HL Deb 27 May 1968 vol 292 cc1008-28

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill was promoted by my honourable friend Mr. Robert Maxwell in another place, and its purpose, as the Long Title says, is to make further provision for abating the pollution of the air". It extends and modifies the provisions of the Clean Air Act 1956, in the light of experience gained and improvements in techniques. Anybody who has recently seen the front of the National Gallery, the beauty of the stone of the old Treasury building or the scrubbing of Nelson on his column, and has rather casually wondered why all this had not been done before, is only accepting for granted the clearer and cleaner atmosphere which has quite quickly come about in London since the passing of the Clean Air Act 1956. Before that, all this expense and hard work would have been wasted, because the continual pollution and the few smogs would soon have painted over the newly cleaned stone with a coat of standard London grey. But there is now a good chance that all this brightness and whiteness will last a long time, and it is certain that the enactment of this Bill will ensure that the need for washing these buildings will arise very seldom.

This greater cleanliness of surroundings in London and throughout the country is a very pleasant sign of the much more healthy atmosphere in which we are living. Industrial air pollution was first tackled in 1863 by the Alkali Act. This Act, and its several successors, abated principally the hydrochloric acid given off by alkali works, but it also abated many other noxious substances. After the First World War certain cities, such as London, Coventry and Manchester, quite successfully started tackling general smoke pollution, but it was not until after the great London smog of 1952 that general legislation was considered to get smokeless zones throughout the country. A Committee, under the late Sir Hugh Beaver, was set up to see how it could best be done, and the result was the 1956 Act, promoted by Sir Gerald Nabarro and backed with great enthusiasm by my noble friend Lady Summerskill.

If, again, one wonders why so little was done about the matter earlier, the answer is, partly, that it so often needs a disaster before we get around to doing something; and, partly, that the means for smoke control were either not generally known or were not generally available. Industrial furnaces need to be fitted with traps for grit and dust which will work properly without reducing efficiency too much and without being prohibitively expensive to fit or to operate. Also, to have domestic smoke control there must be enough smokeless fuel for everybody. The increasing use of oil has helped reduce smoke pollution; smokeless solid fuels have become more available, and there has been a rapid advance in the techniques of grit and dust arrestment in industry.

However, it is still very difficult to do anything very much about catching fumes. One can catch dust quite simply, but fumes need much more complicated apparatus. When this Bill was introduced in the Commons it was hoped to be able to include statutory provisions against the emission of fumes, but it became clear that fume control is still imperfect and extremely expensive The best way of coping with this problem at the moment is by having chimneys which send the fumes high enough so that by the time they come down they are so diluted that they can be more or less disregarded as a health hazard or a nuisance. This technique is extremely successful. One of the most troublesome gases is that of sulphur dioxide, which turns into highly corrosive sulphuric acid. But tests have recently been carried out around a new coal-fired station at High Marnham, in Nottinghamshire, which show that only a small part of the sulphur dioxide falling on the surrounding countryside was actually coming from the power station. Most of it was coming from towns some of which were twenty or thirty miles away.

I think I should draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that industry is far from being the chief culprit in air pollution. When one thinks of smoke one tends to think—at least, I do—of great chimneys belching beastly black smoke over everything. I suppose that is because the chimneys are very easy to see. But it was estimated in 1956 that industry was responsible for about one-third of all smoke, and domestic chimneys for about two-thirds. Since then, industry has so successfully put its chimneys in order that it has reduced its smoke emission by nearly 75 per cent.; and already by 1965 industrial smoke was contributing to only just over one-fifth of total smoke pollution. The remaining four-fifths or so was coming from domestic chimneys, so this is where there is the (greatest room for improvement.

It is estimated that so far about 45 per cent. of premises in black areas—that is, particularly heavily polluted towns—have been covered by smoke control orders, and one of the objects of the Bill is to speed up the introduction of smoke control areas by those local authorities which have been left behind by the others. It can be, I think your Lordships will agree, a selfish thing for a local authority not to make an effort to abate smoke emission in their district. The prevailing wind will likely bring comparatively clean air into the district from another smokeless zone, while the district's smoky air will be deposited downwind on others who neither made it nor can do anything about it. This Bill, which has been worked out in consultation with local authorities, gives the appropriate Minister power to require local authorities to submit programmes of smoke control, and to get them to carry them out if he thinks they are not doing enough about it.

I will now run your Lordships shortly through the Bill, which has an excellent Explanatory Memorandum. Clause 1 is to control the emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises. This does not apply to bonfires or roadworks; and chimneys are already controlled under the principal Act. It applies to the burning in the open of rubbish and waste materials; and there are powers for the Minister to exempt certain materials, such as explosive materials, which have to be burnt in the open for safety's sake, or to exempt builders' rubbish on demolition sites. Clause 2 modifies and replaces Section 5 of the principal Act. It is not yet practicable to legislate against fumes, as I said earlier, but this clause gives the Minister power to prescribe by regulation limits on the quantities of grit and dust which may be emitted from the chimneys of furnaces above a certain size.

The main purpose of Clause 3 is to lower the size of furnace from one ton an hour to 100 lbs. an hour, or equivalent, to which grit and dust arrestment plant has by law to be fitted. Clause 4 provides for special exemptions to Clause 3, and for people to appeal to the Minister against the refusal of a local authority to grant an exemption. Clause 5 deals with the measurement of grit, dust and fumes from furnaces. Larger furnace owners will be expected to measure their own, as they are now. The local authority bears the cost of measuring emissions from smaller furnaces in those cases where, at the owners' request, they come themselves to carry out the job of taking the measurements. This is because some of the measuring equipment is extremely expensive, and it is not right to ask small firms to buy their own measuring equipment.

Clause 6 is very important. This gives the local authorities a more complete and satisfactory power of control over the height of chimneys. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government have produced a very jolly booklet, which I could lend any of your Lordships, from which can be calculated the height of a chimney in a few minutes if you know the size of furnace. It is confidently expected that the powers in this clause, which are subject to appeal, will considerably reduce the effects of industrial pollution. The local authority will have no power over what the chimney looks like. That, of course, is left to the planning authority. Clause 7 empowers the Minister to make regulations applying to fumes—that is, particularly to fumes defined in Clause 13—emitted from those furnaces described in Clauses 2 and 3 as and when methods of fume control become practicable and economic; and I may say that the Minister will not make regulations under this clause without prior consultation with industry.

Clause 8 is the clause which empowers the Minister to require the creation of smoke control areas. Clause 9 is rather sensitive, but it has been very carefully drawn. It makes it an offence to buy or to sell for delivery any unauthorised fuel for use in a smoke control area unless the building, fireplace or boiler is exempted. This means that a fuel merchant will not have to move his premises out of a smoke control area if he wants to sell unauthorised fuel for burning out of the smoke control area. Clauses 10 and 11 are administrative, and I think I need not say very much about them. Clause 12 makes it clear that any power of the Minister under the Act is by Statutory Instrument, subject to annulment in either House. Because the emphasis in this Bill is on the tempering of idealism by practicality, the last clause, Clause 15, says that the Act will come into operation on a day appointed by the Minister, and that he may bring in different parts of the Act in different parts of the country on different days if he so wishes.

My Lords, I hope I have shown that this is a good and practical Bill. I have every confidence that it will have the firm support of your Lordships; and, that being the case, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if, before I close, I make a philosophical point—because this Bill is a fairly unusual beast. Though it affects so many people—every-body in the country, in fact—it is completely non-Party and, in principle, non-controversial. Yet it contains all those ingredients which we are not supposed to like very much. It is yet another piece of legislation; it involves controls; it means more bureaucracy; and it gives less individual freedom. Yet it is thoroughly desirable.

Because so many of us live so close together, all contributing our little share to the pollution of the atmosphere, we have to find some means of abating smoke and dust. It is not just a matter of cleanliness. It has been estimated that about 4,000 people died from the effects of the great smog in 1952. The smog of 1962, which was caused by similar meteorological conditions and was of a similar duration, caused the deaths, it is thought, of between 400 and 750 people. Although that is still bad, it is clear from these figures that things are getting much better. But the effects on health of air pollution are still very great, although of course they are inestimable. Although we already lead the world in air pollution abatement, the measures in this Bill will go a long way towards making both our towns and our countryside healthier places to live in; and, as that above all else could hardly be a more excellent purpose, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Raglan.)

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is interested in this subject, and I am particularly sorry to hear that he is not well enough to attend here to-day to reply to this debate. I feel sure that I can speak for everyone present in saying how much we look forward to seeing him again in good health very soon. Meanwhile, I am certain that the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, will be a fully adequate substitute in dealing with this debate on behalf of the Government. I should like to express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, not only for the clarity of his speech but for his action in introducing this Bill which has passed through another place as a Private Member's Bill. A great deal of work is involved, as I know from experience, in piloting a Private Member's Bill, and it is fortunate that this Bill has found so ready and, evidently, so ardent and philosophic an advocate.

I welcome the Bill particularly as one who developed a keen interest in the whole subject of clean air when I became the Minister responsible, some six months after the Clean Air Act 1956 had reached the Statute Book. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, emphasing that the efforts to clean the air we breathe did not start merely in 1956. Although that was the first Clean Air Act, Governments and chemists have been struggling with this problem for well over 100 years, going back to the first soda plants in this country when the Leblanc process was brought from France and caused an almost intolerable pollution. I do not know how many of your Lordship; are aware that in the earlier part of the last century, particularly in South Lancashire, there were taking part in the agricultural industry, if I may so call it, people who gained the name of "alkali farmers". They were reputed to make more money by their claims to compensation for loss of crops, due to the pollution of the, air by the soda plants, than their neighbours who were doing what I might call straight farming and not having to contend against pollution.

But, my Lords, in that and in so many other respects there has been an enormous improvement. If any of your Lordships are interested in the more difficult technical problems of keeping the air clean, I would warmly recommend to them the Annual Reports of the Chief Alkali Inspector. I am no technician and no chemist, but I found those Reports so interesting when I was responsible for presenting them to Parliament that I have continued to read them ever since. For example, your Lordships may care to look in a recent Annual Report of the Chief Alkali Inspector at two comparative photographs, one of the town of Widnes, taken not long ago, and one of the same view over Widnes taken at the turn of the century. The difference that has been made to the atmosphere by the Alkali Acts and by the control of fumes and pollution is almost unbelievable. I say that in no disrespect to the town of Widnes, which was one of the earliest victims from pollution and which in this century has been one of the greatest gainers from technical advance and from efficient enforcement of the law.

I like to mention the efficient enforcement of the law, because the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, seemed to fear, in his philosophic excursion, that perhaps this was, or might be thought of as, a wholly restrictive measure. On the contrary, I believe that all the work done on clean air has been the opposite of restrictive in its administration and in its effect. I can claim no personal credit for the Act of 1956, because that was piloted through another place by my precedessor, Mr. Duncan Sandys. To him and to the late Sir Hugh Beaver, in particular, I think the country owes a great debt. If I remember aright, it fell to me to preside over the first meeting of the Clean Air Council which was set up under the 1956 Act; and Sir Hugh Beaver was an invaluable member of that Council.

The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, mentioned, rightly, the shift in culpability as between the domestic fire and industrial smoke over the last few years. I agree with him that now the industrial pollution has been so greatly lessened that it is estimated to be responsible for no more than 20 per cent. of the smoke pollution to-day. If he goes back beyond the 1956 Act, he will find that fifteen or sixteen years ago it was estimated that there was an equal balance, fifty-fifty, as between the culpability of industrial and of domestic smoke. That does not mean that we should relax our efforts on the industrial side. It does mean that very great additional efforts are required on the domestic side if we are to receive the full benefit of clean air.

My Lords, this Bill appears to me to be founded on the ten or twelve years of experience that we have had since the 1956 Act came into force. It is founded, as I see it, not only on the practical experience of the working of the 1956 Act but also on the advances in science and techniques that have been achieved during those ten or twelve years. So I think it can fairly be said that the Bill is in no sense a criticism of any shortcomings in the 1956 Act, which was an all-Party measure, but that what it does is to recognise that, now that we have discovered how much more can be done, these provisions will make it possible to do more. I should be grateful if at some stage in the proceedings on the Bill either the noble Lord himself or the noble Baroness, on behalf of the Government, would indicate whether the provisions now in the Bill are broadly agreed with all concerned. I know that a great deal of trouble was taken before the Bill was introduced, and indeed during its passage through another place, to try to mould it so that it would be generally acceptable. But I think it is a point on which your Lordships might like to have reassurance before we reach Committee stage.

As to the substance of the Bill itself, I confess that I find it difficult to make a Second Reading speech because really the clauses are related in only one way; that is to say, they are related by their all being practical improvements which have been brought to light since 1956. There is no underlying theme except that. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will forgive me if in the rest of my short speech I do little more than mention points which, on another Bill, might be more suitably raised in Committee. In this Bill I doubt whether there will be Amendments put down in Committee. The Bill was substantially improved in Committee in another place, and so I think it would be fairer for me to raise these points—there are very few of them—at this stage.

I welcome Clause 1. I was not quite sure whether I understood how the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, could be right when he said that the clause excluded bonfires. It appears to me that if someone did light a bonfire on industrial or trade premises and created dark smoke, that would be caught by this clause. I think it important to mention bonfires. because I happen to remember from my constituency correspondence that when the 1956 Act came into operation and smoke control orders were made in various parts of the big cities (including the borough of Hampstead where the noble Baroness and I both were living at the time) considerable doubts existed about whether you might be committing an offence if you got rid of your garden rubbish by lighting a bonfire. If I recollect rightly, it was established that if you burned this rubbish in anything approximating to an incinerator with a small chimney at the top, you might be committing an offence unawares, but so long as there was no chimney attached you could burn your rubbish in your garden with impunity. Bonfires loomed large enough in the aftermath of the 1956 Act to justify my asking now exactly how bonfires come into, or stay out of, Clause 1.

The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, rightly said that, as originally introduced in another place, Clause 2 covered fumes as well as grit and dust, but now there is no mention of fumes in Clause 2 as amended in Committee elsewhere. I cannot help thinking that this Amendment should have been carried through into the Explanatory Memorandum and into the marginal summary of the clause. The Explanatory Memorandum says: Clause 2 enables the Minister of Housing and Local Government (in Scotland the Secretary of State) to prescribe limits on the quantities of grit, dust and fumes which may be emitted from chimneys of furnaces. As I read the Bill, in the form in which it is presented to us, Clause 2 does not mention fumes, and it is only when you come to Clause 7 that you find that the Minister can by regulation apply to fumes the provisions of Clause 2. It seems to me, therefore, that the marginal summary—"Emission of grit, dust and fumes from furnaces"—needs amendment, though I doubt whether it is part of the legislation. I have never seen an Amendment put down to the marginal summary of a clause, but perhaps the noble Lord would look at that.

I will quickly pass over all the technical clauses in between, and come to Clause 8 which gives the Minister power to require local authorities to take steps to create smoke control areas. No doubt the granting of this new power to the Minister has become necessary because of the relatively slow advance of the spread of smoke control areas in some parts of the country where there is sufficient pollution in the air to justify them. It would be helpful if at some stage we could be told a little more about the justification for this clause. I lake it that, although 45 per cent. of all premises are now covered by smoke control orders, it is emerging that in some parts of the country local authorities have been slow to act, and therefore it seems desirable for the Minister to step in. I know that during the four years when I was responsible (it was, of course, only the first four years of the operation of the 1956 Act) it was becoming apparent that local authorities responsible for areas in or near certain coalfields were reluctant—I think on grounds of local employment—to take steps to prohibit the use of domestic coal. It is not an easy matter to deal with, because there may be very strong feeling in such areas, but clearly in the national interest it is not desirable that there should be any areas where there is pollution and yet no action is being taken about it.

My Lords, before I pass from this clause, may I say that it would be helpful if the Government would inform us (may I assure the noble Baroness that I am not pressing at this stage for replies to questions of which I have not given previous notice) whether they are satisfied about the availability of supplies of smokeless fuel in connection with this new power which is given to the Minister. I know that I had to consider all the time, in relation to the spread of smoke control areas, that it was useless to encourage or indeed to allow local authorities to go ahead and create smoke control areas unless one was satisfied that there would be sufficient supplies of smokeless fuels. Otherwise one might simply be creating scarcities and pushing up prices. I think that in relation not only to Clause 8 but to the general drive for clean air it would be helpful to know how the Government assess the smokeless fuel position now.

I should like to know whether the provisions of Clause 9 are likely to create difficulties in coalfields over miners' coal. It is not very much use a miner having an entitlement of coal from the Notional Coal Board if he finds that it is not possible for him to use it. Indeed, under the provisions of Clause 9 a miller might find that he was committing an cffence if he used the coal provided for him by the N.C.B. These difficulties may by now have been cleared up without my being aware of it, but certainly ten years ago this was a considerable problem. and no one would be more delighted than I to hear that it has been alleviated.

I hope that the provisions of Clause 11 will not give rise to any anxiety on the part of your Lordships. The clause, as I read it, takes away from local authorities control for all clean air purposes of premises which come under the Alkali Acts. Indeed, it is a simplification of the control, and that seems to me an excellent thing. Sometimes there was a certain amount of controversy between the local authorities and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, as the controlling Department, about whether a particular process should be under the control of the alkali inspectors or the local authority. One sometimes had sympathy with both sides; one certainly had sympathy with those who were trying to run a business and to comply with the law and who wanted to be quite sure that they were responsible to only one source of control and not to two.

In my opinion the majority of local authorities have assumed their additional responsibilities under the 1956 Act and discharged them well, despite the need for Clause 8. Certainly for my part I had great confidence in the Alkali Inspectorate, a small section of a big Government Department, which seldom gets into the news, even into the Parliamentary news. In four and half years I hardly ever had to defend the Alkali Inspectorate against any Parliamentary criticism, or indeed to explain anything it was doing. In passing, may I say that I have never understood who gains by there being a separate Alkali Inspectorate for Scotland. Whether this goes back to some early phenomenon of Scottish nationalism, I do not know. It always seemed to me that in this highly technical work the experience of the Inspectorate ought to be spread over as large a number of works as possible. I cannot really believe that anyone in Scotland gains by the Alkali Inspectorate there being separate from the Alkali Inspectors in England and Wales, who cover so wide an area and must thereby gain rich experience.

I was fortunate because in my time the Chief Alkali Inspector was Dr. Carter, now retired, one of those invaluable public servants who are little known to the public. I do not think he would mind my repeating in Parliament a remark which he made to me one day before he retired. He said: "Minister, some people criticise me because I am not always instigating prosecutions. I measure the effectiveness of my work less by the number of people I prosecute than by the number of millions of pounds I get British industry to spend on research". That strikes me as exactly epitomising the constructive approach rather than the restrictive, to which I referred earlier in my speech. I have no doubt that Dr. Carter's great work is being admirably carried on by his successor as Chief Alkali Inspector.

I apologise if I have raised a number of small points on this Bill, but it is not a Bill that one can argue about in principle. I believe that the main purpose of the Bill is universally accepted—that is, to make the 1956 Act more effective. In another place it aroused short debates and no serious controversy. One reason why it is desirable that we should debate it adequately here on Second Reading is that in another place, for a special reason, it had only 23 minutes' debate on Second Reading and less than 1½ hours of debate altogether. My impression is that most of the points which might have attracted criticism were remedied in Committee in another place. I, for one, shall wish it a smooth and swift passage through your Lordships' House.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Amulree was going to speak on this Bill. I think he was going to welcome the Bill but object that it does not go far enough. I want to raise two points. The first I consider to be an important one: that is, about fumes from motor vehicles. So far as I can see, this Bill does not deal with petrol or diesel fumes and I do not see why it should not. After all, it is dealing with clean air, and anything that can cut down the filthy fumes from motor vehicles in our towns and cities is to the good. The other point is a small one. Farmers—and, as your Lordships know, I am a farmer—use weed-killers, and the toxic smell of some of these is absolutely filthy. Not only is it filthy but it is dangerous. I think that in the case of these toxic fumes some restriction should be imposed on farmers in using these sprays when, for example, the wind is over 5 m.p.h. That is all I have to say.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention to speak long on this Bill, but I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, for taking charge of it in this House and to wish the Bill well in its further progress. I would endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, had to say about the development of an atmosphere favourable to the acceptance of a clean air policy. That has been going on for a considerable period of time. The Clean Air Act 1956 was a great step forward and this Bill is an automatic development of the enlightened local authority line of approach. It has not been an easy task. For a long time coal was our chief fuel. Although the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has indicated considerable progress in industry, the changeover seems to have been slower among domestic users. But local authorities have been empowered to make grants to assist householders in converting from ordinary coal fires to fires using smokeless fuel. I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Serota, when she comes to reply, can say what expenditure has been incurred by local authorities in making grants towards conversions.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, posed the difficulties, particularly in coalfield areas, where miners have concessionary coal. I want to pay a compliment to the National Coal Board for the efforts they have made to encourage people to go on to solid smokeless fuel. The department they have established has done a wonderful job of work. They have conducted a lot of research into this type of fuel and have experts who are available to anyone who is building a new house or is thinking of conversion from coal. I also want to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the electricity power generating stations. In my old constituency, I took considerable interest in their development. We used to get many complaints about the grey dust that came from the old stations, but now a new type of smoke control has made it possible to clean the dense smoke that used to be there and make it 97½ per cent. free of dust. This is an important step forward and emphasises what the noble Lard, Lord Brooke, said is relation to industry paying careful attention to trying to eliminate this nuisance.

In my old industrial constituency we have various measuring points for atmospheric pollution. At one particular measuring point we had a 12 per cent. atmospheric pollution. That is a very serious matter. Anyone travelling by air over the city of Newcastle and looking down will see that all the smoke is funnelled into a given direction, which indicates the atmospheric pollution that takes place. We have heard a good deal about lung cancer being created by smoking cigarettes. I hold the view that the atmospheric pollution in our industrial areas is a larger contributory factor to lung cancer than cigarettes, and I think this is borne out by the statistics of respiratory diseases in these industrial areas. One finds that the figures for respiratory diseases and lung cancer, in particular, are of a much higher percentage than those for the open country.

The Bill enables the Minister to make Orders. I am sure this will be done. I want to see clean air as speedily as possible, but there are difficulties. I know local authorities, particularly in the mining areas, who are very much concerned because they feel that if their area is zoned as a clean air area it will do away with the livelihood of their people. I think I am correct in saging that in this direction the National Coal Board have again been most helpful, because, as I understand it, where there is concessionary coal for miners and they have to convert to solid smokeless fuel, the Coal Board are prepared to recompense the miners financially for forgoing their concessionary coal. That is a great step forward. It indicates the forward thinking that is taking place. I ant sure that this Bill, with the automatic development of the working of the 1956 Act, is a good step forward, and I welcome it very much.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned an area of South East Lancashire that I represented for nearly twenty years. I live on the other side of the border, and I was a recipient of their smoke for many years. It was only the 1956 Act which really gave me an opportunity to seek salvation. As soon as the 1956 Act became law, I started some propaganda in my constituency about the smoke that was being deposited on me. At that time, the only hedge that I could grow was a privet hedge. Anybody who knows the ubiquitous privet will know that it is not exactly a thing of great beauty, but when it is the only thing that you can grow, because it likes smoke, you are very glad to grow it. The flowers that we used to grow in the garden used to suffer as well.

To cut a long story short, I may say that when we established our smokeless zone in Ashton-under-Lyne it made an enormous difference to the health of the countryside down wind. For instance, I used to have my white paint washed down three times a year, but now it is quite adequate if it is washed down once a year. That is, of course, an economy which is appreciated by everybody. But I do not think the propaganda that we have put out in support of movements like this has been intelligent or adequate enough. If in areas like ours, where bronchitis has a very high incidence indeed, you can bring it home to people before you start introducing any of these things that their health will benefit by a reduction in smoke, then you are half way there. Instead, what a lot of local authorities have done is to start the argument on the basis of economics instead of social advantage. Where the local authorities have gone wrong, they have done so mainly on the question of comparison between the cost of smokeless fuel and conventional fuel. I would make the plea that an effort should he made to furnish local authorities with this admirable idea and with the means for propagating it. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House will regret the absence of my noble friend Lord Kennet from the discussion of this Bill to-day, and will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery, especially in view of the important matters that will be coming to your Lordships a little later in the week in which he is both closely involved and deeply interested. I should like also to join with noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating my noble friend Lord Raglan on his presentation of this measure to us to-day. He has not only explained clearly the details of the different clauses that make up the Bill but, together with other noble Lords who have spoken, given an interesting account of the development of the control of air pollution, both before and after the 1956 Act, from which we go forward with his measure to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has, with his usual courtesy, indicated a number of points which he would like to discuss further on the Committee stage of the Bill, but I hasten to give him one assurance at this stage, which I think the rest of the House would also wish to hear—that is, that this Bill is presented by my noble friend Lord Raglan with the consent, and indeed the co-operation, of all interests concerned including Central Government and the local authority associations. And here one would like to pay particular tribute to the Confederation of British Industry, who assisted the noble Lord in the preparation and drafting of the Bill, the Clean Air Council and all the other interests who have been foremost in the field of controlling air pollution, and thus creating not only a better environment, but also reducing ill-health in our community and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, has just so vigorously pointed out, the load on the housewife. I myself realised only as he was speaking that the reason why I can now do the spring cleaning in the Summer Recess instead of at Easter is that I now live in a smokeless zone and the white paint can wait that much longer.

I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Popplewell that I have not with me at the moment the information for which he asked, but I will let him know the level of local authority grants to householders who wish to convert solid fuel appliances to the use of smokeless fuel. I agree with those noble Lords in their concern about the availability of smokeless fuel. I will try to give the House that information at the Committee stage.

I will conclude by joining with other noble Lords in wishing this measure every possible success and a swift passage through the House. Judging by the debates so far, I think the noble Lord can anticipate little difficulty, and he will know that we are all with him in the object of his exercise; namely, clean air.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I can answer straight away the question put by my noble friend Lord Popplewell. A man who has to convert his fireplace to burning smokeless fuel gets a grant of 70 per cent. of the cost from the local authority—40 per cent. coming from the Treasury and 30 per cent. directly from the local authority.


My Lords, I accept those percentages, but the question I was asking was about the gross total being expended by local authorities.


My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in possession of that information.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor was complimentary. He showed an enormous knowledge of the clean air legislation, and I am pleased to find that he uses the Alkali Inspector's Reports as light reading in the evenings. I have found it an extraordinarily interesting subject, and when I made my philosophical discourse towards the end of my speech and spoke about the restriction, I was referring, of course, to restriction on the individual freedom to burn whatever fuel one likes. This we have to accept if we are going to live together in a cleaner atmosphere. My noble friend Lady Serota referred to something which perhaps I did not make quite clear in my earlier speech. All the measures in the Bill have been agreed by local authority associations and by the C.B.I., and the latter body has been extremely helpful in drawing them up.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked a number of questions. I was referring to domestic bonfires—the ordinary garden bonfire which gives off a white smoke, but I suppose that if you had a few rubber tyres on it and it started to give out black smoke, you might be caught. However, I hope that the Bill will not catch November 5 bonfires. This provision is for people who habitually make a nuisance of themselves.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I did not for a moment think that Clause 1 as drafted would catch the person who burns rubbish in his garden, but when the noble Lord said that Clause 1 would not apply to bonfires it seemed to me that some of those who control industrial and trade premises might think that they could light bonfires there and burn anything they liked.


My Lords, I am sorry if I gave that impression. The noble Lord referred to the marginal note to Clause 2, and the Explanatory Memorandum, and the fact that they still contain the word "fumes". That is a "fair cop". These words were not taken out at the time the word "fumes" was taken out of the Bill but, as the noble Lord said, they are not part of the legislation.

The noble Lord also asked a question in regard to Clause 8, which I think I have already answered. I agree that Clause 9 may create difficulties because of smokeless fuel for miners, where they get smoking fuel at the moment. Of course, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Popplewell they can receive money in lieu of coal, and in some areas I am told that it is a very fair exchange indeed and the money would buy as much coal, if not more. I do not know whether that satisfies the noble Lord, but I agree that it is a thorny problem.

Clause 11 removes from the local authorities the power to apply to the Minister of Housing and Local Government for permission to prosecute a works registered under the Alkali Act 1906. My advice is that in twelve years this power has been used only five times, and not once has a consent been granted by the Minister. Therefore the power is not really wanted and what we are doing is to remove from stock an article which we did not sell and for which there was no demand; and the local authority associations are not objecting.

The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, mentioned exhaust fumes. We cannot in a Bill like this legislate against exhaust fumes. This Bill is backed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and exhaust fumes are a matter for the Minister of Transport. Further-more, the subject of exhaust fumes is a complicated matter and one highly charged with emotion. Therefore we decided that it would be well to leave it alone. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, this Bill is merely an extension of the 1956 Act. The smell of weedkillers may be something to do with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I think that we could not do anything for it in legislation of this kind. I agree that weedkillers make an awful smell and sometimes do an enormous amount of damage, but we cannot do anything about them at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Rhodes mentioned propaganda and said that everybody should learn more about smoke control. I quite agree. But, of course, local authorities already receive a great deal of information from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the Ministry view is rather that if the local authorities do not do what we hope they will do, it is probably not the fault of the Ministry. The information is there for anybody who wants it.

My Lords, I hope that I have answered all the questions that were raised. It only remains for me to thank all those noble Lords who have spoken and to express the hope that this Bill will meet with your Lordships' approval.

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