§ 2.35 p.m.
LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government if they are aware that many rivers in Britain are polluted by untreated or inadequately treated sewage and by industrial effluent, so that beaches are spoiled. fish are killed and beautiful places are often unpleasant and sometimes disgusting, and if Her Majesty's Government will take action, and encourage and help local authorities to take action, to remedy this situation.]
My Lords, my right honourable friend is very much aware of the facts of the Question which has been raised by my noble and gallant friend. In particular cases the adequate treatment of domestic sewage and industrial waste is a very grave problem caused by housing and new industrial development. In the past years it has not been possible to authorise unlimited capital expenditure on sewage disposal schemes to keep up with this development. In the main that is the solution to the problem which has been raised by my noble and gallant friend. Nevertheless, I believe that the position is improving, if only a little. By the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, the consent of river boards is required for all new or altered discharges into rivers under the boards' administration. In general, close co-operation exists between the river boards and local authorities and the interested parties concerned, and new pollution now rarely Occurs.
Since 1945, some £237 million has been spent by local authorities in the United 1062 Kingdom as a whole upon new sewage works. In addition, industry has spent large amounts of money on the pretreatment of its own waste. The Trade Effluent Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Frederick Armer, K.C.B., is examining the current problems and is expected to make its Report in the course of the next year. On November 17, my right honourable friend sent a circular, No. 60/58, to all local authorities announcing the relaxation of capital investment for new sewage schemes. In 1957, in England and Wales, £24.9 million was authorised for sewage disposal schemes, and from January to October of this year £27 million has been authorised—a greater sum than ever before.
I should like to thank my noble and gallant friend for raising this question in your Lordships' House to-day, and for providing this opportunity to state the concern that my right honourable friend has for this subject. He has publicly emphasised his determination to clean up the country's river system so far as is practicable. The measures I have described will in time have a long and large part to play in the remedying of this situation.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the River Ribble on the West Coast, as indeed in the River Tyne on the East Coast, forty or fifty years ago there were 20,000 or 30,000 salmon coming up the river each season? Now there are only 300 or 400 in the River Ribble and only a handful, if any, in the River Tyne. That in itself the noble Earl may not think so very important, but it is not good, he may agree, for children to paddle and bathe in water in which salmon cannot live. Now that the Government are finding it possible and, indeed, desirable, to release a little more money and credit for local authorities, will Her Majesty's Government give a fair and reasonable priority to the cleaning up of our rivers, bearing in mind that even if this subject does not come first of all the charges upon us, if we do not have a programme for some years it tends to fall to the bottom of the list, and it is bad for the community, both as regards its health and, in the end, its wealth, that its rivers should be fi[...]hy.
My Lords, I beg to assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend is indeed aware of the situation that exists with the River Ribble and all the rivers in the industrial areas of the United Kingdom. Although I cannot say that I, personally, picked up my copy of the Angling Times, it has been put before my right honourable friend that the noble and gallant Lord, together with an honourable lady Member of another place held a meeting at Preston where this problem was discussed. I daresay it was the most lively and best attended public meeting that I suspect the noble Lord and the honourable lady from another place will hold this side of the next Election. I beg to assure the noble and gallant Lord that my right honourable friend has the River Ribble and all the industrial rivers under his special care, and the measures I have announced will go a long way to prevent the pollution which undoubtedly exists.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question interlocked with this? While it is true that the mid-November circular to local authorities gave them greater freedom to embark upon water schemes, I would point out that these schemes will mean greater extraction from the rivers unless, at the same time, a large-scale water storage scheme is carried into effect for the benefit both of the domestic supplies and of the rivers. Is not an adequate water supply one of the prime necessities of our age?
My Lords, I think that that is not entirely relevant to the Question on the Order Paper, but in the circular water schemes and sewerage go hand in hand. That is the purpose of the circular.
My Lords, may I ask whether it is not the case that the situation is very much complicated by the mingling of trade effluent with domestic sewage; whether there is any really good 1064 reason why the public should have to pay the cost of cleansing trade effluents which ought really to be borne by the manufacturers; and whether it is not possible for the Minister to take a sterner attitude in regard to the provision in the original Act of 1878 and the subsequent Acts under which the licence for the discharge of trade effluents into our streams and rivers has always proceeded?
My Lords, under the 1951 Act, through the co-operation of the river boards and the authorities concerned it is no longer possible to make new pollution. Whilst I agree that trade effluent is one of the most complicated difficulties for the sewage authority, nevertheless industry does provide a great deal of money for pre-treatment, and indeed local authorities often charge industry for the treatment at the works.
§ LORD LATHAM
Is the noble Earl aware that while it may be true that under the Act of 1951 new pollution cannot be created, nevertheless the existing pollution can be greatly added to?
My Lords, it should be possible under the Act, if authorities co-operate, for the interested parties to see that pollution is not greatly added to.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
Is the noble Lord not aware that since the passage of the Act referred to pollution has been very much increased by domestic effluent containing enormous quantities of detergents?
My Lords, a special Committee is at present sitting with regard to detergents and has already reported; and a copy of the Report is in your Lordships' Library. An Interim Report from the Standing Technical Committee on Synthetic Detergents is available to your Lordships, and the Committee will be reporting again next year.