HL Deb 10 December 1984 vol 458 cc23-6

3.51 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, with the leave of the House. I shall now repeat a Statement on the Council of Environment Ministers being made by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the meeting on 6th December of the Council of Environment Ministers, at which I was accompanied by my honourable friend, the honourable Member for Coventry South-West, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry. The Council expressed its sense of shock at the recent disaster in Bhopal, and conveyed its deepest sympathy to the Government of India and the people affected. The Council discussed lead in petrol, other vehicle emissions, the limitation of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, the establishment of a Community information system on the environment, and draft Directives on emissions from large combustion plants, waste from titanium dioxide plants, the recycling of beverage containers, and environmental assessment.

"On lead in petrol, the Council reached agreement on a Directive which provides for the introduction of unleaded petrol throughout the Community not later than 1989, or earlier if individual member states wish. The minimum octane levels of premium grade unleaded petrol will be 95 RON or 85 MON at the pump, the octane number of any additional unleaded regular grade was left for member states to fix. Formal adoption of this Directive must now await receipt of the opinion of the European Parliament.

"On polluting emissions from cars; the Council agreed that a high-level working group of officials should report by the end of January on the alternative routes available to secure further reductions in these emissions. This work will provide the Council with an assessment of relevant technologies and examine whether there should be different solutions for cars of different sizes. It will take into account energy and production costs and European traffic conditions.

"A directive on air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide was agreed with minor amendments, and subject only to a parliamentary reserve by the United Kingdom. Agreement was reached on the funding and legal basis of the first phase of an information system on environmental data in the Community.

"The four other proposed directives—on emissions from large plants, wastes from the titanium dioxide industry, the recycling of beverage containers and environmental assessment—were not agreed. The United Kingdom had objections to the first three; in none of these cases were we alone in having such objections. Denmark maintained its reservations on the fourth.

"The Council accepted a proposal by the United Kingdom that the Commission should be invited to consider, and report on, ways of ensuring that the environmental concerns are taken into account in the Community's agricultural policies. I also recorded our concern that the Commission's recently proposed Directive on motorcycle noise does not go far enough in dealing with the Smaller engined machines or in setting a sufficiently early date for reductions".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Earl the Minister for his courtesy in repeating in your Lordships' House the Statement which was made in another place. We on these Benches wish to be associated wholeheartedly with the expressions of sympathy contained in the Statement for the people of India at the horrific disaster in Bhopal. It is a man-made disaster; it must never be allowed to be repeated; and it tragically reinforces our responsibilities here today to work with others to avoid and reduce other atmospheric pollutions over which we can exercise some control.

We welcome the progress towards the introduction of unleaded petrol throughout the Community not later than 1989. We warmly welcome the advice in the final paragraph of the Statement which says that consideration is being given to ensuring that environmental concerns will be taken into account in the Community's agricultural policies, especially as it was in this House that your Lordships' impressive all-party accord in this matter was acknowledged in a recent debate by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who gave us assurances along the lines contained in the Statement. I should like to ask a number of specific questions concerning unleaded petrol.

Do the Government accept that there needs to be a unified European response? Is it the general thrust of Government policy to strive for a united front and concerted action especially on a common starting date?

Will the Minister bear in mind that agreement to legislate for lead-free petrol is one thing; agreement on the introduction of new standards of exhaust emission is another? Do the Government have in mind a definite date for Britain to introduce lead-free fuel? If other member states have already instigated a programme for its introduction—and I have in mind statements made by Germany and France—what inhibits Her Majesty's Government from being at least as swift as those countries to comply? Can the Minister say a little more in respect of the implications for the British motor industry? Have the Government taken fully on board the problems that will arise if the introduction of lead-free petrol occurs at a disparate rate throughout Europe?

I have to say that this Statement, welcome as much of it is, will be viewed as totally and utterly meaningless unless we know when firm regulations will apply to all new cars.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, we on these Benches wish to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement made in another place. Of course we endorse wholeheartedly the thoughts and sympathy expressed at the horrendous accident that has occurred at Bhopal.

There are just two or three questions that I should like to ask the noble Earl with regard to the lead in petrol. Many motorists want to use unleaded petrol, but they are given little incentive to do so. Will any fiscal incentive be given at the pumps for motorists to use unleaded petrol? Also, what efforts are being made by the Government to have closer discussion with the manufacturers of internal combustion engines in order to encourage them to produce engines that are capable of using unleaded petrol?

The other question that I wish to ask is about the alternative routes available to secure reductions in emissions. I am disappointed that there has been no mention of cycle-ways. This subject has been raised from these Benches before. Is the noble Earl able to say whether any major work is being done in Europe or this country as regards looking into the future to provide special cycle-ways which of course by their very nature produce no emission? In fact, the motorist who takes to the bicycle does not cause any emission to be made because he is no longer using his motor car. That is something that we could perhaps encourage and I want to know what is being done in this regard.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome of this particular Statement. To answer some of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and taking first the European aspect, let me say that, with exceptions, the cars that we buy in the United Kingdom come from an industry which is organised on a European basis and we need to do everything we can to enable this industry to prosper. That means proceeding on a European basis if at all possible. But the European Commission proposal in another Directive that all new cars should run on unleaded petrol by 1991 is we believe too late. The Government will continue to press for it to be brought forward, at least to 1989. Early action by the oil companies to make unleaded petrol available in the United Kingdom for those drivers who are keen to use it and whose cars can run on it will be most welcome.

As regards this country being less swift to introduce unleaded petrol compared with our other partners, no, we shall not make it an undertaking, but we shall encourage all companies to introduce it earlier than 1989. The noble Lord. Lord Tanlaw, mentioned in particular measures to encourage the use of unleaded petrol. We are considering what incentives should be provided to encourage the use of unleaded petrol in cars capable of using it, and we are looking at other ways to encourage this, such as pricing policies, and will continue to do so. The noble Lord also asked about cycleways. There is nothing on that subject in my brief, but I shall let the noble Lord have an answer as soon as possible.

I believe that this is a good step forward, and if there are particular points which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, raised and which I have not covered, I shall of course write to him.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, with the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association both strongly echoing the views of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission about the need for a better balance between farming and the environment—on which subject, we understand, the Government presented a paper in Brussels last week; and, incidentally, it is a subject on which both Houses have had Select Committees reporting to the same effect: that there should be a better balance—is there not an obvious need for a White Paper on this subject?

Secondly, may I ask my noble friend whether a copy of the paper on this subject that was presented by the Government in Brussels will be placed in the Library?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as regards the point about a White Paper, I shall of course bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend. On the point about a paper, I understand that it was a fairly short paper which was put before the European Community. I shall ensure that either a copy of it is placed in the Library, or that my noble friend is sent a copy of it.