§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As the House knows, this Bill had its origins in the previous Parliament. It is recognisably based on the measure presented by the late Government in another place, and I hope that in its revised form it will command all-party support in this House and be able to make rapid progress.
It gives me particular pleasure to introduce it today because four years ago I was heavily involved in what were essentially the first steps towards the creation of a systematic anti-pollution policy in this country: the establishment of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the formation of the Department of the Environment's Central Unit on Environmental Pollution, and the publication of the White Paper on the Protection of the Environment—Cmnd. 4373.
Much of the material in the White Paper has been thoroughly worked over and debated on many occasions in this House, and has now borne fruit in this Bill.
I do not look back to the White Paper in any spirit of party controversy, but rather to illustrate the continuity of policy in this important area. One can reasonably claim that the Conservative Government did little more than consolidate the policy which we had mapped out for them in the White Paper. It is now my turn to present a Bill essentially based on the previous Government's Protection of the Environment Bill, but filled out in one or two important respects to which I shall draw attention later.
Before coming to the detailed provisions of the Bill, I might say a word about the Government's general approach to the pollution problem. The 1970 White Paper identified three basic requirements for an effective pollution control policy, and these are still highly relevant today.
95 The first is the need for comprehensive scientific and technical knowledge as a basis for effective action. Here a great deal has been achieved in recent years, and I pay tribute to the many thorough investigations and reports which have deepened our understanding of pollution problems. I refer in particular to the three important reports of the Royal Commission under Lord Ashby. In addition, on the water side we had the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), whose report "Taken for Granted" underlies some of the proposals in Part II of this Bill. On the wastes side, we had the reports of the Working Parties on Refuse Disposal and the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes. The Noise Advisory Council and the Clean Air Council have also undertaken studies which have helped to influence policy in those fields. These various investigations have provided the groundwork on which this legislation and other action to protect the environment can now be firmly based. The House will be grateful to all those who contributed to those studies.
There is still a continuing need for the collection of basic statistics and information about the incidence of pollution and its effects. The sources of pollution and the ways in which pollutants affect the environment are immensely complex and need painstaking monitoring. In this country a good deal of systematic information is already recorded, but it has been hard to produce an overall picture of the state of the environment. Our current information is derived from too many different sources; there are still gaps in it; and in certain cases there have been positive barriers to obtaining or publishing the required facts.
The proposals in this Bill will make an important advance here. They will enable the controlling authorities to obtain comprehensive information about the disposal of wastes, polluting discharges into water, noise levels, and emissions of polluting substances into the atmosphere.
This is vital not only for the Government and local authorities; the public has the right to know and to be made fully aware of the state of the environ 96 ment and the sources of pollution. Obviously we must live with some degree of pollution. A perfectly clean world would be a dead world. But the public must participate fully and actively in decisions about how much pollution should or should not be tolerated. These are not matters to be settled behind closed doors.
The Second Report of the Royal Commission recommended strongly on this matter and called for new measures to increase information on industrial effluents and wastes. The previous Government accepted this recommendation, and we in turn wholeheartedly endorse it. Indeed, we wish to move still further in this direction, both in this Bill and in the Health and Safety at Work. etc. Bill.
I do not wish to raise party feelings on this occasion—that is the last thing I have in mind—but it seems to us that the previous Government were perhaps a little too tender to industry about the protection of trade secrets. Of course, there may be exceptional cases where there is a genuine commercial reason for not publishing information, but these must be regarded as truly exceptional, and we have made changes to Parts II and IV of the Bill to make this clear. Our overriding objective surely must be a freer and fuller flow of information to the public, and the requirements of the Bill will go a long way to achieve this.
The second need of pollution policy which the 1970 White Paper identified is to establish the right framework of economic analysis. The basic problem is the possible conflict of interest between the individual and the general public. As individual polluters, which we all are, none of us wants to go to any more trouble than we must to get rid of our wastes, our effluent and our atmospheric emissions. But, as members of the whole community, we all want a clean environment. We have to strike a balance between these claims and make a judgment of the "best practicable means" of reducing or containing pollution to reasonable levels.
The nature of this balance changes continuously over time as new processes and new forms of pollution emerge. Equally, the technology of pollution control and the resources available for dealing with it develop over time. We all know the 97 developments of fuel policy and of coal processing techniques which have enabled the domestic smoke control policy of the last 20 years to transform the face of our cities.
The reports of the Alkali Inspectorate are full of similar examples of technical developments which, seized on at the right time, have made possible significant advances in the control of industrial air pollution. For example, over the last 14 years dust emissions from cement works have been reduced from 16 tonnes to two tonnes for every 1,000 tonnes of cement produced. Similar reductions have been achieved in emissions from iron and steel sintering processes and from coal-fired power stations.
What we need is a continuing programme of research by both Government and industry into new techniques of control and new ways of making processes and products cleaner and quieter. In all this I hope that the trade union movement will play an increasingly active and positive rôle.
We want to identify quality objectives for air, for water, for noise, and so on. But I think we should not lay down inflexible national standards in the statute without any regard to local circumstances or to economic factors. The Bill therefore gives the various authorities enabling powers to prescribe conditions and limits for the different forms of pollution rather than itself prescribing absolute standards.
We need the same flexibility on the economic side. As a very broad principle the Government, like their predecessors, subscribe to the principle that the "polluter must pay". In the terms of this Bill, that means that those responsible for any form of pollution must pay the cost of reaching the higher standards which the controlling authorities may require. But we should not be doctrinaire about the universal applicability of this principle.
There may and obviously will be areas where public expenditure has an essential part to play in promoting improvements—for example, in waste and sewage disposal; there is no single economic formula or answer in the area of pollution control.
The third requirement is the need for an adequate administrative framework. Here we are certainly better off than we 98 were some years ago. At the centre, the Department of the Environment now brings together all aspects of policy relating to the physical environment and the control of pollution and so enables environmental problems to be tackled on a much more co-ordinated basis.
As to local government reorganisation and the reorganisation of the water industry, it is well known that we on the Government side of the House strongly opposed the proposals of the late Government. Nevertheless, we shall do our best to make them work. This Bill makes comprehensive proposals to bring the whole framework of legislative controls over pollution up to date and to extend the powers and duties of the controlling authorities.
I turn now to the Bill itself.
Part I concerns the disposal of waste. Society has of course always needed some means of disposing of the various wastes produced by human life and human activity. But today waste disposal, for a number of reasons, presents far greater problems than ever before. We produce a greater quantity of waste due to higher population and to higher living standards. The diversification of products and industrial processes often throws up new and potentially dangerous or troublesome forms of wastes. At the same time, we face a growing and natural demand for improved standards of disposal in order to reduce nuisance and dereliction. We increasingly realise that the resources of the planet are not unlimited and that we must take steps, and urgently, to reclaim and reutilise waste materials wherever possible.
So it is no longer enough for waste disposal to consist simply of carting away rubbish and tipping it on the nearest available vacant site, though I do not deny the value of properly controlled tipping in suitable places. We need now, in a way that we have not needed in the past, a thorough examination of the quality and nature of the waste arising in each part of the country and of the best ways of dealing with it, taking into account both environmental and economic aspects.
Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill accordingly lay on the new waste disposal authorities—that is, the new counties in England and the new districts in Scotland and Wales—the requirement, first, to carry 99 out a survey of all the wastes arising in their area, then to consult other interested persons and bodies about the disposal of this waste, and, finally, to draw all this together in a proper waste disposal plan.
I must stress here the vital importance of co-operation between the public and private sectors in this plan-making process. Traditionally, the local authorities have been responsible for dealing with most domestic waste and some commercial waste, while industrial waste has been dealt with by the private sector. The new approach envisaged in this Bill will call for much closer consultation and cooperation which must extend from the survey and planning stage to the stage of actually implementing a disposal plan.
This co-operation will be particularly important in the area of reclamation. A great deal has been said in recent years about the potential that exists for recycling. A good deal of recovery does of course already occur, and we have a flourishing reclamation industry in this country. But there are very large quantities of potentially recoverable material still going to waste. Hon. Members frequently refer to the huge quantities of waste paper which we produce in this country and to the potential for recovery with consequent savings to the balance of payments. There is a wide variety of scrap metals. There are possibilities for recovering rubber. There could be more use of waste glass.
The Government believe that the time has come for a more co-ordinated examination of these possibilities. At the local level, the new waste disposal authorities will have a duty under Clause 2 to draw up schemes for action, as part of their waste disposal plans; and we shall move amendments in Committee to give them wider powers to undertake recycling activities themselves. Industry, of course, also has a vital part to play in exploring and developing new techniques.
At national level, we need a fundamental review of the whole recycling field. We need detailed studies of particular industrial sectors where more recycling might be done. We need both a co-ordination and an expansion of the research effort. We must continuously consider whether, in different fields, the operation of market forces will bring 100 about a sufficient recovery of wastes, or whether we need Government intervention and incentives. To help us in considering these questions, I have it in mind to set up a wide-ranging waste management council with representatives of industry, local authorities and other interested bodies to examine all the possibilities and to make recommendations. We shall very soon be consulting interested bodies about the composition and terms of reference of the new body.
But this may not be enough. High commodity prices and perennial balance of payments problems, a growing concern for the environment, anxieties about the depletion of finite material and especially mineral resources, and a growing reaction against the whole philosophy of the "throwaway society"—all these may yet impel us to still more radical measures. I am sure that a determined national campaign and a popular campaign against waste may yet become a characteristic feature of our society in the second half of the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Bill represents at any rate a small step in the right direction.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am delighted to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about waste reclamation becoming a major feature of our society during the remainder of the century. When he refers to a waste management council, does he have in mind something of a statutory nature, such as the Clean Air Council, or an advisory body, such as the Noise Council? I should very much prefer the right hon. Gentleman to go for a statutory body in the first instance.
§ Mr. Crosland
I am obliged for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman, having been concerned with the councils he mentioned, will know that the arguments for and against statutory and non-statutory bodies are complex and passionately held by the proponents of the two views. We have not taken a final decision, but I note the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Part II of the Bill deals with water pollution. Here a fairly well-tried system of controls, established by the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Acts 1951 and 1961, already exists. Part II brings these controls together and extends and strengthens them.
101 Clause 26 establishes the general offence of causing or knowingly permitting poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter water, and extends the scope of the offence to cover virtually all inland and coastal waters. Clause 27 covers all discharges of trade and sewage effluent, including all pipeline discharges, into the sea. These controls will put us in a position to enforce the Paris Convention on the control of land-based sources of marine pollution which, as the House knows, we signed earlier this month. Taking into account also the Dumping at Sea Bill, we are now in a position to ratify each of the three recent marine pollution conventions—of Oslo, London and Paris—to which we are a party.
Clause 41 gives water authorities much strengthened duties and power both to forestall and to remedy water pollution. I know that fears have been expressed about the wide scope of these powers, but I am sure that the new water authorities will exercise them sensibly, so that interference with legitimate activities can be kept to the necessary minimum.
I mentioned earlier our concern, which I am sure the House shares, that information should be available as widely as possible about what is being discharged into the environment, where and in what quantities. Part II contains entirely new provisions for the advertisement of proposals for discharges to water, for representations to be made against such proposals, and for registers of consents given by water authorities and of samples of effluent and river water.
Part III of the Bill deals with noise. Excessive noise is one of the curses of modern society; indeed, many people would say it was the worst of all forms of pollution; and successive Governments have tried to tackle it in a variety of ways. The present Bill takes up the particular problem of "neighbourhood noise"—that is, the noise from industrial and other premises which affects people living within the surrounding area. These proposals are largely derived from the Noise Advisory Council's Report of 1972, which examined the working of the 1960 Noise Abatement Act and made recommendations for strengthening it.
There are four main innovations. First, a strengthening of the existing procedures 102 by which action can be taken in the courts to get noise nuisances abated. Secondly, Clauses 55 and 56 introduce an important new procedure for controlling noises from construction sites Under this, local authorities will be able to lay down their requirements for noise control before work begins. This will prevent any unnecessary noise while complaints are being investigated, and it will also give the contractor greater certainty that he can go ahead provided he observes the local authority's requirements.
Thirdly, the Bill introduces an entirely new power for local authorities to establish noise abatement zones, in which they can require existing noise levels first to be held constant and then ultimately reduced. Obviously, authorities will not be able to achieve overnight miracles through this new power, but over time it should enable them to make real progress where the ordinary nuisance powers have proved ineffective.
Fourthly, the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations about the noise of machinery from factories or construction sites, and to require the use of adequate methods of silencing machinery such as pneumatic drills or air compressors.
The Bill does not deal with the more widespread noise nuisance from aircraft and vehicles. We already have comprehensive legislation in that field, and have made some important progress in developing quieter engines and vehicles. Research and development into that continues to be a high priority, and I have no doubts that over the next decade we shall see real progress in this field.
Part IV of the Bill deals with air pollution. Unlike the three earlier parts, it does not introduce a completely new code of control since the existing code is comparatively recent. The last Clean Air Act was in 1968, and the Health and Safety at Work Bill provides for the updating of the provisions of the 1906 Alkali Act.
Nevertheless, there has been no comprehensive review of air pollution since 1954, and I feel that the time has come for a new review. There has been much criticism recently of the Alkali Inspectorate and of the division of functions between the national and the local authority inspectorates. I am not saying that these criticisms are justified—many 103 well informed people, for example Lord Ashby and Lord Zuckerman when the Bill was debated in another place, believe that they are not—but the fact remains that public anxiety is widespread, and we cannot leave matters where they now stand.
I have therefore asked the Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Sir Brian Flowers, to undertake a study with the following terms of reference:To review the efficacy of the methods of control of air pollution from domestic and industrial sources, to consider the relationship between the relevant authorities and to make recommendations.The Royal Commission has agreed, at my request, to associate with this study a few people with special knowledge of the problems concerned. I envisage one or two representatives of the Clean Air Councils, a trade unionist, an industrialist, a local authority figure, and I certainly want a known, outspoken critic of the present arrangements. I hope we can assemble this team quickly, and I should like the report within a year. The Alkali Inspectorate, whose functions and status may be affected by the report's recommendations, is due to be assimilated into the proposed Health and Safety Executive, but the detailed arrangements are not yet finalised and can be reviewed if necessary in the light of any recommendations.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
In order to deal with atmospheric pollution, will my right hon. Friend ask the Chairman of the Royal Commission to visit towns such as St. Helens in Lancashire, where only today men, women and children have been demonstrating outside Leathers Chemicals Ltd., because of the emission of dangerous toxic substances? I should like an assurance that the Royal Commission will have power to visit places and take evidence on the spot.
§ Mr. Crosland
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial, if the commission is to do the work properly, that it must have a series of visits to different towns and cities up and down the country which, like those in my hon. Friend's constituency and, indeed, in mine, have special problems of air pollution.
104 Part IV of the Bill, for the reasons I have indicated, does not contain a complete reformulation of the Clean Air Acts. It does however, deal with three significant topics in this field.
First, we propose a new power to regulate the composition of motor fuel. This will, in particular, enable us to deal with the lead content of petrol.
Secondly, we are taking a power to regulate the sulphur content of oil fuel. It is not clear at present how far it may be desirable to require the desulphurisation of oil, but Clause 71 provides the necessary powers to implement whatever is agreed in due course.
Thirdly, we are proposing new powers to require industry to supply, and enable local authorities to collect, information about air pollution and atmospheric emissions in their areas. This information will be kept in publicly accessible registers, save in certain exceptional cases.
Parts V and VI of the Bill deal with various subsidiary matters which I shall not go into now. But I should draw the attention of the House to Clause 93, which provides for substantial increases in a wide range of penalties for pollution offences to bring them into line with modern levels. These increases follow the review of penalties which we initiated four years ago.
Our society now gives a much higher priority to preserving the environment than has ever been the case in the past. Basically, there are two reasons for this. The first is that as we become better off and increasingly satisfy our basic needs for food, clothing and shelter we naturally attach growing importance to improving the quality of life, in the widest sense of that term. The second reason is that we must take pollution problems more seriously than in the past, because the rate at which many pollutants have been entering the atmosphere has increased to a point where we can no loner take it for granted that the environment has an unlimited capacity to absorb them harmlessly.
We shall not solve the problem by relying solely on market mechanisms. While increase in demand can call forth increasing supply of such things as cars and hi-fi equipment, it cannot call forth 105 cleaner air or cleaner rivers. There is no such automatic effect.
That is why, at the end of the day, this matter must remain ultimately a problem for central and local government. We certainly shall not solve the problem by adopting what in my view is the fatalistic attitude of the Club of Rome or of the Doom-watch school of thought and calling a halt to economic growth. One can find circumstances where growth and the environment are in conflict, but one can find many more circumstances where continued growth is a necessary condition of improving the environment. For example, I had the pleasure today of meeting the Chairman of the new National Water Council and chairmen of the new regional water authorities, and in the course of discussion I asked them what kind of investment programme would be necessary if we really embarked on major improvements in the quality of our rivers. The figures they came back with were astronomic, and the idea that we may find these vast sums of public expenditure in a no-growth economy does not stand up to serious thought or examination. If we want evidence that growth and the improvement of the environment can be combined, we can look to the evidence—and both parties have played a major part in this—of our history over the past 20 years.
Growth has been slower than many would like, but at the same time we have seen a major improvement in our environment during a period of continued economic growth. The matter was summed up four years ago by Sir Frank Fraser Darling in his Reith Lectures when he said that we are doing well, but not well enough. That is a good summary of the position.
Therefore, we need continued vigilance, and determined willingness to act as necessary if progress is to continue.
I believe that the Bill represents an important step in the right direction.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
I start by declaring an interest. Either I or my family have been associated with the petro-chemical or agro-chemical industry for some time. The interests are mainly through my husband. I am not sure whether marriage is an interest which 106 one ought to declare, but I am being on the safe side in doing so.
We give a general welcome to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman claimed some degree of parentage for the previous Bill and we claim a good degree of parentage for this Bill. There is no point in arguing about this. Most lusty offspring require two parents and perhaps this is as well. It is good to have the advice and support of both sides.
It is inevitable that after two Bills—the first in their Lordships' House as the Protection of the Environment Bill, and the second this Bill—there is a lot of recycling of speeches. Therefore, we must do our best to avoid repeating points, but I am afraid that that is not wholly possible when dealing with this subject.
This is a very detailed Bill. Not having been directly politically involved with the subject as long as the right hon. Gentleman, I have found it a somewhat exhausting and exacting business in preparing for the debate. I cannot think of any Bill which I have seen introduced in the House which has been preceded by more investigation, research, discussion and consultation than this Bill. It goes back to the Royal Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The right hon. Gentleman was extremely fortunate in having Lord Ashby as the first chairman and is now equally fortunate in having Sir Brian Flowers as the present chairman.
The right hon. Gentleman appointed the Royal Commission as a watchdog for the public, and one could wish that all Royal Commissions tackled their problems in the way that this one did. It adopted an approach to the problem of first finding the facts and then recommending constructive and practical solutions. That is a good recipe for any Royal Commission when looking into any difficult and detailed problem.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to some of the other reports which have contributed greatly to solutions in the Bill—the Key and Summer Reports and the Scott Report on Neighbourhood Noise—but that is not the limit of the material. There is a wealth of common law rights, of statutory rights and an enormous library of circulars, as central Governments have tried to introduce the best practices to local authorities, and there have been 107 endless articles in the Press which have helped draw the public's attention to the things which need to be done. We have a great deal of good will on the part of the public and industry and public authorities. This is an excellent basis on which to go ahead.
The problem has been that many of the responsibilties have been fragmented. I gather that there are 101 pollution monitoring schemes, controlled by nine different Ministries. One of the objectives of the Bill is to have a comprehensive measure to deal with these matters, but when we start looking at the Bill as a matter of principle we realise that many of the points we wish to make will be Committee points. I shall not go through those points at present because a large number of hon. Members wish to speak, but I wish to raise some general points.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one of the reasons we need to have a Bill arises from technological advance. Looking back we can see how many products which we now use, and which contribute greatly to the standard of living of the nation, have been produced only in the past 30 or 40 years. The first nylon factory was set up in 1941. The many thermoplastic materials originated mainly in the post-war period. These, in particular, have given rise to a number of problems of disposal. But examples of all the plastics are to be found in the kitchen of any housewife, and they have contributed greatly to our standard of living.
On the agro-chemical side, we have had far greater yields through the fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which are the products of the scientists.
These substances have given rise to a number of problems, of course. Perhaps we did not realise that the great advances in pesticides would cause secondary effects in getting rid of them. The same applies to herbicides. Still less did we realise that some of the fertilisers could cause great agricultural problems. Nitrate put on the soil may leak into inland lakes and waters. stimulating the plant life, which uses up all the oxygen and thus kills off the fish. These secondary effects were unforeseen.
We cannot do without these technological innovations and new chemicals, but the same scientific ability which led to 108 the introduction of those products is there to solve the problems which arise when we try to dispose of them. Much of the research has been directed to this end, so we need not despair.
My second point concerns the extent of the research which has already been undertaken. In my last work, I was responsible for the research councils and was particularly interested, therefore, in the report from those councils on pollution research relating to the year 1971–72. The right hon. Gentleman might not fully realise, although his predecessor would, that his Department managed to take away some of my research council budget for their own research purposes.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
My hon. Friend remembers very well. For his Department to get money out of mine was such a traumatic experience for me that it is seared on my soul. But even before that happened a great deal of pollution research was being done by the four research councils.
It is interesting to note from the report that in every one of the four sections into which this Bill is divided research projects were going on even in 1971–72, from the then limited budget they applied to pollution research of £1.2 million. They tackled the matter sensibly, as they always do, by studying the chemical and physical properties of the pollutant substances and their biological effects, by studying recognised pollutant areas, and by solving specified problems.
I am interested to see the extent to which they were already on to problems some of which were unknown to some of us. In regard to the disposal of waste, they were already studying the design of drainage channels and pipes for waste disposal on farms, and they were tackling problems connected with the degradation of sunken oil. They were doing research on the behaviour and persistence of herbicides and insecticides, and on heavy metal pollution of streams and marine waters by mine and mill effluents.
In regard to noise, they had a project on the levels of jet noise, with which the Bill does not deal, for reasons which we understand, and the long-term effects of building noise on hospital staffs. In 109 regard to atmospheric pollution, they were doing analyses of engine exhaust pollution, with a view to developing low pollution engines. As for sulphur dioxide and fluorine compounds, they were doing studies on their influence on plant growth and crops. These are just examples from many research projects which were already under way. So we are fortunate in coming to this subject with a large amount of research behind us and the knowledge that many of the solutions are already in preparation.
I notice that under Clause 73, dealing with atmospheric pollution, local authorities are given powers not just to contribute to research—which is common—but to undertake it. I wonder whether local authorities are the right bodies to undertake research themselves when other excellent bodies already exist. This tiny point may not have struck other hon. Members, and the provision may have been in the original Bill, but I learned one great lesson from the behaviour of the Labour Party when it was in opposition before. It was never inhibited by what it had said in government. That is a formula which I occasionally propose to adopt.
My third main general point is that there are expensive new duties on local authorities and the regional water bodies which will lead to the employment of far more staff and will be far more expensive than the Financial Memoradum suggests. It is not the plans under the Bill which will have an effect—they will have a partial effect—but how far they are implemented. They will require a large number of technical staff—this point came up in the other place—and also, as the Secretary of State realised, a great deal of extra expenditure. One of the complaints of the local authorities frequently is, "You are always putting new duties on us and then complaining when our expenditure rises considerably."
The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, estimated on Third Reading on 21st May that the extra staff of local authorities would cost between £2 million and £3 million per annum—I would have thought that that was an underestimate—and that the extra cost to improving the waste collection services would be £6 million per annum at present costs. We all know that those will not stay as they are. Just a little pointer is the two Bills that I have with me. One is the Control of 110 Pollution Bill just after it had been amended in Committee in another place. The other is the Bill as it came to us, five days later. The first cost 75p and the second 86p. An increase of 15 per cent. in five days is a little much, even for this Government!
Lord Garnsworthy went on:Overall public expenditure must be contained within the approved allocations … there can be at this point in time no question of putting large new injections of funds into this area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 21st May 1974; Vol 351, c. 1394.]He went on to talk about the best use of resources and some redeployment of staffs.
I would not quarrel with his words in that respect, since he was preaching the language of priorities. Many people would perhaps prefer to put central and local money into the achievement of clean air, clean water, freedom from nuisance, and public amenity than into some other kinds of public projects. I agree with the Secretary of State and with the Second Report of the Royal Commission that if the public are to make these judgments they must have the maximum information. Some people, knowing the state into which air or water will get if we do not make this expenditure, would give that higher priority than some other things on central or local government agendas.
It is vital that more attention should be given to a good and pure water supply, which for years we took for granted. Because of trade effluents and other chemicals going into the water we are in danger of losing the purity. At the moment we are concentrating on oil supplies, but water is one of our most valuable commodities and we must take all necessary steps to ensure that it is in good and clear supply.
The fourth general point is that there is a great gap between legislation and its enforcement, on the one hand, and legislation and the habits of people, on the other. There is only a limited amount that we in Parliament can do to improve the environment. We can make all the plans and, in due course, provide the money to implement those plans, but in spite of the effort and enthusiasm of successive Governments for improving the environment, and particularly in spite of the many anti-litter campaigns, 111 matters do not always seem to be improving. A walk down the King's Road on a Saturday afternoon will show that the anti-litter campaign is not having a great deal of effect.
Many of the products that we have today are, for convenience and hygiene, wrapped in various kinds of packaging which all too often is thrown down. We are all aware of this. Improvement will not just happen. Some take the view that the propaganda will eventually sink in and that we shall eventually see an improvement. I note the new provisions in the Bill about litter, but this is a classic case in which the public can do more to improve the environment than can Parliament.
I have also noticed, as an ordinary constituency Member, increasing complaints about noise, not only that coming from industry and construction sites but that coming from the house next door. We have not been able to take adequate steps to deal with it. It is rather sad that there are some people who seem to follow courses of action at home which are designed to irritate their next-door neighbours, or who are careless of the consequences for their neighbours. Here, too, legislation is only a matter of last resort. The general standard is determined by people's willingness or otherwise to take consideration for others into account in their own actions.
I shall not go through the four parts of the Bill in detail, for obvious reasons. I want to make one or two points about each part, and we can then deal with them in detail in Committee.
On the disposal of waste, we welcome the general duty to ensure adequate arrangements for the disposal of controlled waste. We particularly welcome the new clause on reclamation and recycling. We also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the advisory council. There is a greater awareness on the part of the public about the need for reclamation and a wish to be prudent in the use of resources. But so often their awareness and wish to help is frustrated by the lack of separate collection of waste paper and metal. There can be nothing more irritating than to have sorted out different things into separate piles and then to see them all 112 going into the same lorry to be dealt with in the same way.
Recycling is not new. The total value of materials reclaimed annually in Britain is £1,500 million, including £800 million worth of metal. But much more could be gathered from municipal refuse, which I understand amounts to 20 million tons a year, including 14 million tons from domestic waste. We understand that the problem is often that of separating the metals from other materials. It is not as though the waste comes nicely separated into specific metals. One or two metals may occur together, and often they are in association with other materials. I note that a good deal of research is now being done on how to separate these components to make them easier to reclaim.
Paper and plastics in refuse are increasing at the fastest rate. There is a real need to reclaim more paper, because of its increasing use and the long-term supply of available timber stocks. Plastics are the most obstinately persistent of wastes, but, again, there appears to be research into recycling synthetic polymers.
There is a particular point on Part I of the Bill in which the Minister of State may be interested, because it arose at Question Time recently. I refer to Clause 12(4)(b). Perhaps I can explain that without the Secretary of State looking at it. He will remember that that is the clause which lays upon local authorities a duty to empty cesspools, among other things. But it lays upon local authorities only a permissive power to charge. They do not have to charge for the emptying of cesspools. There are certain things for which they cannot charge, but they have a permissive power to charge for emptying cesspools. If it is only a permissive power, many of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman and I are meeting now could be solved by the local authorities refraining from charging. Alternatively, we have the solution in our hands, because by striking out their power to charge—bearing in mind that there is a sewerage rate—for the emptying of septic tanks, and by invoking the capacity, in Clause 102, to make different clauses effective from different appointed days, we could have solved this problem by the time that the House rises for the Summer Recess—I assume by the end of July. It appears that the Minister of State wishes 113 to intervene. He may have the information ready.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)
I am obliged to the right hon. Lady. She has raised quite an interesting point. As my right hon. Friend has said, we met the water authority chairmen this morning. This is one of the matters that we raised and that they certainly wished to raise in view of the concern in the country and the House. It is odd that the local authorities have these powers while water authorities do not. In looking at the question whether we should charge, as we do now, and what should be done about householders who cannot have their houses connected to the sewer-able system, for which they should be charged—about which I gave an undertaking in a recent Adjournment debate—it is quite clear that we cannot look at this problem in isolation. I give the right hon. Lady the assurance that we shall do all that we can to get this done as speedily as possible. We can return to the matter in Committee, and I am sure that there is no division on either side of the House about it.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
On the provisions of the Bill, we have the means to a solution. I am concerned that those means should be used. What really interested me is that these are permissive and not mandatory powers. If local authorties co-operated, one could have no charge at all at present.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I should like to point out to the right hon. Lady that some local authorities were not under the impression that they would have this duty left to them in regard to cesspits. They were certainly under the impression that some of the regional water authorities would do the job and, therefore, have not budgeted for the job. Therefore, if the right hon. Lady is saying that local authorities will have to do it without making a charge—as most of the m are trying to do—she is asking them to find the money for this service from somewhere else.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
The ratepayer is already paying through the sewerage rate. Many people are not getting the service but are being charged for it and are also having to pay to have their own septic 114 tanks emptied. The main political parties in the House thoroughly understand this problem.
I turn to the part of the Bill dealing with the pollution of water. I note the changes in the clauses on pollution arising from good agricultural practice. There is a fundamental dilemma here, that good husbandry may nevertheless lead to pollution. I see what has been done in the amendments to the clauses. It may be that some of my hon. Friends who are connected with the agricultural industry still feel it is not enough. As we know, the agriculture industry is going through particularly difficult times at present and may wish to pursue the question of compensation. I know of the reasons why we should treat agriculture in the same way as we treat industrial concerns. But equally, we realise that there is a difference, and hon. Members may wish to pursue the matter in Committee in regard to treating agriculture differently.
I welcome Clause 54, which deals with noise. This will enable many householders to take action against those who offend in neighbouring households without having to invoke the local authority's powers or having, as previously, to get the signature of two other people under the ordinary nuisance provisions of the law.
From what the right hon. Gentleman said, I understand that he is setting up a new study of pollution of the atmosphere, which we welcome. From the debate in the other place, I understand that we may have to have lead and sulphur in petrol for longer than we would wish; but we all know that the reason for that is the supply of crude oil.
The Bill represents the most comprehensive attempt for many years to bring pollution under proper control. It may be couched in dull phraseology, but it is likely to have a greater and more lasting effect on the quality of life in many parts of Britain than most other measures. We shall do all we can to assist its passage to the statute book.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I join in the welcome to the Bill, whatever its parentage. It has been in another place twice, which must be something of a record, and now it arrives here.
115 I am glad that my right hon. Friend went rather wide in introducing the Bill and placed it in its setting against the problems we face in society. This enabled us to judge what advance we can hope for from this relatively modest measure, important though it undoubtedly is.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend referred to some of the difficulties in modern society that bring in their train many complicated pollution problems. Professor Commoner, amongst others who have been expressing views about the difficulties of modern life, has emphasised his belief that gross pollution is a product of the size of a population, with modern technologies.
Linked with that is the impetus in our modern society that demands growth—not only growth which we might all welcome for its social and other values, but growth for its own sake. My right hon. Friend criticised those who have attempted to argue for a no-growth position—a position which few in the Chamber would adopt. But we need to take a much more critical view than we have taken in the past about the type of growth that we are prepared to accept. We need to decide what kind of growth and for what purposes.
We need to examine again the composition of our gross national product, which perhaps has tended to be regarded as the one criterion of success or failure. Britain's economy has not been notably successful in recent years in that regard. Therefore, it has been natural for us to look at growth without much citicism. We cannot afford to do this. We must adopt a serious and critical view of the growth of society.
For example, we are landed with the waste that has resulted from so much built-in obsolescence in our modern, profit-seeking economy. Much of this waste imposes high costs and complicated recycling tasks upon public bodies. All the additional costs here go into the gross national product. Much of it is probably unnecessary and adds enormous problems to disposal.
The packaging industry has been built up into an enormous industry on its own. In some shops it is difficult to buy things unpackaged. The Bill cannot tackle 116 many of these problems, and does not set out to do so.
I greatly welcome the main provisions of the Bill, though there may be detailed points of criticism later. Many of us have for a long time urged the extension of effective controls in the tidal reaches of rivers, which previously have not been under effective control for pollution, with a resultant very deleterious effect upon many of our most famous rivers.
I welcome the proposed establishment of the Waste Management Council. I hope that it will be able to give us much more practical information on the way in which recycling can operate. I am glad that the Bill has been so framed as to take account of any advice that might come from such bodies.
I am glad that there is to be a review of the efficiency of existing methods of control of air pollution. Everyone will agree that great advances have been made and that the danger is lest we become too smug about our achievements. The work which has been done in Britain is highly regarded internationally, but much more remains to be done in more complicated areas of air pollution.
The support of trade unions is necessary. There is a danger of a clash of interests here. Experience in other countries as well as here has shown that it can make a great difference if the vigorous support of the trade union movement can be marshalled behind a determination to improve standards. This may arise, for example, where there is a problem of dealing with effluents from a major industrial organisation and the employees fear that if pressure is applied to achieve higher standards, employment at the establishment will be endangered, with perhaps the eventual move of the organisation elsewhere. We must seek to establish effective workable international rules. This can be accomplished only after a period of education and with the closest co-operation with the union involved.
I am glad that we are attempting to tighten up on the question of secrecy that has been enforced by some firms about the nature of their effluent. Most people would regard such efforts by firms as a wholly unnecessary exercise in maintaining secrecy against the public interest. The provisions of Clause 37 may help to 117 deal with the matter more effectively than hitherto.
Noise is covered by the Bill. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that noise is perhaps the greatest polluter of all, although to some extent this is perhaps a matter of ale. I find that younger people seem to be able to withstand noise much more than those of us who are getting older, avid I only hope that noise does not have the effect on the eardrums of the younger people that I believe it must have. The control of noise is a difficult matter. It will not be easy in the Bill to achieve precision about those things, which are causing the noise pollution and, more particularly, to deal with the noise pollution caused by an individual factory. The problem will be to separate the noise caused by one factory from that caused by traffic and a multitude of other sources it the area. There are many practical difficulties to be faced, but this is a matter for consideration in Committee and we shall no doubt be seeking advice in this respect.
I welcome the step forward that the Bill represents, but let us be under no misapprehension about the modest advance that we are likely to be able to make under its provisions. Some of the problems created by modern technology challenge us to make certain major reassessments of our standard of values in society.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)
As yet there has been no controversial discussion of the Bill, and I begin by declaring an unusual interest. The West Country regional television company Westward Television has embarked upon an interesting programme for young viewers. As part of a series, it has attempted to explain the mysteries of parliamentary life and legislation. In order that this should become a practical experience it invited young viewers to write in about the sort of thing they would like to see put right by Parliament. A typical letter came from one of my constituents, Lynn Roberts, who is a sixth former at Camborne Grammar School. She, in common with a majority of the young people, was concerned about litter waste and felt that insufficient was being done by way of reclamation and recycling in the light of a growing national need.
118 On her behalf, therefore, I was most interested when the Bill was published because I felt that here we could get to grips with the question of compulsory reclamation and recycling by local authorities. However, as I read the Bill I realised that I was to be disappointed. I refer specifically to Clause 2(2)(e) and 14(2) because both make it clear that the legislation is aimed at recognising the need for a growing volume of reclamation and recycling, but the Bill does not make it mandatory for these things to be done.
This depresses me and a large number of people in Cornwall because we feel that something positive must be done. This is certainly a growing problem with refuse throughout the country. Last year alone, it is estimated, the total amount of refuse disposed of was 369,000 tons, slightly more than one ton for every man, woman and child in the county. We are increasingly discovering that the tips are rapidly becoming inadequate and we are now facing the problems of infestation. We therefore have the double-pronged desecration of the countryside. It is visually unacceptable, and for the people who have the misfortune to live around these tips it is totally unacceptable from a hygiene point of view. Some of the new district councils in Cornwall are hell-bent on a policy of ravaging the countryside, finding bigger and better holes in which to tip bigger, better and more multicoloured loads of refuse.
The Bill does not seem to be prepared to come to grips with compulsory segregation and compulsory reclamation. I understand that the reason may be that the Association of District Councils has said that it would bluntly oppose any compulsory measures. I have this on the authority of the association's secretary, Mr. Stephen Rhodes, who wrote to me on 4th April saying,I am sure our new associations would resist compulsory recycling by all its authorities.To support this strong statement, Mr. Rhodes goes on to say that in the past one or two local authorities have had their fingers rather badly burned financially when salvage segregation became a loss-making activity for them.
I do not share his gloom, because the evidence is that before the reorganisation of local government on 1st April no fewer than 400 local authorities in 119 England and Wales were involved in some regular form of reclamation for recycling purposes, and I am proud that that list of 400 authorities included the Camborne and Redruth Urban District Council which, with a population of 40,000, had a weekly target of 15 tons of waste paper to be collected and shipped away as an aid towards easing the local rates.
The British Paper and Board Industry Federation, too, is opposed to unrestricted supplies of waste paper for recycling. It wants to avoid what it describes rather delicately as "embarrassing surpluses arising". For whom would they be embarrassing? It would not be embarrassing for the environment if this bulky, fluffy, dirty waste paper were to be taken away from tips and turned into something of value for the community. It could surely not be said to be embarrassing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for recycling could assist our balance of payments to the tune of £250 million a year. To whom, therefore, would there be an embarrassing surplus?
Those are the observations of that section of the industry, but the plastics industry has no doubts. It told me on 21st March this year that the plastics reclamation industry is full of admiration for Canada's lead in encouraging cooperation between industry, Government and householders to expand recycling from the environmental as well as from the economic point of view. In an exchange of correspondence with Mr. A. W. V. Holden, of the National Industrial Materials Recovery Association, I have discovered that he has no reservations about the need for a positive action to be taken by the Government over compulsory reclamation. He believes that incentives should be given to the new district authorities in the form of a capital investment grant to offset the high capital equipment costs and the labour-intensive element of the segregation process.
Clause 47 relates to the imposition of charges in respect of discharges of trade effluent. If these measures were carried to their ultimate, without alteration in Committee, they could hit the viability of the Cornish tin-mining industry at the very time when it is increasingly in our national interest that we should develop and expand the industry as it has never been expanded and developed before.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
Does my hon. Friend agree that Clause 47 by itself would constitute a pollution tax?
§ Mr. Mudd
I agree with my hon. Friend. It would be an additional form of crippling taxation at a time when we should be giving tax incentives to encourage the mineral industry instead of penalising it further.
In the Cornish tin mines we have what we believe to be an almost unique situation. It is necessary to pump out water from long-disused workings if mines are to survive. The pumping of the water, which in the main is totally unpolluted, would be chargeable even if most of the flow from the mines were free of pollution. The water so drawn from the workings of the mines is of such an unpolluted level and content that it helps to dilute the pollution normally found in the rivers and streams into which it is pumped.
The mining industry must not be charged for the unavoidability of recovering millions of gallons of unpolluted water. To over-tax tin mining still further could lose production and cost jobs and, ironically, it could lose a source of good water which assists in purifying the environment. I hope that the clause will be substantially amended in Committee.
The time is long overdue for the Government to assist industry directly, through the research facilities of the National Engineering Laboratory, to evolve a system for the solidification of sludge, thus totally conquering any question of pollution.
The points I have raised are not controversial or political. I believe them to be common sense. If they are considered by the Government and acted upon we shall have an Act of which we can be proud as we go into the twenty-first century. But if we allow by default these anomalies, oversights and indecisions to go unchecked, we and our successors will have occasion to rue the day when we allowed a golden opportunity to plan for the future to pass needlessly and wastefully to slip through our fingers.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) was disappointed because 121 the Bill did not contain a requirement for compulsory recycling. He criticised the Association of District Councils. I have no doubt that the secretary of the association had in mind that recycling and separation plant is very costly, and there is no means, particularly with the difficulties facing district councils and others, to find the capital investment without which the work cannot be done. The hon. Gentleman later made no bones about requiring the Government to pay for other things, but he did not mention that it would be necessary to have a subvention from the Government if the capital investment for recycling processes were to be undertaken.
I welcome the Bill, because it indicates our determination to control and improve our environment, and to protect it from nuisances arising from spoliation by waste, noise, pollution of water and, particularly, pollution of the atmosphere.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) for not hearing her speech, although I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I was incarcerated in the Standing Committee considering the Finance Bill, where a Division had been pending for at least an hour. The right hon. Lady will know something of the difficulties.
The right hon. Lady will also know, because she is very familiar with the part of the world from which I come, North-West Kent, that that area has the largest concentration of cement plants in the world. The right hon. Lady sought to represent the constituency some years ago. She will know that my interest is not only in atmospheric pollution but is an interest in pollution generally as a member of a local authority that has to try to deal with the matter.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Bill comes at a time when the traditional instrument of control, which has been operating for nearly a century, the Alkali Act, and the Alkali Inspectorate and the 1906 regulations, are increasingly under attack. No doubt my right hon. Friend succeeded in disarming some of the critics by the announcement of a Royal Commission, but Royal Commissions take time. I wish to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to one or two of the criticisms, because they are relevant and should be dealt with quickly.
122 In talking about the Alkali Inspectorate, I in no way reflect on the professional competence of its members. It is a highly qualified and conscientious body, with which I have had contact for a number of years. The work of its individual members is excellent. The first criticism to be made is directed not so much at the inspectorate as at successive Governments. It is whether the numbers in the inspectorate are enough to keep a proper check on all the scheduled works. There are 37 inspectors for 2,158 works, which means a visit of not more than once or twice a year. In certain cases it may be the day after a serious emission, or two days after it, before the inspector checks on a problem which has been causing local difficulty. This is a matter which is in the keeping of my right hon. Friend. The inadequate numbers could be put right fairly quickly.
The second criticism is one that I hope my right hon. Friend will refer to the chairman of the Royal Commission. It is a criticism of the policy of relying on the principle of the best practicable means. Local authorities have felt for a long time that that principle gives far too much latitude to many firms. In any case, it is no good having the best arrestment equipment in the world if the concentration of plants or intensity of production still leave an intolerable nuisance and an unacceptable volume of dust.
Canada has in her legislation a further principle, reinforcing the principle of the best practicable means—the idea of ground level concentration limits. We should like to see that principle included in the regulations to replace the 1906 regulations. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recommend the chairman of the Royal Commission to look into the matter.
Thirdly, there has been direct criticisms of the inspectorate for its habit of cosying along firms rather than relying on prosecutions. A number of local authorities have felt that that policy is not tough enough. That is not to say that we want to prosecute every firm that makes a mistake or does not come completely up to scratch. But there have been only 14 prosecutions since 1920, so prosecution is not an instrument that has been used very often or with any vigour. The prosecutions have invariably been of what 123 are called the mini-polluters, the small boys in the industry, not the big people with the big works which may be making a major contribution to atmospheric pollution.
In some cases the alkali inspectors have accepted economic arguments against the installation of modern equipment, and export considerations have been taken into account, thus denying for some years the protection that local residents are entitled to expect.
One other matter is that up to 1973—
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present system provides a duplication of work as between the local authority and the Alkali Inspectorate?
§ Mr. Irving
It is true that we employ highly qualified officers in local government. I think that they are capable of doing a lot more than has been allowed in the past. I hope that in future greater scope will be allowed to the environmental officers and other officers in local authorities who can take on part of the work of monitoring.
Up to 1973 re-registration of scheduled plants was almost automatic. Indeed, the life of the equipment was put at 10 years. In many cases it was a long time before a reassessment of the best practical means could be undertaken. I hope that in the new regulations, with or without the support of the Royal Commission, careful examination of the best practicable means will be made on each re-registration and that it will no longer be automatic. I hope that my right hon. Friend, in securing the improvements which the Bill seeks, will consider these matters carefully.
The new legislation will still give the local authorities a public health function. I welcome Clause 74(2) as it enables a local authority to secure information from the works concerned. However, Clause 74(3) restricts this information in the case of scheduled works. The subsection reads:If the notice relates to a work subject to the Alkali Act, the person on whom the notice is served shall not be obliged to supply any information which, as certified by an inspector appointed under that Act, is not of a kind 124 which is being supplied to the Inspector for the purposes of that Act.I ask firmly, "Why?".
A number of local authorities have been greatly frustrated by not being able to get certain information essential to the making of a proper judgment even on the best practicable means. Often that has been because of the reluctance of the inspectorate and the companies to disclose such information. For example, my authority has asked for such information many times and I have asked for it in past years. The clinker ratio, without which the true slip to the atmosphere and the use of the plant cannot be ascertained, has sometimes not been available. In the minds of some members of local authorities there was the idea that the inspectorate was reluctant even to ask the companies for such information. That situation is likely to be perpetuated if Clause 74(3) stays as it is. We would like it to be varied so that the information that the local authority can get may be both that for which the inspector asks and that for which he has not asked relating to the process concerned.
Disclosure is no longer a problem and I do not believe that confidentiality is any longer justified, especially as the Bill puts in special protection in Clause 73(5) against improper disclosure of commercial information. This is a matter of great concern to my constituents. As I have said, in my constituency there is the biggest concentration of cement plant in the world.
I am pleased to note that the Bill seeks to deal with construction sites. In my exprience within my constituency there have been two occasions when my constituents were intensely irritated by noise from piling and piling machines. On both occasions it was possible after pressure to give some relief by the use of different equipment and by the use of mufflers. It would have been much better and easier if the powers under the Bill had been available at that time.
I give a general welcome to the Bill and I hope that it will be law before the summer.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
My party very much welcomes the Bill. It has our full support. Like the right hon. 125 Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), we trust that it will pass through its remaining stages without undue delay. It is a complicated measure and not easily assimilated—certainly not by one who, like myself, has not previously been involved in the detailed and high-powered deliberations that have preceded the introduction of this measure. We have heard a lot about those deliberations this evening and about the legislation which the Bill incorporates or amends.
My party gives its support to Part I, although, if permitted, we may wish to table small amendments in Committee to Clauses 3, 6, 7 and 17.
Clauses 20–25 deal with the litter problem. I only hope that the Treasury will find itself able to make the grants which are referred to in Clause 21(4). There is a great deal more that could be done to persuade holiday makers, day trippers and others who go into the countryside to take their litter home with them. I represent an island constituency and I have for long advocated that we should meet the trippers with paper bags as they come off the boat and ask them to deposit their litter in the bags and take the bags away with them. I have also sought to persuade my local authority to provide sensible litter bins. Nothing looks worse than the contents of wire baskets being blown on to the grass verges and hedgerows.
I suggest that nothing offends the eye more, or causes more trouble to local authorities when they operate their grass cutting machines. than long stretches of the grass verges of our main roads covered with tins, bottles, papers, and old damaged motor cars piled up in scrapyards or thrown over the cliffs on to the sea shore The Secretary of State's remarks on recycling are greatly to be welcomed.
I have a few reservations regarding Part II. Clause 26, for instance, makes it an offence to cause or knowingly to permit:any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter any stream or controlled waters or any specified underground water".That is then specified as "relevant waters". It also lists defences available to a person charged with such an offence. The Protection of the Environment Bill as originally printed contained as a defence a provision that a person was not guilty of an offence if 126the entry in question is attributable to events none of which that person could reasonably have been expected to prevent.The purpose of that provision was to provide a general defence of due diligence to a person who, in spite of taking all precautions, was alleged to have caused the entry of any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter into relevant waters. A defence such as this is necessary because experience has shown that it is apparently not necessary to prove that a person who is alleged to have "caused" polluting matter to enter a stream did so intentionally or knowingly, or was negligent in any respect. The lack of such a defence could result in the establishment of an absolute offence. We would like to see some amendments to the clause as drafted. We can look back to the previous Bill for the guide lines.
We are also concerned that the original Clause 36 of the Protection of the Environment Bill has been deleted in its entirety. Industry feels strongly that, taking into account the new provisions in the Bill, the continuation of injunction procedures are now an anomaly and that they place a potential burden on industrial undertakings and regional water authorities which is unwarranted and unjustified. We should like to see incorporated a new clause based on Clause 36 of the Protection of the Environment Bill as originally printed.
We also have reservations about Clause 41, to which the Secretary of State referred. The main objection to that clause as it stands is the uncertainty that is introduced. A person setting up a works, irrespective of whether it is a factory, and discharging treated effluent, or a water authority operating a sewerage treatment plant, must go through detailed procedures to obtain planning permission and consent to discharge. It is unreasonable, having done that, that there should be the possibility of incurring additional expense or closure because of some minor effect on the fauna or flora of the receiving stream.
Certain sections of industry which give rise to effluents derived from cellulosic and carbohydrate materials could well be at risk as, paradoxically, the more such effluents are purified the greater the possibility of there being locally deleterious effects on existing flora and fauna. The same mischance can occur in respect of 127 effluents discharged from sewage treatment works of water authorities. In another place, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy referred to these anxieties and suggested that the problems could be ameliorated, if not solved, by informal discussions between industry and the water authorities concerned. But we do not think that that is a practical arrangement, and would like subsections (1), (2), (3) and (8) of Clause 41 removed.
Most of my comments relate to a degree of reasonableness in implementation, and at a time of ever-increasing costs facing industry and local authorities it would be folly to impose measures which could lead to unnecessary expenditure to right what might be minor faults.
Part III of the Bill, which attempts to deal further with the problem of noise, is welcomed by us as, I am sure, by all other hon. Members. So is Part IV. I think that I am one of the few hon. Members who saw the film shown this evening, "The Right to Know". I, too, am concerned about the restriction on the disclosure of information which occurs in Clause 73.
Where the local authorities are to find the finance to employ the staff which it is expected will eventually be required to deal with these matters is problematical, to say the least, but that is one more good reason for a radical reform of our present rating system.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)
I intend to be very brief in welcoming the reintroduction of this Bill very warmly. I have none of the technical or expert knowledge of chemistry or of the expertise in local government which so many hon. Members have already shown in the debate. But although I intend to be brief, untechnical and inexpert, I shall be none the less vehement in my praise for certain parts of the Bill, and my experience with the problems of pollution is entirely the expertise of dealing with human beings who have to face pollution daily in their lives.
We cannot consider the quality of life without considering the environment as a vital ingredient. That point has been put by both my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the Secretary of State. There can 128 not be an hon. Member representing a town, let alone an ancient city such as I do, who is not aware that the environment of large groups of his or her constituents is very detrimentally affected by smoke, noise, deposits and the other sorts of pollution. Indeed, in Gloucester, just name it, and we have got it, or we have had it.
We have got something called the "Westgate smell", a noxious odour coming from a tallow factory. We have diesels revving up at railway bridges. We have a hospital chimney which sometimes smokes. We have every kind of factory noise and nuisance in residential areas. Added to this, we have a great deal of construction nuisance as well. Many people's lives are made a misery, and some of them are verging on nervous disorder as a result of pollution of their personal environment.
In some cases, it might be argued, "They knew when they bought their house that it was near a factory and that there would be problems with fumes or noise". But this is not the case. Very often, in most fragile factory buildings a new machine is placed where there has been one previously, where there are even gaps in the corrugated iron wall, and these people are suddenly subjected to noise nuisance and smoke and also to pollution by deposits, very often, on their furniture, carpets and curtains as a result.
I have been struck by the heartfelt complaints made to me by constituents and also by the fact that, despite the distress they were personally encountering, they have always been most particular not to endanger the jobs of those involved in the work in such factories. I am particularly pleased that in the Bill the statutory undertakers, who, I understand, have nothing to do with funeral services but are public bodies, and who were exempt from the provisions of the Noise Abatement Act 1960, are no longer to be exempt. I wonder whether this will apply to the revving of diesels by British Rail, although I realise it will not always apply to the smoking of my hospital chimney because the National Health Service cannot be prosecuted. I should add that both British Rail and the hospital board have tried as hard as possible to co-operate but in many 129 cases it has been impossible for them to do so.
I have been particularly concerned about the enforcement provisions in existing legislation. Therefore, I am pleased to see in the Bill that the right of appeal against a noise abatement notice is to be reduced to 14 days and that local authorities will be required to order abatement within a specific time. This should bring about considerable improvement.
Again, because of the noise abatement zones provided for in the Bill, we have an opportunity in such cities as Gloucester to create a "lack of noise climate" for a whole neighbourhood which never presented itself before.
I am also delighted to note that a local authority can issue a notice requiring the occupier of premises to furnish details of any fumes being emitted. There is a chemical factory in my constituency and a number of the cars which are parked nearby—they happen to belong to workers from a different factory—have had the paint stripped off by fumes emitted by the chemical factory. The fibreglass body of a car is actually beginning to disintegrate. I have corresponded with the public analyst about this, but have not been able to obtain satisfaction on behalf of my constituents.
It would appear that in our society refraining from polluting is, like good manners, consideration for other people's feelings. I think that we can, by means of the teeth which have been put into the Bill, educate a great many people and organisations into exercising good manners in this way.
There is only one thing that I think is missing from the Bill. Perhaps we are not far advanced enough in our progress in dealing with pollution for me to expect to see it in the Bill. This is the pollution of the environment by philistine planning authorities—planning authorities comprised of people who have no aesthetic or professional qualifications whatsoever. We have only to look around some of our villages and countryside to see how far that form of environmental pollution has gone.
The Secretary of State said that in no way must progress and development be hindered by our attempts to conquer pollution. I agree with him, but I say in 130 conclusion that pollution is not a price that we should be prepared to pay for progress.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I begin with an apology. This speech is not as well researched as I would like it to have been, but the copious notes I had prepared over the last couple of months on this subject helped to pollute the environment of London at 8.20 this morning, and the desk on which I was to have written my speech, which was on the first floor, is now somewhere, in several parts, on the ground floor.
I want to deal with the effect of noise on the environment. This Bill is not one to excite party conflict. It will not result in massive back bench revolt. Nevertheless the effect upon the ordinary person is likely to be enormous. The Industrial Revolution created disaster areas of pollution in many parts of the country. In my own constituency in the Midlands, and in the Black Country generally, we have examples of how the Industrial Revolution destroyed what was at one time a beautiful environment.
I apologise for requoting something I said a few weeks ago. This is a quotation from an economist who wrote a book called "The Costs of Economic Growth". He said:the desire to create the Jerusalem of economic growth in England's green and pleasant land has so far resulted in a conspicuous lack of both greenness and pleasantness.I hope that in some small way this measure will reverse the process and create a more favourable environment.
At one time pollution, noise and smoke were regarded by many as the inevitable price we had to pay for progress. In a modern, sophisticated age I believe that we can have progress and economic growth yet still improve the environment. I cannot see any reason why such aims should be incompatible. What is remarkable about the last five or six years has been the way in which public attitudes have changed. At one time the environmental lobby was regarded as an assembly of cranks. Ten years later these cranks have become accepted and the policies they were espousing are regarded as acceptable and natural. I refer to such organisations as the Noise Abatement Society.
131 Noise is probably the worst of the pollutants. If that had been said 10 years ago in this House people would have fallen about the floor laughing. Noise was regarded by many as a nuisance but was not put on the same plane as atmospheric pollution. We must compliment the environmental lobby on bringing home to Government and public alike the problems of pollution. Perhaps it has overstated its case and in some ways partly destroyed it by over-exaggeration of the consequences.
Nevertheless, such bodies play an invaluable rôle in public education. Obviously noise is subjective. What is noise to one person is not noise to another. Perhaps if I listened to a pop group such as Slade it would be a din to me but pure music to the teenager. On the other hand, a whisper of a speech from certain Conservative Members might be called a din. Noise is unwanted sound, whatever the level of that sound. It depends on the individual concerned.
Legislation on this goes back some time. I am informed that Queen Elizabeth I issued a Proclamation in the 1580s limiting the times in which males of Elizabethan England could beat their wives. Then there was the epoch-making Steam Whistles Act in the 1830s, an indication that Parliament was prepared to legislate in this area.
The Public Health Act 1936 made some advances in this direction. However we must look to the Noise Abatement Act, with all its defects, as the first indication of Government recognising the problems and being prepared to legislate. This was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by the then Mr. Rupert Speir. It began its life in the draftsman's office as a powerful measure. As it wended its way through the various Departments the powerful clauses were removed. When the Bill came before Parliament it was weak. By the time it left Parliament it was so weak as to be almost innocuous. It frightened few people, except perhaps those who sold ice cream and who were restricted in the use of their chimes.
As the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) said, statutory undertakers were exempt. The major noisemakers were given a free run. The large industrialists, the aircraft companies, local 132 authorities and nationalised industries, were largely exempt from the provisions of the Act. Its procedures were slow, its penalties trifling. It did little to prevent noise or to abate it after it was made.
This Bill will go further in encouraging the abatement of noise. It will play a part in diminishing noise, not in eliminating it. There is one simple way of eliminating noise and that is to close down the factories. Obviously people are not in favour of that. There has to be a compromise between those who make the noise and those on the receiving end of it. Let us hope now that the balance will be tilted a little more in favour of the receivers of the noise and away from being in favour of those who manufacture it.
There are some useful innovations in the Bill. The noise abatement zones are novel although, if I may impart another piece of useless information, I am told that the Greek city state of Sybaris in the fourth century BC established noise abatement zones. It has taken us 2,400 years to catch up.
The Wilson Committee, which dealt with the subject in the early 1960s, revealed, perhaps for the first time, the economic consequences of noise. Noise is much more than a nuisance, because it reduces efficiency. Typists working in an office, people working in factories, can have their judgment affected, their speed reduced as a result of excessive noise. The detrimental effect on people seeking to enjoy their leisure time is great. If people cannot sleep because there are motorways near by, this will clearly have an effect on their economic performance the following day. I do not want to over-exaggerate this. The effects of noise are by now well-chronicled.
In some parts of my constituency there are residential-industrial zones. It is all very well solving the problem of excessive noise if we can isolate the factories. But in the older parts of the country, built before the dawn of modern planning, there are areas where factories and houses have grown haphazardly. Ultimately either the homes or the factories must go. Both extremes will be economically disastrous. What we have to do in the short term is somehow to reconcile the interests of producers, work people and residents.
133 If I may be forgiven for introducing an element of the parish pump into our proceedings, there is a factory in my constituency know as Chamberlin and Hill which emits noise as a result of various processes taking place within it. This noise is having an adverse effect upon hundreds of nearby residents. Efforts to reduce the noise will be costly. If such a case ever went to court under existing law, such factories could use the "best practical means" argument to drive a coach and four through the case of any objector.
I have in mind the way in which local authorities are obliged to operate British Standard No. 4142. This provides a code for local authorities, but it is tremendously weak. We can pass the finest Act in the world. However, the regulations supporting it are all-important. Unless we tell companies their maximum levels, all this effort will be to no avail. It is easy to say that the permitted level of noise will be four decibels. Four decibels can be incredibly noisy. Nor should we be fooled by companies which say that they cannot reduce noise. That is often an excuse for minimising the money which they spend on noise abatement measures.
I want now to make a few brief comments on the Bill itself. I fear that, when it becomes legislation, it will pose enormous problems and almost a new dimension of responsibilities for our local authorities. I doubt whether they have the resources in trained manpower and the machinery necessary for taking upon themselves this greatly added burden.
I also wonder whether the fines or sanctions proposed are sufficiently high. Obviously we must work via negotiation, encouraging firms voluntarily to abate their noise. In many cases this will be invaluable and successful. But should it fail and should a company refuse to cooperate—bearing in mind that there are many ways of refusing—the fines and sanctions must be sufficiently heavy to deter. The second or third line of defence—the courts—must be sufficiently strong to deter.
Then I wonder whether the powers of the Alkali Inspectorate are to be increased. Recently I read with interest a publication of Social Audit which had one or two strong things to say about the way in which the alkali inspectors 134 enforce their responsibilities. These agents of the Government must be given more power to enforce.
I wonder, too, whether individuals who are aggrieved will be given more power to obtain redress for their grievances. We shall have a situation where a mighty polluter in the shape of a large factory is opposed to an individual, a family or a group of residents. That is a very unequal conflict. The company can call upon the most eminent barristers and other legal assistance. Can the resident who complains call upon such resources? I hope that the law, amended in this Bill, can tilt the balance more in favour of residents who are aggrieved, and I believe that it will.
Will the Bill encourage further research? There have been enormous advances in research into noise levels over the past decade. People, manufacturers and individuals have become much more noise-conscious. By increasing the potential penalties, the Bill will give a gentle nudge to manufacturers to produce, for example, quieter engines. We have only to look at the way in which certain aircraft engines have quietened over the past decade—though, of course, there are exceptions.
This measure will not be epoch-making. It will be yet another act in a piecemeal process to improve our environment. These changes will be made more by co-operation and consent. But we must remember that people are enjoying much higher standards. Much of my constituency correspondence—letters which I used to have in my files but which have now disappeared—reflects this increased interest in noise. People living in working-class areas who at one time tolerated almost anything are begining to adopt the same attitude towards noise that people living in more affluent areas have had for some time. Just because people live in a squalid environment, with dirty factories adjacent to them, that is no reason why we should expect them to have lower standards than those who live in rather different areas.
I believe that the Bill will bring a number of advantages to my constituents, not just in abating noise but in terms of the proposals for the dumping of waste. The Black Country is a testimony to how businessmen in the past have had a total 135 lack of consciousness in the way in which they have disposed of their wastes. I also welcome the improvement which I believe will be made in solving problems of atmospheric pollution.
I give a welcome to the Bill, but, again, no Minister responsible for it should ever think that, having got this Bill through, the end of the road has been reached. We can never be satisfied until we have a better environment. This will come partly as a result of this Bill. It will come partly because it will create an even greater consciousness among manufacturers, local authorities and individuals. That is the significant achievement that the Bill will make.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I enjoyed the speech made by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I am sorry that the Secretary of State was not present to hear most of what his hon. Friend said. His comments on noise deserve to be noted.
In my view, the Government's task is to set the framework in which the environment shall be managed. It is not enough to introduce a Bill which condemns pollution without setting exact standards which are common to all industries which might be described as polluters. Therefore, I was surprised to hear the Secretary of State, of whom I always think as urbanely egalitarian, say that he did not see the need for common standards, particularly concerning noise abatement. I think he used the expression "social values" as the predominant qualification for deciding what noise levels were acceptable. I cannot see this. Noise is just as objectionable in the North as in the South-East of England or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I find it difficult to see what possible argument can be advanced for saying that local authorities shall set such standards as they please and that it should be no part of the Government's duty to consider whether those standards are adequate to reduce noise nuisance.
I was impressed by the number of times that the hon. Member for Walsall, South referred to traffic noise. Indeed, he also referred to aircraft noise. However, I want to stick with traffic noise in my comments about the concept of noise abatement zones.
136 We are told that the Bill will have no effect on traffic noise and that that is not its task. The Secretary of State said that, anyway, such levels as have been introduced into vehicle, car and motor bike noise are such as to make us realise that it is coming under control. On what does he base that statement? If I go out into my neighbourhood and listen, the noise that is most obvious to me is that made by buses, lorries, cars and motor bikes. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I would have said to his predecessor, that I am not aware of a great reduction in that noise; I wish that I were. Neither will he find one of the noise meters proposed in the relevant Act which was meant to reduce traffic noise, in the whole of the Greater London area, because it is impossible to set up those noise meters. Therefore, after a car has become one or two years old and is beginning to show signs of being a noisy banger, no enforcement of which I know can be inflicted on its owner, certainly not in Greater London, because we do not have the wherewithal to achieve it. Therefore, to put forward the suggestion of noise abatement zones as if there will be areas in our cities which will be quiet and reasonably pleasant to live in, is humbug.
It is right that we should reduce noise coming out of the windows of factories, but we can already do that. It is right to get at the noisy family whose parties make life unbearable for the neighbours. We can already do that, though perhaps not quite as well as Clause 54 proposes. But in my view the Health and Safety at Work etc. Bill will have infinitely more effect on reducing the noise of machinery in factories than will the provisions of this Bill. Not to include any kind of control over traffic noise in the whole of the Bill is to condemn sin without criticising the devil. I put it as high as that, for I believe that we are persuading ourselves that the Bill will make a profound difference to the noise levels in neighbourhoods and communities, when I do not think this is the case.
Perhaps my criticism is too harsh, but there it must stand. Anyone who wants to know what neighbourhood noise means has only to walk out into a local street to discover just which noise makes the most difference.
I should like to add one point to what was said by the hon. Member for Walsall, 137 South. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we must have levels. Sir Alan Wilson laid down levels in 1963 according to the area in which industry was sited—whether rural, suburban or inner city. Because he laid down levels he was, in effect, saying, "If you are serious about the environment, if you are serious about reducing noise levels, you will do it only by imposing a national level which may initially be quite high but which will have built into it the concept of reductions over a five-or two-year period".
Unless there is a national level, we shall be leaving it to a local authority to decide how keen it is on noise abatement and asking it to enforce its levels; and we all know that enforcement is a great problem, so I say that we are not doing much more than making an attractive gesture which will largely be hollow.
I now propose to deal with those parts of the Bill which relate to reclamation, and to refer in particular to Clause 2(2)(e), and Clause 73, which refers to atmospheric pollution, which perhaps I may paraphrase as air pollution. Clause 2(2)(e) lays a duty on a disposal authority to include in its waste disposal plan the methods by which substances in controlled waste are to be reclaimed. At first glance there may not seem to be much common ground between that clause and Clause 73, which relates to atmospheric pollution, but during what I have to say I shall try to join the two together.
I welcome the clauses which refer to the reclamation and recycling of waste material. Many speakers have referred to the virtue of recycling, and I shall add only a few brief local touches. Last Friday, in my constituency, I went round a large mill belonging to the Reed Group. The product of that mill is cardboard, and I was delighted to hear that 80 per cent. of that cardboard is made from waste paper, which shows how effective reclamation can be. I was a little surprised to be told by the director who took me round the factory that in this country 7 millions of tons of waste paper are created annually, of which only 30 per cent. is being recycled or reclaimed. There is, therefore, clearly a large task to be carried out to get more of that 138 waste paper into the hands of the manufacturers.
By the same token, representatives of the glass industry, with whom I have had some discussions, told me that only 20 per cent. of new glass is made up of cullet, which is broken waste glass. I gather that the industry would like to use more of this waste glass but, as with the manufacture of cardboard, the difficulty is the problem of collection.
I wonder whether we can leave this matter to local authorities, and for that reason I welcome the Secretary of State's statement that he intends to bring central Government into this question of reclamation. Indeed, I think, that a national reclamation campaign is urgently needed. I hope that there will be a co-ordinated effort between Government and industry, and between industries such as those involved in the manufacture of paper, cardboard, glass and cans.
Having said that, I also hope that thought will be given to the ways in which the ordinary householder can help in the process of recycling his waste in terms of putting it into different compartments in his dustbin. Most people have one dustbin for all their household refuse. Into it goes glass, paper, plastic, tins and anything that is considered to be household refuse, and it is the devil's own job for the local authority to try to segregate the various items.
I wonder whether there is not something to be said for a national standard for a compartmentalised dustbin, so that we can put paper in one section, bottles in another and plastic in yet another. That may be difficult, but I recall, as a child, that during the war there was a salvage campaign, and we were persuaded to wear badges to show that we had helped with collecting salvage. I see no reason why we cannot do in peace time what we were able to do in war time. We should start with households if we are to reclaim successfully.
The American idea of a bottle week is a good one, and I should like to see retail outlets which at present will not take back empties or which do not give a deposit being prepared to assist the Government in a campaign to collect old bottles. It can be achieved, and needs a little extra push from central Government. 139 Hence, I welcome what the Secretary of State said in this connection.
Clause 73 refers to air pollution, or atmospheric pollution. I declare an interest here. My company is employed by a company at Sandy, which reclaims animal waste. This company is one of over 140 in this country which collect animal by-products, such as offal, and processes them into a high protein material which is added to animal feeding stuffs. The industry has a turnover of £50 million a year, but the task of taking flesh and rendering it down to a high protein meal creates nauseating and unpleasant odours. People living near such plants often complain of the smell which, on occasions, is pretty unbearable. I accept that straight away, but that surely represents atmospheric pollution, which needs to be looked at rather carefully. Despite the involvement of Warren Springs and of the Government committee which considered the question of odour control, scientists have not yet found a way of totally eliminating odour from those plants, which are now at risk because of Section 100 of the Public Health Act 1936.
The Secretary of State said that Sir Brian Flowers is to head the committee which is to look into the question of air pollution. I ask the Secretary of State to ask Sir Brian to look into the question of odour pollution. This particular industry, and others like it in the chemical world are undertaking tasks of national importance. If we do not get high protein feeding stuffs from these companies we shall have to bring in the feed from abroad. These companies have national importance, but their work is now at risk simply on the grounds of local complaints about public nuisance. I am not saying that the ordinary person who finds it unbearable to be in his garden because he lives near a plant should not be able to complain and that his complaint should not be taken seriously, but we should set a standard so that plants will know whether they are doing everything possible to eliminate the nuisance. If they are, we ought perhaps to weigh the national importance against nuisance to individuals, and try to strike a balance in the middle. Will the Secretary of State consider this point when giving Sir Brian his brief?
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I regret that I cannot give the Bill as enthusiastic a welcome as have some of my hon. Friends. I welcome the principle, but I regret that so much of the legislation proposed is permissive. For example, Clause 73, on atmospheric pollution, says that a local authority "may"
Many hon. Members have made it clear how important it is that the public should know more about atmospheric pollution, yet local authorities are told only that they "may" do something. I hope that the Committee will amend the Bill and give it teeth.
- "(a) undertake, or contribute towards the cost of, investigation and research relevant to the problem of air pollution; and
- (b) arrange for the publication of information on that problem."
Clause 74, dealing with notices requiring information about air pollution, also says that a local authority "may"by notice require the occupier of any premises in its area to furnish, whether by periodical returns or by other means, such estimates or other information as may be specified or described in the notice concerning the emission of pollutants and other substances into the air from the premises.This just will not do. This is the weakest type of legislation that a Labour Government could propose if they were serious about the ideas in the Bill.
If I do not appear respectful, I hope that hon. Members will understand. About 95 per cent. of my 165,000 constituents suffer from bronchitis and related chest diseases. The majority of deaths are caused by carcinoma, but no one is supposed to know the reason for these deaths. My answer is that the high death rate is the result of industrial pollution.
Today, hundreds of people in the Sutton district of St. Helens were demonstrating outside Leathers Chemicals Limited, which has been known to be emitting into the atmosphere large amounts of sulphuric acid, in high concentrations. In the two years since this plant received overall planning permission on the advice of an alkali inspector for the district, it has set up its buildings on a piece of land surrounded on three sides by houses. The buildings go up to the backyard fences and people are living in fear.
I was told last year that the Alkali Inspectorate was to prosecute Leathers 141 Chemicals for breaking the terms of its planning permission. Has there been a prosecution? If not, why not? Who has got at whom?
The corporation issued two orders. The public hearing was held at the town hall at St. Helen's last December. I went to the first day's hearing. Without any doubt, the corporation's orders were something that had to be issued to get the firm to behave itself. People were marching through the town and threatening to block traffic to stop the road tankers carrying acid from passing into and out of the plant.
I have received many petitions and I have raised this case with various Ministers and with Secretaries of State from time to time. Yet I am told that although the evidence against this firm, which led to the corporation's two orders, was proven beyond all doubt, the Secretary of State has allowed the appeal of Leathers Chemicals Limited.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
My hon. Friend speaks of "the Secretary of State". I presume that he refers to a former Secretary of State and not to my right hon. Friend who is at present on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I wish that I could answer that question. That is one of the reasons why I have raised the matter tonight. I should like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to assure me that he would not do such a thing. I cannot give the assurance which my hon. Friend would like. But this is a very important matter.
§ Mr. Crosland
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), whom we are delighted to see back in the House after a short interval. As far as I know, neither myself nor my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whom I have consulted, has been approached by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) about this case at all. We should be delighted, when approached, to look into it very thoroughly.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Let me assure my right hon. Friend that up to just before the last General Election this case was raised not once but at least a dozen times.
When I attended the public hearing, when the two orders were heard at the 142 town hall, two graphs were displayed. They were no larger than the piece of paper which I am holding. They were shown to witnesses. It was stated that if this firm allowed an emission of more than 2.5 per cent. of sulphur dioxide it was breaking the planning permission. The top of the graph represented the 2.5 per cent. level, but there was nothing to show how far the line went beyond it because the graphs were no larger than this sheet of paper, if as large. At the inquiry I asked a question of one of the witnesses—the manager of the firm. I asked what would happen if the monitoring equipment showed that there was an emission of 50 per cent. sulphur dioxide. The witness had to tell the truth. There was nothing to denote it. The graphs allowed only a 2.5 per cent. level to show what was happening at the plant.
The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) referred to noise. My attention has been drawn to the poor types of building being erected as homes. I can give an example of what people suffer. There need not be excessive noise in a house for a neighbour to hear it clearly. The vacuum cleaner working in the house next door to my semi-detached house sounds as though it is operating in my kitchen, because houses are jerrybuilt. No sound insulation is built into modern houses; single brick division walls are erected.
My right hon. Friend has a big job ahead. I shall let him know the outcome of today's demonstration in St. Helens. I hope that he will do something to stop the high incidence of bronchitis and carcinoma. I have been unable to obtain the necessary medical evidence to back up the case that I seek to make. I hope that the committee which he is to set up, and which I hope will visit St. Helens to investigate conditions on the spot, will have amongst its members medical men and scientists of the highest qualifications who will be able to take tests of the atmosphere and, with the cooperation of the authorities locally, I hope that we shall be able to remove once and for all the fear of people like my constituents.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I wish to raise the question of noise, especially traffic noise. In my 143 constituency there is a modern monstrosity called the Gravelly interchange, perhaps better known as "Spaghetti Junction", which is the greatest conglomeration of roads in Britain. Although this interchange may be a great boon to anyone travelling by car from London to the North-West, it is completely intolerable to those living in the area—in fact, it is a living hell for many of them.
Do Clauses 53 and 54 apply to highway authorities? Do they apply to the Department of the Environment as a highway authority? Does the phrasethe local authority shall serve a noticeapply to district authorities or county authorities? What is the position when the county authority is itself the relevant highway authority?
Much could be done to mitigate the nuisance at Gravelly Hill by the construction of sound barriers. One sound barrier has already been constructed in Perry Barr, and that has been most effective in controlling noise. Perhaps the Minister will tell me whether the same is contemplated for the Gravelly Hill area and other parts of the M6. All this qualifies under the provisions of the Land Compensation Act. If there is no provision in these clauses to deal with this matter and with serving the notice to execute the necessary works, perhaps the Minister will approach the Minister for Transport, who is a member of the same great empire—the Department of the Environment—and ensure that he erects sound barriers.
Some people have already been told that they qualify for noise insulation under the Act. This may protect some of their rooms from the noise, but of course it does nothing to protect their gardens and other parts of their house, from the intolerable drone and roar which persists the whole day.
Noise from factories has been a problem in my constituency from time to time as no doubt it has been in most Birmingham industrial constituencies. I have always thought that the provision of the defence in this matter that the best practical means have been used to prevent or counteract the effect of noise has always been a great obstacle to a local authority, 144 as it will be under the Bill to any individual seeking a remedy to noise nuisance. That provision often renders a local authority powerless. It is simply carried over from existing legislation under the Public Health Act, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look at this either in Committee or at some other stage to see whether he can make a modification especially to the exemptions clause, Clause 67, which saysIn that expression 'practicable' means reasonably practicable having regard among other things to local conditions and circum stances, to the current state of technical knowledge and to the financial implications.This provides many firms with a very easy way out of their obligations as many local health authorities, and now environmental authorities, have found when they have pursued these matters.
I have always believed and urged that the Alkali Inspectorate should be abolished and that its function should be vested in the local authority. It always seems ridiculous to me to have two authorities, one dealing with pollution by smoke from homes and the other with emissions from factories. With that duplication it is only sense to have one authority to carry out both functions. Most local authorities have the necessary expertise to do the work, and certainly the Alkali Inspectorate does not have sufficient manpower to do the job. It seems to me that in order to avoid duplication and get an effective service the time has come for the Minister to consider vesting both these functions in one authority, and the obvious choice is the local authority.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
This is a massive Bill and for reasons which were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), although I welcome it, I am not entirely satisfied that it has the teeth it needs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that this sort of problem is the result of growth but I do not wholeheartedly share his opinion on the matter. It is not growth as such which is necessarily desirable, but certain types of growth in certain places and for certain purposes, and therefore I would qualify what he said at the opening of the debate.
One of the worries of the Greater London Council is the co-ordination there 145 will be between the new Waste Management Council and existing local authorities. I understand that two-thirds of those authorities do not sort waste. I have great sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who, like me, collected salvage in his youth. It might not be a bad thing if many of the younger people, including those of Cornwall referred to by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd), helped in the process. If there is to be sorting of metal, paper, glass and plastic in the home, which is the only sensible solution to the problem of sorting, some of our young people might spend some time in collecting them, perhaps on a semi-voluntary basis.
My own borough council, the London borough of Newham, collects paper. It is one of the several boroughs which do. The cost of waste paper has risen to such an extent that, the borough having initialed the scheme, certain people with private enterprise are now offering Green Shield stamps to householders the day before the municipal collection so that they can take away the paper first.
Clauses 2 and 3 place an onus on the local authority to produce a waste plan. I believe that proper legislation would place an onus on the producers of waste, whether solid or liquid, to make sure that the depositing of such waste was not harmful. I do not find that in the Bill. I hope that we can consider it in Committee.
I found very interesting what the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said about the agro-chemical industry and the effect of nitrates on waterways. She has the advantage over me of having close knowledge of chemistry.
I believe that the phrase "good agricultural practice" in Clause 26 will cause difficulty. As the right hon. Lady rightly said, good husbandry should be the criterion by which we work. In an era of greater competition in agriculture, particularly with the impact of the EEC, I fear that good husbandry as such is under greater pressure, particularly as regards soil conditions. What constitututes good husbandry, and what levels of, for instance, nitrogenous fertiliser we can safely use, will be a matter of some difficulty. It is not good enough to say 146 that the techniques that have made available the new fertilisers will also be available to analyse the problem. It is a matter of agricultural and international economics. It is not always possible to turn back the clock of economic development by inventing techniques. It has been found in North America, where there are the classic examples of agricultural exploitation, that the problem is very difficult.
Nothing has yet been said about atomic waste. Clause 95 deals with the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to tell us whether it constitutes an advance on the present position. Does it mean that the Department and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be a watchdog over and above the Department of Energy in this matter? Will my right hon. Friend alone have information about the disposal of atomic waste, or will it be made more public?
I turn to the question of the powers of the Alkali Inspectorate. My right hon. Friend said that the 1906 Act, coupled with the 1968 clean air legislation, will be adequate, but we have already heard tonight that it is not adequate for Gloucester. It will be not the cars of my constituents that will perhaps be attacked by acid fumes but their lungs and bodies, as apparently happens in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens. There is an acid works adjacent to my constituency, and my constituents are sometimes told by the police to close their windows and doors because fumes from the factory are liable to be dangerous. There is a strong smell from the works on a normal day. I am not sure that the proposals in the Bill will be adequate to protect my constituents from what is already a considerable risk.
Technical expertise for boroughs might come from grouping. We do not know whether the sort of technical expertise that would have to be produced to implement the Bill will be on a district or county level. In London, for instance, the Greater London Council's scientific service would no doubt be of great help, but I do not know whether that would apply elsewhere.
I ask the Minister two questions. Whether he replies to them tonight or later by correspondence does not matter 147 too much. I have read alarming reports in the Press about the increased acidity of rainfall that is due particularly to the sulphur content in the air. It could have considerable effects upon many natural activities, and particularly agriculture. I hope that we consider that matter or refer it to the Royal Commission if the facts are as stated in the Press. Secondly, I refer to ozone in the upper atmosphere and the possible effects of insolation—namely, the sun—on agriculture and water supply. That is a major matter of natural ecology. If it is felt that there is a prima facie case I hope that the Royal Commission will consider it.
This is a massive, complex and possibly a useful Bill. I shall risk being slightly controversial. At the outset it was mentioned that the Bill had two parents. Usually the characteristics of such Bills are the characteristics of their parents. I am not satisfied that the Bill has the sort of teeth that I want it to have or that its teeth, if it has any, are strong enough.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Part IV of the Bill deals with air pollution. Sheffield has had a remarkably successful record over the past decade in dealing with pollution and clean air. It now enjoys the reputation of being the cleanest industrial city in Europe. However, the council has run up against a problem which has been aired throughout the debate—namely, industrial pollution, the rôle of the Alkali Inspectorate and the limited rôle of local authorities.
Industrial pollution in Sheffield is not primarily from acid works but from steel works. Unfortunately some modern types of steel-making plant, such as the electric are furnace, are much more inclined to produce pollution than the older systems. The red fumes from the electric are furnaces just over the border, in Rotherham, have become notorious in the area. If I understand the Bill correctly, the local authorities will in future have wider powers to obtain information about pollution. However, they will have no extra powers in respect of the Alkali Inspectorate.
Some hon. Members have referred to the problems of the division of duties between the local authority and the Alkali Inspectorate. I do not think that 148 anyone has suggested that the members of the inspectorate are anything but technically competent, highly qualified and conscientious men who set about doing their job. However, the present system has a number of disadvantages which we should consider. I am not sure that the setting up of a Royal Commission, although it is important and its chairman is a distinguished man, is in itself enough. I hope that some modifications will be carried out to the Bill so as to give wider powers to the local authorities.
The trouble with the inspectorate is partly that it is too remote from the public. It is not, of course, an elected body and it is not directly subject to public pressure. I have seen the criticism that people do not have the foggiest idea of how to get in touch with the local inspectors. There seem to be on record some unfortunate cases which show a not very happy attitude on the part of the inspectorate when it has received complaints from the general public as opposed to authorities.
Reference has been made to the inspectorate's inadequate number of inspectors. There is also the problem that in general the inspectorate seems to want a rather cosy relationship with industry rather than, as some of us would like to see, a more abrasive and more pressurising attitude. I have looked at the inspectorate's report for 1972. There were 502 complaints in that year and 58 infractions of the law. In that period there were only three prosecutions. It would appear that it has been the standard policy of the inspectorate over many decades not to prosecute if it could avoid doing so. I do not see that this is a helpful attitude in getting powerful corporations to toe the line and obey the law if there is no inclination to haul them before the courts and to make them accountable for the errors they have made.
There is also the business of secrecy, particularly trade secrecy, which, I am sorry to say, is rehearsed in the Bill. I am not at all convinced that effective action against pollution of the atmosphere need be inhibited by arguments about trade secrets. I am sure that this problem could be overcome if there were serious intention to do so.
My right hon. Friend spoke of a freer and fuller flow of information to the 149 public. Anything which inhibits the freer and fuller flow of information needs to be challenged in the Bill and in practice. As a rider to that, there is the curious habit of the Alkali Inspectorate of refusing to disclose the names of the firms which offend against pollution law. Why they should be exempt from publicity, I cannot understand, because such publicity is in itself a very powerful weapon against offenders, particularly the big corporations, which do not like, for commercial reasons, to be called to account in public for offending, through pollution, against what is a form of public decency.
I am not entirely convinced that there is a complete case for passing over control in pollution matters to local authorities from the Alkali Inspectorate wholesale. But I must point out that the late Sir Gerald Nabarro, when the Clean Air Act was being debated in the House, asked that local authorities should be given wider powers, and they were given some powers to apply for control over specific premises and such powers have been exercised by a number of them, notably Sheffield.
It is perhaps a slightly, almost amusing, ironic coincidence that in the Sheffield Telegraph last Friday there was a report of a collision between the local authority and the Alkali Inspectorate in respect of specific pollution of the atmosphere. The report said:Rotherham's controversial pollution monster—the power station—was at the centre of another storm last night when the Alkali Inspectorate were accused of not doing their job.The attack was made by Coun. George Moores at the Environmental Health Committee, which was attended by District Alkali Inspector Mr. Edwin Thomlinson.Councillors have already agreed to visit Whitehall in an effort to get the station closed because of its pollution menace.Coun. Moores claimed: The inspectorate have taken no action. They do not prosecute if they are satisfied that a firm has taken all reasonable action to obviate emissions.'He added angrily: 'Grit as large as match heads is falling in to the atmosphere and entering kids' lungs.'I think that when we take over the power of the inspectorate we will get something done at last.'The corporation prosecute 20 to 30 cases a year, and when they do, not many come back.'I have not seen the inspectorate take any action in this case.'150 I have not been able to check whether Councillor Moores's statements are fair or unfair, although I know that this has been a matter of controversy for some time. But it is clear that there is serious dissatisfaction among the public and elected bodies about the division of powers between elected local authorities and the national inspectorate.
I think that the volume of evidence presented in the debate, and which exists elsewhere in a number of publications, shows that this is a matter to which the Government should give attention and that they should perhaps strengthen the Bill without waiting for the complete findings of the Royal Commission.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
The Secretary of State made a putative claim to the paternity of the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was not quite sure whether she should deny it. I shall not go further into that speculation, except to say that the womb in which this infant was gestated was the Department of the Environment—the first of its kind in the world, created by the Conservative Government for the purpose of co-ordinating all the various aspects of environmental study.
This Bill is the natural issue of that Department. It is substantially the same as the Protection of the Environment Bill, introduced in another place by the last administration before the General Election. The main differences arise from points raised in the other place during the passage of that first Bill which the Minister undertook to consider. Possibly the most significant change that has been made by the Government is in the name. We called it the Protection of the Environment Bill because our outlook, our philosophy, is to preserve and to conserve all that is good and wholesome in this country. The Government prefer to talk of the control of pollution—a Freudian slip making a most expressive commentary on their mental makeup. In a name we have two totally disparate worlds of political thought.
Once we leave the name we find, in the readoption of our proposals, very little with which we can quarrel. Part I repeats the essential framework we laid 151 down to preserve the land from the random disposal of waste. It requires constructive planning and programming. While this is to be achieved within a structure of licensing, backed by legal sanction, its success depends upon full community participation and co-operation by each and every member of society.
Every one of us wants to see clean and tidy cities. We all want to enjoy green and pleasant countryside filled with sweet-flowing rivers. This can be best attained by a willingness not to befoul our environment by careless, reckless or deliberate action, ranging from discarding unwanted paper wrappers or plastic bottles to the tipping of builders' rubble or even unwanted and sometimes toxic chemical waste. This approach is more likely to succeed than constant policing and the imposition of severe penalties, which is a last resort. It is to be hoped that the greater involvement of local authorities and the requirement to prepare schemes will stimulate a greater public awareness and concerted and individual action.
One respect in which the Bill has been improved due to the further reflection which it received in the other place relates to the requirement that local authorities shall include in their waste disposal schemes proposals for the reclamation of waste. I welcome this with great enthusiasm. I have already been involved in two debates dealing with the recycling of waste. One was initiated by Sir Eric Bullus in the last Parliament, which I answered from the Government Dispatch Box in January. The other was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), to which I replied from the Opposition Dispatch Box shortly after the General Election.
This is a subject on which I have strong views. At the risk of boring the House for the third time, I assert that we must have regard not only to the pollution aspects of waste but to its improvidence. The human race cannot for time without end ceaselessly tear out from the bowels of this finite planet its limited resources and recklessly discharge them into the air, rivers and seas or scatter them about the landscape. These products must be husbanded, preserved and re-used. Reclamation is a major industry, with a turnover of £1,500 million. It makes a 152 great contribution to our balance of payments, but I agree with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) that there is still a great deal more that local authorities can do. They have a great part to play in this. So far, it has been left mostly to industry itself.
Each year, 1 million tons of ferrous metal goes into municipal refuse. Only a small part is reclaimed. Each year, 7½ million tons of paper is used in the United Kingdom, of which 4½ million tons is reclaimed. But, of that 4½ million tons, only 15 per cent. is reclaimed by local authorities. Here again, there is room for improvement in the separate collection, storing and marketing of this useful waste.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne wanted to see some obligation placed upon local authorities in this respect. This could give rise to difficulties. In the past, when some local authorities tried to reclaim paper, they found that the bottom fell out of the market and that they were left with vast stores of paper which they could not dispose of. Therefore, a great deal of thought has to be given not only to the collection of paper but also to storage facilities, possibly on a regional basis, and then for the long-term contracting and delivery to paper mills. It is in this area that the Government can give the greatest help to local authorities by co-ordinating and providing storage centres and by assisting them in finding outlets for the product.
These ways in which local authorities can begin to study how they can contribute in this area are indicated in the unofficial report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. That report shows that in Dusseldorf a municipal refuse incinerator provides steam for space heating and has as by-products scrap iron and ash for land filling. That incinerator is able to dispose of Dusseldorf's waste and show a profit at the end of the day. I should have thought that that was a possibility which our local authorities could well investigate. In Osaka there is another machine which incinerates sewage sludge and generates electricity. Then, our own Warren Spring Laboratories have been experimenting with pyrolysis, which is a method of burning waste in the 153 absence of air and producing fuel gases and oils as by-products.
We welcome the fact that our local authorities will now be required to give close attention to these matters. However, we recognise that the recycling of waste is a very complex business. At the turn of the year three valuable reports were published on the reclamation of metal, glass and plastics. These show the need for Government initiative in research and the co-ordination of national effort combining central Government agencies, local government and industry.
Before leaving the Department of the Environment so involuntarily in March, I was laying plans with colleagues for the establishment of a national advisory council for waste reclamation for these very purposes. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has picked up this idea in the Department and has announced today that he is proceeding with it. We shall watch very carefully whether he pursues this matter with the vigour which we would like to see.
I turn to the subject of water, and Part II of the Bill. Considerable anxiety has been expressed by agricultural interests that under this Bill they may be prevented from following what the Minister of Agriculture approves to be good agricultural practice, without being compensated.
There are safeguards in the Bill, inasmuch as there are provisions for consideration by both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of representations by a farmer before he is restricted in conducting normal farming activities. However, this procedure, whilst inhibiting arbitrary action by a water authority, still leaves the farmer liable to suffer severe financial loss. We would wish to see this matter re-examined closely in Committee.
In this connection I draw the attention of the Secretary of State to an article by Professor Scorer of the Imperial College of Science and Technology which appeared in the New Scientist of 25th April last in which he stated that the concentration of nitrates in the Thames and Lea Rivers had risen to levels considered dangerous by the World Health Organisation.
I should like to know what investigations are currently being made into this 154 problem. Has any assessment been made of the relative contribution to this problem by sewage effluents and fertilisers used on the land? That is relevant to the previous discussion and consideration that we have given to compensation for farmers. What progress has been made in the past few months in experiments to convert nitrates in sewage into free nitrogen by oxygenisation processes? What funds are the Government making available to provide the necessary plants as a matter of extreme urgency?
I realise that the Minister may not have the answers to those questions immediately, although I notified his private office before the debate began that I would be referring to Professor Scorer's article. I hope that he may be able to produce the answers, at least in writing, in the not too distant future.
The third part of the Bill, which shows relatively little change, is particularly welcome. Representing what is essentially a dormitory area of London, I am aware of the intolerable effects on living conditions caused by the increasing crescendo of traffic and the misery caused by industrial activity, particularly on non-conforming users in residential areas, of all-night garages, repair shops, and even all-night take-away food shops.
The public law giving local authorities power to take action against noise in such cases has so far been cumbersome and ineffective. Private citizens are reluctant to take civil proceedings for nuisance because of the expense entailed, even when their rights are undeniably infringed. The Bill will make prosecutions in magistrates' courts more effective and readily available, and could provide a useful complement to planning powers where an intensification of user producing unacceptable noise levels rather than change of user is involved.
We hope that the proposed noise abatement zones will be as effective in reducing noise pollution as have been the clean air zones in banishing smog from our cities and towns.
I turn now to Part IV, which deals with pollution of the atmosphere. Following our successful clean air policy, the two remaining main contaminants are lead from motor fuel and sulphur dioxide from the use of fuel oil in industry. The powers in the Bill to deal with both these problems are welcome.
155 My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) raised the interesting question whether obnoxious smell amounts to atmospheric pollution. It may not amount to a danger to public health, and so far it has not been possible to take action against it, but an obnoxious smell has a pronounced effect upon the quality of life, and when the Minister replies to the debate he may like to comment on the question whether smell amounts to atmospheric pollution and whether it will be caught by the Bill.
There is one matter which causes me some concern and which does not stem from the Bill itself. I refer to the comments of the Secretary of State in which he appeared to condone ill-founded and ill-informed criticisms of the Alkali Inspectorate—criticisms which were repeated by a number of his hon. Friends during the debate. The truth of the matter is that the Alkali Inspectorate is a body with cumulative experience and expertise which is second to none in the world in combating air pollution. It is highly regarded and envied throughout the world for its sensible approach, which has enabled it to produce results of the highest order in a thoroughly practical manner.
The measure of its success is not the number of prosecutions that it initiates but the degree of co-operation that it has obtained from industry in combating air pollution, often at great expense. Its disbanding would be a major retrograde step, and no local authority could begin for scores of years to replace the inspectorate's stored knowledge. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to proceed with the utmost caution in this matter.
The employment of expert staff is central to the objective of the Bill, not only in the realm of clean air but in the other aspects of waste disposal, waste reclamation, monitoring of water pollution and the novel field of noise measurement and control. New techniques will have to be mastered and new career structures will have to be introduced for what will be a new provision of environmental protection. Having regard to the heavy burdens on our rate fund, I should like an assurance that the Government are giving urgent and careful thought to how they will help local authorities in this respect.
156 Are the Government satisfied that the financial provision in the Bill is adequate, or will it be necessary to ask the House to extend it? The Opposition are reluctant to see any increase in public expenditure, but the Bill is concerned with the very quality of life of our people—the environment or physical surroundings in which they live out their everyday lives in their homes and in their places of work, and in which they pass their recreation and leisure time. The Bill sets out to provide a comprehensive protection for that physical environment and to make improvements where necessary. To that end the Opposition welcome and support the Bill.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Mr. Denis Howell)
I thank all those who have taken part in the debate for the constructive approach that they have shown to this important measure. I trust that that augurs well for the passage of the Bill. Speakers from the three political parties have expressed the hope that we shall get the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible. I am certain that that is in the interests of good government and of the environment, and I greatly welcome the support which, almost without exception, is being given to the Bill.
We are concerned here with the whole of the environment in which the British people live. We wish to ensure that our air is clean enough to breathe, that our water is pure enough to drink, that our ears are not subjected to deafening noise and that our land is not littered with discarded junk. These are monumental tasks, but I point out to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) that they are tasks which are concerned with the control of pollution, which is part of the protection of the environment.
There is no Freudian consideration in changing the title of the Bill. The reason is that it is the wish of the Government on all occasions to be accurate in what they are trying to achieve, and we believe that the title of the previous Bill could have possibly given a misleading impression of complacency. People might have wrongly thought that it was considered that when the Bill was passed enough would have been done.
We are trying to control pollution and therefore we believe that this Bill is more 157 happily titled. But to be frank, one of the main reasons why we changed the title from that of the previous Bill was that we were repeatedly asked to do so by Members on both sides in another place. We considered that those criticisms were valid and we hope that the Bill is now more aptly titled.
I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) for her helpful and constructive speech, even though with regard to Clause 73, dealing with the powers of local authorities to undertake research into atmospheric pollution, she advanced the cause of inconsistency, which is a novel approach to our affairs. It is true that Governments behave differently occasionally when in Opposition. We now at least understand the motivating factor in the campaign of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that we should now deal with the rating situation in a totally different manner from that in the Bill which he introduced only three months ago. If that is now part of the philosophy of the Opposition, it explains a great deal. The reason that this clause is included is that it comes directly from the Clean Air Act 1956.
While we want to concentrate research on important matters, there are large numbers of minor matters on which research is needed, and local authorities ought to be encouraged to carry this research out. That is why the clause is included. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would not wish to take away from local authorities their powers to undertake research which may be very helpful to the country as a whole.
The hon. Member for Hornsey raised a detailed matter which I understand arises from the article by Professor Scorer. I wish to deal with this immediately because I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the matter. On the information which has been made available to me in the short time since I was given notice that he was to raise this point regarding the dangerous concentration of nitrates, especially the danger to young children, I can say that we accept that not enough is known about this matter and that these dangers do exist for young children. Experiments have been conducted at the Rye Meads Works in the Lea Valley, which at first seem to be rather encouraging. I gather that 50 per cent. of the nitrates have 158 been removed during the experiments that have been carried out. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we regard this matter as being of the utmost urgency and that we shall continue to follow it up and to keep the problem very much in mind.
One of the keys to pollution control is constant monitoring of atmospheric pollution, noise, water pollution, and so on. By the Bill, we are committing ourselves to a process of constant monitoring of the environment without which it is impossible to make sensible judgments and continuous progress. I lay the greatest emphasis on this side of the Bill. I agree that it is impossible for the concern about the environment throughout the country to find adequate expression unless it is based on information and knowledge. We want to encourage maximum public discussion. This is the reason for the detailed work, which is often so unexciting to laymen. People tend to laugh off the creation of yet another working party or study group, but it is impossible to achieve the results we want unless we concentrate our research and monitoring facilities in this way.
Many environmentalists make the mistake of thinking that environmental problems concern only the countryside. I, at least, passionately believe, as I know my right lion. Friend does, that the most important thing in the lives of millions of people in our cities is the quality of life in their road—the litter, the noise, the nuisance and the atmosphere. We must get this right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Finchley, endorse that remark.
This Bill tackles that problem. It makes a start. With one or two of the litter provisions, it deals with urban pollution more broadly than ever before. It extends the powers to deal with waste and litter and to keep our streets clean. It tackles the problem of pollution of estuaries and coastal waters for the first time. It will bring big improvements in the quality of water in estuaries, which have often suffered major industrial development. It will help to clean up the beaches of coastal towns. It will deal with construction noise, industrial noise and noise from machinery. It provides 159 powers for local authorities to find out and publish comprehensive information on air pollution.
But when we have done all that, as the right hon. Member for Finchley said, the citizen has a rôle, too. It is impossible to deal with these questions and to control them unless the process of public education and involvement is maximised. I hope that, when the House and the local authorities have given the breath of life to this legislation, we shall turn our attention from the monitoring process through the education process to the involvement of all our citizens in the fight against environmental pollution in the cities.
As a nation, we have little to be proud of as we survey the way in which we litter our rubbish throughout our cities and countryside. I am glad that Schedule 3 puts an obligation on local authorities to create municipal dumps which must be open at least one day every weekend. In other words, they should be available to citizens at times at which they can be used.
We shall look at this proposal in detail in Committee. We must make it totally inexcusable for anyone in our society to litter our cities with old bedsteads, second-hand motor cars, junk and so on. We must never allow it to be said that people deposit their junk in this way because local authorities have made no adequate provision for them to do otherwise.
Street cleaning is a matter of great concern. I discovered a remarkable thing when I came fresh to the Bill. I found that nowhere in the law of this land is there an obligation upon local authorities to keep the streets clean. Therefore, in the Bill, we are enacting for the first time such a responsibility.
That brings with it another associated problem, to which we are turning our attention. I hope that in Committee we can deal with it, although it is not in the Bill at present. If one imposes a duty upon a local authority to keep the streets clean, one has to consider how it can do it, in these days of a shortage of manpower and of the use of modern machinery, if people insist upon leaving their motor cars parked outside their houses for a very long period. Therefore, 160 we shall have to consider some method of requiring householders, for some period of the week, to park their cars only on one side of a road in order that the street cleaners can do their duty. We are considering that matter, to which we shall turn later.
In 1972 Parliament greatly increased the penalties for the depositing of litter. But I am sorry to say that although 2,000 prosecutions have taken place—in the latest year for which I have figures—we all know by the state of our cities that that is a totally inadequate number when compared with the number of people who are behaving irresponsibly in the matter of litter. We must try to make people change their ways in this respect. I am not quite sure how we shall do that, but society as a whole must insist upon minimum standards of common decency being maintained. Ultimately, it probably comes down to prosecutions. We all sympathise with the police in the burden that they carry. But the fact is that a few well-publicised cases dealing with people depositing litter are likely to do more good for public education in this matter than almost anything else.
In the Bill we are taking new powers, for the first time, to deal with litter in streams. The Government intend to table further amendments on this matter. As Part II is at present drafted, it repeats the existing law. The putting of litter or other obnoxious matter which is not poisonous, noxious or polluting into streams is an offence only if byelaws are drawn to make it so. I am sure that the whole House will agree that that is inadequate. We propose, therefore, to introduce an amendment to ensure that the putting of litter into rivers or streams, or leaving it there, is an offence. We propose also to strengthen the power of the water authority to take it away.
I turn to the phrase "best practical means", which has cropped up so many times in many speeches. This is what I call the British approach to the question of dealing with pollution. I cannot see any suitable alternative. A possible alternative would be to lay down hard-and-fast standards—for example, in the clean air emissions standards. It is very interesting that throughout the world more and more countries, particularly the United States, are coming to appreciate the practicality of the British approach. 161 In other words, one does not lay down hard-and-fast standards in one Bill, which remain even though technological improvements are available. One tries in legislation to introduce a means—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Howell
Therefore, "the best practical means" takes many considerations into account—technological change, local conditions and financial implications. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), who raised the question of the financial implications of dealing with the best practical means approach. We will consider that. I hope that he means that regard must be paid to the social effects which might flow from making orders which could make thousands of people redundant almost overnight.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Does the Minister of State agree that, unless we set levels, particularly in noise, we shall never know how much we are improving our standards?
§ Mr. Howell
I do not agree, for reasons I will come to in a moment. The best practical means was the system on which I was brought up in my early days in local government from 1946 onwards in Birmingham. It has worked. The tremendous progress made in smoke control and reducing pollution of the atmosphere is attributable almost entirely to the legislative approach of successive Governments.
The question of the Alkali Inspectorate has been discussed. It has been argued that the function of the inspectorate should be transferred. The attempt of the hon. Member for Hornsey to attribute to my right hon. Friend a lack of total sympathy for the inspectorate was far removed from reality. There is a case, though I do not believe it to be substantial, for closing down the inspectorate and transferring all its functions to local authorities. We will examine that in Committee. The inspectorate has existed 162 for 100 years and has built up great expertise and a knowledge of technology. It would not be practicable for every local authority overnight to take over the duties of the inspectorate.
There is much more validity in the argument that the inspectorate is probably undermanned and should be encouraged to recruit more people. I gather that on the whole one inspector deals with 60 works. I am told that when difficult cases occur, daily visits to works are made.
One or two of the difficulties from which the inspectorate has suffered recently have arisen from the frivolous, trendy, clever approach to the examination of the inspectorate's affairs. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) told us that he went to see a film today. That film caused grave offence not only to the inspectorate but to many other people. The Clean Air Council, which met only last week, took a rather dim view of the Social Audit report upon which much of the criticism of the inspectorate has been based.
What the Social Audit report said was on the whole true, but it was not the whole truth. As we all know, the truth is many sided. People who go into investigatory journalism by means of television or who wish to produce reports such as Social Audit has produced have an equal obligation with any of us here and anyone at the Alkali Inspectorate to do their job thoroughly and to see that all the facts are reported—not to base their arguments on outdated cases, which has happened here when much more recent evidence and cases were available for them to investigate if they had wished to do so. I was not surprised to hear that the Clean Air Council, which is totally neutral in the question of the Alkali Inspectorate, took great exception at its meeting last week to the Social Audit report.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) for his constructive approach, an approach he adopted in spite of the pollution difficulties faced in his constituency. I assure him that the Government believe that the local authority has the same right of information, and must have the same right, as the Alkali Inspectorate 163 Clause 74(3) does exactly that because it says that we do not want two lots of people going into a factory for the same information. It will be the duty of the Alkali Inspectorate to get the information and the local authority will have the right to that information from the factory.
Noise is another subject with which the Bill deals, and the concept of noise abatement zones, which follow on the Scott Report, is new. Clauses 58 to 62 contain provisions to enable local authorities to designate noise abatement zones. They will measure noise levels and publish and register their findings and for the first time will have the power to prevent industrial premises within those zones from exceeding the noise levels. The authorities will be able to demand a noise reduction from them. I hope that this approach will meet with the success that we have achieved in smoke abatement zones which involve a similar concept.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) raised with some passion the question of the Leathers chemical plant in his constituency. I can say, as did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that as far as I know this matter has not been raised with the present Government. I will give an assurance, however, that we shall certainly immediately investigate what my hon. Friend said and see whether further action needs to be taken. I shall be happy to see my hon. Friend if he wishes to discuss the matter with me.
§ Mr. Howell
In view of what my hon. Friend said, I should place on record that planning permission was given for this plant by the local planning authority in 1968. The Alkali Inspectorate did not advise on the plant because it was not asked to do so by the local authority which presumably did not wish to have the inspectorate's advice. My information is that the firm has been prosecuted recently and has had imposed upon it the maximum fine possible under the Act. It therefore looks as though the inspectorate has been taking positive action. An appeal is pending and it is therefore difficult to say more about this matter, but I repeat my assurance now 164 in the hope of seeing my hon. Friend about the matter.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I made a special point of investigating the allegation that the local planning authority had gone ahead without consulting the Alkali Inspectorate. I was told by a Minister in the previous Government that it had not done so. But when I saw the borough engineer, with the chairman of the planning committee, I was given the fullest possible assurance that they had consulted the district alkali inspector before taking a decision on the planning application.
§ Mr. Howell
My hon. Friend has heard what I said, which is on advice. If it turns out to be inaccurate, I shall certainly apologise, but I very much doubt whether it will be other than accurate. No doubt we shall both inquire into it and between us be able to establish the facts.
I was dealing with the question of noise abatement zones. I had a great deal of sympathy with the right hon. Lady's point about the whole question of other neighbourhood nuisances caused by noise, such as parties, and I discussed it in the Department. The question of discotheques is never far from our minds. Not the least of the interesting deputations I have recently received was one from the Musicians Union about the noise created by discotheques. There is a great deal of concern, particularly about some of the powers in Leeds.
Young people, as I well know, having four of them myself, are determined to play pop music on every possible occasion. Far be it from the Government, and I believe the Opposition, to wish to interfere with young people in their pursuit of these pleasures. But there is a question whether the levels of noise to which people are subjected in discotheques could be injurious to their hearing. If it is, no one would suffer more than the members of the Musicians Union, who are subjected to it for longer periods than anyone else.
I thought that the representatives of the Musicians Union took a constructive approach, saying that they did not want to interfere with young people's pleasures. On the whole, they were opposed to the Leeds approach. They wished to join us and the Noise Advisory Council in a working party to examine the long-term 165 injurious effects of noise. That is happening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington raised the matter of noise at Spaghetti Junction, on which I have a great deal of sympathy. When I went with my hon. Friend to look into the hazards of lead in petrol, and called upon householders there, I could understand that while they could not measure the effect of lead in petrol on their bodies they could measure the effect of the noise nuisance from which they were suffering.
My hon. Friend also raised a complicated question on the noise barrier point, particularly the effect of Clauses 53 and 54. I cannot give him an authoritative answer tonight, but I shall investigate it and if necessary we can pursue it in Committee, to clear up any difficulty there might be about the installation of noise barriers where they are necessary.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) said about charges for discharges. He took great exception to one clause, but that clause put into legislative form what his right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) used to say—I think that on the whole it is still the policy supported by all hon. Members—that the polluter must pay. That was the philosophy enshrined in the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to depart very far from it.
If the water from the hon. Gentleman's tin works is purer than the water into which it will be discharged, I think that the tin works have nothing to worry about. It is almost inconceivable that they would be asked to pay to clean up water that is dirtier than that which they are discharging.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a subvention from the Exchequer. He has little hope of getting it. It is interesting that every time some private enterprise runs into difficulty Conservative hon. Members, who are totally opposed to public involvement in private enterprise, have no difficulty in saying that we should have more national assistance for private enterprise. That is an inconsistency which I must leave the hon. Gentleman to ponder.
§ Mr. Mudd
I follow the Minister step by step along the very fair path that he 166 has blazed. However, I ask him to consider in all seriousness the fact that I am referring to jobs in Cornwall. I hope that he will not regard the matter as being trivial, as at first sight it might seem that he was doing.
§ Mr. Howell
I do not regard any request to the Government for money as a trivial matter. I regard the employment of people in Falmouth and Cam-borne not as trivial but as a matter of the greatest importance. It is a seat which I hope will receive the attention in future that it received—and I say this with no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman—over the years from the hon. Gentleman's distinguished predecessor and that it has received from the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to compulsory reclamation. It is difficult to know exactly what is meant by that term. It does not seem to be a very practical proposition. The hon. Member for Hornsey put the matter in perspective. We might well make some progress on matters of paper, tin, glass and plastic. There is a duty in Clause 2(2)(e) for local authorities to consider these matters, but it is no good imposing such duties unless industry will agree to take the materials which have been reclaimed. Unless an agreement is reached on that basis there will be a considerable financial burden placed upon ratepayers and local authorities. The solution to the problem is to require local authorities to consider reclamation, for them to do all that they can and to bring the authorities and industry together to ensure that the most harmonious progress can be made.
The hon. Member for Newbury and other Members referred to obnoxious odours. It is obvious that they were not aware that a departmental working party has been established. The first part of the working party's conclusions was published recently and I am happy to assure hon. Members that the second part of the working party's report will be published very soon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to radioactive waste. That is a matter that will continue to be regulated by the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. Under that Act all disposals of radioactive waste must be authorised by the Secretary of State for the Environment. My hon. 167 Friend will know that the Department of the Environment has a staff of specialist inspectors. Nothing in that Act is changed by the Bill. I think that that is the assurance for which he looked. Clause 95 gives powers to the UKAEA, which is Harwell, to establish certain additional advisory functions in waste disposal.
I hope that I have touched upon most of the interests of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I have done so briefly because of the short time available, but I assure them that the Government welcome their concern. I end as I began, by saying that matters augur well for the Bill. There has been a constructive approach. I very much hope that we can embark soon upon the further stages and get this measure on the statute book, as all of us would wish as the Bill has been twice in another place. This is obviously the first time that it has been here. It was held up, as we know, by the fortunes of political war. It is a Bill of absolute necessity if we are to demonstrate to the country that the whole House takes as seriously as the country increasingly wishes the control and protection of the environment.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).