HC Deb 09 June 1961 vol 641 cc1588-92
Mr. Temple

I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out "temperature or".

This matter had a fairly full discussion in Committee, and I then gave an undertaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) that I would consider it once again. In Committee my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) suggested the form of Amendment which I have tabled and which I hope the House will be able to accept. It was also an Amendment which I discussed with the executive of the River Boards Association at a conference I had with it prior to the Committee stage. At that time, the Association anticipated that this Amendment would be moved in Committee, but in fact a rather different one was moved, to which I could not accede.

Hon. Members should realise that the application with which we are here concerned is the initial one which a discharger will make to the river board. For that reason my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford pointed out that there was a need for a certain degree of precision. If we accept the Amendment it will make the words of the subsection rather more precise, in that the words "temperature or" will be eliminated, and the information will be required at the maximum temperature.

It is very simple for any of these dischargers to ascertain the maximum temperature of his discharge. In Committee, I was inclined to think that a degree of indecision in this matter was not against the Bill, but I recognise the force of the arguments put forward by the River Boards Association, and, therefore, I very much hope that the House will accept my Amendment.

Mr. J. Wells

The River Boards Association, as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) has just said, supports this Amendment most strongly and welcomes it. The Association feels that it will give extra strength to the Bill. I only wish to say at this stage how sorry I am that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) is not with us this morning. He is, of course, attending to his many duties concerned with river inspection.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Temple

I beg to move, in page 2, line 23, after "Act," to insert: nor exempted under subsection (2) of this section. This Clause deals with the question of the service of a notice by the river boards. Subsection (2) deals with 'water' raised or drained from…a mine…". As there is no requirement from the river board for a consent to discharge this type of water raised or drained from…a mine… it did not seem logical or correct that a river board in this instance should have the power of serving notice. This is a drafting Amendment and it has been put down for the avoidance of doubt. I believe it to be logical, and I trust that the House will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Kimball

I beg to move, in page 2, line 39, after "fine," to insert: not exceeding one thousand pounds. Would it be convenient, Mr. Speaker, if together with this Amendment we discussed the next Amendment standing in my name, in line 40, to leave out "one" and to insert "two"?

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I think that that would be convenient.

Mr. Kimball

This Amendment deals with the problem that on conviction on indictment there is no limit to the amount of the fine which can be imposed in such cases. I think that many hon. Members—this is a point often raised in the House—feel that it is very unsatisfactory and, indeed, very unfair on the general public that there should be no limit on the amount of fine that a judge can impose.

It may well be that the very first prosecution under the Bill when it becomes an Act would concern a large commercial concern that has the misfortune to make a discharge into a river and is eventually fined for doing so. For instance, to fine Imperial Chemical Industries, or some such colossal giant concern, a mere £500 is nothing. The court may feel that it has to make an example of such a firm as a deterrent to others doing the same thing. It may impose a thumping great fine. Under the Bill there is no limit to the fine.

It may well happen that the next offence is committed by a very much smaller concern or even by a private individual. It may concern the discharge from a farmer's silage pit. The court may feel that as there was already on record a very large fine imposed for this offence on a large concern it must inflict a heavy fine in every case. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) will see the logic of this argument. Although I do not in any way want to condone what is an offence, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to accept this limit in the case of any fine.

Similarly, I do not think that, the value of money today being what it is, the limit of the fine proposed in subsection (7, b) is a correct one. In view of the fall in the value of money today a fine of £100 for such a serious offence seems to be an extremely small one, and I hope that my hon. Friend will consider raising the figure to £200. We have only to think of the very extensive damage that can be done by someone making a mistake like this. There may well be the case where a river has been maintained in a pure state at vast expense over many years and stocked with fish at very considerable expense by angling clubs. If an offence of this sort were committed in such a river I do not think that a fine of £100 would be a sufficient deterrent.

Mr. J. Wells

While I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) that a definite fine should be fixed for a major offence—and, indeed, his suggestion of £1,000 for a major offence may well be reasonable—I cannot agree with him in his second proposition that the proposed fine of £100 should be raised to £200. I have said at every stage of the Bill that there will undoubtedly be small offences committed which will, we hope, through the generosity of the river boards, go unnoticed. But in some areas there may well be river boards less generous than those in other areas, and it would be most unfortunate if this precedent in the amount of the fine which my hon. Friend envisages should be set up.

My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of a farmer's silage pit. I raised this point myself at earlier stages of the Bill. I have been told that a silage pit is usually moved about and, therefore, that it does not usually come within the ambit of the Bill. At the same time, there are many farmers—we all know that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) is a distinguished farmer himself—who put their silage pits in much the same place year after year. Therefore, there will be discharges from much the same place into the same small stream. That might well be an offence. I should very much deplore a farmer of that sort being fined anything like £100, let alone £200. Although I strongly support my hon. Friend in saying that a definite figure should be inserted in subsection (7, a) I hope that he will have second thoughts about subsection (7, b) and will not press that Amendment.

Dr. Alan Glyn

I wish to support my hon. Friend's Amendment because I think that it is fundamentally wrong for Parliament to create an offence without at the same time placing a ceiling on the fine which can be imposed. As a matter of principle, I strongly support my hon. Friend's view with regard to paragraph (b). I do not, however, altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). After all, the subsection is pretty clear. It says "a fine not exceeding," and it is open to the courts to adjust their fines according to the offence. In the instances which he gave the court may well think that a much smaller fine is appropriate. Therefore, I have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I must apologise to my hon. Friend for not being present to hear the cogent argument which he put forward. I was unavoidably absent for a moment or two. I wish to support my hon. Friend on the first part, but I am not all that happy about the figure of £1,000 which he mentions. I think that the fixing of a limit by the House is a correct principle. I do not like the matter being open-ended with no control over how far the court can go in the matter of a fine. I am slightly apprehensive, however, about the figure of £1,000. It might put into the mind of the court that this is the sort of fine which is needed. I am sure that that will not happen.

1.0 p.m.

But I support the principle underlying my hon. Friends Amendment. I think that there ought to be an upper limit. I should prefer £500 rather than £1,000, but that is a matter of detail. I do not agree with him about paragraph (b). I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). I think that £100 is a suitable figure rather than £200, and I do not follow the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn). Of course, this must be left to the discretion of the court, and I see no justification for doubling the figure. Subject to what I have said, I agree with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

There is some conflict between the first Amendment and the second. I am anxious to know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) wishes to increase or to diminish the effect of the subsection. The first Amendment, by placing a limit on the fine, would diminish its effect, but the second would enhance it to the tune of 100 per cent. The views that he has—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present, adjourned at six minutes past One o'clock till Monday next.