HC Deb 22 June 1959 vol 607 cc965-96

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

In raising the question of the pollution of our rivers, estuaries and coastal water, I propose to do so in the most non-controversial way of which I am capable, for two reasons. The first is that I am raising a matter which is of great interest to a large and influential all-party River Group which has been formed in the House, and secondly, because other hon. Members have matters which they would like to ventilate during this Adjournment debate. So I shall speak, I hope, in a non-controversial way, and certainly briefly.

The conditions of our rivers and streams today is a scandal. To describe them as open sewers is to use a rather trite phrase, but unfortunately it is perfectly accurate. In some places crude, untreated domestic sewage is poured into our rivers. In many other places inadequately treated sewage is discharged. The credit squeeze has prevented the modernisation and replacement of our sewerage plant on the scale which was necessary. Meanwhile higher up the rivers more and more water is being taken out, thus reducing the flow of the rivers; and so we reach the position that more and more water is being taken out of the rivers above the towns and more and more deoxygenated and often foul effluent is being poured in downstream. The position, of course, is made worse by industrial discharges.

What is the result? The result is that a quarter of our population is being supplied with water from rivers which are liable to pollution from sewage and trade effluents. Dr. P. H. Silverman told the meeting of the British Association in 1957 that 90 per cent. of Britain's cattle drink sewage-polluted water.

I should like to give the House some examples of what is happening to a number of our rivers. I hope that hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House will join in giving similar examples. The Irwell is a river which flows through my constituency and is well know to a number of hon. Members of the House. From a few hunderd yards below its source near the village of Weir, just north of Bacup, the Irwell is polluted and gets steadily worse till it joins the Manchester Ship Canal. Recently, the managers of a school in my constituency complained to me at the fact that foam from the river was blowing across the playground of the school.

Even the River Irwell can be cleaned. There is one tributary of the river, the River Whitewell, also in my constituency, where local initiative, combined with expert help from the Pure Rivers Society which I was able to obtain, resulted in the river being cleaned up, and now it has been stocked with trout.

To take other examples, there is the River Avon, a river 100 miles in length, of which only 11 are free from pollution. The River Trent—and I am happy to see the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) in his place—is one of the most grossly polluted rivers in the country. It was at one time a salmon river. Now, I understand, there are no salmon in the River Trent. In parts there are no coarse fish either, and, indeed, in many parts even lesser river life is nonexistent. The medical officer of health has warned the people against bathing in the river. Regattas have had to be postponed because of the froth and inadequately treated sewage effluents, and the crews of barges have protested at the danger in going through the locks because of the froth upon the river.

That is a pretty bad situation, but the condition of our estuaries is, I believe, even worse. Outside this building, tonight, millions of gallons of sewage are pouring steadily downstream. Soon after midnight the same sewage will come back again. In three or four days it will have gone away only to be replaced by more sewage which will wash backwards and forwards past this building for the next three or four days. Yet at the turn of the century it was possible to catch roach from Westminster Bridge.

The Ribble is another badly polluted river, which has been much in the news during the past few months. I hope that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) will be able to take part in this discussion. In the estuary of the Ribble 17 million gallons a day of crude or partly treated sewage are being discharged into the tidal reaches alone, and that is in addition to 33 million gallons of treated sewage which is put into the river in the upper reaches. I am informed by the Anglers' Co-operative Association which, with the Pure Rivers Society, has done magnificent work in rousing public opinion, that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has refused permission to the Walton-le-Dale Urban District Council to go ahead with a new sewerage scheme. I hope that we shall hear more about that from the hon. Member for Preston, South.

The condition of the Tyne is even worse. I do not suppose that the name of Elijah Laws is well known in the House. It should be well known throughout the country. He was a fisherman on the River Tyne who has been fishing it for forty years. Even thirty years ago it was possible to have catches of 500 or 600 salmon at a time. Now, Elijah Laws has been forced to give up work and, in the words of the Newcastle Journal: He is fed-up with going out in his little skiff for days on end without catching a single salmon. He is tired of watching his silver polished hooks turn black at their first taste of the water. He is weary of mending nets that have been eaten and rotted away by the acrid filth that discolours and shames the river and a great area of the sea at their meeting point. He has been compelled to give up his work as a salmon fisherman because of the group ignorance and lack of foresight shown during the last thirty years. Now we have reached a position in which the Tyne is virtually destroyed as a river and it will be a superhuman task to revive it again.

About pollution on our coasts, I will say only that all round our coasts there are sewers which open direct on to our bathing beaches. Two years ago in Cornwall I watched children playing among pools in the rocks which were fed by grossly polluted water from sewers. As the Manchester Guardian put it only a few weeks ago: Millions who think that they are bathing in the sea around the British coast in summer are in fact in diluted sewage … there is a healthy stirring of demand that what is supposed to be clean water should be clean. Medical opinion is divided on the extent to which poliomyelitis can be transmitted in this way. I know that there are parts of the coast where no medical officer of health would ever dream of bathing at the height of the season. I know that the polio virus has been isolated in human excreta and that that can be water borne. In these circumstances, we are running a great risk by continuing to discharge untreated sewage into the sea and allowing children to bathe in it.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government when the Medical Research Council's report on this subject is likely to appear. It is an urgent matter. At this time of the year the public will wait anxiously to know what risks are involved. There are many aspects of the problem which we cannot now discuss because changes in legislation would be involved, but I would like to put three points to the Parliamentary Secretary. First, how many tidal waters orders have been applied for by river boards and how many have been granted? They are the orders which give river boards power over estuarial waters as well as over the non-tidal reaches of rivers. Secondly, is he satisfied that adequate steps have been taken to ensure proper co-ordination of all bodies which have some control over estuarial waters?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the speech which Mr. C. F. Thring of the Billingham Division of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. made to last year's annual conference of the River Boards' Association? Fie gave the list of authorities who had some control over a single estuary. They were the navigation commissioners, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, the river board, the inland drainage board, the local district authority, the Crown Estate commissioners, the sea fisheries committee and, on occasions, the county planning committee. It seems to me that there is at any rate a prima facie case in an estuary of that kind for having some body to co-ordinate the activities of the numerous bodies concerned.

My third point is this: I want to quote from the edition of the Surveyor and Municipal and County Engineer for 18th April this year. It reads: The Minister of Housing and Local Government, Mr. Henry Brooke, despite Treasury restrictions, decided in June to devise a national plan to deal with the pollution of rivers owing to increased public and Parliamentary opinion. He ordered a comprehensive national survey into the pollution of rivers by sewage effluents; to assess the size and exact nature of the pollution; to estimate the cost of remedial measures; and to produce a practical plan of action. This was a step in the right direction. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what progress is being made with the survey which the Minister decided to undertake?

I said that I would be non-controversial and I am, I hope, a patient man, but the Government should appreciate that the patience of many people is getting a little strained about the delay in dealing with the problem of river pollution. Our confidence received a shock when the Minister decided a year ago to extend for three years his power to stop river boards prosecuting in cases of pollution. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to say that it will be possible in the near future for the Minister to divest himself of that power and to give river boards more discretion than they have at present.

I have put a number of points to the Parliamentary Secretary. I hope he will be able to tell us that action is being taken, and that what action is being taken will be expedited. I conclude by quoting once again the Manchester Guardian, which said: It will cost money to undo the harm that generations of national bad housekeeping have wrought. But bad habits ought not to be condoned because they are apparently cheap.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

When I first came into the House, just over four years ago, I came in with the intention that whatever I tried to do, or not to do, I would try to make certain of one thing, and that was that the River Trent, at Burton, would be cleaned up. I watched the tactics of various hon. Members when they were trying to get things done, and I came to the conclusion that my best tactics would be to make a noise and to be persistent on the Floor of the House on this matter. Therefore, from time to time, I have made speeches and tried to raise the matter of the pollution of the River Trent.

I did all that in my sweet innocence. My speeches were read by the Trent River Board. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) has adequately described the condition of the Trent. At Burton, as the Trent flows through, there is not a living organism in the river, a river which used to be fished. As he said, the regatta itself has been interfered with by the conglomeration of foam on the surface of the river where the warm water from the new power station at Drakelow comes into the river and activates the latent detergent, producing a horrible mess.

In spite of the belligerent and highly critical speeches I made here, my main purpose now is to tell the House what the Trent River Board has tried to do and is doing. From my own association with the board, I am convinced that it is absolutely alive to the problem. In this, I am sure that it is symbolic of most, if not all, the river boards of the country. I said that, in my sweet innocence, I took the action I did. Probably my best plan would have been to go direct to the Minister or to the Trent River Board, to see what the magnitude of the problem was. Instead of that, after I had spoken here, the Trent River Board invited me to see the Trent from its source right to the Humber.

In two trips at the invitation of the river board, I was taken, first, from the source to Burton where I saw, in all its magnitude, the dreadful effects of pollution. Later, I was taken from Burton to the Humber, where I saw the magnitude of the problem of flooding. These two major problems facing the river board staggered me.

When I was taken from the source to Burton, I saw the River Tame and other streams flowing into the Tame from the Black Country and the Birmingham area, and I saw for myself, plainly visible to the eye, the excessive amount of pollution, all of which poured into the Trent at Alrewas, just above Burton. I realised what the river board was up against.

When I asked what the solution was, I was told that it was neither more nor less than the treatment of sewage—as simple as that. I am delighted to say that fishermen and the rowing lads at Burton and other river lovers have assured me that, during the last year, there has been a slight improvement as a result of the long-term policy of the river board and the local authorities in the Birmingham and Black Country area in dealing with sewage. The gas effluents and metal effluents, of course, are the worst.

One must understand that it is a longterm problem and that the solution will be achieved slowly. It cannot be dealt with in five minutes. I am delighted to say, from my own observations and what I have been told by the river board officials, that the £10 million scheme which has been started for sewerage works in the Black Country is already having some effect and there should, within five years, he a considerable improvement in the pollution of the Trent.

Last Friday, I went to the research station at Wallingford, run by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. This was opened in 1952. I was told that I was the first Member of Parliament to visit it, and that more visitors would be welcomed. It is worth a visit. One can see there just what research is going on into the protection of rivers. It was my great privilege to see a large-scale model of the Trent at Burton, 100 ft. long and 20 ft. wide. The scientists have reproduced there, with complete accuracy, the topography of the river and its banks, the exact condition of the bed of the river, and all the influences which are at work in the river. It is conducting experiments now to see how to deal with the weir and other obstructions in the river with a view to getting a better flow and training the the banks of the river. That model cost £6,000, and in it the whole being of the river is simulated.

It was an eye-opener to me that a research body, at the behest of the river board, which is footing the bill, was getting down to the practical difficulty of the cleaning of the Trent at Burton. It greatly impressed me. From being a belligerent critic four years ago, I have not exactly become a peaceful dove, but I am convinced that the river board is alive to its responsibilities and doing everything within its power, particularly its financial power, to deal with the problem.

Therefore, my contribution to the debate—and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rossendale for raising this matter again—is to bear testimony to the work that is already being done and to hold out some hope to those hon. Members who may despair. Those who did despair were those living on the banks of the Trent. There can be seen what is being done and what we hope to do. We hope that things will improve in the future, because the evidence of improvement can already be seen.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) will be interested in the river about which I want to say a word because, although he represents Burton, he also comes from the North-East and knows the River Tyne quite well.

I am afraid that the River Tyne presents much too big a problem for a river board to tackle. I have described the condition of the River Tyne before to the Parliamentary Secretary in a debate on pollution, but I will describe it again. It is a very narrow river. It flows through densely populated industrial areas for 10 to 15 miles to the sea. Within those 10 to 15 miles, within a mile or two of the river, there is a population approaching 1 million. The river is tidal beyond Newcastle, which means that the filth in the river flows down and comes up again twice a day. I believe that it is the most highly polluted river in the whole country. The pollution is not just detergents; it is real filth. The state of the River Tyne has only to be seen and smelt to be believed.

The last time that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and I raised this matter in the House, which was a year or two ago, he and, I think, the hon. Member for Burton took part in the debate. I quoted at that time—it was not my original phrase—from the report of the medical officer of health, who called it an "open sewer." The Parliamentary Secretary doubted that description. He may be interested to know that it appeared quite recently in the report of another medical officer of health on the Tyne.

The pollution of the Tyne is caused not merely by industrial effluents, although there is a great deal of them. The waste of tens of thousands of houses along the river is poured untreated into the Tyne. I think I am right in saying that there are only two local authorities on the Tyne which treat this, and one is the urban district authority represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West.

The pollution of the River Tyne started towards the end of the last century, when streets and streets of houses were built, each house with a water closet, and all the household waste was poured into the river. That process has continued. There are 15 local authorities on Tyneside, and Newcastle alone is building more than 1,000 houses a year. All the household waste is poured direct into the river untreated and the result is industrial pollution and Tyneside has this great stinking open sewer flowing day and night through its midst.

The hon. Member for Burton—and I think that I can call him my hon. Friend on an occasion such as this—said that no living thing existed in certain parts of the River Trent. That is certainly true of the Tyne for at least 12 to 15 miles. Once upon a time, the River Tyne was one of the best salmon rivers in the country, but today not a single salmon gets through above Newcastle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) spoke of the effect on health. Certainly, the connection between river pollution and health has not been proved, but I cannot believe that in a densely populated area like Tyneside, with the population living very close to the river, there is no connection between pollution and health. On Tyneside, we have a T.B. figure which is twice that of the national average. I do not know whether there is any connection between that and the river.

I have raised this matter in an Adjournment debate in the House and asked the Minister of Health to investigate the causation of T.B. on Tyneside. It may be that there is some connection between a highly polluted river and this abnormal T.B. rate. We have a fairly high polio rate. I live near the river and a member of my own family got polio four years ago—not seriously, mercifully, but, nevertheless, we have a good deal of it near the Tyne.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale mentioned beaches. At the mouth of the Tyne we have two pleasant holiday resorts, South Shields on the south and Tynemouth on the north. In the House of Commons we hear a great deal about Tynemouth. It is a pity that the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) is not here today. In the summer those beaches are crowded with tens of thousands of holidaymakers from Tyneside and I cannot believe that the waters in which they swim and paddle are good for their health, because between those two towns this great sewer pours into the sea.

All of my constituents—about 50,000 of them—live very close to the river. Not one lives more than half a mile from it. We have schools of 400 or 500 children only a few hundred yards from the river. I ask hon. Members to imagine boys and girls of four and five spending their schooldays within 200 or 300 yards of this river, in some cases only 200 yards from this great sewer running through our midst.

As I have said, we raised this matter in an Adjournment debate two or three years ago. I must say that on that occasion the Parliamentary Secretary was unhelpful and unhopeful, to say the least of it. So far as I am aware, since then the Ministry has done nothing about the pollution of the Tyne, but the local authorities have themselves taken the initiative. In the autumn of last year, Newcastle took the initiative and called a conference of the 15 local authorities on Tyneside to see what would be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) attended that conference—and a very enthusiastic and useful conference it was.

As a result, local authorities have taken the first step of getting together and starting up the machinery of research to find the best way of tackling the problem. In addition, Newcastle has started a number of very minor schemes to extract a certain amount of the solid material from certain areas of the river. Of course, these minor schemes are nothing more than palliatives. I am told that cleaning the River Tyne would cost about £20 million. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Burton to talk about the river board, but its financial resources are limited. That sort of money is not within the realms of possibility for local authorities, either. If the major rivers of the country are to be cleaned, it is obvious that the Government must have some policy for helping the local authorities concerned. There must be some Government financial assistance to help these schemes.

I hope that the Government will give serious thought to this matter of cleaning up our major industrial rivers and, above all, to seeing how they can give some financial assistance to local authorities which are trying to face a problem which has been cumulative for the last fifty or sixty years and has reached such dimensions, in many other rivers besides the Tyne, that it can be solved only if the Government play their part.

9.31 p.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

It is a privilege to be able to congratulate the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) on his good fortune in securing the Adjournment debate this evening. From time to time events so turn out that it is possible in an Adjournment debate to deal with a matter much more thoroughly than is normally the case, and this is an occasion when we are dealing with something very important.

I have been privileged to be associated with the hon. Gentleman in the formation of the group he spoke of, an entirely unofficial group representing all parties in this House. I am sure that he would wish me to say that it was the late Richard Fort who was responsible for it. He took a great interest in this subject for some time and we are all sad that he is not able to be with us to guide us in our efforts.

I make no apology for speaking this evening on behalf of a sectional interest and declaring my own interest in it—that of the anglers of this country. Sometimes they are treated almost as a joke, but we ought to realise that is not the way to approach their problems. It is estimated, although I do not know on what the estimate is based, that there are well over 1 million regular anglers, whatever that may mean. Perhaps sometimes I have been an irregular angler. At any rate, there are a large number of people who indulge in this excellent pastime. We hope that in future, with more leisure time available for everyone, more people will spend their time enjoying this harmless sport.

It is no exaggeration to say that, if the conditions which prevailed a few years ago had been allowed to continue, in another twenty or thirty years fishing in this country would have been very restricted. It does not take very long to ruin a river. Some people do not appreciate that pollution, is not the only thing that matters. If a lot of water is taken out of a river and not replaced, dilution is affected, and that is the antidote to pollution. It means, therefore, that the whole policy has to be co-ordinated from beginning to end.

It would not be right or fair to say that the river boards do not appreciate the importance of the position and interests of anglers. In places river boards are doing a great deal for the anglers. I understand that there are parts of the country where perhaps they are not doing so much. But it must also be borne in mind that the powers of river boards are limited. They can act only after the event, after the pollution has talon place, and the real cure is to prevent it from happening.

There are some excellent organisations which are doing and have done magnificent work. The Anglers' Association and the Pure Rivers Association are two good examples. They take the matter very seriously—they are not just concerned with it from the nuisance point of view—and they do a great deal of research. They are available to be called upon at any moment to take samples and report on the state of the river.

A great deal of the pollution that causes the greatest danger happens very quickly. Something is done to this or that control, and it may result in tremendous damage. One of our concerns is whether the Government are taking this matter sufficiently seriously and whether there is anybody whose business it is to take a positive line over it. One realises the position of the Government, and this may underline what I am trying to say. First, we have the Minister with whom we are concerned this evening. He is concerned not purely with rivers, but also with supply of water to all people who want it, and to housing estates and that kind of thing. Then there is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As Minister of Fisheries he is very sympathetic to me and my friends, but when he speaks as Minister of Agriculture he is sympathetic towards those who take an enormous amount of water out of rivers and do not put it back again.

I am not pessimistic about the situation. We heard just now about the harrowing experiences of one of my hon. Friends regarding the Trent Water Board. I am not surprised, because I am told that water boards on the whole are taking that line. I read the other day about a salmon, admittedly a very dead one, which had been found on the banks of the Medway. It may have been a hoax, but let us hope not. It may be that the Thames Conservancy and all those people have behaved with tremendous skill and energy in the last few years so that at last the salmon are coming back.

We may see the time when hon. Members will line up on the Terrace to take their turn at fishing for salmon. They will haul them up, and then we shall have a feast in the House of Commons. That may be looking rather a long way ahead. Let us not be pessimistic. My hon. Friend spoke on this subject in a very encouraging way when we were discussing the Torquay Water Bill and although the result, in the end, seemed satisfactory from some people's point of view, he did not seem to be enthusiastic. I hope he will realise that we want to support him.

Some people are very apt to say, "None of the industrial people will take an interest in this matter. They are not willing to do anything about it." I do not think that that is true. I have heard recently that they are taking a great interest in these matters and are doing good work about it. I am sure that there are in the Federation of British Industry people who are keen on fishing, as there are everywhere, so the fishermen may win in the end. I hope that it will not be considered improper if one approaches this problem from the point of view of the angler.

Sometimes we in this House are apt to be very technical and legal, but here is something in which a very large number of people may combine, whether they are anglers, are interested in boating, or are merely children who are interested in bathing. One of the finest things that we have in this country is our beautiful rivers. We really must bestir ourselves about them.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I make no apology for speaking again on this subject of pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) and I have frequently taken part in such debates. Naturally, we speak very feelingly about that river which, even though it may be an open, foul-smelling sewer, is a river we really love because from its waters shipping goes to various parts of the world and it is the source of the tremendous wealth of our part of the north-east of England. So we feel it a shame that this river which we think so much of has been so badly treated. There are literally hundreds of open sewers running into that river.

As my hon. Friend said, fifteen local authorities are attempting to do something about this problem, but we do not think they are receiving that encouragement from the central Government which they might hope to receive. It may be that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has never accepted financial responsibility for sewerage and that there is not a Department with particular knowledge which can do scientific research into the problem, and that therefore the Ministry cannot help local authorities a great deal.

I was exceedingly interested to hear of the experiments which the D.S.I.R. is making at Wallingford. That is a first-class approach, and what is being done for the Trent I hope will also be done for the Tyne. When we had those meetings of which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) has spoken, there did not seem any avenue by which we could get any real information on the subject. We tried to get information about what was done in relation to sewerage systems entering the Thames. We got an eminent professor, whose name I forget, to come to Newcastle to talk about what was being done in relation to the Thames, but we have not got encouragement from the central Government in connection with this problem.

Through the ages open sewers have been allowed to run into tidal-waters with the result, as my hon. Friend explained, that this filthy stuff has been carried backwards and forwards until eventually, the current took it out to sea. Newcastle Corporation and the fifteen-men committee have conducted what we feel will be valuable experiments with the assistance of a department of King's College in trying to trace the effect of the current to see where this material is eventually deposited. That might give us a guide, but in my opinion—and I think I am voicing the opinion of the overwhelming number of residents of Tyneside—we should get away from the practice of treating tidal rivers in this way and allowing open sewers to empty into them.

There must be a method of treating sewage before it gets to the river. I know that in inland areas, urban authorities do this, but in the Tyneside area more than 1 million people live on a short stretch of country along the banks of the Tyne and all the sewers fall towards the Tyne. To do anything really constructive in the nature of cleaning the effluent before it goes into the river would be a very expensive job. It would also be a tremendous civil engineering feat to accomplish. In these days it is almost impossible to put such a financial burden on local authorities in that area. I know that I cannot refer on the Adjournment to something which might require legislation, but this may be a point about which the Ministry is thinking.

Naturally, we should like to know when we shall receive a report from the Committee which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said, the Minister set up over a year ago. I appreciate that a matter of this description cannot be dealt with quickly but must take some time. Much research is necessary. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will speed up the publication of the report, even if it is an interim report, in order to give a guide, in particular to the Tyneside area, where, for the first time, people are becoming sewerage conscious. For the first time there is a genuine desire by all fifteen local authorities to work in association with each other.

We know that there is always a cry that a local authority must be its own master. Petty jealousies arise from time to time. We have seen this happen often in the past, preventing a united approach to the problem. Among the local authorities on the Tyneside, however, there is a genuine desire to deal with this problem, but they want information and assistance. They are calling upon everyone in the area who, they think, can make a useful contribution towards its solution but, with all the skill of the engineers in the area, further research and information is required.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central has explained that two or three small schemes are in hand. One, of I think £30,000, is at Ouseburn, and there is another at Walker. They are trying to discover what percentage of the solids can be removed before the sewage flows into the Tyne. It is essential that this be done, but even afterwards there is the question of what is to happen to the sludge in such a densely populated area as Tyneside, where there is great difficulty in providing treatment and in obtaining open runways. Many people thought that the sludge might be extremely valuable as a fertiliser, although I think that events have proved that it is not quite as valuable a fertiliser as some people had thought, except by some method of aeration. I do not understand the technical terms.

Here again, it is for the Minister to bring his energy and drive to bear on these experiments and to give every possible help to the D.S.I.R., which is conducting experiments. The Ministry should not wait for local authorities to put problems to it. Through the Committee which he has set up, the Minister will know the size of the problem. He should be able to give instructions to an appropriate Department with a view to conducting the essential research which we need if we are to make our rivers as beautiful as they could be.

I end as I began. We on the Tyneside are very proud of the Tyne and of its achievements. We know what it can do for the welfare of the nation and what it can do to provide work for our people. We also know that it can be an extremely beautiful river and can give pleasure and health to those living on its banks if we utilise the knowledge which we feel certain is available and apply it in the right direction.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Alan Green (Preston, South)

I have a triple interest to declare. Four-fifths of my constituency lies on the banks of the Ribble. One-fifth lies on a much worse polluted stream than the Ribble—the Darwen. My own private interest is to supply industrially the paper trade, which is an immense user of water.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) on having initiated the debate. Listening to it, I wondered whether it was not possible, instead of pursuing separate although very laudable interests, for us to combine many interests so that we would have a surge of public opinion behind the demand for cleaner rivers and a more economical and sensible use of our water resources. I think that any other approach is hound to run into the kind of political opposition, industrial opposition, or perhaps local opposition, that is summed up in the old Army phrase, "Pull up the ladder, Jack; I'm all right." That is the sort of thing which in an issue of this kind we want to avoid.

While recognising the separate interests that may be involved, while recognising that old bad habits require to be changed in the public good, it is not just a matter of waving a wand to change those habits. It is a question of getting enough general public opinion behind one, and fusing a lot of quite separate and even conflicting interests into a major and sensible objective. If this can be done, or this process can be helped tonight, then I shall be very grateful to my political opponent for raising the issue here, and I would seek to help him to achieve that objective.

In the past few years, we have had a substantially successful campaign for cleaner air. I hope that we can launch an even more successful campaign for cleaner rivers and for the better use of natural waters. I am certain that this is not only socially right, but, also, that it is economically right. Every day, as standards in domestic life rise, and as industrial needs continue to increase, there is a growing demand for good, clean, usable water, and it is not only a matter of social habits and needs. It is also a vital economic need for the people of the country.

To maintain the progress of our modern industries, we must either spend an enormous sum of money on trapping the water in uneconomic sites on which to trap it, increasing the number of reservoirs in very difficult economic circumstances—the best sites for dams have already been used, and the less good ones will be enormously expensive and will arouse tremendous local opposition—we must either do it that way, which is an extremely costly way of impounding water additional to that which we already impound, or we must make our rivers cleaner so that the water already naturally flowing can be put to better and more constructive use. I am sure that this is a central point for any Government of any political character to tackle progressively over the next ten or twenty years.

I have a constituency interest which, very briefly, I want to mention, though I do not want to keep the House on this point. I think that we in this House are entitled to a small amount of credit. Generally, in these Adjournment debates, there are one or two Members present and a Minister or a junior Minister to reply. Tonight, there are perhaps 20 of us here, and no local papers will print it tomorrow. Perhaps we might take some comfort from that fact tonight.

On 9th November, 1958, at an exhibition at Olympia, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government said: At the Ministry, I am not holding up any sewerage schemes which are ready to go ahead I hoped to hear from him this evening that he is not holding up the Walton-le-Dale sewerage scheme, which is ready to go ahead. That scheme will make some small contribution to the cleansing of the estuary waters of the Ribble. There is a great deal that comes down that River Darwen through Walton-le-Dale that is, unfortunately, beyond the power of Walton-le-Dale to cleanse. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) spoke of salmon fishing. The only kind of salmon one can catch in the Darwen is a thrown-away tin that nobody has bothered to open. It is quite a filthy river, and wants cleaning.

I cannot imagine at the present time that. overnight, by a bit of administrative magic or even by the relaxation of the credit squeeze—with all due deference to the hon. Member for Rossendale, because I think that we should not be too particular about the causes of these things—the River Darwen becoming a crystalline, sparkling, beautiful thing, along the banks of which one could sit in high summer without being asphyxiated. That would take a great deal of time.

The point to be made is that every little helps, and every little helps not just one particular river or one set of people who have an interest in looking at it, or in using it as a clear stream, but helps the more economical, progressive and intelligent use of the country's natural water, and the real point of what I want to say is that if natural water is not better used and less abused than has been the case so far, if our policy is not directed towards that end, we will go short of a most essential industrial, commercial and social raw material—clean water.

Wherever we look, we want sites for new industry. It is true that that is a matter rainly of land usage. We have to discover whether we can have it, because others want to look over it, or build houses on it, or to shoot, not foxes, but pheasants on it. There are all sorts of interests involved in the use of land, but it is abundantly clear to me and, I am sure, to an increasing number of our people that the one resource out of which we should not run—in this climate—is good, clean, usable water. Yet, within the next decade, the single most cramping factor of industrial and social development—curiously enough, as I say, in this climate—will be the lack of usable water where we want it. Our one overwhelming natural raw material will not be available in abundance unless we stop polluting and destroying the abundance we now have.

I beg the Ministry to take up this matter, not only for the anglers, whose cause I well understand; not only for those who are frightened—perhaps rightly—about poliomyelytis on our beaches; not only for those who prefer a clean smell to a bad odour; not only for those who like to walk by the banks of a stream on a summer or spring evening, but also for those who, a little later, will have the duty of using Britain's national resources to keep our economic system viable in the modern competitive world.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for bringing forward this subject on the Adjournment. I join with the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) in saying that probably what we ought to do almost more than anything else is to inform the public so that they will be ready for the drastic changes which the Government may have to bring about in their habits, and so on. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) that the rivers of Dartmoor and similar rivers should be kept clean for people who live along them and for anglers.

We in Cornwall have some very ancient industrial pollution, particularly in my own constituency, where tin mining, as the House will know, has been carried on for many centuries and me washings from the tin have resulted in a red river which still flows quite close to where I live. There is little that can be done about that now. Indeed, unfortunately the industry is in a parlous state. I could tell some very interesting tales about the riches that have been brought up from Gwithian beach after the river has been sieved, as it were, by the tin operators down the miles of its length.

Today, the worst pollution comes from china clay, a very wealthy industry situated, in the main, around St. Austell There the pollution makes the rivers run like milk. I remind the House—perhaps the Minister will take note of this—that there was serious flooding at Par Station during the winter, when the water in the station was up to the height of the axles of the trains passing through. This was due almost entirely to china clay pollution which covers the valley where the station is situated on the edge of the beach. In addition, anyone going up the Western Region line east of Plymouth could not help but be struck by the china clay pollution of the once beautiful River Plym. I believe that the Cornwall River Board, which takes in that part of Devon, is doing a very good job, but that is an example of the industrial pollution which is going on in this day and age.

There is also pollution from sewerage, another problem that has to be tackled in Cornwall. It is not quite so bad now, although a lot of it goes into the sea, but as we have 300 miles of coast line there is plenty of chance for it to be diluted.

One of the worst forms of pollution today is from oil, but I am proud to be able to say that at Falmouth Docks there is the firm of Silley Cox Ltd. which pioneered the separation of waste from oil. It has spent a considerable amount of money on that work and has achieved great success which has been followed elsewhere.

I feel that I am justified in intervening in the debate to make these points, because, even in a place like Cornwall, pollution can be rather terrible.

10.5 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Perhaps I had better also declare an interest or two. I begin by saying that I am a vice-president of the River Boards' Association and of the Association of Drainage Authorities, a member of the Land Drainage Sub-committee of the Country Landowners' Association, a member of the National Farmers' Union and a former member of the Inland Waterways Association. In addition to those, which are voluntary duties, I have also had the great interest in this House of being Chairman of several Select Committees which have dealt with river matters.

I would like briefly to take up one point made by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in his interesting and highly constructive and helpful speech. He said that one of the problems now confronting river administration was the great increase in the extraction of water. This is, perhaps, one of the most pressing problems which now has to be faced. Agriculture is tending to move into the fields of irrigation in a way as never before in British agriculture. If this comes about and the water is obtained from the rivers, it will simply mean that the intensity of pollution will increase and today's position will be greatly worsened.

I think I am right in saying that a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee is sitting to discuss this very matter now. I hope that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, that that sub-committee is making good progress and that we can expect its report within the foreseeable future.

Another matter which is likely to come before the House fairly soon is amendment of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. It would be wrong, in this debate, to discuss anything involving legislation, but it is worth saying that the report of the Heneage Committee, which went into the whole question of land drainage, recommended strongly that something should be done to improve the drainage in upland areas. If that were done, it might increase the flow into main rivers, which might somewhat counteract the tendency towards increased irrigation. To some extent, that may help to balance that problem. Let us hope so.

It is encouraging to have heard so many hon. Members pay tribute to the work that the river boards are doing. In the past, it has been often said that the river boards were interested only in getting the water away to the sea and did not care what happened to it on the way down. In his book, "English Saga", Sir Arthur Bryant quotes a little couplet from Punch of 1840. It refers to the Thames as Filthy river, filthy river, Foul from London to the Nore, What art thou but one vast gutter, One tremendous common shore. Today, we can say that the Thames Conservancy, which ranks as a river board for this purpose, has done a wonderful job. Considering London's vast population, it has done remarkably well.

One other matter arises from something which became clear as a result of the proceedings of the four group Water Bills which recently passed through the House. I was Chairman of the Select Committee which considered those Bills. It was brought home to us clearly that local authorities, especially those just west of London, have not been paying nearly enough attention to the geology involved in water supplies.

The tendency throughout the country has been that river extraction has, perhaps, been overdone. Not enough thought has been given to geology. We might, in fact, be able to ease the strain upon our rivers and so improve the flow and reduce the pollution if local authorities could be made to consult more frequently. In our debate upon those four Bills, I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say that he would encourage local authorities to do so and to consult the Geological Survey, which is run by Dr. Buchan.

I am certain that if local authorities were to do that, they might find that they would have purer rivers in their developments. We know that considerable developments are going on in what has been hitherto always regarded as rural England. I have in mind places like Bletchley. We now have seriously to encourage all local authorities to take a great deal more trouble than they have done about the underground resources of water as well as the rivers.

10.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

I am sure that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will feel grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for embarking on this short discussion tonight. I personally am grateful to him for his co-operation and for the non-controversial tones in which he deployed his case, as, indeed, I am to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House for the moderation with which they have expressed their views. This debate is further evidence of the interest not only of the House but also of the general public in the condition of our country's rivers and coastal waters. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) in what he said about the force of public opinion.

It is very much an interest which my right hon. Friend and I share. We are most anxious to see clean waterways and beaches. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Centrad (Mr. Short) referred to his pride in the River Tyne notwithstanding its condition. I can understand that sentiment because the River Mersey, close to which I live, is not a particularly clean river, but nevertheless, having been born by it and lived there all my life, I have a very natural affection for that great waterway.

I ought to say right away that my right hon. Friend has never adopted a complacent attitude towards this question of the pollution of rivers and beaches, and I think the House will see in the next few minutes that we are making quite substantial progress. My right hon. Friend as Minister of Housing and Local Government has taken a very close personal interest in the problem which we have been debating tonight I believe that he is the first Minister of Housing and Local Government ever to address the River Boards Association, as he did in May of last year. It was on that occasion that he expressed the hope that he would go down—or up—in history as "Minister of Clean Rivers" as well as "Minister of Clean Air".

As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale knows, the river boards were set up in 1948. In 1951 the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act gave them powers to deal with pollution and to bring about over the years a wholesome river system. That Act applied right away to all non-tidal waters and watercourses, but, as has been said tonight, it can apply to the tidal reaches of rivers only if the Minister makes an order under Section 6, and a river board itself has the duty of seeking that responsibility.

While the river boards themselves are concerned with the condition of the rivers, it is, of course, the local sewerage authorities, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said, who are responsible for surface water drainage, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend emphasised, and rightly emphasised, the truth of the matter is that the river boards, to whom I should like to pay my tribute for the skill and energy with which they are discharging their duties, cannot make the progress which they would like to make in getting rid of pollution unless the local authorities are in a position either to modernise or to construct new sewage disposal works. That is the root of the whole thing.

It is true, of course, as the House knows, that during certain phases in the post-war years it has been necessary for successive Governments to restrain some of the local authorities who have wanted to embark upon sewerage and sewage disposal schemes, and I think it is probably fair to say, and I think this needs saying, that the suspicion which has fallen on successive Ministers that they really have had no enthusiasm at all for this task has probably derived from the country's intermittent economic difficulties.

However, the position at the moment is a good deal more rosy than it has been for many years. In pre-war years the average expenditure on sewage disposal works was about £5 million a year. In 1956 it was £15 million. In 1957 it had risen to just on £25 million, and last year it went up to the record figure of almost £33 million. I should like to make it perfectly clear that during the last eighteen months, at any rate, no sewerage scheme has been held up on capital investment ground.

Mr. Short

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether these figures represent any increase in volume of work? There is a vast difference in the value of money.

Mr. Bevins

Even allowing for the change in the value of money, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been an increase in the volume of work.

Since the end of the war, more than £245 million have been devoted to sewage disposal works and sewerage. It might be helpful if I were to give one or two of the more striking examples of the work done in the country, which is helping the river boards in their tasks.

Mr. Popplewell

Is there any possible hope of the Minister considering at any time legislation which might enable him to give grants to local authorities?

Mr. Bevins

As the hon. Member knows, I should be out of order if I answered that question directly.

Mr. Popplewell

I asked whether it would be considered.

Mr. Bevins

I may, perhaps, make a passing reference to that later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) asked about a scheme which would contribute to the lessening of pollution in the River Ribble prepared by the Walton-le-Dale Urban District Council. He asked whether my right hon. Friend meant what he said when he declared that he was not turning down any of these schemes. My right hon. Friend, of course, always means what he says. My hon. Friend will know that the scheme was changed from a partial to a full-treatment scheme which involves the acquisition of a further area of land. As soon as the local council is in a position to confirm that it can purchase the extra land, the scheme for full treatment may be approved without delay.

I should like to give examples of schemes in progress during the last year or two in relation to rivers which have been mentioned in the course of the debate. In the case of the Derwent, the Derby Corporation has been authorised to spend £2 million on the Sponden treatment works between 1952 and 1957. In the case of the River Severn, Gloucester County Borough has been authorised to spend £1¼ million on the Middle Rea Farm Works sewerage scheme.

The Irwell, of course, is the responsibility of the Mersey River Board. As the hon. Member for Rossendale knows, work has started on a £1 million scheme at the Ringley Fold Works of the Bolton and District Joint Sewerage Board. That will take about two years to complete and should lead to a great deal of improvement in the condition of the River Irwell. There are quite a number of relatively small schemes also under way. In the case of the Ribble, to which two hon. Members have referred, the higher reaches are affected by the inflow of waters from the River Calder.

There are three schemes either approved or submitted for new disposal works or improvements at Burnley and Accrington. In addition, the Darwen which also flows into the Ribble, will be improved by a scheme prepared by the Darwen Borough Council to improve its sewerage works at a cost of £160,000. The estuary is heavily polluted and we have authorised a number of big schemes by the authorities which are discharging effluents into the river.

These include a Preston scheme at a cost of £500,000 and a Lytham St. Annes scheme at a cost of £⅓ million. Blackpool schemes are estimated to cost more more than £500,000 and there are a number of smaller schemes. All told, there are before us a total of about £1,200,000 in schemes for improving the quality of effluents which flow into the Ribble and its tributaries.

Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)

Does my hon. Friend recall whether an application came from the Barnoldswick Urban District Council, because in the last few months the Ribble in the higher reaches has been much polluted?

Mr. Bevins

I am sorry, but I confess that I have only a vague recollection of that scheme and I cannot be more definite. However, I will gladly look into the position.

I listened with great interest and some gratification to what my hon. Friend said about the improvement that had occurred in the condition of the Trent. What he said was true. In the last six years, between 1952 and 1957, there have been 137 new or extended treatment works, involving an expenditure of about £15 million, and half of those schemes have already been completed. It is true to say that in the last few years the schemes which affect the quality of the River Trent have accounted for 15 per cent. of the total capital expenditure on sewage works throughout the country.

Turning for a moment to the troublesome and difficult case of the River Tyne, I am in a little difficulty because, according to Press reports I have seen, certain events have been taking place. My right hon. Friend, however, has not had any formal notification of the latest developments, so it is rather difficult for me to comment as intelligently as I would hope to do upon recent developments. My understanding of the position is that the float tests, which were carried out to see if it would be practicable to discharge untreated sewage into the sea through one single outfall, have not been successful, and I believe that the local authorities on Tyneside have now asked the numerous authorities on the Tyne for their recommendations.

I am reluctant to comment on what is a Press report, but it may be that only one site for an outfall has been examined on the Tyne, and there may be other outfall sites where the result would be different. If at the end of the day it should prove to be the case that untreated sewage cannot be discharged into the sea without risk to the inhabitants, the only alternative will be for the local authorities on Tyneside to get down to the job of considering either full or partial treatment of the sewage which goes into the Tyne.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central referred to the financial difficulties. It would not be right for me to say anything on that point beyond the fact that the terms of reference of the Armer Committee, which has already been referred to by one of my hon. Friends, include the question of financial problems. I do not say this as implying that my right hon. Friend has it in mind to give financial aid to local authorities, because one has to face the fact that many local authorities, large and small, have undertaken substantial financial burdens for the sake of getting on with this work.

I turn for a moment or two in its broadest sense to the question of river estuaries.

Mr. Short

If I may interrupt, what the hon. Gentleman says bears out my remark that our problem is probably one of the biggest, worst and most intractable in the country. He has held out no hope and enumerated no schemes on the Tyne. Will he give an undertaking that he will look into the problem of Tyne pollution, and at least discuss it with my hon. Friend and myself when he has had time to look into it?

Mr. Bevins

I assure the hon. Gentleman and his colleague that my right hon. Friend and myself have been following events on Tyneside with very great care. I just will not do for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that this is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Short

indicated dissent.

Mr. Bevins

It is primarily the responsibility of the local authorities on Tyneside, and if they want either the advice or the technical assistance of my right hon. Friend's Department it is always available for the asking. It just will not do to suggest that the responsibility resides with my right hon. Friend. That is simply not so. I am prepared, and I know that my right hon. Friend is, at any time to discuss the pollution of the Tyne with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. In saying that, I must make perfectly clear where the responsibility really lies.

Mr. Short

That is not good enough.

Mr. Bevins

I do not want to be discourteous to other hon. Members who put questions and I come now to the matter of river estuaries.

The hon. Member for Rossendale asked about orders under Section 6 of the 1951 Act. There have been two such Orders, one for the River Axe in Devon and the other for the River Wye. At present, there are six Orders before the Minister, and others are subject to talks between the boards and the Ministry. The Ribble is one of these. The only one which we have ever turned down came from the Isle of Wight. In that particular case, we could not see that an Order would serve any useful purpose. I should like to make it quite clear that we are ready to consider these applications sympathetically, indeed, almost to lean over backwards to help boards which feel that orders will achieve something worth while.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) referred to the dangers which arise from dilution as distinct from pollution. As my hon. and learned Friend said, an investigation is currently being carried out by a committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee. We hope that its report will not be too long delayed. When he has it, my right hon. Friend will certainly study it intensely and do what seems to be necessary as quickly as possible.

Now a word or two about the problem of coastal waters. This, again, is the responsibility of the local authorities. On the whole, the local authorities are facing their responsibilities. Recent inquiries we have made show that over 100 coastal authorities had either carried out, or were proposing to carry out, more than 160 outfall or sewage treatment schemes. Out of that total of 160, 60 schemes were for partial or full treatment. Those schemes, costing about £20 million, have, almost in every case, already been authorised. One example is the scheme at Bournemouth. Bournemouth has embarked on a full treatment scheme at Holdenhurst, at a total cost of £2½ million. This will very soon be starting and it should lead to a big, improvement in the waters of Bournemouth Bay.

I was asked about the hazards to health arising from sea bathing. As the House knows, there is at present no established connection between river pollution or water pollution and poliomyelitis. The committee of the Public Health Laboratory Service will probably report towards the end of this year. Whatever the report of that committee may be, even if it says that there is no established connection between the two things, that will certainly be no reason for further complacency about pollution in our rivers.

Several hon. Members asked about the national survey into sewage. This has never been mentioned in public either by my right hon. Friend or by myself, but it is the fact that, some time ago, my right hon. Friend wished to gain a better appreciation of the size of the problem and certain informal inquiries were made of various authorities. We are at present seeking to collate the results, which will obviously require very careful examination. Thereafter, we shall see what action is necessary.

As one hon. Member said, there is a host of agencies concerned with river pollution. Generally we find that coordination between the river boards, local authorities and industry, especially large- scale industry, works very well indeed. In spite of the limitations on our time tonight, I hope that the House will feel that this is a subject in which my right hon. Friend is keenly interested and in regard to which the Government are helping to stimulate local authorities to do a good job.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.