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Lembit Öpik: Would the hon. Gentleman nevertheless accept that one cannot pretend that nuclear fission is a clean source of power, although nuclear fusion could conceivably be a relatively clean source of power, assuming that we did the research into making it economically and physically viable?

Mr. Miller: It is possible that huge benefits will accrue from research, some of which would cost millions and millions of pounds to carry out, but I concede that there is no such thing as a clean fuel in the purest sense. Even the bicycle of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) consumed a high amount of energy in its manufacture because of the energy implications of manufacturing aluminium. In debating energy, we must think about the whole life cycle of products.

In my constituency, where vehicles, fuels and fuel additives are manufactured, those are hot issues. One finds oneself regularly being attacked by Friends of the Earth, particularly in respect of Associated Octel, which is still the principal supplier to the world of tetraethyl lead, the antiknock compound for leaded petrol. It will continue to be a massive export earner for the UK over the next five to 10 years, until that product is phased out throughout the world. Friends of the Earth make the terrible mistake of assuming that emissions from that plant are all carcinogenic. One regularly sees the accusation that chloroethane, otherwise known as ethyl chloride, is carcinogenic.

I have spoken directly to the International Agency for Research on Cancer and I am assured that there is no evidence whatever of ethyl chloride being a human

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carcinogen. Friends of the Earth chose to draw its conclusions from the Californian P65 list, which does not have the same authority. We must avoid causing fear among people when we are dealing with those issues. Major considerations have to be made rationally and responsibly. I call on the green movement to work with the scientific community and agree a rational basis for the descriptors.

I commend to hon. Members the website Homecheck, an interesting, innovative website leading, I guess, to the notion of electronic conveyancing. It provides a huge amount of useful information about various aspects of safety and the environment around particular properties. It can be looked at by postcode. This morning, I chose to look at three postcodes entirely at random: SW1A 0AA, which is well known to hon. Members; the postcode of my constituency office; and the postcode of the constituency office of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson).

Some interesting comparisons are shown as bar graphs. The data are supplied by a reputable source—AEA Technology; I think that colleagues on both sides of the House accept that that is a reputable source. The interesting thing is that in a constituency such as mine where there is huge concern about air quality, the level of nitrogen dioxide is about the same as in my hon. Friend's constituency: at a low to medium part of the scale. In central London, it goes off the end of the scale; it is at a very high level.

London's air quality is very worrying. NOx, SO 2 , benzene, butadiene, CO 2 , PM10 and lead are all at extremely worrying levels, but NOx and SOx levels in my hon. Friend's constituency are ahead of those in my constituency. That illustrates the fact that the urban density of the centre of Plymouth is more of a polluter because of traffic and energy use than because of some of the manufacturing plants. There are other issues surrounding manufacturing plants that we must not run away from, but it is worth looking at those data carefully.

I turn now to those other issues. There are fears among people who live close to some of the manufacturing plants and indeed among people living in dense urban areas. It would be helpful if standards were set for the way in which monitoring equipment is placed and located, so that there are consistent measurements throughout the country. Indeed, monitoring should be as publicly available as it is possible to make it. There is no reason, given some of the technology in use not a stone's throw from here for measuring levels in Parliament square, why the data should not be up on a screen immediately. In the overall scale of things, it would cost peanuts to make those data publicly available instantly, so that people could make judgments about some of the risks around them.

Much has been said about the potential use of electricity, gas and fuel cells in future vehicles. With electric vehicles there is the argument about shifting pollution from the point of use to the point of generation. Nevertheless, electricity provides a useful short-term solution for some of the major urban pollution problems, and it is indeed pleasing to see that some of our delivery vehicles are now using electricity.

The use of LPG, too, is expanding. There have been some teething troubles, such as the chicken-and-egg argument about whether we should build fuelling stations

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when there are not enough cars to use them. Why not? Perhaps the incentives are not right—but the equation is coming right now. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is now a real growth in refuelling points.

In the very small village of Feock in Cornwall—or within a mile or two of it—I spotted an LPG station. If LPG is reaching such remote spots perhaps we are reaching the threshold necessary to justify more investment by manufacturers.

The hon. Member for Poole rightly praised the work that Vauxhall is doing. There is not the same pessimism at Vauxhall as there is at Toyota, although we are still some way away from production line numbers of fuel cell vehicles. Hon. Members who are interested in sports may have noticed that the vehicle that led the marathon race in the Sydney Olympics was a GM Zafira people carrier, powered entirely by a fuel cell. The technology is there; the question is how to translate it into an economically viable unit for production purposes.

That raises some important points for Governments, and for Oppositions. It is important for the vehicle industry that we look a long way into the future—and in the far, far distant future, there may be a time when the Opposition become a Government again. [Interruption.] It is a long way away.

We need to look a long way ahead because of the economics of the vehicle industry. We need to establish standards of safety and appropriate type approvals for the design of fuel cells very soon, so that companies can invest and work out the economics of manufacture on the basis of what particular Governments will allow on their roads. I hope that that will be done, not just at a UK level but at a pan-European level, because by and large the vehicles that we drive are pan-European. Indeed, some components made at Ellesmere Port go far further afield than Europe; we even export engines to the United States, which is a credit to the industry there.

We need to co-operate closely with the fuel industry. Companies are repositioning themselves. BP has done so, and Shell now describes itself not as a fuel company but as an energy company. The fuel industry recognises that a change is taking place, and Governments and Oppositions are doing the same. Technology is advancing. There is no reason why, working in partnership, we should not be able to address some of the serious figures to which I referred earlier in a reasonable period of time. I do not think that Toyota's pessimism is warranted, although it would be without appropriate Government incentives and a long-term vision with which the industry can work.

We are rapidly moving in the right direction. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to continue with his campaign. When he was a Back Bencher he worked extremely hard on the issue of gas-powered vehicles. I remember speaking with him about it in 1992 when we were first elected to the House. Progress is being made; the previous Administration started to put some of the pieces in place, which have helped, but the market is changing as technology changes. We must be prepared to take a responsible, long-term view and meet the needs of society so that people can have the benefits of personal transport without the disadvantages associated with the worst aspects of early designs of the internal combustion engine.

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1.1 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): As a newly appointed member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, I am grateful for this opportunity to take an interest in the environmentally related issue of clean fuels. For the record, I declare an interest as a small shareholder in Centrica plc.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) on his second maiden speech in the House of Commons, as it were. He spoke very well and made a number of suggestions which I noticed other right hon. and hon. Members readily picked up on. The Minister also showed interest and I hope that he will actively follow up some of those points next week.

It is also a pleasure to see the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. He and I were together at university—although not in the biblical sense.

We all want a cleaner and greener environment. The debate centres around how best to achieve that, and a particular area surrounds vehicle emissions. What our vehicles pump out into our atmosphere affects all of us, whether motorists or not. To take just one example, some 75 per cent. of all carbon monoxide emissions in the United Kingdom come from petrol engines. However, we will not cut vehicle emissions by being anti-car and simply attempting to price motor vehicles off our roads by continually increasing the taxation on petrol. Many people rely on their cars to get to and from their place of work or to visit relatives. Punishing them for that reliance by imposing ever-higher petrol prices is a negative and regrettable approach. Moreover, we saw very clearly last year the reaction of the British people to ever-increasing fuel taxation. They will not put up with it any more, so we need to find other incentives instead.

We need a much more positive approach to persuade people to use more environmentally friendly fuels, not because they feel they have no choice, but because they want to. In short, we need to use an environmental carrot rather than a fiscal stick. A good example is liquefied petroleum gas, usually referred to as LPG. It can be stored under pressure as a liquid and then used to power motor vehicles. Most vehicles can be adapted to run on dual fuel, either LPG or petrol, with a changeover being made by the simple flick of a switch on the dashboard. This alternative fuel is purchased just like petrol, by simply filling up at the designated pumps.

LPG has a number of important environmental advantages, even over ultra-low sulphur, or ULS, petrol. It produces between 30 to 35 per cent. less carbon monoxide and 20 to 40 per cent. fewer hydrocarbons. It generates up to 80 per cent. less nitrogen oxide than ULS petrol and up to 90 per cent. less than ULS diesel. LPG also produces up to 90 per cent. fewer emissions of particulates than ULS diesel.

LPG also tends to be much cheaper than petrol. The price per litre, at around 40p, is roughly half that of petrol. The duty on the fuel is also appreciably lower than the duty on either petrol or diesel. In the Budget of March 2001, LPG duty was reduced by 3p a litre, and was effectively frozen in real terms until 2004, although legitimate concerns have been raised today about whether that commitment will continue thereafter.

On a mile-per-mile basis, most vehicles would save at least a third of their fuel costs by switching over from petrol. One obstacle to using LPG in the past has been the

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cost of vehicle conversion, which averages about £1,500 for a family car. However, that is changing, too. Many vehicle manufacturers are now providing new LPG-powered versions of their more popular models from the outset. In addition, the PowerShift initiative, which is encouraged by the Government via the Energy Saving Trust, is seeking to create a sustainable market in the United Kingdom for vehicles run on clean fuels. PowerShift grants can cover more than half the cost of converting vehicles under five years old. That targeted initiative should help to produce a useful increase in the 50,000 or so LPG-capable vehicles currently in the United Kingdom. If LPG continues to catch on, we may in time reach the current Dutch number of about 400,000 vehicles, or even the Italian figure of well in excess of 1 million.

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