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European Community (Atmospheric Pollution)

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1977

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10.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of EEC draft proposal R/540/76 on Health Protection Standards for Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter in urban atmospheres and R/90/76 on the Sulphur Content of fuel oils, and the relevant Government explanatory memoranda dated 2nd April 1976 and 9th March 1976 respectively.
These two Commission proposals arise from the first Environment Programme. Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates—in simple English that means "smoke"—are included in the list of pollutants for priority action.

A directive on the sulphur content of gas oils has already been agreed, and was implemented in this country last December by regulations under the Control of Pollution Act. The two proposals before the House are the next steps aimed at further reducing the emissions of these pollutants. The two documents contain a draft resolution and directive on health protection standards, R/540/76, and a directive on the sulphur content of fuel oils, R/90/76. Both proposals would require the United Kingdom to work to air quality standards for sulphur dioxide and smoke, standards which we would be required to achieve by specified dates in the mid-80s.

Coal and oil both contain sulphur, and so produce sulphur dioxide when they are burnt. If they are burnt ineffciently, they also produce smoke. The House will remember that during the smogs of 1940 and 1950 many people died from the effects of these pollutants, which lower resistance to throat infections and to bronchitis. About 4,000 extra deaths were recorded in London during the Great Smog in December 1952. However, since the passing of the Clean Air Act 1956, which introduced smoke control, there has been considerable progress. Over 5,000 smoke control orders have been made, affecting some 7·5 million premises. Ground-level concentrations of both smoke and sulphur dioxide in urban areas have been radically reduced.

I am glad to say that the results can be seen. What a fine sight it is to look out across London now that we have controlled our smoke pollution. We have now cleaned up our buildings, and London produces one of the most pleasant aspects of any capital city in the world. We have led the world as a result of the smoke control activity which this House and local authorities have followed. What has happened in London has happened in many other cities, as I know from my own city of Birmingham and the success story of Sheffield. We should note that in passing, as we rarely discuss this aspect of environmental health matters. Smoke control has brought great physical and aesthetic benefits.

There is no doubt that the worst of the problem is long gone. But there are many areas which can still benefit from smoke control. Nationally, local authorities have completed some 60 per cent. of their self-imposed targets, so in their view about another 4·5 million premises still need to be brought under control. There are a variety of approaches across the country and varying rates of progress. But there is no doubt that smoke control still has a valuable part to play. I shall enlarge on this later.

The health protection standards resolution lays down criteria specifying the effects on people of these two pollutants, and selects long-term and short-term exposure levels which the Commission is suggesting should be the basis for Community action. This is the procedure laid down in the environment programme. The resolution does not itself carry any obligations. It simply provides an agreed basis for action when the time comes to formulate directives. The criteria are based on the best available scientific evidence. Here again we can take some satisfaction, because the evidence is largely based on British work. It has been collected by an expert group under the auspices of the World Health Organisation, and published in its report No. 506. It is probably the most complete evidence on medical effects available for any air pollutant.

Discussions on the resolution have started in Brussels between officials, and we hope to reach agreement on it before long. Obviously, however, we shall pay particular attention to any views expressed in the House this evening, and we shall be delighted to consider them in full.

The health protection standard directive is based on the levels in the resolution. It requires member States to monitor for sulphur dioxide and smoke, and to take action to reduce pollution below the specified levels by 1982, with some exemptions allowed until 1987.

This approach is acceptable in principle to the United Kingdom because it allows us to take whatever measures are appropriate in any particular area under our policy, which has the support of both sides of the House, of adopting the "best practicable means" to achieve our objectives. There are, of course, some points of detail which we shall seek to amend. In particular, we shall need carefully to consider the figures in the annexes.

There are matters of principle which I must draw to the attention of the House. The use of air quality standards to be achieved by a stated time represents a new departure for us. But there are no legal penalties involved for individuals. It is left for us to determine how we would meet the required standard, and, provided that our negotiations at working level are fruitful, appropriate means of so doing are available to us in our existing legislation through the Clean Air Acts, the Control of Pollution Act, the Alkali Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act.

We anticipate that in most areas smoke control would be the means of implementing the directive. Particularly in view of the present scarcity of resources, I think this would mean our giving priority to pushing forward with smoke control in areas which did not meet the standard. In a few areas—for example, London and Sheffield—where smoke control is complete but there might still be a sulphur dioxide problem, regulations under Section 76 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 could be made to limit the sulphur content of fuel oils.

The proposed directive on the sulphur content of fuel oils is a rather different matter. It is brought under Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, which deals with barriers to trade, rather than Article 235, which is the one normally used for environmental measures.

The directive would require member States to designate areas in which the pollution levels in the annex are exceeded to be termed "special protection zones". Oil-burning installations inside these zones would be required to use low-sulphur oil, although plants with tall stacks or using flue-gas scrubbing could be exempted. Domestic oil users would not be affected by this directive as they use other grades of oil and not fuel oils. We believe that it is unlikely that it will produce a significant improvement in air quality, and so the Government will oppose it.

Also, large oil-burning installations, wherever sited, and groups of installations outside a zone but which contribute to pollution inside a zone would be required to monitor air pollution and to maintain a stock of low-sulphur fuel. When high levels of pollution have been recorded for 24 hours these installations would be required to switch to low-sulphur fuel until pollution levels fell.

We are opposed to these provisions since they would contribute very little to reducing pollution but would impose considerable costs on industry. It is feared, for example, that the CEGB particularly would have to incur a heavy increase in its costs, which could only be passed on to the consumer. I think that that would be unacceptable to the House.

The basic fault with the Commission's proposal for fuel oil is that it deals with one fuel, whether or not it is responsible for sulphur dioxide pollution in a particular area. Also, the directive will be superfluous in part if the health protection standards directive is accepted. This is the one that we propose to support. Once the air quality standards in that directive have been achieved, there probably would be no special protection zones. In any case, in areas where sulphur from fuel oil is a problem, action would be taken under the health protection standards directive. In our view this would be most appropriate and more relevant to the problem. Therefore, we propose to oppose this sulphur content of fuel oils directive in Brussels.

I have some notes on the cost of these directives which I shall give later. I promised to be brief, and I hope that I have achieved brevity.

I conclude by asking the House to support the Government's line that the health protection standards resolution and directive are acceptable in principle subject to amendment in detail, and that the fuel oil directive should be opposed.

10.12 p.m.

Unhappily, we are familiar with the practice of reaching matters of this sort at a rather late hour and towards the end of the parliamentary day. The House will recognise the importance of these matters and is aware that we are in a period when the Secretary of State is the Chairman of the Council of Environmental Ministers.

It is a matter of regret that we shall be half-way through the last month of the Secretary of State's term of office as Chairman before the meeting of the Council takes place. As recently as 9th May the Secretary of State admitted in a Written Answer that the precise date for the meeting was not yet fixed. All he could say about the agenda was that it would include those items left unsettled at the last Council meeting in December.

We are concerned about the programme of action on the environment by the European Community. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State at Question Time today, replying to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), drawing attention to the valuable contribution our membership of the EEC is making towards the improvement of the quality of the environment. I hope that the Secretary of State will show more enthusiasm by convening more frequent meetings so that progress is more rapid.

The right hon. Gentleman displays an alarming lack of interest in environmental improvement programmes in the United Kingdom. The fifth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, published in January 1976, made important recommendations on measures to control emissions into the atmosphere from industrial sources. On 9th May I was told that the Secretary of State was not yet able to report on the consideration of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That scarcely seems to me to denote pressing attention being accorded to a subject which is of not inconsiderable importance.

Against that background, I welcome this brief debate and the Minister's comments. I also welcome his approval in principle to Document R/540/76, because this matter has been the subject of a great deal of scientific research. There has been some criticism of the detail of that research and even criticism of the list of sources given in the document. However, I wish to say how much we welcome the inclusion of an annex of documents, which should be more frequently seen in these environmental proposals from the Commission.

These matters are of critical importance. Perhaps we do not appreciate how critical they are to the health of many people. I suspect that the Minister has read the evidence given by Professor P. J. Lawther from the St. Bartholomew's Hospital environmental hazard unit to Sub-Committee G of the European Communities Committee in another place. It is frightening to see evidence of how people—particularly those who suffer from lung damage; for example, pneumonia—can suffer from the effects of sulphur dioxide, or, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, smoke.

In the light of evidence given to that Committee in another place by the Greater London Council scientific branch, it can be seen that the scene in London is not as lovely as the Minister appears to find it when he contemplates it from his seventeenth floor office.

I was on the eighteenth floor until the Transport Department took over and occupied the building. I have now moved down to the fifteenth floor.

I suppose the Minister can now see a little more of London from the fifteenth floor than he could from the eighteenth. I am sure that he can see a great deal more of London following the passing of the clean air legislation brought in by the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, to whom we should give a credit.

Because we can see a little further, that should not be taken to imply that all is well with the situation. Implementation of the EEC proposals—this was clear from evidence given by the GLC scientific branch—would reduce the annual sulphur dioxide emissions in the Greater London area from the figure of 212,000 tons to 182,500 tons with a 2 per cent. sulphur limit and 123,000 tons with a 1 per cent. sulphur limit.

Before we take the view that everything is all right, we should bear in mind the fact that sulphur dioxide is a major pollutant. Most importantly, it pollutes people, animals and plants. It is also a matter of major concern because of its effects on our architectural heritage. Throughout Europe sulphur dioxide or sulphuric acid in mild solution have eroded the stonework of buildings and sculptures. This must have effects on the architectural and artistic heritage of Europe. Europe must try to act together in this matter. We should remember that progress made in the Community countries to reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide is progress made towards the longer retention of our architectural heritage.

I welcome the Minister's approval in principle for the first of the two documents. I agree with his comments and his opposition to Document R/90/76, which is a somewhat defective document. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) will be able to explain the matter in more detail because he has been involved in discussions on this matter in the European Parliament.

One point that I should like to put to the Minister is about the principle of "polluter pays". Does the Minister agree that it follows from that principle that absolute emission standards must be inappropriate. I do not see how one can argue both that the "polluter pays" principle should always apply and that one should have absolute emission standards. It is not absolute emission standards that worry people, that damage plants and harm buildings. It is the environmental quality that affects those things. Surely the Minister should argue with our European colleagues that environmental quality standards should be examined. That is relevant in determining whether pollution is damaging the environment.

I have already referred to the report of the Select Committee in the Lords. It is an extremely valuable document. It draws attention to the doubtful value of concentrating on oil fuel as a pollution source. Indeed, there is evidence from the Greater London Council's scientific branch that the assessment of the 1974 sulphur dioxide emission in Greater London demonstrated that fuel oil was responsible for 147,400 tons of pollution but that solid fuel was responsible for 49,500 tons. It does not make sense to concentrate solely on one source of pollution, particularly if by doing that one increases another source. We might end up much worse off.

I also agree with the Minister that there seems to be doubtful value in trying to avoid high sulphur dioxide levels occurring on only one day a year. One could end up spending large sums of money in order to avoid a brief, high level of concentration that will, I understand, be extremely difficult to avoid in practice because such levels are almost entirely the result of a combination of meteorological circumstances that must produce adverse effects however low the emission standards may be.

Perhaps most important of all, as the Minister said, there seems to be a profound lack of full economic assessment of the energy implications in Document R/90/76. I therefore support the Government's view that the document, in its present form, must be opposed in Brussels.

More attention should be paid in both the European and the United Kingdom contexts to environmental improvement programmes, and I hope that there will be opportunities for the House to give attention to those matters. The European dimension is of great importance in these programmes, but it must allow, if it is to be meaningful, discretion to member States about the methods employed to achieve the agreed standards. A fragmented approach that is concerned with only one source of pollution cannot make sense. Attention must be paid to both the action and the research programmes, because one can conclude from these documents that there is not yet sufficient agreement about the best methods of research. I do not think that there is any agreement at all on any standards for assessing and monitoring environmental pollution. I hope that the Council of Environmental Ministers will be able to pay attention to this when the promised meeting of the Council eventually takes place in mid-June.

The more that one considers the environmental and economic implications of sulphurous emissions from coal-fired and oil-fired power stations, the more attractive nuclear power generation becomes as the means of bringing about environmental improvement. Many people are not as aware as they might be of some of the environmental attractions of the nuclear power programme—or of its safety attractions.

10.25 p.m.

Some people would take a robust line on a draft directive on this subject from the Commission and say that the Commission should not meddle in matters that are essentially of domestic concern with the only implication for other member States being any barriers to trade. That is the ground on which the second directive—the first in time—is brought forward.

Coming from an area of older industry where people's health has suffered for decades from the effects of industrial pollution, I welcome this external pressure group on the Government in environmental matters. Like the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), I detected just a note of complacency in what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said about air quality controls in this country.

We have a proud record in regard to clean air Acts and so on, but much needs to be done. The external pressure group that was also involved in the debate on lead in petrol seems to have persuaded the Government to go a little further than they intended along the road that they were travelling, and this has had beneficial effects for this country. However, a balance must be struck in each case between the environmental advantage that will accrue from the adoption of any measures and the cost to our industry and its competitive basis that will result.

I was also glad to see the Government's pragmatic decision to view the draft directives on their respective merits. They have, by and large, accepted one and rejected the other.

The first draft directive on health protection standards is clearly useful and acceptable. It is flexible and will allow member States to use appropriate means, according to the methods at their disposal, to meet the requirements and objectives. There is an element of choice. It should not be made consistent with the traditional British practice and approach of the best practicable means.

The new statutory standards in the draft directives will provide a basis for guidelines and allow the continuation of existing policies. It is puzzling that there should be two directives. Why did the more general directive not supersede the earlier and particular directive relating to fuel oil?

It is odd in principle that we are invited to take action on fuel oil when this might not, in particular cases, be the polluting element. Domestic smoke control may be a more effective means in some cases.

The Central Electricity Generating Board is opposed to the fuel oil directive for several reasons, not least on the grounds of cost and effectiveness. The Board says that there is a vast amount of experimental evidence to show that power stations are negligible contributors to air pollution in urban areas and this conclusion is supported by the Warren Springs laboratory. The Board says that the power station contribution is least when urban air pollution levels are at their highest. By requiring control on power station emissions, the directive would not succeed in substantially reducing air pollution. As the hon. Member for Hove said, there may be times when pollution incidents are of relatively short duration. However, to meet such incidents substantial costs could be incurred by the oard, not only administrative costs but costs involved in stockpiles and machinery in preparing for what could be relatively short pollution incidents. It has estimated that acceptance of the fuel oil draft directive would involve it in costs in excess of £20 million. The fuel oil draft directive should be opposed on the ground that it is ineffective and costly with little or no environmental benefit. As my right hon. Friend has argued, it is largely superflous as the aims it sets out to achieve can be achieved by means of the adoption of the generalised first directive.

Against that background we are forced to ask why we should single out fuel oil. The only plausible explanation that I have heard is that a number of other member States want to burden our industry with the same costs as they have imposed upon themselves. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say whether within the Commission plans are lurking to single out other elements. I am told that the CEGB is concerned about possible measures in respect of coal. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will deal with that issue when he replies.

10.32 p.m.

I endorse the excellent contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury.) I thank the Minister of State for the advice he gave me when I was appointed rapporteur for the Energy and Research Committee of the European Parliament. This was my first experience as rapporteur. I assume that I was given the assignment because the parliamentary committee officers thought that the issue was non-controversial. I assured them at the time that they did not know what they were talking about, for in my view this was perhaps the most volatile issue that they could have given to a new member of the European Parliament.

I am not certain whether this issue has gone through the European Parliament. I did my best to block it, but if one happens to have a minority view it is difficult to press that view, which a rapporteur is entitled to do, against a committee that includes Members from other nations with other interests and against other committees.

I was making a report for the Energy and Research Committee. I found that when Members on my own side—that is, right of centre—put on an environmental hat they could not go with me. I entered the Chamber a little late in the Minister of State's introduction but I understand that this issue will soon be before the Council of Ministers. Is this not a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted? I was dealing with the matter about 18 months ago. Last June I managed to persuade the Chairman of the Assembly of the European Parliament, through Mr. Schwartz, acting for the rapporteur for the Environment Committee, Mr. Muller, that there should be a postponement. I suspect that this measure passed through the Assembly later without debate because I had already made my objections in the Assembly.

I support both Front Bench spokesmen in treating health and the amount of sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter as one issue and sulphur in fuel oil as another issue. As so often, the issue is two-fold. Obviously there are Members of all Parliaments in the European Economic Community who are aware of the need to provide energy and power for industry and heat for our homes. Equally, there are those who are conscious of sulphur dioxide and other particulate matter than can affect our atmosphere and our health—namely, Members concerned with the environment and public health. Therefore, I was faced with a problem when these issues came before the Assembly.

There have been many conferences on pollution. Last June there was one in Oslo. There is no doubt that Members of Parliament from different countries had to have sympathy with clean air and the environment if they were to seek re-election in their own countries. Certainly elections were due in Germany at that time.

The Parliament had produced two reports—the rapporteurs were Mr. Kater and Mr. Rosati—on the desulphuration of fuels and on the proximation of the laws of the member States relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels. Those reports resulted in a sulphur and gas oils directive going before the Parliament. That seemed reasonable at the time.

My view is that individual States are endeavouring to improve the atmosphere. Britain had the Clean Air Act 1956. The then hon. Member for Kidderminster, the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, and the then hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside, Mr. Winterbottom, had much to do with that. One of the essentials is to establish how much sulphur dioxide and particulate gives rise to and constitutes a health hazard, and under what conditions. Another is to establish uniform monitoring conditions throughout the Community. Britain has a wealth of experience based on work at Warren Springs and elsewhere. I am sure that other member States have similar experience.

I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). Coal in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Leicestershire has a relatively high sulphur content compared with the lignite and brown coal of Germany, which is relatively sulphur-free. Therefore, if sulphur in gas oils and in liquid fuels is considered without looking at solid fuels, there is a danger of evading the issue.

As I mentioned earlier, I had some difficulty because, although I belonged primarily to the Energy Committee, I found there were different views and contributions by different countries. I wanted to reject the proposal for sulphur in fuel oils outright. I had immense difficulty, as rapporteur, in expressing that as the view of the committee to which I belonged. But this is the result of the interchange between Members of Parliament of the Nine on different issues.

The key conclusion in my report of 31st March 1976, as revised, was:
"The introduction of a measure such as the present proposed Directive could have serious consequences for the equilibrium of the energy market. In certain areas fuel oil would be placed at a disadvantage in relation to solid fuels."
In support of that I maintained that the directive did not refer to solid fuels:
"In some cases these can contribute significantly to suspended particulate matter and sulphur dioxide pollution levels, and this should increase if there is an increase in the use of solid fuels."
The fine performance in terms of clean air in the industrial and urban areas of Britain has been due to the lack of the use of solid fuels. Natural gas has certainly improved conditions—namely, clean air—in Sheffield for instance.
"The proposal thus appears to be discriminatory since, if taken at its face value, pollution caused by the combustion of coal would have to be compensated by stricter pollution control measures on fuel oils. Although for large users of coal, particulate removal technology, though extremely costly, is available, it can be understood that until some commercially economic method of removing sulphur dioxide from coal combustion (for example, flue gas desulphurisation, gasification) is available, the inclusion of solid fuel in the proposal could have serious consequences for the use of such fuel."
It is important to point out that the British Central Electricity Generating Board has estimated that a future directive similar to the present proposal by the Commission, but aimed at solid fuels, in which emissions from high stacks were not exempted, would imply capital expenditure of well over £1·500 million—at 1976 prices—for the CEGB plants likely to be affected, which, together with substantial running costs, could increase the price of electricity from coal by between 15 per cent. and 30 per cent. Since then there has been an important programme, and even a directive from the Commission, to assist those who generate electricity to move from oil to solid fuel. However, the point at issue is the removal of sulphur from the atmosphere. There is more sulphur in solid fuels than in liquid fuels. To pass a directive for liquid fuels without concentrating on a measurement of standards puts the cart before the horse rather than the horse before the cart.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Commission Document R/75/77 which we debated yesterday was intended to encourage Commission countries to use coal generation for electricity and that that is nonsense unless it also provides for low sulphur emission from the use of coal when looked at in conjunction with these documents?

I could not agree more. The Minister must be careful about this because already his Ministerial colleagues appear to be representing their country as one which is out of step with other European Community countries on too many issues.

The Minister knows my views from records of the committee and the Assembly, which put forward those of the Economic and Social Committee, which is basically the third parliament. It has different views from those expressed by politicians, where motives are more inclined to preserve the environment.

There is a problem facing the House. It is right to pursue standards, to determine the criteria about dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere, but the draft directive relating to sulphur must imply that the Commission has got it wrong. I hope that it is possible to persuade the Ministers to look at the real issues, and accept that the Commission is leading them down the wrong road in this respect.

10.44 p.m.

I express my appreciation to the House and hon. Members who have spoken for their support of the Government's line, which I announced earlier. I appreciate it because it will be helpful if when we meet I can say that I have the whole House with me when accepting one directive and opposing the other.

That brings me to a question asked by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). We believe that there is not much point in holding meetings of the Council of Ministers unless there is something effective to discuss. Work has been going on since December on certain issues on which we could not reach agreement then, and on others that are being brought forward. I am glad to say that we have fixed the date for the next meeting of the Council of Environmental Ministers under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It will be held on 14th June.

I think that this will be the first time in the history of the EEC that there has been a meeting of this Council in the first half of the year. If their chairmanship has fallen in the first six months of the year, most countries which have had the chairmanship of the Council have not convened a meeting. Therefore, rather than expressing apprehension about this matter, the hon. Member for Hove might congratulate us on having broken new ground in this respect.

I have no hesitation in congratulating the Secretary of State on breaking what appears to have been a rather bad run of performances by the chairmen of this Council. However, I hope that the Minister of State's other remarks do not indicate that he or his right hon. Friend feel that there is nothing that needs doing, that no action programme is required and that no direction on priorities requires to be coming forth from the Council. I hope that the Minister agrees that there is plenty for the Council to do and that he blames previous chairmen for not calling meetings more frequently.

I have been attending the Council over the last three years and I have found European Ministers most agreeable to deal with. I think that I can claim that most of them are now personal friends of mine. Whatever happens in other parts of the EEC, I am glad to say that on environmental matters there is a very happy and constructive approach.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) rightly drew our attention to the fact that he was dealing with these matters 18 months ago and was seeking to oppose, very properly, that proposal which the Government now intend to oppose. I deal with that point immediately. The situation is that these questions do not come before Ministers until they are brought before them by the Commission. The Commission takes advice. No doubt it gets conflicting advice from different countries, which have their national interest with which to concern themselves. When these matters gets on our agenda, we deal with them. We are still dealing with the first environment programme, as the hon. Gentleman will know. Therefore, it is not a question of fixing a programme or determining priorities for the next environment programme.

We have had one or two troublesome matters. On the last occasion on which we met, just before Christmas, I found myself in isolation from my eight colleagues, as the House will remember, on one matter concerning discharges, on which I felt it right, on behalf of British industry, to claim that we could reach the same standards in our industry as they were attempting. I could not accept that additional expenditure should be loaded on to British industry when that was unnecessary.

It is interesting that the second of the directives that we are now discussing does not emanate from the article dealing with environmental matters but, as I explained in my opening remarks, from the article dealing with competition in trade. This is a very important point, and I am glad of the opportunity to comment on it. The fact of the matter—and this is why I have paid attention, though not in a complacent way, to what we have achieved in clearing up pollution in this country—is that we are way ahead generally of almost every other country, whether it be in discharges to the atmosphere or to rivers and waterways, in our pollution legislation.

I think that our legislation on the control of pollution, for example, is in advance of anything that I have heard of in any other country. In many ways we are ahead of other countries. British industry on the whole has already accepted the costs of clearing of pollution, and this is an important factor in my thinking and the Government's thinking We should not impose further costs on industry following a specific line of development on the ground that production might be distorted if we did not do so.

That argument has often been put to me in Brussels. My answer has been that we have already accepted these costs and that we are already ahead of our European partners. I am glad that our partners are now tackling their problems with new vigour, but that in itself is not sufficient reason to impose additional costs on British industry. This is an important principle for the House to bear in mind when we deal with such pieces of EEC legislation.

I hope that at the meeting of Environmental Ministers there will also be Ministers concerned with industry and competition policy. I have outlined to the Minister the following problem. An hon. Member who is concerned with the energy industry, as I am in this case, and who tries to ensure that we produce energy economically and keep down the cost to the housewife is in conflict with hon. Members who are concerned with cleaning up the air for all our citizens. I hope that the meeting will not be attended only by Environment Ministers.

Secondly, one of my difficulties was in convincing my European parliamentary colleagues that Britain, after the 1956 Act and the experience we have had over 21 years is ahead of the rest. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find the same difficulties when the Ministers meet in Brussels next month.

I have never suffered from any difficulty in proving that we are ahead of our colleagues in this matter. I had a piece of good fortune once when I was seeking to prove that we were ahead in cleaning up our rivers. I delivered an eloquent dissertation on what we had done with the River Thames, and on the same day a salmon was caught in the river for the first time, which was clear evidence of the results of our activities in clearing up pollution.

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that it was a salmon? Some years ago it was reported that a salmon had been caught in the Medway, but the photograph showed that it was a dirty old pike.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the species to which I referred was a salmon, not a pike.

I come now to some of the other points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Hove asked me about sulphur dioxide in London. I entirely agree with him that this is a problem, particularly in London, but tackling sulphur dioxide on its own is not the first matter with which we should deal. In most cases smoke is still the problem that should be tackled first. However, we should bear in mind that we have nearly halved the concentration of sulphur dioxide in the air in London in the past 10 years, which further strengthens my argument.

I turn now to the fifth report of the Royal Commission. The Government attach great importance to this report. We are having the fullest possible consultations about it. Hon. Members can be sure that we are giving every consideration to it, and we shall give our view on it as soon as we can.

I confirm that the principle that "the polluter pays" is still Government policy. But if the hon. Member for Hove means a uniform emission standard, irrespective of the varying environmental circumstances, some factories will be bearing unnecessary costs. I am sure that he would not wish that. I agree that this is not strictly in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle, which we accept, or with our principle of applying the "best practicable means" approach.

I was arguing that it followed from the "polluter pays" principle, with which I think both sides of the House agree, that absolute emission standards must be wrong. The damage is not done to man, beast, the environment or architectural heritage other than by the environmental quality, and therefore it is environmental quality that we must look at if we accept that the polluter pays, because the polluter should pay for the environmental quality which results from what he does.

I think that that is absolutely right, and it is our approach. It is the environmental quality standards to which we must hold and to which we attach a great deal of importance.

I accept the approach of the hon. Member for Hallam and appreciate his support, particularly as he is the rapporteur of his group. Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) raised important questions about the effect of possible subsequent developments of these policies on the CEGB. I think that the hon. Gentleman spoke of a £1,500 million capital programme if coal were singled out as the next substance to have a treatment by directive, and he suggested that the cost to the consumer of electricity would be between 15 per cent. and 30 per cent. I can confirm that we are well aware of the situation and that we understand the CEGB's concern. This is an additional reason why we should oppose the second directive, because it is wrong in principle and would lead us into wrong practices, with unfortunate financial results.

It is the total quantity of pollution that must be dealt with, the total standards of emissions into the environment. The cause of the unsatisfactory rise in emissions needs to be analysed to find the source whether coal or oil, from which the sulphur dioxide is emanating. That is our approach. Therefore, it would be wrong in principle to accept what would be major financial impositions upon the electrical industry.

I do not think that I shall have an Energy or Industry Minister with me when I go to the Environmental Council, but the hon. Gentleman need not worry on that account, as they are never far from my elbow—or, more accurately, they are never far from the telephone, which is always at my elbow when I attend these Environmental Council meetings. We are naturally in frequent communication.

The hon. Member for Hove and my hon. Friend referred to Sir Gerald Nabarro's part in the passing of the Clean Air Acts. I am delighted that hon. Members have recalled his name in connection with that legislation, as well as the name of Mr. Dick Winterbottom. I would wish to be associated with what they said. I was very much involved, because I was chairman of the committee of the Birmingham City Council that passed the first smokeless zone control order. When I came here in 1955, the first major Committee on which I served was that considering the Clean Air Bill. I therefore know how much we owe to Sir Gerald and to Dick Winterbottom and others. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) also served on the Committee, I believe.

That was a happy instance of cooperation on major and, in those days, pioneering environmental legislation. Twenty years on, I am glad that the House is still co-operating on this important area. Some of our detractors think that we look for arguments in this place, but our co-operation in this respect has achieved lasting benefits for the British people. It is in that spirit that we shall go back to Brussels and face these directives.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of EEC draft proposal R/540/76 on Health Proection Standards for Sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter in urban atmospheres and R/9/76 on the Sulphur Content of fuel oils, and the relevant Government explanatory memoranda dated 2nd April 1976 and 9th March 1976 respectively.