HL Deb 19 February 1924 vol 56 cc195-202

LORD DESBOROUGH rose to move for a Return containing a general report of the laboratory experiment and field experiments carried out during the years 1919 to 1921 by the Joint Committee of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as to the effect of washings from tarred roads on fisheries. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not make this Motion in any spirit of hostility, but one of very keen anticipation of the Report which I am so anxious to get. England, at the present time, is desolated and violated by motor cars of every sort, kind and description, and life here would be absolutely unendurable if means were not taken to keep down the dust resulting from this species of progress. For this purpose tar has been very largely used. At the same time many fish have died since motoring began, and many people ascribe the death of those fish throughout the country to the effect of tarring the roads. This is a very great misfortune, which I think can be avoided.

I have seen in the Report of the Rivera Pollution Committee, which has been issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the name of a friend of mine with whom I have worked for a. long time. He represents 100,000 anglers. If you multiply that number by that of other representatives throughout the country I think you will find that there are some millions—I am very sorry to have to guess at their numbers—of the poorer classes of the community who are deeply interested in preserving the fish life of this country. This 100,000—I think I am accurate there—arc very harmless people, students of nature who are more addicted to romance than to violence, and it would be a thousand pities to spoil their recreation.

To put it on a more sordid ground. I should like to bring this argument to the notice of His Majesty's Government. I have what used to be one of the finest trout streams in the south of England. Fish of 5 lbs. and even up to II lbs. in weight were taken from it. That did not often happen, but it has been known. When motoring came in these fish disappeared entirely from this river, and the river is now valueless, although I have stocked it three times. This is the argument I should like to address to His Majesty's Government. I believe that this river would be worth—so, at least, I have been told—over £700 a year. I should like to point out to His Majesty's Government that if I got £700 a year for this river they would get more than half of it. I am taxed at the rate of 4s. 6d. in the £ for Income Tax and 6. for Super-Tax. Therefore, if I got £700 for this river the Government would get £350, and more really, because I should have the expense of stocking the river and looking after it, and it is very doubtful whether I should be able to deduct any of those expenses. Anyhow, in regard to this particular river, if the Government could only stop the pollution they would be in a much sounder position than that in which I should be. If that one instance is multiplied by the many all over England which will occur to noble Lords, it will be seen that the fish in our rivers are a great deal too valuable even to His Majesty's Government to be destroyed by tar, if such a process can possibly be prevented.

The Government have had a very valuable Report. I happen to know some of the gentlemen who served on this Committee. Most excellent laboratory experiments were made with regard to the effect of tar on fish life. Field experiments were also conducted by taking stretches of water and observing the effect of tar on the fish life there. I venture to hope that His Majesty's present Government may succeed where apparently other Governments have failed, through this Report. These experiments were carried out between 1919 and 1921. I think the Report is due and, indeed, overdue, though I know that the Ministry has been very much overworked. I should like also to be assured as to whether it is overwork or want of money which has prevented the issue of this Report, because I can assure the Government that it would be of the most inestimable value to this country if those who are interested in these matters were able to get at this valuable evidence and see the deductions which have been drawn from it. I will not say anything further in regard to the matter, but I venture to make the Motion which stands in my name.

Moved, That there be laid before this House a Return containing a general report of the laboratory experiment and field experiments carried out during the years 1919 to 1921 by the Joint Committee of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as to the effect of washings from tarred roads on Fisheries.—(Lord Desborough.)


My Lords, I should like to support the appeal made to His Majesty's Government by the noble Lord opposite. As chairman of a fisheries board and as a member of the Committee (appointed by the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, when he was at the Ministry of Agriculture), which has been sitting for two years considering the question of river pollution, I have had some experience in connection with the pollution of rivers. We have realised that pollution exists at present from four causes. One obviously is sewage. But perhaps the most serious causes of pollution are chemical works on the banks of rivers which send in alkaline poisons as well as acids. Another cause of pollution is sheep-dipping, which, of course, generally occurs in the summer, or in the early autumn months. But there is this other item in connection with rivers pollution,—namely, pollution from the tarring of roads which is doing a great deal of harm to our rivers.

Those of us who have looked into this question realise that bitumen can be used in place of tar in the making of roads. The only drawback in connection with the use of bitumen as against tar is that it is more expensive. Experiments have been made which show that even a mixture of 70 per cent. of bitumen and 30 per cent. of tar will make an effluent almost innocuous to fish life. It is most desirable, however, that at danger points, where the tar can reach a river without proper filtration, special precautions should be taken. Tar can reach the river in two ways. It can reach it when there is a shower of rain falling upon tar which has recently been put upon the roads, and also when there is rain and a road, which has been laid with tar, is crumbling. The increased expense of bitumen as compared with tar is really due to the fact that you have to roll the road to a very much greater extent when bitumen is used than when tar is used, and it can only be done, I understand, in a dry period in order to secure the best results. It is most important in the interests of fish life that this method of poisoning fish should be eliminated, if it can possibly be done, and I am sure that the road surveyors and county authorities will do their part in trying to deal with the situation at the danger points.

Members of fishery boards realise that money may be spent for years in fish hatcheries and in developing fisheries in order to secure the sport of all classes in the community, and that all our work and money may be of no avail through the ignorance or the carelessness of a road authority at a particular moment. There- fore it is important that those Reports which have been given to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Transport Department should be published widely to the community in order that fish may be preserved from those sources of pollution which, unhappily, occur too often at the present time.


My Lords, I shall not detain you for more than a moment. As a member of a county road board I am fully aware of all the difficulties with which we have to contend in order to meet the demands for transport at the present time, and as a member of a fishery board I am also aware of the difficulties that we have to encounter in preventing pollution. I am not going to give a lecture either on road making or on the question of dealing with pollution. Far too many people seem to think that fishing is a sport that merely interests a few people, but, as Lord Desborough has pointed out very clearly, fishing is an enormous source of revenue to the country, and also affords employment to a very considerable number of people. I rise to make the suggestion to His Majesty's Government that, if possible, the Ministry of Transport, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, should frame some Bill which would prevent local authorities using any material for the construction or repair of roads which is injurious to fish life; or, in other words, that any material used by road authorities should first receive the sanction of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.


My Lords, the Government are entirely in accord with the views of Lord Desborough and Lord Gainford. I am not at the moment able to deal with the question of a by-law, but that will be considered. I should like to make one or two statements to show how the matter stands, in order that your Lordships may see what the Government have done. I say at once that we hope to give the general Report, under conditions that I will state, for which Lord Desborough asks. This is not a new matter, as the noble Lord knows very well. Research experiments have been undertaken, and the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Transport are very grateful for what has been done to assist them by the county authorities of Hampshire at Alresford on a site very kindly lent by Sir Joseph Tichborne. Two Interim Reports have already been issued, and, if your Lordships will allow me, I will read one passage from each, because I think it is important, as has been suggested by Lord Gainford, that the matter should be published as widely as possible.

This is a letter written from the Ministry of Transport on April 18, 1922, and sent to the clerks to county councils, county boroughs, county burghs, borough and burgh councils, district committees and urban and rural councils and other highway authorities in England and Wales and Scotland. I will not read the whole of the letter, but only the material part of it, which, I think, will be found to confirm the views expressed by Lord Desborough;— The concluding paragraph in the Committee's Report is as follow:— 'In view of the extreme precautions which are clearly necessary to avoid damage to fisheries by the washings from tarred roads at certain periods in the life of the surface of such roads, the Committee considers that highway authorities should give a preference to asphaltic bitumen free from tar product" for the treatment of roads draining directly into fishing waters, as there is no evidence before the Committee, so far as preliminary experiments at the Government Laboratory and elsewhere have gone, that washing from such bitumen have any specific deleterious action on fish or other stream life.' Perhaps I ought to say that that is a paragraph in a Report which condems very strongly the tarring of roads as leading to the destruction of fish, and that that view was reached as the result of scientific research and actual experiments. Where the tar from the roads was conducted into the artificial ponds for experimental purposes all the trout died. You could not have better evidence than that.

A second Report was issued and sent to all the local authorities on May 5, 1923. This is the second Interim Report of the Committee to which Lord Desborough has referred. I will quote this passage from it: The sub-committee is therefore of opinion that drainage from bituminous roads, of the nature described in paragraphs 3 and 5 of the Report and obtained under practical conditions, will show no appreciable toxic character due either to soluble materials extracted by the rain from the bitumen itself, or to colloidal particles derived from the bituminous surface on disintegration. The two Reports, taken together, show that tar is a source of destruction of fish to the extent which the noble Lord has found, practically destroying the value of fishing rights, and also fishing amenities, in any river that the tar is allowed to reach from the road surface. On the other hand, bituminous material can be used without any damage or danger. The two Interim Reports on these two points have been sent to the local authorities in all parts of the country.

The noble Lord wishes, in addition to that, as I understand, for a Return containing a, general Report of the laboratory experiment and field experiments carried out during the years 1019 to 1921 by the Joint Committee of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as to the effect of washings from tarred roads on fisheries. The desire of the Government is that that Report should be issued and printed as soon as possible, and I can give that undertaking. I can also explain the reason why it has not been issued up to this date. I think the noble Lord has in his mind—because he has always been friendly in these matters—a common desire with the Government to obtain the reform in order to assist the fisheries to which he has referred. No doubt one of the reasons is economy. The other reason has been almost stated by Lord Gainford. There is a small scientific staff dealing with these matters in the Departments of Agriculture and Transport, and that staff has been continuously engaged in preparing material and in assisting the General Committee on Pollution of Rivers—an extremely important matter. Lord Gainford is Chairman of that Committee, and he knows the amount of assistance that has been given by these scientific advisers. All their time has been occupied up to this moment. The desire, of the Government is that this most valuable Report should be widely published at the earliest possible moment. It will not be, to-morrow, of course, but I am told that there is a hope that it may be issued in the course of a few months. The Government entirely agrees with the view that it is a most valuable document, and ought to be made public at the earliest moment.