§ *SIR JOHN E. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury)
moved the Second Reading of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Bill. He said: The effect of this Bill is merely to enact into the general provisions of the law that which already prevails in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1150 and in the watersheds of the Rivers. Mersey and Irwell under private Acts. Those districts were formerly governed as the rest of England now is by the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876, which was passed in the hope of preventing the deplorable condition into which the rivers and streams, which passed through our growing populations, had been brought. We may be asked how it was that certain districts had secured private Acts, which override the public Acts, in order to carry out what was necessary to be done. It may be thought a very remarkable thing that the Government should have allowed private Measures to pass, which carried the law beyond what the public Act allowed to be done. It was done for this reason: in those districts which, are the centre of our manufactures it was found that the Act was unworkable in its then condition. In fact, the preamble states that, whereas the restrictions of the said Act are such as to preclude its effective action by a Joint Committee, consequently a new law had to be introduced, even as a private Act. According to the second clause of the Public Act, you had to prove undue interference with the flow of the stream, and the pollution of it, and those cases of pollution were difficult to prove. That difficulty was not unsurmountable, but there was also a serious difficulty which everybody who has had to do with the administration of the law has felt—namely, that it is not desirable to administer through many authorities. There was a provision in the Local Government Act of 1888 that Joint Committees of public authorities might be set up. That was not adequate for the purpose, because it did not enable the Joint Committee to be composed except of those authorities who were themselves county authorities. The consequence was that municipal boroughs which were not County Boroughs were not capable of being brought into these joint committees, and it was most desirable that they should, not only in the interest of those outside their borders, but those inside. You must endeavour to secure uniform administration over a wider area than was possible under these restrictions, and that was secured in the Irwell and West Riding Acts, by providing that all the municipal authorities, as well as the county authorities, might 1151 join in that Joint Committee. The next objection was—and I do not myself know why it did not work well—that the County Court was made the Court before which trials were to take place. Such democratic districts as Lancashire and Yorkshire found that the magistrate's court was a more comfortable one to go to. They put that in their Act, in order to secure a more satisfactory administration of the law. This Bill has a great advantage over previous legislation; it is the product of actual experience. It is now proposed to extend the advantages of these private Acts to the whole country—very nearly, indeed, in the words of the private Acts themselves—which I think will tend to a more safe working of the law. The most important differences are these. In the third section the words about undue interference have been omitted, and in place of them there are three sub-sections, in order to save those rights which might be affected by the omission of the words "undue interference." The third clause runs as follows—Every person who puts or throws, or causes to be put or thrown, or to fall; or knowingly permits to be put or to fall or to be carried; or causes or knowingly permits to be put in such a position as to be liable to fall or to be carried into any stream the solid refuse of any manufactory, manufacturing process, brickyard, mine, pitshaft, or quarry, or any ashes, cinders, or clinkers, or any building rubbish or any sludge, or any solid sewage matter, or other waste or putrid solid matter, shall be deemed to have committed an offence against this Act: provided that no person shall be deemed to have committed an offence against this Act for doing or causing to be done any of the following acts, that is to say: for constructing in or across any stream any building, weir, dam, or other permanent work with necessary temporary coffer-dams, which, but for the passing of this Act, he would have a legal right to construct; or for pitching or depositing stones or any other suitable or solid materials (not likely to be washed or carried away by the stream or current rising to the line of an ordinary flood) at the side or on the bank of any stream for the express and bonâ fide purpose of reclaiming land washed away by the action of such stream, or of supporting or protecting the side or bank of such stream, or of repairing the same, or of erecting or repairing any bridge or ford, or any building, drain, sewer, or watercourse upon or within the banks of such stream, or the slopes or walls thereof, at or convenient to the point at which the same shall be so pitched or deposited; or for putting into any stream any 1152 sand or gravel, or other natural deposit, which shall have flowed from or been deposited by the current of such stream; provided that the sand or gravel, or other natural deposit, so put back as aforesaid, do not interfere with the due flow or pollute the waters of such stream.And these sub-sections have been put in to satisfy the legitimate claims of those that consider they may be damnified by the omission of the words about undue interference with the stream. In Clause 4, relating to liquid sewage pollution, which only affects sewage but not manufacturing refuse, a paragraph which gives a privilege to certain sewage matter has been omitted. But it has been retained in the section relating to liquid manufacturing, and other pollutions. So the rights of manufacturers are as efficiently guarded as they were before; and here let me say a word in regard to a petition which was circulated by paper manufacturers, who were in great alarm that they were to be seriously hurt. All I can say is, that they will not be more seriously hurt than they were in the Irwell and West Riding Districts, and I think their rights are fully protected by one of the sub-sections of Clause 6. But there is a further protection, and this is new: no proceedings shall be taken unless the Local Government Board give their consent, and after local inquiry, and having regard to the reasonableness of the case. The clause runs—Proceedings shall not be taken under this part of this Act against any person save by a local authority or person in whom a canal or canalised stream is vested, nor without the consent of the Local Government Board. A local authority shall, one month at least before taking proceedings under this part of this Act against any person, serve by post or otherwise on such person a written notice inviting him, if he desires to show cause why proceedings should not be taken, to appear before the local authority (or a committee of such authority), at a time and place to be specified in the notice. If the authority, either after hearing such person by himself, agents, and witnesses, or in default of his appearance, decide that proceedings ought to be taken, they shall forthwith notify their decision and the grounds thereof to such person and to the Local Government Board, and shall apply for the Board's consent. The Board may hold a local inquiry into the circumstances of the case, but shall inform the authority and such person whether 1153 they give or withhold their consent before the expiration of three months from the date of the authority's application for it. The Local Government Board shall not give, their consent to such proceedings unless they are satisfied, after local inquiry, and having regard to the reasonableness of the cost, and the effect on the industry or trade in question, that means for rendering harmless the poisonous, noxious, or polluting liquid are reasonably practicable and available under all the circumstances of the case.These are, I think, stronger words than those of the old Act, and they are substantially better in this respect, that while in the old Act the Local Government Board had to give permission, it was after due inquiry. It is now after a local inquiry. A local inquiry means that an inspector is to come down to the spot and personally see what the it can be legitimately and reasonably removed, or whether the public in-moved, or whether the public interest involved in the continuance of the trade requires that it should be continued. That, I think, is fair to the paper-makers. It is not to the public interest that our rivers should be polluted, or that they should suffer for the benefit of private manufacturers when the evil caused is capable of remedy. There are some other objections by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich. Norwich will not, in my opinion, suffer because of this Bill. They are carrying out at Norwich a very extensive system of drainage on the most, perfect system—namely, dividing the actual sewage from the rain water; and they are afraid that the rain water that goes to the river may be included in the term sewage. I have consulted some of my legal friends, and I am of opinion myself that no such fear need be entertained. I believe they are effectually protected by the legal distinction between sewers and drains, and this will cover their rights; and if that is found not to be so on examination in Committee, a few words will soon set it right. A few words may be introduced into that 12th clause, so as to cover these special cases. I really think that 1154 will meet the whole of their objections, because the promoters of this Bill have every desire to meet every reasonable wish, so as to give satisfaction throughout the whole of the country. The West Riding of Yorkshire wishes to be excluded. If they are not already Sufficiently excluded, I think that steps might be taken in Committee to exclude them more thoroughly than they are now. They are intended to be excluded by the 28th clause along with certain other bodies whoso sewage is adequately provided for in the private Acts affecting the management of sewage in their particular districts. I think they were included in the words of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act of 1894, and it has been pointed out to me, since I have been in the House this afternoon, that possibly both the general and private Acts might operate, together, which I think would be an inconvenience. I think my right hon. Friend sitting below me would think that it is not desirable to have these similar Acts operating together. Therefore, if it were possible to exclude one, I think it would be desirable, and I do not see why their wishes should not be met with in that particular direction. These are the main objections to the Bill, and I think myself that it is very desirable indeed that the law of the country should be brought up to the level which it has been found desirable to attain in the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Mersey District, and I hope the House, therefore, will read the Bill a second time, and send it to one of the Grand Committees.
§ MR. SAMUEL HOARE (Norwich)
Sir, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, and I quite realise, in moving the rejection of the Bill, that it is one which must obtain the sympathy of all the Members of this House—a sympathy in which we fully share, for I am quite sure that we all desire that, so far as possible, our rivers 1155 should be kept free from pollution. But there are points in this Bill which render it, so far as the constituency which I represent is concerned, and I believe other constituencies, a very serious Measure if this House were now to give it a Second Reading. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill in the absence of my other hon. Friend, who usually takes charge of this Bill, and who is absent from ill-health, I thought at first was going to save me the trouble of making any remarks about the Measure; but I think that I can show the House that the words he suggested to me in order to soften those feelings which I have against the Bill are scarcely justified by the words of the Bill. My objections centre themselves in Clause 4 and in Clause 10. Clause 4 provides that—Every person who causes to fall or flow, or knowingly permits to fall or flow, or be carried into any stream any liquid sewage matter shall (subject as in this Act mentioned) be deemed to have committed an offence against this Act.And Clause 10 says—Where a sanitary authority have their sewers and sewage works so constructed as efficiently to prevent the fall or flow of sewage into any stream at all times, except during or immediately after an unusual rainfall, an offence shall not be deemed to be committed under this Act in the case of an overflow from those sewers or works containing polluted matter, if it is shown to the satisfaction of the Court that such overflow was caused by the unusual rainfall.This shows clearly that the Bill contemplates interfering with this Corporation, and with those authorities who make use of any river or stream in order to dispose of their surface drainage. Now, it would be best, and, perhaps, clearest, if I were to tell the House exactly the position of the constituency which I represent—the city of Norwich—which, I must say in passing, is a city in a somewhat difficult position for any satisfactory drainage arrangement, and has now nearly been able to carry out a satisfactory 1156 scheme at considerable cost, and after some considerable difficulty. The Corporation have adopted the system known as the Scheme system. This system conveys the sewage on to the sewage farm, where it is treated as a separate set of sewage, and conveys surface water from the streets and the surface water of the houses into the rivers. They believe, and they are informed, that there will be a minimum of pollution in the river from taking away the rain and other water from the streets and from the houses. But if this House were to pass this Bill a great amount of money—a very large amount of money—which the city of Norwich has spent would be practically thrown away. Many sewers which they have made for sewage works would become utterly useless. Sewers which have been made for taking the surface water from the city would be practically worthless, and be done away with. The hon. Baronet said that he thought that this Bill did not touch our case, but I am at a loss to understand why it does not touch our case, because we do not deny the fact that we are taking away our surface water in sewers; and though the hon. Baronet may say we take it awav in something else, I do not think that he could really prove to the House that we should not come under this Clause 4, supposing that at any time, not simply any local body, but any individual should suppose that there was the smallest amount of sewage introduced into the river by these pipes or sewers which take the surface water out of the city. It is desirable that the House should remember that the river into which this surface water is carried is a navigable river, and that all day long steamers, barges, house-boats, and other varieties of boats are moving up and down that river, so that it would be absurd that anyone should suppose that the water of that river can at any time be used for drinking purposes. The city of Norwich is as anxious as any city can be that the river should be as pure and 1157 as free from pollution as possible, and my belief is that owing to the large expenditure of money to which they have gone, they have placed that river in a condition which is second to no river in the neighbourhood of a great city. Now, by the provisions of this Bill, the House is asked to say that all these arrangements which have been made—this system which has been carried out at great cost—are practically to be upset; and when I tell the House that the rates of the city now stand, unfortunately, exceedingly high, it will be seen that it is a serious matter to feel that by a decision of this House the city of Norwich may be prevented from putting their surface water into the river and allowing it to get away. I ask this House not to assent to a Bill of this character, brought in at a time when we cannot properly consider it, and which might create the greatest difficulties in corporations and other local bodies who, at this time, are endeavouring to carry out satisfactory systems of drainage for the well-being of their city or their district. According to Clause 28, exceptions are to be made in regard to certain places, and I would ask the House not to pass a Bill which is to remedy a grievance in which exceptions are to be made to suit this or that locality. I would ask the House also not to assent to the second reading of this Bill, brought in, as it is, by a private Member. If the Regulations which have been made in the past are not sufficient to carry out all that is necessary to prevent injury to our rivers, it is the duty of the Department of the State which has these things under its charge, to bring in a Bill upon such evidence as may be convincing to this House. I have endeavoured to point out how it would affect my own constituency, and I believe there are many other districts which would suffer materially if this Bill were passed. I ask you, therefore, to clearly show that while you are prepared to do all you can to improve the condition of our rivers, where they 1158 can be improved, you look to the Government of the day—to the Local Government Board—to bring in such a Bill for this purpose for our consideration.
§ MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said that his principal objection to the Bill related to the present form of Clause 10. The Bill was so framed that it was difficult to avoid the suggestion with regard to any objection to it, that it was really a matter for the Committee stage rather than for the Second Reading; but he thought that unless the objections were stated at the present stage, they could not be properly dealt with in Committee. From his knowledge of the way in which the present Act was worked in the Valley of the Ribble in Lancashire, he found that Clause 10, as it stood, might give rise to great hardship. What he apprehended was that expensive sewerage works might be carried out by district councils, and then it might be discovered by a Joint Committee formed under the present Bill, that the stringent terms of Clause 10 had not been properly carried out, and further heavy expenditure would be required in order to comply with the provisions of the Bill. He thought that the Bill at all events deserved an adequate discussion, at the present stage, and though he had no desire unduly to prolong his remarks he wished to give effect to his views by seconding the amendment which had been moved by the hon. Member for Norwich.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat unfortunate that a Bill of this importance has been relegated to the latter part of a Wednesday sitting. The whole question of the disposal of sewage is becoming more and more serious every day, and the Government have under their consideration the question of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question. In Lancashire and Yorkshire, Boards have been appointed to carry out certain works. Since 1892 those two Boards 1159 have worked with considerable success, and the real issue before the House to-day is whether the powers given to those Boards should, or should not, be conferred on the County Councils and other authorities in the country. I think the opposition of the hon. Member for Norwich to the Bill is based on a false impression, for under no possible law could surface rain-water be made into sewage, and, therefore, as the Bill applies only to the carrying off of sewage, it cannot apply to the carrying off of surface-water. The view the Government take of the matter is this: That, although the clauses of the Bill would require careful attention, that attention should be secured before one of the Standing Committees, and there is no reason why the Second Reading of the Bill could not be passed and the whole matter very carefully considered.
§ MR. J. KENYON (Lancashire, Bury)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, in moving this Bill, seemed to speak favourably of what had been done under the Mersey Urban Committee, but I should like to call the attention of the House to the great expense which that Committee have put the district to. In the first place, they have never given a standard of purity, and this has been a most serious obstacle to the manufacturers of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and has put them to enormous expense, and also interfered with their business. It is all very well for hon. Members to come down here and talk about purifying the rivers, but there must be some limit put to the expense which this purification causes. A few years ago a learned judge in this country held that condensed water—water that had simply passed through a condenser—was deteriorated. If you are to have such a standard of purity as that set up, you will have to spend an enormous amount of money on purification alone.
§ The hon. Members was speaking at half-past five o'clock when, by the Rules of the house the Debate stood adjourned.