HL Deb 29 March 1928 vol 70 cc697-721

LORD BUCKMASTER had given Notice to ask: (1), what is the constitution of the Committee set up to inquire into the danger arising from the use of lead tetra-ethyl in motor spirit; (2), why they are not sitting in public; (3), when their report is anticipated; and to move to resolve that serious warning should at once be issued by the Ministry of Health as to the possibility of danger from its use. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I ought to begin the discussion upon the Notice that stands in my name by asking the excuse of the Ministry of Health for the form in which I have prepared the Resolution that I trust your Lordships will adopt, because as it runs it looks as though I were going to ask your Lordships to resolve that the Ministry of Health ought to caution the people against the use of the Ministry—and that really was not my desire. It is not their activities, it is their inactivities of which I complain; and if the Resolution be altered so as to show that the warning which I ask them to issue is against the use of the spirit known as ethyl spirit my purpose will be accomplished.

The first two parts of my Question will, I think, be capable of being readily answered. The first asks that we should be informed as to what is the constitution of the Committee set up in pursuance of the Resolution which was before your Lordships a month ago. I imagine that two or three hours at the outside would be enough to determine who were the people that you desired to select to make the Committee and by the use of the telephone—and possibly avoiding the telegraph—you would be able to obtain information as to whether they would assent or not in a very short space of time. I am aware—and I desire to recognise, the wisdom and the liberality of the Ministry of Health in the action—that they have asked Professor Baker to serve upon the Committee and he has informed me that owing to ill health he cannot sit at present, but I sincerely hope his place will be taken by a man equally distinguished and equally independent. Therefore the constitution of this Committee can, I imagine, be no longer in doubt, and I think that the country ought to know how it is made up.

The next thing is this. I want this Committee to sit in public. The Government, not in accordance with wishes that I hold but in accordance with their own view, determined to set up an inter-Departmental Committee upon this question. It appeared to me to be a matter of public importance and as the object of the Inquiry was not to determine who was responsible for the delay in handling his matter but for the purpose of considering whether the public ought to be warned against the use of this spirit, I thought an inter-Departmental Committee an inadvisable form of tribunal. However, it has been set up and the noble Marquess met me as far as he could by promising that outside people should be added to the body. Whether it is an inter-Departmental Committee with outside people added to the body or not, this is a matter on which the public is entitled to know what the evidence is. There is no secret in the matter; there can be none. They ought to hear the evidence on both sides and by that means, if by no other, they may be warned by some of the evidence as to the grave risk which people think is run by the use of this spirit.

Those are the two first branches of my Question. In the last I want to know when the Report is anticipated. Possibly I shall be told it is impossible to know. I dare say it is, but the thing I want to know is that this matter should be prosecuted energetically. In my opinion this matter is far too grave to allow of Government Departments reclining in Olympian case while people may be suffering whom it is their business to protect, and therefore I am anxious, and one of the purposes of this Question is to secure that there should be no unnecessary time lost in the prosecution of these inquiries. And now we come to the substance of this matter, which is to ask your Lordships to adopt a Resolution calling upon the Ministry of Health to issue without delay a warning to the people who are brought into contact with this spirit and have to use it. At the present moment, although this spirit has been in use for a considerable period of time, and was advertised in this country more than nine months ago, no form of warning has been issued to any person who is compelled by his occupation to use it. I have asked one or two people at some of these petrol stations whether they have heard of anything with regard to the danger connected with the use of this spirit. They told me "No," and one man, a very nice young fellow, told me that this stuff was splashing over his hands every day, and he could not help it. I said: "Do you know it is said that you are in very grave danger of illness if this happens?" He said: "I thank you very kindly for having told me; I know nothing about it." And that must happen every day.

It is hard to believe that the only warning that has been issued has come from a newspaper—a paper with whose outlook upon the world I cannot be supposed to sympathise, but which has rendered a great public service in attempting to call attention to the character and quality of this spirit and to demand inquiry as to its use. It is rather remarkable that it is not the first time that that paper has anticipated what I regard as the normal functions of the Ministry of Health. There was a patent medicine that was being advertised and sold all over the country. I had entreated the Government to place under the Ministry of Health the control of patent medicines, and I received a quiet and gentle answer—which never disarms me, but which you often have to accept in the place of a definite promise—and nothing was done. It was reserved for this newspaper to say that this medicine, which was being sold and used, contained noxious and deleterious qualities, which ought to prevent its use. The paper challenged action by the proprietor of the preparation. That action was never brought, and the medicine was stopped. I do not think it is creditable that a public Department, set up and maintained by the taxpayers' money for the public good, should allow its obvious functions to be usurped by a newspaper. But that is what happened in this case.

Is the danger resulting from this material serious or not? No answer has ever been given to the grave and serious reports that I read on the last occasion from two distinguished people, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and the President of the Chemical Society. No answer at all was given, and since then further information has come to my hands. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who answered me, as he always does, with candour, if sometimes with a little acrimony, said that there was no evidence whatever of danger. Let me call your attention to another letter, which I have received, and lest you may think that these letters are from anonymous correspondents of no account, let me tell your Lordships that it is from a man who is a D.S.O., M.D. of London University, and a doctor with the diploma of the Society of Health at Cambridge, which, together, constitute, I imagine, the finest medical degrees that you can possibly get.

This gentleman says that he has read with interest what has taken place, and goes on to say:— I would like to say that on December 15 last there was submitted to me for examination parts of a car which had been run some 3,000 miles on ethyl petrol obtained from garages in this country. The deposits proved to contain over 50 per cent. of soluble lead, and in view of the dangerous nature of this material I immediately communicated the fact to our member—the Right Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lisfer—and, as arranged, I interviewed the petrol superintendent of the Board of Trade, and Mr. J. L. Jeffery, of that Department, came to my laboratory, examined the parts, and confirmed the chemical findings. He informed me that he would minute his report to the Home Office that same day, and suggested I should invite their representatives to do, as he had done, and 'see for themselves.' Here is an expert man sent down from one branch of the Government and the result of what he finds is to be minuted on to somebody else, who in turn is to come down. This gentleman continues:— In accordance with this suggestion, I telephoned to the Home Office, and was informed by their Chief Medical Inspector of Factories, that I should put my information into writing for their consideration, and further, that they could not move in the matter save only upon such written information. Astonishment was expressed at the fact that ethyl spirit was obtainable at garages. I should have thought that astonishment could not be exhibited anywhere, except in the close confines of a Government Department. He really could not think that something that is known to the world is unknown to the very Department whose business it is to control it. However, such appeared to be the case.

On December 22 this confiding gentleman handed all the facts in writing to the Home Office, and received a printed acknowledgment, but no other communication since. Here was another man, a man who, as I say, was entitled by his position to some consideration and who really has achieved the remarkable position of having had his report minuted by a Government Department, and yet nothing further has been done. If some unhappy man had died, as the result of the use of this spirit, there would be put over his grave the statement that the evidence was minuted to the Home Office on December 15, 1927. This doctor has written in the Medical Officer, a substantial and trustworthy paper, on January 14, 1928, some more information about this matter, which I should have thought, again, it would be the business of the Ministry of Health to know. Surely the Ministry of Health looks at the scientific and medical papers which are published. There must be some means by which you can penetrate to their intelligence. If it is not by letter or telephonic messages, if it is not by signboards outside the garages, there must be some method. I should have thought it was possible to do it.

This is what that doctor said in the Medical Officer. I would ask the noble Marquess, who replied to me on the last occasion, to bear in mind what is said:— On account of the secrecy observed, it is not possible to give exact figures as to the number of acute cases"— on account of the secrecy, observe, and not unnaturally, it is not possible to give exact figures— as to the number of acute cases of industrial poisoning associated with the handling of this substance in the United States, between the autumn of 1923 and the spring of 1925, but the figures available with regard to fatal cases vary from 11 to 16. About 100 non-fatal cases are also known to have occurred. Cases of serious poisoning were reported elsewhere. Then he goes on to deal with a number of matters with which I will not trouble your Lordships; but he point out what is undoubtedly true—that one of the most terrible effects of this poison is that death is preceded by one of the most hideous forms of insanity.

I believe those figures are challenged. It may be easy to say: "Oh, eleven to sixteen men." Why have they been killed, and for what good purpose? We ought to know. In the interests of science, for great causes, men's lives may, and should, be sacrificed; but not for this purpose. What is it? To enable somebody who normally exceeds the speed limit by 100 per cent. to exceed it by 150 per cent. without difficulty. If you say: "This is of great value to us in our Government factories for the purpose of aeroplanes," I ask whether you have warned your employees and told the people in these factories to be careful how they use this thing; that it is a substance about which scientific opinion has expressed the strongest possible views; that they must not let it touch their hands, nor must they breathe the vapour; they must take the uttermost care, because if they do not they may fall upon some disaster, which we would prevent. If it be absolutely essential that it be used in a Government Department, it may be that the men, properly warned, must run the risk. But for private motor cars there is no reason whatever, and there is no ground upon which you can justify the fact of a single man hazarding either his life or his health simply for the purpose of enabling petrol to be used which would drive a car faster than the law permits it to go.

That is not all. There is a great deal more to be said. I find in a local paper another scientific man writing. He gives a full account of all this, and then he gives an account of the diseases that follow. He says that:— In the account of four of the deaths by poisoning, with lead tetra-ethyl in the United States, which took place October 25–30, 1924, it is said"—


Where did these deaths take place—in America?


In America, most undoubtedly. You have not had time to kill people here yet:— .… it is said that the victims became raving madmen, much resembling those suffering from delirium tremens. In those cases, which lasted longer, there was constant excitement, with hallucinations. The sufferers imagined themselves beset with foes of every kind about to injure them, while in those who recovered loss of sleep, terrifying dreams, morning sickness, loss of appetite, headache, great weakness … I do not want to read to your Lordships the whole medical catalogue of all the sufferings which these wretched people had to undergo. It is sufficient to say that the result of this poison, if it does affect people, is something which is indisputably grave, that it is almost incapable of remedy, that it is cumulative, and that it is slow in action. Those are the very things which I should have thought we ought to have protected ourselves against.

I have received further letters, but my hesitation in quoting them at all in detail is due to the fact that I never like to quote to your Lordships' House something about which I have not got what I regard as firm and competent evidence. Up to this moment I do not think that anyone can challenge any of the authorities I have used. Their names I have given and their qualifications. This is written by a woman from New York. I cannot say whether it is right or wrong, but what she says is that Dr. Harris, the Commissioner of the Board of Health of New York City, has a long time since forbidden the sale of this spirit in New York City, although it is allowed in New York State. In its use, too, it is still forbidden in New York City according to her. Nor is it more remarkable—as your Lordships must know and I fancy even the Ministry of Health must by this time have learned—that Switzerland, a country which is pre-eminent throughout the whole of Europe for the high quality of its medical men, has forbidden the use and the sale of this spirit throughout the whole country. Why? Do you think they have done it out of spite? Their hills are hills for which, surely, it is necessary you should have this intense power of compression and this added power in order to enable motors to climb them. Why have they done it? They have done it because their scientific knowledge informs them that its use is dangerous and they will not submit their people to the danger which apparently the Ministry of Health is quite willing to submit ours to.

I know that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) thinks that in this matter I am beset by some strange antipathy to this spirit. Really I have no feeling about the spirit at all. On the last occasion the noble Marquess criticised or reproved me for some words that I used. Part of his reproof was no doubt due to the fact that, by an accident which is common to all of us, who have to listen to debates and rely on our memory as to the accuracy of words, he quoted something that I had not said. But the general tenour of his criticism was this, that even if he were an eminent lawyer and Judge he would hesitate to make so strong and unsupported a statement as I had made to the effect that trade had no conscience and that if you wanted to protect people from the operations of commerce you had to protect them from without and you could not rely on protection from within. Any criticism from the noble Marquess is a thing that I examine most carefully. I can assure him I am speaking with the utmost gravity when I say that. I have examined my words and gone through them to see if I was wrong. I am not prepared to withdraw one single word of what I have said and I am prepared to repeat it whenever occasion arises.

The noble Marquess asks me for evidence. I would ask him to go back in history. Was it the operation of industry and commerce that redeemed our factories from the disgrace of child labour, or was it not a great-hearted member of your Lordships' House whose name ought always to be borne in honourable remembrance by all Parties and most notably by the Party opposite, to which he belonged? Was it the tenderness of conscience of the distilleries that stopped the sale of raw spirits to the infinite degradation and demoralisation of the native races of Africa? Has it not been by the operation of the inspection of industries that we have been able to get, little by little, the reforms that we have established with regard to our factories and workshops? If the noble Marquess can assure me it is not, I will reconsider what I have said. I have never said, I have never thought, that individual manufacturers and individual employers are not as kind to and considerate of their workmen as any one would desire them to be, but I have said, and I repeat, that, take industry as a whole, that is not the case.

The object of all law and of all restrictions is to bring the general standard of conduct of all the people up to the level of those of the highest principle in their class. Really, when one considers this matter, as I say, as between commerce generally—not individuals but commerce generally—and the employers, I would ask your Lordships to see how this matter is reflected in the debate that preceded our former debate on this subject in this House—the debate about the appointment of factory inspectors. Nobody, for a moment, questions the humanity and the feeling of Lord Joicey. When he spoke on that occasion it was not, as he said, because he desired to prevent men being protected but he did not want further inspectors. He concluded his speech with these words:— One would think, to hear some people talk"— by some people, I suppose, he includes myself— that employers had no interests in this matter, but surely it is a very serious loss to employers when an accident happens. We have very heavy financial penalties, going up to something like £600 if a man is killed and a considerable sum if he is injured. I do not for a moment say that that is the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Joicey. I say that that is a statement of the attitude of industry as a whole.

What he said amounts to this: "Consider our financial risk if a man is killed." Just see if you can picture to yourself for a moment the two sides of the balance sheet—on the one side the loss of a man's life, of a darkened home and of the immeasurable calamity that is involved in the meaning of those two phrases, and on the other side the equivalent of £600 and the account is settled. That is not the way this matter should be regarded. We all of us know that the order and the comfort of our lives does depend upon hazards and risks that we are not called upon to share, and I believe myself that the knowledge of that fact disturbs the happiness of many people. Yes, that is true. We all know it. A storm at sea or an accident at the pit is a thing that is brought home to us at once. We acknowledge our obligations and we may make some fainthearted effort to discharge the debt to lives that are sacrificed for no real value.

I have never said in the House that the reports that I have quoted are absolutely true. I do know this, that the men whose names I have given believe them to be true. I do say that they raise what we in the law would call a primâ facie case against the use of this spirit. What I ask the Government to do is this. In the face of that evidence, in the face of the facts, do take steps to warn the men against its use. You are the only people who can do it effectively. You are set up for the very purpose. Why is it that it is not done? At least I ask your Lordships to say that it should be done, and done without delay, and then, if the Government decline and an accident happens and if only one man loses his life, it will not be with us but with them that the responsibility and the guilt will lie. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That serious warning should at once be issued by the Ministry of Health as to the possibility of danger from the use of tetra-ethyl.—(Lord Buckmaster.)


My Lords, the noble Lord cannot exactly have been said to have displayed a spirit of undiluted confidence in the attitude which the Ministry has taken up. Nor do I anticipate being able to relieve the gloom which he feels in the matter, except that I am able on behalf of my right hon. friend to announce that in response to the representations the noble and learned Lord has made and in conformity with the promise made by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) some time ago, the Committee for which he pressed has been set up, and I will now read the names. The Chairman is to be Sir Frederick Willis, Chairman of the Board of Control; the Departmental representatives are: Ministry of Health, Sir George Buchanan; Home Office, Dr. Bridge, Senior Medical Inspector of Factories; Air Ministry, Mr. D. R. Pye, Deputy Director of Scientific Research; the Medical Research Council, Sir Charles Martin, Director of the Lister Institute; the Government Chemist, Sir Robert Robertson; the War Office, Major Galwey, Director of Experiments in the Chemical Warfare Department; and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr. C. H. Lander, D.Sc., Director of Fuel Research. The non-official members are Professor A. C. Chapman, an eminent chemist, Sir William Willcox and Professor W. E. Dixon.

I do not think I need say anything about these gentlemen, whose qualifications can be seen in any work of reference. It will be seen that the Committee is principally an inter-Departmental one, but that it has, in addition, a number of independent experts among its members. Considering the importance of the matter which they have to investigate, which was so fully brought out by the noble and learned Lord himself, I do not think your Lordships will find fault with the Government for having spent a month in choosing and corresponding with the personnel. The noble and learned Lord will perhaps strongly disagree with this, but those who have the duty of appointing such Committees take a different view in such a matter. I understand the Committee are ready to sit immediately, and in conformity with the usual practice it will be left to them to decide whether they will take evidence in public. I am therefore unable to give the noble and learned Lord definite information on this point, but I am informed that there is no reason to suppose that they will have any objection to his suggestion.

As the noble and learned Lord anticipated, it is, of course, impossible to give any accurate forecast of the date on which the final Report will be presented. It must be evident that, having regard to the length of time occupied by the American Commissions, the investigations of this Committee, if they are to have any value, must be very extensive and prolonged. The Committee may have to examine conditions throughout the country in order to see what precautions are actually taken by the manufacturers and by the distributors, how far the action of the trade in informing the public is itself sufficient, and how far it may have to be reinforced by statutory Regulations. Laboratory research may be necessary, and some of the American experiments may have to be repeated and such other experiments conducted as the Committee may think fit. The noble and learned Lord, who takes the view that this spirit is a most poisonous and dangerous substance, will no doubt say, and in fact has said, that this delay will have the most serious consequences, and that pending the result of this Inquiry the Ministry ought to place some embargo, the nature of which he has not very clearly defined, on its further use. That raises the whole question as to whether the use of this substance is really as dangerous as he makes out or not.

It must be evident that the marketing of oil fuel is a competitive business, and obviously it would be a very strong measure for the Government to take if they were to prejudice the products of a particular firm by such an official warning unless they had the very strongest reason for doing so. I will, therefore, invite your Lordships to consider the various aspects of the case as they presented themselves to my right hon. friend. The noble and learned Lord has stated the case against ethylated petrol with his usual comprehensiveness and force and has based it on the testimony of several professors whose eminence and disinterestedness nobody can question. They have said that there is a possibility of serious results following on the continual and indiscriminate exposure of the human body to tetra-ethyl. My information is that nobody has attempted to controvert this pronouncement, but I do wish to point out that it is exactly what was said when the spirit was first introduced in America some five years ago.

It resulted in an agitation there of considerably greater dimensions than the agitation has reached in this country, so much so that the firm which introduced it voluntarily suspended the sale of the petrol until inquiry had been made. There has not been one inquiry only in the United States, but three inquiries. One was by the United States Mines Department, which I believe took place in 1923, one was conducted by the company itself, and therefore of course was not an impartial inquiry, and one was conducted by the Surgeon-General's Department in Washington, from the Report of which the noble Marquess quoted when he last spoke. Those inquiries were very elaborate and the inquiry by the Surgeon-General's Department, in particular, entailed experiments not only having regard to the effects of this particular substance on animals but also on human beings. Reports of an extremely voluminous character were issued and the noble and learned Lord, should he so wish, can have access to them or to anything in the possession of the Ministry of Health. Those Committees, as has been stated already, have not found any actual evidence that harm has resulted from the ordinary commercial use of tetra-ethyl petrol. They did recommend—though I think I am right in saying that no legislation was introduced—that certain precautions should be adopted both in regard to its manufacture and its distribution in the garages.

Those precautions were not taken very seriously in the last debate by the noble and learned Lord. Nevertheless, whether it is due to those precautions or whether it is due to some other reason, I think the following extract from a letter, dated March 3, written by the Surgeon-General to the Ministry of Health, is very important as bearing on this matter. The letter says:— As a result of this Report, the precautions recommended by this Commission [that is the American Commission] for the manufacture of the substance have been carried out and the effect of the use of ethyl spirit on the distributers throughout a large area of this country has been under the immediate observation of the Public Health Service in co-operation with the authorities of the University of Cincinnati and others. I may add that notwithstanding the late publicity given to the investigations and the general use of the substance all over the United States and Canada, no instance of lead poisoning has been reported in the lay or medical press or to any of our Federal or State authorities. The noble and learned Lord, of course, carries great weight and authority in your Lordships' House, and he may have succeeded in persuading your Lordships that the Ministry of Health are conniving at a subtle, deep-laid, almost Borgian, conspiracy on the part of this oil company to poison large sections of the English motoring public.


No, no.


But before condemning the Ministry I submit that your Lordships should take into consideration the experience of the whole of the Continent of North America where, after a precisely similar agitation conducted both by private individuals and the Press, after prolonged experiments and observations by the most authoritative examiners, no one during the whole of the five years that this spirit has been in use has been able to discover a single case of lead poisoning arising from the use of this substance, although its consumption, I am given to understand, runs into several millions of gallons a year. I am informed, I believe accurately, that the conditions under which this tetra-ethyl is blended with petrol in this country are precisely similar to those prevailing in America. They are under the close supervision of the Home Office, who have satisfied themselves that strict attention paid to all the precautions found necessary in America, and that these precautions are fully adequate to meet the risk of poisoning. I am further informed that the conditions of distribution in this country are precisely similar to those prevailing in America where, as I have stated, they follow exactly the recommendations of the Surgeon-General's Department.

That is the case from the point of view of the Government. Our Committee, if they find evidence which may controvert in any way the findings of these American Committees, can, of course, at any time issue an Interim Report, and on that Interim Report the Minister could make immediate application to Parliament for powers. I might point out that there is a Bill in progress and now awaiting Third Reading in another place, the Petroleum Bill, a clause of which enables the Minister to make Regulations as to the distribution or manufacture of any class of petroleum spirit which appears to him to be dangerous or injurious to health, and this Bill will be before your Lordships immediately after the Easter Recess. I hope I have said enough to make it clear that, if we adopt the course suggested by the noble and learned Lord and issue a warning which is to have an effect greater than that produced by the agitation with which he has himself been concerned and the agitation produced by the Press, we shall be making a very serious intrusion into the realms of competitive industry in a manner which has been conclusively proved by all previous experience to be unnecessary.

I understand that substances containing lead compound equally poisonous in nature are manufactured and retailed subject only to the same restrictions and Regulations as prevail in the manufacture and distribution of this ethyl petrol. I am speaking, of course, of commercial products, not of chemical compounds. My right hon. friend has set up this very strong Committee, and he is at present seeking powers, which no doubt he will get, to enable him to deal with any dangers that may possibly be brought to his notice at any time by this Committee or by any other body. He sees no useful purpose in prejudging the result of this Inquiry by condemning this substance before the Committee has reported at all, and he is not in the least persuaded that, until that Committee has had time to issue at least an Interim Report, the public will suffer any serious risk. He hopes that your Lordships will think that his view is just and reasonable.


My Lords, so far the statement which the noble Viscount has just made is more satisfactory than the statements that we sometimes have on occasions like this. A Committee has actually been set up, and some of the names are names which I recognise as those of persons of eminence and experience. But I do not think that the announcement is satisfactory in all respects. I quite agree that the subject is a very difficult one and you must not allow a movement of this kind to be used to the prejudice of any particular manufacturer unless you have reason to imagine that by what he is doing he is putting the public in peril. You have to make out that case. On the other hand the matter may be very urgent. If what my noble and learned friend has said be true, it is very urgent. This does not, of course, dispose of the difficulty.

I am informed that the evidence which was taken in the United States is very voluminous. There were reports, I think, from two Committees, and very eminent physiologists and others took part in the inquiry. There was not complete unanimity of opinion. It may be, nevertheless, that information has been obtained to show that there is a primâ facie case for restriction—not for final restriction, but restriction ad interim. If there is reason to suppose that the use of lead tetra-ethyl is the use of a dangerous and highly deleterious substance, then that use ought to be restricted if there is any primâ facie likelihood of its turning out that the substance is of that character. I listened attentively to what the noble Viscount said. He said, among other things, that the Committee is to have power to make an Interim Report if it thinks it desirable to do so. But that is not enough. We are concerned with this matter from a larger point of view. We wish to protect the public, and I would ask that the Government should issue an instruction to this Committee to make an Interim Report on the question whether primâ facie this substance is of a dangerous character and whether there ought not to be some restriction on its use.

It is satisfactory to learn that we shall have a Bill before us immediately after Easter which will contain a clause enabling regulation to take place. If there is an Interim Report on which we can act, this will be enough to enable the Ministry of Health to propose proper and adequate restriction. I am not talking of a final pronouncement on a matter which may be very difficult. It may take a long time to get the exact truth about this matter. We want to get the exact truth, and we do not want the use of the substance to continue unrestrained in the meantime. If the Committee think that the case is one for an Interim Report to the effect that the substance is primâ facie a substance which cannot be used with any assurance of its safety, it is better that we should be told this, and that we should have power to regulate in the meantime. That will not prejudice the ultimate decision. It may be that lead tetra-ethyl will turn out to be an innocuous substance used under proper precautions, but on the other hand it may be that it is a substance about which there is sufficient doubt to make it right that we should be informed, and that, ad interim at all events, its use should be restrained. My criticism of what the noble Viscount has said is that we have no guarantee that we shall get an Interim Report from this Committee on that point, and I do not think that it is enough to leave it to a Committee of this kind, which is large and cumbrous, which will not sit continuously and which will probably take a very long time before it comes to a conclusion, to embark upon its task without being directed to report ad interim as to whether they are satisfied that primâ facie the position requires some Government interference.


My Lords, I rise for one moment to tell the House that, so far as my experience of tetra-ethyl is concerned, and the experience of others with whom I have spoken, no very definite bad results have been found so far. I would not say for one moment that this is not a dangerous fluid in certain respects. I dare say that many noble Lords know that lead glazing was a very dangerous trade, and that legislation was brought in to protect the people who were engaged in that trade. It was some time before the danger arising from lead glaze was found out and determined, and the remedy applied. In regard to tetra-ethyl, the curious thing is that there is affinity between lead in this form and lead glaze. If you put tetra-ethyl on your hand, and let it rest there, the chances are that you will become poisoned, and the effects of lead poisoning will in many cases very soon become apparent. Wherever you have lead in suspension in very small quantities there is that danger.

Then there is the other form of danger from using tetra-ethyl, arising from the nature of the exhaust. The ordinary exhaust from a motor-car consists of carbon-monoxide. If you add a certain amount of lead in the form of tetra-ethyl it makes carbon-monoxide more liable to cause insensibility, and I have had definite cases, the facts of one of which I hold in my hand, of the effects from the exhaust of a car running on the road, upon both the driver and the occupants of the saloon that was being driven. I think the matter is certainly one which should have been inquired into before now. Something has been said about the many inquiries in the United States. I think I am stating the fact when I say that those inquiries are not very conclusive, when read carefully, and, in addition, the sale of tetra-ethyl is not allowed in New York City, and it is absolutely barred in the tunnel which runs under the Hudson River, because of its effects. Only a few days ago I had a letter from a gentleman residing at Aldershot, in which he said that the son of a friend was suffering from bad lead poisoning as the result of absorbing tetra-ethyl through an abrased knuckle. I have other letters, and I think there is sufficient evidence to make people who use this petrol very careful in doing so.

I am also of opinion that the Government have been somewhat dilatory in setting up an Inquiry, because it has been well-known that there is danger, and I think it should have been inquired into before. We may be very grateful to the particular newspaper which has brought this matter into prominence, but I still think that an Inquiry should have been held by the Government on the first introduction into this country of this product. I made inquiries in France, when I was there about a month ago, and I found that tetra-ethyl is not sold there. The reason given to me by garage proprietors was that it was considered not particularly safe, and that although it might be used in some cases without any harm, it was considered dangerous in the garage to people working there. That is exactly the charge which has been brought against this product by the noble and learned Lord opposite, and I think there may be something in that charge. Since, however, the Government have appointed a Committee, and a distinguished Committee, all we can do is to await the result of its deliberations. It will sift the evidence most carefully and we shall have a conclusive and definite Report on the subject.

I rather agree with what the noble and learned Lord opposite said as to the necessity for using this petrol. Any of the standard brands of petrol used to-day are good enough for any reasonably good car, and as regards this particular petrol it is not good for the engine of a car. I have seen evidence of the deposit of a brownish-coloured scale on the inside of cylinders and the exhaust-valve, and I doubt whether after trial it will be considered worth while to employ it. It might be worth while for racing purposes, but for the ordinary careful user of the road I think there is no necessity to use tetra-ethyl. At any rate a wise man will abstain from using it until we have had the Report of the Committee. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I thought that the House might like to hear this explanation.


My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to say a very few words, because of the speech of the noble and learned Lord, which had so much reference to myself. May I say, in the first place, that I am very sorry indeed if he has reason to complain of any words which I used against him on the last occasion when we discussed this subject. I did think that the noble and learned Lord was rather over-keen in his advocacy of the case which he had at heart, but if I went beyond what he had a right to expect I can only express my apology. After all, we are not so very far apart. The noble and learned Lord came to the House a few weeks ago and said: "What I want is a Committee appointed to look into this matter." Those were the terms of his Motion. We have appointed a Committee. There is no such obstructive character about the action of the Government as you might perhaps have expected from the tone of the noble and learned Lord's speech. He asked for a Committee. A Committee has been appointed. The names have been read out by my noble friend who represents the Ministry of Health, and they are a very distinguished body of men.

As my noble friend said, Professor Baker, who had given a great deal of the information upon which the noble and learned Lord relied, and who may certainly be considered to be in no sense prejudiced against the views of the noble and learned Lord, was asked to form part of the Committee. He was unable, for reasons which we were sorry to learn, to accept, but I think it shows the impartiality of the Government in this matter and their desire to arrive at the truth, that they should have asked a man who was a protagonist against the use of tetra-ethyl to sit on that Committee. The Committee have been appointed and they are going to sit at once. Further than that, the Government are anxious to show no kind of dilatoriness in this Inquiry, and the Committee have been asked to expedite their proceedings. I really do not see what more could be done, so far as this Committee is concerned. They are appointed, they are going to sit at once, and they are being asked to expedite their proceedings.

It is not as though—I must press this point upon your attention—this matter had not been considered before. I do not stand here to defend all American inquiries, but undoubtedly this was very carefully inquired into in America, and the results were read out to your Lordships, partly on the previous occasion when the matter was debated here, and partly by my noble friend to-night, and I am not sure that your Lordships realise the great importance of the letter which my noble friend read out. It was written from the Federal capital of America by a prominent official there, who had himself had his attention directed to this subject, who knew all about the inquiries which had taken place, and who wrote to a prominent official in the Ministry of Health that notwithstanding the great publicity given the investigation and the general use of the substance all over the United States and Canada, no instance of lead poisoning has been reported in the lay or medical Press, or to any of our Federal or State authorities. That is a terrific statement. I do not want to give my personal guarantee for it—of course not; but it is a tremendous statement, and it must be balanced, I think, against a great deal of what the noble and learned Lord has said.

And may I say, with reference to those terrible instances which he gave—which I do not deny—that they refer to the handling of the poison itself before its combination with the petrol. And of course it is admitted—and I admitted it on the last occasion—that the poison is a very strong poison, and its potency cannot be denied. Of course it is a very dangerous thing to deal with, as, indeed, there are many other elements in what goes to make a commercial commodity which are dangerous. And yet we do not forbid them; what we do is to insist that certain precautions shall be followed in the handling of these very dangerous substances. My noble friend has told your Lordships that the same kind of precautions are taken in England as have been found to be necessary in America. It may be necessary to go further. The Committee will report—the Committee which is to sit at once, and whose proceedings we hope to expedite. What more can be done? Are we to say that when statements are made that a substance is dangerous we are thereupon, without reference to any proper inquiry, to forbid its use? May I say to the noble and learned Lord, with my profound respect for his character, that that is a very unreasonable thing to do.


I never asked you to do that.


No, I apologise. What the noble and learned Lord asked was that we should give a warning. I think I have satisfied him as to the names of the Committee, and the only thing that remains is that we are to give a warning. May I say that the noble and learned Lord has taken precautions which amount to a warning? He has raised this debate twice, and there is not a doubt that among all those who are interested in this subject throughout the length and breadth of the land it is known that there have been questions raised in Parliament as to the poisonous character of this substance. I do not think we can go further, but I will certainly consider with my right hon. friend if anything further ought to be done. And, as regards what the noble and learned Viscount said just now, as to whether there ought to be a suggestion made to this Committee that an Interim Report would be of importance, I certainly will see that that suggestion is considered. I do not think we can go further. I ask the noble and learned Lord to be satisfied with the fact that by his exertions he has advertised the danger of this substance, that by his efforts he has persuaded His Majesty's Government to appoint a Committee, that that Committee is going to sit at once, and going, we hope, to expedite its proceedings, and that in the meantime every precaution which is necessary to be taken by the Government in those circumstances will, of course, be taken.


My Lords, it is, of course, impossible to be content with the answer of the noble Viscount. The Committee, though it seems a large one, no doubt contains the names of excellent people, and I dare say in due course its Report will be received and will be found to be valuable. I hope the noble Viscount will not think me unfriendly if I say that I may have been mistaken, but it appeared to me that he was reading to us in a very attractive voice an elaborate preparation that had found its origin either in the Home Office or the Ministry of Health, or a combination of both, and those things, of course, rob answers of all their value and their vitality, because they are nothing but official pronouncements, prepared by a Government Department that desires to maintain its position, and we do not get the independent opinion of the member of the Government upon which this House desires to rely. I may be wrong in my hypothesis, but that is what appeared to me. With regard to the noble Marquess's statement, I hope he will permit me to say that I believe that misunderstanding between himself and myself could never last long, and that there was no need for any apology. The whole matter rose and fell in the course of debate, and I certainly never felt about it anything beyond this, that whenever he says anything reflecting on what I say, I think it is necessary to examine closely what my words have been.

For the rest, I admit that I am puzzled. Is it denied that precautions are necessary in using this spirit? I wish somebody on the Government Bench would answer that to me, "Yes" or "No." Can they answer me? Then of course the answer is: "Yes, precautions must be used with regard to the use of this spirit." And, indeed, if evidence were wanted, apart from what I have quoted, the astonishing instance given by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, of a boy who had actually got lead poisoning through the accident of some of this stuff getting on an abrased knuckle—surely that is evidence that precautions must be used with regard to its use, or the health of men who are compelled by the nature of their occupation to use it will be imperilled. In those circumstances what is the answer of the Government? "Oh, you have taken all precautions that are required. See what you have said here in two debates." The debates do not pass the walls of this House, and your Lordships know it too well. They may find a place in one paper, they do not spread through the country; and this substance is not being used here, it is being used all over the Kingdom. Do you really think that what I say is going to reach throughout the length and breadth of this country? I know it is not. There is only one way in which that can be done, or in which it ought to be done. It ought to be done by the Government Department which has the care of the public health.

What is it that I ask them to do? Forbid the use of the spirit? I have never asked them that. Say that the spirit is dangerous? I have never even asked them to say that. I have always declared from the beginning of this matter that a primâ facie case has been made against it which needs investigation. What I have said, and what I repeat, is that if people are going to use this spirit without precautions, without warning as to its danger, there is overwhelming evidence that there is a risk, which ought to be averted. Really, the health even of a single person, if it is in danger of being utterly ruined, is something worth preserving. Is it not worth while making an effort? You do no harm. All you do is to issue, through the Ministry of Health, with official sanction, a statement saying that people who are going to use this spirit should be careful of this, that, and the other. It is all I have asked. Why cannot you do it?


May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? People are not so foolish or unreasonable as he thinks. I happen to hold in my hand a notice that is issued by the people who sell this fluid. It says:— Not to be used for washing, cleaning, lighting or any other purpose"; and then, in printing which catches the eye, Avoid spilling. All those things are in the nature of a warning. But I have already told your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord that I will consider with my right hon. friend whether any further precautionary warning might be necessary. Something has already been done, and it is possible that something more may be done. I do not promise that it shall be done. All I promise is that the thing should be considered. That I have already done.


When I hear that a Government Department is prepared to allow its authority to be usurped by a trade concern—




But it is true. This trade concern is issuing advertisements, which may never be read, and which, so far as I know, are not read by the people who handle the spirit. The people I have spoken to who handle the spirit had no knowledge whatever that

there was any more danger in handling it than in handling any other spirit. There are no means by which they can know. Your garage attendant, the person who handles the spirit for your motor car, how can he know? He does not see the trade advertisements. The people who sell it may know. It may even be that the people who buy it know. But the people who sell, and the people who buy it are not the people I am concerned with. I am concerned with the men who work in your garages and drive your cars. I say there is no evidence of any precaution or of any warning issued to them, and I want to know why they are not going to be warned. They are the people who will suffer, and they are the only people who will suffer. Why are they not warned? The noble Marquess says, why I do not know, that this is pre-judging it. It is nothing of the kind. Nobody denies that this spirit is dangerous. There is evidence before the House, which is uncontrovertible that it can be very dangerous. The Ministry of Health is the body whose business it is to issue this warning, and I want to know why they have refused to do so.


My Lords, I should like to ask a supplementary question. Will the reports of the American Commission be placed in the Library so that we can see them? We have nothing but snippets which are doled out to members, and the Reports are difficult of access here normally. If one copy was placed in the Library we could refer to it and satisfy our minds.


My Lords, the suggestion of the noble and learned Viscount is not unreasonable. I have never seen the actual reports myself and I do not know what the volumes are or what their character is; but I will consider it.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?—

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 21: Not-Contents, 36.

Beauchamp, E. Buckmaster, L. [Teller.] Northbourne, L.
Russell, E. Carson, L. Sandhurst, L.
Charnwood, L. Shandon, L.
Chaplin, V. Gorell, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Knutsford, V. Hampton, L. Southwark, L.
Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L. Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Southwark, L. Bp. Kilmaine, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Muir Mackenzie, L. Swaythling, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.) Bertie of Thame, V. Danesfort, L.
Cecil of Chelwood, V. de Clifford, L.
FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Desborough, L.
Northumberland, D. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)
Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Airlie, E. Novar, V. Greville, L.
Cranbrook, E. Peel, V. Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Denbigh, E. Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)
Eldon, E. Askwith, L. Jessel, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Banbury of Southam, L. Kylsant, L.
Midleton, E. Bledisloe, L. Lovat, L.
Onslow, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Mildmay of Flete, L.
Plymouth, E. [Teller.] Wharton, L.
Scarbrough, E. Cushendun, L.
Stradbroke, E.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.