HL Deb 14 May 1985 vol 463 cc1021-3

2.57 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made by the United Kingdom oil industry to produce lead-freepetrol.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, the United Kingdom oil industry is upgrading its refinery operations to produce the premium grade of unleaded petrol by 1st October 1989, as required by the EEC directive adopted on 20th March 1985. Some companies would be able to introduce a regular grade at an earlier date. The Government would welcome such earlier introduction if the companies see sufficient demand from motorists whose cars are able to run on regular unleaded petrol.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that partly pleasant Answer that we are catching up a little with our European colleagues. Nevertheless, is he aware that we cannot continue to allow the atmosphere to be polluted by the pouring out of poisonous lead which, according to the medical profession, is part of the reasons for the present phenomenon of violence among the young? According to medical opinion, there is no doubt that an overdose of lead creates megalomania among children, particularly those who live near such places as Spaghetti Junction.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his partial welcome to my Answer. Perhaps I may say to him that, although the EEC regulation does not come into effect until October 1989, in fact there will be a reduction after 31st December 1985 of approximately 60 per cent. in the contamination and pollution of the atmosphere, due to the reduction of lead in petrol after that date.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Minister please care to inform the House why it appears that the British oil industry needs until 1989 to complete its research into the production of lead-free petrol, in view of the fact that that type of petrol has been on sale in the United States for a number of years and in view of the fact that Japan is proposing to have 90 per cent. of its petrol lead-free in a very short time?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments, but I should explain that this is something which cannot be placed at the feet of the oil industry. The oil industry could bring in lead-free petrol very much quicker but the difficulty is that so few cars would be able to operate on such petrol that it simply would not be an economic proposition. The motor industry operates virtually on a European basis and therefore we must move in conjuction with our European partners in this matter. But I can assure the noble Baroness that the delay is not the fault of the oil industry; and indeed this Government would welcome an earlier introduction if sufficient vehicles were able to use the petrol.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, when the noble Lord says that this is a matter in which we must proceed in line with our European partners, is he saying that there is no virtue any more in competition?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, the noble Lord seems to be haunting me these days. No; I certainly am not saying that—not by any means. What I was pointing out to the noble Baroness was that the car industry is virtually on a European basis. In other words, cars are made to operate in all parts of Europe; indeed, they are built in various parts of Europe, are often assembled in other parts and are sold in different parts. So we must move on in conjunction with our partners in Europe.

With regard to the creation of lead-free petrol, it is not the oil companies which are reluctant to proceed; it is the fact that there would not be a market for the petrol if they were to proceed too quickly.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the real sticking point of course is the design of the engines, some of which at present require lead in the petrol? Would it not be a good thing if he pressed manufacturers rather harder to produce cars which could use lead-free petrol as soon as it is produced rather than lagging behind in this way?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, it is not really a question of lagging behind. The only people we are lagging behind are the Japanese, because Japanese cars are the only ones which could reasonably use lead-free petrol at the present time. One cannot make these changes suddenly. They have to be made gradually. If one tried to make the changes too suddenly a great many vehicles would not be able to use the petrol. It is a gradual process. The 1989 European date is certainly further ahead then we should have wished, but there is no reason at all why we cannot introduce the change earlier. As I mentioned previously, as from 31st December 1985 there will be a 60 per cent. reduction in lead content. That is a very major contribution in this country.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the Government give consideration—

Noble Lords

Lord Glenamara!

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, has the noble Lord had his attention called to the very respectable research into the effect of lead in the atmosphere on the intellectual development of children? Is it not a fact that we in the Community are dragging our feet behind the rest of the countries in Europe?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I cannot accept the suggestion of the noble Lord. I do not think that we are dragging our feet. I think that we are moving forward very reasonably, particularly in this country. Perhaps within the Community as a whole we are not moving as quickly as we should like to see the Community moving, but we have at least agreed a document which has given a positive date of October 1989.

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