HC Deb 10 May 1989 vol 152 cc922-48
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I beg to move amendment No. I, in page 2, line 2, leave out £0.0272' and insert '£0.0292'.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John McWilliam)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 11, in page 2, line 2, leave out £0.0272' and insert 10.0383'.

No. 2, in page 2, line 2, at end insert— '(2A) In section 13A of the Act (rebate on unleaded petrol for "£0.0272" there shall be substituted "£0.0292".'. No. 12, page 2, line 2, at end insert— '(2A) In section 13A of that Act (rebate on unleaded petrol) for "£0.0272" there shall be substituted "£0.0383".'. No. 3, in page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (4) and insert— `(4) Subsections (1), (2), (3) and (4) shall be deemed to have come into force at 6 p.m. on 14th March 1989. Subsection (2A) shall come into force at 9 a.m. on 10th May 1989.'.

Dr. Marek

I must point out that with amendment No. 1 we can discuss several other amendments that have been put down by Democrat Members who are not here at present, but who I hope will return quickly.

Hon. Members will notice that there is a bidding auction as to how much we should increase the rebate on unleaded fuel. Again, there may be a Division in the House on how far we should go in order to introduce unleaded petrol as quickly as possible. I do not believe, however, that there is any dispute about the desirability of doing so. The Opposition have reservations about how far the Government have gone. Perhaps we have even more reservations about the Government not doing anything about it until recently. To be fair, they have taken some measures, but we believe that they should have taken more.

The amendment is a moderate one, because we are a moderate party. We intend to continue along that path, but I will be interested to hear what the Minister says about the Government's programme and where it could be improved.

There is no doubt that lead poisons the brain. Lead additives in petrol find their way into all our bodies, and retard the development of children. Nearly all children are now affected to some extent by lead poisoning. Some recent research even suggests that lead is the primary risk factor for impairing the development of children.

Of course, large particles of lead emitted by cars will fall out by the roadside, and small ones will permeate the atmosphere. That is not a local problem. Lead gets into the air and it can be blown from here to nearly every country within the European Community. All of us suffer damage because we breathe it. We can do no other than breathe the atmosphere. Of course, when lead settles on plants and in the environment, we eat it through our food.

Unborn children are especially at risk because they are still developing in their mother's womb. It is interesting that the fatal dose for a woman is a blood level of 40 mg per 100 ml and the fatal dose for a man is 100 mg per 100 ml. Recent research found that in London schoolchildren suffered a seven point handicap in their IQ when their blood level was more than 13 mg per 100 ml. We must be clear that we do not need large amounts of lead in our blood. Certainly children do not need to have large amounts of lead in their blood to suffer in their development and to suffer permanent damage for the rest of their lives.

I should like to examine what the Government have done and how they are doing it compared with the action in other countries.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Will the hon. Gentleman point out the research that shows that higher levels of lead in the atmosphere lead to higher levels of lead in the blood of adults rather than children? I am not aware of any evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Marek

I was not comparing adults with children. I was saying that both were involved. I am relying on the words of Professor Smith, who is professor of organic chemistry in the chemistry department at Reading university. The hon. Gentleman can obtain all the evidence that he needs from that source.

Mr. Mans

I understand that that research was limited to children, but the most substantive research on adults concentrated on taxi drivers in London, who were reckoned to inhale a considerable amount of lead. Surprisingly, however, there was no evidence that the amount of lead in their bloodstream was greater than that of the control group.

Dr Marek

The hon. Gentleman is talking about one set of experiments and all I can say is that that result is unexpected and, therefore, it is likely to be wrong. We need a lot more research into adults and —

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)


Dr. Marek

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will allow me to finish my reply to the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans).

Many more experiments are required to establish exactly what is happening. Although the metabolism of children is different from that of adults, it is not all that different and there could be a change in the relative intake of lead. However, what is certain is that most informed opinion would say that adults living in a lead environment would experience an increase in lead poisoning.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that in America between 1976 and 1980 there were substantial decreases in the lead emitted into the atmosphere through petrol and a substantial decrease—of 36 per cent.—in the amount of lead in average blood samples there. Therefore, there seems to be some evidence that runs contrary to that of the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans).

Dr. Marek

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving that evidence. I had hoped that we would have a discussion in which all hon. Members would be in general agreement about the problem so that we could simply seek a solution. Indeed, I think that we are probably all agreed that there is a problem that must be addressed and that the central question is whether the Government are approaching it in the right way and whether they are doing enough to get rid of the serious problem that we all agree exists, at least for children, and, some of us would add, for adults also.

It is a European if not a global problem because air circulates and I am fairly sure that lead emitted in this country would probably find its way right across Russia.

One piece of research from a Surrey university research group looking into the hazards of lead pollution on the M25 and M 1 has recently caught my eye. The group found that the entire length of the M 1 was littered with lead sediment—perhaps that is to be expected after 20 years. It also reported a huge rise at many of the intersections and found that even after only two years conditions on the Surrey section of the M25 were generally worse than those on the M1.

The group also found high concentrations of lead in Parliament square. I hope that none of us eats anything grown in Parliament square—I do not think that we do —but when we leave this building we go out into an atmosphere with possibly one of the highest concentrations of lead in the country. I think of that every time I leave the House and try to cross at the traffic lights at Bridge street and Parliament street. Many vehicles in that enormous roar of traffic are still emitting lead that we breathe in before the huge particles settle on the ground.

Let us compare what the Government have been doing with what has been happening in other European countries. In the Netherlands, unleaded petrol is available in every garage. In Denmark, the coverage figure is 90 per cent. and in West Germany it is 75 per cent. In March 1988, 700 garages in Britain sold unleaded petrol. By the end of January this year, that figure had increased to 4,300 that is, if my sources of information are correct. That represents about 22 per cent. of garages. The latest figure is that 38 per cent. of garages sell unleaded petrol. I am sure that the proportion here is higher than in countries such as Spain or Greece, although I do not have the figures for the number of garages selling unleaded petrol in those countries. Nevertheless, the figure for this country is well below those for countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and West Germany.

The first question I want to ask the Minister is whether he confidently expects—

8.15 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)


Dr. Marek

I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute. Perhaps he will just let me ask my question.

Does the Minister confidently expect that the good rates of increase that we have seen in the past few months will be kept up, so that, standing at the Dispatch Box in a year's time, I shall be able to give credit to the Government because instead of 38 per cent. of our garages selling unleaded petrol, the proportion will be over 60 per cent. or even higher?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is known as a distinguished mathematician so I wonder whether he can calculate for the benefit of the House the rate of increase from January last year until now in the number of garages selling unleaded petrol that the figures that he has just quoted to the Committee represent. Does he agree that it would be churlish not to give the Government a great deal of credit for the remarkable rate of increase, which I know he will be able to calculate with greater accuracy and greater speed than myself?

Dr. Marek

I do not want to depart from the spirit of unanimity in the House about the fact that everybody wants to do something about this problem. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman must realise that rates of increases in themselves do not show exactly what is happening in any particular situation. At Treasury Question Time last Thursday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the rate of increase in inflation in West Germany was 300 per cent. when it increased, if my memory serves me correctly, from 0.5 per cent. to 1.5 per cent. That is a high figure, and the Chancellor was prepared to use it, but most people would still say that inflation in West Germany is a lot less, at 1.5 per cent., than inflation in this country, where it is 7.9 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should not try to mislead me by appealing to a selected statistic and saying that, if it sounds good, everything in the country must be rosy.

I am glad that the Government have done something and I am pleased that they have done what they did in connection with the rebate on unleaded petrol in the Budget. My reservation is that they should have done a little more and I shall suggest later what they could have done.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to know another statistic, which is that, instead of unleaded petrol representing 1 per cent. of all petrol sales as it did a year ago, 6 per cent. of petrol sales are now unleaded. That is a substantial increase and I hope that credit will be given for that also.

Dr. Marek

That may be right, but the hon. Gentleman's party's research department has been a little lackadaisical in not giving him the right figures. I thought that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment announced a figure of 14 per cent. a few days ago—[Interruption.] Well, like us all, the hon. Gentleman must first try to get his facts right and secondly, he must give me time to develop my case because I intend to come to the question of total petrol sales in this country.

At the moment, I am considering the number of garages or the percentage of garages in this country that sell unleaded petrol. The fact is that the proportion is about 38 per cent. at present, whereas in West Germany it is 75 per cent. In Denmark it is 90 per cent., and in the Netherlands every garage must sell unleaded petrol. Therefore, I want to ask the Economy Secretary whether he can do more to increase the number of garages that are selling unleaded petrol in this country. Why will he not ban or say that he intends to ban the sale of two-star and three-star petrol in a year or two so that those pumps can then be used to sell unleaded petrol?

I turn now to what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) said about the percentage of unleaded petrol that is sold. I have a few figures. In the Netherlands and Switzerland, over one third of the petrol sold is unleaded, in Denmark and Sweden it is one third and in West Germany about half is lead-free. In Britain, over a year ago about 0.1 per cent. of petrol sold was unleaded. In February of this year, 5 per cent. of petrol sold was unleaded and, if I am right, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 1 May that 14 per cent. of petrol was unleaded.

That is a creditable increase, but will the Government confirm that it will continue and that, if we have the same debate in a year's time, that 14 per cent. will have risen to more than 33 per cent.? If that were so, I would certainly compliment and congratulate the Government. However, 14 per cent. is low compared to the figures in other developed, responsible and evironmentally conscious countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, West Germany, Switzerland and Sweden.

Some countries do have lower figures than the United Kingdom. The sale of unleaded petrol in Spain is still only about 1 per cent. of its total petrol sales, and in Luxembourg, for other reasons, the figure is about 4 per cent. We should be leaders in Europe, but, as in so many other ways, we never are; we are always trying to catch up from the back.

I repeat my question to the Economic Secretary: is he confident that the 14 per cent. will have risen to more than 30 per cent. in a year's time? If not, the Government must take on board extra measures to try to increase the sale of unleaded petrol. Will all new cars be able to run on lead-free petrol after October 1989? Have there been any hitches in that process? Is the Government's relationship with car manufacturers and companies good?

I have already referred to prohibiting the sale of two-star and three-star petrol. The Government could take some action because such petrol is necessary in only a few restrictive circumstances. The Government could not only prohibit the use of two-star and three-star petrol and say that those pumps should sell unleaded petrol, but could go further and say that every garage should sell unleaded petrol. I wonder how much hardship to garages would result from that? Perhaps it would mean some increases in their costs, but the Government should consider that matter now, so that the industry has plenty of time in which to adjust. One or two garages may not be able to sell unleaded petrol simply because they do not have room, but that could be overcome if the Government had a mind to do it.

The Government could substantially reduce the tax on unleaded petrol for a temporary period, perhaps two or three years. That would reduce the price far more than the amendment tabled by the Opposition, and perhaps even more than the amendment tabled by the Democrats.

The Government should make it abundantly clear to car owners that they can, by spending £20, have their car adjusted to run on unleaded petrol. At the moment, there is a difference of perhaps 10p per gallon. The sales and availability of unleaded petrol are rising, but if they start flattening off, a big increase in the rebate for unleaded petrol should be seriously considered as a temporary measure to help people to adjust their cars for unleaded petrol. Two out of three cars can, with a small adjustment, run on unleaded petrol.

Exhortation should play a part in this process, as should appealing to the environmental spirit in the country. We should exhort people to think about the welfare of others. That is something which the Government are not particularly good at doing. We must make it worth while for people to run their cars on unleaded petrol. There would be nothing wrong in increasing the price of four-star petrol, because once enough motorists use enough unleaded petrol, the tax on leaded petrol can be increased.

Mr. Mans

Is that the Labour Party's policy?

Dr. Marek

No, it is a suggestion from the Opposition to the Government.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I am seriously worried about the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. Many of my constituents do not frequently change their cars and many of them may well vote for the Labour party. People who have fairly old cars often cannot afford to change them very often and it would be an unfair imposition on them to force them to change their cars when they probably cannot afford to do so. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman really means what he is saying.

Dr. Marek

I expect that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make the price increases in four-star petrol, to which I am alluding, seem far better than they would be. Petrol should be valorised each year. At the moment, it is at an historically cheap level, but it will not continue to be so for many more years.

I would always make the health of our nation and children a higher priority than cost. I am not saying that my suggestion is the only way of bringing unleaded petrol into general use throughout the country. There are various ways, and I have suggested three or four. If other ways fail, my last suggestion should not be dismissed by any Government. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is now satisfied about what I mean.

I do not want to take up too much time because we want to finish the debate by about 10 o'clock. We must advertise and let motorists know that unleaded petrol is available in garages, that is is cheaper and that their car can, with minor alterations, be adjusted to take it.

Have the Government carried out any market research on the effect of their recent publicity campaign, which I welcome? Has it been effective? I know that the Campaign for Lead-Free Air has received £20,000 or £30,000 over three years. That is not very much and I wonder how much money the Government are putting into publicity.

The Government must be careful to ensure that the recent increases in the amount of unleaded petrol being sold do not flatten off and that the number of garages selling unleaded petrol continues to rise. The country would not like the reasonably good figures for the past five or six months to level off and nothing to be done about it. If that were to happen, the Government would have no excuse for not listening to what the Opposition are saying. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) has just made a fairly long and, he may judge when he reads it, slightly controversial speech. Nevertheless, we would all agree with some of the things that he said. He made the important point that pollution, which is what this debate is about, is no respecter of national boundaries. He also suggested—a suggestion which I welcome—that we should try to tackle these matters on a partisan basis. He talked about the sales of unleaded petrol in other countries. Will my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary—either when he replies to the debate or at a later date—contemplate the proposition that some of those countries' Governments are possibly less influenced by their motor manufacturers or by the oil companies than our Government are? We have continually heard from the oil companies, and often from the motor manufacturers, that anti-pollution proposals made in connection with the motor car will cost the consumer unspeakable amounts of money. I frequently have grave doubts about the validity of some of those claims.

8.30 pm

I think I am right in saying that this is the third successive Budget in which the Chancellor has introduced inducements to purchase lead-free petrol, but this is the first time that the changes introduced have really bitten or resulted in significant take-up by the motoring public. We need to see the amendments in the context of the levels of inducement that should be offered by the Government to direct the public's purchasing power into environmentally desirable areas.

This brings us to the question of judgment. The hon. Member for Wrexham listed the policies of a number of Governments. He will be aware that the Dutch Government, to whom he referred, recently sought to impose swingeing environmental costs on motorists in Holland, the result of which has been that the Dutch Government are now unable to sustain themselves arid face a general election. I can well understand that the hon. Gentleman might want to bring that about in this country, but I suspect that the Government are right to be cautious in order to avoid falling into the trap that the Dutch Government have set for themselves.

In his Budget speech, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that the proposals which relate specifically to reducing the duty on lead-free petrol would cost the Revenue £40 million. Some of us with long memories recall that Labour Governments have an unrivalled ability to spend money, but not always to raise it or run a buoyant economy. The Government have a good track record and should be left to judge the level at which the duty on unleaded petrol should be set.

The environmental tinge to be seen in the motoring components of this Budget is entirely welcome. All these environmental changes are expensive. We would all agree in principle with the remark by the hon. Member for Wrexham that people's health is of paramount importance. He was also correct to say that this country has a lot of catching up to do. But no Government or political party would be doing justice to themselves or the electors if they failed to point out to people that environmental improvements—to do with petrol, water or anything else—are expensive.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said about unleaded petrol in the Budget speech, in which he said that he hoped his proposals will contribute to a marked increase in the use of unleaded petrol over the next 12 months."—[Official Report, 14 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 306.] He went on to say that the level of vehicle excise duty on buses and coaches should cover their track costs. That is a means of ensuring that the environmental pollution created by certain forms of road vehicle is reflected in the taxation that they pay. I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary by reminding him that we discussed track costs of coaches a few months ago and had a minor disagreement about them. I am sure that he shares my joy and satisfaction that the Chancellor accepted my proposition that coaches were not covering their track costs.

The purpose of clause 1—it is strange to debate it at the end of two days' discussion on the Floor of the House —is to use taxation policy as an instrument of environmental protection, which I strongly welcome. It is a significant change of Government policy which has a potential application in many other areas. As was clearly shown in the intervention made by some of my hon. Friends in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, we are short of facts and knowledge about lead-free petrol—[Interruption.] I am not making a point against the hon. Member for Wrexham. We can all produce learned professorial quotations that inform us of different facts about lead-free petrol or any other subject.

We are short of facts not only about lead-free petrol but particularly about pollution and the damage to health caused by diesel vehicles. I think particularly of diesel vehicles that are heavily used in urban areas, such as coaches. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution in 1984 tackled the issue of pollution from motor vehicles. Its report was referred to in an article by Colin Dryden in The Sunday Times of 2 April this year. He said that smoke from diesel vehicles was in many circumstances at an unacceptable level … the vehicles themselves have got bigger and more powerful. He went on to refer to what other countries are doing, much as the hon. Member for Wrexham did, and to quote the American experience of diesel-free and lead-free petrol: American requirements are far tougher, particularly for buses, on the grounds that they put health more at risk through operating in cities. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) spoke about a taxi driver. If that taxi driver had attached himself to the back of his vehicle and inhaled the fumes from it the levels of lead in his blood might well have been significantly different from those which apparently showed up in the "research" to which my hon. Friend referred.

In relation to hydrocarbon oil duties and vehicle excise duties, the proposition that the polluter pays is enshrined in clause 1. Air pollution, particularly from the internal combustion engine, is a significant factor in the problem known colloquially as the greenhouse effect. Large vehicles such as buses and coaches cause other forms of pollution —noise, congestion and damage to the road surface. I therefore hope that the first cautious step that the Government have taken along the road of using taxation policy to force environmental change is but the beginning, and that that policy will be pursued more vigorously in many other areas as the years go by.

Mr. Turner

As always in debates like this, it may be dangerous to take too wide a view on environmental pollution and the problems that people face not just in this country but throughout the world. My contribution will be simple and to the point. I recognise the efforts that the Government are making on this narrow facet of creating a healthier and more pleasant environent by encouraging the use of lead-free petrol. The Government have a reasonable and desirable objective. If we agree with their proposal, we must consider the incentives being built into the policy to achieve that objective.

The contribution of the Labour party is modest, in that we want to urge the Government to go further. That is why we have tabled the amendment. In Wolverhampton a local newpaper, the Express and Star, which has been mentioned in the House several times already, has run an excellent campaign to encourage the use of lead-free petrol. I have tabled an early-day motion congratulating the newspaper on what it has done. Over 1,000 private cars in Wolverhampton have been converted within a short period to use lead-free petrol. The local authority, neighbouring local authorities, the Midlands electricity board and numerous companies, large and small, all took part in the campaign and have contributed by converting their fleets of vehicles to lead-free petrol.

If the Government gave a greater concession, the campaign would be even more successful. I am speaking in the context of Wolverhampton but no doubt the same is happening in other areas. The Minister of State, Department of the Environment has taken an interest in the subject. There is widespread knowledge about how the campaign in Wolverhampton was orchestrated and the success that it has had.

There is a great role for the Government to go much further because transport is involved in so many facets of government. They could also play a useful part in encouraging other agencies to convert their vehicles. I make no modest claim; I had my car converted to use lead-free petrol, and it is running smoothly. I am pleased to have made that contribution to the campaign in Wolverhampton and to the policy of the Government. That is the essence of what we are trying to achieve.

I hope that we can persuade the Government to accept our modest amendment. Despite the success of the Express and Star's campaign and of campaigns in other parts of the country, and the Government's taxation concession, we should create further incentives for people to convert their vehicles. That would make an important contribution to a better environment for us all and a healthier environment in which to bring up our children. In addition to the other steps that we might take to improve the environment, the amendment would make this country a better place for future generations.

8.45 pm
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) and I can achieve a fair amount of cross-party agreement on this issue. Pollution is important in Wolverhampton, which is close to the M6 and the M1. Within the next four to six years there will be a major new motorway to the west of Wolverhampton. It will go round our part of the west midlands. That means that children in Wolverhampton will run a greater risk of lead pollution.

The hon. Gentleman was right to recommend warmly the way in which the Express and Star has drawn attention to the advantages in the Budget for those who use lead-free petrol. I join him in saying what a good job the Express and Star has done be its exhortations. Ironically, by drawing attention to the success that the Express and Star has achieved, the hon. Gentleman has to some extent undermined his case for further tax reliefs. It is not the exhortation from the Express and Star—important and influential though the newspaper is—that is causing people to convert their motor cars; they are doing it because they believe that it is in their financial interest to take account of the already generous concession.

It is a matter of judgment what exactly the financial concession should be. There is no objective way of saying whether the more substantial concession proposed in the amendment is right or whether the slightly meaner concession—as the hon. Gentleman would put it—proposed by the Government is right. All we can do is wait and see. Since the Budget and the campaign by the Express and Star, 95 per cent. of garages in Wolverhampton are offering lead-free petrol for sale. We do not know how many of our constituents are taking advantage of the offer, but presumably the garages in Wolverhampton, like those who have converted their vehicles to lead-free petrol, are selling lead-free petrol not just because they wish—in schoolboy language—to suck up to the Express and Star but because they believe that there is money in it. Presumably they believe that because people are buying the stuff. So far as one can see at present, it seems that the problem is being addressed, as the Foreign Secretary would put it. It may even be partially solved.

There is an element of menace about what the Labour party says. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) talked about other measures. Let us be careful about that. It would be possible to introduce a law which made it a criminal offence not to convert one's car to lead-free petrol within x months. It would then be possible to make it an offence to use leaded petrol. Cars could then be stopped at random by the police and their fuel tested. For those who believe in the extension of the criminal law that would no doubt be a splendid demonstration of the power of the state over the citizen, but it would be most unwise.

Every time that a citizen is stopped by the police, there is a tendency for him to say that he is not sure whether he likes being stopped by the police, that he feels rather uncomfortable about it.

Mr. Adley

I hesitate to stop my hon. Friend's splendid flow, but a simple way to achieve his objective without involving the police would be for the Government to say that in 10 or 20 years only lead-free petrol will be sold. That is precisely what has been proposed in California. I understand that in about 20 years it intends to do away with the internal combustion engine altogether. Is not that the way that we should be going?

Mr. Budgen

You still need some nark, whether it be a police officer or a man from weights and measures, to go round and see whether the stuff is being sold by somebody.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I do not have any nark.

Mr. Budgen

When I say "you", I mean the nation. Whether the narks would be men from the Customs and Excise or from the constabulary, there would have to be narks of some sort to enforce the criminal law.

The more our objectives are achieved by encouragement and by tax incentives and the less we use the criminal law the better. I hope that the Labour party will stop waving the banner of other measures in a somewhat menacing way and—

Dr. Marek

Let me put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I have in no way suggested that we should employ the criminal law to stop motorists to see whether they are using unleaded petrol. I hope that that helps him.

Mr. Budgen

It is all very well saying that, but when the price of petrol went up enormously in the great days of the Administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) under his prices and incomes policy, it was not considered enough to allow the market to discourage people from going fast in their motor cars. The House will recall that an extra limitation was imposed, in that speed limits were reduced, not for reasons of safety but to control fuel consumption. In other words, the criminal law was used not to maintain safety but for economic reasons.

I remember travelling at 60 mph when the limit was 50 mph and being stopped by the police. I was only warned, but I felt extremely resentful. If the criminal law is extended for the wrong reasons, it creates such resentment and the House should remember that the most important condition for the enforcement of the criminal law is that the House and the country should have the consent and co-operation of the public. I repeat that, if the criminal law is used for economic reasons, it creates resentment. Let us by all means think of other measures and talk about ways of giving further financial inducements to whomever one likes, but let us not use the criminal law.

Mr. Illsley

I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr Turner) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I was beginning to think that I had stumbled into the wrong debate, as I do not have the opportunity to read the Express and Star.

The criminal law is already used to control the sale of diesel fuel. It is a crime to use agricultural diesel in an ordinary motor vehicle. Therefore, although my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) did not mention the criminal law, the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is already upon us.

I should have thought that there would be unanimity on both sides of the Committee about the dangers of lead poisoning. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) ask about studies on lead poisoning in adults. One study that I have been made aware of was carried out in Romania and relates to the male reproductive cycle. If that is not a good enough reason to be worried about lead poisoning, I do not know what is.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

There might be a problem in Romania, but would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the reproductive abilities of a normal Glaswegian given the problems of lead in water pipes?

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) will not follow that line. The amendment relates to the narrow issue of lead in petrol.

Mr. Illsley

I was going to compare the number of vehicles in Romania with those in London, but I do not want to comment on the reproductive systems of Londoners or of people from any other part of the country. I simply want to reinforce the point that recent studies have uncovered the effects of low doses of lead on the male reproductive system.

There is enough information from studies to show the danger of lead poisoning, in particular lead poisoning from petrol. There is an urgent need for the average motorist to use unleaded fuel. However, the only incentive for a higher take-up of unleaded fuel is a financial one. The best way to achieve our objective seems to be to widen the difference in price between leaded and unleaded petrol. I agree that the Government's action since 1987 has gone some way towards achieving our objective. Between 1988–89 the increased take-up was about 1 per cent., but, since the Budget, that figure has more than doubled.

However, some account should be taken of other taxpayers. We must, when introducing legislation to promote the use of unleaded petrol, take note of the effect of the new measures on the public in general, including non-motorists. The result of the Chancellor's action was that the oil companies simply increased the price of leaded fuel. That resulted in the users of public transport, non-motorists and others having to bear the increased cost.

9 pm

The medical evidence in favour of using unleaded petrol is clear, and I await with interest any further remarks of the hon. Member for Wyre on that matter. Lead is a poison which, in large enough doses, causes heart disease, various cancers, respiratory disorders, insanity and other nervous disorders. The two additives in leaded petrol designed to prevent what is called the knocking effect—tetramethyl and tetraethyl—can be lethal. A drop or two on the skin can cause insanity. A few drops more can cause death.

For obvious reasons, most of the research has been concerned with children and expectant mothers, for they are most seriously at risk from lead in petrol. But there is a general case on behalf of the whole human race for the widespread use of unleaded petrol. Lead can be ingested, inhaled and in other ways absorbed into the body. Leaded fuel is responsible for 90 per cent. of the lead pollution in the atmosphere, which in this country, means that about 7,000 tonnes per annum of that type of pollution is pumped into the atmosphere.

To add to the evidence that other hon. Members have adduced to show that lead is a poison, I cite a survey that was carried out in my constituency at the Barnsley district general hospital. A report produced there by, among others, doctors Ward, Watson and Bryce-Smith, found a direct correlation between foetal growth and levels of lead found in placentae.

That survey was carried out 10 years ago. Even then, it said that leaded petrol was a threat to unborn children. Since then, not enough has been done to encourage motorists in the extended use of unleaded fuel. The Government are crowing about the measures they have implemented in recent months, but more could have been done since that report was published.

Nor is enough being done to encourage the petrol companies to supply unleaded petrol to garages. The first unleaded fuel went on sale in my constituency only last year. It is clear, therefore, that only in the last 12 months have many people been able to avail themselves of unleaded fuel.

Mr. Mans

Can the hon. Gentleman point to one occasion, prior to the Government initiative about 18 months ago to promote the use of unleaded fuel, when a Labour Member warned about the dangers of lead in fuel for children? The Government have not been lethargic in their approach to this matter. Prior to the first introduction of the differential, there was not enough evidence to show the sort of effects that the hon. Gentleman has been describing.

Mr. Illsley

The fact that I have cited a report that was produced in my constituency 10 years ago pointing out the dangers of using unleaded petrol shows that such evidence was available. I am sure that there was evidence predating that survey.

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend may care to know that, before the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) came to this place, the Select Committee on the Environment examined this issue. Before the 1987 general election, Opposition Members were expressing concern about lead and other emissions from vehicles. It is wrong, therefore, to suggest that the matter was not raised in Parliament before the Government's recent action.

Mr. Illsley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Let us not forget the evidence that is and has been for some time available from other countries. It shows that lead-free petrol has been available for a number of years. EEC recommendations on the subject date from 1973. Japan was promoting unleaded fuel as long ago as 1975. If it is claimed that evidence was not available in this country —and my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has explained that it was—the Government could have paid attention to the evidence available in other, including EEC, countries, and taken a lead from them.

The take-up levels abroad far outweigh those in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham emphasised this point. In the Netherlands, the availability rate is virtually 100 per cent., as is the take-up. In Denmark the take-up rate is 90 per cent. In West Germany it is 75 per cent. But until recently in the United Kingdom only 5 per cent. of garages were able to supply unleaded petrol.

In West Germany, nearly 42 per cent. of all petrol sold is lead-free; in the Netherlands it is 36 per cent.; in Switzerland, 34 per cent.; in Denmark, 32 per cent.; and in Sweden, 30 per cent. Sales of unleaded fuel in this country increased between 1988 and 1989 from about 1 per cent. to 5 or 6 per cent. Since March, they have increased to about 14 per cent., and all credit to the Government for achieving that increase. I should like to see the figure increased beyond the 20 per cent. that Government spokesmen have been hinting will be achieved by the end of this year. We should try to push it up to the levels of our European counterparts.

Mr. Roger King

The hon. Gentleman has given figures for Switzerland and Germany, two countries which have introduced legislation making it mandatory to provide exhaust catalysts on cars. Those vehicles can run only on unleaded fuel. That is why the take-up in those countries is so much higher than it is here. Similarly in Japan, where they had a totally different problem of atmospheric pollution, not just from lead but from exhaust emissions generally. That obliged the Japanese to switch to exhaust catalysts in an attempt to clean up the atmosphere. So the hon. Gentleman is not being strictly fair in comparing the take-up rates in those countries with the rate in this country, where the fitting of catalysts is not mandatory.

Mr. Illsley

I defer to the hon. Gentleman's superior knowledge of the motor industry. We are not, in considering the amendment, debating the fitting of catalytic converters. That is why the comparisons that I was making are valid. It is a question of deciding how we are to achieve a greater take-up. Remembering that Japan has been dealing with this problem since 1975, we in Britain have had ample time in which to promote, by financial incentives, persuasion or legislation, the use of unleaded fuel. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, EC regulations to be introduced by October 1990 will require the majority of motor vehicles produced in this country to run on lead-free petrol.

As to the costs of converting a vehicle, obviously my constituents are in the same position as those of many other right hon. and hon. Members—particularly those of the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). No one is urging them to convert their vehicles overnight, but the point has been made already that two out of three vehicles can run on unleaded petrol without alteration—and while a conversion cost of about £20 has been mentioned, in my own constituency one major dealer is undertaking that work for only £4.95. Given that there is a lop differential between leaded and unleaded fuel, the savings to be made from using the latter will start to be seen very rapidly.

Research by other countries shows that there is no increase in fuel consumption, no real need for engine modifications by manufacturers, no major increase in prices, and no great changes in refinery operations.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some time was needed to allow British manufacturers to develop the lean burn technology as an alternative to the catalytic converter? One of the problems with the catalytic converter is the need for maintenance, adequate inspection and replacement. Britain was looking to a different route in the form of the lean burn engine. Another reason why we have not progressed at the same pace is that a large number of the vehicles currently on the road are not capable of the comparatively cheap conversion to unleaded fuel to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention. On the one hand there was a desire to make unleaded petrol more widely available, and on the other the interests of the car manufacturer and the car owner. What was the car owner to do with a vehicle that could not be converted? At the same time, manufacturers were exploring a different route.

Mr. Illsley

Since 1975—1973 in the case of the EEC —car manufacturers in other countries have been looking to greater use of unleaded. That was sufficient time to consider the introduction of unleaded fuel to this country. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's argument, but greater pressure over the next few years to adopt unleaded fuel will compel motor manufacturers to comply. In recent years, when vehicle safety or other features were introduced by legislation—one thinks of front and rear seat belts, for example—it was left to manufacturers to incorporate them in future production rather than to the motorist to fit them himself. It may be that over the next few years motor manufacturers will be forced to develop models that use unleaded fuel over a much shorter time scale than would otherwise be the case.

More steps must be taken to encourage a better take-up of lead-free fuel. They include the scrapping of two-star petrol to free storage capacity for unleaded, more advertising campaigns about the benefits of unleaded fuel, and steps to encourage more motorists to convert their cars, even though two out of three vehicles are already capable of using lead-free fuel. Perhaps the best way of achieving those objectives is further to increase the price differential between leaded and unleaded fuel.

9.15 pm
Mr. Mans

The Government's present policy is the right one, and little would be gained by increasing the price differential between leaded and unleaded fuel to the extent suggested by Opposition Members. Before I introduced my ten-minute Bill last October on the provision of unleaded petrol and, specifically, engine adjustment, I too believed that the best way of achieving greater take-up was by cutting the price of unleaded petrol considerably.

However, I examined the subject closely last summer and it is now clear to me that many other limitations and reasons are to blame for take-up being slower than we should like. It was a chicken-and-egg argument. There were fewer unleaded petrol outlets, and very few car manufacturers were producing vehicles capable of using it. Of the new vehicles registered last August, 50 per cent. could have been adjusted for unleaded at the point of manufacture but, for a number of reasons, were not.

One reason was the type approval regulations. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic changed those regulations last September. However, the problem associated with those same regulations in a European context remains. Another problem was sheer ignorance in the motor trade and among the general public about which cars could be converted and about whether, having been so converted, they could still use unleaded. I make the point that simply decreasing petrol duty on unleaded fuel would not have the effect that Opposition Members suggest. However, I am pleased that so many of them are taking such a great interest in the subject.

Perhaps I misled the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsey) when I suggested that, prior to 1977, there was no evidence that something needed to he done about unleaded petrol. I was trying to make the point that at that time there was an insufficient number of right hon. and hon. Members who understood the problem in all political parties—not just in one particular party.

Also missing was a decent advertising campaign explaining to the public the problems of lead poisoning and that their cars could be converted. Today, we have all those activities up and running. Manufacturers are increasingly producing cars that can run on unleaded petrol. Virtually all the new cars from the Rover Group, for example, do so, and the same applies to many other major groups. That was not the case one year ago.

Garages are making increasing provision for unleaded petrol. It is noticeable that whereas six months ago, only one pump dispensing unleaded petrol would be available on a garage forecourt with virtually no one making use of it, even before the Budget a considerable number of extra outlets were provided, with a noticeably larger number of unleaded pumps installed on the forecourts of certain garages. It is noticeable that there are now queues for unleaded petrol, whereas before there was none. All that occurred without the extra incentive provided in this year's Budget.

I fear that, if we increased the differential, cars that could not be converted or that—for a number of mechanical reasons—it would be wrong to convert would be converted, simply because of a lack of knowledge in the motor trade about which engines could be converted and which could not.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

My hon. Friend mentioned the problem of queueing at unleaded petrol pumps, which has certainly been visible over the past few months since the big swing to unleaded petrol. Garages have also been running out of such petrol at an increasing rate. There is clearly an opportunity for garages and petrol companies to encourage its use by converting more capacity as quickly as possible.

Mr. Mans

My hon. Friend has made his point very well. Supply and demand must be balanced: simply changing one side of the equation rapidly will not necessarily increase the take-up rate over a finite period. I think that the present differential is about right. Motor cars are increasingly being converted to run on unleaded petrol, and there are more and more extra pumps able to provide it. I am not convinced that an increase in differential will add to the take-up rate.

I was interested by some of the figures that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) came up with. In the Netherlands, where the hon. Gentleman maintains that every garage must have an unleaded petrol pump, the take-up rate—according to the hon. Gentleman's figures —is only 33 per cent., whereas in Germany, where only 70 per cent. of garages have such pumps—

Dr. Marek

I suspect that the reason is the one given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). In Germany, legislation has just been introduced requiring catalytic converters.

Mr. Mans

I accept that. I do not think, however, that simply making unleaded petrol pumps compulsory in all garages will necessarily mean a large increase in take-up. There are many other factors, including the type of engine involved. As I have said, I think that the differential is about right; the important thing is to achieve a complete programme to ensure that take-up increases progressively and reaches a much higher level. I am confident that within the year it will reach at least twice the present level of 14 per cent.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I am pleased to be able to speak to the Social and Liberal Democrat amendments, which provide a stronger financial incentive than any of the others that have been tabled. The starting point—on which everyone seems agreed tonight—is that, while much can be done to promote understanding of the need to turn to lead-free petrol, a financial incentive is needed for a rapid rather than gradual transfer as legislative requirements come to apply to motor manufacturers in any case.

I welcome the Government's recognition of that need through the provision to increase the rebate on excise duty on unleaded petrol, in tandem with changes in the duty levels on two-star and three-star petrol. That has resulted in a differential of perhaps as much as 10p a gallon, since it is not always passed on to the full extent. It has also resulted in considerable publicity, and there has clearly been an impact on the use of lead-free petrol.

The problem is that that is not enough; we would not have put our name to the amendments if we felt otherwise. The full value of the Government rebate will not be passed on to the consumer. I believe that the larger rebate that we propose would guarantee a greater differential on the forecourts, and that scale of differential will be needed to convince the many motorists who will have to convert their cars that such action is not only environmentally but financially advantageous.

Savings made through the use of lead-free petrol must provide immediate—or as near immediate as possible—compensation for the costs involved in the change. It must be made clear to motorists that they will stand to gain. I wish that we could persuade them without resorting to a financial incentive, but that is clearly not possible, as the Government have accepted by drawing up these measures. I think that they should go further.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, when the Select Committee on the Environment was taking evidence on the matter only two years ago, neither he nor his party submitted any evidence to that effect?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman has made a good party point, but it is not a very good point in practice. It is almost impossible from a practical point of view to make submissions on every subject; what we are doing is tabling a constructive amendment tonight.

The amendment would contribute towards a differential of about 15p at the pumps, which would mean a saving of about £45 a year for the average motorist. That is not much in itself, but should be sufficient to motivate many people to convert their cars. In my view, anything else would be inadequate. The Labour amendment adds nothing to what the Government are doing: it is not sufficient to make any real change.

There is no doubt that motorists understand in theory the need for change; a recent survey suggested that four out of five drivers considered that air pollution from car exhausts represented a serious threat to the environment. Yet, although 10.5 million cars on our roads could run lead-free, in February 1989 only about 250,000 had been altered—although the figure will have increased since then. That is where the economic incentives come in.

There is also a need to convince independent retailers that it is in their interests financially—or even that the risk is worth bearing—to promote lead-free petrol in their outlets. Otherwise, we cannot really explain why Britain lags so far behind many of the leading countries; we have heard many figures proving that that is the case.

It is an environmental issue that Governments can tackle effectively. Earlier in the debate, we discussed some of the evidence of the impact that changing to lead-free petrol can have in the health of adults and children. I referred to evidence from America which showed that, between 1976 and 1980, there was a 55 per cent. decrease in the amount of lead in petrol and a 37 per cent. reduction in the average level of lead in blood. That suggests a clear and immediate link between lead in petrol and people's health.

The problem is that, given the current rate of conversion, I am not sure that there will be any reduction whatsoever in the amount of lead in people's blood or in the health hazards. Although cars are undergoing conversion, more cars are coming on to our roads and more mileage is being covered. I wonder how much impact the Government's present measures are having on the problem we are seeking to tackle.

Mr. Roger King

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman and I think that he is painting an unduly pessimistic picture. He will recall that the European Commission decreed that the amount of lead in leaded fuel should be reduced dramatically from 1982 onwards from something like 0.04 mg/ml down to 0.015. That is a dramatic reduction of about 70 per cent. in lead emissions into the atmosphere, without taking into account the impact of the general provision of lead-free petrol. So over a number of years, the Government, with the European Commission, have been playing an active part in addressing the issue, and lead levels have reduced dramatically. We are seeking to eliminate the final few per cent.

9.30 pm
Mr. Taylor

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not consider that we have gone far enough. I do not believe that the measures in the Bill will achieve what the Government consider necessary. I do not think that we should be debating whether there is a problem. Certainly Ministers believe that there is a problem. I am trying to encourage a Government who take a certain amount of pride in radical solutions to be a little more radical in addressing the problem. The Prime Minister could gain publicity points by saying that she is putting a tiger, or a tigress, into people's tanks—she would think that that would be an appropriate expression for her. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not seek to use the debate to reopen the discussion on whether we need to do something about it. The public and the Government appear to acknowledge that.

I turn from the financial incentives to the need to generate adequate information and publicity. There remains too much ignorance among motorists and others about the costs involved in making the necessary changes and the ease with which those changes can often be made. I do not believe that the problem is simply financial, although I have discussed that at some length. Despite the fact that, according to the survey to which I have referred, four out of five people acknowledge the problem, I suspect that there is insufficient recognition of how easy it is to tackle it, and the fact that, once converted, a car can still use four-star petrol and there are unlikely to be problems unless a car is fitted with a catalytic converter. All those subjects are insufficiently explained.

Our debates tend to concentrate on four-wheeled vehicles, but in my constituency two-star petrol has virtually disappeared as petrol companies will not deliver it, so most garages provide four-star petrol or lead-free petrol and nothing else. Many people are getting in touch with me—and I have written to Ministers at the Department of Energy—about their motor cycles, their lawn mowers and garden implements that they have wheeled out in the recent sunshine; they cannot get the fuel that they have been buying for years. There is virtually no information available to them. A local newspaper recently published an article asking the local motor cycle garage and lawn mower sales point for advice. Their advice was that they were considering the matter, that they were reasonably sure about modern machines being able to run on lead-free petrol, but, apart from that, they did not like to advise anyone and they said that people should refer to the manufacturer. Clearly, that is not a good position for those people.

The Government should adopt the recommendations of CLEAR and spend money on advertising to explain the benefits and the costs of conversion and put in the same efforts that they are making to explain the poll tax that we debated earlier today. Hon. Members acknowledge the problem, but we must decide how to solve it as rapidly as possible. Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 show clearly that we can move forward by giving people a financial incentive within a time scale to which they are likely to respond.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), because I believe that there is an issue that should divide us. I am against not only the proposed amendments but clause 1, for reasons that I have had the opportunirty on previous occasions to dilate on in the House.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) for not being present at the beginning of his speech. I do not know whether he played a significant part in the Labour party's policy review, but as Socialism has been declared off the agenda it will no longer be appropriate to sing the "Red Flag" at the end of its annual conference. We can assume from his speech that it will be replaced by the green flag.

When Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen unite in favour of a proposal, hon. Members should regard it with the deepest suspicion. 1 never thought that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury would be charged with the high crime and misdemeanour of seeking to be fashionable. I am afraid that that is the charge that I shall have to lay against him this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) made one of the most shameless speeches that I have heard in the six years that I have been an hon. Member. It was a truly disgusting performance, crawling on all fours before the editor of his local newspaper for some cheap mention on a matter that, in other circumstances, he would have disdained. Even he—in what for him was an idiosyncratic speech because it was not idiosyncratic—followed the fashionable nostrums of the time.

Sir Hal Miller

Is not my hon. Friend being a little ungenerous to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), who made his maiden constituency speech and should not therefore attract unduly robust criticism?

Mr. Hamilton

I always regarded the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West as being principally himself. One should not confuse his electorate with his constituents. That is something to be avoided, and I understand that my hon. Friend avoids it as often as possible.

There is no case for a differential in the tax rate between leaded or unleaded petrol.

Mr. Budgen

That has finished my hon. Friend's chances of getting a little job.

Mr. Hamilton

I say to my hon. Friend that for him, as for me, it is far too late to be careful.

There is no case for discriminating between leaded and unleaded petrol because there is no evidence that lead in petrol poses any health risk. An article appeared in a journal which I am sure lies on the bedside of all hon. Members—the British Journal of Developmental Psychology—about relationships between blood lead, behaviour, psychometric and neuropsychological test performance in young children. A sample of 201 inner-city-dwelling children aged five and a half was taken by the university of Birmingham's environment, research and behaviour research group. I commend it to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. It says: Results show that the initial correlations between blood lead and the outcome measures were generally few and low. No significant relationship was found between overall IQ and blood lead and the one marginally significant association found when the sample was split by father's occupation proved non-significant on multivariate analysis. This latest study merely backs up the numerous studies published over the years to which I referred in a previous speech in this House, made to a somewhat smaller audience at 1.14 am on 4 December 1984. 1 gave a number of examples of scientific studies which conclusively proved nothing in relation to this matter.

I will remind the Committee briefly of some of those examples. The Medical Research Council, to which the Government listen carefully, reviewed the subject between 1979 and 1983. It said that the published evidence showed that there was no statistically significant association between body lead burdens and IQs after allowance had been made for the confounding factors. In 1983, the "Digest of Environmental Protection and Water Statistics" reviewed 35 surveys carried out in the European Community. Of those, in only three instances was the reference level set by the EC for the lead content of the blood breached. It was shown that in each of the studies, the reason for the breaches had nothing to do with lead emissions into the atmosphere.

Mr. Budgen

Surely all that my hon. Friend is saying is that there may be some doubt about the technical and scientific evidence used to support the incentives that the Government have put into the fiscal system. He is doing a perfectly good service in drawing attention to the uncertainty of the scientific evidence, but as long as the Government give an incentive merely by way of fiscal encouragement and not by the use of the criminal law, there is nothing to complain about. My hon. Friend may, of course, wish to draw this matter to the attention of the wider public, so that they can take his views into account when deciding whether they wish to avail themselves of the fiscal incentive or to buy what they may regard as more effective petrol.

Mr. Hamilton

That is true, but this tax change costs the Treasury £170 million in a full year. 1 contend that we could have had other tax reductions in its place, such as exempting all Members of Parliament from income tax, which would have had far more demonstrable benefits to society in general by encouraging men of high ability, but of otherwise of no earning power, to come into the House.

There is no evidence for justifying a tax differential of this kind. It is wrong for the burden of proof to be placed on those who say that there is no evidence. The Government are saying that we should try to prove a negative, which we cannot. This is one more unfortunate instance, which we have seen too often in recent years with Governments of all parties, in which the taxation system is being used to dictate the preferences of the consumer.

Mr. Mans

To guide the consumer.

Mr. Hamilton

Perhaps to guide, but in effect to dictate, if we take the same basic attitude about human motivation. The Government are making a mistake— perhaps not a large mistake—and I am sorry that on this occasion we have decided to be slaves to fashion and have moved in an unfortunate direction.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) often expresses minority views in an extreme way. I will say only that to be speaking in opposition to his convinces me that we must be moving in the right direction.

I do not intend to refer to the problem of other vehicle emissions, although lead is only one of the many problems, because the other emissions are not relevant to the debate. The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and other hon. Members referred to the obstacles that prevent people from converting to lead-free petrol and that is valid. But in view of the time, I will not pursue those matters, nor the fact that there are causes of lead poisoning other than vehicle emissions.

This simple amendment deals with a principle that is accepted by both the Government and the Opposition—that to encourage the use of lead-free petrol, an incentive should be provided in the price. We are debating a question of degree. The Labour party's amendment would increase the size of that incentive slightly, while the SLD amendment would make an even greater concession.

9.45 pm

Given that there is such a degree of agreement, I suggest that the best course for the Government to take would he to accept amendment No. 1, which embodies the middle-of-the-road approach. They could thus avoid dividing the Committee. It would be sensible not to argue on this occasion about which party is the greener and about whether the SLD is greener than the Greens. We are talking about very small sums. I hope that, in view of the Government's Budget surplus, they will see the wisdom of conceding that the Labour party is right and accepting the amendment.

On 21 February the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, sent the Chancellor a letter which was issued as a press release. The Select Committee was not politically divided; the Chairman's letter received the support of both sides of the Committee. The Chairman of the Select Committee told the Chancellor that he supported the action previously taken by the Government but that he was concerned that there had not been a sufficient increase in the take-up of lead-free petrol. The letter said: The purpose of this letter, which has the support of my Committee, is to urge you to make a substantial increase in the duty differential, namely, to at least 12p per gallon, which the oil companies should be required to pass on to the motorist in full. The amendment would bring us nearer to that figure of at least 12p. The Government should acknowledge the unanimity of the Select Committee on the Environment. They should accept our amendment and thus avoid the need for a Division.

Mr. Michael Brown

Unfortunately, my views and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) are not the same on this occasion. Perhaps I can explain why. In December 1984, my hon. Friend presented a petition from the residents of Tatton and Eddisbury for redundancy payments for Associated Octel workers who had been made redundant due to the Government's policies on lead in petrol. My hon. Friend was representing his constituency interests. I. on the other hand, represent a constituency that contains the Conoco and Lindsey oil refineries.

Hon. Members have spoken about the need to move more quickly. I have to point out to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) that we could not move more quickly in my constituency until we had built that catalytic cracker at Immingham in my constituency at a cost of £80 million. We had to do that so that we could make unleaded petrol for use in the tanks of garages all round the country. It takes two years to build a catalytic cracker for oil refineries such as Conoco, so the Government must be acquitted of the charge of not moving quickly enough.

The amendments should be rejected. The Government have been shown the way to encourage people, but we should be careful about going too far too fast.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) talked about the cheapness of conversion. I will willingly take my 20-year old Land-Rover and my eight-year old Jaguar to his constituency if they can be converted to use unleaded petrol for £4.95 each.

It has been a good debate. The Government have struck just the right balance, and we should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what he is doing.

Mr. Lilley

The amendments call for us to do more of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done in the past three Budgets. Most amendments are critical. However, Miss Boothroyd, like your colleague Mr. McWilliam, you are a noted music lover. You will know that the calls of "encore" at the end of a concert are primarily expressions of praise rather than demands for an action replay of Mahler's Fifth. I take the spirit behind the amendments primarily as praise for what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done in increasing the differential to about 14p, not the lower figures that were given by the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Truro (Mr. Taylor).

The reason the pump price differential tends to be only about 10p is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) said, that there are considerable costs in producing lead-free petrol as against leaded petrol.

Praise from any quarter is welcome, particularly when it comes from the Opposition. It is most unexpected when it comes from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I am grateful to him for it. I suspect that his praise is in the same spirit as that of the great Bacon, from my constituency, who talked of "laudande praecipere"—to praise in order to teach. I agree that we should not use the criminal law to encourage the use of lead-free petrol and are right to proceed by the means we have adopted.

We have got it right and been successful. Since the Budget, the response to the announced changes has been more dramatic than we dared hope. The market share of lead-free petrol has more than doubled—from 6.4 per cent. immediately before the Budget to 14.4 per cent. a month later. The number of filling stations selling lead-free petrol increased dramatically from 30 per cent. before the Budget to about 50 per cent. After the Budget. I assure the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) that it is continuing to increase at the rate of about 250 a week. The hon. Gentleman will be able to work out that that is about 1,000 a month. Given about 20,000 filling stations, that is an extra 5 per cent. a month. The hon. Gentleman's target of 60 per cent. by next year seems to be easily attainable.

The major reason for the rapid increase in the number of petrol stations stocking lead-free petrol is the measure that the Financial Times described as a masterstroke, whereby the price of two-star petrol has increased to that of four-star petrol. As a result, the share taken by two-star, which was already falling and had fallen to 6 per cent. before the Budget, has fallen to about 0.6 per cent. and it has effectively disappeared from most forecourts in the country. Customs and Excise has had to introduce special concessions to petrol companies that have had to return unsaleable two-star and three-star petrol and sought duty remission on it.

Mr. Adley

What will we do for our lawn mowers in two or three years if we cannot get two-star petrol?

Mr. Lilley

It is almost unprecedented for any hon. Member to ask a question for that reason. Most motor cycle and similar engines can take two-star petrol. If they cannot, they can take four-star leaded petrol, but it is appropriate to ask a dealer or garage if one has a particularly rarefied form of engine.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

The Minister will recall that I referred to that matter. The picture is not quite as straightforward as he paints it. Many people who use four-star petrol will see a considerable reduction in the life expectancy of their machines. Simply to refer people to manufacturers is somewhat inadequate. Much effort has been made for motor vehicles. Will the Minister see whether some effort can be made to help those who are concerned about motor cycles and garden machinery?

Mr. Lilley

Perhaps the hon. Member for Truro will welcome the fact that we have not accepted the advice of the hon. Member for Wrexham to ban the sale of two-star petrol. It will remain on sale, so there is the possibility that it will continue to exist.

Another important measure of the changes since the Budget is that Halfords earlier this year was adjusting to lead-free petrol some 200 cars a week. Since the Budget, as a result of its excellent campaign with the Today newspaper, it is adjusting some 6,000 a week at a cost of less than £10 each.

As a result of those changes, I can inform the House that we have increased our estimate of the likely share taken by lead-free petrol by the end of this year, which we had expected to rise to about 15 per cent. It has already reached 14.4 per cent., so we expect that by the end of the year it will have risen to 20 to 25 per cent. I see no reason why by this time next year it should not have reached the target of 30 per cent. that was suggested by the hon. Member for Wrexham.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lilley

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have not enough time to take further intervention.

We are already the fourth highest country in the list of users of lead-free petrol and we are rising rapidly up that list. I hope that that will be welcomed by hon. Members. It is still, nevertheless, necessary for us to dispel the myths about the use of lead-free petrol, and thereby increase 1.he uptake of the fuel. Two thirds of all vehicles on the road at present can make use of lead-free petrol either already or as a result of a cheap adjustment, which is sometimes available free, but rarely costs more than £20. Those who switch to lead-free petrol can mix with it or change back to leaded petrol if they wish or if lead-free petrol is not available. Most tests have shown no discernible loss of performance in vehicles using lead-free petrol.

The Government since the Budget have given a boost to lead-free petrol with a £1 million publicity campaign. I believe that the Opposition will welcome that use of Government money to get the facts over.

The differential in price at the pumps should in due course widen. At present, about lop of the 14p cost advantage is generally passed on to the customer. As the uptake of lead-free petrol increases and the overheads of the original cost of producing it are more widely spread, it should be possible for the petrol companies to pass on an increased proportion of that 14p differential.

Mr. Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lilley

I have already said that I shall not.

We believe that the United Kingdom has now reached a position where the rate of improvement in the take-up of lead-free petrol has reached a process of self-sustaining growth and that the present level of benefit for lead-free petrol is at about the desirable level. It is the highest in Europe, apart from Denmark, and therefore quite satisfactory.

Dr. Marek

I have already said what the Labour party policy is, but I must say at this stage that I am not completely against what the Economic Secretary has said. In his statement there has been the expectation that the Government will reach the targets that I set them for the sale and the availability of unleaded petrol. I welcome that statement and I look forward to those targets being achieved.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment asked the Government to ensure that there would be a 12p differential between leaded and unleaded petrol and to require the oil companies to pass that on to the motorists. In that respect, we do not believe the Government have gone far enough.

Two Aunt Sallies have been raised. First, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said that I had talked about further measures and then implied that we would set the police on the motorists to check whether they had unleaded petrol in their tanks. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are far better ways of ensuring that motorists use unleaded petrol. Secondly, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) declared his interest, or had it declared for him by his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). He said that he had employees involved in making the lead for leaded petrol. Perhaps he should have tried to redeploy those employees instead of allowing them to be made redundant.

We do not think that the Government have gone far enough. That is why we shall seek to press our amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 149, Noes 215.

Division No. 194] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Allen, Graham Kennedy, Charles
Anderson, Donald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kirkwood, Archy
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Lamond, James
Ashton, Joe Leadbitter, Ted
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Lewis, Terry
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Livsey, Richard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Barron, Kevin Loyden, Eddie
Battle, John McAllion, John
Beckett, Margaret McAvoy, Thomas
Beith, A. J. McFall, John
Bell, Stuart McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Bermingham, Gerald McKelvey, William
Blunkett, David McNamara, Kevin
Boateng, Paul Madden, Max
Boyes, Roland Mahon, Mrs Alice
Bradley, Keith Marek, Dr John
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Buchan, Norman Meacher, Michael
Buckley, George J. Meale, Alan
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Michael, Alun
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Clay, Bob Morgan, Rhodri
Clelland, David Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cohen, Harry Mullin, Chris
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Murphy, Paul
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Nellist, Dave
Corbett, Robin Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Cousins, Jim Pike, Peter L.
Cryer, Bob Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Quin, Ms Joyce
Darling, Alistair Radice, Giles
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Randall, Stuart
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Redmond, Martin
Dixon, Don Reid, Dr John
Doran, Frank Richardson, Jo
Douglas, Dick Robertson, George
Duffy, A. E. P. Rogers, Allan
Dunnachie, Jimmy Rooker, Jeff
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Fatchett, Derek Ruddock, Joan
Fearn, Ronald Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Skinner, Dennis
Fisher, Mark Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Flynn, Paul Smith, C. (lsl'ton & F'bury)
Foster, Derek Smith, John P.
Foulkes, George Snape, Peter
Fraser, John Soley, Clive
Fyfe, Maria Spearing, Nigel
Godman, Dr Norman A. Steinberg, Gerry
Golding, Mrs Llin Stott, Roger
Gordon, Mildred Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Graham, Thomas Turner, Dennis
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Vaz, Keith
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Wall, Pat
Grocott, Bruce Wallace, James
Henderson, Doug Walley, Joan
Holland, Stuart Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Home Robertson, John Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Hood, Jimmy Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Wilson, Brian
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Winnick, David
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Worthington, Tony
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Wray, Jimmy
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Adam Tellers for the Ayes:
Janner, Greville Mr. Robert N. Wareing and
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mr. Ken Eastham.
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Adley, Robert Garel-Jones, Tristan
Aitken, Jonathan Gill, Christopher
Alexander, Richard Glyn, Dr Alan
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Goodhart, Sir Philip
Amess, David Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Amos, Alan Gow, Ian
Arbuthnot, James Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Ashby, David Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Atkins, Robert Gregory, Conal
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Grist, Ian
Batiste, Spencer Ground, Patrick
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Grylls, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hague, William
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hanley, Jeremy
Body, Sir Richard Hannam, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Boscawen, Hon Robert Harris, David
Boswell, Tim Haselhurst, Alan
Bottomley, Peter Hayes, Jerry
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hayward, Robert
Bowis, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Heddle, John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brazier, Julian Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bright, Graham Hind, Kenneth
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Howard, Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Burns, Simon Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Burt, Alistair Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Butler, Chris Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Butterfill, John Hunter, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Irvine, Michael
Carrington, Matthew Irving, Charles
Carttiss, Michael Jack, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jackson, Robert
Chope, Christopher Janman, Tim
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Colvin, Michael Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Key, Robert
Couchman, James Kilfedder, James
Currie, Mrs Edwina King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Kirkhope, Timothy
Devlin, Tim Knapman, Roger
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dover, Den Knowles, Michael
Dunn, Bob Knox, David
Durant, Tony Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Evennett, David Lightbown, David
Fallon, Michael Lilley, Peter
Favell, Tony Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Fishburn, John Dudley McCrindle, Robert
Fookes, Dame Janet MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forman, Nigel MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forth, Eric Maclean, David
Fox, Sir Marcus McLoughlin, Patrick
Franks, Cecil McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Freeman, Roger McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
French, Douglas Major, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, George Malins, Humfrey
Mans, Keith Ryder, Richard
Maples, John Sackville, Hon Tom
Marlow, Tony Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Sayeed, Jonathan
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Shaw, David (Dover)
Mates, Michael Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Maude, Hon Francis Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Mellor, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Miller, Sir Hal Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mills, Iain Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Speller, Tony
Mitchell, Sir David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Morrison, Sir Charles Steen, Anthony
Moss, Malcolm Stevens, Lewis
Neale, Gerrard Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Needham, Richard Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Nelson, Anthony Summerson, Hugo
Neubert, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Page, Richard Thurnham, Peter
Paice, James Townend, John (Bridlington)
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Tredinnick, David
Patnick, Irvine Trippier, David
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Porter, David (Waveney) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Powell, William (Corby) Waller, Gary
Price, Sir David Wheeler, John
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Whitney, Ray
Redwood, John Widdecombe, Ann
Rhodes James, Robert Wolfson, Mark
Riddick, Graham Wood, Timothy
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Younger, Rt Hon George
Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Tellers for the Noes:
Rost, Peter Mr. Alan Howarth and
Rowe, Andrew Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Rumbold, Mrs Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Ten o'clock, THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

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