§ [Relevant Document: First Report of the Environment Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 270 of Session 1987–88) on Air Pollution.]11.54 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for theEnvironment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8335/87 and 4997/88 + COR1 on control of chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer; supports the implementation of the Montreal Protocol through Community-wide action; endorses the control of consumption of ozone-depleting substances through control of their overall supply; and encourages continuing action by all sectors of industry on a voluntary basis to reduce use of these substances to the maximum possible extent.Document No. 8335/87 is a proposal for a decision seeking the Council's authorisation of Community signature of a protocol to the Vienna convention for the protection of the ozone layer. The proposal was submitted on 11 September 1987, at a time when international negotiations were reaching their conclusion. The Council's authorisation was given by means of urgent written procedure in time for the conference of plenipotentiaries held in Montreal from 14 to 16 September. On 16 September, what is now called the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer was signed by the Community, the United Kingdom and most other member states.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained on 13 January in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington), the House was in recess at that time and it was not possible for the normal scrutiny procedures to be carried out. The Government, however, kept the House informed of developments, including the outcome of the diplomatic conference. The text of the protocol was published as a Command Paper and laid before both Houses in January, in accordance with the usual practice, before ratification by the United Kingdom.
The protocol contains measures to control the production and consumption of two groups of chemicals with the potential to damage the ozone layer: chlorofluorocarbons—CFCs—11, 12, 113, 114 and 115, and halons 1211, 1301 and 2402.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The purpose of halons for manufacturing industry is connected mostly with fire retardants. This involves major policy. There is obviously great advantage in using halons, as any chemist knows. Could the Minister explain—either in the winding-up speech or at his convenience—the Government's policy towards the non-use of halons, given that it will make fire retardant materials far more difficult, and certainly far more expensive, to manufacture?
§ Mr. Moynihan
I shall certainly elaborate the point during my winding-up speech. However, I shall take this opportunity to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is absolutely right: halons a re widely used in fire extinguishers, and we need to promote active research into alternative substances that have the same effect without depleting the ozone layer. That will require time. One of the problems is the substitution of halons in fire extinguishers, particularly in developing countries. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, that is expensive.
315 CFCs are used for such purposes as refrigeration, foam-blowing and aerosol propellants. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has said. halons are used primarily as fire retardants. The protocol provides for production and consumption of CFCs to be reduced progressively to 50 per cent. of 1986 levels by 1999. Production and consumption of halons is to be frozen by 1993. There is some flexibility to exceed the production limits, but solely for the purposes of industrial rationalisation and to guarantee supplies to low-consuming developing country parties. Such countries have more time to comply with the measures. Unlike the provisions limiting trade with non-parties, the special provisions for developing countries are designed to encourage countries to join the protocol.
We are keen that there should be the widest possible participation in the protocol, and we are doing what we can, through diplomatic and industrial channels, to encourage as many developing countries as possible to sign the protocol.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Does the Minister recognise that many people will be disappointed by the approach that has been taken tonight? Will he assure the House that the Government will give speedy consideration to the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, which deals with CFCs, and that the Government's response will be published as soon as possible? At that stage there should be a further debate. Perhaps the response to the section of the report on CFCs should be speedier than the response to other parts.
§ Mr. Moynihan
The Government have considered the Select Committee's recommendations seriously and will take on board the importance that the hon. Gentleman has attached to them. We are taking a tough line on production, as we did with the Americans during the negotiations. We have been —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) laughs, but that is a fact. We have been pushing extremely hard for a comprehensive ban on CFCs rather than a selective one. We are aware that CFCs, wherever they come from, have a depleting effect on the ozone layer. As the Select Committee urges, we must tackle the overall problem.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
Is the Minister denying that the Americans wanted a greater cut in production than that for which the EEC was arguing, and that within the EEC Britain was one of the countries arguing for a smaller cut than that proposed by the Community?
§ Mr. Moynihan
I am denying that. I am saying categorically that we are looking for a greater cut in production during the negotiations. We were urging the Americans to move from specific bans to an overall ban for the reason that I have outlined. It is important internationally to ensure that we control CFCs, reduce them and take into account any new technology that makes it possible to take further measures. An important part of the protocol is the opportunity to review in the light of new scientific developments and technology.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the Minister clarify the passage on the second page of the memorandum, which, referring to article 7, states: 316There are also measures limiting imports from countries not party to the protocol."?Is it not a fact that it will be difficult administratively to do that? I am told that it will be extremely difficult.
§ Mr. Moynihan
It will be difficult, but not impossible. It is our intention to put in place appropriate measures to ensure that the objective is achieved. I shall deal with them later.
We are keen that there should be the widest possible participation in the protocol. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his forthcoming visit to China, will seek to persuade the Chinese to adopt the protocol. If he succeeds in doing so, that will bring 1 billion people within it, many of whom are important users of CFCs and halons. If we can ensure that China is persuaded during my right hon. Friend's visit, that will be an important move forward. Incidentally, today he persuaded the Swedish Minister who is responsible for these matters to take this line.
The protocol expressly provides for the control measures to be reviewed in 1990, and at least every four years thereafter in the light of available scientific, environmental, technical and economic information. Since Montreal, our understanding of the science has continued to develop. The Department's stratospheric ozone review group—an independent advisory body of experts—has been keeping a close watch on the situation. At the Department's request, the group agreed to the release on 14 June of the executive summary, of its forthcoming second report. In the summary the group says that it is now virtually certain that the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic is caused by CFCs, which are also implicated in ozone depletion above other parts of the globe, including the United Kingdom. The group gives a clear warning that unless emissions are greatly reduced, and possibly phased out, more severe depletion of statospheric ozone is likely to occur.
The Government will be studying the report carefully as soon as it is available, but we are already taking careful note of the summary and its warning about the need to strengthen the protocol. Our first priority, however, shared with our partners in the European Community, is to ensure that the protocol enters into force on 1 January 1989, as planned, and with the widest possible participation. This will allow the protocol's own review procedures to be put into effect.
That brings me to document No. 4997/88, which comprises two proposals. These are a decision on ratification of the Vienna convention and the Montreal protocol by the European Community and member states, and a regulation laying down common rules for implementing the protocol within the Community. The document COR1 merely makes some minor drafting changes to the proposals in document No. 4997/88.
As the House will be aware, on 16 June, the Environment Council reached agreement in principle on the proposals, subject to parliamentary reserves from the United Kingdom and several other member states. The United Kingdom parliamentary reserve was entered because it had not been possible to arrange before then a debate called for in the reports of the Select Committee on documents 8335/87 and 4997/88 and because the scrutiny process in another place had not yet been completed. When both Houses are satisfied, the United Kingdom will be able to lift its reserve on the proposals.
317 The United Kingdom ratified the decisions at the Vienna convention as long ago as 1987, and it was the first European country to do so. France is the only other member state to have ratified. All other member states have now signed the protocol, except Ireland and Spain. The proposed decision originally sought to achieve simultaneous ratification of both instruments by 15 September 1988. In discussion, the deadline has been extended to 1 October for the convention and 31 December for the protocol.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
My hon. Friend has mentioned the pressure that we put on the Americans to reach agreement with us. Has he been able to put any pressure on the Russians to abide by the terms of the protocol?
§ Mr. Moynihan
It is not a matter of applying pressure, but there is joint recognition with the Soviet Union of the importance of ensuring that the protocol is properly implemented. I shall come to those countries which have signed since Montreal, not least the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR and Byelorussian SSR.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
Will the Minister confirm or deny that the British Government argued in the Common Market that there should be 90 per cent. ratification of the protocol before it was implemented, and that that gave the Soviet Union a veto?
§ Mr. Moynihan
I can confirm that that was the thrust of discussions at that time. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have moved forward considerably from that. Obviously, we want to ensure that we achieve further signatories. For example, we understand that the United States and Mexico have since ratified.
Turning to the regulation, the United Kingdom has consistently supported implementation of the protocol through Communitywide action by means of a regulation which is directly applicable in all member states. This is the only way of ensuring that the necessary legislative framework for implementation is in place throughout the Community in good time before the protocol comes into force.
The regulation reflects the dual control of production and consumption in the protocol and applies the protocol limits directly to individual firms. There are limits on the amounts produced by each company. Consumption is controlled through the control of the overall supply of CFCs and halons by limiting the amounts which producing companies can sell within the Community, or use themselves, and the amounts which firms may import from outside the Community. The United Kingdom has firmly supported controlling consumption by controlling supply rather than controlling specific uses, a method which has been shown elsewhere to be inefficient and inflexible—for example, the aerosols in the United States to which I have referred. Rather, it is left to market forces to determine the use to which available supplies are put as prices rise.
In addition to the central control provisions, there are measures, in parallel with those in the protocol, to limit imports from non-parties. There is a management committee to advise the Commission on detailed matters of implementation and provisions for data reporting, inspections and for action if the regulation is infringed.
318 I shall keep the hon. Member for Linlithgow in touch on that point as we receive further information, because he was right to say that it is technically difficult to ensure that we achieve that objective.
Inevitably, in discussion of the Commission's proposals by member states, some changes have been made, but the regulation agreed in principle does not differ substantially from the original proposals. The main changes are to the provisions relating to import licences, production, inspections and infringement. Import licences are now to be issued by member states rather than by the Commission. Production increases allowed under the protocol for the purposes of industrial rationalisation and to meet the basic domestic needs of developing countries have to be agreed with the member state concerned, and there is now express provision rationalisation within member states. The provision whereby production quotas could be reallocated in the event of a producer beginning production after 1986 has been dropped.
Several changes have been made to the provisions for inspections, including a requirement for the agreement of the member state concerned to Commission officials assisting those of the member state in carrying out inspections, and for the Commission to take appropriate measures to protect the confidentiality of the information obtained. The provisions dealing with infringements have been simplified on the basis that member states should take appropriate legal or administrative action in the event of the regulation being infringed.
In its report, the Select Committee said that it did not understand the statement in the Department's explanatory memorandum on document 4997/88 that the measures in the regulation were not inconsistent with the Government's preference for achieving the reductions required by voluntary action.
The regulation lays down the basic minimum legal framework within which there is complete flexibililty for industry to take steps to reduce the use of CFCs and halons on a voluntary or self-regulatory basis. This self-regulatory approach has already worked well with existing Community measures to establish a production ceiling for CFCs 11 and 12 and to effect reductions in aerosol use. We are keen to encourage a continuation of this kind of approach. Indeed, an essential element of the package agreed at the Environment Council on 16 June was a political resolution which stressed the importance of further voluntary measures to reduce the use of CFCs and halons to the maximum possible extent.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In its 32nd report of Session 1987–88, the Select Committee on European Legislation states:The resolution also invites the Commission to seek voluntary agreement with industry on a common Community label for CFC-free products.Has such agreement been reached? Its importance was emphasised at a meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) arranged with his constituent, Mr. Beckitt, and others, of ICI Runcorn. This is a matter of some importance.
§ Mr. Moynihan
To the best of my knowledge, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but voluntary action by individual producers has progressed. If more information has emerged since I was briefed on this subject, I shall let the hon. Gentleman know in my winding-up speech.
319 In the United Kingdom, the aerosol industry has announced that it will phase out non-essential use of CFCs in aerosols by the end of 1989. As aerosols represent over 60 per cent. of CFC use in the United Kingdom, we shall be well ahead of the Montreal timetable for CFC reductions, but we are anxious that all sectors of industry should reduce consumption on a voluntary basis, and officials of my Department and of the Department of Trade and Industry have regular meetings with users of CFCs and halons to establish what steps they are taking to reduce consumption. Moreover, the United Kingdom producers are actively engaged in research and development work to identify and test suitable and safe substitutes and have joined with other firms in Europe, The United States and Japan to hasten the process of commercial development.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
What steps are the Government taking to encourage research into other, safer, CFCs? Is the research being carried out quickly enough?
§ Mr. Moynihan
It is important that we push ahead with research urgently. Much research has borne fruit in terms of industry's immediate response, but we are committed, through the protocol, to give suitable assistance to further research in the Community and abroad. That has financial implications which have been taken on board, not least by the Overseas Development Administration. I am satisfied that considerable research is pushing ahead. There is clearly much more work to be done in the light of further evidence of the science attached to depletion of the ozone layer and the range of substances involved. More needs to be done, but I am satisfied that a good deal of initial work has been beneficial.
The Montreal protocol is a major environmental achievement. Since its adoption last year, our understanding of the science has developed and there have been calls for the protocol to be strengthened. In view of the new evidence, we need to prepare for an orderly assessment of the science for the first scheduled review of the measures in 1990. This process of review is already beginning and there will be a series of international scientific and technical meetings in the Netherlands this October, in which the United Kingdom will participate fully. The report of our stratospheric ozone research group, the full version of which should be published in September, will form an important contribution to the review, but the first priority must be to get the protocol into force. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
The Minister and I will not disagree to the same extent as we did in the recent debate on acid rain, but we will disagree about the scope of the Montreal convention and how effective the Government's response to the issue has been. We shall disagree, too, on the Government's role in getting the EEC to water down its joint approach to the discussions that took place in Montreal.
Everyone—not only the Minister—has problems pronouncing chlorofluorocarbons. Our Chief Whip had to rehearse it before the parliamentary Labour party meeting last Thursday, at which he had to say the word in the 320 course of announcing the business. I am pleased to see that so many Conservative Members are interested in chlorofluorocarbons. Either that, or they represent the chemical industry constituencies—there is nothing wrong with that—or they think there will be a vote. I cannot imagine why so many of them are here at this late hour. I used to complain regularly that important environmental issues were put to too late at night and that we should have more serious debates at earlier times so that more hon. Members would be present to discuss them.
There is a theatre called the Theatre in Conservation. It is an environmentalist theatre, a non-party organisation, that puts on shows for children. It is putting on a pantomime at the moment, in which Fluorocarbon is the wicked witch, who comes out of the aerosol can, the ugly sisters are SOx, and NOx and the heroes are Dick Whittington and his catalytic converter and the Greenpeace warriors. So if, in future, the Minister has problems pronouncing chlorofluorocarbons, he has only to think of the Theatre in Conservation and the wicked witch Fluorocarbon, who is destroying our ozone layer.
This is a serious matter. The closing statement from the 330 policy makers and scientists from the 48 countries represented at the Montreal convention began thus:Humanity is conducting an enormous, unintended, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.That was not said by the Labour party, or by me. It was said by those policy makers who discussed the changing atmosphere implications for global security in Toronto in June.
It is imperative to act now to avert an impending crisis of atmospheric pollution. The ozone layer is the only one that we have. If we do not take action now, on the grounds that the link is not proven, and it is later proven, it could easily be too late. The conference identified CFCs, the chemicals believed to be the primary cause of ozone depletion, as important contributors also to the greenhouse effect and called for their near-complete elimination by 2000—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and by the Select Committee.
In the debate on acid rain I was a little critical of the Select Committee's recommendations for not going far enough, but on this issue the Committee has got it virtually perfectly right. I hope that the Government will respond to its recommendations—
§ Mr. Thurnham
What does the hon. Gentleman mean when he says that the Select Committee has got it virtually perfectly right? With what does he disagree in the report? Is he aware that the British Refrigeration Association has said that it would be almost impossible to replace existing systems if the Committee's report on R22 were accepted? The Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association has said that the consequences for keeping food refrigerated would be unthinkable.
§ Mr. Roberts
I thought that Conservative Members were here because they represented certain interests. Industries always say that it is impossible to act until they have to, and then find a way of doing so. "Impossible" merely means that the chemical industry might have to spend too much and is worried about its competitors.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
Might there not be something rather more genuine, in that the chemical industry does not want to produce new poisons, and there is such a thing as toxicity testing, which takes some time?
§ Mr. Roberts
The argument now is that the industry does not want to get rid of one poison because it might introduce another. Conservative Members are here in force. I shall come to these issues in a minute. I do not want to restrict the British chemical industry so much that it is not in a position to compete with the other chemical industries. However, the industry has to be careful about saying that things cannot be done when it does not know how to do them. As a member of the all-party chemical industries group, I believe that the way forward for the British chemical industry and Imperial Chemical Industries plc is to do the research and produce the substitutes for CFCs. It is sad that the American firm Du Pont is ahead of us, because that is the result of the American Government and, as a consequence, American industry, taking the issue more seriously than we did. We fell for the belief that CFCs were not doing the damage, and that if they were the extent was not proven. The research stopped, and now ICI is fighting desperately to catch up with Du Pont. I hope that it does; I do not want to harm our chemical industry.
The Montreal protocol is an international agreement to cut production and consumption of CFCs by 35 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively by 1999. The House should be clear that that is not a 50 per cent. cut in production, but a 50 per cent. cut in consumption, and only a 35 per cent. cut in production. That means that we can sell CFCs abroad if we do not use them. We can sell them to the Third world, as though the Third world has a different ozone layer. That is where this protocol falls down. It does not go far enough. If the 50 per cent. cut had been in production and not just in consumption, we might have been on the way to having a significant protocol to ratify. Instead, hidden in the fine print is the fact that we may not be using as much, but our industries can produce it and sell it abroad. That is not the way forward, because just as much of the ozone layer will be lost as a result;
Many scientists believe that the cuts do not go anywhere near far enough, and that cuts of 85 per cent. are needed to stabilise the atmosphere. The Select Committee on the Environment recommended that the Montreal protocol be reconvened to negotiate reductions in consumption of CFCs to 15 per cent. of the 1986 levels. That is an 85 per cent. cut. It received good and expert evidence to that effect. That is also in line with the level regarded as necessary to stabilise the atmosphere, and the Government's response is still awaited.
On 14 June 1988, in a Department of the Environment press release—the only response that we have had from the Government—Lord Caithness, the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Water, announced:a group of prominent British scientists have advised the Government that unless emissions of CFCs are reduced much further than the levels required by the 1987 Montreal Protocol more severe depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer is likely to occur.Those scientists are right. It is not clear what Government thinking about the extent and level of emission reductions required is, and the Minister's speech tonight neither made that clear nor answered the point that the Minister of State made.
322 On 16 June the EEC agreed to ratify the Montreal protocol. Each EEC member state will be required individually to fulfil the requirements of the protocol. However, we are worried, as we were about the acid rain protocol, about monitoring and implementation of the reduction. Questions need to be asked. It is not clear how effective monitoring of the implementation of the protocol would be put into effect.
The Nordic countries, rightly concerned about their environment, have already announced their intention to aim for reductions of over 90 per cent. by 1995. They have refrigerators, although it is colder there than it is here. They also have air conditioning systems. If they can do it, why can we not? It is exactly t he same as retrofitting power stations and reducing acid rain—the Germans can do it, but we cannot. We always find an excuse.
Major problems remain. including the number of countries that are not party to the protocol which the Minister mentioned. There is the monitoring of imports and exports of CFC to ensure that CFC havens are not set up in countries not party to the protocol, which could easily happen. The protocol provision allowing for a 10 per cent. increase in production for low consumer countries to increase their per capita usage during industrial rationalisation is also an important issue.
The hon. Members who represent chemical industry constituencies are worried about British products. It is of considerable concern that the figures for United Kingdom production and consumption of CFCs are not available to the public. We learned only recently that more than 60 per cent. of United Kingdom CFC usage is in aerosols and that figure was much higher than expected.
In June 1988 the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association reversed its previous position and recommended that its members should label aerosols. The Select Committee on the Environment recommended mandatory ozone-friendly labelling schemes, but the Government are still saying, "Leave it to market forces." How we can leave the market to decide whether people should buy ozone-friendly aerosols or non-ozone-friendly aerosols when we do not have them labelled defeats me. I share the all-party recommendation of the Select Committee on the Environment that it cannot be left to market forces and that it should be a mandatory requirement for aerosols that do not have CFCs in them to be labelled "ozone-friendly".
The Select Committee also recommended banning CFCs in aerosols except for medical use, if the phasing out of CFCs is not rapid enough. In March, when giving evidence to the Select Committee, Lord Caithness said that the voluntary approach had worked. I dispute that. Articles in the industrial press suggest that consumer pressure and the fear of falling sales have been the key factors.
I am concerned about the amount of self-regulation by industry. The British Aerosol Manufacturers Association reports that by the end of 1989 only 10 per cent. of aerosols will use CFCs as propellants. That figure represents essential uses and, if that is true, it is good, but there is currently no procedure for challenging the definition of a product as an essential use, and the Government must consider introducing legislation. Furthermore, 10 per cent. is higher than in many countries which have already banned CFCs in aerosols, and because of the high proportion of CFC aerosols used in the United Kingdom, 10 per cent. is not negligible.
323 The Select Committee on the Environment recommended that the Department of the Environment should take a strong lead in co-ordinating European research and that Government funds should be made available for that purpose. On 9 July 1988 newspapers reported that the Natural Environmental Research Council, which has been losing Government funds, is shedding 130 scientific posts. If the Minister is serious about those environmental issues, it is an absolute tragedy and a scandal that environmental research is not given higher priority by the Government.
There is massive scientific evidence of ozone depletion, the most up-to-date and reliable of which was published in March 1988 in the report of the Ozone Trends Panel. That body was made up of more than 100 international scientists and was backed up by, among others, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It concluded that there has been a large, sudden and unexpected decrease in the abundance of springtime Antarctic ozone during the past decade. Ozone decreases of more than 50 per cent. in the total column, and 95 per cent. locally between 15 and 20 km altitude have been observed.
Everyone knows about the hole over the Antarctic, but what about other areas? In the northern hemisphere there have been measurable decreases between 1969 and 1986 of ozone ranging from 1.7 to 3 per cent. at latitudes between 30 and 64 deg. The decreases are most pronounced and range from 2.3 to 6.2 per cent. during the winter months. That depletion occurs over densely populated areas, including Britain, Europe, the United States of America, Japan, much of the Soviet Union, China and the middle east. The observed changes may be due wholly or in part to the increased abundance of trace gases, primarily CFCs: Once the CFCs get into the atmosphere, they hang around for 100 years. They will be a danger for a long time.
The scientists say:The weight of evidence strongly indicates that man-made chlorine species are primarily responsible for the observed decrease in ozone within the polar vortex.It is as provable as the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and the causes of acid rain.
Summing up all the scientists' comments, Dr. Robert Watson of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said:The mean values of the observed decreases at mid and high latitudes in winter are larger than the mean values of the predicted decreases.I do not really understand that. He continued:Things are far worse than we thought.I understand that, though. The Government admit that there is a problem. We are worried about the extent to which their actions will solve it.
It is all very well to quote the scientific evidence and technical information, but the reality is that the depletion of the ozone layer will cause skin cancer. The herpes virus, hepatitis and parasitic infections of the skin will increase, as will senile eye cataracts. Significant changes in total column ozone will disturb crop yields. Increases above 10 per cent. of UV-B—the ultra-violet rays that get through the ozone layer—will affect fish. There will be many other consequences, and that is why it is important to regard this as an important issue. It will affect the entire planet and the relationships in the ecosystem. It is not something that does not matter to the British people.
324 We want the Government to be more decisive in acting to persuade—and if necessary to legislate—industry to stop using CFCs. Of course it cannot be done overnight, but we believe that this protocol does not go far enough. The Government have been guilty of back-pedalling in the EEC. They should assist the British chemical industry by funding research into finding CFC substitutes. Du Pont has discovered such substitutes.
The Government should re-evaluate the reductions required, taking into account the comments of the Ozone Trends Panel and the Toronto conference. We wish to clarify the role of the United Kingdom in pushing for the urgent reconvention of the Montreal protocol and exertion of diplomatic activity to encourage other nations to join the process. The Minister seemed to agree with that proposition.
We wish to clarify the procedures for monitoring implementation of cuts in the United Kingdom and the possibility of aiming for more radical measures similar to those being adopted by the Nordic countries. We must step up research and investment, and we must have legislation to label products and a timetable for bans on non-essential uses of CFCs as soon as alternatives become available.
§ Mr. Roberts
ICI said that, but I do not necessarily believe it. It is a matter of resources, research and co-operation among the chemical industries of all the developed countries.
The British industry is selling itself short. Its future lies in competing in a world that is worried about the environment, especially the ozone layer. It must carry out the research, develop the alternatives as quickly as possible and get on with the job. ICI and others will take the lead from a Government who seem to be the dirty men of Europe, who do not push or press, who want to drag their coat tails on this issue and who are not as concerned about the environment as they should be. I am concerned about jobs in the British chemical industry and about its future. If the United States—our main competitor—and the British Government sign the international agreements, there should be fair competition to produce alternatives.
The protocol is inadequate. To some extent it is a con, in that it refers to a 50 per cent. cut in consumption but only a 35 per cent. cut in production. Even after the protocol is ratified we shall still produce 65 per cent. of our 1986 production. I hope that the Minister will take the issue seriously and will return from his Department with assurances on legislation, labelling and further action to get international agreement that goes much further than the protocol.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make what I hope will be a brief contribution to the debate in view of the number of hon. Members who want to participate.
I have two concerns about the Montreal protocol. The first is contained in the developing countries exception. Under the protocol, developing countries are given special rights to produce up to 0.5 kg per head of new production 325 of CFCs and to consume up to 0.3 kg per head. Among those developing countries are the People's Republic of China, which on its own would be permitted to increase world production of CFCs by 50 per cent., and India and Thailand, which would be able to increase production by 0.5 kg per head. Therefore, under the protocol, it is possible to double production of CFCs in 10 years. That is frightening. It makes what we are doing under the protocol look like stubbing out a bookmatch in our backyard while a forest fire rages elsewhere.
I hope that, when the nations again get together to look at the Montreal protocol, they will look not so much at the interests of the developing world in terms of building its industry as at overall world production of CFCs. As the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) rightly said, most of our production is exported. I see no reason why that production should be ignored in terms of world production and should not be substituted for production that would otherwise arise in the developing countries.
My second concern about the protocol relates to the concept—which is rather odd when analysed—of the calculated level index, whereby some CFCs and some halons are worse than others. It applies complex mathematical formulae to the number assigned to each chemical in order to arrive at future production levels. That is fine, until one realises that the original index to which the mathematical formulae apply is a complete mystery. It is just plucked out of the air. In the Montreal protocol, we are multiplying apples and pears and, as any school child knows, to do so is purely fruitless.
The calculated level index is important when we consider controls on production because, however meaningless it is, it is the base on which future changes in production levels can be made. EEC document 4997/88 calls for periodical revision of the indices. The protocol provides for a two-thirds majority of parties to the protocol to be able to make revisions to the indices and for representatives of 50 per cent. of world consumption, not production, who are parties to the protocol, to be able to call for revisions.
As we know, the United Kingdom is low in its use of CFCs. It is high on production and low on consumption. Therefore, in any future revision of the Montreal protocol, if one pools those facts, and pools the majorities, one can see who will come out worst on the deal. Because we are high producers and low consumers, and because of the way in which the majorities under the Montreal convention are structured, inevitably we shall get the short straw. That needs to be examined again on a revision of the convention from the point of view of making sure that the undoubted pain that the industry will go through over the next few years is not unfairly borne in this country.
Much has been said about the speed with which the industry should react. I was very worried by what appeared to be the attitude of the hon. Member for Bootle, who seemed to brush aside the possibility that, because we are dealing with substances that are known to be highly dangerous and we are looking for substitutes, we might rush ahead and produce substitutes, which, because of the chemicals that we are dealing with, could prove far more dangerous than the chemicals that they are designed to replace. The industry is doing everything that it can to produce the chemicals that are needed as quickly as possible. It is already known that the chemicals that are needed as replacements for some industrial purposes are not yet available. If we were just to go blindly ahead and 326 rush into production with the first chemical that was available, we could end up with the industrial equivalent of another Thalidomide disaster.
We must replace CFCs with chemicals that are non-flammable, of low toxicity and have a good thermodynamic performance. For many uses, such as low-temperature refrigeration, those new chemicals are not yet available. The industry is doing everything that it can.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
As the Minister and I said, the major use of 60 per cent. of CFCs is for propellants in aerosols. I grant that there are now difficulties with substitutes for the other uses, but there are not for the production of substitutes for propellants in aerosol cans. If that alone were done, it would make a major impact—bigger than that of the protocol.
§ Mr. Stern
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association has already announced that, under present rules, it will be able to reduce use in aerosols to 10 per cent. of the 1976 levels by the end of next year. So the hon. Gentleman is biting on a bullet that does not exist.
The research must be done and the new chemicals found. In this country, we need to use the Montreal protocol and the convention that we are now discussing to encourage the industry to produce what we know it can produce, but at the same time let us not fall into the trap of assuming that it is easy or that there is a quick substitute for any of those uses. There is not.
§ Mr. Thurnham
My hon. Friend said that this country might suffer disproportionately because we produce more in proportion to our consumption than other countries, but has he reflected on what will happen to the price of the product if restrictions are placed on supply? Perhaps we shall gain in that way.
§ Mr. Stern
I must leave my hon. Friend to develop that point. I admit that I am concerned more from the point of view of the industry to make sure that it is given the chance of producing the product before it can price it, and from the point of view that there are undoubted dangers in those products, so, as the protocol permits and encourages, we must allow the price levels to reflect the relative toxicities of the products.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) talked about chlorofluorocarbons. The Minister spoke about them, as I shall, as CFCs because it is much too late at night to try to pronounce chlorofluorocarbons.
Hon. Members have talked about chemical substances, CFCs and protocols. Let us try to put the debate, late at night though it is, in perspective by defining the substances that we are discussing. We are talking about everyday substances in products in everyday use in the home. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle said that 60 per cent. of the product goes into aerosols. I do not know where he got that figure, but I shall accept it.
Increasingly, CFCs are being used in refrigerants. The ordinary refrigerator in the home and refrigerators in shops and abattoirs use them They are also extensively used in the plastics industry, in which their use is growing. Until a few years ago CFCs were regarded as scientific 327 miracles. Theywere looked upon as safe products and, as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) has said, were economical to manufacture. An important feature of CFCs is that they are non-flammable, while many alternatives, including those in aerosols, are flammable and highly dangerous. CFCs are also non-toxic.
CFCs were regarded as wonder products and in my constituency ICI, which manufactures them, expanded enormously and put tens of millions of pounds into increasing production. Rock Savage in Runcorn in my constituency is the biggest plant in the United Kingdom—and probably the biggest plant in Europe—producing CFCs. I had the privilege three or four years ago of opening an extension to that plant. I was proud to say at that time that it provided jobs for my constituents and exports for Britain. I admit that not many jobs are provided by the direct manufacture of CFCs because this is a highly capital-intensive industry, but many spin-off jobs are provided. There are jobs in administration and sales and in transporting the material and there are jobs in exporting.
A few years ago I was proud of what ICI and Rock Savage were producing for Britain, but then we had the attack, mainly from the United States of America, on CFCs. Suddenly, they were responsible for damage to the ozone layer. That is accepted by the United Kingdom, which is a signatory to the Montreal accord. As the Minister said, it is also accepted by the Soviet bloc and by most countries.
As a result of the ozone layer theory, many things happened. I am not convinced that CFCs are responsible for the hole in the layer over the Antarctic. I am not a scientist, but I have been an officer of the all-party chemical industries group since its existence and I have taken a keen interest in scientific development and in our chemical industry. I think that you too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were a founder member of the group in 1967. The group is approaching its 21st birthday.
As a trained lawyer, I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle that I do not accept that there is proof to the same extent as the proof that cigarettes damage one's health and lungs that CFCs damage the ozone layer.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I should like to quote the words of Dr. Joe Farman, a British scientist and member of the British Antarctic Survey, which discovered the hole in the ozone. Initially, he was very open-minded about the cause of the ozone hole above the Antarctic, and he remained so for several years. However, intensive scientific studies have persuaded him that CFCs are, indeed, the cause, as all the leading scientists agree. He said:Debate is over among those competent to judge.That comes from someone who is uniquely competent to judge. I advise my right hon. Friend to follow world opinion and the opinion of all the leading scientists in this matter.
§ Mr. Oakes
If hon. Members followed scientists and outside organisations in the hysteria that is sometimes engendered, we should be in a sorry state. Hon. Members should be sceptical of experts, whoever they are. We should apply a little common sense. My hon. Friend the 328 Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) mentioned a member of the British Antarctic Survey, which discovered the hole over the Antarctic a few years ago. That hole could have existed for a million years. No one had looked for it before and no one knew it was there.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument closely, and I know that he is putting a layman's or a lawyer's point. Can he tell the House whether a single scientist has suggested that the causes of the problems are other than those that the House is discussing?
§ Mr. Oakes
I am saying that few scientists would say that there is absolute proof. Scientists say that there is circumstantial evidence, and nations have accepted that. I am not opposing the documents; I am merely advancing my view, which is that we need to have a healthy scepticism. I agree with what a great comedian said on television last Sunday; indeed, I thought that I had invented it. I cannot believe that the fact that I spray deodorant under my arms in my bathroom can have caused a great hole in the ozone layer in the Antarctic. It stretches credulity. Some scientists say that it is so, but we must be sceptical.
As I said, the proposition has been accepted not only by Governments but by the industry. I mention that for one reason. The Minister rightly said that in 1990 there is to be a proper review, on proper evidence, of what is happening. I hope that all nations are continuing their research. I hope that the British Antarctic Survey will continue its research and that in 1990 or 1994, if there is alternative evidence—as there may well be—scientists will say that they have made a mistake. I hope that we shall not crucify a very useful industry on the ground of what may have been a mistake.
There is hope in the documents that the 1990 date can still be achieved if further evidence comes to light between now and then. I hope that the Minister and the House will take that into account.
What worries me is that at first the attack was on aerosols—perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly; I do not know. The attack will now move on to refrigerants and then, inevitably, to plastics. Any use of CFCs—not only in aerosols—will be regarded as a potential source of danger. Indeed, motions have already appeared on the Order Paper—I have tried to amend them—calling for an immediate ban on aerosols and other uses of CFCs. At the moment, no adequate, economical, non-toxic and non-flammable alternative exists. If we were to use carbon dioxide, for example, as a refrigerant, can we imagine what size our refrigerators would be? If we were to use butane aerosols, there would be an immediate danger of flammability, which we have not got with CFCs.
These documents are reasonable in that they give time for the development of a practical and economic alternative to existing CFCs. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the excellent briefing that we had from ICI, explaining clearly and openly to hon. Members the current position and what it was doing. Already ICI has begun a massive programme of research in its laboratory at Runcorn and in a pilot plant which is in production at Westbank in Widnes. Funnily enough, that plant is on the site of the old Deacon works, which was one of the first chemical plants in the United Kingdom. The foundation of part of our chemical 329 industry began on the very site where ICI's pilot plant is. It is very close to the Halton chemical museum, of which I am a trustee and which we are working hard to establish as a major chemical museum not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe.
I have seen the pilot plant which is in production. Millions of pounds are being invested by ICI in CFCs which will be non-malign to the environment. Over the next two years £3 million per annum is to be spent on a rapid expansion of the plant. That is a lot of money in investment terms. What about manpower? By 1990, 200 scientists and technicians will be working on this alone.
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) talked about the need for speed. I agree with him, as does ICI. One sensible development by ICI to achieve speed is that engineers are working with the chemists now so that there will not he production problems when the product is invented. They are working together now so that the production will flow quickly and evenly when the right product is found.
The research must be centred on CFCs which are ozone-benign. Not all CFCs are malign to the ozone layer. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West was right when he said that three qualities are needed for the new product: it must have good thermodynamic performance, it must be non-flammable and it must have low toxicity. I agree entirely with him that the new product must be thoroughly tested so that we do not invent a product which could be alleged to be more damaging that the product we already have because of toxicity. That is why ICI honestly and openly in its evidence to the Select Committee said that no matter what the research might be and no matter what expenditure is made, we still come back to the essential problem of the possible toxicity of a new product.
No matter how fast the research goes or how well the production problems can he overcome, proper testing for a safe product will take a minimum of five years. That is only for the testing. Just as drugs have to be tested over a period, so will this product. If it is thought to be all right, after being tested over only 12 months or two years, and there are subsequent defects or harmful consequences, it would not be right for British industry to launch that product on the world. Therefore, a five-year testing period is essential. I say that clearly to the House. It is a crucial element, no less crucial than achieving the maximum possible safety for the public.
I ask the Minister to resist any demands from hon. Members, from organisations or—because one never knows when it will change its mind—from Europe to speed matters even faster, to the detriment of safety.
The documents as drafted will allow that essential research to take place within a feasible time scale. I am convinced that, because of its investment and the dedication of its scientists, technicians and engineers, ICI will find a practical alternative to the existing CFCs and that that alternative will be British.
§ Mr. Oakes
The Chinese have an expression about allowing a thousand flowers to bloom. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. But I have seen the work that ICI has 330 been doing and I know how advanced it is. I am proud of that research, and I hope that the future production of the alternative products about which we have been speaking, which will be so useful to mankind, will occur in my constituency, in the birthplace, the first home, the very heartland, of the British chemical industry.
§ 1.2 am
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
I shall cut short my remarks in view of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate, and concentrate on document 4997/88. There seems to be a discrepancy between what is said in the explanatory memorandum and in the document. The memorandum states:Recent scientific reports on the depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica in Spring and other studies on the total ozone layer indicate that a reduction in the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons is appropriate. The use of these substances is thought to be a probable cause for the depletion of the ozone layer.Note the weasel words in that memorandum, whereas—I am happy to say—the document is more positive. in that it states:Whereas it is established that continued emissions of chlorofluorocarbons and halons at current levels are likely to cause significant damage to the ozone layer; whereas there is international consensus that significant reductions in both production and consumption of all such substances arc necessary…whereas it is necessary for the protection, promotion and improvement of the environment to conclude the Vienna Convention and its Protocol, which is based on the principle of preventive action to avoid further damage to the ozone layer".That is the right way to put it. We cannot afford inaction. Even as we speak, more and more of these wretched substances are being pumped into the stratosphere. Production is now running at between 700,000 and 1 million tonnes per annum. Even if that level were reduced, those substances would still be going into the stratosphere, and, as the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) pointed out, once they have undergone the metamorphosis into chlorine, that remains there for 100 years, continuing to do damage.
Much has been said about jobs, and I do not denigrate any of those remarks, but if we end up without an ozone layer, the results will be absolutely horrendous.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman may be right or wrong, but is it not rather important to get at the truth of his assertions? Does he accept that the view of John Pyle—chairman of the Minister's stratosphere ozone layer review group—that Europe urgently needs a research aircraft like the American ER2 to do some basic research, especially over the Arctic, is really the litmus test of whether his assertions and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) are right? The truth is that we do not know yet, and a research aircraft is desperately needed.
§ Mr. Summerson
We already know a great deal following the American airborne Antarctic ozone experiment, which finished only a month or two ago, but I agree that we need to do more research, especially over the Arctic. An expedition is at present looking into conditions there, but we need to learn more.
There are two important things that the European Community could do to avoid further damage to the ozone layer. First, it should permit no imports of such substances—and, by the same token, permit no exports.
331 Secondly, there should be mandatory labelling of aerosols. Many other things could be done, but I consider those the most important.
Let me conclude by quoting what has been said by Dr. Joe Farman of the British Antarctic Survey. I also take this opportunity of paying tribute to the survey and the important work that it has done: long may it continue. Dr. Farman says:Had the delegates at Montreal seen the latest profiles of ozone, chlorine and the like from Antartica, then the cuts in the protocol would probably have been more stringent, and with fewer exceptions allowed. Just what, one may wonder, made it essential for the protocol to be agreed when it was? Was it really concern for the ozone layer? There is a simple test of this. Paragraph ii of Article 2 of the protocol reads: `Nowithstanding the provisions contained in the Article Parties may take more stringent measures than those required by this article'I am glad that the Government have done what they have done already, but we need to do much more, and I hope that they will give the lead.
§ 1.6 am
§ Mrs Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
I want to make a brief contribution to the debate, which is welcome and well timed in view of the Toronto summit in June. The summit recognised that CFCs are important contributors to the so-called "greenhouse effect" and called for their near-elimination by the year 2000.
The Montreal protocol, as we have heard, seeks a reduction in worldwide CFC production by the end of the century, but most scientists believe that that will not be enough. I urge the Minister to give an international lead and begin negotiations to reduce levels by the 85 per cent. now being called for. We have heard about the Nordic countries, which have announced that they are aiming for reductions of over 90 per cent. by 1995.
No country can tackle the task in isolation, and I was interested to note the Minister's remarks about the attempts to involve more countries in signing the protocol. That is obviously important, but what kind of monitoring will be carried out to ensure that countries that are not party to the protocol do not become havens for CFCs? I agree that all aerosols should be labelled, and we welcome the moves made voluntarily by companies and the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association to label goods. McDonalds is to abandon the use of CFCs when making its fast-food cartons. The general public have also played their part by putting pressure on manufacturers to label goods, but I believe that labelling should be made compulsory.
I too, commend ICI for its work and hope that it will be ahead of the Department in coming up with substitutes for CFCs.
The Government say that they are committed to improvement, especially by means of research. I hope that the Minister will explain what benefits will be gained by shedding 130 scientific posts from the Natural Environment Research Council. It is extremely worrying that so many scientific posts are disappearing in this and other areas. We must move faster in seeking to have CFCs banned altogether from manufacturing, except for medical products.
The situation is so serious that it is essential that we act with real urgency. I know that it is difficult for many to 332 imagine what will happen with further depletion of the ozone layer. There is no doubt, however, that the climate will continue to become warmer. We have already a modern-day dust bowl in the United States. The sea level will rise. We have heard about beaches being eroded in Australia. Research that has been undertaken at Cambridge university shows that British plants and trees have begun to change.
§ Mr. Stern
The hon. Lady is talking about the greenhouse effect as a certainty, but there is considerable scientific dispute about it. If she is right, does she agree that instead of concerning herself with the minor contribution that CFCs make she should argue for a reduction in the fossil fuel burn, which has an effect five times greater than CFCs? If the hon. Lady is right, the quickest way to deal with the greenhouse effect would be to close the fossil fuel plants and introduce more nuclear power generation.
§ Mrs. Michie
We must address ourselves to that issue as well, but we are discussing CFCs tonight. I shall confine myself to the motion and the implications that CFCs have on the depletion of the ozone layer.
We would be foolish to ignore what could happen, such as food growth diminishing and fresh water supplies being depleted. Such consequences would increase political instability and the potential for international conflict. Nothing could be more telling than the first sentence of the draft conference statement from Toronto, which reads:Humanity is conducting an uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.We must take these issues seriously. I accept what the Minister has said this evening—I am sure that I shall accept what he says when he replies—but I do not accept that we are going far enough or fast enough.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I was disappointed by the speech of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) said that we must keep an open mind and arrive at decisions in a balanced way, but the hon. Member for Bootle merely read out passages from Select Committee reports and said that he was in virtually complete agreement with them. He did not say where he differed from them. It is obvious that he does not know where he differs from them, which leaves us wondering whether he has any thoughts of his own.
I was especially disappointed when the hon. Member for Bootle failed to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on achieving the first ever international agreement on the prevention of environmental problems. It is greatly to the credit of the Government, and to the work of my hon. Friend, to have brought the protocol about.
§ Mr. Thurnham
I do not have time to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene.
The hon. Member for Bootle did not give credit to the voluntary work that has been done by industry. The aerosol industry has said that it can reduce the use of CFCs by 90 per cent. The packaging industry has said that there will be voluntary phasing out of their use by most of the firms in the retailing industry.
333 I shall comment briefly on the refrigeration industry, of which I have personal experience. The use of CFCs as refrigerants is only about. 11 per cent. of all uses, but the reduction and elimination of harmful CFCs presents a considerable challenge to the industry and there has been a strong and positive response by the trade associations.
My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware of the work of the Institute of Refrigeration, as he presented the opening address to the helpful, useful and positive conference which was held on 18 May. The British Refrigeration Association has just announced that it is to hold a user group conference on 13 October, and I am sure that that will play a useful part in leading the industry. The Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association has issued a pocket guide, with six dos and six don'ts. Individual firms have also made contributions. We have heard of the work of the three manufacturers of refrigerants. I should like to mention one particular user, Sainsbury, for its work in developing a pressure relief valve with much less leakage than the valves which were used previously.
There has been no mention of the rigid urethane foam manufacturers. Five times as much CFC is used in the insulation in domestic refrigerators as in the refrigeration system itself, so obviously there is scope for searching for new alternatives for insulation.
It has been said that 50 to 75 per cent. of the consumption of CFCs in the refrigeration industry is in the maintenance of existing systems, and that 10 per cent. of the gas in existing systems has to be replaced each year. That represents a major challenge to the maintenance and service industry which has been something of a Cinderella industry in the past, but I am confident that it will respond and follow the lead of the trade associations and large firms in the industry. The HVCA guide will be very useful, and the conference shortly to be held by the British Refrigeration Association has the objective ofestablishing voluntary codes of good practice for the care and use of CFC refrigeration in commercial installations, as well as developing responsibly engineered solutions for the future, as acceptable replacements for existing refrigerants are developed.The lead given by the users will encourage contractors to develop good practices. It is an industry which in the past has not always the dos and donts listed in the HVCA guide, which I am sure will be helpful. But there is a word of warning. If the industry does not respond positively, there is the question of further controls on R22. The 85 per cent. cut mentioned by Opposition Members would have a very serious effect both on the industry and on the people in general who would suffer.
If the hon. Member for Bootle had done more than read the Select Committee report, and had read the Library reference note, he would have seen that any rash further restrictions could lead not only to job losses in this country, but to deprivation in technologies in Third-world countries, and that people's lives could be immediately endangered by too rapid introduction of new, untested products.
The industry must respond positively so that too strict control should not be imposed, in the interests of the protection of the environment, above all. In winding up the debate, I should be interested if my hon. Friend will say what action the Government are taking on some of the problems, such as the scrapping of old fridges and the saving and recycling of some refrigerants.
334 Perhaps he will have a word with his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the EC directive on frozen foods which calls for much lower temperatures to be used in that industry and would impose greater burdens on that industry when we are being asked to use less refrigerant. In this country we consume more frozen food per head than in any other country, which is one reason why we should pay more attention to the practical aspects of this convention. The Minister has said that we should strike a balance and that he will be keeping the issues strictly and closely under review, but I am sure that he can expect a good response from the refrigeration industry.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I endorse the Government's support for the Montreal protocol, but although these documents are welcome, they do not go far enough. We will have to take this problem must more seriously during the next 10 years.
I am a chemist. Chemistry was my degree subject. Many years ago, while at Oxford, I wrote an essay on the organic compounds of fluorine. I found the subject fascinating. The essay ran to 26 sides of paper, but my speech will be much shorter.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is not speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, but he told me that his thesis was on CFCs and that he would lend it to me so that I could read from it.
§ Mr. Williams
I am afraid that my thesis was on a different subject. I found freons fascinating 25 years ago when I wrote that essay but, 10 years ago, when I was a college lecturer on environmental science, I started to read about the effects of freons and CFCs on the ozone layer. That effect was predicted theoretically before it was discovered practically.
CFCs are almost completely inert. They are nonflammable and non-toxic. It was predicted in the early 1970s that, once they were released, they would persist and could not be broken down or be leached out of the atmosphere by rainwater. ft was established that they could be removed only by drifting to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, where they would be broken down by ultra-violet rays and where there was a danger that they would damage the ozone layer.
The prediction alone was enough to persuade the United States to ban aerosols in 1978. Through Dr. Joe Farman in the 1980s, we received evidence of a hole developing in the ozone layer above the Antarctic. It is riot a trivial hole, as the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) suggested. It is massive—it is as big as the United States and as deep as Mount Everest. It appears every year between August and October, and the extent of the ozone depletion grows each year. The ozone concentration today is less than half what it was in the 1970s.
§ Mr. Moynihan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As we are in the last minute of the debate, I should like to put it on record that hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised important issues and I shall write to them in full as soon as possible. If hon. Members who have not caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would care to write to me, I shall respond to their arguments as well.
§ Mr. Williams
I thought that this was an open-ended debate. Anyone who treats this topic lightly does a great disservice to life on the planet, as CFCs——
§ It being one and half hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 [Exempted Business].
§ Question agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8335/87 and 4997/88 + COR1 on control of chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer; supports the implementation of the Montreal Protocol through Community-wide action; endorses the control of consumption of ozone-depleting substances through control of their overall supply; and encourages continuing action by all sectors of industry on a voluntary basis to reduce use of these substances to the maximum possible extent.