HL Deb 10 March 1937 vol 104 cc591-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which is very similar to the one introduced last year by my noble friend Lord Gainford. That Bill was warmly supported by the Government and passed through all its stages in this House, but failed to be considered in another place for reasons which had nothing whatever to do with its merits. In these circumstances I do not think I need do more than merely remind your Lordships of the general objects of that Bill and indicate the comparatively minor differences which exist between it and the Bill which I am now introducing. The main purpose of this Bill is to secure that the rivers and streams of the country should be rendered cleaner and freer from pollution than they are at present. I am sure that all your Lordships will agree that this is a very desirable object. The way in which we propose to bring it about is by extending facilities to traders and owners of factories to enable them to discharge their trade effluents into sewers rather than into rivers. Once these facilities are granted, in the first place we are convinced that the traders themselves will make use of them without compulsion, and further, that the authorities who are charged with the duty of seeing to the cleanliness of the rivers will be able to exercise their powers in the knowledge that there are reasonably cheap methods of disposal open to these traders.

So far, one of the main troubles has been that, although the authorities have had these powers for a number of years, they have been unwilling to exercise them in many cases because of the prohibitive expense which by doing so they imposed upon these traders. Moreover, it is not only uneconomic but also unreasonable to expect each factory to put down separate works for purification of effluents. That was the problem, stated in simple language, but to solve it a great deal of investigation and consultation was necessary, and I can assure your Lordships that these proposals are submitted only as a result of a great deal of consideration. I do not think I need go into the history of all those negotiations, because it was stated very fully by my noble friend when he introduced his Bill last year. What we propose to do is to require the local authorities either to come to agreement with the traders in regard to particular applications, or to make by-laws setting forth the terms on which the effluents may be discharged into sewers. These by-laws must be approved by the Ministry of Health and must be of such a nature as to safeguard the interests of the traders and also to protect the local authorities against liability for undue expense. Further, it is provided that the traders should have a right of appeal to the Minister and that the Minister should have power to make exceptions to these by-laws on appropriate occasions.

The principal difference between this Bill and the one submitted by my noble friend Lord Gainford is in the direction of greater simplicity. Perhaps I might summarise the changes in this way. First, the passing of the Public Health Act last year of itself necessitated some alterations, and the Bill is now drafted as an amendment and an extension of that Act. The old Bill regulated drains of trade premises as well as what might be passed through them. The new Bill deals only with the regulation of what might be passed through drains, leaving the drains themselves to be regulated by the Public Health Act, 1936. Secondly, the waiting period before acceptable trade effluents may be discharged after notice is shortened from six months to two months. Thirdly, under my noble friend's Bill the local authority had either to accept the trade effluents in accordance with the trader's notice or to apply to the Minister for an Order. That Order might determine that they should accept trade effluent as in the notice, or that they need not accept any trade effluent at all, or need accept trade effluent of a certain character, volume or rate. Under the new Bill the local authority may give consent unconditionally or subject to conditions, with the simple machinery of an appeal to the Minister against a refusal to give consent, or against any conditions imposed.

Fourthly, the by-law-making powers have been extended to enable the local authority to determine the maximum quantity of trade effluent which may be discharged from any trade premises on any one day without their consent, and the maximum rate of discharge without their consent. It is thought that local authorities may thus cover in one stroke a large proportion of the trade effluents in their districts. Fifthly, the penalty for an offence has been increased from £20 to and that for every day on which the offence is continued from £5 to £20. In the Committee proceedings it was, I think, agreed that London should be left out of the operation of my noble friend's Bill, and it is proposed to leave London out of this Bill. I understand that the London County Council are watching the operation of this Bill with great interest, and it may be that later they will see fit to introduce legislation on similar lines themselves. I do not know whether my noble friend will admit that this is a better Bill than that which he introduced. It has certainly one merit, and that is that it is two pages shorter. I hope that it will receive your Lordships' approval. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)


My Lords, may I thank the Government for having reintroduced this measure? It unfortunately did not pass through another place on account of the late period at which it reached that Chamber. We all recognise how difficult it is for a Private Bill sometimes to pass through another place, even though it is quite uncontroversial. All I have to do now is sincerely to thank the Government on behalf of the real promoters of this measure, the Central Council for Rivers Protection. That Council not only represents the Fishmongers Company, who have been very largely instrumental in initiating the negotiations which have taken place with nearly every kind of authority in the country, but it also includes the British Waterworks Association, the Water Companies Association, the Royal Sanitary Institute, the National Association of Fishery Boards, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the National Federation of Anglers, the Pure Rivers Society, the Salmon and Trout Association, the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and other bodies.

The Council have asked me on their behalf to say that they entirely approve of this Bill in principle. They may have some minor Amendments to suggest for the consideration of the Government on the Committee stage, but they are likely to be very few. I think we all recognise that the condition of many of our rivers is almost a disgrace. The foul character not only of the sewage but of industrial effluents going into the rivers is such as to destroy not only fish life and fish food but the amenities of many of our most beautiful rivers. This is an agreed Bill in principle and it is uncontroversial. I can only trust that it may have a rapid passage through your Lordships' House and be quickly placed on the Statute Book by general assent in another place. I believe that, when it is passed, it will not only tend to remove the existing pollution of rivers but—what is very important—it will stop further pollution which otherwise would occur in our rivers, streams, and estuaries.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I have for the second time the unusual pleasure of congratulating the Government on a useful Bill. We shall give it every kind of facility and help, and hope that it will pass rapidly through all its stages in another place. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, on the result of his efforts and energy last year which we now see before us.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.