HC Deb 06 July 1983 vol 45 cc267-8
5. Dr. Mawhinney

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects lead-free petrol to be available in the United Kingdom.

13. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress towards securing agreement among European Community countries to the removal of lead from petrol.

Mr. Waldegrave

The Royal Commission on environmental pollution thinks that it should be possible for unleaded petrol to be introduced for new cars throughout the European Community by 1990. This seems reasonable, though we shall try to improve on it if possible. A promising start was made at the Environment Council on 16 June.

Dr. Mawhinney

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What steps does he plan to take to ensure that this welcome decision is implemented as quickly as possible, preferably before 1990?

Mr. Waldegrave

Discussions have begun and are continuing between officials of my Department and the other relevant Departments — Transport, Energy, Industry, and others — and the various interests concerned, to lay out a programme. I take my hon. Friend's point. If it is possible to do better, the British Government will be anxious to do so.

Mr. Haselhurst

Despite the understandable urgency over reducing the health hazard in our own country, does my hon. Friend accept that it is still an enormous prize to ensure that we are acting in concert throughout Europe?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The real prize is to achieve a European-wide ban. That is what we have been pressing for in the forum of the European Community. Five of our fellow members have now signed the British document, which put forward the strongest line, and others are considering their positions. Unilateral action is far less effective than European-wide action.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the most important interest group to consult is the parents of children living near arterial roads? Will he therefore consult the London borough of Brent, which has monitored the effect of lead on those living near the north circular road and found that enormous brain damage may occur unless he acts more urgently? Will he therefore act as speedily as the United States and seven European countries have done and propose an earlier date than 1990, by which time those children will have suffered brain damage?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am aware of the monitoring that has been carried out in Brent and other places. The British Government have taken the lead in Europe on this issue. We are not strengthened by overstating the scientific case. We know that lead is a poison—that is why we want to remove it—but we must not exaggerate the immediate dangers. On the other hand, there is increasing scientific evidence—some is published in this week's edition of New Scientist — based on work done by the Medical Research Council at Cambridge, which shows why the policy is fundamentally right.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

As the jobs of 250 people in my constituency and the jobs of 2,500 people in other hon. Members' constituencies will depend on the speed with which the major lead additive producers— Associated Octel—will be able to diversify into other areas, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ensure that in his discussions and deliberations on the timetable for the introduction of lead-free petrol there will be included representatives of that company in addition to representatives of the oil and motor industries?

Mr. Waldegrave

Representatives of that company have asked to see me and I shall be meeting them.

Mr. Denis Howell

As we do not know what the dangers are of absorbing lead into the human body—except that there is nothing to be said for it — why should we not exaggerate the dangers? Does the Minister agree that the date of 1990 for the introduction of lead-free petrol is unacceptable—or should be—to the whole of the country? As almost all members of the EC support the policy, as do all political parties in Britain, will he renegotiate immediately with the industry environmental agencies and consult opinion on both sides of the House with a view to introducing lead-free petrol at the earliest possible moment, and well before 1990?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am not sure that the Government have to put up with lectures from Labour Members on this subject. The Labour party had some years of opportunity when in Government to take action on this problem but it took none. The right hon. Gentleman has ruined his case by saying that we should encourage the putting about of exaggerated statements. Whatever the strength of the case, it is much better to tell the truth.

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