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Chlorofluorocarbons

Volume 490: debated on Tuesday 17 November 1987

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3.4 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of possible effects on the ozone layer, they are satisfied that correct advice on disposal methods is being given to small users of solvents containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

My Lords, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are relatively non-toxic, inert and non-flammable products. The electronics industry and the dry-cleaning industry are, through their trade associations, already taking steps to encourage better housekeeping of the CFC-solvents which are used. The measures in the Montreal Protocol on the production and consumption of CFCs should give added stimulus through the operation of market forces to recycling and the recovery through controlled destruction of these chemicals.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that perhaps rather predictable Answer. But is he aware that the solvents marketing branch of ICI advises small users—there are now many thousands of them in the electronics industry—to take their waste and tip it on ashes so that it may thereby evaporate? Is the Minister aware that there is international feeling now about allowing CFCs to evaporate into the atmosphere because of the damage to the ozone layer? Are the Government going to do anything about this advice?

My Lords, there is no doubt that conservation of CFCs is to be encouraged. The Government believe that this will be stimulated by market forces. After all, nobody deliberately destroys valuable goods that they have bought in the process of their business. But CFCs are relatively non-toxic, inert and non-flammable. They represent no direct safety hazard. So normal waste disposal arrangements should suffice. The Government are fully committed to the Montreal Protocol, which seeks to assist in conserving the ozone layer by prudent limitation of production and use of CFCs.

My Lords, in view of what my noble friend said, can the Minister say whether he is aware of the instructions that ICI gives to its small users? Does he know whether other producers of chemicals, such as Du Pont, issue the same very unsatisfactory instructions?

My Lords, I am not aware of what every producer of CFCs advises its customers. I could not possibly be. We believe that market forces should govern sensible use of CFCs.

My Lords, what is the noble Lord talking about—market forces in connection with CFCs? What on earth is the Montreal agreement about? Is it not to reduce market forces and to control them? Can the noble Lord answer two specific questions which arise from the Answer given to me by his noble friend Lord Belstead on this same subject? First, does the Montreal Protocol allow an increase in the production of CFCs? Secondly, why is it that if some countries can label their aerosols saying whether they do or do not contain CFCs, the Government do not issue an order that it should be done in this country?

My Lords, it is correct that the Montreal Protocol allows an increase in the production of CFCs. This is to give flexibility for production rationalisation and to provide supplies for developing countries. It does not give any increase in consumption to what is commonly known as the Group of 77—those are the developed nations. As regards aerosols, the Government believe that the limitation on CFCs in aerosols will lead to an increase in the use of CFCs in other products.

My Lords, I am sorry to come back to this, but I think that my Question has been misunderstood. Is the Minister aware that market forces do not enter into my Question, because it concerns solvents which are being disposed of because they have been contaminated, are no longer useful but still contain CFCs? Will he undertake to look again at the Question if I table it again and come hack with a more satisfactory Answer?

Of course I shall look at the matter again, my Lords. If I can come up with any more information, I shall write to the noble Baroness to let her know.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a much greater risk to the ozone layer exists as a result of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest?

My Lords, that may be the case, but I think it is possibly another Question.