HC Deb 11 May 1973 vol 856 cc942-72

Order for Second Reading read.

2.18 p.m.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The supply of pure air is not limitless, either in this country or elsewhere in the world. We must ensure that we keep to a minimum any emission of contaminant gases and substances into the atmosphere, whether these substances be of a wet, dry, or wholly oleaginous nature.

For this reason I turn for my only reference to the Robens Report published in 1972 which, in paragraph 323, says: By far the most important aspect of environmental control in industry is the prevention of atmospheric pollution, a subject which in recent years has attracted rapidly growing public interest and attention. The pressures thus generated for control over industrial processes and new materials have focused attention on the need for the more precise measurement of atmospheric pollution and for a more sophisticated and professional approach to the application of control measures. This is one reason why in Clause 1(2) I have listed the atmospheric pollutants, stressing their automatic inclusion and any derivatives or any combination of those gases or substances listed. Any revision in the listed atmospheric contaminants is or should be a matter of public knowledge and should be published in local and national papers.

There should be a revision of the laws relating to atmospheric pollution. There should be a modern codifying of all the laws because we are confronted by a Government Department which, to put it simply and honestly, is not loved. In view of the mounting criticism, both nationally and in my constituency, of Her Majesty's Alkali Inspectorate, there is a need for greater public accountability by the inspectorate, with greater legal powers of enforcement being given to it in order that the public may have more knowledge of its work. I think that it should come out into the broad glare of publicity.

In the Port Tennant and Llansamlet areas of my constituency there is little faith in the effectiveness of the alkali inspectorate. As Britain moves towards the last quarter of the twentieth century there should be a more stringent application of legal measures and controls on industry in order to eliminate, if possible, pollution of the air and to provide a more active professional inspectorate of which the British public is more aware.

In many parts of Britain, and certainly in my constituency, people have registered complaints about pollutants emitted to the atmosphere, and the Bill seeks to ensure a more important rôle for the alkali inspectorate by increasing its numbers. Clause 2, in paragraphs (a) to (h), seeks to define in comprehensive terms the rôle of the inspectorate in a modern Britain and to extend to its rights and powers in relation to the control of emissions which could or would pollute the air that we breathe.

In paragraph (h) there is reference to the power—new to the United Kingdom— to require the deposit of performance bonds. These bonds would be tangible evidence of the bona fides of industry to reduce pollution. If there were a contravention, and a fine were imposed, the mony could be taken from the bond.

Paragraph (d) stresses the importance of consultations between the inspectorate and local authorities and makes this a tripartite arrangement between people, industry and the inspectorate. I think it right to include the elected voice of people in the cities of this island. Since they are charged with the duty of the implementation of the public health statutes, why should they not be privy to agreements or arrangements and have the right to discuss matters which affect their locality? That is the feeling in the city of Swansea, the second city of Wales, which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) and myself.

The establishment of permanent testing teams is described in paragraph (c) of Clause 2. The erection, supervision and siting of monitoring instruments, and the assessing of all information recorded by them is dealt with in paragraph (e). The reserve power of the right of entry is dealt with in paragraph (f). These matters are all extremely important in giving more effective power to the inspectorate to carry out its duty of combating pollution of the atmosphere.

A most important power to be granted to the inspectorate is defined in paragraph (g). It gives the inspectorate the right to require all industrial plants to conform to specified standards in regard to all emissions of waste or toxic gases which might pollute the atmosphere.

I was amazed to learn that the inspectorate has no research department. I understand that all research required to be undertaken is carried out by another Government Department. That is something that one does not expect at this period of this century, and it is certainly a sign of inefficiency on the part of Her Majesty's Alkali Inspectorate as a whole.

Clause 3, which refers to research, deals with necessity for improving public and industrial knowledge about the adverse effects on health of pollutants discharged into the atmosphere. I draw particular attention to paragraphs (a) to (c) which deal with research, and which I think are important.

Clause 4 requires the redrawing of all alkali inspectorate district boundaries. The result would be a better service rendered to urban local authorities by members of the inspectorate. There would be an inspector stationed in each urban local authority with a population of 100,000. It is odd to find that the city of Swansea, with a population of 175,000 and with divers industries, has no inspector stationed there. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that there are only two inspectors in the county of Yorkshire.

The provision of a member of the inspectorate in all urban local authority areas with a population of 100,000 would cost more money—I realise that—but the risks of atmospheric pollution are increasing all the time, and I remind the House that when the risks increase the premium paid for an insurance policy is also increased. I believe that Britain would pay the increased premium, because the risk of air pollution, if more stringent measures are not undertaken and made enforceable, is ever increasing. It is my opinion that this is a small premium to pay for the maintenance of the purity of the air that we breathe. This is a dispassionate appraisal of a situation in which air pollution yearly grows more serious for the people of our island.

The constituent ingredients of atmospheric pollution—toxic, noxious gases, black smoke in all its forms, dust emission, all other forms of emission to the air, whether wet, dry or oleaginous by nature—have in the past collectively contributed to the killing smog which has on occasion blanketed the great cities of the world. Tokyo and Los Angeles are two examples, and people of my generation recall unhappy London experiences of this nature, as well as the smog in other parts of the world. I believe that in seeking to eliminate this problem we must do everything we can by law to make the action as effective as possible.

I am aware, in this connection, that the economy of the United Kingdom runs on the internal combustion engine. Clause 5 provides for the licensing and control of emissions. I know that the United Kingdom car exporters will wish to retain their share of the United States' car sales market. Despite the stalling effects of United States industrialists, they will be required to conform to the legal diktat that will be law in the United States by 1976. One has only to be in a London traffic snarl-up to realise the lethal effect of these mechanical masters of our modern civilisation and how proper safeguards, enforceable by law, to eliminate air pollutants as described in the Bill, could promote the motor car to be the handmaiden of good living.

A report from the United States State Department concerning emissions from the motor car, presented at the Stockholm Conference on the Environment, provided: Motor vehicle hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions from 1975 models be governed by standards which require a reduction of 90 per cent. from emissions allowable under 1970 model year standards. The 1976 models shall conform with standards requiring a 90 per cent. reduction …". Yet, in this country, the first report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said in paragraph 75: There is uncertainty about the effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations of the gases emitted by motor vehicles. The Air Pollution Unit of the Medical Research Council is working on the problem. The Alkali Inspectorate has no research facilities, but if certainty about emission dangers from motor vehicles exists in the United States and uncertainty in Britain, now is the time to team up with the United States and to recognise the dangerous certainty of uncontrolled atmospheric emissions from the internal combustion engine.

Clause 6 is of supreme importance. It stresses the need for a new accountancy department to be provided in and for the use of the Alkali Inspectorate in order to assess the financial capacity of industry to provide air pollution equipment and to provide information about the financial ability of a company to instal the equipment that the inspecorate would regard as necessary—subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Bill.

Another danger of pollution to the atmosphere arises in the ever-increasing need to salvage ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Clause 8 makes full provision for the control of all emission of smoke or gases from metal recovery works.

Another danger arises from the transportation over long distances of heavy axle loads of liquid cargoes which some mishap could cause to spill and which could pollute the atmosphere of a locality admittedly temporarily, but to such a degree as to harm public health. Therefore, Clause 9 defines how, working with the civil authorities—the provisions of Clause 2(2)(c) could apply here—the permanent teams which I hope will be stationed in every major city could undertake this duty.

Agreed conformity of emission levels should be imposed by the inspectorate and every agreement should be widely publicised. Publication of permitted levels is a legal responsibility imposed on the inspectorate under Clause 10. The treatment of contraventions is of course provided for.

Councillor Ron Millett, the chairman of Leeds' anti-pollution sub-committee, said in a report on 24th December that he believed that the city's public health inspectors would make a better job of controlling air pollution from the plants concerned. That is trenchant criticism of a Government Department. Leeds is only one of the councils that has serious disquiet. In many others, such as Don-caster, my own city of Swansea, and London, serious criticism is made of the inspectorate. It is alleged that it has too small a staff—with that I agree—that it is in complete ignorance of the cost of air pollution control and, most important, that it has too familiar a relationship with the polluters.

Clearly, the Alkali Inspectorate must drop the cloak of anonymity that it has worn since the passing of the first Alkali Act in 1863. The business of making Britain's air clean is Britain's business and not that of a small coterie of officials. I would remind the inspectorate that we pay it. The anonymity must be discarded and a new, enlarged and revitalised department created by the Bill, so that the inspectorate can emerge from the Victorian shadows where it has been lurking willingly for far too long.

There must be no compromise with industry. The emission standards laid down in the Bill must be strictly adhered to. The new, modern tripartite arrangement that I have described must emerge in consultation and discussion before any air pollution agreement is signed.

An annual report is submitted from the Alkali Inspectorate which, according to the cover, is Presented by the Chief Inspector to the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales. Clause 13 of the 1906 Act—curiously enough, the relevant clause in my Bill is also Clause 13—provided for an annual report to be presented to both Houses of Parliament. Nowhere have I found any indication of the time when the presentation to Parliament of a parliamentary paper for debate—it should be debated every year—was superseded by an instruction that the report should be presented to the Secretaries of State. Estimable right hon. Gentlemen though they may be, they are not of paramount importance, before the people of this nation.

The Bill is the essence of objective purpose and I know that there is broad agreement about it. If I had known that such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) would have liked to act as sponsors, I should have been pleased to know of their intentions before the Bill was published.

The Bill is the essence of objective purpose. I have no interest except that which I declare as a Member of the House. I hope to frame legislation attuned to the needs of the times and designed to assist my own constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members.

Clean, fresh air and pure water are two of the fundamental necessities for the maintenance and continuity of human life. In the closing years of the century, we in the United Kingdom must frame legislation to preserve the purity of the atmosphere. There is an ever-increasing danger that it will become poisoned.

The development and perfection of new processes of all forms of industry emphasise the fast-growing chemical and petrochemical industries' potential in this field. All forms of modern development in industry contribute to the need for fresh, firmly binding legislation to combat air pollution.

It may be argued that pollution is as old as civilisation, but with modern atmospheric pollution it is criminal not to take stringent controls now and to ensure as far as possible that all the toxic constituent agents are not poured unlimited into the air we breathe. That is detrimental and can have biochemical, toxi-cological, mutagenic and teratogenic effects, which were referred to in the Robens Report. More important still, they can have carcinogenic effects, which are awful possibilities.

With the ever-increasing perfection of the industrial process, there can be admitted to the atmosphere agents that can cause the polluted atmosphere that I have described.

Therefore, I ask that the Alkali Inspectorate, armed with the powers that the Bill will give it, shall work in the open, using this firm legislation in the glare of national publicity, as it should, enforcing anti-pollution laws. With control of atmospheric pollution, Britain can better the quality of life. The heavy concentration of population in our cities emphasises the need for provisions such as I have included in the Bill.

I should like to pay public tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who ran his professional eye over the Bill after it was published. I am grateful for his saying that it was right. I hope that the Government will accept it as well.

Let us all work to eliminate the poison that man has in the past discharged, and even now selfishly discharges, into the atmosphere. That is the purpose of the Bill. It would help the nation, which should be the purpose that brings us all here. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

2.43 p.m.

Mr. Spencer Le Merchant (The High Peak)

I should like first to say how much I admire the way in which the Second Reading of the Bill has been moved by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride). He has expressed the views and sentiments not only of those of us who are here this afternoon but, I am sure, of every hon. Member on both sides. We are not arguing, if we are to have any argument, about the essence of what the hon. Gentleman said, though we might be in disagreement over the methods of achieving his objects.

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the Government's not being a loved Government, because on this issue they have done—

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will confirm that he was not making a political point. I think that he said that it was not a loved Government Department, speaking of the Alkali Inspectorate.

Mr. Le Marchant

The point I wish to make is that the Government are doing more than any other Government have ever done. I am sure that successive Governments, of any party, will do a great deal and will go on working on the lines of which the hon. Member for Swansea, East has spoken. The problem is one of which both parties are now fully aware. I am convinced that the Government are doing as much as they can.

There is a problem in not confusing air pollution with planning. We live on a crowded island. In my constituency, which the hon. Gentleman knows so well, we have to live with houses very close to industry, which is a great problem. We have our own industry, our own cement works, our own quarrying—the densest part of the quarrying industry in the whole country. For the well-being of the people of Derbyshire, it is essential that those industries continue. Any closing down of works that could result from a Bill like this if it became law would bring unemployment. It could bring a great deal of unhappiness to my constituents.

Mr. McBride

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am aware of the geography of his constituency. A Federal clean air Act of 1970 imposed a number of provisions, some more stringent than I have described, on industry in the United States, which lives cheek by jowl with housing. Everything works much better than it does here.

Mr. Le Marchant

I believe that our present system is right, and that its constitution is the right way to deal with the problem. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State plans to issue a guide to local authorities on the subject. I am sure that it will be extremely helpful.

It would be wrong to blame the alkali inspectors for the present situation. The answer is to go not for greater severity but for more general planning ahead with them. It has never been claimed that the Alkali Act should obviate all private complaints by individuals. The objectives of the Act are for a general high standard.

We should give credit for what is spent by the companies involved in the industries of which we are talking. The expenditures of companies in this country compare very favourably with what is spent by overseas companies, with which it should be remembered, our companies are directly competing.

The private individual who is harassed and feels that he has a grievance can seek a civil injunction, and that has been done on occasions. We must look to the alkali inspectors as doctors and not policemen. Their difficulties are considerable. We should not alienate the industrialists with whom they have to deal. More, we should aim for co-operation with them.

A great deal of evidence would have to be produced to justify the need for the accountancy department of which the hon. Gentleman spoke. I believe, though, that there could well be a case for having access to accountants.

I have the same worries as the hon. Member about lorries which are filled with these chemicals. It is a very serious problem for me, particularly in the winter when these lorries cross the Pen-nines on the icy roads. I give credit to the fire service for its work and for the special equipment which it has placed at strategic points. During the time that I have represented The High Peak I have not heard any complaints about the service which is provided when an incident has occurred involving one of these laden lorries.

I do not accept the criticism of the Alkali Inspectorate. I belive that there has been a real improvement during the decade. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development, when he replies to the debate, will bear particularly in mind that we in The High Peak are by no means satisfied about the emissions, particularly of cement and other quarry products. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) completely shares my view. Even though there is a diminution in the emission and an increase in cement production, we in Derbyshire are by no means satisfied. We hope to hear from my right hon. Friend that there will be improvements in this respect. There have been some improvements, particularly with grit and dust from power stations. The urban low-level concentration of sulphur dioxide has fallen by 30 per cent. These are great improvements. but we need more. We need a rising standard. I do not believe that statutory re-arrangements will do anything.

Mr. McBride

The hon. Member put forward a curious suggestion, that if there is not a statutory arrangement some other arrangement will work. Surely, that is a negation of common sense.

Mr. Le Marchant

I was about to say that the best way to achieve what we all want is by means of ever-increasing efficiency in day-to-day work. A lot has been done but there is still a good deal more to do, and I believe it can be done under the existing arrangements.

2.54 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

This is a good Bill, and an important one, and the House should have an opportunity of giving it a Second Reading this afternoon. For that reason, I will detain the House briefly.

I thought the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) was a little complacent. I do not mean this at all offensively, but I certainly believe that the examples which we have had of the disposal of industrial waste in recent years indicate that there are people in this country who do not take any notice of voluntary arrangements. I have in mind particularly the disposal of cyanide waste. My hon. Friends the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) and for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) will remember this problem. People who are careless in the disposal of such substances need statutory control. They take no notice of voluntary agreements.

In view of some of the things that are being carried around on our roads today, to a much greater extent than ever before, my hon. Friend is quite right in including Clause 9 and in arguing that we need greater statutory control. I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on introducting the Bill but on the very workmanlike speech which he made. As he said, there are no party politics involved, and from that point of view this subject is admirable for a Private Member's Bill. Those of us who spend a lot of time here on Fridays dealing with Private Members' Bills know how well non-controversial Bills of this kind which cut across party boundaries commend themselves to the House. I should like to say how much I enjoy listening to my hon. Friend. I know his constituency, as I know the constituency of the hon. Member for The High Peak. I know the High Peak extremely well.

This is an extremely good Bill. I find not only Clause 9 but Clause 5 commendable, the latter dealing with the emission of waste or toxic gases, on motorways particularly. We need to take this subject much more seriously than we have done. I firmly believe that we need statutory powers to achieve these objectives. It is not sufficient to rely on persuasion. It is not sufficient to rely on polite notes sent to motor manufacturers or to motorists. This has to be done by law.

I have another interest in this Bill from a constituency point of view. I live in Greenwich, in Abbey Wood. Where I live we are cursed with two things, one of which is a great deal of cement dust, which blows up the river from the cement works in Kent. The people in Woolwich have been concerned about this for a long time. In fact, they have been more than concerned; they have been extremely angry about some of the emissions. At certain times of the year the roofs seem to be covered with a thin film of cement dust.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

Here, hear.

Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Welibeloved) thinks that he is more affected by this nuisance than we are in Abbey Wood because he is 200 or 300 yards nearer to the source than I am, but I can assure him that at times the winds carry the cement dust a great deal further even than where I live.

Worse than the dust from the cement works, we in Abbey Wood are cursed with what we know locally as the lead works. The Minister may be aware that at various times my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and I have taken up this matter with various Ministers and with the alkali inspectors. My relations with the alkali inspectors have always been good. They have always been cordial and helpful to me, but I must say that the lead works at times seems to get away with murder. I have particularly in mind emission at night.

For years emission at night seems to have been far more serious than during the day. I have observed this frequently. I have had complaints from people living in Abbey Wood and I can remember on many occasions walking along the road beside the works—Felixstowe Road. It has been completely covered in black, smelly smoke. This is something which in my view and in the view of the people of Woolwich and Abbey Wood has to be taken much more seriously. The fact that people work in a certain area and it is necessary for them to live close to where they work—and I am all in favour of that—underlines the importance of the Bill. The House would do well to give it a Second Reading and to ensure that it reaches the statute book.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

The subject of this Bill is the important one of clean air. The intention of the promoters is excellent—to achieve their purposes, as they believe, by altering existing legislation. I do not find myself in agreement with the Bill. I propose to try to explain exactly why. There are two or three matters about the Bill upon which the assistance of the Government is essential.

As it stands, the method of operation and control over atmospheric pollution is the test of applying what is the best practical means. The best practical means, first of all, is to prevent undesirable emission into the atmosphere or if that is unavoidable to render it harmless. The law of this country under the Alkali Act is to apply, by provisions and regulations, that industrialists who shall be registered as such should be subject to the control of the Alkali Inspectorate to ensure that there is either the prevention of emissions to the atmosphere or, if this takes place, that the emissions are rendered harmless.

It may be that the Alkali Inspectorate should be strengthened. It may be right that the Government should widen the area of control, because at the moment it is entirely up to the Minister whether he designates further processes which shall be subject to control. It is also largely up to him to decide to what extent he puts teeth into the Alkali Inspectorate to enable it to secure effective supervision.

I do not propose to say—because I have insufficient knowledge—whether the inspectorate carries out its responsibilities to great effect. I know that it certainly does in many cases. Anyone testing our atmosphere today by ordinary common-sense standards would say that there has been a remarkably good job done in the last decade.

London is a completely different city from what it was 10 years ago. We are now able to clean the buildings in the reasonable belief that they will remain clean. True, we are left with problem areas, such as area round the Lots Road power station. There is inevitable discharge into the atmosphere but we cannot tear down the power stations. Obviously something has to be done. I know, having a house that is close to the railway at Victoria, that there is a good deal more dirt from atmospheric pollution there than in other parts of London. Obviously if someone is living near to a factory in Birmingham or Manchester he is bound to suffer greater atmospheric pollution than someone living in the countryside or in many of our clean cities.

The test which should be applied is the reasonable one of what is the best practical means by which to handle this problem and the enforcement of that means.

Mr. McBride

The hon. Gentleman is, I believe, a lawyer. He knows that the definition of the term "the best practical means" represents a gold mine for his profession. I am an engineer and I prefer to look at the drawings and to follow the stipulated directions which are specific and not in doubt. The hon. Gentleman and I are in direct conflict. Following the rule of logic, the hon. Gentleman is a little off the beaten track.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The trouble with engineers, technicians and scientists is that they are so arrogant that they think that the best way of dealing with matters is to force people to carry out their will. Arrogance is not required in dealing with this subject. What is required is diplomacy and gentle understanding of progress by people working towards similar ends.

It is easy for those of us in the law to deal with standards of reasonable behaviour and conduct. In an accident case the test is that of the man on the Clapham omnibus, and the jury is asked to decide which conduct of two drivers was reasonable in all the circumstances. That is the test whether there has been negligence.

The trouble is that if we lay down firm, prescribed formulae which are totally inflexible we often find that they do not apply in all circumstances because circumstances vary. Therefore, there may not be proper enforcement of those formulas. We can introduce punitive legislation and take people to court and fine them, but we shall not succeed along that path with this subject. In the law we can sometimes succeed by punitive legislation. That is not so in this case.

The creation of clean air has the backing of the public generally because they want people to enjoy cleaner and purer air. They realise that this is a gradual educative process, and that the matter depends upon the siting of factories or retorts which may occasion nuisance. That is a question of town planning. In future all buildings likely to cause atmospheric pollution will be planned in positions where they do not cause harm. But we have the leftover of an industrial revolution and we cannot tear down factories or bring areas up to precisely the same standards. That is why the law has followed the practice of deciding the best practical means of dealing with the matter.

Let me give an illustration. There has been a great deal of trouble in the House about the question of fire regulations. We have introduced stringent fire regulations to be applied to new hotels and houses, but the inspectorate which is responsible for enforcing them knows that it cannot apply the same standards to old boarding houses and bring them up to the level which one would expect to find in a modern hotel. It is not practicable. That is why the Bill turns upon the question whether the system of law which it proposes to introduce is better than the present system. I do not think it is.

For that reason, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) and I disagree. We do not disagree on the ends which we seek to achieve; we disagree on the process by which we should achieve them.

The first part of the Bill is not clear. It begins by saying that This Act applies to all industries or processes. … So far, I agree; it should apply to a wide range of industries and processes. But it goes on to say, or would result in the emission of atmospheric pollutants". Anything which becomes a pollutant thus automatically is brought within the ambit of the Bill. I do not think that this is at all the right way to go about it.

Furthermore, the people whom the hon. Member asks to become judges in this matter are the very inspectorate that will carry out his enforcement. Clause 1(3) invites the Alkali Inspectorate to carry out the revision of the list of pollutants. That is not its job. The job of inspectors under the Factories Acts and the Alkali Act, and the job of fire inspectors— bodies of wholly admirable civil servants —is to supervise and inspect, and say whether the policy of the Government and the provisions of an Act are being carried into effect. That is their job. It is my right hon. Friend's job to decide what should be the revision. If there is to be revision—and if revision, for that matter, is to be extended in terms of a new process which it is proposed should be brought under control—we must give an opportunity for objectors to be heard if they are likely to be affected by the new process.

For example, one would have to be entitled to a public local inquiry in relation to a factory whose management might say, "We are very sorry, but we shall have to cause this atmospheric pollution and it would be so costly to eradicate it that it would result in our closure." In that event the Government, through a public local inquiry, would have to try to exercise the usually very difficult judgment in deciding whether the interests of the public in that neighbourhood would be the more important, or whether the need for that industry with its employment in that neighbourhood would be the more important. I am not prepared to say that this Bill should have priority over all other planning considerations. That factory might turn out to be the most important in the neigh- bourhood, with a tradition of some years standing, and everybody in the neighbourhood might be profoundly hurt or upset or shocked if the factory had to close because of inability to carry out the terms of the Bill. I do not think the inspectorate should do the revision.

I do not say that the Bill could not be amended. I think it could be amended, but it would require basic amendment.

I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to correct me, but I do not believe that he has discussed this matter with the local authorities. My belief would be that the local authorities generally do not want to have the duties which he seeks to impose upon them. The local authorities are not set up with engineers or other staff either qualified or fitted for the task of being able to understand the questions involved in atmospheric pollution. The Alkali Inspectorate is. It might be that some of the medical officers of health of the larger local authorities have sufficient knowledge and experience, but that is not to say that local authorities want to have imposed on them the duties and functions which the hon. Gentleman suggests should be carried out.

I would like to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say on these two points. Does he believe that the Alkali Inspectorate would be a proper body to do this revision from time to time? Does he believe that the local authorities would be prepared to carry out the responsibilities proposed by the Bill?

I believe I am right in saying that in America and other countries which have sought to lay down exact scientific criteria the proposals have had to be abandoned because it was felt that there were occasions when it would not be right to enforce those criteria. That is the greatest danger to the enforcement of the law. It is much better to have a yardstick that depends upon what a person can reasonably be expected to do in all circumstances and that can be judged at a public inquiry. That is usually much better than laying down a fixed yardstick. Time and again the House has leaned against fixed and inflexible yardsticks. It is true that we gave way ultimately and accepted that a person with more than 80 mg of alcohol in the blood should not be driving. But there have been few cases in which the House has accepted such an inflexible yardstick. Usually the House has preferred to accept what are in all circumstances reasonable criteria. These can be decided in the courts and worked out between the inspector and the man who is responsible in the factory who usually know whether it is reasonable for the factory to take measures to reduce atmospheric pollution, whether the cost involved is so overwhelming as positively to be punitive upon the company, whether it can be done at all or whether it can be done only over a period of time.

For these broad reasons of principle, I cannot support the Bill. It is eminently worthy of discussion, and I hope that it will give the Minister an opportunity to tell us what are the Government's intentions about clean air. A working party report is shortly to be published which I hope will recommend further measures to reinforce the policy which the Government have been pursuing.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East did not give us any examples of factories that are guilty of atmospheric pollution. We have had no evidence. I am sure that there is such evidence which the House should have of factories which emit pollutants which cannot be handled under the existing legislation. There should also be evidence of how a new piece of legislation could do the job better. The Government may have such evidence. If so, I should be surprised if their view is not that the matter can be better handled by the process of persuasion plus consultation between the factory owner and the inspectorate rather than by the blunt instrument of penal legislation.

3.19 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

The hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) referred to the effect on employment if the provisions of the Bill were to be enacted because of the threat to employment if industries felt it better to sell up and realise the value of their land rather than to expend substantial sums of money in meeting the strict criteria envisaged.

I represent a constituency that is a mix of residential and industrial areas. Some residential areas are completely dominated by local industries which emit to the atmosphere pollutants which have a detrimental effect upon the people who reside in close proximity to those factories. The hon. Member for Isle of Thane said that in future, with planning laws, that will not or should not happen. The reality of the situation is that literally millions of people must endure, day in and day out, the effect of atmospheric pollution from industrial processes.

I support the Bill because I believe it will have an effect upon lessening the difficulties which our constituents have to endure. The hon. Gentleman talked about reasonable behaviour and reasonable action in all the circumstances. If he came and spoke to some of the housewives in my constituency he would hear them say that reasonable behaviour on their part would be to march on the factory and to close it. It is often only the restraining influence of public representatives that persuades them that that would be an unwise course to take.

Every Monday morning, when they hang their washing on the line, many housewives must face the prospect that the washing can, without a second's notice, be smothered in some dusty emission from a local factory. They must recognise that in the hot weather, if their windows are open, the rooms which they have just cleaned can be almost swamped without notice by dust from local factories. Even worse, in my area housewives must recognise that because of the pollution that my hon. Friend calls odoriforous, but which people in my area call a filthy, stinking, obnoxious smell from such things as sewage works, they must have their windows closed.

There are severe problems in many parts of the country and the provisions of the Bill would be of great benefit to those who have to endure the unreasonable behaviour of some factory owners. The one point where I take a different line to my hon. Friend is that he limits the Bill's provisions to cities. Although I represent a city constituency I have no desire to see obnoxious industries driven from my area to the countryside. I do not wish those living in the countryside to be subject to the same disadvantages as my constituents must endure.

In today's Evening News there is a report about the possibility of a cyanide factory being moved to a village near Amersham, Buckinghamshire. The villagers concerned are up in arms. Indeed, they should be. I have no wish to encourage factories to leave city areas and to pollute other areas. Further, I do not wish them to leave city areas and to bring about a worsening of what is already a serious employment situation.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Where would the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) put tanneries, for example? Where are they to go if they are not to be in or near cities and they are not to be in the countryside?

Mr. Wellbeloved

That is one of the reasons for my considerable and enthusiastic support of the Bill. If I understand the Bill correctly, it lays upon the Alkali Inspectorate and upon industry the obligation to research into the sort of industries which pollute. Although I believe that it is wrong to require industries to shut down or to move away because of the serious employment problems that would cause, it is right that there should be proper control and research aimed at eliminating the obnoxious fumes and smells and all the other things that come from some industrial undertakings. The Bill makes provision for that to take place.

One of the problems that my own local authority, the London borough of Bexley, has had to try to overcome is that of obtaining from the alkali inspector for the area details of emissions from local cement factories. Recently I received representations from the local authority about the reluctance—indeed, the refusal —of the local alkali inspector to make certain information available for the joint committee composed of various local authorities in the area dealing with atmospheric pollution resulting from the operation of cement works. I am delighted that my hon. Friend makes provision for local authorities to be consulted.

I should like to see written into the Bill—perhaps it could be done in Committee—an absolute requirement bridging the requirements of confidentiality. A local authority is entitled to full information from any other public body. The local authority should receive without restriction all the relevant evidence which the inspectorate has gathered in the exercise of its responsibility. In that way the local authority, as the public body responsible to the local people, can be made more fully aware of the real needs in terms of planning and even of trying to encourage some re-location of industry if there is no other reasonable way of dealing with the situation.

The other point which I welcome relates to Clause 2(2)(h) about the deposit of a bond. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) took exception to this part of the Bill. I welcome it because I believe that a performance bond would be a deterrent to small irresponsible industries starting obnoxious processes in built-up areas or, by existing user rights, continuing the operations of businesses which have closed down or moved away. A performance bond would mean the elimination of factories where there is insufficient financial backing to ensure that reasonable provisions are made for the protection of the general public.

My only regret is that in saying that consultations should take place between the electorate and the local authorities my hon. Friend has not laid down a requirement for local authorities to consult the inhabitants in the immediate area of factories. That would be an improvement. There is an increasing need for the public to be brought more and more into the process of decision making. That is one way in which that could be achieved.

On research, I said in reply to a point made by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet that the provision in the Bill for a programme of research on the short and long-term effects of air pollutants is necessary and desirable. I should like to have seen a requirement placed upon industry itself to make financial contributions to that research. I recognise that many industries spend enormous sums upon research. However, they ought also to spend more money assisting research carried out by public authorities.

My hon. Friend wants to see an inspector for every 100,000 of the population. I endorse that wish. In terms of my own borough it would mean having our own inspector stationed in the London borough of Bexley. That could only be for the good of the people whom I represent.

My hon. Friend referred to pollution caused by motor vehicles. This is a serious matter and I am glad that it is covered in his Bill. At some time or other we have all been subjected to a sudden discharge of filthy black fumes from diesel lorries, sometimes even diesel buses, as they change gear to go up an incline. That ought not to be happening with the facilities available through today's advanced technology. Therefore, I support my hon. Friend in that respect. It may be that events will overtake this problem if all the scare and alarm stories we hear about oil supply turn out to be true. Indeed, we may be able to overcome the problem of atmospheric pollution by changing to some other form of propellant for road vehicles.

I know that my hon. Friend is anxious that his Bill should get a Second Reading today and I am sure the House will agree to it. Therefore, I shall refer to only one point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). He referred to the difficulties being experienced by both his and my constituents from the operation of Lead and Alloys Ltd. works at Harrow Manor Way in the London borough of Greenwich. For some time this factory has emitted into the atmosphere substances which I undertand are not injurious to health but are certainly injurious to the beneficial occupation by our constituents of their domestic properties. Despite support by the London boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley, it has been a long, uphill job trying to persuade Lead and Alloys Ltd. to deal with this problem. I believe that my hon. Friend's Bill will greatly strengthen our position regarding that factory. Therefore, I give the Bill a welcome and trust that it will receive a Second Reading this afternoon.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) on introducing the Bill.

I do not want to give the impression that the Alkali Inspectorate is in the dock, nor that in any respect I am putting industry in the dock. A fair criticism of the inspectorate is that it has a history and background that may cause it to be misunderstood. I have a constituency case to which I want to refer. There is not the slightest doubt that in my constituency the Alkali Inspectorate is heavily misunderstood.

I have looked briefly into the history of the inspectorate. I read that the first inspector was a certain Dr. Robert Angus Smith. He apparently laid down the basis on which the inspectorate should conduct its work. Smith speedily became convinced that the Act of 1863"— the original Alkali Act— must be the nucleus of further legislation based not on absolute prevention, which would cripple the chemical industry, but rather, by a tolerated emission closely watched and kept to the 'practical minimum'. In 1973 that principle seems still to be guiding the inspectorate, and it has led to grave supicions by many suffering communities that it is to some extent in league with industry.

I want to quote from some of the inspectorate's reports. In its report for 1970 it referred to my constituency case. It said: There is an outstandingly difficult case in the Midlands where technical problems are being experienced by a works sited in an unfavourable position in a valley. It is a metal recovery works. The local planning authority has sought an injunction to prevent further use of a low chimney, which is said to have exceeded the time limit for which permission was granted for it to continue in use after the new chimney was commissioned. In 1971 the inspectorate said: The difficult case in the Midlands, which was reported last year, gradually improved. … Complaints gradually ceased, but some weaknesses began to appear in the equipment towards the end of the year and these will have to be corrected. I do not read in reports of that kind any great sense of urgency about this type of problem. I have been struggling with this case in my constituency for 10 years, and in spite of these reports the verdict that I shall give the House in a moment is not very favourable. I think that there is something wrong with the law and the administration in general.

In that case, without intending to hand out unnecessary compliments, I can say that I have had all possible help from the inspectorate, from the firm in question, from the rural district council, from the county council, which is the planning authority, from the Parliamentary Commissioner, to whom the matter was referred and, finally, from my right hon. Friend's Department.

Nevertheless, there has been no improvement, and perhaps I may read to the House the verdict given in a letter of 8th May to me from a local county councillor. He said: One or two people reckoned that there had been a slight improvement in conditions over the last few months but this was by no means the general view. A sort of resigned apathy now pervades the district and there were just as many complaints about the fumes … All in all, then, I don't think that any very great improvement has resulted and, for what it is worth, I can't see that it will while we are still governed by this absurd law of 60 years ago. That is a considerable condemnation of the present law and administration.

I want briefly to read from the report which was made by the Parliamentary Commissioner after, on the urging of my constituents, I referred to him the question whether the Alkali Inspectorate was doing its job properly. He referred to a number of matters, including my right hon. Friend's Department, and said: The Ministry have represented to me that in the current state of knowledge of the problem and possible solutions, prosecution under the Act could not be expected to succeed. While I sympathise with the people suffering from a nuisance of this kind over an extended period I am bound to agree with the Ministry that they would not be justified in prosecuting the operators for failure to use the best practical means to prevent or render inoffensive the emissions from these works. My examination of the case does not bear out the contention that the District Alkali Inspectors have been negligent in any respect and I find that within the scope available to them"— perhaps those are the important words— they have acted properly and diligently. I find no evidence of maladministration on their part or on the part of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government generally. He then referred to possible other courses of action and said: The complainants may wish to consider taking legal advice as to whether the law offers any means of redress"— that is a poor piece of advice to the local inhabitants, suggesting as it does that they might involve themselves in heavy legal expense, presumably by means of the law of nuisance— or they may seek to persuade the local planning authority to take discontinuance action under Section 28 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1962. If the complainants have not already explored the possibility of action on those lines they may care to do so now. I am sure that that advice was given with the best intentions, but I do not think that it is very practical advice.

A short while ago there was an article in The Times about a factory owned by Rio Tinto-Zinc. It was suggested that part of the trouble lay in the fact that there was no co-operation between the Factory Inspectorate and the Alkali Inspectorate. My right hon. Friend might think that that is a matter which would bear investigation to see whether administration could be improved by combining those two inspectorates.

The Department of the Environment finally came to my help in the best way it could. I received a parliamentary answer about the problems of my constituency in the following terms: I am aware that complaints have been made about these works. I am advised that although they are complying with statutory requirements by using the best practicable means to prevent and minimise emissions, in the present state of knowledge no technological methods can ensure that trouble from fumes will not occur intermittently. The enclosed nature of the site and the proximity of dwelling houses makes the problem an awkward one. Failing a technological solution the only statutory remedy would be by way of a discontinuance order. This would be primarily the responsibility of the Salop County Council "— the local authority responsible for planning— but if they make one, my right hon. Friend will consider it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March 1972; Vol. 833, c. 68–9.] Thus, this matter was referred to where it should have started—the county council, as the planning authority.

I received from the clerk of the county council a reply, referring to a discussion in the planning committee, in the following terms: we did, of course, discuss the possibility of the works being re-located and the Sub-Committee have again considered whether a discontinuance order under Section 28 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, ought to be made in respect of the works. However, such action would involve the Council in the payment of substantial compensation and the Sub-Committee have decided that they cannot recommend this course of action. That seems to put a final quietus on any method of dealing with a case of this kind.

What sticks in the throat of local authorities in this situation is the question of compensation. Will my right hon. Friend turn his mind to the implications involved in compensation and to the question whether any principles could be laid down in future legislation concerning the way in which these things should be dealt with? Surely it should be right that if the location of a works of this kind is due to a decision of a local authority and it is subsequently decided that that decision is wrong, compensation should be payable by the local authority, and that it should be able to be compelled to pay it.

If, on the other hand, the works has been there so long that its location cannot be laid to the blame of any local authority, surely the Department should seriously consider whether there is some Government liability to pay compensation for the benefit of the suffering inhabitants.

So I ask my right hon. Friend, what is the upshot of this situation as illustrated by my constituency case? I suggest that the upshot is that, in this whole field, the Department needs to take a much firmer grip. The Alkali Inspectorate must continue to do its present work, but surely it must be required to do other things also. It must be obliged to certify, from time to time, whether or not the conditions of a factory that has been complained of are satisfactory.

One important factor is location. We read of complaints from Sweden that many of the industrial emissions from our factories drift over the North Sea and descend on that country, so we should not necessarily believe that the solution of all our problems is to put every offensive factory on our east coast. But surely some places must be more sensible than others for the location of every factory.

I greatly appreciate what the hon. Member for Swansea, East is seeking to do in Clause 2(2), but I beg leave to doubt whether paragraph (d) is sufficient when it merely calls for consultation between the inspectorate and local authorities. A much severer discipline needs to be incorporated into our law.

The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) mentioned what has often been the original inducement in this kind of situation—the issue of local employment. That was probably the original inducement that brought about the situation in my constituency.

This is very unfortunate, but looking at such things in the reasonably long term we must agree that, broadly speaking, employment and unemployment are transient. Unemployment, unhappily, comes but, happily, it goes again. But once one has installed a factory of this kind the offensive pollution is apt to be a long-term problem, and local authorities must be advised that they must not yield to temptations of the kind I have illustrated purely to cure what may be a temporary unemployment situation.

I urge my right hon. Friend to consider that in certain circumstances local authorities must be compellable to make discontinuance orders, and that they must be compellable in certain cases to make the necessary compensation to the firm that has suffered. Further, there must be cases in which the Minister should or should be able to take powers to order a public inquiry before a decision is arrived at.

For all this to be done means taking a much firmer grip on the whole range of legislation and seeing whether the Factory Inspectorate, the Alkali Inspectorate and the planning authorities cannot be brought together under the Minister's direct authority, so that for all these pollution cases a procedure can be worked out similar to that now used in ordinary planning cases where the Minister calls in applications.

My doubt—if I may say so to the hon. Member for Swansea, East—is whether the Bill goes far enough. Everything the hon. Gentleman suggests is desirable, but the question is whether it will provide a practical cure for the troubles with which so many of us have been acquainted. The Government themselves may decide that it is possible to bring in legislation consolidating all the Alkali Acts and the Clean Air Act of 1956, so putting the whole matter on a much more disciplined and mandatory basis.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I shall be extremely brief because I know that we all want to hear the main points of the Minister's reply.

This is the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) and I am a sponsor. We have put forward the measure because we have the joint belief that families have a right to live in and breathe clean air—more importantly, that children have a right to grow up without the risk of their growth and health being stunted by having to breathe poisoned air, and air that it would be possible to avoid poisoning.

Air pollution exists in most communities. It was always an inconvenience, sometimes it is a nuisance and sometimes it is a danger, but in some communities the nuisance is greater, and so is the danger because frequently the areas of air pollution are also the areas which in any case are already socially deprived. They are the areas which have inadequate school facilities, inadequate and congested housing and inadequate recreational facilities. By air pollution we are imposing further burdens upon families and youngsters who already have massive problems to contend with.

It seems to be an anomaly that when both sides here want to do everything possible to reduce air pollution we have within the present rating system the paradox that if a firm installs highly expensive dust-reducing equipment, it has to pay higher rates as a result. It is time the Department saw whether something positive could be done to reduce that absurdity.

My hon. Friend referred to the inspectorate as unloved. A greater condemnation is that it is unknown. It is the faceless department. Who knows who it is? Who knows where it is? Who knows what it is? Who knows what its duties are? Who knows, except a few officials from the relevant department who are here to prompt memories when necessary?

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

The hon. Member should read the annual report of the inspectorate.

Mr. Williams

It is such an important issue that we should not need to read that document.

Mr. Page

I have here the annual report of the Alkali Inspectorate, which is laid before Parliament. The report says what it does, and sets out all its duties. If the hon. Gentleman will read the report annually, he will not make that kind of remark.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman is so complacent that it is unbelievable. Does he believe that the ordinary person living in a deprived area goes to the library and asks for the annual report of the Alkali Inspectorate? The ordinary person has never heard of the inspectorate. That is the condemnation of the inspectorate. I fear that the right hon. Gentleman's complacency is an indication of his unwillingness—

Mr. Page

I have shown no complacency. I only expect a Member of Parliament who speaks in a debate about the Alkali Inspectorate to have read its annual report.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman may rest assured that I have read the annual report. I should not have dreamt of taking part in the debate if I had not. But we are talking about the general public who need the protection that the inspectorate should provide. In an earlier debate on the Ironstone Restoration Fund the right hon. Gentleman's Department adduced the principle that the polluter must meet the cost of clearing the pollution he causes. But in this respect the sheer weakness and ineptitude of the inspectorate mean that one important sector of polluters is not having to meet the cost.

The final condemnation of the inspectorate was seen in my hon. Friend's constituency, when the inspectorate was shown to be so ineffective in taking action, or explaining to people what it was doing and why, that we saw the public taking direct action over something that the inspectorate was set up to abolish a century ago.

I am far from happy about the attitude of mind already revealed by the Minister. It is clear that we shall not receive a helpful answer from him. Therefore, I urge all my hon. Friends to support the Bill. Even if a Bill is imperfect in legal jargon, that can be remedied in Committee. Until it is clear that the Government will do something effective, some action must be taken by the House.

3.53 p.m.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

I do not know about presenting a satisfactory argument. The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) has not left me even the normal length of time for answering an Adjournment debate. I have not time even to congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) on producing the Bill.

The trouble is that, as against the hundreds and hundreds of improvements made as a result of the inspectorate's work, publicity is given to those few where a solution has not been found. Since 1958, when, following upon the Clean Air Act 1956, the Alkali Inspectorate had placed within its jurisdiction power stations, cement works and iron and steel works, there has been a great improvement in those industrial processes.

In power stations, the emissions of grit and dust have been reduced from over 1 million tons a year to less than 200,000 tons in 1972, despite a big increase in fuel usage. In cement works, emissions of solid matter have been reduced from 100,000 tons a year in 1960 to less than 40,000 tons in 1972, despite a 50 per cent. increase in cement production. In iron and steel works, blast furnace emissions of grit and dust have been rendered negligible by better control of the process. That is the sort of day-to-day work that the inspectorate is carrying out.

Where I wholly disagree with the basis of the Bill is that it seeks to set specific statutory standards in place of the principle recognised over the past 110 years, since the inspectorate came into being, of using the best practicable means. That does not mean that no standards are set down. Again, I ask both the hon. Members to read the annual report of the inspectorate. The presumptive limits are set out in the annual report. It is clear for anybody to see, for any process, the presumptive limits that the inspectorate lays down. The inspectorate holds dis- cussions with industrialists to decide the best way in which to meet difficulties.

They are not unknown men. We have 44 inspectors who are well known in industry. A very interesting development over the past few years has been the local committees formed in the neighbourhoods of the problem factories, where the local people, the local authority, the industrialists concerned and my Department's inspectors meet to discuss the processes and what solutions can be found.

I reject entirely the suggestion that the inspectorate is too familiar with the industrialists. I reject the implication that there is something undesirable about the inspectors discussing with the industrialists the best practical means of solving these problems. Over the years this has been an extremely successful process in reducing the noxious fumes in the neighbourhood of factories. In many cases, such as that in Swansea, it is the fault not so much of the process as of the planning. In that case the factory should never have been put where it is. Unfortunately, it had an established use, and therefore the inspectorate had to find the best practicable means of preventing the carbon black polluting the atmosphere around that factory.

I could not advise the House to accept a Bill which changes those principles which have been so successful, despite the cases in which, because of human error, the problem cannot be solved. It may be that the Bill could be changed in Committee. If it should receive a Second Reading I give warning that in Committee we would seek to maintain the present principle which I believe has worked well. There can be an improvement in communications, of course. There are certain reports which we are expecting. But to make a change in the basic principle on which the inspectorate works would be a mistake.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).