HL Deb 10 May 1922 vol 50 cc371-4

THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH had given Notice to call attention to the final Report of the Departmental Committee on "Smoke and Noxious Vapours Abatement," of which Lord Newton was Chairman, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they propose to take any action or to introduce any legislation this session in accordance with the Committee's recommendations.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, I beg to ask the Question which he has placed on the paper, namely:— To ask His Majesty's Government whether they contemplate any legislation to give effect to the recommendations in the Report of the Committee on 'Smoke and Noxious Vapours Abatement.' In the few words that I desire to say I am not going into matters upon which we are all thoroughly agreed—namely, how much better the inhabitants of our towns and cities would be if they breathed purer air, and had a larger share of the direct light of the sun. Nor am I going into the question of the deterioration of our public buildings and our ancient monuments by reason of the impure atmosphere in which they have to exist. Upon those matters we are all thoroughly agreed.

All I want to say now, in putting the Question, is that a practical suggestion has been made by the Departmental Committee, presided over by Lord Newton. If I may be permitted to say so, I think that Committee was very wise in not proposing any very drastic new legislation. We must proceed quietly and with caution in this matter. With regard to the domestic use of coal the Committee said that in their opinion the time has not arrived for proposing any drastic legislation regarding the use of coal in domestic affairs. They point out how necessary fuel economy is, and say: Our particular concern is with its bearing on atmospheric purification. It is clear that the smoke problem, particularly with regard to smoke from domestic sources, will finally be solved when, and if, a solid smokeless fuel can be produced economically on a commercial scale. It might then be both practicable and desirable to legislate against the burning of raw coal. We have to possess ourselves in patience for a time. We cannot deal with the whole question of the use of our coal supply by any hurried legislation.

Putting aside the domestic use of coal the Committee, in regard to the use of coal for manufactures, also definitely state—and I think it is a very wise statement—that in their opinion no legislation can be passed which interferes in any way with the trade of the country. You cannot impose any regulation which would interfere with trade, and the Committee come to the general conclusion that it is not so much a question of fresh legislation as it is a question of putting into force and into more general operation the legislation which already exists, but which is too much of a permissive character. The Committee suggest that too much is left to the local authorities without the driving power of the Government being behind them to see that the regulations are carried out. It is not always easy for local authorities to be strong enough to compel those who are lax to conform to the regulations; very often they are influential persons; but the local authorities could do so, and should do so, and they would have no excuse for not doing so if they were called upon by a Government Department to see that the legislation which has been passed is put into force.

My object in raising these points is to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can tell us that they will act upon the recommendations of this Report and move a step forward. We cannot do it rapidly, but we must do it whenever we have the opportunity, and back up what I may call the admirable work of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society to which body we owe so much of the spade work which has been done in getting people to take an interest in a question so vital to our health and our buildings.

I hope the Government will not leave the Report of this Departmental Committee alone. It often happens that although the legislation would be useful the difficulty of finding time to carry small Bills founded on the recommendations of such a Committee means that they are pigeon holed. The question crops up again after an interval of years, perhaps because there is an agitation on the subject, and again the Government propose a Committee; and so it goes on, and we make no progress. If the Government will I ell us that they see their way to act upon the recommendations of this Committee, I am sure those who are interested in smoke abatement, as far as we can attain it, will be very grateful.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that the Government fully appreciate the smoke evil and are in full sympathy with the efforts made to combat it. I should like to re-echo his words of appreciation of the labours of the Committee over which Lord Newton presided and of the efforts which have been made to counteract the evil by the Coal Smoke Abatement Society. At this late hour I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with any long observations because I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing this matter more fully at an early date. I hope to be able to give a satisfactory answer to the noble Earl when I tell him that we propose to introduce a Bill into this House dealing with the matters into which Lord Newton's Committee inquired.

I should add that having regard to the Parliamentary situation and the pressing matters which occupy its attention, I cannot undertake that it will be possible to pass the measure through another place during the present session. But we hope to introduce it in your Lordships' House at an early date, when the matter can be more thoroughly discussed. The position, at the moment, is this. We are awaiting the receipt of the draft Bill from the Coal Smoke Abatement Society. We have been promised it at an early date, and when we receive it we shall get on with the drafting of the measure which I trust will be introduced into this House shortly.


My Lords, may I be allowed to express the gratification I feel at the announcement just made by the noble Earl. I think anyone who has paid any attention to this question, or who has read the Report, will recognise that the time for Government action has arrived. I do not wish to appear ungrateful, but it has struck me that the deplorable condition of this country with regard to this matter is largely due to the apathy of Governments in the past. I rejoice to think that at last we have found a Minister in the person of Sir Alfred Mond who has recognised the necessity of doing something. I am convinced, from my own experience, that the Bill will be welcomed by a large section of intelligent opinion in this country, and in view of the extremely moderate recommendations we have made, which, I understand, will probably be embodied in the measure, I look forward to its passing with more hope than one usually feels on similar occasions. I repeat my expression of gratitude to the noble. Earl for the announcement he has made.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.