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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20th April 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.

Lead Replacement Petrol

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will announce the British standard for additives to be used by oil companies in lead replacement petrol or as marketed by independent manufacturers; and whether the Government will require adequate testing before such products are sold.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, work is continuing on the British standard specifying recommended additives for lead replacement petrol. Agreement has largely been reached on the technical content but other aspects such as labelling are still under discussion. My discussions with the oil companies lead me to have every confidence that the industry will market fuels which meet the needs of motorists. Consumers will also be protected by the Consumer Protection Act which requires oil companies and fuel retailers to market fuels which are fit-for-purpose. We do not however plan to have a separate British standard for additives sold separately but welcome the testing of products which has been carried out by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply I declare an interest in older vehicles. Does the noble Lord agree that without some kind of benchmarking or British standard, several million drivers of older vehicles will be continually apprehensive, perhaps through ignorance, as to the effect on their vehicles of the lack of leaded petrol? Does the Minister agree that it behoves the Government to co-operate with the fuel companies to mount a national campaign of information so that drivers know what steps they can take to minimise any possible damage to their cars after 1st January next? With regard to the 0.5 per cent. of leaded petrol that will be allowed to be distributed, have the Government had any discussion with the fuel companies as to when, how and where this can be done?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as to the availability of lead replacement fuel, we are confident that for the vast majority of cars the major oil companies and retailers will produce a petrol to the standard required in time. As I indicated, in technical terms the standard of performance is there. I and my colleague John Reid have had recent discussions with UKPIA and representatives

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of the major oil companies. At least two of the companies have announced their intention to provide this product. I believe that all of them, within the next few months, will have indicated the timescale of a gradual introduction from the autumn onwards of lead replacement petrol on petrol station forecourts. As to the 0.5 per cent. continued sale of leaded petrol, I am unable to give the noble Lord the precise details of the distribution. A number of options are being looked at that go beyond purely the racing field. We are continuing to work in that area.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I am not sure that the average owner of an elderly motor car shares the Minister's confidence as to the availability of replacement petrol by the end of the year. Can the Minister go further and explain how the fuel companies will organise LRP? Will it contain additives, or will there be separate additives to unleaded petrol? Can he also provide more information about when the whole matter will be resolved? We seem to be hanging on week by week with no official announcement by the Government.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not believe that what the noble Lord says is entirely accurate. In co-operation with the oil companies the Government produced some detailed information. Several million leaflets were produced to explain the situation. However, I recognise that there is still a lack of awareness out there and some apprehension on the part of many motorists. In conjunction with the oil companies we shall engage in further publicity. That will include labelling pumps on forecourts. In general, existing four-star leaded petrol will be replaced directly with lead replacement petrol in the months running up to 1st January. The operation will be relatively seamless.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, several times the Minister referred to consultation with the oil companies. Does he recall that when this House last debated the subject it was also suggested that the DTI should co-ordinate with the motor manufacturers to try to persuade them to issue guidance on their older models concerning engine modifications or additives to be used? As far as I am aware, only Jaguar has done so. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have pursued that suggestion.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there has been some consultation with the motor manufacturers and advice has been given. I repeat that for the vast majority of cars it will be a direct switch from four-star leaded petrol to lead replacement petrol and there will be no need for adjustment except in a limited number of cases where engines have been somewhat hammered in which case separate advice on additives may be appropriate. This type of petrol has already been used successfully in several European countries which have gone over to non-leaded petrol for general consumption.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, as regards the 0.5 per cent. to which my noble friend Lord Montagu referred, what

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instructions or guidance have the Government given to facilities to sell such leaded petrol? In particular, what safety precautions will be required for such sale?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I indicated in my first response we are still discussing the methods of distribution. Clearly, some commercial decisions will have to be taken by the oil companies. Such petrol will be available for racing, and a number of sites have been suggested, including airfields, car club locations and designated petrol stations. We need to ensure that such distribution system and the regulation of it complies with the directive and our derogation under it. However, further work is required and will be conducted in the coming months.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, following the last question, does the Minister agree that there is a real danger in particular with classic cars involving clubs and small numbers of people? The distances involved in finding sources could result in people storing petrol in domestic houses. It is a danger about which many people are concerned.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is precisely why we need to ensure that we have an adequate distribution system and that safety precautions are clearly known to potential continuing users of leaded petrol.

Mount Vernon Hospital: Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit

2.43 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the expert advisory group is expected to report to the Hillingdon Health Authority concerning the future of the plastic surgery and burns unit at Mount Vernon Hospital; and whether the Government expect to be consulted about the decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the expert advisory group will provide its interim report to the Hillingdon Health Authority on 22nd April 1999, prior to making its final recommendations in May. Depending on the health authority's proposal arising from the recommendations of the expert group, further public consultation may be required. If the local community health council contests the health authority's proposal, the matter will be referred to health Ministers to determine.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I should like to say how much I appreciate the courtesy and sympathy with which she received representations on this matter. I am most grateful to her.

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However, is the noble Baroness aware of the continuing anxiety caused by the very long time it has taken to reach a decision? I hope that she will bear in mind that this charity's income from charitable sources has been very much damaged in this period.

Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords, I certainly shall. I recognise the contribution that the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust (RAFT) has made to services on the Mount Vernon site. I know that there is impatience to have some certainty here, but there is also impatience to achieve the right answer and to keep the team which has done such sterling work together. I hope that we shall have some clarity after the final report in May.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the considerable local concern about the lack of independence of the expert advisory group and the fact that it did not necessarily consider all the options in a proper fashion? Is the noble Baroness also aware that some 80,000 signatures have been raised in a petition to save Mount Vernon and its burns unit? Would she or her ministerial colleagues be prepared to meet representatives of the local community and to have their concerns expressed directly to her?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am very aware of the concerns, as are my ministerial colleagues. They have been raised in another place and on other occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in your Lordships' House.

The expert advisory group consists of 25 members including local clinicians, service users and lay representatives. Expert advice is provided externally by representatives from professional and research bodies including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, of Anaesthetists, and of Nursing, as well as the British Burn Association. The breadth of membership should give some confidence locally that all the issues are being properly addressed. It is because we need to review carefully and make the right decision that it has taken a long period of time.

As I said earlier, if the CHC challenges the final proposal by the health authority, health Ministers will have to determine on that issue.

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