§ Mr. Hargreaves
I beg to move, in page 5, line 30, at the end, to insert:and for this purpose different standards may be prescribed in reference to different classes of effluent entering the stream.This Clause deals with the prescription of standards by river boards, and the purpose of the Amendment is to make clear that it is open to the river boards to maintain different standards in reference to different classes of effluent. For the purposes of illustration I will deal with the position as it affects local authorities and the need for applying different standards to what might appear to be the same kind of effluent.
The sewage works of the local authority which has been quoted so often today, Carlisle, deal with sewage which later becomes effluent by means of screens, sedimentation tanks, filters and so on, and after that process of treatment at the sewage works the effluent reaches an outfall into the River Eden. The treatment is laid down by negotiation and agreement between the Ministry of Health and the local authority, and the principle of 508 the handling of domestic sewage in these works has been accepted by the Ministry.
But, when dealing with the very much greater volume of storm water, there is not the need in the view of the Ministry of Health for this storm water to receive the same treatment by means of screens, tanks, filters and so on at the sewage works. It is dealt with through screens and settling tanks, and it then flows through a separate outfall into the river. Quite obviously, there is a need for dealing with two outfalls into the river from the same sewage works and with the effluent from the sewage works by two quite different standards.
There is an obvious need for a recognition on the part of the river boards that these two outfalls into the River Eden require a different test, a different standard and, possibly, a different bylaw, although they enter the stream at points quite near to each other.
Although the effluents leave the works after the same industrial processes, they may reach a millrace or a tributary river in widely different states, and there ought to be flexibility in this Clause to permit the river boards to apply different standards to deal with effluents of this kind. I recognise, and both sides of the House will recognise, that the river boards will attempt to set very high standards, and we want them to do that, and endeavour, by the influence of experts, to induce people using the rivers to conform to these high standards over a period of time. That necessitates the incorporation in the Clause of the flexibility which in my view is provided by this Amendment.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
I beg to second the Amendment.
I second the Amendment largely for the purpose of extracting from the Minister the admission that his legal advisers do not regard the Amendment as necessary to attain the object which the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) desires. I see the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) here, the advantage of whose views about this we might have if the Minister should take another view to that which I have indicated.
On rather less subtle grounds I rise to express the hope that the Amendment will be resisted. It appears 509 to be based on the experience of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) in connection with his own local sewerage works on the edge of Carlisle. Without wishing in any way to criticise them, I suggest that that is not very good ground on which to base legislation because those works were visited by Mr. Turing on 24th October, 1946. I have in my hand his report. He says:The purification is of a rather old-fashioned type…He goes on to say:The works were quite obviously overloaded, the effluent, which was cloudy and inclined to smell, was being allowed to flow into the river with an oxygen demand of four or five parts per 100,000…I would add that he did not altogether blame them. He said it was that, in combination with the fact that now in close proximity is a new electric power plant which has no cooling powers and which is taking a good deal of water out of the river and raising its temperature, which is making the pollution a serious matter. That is dealt with by a Clause in this Bill, by which a river board has powers to lay down standards which may be for long or short reaches of river. The drafting of the Clause gives the river boards the widest possible power and the Amendment would not only be redundant but might spoil the powers which are already accorded.
§ Mr. Dalton
This Amendment is not necessary, as has already been suggested by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster). The power is there, and I suggest that my hon. Friend need not press his Amendment.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
I hesitated to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) because I enjoyed what he said quite well. But it should be made clear that his reference to 1946 is a little out of date. I would refer him to the works of reconstruction in that particular case. But here we are concerned with the general position and what is generally accepted by the Ministry of Health as a standard. I am not making a case for one local authority only. If, as the Minister indicates, the point is adequately covered, however, I am prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.510
§ Mr. Dalton
I beg to move, in page 5, line 32, to leave out from the second "of," to the end of line 33, and to insert:other things or the putting into the stream of litter or other objectionable matter, whether poisonous, noxious or polluting or not;This Amendment does two things. It alters slightly the wording of Clause 5 (1, b), which gives the river boards power to make bylaws prohibiting or regulating the washing or cleansing of animals or articles in streams. We had some discussion on this in Committee, when my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), took a leading part. This is a drafting Amendment. River boards are not restricted in any particular category, article or thing to be washed or cleansed in the stream. They have power to deal with all objects, and it extends the powers of the river boards to prevent streams from being used for the depositing of junk and litter—which I think all of us will welcome—even if it is not itself polluting.
§ Mr. Nugent
The right hon. Gentleman's intention is laudable, but the actual wording of this Amendment will possibly give rise to some alarm. This is the first time that we have seen the word "objectionable" in the Bill. We have discussed at length the meaning of various other words, but the introduction of the word "objectionable" opens completely new vistas. What can be objectionable? There are all kinds of things. I am not sure the right hon. Gentleman has struck the right line here. I will not suggest anything in the political sphere to which I might object, because that might be dangerous, but I was thinking of the depositing of one's political opponent in a stream. Would that amount to an offence in this connection?
In all seriousness, the Amendment as drafted might mean absolutely anything. What we really need from the Minister is some explanation, or perhaps it would be sufficient if he gave us an assurance that when he considers the standards and the bylaws to be proposed by the river boards, which he must confirm before they become operative, he will see that whatever the river boards propose as objectionable is, in fact, reasonable, and is not tinged by any local prejudice or does not interfere with anyone for whom they do not particularly care, but that the bylaws are drawn in every way in a reasonable manner. If we could have 511 such an assurance, it would be of great assistance.
Obviously we want to prevent litter and junk from being put in a river which in itself is not polluted, and we want to deal with the whole question of solids. One solid in one river might not be objectionable, but it might be objectionable in another, which is the reason it is right to have this provision flexible. If the Minister will give us an assurance that he will watch closely to see what is, in fact, considered by the river boards to be objectionable, he may meet the situation.
§ Mr. Dalton
I will give that assurance if it is desired. We are assuming that the river boards are going to be reasonable. I would hope, on the one hand, that they will make use of this power, for we want to deal with this kind of material; but, on the other hand, we want the powers to be used reasonably. As the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) says, the bylaws will come up for Ministerial approval, and it would certainly be my duty, or the duty of any successor of mine, to look carefully at any bylaws brought forward under this provision.
Mr. Philips Price
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for this Amendment, which entirely meets the point that I raised in Committee. As the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) said, the word "objectionable" could be given a considerably wide interpretation. I think one has to leave it to common sense and to the river boards to draft their bylaws in a reasonable way. They will be seen by my right hon. Friend, and if there are any abuses, or if they go too far, he can review them. I think that it is best to leave the matter like that. I am very glad that it is possible to cover many things which the Bill as previously drafted did not cover. I think my right hon. Friend has met the demand very satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate the extent to which he has widened the power of the river boards to make bylaws. We all agree that it is desirable that there should be bylaws to prevent people from throwing litter, old tins and 512 objects of that kind into rivers. But the right hon. Gentleman goes much further than that. It is difficult to appreciate what the Minister has in mind when he uses the words, "objectionable matter." Apparently the matter comprised in the right hon. Gentleman's description is matter which is neither poisonous, noxious or polluting. Then what is it?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The river board can make a bylaw preventing any matter from being put into the river. They can make a bylaw preventing a boat from being put into the river if they think that objectionable. It is all very well to say that the river board will be able to produce some form of words which describes exactly what they mean by the word "objectionable." If it is possible to do that, the right hon. Gentleman ought to do it now and put it into the Bill instead of leaving it to the river boards to try to make up their minds later on what objects they regard as objectionable and what objects they do not regard as objectionable.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that he has thrown the scope of this Clause wide open. The river boards will be able to make any bylaws they like. They will be able to say, "We object to a boat being put into the river; therefore, that is objectionable and we are entitled to make a bylaw prohibiting it being put into the river." I am sure that that is not what the House intends. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he look at this question again and see whether he cannot devise some form of words which will give some indication to the river boards as to what classes of matter or material they may reasonably prohibit being put into the river.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May we have a little horse-sense in these proceedings? I fail entirely to see how one can get a more reasonable, more appropriate and more suitable word than the word "objectionable." As for the idea that this Bill should contain a definition of that word, I deprecate it. Mankind is indeed ingenious 513 in discovering new forms of the objectionable. To throw coffins or undertaker's cerements into a river would no doubt have been permissible long ago. To throw newspapers into the river would be a comparatively recent development. I think that we can trust the Minister to see that no undue discrimination is made between the "Daily Telegraph," on the one hand, and the "Daily Worker," on the other, and that either all or no newspapers are prohibited.
Tins are one of the most recent inventions of mankind, but are we to say that, in the course of the development of our industrial civilisation, mankind will not develop other things which may most properly, when their immediate use is satisfied, be flung into the rivers, either to be objectionable or not objectionable to the river boards and to the Ministers who may be called upon in the future to decide upon this weighty matter?
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If I may, to some extent, come to the rescue of the right hon. Gentleman, I think his use of the word "objectionable" is not so objectionable as all that, because of a rule which is known on the common law side of the Bar as the ejusdem generis rule, according to which a matter would be objectionable in the same sort of way. If that is not the meaning of it, I hope he will have some necessary alteration made at a later stage.
If he accepts the ejusdem generis rule, may I call his attention to the fact that the first two words would now prevent the washing of animals or "other things," and the rule there would mean other things like animals, and would therefore exclude motorcars and underwear, at all events, if the underwear remained vegetable and not animal. However, I may be stretching it a little far. The words "other things" in that context will, if anything, rather narrow the effect of the Bill, and none of us really wishes to see the Bill narrowed, but, with the possible exception of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), wish to see its power widened.
I support the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the latter part of the Amendment, subject to any alteration which may be necessary, but in the earlier part of the Amendment I hope he will have that 514 rather narrow expression "other things," in that context, taken out and some words inserted which will make it perfectly clear that the washing of anything whatsoever in a river can be made prima facie, an offence.
§ Mr. Turton
I think the right hon. Gentleman got into this difficulty because he refused to take the advice of the Hobday Report on this matter. The Hobday Report gave the House certain advice, and this present subsection (1, b) as drafted is quite inoperable. The Report recommended that there should be a universal law that no one should put solids into a river, with three groups of safeguards. This is the law already in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Essex and Surrey, and I cannot for the life of me see why this House does not accept the recommendations of the Hobday Report on this matter, but instead is proceeding on the Minister's suggestion to do this by varying bylaws from river to river.
I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to reconsider paragraphs 48 to 51 of the Hobday Report, which deal with this matter. After all, the Hobday Committee was an authoritative body, whose recommendations the Minister has followed in other directions, while in this one matter, to the great concern of the river boards, he has rejected their advice. I think he has placed himself in very great difficulty as a result, and I ask him to reconsider the matter and in another place to go back to the recommendations of the Hobday Committee.
§ Mr. Dalton
I thought this Amendment did meet the wishes of some of those hon. Members who spoke on this subject in Committee. The Hobday Report, of course, is quoted both ways very often in these discussions. It was a very able document, prepared by a body of very able people, but we have not followed it slavishly, because we did not think it would be right to do so. We have, as one hon. Member has said, followed it in many directions, but not in all.
As the hon. Gentleman says, in this respect the structure of the Bill is now some distance away from the Hobday Report, but I do not think that in itself is a thing to be deprecated, provided that this Amendment can stand up to the criticisms which have been made. Those criticisms are two. The hon. and learned 515 Member has confronted us with two conflicting applications of the doctrine, which I dimly remember from the far distant past, and I will get my legal advisers to look at the position. It looks as though "other things" is not right; I concede him that.
On the other hand, I am prepared to defend the use of the word "objectionable" and to defend giving this power to the river boards. They will be responsible people. Behind them will stand the guardian angel, my Ministry—whoever may be the Minister in office—with its legal and other advisers. If the boards were to do things as silly as the hon. Member thinks will be done, then they would be pulled up and their bylaws would not be approved. If their bylaws were approved, Questions would be asked in the House and somebody would move to reduce the salary of the responsible Minister. There are plenty of democratic safeguards against folly here.
On the other hand, I want to give the boards wide power. I do not want to draw up narrow lists of what is objectionable; I want them to exercise their grey matter on a thing like that. We can easily think of many examples, and the most obvious of many which have been mentioned is that of tin cans. There may be other things which some river boards will think objectionable and other river boards will not. I should like them to have a wide power, subject, as I have said, to the final control of my Department. If they should do something which is obviously nonsensical or unjust, there would be power to deal with it.
I ask the House to accept the Amendment on the understanding that I will look again at the first part of the wording—"other things or." If we found that that could be improved, as possibly it could, I should promote an Amendment in another place. I should, however, like to stick to "objectionable."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Colegate
I beg to move, in page 5, line 37, at the end, to insert:(d) for regulating the siting and construction of storm overflows of drains or sewers carrying both sewage effluent and surface water and the mode of discharge of sewage therefrom.This Amendment follows other Amendments concerning storm water overflows, 516 such as that moved by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), and it seeks to ensure that storm water shall be treated separately, but it also ensures that local authorities shall know exactly where they stand by having by-laws prescribed with regard to the apparatus and the construction of these storm overflows. I think all local authorities are in favour of it. We had some discussion on the point in Committee and the Minister promised to look into it again. On that occasion the wording was perhaps not good, and I believe the wording in this Amendment is much more precise and will accomplish the purpose which I believe was generally accepted by the Committee.
§ Mr. Odey
I beg to second the Amendment.
I hope the Amendment will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman, for this reason. Frequently a position arises like that in my constituency where the outflow from the sewerage works can be discharged either into a canal, such as Beverley Beck, or into a river, like the River Hull. It is very desirable that the river board should have this matter within their purview when they are drawing up their bylaws. As my hon. Friend has said, it is most desirable that the local authorities should know exactly where they stand in this matter.
The mode of discharge also arises in connection with this Amendment. If I may take the House back to the position in my constituency, the River Hull is a tidal river and it is most important that this effluent should be discharged when the tide is going out and not when the tide is coming in. I am sure that a similar position arises in many places in the country. The mode of discharge is, therefore, also an important factor. This is surely a matter which should be brought within the purview of the river boards. I very much hope that for these reasons this Amendment will commend itself to the Minister.
§ Dr. Stross
I am not certain about the effects of this Amendment. May I put a case, so that the Minister may advise me? There are types of sewage effluents which, of course, are utterly pure, and which are used for industrial purposes. In my own area, for example, out of a total of 14 million gallons of water used in the whole of the city in a day, we are 517 able in part of our works, which are modern and up to date, to reserve 8 million or 9 million for re-sale, and which must be available for industrial purposes. Indeed, our industries could not carry on without it. However, we rob the stream, and what I want to know is whether this Amendment would give power to a board to say, "No, you must not use this water for industrial purposes. You must put it back into the stream. We know that it is a sewage effluent, but it is a very desirable effluent for any good stream." That would be very embarrassing to us indeed.
§ Mr. Dalton
I think I must be careful here not to confuse the functions of public bodies. I quite agree that there should be consultation between the local authorities and the river boards, but I think that it is giving the river boards something not very convenient for them to hold, and not very convenient for the local authorities that they should hold, if we authorise river boards to make bylaws governing the structure of the arrangements of local authorities' sewerage works. It would be a very difficult matter to make bylaws in this way for this purpose. These are engineering works and integral parts of the sewerage system, and it is primarily for the local authorities to see to these things, subject to some control by my Department.
I should have thought that the thing would best be handled by building up—I do not think we need put anything in the Bill about this—the practice of consultation between the river boards and the local authorities responsible for the sewerage work. That would meet the case which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). The Stoke-on-Trent Council would, no doubt, be in consultation with the river board. It is the easier, of course, as was pointed out earlier, because the river boards are going to consist as to a majority of representatives of the local authorities. To some extent, therefore, we shall have duplication of membership, and the whole thing can be easily adjusted. I do not myself feel we should give this particular power to the river boards, and I would hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would not press his Amendment.
§ Mr. Colegate
I must confess that I am disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman's reply. After all, the people who are pressing this Amendment are the local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the river boards are now to consist of a majority of representatives of local authorities, and that, therefore, we shall have community of interest. So far from one body trying to impose elaborate engineering regulations on another body, the bodies are to a large extent overlapping, and they would like this Amendment in order to give them clear knowledge exactly where they stand.
As for the question of making some elaborate technical regulations, I cannot at this time of night go into the whole matter, but I can say that there is passage after passage in the Bill by which there will have to be made bylaws which will have to be based on some engineering knowledge of sewerage and other matters. In these circumstances I ask the Minister to look at this matter again. It is not as though this were some chance Amendment. It has been carefully thought out and elaborated in discussions-amongst the associations of local authorities. I should have thought that in those circumstances it might have been accepted.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am prepared to look at anything again, and I will check over what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I understand he tells us that this is what the local authorities want.
§ Mr. Dalton
I cannot say, but I will check it up. If that is so, it is to that extent an argument in favour of it. I would myself have thought that it was rather taking a power that should rest on the local authority and putting it on the river board. If the local authorities really want it, I should be a little less disinclined to accept the Amendment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let me check the evidence.
§ Mr. Colegate
Certainly. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at it from that point of view, I willingly beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.519
§ Mr. Dalton
I beg to move, in page 6, line 7, to leave out from the beginning, to the end of line 9, and to insert:and may provide for an effluent to be, or not to be, so treated according to the relation between the volume and rate of flow of the water of the stream and the volume and rate of discharge of the effluent.This is a drafting Amendment designed to tidy up some words accepted in Committee. I think it was felt generally at that time that this was what was wanted to be done.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ Mr. Nugent
I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out "or not to be."
The right hon. Gentleman's proposed Amendment replaces the words that were put down in Committee to give effect to the intention. Whilst we never expected our humble drafting to be finally accepted by the Department, we felt that it covered the intention rather better than the Minister's present proposed drafting. The introduction of the words "or not to be" is quite incomprehensible, unless the Minister's quest for erudition has led him back into the Shakespearian field, in which case it seems that he ought to have made some provision for the exclusion of theslings and arrows of outrageous fortune.How can we imagine that this may provide for an effluent not to be so treated? This is purely a matter of drafting, but why are these words put in? It would be much clearer if they were simply left out. Unless the right hon. Gentleman has a specific reason for putting them in, I press him to let them be omitted.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am advised that we need to keep open both alternatives, and that is why the words are put in. The point present to the minds of my advisers was that we not only wanted to say that a discharge under the bylaws shall be treated as polluting if its quantity is excessive, but we also wanted to say that a discharge shall be treated as not polluting if its quantity is trivial in relation to the volume and the rate of flow of the waters 520 of the stream. In other words, we want to have all the facts of the case—quantity, quality and so on—and according to the facts of the case, one would or would not declare that the effluent was so treated. Does not that make sense?
§ Mr. Nugent
I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his attempt to make sense of it, but it almost seems that he has come on to a point of principle. I am not sure that it would be right in principle, if an effluent was of a low quality, that because it was of small volume compared with the volume of the stream it could, therefore, be admitted. I think that would be quite wrong. If that is the intention of "or not to be," I think that those words ought to come out. If the Minister would undertake to have a further look at this matter to see if these words should not come out when the Bill goes to another place, I shall be content with that assurance and withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Dalton indicated assent.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalton
I beg to move, in page 6, line 10, after "prescribed," to insert:for any stream or part of a stream.This Amendment is linked with the Amendment which follows, and perhaps the two may be considered together. When we were discussing this matter in Committee, the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), said that the wording was ambiguous. We have tried by this Amendment to remove the ambiguity. The doubt which arose in the minds of some hon. Members was whether the words "in so far as" at the beginning of the subsection had a qualitative or a geographical significance. They are definitely intended to have a qualitative significance and not a geographical significance, and I hope that the Amendment makes that clear by mentioning separately the geographical fact that bylaws may be prescribed for only part of the scheme.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 6, line 12, at end, insert:
in relation to that stream or part."—[Mr. Dalton.]
Mr. Philips Price
I beg to move, in page 6, line 12, at the end, to insert:(4) Section fifteen of the Electricity Act, 1919, which enables an order to be made authorising the abstraction of water from any river, stream, &c. (as amended by the Electricity Act, 1947) shall be read and have effect as if the following paragraph were added at the end of the proviso to subsection (1) of that section:I raised in Committee this matter about the possibility of conflict between the bylaws of the river boards and the orders made under the Electricity Act, 1919. My right hon. Friend, at that time, said that, in his opinion and according to his advice, there would be no conflict, and the bylaws of the river boards would override the orders of the Electricity Act. He also said that he would make a further inquiry. I am informed that it may be true that a bylaw of a river board overrides an order of the Electricity Act if it comes after the order. That is to say, if orders are given by the Electricity Authority that certain effluent may go into a river and the river board makes a bylaw after that, then that bylaw overrides the order. If it is the other way round, that may not be so.
- (e) no order shall be made authorising the abstraction of water from a stream (as defined in the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1950) unless it also provides for the return of the water in a condition and at a temperature which conform to the relevant standards prescribed by any byelaws made under section four of the said Act and for the time being in force in relation to the stream or part of the stream into which the water is to be returned.
I should like my right hon. Friend to be quite clear on this point. I know that the river boards are disturbed about this matter and would like to have it made clear. It would very seriously interfere with their powers if any condition of the Electricity Act in any way interfered with their control of the rivers.
§ Mr. Dalton
I have looked into this as promised, and I do not think my hon. Friend need have any apprehension on the matter. There is a safeguard. Of course, the two Ministers responsible would as a matter of administrative routine consult, but I do not rest my answer on that. That is the commonsense administrative answer.
If they did not, I am advised that the Electricity Authority would have no right 522 or power to disregard an order or a bylaw. There are two standards laid down, and if perchance the two Ministers failed to consult, I am advised that it would be the duty of those concerned to comply with the more onerous of the two standards. If, for example, it was a question of the temperature of the discharge from a generating station, in that case it would have to conform with the lower of the two maximum temperatures. Similarly, with regard to any other case both standards would be binding, which is the same thing as saying that the more onerous of the two would in effect be binding.
Mr. Philips Price
In view of the explanation of the Minister, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn
§ Mr. Dalton
I beg to move, in page 6, line 34, to leave out "any conditions." and to insert:such conditions (if any) as may be.This is primarily a drafting point. Clause 5 (5) provided, in the case of a person who cannot immediately conform with the standard prescribed by the bylaws, that the river board could grant a period of grace in order that the necessary steps might be taken. The river board may attach conditions to this concession, and often will. The point is that the drafting of the subsection as it appears in the Bill could result in the river board being made responsible for specifying the work to be done. We do not want that. The Amendment modifies the drafting in order to make it clear that there is no obligation on the river board to tell the person responsible for the discharge what remedial steps he should take. It is for him to do what is necessary.
§ Mr. Heald
The section states that:Where, in consequence of the making of any bylaws…a person proposes to take steps either(a) to ensure that the effluent will comply with the standards prescribed by the bylaws; or(b) to enable him to discontinue the discharge;but those steps could not be taken or completed before the date when the bylaws come into force…I suggest that the word "could" is a very undesirable word to use there because it is extremely ambiguous. Does 523 it mean they could not in fact physically be taken, or that there was a question of expense involved or some other reason which prevented the person from doing prudently what he might have done? This is one of those cases, I suggest, where Parliament should not agree to an enactment unless it is quite certain what it is doing. It is here using a word capable of at least three different interpretations, and before we agree to the Amendment I suggest that we should not only be told what is the correct interpretation, but that it should be made quite plain.
§ Mr. Dalton
I should have thought that "could" would there cover the various alternative valid reasons why this thing could not take place. If that is thought to be ambiguous, I will undertake to look at it again, but it did not occur to me that it was ambiguous. I imagined it might cover a number of reasons.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, subsection (5) will in some circumstances be the only escape, subject to what he is going to do about a local authority in difficulty. I suggest that the word "could" is very difficult in relation to expense. Whereas expense might be a governing factor I doubt whether his legal advisers would feel confident that expense should be taken into account in that context.
§ Mr. Dalton
I would welcome any suggestion—I do not mean now, across the Floor of the House—by either of the hon. and learned Gentlemen who have drawn attention to this point. I certainly will have it looked at to see whether we can remove any ambiguity.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Hill (Luton)
I beg to move, in page 6, line 43, at the end, to insert:(7) Where (whether before or after the passing of this Act) an injunction or order has been granted or made for the protection or enforcement of any right over the water of a stream, the court granting or making the injunction or order shall, on the application of any interested person, make such variation of the injunction or order as may be necessary to secure that standards prescribed by any byelaws made by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section 524 which are for the time being in force shall be conclusive for the purposes of the injunction or order on the question what is or is not poisonous, noxious or polluting.This Amendment contains a not unimportant point. The House will recall that when we gave a Second Reading to the Bill, there was a provision in Clause 4 (5, a) to ensure that an authority which complied with the bylaws was, for the purposes of the law relating to nuisances, regarded as having fulfilled it. There was a great deal of criticism about the limitation that the Clause imposed upon the operation of the common law, in relation to the rights of the riparian owner. In the discussion in Committee, the Clause was assaulted many times by lawyers, anglers and others. The right hon. Gentleman at first resisted that attack, in part by offering as a compromise that he would retain the right to seek civil damages, but eventually he was pressed to remove the Clause and the subsections which involved the retrospective application, and to restore the common law rights in full.
In agreeing to re-examine the position, he promised to seek appropriate safeguards. To be entirely fair to the right hon. Gentleman, he did not promise that safeguards would be produced. He promised to explore the position. I infer, from the absence of any safeguards and of Amendments offering safeguards, that he has failed to find appropriate safeguards. The House must understand that the provision is one of very considerable seriousness in relation to local authorities. I include one local authority in particular, the Borough Council of Luton.
The position is that if a local authority is held to be acting in default of bylaws, there is the safeguard that there can be no prosecution without the Minister's consent for a period of seven years. If, on the other hand, the local authority is observing the bylaws and the changing and improving level of the bylaws, that local authority is still vulnerable in ignoring the bylaws, and an injunction can be sought and obtained at common law. As a result of that injunction, the local authority may be required by the court to do what it is financially and administratively impossible to do, recast and reshape the whole of its sewerage arrangement. Indeed, that is the position in which the Luton Borough Council finds itself.
525 I am not now raising the question of the retention of common law rights; I realise that the pressure of informed opinion is too great for that. I candidly admit that the injunction procedure had its effect on the local authority in question, but the authority is confronted with the position that to satisfy the order of the court it is compelled to take steps which are physically and administratively impossible because of the special circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Therefore, I ask that this matter be reconsidered. I repeat that I am now referring to the future, to circumstances in which bylaws have been made and bylaws have been observed, and I ask that local authorities conforming to those bylaws shall be protected, not from the injunction but from the operation—and the speed of operation—of the injunction, bearing in mind that where capital expenditure is involved it needs permissions which are in the hands of some external body of central departmental authority and parties who are not parties to the injunction in the legal sense.
I ask the Minister seriously to consider this position. He has gone a long way to protect local authorities who do not observe the bylaws. He is deliberately taking up the position that he must be the judge whether they should be prosecuted and should be required to take certain steps to conform to the bylaws. I suggest that, having done that, it is logical and sensible that the circumstances in which a local authority has conformed to the bylaws should spare it from the automatic operation of an injunction.
In the case I have mentioned, Luton was required to spend £1,500,000 on the blind operation of an injunction despite the fact that it had observed the bylaws. Already, in this instance, the sewerage rate is about 2s. 7d., an unusually high figure, and I ask, not only in relation to this authority but as a general principle, that there should be a safeguard between the awarding of the injunction and the requirement to take certain steps to observe the injunction, bearing in mind that those steps are not physically or financially possible without a period of delay.
It has been said that in future the courts will naturally take into account the existence of the bylaws, but there is no proof that that will be so. What a local 526 authority needs is to know what standards are required of it and to observe those standards. To leave the additional hazard of the injunction, quite apart from the civil damages, is to place a growing industrial town in a position of very considerable difficulty.
§ Mr. Renton
I disagree emphatically with what has been said by the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill)—
§ Mr. Renton
I understood that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Teevan), had already seconded it formally.
§ Mr. Speaker
Both hon. Members rose together and I thought that they were both rising to second the Amendment.
§ Mr. Renton
Now it is clear that I am not seconding this Amendment, may I say that I most emphatically disagree with what my hon. Friend has said.
It has been made clear now that this Bill does not interfere with the common law rights. It adds something to them, and it seems to me that the Amendment which my hon. Friend proposes will sabotage those common law rights completely by linking them up closely with what is proposed in the Bill. Indeed, there must be a great advantage in allowing the private citizen, with the aid of the courts, to do something which perhaps a river board exercising its powers under this Bill would be reluctant to do.
To limit an injunction or order of the court given at the instance of a private individual in such a way as to let the river board, in effect, take it to the court, would be to interfere with the common law rights in a way which runs quite contrary to the general opinion expressed by hon. Members with regard to this matter. For those reasons, I oppose the Amendment.
§ Mr. Dalton
I sense that the House is not wholly behind the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill). Indeed, he had a good run in the Committee and at the end of that, although he put his case with customary skill, it was the view of all parties upstairs that the common law rights 527 should be fully sustained. I made certain concessions from the original point of view in the Bill, and I was supported practically unanimously by both sides of the Committee that it would be quite contrary to the general rule of that Committee or of this House if we were to accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. I hope that, having stated his case with his habitual skill, he will now skilfully withdraw the Amendment.
§ Dr. Hill
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the safeguards that he promised to consider? After all, the assaults on the common law rights appeared in the Bill as the first thoughts of His Majesty's Government. In the Committee the right hon. Gentleman defended that Clause and he retreated inch by inch, eventually promising, as the price of not accepting the Amendment, to consider safeguards. Will he give the House the fruits of that consideration which he promised?
§ Mr. Dalton
—and I found that the overwhelming view was that the common law rights should be fully sustained. It is quite true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that in order to ease his position, which I was anxious to do, I said I would look to see whether any safeguards seemed necessary and desirable. I have looked, and it seems to me that it is better to leave the Bill in this respect as it now stands and to leave the common law rights completely unqualified. I think that is the general view in all parts of the House.
§ Amendment negatived.