HL Deb 25 February 1965 vol 263 cc924-54

3.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill deals with the prevention of river pollution, a subject in which your Lordships have shown considerable interest. Many of our Scottish rivers are, happily, free, or virtually free, from pollution, but in areas where extensive urban and industrial developments have taken place these have inevitably led to large discharges of sewage and trade effluents and to river and estuarial pollution. Your Lordships gave attention to some aspects of the situation last year, when the Spray Irrigation (Scotland) Bill was before this House.

Since the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) (Scotland) Act, 1951, was enacted, there has been, I think it fair to say, a modest overall improvement in the condition of our rivers. In general, river purification authorities have been able to maintain conditions. The improvement, while welcome, is nevertheless somewhat disappointing to the Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee and to the river purification authorities set up under the 1951 Act. I immediately acknowledge that all these bodies have done a great deal of useful work. The stimulus of the Advisory Committee and its chairman, General Sir Philip Christison, has been an important factor, and there has been a co-operative, responsible and constructive attitude generally on the part of local authorities, industry and agriculture. The need for further powers to deal with those discharges of trade or sewage effluent to streams hitherto outwith the system of control has, however, become plain; and the Bill is a major and logical step in this direction.

The 1951 Act, by Section 28, applied the system of control by river purification authorities to new or altered outlets and new discharges of trade or sewage effluent—that is, those not made before the application of the Act to particular areas. It is also an offence under the Act, by Section 22; to make any discharge of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to streams. In this, the Scottish legislation was broadly similar to that enacted for England and Wales in 1951. Experience later showed, however, that there would be clear advantage in extending the consent procedure to discharges which existed prior to 1951. This extension of control for England and Wales was enacted in 1961.

The Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee have recommended to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that there should be similar legislation for Scotland; and in this they are supported by river purification boards. The Advisory Committee includes not only representatives of local authorities, but also of industry, agriculture and fisheries, and there has been general agreement on the principle of bringing these pre-1951 Act discharges under control by a consent procedure. This is not to say that the industrial, agricultural and fishery interests have taken no further interest in the Bill. On the contrary, as the proceedings in another place have shown, they have taken a keen interest in it. The discussions which have already taken place and the process of amendment have, I think, gone far to allay their doubts and fears.

May I now turn briefly to the basic provisions of the Bill? Clause 1 applies the consent procedure to those discharges of trade or sewage effluent to streams not controlled under Section 28 of the 1951 Act. After an appointed day, it will be an offence to make such discharges without the consent of the river purification authority. As in the case of the principal Act, the Bill provides a reasonable period before which this important extension of control may be brought into force—namely, a minimum of fourteen months from the Bill's enactment. Applicants who apply for consent before the appointed day are protected, by Clause 2, until their applications are disposed of.

As a corollary, Clause 4 provides that discharges made in accordance with consents and with conditions imposed will not constitute offences against specified Statutes dealing with pollution. The clause also repeals the by-law-making power in the 1951 Act to prescribe standards for determining what matter is to be treated as poisonous, noxious or polluting. Experience has shown, both in Scotland and in England, that it is impracticable to prescribe standards of general application to particular streams.

Clause 5, which deals with review and variation of conditions, is intended to provide a reasonable basis for the operation of the consent procedure. A discharger should have a definite assurance that the terms of consent will not be varied unexpectedly or at short notice without his agreement. Equally, river purification authorities should be in a position to keep the situation under review in the light of changing circumstances. Consents for a period of not less than two years seem fair to all concerned. The provisions of Clause 6, on appeals to the Secretary of State, are on similar lines to those in the Spray Irrigation (Scotland) Act, 1964, and take into account the considerations which have governed the attitude of the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals.

Clause 8 relates to tidal waters. The Scottish River Purification Advisory Committee have also recommended legislation controlling new outlets and discharges of trade or sewage effluent to particular tidal waters, as in the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960. Section 29 of the 1951 Act already provides for control over discharges to tidal waters by order of the Secretary of State—with special provision for the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth—such control under the 1951 Act being limited to new or altered outlets or new discharges. If an order is made under Section 29 in future, it will also control existing discharges—those referred to in Clauses 1 to 3. Clause 8 (2) will apply control over new or altered outlets and new discharges to all those tidal waters, as mentioned in the Second Schedule, in which development leading to any significant change is thought at all likely. This provision will obviate the need for river purification authorities or other interested persons applying to the Secretary of State for tidal water orders for the purpose of controlling new outlets or discharges to these controlled waters. Additional tidal waters can be added to the Schedule by order of the Secretary of State.

Clause 9 relates to penalties. The maximum fines take account of changes in money values and the penalties for offences against the 1951 Act have been correspondingly increased. The clause also repeals Section 22 (3) of the 1951 Act (under which it is a defence to a charge of discharging poisonous, noxious or polluting matter into a stream to show that it was not reasonably practicable to dispose of the matter otherwise). Such a defence is no longer appropriate because questions of practicability will be considered in relation to the application for consent and to the conditions on which consent may be given. Clause 10 contains the code governing the taking of samples. Clause 11 restricts the disclosure of information required for the purposes of the Bill. A sample of effluent could convey valuable information about technical processes and the Clause 1s designed to safeguard the legitimate interests of industry.

Clause 12 amends Section 22 of the 1951 Act by making it an offence to deposit on any land any solid refuse, and not merely the solid refuse of a mine or quarry, so that it falls or is carried into a stream. Clause 13 fills a gap brought to light in earlier legislation. It provides a saving for fish poisoning, where authorised under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, for scientific purposes. Clause 15 is formal, apart from subsection (3) which reflects an existing divergence of Scottish practice in regard to discharges from ships.

I have tried to save your Lordships' time by not referring to several clauses in the Bill such as Clauses 7, 14, 16, and 17 which are essentially procedural or consequential. My Lords, if in form this Bill may seem a rather technical one, underlying it there is nevertheless a challenge to all the interests directly concerned, namely, to improve the condition of our rivers and to seek to recover a true part of our national heritage. That the Bill will have some important consequences for local authorities, industrial and other interests is clear. A great deal of hard and patient work is needed, and I am sure that advance can be made only if a constructive approach is adopted by all concerned to bring about improvements. The river purification authorities and boards have already done much to build up a spirit of willing co-operation in their efforts, and I am confident that this is how they will approach their new task. The Bill is essentially the framework within which this work must go ahead. I commend it to your Lordships, and beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*.—(Lord Hughes.)

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on his, if I may say so, characteristically clear presentation of this Bill, and also to tell him—and I hope this will please him also—that we on this side of the House support and welcome the principles enshrined in it. I am sure there can be no one in your Lordships' House or, indeed, outside who would not agree that there is a real need to remove the scourge of pollution from our rivers and from our beaches. Not only is it unsightly; it is unhealthy; and a clean river is not only a thing of beauty but a great asset to the public, to the local authorities and, indeed, to agriculturists. In some ways I always think rivers are like streets; and I do not think any of your Lordships would tolerate in our streets the sort of conditions we still unfortunately have in some of our Scottish rivers. One hears from time to time that progress in tackling pollution has been slow, and that some of our rivers and estuaries are as bad as ever they were. It may have been slow in places, and patchy, but I happen to live close by a river which has benefited enormously from the operation of the 1951 Act and I am conscious of the boon that its transformation from a rather dirty, smelly stream into a clear river has been to my own neighbourhood.

As the noble Lord pointed out, the Bill before the House aims at completing the process begun in the 1951 Act, in that it extends the purification boards' control of outflow into rivers and streams to all outflows. I shall have a word to say about the question of tidal waters in a few moments. The boards have therefore been given a tremendous task which I am sure they welcome; and I would add my tribute to that of the noble Lord to the work they have already achieved. are think it would be unrealistic to expect a very dramatic breakthrough in this matter of pollution, but at any rate this Bill provides the tools needed for the job. Yet we must not forget that in many cases it is going to mean a very large expenditure on the part of industrialists, local authorities and, indeed, farmers and that the expenditure will have to be justified and the money found. Nor is it always going to be easy for industrialists to comply with the boards' conditions, as many pre-1951 outflows are of considerable antiquity and consequently both difficult and expensive to alter and modernise. I hope therefore—and I am sure this will happen—that the river boards will continue as they have done in almost all cases to use reason, tact and diplomacy in discharging their functions. For this, surely, is a matter which is far better tackled by collaboration than by any form of coercion.

I do not wish to take up too much of the noble Lord's time as he has a very heavy day in front of him, but there are two or three points that I should like to touch on. The first concerns timing. The noble Lord pointed out that the timing of the coming into operation of this Act would be not less than fourteen months from the date of the passing of the Act. I realise that this is the same as with the English Act, but I am not quite clear why the figure fourteen was chosen. I should like to know, if the noble Lord could tell me, whether in practice this has worked out already in England. I am a little less happy about another point of timing—namely, the minimum limit of two years during which boards cannot review or alter conditions they have previously made regarding outflows. I know—and welcome it—that this provision is in the Bill to give some guarantee to people that they will not be required continually to alter and modify their outflows; but I feel that the timing is a little too short. Large sums of money may have to be spent to comply with the boards' conditions and I think that industrialists and farmers, having done so, should also have rather longer than two years before perhaps having to spend further sums of money—except, of course, in the case of quite different and new projects. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would reconsider this point in the time before the next stage of the Bill.

I should like to say a few brief words about farmers. I want to ask the noble Lord whether the Government are proposing to give them any sort of special or extra assistance, either financial or technical, in order to help them carry out conditions that may be imposed on (hem. One can foresee cases where farmers would not only be ignorant of the complex technical problems involved in the treatment of effluents but also might be hard-pressed to find the necessary money to carry out the work, however willing they might be to do it. Possibly industrialists can pass on part of their costs to their consumers, and local authorities may be able to raise their rates, but the farmer has no convenient way of raising the money required. I hope that the noble Lord and the Government will consider this point, because it might prove a stumbling block to the smooth working of the Bill.

There is another matter which is not actually covered by the Bill but which I think has some relevance to it—that is, the question of discharges into underground strata. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, this is being practised, not yet on a very large scale, but on a scale which is quite significant, especially in heavily industrialised areas and where, for instance, there are such convenient receptacles as disused mine workings. I think that the danger of contamination of underground water from toxic materials must be evident to all your Lordships. Although in Scotland we do not draw our public water supply from these underground workings, I think that this water might be of considerable economic value to parts of Scotland and, if possible, it should be preserved from contamination. It may not be possible to assess accurately the effect of this sort of contamination, but I think the danger is that, with the tightening up of the controls over the discharges into rivers and tidal waters which this Act, we hope, will bring about, there may be a tendency to make more use of underground discharges, which are not at present subject to any form of control. I should be glad to know what the Government's view is on this matter, because I think it is a subject which needs watching.

There is another point I should like to mention in regard to Clause 10 (6), where in lines 29 and 36 there is a reference to the "occupier of the land". I think that this should probably read "occupier of the land or premises", as it does in other parts of the Bill. It may be that this is something which was overlooked in another place, but I think it has some substance and I should be grateful if the noble Lord would look into it.

Finally, a brief word on tidal waters. The noble Lord explained Clause 8 very carefully indeed. What puzzles me, if are understood it aright, is why the tidal waters mentioned in the Second Schedule are going to be controlled only as regards post-1951 discharges. I believe I am right in saying that the Secretary of State is taking power to extend this control to pre-1951 effluence if he wishes, as has already been done in the case of the Forth and Solway. But if this is the case, ! do not see why there should be these two stages. I should have thought that many of the older, pre-1951 outflows would perhaps have a greater polluting effect in tidal waters than some of the newer ones and probably should be tackled first. If I am right in this respect, the Bill seems to be a little complicated, but perhaps the noble Lord will be able to enlighten us a little more when he comes to reply to the debate.

I think we all realise that this Bill, desirable as it is, will impose an added burden on those who are discharging untreated or inadequately treated effluents. I believe it is a burden that will be willingly shouldered. It must be our hope that this Bill will enable our Scottish rivers to regain much of their original beauty, and thereby we shall take a further step forward not, only in public health but also in the scenic wealth of Scotland. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I too. should like to welcome this Bill. It is a very necessary Bill, because it is obvious that some of our rivers are getting into a filthy state. I think mention should be made of the fact that the Bill was probably drafted by my noble friend, Lord Craigton. How much the colour of the water, or of the Bill, has changed since those days, I do not know, but we shall find out. It is an unfortunate thing that as we improve our houses and factories, so we create for ourselves bigger problems in our rivers by the outflow of sewage and other waste material. That is the problem we are facing to-day. As chairman of a river board, I welcome very much the inclusion of the provision regarding tidal waters in the Bill. There is a river in the North-East of Scotland, the Don, where pollution is at its very worst in the tidal waters. Experts have estimated that there is a 90 per cent. kill of smelts in the tidal waters. So it is not surprising that there are very few salmon in the River Don to-day. Like the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, I cannot see why the Bill does not automatically give purification boards the power to deal with existing discharge of waste into tidal waters as well as to prevent any further pollution. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply, we shall have a definite answer to this matter.

There are a few other points I should like to raise briefly. The question of payment has already been mentioned by the noble Marquess. I think it is true to say that farmers cannot pass on their costs in any way. The only recoupment they get is through the Price Review, and this is always twelve months in arrears, so that by the time the farmers get anything, costs have already gone up one more bound. I hope that in this respect some provision will be made under the Farm Improvement Scheme for farmers to get assistance when they are carrying out schemes in connection with pollution.

For a moment, I shall have to be under two hats—one as a member of a river board and one as someone who is interested in trying to foster industry in the North-East of Scotland. I have considerable sympathy for some of the industrialists in the North-East. If it were not for several paper mills and a large bacon factory, the North-East would be in a poor economic state, and the last thing we want is for those industries that exist already in the North-East to be frightened away. I think it will be the case that the ratepayers will have to be prepared to show some gratitude to the industries that already exist in the North-East, and help in this matter.

Finally, a word about the fishing interests. I do not think that anyone should be under the illusion that, even if we get the waters of our rivers back to being crystal clear, we shall automatically have salmon in them. That is not the case. It will take another five or seven years after the rivers have been cleaned up before we get fish back into them. It is purely a question of the breeding habits of salmon, and there is nothing we can do to speed up the process. I welcome the Bill in general, and I hope that it has a speedy passage and becomes an Act in a short space of time, because it is something that is long overdue.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I always have difficulty in understanding a Bill, but the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has helped me very much with his explanation. Nevertheless, there are one or two difficulties that remain with me, and I shall ask the noble Lord a few questions. I do not expect answers to them now, because I have not given him any notice. If the noble Lord thinks that my questions are worth while and he would be kind enough to write to me, that would be most satisfactory. I did not write to him because there was not time. To begin with, I would join with other noble Lords in their remarks about the difficulties faced by farmers. If any sort of sums could be given to farmers for any expensive works that may be necessary, these could be considered under the Farm Improvement Scheme, and that, I think, would satisfy most of us.

The main point I want to talk about is the control of waters which are tidal waters. The local authority of which I am a member is also the purification authority. The tidal waters in Stonehaven Bay were not included in Schedule 2 of the original Bill, which of course that authority considered, and therefore the implications were not considered at that time. Whether we, as a local authority, were not paying as much attention to it as we should have been, or whether we were never given the opportunity in consultation, I just do not know; in any case, it does not matter.

The fact remains that this point was not considered by the authority, and the first news they said they had of it was when I gave them a copy of the Bill last week-end. They then held up their hands in horror, for the reason that the Bay at Stonehaven is a shallow bay—not in depth of water, but in the length to the promontories that stick out on either side, on the North Carron point and the South Downy point. The tidal drift is North-South, and we suffer from a scouring action on that bay. One of our problems has been that the action of the tide removes the foreshore. I am on a sub-committee studying the drainage and sewage problems, and we made a close study of the drift of the tidal waters under all states of the tide. So in this particular case I do know a little about it. It was admitted by a member of the correct department from St. Andrew's House that there is no health hazard whatever. That is one point.

The other difficulty is this. The town of Stonehaven is virtually built to the water's edge; and there are hills on both sides of it. You cannot get the sewers into the sea except in the two places, where one already exists and the other is projected; and there is no place whatever, except in the middle of the town or the middle of the recreation ground, where you can build a sewage works. We think that, from a health point of view, there is no necessity for this very high expense. It would be perfectly practicable and feasible to install a machine which I think it called a "comminuter" (if it is not a comminuter, it is a word very like that) which smashes everything up very small; it more or less liquidises all solid matter and puts it out to sea, where it is never seen again because of the geographical and tidal conditions of this bay.

Why this area was added to the Schedule, I do not know. It was not in the original Bill. It was introduced in another place. But the fact is that it seems to us, as a local authority, that any future housing development or, indeed, industrial development could be jeopardised by the inclusion of this particular stretch of water, because although to a certain extent we are masters in our own house, being the authority, nevertheless, we are subject to the overrule of Edinburgh, and when it is a question of getting a grant we find that all kinds of conditions attach to the amount of grant we receive. I may not have understood the Bill aright, but this is something that is perturbing us particularly, and if the noble Lord the Minister could write to me on the subject, I should be more than grateful.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, most of the points have been covered by previous speakers. Like them, I wish to welcome this Bill, as all people must welcome a Bill of this description. It is an honest attempt to clean up and brighten our rivers and put them back as they once were long ago and as nature surely intended them to remain. But, like other noble Lords, I deplore that the tidal water section does not apply to the pre-1951 effluents. I should have thought that this was a golden opportunity to clean up some of our estuaries and make our beaches cleaner and freer from refuse and the dirt that lies about them.

There is one point I should like to emphasise which has not been mentioned by any previous speaker, and that is that, however much is done to control industrial effluents, to purify the rivers and estuaries, as long as these poisonous toxic substances which are used on our farming lands continue to be used and seep down through the soil into the rivers we shall never get 100 per cent. clean rivers for drinking, fishing, aesthetic purposes or anything else. It is no coincidence— indeed it is highly significant—that the Nature Conservancy Working Party on Toxic Chemicals and Wild Life found the highest residues in seabirds and the eggs of seabirds which inhabit the East Coast of Scotland, where the largest rivers run down to the estuaries and into the North Sea. Dieldrin is still being used as a sheep dip in the uplands and is coming down into the big rivers, in spite of the Cook Committee's recommendaion that it should be discontinued as soon as possible.

I think that this is something which the river purification authorities should always bear in mind. The sooner we can get our land free of these poisonous substances, the cleaner will our rivers be. However, this is a good Bill, and one in the right direction, and, like probably all of your Lordships, I wish it well.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, if a voice from South of the Border dares to make itself heard on this occasion, I should like to join with other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill. I have a special interest in it, because a corresponding Bill relating to England and Wales was a Private Member's Bill, and I had the honour of piloting it through your Lordships' House a few years ago. I see that the form of this Bill closely follows the form of what is now the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, applicable to England and Wales. I think the Scots have shown their usual canniness by waiting for just a few years to see how this Act worked in England and Wales, and when, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, told us, they saw that it worked well, they brought in a similar Bill relating to Scotland.

I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, that no one must expect a sudden breakthrough in this very difficult matter. I have some slight experience of this, because the Port of London Authority, over which I preside, is the pollution authority for the tidal Thames, and I know what a long tedious business it is trying to clear up some of these discharges. Consider, for instance, sewage discharges. It is all very well to say, "You must stop pouring this sewage into the river", but in fact where is it to be poured? It cannot be poured down the street, and often the treatment necessary not only is very expensive but takes a long time to apply. None the less, that is no reason for not giving to the river purification boards the powers set out in this Bill, and urging them to use these powers to the best of their ability.

There is one special matter in this Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. It relates to the discharge of oil from ships, and, therefore, applies principally in tidal waters. There is in existence an International Convention covering oil pollution in the sea to which this country is a signatory. In the International Convention while, naturally, the object is to limit and control the discharge of oil, there are specific provisions that no offence is committed if oil is discharged, for example, for the purpose of saving the ship or of saving life, or if it is a completely accidental discharge, provided that the master can show that proper steps have been taken as quickly as possible to rectify it.

Those provisions are in the International Convention. And after the Convention was adopted by this country they were embodied in the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1955, which was slightly amended by the later Act of 1963. So here we have an Act which deals with oil pollution from ships. In passing, I may say that the penalties under that Act are higher than the penalties under the present Bill, but the Act leaves those defences which it has been internationally agreed may be brought forward, in appropriate cases, and, of course, proved before a court of law. It does not seem to me satisfactory that we should have provisions in this Bill enabling the master of, let us say, a foreign ship, to be prosecuted for discharging oil in tidal waters covered by this Bill, when he will not have that defence available to him. He will say, "But Great Britain is a signatory to this Convention, and I should have been entitled to the defence which the Convention allows." It is perfectly possible for the offender to be prosecuted under the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, and I should like the noble Lord, Lord Hughes (I am sure he is aware of this point, because it was raised in another place), to have a look at this matter before the next stage of the Bill. I should like him to consider whether it would not be right to remove from the Bill (it can be done by quite a simple Amendment) its applicability to the discharge of oil from ships.

It seems to me that there is a matter of principle here. We are pledged in honour to this International Convention, and we ought to see that it is fully carried out. The fact that this Bill was passed would not, of course, mean that it would not be carried out: for it will still be perfectly practicable for a prosecution to be brought under the Oil in Navigable Waters Act. But it seems to me that to leave this to a matter of administrative decision is quite wrong; and it is wrong that there should be the possibility of a prosecution under the present Bill without the defence permitted by the International Convention. Subject to that, I fully and warmly support this Bill.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add to what other noble Lords have said about their gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for bringing forward this Bill, and also for the lucid and concise manner in which he has presented it. I should like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has said about the paper mills. The paper industry on the East Coast of Scotland is a long-established industry. It has been established for more than 200 years, and whole towns and villages are utterly dependent upon those paper mills. It is they, of all the industry in Scotland, who look like being the most severely affected financially, particularly if the provisions of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, are enforced.

Many of the local authorities, notably the Midlothian County Council, have in the past fifteen years or so done a great deal of work in the construction of new sewers. They have made it possible to remove through sewerage the greater part of the effluent of many of these paper mills. But there is always a difficulty in the balance between the industry and the local authority. Naturally, the local authority is unwilling to spend money when it thinks that the industry should spend it, or can be bullied into spending it. Likewise, industry is inclined to hold back, saying that it is the duty of the local authority. This balance of undesirability to pay is something which must be borne in mind.

I would come now to the farming side, about which I know a little more.

The cost of linking a farm to such a sewerage system may well be, as I can say from my own experience, as much as the whole value of that farm, and to put in sewerage works to meet the conditions of the purification board may be somewhere about two-thirds of the value of the farm. These are very expensive and extravagant things for any farmer to face up to. The aspect of farming where this is going to become the most important is in the case of these larger units of pig herds which are springing up, where the disposal of the effluent is a major difficulty. We have this example, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will know very well, in the unfortunate venture which took place at Glenrothes.

Probably the best solution, from the agricultural point of view, is the use of the effluent from the farm for organic irrigation, preferably by means of spray. But that is no cheap method of solving the problem. To take in a spray organic irrigation with the necessary size of tank which can hold the effluent—it must be able to hold the effluent for a period—can quite easily cost up to £5,000 for a farm working moderately intensively with livestock and of the order of 300 to 400 acres. A farmer going along to his bank manager to get an overdraft, after allowing he can get some of this money from the Farm Improvement Scheme, may have to get an overdraft of say £3,000. The bank manager will say, "How much money is going to come back on that?" The farmer may say, "By saving on purchase of fertilisers I will get back £100." He will get back something not in proportion to his expenditure, and the banker will say, "I am sorry we cannot lend money for that purpose, but we will lend it for a new byre to produce more effluent."

There are two points in the Bill as it stands just now to which I think perhaps more attention might be paid in Committee. The method of sampling which is detailed in Clause 10 implies that the sample is taken only by the authority. In most cases in food and in milk the samples must be taken in the presence of the producer or somebody authorised by the producer, so that it can be known to be a proper sample. The arrangement in the Bill for the provision of the sample is an excellent one and is in accord with the general system of food sampling that exists at the present time. But I think it should be necessary for a sample which is going to be used by the authority in a court of law to be taken in the presence of the owner of the land or of his representative.

The other point relates to the statement that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, made that it was impossible to prescribe standards for the quality or otherwise of the sewage. That I would agree, but there is a sentence about analysis at the end of Clause 10, where it says, analysis shall be construed as including a reference to any test of whatever kind, and 'analysed' and 'analyst' shall be construed accordingly. It seems that you have just to take a sample of the sewage and that constitutes an analysis and yourself as an analyst. I think it should refer to someone like a qualified analyst, otherwise it can be anybody who comes in and constitutes himself or herself an analyst.

The other point I would make is the disappearance of the criterion of reasonableness from the consent and appeal procedure. It is a great pity, I think, that this has disappeared; and it is there in the English Act. It is expressly excluded in one of the Schedules to the Bill, and I am afraid that its exclusion opens the door to bumbledom in the administration of the Act. As we all know, Scottish bumbledom is much worse than the English type.

This is a very laudable piece of legislation. To make it possible for salmon to run in every river of Scotland must gratify every angler and humanitarian. But we must count the cost of this operation. Effluent of some sort is an inevitable product of most forms of industry and of all kinds of livestock production. Something can be done to reduce it. Something can be done to make it more savoury. But in many cases it cannot be completely eliminated except at considerable expense, and this expenditure may well be of such magnitude as to put a whole factory out of business and put in jeopardy the prosperity of whole towns and villages in Scotland. Likewise it can put certain farmers and their farms in jeopardy. I would ask whether the Government are prepared to offer any special assistance outwith the existing assistance to the farmer who does his best to implement (the provisions of this Bill. If Parliament wills that all the rivers of Scotland run crystal clear, then Parliament must also will the money to enable this to be done. It follows, therefore, that Parliament must be prepared to provide the local authorities with funds for the construction of sewers, and, where these are not economic, it must be prepared to make substantial grants both to industry and to agriculture. If the nation wills then the nation must be prepared to pay the Bill.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will have been greatly encouraged and cheered by the reception this Bill has had this afternoon. Indeed, I am quite sure that no one will disagree that it is time Scotland took the further step that was taken South of the Border in 1961; that is, that effluents and discharges which did not come within the control of the 1951 Act, because they had pre-existed that piece of legislation, should now be picked up and dealt with in the same way as the more recent ones. On the other hand, I know (and I hope the noble Lord opposite will be able to make this perfectly clear once again when he comes to reply) that the process of picking up older effluents and discharges is nothing like so simple as the control of new discharges which are produced and which can at the present time be controlled under the 1951 Act.

Various noble Lords, my noble friends Lord Lothian and Lord Balerno and others, have stressed the expense and difficulty that will be involved both in industry and agriculture. And this is no fanciful matter, as I am sure the House will realise. I think that in England, when the equivalent legislation was passed, there was a provision that not less than fourteen months should elapse before the Act came into force, and that in fact the provisions were not brought into operation for the best part of two years after the passing of the Bill. I imagine that this was because it was found that considerable consultation and experiment were required, as well as a great deal of reassurance to those affected, before these very strict and important powers could be imposed wholesale upon everything that went into every river or watercourse.

I understand from reading the Report of the debate in another place that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave an assurance that if this Bill becomes law some administrative guidance will be given to help the river purification boards as to the way they should attack this task. I would emphasise that I think there is a certain distinction between the way the boards have carried out their powers of control over pollution of rivers under the existing Act and the task which they will now have to face. Now, they will have to deal with old-established effluents—those from, say, the factory or farm which has existed for many years and has relied for a long time upon the ability to discharge its effluent into some river. In some cases it will require an enormous alteration, at great expense, before the situation can be changed and put right. Therefore, I believe that it would be of great assistance if the noble Lord could once again give an assurance, first of all that these matters will be treated most sympathetically—although I appreciate that they cannot be treated so sympathetically when the object of the Bill is achieved—and also that some sort of administrative guidance as was mentioned in another place will be given. Perhaps the noble Lord could say a little this afternoon about what that administrative guidance will be—whether or not it will follow the precedent in England, which I understand in fact has been quite satisfactory.

I think it is not unrelated to the particular point to which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has drawn attention—a change which I consider is rather more than a verbal matter in the Bill. I do not think that it is purely a matter of semantics that the various provisions of the 1951 Act which required reasonableness at certain stages of the operation have now been deleted, or are proposed to be deleted by this Bill. Under the 1951 Act, as I understand it, the river purification board could impose such conditions as were reasonable upon the consents that it granted for new discharges of effluent, and this whole matter of reasonableness is carried right through the various provisions of, I think, Sections 22, 24 and 28 of the 1951 Act. It was then provided that the question of what was or was not reasonable should be determined by the Minister.

In this Bill that particular pattern has been altered. What is now to be done—and I think the key to this is to be found in Clause 1 (3)—is that the river purification authority can impose such conditions as they may think fit. There is no question of "reasonableness" there. Then, under subsection (4), they have to state the reasons for the conditions that they have imposed; and later on in the Bill—it is in Clause 6, I think—the person who is aggrieved by such conditions, or by refusal of consent, can appeal to the Secretary of State. Of course this is a pattern with which I am quite familiar, because it is exactly the same as happens in town planning legislation and other similar procedures.

It may be that the noble Lord will say that if the conditions that are to be imposed by the authorities are such as they think fit and that the reasons for them must be stated, it is quite sufficient for the protection of the person applying for the consent that he should be able to appeal to the Secretary of State and have this matter threshed out there, and that the Secretary of State is not likely to be unreasonable. This is probably so, and I would not for a moment impugn the reasonableness of any of the river purification authorities, or indeed of the Secretary of State. But I think it is reasonable that the noble Lord should explain to the House why "reasonableness" has been written into the 1951 Act but not in this Bill.

I do not want to quote English precedents as being necessarily the right ones, because sometimes we do better in Scotland. I wonder, all the same, why it is that this change is being made. I should be most grateful to the noble Lord opposite if he can give some explanation of that. I do not think it is altogether a matter of semantics, because the requirement of reasonableness laid down in many Acts of Parliament, when brought immediately to the attention of the first authority to whom the application is made, can be very effective indeed in bringing matters into their mind which, with the sweeping powers that they have under this Bill they might not consider. So I hope that that matter will be explained a little further by the noble Lord.

I would also ask him a cognate question on the provision which he mentioned —I think it is Clause 9 (2)—whereby the defence under Section 22 (3) of the principal Act, the 1951 Act, is removed. As I understand it, the noble Lord said that the practicability or not, as the case may be, of discharging the effluent in any case other than that under which a consent is being granted is no longer relevant, because all these matters will have been threshed out at the stage when the consent is given. What I do not think the noble Lord has taken into account—I may be wrong here—is the question of accident or mistake. No consent that is granted for a discharge is going to make specific allowances for mistakes or accidents; indeed, it would be quite improper that it should.

As I have indicated, at any rate in part, by Section 22 (3) of the 1951 Act, where a mistake or accident has occurred and thereby some polluting matter has got into the river or stream, it will not only be a matter of mitigation of the fine if somebody goes along and explains that this was an accident or mistake; there will also be a defence arising from the fact that this has occurred outside his control. This defence is being taken away. The offence will become absolute, and so far as I can see there will be nothing that anybody can do except hope that the fine will be a small one. I think that this is a greater change than that which the noble Lord mentioned, and I should be glad if he could explain the situation. It is a fairly important point.

The third point I have is a broad one, and it relates to the tidal water provisions in Clause 8. So far as I can see, this, with one exception, is similar to the English provisions; and although there may be difficulties in Stonehaven Bay which I know well, that is perhaps a matter for the Committee stage. But there is again the matter of wording to which I should like to draw the noble Lord's attention. The similar provision in the 1961 English Act has a specific reference in it to what the pollution authority has to have in mind when it is dealing with tidal waters. This does not appear in the Scottish Bill. It is Section 9 (4) of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1961.

I understand that control of these effluents is to be strict; but it is clear that when you are dealing with a tidal area, the standards which you have to apply may well be different from those which you apply in fresh water. Specific words are put into the English Act to deal with this. There is one provision which makes the control more stringent—that is to say, a river board, as it was then, or a pollution authority, must have regard to the interests of sea fisheries. That is something that does not occur in fresh water, and this might require extra stringent control, for aught I know. On the other hand, something further is added which might lighten the burden of the control they seek to place upon the discharge, in that under the Act they must have special regard … to the factors arising from the tidal nature of the waters and, in particular, to additional dilution due to the dispersal of the effluent by tidal action, and various matters of that kind.

It may well be that the noble Lord will be able to say that this will be dealt with automatically by the river pollution authority. Again, are have no doubt that it will; but in many cases in Acts of Parliament standards and guidance for authorities of this kind are written in. I can think of several examples in recent Bills which one would not think were automatically beyond the imagination of these authorities to think of themselves, but which Parliament considers to be of sufficient importance to be statutorily drawn to their attention. This is probably one of them, and I wonder why in this Bill there has been a departure from what seems a wise provision in the English Act.

I do not want to go further into these points. Perhaps they can be dealt with at a later stage in the Bill. I do not believe that any of them mars what is an excellent measure and one which are hope will have a speedy passage through this House. I hope—and this is my last point—that immediately after its passage through this House and its passing into an Act of Parliament it will be at once consolidated with the 1951 Act. Having battled on occasion with the equivalent English legislation, I find few more complicated sets of Statutes than those enforced South of the Border. I hope that the noble Lord, whose Party is so keen on the clarification and bringing up to date of the law, will not hesitate to do this simple job of bringing together the two Acts concerned as soon as possible. I would beseech him that, before any judgments are given which may throw doubt on what the Acts mean and therefore make their consolidation more difficult, there should be urgency in this matter. But, of course, before that can be done, this Bill must pass: and I hope that it will do so speedily.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I must first express my great pleasure that every noble Lord who has taken part in the debate this afternoon has welcomed the Bill, and has done so almost without reservation. I think I am entitled to say that, because, in the main, the points which have been raised have been seeking information rather than specifically pointing to defects. Although it may emerge that the answers which I may be able to give will convince them that there are, in fact, defects, I hope that it will be the other way round—but one never knows what the effect of words may be on people.

The first point that I think I should answer was raised by the noble Marquess, and subsequently by other noble Lords and concerned the question of timing: why fourteen months? Was it a sufficient period in England? And, having regard to what took place in England, why do we adhere to the fourteen months which they originally chose? As to the significance of fourteen, other than the fact that some people think that seven is a mystic number and that perhaps fourteen should be twice as mystic, I do not know. The Act was not brought into effect in fourteen months in England, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross has said. It took nearly two years—in fact, it was twenty-two months before it was brought into effect. I am informed that a great deal of the time taken was because of the need for consultation before making regulations. The Scots are a careful people, as a number of people would agree—not least my English colleague, who so loudly applauded a reference to the fact that the English sometimes do things better: and on the strength of that patriotic gesture, he has now gone to have tea! We are indeed a careful people and do not seek to waste money. We do not, therefore, have to do all over again what the English have already done in finding out the best way of making these regulations and carrying out these consultations.

So we can take advantage of what has been done in England and the time taken up on these matters will be considerably shortened.

Therefore, we are quite confident that all that is essential for the proper carrying out of these provisions can be done in fourteen months. But, just in case we are wrong on that, we have stated that this period is a minimum, so that if the proper carrying out of the functions requires us to spend longer than fourteen months in preparatory work, then that will be done. As more than one noble Lord has pointed out, this Bill can involve people in considerable expense, and it is essential that people who are affected should not have a grievance that the authorities have rushed things through too quickly. So I unhesitatingly give the assurance that the fourteen months period will be implemented only if it is absolutely clear that the time has been adequate.

The question of financial and technical assistance was raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and was also touched upon to some extent by the noble Lords, Lord Forbes and Lord Balerno. Limited assistance will be available under the Farm Improvement and Water Supply Schemes towards the cost of means of disposal of sewage. The Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, are working on the preparation of a booklet advising farmers as to the implications of this Bill and how they can meet any commitments imposed on them. I should, however, say that in another place my honourable friend, the Under Secretary of State, stated that it was not intended to afford any extraordinary or special assistance to farmers in this matter.

He went on to say, I think, that this could not be done without affording a similar measure of assistance to industry, a step which, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno hinted, could involve the State in considerable expense. I must say, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that they do not necessarily accept—nor I believe have previous Governments accepted—that when Parliament passes legislation the State must, of necessity, find out of its own resources all the costs of implementing that legislation. If that had been accepted in the past, then the sums mentioned in another place the other day would have been very much greater than they are.

A number of noble Lords raised the matter of tidal waters, and the question was asked, "Why are old discharges treated in a different fashion from new ones?" The real answer is that the condition of most tidal waters around Scotland—remembering, of course, that many of these tidal waters are free from concentrations of industry—is not so unsatisfactory that it is now necessary to control not only new or altered discharges, but also existing discharges. What is now needed is to ensure (hat new or altered discharges will not cause material deterioration in the conditions of these waters. Control over new discharges should stabilise existing conditions. However, the Bill does face the possibility that conditions in particular tidal waters may be such as to make the fullest measure of control a matter of public importance. It will be open to those concerned to apply to the Secretary of State to make an order under Section 29 of the 1951 Act to extend control to existing discharges.

I would tie this up to something which was said by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, on the subject of the purity of our rivers. He hoped that the day could be reached when our rivers could return to the pure state in which Nature intended them to be. The Bill will make a contribution to that. Whether it will ever be possible to do that in all rivers, and in all tidal waters, is a different kettle of fish altogether. Frankly, I think the only way of guaranteeing that is to return the land to the situation in which Nature first provided it in which there was No 1ndustry, and few people, or even no people about. While we are anxious in Scotland to have our clean rivers and our clean tidal waters, we are equally anxious to have industry which is capable of functioning efficiently and providing employment. We shall not do so if we are completely unreasonable in the methods we apply and in the haste with which we apply them.

Therefore, the fact that tidal waters have been dealt with in these two different ways is one of the clearest indications that can be given, both to industry and to agriculture, that Her Majesty's Government have no desire to rush into doing things merely in order to be able to say, "It was all done at the same time; everything is very tidy, and it does not matter if everybody is also bankrupt."


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will have another look at this before the Committee stage, because it is the old pollution that is causing the trouble. If application has to be made to the Secretary of State, that is going to delay everything, and delay is something we want to get away from. We want to get this matter dealt with speedily, but it seems to me that we are here only putting in a delaying clause.


My Lords, I am very sorry, but are cannot give the assurance that the noble Lord wants. I am afraid that to do what he asks in this case would be taking the risk of placing unnecessary burdens on other people, where it was not established that there was need for change at the present time. It does not follow that, if there is already a case for action to be taken, the board responsible will waste time in putting forward an application, or that the Secretary of State will waste time in acceding to it. I think it is better to wait a little while and be certain that you are being fair to all concerned, than to rush too hastily into decisions which might have very serious and unnecessary consequences on employment.


My Lords, would the noble Lord pardon one more intervention? Does he not think that very often the membership of the purification authorities is being drawn largely either from industry or from local authorities? Does he not think that they are very often loath to make orders under this 1951 Act, because it would throw additional burdens, perhaps very heavy burdens, on the local authority or the industry? I believe that is one reason why more orders have not been made.


My Lords, I would not wish to contradict that that point of view is held. What I would wish to put, as a former local authority member, is that it is not a point of view which is shared by the local authorities, many of whom think that the river purification boards have perhaps been excessively active. So whether one considers that things are moving too fast or too slowly depends which side of the fence one is on. I believe that, on the whole, the tendency will undoubtedly be that things will move too slowly from the point of view of the perfectionist. But, having regard to the fact that we have all got to earn our livings in the process, I believe that that is perhaps a preferable defect to the one of rushing in too swiftly with unforeseen consequences.

The question of the drainage of trade premises was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, particularly in connection with the paper mills, and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, also referred to this. They asked about the possibility of help from the local authorities. The local authorities can, of course, help in this matter, because they can make provision for the discharging of noxious poisons or polluting matter into the sewers, with of course the obligation on the part of the people concerned to make the appropriate payment for it. It may well be that in certain cases that will be the solution. However, in regard to the paper mills specifically, it is already an offence under Section 22 of the 1951 Act to discharge these substances into the rivers. All the Bill does in this connection is to continue the position under the pre-1951 Act as regards discharges of trade or sewer effluent; and there is no reason to believe that the boards will discharge their new responsibilities under this Act in a more unreasonable way than they have done hitherto. We would hope for, and we would require from them, the same cooperative approach as they adopted in the past, because it has been found that, particularly in matters of this kind, cooperation produces the best results.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, raised a number of points about Stonehaven Bay, in particular, but he was good enough to say that he would be content if I were to write to him about them. As this is a matter which is not necessarily of the same interest to all noble Lords, I will take advantage of his kindness and will reply to him on these points in writing.

The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, raised the question of the use of toxic chemicals on land. I must say that the Bill does not, of course, control these unless they enter, or are discharged into, streams, in which case they come under the effects of the Bill. Otherwise the answer is, No, because, after all, this Bill is concerned only with the pollution of streams. If I may, I should like to refer to the question which the noble Marquess raised, of discharging effluents into underground strata. This is a point which would also have been raised by my noble friend Lord Greenhill if he had been here to-day, because it is something which is already worrying the Clyde River Board, as there is to be a new distillery there which will be depositing large quantities of effluent. I understand that distillery effluent is not as acceptable to everybody as its main product, and the Board are worried about the matter.

The answer to that point is really very similar to the one which I had to give to the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, on the subject of the application of toxic substances to the surface of the land. This is a Bill to control pollution of rivers and, if there is evidence that somebody puts effluent into a hole in the ground and it can be proved that it subsequently finds its way into a particular river, then that person is in fact contravening the provisions of this Bill. As to whether or not it is an easy matter to prove that something put into a hole in one place has emerged into a river somewhere else, it is not beyond the wit of modern science to add certain materials, such as are used in the human body, for instance, to find out what is happening. It may well be that something of that kind will be done. All that I can say at this stage is that, apart altogether from the possible pollution of water, this practice raises other problems. It may be now, or it may become in the future, a practice which is undesirable in itself, but if that is the case it must be based on evidence, which will be gathered as a result of much more experience than we have at the present time. It would therefore require to be the subject of legislation dealing with that particular aspect. I have no doubt that at some time in the future, if the case for action on this is as clear as the case for action on the pollution of rivers, Parliament will act upon it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, raised the question of the discharge of oil from ships and pointed to the need, in his opinion, for conforming strictly to the English principle. We do not agree that what is being done in the Scottish Bill is wrong. Of course, there are arguments on both sides, but I think the safeguard which the noble Viscount wishes to have is in fact in the Scottish legal procedure. The provisions of the Oil in Navigable Waters Acts and the defences there apply in Scotland as in England.

However, there is a difference between the law of the two countries. In Scotland criminal prosecution is the function of the Crown, which decides on the charge and the appropriate Statute, and the Lord Advocate has indicated that he intends to issue an instruction to procurators fiscal that all alleged infringements shall be reported to the Crown Office, so that Crown counsel will decide under which of the two Statutes prosecution may more appropriately proceed in the circumstances of the individual case. So it will not be left to the discretion of some local administrator. There will be centralised policy from the Lord Advocate's office. I hope that that will meet, as I believe it did in another place, the point that was raised.

Then the subject of appeal procedure was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, on the deletion of the word "reasonableness", and this was followed by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who, with his acute legal brain, then proceeded to predict the answer that would be sent along to me from the Officials Box. He is his own legal expert; I have them provided for me; and the answer was just as he expected. But I think it goes a little further. In fact, what now happens is that consideration has to be given to the point that provisions must agree with the guidance laid down by the central committee of the Council on Tribunals. That was subsequent to the previous legislation. Moreover there is the fact that the boards are required to state in writing the reasons for refusal to consent or to apply conditions on this basis. It is governed by what the committee have said, and in our opinion that justifies the removal of the condition previously laid down that consent should not be unreasonably withheld.


I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord a little more about that. He relies on the change of law in the Tribunals Act, 1958. That law was in force when the English Act was passed in 1961, and the same result no doubt could be achieved in England as he now says will be achieved in Scotland. Can he reassure me that the change in wording will be explained to the purification boards in such a way that they are not encouraged to take an unreasonably tough line and then left to the Secretary of State to tick them off if they are found to have been unreasonable?


I would say to the noble Viscount that, notwithstanding what I have been told, I will take the opportunity between now and the next stage of the Bill to discuss this matter further. I think what I have said should make it perfectly clear to noble Lords that Her Majesty's Government have no desire to be unreasonable in this matter, and if it is a better safeguard to put the wording back to what it was before, then I have no objection to doing so, but at the moment I believe that what is in the Bill will give as much protection as before and, in fact, may well give more, because, after all, the words "reasonable" and "unreasonable" are very difficult to define. What one man thinks is unreasonable another thinks is completely justified. So that the requirement of having to state in writing the reasons why they refuse to permit something could in many ways be a much stronger safeguard than relying on an injunction to them that they must behave in a reasonable way. Notwithstanding that, I give the assurance that the matter will be looked at again.


It is very alarming to read in Schedule 3 of the elimination of the word "reasonable" from the principal Act of 1951, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the assurance he has given. However, it still remains alarming for anybody who reads the Schedule.


Perhaps it is fortunate that the number of people who read Acts of Parliament is comparatively limited, so we shall not be spreading a great deal of fear and alarm throughout the country.

I think there are two other points to which I have to refer. One of them is the question of administrative guidance. Administrative guidance will be given to the boards. I do not think it would be appropriate at this stage, nor do are think any noble Lord would expect me, to go into the sort of details which would be given, but I think it will be sufficient to say that the administrative guidance which will be given to the boards if it is my honourable friend Dr. Mabon or myself who happen to be looking at it will probably be very much the same as that which would have been given if it had been the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who was looking at it. You could hardly expect to get a better reassurance than that, at least on the other side of the House, and I would remind my noble friend that it was from that side of the House that the request for reassurance came.

One point which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, I do not think I can answer today, and that was the question about the effect that the change would have on the defence of a person who accidentally discharged something. That is a very difficult question to deal with, and I will not attempt to provide the answer to-day. I will look into the matter and perhaps send him a note about it in due course.

Finally, may I say how much I have appreciated the way in which this Bill has been received? It will not be an easy Bill for the boards to operate. It will not be one which will produce quick results, but it will provide the machinery for ensuring over a period of years that as far as modern living conditions will permit we shall get back to the happier state to which the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, referred.

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