HL Deb 10 July 1922 vol 51 cc317-21

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government when they propose to introduce the Smoke Abatement Bill. This is one of the smaller problems of our daily life which has never been properly tackled. We have been fiddling at it for a very long time. I did not know for how long until I read in the Report of Lord Newton's Committee that a proclamation forbidding the burning of coal in London was issued in the reign of King Edward I. Since then we have had innumerable Acts and Bills and Inquiries, but we do not seem to have got much nearer to a solution of the difficulty.

Recently, my noble friend, Lord Newton, has been active in bringing this matter before your Lordships and to the notice of the public outside. Early in 1914 he introduced a Smoke Abatement Bill in this House, but did not proceed with it because a promise was given by the Government that an Inquiry into the whole question would be instituted at once. A Departmental Committee of the Local Govermnent Board, as it then was, was set up, but its proceedings were interrupted by the war, and it was not until after the Armistice that the Committee was reconstituted by the Minister of Health, with Lord Newton as its Chairman. That Committee held a long and very full inquiry, and issued an interim Report in June, 1920, and a full Report at the end of last year. I hope that all the labours of Lord Newton and his colleagues, for which they deserve the thanks of anyone who lives in a smoky atmosphere, will soon bear real and tangible fruit, and that the noble Lord who answers for the Government will tell us that a Bill is shortly to be introduced.

There is one point that I desire to put before the Government, and which I hope will be included in the Bill. I am glad to say that it was included in the recommendations of Lord Newton's Committee. It is no good passing a law on this or any other subject unless you provide some means for carrying it into effect. At present, the duty of seeing that the law in regard to smoke abatement is carried out rests in the hands of local authorities. The greatest offenders in regard to smoke are to be found in the small industrial towns, and we shall never do any real good in this matter so long as the duty of seeing that the law is carried out rests with town councils. There are two reasons for this. The first, as will be readily understood, is that in a small industrial town it is inevitable that a large number of the members of the town council should be connected with the great factories and works, either as owners, or employees, or in some other capacity, and anyone can realise the difficult position in which they find themselves. The second reason is that you cannot expect the authorities of one of these smaller towns to do more in this matter than their neighbours. They are afraid, and not unreasonably afraid, that if they give their town the reputation of being particular about smoke abatement they will frighten away people who otherwise would come and establish works there, and in that way the prosperity and trade of the town might be injured.

Therefore, I desire to press very strongly on the noble Lord who represents the Government that the only effective way of getting over the difficulty is to place this duty in the hands of some larger body, preferably in the hands of a Government Department. If a Bill was introduced with a single clause to that effect I think you would find an immediate reduction in the volume of smoke.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government, perhaps I may be allowed to thank my noble friend for the interest he has taken in this question. He has every right to speak with authority because he lives in a particularly dirty and polluted neighbourhood. From my own experience I know that some of the residents in his district suffer from such atmospheric conditions that it is only possible to open their windows during Bank Holidays. The Committee of which the noble Lord has spoken was really a good Committee in its way. Everybody on it, with the exception of myself, knew something about the question. Although the Committee worked very conscientiously, examined innumerable witnesses, visited industrial districts, including the neighbourhood of my noble friend, and also visited Germany, myself and another member being their representatives, we never succeeded in getting anybody to take any interest in us, and by no one were we more consistently and ignominiously ignored than by the late Minister of Health, who appointed the Committee.

There was one refreshing interval, which I recollect with pleasure, when we had emerged from obscurity. When I visited my noble friend, who lives in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, I discovered that his wife had been engaged in the Arcadian occupation of harvesting oats, and, during that occupation, she wore a white blouse. During the process of harvesting, that blouse had become black. I induced my noble friend to bring this blouse as an exhibit before our Committee, and, from that moment onwards, we achieved temporary celebrity. Almost every paper in the country had long descriptions of the blouse and the owner of the blouse. It excited so much interest that it was temporarily borrowed by those directing an exhibition in Glasgow, and ultimately found its way, if I am not mistaken, to a museum, where it remains as a sort of monument, not only of the pollution of the atmosphere but of the industry of the British aristocracy.

Unfortunately, incidents of this kind were rare, and, when the blouse was forgotten, the Committee were equally forgotten. Nobody took any further interest in us, until a very influential deputation waited upon Sir Alfred Mond some months ago. Upon that occasion, rather to my agreeable surprise—because Governments, as a rule, do not undertake to bring in Bills unless they see that the Bills are going to bring in votes—Sir Alfred Mond agreed to introduce a Smoke Abatement Bill, and he asked the societies interested in the question to frame a Bill. That was done. The Bill was drawn up, and it has been in the possession of the Ministry of Health for some considerable time. I have no doubt that the Government draftsmen have derived immense pleasure from detecting various inaccuracies or expressions of which they do not approve, and have been occupied in improving it to the best of their ability.

I am not going to discuss the details of the Bill, but I submit that the Government are under a pledge to bring in this measure, and I hope that they will do so even at this late period of the session. Personally, I feel grateful to Sir Alfred Mond for making this promise. He is, so far as I am aware, the first Minister who has taken the smallest interest in this question, and I really believe that if he is allowed by his colleagues to do so he is anxious to identify himself with a reform of this nature. All I have to say, in conclusion, is that if Sir Alfred Mond is successful in introducing a Bill and getting it through Parliament, he will be more deserving of a monument than many heroes of the past, whose effigies decorate or disfigure the squares and streets of the Metropolis.


My Lords, I hope I can give the noble Lord the answer that he foreshadowed. I can assure him that the recommendations of the Committee of my noble friend Lord Newton have received the most careful consideration of the Government, and it is hoped to introduce a Bill on the subject of smoke abatement at an early date. As I think I have said before in regard to this matter, it is unlikely—indeed, at the present moment, I think, it is quite out of the question to expect—that it will be possible to pass that Bill through during the present session.


We are going to have an autumn session.


I am coming to that. I hope your Lordships will be able to give the Bill at least a Second Reading during the present session, and that it may then receive public discussion, so that a general agreement may be secured, and its passage next session may be facilitated.