HC Deb 04 December 1984 vol 69 cc302-22 12.19 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7805/84 and 9613/84 on the lead and benzene content of petrol, and other vehicle emissions; and supports Her Majesty's Government's endeavours to secure the introduction of unleaded petrol throughout the European Community at the earliest opportunity. There are two documents for the House to consider in this debate. Document 7805/84, which was published by the European Commission in June this year, includes an incomplete draft of a new directive relating to the lead and benzene content of petrol; and a directive on the gaseous pollutant emissions of motor vehicles. The two directives were considered briefly at the Environment Council on 28 June, to which I will return later. The second document that we are to consider this evening, document 9613/84, was published in September this year by the Commission, and completes its June proposals for the new petrol-lead directive — principally fitting in gaps on the octane ratings of unleaded petrol, and proposals for colouring leaded petrol.

The Commission's proposal for a new directive on lead in petrol arises in part, of course, from the United Kingdom's initiative last year when, together with the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, we called for the introduction of unleaded petrol throughout the European Community as soon as possible and certainly no later than 1990. The House will recall that this decision by the Government was announced by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment on 18 April 1983, following the recommendation of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, in its ninth report, entitled "Lead in the Environment".

I turn first to the lead-in-petrol directive. Lead is widely dispersed throughout the environment. Our environmental exposure arises from a number of sources—food, water, industrial emissions and paint, as well as vehicle emissions. Since the 1920s, lead has been added to petrol as an octane booster. Over the past 10 to 15 years the amount of lead added to petrol in the United Kingdom has been progressively reduced. The current level is 0.4 g per litre, and in 1981 the Government announced that it would be reduced to 0.15 g per litre by the end of next year—which will give an immediate reduction in petrol-lead emissions of some 60 per cent.

The level of 0.15 g per litre is the lowest that can be used in the present car fleet without necessitating petrol engine redesign. This is for two reasons: lead is used, as I have said, as an octane booster and its removal will necessitate a readjustment of the octane levels of petrol, and so a new generation of cars will need to be designed to run on it. Secondly, lead functions as a lubricant of the valve seats, which must be hardened or redesigned to function properly without it.

For these reasons, the current directive governing the lead content of petrol in the European Community — 78/611/EEC — stipulates that Governments may not require petrol sold in their markets to contain less than 0.15 g per litre. This directive needs to be altered or replaced before Governments can require the provision of unleaded petrol. Therefore, the Government decided in April last year that the United Kingdom should move to the introduction of unleaded petrol together with the rest of the EC.

I deal now with the text. Article 4 is of obvious importance. It requires member states to ensure that unleaded petrol is marketed throughout their territory from 1989. This would, of course, be in addition to leaded petrol, which will continue to be needed by older vehicles—as the owner of a classic car, I have to declare an interest in that—for several years after that, until they reach the end of their useful life. Incidentally, in the case of 1948 Bristol motor cars, that is never. This date is, of course, very close to the target announced by the Government last year for the introduction of unleaded petrol in the United Kingdom. It would give the oil and motor manufacturing industries enough time to make the necessary preparations to move to the production of unleaded petrol and of cars capable of running it. Our own industries have confirmed that this date is reasonable.

The article also allows member states that wish to do so to require that unleaded petrol is made available on their markets from 1986, and obliges member states to allow its marketing in their territories from that date. That is also acceptable to the Government, as I shall explain when I turn to the directive on vehicle emissions, because there would be no requirement for new cars to run on unleaded petrol before 1989. We see no point in requiring its provision before then, since there will be only a few cars able to use it. However, we would certainly welcome any moves on the part of the oil industry to supply unleaded petrol earlier than 1989 if it sees a market for it among drivers who wish to use it and whose cars are capable of running on it.

I turn to article 6, as amended by the second of the two documents before the House tonight, document 9613/84. In its original document the Commission had envisaged that there should be two mandatory grades of unleaded petrol—one "premium", one "regular". This would have meant that petrol stations would be obliged to sell two grades of unleaded petrol in addition to the two grades of leaded petrol presently provided—making a total of four different petrol pumps on each forecourt. Because this would involve considerable additional investment in terms of oil companies' distribution systems, the Commission revised its proposals in September, and has now suggested that there should be a single mandatory grade of unleaded petrol — "premium" grade, with minimum octane requirements of 85 motor octane number and 95 research octane number at the pump, and optional provision of a second, lower octane "regular" unleaded grade.

The figures of 85 MON/95 RON proposed for premium unleaded petrol are based on a study carried out by the Commission in conjunction with representatives of the European car and oil industries. They studied the relative additional costs in terms of crude oil requirements, industry investment and costs to the motorist of providing unleaded petrol at different octane numbers. Basically, a higher octane means higher crude oil consumption, oil industry investment in new refining plant, and a higher cost per gallon; but lower car industry investment and greater fuel efficiency. Lowering the octane level means that crude oil consumption, oil industry investment cost per gallon all fall, but car industry investment goes up and cars are less fuel-efficient than they might be.

A decision on octane levels necessarily involves judgments about the future technical evolution of the oil and car industries. Although there are inevitable technical uncertainties, two things have become clear from the Commission's study and from discussions with our own oil and motor manufacturing industries. First, the total additional costs to the United Kingdom of moving to unleaded petrol are small in absolute terms. We are talking about something in the region of 4p extra on the cost of a gallon of premium petrol. Secondly, for the United Kingdom the total additional costs are at a minimum in the 94–95 RON range.

There is no single figure that can fully satisfy the needs of the oil and motor industries. After consulting with industry, and because we cannot ignore the number of member states who have already expressed their willingness to agree to the commission's proposal of 95 RON at the pump, the likelihood is that the Government will settle for that level if it is the way to achieve agreement.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

I know that my hon. Friend, as always, is trying to be helpful to the House by making as full an explanation as possible. After his Department's discussions with the oil industry can he give an estimate of what it will cost, in round terms, for this country to move to unleaded petrol, because in February 1982 that figure was put at £500 million annually?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall write to my hon. Friend, if I may, to give him the latest figures. I shall be surprised if the figure is as high as that.

I shall deal rather more quickly with the remaining substantive articles of the petrol-lead directive.

I have explained that leaded petrol will still be needed for other cars for some years after 1989. In article 2, the Commission proposes that from that date leaded petrol should contain no more than 0.15 per litre. Article 3 makes provision for derogations for member states with specific difficulties in meeting this. It seems sensible to us to accompany the move to unleaded petrol with an interim reduction in the lead content of leaded petrol while it is being phased out, and of course the United Kingdom is already taking this step at the end of next year.

Articles 11, 12 and 13 deal with the linked questions of encouraging the use of unleaded petrol, and at the same time discouraging others from using the wrong type of petrol in their cars. Clearly, it would defeat the object of the exercise if drivers of cars capable of running on unleaded petrol used leaded petrol; on the other hand, using unleaded petrol in a car that needs leaded petrol could cause serious mechanical damage. Therefore, article 13 encourages member states to take steps to promote the use of unleaded petrol and to ensure that the price of unleaded petrol does not exceed that of leaded. Article 11 and annex 2 propose that leaded petrol should be coloured to prevent "mis-fuelling".

The rest of the petrol-lead directive is straightforward. Article 8 is intended to ensure that there is a free market in petrol throughout the Community. Article 5 is intended to ensure that the benzene content of petrol is not increased unduly beyond present levels if alternative additives are used as octaine boosters in unleaded petrol. Articles 10 and annex 1 specify test methods and procedures; article 14 requires member states to give the Commission information when required to do so on the development of their lead-free petrol market.

Let me now deal with the second draft directive contained in document 780584.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

The fact that we are debating this statement is in no small measure due to the lead that my hon. Friend has given in this country and Europe, and we pay tribute to him for that.

My hon. Friend said that the 95 per cent. unleaded octane level would be accepted in part because it was effectively a harmonisation measure within the Community. Some of us who would like to see the widespread introduction of unleaded petrol before 1989 are a little worried by the fact that he said that he would welcome the oil industry seeing whether it could be brought in earlier. We should be reassured if, instead of welcoming that, he encouraged the oil industry to do it and at the same time gave us an assurance that the introduction of unleaded petrol will not be unduly delayed by further harmonisation efforts within the Community.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend's kind tribute. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) deserves the principal tribute, but I am pleased to have been able to keep up the momentum. It is very important to recognise that the urgency of agreeing on an octane number is closely related to allowing the oil industry to get on and start producing unleaded petrol. It is crucial that there should be no further delay. That is why it is important to agree on a figure, in order to make the progress he demands. So I believe that he should welcome this attempt to agree a figure at the next Council meeting.

I turn now to the other document, which deals with gaseous emissions from vehicles and proposes limits below those required by the most recent directive. Additionally, the draft directive would permit approvals to be given for petrol engine vehicles capable of operating on unleaded petrol. The need to provide for type approval for vehicles capable of running on unleaded petrol directly follows from the intention to remove petrol lead.

The Government also welcome the initiative to seek further reductions in the gaseous emissions from vehicles. However, technical solutions must be cost-effective and must not impose expensive technology when the scientific evidence is insufficiently clear as to the benefits to justify the cost. The Government do not believe that the imposition in the United Kingdom in the 1990s of the technical solutions developed for the conditions in the United States and Japan in the 1970s is justified.

Current United States emission limits imply the use of the so-called three-way catalyst technology. This is an expensive technology requiring not only a rhodium and platinum catalyst to be fitted to each vehicle but special combustion conditions which are not compatible with the next generation of fuel-efficient European engine technology. The use of three-way catalysts reduces fuel economy by around 5 per cent. The three-way catalyst and its associated control equipment could increase the cost of a United Kingdom car by up to 10 per cent. and add a significant amount to annual motoring costs. Nor is it clear that, averaged over the road life of the vehicle, the performance of the three-way catalyst technology is significantly better than that obtainable through much cheaper future advances in engine design.

The Commission's draft directive proposes a staged approach to reduce vehicle emissions. This framework is to be welcomed as practical recognition of the developing state of engine design in Europe. The first stage would require that from 1 October 1989 member states would no longer be able to issue an EEC type approval certificate for a new type of vehicle unless it complied with the provisions of stage 1 of the directive. Member states would also be able to refuse national type approval if it did not comply. From 1 October 1991 member states will be able to prohibit entry into service of all new vehicles that do not comply.

These proposed stage one limits represent reductions of about 30 per cent. to 60 per cent. in carbon monoxide and 25 per cent. to 45 per cent. in combined hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions, depending on vehicle size.

The second proposed stage is to introduce by 1995 vehicle emission limits for all cars equivalent to standards currently applied in the United States of America and Japan. For the reasons I have explained, this proposal is unacceptable to the United Kingdom because it would effectively imply the use of three-way catalyst technology. Although the vehicle emissions directive does not prohibit less onerous national type approvals, we believe that member states must seek a Community solution. The solution needs to maintain the integrity of the internal market while acknowledging that because vehicle emissions are not significantly a long-range problem there may be differences in requirements between member states.

We expect new proposals to be brought forward by the Commission, and the House to have an opportunity to debate the issue further. In the meantime, we must not lose sight of the importance of fixing a date for ensuring new cars can run on unleaded petrol through the type approval system. The Commission has proposed that from 1989 all new models, and that from 1991 all new cars, should be capable of running on unleaded petrol. As I said at the June Environment Council, the Government believe that this timetable is too slow, and we shall continue to press for all new cars to be able to run on unleaded petrol from 1989.

At the Environment Council meeting on 28 June this year, there was general agreement in principle that unleaded petrol should be introduced throughout the Community no later than 1989 and that efforts should be made to resolve the remaining details quickly — if possible, at the December Environment Council in a few days' time. That, of course, was very welcome. Negotiations have gone well since June, and I hope that we shall be able to make substantial progress in Brussels later this week. I commend the documents to the House.

12.35 am
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

We welcome the opportunity to debate lead in petrol, though it is odd that we should be debating such an important issue, which will have a profound, if almost unseen, effect on millions of people—motorists and citizens alike—at such a late hour.

The Opposition welcome the decision to eliminate lead from petrol, because it will remove a dangerous health hazard and a dangerous environmental problem and we believe that the attempt to reach a Europewide solution will make it much easier for our car manufacturing industry to cope with what will inevitably be a problem for it.

I think that we all agree about the necessity to remove lead from petrol. I hope that we will not hear any argument about that. Strong evidence has been produced by the Lawther committee set up by the previous Labour Government, and in the ninth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. A report in The Times this week said: Excessive concentrations of lead have been found in 15 streets and 50 school playgrounds in London in measurement of dust and air. The 'hot-spots' were discovered in an assessment of lead pollution from traffic emissions". There is a wealth of evidence that lead in petrol is particularly dangerous.

Mr. Best

The hon. Gentleman quoted the Lawther report as part of his authority. Presumably, he accepts what the report said, including: We have seen no firm evidence that the contribution made by lead from petrol has caused harm and: We have seen that in the vast majority of the population, airborne lead, including that derived from petrol, is usually a minor contributor to the body burden. Normally food is the major source, and we have seen no evidence that this is substantially enhanced by contamination by airborne lead.

Dr. Clark

I have the main pronouncements of the Lawther report in front of me. The report was published in May 1980 and since then the Government and various other bodies have set up monitoring programmes to check the danger in lead. The report includes a list of recommendations calling for Government action. It recommended that an air quality standard should be introduced—the Government agreed to that—and that there should be an EC directive on the subject.

I do not want to trade quotations with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best), because events have moved quickly; I have here a 1981 Hansard which includes the statement of the then Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services that it would take 25 years to phase out lead. We hope to achieve that objective in a mere handful of years. I stand by my point; august scientific bodies have produced irrefutable evidence supporting the removal of lead from petrol, paint, water pipes and industrial emissions. We support the Government and expect them to take action in all those areas.

I hope that the Under-Secretary does not approach the debate in the same way as his Department appears to approach it. An inspired leak led to a report in The Times today, which said: Parliament will debate the lead in petrol issue tonight to give … the Under-Secretary of State … a free hand at the European meeting on Thursday. I hope that that is not the Minister's attitude—I am sure that it is not—but that he will listen to the House. I hope that our message will be that the Minister should go to Europe and press forcibly for action Communitywide and earlier than may be suggested. I hope that the Minister will get an opportunity to refute the view leaked by his Department. I repeat that the Government and civil servants are the servants of the House, and that the House determines policy. All too often we hear pronouncements from Departments along these lines.

I mentioned the time scale. We feel that January 1989 is too far away. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would consider the possibility of bringing the date forward. He may or may not know that the environment committee of the European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly for lead-free petrol to be on sale throughout the EC from 1 July 1986. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) sought to raise that point with him.

Although the directive lays down the minimum standards, there is no reason why the Government should not introduce lead-free petrol earlier if possible. I remind the House of the Minister's answer on 11 July. The hon. Member for Peterborough asked the Minister: Will he assure the House that if this country is able to introduce lead-free petrol before 1989 we shall do so and not wait for the rest of the European Community? The Minister made a succinct, brief and to-the-point reply: yes, Sir—[Official Report, 11 July 1984; Vol. 63, c. 1025.] When the Minister said that, he had the support of all Opposition Members and, I think, the hon. Member for Peterborough.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise the implications of what he is saying? If the lead content in petrol is reduced to below 0.15 g. per litre, a further three octane numbers will be lost. That cannot be rectified by any severe refining processes but will require a double action on engine modifications for lean burners which cannot be accomplished in time. Everyone in the United Kingdom would have to have catalytic converters. We would probably use more oil in the long run, which would cause many difficulties. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that that would add considerable expense to all motorists?

Dr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman misses the point. My point is that lead-free petrol should be available. The Minister conceded the point that the oil industry may bring the date forward. I re-emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Peterborough that the Minister would have the support of the Opposition and many Conservative Members, if he encouraged petrol companies to introduce lead-free petrol as an option at an earlier date. There is nothing in the EC directive to stop the Government legislating for earlier action.

If we had listened to the petroleum industry, we would still be waiting. Only when it is forced will it concede that it can tackle the problem. The latest date which the industry gave was 1992. The tragedy of British industry is that it must be lead screaming to every innovative function, which is why we lose markets so often and so quickly.

The EC regulations also ask Governments to ensure that unleaded petrol is not more expensive than leaded petrol. What plans do the Government have to tackle that problem? The Germans have already announced an increase in the price of leaded petrol to overcome the problem. I am not suggesting that the price of leaded petrol should be increased, but how do the Government intend to tackle that problem?

We are worried that the Minister may not press the case as hard as he can with his European colleagues, so this debate is especially timely. I hope that the message from the House to the Minister, before he goes to the Council of Ministers, will be that we recognise the danger of lead in petrol, that we want speedy action and we want the Government if at all possible to act even faster than the EC proposes. We urge him to press the EC very hard indeed. He claims that he has taken the lead. I hope that he will continue to do so and that he will go along with the Germans who, I believe, have taken an even stronger lead. We are not giving him a free hand. We want him to press very hard indeed for early resolution of this problem.

12.46 am
Mr. Mike Woodcock (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I support the Minister's stance on gaseous emissions, as I believe that the development of lean-burn engines is far preferable to the fitting of catalytic converters, but not all Conservative Members are so ready to support his stance on the introduction of unleaded petrol.

As the House knows, in terms of both cost and energy consumption lead additives are by far the most effective means of increasing the octane quality of petrol. It may also be aware that in this country those additives are exclusively produced by the Associated Octel Company. That company's principal manufacturing plant is at Ellesmere Port in my constituency and the company has a fine record of export achievements. In 1983 it made a net contribution of £100 million to our balance of payments. That is £36,900 per employee. It is one of the top five chemical-exporting companies in this country and has received the Queen's award to industry for its export achievements and, with its associated companies, it controls 70 per cent. of the world market for lead additives outside of north America. In my constituency alone more than 2,000 people are currently employed in producing lead additives for petrol.

The people who produce those additives, the company and I myself recognise that in no circumstances can we risk the health of the nation, the development of our children or damage to the environment, and those are the fears on which the campaign against lead in petrol has largely been based. Yet the Medical Research Council report on the neuropsychological effects of lead on children recently concluded that available evidence suggests that moderate elevation in the body lead burden found in some British children has little effect on IQ. Even more recently, the Select Committee on the Environment concluded that if there are links with acid rain they are relatively minor compared with other emissions— notably from power stations. Yesterday the Government said that £1.5 billion was far too much to pay for the control of those emissions. Yet the price that we are asked to pay for taking lead out of petrol, which is far less damaging to the environment, is many times greater.

In the light of that new evidence, why are the Government in such a hurry to phase out leaded petrol? Let us be clear about the penalties to be paid for eliminating lead from petrol. First, there is the penalty of investment by the oil industry. In Europe it is estimated that between £3.2 billion and £5 billion will have to be invested by the oil industry to take lead out of petrol. A few weeks ago the Secretary of State visited my constituency and opened a new high-octane blending component plant costing £56 million. That plant was heralded as a significant contribution and an investment in the future, but the truth was that the building of that plant is only part of the price that the oil industry is having to pay to stand still in the face of legislation to reduce lead in petrol.

Secondly, there is the penalty of investment by the European motor industry, conservatively estimated at some £240 million. Thirdly, there are the job losses. It is impossible to predict how many jobs will be lost, or when, but there will certainly be net job losses, whether they result from natural wastage or not. The new high-octane blending plant built at a cost of £56 million has produced 15 new jobs, whereas 450 jobs have already been lost in Associated Octel simply because of the reduction to the current level of lead content.

Fourthly, there is a massive penalty to pay in terms of energy. An extra million tons of crude oil each year will be used in the United Kingdom because of the elimination of lead from petrol. There is also the overall cost penalty. The Minister gave a figure of 4 per cent. but I estimate that, when we have taken account of both investment and energy penalties, the cost of petrol will rise by about 10 per cent. over the period during which we eliminate lead additives. Finally, there is the balance of payments penalty of at least £100 million a year.

Together those penalties add up to a substantial case for retaining lead in petrol rather than eliminating it. That is the price that we are paying for unproven advantages. We wish that the Government had taken more note of those penalties, but we reluctantly accept that lead in petrol is to be phased out. We accept that the decision has been taken. Associated Octel accepts that it must diversify into new product areas. It must use its technical and marketing skills to try to preserve the jobs that are to be lost in connection with lead additives.

Any diversification that the company undertakes will naturally lead it into the production of bromine, chlorine and sodium. Those are all energy-intensive processes, and all processes in which the company suffers a massive disadvantage of up to 20 per cent. against companies on the continent which enjoy high user electricity tariff concessions. The Government might consider that point too.

We do not ask that lead should be retained in petrol. We ask only for assurances from the Minister that, first, sufficient time will be allowed for diversification by the company and, secondly, United Kingdom producers will not be disadvantaged as against overseas competition. That does not mean the introduction of unleaded petrol at the earliest possible opportunity. It means the introduction of unleaded petrol on a reasonable time scale.

I ask the Minister for four specific assurances. First, can he assure the House that the Government will strenuously resist any attempt to introduce unleaded petrol throughout the Community before 1989—a move that could lead to significant job losses in the lead industry? Secondly, will he confirm that the Government will support the derogation in the draft directive which will allow Italy and France to retain the maximum of 0.4g per litre, thereby securing, over the next four years, a vital market and vital employment that will allow the lead industry time to diversify into new products?

Thirdly, will the Minister resist the suggestion that, when leaded and unleaded petrol are both available, unleaded petrol should be offered at a price advantage, possibly by means of adjustments in taxation? That would be unfair to the users of older vehicles and to the lead industry.

Finally, in the light of the new evidence that is available and the French and Italian positions, will the Minister reconsider the decision to reduce the lead content statutorily in this country from 0.4g to 0.15g from 1 January 1986?

My hon. Friend's replies to those questions will show whether the Government are prepared to do what is necessary to help the lead industry in the transitional process and to set a realistic time scale for the introduction of unleaded petrol rather than, as the motion suggests, the shortest possible time scale.

12.54 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I understand and appreciate the constituency interests of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock). I am aware of the difficult balance that must be struck between employment prospects and environmental issues. I have to step out of line with my party's view that the lorry ban in London is necessary immediately, because many of my constituents depend on the haulage industry as they drive, maintain or service lorries. Indeed, many of the lorries that go through London are based in my constituency.

I also will be interested to hear the Minister's reply. Not surprisingly, I shall press him somewhat in the other direction. I support almost entirely the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). Although there might be problems for the industry we are concerned with a poisonous product — leaded petrol—which the Royal Commission on environmental pollution confirmed as the largest controllable source of lead in the population. It is therefore desirable that we stop using it as quickly as possible. Lead in petrol leads to a much more permanent form of pollution — it lasts decades, even centuries in some cases. The Minister and his colleagues in the Council of Ministers are rightly anxious to reduce its use throughout the Community.

The Minister is to meet his colleagues in the next couple of days. I should like him to confirm explicitly that it is now possible, as the Federal Republic of Germany has established, for countries to move more quickly. Although 1989 is the general deadline, Germany has unilaterally declared that it is willing to go ahead. The Minister suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) earlier this year that Germany might be in breach of a European treaty. Presumably, with the passing of the directive, the use of lead-free petrol will apply to us from 1986. Will the Minister encourage that step, especially in the industry here?

I understand that there are many outlets for lead-free petrol in Germany. Nobody suggests that there is an immediate obligation on all outlets to have only lead-free petrol. That permissive quality recognises the needs of the industry and technical difficulties, although it is now possible for the industry to adapt without much difficulty.

Lead-free petrol is increasingly a British export to our partners in the Community. Conoco exports it and users are exempted from certain levels of car tax.

One understands that there may in the first few years have to be a choice because, as the Minister said, people inherit or have vehicles that are not easily adapted, but there may be ways in which the Government could encourage the move, and encourage people to purchase in such a way as to make the phasing out of lead in petrol much easier than it might have been. We would welcome that.

When the Under-Secretary goes to meet his European colleagues later this week, as well as agreeing on the directive, will he be able to confirm with them, in some form of declaration or communiqué, that cars can run as well, if not better, on non-leaded petrol? This is obviously of concern to the motorist, and to the less technically minded in particular. If he is confronted at the petrol station with a choice between different sorts of petrol, he may not know what the implications may be.

Will the Under-Secretary also confirm that it is now possible for our producers—who we want to make sure are adapting quickly to retain their market lead—with the technology that they now have, to produce unleaded petrol at the current octane ratings? The phasing out of lead additives in petrol is not a necessary implication of those two propositions. We could introduce unleaded petrol earlier than 1989, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will accept that, while phasing out leaded petrol sooner rather than later.

Mr. Skeet

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to recommend these catalytic converters to all his constituents who are car drivers, when they will cost them between £300 and £500 per car? If the hon. Gentleman doubts my word, he should have a look at the Financial Times of Wednesday 5 December, where these figures are laid out.

Mr. Hughes

Nobody is suggesting that one must suddenly impose on people or countries the requirement of lead-free petrol. No hon. Member has yet suggested that. It is not necessarily the better solution to have catalytic converters. It has quite properly been suggested that there are other equally acceptable solutions, and I hold no brief for one over another. However, one has to seek from the Under-Secretary, as the representative of the Government, a lead that says that we shall be enabling our fellow citizens to be spared the poison and the disadvantage to health that continuing use of lead in petrol, first as an inevitability, and secondly as a norm, necessarily involves. One cannot impose conversion tomorrow at the costs that the hon. Gentleman set out, and which I accept, but the turnover of motor vehicles is now extremely quick. We are getting to the stage where people are buying new cars every two years, or at least changing them.

The Government's encouraging start should be continued. The Under-Secretary paid tribute to the Secretary of State, but that start now appears to have slowed down. We should like to encourage them to move as quickly as possible, and not to be either the last or one of the last to move in the Community. Let us be one of the first, and we can be one of the first, without disadvantage, if that is the way that the Minister states we shall go when he meets his European colleagues later this week. We would encourage that and hope to hear a positive result, not only tonight but when he comes back from his meeting.

1.4 am

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I am sure that, in being invited to take note of this directive, the House will wish to register its approval of the fact that this directive and those measures that preceded it show that there is wide recognition of the need to reduce the pollution of the atmosphere caused by the motor vehicles that proliferate on our roads.

In so far as the directives indicate target dates and provide a mechanism whereby we may move in concert with our European allies, I strongly commend them. Nevertheless, I was a little alarmed by the Minister's comment that the oil industry and the motor car industry see no objection to the suggested target dates. If they see no objection to the suggested target dates. If they see no objection to those dates, they could meet considerably earlier target dates.

Our task as Members of Parliament is to try to ensure that the degree of dangerous emissions, lead and other, from car exhausts in Britain is reduced as soon as possible. I am unimpressed by arguments that it may not be possible to identify the emission of lead from petrol-burning motor vehicles as a direct cause of illness in any individual. We know that lead is a poison, that it is cumulative in the body, and that it is very slow to be excreted. Therefore, we know that it is a desirable feature of environmental improvement that lead be removed from petrol as soon as possible. Our aim in Britain should be to encourage our European partners to make as much progress as possible. Nevertheless, it is also practical for us to set an example.

There is no reason why we should not have unleaded petrol on sale in Britain before the target dates for its achievement by the whole of the European Community. It would encourage motorists who were buying new vehicles—particularly the fleet operators, who buy more than half the motor cars purchased in any one year—to consider the purchase of vehicles capable of using unleaded petrol. We need to convert motorists so that they recognise the need for reduction in the emission of lead.

I would favour an arrangement whereby leaded petrol would never have a price advantage over unleaded petrol. It should never be advantageous to damage the environment, as opposed to not damaging it. We should try to ensure that as far as possible the prices of leaded and unleaded petrol are similar so that those who were unable to use unleaded petrol because of the age of their vehicles would not be directly disadvantaged. Nevertheless, we would not have the opposite effect, which would be the disadvantaging of those who wished to help to improve the environment.

We might well consider making tax changes to ensure that vehicles capable of running on lead-free petrol did not cost more initially than vehicles which were not capable of so doing. That might be achieved by the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in recognising the contribution which people make, by using vehicles with lead-free petrol, to the health of the country.

Mr. Best

My hon. Friend puts a persuasive point about the need to have similarity between the prices of unleaded and leaded petrol. He will know and accept that it costs more to produce unleaded petrol. Does that mean that he is prepared to recommend to the Government that the price of leaded petrol should be artificially raised beyond what is commercially necessary so as to bring it into parity with unleaded petrol?

Mr. Griffiths

I suggest that the prices should be equalised. The prices of leaded and unleaded petrol sold commercially should be fixed at a level that would provide a reasonable return to the oil company. The differential between the prices of leaded and unleaded petrol should not be exaggerated. I believe that last summer in the United States the difference in the prices of those fuels was between 4 cents and 5 cents an American gallon—the American gallon is slightly smaller than ours — representing a price differential of between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. That differential is not so great that equalisation could not be achieved.

In focusing on lead, we should not forget that the purpose of the directives is to look at the totality of emission. I want to refute absolutely one statement. It is not fair or even true to say that, to reduce emissions from motor car engines using petrol, it would be necessary to introduce catalytic converters to achieve standards better than those envisaged in the directives.

The catalytic converter was introduced 15 years ago to meet conditions in Tokyo and Los Angeles. It represents the type of technology that was necessary for the type of engines built in Japan and the United States, which had marked similarities. Given a reasonable time scale, there is no reason why the new generation of engines produced in Europe, Japan and the United States, which are designed from the start to have lower levels of emissions, could not meet higher standards than is envisaged in the directives, without the use of expensive catalytic converters. Obviously we need to encourage research and development, but we should not decline to accept a challenge simply because we do not like a solution developed some years ago.

Mr. Skeet

If we accept the Commission's time scale, we must introduce catalytic converters to get rid of the emissions. There is a great problem. Does my hon. Friend recommend the time scale advocated by the Commission or is he prepared to allow the development of the lean-burn engine, which we all recommend and which is not available at present, so that we can remove emissions in the combustion chamber?

Mr. Griffiths

I accept much of what my hon. Friend has said. While it may well be extremely desirable to find a way to reduce the emissions to meet these targets and improve upon them, it is not right to challenge the targets simply because we do not like a previous form of emission control. I have experience of such forms of control, and I believe that regular inspection—such as the inspection by MOT testing—would make it possible to insist that the converters were maintained and their linings replaced at adequate intervals. The use of catalytic converters is a possible solution to the problem of emissions, but they were a technical solution to the problem of 15 years ago, not the 1990s.

My objective is to reduce the level of emissions in the air as quickly as is technically possible. I do not believe that we should rely on the views of the motor car and oil industries. The oil industry's tears about costs will not wring the hearts of many of us. I should like cleaner air at the earliest possible time.

1.14 am
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

My hon. Friend the Minister will know my views on this topic. We have frequently been in correspondence about it since I was elected to the House. He knows my view that the campaign against lead in petrol was one of organised hysteria, fomented by a mendacious and sensational public relations campaign.

It is a great pity that the Government were bounced just before the general election into changing their policy on this issue. Since that time, a great deal of evidence has been published which calls into question the conclusions of the ninth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock) mentioned the recently published Medical Research Council study on the neuropsychological effects of lead in children, which was a review of the research done in that field between 1979 and 1983. Paragraph 5.15 of that document says conclusively that all the published evidence in this field is that there is no statistically significant association between body lead burdens and IQs after allowance has been made for the confounding factors.

The great campaign which was got together to frighten the population of Britain into believing that we were producing a generation of microcephalic idiots as a consequence of lead in petrol is now proved to have been pure hysteria.

An article in issue No. 6 of 1983, of the "Digest of Environmental Protection and Water Statistics", a document that I am sure lies by the bedside of my hon. Friend the Minister to help soothe him to sleep, says that in 1981, 35 blood lead surveys were carried out in the United Kingdom as part of the European Community's screening programme on lead. Of those 35 surveys which were carried out all over the country, in only three instances was the reference level set by the EC for the lead content of the blood breached.

It is worth spending a minute looking at those instances to disprove the case which has been put by some hon. Members this evening. The first of three instances of the breaching of those reference levels was in Ayr in Scotland, where such breaches as took place were entirely due to the high concentration of lead in drinking water and nothing whatever to do with lead emissions from motor cars. The second was in the Archway road in Islington where it was discovered that such breaches as took place were because three men had been exposed to specific adventitious sources which in this instance were stripping old leaded paint and working in the scrap metal trade. The third was at Gravesham in Kent where one child was above the medium level for lead content in the blood.

In all the other surveys it was concluded that the reference levels were generally met by comfortable margins. The final conclusion was that blood lead concentrations of adults living near major roads, where one might expect major variations proving the case of those who are against leaded petrol, showed that blood lead concentrations were not very different from the general population in the same area. So, once again, it appears that the conclusions of the Royal Commission are called into question.

In addition, studies have been carried out in the EC. An instructive one was done in Germany, which has been ahead of us in reducing the lead content of its petrol from 0.4 g per litre to 0.15. In Frankfurt, an industrial city with a dense traffic problem and a few industrial sources of airborne lead, the study was helped because it was possible to show exactly what the effects of lead from exhaust emissions would be.

It was discovered that, as a result of making the changes which the Government propose for Britain, the lead emissions from exhausts in cars were reduced by 60 to 80 per cent. but that that produced only a 10 per cent. fall in blood lead levels. In 40 per cent. of men and 50 per cent. of women there was no change in the blood lead concentration. In some instances, perversely, there was an increase.

I produced the evidence to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and in a letter to me of 12 June he explained the reasoning behind the Government's case. I told him that the Government were reversing the burden of proof which requires one to prove that damage is being done. He wrote that he agreed that there was no conclusive evidence to show the toxic effects of lead at typical United Kingdom levels. He added: But equally it is a fact that lead is toxic at higher levels and there is no conclusive evidence that there are no toxic effects at typical UK levels". If the Government were to take that view on acid rain, for example, and the nuclear industry —I am glad to say that they have not—we would have no nuclear power stations. We would be unable positively to prove the negative—that no damage would be done by discharges and emissions from nuclear power stations. Nor could we prove the opposite of what is stated in The Times as the Government's view on acid rain. It is reported in The Times that the Government does not accept that discharges from sources in Britain are a main contributor to acid rain". That cannot be proved in fact and the Goverment do not seek to do so. I cannot understand why they adopt a different sort of reasoning for lead in petrol from that which they have adopted on other highly controversial environmental issues.

I believe that the case is not proven against lead in petrol. I urge the Government to exercise the greatest caution towards the directives which are proposed by the European Commission. I do not intend to go into the cost arguments which were outlined with devastating clarity by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. I am sure that they are well known to the Minister and the House. However, when my hon. Friend deals with these matters once again in the European Community, I ask him to bear in mind the employment repercussions of the change that we all accept now as inevitable, however unfortunate it may be. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows that in my constituency 250 jobs have been lost as a result of the change in the Government's policy, and we regard the losses as irreversible. That means that my constituency interest in the issue has come effectively to an end.

The result of my investigation is that I have become greatly concerned at the way in which Governments can be bounced into taking decisions which are highly adverse to the interests of many as a result of the pressures that are put upon them by flashy lobbies.

The European Assembly's environment committee has, I understand, voted to remove article 3 from draft directive 7805/84, which would prevent other countries in the Community, especially France and Italy, from maintaining their present lead levels in petrol. I hope that the Government will take the view, and press it strongly in the Community, that if the Commission were to adopt the advice of the Assembly on that issue we would veto the proposal. There is no doubt that it would do grave damage to the interests of constituents of my hon. Friends the Members for Ynŷs Mon (Mr. Best) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston. Associated Octel would lose almost two thirds of its market for lead in France and Italy overnight if the proposal were to be accepted.

The issue is not yet completely dead for us, and I urge my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to be conservative on this issue. I hope that he will stand up for the interests of those who would otherwise lose their jobs and whose economic livelihood would be put at risk.

1.24 am
Mr. Steve Norris (Oxford, East)

Two industries are involved in the two documents: the oil industry, from which we have heard a lot, and the motor industry. As the House will know, I represent the motor industry, and it impacts on my constituency. With great respect, the motor industry does not seek to fight old battles, accepts the challenge of lead, and is prepared to respond to it. Indeed, it accepts the present timetable of 1989–90.

I understood my hon. Friend the Minister to announce 95 research octane and 85 motor octane as being the levels that he looks forward to with regard to lead-free fuel. I believe that the motor industry accepts that one can quite acceptably go down from 96 RON to 95 RON. I know that it has expressed some concern about motor octane numbers on the basis that the silent-knock additive is the more crucial of the two, and that there is some danger in lowering from 86 to 85. If we go to that sort of level of additive, it will enable 50 per cent. of existing cars to switch straight away to lead-free fuel in 1989, and that must be a good reason for wanting to go down that path. As I have said, the industry is forced to accept that we are moving in that general direction, and is prepared to meet the challenge.

I turn to the emission announcement. No mention has been made so far of the extent to which we have been overshadowed by the West Germans' unilateral announcement. The European manufacturers accepted the phase one proposals, agreed that they should be implemented and agreed broadly on the timetable. But they all agreed to reject the phase two proposals until they had been much further researched to establish what system of emission control would be most effective, and whether we were looking at catalysts as a long-term solution or at lean burn.

I think that it is fair to say that until recently the conventional environmentalist thinking was that pollutants causing acid rain, defoliation of forests and so on, would be best checked by the use of catalytic converters. I am not a chemist or a great expert, but I understand that recent evidence throws some doubt on whether catalytic converters are doing the job required of them when it comes to acid rain, defoliation, and so on. The administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency testified before the sub-committee on health and the environment on 29 March 1984. He spoke first about the problem of die-back in trees and defoliation in the United States, and then said: In Europe, different and more extensive types of tree damage have been observed, involving at least ten species. We do not know the true extent or meaning of this damage, the speed at which it is taking place, or what factor or combination of factors is causing it. We do not know if the causes are the same in Europe as in this country. Many investigators believe that several interconnected factors are at work, and that air pollution of some sort may be important among them. Our current knowledge, however, does not tell us whether the offending pollutants are sulfates, nitrates, oxidants, or heavy metals. This new information, while troubling, raises the possibility that if we act too quickly, we may control the wrong pollutant. This situation illustrates well why waiting for further research to be completed before initiating a control program is a rational decision. If, as many believe, sulfate deposition is not a major contributor to forest problems but oxidants or nitrates are, a significant reduction in SO2 emissions could inadvertently result in elevated levels of oxidants or nitrates. Our current understanding of atmospheric chemistry indicates that if we were to reduce SO2, it might result in increased levels of oxidants. Additionally, excess oxidant could then combine with the NOx to produce more nitrates. Thus, in either case controlling the wrong pollutant could conceivably make matters worse. We all deduce from that that the assumption that we had hitherto in general accepted as credible — that the catalytic converter was the answer to all our problems, now appears to be somewhat wide of the mark.

I understand that after a number of years of operating catalytic converters in the United States, there is no perceptible improvement in environmental despoliation, and the United States agencies are forced to look elsewhere for the prime cause. That may be because in the experience of motor manufacturers catalysts do not work well. They can readily be misfuelled. Misfuelling can be accidental and deliberate. In the United States, my understanding is that it is more often deliberate than accidental. They can be made to malfunction if they overheat. That is something about which the motor industry is worried.

When the catalytic converter malfunctions, the malfunction is effectively undetectable by the driver. An innocent driver may be driving along in a vehicle that he believes to have an efficient catalytic converter but which has no such thing. Whereas the lean-burn development is essentially cheap because it is a continuing development in terms of the engine, the three-way catalyst, it has been estimated by the motor industry, could add about £2.5 billion pounds annually to motor vehicle costs, with no detectable advantage.

There are two good reasons for strongly opposing the German unilateral announcement when my hon. Friend goes to the Community meeting. First, it is misconceived technically, and the argument now appears to be that it does not solve the problem. I appreciate that the Minister is broadly sympathetic to that point of view, and I welcome that fact.

Secondly, this is an important issue, and the division that would be caused within the Community would be unacceptable. If the West German Government, who undoubtedly have environmental pressure from the Greens, were to proceed with this unilateral action it would be damaging to us. It must be made clear to them in the strongest possible terms that it is too important an issue, not least to the motor industry in Great Britain, which is our number one exporter, for any go-it-alone initiatives.

We must make progress, and I am pleased to see the way the Government have approached both these directives. I believe that the Government are on the right lines, but I urge my hon. Friend, when he goes to the Community, to put the greatest possible pressure on the Germans to ensure that this ill-conceived, ill-timed and potentially dangerous unilateral action is reconsidered by them so that we have a chance of getting the long-term solution of the problem right.

1.32 am
Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

No one doubts the sincerity of hon. Members on both sides of the House when they express their anxiety about lead in the body. Lead is a poison. Therefore, I share, and everyone else rightly shares, that anxiety.

It may be said that I have a constituency interest that I should declare, and I do so readily. I have part of the Associated Octel Company in my constituency, but let me make it clear before it is used against me that I am pleased to say that the plant in Amlwch in my constituency is not affected by these proposals and is doing well with the extraction of bromine from sea water, and is thinking of expanding. I cannot be accused of putting forward a partisan interest.

So much has been said that is grossly ill-informed on this subject that I wonder whether the public, let alone hon. Members, can feel confident when trying to speak with authority about it other than by referring to established documents, as has been done by a number of my hon. Friends.

Perhaps now I understand the meaning of the phrase "swinging the lead". Some of the statements from the CLEAR campaign give a new meaning to the phrase "gaseous emissions".

I believe that the scaremongering about the nature of lead in petrol and the resultant damage to the human body has been grossly irresponsible. Much is made of the fact that about 90 per cent. of airborne lead is produced by emissions from petrol exhaust. What is not said is that the total percentage of lead in the body from airborne lead from car exhausts is no more than 8 per cent. This needs to be put on the record.

I shall not burden the House with a lengthy quotation from the Lawther report, because I have already referred to it in an intervention, but this needs to be said, because the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will no doubt quote from the Lawther report. It was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security. The report states: Our attention has been drawn not so much to the bulk of the population among whom, according to recent surveys done in the United Kingdom in fulfilment of the EEC directive, blood levels meet the reference values but to the small proportion which falls into the upper part of the distribution of blood lead concentrations". The working party's report dealt with a vital area of interest. The report also states: There is no indication from the surveys that these relatively raised blood concentrations are due to lead from petrol; they would seem more likely to be due to a miscellany of adventitious sources, such as lead containing paint in and around the home, the use of special cosmetics, and medicines containing lead, or to tap water in some localities where the water is especially plumbo-solvent and lead plumbing is used". How often do those hon. Members who are in the forefront of jumping on the environmentalist bandwagon—I shall not accuse them of being populist because one knows that Opposition Members do not wish to be populist in man matters —not concentrate on the real sources of lead pollution in the body, such as those which are mentioned in the Lawther report?

I mention these matters only because it is necessary for the matter to be put in context. I do not want to fight old battles. It is accepted by everybody that we shall move to lead-free petrol. It is accepted by industry and the oil companies. The question is, how fast should we move? Without suggesting that my hon. Friend has recently been down the road to Damascus with unleaded petrol or leaded petrol, there appears to be a change in emphasis by the Government which did not exist a few years ago, when the evidence was much the same as it is now. It will cost the consumer more. The 1982 estimate was that it would cost £500 million annually. This may be grossly excessive. I hope it is. What is not in doubt is that it will cost the consumer more. It is probably right that the consumer should pay for the removal of lead from petrol as being a contributor, although a minor contributor, to lead in the body and the dangers which that may cause to future generations. But let us ensure that that cost to the consumer is commensurate with the damage which is occasioned by lead in petrol. If unleaded petrol must not cost more than the price of leaded petrol, a point which was made persuasively by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), it means — and I should be interested to hear whether there is another view on this—that the price of lead petrol must be raised artificially beyond what is commercially necessary in order to equate it with the cost of unleaded petrol.

I end by making one comment about what was said by the hon. Member for South Shields. He said that we have been losing markets because the oil companies had to be led screaming to reform. He should know that if we moved precipitately to the introduction of lead-free petrol, without giving industry the opportunity to convert particularly engines in order to take lead-free petrol in time, it would lead to a massive import of Japanese cars which already are capable of being manufactured to run on unleaded petrol. It is strange that the Labour party should advocate an increase in imports of Japanese cars. However, it may be that this is a welcome turnabout from the original position, which I understood was to be one of protectionism.

Dr. David Clark

We can check Hansard, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that I did not use those words. I said that the oil producers and British technology generally had lost many markets. I was thinking particularly about the technology of pollution control. In acid rain controls, many of our engineering companies have lost markets because we have not taken the initiative.

Mr. Best

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying his remarks. I can now happily agree with much of what he said and I hope that he will reciprocate by agreeing with what I have said.

I accept that we are moving towards lead-free petrol and that we should take a lead in moving at the right pace and in being responsible, rather than merely listening to the ministrations—some of which have been irresponsible—from the lead-free petrol lobby. But my message to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is that we should not move too fast towards lead-free petrol. The dangers to health do not require precipitate action, and the penalties for going too rapidly are considerable.

1.41 am
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) has already lucidly outlined some of the problems facing the motor industry in meeting the challenge of the latter half of the century, particularly with the problem of exhaust emissions.

The difficulties faced by the motor industry can be surmounted, but the cost of providing lean-burn engines is not insignificant. Much of the work is still no more than advanced theory and the practical development and the tooling and manufacturing will cost industry a considerable sum. The main worry is whether what is left of our indigenous car industry is capable of meeting that challenge.

The other difficulty is that if our industry cannot meet the challenge as quickly as we hope, we do not want to be bounced down catalyst avenue, because that has yet to be proved a sensible way to go. The Americans, who have about 10 years' experience of catalytic burners on cars, know that after a period the device starts to fail and it is highly questionable.

Some of the major manufacturers in Germany are having great difficulty in fitting burners to normal, small production saloon cars. One cannot fit a catalyst system under a Mini or a Metro. The car has to be virtually redesigned and rebuilt to accommodate that questionable device.

The challenge could be met by concentrating on the development of the diesel engine, which is growing in popularity on the continent, but sales here have not taken off in the same way. Some would say that fiscal encouragement is needed, and perhaps we should examine ways of encouraging the sale of diesel cars by, say, reducing the 10 per cent. special car tax for purchasers.

Pollution problems are not necessarily caused by new cars. Modern, sophisticated warm-up devices ensure that choke controls can return to the zero position shortly after the engine is started and tolerances in the manufacture of engine units have been tightened. The modern new car is a low polluter.

The main challenge is to ensure that the mass of vehicles that have been on the road for several years are pollutant-free. It seems that they are prime polluters and perhaps the Government should encourage more attention to be paid to pollution levels during the annual MOT checks. Not only do we have to meet the challenge with new cars, we have to maintain standards throughout the life of a vehicle.

1.45 am
Mr. Waldegrave

We can congratulate ourselves on having had a short debate, in which all sides of this complex question have been eloquently put forward. I assure the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that I come to the House not to ask for a free hand to negotiate a new policy but to ask the permission of the House not to have to put a parliamentary reserve on what may be the successful conclusion of a policy that the House has backed.

I admire the rearguard action fought by my hon. Friends the Members for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Woodcock). General Moore at Corunna had nothing on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon has nothing to apologise for, even if the directive affected his constituency. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, we all accept the argument for a constituency interest. I respect the case that was made.

The Government have long considered the decision, and the matter has been discussed in the House more than once. We understand the margins of error in the calculations, but considering the costs and benefits involved, we believe that it is an additional safeguard to follow this path. The position is not very different from that which we are taking on acid rain, where the costs seem to be much greater than the benefits. There is always a balance on either side.

My hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston argued about timing. We are proceeding on a realistic timetable and have fixed the date for 1989—no later, but no earlier. All hon. Members should welcome it, if the oil companies find it profitable and sensible to introduce lead-free petrol for sale in Britain before then, but we do not intend to compel them to do so.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston that we do not intend to exercise compulsion about different pricing levels. The market can sort that out. For some of the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North, it would be unfortunate if there was a wide price differential. We do not want an incentive to mis-fuel a car. We assume that the market will even out the price differentials between leaded and unleaded petrol.

The figures of £500 million mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon are pessimistic. We are now considering a final investment figure of £220 million and a manufacturing investment figure of £60 million. The original assumptions about investment costs have turned out to be pessimistic.

I do not wish to disagree with anything said about catalytic converters. They are bad technology. Moreover, there is a danger that the work that is being done to improve engine design is likely to be aborted because it will not be worthwhile if we adopted them. That relates to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris), with which I found almost nothing to disagree—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7805/84 and 9613/84 on the lead and benzene content of petrol, and other vehicle emissions; and supports Her Majesty's Government's endeavours to secure the introduction of unleaded petrol throughout the European Community at the earliest opportunity.