HL Deb 13 December 1988 vol 502 cc819-22

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many new cars can run on lead-free petrol and whether they will state which models are unable to do so.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, there are about 1,000 model variants of new vehicles on sale in the UK at present. Detailed information about what fuel they can use is available in the New Car Fuel Consumption booklet published by the Department of Transport. There is a copy in the Library. In the first nine months of 1988, only 18 per cent. of the new petrol engined vehicles sold were in the leaded-only category.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he not feel that it is very important to try to get as many people who have suitable cars to turn to lead-free petrol as soon as possible?

Is it not a fact that in 1990 new cars with engine capacities of over two litres will have to have three-way catalysts? It will be most unfortunate if there are insufficient petrol pumps. Will the Minister consider sending out promotional literature with new licences this year? Does he not also agree that many people who could and would convert their cars to lead-free petrol do not do so simply because they do not get around to it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount. I should like to see everyone making an effort to use unleaded petrol.

We shall be sending out a notice on this matter with tax reminders in February next year. It will therefore eventually reach all motorists. Two-thirds of all cars and light commercial vehicles could use unleaded petrol either with or without some modification. I urge noble Lords to look at a booklet which is in the Library to see whether their cars can take unleaded petrol either with or without a small adjustment and, if that is so, to start using unleaded petrol.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the position at present is totally unsatisfactory not only because there are too few garages offering unleaded petrol but also because in many cases people can buy leaded petrol at cut-price garages much more cheaply than they can buy unleaded petrol with 6p off? To give an example, I paid £1.68 per gallon for unleaded petrol, but I can go down the road to Savacentre in Reading and buy it for £1.59 per gallon. But it is four-star petrol at Savacentre and I therefore do not do so. However, many people who are perhaps in straitened circumstances would use leaded petrol because it is so much cheaper.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it should not have to be cheaper because there is the tax differential which allows unleaded petrol to be sold at around 6p a gallon cheaper than leaded petrol. Different garages sell petrol at different prices. I can only hope that all garages will be selling unleaded petrol fairly soon and the differential should then exist. In the UK, 3,000 petrol stations will be selling unleaded petrol by the end of this year. The number is increasing by about 50 or 60 a week. Obviously the more garages that sell unleaded petrol the better.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, as it is desirable to set a good example, can the noble Lord say how many cars in the government pool—including ministerial cars—at present are able to take unleaded petrol? Can he also indicate the percentage of petrol stations in this country that provide unleaded petrol?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the policy is that all new cars bought for the government car service will be capable of running on unleaded petrol. All cars that can be converted to run on unleaded petrol will have that done at their next service. There are obviously still some cars in the service which cannot run on unleaded petrol. As those come up for replacement they will he replaced with cars that can.

The number of garages that sell unleaded petrol is currently about 15 per cent. However, because unleaded petrol tends to be sold at larger garages, about one in four refuellings will take place at a petrol station where unleaded petrol is available.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is it correct that the lead in the ordinary petrol that most of us still have to use is being reduced gradually and that ordinary petrol now has very much less lead in it than was the case two years ago?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, except that she used the words "most of us have to use". As I said earlier, about two-thirds of all cars do not have to use leaded petrol. The amount of lead in petrol has been dramatically reduced over the past few years. In 1981 the maximum amount of lead allowed in petrol was reduced from 0.4 to 0.15 grammes per litre with effect from 31st December 1985.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, can the Minister say what discussions are taking place with the oil companies about this monstrously dangerous continuing practice?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the oil companies are fully supportive of the move to unleaded petrol. We have had numerous discussions with them and, as I say, they are fully supportive.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether using lead-free petrol means that there is any fall off in petrol consumption figures for a model which can use it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe there is no difference in the fuel consumption. It is possible that cars which run on unleaded petrol use slightly more, but certainly not enough to make a difference in the costs.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, there will always be a number of old cars owned by enthusiasts which cannot be converted to run on lead-free petrol. Can the Minister give a reasonable undertaking that for those enthusiasts leaded petrol will be available more or less indefinitely?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that leaded petrol will continue to be available for a good many years because there are still cars being produced today which cannot run on unleaded petrol and they must have a life of some considerable length.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, is it true that the foam used by the fire brigades for fighting petrol fires will not put out fires caused by unleaded petrol as effectively as those caused by leaded petrol? If so, is anything being done about that?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the answer to that question. I saw a report in the press and I have not yet been able to find out whether there is any validity in it.

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