goldberg, the Regius Professor of Medicine at the university of Glasgow, is, according to Professor Bryce-Smith, probably involved with his team on the most important studies of lead pollution in the United Kingdom. His workers are better known for their medical studies on lead than are most, if not all, the members of the working party. Professor Bryce-Smith says that the omission of Professor Goldberg or any of his workers is extremely serious. Professor Bryce-Smith says that as far as he is aware Professor Goldberg has done most of his work independently of industry and commercially interested parties.
I do not know whether that factor is taken into account in deciding the composition of these committees. I cannot tell from the non-answer to my Question, but I should be interested to know whether Professor Goldberg and any of his workers were asked to be members of the working party or were considered for membership.
The other incredible fact is that the working party is to review the memoran- 438 dum from the Conservation Society, which includes quotes from 30 or 40 papers, but all the experts on the working party and all the Government Departments do not have the papers. I understand that the Conservation Society has been asked to provide copies of all the relevant papers. That has involved going through the files of university professors, doctors and researchers and getting all the papers copied. The people with allegedly expert knowledge of tests on children and toxicology do not even have the papers. What on earth is going on? Why is it that no one has the literature that an outside voluntary body has gone through at its own expense to submit a case which deserves an answer? That is quite a condemnation of our system of government, if nothing else. The Government, and not the Conservation Society, set up the working party.
The hon. Member for Reading, North quoted a paper by Oliver David on sub-clinical lead effects, and a paper by Needleman. On 1st August there was published a paper of four quarto pages by a group at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond. Street, London —very much nearer home. The patron of the hospital is Her Majesty the Queen and the chairman is the wife of the Prime Minister. The paper is entitledComments on two recent papers on the relationship between body lead and neuropsychological disfunction in children.".The comments represent a negative response. I shall not refer to them in detail.
One of the comments reads:Children from families with relatively indifferent parents are likely to play out in the streets more than others.That is an obvious comment. It continues:In a town they are likely thus to be exposed to more lead, particularly through the digestive tract, than children who do not play out. These children could have higher body lead levels, poorer scores on school-related tests and poorer behaviour. Parental attention/neglect could explain all the results presented in both papers.If that is so, why is a survey being conducted in Birmingham on children in day care centres? The Great Ormond Street report tries to demolish the reports by Needleman and David. It says:All are agreed that when children ingest large quantities of lead they suffer serious and 439 permanent disability. For this reason public health legislation has laid down stringent measures to control the amount of lead in the environment in this country.The David and Needleman papers raise the question whether regulations should be even tighter because, the authors suggest, children can be harmed by a lower exposure to lead than has been considered significant up to the present time.Four people from the Great Ormond Street hospital have produced a paper that is addressed to nobody. It does not say who requested that the paper be drawn up. Those involved are Professor Barbara Clayton, who is one of the members of the new working party, Mr. Delves, senior lecturer at the department of chemical pathology, Professor Graham, professor of psychiatry, and Dr. Lansdown, principal psychologist, who is also a member of the new working party. The four tell us that the American papers can be explained in many ways and two of them are to be members of the working party. They do not say who asked them to produce the report.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The report is in response to a request by the Department of Health and Social Security.
§ Mr. Rooker
I understand that the Department of Health and Social Security requested that the report be compiled and published.
§ Mr. Durant
It is interesting that the paper by Dr. David was addressed to University College, London. In that paper Dr. David talked at length about a drug that he had administered to the children whom he researched, which nullified the effects of lead. I am surprised that the hon. Member should read from the report, of which I have not heard, which seems to knock that research on one side.
§ Mr. Rooker
The hon. Member is right, particularly since two of the authors of the report are to be members of the working party which is to take an objective look at the matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister has said that the report was produced at the request of the Department of Health and Social Security to be distributed to those who request it. How does anybody know that there is a paper to request unless it has been published?
§ Mr. Rooker
I am about to explain. The four people who made comments at the request of a Government Department did not have the courtesy to inform the two authors of the other papers that they had produced a report. It is normal for academics to provide copies of what they write about colleagues. That did not happen.
That is surprising. I do not know why that was not done. I do not know whether instructions were given. I understand that Great Ormond Street was told that it could distribute the paper to those requesting it. Why was that? I understand that it is the oil companies that are requesting the paper and quoting it in defence of putting lead into petrol. How did the companies know that the paper had been prepared unless they were told by the Department of Health and Social Security or one of the four authors?
It is bad enough that the courtesy was not extended to inform the American authors of the comments made in the paper. My right hon. Friend shakes his head. I must tell him that it is a serious matter in the academic world among serious researchers for that sort of thing to happen. It is not looked upon with ease and kindness by fellow researchers when involved in a problem of medicine involving worldwide interest. They take a pretty dim view of that.
The result is that it makes people such as myself, who see a conspiracy around every corner, ask questions. If the Department asked for the paper to be produced, why did not it make that clear in the document? Why did not it make it clear that the document had been prepared at the request of the DHSS for anyone who asks Great Ormond Street "Have you done anything on lead and its effect on children?" Why was not that done? That is a legitimate question. My right hon. Friend frowns.
The background to the paper is far more significant than anything to do with the Harwell report. It is of the greatest significance because it is being used by the oil companies, organisations that have a direct interest. The four authors—they are bona fide researchers. skilled people at Great Ormond Street, whom I impugn in no way—have been used in a propaganda exercise by a Government Department 441 and the oil companies. Clearly they have been used. Their work has upset international colleagues because of the discourtesy that has been shown. It has made others suspicious because of the way in which the paper was put out. It was not made clear that it was produced at the behest of the British Government. I am surprised that my right hon. Friend did not place a copy in the Library and let the House know, in answer to a Question, that he had done so, in the same way as with the Warren Spring report.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I must say immediately that I take exception to my hon. Friend, whatever he says, whatever conclusions he draws and wherever he obtained his copy of the paper—perhaps we shall be able to deal with that later, as I shall refer to it when I reply—raising a question about the validity of the opinion of four senior consultants and scientists at our most pre-eminent hospital for children, and probably the most preeminent in Europe. They have made their most genuine assessment of two or three pieces of work, an assessment that they were asked to make by the Department of Health and Social Security. I owe it to the consultants and scientists at once to refute any suggestion that in the assessment that they were making they were doing anything other than applying their considerable knowledge and undoubted integrity.
§ Mr. Rooker
Here we go again. The same old twaddle is trotted out. I am not attacking the integrity of the authors. I am claiming that to protect their integrity someone has to say that they have been used in a public relations exercise. The Government have misused them. I have not done so by making the claims that I have put before the House. The Government are hiding behind a pre-eminent hospital. Of course they approached the most pre-eminent researchers at the most pre-eminent hospital to put their comments on paper. If they are used and it is ensured that the paper is trotted out and made available to anyone who asks for it, surely it should be made clear on the paper that it was put together at the request of the Government. Why was not that done?
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am aware that one cannot win with my hon. Friend the 442 Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). Had the Government not published the findings of the report, they would have been accused of suppressing vital information. I do not know why this particular paper did not have a particular heading. I shall find out. I suspect that the answer is simple—that the report was addressed to the Secretary of State for Social Services.
§ Mr. Rooker
If that is the case, the report should not be given out to anyone who asks for it. Any private individual or any oil company can ask the researchers whether they have done any work. Of course the Government cannot win. There is so much here that stinks. Every answer that one gets and every corner that one turns pose even more questions. That is the whole point.
A few days ago the Department of the Environment published the "Digest of Environmental Pollution Statistics ". HMSO, priced £3.25. I do not have a reference number. There was a comment on this document in the New Scientist on 30th November. I shall quote only the last sentence of this short report. Talking about the statistics published by the Government, it says:Levels of carbon monoxide, lead, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen from road vehicles rose by nearly 20 per cent. in the case of petrol engines and 10 per cent. in the case of diesel engines between 1970 and 1976.With a 20 per cent. increase in six years in lead and other things from petrol-driven engines, why on earth are we still waiting?
My right hon. Friend is publishing all the statistics—there is no cover-up there. In fact, no one is saying that there are any cover-ups. We have merely raised a few points tonight, and we shall have to keep raising them on every Consolidated Fund Bill debate until we get some action and until my right hon. Friend can assure us, not in his bland, friendly and sincere way but in some positive way, that at least the citizens of this country deserve from their Government the same protection of environmental health as the citizens of West Germany get from theirs.
§ 1.17 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The House has listened to a tour de, force. I do not think that Back Benchers who are apprenhensive about this subject will deny my hon. Friend the Member for 443 Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) the time that he has taken. Those who have been anxiously waiting for other debates will understand why he had to say all that, when they read his speech. I suspect that the reason why he went into so much fascinating detail was that he knew that unless he did it would not get on the record at all. In this matter, as in so many others, the Government have not been very open. Back Benchers and members of the public, speaking without detailed knowledge, have had to drag out the facts bit by bit and part by part over the past four or five years. That does not really get the debate on this off to a good start.
Public concern has continued for more than seven years. I have a cutting from The Sunday Times dated 5th April, 1971 which said:Lead pollution at crisis point.That was seven years ago. We do not seem to have come much further, although I hope that this debate has advanced the case a good deal.
There is now a campaign against lead in petrol—CALIP. The Yorkshire Post has been following this in detail. I hope that when he replies my right hon. Friend will make observations about the Yorkshire Post articles and say whether he thinks that they are fair and accurate.
This debate has become three times more important in the last month. The Harwell report shows that the problem is three times as great as it was at the time of our previous debates. That, in itself, heightens public concern about the importance of the matter and the degree of frankness that we expect from my right hon. Friend.
Of course, it is true that lead pollution can come from other sources than petrol, but the emotive effect of not really being able to do very much about what we breathe is extraordinarily strong. That is why the Government must now be prepared to be very much more active and perhaps more open about the subject than they have been in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) a year ago asked the Government what steps they were taking to discuss with the oil-refining companies
444high octane petrol which does not need alkyl lead compounds or additives.My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who will be replying to the debate, answered on that occasion. He said:The oil companies are consulted regularly in the context of the Government's programme for reducing the lead content of petrol, but the long term possibility of totally eliminating lead compounds or other additives has not been the subject of discussions."—[Official Report, 15th December 1977; Vol. 941, c. 372–4.]That was a year ago almost to the day, and I hope that, if my right hon. Friend has not already done so, he will at least begin to think about this, because it looks as though the evidence may mount up to indicate that some action of this sort will have to be taken.
In the same column of the Official Report my right hon. Friend was asked for particulars about the permitted grammes per litre, and the interesting table shows that the figure of grammes per litre taken overall in the United States was only 0.21, in West Germany 0.15, and in the United Kingdom 0.45, as my hon. Friends have said in the debate.
When my right hon. Friend replies, will he say whether he thinks that the German limit of 0.15 grammes per litre is unnecessarily cautious? What is his view of the German limit? If that is the German limit, why is it not the United Kingdom limit? Where do his advisers differ from the advisers of the West German Government?
I am not one to say that we should harmonise, and still less that we should harmonise by regulations from on high, but if there is a good argument for going along with what another country has done because of the merits of the case, we should do so. If we should not do so, the Government should tell us why. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us why tonight. I see that he is not taking a note, so perhaps he has it all worked out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr mentioned the tonnages of lead going into the atmosphere. My recollection of the matter is that it is about 10,000 tonnes a year. This means that 50 tonnes a year come on to the borough of Newham, and I suspect that every London borough frets at least that amount. Put in those terms, this is perhaps another angle to the problem.
445 Is my right hon. Friend able to outline to us any of the Government work that is being done on emission control generally, whether by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory or any other researches which have been commissioned, and not just in respect of lead emission? After all, my right hon. Friend is a Minister of the Department of the Environment. Other countries have stronger and stricter controls, particularly the United States of America, not just on lead emission but on other things, particularly carbon monoxide. I fancy that there will be other problems, which I will not go into now, concerning summer conditions, particularly in London, with invisible gases. It may well be that the Department of the Environment will have to face this. Perhaps the Minister can tell us in outline about the general position on emission control. It might cost something, but I understand that at the moment our petrol is one of the cheapest in Europe, so there would seem to be a little expenditure available there, particularly as just over a year ago the duty did not go up. The Government proposed but the Liberal Party disposed. Perhaps the question of emission will be important, and we may have to incur some expenditure there.
I understand from the correspondence, of which there has been some mention already, that the Government as a whole, under Department of the Environment auspices, are spending about £150,000 on further studies. When he replies, I hope that my right hon. Friend will outline just what those studies are and what their objectives are. They probably include the working party that has already been mentioned, but there may be other things as well.
I have a letter from the Department of Health and Social Security, signed by the Secretary of State himself, to Mr. John Bradbrook, of the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, which is not quite so optimistic as some of the pronouncements of the Department of the Environment. In talking about lead in petrol, the Secretary of State says:Secondly, in recent years the controversial suggestion has been made that there may be a relationship between the exposure of young children to amounts of lead below those which have been regarded as toxic and various effects on mental development. This is obviously an extremely important and worrying suggestion. The research undertaken in the past has been 446 carefully reviewed by British and international groups of experts, whose advice was that the results were not conclusive. They noted that the findings were contradictory, and that faults were to be found in the studies which made it very possible that false conclusions could have been drawn; it is in fact a difficult subject to study.Recently some further work which tried to overcome the difficulties has been completed, and my advisers will wish to assess the results as soon as they are available. While summaries of the results have already been made public, experience shows that it is essential for the full details of expert scientific work of such difficulty to be assessed by other experts before conclusions are drawn one way or the other. Additional research is being funded by the Government on the significance of exposure to lead in relatively small amounts "—I do not know whether this was pre- or post-Harwell—and on the relative importance of different sources of lead in the environment. Close attention will be paid to the results of all the studies as they become available.I would have thought that that reply, signed by a member of the Cabinet, was cautious. However, it is certainly a cause for concern, because it really says" Not proven ". I prefer the approach of the DHSS and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to some of the things that we have heard in previous debates. I suppose that although they are responsible for health they do not have a vested interest in the economic side. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be interested in what I have read to him, especially if he has not already seen that letter. In fact, it was dated 6th November, so probably it was known what the Harwell report would contain. Perhaps that was responsible for the change in tone.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the assumptions about the amount of lead exhaled have been changed by the Harwell report? I understand that previously there was disagreement about the amount of lead that one both breathed in and breathed out again—in other words, the amount that remained in the body. I understand that there has been a change in the assessment of this amount, since at one time it was thought that only about 15–20 per cent. of lead particles inhaled remained in the body, to be ingested or to remain in the blood, but that now it has been found to be much more. I suspect that that letter was written after the greater amount had been identified. 447 The Conservation Society report was mentioned by my hon Friend the Member for Perry Barr, but I think it right to quote the first part of its conclusion, because it is a very moderate one, which to some extent echoes the letter from the DHSS. It says:We consider that the truth of the foregoing propositions "—that is, the propositions that the society advanced—has been established by the supporting evidence, coupled with the absence of substantial contrary evidence to a degree which justifies immediate legislative action designed to reduce greatly the present public exposure to lead, and in particular the exposure of children and pregnant women. We further take the view that the weight of evidence now so strongly implicates lead as a serious public health hazard at contemporary exposure levels that the onus of proof now lies upon those who wish to continue the present practices rather than upon those who wish them to cease.That is almost the state of play. It seems an eminently reasonable point of view, which is apparently shared by the Secretary of State for Social Services.
I did not know until tonight that the working party set up by the DHSS is to assess the case made by the Conservation Society. It is a pity that it has been necessary.
§ Mr. Spearing
If the Government were up to this issue, they could have responded. I am not criticising the setting up of the working party, but it suggests that the Department's researches were not as well advanced as those of the Conservation Society.
This has been a long-running saga. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr mentioned his debate of 2nd April 1974. There was also a debate on 4th March 1976, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) moved an amendment to an EEC regulation on this matter. I regret that Mr. Deputy Speaker at that time did not grant my request for an extension of the debate to one and a half hours under Standing Order No. 3(1)(b), although five hon. Members were waiting to speak.
We have had longer tonight, and the case is well advanced. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr receives answers to the questions that he 448 asked on 1st August. I have, unhappily, had letters in the last few weeks saying that inadequate answers were given then. This House is the defender of the liberties of the British people against the Executive. Every time a Minister does not reply to a fair question, particularly on the Consolidated Fund Bill, we should sit up and take notice. I hope that replies will be given. The sad history of this affair has shown that the suspicions of hon. Members and the general public have been only too well founded—witness the recent Harwell report.
I end by listing the questions that I have asked. First, does the Minister regard the Yorkshire Post articles, written largely on the investigations of Mr. Roger Ratcliffe, as reasonable? Secondly, why does he regard the West German limit as unrealistically low, and what is the explanation of the differences? Thirdly, is the amount of lead still roughly 10,000 tonnes a year, as it was in 1971? Fourthly, what is the state of general research commissioned by the Department of the Environment into exhaust gas emissions, particularly carbon monoxide and haze? Fifthly, what will the £150,000 be spent on, and what is the extent of the studies? Sixthly, when does the Minister expect the report of the conservation working party to be published?
Finally, why was it necessary for the previous research to be jointly funded by industry? One would have thought that, given the large amount spent on transport research, Government funds alone could have sufficed. Why was joint industrial funding necessary? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be unable to answer all those points in his reply, but if he cannot I know that he will write to me.
This has been a longer debate than we expected. I do not think that history will show it to have been unnecessary. I hope that points raised will be satisfactorily answered, but given the history of the matter I fear that that will not be so. I am sorry that the Government have appeared slow in the past—it may only be an appearance of slowness. I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure us that the Government will now move a good deal more quickly.
§ 1.36 a.m.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)
I do not claim to be an expert on this 449 subject or to be able to emulate the breathless trip round it that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) engaged upon. I have a feeling of unease about the matter, and the more hon. Members who air such feelings the more likely it is that someone in authority will take note of the importance of the subject and do something to clear the air, in more senses than one.
I owe a debt to Roger Ratcliffe, the journalist on the Yorkshire Post, whose articles drew my attention to the problem. People do not always accept what journalists write, and that is correct. Government Departments may be particularly sceptical. But Mr. Ratcliffe has sought to draw together a number of reports that are circulating about the effect of lead in the environment, particularly lead derived from petrol.
It is common ground that one can be poisoned physically by lead. Great damage can be done, in a medical sense, by the inhalation of lead. I was struck by the strong suggestion in that series of articles, in particular relying on the work of Dr. David, in America, that there can be an effect upon people's minds, particularly children's minds, as a result of living in an atmosphere containing too much lead, alleged to derive mainly from petrol.
It is suggested that children, particularly, are likely to be mentally damaged from living close to motorways and fumes emanating from vehicles. The children in our city centres are often deprived children, who do not have the best opportunities in life because they attend schools that have large classes with too few teachers. Often they do not have a good home background. They suffer from many disabilities in comparison with other children.
If it may be true that lead is a silent killer of the minds of children, and if it is right that it will damage their intelligence quotient, so that they will be even less able to compete with others and to enjoy that which intelligence gives the capacity to enjoy in the way of literature, art, music, and so on, it is a very serious allegation to make.
This matter may be fairly new. It is right to treat it initially with suspicion. I am reminded of the work of Swan, the 450 famous Australian ophthalmologist, who discovered the connection between rubella and malformed births. Rubella is German measles. In 1943, working in an institution in Australia, it suddenly occurred to Swan that many of the deformed children, particularly children with cataracts, who were coming into his institution had all been born at about the same time. He investigated and found that the mothers of these children had had German measles in pregnancy.
That was the first clue. Swan came to the conclusion—he was the first man to do so—that German measles had something to do with malformed children. Because so many children in the institution in which he was working had mothers who had contracted rubella in pregnancy, he immediately concluded that if a woman got rubella in pregnancy her child would, mentally—and perhaps physically—be a dead duck, because there would be brain damage, and so on.
For some years there was scepticism about this. Others were slow to follow Swan's observations. Eventually observations were undertaken in Holland and elsewhere, and over a period of years there was growing support for Swan's theory. Then there was a reaction. Suddenly, others pointed out that there might be hundreds of thousands of mothers who had had rubella in pregnancy but who had given birth to perfectly normal children, and because they had never entered institutions no one had traced back to see whether those mothers had had rubella.
There was a sudden attack based on the suggestion that there was not an 80 per cent chance of giving birth to a deformed child if a woman had rubella in pregnancy. It might be that it was only a 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. chance, or that if a woman got it in the second month of pregnancy she produced a deformed child but if she got it in the fifth month she was free of that risk.
The battle went back wards and forwards. Even in the early 1960s gynae-cologists were in some cases unwilling to accept the results of Swan's work. Now, with more experiments and research, Swan is again accepted. If a woman is unlucky enough to have rubella in the second month of her pregnancy, doctors tend to 451 be rather depressed about the outlook for the child that she is likely to bear.
I return to the question of lead pollution. It may be a novel suggestion that the inhalation of lead by city children can produce a condition in them that makes them less able to concentrate than other children, that makes them poor at their studies, perhaps, and that is said to make them more violent in disposition, and—although it may sound fanciful—may in the end lead them to be football hooligans or to engage in acts of vandalism. We have not got very far in finding out why children become vandals or football hooligans.
We are offered a theory, allegedly based on observation by professional people, that the effect of lead can result in mental damage and can produce effects on human behaviour which are far from pleasant and, indeed, are very serious for society as well as for the individuals who are caught by the effects of over-inhalation of lead in the atmosphere.
Before dismissing the effects of these investigations and reports, we must see what other countries have made of them. I freely confess that I am no expert, but when I see the action that has been taken in various countries, particularly West Germany, to restrict the amount of lead in petrol, I feel bound to ask what the British Government have made of it. Do they say that the West Germans are wrong? Do they say that the West Germans have over-reacted? Do they say that what the West Germans are doing is totally unnecessary? Those are probably not new questions in this controversy.
If the answer is "We are not sure; we do not know whether these early reports will turn out to be right; we do not want to announce a conclusion when we have not yet compiled enough data ", that is perfectly understandable. It may not please my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr and others, who may feel absolutely certain about the matter, but it is a defensible position. If that is the Government's position, they must consider what they will do in the interim before reaching a firm conclusion. I do not blame them if they are unable to reach a firm conclusion yet.
Are the Government to say" We have not yet reached a firm conclusion. We 452 shall not warn anyone. We shall let matters go on as they are. We shall let the current levels of lead pollution continue, apart from our minor reform scheduled for 1981 "? Or will they say "Until we know definitely that this is not damaging anyone, we shall at least embark on a policy of education "?
I do not think that one person in 10,000 in this country is even aware of the problem. For example, in a snarl-up of traffic, despite the cost of petrol, people keep motor car engines running for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour at a time, emitting allegedly dangerous fumes when they could switch off for that short time. No doubt they would switch off their engines if they were alert to the problem. The point is that they are not.
A man will get out of a vehicle being driven by his wife and fiddle around in the boot. His wife will be at the wheel, but she probably will not switch off the engine, and all the time that man is fiddling around in the boot he will be inhaling dangerous fumes. That is because he has no idea that he is running any risk. Children will play in the driveway of their home while their parents are sitting in their car running the engine for some reason or other.
Nothing is done, because no one is aware of the possibility of any menace. If the Government feel that there is a reasonable possibility that the reports about which we have heard are true, is it not up to them to go to the Department of Education and Science and say" What about letting teachers know so that they can at least alert children to the danger and they in turn, by their behaviour, can to some extent limit their exposure to petrol fumes?" Of course, if the atmosphere as a whole is being poisoned, no matter how many yards one may stand away from a vehicle emitting fumes one will still inhale too much lead.
What about the education of the public? Does my right hon. Friend think that the Government have a duty to enlighten the public, or is the Government's attitude that such education would give some respectability to the theories advanced by Dr. David and others, and that that might create a panic, the damage of which might outweigh the effects of spreading the word about the allegations concerning lead poisoning?
453 The burden is on the Government. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell himself that he does not want to be the Minister about whom people will say, in 10 or 20 years' time, when the facts are fully established, "He did nothing. He was smug. He preferred to wait." If he is sure that the reports are nonsense, he is entitled to say so and we are entitled to listen, but if he believes that they may have substance it is his duty to urge on the Government a course of action pending further investigation.
I represent a city centre constituency—an area in which children play in traffic. Only two or three weeks ago I spoke on the telephone to the man who wrote the reports in the Yorkshire Post. He struck me as a highly sensible and sensitive journalist. I came to the conclusion that I was talking to a very intelligent man who was doing an excellent piece of enlightening and campaigning journalism —a man to whom I should pay some attention. I have since read his reports.
I know that there have been Questions about the subject. It seems to me to deserve public attention. I am grateful to those who sought a debate on the subject, which is a matter of considerable public importance. This seems to me an appropriate occasion on which to raise it.
§ 1.52 a.m.
§ Mr Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I think that this is the fourth time that I have participated in a debate on this subject in the House in the past two and a half years. Not for the first time, we are indebted to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) for initiating the debate. I think that this is the longest of the debates on the subject in which I have been involved. I congratulate the hon. Lady on the brevity of her contribution. There were moments when I thought that our progress varied inversely with the length of the contributions.
This is a complex subject on which there are differing expert opinions. All those who have taken part in the debate, as well as other hon. Members who have not spoken and many members of the public, feel genuine concern, but the expression of that concern is not helped by pretending that the issue is clear-cut, by pretending that a particular expert, who may be contradicted by many others, is necessarily right because he happens to hold the point of view that we find 454 most attractive. We want to keep the matter in perspective, because of its complications, as just one of many important and worrying pollution problems.
Lead pipes and lead cisterns have been mentioned. It is probable that in antipollution programmes for improving health, expenditure on replacing lead pipes and lead cisterns would be more cost-effective than money spent on a further reduction in the lead content of petrol. That is a matter for argument, but we are glad that on occasions even this Government seem to recognise that there is not a bottomless public purse. Therefore, in dealing with pollution, as with other problems, we want to consider how we can have the most cost-effective programmes. I suppose that the most all-pervasive pollutant is noise. That causes more damage to health than lead in petrol.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) spoke about the programme of emission control. It is emissions from power stations, particularly coal-burning stations, that are most worrying. There are three inter-related questions here. The first is whether the level of blood lead is tending to increase. This is made more complex by the difficulties of accurate measurement. The second question is what the effect of a given level of blood lead is likely to be in a given age of person. I understand that tests carried out on policemen who spend a great deal of their working lives trying to sort out traffic jams—some people might think that they actually cause them sometimes, but they certainly sort them out, whether or not they cause them in the first place—have shown that there does not seem to be a worrying level. We have to recognise that there is now enough evidence to give rise to concern with respect to children, particularly those living close to major roads.
The third question, which perhaps gives rise to most controversy, is how does the lead get into the blood? What is the contribution from the atmosphere, from ingestion, and what is the contribution from lead in petrol to lead in the atmosphere? We have heard considerable differences of opinion on those points in the debate. The Minister must recognise that there are genuine grounds for concern on all three counts. The Harwell report, already referred to, is crucial.
455 My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) put it well when he said that we do not need any more evidence to tell us that there is a problem. I hope that the Minister agrees that that is a fair summary of the situation. Equally, if we accept that there is cause for concern, we have to recognise that if we are to seek to reduce lead from any source it is likely to be a long-term, expensive programme. We need to plan now for what we may have to do, or find it advisable to do, in the 1980s.
Our debate of 5th April 1976 has been referred to. I noticed, when I was refreshing my memory on that debate, that I asked the Minister of State:Will the Minister be keeping the question of filter traps under constant review, particularly if it should be found desirable to move to lower figures? "—[Official Report, 5th April, 1976; Vol. 909; c. 191.]At that time a number of us were anticipating that this position might arise. We are reassured to know that a working party has been set up by the DHSS to assess some of the problems that the Harwell report has identified. I suggest that we should anticipate them now and prepare ourselves for the identification of a positive health gain from lower levels of lead emission from petrol engine exhausts.
If, after the work of the working party or any of the many other experts who have been referred to in the debate, we find it necessary to take further action, we do not want then to have to say that we do not know how best to proceed to achieve the objective that we shall then have.
There are a number of alternatives. The hon. Member for Wood Green referred, I think, to the alternative anti-knock ingredients. Are these satisfactory? Are there disadvantages from the use of those ingredients about which we do not know and which we should investigate before we find ourselves committed to using them?
What are the full consequences of lower lead levels in petrol, including the effects on maintenance costs? It has been suggested that these might be advantageous. If they are, we should know about them, because that could be a good way of offsetting the increased costs of lowering the lead content.
456 What about filter traps? I am glad to note that the Minister of State said in the speech to which I have already referred, that they could be "of great benefit" if we have to move to levels below 0.40 grammes of lead per litre of petrol.
It seems to me that there could be opportunities here for EEC environmental programmes. There is expensive research to be undertaken. There are a variety of alternatives. Obviously, it would be sensible, in the light of what we were told by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), for the approach adopted in this country to relate to and be compatible with the approaches of other EEC countries. We find much more now that cars that are sometimes assumed to be British-made are in fact made elsewhere in the Community and, equally cars are being made in this country for marketing elsewhere in the Community.
It seems to me, therefore, that any programmes that we might undertake now to prepare ourselves for a recognition of the need to lower the levels of lead in petrol could best be financed by EEC funds, and such programmes should be started now. It is clear from what has been said in our three hours of debate tonight that we can no longer brush the problem under the carpet. There are genuine concerns and we need to be reassured one way or the other.
It seems quite probable that we shall reach a point at which we can see that there are positive health gains—perhaps limited in terms of the number of people affected or of areas—from lowering the level of lead in the atmosphere and from tackling that, in particular, through the lead in petrol.
We have to make progress, and we must do it publicly. To some extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Perry Barr when he says that we should make sure that research that can make a contribution should be generally known and be open to criticism. If people want to attack it as invalid on any ground, let the research be public so that the attack also can be made publicly, and so that the experts can resume the arguments with which they confuse us.
I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us all that the Government take the problem seriously and will make progress in research not only into the interlocking problems to which I have referred 457 but into the possible solutions that we may find ourselves having to adopt in the 1980s.
§ 2.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)
There are many reasons for welcoming this debate. First, obviously, I welcome the opportunity of replying to it. Secondly, I welcome the opportunity to deal with some of the baser allegations often implicit in comments about our activities and which ought to be dealt with. Therefore, my speech will be longer than I had hoped. Since hon. Members have urged me to be as full and frank as possible, and to range over the whole question of lead pollution, I hope that I shall be excused for the length of my speech.
It would be even longer if I took the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) to answer the speech that he made the last time this subject was debated as well as the speech that he made this time. I say to all those who have spoken that if, in trying to keep some order in my speech, I do not manage to deal with all the points that they have raised, or if they think they have not received an answer to any of them, if they will write to me I shall do my best to see that they get an answer.
The object of the Government, which is why we welcome the debate, is to have an informed and intelligent discussion of this matter. That is what we want, rather than some of the more irrational comments that we get. The debate has ranged over responsibilities of the Department of Transport and the Department of Health and Social Security. I am aware of how inadequate I am to deal with their sins as well as those of my own Department, but I shall do my best.
My speech will not deal only with the question of lead in petrol, which, I regret to say, has been the main content of almost all the speeches. Most hon. Members confined themselves to it. Some have suggested that that is the only concern that the Government or the nation should be showing on the question of lead pollution. I say at once that if the question of lead in petrol, important as it is, were the only concern that we had about 458 lead, we would be failing the children and the country as a whole. I hope that I do not make that mistake in this speech.
This problem has produced increasing concern over recent years because of the various reports that have given rise to the debate. There is, for example, the report of the Gravelly Hill working party, published in May. As my hon. Friend generously acknowledged, that working party was set up by me. I say at once that I am hardly likely to run away from or to wish to ignore the consequences of the report of a working party that I myself established. I have no intention of doing so.
Then there was the study of children living near Rochester Way, on the A2 at Greenwich. There was discussion of studies carried out abroad that suggest that quite low levels of lead in children's bodies can lead to learning and behavioural difficulties. Finally, there was discussion of the so-called secret Harwell report about the amount of lead absorbed through breathing air with different amounts of lead in it.
All those recent reports—even those about which one has a certain degree of scepticism—add to the concern. But that is something that should be welcomed. I welcome, therefore, all the criticisms that have been made, even those by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr, who, I may say, is one of the most assiduous Members. One admires the detailed research that he does. I do not always agree with the logic of his conclusion, but the work that he puts in is to be welcomed. I assure him and the House that I welcome all this attention to the subject. It is no part of my duty or desire to escape from the consequences of Government activity or inactivity in this matter.
There have been many misunderstandings and exaggerations, and even, I am sorry to say, mischievous claims. I am therefore glad of this opportunity to try to set the record straight, to try to add some new thinking to the subject and to give the House some new information about the Government's approach to the whole question, which is particularly what was asked for by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons).
459 I admired the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). She has often been the source of these debates, which I appreciate. She accused the Government of saying that lead is a danger that arises from means other than petrol, as though we were seeking to minimise the danger from petrol. That is not what the Government say. The Government say that the important fact is the sum total of the lead taken in by the body.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr generously and properly said, when dealing with the Harwell report and its implications, that it has to be read in association with the amount of lead in our blood. Nobody is challenging the figures that come out of the Gravelly Hill and Rochester Way surveys. Therefore, although according to the Harwell report it may seem that the intake of lead in one form is higher than we previously supposed, as nobody is challenging the general level of lead in the blood it is reasonable to assume that we are taking in less lead in other forms than we previously thought we were.
I say with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) that it is not my habit to issue bland reassuring statements, which is what I think she accused me of doing. What I try to do is to issue factual statements based on the evidence and the information that is made available to me and to present as rationally and as logically as I can the reasonable conclusions that my advisers, my Department and I draw from our assessment of those facts.
I start, therefore, by saying that lead is a problem, and not just in petrol. We are exposed to the intake of lead through food and water as well as through the air. For most people in this country the greatest source of lead is food. Perhaps two-thirds or more of their intake is from food. Because of that, during the four years that the Government have been in office they have made a concerted and co-ordinated effort, involving many Departments, to deal with this problem across the board. That has been the Government's approach and it will remain their approach. We have a continuing concern in this matter, and I hope that when I set out the history of the action 460 that we have taken in the last four years our record will speak for itself and show our continuing concern for and continuing proposals to deal with this problem.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to imply there was no awareness of the problem of lead in food before the Government came to power. I say that because these programmes have been going on for many years under successive Governments.
§ Mr. Howell
That is so, and at two points in my speech I shall give credit to our predecessors, because, as far as I know, there is no party political difference about the general approach to the dangers of lead.
Throughout our period of office we have brought before the House proposals and regulations to reduce the intake of lead. Further proposals dealing with food and with lead in the workplace were put out for consultation. These are now in the course of preparation and they will, I hope, be presented to the House at an early date.
Let us look at the record of Government action. In 1974—here I agree immediately with the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)—resulting from work done before we came into office, we took up the matter and published a comprehensive review entitled "Lead in the environment and its significance to man ". It had a foreword by our late colleague, Anthony Crosland, who was Secretary of State for the Environment at the time. That has been, and remains, our guiding principle. Anthony Crosland said:Although there is no evidence that present levels of lead in the environment are hazardous to health the Government should as a matter of prudence ensure that these levels do not increase. Indeed the aim must be to reduce levels in those areas and circumstances where people are most exposed to risk.… The Government's objective is to ensure that while the proper use of lead is not unnecessarily curtailed, the health of all sections of the community is not put at risk and that every practicable measure is taken to reduce exposure ".That has been our policy for four years and remains our policy, and it is against that that our actions should be judged.
If I outline the areas in which we have taken action it may be for the benefit of the House and particularly of my hon. 461 Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West, who perhaps thought that we had not been taking action. In 1974, we brought to the House regulations dealing with lead in toys—obviously a considerable hazard for children. That was followed in 1975 by regulations made by the Government, subject to the approval of the House, on pottery glazes, an important source of domestic hazards.
Lead in food is much the most important intake, and the first food regulations that I can trace are dated 1961. They restricted lead in most foods to two parts per million. They were amended in 1972, when the level of lead permitted in baby foods was reduced to 0.5 parts per million. Paint is another serious source of danger, and was once a major threat to children. That was next on our list. Manufacturers have exercised voluntary restraint at the Government's level, and paint in domestic use is now virtually lead-free as a result of that co-operation between Government and private industry.
We have heard a great deal about lead in petrol. It has been progressively reduced since 1972, when the upper limit was taken down from 0.84 grammes per litre to the present level of 0.45 grammes per litre. Regulations have also been made this year on the content of lead in cosmetics. That is particularly important as a result of the Gravelly Hill study, where a majority of the children in the inner city part of the study who showed levels of lead in the bloodstream which gave us cause for concern—they have all been investigated—were Asian children.
There is a theory, which we are investigating, that the habits of some Asian families of using cosmetics that contain illegal amounts of lead and which may have been brought into the country or manufactured illegally could provide the answer to that problem. I put it no higher than that.
I must mention another area of activity. It involves sewage sludge being deposited upon agricultural land. Water authorities, which work to my Department's guidelines on the spreading of sludge, have taken action to control that situation. We are not sitting idly by, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West suggested. We are conducting a programme of continuous activity. I am glad to say that in the seven areas 462 of activity we have carried the House with us.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons
Is my right hon. Friend referring to the ointment called Surma, which is popular in Asia and is applied to the eyes as a decoration? Is he aware of the considerable amount of national and regional publicity about the dangers of using that ointment on the faces of children, and that most Asians in Britain no longer use that ointment?
§ Mr. Howell
That is not the entire story, but I was referring to that ointment. Activity by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection is a result of the Government's interest in the matter and is part of a programme to reduce the dangers from lead.
I turn to the further action that is proposed. I attach great importance to the lead content in food. Further draft regulations will be laid before the House shortly. These will reduce the permitted lead in most foods from two parts per million to one part per million. They will also reduce the permitted level of lead in baby foods from 0.5 parts per million to 0.2 parts per million. That represents a substantial decrease in the risk.
Canning is of importance. One of the reasons why there has been an improvement for children is that most baby foods are now sold not in cans but in jars and packages, whenever possible. But we are still worried that we may be taking more lead into our system than we should, because of the canning of food. We are considering further proposals for canning and we hope to bring those proposals to the House soon.
The Health and Safety Executive issued draft regulations and a code of practice this year to protect people at work and prevent them from carrying lead out of the works on their clothes—that is dangerous to children at home. It is intended that those regulations should be introduced in 1979.
Drinking water has caused anxiety in some areas. Following the report published last year, the Government have in hand a major exercise, on which we have already spent £250,000, to identify areas where the amount of lead in drinking water is too high. Water is already being 463 created in some area to reduce its capacity to dissolve lead in pipes. If in some areas lead pipes have to be replaced, that will be done whatever the cost. In all that we are doing, the health criterion will transcend all other considerations where we are convinced that it should.
I have mentioned a cosmetic problem. Through local radio publicity and community relations programmes we hope to take even further action.
We have made two statutory reductions in lead content of petrol since 1976. A third will be made to limit the amount of lead to 0.40 grammes per litre on 1st January 1981. It is clear that the health of the nation must be the first priority. We intend that it should be. We are ready to take action if the facts show that it is needed. The object of the programme is to ensure that in spite of increased car use the total emission of lead is contained at the 1971 level, as recommended by the chief medical officer of the Department of Health and Social Security.
I respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr. I provide some information that I think the House will find interesting. We have managed to keep the amount of lead emitted to the 1971 level despite increased traffic. In fact, the figures that I have only recently obtained show that we are using a lower tonnage of lead in our petrol. For example, in 1975 the total amount of lead used for that purpose in Britain was 10,600 tons This year we expect it to be 10,000 tons. Although there are more cars on the road, covering a greater mileage, we are now using less lead. As I said, our stated objective is to maintain the 1971 level.
I direct my remarks to health standards. It is well known that concentrations of lead in the blood are the important measure of man's intake of lead. The generally accepted limit is 35 micro-grammes per 100 millilitres of blood. That is the World Health Organisation's limit. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr attached importance to WHO standards, and I entirely agree with him.
I say without complacency that it needs to be emphasised that the average amount of lead in the bloodstream for the general population is 20 microgrammes against the 35 microgrammes of the WHO. In Birmingham the average of a sample of 464 732 children was 14.6 microgrammes. No school-age child had a level above 35, although 15 out of the 429 pre-school children had levels equal to or over 35. That is, of course, a cause of concern for us all.
I assure the House that every one of the Birmingham findings is being followed up by active studies by the Birmingham working party under the chairmanship of Mr. Archer, the environmental officer who accepted my invitation to chair the original Gravelly Hill study. I am glad to express my appreciation of the work that he has done. He is continuing with the working study concerning inner city children. We wish to follow up nine of the inner city children from the sample of 83, or about 10 per cent.
All these matters will be pursued and we shall try to establish the central problem in the inner city area that causes the difficulty and to identify and isolate the sources of the lead.
I turn to some of the recent studies that have been mentioned by hon. Members tonight—particularly two in the United States and one in West Germany. These studies must be taken seriously. We believe that they are very difficult to assess. not least because only one of them has yet been published in full. The view of the Government's medical advisers and other experts—including the four consultants and scientists from Great Ormond Street hospital, who are people of the highest calibre and integrity—is that the studies are far from conclusive. They say thatthe evidence that they adduce is inadequate to support a contention that low levels of lead have done harm to children in the way claimed.They may be right or they may be wrong. If they are wrong, it is for other scientists to take it up with them. It is not given to mortal politicians to be able to pronounce on scientific distinctions of research.
The more sweeping claims that have been made about the number of children who should be considered to be already harmed in this country are unscientific and irresponsible. Nevertheless, these studies must be fully examined, and we intend that they should be. This is a very difficult area.
I shall mention one or two of the problems that cause doubt and concern among 465 our scientific advisers when they are trying to assess the work of other scientific advisers. First, it is very difficult to measure intelligence anyway. I have always been suspicious of people who thought they could decide a child's future by measuring intelligence. When people set out to do this, I approach the results with a degree of healthy scepticism.
Secondly, there are problems in measuring the small differences in body lead, as well as in measuring behavioural patterns. These are not precise sciences. Nobody criticises what these researchers have done on that account only, but one must point out that it causes us to take their work rather seriously and give it concentrated study rather than accept it on its face value, as some of my hon. Friends have tended to do.
It is very difficult to isolate lead as an influence in behavioural patterns from all the other activities in which young people might be involved. Therefore, the Secretary of State for Social Services set up his working party of independent experts to advise urgently on the health effects of environmental lead. This working party will study everything that has been said, including the Conservation Society's memorandum on its case against lead in petrol.
I add a personal word about the Conservation Society's report. I get the impression that people think that we want to run away from it. As a matter of fact, I called the meeting of the Conservation Society and chaired it myself in this House. I saw to it that expert advisers from the DHSS, Department of Transport and my Department were present. I wanted to bring the Society's researchers into a direct relationship with my advisers. That seemed the most responsible thing that I could do. It was not an easy meeting to chair, as can be imagined, having regard to some of the people who turned up, but it was a very good contribution to open government to try to ensure that the people who criticise us and my advisers have at least some opportunity to meet each other.
I draw the attention of the House to an answer given today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security. He has given full answers to a number of questions upon this subject, and if Members 466 care to study them I think they will find that they merit attention.
I now move on to the individual studies, which have been the subject of so much discussion. I do not want to comment on them at great length because we have had them referred to the Secretary of State's working party, and I certainly do not want to prejudge its conclusion, but I think that each of them merits a few words in order to show the differences involved.
Dr. David, of New York, who was specifically mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, studied the blood levels of 589 children already attending children's outpatient clinics. They were made up of 42 per cent. American black children, 31 per cent. Puerto Rican children, 25 per cent. from Caribbean or other American countries, and 2 per cent. Caucasian children. It is not immediately obvious to me that that sort of analysis of that sort of grouping of children could be automatically applied to any situation in this country. I do not think that it could be. I will say no more about it than that, but I think the point is self-evident.
Having studied the 589 children, Dr. David tells us that the patients of the clinic came from some of the most impoverished neighbourhoods in New York city. I admire him for addressing himself to the problems of these children, who would obviously be very difficult to assess, in view of their background, apart altogether from the physical difficulties involved.
Dr. Needleman presented his work at a conference held in Toronto in August this year. We have not yet seen a full report of his work, and it is impossible to make a scientific assessment until it has been made fully available for study in this country.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am reluctant to intervene, because of the time that I took earlier. If it is not available, how does it come about that the DHSS asked the four top people from Great Ormond Street to present comments on the Neeldeman report?
§ Mr. Howell
That is exactly the point that these experts from Great Ormond Street make—that it is quite impossible properly to evaluate the report until it is 467 fully available. They were asked to give comments on what is known and what has yet been published of these reports. We have been trying to find copies, but the report has not yet been fully published. That is why I take issue with people from outside this House who urge us to accept the report as being absolutely valid. It may be, but we cannot accept it as valid and do not believe that it should be put forward by scientists in this country as being valid until they, too, have had the opportunity to study the methodology of Needleman.
As far as we can undertand, Needle-man looked at the level of lead in the teeth of the children he examined, and he concluded that "low lead" children did better in IQ tests than "high lead" children. Some people have compared the levels of lead that he found with the tooth-lead levels of Birmingham children, and have claimed to arrive at alarming conclusions, but they overlook the fact that the Birmingham study itself found great differences, depending, for example, on which tooth was measured. I am not an expert on this but I am told that, depending not only on which tooth but, in the case of children, on which part of which tooth is analysed, there are rather different results. Dr. Needleman makes no reference to this factor so far; therefore it is felt that his conclusions are not yet substantiated or convincing.
I now turn to Dr. Winneke, the German scientist. He is a man of very great distinction and we certainly would not wish to cast any doubts upon his work. But he himself describes his work. He matched two small samples, of 26 children in each, and says only that as a resultthis was an exploratory test. It identifies a need "—of which we are well aware—for further research ".Again, his full report has not yet been published. I therefore do not think that those three pieces of research can be used by objective people in this country to urge that a convincing conclusion has been made out. At any rate, that is not our view.
§ Mrs. Wise
Can my right hon. Friend tell us why other countries have found it necessary to take action about lead in petrol, in view of the things that he is 468 saying? Is it possible that they are willing to work on the principle "better safe than sorry" on a matter relating to children's health?
§ Mr. Howell
I do not believe that other countries took action on lead in petrol because of these three reports, all of which are so recent and two of which have not yet been published. I shall come to the German case in a moment, but I am trying to deal with some of the attacks made against me outside for not attaching sufficient importance to these three pieces of research. I am told by people outside that these three pieces of research are so convincing that we should act on them at once. I am merely giving the House a factual assessment of the character of these three pieces of research, two of which are not yet fully published, which stops us from adopting any such illogical conclusion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked about continuing research. I can tell him briefly that this continues. As he said, on 12th July I announced three further pieces of research, which are being initiated and which are quite outside and in addition to the working party of the DHSS. Two of these pieces of research will be by the Institute of Child Health and the university of Southampton, and are concerned with assessing the degree and association between body levels and behaviour and intelligence in children, which is the crucial area about which we have been talking. The third contract is with Birmingham university and concerns the relationship between blood lead levels and the behavioural measures in children. Part of that study will, where-ever possible, follow up the children involved in the previous study
Further studies are also under way at Harwell, and a substantial research programme is continuing at the Water Research Centre. I hope that that will convince my hon. Friend about the number of research initiatives that are still going on
I want to say a word about the Harwell research, which is an example of our continuing study, because it has now been going on for six years. Two studies of three years each were commissioned by my Department. Again, I do not need to repeat what I said in an intervention 469 about the international reputation of the scientists involve
A report was published on 13th November. I do not think I need go into the question of secrecy, because there was a genuine misunderstanding. I understand that, being courteous people, whenever Harwell scientists comment on the work of other people around the world they produce a first draft of their report and send it to the people upon whose work they are commenting.
§ Mr. Howell
Of course it is a reasonable thing to do. But when scientists know that that is how they generally behave and since they put on the report "Not for publication" because it is not the final draft that will include any of the feed-back, it is not then reasonable to accuse either them or myself of wishing to suppress the report. I am sorry that no one who made that charge has uttered an apology. I know that my hon. Friend accepted that, because he told me so
I had authorised publication of the report before anyone raised the question of secrecy. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) said that there had been some excitement about an attempt to hush it up. There was no such attempt. If someone had simply asked Harwell or my Department whether it would be published rather than accused us of secrecy, he would have got that answer and there need have been none of this excitement.
The Harwell report is important, because it tells us for the first time that we are probably taking in from the atmosphere between two and three times the amount of lead that had previously been thought. But it must be read in conjunction with the other studies, which show that the average blood levels are 20 microgrammes per 100 millilitres, as against the WHO upper recommended limit of 35. Previously, we had thought that the highest figure would not be more than one-third of the total intake.
The highest levels found were right next to the M4 motorway. It is right that the researchers did their work there because it is the busiest motorway in Europe. The report's further conclusion was:For the majority of urban and rural resi- 470 dents, the contribution of air lead to total lead intake is less than 10 per cent.Although that bears out the Government's conclusion that we are absorbing 90 per cent. of our lead from food and water, this is still an area of considerable concern and we shall base our future policy on that fact. I say that not because I am complacent about lead in petrol but to ensure that there is some sense of proportion in the public discussion, which the Government welcome.
The cost of reducing the lead content of petrol will never be the first consideration, although it cannot be ignored and would cost about £200 million to our balance of payments. That is one reason why one has to know whether that is a vital cost for the nation or whether there is an alternative.
Lead is added to petrol to raise the octane level, so as to make the petrol suitable for high compression engines, which give the most efficient performance. If the lead is reduced., either the octane level has to be maintained through extra refining or car engines have to be produced to run on lower octane petrol. In either case there will be an energy penalty. Extra refining uses more crude oil, and low compression engines are less efficient and do fewer miles to the gallon. The cost should therefore be of the following kinds, in differing degrees or permutations, depending on whether octane levels are maintained: first, the cost of extra crude oil needed to produce high octane petrol; secondly, the investment costs of refineries to cope with more severe refining; thirdly, the additional consumption of petrol if the quality is reduced: fourthly, the investment and manufacturing costs of production of modified engines.
Claims have been made that the West Germans have reduced their level from 0.40 grammes per litre to 0.15 without incurring extra costs in crude oil. I have seen accounts of the West German experience by an official of the West German Government. Part of our oil industry is associated with companies in Germany. We have been in touch with them in order to discover their experience. They advise the Department of Energy that the Germans appear to have used 3–4 per cent. more crude oil to produce a given quantity of petrol as a result of reducing the lead content.
471 I also understand that Germany has imported a greater part of the high octane fractions produced from crude oil from refineries in Holland as a means of reducing its own demand for crude oil. This alternative would not be a viable proposition for the whole of Europe, since the supply that would be available from Holland is limited and the market is entirely taken up by the Germans.
If that fact is right—and we see no reason to doubt it—our best estimate is that 3 per cent. more crude oil would be required, and on that basis we estimate that the cost on the balance of payments would be roughly £200 million a year.
I was asked what we intended to do. If we were to move further it might be that to go to the 0.15 level, as the Germans have, would be a mistake. It might be better to plan to remove lead from petrol completely than to try for the German level. We should have to produce different cars rather than invest in refineries, and to produce high octane fuel for existing cars.
Those are some of the options available to us, together with the suggestion of lead filters. If we dropped below the 0.15 German level, which some of my advisers believe to be a more sensible approach, that would be a matter of major consequence, and no one should seek to minimise the consequence for the oil industry, for the motor industry, which would have to manufacture different types of motor cars to run on totally lead-free petrol, and for the motorist.
§ Mr. Rooker
British Leyland produces engines for motor cars that are exported to America to run on lead-free petrol. What is the problem? I know that they are produced in small numbers, but the technology is there. My right hon. Friend is on the verge of putting out a scare story about massive costs and changes in industry. That is not so. How does my right hon. Friend explain the Ford experience?
§ Mr. Howell
My hon. Friend has answered his own question. BL produces a small number of cars for the American market. The information that I am giving is based on the assessment of my advisers, who are in touch with the motor industry. They tell me that if we went for totally lead-free petrol it would be a major un- 472 dertaking, with considerable financial consequences for the motor industry. That is not a scare story, it is fact.
Perhaps we should do that, but we cannot embark upon such programmes without confronting people with the realities. They are that there would have to be a major adjustment in our motor industry and a major increase in costs for motorists. I am sorry to be told by, of all people, my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr that in giving this information and trying to contribute to public discussion I am causing a scare. I very much regret that. I am not doing that at all. I am doing what my hon. Friend wants me to do, which is to give the full facts as best I can in order that there can be the fullest possible public discussion. If anything that I have said proves to be inaccurate, no doubt experts more important than I will soon let me know.
You will be glad to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am reaching the end of my lengthy reply.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Myer Galpern)
I am very glad to hear that, because I am beginning to suffer a bit from lead poisoning myself !
§ Mr. Howell
I have admired your fortitude in the Chair tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful for it. I shall do my best to ease your lot as soon as I can.
I conclude by saying that we attach great importance to all the options that I have just mentioned. I hope that all my hon. Friends will agree that the fact that we are actively considering these options is at least evidence of our concern and determination to face all these problems. We have also set in train a thorough study to cost the principal options involved. I shall list the options again: going down to 0.15; going leadless; going near to leadless; and using lead traps. Detailed work is in hand, in association with the motor industry and the oil industry. I am glad to say that the results of the study will be made known, and it is hoped to have an interim limited set of findings on all these options in the spring of next year. I hope that that will be welcome news to all my hon. Friends who have rightly shown concern.
§ Mr. Howell
I am well aware that I have not been able to deal with all the detailed points. I intend to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr about some of the points that he raised in a previous debate about the Good Hope hospital. There are rational explanations which I shall give to him. The only reason why I am not going into more detail now is that I do not want to trespass on the generosity of the House.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, who initiated it. Whatever view we take, all of us have taken part in the process of producing an informed democracy.