HL Deb 03 July 1961 vol 232 cc1177-94

2.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of this Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon, is to improve the condition of our rivers and streams by giving to river boards new powers in relation to pollution, and particularly to longstanding sources of pollution. I feel quite sure that this purpose will commend itself to your Lordships, as it will to everybody in the country, and I hope that If shall be able to satisfy your Lordships that the methods proposed in this Bill are those which, in the present circumstances, are the most appropriate and are likely to be effective.

May I for a few moments sketch the background to this problem? The first attempt of the Legislature to control the pollution of our rivers was as far back as 1876, when the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act was passed. But it is melancholy to reflect that this Act was not very effective. The enforcement provisions were extremely complicated; there were a great many different authorities involved, and the Bill also contained many safeguards, particularly for industry. I suppose it would be fair to say that at that time in our history the expansion of industry seemed, to a great many people, much more important than the maintenance of amenities. In fact, our public conscience about amenities was barely awake.

It was more than 60 years afterwards that the next legislative step was taken with the passing of the Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937. This was an Act which was aimed to encourage the discharge of trade effluents into the public sewers, which was very closely connected with the Bill that we have so recently been discussing in this House. This Act would, I think, have been much more effective but for the fact that two years after it was passed the war broke out, and then after the war there was a long period when there were severe restrictions on capital expenditure and as a result many public authorities were unable to expand and modernise their sewage disposal plant so as to take full advantage of the Act.

Then we come to a most important subject, the Milne Report in 1943, which led to the River Boards Act, 1948, when, for the first time, responsibility for this matter was laid clearly upon the shoulders of the river boards—that is, the 32 river boards set up under that Act, together with the Thames Conservancy and the Lee Conservancy Catchment Boards, which are statutory bodies with analogous powers. Until the responsibility was centralised in this way it was almost certain that progress would be slow and rather uncertain. Soon after the river boards were set up a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee, under Mr. Hobday, published their report. It is known as the Hobday Report and it led to the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, which is the principal Act to which this Bill is tied.

This Act has worked very well so far as concerns the control of new discharges—and with new discharges are included discharges which were in existence in 1951, but had been substantially altered. They are controlled under the 1951 Act by what is known as "consent procedure," by which anyone wishing to make such a discharge has to apply for consent, to give the particulars of the discharge end to await the decision of the river board before he can do anything at all. The Act has not worked as well so far as existing discharges are concerned; that is, discharges which were in existence before 1951 (there are a great many of them) and which have continued in substantially the same form. The intention of the Act was that the river boards should make by-laws, which would require confirmation by the Minister, establishing standards of purity, and thereafter existing discharges would be required to comply with the by-laws or the person responsible would be guilty of an offence. In practice this procedure has not worked at all. In fact, there have been no bylaws made; or at any rate no by-laws confirmed.

Why should this be so? I think the reason is basically this: that the effect of any particular source of pollution on a river does not depend solely upon the quality and the quantity of the effluent but also upon the condition of the water in the river at the point where it receives the effluent and upon the rate of flow of the river. The rate of flow clearly depends on, among other things, the rainfall in the catchment area from time to time, and also on the amount of water abstracted for agricultural or industrial purposes further up the river. And the quality of the water again depends on the extent to which, in its upper reaches, the river has been already polluted beyond the limits of its natural power or regeneration. Because we have to remember that organic pollution is naturally disposed of in all rivers and streams by the process of oxidation so long as there still remains a sufficient quantity of absorbed oxygen in the water; and even inorganic poisons are obviously less harmful the smaller the concentration in the water. So that the effect of any given pollution depends partly on what is already there in the water.

I think it follows from that that it is impossible, as it has been found in practice, to provide by-laws that are applicable thoughout the whole stretch of a river or a whole system of rivers under one river board. It might be argued, of course, that it would be easy enough to pass by-laws which require everything that entered the river to be 100 per cent. pure water but that, of Course, would be completely unrealistic, and even anything approaching that would involve imposing a quite unnecessary and intolerable burden, both on the public authorities and on industry, because it would be wasting the regenerative powers of the river.

Late in 1956 another sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee was appointed to examine primarily the problems relating to the disposal of trade effluents. This was a committee which had included in its membership persons with wide experience of both the practical and administrative aspects of these problems, and it was under the chairmanship of a distinguished civil servant not unknown to your Lordships, Sir Frederick Armer. I recognise that Sir Frederick Armer's recommendations have not always been enthusiastically received in your Lordships' House, but I think I can say without any question that the recommendations which he and his colleagues made in this case have been universally accepted and agreed by all who have studied the subject. On one quite important point a minority view was expressed in his committee, and to that I shall make brief reference later.

This Bill, then, is based on the unanimous recommendations of the Armer Committee. In particular, in relation to existing discharges—that is, those that were in existence before 1951 and remain in substantially the same form—the proposal is to abolish the by-law procedure which has proved ineffective and to adopt a procedure similar to that which has worked successfully in relation to new discharges under the 1951 Act. These proposals are contained in Clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill.

Before a day to be appointed by the Minister, not less than twelve months after the Bill comes into force, if it comes into force, application must be made to the appropriate river board for consent to any and every discharge which has not already had consent under Section 7 of the 1951 Act, that is to say, as a new or substantially altered discharge. Consent may, of course, be refused, but it must not be unreasonably withheld; and the expectation is that in very few, if any, cases would an existing discharge meet with a blank refusal. After all, the river board has been living with it for a good many years. But there is power to impose conditions, and there is no doubt that conditions will be imposed, and those conditions may, and usually will, include a time within which they have to be complied with. There is in any case three months' grace during which an anneal can be made to the Minister that the conditions are unreasonable: this is picked up in a later clause of the Bill. There is a further provision that if anybody fails to make an application—in some very small cases it might be through inadvertence or lack of knowledge—the river board in that particular case can proceed under subsection (5) of Clause l to impose conditions themselves, whereupon the position is exactly the same as if the discharger had applied for consent.

One difficulty that was apprehended was that the river boards would be snowed up, or perhaps it would be better to say flooded out, by applications, and this difficulty is overcome by a provision under Clause 2 of the Bill that the discharger is protected from prosecution between the time he makes his application and the time when the application is decided, either by the river board or by the Minister on appeal, if an appeal has been made. River boards can then deal first with what appear to them to be the worst cases, and there is no prejudice whatever against the man who has made the application and is awaiting the time for it to be considered. I should perhaps make it clear that applications can be dealt with, and we hope will be dealt with, before the appointed day. The appointed day is merely the last day on which applications can be put in; but there is nothing to prevent river boards, as soon as they receive applications, which they can do at any time after the Bill comes into force, from dealing with them straight away.

Subsection (3) of Clause 2 provides that this protection from prosecution while awaiting the decision can be withdrawn if purification plant is not being properly used. I think I should tell your Lordships that the wording here is not entirely satisfactory, either to the river boards or to the Federation of British Industries, and I hope that when we come to the Committee stage there will be an agreed Amendment to be put forward. Here perhaps I should mention that this Bill met with what I suppose might be called a technical hitch in another place, as a result of which the Committee stage was curtailed, and in Committee I shall have to table several Amendments of a minor nature, some arising from undertakings given by the sponsors of the Bill in another place.

To go on to Clause 4, this provides that, once conditions have been laid down, compliance with those conditions will protect the discharger from prosecution either under this Bill or under the relevant sections of the Act of 1951 or of certain other enactments. At the same time there is included in the same clause a provision that compliance with consent conditions given under the 1951 Act—that is in relation to new discharges—will also be given similar protection. This is part of a plan which runs right through the rest of the Bill, a plan to bring the procedure under this Bill and the procedure under the 1951 Act into line with each other.

Discussion of this clause brings me to mention the matter that I touched on earlier, on which there was a difference of opinion in the Armer Committee. A small minority of members of that Committee felt that if legislation was to be undertaken to implement their recommendations the opportunity should be taken either to remove, or at least to circumscribe, the Common Law right of all riparian owners to enjoy the natural flow of the river that passes their property. Cases have occurred where this right has been claimed, with results that, at any rate to laymen, have seemed far from reasonable. However, as I have said, it was only a minority of the Armer Committee that took that view, and those responsible for this Bill in another place felt that it would be extremely rash, to say the least of it, to attempt to deal in this Bill with such a highly controversial subject. And with that view I agree.

Clause 5 deals with the review of conditions attached to consents and provides that conditions may not be altered without the consent of the party concerned at intervals of less than two years. This again was a recommendation of the Armer Committee and seems to me very reasonable. After all, a public authority—or it may be an industry—may have incurred considerable expense in complying with conditions in improving the treatment of their effluent, and it would be rather unreasonable if immediately afterwards they could be faced with a new set of conditions. Here again the same provisions are to be applied to the review of conditions imposed under the 1951 Act. All through it seems to us, as it seemed to the Armer Committee, convenient that the two classes of case should be dealt with on a level.

Clause 6 sets out the procedure for appeals to the Minister. Here I might mention that an appeal on similar lines has always been available under Section 7 of the 1951 Act in relation to conditions imposed by the river boards on consents for new discharges; and it is interesting and encouraging to hear that in ten years since that time there have been fewer than 50 appeals out of I do not know how many hundreds, or even thousands, of cases that must have been dealt with. That, I think, reflects the reasonable attitude of the river boards, and I do not see any reason to suppose that in their new functions they will not show the same reasonable approach to their problems. A motley of miscellaneous provisions follows in Clauses 7 and 8. They are also largely concerned with bringing the relevant portions of the 1951 Act and this Bill into line. I feel that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if I did not attempt to explain them at this stage, but of course if any noble Lord would like some further explanation I will do my best to provide it.

Clause 9 deals with the application of the Bill to tidal waters. I must confess it is an extremely difficult clause to follow, but the effect is broadly that those provisions of the Bill (that is all the provisions from Clause 4 onwards), which merely modify the provisions of the 1951 Act, will be applied to what were described in the Act which we passed last year, and which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, as controlled waters. Your Lordships may remember the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act. It had an enormous Schedule which listed the estuarial waters to which that Act applied. The whole of this Bill will apply to those waters, except the first three clauses, which deal with existing discharges.

At this stage it is thought that it would impose too great a burden on river boards to include in their functions the control of existing discharges into those estuarial waters, under the first three clauses. The control of existing discharges will apply in all tidal waters which are covered by special ministerial orders under Section 6 of the 1951 Act, and some even under the Act of 1876. I am told that the total number of orders under those two procedures amounts to fourteen, but that the waters concerned are not large in extent or, for that matter, very important.

The remainder of the Bill calls, I think, for no comment at this stage. I should perhaps mention that Clause 12 was introduced in the Committee stage in another place, and the present wording is not entirely acceptable to some of the interest concerned. We may in this case also have an agreed Amendment to bring forward to your Lordships in Committee.

If any noble Lord wants to know why Scotland is not included in the Bill—I remember that that question was raised with the Clean Rivers Bill—the answer, as many of your Lordships' know, is that the set-up is quite different in Scotland; they have not river boards but river purification boards, and this Bill, in its present form, could not be applied to them. If the Scots want, as I hope they may, similar provisions to apply to them, they will have to introduce their own Bill. That, in brief, is the content of the Bill which I commend to your Lordships this afternoon.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount a question before he sits down? Has there been consultation with the Central Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union, since owners of dairy herds would be, at least indirectly, affected by the Bill? May I say that I would congratulate the noble Viscount on the clarity with which he has put his case.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Earl, I understand that consultation has taken place with both bodies to which he referred and that they are now satisfied. I was just about to say that this Bill has the support of all the representative bodies primarily concerned. I am glad to say it has also the support of Her Majesty's Government. I do not suggest that if we pass this Bill we shall immediately find a marked improvement in the state of our rivers. We are, for better or worse, an industrial nation with a high density of population, a large proportion of whom enjoy the benefits of piped water and modern conveniences, as they are called. We cannot hope to keep our rivers in the same state that they were in 2,000 years, or even 500 years, ago. Those who dream of catching salmon again in the Thames or the Tyne are, I am afraid, doomed to disappointment. But I believe that we can achieve substantial improvements without imposing undue burdens either on local authorities or on industry if, in the implementation of this Bill (assuming it is passed), we can retain what my honourable friends in another place have certainly had in the preparation of the Bill, the full co-operation of all the interests concerned. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a—(Viscount Simon.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill most heartily and to associate my noble friends who sit on these Benches with that welcome. At the same time, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount who has moved it in a speech which, for clarity and persuasiveness, reminded me very much of his distinguished father. He told us something about the history of the problem which is, I am afraid, rather a disgrace to this country. I felt that perhaps he was a little mild in his strictures in regard to it, but undoubtedly he is right when he says that, of recent years, considerable efforts have been made to improve the situation. I think that the Hobday Report, to which he referred, was a great milestone in that history of improvements. But perhaps it is rather significant that the Hobday Report, which I suppose is within the memory of all of us, referred to complaints—and if one goes back into the period between the wars my recollection is that there were constant complaints—about the increasing amount of pollution that was going on in the rivers and streams in the industrial parts of the country.

I think the noble Viscount is right when he says that the Act of 1951 has, on the whole, worked well. I remember my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor introducing it. It was one of the last of the great series of Acts in support of amenities which was passed through under the Labour Government. One of the complaints, if one wished to complain—I do not want to underline it too much—is that such a long period should have passed before this supplementary legislation has been introduced into Parliament. In effect, the Act of 1951, as the noble Viscount explained, was aimed at preventing new, or new kinds of, pollution stemming from the old offensiveness, and the industrialists who were already carrying through their operations in a way which was polluting the rivers and streams were given time to put their houses in order. Of course, it is true that there was provision in that Act designed to hasten them in their progress towards that end, but it has not proved successful at all.

Undoubtedly, this Bill should enable a much better state of affairs to be brought about. The fact is that the Govern- ment, whose duty it was to act in this manner some years ago, have been remiss in that regard. Everybody realised, even before the Armer Committee made its Report, that the situation was far from satisfactory. After all, the Armer Report, which I think we should all agree was a good piece of work, was brought out five or six years ago, and I think it is quite inexcusable that all that time has been allowed to slip by and that, in the end, the Government have made use of this new process of encouraging Private Members to undertake the type of work which should have been taken on its own shoulders by the Government. This is the sort of attitude which is leading to delays in all sorts of ways, and it is quite inexcusable.

When we come to the Bill itself, although its main provisions seem, on the whole, well conceived, and will, so far as I am able to see, carry out the objectives of the promoters successfully, we are still left with a quite considerable delay. As if the ten years from 1951 had not been enough, we are given fourteen months before the Minister, in effect, operates the Act when it becomes law, and even after that there are periods of delay provided for in the Bill. I was interested that the noble Viscount said that he himself had in mind a number of Amendments, which Mows that we shall have an effective Committee stage.

I should like to look at the Bill again in the light of possible Amendments to some of the clauses. I do not think that it would be of any particular value at this stage, and I am quite sure that your Lordships would feel that I should be taking up time unnecessarily, if I were to go over the Bill clause by clause. The noble Viscount has done that so well and so clearly that it would be rather absurd of me to try to follow on what he has done so much better than I can do. I shall therefore content myself by saying that we welcome this Bill, and hope that it will be put on the Statute Book before the end of the Session.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate Mr. Temple, the honourable gentleman, the Member for Chester, who introduced this Bill in another place, and, without quarrelling with the noble Lord opposite I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having taken adventitious advantage of the honourable gentleman's excellent effort. I do not think it is a bad thing that the Government should make use of the time of Private Members for a purpose of this sort. I have seen a great amount of nonsense come forward in Private Members' time, and I think that what is now before us is advantageous.

I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on having presented this Bill to us so clearly and so agreeably. A clean river is a thing of beauty and also contributes to the nation's health and wealth, not only for those who live in the valley but also for many who visit it for fishing, for boating, for pleasure, even for bathing. But, my Lords some of our rivers are in a most disgusting state—and these are not my words, although they may well be, but the words once used by the Home Secretary in another place, and he is not a man given to strong words.


Or strong action.


He said some years ago that they were in a disgusting state and at about the same time the Minister of Town and Country Planning, Mr. Henry Brooke, said he would like to go down to history as the Minister for clean rivers. I congratulate the Government on having aided this Bill through the Commons and am glad it has now reached us. It would be an ideal state of affairs if no sewage entered a river untreated and if no industrial effluent entered the river so long as it is poisonous or deleterious. At the present time we are poisoning our rivers, affecting the health of our citizens, making some of our beaches disgraceful and killing our fish. This is not a thing for a civilised country to do. Obviously we cannot cure all this in a short time, but this Bill is a modest step and it gives new powers to river boards. In my judgment and brief experience river boards are competent, capable bodies, and will, I think, carry out these powers satisfactorily. May I hope that the Ministry concerned will administer swiftly and forcefully the measures which I hope this House will grant in this Bill, and thus take a big step forward towards making our rivers as beautiful as they ought to be.


My Lords, may I in a sentence congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on introducing this Bill and also Her Majesty's Government for giving it their support. Lord Simon said that last year I was privileged to pilot through your Lordships' House the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960, a small measure towards the same objective as this larger measure aims at achieving—cleaner rivers. My noble friend who introduced this Bill said we must not be optimistic about catching salmon in the Thames or the Tyne: there again, that may well be a dream which will never be fulfilled. But the approach which I think Her Majesty's Government have is not what cannot be done, but what can be done. As my noble friend Lord Chorley said, there are endless opportunities for delaying procedure in a measure such as this. The success of a measure such as this must essentially depend upon the vigorous administration at the centre and the determination that the Bill shall be worked properly and adequately. I am quite sure that Her Majesty's Government's approach from the start of the Bill has been with that in mind.

I have only one more point to make. Quite recently in your Lordships' House we had a debate on drift-net fishing and the possible extinction of salmon from our rivers in Britain. My Lords, that matter is far outside the scope of this Bill, but I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary this question. When he sees—perhaps in hospitable circumstances—his friend and colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I want him to say this, "We have just had a Bill for cleaner rivers in our House, which the Government are supporting, and some of those persistent fellows got up and said: 'It is all very well to have clean rivers, but there ought to be some fish in those rivers, and they keep telling me there is some danger of the salmon being extinguished. We are doing out bit in my Department and I want you in your Department to do your bit equally. Will you and your Minister see that you do your job of keeping the rivers clean and populated?'"

My Lords, I am delighted this Bill has been introduced and I hope that it will have a swift passage in your Lordships' House.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Simon, who speaks with such great authority and experience on these matters, has covered the waterfront of this Bill so ably and comprehensively that I feel that it would be quite pointless for me to go over the same ground again. My first and pleasant task is to inform your Lordships—not perhaps to your surprise—that this Private Member's Bill, which has been blessed with such responsible parents in both Houses, has the full support of the Government. It is in no sense a Party measure, and as your Lordships are already aware it has received, save on small points of detail, very wide support in another place.

It is, as my noble friend made clear, largely based on the report of the subcommittee over which Sir Frederick Armer presided and which reported in December, 1959. By and large I think that report has met with widespread approval. It is lucid and practical and its recommendations, except on one highly contentious issue, were unanimous. I may add that it gives me particular pleasure to pay my small tribute to Sir Frederick Armer and his colleagues, since it was only a week ago to-day, as my noble friend reminded us, that the same Sir Frederick came in for some pretty shrewd knocks in your Lordships' House.

As I have said, this Bill was welcomed in another place, and I am glad that it has been so warmly welcomed in your Lordships' House this afternoon. I should like to thank, if I may, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for his support of the Bill. I think he was rather critical of the procedure—though not of the substance of the Bill—in two respects. One was that this was possibly a Bill which should not have been sponsored by a private Member but should have been taken over by the Government. I need not, perhaps, engage in that particular argument, which I think my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale dealt with very adequately. In fact, it was the subject of some small debate in your Lordships' House some two months ago on rather a similar point in connection with the Carriage by Air Bill. I suspect that both Parties would adhere to their views as to the merits or demerits of important legislation being sponsored in Parliament by Private Members.

Be that as it may, I should like just for a moment to turn to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, made about the Government acting slothfully or sluggishly in this respect. I think that in fact he rather overstated the case. He referred to the Government's allowing five or six years to elapse since receiving the Armer Report. But the Armer Committee reported to my right honourable friend only in December, 1959, and their report was published in January, 1960. I would have thought that your Lordships would rather welcome the fact that these recommendations have been translated into a Bill with such comparatively short delay. It is indeed a fairly complicated measure and, as my noble friend made clear, there has been very full consultation with all parties concerned in the meantime. I therefore think it is rather a good feat that it should have been done so quickly.

In this connection, your Lordships will no doubt recall that we debated this whole question of river pollution very fully in December, 1959, on a Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. In his reply to that debate, my noble friend Lord Waldegrave gave an undertaking that the Armer Report would be treated as urgent. I would claim, my Lords, that that undertaking has in fact been honoured. Some months ago, your Lordships passed on the Public Health Bill to another place. Part V of that Bill dealt with, if I may so term it, one leg of Armer. My noble friend's Bill deals with Armer's other leg.

My noble friend has made it clear to your Lordships that the idea of a standard of pollution, expressed in bylaws, was unanimously rejected as impractical by the Armer Report. The concept had, of course, been embodied in the 1951 Act, and had proved abortive in practice. The Report, again as my noble friend has made clear, recommends a different system under which each effluent will be considered individually on its merits or demerits, as the case may be, and in relation to all the relevant circumstances—the character and condition of the river and the time necessary to purify the effluent. There will be a separate application for each individual discharge and a separate decision; and, while the decision is pending, the discharge is protected from proceedings.

I would suggest to your Lordships that this empirical method which is now being adopted has much to recommend it. Apart from being perhaps rather more congenial to national taste and tradition, it is not a new method in this context: it is the method prescribed in Section 7 of the 1951 Act for the control of new effluents, and it has, I gather, worked well. In recommending its application to existing effluents—that is, pre-1951 effluents—the Armer sub-committee were admittedly extending it to a wider and possibly more difficult field. But it is not an untried method, and provided there is due co-operation, as we are sure there will be, between all the interests involved, we have every hope that this technique will work just as well over the wider field.

Of course, no one in his senses imagines that we can solve this terribly difficult problem of river pollution merely by substituting one technique of control for another. That is obvious when one recalls what we are trying to clear up: that we are trying to clear up the whole heritage of river pollution which has been growing between the time when effluents first began and 1951. To solve this big problem will obviously need much time, much thought and research and much money; and river boards will have to balance the ideal against what is practically possible. It was to help them in doing this that the Bill has provided, in Clause 5, for the revision and variations of conditions originally imposed on an effluent. Each river board can take a step at a time, free to take the next step as and when it seems practicable and reasonable. As the sponsor of the Bill in another place termed it, this Bill is in one respect at least an "essay in gradualism". All those—and I am sure they embrace the great majority of your Lordships—who would like to see our rivers cleaner may be tempted to more radical solutions. Yet I think everyone who is intimately acquainted with this problem—which I am not—will agree that, in view of its intractable nature, of the expenditure at stake and of the great number of competing interests, it would be foolish to expect that we could cut this Gordian knot of pollution at one stroke.

May I just touch on one particular aspect of this Bill—namely, what the functions of my right honourable friend under it are intended to be? First, it is for him to appoint the day by which applications for permission to continue discharging existing effluents must be submitted to the river board. That day, as my noble friend explained, is twelve months after the Act comes into effect, plus whatever extra time the Minister determines. The object of this period is to allow the people affected to take stock of the situation and frame their applications, and to allow the Minister time to draft the Regulations he is required by Clause 3 to produce, prescribing the information which the river board may require from the applicant.

It has been suggested—I think by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—that these arrangements leave the Minister with too much time; that possibly, as well as a minimum period, there should be a maximum period. I believe that that would not be right. May I explain briefly why? The Minister would have to draw up a rather technical and complicated set of regulations. Of course, there may be many dischargers, particularly the rural domestic dischargers, as I think he has termed them, whose applications are likely to be very simple ones and will require no supplementary details. But in some of the bigger and more important cases the regulations will be essential, and it would be wrong to bring the Bill into force until they had been made. An assurance has already been given in another place that these regulations will be produced with all possible speed but it will be necessary to consult a number of interests, and that will inevitably require some time.

My right honourable friend's other function under the Bill is to act as an appeal authority under Clause 6. Anyone who thinks that a river board has unreasonably withheld consent, or has attached unreasonable conditions, may appeal to the Minister; and he has three months in which to decide whether or not to make such an appeal. In passing, I ought perhaps to explain that all a person need to do in the three months is decide whether or not he wishes to appeal, and, if he does, to send a short formal notice of his intention. He has not to get his entire case ready for presentation in that time, as some people I believe have thought. For what has to be done I should have thought that three months is more than adequate.

Those who have preceded me in this discussion have covered the ground so fully that it is clearly not necessary for me to elaborate any further. In conclusion, however, I should like to underline the fact that the Government feel increasingly that the country is fully seized of the importance of mastering this problem of the pollution of our rivers. We all wish to get, and with time we shall get, tall our rivers clean enough to swim in, clean enough to fish in, and clean enough to take pleasure in. I think that is important, not only for the wealth of many people but also for the health, for the sport and for the pleasure of very many more. I hope that I can assure my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye that my right honourable friend's approach to this problem is that of a "can" philosophy and not of a "No can do" philosophy.

Parliament, and your Lordships perhaps, in particular, have long been concerned with this great, ever-present and elusive problem of river pollution. l do not claim that my noble friend's Bill will work miracles, but I 'commend it to your Lordships as a practical and work-to your Lordships as a practical and workmanlike measure which takes full account of the experience which all concerned have gained in this really important task of cleaning up our much too dirty rivers.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful for the support which has been accorded to this Bill by your Lordships who have spoken, and particularly by the noble Earl who spoke on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I should also like, if I may, to express my personal thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for his very kind remarks, which I appreciate deeply. I think that, although it appears that there is a good deal of possibility of delay in this Bill, one need not worry too much about it. I have a little experience, here, because the Port of London Authority, over which I have the honour to preside, is the pollution authority for the tidal Thames, and I know only too well how long it takes, with the best will in the world on all sides, to get sources of pollution put right. That being the case, the mere fact that twelve months is mentioned in the Bill—or three months or two years, or whatever it is—really has very little bearing on the practical implementation of any proposals. I do not think your Lordships will wish me to say any more. The points which have been raised by noble Lords have been dealt with in the main by the noble Earl.

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