§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I am concerned about the work of the Royal Commission on the Environment, which has just started. I wish the Commission well in its work, but I must stress at the outset that however successful it may be, it rests with Ministers to implement its recommendations.
The Royal Commission should know and understand the vagaries of Ministers, good and less good, who handle these matters of environment. It is for this reason, to illustrate my point, that I return to a case which falls in this category.
Four days ago I spoke in the House of secret planning inquiries, and I have had a reply from the Government. Hon. Members may ask why I now raise the matter again, and the answer will emerge before I have proceeded far. My story begins with an appalling mistake by the Labour Administration and, due to the incidence of the election, it ends with no less a mistake from the Conservative Administration, who inherited it and who have not the eyes to see it.
Labour stumbled into this problem accidentally and carelessly and, having got in, they could not get out. They were saved by the course of events, but they escaped through no merit on their part. Then the Conservatives came to power, and they failed to see the danger. Indeed, they are now close to putting the boat on the rocks and I therefore have little relish in saying what I must say this evening.
I begin with the Labour Administration. Their part in this business is an inglorious one. If any hon. Member were present last Friday I make no apology for referring to some of the ground which I covered then, for this is necessary to retain the narrative.
In June, 1967, there was held a public inquiry in Salisbury. One of the interested parties was a company from Cornwall which employs 11,000 people and which 287 succeeded, all credit to it, in making a profit last year of £12 million. This company was appealling against a consent which had been refused to undertake mineral working. I sent a statement of my views to the inquiry, and it was read out. Had I known what was to happen, I would have gone there personally, although the House was sitting at the time.
It was not until two years later that I learned that a month before the inquiry the company had called at the Ministry. It was understandably concerned to preserve its commercial secrets, and it asked if part of the inquiry might be held in camera. Such a request and such a practice were without precedent and, not surprisingly, the Minister took legal advice. Alas, legal advice is not always good. If the Minister of Housing and Local Government of the day had remembered what Edmund Burke had said, it would have helped him:It is not what a lawyer tells me what I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me what I ought to do.The lawyers that day stood truth on its head. Hon. Members were probably brought up to assume and believe that a public inquiry is an inquiry held in public. Not so, said the lawyers. A public inquiry, in their view, is an inquiry conducted by an inspector. It is for the inspector to decide whether it should be held in public or in private, was their view. Believe it or not, the Minister accepted this advice, and from that moment on Burke's humanity, reason and justice went out of the window.
Two years later, when the Labour Administration were questioned on this point—of what was their authority and under which Section of what Act in camera proceedings were allowed—Lord Kennet answered in another place to the effect that he could not quote chapter and Clause. Small wonder, for there was no Section, no Act, no chapter, and no Clause. The only defence that the Labour Government could offer was that there was, in their opinion, "no bar". In other words, they were free to do it, they claimed, and why should they not do so?
Thus, in this case the company was advised to seek the inspector's permission 288 on the day. Hon. Members may think that the Minister, having conceded this point, and having accepted this unique precedent, would think of warning Salisbury of what might happen, but hon. Members would be wrong. The Labour Administration later confirmed—this is all in the OFFICIAL REPORT—that it was the first time that in camera proceedings had ever taken place in Britain in a planning case.
Yet the Minister warned nobody, with the result that not merely did the company learn that it would be possible for its unique request to be granted, and not merely was the company able to go away and prepare for this eventuality, but, in addition, it ensured that the inspector was personally alerted.
On the appointed day the company travelled to Salisbury from Cornwall and the inspector travelled from London. The two met at the hearing, each knowing what was in store. Each knew that the other knew, yet not a word was said and not a hint was given. The inspector waited for his cue.
Meanwhile, my unsuspecting constituents knew nothing. Those who stood to lose most had prepared no defence and the Minister never thought to warn those who were most vulnerable. At the appropriate moment the company made its request. The inspector was not caught on the wrong foot, and he granted it. This was the minuet played between the Minister's inspector and the Queen's Counsel employed by the company. If my constituents had had warning, or if they had had the resources to employ a Q.C., things might have been different, but they had neither. It must be said in fairness that the company did better than the Minister. It made a telephone call, though what happened to that call, I do not know.
Thus, Britain's first secret planning inquiry was born—and what a noble birth! "At Salisbury, to English China Clays Ltd. and to the right hon. Anthony Greenwood, the birth of in camera". Sometimes we heave a sigh of relief that these things do not happen in England, but suddenly we find that they do, and if no objection is raised the incident is repeated, the exception becomes the practice, and our liberties are yet further 289 eroded. That is precisely what is happening today. Yes—under a Conservative Administration.
There are very few people in this country who understand chalk. I think that the main centres of study are the geological departments at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. No reference library on chalk would be complete without a work by Dr. Michael Hancock, of London University. It is he who, together with all but two of my constituents, was turned away from the secret proceedings, because the company objected to his presence. He took the train back to London, and with him went my constituents' sole chance of bringing geological evidence to rebut the claims made in secret.
It was this aspect that was fastened on to by Lord Brooke of Cumnor in another place. Dr. Hancock is fallible, like the rest of us, but he has run samples of the chalk under an electron scanning microscope, and he and many other leading geologists do not consider that this chalk is particularly unusual. A difference of view exists. We can take whichever side we like. The answer is that we do not know, that we cannot verify the matter.
My two constituents who did attend the secret proceedings are sworn to silence for life. They have no more knowledge of chalk matters than I have. They listened to a technical discourse and it was then suggested that the Minister and his technical advisers should study the claims made, and to this they agreed. It is pertinent to ask what alternative they had. If they understood nothing, they might just as well have not been there, and their presence was a meaningless gesture. There was an element of charade about it. Bound to silence as they were, they could never return to the outside world to discuss matters with a qualified person. They had to take the suggestion or leave it. They were in a corner from which there was only one exit. So there are my constituents, silent for life on this issue yet probably with a greater knowledge of a critical local problem than is available to me.
I could dilate at great length, though I will not do so as other hon. Members have other subjects to discuss, on the personal by-products of Britain's first secret planning inquiry. I suffer a small 290 but unique disability among hon. Members. I shall never know why a giant industrial complex has settled in my garden. I am told that 200 alternative sites were looked at first. The angel of death therefore hovered over the constituencies of a great many other hon. Members. It might have been Bexley, it might have been Huyton, it might have been any hon. Member's constituency. It just happened to touch down in Wiltshire.
The company has offered me its secrets, but of course the price is silence on my part.
This happened, and I said to myself, "What can you expect from a Labour Government? You always get dictation and injustice under Socialism". But then I said to myself, "Wilson can't last for ever."
Meanwhile, I fought the issue with the modest weapons available to a backbencher. The Parliamentary Commissioner gave a great deal of attention to it. His report is in the Vote Office. He did not find injustice or maladministration. He is a public servant of immense distinction and integrity, and I would never criticise him here. But since the Labour Government seized on his report to clothe their nakedness, I must say this: it is easier to check on maladministration where rules exist and are liable to be broken. Here there were no rules, no guidelines, no procedures, no precedents. As the Council on Tribunals, of which the Parliamentary Commissioner is a member, later wrote to me:The main reason why the Council did not feel in a position to criticise the Ministry's handling of the matter was that they had in mind the absence of any settled rules of procedure.The reason why the Labour Government got away with it was that the doubtful game into which they had stumbled had no rules. The Labour Government were fully entitled to shield themselves behind the report, but let us not forget the reasons for the absence of criticism.
The Parliamentary Commissioner is perfectly entitled to his opinion of what constitutes justice. Equally, I am entitled to mine. The great thing is that there is no need for a clash, because it is not his views and mine that matter. What matters is what the House thinks about these events, and in my judgment there is not a Member who would tolerate what happened in this case.
291 Some hon. Members have never heard of the Council on Tribunals. It is a small body with offices in Trafalgar Square which first came into the news in about 1958, when it inquired into another chalk case at Stansted in Essex. It has been very helpful. It realised that the situation was intolerable and that there must never be another inquiry such as that which took place in Salisbury.
When I referred the case to the Council it at once entered into talks with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The House was told that the discussions were taking place, and we could rely on the Council on Tribunals to insist on rules if it were thought necessary. The discussions have lasted for a year. That is an indication of the gravity of the issue.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The hon. Member keeps talking about intolerable injustice in having these proceedings in camera, but courts conducting some criminal cases sometimes go into camera and no one regards that as intolerable injustice if the occasion warrants it. The only question for the hon. Member is whether the occasion warranted it in relation to these facts and so far everyone who has considered this case thought it did. This could not be said to be an example of intolerable injustice.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am grateful to the hon. Member for intervening. I am, of course, aware that secret proceedings take place in the courts. He is equally aware that they have never taken place before in a planning inquiry. I am not the man to say that they should not take place, but I think that the procedures should be agreed how this should be done, and under what conditions, beforehand.
Meanwhile the company had moved in with a vengeance and bought up Wiltshire acres. It paid the highest price ever paid for Wiltshire farmland, an acre here and an acre there, ready to expand and extend. Then at last the General Election came. I think Salisbury exceeded the national swing. Salisbury people voted for a new style of Government. They voted for a Conservative Government whose Queen's Speech undertook to remedy past damage to the environment. They knew that Conservatives 292 never in history have tolerated in camera planning inquiries. They knew that we have no truck with that sort of thing, and that we believe in inquiries that are fair, open and impartial, and that such nightmares would not recur.
On polling day, 18th June, the Minister of Housing and Local Government wrote to tell me that there would be a planning inquiry in Salisbury on 28th July and that it was to consider extensions to the Dean Valley activity. I wrote to my right hon. Friend on his first day in office, 20th June. Needless to say I have warned my right hon. Friend that I intend to be critical this evening of his actions. He has had the courtesy to let me know that it was not possible for him to be present this evening.
On 20th June I sent him two letters. One was congratulatory and in it I asked whether an official letter which I was sending by the same post might have the attention of his Permanent Secretary because I believed that that was in our joint interest. In my official letter I asked him one question only. I said:Will you postpone this inquiry until such time as it is possible for me to have a meeting either with yourself or the Parliamentary Secretary responsible?I quote further one sentence from that official letter. I said to my right hon. Friend:From your personal knowledge you would agree that I am not an unreasonable Member and equally you would accept from your own experience that I am not given to embarrassing my collagues. I am profoundly anxious that the new Administration should weigh this issue carefully before continuing down the slippery slope. Today the opportunity exists for a fresh look at the problem. If the opportunity is not taken there can only be regret further along the road.My right hon. Friend replied on 6th July that there could be no postponement.The company",he wrote,will look to have their applications dealt with with due expedition.My suggestion of a meeting was not referred to. My right hon. Friend has always had great confidence and I envy him that, but this happens to be a case with which I have lived for more than three years, and I am beginning to learn something about it. My right hon. Friend would agree, although he thinks that my 293 views are nonsense, that I have sought to put these views to him day by day since he took on office as Minister.
I think it interesting that on two occasions last year I wrote to my right hon. Friend who was then the Shadow Minister suggesting that this might "blow up into something sizeable." That was my phrase. I should be the first to agree that the local problems of Puddleby-in-the-Marsh are not exciting. When he wrote to me on 6th July making no reference to my suggestion of a meeting I became uneasy. Here is a great company which has just come into my constituency, a company which by calling on the Minister beforehand helped to bring about Britain's first secret planning inquiry and a company which, now established, wishes to extend its activities into a massive industrial complex.
We do not know why it is there; we must take it on trust from the Government. Only the Minister knows. Now lying on the table are applications for it to extend. My right hon. Friend has instructed his inspector to attend at Salisbury's Guildhall next week. He sees no need to pause and to consider the implications of this. He believes that the case can happily be judged on its merits. He sees no particular difficulty. I ask myself, is it not possible that once again there could be an element of charade about it? Has it not occurred to my right hon. Friend that once a Minister becomes a party to secrets he also becomes a prisoner? Has the logic ever occurred to him that the Minister and the Minister alone can decide the merits of allowing that original activity to extend?
My constituents have been deeply wounded and insulted in the past. There is no hon. Member who would be prepared to sit down under such treatment. I ask myself whether my right hon. Friend is now not threatening to insult them again. The Labour Government got away with it. They were saved by the result of the General Election, and on polling day itself, such is the irony of events, they left what proves to be a trap for their successors. The Labour Government themselves did not deal with these applications, which have been lying on the Table since last year. Yet it was they who appointed the date 28th July.
294 In answer to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), I do not know whether secret planning inquiries should or should not take place, but I feel that this is a profound question. It could be that in this scientific age there is a case for them; I just do not know, but I do know that these things should take place only at the express wish of the House of Commons. What Parliament decides I accept. It should not just happen that because some commercial concern called one morning and talked to some civil servant from that meeting was born this highly unpleasant precedent.
I find this debate rather painful but I must complete the story. It remained to me to establish beyond all possible doubt that my right hon. Friend was still bent on following in the path of his predecessor. I tabled a simple Question. This is all in HANSARD. I asked my right hon. Friend whether the inquiry in Salisbury next week will be held in public. That was the crux of the matter—will the public inquiry be held in public? My right hon. Friend in his answer showed that he is still following the advice of the same advisers in his Department. He replied:I have no present reason to believe that in camera proceedings will be sought."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 96.]Then I asked him whether he would be able to give that assurance before the inquiry opened, and again he would not do so. He continued in broad daylight to sail toward the rocks.
Parliament is generous on these occasions. I drew lucky in the Ballot and on Friday I had the chance to pursue this matter further: I had the Adjournment debate. I gave it the title, "A Dangerous Planning Legacy". That title was yet another warning.
Having obtained the Adjournment, I asked for an appointment at the Department with my hon. Friend, to whom I am most grateful and who is here today. I went to his office and made clear at our meeting that there must be a postponement and a fresh look at the matter. No doubt my warning was passed to the Minister. It was a gentle and exploratory debate, as I intended it to be. It was the first Adjournment debate to which my hon. Friend had replied. 295 He did it with great distinction and sensitivity. Afterwards, I thanked him. He had at last clarified the Government's attitude for me.
The brief supplied to my hon. Friend for the debate was the same brief and the same phrases as were used by the previous Administration.The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.I noticed that in this brief there were just a few new phrases. One phrase which my hon. Friend used was:I must emphasise that in camera proceedings are extremely rare and the Minister would not want to encourage anyone to apply for such hearings …".I said to myself, "You bet they would not after what has happened". I liked the phrase "Extremely rare". If something has happened once and once only, I agree that it is certainly rare.
In the same brief, for which I excuse my hon. Friend absolutely personally, this same attempt to shore up the case was repeated a second time. My hon. Friend read:The occasions when there is need for such procedures are, fortunately, rare …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 1885–9]Fortunately, indeed.
I had considered going to the inquiry in Salisbury next week, but the Minister has not been able to assure me that it will be held in public. He asks me to accept a situation unacceptable to any Member of the House. So I shall not now be going. There are no new safeguards since the last occasion. While there is risk of further insult to my constituents, whether from a Labour or a Conservative Administration, I will not be a party to it. Nor will the geologist of whom I spoke from London University; he, too, will stay behind.
What of my friends, the Council on Tribunals, now entering its second year of discussion—the people that we can reply upon to insist on rules, so we were told in the Chamber? My right hon. Friend presses ahead. I suggest that the Council has been kicked in the teeth. Its members can sing for their supper. Leave them to their dull procedural talks, talks which might have protected my constituents.
296 Time has not allowed me to table an all-party Motion to outlaw secret planning inquiries until the issue has first been openly and publicly investigated and recommendations made to the satisfaction of Parliament. Besides, this would be painful. I accept help from my hon. Friends but I do not relish help from the benches opposite. They it was who started this unpleasant business. There is not a backbencher prepared to tolerate secret proceedings conducted without advance warning and without adequate safeguards by my right hon. Friend's inspectors within their own constituencies. This final painful demonstration of tabling a Motion, therefore, is unnecessary.
Here we are. This all began with a stupid mistake in 1967. By the time the implications were realised it was too late. Then came the big defence operation, then the General Election. Finally, my right hon. Friend has failed to recognise the covering up that all this was. By this considered action he has shown himself to be deeply mistaken. Where this mistake will lead us I do not know, but I consider that my right hon. Friend has blundered badly in this painful matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debates through the night. The night is long but is not infinite.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
In this Parliament I have the honour to be the Member for Leith, the port of Edinburgh which was represented for 25 years with distinction by James Hoy. Though now lost to this House, he took his seat in the House of Lords last week as Lord Hoy of Leith. Through the years he built up a firm reputation as a constituency Member of Parliament and as a Parliamentarian. He was well liked and respected there and here. In following him in this House I can only seek to do my best to serve as he did.
Leith is a distinctive community with an identity of its own. It was an independent burgh until involuntarily amalgamated with Edinburgh in 1921. Thoughtless commercial exploitation has destroyed a good deal of its old town and 297 has left behind a legacy all too common in this land of problems from unemployment and slum housing to depopulation and dereliction. But the historic part of the port has survived, and also the spirit of its people. Both have lived on to benefit from the new climate of town planning and environmental conservation.
Within its bounds the constituency of Leith illustrates some of the major problems of environment conservation and pollution. Its northern boundary is the sea, with wild life ranging from the grey seal to the gannet. Into that same stretch of sea pours the untreated sewage of a city of half-a-million people, fouling the mussel beds and driving away the fish. Oil pollution from tankers is a recent but so far minor addition.
The port itself straddles the water of Leith, a river recently described for the benefit of visitors to the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games as a trout stream running through the city. There may be some trout in it. There is certainly much pollution entering it. The impounding of the water of Leith by the new dock gates which make Leith a modern competitive deep-water port, open at all states of the tide, has as a side effect made more difficult the disposal of sewage in the old residential centre of the town where the underground water table has been raised. The residents rightly complain.
These problems highlight weaknesses in the present armoury of anti-pollution laws. There is no United Kingdom statutory control over the discharge of sewage into the open sea—a disgraceful state of affairs, I should have thought. There is no law in Scotland to protect sea fisheries from pollution. There is no law in Scotland to prevent pollution of underground water. The river purification boards in Scotland have no executive powers, as they have in England and Wales, to take direct action themselves to stop pollution of the rivers under their jurisdiction. The Lothians River Purification Board has fought valiantly against pollution in the Firth of Forth, but it lacks the necessary powers.
I hope that there will be early action in these matters, and I hope that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will take it upon itself—though I think that this may be slightly beyond its terms of reference—to point out the 298 need for new measures of control when it finds them wanting. This will inevitably call for greater public expenditure, a great deal more than the £4,000 with which we are concerned in the Vote tonight, but it is, surely, better to tax our people fairly than to tax our natural resources unfairly.
There is need for international as well as national and local measures. We live in the unstable and temporary equilibrium provided by the test ban treaty against atmospheric pollution by radiation. Just over a year ago, one or two barrels of a pesticide called Endosulfan contaminated the international waters of the Rhine and killed over 40 million fish. Although there has been a large measure of international agreement to conserve fisheries and to penalise oil pollution at sea, little has been done about the effective prevention of damage.
This brings into focus a paradox in regard to pollution. So many are against it, but so few are prepared to prevent it. The source of this paradox is human nature itself. Pollution by irresponsible use of the new products of science and technology—pesticides are an obvious illustration—springs from the same source that produced the earlier evils of the Industrial Revolution, still not wholly erased. That source is the unbridled profit motive, sometimes euphemistically called free enterprise.
This is where a cleavage comes between the opposing philosophies in the House. On this side, we believe that the main motive here, as in other spheres, must be social enterprise rather than profit, that it is not good enough to let profit freely do the damage and let conscience come along afterwards to repair it. Social responsibility, we believe, must be there from the first among the motives.
It was with some misgiving, therefore, that I watched what the new Conservative Government would do. We have seen their first steps. They have adopted—this is good—the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. On the other hand, they appear to have demoted—I may be wrong, and perhaps the Government spokesman will deal with it—the Central Anti-Pollution Unit, a scientific body which the last Government set up under the Department of Local Government and Regional Planning. I understand that that unit has now gone to the 299 Ministry of Housing and Local Government, under the care of a Parliamentary Secretary who is to answer for environmental matters and sport. I hope that that does not connote an attempt to restore the grouse-moor image in European Conservation Year, but the move does have the incidental result of transferring this important unit from a Ministry with United Kingdom responsibility to one whose jurisdiction is confined to England and Wales, which certainly will not help the fight against pollution in Scotland.
I have my misgivings about what a Government dedicated to free enterprise may do, or, more likely, may fail to do, but I am an optimist and I realise that in a maiden speech I should be relatively non-controversial. I hope that the Conservative Party is not beyond redemption in these matters. We now have before us the Bill which, among other things, will provide funds for the Royal Commission which Labour set up. That is the purpose of this Vote. It is not much money—I press that criticism—but it is a start.
The Tory philosophy is not all profit and free enterprise. Tories have, I understand, an older tradition of conserving what is good and controlling what is bad. Perhaps we on this side can play upon that better nature to see that the present Government act to conserve our environment and to prevent pollution. I hope that the House will approve the Vote but will, with me, enter some reservation about the small sum of money appropriated to this vital work.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
It is a great privilege and pleasure to follow in the debate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray), who spoke with considerable grace and moved the House with his tribute to his predecessor, something which hon. Members on both sides are always most happy to hear. His predecessor was well known to us all for his work at the Ministry of Agriculture. Speaking for myself, I know how much pains he always took in replying on constituency matters. We are very glad to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. In his speech he showed far more knowledge of his home 300 town of Leith than I had ever realised. My knowledge, I fear, was confined to the fact that the police of Leith were inclined to tell us to go home. The hon. Gentleman spoke with knowledge and great care of the problems of the environment in his constituency and on an international scale as well, and his observations were particularly fitting in World Conservation Year.
§ Mr. Hordern
This is a timely moment to debate the increase of £4,000 in the provision for the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, under the able chairmanship of Sir Eric Ashby. I remind the House that its terms of reference include these words:to advise on matters, both national and international, concerning the pollution of the environment; on the adequacy of research in this field; and the future possibilities of danger to the environment.I have no doubt that the Commission will wish to consider under those terms the impact of aircraft noise on the environment and, in addition, the possibilities of danger to the environment from the siting of the Third London Airport.
Those who have the misfortune to live under one of the main aircraft routes know all about damage to the environment, but my constituents have to live under two of these routes, one from Heathrow and one from Gatwick. It is not too much to say that in summer there are people in my constituency who feel that they are living under an artillery barrage every night. Some have already left the area, so intolerable have they found the noise, and I do not blame them.
Every year, the aircraft noise grows worse. In 1966, the number of night jet movements from Gatwick was 2,204. In 1969, it had reached 4,504. This year, 1970, the airlines have been asked to accept a voluntary limit of just under 5,000. It was clear that, without such a voluntary limit, the number of movements would have exceeded 6,000.
While there is a voluntary restraint in effect of just under 5,000 for Gatwick this year, there is a firm limit on light jet movements from Heathrow of 3,500. It is difficult to see how there could be any justification for an apparently ever-increasing number of movements from 301 Gatwick but not from Heathrow. In the past, the Ministry has put forward the specious argument that there are fewer people around Gatwick than there are around Heathrow and that, therefore, the quantity of suffering would be less. If it is not an inappropriate word, what about the quality for those who suffer near Horsham? There is, apparently, no end to it—certainly if the Airports Authority has its way.
I should like to say a few words about the Commission's work. Many things are done in the name of progress. It is certainly a wonderful thing that so many people can get to their holiday destinations so quickly. But is it progress if the cost of doing so is to deprive other people of their sleep? Why, in particular, should there be a positive incentive to persuade people to fly by night rather than by day? In all conscience, surely it should be more expensive to fly by night, not cheaper. There are some airports which allow no night jet movements. Tokyo is but one example. I am not impressed with the argument that international schedules could not be maintained if the price of night flights was increased above that of daylight flights.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am not sure how the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution could fix the rate of night flights.
§ Mr. Hordern
I was referring tangentally to the number of night flights affecting the environment in my constituency and, in deference to you, Mr. Speaker, I shall rapidly develop the point.
There is now a quantum of aircraft noise over my constituency which is intolerable and it should be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, if the Airports Authority has its way, the situation will get much worse. The potential effect on the environment will be disastrous. It arises mainly from the delay in the decision about the siting of the third London Airport. I have no doubt where the new airport should be sited. It should be on the coast, probably near Foulness. The Roskill Commission is going into unbelievable contortions in its costing exercises. What it cannot do is to measure the cost in terms of damage to health and to immediate amenity 302 value if the new airport is sited anywhere other than on the coast.
We do not know how many night jet movements there will be from Gatwick next year or the year after, but we do know that the Airports Authority, regardless of the decision on the third London Airport, is proposing in any case greatly to expand the existing capacity at Gatwick Airport. It must not be allowed to do this.
There is first the question of concentration of noise. The existing criterion under which the Roskill Commission works is that people should not be asked to live within the 35 N.N.I. contour. But if the full development of Gatwick proceeds, half of Crawley, in my constituency, would come within that area. Secondly, there is the quantity of noise. The Board of Trade expected 45 movements a day by 1975 as the standard busy rate, but the Airports Authority now proposes 60. It is not easy to imagine what the noise from that number will be like.
The environment takes in much more than the question of noise. It concerns also the countryside. There are already important factors at work. The three planning authorities for the Crawley-Gatwick sub-region are already planning for an increase in population of 30 per cent. by 1981—an extra 113,000 people. But the Airports Authority proposals envisage 24,000 jobs to be created at Gatwick by 1981. This, with the necessary number of service workers to support them, implies a population of an extra 100,000. This number would not arise from the natural growth of the area but would be superimposed simply through the failure to establish the third London airport.
The prospect is unthinkable. It is not easy to see where those people could go. Naturally, with the population increasing so quickly, no land has been earmarked. Then there are the physical difficulties. It is said that it is impossible to take more people in the Gatwick area because the River Mole cannot take much more water. I should have thought the answer was to dig deeper holes in the River Mole. Great objections were made during the war to the idea of taking the Mulberry Harbour across the Channel, but it was done. I decline to believe that it is impossible in 1970 to get over these engineering drainage problems.
303 It is seriously suggested that one of the most suitable sites, from a strictly drainage point of view, for a substantial increase in population is in the region of Billingshurst, in my constituency, 14 miles from Gatwick. If the Royal Commission visits Billingshurst, as I hope it will, it will find an attractive village on the site of an old Roman road with the Downs in full view to the south. Anybody who had the interests of the environment at heart would think it inconceivable that such an outrage could occur; but that it should occur because of delay in siting the third London airport is a manifest insult.
This must not be allowed to happen. The Airports Authority should be made to submit its ideas to a special Commission of Inquiry at which the environmental and planning consequences of such expansion could be considered. The Government should appoint such a Commission and should await its report before deciding on action on the Roskill Commission's proposals. I hope that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will use its funds to visit the area so that it can lend its powerful support to this proposal.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly in the debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), I compliment the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leigh (Mr. Murray) on his maiden speech, which was perhaps not entirely devoid of controversy. As someone whose mother came from Edinburgh, perhaps I can remind the hon. Gentleman, through the columns of HANSARD, that it has been said that the finest sight which a Scotsman sees is the high road to England stretching before him, and I believe that one of the greatest benefits which the hon. Gentleman will find that road offers is the acquisition of wisdom about matters which are not always wholly clear to Scotsmen who remain at home. Time might bring a little more knowledge to the hon. Gentleman on the subject of the Conservative Party's attitude than he would have acquired had he stayed at home.
We are able to discuss this subject because we are fortunate enough to find in the Supplementary Estimates a new 304 Vote of £4,000, under the Cabinet Office head, to finance the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. This opens up many possibilities into which hon. Members might be tempted to stray.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am conscious of the possibilities, but I try to protect hon. Members against temptation.
§ Mr. Onslow
It would be out of order for me to say how gracefully you rose to that fly, Mr. Speaker, but there are many matters which I, as a fisherman, would be tempted to speak on under this head. As someone who much prefers to live in the country rather than in the town, there are also many matters such as those touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham which I would dearly like to raise in defence of the countryside against its rape by motorways, power stations and other things which threaten the environment we knew as boys. But I intervene in this debate to speak specifically on the extent to which the environment is polluted by aircraft.
On 11th December, 1969, the then Prime Minister announced the setting up of the Royal Commission. He said that the intention was that the Commissionshall be a standing Commission able to take up any problem relating to pollution so that the benefit of the best possible advice will be available to Government Departments responsible for executive action".The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:'One aspect of this matter which has caused particular concern is the problem of noise. My right hon. Friend proposes to establish an Advisory Council to deal with this, on the lines of the Clean Air Council.Since that statement, we have been told, on 17th February, the composition of the Commission. May I interpolate that it is a pity that no hon. Members were included? There is a tendency to exaggerate the gap between Parliament and people by failing to consider Members of Parliament for membership of Royal Commissions.
Apart from those two statements and some other reference in the Gracious Speech, the House has not yet had it fully explained precisely how the present Government view the functions of the Commission, what rôle the Advisory Council on Noise is to play, or whether it has met, although I hear rumours that 305 it may have met today. Within those limitations, I remind my hon. Friend of what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on 11th December:… what is required is not so much research as action …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 639–42.]Many of the problems are fairly well known, much research has been done, and fairly comprehensive documentation is available. This all dates back to the so-called Wilson Report on Noise—a different Wilson, Sir Alan Wilson—which was published as Cmnd. 2056 in July, 1963. That contained some statements with which we would find it easy to agree today, such as that aircraft noise causes many complaints to reach Members of Parliament and others.
That being so, I should like my hon. Friend specifically to say to what extent he regards the new Advisory Council on Noise as a useful body. Some of the problems which confront us are not likely to wait on the deliberations of a Royal Commission or Advisory Council. The Chair, without disrespect, would probably agree that noise brings out the worst in us, and aircraft noise brings out the very worst in all of us when we are subjected to it.
§ Mr. Onslow
With his usual generosity, my hon. Friend excepts me from my self-condemnation. He will heap coals of fire on my head in a moment, because one or two of the things I shall say will not be received with universal acclaim in the area of Gatwick Airport.
We are in grave danger of deceiving ourselves. The problems of aircraft noise have been foreseeable for some years. We know fairly well the trend which they are likely to follow. There is little that we can do to alter the present situation, or the situation likely to prevail over the next four of five years, but in so far as we can effect any alterations, it will be by spending considerable sums on fairly clearly identifiable heads of expenditure.
The first and the most important is building quieter aircraft. No hon. Member needs to suppose that, unless we 306 devote money, effort and skill to silencing, or reducing the noise of aircraft, we shall make any serious impact on the problem. The proposition that we must banish this evil thing as far away as we can and locate the aeroplane out on the salt flats of Foulness, is a complete piece of self-deception if anybody thereby supposes that there will be a significant improvement in the levels of noise which are experienced by people who live around Heathrow or Gatwick.
If we are to build quieter aircraft, we must make the decision now. Although I should be out of order if I went too far down this line, I must say that one of the most urgent decisions required of the Government is a decision to go ahead with the BAC3–11 project, and among the many benefits which would accrue from manufacturing this aircraft in this country is the fact that it would bring much closer to people who live near any of our international airports the advent of really quiet aircraft.
Although it is sometimes said that when the jumbos come, there will be a terrible noise, the jumbos have been flying over our heads for some months now, and the fact that so few people are aware of that is due to the jumbos being a good deal quieter than some of the aircraft we have been used to. Now we have to spend money on developing other new and quieter types, and on silencing existing types of aircraft, so far as we can, by retrofit, to use the inelegant American term—modifying existing noisy types of aircraft by fitting them with quieter engines. This represents the kind of break-through to which we should devote our attention.
Before any of my hon. Friends ask me how much noise I suppose Concorde will make, let me say that I am aware that this is one of the most important aspects of this project. The Government should be determined to go ahead with it, but in the knowledge that the number of Concordes we can sell depends largely on the extent to which the noise characteristics of the aircraft prove tolerable to the people who live around the airports of the world. There again is a subject on which time, skill and effort must be spent.
But it is still necessary to recognise reality and to try to live with it. I should like to pay a tribute to the previous 307 Minister of State at the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), who used to speak on aviation subjects. I well remember that in a debate on the subject of aircraft noise he said:There is a limit to what can be done, in our crowded island, to keep the aircraft away from the people. The real attack on the problem in the longer term must be to achieve a reduction of noise at source".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 879.]However tempting it may be for hon. Members in whose constituencies airports exist, or are likely to be built, the reality of the situation still is that we must understand the limitations which are now imposed on us and the extent to which, with time and money, noise can be diminished, and then make our plans according to the improved situation which should lie within our reach within a few years.
This is where my quarrel with the Roskill Commission comes. I think that its terms of reference should be enlarged so that it is no longer confined to considering where the third London airport should be located, but is free to consider a national airport policy, to see where in Southern England a further international airport should be located if it is established that one is needed.
We are often given projections, which are encouraging or daunting depending on one's view of the subject, showing how air traffic is likely to increase in the years ahead; the fancy figure is 15 per cent. a year. On these projections are based statements of the compelling need for new airports within certain time scales. Something which has greatly impressed me in the last four or five years is how suddenly the need for a third London airport seems to have slipped back yet another 12 months, because the increase in air traffic has not materialised, because larger aircraft have come in and have been able to use existing airports.
I have the strongest suspicion that if this were gone into—and this is something to which the Royal Commission might usefully turn its attention and about which it might talk to the Roskill Commission—we should discover that there was no need for a third London airport any more and that what we really needed was a major international airport 308 a long way to the west of London, and I should say somewhere not far from Bristol.
If we were to do that, we could look forward to living in conditions in which our environment would be less polluted by aircraft and their attendant ground facilities than it would be if we were to go ahead with a massive investment in the worst possible place—at Foulness.
We will minimise the pollution of Essex if we do not have to build massive motorways between London and Foulness. There are motorways between London and Bristol, Birmingham and Bristol. We do not need to do more on them than we intend to do—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect I doubt whether the siting or non-siting of the third airport comes within the range of the Commission.
§ Mr. Onslow
I detected as much and I am not surprised that you have called me to order, Mr. Speaker. But I hope that I have sufficiently indicated the points I wanted to make. If any hon. Member is sufficiently curious to wish to know more I have a paper on the subject which I would be glad to make available to them and to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench.
We must not deceive ourselves or our constituents by supposing that we can work miracles. Certainly we must not suppose that the setting up of an Advisory Council will work the miracle or that pushing everything on to the lap of a Royal Commission—which was not wholly immune from the criticism that it was an election gimmick—will diminish the real problem. We must recognise that our means are limited and we must live within them.
It is all the more important since that is so and since we cannot afford to waste money that we should get our decisions right. In that context we should understand that we ought to be spending money on getting quieter aircraft, not in pushing new airports out to the farthest points of the country. Those who believe that the next airport must be built at Foulness or some such place and imply that those living within range of existing airports will be guaranteed sleep at night for the rest of their lives are doing no one a service—they are burying their heads in the sand.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
Previous speakers have dealt with the problem of aircraft noise which comes within the purview of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, but there are many other matters which the Commission must consider and it is these to which I shall refer. This is an appropriate time to discuss the subject because it is European Conservation Year and in this country we shall be finishing many of the activities of that Year with a major conference to be held in the Guildhall dealing with the Countryside 1970 which will summarise many of the arguments which have gone on up to now. One of the healthy things produced by this Conservation Year has been the immense development of interest which has been encouraged in all areas and which will prove to be of great help to the Royal Commission in stimulating the ways in which ideas are put across about the importance of this subject.
It will give some understanding of the relative importance of one issue as against another. A great deal has been going on with the encouragement of schools, professional bodies of all kinds and local authorities. We hoped that further steps would be taken, and some of the early plans were already being laid out for these, of which the setting up of the Royal Commission was one. While we welcome the fact that it is being allowed to continue and encouraged to go forward with its work, many of us very much regret that one of the first acts of the new Government was to put an end to the appointment of the Secretary of State who had special responsibility for this matter. We feel that he gave precision and point to the establishment of the Royal Commission and some real hope of new and rather more dynamic policies in this sphere, together with new levels of initiative which it could be said had been lacking.
Inevitably this is a subject covering a wide range of issues and Departmental responsibilities. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government is only one of many Ministries bound to be involved. There is a strong case for the establishment of a Ministry or at least a Minister with more than purely Departmental responsibilities, someone who will help co-ordinate the work of the others 310 involved. It is depressing, to say the least, that one of the first acts of the Government should have been to end this appointment. Although we have the assurance that the matter is under consideration with a view to determining the future structure, there is bound to be a pause of some months before we hear about that new structure. This could mean lost opportunities and initiatives, as Conservation Year is already with us.
It is all the more sad because this country has a high reputation as a result of the work it has undertaken and the legislation it has put on the Statute Book dealing with this. Other Western European countries tend to look to us for leadership. Without Western European co-operation some of the problems with which we are involved in environmental pollution cannot easily be solved. Some of the issues—one of them is aircraft noise—cannot wholly be overcome only through action in this country. We need the co-operation and agreement of other countries, the main aircraft manufacturers and so on. The extent to which we can get acceptance, from industry for example, of high standards for the effluent discharged from their factories into rivers may depend a great deal upon the applicability of such standards to their Western European competitors.
It is hardly likely that this would be welcomed by industry here if it feels that it is being asked to shoulder an expenditure burden not being placed upon its competitors. These issues clearly affect Western Europe intimately. This is why it has been so important that European Conservation Year should be a real success. The United Nations conference in two years' time must also be fully supported by this country. This emphasises the need for the Government to make clear their full-hearted support for this programme from the start. What action will the Ministry take on some of the areas of environmental pollution bound to be studied by the Royal Commission?
The pressures upon our countryside are varied and growing. There are pressures from urban life and development, from industry and from new agricultural methods. Most of all there are pressures placed upon it by ourselves and by our 311 leisure activities. All these matters have a major impact on our countryside and the quality of the environment in which we live.
It is important to those of us who live in the older industrial areas to know to what extent we can speed up the movement towards the clearance of dereliction. It is fair to say that a great deal was done by the previous Government to speed up the rate of clearance. Although many of us were far from satisfied with what was being accomplished and were pressing for more rapid development of this work, much was done in some of the areas which have suffered most severely. This progress can be seen in the old industrial areas of Durham, in parts of Northumberland and also in the South-West and in parts of the Midlands.
I should like to ask what the present Government intend to do to speed up this work still further. The record of previous Conservative Administrations has been dismal in this respect. Indeed, hardly any clearance of dereliction took place during their years of office. I am anxious that the new Government should put on a completely new face and adopt to the full measures and facilities which have been prepared by the outgoing Government.
What precise action do the Government intend to take? Up to the present we have had no encouraging sounds from them and I hope that we shall hear very much more about this subject. Many of these matters will be raised at the conference on the countryside in the autumn and I hope that we shall have a clear and positive reply from the Government this evening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray) mentioned that a Conservative Government are dedicated to private enterprise. There is a fear that the Government may look with towards the question of pollution, which is essentially a matter for public action. It is feared that there will be too narrow a calculation of the monetary cost without regard to the positive values that can be achieved in the quality of our environment. It is hard to put on these things a value in terms of money. This is a matter upon which from time to time we may be in sharp 312 conflict across the Floor of the House. These are areas in which priority should be given. Yet they are areas in which there is no obvious financial advantage to be gained by particular firms, and indeed there might appear to be some financial disadvantages in the short run.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the failure of the previous Government to ensure sufficient supplies of smokeless fuel has increased the amount of pollution? Therefore, he can hardly talk about priorities.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
If the hon. Gentleman has spent any time in travelling around the country, he must appreciate that the Labour Government have had a remarkable success with their clean air policy. Certainly in London this policy has been an outstanding success in its effect upon the quality of life. The old impression about London fogs, and so on, is utterly out of date. We must welcome this process as a real achievement to which all governments have contributed in the past. Because of the approach of a Conservative Government, there are dangers that they may allow their political views to inhibit the kind of action for which we are calling. For that reason I ask the hon. Gentleman in his reply to give the categoric assurances for which we are asking in this European Conservation Year.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
One of the greatest paradoxes is that the more industrialised and the wealthier nations become, the greater and more threatening is the problem of pollution. The industrial world has not yet come to grips with this problem, and there has been no serious attempt to try to overcome the pollution that mars the lives of so many people. Some parts of the world, which might be described as the developing countries, do not face this problem, but the richer nations are certainly beset with it. Let us hope that the developing countries will learn from what has happened because of lack of action by the industrial nations.
A further definition of pollution, in addition to anything foul or filthy, is that of destroying the purity or sanctity of something. I hope to address a few remarks on this matter a little later. So 313 far in the debate we have had contributions on clean air, the relevance of pollution to the countryside, and reference to the devastation of some of our beaches through the presence of oil. Hon. Members have referred to the effect of such pollution on wild life, which should be precious to all of us. We should be concerned not only with the effect of pollution on the life of human beings, but also with its effect on the lives of birds and animals which have such a place in the affections of all of us. Reference has also been made to the effect of smoke and fuel oils, and I shall try to concentrate a little later on the deleterious effects of road and air traffic and the noise aspects.
A major factor in determining the quality of our civilisation is how we seek to exert control over all forms of pollution, including road traffic noise and aircraft noise. A great deal of money will need to be spent on scientific and technological research. We must increase our knowledge of the effects of pollution and how to avoid it, and we must examine how to keep it at bay.
There will also have to be some analysis of the economics of all this, but the nub of the whole problem will be the establishment of some legal and administrative framework to bring about the diminution of pollution and prevent its recurrence. Speed is needed in all this, otherwise we shall continue to poison our environment and ourselves, damaging our lives even more.
Attacks on pollution are by no means new. I have done some research on the subject, and I have discovered that, in the fourteenth century, it was an offence in Greater London to make undue smoke. One poor character caught doing it was hanged. That may be going too far, but if its deleterious effect on human life were then recognised and if it were then seen as an obnoxious nuisance, it becomes clear that we have not moved very far in our attempts to arrest it.
It is interesting to note that until October, 1969, responsibility for controlling environmental pollution was spread over no fewer than ten Ministries. In February, 1970, we saw the setting up of the Royal Commission on the pollution of our environment. An additional Minister was appointed to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Planning 314 with co-ordinating responsibilities and with a scientific unit under him.
I want to preface my next comment by saying that I mean nothing personal by it. It is almost farcical to see sitting on the Front Bench opposite, apparently with the intention of replying to the debate, the Minister who is responsible for sport. I cannot see anything funny in the subject of pollution, unless the presence of the hon. Gentleman opposite is intended to spur Mr. Tom Lehrer into writing another satirical piece on pollution.
We face two big problems. The first is what I call the large evils, the poisoning effects of pollution. Then there are the soul-destroying and comparatively minor evils of pollution. They irritate our souls. Noise, for example, brings out the worst in us all, as can be seen in this House, at football matches, and in our homes when conversation is drowned by an aircraft roaring overhead or a large lorry rumbling down the street outside.
On pages 10 and 11 of Cmnd. 4373, there are proposals for dealing with motor vehicle exhausts and the poison pushed out by them, and reference is made on pages 14 and 15 to noise pollution by aircraft and traffic.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are rumours that that White Paper has now been withdrawn?
§ Mr. Molloy
Apparently the hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree with my hon. Friend. No doubt he will refer to this when he replies to the debate.
I want to draw attention to what might be considered to be some of the smaller aspects of pollution, though they are very real to the people affected by them. Through the heart of my constituency runs Western Avenue. It is a very large and important trunk road. Not far from my constituency is Heathrow Airport. It is not unfair to say that people who live in Greenford and Northolt suffer the worst of both worlds in that they are subjected to aircraft noise and the noise of great vehicles pounding down Western Avenue.
315 The situation has now become even worse and has given rise to a problem which must be tackled. Many very large vehicles travel along Western Avenue carrying raw materials and finished goods which I accept at once are essential to our economic life. In order to avoid a number of busy road junctions, the practice is growing for them to make their way round the smaller streets of Ealing, North. I do not imagine for a moment that many hon. Members are aware of Brunswick Road. It is a small road which lies behind Western Avenue. Recently it has become almost as busy as Western Avenue itself. But it was not constructed to take massive loads of traffic, and not only are the lives of people living in that road being upset; their property is becoming seriously damaged.
A similar state of affairs has occurred in another part of my constituency. It was brought about because of the failure of a bridge in Kensington Road, Northolt, to bear its proper load. Naturally, it was closed. But that happened more than 12 months ago, and nothing much has been done since. Before the bridge failure, Kensington Road was a major link between Ruislip Road and Western Avenue. The effect of the closure on a number of other little streets in the area has been enormous. Pavements have been smashed and houses have been damaged by rumbling great lorries. Long traffic queues have become common in many parts of the area close to the bridge.
If the failure had occurred during the war, the bridge would have been replaced in 48 hours by a Bailey bridge, and traffic would have continued to flow almost normally. In my time, with the aid of a couple of hundred other Sappers, I have built many a Bailey bridge—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect, the Commission will not build any bridges. Bridges are the responsibility of some other Department.
§ Mr. Molloy
I had it in mind, Mr. Speaker, that the Commission might gain from my experience in the swift replacement of bridges. In this instance, it could have been done with a Bailey bridge. Instead, there has been a tremendous increase in pollution from noise 316 and fumes in small streets which were not designed to carry the kind of traffic which has been thrown on to them.
I do not suppose that hon. Members have heard of quiet residential streets like Hill Rise and Jeymew Drive which, for 12 months, have been subjected to a mass attack of noise pollution. In addition, since they have been discovered as alternative routes, they are now being used as parking bays by massive lorries. This is a very serious situation. In addition to lorries travelling down these quiet residential streets, they are now used by companies as parking places for their large lorries. [Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Gentlemen opposite find so funny. The people in Brunswick Road, Jeymew Drive and Hill Rise do not find it funny at all. Some have suggested to me that perhaps the only way to cure the problem is to tow some of the large lorries, if they could tow them far enough, and park them outside the homes of the directors of the companies owning them. Then there might be a big row.
§ Mr. Molloy
I am certain there are not. Otherwise I should have had some response. There was an occasion when British Road Services vehicles were involved and I had a response. I did not intend to introduce this aspect, but the hon. Gentleman has done so. Let me therefore say that these are the crimes of vulgar, private enterprise entrepeneurs. You asked for it and you got it.
§ Mr. Molloy
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I was responding to the interjection by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). I think that he has been repaid in kind.
This is a serious matter, particularly in Ealing, North. Lorries travel along these quiet little streets and attempt to go round corners which they cannot properly negotiate with the result that pavements are smashed. They park in small residention areas. As a lorry cannot park completely on the road, half of it goes on the pavement, and again the result is that the pavement is smashed.
317 In addition, many people in their little semi-detached houses with garages find themselves penalised because they take their cars off the road at night. The following morning they see great lorries parked outside and they cannot get their vehicles out. This matter needs looking into.
I ask the Minister to consult his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider whether there ought to be an all-out drive with the Metropolitan Police to try to put a stop to it. The tragedy is that much of what I have explained is already against the law. We require law enforcement. I ask the Minister to consider that point.
My constituents in Hanger Hill, Perivale, Greenford and Northolt are entitled to have the sanctity of their home life protected. They have the right to have the quality of their life defended. What is more, they have the right to have noise pollution from both aircraft and traffic removed completely and their peace of mind restored. This is a serious issue. I sincerely ask the Minister to give attention to what I have said. I realise that this problem obtains in other parts of the country, but it is a deadly problem which has to be resolved. Much of it could be obliterated if the law were put into force, particularly with police action. Unless we do something the law and the police will fall into disrepute, and people will have no confidence in our traditional way of life. I believe that if we in this House indicate that we intend to tackle the problem throughout the country we shall show that we care and we shall uplift the standards of life of millions of people not only at their places of work, but, more important, in the homes to which they go after the day's labour is done.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that we are not quite half-way through the second of ten debates which are to take place during the evening and early morning. I shall call in order those hon. Members who won their places in the Ballot. After that, I shall call other hon. Members. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
Although we have 318 heard various strictures from the Opposition about how they have a social conscience and we Conservatives have not, it is strange that this is the first debate on pollution that we have had in European Conservation Year. I am glad that we are having this opportunity, before the Summer Recess, to discuss this subject which has begun to play a larger and larger part in all our lives.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I apologise for interrupting so early in the hon. Gentleman's speech. Is it not true that the opportunity for this debate is provided by the establishment of a Royal Commission to look into the problem of environmental pollution and that that Royal Commission was established under the Labour Government?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful for that interjection. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Royal Commission was set up last year. Therefore, it is not much of an excuse to say that nothing could have been done in the interval, particularly as this is European Conservation Year.
Exactly when our interest in pollution in this House was really sparked we cannot be sure, but it was probably the "Torrey Canyon" disaster that brought to our minds the possibility that the technologies which we are now pioneering in this country and, indeed, throughout the world concerning vast new tankers brought with them dangers that we had never before considered. From that disaster sprang the awareness, but I suspect that it was the American emphasis on pollution, particularly during their Presidential campaign and soon after, that made us as aware as we now are and probably resulted in the setting up of the Royal Commission.
The Supplementary Estimate that we are discussing this evening is for only £4,000. Yet I suspect that, although the sum is small, the subject matter which that Royal Commission could discuss is so enormous that one may ask what exactly we want of this Royal Commission whose terms of reference areto advise on matters, both national and international, concerning the pollution of the environment; on the adequacy of research in this field; and the future possibilities of danger to the environment.With such terms of reference we must await its first deliberations with enthusiasm.
319 I wonder how it is to advise on international matters. What does that phrase mean? Will the Commission travel to any part of the world that takes its fancy? Or shall we limit what we expect it to do?
Now that the Commission has been in being for more than six months, may we know when we are likely to see the first of its deliberations? Could we know what tasks it has already been set? What are these problems of environmental pollution that the Government of the day thought the Commission should be looking into? When we know that, may we know when we might expect to see the results of some of the work which it must have been doing?
It is reasonable to argue that, since the Minister who was appointed at the time to have special responsibility for environmental pollution no longer exists, the Royal Commission now has no useful purpose. For who will it advise? Will it advise the Prime Minister? Will it advise the Cabinet? Will it advise this House? Whose responsibility is it now? Who will decide what tasks it should undertake? I also think that any Commission which is given the brief of environmental pollution deserves to know how we interpret that phrase.
As I have said, the Royal Commission was set up soon after the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning had been given the overlord position. But, despite that overlord position, the Minister's appointment did not affect the responsibility that ten Ministries have for pollution of one kind or another. Therefore, this raises the question: what was the Minister going to do? Can we lump pollution together in such a way that one Minister can act effectively? Are we working on the false premise that there is such a thing as environmental pollution, that there is one cause, and that, therefore, one Minister with a staff can cope with the problem? I do not think that this makes any sense at all, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister decided that that Ministerial appointment had no significance and no relevance and could not be effective.
Indeed, I do not remember that Minister ever making a statement in the 320 House which had any bearing at all on environmental pollution. No doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite will say that he did not have time to do so, and that may be the case, but I suspect that when he realised the task before him he felt that the other tasks he had on hand had considerably more priority.
I maintain that if one accepts that environmental pollution is anything from cigarette smoking to poisonous gas, noise, dust, dirty water; if one accepts that environmental pollution starts with man and his waste, then truthfully ten Ministries are not enough, because there are probably elements of environmental pollution in the work of all the other Ministries as well, and therefore this concept of one Minister makes absolutely no sense at all.
May I interject here, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray) who suggested that private industry was somehow responsible for pollution, and that those with a social conscience would not let it happen, that one of the most heavily polluted lakes in the world is Lake Baikal in Russia, and I need hardly say what sort of Government operates in that area. The fact of the matter is that environmental pollution is myriad and covers an enormous complexity of problems, and that within the foreseeable future we shall require the services of at least ten Ministries to get some sort of grasp of the problem.
§ Mr. Molloy
The hon. Gentleman ought to realise that the creation of the one Minister for the job did not mean that ten other Ministers were pushed to one side. The job of the appointed Minister was to co-ordinate the various aspects of pollution which came under various Ministries. I agree with what was said earlier, that the person in charge of the job ought to be a senior Minister. I believe that we shall move to that, but what was done was a step in the right direction to co-ordinate the effects of pollution which are the responsibility of ten Ministers. The one Minister had a co-ordinating responsibility, with a scientific and technological staff to help him.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation, even if I am not entirely satisfied with it.
321 Environmental pollution, and what we mean by that term, may become the brief of this Royal Commission. It may be that it should have this task of co-ordination and should feed out ideas to Ministeries, and that in a sense it should take over the task which the Minister has relinquished. But then we have to define this term "environmental pollution", and here I have to go across the Atlantic to find what the American President's Special Scientific Advisory Committee defined it as, because this is about the best that I have seen so far. It defined environmental pollution asthe unfavourable alteration of our surroundings, wholly or largely as a by-product of man's action, through direct or indirect effects of changes in energy patterns, radiation levels, chemical and physical constitution and abundances of organisms.I think we all agree that that is a comprehensive definition.
I want to concentrate my remarks on two aspects of environmental pollution, using that definition as the basis for my remarks. The two aspects on which I want to concentrate are the dangers to health and the damage to natural amenities. As the American definition states, both are the unfavourable alteration of our surroundings as a by-product of man's action. The easiest example of the health hazard, the one which has been mentioned in this debate, is that of clean air, or dirty air now a good deal cleaner, thanks to the Clean Air Act which was so much the task and work of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude for the way he pushed that Act forward against quite a lot of opposition.
The Clean Air Act was designed primarily to make sure that air heavily contaminated by coal fire smoke would no longer have that contamination, hence the need for smokeless fuels of one sort or another, and hence my reference to the shortages of that fuel which have caused a slowing down in the creation of smokeless zones. Dirty air can produce considerable health hazards. We all remember the high death rate during the great smogs, and it is a joy to see winter after winter passing without a smog till one wonders where the London pea-souper has gone.
Dirty air constitutes a health hazard, but it does not necessarily constitute a 322 damage to our amenities, at least not in the short-term, and there is therefore a distinction to be drawn here. On the other hand, anyone who has travelled by Hover-Lloyd hovercraft to Calais is aware of the extremely pernicious smell round the hoverport at Calais, which apparently is the creation of the large chemical works quite close by. That is an unpleasant area to be in, though clearly there is no health hazard.
On the one hand, therefore, we have the health hazard of dirty air, and on the other we have the loss of amenity without a health hazard, but both, in my submission, constitute environmental pollution. The point I am seeking to make is that both deserve equal treatment, because both damage the quality of life; the quality of the environment in which human beings live. It is the overall quality of the environment which really matters, and it is this with which the Royal Commission should be occupying its time.
I want to illustrate my argument with examples from three different areas. They are areas in which pollution is a problem, and on which I hope the Royal Commission is spending time and some of the Supplementary Estimate. The first area is that of vehicle noise, and I couple with that vehicle exhaust pollution. Last Session the House gave me leave to bring in a Bill whose purpose wasto maintain environmental amenities by restricting noise levels of motor vehicles, motor cycles and aircraft".I shall not take up the time of the House with the question of aircraft noise, because this has been fairly adequately dealt with already, but I was very interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) about heavy lorries, because they were certainly in my mind when I drafted my Bill.
I think we are all conscious that vehicle noise is now almost inescapable wherever one goes in this country. It is not restricted to towns any more. It constitutes a considerable nuisance and is by my definition a damaging influence on our enjoyment of life. Yet, because this damage in terms of vehicle noise is so hard to assess, it seems that little is being done to put it right. Motor cycles, either with silencers or without, I am not able to say which, roar around our 323 cities, but one seldom hears of prosecutions for that kind of offence. I hesitate to say this, but there seem to be so many fewer policemen on the streets today that perhaps they are not aware of the nuisance of which so many pedestrians are aware, and so many office workers, too. I feel that if I were a policeman I should be making an awful lot of arrests and prosecutions which I am sure would do nothing but good in quietening down the noise in our cities. Diesel lorries clatter through the West End. They go past this House hour after hour on their way to the docks, and noisy cars, too, get away with it.
New motor regulations came into effect on 1st April. Those regulations lay down noise levels, but those noise levels can be made to stick only if the constabulary concerned has a noise meter, as referred to in the regulations. It has now turned out that the setting up of those noise meters in large cities and towns is virtually impossible, for all sorts of physical reasons, and the consequent effect is that prosecutions for vehicle noise are falling off. Whenever a prosecution is made simply by the sound that a policeman hears, all that the defence counsel needs to ask the policeman is, "What were the meter readings?". When the policeman is unable to give them, the prosecution usually fails. Vehicle noise, therefore, is likely to be with us for rather too long ahead for my liking so I hope that something better than a noise meter, as laid down in the regulations, will be introduced. That is another subject for the Royal Commission to consider.
I also remind the Minister that cars are being made in this country for export to West Germany and Switzerland which to meet the laws of those countries have to be quieter than cars sold for the home market. That is an intolerable situation.
Next I turn to exhaust fumes. Scientists tell us that exhaust fumes, although unpleasant, do not necessarily constitute a health hazard. But they do constitute a health hazard in America, so much so that the American Administration insists that cars to be sold in America but built in this country must emit 37 per cent. less exhaust fumes than those that we have on our roads. I know the argument is that the climatic conditions in America are different—the air is still, and therefore 324 there is a higher accumulation of all the pollutants that come from exhausts—but it annoys me to think that dirty cars are made for use in England and clean ones are made for use in America. I hope that the Royal Commission will spend some time considering that point.
A famous English engineering company called Ricardo's, at Shoreham, is doing research on this problem for English manufacturers who are selling cars to America. They showed me that exhaust fumes could be reduced. If petrol is the problem, is it the only fuel that we must have for powering our vehicles?
Several hon. Members, including myself, had the opportunity of seeing a London taxi outside the House of Commons, just by St. Stephen's Entrance, which was run, in a demonstration, first on petrol then on propane gas. The figures that we obtained from that small demonstration were very impressive. The amount of carbon monoxide emitted by the taxi through its exhaust system when running on petrol was 5.2 per cent. whereas when it was running on propane the figure was 0.1 per cent.—an incredible reduction in pollution. There was also a significant reduction in unburnt hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, lead and visible carbon. The manufacturers of propane said that they did not see how it could replace petrol because it is not in sufficient supply. They felt, however, that it could be used as fuel for heavy passenger and goods-carrying vehicles—including London buses.
It is when urban transport stands at traffic lights or in traffic jams, when the engines are idling, that the greatest amount of exhaust pollution is poured out—the sort of pollution through which we often have to walk, and which causes us to cough afterwards. That makes us wonder whether the scientists are right in saying that it is not a medical hazard. If propane could be used to power London buses, can we not have an experiment to see what can be done, because this is an area where the amenity of a city could and should be improved. Here again, I turn to the Royal Commission and wonder whether it has looked into that question.
Finally I turn to a totally different subject but one that often occupies space in the newspapers. First, I must admit an interest in the matter. My company 325 works for the Association of River Authorities. Therefore, when I talk about them I do so from an interested position. The association represents the interests of the 29 river authorities in England and Wales which have the responsibility of trying to improve the quality of water in our rivers while more and more effluent is being poured into them.
It always startles me to find that the effluent standards being used as a measure of effluent in our rivers was set 50 years ago. In those terms alone it is high time that we thought again whether those standards are correct for the 1970s. Effluent standards have a direct bearing on the amount of sewage being put into our rivers. That, in turn, constitutes a major pollution factor. It is generally accepted that we have enough sewage works in this country, but it is also accepted that many of them are not big enough to do the job that they are now required to do. Nor do they have the trained personnel that they badly require if they are to be as efficient as they should be. It is an unhappy fact that three out of every five local authority sewage works produce effluent below the river authorities' consent conditions. That can only mean that our rivers are more polluted than they should be.
It is also a fact that we spend on sewerage works annually about 25s. per head. If we are talking seriously of reducing the amount of pollution in the environment we should give such a basic piece of equipment for any community rather greater priority, and should spend rather more money on it than merely 25s. a year per head of population.
The question is: how much are we prepared to spend, and what do we want our rivers to be? Are we prepared to put up with murky, sluggish industrial drains, or are we looking to our rivers to be sources of clean water, full of fish, so that their amenity value for fishermen, boaters, swimmers and anybody who enjoys walking by or going on a river is enhanced? My two apparently different themes come together here completely—the health hazard of the polluted river and the damage to the amenity value of that river in terms of the loss of pleasure of the people who have anything to do with it.
I do not think that anybody would disagree with me in saying that we want 326 our rivers to be sources of clean water. We want them to be a great amenity—something that we can all enjoy. Therefore we have to be prepared to spend whatever is required to bring them up to the standards that we sometimes see in the countryside when we come across a really clean river in which the water is so clear that we can see the fish.
The light, fortunately, is dawning. Simply because a sufficient number of people are now making noises that something must be done. But it is one thing to talk about what should be done and quite another thing to do it. I have asked what the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has been doing, and I return to this subject of rivers to ask whether they are in its first brief. Is it considering the problem of river pollution? If so, will it produce findings and give us views on whether river authorities should have pollution prevention powers down to and including tidal waters? Will it advise on whether there should be stiffer penalties for those who wantonly cause pollution? Will it say whether legislation should be introduced to insist on minimum standards for the storage of chemicals or oil beside a river, to avoid such disasters as the Rhine disaster, which the hon. Member for Leith mentioned in his maiden speech?
Shall we be told how the Commission thinks that phosgene, for instance, should be disposed of? A recent case in Wrexham suggests that there is no control over the way in which chemical waste should be got rid of. How tragic if it gets into one's own river supply, but how appalling to think that, while we talk about environmental pollution, such a danger is a real danger for so many people.
Will the Royal Commission tell us whether we should insist that industry starts to clean up its own mess, if need be by the river authorities being allowed to impose a charge on those who continue to run their waste discharges into a river? Will river authorities be given power to refuse consent to a new discharge from a factory which does not come up to the required standards?
Apparently, the Royal Commission has so far cost this nation only £4,000. I do not grudge one penny of that money. I believe that this Commission has one 327 of the most important tasks in the country. If this money is being spent—as I hope and believe that the Minister will tell us it is being spent—in looking into some of the problems on which I and my hon. Friends have touched, that Commission deserves far more than £4,000. How do the Government see its future rôle, and can the Minister tell us exactly what it is doing?
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
In asking for the traditional indulgence of the House for this my maiden speech, may I also say that I hope to achieve a personal precedent in combining an adequate dealing with a topic with brevity. I realise how powerful a hostage to fortune I have there given.
It is with pleasure that I mention my predecessor, Mr. Arthur Pearson, who represented the constituency of Pontypridd in this honourable House for 32 years. His dignity and sincerity and the quiet purposefulness with which he discharged his duties made him highly respected in the constituency, and I am sure that those qualities earned him a similar respect in this House. I should be glad if I could rely on his experience and strength in speaking in this debate rather than on my own fledgling powers of persuasion.
Pontypridd is a constituency which combines a rural southern area with an industrial area where the old industrial order is rapidly giving way to the new. With tremendous new housing developments within it, it is clearly a community and a constituency in which environmental questions are important. In the northern area of the constituency were, and are, located the coalmines which made the constituency such a typical South Welsh area.
When I inform them that one of the villages in my constituency is Gilfach Goch, which was the setting for the novel "How Green Was My Valley", hon. Members will appreciate how much the natural beauty of the area suffered in the industrial struggles of the 19th century. Indeed, I often think that the radicalism of the area may be explained by the close proximity of natural beauty and man-made squalor in the areas of South Wales.
328 But coal-mining illustrates a theme which is all too often forgotten in debates on environmental pollution—namely, that it is an industry which has bequeathed to its heirs, the inhabitants of coal-mining areas, a legacy of derelict land, ugly tips and scars and that these are no less a pollution of the environment than an oil leakage or exhaust fumes.
As hon. Members realise, the coal-mining industry is contracting, and people are now having to travel further and further to their work. If we are not to crowd these people into smaller and smaller living areas, it is clearly important that they should be encouraged to remain living in the valley areas. That encouragement will be provided by making those areas as pleasant to live in as possible. It is a recent development that we all realise that to live in a pleasant environment is as much a part of our standard of living as our ability to buy a motor car or a television set. But it is a situation which can only be created by society acting together to overcome it, and hon. Members opposite who yearn nostalgically for a cut in public expenditure would do well to ponder the expanding demands which modern life throws up in this connection.
In my view, although there has been a highly encouraging start to the tackling of the problem of derelict land, we now need an acceleration in that treatment to ensure that the decent environment which we want for these areas is a matter of sooner rather than later. In dealing with this problem of derelict land we must remember that it is a continuing problem—new lands are being taken each year in dereliction, so any figures which we can have for reclamation must be net figures.
The Civic Trust has estimated that more land is currently being made derelict than is being reclaimed. It was reported in the Western Mail on Monday that the Chairman of the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales had said in a speech that he estimated that the problems of derelict industrial land in Wales would be solved by 1980. This seems wildly over-optimistic, when one realises that, for 1967 to 1970, despite the tremendous pioneering efforts of the Derelict Land Unit of the Welsh Office, only 1,670 derelict land acres were reclaimed and there are 20,500 such acres in the whole of 329 Wales. Nevertheless, I and my hon. Friends would welcome a statement on the future of the Derelict Land Unit and its future sphere of activity.
Although Government grants at 85 per cent. of the cost are generous, to have to pay the balance of the cost of reclamation can be a heavy burden on local authorities in areas in which, by tradition, rateable values are not high. A severe financial burden can be placed on the inhabitants, who must pay the increased rates when they themselves have already suffered from the dereliction being on their doorsteps.
It is, therefore, important to consider the financial aspect of the reclamation of derelict land. It is fashionable to say, "Make the industry pay", but in my area there are two inhibiting factors against that. The first is that the area is a development area. In South Wales, we must have a delicate balancing act, just because it is a development area, between the desire for a decent environment and the necessity to preserve employment for the people living there. This not only means a choice between past dereliction and a decent environment but, in many instances, ignoring continuing pollution.
Secondly, it does not assist to say "make the industry pay", because often an industry which has caused the dereliction is itself involved in a struggle for its industrial life, so that to add further expense to that industry could sound its death knell. It is, therefore, time that the Commission and the Government persuaded the Exchequer to recognise its obligation to meet the whole of the cost of such reclamation work and to remove the legacy of dereliction which hangs over the older industrial areas.
I remind the Government, and particularly the Secretary of State for Wales, that in rural Wales pollution of our environment can take a more elemental form. By "elemental" I mean that too often people in rural areas in twentieth century Wales are living in communities governed by public health standards of a much earlier period. I know of areas in the Vale of Glamorgan, which is the southern end of my constituency, where the problem is reaching such an extent that it is a reproach to our claim to live in a decent society and a civilised 330 country. For example, when one sees such things as a cess pit drainage regularly overspilling, the contents running across the road to people who are standing in a bus queue opposite, this and similar problems cry aloud for solution, and the solution is to be found by sanctioning extra Government expenditure for decent sanitary facilities.
I hope that my remarks will not be considered inadequate in that I have dealt with the whole subject of environment pollution in Wales by mentioning only two topics. I appreciate that the subject covers an enormous sphere. It is important initially in this my maiden speech for me to deal with the problems of which I have personal acquaintance. I thank this honourable House for extending to me its customary courtesy and kindness in its reception of this my first contribution.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I am pleased to have been called to speak following the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). Only a week ago I made my maiden speech, but I am glad to have been called at this time because I have had many connections with Wales.
I know the problems of the valleys to which the hon. Gentleman referred and the House in general will agree that there is no better person than somebody coming from those valleys to talk here about the problems of environment and pollution. The hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful speech and added greatly to the debate.
I am grateful for the chance of speaking twice since coming to this place and it might be apt if, at the outset, I said something about the strange environment in which I find myself. This place seems a mixture between a university campus, a market place, a house party—and, a prisoner of war camp, and I speak with some authority because I have had experience of all these. The biggest impact this House has made on me has been the great friendliness and courtesy that one has received from hon. Members on all sides.
It has been said that this debate is likely to go on into the early hours of the morning. This seems a good opportunity to debate the great variety of issues 331 of State. During those dark watches, during this "vigil", as it were, we will be guarding the affairs of the people, and as far as this debate is concerned, the environment in which they live.
This debate is apt, for, as previous hon. Members have pointed out, this is European Conservation Year. It is apt that we should be discussing these issues at his time. In the Conservative Party manifesto "A Better Tomorrow" we stated our intention to bring about a better environment and said that we should launch a major campaign to bring it about. I hope that this debate represents the opening shots in that campaign.
It is necessary—I am sure that the Royal Commission will find it so—to spread our net very wide and to look at the background and history of the problem of pollution. Indeed, one must go back even further than Adam and Eve, to the time when man was given dominion over what he contemptuously called the lower kingdoms of nature; and he has consistently misused this dominion, no more than at the present time.
I am, of course, referring to the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, all of which we have discussed. As for the mineral kingdom, we are tearing it to pieces to get out of the earth what we need for manufacturing industries, and we are putting back into its deep clefts dangerous poisons. We are also detonating nuclear explosives beneath the earth, and I cannot believe that the mineral kingdom is too happy about this.
We are poisoning the vegetable kingdom and exploiting our land to grow more and more and to take greater amounts out of it. We are ruthlessly destroying the landscape and everything in our path, including hedgerows, 7,000 miles of which disappear every year.
Even the giant hogweed, which has just raised its head, is threatened. People are already shouting for us to provide stronger poisons to destroy it. I assure hon. Members, having one of these plants in my garden, that if one does not frighten it, it will not do one any harm.
As for the animal kingdom, wild life is retreating everywhere and we are wiping out whole civilisations of wild life throughout the world. This is easily realised when one examines what we are 332 doing to the water, which is the vehicle carrying man's poisons and spreading them throughout the globe. It is acting as man's agent for the genocide which he is perpetrating on the animals of the world.
The same can be said of the air. It is shattered with nuclear explosions, and these cause climatic and elemental upheavals about which we do not know enough. I suggest that until we have learned to live in harmony with all these elements—and the Royal Commission should look into this—our survival will be in jeopardy. The chances of our destroying ourselves are high. Only last November, in the B.B.C. Reith Lectures, Dr. Frank Darling suggested that pollution was going on at such a massive rate that very soon the world could become uninhabitable. He pointed out that this might happen quite suddenly because the problem would be too big and too complex for us to tackle in time.
Indeed, experts in the United States say that we have only ten years in which to deal with the problem. The former hydrographer of the Royal Navy, Sir Edmund Irving, has suggested that by the end of the century our oceans might become deserts and dead seas.
The signs are very clear for all to see, and confirmation of these signs appears regularly in the newspapers. I will give only a few examples. It is said that jet aircraft landing and taking off in New York deposit 36 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. This has a "greenhouse" effect because it allows the sun's rays to come down but prevents them from escaping into the atmosphere. The only effect this has in this country is that it kills off the greenfly and gives us rather better roses.
However, if this goes on, it is thought that by the end of the century the temperature of the earth could be raised by two degrees Centigrade, and this would begin to melt the ice caps. Water generated by this melting process could, they say, be sufficient in mass to flood many cities. But all is not lost. We are pumping so much grit into the air that the sun's rays are not able to get through, and they are deflected back into the atmosphere. The ice-cap thus is catching up with us.
333 Another factor is the Russian intention to divert three giant rivers which at present flow into the Arctic, turning them round to irrigate the deserts of the Caspian and the Urals, and this could make for great global and climatic changes. It is said that this will once again start to melt the ice-caps so that we are back to square one. I give these illustrations as examples of the ignorant and dangerous way in which we are playing with the balance of nature.
Another example is that penguins have been picked up in the South Antarctic with persistent pesticides, such as D.D.T., in their bodies. This spread of biological poisoning is fantastic and frightening. The poison is spread on the fields, and leaches down into the rivers. The rivers flow into the seas, the seas flow into the oceans, and the poison goes to the furthest corners of the oceans.
Let us consider the peregrine falcon, for instance. This bird of prey is at the end of a biological chain. Seeds are spread with chemical substances. The pigeons eat the seeds, and the falcons are particularly fond of pigeons. So the process goes on, and the population of peregrine falcons has crashed in the United States and Europe in recent years, not because of direct killing but because sterile eggs are being laid.
In the water, we well know of the oil menace along the coasts, particularly those of us who have children and have to clean their feet. In the Rhine, as has already been mentioned, we had the example of a 250-mile stretch of fish life being destroyed right down the river.
There are all sorts of other examples, such as the eutrophication of inland lakes with the flow of nitrates into them, and the explosive growth of water weed, which kills all marine life. This is going on in Lake Erie in the United States. In the Scandinavian forests growth has been depressed by rain carrying the gases from oil burning. The problem is not just these isolated instances but their cumulative effect, as they go on at the same time. We can apply these considerations to what goes on in this country, and I am sure that the Royal Commission will do so. It seems to involve no Ministry but every Ministry, no one but every one, at the same time.
334 Social environment has become every bit as important today as social welfare was in the decades following the war. To deal with the problem we need a budget and a powerful spokesman, if possible independent of those Ministries whose legitimate activities actually cause these dangers. I hope that the Minister will accept this as a suggestion for promotion.
I should like to deal finally with aircraft noise, which is a particular problem in my constituency. I hope that the Royal Commission will give special attention to it. We have had many complaints today about aircraft noise. Everyone is very worried about it, but no one knows quite what can be done. I hope that the problem is now being realised.
There are two important factors. One is that we are getting worse noise the whole time and the other is that we are getting a lower tolerance of noise; people cannot accept noise as much as they did. This is a cumulative process. These two things are going on at the same time, rushing together rather like two express trains travelling towards each other. At the end there must be an explosion.
We can look forward to two major developments which will improve the situation. One is the development of quieter jet engines. I hope that the Government will take an early decision about the BAC 3–11, which carries one of those engines. Second, there is the development of short-take-off-and-landing and vertical-take-off-and-landing planes.
These are all most welcome developments, but there will be an eight- to ten-year gap before we feel any difference. I suggest seven palliatives for the situation. First, when we have bigger airliners they should have fewer frequencies because there will be more space in them.
Second, inclusive tour holiday traffic is concentrated in various places, particularly Gatwick. It should be spread all over the country, to many different airfields.
Third, the I.A.T.A. fare structure is centred on London. Therefore, it is cheaper for flights to come into London than to any other airport in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Ministry will have a look at this.
335 Fourth, there should be statutory penalties for airlines and pilots exceeding the noise limits. There is no statutory penalty now, and therefore there is no incentive for them to abide by the regulations.
Fifth, we should investigate different take-off routes from the same airfield, varying them so that the effect of the noise is mitigated for those who have it constantly overhead.
Sixth, there should be higher landing charges for noisier planes, or a tax on noise itself. The aircraft industry has told me that it has been waiting for an incentive to encourage it to develop quieter engines.
Seventh, we are approaching the time when we should have a ban, or severe restrictions, on flights on one day a week—on Sundays—because on one day a week we must have a bit of peace. People say that that suggestion does not accord with the economic facts of life. They ask how we can do this when it is in the interests of our economy that the planes should fly. But there is such a ban in Tokyo; the planes do not fly on Sunday in Tokyo. I call in aid the White Paper on the protection of the environment, which says that one of the powers the Board of Trade has is to impose severe restrictions on night jet flights from Heathrow. Therefore, why cannot it impose severe restrictions on day flights for one day a week?
I should like to put forward one solution for the eight-to-ten-year gap. Something must happen during that period. We must disperse our airfields from the centre of the country towards the coastal perimeters. This must be done with the third London airport, which should go to Foulness. But we can start now to disperse some of the airfields towards the perimeter. We have, for example, at Speke, Liverpool, a marvellous airfield which is not fully used, where the aircraft take off and land over the Mersey Estuary. Fuller use would be welcome to Liverpool.
There is a good airfield at Bristol and an alternative site near where the Bristol West Docks are planned to be, where aeroplanes could take off over the Severn Estuary. If airfields were located in these parts of the country, we could greatly 336 lessen the problem. It may be said that they are too far away, but it takes only two hours to get to Liverpool and the same time to get to Bristol from London, and sometimes it takes us two hours to get to Heathrow. There are other great estuaries, such as Morecambe Bay, the Humber and the Wash, which could be used. If we made use of them for developing future airfields we could save land in the country because we should be using marginal land. We could also conserve water by incorporating barrages. This would save the building of reservoirs in the middle of the country.
In the Select Committee on Science and Technology not long ago my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) drew attention to the fact that we are one of the three most densely populated countries in the world, with 30 million acres of agricultural land, of which we are losing 40,000 acres a year. We need the land, we need a bit of peace and we need a bit of imagination. Why do we seen to have lost the art for evolving great imaginative schemes and projects which we had in the past when great cathedrals were built and when the railway system was laid down in the comparatively short space of 20 years? If Governments cannot do these things, private enterprise should step in.
In an article the other day my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) pointed out that pollution is more than a material matter; there is also spiritual and moral pollution. One of the troubles in all this business is the fact that man has come to believe that he is infallible. When men hold that view, things are bound to go wrong. When Governments believe that they are infallible they fall; one fell last month. If man continues to believe that he is infallible, he, to, will fall. Man will destroy himself as surely as he destroys the fish, the penguins and the peregrine falcons. I believe that the £4,000 spent on this Royal Commission is cheap at the price.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I was impressed by a considerable part of the diagnoses produced by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), but I thought his prescription fell short of the very thoughtful and persuasive argument he 337 put forward for taking this subject with extreme seriousness. It is absolutely right to do that. If I may interject a lighter note, when he talked about the disappearance or extinction of the peregrine falcon I thought for a moment that he was referring to Peregrine Worsthorne. Unfortunately, he was not.
Nevertheless, the hon. Member's speech was a serious one which went to the heart of the problem. I parted company with him, however, when he spoke of the rôle of private enterprise in this matter. That seemed to contradict an earlier preception he made in which he recognised that the fight against pollution involves a reduction in profit. In other words, one cannot effectively struggle against pollution and at the same time maximise income. Whatever aspect of the problem we touch we find that the consequence of trying to make the environment good is that one is bound to reduce the profit. This applies not only to private profit, but to profit for the country.
This is where we have grave doubts whether the new Government, dedicated as they are to maximising of profit, can deal with this subject with the seriousness which it deserves and with the seriousness, to do them credit, which individual hon. Members opposite apply to it. There has been a suggestion that the fact that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) is the Minister who is to reply to the debate, means that it will not be treated with the seriousness it deserves. I hope that we shall be pleasantly surprised, and that he will be wearing his anti-sheep's clothing and not his pro-noise wolf's clothing. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is not present in the House now. He might have been replying to the debate. We have to be thankful for small mercies.
The fight against pollution, particularly the fight against aircraft noise, is an aspect of the wider struggle for the preservation of amenity in the technological age. This is what we are up against. The new hon Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) made a very able speech in which he drew attention to the problem of a declining industry. Whether it is the problem of decline or technological growth, basically we are asserting responsibility of government to ensure that replacement or actual growth takes place in a manner which the citizens can find 338 tolerable. It is the problem of the citizen in motion, on the one hand, and in his house, on the other. How can the two be reconciled? How can we move about the earth at the speed at which many of us desire to move in this growth period and relate that to the even more important desire of man to live quietly and peacefully in his own home?
I will not take this too widely, because the range of the debate would not permit it, but at some stage I should like to explore the proposition that environmental pollution is an aspect of growth and that with growth comes pollution Therefore, we must consider how to control growth so that it does not destroy us in the process. Basically, it is a job for Government.
I have been concerned particularly with the problem of aircraft noise from a constituency point of view. This form of pollution is suffered only by a section of the population. The largest group, not only in this country, but in the whole world, who endure the most severe deterioration in their life quality are the thousands of people who live under the glide path to Heathrow, which stretches from London Airport and covers the whole of the heavily populated residential areas out to the West and South-West of London. It includes Ealing, Acton, Hammersmith, Fulham, Putney, Richmond, Wandsworth, Twickenham, Kew, and so on. It must not be overlooked that the glide path in fact extends out as far as Esher, because the stack is out there.
If there were a new form of measurement of aircraft noise, if instead of the noise and number index there were a measurement of the number of people inconvenienced, it would be found that on that criterion the inconvenience—indeed, the distress in many cases—suffered by people living under the glide path to Heathrow far exceeds that caused in any other part of the country.
These people come at the top of the tree of those suffering inconvenience anywhere in the country or indeed in the world, because there is no airport so badly situated from this point of view as Heathrow is. I will not go into the accident of why Heathrow developed as it did. Everybody would agree—although the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds smiles, even he would agree—that if we 339 were planning afresh we would never dream of putting Heathrow Airport where it is today. If we had it near London, we would certainly put it on the east side of London so that planes would avoid travelling over the whole of London. In its present situation the prevailing wind means that at least 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of planes must fly over the capital.
Longer-term alleviation is to be found in the construction of the third London airport. I agree with the suggestion that even then Heathrow will remain the favourite airport of aircraft operators because of its proximity to London. Here we return to the question of cost. Heathrow will remain the favourite airport because passengers will want to go there because it easier and cheaper to go there.
Hitherto I have always regarded Mr. Masefield, the Chairman of the British Airports Authority, as being on the other side of the fence. However, the other day I was delighted to read of his proposal—this is what the hon. Member for Esher suggested should be done—that higher charges should be levied for landing at Heathrow on noisier aircraft. This is the only contribution to the solution of the problem of aircraft noise that I have known Mr. Masefield make. We must welcome to the fold even those whose enlightenment arrives at a late stage. Let us welcome the conversion of Mr. Masefield to the aircraft anti-noise movement He will be an influential recruit.
The way that selection goes in favour of Heathrow can be demonstrated in a number of ways. There is heavy pressure on the Government—I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has discovered it yet, but he will if he has not—by interested parties. For instance, when, so as to give the glide-path residents some sleep, the number of aircraft allowed to land during the night is restricted, there are always bitter complaints, and diversion to Gatwick or elsewhere is strongly resisted. It is strongly resisted, first, by the aircraft operators, and then, naturally enough, by the people living near Gatwick.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Member for Dorking is probably among those resisters. On one occasion, he told 340 me—I forget whether in the Chamber or not—that he thought that I was personally responsible for some of the noise at Gatwick because I had made so much fuss about Heathrow and had succeeded in diverting some traffic to Gatwick. If I had, I should regard it as a matter of credit rather than otherwise.
That illustrates the point that we do not solve the problem by trying to divert noise from one point to another, whether by diverting noise from this airport to that or, as has been done recently, merely by diverting noise from one glide path at Heathrow to another. I can tell the House a little more of what has been done recently at Heathrow on this aspect of the matter, an aspect into which, among others, the Royal Commission will have to go. In July, the Board of Trade, writing to constituents living under the glide path, some of them in my constituency, said:There are operational advantages in using one of the runways wholly for landings and the other for take-offs, and during May and June the runways have been operated in this mode.This is the summer method of use, one runway being used for landing and the other for take-off, and one can see that there are operational advantages and that it probably minimises the possibility of error. The Board of Trade went on:We realised, however, that this was placing an undue burden on areas overflown, and we have been seeking ways in which it could be reduced. Further study is needed not only of the operational and economic factors involved but also of the effect on amenity elsewhere if the pattern were changed"—so amenity is taken into consideration—but as a temporary measure, while we are seeking an acceptable longer-term arrangement, we arranged that from the morning of Monday, 29th June some of the traffic would be allowed to land on the northern runway so as to give some relief to the areas affected. While the aim will be to divide the traffic roughly equally over a period of time, it is likely that there will still be times when landing traffic over Putney will be intense.Indeed, it is often very intense.
What that means is that there is at Heathrow a local attempt to spread the burden between runways and certain areas of London so that the citizens will receive not too unfair a measure of the noise which will come to them anyway. We see the way this works when airport authorities transfer aircraft from 341 one runway to another in order to try to give citizens living in Putney a bit of relief, but at the expense of citizens living in Hammersmith. They are switched back when the row grows at Hammersmith and Putney has it again. Then, when the row grows too loud under our glide path, aircraft are switched to Gatwick, after which, in turn, when the row develops, they are switched back again to Heathrow. That is what is happening. We are shuffling them about, and it will not do.
All this illustrates the need—this is where I quarrel bitterly with the hon. Member for Woking—for the third London airport, so that we may have a better distribution and have international aircraft coming in and landing over the sea, thus giving some relief to the inland airports.
Those are some of the problems which we must face. It is no use pretending that there is any quick or easy solution. I agree with those who have said that, if we could invent an aircraft engine much less noisy than the present ones, this would not only give enormous relief to thousands of people but it would be of great economic advantage to the nation. If this country could invent an aircraft engine which materially reduced the amount of noise, it would be much more profitable than the invention of sonic boom breakers. If one-tenth of the amount of money which was spent on supersonic civil flying by the Conservative Party when it was in office previously, which unfortunately was spent by the Labour Government and which is still being spent by this Government, had been devoted to research into silent aircraft flying, it would have been not only immensely beneficial to the people but financially and economically advantageous to the country.
We are beginning to move in that direction, and I hope that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will tell us that the Government intend to step up the amount of money devoted to research into producing a silent aircraft engine. If he says that, I shall withdraw any doubts which I may have expressed about the desirability of his being the Minister to reply to this debate. I hope that I shall be able to make that withdrawal.
The latest example of the efforts of all the people concerned, such as the operators, 342 with the permanence of Heathrow is the capital investment put into it. This is why this is a continuing struggle. More and more capital investment is going into Heathrow for cargo and passenger services. The latest development is the proposed extension of the underground in that direction. All this has the effect of establishing Heathrow as the No. 1 airport. We must fight this. The profitability of the airport is not the only factor which counts. In fact, it is secondary to the welfare of the people living near the airport.
That is a brave thing for any Government to say, and no Government has been prepared to say it. It would be a very great thing if this Government, of all Governments, were prepared to say it. I hope that enlightenment will dawn on them and that they will decide that profit is not everything but that the welfare and amenity of the citizen must be taken into account. Any Government is tempted to prefer the discomfort and even the distress of a substantial minority of its citizens to any degree of economic deprivation to the nation. I do not know whether the present Government will overcome that temptation. I hope that they will.
A great deal of lip-service will be paid on this issue. It is true that effective endeavours to mitigate pollution have been made. I am happy to say that fish have been found under Putney Bridge for the first time in 50 years. That indicates that in some areas endeavours against pollution have not been entirely unsuccessful and that improvements can be made. But aircraft noise involves a continual worsenment of the amenity of the people. All that those concerned with it have been able to do is to indulge in a form of Canute work in an endeavour to hold back a rising tide. In spite of their best endeavours, they have not been very successful. International conferences have been held, prolonged and sympathetic discussions have taken place and committees have been created. Now we have the Royal Commission.
Unfortunately, the former Minister did not have the chance or the time to do the work which I believe he would have done. I share the concern which has been expressed that the new Government do not appear to have recognised that there is considerable advantage in having a 343 high ranking Minister in the Cabinet with overall responsibility for this problem. I shall listen with interest to what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds says.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has told me of the growth of traffic at Luton. I hope that I am not guilty of being responsible not only for a growth of traffic at Gatwick but for a growth of noise at Luton. Even without any action on my part, or on the part of those associated with me in trying to mitigate aircraft noise, I believe that the British Airports Authority would have realised of its own accord that something would have to be done about Heathrow and that there had to be some dispersal. I am sorry that noise has developed at Luton and elsewhere. I can only tell the hon. Members concerned that we are all in the same boat and that those of us who live under the Heathrow glide path are suffering more than anybody else. We all urgently need a third London airport to share the burden.
Two things need to be done. That they are the effective things is demonstrated by the fact that they have always been resisted while other and diversionary activity has been permitted and even encouraged. The first is that the right of the citizen to sue aircraft operators for excessive aircraft noise, which I am sorry to say, was removed by a Labour Government in 1949, must be restored. My Private Member's Bill on aircraft noise, which set out among other things to restore this right, was not given much encouragement by the Labour Government and was effectively scuppered by Conservative Members who felt that the interests of aircraft manufacturers and operators were threatened by it.
Precisely! It is only when one begins to threaten the interests of aircraft operators that one begins to get at the nub of the problem and to be effective in doing something about it. The citizen must be armed with the power of the law which he may personally invoke through the courts. No Government can be relied on to protect the citizen if he is deprived of the power of legally protecting himself. We must restore to the citizen this elementary and essential right.
344 Secondly, as I have constantly urged and equally constantly been refused, responsibility for the control and limitation of noise must be removed from the Board of Trade. As Dame Mary Smeeton pointed out recently in the columns of The Times, the duty of the Board of Trade is to develop civil aviation to the full, and this means that its noise-mitigating functions must be secondary.
In spite of his larger numbers, the citizen on the ground will continue to find the balance tilted against him and in favour of the citizen in the air until such time as amenity has a Minister and not only a Minister, but a Department, to fight for it. Responsibility must be transferred to another Department. That is why I am not altogether alarmed by the notion that the reply to the debate will be made by a Minister from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. This is the development which, if the Minister rises to the responsibilities which his Department has in this matter, can be an encouraging sign.
What is going on is a straightforward power struggle and any solution which fails to recognise this fact and facts to provide for the strengthening of the forces of living against the forces of movement will have to be regarded with grave suspicion.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelly)
I ask for the indulgence of the House in making my maiden speech. I hope that hon. Members will allow me to name at the outset the man who until the recent General Election represented the constituency which I now have the honour to represent. The right hon. James Griffiths represented the constituency of Llanelly for 34 years and I believe by common consent did so with dedication and distinction. During that long period he also showed himself to be one of the great Parliamentarians. He showed himself to be a man who not only maintained, but, through the strength of his character and integrity, enhanced the great traditions of this House. I feel sure that hon. Members will join me in wishing to a loyal servant of this House a swift and complete recovery from the present illness besetting him.
It is customary on the occasion of a maiden speech to describe briefly to hon. Members the nature of the constituency 345 which the new Member represents. The Llanelly constituency at one time used to be one of the major producers in the world of tinplate and anthracite coal. The Welsh name for anthracite coal is glo caled which, literally translated, means "hard coal". As hon. Members know perhaps better than I, it is certainly hard coal in more senses than one. The amount of anthracite we now produce is less than in the past but its quality is still the finest in the world, as is indeed the quality and character of the men who go down to the bowels of the earth every day to bring the hard coal to the surface. Thanks to the efforts of my illustrious predecessor the great wealth of experience in tinplate making is now being utilised at the Trustre works of the Steel Company of Wales.
The constituency also produces a wide range of industrial products including motor car components at two British Leyland factories. I do not wish to convey the impression that the whole of Llanelly constituency is dominated by industrial plants and factories. We also have a rather beautiful coastline with a fine stretch of sandy beach. Unfortunately, and this is relevant to the debate, the Ministry of Defence has set its heart on taking over that coastline for the purpose of locating one of its gunnery ranges. It wants to transfer one of its ranges from the mud flats at Shoeburyness to the golden sands of Pembrey. My constituents can only hope that reason and common sense will ultimately prevail and that the Ministry of Defence will not embark upon this project, which will substantially pollute the environment of much of my constituency.
In many parts of the United Kingdom the problem of environmental pollution seems to be a relatively new and fairly recent phenomenon. Whereas previously pollution impinged in the main only upon the lives of the working classes and so was not of major interest to the population at large or to persons in authority, now it seems, as a result of the motor car and possibly the aircraft, that pollution is beginning to disturb the lives of a wider class of people. Apparently pollution now causes almost as much indignation in the drawing rooms of Hampstead or Putney as it did and still does in the working men's clubs of the Welsh valleys.
346 In industrial South Wales environmental pollution is not a recent phenomenon. Unfortunately it has been with us for more than 100 years. The black tips, the filthy rivers, the dusty streets are still ugly evidences of the so-called first industrial revolution. As we now consider the problems of pollution in the middle of the twentieth century, let us not be deceived, as many of our forefathers were, into believing that environmental pollution is an inevitable by-product of industrial progress and technological change. Pollution was and still is in the main the consequence of man's greed. Pollution is the by-product not of change but of the all-too-familiar cry to maximise profits. Every coal tip and slag heap in South Wales represented a higher rate of return for the coal owner on his cruel investment.
As hon. Members know, the previous Administration took some tentative steps to try to improve the situation. It is now possible for local authorities to claim from the central Government as much as 85 per cent. of the total cost of reclaiming derelict land. I am glad to say that the village of Glanamman in my constituency was one of the first in Wales to avail itself of this generous facility.
I urge the present Government not only to maintain but to improve on the previous Government legislation. Let the central Government bear the whole of this cost. It is only right that the United Kingdom taxpayers in general, who by and large have benefited from the industrial revolution, should help to compensate to some extent those areas which have not yet recovered from the industrial revolution.
We have heard from the Prime Minister of his desire to unite the nation. If the Government are sincere in this desire, let them prove that sincerity by spending a higher percentage of Government expenditure on those areas whose industrial growth is hampered by environmental pollution which they have inherited from the past. Let the Government give highest priority not to those areas east of Suez and in the Persian Gulf, not to the reduction of taxation which will benefit the higher income groups, but to those areas like industrial Wales which have suffered so much in the past and which still bear so many of the scars of a 347 ruthless exploitation. I thank the House for its indulgence.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
This is the first time that I have had the honour of congratulating an hon. Member on his maiden speech. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. Denzil Davies) on making a speech which was sincere. Everybody in the House respects a Member who speaks with sincerity and conviction on behalf of his constituents. The hon. Gentleman added a touch of the eloquence which we have come to associate with hon. Members from the Principality.
I will let him into a secret. I, too, had the notion of representing the constituency which I hope he will represent with distinction for many years to come. It is true that I did not have the opportunity of getting to know it as well as he obviously has, because the party which I sought to represent as their candidate did not even get so far as selecting me and the matter was not even put to the test of an election. It is a constituency with many fine citizens who have made a great contribution to the wealth of this nation. We respect the manner in which he paid such a generous tribute to the right hon. Gentleman who represented the constituency for so long and who was so admired and respected. We wish the new Member for Llanelly well.
It is not for me to introduce any note of controversy or to let a ripple of party controversy stir this debate. It has been a most equable debate and I do not want to add any party political fuel to what has taken place. However, some doubt has been cast by some hon. Members opposite, among them the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), on the intentions of the new Government and the dedication of my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate.
The truth is that no Government in our history have paid sufficient attention to the problems of pollution. They are not problems which can be laid purely at the door of past Conservative Administrations or Labour Administrations. Nor are they the fault of private enterprise alone. 348 Public authorities, too, must stand at the bar of criticism.
The hon. Member for South Shields referred to the Clean Air Act. I need not remind him that that legislation was passed during the period of a Conservative Administration. However, I let that pass because we all know that a great deal of obeisance is made to the concept of Conservation Year, and much lip-service is paid to the need to curb pollution. If in some respects we are in advance of other countries, that is no cause for a great deal of self-congratulation. Much remains to be done.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who said that the time has come for action and that there are powers on the Statute Book already which enable us to act more rigorously. However, we seem to spend an awful lot of time getting down to it. The hon. Member for South Shields wants action. Let me remind him that the Wilson Report on noise was published as long ago as 1963. It recommended that the noise levels of vehicles on the roads should also be measured and that it should be an offence to emit more noise than is permitted from new vehicles. The report goes on:We consider that the measurement of noise from vehicles on the road should start two years after the enactment of empowering legislation.In the recent past, we have had a Government who commanded the support of the hon. Member for South Shields, but we all know that noise is still being emitted by vehicles and that action is not as swift and stern as it should be.
Part of the reason for this inaction is the lack of suitable equipment. In any event, there is not sufficient enforcement of the kind which could lead to improving our environment. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a matter that we should emphasise and, where we see action being taken, we should praise those who take it.
Ministers and officials at the Board of Trade have given the lead internationally by their attempts to ensure that aircraft noise is diminished. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there is no quick and easy solution. However, it is there for us if we care to apply new techonolgy. I accept that this will do a great deal to mitigate the conditions endured by many 349 of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) from aircraft flying into and out of Gatwick.
I come now to a point where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. I hope that those in the aircraft industry and those who run our nationalised and private airlines as well as those who are in charge of the British Airports Authority will take note of the fact that we are not prepared to wait for a new generation of aircraft to be fitted with quieter aero engines. They can help, but further action is required and we insist upon it being taken.
I realise that I cannot go too far on the point about a third London Airport. My hon. Friend says that he is not convinced of the need for it and that, with new and improved engines coming along, people living near Heathrow and Gatwick should not be too perturbed about the effects of modern aviation on their environment. Therefore, he denies the real need for the location of an airport at the extremities or, shall we say, at the coast.
That does not cut any ice with those who live in and around Gatwick. The proposals are to increase this airport and to develop it to such an extent that, by the 1980s, it will exceed even Heathrow in capacity. Instead of 3 million passengers passing through Gatwick, as they will this year, it will be 20 million by the 1980s. In other words, hundreds of thousands of acres of the serene Sussex countryside and hundreds of thousands of people who live there will be subjected to the daily and, so far, nightly bombardment of the modern jet plane, and an area of charm and high amenity will find its towns and villages turned into replicas of Southall, Hounslow, and other Western suburbs of London. We have heard what life is like there from the hon. Member for Putney and the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). This is what is proposed by the British Airports Authority by the 1980s when there will not be all that number of planes with the new, quieter engines—and, if they do have them, they are not all that quiet when they take off.
I submit that the insensitivity and, indeed, the arrogance of those who could dredge up such a plan is quite staggering in 1970. I believe it to be excelled only by their effrontery in presenting their 350 plan to the public for serious consideration. It is appalling that such a change in our environment could be proposed by a public authority. In my view, it shows an attitude of contempt for the public that is, in itself, contemptuous. I believe that all the local authorities, which are in agreement on this matter, are right to call a halt to this development and to hold a public inquiry.
I should now like to turn to atmospheric pollution caused by man's activities and to refer to the need for research. It is not a question of further research. I have pointed out the need for action and a will to act in a civilised and firm manner. However, it is highly desirable—this is within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution—that there should be further research in this sphere because there is a need for it.
To make this point, I should like to elaborate briefly on a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather). The House will recall that he referred to two forces at work. The first is the effect of carbon dioxide which causes a rise in the temperature. In this connection, the modern jet injects carbon dioxide into the upper atmosphere. That is what those nice, harmless-looking vapour trails are telling us when we see them in the sky.
My hon. Friend then pointed to the other force at work, which is the buildup of atmospheric dustiness caused by motor cars and by industry, to which the hon. Member for Llanelly referred, and by fertilisers which, if allowed to go unchecked, will reduce the earth's temperature. It must or could be comforting to some to think that this could be countered by the heating effects of carbon dioxide. But it would seem that the build-up of atmospheric dustiness is having a more influential effect than the accumulation of carbon dioxide. This is my impression. This is what some people argue at the conferences which have taken place on this subject, and I indebted in large measure for my information to the Report of the United Kingdom Scientific Mission to North America.
On that basis we might come to the conclusion that to counteract the cooling effect of atmospheric dust the more jets 351 there are in the atmosphere emitting heat-producing carbon dioxide the better, but some scientists, not all, hold the view that jet contrails—vapour trails as we usually call them—because they can lead to the extensive formation of cirrus clouds, could increase the cloud cover and thus effectively cut off the sun's rays and reduce the earth's temperature.
Obviously more needs to be known, and not just for academic reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher referred to the fact that the earth's temperature seems to be getting cooler. Certainly since 1940 it has been dropping, and continues to fall at the rate of 0.2 degrees in 20 years. Last year the North Atlantic coverage, the ice cap, was the most extensive for 60 years. That rather depressing and chilly thought leads me to the fact that the last ice age resulted from a drop in average temperature of between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It may not concern us, but it may concern our children, and it certainly will concern our grandchildren.
As I see it, there is nothing academic or remote about research into the effects on our climate of man-made pollutants, and not least do I hope that due weight will be given by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to the need—and this is the rather unglamorous side of its work—to establish standards so that when pollution is being measured we know precisely what standards are being used. The Royal Commission should use methods universally agreed upon and, one hopes, universally accepted, because many of us are somewhat sceptical.
There are people who will challenge one standard and then come back and rebut it with their arguments, and one finds that scientists are arguing about different things; about different standards of measurement. I am sure that this will be an increasingly important part of the work of the Royal Commission, because control of our environment is expensive. The benefits are usually intangible, and many vested interests, private and public, can, and often do, feel threatened. And, not least, there is the apathy of the public with which to contend.
It seems to me that we shall need to establish standard methods for measuring and monitoring pollution of various 352 kinds so that all of us will trust the evidence and thereby establish the need for action; and not only the need for action, but the will to take it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that we are just over half way through the second of 10 debates. Reasonably brief speeches will help those who will be waiting in the wings tonight to debate later topics.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
After an enforced silence of nearly six years it is a sort of quasi-maiden speech that I am attempting to put over tonight, and I am pleased that an opportunity has been given to me so early in the life of this Parliament to talk about pollution.
I should like, first, to congratulate my two hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and Llanelly (Mr. Denzil Davies) on what I thought were two confident maiden speeches. We look forward to hearing them again and again in the short term from that side of the House, and not this.
Tonight I do not want to talk about environmental pollution as it affects the sea, the land, and the air, and I do not want to talk about aircraft noise or rivers, except one river in particular—and thereby hangs a tale, because that river runs right through the centre of the town in the biggest part of my constituency, Castleford. Castleford has had this basic problem ever since the mid-1940s and the early 1950s, and through the 1960s it has become progressively worse. A former Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan—then Minister of Housing and Local Government—realised the problem of pollution and set up a Committee to look into all the aspects of synthetic detergents, and to report. The Committee made an interim report on 16th February, 1954—about 16 years ago.
The following facts emerged from that Report. Owing to the use of synthetic detergents there was a rise in the incidence of dermatitis and other health hazards; a failure of some domestic equipment, especially plumbing equipment; and reduced operational efficiency at sewage works—something about which many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have spoken tonight. But the main thing that 353 came out of the Report was the excessive foaming in the rivers—especially the River Aire, which is the worst of all our rivers.
On 9th January, 1957 the then Minister of Housing, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), set up a Standing Technical Committee on Synthetic Detergents. I shall not bother to read its terms of reference; they are there for anybody to see. The Committee had its first meeting on 25th February, so it lost no time. One of its terms of reference was to report progress at least once a year, but it did better than that. It first reported on 29th October of the same year. I am sorry to say, however, that that tempo has not been maintained.
Altogether there have been 11 progress reports, and in nearly every one Castle-ford has had a dishonourable mention. A large part of the reports in the complaints section has referred to Castleford On page 17 of its Fourth Report the Committee said:We are satisfied that the new material—that is, the softer-based detergent—does not afford a complete solution of the problems arising from the use of synthetic detergents and that a further improvement of the synthetic detergent now in use or the development of a new active agent, is necessary.The Committee can say that again, because that is a great problem. During this time the members of that Committee, who have done a valuable job, have swopped reports with their counterparts in Western Germany, where a similar committee has been set up, and also with committees in the United States concerned with this problem.
In order to add weight to this pollution problem the National Farmers' Union, which by any standards is not a negative union, said that this fall-out of foam from the River Aire was rendering grassland unfit for grazing. If grassland is unfit for grazing and somebody grazes it and we eat the end-product, it will be bad for everybody.
Castleford is by far the worst affected. All the reports seem to be devoted to Castleford. I came to the House in 1961, when my predecessor passed away. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Albert Roberts) asked Questions—in December, 1961 and February, 1962 354 —but got no further with those Questions. I had numerous letters from the borough council and the chamber of trade about this problem. I also asked Questions.
Eventually, on 24th October of that same year, 1961, the members of my council, along with the officials and the Secretary of the Committee on Synthetic Detergents, met the principal officers of the Ministry of Housing. We also, a few years later, in September, 1966, met the then Minister of Land and Natural Resources, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) with a deputation. I accompanied the deputation of officers and members. We did not get much further with that. A little later we met the Parliamentary Secretary, who is now the Opposition Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish); that was in May, 1967.
Of course, suggestions were made that Castleford should try to meet the problem itself by introducing sprays on the river below the weir which is the cause of all the threshing of the foam.
The Eighth Report of the Committee gives nearly a page to Castleford and refers to some striking photographs, some of which I have here. These have been taken specially and I have plenty more. They show the magnitude of the problem. The foam in one picture is seven or eight feet high—a bus could get lost in it, and probably did on one occasion. In another, the borough council workmen are trying to hose the stuff away, at great expense and inconvenience. A third photograph is even worse. It is making me despondent just to look at them, so I will put them aside. However, if the Minister would like these photographs, I shall be pleased to let him have them, because no one wants this problem to continue.
This was brought to a head last year when the rugby football team, after winning the cup at Wembley, arrived home to a massive reception—and the foam. They thought that it was December instead of May because white foam was flying about all over the place. My car was covered in it, and I had to wash the car. This is a problem. There were thousands of people out that day and 355 they were right in the middle of this storm of foam.
It is said—I cannot use the scientific expressions because that is like reading Chinese hieroglyphics—that when one unites the anonic and nonionic substances of these base detergents, that makes more foam and thrashes it up so that it flies about all over the place—
§ Mr. Harper
I am glad to have the assent of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg). It is a pleasure to have his support on this matter.
When samples have been taken of the river, they have been found to be four or five times above the minimum levels. This should not be taken lightly.
The Ninth Report of the Committee on Synthetic Detergents made some valid points. Under H in its summary, it said:The nonionic materials in use are not readily degradable—in other words they cannot be readily gobbled up by the microbes in the river—but from the information at present available, it appears that their employment for domestic purposes only does not affect significantly the production of foam on rivers: their industrial use in localised areas does, however, aggravate the foaming of some rivers.In other words, the foaming is not caused by the housewife trying to get shirts whiter than white or using the blue whitener, but by the manufacturers upstream in the textile mills tipping all the effluent from the manufactured product into the river. This, of course, is the crux of the argument.
In paragraph 5 of the Tenth Report of the Committee, the Yorkshire and Humberside Sports Council, a very good body, said:… that stringent controls should be approved to secure the treatment of certain textile trade effluents, so as to eliminate foaming on the Rivers Aire and Calder, or alternatively, that governmental financial assistance be made available to local authorities to enable them to remedy the foam nuisance. The situation in the Yorkshire area is discussed in paragraph 10 belowbut I will not weary the House by quoting that, although it lends support to my argument.
356 I was glad to hear the suggestion that those who pour effluent into rivers should be made to pay. My town of Castleford is heavily rated and is faced with all the problems associated with the aftermath of the industrial revolution. We have a wonderful slum-clearance record, but this has, under strict financial control, placed a great burden on the rates. The foam problem is the straw that breaks the camel's back.
We have introduced sprays at the suggestion of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and I agree that officers from the Ministry have tried their best to be helpful. They have had meetings with people in Castleford, including the borough council, the British Water Board and the river authorities. Unfortunately, the sprays only mitigate the problem and do not provide a complete cure.
The final Report, the Eleventh, came out a few weeks ago. It points out that foaming has been greatly reduced. Unfortunately, I have not noticed it. The Report also says that since new base substances have been used in detergents the position is a little better. Although in 1969 the river was flowing quite freely, which helped to get the foam away, the new substances have not prevented piles of foam being blown all over the place.
The sprays help to break the foam up, but unfortunately they merely distribute the foam over a wider area. The result is that although we no longer have seven feet or eight feet high piles of foam, the same quantity of foam is spread further afield. It seems that we are fighting a losing battle, especially since detergents have increased in use by about one-third in the last six years. The sprays have had only partial success.
My local borough council is at its wit's end. It does not have a cure to the problem, apart from the possibility of lowering the level of the weir, but that would cost a great deal of money, which Castleford Borough Council does not have. The Council has made numerous requests for financial assistance to resolve this problem, but nobody seems to have taken any notice. We shall be asking the Minister to discuss this matter with us.
I know that you like poetry, Mr. Speaker, and at this time of the evening 357 a little poem is perhaps the right way to close one's speech. Sir Walter Scott wrote:Like the Dew on the mountain,Like the Foam on the River,Like the Bubble on the Fountain,Thou art gone, and forever.Unfortunately, Sir Walter is not here today to rewrite a little of that rather sad quatrain.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I am happy to be able to start on a point of agreement with both my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) and the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). I join them in congratulating the two hon. Members who have just made their maiden speeches this evening. If I seem to utter the conventional tributes, I hope that they will accept that they are expressed with rather more than the conventional, traditional warmth. I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing from them again.
We all as new Members look forward with some apprehension to the ordeal of our maiden speech, believing that once we have it over and done with every subsequent experience will be easy. I do not want to discourage new Members by saying that it is just as bad every time we rise to make a speech in the House.
The hon. Member for East Grinstead gently chided some of my hon. Friends for introducing a polemical note into the debate, but they were only following the precedent established by preceding speakers, not least the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson), who made some comments about the changes in the structure of government following the change in Government. When he talks about the 10 Ministers who were responsible for pollution, or the control of pollution—perhaps the former way of putting it is the more accurate—he should bear in mind that in so far as they had any responsibility it was only incidental to their main Departmental functions. We know that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the Ministry responsible in some ways and in some degree for controlling the use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and so on, but it is hard to believe that it will put their control in the environmental context as 358 its first priority if the consequence is to diminish the growth of production and productivity in agriculture and the industries for which the Ministry is responsible. Likewise, we can see the difficulties of the Minister of Technology in this respect.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not trying to suggest that the Minister of Agriculture would allow the use of any pesticide, regardless of its effect, just because it was known to kill, say, greenfly? This responsibility is not incidental but crucial to the whole of his duties.
§ Mr. Walker
Every Minister must continually make decisions balancing various considerations. We should be naïve if we ignored the fact that a Minister will tend to see his success in terms of the primary responsibility of his Department. For example, he might be seeking an accolade for increasing the production of motor cars but at the same time be very conscious of the possible detrimental effect on the atmosphere of motor car exhaust emission. But, realising that the introduction of stringent regulations might impede the production of motor cars, he would be only human to tend to look for all the arguments why he should not introduce regulations and why he should seek to facilitate the production of motor cars.
No doubt it was this, among many other considerations, that guided my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister to appoint a senior Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating the duties of the various Departments in this respect, so that when they were involved in the collective business of decision making within the Government he could intervene at the appropriate stage to point out to the Ministers their responsibilities towards the improvement of the environment.
Out of respect for the hour and the pressures on hon. Members, I do not want to pursue that line. I agree with the point made by the hon. Gentleman and others that there is universal and growing concern about pollution of the environment, and no party has a monopoly of good intentions or virtue in this respect.
We all recognise, also, the contradictions with which we continually find ourselves confronted in this broad field, such 359 as the contradiction between the demand of hon. Members for motorways and our legitimate anxiety to preserve the countryside. We all want motorways, but we do not want them to go through our constituencies.
There is also the demand, repeatedly expressed, for growth in the production of solid smokeless fuels so that we may have clean air, but there is the conflict that presents us with the recognition that the very production of those fuels in itself adds to atmospheric pollution in the localities where the producer plants are situated. Because of such a development in the vicinity of my constituency, I am sharply aware of the kind of problem we are debating. For this reason, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. Hon. Members who have spoken have linked their constituency problems to the subject of the debate. This I think has enriched the debate because we bring immediate and direct experience of the problem into discussion.
If I may I will inject a small polemical point, which I hope will be the only point of political controversy. While both parties rightly reflected in the recent General Election campaign the growing concern about pollution—in their manifestoes and speeches—I thought it rather astonishing that the party which eschews instant government gave a pledge that its decisions will be based on a careful appraisal yet almost immediately on taking office gave approval to the establishment in the vicinity of my constituency of a solid smokeless fuel production plant.
It is a coal carbonisation plant which can be only detrimental to the general environment of my constituency and the surrounding area. The site where this plant is to be established is at Rossington in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) but it is situated within a mile or so of residential development which is expanding in my constituency. Because of the effect on the constituency I think it right to draw it to the attention of the Minister. I hope that the remarks I shall make will be borne in mind by the members of the Royal Commission.
I wonder whether the Royal Commission members have seen, or will look at, these coal carbonisation plants. I wonder 360 whether the Minister who made the decision to allow the establishment of this plant to go ahead has ever seen one and has seen the effects on the immediate area in which it is located. In the Doncaster area there are 10 of these plants already. They encircle my constituency within a 15-miles radius and consume annually 5¼ million tons of coal for conversion into smokeless fuel. This will add another quarter of a million tons in volume.
There is a background of what is reported to be a national shortage of solid smokeless fuel, a shortage assumed by some to be due to the over-rapid utilisation of North Sea gas and the consequent fall-off in the production of coal These plants take in coal to extract gas and make coke or a by-product, but with the coal carbonisation plant the whole thing is stood on its head. It produces coke with gas and tars as by-products, but they have to be consumed or disposed of in some way. The noxious gases in this type of plant are burned, with the result that the emission is converted into sulphur dioxide, SO2, which is becoming increasingly recognised as one of the most harmful constituents in atmospheric pollution. It is the threat of an emission of this into the atmosphere which is only part of my concern about the establishment of this plant.
It is cruelly ironic that the demand for cleaner air means that people in areas such as my constituency must suffer dirtier air than before. I accept that if we are to have solid fuels that burn more cleanly than ordinary fuel they must be produced somewhere; but it is a question of the relationship of the plant that produces it to the urban environment.
We all recognise the need for a home to have a lavatory, but nobody in his right mind would plan a home with a lavatory in the breakfast room or sitting room; it is put a reasonable distance away. My complaint is as to the wrong juxtaposition of this plant. It is an established fact that the Doncaster area is one of the worst in the country for respiratory diseases.
I should add that my home is situated in this area, so perhaps I should declare an interest in that sense and add to my declaration of interest by saying that my wife suffers from chronic bronchitis and asthma and I am therefore very alive to 361 the problem, which is likely to be intensified by an establishment of a plant such as this.
To add to the irony of the situation, in 1967 the Doncaster County Borough Corporation established the area as a smokeless zone. Then the Minister approved the establishment there of one of these solid smokeless fuel producing plants.
I earnestly beg the Minister to look at one of these plants. I am sure that he would never tolerate one in Bury St. Edmunds. So many speakers tonight have mentioned the legacy of the industrial revolution suffered by the North Country and South Wales, with the disfigurement and scarring of the land. Are we likely to be repeating this in the twentieth century in the aftermath of the technological revolution? Hon. Members with constituencies in the relatively salubrious South would not tolerate this for one moment.
Because we in the North were born with it, we accept passively things which would cause an upsurge of opinion in the South. If the people of the southern counties want to burn solid smokeless fuel, which must be produced somewhere—we recognise that it means carrying the fuel from the industrial North to the South—I do not see why the coal should not be transported to the South and converted down here. The reaction of the people down here would be powerfully adverse.
However, the Minister has made his decision. I understand that the decision can be revoked or varied only on a point of law. It seems that we must accept the fait accompli. As we must accept this burden, we are entitled to guarantees. The Minister's decision followed a public inquiry. The inspector laid down certain conditions. We are entitled to a guarantee that those conditions will be adhered to. It is not merely the emission of noxious effluent into the atmosphere about which I am concerned. There are problems of smoke and of the emission of dust and grit.
There is also the problem of amenity. One condition was that the site must be adequately screened by trees. Heaven knows how they will flourish in that polluted atmosphere, but let us try it none the less. I urge the Minister to ensure that the tree planting is done absolutely 362 in accordance with the inspector's recommendation. Let us not have to ask, three, four or five years hence, why the recommendations have not been carried out, when by that time all we shall have to look at will be an industrial plant which cannot be dismantled.
Next, there is the question of the water which will be used and its discharge into the nearby River Torne, a pleasant little stream. The inspector laid down requirements for its condition when discharged into the river. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will satisfy me—I do not ask him to reply now, because he could have had no warning that I should raise these matters—that the Minister's attention will be drawn to my anxiety that the water shall not be discharged in such a condition as to pollute the river.
The inspector made certain observations also about the low level of sulphur dioxide emissions. Instead of merely assuming that the technical forecasts based on the advice of the technical assessor will be substantiated, regardless of monitoring, I want there to be periodic monitoring to ensure that the company establishing the plant is living up to the expectations of the inspector and, hence, the Minister.
As I said before, we in the industrial North know only too well the consequences in social, economic, industrial and environmental terms of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. I hope that we shall not have insult added to injury by being compelled to bear the scars and disfigurement of the technological revolution now. If we are to have industrial development—and, heaven knows, we need it in order to provide the jobs—let it be accompanied by a little wisdom and foresight. Let us ensure that our descendants in the 21st century do not rebuke us in our graves, as we have so often rebuked those who went before us. Let us do our utmost to see that what we leave for our children and our children's children is a land at least as fit and clean as it was when we came into it. Indeed, let us do more and make sure that it is a better one.
By a curious coincidence my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) quoted some words from Sir Walter Scott. I say "by coincidence" because, without knowing that my hon. Friend would quote that passage, I had 363 intended to close by quoting some words of Sir Walter Scott in the opening paragraph of "Ivanhoe", that great historical novel centred on South Yorkshire:In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the River Don, there existed in ancient times a large forest covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.Hon. Members may smile, but I assure them that, in spite of its industrial environment Doncaster is today in many respects a pleasant town surrounded by pleasant countryside. I see it as part of my responsibility to appeal to the House to help us keep it that way.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
I follow the happy custom of the House and congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) on their maiden speeches and the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) on, as he called it, his quasi-maiden speech. These speeches, based on deep personal experience, have added greatly to the value of this debate. I am sure that all hon. Members have welcomed the content of their speeches and the grace with which they were delivered.
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), Woking (Mr. Onslow), Esher (Mr. Mather) and East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), I wish to debate the problem of aircraft noise. To me it is significant that three Members with constituencies around Gatwick Airport have all come to the House today to voice the growing resentment about aircraft noise felt by the people they represent.
Aircraft noise is one of the major forms of pollution of the environment and it is growing rapidly. I hope that the Royal Commission will help to bring it under control and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who now, as Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, has responsibility for protecting the environment, will tackle the problem of aircraft noise with his customary energy and resourcefulness. I welcome his appointment. But, I have 364 been depressed that for most of the debate there has been no spokesman on the Opposition Front Bench. I am glad that there is one now.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say how he hopes to avoid overlapping in this task with the President of the Board of Trade who has a statutory duty to control aircraft noise. There could be some advantage in divided responsibility in a case such as this when the same Ministry is responsible for promoting air travel and, at the same time, for controlling the unpleasant side effects of it. There could be an advantage here to have, as a touchstone, a Minister independent of that Ministry to pull it up when its work threatens pollution of the environment. We must watch the development of these two responsibilities side by side and hope that they will result in greater, and not less, protection of the public. I hope that the Royal Commission will accept a major responsibility for aircraft noise and will seek a decision from Parliament on where its own responsibilities for aircraft noise end and where those of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and of the President of the Board of Trade begin.
Many of my constituents living in the neighbourhood of Gatwick are already being battered by aircraft noise day and night. Some people who find themselves disturbed in this way are beginning to leave the areas on the grounds that they can no longer stand the battering. The volume of air traffic in the area is increasing fast. At Gatwick there are already far more night jet flights than there are at Heathrow. My constituents, together with many people from neighbouring constituencies, have demanded again and again that there should be a limit on night jet flights which is no higher than that at Heathrow, namely, 3,500 during the summer. So far, in spite of all the petitions and visitations to the Board of Trade, no limit has been set, although the former President of the Board of Trade gave a promise a year ago that night jet flights at Gatwick would be limited for the tourist season in 1971.
I hope that the Royal Commission will help to ensure that the control of aircraft noise is made a major factor in the operation of airports. It should also accept 365 a special responsibility for securing control of noise when there are proposals to expand existing airports or to develop new airports. The Roskill Commission is a case in point.
My constituents now face demands—and this is a new situation—by the British Airports Authority for a tremendous expansion of Gatwick—an expansion so rapid that it is expected that by 1980 Gatwick will carry as much traffic as Heathrow now does; and all this at an airport lying in the Metropolitan Green Belt, although it had been decided at an inquiry in 1954 that Gatwick should be developed only as a minor, diversionary airport, and specific undertakings were given to that effect.
Since then, Gatwick has grown very fast, but this recent plan by the Authority for expansion is a clear attempt to develop Gatwick as a substitute for London's third airport. I was distressed by the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) for this concept. He and I agree about many things, but about this we shall have a long wrangle, both inside and outside the House.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am equally distressed to hear that this is so. May I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) that we can make common cause, which is always more profitable, if we join in pressing that the rate of development of Gatwick should be slowed down by the exclusion from it of the "candyfloss" inclusive tour traffic, which is not entitled to expect to be flown off the ground within the range of London when it would find it possible to be flown from airports at Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool?
§ Sir G. Sinclair
This is a proposal which will not be universally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Also, It would take something to persuade the airline operators to move from the airports from which they are now operating.
The proposal for the rapid expansion of Gatwick is meeting with growing resistance from those who will be affected by the increasing disturbance of the environment by aircraft noise. We hope that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will take up with vigour the 366 growing national threat of aircraft noise and will insist that any major new airports in Britain shall, because of the factor of aircraft noise, be situated on the coast so that aircraft may arrive and depart on routes mainly over the sea.
It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for Woking to say that this will not butter any parsnips, if that was his phrase, or will not bring relief to those who hope to be free of aircraft noise. He asks us to pin our faith entirely on the advent of quieter aero-engines. But why should we not pin our faith on both measures? Even if we have quieter aircraft engines, the din of a major international airport will still be considerable in the whole environment of the airport.
I should like to warn the Parliamentary Secretary—and I hope that he will pass this on to the Board of Trade—that people living around major airports are developing their organisation of protest, encouraged by the pioneering efforts of those who frustrated the stupid siting of a major airport at Stansted, to resist the further increase of aircraft noise especially when they believe that such increases are unnecessary and can be avoided without prejudicing the national interest.
Certainly those of my constituents who live round Gatwick believe that there is no need to have a major expansion of an international airport in the Green Belt and in a heavily populated area. They believe that the way for the future is to site major airports on the coast. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make it among the first of his duties to encourage such a trend in the siting of new airports.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
May I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. Denzil Davies) on the occasion of his maiden speech. It was an ideal maiden speech. He referred to his predecessor, a man greatly renowned in the House, and to his constituency and he also made a contribution to our debate on pollution. We look forward with a great deal of pleasure to listening to him in future.
We have had a wide-ranging discussion on all aspects of pollution. I want to focus attention on what may seem a parochial matter concerning my constituency. I do not, however, do this 367 in any parochial sense because I am trying to highlight the difficulties which local authorities and individuals find when confronted with the problem of pollution. In Darlington we have a river known as the River Skerne flowing through the town. It passes the new town hall, opened a few weeks ago by Princess Anne. When the town hall is landscaped this river will make a beautiful contribution to the landscaping of the town hall. It flows through the South Park in Darlington, a beautiful park frequented by thousands of citizens, and finds its way to Croft, where it joins the Tees.
This is a beautiful river but polluted. According to the Northumbrian River Authority, as a dry-water flow it contains more than 50 per cent. of sewage and trade effluents. This has caused much concern among the citizens of Darlington, who are campaigning through the Civic Society and other bodies to end the pollution of the River Skerne. This pollution was highlighted a few weeks ago when thousands of fish were found dead down river as it enters the Tees. It was found by the Northumbrian River Authority to be due to the fact that coolant was accidentally discharged by a local firm into the river.
The Authority suggested that the firm should be responsible for restocking the river at a cost of £725. A few weeks ago on 28th June thousands of other fish were found floating dead on the river. In a letter to me the Authority says:It has not been possible, notwithstanding exhaustive inquiries carried out since that date, to establish the source of this mortality which it would appear is an isolated instance of pollution from some point within the urbanised and industrial catchment area of the River Skerne.The Tory-controlled local authority says that it is not responsible for the pollution of the river, claiming that the responsibility belongs to the river authority. It cannot sustain that argument because it has a representative on the authority, which comprises eleven representatives of local authorities, and in addition it makes a substantial financial contribution to the authority.
The authority says that it is doing everything in its power to discover the reasons for the pollution. It points out 368 that a new activated-sludge treatment plant is being established at Fishburn, that at Aycliffe the sewage disposal works is being extended, and that the Darlington Corporation outer sewer running through Darlington, which is defective, is shortly to be reconstructed.
Although these steps may make a contribution towards ending some of the pollution, the citizens of Darlington feel that it might be simpler to find out who is discharging refuse into the River Skerne. Is it not possible to find out which are the 28 or 30 firms discharging surplus refuse into the river and to stop them? This seems to many people to be the simple solution.
Many local citizens are asking where the responsibility lies. Under the provisions of the Water Resources Acts, 1963 and 1968, we set up 27 river authorities for England and Wales. Darlington is, of course, in the Northumberland River Authority catchment area. The Minister of Housing has only direct control over the Water Resources Board, whereas the river authorities which have been set up by local orders under the 1963 Act are subject only to a general direction from the Ministry. The Water Resources Board is financed from central Government funds, but river authorities are financed by local authorities.
The citizens of Darlington want to know to whom the river authorities are responsible. Are they responsible to the local authorities who finance their work? As far as I can discover from researches in the Library of the House, these river authorities do not issue an annual report. Nobody seems to know what they do, unless a representative happens to report back to the local council. We need public accountability. We wish to know whether these river authorities are too complacent.
Surely it would be possible for a river authority to establish a register of firms which discharge refuse into our rivers. Having established this register, firms should be asked whether there is some alternative method of disposing of the waste. To carry out this task we need a Minister with overall responsibility in this House, rather than that these functions should be discharged by perhaps the Minister of Agriculture, the Home Secretary and other Ministers.
369 We have not only to consider the danger to environment but to recognise that there is a great deal of good will in our community which seeks to get rid of pollution and to improve the environment. But this good will is being frustrated by the machinery which has been imposed. This machinery in some instances stands between the public and a solution of its problems, but I suggest that there is a great deal of complacency over the local problem of making the River Skerne pure. With a little effort it should be possible to decide how many firms are polluting the river.
If the river authority has not sufficient staff, it is the duty of local authorities to increase their financial contribution to enable it to carry out this work. Unless we are prepared to be more vigorous in approaching these semiautonomous bodies and in making them responsive to our needs, the further off becomes the solution. Local authorities are very close to the people who elect them and local councillors are responsive to local citizens. But the river authority, which embraces 11 authorities, is a little remote, and we want to know where responsibility lies. They are rather like Mahomet's coffin, suspended between heaven and hell without visible means of support. They do not appear to be responsible to anyone except in a fragmented way.
I am asking whether the Government can assert their authority and induce the river authorities to shed their complacency and try, in the first instance, to keep a register of firms which are polluting our rivers. Secondly, are the Government prepared to give river authorities the power to fine firms which pollute rivers? We all know that the owners of ships can be fined for discharging oil into the sea, but firms can discharge effluent into rivers without being reprimanded. Finally, in European Conservation Year, is it possible for the Minister to persuade river authorities to let the public know what is happening, perhaps by publishing annual reports, so that there can be communication between those who want to clean up our environment and those who have the power to get on with the job?
My few remarks may seem parochial in character. However, I hope that they 370 will focus attention on the fact that there is a great deal of good will in our towns and cities to combat the problems of pollution, but that this good will is being frustrated. If it works at all, it seems to work very slowly. I hope especially that the Government will look at the situation of the Northumbrian River Authority with a view to inducing it to get on with the job of cleaning up Darlington's River Skerne.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. David Clark (Colne Valley)
I feel privileged to address this House as the hon. Member for Colne Valley, and I begin by saying how conscious I am of the radical traditions of my constituency. I feel that my constituents would approve of this subject for my maiden speech, because I believe that pollution will be one of the major political issues in Britain and throughout the world in the 1970s.
As far back as 1895, the Colne Valley constituency was contested by that eminent trade union leader, Tom Mann. Almost to the day, 63 years ago Victor Grayson captured the seat and the imagination of working people throughout Britain. In more recent years, the constituency has been represented by such illustrious names as Philip Snowden and the beloved Glenvil Hall. I am conscious of the historic mantle which I inherit.
In a sense, I am probably unique in that on these benches sit two hon. Members who formerly represented Colne Valley. I refer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). It is widely known, too, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was born and spent his early years in Colne Valley.
It is not only an historic constituency politically. It also has a long industrial tradition. In times past, the Pennine valleys were covered with trees. They were gradually cleared as the Yorkshire woollen industry got under way and we began to graze sheep. As the woollen industry emerged, they saw the appearance of mill towns, with their chimneys and mechanisation. The woollen industry remains. It makes a great contribution to our national economy and our exports.
371 In spite or being an historic industrial constituency, it is also a large rural constituency. It suffers from industrial obsolescence and mining dereliction. In many ways, the problems referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and Llanelly (Mr. Denzil Davies) are also faced in the industrial areas of Colne Valley. It is an area to the north-east of Manchester and to the north-west of the Sheffield, Doncaster area of about 20 to 25 miles wide which suffers severely from atmospheric pollution. There are very few trees. In fact, there is very little vegetation apart from the sparse cotton grass. Yet, under the peat, one can find the remains of trees and vegetation. But the problem remains that trees and vegetation grow on that land with difficulty.
The smokeless zones to the east and to the west have helped somewhat. Although the smokeless zones have taken the carbon out of the air, we are still left with the sulphur dioxide. This may be increasing, not decreasing, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker).
The Forestry Commission in 1964 commissioned a fairly wide study of the area and came to the conclusion that trees would grow only with difficulty, because the sulphur dioxide was so acute that it was killing the trees. It seems a sad fact that unless we can prove that SO2 is severely deleterious to human beings we are unable to get action.
It seems that the tall chimneys in the greater Manchester area which belch out sulphur dioxide keep Manchester fairly clear of the SO2, but they do not keep my constituency free of it. The prevailing winds from the south-west blow the sulphur dioxide away from the tops of the chimneys across to the Pennine Hills and then it falls with the rain. This causes severe hardship. The Forestry Commission has estimated that wire fencing in the Hebden Bridge and Colne Valley areas corrodes five times faster than that on the North Yorkshire Moors.
The facts about the amount of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere are not really known. In a letter from the Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council, dated 13th April, I get the information: 372… indications are that the level of sulphur dioxide in some parts of the Pennines at least is not declining and may indeed be increasingYet, a letter seven days later from the Forestry Commission says that there have beenspectacular smoke reductions following applications of the Clean Air Act but far smaller reductions in SO2.Smokeless zones do not help areas like Colne Valley. We are in a vicious circle. Because there is no vegetation on the hillsides the soil is rapidly getting run down. We sometimes forget that the earth is a living body. The peat is getting worn away and we are left with untidy and unsightly rocky screeds.
How do we break out of this vicious circle? Doctor Weisser, a German, suggested in 1961 that in areas such as the Manchester conurbation and other large cities it would be advisable to plant trees. He was advocating that trees would purify the air not only organically but also physically. He calculated that spruces are capable of arresting approximately 12 tons, scots pines 14 tons and beeches 18 tons of dust per acre. This is the physical filtering. On top of that we have the organic filtering of the trees absorbing the polluted air and cleansing it before exhaling it.
But we are again in the vicious circle that if we plant trees we must have an economic return. I believe that it is problems like this which the Royal Commission will have to look into and solve.
It seems apparent that the problems which I encounter in my constituency are to be found in many others. We have the problem of derelict coal mines. We have the problem of polluted rivers. We have the problem of polluted air. I am pleading for more money to be spent on this worth while project. I suppose I am regarded as one of the younger generation. I think that we of the younger generation can perhaps forgive our elders for their political mistakes, but I do not think that we shall forgive the elder members of the community if they do not help us to get rid of the scars of pollution.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
It is my privilege to congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) on his maiden speech. It is a 373 privilege which I have never been able to exercise before in my many years in the House. It is a particular privilege to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a memorable maiden speech on a subject which is very dear to my heart, and to the hearts of many hon. Members, but which often gets forgotten when we are discussing what some of us would describe as the great issues of the day. This is a great issue of the day, and the hon. Gentleman was right to say so.
The hon. Gentleman paid a graceful tribute to his distinguished predecessors, and he went on to speak with sincerity and real understanding of the problem which besets the area which he represents. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to tackle at the outset the problem of preserving life itself before he set about any of the other problems in his constituency, and I hope that we shall have him as an ally on this subject on many future occasions. I am sure that when he speaks on this and on any other subject he will be a most welcome addition to our debates.
I do not want to detain the House for very long. Pollution is an ugly word, and we have heard it used all too often tonight, but the fact that so many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate shows that there is tremendous interest in the subject, both in the House and outside, and that the House of Commons is determined to tackle the problem in this Parliament.
The procedure on which we hang this debate is that there is a Royal Commission in being, and that a sum of money is being voted to help it in its work, but a Royal Commission solves nothing by its acts. It may produce valuable suggestions, but it does not of itself solve the problem. I hope that the Royal Commission will tackle the problem in the widest sense. Many aspects of the problem have been ventilated this evening. The Commission 374 must tackle the problem of air, earth and water, as they are all polluted in one way or another. The problem of noise has also been mentioned, and I hope that the Commission will bear that in mind and take into consideration the stress which that noise produces.
I hope that the Royal Commission will make many helpful suggestions about the way in which Government Departments and other public agencies can collaborate the one with the other to see that one does not frustrate the work of the other, because all too often the good work which is done in one direction is undone in another.
The Royal Commission may suggest a Ministerial or Government structure which is the better able to tackle the problem, but a good beginning could be made now without the help of the Commission, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us a bit about the ways in which Government Departments are able, or intend, to see that their own activities, or activities for which they have a responsibility, do not frustrate each other, and make sure that at the outset of this new Parliament, before the Royal Commission has made any recommendations, a start is made on dealing with the problem.
I am not asking for instant government. I do not ask my hon. Friend to unfold a new Ministerial structure. That may not be what is required, but what my hon. Friend can do this evening is to give an assurance that the Government are aware of the grave nature of the problem, and perhaps give us just a little glimpse of what the Government have in mind for a Ministerial structure, or an agency of some kind within the Government, which will ensure that all Government Departments are aware of the problem and do not frustrate each other's actions. I hope that a start can be made on dealing with the problem before the Royal Commission reports.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
By any measure this has been an excellent debate to which, without exception, 16 hon. Members on both sides of the House have made most interesting and valuable contributions. The debate has been distinguished by no fewer than four maiden speeches—two Welsh, one Scottish and one English. It must be something of a record that we have had three Celtic maiden speeches in a debate on the Consolidated Fund. I sincerely congratulate all four hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Murray), who was the first of our maiden speakers, spoke eloquently of his constituency, and I was particularly touched by his concern for the solitary trout in the river which he described going through it. I was recently at the Commonwealth Games. I did not see the advertisement to which he referred, but I congratulate him on a very worthy maiden speech.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) delivered what I am sure the House will agree was a model maiden speech. It was brief, it was lucid and it was sincere. I am sure that the whole House will want to hear him many times again. The same goes for the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. Denzil Davies). For his predecessor, who bears my name, the whole House had the highest possible regard. He follows a great Parliamentarian and a great servant of this country. The hon. Member for Llanelly spoke not only of industry but of the gunnery range with which he suggested his constituency is threatened, and although I shall not be able to answer his points on that matter I shall gladly write to him as soon as I am able.
Finally of the maiden speakers, we had the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark), who also spoke with the utmost sincerity and conviction. I am sure that to all four hon. Members the House will wish a good and long future with us.
For the rest, the debate has illustrated the immense amount of interest that them is in this subject. That so many hon. Members have contributed in so many different ways illustrates what a 376 wide-ranging and even discursive subject the pollution of the environment can be. We had extensive references to exhaust fumes, aircraft noise, penguins and peregrine falcons, lorry parks, cirrus clouds, the movement of the ice cap, and synthetic detergents, and no fewer than two quotations from Sir Walter Scott.
The House will appreciate that it is virtually impossible for me to reply to all those diverse points tonight, but wherever possible I shall write to hon. Members on the constituency issues which they have raised. But on one thing we can be sure; the House of Commons tonight has done its job—first in reflecting the rising concern of the country over the threat of pollution of our environment and, secondly, in giving a lead, by way of hon. Members' efforts, to looking at the problem seriously and making practical and sensible proposals how best to try to tackle it. I doubt whether a Royal Commission has ever received from one short debate so much profound and eloquent advice. I am sure that both the Chairman and the members of the Royal Commission will take carefully into account what hon. Members have said.
The Government take the whole question of pollution with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, any responsible Administration is bound to regard the care of the environment as one of the most important—in some ways it is the most vital—of all our social services. It is important because our standard of living and, more important, the quality of the life we lead are inseparable from, to a large extent are a function of, the physical context in which we work and bring up our families. It is vital because without clean air we choke and without abundant and clean water we die.
I do not say that a man cannot enjoy a full and rich life in a grimy and ugly environment. Manifestly, that would be untrue. But, increasingly, as our lives grow more mechanised, our cities more congested, our leisure more pre-packaged and mass produced, there is a growing awareness that nature, in the widest sense of the word, is man's most precious possession. I think that we are coming to understand that the physical world is not, as we once thought, indestructible, but that it can be and is being destroyed.
377 Already there is a dawning consciousness in this country that, as a nation and perhaps as a species, man has only one world to pollute. If this one is ruined, then, at least in this life, we have no other. A deep and uneasy awareness of this fact is now beginning to make itself felt among all sections of our population, but especially among young people, When I was talking to a group of youngsters the other day, one of them said, "Pop equals power". He was referring not to popular music but to population. He was making the point, which has been made this evening, that it is simply the growth of people and goods that itself is producing so much more pollution which needs to be handled each year.
The Government share the country's growing concern for our environment. That is why, in the Queen's Speech, we undertook to intensify the drive to remedy past damage to the environment and to do our best to safeguard the beauty of the British countryside and seashore for the future.
By "the environment" we mean not only the countryside and our incomparable coastal scenery: we mean, and we must mean, the air we breathe, the water we drink and wash with and, not least, our urban environment, including the quality of our housing and the amenities of our built-up areas. Many of these older built-up areas are in urgent need of improvement if the quality of life of those who live in them is, as we all hope, to be improved.
Several hon. Members referred in detail to the problems of derelict land. But it is not enough in my view to speak only of our derelict areas and the eyesores of yesterday. Equally, we have to ensure, by intelligent urban planning, that the new housing estates and the new industrial areas which are springing up all over the country do not in the process destroy or disfigure the beauty of our rural areas and are also in themselves pleasant places in which to live.
The detail and much of the speed at which these things can be achieved are subjects which are far too wide to be dealt with in tonight's debate, but because several hon. Members have raised it, I should perhaps say something about the organisation of Government agencies concerned 378 in the fight against pollution. Both under the former Labour Government and at present, executive responsibilities for the control of particular forms of pollution rest with those Departments which have the most closely related functions.
For example, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which is concerned with environmental health, water supplies, water management, sewage and refuse disposal and so on, naturally looks after clean air and water pollution. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is naturally concerned with the use of agricultural chemicals and the protection of fisheries. In Scotland and Wales direct responsibility lies with the Secretaries of State.
In October, 1969, the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), whom I would have liked to have seen in his place tonight, was given responsibility for co-ordinating the work of executive Departments and he was assisted in this work by a small scientific and administrative staff attached to the Cabinet Office, where it is still in operation.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his review of Government, is giving close consideration to how best to co-ordinate Ministerial responsibilities in this, as in all other, spheres. In the meantime, normal arrangements have been made to ensure that there is the necessary inter-Departmental co-ordination on pollution, pending the completion of this review. As soon as it is possible to do so, I am sure that the Prime Minister will be advising the House, probably in the autumn.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Until the review is completed, which Minister will be responsible for initiating any activity in which it might be desired to engage for the purpose of, for example, comparing problems between Departments? Secondly, when is the review likely to be completed and when are we likely to know its outcome?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I said, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point, that a statement would be made as soon as possible.
I was going on to say—this answers his first question—that in the meantime I can assure the House that the various 379 Departments, many of which I have mentioned, will continue to exercise their executive functions. Normal arrangements have been made to ensure that there is the necessary co-ordination between them.
I can also assure the House that the Royal Commission is continuing its valuable work, under Sir Eric Ashby, and that the Government are considering most carefully the many valuable proposals—there were about 30—contained in the White Paper published earlier this year.
I do not think the House would expect me, at this early stage and in view of the review which is under way, to give anything beyond a general welcome to the proposals made in the White Paper, though I shall be mentioning some of them during my remarks.
The House will be glad to know that in one sphere, the pollution of the sea by oil, we have already given effect to one of the White Paper's suggestions by reintroducing last week the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, which will give effect in the United Kingdom to the international agreements reached by I.M.C.O., the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton), whom I regret not to see in his place, raised the subject of the East Grimstead chalk inquiry, and I well understand how he feels.
§ Mr. Griffiths
No. I referred to East Grimstead, with an "m" not an "n".
I can only say in reply to the points raised by my hon. Friend that the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), dealt with these points in an Adjournment debate recently. I have nothing to add, except to point out that the East Grimstead planning case has been fully considered by the Parliamentary Commissioner and by the Council on Tribunals. It has also been the subject of three separate debates in the House, and my hon. Friend in any case has referred certain aspects of the matter 380 yet again to the Parliamentary Commissioner. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that in the circumstances the best thing we can do is to wait for the Parliamentary Commissioner's report.
I turn now to the three aspects of pollution on which I want to concentrate this evening—noise, clean water and pollution of the air we breathe.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am very much afraid that I shall not be able to deal in any detail with dereliction tonight, simply because it is a subject that proliferates in so many different directions. So many hon. Members have contributed to the debate on that matter that I think it would be better if I give more detailed consideration to the points made about dereliction, and I will gladly write to the hon. Gentleman about them. I think that the balance of the debate has been directed to the problems of noise, clean air and clean water, and I propose to deal with those primarily.
On noise, we have had interesting contributions from a number of my hon. Friends who are concerned above all about Gatwick. We had further contributions on the whole question of aircraft engines—the question of retro-fits—and there were seven points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather). We shall certainly study the seven palliatives that he put forward in his interesting speech.
My own attitude to noise is not least conditioned by the fact that I think my constituency has the second largest number of aircraft movements in the country—more than Gatwick, for with the two American air bases of Lakenheath and Mildenhall and the very large R.A.F. base in Honington we manage to combine in West Suffolk an air traffic pattern and number of movements second only to London Airport. So I am very conscious of the problems of noise, and I accept that of all forms of pollution this is the one about which the general public is most immediately and most painfully aware.
We are all being subjected in our daily lives to increasing interference and 381 annoyance from noise. It is a by-product—some say an inevitable by-product—of economic progress and new technical developments, but to many people it is an increasingly unacceptable by-product. I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) and Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) have stressed that this evening.
There is, unfortunately, no single or dramatic stroke of policy by which we can hope to get the better of noise. The sources of noise are multifarious, from the macro-noises of aircraft traffic and heavy industry down to such local vexations as the next door neighbour's motor mower. Noise is a nuisance which unfortunately presents its own peculiar problems, and each must be studied and tackled in a different way.
But there are two broad approaches to protecting people from noise. One is to keep people and noise apart and the other is to reduce the noise at its source. Separating people from noise can be achieved either by the erection of barriers to shut out existing noises—for example, by giving grants for sound-proofing houses, or by physically keeping noisy activities away from human habitations. To some extent this can and should be achieved by the careful siting of major roads or, in the case of aircraft, by minimum noise routeing, by noise-abatement take-off and landing procedures and perhaps for Heathrow, which presents the biggest problem, by the imposition of curbs on night jet movements in the summer.
But the other approach probably holds the greater hope for the future, and that is to cut down the noise itself. Quite clearly, we must seek to design and to introduce as quickly as possibly quieter vehicles and aircraft. Scientific standards governing noise of new vehicles were incorporated in Regulations introduced in 1968. I am glad to say that they are having art immediate and beneficial effect on the noise levels of new vehicles coming on to our roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) said that cars exported to Germany had to have quieter engines than those allowed to be driven on British roads. I must tell him that as of now his information is incorrect. The new Regulations, which came into 382 force I think, last April, set maxima for noise which are at the same level as those now observed in Europe. The further tightening of these standards is at present being discussed within the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and will go further than anything that has been proposed in any other European country. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that on that limited point we are making some worth while progress.
Earlier this year the United Kingdom was the first country to introduce an international aircraft noise certification scheme which was recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. This lays down noise standards for future types of subsonic jet airliner. This will mean that the new types, when they come into operation, will be roughly half as noisy as current types. The importance of these new measures lies less in their short-term effects, I accept—although these will not be negligible—they lie mainly in the prospect of progressive lessening of noise in years to come.
I will say a word about the noise problem at airports. The Roskill Commission is doing important pioneering work on the implications of noise for the siting of new airports. I am sure that it will take note of the views expressed today, in particular those by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham. It is only right to be blunt about this: one has to admit that there is no way in which large numbers of modern aircraft can be flown into and out of a major airport without inflicting noise nuisance on at least some people. This has to be faced. The object, of course, must be to inflict as little nuisance as possible on as few people as possible, subject always to the overriding demands of flight safety.
It is a regrettable fact that the pattern of existing settlement around our major airports is such that relief to some almost always has to be won by increasing disturbance to others and the problem becomes one of how to strike a balance between acute disturbance to a few and moderate disturbance to many. This process, as the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) knows well, necessarily involves a great deal of trial and error and in the end no single answer is right.
383 I say a word about Gatwick since so many hon. Members have mentioned it. We are fully aware of the long-term proposals put forward by the British Airports Authority for the expansion of Gatwick Airport. These proposals are however at an informal stage and have been publicised at that stage with a view to seeking the views of all those concerned, in particular the views of the county councils which will be affected. It would therefore be premature to decide how these proposals are to be handled if and when—and there is no certainty about this—they are eventually embodied in a formal planning application. Until they are embodied in such a formal planning application, there is nothing which could formally be referred to a public inquiry commission. All that the Minister has before him at present is a comparatively minor proposal for an extension of the main runway.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend is entitled to his view. What is minor to some is major to others. I hope that he will accept that all that we have before us is the proposal for the extension of a runway and not some massive proposals for the aggrandisement of Gatwick as a whole. This proposal for extending the main runway is to be the subject of a public inquiry in November.
§ Mr. Hordern
Although the draft land use application which has been presented by the Airports Authority is not strictly speaking a firm proposal as such, nevertheless the implications and side effects of such proposals, if they were carried out, would be considerable. Our fear is that if the Roskill Commission reports in the meantime about the suitability of a place for the third London airport the subsequent information which would be derived from a proper and independent commission reporting on the development of the land use proposals would by then have been overtaken by events. That is why we want to have a special commission of inquiry into the Airports Authority's proposals on the land use proposals now.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point of view, though he is putting two hypothetical points to me. The 384 first is that, if the Airports Authority's land use proposals—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It helps the Official Reporters and the debate if the Minister addresses his hon. Friend through the Chair.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend is putting to me two hypothetical possibilities. One is that the Airports Authority's land use scheme now being discussed is to become fact or is to become a hard proposal. This is not yet the case. It may never be the case. At the moment it is simply a talking point. Second, my hon. Friend postulates what would happen if the Roskill Commission were to arrive at certain conclusions. He will not expect me to anticipate either of these hypothetical conclusions.
The Government recognise the strong public interest in any long term proposals for expanding Gatwick and we see the need for any such proposals to be considered in the light of local and regional implications. We shall have in mind the recent South East Joint Planning Study. We shall be keeping in continuous touch with the county councils concerned. If and when proposals for expanding Gatwick are put to us—they have not been put to us as yet—we will take into account local authority views and the views of anyone else concerned, including my hon. Friends in every case, in deciding how the relevant planning issues should then be handled.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
I do not indulge in nit picking with my hon. Friend, but there is a proposal for the expansion of Gatwick Airport. The extension of the runway is regarded as part of the expansion. I know that it is a separate proposal from the other one and it is not regarded by any of those who live in the area or by anybody associated with the local authorities as a minor proposal. I want to get that point clear to my hon. Friend, because it is an important proposal designed to expand the airport.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will bear that point closely in mind.
While on the broad question of aircraft noise, may I say a few words about the question of supersonic boom. We intend 385 drawing up proposals for the banning of commercial supersonic flights over the United Kingdom as was envisaged in the White Paper, "The Protection of the Environment". However, we shall—I think rightly—consider comments from all interested parties on these proposals before finally deciding what action to take.
Before I leave the question of noise, may I at least give the assurance that in the coming months the Government will be reviewing the whole range of noise abatement measures. In this we shall continue to have the advice and assistance of the Noise Advisory Council, at whose meeting I was privileged to take the chair this afternoon. In the normal way the deliberations of the Noise Advisory Council are confidential, but I think it worth while telling hon. Members who have raised various points that such questions as noise from motor cycles, future types of aircraft, including vertical takeoff, and questions of retrofit are certainly very much in the mind and on the agenda of the Advisory Council.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Can my hon. Friend say whether noise meters were also discussed? These are crucial to the effective introduction of the motor Regulations.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I cannot tell my hon. Friend precisely what was on the agenda at a meeting which took place this afternoon and was confidential. I take his point and I think it very likely that it will not be overlooked.
We cannot undertake to find a new and hitherto unnoticed solution. The broad lines of attack on noise problems are already well known. What matters in the end will depend on the results of the extensive programme of research in which the Government, the research councils and private industry are already engaged. I assure the House, however, that we are fully alive to this problem and we shall carefully consider any and all proposals which the Noise Advisory Council may put to us.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to say a word about my point that aircraft noise is distinct from all other noises, because in the case of every other noise it is possible for the citizen who is gravely affronted to take legal action, whereas in the case of 386 aircraft noise it is not? Is the possibility that this bar might be removed among the thinking of either the Aircraft Noise Council or the Government?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I cannot answer that question in detail but will tell the hon. Member that we take note of what he has said.
I turn now to water pollution, which is another area on which many hon. Members have commented. The major source of pollution of our fresh water is effluent, from homes and from industry. Intermittent but sometimes severe pollution is caused by run-off from urban roads, for example, following heavy rain. This run-off of surface water can be both highly polluting itself or the cause of pollution, because some foul sewers—and most of the older sewers carry both foul and surface water—discharge crude sewage through the storm overflows. Pollution can also be caused by run-off from agricultural land. Fertilisers are the main contributors, although they do not as yet present a serious problem.
There is always the risk, too, of accidental pollution of water from spillages of oil and from chemicals. All these sources will produce greater polluting loads in the future. The Water Resources Board has estimated that the consumption of water will double by the end of the century and this, in turn, will mean doubling at least our sewage treatment capacity over the next 25 to 30 years. I say "at least" because standards of sewage treatment will often have to be higher than at present to maintain even our present water quality.
Increased urban development and new motorways will also increase surface water run-off. The development of intensive agriculture will mean more stock and more organic wastes to be disposed of. Pollution will also increase in variety, especially pollution from chemicals, and some new pollutants, too, are likely to present special problems.
The problem before us, therefore, is substantial, but, to put its dimensions into perspective, I should remind the House that natural water itself is never pure. Indeed, if it were, it would not be satisfactory for drinking. Nor will any stream have travelled far before it, too, contains decaying matter and dead organisms. Fortunately, rivers, to a large 387 extent, are self-purifying. A clean river which is polluted at one point can recover downstream.
So the crucial question in water pollution is largely one of volume, and how much organic or industrial waste is disposed of into the river in proportion to its water flow. This has close relevance to the point made by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper). If the amount of organic waste is large in relation to the river's flow, a shortage of dissolved oxygen develops, which is harmful to some vegetable and to all animal life, game fish being especially susceptible. Incidentally, if the dissolved oxygen is reduced to zero, which can happen, the self-purification of a river stops, and it may itself stink.
In the same way, many kinds of industrial wastes are toxic above certain concentrations. Oil, too, is another great enemy. It can reduce the self-purifying properties of fresh water and seriously impair amenities.
I have stated these things as bluntly as I can to the House because, faced with these pollutants and with the mounting problem of providing more water for our people and keeping it clean for washing and drinking, we have a problem before us. Nevertheless, Britain, I am glad to say, has a record of preventing water pollution by the control of sewage and trade effluent discharges that is second to none in the industrial world. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East, will note what I have said.
We have comprehensive control of river pollution under the Rivers Acts of 1951 and 1961. It is an offence in this country to cause or knowingly permit any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter a stream or to discharge trade or sewage effluent into a stream without the consent of the river authority. There is, however, no comprehensive control over discharges into the sea or over discharges into the larger estuaries if they began before 1960. I am not satisfied with this situation.
Against that background, the cleaning up of the rivers has to be regarded as an essay in gradualness. Essentially, it depends upon the local authority or the industry which discharges liquid waste 388 to the river treating that waste before discharge to a standard at which it does not harm the river for its subsequent use.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Would not the hon. Gentleman accept that in this case not only does it depend on the local authority or the industry but it depends also on the Government centrally providing financial assistance to ensure that the local authority and/or industry takes the necessary measures?
§ Mr. Griffiths
It is certainly the task of the central Government to have oversight of these things. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will wait a few moments till I come to some of the proposals before dealing with the point which he raises. In general, the problem is this. The discharger's primary concern is to get rid of the waste as quickly and as cheaply as possible. In the process, many lengths of streams and rivers have been polluted, often to the extent of making them incapable of supporting fish life.
The Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Acts have almost certainly halted that worsening process. Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East pointed out, perhaps three out of five of our existing sewerage works still produce effluents of a lower standard than the consents of the river authorities require. We still have a long way to go before all sewerage works are achieving the standards already set, commonly known as the Royal Commission standards. We recognise that in some instances these standards are inadequate, although in some rivers, for example, the Lea, standards are already higher and this is a matter for some credit. But in general we believe that standards need to be related to the needs of the river at the point of discharge, the dilution available, the use to which the water downstream is to be put, and so on.
Most of the other questions which my hon. Friend asked in the course of a profound and notable speech, about the extension of control of discharges into estuaries, safety precautions for the storage of potential polluters and so on, have already been studied by one or other of the two bodies whose reports are to be published shortly.
In the face of restraint on capital expenditure, river authorities in recent 389 years have felt inhibited from pressing upon local authorities their duty to spend money to bring their effluents up to standard, at least to raise their standards. Being unable to press local authorities for improvements because of the financial restrictions placed upon them by the Labour Government, they may also have been more lenient with industrial dischargers than they or we would like.
In a word, this is not good enough. This is one of the many undesirable consequences of a lower rate of economic growth which holds back the amount of money and real resources which may be devoted even to such necessities as the prevention of water pollution. The Government, I am glad to say, are very conscious of the need to prevent water pollution in order to safeguard our sources of water supply and to preserve the amenities and the recreational value of our surface waters.
But we have to be sure of getting value for our money, and that brings me to the right organisation for administering our water services and those who are responsible for sewerage. We shall study with the greatest care and speed the views of the Central Advisory Water Committee, which is considering the future organisation of these services, and will, I hope, report by the end of the year. I hope, too, that a preliminary report of the Rivers Pollution Survey will be available shortly. When we have the full results, we shall be able to see more clearly where the need for expenditure on improvement is greatest.
The report of the Technical Committee on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes is to be published in August. Present arrangements for the disposal of such wastes may well offer too many opportunities for people who are concerned to get rid of them quickly and cheaply rather than to dispose of them safely, and we shall have to consider what better arrangements are necessary in the light of that report. I expect the report of the Working Party on Sewage Disposal to be published at the end of this month. Its terms of reference were to consider and report on the public health, amenity and economic aspects of the various methods of sewage disposal.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The hon. Member made the charge that improvements were 390 delayed because of financial restrictions imposed by the Labour Government. Are we to take it from that that those financial restrictions will be eased so as to enable authorities to get on with the improvements?
§ Mr. Griffiths
As soon as we have cleared up the financial mess, we may be able to do that. I am sorry that the hon. Member is so sensitive about what I had hoped was a completely non-contentious speech.
Further progress is clearly necessary, but it would be wrong to say that our record as a country was poor; on the contrary, it is among the best in the world. Whoever spends the money, and large sums will have to be provided, whether it is spent in the first place by public authorities, private industry, national or local boards, we must all in the end bear the inescapable cost of protecting our natural asset of water from damage by pollution.
I turn now to a question which attracted a great deal of attention namely air pollution. This arises not only from man-made but from natural causes. It is important to point this out, because some newspaper reports recently have got this problem wildly out of perspective. Sulphur dioxide, that so called demon SO2, for instance, is often an offensive pollutant but by no means all of it arises from oil and fossil fuel burning. Of the SO2 in the atmosphere less than a quarter is produced by manmade processes. The rest, more than three-quarters of the SO2 arises from such natural causes as the oceans and the decomposition of animal and vegetable matter.
Man-made pollution none the less is our proper target, because in some cases at least it is preventable. The burning of coal in unimproved appliances, and I emphasise that, produces smoke, grit, dust and sulphur oxides. The domestic fireplace, so much loved by the British for so many centuries is still responsible for 85 per cent. of all our ground level smoke.
Natural gas, by contrast, is our cleanest fossil fuel. Oil combustion, on the other hand, produces a wide variety of pollutants notably those smelly, unburned hydrocarbons which one encounters when trying to cross from Whitehall to the House of Commons.
391 Indeed, one sometimes feels, standing at the corner of Whitehall and Bridge Street while the traffic all but smothers one in haze and unpleasant fumes, that it is an extremely bad example to set to the rest of the country. My hon. friend the Member for Walthamstow, East made a number of suggestions about a propane experiment. Once again, I assure him that we will look at this and I will get in touch with him. Taken together, all these pollutants, whether the grit, dust, fumes or whatever, are an undoubted hazard to good health. The amenity effects are no less disturbing because smoke, as hon. Members representing northern cities have reminded us, causes dirtiness and can cause squalor.
It blacks out the sun from our cities, and those who live in the highly populated areas of Britain can no longer be sure of breathing clean air. While the problem is a large one we are far from taking it lying down. It is very much to the credit of successive Governments, Conservative and Labour alike, that our code of legislation, established by the Conservative Clean Air Act of 1956 and strengthened by the Labour Clean Air Act, 1968, is not only acceptable to and well understood by local authorities and industrialists, but it is also admired and respected abroad. We are frequently asked for advice by representatives of other countries.
During the past 10 years the average urban ground level concentrations of sulphur dioxide in this country have declined by 40 per cent. I doubt whether there are many countries, certainly there is no other major industrial country, which has done any better.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. I realise the hon. Member is new to the House. He must address the Minister through the Chair.
§ Mr. Clark
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister rightly points out that of the amount of sulphur dioxide in the air, three-quarters is naturally produced. This is an average figure. Would he not agree that there are certain densely populated industrial areas where the amount of man-made sulphur dioxides is much higher than 392 one-quarter and presents special problems?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, of course, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. If he has any specific evidence he wants to bring to our attention, I should be glad to hear from him.
The improvement that has been marked over recent years is as much due to domestic smoke control as to the co-operation of industry and the Ministry's Alkali Inspectorate. It is right to recognise a British success story where we happen to have one. As long ago as 1956 the Ministry of Housing and Local Government informally designated 324 local authorities as black areas, that is to say areas of exceptionally heavy pollution. Broadly speaking, these black areas are to be found in the great conurbations of Greater London, the Midlands, the Potteries, South Lancashire, South Wales and so on. But at present, fifteen years later, all but 22 of those 324 authorities have initiated smoke control, and a fair number have completed or are nearing the completion of programmes which will establish smoke control over their entire areas.
The other day I was pleased to attend a celebration of the City of Westminster's completion of its smoke control programme. Westminster has put through 39 smoke control orders covering 120,000 premises and it looks as though we may now have reached the end of those old fogs that used to characterise the London scene and did so much damage to its citizens in past years. It is now a fact that visibility in Central London has improved from over 1½ miles ten years ago to 4 miles on an average sunny day. American visitors to whom I have spoken this summer have agreed with me that few great cities in the world can match the clean-air programme that has been achieved in the British capital. Progress in the rest of the country has been equally encouraging. All told, from the inception of smoke control until the end of 1969 some 3,165 smoke control orders have been confirmed. These involve 4,400,000 premises. The rate of progress reached a peak in 1962 and another in 1967. But after that it declined because less public money was available and local authorities were asked to make discretionary cuts in expenditure on their environmental services.
393 That brings me to the one conspicuous lack-of-success story I have to tell in the saga of clean-air. The rapid and welcome progress we have been making throughout the 1950s and 1960s is now threatened by a worrying situation that we inherited from the Labour Government. I refer to the shortage—a temporary shortage, I hope—of solid smokeless fuel. Measures to abate air pollution at present are a public health responsibility of my Department. Supplies of smokeless fuel are the particular responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Ministry of Technology who has undertaken to keep the House informed on the situation, and I believe he will seek to do this before the Summer Recess. He will not object, however, to my telling the House that, owing to the progressive diminution in the manufacture of gas coke, formerly produced in large quantities, the amount of coke coming on to the market in the current year will fall by a very substantial figure. Next year the supply will be negligible and for 1973 there will be none. Gas coke will be a thing of the past and many may welcome that.
While they were in office right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite confidently expected that they would be able to fill these widening gaps, of which they were given ample warning by a rapid build-up in the production of smokeless fuels. In the event they were disappointed. As long ago as December 1969 they were forced to start suspending smokeless zones. The present Government have now inherited the smokeless fuel shortage and it gives us no joy at all. However, it falls to us to repair the situation and to seek to minimise the inconvenience to consumers and to local authorities and all those in the House and throughout the country who believe in the clean air programme. It is not easy to deal with this situation, and I am advised that in some areas the shortage may get worse before it gets any better. The plain fact is that because our predecessors were too slow to grasp the seriousness of the impending shortage, it is now all but inevitable, in European Conservation Year, that in some localities more orders to suspend smokeless zones will have to be made this winter.
The Government very much regret that this should be so, but we are mounting a vigorous operation to meet the deficit 394 left to us. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Technology, is doing his utmost to increase supplies. The Ministry of Public Building and Works is encouraging public offices to convert coke-burning boilers to other fuels so as to leave more coke for the domestic consumer. My own Department is asking local authorities and local education authorities not only to use less coke but to work out comprehensive policies for the most effective use of available supplies in consultation with local branches of the Smokeless Fuels Federation.
Meantime, I regret to say that smoke control orders will continue to be accepted only if they are submitted by authorities in "black" areas or by other authorities which are implementing programmes of smoke control already approved by my Department. Other authorities which may seek to initiate smoke control are at present having to be requested to hold their hands for the time being.
I very much regret that, in the year 1970, an advanced industrial country like ours should be forced to curtail its clean air programme for this reason. The fault is not ours, and I am glad to be able to assure the House that, as soon as we can get over the present temporary shortage, we shall resume the forward movement towards the elimination of smoke and air pollution. We shall do so because we believe that the fight against pollution is vital and that clean air, clean water and, as far as possible, a level of noise that is compatible with civilised living are indispensable elements in the higher quality of life to which the British people aspire and which the present Government are determined to help them achieve.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bray (Rossendale)
In this, my maiden speech, I want first to thank my hon. Friend for a most comprehensive reply to a wide-ranging debate.
It is my privilege to represent Rossendale, which is an industrial constituency taking in four of our older industrial towns. But Rossendale will not be found on any map: it is designated "Rossendale Forest". However, that is an anachronism. The forest disappeared more than a century ago and, in spite of many efforts, it has been quite impossible for reafforestation to take place, because of the polluted atmosphere.
395 It is a great area of hills and valleys. Fortunately, we have only remote aircraft noise, because we have not enough level ground for more than a helicopter to land on. But the other issues are serious, and I hope that, in the course of time, when the Government have been able to assess their priorities and get the country moving again, we shall be able to make vast improvements in the area, for improve it we must. If we do not, it will become more and more depopulated.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) made some very detailed points on afforestation, erosion, and the like, with which I entirely concur. But I should like to make these further points.
It is a fact that if a fence is erected in the Colne Valley part of the country, which is about 1,000 or 1,200 ft. above sea level, its life is no more than about seven or eight years, because of the chemical action in the atmosphere. That is the extent of the pollution suffered in that area; that is the seriousness of the situation.
The Minister rightly said that if the dirt in the atmosphere is permitted to continue people will be driven further away from those valleys and we will have an area of environmental pollution by evacuation rather than by atmospheric pollution. That is the position that we face in that area.
We have pollution in our rivers, too. I am glad to say that the Orwell has recently seen its first trout for about 50 years, but that was in its lower reaches. In the higher reaches the position is still very grave. However, I admit that it is improving vastly.
Everyone complains about atmospheric and environmental pollution, but the fact is that few people are prepared to accept liability for it. They will complain; they will criticise. But if we are to get our countryside, our environment, in order, we must be prepared to pay the price, as the Minister said.
The people of our valleys in the north are grand souls, the salt of the earth, but we should be eroding the salt from the earth if action is not taken. When we go over the tops of the hills and look at those valleys we see a pall of smoke, due, even now, to the non-availability of smokeless fuel. I have discussed 396 afforestation with various experts. They have told me that until such time as smokeless fuels are readily available in the smokeless zones in the north, afforestation is not possible or feasible economically.
I live 50 miles from the major built-up areas, but, even there, I see the effect, particularly when snow is on the ground. In the course of three to four days the snow turns from white to a dirty grey-black. That is the issue which we face. Whilst thanking the Minister for his comprehensive reply, may I point out that it is an issue which the country as a whole must be prepared to face with the full knowledge that if we are to get the environment that we wish we must be prepared to accept the cost.