HL Deb 22 February 1990 vol 516 cc443-54

7 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—{Baroness Robson of Kiddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Baroness Cox in the Chair.]

Clause [Timetables]:

Lord Hatch of Lusby moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 5, leave out ("bring about the total elimination of) and insert ("prohibit the production and use of).

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment. It strengthens the sense of the Bill and does away with a certain degree of ambiguity. "Total elimination" can mean various things. I am suggesting the words "prohibit the production and use of, which takes the prohibition to its source. I believe that with the substitution of those words the intention and effect of the Bill will be strengthened. I beg to move.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I am very happy to accept the amendment. When I introduced the Bill on Second Reading I was unhappy about the wording because it implied what is perhaps impossible to enforce. I was unable to think of better wording, and I am only too happy to accept the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby.

There is an additional advantage: during the Second Reading debate questions were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, about exports and imports of CFCs, and the wording that he has introduced, "to prohibit the production and use of," clarifies the matter, and I am very pleased to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 8, leave out ("he may determine") and insert ("defined in the annex to the Montreal Protocol").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. This is purely an amendment to clarify what the Bill is about. The original wording was: chlorofluorocarbons and such other ozone-depleting substances as he may determine by 1st January 1995".

As the whole Bill aims at speeding up or putting pressure on the acceptance and introduction of the Montreal Protocol, I think it is right that it should be written into the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Perhaps I may begin by expressing the sadness of my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, who is unable to be with us this evening and who played a major part in the discussions on the Bill at Second Reading.

I rise to support the good sense of what the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has proposed. Although the Montreal Protocol is not the be-all and end-all, it is a substantial benchmark and measuring rod, and wherever we can write such an international agreement into the Bill not only do I believe that it improves the words but it gives it much more meaning. Secondly, marginally it takes away from the Secretary of State what he can do in this field. Of itself that is a very good reason for the amendment.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

I have one reservation only about the amendment. I understand that the Montreal Protocol includes five CFC gases and three halons, but it does not include a number of gases that were mentioned during the Second Reading debate. For example, it does not include HFC134A, HCFCs, methyl chloroform, or carbon tetrachloride.

I would hope that by the time we reach the end of the Committee stage the subsequent amendments will cover this point. If so, that is fine, but I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Montreal Protocol does not include all the dangerous gases, the production of which we want to see abolished. With that reservation I support the noble Baroness.

Lord Reay

Perhaps it might be for the assistance of the Committee if I set out at this stage the Government's attidude to the amendment. In the debate on Second Reading I set out some of the Government's reservations about the Bill. They would be considerably increased by the adoption of this amendment.

The amendment requires the Secretary of State to adopt timetables for all ozone-depleting substances defined in the Annex to the Montreal Protocol, so that they are eliminated by January 1995. The Annex covers two groups of chemicals, that is CFCs and halons. When the protocol is amended in June, other chemicals will almost certainly be added, particularly methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride.

Some countries would also like to see the HCFCs covered by the protocol. These are new chemicals under development and will do typically some 2 per cent, to 5 per cent, of the damage to the ozone layer done by the CFCs themselves. Moreover, in order to stop using CFCs in refrigeration, rigid polyurethane foams and other applications, we must be able to use the HCFCs instead until new, completely ozone-friendly susbtitutes are developed.

In order not to inhibit the development, testing and production of the HCFCs, the Government, and the European Community, are opposed to their inclusion in the protocol, but some countries want them in, and we must accept their inclusion as a possibility.

For a variety of reasons, the Montreal Protocol sets out separate schedules for the reduction of CFCs and halons, and will propose a separate schedule for each new class of chemical.

If the protocol is changed to include HCFCs, then the amendment would require their elimination by 1995. It is expected that of current CFC use 30 per cent, will have to be replaced by using HCFCs. We must ensure that HCFCs are used in such a way as to minimise their emission to the atmosphere, and thus the damage that they do.

Many countries agree that HCFCs should not be regulated under the protocol. Even those countries which favour their inclusion specify dates for their elimination ranging from 2010 to 2060. To stop using them by 1995, to take but two examples, would disrupt the world's food supply by destroying much of the refrigeration industry, and would increase the demand for energy by removing many of the most effective forms of insulation. It is the CFCs which do the most damage, and it is those which are most easily got rid of, whether by 1995 as the Bill requires, or by 2000 as the governments of the world believe.

In that respect we are fortunate. We in this country have cut our consumption of CFCs by over 50 per cent, from the 1986 levels. We are pressing for the protocol to require 85 per cent, cuts by 1995. The other ozone-depleting substances do much less damage. They require a range of different responses to minimise their emission to the atmosphere, but those responses should not, in our opinion, involve elimination by 1995, as the amendment requires.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I am most impressed by what the Minister has told us of the Government's intentions in this matter; but surely the Minister and his colleagues should take a more positive attitude to the Bill. If the Government want to see a timetable, but not the timetable mentioned in the Bill, it is open to them to improve it here or at a later stage in another place. The Minister must understand that the purpose of the Bill is to try to persuade the Government to be more positive in their attitude than they have been in the past.

Lord Reay

We are being extremely positive. The Government support the objectives of the Bill, but we have reservations about the way it is sought to carry them out.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

The Minister is saying that we must take the lesser of the two evils, but no one knows at the moment which is the lesser of the two evils. He talked about HCFCs and HFCs. It is reasonably well established that they are not such strong agents for depleting the ozone layer; but the Minister has not answered the point I raised on Second Reading: both those gases are detrimental and add to the greenhouse effect. He did not mention that point.

Again on Second Reading I suggested that it was a negative action to exchange one polluting agent for another. The Minister talked about the possible inclusion of the two gases he mentioned in the Montreal Protocol in June. What is the Government's response to the fact that they both deplete the ozone layer, although not as much as CFCs, and greatly increase the extent of the greenhouse effect?

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

The Bill has been introduced in this place and this is its Committee stage. So far as I am aware, the annex to the Montreal Protocol does not as yet contain many of the substances to which the Minister referred. We are dealing with what the annex contains at the moment. Other countries have accepted that those substances should be eliminated by 1994. I am grateful to the Minister for sending me the translation of the order which is in force in Sweden.

We have a later amendment which deals with what might happen in the future. I would ask the Committee to accept that, as the Montreal Protocol provides at the moment, 1995 is a reasonable date.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("(e) any substitute for CFCs that has the potential to damage the environment.").

The noble Lord said: I wish to reinforce a great deal of what I have already said about the alternative gases which are being developed by the chemical industry to replace CFCs. The chemical industry is now developing various alternative chemicals and some of us are worried about the effect that those chemicals will have.

HCFCs, as I have said, still deplete the ozone layer. They have a deleterious effect on the greenhouse problem. They are not as destructive of the ozone layer as are CFCs but they add to the greenhouse effect. Some scientists argue that the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer will never recover if HCFCs remain in use. HFC134A is a powerful greenhouse gas. I said on Second Reading that it is estimated that it is two-and-a-half thousand times as dangerous as carbon dioxide.

As we know, ICI is already planning to open two plants to produce HFC134, one in Runcorn and one in the United States. That is jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. If this country is to make a determined effort to deal with what will be a major human problem over the next 10 years, we must consider the whole environmental impact of any substances which we allow to be produced. We must be especially vigilant about those substances which will be used to replace CFCs.

The Minister did not answer the point that I made on the previous amendment. What is the Government's attitude to the effect that those gases will have on the greenhouse syndrome? I know that there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the word "potential" and I accept that the amendment might need redrafting by the time we come to Report stage. With our present knowledge we can state what substances have the potential to damage the environment. Their production, use and export should be prohibited. For that reason, I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

The amendment makes good sense. We are discussing legislation which deals not just with what we know but what might possibly happen. The amendment is drafted to deal with that position. With the reservation that my noble friend Lord Hatch put forward, I believe that the amendment will strengthen the weapon that the Bill gives to a future government. It has my support.

Lord Reay

The amendment seeks to add, any substitute for CFCs that has the potential to damage the environment to the list of chemicals in Clause 1 of the Bill for which the Secretary of State will determine a timetable to bring about its elimination. The words, potential to damage the environment are a broad rather than an ambiguous term. It could be said to apply to all industrial processes.

Substitutes for CFCs are not only the new HCFC and HFC chemicals, some of which do very small amounts of damage to the ozone layer, and all of which contribute to the greenhouse effect, albeit at about one-tenth of the level of the CFCs which they replace. Substitutes also include propane and butane, which may contribute to photochemical smog in a very small way. Of course propane and butane are widely used but only a fraction of their use is as a CFC replacement. I cannot see any great prospect of being able to establish a timetable for the end to their production and use.

CFCs are used in insulating foam and there are many other means of insulation, even though they are almost all less effective. As with any manufactured product, even bricks can be said to have the potential to damage the environment. But to fail to use insulation also damages the environment, through increased energy use. Refrigeration is another area where the direct potential of chemicals to damage the environment has to be weighed against the energy use of different processes.

As the supply of CFCs is phased out, their use as solvents will be replaced by new chemicals and by water-based cleaning methods. The dirty water has to be disposed of, with implications for the environment. At the extreme interpretation, this amendment would require an end to the process of cleaning things with water.

The Government would be extremely reluctant to prohibit industrial products and processes without some idea of what is to replace them and of the implications of such replacement. For the new chemicals being developed specifically as CFC replacements, the answer is to do all we can to ensure that their release to the atmosphere is kept to a minimum. This is often best achieved through codes of practice and voluntary agreements rather than the blunt instrument of legislation. The relatively high cost of such chemicals will provide a good incentive for this. As these chemicals are developed and introduced we will be keeping such matters under review.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I have much sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. However, I have one problem with it. Having listened to the Minister, I wish to emphasise that when, under the reasonably tight timetable, CFCs are eliminated there will inevitably be a period when a substitute will have to be used. I ask the noble Lord whether he would contemplate coming back at Report stage with this amendment, putting a different timetable to it from the 1995 date. In Scandinavia the Government contemplate something like 1998 or 1999, which might be more realistic. In essence I am 100 per cent, behind the aim of the amendment that we should make certain that the substitutes for CFCs are not equally dangerous.

Baroness Nicol

Perhaps I may add one small point to what the noble Baroness has just said. It seems to me that if the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is to bring the amendment back at a later stage, he would do well to remove the word "environment" and specify the damage which he is trying to eliminate. That might be helpful because there is something in what the Minister said—that almost everything we do damages the environment in one way or another.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

I am grateful to both noble Baronesses. I accept the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, that I should come back at Report stage. However, I do not accept the argument put by the Minister. He seemed to alternate between an attitude of reductio ad absurdum by talking about bricks, dirty water and so on without addressing himself to what he knows is the real issue raised by the amendment. The real issue is whether we shall allow CFCs to be replaced by other substances that we then discover will possibly damage another part of the environment. We know that they will still deplete the ozone layer, but we also know, as I have pointed out, that they are extremely damaging as concerns the greenhouse effect.

Quite frankly, I totally reject the other part of the noble Lord's argument that this is better done by voluntary agreement than by legislation. All the history of the subject shows that, as has been demonstrated in the Scandinavian countries in particular, when there is legislation there is action. When there is agreement there are compromises. We find that we are not tackling the immediate problem, a problem of this decade. We are not seeing action taken. So I totally reject that part of the noble Lord's argument.

I accept the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, that we should re-examine the wording of the amendment. I shall consult my advisers and look at the wording and possibly also the timetables. In that spirit, I suppose that the best thing I can do is withdraw the amendment tonight with notice that I shall come back again at Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hatch of Lusby moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("(f) all new manufacture and sales of halons by 1st July 1991 and a complete ban on the use of halons by 1st July 1995.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will see that there is a timetable in this amendment which brings the deadline further forward than that for the rest of the substances dealt with in Clause 1. We do this because halons are a great danger particularly to the Antarctic ozone layer. I understand that they account for between 15 and 30 per cent, of the depletion of the Antarctic ozone layer. Halons are used largely in fire fighting equipment. They are powerful in destroying the ozone layer—much more powerful than CFCs.

Under the Montreal Protocol there is a requirement that there should be a freeze at the 1986 levels. Because large amounts of halons are stored in fire protection equipment, it is essential that we put an end at an early date to both production and sales. I understand that at present the Swedish Government are considering proposals from their environmental agency to apply such controls by 1st July 1990, with a total phase-out five years later, on 1st July 1995.

For these reasons it seems to me to be important that these gases should be included in Clause 1 and that the timetable should be much shorter than that for other gases. If the Swedes can end the use of these gases by July this year, I suggest that we take no more than another year to do the same and completely ban their use five years later, on 1st July 1995. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Reay

As the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has explained, this amendment concerns halons. Halons are used in fire-fighting. They are very effective, and have unique properties which at this stage we cannot duplicate in any substitute agent. Each alternative has its disadvantages. Carbon dioxide, for example, puts out fires by reducing the amount of oxygen to a level where combustion cannot take place. The resulting shortage of oxygen would mean that people would have to be evacuated from the area concerned. That is dangerous if that area is, for example, the control room of a nuclear power station. That is impossible if it is an aeroplane. Water does great damage to documents and works of art, and as it conducts electricity it cannot be used where sensitive electronic equipment has to be kept going. Other fire-fighting agents have similar problems. It is highly unlikely that all of these problems can be resolved before the turn of the century at the very earliest.

There may indeed be some scope for using existing halons more effectively and diverting them from less essential areas. In the current renegotiation of the Montreal Protocol we are pressing for the restrictions on overall production and consumption which would encourage these processes, and we are examining what more needs to be done within this country. I see little prospect, however, of this enabling us to follow the sort of timetable which the amendment would require.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

I support this amendment as the mover of the Bill. I do not accept that it is impossible to follow the timetable suggested in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. If that can be achieved in other countries, it can be achieved in this country also. That provision is already on the statute book in Sweden. It is essential that we impose a timetable in the Bill that does not stretch too far into the future. If we are to achieve an improvement as regards ozone depletion we must be quite firm about what we shall do with the gases that we have been discussing. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support. I need to say very little more than she has done. I do not accept the brief that the Minister read out. Every time we raise these matters the Government say, "This is difficult. We shall have to find some other way of doing this", or, "We shall have to use this instead of that". It is the Government's job to use their scientists and to fund scientists in the academic world to find the means of achieving a solution. We simply cannot continue to emit gases into the atmosphere when, as I have pointed out, halons are calculated to be somewhere between three and 10 times more powerful than CFCs as regards depleting the ozone layer.

It is just not good enough for the Government to say that it is difficult to phase out those substances. It is the job of the Government to do that. We are trying to help the Government in that task. As the noble Baroness has said, if other countries can achieve this measure so can we. We have to achieve it if we are to save this planet from what I am sure the Minister agrees is a direct, immediate menace to life on it. I am reinforced by the support of the noble Baroness.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Hatch of Lusby moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 14, at end insert— (" () In the meantime the Secretary of State shall ensure that all manufacturers who make or use CFCs and other ozone depleting substances or CFC substitutes shall publish, every six months, a complete inventory of all such substances made, used, sold, exported or imported.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the matter of commercial confidentiality. I could speak for a long time on that matter because it has been raised on so many occasions with regard to different issues. Indeed, I received a letter only yesterday from the Secretary of State for Energy which emphasised the importance of commercial confidentiality.

However, it is not good enough to stress commercial confidentiality if that confidentiality is used as a cover to produce substances that are damaging the planet now and will leave the planet gravely damaged for our children and grandchildren. It is not good enough to repeat this parrot phrase of confidentiality.

My amendment proposes that it will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State to, ensure that all manufacturers who make or use CFCs and other ozone depleting substances",

publish what they are doing. This is an interim measure until the provisions of the Bill take effect. Unless that is done we know that behind this mask of confidentiality all kinds of experiments will take place and all kinds of dangerous gases and other materials will be produced within the chemical industry. There will be no accountability. This amendment gives to the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that all manufacturers of all these dangerous substances are accountable to him and that they report to him.

At the moment I understand that data are collected in secret from companies in 24 of the major industrial OECD countries. Data are also collected from India, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela. Those data are collated by the Chemical Manufacturers' Association. The data are published only on a regional and not on a national basis. However, Denmark and Sweden already publish their CFC consumption figures. If they do that, why cannot Britain? The Prime Minister claims that Britain is in the vanguard of the green movement and that it is in the vanguard of the attack on those elements which are destroying the planet. If we are, let us show it. Let us show that we are at least as concerned as either Denmark or Sweden to ensure that the use of these dangerous gases is published.

Confidentiality only damages what is now an essential provision, that is the international debate. It damages the debate throughout the world and the collection of knowledge throughout the world as regards what is happening to our planet. Confidentiality also covers up some of the realities. It is constantly stated, for example, that India and China are among some of the major users or potential users of CFCs. India's current total annual use of CFCs by its 800 million people is 4,500 tonnes. That is equal to only 15 days' production of CFCs in the United Kingdom. That is an example of the distorted pictures that are created by the use of the phrase "confidentiality".

There has to be public access to the information. One of the most important elements of the campaign is public education. To be realistic, public education can only be based on genuine information. Without public access to that genuine information all kinds of distortions will appear.

I hope that the Government will recognise that the issue goes beyond ordinary commercial considerations. It goes right to the heart of public accountability and the right of the public to know. I trust that the Committee will support the amendment so that the Government, Parliament and the people know what is happening in this vital area of national life and there can be informed public debate. I beg to move.

Lord Reay

Manufacturers of CFCs and halons are already required under European legislation to report to the Commission and to their national governments their production, import and export of these substances. Discussions are taking place over the reporting regime which should apply for the new substitute chemicals. As the noble Lord revealed he knows, the data cannot be published as they are commercially confidential.

The development of CFC substitutes is a highly competitive business. If commercially sensitive information was to be given away companies might not produce the substances that we need. The cases of Denmark and Sweden are different. They do not have producers of CFCs or CFC substitutes who could be damaged by disclosure.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

Does the Minister agree that the type of information which he tells us is being collected, but which is not for publication, could be made available to the committee that will be set up under the Bill?

Lord Grahan of Edmonton

Does the Minister not understand the very real anxiety which is reflected in the amendment? We all understand what commercial confidentiality means. We also understand that often it is a cloak for avoiding releasing information. Very often the Government have to release information which they would rather not publish because it could be embarrassing, but they accept that responsibility. In this case we are speaking of an issue which could affect the life of the planet.

Even if the Government are unwilling to accept the amendment, it would be helpful—not only to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, but also to the people of this country—if the Minister could say something that would persuade my noble friend to consider an alternative form of words that might be more acceptable. Simply to say that it is not possible—in other words, that it is not desirable—because commercial issues are at stake, is not acceptable. We are not only talking about commerce, we are talking about life itself.

Lord Reay

The noble Baroness asked me a specific question. I am given to understand in respect of her proposal that it would depend on the rules that applied to the conduct of the committee. If the committee agreed to keep the information confidential that might be considered.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

All the noble Lord has said is that the matter is commercially confidential. He has not said why it is commercially confidential, except that it might affect the bidding in prices. That is a trivial argument to use on such a vital question.

The Committee may be interested to know that yesterday I received a letter from the Bird Group of Companies, which is very concerned about the Bill. The Company works with ICI and local authorities to recover CFCs from certain cooling circuits. It has taken sufficient interest in the Bill to send me a long letter on the subject. I shall content myself with quoting a paragraph which relates directly to the attitude that has been adopted by the Minister. The letter, from the group environmental controller of the Bird Group of Companies, concludes with these words: I believe legislation is required, or at the least very strong guidance, to ensure that society accepts the direct costs of protecting the global environment. Since Swedish and German authorities are taking positive action, there is a chance for the United Kingdom to take the lead to make an important impact to reduce a significant amount of CFC being released from the traditional disposal methods of refrigerators and freezers, not to forget building insulation and packaging materials". That commercial company says that legislation is required. If a commercial company is convinced that the issue is so important that it goes beyond the normal range of commercial practice, I should have thought that the Government, who claim to be in the lead on environmental issues, would have seen that this issue supervenes normal commercial arrangements and traditions and the profit and loss account. The public, the Government, Parliament, and the committee established under the Bill have a right to know exactly what is going on in the chemical world concerning the production and use of CFCs.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 24, at end insert— (" () Nothing in subsection (1) above shall prevent the continued use of CFCs in aerosols used—

  1. (a) in the treatment of asthma and
  2. (b) for other pain-relieving purposes and for which there are, at present, no alternatives.").

The noble Baroness said: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, for their advice during the Second Reading debate. They pointed out areas where my proposals for the prevention of the use of CFCs were too restrictive. I have therefore tabled an amendment to the effect that, for the treatment of asthma and for other pain-relieving purposes, the use of CFCs may be allowed until there are alternatives. Obviously, none of us wants to introduce something which would cause great suffering to some people. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol

I welcome the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness. I understand that the use of CFCs in aerosols is very small. As she said, it would be a great pity to deprive those who need it of the facility.

Lord Reay

The Government are of course concerned that there should be sufficient time for the proper evaluation and testing of alternatives before CFCs are withdrawn from use as propellants in medical aerosols. At present we do not find it possible to put a date on that, but I am confident that it will be before the end of the century, which is the date by which we consider that all CFC consumption can safely be ended.

The Committee will be aware that there are indeed many applications for CFCs where we cannot estimate when acceptable alternatives will be available. Those include medical uses, whether or not in aerosols, and other uses from which society obtains great benefits. It is for that reason that our approach is to limit the overall supply of CFCs, so as to encourage all users to find alternatives, and to set a realistic date for their total elimination.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 6 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.53 to 8 p.m.]