HL Deb 04 February 1974 vol 349 cc564-91

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair]

Clause 66 [Regulations about motor fuel]:


Page 72, line 2, at end insert— ("(c) require manufacturers of motor vehicles to fit systems of exhaust emission controls to all new motor vehicles.").

The noble Viscount said: I want this regarded as a probing Amendment. I am chiefly concerned here with motor vehicles driven by petrol engines. While a number of vehicles are driven by diesel engines, the problem with such engines is not so great. Provided diesel engines are properly maintained they do not emit a great volume of poisonous gases. A diesel engine becomes dangerous when it emits smoke. This happens because the engine has not been serviced properly. In this country we have regulations, and the Ministry of Transport, in conjunction with police, may stop diesel motor vehicles to check on the emission of smoke. I think I am right in saying that London Transport have a check on the power of their engines to ensure that they cannot emit smoke, the engines being not allowed to develop full power.

Motor cars with petrol engines exported to the United States of America have to have some system of emission control to cut down the noxious gases. To me it has always been surprising that if we export motor cars and lorries to America the manufacturers have to obey rules about the emission of gases, but there is no equivalent rule in respect of vehicles for the home market. Apparently it is all right to poison British citizens, but you must not poison American citizens. I quite agree that conditions in America are different from those in this country. Some parts of America are plagued by chemical smog which we do not get in this country where we are very fortunate from the point of view that we are an island, with the Atlantic on one side and the North Sea on the other, and therefore have a lot of wind. In another respect we are not so fortunate about the wind, and we have seen some of the gale damage which has been caused lately. But anyone who walks during the rush hour in London on a hot July day cannot but be affected by the carbon monoxide in the air and the smell of thousands of petrol engines idling while the vehicles are stationary in traffic jams.

Obviously, car manufacturers are reluctant to add to their manufacturing costs, but surely where public health is in danger—and I understand that it has been amply proved that if you get a certain density of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere it is a great hazard to public health—the motor manufacturers ought to be forced by Statute to try to cure the problem even if to do so entails extra expense. I am aware of the great deal of research that has been going on into this problem; but it has been going on for many years and though, as I said earlier, certain strides forward have been made in diesel engine exhaust, so far as I can see very few strides have been made in petrol engines regarding the emission of obnoxious gases. It seems extraordinary that we can walk on the moon, travel through space and do the most marvellous things but we still run about in vehicles that can slowly poison us. We must somehow try to control this danger. I beg to move.


My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, indicated at Second Reading that he would raise this matter at Committee stage and he has said this afternoon that he looks on this Amendment as a probing one. I hope, therefore, that what I say will satisfy him on the points that he has raised.

His Amendment seeks to impose a method by which vehicles might comply with emission standards. The difference between his Amendment and what is Government policy on this matter is that it is Government policy to prescribe emission standards but not to prescribe the methods by which they are met. The fact is that powers to prescribe emission standards are already available under Section 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. These standards can be used, of course, to meet the kind of conditions that he has described. The regulations include those prescribing emission standards for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and smoke.

My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, talked about emission controls of the type used in the United States and elsewhere, such as catalytic converters and after-burners. These are not necessary to meet the emission standards prescribed in the United Kingdom and in most other European countries where geographical, climatic and traffic conditions are different. My noble friend raised the point that there is a difference between cars sold for export to the United States and those produced for the home market. The reason for that of course is that cars for export must meet the conditions imposed by the importing country. We believe that for many reasons, including geographical and climatic reasons, conditions in this country are different and therefore different types of standard apply.

There is, however, yet another point. Even if emission standards as stringent as those in force in the United States were introduced into Europe, the use of American-type control systems would not necessarily be justified. Their use causes increases in fuel consumption, which is a very real point in our present-day difficulties over oil. We hope that advanced designs of engine which are more efficient than the present types may be able to meet the most stringent emission standards without loss of fuel economy; but that is something for the future. I have given this explanation because I hope that it answers the points of my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard and that he will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.


When the noble Viscount comes to reply could he elucidate one point for my benefit. He said that people in London streets were repulsed by the smell of carbon monoxide. Fifty years ago when I used to attend large numbers of inquests on people who had been poisoned by gases of various kinds, we were always assured by the coroner that carbon monoxide was odourless. Let us achieve chemical accuracy for once, shall we?


May I intervene in support of the noble Viscount and say that although he may regard this as a probing Amendment, I personally would have liked to see this provided for in the Bill, for several obvious reasons that the Minister has carefully explained, but also if only to form an incentive. To me, exhaust systems are terribly crude and represent two factors concerning the internal combustion engine: efficiency on the one hand and inefficiency on the other. Gas emission must be coupled with noise, and I am very pleased that the noble Viscount used the phrase "new motor vehicles", presumably to include these dreadfully noisy things called motorcycles. A straight through exhaust pipe of course creates great efficiency but it also creates unused hydrocarbons. It would seem to me that if we are going to leave any air fit to breathe in this country we ought to take the appropriate steps and they should be included in this very apt Bill. Therefore I should very much like to support the noble Viscount in pressing for this insertion because it would create an incentive such as has not existed previously, for the motor engineer to create better exhaust systems.


I never thought the day would come when I should wholeheartedly support the noble Viscount. Always before when he has put down an Amendment I have had great reservations, and sometimes I have expressed them on other matters. But to-day he is quite right in demanding a new standard, and in the next Amendment I shall explain to the Committee why I feel so strongly that the emissions not only from cars but also from other machines should be limited by law.


Could the noble Baroness, Lady Young, explain a little further the phrase which she used in her reply to the noble Viscount regarding "geographical and climatic conditions"? In what respect do these conditions differ on different sides of the Atlantic in regard to this particular problem? To me it is still a mystery.


I should like to thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness who supported me. May I say that I think the noble Baroness is wrong in saying that she has never before supported me. The noble Baroness has very often supported me. I could name about twelve occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, took me up on the question of carbon monoxide. Of course I know that carbon monoxide does not smell, but I was under the impression that I said "exhaust". I meant the smell from the exhaust.


I registered that with great accuracy and attention. The noble Viscount said that the people in the London streets were repulsed by the smell of carbon monoxide.


Were repulsed by the idea of carbon monoxide poisoning the atmosphere. I will put it in that way. I am fully aware that carbon monoxide is odourless; I have done a little chemistry in my time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that we had standards in this country concerning the exhaust emission of poisonous gases, but I do not think she said—I cannot remember, because unfortunately I lost my pen and could not write down what she said—what percentage that standard was. What is that standard? Would it trouble her very much to repeat that part of her answer? What standard have we in this country to improve the gaseous substances in the exhaust emissions from petrol driven engines?


The answer to my noble friend Lord Massereene is that there are powers under the Road Traffic Act to prescribe standards in this country which meet the standards which are current in Europe. I do not have details of all of them, but I will certainly write to my noble friend about this. Perhaps I might take this opportunity to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, who said that he supported this Amendment because it would give an incentive to motor manufacturers to improve their exhaust systems. Again, we do not think this is really the right way of dealing with the matter. We think it is better to prescribe the standards which are to be allowed rather to prescribe detailed methods of achieving those standards. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, asked whether I could describe weather or climatic conditions. I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, said that as we are an island our climatic conditions (because of the Gulf Stream and other factors) combine to give us an atmosphere which is different from that obtaining in the United States. For instance, we do not suffer from the smog that is experienced in New York. I am told that in Los Angeles it is also very bad and that this is very largely due to different atmospheric conditions. For that reason, we have used different methods in dealing with these problems from those used in the United States.


Is the noble Baroness really sure that we on this side of the Atlantic are immune from such conditions? It so happens that just before Christmas I was in Madrid, which is one of the most rapidly growing capitals on this side of the Atlantic, and there they are beginning to suffer from precisely the same conditions as I experienced in Los Angeles.


I would hesitate to comment on Madrid, but the United States' clean air legislation was passed very largely to deal with special conditions in California where the climate and geography cause frequent conditions of petro-chemical smog. We are very fortunate that we do not have such conditions in this country.


I am sure most of us would agree with the noble Baroness that it is not our practice to define methods whereby certain standards are achieved, and of course the Amendment moved by the noble Viscount refers to methods rather than to standards. However, I should be very unhappy if the impression were given that we in your Lordships' House were satisfied with the conditions in our streets in the more congested areas. Those who have to cross streets with a heavy concentration of vehicles in them, with engines ticking over, know how extremely unpleasant this can be. I am not certain as to how deleterious it is to health, but I am only too well aware that it is intensely disagreeable and uncivilised. Therefore I should be sad if we were to take it from what the noble Baroness has said that there is any degree of complacency in Government Departments concerning this question. It may well be that we have set certain standards under the Road Traffic Act of 1972 to which she referred: but certainly we would hope that those standards can be improved. We should have been more pleased had the noble Baroness indicated that there were some proposals for improving those standards. If it means that motor manufacturers have to improve their methods and technologies, as my noble friend Lord Energlyn suggested, so much the better.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. Perhaps I might just point out that on the question of standards I believe I am right in saying that London Transport have drawn up standards which are higher than the prescribed standards. If London Transport can do this, I do not see why it might not be made to apply throughout the country. In the hope that the noble Baroness will "ginger up" her Department on this question, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.26 p.m.

LORD O'HAGAN moved Amendment No. 181:

Page 72, line 2, at end insert— ("( ) Regulations under this section shall provide for—

  1. (a) the reduction of the lead content of petrol; and
  2. (b) the elimination of the lead content of petrol by 31st December 1980.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this Amendment, standing in the name of myself and that of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is unable to be here to-day and has asked me to express his regret. This Amendment covers some, though not all, of the area we have discussed on the previous Amendment, and I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, for providing an introduction to this Amendment. Whereas his Amendment went fairly wide, mine is much more specific and therefore, I hope, more attractive to the Government. It is limited both in its objective and in the way it seeks to reach that objective. For example, it does not prescribe detailed methods, which was the criticism levelled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, against the previous Amendment.

This Amendment concentrates on the lead content of petrol. Your Lordships may wonder why I bother to take up time this afternoon to discuss this—as indeed I have done on previous occasions by means of Starred and Unstarred Questions. I hope to show your Lordships that the object I am pursuing is a worthy one. I would ask the Government, using whatever system or methods they choose and at whatever speed they wish, slowly to eliminate the lead content of petrol until, by the end of 1980, it has been totally removed. I should like to chance my luck by briefly explaining why lead is put into petrol. Although I am not a chemist or a scientist, I understand that lead is put into petrol in order to adjust the octane. This means it is possible to make petrol suitable for high-compression engines, not by refining it closely and with precision, but merely by the addition of a certain proportion of lead. In other words, it is a cheap and sloppy way of refining the petrol in order to make it suitable for high-compression engines.

I move this Amendment because I am not satisfied with the explanations I have so far received from various Government spokesmen that the Government have really examined the probable consequences of putting this lead into petrol. I am not sure they have looked closely at the complex ramifications entailed by this dissemination of lead into the atmosphere (and therefore into our drinking water and food and, above all, into our children). I am informed that about 10,000 tons of lead each year go into the atmosphere and that a great deal of this comes from petrol. I am sure this is a problem which has increased very rapidly over recent years; but it is not something to which we have become constitutionally inured because the number of motor cars, and therefore the amount of exhaust fumes, have increased very markedly over the years. There is always a practical, short-term argument, a money argument. In this case the money argument is that our motor manufacturers, on whom we are so dependent for exports, are accustomed to making cars whose engines are capable of working efficiently only on petrol which has lead in it. This is a reasonable argument, one that I accept, and that is why my Amendment says that the elimination of lead in petrol should not be until December 31, 1980. There will then be plenty of time for engine adjustments to be made.

There is another argument which says that by removing lead out of petrol, one harmful substance, you will cause other forms of pollution. There are hydrocarbons and other wicked substances which you will cause to be put into the atmosphere. This may be so, but let us set this against the other point that we can examine when we are looking at the economic argument against removing lead from petrol. I have driven in a car that works on lead-free petrol. Porsche are manufacturing one now because the Germans are getting ready for lead-free petrol. It is technically and commercially possible. The old arguments on the economic side against taking lead out of petrol are out of date. I suggest that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on February 28 last year (col. 749 of Hansard) in answer to an oral Question are not fully in tune with to-day when we live under the threat of ever-increasing oil costs, and when the price of petrol has accelerated enormously. The noble Lord said: The development of high output and specific power in modern engines has been made possible by high compression ratios and high engine speeds. This requires petrol of a high quality which can only be obtained by the use of anti-knock additives. Lead is the basis of the additives most frequently used because of its economic and technical advantages.

If we talk about high performance and high compression, surely we are not really thinking of modern conditions where petrol is a resource that we cannot afford to throw away as we were doing a few years ago in an almost extravagant manner. Nowadays petrol is something to be conserved. Although the 50 m.p.h. limit may be removed, we are going to be restricted in our use of petrol. I submit that that argument begins to fall down. The noble Lord's comment that lead is the basis of additives most frequently used because of its economic advantages is worrying, because the amount of lead we can obtain is continually diminishing. Lead is a finite resource and is getting more and more expensive. I know this because I have a house which needs lead on the roof and the price increases in the past few months have been phenomenal. There are forecasts that lead may run out within twenty years.

Lead has a deleterious effect on engines; even though it raises the octane level in petrol and makes the engine work better, it stops the engine working in another way by causing rot. I submit that the economic argument is important but it is by no means overwhelming because the health risk is the centre of the matter. This is the real core of my disquiet and the reason why I have troubled your Lordships so often on this matter; because I have not been satisfied, and I remain unsatisfied, that the Government have taken the fullest possible steps to assess the possible health risks of lead in petrol. When we think of lead in petrol we may think, as we did when listening to the discussion on a previous Amendment, simply of noxious fumes in the street. But, long after the car has gone and the coughing passer-by has moved on, lead remains. In the countryside it could be blown on to growing crops or a reservoir holding water for our great cities. It may go anywhere once it has been disseminated from the petrol. We cannot be confident, unless the Government have new figures, that we know exactly where it has not gone. I have figures which show that up to 5 per cent. of household dust in London consists of lead children stick their fingers in lead. The direct causal connection between household dust and car exhaust emissions may not be easy to prove, but we are getting these concentrations in dust and there is a strong possibility that it comes from lead emissions from the exhausts of cars. I would want the Government to be sure that this lead in household dust did not come from exhausts before I can be satisfied with what I take to be their present acquiescence in the situation.

I am not getting into the area of how much lead we absorb from the air comes from cars. I accept that this is a scientific and technical question of great complexity, and it is difficult to assess how much of the lead in the air comes from car exhausts and how much we absorb in our lungs. This is a matter on which scientists differ. It is the wide variety of sources from which we can get lead that ultimately derives from car exhausts that makes me extremely anxious, because while adults may recover from lead poisoning children do not. I understand children are known to have a lower resistance to lead. If a child has brain damage from lead, then that damage is permanent. If dust contains a high degree of lead and this goes into children's mouths then those children's lives will perhaps be spoilt. We do not have controlled experiments on children judging how much dust it takes to damage their brains, but it is known that animals in New York Zoo have died and are dying of lead poisoning because of the amount of lead that they absorb from the atmosphere. I should have thought that that was a worrying enough indication.

When we are talking about tons of lead it is just as well to remember that we measure the effects of lead in one-thousandths of a gramme. There is a scale which indicates the degree of the problem. I do not wish to speak for much longer. A great deal of the lead in our daily intake comes from petrol; the distribution of lead is closer to the clinically recognised toxic levels than any other pollutant, and the health risks do not outweigh the short-term economic dislocation that we might incur if we were to take measures against lead.

I wish to refer to one document, because I understand that whether or not we pass this Amendment the European Economic Community are preparing to take action in this field. I have in my hand a frightening document the reference number of which is about three times as long as my name. On page 17 of this proposal for draft legislation for the E.E.C., it says: At the latest before January 1 1980 the Commission will present proposals for an overall solution of the problem of lead content in petrol. Earlier on it says: As from January 1 1978 regular petrol shall be placed on the Community's internal market only where its lead contents do not exceed 0.15 grammes per litre. Our present standard is likely to be 0.45 grammes per litre by that date. So the Community is proposing at the least a standard three times as stringent as our own. I hope that your Lordships will act in a different way from the noble Baroness on a previous occasion when, on the Endangered Species Bill, she was using our membership of the Common Market as a reason for not acting. I would hope that your Lordships would see that the Community is proposing to take a forward step in this area and that your Lordships can help the Government to live up to their Community obligations by accepting this Amendment. I beg to move.

3.40 p.m.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. He has gone into this subject in some detail. The Committee have listened to him before and we admire the energy and effort which he gives to examining this question of lead pollution. I have always felt that we in this country have taken lead pollution much too lightly. We had a debate last year on the subject of lead dust from a factory which infected the children in the neighbourhood. Their blood lead content was so high that the children had to be removed from the vicinity of the factory to new houses in the country. In central Birmingham a survey showed that the dust inside houses contained up to 3 per cent. of lead, with the highest levels being found in their main roads and in certain factories; no doubt in main roads because of petrol emission and the conditions which the noble Lord has described.

This is of a very serious nature. It is believed by some researchers that the foetus may be specially liable to damage, particularly the developing nervous system including the brain; and this could constitute the most serious aspect of lead pollution. As the noble Lord has said, acute poisoning in children is especially dangerous, leaving the child with permanent brain, kidney and liver damage. All this is not very spectacular in the child—nobody can see it; its legs are straight, its arms are straight, it is not blind, it is not got diphtheria, but there has been damage in ways which can seriously limit the child's expectation of life if not kill it. I am delighted to hear that the European Community has decided to take action. What a pity that we, who are in the forefront of public health in the world, are dragging our feet and that the Community has to come along and show us which way we should go!

I recall last year the amount of publicity given to the factory in South London where the emission of dust was so great that it became a public scandal, with pictures on television and so on. I find it difficult to understand how this can occur again. Only a few months ago I read an account of scandalous conditions in regard to another factory outside which a high content of lead dust occurred and from which children were suffering. In this long debate on the environment—and I congratulate the noble Baroness opposite on still looking fresh despite the fact that she has to answer all these points—we are all speculating on possible sources of pollution. That is as it should be in a debate. But these things are known. We have not got to speculate on these things; these are facts. We know the source of the lead; we know the diseases from which people are suffering as a result of taking lead in their food, in their drink, and, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, by children in industrial areas taking it on their fingers. And yet we sit passively and say that very little can be done.

All I am asking is, if the Government have decided to sit back and not accept any of these Amendments, that at least they stimulate the factory inspectorate. The factory inspectorate is all we have to rely on. They are very small in number, and they cannot possibly sufficiently inspect all the factories in the country to warrant tha this kind of tragedy will not be repeated. I ask the Government, if they refuse to accept Amendments of this kind and refuse to do what the Community has decided to do, at least will they—


May I interrupt the noble Baroness? To be precise, the Commission has proposed this: the Community has not yet fully accepted it.


I understand that as there are nine countries pushing for it there is a good chance of acceptance. All we have here is the factory inspectorate. I ask the noble Baroness to do a little prodding to ensure that factories where lead is emitted in the dust and which are absolute danger zones should be inspected more frequently.


I should like very strongly to support the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in the Amendment he is proposing. I think we are perhaps jumping the gun a little in assuming that the Government are going to do nothing whatever and are not going to write lead into the Bill. I hope that the Government will write lead into the Bill, if not in the words of the noble Lord's Amendment then in some other form, otherwise I think there is no incentive to do anything about the problem. I agree entirely that the effect of lead is subtle and dangerous. It is very slowly excreted from the body. It is stored in the bones and elsewhere and goes on doing its damage. It is very difficult to know when it is reaching a dangerous level and to know exactly where the lead is coming from. You cannot always correlate the amount of lead in the blood and the body with the amount of lead in the ambient air to which the child or the adult has been exposed. This is probably due to some of the facts which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, described; that is, that the lead is being put into the air in large quantities all day long and it settles here and settles there, is blown by the wind and gets into the plants and into the soil, and gradually bodies contain more and more lead. This is an undoubted fact. The dust around us, as the noble Lord has said, contains more and more lead, and unless we are prepared to do something about it quite soon is could become a very serious hazard.

Any medical man will remember in his student days, when studying kidney disease, the interesting story of children in the Northern Territory of Australia who had a very high incidence of chronic progressive and fatal disease of the kidneys. This was traced to the fact that in their dry summers the lead-containing paints peeled from the verandas, and when the rains came the children used to lick the raindrops off the paint; and this mysterious kidney disease from which they were suffering was in fact lead poisoning. In parts of Australia it still exists in that form. I do not know that we are getting much of this in this country. I am not putting it forward as a reason for supporting this Amendment, but as an illustration of the subtlety of lead ingestion and lead poisoning.

I was talking yesterday, or the day before, with perhaps the greatest authority in Britain at the present time on atmospheric pollution, a man who greatly helped the Royal College of Physicians in their volume on atmospheric pollution which was published a few years ago. He agrees that it would be very prudent to have a paragraph about eliminating the lead hazard over the next few years. He emphasises that there are many difficulties; that a great deal of research is still necessary. But the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has given us a six-year or seven-year period for research, so that difficulty is surely met. There is the difficulty of reducing the efficiency of the engine and thus producing fumes of other kinds which may bring other hazards. But these difficulties can be overcome. I think that unless we put something specific into this Bill about the lead hazard, the usual laissez-faire attitude may be in danger of taking over and nothing will be done.

3.53 p.m.


I have no idea how my noble friend on the Front Bench is likely to answer the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. While I have a great deal of sympathy with what lies behind his argument in putting forth the Amendment, I should not like your Lordships to feel that nothing is being done. It is a fact that the petrol companies have continuously been reducing the content of lead in petrol, particularly over the last two years. In very recent months they have in fact reduced the octane rating of quite a number of grades, with not only the lead-content factor to consider, but other points as well. It is a fact that raher than there being a laissez-faire attitude in this matter, the motor industry, through various and different manufacturers and also through MIRA have spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money on experimenting with the design of engines to run on a fuel with a lower lead content. So far their experiments have indicated a higher degree of other emissions which might be even more harmful than the current harm induced by the various emissions in the present petrol.

We have already heard that there are, under the Road Traffic Act, regulations which empower the setting of standards of emissions. I understand that there is a continuing monitoring process going on. It seems to me, therefore, that the Amendment, while drawing attention to the inherent dangers, is hardly necessary, in that we already have in force a monitoring system and regulations. It is equally fair to say that perhaps motor manufacturers have taken the engine as a relatively efficient piece of machinery, based on fuel that has been freely and cheaply available, very much for granted. It is to my certain knowledge that experiments in lower compression engines, using lower octane fuels, are being proceeded with at a far greater rate because of the present position. We have certainly now arrived at a situation where the economic value of running high compression engines en cheap fuel is removed. But let none of your Lord-ships be under the misapprehension that the industry itself has been unaware of health hazards. A considerable amount of work has been done—sufficient work, I would suggest, so that as the years advance, perhaps by 1980, a more complete solution to the problem outlined by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, might well be achieved.


I think the noble Baroness will appreciate that probably many of us feel that what we desire of the Government at this point in time is a firm declaration of intent. It might not be appropriate to put that in this particular clause, though I say that with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who has taken a consistent interest in this matter. I am glad that the clause is an open-ended one and does not confine itself to lead. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has suggested that there may be other ingredients in or additives to petrol which also could be harmful in their various ways. Therefore, we would expect the Government to take a comprehensive view of their duties to safeguard us.

What worries me is this. Why is it that West Germany can have legislation which, as I understand it, is proposing to reach a level of 0.15 grammes per litre in January, 1976, when the rest of us (and in this I include most of the other Western European countries) are not aiming at any such type of standard? I should be glad if the noble Baroness could explain to us the reason why West Germany takes this very stringent view of their content whereas most other countries do not. It is, I believe, true to say that Sweden and Austria have already attained a standard as good as the standard we are merely aiming to achieve in another couple of years' time.

I am not suggesting for one moment that there have not been great improvements even in the last couple of years, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has indicated, particularly in trying to sell grades of petrol which really have more lead in them than is needed for the type of car concerned. This was certainly true a few years back. I think that position has improved. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has indicated, the present relative scarcity of petrol may be sharpening the wits of the motor manufacturers. It is an ill wind. This is an insidious and subtle poison, and it is interesting that two of our medical colleagues have intervened in this debate because they are aware of this danger. It is not one of the more obvious killing substances. It works in much more insidious ways—particularly as my noble friend Lady Summerskill has indicated, the possibility of damage to the unborn child. It may be, therefore, that West Germany, with its memory of the thalidomide tragedy, has been particularly sensitive to this aspect of it. I shall be interested to know what the noble Baroness can tell us about that. What we really need to know now is what we in the United Kingdom are proposing to do. Are we going to wait for these discussions in the European Economic Community to come to finality or are we for once possibly going to take a lead?

4.0 p.m.


I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has for a very long time been concerned about this question of lead in petrol. He has, I know, raised it on previous occasions in the House, and we recognise his great sincerity and concern about this problem. I am sure that the whole Committee have been impressed by what the two doctors—the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and the noble Lord, Lord Platt—have had to say. Both of them have indicated that they, too, regard this as a serious matter.

The Amendment before us falls into two parts. I hope that I can show that the first part is in fact already being carried out. I hope I can say enough to assure the Committee that the Government regard this as a very serious matter, and that we have not in any sense been sitting by and letting other countries take the lead, while doing nothing ourselves— and I was glad to have that confirmation from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, when he spoke. Further, I hope to be able to indicate to the Committee what we are trying to do.


Could the noble Baroness say whether it is obligatory at the moment to reduce the amount of lead in petrol, or whether it is a matter of choice? Is it in Statute that it has to be done, or not?


If the noble Lord will allow me to conclude my remarks, I hope I shall be able to answer his point. What we have said is that we intend to reduce the maximum permitted lead content of petrol to 0.45 grammes per litre by the end of 1975. I think this was the figure the noble Lord quoted. The limit was reduced from 0.84 grammes to 0.64 grammes at the end of 1972, and, as I say, we intend that by the end of 1975 it will be reduced to 0.45 grammes. I hope that indicates that not only do we intend to do it, but we have succeeded in going part of the way.

I should like to confirm that we are engaged in extensive monitoring of air pollution, particularly with regard to motor vehicles. This work is being done mainly by the Warren Springs Laboratory, at Stevenage. Monitoring is being carried out in five cities in the United Kingdom and also in the Cromwell Road, in London. Measurements are taken of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, lead, and nitrogen oxides. I hope I have said enough to indicate that we take this matter seriously and are already going some way to meet the standard we have set ourselves for 1975, and that the noble Lord will therefore agree that we have in fact met the point of paragraph (a) of his Amendment with regard to the reduction of the lead content in petrol.

The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, raised this important point about the European Economic Community. As he indicated, the Government are engaged in negotiating a common policy for the control of lead in petrol within the E.E.C. The position is that the draft Directive sets limits to the lead content in petrol in two stages, coming into effect on January 1, 1976, and January 1, 1978. We are awaiting opinion from the European Parliament before the matter is considered by the Council—the Economic Questions Group. I should perhaps make it quite clear that this Directive is supported by us. I hope I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady White, who asked whether we took a lead in these matters, that in fact we have taken a leading part in the drafting of the European Community Directive on lead in petrol. The standards set in this draft are largely the outcome of British initiative. The noble Baroness is of course quite right in saying that the Federal Republic of Germany has asked for more stringent measures. She asked why it could have more stringent measures than we can. I think the answer is that one can have more stringent measures but at far greater economic cost; and of course one must weigh the balance between the desirability of higher standards and the fact that it would cost a great deal more in terms of the price one would have to pay for petrol, and possibly for buses and cars. However, I should like to make it clear—


Can the noble Baroness give us any information about the order of magnitude of the cost of reducing to the West German level? What exactly would it cost? Has she any idea? Presumably if in West Germany they are prepared to do it, they must know what it is going to cost.


I cannot say what it is going to cost the West Germans, but I can say—because this arises from the second part of the Amendment put down by Lord O'Hagan—that we estimate that the cost of eliminating lead from petrol, while maintaining reasonable quality standards, would be very high. The cost in new refinery equipment is estimated by the petroleum industry to be at least£250 million spread over seven years—that would of course be until 1981. Any lowering of the quality would lead to increased consumption for a given vehicle mileage. So, as I understand it, if there is less lead in petrol, the quality of the petrol is not so good and so the consumption per mile is not as good as it is now, with a consequent increased cost to the motorist. Therefore, there would be an increased requirement at the same time for the amount of crude oil that we should either have to import or to produce ourselves. Therefore, so far as we are concerned, this would be a heavy cost to bear. That is one of the reasons why it would be difficult at this moment of time to accept the second part of the Amendment.

However, I should like to continue to confirm that research is being done into this matter. We are looking at other methods of controlling lead emissions from vehicles; for example, by the use of lead filters in exhaust systems. Such a system is being evaluated by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. It is possible that it will prove to be a more effective and less costly approach to the problem than the other matters being looked at. So I hope I have said enough to indicate that we regard this as a serious matter.

Perhaps I might add one further comment on this question of children suffering from lead emissions, which I know is of great concern to everyone. The evidence that it is coming from exhausts from cars is not completely conclusive. I think it was indicated by one noble Lord who spoke that it may well be that children sucking or licking lead paint on houses may be getting lead into their systems in this way. This is a much more likely source of trouble than emissions from the air. But I should say, further, that a Government Committee are watching the effects of lead from all sources on the human body, and a comprehensive report has been prepared and will be published within the next two months.

If I may summarise these arguments, they are that we believe that we have met the first part of this Amendment. We take this matter seriously. We are aiming for a lower level of lead in petrol, and we have set a standard for 1975. We are actively engaged in these discussions with the E.E.C., in which we have taken a leading part and which we entirely support. We believe that this will be one of the ways in which we shall meet the second part of the noble Lord's Amendment. I hope therefore that, with those assurances, he will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.


While the noble Baroness has expressed excellent intentions on behalf of the Government in this matter, while the Party opposite have been in agreement with those intentions, and while I suspect that the Liberal Party are perfectly sympathetic, although I do not think they have spoken on this matter, would it not be more logical to have provision in the Bill so that the Party, of whatever complexion, which is in power should be bound to these provisions, on which I think we are all agreed?


Perhaps I might ask the noble Baroness about something she said about children getting lead from sucking paint and that kind of thing. I gave an interesting example of how this happened years ago in the Northern Territory of Australia. But am I not right in thinking that there is no lead in paint nowadays, and has not been for a long time? Or am I quite wrong about this?


I think the noble Lord is quite right in saying that there is not lead in paint now. I was referring to old paint on old houses. If I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, I do not think it would be to the advantage of this Bill to include these provisions. For one thing, we believe that we are already meeting them, and we believe this is a better way of making progress on this subject.


May I further say that it seems to me very unlikely that children get more lead from old paint than they do from lead which is being discharged into the atmosphere all day long by millions of cars and vehicles. Lead is a heavy substance which has to settle somewhere. It settles in the dust; it settles on the ground; it settles on vegetables.

4.10 p.m.


I do not feel at all happy about the reply which the Minister has made. This is a very serious problem. If the figure is 10,000 tons—and I am not sure that it is not more than that—10,000 tons of lead in petrol every year is enough to supply every inhabitant of this country with half a pound of lead, is it not? Half a pound of lead is capable of killing a large number of people, and a very small proportion of that, if it gets into people's systems will cause them serious injury. It is true that it is only comparatively recently that much attention has been paid to the problem of the effects of lead upon young children but the evidence is certainly clear that very small amounts can have extremely detrimental effects, and can even produce brain damage which is evidently irreversible.

It is all very well to say that there are other sources from which people may receive lead poisoning. That is true. The Government are not prepared to recognise this completely, but a large number of people are getting lead from their water supply because water is capable of dissolving lead from the pipes. Other people are getting lead from the innumerable containers in which toothpastes and many other things are sold to the public. So it is true that there are other sources of lead; but do not let us get this out of proportion. The amount of lead which is being distributed into the atmosphere from leaded petrols is enormous, and it is a very serious matter. The noble Baroness has said that it will cost a lot of money to put up refineries which are capable of producing petrol of the same octane as that which contains lead, but that is not necessarily the only solution. There are others.

Among other things, there can be modifications to engines which will be capable of utilising petrol with a lower octane. Do not let us shut our eyes to that possibility. We should not acquiesce in the putting of lead into petrol but we are not going about this matter very rapidly, in any case, because the figures which have been quoted by the noble Baroness this afternoon were comparisons of maxima, and the maxima have not been reached for many years. So the comparison is delusive. The comparison which ought to be made is not of the maxima but of the actual lead content of petrol, which is a different story. So I press that this matter should be taken more seriously. Injury to a large number of children will in all probability arise if we continue to permit lead to be distributed in these enormous quantities and that is not to be put into the balance against the cost of either adjusting the petrol or adjusting the motor car so that it can take other fuels.


I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Young would enlighten me on one point. As I understood it, one of her major arguments was that if the second part of this Amendment were accepted by 1980 (or whatever the date is) petrol costs would rise so much and the cost per gallon would be so high that motorists would not be able to motor many miles. But if that were so would it be the end of the world? And is it really the purpose of a civilised society to enable motorists to get as many miles to the gallon as possible, as against every other consideration? Among other considerations which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and others have raised are some which are much more important than the cost of petrol to motorists.


I wonder whether I might answer the two noble Lords who have just spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, spoke about the quantities of lead in the atmosphere. Approximately 10,000 tons of lead in the form of lead and alkyls are used as anti-knock petrol additives in the United Kingdom, and up to 75 per cent. of this amount is emitted into the atmosphere.

I was saying in answer to the Amendment that we are steadily reducing the proportion which is allowed, and we are monitoring that proportion. That is why we believe that the first part of the Amendment is unnecessary. Therefore I hope that answers his question. We are in fact taking this matter very seriously and are taking steps to deal with it. I also entirely agree with the noble Lord about new engines and, as I tried to indicate, research is going on into new exhaust systems. But we must await the results of that research.

The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, asked about the cost of petrol and whether it was worth not accepting this Amendment for that reason. Perhaps I did not make it clear that there are three principal reasons why the second part of the Amendment is difficult. It is not because we are not concerned with this problem; we are. The first reason is that we are involved in negotiations with the E.E.C. at this moment and we must be sure that what we are proposing here, let alone writing it into a Bill, is in line with what is happening in Europe. We are prime movers in setting the standards, which we intend to fulfil. The second reason is that research is going on, to which I have already referred Thirdly, there is the cost to industry. I am not an industrialist and therefore I am not in a position to judge all the arguments, and I certainly would not rest my case purely on the price of petrol because the price may go up for a variety of reasons. But the fact is that we would be requiring industry to spend at least £250 million over seven years. It would also have the consequence of lowering mileages for cars and there would be a consequent increase of imports of crude oils.

If we are to weigh up all these arguments one needs to consider this in great detail rather than write it into a Bill at this stage without having considered all the extra costs, including the extra cost of transport, the carriage of goods and the increased price of all sorts of things which would flow from it. That would need to be considered very carefully against the background of what we are doing and what we propose to do.


Did I understand the noble Baroness to say that we could not move any faster than the European Economic Community? If that is so, is it a principle of the Government that we cannot take steps to safeguard the public health of this country unless the E.E.C. has also taken them?


I am sorry if I have not made myself clear to the noble Lord. I tried to indicate that we have got our own standards that we enforce, but that we are also looking to future standards in the E.E.C.


I do not want to harry the noble Baroness, but would not research be expedited if in fact this Amendment were accepted?


I do not think it would and it would be difficult to accept this Amendment which would automatically oblige us to do certain things when we have not done all the necessary research beforehand


The noble Baroness has summed up the case for the Amendment. She has said that the first part of it is already being done by the Government and that they were taking steps towards the reduction of the lead content This is true; but at any moment they can stop doing so, as they did recently. The effect of that part of the Amendment would be to ensure that the Government are under an obligation to move continually towards a reduction of the lead content of petrol.

I know that when I asked an Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I was perhaps unnecessarily aggressive to him because of spending some time on this subject. I hope I have not been so again to-day; it is certainly not my intention. However, I find it very difficult to follow how the Government use our membership of E.E.C. as a way to prevent this House from doing things, either when we are lagging behind the E.E.C., as in this case, or, as in other cases, when we are going ahead of the Community. All the time we get the argument, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, was saying the other day, that the E.E.C. would stop this. This is not my conception of the E.E.C., seeing it from the inside. I think it is a Departmental bogy. I would ask your Lordships to reject this interpretation of the consequence of our membership of the E.E.C.

Of course, I cannot assess the costs of removing lead from petrol, and what the noble Baroness has said may well have the weight of her Department behind it, and the Alpha minds of the prompters' box may have been working on the matter. I cannot tell whether she is right or wrong; I simply do not know. But what I do say, following the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is that this is not a matter of economics alone. There are also health considerations equally as important as economics and money, if not more so. For those reasons, without trying to be contentious at all, I would ask your Lordships to accept this Amendment, albeit not being wedded to the actual words—perhaps they can be refined at a later stage—but merely to give the Government some incentive to concentrate their minds on this serious matter.

4.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 181) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 55.

Airedale, L. Erskine of Rerrick, L. Platt, L. [Teller.]
Amherst, E. Gaitskell, B. Popplewell, L.
Amulree, L. Garnsworthy, L. Rhodes, L.
Ardwick, L. George-Brown, L. Robbins, L.
Arwyn, L. Henderson, L. Roberthall, L.
Aylestone, L. Janner, L. Rochester, L.
Blyton, L. Leatherland, L. St. Davids, V.
Brock, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Segal, L.
Champion, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Selborne, E.
Chorley, L. Lyell, L. Shinwell, L.
Clancarty, E. Maelor, L. Slater, L.
Coleraine, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Snow, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Merthyr, L. Stow Hill, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Molson, L. Summerskill, B.
de Clifford, L. Moyne, L. Tanlaw, L.
Diamond, L. Norwich, V. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ogmore, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. O'Hagan, L. [Teller.] White, B.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Phillips, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Energlyn, L.
Aberdare, L. Craigavon, V. Hood, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Craigton, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Auckland, L. Cranbrook, E. Ironside, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Croft, L. Kilmany, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Daventry, V. Lauderdale, E.
Berkeley, B. Denham, L. [Teller.] Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Birdwood, L. Drumalbyn, L. Luke, L.
Bledisloe, V. Ebbisham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Bolton, L. Effingham, E. Northchurch, B.
Clwyd, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cole, L. Grenfell, L. Oakshott, L.
Colyton, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Conesford, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rathcavan, L.
Courtown, E. Reigate, L.
Cowley, E. Hawke, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.] Somers, L. Teviot, L.
Sandford, L. Strathspey, L. Vivian, L.
Sandys, L. Sudeley, L. Young, B.
Sharples, B. Tenby, V.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.


In order that the House may hear the Statement on the Quirk Report, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.