§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today, the need for cleaner rivers in England and Wales is widely appreciated by the public and by the industrial interests concerned. The use and re-use of the waters of our rivers and the problems of abstraction and conservation in a country as highly industrialised as ours are perforce becoming of increasing importance today. Only a few weeks ago I stood on the banks of the River Trent, at Nottingham, in the company of Mr. Mudell, the chairman of the executive of the River Boards Association. I was informed by him that in the course of a few years it is expected that the use of the waters of that great river will be waters that have been used before, either for domestic purposes or for industry.
Since 1876, there have been Acts of Parliament making river pollution an offence, but, unfortunately, this matter has never been brought under effective control. From a study of debates which have taken place on this subject in this House I have come to realise that there is a wide appreciation that some further steps should be taken in pollution prevention control. I have realised, also, that many and varied interests outside the House have an appreciation of this situation, and although we cannot say that all those varied interests are agreed upon a policy for stimulating pollution prevention control, we can say that, in principle, they are agreed that a further Measure is necessary; and I have had many expressions of good will.
The desire of all is to see cleaner water in our rivers and streams, which we rely on to an ever-increasing extent for the supply of water for our homes, our farms and our factories. Hon. Members will notice that, significantly, I have not mentioned fish. Although the Measure will help both coarse and game fish, it is in no way intended to be a fisherman's charter.
828 Here I should mention a personal interest in that I am president of the National Council of Salmon Netsmen of England and Wales, a member of the council of the Salmon and Trout Association, and a governor of the Fisheries Organisation Society. Lest hon. Members should think that I have too much of a direct interest in fishing, I assure them that in all my life I have so far caught only two salmon and seven small trout, and that was many years ago.
Ten years have gone by since the passing of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, and this Bill is complementary to and in some instances an extension of that Act. In many ways, the 1951 Act has worked extremely well, but, unfortunately, the provisions of that Act which would have controlled the pre-1951 discharges have proved by reason of time to be unworkable. The right to discharge effluent is a natural concomitant of a civilised society, and it would be unthinkable if water-borne sanitation and industry were to cease because river boards sought to stop effluents passing into streams. That position is entirely unthinkable. We therefore have to face the situation where discharges of trade and sewage effluent have to be made, but, at the same time, we have to appreciate the importance of cleaner rivers.
In 1956, the Trade Effluents Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee studied this subject under the chairmanship of Sir Frederick Armer. That Committee reported in August, 1959, and the report was submitted to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government as chairman of the Central Advisory Water Committee. The Report was unanimous in its principal recommendations and was accepted by the Central Advisory Water Committee.
The important thing about the Armer Committee was that its membership was broadly representative of the many and varied interests concerned. The membership comprised representatives from the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association, the River Boards' Association, the Federation of British Industries, the National Farmers' Union, and a director of a water company. I wish to associate 829 myself with the many tributes which have been paid to the distinguished chairman and members of that Committee. The principal conclusions and recommendations of that Committee were significantly unanimous and the provisions of the Bill endeavour to give effect to them.
In the words of the Armer Report, the aim iscomplete control with justice both to the discharger and to the river".To achieve that result, the Armer Committee recommended that all trade and sewage effluents, where necessary, should be adequately treated and that, when complying with those conditions, dischargers should have protection against prosecution under certain Acts of Parliament. The main provisions of the Bill are drawn to achieve that objective and I am fully aware that that objective will be achieved only when there is good will on all sides towards this operation.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has said that he wishes to be known as the "Minister for Clean Rivers". I hope that the Bill will assist my right hon. Friend in his wish and desire to have that title, and I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend hopes, through the medium of the Public Health Bill, which is now before the House, to implement the other part of the Armer Committee's proposal, namely, the control of the discharge of trade and sewage effluent into sewers.
I emphasise that the whole approach to this problem must be gradual. Experience has shown that the improvement of our rivers will be achieved only by patient work over a long period of years. Much money—and I stress that a lot of money will be involved over a period of years—and research are involved. New industrial processes are continually creating fresh problems. For those reasons, I have stressed to everyone to whom I have spoken that the Bill is an essay in gradualness. It does not attempt to deal with the odd sporadic discharge. What it does is to deal with the regular discharges of trade and sewage effluent which are inevitable in a civilised society.
The intention is that, exercisng their powers reasonably—and in its Report the Armer Committee made a special feature of the reasonableness with which river 830 boards have always exercised their antipollution powers—the river boards would be in a position to control the worst discharges first. Having controlled the worst discharges, they would be in a position to tackle the less bad discharges and they would further be in a position to vary the conditions which they imposed over a period of years. I shall come to the very important review procedure in more detail later.
Recognising the difficulties which may face some persons and authorities, due to the technical and financial problems involved, I have thought it right to include a procedure for appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I was specially interested in the appeal procedure, because the city which I have the honour to represent will have to undertake a considerable programme to get its effluent into a proper state before it can be pumped into the nearby river. Can I have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he considers that the appeal procedure is adequate for a city such as Exeter, which may well have to undertake a programme of seven to ten years' work before it can achieve the objective of the river board?
§ Mr. Temple
I cannot anticipate what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government may say, but the present position is that under Section 8 (2) of the 1951 Act, a river board, before it can prosecute, has to get the permission of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That Ministerial consent to prosecution lapses in July of this year and, unless it is renewed by the House, the river boards will be in a position after July to go direct to a prosecution under Section 2 of the 1951 Act. Under the appeal procedure in the Bill, my right hon. Friend would be in a position to judge the national or special interest of any local authority, or any discharger. The appeal procedure is most important and I regard it as a feature which would adequately take the place of the Ministerial consent to prosecution which would automatically lapse in July of this year, if it were not renewed.
In 1951, river boards were in their infancy. They had been set up under the River Boards Act, 1948, an no one could 831 tell how they would face up to their heavy task as pollution prevention authorities. However, I am certain that today everyone would agree that, where river boards have had the powers, they have exercised them adequately and with a great sense of responsibility to the community and with a great sense of the understanding of the wide issues involved. We now have an appropriate time when, once again, our anti-pollution laws should be strengthened, and it would be logical and an extension of the existing procedure if we were to place further powers in the capable hands of the 32 river boards of England and Wales and the Thames and the Lee Conservancies.
A further drive against pollution can succeed only when there is a wide measure of support and good will among the various interests concerned and all those interests responsible for disharges. For that reason, being fully seized of the magnitude of the task, financially, technically and physically—for it is a big task—I thought it desirable to hold a series of meetings with the various important interests concerned.
Before Christmas, conferences were held for the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Urban District Councils' Association, the Rural District Councils' Association, the Federation of British Industries, and the River Boards' Association. Various points of importance were put to me by those bodies and I have tried, in the drafting of the Bill, to meet the representations made to me.
I cannot claim that it has been possible to reconcile all the representations which have been made to me, but I can say that where it has not been possible to reconcile the representations because they were mutually conflicting I have had regard to the unanimous recommendations of the Armer Committee.
In order that I should be able to have a practical appreciation of these problems, subsequent to the holding of the conferences I made visits and had discussions with the Thames Conservancy, the Trent River Board, the Cheshire River Board, the Dee and Clwyd River Board, the Manchester Corporation, the Chester Rural District Council and 832 various important industrial interests in England and Wales. I have looked at discharges into rivers and streams which were satisfactory and at others which were not quite so satisfactory. No one who has stood, where I stood, inside the main Wythenshawe outfall sewer with the deputy town clerk of Manchester, could fail to appreciate the magnitude of the sewerage task facing the great urban authorities today. I am glad to report that on the day that I visited Manchester no rain was falling at all. We were standing where the storm water overflow would have operated, and if it had been raining, Mr. Marsh and myself would have disappeared smartly into the Manchester Ship Canal.
Although I do not intend that this Bill should have any substantial effect in tidal waters or parts of the sea, I have also seen the secretary of the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees. I should like to thank all those interests, and many others, with whom I have had conversations and correspondence, for their universal helpfulness.
May I place on record my appreciation of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, drawn from England and Wales and with a variety of interests, who have jointly sponsored the Bill, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who attended all my conferences and who played a major part in the 1951 Act when it was passing through Parliament. I know that my hon. Friend will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later in the debate, because he will endeavour to answer any points which may be put in the course of the debate.
May I turn to the Bill? The first point which I should like right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to note is that it should be read as one with the principal Act, the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951. That Act has dealt effectively with new discharges since 1951. Clause 1, therefore, seeks to bring about the same control procedure as has worked so satisfactorily under the 1951 Act and to apply it to trade and sewage effluent discharges which existed prior to the passing of the 1951 Act. The provisions of Clause 1, therefore, follow extremely closely those of Section 7 of the 1951 Act.
833 Hon. Members will have observed that a consent to discharge by all dischargers of trade and sewage effluent will be required under the Bill, that this consent cannot be unreasonably withheld and that its terms must be reasonable. Those words are all in the Bill, and I regard them as of great significance and importance. Further, in all instances, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, there will be a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who will be able to have regard to the national or other special interests which may be involved.
A consent to discharge will be obtained by making before an appointed day an application to the river board which will state the nature and composition, temperature, volume and rate of discharge of the effluent. If, through ignorance or oversight, an application is not made to the river board, the river board will be in a position to serve a notice on the discharger, which will have the same effect and will have the same terms as a consent to discharge would have had and will be subject to the same appeal procedure.
Clauses 2 and 4 give certain protections against prosecution. When a discharger has made an application to discharge he secures protection against prosecution under Sections 2 and 3 of the 1951 Act and certain other protections from prosecution under other enactments. Similarly, under Clause 4, when a discharger has a consent to discharge and he is complying with that consent, he will be protected under Sections 2 and 3 of the 1951 Act and under the similar enactments to which I have referred.
Clause 3 empowers the Minister to make regulations which will enable river boards to obtain the information which they may require in order to deal with applications. This procedure was specially recommended by the Armer Committee in paragraph 100 of its Report. Clause 5 empowers river boards to review from time to time the conditions which they impose and the consents which they have given. I regard this review procedure as an integral part of the Bill, because it will enable a river board to proceed gradually with the improvement of the state of the trade and sewage effluent being discharged by any 834 industrial undertaking or local authority undertaking. It is in no way envisaged that the first consent will be the ultimate consent. It is obvious that over a period of years the terms of the consent will gradually be tightened, thereby bringing about a gradual improvement in the state of our rivers.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may have spotted the rather formidable provisions of Clause 9, which is entitled "Estuaries and Tidal Waters". May I assure them that this is a Bill dealing primarily with discharges into non-tidal waters and that the only tidal waters which will be affected are those which are at present or in the future may be the subject of a tidal water order. There are very few tidal water orders extant at present, and such orders can be made only as a result of a public inquiry and in any case have to be made in the House.
One other feature of which I should like right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to take special note in Clause 9 is that under this Clause river boards must have special regard for the interests of sea fisheries. There are a few other small provisions in the Bill, such as those concerning sampling and the keeping of a consents register. These provisions were envisaged by the Armer Committee. They are already in the 1951 Act. I do not think that I am called upon to comment on any of the other provisions in the Bill.
The principle of the Bill is to bring about a gradual improvement in the state of the rivers of England and Wales. Anyone who has visited the laboratories of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in Whitehall Place, and seen the map which is kept there, with flags on it showing those rivers which are at present totally devoid of fish life, will think, as I do, that a pollution problem still exists. I very much hope that the House will decide that the pollution problem should be tackled and that the Bill is a correct medium for tackling it now.
I shall listen with the greatest possible interest to hon. Members, who I know have a great interest in, and a great knowledge of, this subject. I assure the House that detailed matters can be dealt with adequately in Committee. I respectfully invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
It is a great pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I congratulate him on three counts—first, on his luck in the draw which has enabled him to bring a Bill before the House; secondly, on the subject which he has chosen; and, thirdly, on the clear and lucid way in which he has presented his Bill this morning. The hon. Member is also to be commended on the way in which he has tried to reconcile the very many different interests which are concerned. Some people may think that that has resulted in a weakening of the Bill, but in any case it is practical politics.
The hon. Member has selected a major problem. It is a much larger problem than is usually dealt with in a Private Member's Bill. It is a problem which I think should have been tackled by the Government. The hon. Member is to be praised for showing the Government the way. I sincerely hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary intervenes in the debate he will make it quite clear that the Bill will have the full support of the Government and that the Government will facilitate its progress and provide a Money Resolution, without which the Bill cannot go forward.
No one under-estimates the present problem. Everyone knows of rivers which were once famous for their fishes but in which now an old boot cannot be guaranteed a long expectation of life. The worst features of the problem are a legacy of the industrial revolution and of a certain degree of selfishness. I should like to read a short quotation from the Manchester Guardian in the days when it was the Manchester Guardian. I am not sure of the date, because this passage is quoted in the report of the Mersey River Board for 1958–59. This is what the Manchester Guardian said:… we are the victims of appalling selfishness, timid Governments and local authorities, and excessive tenderness to establish interests. Man can progress without pouring his filth into rivers, but filth will be poured into rivers, and the sea, until some Government is determined to stop it.The hon. Member seemed to think that river boards had done everything they could during the past few years. Many people do not think that some river boards have done as much as they might have done. However keen river 836 boards have been, their keenness has not been matched by any determination in any other quarter.
As the hon. Member said, this is one of a series of Bills dealing with pollution and the prevention of pollution, starting with the Bill of 1876. I do not think that anybody will think that this will be necessarily the last Bill on the subject. In moving the Second Reading of the 1951 Bill, the late Aneurin Bevan said:The matter has been before the House on many occasions, and I am not convinced that it will not be before the House on many occasions again before we are quite satisfied that our rivers are in a satisfactory condition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 801.]As the hon. Member for the City of Chester said—I think I quote his words exactly—"This is an essay in gradualness." It will not be the last word. It will certainly improve the position, but trade effluent and sewage will still be poured into our rivers. Either there must be a total prohibition, which everybody will agree is not practicable, particularly at the moment, or there must be much more intensive research to render effluent harmless and odourless. I mean much more intensive research to back up the provisions of the Bill. I shall bring out a little later the need for research by reference to a problem in my own constituency.
The hon. Member for the City of Chester has consulted many interests concerned. There certainly are a great many interests. There are, first, the riparian owners. There are the industrialists, many of whom settled where they did because they found a cheap sewer. There are the fishermen, who present a strong lobby, but not a lobby strong enough to prevent the pollution of our rivers. There are the water authorities, which take water from the rivers. There are the sewerage authorities, which put sewage into the rivers. Then there is the general public who wish to enjoy the amenities of the rivers. Obviously, not all the interests are pulling in the same direction, yet all can put forward some claim for consideration.
I have had communications from two local authorities in my constituency. The first, while not opposing the Bill, expresses some anxiety. The second welcomes the Bill in the hope that it 837 may have some effect in solving a serious problem in my constituency.
The first letter is from the town clerk of Hyde in my constituency, which at present is meeting very considerable expense on a new sewage scheme. This is what the town clerk of Hyde says, and I imagine this is the same problem to which the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) referred in his intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for the City of Chester:Whilst one cannot object to any measure which will have the effect of preventing pollution of rivers, I think that it should be borne in mind that many local authorities have constructed sewage works in accordance with Ministry requirements with due regard to the question of pollution of rivers. I feel therefore that when the Bill is being discussed attention should be paid to the many problems facing local authorities who are compelled to make provision for the disposal of sewage.Everybody is aware of the many serious financial problems facing local authorities at present. One can understand the anxiety expressed by the town clerk of Hyde, which I presume is the same sort of anxiety that has been expressed by the town clerk of Exeter.
The second letter is from the clerk to Longdendale Urban District Council, where in the Broadbottom district there is not merely the problem of the pollution of the River Etherow, but pollution with a nauseating smell which is causing great distress to many of my constituents in the summer months. It was in connection with this problem that I mentioned the need for intensive research. I apologise to the House for going in some detail into a constituency problem, but I can think of no better way of showing the great need there is for the Bill and for more intensive research.
I want to quote a short extract from the report of the public health inspector, 1959:During the summer from May onwards a serious and long standing nuisance recurred intermittently, due to the nauseating stench emanating from the River Etherow, again in the Broadbottom district. It is difficult to believe that this stream, formed as it is by overflow and compensation water from reservoirs and upland water feeding the Glossop Brook, can, within three miles, degenerate into such a foul stinking condition, the river bed filthy with slime. That is the picture of this water course as it flows through the lower part of this district. Throughout the summer 838 months, due to reduced dilution, complaints continued to be voiced as to the discomfort caused by the conditions, and the Council made representations to the Mersey River Board and to the County Medical Officer. Unfortunately, the Board were not able to give any assurance of being able to anticipate an acceptable improvement of the condition, though it is true to say that steps were in hand to bring all local authority sewage works discharging therein up to a satisfactory standard, but some industrial trade effluent discharge prospects were still unsatisfactory as far as pollution was concerned, despite the very considerable expenditure by industry to improve their effluents.The Council continues to investigate every avenue of prompting action to ameliorate the condition, but as yet no solution of the problem appears forthcoming, it being indeed a sorry commentary on our progress that this is so, and that the only answer to enquiries is that for the time being such state of affairs must be tolerated. It would seem that only strength of public opinion on a much wider scale than relative to the local problem experienced in this district will bring the desired attention to river pollution.In fairness to the firm that is chiefly responsible for this pollution, I should say that it has spent considerable money in trying to improve the situation.
The clerk of the council then wrote to me on 5th April, 1960, and I would like to quote one paragraph from his letter, which states:There is undoubtedly considerable pollution of the River Etherow on its course betwen Glossop and Broadbottom, principally from the Glossop sewage disposal works and the paper works of Messrs. Olive & Partington in Glossop.That is the firm to which I referred as having spent considerable money in trying to put the matter right:The building of the new Glossop sewage disposal works which is to commence in the very near future will ensure the cessation of their pollution of the river.The heavy pollution by Messrs. Olive & Pantington is a far more serious problem, the pollution being caused by intractable effluent arising from the making of paper from wood pulp, and this effluent is apparently the principal cause of the unpleasant and nauseating smell which the residents in Broadbottom experience from time to time, especially during warm weather and when the river is low.On receipt of that letter I wrote to the Minister, and on 23rd May I had a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. For the sake of the record, perhaps I had better quote one or two extracts from that reply. The Parliamentary Secretary wrote:The chief cause of small however is—as Longdendale are well aware—839 I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they are well aware of that:the discharge of effluent from Olive & Partington's paper works. Since the discharge is not by way of public sewers and sewage disposal works, but direct to the river, it is primarily a matter for the Mersey River Board. The Board would certainly oppose any proposal now for an industry of this nature to be established on an inland stream, but in this case the problem they are facing is a legacy from the 19th century.The letter goes on to say:The problem of the very strong waste from the digestion of wood to make pulp for paper-making is, however, much more serious and scientific knowledge to date provides no way of treating the discharges so that they can conform to the River Boards' standards.The Parliamentary Secretary stated in conclusion:To sum up, a great deal of effort has been made by the firm, the Research Association who are advising them, and the River Board to find a remedy: some reduction in pollution has been achieved, but the real solution to the problem depends upon future scientific research. I am sorry, I cannot be more hopeful, but we do know that everything possible is being done to find a solution.Well, the Minister agrees with me that there should be much more research than is taking place at the present time.
The clerk of the council again wrote to me in July of that year giving certain statistical details of analyses of the River Etherow at various sampling points, first of all on a day when the weather was dry and, secondly, on a day when there had been showers on the previous day. Though there were variations in the extent of the pollution, the final classification was the same. At the first sampling point, above the Manchester Corporation Bottoms Reservoir, the classification was "Very clean", but one and a half miles further on the classification was "Very bad". At every other sampling point, the classification was "Very bad".
In the course of his letter the clerk said:I am informed that various technical papers on the question of river pollution have referred to the progress made in this field and quote from a paper by Dr. B. A. Southgate, Director of the Water Pollution Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research—'Much research has been carried out on the concentration of liquor from the acid-sulphite process of manufacturing pulp from wood; the Rosenblad process now used widely in Scandinavia and being introduced in America is stated to overcome the scaling 840 difficulties which have hitherto made evaporation uneconomic.'Other technical papers also refer to the manufacture of by-products as a means of reducing pollution.I again wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary asking about this Rosenblad system, and he replied:I am advised that there may be something in the claim that the Rosenblad process minimises scaling difficulties in evaporation, but that it does not follow that evaporation is now a practical proposition in all cases and it would be unwise to assume that it will provide a solution to this particular problem.I am, however, seeing that the information is passed on to the Mersey River Board and to the millowners, asking them to see how far it could be used here.I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell whether he has any further information about the Rosenblad process, and whether he has any further information about the possibility of reducing pollution by the manufacture of by-products.
Hon. Members will therefore see that while I give this Bill great welcome, I feel that it is not enough in itself, but that it must be accompanied by much more intensive research. I give this Measure my full support, but unless its provisions are carried out with determination, accompanied by more intensive research, the hon. Member will not succeed in his intention. However, I wish him success. I hope that the House will give his Bill an unopposed Second Reading, and that the Government will do everything possible to facilitate its progress.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
With the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on his success in introducing so important a Measure. His Bill has been widely welcomed by many interests but, like the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, I have one or slight doubts about it and, again like the hon. Member, I must apologise to the House for seeking to illustrate what I have to say by what might be called constituency points, because it is in one's own locality that one knows the rivers best.
Through my constituency runs the River Medway which, when the previous Act came into force, was perhaps one 841 of the dirtiest rivers in the country. The Kent River Board, which has done great work since then, has recently produced a little booklet dealing with some of the voluntary improvements that it has been able to introduce in conjunction with the various industrial interests discharging effluent into the mainstream of the Medway.
When the Land Drainage Bill was in Standing Committee the Joint Parliament Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said on several occasions that river boards were growing in stature. In particular, I should like the House to consider what he said on 31st January:Many old-established and large local authorities may say 'In the past we have done something of this sort, whether there has been a statutory power or not, or at least we have taken the initiative in this field, but now it seems that before we can do anything we have to obtain the consent of the river board. Who are they? They are concerned with fish.' That is not really true. River boards are growing in stature, and it is our intention that they should be responsible for the whole of the river system and the intermediate water courses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committe A; 31st January, 1961, c. 409.]
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), but the Land Drainage Bill to which he is referring has not yet been reported to the House, and I am wondering to what extent it is in order to quote the Standing Committee proceedings of a Bill which has not yet been reported.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not appreciate what was happening. It would not be in order to do that. I dare say the hon. Member can present his argument without doing it. I am obliged to the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) for drawing my attention to the matter.
§ Mr. Wells
I had just about concluded that point, Mr. Speaker. The point that I am seeking to make is that in various Departments people are saying that the river boards are growing in stature, and I am sure we all welcome this.
There is, however, one great problem, namely, a scarcity of technical staff of ability. The technical staff must be allowed to do their main job and I am a little alarmed lest these very busy and hard-working men are diverted into a 842 multiplicity of small matters, wasting their precious time when they should be attending to the main functions of the river board. I am in no way belittling the river pollution functions of the river boards—they are most important—but there are other duties for the staff, and I am concerned lest the Bill may cause river board staff to become overworked.
In my constituency a number of rural districts are adjacent to the Borough of Maidstone and in some of these villages the sewerage situation is most unsatisfactory. These rural districts are doing their best to improve the situation, but it takes time, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester has said, this is a gradual process. These rural districts, where there is no village sewerage system, are offering householders a sewage disposal system of the cesspit type. There are many cesspits and septic tanks situated on heavy clay soil where there must be a discharge of effluent into some stream.
I am alarmed lest these suburban communities adjacent to a town, but coming under a rural district for administrative purposes, may be in some difficulty. They are awaiting main drainage. They are looking forward most anxiously to the day when it will come, but in the meantime under this Bill when it becomes law individual householders may well be committing an offence in discharging effluent from a septic tank into a stream. They will undoubtedly have no knowledge of this new Measure. The average small householder is not particularly interested in this sort of legislation, and I am anxious lest the river boards should start "chasing" these people and bringing many prosecutions.
§ Mr. Wells
My hon. Friend shakes his head. I am sure that he intends that there should be no trouble of this sort, but there might be a difficult river board, and the intentions of this House and the actions of that river board may not necessarily tie in.
It has been said that, provided one has applied for permission to discharge effluent, but will be safe from prosecution, but one can hardly imagine the small householder going to the expense of preparing plans, and so on, for his existing sewage disposal system when he expects the local authority to take it 843 over and give him a new system in a matter of years.
I should, therefore, like to see a waiver of the provisions of the Bill for the small householder where the total discharge per day is, let us say, less than 400 gallons. I think that that is not unreasonable. I understand that the average intake of water into a house of the sort that I have in mind is in the region of 50 or 60 gallons per head per day. Therefore, if the permitted discharge, without river board sanction, could be set at about 500 gallons per house per day, I think that that would be a reasonable figure. One paper mill in my constituency, before the voluntary action that it took, was discharging straight into the River Medway the equivalent of 5 million gallons of domestic sewage per day. If a few hundred householders are allowed a small discharge such as I have suggested pending the introduction of a proper sewerage system by the local authority, I feel that would not be unreasonable.
Another matter which worries me is that of silage pits for farmers. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester said specifically that his Bill did not deal with sporadic discharges. I appreciate that fact, but the point remains that many farmers have silage pits in more or less the same place year after year, and as a result a very noxious-smelling effluent is discharged into the ditches. That is one of the facts of agriculture. It may not be very attractive to people living in the countryside who are not involved with agriculture, but the smell of silage in the nostrils of many farmers represents good money, and, although it is unpleasant for many of us, it represents future cash to the farmer. I think that I hear an hon. Member saying that it is a delicious smell, but that is a matter of opinion.
Where a farmer has a silage pit on the same site year after year, the discharge might well be termed not sporadic and, therefore, the farmer might find himself in difficulties with the river board.
§ Mr. Temple
Is my hon. Friend aware that the silage pit would have to be situated in the same position prior to 1951? All that the Bill seeks to do is 844 to control discharges which existed before 1951. It is unusual, in agriculture, to situate one's silage pit in the same position for a great number of years, particularly since before 1951.
§ Mr. Wells
I appreciate that silage pits are not situated in the identical place, but, generally speaking, they discharge into the same stream. I do not know what definition of the point of discharge a river board might select. It is obviously a matter of percentage, not total volume of flow. I think that a country community may be in difficulties here, and I want my hon. Friend to bear these problems in mind.
My hon. Friend said that the Bill hardly touched tidal waters. This very week, we read in the newspapers the account of how fishermen at the mouth of the River Medway have been unable to make their normal catch of fish. They are in difficulties because of some unknown factor. Very experienced fishermen are reported as saying that it is not oil pollution, which is usually a floating pollution, but something on the bed of the watercourse which is causing the trouble.
If the sea fishery interests are to be protected as we all wish, the Bill should go a little further. It is very desirable to help sea fishery interests in the smaller ports. In many parts of the country, what I would call small-time fishing in river estuaries provides important seasonal employment. I do not speak of deep-sea fishing in any sense, but this kind of inshore fishing is going through a difficult time and any orders which may flow from the Bill to improve their conditions would be very welcome.
Another feature of modern life on our waterways is the great increase in the number of pleasure boats using them, and with every pleasure boat there is the inevitable discharge of sewage. The Thames Conservancy has taken a very strong line about this and the Thames has improved considerably in recent years. I suggest that if river boards follow the example of the Thames Conservancy in laying down strict conditions about the discharge of effluent from boats they will go a long way to improve conditions for the growing number of people who wish to use our waterways in order to enjoy their amenities. The hon. Member for 845 Stalybridge and Hyde referred to the smell. Many of our waterways are extremely unattractive in high summer because of the smell, and some of the worst offenders are the very pleasure boat owners who seek to enjoy the amenities of the waterway.
In welcoming the Bill, I have my reservations about the possible difficulties of the small householder who for many years has been making a discharge. I have slight doubts about the position of some farmers under the provisions proposed. I welcome the Bill in general, and I should like to see the voluntary agreements which river boards have been able to make with many industrial undertakings extended. The excellent example of the Kent River Board in cleaning up the Medway should be followed by river boards elsewhere. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde implied that some river boards had been a little dilatory. I assure the House that the Kent River Board has done very well.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
One of my reasons in rising to take part in this debate is to approve of further measures to safeguard public health. After listening to the generalisations of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) about the problems on which he seems to be well informed, I think it appropriate to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) for introducing a Bill on such an important subject.
It is self-evident that rivers used for the purpose of sewage disposal are dangerous and injurious to the health of those who have to work or live nearby, and, having regard to all the factors involved, it is plainly in the best interests of everyone that we should apply remedies to overcome the objectionable nuisances produced by industrial effluents and untreated sewage discharged into our rivers. This is obvious to us all from our personal observation of what goes on.
The obtaining of consent for the discharge of effluent is now quite a common matter in many places, and so local authorities are approaching their functions in regard to river pollution in a genuine effort to find a practical and 846 satisfactory solution to the problem. I accept and fully recognise the object and importance of the Bill in prohibiting the continuance of any existing discharge of sewage into rivers without the consent of the river board. After the appointed day, consent will be granted only after application to the river board, which may impose conditions on the nature, composition and volume of the effluent. We regard this as very important, and, in the circumstances, it is essential that all concerned should have reasonable knowledge of what is required in order to reduce the degree of river pollution.
The Bill, however, deals only with a small part of the many problems which confront us. In my opinion, it is not sufficient only to give a lead on the material improvements which are desired. Every hon. Member recognises the over-riding need for action to be taken, but, without limited knowledge at this stage, we should approach with an equal sense of urgency schemes which local authorities have prepared in order to minimise river pollution. As I see it, at the heart of the matter lies the question whether the Bill in its present form will be effective enough to lead to the maintenance of the standards of purity we desire. My concern about the need to stop pollution so far as it can be stopped is best illustrated, I think, by the result of inquiries I have made and the information I have received from such reliable sources as are open to me.
In my constituency, three urban district councils have a substantial interest in the problem, the more so because they lie on the upper reaches of the River Tyne. As the House will know, the pollution of the River Tyne has been a subject of study and investigation since the 1920s. Without the complete picture, it is estimated that the volume of sludge produced from a population of 850,000 is about 218,000 gallons a day, representing about 950 tons daily discharged into the Tyne. This confronts the authorities with a formidable problem, since the tide runs only about two miles an hour and there is very little chance of this filth getting away and being lost for ever.
It is in view of this state of affairs that I want to draw the attention of the House to the day-to-day loyalty of the 847 responsible officers and councillors which is devoted to the public affairs of the authorities to which I have referred. They fully realise the difficulties and have set out to tackle the problem in a proper way. For example, the sewage of the Ryton Urban District Council, with a population of 15,000, is discharged untreated into the River Tyne at four main outfalls. The problem has confronted the authority for some time now. It is intended that the population ultimately should be 20,000 and it is the intention of the authority to build housing estates through private contractors and that of the authority itself. But before this development can take place drainage and sewerage facilities must be installed to eliminate the discharge of untreated sewage into the Tyne.
This is in response to the requirements set out in a letter from the Ministry to the authority dated 3rd June, 1957. It was in connection with previous correspondence concerning sewerage proposals for the Holburn Dene area where the local authority has been wishing to build for some time. It is a quite lengthy letter, but one or two extracts from it may be useful to indicate to the Parliamentary Secretary the problem which confronts the authority. The letter states:As the Council will know, the state of the River Tyne is far from satisfactory owing to the discharge to it of crude sewage and untreated trade effluents. … The Minister considers it desirable that, for Ryton, partial treatment at least, in the form of screening, sedimentation and sludge disposal, should be provided now not only for the proposed new discharge but also for the flow in such other of the Council's sewage outfalls to the river as it would be practicable to connect.In trying to meet the wishes and requirements of the Ministry, the council has, through its consulting engineers, prepared a scheme for this development. It is estimated to cost £100,000, and, not forgetting that borrowing has become the most vital part in the system of public finance, interest would cost an additional £7,250. The council, in trying to meet the wishes of the Minister, has taken into consideration the fact that, if the outfalls of untreated sewage are to be dispensed with, and if it is to face this problem in a realistic manner, a scheme for treated sewage disposal works to serve the whole urban area would cost £268,000. This may not 848 appear to be a massive sum of money, but, when we consider that the product of a penny rate equals £734, then we realise that the resources of the authority are quite inadequate to fulfil the need to purify sewage.
The authority also has to have regard to alternative measures. It is unfortunate that the financial cost should stand between the authority and those who are in desperate need of houses. The authority cannot put up another brick until this sewage disposal works is installed. We all recognise the difficulty of raising finance, but, although I accept the general principles of the Bill, I feel that local authorities are entitled to know just how they stand.
Under Clause 1 of the Bill, it is proposed that any person who fails to comply with conditions to remedy the discharge of effluent shall be liable to prosecution. On the other hand, as the hon. Member for the City of Chester pointed out, Clause 6 gives the right of appeal to the Minister in respect of any refusal or conditions of consent imposed by the river board which may be alleged to be unreasonable. We all appreciate that the river board would not wish to act in an unreasonable way, but what happens if the local authority cannot meet the financial obligations which may be imposed upon it? I do not want to weary the House by talking about the struggle of local authorities in trying to find money, in spite of high interest rates, in order to carry out their functions properly in providing amenities.
I must, however, make the point that the problem of finding the capital necessary to provide satisfactory standards of sewerage disposal faces the other two urban district councils in my constituency. I refer to Blaydon and Whickham. These authorities are also concerned with improving the existing outfall of untreated sewerage in the rivers of their districts. They have no desire to shirk their responsibilities. They are as anxious as anyone to improve the state of the rivers which they use, but their limited resources limit them in what they can do and in the amount of money that they can afford to spend. It is understood that there are no specific direct grants to urban district councils for sewerage schemes, but that any expenditure of an urban district council is taken 849 into account in assessing the rate deficiency grant made by the Government. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he gives the Government's view, will accept the urban implications of the evidence which I have given and will indicate whether the Government are prepared to introduce a money resolution.
In some ways, I find the Bill disappointing because it does not cover the need for assistance to local authorities which are restricted in their financial outlay. They are anxious to remedy defects which the Bill seeks to rectify. It is obvious that authorities will find themselves in a very precarious financial position. We must face the fact that we will never get a real solution to the problem of pollution while authorities have limited resources with which to finance proper sewage disposal, unless the Government are prepared to recognise this as a national problem and to treat conditions accordingly to ensure clean rivers.
Without going into more detail, I have tried to make it clearly discernible to the House that the alternative to the heavy end of any financial expenditure to comply with the requirements to meet the need of abolishing pollution will only increase the burden upon those who are called upon to pay. Let us take a broad view of the causes and cures of river pollution. In recent years, the whole of the Tyneside area appears to have grown, like every other principal area. It has been developed and enlarged and new estates have been built with modern amenities, to such an extent that it has attained dimensions beyond the conception of any age. It is probably unnecessary to say that the impact of this vast change has increased the special needs of the local authorities who are endeavouring to find ways and means of ensuring a cleaner and healthier Tyne.
Between the need to modernise sewage disposal works, plus the cost of embarking on new ones, and the limited resources of the authorities concerned there is a wide gulf. On such weighty matters, I can only plead that the Government will be more realistic and 850 give much more consideration. We know only too well that public expenditure grows as public activities increase in volume—the increase nowadays is both intensive and extensive—with the usual economic analysis of those who are called upon to bear the financial burden.
Things being as they are, however, I sincerely believe that the public is entitled to be enlightened on such subjects as confer a common interest and from which benefit is derived. Despite the limitations of the Bill, I see some good in it. It is, however, by adapting means to ends—no other way will suffice—to solve the problem that local authorities will be enabled to carry such work onward to leave all traces of pollution behind.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on bringing in this important Bill and giving the House such a clear explanation of it on Second Reading. He has left little for his supporters to say about the Bill's intentions or effects. There are, however, aspects of the Bill that will need careful scrutiny in Committee, when I shall have several points to raise.
So far, the need for a Bill on these lines has not been questioned, and I do not think that many hon. Members question the need, because pollution is so obviously so bad all over England and Wales that it is difficult to exaggerate. It could hardly be worse. Parliament must take a good deal of the blame for this, since for a century and a half this problem has been largely neglected. There is, therefore, an overwhelming case for new legislation and I feel that the Bill is definitely on the right lines.
My hon. Friend said that the Bill is not a fisherman's charter. He is quite right. As, however, I happen to be a fisherman, and a very keen one, and as for fifteen years I have been a member of the Council of the Salmon and Trout Association, which my hon. Friend, I am glad to say, has recently joined, perhaps I may be allowed to say something from the fisherman's point of view. If the provisions of the Bill are carried 851 out, it will undoubtedly mean big improvements from the viewpoint of fishermen, of whom there are so very many in this country.
It is not necessary to go further than the Terrace to see how bad pollution can be. The Thames provides a horrid and sad example of what pollution can do to a once clean river, in spite of the excellent work done by the Thames Conservancy. It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members to know that from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, the Thames was a famous salmon river. The last definite evidence which I have been able to obtain of a salmon being killed in the Thames was in 1823 or 1824, although there were unconfirmed reports of a salmon being taken in 1833 and in 1859 at Blackwall.
So common were salmon in the Thames in the eighteenth century that it seems to have been a condition often made in the indentures of apprentices in London that they should not be made to dine off salmon more than two or three times a week. In the middle ages, Henry III is said to have kept a polar bear in the Tower, a gift from the King of Norway, and to have turned it loose in the river to feed itself on fish, mostly, perhaps, on salmon. What is certain is that nobody can do that today. In the reign of Edward III, Thames salmon were so plentiful that they were used for pig food.
From the 1899 edition of "the Nineteenth Century", I quote the following extract from a churchwardens' book on Wandsworth under the date 1580:In this somer, the fysshers of Wandsworthe tooke betweene Monday and Saturday, seven score salmons in the same fishings, to the great honor of God.A little less than a century later, Isaak Walton wrote in "The Compleat Angler":And next I shall tell you that it is observed by Gesner and others that there is no better salmon than in England: and that though some of our northern counties have as fat and as large as the River Thames yet none are of so excellent a taste.In 1754, so many salmon were taken at London Bridge that the price fell to 6d. per lb., although it was normally 10s. per lb. in those days. In 1766, in one day in July, 130 Thames salmon were taken to Billingsgate Market. It is interesting to note that in July, 1860, a 852 Commission was appointed by Parliament toinquire into the Salmon Fisheries of England and Wales with the view of increasing the supply of a valuable article of food for the benefit of the public",that article being, of course, salmon.
I took advantage of the late sitting last night to do a little research into what the Commission said in its fascinating 600-page Report. At page 77, the Commission gave the reasons for the growing pollution of the River Thames. Three of its main reasons were the poisoning of waiters by the efflux from mines, pollution of waters by manufacturers, gasworks, and other nuisances, and confusion and uncertainty of the law and the difficulty of enforcing its penalties against offenders. None of those things have changed much since then.
Later in the Report, the Commission gave one of its main conclusions in these words:In conclusion, we desire humbly to represent to Your Majesty the conviction impressed upon our minds by all that we have seen and heard, that a national property, of great value and importance, which was, in early times, watched over and encouraged by the Legislature, has, through improvidence and neglect, been suffered to decline; and unless timely measures be adopted for its recovery, is threatened at no distant period with total ruin.I explained briefly just now how good a salmon river in olden days the Thames was. Anyone who dips into the minutes of evidence taken before that Commission will realise that it was as recently as the first twenty or thirty years of the last century that the river was a really excellent river. I do not wish to weary the House with very long extracts. Perhaps the most interesting one is that in a short stretch of the river, in the twenty-eight years covered in a diary, roughly the first twenty-eight years of the last centurythere were caught 483 salmons, that weighed 7,346½ lbs. If this journal had been begun about 20 years earlier, say 1774, the figures would have been much higher, both with respect to number and weight.It is perfectly clear from the evidence of everyone called by the Commission set up by Parliament that the main reason why the fish had ceased to run up the Thames was pollution. One also finds that the largest fish definitely known to have been taken from the Thames in that period was 51½ lbs.—no mean fish.
853 Two years before this, in 1858, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Disraeli, brought in a Bill for the purification of the River Thames by preventingas far as may be practicable the sewage of the Metropolis from passing into the River Thames.I would, perhaps, describe that Bill as a typically progressive piece of Tory legislation. It levied a special rate in the Metropolis for an estimated cost of £3 million, but, then as now, the estimate proved to be too low, and the cost worked out at £5 million.
§ Sir T. Beamish
It could have been typical, but it was not so far out as some estimates made by successive Governments in the last fifteen years.
The resulting sewerage scheme, which took seven years to construct, coped very satisfactorily for the whole of the then population of 3 million in London, and in its essentials it is still the same today, in spite of the fact that it now has to cope with a population of 10 million. Unfortunately, the Bill did not fully achieve its objects, as sewage continued to float up and down the river on the changing tides.
Parliamentary anxiety was expressed in the same year by the appointment by Parliament of a Select Committee on the River Thames. That was 1858. The Select Committee included Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell and examined a scheme for the purification of the riverespecially in the immediate vicinity of the Houses of Parliament.On page 365 of its Report, paragraphs 22 and 24, we find these words:The whole subject is one of great and of growing public importance. The Metropolis is extending in all directions, and in every part of its circumference. Every year fresh masses of buildings are springing up, whose drains are discharging into the Thames, and streets that had only cesspools are furnished with house drains, leading into the general network of sewers; thus every year the quantity of sewage discharged into the Thames goes on increasing. An extensive and abundant supply of pure water, and the general substitution of house drains for cesspools, are immense improvements in the arrangements of the Metropolis, and contribute most essentially to the comfort and health of its inhabitants. But these salutary arrangements must be followed up by others, to protect from pollution that river, which 854 ought to be an ornament to this great city, and which must continue to be the main highway of its multifarious traffic.It is interesting to note that the Select Committee was very worried about the air in the Palace of Westminster. Lord Palmerston showed particular interest in this. During its investigations the Committee called upon a Dr. Thompson to make a report upon the percentage of oxygen and nitrogen and other gases and the atmospheric impurities in the Palace. The report must have been very worrying for your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, because it was found that some of the foulest air in the whole of the Palace of Westminster was immediately behind Mr. Speaker's Chair, and that the very foulest air of all was in Mr. Speaker's small dining room. So it must have been a great comfort to Mr. Speaker, in those days, to find that the freshest air of all was in Mr. Speaker's bedroom. The Chairman asked Dr. Thompson:How did you find the effluvia from the Thames?Exceedingly bad,he said:I smelt it on the top of the Clock tower and on the top of the Victoria tower.He expressed the opinion that "much the most objectionable part of the whole premises" was Mr. Speaker's house.
Fortunately, since then, we have had a very good fresh air system installed in the Chamber, although I feel bound to say—I must not get out of order—that I am mystified by the permament smell of Irish stew which comes out of the air-conditioning system in many other parts of the Palace. I have never been able to find out who it is who eats Irish stew every day, or how it gets into the air system. I wish that we could find out.
By the middle of the last century, it will be clear to the House, the Thames, as a salmon river, was stone dead. Parliament's steps in 1858 and 1860 were soon overtaken, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has reminded us, by the Industrial Revolution, and the condition of the river went steadily from bad to worse. The Thames, as a salmon river, had been ruined by pollution, and so had a great many other rivers at the same time. That it had been completely ruined was proved on at least half a dozen occasions at the latter half of the last century, 855 when several expensive attempts were made to restock the river with salmon, and all those failed completely. Man-made pollution had won. This very obvious fact has been recognised on various occasions since the middle of the last century, and that was recognised of the Thames as recently as April, 1951, when the Government appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Professor Pippard.
I must admit that I had forgotten that that Committee had been appointed. It was appointed to examine and report on pollution of the River Thames. What has happened to it I have not got the faintest idea. It has sat for almost ten years. Whether its members drank water from the Thames to find out how foul it was, and all died, or whether it has simply been completely forgotten about, I do not know. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can tell me about that Committee, which was appointed ten years ago, I think that it will be very interesting.
If this Bill becomes law, and if it is gradually and reasonably applied, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester has made it clear it should be, it ought to result in steady improvements in English and Welsh rivers from every point of view, not least from the fisherman's point of view, and it could well be that salmon one day will again run up the Thames. The salmon is a determined, tough and obstinate fish. Five salmon were taken in the 1930s from the Thames estuary tributary, the Medway. They were, no doubt, doing their best to get upstream, but finding it impossible.
I should like to make an offer of 100 guineas for the first man or woman who, with rod and line above the tidal waters of the Thames, catches a salmon in this century or during my life-time, whichever is the longer. I hope that it will be the latter.
What nicer pastime, during an all-night sitting, than to go down to the Terrace with a rod, using a bait or lure, possibly a prawn, because a fly would be no good, and to hook a large salmon. I see that one of the Scottish Whips is present. What a perfect excuse that one has missed a Division because one was playing a 25-1b. salmon, and what a sharp eye would have to be kept in 856 the House on some hon. Members with any poaching tendencies who might try to keep in with the Whips and go through the Division Lobby after setting a nightline from the Terrace and thus breaking the law.
The story of the pollution of the rivers of England and Wales is not one of unrelieved gloom. The steps already described by my hon. Friend have undoubtedly paved the way for a Measure of this kind. There have been the Water Acts of 1945 and 1948, the River Boards Act, 1948, and the 1951 River Pollution Act, as amended in 1960 dealing with tidal waters. All these have helped to pave the way for legislation on these lines. But all that these Measures did, as has been made clear in the debate, was to call a standstill to pollution. The rivers were not likely to get any cleaner but at any rate they were unlikely to get any dirtier.
Now, at last, the problem of pollution is really to be seriously tackled through this Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester has been extremely painstaking in the work he did before he was able to produce the Bill at all. It is an excellent, badly needed, long overdue Bill and I hope that it will have a smooth passage through the House.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
Contrary to the other speakers so far in the debate, I rise to oppose the Bill, according to the advice I have at present about its effect on the City and County of Kingston upon Hull, which is the third port and eighth city in the country.
We all wish to further the prevention of the pollution of our rivers. Last year I argued that the river at Maldon should be cleared out where effluent from town council offices goes straight into the river to the detriment of people who bathe nearby. I am, therefore, in sympathy with the principle of the Bill, but the question is how and at what cost its provisions will be put into effect.
I am sorry that I was not able to discuss the position with the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) till this morning. Apparently his idea is that Hull is not affected by the Bill because it lies on a tidal river. I am not fortified 857 in that belief by what the hon. Member said in introducing the Bill. In dealing with Clause 9 he mentioned that the Bill was primarily concerned with non-tidal waters. I do not write shorthand, but I took a longhand note, and I do not wish to put words into the hon. Member's mouth. We shall, of course, have the advantage of reading HANSARD tomorrow to note precisely what he said.
The reference that I took down was that very few tidal waters had been dealt with, and the hon. Member then spoke of the safeguard of a public inquiry. As I understand those remarks, Hull and similar cities on tidal waters are not definitely exempt from the provisions of the Bill. If the hon. Member would like to intervene at this stage it might be to the advantage of myself and the House if I gave way.
§ Mr. Temple
I thank the hon. and gallant Member for giving way so kindly. I said that the Bill as drafted affected only those tidal waters which were the subject of a tidal water order or could be the subject of one. I have a list of tidal water orders extant at present. There is no order extant in respect of the River Humber.
§ Commander Pursey
I hope that when the debate is wound up it will be placed specifically on record that Hull and other cities on tidal waters are not affected. When the Bill becomes an Act it will be interpreted as published. If the local authorities in Hull, having read the Bill, consider that Hull is or may be affected by it, we want to be under no misapprehension at all about the position of Hull and similar cities.
I happen to be in the fortunate or unfortunate position today of being briefed by both sides, namely, supporters and opponents of the Bill. I have a letter from the Yorkshire Ouse River Board. One of the complications of this matter for Hull is that more than one river board is concerned and in a moment I shall refer to the Hull and East Yorkshire River Board.
The letter from the Yorkshire Ouse River Board states:One of the most important provisions of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951 was contained in Section 7 which gave river boards control over new outlets and new discharges of sewage and trade effluents into 858 streams, and my Board has already given over 1,200 conditional consents to such discharges. The main purpose of the new Bill is to extend these powers to existing (i.e.) pre-1951 discharges.I admit that the hon. Member for the City of Chester made that quite clear in his speech and therefore I am not introducing any personal controversy into this.
But let us see what the local authorities in Hull consider the position to be. The town clerk writes to me:The matter was considered at a meeting of my Council's Works Committee yesterday"—that is, on 22nd March—… I was instructed to inform you that the Corporation are very concerned at the implications of this Bill and the position in which they are likely to be placed in relation to the Hull and East Yorkshire River Board if it is enacted in its present form.The town clerk then deals with the existing law on new discharges of effluent and with the objects of the present Bill and makes the point that:… the local authority will have to apply to the River Board for consent to all discharges of sewage and trade effluents. Although the existing law provides that prosecutions of local authorities cannot be commenced by River Boards without the Minister's consent, this protection will come to an end in August next.I grant that the hon. Member for the City of Chester made that point, too.
It is then argued that… the Bill … if it is passed in its present form, will allow prosecutions at any time save that the local authority can appeal to the Minister against the conditions imposed by the River Board, and if the Minister upholds the objection then no prosecution can commence … In Hull practically all the drainage is discharged from two main pumping stations into the River Humber and the passing of the Bill would have very serious and far-reaching repercussions since the City would have to apply to the Hull and East Yorkshire River Board for consent so all discharges (including existing ones) of sewage and trade effluents into the river.". The Board will be empowered to impose conditions regarding these discharges which could involve the City in the provision of sewage treatment works, the sites for which may not be available—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir K. Joseph)
What the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not making clear is whether these discharges are into tidal or non-tidal water. As I am advised, the Bill affects only no-tidal water or tidal water which has already by Ministerial order been treated in the same way as non-tidal water. The tidal water on the 859 Humber has not been the subject of such an order. Therefore, if the discharges of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is speaking are pre-1951 discharges into tidal water, they are not affected one jot or one tittle by the Bill.
§ Commander Pursey
I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for clearing up the point like that. Nevertheless, this will not be the first time that there has been a difference of constructlon about a Bill. Certainly half the lawyers in the country would be out of business if every Act of Parliament could be construed as simply as that. I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary and the sponsors of the Bill that if the legal advisers to the City of Hull are concerned about the Bill because it is not clear and give me a case to present, it is for me to present it and it may be that the need for some amendment may emerge.
If it is a question of Hull having to provide sewage works, it may be that their location will be so far distant as to cause serious expense because it would involve:new large deep trunk sewers involving further pumping stations.I should interpolate here that most of Hull is below the spring tide high water mark, and, consequently, until recently the drainage has been forced back into the toilets of houses by high water spring tides. Therefore, Hull has every reason to be concerned about anything affecting the deep water drainage.
Already £6 million has been spent on deep water drainage, and there is a further £5½ million still to be expended on the parts of the main drainage scheme not yet completed. The letter goes on:Further difficulties would arise in connection with pre-1937 trade effluent discharges to sewers over which little control can be exercised by this authority but which will be the subject of control by the River Board under the … Bill since they form part of the sewage discharges to the River Humber.The important point is that the £6 million has been spent as a result of approval by the Ministry from the technical and financial points of view.
The letter states:The new Humberside Pumping Station provides for mechanical treatment of sewage whereby the solids are macerated and discharged to the river at ebb tides only, thus providing for the maximum dispersal and dilution of the sewage into the tidal waters.860 The letter also states:Further main drainage works to cost over £1 million are now in course of construction in East Hull.The letter concludes:It was the unanimous wish of my members that the above-mentioned information should be passed to you in the hope that you will be able to see your way to oppose the Bill at the Second Reading tomorrow, Friday.I accept the necessity for the Bill, and I support the arguments of the hon. Member for the City of Chester as far as he has gone. As I have said, I am concerned about making it 100 per cent. clear that Hull and similarly placed cities are not affected. Since the war Hull has been faced with heavy expenditure in respect of very costly schemes—sewerage, drainage, long-distance water supplies, housing, schools and level crossings. We do not wish to be involved in controversy with the river boards, public inquiries and rulings by the Minister, all of which run away with a great deal of finance.
Take Hull out of the Bill and make it 100 per cent. clear that Hull and other cities in a similar position are not affected by the Bill, and I shall be prepared to support the Measure. I know of no complaint against the Hull City Council with regard to sewers. Let this Council go on with its good work without being chivvied about by the river boards concerned, and let the river boards concentrate their efforts, as I believe the hon. Member for the City of Chester wishes them to do, on the rivers where pollution is not being properly dealt with at the present time.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) upon having brought this Bill before the House. It is probably one of the most important Private Members' Bills which has been presented to us for a very long time, and I hope that it will speedily reach the Statute Book.
I have a financial point to raise vis-à-vis the local authorities. My questions and the statements that I shall make are directed not really to my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester but to the Parliamentary Secretary. I have a vested interest to 861 the extent that I am one of the vice-presidents of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which has given a great deal of consideration to the financial aspect of the Bill as it affects local authorities.
Local authorities are bound by Statute to drain their districts, and since 1936 they have been compelled to take trade effluent into the sewers. It has been possible for local authorities to spend money on sewerage works for only two years in that period, and those years were before the war. The very nature of the work involved considerable expenditure, and there can hardly be a sewerage scheme throughout the country which has not required loan sanction from the Ministry. This means that all the existing works would have had to be built to a standard laid down at the time by the Ministry, and that no new works can be built without similar approval and unless the Ministry is prepared to authorise the expenditure. To that extent, the Ministry has a substantial control over the expenditure of money on a scheme such as the Bill envisages.
In defence generally of local authorities which have this responsibility, I would point out that there is no evidence that any local authority has ever refused to construct new works or that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has ever had to threaten to use its existing powers to compel a local authority to act. Throughout the whole matter the limiting factor has been money, and it still is.
The Association of Municipal Corporations represents just under 60 per cent. of our total population. Its general purposes committee has gone into this matter very carefully. It was so concerned with the restrictions on capital expenditure, which prevented local authorities from improving sewage disposal works, that, in January, 1953, it sent a deputation to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to press for increased loan sanction. In these circumstances, one can well understand how worried large urban local authorities will be if they are to be put in the position of taking certain action, or being forced to take certain action, when the Ministry has not granted loan sanction.
Under the present law, a local authority would have to apply to the local 862 river board for consent for any discharge to the river begun after 1951. This Bill would extend the need for obtaining that consent to all discharges, whenever begun, including storm water sewers. The local authority, in those circumstances, would send its technical officers to discuss with their opposite numbers on the board the conditions to be imposed if the board is to consent to a discharge. This would involve a great deal of work, because there are many discharges from local authority sewage works which would need to be reviewed case by case.
The officers would know all the time that a large sum of money would have to be spent before the effluent could be brought to a reasonable standard. The river board would want as much done as possible in the interests of clean rivers. Let me say at once that the local authorities, whose case I am presenting on purely financial grounds, are as keen as any other body of people, even salmon fishers, to get clean rivers.
The policy of successive Governments, irrespective of party, has not kept pace with modern ideas about hygienic waterways, so that the operations in which local authorities and river boards would be engaged under this Bill could be a waste of everybody's time, because the amount of work done must be limited by the amount of money available. In such circumstances, the river boards impose conditions which they think they should impose, and local authorities appeal against them to the Minister. Then somebody in Whitehall looks at the papers again, examines all the arguments, and decides, whatever the merits, whether capital expenditure can or cannot be sanctioned.
In the White Paper on Public Investment, published in November last year, the capital allocation for 1960–61 for sewage disposal for the whole of the country is almost £45 million. The Association, having gone into this matter very carefully with its highly qualified technical officers, believes that the national cost of a scheme of this kind is probably in the neighbourhood of £300 million.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester in the tribute he has paid to the Armer Committee. It did a fine piece of work in examining the problem of disposal of trade effluent and sewage, but its Report offers no 863 solution to the added problem for local authorities caused by the impact of capital expenditure.
I give wholehearted support to the purpose of the Bill and hope that it will get an unopposed Second Reading. It can then go to a Standing Committee, where all these financial matters vis-à-vis Government loan sanction can be examined. It is useless to suggest that local authorities should be prosecuted when they cannot borrow the money to do the work. It is equally useless to give powers to the river boards which they will not be able to use because the Ministry will not sanction the expenditure. I make these points in the hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, now or later, that he will consider the problem and give his opinion to the House.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) and the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) in expressing my misgivings about the practicability of the Bill as drafted. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that my constituency is very gravely involved in this problem. What my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) said about the way in which the local authorities in his constituency, which is well up the river, contribute to the problem lower down, will give an idea of the difficulties that confront us.
The Parliamentary Secretary went to a conference in the River Tyne area and met the technical committee which is dealing with the matter there, and of which the borough engineer of South Shields was the chairman on that occasion. I know from my contacts with the locality that recognition was given to the Parliamentary Secretary's interest in the problem and the way in which he was able to deal with the technical as well as the administrative aspects involved. I had the pleasure of telling him shortly afterwards of the esteem in which he was held. It takes something to get any sense of esteem out of the inhabitants of either side of the River Tyne.
We are all in favour of having purer rivers. The trouble is that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not 864 show any great enthusiasm for this, especially in the industrial areas, where the rivers were regarded as the appropriate receptacles for any waste matter, just as in a good many villages the village pond, when it is either dredged or, during a hot summer, dries up, proves itself to have been similarly a receptacle for the waste matter of the rural population.
On Tyneside, we have a tremendous problem to solve, technically administratively and financially. After his visit there, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that there is a genuine desire on the part of all concerned to secure a solution to it. Local authorities have engaged the scientists in that part of the University of Durham which is situated in the City of Newcastle to help and advise them on some of the more important technical aspects, apart from engineering, which are involved. There is every indication that they are earnest about what they wish to do.
The first phase of the inquiry, which will end in about six months' time, will indicate the coastal areas to which sewage might economically be brought and also the most suitable areas of sea on which their investigations could be concentrated to the second phase. One of the difficulties encountered was the need to discover suitable places for the discharge of the sewage. It was discovered that it might create as big a difficulty for the County Borough of Sunderland as was being caused at present, and it is no use passing on the problem to be dealt with in every coastal opening around the shore of England about which one used to learn in the third standard at school; including the Tyne, Wear and Tees, the Humber, the Wash, and so on, until one reaches the Solway Firth. What is needed is a recognition that, owing to the high industrialisation of many parts of England, this is a national problem, in the final solution of which the Ministry will have to watch carefully to avoid one area from passing' on the problem to another.
Then there is the question of finance. I have seen the preliminary estimates of what will happen on Tyneside, and I have no reason to think that one can be sure that preliminary estimates will prove adequate to cover the final cost. Anyone associated with local government 865 knows only too well that once a scheme on such a scale as is here envisaged is embarked on—even with the most skilful advice in the world honestly given and accepted—snags are encountered during successive stages which make the final cost much greater. What was said by the hon. Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), in his interesting speech about the excess expenditure incurred in connection with Benjamin Disraeli's scheme for the drainage of London in 1858, indicates that from the very earliest stages of this sort of effort the snags which can arise have created great difficulties.
This means that the Ministry will have to give some thought to the way in which the new requirements in this Bill, added to requirements in existing legislation which have not been enforced to any great extent in the kind of areas where the expenditure will be greatest, will have to be met. The local authorities have every right, I think, to expect that at some stage in the progress of this Bill we shall be told what is the Government's attitude towards this kind of expenditure. It does not need great prescience to tell us. That was all dealt with in the local government Measure of a few years ago when we introduced the general grant. This will be taken into account in the general grant. Then people will be able to decide, when framing the municipal budget, whether they will spend money on the fire brigade, or a drainage scheme or on the provision of a few new schools. The inelastic nature of that legislation is revealed with every effort made to deal with such problems as we are considering this morning.
The report on the Tyne which I saw, the one which was considered by the Parliamentary Secretary when he visited Tyneside, indicated that the whole idea that, somehow or other, sewage and impurities go out on one tide and there is a further collection which is taken out on the next tide, is quite fallacious. In rivers such as the Tyne and other industrial waters there is a steadily accumulating mass of sewage which goes up and down the river. What was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon makes clear that before the river Tyne flows into its tidal area a large amount of impurities has been deposited in it. I have no doubt that the smaller local authorities further up 866 river consider that there is no need for them to exercise more care than has been exercised in the past by the larger authorities lower down the river.
I do not wish to be regarded as opposing the Bill. I share the general desire that our rivers shall be as pure as possible. I run my own motor boat, and I know the strict requirement of the Thames Conservancy that there shall be no outlet from the boat from which impurities, whether sewage, oil or any other matter, may be discharged into the river. I know the strictness with which those requirements are enforced. But it is no use having such a requirement to deal with the comparatively small amount of impurities which might get into a river through the discharge pipe from a small motor boat, and leave the problems now confronting riparian authorities, without giving them some national guidance, and some financial help, in dealing with those problems.
Therefore, while I congratulate the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on introducing the Bill, I think that we must all feel that this is not a matter which may be left to the unguided efforts of public-spirited private Members who promote Bills of this kind.
The only feeling of rejoicing I have is that the Bill will be so far down the list of Bills referred to the Private Members' Bills Committee that it will be reached only if the Government ask Mr. Speaker to transfer it from that Standing Committee to another which is temporaritly unemployed. I hope that the Government will take the Bill under their wing and foster it, to see that its very large appetite for finance is adequately satisfied as it goes through the later stages of its progress in the House.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) upon introducing the Bill. I was glad that he made reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who has put so much good work into it. Through the ages we have all come to accept the necessity for control over the discharge of effluent, and would all agree that there is still far too much pollution. That has been the general feeling of the debate.
867 The speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was fair comment, and was a very helpful contribution, but much of what he said went both ways. He pointed out the necessity for continuing to move in the direction of the purity of our waterways, and was extremely helpful in drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the Ministry must be made aware of the financial expenditure involved on the part of local authorities or the Government, indirectly, if the efforts being made are to meet with success.
The City of Birmingham has always had to accept its responsibilities in the matter. It has two rivers, but they cannot be used for the extensive discharge of effluent of any description, because they are so small.
§ Mr. Gurden
Birmingham is very big. The Tame and the Rea are the two rivers concerned, but they are obviously not used for salmon fishing. In those circumstances, hon. Members may wonder why the representative of a Birmingham constituency should enter into the debate with the enthusiasm which I feel. I do so largely on the grounds of health, and because I believe that the Bill is necessary for the good of the nation generally. Apart from that, it is important to fishermen. I am not a fisherman, but many hardworking people in Birmingham—and there must be others in other cities—go fishing with great gusto. They thoroughly enjoy their week's fishing. One has only to see the great number of motor coaches, buses, cars and motor cycles leaving Birmingham on Saturday and Sunday mornings to go into the fishing areas to realise how valuable it is to an industrial centre that there should be rivers nearby in which to fish.
If ever any fishing has been carried on in the Birmingham rivers, certainly none is carried on today. The rivers are not fishable. I do not believe that fish have lived in them during my lifetime. I have seen a few bedsteads and old boots, but I have never seen any fish. Nevertheless, Birmingham has its troubles in this connection. Through the ages the city councillors have done a tremendous amount of work to clean up 868 the pollution of the little waterways, but rarely can one now see any clear water in any of them. They change colour several times a day, from white to brown and other colours. There is insufficient water to wash away bedsteads or even old boots.
Although we have such little water in Birmingham we have flooding, but the city deals very effectively with it and there is little trouble now. There are very few places where industrialists are so heavily concentrated as in Birmingham, yet, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) and by the right hon. Member for South Shields, this can be dealt with effectively by a far-sighted city council. At the moment, Birmingham has provided for the expenditure of about £13 million to keep up to date with sewerage works. We should pay tribute to Joseph Chamberlain and the councillors of his day for the fact that we have such a fine sewerage system in Birmingham.
If I were considering fishermen alone I should give the Bill my full support, but my fears are the same as those which have been expressed by the right hon. Member for South Shields. We may not get very much done in the end. I hope that the Minister will go very much beyond fourteen months before the appointed day. If he does so he will have to recognise what is involved financially in carrying out the requirements of the Bill. If we are to move forward we must have the Bill. I would not be so pessimistic as to say that there is no use for it. We must move forward in this matter, and we must have clean waterways.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I also welcome the Bill, and I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) not only on schoosing this subject but on making such a deep study of the problem before introducing the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the Government's attitude to expenditure and wanted an indication of Government policy on that. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) said that this was the key to the question 869 whether action was taken under the Bill for some of the larger enterprises.
The main point referred to by the hon. Member was the value of fishing. The hon. Member for the City of Chester said that this was not an anglers' charter. He was a little modest. Admittedly it is not an anglers' charter, but it will help angling very much. I disagree with the hon. Member for Selly Oak only when he says that his constituents go fishing with great gusto. Fishermen collectively do many things in many ways, but "gusto" is not the word. His constituents and others come to my constituency and the surrounding area to fish, but not with gusto, because this is the most contemplative and peaceful of all recreations. The murder rate and the ulcer rate among anglers must be the lowest in the land, and I have never heard of an angler who regularly beat his wife. We have to recognise that anglers regard pollution as the greatest menace to this the most popular sport in the country.
What is the position about pollution in spite of all the legislation of recent years? I picked up the October issue of the quarterly magazine of the Anglers Co-operative Association which, under the heading "Progress against pollution", says:Sometimes we look at the title of this section of our review and wonder. Recently we have been studying the 1959 reports of the River Boards. Only two of them published their vital statistics and in each case they show that there is more pollution … today than there was eight years ago.That is serious. It points out that in particular there is more sewage pollution.
The review follows with a section on "Notes on Pending Cases" which gives some idea of the wide diversity of types of pollution. I will give four examples. The first is the complete destruction of fish life in the river over a distance of about two miles below Axminster as a result of a discharge of cyanide from a factory on the outskirts of the town. The second occurred in Lincolnshire. It is a complicated case and it shows the strange ways in which pollution can arise. The officer in charge of a fire brigade was misled by a representation that a tar pit contained merely water, which was pumped into the river under that impression. That is relevant to the 870 discussion about silage. The hon. Member for the City of Chester cleared up the difficulty when he pointed out that the present provisions apply only to silage pits constructed before 1951. There has been much misunderstanding about this in farming circles.
The third example given in the review is a case in which large numbers of salmon and sea trout fry in a member's hatchery were killed as the result of lime spreading on land adjoining the beck a short distance upstream from the hatchery intake. The fourth example is a case of a large number of fish being killed downstream from a paper mill.
In some of those cases the pollution was due to carelessness, and a number of examples of carelessness are given in the Lothians (River) Pollution Board Annual Report. There is one example of the sudden killing of all the fish in Moss Brook from sewage effluent when a person or persons unknown played around with the control valve. The weekly Angling Times has hardly an issue without some example of pollution.
In the Witham we recently had a fungus which suddenly appeared with the result that the fishing became very poor. This was an unusual form of pollution in that the fish were not killed but the fungus prevented the taking of fish. Perhaps the fish were able to hide under it, anyway for some reason none was caught. Nobody could understand what it was all about. Pollution is still a great problem, and we do not even know the chemical explanations as to what caused this fungus, although we do know that it did not kill the fish.
I have had a letter from the secretary of the Witham Joint Angling Committee, which has 60,000 members and which gives the fullest support for the Bill. Mr. Lusby writes:There has certainly been an improvement in the condition of local waters …We have confidence in the River Boards providing sufficient control is invested in the Boards.Anything which will ensure cleaner rivers and canals is obviously welcome … and this Bill contains much which we desire. However, there are two points which concern us greatly.First, the fact that where a polluter appeals to the Minister against the River Boards standard for his pre-1951 effluent the Minister may suspend his decision indefinitely.871 He points out that the danger is that the Minister may be under pressure by industry and other Ministries and that he may undermine the work of the river boards by withholding his decision. He goes on to say:Second the right of prosecution against a polluter under Common Law appears to be lost in this Bill.I hope that that will not be the case, but that is the view of a typical angling society.
Mr. Phillipps, the solicitor of the Lincolnshire River Board, has written to me to say that the Bill has that board's "fullest support". The Lincolnshire River Board is now engaged on a £1 million development scheme and there has been considerable improvement in recent years. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) is himself a keen angler, and from time to time he and tens of thousands of his constituents and others from Sheffield and nearby come to fish in the waters which the Lincolnshire River Board has improved in so many ways in recent years. All these important fishing organisations which are closely in touch with the matter are supporting the Bill.
The hon. Member for the City of Chester referred to the Association of Sea Fisheries Committee of England and Wales. I did not understand the point he was making when he referred to Clause 9 (4). That has to be read in conjunction with Clause 5. The Association says that it knows from experience that as a matter of policy the Minister has encouraged discharges of crude sewage into the sea by local authorities. That has been to the great detriment of the fisheries and the fishermen fear that the Ministerial disregard which has been shown for sea fishery interests might appear when industrial discharges are being considered.
In a memorandum sent to me the Association says:Therefore, although Clause 9 (4) of the Bill requires that, in dealing with applications for consent under the Bill and under the 1951 Act, River Boards shall have special regard to the interests of sea fisheries, it is obvious that any conditions attached to a consent purely for the protection of those interests could be removed by the Minister.My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) feels strongly about this, but unfortu- 872 nately he cannot be here today to argue the point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) referred to the pollution of rivers by pleasure boats, and I endorse what they said. I hope that the river boards will follow the example of the Thames Conservancy in preventing discharge from pleasure boats. Each year I spend at least one week-end afloat on the Thames and another on the fen rivers or the broads, and I am appalled to see how casual the pleasure-boat builders and hirers are towards the pollution of the waterways on which they make their living.
This is a Private Member's Bill, and although I speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box, I speak only for myself Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), I give the Bill my full support. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) believes that its good points are outweighed by its bad. My right hon. Friend the Member far South Shields stressed that everything depends on the Government's attitude to expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) thought that the good points outweighed the bad but made an important criticism in referring to the heavy costs to small local authorities, which he illustrated by pointing out that they could not even afford to get ahead with their housing programme, because they could not afford the sewerage works.
I hope that the Minister will help us on some of the points which we do not understand and that in the later stages the hon. Member for City of Chester will work to improve the Bill. I give it my full support. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading and will be improved in Committee.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
This has been an excellent and constructive debate and I make no apology to the House if I take a little time in commenting on what the Bill contains and does not contain, and on what hon. Members have said about it.
873 First, and categorically, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) and the House that the Bill has the complete support of the Government, and I hope that it will have the complete support of the House. The Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee, under Sir Frederick Armer, did a splendid job in reviewing the existing law on sewage and trade effluent. Since its Report was published, only just over a year ago, hardly anything but praise has been forthcoming for the Sub-Committee's efforts and conclusions, and, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to whom the Sub-Committee reported, I pay tribute to Sir Frederick Armer and his colleagues for all the work which they did.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) asked, if the Report were all that good, why the Government had left it to a private Member to deal with it. That is a very fair question. I must point out, first, that the Armer Committee also covered the question of the law relating to discharges of trade effluents into local authorities' sewers, and its recommendations on that part of the law have already been incorporated in a Government Measure, the Public Health Bill, which has been through all its stages in another place and is awaiting the consideration of this House. Had there been time in this Session the Government would no doubt have considered putting the rest of the Armer recommendations, or those which they wished to accept, into a Government Bill, but as my hon. Friend was lucky enough to have the chance to present a Bill and wise enough to choose this subject, it seemed to the Government that the purpose would be adequately fulfilled.
The Bill is of interest to all. It commands the support of a distinguished list of supporters and it is particularly lucky in having my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester as its sponsor. A number of hon. Gentlemen have joined in congratulating him and have paid tribute to the qualities which he has brought to this important Measure. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that it was a major Measure for a private Member, and I agree. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester is not only experienced and knowledgeable in these 874 matters, but is thorough, conscientious, courteous and diligent, and he has brought all those qualities to bear. He has told us something of his consultations, and we all recognise the labour which lies behind his presentation of the Bill. I congratulate him warmly on what he has achieved.
There is some urgency in this Measure, and not only because the subject is itself important—and we all listened this afternoon with fascination to the glimpses of history produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), who told us of a purer past and was generous enough to offer a prize for someone who one day catches a salmon in the Thames. May I tell him and other hon. Members that the Pippard Committee is drawing to the end of its labours and that my right hon. Friend hopes to have its report on Thames tidal water pollution this year.
But the subject is also important because in this coming autumn the situation under the existing law will change if there is no legislation in the meanwhile. Under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, there is power to prosecute anyone who is responsible for a polluting discharge, but if it is by way of a sewer or trade effluent then my right hon. Friend's permission is needed before proceedings can be taken. That was always intended to be a temporary restriction. Under the Act it was for seven years, with power, should the Minister ask for it, to extend that period by Order in Council. Since the end of the seven-year period it has been extended for another three years on the recommendation of the Armer Committee in its interim Report.
My right hon. Friend is clear that it could not reasonably be extended again. The Sub-Committee very carefully considered the case for extension in its first Report and heard evidence both for and against. After weighing all the factors it concluded that a little extra time was needed, chiefly so that industry could pursue its research on effluent treatment and that the river boards could push ahead with the preparation of byelaws; and another three years were given. But my right hon. Friend is clear that there can be no further extension.
In its final Report the Armer Committee concluded definitely that there is no future in the system of control by way 875 of byelaws and recommended an entirely different system. The three years' extension is nearly over. It lapses in August. We cannot continue indefinitely a restraint which Parliament meant to be temporary, and we can see no ground for continuing it beyond next August, when it is due to expire. With the expiry of this need for my right hon. Friend's permission for the launching of a prosecution, there necessarily expire most of the methods of the control of existing effluents envisaged in the 1951 Act—a power of prosecution linked with a system of byelaws defining what should be prosecuted, and control by my right hon. Friend until the byelaws were working.
The House knows that it has not proved practicable to formulate byelaws defining prosecutable pollutions. What would be left, therefore, is a power to prosecute for polluting, without anything by way of byelaws to define what pollution is, or by way of ministerial consent to a prosecution to govern the circumstances in which the prosecuting powers should be exercised. As the Armer Committee concluded in its final Report that that would be quite unacceptable—and I am sure the House agrees—we must have a new system for dealing with existing effluents, and we have to provide it fairly quickly—hence the urgency of the Bill.
In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend has explained it in some detail, although I congratulate him on the brevity with which he managed to give the House so much information. I therefore propose not to go through it in detail, but to comment on some of the major factors which have been brought out in debate, and, in particular, to explain why the Government support some of the omissions which hon. Members may have observed from reading the Bill.
First, it will be for my right hon. Friend to give the word "Go." He has to fix the appointed day by which applications must be in. Except that it must be at least fourteen months after the Bill becomes law, I should not like to be too positive about the date, although we shall bear in mind the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden). We have first to draft the 876 regulations setting out what information the applicants must give, and that may take a little time. Some consultations will necessarily be needed, but we will get the regulations ready as quickly as we can.
The Bill generally follows the recommendations of the Armer Committee very closely. Those recommendations have, in general, been accepted as reasonable. After the publication of the Report, my right hon. Friend invited comments from the many organisations involved. He has considered them. Therefore, the Government are in a position, and have been in a position, to measure the reaction to the proposals and, therefore, to the Bill.
There is a general measure of agreement that, given reasonable administration by the river boards, the new powers recommended are reasonable. The purification of existing effluent—sewage and trade—is an immense task and all hon. Members who have supported the Bill—I welcome the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas)—have recognised that it is an immense task. It will take time, and river boards, in giving their consents and framing their conditions, will have to consider what an applicant can reasonably be expected to do in a certain time. The Minister is there as the appellate authority to hear complaints against unreasonable conditions.
The point I want to make to the House, and through the House to all concerned, is that my right hon. Friend should not need to hear great numbers of appeals if river boards act reasonably. There is power in the Bill to vary conditions later, which means that river boards can proceed gradually. They can, for instance, allow some discharges to continue for the moment unchanged so that they can concentrate on other discharges. They can impose temporary conditions and revise them later so as not to try to reach perfection all at once. It would be possible for them to have a sort of standfast on part of the front so as to concentrate and focus their first advances on another series of discharges. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester put the matter most cogently when he called the job of the river boards in securing the cleaning up of the rivers, "An exercise in gradualness." That is the 877 way in which my right hon. Friend hopes that they will see their task.
Indeed, it would be most unfortunate if the Minister were overwhelmed with unnecessary appeals. It would mean that the very operation of the new powers would be held up, because the Bill provides that the existing effluent can continue while the application is before the river board or is awaiting an appeal before the Minister. We do not want to give polluting effluent indefinite reprieve by imposing requirements which provoke more appeals than can be dealt with in any reasonable time. We want practical, sensible improvements, regularly reviewed and extended, and we look to the river boards to proceed in that way. They have not an easy task. But they have had experience since the 1951 Act was passed, and we have no doubt—nor have they—that they are ready for this new addition to their responsibilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) was worried in case technical staff are diverted from other essential work by the duties imposed upon them by the Bill. River boards will probably have to seek more staff. The House will see that that is taken into account in paragraph 12 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. However, during the initial stages of bringing the Bill into force it is undoubtedly true that this whole campaign will form a large extra burden on the administration of river boards. Once the first review of all existing discharges is over, the load will be spread out as river boards periodically and regularly review existing discharges and continue to deal with new ones.
It may interest the House to know that during the ten years since the 1951 Act was passed there have been only 34 appeals to the Minister against conditions attached to new discharges. New discharges are only a small fraction of existing discharges, but the figure affords some testimony—it is a fair testimony—of the moderation with which river boards have used their powers.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
When my hon. Friend says "new discharges", does he mean new and altered discharges? That is very important.
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend is quite right to correct me. I should have said "new and altered discharges".
It would be surprising if all the recommendations of the Armer Report satisfied everybody. They do not. There are complaints. We know that local authorities are not entirely happy about their position under the Bill. It is not for one moment that they want to escape the new obligations the Bill creates, but rather that they claim that they have specific statutory duties and a special relationship with the Minister that the Report and the Bill do not altogether recognise. We shall certainly hear more of this as the Bill proceeds.
The practical issue may well turn out to be the exact advice given to river boards by my right hon. Friend when he sends out a circular, if and when the Bill becomes law, as I am sure it will, rather than any particular change in the Bill. We know that local authorities are not entirely happy about their position under the Bill, and we have some sympathy with them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) said, it is not their fault that many of them will have a large and costly task in bringing their sewage effluents up to an accepted standard.
There have been war years in which no new construction was possible. There has been restriction on capital investment in some post-war years. There have been large movements and increases in industry and population. It is fair to say that many local authorities have been straining to do more than they have, in fact, been able to do. It is also fair to say that there have been a few local authorities which have perhaps neglected opportunities they have had.
Commitments—I am speaking in this case of statutory commitments which cannot be sidestepped—have increased faster than it has in many cases been possible to deal with them in an adequate way. As a result, some local authorities are anxious lest river boards should not recognise their difficulties and the need to proceed by reasonable stages.
Local authorities can be assured that my right hon. Friend recognises the need to proceed by reasonable stages, and so did the Armer Committee. Paragraph 92 of the Armor Report says:It will not always be practicable for … consents … to be in such terms as to produce 879 the ultimate possible improvement … Some consents will therefore have to be far less restrictive at first"—I emphasise the words "far less restrictive at first"—than the river board will ultimately want or could justify.To meet this, Clause 1 (4), as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester explained, provides that river boards may impose temporary or suspended conditions where a works has to be built to meet the condition. That condition will be so framed by the river board as to come into effect only after a reasonable period for construction of the works.
Clause 5 provides for the periodical review of conditions attached to consents. We hope that it will reassure local authorities confronted with some of the more gigantic tasks of improvement that the Armer Committee and my right hon. Friend, who is after all the appellate authority, have seen their difficulties, and we have no doubt that the river boards will, too.
I hope that this will show that the Government agree with the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich that the local authorities also are eager for clean rivers, and this should be recognised. I hope that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) who, in an earlier intervention, told the House something of the worry of another local authority, namely, the local authority in the city he represents, will be reassured by what I have said and also by remembering that my right hon. Friend stands on appeal to review the conditions imposed by any river board on any particular application to make a discharge. My right hon. Friend is there to weigh up the conditions imposed, or sought to be imposed, by the river board against all the other factors. One of the biggest factors will obviously be finance.
My right hon. Friend, naturally, intends to take into account the financial position of the local authority and, in particular, the question of his own sanction of any loan that local authorities seek to raise, before approving conditions that might themselves only be practicable after the execution of works that depended on the 880 raising of that money. I very much hope that that statement will give some comfort to local authorities.
The speeches of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) and of his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields showed just how complex and interrelated these matters are. That is yet another reason why the Bill imposes a very heavy task of judgment on river boards, but I feel that it is a task that their ten years of experience under the 1951 Act qualifies them to fulfil.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was particularly happy in his choice the of words "appetite for money", when he described this Bill. He is, of course, absolutely right—as was my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak—in stressing that point, but the House may like to know what has happened in the last four years in regard to local authority expenditure on these scheme. They spent £28 million on sewerage schemes in 1957–58. That expenditure went up by £5 million in the next year, and in 1959–60 it had risen to £40 million. We expect that local authority expenditure on sewerage schemes this year will be at least £42 million. That is a 50 per cent. increase during a period of, on the whole, stable prices, in four years.
I must tell the hon. Member for Blaydon—and I am sure that he must have expected this answer—that rate deficiency grant exists just to help the poorer authority in dealing with what are necessarily expensive schemes. He does not need me to tell him that his area receives a rate deficiency grant of about 50 per cent. As for the impressive and important scheme on the Tyne to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he, again, will not need me to remind him that this vital though costly task will be shared between a number of local authorities. I am sure that they will not delay what needs to be done, once they have had it defined by their experts, because it will impose some expense. It will certainly improve life in the area.
The House may ask whether the other great class of dischargers are happy about the Bill. I am glad to say that as far as my right hon. Friend is aware industry as a whole seems to accept its social 881 obligations in this matter—and let the House make no mistake about it; these social obligations, particularly as enforced by this Bill, will cost industry a considerable sum of money over the years. I would like to pay tribute to the way in which substantial parts of industry are already doing as much as they possibly can to purify the discharges they have to make.
There may be some doubts in hon. Members minds about the extent of the new control. Does it cover, besides industrial and local authority effluents, the discharge from a single cottage or group of cottages, or a farm? I should explain that if the discharge is to a stream, which includes any watercourse or inland water, natural or artificial, I am advised that Clause 1 applies. An individual householder with a septic tank discharging to a stream will, therefore, come under the Bill, but the House should remember that even as the law stands at present these discharges can be the subject of prosecution under the principal Act as polluting discharges—and without the Minister's consent, which is required only for municipal and industrial effluents.
It is most likely that people in this position will prefer to secure themselves against proceedings by making what, in this case, will be a short and simple application to the river board. My right hon. Friend would expect river boards to warn those concerned, and would advise a very simple application form for them to use. It will certainly be extremely rarely that a river board will want to interfere with a comparatively small domestic effluent.
The boards' first concern will be with big discharges. Unless a domestic effluent is causing serious pollution—in which case it is only right that restrictions should be imposed—it is most unlikely that it will be interfered with. Persons responsible for these domestic discharges will, of course, have the same right as traders and local authorities of appeal to the Minister against the river board.
It will not have escaped notice that the Bill does not mention the question of common law rights; the rights of the riparian owner to receive a flow of water without "sensible alteration"—to use Lord MacNaghton's phrase—in quality 882 or character, and to apply to the courts for damages or an injunction, or both, where that right is invaded. This is a very controversial and delicate subject. Basically, it is a matter of whether it is right or wrong to have two systems for determining what can be discharged into a river—statute or common law.
The Armer Committee received conflicting evidence and was itself not unanimous on this point. The majority found no evidence that the courts were unreasonable, or that common law rights were unduly onerous in that they had led, for example, to the closing down of industries, or were a substantial factor in raising industrial costs. In the circumstances, those comprising the majority saw no reason why common law should not continue unchanged side by side with Statute law. Each is concerned with a different aspect of the question; the statutes with the wholesomeness of rivers, and common law, with riparian rights. The Armer Committee saw no reason for interfering with those rights.
The minority Report, of two members, took the view that the common law, by making impossible demands on dischargers, had failed to adapt itself to new conditions, and that the right to an injunction should be limited to those cases where the effluent fell below the conditions imposed by the river board.
I am sure that the House will agree that nobody can blame my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester for following the majority opinion of the Armer Committee, and leaving the question alone.
Finally, there is the question of tidal waters and estuaries. It has been a consistent feature—and here, I particularly address the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey)—of river legislation that we start with non-tidal waters, the narrower, and generally more vulnerable stretches of rivers, and deal with the tidal areas later. Both the Acts of 1876 and that of 1951 applied directly to tidal waters only where the Minister made an order to that effect.
The position will be exactly the same under the Bill. The new control will apply to these tidal waters—they are 883 very few in number, and Kingston upon Hull is not on one of them—to which the Minister has extended by order under Section 6 of the 1951 Act the River Boards jurisdiction over existing effluents or to which he may extend it in future. That is the effect of the present rather lengthy Clause 9.
I suggest that this limitation is clearly right. It is true that the river boards' control over new effluents was extended to tidal waters by the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act of 1960, but new effluents are things that river boards, with their ten years or so of experience, can take in their stride. They have been giving consents for them since 1951 and are accustomed to the work, but the control over pre-1951 effluents envisaged in the Bill is a different and larger matter. That is why I suggest that it is only common sense, as my hon. Friend has done in this Bill, to follow precedent and start with non-tidal waters.
I make no apology to the House for having spoken at some length about what is not in the Bill, because it seemed to me that there were certain omissions that called for comment. But the contents of the Bill are more important than the omissions. They are a fresh attempt to come to grips with a problem for which Parliament began to legislate in 1876 but which still lacks effective procedure, and about which there is increasing public concern. It would be quite unfair to all concerned to maintain that there had been no improvement since the last Act was passed in 1951.
That Act provided effective control over new effluents. That has, at least, enabled us to hold the position. Moreover, much has been done in the last ten years to improve existing effluents. As I have explained, there has been an increasing expenditure by local authorities, and industry has also spent much on research and improvement.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde stressed the importance of research and, of course, the Government agree with him. Research on pollution prevention is carried on by the Government, under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, by their Water Pollution Research Laboratory at Stevenage. Several industrial associations also carry on privately-financed research at con- 884 siderable or even great expense. The D.S.I.R. has had notable successes recently with recommendations for improving the treatment of effluents from sugar and milk processing and of wastes from plating and other processes which release toxic metals.
No one under-estimates the need for further research, but, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, existing knowledge will already permit of very great progress. We are not, at this stage, over the broad field, held up for lack of knowledge about what to do, although there are specific instances—and the case that he quoted in his own constituency may be one of them—where the frontiers of knowledge need to move, or the discharge needs to move—not that I suggest that is practical—before any improvement can be made to the particular area.
We hope and believe that this research work will continue at an even more intensive rate, but it is important to get the law as effective as possible and it has not yet reached this state. The Bill provides an expert and practical way of controlling, improving and finally removing the sources of river pollution. The whole community has an interest in cleaning up our rivers. All who live in the neighbourhood of rivers, all who delight in them, who swim in them or would like to swim in them, who fish in them or would like to fish in them, and those who sail boats on them must, between them and their families, cover a large part of the population.
The Bill when it becomes law, as I am sure it will, can start a sustained programme of improvement. Of course, it must take account of what a fully-employed and fully-extended economy makes practical. Finance is vital. I have shown that expenditure is on a rising scale. Local authorities have in the last four years raised their expenditure on sewerage works by no less than 50 per cent. to the large sum this year of £42 million. But the task is so large that the campaign against pollution must be determined and systematic though gradual. This whole Bill, I hope, will introduce the exercise of gradualism to which my hon. Friend refers. I think that he will agree that the contributions made so far in the debate have been most constructive and helpful.
I hope that merely because I have risen to speak now, hon. Members will 885 not feel discouraged from making their own contributions to the debate, but I thought that the House would wish to know the Government's attitude after the welcome given to the Bill by the hon. Member for Lincoln.
The job of cleaning up rivers cannot be completed overnight, but we hope as a result of the Measure to see steady progress towards the ultimate goal of clean rivers, and in that belief I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
After the spate of information that we have had from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, there is very little that I now want to say.
I should like to say a few words about river boards which deal with large country areas containing a number of rivers. My hon. Friend mentioned the administrative difficulty that they might have in dealing with this Bill when it becomes law. I suggest that we are underestimating the administrative difficulty when we consider what we have in the last eighteen months been suggesting or making law concerning river boards. We have the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960. We now have the Land Drainage Bill, whereby river boards will have to collect dues, and, perhaps, special drainage charges, from farmers on whatever acreage they may farm.
It is proposed in this Bill that every person wishing to discharge effluent into a river under the jurisdiction of a river board shall have to apply to the river board for consent. If under the Land Drainage Bill, as I hope will happen, more and more main river is taken over by the river boards, I suggest that the number of applications in the area of a river board such as the Devon River Board will be legion. I am wondering whether, without a greater increase in staff than is envisaged, the boards will be able to cope with the situation.
I should also like to mention the question of farm effluent. It is unlikely that the ordinary farm effluent, when discharged into a main river, will cause any nuisance. In fact, there will probably be bigger fish at the point where the effluent goes into the main river than in any other part of the river. But 886 eventually, I presume, as more main river is taken over, smaller stretches of water in the tributaries will be taken over, and then when three or four farms discharge at the same point there may be a danger.
I should be interested if I could be told something about Clause 10 (2) of the Bill by which I understand a farmer—I am talking specifically of farmers at the moment—and a river board can decide at what point the effluent shall be sampled. I should also like to know how it is proposed that all farmers shall be made aware that they have to make application to discharge effluent. I appreciate that under Clause 1 (5) a river board can tell people if they do not apply, but I hope that some method will be found of giving persons this information. I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said about the estuary interests. I know that unless an order is made under the Bill, this provision will not apply to them.
As I have said, most of the things that I had intended to talk about have already been discussed at great length. I would only say that I think this is a good Bill, but I am afraid that we shall have to increase the size of river boards considerably if we are to cope with the situation. I repeat that the more power we give to river boards the more essential it is that the constitution of the river boards shall be altered in order that membership shall come from all interested parties, particularly in areas such as the one in which I live, where at the moment this matter is in the hands of people who are perhaps more interested in angling than in the urban and estuary interests.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
We have had a full debate and I should like to say a few words on behalf of the promoters of the Bill before the House gives it a Second Reading.
We have had speeches from hon. Members representing constituencies in many different parts of the country and also representing many of the diverse interests involved. I think it is true to say that all of them have given the Bill a welcome. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be associated with my hon. Friend the Member for the City of 887 Chester (Mr. Temple) in bringing this Bill Forward. It is customary on these occasions to congratulate the hon. Member who has won a place in the Ballot. On this occasion, I feel we should congratulate the general public on the fact that my hon. Friend has introduced this Bill at this stage.
May I deal first of all briefly with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne)? The subsection to which he referred deals with the question of sampling only. The point that he raises is somewhat technical, and my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester tells me that he will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington on this point before the Committee stage starts.
I am the only Member now present who took part in the Second Reading debate on the 1951 Bill, and also I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered it. As hon. Members have recalled, the 1951 Bill was introduced by the late Aneurin Bevan. If I may be forgiven a personal recollection, I remember several conversations I had with Mr. Bevan in this connection, and I was very much struck by the strength of his own feeling with regard to the subject matter of that Bill and of the one now before us. If I may say so, his clear and obvious delight in the tranquillity of streams was in remarkable contrast to his taste for turbulence in politics.
Although this Bill is designed to amend the 1951 Act, it does not do so in any spirit of destruction. On the contrary, my hon. Friend and those who support him seek to improve and extend the provisions of the 1951 Act in the light of ten years' experience. What we all have in mind is to maintain the full spirit and methods of that Act, the good sense, the fairness to individuals concerned, and the need, which my hon. Friend emphasised, for gradualness, the transcedent need in this connection.
As the Parliamentary Secretary told us, the Bill is necessary now. Section 2 of the 1951 Act made it an offence subject to very severe punishments—imprisonment in the case of second offences—for a person to cause or to permit to enter a streamany poisonous, noxious or polluting matter.888 As there was no definition of those words, it is to be assumed that practically any foul matter put into a stream would be the subject matter of an offence punishable under the Act. The Act gave a seven-year period of grace during which no prosecution could be brought without the consent of the Minister. It gave power to extend the period by affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament—it is important to emphasise that the consent of both Houses of Parliament was required before an extension could be made—the purpose of the period of grace being to give time to the river boards to make by-laws laying down standards.
In fact, few, if any, standards were ever laid down and no byelaws have been made. That part of the 1951 Act has proved impracticable. All of us who took part in the proceedings on the 1951 Act regarded this as something of an experiment. It is an experiment which has not succeeded, and my hon. Friend now makes further suggestions as to how the experiment can be made to work in future.
The current period of extension ends at the end of July. I think all hon. Members will accept what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, that, obviously, the Government cannot go on extending indefinitely what was intended to be a purely temporary measure, particularly when it is clear that the purpose of the extension is no longer real because byelaws cannot be made.
If there is no further extension, prosecutions can take place without the Minister's approval, and it would rest with those discharging any foul matter into a river to prove that they were taking all reasonable and practical steps to avoid pollution. It is fairly clear that that would not be a very easy defence to establish. It certainly might be a very expensive one. Therefore, if the Bill were not passed, a great many people would be in danger of very severe penalties.
It is worth pointing out also that, under the existing law, that is, the 1951 Act, anyone is liable to be prosecuted until the end of July next, subject to the Minister's consent, it is true, but after the end of July without any consent at all. Under the Bill, it will not be possible for any prosecution for an offence to take 889 place without the individual concerned having had a right of appeal to the Minister. This right will be given under the Bill indefinitely and for all time. This is a very great help to the subject who feels that he may be in danger of unfair treatment as a result of his doing what he and his forebears have done for years and possibly centuries past.
A word now about the machinery of the Bill. It is necessarily made as simple in method as it can be. It must be gradual in operation, and it must be careful in enforcement. After all, practically every productive process, not to mention the process of living, involves the discharge of something objectionable and, by the mere operation of gravity, the material discharged will find its way into streams and rivers. Everything we do will, or may, involve pollution unless action is taken to prevent it.
We cannot risk bringing to a halt the industry of the country. We cannot risk throwing too heavy a financial burden on our industry or on local authorities and others responsible for our sewage disposal. A good many hon. Members have referred to this aspect, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in particular. Clearly, whatever is done under this or any other Bill must have regard to what will be possible financially and in other ways for those who will have to do the necessary work.
The consents procedure is designed to have regard to just that consideration. It has been referred to as the "consents" procedure, but I would rather call it the "applications" procedure, because anyone who is making a discharge can cover himself by putting in an application to the river board within fourteen months of the time when the Bill becomes law or such longer period as may be prescribed by the Minister. Once he has put in that application, he cannot be prosecuted for any offence at all until it has been disposed of, so he is to that extent saved by the application, without any further action.
I should, perhaps, say that the provisions to which I have referred do not affect private offences which may be caused by any pollution. The Bill does 890 not affect the private relationship of individuals at common law. It does not affect common law rights. The 1951 Act did not deal with common law rights. The original Bill in 1951 did so, but it was plain that the House would not accept any amendment of those rights. I believe that that is still the position, so that they remain quite unaffected by the Bill.
When the applications are in, the river board will have to consider them as a whole. Unless there are very special peculiar circumstances, a river board will always deal with the largest and worst cases first. That is the only practicable way of dealing with the problem.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
Is there a limit on the time that the river boards may consider the problem, because this could go on for ever?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The way the Bill is drafted there is no time limit on the river board. If it does not deal with an application, the application remains valid indefinitely and the applicant is protected. That is the machinery contemplated. The river board will start to deal with cases at once. It will deal with the serious cases, because it would be obviously ridiculous and probably impossible to deal with the minor type of case such as that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). It will deal with the serious polluters first and then, as the condition of the river is improved, it will deal with the other and more numerous cases.
The trouble has always been that the individual polluter can say, "What I am doing is trifling and it does not matter because the river is already so polluted". We therefore have to start somewhere. The purpose of the Bill is to bring all the applications together and then to give the river boards the opportunity to start at the right place and gradually to bring about a cleaner river.
If the conditions which a river board lays down before giving its consent to a discharger are harsh, then the discharger has the right of appeal to the Minister. It has been suggested by a number of hon. Members that the river boards may impose excessively harsh conditions on local authorities. It is worth mentioning that the large majority of members of river boards is composed of members of 891 local authorities, and therefore we must assume that, on the whole, they will not start off disposed to be hard on local authorities. Indeed, that has been the experience of the working of the machinery, so far as it is applicable, under the 1951 Act, but if there is anything which is at all unfair there is the right of appeal to the Minister who will deal with the matter.
I have only two comments to make on this procedure. First, it is a procedure which has been tried in the case of new and altered discharges since 1951, and it has worked smoothly and well. There is no reason to suppose that it will not work equally well in the case of the old discharges dealt with by the Bill.
Secondly, the ultimate control is put fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Minister. I think that that is right. There is an inevitable conflict of interest on the question of water pollution. On the one hand, there are those who have to dispose of effluent—industrialists, local authorities and others. On the other hand, there are those who want clean water. They may be domestic or industrial consumers. There are those concerned with amenities and those concerned about angling and various other interests. As individuals, most of us are concerned with both sides of this problem, but, as a nation, a balance has to be struck between these conflicting interests. It is a balance between cost on the one hand and the advantages to be gained on the other. That is a political and not a judicial question. It is therefore right that the ultimate power and control should rest on the Minister. That is the way in which the Bill is drawn. It is right and it has been found acceptable to the House.
The Bill takes an important step forward in a field in which I think most hon. Members take an interest. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester on introducing the Bill, and I hope that the House will give it a unanimous Second Reading.
§ 2.46 p.m.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
I begin by apologising to the promoters of the Bill because, for private reasons, it has not been possible for me to be present during the whole of the debate. I assure them that I shall speak for not more than ten minutes, or thereabouts.
892 In general, I believe that this is a good Bill and that it is necessary. I must confess that I take an interest in it, because I well recall that, when the 1951 Measure was passed, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed very serious concern as to whether it would do what was necessary. I suppose that we can truthfully say that it was one of those few occasions on which we have been proved correct politically, because I do not think that the 1951 Act has helped the main problem which we have to face concerning pollution.
I live in Gloucestershire. We have a real problem of pollution just outside Gloucester. I have not had the opportunity of seeing the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) to inform him that I proposed to mention this matter. The cause of the trouble is not in his constituency. It is fair to say that. The Minister will be aware of the harm done to the salmon netting industry. This was a case of pure netting outside Gloucester. This very prosperous local industry has been going on for a great number of years. Recently, owing to pollution by local authorities—I think that it is perfectly fair to say that; at any rate, the pollution has not been stopped—the great salmon netting industry outside Gloucester has suffered very grievous harm.
I mentioned this matter during our discussions on the 1951 Bill. At that time, I doubted whether the Bill, as drawn, would have the desired effect in assisting this prosperous industry in which a great number of people earn their living by netting salmon. We have all heard about the Tay salmon, but in the old days there was nothing better than a Severn salmon, caught just outside Gloucester, which one could buy in Gloucester Market.
Major Hicks Beach
My hon. Friend says, if one were rich enough. I think that I am right in saying that in those days the price was much less than half the price today. One of the reasons why the salmon was so much cheaper in those days was that there was this successful industry in which salmon were netted for industry and for home consumption. It 893 is not an industry to be laughed at, because it is highly successful, and, whether one is a salmon fisher or not, it brought a very pleasant fish to the table of people who could not afford it at its present price.
There is another aspect of the Bill to which I think the promoters should give serious consideration. I refer to the question of industry, to which reference has been made, I understand, by some of my hon. Friends before I was able to be present. The problem is not quite as easy as simply telling industry to stop polluting and imposing a fixed date fourteen months ahead. I have grave doubts whether——
§ Sir K. Joseph
I should not like what my hon. and gallant Friend says to go out in discouragement. It is the application that must be made by a certain date. It is a minimum of fourteen months.
Major Hicks Beach
I am obliged. There is a fixed date.
I put it forward for consideration by the promoters of the Bill whether that date should be extended. Let us face the fact that there is a great deal of pollution by commerce and industry, which provide a great deal of employment and have considerable economic success in the welfare of the country. There should be rather longer escape provisions so that more time could be given in proper cases. I simply put forward the point for consideration whether there cannot be rather easier machinery, so that in legitimate cases further time will be given before the full impact of the Bill is felt.
§ Mr. Temple
Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that industry or any other dischargers of trade or sewage effluence will only have to put in an application for consent before the appointed day? They will not be expected to comply with that consent until they receive the consent, and it will be subject to appeal. Even the first consent is not meant to be the ultimate consent. In that way, the Bill will seek to make pollution prevention a progressive measure.
Major Hicks Beach
I am obliged. My hon. Friend has to some extent put my anxiety at rest.
894 I hope it is not thought that I am not in favour of the Bill. I am merely giving a measure of warning to the promoters. All sorts of interests have to be considered. I hope that these points will be considered and that the promoters of the Bill will satisfy themselves that they have safeguarded the interests of all who may be interested. The more that we can do to stop pollution, the better, provided that it is done with reasonable fairness to all people, including local authorities.
I conclude with my one criticism of the Bill. The last paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum refers to its financial effect. I am old-fashioned enough not to like any Measure which states clearly in its Memorandum that there is no idea of its cost. We have to think of the ratepayer and the taxpayer. I hope that before we come to Third Reading, as, I hope, we shall, the promoters, with the proper assistance of the Government, will work out an idea of the cost. I am a keen supporter of Private Members' Bills. Even these Bills should have the cost to the taxpaper worked out. Eventually, the whole cost of the Bill will fall upon the taxpayer. It is not for me to say what the cost will be. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can give any idea of the cost.
§ Mr. Temple
It is impossible to give any reliable estimate. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has drawn attention to the recent White Paper, Command 1203, "Public Investment in Great Britain", which states that in 1960–61 expenditure by local authorities on sewerage will be about £44 million and, in 1961–62, £49 million. The Association of Municipal Corporations has estimated for local authorities that over a long period, approximately £300 million will be involved.
§ Sir K. Joseph
What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right about the broad campaign against pollution over the years. The Bill, however, involves extra expenditure only by way of recruiting extra staff for the river boards. That is all that the Bill does. While I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) would not expect us to know exactly how many extra staff must be recruited, this expenditure will be limited to the 895 salaries and overheads of the extra staff and the effect of that on rate-deficiency grant and the Scottish equivalent.
Major Hicks Beach
My hon. Friend has at least given some satisfaction and removed some of my anxiety about the cost. I am all in favour of the Bill, provided that we can afford it and the cost will be looked after.
I thoroughly welcome the principle of the Bill. I wish it every possible success. I am sure that it will have a Second Reading today. Let me, however, once again urge the promoters to remember the taxpayer and the ratepayer, because they are the people upon whom ultimately the expense will fall.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).