HL Deb 24 April 1956 vol 196 cc1156-82

2.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will probably recall that as far back as February last year this House debated, upon a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, the Final Report of the Beaver Committee on Air Pollution. I think I should be correct in saying that on that occasion there was expressed from all sides of the House a general wish that Her Majesty's Government should introduce legislation as soon as possible to implement the main recommendations of the Beaver Committee's Report. In my reply, I told your Lordships that we intended to introduce a Bill and that I hoped it would receive the unanimous support of all noble Lords.

The problem of air pollution has been the subject of various Acts of Parliament for well over a hundred years, but it has not yet been solved. It was hardly surprising, therefore, to find that the Beaver Committee thought that the statutory provisions relating to smoke pollution were inadequate and required revision. They recommended new legislation to replace all the existing provisions to be found in general legislation. This Bill, therefore, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading to-day, is the result of their recommendations, all of which are found a place in it. Moreover, the Bill has been strengthened in various aspects during its passage through another place.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those local authorities who have in days gone by obtained powers under Local Acts to deal with this subject, but it is abundantly clear now that to deal with air pollution effectively general, rather than local, powers are required. I told your Lordships on a previous occasion that Her Majesty's Government had entered into full discussion with representatives of local authorities and industry, and they have made it clear that they fully accept and support the broad principles which are contained in this Bill; and I imagine that the support which they have offered will also he forthcoming this afternoon, irrespective of interest or Party considerations.

I do not think it is necessary for me this afternoon to delve into the Beaver Report in any detail for, as I have said, we have already discussed this subject. But perhaps I should remind the House that the Committee presented a very convincing indictment of air pollution, not only as a threat to health but also as a source of great material damage, which they estimated at no less than £250 million a year. They further pointed out that the prevention of smoke goes hand in hand with the efficient use of coal. Excessive smoke, they said, means a waste of fuel, and the Committee considered that possibly ten million tons of coal was now wasted in this way every year. The damage to health is even more serious. We now know that in London alone 4,000 people died in the fog during December, 1952; and it is believed that another 1,000 deaths were caused in London during the two-day fog in January of this year.

My Lords, I think I need say no more by way of introductory remarks, but I should now like to turn to the Bill and deal briefly with the principal Clauses. Clause 1 prohibits the emission of dark smoke from chimneys of any building, and the definition of dark smoke will be found in Clause 32, the Interpretation Clause. Under subsection (2) of Clause 1 certain exceptions are allowed for such periods as the Minister may specify. Under subsection (3) it will be a defence in proceedings to show that the emission of dark smoke was unavoidable for any of the reasons specified in the subsection. Under Clause 2 it will be a defence, for a period of seven years from the passing of the Act, to prove that the contravention was due to the nature of the plant in use and that the necessary alterations could not have been carried out in the time available.

Clause 5 makes it obligatory in all cases to use whatever means are practicable to minimise the emission of grit and dust front chimneys, while Clause 6 supplements this by providing that any new furnace installed in future must be fitted with special plant to arrest grit and dust to the satisfaction of the local authority if it is to be used to burn pulverised fuel or to burn solid fuel in any other form at the rate of one ton an hour or more.

Clauses 10 to 14 are designed mainly to deal with domestic smoke—that is, smoke from residential property, and from offices, shops or other buildings in which fuel-burning appliances of domestic types are commonly used. It will be remembered that the Beaver Committee called attention to the fact that nearly half of all the smoke in the air comes from domestic chimneys. Naturally enough, the proportion is greater in areas where houses preclominate, and during the winter. As the Committee said in their Report: No cure can, therefore, be found for the heavy smoke pollution of our cities and towns unless the domestic chimney is dealt with. In our view there would be little justification for requiring industry and commerce to take possible measures to prevent smoke, often at considerable expense, if the problem of domestic smoke were not also tackled. Clause 10 therefore provides for the establishment of smoke control areas, in which, subject to any exceptions that may be specified in the Bill, smoke from chimneys, or from the chimneys of specified classes of buildings, will be prohibited.

These provisions are, in effect, an extension of the powers which a number of local authorities have already obtained and used under Local Acts of Parliament. Smokeless zones have already been successfully established in several towns and are being extended. The Bill will therefore continue on a broader basis a development which is already taking place. The method of establishing the smoke control areas will be similar—that is to say, they will he designated by orders made by the local authorities subject to confirmation by the Minister. The orders must be advertised, and if objections are made by any persons affected the Minister is required to hold a local inquiry before deciding whether or not to confirm the orders. The initiative for promoting the smoke control areas and the responsibility for enforcing them will rest with the local authorities; they will not be imposed from the centre.

What is new as compared with the Local Acts is the provision made in Clauses 11 and 12 for the payment of grants by the local authority and by the Exchequer towards expenditure incurred by the owners and occupiers of houses in converting plants for the burning of smokeless fuels. The effect of these provisions is that the cost of conversion will be borne in the following proportions: owner or occupier 30 per cent. or less; local authority 30 per cent. or more and the Exchequer 40 per cent. This represents what is, in the Government's view, a fair distribution of the cost having regard to the relative interests of the individual, the local community and the nation at large in the prevention of smoke pollution. In addition, under Clause 14 local authorities will have a discretionary power to assist religious and voluntary bodies in carrying out conversions in smoke control areas. This expenditure will not, however, qualify for Exchequer grants.

Clause 21, which is, I think, the next clause to which I need draw your Lordships' attention, provides for the appointment of Clean Air Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland. They will be consultative bodies whose function will be to advise the Minister or the Secretary of State, as the case may be, and to assist him in keeping under review the progress made in reducing air pollution. Clause 25 prescribes the penalties for offences, and Clause 27 places on the local authority the duty of enforcement of the Bill.

The Bill is to come into operation on the appointed day, and different appointed days may be fixed for its different provisions. We propose (and I think this will be generally acceptable to the House) to allow a short period to elapse before the provisions about dark smoke come into operation. This will enable the necessary preparations to be made by industry and by the local authorities. The provisions of the Bill regarding industrial smoke grit and dust will, we expect, be brought into operation in 1958, but it is hoped that the provisions in regard to smoke control areas will come into operation by the end of this year. I have endeavoured to give the House a very brief summary of the principal clauses in the Bill. I have not mentioned all the clauses, because in February of last year your Lordships had an opportunity to discuss the Beaver Report, and all the matters in it were dealt with at some length. Each of them finds a place in the measure which I beg to move be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has given us a very lucid exposition of the contents of this Bill and has told us something of the history of the subject. I am reminded that some twenty-five years ago I served for many months on a committee which was responsible for the drafting or consolidation of legislation which became the Public Health Act, 1936, under which this subject has for the most part been dealt with during the last few years. That Act contains certain provisions enabling smoke to be dealt with, but it had to be proved that the smoke was a nuisance. The provision was of little use, and little or no advantage has been taken of it.

It was high time that some action was taken to remedy the deficiency and, as the noble Earl has said, the smog epidemic in 1952 aroused public opinion to such a pitch that the then Government appointed the Beaver Committee. I understand that this Bill largely incorporates the recommendations of that Committee. I am sure all your Lordships will give credit to Sir Hugh Beaver and his colleagues for the thorough way in which they went into the subject. I have heard it said that it takes a matter of thirty years for a recommendation of a Royal Commission to be brought into effect. I do not know whether that applies equally to all Committees although I know it applies to some; but in this particular instance, thanks, first, to the initiative of a Private Member and then to the taking over of the Bill by Her Majesty's Government, prompt action has been taken upon the Beaver Report.

Before considering, how far the Bill goes towards implementing the Committee's recommendations, it is essential to realise the magnitude of the work which has to be done; because it is only when one looks into the problem of smoke and smog in this country that the problem is seen in its proper perspective. The Government propose to get rid of smog within the next ten to fifteen years. There are something like 12 to 14 million houses in Great Britain; there are perhaps 1 million or more commercial and similar buildings and more than half the latter are in what the Committee called "black areas." Those cover 6,000 square miles, equal to some 4 million acres of land. Thus if we try to dispose of this question and to minimise the evil, something like 300,000 to 400,000 acres a year will have to be tackled. On its face that would seem an almost impossible task, especially when one remembers that since the war only 3,000 acres have been so dealt with. Then, added to the premises I have mentioned there are some 200,000 factory chimneys and 20,000 steam engines, all of which come within the purview of the Bill. Finally, there is the question of dust and grit deposit. In some areas of my own city of Leeds, 30 to 40 tons of dust and grit are deposited per square mile in the course of a year. Much of that is due to the proximity of power stations and it is well to bear in mind that power stations, especially the old ones, are prime offenders in the depositing of dust and grit. Those figures indicate the tremendous size of the problem; and to deal with it as we hope to do will require a great effort over a long period of time.

How far does the present Bill go? It is not always easy to follow, but clearly a brave start has been made, and the original Bill has been vastly improved during its passage through another place. It divides the various forms of prevention of air pollution into four classes: first, prohibiting the emission of dark smoke from chimneys; secondly, requiring that new furnaces shall, so far as practicable, be smokeless (as a lawyer I know it is rather difficult to construe that phrase); thirdly, making provision for the declaration of smokeless areas, and fourthly, requiring minimisation of the emission of grit and dust. The enforcement of these various prohibitions is left— I think rightly—with local authorities. They have a tremendous job to do and one which will add very much to their responsibilities.

I gather that the officials responsible will be the sanitary inspectors. As I was for some time President of their Association, I can say with knowledge that there is no more devoted and capable body of public servants. The time is long past when the public thought that their only function was the inspection of drains and the abatement of small nuisances. To-day sanitary inspectors are required to have very high professional qualifications, and the increased duties recently thrust upon them, not only through this Bill but by the Food and Drugs Act and other measures, must, I suggest, be recognised by improving the status and conditions of service of sanitary inspectors. There is already a great shortage of qualified inspectors, and improved remuneration and other justified incentives will be required if their work under this Bill and other work which they have to do is to be done adequately by men trained for the purpose.

The Bill contains some weaknesses as well as omissions. There is a lack of provision of powers for sanitary inspectors of local authorities to obtain the necessary evidence to prove cases when, unfortunately, they have to be brought. The defences open to a defendant make the possibility of enforcement in some cases very doubtful. One defence, for example, is that unsuitable fuel was used but that suitable fuel was unobtainable and that all practicable steps had been taken to minimise the emission of dark smoke. From reports of what took place in another place, the Minister of Fuel and Power appears to have taken little or no part in the proceedings. I should have thought it essential to have had his views and co-operation on the Bill, particularly in view of the fact which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has mentioned, that the avoidance of waste and the saving of fuel are important factors. What is the Minister of Fuel and Power going to do to provide the necessary smokeless fuel, whether it be "Coalite" or some other form, and make it available for domestic use? I understand that no promise has been made by the Government, or by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, that special fuel will be forthcoming. It seems to me, however, essential (and I should like to hear what the Minister has to say on this) that some special steps should be taken, some assurance given, that when the local authorities take the necessary action the appropriate fuels will be available for those who desire to use them.

It is obvious that the cost of implementing this Bill, in regard to both industrial smoke and domestic smoke, is going to be very substantial. It is true that grants are to be made under certain conditions, but it occurs to me that, having regard to the present economic situation of the country, there must be a sense of balance between cost and results. What we require, of course, is the utmost efficiency combined with the greatest possible "smokelessness"—if I may use that expression. I am advised that a clean chimney is not necessarily an efficient one, and, indeed, that such a chimney can be very wasteful, because it uses more coal than one which is not clean. I am also advised that the two requisites—clean air, on the one hand, and efficiency, on the other—are not necessarily synonymous. Inefficient people have smoky chimneys. It is true that by mechanical stoking and by other systems, by the installation of special machinery of certain kinds, and by taking full advantage of the best and most expert advice and of the research which is to be carried out under this Bill, a great deal can be done. And this Bill will undoubtedly help towards that end.

There are, however, certain forms of pollution which, apparently for lack of knowledge of how to deal with them, are not dealt with under the Bill—for example, sulphur fumes and diesel fumes. There are some special provisions under the Alkali Acts, but they are rather a sideline and I do not think they interfere with the general purposes of the Bill. By and large, the Bill makes a great step forward. We shall have certain Amendments to bring to your Lordships' notice, but in general we on this side of the House approve the Bill. Work under it will be a big job. It must clearly proceed by stages. Public support and co-operation will be essential, and the report which the Minister has undertaken to present to Parliament—which, as I understand, will include a report of the Clean Air Council set up by the Bill —will, year by year, provide an additional opportunity to give much-needed publicity to the urgent necessity of carrying out the provisions of this Bill. As I say, we on this side of the House strongly support the Bill. It is but the first step, though an important one, on the road to the much-to-be-desired "Smokeless Britain."

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that no one in this House can fail to welcome this Bill and that all of us will be anxious to do everything we can to assist its passage. The question of whether the Bill is as good as it might be is another matter. There are, I think, certain weaknesses which will probably be dealt with in the Committee stage. My own interest in this matter goes back quite a long way, because I brought a Motion before your Lordships' House two or three years ago to draw attention to the medical and other dangers which arise from fog which is the result of smoke. I do not want to repeat what I then said, but I should like to emphasise certain points once more to show how important this matter is.

A very large number of people in this country die from bronchitis each year—somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30,000. One finds that the death rate from this cause is about double in the big industrial areas what it is in the rural areas. There is a similar trend with diseases like cancer of the lung and other respiratory diseases. They are much more common in industrial areas than they are in rural areas where, naturally, there is not the same degree of air pollution. I should not like to say how much this is a case of cause and effect, but it seems to show that the amount of pollution in the air probably has an effect on the incidence of respiratory diseases. Of course, other things have to be taken into account as well, such as overcrowding, bad housing, and petrol fumes. All these play their part, and one cannot be sure which is the most active one. But I am quite sure that we ought to pay great attention to the question of the emission of smoke. As the Beaver Report points out, there is the bad effect of keeping sunshine away. If one lives in a town where one never sees the sun it has a psychological effect, a depressing effect, which results in some retarding of healing and loss of preventive power. Sunshine can do, and does, a lot towards keeping people fit and healthy.

One of the most important elements in the question of fog or smoke is the cost, and the Beaver Report contains also a warning concerning sulphur fumes. It points out in paragraph 48 that it would seem that the coal which is used now contains more sulphur than did coal in the past. I cannot explain that, but it is mentioned. It is stated that the Coal Board take every possible step to keep coal as clean as they can, but they cannot do everything to remove the sulphur, and little is known about how to effect the removal of sulphur efficiently. I wonder whether the Government should hot encourage people to work on that matter and see whether we cannot get some economic method of removing sulphur from smoke. The various activities of the power stations in this connection are in some cases extremely costly, and one would like to see something cheaper introduced. Paragraph 52 of the Report states that the British Electricity Authority have been experimenting with some cheaper method of removing sulphur. I wonder whether the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, can tell us any more about the success or otherwise of what has already been done in that matter.

I should like to express agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, in what he has said about the defences which are open to people who are prosecuted. It seems to me rather a weak argument that it should be a defence against a prosecution to say that you are burning unsuitable fuel. My impression after reading the debate in another place was that with proper stoking and efficient apparatus you can make the burning of most coal comparatively harmless. That, I think, is really my main criticism of the Bill.

There is one other point which occurred to me the other day on reading about the conversion of domestic fireplaces. In a report of the Building Research Station, No. 60, which came out about two years ago, it was said that there was a certain danger in employing combustion stoves that do not burn their fuel, so to speak, by fire, but which are, in fact, slow combustion boilers. It is said that great damage can be done to the inside of the chimney, with all sorts of terrifying effects. The remedy recommended is to line the chimney with asbestos cement or glazed stoneware. I wonder whether that point will be taken into consideration when proposals are considered for converting domestic fires into non-rapid combustion machines. My Lords, I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time, and I would conclude by saying, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, that we give this Bill a very warm welcome.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in welcoming this Bill, and, indeed, to congratulate the Government in bringing it forward so quickly after the publication of the Beaver Report. My excuse for speaking on a Bill which in many of its provisions is technical is that I have lived and worked all my days in an area where the air has been unclean and polluted. I know only too well the ill effects of air pollution on man's lire and work and on his physical and mental health, and something, too, about the economic cost of wasted fuel and damaged buildings. Even if precise statistics are hard to come by, the broad facts to-day are not seriously disputed and I do not propose to waste your Lordships' time in arguing them. The fact that those noble Lords who can choose their place of residence do not choose areas where the atmosphere is thick with smoke and dust and the fact that. I live in a part of Sheffield where the solid deposit is four times less than at Attercliffe and the sulphur determination is seven times less, are sufficient comment, I think, on the need for this Bill.

In the West Riding, where I live and work, the belief that Where's muck, there's money gives place very slowly, very reluctantly, to the view that where there is muck there is waste. The facts and arguments of the Beaver Report, the growing number of industrial undertakings which are using fuel carefully and refraining from emitting dark smoke, grit and dust, make it desirable and urgent that we should at last have a strong law on clean air and that the authorities should administer it intelligently, fairly and with common sense.

Whilst I am extremely grateful for this Bill now approaching the Statute Book, I must say that I find it rather disappointing in some respects. Without seeming to get what I say out of bearing, I should like to probe a little some of the defence and exemptive clauses which are scattered rather plentifully through the pages of the Bill. First of all, with regard to smoke, as the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, pointed out, up to now by-laws under the Public Health Act, 1936, have been operating without any legal defence clauses in respect of the emission of dark smoke. I think it is a matter of great regret to many local authorities up and down the country that these defence clauses should be in this Bill. Is it seriously suggested that local authorities and their inspectors have been persecuting industry and bullying? Surely not. Why this tremendous play with evasive phrases like "unsuitable" and "as far as is practicable" in the Bill, over which I imagine lawyers can argue happily for a good deal longer than seven years? I am informed by technical experts that it would be possible to list all unsuitable fuels and therefore to avoid so vague a phrase as "unsuitable". As has been pointed out already, with up-to-date appliances and good stoking almost any fuel can be burned without the emission of any large amount of offensive smoke.

Again, we all know that smoke means waste and that the country cannot afford to go on wasting its fuel. Only in this morning's paper I read a report from the Coal Board pointing out that there is an increased demand for coal, a very slow increase in supply and probably stationary costs—and very high ones. All the tech- nical experts in my part of the country whom I have consulted are confident that the emission of dark smoke from industrial chimneys can be eliminated by improved plant and good stoking. A good many of our industries are doing this. It seems a little unfair that those who, for various reasons, are not doing it should "get away with it" for seven years. I doubt whether the country or industry can afford such waste.

At the present time, when the cost of fuel is what it is, surely it is worth industry's while to eliminate waste by putting in up-to-date plant. In the present boom period industry is in a better position to do this than it may be seven years later on, when possibly there may be some sort of trade recession. Again, if I may mention another small point, I do not understand why the Minister in another place seemed averse to issuing certificates encouraging good stoking. Surely in these days, in this country especially, everything that can be done to increase the pride of craft among young operators should be done. My point with regard to smoke would be that it is possible to see now, in many industries, industrial and metallurgical processes being carried out either smokelessly or with a low and defined standard of smoke emission. It is lack of definition in this Bill which is embarrassing to those concerned about clean air.

Then I would say a word about grit and dust from furnaces. Obviously, this is the heart of the problem to-day. Smoke is a nuisance and we have been slow to get rid of it, but it is dust and grit and fumes that are doing the most serious hurt to the lives of men and of buildings. So far as I have been able to understand, the Bill supplies no positive requirement that the emission should be controlled and eventually eliminated. We get those bad phrases which are so obviously arguable, like shall use any practicable means for minimising the emission". Again, Clause 6 at first required furnaces burning 10 tons of fuel an hour, and now 1 ton, to have grit-arresting equipment, leaving those below that figure free. I should like to call attention to some figures from my own part of the country. Those who know that area have affirmed that in the ten square miles around Sheffield more fuel is burned than in any other comparable area in Europe. Be that as it may, it is obviously a good specimen. In our area only power stations are burning more than ten tons an hour, and only two or three of the larger steel works are burning more than one ton an hour; the great majority are well below even the one ton limit. Why, then, is the figure put so high even as one ton?

As the Bill has gone through another place it has been improved by a new clause on the height of chimneys, but it, too, is bedevilled by exemptions. Why should shops and office blocks be exempted? Looking out of the window from my club this morning I saw some office blocks which were putting up some very nasty stuff. Why, also, are we so kind to the Electricity Authority? Only recently I heard a representative of the Authority apologise sincerely for the grit and dust emanating from some of the older stations sited in valleys. When he came to what we in Church circles know as "amendment of life" he became far more cagey.

As to chemical fumes and sulphur dioxide, it is generally agreed that these are tending to increase as the chemical industries develop, and the effect on bodies and buildings is a menace. Alas! the technicians have not yet discovered a satisfactory way of controlling the emission of fumes. Obviously they are not so harmful if chimneys are higher and there is not so much tar-laden smoke blowing around. But we must not be content with that. I should like to see the clauses in regard to research if possible amplified and strengthened. At present, so far as I read the Bill, the onus for research is thrown largely on the local authority. Surely, what is wanted is full-scale research on a national level, conducted either by the big chemical industries or under the auspices of the Research Association. Only full-scale research, I am informed, can yield the conclusive evidence to make it worth while to introduce plant which can deal with the emission of sulphur dioxide and other unpleasant things. It may be that the new Clause 21 setting up the Clean Air Council may allow for this, but I understand that that body is advisory and not executive. At any rate, I would ask the Minister to be so kind as to lock into that point as to the importance of research in regard to chemical fumes.

Lastly, with other noble Lords I should like to welcome the clauses dealing with domestic heating. We all know that there is a great deal of inertia and prejudice to be overcome. Think of the miner's supply of free coal and his habit of keeping the home fires burning day and night —winter and summer, too, sometimes. Think of our own liking for the open grate, which allows 80 per cent. of the heat to go up the chimney. Think of the new fireplaces to which the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred, designed to burn smokeless fuels, but which are being used to burn up extremely smoky fuels, and burning all night sometimes. Then we must think also of the short supply and high cost of smokeless fuels. In all these matters it seems to me that the Clean Air Council will have their work well cut out.

I apologise for detaining your Lordships so long. Some of you may think that a Bishop should be concerned only with the polities of that place which is well above the smoke area, but if you do, I believe you are wrong. This business of air pollution, directly or indirectly, is the cause of many unhealthy and warped lives. One almost agrees with the old adage which used to be in copybooks when I was at school: Cleanliness is next to Godliness. If it is not next to Godliness, I think it is next to a great deal of human happiness, to a sound economy and to our national self-respect. I welcome this Bill, as all your Lordships have done. I hope that the Minister will look at one or two of the exemption clauses and see whether they are really necessary, as drafted, and hat the Bill will be a really strong statement of the law for clean air.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken, and I welcome this Bill as a useful but delayed step forward, It certainly does not deal with the whole problem of air pollution, but only with the more obvious portion of it, in an endeavour to eliminate from the atmosphere those particles which cause visible smoke. But, of course, there are other deleterious substances which are being poured into the air day after day and which ought to be dealt with. What the Bill does is to provide a means which we must hope will, in the course of time, reduce to a considerable extent visible atmospheric pollution. That certainly would be a great achievement, especially in large urban and industrial areas. It would provide far more sunshine than such areas are able to enjoy at present, with considerable benefit to health; and it would also reduce the physical waste and deterioration and the excessive labour which is imposed upon housewives by the constant deposition of soot.

There was published some time ago the result of a survey of various areas in this country. Among the figures given was one relating to a district quite close to here, Battersea Park, in which it appeared that grit and soot was being deposited at the rate of 1,180 grams per hundred square metres per month. At first sight those do not appear to be formidable figures, but if my arithmetic is correct, it amounts to a deposition of about 4 oz. per square yard during the course of a year. Anyone who has lived in that neighbourhood will readily realise that, because every morning one can see a fresh and visible deposition of soot, with all the consequent dirt, inconvenience and waste which it entails.

That, let me point out to noble Lords, is in the vicinity of quite a modern power station, in respect of which, when the Bill was promoted to enable it to be built, undertakings were given that the best practicable means would be used for eliminating soot and grit. I do not know whether what it is doing contravenes the standards laid down in this Bill, but it leads one to suspect that there is still a long way to go. Let it be remembered that domestic smoke is steadily becoming a decreasing proportion of that which is thrown into the atmosphere, and that smoke from power stations and other establishments is becoming the greater proportion. Where it happens, as it does so frequently, that power stations are situated in the middle of urban areas, the concentration of dust and dirt in the vicinity, instead of being reduced, is steadily becoming greater, with extreme detriment to all those who happen to live there.

In addition to that, there is the invisible pollution of the atmosphere arising from toxic gases which is not in any way covered by this Bill. There is (and this is the only thing to which any great attention has so far been given) the evolution of sulphur oxides with great corrosive properties. The survey to which I referred showed that in urban areas the amount might be as much as ten parts per 100 million. That again, at first sight, does not appear to be a very large amount, but when one realises the tremendous volume of air which is passed through the human body by the lungs in the course of a single day, the amount of toxic gas which can be taken in is quite appreciable and deserves serious consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred to the incidence of bronchitis and similar diseases in urban areas. Pointed attention, of course, was drawn to this matter by the very high increase in the death rate in London in 1952, and again earlier this year. But that, of course, is only excess deaths over the number normally caused by the pollution of the atmosphere. There are possibly still more deleterious fumes than sulphur oxides being emitted. There are the fumes of internal combustion engines, particularly those of diesel engines, to which a good deal of attention has been directed recently. I think it is right to remind noble Lords that it was pointed out quite recently by Dr. Otto Warburg, the world-famous authority upon cancer, and a Nobel Prize-winner, that cancer was due to long-continued irritation by very small quantities of toxic substances. Among those which he mentioned as illustrations were fumes emitted by diesel engines.

In addition to that, the combustion of coal pours into the atmosphere quite a considerable amount of fluorine compounds, because coal may contain anything up to 180 parts per million of fluorides which are, of course, extremely irritant and toxic substances. Some years ago there took place in Belgium a terrible disaster due to fog—the Meuse Valley episode—which was investigated by an eminent authority upon fluorine poisoning. He came to the conclusion that a considerable number of deaths which then took place were due to fluorine poisoning. This is a subject which also deserves consideration.

Recently, there was a discussion at a meeting of the American Chemical Society of this problem of pollution of the atmosphere. It was pointed out that there also go into the air oxides of nitrogen which are due to the compression and heating of air in engines—air contains, of course, a large amount of nitrogen—or to the burning of air in furnaces. At this meeting of the American Chemical Society it was pointed out that the action of sunlight upon these oxides of nitrogen, in conjunction with other chemicals in the air, was capable of causing a reaction which created other new and, in some cases, quite unknown compounds, the toxicity of which has at present been entirely unassessed.

I mention these points because the Bill appears to make little or no provision for research with regard to these matters, research which ought to be undertaken and which ought to form the foundation of some further step to be taken in the future. After all, what we are considering to-day is something that is long overdue and something that we have well known required to be done. It has been the subject of intelligent examination and agitation by the Smoke Abatement Society and other bodies for the last fifty years at least. Let us not delay for another fifty years before we take the further steps which ought to be taken in order to free the air from pollution. This is a good Bill, but it is not a clean air Bill: it is only a cleaner air Bill. Do not let us deceive ourselves that there is not much more to be done.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, the coal industry has often been discussed in your Lordships' House as it has been in another place. When it is not the coal industry, it is some offshoot of it which receives our attention. I have been wondering whether the Fourth Schedule is not the most interesting part of this Bill, because it reminds us of the mass of legislation on our Statute Book dealing with clean air and pollution of the air. I notice that it takes us back to 1845. I spent some time earlier to-day reading the Report of the debate in this House on that Act. Of one thing I am quite sure: our predecessors of 1845 in your Lordships' House did not know much about industry, and they did not seem to know very much about pollution of the air in the mining areas.

Since then something like a dozen Acts have been passed dealing with this very same question. There is no shortage of legislation on this issue, but the mass of legislation has not brought the improvement we expected in regard to clean air. Most of us who have spent most of cur lives in the industrial areas—and I can speak from experience of what it meant to live in a mining area—have noticed that from time to time our health has been affected. It is not possible to live as my noble friend Lord Hall and I did in a colliery district for fifty years, and not know that polluted air affects the health. I am very pleased indeed and grateful that the Government have found it possible to take action so early on the Beaver Report.

It must be remembered that the Beaver Report followed the fact that some thousands of people had died in London because of polluted air. But for years people have been dying by the thousands throughout the country. They had to die in London, they had to die here, in order to get the attention of Parliament. That led to the setting up of the Beaver Committee, and no Committee ever did a better job of work than that Committee. They made the position quite clear. They made some effective recommendations, and I am very pleased to see that, on the whole, those recommendations have been heeded by the Government.

As I have already said, there is no shortage of legislation. Suppose we pass this Bill, and it becomes an Act of Parliament. What guarantee is there that it will do the job? What guarantee is there that the Bill will "do the necessary"? What guarantee is there that in the industrial areas men, women and children will then enjoy clean air? How right the right reverend Prelate was! Those of us who cart afford to live elsewhere do not live in those areas. I say, quite frankly, that when I could I got out of those areas; I got to cleaner air. I left the Wigan area; I left Lancashire. During my lifetime I looked from time to time for cleaner air, and I went to North Wales. Those who live in the industrial areas maintain their health by getting away for periods to cleaner air. It is not legislation that we have been short of, but the taking of action. There is sufficient power in the existing legislation to do very much more than has been done Where does the fault lie? One does not want to apportion blame, but the local authorities in many areas might have done much more than they have done. Clause 27 of this Bill states that the local authorities are to be responsible in future for the enforcement of these provisions. I was delighted that on the first day in Committee in another place the Minister of Housing and Local Government gave this undertaking [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee B, February 9, 1956, Col. 18]: I am prepared to give the Committee an assurance that when the Bill becomes an Act I will consider whether it would not be appropriate for me to send a circular to local authorities saying that, in view of the passage of the Bill and the obvious intention of Parliament to make a drive in this respect, we look to them to exercise their powers on smoke… I trust that he will not only "consider" doing that but that he will take that action. For some reason or another, local authorities have been remiss in the past in exercising the powers entrusted to them to deal with this very problem. We want to make sure that local authorities in the future are encouraged by the Minister to take more action to deal with all offenders.

I agree with the Bill in many respects. I like the statement in the Explanatory Memorandum, that the Bill has four main purposes: (i) to prohibit the emission of dark smoke…(ii) to prohibit the installation… Prohibition is strong action to take. What I want to ask is whether the Minister is quite satisfied that in the defence provided for in Clause 1 he is not to some extent weakening the position. Speaking for myself, and for myself alone, I take no objection to paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of Clause 1. It seems to me that that is a right and proper defence. I would not shelter behind the fact that in the past none of these defences has appeared in our legislation. The Legislature sometimes ought to lay down certain things to give some guidance to those who have to administer in the courts.

I do not feel quite so happy about paragraph (b) of subsection (3), and I feel very unhappy about paragraph (c). I fail to see why it should be a defence to show that the contravention complained of was solely due to the use of unsuitable fuel, that suitable fuel was unobtainable… We need to be very careful about this question of suitability. There is the possibility of testing the suitability of fuel, but this is fuel which will have been used. There will be a record of what kind of fuel it was, and no doubt the inspector will be able to find some of the same quality. Whether advantage can be taken of this provision or not, I do not think the provision ought to be there. It would be a better and stronger Bill if paragraph (c) were not there. There may be an Amendment on the Committee stage to deal with that provision.

The success of this Clean Air Bill will depend almost entirely on the provision of an adequate supply of smokeless fuel, of the right kind and at the right price. Without that, the Bill cannot work; it would be an utter impossibility. I know that it is going to be very difficult, but I hope the Government will persevere in trying to provide adequate supplies of the right type at the right prices. It is as well to remember that the industrial use of coal is 40 per cent, of the total, which leaves a domestic use of 60 per cent. I agree that fuel may sometimes be used wastefully in industry. May I say to the right reverend Prelate that he disturbed me by the manner in which he referred to the miner's free coal? Let it be clearly understood by everyone (I know that many noble Lords, on both sides of the House, do understand this) that it is not free coal: it is often called "free coal," but in fact it is a part of the bargain made between the worker and the colliery. It is a part of his income. He agrees that, rather than insist upon a higher wage, he will accept a certain wage plus free coal. That is all that has happened. The idea of "free coal"—coal that the miner does not pay for—is wrong.

I was more disturbed when the right reverend Prelate said, in a rather quiet voice, I thought, that the miner burns his free coal night and day. I want to remind your Lordships that the miner works night and day, too. Perhaps the father works on the day shift, one of his sons on the afternoon shift and another son on the night shift. What is to be done? These references to the miner not being prepared to play his part are not very helpful. The miner is prepared to play his part, and on this particular issue he says, "I run the risks in getting the coal, and I face all the dangers. Therefore, I am entitled to ask that the result of my labours be used in as economical a way as possible." That is why he is interested in this question of clean air. He knows that. coupled with the clean air policy, there must go along also the question of the better, wiser and more economical use of coal.

How does the Bill try to deal with the problem? It is not very encouraging. It does not give much encouragement that we shall get the supply of smokeless fuel that we require. This Bill will be utterly useless if we do not get a supply of the right kind of smokeless fuel at the right prices. We are told: "We are providing you with a Clean Air Council"—that is brought in under Clause 21. It was referred to to-day by the Minister, and I am very pleased that he said what he did. The purpose of this Clean Air Council is quite good, but I should like to ask the Government why was the Minister in another place so reluctant to give us an undertaking that he would submit an annual report on the work of the Clean Air Council to Parliament? I am unable to understand that. Surely Parliament, having approved the setting up of the Clean Air Council, which is operating for a year, is not asking too much in requesting, at the end of twelve months, a report on how the Council is progressing. What is needed? Is it just financial assistance? I hope that the noble Earl. Lord Munster, will impress upon his colleague the need for looking at this point again. The Minister in another place was most reluctant to give an undertaking.

With regard to local authorities I would ask whether consideration cannot be given to the suggestion that they should be asked to submit an annual 'report or statement to the Clean Air Council, showing what they have been doing each year. This question must be taken in deadly earnest, otherwise we shall fail to get the clean air that we are so anxious to get. I have no more to say except this. We on this side of the House support this Bill. We may move Amendments, but we certainly shall not delay its passage through your Lordships' House. We hope that the minor suggestions we have made will be taken into consideration at a later stage in the proceedings.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I could not possibly complain to-day of the way in which noble Lords in all parts of the House have received this Clean Air Bill, and I am grateful to them, and particularly to the noble Lord who spoke last, for assuring us that we shall have his support and indeed the support of the whole of the Opposition in enabling this Bill to reach the Statute Book at the earliest possible date. I think it is quite true, as indeed was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, in his opening remarks, that as the result of this legislation a big task will await the local authorities in bringing the clauses of the Bill into final operation. I have no doubt whatsoever that they will play their full part to implement the measure, and I am sure, as was said by the right reverend Prelate, that they will administer the Act intelligently and fairly.

In the short time which is available to me, I shall try to reply to some of the many individual questions which have been addressed to me concerning various parts of the clauses and the Schedules to the Bill. It was pointed out by Lord Milner of Leeds, by Lord Amulree, by Lord Douglas of Barloch and by the right reverend Prelate, that there was nothing in this measure dealing with sulphur pollution. It is quite true that the Bill as it stands deals only with visible pollution by smoke, grit and dust. As was mentioned, I think by Lord Milner of Leeds, the sulphur oxides are well known to be injurious to health, and they also cause extensive material damage. But we believe that the problem is an intractable one and cannot be dealt with by legislation. Indeed, we are supported in that view by the Beaver Committee themselves, who recognised that very point and did not recommend any legislative measures to deal with sulphur.

Nevertheless, that Committee gave special attention to the prevention of sulphur pollution from power stations—a matter which has been mentioned two or three times in the course of our discussion this afternoon. We all know that these power stations are the largest single source of emission, and it is recommended that the most efficient practical means of removing sulphur from ' flue gases should be adopted at all power stations in populated areas. My right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has accepted this in principle, and gas washing plants have for some time been in operation at two of London's biggest power stations—namely, Battersea and Bankside. They have undoubtedly proved successful in removing a large proportion of the sulphur which would otherwise be poured out into the air. The plant which is now operating at Bankside is, I am advised, regularly catching about 97½per cent. of the sulphur in flue gases.

These two power stations in London are the only stations in the world which are equipped with the necessary plant for the removal of sulphur. The technique used at the two stations is, I am quite prepared to admit, of a limited application, not only because of its cost (which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree) but also because of the large quantities of water which are required and the large amount of liquid effluent discharged. There is a mare promising method which has now been developed and which I mentioned in the course of the previous debate that we had on this subject. It is a method whereby the sulphur from the gases can be recovered in the form of sulphate of ammonia. I told your Lordships in February of last year that the Central Electricity Authority were installing a pilot plant in one of their power stations for large-scale trials for this purpose. The plant is now nearing completion and it is hoped that it will be in operation in September of this year. That will give us an opportunity to see whether this new discovery, if I may so describe it, will have the success which we all desire to see.

The noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, supported in his observations by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, came to the question of fuel supplies. We are all ready to recognise that the provision of sufficient fuel supplies is vital to the future success of the Bill—indeed, the whole success of the Bill depends upon an adequate fuel supply. Naturally, we, as the Government, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power in particular, have given considerable thought to this question. Just exactly how the transition from coal to smokeless fuel will be effected will depend on developments in the fuel industries, in technical advances in the future and on the demand for the different kinds of smokeless fuel. Nevertheless, we are in complete agreement with the Beaver Committee's conclusion that the objective can be achieved over a period of years.

The domestic consumption of both gas and electricity is increasing steadily and we believe that this trend will continue in the future. The Coal Board expect to produce more solid smokeless fuel for domestic use in the next few years, and increases are also planned in the output of all proprietary low-temperature cokes. As the gas industry expands to meet the rising demand for gas, more gas coke will be available for sale. The increasing use of oil will also help, chiefly by releasing coke for use by domestic consumers. If all these sources of supply are fully exploited, we believe that there will be no insuperable difficulty in finding sufficient smokeless fuel to support a progressive expansion of smoke-controlled areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said, this is vital to the future of the Bill. I will not weary the House by reading the observations which I made in February last year dealing with this particular point, but, as I think I told the noble Lord on that occasion, this matter is very much in our minds.

I now come to deal with detailed points which have been raised. The question was asked whether my right honourable friend would consider in the Bill an Amendment providing for annual reports to be presented to Parliament. I am not sure whether it is necessary to include such a provision in this Bill but I will take the matter up with my right honourable friend in due course. I can, however, assure noble Lords that it is the intention of my right honourable friend to produce an annual report to Parliament in the years that lie ahead, so that noble Lords and Members of another place will be able to follow exactly what has been done by local authorities to implement the provisions of the Bill. The right reverend Prelate suggested that he thought there were too many "practicables" within the Bill. Let me assure him at once that the definition of "practicable" has been revised and in some respects has been considerably tightened up since the Bill was introduced; but I will most certainly go into the matter again to see whether it is practicable to tighten "practicable" still further.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, also mentioned Clause 1 (3) of the Bill which lays down a defence if proceedings are taken against any individual. We believe that each of the defences included in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of that subsection are justified by technical considerations. It is undeniable that dark smoke may be unavoidable, however much care is used, in the circumstances which have been described: namely, it may occur when a furnace is first lit or if there is a breakdown of plant; or, again, if suitable fuel cannot be obtained and some other fuel has therefore to be used in its place. Frankly, our view is that once this has been established, a defence must be provided, otherwise somebody might well he liable to prosecution and conviction for a contravention which has occurred through no fault of his own.

I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, who asked whether Her Majesty's Government could guarantee that the Bill is sufficient; that it deals with all the difficulties, complexities and problems which might arise in the future. I would not go so far. It may well be possible that other legislation will have to be introduced in the years ahead. But I would go so far as to say that the Bill is at least a step in the right direction and we all certainly hope that it may succeed in what it sets out to do. Finally, the right reverend Prelate raised the question of stokers' certificates, a matter to which I believe he referred on a previous occasion in this House. The Beaver Committee undoubtedly recognised the importance of trained stokers, but, having heard the views of those who came to give evidence before them, including the Trades Union Congress, they did not recommend that any form of certificate should be made compulsory. Much has already been done, however, by means of voluntary training courses for stokers and boiler attendants. These are now held throughout the country, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power is giving all the support he can to encourage their continuance. We believe that this Bill itself, when it reaches the Statute Book, will provide a further stimulus to efficient methods of stoking and to good boiler house practice in industry as a means of preventing excessive smoke.

I hope I have dealt with the great number of questions which were addressed to me this afternoon. I will certainly examine with care before the Committee stage the speeches which nave been made this afternoon. I understand, through inquiries I have made, that it will be suitable and convenient to noble Lords on all sides of the House if I put down the Committee stage of this Bill for May 8 next. May I once again say how grateful I am to noble Lords for the manner in which they have received this Bill. I hope that with their co-operation we may quickly see it entered in the Statute Book.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.