§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The interest in clean rivers, as in clean air, and the removal of grime from buildings in our towns and cities which has been going on in Palace Yard and all about London, is a welcome sign of reviving public consciousness of the value of the amenities of life and also, I think, of a growing hope that, as financial conditions become less stringent, it may become more and more possible for the Government to undertake effective action in these directions.
At the same time, it is generally recognised that all these are, inevitably, rather long-term objectives, especially perhaps the objective of clean rivers, because of the immense amount of existing pollution, the result of at least a century of neglect, and of the considerable cost which will have to be borne before it is put right. Supporters of the Bill, those who want to see rivers clean again, have reconciled themselves to having to wait quite a long time. But, while we are waiting, we do at the very least want to take all reasonable steps to see that the position does not deteriorate any further.
That, in a nutshell, is the object of the Bill, which seeks, by bringing river estuaries within the same control by river boards to which non-tidal waters are now subject, to check new sources of pollution in estuaries, and so stop the existing pollution from becoming any worse.
I feel that I should apologise to hon. Members for the fact that the Bill has been in their hands for only a week. I am afraid that this is rather a discourteous way to treat the House and outside interests, such as the F.B.I., chambers of commerce and local authority associations, which are affected by the Bill. It just could not be helped, in view of the short time which, under present arrangements, is open to hon. Members between the Ballot for Bills 741 and the first day for Second Readings. If we have not managed to frame the Bill exactly as the House wants it, I hope that hon. Members will nevertheless feel able to endorse our general objective and give the Bill a Second Reading. There will then be time for consultations to take place and improvements to be introduced in Committee.
My interest in river pollution goes back almost as long as I can remember. I have always had it in mind as something that I should like to do something about. I remember when I was young being taken for a walk beside the River Tees, below Piercebridge, and having pointed out to me a stone in the river and being told that when the water was at a certain height on that stone anyone might expect to be able to catch a salmon at a place called Hazel Dikes. That saying went back to a time when 500 or 600 salmon a year were taken in the River Tees on rod and line alone. The position now is that none are taken by any means, because the pollution of the estuary is such that migratory fish can no longer get up the river.
I remember thinking then what a pity it was—and it strikes me even more forcibly now—that so many of our English and Welsh rivers are so much less than they might otherwise be without the migratory fish, the salmon and sea trout, all of which are caught by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways, most of which I approve of, and which add interest and variety to life for those who live near a river or enjoy being by the riverside and taking an interest in the things that go on there.
Estuaries can be very agreeable places in which to bathe as well as to go sailing on, but in these days there are not many in which anybody would want to go bathing. I believe that a certain noble Lord was once so fond of bathing in the River Thames that he used to receive letters addressed to "Lord So-and-So. In the Thames, Off West-minister." That is an almost inconceivable situation now, in view of the state of the River Thames.
I have to declare what is really a countryman's interest in the Bill, because I live near a river which is polluted at the estuary, but having mentioned the interest of anglers and fishermen, which is of considerable economic importance 742 —as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) acknowledged when moving the Second Reading of the 1951 Act—I would emphasise that the Bill is not intended to be just a fisherman's charter it is much more a Bill about public health. Much the worst polluted parts of our English and Welsh rivers are the estuaries and much the worst source of pollution in the estuaries is not effluent from trade and industry but crude sewage, discharged untreated into the tideway. I will not enlarge upon the implications—hon. Members can work them out for themselves—but it was stated in this House as far back as 1948 that 12 million gallons of crude sewage went into the Tees estuary every day and 13,000 tons of solid sewage in the course of a year. With the increase of housing development in subsequent years the position today is almost certainly worse.
As hon. Members know, an inland local authority has to treat its sewage on a sewage farm and purify it before disposal. A local authority on tidal waters, or on river estuary, can and in most cases does, discharge its sewage raw, unscreened and uncontrolled into the tideway. The effect of this upon the Tees, the Tyne, the Thames, the Humber and many other estuaries is to make them, to all intents and purposes, open sewers for the people living near and working on them, with all the implications that has in respect of public health.
I believe that this is the only country in the world which has allowed its rivers to sink into this state. Despite the fact that it drains so much of the industrial areas of France and Germany, the River Rhine is in nowhere near such a bad state, and there is a very good run of salmon up the river, as some of my hon. Friends know, because when we have attended meetings of the Council of Europe we have fished in the Rhine, although I have to admit that we never managed to catch a salmon there.
Since I have got back to the subject of fish, I would say in passing that the public health aspect of river pollution to which I have referred is, in practice, very closely linked with the fishery aspect. In the matter of laying down standards of pollution, which is one of the duties imposed on river boards, the only creatures Who are really in a posi- 743 tion to know whether a river is polluted are the fish who live in the river. Therefore, hon. Members will find that the most practical-minded river boards have set as their goal for public health a standard of pollution which experience shows to be tolerable to the fish. In this they show great wisdom, because this question of pollution can be tackled gradually, and by degrees. The fullest and most expensive treatment of sewage is not necessary in the very early stages.
I would ask hon. Members to look at the 1951 Act, which governs the present position in the matter of river pollution. This Act made provision for:maintaining or restoring the wholesomeness of riversand it confirmed river boards as the public authorities by which this should be done. Section 2 says that it shall be an offence if a person:causes or knowingly permits to enter a stream any poisonous noxious or polluting matterbut after laying down this principle a great deal of the remainder of the Act is devoted to making exceptions, so that in one way or another pollution can continue. For example, a river board may not at present prosecute an offender without the consent of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and even when this consent is no longer required the prosecution still will not succeed if the local authority in question can show that it was not reasonably practicable to dispose of its sewage effluent in any other way.
Such improvement as there has been since 1951 has depended upon the co-operation and good will of local authorities and industry, and the tactful approaches of river boards, rather than on any sanction under the 1951 Act, because these have not yet been made fully effective.
The Act has been of great value, however, in enabling river boards to prevent the condition of non-tidal waters and streams from deteriorating by virtue of the powers under Section 7 over new discharges. I have a letter from the Wear and Tees River Board which says:It is largely on account of Section 7 that we have been able to control new pollutions in the non-tidal streams and about 250 consents have been issued. As new outlets and new discharges are made in non-tidal waters the Board is enabled not only to prevent any 744 extension of pollution, but also to bring about a gradual improvement in a most effective way and it is undoubtedly a most valuable tool in the hands of river boards. In general the local authorities and traders"—I ask the House to note this—in the non-tidal areas have been most co-operative and have resolutely tackled the sewage problem.In view of that letter and many other communications I have received from river boards, with which I will not trouble the House, I have no doubt that the Section 7 powers of the 1951 Act in regard to streams really do work.
This brings me to Clause 1 of our Bill, because it is this power of control over river pollution in non-tidal waters that we are asking the House to extend to cover the tidal reaches of rivers. Hon. Members may wonder why this was not put originally into the 1951 Act. It is true that no general power was given in that Act. All that can happen is that under Section 6 the river boards can apply for the extensions of their control to tidal waters by means of an order made by the Minister.
I think that there were a number of good reasons why the 1951 Act stopped short where it did. At that time, Parliament was almost certainly influenced by the country's financial position, and both the Government and the House were in a mood to go canny about any proposals to embark on extensions of capital expenditure. It was also true that in 1951 river boards were in their infancy, having only been constituted in their present form by the River Boards Act, 1948, and it was still a question whether they would exercise their powers with a due sense of responsibility. Since that time, they have triumphantly passed the test of a high degree of public responsibility in the functions which they discharge.
The order procedure under the 1951 Act was adopted, with the unfortunate result that pollution in tidal waters has been growing ever since, because only four orders have been made under Sestion 6 of that Act. If the House wonders why more have not been made, I do not think that it is because my right hon. Friend or the Ministry have been awkward or averse to making an order. It is simply that the preliminaries under Section 6 are so lengthy and cumbersome and involve so many consultations, a 745 Ministerial and a public inquiry, that the process just does not get under way.
I do not want to weary the House with a lot of quotations, but I have correspondence from the river boards and a great deal of evidence which confirm this point of view. Here it is perhaps appropriate that I should mention the safeguards to local authorities and others which are writen into Section 7 of the 1951 Act and which will be continued in the Bill. In the first place, there is the constitution of the river boards themselves which, as hon. Members, know, have a representation from the local authorities in the areas over which the boards have jurisdiction of up to three-fifths or two-thirds of the membership of the board. The local authorities, therefore, have direct representation and a say in river board policy.
Secondly, under the Bill a river board may not unreasonably refuse its consent to a discharge. The word "unreasonably" is in the Bill as it is in the 1951 Act. As to what is or is not reasonable, it is the Minister who has the final say. That is provided for in Section 7 (10) and the Minister may direct the board to vary or revoke any condition imposed by it. There is a further safeguard in Section 7 (9) of the principal Act that any local authority sewage works which has already received loan sanction from the Ministry is excluded from conditions imposable by a river board.
I think that experience has shown that there has not, in practice, been any question of abuse of Section 7 by river boards as applied to streams, or that they have been unreasonable in their requirements. This has been a valuable control, but that it would be still more valuable if applied generally to tidal waters and estuaries. There is no doubt that inability to control pollution in tidal waters under the 1951 Act has continuously hindered river boards from implementing the main intentions of the 1951 Act.
I should like to give the House two more short quotations from letters which I have had from river boards. The first comes from the south-west of England. The clerk to the board writes:For some time past, my Board has been concerned with the practice of a certain local authority of taking its cess pit emptier to the bank of a tidal section of a river within the 746 township and decanting the contents over the river bank. This emptier covers a large rural area and makes several journeys a day for the purpose of disposing of its contents which comprises a very filthy and in itself very polluting waste. Representatives of my Board recently met representatives of the local authority on this question, particularly as the discharge was being made at all states of the tide with the result that solid masses of this black, toxic liquor were being washed up and clown the river.The Board had no evidence to prove that it was actually toxic to fish within the terms of Section 8 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, and as the local authority was in no way concerned to be co-operative in the matter, my Board at the present time has no alternative but to accept the situation.I do not say that that is typical, but it is one example of the difficulties with which the river boards are faced.
The writer of another letter, from the north of England, states:It is considered, speaking generally, that conditions in the River Humber are degenerating and will continue to do so unless the Board have control over new discharges. The number of large industries discharging quantities of obnoxious effluence into the Humber is increasing … in addition a number of new sewerage works are being provided for parishes adjoining the Humber in the Board's area. The effluence from such works is being discharged or is proposed to be discharged untreated into the River Humber.As long as these discharges are uncontrolled, the difficulties of obtaining an order under Section 6, applying Section 2 of the Act, so as to deal with existing discharges will simply go on building up from year to year, because each new discharge creates a vested interest which sets up an additional potential opponent to an order applying Section 2 of the 1951 Act. That is really the argument for doing what it is our wish to do under the Bill.
I come now to Clause 2 and the Schedule. Hon. Members will have probably observed that whereas I have been talking about our intentions in regard to estuaries, the words in lines 11 and 13 of the Bill refer to… tidal waters and parts of the sea adjoining the coast of a river board area within which Her Majesty's subjects have the exclusive right of fishing …There is an important reason for that discrepancy. In the first place, although I believe that all hon. Members will know what they mean by an estuary, in bringing in the Bill we have not been able, in the time available, to produce a definition of an estuary which would satisfy the 747 lawyers or be considered sufficiently unambiguous to go into a Statute.
The difficulty is to define how far the estuary extends seawards. It is all right the other way. The difficulty is a very real one. Therefore, we have included all tidal waters all round the coast, and in Clause 2 and the Schedule we have laid down a procedure by which the Minister could exclude from the scope of the Bill any tidal waters over which he thought it inappropriate that river boards should have jurisdiction.
The trouble about that is that it at once provokes a conflict of interests between river boards and the local authorities in districts such as, for example, seaside resorts which are not by any stretch of the imagination on a river, and which would resent the idea that they should be subject to control by a river board. They would, of course, be subject to that control during the period between the passing of the Act and the making by the Minister of the excluding Order.
This is a point on which hon. Members may have received letters, and I should like therefore to deal with it as fully as I can. No one is saying, least of all the coastal resorts, that the pollution of the sea by crude sewage or any other kind of effluent is not wrong. It is simply that the idea of intervention by the river board as the controlling authority is a thing to which coastal resorts take a certain exception. It might help the House if I referred to a letter which I have received from Sir Harold Banwell, secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which I have had his permission to quote.If the proposal is confined to those rivers and estuaries now subject to existing Orders and to other rivers and estuaries in the way I have indicated below I do not think the Association would object subject to the necessary safeguards in favour of local authorities for which I understand you intend to make provision. It seems to me however, that in trying to effect the purpose of the Bill at one stroke you have not found it possible to define 'estuaries' and you have therefore brought in the whole of the coastline. This, f suggest, is contrary to the broad intention of the present legislation relating to river pollution. The Association could not possibly accept the suggestion that river boards should obtain jurisdiction over the whole coastline and over seaside resorts. I appreciate your difficulties in defining 'estuaries' and I suggest you might either have to define the areas in question on a map or have a Schedule to the 748 Bill limiting the extent of the estuaries in the manner in which the Minister limits them when making Orders under Section 7 (17). There may, of course, be other ways of achieving this of which I am unaware.I thought that a helpful letter from the Association which has a very natural interest in this matter. I appreciate the force of its argument if only because, to a layman in these matters like myself, an estuary is an estuary, a river board is a river board and a bathing beach is something which in most instances is quite different and which does not necessarily have any connection with either.
I realise that what happens, now we have brought this Bill to the House in its present form, must be a matter for the House and not for the river boards or the A.M.C. or anyone else. But I wish to say, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that if the House will endorse the principle of what the Bill seeks to do about estuaries, and will give a Second Reading to the Bill, we will undertake to introduce Amendments during the Committee stage to define the estuaries which we mean to deal with, because we are simply concerned with trying to do something about the cleaning-up of estuaries and we are not trying to build up an empire for the river boards all along the coast at the expense of local authorities or anybody else.
Nor, it is fair to say, is there any disposition on the part of river boards to want to go in for empire building. They have a perfectly legitimate interest in the pollution of coastal waters deriving from the Long Title of the 1951 Act and from their fishery powers. But the House may feel that this wider question is one in which we do not want to get involved in this Bill. I hope, therefore, that the House may accept what we propose, and that the Minister will be able to approve our intention and give us his assistance in carrying it out, especially with regard to the definition of estuaries.
As a matter of fact, we are hopeful of being able to find a satisfactory means of defining an estuary. The Fourth Schedule to the Coast Protection Act, 1949, managed to define that part of the coastline which is not an estuary, and it seems that we might very well proceed on similar lines and specify in a Schedule two points on opposite banks of an 749 estuary and draw a line between them and arrive at a solution in that way. These things can usually be done if the House desires it. I should like to acknowledge the help which I have received from my hon. Friend's Ministry so far, which has led me to hope that we shall succeed in reaching a solution.
I hope the House will approve this Bill. I do not believe that it is one which will be found to do violence to anyone's legitimate interests. If anything, it obliges those who have to use river estuaries as drains or sewers to do so in the future with a proper consideration for the interests of other people who value our rivers for other reasons. I believe that it simply sets a modest standard of responsible behaviour which, I hope, will commend itself to hon. Members, and in that belief I respectfully ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
May I be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) on the initiative he has taken, following his success in the Ballot, and may I say to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that it is most appropriate that this debate should follow the debate we had last Friday
I do not think that there is much need for me to speak about the details of the Bill. We have had a lucid explanation from the hon. Member for Harrogate. He spoke with persuasion and moderation and I think I can assume that the Bill will be accepted by everyone. If there are difficulties about the implementation of the principle, as the hon. Gentleman has said, it is a matter with which we can deal in Committee. As the case for the Bill is thoroughly established I believe that I can follow his precedent and explain personally why I am delighted to have the privilege of seconding the Motion.
During the summer there was a good deal of apprehension and concern in my constituency which, although it is an industrial constituency, has a seaside resort, about the state of the beaches at Roker and Seaburn. We are the victims of the rivers Wear and Tyne. There was 750 concern not only on amenity grounds, but on grounds of public health, and this was a talking point during the recent General Election. I therefore carried out some research and I was happy to find eventually that in one of the policy statements of my own party—"Leisure for Living"—there was this statement.
As I am endeavouring to be noncontroversial I will omit the introductory sentence, but the statement went on:The Government has also steadily refused to allow River Boards to tackle the problem of river pollution in tidal areas. In consequence, many of our rivers and streams (and to an increasing extent our coasts and estuaries as well) are a national reproach, grossly polluted, dangerous to health and destructive of amenity. This must surely be a false economy, and a Labour Minister of Housing and Local Government will launch a vigorous drive on this urgent problem.Then, no doubt with an eye on the Liberal vote, there follows a quotation from The Guardian:Millions who think that they are bathing in the sea around the British coast in summer are, in fact, bathing in diluted sewage. 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.My somewhat partisan researches stopped at that point, but I was relieved to know that I could pledge myself that we should take legislative action—
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
If the hon. Gentleman would read the Conservative election manifesto he would find a similar statement there.
§ Mr. Willey
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has anticipated me. I was satisfied to know that, in the case of the return of a Labour Government, we were committed to deal with this problem. Happily I was subsequently informed, as the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has informed me again today, that the Conservative Party was also committed. I found that information was tucked away in its statement on health.
Subsequent researches led me to the discovery. I do not want to make any political point about it. I am glad that this is an all-party matter, and therefore, should receive the unanimous support of the House.
§ Mr. Willey
I shall leave it to the Liberals to tell us what they said. I am quite confident that this matter had the attention of both the main political parties and they both came to the same conclusion.
As the hon. Member for Harrogate said, this is a matter of considerable and particular concern to us on the North-East Coast. I see that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) are with us this morning, so I shall not say much about the Tyne, except that we had a very disturbing report from the medical officer of health of the Tyne Port Health Authority. No doubt my right hon. Friend the hon. Lady will refer to that report in due course. It is clear from the report that we can no longer regard the Tyne just as something lacking in amenity, but also a grave potential danger to public health. The Tees is also in a shocking condition.
As the clerk of the Wear and Tees River Board has reported:the gross pollution of the tidal waters of the River Tees is absolutely appalling.The Wear, our own river in Sunderland, is not so bad as the Tyne and the Tees, but, unfortunately, we get a lot of effluent from the Tyne on our beaches. Although it might not be so bad as the Tyne and the Tees, we are very conscious of the need to do something about the Wear and Sunderland Corporation has been very enlightened in this respect. It was, therefore, with great regret that I received a letter from the town clerk urging me to oppose the Bill. Well, I intend to disregard his "whip". I think it unfortunate that we should get such advice from town clerks. This would have been better left a matter for consultation.
§ Mr. Willey
I am receiving a lot of advice this morning. I think that this letter illustrates the parochialism which we have to overcome. For that reason, I am happy to second the Motion, to support the hon. Member for Harrogate and thank him for his lucid explanation of the Bill which, I hope, will have all-party support and will lead to a steady— 752 of course, not a dramatic, but steady—and gradual improvement of the tidal as well as of the non-tidal waters of our rivers.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I welcome the Bill, which has been so ably produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), because I feel that it will go some way in helping to clean up our rivers, a process which is so badly needed.
It seems extraordinary that in this year of 1959, with all our hygiene, our wonderful kitchens and bathrooms, with sanitary inspectors going round to see that restaurants are hygienic, we should discharge filth into our rivers. I am certain that this problem must be tackled, and tackled soon, because, obviously, it is very bad for the health of our people. It is bad enough for this filth to be discharged into open estuaries near the sea, where the water may be salt and is certainly brackish, but we should not forget that some stretches of tidal rivers are many miles from the sea and are very narrow.
For example, south of Gloucester, on the Severn, there is a stretch of river which is in a disgusting state. The filth is not carried away down to the sea, but goes backwards and forwards in a piston-like action. If, during the discussions on the Finance Bill, hon. Members could drag themselves from this Chamber and go down to the Terrace they would have this process well demonstrated to them. If they go there when the tide is about to change they can see a piece of flotsam go down the river and shortly afterwards, when the tide has changed, they will see it coming back again. That goes on in many of our rivers and it is, therefore, important to see that sewage is not discharged untreated into tidal parts of rivers.
A very well known international menu gave good advice when it said:Ne buvez jamais de l'eau.How wise this suggestion is today. In the past, when our rivers were clean, there was no better place for relaxation than beside one of them. That, I am afraid, is passing now because of the disgusting state into which we allow them to fall. When I was a boy we used to bathe in the River Thames, near Windsor, and very good bathing it was, 753 but that is completely unheard of now. It would be far too dangerous with the risk of catching poliomyelitis, or a similar disease, due to the pollution of the water. Boating is not nearly so pleasant now as it used to be, because one has to row in very badly polluted water.
Fishing nowadays is a very different pastime from what it used to be. Throughout the country, and particularly in the Midlands around my constituency, there is great interest in fishing. I believe there are about 2 million fishermen in this country. What finer form of relaxation is there than for people who work in the noise of factories all the week to be able to fish from a lovely river bank? But that is not the same as sitting at the edge of what has now become an open sewer.
There is also the question of types of fish dying out. It is not many years ago since one could catch trout and salmon in some of our great rivers, including the Thames. Now, not only is it difficult for those fish to get up the rivers, but their progeny can never get down to the sea and as a result the fish die out and the river itself becomes dead. It is not only the beautiful salmon or trout which are affected, but ordinary coarse fish. Unfortunately, in many of our rivers today we have more stench than tench.
In my constituency there is the town of Redditch, which has been renowned for generations for the manufacture of fishing tackle. It is said, "Unless you have Redditch fingers you cannot tie a fishing fly". That industry, for curious reasons, has not had a particularly easy time recently. I assure the House that if the fish of our rivers continue to die out because of pollution, that will be the death knell of this industry. It is vitally important to keep these people employed in the skilful job they are doing, because it also provides a fine export trade, but, as we all know, if there are not sales of any commodity in this country we cannot hope to export that commodity.
In these days of automation we are faced with the problem of how people are to spend their leisure, the increased leisure which we hope they will get. What an awful thing it would be if, as this leisure increases because of the success of science and new inventions, one 754 of our greatest hobbies will cease to exist, as it will unless something is done to clean up our rivers. I therefore support the Bill most strongly. I believe that it will do something physically to clean up our rivers, and I hope that the publicity given to it will draw the attention of local authorities to the gravity of the position concerning our streams and rivers.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I should first like very warmly to welcome the Bill and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) on choosing it as the subject on which he wished to legislate when he found himself at the top of the list in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills. It is an admirable subject, and one in which I am keenly interested. Not only did I make some researches into the political pamphlets of my own and other political parties on the subject, but I included my views on it in my own election address.
I represent a constituency which is just about as far in every direction from tidal waters as it is possible to be in this country. Nor am I particularly interested in the consumption of water, either tidal or non-tidal. I ought, therefore, to be able to take an entirely dispassionate view of the question of the pollution of tidal waters. That, however, is far from being the case. I think that all forms of pollution of rivers, whether in their tidal or other reaches, are matters of vital public interest, and I am glad that hon. Members on both sides of the House are joining together today to see whether we cannot do something to deal with the problem.
An example of what happens even when there is control is seen in the River Avon, which flows through my constituency. This is something which all people ought to consider. To England, of course, it is the only Avon. Nevertheless, it is a dead river from the point at which the discharge of Coventry effluent joins it, because at the time of the summer flow, when the River Avon itself is low, 50 per cent. of the flow is provided by the effluent of Coventry below that point, until other streams join it lower down. Immediately below that confluence there is the dreadful sight of an utterly dead river with no oxygenation, 755 flat, soapy looking water and slimy banks. This is not the fault of the Coventry Corporation, which is making great efforts to deal with the problem and is extending its sewage works and undertaking an enormous expenditure to try to improve the position. I am blaming no one.
The problem arises not so much from the sewage as from the trade effluents. The problem of treating and dealing with them and with the detergent9 which the housewife pours down the drain is very serious. Even after it has absorbed the effluent from Coventry, the river flows slowly and soapily along until it comes to a weir, and when it passes over the weir it produces a frothy scene which looks like a kitchen sink at washing-up time, which can gladden no man's heart and, I imagine, the hearts of very few women. It is a problem of treating not only ordinary domestic sewage but also trade effluents. It is obvious from the reports which we have from many different river boards on their estuaries that many industries are finding it extremely convenient to set up their works on tidal waters where there is no control, so that they are able, without expense to discharge the whole of their trade effluent into tidal waters.
In Milford Haven and other places we are therefore seeing ribbon development of industry, as it were, alongside tidal waters. Curiously, too often it is only the river board which desires to exercise any control so that the whole of the discharges of trade and other effluent are poured in completely untreated. I do not know what the explanation may be, but it is rather depressing to learn that in Milford Haven, when an application was made under Section 6 by the river board that Section 2 of the 1951 Act should be applied to it, practically every local authority, the conservancy authority and, of course, all the local trade interests in the area opposed the making of that order. They may have had good reasons; I know not. On the face of it, however, it is rather depressing that only the river board was interested in preserving the cleanliness of Milford Haven.
The waters of the Avon flow into the Severn. It is always said in our history books that John Wycliffe's body, which had been buried at Lutterworth, was 756 dug up and burned, his ashes cast into the Swift and carried by the Swift into the Avon, carried by the Avon into the Severn and carried by the Severn into the limitless seas of the world. We are now told by experts of the Severn River Board that this was not so. They take the view that the action of the tidal waters in the estuary of the Severn prevents the dispersal of solid or effluent or sewage because it merely sweeps the sewage and effluent up and down inside the estuary. The Nene River Board takes a similar view that the action of the tide at the mouth of the estuary is simply to bottle up the filth. The Severn Board has found by experiment that there is only a little mixing of the salt and fresh waters within the estuary, showing quite plainly that the action of the tide is to bottle up the waters in their estuary.
This Bill will not cure that problem. It provides, however, a hope that in the future the situation on tidal waters will not deteriorate. It is for that reason that I welcome it. About 1912, in the Severn, within the area of which lies my constituency, they caught 34,000 salmon a year. Today the average take of salmon is only 4,000 to 5,000 a year. There is little hope of salmon running up the Avon. Nevertheless, seventy years ego under Warwick Bridge they used to catch trout on rod and line in a sparking stream. Now nothing whatever is to be caught in that reach of the river.
I am sure that we ought to look at a river as a whole from its source to its final discharge into the sea. For that reason, I congratulate my hon. Friend and welcome the Bill, and I wish it every success.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I wish to support the Bill in my capacity as a Londoner, representing a London constituency and with a natural pride in the greatest river in the world, the Thames. Unfortunately, this world-famous river is almost denied to the average Londoner. That is due to industrial expansion down the years. For a very long time, it has been difficult for any of my constituents to enjoy any of the amenities which one would expect from such a river. In any case, even if facilities were available, in our view it would be dangerous for any of our constituents or their children to bathe in the river.
757 The Thames is used by firms as a means of getting rid of their waste material. It is understandable that down the years it has been regarded as a very cheap and easy disposal system for all sorts of materials which they did not want. I have had many individual coin-plaints from constituents about the smell which occurs in certain parts of the river after firms have dumped into this wonderful river the materials they do not require. We have to take up these matters with the Port of London Authority. I do not deny that down the years there has been a great improvement, but it has not been enough. I was reading the other day a history of the area which I have the honour to represent, and it appears that only a hundred years ago about 12,000 people in my constituency died of typhoid as a consequence of the filth in the river at that time.
It is interesting that in those days the House decided to take an interest in these matters, not because of hon. Members' concern for my constituents and what happened to them, but because the smell was of such a character that when the polluting material passed the Terrace the House had to be suspended and hon. Members could not continue with their debates. When that happened hon. Members said, "We think it is about time something was done to put this right". There has been a great deal of improvement in public health matters since then.
The comparison is clear if we look back at the history of this great river from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the turn of the century. I am not blaming anyone; the Government then in power were the sort of Government which hon. Members opposite would have supported, but in those days there was no planning and no attempt to ensure that any amenities which could be obtained from the river were made available to the people. As a result of this lack of planning, many things happened which caused much distress.
Because of lack of planning, long before the war a local authority in my area built council flats near the river, alongside firms which have a perfect right to be there. In that day this housing scheme was considered to be wonderful, and people came from all over the world to see these council flats. 758 For the first time, for instance, the workers were being provided with bathrooms. We refer to it today as our downtown area. It was separated from the remainder of a district by swing bridges, which made my constituents late for work, and it was an isolated area to that extent.
Unfortunately, this scheme was the biggest blunder ever made. The flats should never have been built there. Apart from the inconvenience of living there, the smell had to be experienced to be believed. Those of us who have inherited that decision have to live with the heartaches of people living in that area who want to get away from it.
I have always recognised that barges are the cheapest form of transport, and these come up the Thames carrying hundreds of tons of bulky cargoes. Nothing could be more attractive than to see some of these barges being towed along by a small tug. It is a fascinating sight. I am a bit of a romantic.
I do not see why these firms alongside the River Thames need have dirty, drab, filthy warehouses. Apparently at the moment anything is good enough. There is not a drop of paint anywhere. This wonderful river of ours is being used in this way because these firms, in their desire to make a profit, just dump into the river the material they do not want. Some of the firms occupying the river bank are an absolute disgrace. If hon. Members go along there on a bright sunny afternoon they will agree that it is sickening to look at the river.
We ought to make an effort to make this great river of ours cleaner, better and brighter and more interesting for our people. We should make it easier for the ordinary Londoner to get to the river, to see the river, to like the river, and to experience the kind of enjoyment on the river which the Germans experience. The Germans would not allow their rivers, such as the Rhine, to be used in the way in which we allow our river to be used.
If the Bill does nothing more than put a small bomb under the Port of London Authority, it is welcome. I give the P.L.A. due warning what will happen if it does not use the powers which it will be given under the Bill. We think that the time has come when to go down the river should be an enjoyment and not, as it is at the moment, an ordeal both for 759 those going down the river and those living alongside it.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), because my constituency also borders the Thames, although a different part of the Thames than his. It is true that we are better off up there as regards the state of the river, but even there bathing in the river is almost unheard of in a number of places.
I should like to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) from two points of view. The first is that the Bill makes a practical contribution to the law on the subject of pollution. It will make it more simple and logical, and I think that it will be generally welcomed for that reason. Very often, improvements in the law are not of much interest to the general public, but this one, I think is, because I believe that the second reason we should support the Bill is that it may be the beginning of united efforts by all the various conflicting interests to deal with this problem. For that reason, it is very important that we should support the Bill and be ready, as we are—it has been already stated—to ensure that proper protection is given and safeguards afforded for the various people likely to be affected by the Bill.
In particular, there are two interests—the local authorities and industry. I think it should be appreciated that we fully realise that we must be reasonable about these things. We have allowed this pollution to occur to a terrible extent and if we were to say that within the next year or two we were going to remedy all the evils of the past, we should be saying something quite impossible and putting an intolerable and impossible burden on ratepayers and on industry. Therefore, we must be reasonable and practical.
So far, our trouble has been that people have not been prepared to get round a table with good will and discuss this matter from the positive point of view. Time after time, we have found, as instanced today, that the immediate response to any proposal of this kind is that certain interests say, "Over our dead bodies! Let us get some M.P.'s 760 to stand up in Parliament and block this, and everything will be grand", and it is dirtier than ever. That is wrong.
We must make it plain that the local authorities have been very reasonable over this matter. My hon. Friend has read out a letter which he received, and I think that we who support the Bill ought to recognise that it involves a great deal for the associations of local authorities to be prepared to say that they would not object in principle to the Bill, because it will lay greater burdens on them. In return for that, we must be prepared to see that proper safeguards are provided for them.
If we can approach this matter from a fresh point of view, with that in mind, we may achieve something and once more see that a Private Member's Bill can be of real benefit to this House and to the country. It certainly benefits the Government because, as has been pointed out, the Government have stated that they will tackle the question of estuaries, and here is one of the Government supporters saving the Government time and trouble and enabling them to do what we all knew they were going to do any way.
I shall not enlarge on this matter, because we are all agreed about it. I have always been prepared to tackle this subject, and I have spoken about it more than once from the point of view of the one million or two million anglers in the country. I think that they are a sufficiently important body of people to be regarded. As we know today, it goes far further than that. There are people in all walks of life who are beginning to realise what a terrible thing it is that we have these awful conditions. Not so very long ago when I was in an estuary, and a very different one from that of London, I was reminded of the famous words of Keats:The moving waters at their priestlike task of pure ablution …That is a very nice thought. Contrast that with something else which I read and which is the greatest contrast one could have. According to the report of the chief pollution officer of one of the river boards, one tidal estuary—a famous river, he says—receives no less than 24 million gallons of untreated sewage per day, resulting in the delightful concept of at least 1,100 tons of wet 761 sludge. No doubt, the moving waters did their best in that case, but I do not think they achieved very much. He goes on to say this, which is very startling. It only emphasises what has already been mentioned, but it may be helpful to the House to have the actual language:… in the middle stretches of the area it is doubtful whether more than the mere surface water ever gets to the sea at all, being pushed back and forth by each waxing and waning tide.That is a remarkable contrast to the words of Keats. He goes on to say:It is true that"—the contents of the river in that area have—none of the accepted characteristics and quality of normal river water".It is imperative that we should do something about that. If our discussions today result in a more united approach, it will he very much to the public benefit.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I do not want to take up the time of the House unduly, because I know that a number of hon. Members with constituency interests want to speak, but I want to add my support to the Bill and to congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) for bringing it before the House and on the considerable courage which he has shown in delving into the very difficult and complicated waters in which we find ourselves today.
If the general public realised the state of our river estuaries they would be so much concerned that they would come in large numbers to the House of Commons today to ask us to do something about it. The public are very trusting in all this. They see their local authorities cleaning and lighting the streets, emptying dustbins and removing refuse. They assume that, because the local authorities perform those tasks so well, the things which they cannot see—the contents of our rivers and river estuaries—are equally well managed. If they could see what is in the rivers and river estuaries they would be horrified. From time to time they see the deposits on the beaches when they go away in the summer. They then become concerned about their children and themselves bathing in those waters and become 762 aware of the real public health menace of the problem.
We are at the beginning of realising how important the subject is. In accepting the great tradition of this country and the part which the waterways have played in it, we have assumed that it is still something of which we can be proud. We have not examined what has been happening in recent years. With this Bill we are tackling a further stretch of the problem. I should be out of order if I mentioned a Bill which is going through another place and which will tackle another angle of it, namely, the problem of the disposal of radioactive wastes.
Hon. Members representing river and coastal areas have a particular constituency interest in the problem, but it should not be forgotten that it is a national problem. We are all affected by it. As I am speaking from the London area, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, will he tell us where London stands in all this? My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and the hon. Member for Harrogate have mentioned the River Thames. The Thames Conservancy Board, the Port of London Authority, the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board and everything associated with estuary and coastal waters in the London area are already covered and will not come within the scope of the Bill. Will the Minister confirm that that is true?
My second question concerns local authorities. They are faced with the problem of what they are to do not only with sewage, but with refuse and the disposal of all the noxious matter which they collect. It is natural that they should be apprehensive, when they have been discharging sewage into river estuaries, about what they will do with sewage if and when the Bill comes into operation. It is right that the Bill should come into operation—with due safeguards for local authorities, with full definition of what an estuary is and full examination of all the changes which will have to be made. It may be necessary to help local authorities to deal with the problem.
If the Government are to give their blessing to the Bill, as I hope they will, will they bear in mind that local authorities are at present in great financial difficulties? If we want them to keep our river estuaries clear of sewage and 763 waste matter, which is noxious and harmful, they may need assistance from the Government in examining the whole problem of what they are to do with it and how they are to finance alternative methods of disposal. There is not a conflict of interest between local authorities and those of us who want to clean up our rivers. It is just that there is the practical difficulty about which the Government could help very considerably if they support the Bill and its purpose, as I hope they will.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am very glad indeed to be able to associate myself with the Bill. I am particularly pleased because recently the general public has already been alerted to the particular problems affecting the estuary waters of the Tyne. I was very glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) that there would be no difficulty in defining the estuary of the Tyne, because of the placement of two piers which will make it very easy to draw the line.
On Tyneside, so many reports have been received recently that I have felt that before long there would be a general chorus, in which I would have been delighted to join, on the lines that "it may be for years and it may be for ever" before anything happened to deal with this very difficult, and I might almost say overwhelming, problem of the dirty condition of the River Tyne.
I am glad to know that the Bill has received such a warm reception in the House and elsewhere from many people who interest themselves in the complicated problem. It is a very technical problem. Sometimes, when highly technical details have to be gone into to put something right, the general public, however interested they may be, tend to become disinterested and leave the matter to the technical experts. That, in a way, is a mistake, because this is a matter of general concern and those who are generally interested will be delighted to know that we are taking a step forward in the right direction.
I intended to quote in some detail, from the health point of view, from the medical reports that have just been received on the condition of the River Tyne, so that the whole facts of our 764 position might be very well known but I now appreciate that that would be wasting the time of the House, because everyone is seized of the problem. However, I wish to put on record the description of the reports which have been received and the names of those who have presented them. It is important to know who is reporting on our behalf.
We have had a report on the River Tyne by the medical officer of health to the Tyne Port Health Authority, and for the purposes of the record I want to quote just one paragraph from his summing-up. He says:It may … be safely assumed, if not proved"—The proving of these matters is, of course, very difficult, and I believe that to be partly responsible for the slow progress made in tackling the problem—that grave potential danger to health exists throughout the area, irrespective of domicile, from both air and water pollution, and all local authorities, not those merely classed as riparian, in the area of South-East Northumberland and North-East Durham, have a vital interest in the presence in the midst of this danger; and in devising adequate measures, however costly, to procure its abolition.There was also a strong report from the chief pollution officer of the Northumberland and Tyneside River Board.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) spoke of the expense to local authorities. The Government might look at that because, as this report says, it is not only the people living close to the banks of the rivers and to their estuaries who are concerned. This is a national matter in the proper sense, and it is important not to overburden the individual local authorities affected.
Representations have been made by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I, like the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), have received representations from my own town clerk, and I gather that the town clerk of Newcastle-upon-Tyne has made similar representations. One can quite see that the solution of the problem will involve local authorities in financial commitments, with a consequent added burden on the ratepayers.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate has said, these representations 765 have had to be made because of the imminence of this debate, otherwise there would have been a greater chance for discussions with the Association of Municipal Corporations. That is partly the reason, I am sure, for our having received all these representations—
§ Mr. Willey
That does not apply to Sunderland. In the letter that I have received, my attention is called to the fact that the estimate produced by the Sunderland Corporation amounts to £1,300,000. Therefore, that corporation is willing to accept the burden of improving the means of sewage disposal on the Wear. I think that the corporation must be in conflict with the river board, and that is unfortunate. We can no longer afford to take a parochial view of the problem. We should welcome the opportunity of treating it on a much wider basis.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for saying that, and, of course, I agree in principle with him. I did not intend to go into all this, because it is a matter of detail, but a technical committee was set up to investigate the pollution of the Tyne and methods of proper sewage disposal. The present difficulty partly arises because that technical committee has been working for some time and has been a little apprehensive lest the Bill should cut across the decisions it was likely to make.
However, now that all the explanations have been given, and as a result of the unanimity with which the Bill has been received so far, I am sure that it will be possible to resolve all these difficulties. As I say, we seem to have gone on discussing the pollution of the Tyne and other rivers for so long that people are beginning to wonder whether any progress will ever be made at all.
I have quoted from a report received from Dr. Coxon. There is also a report from the chief pollution officer of the Northumberland and Tyneside River Board, whose representations are also couched in very strong terms. In addition, I want to quote from the North Shields Press. As hon. Members will know, this pollution of the Tyne affects both South Shields and North Shields—it affects the whole of the estuary—and what the local Press says ought to be put on the record.
766 I might say that the Press in that part of the country represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and myself has been very much in support of the tackling of this pollution of the Tyne. Those of us who are interested in the subject are very grateful indeed to the way the Press has always supported the efforts that some of us have made in this House, and those of others interested.
The North Shields Press says:Every medical officer of health along the banks of the Tyne has commented forcibly upon the gross pollution of the river and its danger to public health.Two officials to add their voices to the never-ending volume of complaint are Gateshead's Medical Officer of Health and Chief Health Inspector. They reveal that their town's sewage is put untreated into the Tyne.Last week Tynemouth District and Whitley Bay Trades Council urged that bathers at Tyne-mouth should be warned against the dangers from pollution.Both Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, of course, are my constituency responsibilities, and I am glad to know that, for once, the trades council and myself are in complete agreement:There were some half-hearted denials that sea bathing in our area is not injurious to health.The continuous build-up of evidence and the comments of responsible persons about the river's pollution and the amount of untreated sewage that flows into the sea around our coast, makes the observation of the local Trades Council more than timely.The whole unhealthy problem requires immediate and drastic action, but which local authority on Tyneside is prepared to give a lead?Parliament is the answer.
Further, at the moment the local authorities have had this technical committee making an examination, but it is this House of Commons that is today showing itself prepared to give a lead. Even if the Bill represents only a small step forward in the right direction it is very worth while, and I only hope that if it receives, as I am sure it will, its Second Reading it will stimulate and encourage my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary to continue to urge local authorities to prepare and forward their reports.
It seems a little odd, after all these years, that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary—and we look 767 forward to his reply, and offer him our warm congratulations and good wishes—should be writing to me in the terms that he has used. I say, "after all these years"—that is the passage of time; he is very young, and I am very old. It is a quite extraordinary experience being in this House of Commons, because every new Minister who comes along—and this goes for the Opposition as well as my own Government—always starts at that period of the century at which he takes office, and eliminates all the decades that have passed when there have been other Ministers.
I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind my saying this, but he is a traditionalist, and follows tradition by starting immediately with what was happening in July of this year, just before the dissolution of the last Parliament. On the other hand, I go back for decades, and although I am very interested in today I also believe that the history of decades ought to be a powerful spur to those who hold office today.
My hon. Friend wrote to me:You will remember, first of all, that a working committee was formed last year which in turn set up a technical sub-committee composed of officers of the local authorities concerned. That sub-committee, in conjunction with the Civil Engineering Department of King's College, Durham, is now engaged on a number of surveys which they think essential before it can be decided what sort of scheme will be appropriate here. Our engineers fully agree with them that the surveys are necessary. The objectives are to find out much more than is yet known about the physical (especially the chemical) condition of the river, to identify the principal discharges which are creating the trouble, and to study the motions of the currents in the river, and in so doing to establish some essential facts relating to the movement of effluents.But the currents have been going on for centuries, and I cannot believe that nobody has examined them until this technical sub-committee did so last year. I do not need to over-emphasise the point that I am trying to make, but the River Tyne has been in existence for a very long time; I really do not know since when, but I suppose since the world was created. A lot of history attaches to what happens on the River Tyne. But these reports on health make action on our rivers essential now, and I fully expect that my hon. Friend will give warm approval to the Bill. I hope that 768 before very long we shall have taken this step forward which will be of great encouragement to all those who want this problem of pollution of our rivers dealt with. I am, therefore, delighted to be able to support the Bill; I wish it well and a speedy passage on to the Statute Book.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has confessed that she has been considering this problem for decades. All I can say is that I think I have been considering it for a few more decades than she has. What I am most perturbed about today is the possibility of there being what appears to be the inevitable conflict, whenever one deals with rivers, between the up-river authorities and those who deal with matters near the mouth.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) is aware that I spend some time navigating the waters that form the northern boundary of his constituency, and I am bound to say that I did not notice any shortage of bathers when I was trying to navigate those waters during the past summer. In fact, on one occasion when I was accompanied by a son of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), near Laleham, which, I admit, is just on the other side of the river from his constituency, but is within the reaches in which he has some interest, the bathers were so thick that we decided that in the interests of human life it was better not to attempt to get from Chertsey Lock to Penton Hook, and we turned back.
The Thames Conservancy has done great work in caring for the purity of the river. Its activity is a perpetual reminder to everyone connected with local authority work of their responsibilities in the area drained by the Thames. The condition of the river outside this Palace does not enable us to feel any great safety on this score. Even during my membership of the House I have sometimes known hon. Members to be made aware of our proximity to the river by the smell that used to invade this Chamber rather than by any of the amenities that one might expect.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth has told us in some detail what has been happening in connection with 769 the Tyne. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) dealt with one of the difficulties that confront us. A scheme was prepared to deal with sewage, and then it was discovered that the effort to deal with it would probably lead to more filth being deposited on the beaches in his constituency and in mine than had been the case hitherto.
I think that both the hon. Lady and I can congratulate ourselves on the fact that all the authorities now responsible for dealing with this matter are earnestly endeavouring to find a practical way of avoiding the pollution that occurs. They are as much concerned with trying to remedy that situation as they are concerned to deal with the prevention of any increase, which is the main purpose of the Bill.
Frankly, I should think that any increase in pollution in the River Tyne would be regarded as a crime against the people of the area, although I am not so ready to classify some things as crimes as are archbishops and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Mr. G. Thomas).
We should pay tribute to the fact that the university, not living in a remote and ivory tower, is prepared to help in the solution of a practical problem like this in a way that will enable everyone to feel that the best brains in the area, and not merely the engineering brains—though they are of a very high quality—are trying to render a practical service to the community from whom the university draws most of its students and in which it carries on all its activities.
My town clerk wrote to me, although not in quite the same terms, I gather, as town clerks have written to other Members. He advised me to be careful. That is very sound advice from a town clerk. All he asks is that nothing shall be done in this Bill that will prevent practical steps being taken. Of course, there is some fear that the intervention of the river board may not always provide sufficient attention to the urban interests.
On Tyneside, in the course of centuries, there have been built up great interests which have to be regarded with some care when this matter is dealt with. I was very glad to learn, therefore, that the technical committee to which the 770 hon. Lady has referred is now engaged in considering whether the effluent into the river and the sea can be treated before it is discharged.
The quantity of sewage which is bound to be discharged by the huge working population whose area is drained into the river must be such that any attempt at partial treatment cannot be regarded as satisfactory. It should be borne in mind that when one is dealing with the problem of drainage and effluent populations living quite remote from the actual river make their contribution to the ultimate state of affairs.
I hope, therefore, now that the House has demonstrated its desire to see the matter dealt with adequately, that there will be a recognition that it is not merely the riparian authorities which have to be brought into consultation, but that all those whose area is drained into a river must be regarded as having some interest in the way in which the problem is tackled. It will, I hope, be one of the objects of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in dealing with this matter to see that all people responsible in each area meet in conference so that a scheme which will be regarded as fair for both the up-river and the estuarial authorities can be evolved. If we once become involved in the age-long controversy between up-river and estuarial authorities, which goes back to days long before the time when sewage was the problem, we shall not be able to make very much use of this or any other Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) on having limited his Bill so that these great controversies which have wrecked so much effort hitherto need not arise if all the people concerned approach the matter with good will. Unless such good will does exist, we shall merely spend two or three more decades—the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth may spend one or two more than I shall—in further controversy about this matter. Now, even in the valley of the River Thames, the problem has reached such proportions that there is a need for active consideration, and it would be a tragedy if, merely because the river boards asked to be considered, they were regarded as unwelcome interlopers in the consideration of estuarial waters.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I intervene now not in any way to close the debate or prevent hon. Members from speaking. I shall listen with very great interest to what they have to say. However, I think it may be helpful if, at this stage, I indicate the Government's reaction to the Bill. It is not my job today to comment in detail on the speeches which have been made. That will be, if the Bill goes further, for the sponsors at any later stages. But I must, of course, begin by paying tribute to the admirably lucid and moderate speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) in introducing the Bill. He has been most effectively seconded and supported, if I may say so, by all the speeches of those who followed.
My right hon. Friend is as ardent an advocate of clean water as he is of clean air, and he has publicly declared on many occasions his intention to continue at an ever-faster rate the abatement of pollution in the rivers; but he and all who know anything about this subject recognise that this is not an easy task which can be quickly accomplished. We live in a teeming island, and there is bound to be a very great deal of effluent, as some of the figures mentioned by hon. Members in referring to their own areas have already witnessed.
The subject of clean rivers interests every citizen, but it interests particularly those who use the rivers for work, for pleasure or for sport, those who dispose of effluent into the rivers, and, of course, as has been said, industry which has its own problems. As a newcomer to the subject I have been very impressed by the approach shown by industry, as evidenced by the pamphlet issued by the Federation of British Industries advising its constituent members on how to tackle the very complicated and, in many cases, expensive problem set for industry by the need to maintain a good standard of clean water.
All want clean rivers. I was glad to hear the sponsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate, pay special tribute to the effectiveness of Section 7 of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, which has enabled river boards at least to make some progress in abating pollution in the non-tidal reaches 772 of their rivers. Just as this Section has helped them in the non-tidal sections of their rivers, it makes obvious sense to extend the effectiveness of the Section to tidal waters; but, that, as my hon. Friend himself said, must be subject to safeguards for all the interests concerned. We must realise—we have not, perhaps, heard enough about this today—the cost and the difficulty in perfectionist ambitions in this matter. With the best will in the world, it is a very complex and expensive job to abate pollution especially when one comes to handle the innumerable new processes which industry now uses.
We have heard something about the interests of fishermen from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance). Also, from him we heard of the interests of those who cater for the fishing industry or make fishing tackle. We heard from the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) about the obvious interest of the citizens of London, and we heard, again from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, about the increasing interest that a more leisured population will have in enjoying unpolluted rivers. We heard a graphic account of the "dead river" from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson), who is a riparian citizen.
I thought that the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) made a good point when she said that the public trusts local authorities to deal with those things about which it knows a lot but may be a little ignorant about what is done about those things of which it does not know so much. That was a valid point. We have not today, except indirectly, heard from the local authorities which are, of course, principally concerned in any abatement of pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate read to us a very valuable letter from Sir Harold Banwell which gave qualified support to the purpose of the Bill. We have heard indirectly from the town clerks in the constituency of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the constituency of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). What right hon. and hon. Members have reported gives us some hint of the local difficulties which may be caused when working out a programme for reducing 773 pollution. We have not heard at all from those who speak for industry, and, of course, they would, I am sure, have something to say about the pace at which we can move if we are not to burden industry with impossible financial demands.
I come now to the river boards which are principally concerned in this Bill. They have very rightly focussed, during the first ten years of their life, on their non-tidal responsibilities, and, as I think all hon. Members would agree, however bad the legacy of the past may be, they have much progress to show. They are not to be judged because they have not used extensively their right to prosecute. This right has probably been effective as a sanction in the background. Nor are they to be judged by the comparatively few Orders extending their power to non-tidal reaches. After all, they have only been in existence ten years and have had to feel their way.
The fact is that the war against pollution has been increasing in intensity. In 1957, public authorities alone spent £25 million on sewage works. In 1958, the figure had risen to £32 million. In the first nine months of this year the figure had already reached £29 million. I emphasise that this is only public authority spending. Industry has spent an unknown but obviously large amount in addition, and nearly all the money has been effectively spent in the abatement of pollution. It is a fact that over the last two years there has been no capital restriction in this respect.
As a result of the rising programme, we can take it that the river boards have now gained sufficient experience to be justified in welcoming further scope for their efforts and I echo the tribute to them paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate. It would be dangerous in this respect to act too soon for fear of straining the administrative machine, but, on the other hand, it would be equally dangerous to leave action until too late, since this kind of Bill will give immediate spur to the progress we all wish to see.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend would not disagree that the time may be ripe for such a step forward as the Bill represents, but the Bill must be right. It must seek to satisfy all interests con- 774 cerned. I emphasise particularly what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields echoed, that joint efforts and maximum goodwill are the essential core of a successful attack on the problem of pollution. No authority by itself can solve the problem, there has to be co-operation.
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward)—for whose personal courtesy I thank her—to look down upon surveys. She may well say that the survey should have occurred earlier, but in her own area no fewer than 17 local authorities are concerned. If they are to get the right scheme, as they must to be successful they need to co-operate closely on the basis of technical advice. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be glad to know that the first progress report of the technical investigating sub-committee is being presented to the local authorities today. We must hope that the scheme which finally evolves will be the right one, and of course, my right hon. Friend will watch progress on the Tyne as helpfully as he can.
The Bill as it is drawn appears to my right hon. Friend to have the right general purpose, but to need considerable amendment if it is to enable that co-operation which the House will agree is necessary. The Bill is drawn in far too wide terms. It would draw within the control of the river boards stretches of coast that, as one hon. Member said are not affected by any river. No one has mentioned What is also true, that it would also draw in harbours and ports which have their own problems. It would draw in many local authorities who would not wish to be drawn in at this stage or at all without a great deal of discussion and argument.
With all this, I think that my hon. Friend agrees. It is true that he has provided by Clause 2 that the Minister shall have power to exclude certain sections of the coast but this is a wrong way of proceeding. It would lead to some doubt until the list of exclusions had been made, and it would mean that stretches of the coast, which all hon. Members would agree should not be treated in this way, would be under the 775 control of the machinery set up by the Bill until the list of exclusions had been made. I think that my right hon. Friend would wish the sponsors themselves to decide what estuaries they want to include in the Bill, and then those who might be affected will have ample opportunity to make any representations they wish. In that case the final result, whether presented in the form of a Schedule or in some other way, will be one that takes into account all the interests which have a legitimate right to be considered in this complex matter.
It would still remain true that the river boards would retain power to bring in by the present Order procedure any estuaries which have not been included in the Bill from the beginning, so I hope my hon. Friend's undertaking will cover some such amendment as this. Perhaps we shall hear from any sponsor who follows me whether that is so. If that is so, I can certainly promise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the help of his Department in drawing up any such Schedule. I can also reassure those concerned, who perhaps have not spoken through hon. Member's sufficiently today, that their interests will be safeguarded. The local authorities are fully represented on the river boards. As for industry, if there were any risk—which I do not believe from experience there is—of the river boards abusing any powers they might receive under the Bill, there is right of appeal to the Minister which would remain under the principal Act even if this Bill were passed, so that industry could resist, with my right hon. Friend's help, any unreasonable requirements of a river board.
I hope that I have said enough to show that in my right hon. Friend's view the Bill, if revised in the sense I have indicated and which I believe the sponsor has in mind, could represent a useful step forward in our common aim of abating river pollution. The sponsors have undertaken to amend the Bill before the Committee stage, and on the understanding that the Bill will have a chance to be made practicable, and, on the whole, acceptable to all the interests concerned, I invite the House, after hearing any further speakers you, Mr. Speaker, may call, to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
During the course of the many years I spent in training for the great profession of medicine I had one rather regrettable setback. I was taking an examination at Oxford on forensic medicine and public health, commonly known to undergraduates as "rape and drains". I was asked this question in the examination, "Describe what arrangements you would make for the removal of sewage if you were building a house." I replied, "Pipe it into the nearest river" and I was "ploughed." We cannot "plough" local authorities, but I have been disillusioned since in learning that the idealism of the university did not seem widely supported in practice.
In recent years, in this House and outside, on television and elsewhere, I have brought up again and again the subject of the appalling fouling of the bathing beaches of our country. The death from poliomyelitis of a small daughter of one of my constituents was a tragic and dramatic proof of the dangers implicit in bathing in such filthy water. Subsequent to that there were various other disagreeable phenomena, such as repeated letters I received from mothers of families living along the coast of my constituency, complaining that the authorities allow the littering of the beaches with objects which children pick up and run to their mothers to blow up.
We cannot tolerate this fouling, whether it occurs on the open coast or in rivers or estuaries. We must take action because this is a problem common to all our coasts. However, the enclosed coasts, as the Bill suggests, are not only more easily dealt with, but have a special problem owing to the very confined nature of their land-locked waters.
In spite of the series of Questions I have asked in this House I have received no helpful reaction from the Government. Indeed, I was sorry to find, during a television performance in which I appeared, that a medical officer of health, who was opposing me on the question of treating sewage before discharging it into the sea, was advised by civil servants; and that, I thought, was a bit rough on a Government supporter. However, those things are bygones now because the speech of my hon. Friend 777 certainly ushered in a new era in which I can be at one with him and with Ministers in a way which, up to now, I have not been able to be.
We have had the support of The Times in this campaign—the "top people" now know something of the other extreme. I have had the personal support of a large number of the people who do research into the diseases, notably poliomyelitis; and an organisation and a magazine called Municipal Engineering deserve the warmest tribute of this House for the patient, persevering and powerful campaign that they have led in favour of some sort of restriction.
As to facts, the official view—and I know that it is disturbing for administrative people to have these disagreeable thoughts put before them—has been that it has never been proved that poliornyelitis, for instance, has ever been traced from one patient to another through polluted water. With the greatest respect to the administrators, there are scientific papers, some of which I have with me, which have the hard results of scientific observation. Paul and Trask, in New York, in 1942, traced polio virus alive in the sewer outfall of the East River when the nearest outbreak up in the Bronx was three miles away or, downwards, possibly an eighth of a mile away. There are similar findings of live vaccine at Toronto, and in advance of a polio epidemic.
I have here a paper by Rhodes and his co-workers in the Canadian Journal of Public Health for 1950, of which I will read only one sentence from the conclusions. That is enough to startle everybody. It states:We have shown that a strain of human poliomyelitis virus in a stool survives after addition to river water for at least 188 days and retains its property of inducing paralysis in Rhesus monkeys.Although those papers existed long before I started getting anxious about these things, I think that the attitude of authority has recently mellowed and we now have support where we did not have it before.
I wonder what is the reason for the change. This is where I should like to ask a question of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. What has happened to the report of the Public Health Laboratory Service on this subject? It was initiated in 1957 and in 778 August that year, Municipal Engineering said that it was likely to be two to three years before the report was available. Surely, it must be nearly ready now. Does my hon. Friend have this report? Are there things in it which, perhaps have led to the improved attitude towards this subject? Let us hope so.
I should like to ask the Minister one other question. If his Department is in favour of the treatment of sewage and the abatement of pollution, I wonder how it is that I have been told by my local authority, and by many members of it, in Fareham that a scheme for a full sewage treatment operation leading to an outfall in Southampton Water was altered by the Minister's authority to exclude the sewage treatment plant. That is something for which somebody must take the blame. The local authority assures me that it is not its fault. The local authority was under some duress. We must have satisfaction about this because local feeling is very strong. This would certainly indicate that the attitude of the Department is at variance with its professions.
This Bill is likely to be restricted to estuaries. Very well. But in the provisions of the Bill we have to consider one example of what is a multiple estuary. The Solent is entirely landlocked and on each tide it is easy to calculate from the harmonic curve that the water will flow not more than six miles altogether either way. Therefore what goes into the water will stay within the area bounded by the north of the Isle of Wight, whatever happens. I plead with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary not to oppose the inclusion of this area as a somewhat unusually large but firmly estuarial stretch of water. No doubt, it will be a committee point to decide what short of authority must be responsible for it, but I put forward the suggestion for serious consideration.
I am extremely relieved by the arrival of the Bill. It has come much sooner than I had any ground for hoping. Government approval of it has come far sooner than I had any reason to hope. I had thought that public opinion up and down the country would need much more rousing before we reached this point. I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the attitude he is taking. It is a 779 relief to us all that three centuries after people stopped emptying pots out of upper windows into the streets with a shout "Gardyloo," we should, finally, be guarding the rivers and the waters round our coasts.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I add my voice to the chorus of approval for the Bill. This is one of those pleasant occasions when the whole House, on all sides, seems to be unanimous and when we have had sympathetic noises from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary speaking for the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), who introduced the Bill, deserves our sincere thanks. It is a practical step in the interest of public health, fishing and amenities, in whatever order one likes to put them. Friends of mine would put fishing first, and I do not blame them, as it is one of the agreeable occupations that anybody can have. At least, in one way or another the Bill is in everyone's interest.
We in Devon have a number of beautiful rivers and estuaries where pollution is a serious problem. On behalf of many people in my constituency, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate for introducing the Bill. It certainly deserves the co-operation of everybody, including local authorities and industry, and I am sure that, with common sense and consultation, proper co-operation can be achieved with everybody.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
Another voice from the South-West, I speak with diffidence, especially as a new boy to this House, even though I have made my maiden speech, and particularly after listening to other Members of the House vying with one another as to how many decades they have been here. As somebody who lives by an estuary and who bathes regularly in an estuary, I support the Bill, both because I want to go on bathing in my estuary and, at the same time, to encourage more industry to come to the area and because it is only sensible that the river board should have control from source to sea.
I would, however, like to make two provisos, the one dependent upon the other, and I hope that when the Bill 780 reaches Committee, as, I am sure, it will, these points may be discussed. They have been touched upon by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and by one or two other hon. Members. If the river boards are to have control of the estuaries to prevent pollution, it is only right that the estuary interests should be represented more strongly on those boards. Rightly or wrongly, in our part of the world, where they are migratory fish, we feel that often the river boards are more interested in looking after the interests of the riparian owners and of the rod and line men. If we are to have fair representation, we should have members from borough and district councils whose towns and lands border the estuary. At the moment, they are not fairly represented.
Furthermore, there is a case to be made for the estuary fishermen with nets, who are rather the Cinderella with the river boards, who not only earn their living by fishing, but man our lifeboats. Only a fortnight ago, in the very bad gale, our Appledore boat went out to a ship in distress. If we enlarge the representation on the boards, we must encourage the netsmen. Without them, we shall not man our boats.
If—and only if—these provisions are agreed upon, there is a lot to be said for giving to the boards under the Bill the same power as they have under the 1951 Act to deal with pollution which already exists, specifying, I think, estuaries which have both holiday and migratory fishing interests, for I do not think we could deal all at once with all the estuaries of the country, and at the same time giving them, when an Order is made, a number of years during which they must put their house in order. I suggest seven years as being a reasonable period. That may sound like an unconscionably long time, but most of those towns, particularly those on navigable waterways, go right down to the water's edge, and it would be a very expensive business to alter the course of sewerage as it is at the moment.
With those two strictures, which I hope we can discuss later. I give my wholehearted support to the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend upon it—my hon. Friend whom I have known for a number of years, who once gave me a football cap, and who told me I must be certain to be here today.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) upon his presentation of this Bill today. Coming from Bristol, I am very conscious of my vulnerable position in relation to my hon. Friends whose constituencies have waters which drain into the Severn and thereby affect the River Avon, at Bristol.
I must join issue with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson) because there is another River Avon in the British Isles, and we Bristolians have very strong feelings about that. Indeed, it would not be wrong to describe the River Avon as the biggest open sewer in the West Country.
If I need another excuse to intervene very briefly in the debate, I think that I ought to say that through our garden, in Dorset, runs the River Piddle, which, in spite of its name, is one of the finest trout streams in that part of the country.
I must be very careful, when talking about the Severn and what goes with it, not to trespass on the ground of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), whose interest in the sewerage problem of the City of Gloucester is so well know, but I should like to say that my family has for generations been concerned with salmon fishing in the Severn, in the tidal waters of the river, and not just for sport. Many of them have earned their living fishing with lave nets, which does not sound very sporting, but I can assure hon. Members who do not know anything about this type of fishing that one risks one's life when going about it and that there is as great an element of sport in that as there is in wading in a river in Scotland with a rod and line.
There are also people who enjoy more modest fishing, and I have had representations from the North Somerset and West Wilts Federation of Anglers and other people who point out that the condition of the tidal waters below them makes it almost impossible for many types of fish ever to reach the upper reaches of their rivers. Although it may not be thought in this House that the interests of anglers are as important as some others, I would suggest that in this troubled world of ours the enjoyment 782 of an afternoon on a river bank is not a bad thing at all, and a far more tranquil occupation, possibly, than visiting a football match or some of the other amusements in which we indulge.
To return to the River Avon and to Bristol, I have here a report from the Bristol Avon River Board, which says:It can safely be said that the position in tidal waters has deteriorated because the Board were not in a position to impose conditions on new discharges. Obviously the increases in population and industry, the sewage and effluents for which discharge direct to the Avon estuary, have worsened the position.This Bill will do much in that direction.
I should like to quote also from the Bristol newspaper of a couple of days ago. It says that 200 tons of chlorine had to be used this summer, had to be thrown into the Avon, to abate the frightful stench as a result of sewage being discharged into the river. Most of this problem is right in the middle of my constituency, Bristol, West. I quote the remarks of the chairman of the planning committee, who agreed, reports the newspaper,that the committee ought to build the biggest chlorination plant in the world there, even if it cost a quarter of a million. The stench had been appalling there for years.I quite agree with him. Indeed, last summer, late at night, I drove along the Avon, and the fog of chlorine gas arising from the river was so dense one could hardly see through it; it was so appalling to the eyes that one could hardly see to drive.
Bristol Corporation has a very big drainage and sewage disposal scheme in hand, and I am glad to see that its interests are safeguarded by this Bill. I am aware, as, I am sure, any Member for Bristol is, that we are a great industrial city, and that for a thousand years we have been pouring our sewage into the River Avon; for a thousand years: we go back almost as long as the Tory Party. I see, also, that the Bristol General Hospital was built on the bank of the open sewer of the River Avon a hundred years ago. It was thought in those days not to matter so much. Perhaps Providence had something to do with the dropping of a bomb on that hospital. Now it is used to a much lesser extent than before, and our thoughts on hospital provision have moved to other parts of the city.
783 In conclusion, I would say that the Bill will not work a miracle overnight. It is a modest Measure, but with revisions it will, I am sure, do something to deal with this problem, and I am sure it will receive the good will of all the interests concerned.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Brown (Tottenham)
It would appear that mine is likely to be the only discordant voice in this debate, but that may not be altogether a bad thing because it does always add interest to have other points of view, and I think it is an established fact that we Friday attenders are allowed a certain amount of licence.
I have always considered that it is not an insignificant point that when, in 1950, the then Minister of Health moved the Second Reading of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill he used the following words:The matter has been before the House on many occasions, and I am not convinced that it will not be before the House on many occasions again before we are quite satisfied that our rivers are in a satisfactory condition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 27th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 801.]Was the right hon. Gentleman endeavouring to warn the House that the Bill, the Second Reading of which he was moving, was not likely to bring about a really satisfactory improvement in the condition of our rivers?
Hon. Members present today who were also present at that debate in 1951 are perhaps better qualified to supply an answer to my question than I am, because, as Members know, I am quite new here, but I do say that most Members of the House welcomed that Bill, as also did the majority of the public, because it undoubtedly did represent the first real attempt since 1876 to halt the steady and ever-growing pollution of our rivers and streams. I myself, however, was not satisfied that the 1951 Act adequately dealt with the problem of this distressing pollution.
Neither am I satisfied that the provisions in the Bill now before us will greatly reduce or even halt the present pollution of our tidal waters. I say that because the main purpose of the Bill before us is only to extend to such tidal and coastal waiters the control which the river boards now exercise over tidal 784 waters by virtue of Section 7 of the 1951 Act. In other words, we are seeking to extend the provision of Section 7 of an Act with which the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) himself expressed some dissatisfaction, and which, I submit, has proved in practice to be rather ineffective.
I am in complete sympathy with the hon. Member for Harrogate in his desire that our rivers, streams, estuaries and coastal waters should be pure and clean. Unfortunately—and this is the point that I am making—the 1951 Act has never stopped pollution. That Act seemingly accepted the notion that pollution must take place and apparently attempted only to define under what conditions rivers are deemed to be polluted, or, shall I say, under what conditions rivers may be polluted.
Several hon. Members have referred to rivers in their own areas. I can only agree with them to this extent. If water is dirty, it is dirty, and it is no use trying to persuade an unconvinced public that water is legally clean and unpolluted when they know from their own experience that such waters are contaminated to the extent that fish cannot live in them. We heard ample evidence to that effect today, yet we accept the notion that legally such waters are not polluted. It is a sad reflection that in this day and age many of our once beautiful waterways and streams have been allowed to become wantonly polluted.
It has frequently been said that the condition of these rivers today is not due to a lack of powers vested in the various river boards and river authorities. If that is true, surely it is a reasonable assumption that, for some reason best known to themselves, certain authorities are loath to use the powers which they have, or, alternatively, that such authorities have widely differing opinions as to what degree of contamination constitutes pollution. Equally, it is regrettable that the estuaries of many of our rivers and coastal waters have become increasingly and alarmingly polluted during the past few years.
Hon. Members have mentioned raw sewage as a principal source of pollution in these areas. The contamination caused by the discharge of fuel and noxious mineral oils, an effluent which 785 somehow or other seems to get into our tidal and offshore waters is more offensive. The fearful toll of wild bird life, the unpleasant state of many of our beaches, and the inconvenience caused to holiday makers are proof enough of this nuisance.
While welcoming the Bill, which has caused considerable public interest, and congratulating the hon. Member for Harrogate on bringing it in, because of what was apparently stated in the famous—although in Tottenham somewhat elusive—Conservative manifesto, the Government should take steps to lay down an easily interpreted and acceptable definition of, and control over, pollution. The Government should then appoint a person or some persons, or a department, to make certain that river boards or river authorities—who, incidentally, are frequently the main offenders—carry out their obligations. Nothing short of such legislation will improve, let alone halt, the conditions of our tidal and non-tidal waters.
§ 1.25 p.m.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
Having listened to almost the entire debate, I am very glad of the opportunity to take part in it. I shall be extremely brief, because I want to refer to only one problem, which arises in connection with pollution in Gloucestershire.
The Parliamentary Secretary has had a lot of correspondence about the pollution which is taking place in the Severn immediately below Gloucester. There have been occasions when I have not agreed with the City of Gloucester, but I agree with them in their difficulties about pollution. Because of the draftsmanship of the 1951 Act, when the Severn River Board approached the Ministry asking for its assistance to try to encourage the city council to take some steps about the gross pollution which was taking place outside Gloucester, the board were told that the Ministry could not be of assistance because those waters were tidal, which is true.
The River Severn just below Gloucester is very narrow. Without being committed to a definite figure, I think it is about fifty yards wide. I have been a keen fisherman all my life, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for 786 Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) quite rightly and properly said, the Bill is not a fisherman's charter. I do not therefore propose to say anything on that.
What is important is that even some twenty years ago the netting or catching of salmon by artificial means and not by a rod and line in the Severn outside Gloucester provided an important industry. Some people think that the only really edible salmon come from—
Major Hicks Beach
—a little further north than Gloucester. That is not correct. Severn salmon has a reputation of being second to none. I have not the figures available, but, speaking from memory, the industry of netting salmon just outside Gloucester—which is a useful industry from the economic point of view and from the point of view of anyone who likes salmon—has gone down by about 75 per cent. over the last twenty years.
The City of Gloucester has its problems. I hope that the Bill, which I fully support—and I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate on the very clear and fair way in which he introduced it, and also the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)—will enable some action to be taken quickly to deal with this problem outside Gloucester.
Two important observations have been made this morning. One was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), who said that it was foolish to pretend that this was an easy problem. It is an extremely difficult problem. The other observation was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who said that this was a difficult problem and one that we had to deal with carefully, but that it was a problem which had to be faced.
Therefore, as an old Gloucestershire man, I hope that one of the first questions which the Minister will consider when the Bill reaches the Statute Book is the problem of the pollution which has so deteriorated and is continuing to deteriorate the Severn just outside Gloucester.
Apart from these short observations, I welcome the Bill, and I 787 congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate upon his boldness in introducing it. In my humble judgment too many Private Members' Bills are produced from the Whips' offices, and are not bold enough. This is a really bold effort, and my hon. Friend should be heartily congratulated.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I rise with some diffidence to speak from the Dispatch Box for the first time, but I am fortified in so doing by the knowledge that I speak upon a Bill which is widely supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. 1, too, offer my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) upon his good fortune in the Ballot and also upon his choice of subject. The Bill, which is an extension of the Labour Government's Act of 1951, deserves to be supported, and I was extremely glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that he and his right hon. Friend proposed to give it their support.
I am sorry that I cannot agree with the conclusions of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown). He speaks with experience and knowledge on this subject, and I thought that he made some extremely useful suggestions, which he may be able to enlarge upon in Committee. But I could not agree with him that the work of the river boards has not been satisfactory. I should have thought that there would be general agreement in the House that they have worked well and have proved themselves to be effective agencies. There is evidence from all parts of the country to support the contention. They have achieved good results with the 1951 Act.
I can give one illustration from Wales. The condition of the River Tawe, flowing through Swansea in the area of the South-West Wales River Board, has been so improved that last year and this year, for the first time in 60 years, sea trout were able to proceed upstream from Swansea Bay to a point above Pontardawe. This and many other examples can be adduced to prove that the boards are effective agencies, which can safely be entrusted with extended jurisdiction.
This debate has shown the urgent need for some action along the lines of the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of 788 the House have quoted some appalling examples of pollution in tidal waters. The Tyne at Newcastle has been mentioned several times, and it is a notorious example. Such rivers are little better than open sewers, and it is a sad commentary, in this year of grace, when so much attention is paid to high standards of health and hygiene, that large sections of our people have to live near these filthy rivers. We are told officially that it is not yet possible to establish a connection between water pollution and poliomyelitis, but it is extremely difficult to accept that there are no dangers to health from these heavily polluted rivers.
I was very impressed by the reference which the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) made to this point, and with the evidence that the adduced. I repeat his question and ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can indicate when the report of the Public Health Laboratory Service on the question of water pollution on health is likely to be published.
As the hon. Member for Harrogate indicated, we should consider "tidal waters" and "coastal waters" separately, although as at present drafted the Bill provides for control over both. No one has yet mentioned the Hobday Report, which inspired the 1951 Act. Although it was not particularly forthcoming on the question of tidal waters and estuaries, it acknowledged that it had received much evidence to the effect that the pollution of tidal waters and rivers was increasing. It then said that it envisaged "difficult technical problems" and "heavy financial burdens." The river boards, with their considerable experience, do not foresee such problems, because they support the Bill. It is clear that the Bill refers only to new or altered outlets. We are not dealing with existing discharges.
We know that many existing discharges are highly unsatisfactory, and we must hope that with the maximum co-operation between the boards, local authorities and industry there will be progressive improvement. I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary would say something about existing discharges. We should bear in mind that in paragraph 120 the Hobday Report mentioned an estimated expenditure of £100 million in connection with the reorganisation and 789 disposal of domestic sewers alone, and that was a 1949 estimate. However, that is outside the scope of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) made an important point in connection with local authorities. If the Bill becomes law, the water boards will quite properly set more stringent standards, and this will involve local authorities in greater expenditure. I hope that this will in no way inhibit the Parliamentary Secretary or his right hon. Friend from giving the maximum support to the Bill and subsequently giving local authorities suitable financial encouragement, because there is no doubt that they will need it.
As the hon. Member for Harrogate said, as we proceed down the estuary and on to the coast we find ourselves in very deep waters. We are up against formidable legal complications because of the difficulty of finding a precise legal definition of the word "estuary". I trust that the Bill will not be lost because of a drafting complication. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and his Ministry will be able to bring all the resources of his Department to bear so that a solution may be found and a satisfactory and acceptable Schedule drawn up. If there is any doubt about the ability of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to solve the problem we know that the Parliamentary Secretary can turn to the Minister for Welsh Affairs, who will undoubtedly be able to cope with this difficult question!
I hope that the Bill will succeed. Section 6 of the 1951 Act, although well meant, was a failure. It has resulted in only four orders, and all the evidence shows that river boards have found the procedure too slow, cumbersome and expensive to operate. The hon. Member for Harrogate paid a tribute to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, but I am afraid that I cannot be quite so generous. The House should remember that at one stage the Ministry actively discouraged boards from submitting draft orders. Given Government support and close and friendly co-operation between river boards, local authorities and industry, we believe that the Bill can help to remove what is a great danger to health and can restore a glory that has been tarnished for far too long.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Debate on the Bill has been marked by that cordiality which nearly always characterises the mood of the House when it comes to discuss rivers. This was certainly so, I have noted, in 1951, when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), Mr. Dalton and the late Mr. Walter Elliot were able to proceed in close harmony on the 1951 Measure, in perhaps closer harmony than one can imagine on almost any other subject.
Today, I calculate that we have heard the voices of the Tyne, the Avon, the Severn, the Test, the Thames and the Tees, to name by no means all, which constitute a formidable barrage in support of the Bill. There has been not only cordiality today, but wholehearted endorsement of the Measure to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) has put his name. Curiously, while rivers unify the House of Commons, a river in Kent, which is my own county, divide us. As some hon. Member may know, men of Kent come on one side of the Medway and Kentish men come on the other, and it is well for any foreigner who enters the county to know which is which.
The debate has not even been rippled by trade versus trout, a phrase which I culled from the salad day's of the Patronage Secretary who was free to take part in our proceedings in 1951. I am not a fisherman, I regret to say, and so I cannot join that lobby. I must count it part of a misspent youth that I cannot even tie a fly.
If cordiality has been the keynote here, co-operation will have to be the keynote elsewhere, as the House recognised in 1951, and as it is well recognised today by the Bill's sponsors. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate has not embarked on a reckless or gallant crusade. Neither a Minister nor an hon. Member seeking to step forward to cleanse our rivers can, like salmon, hope to swim upstream. The tide must be with him, and I should like to assure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who, I am sure, is anxious to have that assurance, that we intend as far as we can, without losing our objective, to go with the tide.
791 To achieve this, there must be two conditions which have been already laid down by my right hon. and learned Friend the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The first is co-operation with those who must implement the Measure, principally industry and the local authorities. The second is the acceptance of limited objectives, one step at a time. It is the second condition which makes this subject so eminently suitable for a Private Member's Bill, because a private Member can go forward, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate has done, one step at a time, while a Government nearly aways find themselves persuaded to take at least two steps more, and perhaps one too many.
It was stressed in 1951 that the 1951 Act would be in the nature of an experiment. That should be stressed today, because its provisions have met with varying success. Section 2 of the 1951 Act, in conjunction with Section 5, has met with only moderate success, and, as the hon. Member for Anglesey said, Section 6 has proved too ponderous, a little too elaborate, to be used as it was envisaged or hoped it would be used in 1951. But Section 7—and here I, too, must take issue with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown)—has proved abundantly worth while, and that is the Section on which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate is now seeking to reinforce success.
His first aim is to buttress those provisions of the 1951 Act which have proved workable and salutary, in the wider sense of that word. That is the main purpose. But there is a subsidiary purpose which ought to be stressed and which was touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Hobson). One effect of the 1951 Act being limited to streams has been unduly to concentrate damage to tidal waters. There are places where the effect of that Act has rendered the present state of tidal waters a little worse than it was, and it is that effect which it is one of the objects of the Bill to repair.
In the fulfilling of these objects, co-operation must be the keynote. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate set out quite clearly how he will set about 792 achieving it, particularly with the Association of Municipal Corporations, which, at short notice, has made a very generous response to my hon. Friend's request to give the Bill a fair wind. Even so, and though there is no violence to be done to legitimate interest, as my hon. Friend said, I think that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) will not be the only one to receive a letter from the town clerk. Others may also receive letters even now, and they may not all treat them in the same fashion as the hon. Member told the House he had treated his.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House who may receive—and I think that they will receive, and it is perfectly fair that they should—representations about the Bill to share a little of the trouble which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate has gone to and consult him and ask him whether the points made are likely to be met in Committee. He has given a generous assurance about what he is prepared to do in Committee. I hope that hon. Members will be prepared to do that, because they should note, and I hope that others elsewhere may note, that it has been clearly shown today what the attitude of hon. Members is towards the Bill. I say in all friendliness to town clerks who wish to write to hon. Members that they should talk not only to Members of Parliament, but to their medical officers as well.
My hon. Friend generously apologised for the fact that he gave the House and everyone else short notice of the Bill. I say "generously" because none of us could hold that against him. It is not his fault. It is exactly three weeks since the Ballot was presided over by Mr. Speaker, and it may well be that a delay of one week in bringing in Private Members' Bills and an addition of another week at the end of the year are something which the usual channels could consider. At least, it is not the responsibility of my hon. Friend and I hope that the authorities and others outside the House who may feel that they have been affronted and that an attempt has been made to jump over them, will know that this is nothing to do with my hon. Friend.
We shall have plenty to do in Committee, and I assure the Parliamentary 793 Secretary that we accept that some definition of estuaries is an essential safeguard to the interests of the local authorities concerned. The matter will not be rushed, and it will not be simple, but we have ample chance now for discussion and I cannot believe that with all the good will towards the Measure we cannot find a way.
It gives me particular satisfaction to support the Bill, because, as has been said, a week ago I initiated a discussion in the House on the protection of the natural beauty of the country, of which our rivers and streams are not the least adornment. It is quite easy to wax lyrical about the beauty of the countryside and of rivers and streams. It is quite another, and much more difficult, to do something practical about it, which this Bill does.
It should be widely known that it is not a sportsman's charter. It is designed to protect the health not of fish, but of human beings and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) made clear, there is a very good case to be made on those grounds. I hope, therefore, that not only here, where we have shown willingness to give the Bill a fair wind, but outside, where misunderstanding may have been clarified as a result of our discussion, there will be shown a disposition to give this excellent Bill all the support that it deserves.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).