HC Deb 27 July 1971 vol 822 cc210-44

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

After so forbidding a warning, I wonder whether I ought to begin and end simultaneously.

This is an apt time to discuss the First Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution since six months have elapsed since it was laid. This may be a commentary on the priority which we accord to this most important subject.

If I have to be critical of the Report, because it does not in many ways measure up to our high hopes, it is right to pay tribute to the Commission's work and to its performance of a vital rôle in modern Britain, without which we would be absolutely lost. Our chief intention in this debate should be to review the Commission's work critically during the year.

It is necessary to be critical for two main reasons—first, that many of the decisions, as the Commission says, are political, to be taken in the available circumstances of the time, and on the sense of priorities which only hon. Members can give. Thus, this debate is an opportunity not only for private Members to express their anxieties or to raise questions of constituency interest, but also, in the absence of governmental time to discuss this Report, to make clear their views on it. The second reason is that it would be a great disservice to the country and the Commission if, because of the existence of the Commission, we were to suspend our critical faculty on this important subject.

That being so, how should we view this Report? The most vital question is finance. I am sorry that the Commission has not dealt with this in the necessary detail. After all, there is a number of different formulae by which we could finance the correction of pollution. The most superficially attractive is to make the polluters pay for the pollution they cause. But hon. Members must appreciate, as must the public, that that means in the end that the public must pay.

That can be done where the polluting agent is a minority interest by imposing a charge upon the users of the service, but in many of the pollution-making industries, such as the large national corporations, which are themselves in a financial plight and which will not readily bear heavy additional burdens, that will mean that the public will have to pay through taxation. So the doctrine of making the polluter pay comes down to this—that the public must be ready to shoulder the burdens to rectify the pollution of industry.

I have assumed that the pollution is either continuing or of recent cessation. Thus, with the National Coal Board, one of the causes of pollution, either the pollution is still in existence or it has ceased so recently that it is identifiable. But, with historical pollution, which in my view is the weakest element in this Report, one is dealing with entities which went out of existence a long time ago. Therefore, where the pollution is long-standing and the cause no longer exists, people are reluctant to do anything.

Page 34 of the Royal Commission Report contains a cursory reference to derelict land and the fact that local authorities can rectify this with rate support grant. But in the areas of historic pollution, the local authorities are at their weakest. They are the areas of the lowest rateable value, and the regressive tax which is our present rate system does not enable them easily to rectify the situation. Therefore, so that the Royal Commission may make a proper choice and realistic recommendations, I should be grateful if the Government would give some indication of their thinking about financing the rectification of pollution, and the principles that they will bear in mind.

I am afraid that this Report has not started with the right sense of priorities. Much time and effort has been expended on Chapter 5 dealing with the global effects of atmospheric pollution. The subject has called for a great deal of work, as we can see, but it is an altogether "trendy" preoccupation. The reality of the situation, which the Report ignores, is that Britain alone cannot effect an improvement in this field without the cooperation of the rest of the world.

Therefore, as it is necessary to discuss the global effects of atmospheric pollution, our efforts should have been devoted to setting up an international body which could study this situation. As it is, the conclusions reached by the Royal Commission on this subject are meagre in the extreme.

On page 46, we read: We see no cause for alarm or for crash programmes of research. Then why, unless it is to follow fashion, should this have been the first subject referred to the Royal Commission. By all means, let it be considered, but to suggest that it has primacy among all the aspects of environmental pollution which afflict us today is ludicrous.

I fear that this "gimmicky" approach is one to which the Royal Commission has succumbed. I fear that the priorities in its Report reflect basically middle-class attitudes towards pollution. For example, on page 31, referring to the debate on this subject which took place on the Consolidated Fund Bill almost exactly a year ago, and which the Minister now present answered, the Royal Commission referred to the number of speakers who had expressed concern about noise, but it made no mention of the large number of speeches, from these benches in particular, which spoke of our older industrial areas and the dereliction which afflicts them.

Let there be no mistake about it: the older industrial areas have experienced pollution and dereliction for a long time. I reject any thought on the part of the Royal Commission or anyone else that the older industrial areas can be expected to bear this state of affairs indefinitely.

At one point in its Report, the Royal Commission appeals for greater individual responsibility, for example, in not leaving derelict cars and bedsteads littering the countryside. But we shall have no chance of creating that sense of responsibility unless the fight against pollution is seen to be part of people's general fight and not just a fight by the suburban "Top-cats" to maintain their suburban privilege in this matter. Too much of a gap has already grown up in Britain between those who say that in order to preserve amenity we must restrict national growth and those who recognise the wider social interest in this respect. Put simply, the former argument is considerably less attractive to the unemployed man who is trying to bring up young children and give them a decent material existence than it is, say, to a doctor or a college lecturer. Unless we close the gap between these two divergent philosophies, we shall never win the wider battle against pollution, and we shall not close that gap unless we tackle the pollution which is most relevant to the experience of the mass of industrial urban Britain.

On page 11, the Commission speaks of "measures to repair past damage". But, in my belief, it does not fully understand the implications of what it says. I do not know whether the Commission considers land dereliction to be within its remit. On page 44, in the summary of conclusions, the Commission seems to speak of the spread of dereliction as being outside its terms of reference. On page 1, on the other hand, it says: We have no specific or restricted task". If the summary is right and the question of derelict land and the spread of derelict land is outside the Royal Commission's remit, I can only regard this as a great gap in its terms of reference.

The Royal Commission must set about two tasks. Certainly, it must tackle the most pressing new problems of pollution, but it must at the same time make a start on relieving the older areas of the pollution which they have known for many generations. A sense of equity, apart from anything else, demands this, for the older areas, as I have said, want to share in "the better tomorrow" tomorrow, not in a hundred years or more. Therefore, unless the Royal Commission deals with this as one of its most urgent priorities, the older industrial areas will, in this respect as in others, be pushed to the back of the queue with every passing whim of fashion.

There are two major requirements. First, the monitoring system for pollution, now one of the great weaknesses, must be taken up by the Royal Commission as one of its earliest priorities. There is precious little, alarmingly little, known about the continuing pollution of our environment which is going on day by day, and there is no readily accessible means of checking it. For example, the dereliction of land is estimated by many reputable authorities to be continuing at the rate of hundreds of acres per year. Yet when I asked the Welsh Office what was its estimate of continuing land dereliction in Wales, it was unable to supply the figures. It has now commissioned a study, but it frankly says that it will take a considerable time to collect the facts. Such knowledge ought to be at the disposal of any Government who hope realistically to tackle the problem, and it should be at the disposal, also, of any Royal Commission.

Although I agree with the Royal Commission about the value of the work done by voluntary associations in combating pollution, I emphasise that these voluntary associations do not work, and cannot hope to work, with the authority and the expertise which a Royal Commission can command. Indeed, I know of at least one society which takes its decisions on whether to classify a particular piece of land as being polluted on the basis of subjective complaints, and often uncorroborated complaints, from its members. It does this for the simple reason that the funds available to the association to check the veracity of complaints of pollution are not available. One appreciates the genuineness of the concern which such people feel for the environment, but one can none the less envisage the inconsistencies and injustice which arise when land is classed as being polluted upon the basis of subjective complaint.

I have already made the point that the Royal Commission must adopt a fair division of approach as between the newer and the older types of pollution. Such is the menace of living in an environment of derelict land that, in my view, the Royal Commission does itself and its case less than justice when it says—this is paragraph 92— There are many other more limited topics of importance. Derelict land, for instance, can be cleaned up by local authorities with the aid of grants from central Government, supplemented in certain instances by voluntary efforts, but much derelict land remains. That is to understate and underplay the danger and very real hardship which arise from the existence of derelict land today. As I have said, this is a topic to which the Royal Commission must pay greater attention if it is to command universal support in its fight against pollution.

Now, Mr. Speaker, in response to your injunction and request for brevity, I add just two or three random points. The Royal Commission rightly says that it cannot be concerned with individual causes of complaint, that is, it cannot act as a sort of environmental ombudsman. But, if that be so, it had better institute some way of monitoring Press reports, local, provincial and national, of such individual cases, for it is often in the individual case that one sees the application of a more general principle to which the Royal Commission could profitably apply itself.

Next—I make this point with my usual lack of contentiousness—we have seen in recent developments the wise way in which the Government can put Government expenditure to a propaganda purpose. If they believe in the seriousness of the fight against pollution, the Government ought to devote to publicising the work of the Royal Commission against environmental pollution a fraction of the concern and the expenditure which they devote to some other topics. In that way, they will reap a harvest in terms of indivi- dual concern and community dedication to the eradication of this problem which will pay them and the nation handsomely.

This has not been a laudatory speech about the First Report of the Royal Commission. Its tone is dictated by the sense of urgency which I feel. There is a great need to transform our inheritance into one which will please our successors. Great idealists tend to forget that the objects of their great thoughts are the individual lives of the men and women who live in Britain today and who will live here in the future. We must translate lofty sentiments into a practical application which will benefit the nation. We all need reminding of that, so that we may chart our course successfully and rightly, so that our fight against pollution and the course which we choose will be the surest and the most beneficial for Britain now and in the years to come.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I shall intervene only briefly to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) about derelict areas. Although I understand the Royal Commission's belief that it was not its job to interfere in areas in which other bodies were already working, I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that in all this problem of pollution and of the quality of our environment it is of the utmost importance that this is understood to be a matter of supreme concern to all our people, and not to any one selected group. For that reason, alone, my hon. Friend is right to emphasise this issue, which is of such tremendous concern to so high a proportion of people living in our older industrial areas.

I accept that the Royal Commission has given a special list of the kind of priorities on which it feels other bodies are not at present carrying out any work. I do not quarrel particularly with the emphasis placed by the Commission on the problems of pollution in our estuaries and in our seas, because there is no doubt that these problems, too, affect a large number of people. It is by no means an exclusive interest of a relative minority. It is a matter of real concern, and now that we are making a little hesitant progress—and that is all we can say it is—in our rivers themselves, it is a tragedy that much of that work is being destroyed by the lack of attention, in the past at any rate, to our estuaries; at the point at which they enter the sea.

It has been assumed that the sea can take care of anything that is dumped in it, and that has gone for the estuarial areas, too. I am glad that in my river area of Tyneside the Department has agreed that we should go ahead with the project which has been under review for a long time. There was some check for further examination of it, but I am glad that the scheme for treatment before disposal has been approved, and I take this opportunity of welcoming that.

I hope that in considering the recommendations of the Royal Commission the Minister will take into account certain other very important recommendations that are coming from a number of conferences that axe being held not only in this country but abroad. I recently returned from a conference in Stockholm on the subject of environmental health, which relates very closely, indeed, to all these recommendations, and one in which the public health inspectors in this country have played a large part.

A striking contribution on the wider global side of the problem, was made at the conference by Professor Barry Commoner of the United States, who was trying to concentrate our attention on the supreme importance of the forms of technology that we are using in all our industrial societies, and on the threat which some of these forms of technology may hold for the whole of our environment.

He was arguing that it was not so much a question of population, size and development, nor even so much a question of the standard of wealth, affluence and demand, as one of the particular technical measures that are being adopted to try to provide the mass production that people are demanding. His view is that we need to look very closely, indeed, at many of the processes to which we have become accustomed to see whether the products of those processes, valuable and useful as they are, such as that for the production of synthetic fibres, are not also dangerous, both to our agriculture and, perhaps, in the long-term, to marine life throughout the world.

I think that the Professor was right to direct our attention to this area of the problem so that we can encourage more research into alternative forms of technology and, indeed, into the implications of reverting to the use of more natural fibres, as opposed to artificial ones, on our standard of living and, indeed, on the standards of living of other countries.

I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the matters to which I have referred. I am delighted that at last this country and ordinary people in it are beginning to get woken up to the environmental problems with which they have lived all their lives, but which, for far too long, they have accepted as inevitable. They are not inevitable if we are prepared to pay the price of cleaning them up, and I am therefore delighted that this subject has been raised in the manner that it has by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I apologise for missing the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). I think that we owe him a debt of gratitude for raising this subject. It seems that we need a Consolidated Fund Bill every year in order to be able to debate environmental pollution and I am sorry that the Government do not provide more time for this subject to be debated.

I begin by paying a special tribute to the Secretary of State for the Environment. My right hon. Friend has shown tremendous enthusiasm and a great deal of imagination in the way that he has taken up his task. I think it is the right concept to regard environment not only as something one discusses in terms of pollution, but also in terms of housing, road transport as well as cleaning up the countryside. Clearly we need what we have in our Minister, a man of exceptional vigour and ability; and I think we are all conscious of how seriously he is taking his job and how much he has already put into it.

What has been done is, of course, a beginning, and I must pay tribute to the previous Government for having a Minister with special responsibility for this problem. That Minister got round to producing a White Paper so near to the General Election that we shall never know how he might have carried out his task. However, I pay tribute to the fact that the previous Government felt that this was a subject which required special Ministerial attention.

I was struck by one remark of the hon. Member for Pontypridd, when he talked about people participating. This is one of the aspects of environmental pollution that has not come through. Ordinary people do not see themselves as environmental polluters. They look to the central Government, or to local government, to clean up the mess. What they will not do is to ask themselves who created the mess in the first place.

I notice that the "Keep Britain Tidy" campaign has come out with the slogan: "For Pete's sake clean up the litter." I assume that "Pete" may be the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I hope that for his sake, and for the sake of any other "Petes" that we may know, we shall take that slogan to heart, because the amount of litter that is left in some of the most beautiful parts of the country every weekend is appalling. I am sure that people who throw away ice-cream paper or leave a bottle on the heather do not think to themselves that they are spoiling their countryside. They just do not connect themselves with the environment in which they live. But they must and then see themselves as one of the great polluters who could do so much, by so little effort, to make so many parts of this country pleasant for themselves and for others.

I want to concentrate my remarks on two items in the Report, one relating to noise and the other to air pollution. I shall confine my remarks to the question of noise from vehicles, aircraft and in industry. We are all aware of aircraft noise. Nobody who lives in central London can escape it. Question Time after Question Time hon. Members with constituencies close to airports ask all sorts of Questions about bringing some form of relief to their hapless constituents. While I know there are grants for the soundproofing of houses, I suggest that to have to live in a house with the windows continuously shut cannot be the sort of environment that most of us would wish upon people.

Is there nothing else that we can do before the quieter-engined aircraft come into service in the middle or towards the end of this decade? I want to offer one suggestion. It may not have much mileage in it, but in my opinion it should be explored. At the moment night flights have to operate out of ariports at a quieter noise level than do daylight flights, by as much as six decibels—and six decibels, because noise is measured on a logarithmic scale, represents a considerable reduction in noise.

I understand that one way in which this is achieved is by aircraft taking off lighter loaded than it would be in daylight and thus requires less power to get into the air. An aircraft that is going to fly across the Atlantic must take its full load of fuel if it is to reach the end of the flight, but I ask my hon. Friend why it is necessary for aircraft on short-haul daylight flights to be so fully loaded with fuel to complete their flights. Can we not insist that aircraft on short-haul flights should not be required to fill their tanks to capacity? After all, any alleviation in noise levels from aircraft during daylight hours would be a great boon.

I also suggest that we should get away from the idea of having a standard noise level for all aircraft operating during the day and another standard for all aircraft operating at night.

Mr. John

Does not the hon. Gentleman concede that the Civil Aviation Bill, which I believe is in the Lords at the moment, by means of a new Clause introduced by the Government in Committee, has laid down a procedure which, if adopted by airport authorities, could bring about the sort of beneficial results of which he speaks?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I agree. I hope that the hon. Member is right. But at the moment there is no clear sign that we shall vary the noise level, according to the length of flight and, therefore, according to how much fuel must be carried.

I turn now to the question of vehicle and motor-cycle noise. These are two old chestnuts. We probably all agree that it is not the new car or the new motor cycle that we have to worry about, but the old banger and the motor cycle that has been modified by its owner. The people who drive those cars or ride those motor cycles fit into my category of people who do not think of themselves as polluters of the environment but who cause a tremendous amount of nuisance and discomfort to many other people. To catch them we are forced into the position of creating better enforcement measures than we possess at the moment.

Ever since the police disappeared into their panda cars and we lost the man on the beat, they have forfeited the ability to stop the banger that goes by or the loud motor cycle simply because they do not hear them. If we are not to have the man on the beat we must try to find some one else whose job is to do with traffic who can enforce the law as a result of what he hears. Better than that, he could carry a hand-held noise meter, since the meters laid down in the motor vehicle regulations are almost useless in city centres because there is no space to;set them up according to the provisions in the regulations.

There seems to be one man—I use the word generically—who can fulfil this task, namely, the traffic warden. He is continuously on the beat. He is continuously in touch with vehicles. He surely could be equipped with a handheld noise meter and could be responsible for instituting prosecutions against offending motorists who do not keep their vehicles in order.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport vehicle tests could be made much more stringent in terms of checking for faulty silencers, squealing brakes, and so on. The combination of stricter tests for vehicles and men on the beat with noise meters to catch those who break the noise regulations would do much to dissuade people from being so careless about the noise emitted by their vehicles.

My next point relates particularly to heavy vehicles, although it could apply to cars. I believe that in America they have tried out the idea of setting up noise metering stations on the main roads into cities. We all know about the radar traps, which are quite effective. I suggest that we should have something similar using noise monitoring equipment.

In this case the noise requirements in the vehicle regulations could come into play because there is space to set up such stations by the roadside. These, equipped with some form of television camera taking photographs of the number plates of vehicles going through, could give us a record of the law-breakers as they come into our cities. That information, fed into the Scotland Yard computer, would allow us to apprehend the drivers and insist that their vehicles are tested. Their owners would then be fined if their vehicles were clearly shown to have been making far too much noise.

So much for vehicles, motor cycles and aircraft. We must also remember the drivers who drive without regard for other people—the young men in their sports cars who at midnight must rev up their engines before beginning their journeys. They do not think for a moment of the people who are trying to sleep and will be given a rough night. They, too, should be made aware of the fact that they are environmental polluters. I repeat; people must see themselves in terms of environmental pollution, and the Government must insist on laws which can be enforced and which will restrict these polluters from making the noise for which they are at present responsible.

The solution to lorry noise is in the end a network of lorry routes, which I have continually advocated. They would take heavy lorries making their way to the ports out of all urban areas and away from small towns and villages where, quite apart from noise, their vibration does considerable damage.

We must also bear in mind the suggestion of the Association of Public Health Inspectors for noise-free zones in the cities. A noise-free zone with vehicles may be difficult to achieve, but having seen at least one electric car demonstrated in the London area I feel that such vehicles might do a great deal to make life more bearable.

Lastly, on the question of noise, I want to speak about deafness. Many of us were amazed that a charity entertainment arranged this year by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf did not receive sufficient support to enable it to take place in the centre of London. Commenting on it the Institute's journal makes the point that deafness is a handicap to which most of us are insufficiently sympathetic. A deaf person often causes irritation. To have to raise one's voice continually in conversation is something that one seldoms wants to do. I believe deafness to be one of the most serious and unfortunate social disabilities that any human being can suffer. If one thinks of all the things which are denied to a deaf person, one will perhaps have a great deal more sympathy for those suffering from this affliction. I suggest that if we are considering any sort of revision of the Factory Acts we should consider adding a provision which will allow compensation to be paid to those who are made deaf by the noise within which they have to work.

My final point on the question of motor vehicles relates to fumes and smoke. I am convinced that better checks on lorries in particular would root out many of the offenders whom we see so frequently in our streets. Indeed, one does not have to drive in London for long before coming across this nuisance. Lorries pouring out unburned diesel smoke on all and sundry can easily be made less offensive if the engines are properly adjusted.

I was very impressed by a visit that I paid to the London Transport garage at Chiswick, where I saw the enormous amount of trouble which is taken there to make sure that the vaporisers in the engines are continually adjusted. As they say themselves, any sign of a large emission of smoke from a bus will very quickly be got at by the mechanics. Indeed, the driver is specially requested to observe in one of his mirrors whether his bus is making any smoke. At the moment a very good job is being done with London buses, but the same does not apply to other vehicles in London, particularly lorries. Very often the lorries are under-powered, which causes the drivers to race their engines and use their engines at a higher power. This in turn creates more diesel smoke. Very often the amount of maintenance done on the engines seems to allow them to become smoky.

There are not enough prosecutions, and so these smoky vehicles go through the centres of our cities making life unbearable for people. I suggested a handheld noise meter. If we cannot have a hand-held smoke meter, can we have smoke meters installed in the cabs of these vehicles so that the drivers would get some warning when their vehicles become inefficient? They could then be taken into a garage where the engines could be adjusted. I believe that prosecutions are necessary. Until people start paying for polluting the atmosphere they will not take any of our exhortations very seriously. I ask the Minister to give special thought to the possibility of enforcement of the smoke limits and the prosecution of those who exceed them.

Lastly I wish to refer to the possibilities of electricity and liquified petroleum gas for driving particularly in cities. I was very sorry indeed that in the Finance Bill there was a Clause imposing a tax on L.P.G. This, in my opinion, is one of the few pollution-free fuels in this country. At the moment there are only about 1,000 vehicles running on it, but it is an ideal fuel for vehicles such as buses, taxis and indeed any heavy vehicles running in an urban area. I know that we have not yet decided the rate of duty to be imposed, and I very much hope that the duty will not be so high as to dissuade people from converting those sorts of vehicles to use it. It costs about £150 to convert a vehicle, so that the idea that it will become attractive to ordinary motorists is not a strong argument. But until we have a pollution-free fuel or a better made diesel engine which will burn fuel more thoroughly, we shall have to live with the problem of smoke and carbon monoxide. Therefore, we must not discourage the use of any fuel or mechanical device which may reduce that amount of pollution.

I ask my hon. Friend to give as much thought as he can to encouraging the use of fuels like L.P.G. within our cities, and in particular to give us some idea of how much progress is being made in terms of getting a suitable heavy duty battery which will make electrical vehicles a reality.

I have concentrated almost exclusively on two problems arising from motor vehicles. Both of them cause a great deal of nuisance, loss of amenity and sometimes ill health to many thousands, if not millions, of people every day. I welcome the opportunity of raising these subjects and I look forward to my hon. Friend's reply.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)

I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson), who spoke in last year's debate, will forgive me if I do not follow him. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) for initiating this debate on environmental pollution. It is only right, I think, that the hon. Member for Pontefract should support him, since I too on 21st July last year took part in a similar debate on pollution.

We in the West Riding know what pollution is. We seem to have more pollution than anybody—pollution of the air, water and soil, as well as all the other kinds of pollution. It is not only an extremely important subject. It is real. It is with us. In fact, it is too real. Nobody seems to be able to tackle it adequately.

The debate is based on the First Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I hope I shall be forgiven if I appear to be a little sceptical because the Report—I am basing my speech on Chapter III, page 24, paragraph 58—gives the impression that the Committee has not really got down to this part of the problem. I am referring to the pollution caused by hard detergents flowing into our rivers. We in Pontefract have a special interest in this because in one of the towns in my constituency the river runs right through the centre, and we get the worst of everything. In fact, we bear the brunt of all the river pollution in the shape of foam which is worse there than in any other city or town in the United Kingdom.

The Report says: Pollution by hard detergents is far less of a problem now than it was a decade ago, because modern household detergents are broken down by bacteria (that is, they are 'biodegradable'). The Report should have said that the bacteria in the water eats them up. The Report goes on to say: However, detergents used in textile factories are less easy to make biodegradable, and effluents containing these detergents are liable to cause foaming in rivers. Liable! It does cause foaming in rivers, as the photographs which I handed to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) show. In fact, they had to be seen to be believed. Paragraph 58 goes on to say: But here, too, progress toward biodegradable detergents is being made, so that the end of this problem should soon be in sight, even though total detergent consumption in Britain continues to rise. In an affluent society, the consumption of detergents will continue to rise. Women will want their husband's shirts to be brighter than those of their neighbours. I do not want to give a "commercial" by mentioning names, but women use certain brands of detergents to get the clothes whiter. But the harder the detergent, the whiter it makes the clothes, the dirtier our rivers become.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Back to soap.

Mr. Harper

No. That would be like going back to the old days when black lead was used on grates.

I was not a Member of the House when the previous Conservative Government set up the Standing Committee on Technical Detergents. That was over 13 years ago. Perhaps I shall be forgiven for, so to speak, transporting myself back 13 years and quoting from the First Report of the Standing Committee on Technical Detergents. I hoped that it would be the forerunner of better things but, although it did a good job, it did not find a solution.

I do not wish to bore the House by referring to the speech I made last year, notwithstanding the fact that it was a good one. This problem has been with us since the late 1950s. The present Under-Secretary of State gave a comprehensive reply to the debate last year, but he did not answer the points I raised, not because he wished to evade them, but because there was no answer to them. Following the debate, I asked the Minister whether he would meet myself and a deputation on this problem. He accepted with alacrity and met us. He said at the meeting "Let us get down to some real work. We will divide the problem into three parts—the causes, the palliatives and the solutions". The question of the causes did not take two minutes; we knew what they were. The palliatives were not really palliatives, as we discovered with the benefit of hindsight. We have not yet found the solutions. This prompted my town clerk to say that industry was allowed to get away with what private individuals could not get away with.

The Under-Secretary of State was genuine and sincere in his desire to deal with the problem and, in particular, with the problem of pollution of the environment, whether of the air, the water or the soil. But in view of the nation's economics problems, which we had when we were in Government, we come unstuck when we try to solve the problem with the money available. A moment or two ago my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said "Back to soap". It is easy for him to say that, but others of us do not wish to adopt old methods.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Soft soap.

Mr. Harper

Anyone who does not have to live with this problem can view it with a little hilarity. I shall not quote again the verse from Sir Walter Scott which I quoted last year. This problem reminds me of the dance tune which was popular in the 1930s, "June in January". In Castleford it is the other way about; it is January in June. When it is in a certain direction, the wind whips up the foam and blows it all over the place and it drops like snow flakes over a radius of about three miles.

The Minister said that if the economic situation improved more would be done about trying to find a solution to this problem. He said at the meeting we had with him that he would meet the C.B.I. which, he understood, was very sympathetic about the problem and he would ask it to give him an undertaking about what it intended to do. He referred to the nature of the product. He said that the representatives agreed that the long-term solution was to get industry to move over to using biodegradable materials—in other words, softer materials.

I want the Minister to tell us whether anything has been done about this matter. He said that we must get in touch with the woollen industry concerning the area around Bradford because that is where the material is tipped in the river. We are downstream and therefore we get it. Then we were advised to get in touch with the river authority. I never knew how many authorities there were in charge of rivers until we started dealing with this problem. The Minister expected that the river authority were aware and that they had some difficulty in imposing on industry things that they could not impose on local authorities, but he would take the matter up particularly with the river authority and get a report from them.

The Under-Secretary of State said that the question of rivers was under review by the Wilson Committee, which was dealing with the problem of sewage and water as a whole, and that before any decision was taken on local government reform some policy had to be formulated on water and sewage undertakings.

The Minister made a point about spraying. He said that spraying a river will break up the material and the river will flow and take it along with it. That just does not happen. The spray breaks it up, but the wind gets under it and whips it up. The same volume of soap suds flies about, but it is dispersed over a larger area—a good Socialist philosophy, but we take a dim view of it in this instance. The material is shared more evenly among more people. Perhaps the Minister will also deal with this point.

One of the Department's officials said that this was primarily a matter for the Minister of Transport. So the Ministry of Transport comes into the spraying problem. The Railways Board apparently made an objection to the effect that if bridges were sprayed they would in time become affected. This reminds me of the old Chinese proverb about constant dripping wearing away stone. Therefore, the Railways Board also took a dim view of the matter.

Later we sent a letter to the British Waterways Board asking it to look into the question of the design of the weir. We contend that the drop of the weir causes the material to churn up. It has the same effect as a washing machine. It agitates the detergent and causes foam. Letters have also been sent by the Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to the British Waterways Board and the Mini-try of Transport about modifications to the weir.

This year, in May, the 12th Report was published, and Castleford figures very prominently in it. Following publication of the Report, there was a report in the Press saying that the C.B.I. had banned the use of hard detergents. On hearing this, Castleford nearly had a bank holiday. There was great rejoicing. We thought that this was the end of our problems. But apparently the Press, as usual, had got it all wrong. The town clerk, feeling a little uneasy, later got in touch with the authorities and found that it was a false alarm. In retrospect, one realises that the C.B.I. does not have the authority to ban people from using hard detergents or even from selling them. The present position is that the first spray has been in use for 12 months, and just spreads the stuff around. We have put in a second spray, and reports so far indicate that it has not made things better. A full report is due shortly.

In Chapter 2, paragraph 15, the Royal Commission Report states: The economic reason why society may not strike the right balance between economic output and the quality of the environment is that the costs of many kinds of pollution are borne not by the polluters but by someone else. In this instance Castleford is the "someone else": As a result these 'external' costs will not, in general, be taken fully into account by firms, individuals or other bodies who cause pollution. The other side of the coin is that those who spend money on reducing pollution may not always be the people who gain from the resulting improvement in the environment. This applies to both 'tangible' pollution, such as the poisoning of fish in polluted waters, and to 'intangible" pollution, such as unpleasant smells or ugly landscapes. We have plenty of those, but I am not talking about fish that may be poisoned, although that does happen, nor am I talking about ugly landscapes, although we have plenty of those. Nor am I referring to unpleasant smells—the less I say about those the better. What I emphasise is that even with the second spray the foam still blows around all over the place, and causes great distress.

Again, in paragraph 16(a) the Report states: Output of goods and services which give rise to pollution tends to be pushed beyond the socially optimum point. Also, expenditure to reduce pollution will often be inadequate. We must have cleaner rivers, but if no one is prepared to make a sufficient financial appropriation towards a solution we shall not make much progress. It will be seen that, by and large, those who cause the pollution are not paying: it is those who are most affected who have to pay. I have already made the point that we in Castelford cannot afford any more finance for seeking a solution, and we have asked the Minister to help us. The Reports of the Standing Committee do not help much—we get loads of sympathy, which we do not need. What we need is financial aid in finding a solution, and seeing what can be done at least to reduce the problem or keep it in check. Those who cause the pollution should pay for it.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) on raising this very important subject and on adopting a very constructive approach to it. I am tempted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) in many directions, but I will content myself by saying that I regret he did not use that quotation from Sir Walter Scott which he has used before; and that I am happy that he has not handed over disgusting photographs to the Parliamentary Secretary.

The Royal Commission has commenced its task of identifying the various problems and priorities involved in environmental pollution and there will be a general welcome for its first Report. The Commission is clearly taking great care to avoid any suggestion that its deliberations are hasty or ill-considered, and one cannot criticise such a thorough approach, but if, as the first Report shows, the Commission is acting with unhurried prudence one is entitled to hope that the Government will not risk excessive delay by exhibiting a most protected caution on their own part. That is dangerous. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd was rather worried about the perhaps somewhat bourgeois approach of the members of the Royal Commission, but I am worried more about the niggardly fists of the Treasury when it comes to providing the financial resources required if we are to improve our environment.

The first Report seems to do very little to encourage those who believe that our environmental doom is imminent, but it suggests that there is much to be done, and to be done swiftly, if the various problems are to be tackled.

My hon. Friend mentioned the need for urgent addition in regard to historic pollution, in dealing with the dereliction of the past, and there is a great deal to be done there. I have many strong views on that subject.

My own particular concern is with water supply. Whilst the Commission says that current proposals and investigations will make a very real contribution to the improvement of our rivers, I suggest that urgent and large scale action is needed. The Report states that progressive policies to improve our rivers have already produced dramatic results which are both desirable and generally welcome.

I believe that sooner or later the barrage scheme will be the solution of the problem of water supply, but until this can be established there are dangers that more and more of the quiet places will be destroyed, disfigured or interfered with if we are to have sufficient water. Places like these should be retained, and in order to assist their retention more vigorous action is needed in, perhaps, the busier industrial areas, where there is already serious pollution of the various water courses, to assist in the necessary improvement of those industrial areas so as to make the river waters there usable, and perhaps we need a more unified structure of water supply administration.

The Commission also suggests that we could improve our water supply by improved sewage treatment. A great deal has been done and is being done in this respect, but much remains to be done. As the demand for water grows, as the need for pure water rises, so in our increasingly affluent society the amount of effluent deposited in our rivers increases, but since rivers remain of constant size it follows that if within a generation there is twice the amount of effluent entering the rivers that effluent will have to be twice as clean if we are to maintain pollution at even its present level. If we are to obtain any advance in the improvement of our rivers, it clearly means that within the next decade or two effluent entering those rivers will have to be much more than twice as clean as it is at present.

The improvement of our rivers would be very popular and very desirable. In every constituency there is a large number of anglers. There are a large number of people in my constituency who are extremely fond of fishing. But the rivers which are accessible in my area—the Don, the Dearne and the Rother—are not rivers which offer very much opportunity for people to indulge in angling. Hundreds of thousands of fishermen, most of whom are taxpayers, would welcome the expenditure of public funds in promoting the improvement of rivers in industrial areas, not merely so that they could indulge their hobby, but so that we could take water from those rivers for domestic and industrial use and thus prevent the despoliation of the pretty and remote areas which are now under threat. Many hundreds of thousands of people do not have the patience to fish, but they, too, would welcome an improvement in our rivers.

The First Report suggests that a very useful way to make our water cleaner would be to take steps to restrict the pollution from the manure produced by the factory farm, which is increasingly a problem. I understand, and the Report confirms, that the manure, a valuable fertiliser, is frequently not used on the fields but is perhaps turned into a wet slurry which finds its way into the rivers and streams. I am not a scientist, but I think that I can understand the view that that sort of pollution allows organisms to breed in our rivers, organisms which use oxygen and thus compete with fish and other river life, and render the river or stream dead so that it turns into a stinking sewer. We have enough stinking sewers. It is time for action to remove them.

It is probably fair to say that most of our farmers conduct their business with a responsible attitude. It may well be only a minority of fanners who engaged in such pollution. By offering grants or other encouragement, the Government should quickly induce those involved in agriculture to refrain from using manure in that way and make sure that it is used where it can be valuable, on the fields.

Perhaps the same comment about the majority of farmers acting responsibly can be made about the use of pesticides. It may be only a minority who use them in harmful ways. The Report has many valuable comments and much good, sound advice on the question of pesticides. It makes one very important point in presenting the view of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Other Toxic Chemicals, which says that, whilst voluntary restrictions in the use of organochlorines has brought about a very real improvement and reduction in their use, this is not universal, that the risks are still great and that therefore the Government should not be hesitant or reluctant about acquiring responsibility for exercising necessary control over those substances. In recent years there has been a sizeable reduction in the residual levels of such poisons in human and animal tissue, but the levels are still very serious, and there are no grounds for satisfaction yet. Therefore central control sooner or later will have to be exercised, and I hope that there will be no excessive hesitation.

I recently read a report about the control of red mites on dahlias at the Royal Horticultural Society Centre at Wisley which contained a very important message for us. It was found that the most effective and persistent control of the pest was exercised not so much by pesticides, which led to the development of resistance, but by the use of predatory insects acting as a form of biological control, which seems to be more and more the right way to control the pests which affect our agriculture. But biological control is inhibited by the use of pesticides. They cannot be particularly discriminating, but destroy pests and predator as well. I hope that the Royal Commission and the Government will be prepared to encourage the use of biological control, and that the Government will be prepared to give sufficient public funds to allow research into this activity on the largest possible scale.

Such developments could lead to not merely a reduction in pollution but an increase in the profitability of various activities connected with the problem. It perhaps is not generally felt that we should look at the removal of pollution from the point of view of economics but that we should look for social rather than economic advantages. Improvement in the environment can be not merely socially desirable but economically useful, since it can enhance and create wealth.

In so far as the First Report points the way, we welcome it, but the onus of action must lie on the Government. I hope that the necessary decisions will not be delayed very much longer.

4.45 p.m.

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

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has chosen the Royal Commission's First Report as one of the first topics of debate today. He has a shrewd eye for important occasions. I remember with some pleasure his lucid maiden speech in another debate on the work of the Royal Commission just a year ago. It had then only just started its work and we were all concerned to give Sir Eric Ashby and his colleagues a good deal of advice, solicited or otherwise, on how to go about their job. I am not sure whether they heeded all the advice offered by the House in detail, but I know that in a remarkably short time they have produced the admirable document which we are discussing.

I say, "admirable" for several reasons. It is a clear statement of some of the most complex problems with which we are dealing; it is the first adequate and authoritative description of the state of our environment; it manages to avoid the hysteria which any reference to pollution can bring on among some commentators; and it gives clear advice to Governments on those issues which the members of the Commission regard as the most important.

The hon. Gentleman in opening the debate was critical of the Commission for saying comparatively little about derelict land. But it is open to the members of the Commission to decide what priority they shall give to the various objects within their remit, and I do not think that they can reasonably be criticised for judging that that subject is not one that they wanted to put at the top of their agenda at this stage. However, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point and will draw it to the attention of the Royal Commission. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced a 10-year programme to encourage the rescue of derelict land, and we shall continue to push that forward with the generous assistance available to local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman was also somewhat critical—I do not complain of his being critical, of course—that the Royal Commission had devoted a good deal of attention to the problem of global atmospheric pollution. But the previous Government, in my judgment rightly, asked the Royal Commission specifically to consider that matter, and I believe that they were right to do so, because it is a very complex scientific problem with very serious possible effects on climate.

The Government's attitude to the Royal Commission's Report is one of a very warm welcome to its work. Of the many statements in the Report, there are four with which I know my right hon. Friend completely agrees. The first is the statement in paragraph 3 that: … a great deal has been done, and is being done, to safeguard the natural environment of Britain. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who has worked hard in this vineyard, will agree that our agencies, our legislation, have done a great deal to safeguard the natural environment.

Secondly, in paragraph 4, the Commission goes on to say: This record of action nevertheless is no ground for complacency. We agree with that statement, too. Thirdly, in paragraph 29 it says: What we have to achieve is a combined operation between public opinion, economic incentive and legislation". I am sure that hon. Gentlemen would agree with that.

The fourth statement, with which we agree, is in paragraph 11 where the Commission says: Nothing less than a comprehensive policy for the environment will suffice. It is in the spirit of these four statements that I should like to comment on the wide range of subjects which we have discussed. The first thing is to get the machinery of Government right with regard to the environment. It is a matter of no difference between the two sides of the House that the Department of the Environment has been set up. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that if his party had remained in office they would very likely have set up such a department as we have created. It gives my right hon. Friend comprehensive and executive responsibility over a wide range of Government agencies. It has enabled us to get rid of some of the wasteful competition between agencies and bureaucracies and, above all, enabled us to try to think and act environmentally right across the board.

Perhaps I can most conveniently respond to the points made under three or four main heads, and mention first the matter of clean air. Our country, under all governments, has a good record here. We have seen low-level smoke concentra- tions fall in urban areas by 60 per cent. since 1956. We have seen low-level concentrations of sulphur dioxide fall by one-third since 1956. Last winter there was a setback to our smoke control programme because of a shortage of solid smokeless fuel and, as a result, over one-quarter of all smoke control orders had to be suspended. I am glad to say that this problem has been overcome. With the help of a mild winter, and by dint of keeping open obsolete gas works, importing smokeless fuel wherever we could find it, and through the excellent cooperation of local authorities we have been able to increase the supply and to hold down consumption to a point at which the shortage is now officially over. We have, therefore, issued a circular urging all concerned once again to go full ahead with smoke control.

I turn from domestic smoke to industrial processes that contaminate the air. The House will be familiar with the excellent work of the Alkali Inspectorate, an organisation which has the great merit of working with, and not against, industry and local authorities. We have recently been able to bring under control a number of new processes concerning mineral and petrochemical industries, aluminium smelters and a whole range of plastic and acrylate manufactures. My right hon. Friend also laid fairly recently a number of new Orders controlling dust and grit emissions.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) rightly referred to air pollution from motor vehicles. Here I must say that I regard the internal combustion engine—one of the greatest boons brought to man—as being equally a potential threat to the quality of our lives, especially in urban areas. In some ways now that we are within sight of overcoming the main problem of domestic smoke from the old-fashioned coal fireplace, the motorcar and the lorry between them may be the main source of air contamination in our major cities. It is right to keep this in perspective. Because we do not suffer from the special climatic conditions which make vehicle exhausts such a noxious threat in Los Angeles, we do not need to rush into the sometimes, perhaps, excessive antipollution controls as have been set up in California. We cannot, however, be indifferent to this danger.

The policy of the Secretary of State is to adopt a much less complacent, though still severely practical, approach to pollution from internal combustion. I quote two specific examples. We have already made regulations, following upon the groundwork laid by the right hon. Gentleman, requiring all new cars sold after 1st January, 1972 to be fitted with a crank-case breather. That means a recycling of the crank-case gases which will reduce hydrocarbon emissions by about 30 per cent. We have also introduced a new British Standard, A.U.141, which will govern emissions from diesel engines. Recently I went to the Motor Industry Research Association at Nuneaton to see this new standard being launched and, having watched heavy lorries being put through their paces, some governed down to the new British Standard and others to the current American and European levels, I can assure the House that in this area at least our new regulations, which I expect will come into effect next year, will reduce the smoke levels from heavy lorries to well below those now accepted by most of our industrial competitors.

All this is useful progress, but I agree that we cannot afford to let up. One reason for this is the health aspect. We do not know enough about the long-term effects of the more complex contaminants present in car exhausts—for example, lead, nitrogen and various types of oxides to be sure of the long-term effects and therefore all Governments have a duty to be, if anything, excessively cautious.

The other reason why we cannot be indifferent is that it would be commercially foolish to allow our competitors to steal a march on us in low-pollution vehicles. The main selling point for motor cars of the future may well be not their colour, shape or performance but their safety, reliability, and their low levels of noise and pollution. A prudent regard for public health chimes in with economic good sense. Sensible, practical progress towards lower pollution from the internal combustion engine is therefore, on all scores, a sound aim of Government policy.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

We can all agree that this is a marvellous development, but lorries and cars do not remain new. There are already 2,000 regulations. What will happen if, in the future as now, motorists and lorry drivers refuse to observe these regulations? We can see what happens now when no one troubles to enforce the law.

Mr. Griffiths

Not for the first time the hon. Gentleman is on a perfectly good point, also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East. We can make all the regulations we like but in the end they must be enforced. The hon. Gentleman should not be too pessimistic, because there are about 12,000 prosecutions for noise alone annually. This is a small but significant number. It is up to any citizen to lay information to bring a prosecution. This point of enforcement is one of which the Government are well aware.

What we are doing here has to be based on the exact state of information. Hon. Members will be interested to know that, on the medical side of air contamination from vehicles, we have initiated a great deal of practical research. For example, the Road Research Laboratory and the Warren Springs Laboratory have joined in a one-month survey of the total emission of pollutants from all vehicles at a roadside site in one particular town. This will measure, precisely and for the first time, the exact relationship between traffic density, traffic composition, and the breakdown in the air of carbon oxides, hydrocarbons, nitrogen, lead and other trace elements, so that we shall know precisely what we are talking about.

Simultaneously, the Medical Research Council is monitoring the amount of airborne lead, nitrogen and hydrocarbons in two places in London—in Fleet Street and outside St. Bartholomew's Hospital; the Atomic Energy Research Establishment is working on the photochemical effect of sunlight on air containing hydrocarbons and sulphur dioxide; the MacCauley Institute is monitoring the uptake of lead by soil and crops in the vicinity of busy roads; and a whole series of other investigations are constantly going on into the effects of exhaust fumes on people, for example, of the lead content in the blood of certain people who drive a great deal, and so on. I think that we can therefore claim to be keeping on our toes as far as the collection of scientific evidence is concerned. We are fortunate in having the Central Unit on Environmental Pollution to advise us, in addition to the Royal Commission.

On the other side of the coin—the commercial side—our aim is to work out suitable and practical standards for reducing vehicle pollution in company with our European neighbours who also make motorcars, mainly France, Germany, Sweden and Italy. Broadly speaking, it is our policy to move towards, first, adopting the ECE standards on limiting carbon-monoxide and hydrocarbons; secondly, to join in an examination of the problem of lead in exhausts; and, thirdly, to promote longer-term research so as to keep this difficult problem under review.

I turn now to the question of water, a subject on which a number of hon. Members spoke. The first thing to say is that we have to stop taking our water for granted, as something which just happens when we turn on the tap. Water in this country is too expensive to collect, transport and distribute to be wantonly wasted or polluted—or, indeed, flushed away at the rate of two gallons every time a school child goes to the bathroom. Increasingly, we must recognise that water supply and sewerage—I am including industrial effluents as well as domestic sewage—are two sides of the same coin.

Already, one-third of the water we drink in our major cities is taken out of rivers that previously have received sewage and industrial discharges. The odds are that this glass of water before me on the Table has been drunk by at least one person, and possibly several other people before it has reached hon. Members. That the water we drink tonight will be tomorrow morning's sewage is something we have known and regarded as normal for centuries. But what we now have got to get used to is that tomorrow morning's sewage will end up, suitably purified, as the water in hon. Members' whisky next weekend. That is the reality of water management in this country today.

We must therefore regard water management and sewage management as two stages of the same process. That, of course, was the conclusion of the Central Advisory Water Committee and its view has been accepted by the Secretary of State. It follows that we must regard our rivers not simply as drains and sewers but as water pipes.

There are already controls on the amount of new effluents discharged into the rivers or sewers, and these include farm effluents as well. But we may well have to tighten these controls, to improve our methods of sewage treatment, to extend our effluent controls to the estuaries, as recommended in the Jeger Working Party's Report, to ask industry to pay a larger share of the cost of dealing with the more complex effluents which it seeks to get rid of nowadays into waterways and sewers, and to guard against the pollution of ground water by the run off from toxic refuse tips.

Again and again one kind of pollution spills over into another. Keeping our water supplies clean depends to an increasing extent on how we dispose of our rubbish. I am sure that the House will be familiar with the recent report on waste disposal and the report of the working party on the disposal of solid toxic wastes. These show that, out of 14 million tons of waste of which we dispose each year, not less than 200,000 tons is toxic and this, of course, is a serious problem inasmuch as it may affect the head streams of some of our rivers.

These reports, and the speeches of hon. Members, underline the need for a total approach to pollution. Just as the disposal of rubbish by incineration involves clean air policy, so the seepage of toxic solid waste into water courses requires river boards to work with local sanitation departments, and, through them, with the planners, in order to have a comprehensive view of pollution as a whole. All this has a bearing on local government reform, because one must look at these things in total.

I want now to mention some of the points concerning rivers which were raised by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), who is an expert on this matter. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) also raised, as he has before, the problem of foaming on the Aire. I will deal first with Castle-ford. I well remember—how could I forget?—the photographs he presented to me which displayed the possibility of losing a motorcar in the foam at Castleford on certain days of the year.

The information I have to give to him today is that the first of two pumps which are being provided by the river authority has been installed. The river authority tells me that this has caused some improvement but I gather that there is a difference of opinion between the river authority and the local council about how substantial that improvement has been. Whether the second pump will help, I cannot say. I do not know whether it has yet been installed. But I can say that, following the deputation he was good enough to bring to my Department, we have looked into this matter with the C.B.I. and with our departmental working party, and progress is being made in the development of detergents which will satisfy the special needs of the rather greasy industrial processes in the Bradford area.

This is not an easy problem but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Royal Commission is quite right in saying that the general situation is improving dramatically. The problem here is not the sort of detergents used by housewives. It is the special hard detergents which are used exclusively in the wool industry in Bradford. We are not unmindful of his anxiety and I will pursue the points he has made with the Department and with the C.B.I.

Turning to other rivers, I recently visited the River Trent, when I had the pleasure of opening a £4 million sewerage works at Burton-on-Trent. Although, as we must recognise, an extraordinary amount of filth is still being brought down stream in the River Tame from the Black Country, there has nevertheless been a remarkable improvement in both the quality and quantity of fishing in the Trent both above and below Nottingham.

I have also taken the opportunity to visit the Tyne, and the House will be glad to know that we have agreed to an expenditure of £30 million for its comprehensive improvement. The Tees is still a problem, but I have had the opportunity of meeting both industrialists—there is a heavy concentration of industrial power of all kinds, chemical, steels and so on—and local authorities in the area. Once the county borough has its new sewerage schemes under way and the industrialists have improved their discharges into the estuary—and I believe that we are well on the way to seeing those things done—there can be a substantial improvement in the Tees estuary, too.

I ought to mention the Mersey where, two weeks, ago, I had the opportunity to meet all the largest industrialists in the area and the local authorities in the estuary area. Arising out of that, a new steering committee has been formed, and a phased and costed programme for the improvement of the Mersey by the early 1980s is under consideration by all authorities on Merseyside under the leadership of the river authority, and we can look forward, now that the resources, technology, and above all, good will and cooperation are available, to the Mersey estuary being cleaned up, first by getting rid of the gross pollution on the beaches at New Brighton, and, secondly, by reintroducing oxygen into the river so that it does not become anerobic and smell.

We are concerned not merely with discharges into rivers, but with discharges into the sea. My right hon. Friend and I have recently had some useful discussions with the French and German Ministers concerned and I believe that by the time the United Nations Conference on the Environment is held in Stockholm, we shall be able to report some useful progress in cleaning up the North Sea.

I turn now to noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East, not for the first time, displayed his considerable knowledge and interest in the subject of noise. If there is one proposition to which both sides of the House would agree, it is that noise is a nuisance, that it is a nuisance which is increasing, that it is a nuisance which in a civilised society should be diminished.

One may approach the problem in many ways. One way is to separate people from noise, by having, for example, noise-free areas in factories, by insulation, for example, around airports, by having minimum noise take-off and landing techniques. We are making progress in all these. In particular, the Noise Advisory Council has recently provided us with an excellent report on minimising noise at airports through the sensible management of landing and take-off techniques and it has similarly provided an excellent report on possible amendments to our present legislation on noise.

But in the end the best answer to noise is to reduce it at source. Here, too, there is progress to report. For instance, the International Civil Aviation Organisation has already agreed to a noise certification scheme for all new types of subsonic airliners and Britain has been first to implement this scheme. The Aircraft Noise Certification Order, 1970, will therefore prevent the operation of future subsonic jet aircraft types in this country unless in general they are only about half as noisy as current types. So we are making progress in reducing noise at source.

I end with some general comments to put the matter into perspective. The first, about environmental pollution, is addressed to those who argue that somehow economic growth and pollution go hand in hand. I well understand the argument, but those who advance it should clearly understand what they are saying. It is suggested that if only our industrial development had stopped at an earlier stage, say, at the point where hand craftsmanship was highly developed, but before the steam engine was invented, man could be prosperous and happy, living in harmony with nature. This thesis, which is widely advanced, takes it for granted that somehow we could return to that bucolic state if only we had the will.

In fact, the sort of life which is envisaged by those idealists was possible only for a tiny minority, and even that minority depended on the existence of a much larger population living on the brink of starvation. The hard fact is—and surely it is nothing for us to be ashamed of—that it is only modern industry and modern technology and modern fertilisers, the very economic growth which so many affect to despise, which have made it possible for the mass of ordinary people to have anything like a decent standard of living. Therefore, I say that the only alternative to modern pesticides and complex industrial processes is not happy country-dwellers living in pleasant cottages, as Breughel painted them, but the sort of mass misery which we associate with the Bengal famines.

The second point of perspective, on which I end, is that, contrary to rumour and to popular headlines, we are not, at least not in Britain, losing the battle to protect our environment. I do not say that we are winning it, but we are more than holding our own. Some pronouncements insist that it is already too late, that we are blindly heading into the environmental apocalypse. We do not dismiss these projections—we want to find out more about them—nor are we complacent. There are dangers and anxieties, and none of us has any excuse to sit back.

But the facts are that in Britain our air is generally cleaner and our rivers, in spite of last year's sewage workers' strike, are a good deal less polluted and our industrial effluent and toxic wastes, though very much greater in volume and vastly more complex in character, on the whole are less dangerous and causing less offence to our people than were any of those things 100 years ago, 50, or even 20 years ago. So we have by no means lost this battle. I think that we are more than holding our own.