Petrol (Lead Content)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath 12:00 am, 5th April 1976

I am glad to have the opportunity to reply to the second half of the match. The standard of the second half is equal to, if not better than, the standard of play in the game a few weeks ago.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to a piece of history on the Order Paper. I do not expect that any of us will again see a motion on the lead content of petrol moved by the Prime Minister and supported by Mr. Secretary Callaghan. That has been overtaken by today's events. At one stage I feared that the motion would be ruled out of order and that I would therefore have to come here again. I am glad to say that that has not happened.

I agree with the amendment, proposed formally by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). It seems a sound, sensible and balanced approach, which the Government commend to the House. I hope that it will be accepted.

I shall try to deal with all the points raised. As the debate went on, I became increasingly anxious about the content and the nature of some of the speeches from the Opposition Benches. It is not a matter of buying one's medical advice or of buying different advice in a different market. We are facing a complex problem, which affects the health of the nation, and particularly the health of young people. The Government have taken advice not only from Chief Medical Officers of Health but from the Physical Environment Sub-Committee. In this case we accept that our knowledge is not exact, but if we err at all we should err on the side of caution. That suggests that we should be taking the action that is proposed. The Government would be extremely irresponsible not to accept the advice of the committee and successive Chief Medical Officers of Health, whose duty it is impartially to advise the Government.

The problem about lead is its accumulation in the human system. We consume lead when we eat and drink, and we absorb it through the atmosphere. Some of the amounts taken in are of a comparatively low level. For example, small amounts of lead—about 200 to 250 microgrammes a day for every adult—are unavoidably taken in food, and there is a low level in water, averaging about 15 microgrammes a day. It is difficult to measure the amount absorbed from the air.

I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) that even if the amount of lead in blood is increasing slowly it is disturbing that it is increasing at all. That makes the case for taking action now, especially as we all have to admit that the amount of medical knowledge about every aspect of the problem is not exact.