§ 2.35 p.m.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DROGHEDA)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Drogheda.)
§ LORD McCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, I would apologise for having to weary your Lordships once again by some further remarks of mine with regard to this Private Bill. As your Lordships have just heard, a Select Committee, in spite of our debate on Second Reading, has passed the Bill, and therefore I do not propose to argue its terms once more But my postbag shows that considerable anxiety, and also, I fear some resentment, has been caused throughout Surrey by this measure; and I hope that in answering some few questions which I wish to put to the Minister he will be able to dissipate some of these anxieties. For if this Bill passes its Third Reading the whole responsibility passes to the Minister, as the object of the Bill is to give to the local council the right of appeal to the Minister over the head of the county council, and it is to him that I now address myself. I therefore ask him three questions of which I have given him notice. I hope that he will be able to give my friends in Surrey and myself satisfactory answers which will allay some of their anxieties.
The first point is a general one. This is, after all, a curious and probably a unique Bill. At any rate, in such research as I have made I can find no precedent for it; for it is a Bill promoted by a borough to curtail the legally enacted powers of its own county council, and 910 done with the express encouragement of the Minister. As your Lordships will have observed, the notice sent out by the promoters of the Bill expressly declares that it has the support of the Minister, that the Bill is right in principle and that the Minister recommends that the Bill should be allowed to proceed. I believe this is unprecedented, and I would ask, on general grounds, whether it is to be the policy of the Minister and his Department in future to encourage boroughs to pursue the course of Private Bill legislation to limit the powers of their own county council when, from time to time, they quarrel with them. I am sure it is the experience of your Lordships, as it is of myself, that from time to time many county boroughs have quarrels with their county council. If they are all to be encouraged to enact Private Bills when these quarrels occur, I believe there will be chaos. It would therefore be advantageous if the Minister were able to say that he does not regard this Bill as a precedent.
My second question is much more important to the people of Surrey and Reigate. It is a health question. I regard this as of paramount importance. There is considerable fear in the minds of the local authorities of Reigate, where this dumping is supposed to be going to take place—and I understand that these fears have been supported by the East Surrey Water Company at some period of these proceedings—that the effluent from the pit where Croydon are hoping to dump their refuse might percolate through the chalk and cause pollution of the local water supplies, with dangerous results to the health of local inhabitants. I am told that chalk is peculiar so far as water is concerned, and that water is apt to percolate long distances on an almost horizontal level in chalk. Croydon Borough themselves had the most disastrous experience of this very thing not so very long ago. Further, I understand that when inquiries were made, the Reigate Borough Council had official intimation that the run-off from this pit would be taken into what are known as the "foul sewers" of the Reigate Corporation and that in cases of torrential rain after a thunderstorm—and there was a heavy thunderstorm last Friday night in this very area—these foul sewers might be incapable of taking the whole quantity 911 of effluent and consequently some portion of the countryside might be polluted by effluent from the pit.
I want to put this point to the Minister most strongly: in the event of this Bill becoming law and an appeal being made to the Minister against the decision of Reigate Corporation not to allow this dumping, I ask that the Minister shall not give his verdict against Reigate if there is any possibility that there would be danger to health in the Reigate area through the use of this pit. I motor to London quite often by the road through Bletchingley and on through Merstham, up to the main Brighton Road. I have no doubt that some of your Lordships also do so. There is in Merstham, very close to where this pit is, a most admirable local development built since the War and laid out very well. Anybody who motors through there of an evening will see, to his joy, nice open spaces, modern houses and plenty of healthy looking children. It would be a disaster of the first magnitude if, the Minister having given permission, against the wishes of Reigate Corporation, for these Merstham people to use this pit, there should be an outbreak of typhoid or some other dangerous disease. It would be intolerable. I should like to get—and I am sure the Minister would be prepared to give—a strong assurance that health will be a paramount consideration with him in reaching his decision. I emphasise this only because I know that it is very much in the minds of those living in this area.
The third point is a more general one for Surrey. If I may put it forward, it is this: That if the Bill becomes law, and other districts of Surrey are available, therefore, on appeal to the Minister, to become dumping grounds for refuse from Croydon, the Minister will endeavour, by the use of his powers, in all normal cases to give grave consideration to the council in whose area, against their will, this refuse is proposed to be tipped. I feel that, of necessity the onus of proof should always be on the Croydon Corporation to show that it is vitally necessary for them to tip their refuse in these places, rather than that the onus of proof should be on the innocent other council who are under the 912 threat of no less than 64,000 tons or 65,000 tons of refuse being dumped in their area.
If your Lordships should not think it is a very serious thing to have 65,000 tons of refuse dumped against your will on your doorstep in the course of a year, I would read to you a few words from the Croydon Corporation Bill. It defines refuse in this way.any refuse (including trade refuse house refuse filth rubbish dust and other like matter)There are to be nearly 70,000 tons of it. Surely this should not be inflicted upon an unwilling local authority outside the Croydon area without the gravest and most overwhelming reasons being shown. I should like an assurance from the Minister that these considerations will be taken into full account and powers will not be used indiscriminately. Finally, I would say that if he can give the assurances for which I ask—and I confidently hope that he can—it will go a long way, I think, to assuaging the bitterness and the anxieties felt in Surrey.
As one who had the privilege of being the Member for a neighbouring borough to Croydon for some considerable time, may I also humbly address some remarks to Croydon. Most respectfully, I feel that the Croydon authorities who have stirred up this resentment in the rest of Surrey, should, if they receive these powers, proceed to act with the utmost circumspection and not override the wishes of their neighbours. In Surrey, the traditional friendship between boroughs has been of long standing. I am sure everyone connected with the county would wish these friendly relations which have been disturbed by this action to be restored in full as soon as possible. That will largely depend on the action of the Croydon authorities if they get these powers. I would also humbly suggest that Croydon, before they take any irrevocable steps, should once again consider incinerating their own rubbish rather than dumping it elsewhere.
My Lords, with these few remarks, and with confident hope that the Minister will give us satisfactory replies, I have not put down a Motion for the rejection of the Third Reading of this Bill. If I may, I would respectfully leave the matter in this way now to the Minister.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, has raised a question relating to transactions between Croydon Corporation and the County of Surrey into which I do not want to pry. But he has also raised a question of general importance which deserves consideration by the Minister who is responsible, and that is the question of whether the present methods of disposing of household refuse are adequate and satisfactory in a country as thickly populated as this one is. I do not agree with the noble Lord who has spoken that incineration is a solution to this problem. It has, in fact, gradually been given up everywhere that it has been tried, for the simple reason that it is terribly expensive and also that it tends to create nuisances of another character.
But the time has surely arrived when the Minister responsible for these matters and the local authorities should consider whether they cannot adopt the practice, which is already beginning to be adopted in countries abroad, and already in two districts in Scotland, of composting household refuse and turning it into a fertiliser which will maintain the fertility of the soil and so serve a really useful purpose, instead of spreading rubbish upon the earth in situations which, it is true, may in some cases lead to the pollution of water supplies—which are already being polluted for a great many reasons and which ought to be protected by every means in our power. I do not think it is proper to ask the Minister to say what attitude he is going to take with regard to this particular case which can only come to him now, as I understand, by way of an appeal, in which he would be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, but the general principle of this matter, which affects local authorities throughout the country, is one which deserves the most careful consideration.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD MANCROFT)
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton has told your Lordships, this is a Private Bill. I am afraid that on Third Reading I am not in a position to enter into discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, on compost and incineration. Furthermore, your Lordships must look elsewhere for final 914 guidance upon your attitude towards this Bill. But my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton has pointed out that, if the Bill becomes law, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will have certain obvious responsibilities, and he has directed towards me three questions, of which he was good enough to give me notice, concerning my right honourable friend's attitude.
My noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton said that this Bill, which amends the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, is unique, and suggested that your Lordships should have some assurance from me that it would not be regarded as a precedent. I readily admit that this Bill is unusual. I am not sure that I can agree with him that it is unique for a Bill promoted by one local authority to amend the Act of another local authority. As recently as 1955, it will be within your Lordships' memory, the Kent County Council successfully promoted the Kent Water Act, 1955. That Act amended Local Acts of the Margate, Ramsgate, Hythe, Tunbridge Wells and Rochester Corporations and of the Broadstairs and St. Peter's Urban District Council. Those authorities petitioned against the Bill, which nevertheless was passed, after being before a Committee of your Lordships' House for more than twenty days.
My noble friend then asked me for an assurance that if the Bill becomes law and an appeal is made to my right honourable friend in connection with the proposed dumping of refuse in a chalk pit near Reigate, my right honourable friend will not give his permission if there should be any danger to the health of local inhabitants through pollution of water supplies. I have no hesitation whatever in giving my noble friend that assurance. I can assure him that my right honourable friend would not allow an appeal, either in Reigate or anywhere else in Surrey, if he thought that by so doing he would endanger public health.
My noble friend's next point concerned the preservation of local amenities. He asked that the Minister should not allow indiscriminate tipping of refuse by Croydon. I can certainly give my noble friend that assurance without hesitation. My right honourable friend will certainly bear in mind all the points that my noble 915 friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton has made concerning the preservation of local amenities.
My noble friend also suggested, if I understood him correctly—and the suggestion has been made elsewhere—that the Bill has been promoted by the Croydon Corporation whilst being spurred on by Her Majesty's Government. I understand that that is not so. Except on one minor drafting point, which was put to the promoters after the Bill had been deposited, there have been no discussions of any sort with Croydon Corporation. I hope that the assurances that I have been able to give my noble friend upon the points which fall strictly within my purview will set his mind at rest upon this Bill.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, as I moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and in view of what the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton has said, perhaps your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments while I make some observations. This Bill is not designed to permit Croydon Corporation to dump refuse in Surrey or anywhere else. The object of the Bill is to give a right of appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government with regard to the depositing of refuse in Surrey. That is the point at issue. I venture to suggest that many of the points which the noble Lord has raised would naturally be taken into account by the Minister when arriving at any decision he may make affecting an appeal to him by one of the parties.
Parliament has conferred on three councils in the Home Counties—Essex, Middlesex and Kent—powers similar to those in the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, but in every one of these cases a provision such as is now designed for the Surrey County Council was incorporated. Recently, in the present Session, the Buckinghamshire County Council promoted a Bill, which I understand is now awaiting Royal Assent, and which, as deposited, contained a clause in practically the same form as Section 94 of the Surrey County Council Act, 1931, yet in Committee of this House that Bill was amended by inserting a right of appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government in the same sort of form as Croydon now asks. This Bill has 916 been before another place and before a Select Committee of that place; it has had a Second Reading here and been before the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, and in view of those circumstances I would suggest to your Lordships that it is right and proper for your Lordships to pass this Bill to-day.
There is one other point that I should like to make. The noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, talked about the relations between Croydon and the Surrey County Council and other councils in Surrey. For some years I was a Member of Parliament for the borough of Croydon and I know very well that there always was then the happiest of relations between Croydon—which, of course, is a county borough and not an administrative unit of Surrey at all—and the county council and other councils, and I feel certain, so far as Croydon is concerned, that the last thing that they would desire is to have any breach of that good relationship. I also feel certain that when the dust and storm which has been created recently in this matter has died down, the good relations that have hitherto always been maintained between the various authorities in Surrey will continue in their old happy form. I have much pleasure in supporting the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ LORD McCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, may I, with leave of the House, make one further comment? I am very grateful, and I am sure that my friends in Surrey will be grateful, for the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and for the last sentences of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, which I heartily reciprocate. I should like to point out one thing to him. I said that the Bill was unique, in that the county borough, a smaller organisation, is appealing against the powers of a larger organisation, the county council. In the example he gave, it was the larger organisation—the county—which sought to take powers to curtail the power of the smaller organisation. But that is only a minor point. I am certain that the assurances we have had to-day will be of great comfort to my friends in Surrey, and I will not oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.