§ In the exercise of their functions under this Act and the Act of 1949 it shall be the duty of the Commission, the Forestry Commission 1135 and local authorities to have due regard to the protection against pollution of any water, whether on the surface or underground, which belongs to statutory water undertakers or which statutory water undertakers are for the time being authorised to take.—[Mrs. White.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mrs. White
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
This again is consequent upon an undertaking given in Committee to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). He expressed some apprehension about the possibility of increasing the danger of pollution of water because the general purposes of the Bill are to increase the use of the countryside and consequently the number of persons who might come into areas where this danger could exist. I said at the time that the Government were sympathetic to the purposes of the new Clause, which he withdrew. We have, therefore, carried out our undertaking by laying a positive duty upon…the Commission, the Forestry Commission and local authorities to have due regard to the protection against pollution of any water, whether on the surface or underground, which belongs to statutory water undertakers or which statutory water undertakers are for the time being authorised to take.I believe that the new Clause will be welcome to the British Waterworks Association, whose anxieties led to the earlier attempt to deal with the matter in Committee.
I do not need to elaborate upon this. We have drawn the attention of hon. Members who were on the Committee to the fact that there are powers in existence for the prevention of pollution which are exercisable by river authorities; and statutory water undertakers also have powers to make byelaws for the protection of their sources against pollution. Under the Bill we are proposing a more extended and intensive use of the countryside and we are concerned that the Commission, the Forestry Commission and local authorities should clearly understand that this is one of the objects to which they must pay regard in any of their undertakings.
§ Mr. Channon
I am grateful to the Minister of State for putting down the new Clause, which substantially meets the point I raised on Committee. I have 1136 only one slight worry about it. I must point out to the House that the new Clause only appeared on Friday. I do not think there will be any points for me to pursue at a later stage, but I would not like to give an absolute guarantee about that as I have not had time to consider the wording.
The statutory water undertakings have not had full time to consider the implications of the Clause, although it is 99 per cent. certain that they are happy. Subject to that word of warning, I very much welcome the new Clause. It is absolutely vital that nothing in the Countryside Bill should detract from the importance of preventing the pollution of water. I am grateful to the Minister of State for having moved the new Clause.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said, the Clause went down only on Friday and, although I support it, I must warn the Minister of State that I am not entirely satisfied that some activities of the Forestry Commission on peat soils will not, in the opinion of most river boards, be regarded as activities which pollute rivers. I refer to the undesirable habit of the Forestry Commission of planting on peat lands by deep ploughing. In areas of very deep peat this is a growing practice where it is intended to grow citrus fruits very quickly. The practice is to plough out a furrow anything up to 2 ft. deep by 18 in. across the top. Whenever there is a heavy spate the effect is to expose large areas of raw peat to sudden rainfall, and what were moderately peaty rivers become extremely sour peaty rivers.
The Minister of State may have been the interesting statistics on the effect of peat on fisheries published by a research station in Northern Ireland. The statistics show that peat has a most depressing effect on fisheries. If the peat content of a river suddenly rises to any great degree, the fish cease to have any sporting value. They go to the bottom of the river and are quite miserable for three or four days. I am encouraged that, as a result of the new Clause, it may be possible to curb some of the destructive activities of the Forestry Commission.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I welcome the Clause, but the Minister must 1137 watch this matter very carefully. It lays the Commission open to the problem of the pollution of rivers by the red soil that we have in the South-West. If this is the sort of pollution for which the Commission, the Forestry Commission and others can be prosecuted, it will lay them open to considerable trouble. With the modern drainage systems, our rivers, particularly in the South-West where we have red soil, are being polluted and discoloured at an alarming rate. Of course, I agree that the normal sort of pollution ought to be stopped. The people interested in fishing and such other activities might tackle the Commission and the Forestry Commission on this point. It may sound a minor point and a rather stupid one, but I can assure the House that with our red soil the rivers are polluted to an alarming degree. I hope the Minister is aware of this danger.
§ Mrs. White
The two points just made illustrate some of the matters which will have to be borne in mind. We are concerned only with pollution that might arise from activities of the bodies referred to in the new Clause, and with no other type of pollution. Pollution is normally something which endangers health. I am not sure whether the happiness of fish is within the legal definition of pollution, but the fact that attention has been drawn to the matter will be noticed by the Forestry Commission.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.