HC Deb 30 July 1951 vol 491 cc1115-9

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 35, at end, insert:

( ) Subject to section five of this Act, the said subsection shall not by virtue of paragraph (a) thereof, penalise the discharge into a stream of any trade effluent or any effluent from the sewage disposal or sewerage works of a local authority, if—

  1. (a) it is not reasonably practicable to dispose of the effluent otherwise than by discharging it (directly or indirectly) into that or some other stream; and
  2. (b) all reasonably practicable steps are taken to prevent the effluent being unnecessarily poisonous, noxious or polluting:

Provided that this subsection shall not have effect so long as the period referred to in subsection (2) of section eight of this Act (as varied by any Order in Council under subsection (3) of that section) has not expired or been terminated.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[Mr. Lindgren.]

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I only rise to ask a question on the use of "reasonable" in modifying the word "practicable." The phrase is used in paragraphs (a) and (b) and I was wondering how this will modify the procedure. I should have thought that the words "reasonably practicable" would be very difficult of interpretation. I also think that it might be possible to leave out "reasonable" and that the word "practicable" in this context could be accepted generally to mean that which accords with the best known practice. I should like to know how my hon. Friend feels about it.

Mr. Lindgren

The House will remember that on the Report stage there was considerable discussion on the best practicable means, and at the end of the discussion, in which an Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) was before the House, the Minister undertook. that there would be discussions between the interested parties, because it was appreciated that local authorities, in particular, have a very heavy and responsible task in regard to effluents from sewage disposal works. They have a more difficult task because of the present capital investment position, and the fact that they cannot install, even if they are willing to do so, certain plant because of that position.

11.30 p.m.

Discussions have taken place and, as a result, I am assured that this Amendment, and others with which we shall be dealing later on, do meet the position. I am assured that they make the position as satisfactory as it can be where there are the conflicting interests of local authorities, industry and of all those who are concerned with the purification of rivers.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that this Amendment goes together with a whole set of Amendments which complete the combination of the power to look after new discharges and the considerable tightening up which that will involve. Great power will be given over new discharges. Therefore, we think it reasonable to insert the words, "reasonably practicable", to which otherwise we would have taken exception.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 30, leave out from "section" to end of line 39 and insert: which has been committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or any person purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[Mr. Lindgren.]

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I regret this Amendment, which I think weakens the Bill, and I take the view which was expressed in another place by the Lord Chancellor. I do not like the Amendment because I feel it is wrong that the onus should be shifted to the director of a company which has committed an offence, so that he shall be presumed to have been guilty himself of the offence unless he can prove that he had no complicity in it.

Mr. Lindgren

Surely, unless I am wrong, this Amendment does exactly the opposite. This is an Amendment asked for by the Opposition, who complained that the onus of proof was on the defendant. This puts the onus of proof upon the prosecution. It is in line with the general view taken in another place.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

There is no real question of principle involved here, because a large. number of Measures on the Statute Book at present contain the words which this Amendment proposes to delete, and which in fact put the onus on the director to prove his innocence. I think it is worth while referring to some of these Measures, if only to put on record that they exist. There are the Official Secrets Act, 1920, the Dentists Act, 1921, the Treaty of Washington Act, 1922, the Representation of the People (No. 2) Act, 1922, the Dangerous Drugs and Poisons (Amendment) Act, 1923, the Theatrical Employers Registration Act, 1925, the Midwives and Maternity Homes Act, 1926, the Companies Act, 1929, the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, and the Building Societies Act, 1939. I think there have been other Acts since the outbreak of the late war, in particular, The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944.

Many of the Acts were passed through this House at a time when there was a Conservative majority and, therefore it is not open to those of my hon. Friends, who regard this as a matter of principle, to argue that it is a principle for which the Conservative Party has always stood. I think there is no question of principle here. I asked a question of the Attorney-General the other day on this subject and I put a supplementary question to this effect: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that this matter is dealt with in a different way in four different Bills now before Parliament and does not he think that that is some reason for putting order into the matter? I suggested an appropriate way would be to appoint a committee to look into the whole question, and the Attorney-General replied: No, Sir. The appropriate provision in each Bill depends on the nature of the Bill, and these Bills differ."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 1656.] With great respect, I do not think that the appropriate provision depends on the nature of the Bill. Both in this House and in another place, it is perfectly plain that noble Lords and hon. Members have all argued that the proper test is the nature of the company. It would be ridiculous to fix each one of the directors of I.C.I., for example, with a crime which might be committed by some branch of the company, and of which they could have no possible knowledge.

In the case of the one-man company, it is impossible to make a distinction between that and the case of the absolute owner, who is guilty unless he can prove lack of knowledge of the facts. The proper test is the nature of the company and not the nature of the offences. I do not believe that one can generalise in a Bill like this and say that all directors of companies Who commit offences are to be held free from guilt unless it can be shown otherwise. I think that would be putting an impossible burden on the prosecution and there would be many cases where serious damage could be done to rivers through lack of the power which would be contained in this Bill were it not for this Amendment.

For this reason, I object to this Amendment and ask the Government to consider this as a matter of general principle. I do not believe we can deal with this question piecemeal. It is obviously impossible to divide the House against the great mass of opinion which exists, but I ask the House to look at this question as a matter of principle and try to legislate in future cases on a broader basis, having regard to the considerations involved.

Mr. Lindgren

If I may speak again, by leave of the House, I would say that the position is that the hon. Baronet's view is that of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends. This Amendment was put forward to meet the wishes of the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman is out- of-step with his hon. Friends. We are doing our best to please his own hon. Friends, because they were very helpful in the amicable passage of this Bill. Much as I should like to please the hon. Gentleman, I really want to retain the co-operation of his colleagues during this Bill and get it dealt with at an early hour tonight.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

This is an example of how remarkably the discussion of this Bill has been of a non-party character. In fact it was not discussed by Government and Opposition, but simply by those interested in one or other aspects of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) has felt compelled to testify on a point to which he attaches great importance. I consider that the view taken by another place was a sound one, and so counsel my hon. Friends.

Question put, and agreed to.

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