HC Deb 04 June 1951 vol 488 cc736-55
Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 17, line 9, to leave out "section," and to insert "sections one and."

The effect of this Amendment is to include Section I as well as Section 7 of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876. There is no very great substance in this Amendment. It simply is to keep in the short title of the Bill, which I should have thought would be a good thing to do. I notice that in the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) (Scotland) Bill, Clause 1 is kept in so as to retain the short title, and I think the right hon. Gentleman may well think this is convenient.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Dalton

I am advised that this Amendment is not necessary. Section 3 of the Short Titles Act, 1896, provides that, notwithstanding the repeal of an enactment giving a short title to an Act, the Acts may, without prejudice to any other mode of citation, continue to be cited by that short title. I hope that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nugent

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's very resourceful reply, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In page 17, leave out lines 23 to 34.

In page 18, leave out lines 3 to 5.—[Mr. Dalton.]

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Dalton

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I will not detain the House long at this stage, but I should like to say that the process by which this Bill was passed into law has been very happy, and that we have been co-operative with negligible exceptions. In Committee we were 99 per cent. happy. I had to take over a Bill, in the shaping of which I have had no part and about which I had to learn as I went along, and I had the assistance of a great number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, with the result that we have a Measure, which will be of very great value for the purification of our rivers, and I hope the river boards will be able in a comparatively short time to make full use of the powers proposed to be conferred upon them under this Bill.

It would be inappropriate to speak further now about the various matters we have discussed. This is a non-party Measure in the fullest sense, and extremely helpful contributions have been made by many of my hon. Friends and by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I therefore trust that before long this Bill may pass into law and fully justify the confidence we have placed in it.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

It is true that this has been a non-party Bill in the fullest sense of the word. Argument has proceeded rather up and down, than across, the Floor of the House. I do not think that the Minister can complain even if an occasional acerbity has crept in at some small point. Those on both sides of the House who have taken an interest in this matter have felt very keenly about it. I have been rather surprised, indeed, at the way in which Members have been able to restrain their passions.

As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, this is a matter of the parish pump. There is nothing in the whole world that produces such violent and vehement controversy as something which affects the parish pump. It is also true that there are few things that more directly affect the comfort and the health of the community than the state of the parish pump. A leakage of sewage into the sources of supply of the parish pump will often do more damage than the most ill-advised piece of legislation on the part of this House.

The Measure is a framework which will have to be filled in later. It is almost more shadowy than that. It is a hope, an experiment, and only some years hence shall we be able to tell whether our hopes have been justified and our experiment successful. I think it is true that under previous Acts a great deal more might have been done if the powers then given had been enforced. What we are trying to do is to set up an authority with powers which will focus and canalise the steadily increasing view of the community as a whole, that this small island, with great natural gifts of beauty, has been almost literally "mucked about" with in the past to an extent which was not fully justified even by the enormous industrial development, which has taken place. The work done by the river boards has for all that been very successful. Many of the water authorities have done extraordinarily good work. It is not always realised that the river on which this House stands, flowing through a most densely populated part of the country and in an increasingly industrialised area, is the main source of drinking water for a great section of this nation, and that by no means the least healthy or least virile section. I say that, coming from a far distant country which is not always wont to pay these tributes to the southern parts of the island.

The work which has been done shows that better work can be done. We believe that a great deal more cleaning up could readily be accomplished. There was a sort of wantonness of destruction that came over the people in the 19th century, in which the most beautiful things were destroyed with a feeling that anything that was beautiful must be to that extent sinful. They had the proverb, "Where there's muck there's money," and those who pleaded amenity were apt to be regarded as "cissy" and failing in the full sense of the necessities of industry. Both industry and the rest of the community have changed that view a great deal. We may get back again to the greater care which was taken of these matters in earlier years.

There is a very long history of the careful care that has been taken of water and of water sources, even here. We are here in Thorney Island, or just adjacent to it. There is a block of flats up by the Albert Memorial called "Thorney Court" to this day. It is so-called because, before the days of the Norman Conquest, under Edward the Confessor, a piped supply of water was laid on from there to here. Still the stone stands in the Park, showing where that piped water supply originated from. It ran from the days of Edward the Confessor until about 1850 or 1860, so great was the skill that our early ancestors had and so extensive were the steps that they took to secure supplies of clean and adequate water. It was not always that the Thames was a good source of drinking water. There are records of the House showing that the windows had to be closed from time to time because of the noisome effluvium arising from the Thames. For that change, both the Metropolitan Water Board and the Thames Conservancy Board are owed the very greatest debt of gratitude.

None of us wishes to delay the House at this time, all the more because this is the beginning and not the end of our task. When we pass this Bill, we pass it to bodies whose trouble and responsibility it will be to determine these very difficult questions of the pull between one industry and another, or between industry and amenity, or even between industry and agriculture. These problems can only be determined with the greatest of good will on both sides, and they will not be solved in an afternoon. They will require long and careful working out. I hope that when that working out is in progress the bias will always be given towards the purity of rivers. The task of keeping the rivers clean from contamination is always more difficult than the attitude, "Let it go. What harm can a little more pollution do to such and such a stream?" Even the most polluted streams respond in the most surprising way to treatment and can, at the end of the day be things of beauty in a relatively short time, if the co-operation of all concerned can be secured.

The watchword for the administration of this Measure must be the one which we have tried to make our own during the passage of the Bill, "Co-operation" and as far as possible "understanding of the other fellow's point of view." A rash attack might easily lead to a boomerang effect and a kickback which would put back the cause of purification of the rivers rather than forward it. I hope that our hopes will be fulfilled and our fears not realised, and that a reasonable degree of release of the constructive resources of this island, where required by the Minister for purification of the rivers, will be looked on with a favourable eye by the Minister's colleagues in the Cabinet, and I trust that he will be able to secure a rapid extension of the process of purification, which has been in progress, in spite of difficulties and, which we hope, will now go on at an increasing rate.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

As one who supported the Second Reading of the Bill I would endorse what the two previous speakers have said. I would also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the happy outcome of his efforts, largely due to the attitude which he and his Parliamentary Secretary adopted. They showed a most unusual responsiveness to the general feeling of hon. Members, even their own supporters. That is a valuable asset in a Government spokesman. They were extremely wise to retain in the Bill the common law rights to which many of us in all parts of the House attach a great deal of importance.

Some of us would have liked the Bill to be a little stronger here and there, but nevertheless it is a remarkably good Bill and the House can be proud of it. I have no doubt that future generations will be grateful not only to the Minister of Local Government and Planning and his Parliamentary Secretary, but to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

On the Second Reading of the Bill I had the impertinence to hope that our discussions would not develop into the age-old struggle "trade versus trout." On the whole, we have kept off that argument. On the Report stage we tended to become a little heated about vested interests. When the Minister has considered the revised Amendments I hope he will steel his heart to some extent, so that the original intentions of the Bill may be retained.

Skating thinly on the edge of order I hope that last thoughts may be directed to the question of a survey. I would call the Minister's attention to the detailed remarks which were made by his predecessor on the Second Reading, on the subject of that survey. I see the Parliamentary Secretary nodding his head. Columns 808 and 809 of HANSARD are most informative, but this does not appear in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) and I have put down an Amendment to Clause 16 of the Finance Bill to provide that expenditure on the installation and improvement of plant and equipment for anti-pollution purposes should be exempted from the cancellation of initial allowances. I realise that I am again sailing close to the wind, but this may be in order. So much support has been promised if only the money were available that I hope that when the time comes the right hon. Gentleman and also the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and the others who have shown themselves so well disposed towards anti-pollution will support our Amendment.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Colegate

I want to join in the general chorus of tributes to the pleasantness that we have had in Committee and in the House during the passage of a Bill which should have substantial results if it is adequately administered. I am, however, sorry that, owing apparently to a slight misunderstanding, the Minister has not been able to implement an extremely firm undertaking which he gave me to put down an Amendment to ensure that an annual report should be made to the House. There is no doubt that this can easily be dealt with. No doubt in another place the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the Amendment which he promised me will be inserted in the Bill. My Amendment was wholeheartedly accepted by everybody in the Committee and I am sure it is only due to some slight misunderstanding that the Minister has not brought forward the Amendment which he promised.

When that Amendment is made I feel that we shall have a Bill which will do what we have been trying to do for generations. We shall be able to check year by year what progress, if any, is being made in clearing up the pollution of our rivers. That has never been possible before. All sorts of powers have existed, but they have never been focused so that we could see if progress was being made. I believe that the Bill will do that, and that it will, therefore, be one of the greatest additions to the amenities of our country that we have seen for a generation.

6.23 p.m.

Colonel Clarke

At this early hour and on a summer evening a long Third Reading speech would be a mistake. I merely want to add my contribution to what has been said in appreciation of the co-operation of hon. Members of all parties and particularly that of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. When the Bill was first introduced I was depressed. Some of us had worked so long and had hoped for so much after the passing of the River Boards Bill that this Bill, in its first draft, was definitely disappointing. Very much has since happened, but we must confess that we have to some extent cast our burden on another place. I regret that little more has been done about estuaries. Our Scottish friends have been a little more ambitious about that, but it is too late for us now.

I hope that the Bill will soon be on the Statute Book. Then will come the testing time. It is so important that this Bill should not be like the 1876 Act. It depends on a real effort being made by all concerned—the river boards, the local authorities, industry and the Ministries—to make it work, and on the watch-dogs, who played a considerable part in bringing in the Bill in the first place, not going to sleep until they are able to drink from every river in the country.

6.25 p.m.

Dr. Stross

To pile compliment on compliment is like piling Pelion on Ossa so far as the Bill is concerned, but all of us have been made very happy at the reception that it has had and the courtesy that we have had from the Government Bench. The local authorities had certain reservations at first but I am sure that they now feel that there is no danger, having heard the explanations which have been given by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on the points about which they were concerned.

Not only does the Bill deserve a Third Reading, but we are happy to give it because we know that the Bill gives us an instrument by means of which the life and the health of the country will be improved. No human being would ever dream of polluting his veins and his arteries with effluents from other less delectable parts of the body, but that is what we have tended to do with our rivers and streams throughout Europe, and that is what we now wish to prevent for all time in the case of our rivers. Streams full of life are streams which are healthy. Such streams are an inspiration to the human beings who live near them and approach them. We are concerned not only with the fish but also with the human beings and the way that we are attracted to water.

Water, when it is clean and pure, gives us psychologically some memory, going back very far. Perhaps it is a pre-uterine memory, a memory from before the time we came to birth itself. That constitutes its fascination. If our streams are polluted and fouled, it is an assault upon and an insult to our souls. We are glad to be able to place a term upon pollution in our rivers.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

The Minister has had his quota of bouquets, and he has deserved them because he has been very accommodating. I suppose that we can now consider that the Bill is approaching its final form as the statutory instrument of the river boards, and before it passes to another place it is worth considering just how effective it will be to the boards in practice.

As I said during the Report stage, we are glad that the common law right still remains. That is a help; but let us just see how effective the Bill will be to the boards. The Bill will not be really effective as an instrument for them until they have set up their bylaws and standards; and that is the crux of the Bill. Normally, we hope, these will be established and that it will be only an exceptional case where after seven years the board may proceed without the Minister's permission; but it will be very difficult for the boards to set up these standards and bylaws, and I believe that we have saddled them with a formidable task.

The establishment of standards and bylaws for rivers was the recommendation of the Hobday Committee. The alternative procedure would be to give river boards the same sort of powers as have the Thames and Lee Conservancies, which have local Acts that give them unrestricted powers to proceed against any effluent they consider to be polluting their rivers, and that means that whoever is discharging effluent into the river is at risk at all times, and that it is up to the river board to decide what they consider to be polluting.

It was evidently considered that on balance that was too great a power to put into the hands of all river boards, varying as they will do in their strength and conditions from one part of the country to another. So finally the idea in this Bill was evolved of empowering a river board to establish its own individual standards and bylaws, which are expected to suit the particular conditions of its river and the local conditions in which people live. I recognise immediately that it gives a desirable flexibility, and as those bylaws are subject to the confirmation of the Minister, that should ensure that they will be reasonable. On the other hand, however, it gives the river boards this formidable task of setting up their bylaws and standards.

I want for a few minutes to try to think how a river board will proceed when it gets into action. Nearly all the 29 river boards are formed now. I imagine that they are assembling a staff of expert engineers to carry out the work, and that they are beginning to deal with their rivers. Although the Bill does not say so, they must undoubtedly begin by making a survey. In that survey they must discover the high and low flow of their river. They must discover the rate of flow, they must discover the volume of it at various points, they must discover the number of effluents discharging into it and the nature of those effluents. That will all take some time.

They will then be in a position to consider the setting up of standards. It will be fairly easy for them if they have a clean river, but if we consider the position of the river board confronted with a fairly heavily polluted river, we shall be dealing with the crux of what this Bill sets out to do. How will they proceed? They will probably have to proceed by working down from the head of the river to the lowest point where a reasonably high standard can be maintained and establish a standard for that stretch of the river to start with, with the intention of progressively working down the river as far as they can practically set up reasonable standards.

What standards are they likely to try to set up? This is very germane because, when they come to set up these by-laws and standards, they will have to go to a public enquiry and will have to come to the Minister to ask for his confirmation. The first one they will undoubtedly try to set up is a biological oxygen demand standard, the standard set up by the Royal Commission. Nobody has got much further than that today. They will also set up a standard for toxicity to fish, for we shall hope there are still fish in the river. They will also probably set up a standard for temperature of effluent. They will also probably define what solids they consider polluting, such as litter and so on.

The Royal Commission laid down that a biological oxygen demand of two parts in 100,000 could be considered to be a clean effluent, provided it was discharging into a river where the volume of the effluent was not more than one-eighth of the volume of the flow of the river. That, of course, should not be taken as an absolute standard because, if the river is a fast flowing, shallow one, perhaps with weirs in it, one could have a biological oxygen demand quite a bit higher and still have fish living healthily and happily in it.

Undoubtedly some river boards will be prepared to accept a higher biological oxygen demand where the flow or nature of their river is such that it is all right, but I would utter this note of caution. On no account must the fact that a river might have special conditions which make a higher biological oxygen demand acceptable be quoted as a precedent for accepting a higher biological oxygen demand where the river is sluggish and has no such aeration. That undoubtedly will be the first standard the boards will consider.

Toxicity to fish will have to be determined empirically by seeing whether the effluent destroys them. We are up against a real difficulty on the establishment of standards, and do not let us pretend for a minute that we have given these river boards an easy task. The chemical effluents of factories nowadays vary in all kinds of ways, and constantly new factors are appearing. Some chemical which has not been met before is discharged into the river, and it will not perhaps be defined by the biological oxygen demand test but will, on the other hand, kill fish.

So the river boards must always be vigilant to find out just what sort of effluent may be discharged. On Second Reading I quoted the already famous case of the radio-active effluent from the Harwell works. That was a new factor which nobody had met previously but which, if discharged into the river, might well have endangered the health and the life of all the people who live in London and drink the Thames water. A way was found of purifying even that one.

I am quite sure that the river boards must watch temperature carefully, particularly in regard to the big new electricity generating stations. There is a real problem there because, from the amenity point of view, there is the alternative of two or three of these huge cooling towers, and one must balance amenity on the one hand with destroying the fish life of the river on the other. That is a problem for the right hon. Gentleman as well as for local government. Finally, there is the question of solids, which should not present any great difficulty.

We should be unrealistic if we did not appreciate that when the river boards have decided what by-laws and standards they wish to propose, they will not probably meet a certain amount of local opposition. At the local enquiry provided for by the Bill, the dischargers of the effluents will undoubtedly be represented there to say that they consider it is impossible for them to improve the condition of their effluents. On the other hand, the amenity and the angling interests will be there to say that they consider that the condition of the river should be improved.

We saw on Thursday last the weighty arguments which could be produced, both by local authorities and by industry, to show how difficult it is to improve the condition of effluents. I noticed on one occasion particularly that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be just a little sensitive to this pressure and felt somewhat apprehensive as to what might happen when river boards are making their propositions. I feel we should sound that note of caution.

It is fundamental that the standards which river boards propose should be reasonable, and that the Boards should behave in a reasonable way. We are a heavily populated industrial country. We must discharge effluents into the rivers if we are to live and to work. Of course, standards must be reasonable but, on the other hand, if they are not made fairly strong they will not be effective. If no bad effluent is ever to be at risk when it is discharged into the river, we might just as well not put this Bill on the Statute Book.

It was for that reason I felt it was worth developing the point of the task we have set the river boards and the great extent to which the effectiveness of the Bill will depend on the right hon. Gentleman and his successors when river boards make their propositions of bylaws and standards. After the course of the Bill through the House, I am sure the Minister apprehends the problems of the river boards and will see that the bylaws and standards they set up are strong enough to be effective.

I, personally, shall not measure the success of the operations of the river boards by the number of prosecutions they bring in the courts, for I know from experience that the successful administration of the river and the prevention of pollution is in practice obtained only by patient, continuous and considerate administrative work by the purification officers of the river boards concerned; and that is what we really want to see. If we can give them the confidence of having an effective statutory weapon behind them, which they will have only when they have set up their standards and their bylaws, then I believe that they will be capable of carrying out the work that we hope to see them do. With those comments, I give my good wishes to the Bill and to the river boards when they come to put its provisions into effect.

6.41 p.m.

Major Legge-Bourke

I heartily endorse every word which my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) has just said. In particular, I emphasise his closing remarks about the ways in which the river boards can go about their work, either in trying to get as many prosecutions as possible or, alternatively, trying to get as much agreement as possible. Painstaking compromise certainly may sometimes be necessary. To my mind, the most important subsection in the Bill is Clause 5 (6), where it is provided that in making bylaws the river boards are under an obligation to let all the interested parties know that they are proposing to make bylaws for a particular stretch of a stream.

Throughout the Committee stage of the Bill, the Minister quite rightly resisted the temptations—I am guilty, perhaps, of putting one to him myself—to make exclusions for certain types of possible offenders. He may, however, find that he will have to modify slightly some of his refusals, but I think he has been right in resisting in general the idea of making exclusions, because as soon as a loophole is made it usually becomes a rather bigger loophole than was intended. Nevertheless, we are all aware that the Bill is somewhat tentative and that we have not really made up our minds how it will work out.

In the consultations which I hope the river boards will have as a result of Clause 5 (6), there is a body of people, whose interests I have throughout tried to call to the minds of hon. Members, namely, the internal drainage boards, who will not, I hope, be forgotten. They have quite rightly said that they do not want to have anything to do with anti-pollution work. Their main object is to get the water away from the land and out to the main river. If they were suddenly to be made responsible for anti-pollution work also, that would probably be beyond their capacity, apart from the fact that we might be led back rather to the same state of affairs as existed in days gone by, when too many authorities were responsible for anti-pollution work.

As the Bill is drafted, however, there is still some uncertainty about the exact position of these drainage boards. Since the acceptance of the Amendment this afternoon in Clause 10—in page 11, line 28, at end, insert "land or."—there is the possibility—I do not say it is a likelihood—of several ditches which are being polluted by land pollution converging into a slightly larger drain under the administration of an internal drainage board and of the ditch itself being so immaterial from the fisheries point of view and from a pollution viewpoint that it is not worth the river board's bothering about it; yet when these ditches come together into a drain which is the responsibility of the drainage board, the pollution may get rather greater, and by the time the stream enters the main river, the river board may very rightly decide that pollution to a considerable degree is taking place.

We have had many assurances from the Minister during the proceedings on the Bill that on no account would the internal drainage boards be held responsible if that were so, and that it is not their business to prevent pollution. As the Bill is drafted, however, it is perfectly possible to make them responsible if anybody wishes to do so, for Clause 2 (1) says that anybody commits an offence who knowingly permits to enter a stream any solid matter.… It is conceivable—I do not say it is likely—that a river board may find itself in a position where it has been unable to get at the individuals who are really the cause of all the trouble, and they may say, "Let us go a little further down and see where we can fasten some responsibility." I want to make quite sure that that responsibility is never placed upon internal drainage boards. To place the responsibility upon them would be grossly unfair and certainly would run contrary to the assurances which the Minister gave, and for which I am grateful, throughout the Committee stage.

Similarly, there is the matter of the internal drainage board, carrying out its ordinary work with its draglines, or whatever it may be, perhaps having to alter the watercourse or channel for which it is responsible. Although the Minister has given very categorical assurances that the internal drainage board would not be interfered with in carrying out its proper job, I still believe that, as the Bill is drafted, if anybody were sufficiently evilly disposed towards the internal drainage board, it could be charged with an offence.

I have tried to protect the interests of the internal drainage boards throughout the proceedings on the Bill, but I realise that the main object of the Bill is to make rivers fit for fish to live in. I am delighted to see that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is now present for the Third Reading of the Bill, because some of us were of opinion that he might be a better person to administer the Bill. I hope that he will never hesitate to take an interest in the anti-pollution work of the river boards.

I think that everyone, both in Committee and in the House today, is very well disposed towards the river boards and does not want to make their job any more difficult, but there is one feature of the work they will have to do under the Bill which conflicts to some extent with some of the work which they must carry out in the ordinary course of events. Most people say that when work is being done on a river, the correct place at which to start is the estuary, and then to work upstream, so far as work in the channel is concerned, certainly upwards from the point where the river ceases to be tidal.

There are some rivers where it is a pure waste of money and time to dredge the estuaries, because they silt up again immediately afterwards. The opinion is widely held, however, that the way to improve the channel of the river—I am not talking of the condition of the water—is to work upstream from the estuary or tidal end. So far as the Bill is concerned, the starting point would be at the headwater, working downwards gradually and finding more and more offenders as progress is made downstream.

When my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was speaking, I could not help being reminded of a quotation by Mr. Arthur Bryant from "Punch" of 1840. I trust I am in good company in quoting from Mr. Arthur Bryant on this occasion, having been set an example from the other side of the House quite recently. Mr. Bryant quoted on this occasion a little poem: Filthy river, filthy river Full from London to the Nore. What art thou but one vast gutter. One tremendous common shore? That described the Thames in about 1840, but I think the Thames Conservancy and the Port of London Authority have done great work since then.

We know that many streams are in a deplorable state today. Fortunately, I represent a constituency where the rivers are comparatively pure and I do not place the entire credit for that fact upon the existing authorities, but rather on the fact that we have not many great cities on our rivers, either the Great Ouse or the River Nene. But Peterborough is very close and can do a great deal of harm and we might have more trouble from Bedford than we have. It is a matter for perpetual vigilance, and even the best of rivers can be easily made the worst of rivers by pollution.

I believe that in future success in preventing good rivers from becoming bad and improving rivers which are now bad will depend first on the frame of mind in which river boards go about their tasks. Here, again, I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said; persuasion is probably a better method than taking everyone to court at the first opportunity. But it will depend on other things as well. It will depend not only on the goodwill of the river boards and local authorities, but of everyone—the anglers as well. The Fens is an area to which many come from the big cities at the week-end to do a little coarse fishing. I think they enjoy it, even though they obstruct the roads with their cars and motor chars-à-bancs. We want them to continue coming and we welcome them. Also we have local anglers who are interested in their river.

Finally, the Fens depend on good land drainage, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman, when talking to the river boards about this matter, to do everything he can to persuade them—most of them are, I think, ready to do it straight away—to bring the internal drainage boards into this as much as they can, because they are interested, even though under the Bill they have no responsibility for anti-pollution work. The right hon. Gentleman will find them co-operative if they are brought in, and I hope he will not cause a possible problem, which might arise under this Bill unless he does the right thing now, by ignoring them altogether. They must be thought of; they are essential to British agriculture and they are essential to life in the Fens and, I believe, other parts of the country which are as interested as anyone in the purity of our rivers. I hope they will be preserved in order to continue their very vital work.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

As other hon. Members have said, I am sure no one wants a long speech on this beautiful evening, an evening which hon. Members opposite, and you, Mr. Speaker, will appreciate is 4th June, a date which is connected irreparably with a certain section of the River Thames mentioned in an earlier part of this Bill. I hope this Bill will help not only the bottom sections of the River Thames, but that area as well.

I wish to add my thanks to the Minister for the helpful attitude he adopted throughout the discussions on the Bill and I hope the Bill will prove of lasting benefit, not only to the amenities—fishing, bathing and public health as a whole—but also marry in with the needs of industry and local government which are of vital importance. I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries found time to look in for the concluding stages of the Bill and I hope the Bill will be a fitting tribute to the name of one who has been mentioned a great deal during the discussions and whose works have been quoted a great deal, the late Mr. Turing, who, on behalf of the British Field Sports Society, did a great work in writing particulars and going into great detail in regard to the pollution of many rivers.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. Renton

I must confess that at first I was very sceptical when I saw the Bill. I was not on the Committee, but, having seen it come back from the Committee, I also now confess that I am very hopeful about it. It provides machinery for what might be a very useful experiment but the success of the experiment will depend to a great extent on the part which the Minister and his successors play. That may sound surprising at first, but it depends on the Minister whether there are sufficient numbers of members of river boards interested in the problems of this Bill.

Speaking of the proposed River Great Ouse River Board, I would point out that the local authority representatives upon it will not, for the most part, be interested in angling. As members of the local authority they are concerned mainly about the drainage of the very large drainage areas they represent. County councillors are not elected to local authorities because they happen to be anglers, and if the Minister wishes to ensure that angling interests are properly represented on river boards, it is up to him to see to it—and I give him that suggestion and warning.

The Minister has a further important task under the Bill which arises from the conflict of two duties which he will have. The first is his general duty of administration under the Bill and the second is the duty which he has to grant financial aid for sewerage schemes. To exemplify the difficulty which arises, or will arise, in the fulfilment of those two duties, I mention the case of the River Great Ouse, which does not suffer greatly from industrial contamination but considerably from sewage contamination, including contamination from the four small towns of my constituency past which the Great Ouse flows. None of those four towns at the moment has an even reasonably up-to-date sewerage scheme. Three of them will soon have such a scheme, but one will not because it cannot afford the cost.

I have to meet the Parliamentary Secretary before long to discuss this matter and I do not want to go into details now, but unless the local authority puts on a rate of 5s. 6d. in the pound—which is an enormous rate for a small community—there is no hope of its getting a sewerage scheme now or for years to come. If the Minister wishes to see the Bill working successfully, he must use, as wisely as he can, some of the money the Chancellor of the Exchequer will allow his Department to spend and he must use some in furthering sewerage schemes, especially for the smaller towns which cannot stand on their own feet in this matter.

It seems to me that first and last the Minister is to be the dictator of the success or failure of this Bill. Upon his prudence will depend whether the Bill becomes the reality we all hope it will or remain a dream on the Statute Book.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

I wish to give a welcome to this Bill, perhaps qualified until I have seen what emanates from another place. I wish to emphasise that it is an instrument which follows from the River Boards Act, 1948, and that the river boards are not starting work anew in surveying, in setting standards and in dealing with industrial and other pollution. They have at their disposal the expert advice and the result of the long-standing work of the catchment boards.

I wish to invite the river boards to use this Bill as an opportunity, not in the sense that has been suggested this afternoon—as a means of leaning upon the Ministry of Local Government and Planning or the Ministry of Agriculture—but to follow immediately on the work which the catchment boards have done; to free themselves with the least possible delay from the centralised administration of this Bill; and to set their standards and their bylaws as soon as practicable. I do not regard the Bill as a means for them to look to the central Government in order to carry out the work which this Bill gives to them, and to lean upon the Minister for the length of time which is embodied in the Bill—seven years. I regard that as much too long because, as I have indicated, a great deal of work has already been done in connection with the rivers of this country.

This Bill is an instrument for the halting of the pollution that is going on, of setting a limit to it and of bettering the condition of the rivers at time goes on. That work can begin immediately. I do not regard that task as the responsibility and work of the Minister of Local Government and Planning or of the Minister of Agriculture, but as the job upon which the river boards can start immediately. It is their task, in my view, to start from the point at which pollution is least and work downwards to the estuaries of the various rivers, past the towns and cities which are the source of industrial and other pollution, setting their standard at the point at which pollution is least.

The work of deepening and dredging channels is not always of great help in dealing with the question of pollution. One finds a lovely stream, bright, fast and sparkling in its high reaches, and then, as it flows towards the estuary, the catchment board have the idea of deepening the channel. The result is to take the life and vitality and aeration out of the river, making it less lively and less able to deal with pollution. As aeration is taken out of the water the oxygen has less chance of attacking pollution.

I turn to the question of temperature. It is not always the case, in respect of electricity generating stations that there is only the alternative of cooling towers. Water can be circulated from the river throughout the generating system. After that water has flowed through the station, is it not possible, as has been done in some areas, to emit that heated circulation water from the outfall of the generating station, returning it to the river from a height at which it will not only cool over blocks of stone while falling to the river but will acquire a liveliness and oxygenation in its fall to the river which will be helpful to the river in its onward flow. In the smaller generating stations at least that is a practicable and effective way of returning circulating water to the river without the need to build great cooling towers which are enormously costly.

In giving a welcome to the Bill, and in complimenting all those who have been concerned in the Committee stage with its form as it now appears, I wish to differ from the point of view which has found expression today that there is a need to depend on the work of the Ministry. This is an opportunity and an instrument for the river boards. I hope that they will use it effectively in the service of the people of the country as a whole.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.