HL Deb 16 February 1955 vol 191 cc101-36

2.50 p.m.

LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR rose to call attention to the Final Report of the Beaver Committee on Air Pollution (Cmd. 9322); to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are now able to make a statement on the recommendations contained in the Report; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I placed this Motion on the Order Paper early in December with a twofold purpose. I had read the Report, and was anxious to bring it to the notice of Her Majesty's Government; I also wished to provide an opportunity for a number of noble Lords who have shown a keen and active interest in the problem raised in this Report, and who have oftentimes contributed worthily in this House, to express their views. I was disappointed, when I saw this afternoon's list of speakers, to note that so many noble Lords who can speak with authority on this subject are not included on the list. I had expected a number of noble Lords from the Government Benches to speak, but for some reason or other their names are not on the list.

My first reason for putting down the Motion was to enable the Government to examine the Report and to decide their attitude towards the many valuable recommendations contained in it. There is fairly general agreement. I have been interested in reports for the last thirty years, and I cannot recall any which has received greater approval from all sections in the country than this one has. I certainly cannot remember a report upon which a Government has responded so quickly and so thoroughly to the recommendations contained in it. There is general agreement, and that is the reason for the general acceptance. We would all express our appreciation for the fine services rendered by Sir Hugh Beaver and his Committee. Their recommendations were clear, definite and unambiguous. There is no misunderstanding what they are, or the reasons for them: they are all perfectly plain. I cannot at the moment think of a Report that is likely to be more helpful to solve the problem with which it dealt than this one. We have had the advantage of many previous reports; nevertheless, this is a most helpful Report.

It is generally agreed that this Committee have brought to light, not for the first time, a major social evil. There is no one to-day who would doubt that air pollution is a social evil and, being a social evil, should be dealt with immediately and drastically. The Committee have outlined various means of how to do so. They have not minimised the difficulties; they have not represented them to be bigger than they are, but they have shown them in the reality. It is a difficult problem, very technical and very delicate in some respects. The Committee emphasise that it is a big financial problem, and a costly one. Very heavy cost will be involved, but they have been wise to emphasise that to leave the problem alone would cost even more. They have not suggested that the cost of dealing with this problem will be so much, whereas leave it alone and it will be so much. They have indicated quite plainly that the cost will be very heavy. The Committee have also indicated that to leave this problem untouched would involve a heavier cost.

The Government and the country are left with a choice, not as to whether they will incur some expenditure (because that is unavoidable: they will incur it either way; they will incur it if they do not touch the problem, and they will incur it if they do touch the problem on the lines suggested by this Report) but of how to spend the money to the best advantage. More money is being spent now in leaving the problem alone than is suggested should be spent in dealing with it. What the Report says is that this expenditure is inevitable. No Government can avoid it, and no country can avoid it. The choice before us is, shall we spend the money in a way that may lessen, and possibly eradicate, the evil, or in a way that will prolong the evil? I am pleased that there was an indication in another place that the choice had been made. The Government have come down on the side of expenditure of a fruitful kind, and not the type of expenditure that is at present going on in connection with this evil.

The difficulty of the problem need not be emphasised. Those who have been associated with it in certain parts of the country may be more conscious of it than others; they may suffer more from it, and are more anxious to see it removed. But all of us, wherever we may live, know that this is a serious problem. There is a small area of disagreement. What has been said—and I am not without sympathy for this attitude—is: "What is the use of talking now about legislation if you are not making full use of the present legislation? Are you quite satisfied that if you exercise all the administrative possibilities of the present legislation you need new legislation?"

That is a very sane attitude, and a right attitude. I am quite satisfied myself that if the maximum use were made of all the administrative possibilities of the present legislation, it would go a long way to deal with this evil. Like the Government, I also come down on the side that there is need for new legislation. I do not think the matter could be solved, no matter how diligent we were in seeing to it, with all the administrative possibilities which exist. Without new legislation of some kind, on the lines suggested by this Report, I do not think we could manage to deal with this problem as effectively as we ought to do. I believe that to-day's speeches will be interrogatory speeches. We shall want to ask what is going to be done in the interregnum. We have a few weeks, if not months, to wait before we see this promised legislation. In the meantime, much can and ought to be done, and we shall ask a few questions as to what is being done.

In case there may be those who are still doubtful whether this is a real social evil —there are still some doubters—and whether we ought to go out of our way in order to handle this problem, and who think that we shall fail in the attempt, may I give this example? Yesterday and Monday I made a journey into the South Wales valleys. During my journey on a bus I was reading this Report. I stopped reading it and looked at each side of this narrow valley. In the valley there were a railway and a canal, and parallel to both were two narrow roads. As I went through one area of no more than two acres there were seven tall chimneys belching forth thick smoke. On the railway there were three railway engines in keen competition, trying to belch more smoke than the seven chimneys; and the hundreds of miners' houses were beating both in belching smoke into this narrow valley. On the roads there were scores of motor vehicles of every kind doing their bet to add to the air pollution. If there is any noble Lord—I do not think there would be—who has any doubts on this issue, I would suggest not only that he should read the Beaver Report but, something far more valuable, that he should make a journey through some of these South Wales valleys, so well known to my noble friend Lord Hall who will be speaking later. I know of the evidence given to-day that London suffers. London does suffer, as does Manchester. I should be delighted if the new Bishop could find it possible to make his maiden speech to-day, because he could speak with authority on what Manchester suffers; but I know that it is not customary for Bishops to make their maiden speeches on the day of their arrival. Those valleys in South Wales, however, cannot get away from this problem.

There is the problem, and I hope I need not spend any time trying to convince anybody that we ought to deal with it on the lines of this Report. I admire the Chairman of this Committee very greatly. Chairmen sometimes have a tendency, when they have produced a Report, to say. "There it is: the Government have got it, and that is all right." But not this Chairman. He is here, there and everywhere, speaking. He is seeing to it that his child does not die in infancy. He has been in various parts of the country, speaking with that wisdom which he possesses to such a large degree. There are those of us who did not realise that when he was made Chairman. Here, may I say that it is a compliment to those Ministers who decided to appoint this Committee. They appointed a very good Committee and a first-class Chairman. That Chairman is doing his best to see to it that the infant they brought into existence does not die in infancy.

As I suggested, I have quite a number of questions to ask. This is one of those cases where one cannot possibly avoid asking questions—questions on the administration side, what can be done administratively, and questions with regard to the prospect of legislation. I know how difficult it is for a Minister to have the answers ready if he does not receive notice, so I took it upon myself to give notice of the questions I shall be asking. I will begin with the financial aspect, which is particularly difficult. I read the Report, as I say, with the utmost care. I found that in paragraph 29, at page 12, reference is made to the existing loan scheme "for approved fuel-saving projects in industry." The Committee suggest that that scheme should be extended forthwith to include projects directed specifically to secure the reduction of air pollution. That extension would require no legislation. I shall be pleased if the noble Earl who is to reply can give us the latest information regarding this matter, which was referred to in another place on the Second Reading of the Clean Air Bill.

But there is also the domestic aspect. Here is a real financial problem—I am not sure that this is not the most difficult aspect of the whole problem. It involves interfering in thousands of houses, the conversion of thousands of grates and the use of more expensive fuel—at a time when most of these people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. If you add to their cost, the position will become even more difficult for them. I realise how difficult it is for the Government and local authorities to evolve some financial scheme that would ease this burden to these tenants. I see that in paragraphs 86 and 87, at page 25, of the Report, this point is dealt with, as one would expect, very well, fully and helpfully. Indications are given that it may be possible to reduce the cost.

In first thinking about this conversion, and the use of more expensive fuel than ordinary fuel, one wonders how far it is possible to advance, especially with compulsory powers dealing with tenants in such houses. Paragraph 87 says—and I like this: We believe that it is only by positive measures of the kind we have outlined, combining compulsion to stop producing smoke with financial help in providing the means to do so, that a real advance can be made towards abolishing smoke from domestic chimneys. I should like to ask, because here is the crux of the question, about the supply of smokeless fuel. I have heard some pessimistic forecasts by those associated with the N.C.B., but I have recently heard some far more optimistic—and, in my view, far too optimistic—forecasts. I feel that we ought to be fair with the country. Are we going to find the necessary appliances to make the conversion of these grates during the period specified in the Report? Also, are we going to find the necessary smokeless fuels to replace the old type of fuel? I hope the Minister will be able to help us on this issue.

I want to ask a number of questions and I can give my references in the Report. First of all, I should like to ask: Pending legislation, what, if any, administrative action is it proposed to take? In the Report, in paragraph 53, reference is made, somewhat critically, I agree, to a promising and substantially cheaper process for dealing with the sulphur in the flue gases of large power stations. This was said to be, after a number of years of consideration, on the point of large-scale trials. I ask: what is the position to-day? In Appendix III, paragraph 12, the Report lays considerable stress on the amount of research that is necessary to give us the information on which we can deal with the gaseous pollutants. Paragraph 12 recalls that, as long ago as March, 1954, the Committee submitted some interim recommendations. Cannot we be told to-day what has happened as a result of those preliminary recommendations? I will not ask the Minister to discuss in detail all the references in paragraph 13 in Appendix III, which deals with matters on which further research is required. Twelve references are made of an important kind. Will the noble Earl disclose, to the extent he can, what the Government intend doing on each of those twelve references?

Then in paragraphs 35, 42, 78 and 84 of the Report, reference is made to the preparation of standards by the British Standards Institution in regard to such matters as appliances and fuels, and to a code of practice for good stoking. I am fully aware that the British Standards Institution is an independent body but I have not the slightest doubt that the Government have considerable influence and could ascertain what their attitude is. I should be pleased to know how far the noble Earl can help us to-day.

There is another question regarding new power stations—on this, I refer to paragraph 55. The Report specifically recommends that new power stations, unless located well away from population, should install flue gas washing. That is a very difficult matter; it is extremely technical. I want to ask the Minister, who can do that without further legislation, what is being done regarding these stations. I have only one more question at the moment. Regarding the railways, what is being done to eliminate or reduce smoke while coal-fired locomotives are still used? In paragraph 62, we have a very strong recommendation from the Committee. I should like to ask what is being done to secure the replacement of these locomotives by diesel locomotives, and also whether the Government have approached the Railways Executive on this issue and asked for an early report?

One thing that was not mentioned in another place during the debate, the Report of which I read carefully, was the creation of a Clean Air Council. I assume that this will be included in the Government's Bill, but I should like to know. No doubt the most pleasing feature of the debate in another place was the speech of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. He gave us a very helpful speech indeed, but there were passages which caused me a little uneasiness. I noticed one in the second paragraph of Column 1490 of Hansard [Volume 536, No. 26] of February 4 of this year. I will read it: The implementation of the policy will, as honourable Members well know, have considerable repercussions upon the design of industrial plant and industrial re-equipment plans in general. It will extend the responsibilities of local authorities and entail the recruitment of a substantial number of technical staff and also their training, because some of the more technical people are rather rare birds. Quite serious problems are raised by the considerable expansion which would undoubtedly be involved. As for the prohibition of smoke from domestic chimneys, this will involve changes at the family fireside which, at first, may not be universally welcomed. That paragraph caused me a little concern. I wondered whether it was a paragraph intended to over-emphasise the difficulties in order to allow, at a later date, for the use of some such words as "Owing to unavoidable difficulties, there has to be a great delay."

I was reassured, however, when I found, later on, that the Minister did say there would be no unavoidable delay. I hope he has the same meaning for the word "unavoidable" as I have. Then he went on to say (Col. 1492): Whether the Bill will get through all the stages this Session will largely depend on how far it proves to be an agreed Measure. He is right: and it will depend on something else—on the length of this Session. That is a little uncertain. There is a gentleman for whom we all have a high regard and with whom the Minister of Housing and Local Government has some family connections. It may be that he could get to know, quietly and privately, how soon we can get this Bill through this Session. Perhaps he could get advice from his relative as to when we could introduce it; otherwise, it may be too late.

It was the last sentence of the Minister in another place which rather interested me. He said (Col. 1492): Honourable Members have to choose between a small bird in the hand and a bigger bird in the bush, and I have no doubt that they will choose wisely. That made me wonder whether it is a wise thing in all circumstances to release the bird you have got because there is one in the bush which you cannot see. You have no idea how big it is, or whether it is a better bird than the one you have, yet you release the one you have got. The other place took the advice of the Minister and released the bird, and they are now waiting to see what is in the bush; it may be a bigger bird, but I am not after only a bigger bird, I am after a better bird. I agree that to put their faith in the promise of the Government was a good thing, and I hope, and your Lordships will all agree with me, that that faith in that promise will not have been misplaced. I beg to move for Papers.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down, and I am sure all of us, on both sides of the House, are anxious that the main recommendations of the Beaver Committee should be implemented as far as possible and, I would say, as quickly as possible. The noble Lord has said that the Report has brought to light a major social evil. To a certain extent, I think that is true; but this evil has been going on for a very long time, and we have had reference to it on many occasions during the last few centuries. I was intrigued to notice from a debate in another place that in the days of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I the Company of Brewers were singled out for the greatest blame for air pollution. I trust that is not so today. Perhaps one of the two noble Lords in the House engaged in these matters may be able to enlighten us.

There is no doubt that the dangers of air pollution came to a head as a result of the great London fog of 1952, when I believe as many as 4,000 lives were lost in the area of Greater London, and which resulted in the establishment of the Beaver Committee. Then, only recently, we had the incident on Sunday, January 16 of this year, when at midday a dense cloud of smoke engulfed central London and even caused, I believe, alarm amongst some of the inhabitants. But, apart from danger to life, I would agree with the noble Lord opposite, that perhaps the most important consideration is the losses which occur to the nation through smoke. I believe that the total loss has been estimated at something like the very large figure of £250 million per year. This figure can be divided up into direct and indirect losses, and under direct losses I would include such items as excess repairs, repainting of buildings, damage to stores of wholesalers and retailers and stores of a perishable nature. Also the additional lighting required in streets represents a very large figure; and last, but not least, there are the extra medical services. Under the heading of indirect losses, I would mention transport losses owing to delay and congestion arising from fogs in our major cities, and the loss of time in industrial and commercial establishments from illness caused by smoke pollution of the atmosphere.

It is also true that our taking this matter in hand will be of considerable assistance to the coal industry, and we may save something like, I believe, 9 million tons of coal per year. It is interesting to note that in each of the three years since 1952, we have produced only the same quantity of coal, namely, 224 million tons a year, and therefore it seems that our coal production is more or less static. On the other hand, coal consumption last year rose by nearly 7 million tons. Therefore anything we can do now to save coal would be of great advantage to the nation. I have been astonished when looking at the efficiency figures of some of the different industries which use coal. I find that the most outstanding one is the brick industry. I believe the highest yield is 44.7 tons of bricks for the consumption of one ton of coal, whereas the lowest yield is 4.8 tons of bricks for the consumption of one ton of coal. What a difference in efficiency! Surely it is high time we did all that is possible to improve the efficiency of industry in the burning of coal. I think it is true to say that the poorest grade of coal may be burned in an industrial boiler without the emission of dark smoke, provided there is proper equipment, and I suggest that we offer every encouragement to industry to adopt modern methods, and that we also, if necessary, enforce them.

With regard to the prohibition of smoke from domestic chimneys, I suggest that this matter should be handled very carefully indeed. It is, of course, essential that we carry the people with us on any legislation that may be introduced to make changes in the family grate. I feel that local authorities will have to be in a position to make grants to householders in order that the charges in fire grates may in fact be made. I hope we may hear from Her Majesty's Government that they propose shortly to introduce the necessary Bill to implement the main recommendations of the Beaver Committee, after due consultation with industry and other parties concerned.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships, I know, want to get on to the next business on the Order Paper, and I will try to follow the good example of the noble Lord who has just sat down and make an equally brief speech. I am sure noble Lords opposite will agree that the effectiveness that any action the Government may take against air pollution will depend upon co-operation with the local urban authorities and also with the population of our large towns and cities. The local authorities will have to work this Government Bill; they will be the administering authority under the Bill; they will have the responsibility of planning and enforcing smoke abatement. It is therefore essential that the Bill should take full account of the views of local authorities. I hope that whatever the Government may decide to put into it will be decided after full consultation with those authorities and, so far as possible, with their agreement and support. I cannot speak for any of the London authorities, still less for all of them, but I believe I know what many of them think about the Beaver Committee's Report and what they would like to see in the Bill. They welcome the practical line taken in the Report which offers for the first time a practical remedy for one of the worst evils of London life, and they would like the Report's proposals to have the force of law at the earliest possible moment. They are glad of the Government's promise to introduce a Bill during this Session.

Perhaps I may comment from the London point of view on three of the proposals recommended in the Beaver Committee's Report. The first of these proposals relates to a suggested change in the machinery of local government in the Greater London area. The Report endorses a suggestion which I think, speaking from memory, was made by my noble friend, Lord Haden-Guest, when the matter of air pollution was last discussed in your Lordships' House, a suggestion that a special arrangement should be made to co-ordinate the work of the local authorities in the Greater London area. What I think is needed is a new body, a joint committee for Greater London, to represent all the authorities concerned with this problem. We may be perfectly certain that London will never be free from smoke and fog until effective control has been established over the whole area. It is no good at all to get merely isolated boroughs with smokeless zones or smoke controlled areas under the provisions of the promised Bill.

As my second point, may I mention one recommendation which I think would cause a good deal of difficulty and trouble in London? The Report suggests, in paragraph 69, that local authorities should: make their new housing estates smokeless by requiring the occupiers, as a condition of tenancy, to use only smokeless fuels in the appliances with which they are provided. There are, I think, two serious objections to this proposal, from the point of view of the tenants of local authorities. In the first place, such a condition in a tenancy would discriminate against the tenants of local authorities, as compared with tenants who hold their leases from private landlords; and it would therefore be regarded as treating these people more harshly than the other large section of the community which does not live in flats or houses under leases from local authorities.

The second difficulty is that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to enforce such a condition. It is impossible to evict a family because it refuses to burn smokeless fuel. That would be a condition of a tenancy which it would be immensely troublesome and difficult to enforce, and it would cause a great deal of dissatisfaction. I sincerely hope that this is one recommendation that the Government will not put into the Bill. I think it would be most dangerous at the present time to try to use compulsion on householders in London. Surely the right course for housing authorities is to install grates that will burn smokeless fuel, instead of the old-fashioned grates that do not burn smokeless fuel. This has been done by the London County Council in all their postwar estates, and I believe they have converted something like 12,000 of the old-fashioned grates into the type that will burn smokeless fuel. The second thing, of course, is to encourage and persuade these families to use coke and other smokeless fuels instead of coal.

There arises out of the Report one other matter of special importance to London which I hope the Government will deal with in the Bill. As I said at the outset, the efficacy of legislation against pollution will depend not only on the local authorities but on the public—on the ordinary householder. I am quite certain that at present ordinary householders do not fully realise the noxious qualities of domestic coal. They like a cheerful bright coal fire on a cold winter's night—they are accustomed to it, and it will take a great deal of persuasion to get them to change their habit. There is nothing more difficult than to change a deep-rooted habit, whatever it may be, and for that reason, if people are to come into line with what is obviously desirable on grounds of public policy, we shall have to contemplate a long and intensive campaign of re-education. Indeed, the Report recognises this fact when it says—here I again quote: There is continuous propaganda and education to be carried on. The Report does not say who is to carry on this propaganda; it does not say who is to be the educational agency.

The Report speaks of a Clean Air Council. As my noble friend rightly pointed out, this was a subject which was not discussed in another place, but it is clear from the recommendation in the Report that the job of this Council would be to stimulate research and to report to Parliament on the progress of the clean air campaign. The Beaver Committee did not regard this body as one that should be given a nation-wide propagandist function. That being so, I hope that when the Government draft this Bill they will either give the Clean Air Council the additional duty of explaining to the public the evils of pollution and the means of preventing them, or (and this is another way of doing the same thing: a way which I personally should prefer) authorise public authorities to spend much larger sums of money on publicity for clean air campaigns. I think that such clean air campaigns are needed to bring home to the public the importance of clean air, and to emphasise the fact that clean air is just as important as road safety. I feel certain that if these facts are brought before the minds of ordinary people, and if they are given a reasonable opportunity to do their civic duty in all our towns and large cities, then they will respond and accept this public responsibility.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, this afternoon we are not dealing with a new problem; this is a problem which has existed from the first day that this nation decided to take coal as its national fuel. Indeed, for 150 years the notice of the public has been called to the continued pollution of the air we breathe and its serious effect, not only upon the health of the people, which is the more important, but upon the economy of the nation. Let us be quite frank about it: this nation has been rather spoiled. We have been misusing coal, for the reason that it has been cheap and abundant. But we are now arriving at the time when the production and use of coal has become a real problem. One of the difficulties is that we are regarded by most coal-using countries of the world as the biggest coal wasters in the world. Last year, in an international journal, I saw that we were described in that way.

The Report has brought us right up against real problems, not only that of dealing with air pollution caused by the burning of coal, gas and oil, but also that of the scarcity of coal. These are clearly set out in the valuable Report which is now before your Lordships. I wish to join with my noble friends Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor and Lord Listowel in giving credit to Sir Hugh Beaver and his Committee for the excellent work which was done in order to produce such an impressive Report. As has already been said, the Report was much discussed a short time ago in an important non-Party debate in another place. I must say that it is a long time since I have read such convincing speeches by honourable Members, and particularly the speech which was made by the honourable Member for Kidderminster.

I have no doubt that your Lordships, like myself, have read the Report and have been shocked at our inability to deal with such a menace to the health of the people and to the nation's economy. Of the twenty eminent persons who served both on the Committee and as assessors, four were highly qualified medical men. They reported that whilst the scientific evidence about the effects of air pollution on human health is incomplete, enough is known to make it abundantly clear that it is injurious to both physical and mental health. It fosters disease and can cause death. … There is a clear association between pollution and the incidence of bronchitis and other similar ailments. The statistics which we have in this connection are really frightening. I have a cutting from the British Medical Journal of the early part of last year. The medical man who wrote this article is of the same opinion as the four doctors who served upon the Beaver Committee and who acted as assessors of the effect of air pollution upon chronic bronchitis and bronchitis generally. It is brought out here that no fewer than 30,000 persons died from chronic bronchitis in 1950 and that the incidence of death through bronchitis in this country is higher than in any other country in the world.

A table which I have before me gives figures of the death rate from bronchitis per 100,000 of the population in different countries in the world in 1950. They were, England and Wales, 65; Belgium, 28; South Africa (White) 15; Germany, 10; France, 6; United States of America, 2; Denmark, 1. Is it realised that in this country in 1953 no fewer than 16½ million working days were lost as a result of bronchitis and chronic bronchitis? There has been much criticism of the 2½ million working days lost last year through industrial disputes; but in one year more working days were lost through this disease. I will not say that this has been caused altogether by air pollution, but pollution is a factor. In eight years we lost fewer working days through industrial disputes than were lost in one year as a result of the causes which are brought out in this Report. My noble friend, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, was quite right when he referred to his visit to the Welsh valleys. I can speak from experience because I am a product of one of those valleys. My health is not too bad, although if I had to declare an interest in that I was suffering from a certain disease no doubt noble Lords would be able to guess that, when I have to consult my doctor, it is for the same kind of trouble; but fortunately I am still able to get along.

Air pollution is a very serious matter and for these reasons alone something ought to be done to deal with this question. I have before me a letter which was sent to one of the Members of Parliament who took part in the debate in another place. It is from a very eminent surgeon of Harley Street, who wrote: It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the alarming increase in the incidence of cancer of the lung is associated with the fouling of the atmosphere by smoke, exhaust fumes and the offensive and deadly eructations of gas works, power stations, and so on. There are more than twice as many victims of cancer of the lung in the towns, as in the country. particularly those who are employed in gas works. This has been going on under our very noses and with our knowledge for over a century.

Not only does air pollution as it occurs in this country to-day do untold harm to human health and happiness; there is also a prodigal waste of our nation's resources. The problem is now a serious economic one. My noble friends have referred to the cost of air pollution. The Report has brought out that it costs no less than £250 million a year in the damage it does to houses and in other ways, details of which are set out in the Report. Noble Lords would, I am sure, like to see what those ways are. This £250 million does not include the value of fuel lost through incomplete combustion—one of the main causes of smoke—estimated, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has said, to cost from £25 million to £50 million a year, representing an annual waste of coal of possibly 10 million tons. The nation cannot afford to waste 10 million tons of coal at the present time; and, from what I know of the wastage which goes on, that figure is a minimum. An estimate is that 20 million or 30 million tons of coal are lost as a result of the old-fashioned equipment which is used by some industrial firms.

The national coal position is critical. As has already been said, for the last three years output has been static. What is not realised is that, to make up the 224 million tons output of last year, 11 million tons was opencast coal, a form of mining that ought to be brought to an end; but, because of what one might regard as the dearth of deep-mine coal or lack of production in the pits, we have to continue a procedure we had expected to carry on during only the war period; we have to continue opencast coal production with all the consequences which it involves. We know, to our cost, that last year we imported no less than 3 million tons of coal at a cost of £17 million, and it has now become a regular habit for this country, which always had a coal export market—in some years we exported up to 50 million tons—to import coal. For the first three months of this year we are expected to import another 2 million tons to supplement our own home production. This is serious from the angle of the balance of payments.

It is not realised, perhaps, that fuel oils of all kinds—petroleum motor spirit and so on—last year cost us £312 million to import. On imported fuel—oil and coal—we thus spend no less than £329 million. There is now no excuse for any industrial firms not replacing their old and inefficient equipment by new equipment, which will prevent the wastage of these millions of tons of coal, and at the same time prevent much of the air pollution. No excuse can be made by such industrialists. In the promised legislation the Government should take powers to deal with this matter, for many miners are cynical concerning the plea for more production when this wastage of coal continues. It is not to our credit that we should be tarred with the brush of being the biggest coal wasters in the world.

There is no disagreement with the recommendations of this Committee, and we welcome the announcement made by the Minister in another place that the Government will frame and introduce a comprehensive measure, including the financial provisions needed to make it effective. The Bill, we understand, will follow the general lines of the recommendations of the Beaver Committee, and it will be introduced during the present Session. We welcome the Minister's statement and, as my noble friend, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, has said, so far as we are concerned, if the Bill is based upon the recommendations of the Report we will give every facility needed for passing it through all its stages. In their Report the Committee indicated that the first attack to deal with this air pollution should be directed at the black areas. In those black areas there are some 7 million households, and the amount of coal used is about 19 million tons—that is, half of the domestic coal used in this country. And these black areas really contain the districts wherein are found coal fields and also the very heavy industries of this country. It is intended that the utmost possible should be done to make black areas clean areas during the course of the next ten or fifteen years.

One aspect of the Report, particularly when it is dealing with this problem, is that it has not given as much attention as it should have given to the question of the replacement of raw coal for burning by smokeless fuel. I have read with great care Appendix XI of the Report. That Appendix was written by a distinguished fuel technologist who was a member of the Beaver Committee—Dr. G. E. Foxwell. He has written a valuable memorandum which deals with this important matter. It points to the fact that there is a real scarcity of smokeless fuel in this country. On page 70, Dr. Foxwell deals with the position in a table—it is Table III. He says that bituminous coal to be displaced in these black areas amounts to 19 million tons. Solid smokeless fuel to assist in the displacement of that 19 million tons—fuel which they ought to have—he puts at 15.2 million tons. But solid smokeless fuels, transferable and new production by 1958, is put at less than 4 million tons. That is all the smokeless fuel there is to deal with this problem of displacement of something like 19 million tons of bituminous coal, leaving a gap of something between 11 million and 12 million tons of coal.

Inquiries have been made of the various fuel-using and producing industries about the prospects, and (this again is on page 70) this is what is said of the attitude of the British Electricity Authority with regard to supplying additional electricity: The replacement of house coal for continuous room heating by electricity from coal-fired power stations would materially increase the national demand for coal … but there is an absolute shortage of coal of all types; consequently, if only for this reason, it does not appear to be nationally desirable to stimulate the use for space heating of electricity derived from fuel-fired stations. I welcome the announcement made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House yesterday in relation to this matter, and indeed it has received a welcome everywhere. It really means that there is a new Industrial Revolution. We have now a product which is likely to take the place of coal, and if we can, during the course of the next ten years, switch the electricity generating industry over from coal—not entirely, but to some extent—to nuclear power, we shall, it is suggested, save at least 40 million tons of coal a year. More than that, I think this is one of the solutions for dealing with the problem of air pollution.

It is no use looking to the National Coal Board for, on page 71, it is said: The National Coal Board do not expect to be able to give any appreciable assistance through the increased production of natural smokeless fuels. Such assistance as can be forecast has already been taken into account in Tables I and II. Tables I and II are the tables to which I have already referred. Then it is stated that no assistance is likely to come from coke. With regard to the hard smokeless fuel, "Phurnacite," it is said: Little further production of 'Phurnacite' other than that now in train can be foreseen because the market for this specialised product at present prices seems to be nearing saturation. … And this eminent technologist towards the end of the Appendix says: The conclusion from these investigations is, therefore, that while there are modest prospects of increasing the supply of solid smokeless fuels by certain of these established processes, the total quantity provided would fall a long way short of the quantity required to bridge the gap shown in Table III. Dr. Foxwell was a little optimistic in the last paragraph of his memorandum, because he said that it will not be easy, but the possibility is that we shall be able to carry this out in the distant future. I hope that the Government will take notice of this, because it is no use framing new legislation unless there is a sufficient supply of smokeless fuel to take the place of the coal which is now used.

Let me give a case in point. Of the 19 million tons of coal which are used for domestic purposes in the black areas, over 5 million tons is free coal—concessionary coal given to miners who are employed in the pits. That represents 25 per cent. of it. The miners are allowed by their agreement to have a ton of coal—in my day it was a ton a month, but at the present time I think it has been reduced by agreement to something like a ton every two months. Are we going to ask the miners to dispense with their concessionary or free coal for the purpose of meeting a problem of this kind? They will want to know what is going to take its place. What is as important, they will want to know what the price is going to be. That is one thing of which the National Coal Board has to take some notice. I would say to the noble Earl that before there is any interference with concessionary or free coal in the black areas the National Union of Mineworkers will have to be consulted, otherwise there will be trouble. There should be on offer sufficient smokeless fuel to meet the demand, and if there is a supply on hand at a reasonable price I have no doubt that the people who are living in the black areas will readily respond and assist in every way.

I went to a small display of smokeless fuel and appliances at Charing Cross, which gave a good demonstration of the types of fuel and grates which have to be used. I saw "Phurnacite," "Coalite" and all kinds of coke—a good display. But one thing was missing—the price of these smokeless fuels. I inquired of one of the attendants and was told that in London a ton of "Phurnacite" costs £10 7s. The cost where I live is about £10 15s. a ton. It is no use hiding from the public the cost of these fuels while inducing them to put new equipment into their homes, because then they discover that it is almost impossible to get at a reasonable price the fuels which should take the place of coal. When the consumer has to pay £10 15s. a ton for "Phurnacite," it is no wonder that, according to this Report, the Coal Board say that the market for that fuel has become saturated. It has become saturated because of its high price. "Coalite" costs £9 2s. a ton, half as much again as coal. There is scarcely a person who has been used to a coal fire who would complain if he could get smokeless fuel at the same price as coal, but when he has to pay half as much or twice as much for smokeless fuel as for coal, that creates a problem which has to be faced.

I am pleased to see from the recommendations that it is intended to deal with spoil banks and tips. One has only to go into the coalfields and see the spoil banks, some of which have been smoking for years, to realise that this is something which is difficult to prevent. It is no good blaming the National Coal Board because a certain amount of coal was buried in these tips and has caught fire. It is impossible to dig down, sometimes fifty, sixty or seventy yards, to the source of the trouble; but something ought to be done to prevent these spoil banks from blowing up into the sky an abundance of smoke. I am pleased to know that my noble friend Lord Burden is satisfied that the reorganisation of the railways would make a great contribution to smoke abatement, and it should be carried through with all speed. I am not being critical; I want to bring out these points because I do not desire any Government to legislate without having all the facts before them. If people are given an opportunity of having smokeless fuel at a reasonable price, they will respond, but they cannot buy smokeless fuels at the cost at which it is supplied at the present time. I have begged the National Coal Board to deal with these points. That is the only way in which we shall get the use of smokeless fuel and bring about the changes we all want and which are to be the subject of legislation soon to be placed before us.

Much could be said about the increasing use of oil fuel. There is four times as much sulphur dioxide in oil content as there is in coal content, and the increasing use of oil fuel is only going to add to the difficulties unless it is treated before use. I have referred to some of the difficulties which must arise should the changes proposed in the Report be adopted, but I want to assure the Minister that any legislation based upon the recommendations of the Committee will receive our full support. I hope the Minister will not regard what I have said as criticism. I have only tried to show some of the difficulties about which the Government ought to know in considering legislation.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor for raising this question, and we all join with him in congratulating the Beaver Committee on an excellent job of work. I am sure, too, that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield will agree with me when I say it is possible any day to stand on a hill on the outskirts of Sheffield and see a pall of smoke hanging over the Don Valley. He will agree with me, further, when I say that the Pennines are grimed and fouled by industrial smoke from adjacent towns. I believe that the leading industrialists in Sheffield, and in other places, would be willing to cooperate in any real effort to abate this terrible nuisance.

In addition to the smoke from factories, we have to consider the smoke produced by domestic users. The problem here is not only to overcome the consumer resistance, due to the high cost of smokeless fuel—a matter to which my noble friend Lord Hall has made reference—but also, I am informed, the fact that, even with the smokeless fuels available, owing to the low margins allowed by the National Coal Board for delivery it is unprofitable and uneconomic for coal merchants to push the sale of smokeless fuel. That is a factor which ought to be taken into account.

Coming back to the Report, paragraphs 113 to 120 deal with the administration of the statutory provisions for the control of air pollution. In the opinion of the Committee, the main responsibility for administering these provisions should continue to rest with local authorities. If the recommendations of the Committee are put into effect, as the Government have promised, local authorities will have considerably increased powers, and on them will fall a major part of the work of eliminating air pollution. Local authorities are anxious and willing to accept these responsibilities. Indeed, the Association of Municipal Corporations object to local authorities being deprived of the responsibility for controlling certain industrial processes which the Beaver Committee suggest should be transferred to the Alkali Inspectorate of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Clearly, if the objective set by the Committee, to reduce smoke in all heavily populated areas by something of the order of 80 per cent. in ten to fifteen years, is to be achieved, local authorities must be able to play their part to the full; and to do that they must have adequate trained staff to tackle the job. At the present moment there is a serious shortage of sanitary inspectors, the officers whose particular duty it is to deal with pollution. I am informed that in England and Wales there are more than 500 vacant positions. This shortage is rapidly becoming critical, especially in industrial areas, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that unless adequate inducements are quickly provided to attract the required number of men into this important branch of the public health service, not only will the campaign against the evil of air pollution be frustrated but the health of the nation in other directions will be seriously jeopardised. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to take note of this alarming situation, and to see to it that prompt and effective steps are taken to ensure that local authorities—on whom, I am glad to note, the Beaver Committee indicate the responsibility should rest—have fully trained officers and sanitary inspectors to deal with the new duties which will devolve on them in this clean air campaign.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to intervene in this debate for a moment or two to say a few words in regard to smoke emitted from locomotives, especially in shunting yards. It is, I am sure, within your Lordships knowledge that the Transport Commission are to alter the present shunting system so as to use diesel locomotives, so far as possible. I happen to know that the Transport Commission are well aware of this problem of the emission of smoke, and every effort is being made to solve it. There is a reference in paragraph 107 of the Report to what can be done. It seems to me that Parliament must recognise that locomotives in this country have used coal because we in this country were able to produce it at a cheaper price than any other country in the world; and it takes a long time to alter the system. But the Transport Commission are well aware of this problem, and where local authorities may declare an area to be a smokeless area they will be willing to do everything that they can to eliminate the smoke from shunting yards by the building of diesel locomotives to take the place of steam locomotives. I hope your Lordships will realise that this cannot be done at once, and that it must take a little time to switch over. I hope that in any legislation that is contemplated, it will be recognised that the Transport Commission cannot do any more than they are doing in giving orders for oil fuel shunting engines to replace those using coal.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am moved to intervene in this debate by a remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, when he said that we are the greatest coal wasters in this country. If we are going to try to get smokeless fuel, it is not compatible with tearing the coal out by saws and various drill methods in order to produce a lot of dust. I rather doubt whether we can get smokeless fuel at the right price by these methods. I am merely saying this to make sure that we find the right way of doing this. No one in your Lordships' House would disagree about getting rid of smoke pollution. We are selling our anthracite and our hard coal abroad, because there is a good market; and even then I doubt whether the dust that we get from it is smokeless. All I want to see is that we get the three forms of "R": the right fuel, at the right price, for the right working people. I want to see that we do not have a vast number of grates installed for smokeless fuel until suitable fuel is available at the right cost. I am in agreement with the noble Lord opposite who said something about this; but I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, who said that industrialists put out a lot of smoke from their chimneys.


I was referring to the Report, which brings out the point that inefficient boilers cause more smoke than those which are efficient.


Then I am in disagreement with the Report and with the noble Viscount, because I do not think anyone running an efficient factory wants to lose a lot of heat units from his chimney. What happens is that a great deal of smoke comes out of bad, low-cost fuel.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that somebody from these Benches should associate himself with what has been said in appreciation of the Beaver Report, and should express gratitude to Her Majesty's Government for their prompt response to that Report. I have spent most of my life in places which are well in advance in the matter of air pollution—Glasgow, Tyneside, London and Sheffield—and I feel keenly on this subject, because I realise the bad effect of smoke on many aspects of human life, as well as on buildings. Three or four weeks ago, on a Sunday morning—one of those sunny clear Sunday mornings that we do have occasionally—I was driving from Sheffield to Rotherham. As I came through the industrial area, one chimney of a large and extremely prosperous undertaking was belching into the air a lot of smoke, heavily charged with sulphur and virtually obliterating from sight a district where people have to live. It is not the first time I have been in that district where it is extremely difficult to see across the road. Last Wednesday I was in the Ruhr, in Germany, which is now having an extremely prosperous time, from the industrial point of view; and, speaking generally, the atmosphere was as clear as we sometimes associate with the rural areas of this country. I think we ought to take note of that fact.

One point I wish to make is this. During all my time in these smoke-laden atmospheres I have tried to do my small best to kindle an enthusiasm that would lead to some kind of action, both from my industrial friends and from local authorities. I am bound to say that the response so far has not been remarkable for its enthusiasm. Therefore, when the Government produce their Bill, if, as it must, it lays responsibility upon the local authorities, I hope they will not allow some local authorities merely to lapse into sympathetic inactivity. The other point I would make is that in my view the things which have been said in this discussion about smokeless fuel are extremely important. I am a burner of "Phurnacite" in my own study, and I am always aghast when I have to pay the bill. It is no use saying that it is desirable to have grates which burn only smokeless fuel unless the cost of smokeless fuel can be brought within the means of an average number of people in this country.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to stress again the frightful waste which is involved in air pollution at the present time. These buildings are an illustration of it, because the repair of the corrosion of the stone work has already cost far more than the original total cost of erecting the whole Palace of Westminster. That gives an illustration of the kind of losses which are involved. But there are other losses which are not included in the computations of economic loss which have been made. There is all the extra labour and wear and tear upon the housewife who is continually struggling against the influx of grit and soot into her house. In central London, if she brushes her steps one morning they are the next morning covered with a coat of grit upon which one can feel one's shoes gritting. That also involves a serious waste of labour and energy which could be avoided.

Then there is the aspect to which my noble friend Lord Hall referred—the injury to health; the invalidity and the premature deaths which are caused by the absence of sunlight, by the pollution of the atmosphere and the breathing in of all the noxious and poisonous constituents which are in it. Certainly we were all shocked in 1952 when a few days of fog in London caused 4,000 extra deaths. But tens of thousands of deaths are being caused every year in this country by atmospheric pollution. The Report which we are considering to-day is, after all, only directed, or for the most part directed, to one particular aspect of atmospheric pollution. As the authors of the Report themselves say, it is directed towards reducing visible pollution of the atmosphere —that is to say, the particles of grit and soot which are seen by the eye in the form of smoke. But, in addition, there are all the gaseous pollutants with which the atmosphere is filled and to which, up to the present moment, not sufficient research and attention has been devoted.

It is well known that there are oxides of sulphur contained in smoke-laden atmospheres, and there are other constituents which are detrimental. Coal contains anything up to 175 parts per million of fluorine, and fluorine compounds get into the air and are capable of causing injury. Indeed, in certain industrial districts where there are also industrial processes which use fluorine compounds the effects are so noticeable that cattle which graze in the area are actually killed by fluorine poisoning. In addition, there are the pollutions which come into the air from vehicles, whether driven by petrol or diesel oil. There is not the slightest doubt that extremely dangerous substances are emitted in both cases. Petrol is treated with lead compounds for certain purposes, and the lead which is given off in the petrol fumes is poisonous. I understand that in recent times it is also treated with certain fluorine compounds, and again a toxic substance is being delivered into the air. The same applies to the fumes which come from diesel engines and which, as I quoted in another connection not very long ago, in the opinion of one of the greatest world authorities upon cancer have been specified as cancer-producing substances.

This Report really does not begin to deal with that phase of the problem at all. Certainly we want to eliminate the smoke and try to get the atmosphere clearer; and that is in itself, for the economic reasons which my noble friend Lord Hall pointed out, a far from easy problem. If you are going to attack this matter by using more electricity as a source of domestic heating, you have a more expensive form of heating. More than that, as the Beaver Report quite correctly points out, you have to burn 20 per cent. to 50 per cent. more coal in order to obtain the same space heating from electricity as you could have from burning bituminous coal directly. If electric power stations are going to be sited as they are at the present time, in populous centres, the total amount of poisonous gases which are emitted into the atmosphere will actually be increased. Look at the picture of London at the present moment. As you go down this river valley you see gigantic power stations at Fulham, at Lots Road, at Battersea, at Bankside, at Greenwich and at Deptford. Look at the picture which was drawn in the Report of the Ministry of Health upon the fog of December, 1952, and see how it is concentrated right along the valley of the river in the line of these gigantic power stations, coupled, of course, with a number of extremely large gasworks and a certain number of industrial establishments.

But, in the latter respect, remember that London is in a far happier position than are quite a number of industrial towns, because London, although a great centre of industry, is not a centre of heavy industry, such as smelting and other enterprises of that kind, which throw far more dirt and poison into the atmosphere than the normal kind of industrial enterprise here. But, even so, if that kind of thing were to be accentuated, the conditions in London and elsewhere would certainly become a great deal worse. Although the atmosphere might, to the naked eye, appear to be clearer, it would nevertheless have become more poisonous. These are extremely serious considerations which I hope will receive the attention of the Government. I hope that, in framing their legislation, they will take some steps at any rate to try to cope with this aspect of the problem, which may, from the human point of view, from the point of view of health, be more serious than the economic losses which are involved in our present wasteful consumption of power.

It is proposed, for example, by the British Transport Commission—and this is in line with the Report of the Beaver Committee—to replace coal-burning locomotives by diesel locomotives. I should be very unhappy to live anywhere in the neighbourhood of a railway line upon which a number of these locomotives were travelling, because there is not the slightest doubt that they will give off poisonous vapours, even if they are not visible to the naked eye. I hope, therefore, that this point will receive consideration and, so far as the scientific knowledge is now available, will be dealt with; and so far as scientific knowledge is still lacking, I hope that it will be the subject of earnest and intensive research.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose it is hardly surprising that soon after the publication of the Beaver Committee's Report so many of your Lordships should have been anxious to take part in the discussion to-day. It is clear that noble Lords are anxious to know from the Government the views which they hold, having regard to the recommendations contained in this Report. I do not wish to delay the House longer than I need this afternoon, but I feel that I must deal adequately with the whole of this subject and reply as best I can to the many questions which have been addressed to me.

The House will recall that the Beaver Committee were appointed in July, 1953, and although they published an Interim Report, the Final Report was received only in November last year. I venture to think—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor—that never, perhaps, has any Report received such a song of praise from all and sundry, or been more universally acclaimed. Here, let me add my humble tribute and congratulations to Sir Hugh Beaver, and also to his many colleagues, upon their excellent work and the admirable Report which they produced.

I have no doubt that the public hoped that the Government would take the lead at a very early date and, in spite of the very heavy expense involved, declare their full acceptance of a clean air policy. As noble Lords are aware, that we have done. I would repeat this afternoon that we accept the Committee's Report in principle, and intend to introduce legislation to bring into force those main features of the recommendations with which I shall deal in the course of my observations. I have no doubt that noble Lords in all parts of the House, when that legislation reaches us, will give us all the help and assistance they can to bring it into effect as quickly as possible.

The majority of your Lordships who take an interest in this subject will be aware that shortly after the publication of the Report we entered into discussion with local authorities and industry. Much detailed work has already been done, and the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Federation of British Industry have both offered their co-operation. I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, will appreciate that, at a later stage, it will be necessary for fuller consultation to take place with industry, with local authorities, with trade unions and with other interests, so that the statutory provisions which will need to be framed will in the end be agreed by all the respective parties.

I think it was said that the Beaver Committee estimated that the smoke, grit, dust and noxious gases emitted into the air from domestic buildings and industrial plants caused damage to property and other harmful effects, to the tune of £250 million a year. That figure did not include the waste of heat value which results from allowing excessive smoke (about which I shall say more in the course of my remarks), and which alone was estimated by the Committee at between £25 million and £50 million a year. Nor did it take into account injury to health: but it seems pretty certain that if the density of smoke and the impurities of the air could be reduced by as much as 80 per cent. in the next ten to fifteen years, then the health of the people, so far as certain diseases are concerned, ought to be improved. Here let me say at once that I do not dispute in any way whatever the observations which the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, made on the subject of illness and the loss of time in industrial employment. It is, of course, a very heavy loss to industry. The more the Government and medical science can do to relieve it, the better it will be for everyone concerned.

The noble Viscount also said that air pollution was no new problem. He is, of course, perfectly right, and he will be well aware that for some years now Parliament has been granting powers to local authorities from time to time to enable them to establish smokeless zones throughout the country. In fact, twenty-one authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, now possess such powers; so I do not think it would be inaccurate to say that Parliament has for some years sanctioned a gradual programme which, over a period of time, would have lessened the pollution of the air, quite apart from the action which we propose to take now. The very fact that the Government have accepted the Committee's Report in principle will mean that during the next ten to fifteen years clean air policy will gradually become more effective, although let us not forget, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, that, to achieve this, local authorities will require a number of additional technical staffs; but it ought to be possible to recruit and train them in the allotted time.

I pass from that point to remind the House of the main recommendations contained in the Committee's Report. The recommendations, taken together, would, in the opinion of the Committee, reduce the density of smoke in heavily populated areas by 80 per cent. over the next fifteen years. I think noble Lords will agree with me at once that if this were the result, it would be an enormous contribution to the solution, indeed, perhaps the final solution, of the problem of air pollution.

What are these recommendations? I suggest to the House that they are six in number. First, it was suggested that, subject to certain exceptions, the emission of dark smoke should be prohibited by law. Secondly, it was suggested that industries which installed new plant, burning pulverised fuel or large amounts of solid fuel, should take all possible steps to prevent the emission of grit and dust. Thirdly, it was suggested that local authorities should be given powers to designate smokeless areas, subject, of course, to confirmation by the Government. Fourthly, it was proposed that the main duty of inspection and enforcement of the Acts should be placed upon the shoulders of the local authority. Fifthly, it was suggested that householders in these designated smokeless areas should be obliged to convert their domestic grates to burn smokeless fuel and that a portion of the conversion costs should be met by the Exchequer and by local authorities. Finally, it was proposed that the Government loan scheme for approved fuel-saving equipment in industry should be extended to include equipment installed to reduce air pollution.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Could he be more specific and say whether those six recommendations will, in fact, be embodied in the Bill?


Yes. Her Majesty's Government have accepted these proposals; others which I have not mentioned to-day will require further decision and about those I cannot make any announcement to-day. Nevertheless, with regard to these six, I can assure the noble Lord that they will all be incorporated in the Bill when it is presented to Parliament.

Noble Lords will realise at once—and, indeed, much was said on the subject by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall—that the success of this general scheme rests upon our ability to produce sufficient quantities of smokeless fuel. The fact that the introduction of the scheme is gradual will give time for the production of different kinds of smokeless fuels—I will turn to that aspect in a few moments. There is one way, however, in which assistance can be given at once. It is the policy of my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, during the next few years, to convert the heating of public buildings from coke, which is in itself a smokeless fuel, to oil. Although I should not like to guarantee the exact amount of saving of coke, it is estimated that about 2½ million tons are used each year in public buildings for heating purposes. The quantity saved by converting the heating installations to oil could in future be used in the smokeless areas. Incidentally, let me also remind your Lordships, as indeed the noble Viscount Lord Hall, did, that at Charing Cross Underground station there is an excellent exhibition of fires which burn smokeless fuel. I would recommend noble Lords who are interested in this subject to pay a visit to that exhibition.

The Beaver Report points out that, though much can be done to reduce industrial smoke, if the scheme is to be really successful, domestic chimneys also must play their full part. It is estimated, I should imagine correctly, that 50 per cent. of all the smoke in towns is caused by domestic fires. If an improvement in any area is to be achieved, then many of the present domestic fire grates must be re-adapted or altered. In passing, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, that that process of altering or re-adapting them will be gradual, but I understand that it is estimated that up to two million domestic appliances of the kind required can be made available every year. That should certainly go some considerable way to help and assist the conversion.

I am prepared to admit at once that householders will need some help to meet the cost. It will, at the same time, be no small part of the task to educate the public to adopt a new and effective method which, while producing greater heat for the amount of fuel used, will assist the carrying out of a clean air policy. It was the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who said that we must carry the people with us. It was the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who said that we must re-educate the people; and, indeed, the right reverend Prelate has himself been engaged in persuading industrial magnates in the North of England to do what they can about industrial smoke. Dare I make one other suggestion, and express the hope that Members of another place might use their unrivalled chances to explain to the electorate in their own constituencies the benefits which will be achieved by the co-operation of the domestic consumer?


Before the noble Earl leaves that point, can he say anything about the Clean Air Council?


I will come to the Clean Air Council a little later, if I may. I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks that the Committee estimated that the waste of heat value resulting from allowing excessive smoke was between £25 million and £50 million a year. This represents a loss of 10 million tons of coal, or something like 5 per cent. of the output of the country. How wise and right the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, was when he said that we cannot afford this! I should have no difficulty in agreeing with the noble Viscount that all we can do to save that quantity of fuel will assist our balance of payments and our trade.

The noble Viscount also mentioned the difficulties in the black areas (here I return to the subject of smokeless fuel) of replacing the 19 million tons of bituminous coal, which I think I am right in saying is at present used by some seven million householders. I am advised it is estimated that the extra quantities of the various smokeless fuels required will gradually become available. I agree with the noble Viscount that it is a matter which must be constantly watched. The difficulties which are mentioned in Appendix XI and which I need not go into in greater detail have not been overlooked. My right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power is well aware of this problem, for indeed he realises, as I think does the noble Viscount, that on its solution depends the final success of the Committee's proposals. I hope that in due course we may have sufficient quantities of smokeless fuel which can be used when this conversion of the domestic grate takes place. The noble Viscount was perfectly correct in saying that some of it is expensive, but I am told that there are other fuels of a smokeless nature which cost about the same to use as household coal at the present time, but there is not a sufficient quantity of them. One of them is "Rexco," another is the ordinary plain gas fuel, and there are one or two others, in addition to "Phurnacite," which is the most expensive one and which, as I understand it, is used as a rule only in closed stoves.

Before going on, may I make one further point? I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power to the observations which the noble Viscount made about the Coal Board. I have not much doubt that he will take into consideration the observations which noble Lords have made in the course of today's debate. I will also direct my right honourable friend's attention to the question of free coal for miners; but I have not much doubt that free coal would not be done away with until consultations and conversations had taken place and some agreement had been reached. I am also advised (in this I think the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, will bear me out) that if the conversion of the domestic fire-grates in fact takes place and the new appliances ultimately come to be adopted, the new fuel which will take the place of coal may, ton for ton, be more expensive, but, even so, in terms of useful heat, coke will be no more expensive than the coal now so wastefully consumed. I have no doubt that, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, if the Government, local authorities, trade unions, fuel-producing industries and private industry all work closely together, a clean air policy will gradually come into being for the benefit of this and future generations.

It is mentioned in the Report that sulphur dioxide can have a deleterious effect upon health and upon our buildings. I should like to go into this point in some detail, because the Report certainly contains a good deal of what the noble Lord particularly asked me in his opening remarks. It was suggested by the Committee that the most efficient method of removing sulphur dioxide from flue gases should be adopted at all new power stations to be built in or near heavily populated areas. My right honourable friend is quite prepared and ready to accept that in principle, but there are a number of technical and economic difficulties to be overcome. The Beaver Report referred to a number of outstanding technical problems and recommended that research and development work should be undertaken or accelerated. They are all enumerated in paragraph 13 of Appendix III. As the noble Lord rightly said, these recommendations do not, in fact require any legislation at all. I understand from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research that the Central Electricity Authority are putting up a pilot scheme in the Midlands to carry out large-scale trials into a cheaper process of reducing sulphur pollution. This process produces sulphate ammonia as an end product and is referred to in Paragraph 53 of the Report. The plant which is to be erected will produce 50 million cubic feet of flue gases per day, which renders this an experiment on a satisfactory and adequate scale.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in conjunction with the Home Office have already made the necessary arrangements for making more frequent and intensified measurements of all kinds of pollution in the London area and in several provincial towns. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, will readily understand, some of the most useful information that they require cannot, in the nature of things, be obtained, until another smog is experienced. Nevertheless, all those points which are mentioned in that Appendix, and indeed in the Interim Report of the Beaver Committee, are being followed up. For instance, various bodies in London have increased their recording instruments from eight to thirty, and more are being installed. The Fuel Research Station has installed twenty additional instruments in South West London as a temporary measure. The noble Lord will also remember that the Committee requested that there should be an intensification of research into reducing the amount of sulphur in fuel and the prevention of the release of sulphur into the air. As the noble Lord probably knows, many experiments have been made, but they have as yet not proved to be a great success. However, further experiments are being continually undertaken. Work is now going forward on the development of new and improved instruments for recording pollution. As regards the remainder of the items in this most important paragraph, the Atmospheric Pollution Research Committee has considered the recommendations in detail, and while steps are being taken to implement them, much of the work involves long-term research requiring more basic knowledge before the problems can finally be solved.

The noble Lord who moved this Motion also asked me about the preparation of standards by the British Standards Institution. From inquiries I have made, I understand that the Institution have set up committees on the questions of the measurement of grit in the atmosphere, smoke control, and smoke indicators. As regards the code of practice for good stoking (which is a most important matter), I can only hope that industry and the trade unions will have noted the Committee's remarks.

Finally, I turn to answer the question of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is true, as he says, that the Beaver Committee recommended the setting up of a Clean Air Council, and that suggestion is now receiving the attention of Her Majesty's Government. The composition and the functions of such a Council will require very careful thought, and though I can say nothing definite now, it may be found that legislation will not, in the end, be the best method to institute it. I hope the noble Earl will not press me further on that point at the present time, as it is difficult and Her Majesty's Government are examining the matter very closely indeed. I regret having delayed the House so long, but I have, I think, dealt with all matters of major importance which have been raised this afternoon. Naturally I will convey to my right honourable friends principally concerned the views which have been expressed by noble Lords. I would only add, in conclusion, that I hope that when the Bill reaches your Lordships' House we may expect support from all sides to enable it to reach the Statute Book as rapidly as possible. It will be introduced without undue delay.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, it only falls to me to thank all noble Lords who have intervened in this debate for their valuable contributions, and in particular to thank the Minister for his full and helpful reply. I have seldom listened to a more sympathetic reply to points put forward. I feel that the preliminary canter has been fully justified, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.