Petrol (Lead Content)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1976.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East 12:00 am, 5th April 1976

The question raises matters of speculation and conjecture. The hon. Gentleman should address that question to the Minister.

On 4th March, in a debate on this subject in the House, the Minister of State said that the Government were undertaking urgent work on the subject of lead in water. Will he explain that matter further, because much importance is attached to that aspect of the matter? Will the Minister say what is his attitude to keeping official targets under review? This, again, is important, because a good deal of evidence and information could come to light. In other words, if the Government stick to only reasonable targets they could regret it at a later stage.

I echo what has been said on lead traps, and I believe that this aspect has been too quickly dismissed by many people. I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) on the potential merits of this piece of equipment. A good deal of effort and money will be needed to complete research and development in the first stage. Much more effort is needed.

The European Parliament—here I speak from memory—last autumn accepted, with some reservation, directives on lead in the air and in petrol. Labour Members may be interested to learn that the European Conservative Group in the European Parliament was against the implementation of the directive on lead in petrol, principally because it was thought to be too restrictive, until there had been further discussion between Governments in drawing up the basic components of draft directives.

Will the Minister comment on the German situation in this respect? There are rumours that the German Federal Republic is having second thoughts. Some people feel that the original target of 0·51 grammes per litre is too ambitious, and that the relaxation announced on 1st January will have to be extended. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what he has heard from his German colleagues on this matter in recent weeks and months.

Furthermore, will the Minister say when the Council of Ministers will consider the draft directive? If the Minister can give a date, I know that it will help my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) with his special responsibilities. All that has been said so far is that the Government have the matter under review. It has been said that a full 14-months' period will be needed for consideration. Surely this matter could be dealt with more quickly.

When will the Council of Ministers consider other items such as the lead content in paint? In the House of Lords debate on this subject on 1st April, Lord O'Hagan said that the EEC proposals on paint were almost ready to go to the Council. Can the Minister be more precise on that subject? It appears that there are a conflicting series of draft proposals. There are misgivings about the way in which this occurred. One could say that the House has had sufficient time to debate the subject, although some hon. Members would dissent from that. I am not asking the Minister of State to take personal responsibility for the procedural arrangements—for which the Lord President is responsible—but only by accident have we had reasonable time to debate a complicated subject—and that is late at night. I hope that the Minister will not feel satisfied with the general approach and the procedures in these matters.

In the longer term, even if direct elections are implemented the scrutiny procedures of the House will remain important. I hope that when that happens the Executive will give us more justice, more time and longer debates, which are not exclusively held after 10 o'clock, on subjects that are as important as this and that might be less complicated. The Minister of State might be tempted to say that this is not a matter for him, but I hope that he will be tempted into that territory and explain his views on procedure to the House.