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Column 924

One piece of research from a Surrey university research group looking into the hazards of lead pollution on the M25 and M1 has recently caught my eye. The group found that the entire length of the M1 was littered with lead sediment--perhaps that is to be expected after 20 years. It also reported a huge rise at many of the intersections and found that even after only two years conditions on the Surrey section of the M25 were generally worse than those on the M1.

The group also found high concentrations of lead in Parliament square. I hope that none of us eats anything grown in Parliament square--I do not think that we do--but when we leave this building we go out into an atmosphere with possibly one of the highest concentrations of lead in the country. I think of that every time I leave the House and try to cross at the traffic lights at Bridge street and Parliament street. Many vehicles in that enormous roar of traffic are still emitting lead that we breathe in before the huge particles settle on the ground.

Let us compare what the Government have been doing with what has been happening in other European countries. In the Netherlands, unleaded petrol is available in every garage. In Denmark, the coverage figure is 90 per cent. and in West Germany it is 75 per cent. In March 1988, 700 garages in Britain sold unleaded petrol. By the end of January this year, that figure had increased to 4,300 that is, if my sources of information are correct. That represents about 22 per cent. of garages. The latest figure is that 38 per cent. of garages sell unleaded petrol. I am sure that the proportion here is higher than in countries such as Spain or Greece, although I do not have the figures for the number of garages selling unleaded petrol in those countries. Nevertheless, the figure for this country is well below those for countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and West Germany.

The first question I want to ask the Minister is whether he confidently expects--

8.15 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) rose --

Dr. Marek : I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute. Perhaps he will just let me ask my question.

Does the Minister confidently expect that the good rates of increase that we have seen in the past few months will be kept up, so that, standing at the Dispatch Box in a year's time, I shall be able to give credit to the Government because instead of 38 per cent. of our garages selling unleaded petrol, the proportion will be over 60 per cent. or even higher?

Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman is known as a distinguished mathematician so I wonder whether he can calculate for the benefit of the House the rate of increase from January last year until now in the number of garages selling unleaded petrol that the figures that he has just quoted to the Committee represent. Does he agree that it would be churlish not to give the Government a great deal of credit for the remarkable rate of increase, which I know he will be able to calculate with greater accuracy and greater speed than myself?

Dr. Marek : I do not want to depart from the spirit of unanimity in the House about the fact that everybody wants to do something about this problem. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman must realise that rates of increases in

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themselves do not show exactly what is happening in any particular situation. At Treasury Question Time last Thursday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the rate of increase in inflation in West Germany was 300 per cent. when it increased, if my memory serves me correctly, from 0.5 per cent. to 1.5 per cent. That is a high figure, and the Chancellor was prepared to use it, but most people would still say that inflation in West Germany is a lot less, at 1.5 per cent., than inflation in this country, where it is 7.9 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should not try to mislead me by appealing to a selected statistic and saying that, if it sounds good, everything in the country must be rosy.

I am glad that the Government have done something and I am pleased that they have done what they did in connection with the rebate on unleaded petrol in the Budget. My reservation is that they should have done a little more and I shall suggest later what they could have done.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to know another statistic, which is that, instead of unleaded petrol representing 1 per cent. of all petrol sales as it did a year ago, 6 per cent. of petrol sales are now unleaded. That is a substantial increase and I hope that credit will be given for that also.

Dr. Marek : That may be right, but the hon. Gentleman's party's research department has been a little lackadaisical in not giving him the right figures. I thought that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment announced a figure of 14 per cent. a few days ago-- [Interruption.] Well, like us all, the hon. Gentleman must first try to get his facts right and secondly, he must give me time to develop my case because I intend to come to the question of total petrol sales in this country.

At the moment, I am considering the number of garages or the percentage of garages in this country that sell unleaded petrol. The fact is that the proportion is about 38 per cent. at present, whereas in West Germany it is 75 per cent. In Denmark it is 90 per cent., and in the Netherlands every garage must sell unleaded petrol. Therefore, I want to ask the Economy Secretary whether he can do more to increase the number of garages that are selling unleaded petrol in this country. Why will he not ban or say that he intends to ban the sale of two-star and three-star petrol in a year or two so that those pumps can then be used to sell unleaded petrol?

I turn now to what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) said about the percentage of unleaded petrol that is sold. I have a few figures. In the Netherlands and Switzerland, over one third of the petrol sold is unleaded, in Denmark and Sweden it is one third and in West Germany about half is lead-free. In Britain, over a year ago about 0.1 per cent. of petrol sold was unleaded. In February of this year, 5 per cent. of petrol sold was unleaded and, if I am right, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 1 May that 14 per cent. of petrol was unleaded. That is a creditable increase, but will the Government confirm that it will continue and that, if we have the same debate in a year's time, that 14 per cent. will have risen to more than 33 per cent.? If that were so, I would certainly compliment and congratulate the Government. However, 14 per cent. is low compared to the figures in other

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developed, responsible and evironmentally conscious countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, West Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Some countries do have lower figures than the United Kingdom. The sale of unleaded petrol in Spain is still only about 1 per cent. of its total petrol sales, and in Luxembourg, for other reasons, the figure is about 4 per cent. We should be leaders in Europe, but, as in so many other ways, we never are ; we are always trying to catch up from the back.

I repeat my question to the Economic Secretary : is he confident that the 14 per cent. will have risen to more than 30 per cent. in a year's time? If not, the Government must take on board extra measures to try to increase the sale of unleaded petrol. Will all new cars be able to run on lead-free petrol after October 1989? Have there been any hitches in that process? Is the Government's relationship with car manufacturers and companies good?

I have already referred to prohibiting the sale of two-star and three-star petrol. The Government could take some action because such petrol is necessary in only a few restrictive circumstances. The Government could not only prohibit the use of two-star and three-star petrol and say that those pumps should sell unleaded petrol, but could go further and say that every garage should sell unleaded petrol. I wonder how much hardship to garages would result from that? Perhaps it would mean some increases in their costs, but the Government should consider that matter now, so that the industry has plenty of time in which to adjust. One or two garages may not be able to sell unleaded petrol simply because they do not have room, but that could be overcome if the Government had a mind to do it. The Government could substantially reduce the tax on unleaded petrol for a temporary period, perhaps two or three years. That would reduce the price far more than the amendment tabled by the Opposition, and perhaps even more than the amendment tabled by the Democrats. The Government should make it abundantly clear to car owners that they can, by spending £20, have their car adjusted to run on unleaded petrol. At the moment, there is a difference of perhaps 10p per gallon. The sales and availability of unleaded petrol are rising, but if they start flattening off, a big increase in the rebate for unleaded petrol should be seriously considered as a temporary measure to help people to adjust their cars for unleaded petrol. Two out of three cars can, with a small adjustment, run on unleaded petrol. Exhortation should play a part in this process, as should appealing to the environmental spirit in the country. We should exhort people to think about the welfare of others. That is something which the Government are not particularly good at doing. We must make it worth while for people to run their cars on unleaded petrol. There would be nothing wrong in increasing the price of four-star petrol, because once enough motorists use enough unleaded petrol, the tax on leaded petrol can be increased.

Mr. Mans : Is that the Labour Party's policy?

Dr. Marek : No, it is a suggestion from the Opposition to the Government.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : I am seriously worried about the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. Many of my constituents do not frequently change their

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cars and many of them may well vote for the Labour party. People who have fairly old cars often cannot afford to change them very often and it would be an unfair imposition on them to force them to change their cars when they probably cannot afford to do so. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman really means what he is saying.

Dr. Marek : I expect that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make the price increases in four-star petrol, to which I am alluding, seem far better than they would be. Petrol should be valorised each year. At the moment, it is at an historically cheap level, but it will not continue to be so for many more years.

I would always make the health of our nation and children a higher priority than cost. I am not saying that my suggestion is the only way of bringing unleaded petrol into general use throughout the country. There are various ways, and I have suggested three or four. If other ways fail, my last suggestion should not be dismissed by any Government. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is now satisfied about what I mean.

I do not want to take up too much time because we want to finish the debate by about 10 o'clock. We must advertise and let motorists know that unleaded petrol is available in garages, that is is cheaper and that their car can, with minor alterations, be adjusted to take it.

Have the Government carried out any market research on the effect of their recent publicity campaign, which I welcome? Has it been effective? I know that the Campaign for Lead-Free Air has received £20,000 or £30,000 over three years. That is not very much and I wonder how much money the Government are putting into publicity. The Government must be careful to ensure that the recent increases in the amount of unleaded petrol being sold do not flatten off and that the number of garages selling unleaded petrol continues to rise. The country would not like the reasonably good figures for the past five or six months to level off and nothing to be done about it. If that were to happen, the Government would have no excuse for not listening to what the Opposition are saying. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) has just made a fairly long and, he may judge when he reads it, slightly controversial speech. Nevertheless, we would all agree with some of the things that he said. He made the important point that pollution, which is what this debate is about, is no respecter of national boundaries. He also suggested--a suggestion which I welcome--that we should try to tackle these matters on a partisan basis. He talked about the sales of unleaded petrol in other countries. Will my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary--either when he replies to the debate or at a later date-- contemplate the proposition that some of those countries' Governments are possibly less influenced by their motor manufacturers or by the oil companies than our Government are? We have continually heard from the oil companies, and often from the motor manufacturers, that anti-pollution proposals made in connection with the motor car will cost the consumer unspeakable amounts of money. I frequently have grave doubts about the validity of some of those claims.

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8.30 pm

I think I am right in saying that this is the third successive Budget in which the Chancellor has introduced inducements to purchase lead-free petrol, but this is the first time that the changes introduced have really bitten or resulted in significant take-up by the motoring public. We need to see the amendments in the context of the levels of inducement that should be offered by the Government to direct the public's purchasing power into environmentally desirable areas.

This brings us to the question of judgment. The hon. Member for Wrexham listed the policies of a number of Governments. He will be aware that the Dutch Government, to whom he referred, recently sought to impose swingeing environmental costs on motorists in Holland, the result of which has been that the Dutch Government are now unable to sustain themselves and face a general election. I can well understand that the hon. Gentleman might want to bring that about in this country, but I suspect that the Government are right to be cautious in order to avoid falling into the trap that the Dutch Government have set for themselves.

In his Budget speech, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that the proposals which relate specifically to reducing the duty on lead-free petrol would cost the Revenue £40 million. Some of us with long memories recall that Labour Governments have an unrivalled ability to spend money, but not always to raise it or run a buoyant economy. The Government have a good track record and should be left to judge the level at which the duty on unleaded petrol should be set.

The environmental tinge to be seen in the motoring components of this Budget is entirely welcome. All these environmental changes are expensive. We would all agree in principle with the remark by the hon. Member for Wrexham that people's health is of paramount importance. He was also correct to say that this country has a lot of catching up to do. But no Government or political party would be doing justice to themselves or the electors if they failed to point out to people that environmental improvements--to do with petrol, water or anything else--are expensive.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said about unleaded petrol in the Budget speech, in which he said that he hoped his proposals

"will contribute to a marked increase in the use of unleaded petrol over the next 12 months."--[ Official Report, 14 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c. 306.]

He went on to say that the level of vehicle excise duty on buses and coaches should cover their track costs. That is a means of ensuring that the environmental pollution created by certain forms of road vehicle is reflected in the taxation that they pay. I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary by reminding him that we discussed track costs of coaches a few months ago and had a minor disagreement about them. I am sure that he shares my joy and satisfaction that the Chancellor accepted my proposition that coaches were not covering their track costs.

The purpose of clause 1--it is strange to debate it at the end of two days' discussion on the Floor of the House--is to use taxation policy as an instrument of environmental protection, which I strongly welcome. It is a significant change of Government policy which has a potential application in many other areas. As was clearly shown in the intervention made by some of my hon.

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Friends in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, we are short of facts and knowledge about lead-free petrol-- [Interruption.] I am not making a point against the hon. Member for Wrexham. We can all produce learned professorial quotations that inform us of different facts about lead-free petrol or any other subject.

We are short of facts not only about lead-free petrol but particularly about pollution and the damage to health caused by diesel vehicles. I think particularly of diesel vehicles that are heavily used in urban areas, such as coaches. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution in 1984 tackled the issue of pollution from motor vehicles. Its report was referred to in an article by Colin Dryden in The Sunday Times of 2 April this year. He said that smoke from diesel vehicles was

"in many circumstances at an unacceptable level the vehicles themselves have got bigger and more powerful."

He went on to refer to what other countries are doing, much as the hon. Member for Wrexham did, and to quote the American experience of diesel-free and lead-free petrol :

"American requirements are far tougher, particularly for buses, on the grounds that they put health more at risk through operating in cities."

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) spoke about a taxi driver. If that taxi driver had attached himself to the back of his vehicle and inhaled the fumes from it the levels of lead in his blood might well have been significantly different from those which apparently showed up in the "research" to which my hon. Friend referred.

In relation to hydrocarbon oil duties and vehicle excise duties, the proposition that the polluter pays is enshrined in clause 1. Air pollution, particularly from the internal combustion engine, is a significant factor in the problem known colloquially as the greenhouse effect. Large vehicles such as buses and coaches cause other forms of pollution--noise, congestion and damage to the road surface. I therefore hope that the first cautious step that the Government have taken along the road of using taxation policy to force environmental change is but the beginning, and that that policy will be pursued more vigorously in many other areas as the years go by.

Mr. Turner : As always in debates like this, it may be dangerous to take too wide a view on environmental pollution and the problems that people face not just in this country but throughout the world. My contribution will be simple and to the point. I recognise the efforts that the Government are making on this narrow facet of creating a healthier and more pleasant environent by encouraging the use of lead-free petrol. The Government have a reasonable and desirable objective. If we agree with their proposal, we must consider the incentives being built into the policy to achieve that objective. The contribution of the Labour party is modest, in that we want to urge the Government to go further. That is why we have tabled the amendment. In Wolverhampton a local newpaper, the Express and Star , which has been mentioned in the House several times already, has run an excellent campaign to encourage the use of lead-free petrol. I have tabled an early-day motion congratulating the newspaper on what it has done. Over 1,000 private cars in Wolverhampton have been converted within a short period to use lead-free petrol. The local authority, neighbouring local authorities, the Midlands electricity

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board and numerous companies, large and small, all took part in the campaign and have contributed by converting their fleets of vehicles to lead-free petrol.

If the Government gave a greater concession, the campaign would be even more successful. I am speaking in the context of Wolverhampton but no doubt the same is happening in other areas. The Minister of State, Department of the Environment has taken an interest in the subject. There is widespread knowledge about how the campaign in Wolverhampton was orchestrated and the success that it has had. There is a great role for the Government to go much further because transport is involved in so many facets of government. They could also play a useful part in encouraging other agencies to convert their vehicles. I make no modest claim ; I had my car converted to use lead -free petrol, and it is running smoothly. I am pleased to have made that contribution to the campaign in Wolverhampton and to the policy of the Government. That is the essence of what we are trying to achieve.

I hope that we can persuade the Government to accept our modest amendment. Despite the success of the Express and Star 's campaign and of campaigns in other parts of the country, and the Government's taxation concession, we should create further incentives for people to convert their vehicles. That would make an important contribution to a better environment for us all and a healthier environment in which to bring up our children. In addition to the other steps that we might take to improve the environment, the amendment would make this country a better place for future generations.

8.45 pm

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : I am sure that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) and I can achieve a fair amount of cross-party agreement on this issue. Pollution is important in Wolverhampton, which is close to the M6 and the M1. Within the next four to six years there will be a major new motorway to the west of Wolverhampton. It will go round our part of the west midlands. That means that children in Wolverhampton will run a greater risk of lead pollution.

The hon. Gentleman was right to recommend warmly the way in which the Express and Star has drawn attention to the advantages in the Budget for those who use lead-free petrol. I join him in saying what a good job the Express and Star has done be its exhortations. Ironically, by drawing attention to the success that the Express and Star has achieved, the hon. Gentleman has to some extent undermined his case for further tax reliefs. It is not the exhortation from the Express and Star --important and influential though the newspaper is--that is causing people to convert their motor cars ; they are doing it because they believe that it is in their financial interest to take account of the already generous concession.

It is a matter of judgment what exactly the financial concession should be. There is no objective way of saying whether the more substantial concession proposed in the amendment is right or whether the slightly meaner concession--as the hon. Gentleman would put it--proposed by the Government is right. All we can do is wait and see. Since the Budget and the campaign by the Express and Star, 95 per cent. of garages in Wolverhampton are offering lead-free petrol for sale. We do not know how

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many of our constituents are taking advantage of the offer, but presumably the garages in Wolverhampton, like those who have converted their vehicles to lead-free petrol, are selling lead-free petrol not just because they wish--in schoolboy language--to suck up to the Express and Star but because they believe that there is money in it. Presumably they believe that because people are buying the stuff. So far as one can see at present, it seems that the problem is being addressed, as the Foreign Secretary would put it. It may even be partially solved.

There is an element of menace about what the Labour party says. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) talked about other measures. Let us be careful about that. It would be possible to introduce a law which made it a criminal offence not to convert one's car to lead-free petrol within x months. It would then be possible to make it an offence to use leaded petrol. Cars could then be stopped at random by the police and their fuel tested. For those who believe in the extension of the criminal law that would no doubt be a splendid demonstration of the power of the state over the citizen, but it would be most unwise.

Every time that a citizen is stopped by the police, there is a tendency for him to say that he is not sure whether he likes being stopped by the police, that he feels rather uncomfortable about it.

Mr. Adley : I hesitate to stop my hon. Friend's splendid flow, but a simple way to achieve his objective without involving the police would be for the Government to say that in 10 or 20 years only lead-free petrol will be sold. That is precisely what has been proposed in California. I understand that in about 20 years it intends to do away with the internal combustion engine altogether. Is not that the way that we should be going?

Mr. Budgen : You still need some nark, whether it be a police officer or a man from weights and measures, to go round and see whether the stuff is being sold by somebody.

The Temporary Chairman : Order. I do not have any nark.

Mr. Budgen : When I say "you", I mean the nation. Whether the narks would be men from the Customs and Excise or from the constabulary, there would have to be narks of some sort to enforce the criminal law.

The more our objectives are achieved by encouragement and by tax incentives and the less we use the criminal law the better. I hope that the Labour party will stop waving the banner of other measures in a somewhat menacing way and--

Dr. Marek : Let me put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I have in no way suggested that we should employ the criminal law to stop motorists to see whether they are using unleaded petrol. I hope that that helps him.

Mr. Budgen : It is all very well saying that, but when the price of petrol went up enormously in the great days of the Administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) under his prices and incomes policy, it was not considered enough to allow the market to discourage people from going fast in their motor cars. The House will recall that an extra limitation was imposed, in that speed limits were reduced, not for reasons of safety but to control fuel consumption. In other words, the criminal law was used not to maintain safety but for economic reasons.

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I remember travelling at 60 mph when the limit was50 mph and being stopped by the police. I was only warned, but I felt extremely resentful. If the criminal law is extended for the wrong reasons, it creates such resentment and the House should remember that the most important condition for the enforcement of the criminal law is that the House and the country should have the consent and co-operation of the public. I repeat that, if the criminal law is used for economic reasons, it creates resentment. Let us by all means think of other measures and talk about ways of giving further financial inducements to whomever one likes, but let us not use the criminal law.

Mr. Illsley : I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr Turner) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I was beginning to think that I had stumbled into the wrong debate, as I do not have the opportunity to read the Express and Star.

The criminal law is already used to control the sale of diesel fuel. It is a crime to use agricultural diesel in an ordinary motor vehicle. Therefore, although my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) did not mention the criminal law, the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is already upon us. I should have thought that there would be unanimity on both sides of the Committee about the dangers of lead poisoning. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) ask about studies on lead poisoning in adults. One study that I have been made aware of was carried out in Romania and relates to the male reproductive cycle. If that is not a good enough reason to be worried about lead poisoning, I do not know what is.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : There might be a problem in Romania, but would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the reproductive abilities of a normal Glaswegian given the problems of lead in water pipes?

The Temporary Chairman : Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) will not follow that line. The amendment relates to the narrow issue of lead in petrol.

Mr. Illsley : I was going to compare the number of vehicles in Romania with those in London, but I do not want to comment on the reproductive systems of Londoners or of people from any other part of the country. I simply want to reinforce the point that recent studies have uncovered the effects of low doses of lead on the male reproductive system.

There is enough information from studies to show the danger of lead poisoning, in particular lead poisoning from petrol. There is an urgent need for the average motorist to use unleaded fuel. However, the only incentive for a higher take-up of unleaded fuel is a financial one. The best way to achieve our objective seems to be to widen the difference in price between leaded and unleaded petrol. I agree that the Government's action since 1987 has gone some way towards achieving our objective. Between 1988-89 the increased take-up was about 1 per cent., but, since the Budget, that figure has more than doubled.

However, some account should be taken of other taxpayers. We must, when introducing legislation to

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promote the use of unleaded petrol, take note of the effect of the new measures on the public in general, including non-motorists. The result of the Chancellor's action was that the oil companies simply increased the price of leaded fuel. That resulted in the users of public transport, non-motorists and others having to bear the increased cost.

9 pm

The medical evidence in favour of using unleaded petrol is clear, and I await with interest any further remarks of the hon. Member for Wyre on that matter. Lead is a poison which, in large enough doses, causes heart disease, various cancers, respiratory disorders, insanity and other nervous disorders. The two additives in leaded petrol designed to prevent what is called the knocking

effect--tetramethyl and tetraethyl--can be lethal. A drop or two on the skin can cause insanity. A few drops more can cause death. For obvious reasons, most of the research has been concerned with children and expectant mothers, for they are most seriously at risk from lead in petrol. But there is a general case on behalf of the whole human race for the widespread use of unleaded petrol. Lead can be ingested, inhaled and in other ways absorbed into the body. Leaded fuel is responsible for 90 per cent. of the lead pollution in the atmosphere, which in this country, means that about 7,000 tonnes per annum of that type of pollution is pumped into the atmosphere. To add to the evidence that other hon. Members have adduced to show that lead is a poison, I cite a survey that was carried out in my constituency at the Barnsley district general hospital. A report produced there by, among others, doctors Ward, Watson and Bryce-Smith, found a direct correlation between foetal growth and levels of lead found in placentae.

That survey was carried out 10 years ago. Even then, it said that leaded petrol was a threat to unborn children. Since then, not enough has been done to encourage motorists in the extended use of unleaded fuel. The Government are crowing about the measures they have implemented in recent months, but more could have been done since that report was published.

Nor is enough being done to encourage the petrol companies to supply unleaded petrol to garages. The first unleaded fuel went on sale in my constituency only last year. It is clear, therefore, that only in the last 12 months have many people been able to avail themselves of unleaded fuel.

Mr. Mans : Can the hon. Gentleman point to one occasion, prior to the Government initiative about 18 months ago to promote the use of unleaded fuel, when a Labour Member warned about the dangers of lead in fuel for children? The Government have not been lethargic in their approach to this matter. Prior to the first introduction of the differential, there was not enough evidence to show the sort of effects that the hon. Gentleman has been describing.

Mr. Illsley : The fact that I have cited a report that was produced in my constituency 10 years ago pointing out the dangers of using unleaded petrol shows that such evidence was available. I am sure that there was evidence predating that survey.

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Mr. Pike : My hon. Friend may care to know that, before the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) came to this place, the Select Committee on the Environment examined this issue. Before the 1987 general election, Opposition Members were expressing concern about lead and other emissions from vehicles. It is wrong, therefore, to suggest that the matter was not raised in Parliament before the Government's recent action.

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Let us not forget the evidence that is and has been for some time available from other countries. It shows that lead-free petrol has been available for a number of years. EEC recommendations on the subject date from 1973. Japan was promoting unleaded fuel as long ago as 1975. If it is claimed that evidence was not available in this country--and my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has explained that it was--the Government could have paid attention to the evidence available in other, including EEC, countries, and taken a lead from them.

The take-up levels abroad far outweigh those in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham emphasised this point. In the Netherlands, the availability rate is virtually 100 per cent., as is the take-up. In Denmark the take-up rate is 90 per cent. In West Germany it is 75 per cent. But until recently in the United Kingdom only 5 per cent. of garages were able to supply unleaded petrol. In West Germany, nearly 42 per cent. of all petrol sold is lead-free ; in the Netherlands it is 36 per cent.; in Switzerland, 34 per cent.; in Denmark, 32 per cent.; and in Sweden, 30 per cent. Sales of unleaded fuel in this country increased between 1988 and 1989 from about 1 per cent. to 5 or 6 per cent. Since March, they have increased to about 14 per cent., and all credit to the Government for achieving that increase. I should like to see the figure increased beyond the 20 per cent. that Government spokesmen have been hinting will be achieved by the end of this year. We should try to push it up to the levels of our European counterparts.

Mr. Roger King : The hon. Gentleman has given figures for Switzerland and Germany, two countries which have introduced legislation making it mandatory to provide exhaust catalysts on cars. Those vehicles can run only on unleaded fuel. That is why the take-up in those countries is so much higher than it is here. Similarly in Japan, where they had a totally different problem of atmospheric pollution, not just from lead but from exhaust emissions generally. That obliged the Japanese to switch to exhaust catalysts in an attempt to clean up the atmosphere. So the hon. Gentleman is not being strictly fair in comparing the take-up rates in those countries with the rate in this country, where the fitting of catalysts is not mandatory.

Mr. Illsley : I defer to the hon. Gentleman's superior knowledge of the motor industry. We are not, in considering the amendment, debating the fitting of catalytic converters. That is why the comparisons that I was making are valid. It is a question of deciding how we are to achieve a greater take-up. Remembering that Japan has been dealing with this problem since 1975, we in Britain have had ample time in which to promote, by financial incentives, persuasion or legislation, the use of unleaded fuel. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows,

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EC regulations to be introduced by October 1990 will require the majority of motor vehicles produced in this country to run on lead-free petrol.

As to the costs of converting a vehicle, obviously my constituents are in the same position as those of many other right hon. and hon. Members-- particularly those of the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). No one is urging them to convert their vehicles overnight, but the point has been made already that two out of three vehicles can run on unleaded petrol without alteration--and while a conversion cost of about £20 has been mentioned, in my own constituency one major dealer is undertaking that work for only £4.95. Given that there is a 10p differential between leaded and unleaded fuel, the savings to be made from using the latter will start to be seen very rapidly.

Research by other countries shows that there is no increase in fuel consumption, no real need for engine modifications by manufacturers, no major increase in prices, and no great changes in refinery operations.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some time was needed to allow British manufacturers to develop the lean burn technology as an alternative to the catalytic converter? One of the problems with the catalytic converter is the need for maintenance, adequate inspection and replacement. Britain was looking to a different route in the form of the lean burn engine. Another reason why we have not progressed at the same pace is that a large number of the vehicles currently on the road are not capable of the comparatively cheap conversion to unleaded fuel to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention. On the one hand there was a desire to make unleaded petrol more widely available, and on the other the interests of the car manufacturer and the car owner. What was the car owner to do with a vehicle that could not be converted? At the same time, manufacturers were exploring a different route.

Mr. Illsley : Since 1975--1973 in the case of the EEC--car manufacturers in other countries have been looking to greater use of unleaded. That was sufficient time to consider the introduction of unleaded fuel to this country. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's argument, but greater pressure over the next few years to adopt unleaded fuel will compel motor manufacturers to comply. In recent years, when vehicle safety or other features were introduced by legislation--one thinks of front and rear seat belts, for example--it was left to manufacturers to incorporate them in future production rather than to the motorist to fit them himself. It may be that over the next few years motor manufacturers will be forced to develop models that use unleaded fuel over a much shorter time scale than would otherwise be the case.

More steps must be taken to encourage a better take-up of lead-free fuel. They include the scrapping of two-star petrol to free storage capacity for unleaded, more advertising campaigns about the benefits of unleaded fuel, and steps to encourage more motorists to convert their cars, even though two out of three vehicles are already capable of using lead-free fuel. Perhaps the best way of achieving those objectives is further to increase the price differential between leaded and unleaded fuel.

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9.15 pm

Mr. Mans : The Government's present policy is the right one, and little would be gained by increasing the price differential between leaded and unleaded fuel to the extent suggested by Opposition Members. Before I introduced my ten-minute Bill last October on the provision of unleaded petrol and, specifically, engine adjustment, I too believed that the best way of achieving greater take-up was by cutting the price of unleaded petrol considerably.

However, I examined the subject closely last summer and it is now clear to me that many other limitations and reasons are to blame for take-up being slower than we should like. It was a chicken-and-egg argument. There were fewer unleaded petrol outlets, and very few car manufacturers were producing vehicles capable of using it. Of the new vehicles registered last August, 50 per cent. could have been adjusted for unleaded at the point of manufacture but, for a number of reasons, were not.

One reason was the type approval regulations. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic changed those regulations last September. However, the problem associated with those same regulations in a European context remains. Another problem was sheer ignorance in the motor trade and among the general public about which cars could be converted and about whether, having been so converted, they could still use unleaded. I make the point that simply decreasing petrol duty on unleaded fuel would not have the effect that Opposition Members suggest. However, I am pleased that so many of them are taking such a great interest in the subject. Perhaps I misled the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsey) when I suggested that, prior to 1977, there was no evidence that something needed to be done about unleaded petrol. I was trying to make the point that at that time there was an insufficient number of right hon. and hon. Members who understood the problem in all political parties--not just in one particular party.

Also missing was a decent advertising campaign explaining to the public the problems of lead poisoning and that their cars could be converted. Today, we have all those activities up and running. Manufacturers are increasingly producing cars that can run on unleaded petrol. Virtually all the new cars from the Rover Group, for example, do so, and the same applies to many other major groups. That was not the case one year ago.

Garages are making increasing provision for unleaded petrol. It is noticeable that whereas six months ago, only one pump dispensing unleaded petrol would be available on a garage forecourt with virtually no one making use of it, even before the Budget a considerable number of extra outlets were provided, with a noticeably larger number of unleaded pumps installed on the forecourts of certain garages. It is noticeable that there are now queues for unleaded petrol, whereas before there was none. All that occurred without the extra incentive provided in this year's Budget. I fear that, if we increased the differential, cars that could not be converted or that--for a number of mechanical reasons--it would be wrong to convert would be converted, simply because of a lack of knowledge in the motor trade about which engines could be converted and which could not.

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Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : My hon. Friend mentioned the problem of queueing at unleaded petrol pumps, which has certainly been visible over the past few months since the big swing to unleaded petrol. Garages have also been running out of such petrol at an increasing rate. There is clearly an opportunity for garages and petrol companies to encourage its use by converting more capacity as quickly as possible.

Mr. Mans : My hon. Friend has made his point very well. Supply and demand must be balanced : simply changing one side of the equation rapidly will not necessarily increase the take-up rate over a finite period. I think that the present differential is about right. Motor cars are increasingly being converted to run on unleaded petrol, and there are more and more extra pumps able to provide it. I am not convinced that an increase in differential will add to the take-up rate.

I was interested by some of the figures that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) came up with. In the Netherlands, where the hon. Gentleman maintains that every garage must have an unleaded petrol pump, the take-up rate--according to the hon. Gentleman's figures--is only 33 per cent., whereas in Germany, where only 70 per cent. of garages have such pumps--

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