HC Deb 30 January 1984 vol 53 cc6-7
5. Mr. Neil Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the effects on national energy costs and petrol consumption of the proposed reduction in the lead content of petrol.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The reduction of lead to 0.15g per litre will not affect petrol consumption of vehicles. But the British refining industry is having to invest some £250 million to maintain the present octane rating of petrol and will need an extra 500,000 tonnes of crude oil a year to produce its present volume of petrol.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of evidence which has been given to the Commission's study group looking into these matters which shows that by the mid-1990s the increase in the amount of petrol consumed in the Community because of the move to lead-free petrol will absorb the entire output of the North sea? Is he further aware that the cost to the average motorist, mile for mile, will increase, adding 60 per cent. to his petrol bills in the next few years? In view of the evidence of Professor Elwood of the Medical Research Council that no damage is caused to the health or intelligence of children because of lead levels in the blood, the fact that 250 of my constituents have been put out of work by the Government's decision on this matter will not be welcomed by them.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is true that there will be certain increases in petrol consumption, but I ask my hon. Friend to put this matter into perspective. The figure of 500,000 tonnes of additional crude oil needed to achieve the reduction of lead in petrol to 0.15g per litre represents only about 2 per cent. of total annual petrol demand. I believe that, on the medical evidence and the evidence that we have had from the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, the Government are right, first, to move towards the 0.15 g per litre level and, subsequently, to lead-free petrol. That is certainly a measure that I support.

Mr. Speller

Although I welcome my right hon. Friend's point about the reduction of lead in petrol and the ultimate reduction to zero, I must say that the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) are not shared by the majority of my constituents, who look forward to totally lead-free petrol and argue the cost case by asking how it is that in the two great motor manufacturing countries, the United States and Japan, lead-free petrol is the standard rather than the exception.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

It is worth looking at that point, but it is important that we look at this issue on a European Community basis as well. There is virtually one market for the motor industries of the Community. I hope that the Community makes progress. A report is expected from the Commission in April, and I hope that definite action will follow.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Does the Minister agree that the time has come for Britain to show some foresight and give a lead in encouraging engine manufacturers to go totally diesel in four or five years? Although Ministers may laugh, surely it represents the opinion of engineering designers to believe that the way to overcome all the environmental problems which have been mentioned with regard to petrol engines is to move towards diesel engines for passenger cars.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I hope that the hon. Gentleman at least welcomes our objectives of reducing the level of lead in petrol by January 1986 and by 1990 getting rid of it altogether. My immediate task is to try to carry that programme forward. I shall leave any question of the merits of petrol and diesel engines to others to work out. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Forward to