Orders of the Day — Clean Air Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1955.

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Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Keighley 12:00 am, 3rd November 1955

I heard that speech, and with the technical knowledge in my possession I agree, and I speak as one who has worked for more years than I care to remember in power stations. It is absolute folly to build power stations burning coal, and now oil, in the densely populated parts of cities. It is stupid and there should be a policy of dispersal.

Having said that, I want to pay tribute to the British Electricity Authority, to the municipalities and to the power companies for what they have done in trying to avoid the nuisance. Thousands of pounds have been spent. I have installed brand new pumps and in twenty-four hours they have been eaten with sulphuric acid. We have lined them with rubber and met with a certain degree of success, but there is no practical way of getting rid of sulphur from the gases in power stations where gas washing takes place.

The Government should make this matter a top priority, because sulphur in any form of gas is easy to eradicate in the laboratory. A fifth-form schoolboy could do it merely by introducing caustic soda or ammonia, but it is when we come to translate that eradication into the field of industry and applying it to modern industry and modern power stations, that we fall down. If capital were made available—and in our large boiler firms we have combustion engineers second to none—in a short space of time the problem could be eradicated.

I was very pleased to see in the Bill one Clause—it is the only one with which I am in entire agreement—about the compulsory instalment of electrostatic precipitators. These are highly successful, and I think it was the North Metropolitan Electricity Supply Company at the Brimsdown power station which pioneered it to a great extent. There is not the slightest doubt that as a temporary measure, until we have found out how we can wash gases and get rid of the sulphur, the electrostatic precipitator is the way out. It is the only way known for dealing with the cement dust problem in Gravesend and Dartford. I am very pleased that in the Bill there should be this reference to electrostatic precipitators.

I want to turn now to the question of inspectors. Where are we to get them? We cannot use the ordinary sanitary inspectors for this job, which is a highly skilled task. We did the job during the war and during the fuel crisis of 1947, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster knows. We had to go round the power stations asking if combustion engineers, charge-hand stokers could be released, to be sent to various factories still burning coal in their boilers to try to teach men how they should stoke the boilers. The Government will find, when they come to operate this Bill when it becomes law, that it will be practically impossible to do so.