Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th April 1975.

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Photo of Mrs Joyce Butler Mrs Joyce Butler , Haringey Wood Green 12:00 am, 11th April 1975

With the permission of the House, may I say that I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) for the description he has given of the situation in his constituency. It puts in a nutshell many of the problems we have been discussing this morning. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) about the folly of adding fluoride to the water supply when we know so little about its long-term effects.

The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) made certain interesting points, with many of which I agreed. But he said that we could spend unlimited sums on trying to meet all the problems which have been raised this morning, and that is true. We could spend more and more and still not do all that needs to be done. But I am not satisfied that we get as big a financial contribution as we might from the industries concerned—and this is a point we might look at when we are asking for more and more monitoring—or whether we are getting the necessary financial assistance from those industries to monitor the environment outside the factories.

The hon. Gentleman said that we are making steady progress, and that was evident from what my hon. Friend the Minister said and from our knowledge of what has been done. This is a situation, however, in which we have to run faster in order to try to keep up with the many changes which take place. I agree that we cannot be complacent. We must review our procedures continually, as the Minister indicated the Department is doing, to ensure that we keep abreast of all that needs to be done. The particular point which the hon. Member for Hove made about the choice between reducing the lead level of petrol and trying to facilitate the removal of lead from exhaust fumes by technical devices has been considered by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. It reports, The lead-free gasoline regulations were proposed primarily to ensure the availability of lead-free fuel for use in automobiles designed to meet Federal emission standards with lead-sensitive emission control devices". It was precisely because it had these lead-sensitive emission control devices that it wanted lead-free petrol. It continues, The Agency recognised that these regulations would also result in a reduction in lead emissions from the new automobile segment of the vehicle population, which would be equipped with those devices. However, based on public health consideration, it was considered necessary to propose a reduction in the lead content of leaded gasoline as well. So it is not, as the hon. Member suggested, a question of either-or. The EPA took the view in detailed studies—and more has probably been done in the United States in this respect than here—that lead-free petrol was necessary in order to use the exhaust devices effectively, and that is an important point.

My hon. Friend the Minister made many important comments on this debate and I accept that he and the Department are doing a great deal in this respect. I wonder whether on monitoring I might perhaps send him further details of the sort of scheme which has been put to me. I am more than a little concerned when he says that we cannot live in an industrial country without risks. That is so, but I am concerned that the people who have to accept the dangers and risks are so often the workers in the factories and the people who live in close proximity to those factories. Often the people who cause the dangers and the risks by setting up the plant, people who will do well out of the proceeds, hide themselves away in more salubrious areas and do not take the strain like the local people.

And there is another important fact: the men and women who live in the neighbourhood of a factory but who go off every day to their offices and places of work, like the older children who go off to school, do not stay in that atmosphere all the time. It is the small children and the stay-at-home mothers who are in it for 24 hours a day and are therefore more at risk.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) had to leave without telling us what he was going to say about the EEC. What he probably had in mind was of concern to some of us and relates to the EEC directive which we shall be debating shortly. Some of us are worried that the introduction of an EEC directive may mean that if we wanted to go further and faster than the directive we would have considerable difficulties in doing so. The problem has arisen in other connections. I am glad to see my hon. Friend, the Minister, vehemently shaking his head, indicating that it will not be so in this case. However, it obviously would be an important matter if we did not have his reassurances.

I believe that the effect on the balance of payments of removing lead from petrol—and I may be wrong, because I am not a mathematician—would be minimised if we reduced our imports of petrol still further. This was the point I had in mind when I said that in the oil crisis last year there was considerable public support for petrol rationing. If we were not using so much petrol surely the cost to the balance of payments would be reduced. In a debate of this kind I am obviously not advocating that, but there was a great deal of public feeling that this should be done. If we reduced the lead content of petrol, if the price increased, and if there were a charge on the balance of payments, people would have to use less in the end, and perhaps from the point of view of general pollution that would not be such a bad thing.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. In view of what my hon. Friend has said about the possibility of reducing the level of lead in petrol as a result of the study, and the forthcoming debate on the directive which he has mentioned, I shall not press the motion. I accept my hon. Friend's assurances that its general spirit is accepted both by himself and by the Government.