HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc732-3
2. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many recent representations have been made to him expressing concern over the use of lead in petrol.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

The Department received 82 letters in the first four months of 1982.

Mr. Marshall

The Minister will appreciate that I am somewhat surprised at the small number of letters received, but I am sure that she is aware that there is immense public concern over this issue. Is she able to give an assurance that her Department will support: the complete removal of lead from petrol if the three surveys commissioned by the Medical Research Council, at the Government's request, support the view that even low lead levels in petrol are dangerous to children?

Mrs. Chalker

I understand and fully appreciate the concern about lead in petrol, but we must take account of the fact that by 1985 we shall have reduced by two-thirds the current level of lead in petrol. That is the greatest reduction that there has ever been, and no other European country is going further than that.

We shall look most carefully at the research being done by the Medical Research Council as well as at all the other research. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the cost of going below 0.15g per litre of lead in petrol is not only very high but will require a complete change—not just a change in the manner of refining—with which our motor car industry and many other aspects of industry will find it exceedingly difficult to cope. We must look into the whole position, not simply straight reports.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Is it not a fact that in the United States an option is available? Consumers there can use leaded or unleaded petrol, and the cost argument does not seem to carry the same weight with the American authorities as it does with this Government? Are not the Government held captive by the representations of the oil companies?

Mrs. Chalker

No. The position is different in the United States, as I think the hon. Gentleman is aware. First, for many years the American Government have sought to deal with pollutants other than just lead in petrol. About half the petrol sold in the United States is lead free, and the average amount of lead in their petrol is 0.13g per litre. In dealing with other forms of pullutant, the United States car manufacturers have completely changed their exhaust systems in a different way from our manufacturers, and that is why this is much more complicated than hon. Members sometimes suggest.

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