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Asbestos

Volume 10: debated on Thursday 22 October 1981

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5.20 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (

):

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the two European Community Documents No. 5682/80 for a Council Directive amending for The fifth time Directive 76/769/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of dangerous substances and preparations, and of European Community Document No. 9953/80 for a Council Directive on The protection of workers from the risks due to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work (asbestos) and t he updated explanatory memorandum of 8th May 1981 and two memoranda dated 15th October 1981; and welcomes the Government's intention to seek agreement on a harmonised practicable and enforceable policy to minimise the risks to health from exposure to asbestos.

The House has had to wait a long time for this debate. I was anxious that it should take place before the Summer Recess, but at least the delay has allowed me better to inform myself about this difficult and important matter. In July, I visited TBA in Rochdale, a branch company of Turner and Newall Limited. The latter is one of the largest manufacturers of asbestos textiles in the world. I saw for myself how those problems are handled within industry. I am glad to see in his place the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who also visited the firm on that day. I had thought that he would be putting his weight behind the candidate in Croydon today, so his appearance symbolises the importance of the subject for those who live and work in his constituency.

We are impressed by the great efforts that are made at lust repression at every stage of the manufacturing process and with the monitoring techniques used. It is interesting and gratifying to see the part played by the work force, who, certainly in that factory, come forward with valuable and constructive suggestions for changes in work practices to reduce further the risk of exposure.

The draft directives that we are discussing are closely related. They are in furtherance of the action programme on safety and health that was agreed between member States in 1978. I remind the House that other proposals are envisaged to reduce the contact of food and drink with asbestos and to minimise exposure to asbestos in the general environment. Those proposals should be looked at its one package.

Complete harmonisation of policy within the Community would be a great prize. It is right that we should aim for it. We want a uniform policy that seeks proper protection for workers. It is far from ideal if some countries have more lax controls than others and, at the expense of the health of their workers, gain a competitive advantage. It would not be right for British manufacturers to lower their standards and subject their workers to the serious risks from which they have been protected for some time. We have no intention of doing that.

Therefore, much of the amendment is entirely misconceived. Some people may think that there is a risk of lower standards with blue asbestos—crocidolite—because certain countries have insisted on maintaining the right to continue to use that most virulent of fibrous material for the manufacture of large diameter pipes, seals and gaskets. The marketing and use proposal is for a general prohibition on the import and use of blue asbestos, but each member State will decide whether to exclude those goods from the overall ban. Industry in Britain has operated a voluntary ban on the import of crocidolite since 1970. The Advisory Committee on Asbestos recommends a statutory ban and we have every intention of enforcing it—[Interruption.]. I hear some weird noises from the Opposition Front Bench. I do not understand why there should be a note of surprise in the noises for the reasons that I have explained.

I do not foresee any difficulty in bringing about the ban on raw materials, but there are practical difficulties in preventing entry of the material in manufactured goods. How does a Customs officer check whether a gasket in the middle of a very sophisticated machine is made of crocidolite? The problem is receiving close attention at Community level. We want to ensure that any controls agreed are workable and effective.

The main topic for discussion is the import of the raw material for use in manufacture in Britain. Under the draft directive, countries can opt out of the ban for specific goods. We have no intention of opting out. We have no interest in making large diameter pipes of crocidolite, which has not been used in Britain for 10 years.

The noises that the Minister heard were noises of satisfaction. We also seek reassurance. It was good news that the Minister could assure the House that the statutory ban was to be enforced. Will he lift the veil a little and say when we may expect the ban?

I shall come to that point later. The present voluntary ban is entirely observed. There is no rush to have a statutory ban. When the directive comes into force, the voluntary ban will be replaced by a statutory ban.

I wish to clarify a matter that has caused some confusion. Article 4 of the workers directive provides that, wherever possible, the use of crocidolite should be avoided. Article 9 provides that the concentration of blue asbestos fibres in the air at work shall not exceed 0.2 fibres per cubic centimetre. I am assured that the intention of all parties is that there should be no conflict between the two directives, and in due course it will be clearly stated that articles 4 and 9 are without prejudice to the general ban in the marketing and use directive.

The limit value will be relevant only, first, when a member State has exercised its right under the marketing and use directive to exempt asbestos pipes and so on from the prohibition—a right that has to be reviewed by the Commission after five years and a right which few countries may exercise because of the burden of complying with the stringent limit value—and, secondly, when dealing with insulating materials made of crocidolite and people are employed in the removal of it.

It might be helpful if I make a few points about each of the directives, starting with marketing and use. A ban is proposed on certain items containing chrysotile—white asbestos—or amosite—brown asbestos. The list of banned articles includes paints and plastic floor coverings.

The CBI fears that some member States may try to use the directive prohibiting products to win a commercial advantage for their substitutes. We must bear that point in mind. We wonder whether the ban is necessary for some of the items on the list—for instance, thermal and acoustic materials, on which the ACA proposed a ban in its first report, and paints. Asbestos is bound in, and it is only when paint is removed—for example by sanding—that there are any significant fibre emissions. In any event, asbestos is used by paint manufacturers in Britain to a limited extent only. Perhaps the most difficult area is that of floor covering. We are in close touch with the industry on both the contents of the article and the timing of its implementation.

Obviously, when we hear of the tragic results of exposure we are tempted to say "Ban the lot". We can sympathise, if not agree, with the resolution passed at the Labour Party conference and with the second part of the amendment on the Order Paper calling for a complete ban on the use of all sorts of asbestos. I must make it absolutely clear that the unique properties of asbestos that originally led to its widespread use have made it difficult to replace with suitable and cost-effective substitutes. After all, such substitutes might eventually be shown to have similar risks to health as asbestos.

I agree with the Advisory Committee on Asbestos which, in its final report, stated:
"As a general principle the control of any useful but hazardous material is preferable to the ultimate sanction of prohibition. It is very easy to say that a dangerous substance or process should be banned and to hope that that will solve the problem. In our view this is a gross over-simplification of a complex equation of interlinked factors. It ignores the possibility that prohibition of a particular substance may directly result in an increase in health or safety risks, for example from fire, which the use of that substance currently prevents or reduces. It also ignores the implications of statutorily enforcing substitution by materials or substances which at present appear to be suitable but may at a later date be found to constitute a risk to health. The social and economic consequences of the possible closure of factories using the original material or process need to be taken into account."

I am sure that that last point will not be lost on many Opposition Members who, while recognising the fearsome dangers caused by those substances, recognise the importance to employment of those factories still using asbestos in their manufacturing processes.

The report continues:
"There should be a ban when it is clear that (a) there is evidence of serious risk and (b) the present controls or any future controls have not provided or are unlikely to provide a satisfactory degree of control."
I agree with that view, as do the Government.

I wish to deal with the worker protection directive. The object of the exercise is to reduce and control exposure. The question is whether we should legislate to cover the chance of exposure, however remote. Should we try to define what is or is not exposure within the meaning of the directive? I ask that question because currently all the provisions of the draft directive will apply to all workers exposed directly or indirectly to any sort of asbestos for any length of time and to any degree. Is it practical and sensible to require the full panoply of the law—medical examinations, health records and so on mentioned in articles 14 and 15—for a person who may be assembling ready-cut asbestos cement sheets on a building site for only a fraction of his working day or working week? For that reason, in consultation with representatives of employers, workers, scientific and medical interests, the Government are examining whether a clearer concept of controlling personal exposure to asbestos dust may be devised.

I turn to the limit values set out in article 9 of the worker protection directive. I have already mentioned 0.2 fibres per cubic centimetre for blue asbestos. We originally aimed for a different and lower limit of 0.5 fibres per cubic centimetre for amosite, but it is felt that, on present evidence and with present usage, 1.0 fibre per cubic centimetre for both amosite and chrysotile is not an unreaonable start.

We shall need to review limit values if there are technical or medical developments. Whereas harmonised change might be obtained only with some difficulty through the normal Community procedures, I remind the House that provisions within the framework of the directive allow us to act alone if we feel that changes should be made, but other countries are not prepared to join us. I repeat, therefore, that if we reached the conclusion, in the light of new medical evidence, that amosite presented a much greater risk than white asbestos, and if we could not persuade the other European countries to join us, we could act and apply a lower limit value such as that originally suggested by the ACA.

Another and more difficult problem is that of achieving consistency in monitoring. In 1978, on the advice of the advisory committee, a central records laboratory was established with the avowed aim of reducing variations in the counts of asbestos fibres. The laboratory has produced a set of guidelines to achieve more consistent counts. They are being considered by the Health and Safety Executive and discussed with other member States in the hope of developing a method for use in the draft directive.

Hon. Members may be aware of some fascinating developments in automatic counting. The HSE is currently evaluating a range of automatic and semi-automatic counting devices, one of which—the Vickers M88—which was developed with financial support from the European Commission, is capable of processing 50 to 60 samples per day by a single operator. That must be compared with manual counting procedures where a single operator is restricted to about 10 samples a day, and even then he can so easily make a mistake.

Individual medical examinations are mentioned in article 15. It is a sad fact that, by the time evidence of the disease becomes apparent as a result of medical examination, it is usually too late to arrest its progress. It is right that workers should know as soon as possible if their health has been, or is liable to be, affected, and a medical examination may be helpful to an individual in identifying the time from which he is entitled to compensation, but, although medical examinations can provide valuable epidemiological data and are an important part of preventive medicine, they are no substitute for dust measurement and control. They are no substitute for more information on possible health risks, for better instruction, training and general health surveillance, or for the search for safe substitutes.

All those elements are at present in each of the draft directives, but the comments that we have received to date have confirmed our view that the blend is not yet right. We are grateful to the Scrutiny Committee for its consideration of the proposals and the evidence received. I have read with care the proceedings of the Lords Select Committee. I look forward to hearing the views of the House.

5.40 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "15th October 1981" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

but notes in particular that the provisions of the Directive are incompatible with the recommendations of the final report of the Health and Safety Commission's Advisory Committee on Asbestos which, inter alia, calls for 'a statutory ban on the import of raw crocidolite to prevent its reintroduction into the United Kingdom and that this should be extended to the import of products containing it providing the practical difficulties can be overcome', and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to enter into immediate discussions with other member countries with a view to the early revision of the terms of the Directive so as to bring them into line not only with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee but also with the aim of seeking to eliminate the further use of asbestos in all its forms throughout the Community."

The Minister has done his best to encompass a difficult, complex and extremely important subject. I am grateful for some of the initiatives that he has taken. He has dealt with many of the complicated issues, but he will understand that we shall not be ready to say that we are satisfied with what he said until we have adequately studied the text.

There is no doubt in my mind that this issue is of paramount importance. A cancerous disease is a horrific affliction. In some circumstance working with asbestos might be the guarantor of contracting cancer. The Minister will agree that a microscopic fibre lodged in the lungs can he fatal. If the asbestos worker did not find his lungs hardening as asbestos took its hold, he or she risked malignant tumours in the lungs, in the pleura and in the pertoneum. Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, has been universally isolated as a major risk for such cancers. It takes many years for the symptoms to reveal themselves. Therefore, the industry, Parliament and the nation should never forget the danger of this remarkable substance.

By 1965 the total number of known cases of mesothelioma of the pleura was 160. However, it took an average of 33 years for the symptoms to manifest themselves with equal examples in both sexes. It was a terrible risk not only for the production workers in the asbestos mills, but for their wives who washed contaminated overalls and were frighteningly vulnerable. The risk was also present in the streets in the lee of the factories. Boilermakers, ship repairers, dockers, railway carriage builders and the widely based laggers of pipes suffered—sometimes most grievously.

The key moment in this rather dark and dismal history was the 1966 Hebden Bridge, Acre Mill, disclosure of truly appalling consequences. Clearly, there was a lack of even basic precautions. The ensuing asbestos regulations of 1969 superseded the 1931 asbestos industrial regulations.

I recollect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker), when he was given responsibility for health and safety, went to Hebden Bridge to meet some of the victims. The setting up of the advisory committee on asbestos was the result of that visit. It was on my right hon. Friend's advice that the former Member for Sowerby, Mr. Madden, referred the issue to the Parliamentary Commissioner. It was in that way that the allegations of neglect were investigated. My right hon. Friend has asbestos workers in his constituency. He has never neglected developments in the industry affecting his constituents.

After the Hebden Bridge disaster, a series of important statements were made by Ministers and a series of debates were initiated by hon. Members. I recollect the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr Cryer). The hon. Members for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) also initiated debates.

Our amendment reflects the anxiety of many knowledgeable people in the industry. At Brighton recently the Labour Party conference voted overwhelmingly for a policy to end the import of blue asbestos and to take steps to phase out its use throughout the country

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his last point? He referred to blue asbestos. Does the amendment refer to other forms of asbestos as well?

Ultimately, the Labour Party does not want to see the use of asbestos at all. There is no time limit. The emphasis has been placed on phasing. The TUC's industrial welfare officer, Mr. Peter Jacques, has informed the European Commission that the TUC believes that there should be explicit legal requirement to prevent the importation of blue asbestos and that this should be extended to include goods containing blue asbestos. Mr. Jacques has presented a much lengthier set of details to the Select Committee on European Legislation &c than I have read out.

The official Opposition endorse the standpoint of both the Labour Party conference and the TUC. The Minister clarified a number of matters concerning the issues that I have raised. He said that there will be a statutory ban. In an intervention my right hon. Friend rather bluntly asked "When?" The Minister fended off the requirement to give a detailed answer to that question. However, it is an important question which we shall continue to ask him. We are putting our position firmly and decisively on the record. I remind the House that our amendment calls for a statutory ban throughout the Common Market. It reflects the genuine worry of the TUC. The TUC and other such organisations witness the overall situation throughout work forces.

The Government have brought two draft directives before us. The first involves public exposure to dangerous substances through the market place. The second concerns the work place, the protection of workers and the ill effects suffered by those working with asbestos. There is a dangerous inconsistency. It may be argued that the two directives do not take the same line, particularly on the use of blue asbestos.

The first directive—docurnent 5682—as I understand it, introduces the principle of a ban on certain manufactured goods—notably pipes and steels. The second directive recommends a scheme for notification and temporary authorisation of the use of blue asbestos. It is essential that we amend article 4(3) in the draft directive 9953/80 so that we bring the two texts into line. One directive is weaker than the other, and that is an inconsistency of principle.

The workers to whom I have spoken fear that products containing blue asbestos will creep into the United Kingdom, with serious health hazards. The men and women who work in the asbestos industry have mounted a lobby today, as they are entitled to do. Indeed, I attended a meeting with them in Room W1. It is only right that their interests should be protected. They suspect that powerful Belgian and German interests are holding up complete harmonisation on blue asbestos. This will not add to the already tarnished reputation of the multinational companies. Progress has been rather slow on the draft directive on the safety of workers in the asbestos industry. Why did the Government allow the Commission to put through the negotiations on the directive on the marketing and use of asbestos? Surely the Minister understands that the draft directive on the protection of workers, which contains more detailed provisions, should have had priority. It will help the House if the hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us why the directive is couched in terms that are more applicable to mining and manufacturing than to construction and demolition. It is a serious anomaly.

There are hundreds of laggers throughout the country. Some of them are in the Chamber listening to the debate. As the leaders of the General and Municipal Workers Union have said, stripping out old asbestos lagging exposes workers to the deadly blue asbestos. After the Hebden Bridge disaster there was increased identification and removal of blue asbestos. A large market opened up for asbestos-stripping companies.

As recently as January 1981 the Health and Safety Commission's chairman, Mr. Simpson, told the Select Committee on European Legislation &c. that the directive was defective when applied to construction and demolition. If the Minister catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope that he will respond on that issue, which I consider to be a key factor in the debate. The Minister should know that there are many laggers who need a detailed answer rather quickly. Lives are at stake.

Neither the Minister nor the House should overlook the Health and Safety Commission's wish that safeguards should be provided to ensure that the controls are more stringent than those laid down by the directive. I read that in paragraph 29 of the report of the Select Committee in another place, which is an extremely useful document. It points to the potential difficulty that is created because the draft directive comes under article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, which is concerned with the removal of barriers affecting the functioning of the EEC. By implication, the Common Market is not coming out very well on these details and issues. The men to whom I spoke today told me bluntly that they feel that there is a certain levelling-down rather than a levelling-up. They consider that the Government should be able to provide some answers.

The Minister referred to substitutes. That is a difficult subject, because there is no known wisdom. The Government should tell us the action that they are taking on asbestos substitutes. Pilkington Bros. asserts that it has a substitute. It says that glass reinforced cement could be processed by existing asbestos cement production machinery with only minor modifications. It concedes that the extra cost of the project would be about 10 to 15 per cent. but it asserts that the new product would largely eliminate respiratory health hazards.

Have the Government monitored both the development of and the claims for new products? Have they an agency that is doing that or which might consider doing it? When I visited the asbestos cement factory at Widnes—TAC—I met senior shop stewards and leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union and of the General and Municipal Workers Union. I think that they are present today. They told me that they had seen the loss of many jobs in the industry locally. They do not want to see the loss of any more jobs.

I advance the argument further. The Select Committee in another place decided that commercial considerations were relevant. The shop stewards to whom I talked were angry when they learnt that commercial pressures would tend to favour member States with the least stringent standards. That is a serious consideration for the British work force when it knows that mass unemployment is growing.

After two and a half years, the Government have failed to make any comments on substitutes. We are entitled to know the Government's thinking. The work forces and representatives of factories throughout Britain are terrified by the prospect of losing more jobs. Mr. Robert Trotter, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers Union, said:
"We feel that the more successful the trade union movements are in the developed nations in bringing about proper safety legislation on the handling of asbestos rather than on meeting these controls the more manufacturers will opt out of their obligations to the health of their employees by transferring their production to countries where the control on the handling of asbestos is non-existent."
I tried hard in the time available to me to follow the details that the Minister provided, especially on limit values. I think that he said that they were 0.25 cc on blue asbestos and 0.55 cc for amosite. He added that should a review of the limit values be required in the years ahead because of technical changes he would assert the authority of the United Kingdom's Government.

Under the directive it is proposed that there should be the same limit value for both white and brown asbestos. That value will be 1 fibre/cc. We originally put forward a differential between brown asbestos and white asbestos suggesting 0.5 per fibres/cc for brown asbestos and 1 fibre/cc for white asbestos.

That is the next best thing to the Minister sending me a copy of his speech. If he had done that, we would have had an even more informed debate.

I shall ask some more questions on the topic on which the Minister has intervened to get them on the record so that he might write to me with detailed answers if he is not able to provide them immediately. First, what news is there of the Health and Safety Executive's evaluation of automatic counting devices? I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that we desperately need a reputable method of counting. When will Her Majesty's Alkali Inspectorate advise the Health and Safety Commission on the emission of asbestos dust from the work place and the means of its control?

The Health and Safety Executive has begun a survey of asbestos workers. I think that that was because of recommendation 4 of the report of the Advisory Committee on Asbestos. The Minister might be able to give us some relevant details. The Health and Safety Executive has been conducting research in varied non-occupational environments into the airborne concentrations of asbestos. Does the Minister have any information on that?

I should like to refer to the human side of some of these technical matters. The GMWU asserts that asbestos diseases amongst insulation workers were killing more than half of those who had been heavily exposed, that is, those with 15 to 20 years in the industry. It also asserts:
"Stripping out old asbestos lagging exposes workers to the more deadly 'blue' asbestos, which can cause cancer without heavy exposure; exposures to white or brown asbestos can cause cancer at levels that do not cause asbestosis … preventing asbestos disease, especially the cancer, requires very high standards of safe working, which can make thermal insulation work a very expensive job."
I am told that £1½ million or more might be the cost to strip a small power station, and that it might cost £500,000 to strip a council estate. Therefore, the way would be open to a flood of cut-throat cowboy operators who could do a cheap job in a few days without Health and Safety Executive inspectors being aware of their operation.

The laggers have today asked me to ask the Minister what he is doing so that there will be a licensing system to help to save some lives. What assurances will he give that there will be sufficient factory inspectors to ensure compliance with the various regulations? We believe that more cash is needed so that we can enable the responsible authorities to catch the cowboy operators, who in some instances might accurately be called merchants of death. It is no exaggeration to say that some workers have been cheated of their lives. The laggers whom I met today are angry at their predicament.

Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister what precautions were taken in the House of Commons during August, when a large corridor close to the room that I inhabit was apparently stripped of asbestos? What arrangements were made to warn any of us that that was happening? Can we be sure that fibres are not floating around there?

I cannot give an answer to that. I look forward to the Minister's assurances. I should like him to say categorically that there are no such dangers in the House. I expect that he has consulted his ministerial colleagues so that he can give such an assurance on such a predictable subject today.

There have been expenditure cuts. Is the Factory Inspectorate shielded from such cuts? How many factory inspector posts have remained unfilled following retirements? I refer particularly to inspectors concerned with asbestos. With regard to the mooted round of public expenditure cuts in the immediate future, will the Minister give us an assurance that there will be no cuts in this vital area of health and safety?

We believe that the Health and Safety Executive should mount a massive publicity campaign to emphasise the dangers of asbestos. Such a campaign must widely publicise the results of the enforcement campaign. More people would be alerted to the hazards of asbestos if details of prosecutions were released systematically. It is a scandal that fines for the transgressors are so small. The Government should come forward with proposals for heavier fines. Is there any prospect of that?

We fear that the directive might lead to products containing blue asbestos creeping into the country. The men who came to see me today have said that. The Opposition are not satisfied that the directives on the market place and in the work place are complementary. There appears to be an inconsistency of principle. We contend that the Government have been dilatory in bringing forth the directives.

Jobs are at stake. The men in the Lobby today told me that they did not want to lose any more of their jobs. They are from areas of high unemployment. I think that the Minister will accept that the issues that we are debating, technical though they may be, are issues of life and death. We in the House have a national duty to maximise the protection of workers and of the environment.

I am haunted by the fact that it takes many years for the fateful symptoms to manifest themselves. When we established the 1969 asbestos regulations, workers who thought that they were fully fit already carried the seeds of an illness that would kill them. Workers might be lulled into a sense of false security by medical examinations alone. One microscopic fragment inhaled by an unfortunate employee can lead to death. Therefore, the work force in Britain requires a determined and profound response by the Government. In no way should the Common Market impede an attempt by the Government to have a defensible policy.

6.7 pm

The Minister expressed pleasure at seeing me in my place, but surprise that I was not in another place by the name of Croydon. I assure him that as the only argument there is about who will be second and third, I did not see much point in being there to argue about that.

I thank the Minister for his speech, which was helpful I thank him also for his visit to my constituency in July, to which he graciously referred. I assure him that we were delighted to have him in the constituency.

The substance of my remarks will be about the production process in the asbestos industry rather than about some of the sections of the industry to which the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) referred. I found his speech highly inflammatory and somewhat of an exaggeration of the dangers that exist, certainly for the wider public, as I hope to demonstrate.

The Minister referred to a factory in my constituency. It is the largest asbestos textile plant in the world. It employs over 2,000 people in the production and marketing of asbestos-based products. As the Minister told the House, the company concerned—TBA Industrial Products Ltd.—has a long record in this area. It has a proud history in safety working in asbestos. It has a proud history not only of enterprise and industry, but of excellent industrial relations. It has a proud history and experience of exporting to all parts of the world from its productive units—particularly, in the context of my speech, the productive units of Rochdale.

I find it difficult to relate the attitude of the Opposition to the speech of the hon. Member for Flint, East, because he said constantly that the workers were anxious that there should be no more unemployment in the industry. Let it be absolutely clear that if the official Opposition's amendment were to be carried, thousands of jobs would be lost as a consequence.

I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's speech to ask him to clarify whether he was referring merely to blue asbestos, but, with respect, he did not clarify the matter. He referred to the banning of blue asbestos, but the amendment does not refer merely to blue asbestos. It calls for the banning in this country of all asbestos. Let it be absolutely clear that that would cause the loss of thousands of jobs in the country generally, and hundreds in my constituency. I found the hon. Gentleman's speech, therefore, to be out of line with his plea that there should be no further redundancies in the asbestos industry.

I referred a few moments ago to the proud history of TBA Industrial Products Ltd. in enterprise, exports and industrial relations. It also has a long and proud history of deep interest in the safety of the workers in the industry and in the consumers of the industry's products. That interest has been expressed in practical terms. Millions of pounds have been invested in safety and the safe working of the raw material used in the industry.

The company has never been afraid to discuss with anyone the safety aspects of the products and the raw material. The employers have not shown the sort of petty-mindedness that would confine discussion to one political party. If any hon. Member of this House, whatever his views or his politics, is sufficiently interested and open-minded to wish to see an asbestos plant in operation, TBA Industrial Products Ltd. at Rochdale will be very happy to arrange a visit. Safety in industry should be far above party politics and should be the concern of every hon. Member.

In the asbestos industry, there are two areas to consider. The first is the safety of the employees working in the industry. The second is the safety of the user—the consumer—of the industry's products.

Over the years the risks for the worker in the industry have been considerably reduced. I emphasise the word "reduced", because they have not been eliminated. But one must ask whether it is possible to eliminate all risks from most processing industries, not simply asbestos.

At TBA Industrial Products Ltd., of the 216 cases of asbestosis certified since 1931, only 13 of those involved commenced work in the industry after 1951. The other 203 all commenced work in the industry before 1951. So the trend is clearly in the right direction.

I asked whether it is possible to eliminate all risks from industry. It is worth noting that in the coal industry 500 men a year are still diagnosed as suffering from pneumoconiosis. The asbestos industry compares very favourably, therefore, with the coal industry. I am not suggesting that the figures are acceptable or that we should not strive to reduce them, but in all productive capacity there can be danger to health. Indeed, I was tempted to remind the hon. Member for Flint, East when he was making his onslaught that every time someone crosses the road he is in danger of being knocked down by a bus. One cannot imagine reaching a point at which all risks in industry will be eliminated, but in the asbestos industry every effort has been made—and will continue to be made—to reduce the risk to the absolute minimum.

As for the risk to the consumer, the Simpson committee—which had a wide membership, including eminent members of the medical profession, and sat for approximately three years—arrived at the unanimous conclusion that
"The public at large are not at risk".
It is necessary to say that time and time again, because the manner in which the subject was dealt with by the Opposition spokesman could cause a great deal of scare and alarm among members of the public.

Asbestos is part of the earth's surface. The danger from it arises not as it lies dormant, but when it is processed in a manner that gives off minute particles of dust that can get into the lungs. The domestic use today of asbestos is minimal, and the industry is constantly striving, through its own capital investment, to find alternative materials and safer ways of working. Great credit is due to the industry for the efforts that it has made and is making. It is difficult, however, to imagine that the use of asbestos will ever be eliminated. The Minister referred to that aspect in his speech. The fibres of asbestos have unique properties because of their resistance to high temperature, abrasion and to certain corrosive chemicals, liquids and gases. Asbestos is often used in conjunction with rubber, plastic and cement in many important arduous and high performance applications, including friction materials, seals, protective clothing, fire-resistant boards, and so on. Let no one underestimate its importance, or fail to understand that, properly used, asbestos protects and saves lives. That is a point that its critics always fail to make.

It is accepted and recognised that asbestos products, if not handled correctly—and even when handled correctly—can cause disease. It is proper, therefore, that the House should concern itself with that aspect of production.

The EEC directives must be supported in principle. I welcome the Government's assurance that they will be supported. However, there are one or two details in the directives with which I should now like to deal.

I deal first with crocidolite. Blue fibre is far and away the most dangerous asbestos fibre. Much to its credit, the United Kingdom industry has operated a voluntary ban—I stress that it is voluntary—on the import of blue-based products since 1969. It is ahead of the House and of the EEC directive. If the use of crocidolite were allowed in some EEC countries, that would certainly constitute unfair competition for United Kingdom industries, because there are cost advantages in processing blue as opposed to white chrysotile fibres, especially, I understand, in matters of drainage.

The Simpson committee recommended that blue fibre should be banned. The EEC directive allows certain applications of it. I welcome the Minister's assurance on this, but I stress my hope that our Ministers will press for the banning of blue crocidolite. If they are unable to achieve that, I hope that they will pay serious regard to the method of enforcement of such directives and to such exceptions as are permitted.

The experience of many of us, particularly with the multi-fibre arrangement in textiles generally, has shown that there are ways of getting around EEC directives. I hope, for example, that attention will be paid to countries outside the EEC which may be able to export to the EEC by back-door methods. I hope that any rules will be applied to imports into the EEC as well as to home-based manufacture within the EEC.

With regard to article 3 of the DGV, if the regulations are to apply, an asbestos worker or a person exposed to asbestos in the form of white chrysotile should be more clearly defined. We welcome the Minister's assurance that the Government are seeking a clearer definition. As he said, there are people handling this substance on a limited scale, and there are products containing asbestos in which the fibres are bonded or locked in so that there is no dust and very little danger. If the proposed regulations were all-embracing, even workers handling products which are bonded or locked in would be included in the definition. A clearer definition is therefore vital.

I suggest a definition along the following lines: "Exposure to asbestos is experienced by those whose work involves more than four working hours in a 40-hour working week, such that their time-weighted average for exposure is greater than 0.1 fibre per millilitre of air". The Minister can read all that in Hansard tomorrow. I should make it clear that the industry is constantly striving to reduce the fibre content in the air. The present United Kingdom standard is two fibres, and 98 per cent. of production is now below that level. The Simpson committee recommended one fibre, and 85 per cent. of United Kingdom processing is now below that level. Again, therefore, the record stands investigation.

Article 4.1 refers to substitutes. I urge, however, that any legislation or directive should not oversell substitutes. Any substitute considered as such should be regarded as potentially dangerous if, as in asbestos, the fibrous dust is in the range of 5 microns diameter and more than 3 microns in length. Safety, as well as technical performance and cost, should be a consideration in substitute selection. How tragic it would be if, in 20 years, our successors were faced with similar health problems caused by substitutes introduced today.

Articles 9 and 10 refer to the sampling of asbestos dust in the air. The limit standard of 1 fibre cc for chrysotile fibres as specified in article 9 is fully supported. As I have said, the United Kingdom is all but there already, and in many instances well ahead. I urge caution, however, with regard to the sampling period proposed. The industry, like the Simpson committee, believes that the standard sampling time should be of four hours' duration and that the one-fibre limit should be applied over that period. If, however, work activities make it impracticable or inappropriate to collect a sample over a four-hour period, a shorter period should be allowed. The shorter period, however, should be treated as representative of the longer period, with the one fibre per millilitre standard still applying—again, incidentally, as recommended by the United Kingdom advisory committee.

Article 10, which calls for an action limit of 0.5 fibre per millilitre over a sampling period of four hours or less, is based upon a false assumption and will, I hope, be resisted. The industry welcomes and supports the recommendations in articles 14 and 15 regarding medical examinations and records and again is already implementing them.

I welcome, as the industry does, the proposal to restrict smoking in asbestos areas. Anti-smoking campaigns among employees would probably do more than any other single factor to reduce the incidence of asbestos-related lung cancer. I hope that everything possible will be done to publicise that fact. I remember the then managing director of TBA Industrial Products Ltd. telling me many years ago that he almost had a strike on his hands because he tried to ban cigarette machines from the factory. Clearly, a great deal of education is needed in that area.

The last point to which I wish specifically to refer concerns directives 3 and 4 on harmonisation. There can be no doubt that a critical factor in the implementation of proposed regulations is the urgent need—and I stress that it is urgent—to ensure harmonisation with member States in methodology, monitoring and counting fibres to agreed international standards of the organisation dealing with it, or at least to EEC standards or to both. This is vital to ensure uniformity of implementation of safe methods of control.

I repeat the need, too, to be extremely vigilant over imports to the EEC from non-EEC countries which do not have such controls. These may well include developed nations and not only underdeveloped nations.

Harmonisation is vital. I understand that this has not proved easy, even within the United Kingdom, so within the wider EEC it will be even more difficult. But it must be achieved, for otherwise there will be unfair advantages to the United Kingdom's competitors. The job of our Ministers in the EEC discussions is to ensure that that does not happen.

This is an important debate. Safety is an important matter. The United Kingdom has done more to achieve safety standards in asbestos working than has any other country. We are teachers in this regard, and we should be proud of that fact, but that does not mean that we should relax our vigilance and concern. I hope that in addition to myself other Opposition Members will have the courage to praise the industry for the work that it has done and for the fact that it leads the world.

Risk to the health of workers in the asbestos or any industry must be minimised and we must ever strive to eliminate it. It is also essential that the same vigilance, concern and fight for perfection are carried on and sought after within the EEC.

The Simpson committee played a major part in seeking those high standards, and I am grateful to it for doing so. I particularly commend the continuing work of Miss Sandra Newton, whom I know the industry holds in high regard and esteem. I hope that the message from this debate will be clear:first, that we seek and demand maximum safety for all concerned with the industry, secondly, that we seek those standards by regulation through the EEC; thirdly, and this I stress, that there is no danger from asbestos to the public at large; and, fourthly. that United Kingdom industry is to be highly commended for leading the world in safety techniques and concern.

I welcome the EEC directives in principle and I commend them to the House. In so doing, I urge that, above all else, harmonisation and enforcement should be our principal aim at the meetings to follow. I shall support the motion. I should have been happy to support the amendment had it confined itself to blue asbestos, but as it calls for the banning of all asbestos in Britain, and as that ban—

The hon. Gentleman must not generalise and summarise in that fashion about the words of the amendment. For his benefit I shall read them. The amendment

"calls upon Her Majesty' s Government to enter into immediate discussions with other member countries with a view to the early revision of the terms of the Directive so as to bring them into line not only with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee but also with the aim of seeking to eliminate the further use of asbestos in all its forms throughout the Community".
That is rather different from the hon. Gentleman's assertion that it is a complete and categorical ban.

With respect, that sentence precludes me from voting, for the amendment, because I do not believe that we can ban asbestos completely. I certainly know that if we did so it would cost hundreds of jobs in my constituency. For that reason I shall vote against the amendment and for the motion.

6.34 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I must first declare a constituency interest, because in Watford there is a firm called Cape Universal Claddings which employs 170 people, mostly from within my constituency. My interest is not only in the preservation of their jobs and continued job prospects but in their good health, care and safety at their place of work.

The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) referred to the work that was done by the former Member for Sowerby, Mr. Max Madden. The House will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson) is present, but, for reasons that are well known, he will be unable to take part in the debate. However, he follows these matters closely and discussed them with me only today.

Most of the technical points that I wish to make have already been made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) in a helpful, serious and constructive speech. As I agree with the hon. Gentleman, I shall not burden the House by making those points again.

That enables me to concentrate my remarks on the United Kingdom asbestos cement industry, which is of particular interest to my constituency. This industry employs 6,000 people directly and about 40,000 indirectly in handling the finished products. I have a submission, prepared by the joint union-management liaison committee of the Asbestos Association, which I commend to everyone who takes an interest in these matters.

Here I pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Rochdale about the Opposition amendment. None of us has the experience of the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) in drawing up composite motions. Certainly, Conservatives are a bit naive about such things. But it seems perfectly clear that an amendment which has
"the aim of seeking to eliminate the further use of asbestos in all its forms throughout the Community"
is a fairly clear statement of intent. It is also a fairly clear threat to my constituents whose jobs in the asbestos cement industry depend on the continued use of this excellent mineral. I am surprised that the Opposition should table that amendment, particularly as the union-management liasion committee, which totalled 13 members, contained no fewer than eight union members, principally from the Transport and General Workers Union and the General and Municipal Workers Union.

A particularly important role was played by Mr. Arthur Pettifer, who has been a senior shop steward for the Transport and General Workers Union for 16 years. I am surprised that the committee's views do not seem to have filtered through to the Opposition Front Bench. However, I do not make too much of that.

There are significant differences between the directive before us and the recommendations initially made by the Health and Safety Executive. There are four principal differences—first, the scope and application of the directive itself; secondly, the proposed limit values and methods of measurement; thirdly, the difference in the proposals for health surveillance; and, fourthly, the difference in the proposals for substitutes.

The Asbestos Association accepts the principles contained in this directive, but is extremely worried about the effect that its implementation would have on the asbestos cement industry. I would go as far as to say that, if the directive were to be implemented in its present form, we could well be left with no asbestos cement industry to regulate.

The manufacturing process for asbestos cement products is not especially risky, first, because 95.1 per cent. of the product is made up of water and cement and, secondly, because the asbestos fibre used is solely white asbestos. There is no use of blue asbestos not only in this procedure but in any asbestos product in this country. Thirdly, the manufacturing process is almost totally wet. I make no further comment about that, other than to say that certainly in asbestos manufacture, if not in politics, to be totally wet is a great advantage. It reduces the possibility of dust and prevents it from floating about.

Fourthly, the fibre is encapsulated and partly chemically bonded into the cement. I stress again, as did the hon. Member for Rochdale, that there is no medical evidence whatever of risk from these products in the handling and transporting of them or—more important—for members of the public who live or work in buildings that contain asbestos cement products.

I do not want to expand on the remarks already made by the hon. Member for Rochdale about the excellent record of the industry—management and work force—in working for higher levels of health safety. On the two occasions that I visited Cape Universal Claddings in my constituency I was very impressed by the way in which the shop stewards and the trade union movement worked hand in glove with the management on health safety. Sometimes trade union representatives press the management to go further and sometimes the pressures come from the management. There is no doubt that the final outcome is an industry with an impressive record on health safety. It is running far ahead of the rest of the world, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out.

I come now to the main provisions of the directive, which are seen by the asbestos cement industry as a real threat to its survival. Three of the 20 articles in the directive—Nos. 3, 5 and 7—have potentially serious consequences for the continued manufacture and usage of asbestos cement products.

Article 4, dealing with the use of crocidolite, could also have a serious effect on the United Kingdom asbestos cement industry. Article 3, when read in conjunction with articles 5 and 7, embraces all aspects of processing and use of asbestos cement products. Moreover, it includes areas where there is no evidence whatever of asbestos-related disease. It is difficult to see how these guidelines could be applied to building sites and be properly enforced and monitored. The combined effects of these articles would lead to a reduction in the use of asbestos cement products in which the fibres are firmly bonded into cement.

Article 5, when read in conjunction with articles 3 and 7, would certainly lead to a reduction in asbestos cement products. The article further compounds these difficulties by imposing additional and unnecessary administrative burdens on Government enforcing agencies. In the United Kingdom, a three-year study of the asbestos question, culminating in the final report of October 1979, has already provided the most detailed records and documentation on asbestos fibre usage that exists anywhere in the world. I should have thought that notification of new manufacturing projects or significant changes in asbestos fibre usage would be a more useful and understandable requirement than the rigmarole in article 5.

The provisions in article 7 of the directive are acceptable in themselves, provided that they refer only to areas and operations where raw asbestos fibre is handled or asbestos-containing products are processed, cut, sanded or drilled so that respirable fibres cannot be released into the atmosphere. However, if this article is read in conjunction with articles 3 and 5, enforcement will be extremely difficult and, in any case, would lead to a progressive decline in the use of asbestos-containing products.

Article 4 is long and detailed, and I shall not read it out. Paragraph 1 refers to substitutes, and, here again, I reinforce the comments of the hon. Member for Rochdale. Safer substitutes should always be considered, but I believe that the industry would want to stress that that should not give rise to greater risks than the small risks already existing in the use of asbestos. Equally, other factors need to be considered. Will the substitutes give a product with satisfactory technical performance, life and cost? The hon. Gentleman told the House in detail about the qualities of asbestos, which should also be borne in mind.

Paragraph 2 deals with the application of asbestos fibre by means of a spray process which should certainly be prohibited, That is a matter on which the trade unions and management in this submission have no difficulty in agreeing.

The hon. Member for Rochdale has already discussed the use of crocidolite asbestos, which has not been used in the United Kingdom since 1970. Because of the known health risks, the fibre may become the subject of a further statutory ban in the United Kingdom. However, the House should be aware that Continental European asbestos cement manufacturers use it in the manufacture of piping, in particular, and this enables them to produce pipes at higher output rates and lower cost. As a result they have a product that is more competitive than can be produced by manufacturers here.

The proposed retention of crocidolite means that the one remaining United Kingdom asbestos cement fibre manufacturing facility will continue to be obliged to produce and sell products, both at home and abroad, at prices that are significantly higher than those of Continental manufacturers. This trading imbalance is particularly severe in the competitive markets in which those companies have to operate. We have already lost one factory in the North-West, with the loss of 250 jobs, and the one remaining factory, which I believe is in Kent, must be under threat. The trade union-management submission on this matter strongly supports the ban on blue asbestos.

I add one rider to that. I fear that not only are we suffering competition abroad from European manufacturers who use blue asbestos, but products manufactured in Europe with blue asbestos are being imported into this country, therefore making nonsense of the responsible attitude that our industry takes to the product.

Many consequences would arise from the unamended enactment of articles 3, 5 and 7. I am convinced that their combined effect, if unamended, would result in a progressive and rapid decline of the United Kingdom cement manufacturing industry, where jobs have already been reduced from 9,500 in 1977 to the present level of 6,000. The consequence could be the further cumulative loss of those 6,000 jobs, nearly 1,500 of which would be in areas that are already sustaining excessively high levels of unemployment, such as the Midlands and the North-West. I would not in any way welcome additional unemployment in my constituency.

The thrust of my remarks is to defend the 170 workers in my constituency. I am fortunate to represent a prosperous part of the South, and I acknowledge that the problems in my constituency are to a great degree multiplied the further north one goes. However, the residual unemployment effects on user industries could be even greater.

The unamended enactment of article 4 would continue the limited sanctions on the use of crocidolite which directly affects our manufacturers who cannot compete. It would also continue to cause grave concern to many of us who suspect that the products are being imported, making nonsense of what our industry is trying to do.

I end by saying how surprised I am to find the Opposition—particularly someone as well informed and well connected in the trade union movement as the right hon. Member for Doncaster—putting forward an amendment that would take jobs from my constituents and many others. I can only charitably assume that it has been done in error and hope that by the end of the debate the Opposition will withdraw this damaging amendment.

6.50 pm

I, too, shall limit my remarks to the asbestos cement industry. In my constituency we have only one such factory, which involves about 250 jobs, but in addition we have many users.

The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) set out the objections to the EEC directive which have on more than one occasion been expressed by the management and unions. Both sides of the industry are prepared to accept the Simpson committee recommendations in full and implement them immediately. Some are already in operation.

I and my hon. Friends have asked several times when the Government will bring forward regulations to implement the report, but we have had to wait until now to debate the control of the industry. The recommendations should have been implemented earlier and formed the basis of the EEC directives. Britain should have strongly presented her views to the Commission and influenced the controls to regulate the industry.

The combination of articles 3, 5 and 7 may create difficulties, not so much for the manufacturers as for users. Article 7 will affect users on building sites. I am not talking necessarily of large construction sites or the stripping of blue asbestos, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) referred. Asbestos sheeting is often used as roofing material, perhaps by a farmer in re-roofing his buildings. The articles lay down conditions that will be impracticable for the small user to follow. They will also be extremely difficult to enforce, because of the limited number of factory inspectors, who already find it difficult to ensure that many building regulations are observed. With these limitations, the potential small user may be tempted to substitute other materials such as plastic coated steel, although it is more expensive. That will certainly create difficulties for the industry.

Orders should be increasing at this time of year, but they are not. There are already employment difficulties in the industry. We have been given figures of 6,000 in the manufacture and 40,000 in the use of asbestos cement material. Anxiety about employment has been forcefully expressed to me by the union side in my constituency. In Thurrock over 13 per cent. of the work force is unemployed. Over 6,000 people are unemployed—the first time that we have hit that figure for a long time. I should not like to see even a small proportion of the 250 jobs in the factory disappear.

The Minister mentioned the need for controls on users of asbestos to be practicable. He said that he would pursue that in negotiations on the draft directive. I hope that he will make that clear to the unions and management and further discuss with them what forms of control they would like. Both sides of the industry want controls on the use of a potentially dangerous material.

The Government accept the limit proposed in the directive of 1 fibre cc. Parts of the industry have already accepted 0.5 fibre cc. I hope that the Minister will not only encourage other EEC countries to adopt the lower limit, but will enforce it here in advance. We should take the lead.

I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps he proposes to take to protect the industry and will undertake to contact the management and unions to ensure that jobs are protected and that every effort will be made to control the health and working conditions of workers in the industry and users of the material.

6.58 pm

Few people are unaware of the dangers of asbestos if used incorrectly or with inadequate safety standards. A large number of workers and others who have been in contact with asbestos suffered serious ill health and even death because insufficient was known of the dangers. That was partly due to the delay between the contact with asbestos and the appearance of the disease. Few who have read the newspapers or watched televison can now be unaware of the situation.

Unfortunately, at the same time, there has been considerable public misunderstanding which such organisations as the Asbestos Information center have done their best to clear up. Asbestos has almost become one of those feared words that drive people into veritable terror. Some people, I think, believe that one has only to touch asbestos or perhaps merely look at it to be struck down at a later date. Only a minority perhaps appreciate that it is necessary to breathe the fibres into one's lungs for dangers to show themselves subsequently.

Asbestos has unique qualities. This explains the difficulty of providing substitutes. The great strength of the fibres in relation to their weight and size can be equalled by very few other materials. Considerable expense is involved but the companies themselves are in the forefront of research to find acceptable substitutes.

There is no one substitute for all applications. Although it is possible now to provide alternatives for some applications that are adequate and reasonably cheap, it will take quite some time before acceptable alternatives for others are available. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) pointed out that asbestos is a material that can save lives. If it is necessary to produce an alternative material that is so expensive that people cannot afford it or are unwilling to pay for it, we are not making any advance.

The whole House, like the industry, should welcome these directives. They provide practical protection for both workers and users. I believe that companies manufacturing products that contain asbestos take a responsible attitude. One of these companies, the BBA. Group at Cleckheaton in my constituency, is among the best not only in relation to worker protection but also in relation to medical help given to retired employees. The company has spent many hundreds of thousands of pounds on the introduction of equipment to protect workers every day. The company is not unique. Britain's standards of safety and the requirements laid down in regulations put us in the forefront in Europe. This enables us to adopt a strong position in relation to the EEC directives.

I would go further. Harmonisation is very much in our interests. British companies should not be allowed to be at a commercial disadvantage merely because they are willing to adopt higher standards in the interests of their workers and the public generally than their counterparts in other countries.

Hon. Members have pointed to the need for clear definitions. I shall not go over the ground again. However, the directives as they stand today give scope for member States and companies within those member States to argue that the intentions behind the wording can be evaded. It is important in negotiations to ensure that no one is able to avoid obligations merely because the wording is loose. The directives refer to decorative substances. For example, many substances which have a decorative purpose also have other purposes. They have a protective purpose. There is a need, as the directives stand today, for them to be tightened up. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will pursue the matter vigorously.

It is suggested that the directives will permit concessions for some member States, perhaps to encourage trade between them. There have been suggestions that individual member States should be allowed what are called derogations. I hope that we shall fight this possibility. I believe that concessions included merely for commercial reasons are unacceptable. Any exceptions should be allowed only for health reasons and not for reasons of commercial advantage for one member State or another.

We should not underestimate the dangers. Equally, provided we are satisfied that the dangers are overcome, we must be careful not to indulge in what I would describe as overkill. I can perhaps define this as unnecessary regulations or, perhaps even more aptly, prohibition, rather than practical controls. Overkill can be damaging. The price may deter people from equipping themselves with alternative materials even though asbestos materials or products containing asbestos provide an adequate substitute without any real danger.

The Opposition must come to terms with the fact that jobs are very much at the heart of the matter. The Opposition seem to be arguing about the time scale when they say they are not urging an immediate ban. If, however, the aim is a total ban sooner or later, it has to be recognised that plants will close and jobs will be lost. Representing a constituency in the North of England in an area where unemployment has been rising rapidly, I should be very much opposed to a loss of jobs.

Good progress is being made in finding substitutes. Immediate safety advantages from the use of alternatives are one reason. There are, however, other factors impelling manufacturers to research new products. The Mintex company is part of the BBA Group and manufactures brake products. New cars have to be lighter for energy reasons and for weight saving reasons and brakes therefore need to be smaller. With the need for brakes to be made more efficient, the solution is often to find alternative products to asbestos. It has to be remembered, however, that the present generation of cars will continue to run with brakes that require asbestos replacements for some considerable time. Even if all new cars were to have brake linings that did not rely on asbestos, there would be cars running on our roads for many years that would continue to need brakes with asbestos components.

There is no possible way in which a move can be made quickly to substitution in its entirety. Research is moving forward but most alternatives cost between 25 and 50 per cent. more than existing products.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to Mintex. I should like to refer to a passage in an interesting book called "Asbestos Killer Dust" written by a lecturer in health and safety who says:

"As early as 1969, Mr. D. Hatch, Ferodo,"
the well-known brake lining manufacturer among other things
"said 'It cannot be said that the use of asbestos in disc brake pads remains a technical necessity, and it is in this field of friction materials that some departure from resin-asbestos based composites could occur in the next few years on technical and performance grounds'."

The author goes on to query why that has not happened in all the years that have elapsed from 1969 and suggests that it is because of lack of pressure on the industry to do what Mr. Hatch of Ferodo forecast.

The right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks relate to what I was saying. There are alternatives and scope to introduce them.

I know from personal experience that the company is spending a great deal on research and has no reason to drag its feet. It is necessary to provide an alternative that is acceptable to motorists, can be incorporated in new vehicles as well as second-hand vehicles—because the replacement market is important—and is as adequate in road safety terms as existing materials.

I have not had the opportunity to read the report to which the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) referred, but I will do so and will discuss the matter with Mintex. However, I know that the company has no reason to resist progress.

I wish to put to my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary a couple of principles that should be borne in mind during the negotiations with our EEC partners. The first concerns timing. Under no circumstances should the United Kingdom introduce legislation before other EEC States do so. The date of implementation of regulations in this country should conform to the dates agreed in the EEC directives. The proposed dates are acceptable and would gave a reasonable time for necessary plant modifications to be carried out.

Secondly, it is essential that we have controls that are adequate to protect workers who do not blatantly disregard the rules, but it should be recognised that if we unnecessarily impose controls or prohibitions on various types of asbestos that are more rigid than those imposed elsewhere in the EEC—my hon. and learned Friend suggested that we might do that—we would be put at a serious cost disadvantage which could adversely affect job security.

I do not suggest that we should pay insufficient attention to health and safety considerations, but it is impossible to achieve perfection in anything. There is asbestos in the air that we breathe in the streets. Some people want to go for a total ban, but I suggest that we have to go for what is practicable and that it would be unreasonable to go further than what the directives regard as satisfactory for workers and the general public throughout the EEC.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson) for the interest that he has taken in this matter, and particularly in the infamous Acre Mill site in his constituency. His predecessor, Mr. Max Madden, also took a great interest in the subject and did a great deal for his constituents, but even he accepted that other materials could present dangers. There are dangers in alternatives such as glassfibre and we do not know as much about them as we know about asbestos. We must beware of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and we should act with caution.

The hon. Member for Rochdale referred to imports into the EEC from countries with lower standards for their asbestos-based products. I echo his remarks and will not go over that ground again.

The draft directive DG III on marketing and use has undergone a change from the original concept of controls to the concept of ultimate prohibition, and the number of product groups involved has risen from three or four to 12. There seems to be a trend towards the progressive elimination of asbestos, without adequate regard being paid to the amount of risk or the significance of the material in manufacturing. That is an important point for my hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind during the negotiations.

The Opposition would go for an ultimate ban on asbestos, but they must recognise that it would do enormous damage to this country if we acted on our own. It would inevitably be damaging to jobs. The Opposition cannot have it both ways, as the Labour Party conference would wish. If they want to go down that path they ought at least to admit where it will lead.

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on supporting the directives and I wish him well in the negotiations.

7.16 pm

I should like to take up some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller). The debate is almost a re-run of the arguments that I have heard during my campaign to ban polyurethane foam.

As parliamentary adviser to the furniture workers I ran a campaign on their behalf on the dangers of nasal cancer. During that campaign I heard the argument that because of the employment implications and so on it was impossible to do anything. It seems that every time we learn that something is dangerous, reasons are found for doing nothing about it and the most that we get is platitudes and a pretence that everything is all right. I note that those who assert that everything is all right never actually work in the industry concerned. This debate has been no exception.

I was a member of the European Parliament Committee that was responsible for dealing with these directives, and I am happy to see that the arguments and rows that we had at that time have culminated in a much stronger recommendation. I like to think that I played some role in the stiffening of the proposals. A whole array of experts gave evidence to us and argued passionately that something should be done about asbestos. I find it odd to listen to hon. Members suggesting that we should not do too much. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said that 250 people were unemployed in his constituency, but there are 6,000 unemployed people in my constituency as a result of Government policy. The hon. Gentleman ought to understand that they have become unemployed without even touching asbestos.

We cannot afford the luxury of doing nothing about the problem. Ministers and others say that action will be taken, but they accept that we should continue to use asbestos. I have no interest to declare except an interest in people's health. I say to those who are being misled into believing the Government's version that a different story is told by someone who has contracted asbestosis.

I have heard no hon. Member declare an interest in having had to fight an asbestosis claim on behalf of a constituent. I have had that duty, and it is an appalling experience. Hon. Members have said that firms are doing all that they can to protect workers, but I fought against such firms, which were trying to distance themselves from the misery of workers who had contracted asbestosis.

I shall tell the story that I told the European Parliament when I argued that the directive was insufficient and would not have catered for the case that I was arguing. The man was a lagger, of whom there are still many. After 14 or 15 years in the industry he began coughing and bringing up fibres in the sputum. Finally, Professor Lawther at St. Bartholomew's hospital was able to identify asbestosis. The argument then began over what to do about it. He was still being employed, and therefore he got no compensation. He then developed an ulcer in his stomach and was operated on. The operation went well and he began to recover. However, during the recovery period he kept on coughing and bringing up sputum containing fibres. After a while he began to get a little better, but he had a bad coughing fit and died.

I lost the argument because I could not show any connection between the fact that for month after month he had been suffering badly with his chest and coughing as a result of having asbestosis, and the fact that he had had an operation on his stomach for something else. Because of the lack of the knowledge of the argument, and because the only thing that was looked at at the time was the stomach—the reason for the operation—the death certificate said that that was the cause of death. In fact, there was no evidence that that was the cause of death.

I maintain to this day that there was clear evidence that that man died from asbestosis, but society, his employers, the medical profession, and everyone else disagreed, with the exception of Professor Lawther, who, together with some of his distinguished colleagues, worked hard to help me to show that there could have been the element of asbestosis. The difference is that that man's widow would have been much better off today than she is if I had won the fight to show that the cause of the man's death was asbestosis.

I started my speech by referring to the enormous damage to health that workers had suffered, and I accept the sincerity of the hon. Member, but I put it to him that companies have paid out many millions of pounds in compensation. At the same time, they have to recognise that there are cases in which the relatives of people who have, unfortunately, died believe that there is a connection between the disease and contact with asbestos. The companies do not insist that the connection be proved. All that they require to be shown is that that connection is probable, that it is likely. Thus, although there may be cases about which the hon. Gentleman feels dissatisfied, I put it to him that the companies have not been lax in fulfilling their responsibilities to society. They fully accept that many people have suffered damage as a result of the operations that they have carried out.

I was trying to illustrate the problem that one has. The fight is not so obvious or self-evident as one is led to believe from some of the contributions this evening, implying that if a person contracts asbestosis, somehow everything will be all right. It will not. It is a battle. There is resistance among firms to accept that, but my own experience has proved it to me. I merely warn people that they should not be misled too easily into believing that now that the disease has been identified there is no problem if people get it. That is not so. It is a battle all the way.

That brings me to the next point. I hold the view that health and safety are above the party political battle, but I am being led to the conclusion this evening that I am in a minority of one. The amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends seems to me to be in line with everything that is in the directive. The main burden of the argument in the amendment lies in the words:
"with the aim of seeking to eliminate the further use of asbestos in all its forms throughout the Community".
Article 4(1) specifically says:
"Asbestos shall be replaced by suitable safer substitutes when these are available".
That is exactly what the amendment says. I see nothing incongruous about what is said in the amendment and what is in article 4(1), unless one is trying to nit-pick. I cannot see how one can quarrel with it.

Although the burden of my remarks has been on the cement asbestos industry, I have attempted to interpret the views that were put to me, not by the management of any particular firm in my constituency, but by a committee set up to study these matters, on which the majority were trade union officials and people who take health and safety matters very seriously, but who at the same time hope that the industry that gives them employment will survive.

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the amendment is incompatible with the survival of that industry, because it specifically calls for a ban on all asbestos products, whereas the directive is a sensible and obvious effort to move towards substitutes. That is obvious, and no one disputes that.

In that case the hon. Member will vote against the directive, because what is in the amendment is contained in the directive—unless he is trying to nit-pick and say that there is a word in one that is not in the other. When I discussed the matter with the commissioners, that is exactly what they were saying, and exactly what they meant, and it is now in the directive.

We should not be silly. We are attempting to say that there is a danger. That is common cause. We have all accepted that. We are arguing about whether we should do something about it seriously or move only a step at a time. The hon. Gentleman says that it is right to stop the use of blue asbestos, but the decision that blue asbestos was dangerous did not arise because someone in the industry said "By the way, I am manufacturing some pretty awful stuff here and I advise everyone not to use it". That is not what happened. It was used up to the very last minute—as long as they could get away with it. Moreover, they would go on using it to the very last minute. At no stage did I hear the manufacturers of blue asbestos say "We are manufacturing a dangerous product and we want it banned". They could have stopped it any time that they liked.

I have lost the train of the argument. The fact is that the ban on blue asbestos that has been in existence in this country since 1969 is a voluntary ban imposed by the industry. It is not a mandatory ban or a statutory ban. It is a voluntary ban imposed by the industry, and that does not seem to be in accordance with what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

The hon. Member is right, that he is not following my argument. The industry did not discover that it was bad. That was discovered by other sources, particularly the Health Service, and by groups of people who spent time studying it. It was only when they could do nothing other than accept it that the manufacturers had to accept the voluntary ban. I should have made it a statutory ban. I have never thought of it as being voluntary. It ought to be a statutory ban, and under the directive it will be. That is right. I have no doubt about it. Clearly, we reach the stage of saying "Yes, we shall ban this" only when people are driven to it and cannot move in any other direction.

There is a similar argument about polyurethane foam. We are going down the same route. Eventually its use will be stopped, but it will take a long time and many people will die and much misery will be caused before someone finally says "Either it is a voluntary ban or it is a compulsory ban". At any rate, that is when its use will be stopped.

Article 6 of the document relates to a subject on which I had something to say in 1978:
"Special measures shall be taken during the removal of asbestos from existing buildings."
I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) to ask the Minister what steps were taken in the Palace of Westminster to implement article 6 in that respect. In August, when I was working in the House, I learnt only very late in the day, when I could not get through the corridor adjacent to my room, that the reason for closing the corridor and carrying out work there was to remove asbestos. Since that led directly into my room, with only a door between the corridor and the room, I ask the Minister—I hope that he will reply tonight—to tell me what special measures were taken in the Palace of Westminster for that corridor beside my room, No. 1, above St. Stephen's during the removal of asbestos from that area. It is not much good approving the general drift and argument of a document tonight when deliberately, only six weeks ago, we made certain that we did not oblige ourselves to implement it voluntarily. I am anxious to hear the Minister's reply on how he views that situation and what was done, and why I was not informed. Why was I not subjected to the special precautions, along with colleagues who share the room? I am a little worried about blue asbestos. Paragraph 2 of the briefing document submitted by the Department of Employment states:
"As at present drafted the marketing and use of blue asbestos and products containing it would be prohibited. However this prohibition would not prevent the use of such products which had already been marketed before the Directive comes into force."
I recall having discussions about this matter. There will be an enormous hassle if products that come in from member countries contain blue asbestos. The argument will be whether they were produced before or after the vesting day, whenever that will be. What does the Minister think about that? How can one go in for a long argument when very often the stuff arrives through various routes and not directly? Does the Minister feel that allowing that exemption, which
"would not prevent the use of such products which had already been marketed before the Directive comes into force",
is tenable? Should we not argue that the first part of the paragraph is the right course—that such products should be prohibited? There would then be no argument or dubiety about it.

On the matter of consultation, in the days when I was dealing with this issue, when I returned to this country and tried to talk to people who were knowledgeable in these matters I was surprised to find how few were being consulted. There are very few such people. Two of Professor Lawther's colleagues had been consulted and were aware of the matter. I could not contact Professor Lawther today, but I contacted one of his colleagues. They did not know that we would be discussing this matter tonight. They do not recall being invited to talk about it. Professor Lawther is not available until next week. I intend to contact him when he is available to ask him whether he has been consulted. He is one of the most eminent people in this field.

Paragraph 11 of the original explanatory memorandum says:
"Consultations have been started with representatives of the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress. trades associations, local authorities and other interested organisations."
I should like to know whether Professor Lawther and his unit at St. Bartholomew's were included. The Minister had better hurry, because in this unique unit in St. Bartholomew's we have had a group dealing with environmental health, under Professor Lawther, for many years. It is true that he is now approaching retiring age. towards the end of this year, but we are now, in a cost-cutting exercise, getting rid of the whole unit. It has made a remarkable contribution in the whole sphere, including asbestosis, yet we seem to be able suddenly to get rid of it. Apparently we do not seem to want its views, even though others in the rest of the world seek them.

Some of Professor Lawther's staff are being redeployed in other areas. I think that one eminent colleague of his is joining the Department of Health and Social Security. This has been a unique unit which, by common consent, has done a remarkable job. These people were the forerunners and pioneers of many of the techniques and technologies of dealing with the atmosphere and the environment. Will the Minister re-examine this matter to see whether it is a wise decision that the funding of that unit should cease and that it should be broken up? It involves an expertise which will be very hard to assemble again.

I think that the general principles enshrined in the directive are right, as I thought in 1978. Whenever we can, we must identify any materials that are dangerous. We should be prepared to take action on them, whatever the cost. If their use involves people's lives, as I have said so many times in the House in relation to polyurethane foam and nasal cancer, I ask all those who covet this principle to evaluate the price that we are placing on human life. That is what people must do. If one argues that one can live with materials which are dangerous and which one knows will cause death or injury, society is entitled to expect the cost that one is putting on life to be evaluated.

I do not believe that there is any price that I am not prepared to pay. Life is much too valuable. If we have to continue to find substitutes for dangerous materials, I want that done urgently, and I want the dangerous materials to be taken out of circulation as soon as is practicable. I do not accept that there is some reason, either financial or, as we now hear, unemployment, why men, women and children do not have a higher price put on their lives. The fact that this will cost a bit of money cannot be a justification for putting lives at risk.

7.39 pm

I am glad to have this opportunity to take part in the debate. I shall be brief, as the debate has almost come to an end. I should like to address my remarks to the speech made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). In much of what he said he made it clear that the industry has been irresponsible about the dangers of the materials used.

That was the general burden of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Having learnt of the dangers of the material from medical evidence and from the work of trade unionists, the industry has voluntarily taken action to ban the use of blue asbestos, as safety measures have not yet been discovered. That is an example of responsible action in the light of present medical knowledge.

The debate deals with two fundamental points for which we are responsible. It concerns the balancing of safety against jobs and the balancing of British standards against those of the EEC. The Simpson report is British and it sets higher standards for our industry than those recommended by the EEC directive. It is vital that the House should be clear about that. British industry is taking steps that we can be pleased and satisfied with and that set a standard that we can fight for in amending this directive. It has not been suggested by any hon. Member that there is no danger in using asbestos or that the balance between safety and jobs should be unrealistically weighted towards jobs. However, the Opposition amendment, which seeks ultimately to ban the use of all types of asbestos, does not take account of the development of controls on asbestos production that can make the operation much safer.

I listened carefully to the example given by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald). From articles 3 and 7 it is clear that there is a danger that the definition of asbestos and asbestos production and use will cause problems for the users of asbestos products. The roofing industry offers an example. The small user of asbestos roofing products would be constrained by a range of safety regulations that would be extremely expensive and irrelevant as the danger of asbestos dust in that industry is minimal. The directive would have a negative effect on the use of the product in Britain and in other member States. When we deal with EEC directives it is extremely important to bear down on their direct and practical implications for British industry. It is often argued that EEC directives constrain activity in Britain and that our arrangements may be better than those practised in the EEC. We have a clear example of that danger. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will give an assurance that he will make a robust case and ensure that Britain's commercial position is not put at risk.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the world is full of dangerous and toxic substances? If they are misused and mishandled, danger arises. We are indebted to the research unit at St. Bartholomew's hospital, which has done a great deal of work. However, does not my hon. Friend accept that we should not be using cellulose to spray cars because of the danger of lung disease, or mining coal for the same reason, if we were to follow the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown)? It is simply a question of sensible use. The only problem is that it has taken a long time to realise that asbestos may lead to the chronic disease of asbestosis. Does my hon. Friend accept those views?

I am happy to accept those views. The point about the coal industry is particularly good. There is no doubt that we shall continue to need, mine and utilise coal. It is generally accepted that there is a risk to those working in the industry. However, the more medical research that is done, the better we shall be able to control those risks and the more reasonable it will be to use those products, providing that they have a use and that the balance between safety and production is reasonably satisfactory both to us and to the medical profession.

If Britain is to maintain its competitive position in the commercial battle it is essential that the same controls over the use of blue asbestos should apply to all other member States of the EEC. Britain's industry has voluntarily shown the way.

7.47 pm

I hope that hon. Members feel that the debate has been worth-while. I am sorry if hon. Members take what I am about to say as being rather ungracious, but it should be said. It is the old story of a good Opposition opening speech being made by a good chap in support of a silly amendment. I hope that the Opposition will not be silly enough to press it to a Division.

The amendment can be divided into halves. As I explained earlier, the first half of the amendment is entirely misconceived. When we legislate to bring ourselves into conformity with the directive there will be a statutory ban on the import of blue asbestos. As regards the second half of the amendment, hon. Members have pointed out the sheer absurdity of talking in this day and age of a complete ban on the use of all forms of asbestos throughout the Community. We should like a ban on blue asbestos throughout the Community. Apart from the exceptions that are still being requested by certain European countries—on large diameter pipes, seals and gaskets—there will be a complete ban when the directive comes into force.

It has been said that the two directives do not take the same line. The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) argued that article 9 should be amended. I do not concede that that is correct. A limit has still to be put on blue asbestos because if there are to be any exemptions, as claimed by some European countries, on large diameter pipes for example, there must be some control over their manufacture.

I was asked why we did not allow the worker protection directive to be dealt with first. The answer is simple. Unfortunately, timing is not in the hands of the Government. The timing is a matter for the Commission. The Commission thought it right to bring the marketing and use directive forward first. I can assure hon. Gentlemen that since we assumed the Presidency we have made it plain that these directives should move in tandem because they form a part of one package and must be read together.

I was asked why sufficient emphasis was not placed on the dangers that confront people who have to deal with asbestos lagging. When hon. Gentlemen read articles 3 and 5 of the worker protection directive they will see that protection is offered to such workers. The difficulty is that we do not want a directive that contains too much detail and imposes obligations that are impractical to enforce.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Flint, East whether I had any news about the assessments being made by the HSE on automatic counting devices. All that I can say at this stage is that evalution is proceeding. The HSE recognises how important it is to go forward with that work.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) on his speech. He made some important points. He stressed, rightly, that if the amendment were carried and the policy in the amendment put into effect, thousands of jobs would be lost. This is far too serious a matter for the Opposition to use as a political football. We are discussing very serious matters. Opposition spokesmen know that it is serious so it is silly to table an amendment that has no basis in practicality.

I have been reluctant to interrupt the Minister but he should remember that Lord Carver once reminded the House that our machinery functions better when a little oil is put on it rather than vinegar and acid. I warn the Minister that if he keeps jeering at our amendment and our approach, we might be tempted to make a few speeches.

When saying that the first part of our amendment is redundant, the Minister should bear in mind that it was not until he came to the House this evening that we knew that the Government intended to introduce legislation to make the ban on crocidolite statutory. He should not jeer at us for not knowing what we could not have known in advance.

Can the Minister explain how different our amendment is from the report of the EEC Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection, which in its 1977 report said:
"every effort should be made to develop safe substitutes for asbestos and that as these substitutes become available, the use of asbestos should gradually be phased out; where safe substitutes already exist, the use of asbestos should be forbidden."
The author of that report said in his—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman but I called him not to speak but to intervene.

I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to avoid making a speech but I was provoked. I am not making a speech but I wish to ask the Minister a question. The work hazards group of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science made a submission to the House of Lords Select Committee. That is a responsible, serious and well-informed organisation. It said:

"It is these facts that have led the American and Swedish Governments to effectively ban the use of asbestos."
If the Minister regards that as nonsense, perhaps he will say so.

I do not regret having provoked the right hon. Gentleman into activity, because I know of his intense interest in this matter. I do not doubt the genuineness of that interest. However, I thought that the amendment itself contained some vinegar and acid—certainly more vinegar and acid than common sense.

Whatever happens in America or Sweden, asbestos provides many jobs in Britain. To call for the complete ban of asbestos is fantasy. It will not do to say that the Opposition had no knowledge of our intention to ban blue asbestos until they came to the House today. The directive provides for the banning of blue asbestos.

I am talking about a statutory ban. When we implement the directive we shall implement legislation. If we implement the directive, we shall be banning the import into Britain and the use in Britain of crocidolite.

I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman wants me to go through my opening speech again. He can read it in Hansard. He will see that it is as clear as light that the effect of implementing the two directives is that the British Government would have to ban the importation of blue asbestos.

The House agrees that the Minister made a fine opening speech. However, he is now letting himself down and proving to be a little rattled. Why does he make such a song and dance about the jobs issue? Why does he exaggerate it? He says that the amendment would create a loss of jobs. He is proposing that the House should support a directive which states that asbestos should be replaced by

"suitable and safer substitutes when these are available."

The answer is contained in the words which the hon. Gentleman has just read. The amendment does not call for the introduction of substitutes when they are available. It calls for a ban on the use of asbestos.

The hon. Member for Rochdale was right to say that one cannot eliminate all risk and that one has always to assess the degree of risk and balance against it the cost and other consequences of trying to eliminate the risk. Asbestos is no different in that respect from many other substances.

Earlier, I read to the House a passage from the Advisory Committee on Asbestos. I commend that passage to the House. It illustrates better than I can the importance of keeping some sense of balance. Sometimes in the debate that sense of balance has been lost. For instance, the report emphasises that talk of a ban ignores the possibility of a prohibition which might directly result in an increase in health and safety risks. The obvious example is fire, where asbestos has proved itself a valuable preventive agent.

The hon. Member for Rochdale asked whether the Government would ensure a proper enforcement of the ban on blue asbestos throughout the Community. That is not the only area in which we have difficulties within the EEC in ensuring that others play by the rules. The Government are conscious of the need to ensure that, if harmonisation is achieved and when it is put into practice, it is done fairly and people abide by the rules.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the problem of no definition of exposure in the worker protection directive. I concede that the wording needs to be tightened. If it is left as it is, it introduces the whole rigmarole of notification and medical examination. As I said earlier, we might be dealing with a worker who handles asbestos for only a minimal time. The hon. Gentleman complimented Miss Sandra Newton. I am grateful to her for all her help in preparing for tonight's debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. GarelJones) referred to the representations of the Asbestos Association. As I have read them, his remarks did not come as a surprise to me. My remarks about article 3 apply to what my hon. Friend said about the representations. The scope of the directive appears to be too wide, because no effort had been made to define exposure. The same points apply to article 5 and notification. A detailed notification scheme may be extremely difficult to enforce. We do not wish to make the mistake of including involved provisions in a European directive, knowing in our heart of hearts that it would never be enforceable.

My hon. Friend was right to say that, if blue asbestos is used in the manufacture of pipes on the Continent, it gives those countries an unfair commercial advantage. I can only remind him that we have suffered under that unfair commercial disadvantage since we decided voluntarily in 1969 to ban blue asbestos. There is one important point. The directive imposes a tight limit value on blue asbestos. History shows that one reason why industry felt that it was not too difficult to accept the voluntary ban was that prior to its operation it had to accept that the correct limit value of blue asbestos was 0.2 fibres/cc. If Continental countries now have to operate under those same stringent controls, there may be fairly speedy changes in their manufacturing processes.

Does my hon. and learned Friend have a copy of that submission? If so, perhaps he would pass it to the Opposition in the hope that they might withdraw their amendment.

I have given up my attempts to get the Opposition to withdraw the amendment. We shall have to wait and see what happens. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) said that she wanted the Simpson report to be implemented without waiting for the directives to come to fruition. Although I recognise the strength of that argument, harmonisation is a great prize. If we can persuade European countries to accept the strict standards that Britain has accepted, and in that way prevent unfair competition from those countries, we shall win a valuable prize.

The hon. Lady referred to the impracticability of some of the provisions in article 5 of the worker protection directive. We are aware of the need to avoid legislation that might prove unenforceable. She referred to the serious unemployment in Thurrock. I am sure that she will follow that through and vote against the amendment if it is pursued.

The hon. Lady asked whether I would be in contact with both management and unions in the asbestos cement industry. I promise her that, if they wish to see me, I shall be glad to discuss with them all the matters that we have discussed tonight, in greater detail and in a way that we do not have time to discuss them tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) implored me to ensure that no legislation came into force in Britain before it did so in other member countries. That is a reasonable request, which I shall bear in mind. Currently, article 20 requires that each country implement the worker directive by 1 January 1985.

My hon. Friend also implored the Government not to go further than the EEC directives. I did not suggest that we should do so. That was contemplated only in the case of brown asbestos. I suggested that, if new scientific evidence showed that brown asbestos was more dangerous than white asbestos, we should be honour bound to reconsider our decision to have the same limit for brown asbestos as for white asbestos. Originally, we intended to have two separate limits.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) accused the Government of giving reasons for doing nothing. I cannot imagine anything further from the truth. We are discussing the progress of negotiations towards Britain's acceptance of obligations under two European directives. We are trying to persuade other European countries to accept the high standards that we have accepted, which would be of great benefit to their workers and to British industry, which would not be subjected to unfair competition.

The hon. Gentleman was rightly taken to task for suggesting that it was only at the last moment, when manufacturers realised that they could not get away with not complying with a voluntary ban, that they agreed to a ban on blue asbestos. As has been pointed out to him on a number of occasions, his remarks are absolute nonsense. The manufacturers entered into a voluntary arrangement in 1969, when there was no legislation.

That is not strictly true. The voluntary ban on blue asbestos imports began in 1969. The regulations in force at that time did not provide for such a ban—[Interruption.] I should be glad to allow the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) to make another speech, providing he dresses it up as a question so that he remains in order. If he does not wish to do so, I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion, with no acid whatsoever.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch asked what special measures were taken to comply with article 6 for the removal of asbestos in the Palace of Westminster. I do not suppose anyone addressed himself to article 6, which is not in force. I shall make inquiries of the proper authorities about what happened.

I was asked about the exception in the marketing and use directive for products already marketed. I cannot envisage how the directive could do otherwise than provide for goods already marketed. To take the matter to an absurd extent, someone could have bought an article made of asbestos, sold it to someone else, who in turn sold it to someone else. We cannot impose a ban that requires the present user of an article made of asbestos to burn it. There is no practicality in the suggestion that there should not have been an exclusion in the draft directive of goods already marketed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) applauded the responsible attitude of manufacturers. I do likewise. I applaud also the responsible attitude of trade unionists and those who work in the factories where asbestos is used.

We are conscious that EEC directives can constrain activities in Britain when our own arrangements might be better. However, I repeat that prizes can be won from harmonisation. I think that there are large prizes to be won in the area that we are discussinng.

We are discussing something that is close to the theme that runs throughout health and safety legislation—what is reasonably practicable. We have tried in our negotiations at the EEC to play a part in harmonising safety regulations in the use and marketing of asbestos. We think that we have made considerable progress. However, much more has to be done. We are grateful to those who have contributed to the debate. I shall read carefully not only what I said but what others have said.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 52, Noes 113

Division No. 309] [8.12 pm

AYES

Archer, Rt Hon PeterHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)Kerr, Russell
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertKinnock, Neil
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)Lamond, James
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)McCartney, Hugh
Campbell-Savours, DaleMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Carter-Jones, LewisMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Crowther, StanMorton, George
Cryer, BobPowell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Cunliffe, LawrenceRees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Dalyell, TamRichardson, Jo
Davidson, ArthurSkinner, Dennis
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)Soley, Clive
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Dormand, JackStoddart, David
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Eadie, AlexWainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Eastham, KenWalker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidWelsh, Michael
Foster, DerekWinnick, David
Foulkes, GeorgeWoolmer, Kenneth
George, Bruce
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)Tellers for the Ayes:
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMr. Allen McKay and
Homewood, WilliamMr. Frank Haynes.

NOES

Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBright, Graham
Ancram, MichaelBrinton, Tim
Aspinwall, JackBrooke, Hon Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)Budgen, Nick
Benyon, Thomas (A'don)Butcher, John
Berry, Hon AnthonyCadbury, Jocelyn
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCarlisle, John (Luton West)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bowden, AndrewClark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Boyson, Dr RhodesClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Braine, Sir BernardCockeram, Eric

Colvin, MichaelNeedham, Richard
Cope, JohnNelson, Anthony
Cormack, PatrickNeubert, Michael
Costain, Sir AlbertNewton, Tony
Crouch, DavidNormanton, Tom
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Onslow, Cranley
Dickens, GeoffreyOsborn, John
Dorrell, StephenPage, John (Harrow, West)
Dover, DenshorePage, Richard (SW Herts)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Penhaligon, David
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Pollock, Alexander
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Faith, Mrs SheilaProctor, K. Harvey
Fenner, Mrs PeggyRaison, Timothy
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Forman, NigelRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Garel-Jones, TristanShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Glyn, Dr AlanShelton, William (Streatham)
Greenway, HarrySims, Roger

Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)

Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Grylls, MichaelSpeller, Tony
Gummer, John SelwynSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Haselhurst, AlanStainton, Keith
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Hawkins, PaulStevens, Martin
Hawksley, WarrenTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Thompson, Donald
Howells, GeraintTownend, John (Bridlington)
Hurd, Hon DouglasTownsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelTrippier, David
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elainevan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyViggers, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Waddington, David
Loveridge, JohnWall, Sir Patrick
Lyell, NicholasWaller, Gary
Macfarlane, NeilWatson, John
Major, JohnWells, Bowen
Marlow, AntonyWheeler, John
Mather, CarolWickenden, Keith
Maude, Rt Hon Sir AngusWilkinson, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWolfson, Mark
Mellor, David
Mills, lain (Meriden)Tellers for the Noes:
Moate, RogerMr. Alastair Goodlad and
Murphy, ChristopherMr. David Hunt.
Neale, Gerrard

Question accordingly negatived.

Main question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of the two European Community Documents No. 5682/80 for a Council Directive amending for the fifth time Directive 76/769/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of dangerous substances and preparations, and of European Community Document No. 9953/80 for a Council Directive on the protection of workers from the risks due to exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents at work (asbestos) and the updated explanatory memorandum of 8th May 1981 and two memoranda dated 15th October 1981; and welcomes the Government's intention to seek agreement on a harmonised practicable and enforceable policy to minimise the risks to health from exposure to asbestos.

Citizens Band Radio

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Gummer.]

8.23 pm

I am sure that the House will be delighted to know that citizens band radio will be legalised in 10 days' time. Thus, a Conservative Government have given our citizens the freedom of the air that they have been denied for so long. That is in direct contrast to the previous Labour Government who, just before the general election, said of CB radio:

"we remain, on balance, opposed to its introduction in this country."—[Official Report, 14 December 1978, Vol. 960, c. 311.]
Since then Labour Members have been helpful and cooperative on the CB committee, which is of course an all-party committee.

We should all record our gratitude to the motoring organisations, the National Farmers Union and other organisations that have supported our cause. Above all, we should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Minister of State and his PPS on all the work that they have done to make this change possible. The new service will not only bring pleasure to millions of people, but will save life and strengthen the economy in various ways—for example, by saving petrol on the roads and by enabling farmers to talk on the air to their tractor drivers, which is something that they have never been able to do before.

I should like to continue that paean of praise, but I regret that I must say that, although we welcome the new service, many feel strongly that the specifications and restrictions imposed will emasculate CB radio for no good reason. I shall start by telling the House what the parliamentary CB committee has been doing since our last Adjournment debate on this subject on 6 February. Then I propose to sum up some of the major objections to the specifications of the system which is about to be introduced.

On 26 February this year the Home Secretary made an announcement that he would authorise CB radio on 27 MHz FM and on 230 MHz. On 28 April the announcement was made that the frequency sub-bands would be 27.6 MHz to 28 MHz FM with 40 channels and the power of 4 watts. The immediate reaction to that announcement was one of dismay because there was no commonality with European frequencies.

On 15 May the Minister answered a question on those complaints. At first he said that there was no European standard today and that the Conference of European Posts and Telegraphs, which is the European organisation, recommended 27 MHz AM and FM with 22 channels and 0.5 watt power, and therefore said that our system would have more power and more channels. The Minister confirmed that only FM would be allowed in future. He said that he would consider a change to the European frequencies if and when the European standard was agreed.

On 20 May, after a meeting of the CB committee, I wrote a letter to the Minister of State querying the Government's decision to authorise only FM and pointing out that that had already caused major resignations on the national committee. On behalf of the parliamentary committee, I requested that we had tests on comparable AM and FM sets and that those tests should be witnessed by us with both urban and rural backgrounds. We had heard that the manufacturers were allowed only three sets for testing and, indeed, for advertising, and that they felt sore about that. There were not enough, and they asked for something to be done to increase this number.

On 4 June a further letter went to the Minister of State refuting some of his earlier arguments. First, we said that Continental countries allowed CB sets, subject to prior notification in their countries, provided that their frequencies did not interfere with those countries' frequencies. But the frequencies just announced for Britain would interfere. Those sets would have to be taken out by the Customs, which would cause delay and much annoyance.

Secondly, we referred to the channels and the power. The Minister of State had said that we were getting more power and more channels. In fact, he was not correct. France now allows 40 channels and 4 watts. Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden allow a power of 5 watts. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Portugal and Sweden allow both AM and FM sets. We repeated that it was very important that the United Kingdom should have a common frequency with Europe. We also repeated the request for comparative tests between AM and FM sets.

We then had our first meeting with the Home Secretary. Prior to that meeting, representatives from the CB world—aircraft modellers, mobile radio, radio amateurs, paging services and others—held a meeting and decided that they could agree on the allocation of frequencies among the various organisations. We then went to the Home Secretary and found that he was adamant about FM because he was worried about interference with television sets, but he repeated that he would consider the whole subject of frequencies.

Just after that, on 13 June, I wrote to the Home Secretary summing up our views. The frequency allocation was on the following lines. The CB people wanted 26.9 to 27.4 MHz, but they were being allocated 27.6 to 28 MHz. The mobile radio people wanted 30 to 40 MHz. The paging systems also wanted 30 to 40 MHz. The aircraft modellers wanted 27.6 to 28 MHz, which has now been allotted to the CB people. However, we believed that it would be possible to fit in the requirements of all these organisations in the spectrum, but that had not been done.

For the first time, we raised the whole question of the derating of aerials—which is extremely important and is causing many problems at the moment—and again repeated our request for a rapid change to European frequencies.

At a later meeting, many colleagues in the parliamentary committee agreed that it would perhaps be wise to accept FM, provided that we could see the tests, see that the sets were roughly equivalent and that the European frequencies were used. We felt that insistence on both FM and European frequencies would so antagonise the large number of people who already had AM sets that the new legal system would be difficult to introduce.

We said at that time that when the committee was first formed, 18 months earlier, it was estimated that there were 30,000 illegal 27 MHz AM sets operating in the country. We now have good reason to believe that the figure is between 750,000 and 1 million. This increase has taken place in 18 months. We also expressed strong dissatisfaction over what we believed to be obstruction by some Ministry officials.

In his reply in August, the Home Secretary said that he had had 18,000 complaints of interference with television transmissions in the first six months of this year, and he was obviously very worried about it. He therefore maintained his decision with regard to FM, the frequencies and aerial derating, but again said that in due course he would consider changing to the European frequencies in the longer term.

That brings the House up to date with the activities of the parliamentary CB committee from the time of the last debate until this one, and I should now like to sum up the various arguments that still exist.

One regrets having to mention Ministry officials, but it is essential to do so because there is strong feeling on the part of hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is a widespread belief, both inside and outside the House, that some Ministry officials are opposed to CB. I believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I understand that there is a major row brewing between the Ministry and the mobile radio operators. This may be developed in the House at a later date.

I should like to give two examples of the kind of attitude about which I have been talking. A meeting was called on the subject of specifications for the new CB sets. The letter went out on 16 April for meetings on 26 and 28 April. I remind the House that Easter was on 19 April. In other words, 10 days' notice was given over the Easter period. In addition, the representatives of the national committee and of the parliamentary committee were excluded, and no discussion was allowed on frequencies.

The other example is a slightly different one. The Minister's advisory committee was set up, and its first meeting was called for 10 September, but well before then the Home Office had already issued more than 1,500,000 licences and specifications. I was abroad at the time. I understand that considerable opposition was expressed at the meeting to the Home Office views, but that was not made clear in the minutes.

To show that was so, I should like to quote two paragraphs from a letter sent to me by the representative of the National Federation of Women's Institutes. The lady, who explains that she attended the meeting as a non-technical expert, states:
"However, I should like to make one or two general points. The first is that the Chairman, in his summing-up, did note that there was no consensus and not to mention that there was general objection to MPT 1320"—
that is the Ministry's specification—
"as the final word on CB in this country, would be to mislead the Minister".
She continued:
"Secondly, two key points on interference are not referred to",
and she gives details of those two points.

I should say at this juncture how much we all regret the sudden death of the chairman of the advisory committee, Sir Eric Eastwood.

Ministers are busy men. Their officials made it quite clear that the views expressed by the parliamentary committee, the national committee and members of the advisory committee would be rejected, as indeed they were. Many were reminded only too forcefully of the television series "Yes Minister". I leave it at that. With regard to the argument between FM and AM, the Home Office maintains that FM gives considerably less interference. We tend to agree, but I believe that the difference may be only marginal. If evidence can be produced that it is more than marginal, that would certainly satisfy me. I point out to the Minister, however, that in six months, of 17 million people in this country who have television sets, only 18,000 complained of interference. Yet, we believe that there are more than 1 million CB sets operating illegally on 27 AM. If so, interference at 27 AM must be marginal, as 18,000 out of 17 million is scarcely a high percentage.

I also emphasise that 55 countries out of 61 allow 27 AM or SSB, so we are very much in the minority in legalising only FM. Can we really say that 55 out of 61 countries are all wrong?

We were promised that there would be equal performance between the illegal AM sets that have been operating and the new, legal, FM sets. We want to see tests of these, but no tests have yet been made. We have a responsibility to our constituents who have raised this matter. I admit that our doubts in this matter are enhanced by the Minister's own report, entitled "Interim Report on Subjective Comparative Tests of Modulation Methods for Private Mobile Radio", which purports to show that AM and SSB provide a better service than the narrow band—I emphasise the word "narrow"—FM.

It is also said that the Civil Aviation Authority has alleged that CB operators have caused interference with the landing of planes. Yet the American Federal Communications Commission reported that with 25 million licensed CB operators there had been only 12 complaints, none of which was serious. I understand that the CAA now maintains that AM causes less interference than FM. It is reported in the press as saying:
"We have not yet had any reported instances of ILS or UHF communications being interfered with by CB radio".
I think, therefore, that this is something of a canard. I do not blame the Minister for this in any way, but it had been put about, incorrectly, that CB would interfere with aircraft landings.

With regard to frequencies, I remind the House that the accepted European frequency, although not yet a European standard, is 27.925 MHz to 27.405 Mhz. The frequencies being legalised in this country in 10 days' time are 27.60125 Mhz to 27.99125 Mhz, specified down to the last decimal place. That will give the United Kingdom a unique frequency, which inevitably means fewer supplies and more expense. The Minister and the Home Secretary have spoken of a change to European frequencies some time ahead. The idea has got around that it will be in about two years, because that is the time when the paging systems take their new frequencies.

If there is to be an eventual change to European frequencies, it is important that those frequencies be built into the new sets now being legalised. Otherwise, we shall be saying that the 1 million enthusiasts now illegally operating 27 AM sets have to throw those sets away, buy the new FM sets on the new frequencies, and then, in two years' time, throw those sets away and buy new sets on the European frequencies. That is asking far too much. I believe that this is a fundamental question.

I also understand that action is being taken against Britain in the European Court for building artificial barriers to trade under article 10 of the Treaty of Rome. I do not believe that there will be very much trade. All British manufacturers have expressed to many hon. Members their unhappiness at the specifications that have now been announced. There is a Japanese chip, and the first legal sets from Taiwan are now coming into Britain. However, I am also told that illegal imports of 27 AM sets continue through the Isle of Man. Apparently, the House of Keys has not signed section 7 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act. That is perhaps a loophole at which the Minister might look.

I turn to aerials. Although what I shall say is slightly technical, I think that it is fairly obvious. The authorised power of the set will be 4 watts, but under the specifications the aerials are to be limited to a height of 1.5 metres to give an emission of 2 watts. Once again, this is unique among the 61 countries that have CB radio. In my opinion, that is nonsense, because the interference is caused by the set, not by the aerial. This regulation will make most existing aerials and stocks of aerials in Britain illegal and would include 95 per cent. of the aerials in the world. In my opinion, the maximum length of an aerial should be 2.25 metres. That should be shown on the specifications.

The second problem is that, according to the specifications, the height should be not more than 7 metres from the ground. If it is more, the power of the set must be reduced by 90 per cent. That surely means that most people will put up aerials as high as they legally can—to just under 7 metres—which will cause difficulties for all concerned, particularly if the aerials are mounted on chimneys. In any case, I wonder how these regulations will be controlled. Shall we really have policemen walking around with tape measures to measure the height of aerials? That is absurd. It would be much better to ban linear amplifiers, which are responsible for interference.

The Government's success is somewhat tarnished by failure to consult and debate. There has been much discussion but it has always been felt that the officials at the Home Office never really wanted to listen and that they have ridden roughshod over all CB enthusiasts, technical experts and manufacturers. The result is that complaints abound from virtually all users of the radio spectrum.

I therefore make four suggestions. First, the Home Office should initiate a study of the allocation of the whole spectrum of radio frequencies so that there can be an allocation by independent experts. Secondly, the tests of AM and FM sets, which we have been requesting for the past four months, should be made so that we can reassure our constituents that they will get the same kind of performance from the new legal sets as that to which people in other countries are accustomed. Thirdly, the date for the change to European frequencies should be announced at the first possible moment. Fourthly, an allowance should be made for these new European channels to be included in all the newly manufactured legal CB sets.

I conclude by saying to the Minister in CB language that some of my hon. Friend's Lord Snooties have been bongo. This has led to gobbledegook which in turn will lead to scofflaw unless we are careful. However, I hope that the Minister will keep his nose between the ditches and smokey out of his breeches.

8.45 pm

We place on record our gratitude to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) for the way in which he has kept this lobby together on behalf of hon. Members and people outside the House during these difficult months. I might not agree with him on many issues, but on this one I agree wholeheartedly.

In my part of the country, as in most others, the CB lobby has been formidable. Over the past two years the largest meetings that I have addressed were those of CB enthusiasts. One thousand people were present at the last one, which illustrates the intensity of feeling.

Throughout the decision-taking procedures of the Home Office and the Minister of State there has been inadequate consultation with elected representatives of the people. Although the hon. Member for Haltemprice feels that we should not attack Home Office officials, I willingly do so this evening. They were highly obstructive when we tried to express our views; so much so that many hon. Members have been embarrassed in front of their constituents.

It is clear that there is considerable resistance among some Home Office officials to the service that CB enthusiasts have demanded. In pursuing that approach all that they have succeeded in doing is delaying the introduction of the service and increasing by 500,000 the number of sets being used illegally.

I know of people who own equipment that has cost several hundred pounds. They were obliged to buy it because of the Government's failure to respond to the demand and to the need to take an early decision. If, even over the last few weeks, people have bought AM equipment, it is only because the Government did not take a decision earlier.

Officials, who are not accountable to the House as hon. Members are, have advised the Minister to set the licence fee at £10 and to take a decision that will inevitably rebound on the Government. The average CB enthusiast will lose his set, because he will not be able to convert at a reasonable price. We are told that conversion costs will be anything between £30 and £50. Not only will he have to buy a new set, but he will then be required to spend £10 on a licence.

In my experience, the majority of people who use this equipment are unemployed. It is a way for them to pass their time. Certainly in my part of the country many unemployed people are CB enthusiasts, and the £10 licence fee will be prohibitively expensive. It will act as a disincentive—particularly to young people—to switch to the new frequencies which, the decision having been taken, the whole House must support if we support the law. But it will be possible for people to comply with the law only if the Government set conditions with which they are able to comply. The £10 licence fee will prove a mistake.

The second area in which the Home Office has been remiss is in the time span that it has allowed for the introduction of the new frequency, having set it so recently. When the original frequencies were established, many domestic manufacturers were called to the Home Office to discuss the possibility of a British manufacturing capacity being created to produce the sets. Assurances were given to Home Office officials and presumably to the Minister of State that there would be a British manufacturing capacity.

Six months ago I told the Minister of State in the House that that would not happen and that there was insufficient time for British manufacturers to respond, because the decision on CB frequencies had been taken too late. We have been proved right. Today there is no United Kingdom manufacturer of CB equipment, yet next year there will be a CB market worth £30 million, as some people change their equipment and others buy it for the first time. It will be imported from Taiwan, Japan, America or South Korea.

By pursuing their arrangement the Government have created conditions in which British manufacturers are unable to respond to the demand. That is detrimental to our balance of payments and incenses electronics companies. I have had calls from people in the industry. Had the timing been different, they would have laid down plant, introduced the chips and built the product.

The Department of Industry pleads for people to go into advanced factories in the regions. Money could have been allocated, industry would have responded and an advance factory could have been used to develop the product. People in unemployment queues would have had an opportunity to build the equipment. However, all the standard CB equipment will be imported.

The Home Office also failed to respond to our requests about EEC channels. As the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, if there is a two-year delay those who are now required to buy new equipment will after two years have to discard it and buy yet more equipment. That is a disincentive to convert to the new equipment. Many with AM equipment will refuse to switch to the intermediate equipment pending the introduction of yet further frequencies.

The Minister of State has not fully taken account of the problem. In the past six months Parliament has discredited itself. The mistake is not exclusively the Minister's. He was fully occupied with the British Nationality Bill and did not have time to give the matter the necessary consideration. As a result, we have to sell our constituents an idea in which we do not have much faith. The situation arises from the inability of the Home Office to understand that in areas such as this, where we are so accountable, the relationship between Members of Parliament and their constituents is most important and should be at the heart of their considerations and recommendations to Ministers.

8.53 pm

I am not unused to being unpopular. I hope on this occasion that I shall get to the door without being lynched. I listened to the two previous speeches with astonishment. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that the CB lobby is powerful. That is why I am taking part in the debate, although I had intended only to listen.

I am not against CB radio. Many young people in my constituency are extremely interested in it. However, the difficulties should be carefully considered before already crowded wavebands are interfered with.

Some time ago I asked the Home Office what it would cost the National Health Service if the suggested frequencies were offered to CB radio. One estimate that I obtained, not from the Home Office but elsewhere, was that it would cost over £5 million to move to other frequencies the bleeping system that doctors use in hospitals. I wrote to the Home Secretary saying that if this were the case I would be interested to know where the money would be found, especially in view of the fact that the National Health Service is already under considerable attack. It took some months to get a reply and this question was not answered. The sort of changes proposed are presumably those that the Home Office does not expect will interfere now with the paging systems that are used in hospitals.

In my constituency, where there is considerable unemployment, people regard television as one of their main forms of entertainment. They have complained to me about interference. Those people do not pay a £10 licence fee. They will soon probably be asked to pay a £50 television licence fee. Many of them do not have very large incomes.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) made great play of the fact that only 18,000 complaints have been made in under six months. Many hon. Members know that those who sit down to write letters on specific problems are not always all the people concerned. They are a cross-section of those who have got mad enough to put pen to paper. This means that many other people are worried about the matter. In my constituency, people living close to the motorway have had to suffer television interference that included a great deal of obscene language. I am astonished that I have to reprimand the hon. Member for Haltemprice who does not appear to be as concerned as I think he should be about those people in their own homes.

I am equally concerned. Will the hon. Lady appreciate that there are a large number of cheap, illegal AM sets, brought in from Japan and America, which cause trouble? With the new frequencies, although we disagree with many of the details, this will ensure that sets do not cause anything like the interference of illegal sets today.

I agree that if people comply with the law the problem will not exist. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that, although I am a bird of little brain, this type of communication is an industry in which I am reasonably well versed. I believe that there may be some difficulty in getting people to comply with the law. If all these people own illegal sets and find difficulty replacing the sets, I want to know from the Minister how he will police the changes that he will introduce and how he will ensure that people comply with the law.

In my own home, a number of people are equipped with bleepers—not, I hasten to add, because they are never on duty in their hospitals but because, when they get a certain number of hours off duty, they like to be able to come home. The effect of some of these sets on doctors' bleepers carried in the pocket can be noticeable. This is bad enough if the doctor is within range of hospital. There have been occasions when the bleeper was not being used officially but happened to be in the house. We have picked up signals from illegal equipment. If this interference happened in a hospital when the doctor was urgently needed to deal with a patient in intensive care, there could be dangers.

Not once has anyone in the debate said that the Home Office had a responsibility to look at all the implications. I do not have to speak for the commercial paging services. Like all private enterprise, they are more than capable of protecting their own corner. I am, however, deeply concerned about those who work in the National Health Service. If the proposed changes had gone through, they would have faced considerable expense and difficulty and serious day-to-day problems.

The Minister should make it clear that when he monitors the use of these changes he will bear in mind the whole subject of the emergency services. Their frequencies must be clear. I refer to all emergency services, including the ambulance and fire services. They must not be subjected to a powerful, vocal and, if I may say so, well-funded lobby that will encourage people to move into new, expensive and good toys sometimes without thinking of all the implications.

Will my hon. Friend address herself to the question that I had to consider some months ago? I was not well versed in this matter, but I had attended some large meetings similar to those that she has described. There is a question of principle involved here.

Since the Government were willing to accept some form of frequency it seemed to me that they were accepting the principle. I get the impression from my hon. Friend that she is arguing against the whole idea of CB. But the Home Office had acceded to the introduction of FM and it was argued that we might as well have AM too.

My hon. Friend mentioned interference, but that is caused anyway, irrespective of the frequency, unless equipment is properly suppressed. It is no longer a question of principle. Now that the Government have acceded to FM they might as well go all the way and accept AM.

It is not that simple. I would have been prepared to argue about the principle, but I am realistic. If people want to use this form of entertainment, they will do so, but that should not be a licence for them to interfere with others' pleasure or to cause difficulties for the emergency services. The question of frequencies is central to the argument. The donation of the wrong set of frequencies would not only make it difficult for the emergency services to operate but would exacerbate existing difficulties.

Since this is my day for saying unpopular things, I should like to make another point. I am disturbed by the growing practice of hon. Members openly attacking civil servants who cannot reply. I know that many civil servants consistently vote Conservative, I have arguments with the Home Office and the Minister has had evidence that I can be fairly plain speaking from time to time, but I believe that, on the whole, the British Civil. Service is manned by men and women who go into the service not because they think that they will earn a lot of money but because they have a firm commitment to a particular type of service to the community.

It has become fashionable to knock civil servants. The Government, through their open attack on the Civil Service and its unions, have in many instances undermined the faith of civil servants in their jobs and in the attitude of the community to the fact that they were prepared to do a difficult and unpopular job. When I was young, civil servants received lower wages than some others, but they were accorded a certain respect. It now seems popular for hon. Members to suggest that civil servants are worthy of neither respect nor responsibility. I do not hold that view.

I am happy to argue with individual civil servants about their political views, and I will continue to do so, but it is my experience that civil servants in even the most reactionary Departments and even when we are governed by the most reactionary Ministers make a conscious and deliberate attempt to consider all sides of a question. The answers that civil servants come up with are not always universally popular, but it is wrong for hon. Members consistently to attack civil servants who cannot answer back.

If in the next year it is plain to the emergency services in particular that the growth of CB radio will make it difficult for them to carry out their work efficiently I shall come to the House and ask for changes in the legislation. Until that time I hope that the Minister will give me a guarantee that he will look closely at the matter. Much though I admire the growth of new technology and believe that the young have the right to all sorts of new and interesting developments to keep them entertained and enable them to communicate with one another, I do not believe that anyone has the right to follow his own personal interest at the expense of the good of the community as a whole.

9.5 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (

):

I suppose that I should start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) for initiating this debate. That is the custom of the House. However, I am not sure that I thank him from the bottom of my heart, because of the way that the debate has gone, but it was right for him to ask for an Adjournment debate this evening. At the very least, we have had a spirited debate. It has not been one of those late night Adjournment debates when everyone has been fast asleep. There has been a certain amount of cross-fire in the debate.

I cannot accept all my hon. Friend's arguments. Nor do I accept the arguments of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). In my view, his speech was rather discreditable. He devoted some time to complaining about the lack of consultation with elected representatives. The normal manner in which consultation with elected representatives takes place is to ask to see Ministers, and I recall no occasion when he asked to see Ministers and they refused to see him. It is wrong for him to have spoken in the way that he did on the matter.

It is also absurd to complain about the delay in the introduction of the service and then complain that we did not give enough time for British manufacturers to enter the field. The hon. Gentleman should make up his mind. He believes one or the other. The two are contradictory.

I said that the decision on frequency was taken too late and that British manufacturers were not given the opportunity to design equipment and meet the requirements of the market. If the decision had been taken a year or more ago the sets that will be sold over the next six months would all be British. That is important.

The decisions were not taken earlier because there was a great deal of consultation. It is nonsense to complain about a lack of consultation. There was extremely full consultation. These was a consultative document and there was a period during which the country as a whole was entitled to send in its views about the proposal. We responded to that consultation document by making important changes, but throughout the whole period we showed that we were prepared to consult. As a result, it inevitably took longer than it would have done if we had steam-rollered the process through without consultation. In that way we could have made the announcement earlier. As I say, the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

We were impressed by the need to get the matter right, to have consultations, but also to get on with it. I acknowledge that a large number of illegal sets have been in operation. The longer we delayed, the more that was likely to spread. For the hon. Gentleman to say that we should have had a longer delay while we allowed the British manufacturers to get into position is a travesty, so repudiate what he said.

I come now to the more serious arguments and describe how the matter has developed. In my view, what is coming into service in 12 days' time will be desirable and beneficial. I am prepared to say to the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) that it is extremely important that citizens band should not harm other important services in our society. I make no bones about the fact that this has been one of the problems that has faced us throughout. We have devoted much attention to making sure that CB is not allowed to thrive at the expense of other important services.

As I think the hon. Lady understands, one of the reasons why we chose the particular sub-bands on 27 MHz FM was to avoid doing harm to the hospital paging services. It is an extremely difficult job fitting all the applicants, the demands for use, into a crowded spectrum in a way that does no damage. Essentially, in this difficult operation we have tried to get it right. We have tried to get the right sort of balance to give people what they want and give them a chance to have a bit of fun. At the same time, however, we have had to do it in a way that is compatible with respect for the other important users of the radio spectrum.

It is easy to criticise what we have done and to say that we have got it wrong. After the complicated and sometimes acrimonious discussions that have taken place, I sincerely believe that we have come up with the right answers. I am not saying that at every stage everything has gone as smoothly as it might have done. It has been a difficult operation to conduct, because there have been all sorts of pressures.

As the House knows very well, the operation has been conducted against a very spirited public relations campaign. It is a campaign that has sometimes been unconventional in the way in which it has approached these matters. I do not mind that. The essence of this is a lighthearted form of fun and a good deal of unconventionality. However, I say firmly and clearly that I believe that my officials have conducted themselves with extreme responsibility. They have had a difficult job to do. They have been working under great pressure, and I cannot, and do not, accept the accusations that have been made against them.

I do not mind if hon. Members blame me. I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are the Ministers responsible, and we are fair targets. I am perfectly prepared to accept blame, but I do not accept the criticisms that have been made in a wild and intemperate way about my officials, who have been working very hard on a very difficult job. Having got that off my chest, I should like to go on to talk about the approach that we have taken and to explain what we have been about and what we are trying to do.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice said in opening the debate, it is eight months or so since we debated citizens band radio in the House. I echo the tributes that have been paid to my hon. Friend and his parliamentary colleagues for the way in which they have brought this matter before the House. They have taken a great deal of time and trouble. We have had our ups and downs, and our arguments at various points, but it is right that my hon. Friend and the other members of the parliamentary group should have followed this subject very closely.

As the House knows, it was just after the last debate that we announced that we would introduce a service operating in both the 27 MHz and 934 MHz bands. I hope that the 934 MHz band will not be forgotten, because I believe that for professional users particularly it has some real value. As I say, we are about to see the CB service finally launched in Britain. I am delighted that that should be so and that, as my hon. Friend has said, it should be brought in by a Conservative Government.

The essence of the problem the whole way through has been interference. Just over a year ago we would have expected to receive about 35,000 complaints a year of interference from all sources to radio services. Over the past year 30,000 additional complaints of interference have been made to British Telecom, which its engineers, after investigation, traced to illicit 27 MHz AM CB.

Complaints of that kind have been running at no fewer than 1,000 per week—and, of course, there must be very many more cases of interference that do not lead to a complaint being lodged. The majority of these cases relate to television or broadcasting reception. When transmitters are operated close to television receivers in built-up areas—and CB is the only service that operates like this—interference occurs due to the phenomenon known as breakthrough. Tests and research in Holland and Ireland and in this country show scientifically that amplitude modulated CB is particularly liable to cause this.

For my part, I am receiving hundreds of letters from members of the public complaining about the harm done by illicit CB and saying harsh things about those who encourage it. Last year my correspondence on this subject was overwhelmingly in favour of CB. Now at least half of it is made up of bitter complaints from the general public about CB's effect on their ability to watch television, listen to the radio or play their hi-fi equipment free from interference. It is in no one's interest to see a backlash against the idea of CB but that is what the illicit users and their supporters are close to creating. In the special circumstances of CB, AM is harmful. Its undesirable characteristics cannot be eliminated and in most cases its harmful effects cannot be cured even by filters on television sets.

Nor can we overlook the interference that is being caused to emergency services. Here the mechanism is different. In some cases it is caused by harmonic emissions, as when the fire brigade emergency channel was blocked in Manchester, or fire service communications at a fire were interfered with in Grimsby. In others, the consequences flow from the fact that the CB users have simply arrogated to themselves frequencies that lawfully belong to other services throughout the country, such as hospital paging. Against that background we were in no doubt that there had to be three priorities. First, we had to have a modulation system that was far Less likely to create breakthrough than AM. That is why we choose FM, just as those countries that have introduced or modified CB systems most recently—France, Holland, Germany and Ireland—have done. Secondly, we had to create a viable alternative service. We are therefore permitting 40 channels in the 27 MHz band and a transmitter power of 4 watts, as CB users had made plain they wanted. I hope that hon. Members will note that this is much more than is permitted in any of the major industrial countries of Western Europe.

Finally, we had to introduce the new service quickly and economically. That meant that we could not simply pick up those CB channels used either in whole or in part in most of the rest of the world. These are already used by other services, and they simply cannot exist on the same frequency. And to relocate a service we have to find new spectrum for it, which is never easy; allow time for new equipment to be developed, manufactured and installed; and give time, too, for the displaced user to absorb the costs of the move.

In the case of the National Health Service, for example, we would be talking of several million pounds. Those who say that the model control or the hospital paging interests can be moved quickly and painlessly are, generally speaking, those who neither have to live with the consequences of that decision nor pay for it.

I had an estimate of —5 million, but that was nearly six months ago. Does the Minister have a figure that he can give the House?

I cannot give a more precise figure than "several million pounds".

We have been accused of being dilatory, but again it is important to realise how much had to be done. It is not much over a year since we published our discussion document. We reacted to the public's response to that: we had to find new frequencies; carry out work to establish the effect on other services, particularly the emergency services; discuss and settle on specifications for equipment; and settle a licensing system and its operation with the Post Office.

We have consulted widely, and wherever possible we have taken representations made to us into account. We have not been able to please everyone; but at the end of the day I believe firmly that we have struck the best possible balance between a viable CB service and the protection of others and we have done so without consuming any additional public resources.

Several points have been raised which I shall try to answer. Mention was made of tests of the alternative system. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice asked for them, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to him in August and asked him exactly what he wanted to see. My hon. Friend may have been away after that date, but my right hon. Friend gave him a clear invitation to set out what he wished to see. For no doubt understandable reasons, my hon. Friend was unable to take up that invitation.

The circumstances of the Isle of Man have been a problem. However, an Order in Council extending section 7 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1967 to the Isle of Man came into operation on 17 August. It enables the Isle of Man authorities to make an order to prohibit the manufacture of 27 MHz AM CB apparatus for sale in the United Kingdom and we understand that they are planning to make such an order.

We also had a discussion on the position vis-á-vis the EEC. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice said that we had been taken to the European Court. I understand that the Commission has received a complaint about our plans for CB radio which has to do with fair competition. The Commission has no remit over radio regulations. It has been in touch and, as requested, we have replied setting out the background to our proposals. I can say no more than that.

Hon. Members have mentioned antennae or aerials. As with other aspects of the system, antennae have been kept simple. The licence requires, with 27 MHz apparatus, only a single element rod or wire antenna not exceeding 1.5 metres, with a base-mounted loading coil. That is similar to many of the antennae used with illicit equipment. When correctly installed it will give an effective radiated power of about 2 watts. That will yield an adequate range while avoiding an unpredictable but potentially substantial increase in interference to other radio users.

The most serious individual hazard is to the instrument landing system of the National Air Traffic Service, for which the margin of safety has to be very high indeed. The interference, and hence the risk to life, associated with the proposed specification aerial combination could be accepted by the Civil Aviation Authority, albeit reluctantly, because it could be calculated. Relaxing the specification as we were asked to do would introduce an additional risk, which is unquantifiable at this stage, but potentially by a factor of 20 or more. We felt, therefore, that it was right, and the only proper thing to do, to err on the side of caution. We had to have regard to the views of the civil aviation world.

We are also accused of saddling this country for ever with a system incompatible with those in the rest of the world. That it is incompatible with other systems I accept and I have tried again tonight to show that our decision in all the circumstances was reasonable and logical. But first let me remind the House that CB radio is a short-range personal radio communication service. That is how it is regarded throughout the world, and indeed the major CB user groups in this country accept that. It is not a way of talking across boundaries or across the oceans.

If that is what one is trying to do, there is already a well-developed network of telecommunications, or, if one wishes to use radio, one can become a licensed radio amateur. Thousands of people do so every year. They have to demonstrate a certain technical ability. The value and success of this process can be seen by the very small number of complaints of interference caused by amateurs.

We must never forget that, although many of the leaders of present CB organisations are interested in and knowledgeable about radio, the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who will use legalised CB will not be. They wish only to communicate and it is all the more vital, therefore, that we provide them with a framework that will allow them to do so without harming others.

The purpose of compatibility is not to talk from country to country. If we want to take equipment with us abroad, we have to reflect on the fact that at present Dutch equipment and German equipment are very close—although eight times less powerful than ours—but that the French equipment is not compatible with either, and Italian with none of the three. The September issue of the International Telecommunication Union telecommunications journal contained an interesting account of CB around the world. It said:
"At present there are no international regulations for this service and there is considerable disparity between the respective national regulations, some allowing a very free use, others placing strict limits on power, type of antenna, type of modulation, number of channels etc., and yet others excluding the service entirely."
The article then shows in tabular form what is permitted around the world. I commend it to anyone who believes that common standards already exist. I know of nothing to support the frequent claims that European standardisation is imminent. It has not been achieved over the past decade and I know of no fresh initiatives at this stage. I hope that the day will come when there is a common European system. We would certainly wish to take part in that, and that is why we have said unequivocally that it will be our objective in the longer term to adopt the relevant European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations specification and to play an active part in any move towards real harmonisation. We are not at a stage when we can do more than that.

The service is about to get off the ground.

I have received a number of complaints that the system will affect model aircraft and ships. Is there anything in that argument?

That will be resolved by allocating another point in the radio spectrum to the model users.

The Irish Government have given a two-year amnesty on existing sets. In Britain many people have sets that will be illegal in 10 days' time. Will the Home Office reconsider granting an amnesty?

We are not prepared to grant an amnesty because, apart from giving succour to those who have been breaking the law and causing interference to others, it will encourage them to believe that AM will be allowed in this country. An amnesty would give the wrong impression. Customs officials have accepted that the owners of sets that have been imported illegally and on which duty has not been paid will, on a payment of £5, be regarded as having paid off Customs duty and VAT if they are converted to the approved specifications. That is a worthwhile offer, but it is not an amnesty.

The House will recall that a draft specification of the proposals for CB was available in May to all who asked for it. It was published formally on 24 June. In September my right hon. Friend used his existing powers to permit the manufacture or import of equipment conforming to the 27 MHz specification, and a few days ago we permitted its distribution. To those who allege that we have penalised British industry I can only say that the specification was designed not to penalise anyone but to produce equipment suitable for this country. All manufacturers had the same information and equipment as is now available in this country. Nor should we forget the 934 MHz service. Here we are ahead of the world and it is worth while.

We have consulted the advisory committee about the content of regulations on interference caused by the legal service, and we await its report. Even the best designed equipment creates some interference and we have to ensure that that is tolerable. Broadcasting, civil aviation, and safety of life services rely on us to ensure that they are properly protected. When we receive and have studied the advisory committee's report, we intend to bring forward regulations under section 10 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act. That is not essential for the service at the outset, and in the interests of speed we have gone ahead.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice I pay tribute to Sir Eric Eastwood, the chairman of the advisory committee, who recently died suddenly. I know that he chaired the committee with humour, knowledge and skill. His death before he was able to submit the report was a great loss to the area of electronics and radio.

I am grateful for the explanation that my hon. Friend has given, but can he tell me whether there is any possibility of allowing the new legal sets to cover the CB frequencies so that people do not have to buy new sets?

We cannot now change the specification, but I shall consider my hon. Friend's point carefully.

It is nonsense to suggest that there has been universal condemnation of the legalised system. Some would-be users would prefer something different. Some organisations would prefer no CB at all. But a balance has to struck, and the technical press is now making it clear that we stand on the threshold of a viable and exciting service.

Recently we received a message from a British company which has involved itself in the CB field. It said:
"I would like to inform you that we have now done extensive tests with our CB units to the new specifications. I would like to state categorically that we have been unable to induce any interference whatsoever.… We have found the specification far superior to any other European or Third world systems. The aerial that has been chosen also works superbly and complements the new specification. All in all the British Government is offering a fantastic service for the UK public".
It is pointless to hark back to the past and all the arguments. A week or two ago the CB user organisations, in consultation with my officials, worked out a simple and helpful code of practice designed to allow the CB user to gain the maximum from his hobby. That was a good example of the sort of co-operation that we have sometimes seen and will continue to need. CB offers something new. It offers interest, pleasure and usefulness. It offers freedom. I take particular pride in the fact that it is a Conservative Government who have introduced it.