HL Deb 13 March 1990 vol 516 cc1517-21

6.32 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Timetables]:

Lord Hatch of Lusby moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 15, at end insert— ("(e) any substitute for ozone-depleting compounds that damage the ozone layer or contribute to the greenhouse effect more than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide by 1st January 2000.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, in Committee I considered that one of my amendments was not correctly drafted so as to indicate my specific purpose. The main purpose is to avoid CFCs being replaced by other gases or compounds which could be equally or partially dangerous to the environment; that is, by harming the ozone layer or increasing the greenhouse effect.

I have redrafted the amendment taking into account what was said in Committee. Gases such as HCFCs have a proven deleterious effect on the greenhouse syndrome. Some scientists argue that while HCFCs are in use the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer will never recover. The other particular gas is HFC134A, which also has a deleterious effect on the greenhouse syndrome.

ICI is already planning to open two plants to produce HFC134; one in Runcorn and one in the United States. That appears to be an answer to the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, during Committee. He said: 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".—[Official Report, 22/2/90; col. 448.]

The fact that ICI has already made those plans shows that the argument is not valid. Companies manufacturing such compounds and gases are already preparing to do so in this country and in the United States and we cannot afford to allow that to happen. As was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in introducing the debate on his Select Committee report, we cannot base our policy towards this fundamental issue for humanity on the "no regrets" attitude. We must take action before anything is scientifically proven, if it ever is.

As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and by many noble Lords during the passage of the Bill through this House, while we are abolishing the production of the CFCs we must beware that we do not manufacture other compounds or gases to replace them which, while they may not have the same disastrous effect on the ozone layer, have a bad effect on other aspects of the environment; in particular on the greenhouse effect.

In my previous amendment I did not give a timetable and I used the word "potential" which was much too vague. In my present amendment I have omitted the word "potential" and made the issue more specific. I have also introduced a timetable which, as the noble Baroness said previously, greatly concentrates the mind. Therefore, I suggest to the House that we should include in the prohibition: any substitute for ozone-depleting compounds that damage the ozone layer or contribute to the greenhouse effect more than the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide by 1st January 2000.

The date is taken from the estimate given by the United Nations Environmental Programme. It appears to be a reasonable date, worked out internationally. If the Bill is to be seen as a British contribution to what is invitably an international and awesome problem I can do no better than suggest to the House that the programme has given us a good lead. It is not exaggerated. The date has been worked out by the members of the United Nations Environmental Programme. It is therefore practical. I move that it should be included in the Bill.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the noble Lord's amendment is similar in purpose to the amendment that he moved at Committee stage. While the noble Lord has tried to deal with some of the criticisms made then, the amendment does not meet the main problem. It is still making the best the enemy of the good.

Many of the substitutes for the most damaging chemicals now in use still have an ozone-depleting potential, even though that may be only 2 to 5 per cent. of current figures. Even those which have no chlorine content and therefore no ozone-depleting potential have a greenhouse-warming potential well in excess of that associated with carbon dioxide. It is, however, important to remember that the volume of those chemicals will never remotely match the volumes of carbon dioxide which are emitted. We must also remember that most of the substitute chemicals are not yet commercially available and will only become so on present plans by the middle years of the decade. If we were to impose a requirement for those chemicals to be phased out within 10 years from now, they would in all probability never be put into production at all. Without the commercial availability of those chemicals we should not be able to achieve the first objective of getting rid of the highly damaging chemicals that are currently in use. That would be disastrous both for the ozone layer and for global warming.

We need a strategy which will allow us sharply to reduce the peak chlorine loading of the atmosphere—that is to say, the maximum concentration of accumulated ozone-depleting chemicals—below four parts per billion. If we can do that, we can minimise the risk of creating an Arctic ozone hole to match that in the Antarctic. There must be a rapid withdrawal of the high ozone-depleting chemicals as quickly as possible. That is what the Government are seeking to do in negotiations to revise the Montreal Protocol. That is why the substitutes are essential.

Once we have dealt with the peak loading, the next objective is to get atmospheric chlorine levels back below two parts per billion, at which level, the scientists tell us, we can expect the Antarctic hole to start to close. That will require responsible use of the new chemicals and their replacement in turn, as chemicals with lower or no ozone-depleting potential become available. It will also require the use of those chemicals only where reasonable alternative technologies are not available. Perhaps we should rediscover the virtues of cardboard boxes instead of polystyrene for packaging wherever possible.

The greenhouse-warming potential of the new chemicals is another concern, but a real one. It seems that the new chemicals will all have greenhouse potentials greater than carbon dioxide, whose significance as a greenhouse gas arises from the volumes of it that are emitted. However, the new chemicals are an order of magnitude better than the major CFCs in this respect. If there is no replacement we will not be able to deal with the main problem.

The matter is more complex than that because the greenhouse characteristics of any substitutes are not just determined by their impact when they are released. If, for example, their refrigeration characteristics require a much heavier energy consumption to achieve the same result, that could simply increase the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from power stations.

While I share the noble Lord's concern for vigorous action to protect the ozone layer, I do not believe that his amendment will achieve his objective. The Government are currently negotiating, in agreement with our European Community partners, amendments to the Montreal Protocol which will respect the scientific advice and deliver an effective programme to reduce the threat to the ozone layer.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly. I support the objective of the amendment. There is a dilemma which I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has taken on board, and that is the practical politics of a parliamentary timetable in getting this Bill or any Bill through another place—because that is where it starts from. We are seeking to iron out difficulties when the real objective is to get some speeding up of the timetable.

I received in the post today a document from a body called the Refrigeration Industry Board which has a great deal to say about this matter. The Minister has referred to the Montreal Protocol and amendments designed to bring about satisfactory content and a timetable to achieve what we all want. I support the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, in what he is trying to do: as a parliamentarian he is taking account of a criticism at one stage and trying to put it right at the next stage, which is tonight. Is the noble Lord in a position to tell us to what extent he has been able to take advice either from the Refrigeration Industry Board or any other body which will counter the arguments put by the Minister? The Minister said that the amendment was counterproductive to that which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, had in mind.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, has rightly reminded the House that at Committee stage I expressed great sympathy with his amendment. My problem was that it contained no timetable. I felt that if the amendment had been accepted at that stage and inserted into the Bill, it might have meant that the time limit was 1995. I felt that that was not possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Reay, has told us that current compounds that are being developed have a 2 to 5 per cent. impact compared with CFCs. That is a great advance. The amendment only asks that further research should be undertaken so that we can avoid the damage to the ozone layer by the year 2000; that is a period of 10 years. Enormous advances have been made since the danger of CFCs became obvious to this country and to the world at large. I mentioned in my speech at Second Reading that tremendous advances are already being made in recovering the CFCs in refrigerators, not only from the gases but from the foam.

I should have thought that the year 2000 is a reasonable limit. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, stated that he is negotiating with other countries. I know for certain that Scandinavia is hoping to achieve that situation in 1998–99. If they can have a programme on that scale, so can this country. As I have said more than once during the passage of the Bill, as a country we must set the pace and lead the world. We do not have to wait until everybody else is slowly following us. I certainly support this amendment and I hope that the House will do the same.

There is only one slight problem. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, may not have noticed that the subsection already contains a paragraph (e). He must either re-letter that as paragraph (f) or call his amendment paragraph (f). I am sure that the problem can be overcome.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I have one small point to make. I refer to the words "greenhouse effect". Are those words exact enough? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, will consider the words "global warming" as being accurate for what he seeks. While most of us think we know what the greenhouse effect is, it is a somewhat woolly expression.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I accept the spirit in which that criticism is made and perhaps on Third Reading we can consider a change of wording. I shall certainly take advice and I shall be glad to have the advice of the noble Lord.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred to the lettering of the paragraph. I took advice from the Public Bill Office and was told that paragraph (e) automatically becomes paragraph (f).

On the more substantive arguments put by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, I draw two points to his attention. He referred to the volume of carbon dioxide being emitted but in doing so he missed the phrase in the amendment which draws attention to "the equivalent amount". In other words, we are not talking about volumes but about the contrast between these new gases and compounds that are being produced and carbon dioxide in the same amounts. Therefore, the argument that a great deal more carbon dioxide is emitted is irrelevant to the discussion.

The second point concerns the correspondence I have received, to which I referred on Second Reading and in Committee, from the Bird Group of Companies whose representatives are coming here to see me tomorrow. They claim to have devised already substances which will replace CFCs in the manufacture of refrigerators. A great deal of research is being conducted, both commercially and academically, and, like the noble Baroness, I should have thought that giving 10 years to phase out these gases is reasonable. As the noble Baroness said, the Scandinavians are aiming to achieve that objective in less time.

Whether we are referring to the greenhouse effect or global warming, do we have 10 years so far as ozone gaps are concerned? Do we have 10 years to spare? I suggest that giving a full 10 years to find suitable substitutes for CFCs which are not dangerous to other aspects of the environment is a modest objective. As the noble Baroness said, if we are to claim genuinely that we are giving a lead to the world, that does not seem to be any exaggeration in regard to finding substitutes for CFCs which are not in themselves dangerous or harmful to the environment. On those grounds I commend the amendment to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.