HL Deb 03 December 1959 vol 219 cc1166-234

3.33 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to draw attention to the continuing pollution of the rivers, streams and estuaries of Britain; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is clear from the number of your Lordships in all parts of the House who have signified a wish to take part in this debate that the subject is one that arouses wide interest; and, of course, it is a subject that has no Party aspect and no political angle to it. Confronted with technical, administrative, legal and financial problems of cleaning the at present revolting condition of many of our waters, and reorganising our national affairs so that the increasing population and the expansion of industry cease to increase pollution in the future, one might understandably ask: Can we afford to remedy this state of affairs? Has this state of affairs gone so far that we must, in fact, accept continued pollution of our waters for years ahead? I would submit to your Lordships that a better question is: Can we afford, as a nation, not to have clean waters?

The waters in our streams, rivers and estuaries are a national asset that we must not despoil. They are a national asset from the points of view of sport, industry, amenities and the health of the nation. Very briefly—and I assure your Lordships that it will be very briefly—I should like to touch upon each one of these aspects. Taking sport first (and I give it priority as a keen fisherman myself, I confess) I would inform your Lordships that the fishermen of this country number some two million. There are some 3,000 angling clubs in the country. Fishing ranges from the float and the worm to the salmon fly, and among fishermen there are no class distinctions, no frontiers of outlook. Alt fishermen are sportsmen and all are companions. And yet all over our country the waters are being poisoned and fish life is being blotted out.

From the industrial point of view (and many of your Lordships may speak from that), our commercial net fishing, our inshore fishing and our oyster fishing are sources of great national income and very considerable employment. Many of your Lordships have first-hand knowledge around the country of how fisheries and oyster beds are being poisoned and many more are at the present time being threatened.

From the point of view of amenities, the amenities of the countryside belong to us all and none deserves to have to look upon and deal with dirty streams and muddy drains. Residents and holidaymakers around our tidal estuary waters are entitled to better conditions than they are having at the present time, and adults and children should not have to find beaches befouled by revolting untreated sewage, let out into the waters to be swept up and down by the tides and currents.

From the point of view of health, no one can accept children playing in foul waters, paddling in foul waters or bathing in such; and all round the country our medical officers of health are warning children and parents against letting children bathe—at the Thames at Windsor; at the River Trent at Burton; and in the Tyne, just to mention two or three. The Gateshead Medical Officer of Health and the Chief Health Inspector say: … bathers at Tynemouth should be warned against the dangers from pollution. The continuous build-up of evidence and the comments of responsible persons about the river's pollution and the amount of untreated sewage that flows into the sea around our coast, make the observation of the local Trades Council"— who took up the matter as regards supporting a prohibition of bathing— more than timely.

From the point of view of health and also from the agricultural aspect and that of our farm animals, Dr. Silverman in 1957 told the British Association that 90 per cent. of Britain's cattle drink sewage-polluted water. It is a horrible thought, and I suggest that we ought to pass a vote of thanks to the kidneys of the cows of Britain for the noble work they do in absorbing this pollution. So I maintain that in each of the directions which I have mentioned very briefly—sport, industry, amenities and health—the community are not getting the purity to which they are entitled.

Next, I should like to examine briefly why pollution continues, and in some cases increases, in spite of the work which is being done. I believe that the growth of pollution has in fact in past years outstripped the ability of local authorities and industry to tackle it. Local authorities have had to contend with the results of two wars and tremendous pressure to build the greatest number of houses at the lowest cost, and the first economy (and one could not in the past blame the local authorities) has been on sewage schemes large enough to cope with the current house building and big enough to cope with the future expansion of the population. There has been a natural reluctance by local authorities to load rates with the cost of schemes, because, as someone has said, there are no votes in sewers. It very often means loading rates with a burden which has no direct benefit to the ratepayer in the particular locality.

Then we have had the recurring economy drives and restrictions on capital expenditure resulting from the credit squeeze which are only now being lifted. As regards industry, again industry had to face two wars and the results of two wars. There has been a constant demand for industry to expand—new plants, new processes, new pollution. "Pour the waste into the rivers": that has been the cry in time of war. I do not think it mattered so much in time of war; the great thing was to get on with the job; but it is now that we are suffering from the results of that war effort. If Britain is to maintain her competitive power in the world new plants and the expansion of old plants are necessary, and new plants bring about new pollution and the expansion of old plants makes what may have been a trickle of pollution into a positive stream.

I should like to support what I have said by stating in broad outline, the classic case of the Tyne. That was once a clear water in which salmon ran up in great numbers. To-day, some 30 to 40 million gallons of untreated sewage pour daily into the Tyne estuary. That sewage is swept back and forth along 14 miles of estuary, which has some 2 million inhabitants living on its borders—and Newcastle alone is building 1,000 houses a year. No wonder the Medical Officer of Health for Tyne-side has given constant warnings about the dangers of possible diseases which will arise, and could arise, from this continued poison! The same condition as exists on the borders of the Tyne applies all round the coast, to varying degrees. Many of your Lordships know firsthand of similar cases in your own localities to that which I have quoted with regard to the Tyne. Let me quote only one more—the River Ribble. Seventeen million gallons of crude sewage is poured daily into the tidal waters of the Ribble, and 33 million gallons of treated sewage is poured daily into the upper reaches.

My Lords, I do not want to weary your Lordships beyond an example of one in each particular instance, but take an estuary case—the case of Gosport and Lee-on-Solent. There a sewage tank system was designed in 1906 for a population of 30,000. Come two wars, come the concentration of defence in that area, there has been a growth of population, and the population is now some 65,000. The tanks built in 1906 have to be bypassed, and untreated sewage is poured into the Solent, with the result that the beaches around there are in a terrible, revolting state as the sewage is swept up and down the Solent by the tides. It is the same all along some 16,000 miles of main rivers in England and Wales: chemicals, insecticides, detergents and sewage, endanger the water supplies, the health, the sport, and the pleasure.

I submit that any consideration of this question of pollution must also embrace the increasing extraction of water from the rivers by the various water authorities. That is a subject which really merits a debate on its own, and I touch upon it only to say that this raises the whole question of our long term water resources. Water is a precious raw material which we have taken for granted far too long, and unless we stop wasting and poisoning it we may be short of that precious raw material in future years.

I should like now for a moment to turn to what has been done to catch up in this race between what I might term increasing pollution, on the one hand, and its cessation and cure, on the other. I do not belittle the efforts which have been carried through by successive Governments, of both Parties, since the war. We have spent some £225 million—quite a lot of money—on sewage schemes since the war. Annual expenditure on sewage schemes has been rising. Before the war it was about £5 million a year; in 1956 it was £15 million; last year the figure was, I think, £33 million. And now no local authority schemes are held up by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for capital sanction because the credit squeeze has, as it were, come off.

Also I believe that industry is waking up to its responsibilities—sometimes after legal action, and sometimes after the threat of legal action. The Federation of British Industries has been giving great support and close technical study to this problem of pollution. There are examples which it will please your Lordships to hear. For instance, the British Sugar Corporation is spending half a million pounds at Cupar to try to get rid of pollution into the River Eden. Then Harwell is spending, I think, £1 million in rendering harmless its particular effluent. Crop spraying with chemicals which, when taken off the land by water, is dangerous, has been stopped. Then there has been the case of a company, Monsanto Chemicals, which is situated alongside the Welsh River Dee. After legal action some years ago, those in charge of that company took a most forward view. For instance, they have spent no less than £1¾ million in constructing and running purification works: and so successful have these been that I believe the experts say that the water that comes from those chemicals is even purer than the water that comes from the rest of the Dee. An interesting thing is that I was told when I was making those inquiries that that firm is now getting commercial demands from other concerns to acquire the "know-how" to do this.

My Lords, I am not going to enter into the legal position—it is so complicated, and there are those far more knowledgeable about it than myself—except to mention that Parliament in 1948 set up, and by the 1951 Act revised, river boards. There are now 32 of them. But the Minister retains the power to withhold the right of those river boards to prosecute without his consent in cases of pollution and even if that consent is given, the river board has no chance of getting a successful prosecution if the local authority shows that in fact it cannot do otherwise than dispose of its sewage in the manner in which it does at the present. Of course, I know that the Common Law rights remain, and that a man has a right to have pure water running in the river through his property: and it is interesting to note that, in ten years, the Anglers' Co-operative Association have dealt with 400 pollution cases in 26 counties. But there is no cure for this by legal sanction. Legal action may be necessary and right in cases of deliberate contravention or deliberate mismanagement or deliberate bad action, but there is no real cure in legal threats. The real cure lies in other directions.

My Lords, all that has been done in this race between pollution and its eradication is not enough. Now the Government claim, in the Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for 1958, that, The improvement in the state of rivers and streams over the country as a whole, referred to in the Report for 1957, was maintained during 1958. I would not deny that for a moment, but what I do say is that the pace of improvement is far too slow in relation to the gravity of the problem; and so long as further irreparable damage is being done, so long is the pace of Government action not adequate. The Government will, I believe, claim that local authorities have accepted the burden of sewage disposal and that there has been no demand by local authorities for central Government aid, as apart from rural grants. My Lords, if that be so in general, I would assure the Government that there are many local authorities who do not agree with the view that it is a local authority problem only and not a national problem. And when the Minister of Health says that if local authorities wish there is no restriction by him as regards consent, let me remind him that the local authorities hesitate to bring forward costly schemes on their rates when those schemes are often of no benefit to themselves.

Take the terrible condition of the Tyne which I mentioned just now. The cost of cleaning the Tyne in 1934 was taken at £3½ million. If you cleaned the Tyne to-day it would cost £20 million; and local authorities have not got that sort of money. Take the other case I mentioned, of Gosport and Lee-on-Solent. New sewage tanks would add, I am told, 5½d. in the £ on the rates. A proper sewage plant would cost just on £1 million and add close on 1s. 9d. to the rates. No wonder local authorities hesitate to undertake this sort of work. I have fished about one and a half miles below the town of Kelso on the Tweed, and what I saw coming down that river was disgusting. I need not give your Lordships an accurate description, but soiled lavatory paper came floating down in great quantities every morning from the untreated sewage which was poured into the Tweed.

Financially, it is a curious fact that in doing this anti-pollution work industry is better off than the local authorities. If an industrial firm spends £100,000 or £200,000 on purifying its effluent, it can write that off as a business expense. In fact, the Government are paying 8s. in the pound towards the firm's scheme, whereas local authorities get no such relief. I know that within the Minister's own Department a Committee called the Armer Committee is dealing with the financial aspects of pollution in relation to industry. I hope that when their Report comes out, this advantage which industry has over the local authorities will be taken into account. I do not wish to overstate the case. Some local authorities are doing good work—I take Bournemouth as an example of an authority which is really tackling the problem well—but others are holding back, for the reasons I have given.

May I conclude by making some definite proposals for improving the pace of the cure in this race against the poison? My proposals are divided into two sets. The first of my immediate proposals is this. I would ask the Government to review upwards the global capital allocation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Ministry of Health for new sewage works. Secondly, in order to encourage local authorities and relieve their rate burden, in suitable cases, would the Government bring the loan period up to sixty years, which is the same as for housing, instead of thirty years as at present? If that were done, it would give tremendous relief to the rates burden which the introduction of a sewerage scheme entails. My third request is: would they treat the Armer Committee's Report, when received, as an urgent matter? My fourth short-term request is: will they accept that it is now time to review the functions, the powers, the constitution and the workings of the river boards, in order to see where improvements are due? I know that another place has given a Second Reading to a Private Member's Bill which would bring estuary waters within the area of control of river boards, but I am thinking away beyond that. I think that the time has now come, since the river boards were set up in 1948 and reviewed in 1951, to have a "look-see" whether there could not be improvements and additions, and perhaps reductions here and there, to the present powers of the river boards.

On the long-term view, I have only two proposals to make. The first is to ask whether the issue of the nation's water supplies, their adequacy, their purity, their future conservation and their future development, is brought sufficiently violently in front of the nation by the Central Advisory Water Committee which advises the Minister. That Committee meets twice a year and has three sub-committees which report to it. If your Lordships have gone through this voluminous Departmental Report, you will find in the middle that two pages are devoted to water works. I question whether the tempo of an advisory committee to the Minister, meeting twice a year and with three sub-committees, is really adequate for the magnitude of the problem.

The great question, which may be the solution of our water needs in future, is disposed of in three lines in one of the sub-committee's reports. I refer to the possibility of the distillation of fresh water from sea water. If we can get ahead with that, it may well solve many of our water shortage problems, and we have to remember that a water shortage is forecast for after 1965. The subcommittee's report says: In the future the processes of de-mineralisation and distillation may be further developed to a point where it will be practicable to use more tidal water for both industrial purposes and public supplies, but at the present stage of development the cost is in general greater than that of piping water over long distances. I do not think that that is an adequate way of dealing with what many of us think is one of the great hopes of the future. I am told, on authority, that the most recent development in the tech nique of sea-water distillation suggests that, particularly when associated with the production of electricity in coastal areas, fresh water produced in this way can be competitive in cost with water supplied from a modern conventional catchment scheme. The matter must not be allowed to rest here.

I believe that there is a case now for a high-powered authoritative inquiry into all these matters, quite apart from the excellent current work which is being done by the Central Advisory Water Committee. I hesitate to suggest a Royal Commission, because Royal Commissions are supposed to be long in their deliberations and ponderous in their Reports, but I would say that here is a case where a Royal Commission on our water supply, its quality and quantity, now and in the future, would be appropriate. It need not take the members of the Commission a desperately long time to inquire into and report on the whole matter. The situation, short and long-term, is a serious one. I think it is just as urgent as the traffic problem, if less spectacular, and it is just as threatening to our social and industrial wellbeing. I beg to move for Papers.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, from this side of the House I welcome the Motion which the noble Lord has placed before us this afternoon. At the commencement of his speech the noble Lord said that it was not a contentious motion. I agree, and I would add that there is no semblance of a political complexion about it. It has been said that some of our rivers smell just as bad to blue and red alike, and that may well be so. The Motion touches a topical point, because a Bill on this subject came before another place a few days ago and will in due course come to your Lordships' House. The great interest that is being taken in the question of water supplies is obvious from the number of speeches which were made on this Bill in another place and from the number of noble Lords who wish to take part in to-clay's discussion. I think, therefore, that the matter will receive general acceptance in your Lordships' House and I hope that what will be said will encourage the Government to look upon this as a matter with which they well may deal.

I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, from Gosport to the Tyne and into Scotland, and I want to deal primarily with non-tidal rivers in my own area. It is true that we have certain tidal rivers in East Anglia, but they are very few. I wish to refer to the latest Report of the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board—and in doing so perhaps I should apologise to my noble friend Lord Albemarle, who is a member of that Board. I notice that he is on the list of speakers this afternoon, and possibly he will refer more fully to the Report.

The Report shows that the Board wish to record an improvement in quality of the non-tidal waters. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has referred to the pollution of other rivers and waters, but it seems to toe from this Report—and I think your Lordships should know of it—that there has been an improvement during the last year in the waters in our rivers, and in two cases which are mentioned a very marked improvement indeed. The Report also indicates that there is growing among local authorities an awareness of their duties in respect of the cleansing of the rivers, and I think that, possibly as the outcome of our debate to-day, we may create some public feeling about it and some desire that improvements should go even further than has been the case up to now. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred to the question of industry in regard to pollution, and I am also able to say that in this area it is obvious that industry is co-operating with the authorities and improving the position in regard to its effluents into the rivers. Tribute is paid in the Report to the larger industries. The particular sinners are sometimes the smaller industries which have not the means or the capital to make improvements.

I want to say a word or two about the problem from the point of view of the farming industry. We have our problems, and they grow year by year, due to different methods of farming. As the noble Lord has said, the application of various fertilisers and other things have some effect upon the waters in our streams. There is, from the drainage point of view, also, the matter of washing potatoes and carrots, which has the effect of silting up the streams and making the work of the drainage boards more difficult. Silage, too, particularly in regard to peas, is a problem which I hope will be overcome in the near future. Another problem arises from the increase in the irrigation of land by spraying. This often has the effect of taking water from the streams—unless it is on the main, as I think it sometimes is—making pollution more likely and making silting more difficult to deal with.

I am glad to say that local authorities are co-operating, but they are sometimes difficult in regard to sewage disposal. It is obvious, I think, as the noble Lord has said, that the increase in housing developments creates a problem which we shall have to consider seriously in the future. I do not wish to detain other noble Lords who are anxious to play their part in this discussion, and in conclusion I would just endorse the requests and suggestions made by the noble Lord at the end of his speech and hope that the Government will give them serious consideration.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I think the community as a whole in Great Britain, urban and rural, must be deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for raising this matter in the House to-day. The noble Lord has in his speech quite admirably and fully covered the subject, and in the few minutes which I intend to take up all I propose to do is to emphasise one or two of the points he has made. To my mind—and I raised this question earlier in the year—pollution and water storage facilities are intimately related and cannot be separated and the question of pollution cannot be solved without adequate storage facilities.

On June 30 in this House I raised the whole question of rainfall storage facilities, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, replied to the Question I asked [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 217, col. 440]: … how many gallons of water were represented by the rainfall in Scotland and England and Wales in 1957, and for how many gallons were national and municipal storage facilities available? The noble Earl, in reply, said: … in 1957 the rainfall in Scotland was estimated to be 23.3 million million gallons, and for England it was estimated to be 29.8 million million gallons. Your Lordships will forgive me for quoting these figures again, but they may not have come to the notice of some noble Lords. The noble Earl went on to say (col. 441): Public water undertakers have storage facilities for an estimated 76,000 million gallons and 222,000 million gallons respectively. Those figures take no account of water stored in natural lakes, underground strata and canals or in the storage provided by hydro-electric works, industry or private agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in the course of his speech, referred briefly to the question of extraction. We all know that the greater the extraction from the rivers, the lower the rivers, and, consequently, the more forceful in its effect becomes pollution.

In an interesting pamphlet which was issued by the Anglers' Co-operative Association, they deal with this point and say—if I may be allowed a quotation: Lastly, there is water extraction. More and more water is being extracted from underground sources or from the headwaters of rivers, and returned lower downstream as sewage effluent. The result is that effluents which were purified sufficiently to be harmless when the river was delivering its full volume of clean water become harmful partly because there is less water coming down and partly because the water that comes is not so clean. The same pamphlet also says: Similarly, water supply undertakings promote schemes for extracting water without providing for sufficient compensation water in times of extreme drought"— and some of us are aware that that is exactly what happened this year during the period of extreme drought through which we passed— to dilute the effluents entering the river, and the industries and sewerage authorities discharging effluents into the stream let the schemes go through without serious opposition, thinking that if pollution results because of the reduction of the flow of the river they cannot be held responsible. I do not wish to detain the House any longer on that particular point, except to emphasise that until the water storage facilities are adequate, we are bound, in times of drought, and indeed at other times, to have over-extraction from the rivers;, and as a result of that over-extraction we have, of course, increased pollution.

The noble Lord who has just sat down referred to the increase of agricultural irrigation. I see that in the 1959 Report of the Central Advisory Water Sub-Committee on the Growing Demand for Water there is this reference to this particular aspect of the situation: No allowance has been made in our estimates for water for agricultural irrigation. Estimates of demand for this purpose are largely speculative because irrigation is still in its infancy in this country"— as the noble Lord and other noble Lords know well— and it is difficult to say to what extent the farming industry will develop irrigation methods on land which has no immediate access to cheap water. It is clear, however, that the potential demand is very great.… My Lords, if the potential demand is very great, greater and greater becomes the demand for adequate storage facilities. In this connection there was an interesting article in the Field of to-day. The article is headed: Failure to meet the farmers' growing irrigation demands emphasises the urgency of a national water policy. It is pointed out in the substance of the article: No allowance is made in these estimates for water for irrigation, simply because no one can say how the practice will develop in the next ten years.… So inevitable trouble lies ahead for the irrigators. Even the present rate of increase of irrigation will result in the demand for water exceeding the average supply by 1965. The point I want to urge upon Her Majesty's Government is that this dreadful subject of pollution—because it is a dreadful subject—can never be adequately solved without adequate storage facilities. I subscribe to the five requests which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made to the Government. I go further, and I support the request made in the Field to-day, when it says that the farmers' growing irrigation demands—I say the general demands of the country—emphasise the urgency of a national water policy. I hope that the Government will see their way to set up some kind of committee—not a Royal Commission—even if it be a departmental committee, in order to review in all its aspects the need for a national water policy and to make a report upon it.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I will be very brief, because it seems to me that the case for consideration of this matter has been admirably put by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and I do not want to go over the same ground or to repeat arguments that he has so well made. About a year ago, I was asked to preside at a meeting in Preston at which many people wanted to protest against the disgraceful condition of the River Ribble, which the noble Lord mentioned. The interesting point I wish to mention to your Lordships is the number of people who were at this meeting. There were over 400 people there, and noble Lords will know that it is unusual for anyone to go to a meeting now, when there are so many other attractions. There were medical officers of health, county councillors, riparian owners, fishermen, representatives of fishermen's societies, both professional and amateur, and a great many representatives of local authorities and hotel keepers who are interested in holiday resorts. There is, therefore, a considerable public interest in this matter, and it is not a concern of only a few people or, indeed, a few fishermen.

It is my experience, as well as within my knowledge, that we are poisoning our people; we are fouling our beaches and we are killing our fish. These things ought to stop. Everyone who advocates a cause tends to think that it is more important than any other cause, and we all come to Parliament and ask for this and that. But it seems to me that at the beginning of a new Parliament is the time when the Government should lay down some kind of priorities as to what it can do over four or five years, and how much money it can spend on this and that. That is a good reason, it seems to me, for the noble Lord to raise this matter early in a new Parliament. I hope that the Government will feel that cleaning up our rivers, or encouraging local authorities to clean up our rivers, and, where necessary, giving them the appropriate help, is a priority which Britain ought to afford. I would submit that the case for doing it has been made out by the speeches which we have heard, and that it is not necessary for me to repeat what has been said or to add to what has been said.

But I will just say this. Some few months ago the present Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, went on record as saying that our rivers were in a disgraceful condition, and that he, for one, would do all he could to put that right; and Mr. Brooke, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, said that he would like to be the Minister for clean rivers as well as the Minister for houses. We therefore have the outspoken support of two members of the Cabinet in this matter, and it ought not to be too difficult to persuade them that this is an important matter to which attention should be given.

If fish die in the rivers, they cannot be healthy for children to paddle in. It has been said on some authority that some of the poisons which arise out of sewage induce diseases, including polio. These points should weigh with us. Finally, a river is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, but only if it is clean. The number of people who can enjoy a river because they live on it or because they visit it is legion. The noble Lord has already told your Lordships that between 2 and 3 million people go fishing. That is not an inconsiderable matter. It seems to me that no sewage should go untreated and that it should be the aim of Government and local authorities to approach that ideal. No industry should be allowed to put into a river an effluent that is damaging to fish or to health or to the vital life of the river itself. I cannot feel that the technical value of any process is sufficiently great to inhibit us from saying to industrialists, "If you cannot do that process without fouling the river you must think again and not do the process." I beg to give the utmost possible support to my noble friend in his plea that the Government give this matter a real priority and pay attention to what has been said, and I hope the noble Earl who replies may be able to tell us that that is in the Government's mind.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House, the more so since, first. I am only a very recently elected Scottish representative Peer, and, secondly, I have to compete against the last "new boy", the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, whose mastery of rhetoric has long been recognised in another place and whose maiden speech in your Lordships' House last week cannot have caused him anything like the trial which it is my privilege to undergo to-day.

I think that before I put to your Lordships my own points on this subject I should declare my interests. I am the owner of farmland on the banks of the Forth and also, very much to my cost, or very often to my cost, the owner of certain salmon fishings in that river. I would stress that those salmon fishings are not on those parts of the river that can be fished by rod and line but are tidal water fishings, which, by law, can be fished only by net and coble. After you have heard what I have to say your Lordships will realise that my financial interest is very small indeed, and that, as conditions are at present, it is not likely to be any larger for many years to come. I would also add that I am the Chairman of the Forth Conservancy Board, a member of the Forth River Salmon Fishery Board and a member of a local authority closely concerned with the drainage of every form of effluent into the river.

During the debate last week on the Second Reading of the Radioactive Substances Bill the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Science, stated that 35,000 plaice had been marked and let loose into the waters of the Irish Sea with a view to recovering as many as possible to examine them for radioactivity. The noble and learned Viscount was able to say that about half that number had been caught alive in the nets of the trawlers for scientific examination. I could have told the noble and learned Viscount that if he had let those 35,000 plaice loose in a certain stretch of the tidal waters of the Forth he would have been able to recover every single one of them dead, not from radioactivity but through suffocation.

I have two questions to ask the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, who I understand will be replying at the end of this debate. I ask them now in case, in my enthusiasm, I should forget to put them understandably at a more appropriate time at the end of my speech. These questions, in all simplicity, are these. First, when is the Report of the Committee on the Drainage of Trade Premises issued by the Department of Health for Scotland in 1954 to be implemented; and secondly, why does the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Bill, which was the subject of discussion in another place on Thursday last week, specifically exclude the rivers of Scotland?

In order to justify those two questions I think it is necessary to give your Lordships some information concerning the Forth River, and I believe that this information might well be applicable to many other rivers in the United Kingdom. For instance, so far as other rivers are concerned—and this is another Scottish example—your Lordships may have seen in the Press not long ago that the incidence of typhoid at a certain place on the Clyde estuary is very marked because the people, in their innocence, have been eating shellfish from that source. This clearly indicates, as has been pointed out by noble Lords already, that polluted rivers are a source of disease and ill-health, and that their designation as "nothing more than open sewers" is true enough.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that the Forth is one of the major rivers of our country. Many must have passed over the three bridges which cross the tidal waters during their progress on holiday to the North of Scotland and back. Not only does the Forth give industrial employment to many Scots at Rosyth and Grangermouth, and other smaller seafaring installations: it also provides, or used to provide, considerable employment for the adventurous folk who were prepared to earn a living from the fishing of salmon and other types of fish. In the present state of the river it is not surprising that there has been over the years a great reduction in the commercial salmon fishery industry. Why is this? For the simple reason that for many weeks, and even months, in the year not one single fish of any genus is able to get alive through the barrage of pollution which exists at certain points at certain important times of the year in a certain important part of the tidal river. In this stretch of the river the dissolved oxygen content of the water has been known to fall to around 20 per cent., whereas a healthy fish needs at least 50 per cent. to survive. The result is that in summer, except in times of spate, no fish of any sort can survive the passage through this substance known as water which they have to encounter. If ever there was a modern case of the ancient test of "running the gauntlet", the fish in the Forth are the prime example; and they attempt it at their peril.

I would say that the powers who produce the basic laws with regard to the purification of our rivers have not always taken into account the characteristics of individual rivers. For instance, the River Forth is tidal up to Stirling, a distance of 27½ miles from the Forth Bridge, which is well inside the eastern limit which I hope will one day come under the jurisdiction of the River Purification Board. At present the Board have no more than limited powers even over the non-tidal stretch, and into this non-tidal stretch only an infinitesimal amount of noxious effluent and sewage is discharged compared with that discharged into the river as a whole. I would go so far as to say that at least 95 per cent. of all pollution coming into the river is discharged into its tidal waters. Assuming that one of the aims of purifying our rivers is to encourage fish life, what is the point of purifying a portion of a river to which, at many times of the year, fish cannot get, and from which they cannot, if they wish, escape? It seems to me to be, to use a current expression, rather "barmy".

Before I came down from Scotland to take part in this debate I consulted some of my fishermen friends. Their opinion about the number of salmon caught then and now in the tidal river was most revealing. I discovered that since about 1920 the number caught annually has shown a steady decrease, so that if we give the catch of 1920 an index of 100, 1959 produces an index of very much less than 10. This is worse by far even than the decrease in the spending power of the pound over the years in question, and has inevitably led to unemployment in an industry which has been renowned in times of war for producing the very best naval material, and in times of peace a highly nutritious kind of food.

But, my Lords, it is not only the fish and the fishermen who have suffered, and continue to suffer, and it is not only the health of the public with which I am concerned. Your Lordships are aware that Scotland's economy is dependent to an increasing extent on the tourist industry, and that fly-fishing is now a much more popular pastime than it has ever been before. Noble Lords have already pointed that out. I hope that this fact is taken into account when legislation is made to purify the rivers of Scotland but I am not sure that it is. I am not myself a devoted angler, but many of my friends and relations are; and although it seems that there is a certain thrill to be obtained from this sport even if you catch nothing, I am certain they would admit that something in the creel is better than a blank day's flogging.

I realise only too well how difficult it is to be fair to all concerned, and that there are many problems to be resolved, particularly with regard to industrial and trade effluent. These problems are very well exemplified by the divergence of opinion shown in the recommendations made in the Report of the Committee on Drainage of Trade Premises, issued in 1954. Your Lordships will remember that there was a minority recommendation that existing agreements, many of long standing, between the industrialists and local authorities as to the discharge of trade effluent into local authority sewers should be sacrosanct. The majority thought otherwise, and it seems to me that this divergence of opinion is the reason why the implementation of the recommendations of the Report has laid in the "Pending" basket for so long.

It is a difficult problem, but there is no question in my own mind that any such agreements must continue to be honoured. The British people have before now given most forcefully their decision on the rights and wrongs of "tearing up pieces of paper," and I believe that this matter can be resolved by goodwill. This goodwill exists to a large extent among the industrialists and the traders and local government on the banks of the Forth, because, although they are not bound to do so now, industries and the local authorities who plan new outfalls of effluent and domestic sewage into the tidal waters have in many cases shown themselves only too anxious to comply with the rules of the Purification Board—as I say, even though they do not legally have to do so at present. This, I regard as a most healthy state of affairs. I am certain that old-established industry, given a quid pro quo, in the form of some sort of financial assistance, would show equal co-operation when it comes to sorting out this problem of existing agreements.

I therefore ask the two questions which I have mentioned earlier: when the Report of the Committee on the Drainage of Trade Premises is going to be implemented, and why the Clean Rivers Bill specifically excludes the rivers of Scotland? My Lords, I would sit down now, but I cannot do so without using, no doubt at my peril, a metaphor of the cricket field: that your Lordships will have noticed that there is not much shine on the new ball, but at least it is a maiden over.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite sure that we shall all be unanimous in saying how much we welcome the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. It is possibly a reasonable reflection to make—perhaps the Scottish Members of your Lordships' House will not object to my saying this—that Representative Peers from Scotland generally arrive for a maiden speech with none of the usual handicaps of making such a speech in a House of Parliament, because they come with the kind of experience for which they have been specially elected by their fellow Peers. When one looks at the record that the noble Earl has in numerous spheres, but especially in his knowledge of local government and all the special questions in which he has shown himself to be interested, one can understand why we have had such an excellent maiden speech, spoken with clarity and forthrightness, and an indication that at some time or another we on this side of the House shall have to be careful what we say to him, because his humour will surely be quite sharp and quick in retort. I hope that we shall often hear from him in this House.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for introducing this Motion this afternoon. It is one of great importance. It is important from the point of view of the welfare of the State at large in regard to health. It is important in regard to the general state of our population at large in respect of water supply—"precious" was the word that the noble Lord used; and precious indeed it is. It is most important for industrial uses, and becoming increasingly so with the entry of electrical and atomic industry into our general economic life. It is most important to agriculture, as 1959 has shown in quite considerable areas of our rural production.

I may say that no one has been more consistent and active in dealing with that aspect of the question than the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, and he will be able to support me, I am sure, because I have a smallish farm down in the East of the country (for which my noble friend, Lord Wise, has been speaking to-day) and from May 1 until the end of September the district where my farm is situated did not get more than one inch of rain. That is a very small aid to the production of agriculture in that particular area, and, whatever may be said about the effect on our general water supply of the development of irrigation, there is not the slightest doubt that in many areas, especially in the North-Eastern section of our country, irrigation will have a greatly increased part to play; and the results of it have to be met.

The noble Lord referred at the outset of his speech very specially to fishermen and to the effect of pollution upon fish in general, and there is no need for me to add anything about his presentation of that part of his case, with which I thoroughly agree. One of the main reasons why I have intervened in this important debate to-day is that I live on the East coast of Essex, and we make very important contributions to oyster production in that area. Colchester natives, I think, are just as good as, if not better than, Whitstable's and those from other places. Certainly the industry has been of great importance to all those connected with the estuaries of the Colne, the Blackwater, the Crouch and the like, and there are grave anxieties among those who get their living from this small but very important industry about the health of the nation.

The facts stated by the noble Lord who introduced the Motion could be amplified in some respects by the experience of the oyster fishermen in regard to general pollution and sewage, and no doubt there are Members in your Lordships' House who will recollect that not so many months ago we had to have quite a campaign to deal with cases of typhoid that were arising and which were said to be due in some respects to poisoned oysters. Nor is there any doubt at all that a good many polio cases which arise after visits to seaside places are likely to be due to infection in the first instance by untreated sewage which had gone into waters which finally sweep up and down the coasts on which holidays are spent. All that makes the matter very important indeed, and at the moment I cannot see any better approach that could be made towards finding a solution of the problem than the one that has been submitted by the noble Lord, especially in the direction in which he amplified it towards the end of his speech. I agree with him that it seems clear that the existing Government machinery is not adequate enough to obtain in a sufficiently short time the collected, considered and analysed information which would enable Parliamentary and legislative steps to be taken to assist in the final solution.

I would not agree with the noble Lord on one of his little quips. I would not agree that there are no votes in sewage. It may well be that votes will be much more active as a result of ill-treated sewage: if we let it go so far the population will rebel about it. Nor do I think we should forget that, while we press for this very important inquiry, in the past fifty years there has been remarkable progress in the general health of the population. A great deal has been done to meet the growing problems which towns have had to face in obtaining water supplies for their expanding areas and increasing populations. Those of us who have experience do not want to withhold credit from local authorities for all the work they have tried to do in finding a solution to these problems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, in the industrial areas the critics of the local authority very often come under the leadership of the local fishermen. Glancing round the House to-day I saw sitting there my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Riverdale, who is a leading industrialist in Sheffield. It reminded me that in the Sheffield area we used to speak very proudly of what had been the beautiful Valley of the Don. Often the local authority used to get strong representations from the Sheffield working-men fishermen who found that they had to go increasingly farther afield to get all the fish they wanted, because of the way in which the river had suffered from the heavy industrial demands which had to be made upon it. I recall that both Edward Carpenter and John Ruskin, who wrote some of his works at the top of the lovely valleys on the outskirts of Sheffield, had wonderful things to say about the beautiful Valley of the Don, but we must agree it has deteriorated since. That is typical of the position of fishermen all over the country.

I am very anxious that local authorities should not be thought to have been as a general rule backward in trying to deal with the subject, but they have had considerable handicaps. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord who brought in the Motion said, that in some respects handicaps which have been operating, such as the credit squeeze, have now been removed. On the other hand, however, local authorities continue to suffer from the very high rates of interest involved in the raising of capital expenditure for purposes of this kind. While I do not want to stress that point this afternoon, it is surely one of the matters that should come within the purview of any Committee or Commission of Inquiry we might set up, perhaps as a result of this debate in your Lordships' House to-day.

I do not wish to take up any further time, because there are so many speakers down to speak, but I repeat that it has been a great pleasure to listen to the debate so far, and we are obliged to the noble Lord who opened it. We trust that the Minister who is going to reply at the end of the debate will be able to give us some hope that the Government will move in the direction of having an urgent, comprehensive and properly qualified body set up to inquire into and report upon what can be done to improve the situation.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that the great number of your Lordships who are taking part in this debate reflects admirably the tremendous interest taken in the country in this very distressing and serious problem. As we are all, I believe, agreed on what the aims should be, I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me to say a little about the practical question of controlling pollution in our rivers and, in particular, in rivers flowing through heavily populated and industrialised areas. We live in an industrial society and that has brought with it great concentrations of people. It has brought with it, too, we are all glad to say, improved standards of living, better housing, with more and more people getting the benefits of piped water supply and more water being used for sanitary and other purposes. At the same time, the industries which are at the base of all this are not only turning out more products; they are also turning out more waste, all of which has somehow to be disposed of.

The natural channels for the disposal of waste in a country like ours are undoubtedly our rivers. People sometimes say (and I believe that this has been mentioned this afternoon) that this or that river is like an open drain. In my view, that is exactly what a river ought to be; but it should be a clean and healthy drain, not a foul one. If we neglect the use of our rivers I believe that we shall be in very serious difficulty in discovering how to dispose of all this waste matter; indeed, I should doubt whether it was possible at all. Through the bounty of providence our rivers have built into them a wonderful system for the disposal of organic waste. By and large, it is very like the system that man puts into sewage disposal plants. Countless millions of microorganisms in the river, under suitable conditions, will attack organic waste, break it up and render it harmless. The principal condition, of course, is the presence in the water of a sufficient quantity of dissolved oxygen. I do not want to go into technical details, and indeed. I am incapable of doing so; but this is a point of such importance that I feel it has to be mentioned.

The total quantity of dissolved oxygen in our water is very small. In pure water, under normal temperature conditions, I believe that it amounts to not more than 10 parts per 1 million—that is, when the water is saturated with oxygen. This very small quantity, and even a great deal less than that, is sufficient to enable this natural process of purification to be carried on, always provided that the pollution load put on the river is not too great. That, of course, is the nub of the problem. In a thickly populated area with a lot of industry it is almost inevitable that the amount of waste products will be more than any neighbouring river can possibly deal with by those natural processes, and so it is necessary to construct sewage works and undertake purification of industrial effluents.

Even so, we should not forget that the rivers are still capable of looking after quite a lot of this organic waste, and it would be wasting the value of our rivers as a national asset, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has mentioned, if we did not give them something to do. I believe it is for that reason that the London County Council, who have always throughout their history been very conscious of their responsibilities in this matter and carried them out splendidly, in the vast and costly scheme they are now undertaking, are not planning to purify the whole of their sewage 100 per cent., because that would be unnecessary. I am afraid I have not the figures, but I believe that the aim is to deal with 100 per cent. of the sewage by what I believe is called "primary" treatment, which is mainly sedimentation, and 70 per cent. by "secondary" treatment, which I believe is called the "activated sludge system". It is calculated, and confidently expected, that the remainder can be looked after by the river.

The capacity of a river to cope with these effluents depends not only on the quality of the effluent but also on its volume in relation to flow, a point mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. The Royal Commission which in 1908 established the standard by which sewage effluents are still graded, assumed an 8 to 1 dilution; but it sometimes happens, if a lot of water is extracted, or for some other reason—perhaps after a hot dry summer—that we cannot get an 8 to 1 dilution and conditions which are satisfactory in a normal year then become unsatisfactory. Moreover, we have small streams where it is very difficult to get an 8 to 1 dilution. My mind goes to the River Wandle, which may be known to some of your Lordships and which rises near Croydon and flows into the Thames. I believe that, as a result of water extraction, the source of the Wandle has ceased to exist and that, in practice, its source is now the Croydon sewage works. I believe that that produces very high quality sewage effluent, but there is no dilution whatever. The point I believe it is important to remember is that the effect on an effluent is also dependent upon whether the water diluting it is pure. It may happen that the water which is to provide dilution has already been polluted up-river and has lost either the whole or a large amount of its oxygen.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, in his interesting maiden speech, referred to the Forth and said the content of dissolved oxygen was down to 20 per cent. I should consider that he is a very lucky man, for over large parts of the Thames we are down to 0 per cent. of dissolved oxygen; and the result is that we have to look at the river as a whole and not merely at one particular point. All this tends to show what an extremely complicated matter this is; and while we are all agreed on what should be done I am led to believe that any rules or regulations that are made should be made only after very careful consideration of the facts, and should be applied with discretion and with knowledge of the particular circumstances of a particular river.

With regard to the River Thames, about which I know a little, we have had a Working Party from the Water Pollution Research Laboratory (which, as your Lordships may know, is an off-shoot of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) engaged for many years on a thorough study of the problem as it relates to the Thames, and we are hoping that their Report will be available next year. I firmly believe that that Report will be of great value not only to those of us who are concerned with pollution of the Thames but to those concerned with other rivers, where no doubt conditions are similar.

By way of illustration of the complications of the matter I wonder whether I might say a little about the lower stretch of the Thames, with which for the last year or two I have been closely connected. The Thames has rather a bad reputation. One hundred years ago Members of your Lordships' House and of another place were complaining bitterly about the stench of the river outside these walls, and I believe that the windows had to be kept permanently closed. That position has improved, but other stretches of the lower Thames have been giving rise to difficulty, and in the early 1950s the position appeared to be worsening. This was quite clearly due in the main (and I do not think there is any doubt about this), to the London County Council's sewer outfalls. Here I would emphasise that I lay no blame whatever on the Council for this state of affairs. The Council have always been anxious to get ahead with the development, enlarging and improvement of the plant. They were held up, first by the war and then by inability to get permission to spend capital. In fact, it was a joint deputation from the County Council and the Port Authority which eventually persuaded the Minister, in 1950, that this development should go on. The work was started in the following year. It is to take twelve years and to cost, I believe, some £25 million. The first part of the scheme, as your Lordships may have seen, was opened only a few weeks ago. I think it can be said that we are already getting some benefit from that development. In fact, reports show that for the last two years the position has been measurably better in the reaches of the Thames affected. That is one side of the picture.

On the other side we have the smaller local authorities which, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, no doubt find considerable difficulty in raising the money for these purposes and perhaps, because their own ratepayers are not directly affected, are less eager to do it than they might otherwise be. I have in mind one particular case. It is perhaps better not to mention a name, but there is a borough council whose effluent was first queried in 1933. It was the subject of long, but quite fruitless discussion for several years. Then came the war; then the period when there was no expenditure on this sort of work; and we find ourselves to-day more or less where we were 16 years ago. The position of the receivers of the effluent is a difficult one. They can exhort; they can even threaten. But in the last resort sewage effluent has to be received. It cannot be stored, and there is nowhere else for it to be put. The position in this case, we are told, is that there are plans which will take two years to complete, and then the work will have to be undertaken. I cannot help feeling that if, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the Government could in some way encourage expenditure on these very necessary schemes, and perhaps assist them in some way, cases like that could certainly be speeded up.

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House too long. There are perhaps two general problems that are worth mentioning. One is the problem of detergents, the synthetic detergents which are poured down sinks by so many housewives all over the country. Up to now the main constituent of these detergents has been found not to be susceptible to treatment in sewage works, with the result that it comes out with the effluent into our rivers; and no doubt many of your Lordships will, from time to time have seen the accumulations of froth at various points. What is more serious than the accumulation of froth is the narrow film of some substance, which I imagine is a relative of oil, which forms on the surface and prevents the reoxygenation of the river; because while the oxygen is used up in the way I have tried to describe, in breaking up the organic matter, it is regained very largely by absorption from the air, and the presence of the film undoubtedly militates against that. I am told, and I am glad to be told, that the manufacturers have now found an alternative constituent which will yield to treatment in sewage works. I hope this is true, and if it is I hope that the detergents made with this new substance will be put on the market as soon as possible and that the other will be withheld. That, I believe, will make a considerable difference to the problems of some of our rivers.

The other point I would mention relates to the cooling water required for power stations. Power stations are naturally built alongside our rivers, because they need vast quantities of cooling water. It may surprise your Lordships to know that in the stretch of the Thames from Teddington to the sea the average receipt of water over Teddington is about 400 million gallons a day; and, taking the average, each gallon of water that goes over Teddington Weir is taken out for cooling purposes and put back ten times between Teddington and the sea. Every time it is taken out it is raised in temperature and any absorbed oxygen in it is (to use a non-technical expression) "boiled off", so that the water goes back deoxygenated. There is at present a Committee sitting under the chairmanship of Professor Pippard, a past President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The Committee's Report is expected shortly and will, I hope, give some guidance on this question. In the meantime, port authorities and others concerned, river boards perhaps, are in consultation with the Central Electricity Authority to see whether it is possible, at least in new power stations, to aerate the cooling water before it is returned to the river.

I do not think it would be right to detain the House longer on this matter of my personal experience. I find it not only a most important subject but also a very fascinating one, and I could go on speaking for a long time. But all I want to say is this. I support very strongly the feeling behind the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I hope that the Government will seriously consider giving some assistance to the local authorities and also the establishment of some proper inquiry into this important matter. But, above all, I hope that when action is taken sufficient leeway will be left for local authorities or interests to deal with the matter in the way that best suits the particular river with which they are concerned.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships, I would say that on these immediate Benches a few minutes ago I was surrounded by seven noble Lords from Scotland, so I thought it was as well that I should say one word for the Principality of Wales. We are very grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye for introducing this Motion, because the whole subject, as we have already heard at some considerable length, is a question of immense complexity arising from the phenomenal growth of population and industry over perhaps the last fifty or maybe 150 years. Some centuries ago this Island was described as a "jewel set in a silver sea." We are rapidly doing our best to chip the jewel. The silver is full of dross; and we have already heard what the sea is now full of.

There are many causes of this mess, speaking literally, in which we find the waters of our country, both the rivers and coastal waters, and they are not only direct but also indirect. The noble Viscount who has just spoken referred to detergents. Presumably it was not in the mind of the Government when they agreed to Independent Television and commercial advertising that every night those looking at the programme would be told of the rival merits of certainly four different detergents. So effective is the advertising that even I know the names of four of them, but I have not yet decided which in fact washes the whitest. The main factors are, as we know, crude sewage and trade effluents, and I wanted to add, as the Motion covers estuaries, oil also. I shall have a little to say about that in a moment.

So far as Wales is concerned, I happen to be, among other things, the Chairman of the Milford Haven Conservancy Board, which is concerned with helping to set up the development of that Haven as a large port. We are charged mainly with looking after navigation; not so much with the actual development of the port itself as to see that the channels of navigation are kept clear. But we are also charged with looking after amenities and ensuring a clear passage for sewage. As the Clean Rivers Bill in another place has been referred to, I wanted to take this opportunity to dispel the erroneous impression—it was certainly said in speeches in another place—that the Conservancy Board was opposed to or, rather, was not interested in clean water, and that we have opposed the application of the river board to acquire authority over the tidal waters. What we opposed was the request by the river board to control the use of sanitary appliances on ships and we made it perfectly clear that we, under our Act of Parliament, are the sole authority to deal with oil pollution. The Haven, in spite of getting the discharge of crude sewage from Haverfordwest and Milford Haven, is still pretty pure.

Of course, if the port becomes a very important port, no doubt that difficulty is going to increase: but it was stated at a recent public inquiry—and this is rather interesting, as a slight relief from the doleful story to which we have listened up till now—that the crude sewage of Milford Haven is not yet effectively producing pollution. There are 20,000 million gallons of water coming in on each tide, and I understand that no less than 17,000 tons of oxygen are in that water, which at the moment is able to take care of the sewage put into it. If your Lordships will bear with me, I will relate one rather gruesome detail to you. The solid matter discharged in 100 gallons per hour is only one quarter of a pound per hour. I have not done the sum to work out how much that comes to altogether, because it is rather difficult to follow all the arguments, but I am sure that the 17,000 tons of oxygen in the water is, at the present, taking care of this.

Now the reason we oppose the granting of power to the river board to control sanitary appliances on ships is because it is manifestly impossible to prevent a ship from using sanitary appliances, and we do not want to have another authority discouraging shipping from coming into the Haven just at the time when we are doing all that we know to develop matters. I have had it in mind for some time, but have not yet done it, to put down a Motion in your Lordships' House to discuss the world observation of oil conventions which control the discharge of oil at sea all over the world There is no doubt whatever that one skipper, perhaps 1,000 miles out, illegally cleaning bilges and discharging oil, can produce a patch of oil which will remain insoluble and, if it happens to be in the right stream, will eventually reach the shores of this country But even if we could stop that, we could not stop the discharge of oil in a storm in order to save life—to flatten the sea, enabling lifeboats to get alongside a ship in distress—and that oil, again, will eventually reach these shores. But I want to make it clear that there is already a great deal of oil on the Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen beaches; and what we do not want to have said is that it is the tankers which will be coining in (they have not begun to come in yet) which are responsible for this, when every step is being taken at the moment by the interested parties to prevent, as far as possible, any spillage and any increase in oil pollution. But the oil conventions of the world are perhaps outside the scope of this Motion, except in so far as they can have an immediate effect.

We also oppose the grant of this particular power because there will be enough authorities scurrying around the Haven in due course—Customs, health, pilots, and so on—without having foreign shipowners subjected to one more order from one more body. That is not to say that we do not completely sympathise with the provision of increased powers to control trade effluent and sewage. As time goes on, it is essential that they should come within the realm of possibilities.

I want to add one more word about the river situation of South West Wales, and also to say that these things can be done and do work. I am informed that this year the River Tawe has had a run of salmon for the first time for many years, and that this is entirely due to the efforts made to get the water clean again. If that is so, it is rather encouraging to know that the fish will come back to the old rivers. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye will no doubt know more accurately than I how long it takes for a salmon to hatch and go to sea and come back again, but I believe it is three years. This river has been polluted for longer than that, and it is rather curious that the salmon will come hack. The disposal of effluents and sewage is very difficult to control. We have heard how local authorities jib at putting up rates in order to treat sewage, when they can turn it out into an existing river. The River Towy—and I apologise to noble Lords if they have difficulty in appreciating the slightly different intonation which distinguishes the pronunciation of these two rivers, and their two spellings—also has bad effluent, not only sewage but milk effluent. In fact, so had was it two years ago that even the milk companies, without prejudice, subscribed £500 towards restocking the river because of the immense fish mortality which was caused, it was suggested, by the effluent from their works. That is one of the difficulties that river boards have in securing a prosecution where various effluents are put into the river—to prove which one is responsible. There is always this "passing the buck", with everyone saying it was not his fault.

Efforts are to be intensified in South Wales, because, very properly, great activity goes on to secure new trade and new industry. Every day the Western Mail is full of suggestions that deputations should come to London to see this Minister and that Minister to secure, or help to secure, new factories such as those which, for instance, the great motor companies are suggesting they should put up. That is all to the good: it is quite right that that should happen; but it does intensify once more the immense problem that one is faced with in this connection. My Lords, it is so easy to destroy the jewel. As I said a little earlier, it has become very chipped and dented, but there is, in fact, quite a lot left; and I hope that this debate in your Lordships' House will do something to see that those tragic words "Too late" do not apply in this connection.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for introducing this Motion and for his eloquent and comprehensive speech. Not only are we indebted to the noble Lord, but the great army of anglers—I think the noble Lord said about two million—will also be indebted to him: because I daresay we all know by heart Izaak Walton's words, God never made a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling"— and perhaps he might have added, "or a more health-giving one." I suppose, my Lords, that I should declare an interest, because I happen to be one of the Vice-Presidents of the River Boards Association, but I do not propose to take up the points which were made in connection with the river boards by the noble Lord who has just spoken. I think there will be ample time for that if and when the Bill to which he referred reaches your Lordships' House.

Now, my Lords, in Buckle's Life of Benjamin Disraeli, I came across the following, which I venture to quote to your Lordships. It is an interesting reference to the Rivers Pollution Act, 1876. It reads: With The like object of preserving the bounty of nature free and uncontaminated for the people's enjoyment, Ministers passed in 1876 the Rivers Pollution Act, absolutely prohibiting the introduction of solid matter into the rivers, securing them from further pollution from sewage, and imposing upon manufacturers the liability to render harmless the liquid flowing from their works. Up to 1951 there have been no fewer than sixteen Acts of Parliament dealing with river pollution and up to 1954 fifty-four reports, investigations and what not. Notwithstanding all this, most of the rivers and the estuaries of our country are polluted. Some of them may be fairly described as open sewers.

There are many reasons for this deplorable state of affairs, some of which have already been mentioned by noble Lords. The first is the increase in population, which has led to the discharge of untreated sewage direct into rivers. Secondly, there is the growth of many new industries which discharge their effluents untreated into the rivers. The list of these new industries is appalling. The late Mr. Turing, who devoted his life to the study of this problem and whose booklets on the pollution of rivers, published in the 'fifties, are still worth studying, because the position is substantially the same as when he reported, talked of: Acids, copper, cyanides, which put into a river a considerable amount of solids in suspension which eventually settle out on the bottom and smother the insect life normally living there, or which contain a large amount of matter in solution which interferes with light entering the water or with the breathing apparatus of insects or fish … This, of course, includes effluents coming from textile manufacturers, leather industries, laundries, paper mills, slaughterhouses and milk factories, and waste from beer and spirits. I do not know why there should be waste beer and spirits but I suppose that there is some waste from their manufacture. Then, also, there are the effluents coming from coal mines, steel and copper works and almost any kind of industry whose waste contains metals.

May I venture to give your Lordships another short quotation, from Mr. John Stewart Collis's fascinating book, The Moving Waters. All those factories pass out waste of a poisonous nature, and when they are not treated they have a devastating effect upon the rivers into which they are discharged, making them foul and dank and death-dealing to all aquatic life, the acids eating away the fins and rotting out the eyes of fish, while in some places the water has been so thickly dyed that it could be used as ink—as was in fact done with the Calder in Yorkshire when a page of a report was written by dipping a pen into the river. I think it is reasonable to ask why this deplorable state of affairs exists. I put it in a nutshell: it is because up to now the legislation has been weak and ineffective, containing too many loopholes and opportunities for evasion. May I revert for a moment to the subject of pollution of rivers, and give a few instances which may appeal to the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave? The river Avon—Shakespeare's Avon—is a sewer for most part of its course. The Tor-ridge, in Somerset, receives unpurified town sewage together with the water-washing waste from a milk factory. The once lovely mountain streams of South Wales, moorland brooks of the purest waters, are to-day thick with coal dust, poisoned with waste acids from iron and tinplate works, contaminated with sewage and the waste products of the gas and coke industry, sometimes polluted in their extreme upper reaches with effluents from whale oil and chemical works, lifeless, pestiferous, foul, the vomit of our boasted industrial civilisation.

Anyone who has looked into this problem of pollution, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, emphasised, will be aware that not only are most of our rivers polluted, but the state of some of the estuaries is both horrible and loathsome. Therefore I welcome a Bill which is now before another place, the object of which is to bring all estuaries within the scope of the river boards. But I cannot refrain from bringing to your Lordships' notice a letter which appeared in the Guardian on October 3, 1959. I do so, not to make any political point but to show the importance of the subject. The letter reads: What are we to make of your front page news article of September 28, when Mr. Henry Brooke tells his audience that the Conservative Government intends to end"— mark the word "end"— the pollution of rivers and estuaries. In your report of September 10 your correspondent wrote that after two days' inquiry and in the face of considerable local opposition, the Minister of Housing and Local Government—the same Mr. Henry Brooke—had agreed to Hoylake's plan to discharge 4,500,000 gallons daily of crude sewage into the estuary, which has been for years silted up. Orwell's 1984 and the age of double-talk is not far away. I now pass to the question of poliomyelitis. Here I speak with diffidence as a layman. I am aware that many doctors, including those of the Ministry, refuse to admit that contact with human excreta can cause polio. But, with respect, it seems to me that the cumulative evidence of medical officers of health is convincing that pollution, at any rate, can be one of the causes, if not the principal cause, of polio; and not only polio but of other diseases.

Out of a mass of press cuttings I venture to submit just one or two to your Lordships. This is from the Manchester Guardian of August 5, 1957. It says: Dr. E. C. Downer, Medical Officer of Health for Middlesbrough, said yesterday that more than thirty years of professional experience was making him increasingly convinced of a direct link between polluted rivers and coastal waters and disease, particularly poliomyelitis. He admitted that it was difficult to prove this connection, though he had had experience in one town where twelve out of twenty-seven poliomyelitis victims were found to have been bathing in the local canal. Then from the experts: 'No public health engineer would ever think of bathing in the sea who has special knowledge of sewage disposal. It is fairly common knowledge among us.' That is from the Secretary of the Institution of public Health Engineers on August 13, 1957.

Then, from the British Medical Journal: If sewage containing poliomyelitis virus is pumped into the sea and it comes into contact with bathers there would seem to be some risk of disease thus being transmitted. Here is one right up-to-date from Dr. Rutter, Chairman of the Cardiff Rural Council Health Committee, reported in the Western Mail of November 20, 1959. The report says of Dr. Rutter: He spoke of a conversation he had had with a tuberculosis expert who had cultured live bacilli from water near a sewage outfall. A second medical expert told him of two doctors' wives in Wales who contracted polio after bathing near infected beaches. He talked about 50,000 tons of sewage being discharged from Cardiff and twice as much between Newport and Lavernock. There, my Lords, are a few instances, and I could give quite a number more. May I recall to your Lordships some words that I am sure most of you know of the poet Keats: The Moving Waters at their priest-like task Of pure ablution round earth's human shores … That is nature's way—God's way, if you like; call it what you will—but we are defeating it by carelessness and the filthy methods of sewage disposal.

With respect, I submit that it is no use quoting complacent platitudes that this year we are spending more than in previous years to deal with this serious problem of pollution. I yield to no one in my admiration for what local authorities and other bodies have done up to now, but I would urge that if these human tragedies are to cease—for polio strikes both old and young—there must be a supreme effort on the part of the Government, local authorities, sanitary authorities and public health engineers. Of course it will cost money, but the means to rid us of this terrible scourge of pollution are well known. The Institute of Sewage Purification as long ago as 1952 reported: … The possibility of purifying sewage at reasonable cost to produce an effluent of the standard necessary in this country to-day is dependent on the use of biological processes. These provide by far the cheapest method of dealing satisfactorily with this problem, for in this way it has normally been possible to purify sewage of average strength at a cost of no more than ½d. or 1d. per ton of liquid.… My Lords, is it a vain hope that, public opinion already roused, as well as the human side to the problem, will compel the Government to implement to the full the pledge given by the Minister of Housing and Local Government during the course of the recent General Election?

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to that noted fisher who introduced the Motion: he is well known in that field for his skill and keenness. We have also been charmed with a maiden speech from one over the Border which has given those of us who knew his family, and others, great pleasure. Then we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon—and it gives me the greatest pleasure to think of the wonderful addresses I have listened to by his father when he occupied the Woolsack—as masterly a speech as one would hope for, speaking as he does as the holder of a high office in the Port of London.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Burden, I must declare an interest, because I have the honour of being a fellow Vice-President of the Central River Boards Association. I have found, in the pursuit of information about the position of various aspects of water, a hobby which has delighted me. With regard to the question of fish, which comes so largely into this problem, because without good water the fish cannot live, I wonder whether your Lordships know what interesting places you can visit—perhaps you have already been to them: the Fresh Water Biological Fish Association at Windermere, and the wonderful laboratories at Stevenage, where they test little fish with every kind of effluent to see how long they live. On the subject of this debate, we, no doubt along with many others, have been inundated with a mass of information, much of it scientific. I will not attempt to repeat what I have read, but, as I say, we have been well instructed. Those of us who are on the river boards must now consider what the position seems like to us. And the position is that, in spite of great difficulties, we find only five members of the River Boards Association who have conditions that are worse—that is, five out of 32 river boards and two conservancies. That is fairly good.

We have heard much to-day about what keeps the fish out. The reason is that the land is flat, particularly on the Eastern seaboard, and in many cases the sea comes, on average, 20 miles inland. In some of the great rivers, like the Trent, it comes in many more miles. I believe that half the Trent is subjected to tidal influence. That makes our waters slow, and therefore they cannot scour their beds as we should like, and we cannot get rid of the de-oxygenated waters. We see in all these reports the letters "B.O.P." I could not make out what they meant, but I understand they mean simply that the water is devoid of oxygen. The whole trouble is oxygen content. Our Eastern seaboard rivers suffer from being flat, so that it is easy for a flow of water to remain, as the expression is, moving up and down, piston-like, or bottled up by the tide, That applies to no fewer than eight rivers, and there is no known means of moving out that mass of water. No doubt science will eventually produce something that one throws in to restore oxygen in its required amount, or will produce some wonderful new dredger which can get behind the static water and move it out, so that fresh water can take its place.

The trouble with rivers is that they have a natural course, which has made the banks what they are. It has also enabled ships to come in, because it is of a certain depth, and the natural course is what suits the river best. Many of our rivers have towns and industries springing up alongside them, which means a massive extraction from the upper waters. That has made things very difficult, because where that has happened we have this dreadful low summer flow from which so many evils spring. That situation can be put right only by having some control against taking out more than a certain quantity of water at a certain place. In fact, there must be controls if we are to get the position where things will be better.

As regards pollution, of course it is the tidal portions of our rivers that are the problem. They consist of waters which have been used—rightly used according to the law—by municipalities and other bodies who want to get rid of their effluent. The problem can be put in one word—cost. It is going to cost too much for most great towns or municipalities, and the evil will not be remedied unless the Government are able to think up some method of spreading this cost over a greater number of authorities than just the towns on the river banks. Something like this must come, because the figures are so astounding that nothing but a national, or semi-national, spread will bring the necessary money for what we want to do. Take Newcastle-on-Tyne. Naturally, they put everything into their river. Behind them is a sewer called the Ouseburn, and other sewers. Behind that there is a rural district council, miles away, who have recently put the sewage of 18,000 fresh population into their little sewer which links up with the Ouseburn sewer and the Newcastle sewer. That is not the end of the matter. Here is a rural district council who are taking advantage of their riparian rights to pump sewage over a catchment reach from another catchment altogether, to go down into the catchment which is nothing to do with them. I strongly suspect that that is not legal, but I will not go into that point now, because the time to do it will be when the Bill comes up from another place. I thank your Lordships for listening to my few words: I will not add to them on this occasion.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, so much has been said on this subject that I do not mean to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. Before saying anything else, I should like to add my congratulations to my Scottish colleague, my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie on his excellent maiden speech this afternoon. It seems only a few weeks ago that we were electing him in Holyrood Palace to a seat in your Lordships' House. I hope your Lordships feel that our votes were more than justified by the excellent performance which he has put up this afternoon.

May I say a word or two from the Scottish angle in support of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye? I was going to say, "Why not more prosecutions?" The 1951 Act lays down tremendous penalties for these offences—£500 fine and six months imprisonment. We have heard what the noble Lord has said, and having heard the great difficulties there are in securing convictions, I will not say anything more on that aspect. The pollution of Scottish rivers is important because there is a great move now in Scotland, I think especially because of the unemployment there, for the expansion of industry; and that may well mean that the work of all the boards will to a certain extent be nullified.

I want now to mention something which has not, I think, been referred to this afternoon, and that is the rather more hidden but equally damaging and insidious kind of pollution that comes, not into our big rivers but into our small streams and burns, particularly in Scotland, from the dumping of litter, and especially from sheep-dipping. Pollution from sheep-dipping is not so important where the effluent runs into a large river; but very often up in the hills, if care is not taken, the effluent is into a little burn or stream where the poison becomes highly concentrated, and will go down and kill numbers of fish perhaps for a mile down the river. It is possible for by-laws to be made for the prevention of litter dumping and poisoning from sheep-dipping, but I believe that only four boards in Scotland—Ayrshire, Banff, Solway and Tweed—have made such bylaws: that is, for litter dumping. I believe that no by-laws at all have been made against poisoning from sheep-dipping. I would suggest that perhaps the noble Earl might make representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland to draft a model by-law for the assistance of boards. I feel that if that were done more action might be taken to frame these by-laws.

The only other point is the question of the advisory committee. Under the 1951 Act, an advisory committee is appointed every three years, but I feel that these advisory committees are rather sidestepped; they are not consulted. I believe that the Scottish committee meets very very seldom, and that it is hardly ever consulted. I think that it is a pity if too much control gets into the hands of the Departments. Good as our civil servants are, outside advice by these committees can be of paramount importance in a matter of this kind. I am afraid that I cannot welcome the new Bill for cleaner tidal waters and estuaries, for the simple reason that it apparently does not apply to Scotland.


We in this House will make it apply!


I wonder whether that Bill is going to be followed by a Government measure—I hope it will—to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales in this matter.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should just like to recite four lines that Izaac Walton, that famous fishing character, wrote: I care not I to fish in seas Fresh rivers best my heart do please Whose swift calm course I contemplate And seek in life to imitate". I feel that if Mr. Walton were alive to-day he would be most unwise to imitate the majority of our rivers, which cannot be better described than as dour, dank, dungheaps. Your Lordships need not go further than the precincts of this House to see evidence of pollution. I am told that no fish can live below Putney Bridge. That, in the chief river of the Realm, I think is a disgrace, when one considers that fresh air and pure water are the most priceless assets nature has given us and we have done our best to foul both.

My particular interest in this matter is, of course, the sporting aspect from the point of view of fishing, but I quite appreciate that that is perhaps a selfish aspect, even if 2 million people do partake in it. The most important aspect is this question of the spreading of disease. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Burden, read out some newspaper cuttings which appear to be ample evidence that the medical authorities feel that pollution is probably a cause of poliomyelitis, and probably other diseases, too. It is an extraordinary thing that polio often starts at seaside resorts; if you take Thanet, you are often having outbreaks in that area. There is one custom that really ought to be stopped instantly, and that is the habit of emptying the sewage outfall direct into the sea. That is really disgraceful.

Of course, industry and, I think, local authorities are now fully aware of the danger of cheap sewage disposal. We have just heard that £125 million has been spent since the end of the war on improving sewage. When one considers that the population is increasing by 1 million every five years, and if we take into consideration the hundreds of housing estates, the growth of industry that goes with this increase of population and the time lag that has happened in the past over sewage disposal, I do not think that local authorities can possibly cope with the problem. I believe that successive Governments have been rather inclined, quite naturally, to pass the ball to local authorities, but I think the time has now come for the Government to step in.

I should like to tell your Lordships about an experience I had personally at my house in Kent. The village has been sold off the estate, but some houses and the local school still empty their sewage into my private sewage disposal plant. The number of children in the school has increased a great deal, and what has happened is that the plant has become grossly overloaded and sewage spills out over the ground. The council come and tidy it up and are very apologetic, but it has happened that quite a few birds on a small lake of mine have been poisoned, presumably, so far as we can find out, by this sewage. The Council say: "We are sorry, but we really have not got the money." Well, is it not possible for Her Majesty's Government to make money available to councils in order that they may modernise their sewage plants? Because it really is disgraceful if councils cannot afford to do it. You cannot put it on the ratepayers because, as we have heard to-day, the burden would be far too great. However, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will make available to councils long-term loans on extremely easy terms.

Of course, industry has been responsible for the greater part of the fouling of rivers. Now they are doing a great deal to help. I feel that farmers are rather careless about this subject. As all farmers know, you have to have clean water for stock, especially for attested stock. If one goes round quite a number of farms one sees that the drainage in some of the agricultural buildings is deplorable. I hope that Her Majesty's Government—I suppose through agricultural inspectors or agricultural committees—will bring to the notice of farmers that they should be more careful about this matter. Another thing that we have heard about, and of which I too have had a nasty experience, is toxic sprays. About three years ago we had quantities of trout in the Stour which were poisoned through farmers spraying crops. Of course you can have this danger, too, from tar, if there is a road near a stream.

Another problem with which I have come in contact is the extraction of water. In the town of Ashford, which is growing fast, we have a new pumping station which has lowered the Stour by two feet. If you lower the flow of a river, obviously you are going to make it easier to pollute the water, because there is not sufficient water to dilute any pollution. The saddest fact of pollution is, I think, the eclipse of the salmon from many of our greatest rivers. We have heard how the Tyne was once one of our greatest salmon rivers. I do not think that there has been a salmon from the Tyne since the First World War. To take the Western Highlands, in the nineteenth century salmon were so plentiful that all you had to do was to go out into the sea at low water and put down a circular stone enclosure, and when the tide fell the salmon were so numerous in the trap—so old stalkers have told me—that you could go down with a horse and cart and shovel them up. That is quite incredible to us to-day. All this wonderful food supply has, through pollution, been squandered.

I only hope that if this new Bill is passed we may be able to stop the despoliation of the priceless assets of our rivers and estuaries. So many matters are involved in this. We have heard all about holiday resorts, about hotel keepers and that sort of thing. It is extraordinary how some people do not realise the importance of this subject. Before I sit down I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for bringing forward this Motion, which I consider of extreme importance.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, on his extremely stimulating maiden speech. We all know that the Government are taking measures to alleviate the problem of pollution, but the question is: will what is being done at present measure up to the urgent need really to clean up our rivers? Doubtless the situation in 25 years' time will be very much better, but I would suggest to the Government that what must be done is to clean up our rivers in ten years' time.

I must straight away declare an interest, because I am the owner of a stretch of a very fine river in Scotland, the River Don. Where I am, the water is clear and sparkling. Fifteen miles further downstream it is foul and putrid; it is so bad in summer time that it is not possible even to see the river bed. Much the same applies to another fine river in Aberdeenshire, the Dee. Our fast-flowing Scottish rivers are, without doubt, world-famous: they are part of our national heritage, and must be preserved as such by the nation. From time to time some riparian owners have brought actions against polluters in an attempt to clear up our rivers. Surely, however, the battle of the rivers should be fought not by a few riparian owners, but by the nation. This point has already been most ably put by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. It is a national problem, not one to be tackled by the riparian owners.

May I point out, from practical experience, two of the present difficulties confronting those interested in the reduction of river pollution? Take the case of two factories that are sited close to one another. The effluent from one or the other may not, by itself, be sufficiently noxious or poisonous to warrant prosecution. But it may be that the effluent of the two combined, factory A and factory B, will be highly noxious or poisonous. Then, as has already been pointed out, let us take the case of a small burgh that wants to carry out a sewage scheme but knows that the cost is so high that it will quite often mean an increase in the rates of anything up to about 3s.—and I can assure your Lordships that 3s. is not wide of the mark. For reasons such as this many local authorities, while they may be sympathetic towards the idea of cleaning up rivers, just cannot tackle it as things are at present. Pollution to-day not only can bring death and disease to humans, animals and birds, but in Scotland, at any rate, it is keeping people away from our rivers—and this at a time when we are trying to encourage the tourist industry.

What is the answer, my Lords? May I make just one suggestion? In urban areas, or where industry is located, trunk sewers should be planned in exactly the same manner as trunk roads are planned. Trunk sewerage schemes, just like trunk roads schemes, could be carried out by local authorities acting for Government Departments. Trunk sewers would be far more effective and far less costly, in the end, than a mass of small sewerage schemes. The central authority could make an annual charge on local authorities or on industry for the use of the trunk sewers. That is just one idea; there are many others probably far better. All I would ask the noble Earl who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government is that he should give an undertaking that they will look into this matter as a very urgent problem, so that we may once more live to see clean rivers in our country.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, the butter is beginning to be spread a bit thin in this debate, and nothing but a streak of Scottish obstinacy has kept me here to add my remarks. I will try very hard to think of something new to say, and I hope that, like the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, I can make certain suggestions which may be practical in value. Certainly the Government have not an easy problem on their hands. We have listened this evening to a mass of information and to some extremely good speakers. I do not want to single out any one of them, except to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who summed up the whole situation in his opening speech. There has, I think, been a tendency on the part of individual speakers to refer to the river or district which they know, which is only natural. There have also been some interesting speeches which have dealt with flows of water, and some noble Lords have touched on organic chemistry and the difference between effluent and solid poisoning from sewage itself. May I just turn to Scotland and the area that I know best?

The first thing I should like to say is that these purification boards—which, incidentally, have not reached north of Spey (and I hope the Minister of State will make a note of that)—are not effective. I am sorry to say that. But, while they have the best intentions in the world, they are completely powerless to get results. I think we have to accept that fact, however painful it may be. The second point I hope the Secretary of State will bear in mind is that we must go along with England and Wales in clearing up the estuaries. It is quite certain that it is in the tidal waters and the estuaries that the real trouble lies. Though it is perfectly true that pollution of the upper reaches is to some extent washed away by the very nature of the flow of the stream, that does not apply to the unfortunate people who live at the bottom end; yet under present law in Scotland, as I read it, to discharge sewage into tidal waters is not an offence. That may have been all right a good many years ago, when there were fewer people making less use of more water; but to-day the whole process is reversed. There are many more people; they are making more use of the water, and there are a great many different kinds of uses, some of which produce effluents that kill fish and were quite unknown fifty years ago, except in certain industrial areas which certainly were not to be found in the Highlands.

I am a member of the Inverness-shire County Council and have often "locked horns" with them on this very matter. We do not build a very large number of houses in the Highlands, but I think that enlightened local authorities should at least build septic tanks to go with new housing schemes, instead of tipping waters into estuaries. We find throughout the Highlands that that tendency persists. The reason, as many speakers have said, is, first, lack of money but, secondly, a misinterpretation of the law. It may be fair enough if the tidal water is six miles wide and the solids and the detergents are swept out to sea, but when you have a river like the River Beauly, which is a serpentine, winding river that flows for the last four miles before it enters Inverness through a narrow firth, through arable land of an alluvial soil on an old glacial basin, there is no possible escape for the solids, soiled lavatory paper and all the other things other speakers have described as flowing up and down with the tide. These can no longer be scoured away in some of the Highland rivers because their waters have been harnessed for hydro-electric schemes—an excellent thing in itself; but that does not cause spates or big floods which used to be available in the old days to wash these things away.

I hope that the Government will consider this aspect of the tidal waters which at the moment are not being treated in a manner one would expect, in keeping with the development of the higher standards of living we all enjoy. I think it is no exaggeration to say that while our plumbing is no longer Oriental, quite a few villages in the Highlands would compare unfavourably with places I have seen on the Nile; and I hope the Government will look into that aspect.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the congratulations given by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, and other noble Lords to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for a maiden speech which was given, if I may say so on behalf, I think, of everybody who heard it, with great authority. He kept to the rule in the other place, which I am sure applies here too, of being non-controversial. I had hoped at one time that there was a convention about asking questions to which Ministers did not know the answers; but fortunately I have now the answers to the two questions he has asked me, and, as it is a maiden speech, I think your Lordships would like me to answer them right away.

He asked, first of all, when are the Government going to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Drainage of Trade Premises in Scotland? The answer is that proposals for Legislation on the lines of the recommendations are under consideration, but I am advised that the subject is a controversial one and it is not possible to say yet when legislation can be introduced. He also asked me why it is that the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Bill does not apply to Scotland. The answer is that the extension of this Bill to Scotland is primarily a matter for the private Member in another place who has presented the Bill, but the Government would see no objection in principle to the Bill being applied to Scotland also, if suitable Amendments for the purpose are put down in another place; and I am sure that those words I have spoken will be noted by the honourable Member concerned in another place.

My noble friend who will answer for the Government will deal with the broad issues raised. I am glad to deal with some of the Scottish features of this very important problem. Basically, of course, the problem in Scotland and England is much the same. The two main difficulties are deficiencies of proper sewage treatment plant and special difficulties arising from industrial effluent. The need for sewage treatment has not always received in Scotland the same emphasis as is being given now, and I agree with every word said by my noble friend Lord Lovat.

Many local authorities have not put in sewage plants, with the result that if they have to put them in now they are starting from scratch and it means 3s. extra on the rates. One must remember, of course, that such a local authority now have no charge on the rates for sewage, as compared with local authorities who have been "up and coming" and have put in proper sewage disposal plant; so although one is sorry for an authority who have to start from scratch now, there is the other side of the penny: for a long time they have been discharging effluent into a stream or estuary without charge to ratepayers. As my noble friend Lord Lovat has said, that has been aggravated by the increased volume of domestic sewage from housing estates, and, of course, the improvement in water supplies. One must be fair in a debate of this kind. Her Majesty's Government, in their restriction on capital investment, have slowed down work that would otherwise have been started; but in Scotland sewage schemes costing £22 million have been put in hand since the war. It is hoped that there will be some acceleration and that the annual rate of expenditure will exceed £2½ million a year.

Then we come to the other problem, that of industrial effluents, which the noble Lord, Lord Burden, called "the vomit of our industrial civilisation". I believe that if the noble Lord thinks of it again he will realise that that is not a very good comparison. Industrial effluent is part of our industrial processes, and effluent there must be. I would prefer to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who referred to the difficulties between boards and industry as matters which are treated with good will. In the main, industrialists and the boards are treating this as a difficult problem in which they all have to co-operate; and, of course, the problem of industrial effluents is on the increase and research in dealing with it is continually being carried on by the Water Pollution Research Board of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

The question is: What to do about it? At this present stage, on the advice of the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee, we believe that the only thing to do is to treat each case on its merits and to give the best attention we can to whatever treatment is practicable in each individual case. The problem is not wholly a financial one; it is also a scientific one. The noble Earl, in his maiden speech, spoke of the reduction of salmon fisheries through pollution in the tidal part of the River Forth; and my noble friend Lord Lovat also spoke of the difficulties of the estuaries. I should like to put the thing as it is. The river purification authorities have a duty under the Act of promoting the cleanliness of the rivers and other inland waters and tidal waters in their areas. They have, however—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to ask whether the duty of promoting cleanliness relates to both industrial effluent and sewage?


My Lords, the point is that whilst the authorities have the duty of promoting cleanliness they have no jurisdiction which would cover both the points that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has in mind. They have no jurisdiction over tidal waters unless an Order is made applying the Act to the tidal waters themselves. Any such Order must go through the usual statutory procedure of advertisement and public inquiry and can be made only on the application of a river purification authority or other interested party. That does not apply to the Forth and the Clyde, where Orders are made on the initiative of the Secretary of State, and so far no Order has been made. On the other hand, an Order extending the jurisdiction of the Forth and Lothians River Purification Boards to the tidal waters of the Forth was recently the subject of a public inquiry, the report of which is not yet forward; so that we can look forward with reasonable hope to the noble Earl's wishes coming to fruition. Proposals from a number of other boards—the Tweed, the Solway, and the Banff, Moray and Nairn Boards—for orders giving them control over tidal waters have been deferred pending the result of the Forth inquiry.

The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, raised two points. He said, I believe, that the Scottish Rivers Purification Advisory Committee were not functioning enough. I join issue with him on that subject, for since it was set up in 1956, not long ago, the Committee, in those three years, have dealt with the questions of standards for effluents, means of stimulating further progress in sewage disposal schemes, seeking improvements in the maintenance of existing treatment plants, river gauging and, latterly, the question of by-laws with regard to litter and sheep dippers, about which the noble Earl asked.


My Lords, I said, on information from a member of the Advisory Committee, that their opinion had not been sought for two years.


My Lords, statutorily, the Committee do not have to be consulted by the Secretary of State. He can seek their advice on any matter, but they can also bring up any subject they wish. I will take note of the fact that we have not given them any work to do; but they can find their own work within their statutory powers. On the question of model by-laws for sheep dippers and litter, the noble Earl was quite right. The Litter Act makes it an offence, but I agree with him that only four of the boards have made by-laws. I will look into the question (although the Committee are also looking into it) of model by-laws for litter. As your Lordships may know, the Committee are also considering by-laws to deal with sheep dippers.

I believe I have answered all the questions that were put, but if I have not done so I shall be very glad to write to any noble Lords who have asked me a question which I have not answered. Good progress has been made, and many valuable suggestions have been put forward which will be studied, including the question of trunk sewers mentioned by my noble friend Lord Forbes. I believe that within the limits of their capabilities Her Majesty's Government are playing their full part, but we have much leeway to make up and much to learn; and we must remain dissatisfied.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, as Chairman of a Committee appointed by the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to advise on fisheries legislation, I have recently listened to a considerable volume of evidence regarding the rivers of this country. I believe that the Committee thought that they would be dealing with such matters as the close season for fish, poaching and so on; but it soon became evident that by far the greatest threat to the fisheries of this country was pollution, and particularly pollution in tidal waters. The evidence suggested the view that there was no need to trouble too much about close seasons and poaching, as very soon there will not be any fish left, because rivers are so badly polluted.

I believe that there are two main sources of pollution, industrial effluents and sewage, about which we have heard a great deal to-day. There is a third possible threat on which, I suggest, Her Majesty's Government should keep their eye—that from radioactive discharges from atomic stations and other atomic establishments. I should like to say a few words about sewage. I believe that many of us thought that the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, would result in a gradual decrease in the pollution of our rivers, but, unfortunately, what I think happened was that the passing of that Act coincided with a period of financial stringency. The result was that local authorities, with the best will in the world, were unable to raise the necessary money to construct sewage works; and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, through no fault of their own, were obliged to adopt a "Go-slow" policy.

The economy of the country has now improved, but I venture to suggest that the impetus given to the local authorities by the 1951 Act has gone and that many local authorities to-day—and let me make it perfectly clear that there are shining exceptions, but many of them—are now reluctant to spend the money required to construct proper sewage works. And in the meantime, of course, the housing programme proceeds; more and more houses are built and more and more sewage is discharged into the rivers.

I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the River Severn. The city of Gloucester is now, and has been for many years past, discharging completely untreated sewage into the river. The fisheries on the river are suffering very seriously, and particularly the Severn and Usk net men, who, of course, depend on their fishing for their livelihood. The river boards concerned—and there are three: the Severn, the Wye and the Usk—have to my knowledge been pressing the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for a long time to take some steps to prevent this very serious pollution from Gloucester, but so far, I understand, they have extracted no more than a promise that a comparatively inexpensive treatment plant will, at some unspecified future date, be installed, and that if that is not satisfactory (and nobody thinks it will be), then consideration will be given to a more extensive plant.

As your Lordships will appreciate, in the meantime more and more crude sewage pours down that river. That is not a way, in my submission, to treat a matter of this kind. It is urgent; it is serious. A somewhat sceptical member of the Severn River Board expressed this opinion to me. He said that in his view nothing would be done unless there were a serious outbreak of polio or some serious disease in this country which would stir the Government into action. I venture to hope that Her Majesty's Government will not wait until that happens. The problem is serious now and should be tackled at once.

There is, I believe, some technical difficulty, some legal difficulty, in preventing pollution in tidal waters. In fact, the pollution in tidal waters is probably worse in many ways than the pollution in non-tidal waters, because what happens, as I understand it, is this. The effluent, the sewage or whatever it may be, is discharged into the tidal waters, and instead of going down the river and being swept out to sea, comes back on the tide, rather like a piston, and it takes a very long time for it to clear. And that is one type of water for which the necessary powers are not in existence.

I am aware that in another place a Private Member's Bill is to receive a Second Reading, but I am not altogether happy about that, because I understand that that Bill relates only to new discharges, and of course there are many old discharges, including, incidentally, those into the Severn, where the matter is becoming extremely serious. I do not want to take up any more of your Lordships' time—it has been a long debate—but in my humble opinion the prospect of our rivers becoming little more than drains, supporting no fish life and disfiguring the countryside, is a prospect which must revolt every man and woman in the country.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, like other of your Lordships I must declare an interest in this debate, in that I am a very keen though, unfortunately, incompetent angler. However, as my chief fishing interests now lie in country which alas! is no longer part of the United Kingdom, I can at least say that I have no direct interest in the matter of river pollution in this country. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye on his wisdom in initiating such a very fruitful debate, and to say how much I support what he had to say. My reason for taking part in this discussion is that I am anxious to put a most urgent plea on behalf of the anglers of this country. It is my good fortune and privilege to be president of the Anglers' Co-operative Association, and may I say how glad I was that both my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, made an allusion to the work that that admirable Association does. It is a very real friend to anglers of every description, but especially those whose particular form of sport is coarse fishing; and it is on their interests that I should like to dwell this evening.

I am aware (I was before this debate but I am more so now) of the many problems to which this question of pollution gives rise. Nevertheless, I feel that this problem of river pollution has been neglected in the past years. We have heard very much about smoke abatement and smokeless zones, but it is every bit as bad to discharge poisonous matters into rivers as to discharge them into the sky. So I think the time has come when this problem must be tackled; and, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, it must be tackled on a national level. After all, much has been done, very rightly—and we all rejoice because it has been done—for those who like to roam in the countryside. The interests of what, in my younger days, was called the hiker, and is now called the rambler, have been very much looked after; and with the creation of the national parks that are such an adornment to our countryside it may be said that there has been established a charter for ramblers. I want to see a charter for anglers. What is good enough for ramblers should be good enough for anglers, too; and that is what I want to see done.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye gave a figure which has been mentioned several times. It was that fishing is the chief hobby or pastime of 2 million people. I should like to break down that figure and show what it means in the life of one industrial town. I live very close to Sheffield and every Sunday morning, between 7.30 and 8.15, 15 special trains packed only with anglers leave the city of Sheffield for the fen district of Lincolnshire: fifteen special trains full of anglers; and the tragedy is that they have to go there, because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said, the Don, alas! is far from being the river it once was. Had steps only been taken earlier to prevent this fouling of rivers, those staunch Sheffield anglers could have fished on their own doorstep rather than have to take the train to neighbouring Lincolnshire.

It is sometimes thought that fishing is the pursuit of the middle-aged and elderly. This is just not the case. Through my connection with the Anglers' Co-operative Association I have been made aware that a very large number of these 2 million are boys and young men, who are as good and as keen as their fathers, elder brothers and uncles; and I think they deserve every possible encouragement in this admirable hobby of fishing. We hear a good deal to-day about the somewhat distressing activities of our teenagers. Surely a teenager who fishes should be encouraged in that pursuit. I have never heard of—how shall I put it?—a fisher Teddy boy, for example. So I feel sure in that connection, if for no other reason, the interests of anglers should be pressed upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that their interests are protected and looked after. Again, a great deal of money, from both voluntary sources and from the Government, is spent to-day on the creation of playing fields. I have nothing but praise for that work, but a good fishing stream or canal or pond is every bit as much a playing field as any cricket or football pitch. Fishing is every bit as good, and should be encouraged every bit as much. I should like to see more money spent, so that people who like an outside life and outdoor activities can enjoy it to the best advantage.

As I have said, my main interest is to do with the coarse fisherman—and in case there is any Member of your Lordships' House who is not aware of fishing terminology, I hasten to assure your Lordships that there is nothing derogatory in the term "coarse" fisherman. However, I should like to say a word or two, if I might, about game fishing. As has been mentioned, the condition of what used to be our great main rivers—such as the Tyne, the Ribble, and the Cheshire Dee—is that they are very nearly past reclaiming; and unless something is done very soon, they will be the first of many. My Lords, it is such a wicked waste. There is not only the deprivation of a valuable amenity, but there is also the food value to be considered. After all, to have salmon on the menu is a luxury to-day. Really, that is absolute nonsense. It ought to be a staple diet of this country. I read somewhere, in some book or anecdote or biography, that a distinguished nobleman some 100 years or so ago undertook when he engaged domestic servants that he would not give them salmon more than twice a week. That just shows to what extent the salmon has become barred from our rivers. It is a very important staple food which is being denied to the people.

My Lords, the condition of these rivers is deplorable. I think the best way one can put it, when talking of such rivers as the Tyne, is to say that it is better to be a fish out of water than to be a fish inside the river. For all these reasons, and for all the reasons that have so ably been put forward by other Members of this House this afternoon, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not just shrug off this evening's debate, put it in the file and take no further action. Here is something on which, for a wide variety of reasons, something must be done; and I sincerely hope that, as a result of to-day's discussion, something will be done.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I must acquaint the House that, in the proposition and in the suggestion I am going to make to my noble friend the Minister, I definitely have an interest. It is a curious thing that only within the last week or so a proposition with regard to the problem of pollution has come before my Board; and I believe that, although it cannot be applied at once—because I think it is in its initial stage—the result of the working of this idea and the new apparatus involved might bring about a revolution in regard to pollution. One great merit of the apparatus is that it is very cheap to work, which sounds a curious thing in a gigantic affair of this kind. The whole idea comes from America, and they now have a ship which is fitted with this apparatus which, according to reports, is meeting with great success.

We have heard to-day of the appalling conditions of the beaches, where it is not safe for children to bathe; and that is not surprising if one thinks of these enormous vessels, carrying thousands of people, going up and down the channel. They come to narrow waters like Southampton, and so on, with all these people eating and drinking and pursuing as normal a life as they can; and the whole lot of their refuse of all kinds goes into the sea. This apparatus that I have mentioned, applied to ships, if it works—and I think that has already been proved—could bring an enormous benefit to our shores, particularly where these big ships sail up and down. Apart from that aspect, what about these immense buildings—these factories and, in the cities, these offices—accommodating thousands of people? In my view, they have a very old-fashioned system of drainage by which they get rid of what they produce in the ordinary way. Now what I am most anxious about is that this apparatus, which I genuinely believe from what I am told is a success, should have the investigation of my noble friend who is going to answer or his Department. I would tell him that I can easily arrange a scientific and technical investigation at any time the Department suggests.

My Lords, there are many instances of the damage done through various things happening on the land and in the rivers, and so on. It is not long ago that some of us in this House took part (I think I myself did) in a debate on this very difficult question of spraying crops; and some of your Lordships will remember that there were two men who died as a result of spraying crops. It was decided in this House and in the other place that men who used these sprays should wear a particular garment and be protected on a windy day against the spray coming on to them. I remember that I said, "That is all very well, but suppose I am walking along a lane next to a field that is being sprayed. I do not know anything about them doing it, and I have no protection. What happens if the wind blows this stuff all over me? I have no suit or mask such as the law of the land requires men using some of these sprays to wear." So, my Lords, I heartily agree with the speeches that have been made by noble Lords, who have given very vivid and very important information with regard to the results of this pollution not only of rivers and streams, but of the land as well.

I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inch-rye for his great service in initiating this debate. We must do everything we can, on any occasion possible, to press on with the ideas which he has put forward. I hope that out of the ideas which have come forward during this debate more can be done. There seems to be no reason, for instance, why the apparatus of which I have spoken, which seems to be arriving at fruition, cannot be used in factories and in those new buildings which are being built between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Mansion House, just as well as it can be used in a ship, no matter how big or small it may be. I put forward this suggestion and I hope that my noble friend Lord Waldegrave will shortly say, "Look here, we want to go into this because it seems that you may have something which may be of great value."


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I ask him whether he would say a word about the growing practice of spraying crops from the air? I should think that spraying from the ground is fairly easily controlled, but spraying from the air is a very useful method for farmers and is increasing a great deal. If this happens to be done near running water when there is a light breeze, it can be dangerous. I wonder whether the noble Earl considers that there should be some control of this practice.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, none of your Lordships can have heard the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, this afternoon without feeling that this question of river pollution is one of enormous importance. He dealt with it sensibly, moderately, and knowledgeably, without in any way pulling his punches and minimising the horrors which undoubtedly exist. I can say as much without being able to agree, I am afraid, with all the proposals which the noble Lord put forward. The subject is certainly large enough for differences of view, but there are no differences about the need for improving the condition of our great rivers and arresting the deterioration which has gone on so long with little effective check. No one feels this more keenly than my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. He has told us his view. He has said that he would like to be known as the Minister for clean rivers as well as the Minister for clean air. I know that we all wish to help him towards this goal. The growing public interest in this question is a helpful and wholesome sign, though it ought not to prevent us from taking a balanced view. It is right to be concerned and right also to keep a sense of proportion, and to remember not only that much is to be done but also that much has been done and is being done and that it must be a fairly protracted process.

If I may, I will turn for a moment to answer some of the points put to me. Obviously, I cannot hope to answer them all. If I took five minutes to each speaker, your Lordships would be here for some time; but I must try to answer some of the more specific points that were put to me. Before I come to the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I should like to say that in his masterly review he made several statements on which I should like to comment. He said that local authorities had to economise on sewage disposal, the cost of which was so high. I cannot accept the implications of that. Since 1951, no new discharges have been allowed without the consent of the river board concerned. So far as housing schemes are concerned, the Ministry examines all local authority housing schemes and would not accept new housing schemes if there was not adequate disposal of sewage. The noble Lord mentioned the Tyne, but I would put this point to him, a point which has not yet been mentioned in this debate. Seventeen local authorities are concerned there, and the rate burden, though heavy, will at least be shared and may not be so insuperable as is sometimes envisaged.


My Lords, for the sake of the record, may I say that I did not say quite what the Minister said. What I said was that the post-war lag of housing after two wars forced local authorities to build under immediate post-war pressure, and obviously, when told to economise, they would not go all out for sewage as they would go all out for housing. I was not thinking of post-1951, but of immediately after the war.


My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's point. The noble Lord made the point that prosecution could not succeed if the defendant could plead that he was doing everything practicable. That is not quite accurate. Where my right honourable friend gives his consent to a prosecution, this defence cannot be made.

The noble Lord put four specific points, which he felt ought to be dealt with immediately. The first was that there should be a review of the conditions of the global allocation. This allocation is under constant review. No scheme has been turned down in the last two years on grounds of capital cost alone. His next point was about loans for extended periods. Surely this would run counter to the very wholesome old principle that a loan should be repaid during the physical life of the object for which it was incurred and that new schemes should start without any inherited debt. The present loan period for sewerage schemes is normally an average of thirty years. But other items would be covered by such loans, such as pumps, which probably have a life of much less than thirty years, and sewer mains, which have a longer life than thirty years.

The noble Lord's third point was that the Report of the Armer Committee should be treated as urgent. I can help the noble Lord here. The Report of this Committee will be treated as urgent. I hope that the Committee will be able to report before Christmas and that the Report will be published in the new year. The noble Lord's fourth point was whether there could be a review of the functions of the river boards. I will take this matter to my right honourable friend, but I doubt whether so soon after the inception of the river boards—they were started in 1948 and conditions were very hard then—it would be necessary to have a full-scale review.

In his first long-term point, the noble Lord begged us to take the matter seriously, and I am sure that we all do take it seriously. The noble Lord doubted whether the tempo of the Central Advisory Water Committee, with its two meetings a year and three sub-committees, was urgent enough. We will look into this. We are doing a great deal of research. The noble Lord made a point of research into sea-water distillation. There is continuing research into this process, but I would say this cautionary word to the noble Lord: so far as we know at the moment, to produce water distilled from seawater costs about ten times as much as pumping water from a river, and that is a great difficulty. I doubt whether a Royal Commission on water supplies is the right spur to apply to a willing, but somewhat sluggish, horse. We will consider this, but I am not sure about it.

In the next two speeches, both the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, raised the question of irrigation. They should be aware that Professor Proudman's sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee are dealing with just this matter, and we hope that they will be reporting without too much delay. Farm irrigation is one of the matters they are considering, and they are also considering whether that and other forms of water abstraction can be or should be controlled.

The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, raised the question of the Ribble. Such a number of schemes have been put forward for helping to deal with the pollution in the Ribble that I think it is only right that I should mention just this one figure: that there are schemes now before the Department totalling £1,200,000 for improving effluents flowing into the River Ribble and its tributaries. I say that because I think it is right and proper that the other side of the coin should be shown, although I do not deny that pollution in the Ribble at the moment is bad.

I should like to add my word of tribute to the well-informed speech of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, which seemed to me to be all that a maiden speech should be. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, again said: should there be some super Committee of Inquiry into this whole matter? Well, I will of course convey this suggestion to my right honourable friend but one rather doubts whether such a Committee would produce any more than my right honourable friend knows already. He has inspectors and the reports of the river boards and he really knows what is happening and how the remedies are being applied.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough was the first to raise the question of the risks of polio, and it was afterwards referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. This is clearly a serious matter, and an expert committee of the Medical Research Council is investigating it and should report by the end of the year. Meanwhile there is no evidence of any serious risk from this source of which my right honourable friend is aware at the moment.


My Lords, where else would the infection have come from in the case of oysters?


I cannot tell where infection comes from, but I am informed that that is the evidence we have at the moment.


My Lords, the noble Earl says that his right honourable friend has no evidence of this. In that case I am afraid he must have turned a blind eye to the various reports from the medical officers of health which have been put on record time and time again, of the connection between contact and polio.


It is difficult to know where virus infections come from, and we, as laymen, cannot be sure about it. The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, spoke for Wales and said a great deal about oil. As he is aware, this country is in the forefront of the conventions to fight oil at sea, and I can only hope that we shall continue to occupy that position. I would just say this to the noble Lord, Lord Burden in regard to Hoylake. While not denying the dreadful things that can be found when fishing, I think it should be mentioned that at Hoylake an outfall sewer is proposed one and a half miles long, and the expert consultants employed by the local authority and the Minister's inspector thought this would be sufficient to disperse the sewage out to sea beyond the action of the tide. Something is being done, and we hope that this will be the result. I know that the noble Lord thinks that all rivers are bad and the estuaries are worse. But it is not quite so bad as that and we must not be too pessimistic.

I should like to dwell for a moment on the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, which, if I may say so, was a very good example of true House of Lords expertise. He obviously has a complete mastery of this complicated and fascinating subject of sewage disposal, and as Chairman of the Port of London Authority he speaks with great authority. The noble Viscount mentioned the question of detergents and of cooling water, and he gave the striking figure of ten times the amount of water that goes over Teddington Weir being used for cooling every day in the Thames alone. He will be interested to know that these matters are being studied. Research on detergents is being carried out. I should like to thank him for his realistic speech, which contained such great technical knowledge. Finally, my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, who is Chairman of the Salmon Freshwater Fisheries at the review that is going on at the moment, said that Gloucester was doing a comparatively cheap scheme. All I can say is that it will cost £1 million—but perhaps his idea and mine of what is comparatively cheap are slightly different.


My Lords, I should be interested to hear the noble Earl refer to that section of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, about the re-aeration of the water that has been used for cooling. He said specifically that the evidence was that the oxygen had been largely removed from it. I do not think the noble Earl has mentioned that. Is there any possibility of doing that; and, if so, at what cost?


That, I am afraid, is a subject of far too great technicality to reply to without notice. The noble Viscount merely told us that great quantities of water were taken for cooling and then became de-oxygenated, and the river could not be looked on as a natural drain. This is a matter that we are looking into, and of course that was fully stated by the noble Viscount in his speech.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, spoke of the Anglers Co-operative Association, which has done so much good work. I must remind him that I am a merchant venturer of Bristol, and in my terms of indenture I am not allowed to be fed on salmon more than three times a week. Obviously a great deal was caught in the River Avon at Bristol at one time, and if a great deal of salmon is caught it is apparently considered too poor a food for apprentices.

We must look at the apparatus that the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has mentioned. I must speak to him after the debate and we must go seriously into this apparatus. As for the question of spraying from the air mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Som̃ers, the risks of spraying from the air are very great, but they are being carefully considered by my own Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Much work is being done to see that spraying from the air does not do more harm than good; and at the moment we think it does more good than harm. But no one is for one moment trying to belittle this problem. There is really little profit in trying to think how it has all come about. Pollution has not stood still. Towns and industries have grown and pollution with them, and the remedies have always been in arrears—we must admit that—and we fell behind more than usual during the war. But steps have been and are being taken to put it right.

There are, of course, the river boards. They are fairly new comers, created by the 1948 Act, and they have not had much time in which to tackle their problems. They have, however, the advantage of having a coherent territory—a complete river system to control; and in the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, they have powers to control it. Thus equipped, the boards have done and are doing good work against pollution. They have not done wonders but they have done very well. Noble Lords will know that there are 32 boards, as well as the two conservancies of the Thames and the Lea.


How far do their powers go? Do they go only to the point at which the river ceases to be tidal, or do they extend right out to sea?


So far as pollution is concerned they do not go right out to sea: they are normally only on the non-tidal waters. A general extension to tidal waters is a matter that is under consideration now in another place. A Bill has been introduced—I think it has just had its Second Reading in another place—which we shall shortly be receiving. It is a Private Member's Bill called, I think, the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Bill, and it seeks to extend the power of river boards over tidal waters. We are supporting this Bill in general principle, and we feel that it was probably right in the Act of 1951 to limit general powers over pollution to non-tidal waters. But we have now reached the point where we can take the next logical step and strengthen the boards' hands in securing a further stretch of the river against new pollution.

Apart from any new Bill which may be introduced, there are, of course, powers by which orders can be made under the 1951 Act, whereby a river board can have its powers extended to tidal waters. That is not a speedy thing to do, but there have been four cases in which that has been done. We think that it is time now to make changes and to revise the river boards' powers, at least to this extent.

Then there is this sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee—the Armer Committee—which will shortly be reporting. Adequate control over the new outlets does no more than hold the position. We must have improvement, and we cannot simply legislate for it. It needs new schemes for the treatment and disposal of domestic sewage and trade effluent from the local authorities and from industry. Of the latter, I would say that my right honourable friend believes that industrialists in general are recognising their obligations, and that they have spent, and are willing to spend, more money on remedies. There may well be exceptions, and I have already spoken of the Armer Committee's investigations into the adequacy of the law. But there is a general agreement that all bad effluents must be treated.

I cannot close this debate without giving one or two figures of what has been done. Since 1945, £267 million has been spent in Great Britain. That works out at an average of about £19 million annually. In the earlier years it was less. I would not claim that £19 million is anything like adequate, but I do claim that in the last two or three years—


If I may interrupt the noble Earl, may I ask whether that is expenditure by local authorities and river boards?


I understand that it is expenditure by local authorities. I would not claim that £19 million is adequate, but it is going up. We have got over the period when investment restriction weighed so heavily on these schemes. For two years now no scheme has been rejected for this reason alone. In recent years the annual amount of capital expenditure has grown from £27½ million in 1957, to £34½ million in 1958, and to £31½ million during the first three-quarters of this year. My right honourable friend believes that the figure will continue to grow. Therefore, I think we agree that the outlook is not wholly discouraging, and we must not be too gloomy. The local authorities have a heavy burden in this matter. If they have these heavy expenses it creates a heavy rate burden. Rural authorities, on whom the burden would be especially heavy, are already entitled to grants. Our great need continues to be research, and this is being actively pursued.

In conclusion, my Lords, I believe that the facts justify a sober optimism, although, obviously, there is a lot more work to be done and money to be spent before we can claim that our rivers are what they ought to be, and there are some very intractable problems that will take time to resolve. In spite of the new industries, new settlements and, consequently, new effluents, we are holding the position. We believe that pollution is not gaining the upper hand but, vice versa, that we are gaining over pollution in the non-tidal waters, and that is where we must start. The situa tion has ceased to deteriorate and has begun to improve, slowly though it may be. It is beginning even in some of what were known as the worst places. The latest report of the Mersey River Board (I should like to refer to that because pollution has been very bad in that part of the world) states that the proportion of streams classed as "poor", "bad" and "very bad" continues to fall; that the percentage of "unsatisfactory" and "bad" trade effluents, though still high, is falling steadily, and that streams are to be stocked with fish which have long lacked them. That is encouraging, and I think we must take the good with the bad when looking at this problem. These are slender claims, I know, but they do mark the end of a process which has gone on with hardly any interruption for a century and a half. The reversal will be slow work, but it has begun. It has become a matter of national concern that it should continue, and I do not believe that it should be allowed to halt.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question before he finally sits down? He told us that grants were being given to local authorities for this purpose. Are those grants specific grants for river cleansing purposes, or are they part of the equalisation grants to which local authorities are entitled?


They are specific grants—specific sewerage grants for rural districts, for which, of course, urban authorities are not eligible, at least, not in England and Wales.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, in asking permission to withdraw my Motion, I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have given support to this Motion and taken part in this debate. I should also like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply, which was concise yet full of matter. It was courteous, although somewhat hesitant, I feel, as regards moving towards any new approach to this problem. I do not belittle in any way what has been done, even though I suffered what I might term a general "turn down" on four out of the six suggestions that I made to the Minister. A great deal has been done, but I was a little depressed when he said that the outlook is not wholly discouraging; that we must not be too gloomy, and that we were holding the position. I think most noble Lords who have taken part in this debate feel that that formula is an insufficient formula to cope with the urgency and the size of the problem.

I will say no more except this. There are ranged along our Front Bench Whips who, I believe, are technically called Lords in Waiting. So far as this matter is concerned I am a Lord in waiting—waiting for more urgency and more action from Her Majesty's Government. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.