§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill which I am presenting to the House today is small in compass, but I think that right hon. and hon. Members who have applied themselves to this subject will consider it to be important in content. The matter has been before the House on many occasions, and I am not convinced that it will not he before the House on many occasions again be-for we are quite satisfied that our rivers are in a satisfactory condition. The root causes of the pollution of our rivers and our streams are well known. They arise largely as a consequence of the industtrial revolution and of the urbanisation of so much of our country. They are polluted by effluents from sewage and also by waste from industries, and anyone who has wandered along the banks of some of our streams and rivers cannot be contented with the existing situation.
The first serious attempt at tackling the question of river pollution was made as long ago and as recently as 1876. I say "as long ago and as recently" because o great deal of damage had already been done before 1876, when the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act was put on the Statute Book. However, the Act has two 802 major defects. In the first place, the reaction against the pollution which had already taken place and the technical deficiencies at the time—that is to say, the fact that knowledge of how to treat waste matters was still in its infancy—gave rise to regulations that were impracticable. The result is that to a large extent that measure was ineffective. The other defect was that the Act required far too many authorities to carry it out. It placed the responsibility upon the local sanitary authorities, and there were so many of these that it has not been much good as a protection, as can be seen by the condition of the rivers today.
It is not necessary for me to weary the House with a long record of intervening legislation. I need make reference only to two landmarks in the history of this subject. One was the work of the Milne Committee in 1943 and the other of the present Central Advisory Water Committee. The Milne Committee found that the condition of our rivers was due not so much to the lack of powers as to the large number of authorities involved in administering the law, which I have mentioned. This was undoubtedly the major cause of the failure to make improvements.
It is illustrated by the fact that in one or two instances where, for instance in the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Thames, the observance of the law was entrusted to one authority, marked and immediate improvement was made. Anyone who is acquainted with the condition of the River Thames today, although he cannot regard it as being a pellucid stream, nevertheless, if he compares its condition now with a short time ago, will realise that a substantial improvement has already been made. This is largely due to the fact that the authority responsible is a single authority, and also of course to the fact that it has considerable powers.
The Government have approached this problem in several ways. In the first place, by the establishment of the River Boards Act of 1948, which empowered the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture to define areas consisting of river board systems with land not in catchment areas or groups of systems, and to form river boards for them which would be responsible for the administration of the law in respect of the prevention 803 of pollution. Considerable progress has been made in carrying this Act into effect. The Minister of Agriculture and myself have divided the whole of the country, except the greater London and the Thames and Lee Catchment Areas—which were excluded from the areas to be covered by the normal procedure of the Act—into river board areas. In 17 areas these have already been formed and eight are about to operate. In five to seven areas boards will soon operate.
Thus one great step forward has been made in the effort to bring our rivers to the state where they can be a pleasure and source of amusement rather than channels for foetid liquid, as is so often the case now. So we have taken the first great administrative step to deal with this problem, which is to place the rivers under single authorities, thus displacing the complex of authorities existing before. However, the function thus performed is not sufficient in itself. Because all the river boards can do, until they are armed with new powers, is to operate the existing powers, and these have been found to be deficient. We have a further illustration of this in the fact that the authority responsible for the Thames is able to carry out its work because it has armed itself with a private Act which gives it more power than the statute provides.
In order therefore to find out from expert opinion what additional powers are needed in order to deal with this problem the Central Water Advisory Committee has taken evidence under the expert chairmanship of Mr. S. R. Hobday, to whom I wish to express my gratitude, as also to the members of the Committee, for the excellent work they have done. This Bill, very largely, is founded upon their agreed report.
In the first place, it is necessary to say that we are proposing no very revolutionary changes. I hope that that will serve as an emollient for the Committee stage. Very largely this is a machinery Bill. What ultimately emerges will, of course, depend upon the behaviour and the administration of the river boards themselves. However, it is necessary for me to point out that in this very complex situation the mere passing of an Act by Parliament will not have very much effect. It will really depend on the co-operation of vast numbers of interests all local in character.
804 When we come to the Committee stage I shall, of course, expect that every particular interest will make itself articulate. There are a very large number. We have the riparian owners themselves; we have the fishermen, and no one can say they are not articulate, if not always entirely accurate about their own exploits. Then there are the industrial interests concerned with industrial effluent; the water authorities that take water from the river and the sewage authorities that put sewage into the river and, the vast majority of the population who wish to enjoy the amenities of the river. So that whereas I am hoping that we shall have a fairly peaceful Second Reading debate. I know that when we come to the Committee stage, while it will not be acrimonious it is bound to be fairly mixed. But I believe we shall be able to convince hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the House that this really is a serious attempt to deal with a longstanding grievance.
s The main object of the Bill is to provide a local machine which will be able to make a survey of the rivers; and not only of the rivers, but parts of rivers. One of the reasons why a general law is inadequate to deal with this matter is because generalisations are inapplicable to our rivers and streams and, what is much more complicated, not only inapplicable to all the rivers and streams, but to all the parts of a single stream or river. The amount or volume of the river depends entirely on its distance from its source and the influence of its tributaries; not only that but also on the different seasons of the year.
So if we are to deal with these problems the by-laws which are made must alight on the particular nuisance and must be so local and immediate that they have the effect desired. This is a further instance where generalisations do not help us very much, and where it would be extremely unwise for any central authority to attempt to lay down regulations or by-laws, because they would be so wide in character that they would not catch the particular nuisance, but would be generally irritating.
The procedure, therefore, is for the river boards to make surveys of the rivers under their control and, having made surveys, to lay down standards. In the first instance it will be necessary for the river boards 805 themselves to be advised by technical bodies on the degree of purification which they can reasonably demand for particular effluents. At this moment a technical committee is sitting for the purpose of giving that advice. When the advice has been received and the surveys have been made, it will be for the river boards to draw up by-laws, and those by-laws will lay down the standards for the river and, in some instances where it would appear proper to the river board, standards for particular reaches of the river; and of course to amend those by-laws from time to time as the technical knowledge grows, and as it is possible to raise the standard of purification.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks as though he contemplates that there will be standards laid down by all river hoards. I thought that the Hobday Report only contemplated the procedure of standards proper in certain areas and not in others. Is the right hon. Gentleman differing from the Hobday Report in that respect?
§ Mr. Bevan
The standards will be laid down where the river boards consider standards are necessary, but when the standards have been made, they have to be embodied in by-laws so that they can be observed. Speaking as a layman, I should imagine it would hardly be necessary to lay down standards for a river at its source, where maybe there is hardly any pollution at all. That is the reason why it would seem to me as a matter of practice that not only will it be necessary to lay down standards and to make bylaws to embody them, but to make them applicable to certain reaches of a river.
The assumption from what I have said is that a standard could not be laid down necessarily for each reach of the river, but only for those particularly contained in the by-laws. It is not for me to enter too much into particularities, otherwise it would be considered by some river boards that what I was saying here today was an indication of what they should do with regard to all or part of the rivers. I wish to make it clear that they are absolutely free to make their surveys, to act upon the technical advice open to them and to make whatever by-laws they consider necessary in the circumstances.
As hon. Members know, there will always be plenty of opportunity for the 806 by-laws to be examined and for the various interests to be heard. I would, however, call attention to one alteration in the law which we are making. At the moment the Minister can be appealed to against the local authority, now of course the river hoard, until the by-laws are made, against a decision to control or to prevent a certain trade effluent. The reason is implicit in what I have already explained, for the technical knowledge of how to control industrial effluents is very much in its infancy.
If the local authority had been itself able, without any court of appeal, to prevent certain effluents from going into certain rivers and streams, then the industry itself would never have established itself. So here we have an unfortunate conflict between two sets of rights—the right of the riparian owner and the right of the general population to have pure streams and rivers, and the right of the industrialist to establish his industry. Those two rights would have come into such serious collision that industries could not have established themselves at all.
Therefore, in order that the rights of local interests should not override the national interest, it was felt necessary to invoke the authority of the Minister as a court of appeal. We are proposing in the interim and until the bylaws are made, to extend that to sewage. The reason, I think, is quite clear. For a while, until we have caught up with the delays caused by the war and until we have been able to spend sufficient money on sewage and sewage treatment, it will be necessary for our rivers and streams to go on receiving this doubtful benediction. Meantime, of course, the Minister has to approve the particular schemes, and it seems to me to be a reasonable proposition" that until the bylaws are made and the standards are established, the sewage effluent should take its place alongside the industrial waste so that in the meantime the Minister can be appealed to in certain circumstances.
There is a further easement in the Bill to which I should like to direct the attention of the House, and with this I myself have a certain personal familiarity. It has been found that it is not possible for colliery undertakings to give absolute guarantees that the tips for which they are responsible will not always slip into the river. This is true in South Wales in 807 particular, especially where there are very narrow valleys, with the rivers running down their sides, and no guarantee can be given that a tip will not make its way into the stream.
Therefore, it is laid down that the authority—that is to say, the undertaking —shall do all that is practicable and reasonable to prevent that happening, but if the requirements of the river board are in these respects not practicable, then the Minister can be appealed to. This is an absolutely essential easement; otherwise we should have a local interest, with which no one would disagree on the particular merits of the case, overriding a national interest. Therefore, having considered the matter, it seems to me to be essential—and this was the view also of the Advisory Committee—that the industrial authorities concerned should have the right to intervene to protect the industry.
It will be seen from the Bill that offences against the by-laws will now be breaches of the criminal law. The reason for that is that it is essential in circumstances of such gravity as this to have necessary punitive action. As I said in my opening remarks, I know that when this comes to be considered in Committee there will be a great deal of difference of opinion as to what weight should be attached to this or that interest. But I should like to remind hon. Members that this matter of protecting our rivers and streams is a continuing process. It is not one that can be accomplished overnight. It is one which will have to be done gradually over the years.
It can only be done by active cooperation and by one lot of interests having a reasonable tolerance of the claims of another lot of interests. If we have someone pleading most eloquently that we should put the interests of the angler before everybody else we should soon get ourselves into serious trouble. This is really a matter where we can only make progress if we exercise restraint but, nevertheless, restraint with a definite goal ahead, namely, that eventually our rivers and streams shall be cleansed, and shall be sources not of infection and of abhorrence but sources of pleasure and of convenience.
I hope, therefore, that this Bill will be given a peaceful if not an enthusiastic 808 Second Reading and that on the Committee stage we shall give it earnest and thoughtful consideration, moving Amendments only with a view to securing improvement of the Bill and not pressing one particular interest against all the other interests which have to be considered.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Would the Minister be kind enough to explain in some detail Clause 4 (5, b)? I must admit that I find it very difficult to understand.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I am sure that we shall all be at one with the Minister in his desire that careful and thoughtful consideration should be given to this Bill, the purpose of which is certainly dear to the hearts of everyone in the House. The purpose is that our streams should be pure and that, as far as possible, we should mitigate the effect upon them of nearly 50 million people living in a very small island, engaged in every kind of industry, and that is certainly the object which we all have in view.
I think we might argue that the Bill has an excellent object. I think it would be true also to say that it has a slightly equivocal title, because I am sure that the popular title of this Bill will be the Rivers Pollution Bill. In fact, that is a little nearer the true effect of this Bill than the longer title, Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill, because it really attempts to define under what conditions rivers may be polluted. I do not complain about that, because there is a great deal of pollution going on. but the fact is that this is a striking example of the good being the enemy of the best. The best was the original idea that rivers should not be polluted. This Bill inevitably makes a compromise. It says that if effluent which has to be discharged into the rivers has to be below the standard of pure fresh water we must lay down standards and see that those standards are as high as possible.
Again, with that policy we all agree. I am not sure about the machinery. I should say that the House and the Committee 809 would need to look very closely at the machinery, both in its legal aspects and its practical aspects. It may well be that in Committee the machinery may be considerably transformed. The Minister indicated that the original necessity for this Bill arose from the great development which followed the Industrial Revolution —the great increase in manufacturing and mining activities along the banks of rivers. It also arose from the enormous increases in population which took place about that time, for crude sewage is also a great polluter of rivers, and in many cases crude sewage is the main pollution in the rivers.
It is that, as well as the multiplicity of authorities, which gave rise to the failure of the Act of 1876 to bring about this object. In fact, it was not merely that there were many authorities but that the authorities did not wish to carry out the task which was laid upon them. Those public authorities were themselves polluting the rivers. In fact, if I may, greatly daring, revert to an old custom in this House of quoting Latin, I would say the task was quis custodiet ipsos custodes— who should in fact, prosecute the prosecuting authorities.
The difficulty in which we still shall be when this Bill becomes law is, who will keep the authorities up to the mark? It may be said that the river boards will develop a responsiiblity for their streams, and that they will themselves take action as corporate bodies, which would not have commended itself to them as individuals. It may however be that the sectional interests represented upon the river boards, on which local authorities have great weight, will tend to stultify the action of the new authority, as they certainly stultified others in the past. We must hope that the river authorities will develop a sense of trusteeship, which has been absent in many of the bodies which have dealt with the task before.
The Minister said that this must be a continuing progress, and that is certainly true. The claims of the local authorities for purification works as well as the claims of industry could not be met simultaneously at the present time. I understand that the sewerage authorities alone have requests before the Minister in capital works up to £80 million sterling for the purification of their sewage, claims which would be impossible for the Minister to grant all at once in the near 810 future. The same thing true as regards industry. The 'Minister quoted the case of the Coal Board. I am sure it will be found impossible to carry out at once the numerous capital works which will be necessary if the rivers are now to be brought at once into a satisfactory state.
Clause 4 really is the Bill. It says, "You are going to say that dirty water is clean water." No doubt that is inevitable, but let us face what we are doing. It is not going to be clean water; it is to a certain extent going to be dirty water. The ideal sewage purification is purifying to such a degree that the sewage can be drunk undiluted by those engaged on the sewage farms. It is said in some sewage farms that this can be done. Personally, I should prefer to add some disinfectant to the water beforehand. It is generally found that alcohol is a strong disinfectant. In certain cases with a liberal lacing of alcohol no doubt the most fastidious of us would intake some of this effluent without undue nausea, but it would be a strain. There are many effluents quite impossible even so to absorb.
The Minister admitted the difficulty of a by-law laying down a standard. He said that a river is such a changing entity that it is impossible to dogmatise about several rivers or, indeed, all the way down one. He mentioned that not only do rivers differ, but they differ at different seasons. Indeed, they differ sharply during periods of a season. At the moment the Thames is running at two and a half times its normal flow at this period, and the velocity of the flow makes a great difference. If any of us took an aspirin it would not do us a great deal of harm; but if we took one every ten minutes for the next 24 hours it would do us a great deal of harm. If we put one gallon of effluent into the river in 24 hours it would not do a great deal of harm, but if 10,000 gallons of such effluent were put in it might be a great danger to the river.
One of the dangers of setting a standard is that if such a standard is set, it may be that other works or undertakings on the banks of a river might think that they should adopt a standard no higher than that one. Whereas a certain quantity added to a river might do it no harm, a vast addition to the river of the same effluent, especially at certain stages of 811 velocity of the stream, might kill everything in that river stone dead.
One of the difficulties in river pollution is that someone working a tap or turning a lever in a sewage works might produce a band of concentrated effluent, which moves down a river like a belt of poison, killing everything in the way, although a sample taken from the outfall before this wave of effluent entered the river or after would show nothing to cause any damage. It is going to be a difficult task with the standards that are prescribed to carry out the object which we have in view. The Minister said that in the case of colliery tips, for instance, it would be necessary to allow an appeal to the Minister. He also indicated in the case of a sewage outfall that he is going to provide an appeal to the Minister, although he will, of course, recognise that he himself is the authority for the sewage outfall, and it will be to some extent an appeal to Caesar against Caesar. That will be a somewhat invidious task for Caesar to carry out.
This is a point which we shall draw to the Minister's attention later on when the Bill is in Committee. We shall ask, whether in fact, it might not be possible to turn this around, and have in some sort a licensing authority giving a permit for the discharge of a certain amount of effluent of a certain standard, rather than attempt to lay down a standard to which everyone could conform, because that will lead to many difficulties. This is a point I wish the Minister to look at.
Our difficulties are, of course, accentuated by the fact that although there is no alteration in the law whereby an individual has power to complain if the river is not arriving at his boundaries in a pure and fresh condition, yet it certainly will be a valid defence for anyone prosecuted to say that the effluent discharged into the river comes up to the standard which has been prescribed. Therefore, to that extent the right of the individual will be swept away, and the remedy in the famous case brought by Lord Brocket will no longer be practicable. It may well be even that an injunction against a local authority might be quashed if the local authority could say that their effluent was, up to 812 or if one likes to call it, down to the set standard.
The necessity for dealing with these difficulties caused the Hobday Report to be drawn up. The Minister has paid his tribute to it, but, of course, the Bill does not in all respects correspond with the findings of the Hobday Report. The Minister spoke, and I think quite rightly, of the necessity for having tolerance one with another, and particularly with regard to industry, which is vitally concerned in this matter. I understand that industry was largely placated by the suggestion of the period of three months' notice which would be required to submit bylaws for confirmation. I understand that that was, in fact, the recommendation of the Hobday Report, but it does not seem to be carried out in the Bill. We should like to be assured on that point, for it certainly was one of the main arguments by which industrial objections to the new procedure were over-ridden or, at any rate, placated.
In general I should say that the desire of the fishermen for a clean river can well be understood, but it is no less the desire of even ordinary members of the public to have a river which is not in itself an offence. We are not all anglers. Some of us have neither the patience nor the aptitude to pursue that difficult art, and the books of Izaak Walton and other anglers are enjoyed by us more as pure literature than as handbooks either for supplementing our rations or for mollifying our angry passions. But we can all enjoy a walk by a stream. We know very well what has happened if the stream has been destroyed as a living thing by either the actions of industry or the casual discharge into it of great quantities of untreated sewage.
The classical conception of a river as a living being and its personification in nymphs is a good one which we might keep in mind while we are considering these matters. I would almost rather have called this Bill the Rivers (Protection of Nymphs) Bill rather than Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill, because it would get into our minds more clearly that what we are dealing with is a living thing, and, in so far as we are trying to handle the matter, we are trying to maintain something alive, a joy to the beholder, and bringing life to the countryside. It was said in the olden days that water is to 813 the landscape what an eye is to a man's head. Certainly if a river has been killed it is as much a hardship to see as somebody whose sight, unfortunately, has been fatally injured. We are fortunate in this respect, since this eye of the river can be restored. If we do our duty, life will be restored to our rivers.
It will certainly be a very difficult matter. There are several differences all the way through the Bill between the proposals in it and those of the Hobday Report, and we shall deal with them more particularly on the Committee stage. It is not, of course, the intention of myself, or, I think, of any of my hon. or right hon. Friends, to vote against the Second Reading. So far as I know, the Bill will receive a unanimous Second Reading from the House, but as the Minister well knows, in practice a Bill which receives a unanimous Second Reading is often more contentious in its Committee stage than even a Bill on which, the principle having been dealt with on Second Reading, we come down to comparatively minor points at a later stage.
Both agriculture and industry, as well as the general public, are closely concerned with this Bill. Agriculture, indeed, is concerned in two ways, for agriculturists, as we know, are capable of producing river pollution, either in the small but significant fashion of the hill farmer high up and often near the source of a river—as the Minister may well know from his knowledge of Wales—in suddenly running the contents of a pail of arsenic into the stream; or, on the larger scale, where great sugar beet factories are concerned. In this latter respect, a substance is discharged which is perfectly harmless in itself, but is capable of absorbing oxygen and thereby asphyxiating all the inhabitants of the stream. This is an interesting point, and I say it in no contentious spirit, because, if the sugar beet industry is nationalised, I am not sure what view the Minister will take on this subject. However, that is a hypothetical question, and possibly a contentious one, and it is better that I should not embark upon it.
This country is blessed with some of the most beautiful rivers in the whole world. They have been treated in the most savage and Philistine way. This is not a new thing. People living on the banks of the Thames here might have 814 heard debates like this as far back as 1600 or thereabouts. Our ancestors were no better in these matters than we are ourselves; they were only less numerous. But the mere fact of our present numbers and activities now makes it necessary that we should deal further with this matter. I am sure that we should wish the Bill well and hope therefore that, when it emerges from its later stages, it will be able to bring about that state of affairs that we all desire to see.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Irving (Wood Green)
I rise to congratulate the Minister on attempting to bring some order into the chaos of river pollution legislation in this country. I was chairman of the Lea Conservancy Board during the period when Mr. Hobday was clerk to that Board, and I know that he has a considerable knowledge of this subject. During the period when he was clerk to that authority, he was wise enough to see that the River Pollution Act, 1876, was totally inadequate, and he took steps to promote a Bill with the consent of the Lea Conservancy Board. It would have been a very different situation if we had had to depend on the Act of 1876, but, as it is, we have now more power and authority in regard to obtaining a better effluent and a cleaner river as a result of the activities of the Lea Conservancy Board.
I note that under this Bill the Minister proposes to take away the powers of the Lea Conservancy Board, and I think that is a bad thing. If he wants to do that, he ought to say so on the Second Reading of the Bill. The River Lea is not a very long or very important river, but it is most unfortunate that it is at its very source that pollution begins. It rises about three or four miles beyond Luton, flows through Hertfordshire into Middlesex and emerges into the Thames at Black wall. At Luton, there has been considerable industrial development, and the trade effluent, apart from the pollution from sewage, enters at the very source of the river.
It is not only the question of the river, but of the streams and the waterways running into it. Local authorities are sometimes the biggest offenders in the matter of this pollution. I know one local authority in North London which is responsible for a great deal of the pollution of the Moselle brook, which eventually finds its way into the River Lea. In spite of the 815 fact that we have water examiners and other experts on the job, day after day, we still do not get a good effluent, and I do not see that this Bill gives any further power in that direction. I believe that Walton in "The Compleat Angler" mentioned the fishing in the River Lea. Fishing is still done there in my constituency, by boys fishing for tiddlers, which are about the only things that will live there.
One-sixth of London's water supply comes out of the River Lea, and if it were not for the fact that the Metropolitan Water Board have a good team of chemists and a good chemical department, I hesitate to think what would happen in London with regard to epidemics. The Minister is responsible for health, as well as for rivers, and he should come down more on the side of the river boards and catchment boards in securing pure river water in which something can live.
I have listened to the Minister talking about tolerance, supported by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and I do not think we are going to get much from the Bill. But on the Committee stage some of us will move Amendments to Clauses 6, 7 and 9. Meanwhile, I do not want to raise any undue criticism, or to put a spanner in the works, because everyone else seems to be happy. I am not happy, and on the Committee stage I shall have more to say.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
I must say at once that I share some of the dissatisfaction expressed by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Irving). There was nothing to which one could object in the Minister's speech, but I thought it significant when he said that this was not a revolutionary Measure. It certainly is not and it is not nearly revolutionary enough for me and for some of the people I represent. In particular, it is not good enough for a constituency such as I represent, and which is a sort of an epitome of the difficulties with which this subject is surrounded.
On one hand, Burton-on-Trent, as its name indicates, in on the Trent, and it has very serious conditions which I should like to mention. On the other hand, my constituency has the River Dove, which is undoubtedly the finest and most famous trout stream in England. Yet, at the 816 present time, owing to trade effluent, 15 miles of that river are completely and absolutely sterile in any form of life. The Minister, quite rightly, has mentioned the many interests, some of them conflicting, in this matter. Burton-on-Trent, which makes something that has not to be disinfected before one drinks it, has formed a ginger committee—a Waterways Improvement Committee. Anglers who, I believe, are completely neglected by river boards, are represented on it, and we have representatives of boating, fishing, agriculture, and, particularly, of those interested in public health.
Let me remind the House of what is the position of a river like the Trent, as we see it in Burton. It is not that we ourselves do anything whatever to damage the Trent. Our sewage works are efficient and such effluent does no harm today under modern treatment. It does not kill life, and the keepers of such works will usually drink a glass of the effluent before one's eyes, in order to show how harmless it can be. But we have the Tame above us, which, I suppose, with the exception of the Irwell, is the most polluted river in this country. It carries trade effluents as well as sewage from Birmingham and other towns in the district. As a result of activities since the war, the pollution index of the Trent, which for years varied between four and seven, rose in 1946 to 10, in 1947 to 14, in 1948 to 19, and in 1949 to no less than 26. It means that in any dry period the Trent is carrying the major portion of its stream as effluent, and not as natural water.
The result is that one gets a thick, black, slime which stinks—there is no other word for it—in the summer and, hitherto, there has been no power anywhere to deal with it. That is a point I should like to raise. Is this Bill going to be adequate to deal with that? Are river boards, with powers given under this Bill, capable of dealing with so serious a situation as I have reported? I do not think they are. I believe that under this Bill river boards could deal with the situation of most rivers where there are not exceptionally abnormal conditions. I can see this machinery generally working well, with guidance by the Minister of Health as to standards to be set up, and with some help from that very important technical committee to which the Minister referred.
817 But how can river boards, made up as they are, deal with what is really a national problem, like the pollution of the river Trent? The Tame, one of its tributaries, cannot be dealt with in that way. It is permanent pollution, and a great source of worry to the medical officer of health of Burton-on-Trent, who is chairman of the Burton Waterways Improvement Committee. I know this may be a little wide, at the moment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I wonder whether, in addition to this Bill which we are now considering, we might not have to consider special legislation, which would provide for some sort of special national action to deal with trade effluents of certain rivers, such as the Irwell and the Tame. I do not see that river boards will have either the money or the power to deal with the situation. I think they are limited to a 4d. rate on the area concerned.
I am not suggesting, for a moment, that the situation is an easy one to deal with. As the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove pointed out, one cannot suddenly stop effluent without putting thousands of people out of employment. We have to face the fact that it exists today and that these industries could not treat their effluent at short notice in such a way that it would cease to be a source of nuisance in a river.
Therefore, it seems to me that some national action will have to be taken eventually by which research would be carried on and some national authority would see that the results of that research were applied over a period of years. Certain industries might have to be given three, five, or even seven years' notice in order to put into operation works and capital construction necessary to deal with it. Although one of the first effluents that the public think of is sewage, because of the smell, that effluent is not nearly so serious as the effluent in the case of metals in solution.
It is a most serious thing. For example, it has taken years of research to find out what was the matter with the River Dove after it was joined by the River Churnet. It has a fine gravel bed and passes through beautiful scenery. In fact, one might say it was an ideal stream. Yet nothing lives in it after it has passed this juncture. The reason is that there is an extremely weak solution of copper entering the river, and copper in very small quantities is quite sufficient to destroy 818 all animal and vegetable life. That is the sort of thing we shall have to consider. In the meantime, I think there are a number of points in the Bill to which we shall have to move Amendments in Committee, as my right hon. Friend pointed out.
I have one complaint against the Minister. I think this Bill has been introduced at extremely short notice. I have mentioned the Burton Committee and, as the Minister knows, I am also connected with the rural authorities. There has been no time to meet the waterways committee in person and no time to meet the local authorities association. As the Minister says, this Bill affects many interests, and I think it is rather hard that we have not had time to discuss it with them.
§ Mr. Bevan
I agree that it has been rather hurried, and normally I should have liked more time for its consideration on Second Reading. On reflection, however, I thought that here was a Bill upon which there would be fairly general agreement so far as its first principles were concerned and that the real object should be to allow a reasonable length of time between Second Reading and Committee stage in order that consultations could take place.
§ Lieut-Colonel Elliot
Perhaps the Minister will give an undertaking that he will not take any other stage of the Bill before Christmas.
§ Mr. Colegate
If the Minister gives us adequate time before the Committee stage, as my right hon. and gallant Friend suggests, that would to a very large extent meet the point I was making. Of course, we are all in favour of the first principles of the Bill. We should get out of the heads of the public the idea that river pollution is just a question of sewage and that it is a question which concerns only a few anglers who want a little fun on their streams. Pollution is of vital importance to public health and is vital to the amenities of the country. What is the good of having shorter hours and holidays with pay, as we all agree we should have, if the country, with all its natural beauty, is not available for people so that they may have in it the recrea- 819 tion for which they are given the holidays.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
It seems as if on this subject, as on some other subjects which we discuss, it will be possible to get away from the ordinary party divisions and perhaps to thresh out things in a more objective way than is frequently possible in our discussions. As I represent a long stretch of the River Irwell, it is perhaps inevitable that I should have a great deal in common with the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate), who represents a long stretch of the Trent. Before I come to those points, however, I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on having taken this step to implement the recommendations of the Hobday Report.
I think it is particularly appropriate that it should have been my right hon. Friend who introduced this Measure, because he represents an area through which flows one of the dirtiest rivers in the whole of South Wales, the River Ebbw. I know he will forgive me for saying that it is one of the principal sources of the pollution of the estuary of the River Usk. Indeed, if this Measure had been passed 20 or 30 years ago, my right hon. Friend might have devoted himself to angling instead of to politics and the whole history of this country might have suffered as a consequence. That is the only argument for the delay in amending the Act of 1876. Now that we have this Measure, it is, I think, a source of encouragement that even if the Minister of Health will not lay down a standard of purity for water, he is at any rate prepared to lay down a standard of dirtiness. This Measure carries us at least some distance further.
My right hon. Friend very properly referred to the Hobday Committee and paid tribute to their work. It would be fitting on this occasion if we, as a House of Commons, also paid tribute to the work done by Mr. H. D. Turing in preparing his valuable series of reports on pollution, and expressed our regret that, unfortunately, he did not live to see in this Bill the implementation of so much of his work.
As my right hon. Friend said, it is not enough merely to pass a Measure of 820 this kind; we have to see that it is an effective Measure, and energetic action will have to be taken to implement its provisions. We shall have to direct our attention to many points when we reach the Committee stage.
My right hon. Friend referred to the Act of 1876 and, of course, if one looks at that Act it is quite clear that, on paper at least, pollution from that moment onwards was impossible. Yet, 12 years after that Act was passed, in a book called "Rambles Round Rossendale," printed in 1888, I find the following description of the River Irwell:a foul and pestiferous stream, churned into filthy foam, and discoloured with the refuse of a hundred mills; banks bedraggled with the wrecks of rotting trunks; and thorn and briar-bush clotted with waste of cotton and webbed with threads of weft. Smooth stones, once the glory of the river's boulder bed, all stained with flow of blackened waters; and bobbins, corks, fragments of broken skips, and the decaying carcases of domestic animals, chasing one another, as in a dance of death, amongst the swirls and eddies. Thus before me runs the once beautiful river, now an open sink of feculent deposit, a miasma of death, a blackened and despoiling stream.I think even my right hon. Friend could not exceed the hyperbole of language in that hook, written in 1888.
In 1938 we had a further Measure which related to the rivers of Lancashire. Here, perhaps, I may say that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that the important thing is to have one authority dealing with these problems. In the Lancashire County Council River Boards Act of 1938, powers were given to a single authority, the Lancashire Rivers Board. Of course, the intervention of the war made more difficult the implementation of the provisions of that Act, but, whatever excuse one may offer, the fact remains that 12 years after the passing of that Act it was possible for me to quote this description of the River Irwell in this House, on 18th April, 1950, without contradiction from any hon. Member:No natural water normally enters the river from its cradle in the moors to its grave in the Manchester Ship.Canal.…There are no fish in these rivers (apart from an occasional tributary), no insects, no weeds, no life of any kind except sewage fungus, nothing but chemicals and any dirt which cannot he put to profitable use. Sewage effluents (and, being usually very good, they are the most encouraging feature of the appalling situation) are hailed with delight as being the purest water which the rivers hold."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 92.]821 It is important that we should not forget that this is the river which is flooding the homes of the people who live in my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford. West (Mr. Royle), whom I see on the Front Bench this afternoon. The people of Salford and Rossendale do not appreciate having their homes and factories and mills flooded by the polluted water of the River Irwell.
We have to ask ourselves whether the present Bill will be effective. We do not yet know but I have certain misgivings about it. I do not want to seem discourteous to my right hon. Friend but my first criticism is that I cannot quite see why he is the only Minister responsible for the administration of the Bill when it becomes an Act. I feel that it is only right that I should say how sorry I am that neither the Minister of Agriculture nor the Parliamentary Secretary, who were, as far as I remember, responsible for setting up the River Boards and who, indeed, promoted the Act of 1948, is present this afternoon.
§ Mr. Greenwood
My right hon. Friend shakes his head, and I quite willingly accept his correction. Nevertheless, as far as I remember, the Minister of Agriculture took part in the discussions on that Bill when it was before this House and I am sorry that he is not here today to hear what is being said about the increased powers which we are giving to river boards. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Agriculture ought to have shared responsibility for this Bill, because I cannot believe that a standard of purity which satisfies my right hon. Friend on the grounds of health will necessarily be good enough to satisfy the Ministry of Agriculture, who is not only responsible for the well-being of livestock but is responsible for the protection of our fisheries. When one of the main damages which polution causes is the destruction of our fisheries, I should have thought it was a matter in which the Minister of Agriculture ought to have a prime responsibility.
In common with other hon. Members who have spoken, I find myself not altogether happy about the position of local authorities under this Bill. I said 822 earlier that I did not altogether agree with my right hon. Friend that it was the fact that there were too many authorities responsible for administering the previous Acts which accounted for their not being very successful. I believe that another cause was the fear of local authorities of offending industry. They were afraid to implement those Acts because by doing so there was a danger of industry moving off elsewhere and taking the rates and employment they provided away from the district.
Another factor at work was that the authorities responsible for enforcing the Acts were the local sanitary authorities, who were themselves some of the main polluters of the rivers whose purity it was their responsibility to defend. I know that the position is changed by this Bill, but I confess to sharing the misgivings of the hon. Member for Burton as to whether the river boards are the ideal bodies for carrying out this Measure. After all, by Section 2 of the River Board Act, 1948, three-fifths of the members of the river boards are representatives of the local authorities, and that seems to me to give some grounds for apprehension on our part.
For example, it is quite possible that a river board will be reluctant to prosecute local authorities which may themselves be represented on the board. It is quite conceivable that river boards may lay down standards of purity, embodied in by-laws, which it will be easy for the local authorities represented on the river boards to have carried out. Those seem to me to be the dangers we shall run if this Bill goes through in its present form, and those fears make it even more necessary that the Minister of Agriculture should share responsibility with my right hon. Friend.
Turning to Clause 4, I do not agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I cannot see why Clause 4 should be permissive and not mandatory. Nor can I agree that probably it would not be necessary to lay down standards of purity for a river at its very source. The River Irwell is polluted within a quarter of a mile of its source. If standards of purity are to be laid down, I think they should he laid down for the whole of a river system. After all, if a river is clean, there is every argument for introducing by-laws prescribing the highest standard 823 of purity and seeing that they are maintained. If a river is polluted, there is every argument for taking the swiftest possible steps to clean it up. On the other hand, if the Clause is permissive, as it is at present, there is every argument for delaying and doing nothing at all.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove said about the common law rights of the individual. Clause 4 (4) and Clause 4 (5, a), taken together, seem to deprive the riparian owner of his common law right to action for nuisance. While it is reasonable for compliance with a by-law made under a Statute to be a good defence against a prosecution, I cannot believe that that should be allowed to interfere with the common law rights of an individual to a higher standard of purity than the river board itself requires. That is the impression one forms on reading this Clause, and I hope my right hon. Friend will give very careful consideration to that, because we do not want to interfere with the common law rights of the individual, or to curtail them in any way.
I must confess that my fear in that regard is increased when I go on to subsection (6), which apparently allows the court to vary an injunction or order obtained before the passing of the Bill on the ground that the right of the person obtaining it has been altered by the laying down of a standard in a by-law made by one of the river boards. That again seems to be not merely an interference but a serious interference with the common law rights of the individual. I hope my right hon. Friend will look very carefully into that before the Committee stage, and perhaps take the advice of the Attorney-General as well.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. Friend, because that certainly does not seem to me to be the obvious reading of the Clause as it stands. I do not want to differ too strongly from my right hon. Friend, but perhaps he would undertake to discuss it with the Attorney-General—
§ Mr. Greenwood
Well, then, perhaps with the Solicitor-General—and confirm that he is right, because that would be a great re-assurance to those who are at present alarmed.
I want to refer finally to Clause 5 (1), which deals with estuaries, and provides thatthe Minister may by order direct that all or any of the provisions of the three last foregoing sections shall apply to any tidal waters or parts of the sea specified in the order.That is some advance on the Act of 1876, but it is not a very material advance. The Act of 1876 permitted the Minister, after local inquiry, to declare tidal water as part of a stream on sanitary grounds. The present proposal is not restricted to sanitary grounds. But apart from that, it does not seem substantially to alter the situation, and I want to refer to the state of affairs on the estuaries of the Tyne and the Taw and the Torridge, in spite of the powers of the Act of 1876. The Report on the Tyne by Mr. Turing was prepared in October, 1946, and it presents an appalling picture. It says:At the present time Newcastle and Gateshead and the other large towns down to the river mouth empty into the tidal reaches no less than 30 million gallons of entirely untreated sewage per day, or 10,950 million gallons per year. There is no purification plant whatever. At low tide human excreta with its attendant unpleasantness can be seen dropping from the sewage outfalls of which there are 268 between Wylam at the head of the tide and the sea.…As the tide runs only at about two miles per hour, this mass of filth cannot get away to sea in a single tide, but moves up and down the estuary taking several tides to clear, and during that time a further heavy quantity of sewage is being poured into the river, so that a reasonably clean river, even for an hour or two during the day, has become impossible.About the Taw and the Torridge, Mr. Turing wrote in January, 1947:For nearly half a century an almost incredible state of filth has existed in the estuaries of these two rivers. In the Taw estuary no less than 14 sewers discharge domestic sewage into this long, winding estuary. With one exception this sewage is entirely untreated.…In the Torridge estuary there are six permanent discharges of untreated domestic sewage and a gas works which discharges oil and chemical pollution into the estuary.…One of the outfalls at Barnstaple is in close proximity to a popular bathing place. The town outfall at Instow discharges on to the sands between the station and the hotel. Bideford's main sewer discharges opposite the Technical School.Yet in the time from 1876 onwards successive Ministers could have taken 825 steps to treat those rivers as though they were part of the main rivers, and not as estuaries excluded from the Act of 1876. That was never done. Why nobody has ever done that, I do not know; but it certainly does make one wonder whether today an application by an individual, if it were opposed by any of the important local authorities to which I have referred, would stand very much chance of being accepted by the Minister, and the estuary declared to be a stream for the purposes of this Bill.
§ Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the cost with regard to the River Tyne would be something colossal? With regard to the Rivers Taw and Torridge, with which I am more familiar, although I know the Tyne and have fished in it, I think the difficulty has been the refusal on the part of the Government to call the estuaries "streams." They always refused to call them streams because of the cost of making the local authorities build sewage farms, and so on.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not see why some local authorities should be in a more favourable position as compared with others. The local authorities in my area are not allowed to dump untreated sewage in the rivers, and I do not see why others, because they happen to be on tidal waters, should be in a specially favoured position. Barnstaple and Bideford have had many years to tackle this problem. From 1876 onwards, if they had wanted clean rivers, or had been interested in the proper disposal of their sewage, they could have done something about it at any time. If the local authorities had tackled the problem in that time it would have been considerably cheaper than it will be if the Minister designates an estuary a stream under the present Bill.
Despite all that I have said—and I think we all look forward to the Committee stage of this Bill—I want to welcome the Bill. I think it is a good Bill, and I think it could be a good Act; but we shall have to make one or two improvements if it is to be a good Act and these desirable ends achieved. I think the last thing one should do at this stage is to raise hopes on the part of the public that they are going to see any speedy improvement in our streams and rivers. The hon. Member for Burton referred to the difficulty of pollution by metals in sus- 826 pension, and he will appreciate the equally difficult problems raised by dyeworks, by paper mills, and even by the hot water which comes from our power stations. However, it is encouraging to note that under Dr. Southgate the Water Pollution Research Laboratory is getting on with this job, and I think that on an occasion of this kind we should compliment it on the work it is doing, and express the hope that there will be a satisfactory and swift outcome of the research it has undertaken.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent (Guildford)
I should like to add my tribute to the Hobday Committee. Their Report forms the basis of this Bill. I was glad to hear the Minister pay a tribute to the Milne Committee, which reported in 1943. This Bill is intended to give statutory powers to the river boards, and it expressly excludes the two catchment areas of the River Thames and River Lee from its operation. I should like to get clear just what the last part of Clause 1 means in this respect. Does it mean that those Conservancy Boards of the Thames and Lee are to be responsible for enforcing this Bill when it becomes an Act in those two areas?
As the Minister knows, these two boards have their own local Acts which are not being repealed by this Bill: and they have powers which are, in fact greater than those allowed by this Bill, and more comprehensive—I imagine because both of them have to protect the water supply for London. I think, however, it would be some help if the Minister could clear up this point, because otherwise it may be that these boards will be responsible for administering two sets of Acts in the same area, and those concerned may not be clear which one is being implemented at any particular time. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would make that clear when he winds up the debate.
The Hobday Committee had particular regard to the powers and administration of anti-pollution measures carried out by the Thames Conservancy when they were making their report. I think it is significant—or, perhaps, a sad reflection on the extreme impurity of many of our streams —that the Committee felt unable to recommend that for general application there should be the same powers to prevent pollution as are enjoyed by the Thames and Lee Conservancy Boards.
827 They made the alternative suggestion, which has been described, of setting up standards and by-laws.
It is worth pointing out that the powers of the Thames Conservancy, which have been most valuable and, I should say, essential to them in carrying out their work, are absolute powers to prevent any effluent, to deal with any effluent which can be called sewage, or is injurious or noxious, and which is being discharged into a stream. In practice, of course, they have set up standards. They have had some reference to the standards laid down by the Royal Commission on Sewage. However, they have not stuck to that in all cases. In some cases they have quite different standards, and they have, in fact, an absolute power to deal with any effluent at any time if it is injurious to the stream.
Now, of course, the setting up of standards, as has already been pointed out, will not mean more than the partial prevention of pollution, at any rate for some time. I think it is also worth pointing out that even when the river boards are set up with the powers that this Bill intends to give them it will still be some years before they can have their by-laws operative. It will be, I suppose, several months before they can set up their testing stations. It will be at least two years before they have sufficient recordings before them to be able to say they have a reliable survey of all their rivers. Then there comes the business of compiling the surveys and proposing some standards; and then they have to go to local inquiry and then the Minister has to give his decision.
I reckon that it will take the best part of four years before they complete this process, and throughout that time they must apply to the Minister for consent if they wish to prosecute anyone for discharging a noxious effluent. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure the House that that consent will be expeditiously given in all proper cases, in order to encourage and help the river boards in the difficult job they have before them in these early years. I said "in all proper cases" because I do recognise—in spite of the fact that we are going to hear a good deal about the troubles of the fish in the streams—that if we were to stop all damaging effluents we should 828 dislocate the whole life of the country. It must be a gradual process.
However, it is possible to purify any effluent providing there are sufficient resources available; I have in mind the classic example of the effluent from the Harwell atomic research station, which is radio-active and, being discharged into the Thames, is therefore dangerous to the life of London. Even that one has been purified. But to lay down a purification plant adequate to purify this radio-active effluent has cost about £1 million. Quite obviously this business of purifying all our effluent must proceed gradatim—step by step.
There is another point about laying down these standards which, I think, is worth mentioning in this general discussion, and that is the problem of temperature. It has been touched on, but I believe that the setting up of the big electricity generating stations now projected will cause us to run into very serious difficulties of temperature. The big station which has been set up at Kingston, when it comes into full operation, will require some 100 million gallons of cooling water per day. Even with a river as big as the Thames, that will be a very considerable burden on the river when there is low flow in the summer periods.
A regulation has been agreed that the effluent temperature may not be raised to more than 100 degrees fahrenheit, but I doubt whether it will be possible, when the station is going at full blast, to keep within that regulation. If we get into that sort of difficulty on a river with as big a volume as the Thames, what trouble are we going to get into with some of these other power stations sited on very much smaller rivers? The difficulty may be mitigated by the erection of cooling towers, but I think that the House should realise that these stations are going up, and that this is going to present a very serious problem to the river boards.
Some mention has been made of the problem of setting up standards on the rivers which are already heavily polluted, and I cannot think of a better example than the stream which runs through my own farm. The raw sewage of the village immediately above has been discharged into that river for many years, and, if a testing station is set up anywhere there, I think that it would show an extremely high degree of pollution. It 829 is true that this village his now installed a main drainage system, so the pollution is to a large extent reduced, but that kind of pollution is something which, I imagine, is quite general in many districts in the country.
One of the unpleasantnesses which has come from it is that in periods of low flow in the summer, when the sand banks are exposed, they have been so heavily infected by the sewage coming down that there is an infected dust blown off the sandbanks, which causes a kind of 48-hour dysentery which goes through the valley with the utmost regularity. The river boards will have great problems in determining what are proper standards when they have to deal with streams like this which are heavily infected already.
One other point is the exclusion from the ordinary application of the Bill which is included in Clause 7 (2). This requires that the river boards shall apply to the Minister for consent before they proceed against a mine for noxious effluent of mine water. It is true that the Hobday Committee were in two minds about that. My impression was that it was their recommendation that after a survey had been carried out by the Coal Board which would determine which of the mine waters was injurious, it would then be possible for the matter to be left to the river boards. It seems unfortunate that when the standards and the by-laws are set up there is still something for which the river boards have to apply to the Minister for consent before they can proceed. I think it is a pity that there should be an exception there in favour of the Coal Board. I hope that the Minister will look at that matter again.
Finally, may I say that, in spite of some of the criticisms I have made, I feel that quite obviously this is an advance, and that when the by-laws have been set up, the river boards will be masters in their own house, with the exception which I have just mentioned, and that is vitally important. Taking this Bill with the River Boards Act, 1948, which puts the administration into the hands of one body, I feel that we are well on the way to getting proper administration.
I do not share the fears that have been expressed that because the members of the river boards consist largely of representatives of local government bodies, 830 their administration will be weak on that account. In practice, I do not think that it will work out that way. It certainly has not turned out that way in the Thames Conservancy or the Lea Conservancy. The fact is that the members of the public who are elected to serve a river on a conservancy board do quickly find that it has an identity of its own. A river has character and a life of its own, and it would be a completely soulless person who served on a body of that kind and did not quickly feel a sense of responsibility to the river itself.
I have no doubt that as these boards get into action, backed as they will be by adequate finance—and I should have thought, in contradiction to the hon. Member who spoke earlier, that a 4d. precept is quite sufficient—they will be able to set about cleaning up their streams. It must be remembered that whatever Statute we put on the Statute Book, the final practice of cleaning up the streams depends on the good administration of the body concerned. It is very rare that one of the existing conservancies goes into court with a prosecution. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is quite sufficient for the inspectors to see the offending body to get them to clear up the matter.
I have been able to give my support to the Second Reading of the Bill, but there are one or two points which I should like to raise on the Committee stage. I hope eventually—and I recognise that it may be some years—that two lines of Kingsley, if I may end my speech with a quotation, may yet come true again, because I suppose that they were true once.Sec the rivers how they run;Changeless towards a changeless sea.One cannot call them changeless today because they change continually as more and more sewage goes into them, but I hope that this will be some step on the way towards making the change perhaps a little less in the future than it was before.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I dissent from one thing which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) has just said. That is his expression of confidence in the existing membership of the river boards in the matter of providing the boards with adequate information on this 831 subject of industrial pollution. Indeed, I have the impression that, too often, local authority representatives have a quite inaccurate idea of the outlook of the riparian industrialists. The impression that the industrialists will resist any attempt to clean up the rivers is, I believe, entirely wrong. I would say that the success of this Bill, when it becomes law, will be due not so much to the codification of the standards of pollution and of the by-laws that will be permitted under the Act, as to the fact that it will clarify the whole situation as far as both sides are concerned.
The case to which the hon. Member made reference of the plant necessary to clean the effluent, or reduce its polluting properties, is, to my mind, the heart of the whole matter. He mentioned, I think, that it would cost about £1 million to provide a plant to clean the effluent at Harwell. In degree, that is the problem of every riparian industrialist. I should have thought that when the survey is made, showing which industries and which plants are affecting any given river, a human and intelligent approach should be made to the industrialists in question to try to help them, not only by pointing out tax avoidance possibilities in capital development, but also in regard to their own monopoly position on the banks of the rivers concerned.
I am certain that the average modern industrialist takes a very enlightened view but he needs a bit of encouragement and help. He should have portrayed to him what the existing tax position is as far as providing plant is concerned. I emphasise that many members of the local authorities, quite wrongly in my view, take up the cudgels on behalf of the industrialist, whereas he is perfectly happy to adopt a reasonable attitude.
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) made a very enlightened speech, and I pay tribute to it. He referred to the River Tame, which so seriously affects the River Trent in his division. The River Tame enters his constituency from mine, and so it can be said that the waters of enlightenment reach the waters of reaction at that point. The Tame collects its effluent element from north and south of Birmingham. On approaching the river it appears to be very beautiful, but once you get near to it you see the dark brown 832 sludge at the bottom, the fungus and the absolute absence of animal life. The moral is to try to bring home to the people responsible how they can, without too great economic loss, assist in getting rid of this evil.
I should also like to make references to angling, because the toxic qualities of these effluents are not adequately dealt with in the Bill from this point of view. In Clause 4 (2), I should have thought specific mention should be made to the preservation of the fish in the river. That is why I asked the Minister to elaborate on subsection (5, b). He said, and I think he is right, that this was probably a Committee point. The effect of this subsection is such, so I am advised, as to restrict the application of subsection (2) of the Clause. Unless something is added to subsection (2), a dangerous situation may be left for the fishing interests.
The Minister made a remark in his speech which I thought needed some elaboration. He said that when these standards were laid down by the board, they should be such that there would be a "reasonable demand" on the interests concerned. But what is "a reasonable demand"? Does a "reasonable demand." apply to the cost of the necessary plants, or does it apply to the technical purity of the effluent? We have to get a clearer understanding of what precisely the Minister meant.
Lastly, there is a small point in regard to the proposal to make by-laws and prohibit or regulate the washing and cleansing in the stream of animals, cloth and so on. To that might be added the washing of vehicles and the spraying of crops. This is a point which we might discuss in Committee, but it is no use using the old conceptions of what produces pollution. We have to think of new developments, and many of us will have seen vehicles being washed in rivers and the covering of the water down stream with a thick oily coating.
The Minister need not be too despondent about the effect of this Bill. The mere fact that it will produce a much clearer picture of where the responsibility lies will produce results in the end.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I am one of those fortunate people in whose constituency some of the clearer of our rivers still flow. I apologise to the hon.
833 Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) for not following some of the remarks he made in reference to rivers in the Midlands; but he knows them far better than I do.
I intervene with a little diffidence in this debate on a complex problem. I do so for three reasons. The first is that I, like most people, enjoy a swim, and I find that in non-industrial parts of south-west England it is becoming increasingly difficult for local swimming clubs to get clear and pure water. Secondly, I am one of the two million anglers who, without any skill at the task, enjoy a day's fishing. Thirdly, I am connected with the British Field Sports Society, which has done a great deal of research work and inquiry into the difficult problems we are discussing today.
I should like, with the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), with whom I have not always found myself in the past in entire agreement, to pay my tribute and express the great debt of gratitude we owe to the late Mr. H. D. Turing, who did so much work in producing pamphlets and enlightening the British people, which has helped us in our discussion today. I would also like to pay tribute to some independent bodies, such as the Pure Rivers Society, the Anglers' Co-operative Society, Members of the Fishery Boards, now partly defunct, and the Scottish Salmon Anglers' Federation.
All these and others have done a great deal by way of research into the problems dealt with by the Bill before us today. So far as the British Field Sports Society are concerned, we give a general welcome to the Bill, although we appreciate that it cannot be thoroughly discussed until we come to the Committee stage, when we hope that it may be subject to some amendment. Let us hope that the Minister, in view of his very friendly and conciliatory speech today, will see his way to make some improvement at a later stage.
I am a little doubtful how many riparian owners will welcome the fact that under Clause 2 they are not to be allowed to cut their own weeds unless they can collect them. I do not know if the Minister who is to reply has ever tried to cut the weeds in a river. It is a very cool pursuit but it would be a very difficult position to be in to have to cut all the weeds or be liable to a fine of £200 834 if they were not gathered. Whereas in another Bill to deal with fish in Scotland, which has already had its First Reading here, we find increased penalties for dastardly attacks by dynamite on fish in their spawning beds, the Bill we are now considering provides for a maximum fine of £200, and it seems rather doubtful whether some of the big industrial undertakings will really take notice of so small a fine. I hope that we may consider that point further during the Committee stage.
I support what the hon. Member for Rossendale said about the lack of responsibility of and lack of even any provision for consultation with the Minister of Agriculture. The title of that Minister is the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, so presumably he must be responsible for fish and also have a great deal of responsibility for the banks of the various rivers. As the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth said, we have the problem of farm drainage, particularly in the case of some of the modern spraying chemicals, which in the future may well be a rather important point. I hope, therefore, that before the Bill passes through this House we shall see further reference in it to the Minister of Agriculture.
It is worthy of note—I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) quite agrees with me on this point—that river boards consist, to the extent of three-fifths of their composition, of local authority representatives. Human nature being what it is, it is very unlikely that either the Minister or the river boards will go out of their way to prosecute themselves. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford ever feels like prosecuting himself; I hope not.
I should like also to deal briefly with the subject of water extraction. The ideal solution in that respect seems to me to be that all water extracted should be returned to the river, but under modern conditions, with hydro-electric plant and the like, that is impossible. But if too great a volume of water is extracted from the head waters of a river there will be an increasing likelihood of the river being polluted.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) pointed out that a certain amount 835 of poisonous liquid entering a small head of water can kill everything in it and pollute it thoroughly, whereas the same volume of poisonous liquid flowing into a much bigger bulk of water will not so nearly completely pollute the water flowing down the stream. In Clause 4, which is really the whole crux of the Bill, we find that apparently the riparian owner is to be deprived of his right of prosecution. I hope that the Minister who is to wind up the Debate will refer to that matter and make the point clear.
I hope that at some stage, possibly not on Second Reading, we shall hear what the standards of pollution are. I appreciate that to a certain degree they must, as the Minister said, be elastic, but are they to be based merely on the chemical content or is one standard to be set in respect of temperature or in respect of the oxygen content, or is it to be based on the fact that ova or small fry of sea trout and salmon can live in the water. We do not want to arrive at the state at which they are all killed before we find that pollution is acknowledged.
Clause 4 (6) has already been referred to, and I think it will be necessary during the Committee stage to look further into the question of whether an injunction order at present in being may be nullified when, as a result of a standard made by a river board, the standard on which the injunction was made is changed. I trust we shall hear something about that matter at a later stage.
I hope that when this Bill becomes the law of the land it will be of lasting benefit to the rivers of England, to the health of the people of this country and to fishermen in general, and that it will not lapse into merely being well intentioned, as has sometimes happened in the past.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I wish to pay particular attention to Clause 2 (1, a). We have heard a great deal about industrial effluents, toxic poisons, etc. I wish to refer to the farmer who raises sheep on the hills and the moors. I wonder how he is to prevent pollution of streams when there are no fences surrounding the places where the sheep and cattle graze. This may be a Committee point.
836 I feel that there will be great difficulty in finding out who is really responsible for poisoning the streams. It may be that the animals are responsible, but how can a farmer be held responsible if he is in an area where thousands of sheep and many hundreds of cattle are being grazed, and when the poisonous substances percolate through to the local streams. One can take the example of quite a number of small farms on the uplands and the hillsides. It can be ascertained that liquid matter percolates through to the various streams but it would be a most difficult problem to prevent that matter from seeping through. I hope that the Minister will look at that question. We know that it is happening today. At least that is the case in some parts of my constituency, which contains quite a number of hill farms, including those on which sheep are grazing.
In my constituency there are a number of iron ore and coal slag heaps and abandoned iron ore mines. In the mines which are working today huge pumps are pumping the water away but from the abandoned mines and the slag heaps which have been left as a relic of the past water and solid matter passes into the streams. I wonder how the Government propose to deal with that.
There is also the case of Government factories which produce chemicals and dispose of their effluent into the sea. It has been found that when the tides come in part of the effluent is brought back into the rivers and large quantities of fish are destroyed. I should like to know to what extent Government factories come within the scope of the Bill, because this is a very important point. This applies to other constituencies besides mine, for a large number of chemical factories have come into being since the war. Fair and proper consideration should be given to that difficulty. Another matter to be considered is the pumping of water from mines in current use, as a result of which large quantities of water enter the rivers. In my constituency can be seen water quite red from the iron ore areas. It may be very difficult to keep that water free from pollution.
What is likely to be the situation with effluent from atomic energy stations is not generally known. I have a very big undertaking in my constituency and the effluent from it has been a very serious matter. When I said that we do not 837 know what the consequences will be, I spoke as a layman. I believe that everything possible is being done to make the effluent safe, but it is a most important matter which should be looked at during the Committee stage because of the atomic energy undertakings which are almost coming into operation.
Industrial effluents must also be considered. Some firms which have entered the development areas have been obliged to make special arrangements for the disposal of effluent. Those firms were encouraged to enter the areas in order to provide employment, and the Ministry should be most careful not to do anything unduly to damage their good work. One firm has to carry its effluent through pipes nine or 10 miles from a chemical factory to the sea, which represented a heavy initial outlay, and from time to time it has to face difficulties when tidal waves block the pipes. I recognise that these are mainly Committee points, but they very deeply concern some of the most important industries and farming areas in my constituency, and I hope that the Minister will pay due attention to them during the Committee stage.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
I dare say that the Minister would wish that all the great problems raised by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) were as simple as his first problem which concerned effluents from hill farms. I hope the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow him in the points which he has raised, with all of which I agree and all of which have great local significance in his constituency.
Perhaps it is significant that three hon. Members who have spoken have constituencies in the Trent Fishery Board Area. That board, above all, has made a success of present and past legislation. I would to some extent dissociate myself from the accusations which have been made against the Act of 1876 and the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, for they have been proved to be efficient if used by a progressive body.
The Trent Fishery Board Report for 1949 said that progress by fishery boards in the matter of pollution was barred more by money than by legislative powers. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will admit that the writer of that had 838 some justification for expressing that opinion. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) gave a rather gloomy picture of the Trent. The Trent was a sewer from source to mouth in 1923 but coarse fishing can now take place along all but a hundred miles of its length admittedly, the remainder is bad indeed.
I have to declare a commercial interest in fishing tackle, which pins me down in the Minister's mind as a man whose sole interest is in fishing and fishermen. It will be a great pity if the Second Reading debate and the longer and more complicated Committee stage should develop at any time into the old "trade v. trout argument. We should all keep clearly in mind that water clean enough to maintain fish is the minimum standard, and that purer water still is required for agriculture and industry and for human use. Fish marks the first stage. That is admitted by industry. It is extraordinary how many industrial concerns take a considerable interest in the waters above their factories. They know how important fish life is to them, on the intake side. On the other side, below the factory, the water is often quite another kettle of fish—a kettle of dead fish.
Most of the useful points about the Bill have been made and I shall not labour them. The whole principle of the Bill, and its whole usefulness or lack of it, are in Clause 4, which is an attempt to adopt a recommendation of the Hobday Report in regard to standards. I would stress to the Minister that the Hobday Report also said that it was vital that the powers of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act should be kept separate and apart from the Bill, but that those powers have certainly been greatly reduced by the Bill.
In opening the debate the Minister said that this was a "machinery" Bill. It seems to me that it is rather like the machinery that we read about in the newspapers this morning in connection with the Festival of Britain, machinery that was designed to work like mad to no purpose at all. It may well be that under this business of standards enormous difficulties arise in regard to the complexity of the standards themselves and in the relation of the standards to the density of industry on the one hand, and to the volume of available purifying water on the other.
839 I shall not go into the question of chemical standards. My best information is that there are at least 20 alternative and complementary standards that need to be applied before we can say that we have a by-law that lays down a standard of what is pollution. In Clause 4 (4) there is a reference to a standard of what is and what is not pollution. If it needs 20 variations to lay down a standard of what is pollution, it is probably beyond the wit of man to lay down a standard of what is not pollution. I am told that technical committees are sitting to discuss these standards. I am ashamed of my ignorance in not knowing that they were sitting.
It seems to me to be a vast pity that the Bill has been put forward before the findings of these technical committees have been arrived at. In point of fact, the efficiency of the standards that will be laid down will be the real test of the eventual success of the Bill. Without saying anything further about standards, I should like to draw attention to the effect that the drawing of water from the head waters of rivers has on the necessity for standards. The whole urgency of pollution is directly increased as the flow of water is drawn off for other purposes.
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) asked at the end of the Minister's speech a question about Clause 4. I think he was not given a very useful answer. He raised the point on which the whole of the Bill turns, the question of the extent to which the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act can still give protection. It can be said that by-laws will be imposed relating to areas and parts of rivers which are so polluted that fish do not exist. Those by-laws will be laid down under the Bill, but it can equally be said that the protection of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act remains for fishing waters. That also is true, although it must be remembered that the powers of that Act are only to regulate pollution and not to control it.
There is no clear-cut definition between waters containing no fish and waters containing fish. On the one hand, there is the work of the fishery boards, who are constantly winning back water for fish life and to greater standards of purity, and on the other hand there is the constantly changing effect of pollution which, by reason of volume or of lack of water, 840 can in a very short time destroy the progress which has been made. There is therefore a constant state of flux between the two types of water which are to be controlled by two entirely different pieces of legislation. It would interest me greatly to know, either tonight or at a later stage, exactly how those two pieces of legislation will work out in practice. It becomes even more difficult to understand when we appreciate that this toxic water which is covered by the Bill will be the responsibility of the Minister of Health, while the water immediately below it, clean water containing fish and covered by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, will be the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. It is beyond my understanding—which is like the fish not very broad.
One thing about the by-laws which the Bill envisages—although I may be wrong —is that they are chemical by-laws of one kind and another. Every fishery board will be tempted to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to add to all its by-laws an omnibus clause which will refer to the effect of organic or inorganic matter upon fish. If they do that, it will entirely destroy the point of the Bill, and we might just as well do the best we can with existing legislation. I shall not labour this argument; I hope that what I am driving at is obvious.
There is a very strong case indeed on a great many technical grounds for asking on the Committee stage that there will be taken out of the Bill those parts of Clause 4 relating to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act which tend at the moment to destroy the present powers in relation to pollution. Unless those parts of the Bill are taken out there will be a great temptation to any river board which has the interest of anti-pollution at heart simply to do without the Bill and to get along, as they have been getting along already very well, with the existing law.
One or two minor points will come up. There is the question of vehicles, which was raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, and which undoubtedly has simply been left out of the Bill. It should go in. There is the question of the method of publishing the by-laws. The River Boards Act only allows one month's notice, but the Hobday Report recommends that as these by-laws will be extremely complicated they should have three months' notice and that there ought 841 to be a public inquiry. So far as I can see, that is not covered under the River Boards Act.
A point which has not been mentioned relates to Clause 2, and to powers for the protection of officers of bodies corporate. My right hon. Friend said, very graphically, that these pollutions are more often than not caused by the turning on of a tap or the turning off of a tap. That is very true. A great number of cases of pollution are simply due to carelessness or to some fault on the part of a very minor employee who has failed to carry out detailed regulations laid down for him. Employers and managers, both of private companies and of nationalised undertakings, are getting away far too easily simply by proving that they have laid down sufficient standing orders which ought to appear to cover the case, and they are likely to, use that as a most convenient excuse.
Then there is the special dispensation to local authorities. I know that under the original legislation there was no need for them to give notice of a scheme which had the consent of the Minister. I am given to understand that under some of the Public Health Acts they have to give that notice, but I am told that in fact it is only rarely given. Possibly it is given only as a courtesy. It seems to me that if the river boards are to have proper warning of all the schemes which may affect their area, it is only a matter of common sense that they should have prior notice of all local authority schemes, whether approved by the Minister or not.
There is no mention in the Bill of the recommendation of the Hobday Report that for the purposes of anti-pollution the definition of streams should include dry water courses. This is an extremely difficult technical point, but it becomes more and more important each year with the mechanisation of agriculture, in that in summer time tractor sumps may be emptied, cans are cleaned out, and fertilisers or poisons find their way into ditches which eventually become part of the drainage system. I ask the Minister whether he could not add to the definition of "stream," "the bed of any river, stream, water course and so on."
A point which must be discussed during the Committee stage is the question of solid matter, the definition of which varies in two places, as between solid 842 matter in Clause 2 (2) and a trade effluent which includes solid matter in suspension. I have tried to be brief on a subject on which I have a great deal to say, and I hope that all the points which I have raised will be discussed fully on the Committee stage.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
It is a very great pleasure to follow an hon. Member with whose remarks one is to a great extent in agreement. It is also a certain embarrassment in that it relieves the following speaker of saying much of what he intended to say. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne), however, is to be congratulated on putting his finger on what seems to me to be the central point of the discussion, that there is not necessarily a conflict of interest but that the question before us concerns two different ways of preventing pollution.
We have heard from hon. Members of the enormous problem arising from the River Irwell and similar rivers, in getting them fit even for people to walk along their banks at a hundred yards' distance. With rivers and streams which are in reasonable condition, and have an abundance of healthy fish, the question of maintaining the existing standard is an entirely different matter. Unless we are careful, confusion may arise, inasmuch as standards which may seem admirable in the one instance would have calamitous results in the other.
I am particularly concerned with this problem because I represent an industrial constituency in the City of Sheffield. Another reason why I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rushcliffe is that I represent, I believe, his biggest customers, because it has been calculated that in Sheffield about 30,000 anglers and fishermen are organised into clubs and societies. Although we may not be particularly proud of the architecture and amenities of the city from the viewpoint of beauty, we are very proud of the neighbouring countryside. Despite what my right hon. Friend said about eloquent anglers—I am myself neither eloquent nor an angler—it is important that the amenities of the countryside should be preserved for fishermen, because they, in turn will help in the preservation of those amenities for others, such as ramblers. The test of whether fish are able to live 843 in a stretch of water is not a bad rough and ready guide to the extent of the pollution of a particular stream.
In the West Riding of Yorkshire, as is shown in the Turing Report, and to which reference has been made by my right hon. Friend, the river board have done a rather good job; they have preserved a good deal of the use and amenity of rivers which, in an area which is heavily industrialised, might have deteriorated instead. I am rather concerned, therefore, to find that the Bill is to repeal practically the whole of the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Act, 1894. I ask my hon. Friend, when he replies, to say whether the effects of the Bill will be substantially the same and that the West Riding Rivers Board will not now be at a disadvantage as a result of the repeal of all but Section 4 of the 1894 Act. I have not as yet studied that Measure to see what the full effect of the change will be.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Under Clause 2 it will he very much more difficult to prove an offence than under the 1894 Act. The Bill is therefore very unsatisfactory as far as the West Riding is concerned.
§ Mr. Mulley
As I say, not having studied the 1894 Act, I do not know the full extent of the change. This is a matter which must be considered in Committee, not only as far as it effects any loss to the West Riding of the powers of the 1894 Act, but on the general question of the enforcement of the Bill.
Subsection (5, b) of Clause 4 is likely to give rise to confusion as between the standard which it might be desirable to maintain in a river running through a highly industrial area, and the standard of a decent stream with good fishing. I do not see how it is possible to make distinctions within different river boards. One particular area might contain, for example, both the industrialised streams and also rivers with ample amenities and fishing. I make the suggestion that in areas where the anglers are well organised there might be a case for them to have a representative appointed to the boards; they have a legitimate interest in their area and would act as a check upon both the industrial and local government points of view.
844 As far as Clause 7 is concerned, it seems that there is likely to be a great delay before any action can be taken under the Bill. While this may be necessary as far as the safeguarding of industrial interests is concerned, in the second category of the prevention of pollution—that is, in preventing the deterioration of streams which are in good condition the delay may be very serious. It has been brought to my notice that since October, in the River Witham, in Lincolnshire, which is very popular not only with Sheffield anglers but with South Yorkshire fishermen in general, serious pollution has occurred and thousands of fish have been dying; and that although we have now reached the end of November, no action has yet been taken. It is not at all clear who can institute action if the Board itself is not alive to what is required or if, because of the by-laws and regulations, delay occurs.
I hope that in Committee some of these points will be carefully examined. It would be a pity if we succeeded in reducing the pollution of some of our bad industrial rivers and streams only by lowering the standards of purity of other rivers, and damaging fish life and other pleasant amenities for our industrial workers and others who spend their weekends or their holidays in the country.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
That this is a disappointing Bill is a fact which has been made clear by the speech of everybody who has addressed the House today. Obviously the Minister was disappointed with this Measure when he said that there was nothing revolutionary in it. He has shown his disappointment by absenting himself from the Chamber since then. He has been absent for one and a half hours. The Minister of Agriculture backs this Bill, but he has not taken the trouble to appear for one moment or to send his Parliamentary Secretary. Yet this is a Bill which is supposed to deal with the prevention of pollution and to safeguard fishery interests.
I have never heard of a Minister backing a Bill and neither he nor his Parliamentary Secretary troubling to attend the Second Reading. But they are right. This is a most unsatisfactory Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
I do not follow what the hon. Gentleman 845 said about the attendance of my right hon. Friend or myself.
§ Mr. Turton
I did not mention the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. He has attended the whole of the debate on this disappointing Measure. I said that after the Minister had spoken and heard two or three speeches, he absented himself from the Chamber. Then I pointed out that the Minister of Agriculture has not been present for one minute during the whole of our debate. It may be that he is addressing a meeting of farmers in some part of the country, but he has not sent his Parliamentary Secretary to show interest in this Measure. I said that I thought that was a most unusual procedure even for a Socialist Minister of Agriculture.
This Bill is disappointing because it does very little and it does not improve the present situation. I fully realise the great difficulty about taking any big measures for the prevention of pollution at present. Vast capital expenditure would be required. The Minister said that he had sewerage schemes amounting to some £80 million. I know that very little of the £15 million provided under the 1945 rural water and sewerage schemes has been spent. The Parliamentary Secretary frowns as if he did not like that remark. I can give the Minister's figures for this year. The Minister has said that of that £15 million, only £4 million had even been allocated for sewerage work in four years, and of the amount allocated he did not know whether any had been spent.
What we ought to do now is to make a survey of these rivers. There is no need for this Bill until the survey has been made by the river boards which we appointed only last year to do that work. Until that survey is made, if we bring forward a Measure in which we say that we are going to try to alter the existing law and prevent pollution, we are misleading ourselves. It is obvious that there are Members in all parts of the House who take that view. There is no great party cleavage on the question of how disappointing this Bill is.
We do not really gain by altering the 1876 Act and allowing nobody but the river boards to conduct criminal prosecutions for pollution. The difficulty about the river boards, is that two-thirds of them are local authorities. They are excellent 846 from the work entrusted to them under the 1948 Act, because they are dependent for drainage work upon the product of the local rates, but they are not the right people, in many respects, to be the sole prosecutors in cases of river pollution. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) said he hoped that fishery interests were represented. They are represented, but they have only a minute representation. In most cases, it amounts to 15 per cent. of the membership of the board. It would have been wiser if we had retained the system of the 1876 Act and allowed not only the river boards—the descendents of the sanitary authorities—but also other persons interested, to prosecute in cases of pollution.
The problem of river pollution is a disgrace to all of us in England. It is a state of affairs which has become a great deal worse during the last few years. I know that there are exceptions. One exception, which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park mentioned, is the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Board. They have done excellent work since their appointment in 1894, but they are an exception in the North of England. Conditions in the Tyne and the Tees have deteriorated in recent years, and we can be thankful that the West Riding Board has done some good work. They did that because under their 1894 Act they had a quick and effective way of bringing a criminal prosecution for pollution. They did not have to prove that the pollution by sewage was actually impeding the flow of the river, or that the liquid matter coming into a river was having a harmful effect.
When the Milne Committee examined the law on pollution it recommended that in any future case we should adopt the phraseology of the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Act, 1894, and not that of the 1876 Act. It is regrettable that in this Bill the Government have not taken the advice of the Milne Committee. The reason why the river pollution problem has grown worse in recent years has been that it has been difficult to institute prosecutions. There has been tremendous delay in the procedure of applying to the Ministry of Health for leave to prosecute, and prosecutions have been conducted in about only 50 per cent. of the cases. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary's statistics will agree with mine.
847 I hope that the Minister will consider whether it would be better to take the advice of the Milne Committee and redraft the form of the criminal offence in the way it is drafted in the 1894 Act, and that he will not do away with the powers of the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Board. It is all very well for the Thames and Lea Conservancy Boards to be excluded. I should have thought that we had just as good a claim in Yorkshire for the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Board to act on its own behalf.
I pass from the criminal law to common law. This Bill appears to confuse criminal law and common law. Why should the Minister when in Clause 2 he lays down a very weak standard for prosecution under criminal law say that the same standard of pollution is to be observed in civil law? I was shocked to read what many hon. Members opposite have been shocked at, that after certain by-laws have been made by certain river boards the civil law of England is in future to be altered, and a man, or in many cases a working man's club, or fishery board, wanting to obtain an injunction to restrain a nuisance, will find that some by-law has altered that, a by-law imposing a purely criminal standard of pollution. That seems not only wrong but quite foreign to our whole principle of law in this country. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will apply his mind to that matter.
Why should a man be deprived of his civil right just because some river board believes that for criminal cases it can have a very dirty standard of pollution? That hardly seems right. It appears even more wrong when in the next subsection we find that if some citizen has obtained an injunction in the courts restraining some industry from committing a nuisance under which he is deprived of a valuable right, the whole order can be varied when the river board makes a by-law. That is something absolutely foreign to the law of this country.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, of course, that it can work the other way also, and quite clearly standards can be raised where an injunction may require a comparatively low standard to that specified by the by-law.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
Has the hon. Gentleman ever 848 seen the form of an injunction granted in cases like this?
§ Mr. Turton
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will explain that in reply to my hon. and learned Friend. An injunction stopping a man from polluting is an absolute right under the civil law. I see the point that later on, in the third or fourth application of this injunction, the standard of the river board might well be improved. But is this section also to apply to damages? I hope the hon. Gentleman will say whether if some citizen obtains damages to the amount of, say, £500, later, when the river board impose a low, dirty standard on that river, the damages are to be varied. because as far as I can read the subsection it will allow for damages to be varied. If that is not cleared up today, I hope it will be cleared up in Committee.
I wish to refer to the question of estuaries and I realise that probably this was the weakest part of the Hobday Report, which came down on the side of leaving to the Minister the question of including estuaries. Until we tackle the question of estuaries we shall not solve the problem of pollution. You, Sir, will know the River Tees fairly well. Up to 1937 it was a river where one could get fish. It was a delightful river in which the upper reaches had cascades and then there was a more sluggish area from Yarm to the mouth. There are no fish in that river now because nothing has been done to prevent pollution at the mouth. For the last 15 years the Minister has never added the estuary to the purposes of the 1876 Act. I cannot see any reason why, when this Measure is passed, that estuary should be added by the Minister of Health. I believe we should strengthen this Measure and put a little force into it by adding estuaries to the definition of the word "stream" and not leave it to the Minister, to put it in.
My final point has been referred to by hon. Members opposite. I believe the Minister of Health has other duties and the question of river pollution should be a matter for the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries rather than the Minister of Health. Until that is done I believe there will be no real improvement in the purification of our rivers. If the Minister of Health is vitally interested on grounds of public health, let him be a sitting-in partner who can act jointly with the 849 Minister of Agriculture but, generally, it is the duty of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. If we can get the rivers good enough for fish, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, so wisely said, we can be satisfied with the state of the rivers of this country, but at present I am very dissatisfied with the state of our rivers.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has made a very interesting speech, but I cannot altogether follow him in his opening remarks in which he seemed to think that the Bill was of very little use and that we might just as well work with existing legislation. I should think that with the present state of our rivers this Measure would strengthen the former Act.
Many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton were Committee points, but I think the Bill is long overdue. It raises many difficult and complex questions. There is the whole question of industrial pollution and much of it is due to industrial developments in various parts of the country. We cannot suddenly dislocate industry by imposing upon it measures it should take to control effluents, although we must get regulations laid down as soon as possible. If industrial undertakings could get tax remission for capital outlay—which may be very big in some cases—in dealing with effluents, the position would be made very much easier. I understand that very large sums have had to be spent already by some companies, and by some public institutions in dealing with effluents.
River pollution may not affect human health—although it may do that in some cases—but it will always do terrible damage to animal and fish life in the rivers. That is why it is so easy to overlook what is going on. Then, gradually, one realises how, over a term of years, there is a steady deterioration in the animal life of parts of our countryside. In my constituency there is the River Severn, the greatest river in England. At one time it was a very fine salmon river. It is not only a salmon river, but there are coarse fish and a very large number of workingmen's fishing clubs are much concerned with the state of the river.
I have in my constituency three villages on the Severn of whose inhabi- 850 tants a large number are concerned with net fishing, from which they derive their living. Between 1906 and 1910 the average salmon catch in the Severn was about 24,000. In the early '20's it fell to 17,000. In 1926 it was 15,000. In 1940 it was 4,294 and in 1945, the last year in which figures were available, it was 3,800. I do not know what it is today.
Nobody realises what is happening until we are suddenly brought up against these facts. I understand that the City of Gloucester discharges all its sewage direct into the Severn, where it is a tidal estuary. It is thought that the tide will move the effluent and that it will not pollute the river, or only to a small extent. Adult salmon can move down through tidal water like that of the Severn near Gloucester without serious effects, but the two year old smolt, which has been bred in the upper reaches and at that stage has to go down to the sea to complete its life cycle, cannot pass through what an adult salmon can pass through. Consequently, millions die in passing through the polluted estuary.
Again, industrial effluent may have a serious effect on fish life without this being detected for a long time. The Avon, which is a tributary of the Severn, has fish in its lower reaches but not in its upper reaches, because the industrial effluent from Coventry has seeped in there and is of a kind which causes a fine scum to be deposited on the gravel of the river bed. That would seem to be harmless, but it prevents the spawn of the fish from being able to exist upon the river bed. Consequently, the upper reaches of the river are denuded of fish. So one sees how quietly the fish life in the rivers and estuaries is being interfered with and seriously affected.
I agree entirely with hon. Members on both sides of the House who say that standards of pollution must be set up, and that it is not enough that the Ministry of Health should supervise this work. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should either be in charge of all of it, or there should be joint consultation between the two Ministries. Again, I see a weakness in the Bill because the river boards, who consist, to a large extent, of local authorities, will be loth to institute prosecutions against local authorities who may be, and in some cases are, the worst possible offenders. The Minister ought to be consulted by the river boards and 851 his consent obtained to a standard to be laid down by them so that a satisfactory arrangement is made.
Owing to the fact that water schemes are being extended in town and country, water is being extracted from the big rivers, and in the upper reaches particularly this may have a serious effect in concentrating pollution in those regions. For example, if water is taken out and the same amount of pollution goes in, it is obviously more concentrated and causes more damage. That is the reason, I believe, for the large number of dead salmon in the upper reaches of the Wye last summer.
With other hon. Members I wish to give my humble blessing to the Bill because it will do something towards meeting what we all want. I hope that the matters I have mentioned will be threshed out in Committee.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
It is obvious from the speeches that have been made that both sides of the House appreciate the wide interests throughout the country which are affected by legislation dealing with river pollution. Many groups and individuals have devoted a large part of their lives to this question. I hope that hon. Members will not mind my mentioning the death, reported today, of the Duke of Devonshire, a man who gave the whole of his life to public service, who was a great sportsman and a great man and who, by a sad coincidence, would have taken the chair this very afternoon at an important meeting to discuss this Bill.
I join with some of my hon. Friends in protesting at the speed with which we are expected to absorb legislation put before us and, worse than that, the speed at which the various organisations which have to collect information from their members over a large area, have to study this rushed legislation. The time we have had to look at this Bill has been too short for many hon. Members and far too short for many.of the interested organisations. But that seems to be rather a rule of this Government. Also I much regret that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries has absented himself from this Debate and has not thought fit to send his Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
852 I am glad we have not heard any of the rather absurd arguments about fishing being the pursuit of the rich. I had briefed myself with a little information in case it becomes necessary to answer that argument. As it is not, I will give one scrap to the House as a matter of interest. The National Federation of Anglers, a large body which caters almost entirely for weekly wage earners, has 300,000 members in over 80 towns. On the Trent and Severn alone, last year there were 170,000 rod licence holders who enjoyed the pursuit of fishing. One hon. Member mentioned that 30,000 anglers were organised in clubs in Sheffield. The Anglers Co-operative Association does the same work on a large scale.
I am worried about one aspect of Clause 1. May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether I am wrong in reading into Clause 1 and into paragraph 10 of the Second Schedule, that it may be in the mind of the Minister to repeal the Thames and Lea Conservancy Acts? It seems clear from paragraph 10 of the Second Schedule that he is taking unto himself that power, or seems to be seeking to do so. If that is so—and it seems clear that it is—I am quite definite in my opinion that the Minister is asking for more power than should be put into the hands of one man in regard to this question.
The Thames Conservancy Act and the Lea Conservancy Act are both Acts which are stronger legally than the general anti-pollution Acts throughout the country, and I cannot believe that any hon. Member would wish to see the standard lowered so far as the Thames and the Lea are concerned. I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be absolutely definite on this point when he replies. It would be a retrograde step to level down the Thames anti-pollution Act or the Lea anti-pollution Act.
I wish to make a substantial point in connection with Clause 4 to which the Minister should apply himself and to which I hope there will be a reply. I wish to refer to paragraph 84—I do not think this point has been raised so far—of the Hobday Report. I consider it to be of sufficient importance to read part of that paragraph. It deals with prescribing standards with regard to pollution liquids, and the words to which I wish to draw the particular attention of the Minister are: 853In fixing standards account would be taken of local circumstances, including the flow of water in the particular stream (particularly the minimum flow), the total volume of effluents likely to he discharged into it, the amount of self-purification of the river which could he expected and the uses to which the river water is put. The standards might differ very materially from one river to another, or for different parts of the same river. We consider that the courts, and the Minister, where his consent is necessary to proceedings, should have regard to these considerations in the interpretation of the words offensive or injurious' is no standards have been fixed.It is clear that in Clause 4 there is not borne in mind what would seem to me, and I think to many of my hon. Friends, to be the very sound advice contained in that paragraph of the Hobday Report; and therefore on the Committee stage very considerable improvements should be made to that Clause. The importance of maintaining the standards laid down in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, has already been mentioned, and it is clear to all of us that the existing safeguards in part of that Act should be maintained and not lowered.
I wish to put a direct question to the Minister regarding Clause 7. Reference has already been made to this matter. Is there some desire on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to protect local authorities against discharging polluting effluents? From the way in which the Bill is drafted, it appears that there is that intention, and if not, surely we are entitled to know why the consent of the Minister has to be obtained before a local authority—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
If the hon. and gallant Member will permit me to interrupt him, may I say that is already the case with regard to industrial effluents. There is no suggestion that we are attempting to protect industry.
§ Major Beamish
—that a local authority has had the same protection. It is an entirely new precedent, and in my opinion a thoroughly bad one.
§ Major Beamish
I hope I make myself clear on that. The Minister appears to be seeking in some way to put himself above the law.
854 The subject which we are discussing seems to be legislated for roughly every 50 years, and it would therefore appear to be particularly important that before this Bill becomes law it should be radically improved. I think there is a great deal of room for improvement, but with good will and co-operation from both sides we should be able to turn it into a good Bill. But however careful we are to improve it, it will be difficult to apply unless we make it foolproof, simple and clear. I apologise to you, Sir, and to the House, because I happen to have a particularly important engagement now and I cannot therefore comply with the normal courtesy and remain in my seat to hear the strong criticisms which will, no doubt, be applied to my speech.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
In introducing this Bill the Minister described it—as one hon. Member has already recalled—as not very revolutionary. It certainly is not. Thirteen times since 1866 various Ministers have been urged to set up river boards, and in principle I am in favour of a Bill along those lines. My query is whether the measures under the Bill will prove effective. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said that the Act of 1876 should have seen that there was no pollution of our rivers; but every year has seen progressive deterioration in the state of our rivers, due to the fact that the very people entrusted with the job of preventing the pollution in our rivers and streams, were themselves the main culprits and offenders.
My first query on this Bill is whether the local authorities have too much power. I regard as a great danger the position of local authorities as envisaged by this Bill. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) did not agree with me and quoted the Thames Conservancy Board, saying what a wonderful job they have done. I think I am right in saying that the Thames Conservancy Board do not have a majority of local government representatives.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I will not dispute that point. If that is the case, I am misinformed.
855 My second point relates to the laying down of adequate standards. Because of the importance attached to the representation of local authorities, I feel that the standards likely to be set up will be such as are convenient to administer rather than high enough to aim at. My third point on this Bill relates to the omission of any reference to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I associate myself with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have urged that the Minister of Agriculture should be associated with the Minister of Health in any measures dealing with the prevention of pollution of rivers. I hope that this Bill, with suitable Amendments on Committee stage, will prove effective.
In my constituency runs part of the River Medway. The high tidal part of the Medway is at Aylesford, and at this point the river is crossed by a beautiful 15th century bridge. Artists used to come and paint it, and there are one or two good inns on the banks where one could quaff one's ale in the summer. Children used to bathe in the river and fish were plentiful. Today there is a totally different situation. The stench—that is the only word one can use —which comes from the river in summer time has to be experienced to be believed. There are no fish. Nobody swims in the river and the inhabitants of Aylesford definitely fear either sun or wind, which makes the stench utterly abominable. This is due to the industrial effluent coming from the paper mills. I should like to quote a verse describing the present polluted state of the River Medway:
- "I do not chatter any more.
- How could my waters chatter.
- Crawling along 'twixt shore and shore
- Chock full of morbid matter?
- The food the fish were wont to eat
- Has now a thorough coating,
- Of china clay and sugar beet
- With surface creosoting."
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I fully agree with all the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. John Rodgers), and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him. This Bill, by its Title, is intended tomake new provision for maintaining or restoring the wholesomeness of the rivers and other inland or coastal waters of England and Wales…856 That is a worthy aim. After all, our rivers are among the most pleasant part of our heritage. They are the main source of our water supply and they are connected with every part of our history. They are also vital to recreational amenities. We can bathe in them and boat on them, and we can also fish in them. A noble Lord in another place the other day said that there were a few million anglers in this country. I am one of them, and I am a member of the British Field Sports Society, which for a long time has realised that the greatest service it could do for anglers was to fight relentlessly for a higher standard of river purity and the re-opening of rivers where fish had ceased to exist through pollution.
I have declared my interest. It is from the anglers' point of view that I wish to make a few remarks this evening. But I am well aware that polluted rivers are dead, from the point of view not only of fish life but every other form of life, and they cease to be the pleasure they could be to the rambler, the naturalist or the walker along their shores, as well as to those who boat and bathe. There seems to be something really rather horrible about one of these dead rivers—the horror of finding that something which in the distance looks alive is really a corpse.
The fight against pollution has been going on for a long time, ever since the 1876 Act failed to function. Many societies have taken part in the fight. The British Field Sports Society a few years ago decided that the best thing to do was to try to attract the utmost publicity to the state of our rivers, and they got Mr. Turing to conduct a survey, as a result of which they have published a series of little books, copies of which I think have been sent to every Member of this House. In the last few years we have distributed 110,000 copies of those books, and we believe they have done a lot of good.
Earlier in the debate a tribute was paid to Mr. Turing by several hon. Members. I should like to add a tribute of my own. A man engaged in such controversial work as he was might have made many enemies. He often had to hit hard at people who were producing pollution. He had to criticise them. Yet he managed to retain the good will and respect of everybody with whom he came in contact, and I think that was a great achievement.
857 Not only was he a keen fisherman, but he recognised the interests of all other river users as well.
Speaking for myself and those members of the Society and friends whom I have been able to consult in the short time available, we support this Bill in so far as we believe it to be an attempt to lessen the evil of pollution; but, frankly, we had hoped for something more comprehensive, a more robust and powerful weapon could be used, if necessary. We fear that the present Bill, like its predecessor, the Act of 1876, while appearing to make pollution impossible, may have so many loopholes in it that it will end by being merely a legislative expression of good will. Therefore, we hope that on the Committee stage the Minister will join with us in trying to improve it. We feel sure it can be improved.
May I refer to a few points which require examination? First, some general points. One point has already been referred to by several hon. Members; we feel that the Minister of Agriculture should be jointly responsible with the Minister of Health. His interests are very much concerned, for he is also Minister of Fisheries. He is interested in the fact that many farmers today cannot use the water supply that runs past their farms because it is polluted. It should also be remembered that the present Minister of Agriculture himself piloted through this House the River Boards Bill, from which he must have gained a great deal of experience helpful in dealing with this Bill. We feel that he should at least be consulted by the river boards before standards of purity are prescribed by by-law. There is no reflection intended on the Minister of Health. In any case, I am sure he will be able to look after himself. We feel that the Minister of Agriculture should be concerned as well, because if only one Minister is involved in the administration of this Bill, certain conflicts of loyalties are bound to arise.
My next point concerns the local authorities. They have been referred to by various hon. Members, and I should like to add my belief that local authorities are more concerned with the state of their rates than with the interests of their rivers. I have been in local government for the last 16 years; I have seen members appointed to look after 858 the rivers, but there has never been much enthusiasm for the work. Since three-fifths of the members of river boards are members of local authorities, I am afraid there is bound to be a clash of loyalties which will reflect against the best execution of this Measure. When the Bill setting up river boards was going through this House, we tried to get a 50 per cent. maximum representation of local authority members on the river boards. In another place that provision was inserted in the Bill, but it was taken out during the Committee stage, and in spite of our efforts it was not restored. I believe I am right in saying that on one occasion in the Standing Committee it was defeated by two votes.
The river boards, with their preponderance of local authority members, may be reluctant to prosecute, and the standard of purity may be too easy. That would be a short-sighted view, because while local authorities may save a certain amount of money by not providing such good plant for cleansing sewage effluents, it will cost them a lot of money in other directions. I believe that 26,000 tons of solid deposits have to be dredged from the Tyne every year, and this is all due to the amount of pollution in the Tyne. Other towns have found that instead of being able to use their local rivers for obtaining water they have had to go far away for their water supplies at great expense.
I should like to comment on Clause 2. I am doubtful whether a £200 maximum fine is a sufficient deterrent. It would be necessary often to deal with great corporations and industrial undertakings, and one single act of theirs could cause tremendous havoc. In December, 1939, an effluent of sulphite liquor was discharged into the Welsh Dee, and a thousand salmon and other fish were killed by that one discharge. I should like to repeat that we shall be dealing with large bodies, and the maximum fine should be reconsidered. There are arguments of course for having fines based upon a certain sum each day while pollution lasts.
In Clause 4, a legal point—the deprivation of the riparian owner of his common law right to an action for nuisance. This has already been referred to by hon. and learned Members, who, no doubt will refer to it again. The owners are to be deprived of their common law right to 859 take action. In the Hobday Committee's Report, on page 506, it was recommended that that should not be done. I will not go further into the matter, but will leave it to my hon. and learned Friends.
The whole heart of the Bill lies in the by-laws. Can adequate by-laws be drafted? With great care and experience, I believe they can be, though it will not be easy, for there are many difficulties. There is the difficulty of the varying effects of effluent at different heights of the river and at different parts of the river, and there is also the difficulty of varying quantities. Possibly, a simple standard would be the one that, as far as I can understand it, is being cut out of the Bill through Clause 4 (5, b), which says:for the purposes of subsection (1) of section eight of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923 (which penalises the discharge of poisonous matter into waters containing fish), as causing the water to he poisonous or injurious to fish or to the spawning grounds, spawn or food of fish.That seems to be a completely flexible formula, and can be employed at any point of the river or height of water in the river. It is like the test used for poisonous gases, where I believe canaries are taken to the dangerous parts to see if they can stand the concentration of gas. That is a natural and simple way of doing it, for it should be remembered that if delicate fish like salmon and trout can stand the water there is probably nothing wrong with it.
Clause 5 has also been referred to. To my mind it is every disappointing. It seems to me to be most important that estuaries should be maintained and improved. If they are polluted they form a bar to migratory fish, and in a few years' time salmon and sea trout which are accustomed to particular rivers, cease to exist. Salmon go up the same river year after year; they do not go to other rivers, and they cease to exist because they cannot get up to breed. That happening represents a big commercial loss and there is the loss in rents and rates, as well as the loss to anglers—and not only wealthy—anglers. Up to the third quarter of last century, a number of salmon were taken in the Trent, which in those days, besides being the most famous course fishing river in England, was a salmon river. There is no reason today why, if only the estuary of the Thames were cleaned out, 860 fishermen spinning for pike or ledgering for barbel might not occasionally get hold of a salmon.
Clause 5 has only one advance on the Act of 1876, which permitted the Minister, after a local inquiry, to declare tidal waters as part of a stream, for the purposes of that Act, on sanitary grounds. This Clause is not restricted to sanitary grounds. I feel that the provisions of Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill should apply automatically to estuaries. This is a matter which vitally affects the Minister of Agriculture, as he is responsible for fisheries. It is an extraordinary anomaly that one householder is not allowed to run his sewage into a ditch, but into a river like the Tyne there are no fewer than 286 sewage outfalls.
Clause 7 deals with the restrictions on proceedings. Since 1876 any sewerage authority may be proceeded against by a river board for pollution, but when it comes to industrial polluters the Minister's consent has to be obtained first. It is proposed in this Bill that the Minister of Health should give his consent before any action is taken against sewerage authorities. That is a retrogression. We are not going forward but back. One question that has to be asked on this Bill is what will be the position of the River Tweed? That always arises in Bills of this kind, because half of that river is in England and half in Scotland.
Perhaps I have talked too much of pollution by sewage, but I am well aware of the dangers of industrial pollution too. It did not escape my notice, in reading the report of the River Pollution Prevention Sub-Committee of the Central Water Advisory Committee, that industry, both nationalised and private, seemed constantly to be raising difficulties against the carrying out of measures for the stopping of pollution. The National Coal Board speak for the nationalised industries, the Federation of British Industries for private industry. They seem to me to be putting every obstacle they can in the way. They will have to be more fair-minded.
We all realise that there are difficulties, particularly today with the cost of living making it very essential to keep down the rates. With our need for exports, too, it is very important that we should manufacture our goods cheaply. But I hope that in Committee and in the later stages 861 of the Bill we shall try to forge a really effective weapon which, as and when opportunity presents itself—and the sooner the better—will effectively carry out the promise of this Bill, and in the not-so-distant future remove the slur that lies on this country for the horrid state of pollution of many of our rivers today.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
It is novel for hon. Members on this side of the House to be able to agree with the intentions of the Minister of Health in any Measure he brings forward. Personally, I only support his intentions, because I feel that they are perfectly right, namely, the improvement of conditions on the rivers. But like many hon. Friends on this side, I am profoundly disappointed at what is in the Bill.
It has been said several times and should be said again that the Act of 1876, which is a Tory Act of 74 years ago, made the law against pollution perfectly clear. It made pollution an offence, whereas this Bill makes pollution legal. That is the first point. Admittedly, it defines a standard, but many hon. Members have shown that the authorities who will be setting up these standards have themselves a very deep interest in making them easily attainable ones. There is a great benefit to be derived from the 1876 Act, under which there was no doubt that, where material had gone into a river which should not have gone in, an offence was committed. The 1876 Act, in fact, was a tremendous step forward. After all, there was at that date no law against pollution of any kind.
Today, to bring forward a Bill as revolutionary in its context today as that Act of 1876 was, I would have hoped to see an attempt to deal with estuarial pollution, which is clearly the most damaging of all forms of pollution today. I should also have liked to see some attempt to deal with the reduction of the flow of rivers, which in itself is continually making an existing degree of pollution even more damaging; and some attempt to deal with the problem of mine water discharged into rivers. Surely, this kind of thing, which is one of the benefits we were promised in return for nationalisation, should be tackled by the National Coal Board, which should put its own house in order and be prepared to accept 862 a great more public control in this matter than has been acceptable before.
On the question of the review of standards, the Minister has told us that these are to be reviewed from time to time as conditions improved. I should like an answer to the question whether these standards are to be subject to any public protest. Is anybody going to be able periodically to say that this or that standard is now insufficient, or are we simply to have the standards possibly lowered in order to suit some existing or future difficulty which may be revealed by local authorities? I join with many hon. Members who have spoken, and in particular the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), in asking whether the local authorities, who have majorities on the river boards, are going to set high standards, which they can now do and which they should have done already under the Act of 1876 as it still stands.
Are we going to have the standards in the various reaches of the river set to that of the most corrosive effluent which goes into that reach? There is obviously, from one point of view, no point in putting in material which is more pure than the most impure going into it at present. That is not the way to get cleaner rivers, and I want to see a very detailed control of the quality of the effluents. I welcome the Minister's agreement that he has, perhaps, been over hasty in bringing forward the Second Reading of this Bill, because I believe that millions of people in the country today do not realise what the real effect it is going to be. I therefore hope that the Committee Stage will be put off at least until the New Year, so that we may get down to this problem in greater detail.
The main point which has to be cleared up, and on which great concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, is the stopping of the most active campaigners against pollution, namely, private individuals who can now sue for injunction to restrain a nuisance. At one time, the Minister nodded as if to indicate that that power was to remain, but, at another, he said the power had been taken away. I want to know if that power is to remain in the hands of a private individual, or whether it is being taken away under this Bill. I am advised that the wording is perfectly clear, and that under it, that power is being taken 863 away. I think hon. Members on all sides will agree that private individuals must be allowed the power of taking action of that kind against a nuisance which is in contrast to the statutory authorities' powers to take criminal proceedings in other cases of pollution.
If, in fact, this power has been taken away, it is evidence of a very peculiar alliance between the Labour Party and the Federation of British Industries against the working man angler, for that is what it is. In this respect, though a fisherman myself, I am also a potential polluter when at work, and I do know something about the cost of abating pollution. Such costs are not always all that they are said to be. I know that there are extreme cases, and the atomic effluent from Harwell has been mentioned. Everyone knows that that pollution had to be got rid of, because we could not afford to allow it to go into the Thames. In the majority of cases, it is perfectly possible to stop this pollution.
Let me give one case which is within my own knowledge. It concerns a working men's angling club near Hemel Hempstead, not far from my division, and the action which they took against the pollution of the river. An action had been brought under the 1876 Act in the local magistrates' court about 1940 and it had been dismissed. When the working men's angling club got the evidence after the war, they obtained an injunction against the firm responsible for the pollution, and, in that case, the pollution has been stopped by private proceedings and not by criminal prosecution, which did not succeed under the 1876 Act.
In another case which happened at Chard, when an injunction was obtained, the corrective measures which the local council had to take—it was a prosecution for pollution by sewage—cost only £8,000, which was the total cost of stopping the pollution or reducing it to proper proportions, where, in fact, they had already spent over £30,000 in another effort in trying to stop it which proved completely futile. In that case, public money was saved by the action of private people by suing for an injunction to restrain a nuisance caused by pollution.
There is one other point on the treatment of pollution about which we should not be too depressed. We always talk 864 in terms of trying to get rid of sewage down the rivers, but this is the wrong way to do it. The proper thing to do with an industrial effluent is to put it into the sewers, and that is agreed in the Hobday Report, but the proper thing to do with sewage is to put it back on the land, and that has been done, I believe, at a couple of stations on the Thames, of which Twickenham, I think, is one. Another method is to drive gas engines with methane which is generated from the sewage. All these things can be done, and should be regarded as valuable means of keeping pollution out of our rivers, as well as a useful method of recovering valuable by-products to be put to use in some other way.
Again, in the case of cooling water, the idea seems to be to cool cooling water and put it back in the river, which seems to be wasteful. Two-thirds of the coal burned at our power stations goes up the chimney, and a third only is converted into electricity; but there are modern machines, known as heat-pumps, which can use some of that waste heat and convert it into useful heat and make a better recovery from a ton of coal. There are also district heating systems, such as the one in Manchester and the one that was proposed at Brimsdown before the war. Our aim should be to get the maximum utilisation from every ton of fuel.
If we tackle the problem on those lines I am sure that we can get a great improvement in the condition of our rivers. I am bound to say I am profoundly disappointed in what is in the Bill. I do not think that the Bill itself is going to do very much of what we all want done. I am quite certain that the main benefit we shall derive is the fact that we are all enabled to give a thoroughly good airing to what, probably, is a hobby horse with many of us. I join with the Minister in his plea for clean rivers instead of many we have today which, as the poet puts it, areDay after day, day after day the same—A weary waste of waters!
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I entirely agree with the purpose of this Bill, which is to ensure the purity of our rivers and streams but I do not know what figures the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston) had in mind when he said that the cost of this job 865 had been exaggerated. As a member of a local authority, I have, with others, been engaged in a small way in dealing with the pollution of our rivers. Every village pollutes some little stream that eventually gets into a river. I remember on one occasion that, after building a council housing estate and putting in sewage works, we were informed from London that these works were polluting the stream and, eventually, polluting the river.
If we are to prevent ordinary domestic sewage from polluting rivers and, as the hon. Member for St. Albans has said, put the sewage on the land and use its byproducts in some way or other, it will mean a tremendous capital outlay. It will absorb thousands, even millions, of tons of cement arid, in the long run, a tremendous amount of working time. There are, for instance, numerous cases like that of the town of Kings Lynn, where the sewage is allowed to go almost directly into the river estuary and the Wash. There are scores of small villages besides, and it would be a tremendous task to deal with all these in the way suggested.
Pure rivers are, in themselves, good and wholesome, and before many years have gone by, in the Eastern Counties at any rate. I think a greater proportion of our domestic water supplies will have to come out of the rivers. This is an urgent problem therefore. Today, however, when we look at the problem, we have to consider whether it is more important that our rivers should be purified, whatever the cost in time, money, labour or cement, or whether we should make safer the roads upon which thousands of people are killed each year. There must be in our minds some idea of priority in the jobs that should be done first.
One hon. Member mentioned the National Coal Board. There is, of course, pollution of certain rivers by waters from the mines, but if the Coal Board had first tackled this problem of preventing any pollution or any effluents from its mines or works, instead of improving the output of coal, I am quite sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have criticised the Government and the Board for giving that priority. We must get more machinery for the mines, and more mines modernised. In just the same way, we must go ahead with the building of new houses and perhaps with small sewage disposal works, which may not operate 100 per- 866 cent. efficiently, before we can tackle this larger problem.
In the Eastern Counties, with the coming of the sugar beet industry, pollution of rivers went on for a year or two. Eventually means were found to reduce the pollution; but if we had tried to solve the problem of effluents from sugar factories before we built the factories, I doubt whether we would have had the supply of sugar for the domestic ration during the recent war.
All these things have to be borne in mind, although, because of the need for a domestic water supply, there may be, particularly in the Eastern Counties, a time limit beyond which we must not allow pollution of our streams to go on. The Minister of Health, in his communications to local authorities, has stated recently that water supplies must have priority and sewerage works must be put off, if necessary, for some time. It may take a few more years before we have our piped water supplies up to the standard required. In the meantime, the more water that is being used for sanitary purposes, the greater is the pollution of our streams.
Therefore, in respect of certain of the small towns in Norfolk which have sewage works that are very much out of date or are almost inoperative, the Minister must consider whether he must say that the local authorities must get on with modernising their sewage disposal in order to prevent the pollution of rivers and streams which, in a few years time, must be the source of supply for domestic purposes.
Now, of course, it is the local authorities which are very largely the polluters of the streams and rivers, and it will require an effort to get those local authorities to take a very broad view of their responsibilities, both as sanitary authorities and as the people responsible for the purity of the water in rivers. But I think that will come. In all parts of the country there is an urgent desire to see that our rivers are what they ought to be—pure streams of water coming down from the hills and through the valleys and entering into the sea.
I ask my right hon. Friend whether he cannot see that sufficient capital is placed at the disposal of local authorities to combat the pollution of rivers by obsolete sewerage works or by the absence of 867 sewerage works where they are urgently needed.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I hope that the Minister has been stimulated and encouraged by the support that this Bill has had today, and, if there has been a large number of criticisms, I think he would be the first to agree that those criticisms have been of a constructive nature. The Minister can take the Bill to the Committee stage knowing that if he wants to strengthen some of its provisions he will have the support, in doing so, of all parties.
I want to say a few words about the great River Tyne. I am delighted to observe that there are several hon. Members in the Government who represent Tyneside. The Parliamentary Secretary, of course, has a very great interest in and a very great responsibility for Newcastle, while the distinguished Home Secretary, at South Shields, represents the other side of the river. I have noticed the comments which have been made about the somewhat privileged position of the National Coal Board. We on the Tyne have, of course, become accustomed to hearing it referred to as "the coaly Tyne." and I think anyone who looks at the condition of the river will agree that we need to take full advantage of the provisions of the Bill. As a matter of fact, however, we are hampered not so much by the industrial situation along the Tyne as by the sewage situation, and it is on that subject that I want to address a few words to the Parliamentary Secretary.
As I am certain he is aware, 10 million gallons a day of completely untreated sewage goes into the river Tyne without any purification plant being available. Before the war a scheme was ready which would have ensured that there would be a main trunk sewer going right down to the mouth of the river, where there would have been a modern, up-to-date purification plant. Unfortunately, the war intervened in this scheme as it did in so many other things, and it was, as a consequence, not introduced. As my constituency is at the mouth of the Tyne and as we are, therefore, very much affected by what goes into the upper part of the river, I am very anxious that we should get the maximum amount of benefit from this Bill in order that the conditions at the mouth of the 868 river and in the estuary shall be improved as much as possible.
I welcome this opportunity of supporting the Bill. When it reaches the Statute Book, I hope the Minister will proceed as quickly as he can, and with as much force as he can command, to see that the machine is built up and is put into sound working operation. I am sure that all of us who, for many years, have been watching some of the disastrous results of river pollution on the Tyne will welcome the Bill. If the Minister likes to strengthen it in various ways when it goes to Committee, as has been suggested by hon. Gentlemen who are much more expert in this matter than I am, then I am sure he will have the greatest possible support from all Tyneside members and from all those who live on the Tyne and who look forward to this new era which, I hope, will be introduced as soon as the Bill becomes an Act.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
During this debate it has become very clear to those who have been listening that the application of the Bill, imperfect though it may be—a fact which no doubt can be remedied in Committee—is very much needed for the estuaries of this country, which are at present almost neglected. I speak with a certain amount of feeling on the subject because I come from what might be called an entanglement of estuaries, all of which are highly polluted at present and are causing much alarm and despondency not only among those who live in the neighbouring towns or along the shores, but among those who for years past have travelled to those parts for holidays.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), said that he had a feeling that the industrial development of this country had in some cases overtaken the provisions made against the pollution of rivers. There is a lot in what he said, if I understood it correctly, but, in an area in which I am concerned, we have an estuary where industrial development has only just begun and is taking place in some cases without the cognisance of the county council concerned, Hampshire—and I refer to Southampton Water. Flowing into these waters there are three rivers—the Itchen, the Test and the Hamble, and connected with them 869 there are large tracts of enclosed tidal water with innumerable other rivers flowing in.
I have been much vexed—and I fear I may have inflicted my vexation upon hon. Members in this House—by repeated reports, and my own repeated observations, of the amount of fouling of these waters. I will not continue on a subject which has been much considered tonight, that of sewage, for I have been concerned about industrial waste and filth. The waste which I have to mention, and which causes me to feel anxious about the exclusion of this area from the provisions of the Bill, is of an oily and greasy kind. I have attempted to investigate this matter from all points of view. Many people say that the oil and grease comes in from the sea and from shipping. I am satisfied that that is not the case, but that it comes from further inland. Other people say, "Although we have been suspected, it is not our business." I have found it impossible, therefore, to run a one-man detection bureau to find out from where the filth originates.
We have an oil refinery and we are to have more. We have much shipping. Higher up Southampton Water we have a telegraph pole pickling factory and some of the delicious pickle is suspected of passing into Southampton Water and causing fouling. But whatever is the cause, I cannot say. This is the result, however—the beaches of the whole of the Southampton area, where the inhabitants of that great city seek their pleasures in the summer, are so foul that in many cases they cannot be used and if anybody unsuspectingly attempts to sit on them his clothes are ruined.
We have a very large population, whom I was admiring some 24 hours ago, who sit patiently in small boats fishing off the shore, but for them the task has a diminishing return, if I may put it that way, because of the ever-increasing fouling of this water. There was a time when the great and famous Itchen Ferry fishing fleet was well-known all over the world, but there is precious little of that today, and it is only a fellow who wants to waste his time who goes out to catch fish now. There is increasing fouling of the boats which people try to keep on these waters. It is an expensive matter to buy paint these days, but the boats can be kept up only by the application of increasing layers because once tainted with filth they 870 cannot be restored. Once tainted with this filth the ropes, fishing gear and everything else cannot be used again.
It is with this in view that I ask whether this Bill, however imperfect in its present form, might not be broadened to include this area which is suffering so much; and whether we cannot help it by the use in a more vigorous way of whatever powers exist so as to try to deal with the pollution of an area which is at the beginning of what looks like being a growing and hideous story.
Reverting to remarks made earlier in the debate, I must say that I am not at all certain that a condominium in this matter between the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries would be altogether a good thing. I must confess that I have noticed a certain tendency to do what is known as "passing the buck" when more than one Ministry is engaged primarily in some responsibility. I should like to add such force as I have to the plea that this should become the province of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I ask for protection for the waters of the South Coast to be added to the provisions of this Bill, and for it to become a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
This Bill is no doubt to be welcomed as a contribution to a very difficult and intractable problem. But there is no reason why any of us should get unduly enthusiastic about it, I think the Minister was not particularly enthusiastic in introducing it this afternoon. The Bill proposes to substitute a new method of dealing with these matters. Whether that new method is likely to prove more effective than the methods adopted in 1876, time alone will show.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye), very rightly said that one of the interests concerned in this matter was that of the public authorities responsible for water supplies. At present the water supply authorities rely, to a limited extent, upon surface sources of water. As the public demand for water increases they may have to rely upon it to a very much greater extent than they do now. The Minister referred to the numerous interests who in the past have been concerned in the prevention 871 of pollution, and he claimed, no doubt rightly, that the new river boards, inasmuch as they combine all the interests in one body, will prove more effective than the very many authorities involved in this matter in the past.
The Water Act, 1945, provided for the constitution of regional water advisory committees. Those committees, of course, were not concerned solely or necessarily with river pollution, but they were concerned with conserving water resources, and to that extent they would have been interested in the prevention of the pollution of surface streams. So far as I am aware, not one of those committees has been brought into existence. If five years ago the Minister had exercised the powers he had, and has, under that Act and brought into existence the regional water advisory committees, which were an integral part of the administrative structure of that Act, much greater progress would have been made in the preparation of the surveys of at least some of the main rivers than has been made hitherto.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Milne Committee Report and the work of the Central Advisory Committee as landmarks. We would all wish to join in acknowledging the value of the work they have done. But there is another landmark to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer, and that is the Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937. The pollution of rivers depends to a large extent, as hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have said, upon the treatment of trade effluents. That Act was intended to centralise the disposal of trade effluents through the sewers and disposal works of the local authorities. It was passed by a Government which the right hon. Gentleman does not like very much. Perhaps that was the reason why he made no reference to it this afternoon.
That Act was passed shortly before the war. During the war no progress was possible; since the war there has been a restriction on capital works and very little has been done to carry out the purpose at which that Act was aimed. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that the policy represented by that Act, of treating trade effluents not locally but by discharging them through the sewers and disposal works 872 of the local authorities, is a policy which will be carried out with such vigour as our economic situation permits.
One of the difficulties in dealing with river pollution has always been that as soon as one menacing factor is disposed of, another and new menacing factor makes its appearance. There was the pollution which arose from trade effluents. Then, as the number of sewerage works increased, there was the pollution which arose from sewage. We seem to have made some progress in safeguarding rivers against those two polluting elements. Now a new and more formidable element has made its appearance—the great public monopoly, created very largely by this Government or its predecessor.
There is the National Coal Board, who under this Bill are to be given special protection which would not have been given to the old collieries. The British Electricity Authority, with their new power stations, abstracting river water and returning it at a higher temperature. Behind the requirements of the new power stations is the urge of Government policy. These two factors alone will be formidable in the administration of this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt say that the Bill expressly provides that raising the temperature of an effluent may be a form of pollution. I agree that the Bill does provide for that. But the difficulty will be to enforce these provisions against these great public authorities which are linked so closely to Government policy.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this—that the Bill provided that the river boards should prescribe standards for the rivers and for parts of the rivers. The effect of the Bill, as I understood it, was not that the boards should provide standards for rivers but that they would provide standards for the effluents which are turned into the rivers. Clause 4 (1) provides that a board…may by bye-laws make such provision…(a) for prescribing standards for the purpose of determining when matter is to be treated as poisonous, noxious or polluting for the purposes of this Act.As I understand the Bill, that Clause has to be read with Clause 2 (1, a) which makes it an offence to cause or knowingly permit to enter a stream 873…any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter…I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make clear what is the meaning of these two Clauses. It seems to me that the effect of the Bill is not to enable the boards to prescribe standards for the rivers—which is an entirely different thing—but to enable the boards to provide standards for the effluents which are discharged into the rivers.
The principle of the Bill is the substitution of an obligation to comply with a prescribed standard for an obligation not to introduce polluting matter into the river. As my right hon. and gallant Friend said earlier today, that will not necessarily be followed by an improvement in the state of the river. A standards will be prescribed for effluents—if I am right in thinking that the boards will prescribe standards for the effluents—and the standard will necessarily be the lowest standard to which it is practicable for the worst effluent being turned into the river or that part of the river to be purified. Therefore, until it is possible to raise the standards of the lowest standard it will inevitably follow that the other effluents discharging into the river will fall to the lowest standard. That seems to me to be the weakness of this system of prescribing standards, rather than prohibiting the introduction of polluting matter.
It is quite true that the Act of 1876 has not proved to be particularly successful, that is due, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to the very large number of authorities who are concerned with the rivers. Some of my hon. Friends were a little critical of the local authorities. I think the reason why some local authorities have hesitated to raise the standard of their effluents has been the fact that so many authorities have been concerned with the conduct of the rivers that a local authority, not unnaturally, was unwilling to spend money on raising the standard of their effluent when they have known that their neighbours at another part of the stream were still going to allow effluents of a lower standard to enter the river.
That brings me to the last matter about which I desire to say something. There is this danger in the methods of substituting standards, that we are going to bring all the effluents down to the same standard. One safeguard against that would be that the riparian owner who 874 was injured by pollution in the river, either by the loss of fish or by the pollution of his part of the river, should be at liberty to bring a common law action for nuisance, in order to safeguard his rights. That seems to me to be the only safeguard which this Bill really presents against the general reduction of the standard of effluents, which may necessarily follow from prescribing by-law standards.
The Hobday Committee recognised that, and they recommended, in quite unambiguous terms, that the common law right to bring an action for nuisance should not be affected by the Bill. In paragraph 163 of their report it is stated that:The right of a riparian owner to take proceedings under the Common Law will not be affected.In this Bill the right to take proceedings is very substantially affected. It is not in terms taken away. But Clause 4 (5) does provide that any effluent which complies with the prescribed by-law standards, for the purpose of the law relating to nuisance is to be regarded as not being prejudicial to the natural quality or condition of the water. I am paraphrasing the subsection.
That means that no riparian owner will be able to bring a common law action for nuisance to protect his rights in respect of any effluent turned into the river which complies with the prescribed standards in the by-laws. That means to say, that if, as I suggest may be the result, there is a general reduction of standards on the river till we come down to the prescribed standard, any riparian owner who suffers damage as a consequence of that will be precluded from bringing an ordinary common law action for nuisance. I put that point to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope that when he replies to the debate he will deal with it.
This Bill, as I said, is a Bill which seeks to establish a new method where, perhaps, the old method may be said to have failed. I am sure that if this Bill is really to ensure that those rivers which are at present clean will be kept clean, the right of the riparian owner to bring an action if he is injured by a lowering of the standards should be preserved.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
I am very glad to see that the Bill gives the Minister 875 powers to act in regard to a matter concerning my constituency. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) said that he hoped that a river which was now clean would be kept clean. My constituency in Lancashire borders the River Mersey. Unfortunately, the method of sewage disposal is the pail system, and every afternoon many of my constituents have to suffer the indignity of sewage disposal by the pail system through their streets, with its attendant obnoxious smell, simply because—I drew attention to the remark of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North—the Mersey must run no risk of any further pollution.
§ Dr. Morgan
It is clean at that point. Because the Mersey must be kept clean at that point my constituents have to suffer a most disgraceful and shocking state of affairs which no civilised city doing highly industrial work should be asked to suffer. I am glad to see that the Minister now has power to unite the Warrington district with other districts near it, so that it may have a real system of sewage disposal, if not the water system at any rate some other system and so that my constituents shall not have to suffer this indignity.
It is a strange thing for an hon. Member to come here and expose insanitary conditions in part of his constituency, but I would rather do that and suffer for it than see—as I have done—some of my constituents sick at certain times in the afternoon when the disposal is taking place. I plead fervently for something to be done about this. Whatever the objections may be, let them be met. Let us save the Mersey at all costs, but let us also have a chance of removing this blot on the health of my constituents. The Bill enables the Minister to act whether or not the local authorities act and to unite districts in order to provide a proper system of sewage disposal.
I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to give some consideration to this. Although the borough is standing up very well to the conditions under which it lives and although the health conditions are being closely watched, I ask him to relieve it 876 of this burden, which is the result of years and years of economic starvation of the people, and to give it a decent public health and sewage disposal system. I hope that, as a result of the Bill, this incubus will soon be raised from the backs of the people of Warrington and the surrounding districts.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I should begin my speech by declaring a personal interest. I am one of those strange animals, a riparian owner. I live on the banks of the Hampshire Avon. I can say that my personal interests coincide with the interests of my constituents and with those of most of the inhabitants of London who frequently disport themselves in the forest, enjoy the scenery and the comparative cleanliness of that river, and are able to angle more or less successfully for the numerous fish in it.
There are two sort of rivers which, although affected by the Bill, may be affected in very different ways. We need quite a different kind of machinery for dealing with the river in the really rural neighbourhoods, from that which we need for dealing with the river which is heavily polluted by industrial undertakings. The river with which I am acquainted is not in serious danger of industrial pollution. On the other hand, the question of pollution does arise. Up and down the river there are large numbers of houses, some substantial and some mere cottages, which simply upset their sewage into the river. They have done so from time immemorial, and so far as one can see they are likely to continue to do so. The pollution which can arise from one house or cottage is not very serious, and the sum total of the pollution from these scattered rural communities is not very great. Nevertheless, it is objectionable. For example, people wish to bathe in the river, and it is undesirable that they should do so in a river in which a substantial quantity of sewage is thrown.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what it is intended to do with regard to that kind of pollution? Are river boards merely to close their eyes to what has been going on? Previous legislation on river pollution has broken down largely because of the enormous number of exceptions that had to be made and the enormous number of times in which the 877 responsible authorities had necessarily to close their eyes. If we are to start the new scheme with a very large class of exceptions, technically within the Bill but left outside because nobody can suggest how to deal with them, this scheme will break down too. We must have a fairly comprehensive scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) touched upon a point which arises under Clause 2 (2, b), about weed cutting. In very many streams the cutting of weeds is a small matter and it is perfectly reasonable to ask those who cut the weeds to take them up, but certainly so far as the Avon is concerned—and, I believe, also in the case of most of the other rivers that flow out of the chalk area—weeds are a quite different problem altogether.
The river where I live is some 50 yards broad. The weed begins to grow in April or May, and by June the entire river is filled with a dense mass of weed of up to 10–15 yards long. The cutting of a few hundred yards of this weed releases many tons' weight of material and it is physically impossible, without an enormous mass of men and machinery, to remove it from the river. What happens is that the river authority—now the river board—cut the whole of the weed, starting from the bottom and working up to the top, once a year. It is done by squads of men dragging sharp chains up the bed of the river.
I ask the Government whether they intend to stop that practice altogether. If so, there will be serious flooding. If they do not intend to stop it, some sort of permission must be given to private individuals to do what the river boards are doing. There are side streams in which the river boards will never cut the weeds. It is necessary to cut channels through the shallows in order to prevent serious flooding in June and July. The anglers who come to the river have to cut patches out of the weeds in order to be able to fish at all. If the Parliamentary Secretary would look at subsection (2, b) of Clause 2, he will see that it differs from subsection (2, a), under which the river board may give a dispensation. Under subsection (2, b), there is no such power to give a dispensation.
This may be a matter of detail which can best be dealt with in Committee, but the Minister in his opening remarks 878 stated quite fairly that his purpose in bringing forward the Second Reading now was to allow plenty of time for discussion with local authorities before the Committee stage begins. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be certain to get into touch with the river boards for the rivers which rise in the south and flow southwards into the Channel, on this question of weed cutting because I am quite certain that he would get from them a very different picture from what might be imagined from a knowledge of rivers in other parts of the country.
My final point, which has really been dealt with by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), is the effect of Clause 4. I think that my hon. Friend set out the legal position fairly and squarely for the first time during this debate. The Bill does not remove the power of the private individual to sue for either damages or an injunction to stop a nuisance, but it limits his power to such an extent that it is virtually certain that it will be quite futile to attempt to use it in future.
If the Bill were to go through Committee in its present form, I for my part would regard it as a Bill more calculated to encourage pollution than to prevent it, and I warn the Government that unless an Amendment is made to the appropriate Clause. I shall certainly vote against the Bill on Third Reading for that reason. If we are not to give what in effect would be a free licence to a number of industrial undertakings to increase the present degree of their pollution it is essential to retain the power of the private individual to sue for an injunction. Clause 4 (6) makes it plain that the Government themselves anticipate that there will be a lot of relaxation and that individuals will find that, as the result of the passing of this Bill, the standard has been lowered.
I asked the Minister earlier today how far it was intended to have some sort of universal standard, or whether there would be areas where standards would not be laid down. I understood from him that standards were to be laid down for comparatively small areas. But we cannot have a standard for each undertaking, because then there would simply cease to be a standard. When there are a number of undertakings in an area where a standard has been laid down, the standard must be one with which the least 879 efficient of those undertakings can comply.
If we do not have that, then again we shall have this business of eye-winking. If a standard cannot be complied with effectively, then the authority concerned must wink its eye, and we shall get all the old trouble back again and this Measure will be ineffective. Therefore, the standard must be the lowest which can practically be introduced. In other words, by the very nature of things, this Bill will enable those who can comply with the standards to have a greater degree of freedom.
The only way to stop that is by retaining the power of the private individual to sue for the protection of his own rights. That is not a perfect remedy, but it would fill up a large number of the loopholes which otherwise will be left. I hope that this Bill can be altered in Committee to make it effective for the purpose described in its Title. It could be done, and I ask the Government to give most sympathetic consideration to the points raised from all parts of the House and to consider whether they cannot go a considerable way to meet them.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
In introducing this Bill the Minister threw some doubt upon the probity and truthfulness of fishermen. I should like to claim that my interest in this Bill does not arise from the fact that I happen to be a very honest fisherman. I have fished in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and I do not remember that I have ever caught anything. I am an unlucky, unskilful and, I suppose, therefore, an unhappy fisherman.
My interest in the Bill arises from the fact that the Great Ouse runs for nearly 20 miles through my constituency and, of all the larger Midland rivers, it has perhaps been the least contaminated by industrial pollution. Naturally, my constituents are anxious to ensure that it should not be further contaminated and that such contamination as has been suffered should be removed. I share with many people a delight in river bathing. The hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan), who is learned in these matters will correct me if I am wrong, when I say that the human frame is not so delicate as the frame of the fish. Therefore, if 880 we can guarantee that water is good enough for fish to live in, we can be sure that it will be safe for children to bathe in.
§ Mr. Renton
I have been so advised and, if that is not so, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) will correct me. I understand that fish need a very high degree of purity. Of course human beings vary in their toughness, but the average human being, I understand, can swim and survive in water which is fit for fresh water fish. The Great Ouse suffers at the moment mainly from sewage effluent, but not greatly from industrial effluent. It suffers sufficiently from sewage effluent to cause great anxiety at most times of the year. The position is not one which allows complacency.
When I looked at this Bill, naturally the first thing I was concerned to consider was whether the degree of sewage contamination which has already been reached, is likely to be reduced in the near future, and whether the steps already taken by the Ouse and Cam Fishery Board are likely to be more effective and to lead to better results in the future. Regarding the Bill from those two points of view, I must confess I am full of misgiving. I agree with the purpose of the Bill as stated in its Title. I agree with the analysis of the problem given by the Minister, and I realise that we have to be realistic; but in considering this Bill in detail I frankly do not consider that it will make any major contribution to the prevention of pollution in this country. Indeed, as I shall explain, it seems that the problem of pollution is perhaps less of a legal problem than an economic one.
With regard to the legal problem and the machinery to be set up, I would first question whether river boards are suitable bodies to perform the work we have in mind. There has been a certain amount of conflict of opinion about this in the House this evening; and it is a conflict which cuts across party. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) was very emphatically against river boards. He made a very interesting speech; he first welcomed the Bill and then proceeded to tear it to bits Clause by Clause. Indeed, I began to realise what an off-the-record talk must be like, when I heard him saying the 881 things he did say. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), on the other hand, thought river boards were suitable to the purpose and based that belief on some experience of his own.
But I would ask my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who may be of the same opinion to consider this. Members of river boards, through the very method of their appointment, necessarily suffer from a conflict of several interests. They have several conflicting duties to perform. They have their duty, perhaps in the first place, to the ratepayers and county councils and sometimes the district councils they represent, although I know that they are nominated by the county councils. Their duty towards the ratepayers may very seriously conflict with duties placed upon them under this Bill.
I ask the Government seriously to consider—and I would ask them not to regard it as too late to do so—whether or not the fishery boards should remain and have reserved to them the power to instigate prosecutions. After all the fishery boards are much more representative of fishermen than the river boards can possibly be. We all talk a lot about the need for preventing pollution, but who are the people who are keen and enthusiastic about using the machinery for preventing it? They are the fishermen and their representatives.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I would like to tell him that the fishery boards are being replaced by the river boards. He appreciates that, I presume?
§ Mr. Renton
I know. That is why I chose my words carefully. I said that even at this stage the Government should consider the possibility of not doing away with the fishery boards. After all, any statute can be amended. The Government have even amended their original Coal Nationalisation Act, and there are other nationalisation measures which we hope will be amended. The last word of wisdom is never spoken on the Floor of this House. There is nothing final, fortunately. Somebody can always think better at a later stage.
The difficulty about placing these diverse responsibilities on the river 882 boards, bearing in mind that they have the conflict of duties to which I have referred, is this: who is to make sure that they carry out those duties? We know that on the river boards there will be some 40 members, and if the angling interests are lucky, they may get three seats. In the case of the River Great Ouse Board, even now the final number of people representing the fishing interests on that great coarse fishing river has not yet been decided. The River Great Ouse Board will have to exercise these powers; and I think it is doubtful whether we are wise to place these obligations upon river boards. Without any discredit to them, I say without hesitation that the River Great Ouse Board will be primarily concerned with drainage, as indeed it should be. It has an enormous and important national task to perform in the drainage of the huge area through which its waters flow.
Another cause of misgiving in this Bill is that what was one of the main obstacles to the successful operation of the Act of 1876 is being perpetuated. That is the part which the Minister of Health has to play. There is no question of party politics about this. It is a well-known fact, which can be discussed with the secretary of any of the fishery boards, that the Minister of Health has found it his public duty for one reason or.another to prevent interference with industrial pollution, if the industry concerned appears to be performing any kind of public service. Too often where there has been a reasonably clear case for going ahead with a prosecution, the Minister has stepped in and ordered an inquiry. That has meant expense which the angling interests could not meet and, above all, it has meant delay. Sometimes that delay has met with the fortunate results which delay in these matters sometimes leads to; but, as often as not, delay has meant a shelving of the problem and a continuance of the pollution.
In this Bill we find that the system of allowing the Minister to veto and delay the proceedings is not only being perpetuated, but is being extended so far as sewage is concerned. Now with regard to standards, it is abundantly clear that these standards which are being aimed at are something completely fictitious and artificial. They will not be standards of purity—indeed one may say there is only one standard of purity for practical pur- 883 poses, so far as rivers are concerned—but they will be standards of pollution.
The by-laws obviously will have to wait their turn on the agenda of river boards, along with many other things, and there may be considerable delay before they are brought into force. Once they have been brought into force, I suggest that there is a danger that a standard will be perpetuated beyond the time that it should be. Because, whereas the scientific processes and knowledge, and physical conditions, will be changing all the time, the by-laws, and therefore the standards, will remain static until they get changed, and there may be a delay.
I would remind the House of something which cannot be denied, that in order to prevent pollution we have to spend money. Above all, we have to spend money in extending district council sewerage schemes, so as to bring them up to date. We have been told this afternoon that £80 million is needed for that. Hon. Members opposite, at any rate, will say, "Oh, of course, things being as they are, that cannot be done."
But the point I propose to make, and I am sorry to have to introduce a note of party controversy about it—but I should be hypocritical if I did not—is that we are paying not merely for defence, but also in a big way for Socialism. And the £80 million needed to be spent on sewerage schemes might have been found out of the approximately £80 million which is the net total loss, so far, on the nationalised industries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—that is about it. And if we want really practical social advance of this kind, such as the prevention of pollution or, to quote another example, the improvement of the roads and the cutting down of loss of life, we should do well to abandon ideological experiments and have that progress of a practical kind which is the only real progress.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I share the critical attitude to this Bill expressed by my hon. Friend 884 the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I think that it is particularly incumbent upon Tory Members of this House, when we are repealing and replacing, as we are doing at present, an Act of the Disraeli administration—one of that constellation of Acts which made that administration a landmark in the social history of this country—to ensure that what we are putting in its place is something that is decisively better. So far from being decisively better than the existing state of the law, this Bill, in its present form at any rate, represents a retrogression in at least three respects, to which I wish briefly to refer.
The Act of 1876 distinguished three types of pollution; pollution by solid matter, pollution by sewage and pollution by effluent. In regard to the first two, pollution by solid matter and pollution by sewage, it was open to any interested party to institute a prosecution under that Act. Where the pollution was by effluent, a prosecution could be instituted only by the public health authority, and that required, in turn, the agreement of the Minister; but should the public health authority or the Minister fail to move in the matter, it was still open to an interested member of the public to move the Minister to bring the provisions of the Act into effect.
These safeguards have entirely disappeared in the present Bill. Under this Bill it is only the river boards, or in certain cases the Attorney-General or the Minister, who can prosecute at all, and the power of an interested party either to prosecute or to move the Minister to institute a prosecution has been removed. To that extent a safeguard against pollution, an opportunity for interested parties themselves to take a hand in preventing pollution, has disappeared. At any rate, it is absent from the Bill in its present form.
The second retrogressive feature of the Bill has already been referred to many times, and I only mention it; namely, that it has been made practically impossible—I think that is an accurate description of the situation—for a common law action to be instituted where by-laws prescribing standards of effluent are in effect.
The third retrogressive feature is the by-law provision itself under Clause 4 of the Bill. The whole system of by-law 885 standards, as was pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), substitutes a minimum standard of purity for what might under the existing law be an absolute standard of purity. It makes it necessary only to conform to a prescribed minimum standard instead of having to face a charge that one is causing pollution as such. Moreover, in the very nature of things, even though the by-law standards may vary for different parts of the river, those standards are likely, on the whole, to be minimum standards.
This point has already been made, but I should like to make a further observation in that connection. The by-law standard might well not need to be a minimum if alterations were made in other parts of the Bill. At present, where there is a by-law standard, the Minister's consent to a prosecution is not required, and therefore it is incumbent upon the river board making the by-law, or on the Minister confirming it, to ensure that the standard is one that can be complied with by all producers of effluent in the area. I suggest that if we are still to have this prescribing of standards by bylaw, there should be either a continued necessity for the Minister's assent or there should be a loophole in the form of appeal to the Minister, so that a higher standard than the minimum essential could be prescribed either for a river or for a particular reach of a river.
In general, the machinery for making these by-laws is unsatisfactory in view of the purpose for which they are now being used. They will, I take it, be made under Section 18 of the River Boards Act, 1948. But the by-laws which were contemplated when this House passed the River Boards Act were of a very different degree of importance from the by-laws under this Clause. Where a river board makes these by-laws, we are virtually resting the prevention of river pollution upon by-laws. We are substituting bylaws for legislation and for the action of the courts in the matter of preventing river pollution. I therefore believe that these by-laws should go through a different and a much more rigorous process than that prescribed by Section 18 of the 1948 Act, and the principles, at least, of those by-laws should in some form require assent from this House.
886 Here are three distinct ways in which this Bill in its present form is retrogressive compared with the existing state of the law.
§ Mr. Mulley
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that this House is competent to advise on the standards required in each locality when we are asked to confirm by-laws of that character?
§ Mr. Powell
I say that this House ought not to leave the whole matter of river pollution and the standards insisted upon in river purity to the making of by-laws by the river boards without any approval either of policy or details by this House.
§ Dr. Morgan
Surely the hon. Member realises that every order of the Minister must come before this House for approval?
§ Mr. Powell
If the hon. Member looks at Section 18 of the 1948 Act, he will find that this House does not require to approve the by-laws made by the river boards.
Attention has already been drawn to further weaknesses in this Bill, particularly where it prescribes standards of a severity which cannot, in fact, be enforced universally or literally. I am referring to the provisions affecting agricultural operations on the banks of the rivers or in the cutting and clearing of channels. Thus, there are four respects in which this Bill introduces new difficulties into the prevention of river pollution, and while a Second Reading is not refused to the Bill, I hope that when it returns to the House those defects will have been remedied.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I feel that when the Government decided to deal with this particular subject, they had all the evidence in front of them and had some degree of understanding and wisdom on the subject before bringing this Bill to the House. The Minister made a fairly good case in presenting the Bill. What are the objects of the Bill? It is another addition to the Health Service, but in a different direction. The whole of the discussion today has indicated that, whatever criticisms there may be in some respects—and the mere fact that there will be no Division confirms this—the Bill has a purpose, an aim and a foundation, upon which we can build in Committee.
887 The Bill deals with the subject of catching fish. Many of us like fish, and naturally we will enjoy it the more if we know that the fish we eat lived in healthy conditions. The Bill deals not only with fish, but with humanity, because on the banks of all the big rivers of the country large industrial concerns will be found, and in those factories thousands of people are employed. It is essential that we should try to bring into reality the conditions which make for better living.
I come from a constituency in which there is a very large river—the Tyne—and dependent upon that river are thousands of workpeople; and a purer river would obviously be to the benefit of these people. There is no doubt that the River Tyne has its blemishes, just as have many other big rivers, and to the extent that we can help in purifying these rivers, we shall be helping not only the fish in them but our own people as well.
One of the points emphasised by the Minister in introducing the Bill was that, at the present time, questions of pollution of rivers are dealt with by a large number of bodies, and such cases go from one body to another, with consequent delay. We all know from practical experience that if any question is to be dealt with by several bodies, delay must occur, and that the only way in which to get the matter dealt with efficiently within a short period of time is to concentrate the power and responsibility. This Bill concentrates the responsibilities of bodies dealing with these rivers, and wherever we concentrate responsibility on any particular matter of importance, we are in reality creating a speedier machine.
It appears to me from the debate today that there has been a weakness in this machinery in the past, and, though we have heard criticism of the Bill in its present form, there is no question, if the Minister gave the right impression, that it is concentrating power and responsibility, and to that extent it is bound of necessity to create greater speed in the handling of these problems. Therefore, the aim of the Bill is to give greater power to the smaller bodies to enable them to act with greater speed, though it has for its full aim and purpose a much healthier condition in the rivers of our country.
I cannot imagine any Government, knowing all the facts of the present posi- 888 tion and taking time to gather the evidence, really bringing in a Bill to make things worse than they were before. I know that the Opposition have responsibilities and duties, and that, if they cannot point exactly to some particular weakness in the Bill, they make impossible criticisms. After hearing today's discussion, I think this Bill has a valuable aim and purpose in dealing with an important question, and I shall therefore support it.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
I think the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) is the only hon. Member who, in the course of this Debate, has given unqualified support to this Bill. It makes me think that the hon. Gentleman cannot really have read it. I admired the shortened and revised version which he gave of the speech made by the Minister in moving the Second Reading. But I really fear that, when he comes to examine the details of this Measure, as I am sure he will, he will be more and more disillusioned. I think it is true to say that every speaker, no matter from what party he may come, has expressed himself in favour of preventing pollution. Yet, apart from the welcome given to it by the hon. Member for Wallsend, the Bill has received a critical reception from all sides. I must confess I am not surprised that there is such a large body in favour of preventing pollution or that such dissatisfaction and disappointment has been expressed about this Measure.
I think the hon. Member for Wallsend was wrong, too, in one further connection, that is in thinking that it was only fishermen who are interested in preventing pollution. I must confess that I try to catch fish sometimes. Whether I qualify as a fisherman I do not know, but it is really not stating the matter properly to suggest that only those who enjoy fishing are concerned with preventing pollution. The inhabitants of the countryside and the inhabitants of the town have a common interest in preventing pollution, wherever it can be prevented. I think it is true, although it is sad, that during my lifetime there has been a grave deterioration in the condition of a large number of rivers in this island. Certainly, from what we have heard today, there has been a grave deterioration in the condition of the River Tyne. The British Field Sports Society and the late Mr. H. D. Turing have served a very valuable purpose in 889 publishing many pamphlets drawing attention to the terrible conditions of so many rivers in our island today.
I must confess that I was surprised when the Minister of Health, in moving the Second Reading, asserted that the River Thames was in a better condition today than it was in years gone by. Yet, in those good old days, before my time, when, attempts were being made to educate the Minister of Town and Country Planning, if he had so wished, he could have bathed in the river at Eton. Even in my day it was allowed, but now, in these days of Socialist planning and progress, such bathing is no longer permitted. I can quite understand that that would give pleasure to the Wykehamist Chancellor of the Exchequer but, at the same time, it would appear to indicate that the situation, even in the Thames, is not as good as it was.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I have never been able to accept the hon. Member's conclusion as to the weight of any evidence.
It is wrong to suppose that the sole cause of deterioration of our rivers is either an increase in quantity or a decrease in quality of the effluents entering those rivers. The demand for clean water for domestic and industrial consumption increases year by year. The right hon. Gentleman will tell me if I am wrong, but I think a number of urban areas are calculating their demands for clean water on the basis of 60 gallons per head per day, and rural areas in the neighbourhood of 25 gallons per head per day.
That means that an enormous quantity of clean water has to be found. The easiest way in which it can be found is by one of three methods—by impounding the head waters of the river, such as is done in the Derwent valley; or by pumping water before it comes to the surface and goes into the river, as is done at the source of the River Blackwater; or by the third method, taking the water out of the river, storing it. purifying it and, after it has been used, putting it back again—and that was the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman put forward and pressed with regard to the River Nene and the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board.
890 Whichever way we secure that increased quantity of clean water to meet the increasing demand, it means inevitably that there is far less clean water entering the river than would otherwise be the case. Most of these schemes for the abstraction of water, the impounding of water or the pumping of water require the consent of the right hon. Gentleman, and I must say that, in giving his consent perhaps not enough regard has been paid to the question of pollution. In relation to the Nene scheme, for instance, the right hon. Gentleman overrode the opposition of the Nene Catchment Board who had public duties to fulfil.
It is important to bear this in mind in considering whether the right hon. Gentleman is the right Minister to be responsible for the operation of this Bill, when one of his functions—and a necessary function; I am making no personal attack on the right hon. Gentleman—must be to authorise the abstraction of water from our rivers and from the head waters. Very properly and very rightly attention has been drawn to this from both sides of the House—by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) and by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne).
To secure clean rivers I think it must be recognised that two things—not just one—must be secured. The first is that we must maintain as far as possible the flow of clean water into the rivers and down the rivers. The more that flow is reduced the higher must be the standard of purity of the effluent, if we are to avoid serious pollution and, indeed, the more difficult it is to secure clean rivers. Secondly, of course, one must have close supervision of the effluents and prevention of bad effluents, whether they come from trade or from sewage. This Bill deals solely with the second part of that, and, much as I should like to see an adequate Bill introduced for the prevention of pollution, I must confess that this Bill is a great disappointment to me and that I cannot regard it as satisfactory.
Let me, if I may, remind the House of the present position. There is, of course, the 1876 Act under which criminal penalties can be imposed, dealing with criminal offences. There is also the ordinary law of the land. Under the ordinary law of the land, where there is 891 pollution which is a danger to life or to the health of the public, that is an indictable nuisance in relation to which proceedings can be brought either by the Attorney-General or in his name.
Under the ordinary law the lower riparian owner can have recourse to the courts if someone higher up the stream does something which changes the natural quality of the water. He is entitled, as a matter of right, to receive the water in the stream which flows through his land, past his property, in its natural condition. He can have recourse to the courts and succeed if there is any alteration to that natural quality of the water—if, for instance, hard water is added to soft, or if the temperature is raised, or if the character of the water is altered by the addition of sewage. In my belief, that is a very valuable common law right —valuable, not only for the riparian owner but in the interests of the public.
I say that for this reason. Some time ago there was a case—and a long casein which I was engaged, and in which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), was engaged on the other side. I must admit that the case lasted something like 30 to 31 days.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman does not know what the result was. If he will only restrain himself for a moment I will tell him the result, because I am sure he will be interested. It was a case of gross sewage pollution of the River Chess, which comes within the area of the Thames Conservancy. The Thames Conservancy brought a prosecution before a local court; the evidence was clear and strong, but for some reason no conclusion was reached; the case kept on being adjourned for three months, six months, and so on. Finally, a riparian owner issued a writ; there was lengthy litigation; the result was the granting of an injunction restraining the local authority from polluting the water, and the pollution was stopped. There was this added result, which may be of 892 interest to the right hon. Gentleman. I believe the sewage farm manager was taken from the sewage farm and put in charge of the local authority's swimming bath.
The point I make—and it is one of some importance, which will be of interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House—is that but for the action taken by that riparian owner the River Chess, flowing through that lovely valley, would be nothing but an open sewer. I saw it myself, and it was in a filthy condition, with sewage fungus covering the whole bed of the river for quite a long way below the outfall of the effluent.
More recently there has been this action in respect of the River Lea. That is another instance of a riparian owner taking action under the common law in respect of gross pollution. There again an injunction has been granted. That very valuable common law right exists today, but under this Bill that right is cut down and diminished, and there is nothing in the Hobday Report, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, recommending that that should be done. Indeed, the contrary is the case. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford. North, said, paragraph 163 of the Report states:The right of a riparian owner to take proceedings under the Common Law will not be affected.Of one thing there can be no doubt, that under this Bill that right is grievously affected.
Pollution will no longer be just the doing of something which changes the natural quality of the water. In view of Clause 4, in future pollution will mean failing to comply with a standard prescribed by by-laws made by a particular river board. That is apparently what pollution is going to mean in the future. Now, it is quite clear that the standards will vary. They may be so fixed that a person who could prove pollution under the common law of this country would fail in proving that the effluent was contrary to the standard laid down by the by-laws.
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) was quite right in drawing attention to this. He drew attention to Clause 4 (6), and I should like to say just a word or two about that. That is a subsection which again affects not 893 the criminal law or criminal liability but the ordinary common law of this country, and it is under that provision that power is given to apply to the court which has granted an injunction so as to vary the injunction to restrict or enlarge the right of discharging an effluent.
I am very puzzled by that Clause, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say—and I ask him to say specifically—Has that subsection been inserted for the benefit of Luton Corporation? There is an injunction against Luton Corporation now in respect of the discharge of their sewage. If this Clause takes effect a standard can be laid down by a by-law; that standard may permit of the discharge of an effluent which, under the common law, would be polluting.
This subsection is made retrospective. It could apply to an injunction which is in force at the present time, and I should like to known very much indeed why the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to take power to effect this change. I should like to endorse the query which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) put: What is to happen with regard to an award for damages made at the same time as the granting of an injunction if the standard of the pollution is subsequently followed by an alteration of the by-law?
I must say that for the reasons I have given I do not regard this Bill in its present form as a Bill for preventing but as a Bill for permitting pollution—in the respects I have indicated. That view is even strengthened when one considers Clause 4 (5, b), because from that subsection it would seem to follow—and I think the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) drew attention to this—that if the effluent complies with the standard set by the by-law, even if it kills fish or spawn, it will no longer be an offence under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act. I confess I can find no recommendation in the Hobday Report suggesting that there should be that variation of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act.
I must confess, too, that I feel considerably worried about this machinery for fixing standards, and I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had explained that to the House in a little more detail. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will, because while it is clear that the standard 894 will be fixed or may be fixed for different areas in the same river, with different standards for different rivers and for different parts of one river, it is also clear that some of those standards will permit of the discharge of a badish effluent.
I hope I am not putting it too high in saying that. As my right hon. and gallant Friend said, once we get a standard permitting a discharge of a badish element effluent, all the people discharging within that reach will not try to get their effluent as pure as they reasonably can but will rest content so long as the effluent comes within that standard. That may mean that the total quantity of polluting liquid may deteriorate in character and increase in amount, with the result that, the relationship between the polluting liquid and the natural water being varied, the pollution may increase in degree.
There are two main sources of pollution, sewage effluent and trade effluents, the latter including those of the National Coal Board and the British Electricity Authority. I am told—I believe it to be the case—that in these days it is really a comparatively easy matter to purify sewage effluents but that even now it is not practicable to purify some trade effluents to a satisfactory condition. If in a reach of a river, such as the Tyne, an important industry discharged an effluent which could not be purified, would the standard be set so that the discharge was below the standard, or would the standard be set so low that the discharge really offended against the standard?
If the standard is set so high, I do not think there will be much hope of clearing up the bad condition of the river, and if the standard is lower there would appear to be a breach of the law by the industry which cannot purify its effluent. I suppose that the discretion in these cases will be in deciding whether or not to launch a prosecution. If there is one thing to which I object, it is a decision as to whether or not to prosecute for an apparent breach of the law based upon circumstances of that nature. The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the need for co-operation, and I entirely agree with him, but we shall not get that cooperation if there is any sense of unfairness about the administration of the Measure. If one man or one company is prosecuted for a comparatively 895 moderate pollution when some other concern next door which is guilty of grave pollution is not prosecuted—even though it is not prosecuted for the reason that the pollution cannot be cured—there will be a feeling of unfairness and a lack of the co-operation which is so essential if we are to secure the cleaning up of our rivers.
I wonder very much whether it would not be better to devise some system whereby those who cannot comply with a proper standard for securing the cleanliness of the river should have the duty cast upon them of applying to the river board for a licence to discharge an effluent worse than the standard imposed. I am at the moment thinking aloud in the hope that the Minister will give this matter some consideration. It would then be for those people to satisfy the board that it was not reasonably practicable for them to get their effluent down to the proper standard.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am trying to understand what the hon. and learned Gentleman means. First of all, a standard is fixed by the river board. I should have thought that they would first have taken account of the practicability of achieving that standard technically as well as in other ways. Having fixed the standard themselves, are they then to be permitted to license people to continue to put into the river effluents which are below that standard? That is a curious suggestion.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has not followed the argument. I will repeat it again, because I think the point is worthy of consideration. If we have a discharge going into a river from an industry, a trade effluent, of a character which it is not practicable to purify because the cost would be so enormous or because of the acids or whatever it may be that exist in that effluent, the river board, as I see it, will not fix a standard just for that particular effluent. They will have to fix a standard for the reach into which that effluent goes.
If they fix that standard so that that effluent is permissible, then 896 all the other people who are discharging need not worry. If they fix the standard so low as to make the other people purify where they can do so, then the particular industry I mentioned would be discharging an effluent far worse than the standard imposed. We would get to that situation, and in the circumstances it would not be unusual. Then it might be worth while to consider the institution of some kind of licensing system. We shall have an opportunity of developing this point during the Committee stage and of explaining it to the right hon. Gentleman, if I have not made it clear already.
I have yet another objection, which is to the way in which these standards will be fixed. They are to be fixed by bylaws, which have to be approved by the right hon. Gentleman. There is no power given to Parliament to express a view on these by-laws, and yet we are asked in the Bill to prescribe the penalties, the highest of which are six months' imprisonment and a fine of £500. It is left to others to define the offences for which those penalties will be imposed. That is a thoroughly bad instance of delegated legislation. I do not like to see serious criminal offences created by the Bill, while leaving it to others to decide what will constitute those offences. I object also to the Bill's reducing the common law obligation.
I want to say a few words about the estuaries. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the situation. I am sorry that the Minister, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said nothing about them at all. I am disappointed by this part of the Bill. I had hoped that in view of what has been said in the Hob-day Report about the seriousness of this situation and what has been said in the reports published by the British Field Sports society, something more would have been done. It really is very odd that in this Parliament we are to consider a Bill dealing with salmon poaching yet we are not taking steps in this Bill to make it easier for migratory fish to get into the river. The livelihood of hundreds, if not of thousands, of fishermen in this island depend upon that migration taking place.
The right hon. Gentleman has to approve schemes for the abstraction of water. He has to deal with and give approval to sewerage schemes throughout the country. He has been giving approval to schemes for water supplies, but holding 897 back approval to schemes for sewage. That is only likely to lead to more pollution by sewage in the future. But, concerned with those two things—the provision of water for domestic and industrial purposes, and the provision of sewage —the Minister is also concerned under the Bill with the prevention of pollution. Those interests sometimes conflict—they are sometimes bound to do so; instances have occurred, and will continue to arise after the Bill becomes an Act. Therefore, I am inclined to agree with those who have expressed the view that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries should at least have some responsibility for the operation of this Measure.
I have had to be rather critical of the Bill because I am disappointed with its contents. I should like to see pollution stopped as far as it can be stopped, as far as is practicable. The Bill, with its Title, raised my hopes high. I am disappointed with it now. It is largely a Bill now for permitting pollution by local authorities, but I think we can cure that in Committee. We shall do our best and I hope that some of those who have spoken from the other side in favour of that object will give us their assistance. I hope that as a result of the Committee stage the Bill will live up to its Title and be really useful for curing the ill which is so common in this island.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
After listening to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I could not quite understand why hon. and right hon. Members opposite should be thinking of voting in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. Not only did the hon. and learned Member and his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvin-grove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) suggest many matters that might well be considered on the Committee stage for the improvement of the administration and working of the Measure, but the hon. and learned Member seemed to cast doubts on the value of the Bill as a whole and the principles upon which it is framed.
I was particularly interested in his general attack upon the Minister—not personally, I agree, but as the Minister responsible for providing water supplies. Indeed, there must be many people who, 898 after reading, as I hope they will, the hon. and learned Member's speech, will be very concerned whether under an administration in which he held office there would be any hope of getting water into the rural, or indeed urban, areas at all.
In a matter of this sort we must use our sense of balance. Clearly there are very many competing needs and, naturally, they do not all fit in with each other. There is, for example, the urgent need throughout the country of securing better water supplies, both for rural and for urban areas. and if we are to meet that need, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite usually contend that we ought, and at a greater speed than we are now doing, we have to face problems of the resultant effect upon the condition of our rivers.
It is no use pretending that we can deal with those two very real problems—the need for fresh water and the need to do what we can for the prevention of pollution of rivers—without some compromise between the two. After listening to the hon. and learned Member, I felt that his major claim was that we should go back to the general common law powers for dealing with this matter.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I did not say that. I said that one of the great defects in the Bill to which I was drawing attention was the way it cut down the common law rights. I did not say "go back to them." The Bill actually cuts down existing rights.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The point with which we are concerned is that the common law powers which have been there for generations have not proved effective in dealing with this problem. It is because they have been effective only in a limited number of instances that hon. Members opposite care to quote that it is the common demand of everyone concerned that we should have new legislation. Those most concerned with the matter, whether they are interested in the fishery side or the health problems of our local authorities, will be disturbed to know the attitude adopted by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South.
It was a pity that none of the hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite referred to Clause 3, which we think is most important. We are anxious not only to 899 remedy existing pollution, but also to do all we can to provide new powers to prevent pollution from ever taking place and to seek injunctions where any steps are about to be taken which a river board thinks will lead to pollution. I should have thought that was an important proposal, but hon. Members opposite do not seem to have read it. This is a short Bill and I should have thought they would have managed to read the whole of it.
I am glad to find that the wholly condemnatory tone of so many of the speeches made from the opposite side of the House is not accepted by others who are concerned with this problem. For example, we have had the view of the Secretary of the National Federation of Anglers, who has a natural and proper interest in the matter. Commenting on the Bill, he has said in a letter that its provisions should, in the main, prove satisfactory to angling interests; but he considered that Clause 4 of the Bill called for some clarification. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is perfectly fair. I do not object to that in the least, but that is very different from the general tenor of speeches made tonight, particularly by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not in any way object to reservations stated by hon. Members or to their desire to criticise particular administrative features. That is right, and we hope that in the Committee stage we shall be able to consider all useful constructive points put from both sides which will help us to make this a still more effective Measure than it is now. While we are anxious to have that sort of assistance from hon. Members on both sides of the House, my feeling is that, especially from the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South, we were getting a general, blank rejection of the whole of the Bill.
Some doubt has been expressed about the value of introducing fresh legislation at the moment. Some hon. Members have said, "Why introduce this Bill now; why could not it have been left until after more scientific investigations had been carried out into the precise nature of pollution, and the like?" There has been strong pressure for the introduction of this Measure from all those concerned with the standards of our rivers, because of the steady development of the river boards which are being set up. Obviously, it is highly desirable that these river 900 boards should start their work knowing the powers they will be able to wield.
I was much surprised by the contribution of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), who seemed to be making a Second Reading speech on the River Boards Act which was passed a considerable time ago. I might also say in passing that I think he is something of an optimist if he thinks fish are the perfect criteria for bathing. I understand that the hon. Member next to him, the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), might be able to clear his mind on one or two points of that sort.
§ Mr. Renton
This Bill, in effect, adds to the River Boards Act. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree. I am suggesting that he could not only add to the River Boards Act, but also subtract a little. What is the harm in that?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
No harm at all, but the hon. Member seemed to be suggesting that we should make use of bodies and boards which have been replaced by river boards—and have been replaced for some considerable time. He was putting very retrospective proposals to the House. We believe this Measure should go forward now with the support of the whole House, because some of the river boards have been set up and 17 of them are in operation and are very anxious to have the powers and get on with the work with which they are fully confident they can deal.
We were asked why it was that my right hon. Friend should be concerned with this Measure. We had one alternative suggestion put forward. I do not know why there was just one, because many Departments of State are concerned with the question of pollution from one point of view or another. The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was suggested. It is true that he is very much interested in this Measure, as also are the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Supply, the Minister of Fuel and Power, and many others. All these Ministers must certainly be consulted with regard to many of the problems dealt with.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The Minister referred to other Departments of State which are interested. Can he say whether the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will be approached, 901 particularly when new factories are suggested, because the Peterborough sugar beet factory was quite wrongly sited, as mentioned in the Report?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It is true that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning are consulted, and that problem is kept in mind. Hon. Members on both sides of the House raised the question of the suitability of river boards to carry out those functions in connection with river pollution which were granted to them in the River Boards Act. What surprised me was the suggestion that the river boards were not suitable bodies because of the large representation of local authorities on them.
Yet very often the same people who made that criticism commented with great approval on the fine work which bodies like the West Riding of Yorkshire Board has carried out. That board is wholly composed of representatives of local authorities. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have commented rightly on the most valuable work which that body has done in relation both to the sewage effluent of local authorities and industrial effluents. If a body composed wholly of local authority representatives can do this work, why should we complain that a body composed in part of local authority representatives, but in part also of other essential interests, should be any worse? I think that was an extraordinary argument.
Many hon. Members raised the general question of standards, and this is where we approach the kernel of the Bill. It is our desire carefully to establish practical standards of purity for the effluents into our streams and rivers so that by degrees we can raise standards generally. There seems to be a mistaken impression in the minds of many hon. Members that we are thinking in terms of one standard being fixed for one river. I appreciate the point made by the hon. and learned Member, but though this is a matter for the river boards themselves to settle, our expectation is that a series of standards will be laid down for the different reaches of the rivers which will ensure, broadly speaking, that we shall have varying standards, but in each case there will be a gradual raising rather than a lowering, so that over the river as a whole we shall achieve an improvement and not a reduction of standards.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
This is important. We fear that a sort of Gresham's Law will be established by which the bad will drive out the good, and that it will be impossible to fix the standard at the optimum. Fixing it below that, will mean that the standard of the effluent will come down rather than go up.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I appreciate what is in the mind of the right hon. and gallant Member, but an undertaking which changes the nature of its effluent must give notice; there is also the point that where there is an existing effluent of a bad quality, as compared with the effluent of another undertaking which is of a rather higher standard, we expect that river boards will be able in most cases to differentiate in the reaches of the river between one effluent and another. We have to consider that matter, and I think the river boards will consider it, too.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
In the same reach of the river between one effluent and another? That was the point we had in mind.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Obviously this is a question of degree. Clearly if we took a whole river and applied one common standard to it, that would reduce the standard to the lowest common denominator, but if we adapt our standard to particular reaches of the river, it seems to us not unreasonable that we should be able to get a steady improvement, and not a reduction. But that is a matter to be considered during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
This is important, if the Bill is to achieve the result which we all support. In an industrial part of the country, there may be many effluents of different character going into one small reach. The important thing is what will be the standard for that small reach. We shall want the highest possible degree of purification for each effluent going into that shallow, limited reach.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
That is essentially a matter for the river boards to settle, and we would certainly not impose our standard upon them. As commonsense people they must have regard to the problems of the area, and they have reasonable powers within this Bill to do so.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this point, will he explain whether the intention is that the power 903 shall be to prescribe standards for effluents or to prescribe standards for the river? They are two quite different things.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
One obviously develops into the other. We make the standard for the effluent and that inevitably determines the river standard. I think that some hon. Members are now raising matters that we must discuss much more fully on the Committee stage.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove raised the question of notice of intention to make by-laws, and also said that he felt the provision in the Bill of only one month for notice from the river boards was too short and that three months ought to be provided. We shall be willing to look at that matter also in Committee.
I now turn to the general question of Clause 4 (5, a) and of common law powers. Where by-laws prescribing standards of effluents have been formulated by a river board, as the authority responsible for the quality of the river, and approved by the Minister, it seems to us that it would be illogical to leave a person responsible for an effluent, which reached the prescribed standard, still open to a common law action at the instance of a riparian owner. It seems to us wrong that there should be two different standards. Our only hope, we consider, of raising standards generally is if it can clearly be known what the standard is at any point of the river, even though there may be a series of different standards at different points. There is the further point that Clause 4 (5, a) provides a defence only against an action for nuisance prejudicial to the natural quality or condition of the water; a riparian owner may still be entitled to bring an action on other grounds, such as, for instance, a diminution or alteration of the flow, or a breach of covenant.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Yes. It seems to me that this does make for a difference of attitude in the matter. I state again that we are now trying to see how we can raise the standard of the river, and if we are insisting on providing for a series of different standards at any one given point, it would seem that our hopes will be destroyed.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
No, I do not see that there is any danger of lowering it; in fact, it can have the effect of raising it. The great trouble has been so often that no one has known what does constitute pollution, and that naturally is a matter of great concern to industry as well as to everybody else.
Hon. Members opposite, and the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) in particular, raised the question whether there is any confusion between the powers of the Thames and Lea Conservancy Boards under their Private Acts and their powers under this Bill. There should not be. They can get the best of both worlds, in point of fact. They can utilise whichever Measure they wish. There is no proposal that we should withdraw those Measures or by order alter the measures of the Thames and Lea Boards' Private Acts. The Lea Board, indeed, has been using both the powers of the 1876 Act and their own Private Acts, and as all this means is a substitution of this present Measure for the 1876 Act, there should not be any confusion about it.
§ Mr. Nugent
May I be clear on that? Does that mean that these two conservancies will not be required to make surveys and set up standards, but will continue to operate their own Private Acts?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
We say that they can continue to use their own Acts but we hope they will also consider the desirability of setting up standards through bylaws, if they regard it as desirable. It is a matter for them.
§ Mr. Mulley
Can my hon. Friend explain why this privilege is not extended to the West Riding and their Act of 1894?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It seems to me that the Greater London area is in a special position—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why"]—and their powers are no doubt wider than those of the West Riding authority. If any question of variation of these Private Act powers were to arise, it could be prayed against in this House, and there is opportunity for this House always to keep an eye on them.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), and other hon. Members to the fishery interests. The view of someone 905 particularly interested in fishery interests is that this Bill enables us to go a step forward. It does not seem that there is a weakening of powers, but rather an improvement of the position as river boards are representative not only of local authorities but of many other interests, including the fishery interests. I do not sce why the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) should be so sarcastic about the small representation of the fishery interests as compared with the local authorities, when he is so proud of the work done by a board representing purely local authority interests. I do not see why he should cast doubt on the ability of the river boards to look after fishery interests, and indeed they will be required to do so.
There have also been some questions, which are of great interest to me personally as one who represents parts of Tyneside, relating to estuaries, tidal waters and the lower reaches of rivers. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton asked why no action had been taken about the tidal waters of the Tees under the 1876 Act. The answer is that under that Act it had to be proved that such action was essential on grounds of public health, and although we would all say that there must be some connection between the amount of polluting matter that goes into the lower reaches near our towns and the general state of health of the community, it is by no means easy to prove any direct relation one with the other. Under this Measure, on the other hand, it will be possible to apply the definition of a stream to the lower reaches of the river without having to establish that connection between public health and the amount of polluting matter in the water. Therefore, again, a very real step forward is being made in this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could he say a word about the Tweed, which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke)?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The Tweed is referred to in the River Boards Act as being a part of Scotland. It will be dealt with in any Measure which comes forward later in relation to Scotland, and which will be outside the scope of this Bill.
I have not much more time, and I should like merely to say that we are 906 glad to have had some of the constructive suggestions which have been put forward on both sides of the House. We are glad that there is this very real interest in the object of the Measure, to secure a steady reduction in the pollution of our streams and rivers. We hope to have full co-operation in attaining that objective during the Committee stage, and I hope that some hon. Members will throw off the slough of despond which seems to have descended upon them during certain periods of this debate and will realise the valuable contribution which is made by this Bill. I trust they will also join all those who are most immediately concerned with it in appreciating that this Bill takes us one valuable step forward in improving the standard of our rivers, and I hope it will result in a further improvement in the standard of health of our people.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.