HL Deb 05 March 1952 vol 175 cc487-516

2.46 p.m.

LORD MORRISON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether in view of the urgent need of national economy and to assist in overcoming raw material difficulties, immediate attention will be given to building up a permanent extension of all known methods of reclaiming usable waste materials and returning them to industry and agriculture; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have often heard it said that progress does not consist of a straight line upward, but of a slowly revolving spiral, moving round and ever and anon returning to the same point, but just a little higher up. I mention this because it is just over twelve years ago that I was advocating almost the same proposals as I shall to-day, but a little higher up. They were adopted then, twelve years ago, by the Government—the National Government at that time—with some success, and here we are back at the same place, but a little higher up, ready, I hope, to get our progress spiral on the move again. If noble Lords ask me why I think it necessary to advance again along this path, my reply is that in many respects our economic position to-day is similar to what it was twelve years ago.

The raw materials to which my Motion mainly refers to-day can be conveniently grouped into four sections: feeding-stuffs, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, fuel, and fibre. Noble Lords will note that each of these classes provides the raw material for the important industries of our country. Agriculture urgently needs feeding-stuffs. The metal and the engineering industries need ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Heat and power demand fuel, and the paper and board industry demands wood pulp, usually called waste paper. Of course, there are many others which will readily occur to noble Lords, and I will leave it to other noble Lords to deal with these. I need not remind your Lordships, and particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, what was done in the last war, although, as he knows, there was no Ministry of Materials then. Twelve years ago, faced with a frightening shortage of raw materials, the Government of that time gave a lead to the nation—with considerable results. Vast quantities of usable waste materials of many kinds, instead of being burned, buried or dumped, were recovered and returned to industry and agriculture, and were re-used until their fullest possible value had been obtained.

My Lords, there is nothing new or exciting about this; it is just sound common sense and real economy. Perhaps because of that, the matter receives no sensational newspaper headlines. In 1952, as in 1940, we are again "up against it." The lesson is again being brought home to us that we just cannot afford to waste raw materials. During the last war our results were, in fact, better than those of any other nation, and it will be of assistance to our country if we can get back to that position. Unfortunately, as soon as the last war was over the public began to get careless and easy-going again. Now we are back at the point where we started, except, as I have already said, that we are just a little higher up. The Board of Trade Salvage Section was closed down after the war but, fortunately, many trade organisations, local authorities and voluntary organisations continued salvage work, either wholly or in part. As a result of their foresight, considerable tonnages of utilisable waste materials are now flowing to industry and agriculture. This seems to me to be all to the good, but I submit that the present emergency demands a greater effort, and I ask the Government again to give a lead—with this difference: last time the public were given the impression that the campaign to save waste materials was, to use an expression very common at that time, "only for the duration." This time, in the words of my Motion, I am asking the Government to build up a permanent extension of all known methods of reclaiming useable waste materials and returning them to industry and agriculture.

In my opinion, our urgent need to-day is unlikely to become less for many years to come; that is why I am stressing the words "permanent extension." It seems to me illogical and foolish, to have to import raw materials, whilst at the same time, here at home, considerable supplies of these vital materials are being carelessly wasted.

To-day, I am not going to advocate the same set-up as we had last time. Looking back, I see many possible improvements. It seems to me that the problem this time, is how to increase the tonnage of usable waste materials reclaimed, without setting up a large and expensive controlling organisation, which would not be welcomed by those with practicable experience of this business, nor, I venture to suggest, by the general public. In other words, I am not in favour of setting up another Government Department: nor even a combination of Government Departments, which is still more frightening. Last time, probably because we were at war, there were too many Government Departments mixed up with it. There were the Ministry of Supply, the Board of Trade, the Ministries of Health and Agriculture, the War Office, the Admiralty, the Royal Air Force, and, of course. I must not forget the Scottish Department, which came into it as well. If I may use, not unkindly, I hope, a phrase used in another connection, we had "too much harness and not enough horse." Therefore, whatever the Government inlay decide to do this time, I hope they will not introduce so many civil servants from so many Departments as before.

Instead, I suggest that we make more use of the many salvage bodies, trade agencies, local authorities, voluntary and charitable organisations, women's organisations and private enterprise. The great majority of these are doing a useful job of work now, and doing it well. They should be encouraged and not interfered with too much by people who know much less than they do about the business. I think that if these practicable people were freely consulted, a very small number of experienced people, controlled by one Government Department, could obtain better results with less interference with the many industries concerned—and, equally important, less compulsion on the public and a better spirit of unity. In the First World War a National Salvage Council was set up to co-ordinate all sections of salvage work and to give a lead as to requirements. In the Second World War a Council was again set up to co-ordinate the salvage operations of the local authorities and the Armed Forces. Other bodies were appointed as and when it became necessary. This time, we are all hopeful of avoiding a Third World War, but, our economic position being what it is, I suggest that it would be only ordinary common sense to make an effort to link up the salvage activities of trade, voluntary and local authority organisations; and the sooner the better. The object should be to lay the foundation of a permanent extension of reclaiming and re-using waste materials, and to give a lead as to requirements, thereby making a contribution towards the independence of our country—as Robert Burns called it, The glorious privilege of being independent.

I have no doubt that the noble Viscount the Chancellor of the Duchy, Lord Swinton, has already consulted people with practical knowledge, arid I hope that he has found among private enterprise, local authorities and voluntary organisations a good deal of agreement with what I have already said. Let me make myself quite clear. I am not asking the noble Viscount to supersede any of the present organizations—Heaven forbid!—but to persuade them to link together and, in particular, to enlist the aid of science in developing new uses for so-called "waste materials," and new methods of reclamation. With a very little knowledge of this problem I say without hesitation, that we have touched only the fringe of the possibilities. Some noble Lords may recall that waste food collections began when attention was drawn to an experiment of collecting kitchen waste, and sterilising and concentrating it into feeding-stuffs for pigs and chickens. At that time Sir Andrew Duncan was Minister of Supply—there was no Minister of Materials. The noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, whom we welcomed into this House last week, was Minister of Agriculture; and Lord Woolton was Minister of Food. These Ministers set up a small committee to investigate. We—I say "we" because I was a member of that small committee—produced a report in ten days, and the Government acted without delay. Our pig population at that time was rapidly disappearing, and I believe that, but for the action taken, it would have disappeared entirely.

Between 1939 and 1947, local authorities collected from dwelling-houses and other premises, kitchen waste amounting to about 2,368,000 tons—and this at a time of more intense food shortage and stricter rationing than we have to-day. Many local authorities and private firms are still producing this same feeding-stuff to-day, and the demand greatly exceeds the supply. In point of fact, about 1,000 tons of waste is being collected each day. I think we can do a lot better than that. Strange as it may seem, many people, including local authorities and their officers in the industrial areas, are still of the opinion that the obligation laid upon them to collect and sterilise kitchen waste was just a war-time fad, to be ended as soon as opportunity offers. I hope the Government may be able soon to inform the public generally, and local authorities in particular, that they desire this useful work to continue, and that as soon as time permits, it is their intention to bring in legislation to make it permanent. At present, it is being carried on under war-time regulations, extended from year to year. The announcement of permanent legislation would go a long way to giving the necessary incentive to laggard local authorities.

There are many raw materials going to waste. Take waste paper. Your Lordships last debated this subject on May 31 last year, when the noble Lord opposite, Lord Hawke, called attention to the urgent need for increased raw materials for the board mill industry. If I may say so, he made an effective speech, as did other noble Lords, and the Motion was unanimously agreed. Figures sent to me recently indicate clearly that since the debate on Lord Hawke's Motion—and I have no doubt partly because of it—supplies of waste paper increased considerably in the latter half of last year. And I think the board mills are now less anxious about future supplies than they were. I should like to pay a tribute to the Waste Paper Recovery Association, backed up by the local authorities and the waste paper trade generally, for the 1951 results. Waste paper recovered and delivered to the board mills in 1951 amounted to 1,078,000 tons, of which I think about 60 per cent. came from waste paper merchants.

In this industry we are not yet "out of the wood," however. There is a growing demand for waste paper as a basic raw material for the production of an ever-increasing number of useful articles. Some local authorities, including important municipalities in the London area, are not yet pulling their weight. Daily, on river, road and railway, loads of refuse, including large quantities of waste paper and cardboard, can be seen on their way to destruction by burning, dumping or burying. All our propaganda has so far failed to convey to those responsible a sense of the folly of expending the money of their ratepayers in destroying valuable raw materials which are in urgent demand. At the risk of treading on some people's corns, I would add that, in my opinion, the present prices being paid for waste paper—round about £18 a ton—are on the high side, and require adjustment. The public will be surprised to learn that there are being sold to them to-day, in enormous quantities, commodities packed in paper cartons, and the cartons sometimes cost more than the articles inside them. That, in my opinion, is an absurdity.

Now, a few words about waste fuel. In the economic debate last week both the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred to this in almost the same words. Lord Hall spoke of our wastefulness in the use of coal.

Lord Woolton said: One of the reasons why this problem is so worrying is that we are wasting so much coal.

Let me mention one method of saving fuel with results as startling as kitchen waste collecting. By fitting a rotary screen to a modern refuse disposal plant, cinder or half-burned coal can be extracted and mechanically cleaned. This cinder, when recovered, has an average calorific value equal to about 60 per cent. of the original coal. It is in strong demand for steam-raising, brick-making, heating greenhouses and many other purposes; and, in times of acute shortages, in poor districts, it is even sold to householders at £1 a ton. In a Middlesex borough (modesty prevents my mentioning it by name) since last Autumn, eighteen tons a day have been recovered by this method and sold at good prices—I repeat, eighteen tons a day from one local authority area, ever since last Autumn.

The other day I received a letter from a Nottingham miner saying that he had written to the Minister of Fuel in the present Government, and also to his predecessor in the last Government, pointing out the enormous waste of this kind of fuel, but the only reply he received was that it was the business of the local authority. He passed this reply to his own local authority and was informed that it was not economic. It would appear that some local authorities, even in the mining areas, have yet to learn that wasting coal is just as bad as wasting money. The Minister of Fuel, or even the National Coal Board, I suggest, might take this matter up with local authorities, particularly those in the mining areas. Meantime, may I invite any of your Lordships who believe that it is not economic to recover, for re-use, valuable fuel now being wasted, to come and see for yourselves eighteen tons of it being recovered and sold at prices fair to industry and by no means unprofitable to the local authority?

Of all salvage problems, scrap metal is at present the, most difficult. The last Steel Production Report contained this unhappy sentence: In actual fact, the attempt to secure supplementary supplies (of scrap) from home sources, other than steelworks, failed to bring in any net addition in 1951.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that there is still a large uncollected amount of scrap lying about in Great Britain. Further steps should be taken to awaken the public—and that includes not only all the industrialists, the farmers, the public utility undertakings and the municipalities, but., in fact, the whole nation—to the urgency of this problem, and to the threat it offers to our economy. Whatever action may follow this debate. I hope that there will be no delay. Here is one point worth examining: it concerns prices. Pre-war prices paid for baled waste paper and baled scrap metal were approximately the same—30s. a ton. Compare this with to-day's prices. Baled scrap metal, much more difficult to collect, has risen from 30s. a ton to £4 10s. 0d. a ton—quite a substantial rise—but baled waste paper has risen from 30s. a ton to £18 a ton. Obviously, merchants and local authorities have a greater incentive to collect waste paper than scrap metal, and that seems to me exactly what is happening. Therefore, I think there might be some adjustment of prices for collecting these two valuable, usable waste materials—at any rate, the matter is worth consideration—together with morn extensive publicity concerning the vital need for scrap.

The other clay I was privileged to see two films—one on waste paper, the other on scrap. They were both good, I thought, and I hope they will be widely circulated. I should like to see them shown not only in cinemas but also on television. What is most urgent is that more information should be given to the town dwellers and their local authorities concerning scrap collection. In many cases, they are completely unaware of the urgency, and at a loss to know what is expected of them. In many towns, the householders are not encouraged to get rid of what Londoners call their "old iron." Often they find it necessary to tip the dustman before he will collect it. Even after that, the local authority are sometimes not properly equipped to handle it, and (if I may use a word that I should not use in your Lordships' House) the local authority are often too "uppish" to ask a neighbouring authority to help them out. After all, neither the local authority nor the private enterprise collector can be blamed for preferring to collect waste paper, which is cleaner, easier to handle, and much more profitable to collect than scrap metal. I am afraid that I have long exhausted your Lordships' patience, and I will now close. The other evening I listened to and looked at a television speaker explaining the Government's plans for meeting the present economic emergency. He wound up by saying something like this: The Government plan to tackle this emergency not in any one way, but by putting up a fight on many different fronts.

I have tried this afternoon to suggest one important front which I am sure will not be overlooked. Properly handled, it can produce good and permanent results. I beg to move for Papers.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think perhaps it will be convenient if I speak at once, because I have something to say about the way the Government propose to handle this matter. I am extremely glad that the subject has been raised in debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, that it is of particular importance to-day. Our balance of payments situation and the restriction of imports, which is absolutely necessary to restore the balance, afford an inducement and impose a duty to salvage everything that is economically worthwhile. I also agree with the noble Lord. Lord Morrison, that this is not just an emergency problem. While it is urgent as a short-term policy, it is hardly less essential as a long-term policy. When we have put our balance of payments right, we shall have to build up something very large on the credit side, and for years to come everything we can produce domestically in place of making an import is going to be invaluable. That applies just as much in the field of salvage as it does in primary production on the land.

I am very glad that it was the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, who introduced this Motion. Because of his practical experience, there is no one who is more entitled than he to speak on this subject. He and his borough—I will not be modest about it: the great Borough of Tottenham—have been pioneers in this field. "Tottenham pudding," or perhaps I should say "Morrison pudding," are household words. I understand that "Tottenham pudding" is to the pig what Guinness is to the noble Lord—it is not only good for him, but it gives him strength and satisfaction. The noble Lord was not only a pioneer in his own borough, but he enthused the Government in the war and showed himself a most able executive as Chairman of the Waste Food Board. His practical enthusiasm has never flagged. Whatever may have happened inside any Government Department, he and Tottenham went on from strength to strength.

When I began to look into this matter some time ago his advice was one of the first that I sought, and I was grateful when he promised me his help. I think he will be in broad agreement with what I am going to say. As he himself said, a great deal of good work is being done to-day both by industries and by local authorities. In the paper trade admirable work is being done by the Waste Paper Recovery Association, in which a number of firms have joined together in the right form of collective action. Out of 1,767 local authorities, 1,331 are collecting, and there is no reason why the others should not follow suit. Last year the paper mills received well over 1,000,000 tons of waste paper. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, mentioned a film on waste paper collect ing which we both saw. I thought it was excellent. It was not only agreeable, it was also instructive in the sense that it really showed the ordinary man and woman what they could do to help. I have made inquiries about this and I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that the film has now been taken by a large number of local authorities, who have arranged for it to be shown during the next few months. I think that the paper trade could use even more waste paper, particularly if they could get more storage space.

In waste food, there are over 500 local authorities collecting, and they passed through their processing plant last year more than 370,000 tons of kitchen waste. I am glad that the noble Lord did not leave out what the small independent collectors and traders are doing. In addition to the local authorities, the Ministry of Agriculture tell me that there are 5,000 licensed collectors, and they estimate, or guess, that these 5,000 must have collected at least another 250,000 tons. As the noble Lord has said, in this matter of salvage virtue is not just its own reward. The local authorities which are doing this work efficiently are making a lot of money out of it. In some cases it comes to an amount which is an appreciable relief of the rates.


In quite a number of cases it amounts to from 4d. to 6d. on the rates.


It all counts to-day. It is worth while. I remember finding that one local authority, which shall be nameless, did not do the job, and the Women's Institute and the Boy Scouts took alternate weeks for collecting the waste paper, and they made a good thing out of it.

The iron and steel industry has a regional organisation for collecting scrap. The textile trades have their own arrangements for collecting the waste they can use. I am told by the Ministry of Food that there is to-day very little wastage in beer and mineral water and milk bottles, all the collection being done by the trade. Within industry generally, the National Industrial Salvage and Recovery Council are doing admirable work for the recovery and use of salvage. Those are all excellent examples of how the business of salvage should be run, and they illustrate and fortify the principles which I will put to your Lordships and with which I think there will be general agreement—they are, indeed, very largely those already pronounced by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. I would say this, first of all. While it is most important that we should salvage the maximum of material that is economically worth while—and I stress those words—I do not think that general exhortations, either to industry or to the public, are likely to be very effective. General exhortations may easily lead to frustration if effort is put into collecting the wrong things, or even into collecting the rights things in the wrong way or in the wrong places. All experience has shown that the best salvage schemes are those which concentrate on the facts and merits and on the practical methods of recovering particular commodities. It is unquestionably right—because this is essentially an economic proposition; and if it is not an economic proposition it is not worth while—that the responsibility for salvaging any product should rest primarily with the industry which uses it. The industries know what they can use, how they can use it and how the materials should be collected and sorted. Industries to-day have the strongest possible incentive, because the materials they require are scarce and dear. They are, therefore, in the best position to judge whether recovery is an economic proposition.

If it is not an economic proposition, even when allowance is made for the higher rate of collection which may be brought about by greater and more informed effort, then this particular kind of salvage is not worth while. It is not merely a waste of effort to go and do the wrong thing; it sets a bad example, discourages people and very likely prevents their doing the right thing, which they could do both to their own and to the national profit. But when salvage is worth while—and, as I have shown, there are a large number of materials in which it is very well worth while, both from the point of view of the industry and the collector—then it is right and reasonable that the industry which uses the material should foot the bill. It follows from what I have said that to have a number of separate salvage schemes, which is exactly what we have at present, is not a dissipa tion of responsibility at all; it is rather a concentration of responsibility at the most effective points.

As each industry can best deal with its own salvage schemes, so I think it is convenient that the departments which normally deal with those industries in other matters should deal with them in matters of salvage. I do not mean that you should not have a general co-ordinating and supervising function in the Minister of Materials, but he does not want to do the other man's job for him. For example, the iron and steel industry deal on all matters with tit Ministry of Supply, and they ought to deal with them also on the matter of salvage—as, indeed, they do. The paper trades, with their Waste-Paper Recovery Association, deal with the Ministry of Materials, which is responsible for paper making materials. Kitchen waste is quite rightly dealt with by the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with the local authorities. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, rightly said, in addition to what I may call the major salvage schemes there is a great activity of trade carried on over a wide range of commodities by hundreds of waste merchants; and those people (they would not be there if they did not) form a useful and, indeed, indispensable link between the sources of supply and the using industries.

Salvage, like charity, begins at home, and domestic salvage, which is the most important source of supply both for the local authority and for the merchants, begins with the householder. What does the householder want to know? I think he—no, not he, but she—wants to be told what is wanted and how to sort out materials and set them out for collection. Unless that is done, either there will not be enough material, or it will not be in the right form or in the right place to make recovery an economic proposition. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has proved in his borough, this is not really a highly technical or difficult business. Let me say at once—and I was so glad to find myself in agreement with the noble Lord—that there is no need (and certainly there is no money) for subsidised schemes of collection. It would not be practicable to-day to engage in large capital expenditure on new equipment. There is only a limited amount of steel to go round. I think Tottenham has special machinery for the segregation of almost everything, and the noble Lord's fuel experiment there is fascinating. I am sure that that should be carried further when the machinery can be made available, provided the local authorities can be persuaded to act. I should very much like to know more about that, and to hear whether it is a complicated and expensive machine to set up; or, if it is quite a simple thing, whether a local authority can set it up easily, possibly by the adaptation of machinery which they already have on the spot. No doubt we shall be able to go into that subject together. But I do not think we can contemplate at this moment expensive machinery which means a diversion of machinery urgently needed to improve industry for export. But, subject only to that qualification, I am certain that a great deal of benefit could be gained and more material collected by pooling experience and by concerted action.

Within a particular industry the experience of one firm helps another, and a great deal is already being done in that way. Industries are pooling their experience and, indeed, have established collective organisations for the supply of their salvage. But, beyond this—here I am not sure how much has been done—I think the experience of one industry may very well help another. I have no doubt that that is being done, to some extent, by the National Industrial Salvage Recovery Council. The local authorities can certainly help each other, and are doing so, not only by the exchange of information, but in some cases by combining for collective action. At Tottenham they have set an example in this matter, and they have helped their neighbours as well as themselves. I hope, as the noble Lord said, that the local authorities will not feel "uppish" about this; there is really nothing "infra dig." in one local authority which has the machinery and the surplus capacity to do its job helping another. We want team work between local authorities in this matter. Then there are also the voluntary organizations—for example the W.V.S., the Women's Institutes and the Scouts—who are already doing very good work and who would, I know, be only too willing to do more if they knew where and how they could usefully help.

If I have carried the House with me in the general principles and propositions I have put forward, I am sure the House will agree, as Lord Morrison himself said, that we do not want, certainly at this stage and probably not at all, a large, centralised, all-embracing organisation. Large bodies are very apt to debate at large, and that is not what we want. It is better and more practical first to appraise the problem, and then to use the existing machinery to cope with it, helping that machine to operate more effectively and adding to it only if it is proved necessary.

I have given a good deal of thought to this matter. I have discussed it with my colleagues, and I have also had the benefit of the noble Lord's advice. This is the way in which I propose to proceed. I should like to ask a few experienced people—those who are either running successful salvage schemes in industry or who, in local authority work and voluntary work, have practical knowledge of the subject—to sit in with my Department and review informally with the industries using salvage how the plans of those industries can be helped and improved—in fact, what in modern terminology we call a practical Working Party. It must be small and it must be practical. My idea is that this Working Party should not engage in general debates but would discuss the position with the industries separately and also, of course, with representatives of local authorities. I have asked Ministers—and they fully agree—that the appropriate officers of their Departments should come in when a particular industry in which they are interested is under review.

The noble Lord mentioned the Ministry of Agriculture and food salvage, and the possibility of legislation. I have already been in touch with the Minister of Agriculture over that, and he has said that, if we set up this Working Party, it would be a great help to him if we could take agriculture and food waste at a very early stage, in order that the Working Party might give him advice about permanent legislation. He is quite sure that this work has to go on, and he does not want any local authority which is at present doing it to be discouraged by thinking that it is coming to an end. On the contrary, his only anxiety is that wherever the work is being done it should be extended, and that he should obtain a maximum amount of feeding-stuffs out of it. The Working Party would keep in close touch with the Ministry of Local Government and—need I say?—where Scottish interests are concerned with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have put the position to the House rather fully because I wanted to make it quite clear what I thought the principles should be—and there, I think, we are in complete agreement—and what I think is the most practical way of proceeding to give effect to those principles. Action on these lines would be entirely consistent with the principles I have put to your Lordships. It will, I hope, show us, industry by industry, what can be done by pooling the experience of those industries, local authorities and voluntary organisations, and in so doing to increase the good work which is now being done wherever that is a practical and economic proposition.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention to deal with any of the details of this proposal—indeed, I am not competent to do so—except to say that the proposition that it should be dealt with industry by industry is absolutely sound. However, I. cannot refrain from intervening for a few moments as an interested party, for the Press is vitally affected by the extent to which salvage is carried on. I will refer in a moment to that aspect of the question.

I am sure that the House will feel that it is useful to underline the enormous importance of salvage and the maximum use of materials which come into this country of ours. Economy of material, and the elimination of waste, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has said, have all the merits; and the proposer of the Motion took the same view. Material which is saved replaces imports and, therefore, saves dollars, or other foreign currency. It also increases production and is one of the ways of helping the standard of living. It can be made to lower prices and be anti-inflationary. A measure which does all those things at once cannot be wrong. Not only can it not be wrong, but it is surely of immense importance to our national economy and to the problem of supplying Britain with raw materials since coal is almost the only material which we can supply 100 per cent. from home sources. We supply none of our cotton, lute or silk, hardly any oil, and only a. little of our wool. We have also a small amount of nonferrous metals and timber. In comparison with other countries, the percentage, except that for coal, is very small.

Of all the raw materials which we must obtain from overseas, there is a special characteristic about that part of the paper supply which consists of newsprint. Like food, it is consumed every day. You can put off buying a new suit, or you may furnish your house next Spring; but the newspaper must arrive every morning. Although it is true that the consumption of newsprint may slightly increase at certain times, the curve of consumption is almost a dead straight line. Therefore, it is very important to maintain the sources of supply and also to have an adequate reserve. I do not mean to suggest that the paper situation is in itself more acute than that of other materials; but it has those special characteristics. It is well known that the supply position of paper generally, and of newsprint is extremely difficult. Take the sock position, for example. Before the war, this country had a stock of pulp for paper-making of nearly 400,000 tons. It now has 300,000 tons. In the case of newsprint, before the war we had a stock in this country of 260,000 tons, whereas to-day that stock is barely 100,000 tons.

Of that 100,000 tons, something like 85,000 tons is newsprint for the British Press. It is a figure which is far below the safety limit. Throughout the war, 100,000 tons was taken as the minimum stock. A few months ago we were down to 70,000 tons. Then we gradually crept up to over 80,000 tons. The safe limit in this country is 150,000 or 200,000 tons. So far from our having a strategic reserve there is to-day in this particular commodity a strategic deficit. Therefore, it is very important, I suggest, that Her Majesty's Government should use their influence on the organisations or municipalities which are concerned with this problem, and should bring pressure to bear to secure a maximum salvage of waste paper.


Is the noble Lord assuming that waste paper can be turned into newsprint?


I was about to come to that point. Waste paper can be used only to a small extent for making newsprint. In war time the percentage can be raised to 5 or 10 per cent., or even higher, but my point is that the use of waste paper for making the many other kinds of paper that are produced in this country can be increased and so release more of the pulp we import for making more newsprint. Home production of all kinds of paper in 1950 was 2,500,000 tons; in 1951, it was approximately 3,000,000 tons. Adding net imports, consumption in 1951 was about 3,500,000 tons. Approximately one-sixth of that was consumed as newsprint by the periodical and the daily Press.

The significance of waste paper salvage is this. Our total availability of cellulose in the form of paper of all kinds, from the best grades of paper down to brown paper and cardboard, is approximately 3,500,000 tons. The collection of waste paper last year reached a maximum, as has already been said, of over 1,000,000 tons. Clearly it is a very important matter that fibre should be brought back in these various forms. The fibre we can afford to buy from Scandinavia or elsewhere could then be used to relieve the situation. One million tons of waste is quite a consideration to set against 3,500,000 tons of paper and board. But there is a big margin. The use of fibre throughout industry is steadily expanding. The more that salvage of waste paper can be expanded, the better can these demands be met without impinging on pulp that is necessary for paper used in printing. Results so far have been good, and I add my congratulations to the Waste Paper Recovery Association. I think they have done a magnificent job, and their figures are very good. But there is still a big margin; it is not an occasion for resting on our oars. We have also other factors to consider, such as storage and price—who is going to finance large stocks acquired when prices are high? There are many problems of this kind to be solved if this country is to do what Germany did in the war, that is invent and make the best use of ersatz material. We must do everything that can be done. We must put salvage collecting on the same footing as the growing of more food, as a form of activity which saves us from too great dependence on overseas supplies. I welcome all that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has said, and I hope that this debate will encourage him to put more drive into this salvage collecting and so help Britain in its drive for raw material.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, on having initiated this debate. He has shown the great Scots virtue of thrift in this matter and has translated it into good effect in the affairs of Tottenham. Now he wishes to make the drive a national one. I listened with great interest to the instructive remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and welcome his plan for handling this important matter. As I am to be followed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, who has amassed a great deal of data, I will confine myself to making a few remarks on one aspect, that affecting agriculture. I should like to say a few words from that point of view about municipal waste and also about the greater use of some raw materials which are not sufficiently used to-day.

So far as municipal waste is concerned, I think it will be agreed that that might be said to include sewage, household refuse, street sweepings, refuse from slaughterhouses, from butchers' shops, from fishmongers and from greengrocers. In respect to the use of municipal waste there are one or two outstanding examples of activity, to one of which (that of Tottenham) the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, referred. But, in addition, Southwark has done a good constructive job of work and, North of the Border, Dumfries, under that able county engineer, Mr. Wylie, has, in the rural field, done very well. The potential of fertiliser per annum from municipal waste could easily total several millions of tons, and something should be done in that direction, especially in view of the vital need for increasing agricultural productivity, which has so often been stressed in your Lordships' House.

But that waste would not give a sufficiency of the materials required for fertilising purposes, and therefore I suggest that there could, with advantage, be a greater use of peat and of seaweed in the building up of a larger quantity of fertiliser. Therefore, I embrace with enthusiasm the plan announced by the noble Viscount, to the effect that a waste Working Party is to be set up—perhaps I have put the words the wrong way round: a Working Party to study waste is to be set up. I hope that the noble Viscount will give immediate effect to that idea, because this problem is an extremely urgent one, as has been stressed by all speakers. I congratulate the noble Viscount on the plan he envisages.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, we are all agreed, I think, that my noble friend has done well in initiating a discussion on this important subject, with its many and varied ramifications. Our economic situation to-day is such that we cannot afford to neglect any resources within our own shores, and we should not take it for granted that materials which at one time it was uneconomic to make use of are still in that category—because there have been great changes in values and in the relative values of commodities in the last few years. I want to follow what my noble friend Lord Sempill has said with regard to the agricultural aspects of this question. In my opinion, it has become extremely important not merely because of what has taken place since or during the war, but because of a series of changes which have been going on over the last hundred years or more.

The Industrial Revolution and the extreme urbanisation of our society have created two inter-related problems. The one is that agriculture is deprived, to a very large extent, of the waste products which in a rural society would have been returned to the soil and would have benefited its fertility. The other aspect is that the towns and the cities have to dispose of refuse from sewers, dustbins, streets and so on at a considerable expense, and in some cases without any great return for the expenditure which is involved. I think it is well-known to all of us that one of the most successful periods of British agriculture was that in which plentiful manuring, mixed farming and well devised rotations of crops were the prevailing practice. So long as this continued, the injury to the land by the loss of urban wastes which were not returned to it was not particularly noticeable. But we have now passed to a new phase in agriculture. There has been a decline of mixed fanning, and the use of the tractor instead of the horse has deprived the farm of one of those materials which used to be returned to it.

In many cases, after the harvest has been got in by means of the combined harvester, one has seen the straw being burned, and practically all the fertility which might have been derived from that is lost. The fertility is being drawn away from the soil with increasing rapidity, and little waste matter is being returned to it. No doubt, it will be said that there is compensation for this in the use of artificial fertilisers. I have no doubt that they have concealed or postponed some of the evil effects, but I am not certain that it is not the case that in the long run they may really accelerate the decline of the soil by hastening the extraction of the humus which remains in it and reducing it to a condition in which it will become all the more liable to erosion. And that, after all, is a danger not confined to countries with extreme climates; it is one which can also take place in temperate climates. At any rate, I think that there is a large degree of unanimity of opinion among agriculturists that it is necessary to maintain the humus content of the soil, and it is here that the question of waste materials becomes so important.

The waterborne disposal of sewage results in an almost complete loss of that element of potential fertility. It is a very difficult problem, because of the extreme dilution of the solid matter in sewage. Even after a process of purification has taken place in order to yield a relatively clear effluent, the remaining sewage sludge, as it is called, is still rather highly diluted. The amount of solid matter in it is only of the order of one or two per cent., and that, combined with certain physical or chemical characteristics, makes it extremely difficult to dry sewage sludge and extract the solid materials from it. On the other hand, although experiments have been made from time to time in applying sewage sludge directly to the soil and although those have yielded for the time being satisfactory results, I think experience has proved that long-continued application of sewage sludge to the soil is not advantageous but detrimental, possibly partly because of the excessive water content and partly because of the fact that it is not applied to the soil in the condition in which it is really required and in which it would provide the maximum benefit to plant growth.

If it were possible to devise a really economic method of drying sewage sludge, so as to recover the solid content and make it available for agricultural use, I am inclined to think that the best use which could be made of it would be not to apply it directly to the land, but to use it as a material for composting with vegetable refuse, so helping, in the case of gardens and stockless farms, to compensate for the loss of animal refuse which is necessary in order to produce a compost or manure of the greatest value. I think that the best method of dealing with this problem is that suggested by my noble friend Lord Sempill—namely, to compost sewage sludge with dustbin and other city refuse. This, of course, involves what is now in fact carried out in many cases—separation out of the refuse of the bottles, metals and other materials which are unsuited for this particular purpose. And so much the better if a certain amount of coal residue can be separated out also, in the way which Lord Morrison has indicated is being adopted in Tottenham. Although a certain amount of dust and ashes is not objectionable, too large a quantity makes the process of composting our municipal refuse somewhat more difficult and renders the product more bulky in relation to its effective value.

Now this proposal, of course, conflicts quite definitely with the practice which is being adopted in certain places—notably, as we know, in Tottenham—of salvaging kitchen refuse for the purpose of making it into pig food; obviously, the more that is done, the less there remains to be composted with sewage sludge for the purpose of making fertiliser. I do not want to be dogmatic about this, but I am inclined to think that processed kitchen waste is not really a very suitable food for pigs. It was a useful expedient in the emergency of the war, especially as it was something which could be done quite readily, and did not require an elaborate organisation or apparatus. But if we are considering permanent measures, then I think that this matter requires to be reconsidered, because it conflicts with the more fundamental proposition of trying to rescue not only as much as possible of the dustbin refuse and other wastes but also of the sewage, in order to return the whole to the soil, to increase its fertility and so increase the amount of agricultural production.

As Lord Sempill has indicated, because of this process there are at the present time difficulties in finding sufficient materials for composting. The suggestion which he has made, of utilising peat, is one which certainly deserves to be followed up. It is well known that peat provides an extremely valuable litter for use in stables and cowsheds, and that it has the capacity of absorbing a great deal more of the urine than any other form of litter. That is extremely important, because it is a means of conserving nitrogen which otherwise would probably be completely wasted. More than that, if profitable means can be devised of using peat, we have thereby the means of clearing the peat bogs and of reclaiming a certain amount of land and making it available for agriculture. To a very large extent, this is something which has, in fact, been done in Denmark during the last 100 years, and it well deserves serious study and consideration in this country.

As to the practical means of composting household refuse and sewage sludge, the principles upon which this should be done are now very well-known and tested. They depend mainly, upon the researches which were carried out by the late Sir Albert Howard when he was director of agricultural research at various stations in India, and the methods which he devised have been put into practical operation by farmers and gardeners all over the world. The application to municipal composting has not been made to the same extent, but there are already some experiments going on in this country, of which that carried out by Mr. Wylie, the county engineer of Dumfriesshire, is certainly most noteworthy. He has succeeded in producing, from the habitation wastes of quite a scattered rural area, an extremely satisfactory compost which is being sold and for which there is a steady and satisfactory demand. If that can be done in an area which presents the physical difficulties of transport and other things which are to be found in such rural areas, there is no doubt that satisfactory means of solving the problem can be devised in other areas.

This matter is at the present time engaging attention in Denmark, and in Sweden too, where a number of local authorities are already producing from household refuse a sifted, pulverised and matured agricultural fertiliser. But in one case, at any rate, the matter is being carried further. The town of Gladsaxo in Denmark, which has, I think, a population of 40,000, is having constructed a plant intended to deal both with household refuse and sewage. A similar plan is being carried, out at the present time in the Island of Jersey. No doubt there is a double reason why it should be done there—partly for the sake of the island's agriculture and, partly, in order to cleanse the shore waters of the crude sewage which is now being poured into them. That is an aspect of matters which very well deserves attention from seaside municipalities in this country. It certainly is extremely offensive, as well as wasteful, that crude sewage should be poured into the sea at quite a short distance from the shore.

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has indicated that legislation is contemplated to give permanent powers for dealing with these problems. I hope that that legislation will be conceived upon very broad lines, enabling local authorities, and maybe others, to carry out work of this kind but without binding them down to any particular method or process, because this is still, to a certain extent, an experimental field in which it is extremely undesirable that we should be committed to one particular point of view. There should be freedom of experiment and research in this as in other matters. I certainly welcome very heartily the announcement which the noble Viscount has made of the setting up of a Working Party to consider these problems. I am sure that that ought to yield fruitful results of great value to the country as a whole.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, for the few kind words he said about the Motion I brought forward some nine months ago on the subject of waste paper. Nobody could agree more than I do with the sentiments we have heard from every speaker this afternoon. In our impoverished condition to-day, any increase in our agricultural, mining, chemical or waste collection activity, is a definite plus, with no minuses, to the national economy. I would begin by making a few remarks about waste paper. When we held the debate at the end of May last, the consumption of paper in the country for the previous year had been on the basis of about 3,000,000 tons, and the Waste Paper Recovery Association target for 1951 was 1,000,000 tons. After talking with some members of the trade, I suggested in the debate that that target was too low, and that we ought to raise the aim to 1,200,000 tons—which was a 40 per cent. recovery. The Government spokesman of the day, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that that was too low and that he thought a 50 per cent. recovery, or 1,500,000 tons, was the right figure. The year is now up and the actual recovery has been a little over 1,000,000 tons—that is, it has slightly exceeded the Waste Paper Recovery Association figure, definitely fallen short of mine, and fallen a very long way short of the figure of the Government of the day.

But if we consider it in relation to the total consumption of paper in the country during 1951, I think we may say that all targets have been missed, because consumption was, as I calculate it, 3,300,000 tons. Therefore, the Waste Paper Recovery Association figure, expressed as a percentage of 33⅓, was not achieved. The recovery was approximately 30 per cent. That 30 per cent. recovery is rather shocking when one considers what we did in the war years. From 1941 to 1944 the lowest figure for our recovery was 44 per cent. The highest—it was an exceptional year of course—was 60 per cent. It was not until 1945 that we dropped below 40 per cent. Therefore I am convinced that if we really want to do it we can get more than we are getting. To-day collections are running at nearly 23,000 tons a week, which works out at a recovery ratio of something like 37½ per cent. The problem is, what do we want? Nine months ago the trade told me unofficially that they thought we could do with 1,300,000 tons of board a year, of which 100,000 tons would be imported and the balance made from our waste paper. To make that would require about 1,350,000 tons of waste paper, and that would represent a recovery of 40 per cent. of 3,300,000 tons. Unless something has supervened in the interval, I maintain that a 40 per cent. recovery is the proper target.

However, in spite of the present lower recovery, there is some slight rising of the stocks of waste paper at the mills. On the other hand, new capacity is in process of being installed in Cheshire, and I have no doubt that that will take care of a good quantity. Nevertheless, the overall situation should be reviewed. I have no doubt that my noble friend's Working Party will do it. First, they need to consider whether existing collections are sufficient to employ the machine potential which we now have. Next, they must consider whether the machine potential we have now is sufficient, because, if we can supply our own market entirely, the question arises whether or not we can also obtain an export market for this board. Many countries in the world are dependent on either imported pulp or imported board for their requirements for packaging their foodstuffs and everything else. Surely, out of our waste paper—which is a cheap raw material—we ought to be able to work up an export trade if we can spare the capital to put up the enormously expensive plant to manufacture this board.

That brings me to the question of prices. The price of pulp, of course, is extremely high. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Swinton on standing up in these matters, with some little success at last, to the extortioners of Scandinavia. But waste paper is a cheap raw material, and it could become cheaper, because it has doubled over the last year, and, even if the price declined, I still believe the collection would not or need not drop off, though the local authority would get more and the voluntary associations would get less. I do not think the overall cost of collection would be any greater; it might be less, but the whole movement carries with it a great deal of voluntary effort and good will. To secure that that continues, I think it is essential that the price of board should always be fixed equitably with the price of waste paper. It would be a grave mistake if there was a tendency for the price of board to soar up, as it economically could do, to match the price of imported pulp, when at the same time this great semi-voluntary effort was going on to supply the manufacturers with raw material. They have an important good will and the best way in which they can keep that good will is to keep the price as low as possible. So much for waste paper.

Of non-ferrous metals, I think we are probably getting about all that can be found. I am not sure about milk bottle tops. There must be hundreds of millions cast loose into the world every year and I really do not know how many we are getting back. They are made of aluminium, and the Brighton Corporation tell me that 8d. a lb. is the right price for scrap aluminium. Obviously, if they are not being collected by the local authority, here is a fertile field for some voluntary organisation. Nobody to-day has mentioned our old friend the tin can. It is one of the problems of modern salvage. It is a revolting problem and a serious one. It is one of the virtues of the tin can that if it is buried it disintegrates in a few years, but much labour has to go in burying it. The local authority have to put the tin cans they collect through the destructor, squash them and bale them. I have been told by one local authority that it costs more to get up steam on the steam roller to flatten the tins than the price they get for the scrap tin. Selling baled cans at 75s. a ton is not an economic proposition. I would ask my noble friend's Working Party to examine carefully whether the maximum price for baled tin cans is being offered. I regard it as almost a social duty that industry should offer the highest possible price for that loathsome form of garbage.


The maximum economic price.


The maximum economic price for that particular form of garbage. I am not going to follow my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch into a subject on which he is a great authority—that of manure and ordure—but I know that some local authorities produce this dried stuff for sale and find considerable difficulty in getting rid of it. I am anxious to know why. Sawdust presents a problem in the smaller out-of-the-way mills, and I have no doubt that that question could be studied. During the war the Germans hoped to turn their sawdust into sugar. I am not sure whether they ultimately succeeded, but it might be worth while following up their researches.

I turn to scrap iron, of which we are desperately short. I agree with my noble friend Lord Morrison that the first thing we must do is to check the price. Are we organising scarcity here, as we have done in food for the last five or six years? Are we paying so low a price that the supply is drying up? I imagine that in the urban districts we are getting probably all that is made available, and the problem there is to see if more could be made available. A suggestion which has been made to me is that many engineering works have old standby plants which are kept because they may become useful. There is also that category of stores which is known as obsolescent stores, and which is generally somebody's "skeleton." Nobody likes owning up to a mistake in buying them. If the selling of these as scrap could somehow be coupled with an increased allocation of some desirable quantity of steel, I think we should see a general turning out of cupboards, and many people would be willing to admit their culpability in the past in buying what are now obsolescent stores.

When we come to the collection of scrap iron in rural districts, I do not believe we are getting anything like what we should, but I admit I am vague in my own mind about what is worthwhile scrap. Some guidance to the general public on that point would be of great value. In my part of the world there is hardly a wood that has not a dump in it of old bedsteads, motor-cycles and so on. Is that stuff of any value to industry or is it not? If it is, its collection presents some difficult problems. To start with, to whom does it belong? It is nearly always the residue of one or two cottages who have dumped it outside their own curtilage on to the land of a neighbouring landlord. Can anybody go and help himself? The obvious local agent for securing this stuff would be the Boy Scouts, but boy scouts with a hand-barrow cannot handle heavy scrap, and much of the stuff in these dumps is heavy. I pulled a motor cycle out of one of these holes once. We must have some proper agency, but the proper agency will never hear of these dumps. I suggest that if a proper agency exists and it does require the scrap in these dumps, a system of rewards to the local Boy Scouts should be instituted, so that on giving information about a dump in such and such a wood by such and such a road, the Boy Scout troop would get 5s. or 10s. reward and the official agency could clear it away. Of course, that presupposes that the scrap in these dumps is of some value, and I really do not know whether it is or not.

Finally, I come to pig food. I have checked up Lord Morrison's figures with my own, which are drawn from the Brighton area. Brighton is not only celebrated for rock for the human being but also for pudding for the pig. In Brighton they collect from an area inhabited by 330,000 people, and they sell 100 tons of pig food a week. If the recovery ratio is taken as the same for the whole of the United Kingdom, that means that we are collecting garbage from approximately 22,000,000 of our population, or about half. Having regard to the extremely enterprising private individuals who are also in the hunt and getting the best of the stuff, I think that probably there is little edible food garbage going to waste in this country. Brighton, with three-quarters of a pound a head per week, admit that enormous quantities, particularly of the best stuff, are lost to them through private enterprise. They sell this stuff, fortified with slaughterhouse offal, at £7 12s. 6d. a ton. If it is unfortified it sells at £6 12s. 6d. a ton. The analysis of the fortified material is supposed to be 6 or 7 per cent. protein 30 to 32 per cent. dry matter and 2 per cent. ash. I do not know the value of that as a feeding stuff, but there is a long queue for it—there is a much bigger demand than supply.

The price was last fixed in May, 1951. It may well be profitable to review whether the price is too low, because the higher the price they can sell at. the larger the area over which it would pay to collect, as there is some capital sum involved in pails, and so forth. I have a suspicion that the price is lower than could really be justified. But, as I said, having regard to the numerous herds of private enterprise pigs and flocks of chickens that are being fed on the most unsavoury-looking substances, I believe there is precious little in the food line which is going to waste. One can close on that rather more hopeful note, though it is still a depressing thought that we, who have lived as a rich nation for so many years, must now settle down to a life of real frugality such as our great grandfathers knew before us.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to transgress the rules of the House by making another speech, but as I have been asked two or three questions perhaps I may have permission to answer them. The noble Lord, Lord Douglas, asked about sewage sludge. Sewage sludge, I am told, is not at all satisfactory. It is so sanitarily treated—I was almost going to say humanely treated—that there is not much use left in it. Therefore, I do not think we shall get very much of value there. But that is very different from composting other town refuse with bracken—if one can find a use for bracken, that is really a blessing—or old straw. I believe some very good work has been done on that material, and it might well be followed up. Seaweed and peat seem to be rather in the nature of a long-range experiment. I want the Working Party to consider what can be done immediately, although I do not object at all to the appropriate Department dealing with the long-range matters. I want to emphasise again what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said. I hope the Working Party and, above all, the local authorities and industry will not look on this as a short-term emergency; I am sure that this needs a long-term plan. I will certainly take up the points made by my noble friend Lord Hawke. I do not know about milk tops—I thought the Ministry of Food were fairly happy about those—but it may be that there is something in what the noble Lord said.

I am sure that we must have a careful examination of the iron and steel scrap. There is no doubt that the big stuff is efficiently collected. On the other hand, one sees a great deal about the country, sometimes in large collections on farms. It may all be a matter of price. I am sure the right way to tackle the matter is to bring in the Iron and Steel Federation with the Working Party, together with the local authorities and, possibly, the National Farmers' Union, to decide what is an economic proposition. Finally, I really must reprove the noble Lord, Lord Douglas, for casting a slur, a doubt, upon "Tottenham pudding." I hope he will not try to undermine the confidence of either the local authorities, or the pigs. "Tottenham pudding" is good for both.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, on that note I should think we could finish this debate. It may interest the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, to know that the expression he has just used, "Tottenham pudding," was conferred upon the article by a distinguished member of the Royal Family. We have had an interesting discussion, and I do not think there is much difference between any of us, wherever we sit in the House. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.