§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 7.0 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I am sure that the whole House will regret the accident which prevents my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) from being present this evening to explain this Measure. I also regret the convention which prevents my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) from speaking in this debate thus leaving it to the least experienced of the Croydon Members to explain a matter which, if somewhat unromantic, is, anyhow, rather complicated.
Briefly, the purpose of the Bill is to amend Section 94 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931. The House may wonder why Croydon should wish to alter one of the Surrey Acts. May I assure hon. Members at the outset that the Croydon Corporation and the Borough of Croydon is, in the ordinary way, on the best of terms with its neighbours in Surrey? We are mindful of the hundred and one ways in which they are helpful and co-operative, and we much regret that we should find ourselves opposed to the county over this Measure. I might also add that I apologise to the House for having to divert Parliament from the consideration of issues of national importance to debating for a short time the disposal of Croydon's refuse; but so it is.
Since the Bill was unopposed on Second Reading and subsequently passed its Committee stage without Amendment, it has not previously been discussed in any way at all on the Floor of the House. That being so, I hope that it will be in order if I devote a few moments to explaining the background and the effect of the Bill in somewhat greater detail than otherwise might be necessary. I think I can do that most quickly by summarising parts of the report on the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs.
My right hon. Friend began by pointing out that Section 94, which is the Section 304 in question, of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, deals with refuse dumps and, as amended slightly by the Surrey County Council Act, 1936, provides that refuse shall not be deposited or disposed of in Surrey without the consent of the county council and also of the district council in the area in which the deposit is to be made.
Furthermore, both the county council and the district councils concerned are empowered to attach conditions to their consent; and they may withdraw any consent previously given. The purpose of the present Bill is to amend this Section so that if the Croydon Corporation is aggrieved either by the withholding or, perhaps even more important, by the withdrawal of consent once given, there may be an appeal to the Minister.
My right hon. Friend goes on to point out that when the Surrey County Council Bill, which ultimately became an Act, was presented in 1931, the then Minister of Health recommended to the House that a provision of this nature for an appeal should be made. This was not granted at the time, but since then the situation has changed in two important respects. In the first place, three other county council Acts have been passed which include provisions similar to this Section of the Surrey County Council Act, but in each case the provisions are qualified by a right of appeal. The Acts in question are the Middlesex County Council Act, 1934; the Hertfordshire County Council Act, 1935, both of which provide for appeal to the Minister; and the Essex County Council Act, 1933, which provides for an appeal to an independent tribunal.
Perhaps I may remind my hon. Friends who represent Surrey constituencies that all these three Acts were passed at a time when there was a large Tory majority in this House—
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
—so that should it be argued that some Conservative philosophy is involved in the disposal of refuse I feel that that cannot be maintained in the face of this past history.
The other change since 1931 lies in the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. That Act gives 305 powers, I think adequate powers, to any county council in its capacity as a local planning authority to control the use of land for tipping. As hon. Members will be aware, this Act also contains provisions for appeal to the Minister against the refusal of planning permission or against any condition imposed. These are the only powers available for controlling refuse tipping and disposal in counties other than Surrey and the three other counties I have mentioned.
The present position could be summarised by saying that, in all the counties surrounding London only the Surrey county authority has the power of absolute veto over the tipping and disposal of refuse, and in his report my right hon. Friend has placed on record that he is satisfied that this is undesirable. He points out later that incineration and mechanical disposal cannot be relied on to solve this problem. Not only are suitable sites for the plant difficult to find, but there remains the substantial volume of residue which still has to be disposed of. In the particular case of Croydon, were an incineration plant to be erected, the cost would be about £100,000, and there would remain about 25,000 tons of clinker to be disposed of every year.
I should make it clear that the presentation of this Bill has not arisen merely from a desire to remedy a defect in the principle of the Surrey Act. It has arisen as the result of a difficulty into which the Croydon Corporation has got in dealing with the practical problem confronting it today. The total amount of the refuse to be disposed of is about 64,000 tons every year. At present, this is dealt with by tipping, by controlled tipping as it is called, on two sites. One site is within the County Borough of Croydon where some playing fields are being constructed, and there is another site on Mitcham Common, where the level of the common is being raised with a view to providing sports facilities.
In the case of the Mitcham site it was necessary to obtain the consent not only of the Mitcham Common conservators, but also, under the Surrey Act to which I have referred, to obtain the permission of the Mitcham Council and the Surrey County Council. In passing, perhaps I might draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Mitcham Council has 306 gone on record as refusing to be associated with the petition against this Bill. The tip in use in the Borough of Croydon will be finished in just over two years' time and that on Mitcham Common some time during 1960, so that the existing facilities will come to an end in just over three years' time.
We do not deny that there may be one or two small sites that may well be used in the county borough, but their capacity is extremely limited and they would not make a material contribution to the solving of this problem. Faced with this situation, the council actually endeavoured to find a site which would meet its needs for a number of years to come, but such a site could not be found within the county borough itself. Hon. Members who are familiar with the locality may wonder why the open ground in the Addington region could not be used. The answer to that is that it would involve tipping, and that particular area happens to be the gathering ground for what is called the Addington well, and tipping is not acceptable in that area because a substantial part of the water supply depends upon that well.
There is, however, a suitable site for this purpose approximately seven miles from Croydon, in a quarry at Merstham, which it is estimated would satisfy the needs of Croydon for a period of perhaps fiifteen years. My right hon. Friend has held a planning inquiry into the application to use this site, the Surrey County Council has given its consent, but the Reigate Borough Council, which is the district council concerned, has refused to grant the necessary consent. I understand that when the Reigate Borough Council was first approached it agreed to the proposition, but that the refusal has come later.
Very briefly, these were the circumstances which led to the promotion of this Bill. The Bill does not deal specifically with the site at Merstham, because to do that would really face Parliament with the prospect of a whole succession of Bills to deal with Croydon's refuse problem as each site became exhausted. It seeks rather to attack the problem from the point of view of principle by giving a right of appeal, so I think that we are entitled to ask on what grounds can that be opposed.
307 I dare say that we shall hear eloquent appeals about the rights of smaller local authorities and about the principles of local government and that sort of thing, but I submit to the House that local government does not mean local autonomy. I do not think that even the most ardent of my hon. Friends from Surrey would claim that a district council should have sovereign powers, and I think that even the strongest upholder of their rights would agree that in such respects Reigate should be subject to the ordinary and usually accepted legislative processes of the country.
We all recognise that the rights of the smaller local authorities must not be trampled upon in any way, but I would remind the House that the safeguards against any arbitrary or improper use of power by my right hon. Friend, or, indeed, any other Minister, are vested either in the courts of law, if the issue is a legal one, or in this House, if the question is a political one. After all, a Minister is answerable and accountable to this House, and, if it is thought that he has erred, it is here in Parliament that his actions should be challenged, and not, I submit, by the Reigate Borough Council.
Perhaps I should say one word about the effect on Croydon if the Bill is not passed. The refuse will continue to accumulate, and will soon need to be disposed of. It might be that eventually the particular difficulty that has arisen over this site may even be overcome. It might be that another less suitable and more expensive site may be found, but in either case it would still be within the power either of the Surrey Council Council, or of the district council concerned, to terminate the arrangement at any time, and it is this which we who support the Bill believe to be neither reasonable nor acceptable.
It is not cheap to start operations on one of these sites. In the case of the Merstham site, before any work can begin at all, it will cost about £30,000 to seal the bottom of the quarry, a further £30,000 to instal the necessary drainage, and a further sum to establish the necessary organisation at the site, yet this particular site is regarded as an unusually favourable one.
In particular, this is not the sort of matter in which one can afford to chop 308 and change. All we ask is that the county of Surrey should come into line with the other counties which surround London. It is on that simple argument that I commend the Bill to the House and earnestly hope that it may be passed.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
I shall ask the House to reject the Bill. There is one simple issue involved in it about which there is an honest and sincere difference of opinion between the local authorities concerned. I think that, from what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has said in support of the Bill, it will be clear to hon. Members that the County Borough of Croydon is seeking to gain the powers which the Bill contains, whereas the Surrey County Council and most of the county districts of Surrey are on the other side and find themselves regretfully in opposition to the Bill.
I think, perhaps, I ought to make a personal explanation. Since 1943 I have been a member of the Surrey County Council. I am at present Chairman of that body, and am authorised to speak on its behalf. I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend made reference to the very pleasant relations which have long existed between the County Borough of Croydon, the Surrey County Council and the district councils of Surrey. That is a fact which I gladly and freely acknowledge, and I feel quite certain that, whatever the outcome of the present proceedings may be, that long-standing friendship between the local authorities in the geographical County of Surrey will continue unimpaired. That is certainly the desire of the Surrey County Council and of the county districts.
I am bound to point out to the House that it is significant that, notwithstanding that long and traditional friendship, the county council and no less than thirty of the thirty-three district councils find themselves sincerely and strongly opposed to the proposals of the Bill. It is right, I think, that I should bring to the notice of the House the views of the Surrey County Council and its county districts.
As my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, we did not seek to block this Bill on Second Reading, and we took the 309 line that we did advisedly. It seemed to us to be right that Croydon should have the opportunity of putting its case and of deploying its arguments before a Committee of this House, and we were desirous to consider such a case and to give due weight to such arguments to see whether we could in any way modify our original objection to the proposals in the Bill. The case was considered at some length by a committee of the House, which found in favour of the Bill. However, having given the most careful consideration to the arguments deployed in support of the Bill, we find ourselves in the position in which we were originally of objecting to the proposals. I am therefore asking the House to reject the Third Reading of the Bill.
The subject matter of the Bill revolves almost entirely around Section 94 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, as amended by Section 86 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1936. The Section provides that it shall not be lawful for any authority, body or person to deposit or otherwise dispose of any refuse in any place within the county without the consents in writing of the county council and of the council of the district in which such deposit is to be made. That is the real point of substance of the Section. I have not read it out in full, but have given the heart of the matter.
The Bill seeks to provide Croydon Corporation with a right of appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, if the Croydon Corporation is aggrieved by the withholding of consent by the Surrey County Council or by a county district authority in Surrey to the disposal or deposit of refuse in the County of Surrey. At present, the Surrey County Council and its county districts have an absolute right of veto in the matter, and that right of veto is being challenged by Croydon in the Bill.
In 1931, Surrey County Council promoted its local Bill, which became an Act in that year. When it was before Parliament, a representative of the Ministry of Health, which at that time was concerned with local government, objected to the absolute veto and advised the House that a right of appeal to the Minister should be incorporated in the Bill. That advice was rejected by the House and the right of veto was left unaltered in the 310 Surrey County Council Act of that year. It is not without significance that when that power of veto was challenged by the London County Council in 1949, in a Bill it had promoted that year, the L.C.C., by agreement, modified its challenge so as to leave Surrey's absolute power of veto unaltered. The House, therefore, approved the powers that Surrey acquired in 1931.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
To what extent is an absolute right of veto enjoyed by other county authorities?
§ Mr. Black
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech, I will come to that point later.
I do not want the House to think that Surrey County Council and the county districts of Surrey are unsympathetic to or unmindful of the difficulties of Croydon. We recognise that Croydon is heavily populated and has very real difficulty about the disposal of its refuse. We do not desire to be obstructive, but to be as helpful as we can, consistent with the proper discharge of our duty to the people of Surrey.
The difficulties of Croydon in this matter are not unique in the area. The Metropolitan part of Surrey is heavily populated and many areas have difficulties about the disposal of refuse. As planning authority for the county, the county council knows that it is its duty to help with these difficulties and it is actively engaged in so doing. The county council will do all in its power to assist Croydon Corporation with its refuse disposal problem, and has done so for many years.
The first permission to deposit rubbish in Surrey under the Act of 1931 was given to Croydon Corporation as long ago as 1936. Since then, more than twenty years, a large proportion of Croydon's refuse has been tipped on various sites in Surrey. Refuse is still being tipped on Mitcham Common, which is within the administrative county of Surrey. Surrey County Council and the district authorities of Surrey have been most conscientious in administering Section 94 of the 1931 Act, as amended. It indicates the reasonableness of Surrey's attitude that only three applications have been refused since the Act was passed. For twenty-six years Surrey has been co-operative in the highest degree with 311 other authorities in their difficulties in this matter. It has granted permission in every case where it could do so without detriment to the interests of its area, and in the whole period only three applications have been refused.
The occasion of the Bill is the refusal of Reigate Borough Council to agree to Croydon tipping refuse on a site in Reigate. I ought to give the House the circumstances in Reigate and the course of events, as well as the reasons for Reigate's refusal. Croydon has applied to use a lime pit in the face of the North Downs at Merstham to tip about 70,000 tons of refuse there annually. It is estimated that if no other authority joins in its use the tip will last them for fifteen years.
After due consideration, Reigate Borough Council withdrew permission under the relevant Section of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, for Croydon to dispose of its refuse in that pit because of the fears of Reigate, supported by the East Surrey Water Company, that the effluent from the output would percolate through the chalk and cause pollution of local water supplies. The devastating consequences which can follow from an unsatisfactory water supply will not be outside the knowledge and experience of Croydon Borough Council.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Member is speaking about the immediate cause of the disagreement between Croydon and Surrey. Is it not reasonable that, if the Bill were passed, the Minister would be in a position to judge where lay the public interest?
§ Mr. Black
On the question of the reasonableness of the Minister being the judge, I am going to say something in a moment if the hon. Member will bear with me.
The application of Croydon under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, to use the pit as a refuse pit, after consideration by the planning authority, was called in by the Minister of Housing and Local Government for determination, and a public local inquiry was held at the end of January. The Minister has not yet given his determination on Croydon's application under town planning.
The day before the local planning inquiry, agreement was reached between 312 Croydon Corporation and the East Surrey Water Company as to measures which the corporation would take to protect local water supplies. At the inquiry Reigate Borough Council had the first official intimation that those measures involved taking the run-off of the effluent from the pit into the foul sewers of Reigate Corporation. Those foul sewers, however, are incapable of taking the quantity of effluent which might run off from the pit.
No further official application has been made by Croydon to Reigate since the date of the planning inquiry. It will be seen, therefore, that Reigate Corporation withheld permission for Croydon to tip in Merstham on extremely sound and sensible public health grounds. I would most strongly resist any suggestion that either the county council or Reigate has behaved unreasonably or vexatiously in this case.
It has already been mentioned in the course of the debate that a representative of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government advised the Committee which considered the Bill in favour of the Bill. In fact, it was hardly likely that he would do otherwise. All that the representative of the Ministry was doing was seeking to win in 1957 the battle which his predecessor lost in 1931 because in 1931 a representative of the Ministry then responsible for local government advised against this power of veto, but Parliament rejected and repudiated the advice.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
When my hon. Friend says "Parliament ", in practice I presume he means the Committee in 1931. Why was the Committee right in 1931 and Parliament wrong in 1957?
§ Mr. Black
I suggest that Parliament had to take the decision in 1931 in the same way as it has to take it now. Parliament then repudiated the advice of a representative of the Ministry at that time and I repeat that all that the representative of the present Ministry was seeking to do was to regain the ground lost in 1931 and to win in 1957 the battle which his predecessor lost in 1931. I submit that the existing position should be maintained and that there is no case for the kind of change which Croydon Corporation is seeking to bring about.
313 I know it will be said that Surrey is the only authority which has this absolute power. That is a matter of fact which is not questioned by me nor, so far as I am aware, by anyone else, but Parliament decided in 1931 that it was proper to repose that power in the County of Surrey. In 1949 it repeated the verdict which it had reached in 1931, and nothing has happened since 1931 or 1949 which could justify the House in altering the attitude which it previously adopted.
Let us assume for a moment that there are some hon. Members who are not completely convinced by the argument which I am addressing to the House and who still hold the view that there may be some case for giving a right of appeal in a matter of this kind. I submit to them that, even if that be the case, the Croydon Bill represents entirely the wrong method of achieving that purpose. Let us examine what the position would be if the Croydon Bill became an Act. The position then would be that Croydon, a county borough outside the administrative County of Surrey, would have a right of appeal to the Minister in respect of a refusal of consent to tip refuse in Reigate, whereas county districts in the Metropolitan part of Surrey just as heavily populated and with just as great difficulty in finding outlets for their refuse would not have that right of appeal if they wished to tip refuse in Reigate or other parts of Surrey outside their own areas. In fact, it would put Croydon in a position of absolute privilege in relation to all the county districts inside the Surrey County Council area.
If I may take quite a homely illustration, I would put it this way. If we regard the area of the administrative County of Surrey as a homestead, Surrey County Council as a parent, and the thirty-three district council authorities as children, the Bill seeks to give an interloper powers and rights in the homestead which are denied to the children of the homestead. I suggest that, even if hon. Members feel that on the whole the balance of advantage in cases of this sort is on the side of a right of appeal, the Bill would do it in the wrong way and would produce a position both of grievance and of injustice.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
That point seems to be weakened by the fact that in the case of Croydon it would hardly have been practical to introduce 314 a Bill providing for a general right of appeal. It would have been quite easy for Surrey County Council, on the other hand, to have come forward voluntarily and offered to bring itself into line with all the other counties in the kingdom.
§ Mr. Beswick
To enable those who are trying to follow the argument, I wonder if the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) would briefly tell us why this right should be vested in one county council and not in other county councils of the kingdom?
§ Mr. Black
The answer is that the 1931 Parliament, after a full inquiry, decided that that should be so and as recently as 1949 decided to confirm and uphold the status quo. I submit that if a right of appeal should be given, which I do not for a moment agree, then it should be a general right of appeal conferred as a result of general legislation.
Let me sum up briefly with three submissions to the House. First of all, Surrey, in the wisdom of Parliament, has enjoyed these powers since 1931 and, as we have seen, they were confirmed by the House as recently as 1949. Secondly, no suggestion has been made, and I submit that no suggestion can be made, that Surrey County Council or the district authorities have in twenty-six years ever abused the powers which Parliament has thought right to confer upon them. I think that strong evidence of the reasonableness of the attitude of the Surrey authorities is to be found in the fact that in twenty-six years there have been only three refusals of consent. Thirdly, if it is reasonable that a right of appeal should be given on the point at issue, it should be a general right of appeal for local authorities and not confined to the Borough of Croydon.
Our attitude on the matter as hon. Members must depend on the view that we take generally of local government and the position of local authorities. I think I am on common ground when I say that hon. Members on both sides of the House are sincere in their desire that local government should be democratic 315 and independent. Time and time again, hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed their view that it is of the utmost importance that local authorities should be strong, independent, entrusted with adequate powers and masters in their own house in local matters.
I do not think anyone will question me when I say that Surrey County Council has for long been one of the outstandingly progressive local authorities of the country. It has enjoyed and it has not abused the power in question for twenty-six years. If we believe in local government as an independent and democratic force, I submit that we should decline to give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
First of all, I think I should express sympathy with the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris), who should have been here tonight; we are sorry that he is not in his place. We have some sympathy with the junior Member for Croydon, the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who has had this burden placed upon him at rather short notice.
I think the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), who this evening represents the Surrey County Council, was a little illogical. He made much of the argument that if this power were given to Croydon it would somehow be unfair and disadvantageous to the constituent authorities in Metropolitan Surrey. It is equally illogical to argue in this day and age that Surrey alone, of all the sixty-four administrative counties, should be given this power—a power denied to the other great counties throughout the country. It may have been given by Parliament, but that does not alter the position.
I have tried to follow the argument, and it seems to me that all we are arguing about here is that when there is a conflict of interests between one of the great county boroughs and the Surrey County Council there should be reasonable arbitration and an attempt by the Minister to obtain agreement. I yield to none in my desire to see local government not a junior partner of national government but a free and equal partner, but surely the system must allow that 316 where there are disputes between two local authorities, somebody should arbitrate. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Wimbledon has had plenty to say in the last few days, bearing in mind his political party, about the necessity for the engineers to arbitrate and the necessity for courts of inquiry. He used tonight the argument of a Victorian father who has to be master in his own house.
§ Mr. Black
Do I understand from the argument the hon. Member is deploying that if his next-door neighbour wishes to dump his refuse in the hon. Member's garden, then the hon. Member considers that there should be some higher authority who should arbitrate between the rights of his neighbour and himself?
§ Mr. Pannell
That is one of the illustrations which spring from the hon. Member's own muddle - headedness. Everybody knows that the law of this country says that anyone can do anything in a personal capacity as long as he does not infringe the law. If he started dumping rubbish in a neighbour's garden he would be infringing the law of trespass. A local authority, however, is in a different position; it can do nothing unless there is express law which sanctions it. I have been long enough in local government to know that elementary fact.
I do not know the population of Croydon— probably it is in excess of 200,000— but to mix the relationship between a great county borough like Croydon and the County Council of Surrey with a homely illustration about the garden of the man next door is reducing Parliament to absurdity. I have often thought that none of us is as good as the gospel we preach, but few are as black as the hon. Member for Wimbledon in this respect.
The hon. Member talked for an unconscionably long time to say very little. The nub of the Bill is that in a matter of dispute between two public authorities somebody should have the right to arbitrate. The hon. Member says that this power was given to Surrey in 1931. Many silly things were done in 1931. It was a silly Parliament. The Ministry of Health under the late Arthur Greenwood presumably advised against giving this power to Surrey in 1931, but the House of Commons was dominated by the party 317 supported by the hon. Member for Wimbledon. Everybody knows that the Parliament of 1931 was a silly Parliament. It gave Surrey these powers.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
Would the hon. Member agree that the confirmation of this action in 1949 was also done in a silly Parliament?
§ Mr. Pannell
That was entirely different. The hon. Member for Wimbledon rests his case upon something which was started in 1931. He was, however, rather silent on one point. If it were a matter always of an arbitration between the Surrey County Council and the Croydon Borough Council, there would be very much more in his argument, because we could say that the large authority, the Surrey County Council, would have a wider vision than that of the local parishes; but, in fact, the embargo is vested also in every small local authority in the County of Surrey.
I do not want to speak for too long about this, but it seems to me that the argument is that for the good order of future local government when there is a dispute within a county somebody should be allowed to settle it.
It really is not good enough to argue that somehow the County Borough of Croydon is something which is without the County of Surrey. We know that in a constitutional sense it is, but geographically it is within that county. By association of schools, working and all the rest, it is part of the integration of the geographical County of Surrey. I should have thought that the sort of power that Croydon wants is a reasonable one for civilised day-to-day existence. I therefore hope that this House will tonight give Croydon that power.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
The intervention of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) reminds me rather of the story of the man who asked, "Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in? "Anyone can join in, of course, and we were delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman, but if people do join in one expects them to know something about the subject, and when the hon. Gentleman said that Parliament's approach to the Surrey Bill of 1931 was a very stupid one I wonder whether he is aware that his right hon. Friend the Member for 318 South Shields (Mr. Ede) was able to assist the Committee at that time by giving most valuable evidence, as, I hope, he will do again today.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I was aware of that. My right hon. Friend is the alibi always used by the benches opposite. My right hon. Friend is a Surrey county councillor and a freeman of several Surrey county boroughs. He is the one alibi of the party opposite.
§ Sir L. Heald
We quite appreciate that the hon. Member for Leeds, West has a lot of refuse to deposit in the neighbourhood of that city, but we are glad to say that there is not much danger of his getting as far as Surrey.
I do not think that I have ever felt the weight of responsibility in speaking more than I do now, because this evening I have to represent not only my own constituency of Chertsey, but those of Reigate, Dorking, Guildford and Woking. The reason for that is that Surrey has such a splendid representation in this House that three of its representatives are members of the Government and, in addition, the hon. Member who represents Dorking (Sir G. Touche) occupies a very exalted and important position and is equally unable to take part in such a debate as this.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman putting forward a case for our opposing Surrey?
§ Sir L. Heald
Someone has to speak for these constituencies and, in all seriousness, I say that I have the duty to put forward not only the views of the Chertsey division but those of those other divisions to which I have referred. Reigate, of course, is particularly affected.
I endorse very strongly what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) about the friendly relations existing between Croydon and the county portion of Surrey. That is exemplified by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris), who should have been moving the Third Reading, is at present one of Croydon's more pleasant exports. He has gone into the Reigate division and is there, I hope, being well looked after in hospital.
The fundamental point that I would stress is that the promoters of the Bill, 319 and the Minister on whose behalf the advice was given to the Committee, are proceeding, from the legislative point of view, upon the wrong lines. The proper course for the Minister, if he really thinks that this is a right which ought to be possessed by everyone, is to see that appropriate legislation is brought in. It is not the right approach for the Minister to come before Parliament and say that an anomalous position should be created whereby one borough— Croydon— should have this right, whereas Mitcham should not have the right to do the same thing. When one hears that, one approaches the matter in a rather suspicious frame fo mind.
It should also be borne in mind that a great deal of reliance has been put on the placing on the Statute Book, since the 1931 Act was passed, of the Town and Country Planning Act. The Town and Country Planning Act, of course, deals with planning. The great safeguard that is provided, as the Reigate case has shown, is that where a local authority has particular knowledge of the circumstances in regard to health, that local authority has the power of veto. In this particular case one finds that what one might call the long-stop procedure— the allowing the local authority to have a say— is a valuable thing.
We must not go into this case in detail, but we know that what was not, apparently, realised to begin with eventually turned out to be a very serious consideration. I refer to the enormous quantities of water which might be let loose from this pit— which is on the side of a hill— which could not be dealt with otherwise than by putting it into the Reigate borough sewers; and, as I understand, on uncontradicted evidence it was shown that those sewers were unable to take that water.
To have around Reigate hundreds of thousands of gallons of water of that kind lying about or running about on the kind of soil that there is in that area is a very serious thing, and we should appreciate its importance. Technical matters such as those upon which I am about to try to embark will probably be intelligible to the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that there is no doubt at all that the effluent produced from a tip of the kind with which we are dealing is of a very 320 highly polluted character. It has a very high element of what is known technically as B.O.D.
Despite its initials, it does not mean what many may think. It means the biological oxygen demand. In this case, it was stated that the B.O.D. might be anything up to 7,000 p.p.m.— I take that to mean parts per million. The discharge into a sewerage works is, I understand, usually about 100 p.p.m., so one realises at once that there is a real danger. I am advised by those more qualified than I am to speak on it that in the past this overflow of polluted water had been responsible for serious outbreaks of disease.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am sure that we are all very interested in what my right hon. and learned Friend is saying, but does he think that those giving technical advice to Reigate are more qualified to express an opinion on this than are those giving technical advice to the Minister?
§ Sir L. Heald
No, but I think that the Minister's advisers took no notice of the Reigate sewer. I do not think that they even knew the capacity of the sewers, so how did they know how much would run away?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Surely my right hon. Friend has yet to give his verdict on this particular case.
§ Sir L. Heald
That may be so, but even before giving a verdict one does get an idea from the evidence. I do not think that it would be right for me to pursue this, because my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wimbledon has made such a strong case. The people in those areas which I represent either directly or indirectly are certainly not people who have no sympathy with the problems of those who have to dispose of sewage.
In my own constituency, about which I know a little, there are, in the Egham area alongside the River Thames, great pits which are the result of the gravel having been excavated. A very interesting experiment has been going on for some time, in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and certain of the great Metropolitan boroughs, with a view to using those areas for this very purpose of dipping.
321 Far from the authorities there wanting to be obstructive, they want to cooperate. But they believe that they are the best judges of how something like this should be done. Let us remember that there might be grave danger to health in the area if it is not done with great care. The authorities feel that it should be done under their supervision, and they believe that they should be the people, in conjunction with the county council, to decide about it.
We in these areas represent a very large part of Surrey. I say nothing about the amenity aspect. It is unnecessary to do more on that subject than mention the names of the constituencies concerned. But, from the practical point of view, we have confidence in the Surrey County Council. Its decisions do not cause difficulty, and we believe that its decision is right. We want to continue to abide by it. If we must be forced to answer the question, in a matter of this kind, where local conditions are so important, and, indeed, where very technical considerations may be involved, we prefer the view of the Surrey County Council rather than that of the Minister.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend again, but may I remind him that the Surrey County Council agreed to this project?
§ Sir L. Heald
I tried to make this clear. I do not want to occupy more time, because I know there are others better able to speak about this who wish to take part. There is a distinction between planning considerations and health considerations. What I say here is that, without any disrespect to the Surrey County Council, it did not appreciate the health considerations in the way that Reigate did. I do not know all the facts, but it seems perfectly clear that Surrey had not got the information available to it, any more than Croydon had. Therefore, the thing which saves the situation, if it has been saved— we do not really know whether it has or not— is the very fact that the Reigate Corporation had a power which we feel it ought to retain.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I labour under one grave disadvantage with regard to this issue. In 1931, when this Bill was before another place, I had to give my views on the matter on oath. I am, therefore, very limited in what I can say this evening, because I have given that hostage to fortune with regard to any future remarks I might have to make on the subject.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Surely that does not mean that my right hon. Friend is going to be less truthful tonight than he was in 1931?
§ Mr. Ede
No, but it does mean that, should I deviate at all from what I said, then I might be reminded about it. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has a copy of the evidence I then gave, and I might be asked, in the best forensic fashion, what I did say in the court above.
I want the House to understand that this is a matter to which I have given consideration over a long period of years. I was a member of the Surrey County Council for thirty-five years, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), though he always carefully hides the fact on these occasions, was for a time a member of the Kent County Council. He really ought to know that county councils and county boroughs are alike in this, that there are some good ones and some bad ones—"You pay's your money and you takes your choice".
The Surrey County Council Act, 1931, had two quite fresh Clauses in it. There was within it the first Clause in any Act of Parliament dealing with ribbon development. All ribbon development legislation thereafter derives from, I think it was, Section 61 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, for which we had to fight very strongly in both Houses. There was also the Clause dealing with this matter, for which also we had to fight.
The North Downs form one of the great recreation grounds of London. It is a chalk range. Nobody knows better than Croydon what can happen through the contamination of water which percolates through the chalk. I recollect a great typhoid outbreak in Croydon which 323 was caused because Croydon allowed its water, drawn from the chalk, to be contaminated. It is the duty of the water undertakers and the local sanitary authorities of Surrey to have particular regard to the water that can percolate down through the chalk for many hundreds of feet, in the end finding its way into a fissure which supplies the water for the greater part of the territory lying between the crest of the North Downs and the London boundary, or, at any rate, the boundary of the Metropolitan Water Board. I have had my own quarrels, as Chairman of the Epsom Urban District Council, with Croydon about water in that respect, but I do not want to go over that now because that was even earlier than 1931.
This area is a great recreation ground for London. The Surrey County Council, under my chairmanship from 1933 to 1937, spent a quarter of a million pounds, in conjunction with the London County Council in the Green Belt scheme, in preserving the whole of that stretch of the North Downs. We hoped to make it a place in which Londoners and others seeking recreation in a reasonable way could find it. Merstham is right in the middle of that tract.
§ Mr. Ede
What is called the Pilgrims' Way, although no pilgrims walked along it. A gentleman from the Royal Ordnance Survey wanted to find a name for the track along the Downs, and so he marked it "Pilgrims' Way". I recollect a former Member of the House, Hilaire Belloc, once telling me that he was surveying the so-called Pilgrims' Way just about in this neighbourhood and he wanted to walk along a certain place where the path was no longer open. He wrote to the land owner and inquired if he could walk along that way, and the land owner wrote back to say: "I regret to inform you that the track you want to pass over is not the Pilgrims' Way. That was diverted by order of the Surrey Quarter Sessions in 1877".
Reigate is a municipal borough. I regret the doctrine which is now brought up that Members of Parliament who happen to be in the Ministries cannot take part in a discussion on a Private 324 Bill. It will be within the recollection of a good many hon. Members that on the occasion of the last Luton Bill before this House the present Chancellor of the Duchy, who was then occupying some less ancient office in the Government, got up from the second bench on the Government side of the House and supported his borough council against the present Prime Minister, who was speaking then as Minister of Housing. It is making a serious inroad into the customs of the House if we are to be told that junior Members— one a junior Whip of some kind or other, and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan), apparently, who is—
§ Sir L. Heald
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate is, after all, connected with the Ministry of Health, and I should have thought that in those circumstances it might be right.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not care whether he is or not. I object to anything that unnecessarily limits the freedom of action of a Member of Parliament. Reigate is a borough which in 1934 had to take in a large number of other districts, including Merstham, and to impose on them at this stage the liability— for, after all, that is what Croydon wants to do— of extending its sewerage system to meet this particular need cannot be right.
The Surrey County Council, certainly all the while I was a member of it up to 1949, and I have noticed the same policy has been continued since, has always been anxious to help both the Metropolitan boroughs and the other local authorities which have difficulties in regard to which Surrey, as a good neighbour, can help them. I think it is at least one proof that this site at Merstham is thoroughly unsuitable that Surrey should have adopted the line which it has with regard to this matter. It is true that Surrey offered planning consent, but it had very serious conditions attached to it.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the right hon. Gentleman is so certain of the rightness of his case, why is he reluctant to allow it to go to arbitration to the Minister?
§ Mr. Ede
Because I think that where a local government unit has some power a case ought to be shown for withdrawing the power and the local authority should not be compelled to say why what we said in 1931 has to be justified again a quarter of a century later, when there is no evidence that at any time the Surrey County Council or any of its district councils has been unreasonable. I might just as well ask: Why is Croydon so anxious to go to its self-appointed umpire? Why cannot it be content with what one of the other counties has got, an independent tribunal? Why should Croydon choose its umpire?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
My right hon. Friend was not chosen by Croydon at all; he was appointed in the normal way.
§ Mr. Ede
Croydon has drafted this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member is surely not going to tell us— it would be very interesting if he did— that the Minister of Housing and Local Government drafted the Bill, handed it over to Croydon and said, "Here it is; get on with it." This is Croydon's Bill and not the Minister's Bill; and Croydon nominated the umpire it would like. I wonder why, when there is quite another method which has been adopted in certain cases.
I want to speak as a native of Surrey who values very highly the amenities that Surrey gives to the vast population that has grown up just to the north of it and in the north-eastern part of the county. It would be a tragedy for London if it were possible for that great line of the North Downs and the Leith Hill massif to the south to be peppered about with this kind of dump that Croydon wants to establish in this most unsuitable place.
I think that a county which has the record that Surrey has for dealing with this matter judicially ought to be allowed to retain its powers. I am quite certain that if Croydon will meet the Surrey County Council and any district council concerned, it will find that Surrey is as anxious to provide it with suitable places at which this operation can be carried on 326 as it could wish. Surely that is the best way in which this can be done. I think that a county with the great natural heritage that Surrey enjoys, with the tremendous responsibilities that it has shouldered for preserving that heritage during the last thirty or forty years, is entitled to retain the power which it has not abused and which it has used not merely for the protection of its own citizens but for the benefit of those who come to it to find necessary recreation and relaxation.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
I do not intend to detain the House for any period of time tonight and I should like to express on behalf of the whole House our regret that the senior Member for Croydon, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris), is precluded from being in the Chamber tonight. We are very sorry indeed.
This Bill deals with refuse disposal, which is not one of the more burning subjects for which my right hon. Friend is responsible.
§ Mr. Bevins
My right hon. Friend has already made a report on the Bill which has been considered by the Committee which examined the Bill's proposals on 12th March upstairs. It is only right that I should restate very briefly the reasons which prompted my right hon. Friend to recommend that the Bill should be allowed.
It is quite true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) said, that in 1931 the Surrey County Council Act gave the county council and the district councils the power to prohibit the tipping of refuse in Surrey, and the then Minister of Health— those were the days of the second Labour Government and, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, quite a number of curious things happened during the first nine months of that year— recommended that there should be the right of appeal. The recommendation was not accepted by Parliament and the purpose of the Bill now promoted by the Croydon Corporation is, in effect, to amend the Surrey County Council Act and to bring into being the right of appeal which was refused by Parliament in 1931.
327 It has been said, I think from both sides of the House this evening, and it was certainly said before the Committee upstairs, that the arguments in support of the right of appeal were pressed very hard upon Parliament by the Minister of the day in 1931 and rejected. That, of course, is perfectly true. But a great deal has happened in the last twenty-six years. There are three cogent reasons— at least I think they are cogent— why we should not lean too heavily at this stage on that earlier decision.
To begin with, Parliament itself has never at any time since 1931 accepted the Surrey Act as a good precedent. There has never been a single occasion since 1931—
§ Mr. Bevins
— where Parliament has conferred upon a county council or upon the collection of district councils the right to veto the tipping of rubbish. For example, powers to control tipping were given to the Essex County Council in an Act of 1933. They were given to Middlesex in 1934 and to Hertfordshire in 1935. On all these occasions there was a right of appeal from the decision of the local authority.
§ Mr. Bevins
Yes, my hon. Friend is right on the second point, but, at the same time, there is a power of appeal in the case of Essex. I have made some inquiries and I apologise that I am not in a position to give a categorical answer to his first question. Certainly, however, in the case of Essex there is a power to appeal, but not to my right hon. Friend.
Secondly, the techniques and methods of tipping refuse have changed enormously in the last twenty-six years. Any hon. Member of this House with any connection with local government knows that to be the case. It is true that in 1931 tipping was often a crude business, which gave legitimate annoyance to local people. When Surrey promoted its Bill 328 in 1931, it was able to point to the existence of unsightly refuse dumps, some of which were smouldering or burning, and some of which were inhabited by animal life of one kind and another.
I do not want to exaggerate the improvement that has taken place, but undoubtedly there has been an improvement in modern methods of controlled tipping whereby the top of the tip is progressively covered as it is extended, and it is possible nowadays to avoid very largely the unsightly scars on the landscape which were so common years ago.
§ Sir H. Webbe
Would my hon. Friend say whether it is also possible to avoid the rats and the flies and the dust? If so, I should like to see the tip where that has been done.
§ Mr. Bevins
I think that to a large extent it has been done. I think that flies and animal life are largely kept down at well-controlled refuse tips which have been established in the last ten years by local authorities.
Thirdly, there has been a great extension of the general statutory powers which are used to control refuse tipping. Tipping is a form of development which, as the House knows, requires planning permission. Throughout the country the establishment of new tips is regulated by the mechanism of the Town and Country Planning Acts. Under these Acts, the power to give or to withhold planning permission rests with the local planning authorities, with, of course, the right in every case of appeal to my right hon. Friend.
I want to emphasise that both my right hon. Friend and his predecessors in office, no matter what their party complexion may have been, have frequently insisted on conditions which have been aimed at preserving local amenities and preventing the pollution of underground water supplies.
These are reasons in favour of a right of appeal, but simply to state these reasons is not to mean that either I or my right hon. Friend, or, indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) are insensitive to the anxieties which are naturally felt by all lovers of the English countryside. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 329 South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, Surrey is one of our most beautiful counties.
On the other hand, and we must face this, every large town and city has its responsibilities for refuse disposal. Incineration is not the complete answer to this problem. To begin with, it is costly. Very often it is difficult to find suitable sites in built-up urban areas, and even then there are residues of refuse to be disposed of somehow or other.
Of course, in the long run the refuse from our big cities can be valuable in restoring landscapes, in providing infilling for new promenades, and things of that kind. [Laughter.] My hon. Friends laugh, hut one of the finest promenades in the North of England has been constructed on the basis of refuse supplied by the Liverpool Corporation. In the short term, however, it can, and does, produce conflicts of opinion between one local authority and another.
With the greatest respect to my hon. Friends on both sides of the House who represent Surrey constituencies, or live in Surrey, I am not at all sure that their county ought to be in a different position from the remaining counties in this country. Clearly, one has to balance the real needs of our towns and cities against the general desire to protect the countryside. That is something— and I say it with great respect to my hon. Friends— which, in the nature of the case, the local authorities of one county often find it hard to do, because, obviously, they must look at this primarily from their own point of view and must concern themselves largely with one side of the question.
I therefore put it to the House that in the last resort, not in the first resort, the decision whether a site should be used— and this is the heart of the matter— ought to rest with my right hon. Friend. After all, he has an overriding responsibility both for refuse disposal and for public health, on the one hand, and also for the protection of the countryside and of local amenities, on the other.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility of the countryside being peppered with refuse dumps, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) suggested the possibility that, if we went through the normal procedure of planning appeals to my right hon. Friend, questions of 330 the pollution of water would not be considered. Let me say to my right hon. and learned Friend that he is entirely in error in that view, because what is suggested in the Croydon Corporation Bill is that the Croydon Corporation ought to have the right of appeal to my right hon. Friend, and as the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend include public health as well as planning, that clearly is a consideration which would be taken into account by him. Equally, if I may say so to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, considerations of amenity in the English countryside would equally be taken into account by my right hon. Friend.
I submit to the House that whatever the merits of local government in this country may be, and however wisely the Surrey County Council may have exercised its powers in the past, my right hon. Friend with his responsibilities not only for planning but for public health and for amenity, is in a far better and unbiased position to consider these questions, and to offer an opinion on them in the last resort, than any local authority, because he is bound to see all points of view.
I have quite deliberately confined myself tonight to the general principle underlying the Bill. This was, of course, the basis of my right hon. Friend's report which was considered by the Committee upstairs. That Committee, it should be emphasised, came to the conclusion unanimously that the Bill ought to be allowed. It would be most undesirable for the House, on Third Reading, to reject the decision arrived at by that Committee.
§ Mr. Bevins
I feel bound to remind my hon. Friend that when the 1931 Bill was put forward by the Surrey County Council its sponsors refused to accept the recommendation of the then Minister of Health in Committee upstairs; but when, in 1957, the Croydon Corporation came to the House with a Bill to enable the Corporation to have the right of appeal against that veto, to the best of my knowledge no voice was raised in the House against that Bill going to a Committee upstairs.
It is only when that Committee of the House decides unanimously that the Bill 331 should be allowed that voices are raised in the House on Third Reading. I do not object to that, but I am saying that on the first occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon was resting his case on the decision of the Committee upstairs whereas, today, he is taking the contrary view.
§ Mr. Bevins
I speak subject to correction, but my impression is that that information has been conveyed certainly to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
According to the shorthand note, the report of the Chairman said that it was a unanimous decision.
§ Mr. Bevins
I am obliged to my hon. Friend.
The situation can be crystallised quite shortly by saying that the Surrey County Council is the only local authority throughout the country which at present possesses this power of veto, and that if the House is prepared to give a Third Reading to the Croydon Bill the arbiter in the last resort will be my right hon. Friend. Therefore, as far as the Government are concerned, we recommend that the House should give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Member say a little more about the cost of incineration? It seems that if the Minister is to have power to decide in a difficult case, the question of cost might arise apart from the question of amenity.
§ Mr. Bevins
What the hon. Member says is quite true. The cost of incineration is today very high indeed. It is partly because of the high cost and partly, also, because of the difficulty of securing sites that more and more local authorities throughout the country are using refuse dumps as opposed to incineration. That is an important consideration.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
I find myself in some difficulty in this matter, because, by and large, I do not like to increase the powers of Ministers in relation to local authorities. Generally 332 speaking, Ministers wield too much power. It would, however, be too much to expect anyone to get up from the Government Front Bench and do anything to reduce the power of a Minister. Instead, the tendency is always to increase the power of Ministers. We would expect that attitude from whichever party was occupying the Government benches.
Therefore, I do not like the idea that more power is necessarily given to Ministers especially when all the powers are vested in one Minister. If one Minister dealt with planning and another with something else— for example, health— there might be a case for saying that because something was granted on planning grounds, it might be opposed by another Minister on, say, health grounds. The presumption is, however, with all the powers vested in one Minister, that it would not be opposed on health grounds after planning approval had been given. Any authority with the power which Surrey now has, of having all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, could not set off a decision by one Minister against other factors which have to be decided by other Ministers, who would not willingly give up the power they now have. To have a collective decision given by one Minister is not a good thing.
As far as I know, there has been no material trouble in Surrey in the operation of the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill. I do not object to any local government authority getting away with whatever it can in a local government Measure against the Government. Governments are always meticulously careful to ensure that local authorities do not obtain in a general powers Act anything which might detract in any way from the power of Ministers and Surrey has been very fortunate to do what it has done.
The main ground on which I would support Surrey is that I would make it as difficult as possible for any authority to dump refuse, in spite of what has been said about people going over to refuse dumping because incineration is expensive. How can anybody defend dumping against incineration? If rubbish is incinerated, it might then be the duty of Surrey or any other authority to make proper provision for ash residue to be used in a very good way for the purpose 333 of levelling and things of that kind, without the detrimental effect which follows dumping.
I shall support Surrey, and I am not concerned whether one authority has something which we in Middlesex have not and might like to have. I support Surrey not because I want to enter into the quarrel but because anything which makes it more difficult to dump refuse, and which throws the onus more and more on an authority to proceed with incineration, will usually have my support.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I am sure that the short, but very cogent, intervention in the debate by the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) will impress the House, and certainly impress it more than the most regrettable intervention by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. My hon. Friend said that there is something wrong in the House of Commons acting contrary to the recommendations of a Private Bill Committee. That is, indeed, a strange and novel constitutional doctrine, and I reject and refute it utterly.
There is indeed something rather cursory, if not wrong, in rejecting a Bill in the early stages, but there is something generous and right in allowing it to go to a Committee stage. But it is nonsense to say that a Private Bill Committee of four Members should carry the will of the House and that the House must follow blindly upon the Committee's decision. That seems to me not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will disabuse his mind of that in the future.
As to the Parliamentary Secretary's arguments in favour of the Bill, I find one of them deplorable and one of them ridiculous. The one that is deplorable is the argument that there must be complete uniformity throughout the country and that we must take way a right or a freedom from a certain local authority or group of local authorities without inquiry into whether that right or freedom has been abused. What an argument for a Conservative Minister to produce.
I do not believe that it is the monopoly of Conservatism, by any means, that people should enjoy rights and freedoms as long as they do not abuse them and 334 become a danger to their neighbours or a menace to the good life of the country in general. This is a poor argument on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary. It is the voice of bureaucracy. It is not the voice of Esau, but the voice of Jacob, the voice of bureaucracy. I really think that Surrey, with its record, is entitled to better treatment. I hope that that argument will not weigh with the House.
The argument that I find ridiculous is that to dump a lot of refuse on somebody's land is a nice thing to do and that refuse is charming, odourless, and ornamental, and provides good foundations for esplanades and promenades, and that Surrey should be delighted that Croydon should have honoured it with its refuse. I really think that it reaches a point of absurdity when we are told that, after all, a rubbish dump is not a bad thing.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Surely my hon. Friend is aware that a great deal of valuable work is done by controlled tipping. He will recall the examples that I gave. The new sports fields in Mitcham, for example, are entirely dependent on this process being carried out.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Of course one can reclaim bogs and fill derelict gravel pits and do all sorts of things, but I do not think that Surrey is such an ugly county that it needs the embellishment of Croydon's rubbish. My hon. and gallant Friend should not claim that Surrey will be beautified by such rubbish.
§ Mr. Nicholson
My hon. and gallant Friend must visit my constituency, and then he will find that it will not be improved.
§ Mr. Bevins
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) tell the House who has claimed that Surrey would be beautified by rubbish dumps?
§ Mr. Nicholson
I am, of course, exaggerating in order to underline the absurdity of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact that rubbish dumps are less offensive than they were thirty years ago has nothing to do with the case in point, and I do not know why he brought it in. I am reducing the arguments to absurdity, 335 which was, perhaps, not necessary after my hon. Friend's speech.
But this is a serious question and a serious matter in the County of Surrey. I would lay down the following incontrovertible points. The first is that a rubbish dump, even the most modern and sanitary one, is a revolting thing in any case. Secondly, Surrey has not shown itself unsympathetic to the needs of Croydon and other rubbish dumping districts, and it is wrong to take a right or freedom from an individual or local body until it can be shown to have been abused. Thirdly, the mere argument for uniformity is not one which ought to weigh with the House.
Fourthly, if it is concluded by the Government that these rights should be taken away from Surrey and that there should be uniformity, the Government should not do it in such a piecemeal fashion. It is ridiculous now to propose to put Croydon in a favoured position. Charming though my hon. and gallant Friend may be, I am sure he would not claim that Croydon alone should have the right to dump its rubbish under favoured conditions. This is not the way to do it. This is a bad Bill. It is tinkering with the subject. The Bill is founded upon a misapprehension, and I hope that the House will reject it.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I feel constrained to intervene because I am alarmed about the Parliamentary Secretary bringing in the cost of incineration. It seems to me that in this day and generation, with our population expanding so rapidly and with our countryside being earmarked for the spreading of towns and industrial installations of one kind and another, we ought to do everything we can to preserve our amenities. If a big place like Croydon is able to dispose of its rubbish by incineration, it should be compelled to do so. Every other big authority ought to do the same.
We have often dealt with sewerage systems in the wrong way. It has been done partly to save expense, but, if we are to preserve as fully as we can the amenities of our countryside, we must watch everything that is liable to despoil it. For that reason, I shall support Surrey in the Lobby.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
This is a completely mischievous and unfortunate Bill whose only merit is that it has been introduced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) in a breezy, nautical way. That is the only possible merit there could be about a Bill of this kind.
The provision to which reference has been made has been effective since 1931. We have heard about the apparently chuckle-headed Parliament which introduced it in 1931 and about another chuckle-headed Parliament of 1949. I will say nothing of those Parliaments, but if the present Government are to alter that law, then the onus of proof rests upon those who say that it should be altered.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East sought to drag in some analogy from the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, but I must point out that in that case the appeal to the Minister was made only by the developer. There has never been an amendment by that Act to any similar local government Act. We have heard that the Minister has not been able to help us over the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1949, but I am told that Croydon opposed the right of London County Council—
§ Mr. Rawlinson
I do not see that where Epsom dumps its refuse has anything to do with where Croydon wants to dump its refuse. If there is any question about that, I am sure that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), my most distinguished constituent, will assist me in the matter.
§ Mr. Williams
I should have thought that a Member of Parliament representing Epsom would at least know—
§ Mr. Rawlinson
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever 337 Epsom does, it does not dump its refuse where other people do not want to have it.
There have never been these objections before. It is very interesting to see that the Croydon Borough Engineer, in his evidence before the Select Committee, admitted that the Surrey County Council had never acted arbitrarily or unreasonably since 1931. In fact, he said that Surrey had always been most helpful. Generally, therefore, I cannot see why the County of Surrey should be deprived of its rights. It would be a dangerous and unfortunate precedent if this piece of piecemeal legislation, as the Bill has been described, were passed. I have heard the right hon. Member for South Shields speak on many occasions about the great amenities which Surrey offers. That is something which should be borne in mind by every hon. Member who has ever experienced travelling through that county.
Local knowledge in all these matters is always superior. Contrary to what many hon. Members opposite may think, the man from Whitehall does not know best. I am perfectly satisfied that the best knowledge, the best information and the best judgment on matters such as this are with the county council.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Will the hon. Member agree that it would have been far better if the debate had taken place on Second Reading, rather than that Croydon should have been put to the expense of promoting the Bill?
§ Mr. Rawlinson
The hon. Member, of course, was not in the Chamber when that was explained on at least two different occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) said that it was an opportunity for Croydon to put its case before the Select Committee and to deploy its arguments; after those arguments had been deployed, the Bill should come to the House for its Third Reading, so that those of us who oppose the Bill would be able to meet those arguments and recommend to the House that it should not pass the Bill.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I rise to support my hon. Friends who have opposed the Bill. Many of them represent county constituencies 338 in Surrey, but I am able to put very briefly a slightly different point of view, because, as the House knows, I represent one of the metropolitan Surrey constituencies, that of Merton and Morden. In many ways we are in a position similar to that of Croydon. Of course, we are a great deal smaller than Croydon and our refuse problem is only about one-quarter of Croydon's. None the less, we are an urban area, as Croydon is, and the available sites upon which we can dispose of our rubbish have been used up. We have had to go outside the area to find other places.
In April of last year we found a site which seemed to us to be suitable, in our neighbouring borough of Malden and Coombe. In accordance with the provisions of Section 94 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, we made application — as Croydon did in connection with Reigate, which application gave rise to the Bill— both to the Surrey County Council and the borough of Malden and Coombe. Both those bodies withheld their consent— but we did not find it necessary to come to Parliament with a Bill to try to set up another arbitrator whom we thought might be more favourably disposed to us. We sat down with these other bodies to try to work out conditions which would be acceptable both to them and to us, by means of which we could use this site for the disposal of our rubbish. By July of last year a series of twelve conditions had been agreed to between the three parties concerned, and the necessary consent had been given.
This is only one example of the procedure which has been followed on many occasions previously in the County of Surrey, under the provisions of the Act which it is now sought to alter. I have no doubt that this sort of thing will occur again. Indeed, in the case of Merton and Morden we know that it will happen again, because the site which we have agreed upon will last only for a few years and we know quite well that after that we shall have to go through this process again. Nevertheless, although we are in a similar position to that of Croydon, we are quite happy with the existing state of the law.
I have always believed, together with several of my hon. Friends, that before a law is changed a good reason must be 339 shown why it should be, I have shown that in our small way we have the same problems as Croydon, but that we are content with the existing state of the law. I suggest that no evidence has been produced to show that the law has been abused, and I very much hope that the House will decline to give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
This matter arises from a small local dispute, but that is no reason why the House should not have treated it with the seriousness that it has done, or, indeed, why it should not have aroused the great feelings that it did on some occasions. The matter arises from the fact that Croydon found some greystone lime quarries and wanted to dump its rubbish there, but Reigate objected for what it considered to be good reasons.
On one side of my constituency, within a few yards of the boundary, are the grey-stone lime quarries at Merstham, and within a few yards of the other boundary of my constituency is the borough of Croydon. I feel myself to be, if not a rose between two thorns, at any rate the representative of a constituency which has the problem upon both sides. I am happy to say that the Coulsdon and Purley Council, who represents the northern part of the district, has always had good relations with both the corporations concerned, and it does not intend that I should take any very active part in the debate. At the same time, the Caterham and Warlingham Council, further to the south, is opposed to the Bill. In view of the controversy that has been aroused and the proximity of the dispute to my constituency, I had at one time thought that I would vote in both Lobbies to show that I was impartial, but I have now decided to go into neither.
I should like to say a few words upon the question of rubbish disposal. It is quite true that over the years Surrey County Council has behaved extremely well in this very difficult question. The problem is getting worse every day, however. Indeed, if the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) or any other hon. Member can tell me of a good large hole in Surrey which is suitable for tipping rubbish, I shall be only too pleased to be told its where- 340 abouts. Many people are looking for such places without any success at all.
It may well be that difficulties will arise in the future, and I hope that Surrey County Council will view them with favour and impartiality. I should like to refute the suggestion that possible promenades upon rubbish dumps would be of any advantage to Surrey. As was said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), Surrey is one of the lungs of London, one of the beauty spots which Londoners, apart from local people, use in the Green Belt. Knowing the difficulties of this nature in the matter of the Green Belt against the right of appeal of the Minister, I should be very loath to give the Minister any power of appeal over a local matter affecting the amenities of Surrey in this way. Time and again has the local council, which is the planning authority, given its decision and been overruled by the Minister. That may happen under the provisions of this Bill, and there would be more trouble looming ahead for hon. Members representing Surrey constituencies than at present, and that is quite enough.
However, I do not wish to appear to come down on one side or the other. Having said what I wish to say, I shall now leave it to those hon. Members who hold strong views on the matter to express them in any way they wish.
§ 8.56 p.m.
Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)
I do not think that there is much need to add anything to what has been said for the Bill, because the case against it has been made so strongly, and I do not wish to compete with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who made a most eloquent speech about the beauty of the County of Surrey.
If anything is needed to decide the fate of the Bill, I think that it is contained in the report of the Minister of Housing and Local Government which is contained in the petition of the supporters of the Bill. The report states thatIf the present Bill is passed, Surrey will still be in a privileged position as compared with other counties surrounding London in that the right of appeal will be given only to Croydon County Borough. In the Minister's view, however, the provision of the Bill is right in principle and its acceptance would be a substantial step in the desired direction.341 This surely shows that the whole purpose of the Minister's support of the Bill is in a roundabout way to try to achieve a different purpose. I suggest that if it is the intention of the Government that measures of this kind should be taken, they should come out into the
|Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
§ open and introduce an The matter should not the back door in this
§ Question put, That read the Third time:
§ The House divided: Ayes 89, Noes 63.341
|Division No. 94.]
|Agnew, Sir Peter
|Rippon, A. G. F.
|Aitken, W. T.
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
|Baldwin, A. E.
|Gower, H. R.
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)
|Russell, R. S.
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald
|Short, E. W.
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
|Sparks, J. A.
|Bishop, F. P.
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence
|Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)
|Stokes, R. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich
|Blyton, W. R.
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)
|Stones, W. (Consett)
|Bossom, Sir Alfred
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)
|Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
|Boyle, Sir Edward
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.
|Temple, John M.
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
|Thompson, Lt.Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
|Usborne, H. C.
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.
|Joseph, Sir Keith
|Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
|Burke, W. A.
|Langford-Holt, J. A.
|Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
|Channon, Sir Henry
|Leburn, W. G.
|Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
|Wheeldon, W. E.
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
|Williams, Rev. Llywetyn (Ab'tillery)
|Cooper-Key, E. M.
|Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
|Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
|Cronin, J. D.
|Mann, Mrs. Jean
|Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
|Crouch, R. F.
|Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
|Woof, R. E.
|Currie, G. B. H.
|Oliver, G. H.
|Woollam, John Victor
|de Feitas, Geoffrey
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
|Yates, V. (Ladywood)
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.
|Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
|du Cann, E. D. L.
|Edwards, R. Hon. John (Brighouse)
|Pitman, I. J.
|TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
|Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallet and
|Elliott, R. W.
|Ainsley, J. W.
|Hutchison, Sir James (Scoutstoun)
|Armstrong, C. W.
|Awbery, S. S.
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.
|Powell, J. Enoch
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)
|King, Dr. H. M.
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)
|Kirk, P. M.
|Sharples, R. C.
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)
|Shurmer, P. L. E.
|Lucas, J. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.
|McKay, John (Wallsend)
|Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
|Davies, Shephen (Merthyr)
|Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
|Mawby, R. L.
|Snow, J. W.
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
|Finch, H. J.
|Messer, Sir F.
|Summers, Sir Spencer
|Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
|Mort, D. L.
|Thomas, George (Cardiff)
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
|Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
|Vane, W. M. F.
|Hayman, F. H.
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
|Watkins, T. E.
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
|Nugent, G. R. H.
|Webbe, Sir H.
|O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
|Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
|Hoy, J. H.
|Palmer, A. M. F.
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)
|Pargiter, G. A.
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Hunter, A. E.
|Mr. Atkins and Mr. Black.