HL Deb 05 May 1960 vol 223 cc438-66

3.43 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, to go back to the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Bill, it is a Private Member's Bill and has the support of the Government, and it is my pleasant task to commend it to your Lordships on behalf of the Government. Its general objective has already been explained very lucidly by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and I do not think it is necessary for me to add anything to what he has said about it, but I ought perhaps to explain that the Bill owes its present form to Amendments that were suggested by my right honourable friend and by the Parliamentary draftsmen, and that its slightly eccentric form of being a very short Bill with a very long Schedule must not be laid at the door of the promoters of the Bill.

As explained by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the necessity for this recasting was due to the impossibility of producing any definition, tight enough for statutory use, of a tidal estuary. The only feasible alternative seemed to be to make a list of all the rivers that have tidal waters in them and then define their seaward limits, and this the Schedule now does. Some of the rivers listed are rather minor ones with very small estuaries, but the list is a comprehensive one, and it would not otherwise have answered the purposes of the Bill.

There have been—and it is only right that I should bring them to the attention of your Lordships—criticisms in some quarters of this Schedule. There have been complaints that it was drawn up without consulting people who ought to have been consulted; also that the defined limits (because they are laid down in detail in the Schedule) may in time be affected by natural processes and need alteration for which there is no provision in the Bill.

I believe that the first criticism is based on a misunderstanding, for all the Schedule does is to provide a geographical definition of the limits of a list of estuaries. It is an exercise in cartography, and the only consultations that could have been relevant would have been consultations with persons skilled in these matters. In fact there are such people skilled in these matters, and they are in my right honourable friend's Department, and they have been closely associated with the Schedule's preparation. But to suggest, for example, that local authorities should have been approached because they might have reasons for preferring a different defining limit for a particular estuary is, as I have said, something of a misconception. The individual definitions are matters of fact, not convenience or policy, and we do not think that there is anything in these definitions for general discussion.

Coming to the second criticism, I would remark that there is a theoretical possibility, of course, that the definitions may grow out of date: for example, that a map reference that now marks a headland may be eroded away until it becomes a nameless spot in the sea, so that what was once (verbally) a defined enclosed area ceases to be so. I am advised that this is at least highly improbable. These definitions have been very carefully drawn. Each one has been lengthily and exhaustively considered; in fact there are still a few on which I understand corrections will be submitted at the Committee stage. We have rejected everything but the strongest and stablest landmarks. I do not claim that they will last for ever; nothing does—certainly nothing we do in Parliament. But I claim that they will last long enough to relieve us of the need for providing in this Bill for their amendment. It would require, in my right honourable friend's opinion, some very plain evidence of need to outweigh the obvious administrative inconvenience of a provision which might at any time be invoked by anyone who had an interest in getting one of these definitions changed, because once the Minister takes power to alter the Schedule he must surely be open to approaches by anybody else who thinks the Schedule should be altered. The motives behind the approach may be good or bad, genuine or bogus, but in either case they will need investigation. If my right honourable friend and I are right, that investigation will be essentially a waste of time, because the Schedule, with every allowance for human imperfections, will be strong enough to dispense with any of this retrospective provision for its amendment.

There has been a feeling in some quarters that this change from the existing procedure under which these powers are extended to particular estuaries by ministerial orders has keen too abrupt. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has explained why the present procedure is unduly restrictive to-day. I do not think it can be disputed that however suited it was to the conditions of 1951, there have been changes since then which make it right to think again. The river boards, as the noble Lord said, were "new boys" then—they were only founded in 1948—with a great deal of urgent work to do in non-tidal waters without concerning themselves with what are, on the whole, the less vulnerable tidal stretches of their rivers. Now, with ten years' work and experience behind them, the river boards feel ready to extend their responsibilities, and the Government are satisfied that they can and should do so. I do not think there can be any reason for discouraging them unless it could be shown that the present procedure by order was a necessary safeguard against an abuse of power. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, gave details of six or seven safeguards that exist and will exist in this Bill.


My Lords, might I just ask at this point (I think it is desirable on matters of this great importance) why, if that was the view of the Government after ten years, this has had to be left to private legislation? Why did not the Government bring in this very important and necessary amendment?


My Lords, not being in charge of this Bill, I am afraid that I cannot give a direct answer to that question. I will consult my right honourable friend, but I do not know the answer to that question off-hand. The Bill was brought forward by a Member in another place and found to be acceptable to the Government, a procedure which surely the noble Viscount will admit is a very common one.

To continue on this point of safeguards, the essential safeguard here against the unreasonable river board (if there be any) has been, and will still be, the right of appeal to the Minister against the refusal of consent to a new outlet or discharge or against any conditions attached to that consent which the applicant thinks unreasonable. That right is preserved. I do not think the boards will use their new powers unreasonably (the number of appeals from non-tidal waters can have been only a tiny fraction of the decisions given). But if they do, the remedy is at hand: an appeal lies to the Minister, Who will, if necessary, hold an inquiry and, if he thinks right, reverse the refusal or cancel the conditions.


My Lords, may I ask a question? If the control of the Minister provides a safeguard for the efficient use of the powers of the river board, what is the necessity for subsection (3) of Section 1, which requires the consent of, or at any rate some form of communication with, the dock and harbour boards?


My Lords, I am coming to the point of the dock and harbour boards in a moment. It may be that this provision, which was introduced I think in another place on Amendment, was not perhaps entirely necessary; but it certainly can do no harm, and we see no reason why, if the other House wanted to put it in, it should come out. The rights of these inquiries are preserved and I do not think that other interests should feel any apprehensions.

I know that in some areas river boards will be coming into waters where a harbour authority already exercises powers over new outlets and discharges—this is the point I was coming to when the noble Viscount made his interjection. But they exercise such powers for a rather different reason. As has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, they exercise those powers to prevent anything which might be a danger or a nuisance to navigation. These powers are contained in Local Acts. I know that some of the harbour authorities have felt apprehensive—perhaps not very strongly—lest the powers now to be conferred on river boards might adversely affect their own. Perhaps it is not unnatural to have suspicions when a foreign body comes into one's own area of jurisdiction. But in this case the suspicions are wholly groundless.

What is feared, I understand, is that a river board's consent to a new outlet or discharge may allow something to be done which the harbour authority wish to refuse, or at least to allow with more stringent conditions than the board require. In fact the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has sent my right honourable friend a draft clause which would allow the harbour authority, in these circumstances, to put what amounts to a veto on the river board's decision and if necessary to refer the disagreement to the Minister—who would be required to consult the Minister of Transport. We believe that there is not the smallest necessity for putting anything on these lines into the Bill. The powers of harbour authorities will be wholly unchanged by this Bill. If they refuse their consent to a new outlet or discharge, then it cannot be allowed, however willing the river board may be that it should go forward. They have no need of my right honourable friend's protection, or that of the Minister of Transport (who would, of course, in any case be most certainly consulted on any matter affecting the harbour authorities—and without any statutory compulsion). Everyone will agree that an unnecessary veto written into a Bill is a bad thing: that it is wrong to do anything in a Statute that will create administrative complications unless it is demonstrably indispensable. What the harbour authorities are seeking—I do not know how strongly—cannot be justified on these grounds.

Unquestionably the river boards and the harbour authorities should act together; it is to their advantage and the public's that they should do so. But this is not some abnormally difficult feat that can be achieved only under compulsion. It is something that should happen normally and naturally, because the two bodies have similar though not identical objectives. When they do disagree there is certainly no need to protect the harbour authority against a superior power. I hope I have said enough to show your Lordships that any amendment of this sort is unnecessary, and that, being unnecessary, it is also objectionable.

The special position of London may be referred to—the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, mentioned it in his speech. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, may argue that London gets on very well with a port authority and no river board at all. To that I would only say what I think that anyone can say, that London is different. There are historical reasons why London is different. It has always been like this, and it is not for a small Bill like this to change this great historical fact. For the rest of the country Parliament has created river boards by the River Boards Act, 1948. This present Bill extends those powers in a manner wholly consistent with the spirit of existing legislation.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having had to speak for so long on this Bill. I am also sorry if I have given the impression that I have been paying too much attention to criticism. I believe that, if I have given that impression, I may have distorted the picture and not given enough prominence to the wide public support that there undoubtedly is for this little Bill. It is a small Bill, but it has an important purpose. It will enable the statutory bodies charged with the duty of preventing river pollution to control new outlets and discharges throughout the entire length of their rivers, from source to mouth. This is an objective to which I suggest everyone must agree in principle. In that belief, I commend this measure to your Lordships as a sound and reasonable one. It is a measure which will further a cause which has wide public support and is of national concern.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I think that in every quarter of the House there will be wholehearted approval for the objectives of this little Bill, although, as the noble Lord who introduced it explained, they are somewhat limited. I am afraid that when I come to consider the methods by which it is proposed to achieve those aims, I do not feel the same enthusiasm for the Bill that is felt by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, or by the noble Earl on the Government Benches.

The noble Lord presented, as he always does, a most engaging case, and I do not like to argue against it, because it may appear that I am doubting the good faith of his argument. He started with the Act of 1951, but I should like to take your Lordships back a little further. He suggested to your Lordships that the 1951 Act limited the powers of the river boards to non-tidal waters, because the river boards were then in their infancy and nobody had had time to ascertain whether they were competent to discharge the wider duties. But the Act of 1951 arose from the Report of the Committee on the Prevention of River Pollution, commonly known as the Hobday Committee, which reported in 1949. If your Lordships will refer to that Report, you will find that that Committee, in turn, referred to two earlier Committees which had considered this same problem.

In the Third Report of the Joint Advisory Committee on River Pollution in July, 1931, before river boards were ever invented, the conclusion was reached that they did not recommend that the powers of the river authorities—they would be the river authorities of the time—should normally extend to tidal waters. The Committee said that Such a procedure without regard to local circumstances"— and I emphasise that point— was not warranted on the evidence". They proposed that the Minister, who I think at that time was the Minister of Health, should make orders where it was deemed to be necessary and in order to protect navigation interests, after consultation with the Minister exercising functions over navigation—that would now, of course, be the Minister of Transport. Here, rather belatedly, I should declare my interest as vice-president of the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association, although, as the noble Lord has explained, the particular port with which I am intimately concerned—the Port of London—is not at all affected by this Bill.

I have spoken of the Joint Advisory Committee on River Pollution of 1931. The Consultative Water Committee (the Milne Committee) in 1943 reached the same conclusion. Then, in 1949, the Hobday Committee, after describing the difficulties in applying the law as it then stood to tidal waters, went on to say: These very real difficulties make it impracticable to suggest automatic extension to tidal waters", and they recommended that the Minister should be empowered by a public order, after public local inquiry, to extend the law of the time to tidal waters. That is the law as it stands at the present time, because the Act of 1951 gave effect to the recommendations, or at any rate to that recommendation, of the Hobday Committee; and it was provided, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has mentioned, that river boards could apply to have the terms of the 1951 Act applied to tidal waters and the Minister could then approve the order, subject to a public inquiry. That was nearly nine years ago and, as the noble Lord has said, there have been only four applications (my figure is five, but I will accept that which he has given) under that section. All those applications have been granted. There is one other at present under consideration on which a decision has not yet been given.

It occurs to me to ask: why is it that greater use has not been made of these powers? The noble Lord suggested that the procedure was cumbersome, but is this not a "cumber" (if that is the right word) that ought to be applied to a public body exercising powers—that they should ascertain by all possible means whether the way in which they choose to exercise their powers is satisfactory to other interested parties? A great deal is made of the burden of a public inquiry, but I have little doubt that, if a river board take steps in advance to ascertain the views of others interested, in nearly every case they will be able to reconcile those views and reach an agreed procedure; and a public inquiry at which there is no objection does not cost much money or involve anyone in a great deal of work.

I myself feel, and I would recommend to your Lordships, that we should not throw away in this manner the only opportunity which other interested parties have of expressing their views, even though, as the noble Earl rightly said, there is a longstop in the shape of the Minister. May I call your Lordships' attention to what was said by the honourable gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government during the Second Reading debate in another place? The Bill then before that place was, of course, different from that which we see to-day, for it was later substantially amended. The Parliamentary Secretary said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 614 (No. 27), col. 773]: My right honourable Friend would not disagree that the time may be ripe for such a step forward as the Bill represents, but the Bill must be right. It must seek to satisfy all interests concerned. He emphasised particularly what had been said by two other honourable members and went on to say (col. 774): Joint efforts and maximum goodwill are the essential core of a successful attack on the problem of pollution. No authority by itself can solve the problem. There has to be co-operation. A little later on, when talking on the same Bill—that is, the original Bill—the Parliamentary Secretary said: The Bill is drawn in far too wide terms. It would draw within the control of the river board stretches of coast that, as one honourable Member said, are not affected by any river. No one has mentioned what is also true, that it would also draw in harbours and ports which have their own problems. I cannot see how the Parliamentary Secretary could have made those remarks unless he thought it would be better if the Bill did not draw in harbour and port authorities, yet the Amendments made in another place do not alter that position at all. So now we have before us a Bill to alter substantially the position which was established after three expert inquiries; and it is proposed to throw over the recommendation of those expert Committees and to provide in this Bill that the river boards may exercise their powers in tidal waters without any other limiting control except an appeal to the Minister.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount, he is not quite right there. Under this Bill, river boards will not be able to exercise their powers unrestricted. If someone wished to make a new discharge into tidal water, two consents would be necessary, and either might fail: first, consent from the river board, and, secondly, consent from the dock and harbour authorities; and I would stress that the position and powers of dock and harbour authorities are not altered one bit or reduced one iota by this Bill.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I believe he is perfectly correct in so far as dock and harbour authorities concerned have powers to control pollution. But I believe there are many dock and harbour authorities which have no such powers; and they rely upon the fact that nothing can be done without a public inquiry at which they can express their views. I believe it is these authorities who will lose the advantage and protection they now have.

The proposed change in the law in abolishing the right of interested parties to be heard is, to my mind, so considerable that I confess I seriously considered whether I ought to invite your Lordships to reject the Second Reading of this Bill. But though I have been only a short time in the House I have been here long enough to realise that we do not refuse a Second Reading to a Bill coming from another place except on very strong grounds; and obviously those would not be appropriate here. I do hope, however, that between now and the Committee stage the sponsors of the Bill will agree to consider an Amendment which will restore, in some form, the right of interested parties to be heard before action is taken. I hope that Her Majesty's Government also may be prepared to support such an Amendment.

I do not want to detain your Lordships but I should like to call your attention to the remarkable anomaly which will arise if this Bill is passed in its present form. It is already provided under the Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937, that a trade effluent may not be discharged into a public sewer without permission; and Section 2 (4) of that Act provides that if that sewer discharges, either directly or through a sewage disposal works, into a harbour or tidal water, the permission of the harbour authority must be obtained before the local authority can give permission for the effluent to be discharged into their sewer. So that in that case, where the effluent is discharged via a sewer, the port authority have a veto. That veto, of course, like all good vetoes, is subject to an appeal to the Minister; but they have that power. If the Bill is passed in its present form, then, if the same effluent is discharged direct into tidal waters or harbours, the authorities concerned will have no say at all in the matter.

I cannot help feeling that an anomaly of the kind which brings the law of this country into—perhaps it would be too strong to say contempt, but at any rate under criticism, ought to be avoided: the more so because I am advised that the best water engineering practice requires that industrial and trade effluent should, wherever possible, be discharged into a sewer, so that noxious constituents will, to some extent, be broken down in the sewage disposal works before being discharged into a river. The effect of this anomalous position will be that it will become much easier to discharge direct into a river than through a sewer, because there will be one less hurdle to cross—which seems to me quite wrong. So although, clearly, this House would not dream of refusing a Second Reading to this Bill, I hope that on Committee stage we may be able to propose some Amendments that will restore some protection to the other interests concerned.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly felt a good deal of timidity about addressing your Lordships on this subject, because you know so much more about it than I do. I also have to face a very formidable antagonist in the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I am very glad that it was not his father, but he has a good deal of the traces of his father. I should not have liked to take on his father in debate, although we were very good friends. But what I am going to do is take one case in point, and on that I feel perfectly secure.

I live on the River Blackwater, a beautiful estuary in Essex, running from the old Borough of Maldon right down to the sea. I have a letter from the Essex River Board touching this Bill. They are concerned in the first place not only in resisting an Amendment such as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has suggested but in objecting to subsection (3) of Clause 1 (I believe it is), which calls upon the river board before they can do their job to have special regard to—I will read the words— factors arising from the tidal nature of the waters and, in particular, to additional dilution due to dispersal of the effluents by tidal action, and the varying direction of flow and salinity and any other special properties of those waters. That will require a certain amount of interpretation, but what I have to say is directly concerned with it.

I have sailed on the River Blackwater for 60 years. It was a very rural and remote place when I first went there, but a great change has taken place. The railway, seven miles away, has ceased really to be much of a means of communication; but the roads, especially the new road made all the way to the new atomic power station at Bradwell, are so big and powerful that thousands of cars come along them all the time, and especially at week-ends; and the motorists want access to the river.

Moreover, there is the other problem, which is that, wherever there is a piece of beach, someone wants to establish a caravan site. Access to the river and enjoyment of it is a thing no one would deny them, but it does mean that certain precautions must be taken. When we get this immense pressure on the coast, which did not exist in the old days, and this immense increase in the number of people living in tents or caravans, we get a sewage problem of a very considerable kind. The river boards are the guardians of the purity of the rivers and they are well aware that the tide takes the sewage out and sometimes brings it back, and they do not require any assistance in that regard. But what they do not want is to find that they have to consult great and powerful interests who, in their particular case, have no real concern. By Act of Parliament they have to be consulted and it means delay in dealing with a problem, which, believe me, my Lords, is becoming very serious. The discharge of sewage into our river, not only from the towns but from the new buildings, is quite a serious problem, and the only authority that has its eye on that particular problem—and that is in the public interest—is the Essex River Board itself. So from this case in point I would venture to say that subsection (3) of Clause 1 is not necessary and that any Amendment which may be moved along the lines proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, should be resisted.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, might I suggest that the Essex River Board have had nine years' interval in which they could have applied for an Order to control the pollution in the River Blackwater?


My Lords, I understand that they have powers to do that. Their powers are now being extended to the tidal area. Whether it is the same for non-tidal areas I am not sure.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is slightly misinformed. Under the existing Act they have the power under Section 6 and the fourteenth subsection of Section 7 to apply for these provisions to be applied to the tidal waters.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, before I try to deal with my own views on this particular Bill I should like to convey the apologies of my noble friend Lord Latham, who, owing to a previous important engagement, was unable to stay to take part in this debate. He has asked me to say on his behalf that, while in general he approves of this particular Bill, he nevertheless reserves to himself the right on the Committee stage to put forward an Amendment if he feels so inclined, because his view is that the protection of sea fisheries in the Bill is not sufficiently strong. He would therefore like an opportunity of moving an Amendment in that connection when the Committee stage is reached.

So far as my own views are concerned, I should like first of all, if I may, to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on the very balanced view he gave of the purposes of the Bill. Also, I think it would be in keeping with the tradition of your Lordships' House if we expressed our appreciation of the skill and tenacity with which the Private Member, Mr. Ramsden, was able to pilot the Bill through another place. I think he is entitled to that compliment. My own view of the Bill is not a positive pro or con. My first inclination was to take the view that, at no matter what cost, clean water, whether in river or in reservoir, is essential. Whether that water Abe for the purposes of industry or of drinking, the fact remains that we must do everything we can in order to protect the supplies of water we have. We must remember not only that water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity because of the social changes which are taking place, by which more and more is used, but that the state of the rivers and streams, tidal or non-tidal, is becoming shockingly worse, one may say because of the careless attitude the public are increasingly adopting towards keeping rivers clean.

When, however, I began to ask myself what one should do about this matter, I realised on reflection that Mr. Ramsden, the originator of this Bill, had begun with his ideals, which were well stated and, if I may say so, not even exaggerated, but had perforce to see the realities of the situation and bow to the wishes of the Minister in order to combine, so far as is possible, the requirements of industry with the requirements of the general public.

Although I am not prepared to express an opinion on the Bill, this Second Reading gives me the opportunity of requesting—demanding, if you like—from the Minister of State for Scotland, whom I am very glad to see present to-day, an undertaking that he will, without delay, introduce for Scotland a Bill similar in its purposes to the Bill that we now have before us. If he should answer that he intends to enforce the Act of 1951 with greater energy than that with which it has been enforced hitherto, then, while I am prepared to accept that that is an admission of failure to operate powers already in his possession, I do not think it goes far enough. I say that because I think that modern tendencies are such as to make it more important than ever that our tidal rivers, and even our estuaries, should be kept in as pure a form as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, knows very well that rivers such as the Clyde, the Forth and the Tay are rivers with long stretches of tidal waters which pass through areas of high industrial concentration, and that their conditions are becoming worse and worse year by year. I understand that since 1951 only one kind of inquiry has taken place, and I do not know how successful the outcome of that inquiry was. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said about the complicated machinery—the unnecessarily complicated machinery, one feels—which one must go through in order to obtain the remedies that he seeks. Time and money are wasted; and, meantime, such authorities as are indifferent to the pollution of our water carry on their nefarious work without fear of the power which can be exercised if the Secretary of State will only exert himself. For that reason I say to him, without going into too great a detail, because I do not think it helps an argument to repeat what has already been said—and, in any event, one would like to see a Bill for Scotland come forward on which one could concentrate one's attention—that I hope he will give us an assurance that a Bill will be submitted at an early date, either to your Lordships' House or to another place, which will have an objective similar to that of the Bill now under consideration.

I do not intend at this moment to make up my mind about the possibility of submitting Amendments to this Bill during the Committee stage. I want to consult with some of my friends, and to see what they think desirable. I do not need to remind the noble Lord that Amendments were in fact drawn up and put on the Order Paper in another place, but for technical reasons were not proceeded with. I therefore ask him to consider this, not under threat, but under the realisation that there is a large body of public opinion very much concerned about the state of our tidal rivers and estuaries, and that unless something is done fairly soon it may give rise to a good deal of public discontent which I feel sure that be, for one, will wish to avoid.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I crave your indulgence for a moment to intervene in this discussion, first of all because I am a member of the Essex River Board, to which reference has been made, but also because I am a member of the Board of the Port of London Authority. I may say that I am in a little difficulty here because, for the first time, I find myself at variance with the views of our very able and distinguished chairman, Lord Simon. I can hardly believe that this is the Lord Simon of the Port of London Authority, because he spends so much of his time these days combating pollution of our River Thames, and doing everything he can to get it cleaned up.

All the river boards want is to have the same power and the same authority to clean up our estuaries and tidal waters, not only at the mouth of the Thames, but in all the other estuaries up and down the country, as are possessed by the Port of London Authority and as are possessed by the river boards over inland rivers. My noble friend Lord Simon questioned whether there was any demand for this Bill. I read the whole of the debates in another place on the Second and Third Readings; and if your Lordships refer to copies of Hansard you will find that the Member of Parliament for every area which included an estuary or tidal water throughout the whole of Great Britain and Wales got up and, despite opposition from harbour boards and such bodies, pressed the House Ito give the river boards this authority so that they could clean up their own tidal waters.

To-day, my Lords, the pollution of our rivers and waterways in England and Wales is nothing short of a national disgrace. A great deal of work is being done by river boards up and down the country, and by bodies like the Port of London Authority, to try to put this matter right. But as I think my noble friend Lord Greenhill said, part of our trouble is that we have so many restrictions, so many safeguards and so many frustrations on our work that we cannot get on and have the rivers cleaned up as we should like to. Now, to my astonishment, my noble friend Lord Simon says that before a board deals with a case of pollution there should be a public inquiry. That, in my opinion, is perfect nonsense. It would stop this work altogether. We at the Port of London Authority do not have to have a public inquiry before we try to clean up some case of foul discharge into the River Thames: nor do a river board where non-tidal waters are concerned. I beg the House to pass this Bill, and to be assured that, on the river boards we have men of reason, experience and ability who are giving their time to try to clean up our rivers and estuaries. I beg of you not to put further frustration in the way of their work.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has again shown his practical interest in this important subject by taking charge of a Bill to put into effect the very measures which he himself advocated in the debate which we remember took place last December, and which was initiated by the noble Lord himself. I am sure that from all sides of the House we wish this Bill luck, and thank him for introducing it. Like him, however, I must record my profound disappointment that Scotlard has been excluded from this Bill. We now know why. We know that opposition from the Federation of British Industries to the Bill in another place would have been so strong against any Amendment to bring Scotland into line that the whole Bill would have been in danger of being lost. Indeed, I understand that Amendments which had been put down to this effect were withdrawn for that very reason.

Together, I am sure, with many other Scottish Members of your Lordships' House, I have myself received a memo, from the Federation of British Industries urging that there should be separate legislation for Scotland. They base their case largely, I gather, on the different codes of proceedings in the purification laws which exist in. England and Wales, on the one hand, and Scotland, on the other. But I find it very difficult to understand the point of view that if Scotland were brought into the ambit of this present Bill, and the purification boards were thereby given control over existing and new discharges, it would have the effect that grave problems would arise. How can we hope to clean our tidal waters, except by control? And I feel this, my Lords: that if amenity must always play second fiddle to industry, then it is almost unbearable to think of the future of our country. But I am with the Federation in thinking that the question of applying this Bill to Scotland should, in the first instance, have been referred to the Purification Advisory Committee—a body which has been set up in Scotland but which does not exist in England. I do not know whether this has been done; and, if it was done, I do not know what kind of answer was given. I have given the noble Lord notice of that question, and perhaps he would be good enough to advise us on that point when he speaks. I should like to know what that Committee's recommendation is, because it seems to me that this body was appointed for just such a purpose as this, to advise the Secretary of State.

The fact remains, as the noble Lord Lord Greenhill, has pointed out, that many of our Scottish estuaries and rivers are polluted just as heavily as many in England and Wales. From personal experience I know that the Forth is just as dirty as the Tees or Tyne, which are held up as examples of the worst pollution in England. As my noble friend Lord Craigton knows perfectly well, something must be done soon, as industry and population are built up at Grangemouth and in other towns on the tidal banks of the Forth. I am not proposing that Amendments to include Scotland should be put down to this Bill. I think it is probably far too late to do that. But I support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that the Government should take some action in the near future to give Scottish tidal waters the protection they deserve.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name down to speak on this subject. The point I want to make is one which was brought to my attention by the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees of England and Wales. I considered it a point which could probably be best made on Committee stage, but in view of the reference which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye made to the Association and in view of the need for the Association to have its voice heard in this debate—because its cause is slightly different from that of the docks and harbours boards—I think that it might be helpful, particularly to my noble friend in charge of the Bill, if I indicated to your Lordships the view of the Association.

I believe that your Lordships' House stand in some slight peril in this matter. It has been made abundantly clear that the object of the Bill is to extend the river boards into river tidal estuary boards. Powers are to be given to river boards over tidal waters, over which at present the sea fisheries committees and their Association have certain rights and duties which have been given to them by Parliament. The powers conferred on the Association were contained primarily in the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act, 1888, and among these powers, which they have continued from then until now to exercise in full, is the power to make by-laws. Clause 2 (1) (e) of the Act gives them power to make by-laws for prohibiting or regulating the depositing or discharge of any solid or liquid substance detrimental to sea fish or sea fishing. As your Lordships see, the Association have certain limited powers with regard to stopping pollution in waters into which my noble friend's river boards propose to come. The river boards will also have certain limited powers, because they, and my noble friend, have no interest in the welfare of oysters, shell-fish, lobsters or crab. If they have, I am sure it is gastronomic rather than technical. Therefore, I think that it would a gross overlapping of powers if river boards were to undertake the protection of the cleanliness of these waters from the point of view of pollution interfering with the welfare of fish. In moving the Second Reading my noble friend said that any applicant who wanted to create a new discharge would have to comply with sea fishery requirements as well as with river board requirements. Our requirements are all laid down in our by-laws and they are very simple. They say, in effect, if I may paraphrase the quotation which I have just made from the Act, that no one may introduce any substance which may be detrimental to the welfare of fish. If that is done, the Association proceeds to court and prosecutes with a view to obtaining conviction.

We should get to the point where some perfectly well-meaning and genuine applicant for a discharge goes to the river board, which for this purpose is a law unto itself. While it consults the dock and harbour board, there is no requirement to consult with the sea fishery committee. So we get the ridiculous position, I submit with all courtesy to my noble friend, of one statutory body prosecuting someone for doing something he has permission to do from another statutory body. That would be a perilous position in which to place a body to whom Parliament has given responsibility.

I submit the matter to your Lordships now in order that it may be considered before Committee stage. I do not think it is a matter on which I should wish to divide the House. I was certainly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, said about the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Latham. Unless we have a satisfactory reply in due course (I do not mean at the moment), I shall look forward to seeing what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, can do to assist us in this matter.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support this Bill. The only matter which may be open to criticism is that it does not go far enough. Like other noble Lords, I have received representations from organisations and individuals in Scotland asking that the provisions should be applied to that country as they are in England. I sincerely hope that a means will be found of doing so. Scotland has some very long stretches of tidal water, which at present are in a deplorable and filthy condition and need to be cleaned up as rapidly as possible.

I think that in one other respect the Bill is probably not strong enough. Probably it will tend to prevent additional pollution rather than to abolish the pollution which already exists. I was quite unable to understand the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in asking that various interests should be consulted. I do not know whether he meant interests which are concerned with adding further pollutions to the estuaries and tidal waters, or to what kind of interests he was referring. It is abundantly clear that there is need for speed with regard to this matter, and it was only right that, instead of relying upon the very slow machinery of the 1951 Act, which so far has resulted in little extension of the powers of river boards, there should be a general extension of those powers to control all estuaries and tidal waters.

The degree of pollution in many cases is extremely great, not, of course, in all cases arising in the estuaries themselves, but often arising at an earlier point. May I illustrate this by one single example? I understand that at the present moment there has been put into the River Lea, which provides one of the sources of drinking water for London, an amount of discharge from sewage works which constitutes at the point of intake into the London water supplies 20 per cent. of the flow of the river. That, I think, is a rather alarming fact. There are, of course, many other cases, although not nearly of such an extreme nature, in which pollution by sewage effluent is considerable and which require more drastic control than prevails at the present time. I welcome this Bill as, at any rate, a step forward in trying to remedy these evils, and I sincerely hope that it will pass into law.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to reply to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and the noble Earl, Lord Haddington. There seem to be two separate Scottish questions here: whether this Bill should be amended by your Lordships to include Scotland; and, if not, whether the Government themselves should immediately present a Scottish Bill. I would, first of all, put on record the present position.

On December 3 last in this House, in a debate on the pollution of rivers and estuaries, I said that the Government saw no objection in principle to the application of this Bill to Scotland if suitable Amendments were made in another place. Moves were made in another place, and considerable discussions followed. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, said, Amendments were in fact put clown: they were not technically withdrawn, but were not moved. The reason for that was, as the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, said, the attitude of the Federation of British Industries. My action then was to see the representatives of the F.B.I., with whom I had full and friendly discussions. I hope that I then made almost as good a speech as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. But for one reason or another (and I will deal with this later on), the F.B.I. maintained their opposition to the Bill. I am advised that if an Amendment is put down there is a danger of losing the whole Bill for England and Wales. So that we have to weigh that danger against the benefits to Scotland.


Could the noble Lord specify the danger?


Could I specify the danger of losing the Bill?




The Lords Amendments are taken first on a Friday, and if they give rise to discussion or voting there is the possibility that they could be talked out, and not only would this Bill be lost but many other Private Members' Bills might be in danger.

This Bill, in the view of the Government, and as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, is a step forward. The question is whether, because of special Scottish conditions, and by all concerned taking energetic action, we can achieve the same object without this Bill and without taking this grave risk. Let me, first of all, deal with the special Scottish conditions, which the noble Lord in introducing the Bill dealt with rather shortly. As he said, our river purification boards have no statutory function with regard to fishing. But a more important point is that the two major estuaries, the Forth and the Clyde, must be dealt with under the 1951 Act, as they are scheduled to be so dealt with in that Act, and there is no comparable English provision. The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, will be glad to know that my right honourable friend has received the Report of the Forth Inquiry and hopes to issue his findings quite shortly. I would tell your Lordships that the industrialists whom I saw were very pleased to have had the opportunity of making full representations at that inquiry. It is now our job to turn our consideration to the Clyde.

Secondly, we have the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee under the 1951 Act, to which there is no parallel in England and Wales. My right honourable friend is therefore in closer day-to-day contact with the day-to-day problems and he has independent advice on the dangers and the possibilities. The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, asked me whether the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee had been consulted. This came upon us rather quickly and at a time when their term of office had come to an end there was no Chairman, and my right honourable friend was actually in the process of appointing a new Committee and finding a new Chairman. So that at the precise moment when we wanted them, we were between two stages. Your Lordships will be glad to know that General Sir Philip Christison has agreed to act as Chairman of that important Committee.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but could he give me some assurance that this Committee will be consulted by the Secretary of State in regard to any future legislation for Scotland?


I was coming to that assurance at the end of what I have to say.

The next point is that in Scotland industrialists have a statutory right to be represented on Scottish river purification boards and on the Advisory Committee, which is not the case in England and Wales. So perhaps it is understandable that Scottish industrialists may feel more strongly than the English and Welsh industrialists would that the 1951 Act is their Act; that they have an active say in its operation; and that they have full protection under it. What I had to ask myself was: could we meet that point of view and still achieve the intentions behind the Bill? The F.B.I. point of view is one in which I think your Lordships will be interested. It is a fact that the advantage of the 1951 Act procedure over this Bill is that it allows the board to review the whole position, including existing discharges, which, unless they are altered materially, are not caught up with under the procedure of this Bill. As your Lordships will know, to control existing discharges in England and Wales the board must still apply for an Order under the 1951 Act.

Again, in comparing the 1951 Act procedure and the procedure under this Bill, there is a difference about which the F.B.I. feels strongly, and about which there is room for personal opinion, as was shown by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. Under the 1951 Act, before an Order is made, a full public local inquiry must be held if it is required, at which everyone can have his say. Under this Bill this Order procedure is, as it were, by-passed in relation to new and altered discharges, and only a person affected by the conditions imposed over the discharges concerned has a right of objection. True, disputes can be referred to the Secretary of State who, in a particular case can, but is not bound to, instruct a local inquiry. That is the view of the F.B.I. My right honourable friend and I feel that the safeguards in the 1951 Act are truly sufficient, but I thought I should state that point of view.

We must ask ourselves: is the position in Scotland sufficiently tidy, sufficiently protected and sufficiently on the move to tip the delicate balance against being included in this Bill? The 1951 Act requires an order to be made in respect of tidal waters of the Forth and the Clyde, and we cannot deal piecemeal with either of these great rivers. We must have, I feel, the full panoply of a full inquiry with rivers which are so important to Scotland. These inquiries are not inquiries as to whether there should be an Order—the 1951 Act gave the Forth and the Clyde Orders: they are only inquiries into modifications to the Orders or the date of their enforcement. So far as other tidal waters are concerned, the other Scottish boards can apply for Orders—Banff, Moray and Nairn, and the Tweed. Here the F.B.I. have promised full co-operation at this stage if such an Order is applied for. In the case of the Solway, the F.B.I. are already co-operating fully with the Solway Board. They have gone a long way towards being ready to apply for an Order.

Finally, I can assure your Lordships, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, said, that, acting on the advice of the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee, my right honourable friend will encourage any other boards to apply for Orders. It has been said that the 1951 Act is rather cumbersome. But now that we have the Forth inquiry behind us—and that was difficult indeed—we know the form, and there should be no undue delays in the making of these Orders. The job once done will cover all existing polluting and noxious discharges, as well as new and altered discharges. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, said, the objective is clean rivers and clean tidal waters, and that must be achieved. My feeling is that it can be best achieved with the full co-operation of industry. At present in Scotland we have that co-operation; we have the special advice of the Advisory Committee, and we have the powers which I have assured your Lordships we shall endeavour to ensure are used speedily and to the full. The danger that this Bill will never become an Act is, I am advised, great, if attempts are made to include Scotland in it. But if all concerned in Scotland play their full part, there is no danger in Scotland's being left out of this Bill. If we fail, all will know, and there will be many, both here and in another place, ready to introduce another Bill for Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, faced me up to hard reality. He demanded an undertaking that the Government should present at an early date a Clean Rivers Bill for Scotland. As the noble Lord knows, one is never in a position at this Box to make such a promise, but the promise I can give is that my right honourable friend will immediately seek the advice of the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee, and, if it proves necessary, the Government will give serious consideration to promoting a Bill at the earliest opportunity.


My Lords, may I ask one further question? The noble Lord has just said that we have the Forth inquiry behind us. Earlier in his speech he said we are awaiting the report. Which is it?


My Lords, both are true. The report is now in the hands of my right honourable friend, who hopes to promulgate the decision any moment now.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to -thank noble Lords who have taken part in this Second Reading debate, some of whom have advised that the Bill should not be weakened in any way, and one or two who have said that they think the Bill goes too far. I should like to comment briefly upon the speeches made. The first comment I would make is upon what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of HILLSBOROUGH, said. He asked, "Why no Government Bill?" It is not for me to reply; it is for the Government to reply to that question; but I suggest that perhaps a Member in another place, drawing a fortunate place in the ballot, put down a useful Bill. It may be that we are seeing a happy combination of saving Government time in a close timetable, with the Private Member making full use of the opportunity presented to him under our Parliamentary procedure.

I should like to say something on the speech of my noble friend Lord Simon. He agreed with the objective of the Bill, but he questioned the method. He went on to build up a case which, if I may say so, was an admirable case, but was one based upon false premises. My noble friend built up his case on the 1949 Hobday Report, but in fact that Report spoke about Orders for a whole area, applying a general prohibition on pollution discharges. The present Bill is something quite different. This Bill will merely ensure each proposal being considered on its merits. It gives no ready-made decision in advance but what I call the piecemeal approach—that in each single case there is an opportunity of an inquiry and, in certain cases, an appeal, should one be desired. My noble friend Lord Simon thought that what I call the clumsy procedure under the 1951 Act, which makes it possible to carry out the provisions of this Bill if a river board is willing to go through this clumsy procedure, was adequate. It really is not. If he will read and consider the difficulties and stipulations which are set out in Section 6 of the 1951 Act—a month here and a month there, publication in the London Gazette, public inquiries of two sorts—he will see that it really is not a satisfactory procedure for dealing with something which is an urgent problem, about which I believe industry would not want to be kept waiting and would wish to know what its position was in the building of plants and machinery and the laying of plans.

My noble friend Lord Simon dealt with the question of harbours and docks, and said that some dock authorities may not have power to control outlets. He made that point in reply to my interjection, when I suggested that this did nothing to remove or denigrate the existing powers of harbour authorities. His reply was that some may not have power to control outlets. I admit that. But if that is so, how is that an argument against this Bill? If there are dock authorities who have no power to control what is admittedly a discharge which affects navigation, surely it is to their advantage if those powers are created for the river board, because I have no doubt that those river boards will represent those dock authorities. Those poor boards will now have an opportunity of being consulted which they have not had before. They ought to be happy and cheering this Bill, and not depreciating it as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, is doing.


My Lords, may I intervene for a moment? The point I was trying to make is that under the existing procedure they may have no powers but they have the right to be heard at a public inquiry, and that right is being taken away. They do not doubt that the river boards are composed of excellent people, but they have a right, quite irrespective of the personalities of the river boards, and that right is being taken away.


This is essentially a Committee point which we will discuss later. I think the noble Viscount has not got it quite right. I do not think he really made out his case, as other noble Lords on the other side agree.


My Lords, we should like to know whether the power to be represented at a public inquiry is taken away or not.


No, no power is taken away, either from dock authorities that have powers to control effluents or dock authorities that have the power to go to the Minister to appeal. Such power continues. No power is taken away from any dock authority which at present they possess.


May I intervene once again for a moment? I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. I agree that no powers are taken away, but there are many dock authorities that have not got powers. They have the right to be heard at a public inquiry and that right is taken away. The noble Lord says that they have the power to demand the public inquiry. I do not think they have under this Bill. The only person who has the right to demand that the Minister should inquire is the person who has applied for additional outlets.


I do not think we should argue it now. This is essentially a Committee point which will be debated, no doubt, in full in Committee. But no powers are taken away from dock authorities which- they at present possess.

I was particularly grateful for the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate; one does not always get his support for everything we initiate on this side of the House, so I was all the more grateful this afternoon. I would point out to him, in respect to Clause 1, subsection (3), that the river boards would need to have "special regard"; those are the words used. I think the noble Viscount spoke about "compulsory consultation". That does not occur; it is "special regard".


The noble Lord made such an admirable exposition of this Bill and I so much agree with it that I do object to this bit of woolly stuff. I wonder what Lord Simon's father would have thought of a description of something you cannot hold.


This was an Amendment inserted at the request of industry, and the noble Viscount and I have been in Parliament some years and can evaluate the concrete and specific weight of any particular Amendment. Life is a series of compromises, and if in order to achieve 99 per cent. of the purpose of this Bill we endanger 1 per cent., I do not think he or I will take great exception to that. What I would object to—and I am sure the noble Viscount will be with me—would be if there was any provision for compulsory consultation. There is no such suggestion. It may be woolly, but perhaps wool does not hurt sometimes.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, for his speech intimating that Lord Latham reserved his position on Amendments, rather the same type of Amendment as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, who has had to leave, the Chamber, on the sea fishery committees. Obviously the views expressed today and which have already been expressed in another place, and will be expressed no doubt by Lord Latham in your Lordships' House later on, must be taken into consideration. I would only say that I think that there is no conflict of interest between the sea fishery committees and river boards, because pollution is one of the great dangers to sea fishing interests to-day. Sea fishery committees have the power to prosecute in cases of pollution affecting the interests of sea fishing and such right to prosecute would not in any way be affected if the consent had been given by the river board. The sea fishery committee by-laws and their rights of prosecution remain absolute.

The question of Scotland has been dealt with. Let me only say that I shall read carefully in Hansard all the contributions, whether I agree with them or not, made by noble Lords. But I repeat that I think that the main critic, Lord Simon, has not really made out the case for the dock and harbour board intervention. We want only to help the dock and harbour boards and not hinder them in their work. I do not believe that this Bill will in any way hinder them, and I hope that your Lordships will feel able to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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

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