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Lead-Free Petrol

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received about the provision of lead-free petrol.

I have received a number of representations about this from hon. Members and from the public. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services is responsible for policy on environmental lead generally, but I can confirm the Government will keep the question of lead in petrol under careful review, along with all the other aspects.

Does the Minister agree with the recent American evidence that lead in petrol could account for as much as 67 per cent. of the lead level in human blood—evidence which contradicts the assessment of British Government experts? In view of the damage caused to children's mental health by the Government's refusal to move more quickly towards lower statutory maximum levels of lead in petrol, will the Government at least consider requiring all petrol stations to have lead-free petrol available for sale to the public as soon as possible?

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that Government decisions on this matter were taken only after the advice that we received from our own chief medical officer. The Government decision to reduce lead in petrol to 0·15 grams per litre will reduce vehicle emissions by two-thirds by 1985. That is by far the quickest and most effective way to achieve such an improvement.

I welcome the steps that the Government have announced on lead in petrol. Will my hon. Friend begin discussions with the motor car industry—which is the key to the matter—about how long it will take to change the motor car system to deal with lead-free petrol?

Discussions of course take place between my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Industry and the motor car industry, but lead-free petrol would necessarily be low octane, and thus will not rally be an option for the vast bulk of cars that will be on our roads into the 1990s. Indeed, probably no more than 10 per cent. of the 15 million petrol-driven vehicles currently on our roads could use it.

Will the Minister now answer the question that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) about the American studies? Have the Government looked at those studies, and do they believe that they are correct? Will the Minister say whether there is any mechanical reason why petrol refineries should not be adjusted before the date that he mentioned?

The hon. Member will recall that in my initial answer I said that the Department of the Environment is in the lead on this subject. Examination of figures such as those presented by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), will of course be looked at by that Department.

I am pleased to accept my hon. Friend's comments on this issue, but will be bear in mind that the advice is very conflicting, that many high compression engines in this country will have extreme difficulty in operating on lower octane fuels, and that in any event such a move will lead to much greater fuel consumption for the majority of cars?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. What he has said will be noted by those who are in the lead on this subject.