HL Deb 09 July 1997 vol 581 cc621-2

2.44 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, on behalf of, and at the request of, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in accordance with the latest reports on global warming, they are prepared to ban the manufacture and sale of chillcans.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the Government were concerned to learn of plans to develop self-chilling drinks cans which would emit powerful climate-changing greenhouse gases. That is why my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment raised the issue recently with fellow European Union environment Ministers. They agreed to invite the European Commission to investigate the situation as a matter of urgency and to bring forward proposals for appropriate action which could include the possibility of a ban.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can she comment on the claim by the inventors that self-chilling cans will help to fight global warming by reducing the need for refrigerators?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, that is a claim on which I am glad to be able to comment because it is highly disingenuous. It is not the case. Even on the most generous assumptions, the contribution to global warming from emissions from the cans would far exceed any savings in carbon dioxide emissions from reduced refrigeration. Even moderate sales of the cans would seriously undermine international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of the high global-warming potential of HFC 134A—the gas used to chill the drink. To give a sense of the scale of the problem, the gas is 1,300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can my noble friend inform the House why, in these circumstances and after due and proper investigation by the Government, it is necessary to go to the European Commission on this matter? If it is deemed by the Minister, after all proper inquiries—I assume they were expensive—that there are bad effects upon health and other possible consequences, why cannot she act on her own in the interests of the country?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we certainly could act on our own under the Environmental Protection Act. And we certainly would, if that was the most effective way of protecting the interests of this country. If, however, because of the single market implications, it would be more effective to act through the European Union and other international efforts, then that is the correct course to pursue.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that all this is quite unnecessary? Long before the right honourable gentleman jumped on this bandwagon the soft drinks manufacturers and the brewers had decided that chilled cans were quite wrong and were not effective on either environmental or economic grounds. Further, the British Oxygen Company, within the next two months or so, is expected to announce another widget—whatever that may be—which does not contribute to global warming or ozone depletion.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am interested in the comments of the noble Lord. I know that the international organisation representing the manufacturers of the gases—in this country ICI—has stated clearly that it does not consider chilled cans to be a proper use of a potentially highly dangerous gas. However, the cans were presented using the gas at a trade event in Singapore and the Joseph Company in the United States said that it was putting forward plans for them.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I welcome the action the Government have taken, as explained by my noble friend on the Front Bench. Can she advise the House whether representations have been made to other advanced industrial areas of the world, particularly the United States and Japan?

Baroness Hayman

Yes, my Lords. My right honourable friend Mr. Meacher has been in touch with his counterpart in the United States to express our concerns and we hope for the possibility of joint action in this area.

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