HC Deb 31 May 1951 vol 488 cc422-56
Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, to leave out "stream," and to insert "channel."

I think it is your wish, Mr. Speaker, that I should cover all the Amendments standing in my name in speaking to this Amendment. I think I owe an apology not only to you, Sir, and to this House for putting down so many Amendments, but also to the unfortunate Parliamentary printers. I did my best to avoid embarrassing them in that way, but I took advice from the Table and found there was no other way of doing it. I hope, therefore, that the House will try to bear with me if I condense as far as possible the main points which I would have made if I had been allowed to move the Amendments in each case.

Mr. Speaker

The new Clause having been withdrawn, there was no opportunity for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to move his Amendments to it.

Major Legge-Bourke

I hesitated to foretell the future, Mr. Speaker, with the accuracy which you show.

May I say that all these Amendments are based on one premise and that is that the word "stream" is likely to cause confusion both now and in the future. The use of the word "stream" in the sense in which it is used in this Bill originates from the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876, and the definition is similar to that which is in Clause 10 of the Bill. There has been a slight alteration, but I need not worry the House with setting out the exact difference.

In Clause 10, page 11, line 16, it will be seen that a stream is defined as including any river, stream, watercourse or inland water (whether natural or artificial), except…any lake or pond which does not discharge to a stream; or…any sewer vested in a local local authority or…tidal waters;". Although it was done in the 1876 Act, I must confess that I have a dislike to making a collective noun include itself. When one does that, one gets the position of torturing the English language to a degree which is never justified. By saying that a stream includes a stream and other things, it means that the stream includes itself and other things and therefore is greater than itself, yet being a part of what is greater than the whole, it is also smaller than the greater whole. [Laughter.] It seems to me that when we are introducing legislation, whatever our ancestors may have done—they probably did it with good intent—if we can tidy up the wording a little, we should take the opportunity of doing so.

I am not at all sure that, so far as something containing itself is concerned, hon. Members of this House are always the most suitable to decide whether it does or not. Of course, I class myself in that category. Surely, it is taking our language to the extreme. Not only does one word in it mean what it usually means, but it is also given several other meanings for which there are far better words in the language.

The word "stream" in the definition in the old Act conjures up in the minds of a great many people an entirely different impression. If a person is a fly fisherman, he obviously has a quite different conception of it from that of the water engineer. Then we have the other form of the use of the word "stream," of which, perhaps, Oxford in particular this year are rather conscious, and that is the vast force of water which either assists or prevents boats from proceeding through the water.

It seems to me that the word "stream" is a little unsuited to cover what we particularly want it to cover. The only common denominator of the word is that the water moves, but there is nothing common as to the width, depth or weight, and, as a result of this Bill, some importance is attached to those measurements. My series of Amendments forms an attempt to provide a collective noun which will not only cover everyone's different interpretation of the word "stream," but will, in addition, include rivers, watercourses, drains, ditches, and all other inland waters, save lakes, ponds, local authority sewers and certain tidal waters.

In selecting that word, I have tried to take the best possible advice. Since the Committee stage of this Bill, there has been a very important report presented to Parliament which we hope may perhaps one day lead to better legislation on a subject other than river pollution. It is the Report of the Land Drainage Legislation Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee, and that subcommittee was an extremely representative body. In addition to having representatives from most of the main interests concerned with the management of channels of various sorts, it had the services as assessors of six senior civil servants from the Ministries of Health, Transport, and Agriculture and Fisheries. I claim that that phrase contains more "s's" than any I have heard for a long time. In other words, it was a very highly qualified sub-committee. I think we might very well let them help us in this matter of definition, and try to follow their advice if we possibly can.

Paragraph 38 of that Report is the one to which I particularly wish to refer this afternoon. In it, the sub-committee have sub-divided the various types of channels in the country into watercourses, drains and ditches, using the term "channel" as the collective noun with which to describe them all and any other form of waterway, or whatever we like to call it. I am well aware of Parliament's dislike of putting what I might perhaps call newly-reported wine into old legislative bottles. I would certainly hesitate to suggest that we should do that in the normal course of events.

We cannot amend the Report. It has been called for by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries with a view to amending land drainage legislation. The authorities affected by that Report are the same authorities as those affected in varying degrees by this Bill. Just because they are discussing land drainage, it is really ridiculous to insist on their using the collective noun "channel" for the purpose of describing water, yet when they are reviewing river pollution they must use the word "stream."

Therefore, we have the Report using the word "channel" and this Bill using the word "stream," which may have been all right in the past, but which is certainly not a very accurate description of what we want to describe in it. In suggesting that we should adopt one little piece of the Report for our own procedure, I wish to make it quite clear that I am not in any way committing myself to supporting the recommendations of the Report as a whole. Certainly, so far as my own division is concerned, I think that the main recommendation which they make is one about which we would want to have some assurances before we could possibly accept it, because as it stands it might jeopardise very considerably such districts as the Fens. No doubt there will be an opportunity later to debate that matter at length, and I certainly do not wish to impose it upon the House now.

I ask the House, if it possibly can, to accept the terminology used by that subcommittee in describing what in this Bill we are at present describing by the word "stream." As I have already said, that sub-committee very wisely decided to subdivide the collective channels into three categories dependent upon those bodies or individuals who would be responsible for their maintenance. Those bodies and individuals are the same as those covered by this Bill, the river boards, the internal drainage boards—which we hope are safeguarded by this Bill—and the riparian owners and occupiers who have considerable responsibilities and some safeguards under this Bill.

I think that is the right way in which to approach the problem, because it is not the various types of channels which will have to administer this Bill, but the authorities themselves. I think the sub- committee have hit upon a very satisfactory way in their Report for dealing with the inland waterways of this country. As I said earlier, we cannot amend the Report, but we can amend the Bill. When dealing with these authorities, it would seem to be far better to try to be consistent regarding the terminology which Parliament is going to use in relation to them. Furthermore, if the Report were to be accepted in the long run—and in so far as this sub-division of channels is concerned, I see no reason why it should not be—Amendments along the lines of those on the Order Paper today would probably have to be made at a later date. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it takes a considerable time to find every instance in the Bill where the word "stream" appears. Therefore, it would save a great many people much time and trouble if we amended it on the lines I suggest.

There is one further point. Most people who speak of a stream think of one running in natural channels down the contours of our land, yet the greater proportion of the water which we are seeking to purify runs through man-made channels, whether ditches, drains, or watercourses. Therefore, the word "channel" seems a better word to use than "stream" as a collective noun.

Hon. Members will see that I have tried everywhere to substitute "channel" for "stream," but there are two exceptions to this substitution in the Bill. They are both in the Second Schedule. The first is in paragraph 2, where the word "stream" is used in its proper sense as distinct from river, watercourse or inland waterway. The second is in paragraph 9 in which reference is made to the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876. In that Act, the original definition of the word "stream" appears, but, as the Third Schedule of this Bill shows, by passing this Bill we shall be repealing the whole of that Act with the exception of Section 7. Therefore, it seems to me that no longer applies and that there is no reason to alter the word "stream" where it appears in the Schedule.

4.30 p.m.

The only other point I ought to mention is the Amendment I have put down to Clause 10—in page 11, line 8, at the end, insert: 'River Pollution' which is denned in section thirty-six of the River Boards Act, 1948, as including the pollution of streams shall be so amended as to include the pollution of channels as defined in this section. That adds a definition to Clause 10 of the Bill and its effect would be to amend the definition of river pollution which is given in Section 36 of the River Boards Act, 1948. That Section defines pollution as including a portion of any stream. This Bill, especially by Clause 2, carries the definition of pollution a great deal further, and even supposing my suggested alteration of the word "stream" to the word "channel" were not accepted, I submit that the River Boards Act, 1948, would still require some amendment in so far as the definition of river pollution is concerned, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind, whatever he has to say about the main tenor of my Amendments.

I hope hon. Members will not think that I have been endeavouring to make an ocean out of a mere drop of the Parliamentary Pool of London, but that they will agree that the word "stream" is unfortunate to use as a collective noun because it means so many different things to so many different people. I hope the House will accept the opinion of real experts. Those experts of the Land Drainage Sub-Committee have endeavoured to advise the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and many of their recommendations will have direct effect on the responsibilities of those administering this Bill when it becomes an Act. I therefore hope that the fact that they have decided now to amend their definitions as considerably as they have will lead us to adopt at least the terminology they are using. The burden of this Bill will be carried mainly on the shoulders of the river boards, and it is in their interests as much as in the interests of anyone that I move the Amendment, because I believe it will help them and ourselves to understand what we are talking about a little more fully.

Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)

If the Amendment were accepted, in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Member, would it apply to "the usual channels"?

Mr. Crouch (Dorset, North)

I beg to second the Amendment.

In view of the most lucid speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), I do not propose to take more than a few moments. I think he should be congratulated on the care he has taken and the foresight he has displayed in looking forward to some future legislation in which the word "channel" will most probably be used.

It is one of the duties of this House, which has many, to remove difficulties that may arise at any time in the future. I can see a future in which the question of the alternative uses of the word "stream" would be raised by many people, and I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment in the manner in which it has been put forward. I am a countryman, and we countrymen much prefer to use simple expressions, understandable to us all, than those which have so many different explanations and apply to so many things.

Mr. Dalton

I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Member on the contribution he has made, which seemed to me to have great force logically. He said that it was inconvenient to define a stream in terms of a number of nouns of which one was a "stream." I agree with that, but I think we should take a more conservative view of this matter, and the fact is that this term "stream" has been used in the 1876 Act in particular and has been the subject of a great number of legal decisions. His Majesty's judges have ruled upon it, and it has been accepted—illogical although the hon. and gallant Member has shown it to be—in a number of branches of administration.

Although it is quite true that the Heneage Report on land drainage suggests that the term "channel" might not be the sole term used—among other terms they speak of water courses, drains, ditches, and so on—they suggest that "channel" might be one of a number of terms in which some contexts it might be more convenient to use, I think that here it might disturb the past basis of the law and create a little doubt and confusion if we were to substitute the word "channel" for the word "stream," in spite of the argument made by the hon. and gallant Member.

In reply to the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch), who said that he is a countryman, I should have thought that country people were just as accustomed to speaking of streams as of channels, if not more so. I do not think that on that basis we could justify a change. I much appreciate the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member, but I ask the House not to accept the Amendment, because I think it would throw doubt on a number of established legal practices. I repeat that the term "stream" has appeared in many Statutes and been the subject of frequent judicial decisions, and it would be a pity to alter it now.

Major Legge-Bourke

I cannot really say that the Minister's reply was entirely unexpected. I only wish I could. At the same time I want first to clear his mind on one point. It is that conservative thought normally is to conserve what is worth conserving and to proceed to more modern methods where applicable. I should have thought it a very dangerous precedent to suggest that just because certain judicial rulings have been given based on the old definition, it has to stand forever. I do not think that can be substantiated as common practice throughout our history, and I hope he will not try to institute it either now or in the future.

In the light of what the Minister has said I think there is little more I can add to the argument. If I have not succeeded in persuading him, I hope that at a later date I shall have the pleasure of putting the case to him again.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I have been rather impressed by the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). Could not the word "channel" be added to the word "stream"?

Mr. Dalton

That would exactly double the confusion. To accept the Amendment would cause some confusion but to accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend would double the confusion.

Major Legge-Bourke

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, to leave out "poisonous, noxious," and to insert "offensive, injurious."

I am in a similar position to that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), as I have put down a number of consequential Amendments which I trust may all be discussed together.

In the definition of "polluting matter" in this Bill, the phrase is used, "poisonous, noxious or polluting matter," It is suggested that we should call it "offensive, injurious or polluting matter." There are two arguments in favour of this alteration. The first is that this Bill is founded on the Hobday Report, which went into the matter and presented recommendations to the Minister. In paragraph 28 they recommended that the words used should be, "offensive and injurious."

The second point I wish to put to the House is that this Bill will have to be administered by the river boards and it is the considered view of the river boards, and catchment boards where river boards have yet to be set up, that they would rather use the words "offensive, injurious" than the words "poisonous, noxious." It is their submission that the words "poisonous, noxious" will not apply to all matters with which they wish to deal.

I will give one or two instances. There is the case of effluent from a beet sugar factory which leaves the factory in a state which no one can descrbe as noxious. Yet, after a short passage down the stream or channel, the effluent kills all forms of fish in the river. Therefore, it can truly be described as injurious, whereas it cannot be described as either poisonous or noxious. There is also the question of temperature. It is said by the river boards who are to administer this Bill that effluent of a high temperature would not be poisonous or noxious but would be injurious. Although there is in Clause 5 a proviso under which they can make regulations dealing with temperature, it is the view of the river boards that the proviso will be inoperative unless the change which I am seeking is made. Finally, they say that tar and other road-cleansing materials are better defined as injurious rather than noxious.

The second part of my argument is that if we are to have a phrase describing polluting matter, it should be the same throughout the whole country. Under Clause 1 of the Bill, we are excluding the Thames Conservancy and the Lee Conservancy from the provisions of the Measure. Those catchment areas will in future be governed by the Thames Conservancy Act, 1932, and the Lee Conservancy Act, 1868. In both those Acts the words used are "offensive, injurious" and the words "poisonous, noxious" are not used. That, I submit, is the strongest argument of all in favour of this Amendment. It is most important that what is regarded as polluting in the area of the Lee or the Thames should be equally polluting in the area of the Ouse or the Trent or of any other river which Members may know.

This matter was considered in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman listened to the arguments and said that he was attracted to the "injurious" though for some odd reason he found "offensive" both weak and flabby. I should have thought that the word "offensive" was very important. I know of many effluents that have a very offensive smell, and I should like to see them covered by this Bill. I hope that the House will look with sympathy on the Amendment.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Minister will remember that in Committee upstairs I said that I was not happy about the words which then stood in the Bill. I felt that a simple term, say, "pollution" or "unwholesomeness"—which is the word used in the short title of the Bill—and then a definition in the definition Clause might be a better method of approaching the problem. That suggestion may not have been the real solution. It was not accepted. Therefore, I come to the choice of certain terms. I feel that the words "offensive, injurious" constitute a somewhat wider net to prevent pollution than do the words "poisonous, noxious" which are at present in the Bill. For that reason I support, without repeating his arguments, the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has put forward, and I do so particularly on the grounds that it will bring the Bill into line with other legislation.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

Although I have put down an Amendment, which appears on the Order Paper immediately after this one, which does not seek to include "offensive" but to insert, after "noxious" the word "injurious," in general, I should like to support the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) if it is felt that "offensive" is also needed. My own feeling is that "injurious" is the more important word. I would remind my right hon. Friend that in Committee he said that if any change was desirable the word "injurious" was probably the best of the epithets not already in the Bill. But he was a little doubtful and said that he would consider the matter. I hope that he might be able to give us the result of that consideration when he replies to the debate on these two Amendments.

It has already been said by the mover and seconder of the Amendment that "noxious" does not really cover certain things that we think ought to be covered. For instance, if heated water is put into a river, it is not poisonous, it is not noxious, it is not really polluting, but in sufficient quantities it can cause a good deal of harm. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has already mentioned the effluent from sugar beet factories. It seems to me that "injurious" will cover that kind of effluent. Or an effluent might be discharged into a river which, while it does not kill fish, kills the food on which fish eat. Consequently, it can be held to be injurious. I think that "injurious" would cover that kind of example very well; I cannot see that the other words would. Some further strengthening of the provisions of the Bill on this matter should be decided upon at this stage.

Mr. Fort

I ask the Minister to reject the specious arguments, as they seem to me, that have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I ask him to reject them for just one reason, namely, that as a result of past judicial decisions those who are concerned with water matters have a clear idea of what the words "poisonous" and "noxious" mean, and can by this time, as a result of those decisions, give a scientific or near scientific definition, whereas everything would be left in the air if the new words "offensive, injurious," proposed by my hon. Friend, were introduced.

Not only would this Amendment mean the removal of the definition that now exists, but it seems to me that the words "offensive, injurious" can cause possible confusion to those who are not lawyers or sewerage engineers. One can well imagine an effluent which is perhaps very offensive or injurious to human beings but not to fish, and vice versa. We should again have the whole business of a series of court cases in order to find out where we stand and to secure definitions of the new terms that we are now asked to adopt.

Mr. Turton

If that is so why has there not been a series of cases in the Lee and Thames areas? In the case of the Lee area the definition which I propose in my Amendment has applied since 1868.

Mr. Fort

I might again stress to my hon. Friend that the Act governing the Lee area preceded the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876, in which it was found necessary to depart from the definition used in the Lee Conservancy Act, 1868, and to introduce the expression which the Government have perpetuated in the Bill now before us, namely, "poisonous, noxious or polluting." The fact that the definition had to be changed in so short a time is a proof of the unsatisfactory nature of the expression which was used in the Lee Conservancy Act, 1868. Furthermore, there is a greater weight of reasons for "poisonous, noxious" than for the definition which my hon. Friend would prefer to have. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to do with these proposed alterations in wording what he did with those on the previous Amendment, and that is to uphold what is an established and well-recognised practice which we can all understand.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), in what they have said rather than my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort). I do not want to reiterate all the arguments, but I hope the Minister will consider tar in this matter of pollution, for to me it seems to be injurious although it may not be noxious.

Mr. Odey (Beverley)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be led to reject this Amendment on the grounds that this matter should be looked at from the point of view of the fish. It may well be that an effluent that appears to be offensive to human beings might be positively attractive to fish. That is the whole point of the objection to the words "offensive," as it is so much more a looser phrase than the word "poisonous." What is poisonous can be quite clearly defined. It is something that poisons and ultimately deprives a person or animal of life.

The word "offensive" is extremely loose. It is possible to have an effluent which is mildly reminiscent of eau de Cologne. Such would not be offensive at all to human beings. Indeed, it might be mildly attractive, but it might also be poisonous to something like fish. This Bill involves certain penalties, and it is desirable that it should be as explicit as possible. Therefore, I would submit that the word "poisonous" has many attractions which the word "offensive" lacks.

Mr. Dalton

As I promised in Committee, I have done my best to explore the relative merits of all the epithets. I have taken much legal advice, and I have been advised that prolonged legal consideration has been given to the respective niceties of these terms. It is only right that I should tell the House that the result of the prolonged legal consideration has been to advise me in line with the opinions expressed by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Odey), namely, that we should leave these three words alone, which, between them, have never failed us. They appear, as has been said, in the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876. There have been numerous cases brought into court, and in no instance I am advised has affective action been prevented, because this combination of words was too narrow or too weak.

As I said in Committee upstairs, I was attracted by the word "injurious," for I thought that perhaps it might add something. I am advised that it does not. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) referred to fish being put to death by an effluent. Undoubtedly the word "poisonous," covers that; I do not think there is any doubt that the fish are poisoned. The word "noxious" is a very powerful and far-reaching epithet. It means anything which is damaged or harmed—and we discussed upstairs, as we will again today, the question of high temperature water. It was not the discharged water's impurity, which affected the lives of the fish, but the high temperature of the water. There, again, I am advised that "noxious" completely covers that.

Anxious as I have been to explore the whole matter fairly, this is one case where one should pay some attention to accumulated legal wisdom. I am told that these words cannot be improved upon by any in the Amendment, and that to add any others would create uncertainty in the future in the determination of the law. That being so, I hope the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Turton

In view of the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, after "matter," to insert: other than discharges of effluent from sewage disposal or sewerage works of a local authority by means of storm water overflow.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

This Amendment should be taken with one to page 2, line 15 in the name of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), with one to page 2, line 25, in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), one to page 9, line 18, in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith), and the one to page 9, line 20, in the name of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price).

Dr. Stross

Many of us are interested in these Amendments, because we feel that our own local authorities will be penalised if careful consideration is not given at this stage to the problems they must face. For good or for ill—I think for ill—many of our towns have not been able to afford separate systems for both rain water and crude sewage, and a combined sewerage system is used. That means that all the crude sewage is carried from the drainage area together with the storm water when storms arrive. The volumes vary. Sometimes the volume of rain water will be 200 times as great as the crude sewage. At other times it is all crude sewage which is lying in the sewer and no rain water is available.

In the past the Ministry has always allowed, and still does, storm overflow to pass into a river, and this has meant that the size of the sewers, which are placed immediately downstream of the overflows, can be and are reduced to a small diameter. If the Bill forbids us to empty into any stream water which is slightly polluted, then local authorities like my own and many others in the country would at once have to seal up hundreds of storm overflows. Having sealed them up they must do one of two other things. They must enormously enlarge the lengths of the sewer down the stream of the overflows, or, alternatively, construct additional large diameter storm sewers down the stream of the overflows to receive the discharge therefrom. We do not know how this would be possible in the circumstances of today.

In Stoke-on-Trent, only a fortnight ago, we opened another section of what we think is one of the most modern sewerage works in Europe. It is not large enough for the whole of our area. It covers just over 200,000 people on the southern side of the city as well as people in the neighbouring area. The northern part still uses a more old-fashioned type of works. There is not the labour or material available nor would we get the permission to obtain the capital investment necessary to finish the whole of this scheme. We do not think it is certain that we would finish it in the seven years during which no action may be taken against us without the permission of the Minister. Local authorities are very anxious to remain under the control of my right hon. Friend on these matters rather than fall under the tender mercies of another body, which is less likely to have the experience that he has of their difficulties, especially financial ones, when faced with these problems.

5.0 p.m.

There is a further difficulty over which we have very little control—and this also applies to other areas—and that is the serious question of mining subsidence. In a district like mine, where we live about 20 or 30 feet lower than people did 200 years ago owing to the subsidence of the whole of the area, we are faced with the fact that the storm overflow weirs which are set to work when the dilution of sewage is six times the original volume, cannot be guaranteed to do the work properly. In fact, because of subsidence, they often work before there is the permitted dilution of six times the sewage volume. In some cases, they are working all the time. Subsidence is something which is happening all the time, and it upsets all the calculations of sanitary engineers and others.

It is our feeling—and I am putting the view of an experienced sanitary engineer in Stoke-on-Trent—that, whatever reasonable standard may be set by a river board to allow of modified pollution, the onset of any continuing subsidence will soon bring about pollution beyond that standard. Therefore, we cannot feel safe with a Clause worded as this is, either now or in the future.

My local authority, and probably every other in the country, is more than anxious to do everything to see that there is an improvement in the state of the streams. The Trent rises very near to where I live. It has been grossly polluted. We have taken energetic action recently. The two sections of sewerage works which I mentioned earlier cost £600,000. We are able to handle not only offensive but poisonous and noxious material. We do continuous research. Gas liquor is handled in huge quantities and rendered harmless, and we are able to do a great deal and to anticipate not only the desires of the river board but much that is in this Bill. That is roughly the position which I wish to put before the House.

Mr. Kinley (Bootle)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

Might I ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether this series of Amendments which you suggested should be discussed at the same time all relate only to storm water overflows, or whether the debate is to range more widely and to incorporate the two Amendments in page 2, line 25, which stand in my name? In other words, are we limited to a discussion of storm water overflows?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I gave a list of the Amendments which I thought might be discussed with this Amendment, and I said that if Divisions were wanted on them they could take place. I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Turton

I gather that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) was referring to the Amendment in his name in page 2, line 25, which deals with other matters than storm water overflow. Surely that will not be discussed now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I take it that in general the discussion is on storm water, and that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) which will be discussed now is the one at the bottom of page 1001 of the Order Paper and not the one a little earlier which refers to the best practicable and reasonably available means. At present, this discussion is one on storm water and the groups of Amendments which cover storm water as such.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Perhaps I have not made the position clear. There are two Amendments in line 25, in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), and it is the second one which should be discussed with this group of Amendments.

Mr. Hargreaves

I want to discuss the question of storm water rather more widely. I suggest that the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) would give much too great a power to local authorities to pollute streams in their areas. The Amendment in my name attempts to meet the situation in a way which is more helpful than the broader suggestion made by my hon. Friend. Local authorities, like every other user of river water, must do their utmost to secure the wholesomeness of the rivers. We have to take public opinion with us in lifting up standards.

If local authorities are to take to themselves powers which industrial users are not able to obtain, then public opinion is likely to be aroused against them. Therefore, I suggest that the more limited effect of the Amendment in my name is one which might attract the support of public opinion to a greater degree. Every local authority concerned with sewage disposal is in exactly the same position. Each is confronted with the commission of an offence immediately the Bill becomes an Act, and with the continuing commission of that offence, with punishment directed against the officers of the corporate body.

It is natural that they are concerned to find a means whereby they can meet not only the need for lifting up the standard of the rivers, but also of doing the job of the local authority. If we are creating an immediate offence when this Bill becomes an Act, we should make certain that all these people have been in consultation with Government Departments.

The fact is that the local authority for which I am speaking has been in negotiation with the Department concerned on the subject of the sewage works, the outfalls to the river, the effluent quantities, and so on. They feel that, having obtained the assent of the Government Department for the works that are in existence on the River Eden in Carlisle, and having obtained advice in the construction of those works, they have a right to expect that they shall be safeguarded from the prosecution which would follow from the acceptance of the terms of the Bill as it stands.

Therefore, I think it is not unreasonable that we should give to the local authorities situated in this way the right to say that, where works have been constructed in consultation and after negotiations with Government Departments, who have been consulted as to the engineering works and who have passed the plans, and where standards and conditions of sewage treatment and disposal have been accepted, that safeguard should be written into the Bill.

In those circumstances, I say that it is not unreasonable—indeed, public opinion in the local authorities would expect it—to ask that a provision should be made for safeguards to be written into the Bill to enable local authorities not to transgress or continue to transgress against the general desire of others to raise their standards as far as rivers are concerned. Rather should we enable them, over a period of time, to raise those standards, recognising, too, that their own ratepayers would be called upon to meet unwarranted burdens if they were to try to discontinue, completely and immediately, the pollution that follows from sewage works.

Recognising these factors, I think the Minister would be giving some help to local authorities and some education to public opinion along the lines which hon. Members on both sides of the House desire, if he were to accept the general terms of the Amendment which I hope to move later. It is in more precise terms, and is less vague and wide than the one now before the House.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I hope the Minister will adopt the Amendment which has just been referred to by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves). Like him, and also the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), I am concerned with the local authority difficulties, because the centuries-old city which I have the honour to represent has this same trouble. I have no need to go over the arguments, which have already been covered.

My appeal to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should not let the Bill go forward in a form which means that the local authority will be defenceless against the commission of an offence which they cannot, in practice, help committing. It may be said that that brings the law into contempt more than anything else. It may be said that they will, in fact, be protected when this Bill becomes law because of the absence of the consent of the Minister to a prosecution, but I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to regard that as quite insufficient. I do not mean that he would consent to the local authority being prosecuted, but the truth is that the consequences of committing a punishable offence at law are by no means limited to subjecting oneself to the possibility of prosecution and penalty.

5.15 p.m.

Is it to be thought that a local authority can lawfully incur expenditure, for instance, for the commission of a punishable offence at law? Supposing a local authority, under present circumstances of restrictions on capital expenditure and so on, is virtually compelled to commit an offence under Section 2 (1) of the Bill, how can they lawfully incur expenditure for the purpose of causing "any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter…to enter a stream," because, in fact, they would not be able to avoid doing it until the combined sewerage system was altered. If they do incur expenditure for committing these offences against the law, shall we not be up against further trouble about surcharging individuals and the like?

I only instance these matters because my purpose is to invite the Minister to consider how the mere absence of his consent can protect save against prosecution. It would be quite insufficient to protect from the consequences of committing an offence a local authority which, for some years, may not be able to do anything about it. In the instance of my own constituency, to eliminate our storm water overflows, I am advised, would involve very expensive works indeed, great demands on labour and materials, and expenditure which would obviously require Government sanction. In present circumstances, there does not seem to be any practicable likelihood that the Government would be able to consent to anything of that kind even within seven years.

In these circumstances, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment to which the hon. Member for Carlisle has referred, and I ask him to prefer it to that suggested by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, because it contains in its vitals that spur which we ought to have to a laggard local authority or one which may be continuing to use outmoded methods. I ask the Minister to prefer it and the House to accept it.

Mr. Mitchison

This is an enlarged parish pump discussion, and I hope I shall not drip for long. I should like to complete the circuit, if I may, by saying how I agree with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves). It seems to me that the Amendment before the House goes much too far and places local authorities in too privileged and too peculiar a position.

As regards the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle, I agree entirely and wholeheartedly with what has just been said by the hon. and learned Member for York on the extreme unwisdom, and, indeed, the extreme unfairness, of putting local authorities in the position of practically having to commit an offence, or, at any rate, of being found committing it, and then leaving them to the protection of a Ministerial refusal to authorise a prosecution. I do not believe that that is the right way to do things, and I agree with what was said—and I think one can add other instances—about the point that it is not merely a question of prosecution and punishment, but also a question of the civil and other consequences of being placed in an unlawful position and doing an unlawful thing.

Mr. Nugent

Those in favour of the Amendment have so far been rather more fortunate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in catching your eye than have been those who are against it. I think it would be right to say that there is a considerable body of opinion which feels that this particular volume of effluent should not be let loose in the way that the promoters of the Amendment wish. We all sympathise with the difficulty of local authorities in dealing with storm water overflows—everybody knows that it is a special problem. The Bill, however, is directed to the prevention of the pollution of rivers, and it would be most undesirable to put into the Bill an exception of this kind. There are many similar instances affecting industry for which exclusion could be asked, and to my mind it would be quite wrong to write into the Bill an exception of this sort which would take the matter outside the power of a river board to deal with it.

The position of the storm water overflow is usually dealt with in one of three ways. Either the local authority have set up a sewerage system which deals with the soil and the storm water overflow separately, in which case there is no problem, or there is a combined system with storage tanks, which will take the increased volume of flow which comes at time of storm and so allows the sewerage system to release a controlled effluent into the stream. In the third case, with which we are in trouble, there are no such storage tanks.

I fully recognise that a large number of local authorities do not have storage tanks and are in this difficulty. When they are dealing with river boards, they usually plead that when the flow exceeds six times the dry water flow they ought to be allowed to discharge it straight into the river. Their plea is normally based on the ground that by that time the effluent of sewage is so diluted by the flow in the stream that it will do no harm; but it is still undiluted sewage, and it ought not to go into the stream if that can possibly be avoided.

I recognise that it is impossible for all local authorities to put their sewerage works immediately into a condition which will prevent such things happening. That will be the position for many years, although we may hope that eventually it will be possible for local authorities to do this. In the meantime, surely the right way to deal with the problem is to leave it to the river boards when they come to set up their standards, having surveyed their rivers and having discovered what is the position of the various local sewerage works that discharge into their rivers. They will then take all that into account when setting their standards, which, of course, have to go to a local inquiry; they have to be confirmed by the Minister. There is every opportunity, therefore, for ensuring that the local circumstances are taken into account.

I have in mind the position of which the mover of the Amendment was speaking. Quite obviously, an area in which there is subsidence has special problems, but equally the river board would take those problems into account. Local authority representation comprises two-thirds of a river board, who will be very well aware, therefore, of the problems of local authorities and their sewerage works.

In those circumstances, I feel that we could safely leave this matter of how to deal with their local sewage effluent to be decided by the river boards themselves when they are setting up their standards. In that way, the river boards would adjust their standards to meet the particular conditions with which they have to deal, and which obviously would vary from one river to another and from one local authority to another. If we do as the Amendment asks, we shall make it quite impossible for any river board ever to improve the situation. For that reason, I hope that the House will reject the Amendment.

Mr. Grey (Durham)

I support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). Like the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster), I represent a centuries-old city—Durham—and in speaking for that city I should like it to be taken that I speak also for other old cities. If the Bill is passed in its present form, I understand that it will be an offence to discharge sewage into a river, even if all possible steps are taken to prevent river pollution; and that during a period of seven years from the passing of the Act, proceedings may be taken by the river boards, with the consent of the Minister, but that after that period pro- ceedings may be taken without the Minister's consent.

The City of Durham has a combined foul sewage and rainwater system. To alter this in order to ensure a separate system for storm water would involve enormous cost to the ratepayers. The city council would be content if the Bill were to provide that the consent of the Minister should be necessary in all cases before proceedings could be taken against local authorities who were discharging effluent into rivers. They feel that the Minister would be able to take all the factors into consideration and to judge all the circumstances.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The hon. Member is referring to an Amendment other than that which has been moved. To which one does he refer?

Mr. Grey

I am dealing with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, in page 2, line 11, after "matter," to insert: other than discharges of effluent from sewage disposal or sewerage works of a local authority by means of storm water overflow. I assure my right hon. Friend that no authority is more anxious to preserve its river than is the Durham City Council. If the Amendment is accepted, and if river pollution takes place as a result of the overflow water, we shall be assured that if the Minister takes all the factors into consideration, there will be no danger of a local authority being hardly dealt with.

Mr. W. Robson-Brown (Esher)

I support the Amendment. I followed with great interest the convincing arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent)—up to a point: that the perfect is what we always aim for but that under present conditions we must recognise the extreme difficulties in which local authorities are placed, particularly as regards capital costs and the impracticability under present circumstances of carrying out the provisions of the Bill in its present form.

In support of the arguments that have been made in favour of the Amendment. I have been supplied with some very convincing information from the City of Bedford, who state that if they were to carry out the provisions of the Bill and to avoid the pollution of their river, the present pumping capacity of the city would have to be increased 18-fold, that the rising main from the pumping station to the disposal works would have to be increased accordingly, and that the tank capacity, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford referred, would have to be increased at the disposal works 15-fold. At the present time, this could not be undertaken at a cost of less than £1 million.

The only other method that could be applied—it is done by only a very few towns or local authorities which have an entirely separate system for flood water and sewage—would be to have separate sewers throughout the great cities, so that the surface water would be entirely separate from the foul water. In the conditions which we face today, such a proposal would be unthinkable. On these reasonable and logical grounds, I hope that the Minister, in the interests of local authorities, will agree to this very reasonable Amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Dalton

I think I can give a reply which I hope will satisfy most hon. Members. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) goes a little far and I am going to ask him not to press the Amendment. The consequence of his Amendment would be to put local authorites in this respect above the law, which I am sure he does not want to do; and it would be unreasonable.

On the other hand, we appreciate that local authorities have their problems in this matter. It is true, of course, that in the present state of financial affairs large schemes for the improvement of sewage plant and the like cannot be proceeded with for the moment. I am prepared to accept in principle the Amendment in page 2, line 25, which my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) proposes to move later dealing with storm water overflow. The wording does not quite fit and what I propose is that if he will not move that Amendment, I will have the wording looked into and undertake to have an Amendment moved in another place to give effect to what he wants in that Amendment.

To clear the whole ground, when the hon. Member for Carlisle comes to his other Amendment relating to the best practical and reasonable means—in page 2, line 25, at the end to insert: (3) Where a standard has not been prescribed as respects a stream or part of a stream by byelaws made under section five of this Act, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence in respect of that stream or that part thereof under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section to prove that the best practicable and reasonably available means have been used to render the matter entering that stream or that part thereof harmless and inoffensive.— I shall be prepared to accept it straight away. That really produces a further safeguard which would satisfy local authorities and all reasonable claims, including the case put by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) and others who have spoken.

I hope the Amendment now before the House may be withdrawn and hope the other Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle dealing with storm water will not be moved on the understanding that I accept it in principle and on the understanding that I give prior notice that when he comes to his other Amendment relating to the best practicable and reasonable means. I will accept it.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I think we heard with a little uneasiness the undertaking just given by the Minister. The difficulty in all this is vagueness, and even the Amendment which is about to be moved by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) falls under that accusation, because hon. Members will see that it says the Bill when it becomes an Act, …shall not penalise the discharge into the stream of the effluent from the sewage disposal or sewerage works of a local authority…if…the normal flow of sewage in the sewer is diluted by rainwater so as to…reduce any undue pollution. The Minister has already indicated that he will not be satisfied with those words, and we shall look with considerable interest to the words as they are suggested in another place. Indeed, I think the Minister will realise that he may be subject to a good deal of debate when those words appear on the Order Paper in another place, because frankly, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), it means, at the end of the day, that the proposal is to run all the sewage into the river, whereas the purpose of the Bill is to prevent sewage being run into the river.

The whole purpose of this long process is to clean up the river and to lay down procedure by which over a long period—and we all agree it will be a long period—and with the utmost safeguards, rivers will be cleaned up. If words to the effect of the Amendment to be moved by the hon. Member for Carlisle are put in, there is danger that they will remove from the purview of the river board the desirability of impressing upon local authorities that, as far as possible, they should deal with the storm water properly. I put it no higher than that.

The river board is not a new arbitrary body which is being set up. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is based as to two-thirds on local authorities themselves. If a bylaw is brought forward it has to be approved. The board has to have an inquiry and the whole weight of public opinion is directed on the matter. If all these things are complied with, it does not seem unreasonable that storm water should come into the purview of the river board, and that is all the Bill intends.

I have the greatest sympathy with the City of Durham, which I know and like very much indeed. As I am sure the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) will agree, the beauty of the City of Durham is somewhat injured by the fact that the river running through it and past the walls of the ancient castle is not as clear as we should all like it to be. Boat races and other things are held on it but one is careful, so to speak, not to dig the oars too deeply in the water. Durham is one of the most beautiful and ancient cities in the whole island, and its situation above that noble river is one which any city in the world would be glad to possess. Therefore, we wish to see this river, amongst others, made as clean as is reasonably possible.

It is more than a little of a coincidence that it is the cities, York, Carlisle, Durham and so on, that have contended they should not be asked to grapple with this problem for fear of being unreasonably treated, and I think the countryside are a little uneasy lest the storm water may be used as an excuse for leaving the river in a less satisfactory state than it would be otherwise. Certainly, in the County of Durham, of all counties, it is very desirable that the rivers should be cleaned up as far as possible.

The Minister said he will first of all ask that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) be withdrawn and the Amendment relating to storm water overflow in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle be not moved. Naturally, we shall not object to that. Secondly, the Minister says he thinks there is something in the contention that a local authority should not be unduly prejudiced by being asked to deal with storm water too rapidly. Again I think we should all agree. But I beg him to have in mind always the purpose of the Bill, which is the cleaning up of rivers by means of an authority which has that special purpose and duty laid upon it by this House; and we should not withdraw altogether from that authority even this question of storm water, difficult as it is.

As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, said, the question whether a sewer should contain rain water as well as sewage is very old. Historically speaking, in the ancient cities such as Rome and elsewhere, the drains were originally made to carry away water and not sewage, and there used to be very heavy penalties against putting sewage in drains at all. It was supposed to be dealt with by simpler and more smelly methods to which all my friends the compost makers attach great importance. But, after all, we are here weakening the purpose for which we set out. Do not let us weaken it unduly.

Dr. Stross

Having heard what has been said in the debate on this point and the Minister's assurance, I am satisfied that we shall secure the type of protection I have in mind. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dalton

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out "solid."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think we might also consider with this Amendment the two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). These are in page 2, line 13, to leave out from "matter." to the end of line 15; and in page 2, line 15, at the end, to insert: Provided that a person shall not be guilty of an offence punishable under this section by reason only of having done or caused to be done any of the following acts: (a) constructing, improving or maintaining in or across or in or on the bank or bed of any stream, any building, bridge, weir, dam, sluice, fish-pass, dock, pier, harbour, drain or sewer or other permanent works which he has a right to construct, improve or maintain;

Mr. Dalton

The Amendment I am moving proceeds from a discussion that we had in Committee. The proposal is to leave out the word "solid" in front of "matter." This brings this Clause into line with other Clauses already amended in Committee by omitting this word. To give the background to any hon. Members who may be interested and who were not on the standing Committee, we had a number of Amendments put down in Committee dealing with matter in suspension, gaseous matter, colloidal matter and so forth. Having considered all these, it seemed better, if the Committee were agreed on this, to leave out all these epithets, and in pursuance of that and in order to purify the process, I propose to leave out the word "solid."

Mr. Powell

I understand, Sir Charles, that we are considering this Amendment in conjunction with the other Amendment to the same line and the Minister's Amendment in page 2, line 15.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No. I thought we were considering the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in page 2, line 13, and his Amendment in page 2, line 15, which is linked with the first one.

Mr. Powell

If I might refer to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, in page 2, line 13, I hope that the Minister will also give consideration to omitting the words which my hon. Friend proposes to leave out. I can see at least two objections to those words remaining in the Clause. The first difficulty relates to the word "tend." It makes it an offence to permit solid matter to enter a stream so as to tend…to impede the proper flow of the water of the stream. I should think that wording would impose a difficult task upon a court. It is one thing to decide whether the flow of a stream is or is not impeded by a particular act, but to decide whether an act tends to impede the flow imports an additional consideration which I feel can only cause difficulty.

The second objection which I have to the words proposed to be left out relates to the words …in combination with similar acts. which may be the acts of another person. I can conceive of a perfectly innocent entry of matter—if I may use that expression—into a stream which, in combination with another act, would have an undesirable effect but which ought not to be treated as an offence on the part of the first person mentioned. For example, it might well be that a perfectly innocuous substance discharged into a stream into which another effluent was being discharged would bring about a chemical reaction producing a noxious result.

It seems to me undesirable that the discharge of matter which has no noxious or injurious or objectionable result in itself and its direct consequences should be penalised because of some effect which it has in combination with another person's action. Therefore, I hope the Minister will reconsider re-wording this paragraph (b) so as to remove the difficulties in the present wording.

Mr. Nugent

Am I right in thinking, Sir Charles, that you wish the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), in page 2, line 15, to be taken at this point?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes. It is consequential on the Minister's Amendment to leave out the word "solid."

Mr. Nugent

I should like to say a few words on that Amendment. In my hon. Friend's absence from the House to attend a Committee, I feel that this Amendment should not go by default. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that this Amendment was moved in Committee and he was sufficiently impressed by it then to say that on the Report stage he would introduce an Amendment something like this or something else which would have the effect of meeting this Amendment. In the opinion of my hon. Friend, what the Minister has now done by no means meets the point that my hon. Friend raised.

5.45 p.m.

I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would indicate to me whether his Amendment should be read with his Amendment later on in Clause 5, line 32. Am I right in thinking that the two should be read together?

Mr. Dalton


Mr. Nugent

The provision which the Minister has now made to meet my hon. Friend's point fails to do so, but the later Amendment, which I cannot discuss now but which will be discussed later, goes very wide indeed, and the general effect of the two Amendments is by no means as good as my hon. Friend's Amendment, the wording of which appears in the West Riding of Yorkshire local Act.

I should be glad if, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will develop a little more fully, or as fully as he can, the reasons for the Amendment which he has put down so that we may be satisfied that his Amendment is adequate to meet the point here. I feel that I can hardly do justice to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend, but at least I have got the matter before the House and I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would address himself to it.

Major Legge-Bourke

I should like to refer to the discussion which we had in Committee when I asked the Minister if he would look into the position in so far as this Clause might affect internal drainage boards. Occasions arise now and again when, for reasons of floods, they have to put a sluice into a channel and, as I see it, the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) would cover the point which I have in mind. The Minister said he would look into it, and I should be grateful to hear what he has to say.

Mr. Dalton

When I first spoke I moved the Amendment in page 2, line 13, to leave out "solid," and I restricted my observations to that, but perhaps I may now say a few words in support of the Amendment in my name in page 2, line 15, at the end, insert: in a manner leading or likely to lead to a substantial aggravation of pollution due to other causes or of its consequences. I think the convenient plan would be for me to say something about that Amendment and then to say something about the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).

The purpose of my Amendment in page 2, line 15, is to try to make the language in subsection (1, b) sufficiently precise to make it unnecessary to have a long list of saving Clauses which would be complicated. The draftsmen have therefore sought in this Amendment to obviate the need for that, and I hope that will be judged to be sufficient.

If the Amendment were not made, a number of acts would be prevented, such as the repair of bridges and so on, since it might be held that they would impede the proper flow of the river. The Amendment makes it clear that they are not prohibited unless they tend to aggravate pollution, which of course is a different test from the test with which we are concerned. In other words, we have no objection to some interference with the flow of the river if it is done for a good purpose, provided it does not aggravate pollution.

There is also another type of disposal of matter which I hope will be covered by this Amendment—the disposal of tin cans and junk and litter in streams, which may not of itself be polluting and may not be sufficiently substantial to impede the flow of the river, but which is offensive—and here I think the word "offensive" is appropriate, which goes back to an earlier discussion.

I think the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton had matters of this sort in mind when he spoke of the difficulty of taking effective action. It is here, too, in reply to the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), that my Amendment to Clause 5 is intended to deal with a subject raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. I will not develop it at this stage, but the effect would be to give a river board power to make bylaws prohibiting the use of a stream for disposing of litter or any other matter of an objectionable kind, even if it is not polluting.

I turn now to the two Amendments of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, and first of all to his Amendment in line 13, which follows similar lines to an Amendment which he proposed in Committee. He made reference to certain proposals in the Hobday Committee's Report, but the Act of 1876 said, so as either singly or in combination with other similar acts of the same or any other person to interfere with its due flow. The Hobday Report said that it required the onus of proof placed on the person concerned, to secure proof that he actually interfered. Depositing the substance in streams can come within the ambit of the Bill only if it is likely to lead indirectly to pollution—and it may do that if it slows down the flow of the river or tends to make it stagnant; and for this reason I have put down my Amendment. It narrows rather than enlarges the scope of paragraph (b), and the purpose of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, so far as it is not covered by this Amendment, will I hope be met by the Amendment which I am putting down to Clause 5 to enable bylaws to be made dealing with matter which is not in itself polluting. I hope that that further extension will be acceptable to the House, when we reach that Amendment.

I turn now to the other Amendment of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton—in line 15. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Guildford say that he did not think I had met the point which his hon. Friend had in mind. I hoped that I had done so, and certainly I was seeking to do so in drafting these Amendments. If the operations which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton has in mind and which he wishes to prevent do not tend to aggravate pollution, then of course they are not prohibited by the paragraph; but if they do so, then of course they can be prohibited, and I think my Amendment will effectively do that. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is not here; naturally I should have liked to hear his response; but I have genuinely tried to meet the views he put forward and I had hoped that the Amendments, taken in conjunction with that in Clause 5, would collectively have done so.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

It is an example of the complexity of this legislation that we are discussing four Amendments together, with reference to a fifth which is not reached until five Clauses ahead. I think we must accept the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he genuinely intended to meet the point put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). Our intentions are the same—that the flow of the river should not be impeded, but that persons should not be caught by doing perfectly innocent things which, however they may impede the flow of the river, may well be to the advantage of the river.

As an example one can think of the case where the river is boring away the bank and where one naturally deposits things which certainly impede the flow of the river, because the river is doing its best to make a hole at that point, but which do not do so in such a way as to cause pollution. What my hon. Friend desired, I think, was that the legitimate operations of safeguarding the position of riparian owners should not be brought under the mischief of this Act.

I think the Minister's suggestion that we should omit the word "solid" is sound. It may well be that it will read correctly, together with the subsequent Amendment, in a manner leading or likely to lead to a substantial aggravation of pollution due to other causes or of its consequences. I agree that he has limited the Bill in this way. This has a narrowing effect and we may find that we have narrowed it a little more than we desired. It is, however, impossible to foresee all the ramifications of the possible changes in this matter. We must assume that the Minister, who says his intentions are the same as those of hon. Members, has, in conjunction with his advisers, obtained language which will properly secure that object.

As for the later Amendment, in Clause 5, which goes very wide indeed, we shall see when we come to it that a person is prohibited from putting anything into a stream whether it is injurious or polluting, or not. That is a very wide definition of things which one may not put into a river, and I think we must have a look at it when we reach that Clause. Meanwhile I think we should do best to accept the advice of the Minister as to that portion of the Clause which we are now considering.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: in page 2, line 15, at end, insert: in a manner leading or likely to lead to a substantial aggravation of pollution due to other causes or of its consequences."—[Mr Dalton.]

Mr. Nugent

I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, at the end to insert: (2) Where or in so far as a standard has not been prescribed as respects a stream or part of a stream by byelaws made under section five of this Act, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence in respect of that stream or that part thereof under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section to prove—

  1. (a) that the discharge of matter into that stream or that part thereof is not a new discharge; and
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  3. (b) that he is unable consistently with the reasonable and lawful carrying on of any customary process in connection with his trade or manufacture or statutory duties to prevent such matter entering that stream or that part thereof; and
  4. (c) that he is using the best practicable means within a reasonable cost to render the matter entering that stream or that part thereof harmless and inoffensive.
For the purposes of this subsection the expression "new discharge" shall have the same meaning as is given to it in paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of section seven of this Act. This Amendment seeks to deal with the position where a river board has not set up standards and, after seven years or possibly an extended period, is then in a position to proceed without the permission of the Minister. To keep the matter in perspective, I should say straight away that the Amendment deals with an exceptional case. Clearly, this House expects that the river boards will set up standards and that they will be operating them by the end of seven years. We are, therefore, here dealing with the exceptional case.

An Amendment which follows this on the Order Paper opens the door for the offending effluent rather widely and this Amendment seeks to limit the defence suggested by that Amendment to those discharges which are occurring at the time when the Bill was placed on the Statute Book. The defence with which I am here concerned is the defence that the person discharging the effluent is using the best practical means within reasonable cost to render the effluent harmless, and that is, of course, a Clause which appears in quite a number of local Acts. The purpose of this Amendment is to allow that defence to effluents which are existing effluents but to deny it to new effluents. In this connection, of course, the House will recognise that a new effluent, as defined in the Bill, can be an existing effluent which has increased in volume or changed in nature.

6.0 p.m.

This Amendment is an attempt to meet the conflicting views of the fishery interests and the industrial interests. Fishery interests, of course, are concerned to see that the rivers are as clean as pos- sible so that fish can live in them. Industrial interests, on the other hand, have to keep their factories going, and local authorities have to keep their sewerage works going, and therefore have to discharge their effluents. There are thus three points to consider. First, there is the criticism of the fishery interests of the Amendment; secondly, there is the criticism of the industrial and local authority interests; and thirdly, there is the possible comment that the Bill already provides sufficient powers in this respect under Clause 3. Let me address myself briefly to those three points.

Let us take, first, the fishery interests. The effect of allowing this Amendment would be that a river board, where a bad—or moderately bad—effluent was being discharged at the time that this Bill went on the Statute Book and if it had not set up a standard, would have to accept that effluent continuing to go into the river in its present state, provided that the discharger of it could plead that he had used the best practical means within reasonable cost. We have to recognise that where that defence can be successfully pleaded, it is almost impossible for the river board to prove the contrary.

So that from the point of view of the fishery interests and the amenity interests, this does keep open a door, and that is certainly damaging so far as their interests are concerned. However, I think it is reasonable to say to the people who make that plea that at any rate this Amendment would prevent the existing position from getting any worse. It would arise only where a river board had not set up standards. Therefore, it is not likely to occur often.

Turning to the second point, the views of industry and of local authorities, I think that we can believe that industry and the local authorities are anxious to see an improvement in the condition of the rivers. Indeed, they have a specific interest in that. We have heard from local authorities that one of their concerns is to see that they have fresh, clean water coming into factories which are engaged in food processing. We have also heard from local authorities of their concern to have clean rivers, particularly where they have water undertakings.

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