HC Deb 08 November 1989 vol 159 cc977-8
1. Mr. David Davis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the reduction of lead in the atmosphere over Britain since 1985.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

The report by the Warren Spring laboratory on airborne lead concentrations in the United Kingdom 1984–88 shows a decrease from 408 nanogrammes of lead per cubic meter of air (ng/m3) in 1985 to 190 ng/m3 in 1988—that is a decrease of 53 per cent.

Mr. Davis

May I be the first to welcome my hon. Friend to his first Question Time and to say how glad we all are to see that his Trappist vows from his previous job as a Whip have not reduced his customary eloquence'? I am pleased to hear the figures that he cites because they reflect a marvellous performance. Does he agree that that is a first-class demonstration of the effectiveness of the policy of light regulation, combined with price and tax incentives, as a way of protecting the environment? What does he expect to see in the future in this area?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind welcome. The figures on airborne lead are, indeed, encouraging, but we continue our efforts to persuade motorists to switch to unleaded fuel. Already the switch to unleaded fuel is preventing 65 tonnes of lead per month from being emitted into the atmosphere. That shows the importance of our continuing campaign. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a first-class example of co-operation between the Government, the trade and the public.

Mr. James Lamond

In joining the welcome to the new Minister, I wonder whether the Prime Minister is aware of his appointment because this week she wrote to me telling me that inquiries about textile matters should be addressed to Mr. Alan Clark, the Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, although he was moved from there in the reshuffle before last.

Many motorists are still uncertain whether the instructions that they have read in the booklet issued by the Department are correct or whether the instructions suggested to them by the agents for the motor cars are correct. It is sometimes suggested that motorist should use an occasional fill of leaded petrol. Does the Minister have any views on that point?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome. On his point about advice from the trade, it is true that in certain instances new cars designed to run on unleaded petrol can benefit from small doses of leaded fuel during the running-in period, but that is highly incidental. To clear up any misunderstanding, my Department has just reprinted more copies of the excellent booklet, "Adjust to Unleaded", which I commend to the hon. Gentleman's constituents and the public. It will remove any confusion or misunderstanding about the importance of unleaded fuel.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I, too, welcome the Minister to his new job, but why have questions been planted by his hon. Friends on the Back Benches only on the issue of lead pollution in the atmosphere when the other pollutants from motor cars are far more significant factors in the pollution of the environment and there has been an increase in them, not a reduction? About 3,000 tonnes of lead and 1,031,000 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide are emitted annually from motor cars, and there has been an increase of 33 per cent. in the amount of carbon dioxide—the major greenhouse gas—emitted by cars in the past 10 years. Two Budgets ago the Government said that they would cut subsidies to company cars, yet 6,000 new cars per day come on to our roads, 50 per cent. of them company cars with Government subsidies. When will the Government switch resources to support public transport and actually reduce emissions of carbon dioxide?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman apparently belittles our campaign to persuade motorists to switch to unleaded fuel. We also have in train measures to reduce other forms of harmful emissions. They will be dealt with by the introduction of catalytic converters, which will greatly reduce emissions of carbon monoxide, unburnt hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides. I remind the hon. Gentleman that catalytic converters require unleaded fuel.