§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
I beg to move,That this House is seriously concerned at the growing problem of pollution; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce early legislation to deal with all aspects of this increasing menace to society and our way of life.This subject has been highlighted in the past week by the criminal dumping of sodium cyanide ash in the Nuneaton area and the further disclosures of widespread dumping around the Midlands and other parts of the country. The House will wish to congratulate the Secretary of State for the Environment upon his speedy announcement that he will ask Parliament to enact new legislation with tough penalties for those who illegally dump poisons. Must we wait for a near disaster before taking action on the many other aspects of pollution of our environment?
Clearly this is becoming the most serious and urgent problem and it needs action now. I say to the Minister, please act now on all aspects of pollution of the environment. The new legislation proposed by the Minister should be rushed through Parliament and, according to recent Press reports, this is the intention. Not only is the illegal dumping of toxic waste taking place, but a long list of widely feared poisons such as cyanide, alkaloids, pesticide residues and arsenic are being dumped on tips by industry at an alarming rate amounting to hundreds of thousands of tons each year.
It is widely accepted that 90 per cent. of this waste is toxic and there is a danger that this indiscriminate dumping could result in poison finding its way into our water supplies. In this country great use is made of underground sources for public water supplies, and 892 nearly all of the water percolates down from the surface. This water could drain from one of the tips I have mentioned with serious consequences.
Industry will need financial support to enable it to install new effluent treatment plant. I am sure that most of the large companies would be only too glad to find a better way of disposing of toxic waste than dumping it on tips. May I make a suggestion to the Minister? There should either be Government or local authority controlled tips with financial backing and with fully qualified, experienced staff to handle the toxic waste and all companies in an area should be forced to use such special tips, with heavy penalties for failure to do so.
We should also make maximum use of the reclamation industry. The latest estimate of raw material import savings achieved in this industry amounts to something like £1,300 million a year. This is only a fraction of what could be reclaimed if there were more profit in it. The Government might also consider financing this plant for use at various tips. No one has yet calculated the benefits to the environment in reduced excavation or making full use of the materials we throw away. Yet almost everything we use passes at some time through the waste disposal industry where it could with ingenuity be extracted and re-cycled, at a cost. It is the cost factor which time and again thwarts conservationists.
Probably an even greater threat is the pollution of our rivers. The Government announced plans for a national clean water campaign last year and this month they will publish the second part of their survey on British rivers. There will be full details of what pollutants are found, where, and in what quantities. This appraisal of the situation, which is absolutely right, will measure the size of the problem, but in the meantime serious pollution of the rivers goes on.
One of the rivers seriously polluted is the Trent which borders on my constituency in Derby. It drains seven counties and has nearly 5½ million people living within its basin. For almost its entire length, the last survey showed the Trent to be in a poor state because of pollution, or grossly polluted, and yet it is not all that many years ago, I am advised by people who have spent a 893 lifetime in Derby, that one could swim in the Trent with complete safety and angling in it was a real joy. It is not so today. This is an indication of the indiscriminate and criminal dumping of toxic waste into the rivers by industry, and, in my view, it requires much more urgent attention than the Minister's clean rivers plan which, to be fair, is an excellent plan, but too long-term.
Again, according to the Press this week the Minister is giving urgent consideration to imposing penalties on those who indiscriminately dump into our rivers. Incidentally, I have had the devil of a job in keeping apace with the Press reports this week; statements come from the Department every day. I have had to rewrite this speech almost daily to take account of developments. I am not complaining about that because they have been very good statements. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman during the debate will confirm these reports. Immediate action now to deal with those who indiscriminately dump would enable the clean rivers plan to have sufficient time to get into full swing.
I move on to another serious form of pollution, and that is pollution of the air, largely caused by car, lorry and coach exhaust fumes. This is a problem which has occupied the attention of successive Governments, but very little has been done to implement a systematic attack on exhaust emissions. There are, of course, regulations concerning the proper maintenance of vehicles, particularly heavy lorries, coaches and buses, but how often is action taken against those who severely pollute the air by bellowing black diesel smoke? Lorries and coaches are the worst offenders. I drive up and down the M1 to and from my constituency fairly regularly, and only last week I passed a privately-owned coach from which the black diesel smoke being emitted was so bad it was like going through a thick fog. This is absolutely disgraceful. Imagine what this does to the atmosphere when these incidents are multiplied hundreds of thousands of times.
It need not be like this, because skilled, regular maintenance could cut down a great deal of this pollution. If hon. Members on either side of the House want to see a very good example of what I mean I suggest they look at 894 London buses. They will see practically no smoke emitted from them because they are regularly serviced and maintained by experts.
It is a well-known fact that our car manufacturers can produce equipment which would considerably reduce the carbon-monoxide and hydro-carbon emissions and also deal with nitrogen oxide emissions. Indeed, the British automobile industry should be following its counterparts in America and Japan and setting targets for the elimination of these dangerous fumes by redesigning the internal combustion engine and adding control devices which would prevent combustion byproducts from being released into the atmosphere. Lord Rothschild, who is the head of the Government's Capability Unit, in a recent article says that exhaust from cars could be purified to remove lead and dangerous gases at an extra cost of between £50 and £100 per car. In my view, this would be a small price to pay to make the atmosphere cleaner and safer.
I am advised that the Government have been holding talks with oil companies in recent weeks to try to get a voluntary system in restricting the levels of lead additives in petrol. Again, I have been trying to keep up with the Government's movements in this matter. There is an article in The Guardian today which says:The level of lead in petrol is expected to be reduced by 24 per cent. Mr. Peter Walker, the Secretary of State for the Environment, is expected to announce that Britain will follow the major European countries by accepting the level laid down by the standardising authority of the E.E.C.I shall be glad to know whether the Secretary of State is able to confirm that statement, because last night there was a report in the Evening Standard that the oil companies had met the motor industry and put forward all sorts of objections, particularly the cost factor, and made the point that it would cost motorists something like 40 per cent. more if these changes were brought about. I should like the Secretary of State to comment particularly on this point. These talks are in advance of the conference which, I gather, is to be held by the Department of Health and Social Security on the health hazards of lead compounds in engine exhausts. If the oil 895 companies do not agree to this voluntary action I say in all seriousness to the Secretary of State that they should be compelled so to do by legislation.
Motor exhausts cause most of the atmospheric pollution by lead compounds, and the long-term hazard from steadily accumulating quantities in the atmosphere could be very serious indeed. In 1970 the petrol consumption amounted to 14 million tons in the United Kingdom alone. That gave an estimated discharge of lead into the atmosphere of 10,000 tons, and with an ever-increasing number of vehicles on the roads the position will get very much worse unless the Government give clear instruction to the oil companies and the motor manufacturers. Airborne lead coming from engine fumes is absorbed through the lungs, and around half is retained by the body. The position is said to be even more serious and dangerous for children because they retain the lead content longer than adults.
I turn to what I regard as a rather shabby act of the Government last year. In the Finance Act they put a stop to the conversion of petrol engines to burning a pollutionless fuel—liquid petroleum gas. This was just beginning to find a foothold in the general vehicle market in Britain. Liquid petroleum gas is now taxed on an equivalent basis to petrol, removing all incentive to conversion. This would have been a chance to make a small but significant improvement in the air of British cities, and it has been thrown away. Unlike petrol, L.P.G. requires no lead additives for efficient combustion and so makes no contribution to lead pollution in the air. An L.P.G. vehicle—I would ask the Secretary of State to take account of this—meets the strictest 1974 Californian emission requirements which are well in advance of standards in this country or in any other country in the world. I am sure the Secretary of State would like to discuss this matter with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor with a view to the latter's reconsidering the tax which was put on L.P.G.
§ Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)
Would the hon. Member agree that although provision was made to tax L.P.G. that tax has not been levied? He may recall that the other day I put a Question—which shows I agree with the hon. Member 896 —that it was folly to tax L.P.G. and so prevent people from using it when another of my right hon. Friends would have to spend thousands of pounds to get the pollution out of the atmosphere, as the hon. Member rightly points out.
§ Mr. Johnson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. I hope that the Minister will make recommendations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the removal of this tax.
The Minister will be aware that a Los Angeles type of photo-chemical smog was found in the South of England last year. Scientists from Harwell have proved for the first time the existence of this type of smog in Britain's atmosphere. It occurs when exhaust fumes are exposed to strong sunlight. The scientists found from tests that the ozone level exceeded the safety level recommended in the United States. On two days the level was so high that the density of the smog caused the eyes to smart. We have all had the unhappy experience of being in a traffic jam and smelling exhaust fumes and almost choking with the fumes, particularly during the summer and on humid days. We must not sweep this problem under the carpet. We have seen what has happened in Tokyo and California as a result of ignoring exhaust fume pollution.
I am partciularly concerned about pollution of the atmosphere because Derby is one of the worst polluted towns in Britain, not only for the reasons I have mentioned but because of the complex of power stations along the Trent which, I am advised, causes Derby to be the most sulphur-dioxide-polluted town in the country. The whole town, including the suburbs, is notorious for chest complaints and asthmatical conditions because of the sulphur content of the atmosphere. I ask the Minister to tackle this aspect of pollution with the vigour with which he is tackling the dumping of cyanide and other poisons. It is patently the most dangerous of all forms of pollution, although it may not be so clearly seen as such.
Before coming to the next part of my speech, I should declare an interest. I am an honorary national officer of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, one of the three railway unions. We must make more use of our railway system so as to cut down road traffic. As a first 897 step, the Government should give the all-clear to British Rail to electrify all services. This would cut down diesel fumes and at the same time produce a fast and efficient passenger and freight service. Industry should be encouraged to make greater use of the railways for freight, thereby keeping off the road some of the heavy lorries which pollute the air and cause traffic congestion and noise.
There is a ring road round Derby which is used night and day by lorries. It is sheer hell for those who live in the vicinity of the road. If all the heavy traffic were carried by rail the noise problem would be eliminated. I ask the Minister to consider the following basic advantages of getting more passenger and freight traffic on to rail. Trains make no further visual intrusion; they cause virtually no pollution and, with electrification, no pollution; they make a far more economical use of the land; they cause far less nuisance from noise.
The Minister should also encourage local authorities to study the feasibility of keeping the private motorist from the centre of large towns. Adequate car parking facilities on the perimeter would be required, and a fast, efficient, reasonably-priced public service. This would help to eliminate not only traffic congestion in towns and cities but also exhaust smog.
I have been pressing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for the past eight months to bring pressure to bear on B.E.A. to purchase the Lockheed TriStar aircraft powered by the Rolls Royce RB211 engine, partly because of the thousands of skilled men employed in this industry in Derby and partly because that engine is at least 50 per cent. quieter than any jet engine yet produced. It is also an engine which has no smog emission. The aircraft, which carries 300 passengers, will occupy the same amount of airspace as three present-day conventional jets. The reduction in noise levels would be immensely appreciated by people who are unfortunate enough to live near airports.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the advantages of the Lockheed TriStar from the point of view of pollution, economic problems and employment in this country are so out- 898 standing that there is no need for the Government to bring pressure to bear on British airlines? British airlines will want to buy this aircraft, and it would be better for them to make this decision themselves so that the decision can be seen to have been made independently by the airlines rather than under pressure by the Government.
§ Mr. Johnson
The hon. Member for Derby, South-East (Mr. Rost) has helped me in trying to get the Government to bring pressure to bear on the airlines. As he knows, orders are the big problem of Rolls-Royce in Derby. Although the hon. Gentleman may think it wise for the airline to make its own decision, we have been told recently by Lockheed that B.E.A. could have purchased this aircraft much more cheaply if it had made up its mind before the end of February instead of dithering about for months.
I conclude with a summary of my suggestions. Because I consider the problem to be so serious, I ask the Government to give consideration to appointing a Minister with sole responsibility for pollution, and having a small highly technical and specialised staff. This would help to focus public attention on the problem and make expert advice available to industry.
With the enlarged local authorities envisaged in the Local Government Bill now going through the House, the Minister should instruct the new authorities to appoint pollution officers whose duties would be to advise and control local industrial pollution. At present this responsibility is divided between three or four officers, none of whom has over-riding responsibility. My suggestion would enable one person to have direct responsibility for advising on and controlling local industrial pollution.
Either the Government or local authorities should set up official dumps under expert control. Heavy fines should be imposed on firms who dump poisonous materials elsewhere. Motor manufacturers and oil companies should be instructed to deal with exhaust fumes on a properly phased programme. I understand the difficulties of doing this overnight, but it is reasonable to ask for a phased programme. British Rail should be given the all-clear to electrify all services, and industry should be encouraged 899 to make more use of the existing rail network, particularly for freight.
Another form of pollution is the dumping of poisons at sea. I am pleased that the Government have been able to get an agreement with eleven other countries about dumping in the North Sea and the English Channel. Furthermore, there are the problems of oil pollution on the beaches and the disposal of non-returnable plastic containers and cans. I know that other hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious to take part in this debate, so I will leave others to follow up these points.
I conclude by saying that, without firm imagination and action now by the Government, this would well be the most serious problem of this decade. The Secretary of State by his actions has shown that he shares our concern and I assure him that action which he takes will have the full support of the vast majority of people. It is later than we think.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I know that the House wishes to congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) on two grounds—first, on his good fortune in the ballot and, secondly, for the constructive and cogent way in which he introduced his Motion. I am grateful for his remarks and for his constructive suggestions. I assure him that his suggestions will be carefully examined and that action is already taking place on some of them.
I very much welcome this debate, since it gives me an opportunity to tell the House about some of the action that is being taken and to outline the strategy that is being adopted by my Department.
When the Department of the Environment was created 16 months ago it met with the agreement of both sides of the House. It is true to say that, had a Labour Government been elected, they, too, would have created such a Department, with similar powers and disciplines. All Governments have recognised the importance of the interplay and cross-disciplines of planning, transportation and various pollution problems, and they appreciate how essential it is to coordinate these matters in one Department.
900 From the very beginning of my work in the Department I have sought to pursue a number of basic principles. The first priority—even above that of conserving the environment of those who already have a good one—was to seek to improve the environment of those who at present are living in very bad conditions. It is true to say that the most polluted places are also the areas with the worst housing, and probably with the oldest schools and the worst industrial conditions. We are working to the principle of trying to shift resources to assist the worst areas of pollution.
Pollution takes many forms. A number were mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Many of the basic forms of pollution, such as bad housing, derelict land, and so on, have resulted from the Industrial Revolution. There is at present available to many of our older industrial areas an armoury of grants which could result in a basic change in the quality of life in those areas. The recently announced "Operation Eyesore" campaign, with a maximum of 85 per cent. grants; 85 per cent. grants for derelict land, 75 per cent, for slum clearance and 75 per cent. for house improvement, could transform these areas. That announcement, which will increase tenfold the expenditure on such campaigns as "Keep Britain Tidy", is intended to help to improve the quality of these areas.
In seeking to improve various areas we must consider the basic ingredients of life itself. We must look at the atmosphere in which mankind lives. One of my first tasks at the Department was to try to develop much of the work which had already been done, to continue it, and, indeed, extend it elsewhere. We are aiming at as complete a monitoring system as possible of pollution. Such a system, whose results will be regularly published, must assist progress in terms of diminishing pollution in all its forms.
We have recently published the first part of the River Pollution Survey, which examines pollution in all the rivers; the second part of that survey will shortly be published. Certain delays have been caused by computer troubles. One piece of computer information which was most encouraging occurred when one answer given by the computer was that the River Mersey was one mile long and completely clean! The river survey is an important 901 document, but only if action can take place in the worst areas. Therefore it is important to publish up-dated river surveys, so that, year by year, the country will be able to see what action the Government are taking in keeping rivers clean.
A complete survey of air pollution has been conducted by the laboratory at Warren Springs, in about 1,200 locations, and the findings will be published later this year. I want to see that work extended, and in areas where air pollution is substantial we shall try regularly to publish up-dated surveys on the various ingredients in the air.
A great deal of work is being undertaken on tips to see that there is better supervision and control. I have begun a survey of all tips and am sending out a detailed questionnaire to all local authorities, and I hope that as a result of the information disclosed we shall be able to see what action is needed. Plenty of scope is available to local authorities for taking action. For example, planning restrictions on tips are frequently violated. The local authority has power to tell the tip owner or operator that he is violating the planning conditions and to see that the matter is remedied. Likewise, my Department is arranging to carry out extended surveys of noise pollution in all its forms, particularly in motorway areas and areas of high traffic density. There is now available to us much more information and we intend to maintain a full monitoring service.
Finally, I turn to a more specialised sphere. When I received certain advice and reports about lead in the air, I took the view that, although there was a case on the medical effects of its present level, there was no evidence of its being particularly dangerous to people. I was not satisfied that enough research had been undertaken on the effects of an accumulation of lead in dust, dirt and brickwork resulting from a long period of exposure, dangerous waste materials are safely dis- I have ordered a widespread survey of dust and dirt in various areas, including those of high traffic density. The result of that survey has already shown the disquieting effects of such matters in the Isle of Dogs, where it has been found that children in the area have been exposed to a high level of lead—I am pleased to say not dangerously so. 902 Medical treatment has been given to remove the problem. Likewise, lead testing in the Avonmouth has disclosed disquieting facts. There are the dangers involved in the use of lead piping, and in the former widespread use of lead paint which turns into dust when chipped off surfaces. Therefore, a great deal more work needs to be done on the medical effects and the surveys required.
We see that a good deal of work is under way in terms of river surveys, air surveys, tip surveys, noise surveys and testing for lead. This is beginning to result in a full system of monitoring. Certainly in the major subjects I want to see a continuing system of monitoring, with the publishing of the results. We have made progress in a number of spheres. Successive Governments have a remarkable record in dealing with air pollution, and our achievement is the envy of the world. Today, we are able to clean buildings in London knowing that they will stay clean as a result of the remarkable changes which have come about since the Clean Air Act, 1956. We are continuing to advance in terms of the control of air pollution.
I want to pay tribute to the remarkable work—since that good Tory, Disraeli, started it—of the members of the Alkali Inspectorate. They are an extremely diligent and able body of men. Recently, somewhat to their horror, I gave them a different title, mainly because I thought that the word "alkali" did not convey a great deal to many people. I thought it better to call it the Alkali and Clean Air Inspectorate. We are strengthening the inspectorate in terms of size, and in the course of the past year I have put a number of further processes under its control; for example, mineral processing, the processes of storing and refining petrol, aluminium smelting and a number of processes concerned with the manufacture of plastics. This represents a considerable extension of the matters over which the inspectorate has a controlling position, but it is not by any means the end of the line. From time to time as processes are seen to endanger the cleanliness of our air, I shall place them under the control of the inspectorate.
Likewise, we passed regulations last year to lower the legal discharge of grit and dust from furnaces.
903 On the subject of exhaust from motor cars, I agree very much with the theme of the hon. Member for Derby, South. This is an area where there is need for vigilance and constant regulation. As for lead, it is not my intention to have voluntary agreements. We need proper and statutory controls. I think that what all Governments would do, naturally, is to consult all those concerned to see the timetables needed to diminish it and to see the technical problems involved.
I have made no decision yet on the exact requirements to be made for lead. I have had talks with the petroleum industry and others. Yesterday, I invited a range of scientific writers to come to see me, not to write a story about this, but to give me and my officials the benefit of their experience and their views on what they consider to be the dangers from lead emissions. In addition, we brought in regulations this year affecting all new cars, which will reduce considerably the emissions of hydrocarbons. As from 1st October, there will be new restrictions which will keep smoke emissions to a very low level on all future new vehicles with diesel engines. One of the problems with older vehicles is that of enforcement. At the present time, on almost every journey by road, one comes across enormous lorries or coaches with massive smoke emissions. There are powers against them, and they are breaking the law. I hope that more will be done to enforce the powers.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Derby South said about our railways. I hope that he will agree that the Government's decision to give 75 per cent. capital grants on new vehicles and signalling equipment for the railways for transportation throughout our urban areas is an encouraging step forward.
As a general observation, I may say that I am in favour of seeing our railways fully utilised. One of the problems in terms of transportation is that so many of our railway termini are in city centres. It is not so much a case of loading goods on to the railway; it is a matter of driving to the city centre in order to load goods, with the congestion problems that that creates. I welcome the move of the railways to shift many of their freight depots outside our cities, especially when 904 ring roads are created. As we complete our motorway system, and in most major urban areas we have ring roads to urban standards, the railways will consider the possibility of resiting many of their termini on the ring road systems which should lead to less congestion in our towns.
We have overcome the shortage of smokeless fuels. Local authorities can go ahead on a substantial scale with extending their smokeless zones in the coming years.
In terms of air pollution, therefore, there will be increasing regulation on the motor car as technology allows us to do it. I see greater enforcement and control of the Clean Air Inspectorate on industry. I see a considerable extension of smokeless zones. With a combination of those measures, I am confident that the air that we breathe in our cities will become cleaner year by year.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) raised the vexed question of liquified petroleum gas. There is an issue here. I tabled a number of Amendments to last year's Finance Bill which resulted in a constant battle with the Treasury. The Treasury says that my proposals would erode the revenue. This is a battle inside Whitehall. The right hon. Gentleman must tell the Treasury that it has to take a long term view. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what extent he is prepared to fight for the fiscal system being biased in favour of fuels of this type?
§ Mr. Walker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not pursue the general theme of being biased financially towards discouraging pollution. I have asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to deal with the point. However it is not quite so simple. Although it diminishes certain types of pollution, it causes other problems.
I turn now to water pollution. I have referred already to the importance of the river survey published recently. I emphasise the massive importance of the water reorganisation that the Government have announced. It is vital that our river systems are operated on the basis of complete control in terms of sewerage 905 and water. We have had a situation in which a multitude of sewerage authorities have not been working in close conjunction with water authorities. Clearly a situation of that kind will cause considerable problems for our future water supplies. What is more, it does not use our water resources to the best effect. The reorganisation will provide a water system which is under greater control in terms of pollution than any other in the world.
Combined with this is the need for massive expenditure. The hon. Member for Derby, South said that he welcomed the proposals but, naturally enough, he hoped that they could take place more speedily. While I sympathise with that argument, the amounts involved in doing it are gigantic, though they are very well worth while and we are accelerating at a fast rate.
On sewerage alone, the previous five years have seen an all time high. By that, I do not criticise the previous Government. But £500 million was spent on sewerage. In the coming five years, £820 million will be spent on sewerage schemes, and I hope to see some breakthrough on methods which may assist us. At present, when one opens a sewage works, which is not the most gay occasion, all too often it is almost a replica of the works dating back to the 1800s which it replaces. However, a great deal of research is being done at present.
As for our rivers, there will be an organisation which will do this and, as I say, there will be massive investment in sewerage in the coming five years. The G.L.C. is embarking on a scheme involving £45 million of expenditure which will help greatly in cleaning up the Thames. On Tyneside, there is a scheme involving £45 million. On Teesside there is another scheme involving £20 million. A meeting has been organised of Mersey authorities with a view to getting a total approach to the problems in that river.
Another area in which I want to see progress made, mainly in terms of capital investment, concerns coastal discharges of sewage. I have ordered a complete survey of the sewerage systems of our coastal resorts to see if it is possible to deal with that problem.
906 The Dumping at Sea Convention of Oslo, on which I place great importance, was a considerable break-through. Whilst not in any way being against international agreements on a world-wide scale in certain spheres—for example, the notification of types of cargoes, which is essential—I do not think that in seeking an overall international agreement we should delay coming to regional agreements. We mainly share the seas and oceans with a number of Scandinavian and European countries. Likewise, with the pollution of the air, we are very much involved with these other nations.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I had an answer yesterday from the Minister of Agriculture in which he said that the Government were considering the vexed question of penalties in relation to the dumping of toxic materials in the North Sea. This is a difficult matter. Will the Government give consideration during their discussions not so much to fines which may be ineffective, but to having short prison spells for people responsible at the highest level in companies. It is no good putting some minnow in prison. It has to be the senior man at the top of the company who knows what is up. We might then get management by embarrassment and thereby obtain some degree of effectiveness. No one wants to land the boss in clink.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall be coming to penalties generally later.
The Oslo Convention was signed on 15th February. The first meeting took place in London last June, so rapid progress was made.
I now turn to pollution which has very much concerned the country in recent weeks: namely, the dumping of materials on land, in pits, and in water.
I believe that the disposal of waste materials, both dangerous and non-dangerous, is in need of major reorganisation in this country. The real problem has been that we have relied on the diligent efforts of district councils throughout the country, but district councils of a size which do not have the resources to deal with the problem in a modern way. They do not have the staff. This point was made by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson), who said that he hoped that, under the new local government reorganisation, a pollution 907 officer would be appointed. That is a constructive suggestion. I am preparing for the new authorities a management briefing. Although I cannot make it a statutory responsibility, I can issue a briefing on how they should carry out their functions in a managerial sense.
I have appointed a committee of leading figures from both the managerial side of local government and outside which is at present trying to prepare a mandate of managerial guidance for both the new district and county authorities. I shall certainly ask that committee to make sure that, within that guidance, it looks carefully at the manner in which this problem is operated and worked. In the Local Government Bill we are putting the function of the disposal of refuse and waste in all its forms with the new county authorities. I have done this intentionally, because I believe that this task requires major capital investment, and this can only be done by substantial authorities. As from 1st April, 1974, the new counties will take over this function and will obviously have massive capital resources to deal with it.
Last April we circulated a code of practice on how tips should be operated and on the disposal of waste which local authorities agreed to. I believe that it is having some effect.
Earlier I announced a national survey of existing tips on the basis of a detailed questionnaire which my Department is sending out. I am also having talks with the C.B.I. to try to find out how we can put into operation some form of early warning system of new substances and chemicals. Often when a new chemical is produced it is only after some dangerous position has arisen that we know of its existence, its make-up, and how to deal with it.
I hope that we shall have some success in creating an early warning system in the international sphere as well. I remind the House of the difficulties on the Cornish coast. The Government are endeavouring to find ways of ensuring that maritime countries notify the countries concerned in the event of the sinking of a vessel and the nature of its cargo. These actions are in being or are taking place at the moment.
908 We have realised a situation which is now clear to all. About a week ago, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) raised the topic of dumping at Nuneaton. He kindly said that the Opposition would be anxious to help in seeing through a Bill which increased penalties and provided much tighter control over the potential dangers of dumping. I should like to express the Government's gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for that undertaking. It has enabled the Government to prepare a short Bill, which I will present to the House next week, to deal with this problem. The Bill has been prepared in co-operation with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, and it will apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
I believe that the House will agree that no society should tolerate a situation where people irresponsibly dump dangerous materials so as to endanger the lives of children, adults, or, indeed animals. One cannot condemn too strongly a manufacturer who does not accept his full responsibility in seeing that dangerous waste marterials are safely disposed of. Nor can one condemn too strongly the carrier of such materials who, in order to obtain financial gain, carelessly and recklessly dumps materials, endangering the lives of children.
From a departmental point of view, I welcome the ever-increasing interest of the general public in these problems. The vigilance of the public will help us to enforce the provisions of the new Bill which I shall be presenting.
In recent months the public has seen many examples and has exposed how widespread in certain areas these irresponsible actions have been, not only over the last few months, but over many years.
The present law is totally inadequate to deter those guilty of such offences. Whilst there are statutes under which prosecutions can be brought, they contain only minor penalties—penalties completely inadequate to deter the waste producer or the waste carrier who sees financial gain in irresponsibly disposing of dangerous waste materials.
It is my intention, therefore, to introduce to Parliament next week a Bill which I hope, with the co-operation of 909 Parliament, will speedily reach the Statute Book. It will be a short Bill, but highly effective in deterring the irresponsible polluter.
The Bill will create a new offence. In future it will be an offence to deposit, or cause to be deposited, waste in solid or liquid form—I should remind the House that cyanide is by no means the only danger; there is the whole range of chemical detergents—which is poisonous, noxious or polluting and would give rise to a material risk to persons or animals of death or injury or provide a danger to water supply.
It is important that the penalties for this offence should be such that any financial gain obtained by irresponsible dumping should be more than dissipated by the levels of the penalties. Therefore, the penalties for this offence on indictment will be an unlimited fine or five years imprisonment, or both. The Bill will also contain provision that, for more minor offences appropriate for summary conviction in a magistrates' court, the magistrates' court will be able to impose a fine of £400 or six months imprisonment, or both. It will be seen that this offence puts a responsibility on both the producer of the waste material and the carrier, both of whom have a real obligation.
The Bill will also carry provision for a full system of notification of the movement of dangerous materials. Any person moving such materials will have to give three days notice to the responsible authorities: notice to the local authority in whose district the waste originates and the local authority in whose district the waste is to be deposited. Notification will also have to be given to the river authority in whose area the waste is to be deposited. The notice will have to give the nature and chemical composition of the waste, its source, the place where it is to be deposited and the name of the carrier. The tip operator will then have to notify the authorities of the safe receipt of the waste.
Failure to comply with these requirements will result, on summary conviction in the magistrates' courts, in a fine of £400. The provision of false information will result, on indictment, in an unlimited fine or two years' imprisonment, or, on summary conviction, in a fine of £400.
The Bill will further provide the right of entry to premises to see that the pro- 910 visions of the Bill are properly being carried out.
The Bill will apply, as I said, to England, Scotland and Wales. It is certainly my hope that the public will remain vigilant now that these penalties will be available against those committing this offence, and will continue, whenever they suspect dangerous dumping to be taking place, to inform the police or their local authority. These measures are a continuation of the war against the polluter and the continuation of the principle that he who causes the pollution should meet the cost of cleaning it up.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would the Secretary of State comment on the question of who in a company would have to do the stint in prison? Is it to be the lorry driver or the boss?
§ Mr. Walker
The lorry driver will be responsible as the carrier, but the Bill clearly says that he who knows—[Interruption.] I believe that it is important that points such as this should be for Second Reading or Committee Stage. I have announced these proposals today because I thought it would be of advantage to this debate but it means that obviously the detail of the Bill and detailed questions about it should be left until later.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman expressed some thanks to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself for our support, and in view of the tremendous importance of his statement, may I take this opportunity to say that we would certainly congratulate him and his colleagues on the speed with which they have acted and the breadth and depth of these proposals, and assure him that they will have the fullest support of the Opposition?
§ Mr. Walker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His remarks show that the battle against pollution in all its forms is no issue of party politics but something that the whole House is intent to see succeed.
Therefore, we will have these proposals, the completion of the monitoring arrangements and further legislation to come. The hon. Member called for early legislation over the whole sphere. I believe that this is a task which will require 911 continuing legislative action by all Governments. I am reviewing the whole of the noise legislation at present and I hope at some future date to introduce legislation there.
When we come to the new proposals on water, I would envisage that there would be provisions to strengthen still further the anti-pollution elements of the powers of the new water authorities. When it comes to the misellaneous powers Bill which will be needed before local Government reform comes into operation, there again we can seek opportunities to legislate in this sphere.
I want to develop a total approach to this problem and in this way to see that this country can have an improving environment and not a deteriorating one.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson), not only on an excellent and constructive speech but on his choice of subject. It does not often fall to the lot of a private Member to produce both a Secretary of State and an Under-Secretary on a Friday or to gain from a senior Minister an indication of an important Bill which he intends to introduce.
I am sure that this will be an extremely useful debate, and that it will be a temptation to other hon. Members, as it is to me, to cover the whole field of pollution, but I want to confine myself to two aspects—first, the tremendously important subject of the disposal of waste, and, second, the treatment and recycling of waste materials.
I am sure that the Secretary of State knows that I now, unfortunately, have a constituency interest in the disposal of cyanide waste. The news of the 300 drums found or said to be inside a tip in Sheffield—a few yards outside my constituency but next to a comprehensive school and an infants' school in my constituency—has created a great deal of alarm in Sheffield, because the tip runs into a river that flows into the Don that flows through Sheffield. We have had news that cats have been mysteriously dying on the tip. I understand that nine cat corpses were found near the tip a short while ago and that no one knows 912 how they died. I sincerely hope that it is not from cyanide poison.
There are difficulties here which the Medical Officer of Health and other people concerned, both in the West Riding County Council and in Sheffield have to deal with. Obviously, both authorities are now involved. One view is that, if they tried to unearth these 300 drums, which I understand have 40 feet of soil above them—someone has suggested that there are several hundred more drums further down in the tip—disturbing them will probably break the drums open, if they are sealed, and cause a great deal more damage than leaving them alone. It has also been suggested that the drums were empty anyhow.
This is a very difficult problem, because if the drums contain cyanide waste and are sealed, obviously the authorities should not do anything to break them open, but metal drums rust and eventually, if they do contain cyanide waste, it will seep out in the river Locksley, into the Don and eventually out into the Humber.
It is hard to decide what local authorities should do in this situation. I congratulate the Secretary of State on his Bill—I know that I speak for hon. Members on both sides—since it seems to be the kind of Bill that we hoped he would bring in, with the severe penalties and the provisions that information must be given about the movement of poisonous waste materials. I hope that when he introduces it next week we get it into operation quickly.
But one problem is being left out—at the moment, perhaps, must be left out. These poisonous wastes must be treated to make them inert and safe before they are deposited anywhere. This will be difficult. There is a number of treatment plants, and it is possible that further development of these plants, particularly through the larger local authorities—I am very glad that this job is to be given to the larger authorities—will mean that waste materials can be collected from a wide area and will ensure that when the stuff is disposed of, it is no longer poisonous. This will be difficult, but it must be done.
Therefore, I should like to see the Bill operate quickly, then a great deal of research should be done to find out 913 whether it is possible to establish treatment plants—not only for cyanide: as the Secretary of State said, other poisonous materials are going into tips all over the country—to ensure that the stuff is treated before being disposed of. There are not enough holes in the ground in this country where we can go on with the kind of tipping which now takes place.
One reason why there is so much tipping in the Sheffield, South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire areas is that we have little valleys that we can fill in. Many areas have no flat land, particularly in my constituency. Controlled tipping and putting soil on top provides a good solution. We are getting playing fields out of old sites by tipping. All this may be to the good, but it is no good getting the flat land for social development if we are poisoning ourselves at the same time.
The reclamation of materials is very important. All over the country, we are depositing waste materials from industry or trying to get rid of waste materials—cars, tyres, glassware, non-returnable bottles, plastic bags, waste of all kinds. Much of it can be recycled and made into useful raw materials for industry. In Sheffield I think all of our steelworks now operate on scrap. This has been made feasible through the development of new types of furnaces, particularly electric-arc furnaces. In such furnaces one ton of scrap is equivalent to one-and-a-quarter tons of imported iron ore, plus limestone, coking coal and the rest.
The more scrap we use the more we save on imports and at the same time we stop cluttering up the countryside. I do not want to inflict lots of facts and figures on the House but some are interesting. At the moment I am having a fight with the Department of Trade and Industry. No one knows how many tons of scrap metal are represented through refrigerators, washing machines, motorcars and Heaven knows what lying around the country, quite a lot of it in thoroughly inadequate collection yards in residential areas. That should be stopped. There should be no car breakers' yards anywhere near residential areas. This kind of breaking up is thoroughly uneconomic but it is reckoned that there is about £6 million worth of scrap metal in the country which could 914 be collected and processed for steelmaking.
Last year we imported scrap from America—250,000 tons of it at a cost of £7 million. Not only that but the cost of home scrap delivered to the steelworks is about £16 a ton—we were importing the American scrap at £26 a ton. It does not make sense and it must be stopped. We must have further facilities for the treatment of other materials. As a result of research in other countries we know that there is no point in burning old tyres or piling them up around the countryside. In Czechoslovakia, Russia and I think the United States, processes have been developed whereby the tyres are broken into granules. If broken glass is treated in the same way I am told that the resultant mixture is one of the finest imaginable road-fills, for road-making.
Not enough research is being done. What is needed is a Minister with authority. I do not want to be critical of the Under-Secretary but we do not want a Minister who is also mixed up with sport and other things. We want a Minister who will concentrate on this job of dealing with pollution and taking charge of the research work that needs to be done into the reclamation and re-cycling of waste materials, as well as holding high level discussions with the relevant industries. The first thing we need is a great deal more information about the kind of plant that can be used on a big scale to recycle as much waste material as possible.
It has been estimated that we have 2,000 million tons of spoil at pitheads, near abandoned collieries or working collieries. Some of the material is taken away as shale for road-building. I do not know what else is being taken out but even taking that into consideration, the net addition to those spoil heaps is 40 million tons a year. It has been estimated that in this annual addition there is a great deal of metallic materials. There is aluminium silicate which could be used for aluminium processing, and potash and iron oxides which if they could be economically extracted, could be worth about £1,500 million a year at present prices. The National Coal Board says that it would be uneconomic to do the extraction.
915 With due respect to the excellent work that the Coal Utilisation Research Council is doing, the Coal Board is not geared to do the research job needed to find out whether these metallic and other elements can be extracted from spoil heaps. If it is profitable to do it we will get rid of this stuff much more quickly. Obviously the cost of removing the slag that cannot be used, dumping it in an inert fashion so that it is not poisoning anyone, would be much reduced if we can get the money from the other waste materials. This applies to all waste materials. If there is a profitable way of extracting and recycling them then it should be done and help stop pollution. Whatever the cost may be we would be recovering some if not all by the extraction of these raw materials.
It has been estimated that because we have no proper methods of dealing with industrial waste we are throwing away, annually, something like 600 tons of copper and 1,000 tons of nickel. A great deal more research must be done. I do not want to be critical of Warren Spring Laboratories. Within its capacity the laboratories are doing a good job but they are too small. Warren Spring needs more money, better premises, a new approach. It would be wrong to throw all the expense of research on to the Government even though the country will benefit. Most of the industries concerned, particularly the waste industries as they are called—I do not want to be too rude—are not doing the job in the way it needs to be done. They are not spending enough money on research, they are not helping themselves as they should.
Some are quite pettifogging in their approach to the problem. We need a new association of the industries concerned. We need to discover everything that can be extracted from waste paper, plastics, textiles, rubber, metals ferrous and non-ferrous, and associate the extraction of these raw materials with a clean-up campaign. Let us stop throwing stuff away, let us stop putting it in the sea or the rivers or holes in the ground in an untreated fashion. Let us stop burning it because that pollutes the atmosphere. Let us make sure that we do a proper job on the reclamation and recycling of waste materials.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) made a thoughtful and constructive speech. He referred to the specific problem of pollution caused by the irresponsible dumping of industrial waste and I wholeheartedly agree with all that he said. Indeed, we must be grateful both to him for providing the House with an opportunity for focussing attention on this important subject and to my right hon. Friend for laying before us a clear picture of what his Department has been doing and is proposing to do to combat pollution in its various forms and to ensure more effective control of industrial waste disposal. I congratulate him on the speed with which he is bringing in a Bill next week, and also the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) for the prompt offer of support from the Opposition.
It may be helpful to the House if I put the view of the waste disposal industry and indicate some practical problems which are still in danger of being overlooked. In doing so, I must declare an interest. I have been associated for some years with one of the leading waste disposal firms in this country, indeed, in the world. I wish to make it absolutely plain that all responsible firms in the British waste disposal industry—they constitute the majority—share the deep concern of Parliament, the Press and the public about the irresponsible dumping of noxious and poisonous wastes. In our view, no words are too harsh for such anti-social behaviour. Moreover, the industry is not only anxious that the law should be strengthened—and I am empowered to say that it is delighted that the Government are taking such quick and effective steps—but it wishes to have it put on record that it has long advocated that the law should be strengthened. That was why, some years ago, the responsible elements in the industry established the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors. They saw then that order had to be brought into the chaos that was prevailing in the disposal of all kinds of waste and that the first step was to see that their own operations were properly conducted. That was why they welcomed the moves of the previous Labour Government to 917 investigate the methods of disposing of toxic waste, household refuse and sewage, and have been waiting for the legislation which was expected to follow.
I must explain that this is, by its nature, a highly competitive industry. In the absence of any clear statutory requirements and well defined code of practice it is not altogether surprising that some manufacturing firms should have acted irresponsibly. The foundation of the National Association certainly had a salutary effect where member firms were concerned, but the Association's sanctions did not extend to non-member firms. Here one can put a finger straight away on the first weakness in the present situation. But there are other weaknesses which need to be remedied. Industry is not always careful and scrupulous about the waste it creates. As long as it can hire someone to remove its wastes that was for many manufacturers the beginning and the end of the matter. Yet the fact is that the disposal of noxious and toxic wastes no longer presents serious technical problems. In fact, if we were to have a universal code of practice, it would not present serious economic problems because the facilities now exist to destroy such wastes by incineration or to render them harmless by neutralisation under controlled conditions. But that costs money, and unless industry is compelled to dispose of its wastes by the most appropriate and safest means it will seek to do so by the cheapest means. That is precisely what has been happening.
So we are faced with a paradox. My own firm, which can claim to have pioneered waste disposal technology, not only in Britain but in the world—our ideas are in practice in the United States, Japan and Australia—and other reputable concerns have modern plant and equipment at present standing idle, because in the present state of the law there are no sanctions compelling industry to dispose of its waste by the safest methods.
I hasten to add that this is not true of all manufacturing industry—obviously not. There is a growing realisation that greater care must be taken. Indeed, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Society of Chemical Industries in trying to educate its members to a more responsible view.
918 But, unhappily, there remains a great many firms that do not want to know what happens to their waste, provided that someone takes it off their premises. On that score alone it has been crystal clear for some time past that the law needs to be tightened up. We should, of course, keep the matter in perspective. We would have to stop short of imposing such restrictions on industrial activities that we price ourselves out of export markets. But that is no excuse for inaction. There are no insuperable technical or economic difficulties which prevent sensible control of waste disposal. It is not beyond the capacity of any government which claims to have a care for the preservation of the environment to devise fiscal means of encouraging manufacturers to spend money on avoiding these problems in the first place by disposing of waste in a safer and more responsible way. Nor, since pollution knows no boundaries, should the Government fail to use their influence abroad, especially with our new partners in the E.E.C., to bring about a uniformity of practice, so as to ensure that British industry is not put at a competitive disadvantage. I was pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend said this morning about the need to press ahead with regional agreements even if we could not secure full international control straight away.
Having said that, I wish to make it plain that the waste disposal industry would welcome the introduction of a code of practice which would be mandatory on all concerned, not merely industry and the waste disposal contractors but also the local authorities. I stress that unless we get all three elements—industry, waste disposal contractors and local authorities—working together within a recognised framework of rules, the problem cannot be overcome.
I was pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend that he will be issuing a code of guidance to local authorities. May I make some constructive suggestions? Whether this code appears in the Bill or not, this is a matter to which I hope that the Government will pay the closest attention. First, my right hon. Friend surely must ensure that any new code of practice requires that for the purposes of disposal wastes are clearly differentiated by those who originate them. By that, I 919 mean that wastes should be listed and categorised as follows: first, those that are bio-degradable and can be buried on sites that have been certified by the planning authorities as suitable in a geophysical as well as an amenity sense; second, those that can be made non-toxic by chemical treatment; third, those that can be treated but leave a toxic residue which, together with those which cannot be treated, must be buried in specially selected and controlled sites; and finally, those that can be destroyed by properly controlled incineration.
Every stage in the disposal of hazardous waste should be covered by documentation which starts with the origination of the waste and ends with those responsible for its final disposal. Third, just as manufacturers already make an annual return to the Department of Trade and Industry on the products they make and the numbers of people they employ, so they should make a return on all hazardous wastes that they have produced, and how these have been dealt with. In my view such requirements would create an entirely new framework of responsibility and control which would go far towards safeguarding the environment against the increasing risks which, given no action at all, we can expect as inevitable as night following day, as industry becomes more sophisticated and diversified in its process and products.
It has been our experience in the waste disposal industry that many local authorities simply fail to comprehend the need for a flexible, long-sighted approach to the problems of waste disposal. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) made a most interesting speech, one which I have been wanting to make for a long time. He was absolutely right. In my own county I have seen small scrap merchants driven from pillar to post because local authorities make it increasingly difficult for them to operate. Of course, if residential building is permitted by the planning authority adjacent to a scrap-merchant's yard then people living in nearby houses will object to the unsightly nature of the yard. That is fair enough. But when it comes to local authorities helping scrap merchants to find suitable alternative sites very little is done. Yet, 920 as the right hon. Gentleman made clear, we all know the scrap industry performs a vital economic service to this country, especially to the balance of payments. The difficulty about sites for the scrap industry is great enough, but the difficulty about sites for the disposal of toxic and non-toxic waste is even greater. As my hon. Friend knows, sites have to be provided which conform to certain geological requirements and yet over and over again it has been our experience in the waste disposal industry that when suitable sites have been found these have been turned down by the local authority on grounds of amenity alone.
I have one particular Midland county in mind. As a result of turning down one particular applicant, industrial waste is now flowing at this moment to scores of unauthorised sites. Waste is being tipped on farms and in ditches by unscrupulous operators. The local authority simply does not want to know. It is creating a problem by failing to realise that if there is to be safe and reponsible disposal, then proper sites must be provided.
So we have the paradoxical situation that those who campaign for the protection of local amenities are sometimes, albeit unwittingly causing much of the abuse that goes on. I am quite prepared to give my right hon. Friend the evidence. One reason for this lack of comprehension is that local authorities, when considering planning application for disposal sites, turn very naturally and properly to those concerned with public health, highways, water conservation and local amenity societies but never to industry. The voice of those responsible for industrial activity and all that flows from it is not heard. I hope, therefore, in his new legislation that my right hon. Friend will remedy that omission.
The waste disposal industry welcomes the prospect of early legislation and welcomes the strong sanctions which were heralded this morning. It is not merely a punitive approach that is needed, but the recognition that industry and the consumer will have to bear the cost of avoiding what we know to be anti-social activities. It must also be accepted all round that the protection of every man's environment is a responsibility of every man himself. We are all in this together.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his rather specialised approach to the problem of pollution. I am sure the whole House found his contribution extremely interesting and useful. I would like to join him in his congratulations to my hon. friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) and express appreciation that the Secretary of State himself initiated the discussion from the Government Front Bench. It served an invaluable purpose because in the course of his progress report he put the debate in its right perspective, that whatever criticisms we may make, whatever suggestions we may make for the future, the environmental standards in this country rate very highly. We can look forward at the forthcoming Stockholm Conference to making substantial contributions to discussions based on our experience.
It is a pity that almost on the eve of that conference there should have been the alarming disclosure about the dumping of cyanide waste in the Midlands. But it has a corollary, because it shows that people in glass houses cannot afford to throw stones. The other valuable contribution by the Secretary of State, which has been referred to several times, is that though there has been an alarming reaction at the disclosures about the dumping of waste, public opinion will be reassured not only by the speed with which the Minister has acted to deal with the situation but also his recognition of the gravity of the crime against the communiy in the sentences which it is proposed to introduce. It is also a cause for some satisfaction that in the cognate and topical subject of dumping or loss of toxic materials from ships at sea some limited progress has been made as a result of the Oslo Conference to which the Minister referred. I assume that this will also be raised in a wider setting at the Stockholm Conference.
I want to raise a general point which applies to many forms of pollution and the legislation needed to deal with it. Such legislation invariably describes the standard of effluent on the basis of what is called "the best practical means". It is on this basis that atmospheric pollution from cement and other factories is 922 controlled by the inspectorate, which used to be known, until this morning, as the Alkali Inspectorate but which the Minister has said is to be called in future the Clean Air Inspectorate. This applies very largely to the discharge of industrial effluents into rivers. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary knows that many people consider that we should do better to adopt the principle which operates in the United States, of giving notice that after a given number of years discharges exceeding a defined degree of impurity will be prohibited. I have no doubt that the industries concerned will protest vociferously but pressure of that kind would concentrate the polluters' minds to ways of overcoming the technical difficulties.
Many representations have already been made about the motor car. Pollution caused by the car is most apparent in the towns and cities, where it is impossible to get away from noise and fumes. It is a little ironical that although, as a result of the Clean Air Act, 1956, and smoke control, the parks and open spaces of London have become increasingly pleasant places, they are once more threatened by fumes from cars. Suggestions have been made both by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South, and the Minister on technical improvements in the present type of car. Should not consideration be given to the production of an electrically-powered car, which would make a real contribution in the fight against such pollution?
The Minister also referred to what has been done about derelict land and buildings. He will be the first to agree that progress in restoring derelict land is still far too slow. Any train journey through the old industrial areas reveals acres of slag heaps, decaying industrial sites, and so on. The Local Government Act, 1966, provides grants for local authorities to reclaim derelict land, but progress has been slow because the work imposes too heavy a burden upon them—not only a financial burden but the burden of obtaining expert opinion. A national land reclamation agency should be established to reclaim all such land at Government expense, helping to finance itself by selling or leasing the improved land for agricultural, public open space or other purposes.
923 In this connection, we are constantly reminded that a great deal of opencast coal mining is still going on. This also leads to pollution. The coal derived from it is only a minor proportion of total coal production, but it is a threat to the countryside, and I understand that in Durham it is also a pollutant of the coast and beaches. At a time when the mining industry is being run down and dozens of pits are being closed each year, is it sensible to continue with opencast mining? Although the matter is not the Minister's direct departmental responsibility, it is one to which the Department might give consideration.
We should never forget that one Government Department—the Defence Department—is a major polluting agency. During training and exercises the Services do damage to the environment of their ranges and other training areas. All too often they fail to clear up after they have given up land. For example, in Dorset, on the coast between Swanage and Poole, there are still pill-boxes from the Second World War, and concrete and wire on the beaches. Last year a shell exploded on an open beach near where children were playing. In Kent, on the top of the white cliffs of Dover and Deal, are many ugly and unsightly relics of the Services. It is impossible for the Department's own staff to deal with such pollution. The Government should use the highly-trained manpower in the Services to clear up any environmental mess made by the Services themselves.
Lastly, I refer to one of my special interests—the commons. Common land is particularly vulnerable to pollution by thoughtless members of the public, through litter, tins, destruction of the soil by vehicles, and so on. Traditionally, commons have been open and unfenced, used by commoners for grazing where the right was still exercised, but with access to the public whether or not legal rights of access existed on a particular common. But only a quarter of our commons have a proper system of management under the Commons Acts of 1876 or 1899. As long ago as 1958 the Royal Commission on Common Land recognised that this free-and-easy method was not satisfactory and called for new legislation to provide for the proper management and 924 control of common land. The last Government made a useful first step with the Commons Registration Act, 1965, which was mainly a fact-finding exercise. The registration provided for by that Act is nearly complete, and the time has come for further legislation. The Royal Commission referred to common land as our last reserve of uncommitted land. Unless there is statutory provision for proper management and control soon, some of the best of our commons will be damaged by uncontrolled pressure from people and vehicles.
I have instanced only one or two of the many subjects and problems that still await the attention of the Secretary of State. His Department is doing its best to deal with its problems. It will accept that the expression of public opinion outside and in the House helps it in that way. Today we can all feel that we are making a useful contribution to the improvement of our natural heritage.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) not only on his choice of subject but on the broad scope and manner of his presentation. We are all in his debt.
I was much encouraged by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment came here to respond to the debate at once. I was left with the impression that he has a real grasp of the problems. That is very heartening. I particularly welcome the Bill that he is to introduce next week, and the fact that the Opposition will cooperate in its passage.
I am a member of the Committee considering the Local Government Bill. We approached with considerable scepticism a Clause making district authorities responsible for collecting rubbish but county councils responsible for its disposal, until we discovered that the thinking behind it was that the most highly sophisticated and expensive modern recycling equipment was necessary.
The hon. Member for Derby, South opened the debate on a broad front, but I propose to concentrate on a fairly narrow one—that of litter. Its disposal already costs us £20 million a year, yet it is almost impossible to go to any beach 925 or beauty spot without seeing an extraordinary amalgam of paper, old bedsteads, old bicycles, broken bottles and polythene bags. The sheer scale of the problem is alarming.
A group whose work impresses me a good deal—the Friends of the Earth—has produced some information on the subject of bottles. I learn from it that the number of non-returnable bottles for soft drinks, beer, cider, and so on, produced in this country rose from 30 million in 1966 to 560 million last year. We know from the dairy industry that milk bottles are broken at the rate of 1 million a day, or 365 million a year. I saw by chance in today's issue of the Daily Express that the nation is now drinking a million bottles of sherry a week. That means another 50 million bottles a year. Under those three heads alone we are discussing 975 million bottles a year. If we take into account jams, perfumes, pickled walnuts, and everything else sold in glass, this country is producing 7,000 million bottles a year, all of which have to be disposed of somehow.
I shall not go into the question of recycling and proper litter disposal, because the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) did that admirably. I shall speak about what is called, for the purpose of argument, the 10 per cent. left by the general public around the countryside. Even that amounts to probably 100,000 tons of litter a year, and about 100 million bottles.
It would be unfair to put all the blame on picnickers. There are other villains of the piece. Farmers are leaving polythene bags around in increasing numbers after using fertilisers. The other great disposer of litter on the countryside is the tide. All of us who walk along beaches are used to the flotsam washed up over the years—baulks of timber, old oars, hatch covers and so on—but one has always the consolation that these things will disappear sooner or later. On the other hand, I walked about two miles along a beach on the Isle of Mull—my mother's home in Argyll—just after Christmas. This stretch of beach would never be reached by a holidaymaker, yet from beginning to end it was one mass of broken bottles and polythene containers of the sort which hold detergents.
926 The reason that they are washed up is that they are chucked overboard from Mr. MacBrayne's steamers and other vessels. Everything which is thrown into the sea and does not sink will land on a beach sooner or later. There is a mess on beaches all the way from Mauritius, where I had lunch just over a year ago, to the Isle of Mull, where I had lunch a month ago.
What is to be done about the litter problem? First, I understand that the Government have undertaken to give pound for pound to the "Keep Britain Tidy" movement. This is most imaginative. Anything that teaches people—particularly children—to take their litter home is beyond all praise, and can do much to solve the problem. It will never be a 100 per cent. solution, because there will always be selfish, careless and absentminded people.
We should give much more thought to the packaging industry. Milk is still traditionally delivered in bottles, but a dairy firm called Clifford's, of Henley, has recently started using plastic milk bottles. These are safer for roundsmen and children, they do not rattle, and they weigh less than half an ounce compared with the 12–14 ounces of the ordinary milk bottle. This polythene is called polyethylene. It has great advantages over many plastics produced previously, in that it can be burned, and it gives off no toxic or noisome fumes. It is the best plastic yet invented for this purpose.
A report has gone to the Secretary of State from Henley Urban District Council about this polythene. I hope that it will be considered very carefully, and that the use of this type of container will spread throughout the dairy industry and to other products.
It is also high time that we copied the State of Oregon by making it legally compulsory to put a price on returnable bottles and outlawing non-returnable bottles. The vast majority of them go to people going on picnics, and it is precisely those people who are liable to leave bottles behind them. If more of these people had goods in plastic containers and had to return bottles or plastic containers to get back what had been paid on them, less litter would be left around the country.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that not only picknickers are getting bottles from pubs and shops without paying a deposit. In many cases it is now impossible to get soft drinks or beer in returnable bottles—as a matter of deliberate policy by the producers.
§ Mr. James
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to make that point. It is because it is impossible that I should like to see the law reversed so that it was impossible to have a non-returnable bottle.
There is still an urgent need for research. Polyethylene is a great improvement on anything that has gone before it, but it, too, is—to use a horrid modern word—bio-nondegradable. We need something with a determinate length of life, even if it is 12 or 18 months. Then, if by any chance it is left on a picnic site or washed up on a beach, it will not last for a million years; it will, in the fullness of time, disappear.
Research is needed to get the answer right, but I hope that the use of this packaging will eventually be made mandatory for all purposes. I see great grounds for hope although this is a massive problem. The air is cleaner over the city of London than it has been for 100 years. It was in the year of the Battle of Waterloo, I think, that the inverted lavatory waste pipe was invented, and within three years salmon had ceased to swim past the Houses of Parliament. Once again, they are going up the river.
There are grounds for encouragement. This country, more than any other, is doing a good job. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that good job and merely urge him to make it even better.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I want to intervene now because I know that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. I am anxious to facilitate their speaking and to help the Chair to arrange it as best it may.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) is not present now. He performed a tremendous service to the 928 House and the cause of the environment in choosing this subject when he was fortunate in the Ballot.
This has been a remarkable debate, not least because of the quality of speeches which we have already heard and which I am certain will be maintained after I have finished—but also because of the intervention of the Secretary of State, a most unusual thing on a Friday. That causes me to think aloud that it is in debates like this, on subjects of this importance, in private Members' time, that this House is often at its best. It seems to me to be at its best now. It is not for me to lecture the business managers of the House, but perhaps these debates should be put on more often at other times, when other Members can take part.
There is a growing feeling, I find, as I go around schools, universities and other places, of a disillusionment with politicians and politics. Often, that is because they concern themselves only with the great clash of parties and party politics. We all know that there has to be such a clash if democracy is to have any meaning, but, over a wide area of territory, there is great unanimity in the House as to what needs to be done to safeguard the quality of our civilisation, such as this debate has demonstrated, and there is a great deal of forward thinking.
One has only to try to discipline oneself in a speech like this, to keep it down to manageable proportions, to understand the extent of this problem. Ever since the speeches of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South—I am glad to see that he has returned: he made an eloquent speech and raised many subjects constructively—I have been trying to shed one subject after another and to contain my speech in a non-returnable container of reasonable size, for the benefit of the House. I will, therefore, deal with one or two subjects which seem to me to be of tremendous importance.
The first of these is the decay of our cities. The Secretary of State was right to emphasise in his speech that the quality of living and of environment available to ordinary people, and their prospects of future quality of life and environment are more problems of urban living and 929 of urban environment than of living or of environment elsewhere. We all appreciate the value of our beaches and all the coastline, and the importance of saving them from pollution, but, in a sense, that is the glamorous part of the work. The decay of our city centres may be less glamorous a subject but it is of tremendous importance.
For example, the population of the G.L.C. area was 7.9 million in 1966 and 7.4 million in 1971. It could fall to 6.3 million in 1981. The possibility of dispersing population to that extent shows how tremendous are the new problems for government, both central and local, and those problems present themselves in a way we have not previously thought about. Unless we tackle the problem of decay in our cities we shall be socially divisive, if people who have to live in city centres are left to live in city centres while others who can afford it enjoy the luxury of living in pleasant areas outside great centres of population.
Therefore, I want to say one or two words on the subject of the filth and squalor in our cities. Anybody who represents a downtown area or lives in the centre of a large city, as I do, knows that we are fighting a long battle at present because squalor is increasing in our cities and dereliction in our cities is increasing. Something has to be done about it.
The Motion we are debating today calls for legislation. I am sure I shall carry my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South with me when I say that, important as it is to have legislation, what is probably even more important, what would certainly have a more immediate effect, is a first-class administrative drive, both centrally and locally, against dereliction and squalor, particularly in the large cities.
I was thinking about this when I was coming here from my home today. I was looking around me to see what could be done. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs which need to be done—places to be painted, garages to be built so that people do not little the streets—I do not mean in the worst sense—by leaving their cars all about the streets. They do that because they have nowhere else to leave them, and we do not want them to do without their motor cars. Local authorities, the hospitals, all have lists of 930 jobs which need to be done and which are not done.
I put this suggestion to the Minister. We have now, most regrettably, well over 1 million unemployed. The Government have, very sensibly, asked local authorities to bring forward their schemes of a capital nature and to get them under way. Instead of asking for capital schemes to be brought forward, schemes which, by the very nature of things, involving, as they do, acquisition of land, design and building, mean two or three years' delay between conception and operation and effect on unemployment, we could have a more immediate effect both on unemployment and on improving the environment if the Government were to say, "We will give a large sum of revenue money now to those local authorities and hospitals and public boards which will take on men to get these hundreds of jobs done in our society"—just to brighten things up. It occurs to me that it does not make good sense at all to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on unemployment and other social benefits when we could spend the money on employing people to do the job which ought to be done and everybody knows needs to be done.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that as one of the important steps which might be taken. For instance, we need play centres, things of that nature, which could be provided at comparatively small cost and the provision of which would employ people. Day centres and day nurseries are needed by mothers as places to put their childern while they themselves go to work. There is so much dereliction to be cleared up. All this ought to be considered.
§ Mr. Maude
I appreciate the point the hon. Gentleman is putting forward, but I hope he realises that, except in the North and one or two other areas, it is almost impossible to get anyone to do any job at all. Builders are short even of labourers let alone craftsmen. One cannot get essential repairs done to one's house in the Midlands, where I live. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman thinks it is going to be possible to get people to take on jobs of this kind. With the social service benefits system as it is, and with the difficulties of 931 mobility of labour, it is jolly difficult to get any job done at all, despite the unemployment.
§ Mr. Howell
That is an interesting intervention. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman thinks these unemployed come from. The logic of what he says is that the unemployed are unemployable. I do not accept that contention at all. Not only in the North, but, as he knows, in the West Midlands, the rate of unemployment is higher than it has been for 40 years. He has only to look at my constituency to see large numbers of people wasting their time—themselves decaying because they have no worth while job to do.
§ Mr. Maude
I will give an example of the kind which the hon. Gentleman must take into account. I have a young son between school and university; he tells me he can get a job as an unskilled labourer on motorway construction for £35 a week any time he likes. The hon. Gentleman has only to look at the list of unfilled vacancies, or ask any builder in the south Midlands, to see how difficult it is to get any work done at all.
§ Mr. Howell
I have to declare an interest when we talk of the building industry because I have some connection with a very large firm in it. I know there is a great shortage of skilled men, and of men who will go away from home to other places for other jobs, and many unemployed are unwilling to do that, but there in our city are large numbers of people unemployed whom, it seems to me we could be using to clear up dereliction to do painting, and so on.
This brings me to another aspect of the subject and that is the question of junk. The disposal of junk by our society is a matter of great importance. I so much agree with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) in the points they made. Nowadays when people wish to dispose of a motor car or wish to dispose of a refrigerator or something of that sort they have the greatest difficulty in getting the proper are the greatest difficulties for them to know where they can dispose of the unwanted article. I hope that the Secretary of State will continue to press local auth- 932 orities on their responsibilities in this matter. I think it has got worse since we had the incentive payments system; it is more difficult for the salvage departments now because there is a disincentive. If we give people more to collect ordinary rubbish there can be a disincentive to taking away extraordinary rubbish. Ordinary rubbish can be tipped from the dustbin into the dustcart and away it goes, but an article of an awkward size or shape does not go. I have found that when I have left newspapers outside my house—properly packaged, I must tell hon. Members. They do not go, either, because they require an extra effort.
I am glad that a tribute has been paid to the scrap metal merchants who help with the disposal of junk. Although we enjoy the antics of "Steptoe and Son" on television, they perform a useful service to society.
I am glad that the subject of non-returnable containers has been raised. I have come armed with a letter from the Town Clerk of Birmingham drawing to my attention the seriousness of the growth of this problem. As the father of four children, I agree with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) that it is totally impossible to buy cordial in containers which can be taken back to the shop; in any case, shopkeepers do not want them. The problem arises also with cans, and the packaging of beer in cans has led to great difficulties. Because we have a young family, my wife and I often go about the countryside on picnics. We often see the filthy sight of old rusty cans which have seemingly been left for months. We need far more picnic areas with proper facilities for the disposal of waste.
The Town Clerk of Birmingham tells me that the salvage department in the city has been giving a lot of attention to the problem. He says that in Birmingham 7 per cent. of all domestic refuse by weight has a glass content. He is worried lest milk retailers go over to non-returnable plastic containers, when he fears that the situation will become impossible. I am glad to see from a letter which I have received this week from the appropriate Minister, who has investigated this matter at my request and has held discussions with the milk 933 trade, that for the moment the trade shows no sign of going over to non-returnable containers. The temptation to do so might become irresistible if the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon is right in what he says about labour difficulties. If milk is delivered once or twice a week in non-returnable containers the problem will be upon us in an acute form.
The Town Clerk tells me that if that happens on a national scale, 300,000 tons of additional plastic material will be discarded annually. In Birmingham, with a population of 1 million, that would mean a dramatic revolution in disposal services and the standard refuse storage facilities for each household would have to be at least doubled, so that each household would have two dustbins instead of one, with a consequent augmentation in the collection and disposal services. He also says that the existing incinerators are totally inadequate to deal with that situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) acknowledged his interest in the railways. The arguments have gone full circle. People who only ten years ago were asking for the railways to be shut down are now saying that they should be opened up again because railway transportation is the only way to keep our city centres alive. I subscribe to that view. I am glad that the Secretary of State reminded us of the assistance that the Government are giving, and I congratulate the Government on what they have done. The introduction of urban halts would help considerably, and we shall have to think out fare collection arrangements.
I am not opposed to free public transport in city centres. I know the idea raises considerable doubts in the minds of some of my hon. Friends, and I hasten to say that I am thinking aloud and not putting forward official party policy. Public transport services are absolutely essential now for a full life and a proper environment in our cities, and I am attracted by the thought that they could perhaps be dealt with on the basis of old-fashioned municipal Socialism in the same way as water, gas and electricity were first provided by our great municipalities. Much work needs to be done on the costing and practicability of the 934 scheme. We must have public transport in our city centres, much as I would like to see the prohibition of the car and the provision of pedestrian access.
Birmingham is split by great motorways. When they built the urban motorways the planners did not realise how they would split up communities. A relative of mine, a single lady, who used to go to the ice-skating rink in the evenings has had to give up doing so because of her experience in getting on and off buses and having to go on a subway under a six-lane motorway leading to a national motorway. She does not now go out at all at night and her life has been completely transformed. For her and for many people living in the neighbourhood, social life has become extremely difficult.
The Under-Secretary of State and I have corresponded about the provision of adequate car parking facilities adjacent to railway stations. To leave my car in the car park at New Street Station in Birmingham costs me £1 a day. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman asking him why I should pay El a day to leave my car at New Street Station. He blandly replied that I had to pay a £1 a day because that car park had not been built for the travelling public but for the shoppers who go to the shops built above New Street Station. I wrote and asked the Minister where he expected me to leave my car. In his usual courteous way he told that I should leave it in Suffolk Street, which is about three-quarters of a mile away on the other side of a six-lane motorway. I wrote to him asking what an old person, or some-One with a young family, who had luggage to carry, would do with the luggage while he went three-quarters of a mile to park his motor car. He replied that the luggage should be left at New Street Station, the car should be parked and that the luggage should then be collected. I do not know how he expects that operation to be conducted with reasonable safety in the City of Birmingham.
I agree with what the Secretary of State said about railway stations on the perimeters of our cities adequately provided with car parks.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
Would my hon. Friend agree that the difficulties in parking adjacent to New Street Station are increased by the fact 935 that the car park is maintained and operated by National Car Parks, which has a national reputation for causing inconvenience to the public? Would he agree that the difficulties of short-term parkers are aggravated by the fact that most of the short-term parking places are occupied by residents of nearby hotels.
§ Mr. Laurance Reed (Bolton, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This House does not give much time to debates on the environment. Can you do anything to encourage hon. Members to stick to the matter in hand rather than bringing in other matters?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the House.
§ Mr. Howell
That was an impertinent intervention by the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed). It only shows the limited scope of the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the problem. Pollution cannot be dealt with in isolation from all the associated problems of traffic, transport and so on, which is what we are concerned with. I congratulate the Government on understanding the breadth of this matter.
The position in connection with fumes and lead poisoning is one of the most sickening experiences of present-day life. I was not as happy with the Secretary of State's energy with regard to introducing legislation as I was about the other more dramatic things he had to say. One has only to drive along the Los Angeles Freeway to see the sort of acute problems they face and to understand the sort of dangers in which we shall be involved in future.
The subject of water has been mentioned in this debate. When the Government produce proposals to make it an offence for people to put into our rivers poisonous and offensive substances, as well as untreated sewage, they will have a great deal of support from hon. Members on this side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out the colossal national expenditure which will be needed to improve the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South talked about the terrible situation in the Trent. I think he was being kind 936 to me because one of the pollutants of the Trent comes from the Tame. The Tame is so badly polluted by effluent when it reaches Birmingham that the extraordinary thing is that after we put our sewage into it the Tame is in a rather better condition than it was before. That shows the extent of the problem. Industry finds it convenient to dump its waste products down drains into the sewerage system and it finds its way into the rivers.
I move to deal with the major matters which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman today. I was delighted at the extent of the action to be taken. This is to meet a most disturbing situation and follows some earlier cases of neglect last year which received considerable publicity. One would have thought that industry, if not the irresponsible fly-by-night operator, would have done something about the situation. Since last week hardly a day has passed without some appalling new disclosure which we shall have to face. This clearly shows that there is widespread irresponsibility on a massive scale.
The Government's intentions must be judged against three criteria. First, we must ask ourselves whether we need clearly to identify the disposal of poisonous substances as an offence. Secondly, will there be the most stringent enforcement? Thirdly, will the penalties be of such severity to industrialists who manufacture poisonous waste and also to dumpers so that the public and the courts will be able to see what a strong view Parliament takes on the continuance of this practice. So far as I can judge, the Secretary of State's announcement today meets those points of criteria. This enables me to offer him my fullest support.
I was attracted by my hon. Friend's suggestion that each local authority should appoint a pollution officer. We would prefer to call such a man an environmental officer. I have the greatest possible regard for public health inspectors, whom we used to call sanitary inspectors. I was a little offended when they changed their title to public health inspectors, though I recognise that it was a step in the right direction. I was chairman of a Birmingham committee which piloted through the first clean air 937 zone system, and I have been concerned with the subject of noise about which we have not heard a great deal today. Noise is an equally offensive pollutant of the environment. I appreciate the quality and calibre of the public health inspectors and perhaps the Minister would consider it right to widen their responsibilities so that they become environmental officers.
The right hon. Gentleman said he was attracted by my hon. Friend's idea, but did not think that he could make such people statutory officers. As the House will know, a public health inspector already is a statutory officer. Therefore, the difficulties could be avoided if responsibilities for environmental and anti-pollution matters were put in the hands of the public health inspectorate. On that happy and constructive note, I end by again expressing my appreciation to my hon. Friend for raising this important matter.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I am glad that most of the contributors to this debate have not attempted to paint a picture of totally unrelieved gloom. There is a great deal of emotional exaggeration on the subject of pollution and it is as well to remember that in some ways the trend has been reversed and some improvements are now taking place. Some stretches of river are cleaner than they were, and in terms of smoke pollution the air in cities is far, cleaner than it has ever been.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend referred to the Alkali Inspectorate, which I know from my experience of dealing with constituency cases is extremely efficient and helpful. The amount of emission of alkali in dust and grit which we now suffer is much less than it used to be. It may be that acid emission spread by droplets through the atmosphere is a much more serious problem to vegetation and to solid structures, and perhaps we should look at that matter.
There are two or three main points I wish to raise. They involve some comments on my right hon. Friend's speech and I am sure he will take them in good part. First, he said that he looked at the matter of pollution and conservation from the point of view that his priority was to deal with the worst areas—the 938 areas which were polluted and derelict—before he looked at the question of conserving the areas which were unspoilt. This is fine up to a point. But it is necessary to point out to my right hon. Friend that this gives a certain amount of ammunition to those like the roads lobby, the motor car lobby and certain industrialists who tend to talk all the time as if all conservationists were middle-class country landowners determined to have the best of all worlds at the expense of the unfortunate city dweller and motorist, whom they would prevent from enjoying the benefits of the countryside.
The scale of priorities has to be looked at flexibly. It is no good saying it is unimportant to conserve unspoiled countryside or other parts of the environment if what is at risk is a trend or a pollution or a change of the shape of the environment which is permanent and irreversible. There are some forms of pollution and some changes in the environment through the development of industrial processes which are not permanent and irreversible, but in respect of those which are it is clearly the job of my right hon. Friend, if he can, to try to prevent them, and the priority for this should be pretty high.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speed with which he is moving in respect of legislation for the dumping of toxic wastes. I have a constituency interest in this since it is in Warwickshire, in my constituency, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudley Smith) and that of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) where the greatest risk exists. I am sure that the hon. Member for Birmingham. Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) will recognise that I am not pursuing what he regards as my permanent vendetta against Birmingham when I say that they nearly all come from Birmingham and are dumped in the Green Belt in rural Warwickshire. They have to be dumped somewhere, and I do not complain about that. But this has been going on for a very long time, and the point of principle that I want to make is that an activity which has been going on for a long time and which everyone knew was going on—in some cases probably for a hundred years—suddenly becomes a matter for which one can be sent to prison for five years 939 and also fined an enormous sum. It is a little ludicrous that we suddenly leap from allowing it to happen to imposing enormous penalties, when what we should have been doing was to wake up to the development of this kind of problem a long time ago.
Many people have been saying that this kind of problem will become more serious. D.D.T. was supposed to be the greatest boon ever to the underdeveloped nations and the poorer peoples of the world, in terms of the amount of extra crop production that it permitted. For years, it was a great scientific marvel. Suddenly it is banned. Other pesticides and chemicals have gone through the same process.
We do not look far enough ahead to see these problems coming up in time. We have got to. When Governments are dealing with scientific advisers, it is always wise to take their advice when they say that something is dangerous, but it is never wise to take their advice when they say that something is safe. Always it should be looked at again.
I base that observation on what is perhaps the classic example. I can remember hearing Mr. Eden—as he then was—and later, Mr. Macmillan, carefully briefed by the Government's scientific advisers, telling us month after month that it was safe to go on testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and that the level of fall-out was wholly acceptable. Suddenly, within a month, we were being warned that the level of fall-out was so wholly unacceptable that atmospheric testing had to be stopped.
One can never be sure that a scientific adviser knows what he is talking about, because so often we are dealing with new substances and new processes about which there is not the evidence and experience available to enable anyone to make a safe judgment. Therefore, Governments should always tend to over-insure rather than to take a risk on matters of this kind. Sometimes the processes are permanent and irreversible. They produce concentrations of toxic substances in the soil, in water and in human beings which it may take a very long time to clear, if it can be done at all.
940 It is doubtful whether we have got the balance right between economic incentives and legislative prohibitions. We are about to introduce another major legislative prohibition. Sometimes this is essential and the only way to deal with a problem. But if any Government try to stop industrial firms doing something that they have been doing or make them do something that they have not been doing, it will cost someone money—either the industries' shareholders or their consumers, if the cost is passed on. It does not follow that this is not the right course of action.
It is all very well outraged constituents of mine or outraged conservationists saying that a situation is scandalous and that the Government should act, but they have not always calculated who has to pay for it, and in what form. Since someone will have to pay for it, we need a great deal more research into the comparative costs of different methods of getting these things done.
How right is it to initiate research to make sure that these cases do not arise at all? How right is it, for example, to subsidise or encourage research which makes it more profitable for a firm not to release toxic effluents and waste but to initiate a recycling process which enables it to retain or conserve these materials, and where is it right to say simply that the firm is not to be allowed to do this any longer, so it had better do something else about it?
Circumstances vary from case to case and from firm to firm. In the case of a very large industrial combine, probably the firm has started the research a long time ago. If it has not, it will not be difficult for the Government to encourage it to start. But as in the Warwickshire case, very often we are dealing with several thousand small firms of metal workers and jewellers which are dumping acid wastes and which have neither the technical resources nor the ability to do very much about it.
An enormous amount of research is going on. The University of Aston in Birmingham has been doing research on this very problem. At least one process has come from Imperial College in London for the reclamation of metal 941 wastes, nickel, gold, and so on. All these are very valuable. However, I suspect that the research is not as well coordinated as it should be, and that the knowledge is not available over as wide an area as it should be. The Government should do more to make sure that people know about the results of all this work.
I am sure that comparative costs are at the root of most of the problems that we are discussing. Continually we are told that such-and-such a course of action, which we know to be in the interests of conservation or of getting rid of pollution, is too expensive. But very often no one has done the long-term calculations to see whether, over a period of years, it is more expensive or cheaper. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) talked about re-cycling processes, spoil tips and waste. An enormous amount more research is needed here. Already there are processes for extracting coal from mine tips. But there is not only the waste from coalmines. There is the whole question of ash from power stations, which can be used in roadmaking materials; yet we are distorting the landscape of the country by gravel and limestone extractions for building and road materials.
We are changing, in some cases eroding, whole hillsides and ranges of hills. Every time a motorway or new road is built we dig a new gravel pit, and often, though there is a contract to restore the land to its original form, the company goes bankrupt or the gentlemen concerned goes back to Ireland and the reclamation is not done.
All over the country we have one lot of people digging great holes and another lot raising great piles of waste and spoil outside mines, power stations and industrial installations. For example, the brickworks of Bedfordshire are producing a sort of lunear landscape—a total dereliction—which no one is making much attempt to do anything about.
There is a need for new processes for producing synthetic instead of natural materials for road making and building, for shifting about the country the amount of waste that is literally being wasted when some of it could be used, and for taking some of the increasing piles of waste and putting them into some of the increasing numbers of holes which 942 are being dug. The whole question of comparative costs and the need to try to work out long-term comparisons needs to be taken a great deal further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) talked about the non-returnable container litter. The hon. Member for Small Heath talked about what it would mean in terms of the national addition to non-biodegradable waste if, for example, the milk producing industry went over to plastic or non-returnable containers. It should be possible to do some fairly simple sums—fairly simple with a computer, no doubt—to see whether we should make it illegal to do this.
The milk retailers may say that it will be too expensive for them to deliver in this way and to put the milk into these containers. All right. But who will pay for the additional cost of disposing of the non-returnable bottles which will be dumped daily on the consumers, as brewers and soft drinks manufacturers are doing now? The public is paying for it, either because the refuse disposal authorities have to cart it around and deal with it somewhere, or in terms of a loss of amenity because somebody dumps it in places which were hitherto unspoiled. That is not easily quantified, but we can easily quantify the cost of disposing physically of these things. The non-returnable and non-biodegradable container is a menace, and should be made illegal. I believe that it would be cheaper for the economy and for the individual in the long run if it were made illegal. But let us find out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) also talked about waste disposal. He raised the question of amenity-minded conservationists who actually prevented land being used for waste disposal, as a result of which toxic wastes were going into more dangerous places. My hon. Friend seemed to think that that was a very bad thing.
Having a constituency which includes part of the so-called Birmingham Green Belt, which has been continually at risk from tipping—sometimes illegal, always unsightly, and grossly extravagant in area of land used—I suggest that this problem needs a great deal more thought than my hon. Friend has given to it.
943 Far too much agricultural land all over the country is being taken up. Sometimes a rural district council will try to get a compulsory purchase order for about 20 acres of agricultural land simply for new tipping. That is quite wrong. There are plenty of holes into which a great deal of this spoil could be put. In any case, we have to do a complicated sum in comparative costs to ascertain whether it is right to take additional areas of agricultural land and spread this stuff thin over the top rather than piling it up by quarries and filling them in.
I come back to the point that not enough work has been done on the economics of doing various things. It is the same with water and sewage. We spend more and more on modern sewage processes, and not enough is known about the result. I do not pretend to be a biologist or a biochemist, but those who are tell me that one of the greatest potential dangers in this country is that our sewage processing plants are too efficient. They are producing a totally biologically inert effluent, which is having an extremely bad effect on the rivers into which some of it is flowing. There is not enough scientific knowledge about the ecological effects of modern methods of sewage processing.
I could go on a great deal about this subject, but I do not intend to do so. We do not know enough about what we are doing with some of the new technological and chemical biological processes which are going on. We do not know enough about how much these things are costing us directly or indirectly. In my view, it is high time that we knew a lot more.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Terry Davis (Bromsgrove)
In opening the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) gave us a wide-ranging review of several aspects of environmental pollution. I am interested in the whole problem, especially river pollution, but today I shall confine my remarks to the unauthorised dumping of toxic wastes.
There have been several allegations about unauthorised dumping on five sites in my constituency.
I should like to begin by making a public appeal to anyone who has in- 944 formation about unauthorised dumping to come forward. It is essential that anyone who has reason to believe that any toxic wastes have been dumped irresponsibly and without authority should contact the local council at once. I make this appeal because in several cases we have had rumours, but no hard information on which the local council could act. This is the worst of all possible worlds, because in such a situation there is increasing anxiety, rumours spread and gossip magnifies the allegations, and it is difficult for local councils to do anything to satisfy local residents. Indeed, these allegations originally came to public notice recently as a result of contact between the Warwickshire branch of the Conservation Society and the Department of the Environment.
The Warwickshire branch of the Conservation Society gave information about the first of the tips to be known in my constituency. It referred to a tip at Barnt Green in the Bromsgrove Urban District Council. There was a meeting in January between representatives of the Department, the local council and myself and representatives of the Warwickshire branch of the Conservation Society accompanied by a driver who gave us some information.
That information was not very useful, because the configuration of the tip has changed and we are still left in doubt about what was dumped there, when it was dumped and whether it is dangerous. The Society claims that it has other drivers who have information, but it is six weeks since that meeting and these other drivers have not been produced. Allegations have been made and it is incumbent upon anyone with information to come forward. I can guarantee that anyone contacting any local council in my constituency will be treated in complete confidence. His name will not be revealed to any other source if he does not wish.
We have the same situation with the latest wave of allegations. Last weekend it was said that the police were questioning a man at Nuneaton and that he had given information about the dumping of toxic waste at five or six places. My constituency was again named. The local authority contacted the Department on Monday and the police were in touch with the local council. Unless anything 945 has happened within the last 24 hours the urban district council has still not met anyone from Nuneaton who can give it any concrete information about where in this tip cyanide or other toxic waste is alleged to have been dumped. The local authority is already taking precautions with the co-operation of the East Worcestershire Waterworks Co. to ensure that there is no danger of cyanide polluting the water supply. A borehole has been drilled. The latest information suggests that by great good fortune there is a layer of impermeable clay which may protect our water supplies.
§ Mr. Maude
The hon. Gentleman will have noticed as an example of what he is saying about how rumours spread and how careful public authorities have to be that the Rugby Water Board in the last 24 hours has had to stop drawing water from the river Avon. It says it does not know what is in it, but the water does not taste very nice.
§ Mr. Davis
That is alarming. The point is that this information is in the possession of the police at Nuneaton. I have been told that the information has not yet reaching the local council.
I want to deal with fly tipping and discuss another site in my constituency, Shirley Quarry at Wythall. This site is familiar to the Under-Secretary because we have discussed it previously. In this case there is a long history of letters from local residents to the rural district council and the county council and a personal letter to the chairman of the county council. Despite this, very little was done about the problem of tipping at the quarry. The allegation is that while authorised tipping was once permitted, fly tipping goes on.
We know that the authorised tipping ended 12 months ago. We also know from the local residents that people have been tipping on the site since then, presumably without authority. One resident kept a record and saw no less than eight lorries visiting the quarry during the daytime in a week in February and tiping their loads. This is in addition to a large number of lorries visiting the quarry at night, often with their lights turned off.
Local residents are understandably agitated. One resident visited the quarry 946 a few weeks ago and saw a drum. He took off the lid and looked inside. Fortunately he was familiar with cyanide because he uses it in his work and he recognised the contents of the drum as being cyanide. He reported it to the police and I understand that tests have shown that the contents of the drum were dangerous and if consumed would have been a serious health hazard. Clearly the drum was tipped since all the publicity began six weeks ago. Clearly it was tipped by someone without authority. I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us what powers local authorities possess to prevent fly tipping. We all welcome the proposed legislation but it is important that local authorities should know the extent of their present powers.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
It will assist me in replying to the debate if the hon. Gentleman will make one thing clear. On the land adjacent to this tip there is a haulage business. I should like to be clear that the lorries he says go in and out, sometimes without lights, go there for the purpose as he suggests of tipping or whether for the most part they are lorries going to the parking area of the haulage business.
§ Mr. Davis
Obviously, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that all lorries seen entering the quarry are going to the tip. I have a record from one local resident who saw lorries visiting the tip during the course of a week. Several were described as "tipper" lorries. He saw some depositing loads. We are told by the company that there is no authorised tipping going on at present, that it stopped 12 months ago. A firm of waste disposal contractors leases the gravel quarry from the company. It says that there has been no tipping but admits to the problem of fly tipping.
The quarry owners say that there is nothing they can do to stop this. If they put a lock on the gates, the lock is broken. One drum of cyanide has been found there; we do not know how many more are covered up. Inquiries are still being made by the local authority.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) referred to the apparent switch from a situation of total 947 liberty to one where there would be the possibility of fines and imprisonment. I must disagree to some extent. If people carry out unauthorised tipping they must know that what they are tipping is possibly dangerous and that what they are doing is wrong.
§ Mr. Maude
I was not suggesting people did not know that they were doing something wrong. What I suspect, and the hon. Member may be able to confirm this, is that since the original scare there have been a number of cases of people trying to get rid of stuff quickly and secretly before the legislation.
§ Mr. Davis
That may be so, although I hope that it has not affected my constituency.
I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that he is considering penalties on the producers of toxic waste. Some industrialists have known only too well that the waste was toxic, but they have behaved like Pontius Pilate. They have given the waste to a contractor and washed their hands of the matter. They have not wanted to know where he was putting it.
Several hon. Members have congratulated the Department on the vigour and speed with which it has acted. I must regretfully dissociate myself from those tributes, because I do not think that the Department has been as active over this problem as it should have been. It is 18 months since we had the Key Report. We were promised urgent action at the time, and we are still waiting for some action to be taken on that report.
As the Under-Secretary knows, local residents complained to the Department about Shirley Quarry a year ago and it took some time for the Department to pass that information to the appropriate people. I will not go into that situation again today, because we have discussed it and the Department has apologised to my constituent.
I am not satisfied, from what the Secretary of State said, that lie appreciates the size of the problem. He began his speech by expressing the opinion that the worst areas of pollution are those which have the worst housing and the worst industrial problems. Of course we have great pollution problems in the industrial areas, but we also have 948 a problem of environmental pollution in the rural areas, especially those adjacent to the conurbations.
I would not suggest that we do not have a housing problem in the rural areas. We all know that there is such a thing as a rural slum. Every week, I receive harrowing letters from the rural parts of my constituency about housing conditions, but this was not the area to which the Secretary of State was referring. We are in great danger in my constituency of having fought a battle to preserve the green belt in North Worcestershire only to see it ruined by dumps of industrial waste—I do not say toxic waste—and by a motorway junction.
I should be grateful for clarity on another point as well. The Secretary of State for Scotland referred in a recent debate to "Operation Eyesore", and the Department of the Environment issued a Press release about the increased grants available to local authorities to repair the ravages of dumping. I understand that these grants are available to development areas and would not be available in my constituency for eyesores such as Shirley Quarry. It is very important that we know whether the Government have any plans to help local authorities to repair the damage done in rural areas.
Also, will the survey of tips which the Government are asking local authorities to carry out cover closed as well as open dumps? Much of the danger in future will come from dumps which are not now being used. We shall not know what was put in many of these places in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. The men responsible for using those dumps may not be traced. The managers of the companies doing the dumping may not be able to give us the information. It is important that local authorities are made aware that much of the danger can come from tips which are now closed.
Finally, I would ask the Under-Secretary to look into a constituency point which has come to my notice this week. I refer to a lack of vigour, as I see it, by the Department of the Environment. I mentioned the visit of the Department representatives to my constituency at the request of the Under-Secretary, to whom I pay tribute for his personal action in this matter. I understand from the Clerk of Bromsgrove Rural District Council 949 that he was told by a geologist from the Department during that visit six weeks ago that the geology at the Shirley Quarry was such that, even if there were toxic wastes dumped there, there was no danger of pollution of the River Cole which runs into the River Trent, and that there was no need for anxiety by the local residents.
The Clerk tells me that he asked for a copy of the geologist's report and wrote to the Department on 10th February asking for it. As recently as Wednesday of this week, six weeks after the visit and three weeks after the written request for the report, he tells me that he still has not received it. It is important that we have close and quick co-operation from the Department. I accept that at the moment the Department must be overwhelmed with the number of allegations which it is receiving about the dumping of toxic wastes. I can understand the difficulty. The Department may need to call in geologists from outside to help with this sort of problem. It may need other geologists to give advice to local councils. If that action is necessary, I hope that the Department will take it.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I believe that the whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) for this opportunity to debate a very important topic. As a constituency Member, I get the feeling that few subjects cause more concern to one's constituents than the whole question of ecology and protection of the environment—concern not only on the international level, represented by things like the "Doomwatch" Report, but on a purely personal level, as it affects every aspect of their ordinary lives.
I have the good fortune to live in a fine town in a beautiful county, but I know that there is great anxiety even in a county which is fortunately little touched by the scars of industry. This has to be preserved the whole time by action and preservation. One has only to look at the scars which have struck other parts of the country because of the industrial development of the 19th century to see just how easily this could have been avoided.
It is right that we should pay tribute to the work which has been done by the 950 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The document known as the Ashby Report is one of the most impressive documents of its kind that I have ever had the opportunity to consider. It is obvious that there is a large number of different subjects in this debate, and I do not intend to try to cover the whole field, but the broad theme of the Ashby Report is contained in these words from it:What is needed is a combined operation by public opinion, economic incentive and legislation.Without these three things working together, any individual efforts by the Government or by local authorities will fail.
One example raised in the report is the specific difficulty over the use of water. The Ashby Committee points out, I believe correctly, that one of the difficulties is that more land has to be taken for reservoirs because many of the existing rivers which could be used for this purpose are becoming so polluted themselves that they cannot be developed for that purpose.
The Times dealt with this interestingly the other day in a leading article. I hope that it will be possible for the wide plans which the Secretary of State has announced to be brought into effect in this sphere. Industry itself will have to look at this closely.
Anyone who has recently bought a shirt and tried to take it out of its box will know the difficulties caused by sheer over-packaging. Much too much material is put around almost everything we buy.
Noise goes deeply to the root of many people's anxiety. If my postbag is anything to go by, the number of letters that one gets from constituents—in, in my case not basically a noisy town—merely expressing concern about the increasing decibel ratio they have to face, is an indication of the importance of this matter. It is a decade since the Wilson Report was published, and how little further we have got on the overall question of noise.
I welcome most warmly what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the sort of initiative that is coming from his Department. I do not share the view expressed by the hon.
951 Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) that the Department of the Environment has been in any way tardy. Both at personal and constituency level, I have found that the Department has been constantly extremely helpful. I believe that the conception of this Department to deal with general environmental problems as a whole, and not merely pigeon them out separately and leave them to overlapping Departments, is one of the most imaginative ideas which has come from the present Government. I hope that this important initiative, now on a national level, will be extended more and more at an international level.
President Nixon, in his foreign policy report on 9th February, mentioned the peaceful control of the sea bed as one of the new dimensions of democratic foreign politics. I believe very strongly that this is crucial to our continued existence in our environment as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed), who is an expert on this subject will no doubt be touching upon it.
It has caused me much concern that over the last few weeks there has been much discussion, and rightly, on the subject of the 10-mile limits and inshore fisheries in relation to the Common Market negotiations. But how little we have heard in the House or elsewhere of the far greater problem of the future of the sea bed and the sea as a whole; for instance, of the situation which exists in the Baltic, where the destruction of plankton has turned the Baltic into a sterile lake, and all that this sort of ecological factor involves.
I hope that at this stage, as we have woken up nationally to environmental issues—and this will affect politics in every way over the next century—internationally we shall come to realise more and more the depth of the problems involved.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend tthe Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) for picking such an appropriate subject for debate. As has been said by several hon. Members on 952 both sides of the House, it is not very often that we get the opportunity to consider such important matters in such great detail. I am especially grateful to him because I am glad of the opportunity of raising a subject which has been of very great concern to my constituents over the past two weeks.
I am glad that my hon. Friend ranged so widely and that he included the subject of transport, about which I, too, have an interest. I venture to say that my union might disagree with his union on certain aspects. Nevertheless, I shall confine my remarks, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis), to the problem of unauthorised and illegal waste disposal, particularly the disposal of toxic waste, because it was right in the middle of my constituency that 36 drums of cyanide ash were discovered a couple of weeks ago to have been dumped illegally and in an unauthorised manner. I congratulate the Under-Secretary on his rapid intervention in that matter. The fact that he called for a speedy report certainly helped to concentrate not only local but national attention on this matter. I am only sorry to say that the Department he represents has not always been so speedy in coming forth with the legislation to deal with this problem which by now I should have thought was long overdue.
As we had instances of this problem occurring last year, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price)—to whom I also pay tribute—caused a great deal of concern about this subject some six weeks ago, it seems rather tardy that only next week we shall have some kind of legislation to deal with this most urgent situation, although I am grateful that legislation will at last be introduced.
I congratulate the police in Nuneaton on their speedy efforts in scouring the country, not only in my constituency but throughout the West Midlands, to find other sources and tips of toxic material. I am only sorry that they have been unable to communicate the information required to the local authority represented here by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. The police are still proceeding with their inquiries, and it is in that context that I understand they are unable to give more information.
953 Nevertheless, the activties of the Nuneaton police, under Chief Inspector Wesley Watkins, have been responsible for the uncovering of many more dumps throughout the Midlands. Daily we are receiving information about more and more instances. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has referred to one in his constituency, and no doubt we shall hear of others by the end of the week.
I stress to the Under-Secretary the very deep concern felt by my constituents about this matter. I am glad to be able to tell my constituents this weekend that at last his Department will act next week. This will be a great consolation to those who live in places like Bermuda Village.
There has been a great deal of concern in my constituency, in the Midlands and throughout the country, that more and more instances of illegal unauthorised dumping will turn up. There has been much emphasis on the tipping of these materials. As soon as we start to talk about the tipping of these materials, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove so adequately illustrated, we come to the very vexed problem of enforcement. We are now dealing often with the question of lorries driving without headlights and tipping occurring in the small hours of the morning. Even if we have a very efficient police force—as I am sure we do in most parts of the country—the problem of enforcing the law and enforcing penalties for unauthorised tipping operations is a very difficult one.
If the Secretary of State's legislation is to be sucessful, he will have to cast his net far more widely than the unauthorised tippers. I shall return to that matter shortly. I am convinced that on unauthorised tipping we are dealing with a highly irresponsible and highly criminal minority. I am sure that the great majority of the waste disposal contractors in Britain certainly have a far more adequate and responsible outlook.
What also concerns me is the highly inadequate state of the present legislation on this matter. It appears that before we had the proposals from the Secretary of State the maximum fine for this kind of offence was only £100. I have been told that in the Civic Amenities Act and the Dangerous Litter Act it 954 was the lorry driver who had to be prosecuted. If one fines a lorry driver for tipping this kind of material a maximum of only £100, reform is long overdue. I am glad that the Secretary of State is at last introducing legislation which will not only substantially increase the fine but will also include imprisonment as a penalty. In speaking about fines and imprisonment, I am sure that the Secretary of State is only too aware of the tremendous difficulty of enforcement. It is fine to tighten up on penalties and to talk about imprisonment, and I am glad that the Secretary of State is doing that. But by just tightening up on sentences we may be causing even more fly-by-night operations.
The higher the penalties and the stiffer the fines the greater the temptation to indulge in fly-by-night operations. I am glad that we will have a policy of more action by local authorities. We need more approved tips. But if the authorities start to impose charges and begin to tighten up, again there will be the possible encouragement of fly-by-night operation simply because of more control.
The problem always comes back to the vexatious question of enforcement. That is why I feel and hope that the Secretary of State's emphasis in his forthcoming legislation will be on this. The legal onus must be placed upon the suppliers and users of these chemicals. The code of practice for the industry and the technical committees report on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes have both been mentioned. It is only fair to say that though the code tells local authorities what to do once they have a tip operating, the great majority do not have adequate proposals for operating tips for these materials. The two reports are very good but they are deficient in dealing with the problem in total, and in dealing with the total enforcement problem. They are fine for dealing with the percolation of material down through the soil but not for dealing with illegal tipping and for saying on whom the responsibility should be placed.
The technical committee report, in paragraph 40, certainly highlights the difficulty when, in dealing with methods of disposal, it says:The figure for the tipping of indisputable toxic waste is 96 per cent., for the acid or 955 caustic wastes 72 per cent., and for the flammable waste 82 per cent.In other words, we are dealing with a situation in which tipping plays a very important part in getting rid of these toxic waste materials. The other thing which is most important is that in each of the categories listed in the table on page 15, where we find factory rubbish, inert process wastes, flammable wastes, acid and caustic wastes and indisputably toxic wastes, it seems that between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. of these disposals are being dealt with not by local authorities but by contractors. In other words, in many cases at least a quarter of these disposals are being dealt with by independent contractors. So it is quite right that today we should be dealing with the problem of unauthorised disposal by fly-by-night operators. It is quite right, also, to recognise the tremendous importance of tipping in getting rid of these wastes.
The Secretary of State has mentioned the comparatively small part at present played by local authorities in all this. The table on page 15 of the technical committee report is interesting from another point of view in that the local authority percentage is in most cases below 10 per cent. for the tipping of these materials. This means we are dealing with an activity which is more or less 90 per cent. in private hands. I do not want to bring politics into this too much, but I would like to see local authorities taking a far bigger share of toxic waste disposal.
I have often wondered why many local authorities do not expand their activities and make a profit out of the tipping of these wastes. In the financial columns of the Observer and the Sunday Times there are very glamorous pictures and glamorous company profiles about the private enterprise operators involved in waste disposal. Maybe it is about time that local authorities had a look at this glamorous profit-making sector. I only hope that as they increase their interest in these matters they will increase their activities in, and their profits from, toxic waste disposal.
I congratulate my own local authority in Nuneaton—particularly the Town Clerk, Mr. Eccles, and the Public Health Inspector, Mr. Llewellyn—for the very 956 speedy action it took after a report by one of my constituents, because of the publicity about this subject. Its activity has been a model for other local authorities in getting something done about this. My local authority, too, is very worried about the problem of fly tipping. Again, it is interesting to note what the technical committee report has to say about fly tipping. In paragraph 89 it says:There is no doubt that dumps of objectionable waste are sometimes found in quiet out-of-the-way places…"—I do not like my constituency being described quite like that—…we have been told in evidence that too much unauthorised tipping occurs even in areas where the county council has special powers of control…and that there have been instances of workmen in charge of tips being offered payment to accept loads without questioning them.The report says that too much unauthorized tipping has taken place, but I wonder whether it expected that this much had occurred. The law on the tipping of toxic waste is plainly inadequate at the moment. We have legislation dealing with the disposal of more general waste but not with the specific and much more dangerous problem of toxic wastes. Until the legislation announced by the Secretary of State this morning becomes law we shall have no specific legislation. I am glad that he is to introduce legislation next week. I only hope that it will be as wide as I think it ought to be. I am glad that he proposes a system of registration of movements and of notification of river authorities—whether that is precisely the right body I do not know.
I, and many people who are concerned about this situation in my constituency, believe that there will be no effective action and no real enforcement of the law until we put the primary emphasis of responsibility on those who supply the chemicals. If we only try to deal with the tipper operators and the fly-by-night we will have a tremendous problem of enforcement. I want to see the chemical companies and the users of the chemicals made directly responsible for getting rid of this waste in a properly authorised manner and I am glad that they will have to say exactly where they are going to dump it and exactly when.
957 I hope that the Secretary of State sticks to his intention of being as comprehensive as possible. I am glad, too, that he intends to ask local authorities to survey all the tips in their area. I bet that they will find a few surprises in quite a few cases. I am also glad that the Secretary of State proposes more machinery for monitoring not only in connection with this problem but for pollution generally. That is a very good suggestion. I hope that local authorities will make ample use of the code of practice with which the Secretary of State will supply them.
The problem has caused much anxiety, but it will continue unless we have an expansion of activity not only by local authorities but also by the Department of the Environment. The right hon. Gentleman is starting to move, and of that I am glad. I only wish that the Second Reading of his Bill could have been this morning.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurance Reed (Bolton, East)
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) and other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have put considerable stress on waste disposal and reclamation. That is absolutely right, because pollution, dereliction and the destruction of amenities are normally the consequences of unwanted wastes. If we are to prevent any further defilement of our environment, we must put an end to our present wasteful habits and learn to re-use a great deal of what we currently discard. We must create what a member of the European Commission has called a closed-circuit economy, in which wastes are recycled and pollution output is cut down.
The obstacles to success are primarily economic and not technical. The costs of pollution can be astronomical. The cleaner we want our environment to be, the higher the price will be. I understand that I.C.I. is to spend about £60 million in the next 10 years on equipment to control its effluent. The British Steel Corporation is spending about £4 million a year on air pollution control and £1½ million on water treatment plant. It costs us £18 million a year to dispose of our household rubbish and about £50 million a year to dispose of our sewage. I suppose that it would cost about £350 million to clear up the 958 worst of Britain's derelict acres and £500 million just to bring up to tolerable standards the grossly polluted parts of our rivers.
When we are totting up the pollution bill, it is important not to overlook the fact that pollution has a cost as well, since it damages real interests and real resources. For example, smoke and fumes damage health, property and crops. This must be paid for in higher cleaning hills, medical charges and food prices. Therefore, to refuse to spend on pollution control is not necessarily to save money; it simply means paying the costs of pollution in a different currency.
We could never afford to do away with pollution altogether, nor would it be desirable to try, because pollution is a by-product of activities that yield benefits and satisfy wants. People who propose an outright bar on this and that sometimes fail to take into account the benefits that must be forgone. For example, to forgo the use of D.D.T. means forgoing a very useful way of suppressing malaria. The advantages of less pollution must be balanced against the costs of attaining that.
Legal controls over activities harmful to the environment are the instrument we have chosen in this country and most others in the fight against pollution. The rules and standards are laid down by Parliament and are usually enforced with the aid of a special agency, such as the river authorities or the Alkali Inspectorate. But I have the gravest doubts about how far such legislation can achieve a better and healthier environment by itself. Regulations are not easy to enforce satisfactorily. On the whole, they are too easy to evade, and a breach of the law is often very difficult to prove. Fly-tipping is a classic example. Other examples are the discharge of oil into coastal waters and the whole question of noise.
The standards and procedures we lay down tend to be fixed according to the state of the art at the time the legislation is enacted. It is not easy to build into the system a progressive raising of standards as the technology of pollution control is improved, nor do legislators seem capable, with the pressures on them, of keeping up with the hazards involved in the use of new processes and materials in the rapidly-changing industrial scene. 959 The influence of big business is such that it can successfully resist the imposition of stricter controls by pleading poverty and raising balance of trade considerations. But, above all, with legislation there is no incentive to industry to go beyond the minimal standards laid down by Parliament to attempt to reduce further the throughput of materials and energy, so conserving resources and reducing pollution still further.
These weaknesses in legislation make me believe that it is necessary to supplement it by other means. One school of thought says that we should introduce a tax system putting a premium on durability and a penalty on disposability. That has interesting possibilities, though my preference is for charging a rent for the use of the environment's capacity to absorb wastes. This could take the form of a surcharge on smoke-creating fuels or a levy on effluent discharges, a levy scaled according to the volume and type of wastes involved. The real advantage of this method which should appeal to hon. Members is that it yields a revenue that we can use to finance the high costs of monitoring and research involved in any effective controlling agency.
My right hon. Friend upholds the principle that the polluter should pay. It is usually justified on grounds of equity, that it is right that those who generate pollution should pay the costs of suppressing it. But there is a much more profound reason why this principle is correct. If the burden of curbing pollution is put squarely on the shoulders of the polluter, he has an incentive, he is under pressure, to re-direct his resources away from pollution-generating activities to pollution-free activities; it pays him to cut down his wastes. So long as we allow the environment to be used as a free resource for waste disposal purposes, there is no incentive to economise on that use. When there is a system of payment, the profit is taken out of pollution and put into pollution control.
If we are to improve our environment we shall undoubtedly have to enforce the exising legislation more vigorously. Present sanctions and penalties for failure to comply with the law are totally inadequate, and so is the frequency of inspection. The scale of penalties should be sufficient to constitute a deterrent, and 960 reflect the increasing seriousness with which the public view pollution offences.
The prospect of five-year prison sentences for the illicit dumping of toxic wastes has been mentioned. Prison sentences for serious and repeated offences would undoubtedly have a salutary effect, provided they were imposed upon the right men, but the courts may be reluctant to impose such sentences. Fines at present are well worth paying for the financial gain that a breach of the law makes possible. Where neglect of pollution safety precautions can result in large savings in expenditure, the only adequate deterrent is to relate the penalty to the financial gain made by the company responsible.
These conditions are relevant only for the wilful or reckless polluter. We have not had any mention of involuntary pollution. A great deal of the contamination of our environment occurs through ordinary human error and failing. We might cut down accidental pollution if we arrange for certain ultra-hazardous activities to be subject to a licensing system. The effectiveness of licensing as a means of improving human conduct has been shown in other areas. If we made the granting or renewal of a licence conditional upon the observance of proper pollution control regulations this system would obviously provide a powerful inducement for the individual operator at least to take special care with the materials and substances he is handling.
In addition, the possibility of imposing an absolute liability on those who use certain dangerous materials or substances might also assist accident prevention. In principle it is surely right that the risks of a pollution accident should be carried by the person who benefits from the activity that causes it. Assuredly an employer faced with the prospect of a heavy claim for damages, regardless of fault, would take effective care to make his process doubly safe.
Naturally an employer will insure against this and remove the immediate cost from himself but he would still be faced with increased premiums if he proved to be a bad pollution risk. The insurance world at the same time would be brought in to the whole machinery of enforcing and improving methods to reduce accidents relating to pollution.
961 There is one other idea I want to float. I am often told that the law courts are simply not up to the task of accurately measuring appropriate fines or damages in pollution offences. One way of getting over that difficulty is to allow the courts to make the decision about the question of guilt or responsibility and then to have what might be called a pollution audit or tribunal which would be fully qualified to assess the appropriate fine in the circumstances bearing in mind the gravity of the offence in relation to the damage to the environment, and which could also assess with greater accuracy than a lawyer the appropriate compensation to be paid to the victims of pollution, taking into account all environmental circumstances.
We heard from the hon. Member for Derby, South his proposal for a system of pollution control officers in local government. Perhaps these pollution auditors could fulfil that rôle, too, and follow up problems that have arisen in pollution risk factories. I cannot do better in putting forward that point of view than to quote from an editorial in the Sunday Times which appeared towards the end of January. It said:One objective should be to create a climate of opinion and a framework of law which ensures that the pollution factor in every industrial operation is taken as seriously as the financial factor. A pollution audit should be as automatic as the audit of accounts. …The public interest in freedom from pollution is now as great as the public interest in freedom from company fraud 70 years ago, when auditing of accounts began.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I want to address the Secretary of State about his relationship to the Treasury. He would be the first to agree that we can discuss legislation and regulations for a long time but many of the things he wants to do involve money—a vast amount of money. What is the basic philosophy of his Department in its approach to the Treasury? Is it asking the Treasury to reflect on how the fiscal system can be biased towards those processes which are anti-pollutant and against those who are causing pollution? The discussion about liquified petroleum gas that we have had on the Finance Bill is only a symbol of something more important. I will not go into the details of that now, we can leave it for another time but we cannot leave for another 962 time whether the Government accept the principle of biasing the fiscal system in favour of something like liquified petroleum gas and against polluting fuels.
It is easy to make snide remarks about Treasury officials but the truth is that they are some of the ablest men in our society and their motives are neither less good nor less honourable than any of ours. It is equally true that they must be concerned about what they call the erosion of the revenue. The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) put it very well when he said that there are costs on both sides. The cost of not keeping something clean or letting it get dirty must be taken into the total calculation. I hope that the Department is putting as strong a case as it can to the Treasury and the Chancellor in an attempt to bring this into the fiscal system.
There is another issue and that is the extent to which the original purchaser should pay for the end pollutant. For example, should the purchaser of a new motor car pay an extra premium to make sure that its eventual disposal is paid for? This would cost, for a big car perhaps £50 and for something like a Mini, perhaps £25. It may be that the motor industry which my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis), Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) and I have met, does not particularly care because it does not want additional costs. It says, "For heaven's sake, cars are sufficiently expensive, do not add £20, £30, or £50." Unless something is put on to the original price it means that the last user is the man who has to carry the can and very often—not only with motor cars—such a person can least afford it. We have to reflect on the principle of whether we put disposal costs on to the initial price and that should be, considered in connection with the Finance Bill.
I also want to raise the question of penalties. The right hon. Gentleman said that we should leave discussion of that until the Second Reading because it was a detail. I have news for him. It is not a detail, it is a very tricky question. Whom do we put in prison for five years or two years? These are the penalties that have been announced. We may say that it is the director. Which director? Supposing a director knew 963 nothing about it. People should not be sent to prison in ignorance. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) said it should be the manufacturer. We know that with comparatively few polluters one man in a factory can be identified because the big polluters are the biggish firms. Without being grotesque about it, suppose it is discovered that Shell or B.P. or Leylands, one of the giant organisations, was polluting. Who decides? Who is the company representative to go to prison. It could be jolly awkward. Does he get hardship allowance? What do we do? Send Sir David Barron to prison? Perhaps we do. The Germans did something precisely like that. They sent a leading German industralist to prison. I thought it marvellous. I bear no ill-will against leading industralists. What they did was to create a situation of management by embarrassment, because it is one thing incurring a fine, it is one thing going to prison oneself, it is quite another to land the boss up in clink.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The hon. Gentleman surely does not suggest that if a lorry driver decided to empty some pollutant into a river as a means of getting Sir David Barron into prison, he should be allowed to do so? Obviously, one could send to prison only those people having knowledge and conniving at the crime. I am sure that the courts, and certainly the Bill, will say, the chairman or managing director can go to prison, but it would be absurd to have the position that somebody having no responsibility or knowledge of the crime having taken place should be sent to prison because it took place.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Then we have the situation in which it is up to the company to define who is responsible, because I suspect that most lorry drivers do not do this off their bat but because someone tells them to do it. Would it be the business of the courts to identify who, in a big organisation, was the most senior person who had knowledge? Would it be the divisional management? There are big organisations that I know where there would be one almightly row and racket in deciding who should spend five years in prison. I am all for good ideas, but they have to be thought out.
§ Mr. Simeons
Would the hon. Member agree that at the moment there is case law where, I think, Ford was fined a very large sum because it employed a contractor to dump illegally? But the Ford Company was also brought up before the court and fined. The person who knows is responsible.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) also represents part of Dunstable and had Ford in his constituency. Who in Vauxhall is to be actually identified as the man who did it? Do we get the situation where Vauxhall is sending its representative to prison. Will the firm recompense him?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Well, this is not silly. That is the trouble, and it is not a silly point, because if Vauxhall and Ford were treated differently from a small manufacturer there would be a very intolerable situation. However, we will leave it at that at the moment, because we shall have to discuss it further, but I am far from convinced that the Department has thought this sticky situation out.
I hope that consideration will be given to estuary reclamation, and I think particularly of the Firth of Forth, but as the Secretary of State for the Environment is not directly responsible for that. I will leave the point.
I hope that financial provisions will be made to give incentives to firms to help them recycle. Finally, I should like to ask a question of the English part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Secretary of State for Scotland produced £1 million for urban renewal and urban conservation. That was something to which enormous publicity was given in the Scottish Press. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) talked about urban conservation. The Department has done a lot. It was pointed out to the Scottish Under-Secretary in a long interview, and pointed out in detail, that the bottleneck was not so much money as management. The situation in Scotland is that there are 31,500 people unemployed who worked, when they last worked, in the building industry. In the kind of scheme put 965 forward by the Scottish Civic Trust and others there is a management bottleneck. I should like to know what is being done to create the kind of management infrastructure which can make a reality of the slogans about urban conservation. There are a good many of these slogans and I go along with the best of the sloganising on this subject.
It is not an easy problem. I was impressed by what the Scottish Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), and Mr. Ronald Cramond of his Department said on this argument.
Over the long term we really must start now to create a system whereby not only unemployment will be reduced but our national heritage and our urban environment can be kept free from pollution.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)
Most of the emphasis in the debate to date has been concentrated around fears of massive damage to the countryside. If we are to talk about pollution we should bear in mind that this is not the mere introduction of impurity into the system, because if we define it in that way and try to prevent pollution totally we shall upset the whole ecological balance. I remind the House that the waste matter of one being is food for another being, and I ask you to realise that we should look on the constituents of pollution as being around us all the time. Only when we take steps to concentrate them, or to remove them from their present surroundings, do we begin the whole process of possible pollution. Therefore, I think we can describe pollution as being the dumping of waste in an anti-social manner.
When we are talking of cost we must bear in mind that we must use money and natural resources to redisperse the constituents of pollution by converting them to harmless forms or placing them below ground in an authorised manner, so that we can prevent the fears and facts which have been presented to the Rouse today. What we have to do is to control pollution, and not prevent it.
The problem is one mainly of synthetics. The attraction of synthetics is that economically they are far more profitable. There are far more potential 966 commercial benefits from synthetics than from simple organic compounds, although organic constituents are easier to remove. Cotton can be made to decay easily, because the cellulose content provides the energy for the bacteria of decay. For synthetic fibres a temperature of 200°C is required to change their form. Detergents are another illustration of how we use synthetics. They do not get us any cleaner than soap, but they produce a better result with hard water than does soap. The phosphates from detergents which are disposed of increase growth in our rivers, and this is an anti-social dumping of waste.
As the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) pointed out, control is no problem. We have the technology for it. To hear hon. and right hon. Members talking about cyanide one might suppose that a tremendous amount of research needs to be done to discover how to dispose of it, but technically it is simple. The problem is to get it in the right place so that it can be disposed of by those who know how to do it. All this will cost money. Are we prepared to meet the cost? The Secretary of State has rightly said that the polluter must pay but, in the ultimate, it means 4p on a packet of crisps. If we contain prices at one end and put them up at the other the problem becomes different, and once again the Treasury may be involved.
The position of companies may be affected in terms of both international and domestic competition. If we were to say that industries which have based themselves on the Mersey because they were able to pollute freely must cease to do so, either the whole of our chemical industry would have to shut down or we would cease to export chemicals.
§ Mr. Simeons
The Secretary of State shakes his head. Perhaps he will say what it would cost. It would mean a massive increase in costs if we were to do it tomorrow, but we can do it over a long period.
§ Mr. Walker
The cost of pollution at present has to be borne by means of higher taxes and more money spent on medical services. Surely it is better that the element of pollution prevention costs included in a packet of crisps should be 967 paid for by the person who buys a packet of crisps.
§ Mr. Simeons
There is no real disagreement between us; it is a question of where the apparent cost lies.
The Secretary of State spoke of the merits of the reorganisation of water resources and sewage disposal. I agree with him entirely. One great merit of the reorganisation which he did not mention is that the 10 new regions will be able to proceed at different rates. The regions which have clean rivers will have to maintain standards and those whose rivers are polluted will be able to change the rate of pollution in such a way that the firms involved can bear the cost, provided that they know well ahead the rate at which they have to work.
One problem is to get over to the public the information needed to make them conscious not of the ultimate effect of pollution but of their contribution to it. I suggest that the Secretary of State might consider for this purpose a code of practice analagous to the code of practice for industrial relations, in which the public could be told the part they have to play.
A year ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman for advice on the disposal of oil from motor cars. This question is still being answered—I am not suggesting that it could have been answered more quickly, because it is a difficult problem—but advice on that subject might be included in the code. If everyone tips motor oil down the local drain a large amount will go to the rivers and eventually find its way into the water supply.
The Secretary of State might also give advice to farmers on the use of fertilisers. Excessive use of fertilisers means that nitrates get into the rivers. One has only to think of the effects of nitrates on babies under six months old, and of the problem of nitrates in the blood stream, to realise that this could be serious. He might also include in the code comprehensive instructions to industry so that those who use toxic material realise where their responsibilities lie.
The great merit of the industrial relations code of practice was not what it actually said, because this may be open 968 to debate, but that fact that everyone in industry looked to see what they were doing and whether what they were doing conformed to what was expected of them. This would not have happened without the code.
I should like the code to be delivered to schools and to include a special word for schoolchildren so that they can advise their parents how to keep the country tidy. Children are the guardians of our countryside, and they will be able to tell father that he must not dispose of bottles and plastic bags by throwing them out of the car window into a field. If we begin with the schools, life will quickly become much easier.
The problems of dumping have been mentioned, particularly in regard to cyanide. The manufacturers of such chemicals know to whom they sell the chemical in any quantity. If they return their sales, then at the other end the authorities must know that these firms will have to dispose of the chemicals in one way or the other. It is well known that platers use cyanide. People using these chemicals can be identified. In turn, it would not be very difficult to get those people to make a return showing how they dispose of such waste.
The difficulty in terms of penalties and, indeed, prison sentences, is that there are always extenuating circumstances. One knows this very well if one sits in court, as I do. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that difficult circumstances require unusual measures. I would like him to appear on television with a pair of stocks and to explain that this is the treatment to be meted out to anybody found to be dumping this material. Stocks would then be delivered to the town concerned and the culprit would have to spend 24 hours in them. It would only happen once and, whether it applied to the managing director or the person who had done the dumping, I guarantee that after he had spent a day in the stocks the number of these incidents would rapidly decrease.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Does my hon. Friend appreciate the enormous cost of removing the litter which would cover the ground around these stocks?
§ Mr. Simeons
Yes, but that would happen only once.
969 I should like to know why all our sewers need to be covered in. Is there not a case for saying that some of the sewers should be treated in the same way as the "sewers" which at the moment we call rivers? In economic terms, in deciding how to balance our resources we may have to retain the odd waterway as an open sewer.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) on moving this important Motion. I have every sympathy with him on the problems in his constituency. I was there a few days ago and I saw the terrible problem of slag and waste spoil heaps.
I would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) that there have been improvements over the years, and we must not lose sight of this fact. Only a hundred years ago—I think it was in 1840—Members of this House had to withdraw from the House of Commons owing to the stink and condition of the River Thames, and they were unable to sit in this House during that summer. Even in my lifetime we have seen improvements in the situation. No longer do we have the pea-soupers which used to bedevil our country.
I should like to congratulate the Department on the work which it is doing, and doing well. In these 16 months of existence the Department has got on with the job and my right hon. Friend's proposals will do a great deal to bring this matter to a head, and those proposals should be acted upon.
Much discussion has taken place about scrap and junk. It must be remembered that the Socialist Government introduced the Civic Amenities Act, which gives power to local authorities to deal with junk. That Act provided for the disposal of abandoned motor cars and for penalties to be imposed in various instances. I agree with my right hon. Friend that these matters are difficult to enforce and it will be our job to see that those provisions are carried out.
Comment has also been made about cyanide dumping, which is ghastly. Even prison has been suggested as a penalty. But surely prison is too good for people 970 who dump cyanide and endanger the lives of others, especially the young.
A great many factors have to be considered when viewing this serious problem of pollution, including smoking, climate, soil type, the topography of the area, the concentrates and the chemical composition of air pollution. Although there have been reports on noise, clean air and water cleanliness. The Department of the Environment, worse luck, does not have responsibility for controlling all forms of pollution. It would be better if it were able to undertake this work. Perhaps the suggestion about bringing into being a special Minister—perhaps not a Secretary of State, but a junior Minister—to deal with environmental problems such as pollution is a good one. We have to see that we create a safe, stable society by obeying nature's conditions which maintain it.
My own constituency of Bournemouth needs no introduction to hon. Members. To exist, it needs its beautful beaches and needs them clean and unspoiled by oil. It deals quite properly with its sewage. It treats its sewage. But of what use is the expense and care if its neighbours do not and instead, send the savage stuff straight out to sea? I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will say whether or not it is feasible in future to set up a national standard for dealing with sewage, especially round our coasts. I do not know all the answers, but I know that we must find them, and soon.
They involve controls to see that ecological processes are not disrupted, that natural materials and energy are conserved, and that practices are introduced as near as possible to natural processes. In other words, we need to return to the natural mechanisms of the ecosphere, because they are more efficient and reliable, though perhaps not so dramatic in the short term.
I leave aside the question of pesticides and fertilisers, saying only briefly that some should be stopped at once and that much more control should be given to others. It was Professor Commoner who said:Since economics is the Science of the distribution of resources, all of which are derived from the ecosphere, it is foolish to perpetuate an economic system which destroys it.That is a very real truism.
971 Ideally, ecology and economics should go hand in hand. At the moment, they most certainly do not. It is clear that we need more food. We need population control. We need less pollution and more conservation of resources. How can we increase our food supply without increasing pollution? We might stop by reducing lead additives in petrol, so reducing the danger from engine exhaust. We have gone into this matter fairly thoroughly today. The hon. Member for Derby, South dealt faithfully with that important part of this issue.
I suppose that we may well be suffering from the poisons of the atmosphere and that, because of it we are unable to appreciate the seriousness and dangers of pollution. The content of lead in drinking water has gone up from 0.05 parts to 0.1 part per million. As for marine pollution damage, an international convention met in Brussels between November, 1969, and December, 1970, studying the problems involved in intervention on the high seas in cases of oil pollution casualties. It reported that we still have our seas and our beaches ruined by pollution. It noted, too, that pollution may be caused by agents other than oil. Ships still discharge oil, even though they risk penalties, and, apart from the natural hazards which all ships run, certain oils are still discharged into the sea quite illegally. In fact, although we regard accidents like that of the "Torrey Canyon" as principal causes of oil pollution of the seas, they make up less than 10 per cent. of the estimated 2.1 metric tons of oil that man introduces directly into the world's waters.
At least 90 per cent. originates in the normal operations of tankers, other ships, refineries, petro-chemical plants, submarine oil wells, and so on. The increases in the size of tankers makes things worse, and cleaning up oil spills does extra harm—more harm than good, in fact, even with a non-toxic dispersant. The dispersed oil is much more toxic to marine life than the oil slick on the surface. This was found to be the case in the Report, "The Study of Critical Environmental Problems", undertaken in 1969 by an impressive group of scientists.
As we become more dependent on synthetic products to replace scarcer 972 natural products—plastics to replace wood, detergents to replace soap, chemical fertilisers to replace organic manures—so we affect our environment, because these products accumulate and are normally broken down.
Even worse, children are affected by Strontium 90, iodine 131 accumulates in the thyroid gland, and D.D.T. can cause liver diseases, and, in addition, plastics and other pollutants can accumulate in the liver and kidneys.
This is the sorry and serious picture that mankind has surrounded itself by and which is endangering man's life through his own making. Now that he is beginning to understand the dangers of his relationship with nature, let us see that he does something about it. Indeed, if we are to prevent the collapse of our civilisation we must.
Many of us feel that even more dangerous to the future of our children is the pollution of mind and morals—I do not expect the Minister to answer this point—especially now being encouraged in the name of progress and liberation. This House would be appalled by a sound strip produced by a doctor for the instruction of children at the 11-plus age range in our schools. According to Dr. Eichhoff, child consultant psychiatrist at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, this illustrated lecture is 23 minutes long—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvey Anderson)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Cordle
I was doing so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that we have been talking about the quality of life. If we allow this pollution of mind and morals, we shall endanger the whole structure of the nation.
Perhaps I may continue. Although it is unlawful to indulge in sexual intercourse before the age of 16, the slides teach all sorts of ghastly things, such as masturbation, and thereby convert a spontaneous error, natural to normal development, into an unnatural perversion which, when practised, especially by females, interferes with the ability to function normally in adult heterosexual relationships.
973 Surely, however dangerous cyanide may be when sealed in identifiable drums, this kind of instruction, given against the wishes of parents, will inevitably produce a sad harvest of arbortion, promiscuity and disease. We are all allergic to the dangers of poisonous matter, but the danger of this kind of pollution is lasting and pervasive. Those of us with young children have good reason to ask for State protection against those who would rob us of their purity and, in some cases, of the prospect of a happy and useful life.
§ Mr. Terry Davis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am having difficulty in relating the hon. Gentleman's speech, which is very interesting, to the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Cordle
I think that it is about time that somebody said something in the House about the pollution of mind and morals in this country. That is precisely what I was trying to do.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for not having been present earlier in the debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) does not expect me, and I am sure that you would not allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow him into the moral case that he has been discussing.
I was delighted to hear on the radio in my car this morning that the Minister had given the House a promise of legislation to deal with the disposal of toxic waste. This was to be expected, in view of the great interest that he is taking in his job and his efforts to improve the environment generally. Knowing him, I am sure that the House would also agree that little delay was to be expected in his dealing with what had become an acute subject in the last few days.
I want to talk about pollution from another aspect, which has probably not been touched on greatly this morning. If it has, I apologise for re-introducing it. I mean the pollution created by agricultural pesticides and compounds. 974 D.D.T. is a compound which was in general use in this country for a considerable period. Eventually, it was found that it had a cumulative persistence which was creating far more danger to our flora and fauna than the benefits which were being derived from its use.
My right hon. Friend should carefully consider not only the disposal of toxic wastes but also the use of poisonous substances in agriculture, particularly some of the substances produced for the control of pests in gardens and in agriculture.
I was prompted to take part in the debate because a friend of mine a short time ago asked me to investigate the contents of four pesticides—Fosferno, Phosdrin, Pestox and Endrin. When I asked for particulars of the ingredients, I found that the first three are organophosphorus compounds and the fourth is an organochlorine compound. However, all are graded, under the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Regulations as Part II substances, which means that when they are used, full protective clothing—gloves, boots, face shield or dust mask, overalls and apron or mackintosh—must be worn, plus, in enclosed spaces, a respirator when aerosols or atomising fluids are being applied. It is clear that those compounds can all be extremely dangerous to the operator if improperly used. But all can be bought at any agricultural shop without any restriction whatever.
Greater control should be exercised over these new compounds. They are poisonous, and the regulations applying to the registration of poisons should be re-examined in view of the new pesticides and compounds that are being created. When they are as dangerous as is indicated by the instructions for their use, there must be greater control to ensure, first, that they cannot be purchased by children in the shops and, above all, to investigate their ultimate effects before they come into general use. I wonder what investigation was made into the long-term effects of, for example, D.D.T. before it came into general use? Much of the trouble and pollution could surely have been avoided.
If the Minister really wants to make a thoroughly good job of his efforts to avoid the pollution of the countryside, he should insist on effective tests being carried out before many of these new 975 substances come into general use. We need an examination into the long-term and short-term effects on the environment in general and, in broad terms, on the flora and fauna and on human health. This is an important area in which there is a considerable lack of investigation. I trust that the Minister will give it the highest priority.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
This has been a valuable and even eventful debate. It has been characterised by many, if diverse, speeches from hon. Members on both sides—characterised by the rare but nonetheless welcome harmony between the two Front Benches, and by a major announcement from my right hon. Friend.
The debate has ranged very widely. To quote one of my hon. Friends, it has included everything under the sun, from moral pollution, with which I shall not deal, to the potential dangers of the RB211 engine, the question of taxation on L.P.G., the distribution of plastic bottles, the beaches of the Mull and Mauritius, the return of salmon to the Thames and even to a long and interesting debate on the difficulties of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) in parking his car at New Street Station, in Birmingham. There was, too, an interesting contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) on the wide and important question of the economics of pollution control.
In dealing with so vast and compendious a subject I think that I can best serve the House by attempting to divide it into a number of specific areas, namely, air, water, derelict land, noise and, of course, toxic tipping, which has been the principal concern of the House.
Before dealing with these subjects I wish to take up some matters raised by the hon. Member for Small Heath, who spelt out some issues of major importance. The first was urban decay. My right hon. Friend and I agree absolutely with him that this is perhaps the crucial problem of environmental management. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are formulating integrated policies right across the board to make a better impact on this growing problem.
976 The hon. Member for Small Heath also raised the question of junk. I was obliged to him for doing so in simple Anglo-Saxon terms. I am glad to tell him that two working parties have been set up to deal with this problem, one under the aegis of the Plastics Institute, which will take up his points about non-disposable bottles, and the other by the Glass Manufacturers' Federation. Both working parties will be supported by officials of my Department. We shall also be holding at County Hall, in London, on 28th March, a conference on packaging and litter, to which I am glad to invite the hon. Gentleman, as we shall be dealing with some of the matters he touched upon today.
I shall look into the hon. Member's suggestion about the rôle of public health inspectors with some sympathy, as I had the honour of being president of their organisation until coming into Government. I thank the hon. Gentleman again, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, for his handsome offer to assist the passage of the proposals for toxic waste control through the House. I am glad that we were able to meet his criteria.
§ Mr. Darling
May I ask why the Reclamation Industries Council never gets invited to these discussions?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I should be surprised if it were not. If the right hon. Gentleman will let me have a note about that I shall certainly consider any invitations that he suggests.
Returning to the debate, I pick up from the phrase used by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson), who so wisely initiated it, when he used the phrase "Please act now". I approach air pollution as the first subject with that admonition very much in mind. Quite properly, the hon. Member for Derby, South raised the question of the atmosphere in his town. He said that he was worried about SO2 levels in Derby. I am glad to be able to tell him that although SO2 levels have been high in Derby they are coming down. I am advised that since 1969–70 there has been a drop in the index from 141 to 134. That brings Derby well below the average of many other industrial areas of Britain. I can tell him also—indeed, 977 he will know this—that a liaison committee has been set up and my Department's Alkali Inspectorate is represented on it, along with local industry. I gather that the main cause of complaint in the past has been a local power station. I am glad to know that difficulties will not arise from that source in future because it has now closed.
Regarding air pollution in general, it is common ground that, under all Governments, this country has a success story to tell. But my Department, since it has had responsibility, has taken a number of steps. We have strengthened the Alkali Inspectorate. We have added a number of new industrial processes to the register, among them the mineral industries, aluminium smelting, the refining of crude petroleum, and many parts of the plastics industry. In addition, we have made further orders limiting grit and dust emissions from furnaces. The Alkali Inspectorate works by voluntary co-operation but, wherever necessary, we shall not hesitate to prosecute.
My right hon. Friend has also said that he expects to increase the penalties for this and other kinds of pollution, for it is a fact that some of the fines at present imposed for industrial air pollution are quite derisory.
As for domestic smoke, the shortage of solid smokeless fuel is now behind us, and the time has come for all local authorities to press on with that good work, especially in the North, where a special panel of the Clean Air Council will soon be looking into the problems of those authorities which have been laggardly in applying smoke control orders. There is no reason why any major city should not now achieve the spendid progress which can be seen in London, Sheffield, and other cities.
Air pollution from motor vehicles is a serious and growing problem, but here, too, I can report a measure of progress. Last year we introduced measures to reduce hydro-carbon emissions from vehicles by 25 per cent., by recycling crankcase gases. This is an improvement which is actually taking place. Similarly, all new diesel engines have been brought under a new British Standard which I saw being demonstrated in field trials at Nuneaton. That, too, will drastically reduce black smoke emissions to a level a good deal lower that those now per- 978 mitted in the United States and Sweden. It may also help the hon. Member in his journeys on the M1.
§ Mr. Burden
We know that there are already regulations about smoke emission from lorries, particularly diesel lorries, but I am sure that practically every hon. Member would agree that vast numbers of lorries which belch out smoke seem not to be subject to prosecution or control. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will insist upon police action being stepped up in this respect.
§ Mr. Griffiths
This is a matter of enforcement, and it is for the police but I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. He is quite right. But he or any other citizen who sees a vehicle which he believes to be smoking excessively under the law has within his own hands the possibility of laying information and I, for one, hope that he will do so.
My right hon. Friend also announced, on the subject of motor vehicle emissions, that we shall be adopting the European limits on hydrocarbons and other exhaust emissions, and he hopes to make a statement on lead before long. There is a real problem here and it is one that we intend to deal with.
The subject of L.P.G. was mentioned. That question was discussed in some detail on the finance Bill. But even if L.P.G. were freely available it could not, because of the problems of supply, provide more than about 1½ per cent. to 2 per cent. of our total road fuel needs. The duty on L.P.G. must, under the law, be applied at a rate equivalent to that on other road fuel, but I am glad to be able to tell the House that I am in consultation with Treasury Ministers to see that the calculation of the rate, which is the responsibility of Customs and Excise, should be made on the most favourable possible basis under the Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) spoke eloquently about the problems of water quality. He felt that we did not know whether the new sewage plants were likely to produce a sort of sterile water. I shall send to him—I hope that he will read it—the latest report on water quality which has been produced by my Department. He will see that we are very much aware of the need to know what is happening and that we have the facilities 979 to find out. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced a gigantic programme involving £1,300 million of capital investment to provide adequate water and sewerage schemes, and to help clean up the rivers. This is a substantial increase in real terms, and with that amount of expenditure we hope to be able to clean up most of our major rivers by the early 1980s.
Large-scale investment is going on in sewage plants on the Thames, the Tyne and the Tees. I am glad to tell those hon. Members who spoke about the Trent that I have spent some time with the Trent River Authority and am well aware of the progress that it is making with the mathematical model. I appreciate the problems of the Upper Tame Main Drainage Authority and the fact that the Tame puts into the Trent a quality of water that is not everyone's idea of clarity or purity. Nevertheless, the time will come—perhaps sooner than any of us realises—when the Trent can be cleaned up and used as a main carrier of water for people to drink and for industry to use from the west to the east. This is a very valuable function, because for the most part the rain falls in the West and Midlands and there is shortage of water in the eastern counties, where rapid development is taking place.
Above all, in addition to that large investment, my right hon. Friend has announced radical, comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganise the whole of our water resources under all-purpose regional water authorities. There will be many debates on this matter, and the details are still for consultation. I am convinced that nothing less than these very broad-based plans will suffice to ensure that enough water is available for our people to drink, and for industry to use over the next 20 years.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) raised the question of derelict land and said that progress was not fast enough. My Department is pushing as hard as possible to get more land cleared, and quickly. Government grants have been greatly increased. In the special development areas close to 90 per cent. of the cost is borne by central Government. There are about 60,000 acres justifying early restoration, and we aim to clear up 45,000 of them 980 by the end of this decade. Action is now concentrated in seven priority areas, mainly in the north of England, and the pace of clearance is accelerating. In 1970, 3,600 acres of derelict land were restored. Nearly twice that amount—6,200 acres—were expected to be cleared in 1971. This year twice as much will be spent on land clearance as in 1970, making this the biggest programme to deal with derelict land in our history.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred to the problem of gravel extraction and said there were some areas which looked like a lunar landscape. I accept that this is a real problem. There is a greater tonnage of gravel being extracted for various purposes than there is of coal extracted, from the coal mines. But I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that nothing is being done. On the contrary, the sand and gravel industry, together with my Department and others, is working very hard and very well to ensure that large areas of former gravel pits that are flooded are developed for sport and recreation. This is happening in such areas as the Cotswold National Park and areas around London. It is the considered national policy of my right hon. Friend and my Department to develop all such water space for the benefit of recreation and conservation and for the wild life, which is also entitled to live in our country.
§ Mr. Maude
I am aware of this, but I was not talking about flooded gravel pits. I raised the matter for two reasons. First, there are a number of gravel pits being left derelict which are not suitable for development as areas of recreational water, and simultaneously people are raising mounds of spoil in one place and digging holes in another. They should be introduced to each other. Secondly, not nearly enough is being done to develop synthetics out of waste as a substitute for natural building material.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I take my hon. Friend's point, but there is a little matter of transport between spoil heaps and holes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) raised the question of pesticides. Since last September, D.D.T. has no longer been available either for the home or garden. The consumption of persistent organo-chlorines is falling rapidly, from about 460 tons a 981 year in the middle 1960s to less than 300 tons a year now. I will write to my hon. Friend about the other detailed points he raised.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I must get on.
I turn to the question of toxic tipping, which has been the centrepiece of the debate. Plainly, there has been deplorable and irresponsible tipping in many parts of the country. My right hon. Friend's announcement this morning will go some way to tell those responsible that the practice must be stopped. In this connection, I pay tribute to the valuable work of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, under the chairmanship of Sir Eric Ashby. It has been looking carefully at the whole problem of the disposal of solid toxic wastes and its advice has indicated to us the value of having an independent advisory body working on this subject.
A number of things have already been done before my right hon. Friend's announcement. We issued a code of practice to local authorities las April. The National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors is also preparing a code of conduct, in conjunction with the Institution of Chemical Engineers, to be observed by all its members. In short, the trade itself is beginning to see the need to police its members.
My Department is also asking all local authorities to review their tipping sites and the river authorities and the Institute of Geological Sciences will then advise them on the suitability of each of these sites for continued tipping or whether they should be restricted as to the nature of material to be placed there. We are also considering, in conjunction with the C.B.I., the possibility of an early warning system to provide advance notice of the introduction of new chemicals into industry. We are similarly investigating more effective controls and better notification procedures to cover the carriage of chemicals, including toxic wastes, both at sea and on the land.
The outline of the Bill which my right hon. Friend gave today, demonstrates that it is tough, but it is no tougher than is necessary. It also embraces all concerned in the problem. Thus, it covers the 982 originator of the waste, who no longer will be able to ship toxic material out of his factory gate without first informing the local authorities and the river authorities as well as the owner of the tip in the area to which it is sent. It also covers the waste contractor and the driver of the lorry, who henceforth will run the risk of an unlimited fine or up to five years' imprisonment on indictment if he tips waste in such fashion as either to pollute water or risk life or the health of any person or any animal. The Bill also covers the tip operator, who will be bound by the same requirements and who will also need to inform all concerned that he has received the waste in question. The Bill is tough and comprehensive and I am glad that we shall have the good offices of the hon. Member for Small Heath and his colleagues in getting it through Parliament quickly.
I want to deal with some of the points raised by hon. Members, but they will, I hope, acquit me of any discourtesy if I cannot in the short time left deal in detail with them all. The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of cyanide at a Sheffield tip. The chief public health officer at Sheffield informed my Department yesterday afternoon that a lorry driver had told him that in about August or September last he deposited drums labelled "cyanide" there. The driver said that it was only the recent publicity given to fly-tipping which had made him realise the seriousness of what he had done.
The tip is situated next to a river. No drinking water is extracted from the water courses alongside it. The local authority has taken water samples as well as earth samples from the tip and these have been sent for analysis. I understand that the results may be available now. My Department at once offered to the local authorities any assistance of which they might stand in need.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) welcomed the Bill on behalf of his firm and the waste contracting trade as a whole. He made a number of suggestions. I will look at them and will only say now that local authority tips are caught by the Bill along with all the rest. There is no discrimination between private and local authority tips.
983 My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James) raised the question of litter. I am glad to say that we have been able substantially to increase the grant to the "Keep Britain Tidy" group and we are hoping that at the packaging conference I have mentioned we will be able to move forward with this. The litter problem is not just one of packaging; it lies essentially with people. If we can persuade more people to put the litter where it belongs, namely in a receptacle from which it can be removed, we are making more progress than if we approach it from the other end and simply try to stop industry producing various kinds of packaging. I hope that the House will support the initiative of my right hon. Friend in providing substantially greater funds for the "Keep Britain Tidy" group.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis), with whom I have debated this matter before, raised a number of questions. He asked what had happened to the report of the geologist whom he said—or the Clerk of Bromsgrove U.D.C. said—visited Shirley Quarry. I am advised that this report is non-existent. The geologist, who was not an official of mine, but a member of the Institute of Geological Sciences, did not go to the quarry, and has written no report on it. My officials are in touch with the Clerk at Bromsgrove and I am sure that they will be able to sort out this difficulty.
There are two matters at issue over the quarry. There is the question of the road haulage business, which is now subject to appeal, and I will make no comment on that. There is also the use of the tip and whether that use contravenes the conditions of consent granted some years ago. One of those conditions was:…that the excavated area is to be filled to such levels and with such materials as shall be agreed with the planning authority.If drums of cyanide have been deposited in the area covered by the permission it would appear that the conditions of consent are not being fully complied with. My Department has therefore asked the Worcestershire County Council to consider an immediate investigation to determine the most appropriate action to be taken. If it should turn out that the conditions are not being complied with 984 we can look, I am sure with confidence, to the local authority to do what is necessary to bring things up to standard.
I have one other comment. The hon. Gentleman was one of the few who took a less than welcoming view of what my right hon. Friend had to say this morning. He used such phrases as a "lack of vigour" and said that he was not satisfied with my Department and, I assume, with my right hon. Friend. I want to make it plain that my right hon. Friend is one of the most uncomplacent men that I have ever known to sit on the Treasury Bench. Not only does he care deeply and never-endingly about the pollution of the environment; he is doing more to improve it than any other Minister in any British Government and, I would say, in any other administration anywhere in the world. I want to put that on record because I did not take kindly to the suggestion that there was a lack of vigour in my Department or on the part of the Secretary of State.
I conclude with two points of perspective. The first is that contrary to rumour, we are not losing the battle to protect the environment in this country. I do not say that we have won it. But we are more than holding our own. Secondly, we have to recognise that waste is inseparable from economic progress. It is a proof of rising living standards. I hope that the House will not suggest that we should somehow reduce the problem of waste by setting back our standards of living.
Lastly, I want to say that in dealing, as we all must, with pollution problems, I am sure that it is important to over-ensure where human health and safety are at risk, but not to over-react if this will mean misuse of scarce resources, whether financial or human.
This has been a most useful debate and an eventful one. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Derby, South for raising the subject, and I am sure hon. Members on both sides will join with me in saying that the Secretary of State has taken a long-needed and important step which the House as a whole will want to translate into law as soon as it can.
§ Question put and agreed to.985
That this House is seriously concerned at the growing problem of pollution; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce early legislation to deal with all aspects of this increasing menace to society and our way of life.