HC Deb 16 March 1972 vol 833 cc901-9
Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I beg to move Amendment No. 24, in page 3, line 15, at end inseert: (3) All persons who are drivers of vehicles engaged in the moving of waste as defined in this section shall carry a waybill setting out clearly the origin, destination and contents of such waste, which may be inspected at any time by local authority public health inspectors, police and Ministry of Transport roadside inspectors. I wish to draw attention to a serious deficiency in the framing of the Bill. It would appear that, although we shall be able to cope with the prospect of waste and refuse while stationary, we do not seem to be able to cope with it comprehensively while it is on the move. The purpose of the Amendment is to deal with such a situation.

Provision has been made to deal with manufacturers who might use products and processes which generate poisonous wastes and to provide for notification. Under the provisions of the Bill such a manufacturer will have to tell the haulage contractor what he is being asked to carry. Similarly, once the toxic waste reaches the refuse tip, the local authority has to be notified. It would appear that at either end there is an adequate safeguard so that people shall know what material is involved, and its toxicity and will then know how to deal with it—as in the case that arose in my constituency. What I am saying is that once the wagon starts to roll, there is not much that can be done. Therefore, I feel that clearly inserted in the Bill should be a requirement relating to the exact content of the lorry or vehicle and the type of goods carried.

I understand that there are moves afoot in the European Community to produce some kind of international or European documentation on these lines. I have already considered the possibility that a lorry may break down or that some of the waste product may fall from the back of a lorry. If a lorry breaks down and the driver leaves it by the side of the road, again I believe that details of the content of that waste should be notified.

10.15 p.m.

While the waste is in transit inspection powers ought to be available, either to the local authority public health department or to the police, or indeed to some of the Ministry of Transport roadside examiners, whether they are examining log sheets or the amount of smoke emitted by vehicles. These people at least should be able to demand to see the waybill, which ought to be set out in some kind of standardised and prescribed form describing the contents.

I hope that the Secretary of State is able to feel sympathetic. Everybody has been feeling sympathetic this evening. I hope that in this mood the right hon. Gentleman feels that the time will come when he will be able to prescribe the contents of the waybill. It is most important to specify not only the original destination of the waste but also the precise contents and a note on how to deal with the toxic waste if it goes wrong. I would like to see this specified on the content of the waybill which I propose in my Amendment.

I wish to be reasonable. I do not wish to prolong the deliberations of the Committee and I move the Amendment in the spirit that its insertion is necessary to deal with waste when it is on the move while accepting that the Bill deals fairly comprehensively with waste while it is stationary.

Mr. Cormack

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I wonder whether, as an extension, my right hon. Friend can comment on the possibility of lorries which carry waste having some form of compulsory identification, perhaps by detachable red markers, so that people know that the lorries are carrying dangerous substances.

Mr. Dalyell

I have considerable sympathy with the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). It is certainly the view of the Fire Brigades Union and those who work in the fire service that with ever more complicated chemicals it is not sufficient simply to bring out the hose pipe as it might have been 20 years ago and pour water on the chemicals. It is extremely useful to know what a load contains, and there is every sort of reason why, in general principle, my hon. Friend should be supported.

I would like to quote in his support the Association of River Authorities who refers to the Amendment as interesting and politically useful. The Association's comment is that under Clause 2(3) a person undertaking removal has to be given a copy of the notice sent to the authorities. If he is not the sender of it, he should be required to show it to the tip operator where he delivers his load.

The Government Amendment No. 16, to Clause 3, seems to rely only and always upon a question and answer procedure—and, of course, upon true answers. My hon. Friend's Amendment may not be correctly drafted. I should like to have the Government's comments.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). There are a number of toxic substances which are conveyed backwards and forwards. Invariably they originate from industrial areas, and they are taken through the streets of the poorer areas where the factories are situated. I have in mind waste acids. In my constituency I have a number of factories which use acids for manufacturing purposes. Most of the firms which convey these waste products—I am referring especially to acids but this applies to other things also—are reputable firms which have good lorries adequately protected and which generally do a good job.

But a lot of fly-by-night firms, so-called, are now setting up in business. They buy up old, discarded lorries which the reputable firms have found are no longer in a fit and proper state because they leak or are in such a bad condition that they are not worth repairing. They sell off the lorries and these one-man businesses, these fly-by-night people, buy them up and use them for conveying these waste products, very often at much lower rates. Very often they offer to do the work at reduced rates and thereby they get the contracts.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the fire service. We have probably the finest fire service in the world. It does a magnificent job. No country can say that it has a better fire service. The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton will be of great advantage to firemen who are called to the scene of an incident where waste has been spilled from a container of the type I have mentioned. The difficulty at present is that when a vehicle in poor condition lets an acid fall into the street, no one can be sure what it is. Certainly the driver does not know. All he knows is that he is carrying a load of waste. He does not know whether it is acid, oil or petrol which his tanks contain.

If a lorry is found to be leaking, the fire service is called to deal with it. The chances are that the firemen will have no knowledge of the contents of the lorry until considerable damage has been done. Clearly they would be greatly assisted if they could ask the driver for his waybill, because they could discover from it what the lorry was carrying and they would be able to deal with it accordingly. As has been pointed out, there are different methods of dealing with different substances involving the use of water, a high pressure spray and even, in some cases, oil.

My hon. Friend's suggestion will be most helpful to all concerned. Even though the legal wording of his Amendment may not suit the Bill, if the Secretary of State is prepared to accept the principle of the Amendment and undertakes to introduce words on Report to cover the point, everyone with the best interests of the Bill at heart will support the right hon. Gentleman in his endeavours.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I shall not prolong the Committee's proceedings because the desire of hon. Members on both sides is to get through the Bill as speedily as possible.

Before Report stage, I hope that the Secretary of State will look with care into the precautionary provisions in the Clause. While there is a desire to provide all the necessary safeguards and protections for the environment, there is a danger of our becoming overloaded with too much information. Too much information rapidly becomes administratively difficult, and we may defeat our purposes if we do not attend more precisely to the commendable points which arise in subsection (2).

The subsection contains a great deal of detail, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) seeks to add a missing factor, which is the time factor. Unless a later Amendment is incorporated in the Bill, one of its consequencies might be that lorry drivers and others seeking to dispose of waste would take it instead to the seashore, where pollution is already a serious matter. If they did that, the problem of tides would arise, and we should then be involved with a time factor.

During the period of the previous Administration I had considerable correspondence with the Department about the disposal of chemical waste. The quantity of waste within a limited time between tides can be very damaging to the environment in such a way as to cause major concern. While there is a tendency to talk about acid and toxic wastes, there are other forms of pollution. There is the kind of pollution that comes from a concentration of waste which settles upon the rocks and interferes with the normal sea life upon which fish depend. This has had major consequences in my part of the country. It took an upsurge of angry public opinion to stop that practice.

I suggest that the Amendment has all the ingredients to comply with the general wishes of those who drafted the Bill. There is a time element against which quantities should be measured. I should like to feel that we could include in the Bill provision for the total batch of waste to be specified, because a lorry might carry only one part of a batch.

Therefore, while we look at the type of waste, the amount in a particular lorry, its nature and other elements, I ask the Secretary of State, before Report, to look at the time factor correlated to the total quantity for disposal. For example, in Hartlepool we have lorries travelling overnight and there is no means of checking their loads. The contents of a particular lorry when checked in the morning may not worry the authorities too much. However, the total amount of the batch within the time between tides, certainly at low tide, can create a great problem.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment, and with the principle of it there is no quarrel at all. However, I think I can give the Committee some assurances without accepting the Amendment as it stands.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who knows a great deal about transport, knows that already there are many regulations covering the carriage of toxic and corrosive substances by vehicles. I shall not weary the Committee by referring to them all. Under the 1928 Act, corrosive substances and named inflammable substances are covered. Under the Inflammable Liquids Order, 1971, acetone and ether and many other such liquids are covered. Under the Corrosive Substances Order, 1970, sulphuric acid and caustic soda are covered.

The point is that many of these dangerous chemicals carried by vehicles on the roads are already caught by important controls. Equally, we are very close to agreement with other European nations on a form of standardised waybill which could be carried by every lorry with a dangerous chemical cargo. This waybill carried by international lorries of all countries, would identify the chemicals and specify the neutralisers which would be required to be used in the event of an accident or spillage.

This is of importance. In my area in a recent accident on the road between Felixstowe and Ipswich some chemicals were spilled on the road and the fire service was in doubt for some time about what action to take. Therefore, I am glad to say that we are nearing agreement with our European partners on an arrangement for chemicals and neutralising agents to be defined.

10.30 p.m.

There is no question of the Bill failing to require that the driver of a vehicle is made fully aware of the contents of any chemical cargo he may be carrying. In fact, Clause 2 (3) expressly provides that the person undertaking the removal of the waste must be given a copy of the notification required, so that the driver will have to be provided with a proper notice of the cargo he is carrying. Therefore, he will know at any time what he has on board.

It is the normal policy of road haulage firms to supply drivers with tickets relating to their loads wherever possible, so there will be no great new administrative difficulty in providing for that.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's assurance. He said that attempts were being made to achieve standardisation in the European Community of vehicles engaged in international traffic, but, as he knows, in the Community there is a difference between vehicles involved in international traffic and those engaged in domestic traffic. Will these proposals affect not only the traffic which goes right across Europe but also traffic which circulates only in this country or other countries?

Mr. Griffiths

I should need to take further advice on that, but I should confidently expect that it would.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) will know that there is a later Amendment about dumping in the sea. I shall, however, consider the point he has courteously made and will be in touch with him about it.

Mr. Huckfield

I have been very relieved to hear the assurances given by the hon. Gentleman. In view of them and the spirit in which he gave them, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 4, line 4, leave out 'three' and insert 'seven'.

The Chairman

It will be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 18, in Clause 4, page 5, line 40, leave out 'three' and insert 'seven'.

Mr. Silkin

I shall not weary the Committee with tedious repetition of what I said on Second Reading. I said that I did not think that three days was sufficient for many authorities. They would have to be aware of the problem and then to get in touch with the Department. The Amendment sets out clearly what I have in mind and it has one great merit apart from brevity: that it can very easily be accepted by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) for his explanation of the Amendment and for the length of it. At the moment the period which is allowed is three clear working days, not including Saturdays and Sundays. In fixing the period we had discussions with the local authority associations and the C.B.I, and we tried to get the right balance. I am willing to accept that it might be found that a longer period was more appropriate. If seven days were allowed, toxic waste might remain in factories and on sites for longer than necessary. Conversely, one might not allow for sufficient information to be gathered by local authorities. We have tried, after consultation, to reach the right balance.

We shall be creating new authorities which will be responsible for disposal in April, 1974; and if, in the period immediately ahead, we find that three days causes administrative difficulties and that it is wise and sensible to change it, I undertake that it will be reviewed and, if necessary, changed.

Mr. Leadbitter

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the major problem that already exists over the three working days? Most local authorities work on the five-day principle. If a firm which wants to be difficult submits a notice late on a Friday, there could be added poblems.

Mr. Walker

The definition does not include Saturdays and Sundays, so that a notification put in late on a Friday would require the three days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to be cleared.

Mr. Cormack

I accept my right hon. Friend's answer but I am glad to know that he intends to keep the matter under review. Without wishing to exaggerate the position, I would say that there is clearly a fair amount of concern about this.

Mr. Dalyell

As the question of timing is bound up with the whole issue of the availability of sites, I trust that during our deliberations the Government will give their thoughts to this subject, particularly in view of the pressure exerted by hon. Members in this connection when we last discussed the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the terrific problem that faces industry.

Mr. Walker

In reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I accept that a problem exists in relation to sites. This is why there are some disadvantages in this legislation coming forward at this stage, bearing in mind that the duty will eventually be placed on major authorities instead of on the many minor authorities that exist today.

When the new authorities have been elected in the spring of next year, they will have 12 months before taking over their functions and one of the major factors which I shall discuss with them will be the plans they will draft to make sure that the dumping of all refuse, and particularly dangerous refuse, is organised on a sensible basis. We are in the process of changing the whole basis of local government, so that the matter must rest as it is at this time.

Mr. John Silkin

We are grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will watch the situation carefully. I offer him one piece of advice. Between watching a situation and acting upon it quickly there is sometimes a small matter of legislation or amending legislation and the need to get it passed. I trust he will bear that in mind and, should action be necessary, take it as quickly as we are dealing with this Measure tonight. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Back to
Forward to