HC Deb 18 December 1970 vol 808 cc1753-72

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

We turn from what sounded to me rather like one set of troubled waters to some a little further south. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a subject of great concern to many of my constituents as well as to many hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the Bristol Channel.

I should like to begin by approaching the problem in a rather general way. I think that I can do no better than to quote from the annual report of the Council to the Court of Bristol University on the Sabrina project: The Romans could little have envisaged the changes that would take place in and around the treacherous estuary of the river they called Sabrina. Villages have grown to towns, the towns to cities. Industry has established itself along the fringes with the resulting expansion in sea, road, rail and air communications. Power stations have been sited near the Estuary to make use of its cooling water and links have been made between the north and south side both under and over the Estuary. Development of the Estuary and its hinterland is likely to increase in pace during the coming decade. Severnside has been suggested for one of the major growth points in the United Kingdom; numerous schemes have reached varying degrees of refinement with the erection of barrages, international airports, major port installations, additional tunnels and bridges in the region. The environment of the Estuary has long since ceased to be ' natural'. Sewage effluent, industrial effluent, fertilisers and pesticide residues have modified the estuarine waters. Agriculture and urbanisation have removed all but the last vestiges of natural vegetation that existed in Roman times. Even the atmosphere has been changed by pollution. Little is known in detail of the peculiarities and characteristics of the natural environments in the Estuary and its hinterland. As a result, little scientific help can be given to the planners of the region in terms of predicting the effects of any changes that they bring about by their decisions. It may be helpful if I say a few words about the Sabrina project. It is clear that the problem of pollution in the Severn Estuary is very largely one of lack of knowledge. Bristol University has suggested to the Natural Environment Research Council that they might get together and, with all the sciences at the disposal of the university, study as one entity the whole formation and effect of our modern way of life on this part of the world.

They propose that a triangle bounded by Gloucester, Barry and Bridgwater should be studied, that they should examine the sediment and water inputs from the various tributaries, make chemical analyses of the various pollutants, study the macro and micro fauna and flora in the water and around the fringes, conduct an aerial survey, study the meteorology of the district and look into the atmospheric and natural—and by "natural" I mean the soil and rock—pollution in the estuary.

I have received some helpful and expert advice from a constituent, Dr. T. C. Shaw, who is in the Department of Civil Engineering at Bristol University. Writing on this subject, he said: There is no one authority overseeing the Seven Estuary and hence no one is keeping an 'ecological' eye on changes consequent to any industrial development". I hope the Minister will join me in welcoming the University's interest and I hope that he will help to persuade the Natural Environment Research Council to continue with the view that it is now taking. I gather that the matter is still under discussion, though in a friendly way.

Three specific points arise out of the proposed co-operation between the University and the N.E.R.C. The first is that of control and supervision over the whole estuary. The second is the question of a hydraulic model. The third is the worry, and the University is undoubtedly worried, that in a study of this nature the final result may turn out to be the pointing of accusing fingers at industry—and industry is generous in its support for the university. It is important that this study goes ahead because if the views are uncomplimentary, it is all the more important that we know about them.

I will go over those three points, but in reverse. The last one is self-explanatory. The question of a hydraulic model is important. In all the researches I have done for this debate, I keep coming up against the fact that the Severn Estuary lacks a proper model. The Thames, the Humber and the Clyde each has one. These models are large and expensive; £250,000 would probably be needed to build a model of the Severn Estuary, though it appears from the many authorities which would require the loan facilities of such a model that the rental return might make this an economic proposition.

Models have in the past been made for special items—one was made for Avon-mouth Docks and another for the C.E.G.B.—but these have been of a small scale and unfortunately they have nearly always been destroyed at the end of the study. When I come to deal specifically with the British Steel Corporation, as I shall do shortly, the House will see the significance of these remarks. It is relevant to note that Dr. Shaw said: At the present time the only answer is to make resort to hydraulic model methods to study the physical matters". My first point was control and supervision. There are six river authorities concerned with the estuary: Glamorgan, Usk, Wye, Severn, Bristol Avon and Somerset. There are two joint committees of these authorities. The first consists of board members, and they meet to discuss the whole question of the control of pollution and other things within the estuary. The second is a sub-committee of that body, comprised of officers, including fishery and pollution officers, and the University of Bristol is represented on it.

This joint committee has no powers over its constituent bodies, other than persuasion and recommendation. I gather from the many inquiries that I have made that the view is taken that the present situation in the estuary is unsatisfactory, and it is asked, "Why should we be worried about powers for this joint committee?" When hon. Members hear what I have to say later, the Minister may be persuaded that this joint authority should have more powers. After all, what other authorities are concerned with and looking into estuarial control? I gather that the Minister has agreed to appoint an officer but that so far he has been unable to fill the post. Can he clarify the position? I appreciate that the Severn River Authority has an estuarial officer who is concerned specifically with this point.

If one takes the whole estuary as being the area from Milford in Pembrokeshire to Bude in Cornwall right up to Lower Parting in Gloucestershire, one is becoming involved with a very large number of local authorities, and it seems to me that these authorities should be represented in some way on this or some other committee.

A letter which was written to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) by the Clerk to the Long Ashton Rural District Council, Mr. Overton, states: We all feel here that there should now be some co-ordinated control of standards for the Severn Estuary, so that all discharges can be kept up to the highest standards. A few years ago I flew up the Welsh coast from Pembrokeshire to Gloucester. It was low tide at the time. I recall being impressed by the number of factories that border the Welsh coast and the sight of the effluent that many of them were putting out. It is a memory which I shall keep with me. I hope that the Minister will consider how best some more stringent control may be imposed on the various river boards with responsibility for matter going into the estuary.

On the question of pollution, there is undoubtedly a lack of basic information. A starting point to assess what is going on is required. If a measurement is taken today, nobody can say whether it is worse or better than a similar measurement taken 12 months ago. This great study that Bristol University is hoping to do will, therefore, be the yardstick for the future.

The whole question of pollution is enormously wide. There has just been completed a two-day debate in another place in which a large number of noble Lords spoke on a wide range of subjects. Estuaries seem to get left out. They are neither sea nor river.

I will quote a few extracts from a paper given by an industrialist, Mr. C. F. Thring, to the River Boards' Association as long ago as 1958. At that time Mr. Thring was part of the Billingham Division of I.C.I. He pointed out the reasons for industry and power stations wishing to plant themselves along the shores of our estuaries and he said: Most of these large-scale industries, requiring substantial quantities of water, in consequence also have large amounts of trade effluent to dispose of. The estuarial site offers greater possibilities for disposal without harm to other interests than an inland site. In spite of its prime enconomic importance, less study has been given to this aspect of the use of estuaries than others. Later he drew attention to studies which had been done on the discharge of effluent into the Rivers Mersey and Tees and said: In these cases, too, it is true to say that the broad conclusions arrived at were different from those expected when the surveys were undertaken. He then said: The point I wish to make is that, while everybody now recognises that, with the increasing industrialisation and urbanisation of our estuaries, pollution of tidal rivers by sewage and industrial effluents is likely to create a greater risk in future, there is at the same time a growing realisation that much more scientific investigation is required before a controlling authority can devise satisfactory controls to solve the problems. I hope that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State will not think from what I have said that all industry is totally to blame. Let me conclude my quotations from Mr. Thring's paper with this statement: Industry will play its part given requirements which are based on a sound knowledge of the regime of individual estuaries, and on full data of the capacity of each estuary for affording dispersal and dilution for the effluents which it receives. That paper, written 12 years ago, is even more pertinent today than it was then.

I wish to progress to the specific point which first aroused my interest in this matter. But before I do so I should like to make two points clear. First, my constituency interest, which is obvious, is to keep the River Severn clear. At Weston-super-Mare, constant attention is given to testing the water to ensure that it is safe for bathing. It may not appear clean, but the health-giving properties carried in the water are renowned to all those who have sampled them.

Secondly, this is not a battle between the interests of the North Somerset coast and the industrial interests of Wales. Both sides of the estuary are interested in this matter and both sides must combine to ensure that it is kept as clean as it is at present.

In the matter of the British Steel Corporation, I should pay tribute to the interests and help of a number of my colleagues; my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren), who has kept himself informed of the correspondence from the city of Bristol; my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley), who may, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, intervene in this debate; my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Tom King), who would I am sure have been present today but for the fact that he is unhappily in hospital; and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, who has taken a keen interest in this matter.

A number of local authorities, including Bristol, Long Ashton, Clevedon, Burnham-on-Sea, Thornbury, Portishead, and Weston-super-Mare have corresponded with me and with the Ministry. Somerset and Gloucester County Councils have attended meetings on this subject, as has the Port of Bristol Authority. A number of clerks and officials of various authorities have helped me in gathering my information, and to them I am very grateful.

In setting out the basic case, I cannot do better than to read the letter which Mr. William J. Hutchinson, Town Clerk and Chief Executive Officer for the City and County of Bristol, wrote to me on 21st October: In early September the Haven Master of the Port of Bristol Authority heard fortuitously that the British Steel Corporation were proposing to carry out tests to ascertain the effect of discharging coke oven effluent at a point on the Bristol side of the Severn Estuary tix-tenths of a mile north of Blacknore Point, Portishead. This area is within the area of the Port and Harbour of Bristol and also within the boundary of the City and County of Bristol but is included in the ' controlled waters' as defined in the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960, which are under the jurisdiction of the Usk River Board. As the result of meetings held between officers of the Corporation and a representative of the Steel Corporation we were told that a new steel making plant was being erected at Newport, at an estimated cost of £40 million and this development will involve the construction of new large coke ovens. The Steel Corporation wished to dispose of the effluent from these ovens by flushing it out to sea rather than by the customary and more expensive method of neutralising the effluent before discharge. He then explains the method of conducting the test and concludes that paragraph by saying: If the tests were satisfactory the Steel Corporation would lay pipelines from Spencer Works at Llanwern to the discharge point and would discharge 400,000 gallons of effluent per day over a period of six hours (three hours each tide). The Steel Corporation had been in touch with the Usk River Authority who were agreeable to the tests being carried out but had overlooked the need to communicate with the Bristol Corporation as they had not appreciated that the point of delivery would be within the Port and City limits". That is how this matter came to our attention.

I should like to say a few words about the test. As a result of the protest, the original test was postponed, but on 23rd October a test was carried out without an effluent constituent on a radio-active tracer under the supervision and control of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. There was no effluent in this test and therefore it would not show how effluent as such would react.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

Was not the reason there was no effluent in the test that the Bristol authority would not agree to it?

Mr. Wiggin

That may well be part of the case, but I hope to persuade the House that the test, however it is carried out, will be insignificant. It is important to remember, however, that the phenol in the effluent disperses in a special way. I am no chemist, but without the effluent at the right temperature and in the right dilution the tests may well be comparatively unimportant. Dr. Shaw comments as follows on the test: Such tests are comparatively cheap, simple and swift to execute. However, they fail to demonstrate (a) the risk of concentration of pollutant from continuous discharge; (b) the movement at spring tides". The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North on 27th November explaining how the tests were being carried out. He added that the measurements were being assessed and would be made available to all the river authorities, the Bristol Corporation and other interested bodies.

If we put a drop of oil in a bucket of water, it may appear that the water is relatively clean. If we put in two drops every day over the years, the water will very quickly become polluted. The problem is that nobody knows whether the Severn Estuary completely empties itself on each tide. Until a proper study is done and a model made, whether that happens can only be surmised.

The proposal of the British Steel Corporation is to pump 400,000 gallons of effluent each day into the Channel. The authorities were told that this consisted of 1 per cent, ammonia, and cyanide and phenol constituents. The sample produced and analysed by the Bristol city analyst showed 2 per cent, ammonia with cyanide and phenol. One of the problems with ammonia is the nitrate concentrations. This is a matter which is already concerning my hon. Friend's Department.

Cyanide is well known to be a fatal poison, and phenol, which I understand can be cleaned by biological methods, is considered by the World Health Organisation, in its standards for drinking water, to be sufficiently dangerous to allow for only two microgrammes per litre of phenolic substances in drinking water. No doubt my hon. Friend is well up with the metric measurements, but that does not sound much to me.

The question of the fishery interests was investigated. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North on 18th November. He stated that his Ministry was interested only in the fishery interests in the estuary. A test had been made with the sample of effluent provided and the results had been sent to the Usk River Authority and the British Steel Corporation. I have no knowledge of the results of those tests having come out in public.

It seems to me inexcusable that the British Steel Corporation should plan a £40 million extension of the Spencer steel works without making proper inquiries about the disposal of the effluent from the coke ovens. If I wanted to put up a small piggery on my farm I should have to satisfy my local authority and river authority and the Ministry of Agriculture before I put one brick on top of another. It would appear that the British Steel Corporation considers itself not an ordinary mortal. It made no contact with Bristol Corporation and other interested local authorities until 20th October, when the furore which had been caused at length pressed the Steel Corporation to summon a meeting to which it invited the local authorities. The subject of this debate here has been notified for more than a week and no one from the Steel Corporation has attempted to offer me information or contact me in any way at all.

This disposal is the responsibility of Usk River Authority. It is that authority's responsibility because the effluent starts on its shore. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North approached the Secretary of State for Wales who wrote to him on 27th November: If an application is made the decision will be a matter for the Usk River Authority. I can intervene only if and when an appeal under the Pollution Acts comes before me. I understand that that means that if the Steel Corporation is not allowed to dispose of this effluent in the Channel, it may appeal to the Minister. I should like to know whether it is possible for either the Secretary of State for Wales or my hon. Friend to make inquiry directly, of the Usk River Authority on this matter.

I have lived all my life by the River Severn. I was born in Worcester, through which it runs, and I have lived on a farm on its banks ever since. I cut my political teeth in Montgomeryshire near its headwaters at Plynlimmon, and now I find myself representing a constituency on the shores of the estuary. I would hate to see this great river spoiled. I would hate to see our estuary become a stinking drain. I hope that the Usk River Authority will heed the warnings which have been given, and I would urge the Minister to consider how best we can deal with this problem of control of estuaries—now—and to bear in mind the more general issues for the future.

1.43 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and I am sure that the House is, too, for raising at this appropriate time in European Conservation Year the question of the River Severn.

I start by quoting from a lecture delivered by Mr. Hooker to the Institution of Civil Engineers three days ago: During European Conservation Year special attention is being given on an international scale to the problems of pollution and industrial dereliction and the need to pay much greater regard to the preservation of amenity. The objectives of conservation, however, are not confined to preserving the wilderness but include the proper management of natural resources in planning new developments. Thus there is a twofold task of rehabilitating the areas left derelict by the first Industrial Revolution and ensuring that new industries do not destroy the environment. I know that my hon. Friend is not seeking in some narrow way to preserve some small constituency interest, but that he is seeking, as many others have, over a long time, a solution of the problems which can and will be caused by unco-ordinated development in the area to which he has referred.

Of the maritime industrial development areas—M.I.D.A.S.—the Severn is one of the three estuaries chosen in this country for study but in my submission, and that of many others, the study does not go anything like far enough. I believe that studies of industrial sites should be part of an overall environmental plan, and that this plan should include, amongst other things, water conservation, recreation and airport developments. Water conservation is enormously important, because in the next 30 years more new water will be required than has been needed in the last hundred years. Therefore, a study of a Severn barrage and of the Severnside area should take account of water conservation in this area of such great potential. It is an area of great potential also for recreation. There is potential for a marina and other maritime facilities—and messing about in boats is one of the fastest growing recreations in this country. It is a fact of the matter I should like included in the study of the Severn estuary.

So, too, is the airport. There is potential for an airport built on reclaimed land away from presently populated areas, and where aircraft can take off and land over water and stack over water. This from the national point of view presents a positive contribution towards the preservation of the environment. It is a timely moment in connection with the question of the airport, when the Roskill Commission's report is due at any moment, to point out that the M4 and M5 motorways cross at the interchange at Almondsbury. Moreover, British Rail have plans for advanced passenger trains travelling at 150 miles an hour by 1978 on the Bristol to London main line. Furthermore, an airport would provide employment possibilities for South Wales and the provision of alternative employment there is important as the coal mines will probably provide less employment in the future. There is in today's Notice Paper Early Day Motion No. 206 dealing with airports, and it mentions the environmental benefits of a coastal situation.

Then there is the question of site suitability for supersonic aircraft aiming westwards across the North Atlantic, starting off subsonic. Not unnaturally, studies have been carried out at Bristol University, and a great deal of time has been given to the estuary itself, but it is interesting to note that these studies are not confined to Bristol. Research has been going on for the past nine months at Oxford by a team of assistants into the development of the Severn Estuary, and they are encouraging me to press the Government to study all these proposals in their entirety.

My hon. Friend and I do have constituency interests in this area, but we express to the Minister our concern that this small island—not only the area of the Severn Estuary—should be properly developed so that the maximum benefit for all is secured from those assets which nature has provided for us.

There is another aspect of the matter, and that is tourism, and those areas of outstanding natural beauty—the Wye Valley, the Cotswolds, the Mendips—which many of us would like to see preserved for tourists, not only our own people, but visitors from overseas as well. If a study is undertaken I should like the tourist aspect included. The location of an airport on Severnside would be a valuable boost to tourism in the area.

As to the specific point about the British Steel Corporation, I put a Question two or three weeks ago, and was advised that the responsibility for pollution by the corporation was entirely within the corporation's jurisdiction.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare that it is not good enough that a large organisation should be able to become an arbitrary polluter without reference to the requirements and wishes of the local authorities in the area and, more important, without reference to the total plan which is envisaged for Severn-side. For instance, the pipeline which the British Steel Corporation is planning, if the proposal is allowed to proceed, could arrive at the same place, at the same time, as part of the proposed Severnside airport. The British Steel Corporation is a large, arrogant, authoritarian organisation which proceeds without reference to those who live in the area.

Mr. Wiggin

I think my hon. Friend will agree that the answer to his Question stated that the normal statutory powers possessed by river authorities applied to the British Steel Corporation. My point was that it would appear that the British Steel Corporation is trying to avoid those statutory obligations.

Mr. Adley

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that this is the position, and it is this position about which we are complaining.

Compared with the Mersey and the Thames, the Severn has remained comparatively under-developed. We are not seeking massive over-development; we are seeking balanced and planned development. That is why in this brief intervention I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend in his plea for a full study of the tourist, recreational and industrial potential of Severnside. The Minister can be assured that, if he looks sympathetically upon this, he will be realising the dream of generations of people in and around Severnside who have wanted the Government to notice the area in which we live.

1.52 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) on the agreeable and extremely knowledgeable way in which he has opened this short Adjournment debate. I thought that the depth of research—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman will know that in courtesy to the House he should ask for the leave of the House, since we are still on the same debate in which he made his earlier intervention. It is a small point.

Mr. Griffiths

I am not quite sure that I fully understand your small point, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I will make it plain. We are on the Adjournment debate. The fact that the hon. Gentleman has dual responsibility this morning does not absolve him from the normal courtesy of the House.

Mr. Griffiths

With the leave of the House, I will come to my second estuary of the day and repeat my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare on the agreeable way in which he organised his speech and put forward the real concerns of his constituents. I felt a great deal of common cause with him, particularly when he described his journey in an aircraft from which he was able to observe the effects on the waterway of industrial effluent, and when he spoke of his piggery. I too have built one and have been made aware of the difficulties which a pig-keeper must face in disposing of his effluent.

I am glad, too, that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) intervened and gave us some lucubrations on the subject of aircraft noise and the activities of the British Steel Corporation.

I am answering the debate on behalf of two of my right hon. Friends, namely, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales. Our two Departments work closely together in guarding against all forms of pollution. This policy cannot be pursued on a regional or national basis but must be pursued across the whole United Kingdom area. The Government are wholly committed to improving the environment and to making sure that the conditions of the air, the water and the noise level in which we live are, as far as possible, ameliorated. We are making some progress in this.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has recently expanded the Alkali Inspectorate. Our air, far from getting dirtier is getting cleaner, although we all regret the temporary setback caused by the shortage of smokeless fuel. We have had local setbacks with water during recent weeks as a result of the unfortunate strike of local authority manual workers, but even that has had but a marginal effect on our rivers as a whole, and, far from getting dirtier, most of our rivers are, if anything, likely to get cleaner in the years ahead.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East spoke about noise. I believe that noise is a form of pollution. He will be pleased to know that the Noise Advisory Council is making considerable progress in its studies of the effect on our people of aircraft noise, traffic noise, industrial noise and the rest. Taking these things together, and adding to them the work that we are doing on refuse disposal and derelict land, it will be seen that the Government are making progress on air, water, noise and dereliction, which are in the end the bare bones of the environment.

I welcome this opportunity to talk specifically today about the Severn Estuary, and in particular about the proposals of the British Steel Corporation to discharge untreated coke oven liquor into the Bristol Deep off Portishead. I well understand the concern of my hon. Friend and his local authorities about this. It is quite right that people should express forcibly their views on a matter which could affect their living conditions.

I will first explain to the House what precisely the problem is and what is being done about it. The coke oven effluent from the British Steel Corporation works at Newport, that is to say, the Spencer works, Llanwern, is neutralised and is then discharged into the Bristol Channel at a point one mile from the Monmouthshire coast. So far, this has given rise to no objection. An expansion of the coke ovens is now proposed, which I am sure, in the interests of our national economy, everybody would want. The Corporation, therefore, has a problem. What is it to do with the resultant effluent?

It has wondered about the wisdom of discharging existing and future effluent from these ovens, without treatment, at a point in the Bristol Channel only half a mile from the Somerset coast. Remembering as I do the Private Bill which was introduced when it was sought to build an ore terminal off Portishead, I can well appreciate the pressures on my hon. Friend to see that this does not happen. The main reason why the British Steel Corporation wants to discharge in this area rather than nearer to the Welsh coast is that there is a problem in disposing of the ammonia resulting from treatment. Without treatment there is no ammonia. But, of course, there would also be a substantial saving in costs if it was able to discharge effluent untreated—a saving which, I understand, would reach into sums of six figures each year.

I understand that this untreated coke oven liquor has a reddish brown colour, deriving its colour from the polyhydric phenols it contains. In so far as there is any toxicity—which is by no means firmly established—it derives it from the phenols and thiocyanates. There is some smell—I do not know how much—and this derives very largely from the ammonia content.

In late October of this year tests were carried out by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority on behalf of the British Steel Corporation in collaboration with the Usk River Authority. The purpose was to assess whether a hazard would be likely to arise if these new proposals were accepted. The Steel Corporation is trying to satisfy itself as to whether the effluent will be swept straight out to sea without offence or harm to anyone. If the effluent discharged from this point were likely to remain in the estuary as a sort of sludge material moving in and out with the tide and approaching the shore, I understand that the corporation would abandon the proposal.

The tests were undertaken with clean water containing radio-active material. My hon. Friend was hardly fair to the corporation in this respect, for it had intended to use untreated coke oven liquor for the tests in order to get a really proper result but deferred doing so because of the objections of Bristol Corporation. The results of the test with the radio-active tracers have now been assessed, and the Atomic Energy Authority's report is being considered by the corporation.

Mr. Adley

Would it not have been better to have asked the local authorities beforehand and consulted them? What we are concerned about here is the way in which these vast organisations—and this does not just concern nationalised industries—do these things. This is the point on which I was consulted by the Town Clerk of Bristol.

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure that the British Steel Corporation will note what my hon. Friend has said, although he will be aware that the configuration of the port of Bristol, when looked at on a map of the Severn Estuary, shows a line running a very long way down the coast towards the Portishead area, and I suppose that it is not impossible that even the greatest mind might suppose that the suggested area of discharge was not within the confines of the port of Bristol. However, I accept that this matter should perhaps have been checked up on and I am sure that the corporation will note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Wiggin

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that Bristol City at the moment has to take its own sewage sludge more than 50 miles down channel by ship, and that Weston and Long Ashton Councils have been forced to put in extremely long and expensive pipelines for the disposal of their vegetable-type sewages? Why, if this combination of circumstances has taken place in the past, should there suddenly be a change of mind?

Mr. Griffiths

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is correct in laying these things at the door of the British Steel Corporation, which is the point I am on at present. But I can give him the assurance that the corporation is fully aware of its responsibilities to the community in these matters, and I should not like the House to think that it is merely intent on using the Severn as a sewer. That simply is not so.

I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East that the answer to the question referred to pointed out that the British Steel Corporation is obliged to carry out the statutory duties laid upon it. Neither the Steel Corporation nor any other public body is above the law. The law applies to such bodies as it does to everyone else, and I am sure that the chairman of the corporation is perfectly well aware of that. Indeed, he has made it plain that other methods of disposing of this noisome effluent are being energetically examined.

A great deal of research is being carried out at several research establishments, including those of the corporation, to find out whether it is necessary to put this effluent in the Severn at all. There may be biological means of disposing of it in other ways. Because of its fear of pollution, the Somerset River Authority, the Bristol Corporation and a number of other authorities on the English side of the estuary have asked that the Secretary of State for the Environment should intervene to prevent such a discharge. Bristol Corporation and some other local authorities have also represented that a consultative organisation of local authorities and river authorities should be set up to express the views on proposals affecting the estuary as a whole.

If an application for consent is made, the decision will be one for the Usk River Authority. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales would only come into the matter if the Steel Corporation were to make a formal appeal against the Usk River Authority's decision. I know that there has already been consultation by the Usk River Authority with other river authorities in the Severn Estuary and with some of the local authorities. I have no doubt that these consultations will continue even after an application is received.

I welcome the fact that there is already a Severn Estuary Joint Consultative Committee in being. This was set up in 1957 with the specific purpose of discussing salmon netting in the Estuary. The members were the Usk, Severn and Wye River Boards, as they were then known. In July, 1963, the Committee widened its scope and embraced the Somerset, Bristol Avon and Glamorgan River Boards with terms of reference which included the following: To keep under review the state of the Severn Estuary with particular reference to industrial developments and the welfare of migratory fish, and to report to the River Boards concerned. It was at this same time that a subcommittee of technical officers was appointed to deal with technical matters.

Both the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office are represented on this sub-committee by officers of the Directorate of Engineering and although, regretfully, some of the joint survey work of this body has failed to materialise, it is nevertheless looking very carefully into the dumping into the estuary of toxic and other wastes. So a good deal of information about conditions in the estuary already exists in the hands of the river authorities, although both they and we recognise that more information is needed.

In addition to this, there is "Operation Sabrina." When I first heard about this name, I wondered where it had come from but I am pleased to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the name arose not from a certain distinguished lady but from the old Roman term for the River Severn—and in some respects I rather regret that it is not still called the River Sabrina.

"Operation Sabrina" is a research study mounted by the Department of Geology of the University of Bristol. It has some although limited financial assistance from the National Environment Research Council. The Severn Estuary Joint Consultative Committee— that is to say, the river authorities—has appointed a representative to the Sabrina Project Steering Committee.

The Department of the Environment can and does help in these matters. We have, for example, arranged, quite independently of the present problem, for a Member of the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, with specialised knowledge of estuaries, to undertake a desk study to evaluate existing data, to suggest what further work is needed and to prepare a comprehensive survey programme—chemical, physical and ecological. This desk study might take two to three months from its start.

My hon. Friend has suggested among other things that what is needed is a model of the estuary. I am not sure what kind of model he has in mind, whether physical, or mathematical of the kind prepared for the Tidal Thames as a result of the work of the Pippard Committee, whose report, "Pollution of the Tidal Thames" was made in 1961. The Pippard Committee type of model is, in effect, a computer-type model of the Thames, Tees, Humber and so on, and a whole series of equations are mathematically resolved by the computer. I will be glad to draw my hon. Friend's remarks about a hydraulic model to the attention of the laboratory during the work it is doing on the desk study. On pollution control, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that a mathematical model might on the whole be more useful than a physical one if the complexities of tides and currents are to be sufficiently identified.

Mr. Wiggin

The suggestion of a hydraulic model was made simply for the reasons which I stated, and my hon. Friend's points—that it can be used for many purposes.

Mr. Griffiths

I understand that. Finally, it is important that we understand the statutory position. The Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960, gave local authorities a general power to control new and substantially altered discharges up to the seaward limits of each estuary of significance—not every estuary—as defined in the Schedule to the Act. The seaward limit of the Severn Estuary is the line across the estuary between the Black Nore Lighthouse at Portishead in Somerset and the tip of Lavernock Point in Glamorgan. The location of the proposed point of discharge of untreated coke oven liquor is within these controlled waters. Section 9(3) of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1961, makes it clear that any application for consent to make a new discharge into the controlled waters of an estuary can be made only to the river authority in whose area the premises from which the discharge is to be made are located.

The Spencer Works are in the area of the Usk River Authority, so that any formal application by the British Steel Corporation for consent to discharge trade effluent at the particular point that they wish must be decided by the Usk River Authority, and any subsequent appeal by the British Steel Corporation against a refusal of the application, or against any conditions imposed upon a consent, would fall to be determined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

In many respects, this debate, though important, is premature, and the situation which my hon. Friend fears may never arise. But if it does, I assure him that we have a system to deal with it. I underline that point. Discharges into our nation's waterways can be, and are, strictly controlled under the legislation we now have. I do not say that the position is perfect, but it is by no means bad.

I never regret the opportunity to affirm the Government's wish—which I am sure we must and shall achieve—to reduce pollution. It would not be right to end this short debate without mentioning the Report of the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, and the Key Report on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes, both of which are now before my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State. We expect that their proposals will produce decisions by the Government in a fairly short time.

The Government's intention is clear cut. We abominate pollution. We must reduce it. There are economic considerations and questions of technical manpower to be considered in applying our remedies to the problem. But the intention and the policy of the Government are clear. Pollution is a problem, whether in the Severn or anywhere else, and it is a task which we are tackling.