HL Deb 09 December 1970 vol 313 cc947-1024

3.14 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to call attention to Command Paper 4373 entitled The Fight against Pollution; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to draw attention to Command Paper 4373, entitled The Fight against Pollution. At the outset. I wish to express my gratitude to my noble friend the Leader of the House for the courtesy he has extended to me in allowing me the use of the Table. In raising this matter to-day, I speak on behalf of a number of voluntary societies. We were brought together in the Duke of Edinburgh's "Countryside in 1970" movement. Now that that is over, we remain unified in a loose federation called the Committee for Environmental Conservation. We include societies interested in the preservation of the countryside for beasts, birds, fishes and men: for botany, for natural history, for the preservation of the scenery and of ancient buildings. We include the Noise Abatement Society and the Society for Clean Air; and we cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England.

The last Government created the post of Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning and they issued the White Paper to which I am now drawing attention. The purpose of this debate is to enable the present Government to say how far they are following the same policy and with what sense of urgency they are doing so. I shall ask briefly about each one of the kinds of pollution that are referred to by the last Government in their White Paper, although I shall not follow the same order of priority. I give priority to the pollution of fresh water; and I do that for four reasons. First, your Lordships debated this matter on March 4 last and asked a great many questions of the then Parliamentary Secretary. In a number of cases he referred to the likelihood of satisfactory answers being given at some time in the fairly near future. Secondly, I give priority to this because expenditure upon this matter is likely to save other expenditure. Thirdly, a great programme of this kind can have relatively speedy results; and, fourthly, without it there will be very speedy and serious deterioration.

On March 4, the then Parliamentary Secretary referred to Mrs. Jeger's Committee on sewage. This Committee has now produced an interesting Report called Taken for Granted. The general gist of that Report amply confirms nearly everything that was said by your Lordships on March 4 last—not only of the need and urgency of purification but of the need to use the purified water as an addition to our water supply. A survey of the rivers of Britain has now been completed, and I am told that the results of that survey are now in the computer. The process of mastication has begun; it will no doubt be followed by digestion and, ultimately, no doubt by excretion. Exactly when we shall have the results of that process from the computer I am sure your Lordships will be interested to know.

In my second point on priority, I said that great as this expenditure would be it would result in certain economies. The Water Resources Board have warned us of a likely doubling of the demand for water by the year 2000. They therefore have a great programme of building reservoirs. Three of these reservoirs were proposed in Bills which were thrown out by the House of Commons: first, the Bill relating to Calderdale; then, the Bill relating to Farndale; and, last week, that for the building of a reservoir at Swincombe in the middle of Dartmoor was thrown out by the Select Committee without even calling upon the Petitioners to reply. This is an indication of a very considerable change in public opinion and the acceptance, certainly by a large proportion of the House of Commons, of arguments which many of us have put forward in the past in debates upon this subject: that it is time we had a really comprehensive water policy for this country and that we should not go from hand to mouth building reservoirs here and there without knowing what the full requirements are going to be or how they are to be met.

It is perfectly clear that one of the most valuable sources of water—without involving this costly process of submerging the countryside in reservoirs—would be obtained by the purification of our rivers. I do not hesitate to repeat what I said on March 4, that two-thirds of the water supply of London which we all drink is derived from the Thames, which has upon it such great industrial cities as Oxford, Swindon and Reading; and that there is no reason at all why, with the necessary expenditure of money and time, the same should not be done to the Tyne, the Tees and the Trent as has been done over the last hundred years in the case of the Thames.

My third point is that if this programme is undertaken, the improvement can be rapid, despite the fact that the Trent is very seriously polluted at the present time by the Tame and by some of its own upper waters. By the time you get down as far as Nottingham, however, the processes of nature have sufliciently purified the Trent that the water is suitable for aquatic sport. If, in addition to what nature does, a really great programme of purification of sewage were undertaken, the improvement that could be made in these polluted rivers in the industrial areas of the North could be very rapid indeed. If, on the other hand, this programme is not undertaken, there will be an almost equally rapid and serious deterioration.

The great increase in the population of the country is not the only problem. Industrial development and new agricultural processes are continually adding to the dangers and complications of pollution. There is the effluent from industrial premises, and, with the development of factory farming, the excreta from animals, which if properly spread over the land would be immensely beneficial, but when dumped in concentrated form into our rivers is a source of pollution as serious as almost any other, even that which comes from industrial establishments. My Lords, I recapitulate—on the principle that Mr. Gladstone laid down, that it is necessary for a speaker always to say the same thing three times over. I give priority to the purification of our rivers, because to do so will obviate the need for submerging agricultural land at immense expense by building great reservoirs; secondly, purification helped by nature can bring about a very rapid improvement, and thirdly, if this is not done there will be an almost equally rapid and serious deterioration.

My Lords, I pass from fresh water to sea water. The whole country is alive to the gravity of oil pollution of the sea and beaches as a result of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster and the damage to the "Pacific Glory". The simple but ingenious and effective method of avoiding normal pollution by "load on top" was a masterly piece of scientific work organised by the British shipping and oil industries. It is a thing of which we may be immensely proud; but there is need for some measure of coercion of other foreign countries which are not adopting this method of avoiding pollution.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord on this most interesting point, may I say that it was only after a great deal of voluntary pressure from the Oil Pollution Committee, of which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and I have both been chairman at certain times, that one got this cooperation of the oil companies; and, in fairness to those who were pressing them on this matter, I give full credit particularly to Shell Tankers for initiating this change.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for his intervention. We are all aware of the extraordinarily valuable work done by that Committee, which I think was presided over originally by Mr. Callaghan, subsequently by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and then by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has taken on the chairmanship. Let me say that this was a voluntary body and it is a remarkable example of the effect of the voluntary enterprise of public-spirited people in this country that it could bring about so great an improvement.

Just as this Committee used its influence and brought about this great improvement, so it will be necessary for Her Majesty's Government to use their political and economic influence in order to ensure that this kind of care, primarily "load on top" but also careful administration, should be extended to foreign countries as well; and it may require something in the nature of persuasion amounting almost to pressure. There is also the pollution of the oceans by other things than oil. However little it may have mattered that refuse may have been thrown overboard from the "Mayflower" when the Pilgrim Fathers were first crossing the Atlantic, the discharge, recklessly and carelessly, of refuse in narrow waters like the Channel at the present time by mighty liners and other ships constantly passing constitutes an extremely serious pollution threat. Large as is the ocean, there is a danger that it will be polluted, especially in the narrow waters.

My Lords, from the sea I pass to the land to refer to the great quantity of derelict land which exists in the country. In many parts of Africa, primitive tribes, in the process of changing from a nomadic life to agricultural pursuits, were in the habit of burning the trees of the forest and then sowing their crops in the cleared area for two or three years. When they had exhausted the fertility of the soil they moved on to destroy more of the forest. Anyone who has seen the miserable scrub that exists in many parts of Africa will know that its presence is largely due to that improvident practice. What may be forgiven of the primitive tribes of Africa is really disgraceful when it is done by advanced industrial communities like Britain; but that, in point of fact, is what has happened. As industry wanted to build new and up-to-date factories to promote new manufactures and processes, the temptation—it was permitted under the laissez-faire system—was for a concern to buy a green field and to move further out from the industrial town from which it drew its labour force.

That was not only destructive of the countryside; it also threw a great additional burden of cost on to local authorities who had to provide a water supply, electricity, roads and everything required in this movement outwards of industry. I suppose that now only Mr. Enoch Powell would be inclined to defend the laissez-faire system if it allowed that sort of thing to be done. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary realises that the definition of derelict land which is used by his Ministry is extremely unsatisfactory. It means that a great deal of land which is virtually derelict but is used for some purpose like tipping is technically not regarded as derelict. I hope that something will be done to give us a clearer picture of the immense amount of land in this country that is in fact derelict, and we want to be assured that steps are being taken to regain that land for profitable use.

It is most important that where there is waste material in one part of the country, such as the refuse from the china clay workings of Cornwall, we should in some way or other make sure that it can be transported to parts of the country where it is exactly what is required for filling worked-out mines and quarries. I will not expatiate on the poisoning of land by insecticides and fertilisers. I have no doubt that noble Lords with much greater technical knowledge of this than I have will refer at length to this subject this afternoon. But certainly times have changed, and public opinion has been alerted in the years since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published to an unbelieving world.

My Lords, I pass to pollution of the air. Our country may be less bad than most countries, but that is largely because of the enterprise and political courage of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. His Clean Air Act of 1956 was a pioneering step; it is now taken for granted, but we must not forget that at the time it took great political courage and imagination to introduce it. I should like to pay tribute to the remarkable efficiency of the Alkali Inspectorate, which has now added to its other statutory responsibilities a watch over our air.

The shortage of smokeless fuels this winter is in large measure due to the success that our policy has attained in spreading smokeless zones over increasing areas of the country. As regards motor cars, the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, who I understand has now become the head of the brains-trust of the present Administration, in a speech recently said that the exhaust from cars could be purified at a cost of an extra £50 to £100 per car and of probably £5 to £10 per annum per motorist on leadless fuel.

Noise is an abominable characteristic of modern development. We heard an eloquent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, a short time ago about the amount of deafness in industry caused by noise. I learned the other day that almost every boilermaker, after ten years work in the boilermaking trade, is severely handicapped by deafness. I was glad to read in the White Paper, in paragraph 46, that commercial supersonic flights which are likely to cause a supersonic boom on land should be banned. I should be glad to know whether it is the view of the present Administration that that should be done. In the Special Orders Committee a short time ago we examined the Air Navigation (Noise Certification) Order, which is the first Order that will require aircraft in this country to be much less noisy in future than they are at the present time. I am bound to say that my initial enthusiasm for this Special Order was somewhat diminished when, after careful perusal and inquiries to the civil servants concerned, the Special Orders Committee became aware that this Order did not apply to supersonic planes, which of course are much the noisiest of the lot, or to the present generation of aircraft, which may last for quite a long time.

Of radioactive pollution I will say nothing, because the White Paper says: … the control of radioactive pollution … has perhaps been the most successful of all anti-pollution measures, and is least in need of improvement …


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I hope he will appreciate that some of us do not accept with such equanimity the statement that all radioactive effluent is dealt with adequately. I think that this subject needs looking into in depth. It is a mighty factor in the pollution of the Pacific.


My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord will find an opportunity this afternoon of making a speech on that subject: I am sure we should all be much interested to hear it. I was merely accepting the views expressed by the last Government in their White Paper, but we may hear that different views are held, after further investigation, by the new Administration.

The White Paper refers to the importance of international work. It is essential, of course, that there should be the greatest co-operation with other countries. Pollution knows no national boundaries, whether at sea, in rivers, in air or on the land. Russian nuclear explosions in Siberia have not only polluted our air but, I believe, have even increased the amount of strontium 90 in the marrow of our bones. The administrative machinery is, clearly, of immense importance, and it is significant of the great change that has taken place in public opinion that two successive Prime Ministers should have appointed members of their Cabinets with special responsibility for pollution. Mr. Crosland, when he was in office, had a central scientific unit located in his office. I should like to know whether that unit has been broken up. I hope very much that it has not, because I am sure that Mr. Walker will be in need of scientific advice. He has an immense empire to rule—greater than that of his predecessors—and this is an immensely technical, difficult and ever-changing problem. He will certainly need, if he is to administer effectively this small but important part of his empire, a permanent scientific unit at his disposal to advise him.

I should like to know how the Royal Commission on Pollution, which was set up by the last Prime Minister, is getting on. It is a standing Commission and has no visible terminus ad quem. It will therefore go on investigating this difficult and technical matter for as far into the future as we can see. The Royal Commission consists of distinguished and busy men with other duties and interests. It is therefore essential that it should have an adequate staff of permanent officials and scientists. Staff will be needed if only to co-ordinate the five Government Departments that are in different ways concerned with pollution with the various research laboratories which are dealing with it, with what is being done by industry and also what is being done in foreign countries. The White Paper (Cmnd. 4373) gives a list of four factors that are needed for dealing with the problem of pollution: first, more scientific knowledge; secondly, the right economic decisions; thirdly, the right legal and administration set-up; and, fourthly, the will to do the work. I am confident that this Government will have the will to do the job, and in order to show how they intend to do it, I beg to move for Papers.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House is indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for choosing this subject for debate and I think the House may endorse his choice of the White Paper as the peg on which to hang this debate. I am personally glad of that, not only because I wrote it but also because I think it will serve as a convenient way of finding out what this Government are now doing, just as it was intended to form a convenient way of saying what the former Government would have done if they had got back.

My noble friends have recently asked a number of questions on this topic, and so have honourable gentlemen in the House of Commons. Many of these questions, I am glad to say, were well and truly answered by the present Government, and the answers show that there was no backsliding in comparison with the policy of the last Government. I would say in parenthesis that I wish I could think the same about the cognate matter of preserving the built environment. But that is another question. In a moment I shall take up one or two of these questions which do not seem to have been adequately answered. But first let me say a word about machinery.

The last Government bequeathed to the present Government the idea of an overall Secretary of State, and I have one question to ask on that. He does not himself have the power to control pollution by aircraft noise or pollution of the land by the misuse of agricultural chemicals and antibiotics. My question is: does he have the function of co-ordinating those things where the powers are exercised by other Ministers? We bequeathed to the present Government the Royal Commission and the Central Scientific Unit, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred. We also bequeathed the Advisory Council on Noise, and I should like to add to Lord Molson's questions one or two of my own. Who chairs the Council in practice? How often does it meet? And, above all, will it publish reports? It was closely modelled on the Clean Air Council which has done very satisfactory work in the last fifteen years. But in retrospect I think the main defect of the Clean Air Council is that it does not publish Reports.

Turning to the question of land, my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy recently asked a Question which showed that one firm had actually opened a borrow pit without planning permission. I think that this is quite an alarming situation. The White Paper announced the setting-up of an inter-departmental Working Party on the question of the use of mineral spoils for roads. What is the news of that Working Party? How often does it meet? And will its report be published? It seems silly not to use the great lumps of mineral waste lying about our country to put under the useful new lumps on which motorways have to be built. If there is some difficulty about price I would say, for heaven's sake let us adjust the price by social action, because it can only cost less to use the refuse than to dispose of it.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that millions of tons of fly ash from Wales has been used under the M.4 between the Severn Bridge and London?


That is really splendid, and I hope that we shall hear that it is 10 million tons when next this matter is raised.

On the question of agriculture; the Swann Report. As the House will remember, Dr. Swann recommended that antibiotics given to animals solely to promote their growth should be closely controlled, because they gave rise to resistance to the anti-biotics in human beings when they eat the meat. The White Paper said that the agricultural use of antibiotics would be brought under statutory control under the Medicines Act. Is that still the intention?

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to the Jeger Report. The Association of River Authorities wants all the recommendations of the Jeger Committee to be implemented, and there is surely a prima facie case that this should be done. Can the Government tell us whether they are going to implement all the recommenations; and, if not, what parts they are not going to implement, and why not?

I would draw your Lordships' attention also to the Key Report on the disposal of solid toxic wastes. This is a very important and well-written Report, and so it should be, because it has been six years in preparation. It reveals a worrying situation, especially about the growing custom of pouring liquids on rubbish tips. Its main recommendation was that no industrial waste should be tipped anywhere without authorisation, and that this should apply to any substances except those specifically exempted. This, I think is the right principle: ban everything, and then exempt things shown to be safe. It could be more generally adopted, for instance, in regulations about the burning of contractors' waste under the Clean Air laws, which is at present the other way round. The Key Committee said that authorisation powers should be given to the new Unitary Authorities proposed under the Labour Government's local government reform plan. If we are not to have local government reform, who can give these authorisations on the disposal of industrial waste? It will be important to go ahead without waiting for local government reform if, as appears to be the case, that is likely to be delayed.

The results of the Rivers Condition Survey to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred, should be in now. When can we expect something to be made public from those computers? The Central Advisory Water Council was called upon to report on the overall reform of the water and sewage in industry, and according to the timetable which we bequeathed to the present Government that report should now be to hand. Has it yet been received? Once again there is a relationship with local government reform. How is this to be timed? The whole question of reservoirs and the reuse of water hangs on getting large, all-purpose, river-basin authorities, or authorities covering several river basins, large enough and sensible enough to know how to re-use more and more water, and also large and powerful enough to get desalination under way. I would ask once again—I asked recently and got a somewhat lemonish answer—what is happening to the plan on the Deben, near Ipswich? Is it to go forward or not? We are still waiting to hear about accidental pollution: whether it can be made an absolute liability on those who transport dangerous substances if they are spilled by accident; and we are waiting to hear something on the question of increase in penalties which the White Paper promised.

I would remind the house that the reservoir at Wessenden Head, near Huddersfield, has been twice polluted by phenol in sixteen months to such an extent that it had to be taken out of supply for some months while the pollution was disposed of. Both times the pollution was caused by unknown persons who dumped phenol in a quarry on the gathering-ground. The authorities were not able to call on the police to help find the people concerned, because it was not a crime. It ought to be made a crime. Then there is the famous case of the pollution of the river Chelmer, in Essex. This was a grave matter. Sixty-three thousand dead fish were taken from the river. On that occasion the authorities knew who had committed the offence. A firm was taken to court, prosecuted and convicted and fined—for causing the death of 63,000 fish—the sum of £25. It is time that these things were "brought into line with the realities of modern life", to quote the White Paper.

My Lords, sea pollution is a vast subject indeed. Uppermost in our minds must be the question of the transport of oil in tankers, and tanker accidents. We have seen the situation where, as we debated in this House only recently, Canada has gone right ahead with nationalistic legislation because of what they conceive to be the slowness of the relevant international legislation in imposing full liability on shippers for the damage caused by the spilling of oil in accidents. We have seen a Presidential candidate come forward in the United States largely on the single plank of pollution—especially the question of oil pollution of the sea. This is serious politics indeed. Something like it may happen here if the Government do not act quickly on this.

There are two alternative approaches to the question of oil pollution of the sea. One is the making of nanny-like detailed regulations on the structure of tankers, on the skills of their officers, on the separation of traffic and on operating procedures. The other approach is to make one single regulation, the equivalent of the green card in motor insurance. This would say: "You simply cannot bring your tanker into my ports unless you satisfy me that it is adequately insured up to the maximum likely to be involved from a really major accident". The present levels of insurance under the international arrangements are way below that. It is necessary to fix a realistic ceiling. If the insurance market as at present constituted cannot reach this ceiling, it is up to the shipping and oil industries either to help the insurance market to reach the ceiling or to use smaller tankers which they can cover, because an uninsurable business may be a profitable business, but it cannot be an economic one.

On the question of air pollution, we on this side of the House are glad that the Government are to proceed with the compulsory breathers on motor cars. What did Mr. Peter Walker mean last week when he said he was going further with regard to the suppression of air pollution by cars? Is he going as far as the standard in the United States? Is he going to adopt the Economic Commission for Europe's standard, or what? Is he going to ban leaded petrol?

In a recent Question in this House, on November 10, my noble friend Lord Ardwick asked about diesel exhausts, and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton replied that the Government were developing a test which could supplement the present visual inspection for pollution. This is a step back on the White Paper. Is it going to be used to supplement that? On November 14 my noble friend, Lord Pargiter, asked about the new form of air pollution—the diisocyanates and so on, which the White Paper said were to be brought under control. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, answered that a report of an inquiry was awaited. What sort of inquiry? When will it report? On November 11 my noble friend Lord Ardwick asked about noise tests on lorries, and the answer he received was the purest lemon. Is it not possible to think of having a system of volunteers who would listen for noise with, maybe, rather simple instruments, and note the numbers of the vehicles that exceed the limit, and then have a law whereby the local authority would be empowered to call the owners of the vehicles and subject the vehicle to a proper scientific test?

Only yesterday my noble friend Lord Hoy inquired about pollution of the North Sea, and the Answer he received was not fully illuminating. It seems to me that there is a case for saying that the existing convention among the littoral States about pollution of the North Sea by oil could very well be used as the basis of a wider agreement to cover pollution by all sorts of things.

Lastly, the question of global pollution, pollution of the entire environment. There is one particular matter here that I should like the Government to think further about and tell us more about. On November 18, in the House of Commons, Mr. Corfield, answering a question, said he had been told by the Meteorological Office that supersonic transports—Concorde—would be: unlikely to have any measurable effect on global temperature or climate". But this summer, in July, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held a month-long meeting of 40 scientists on global pollution, and this meeting put the supersonic civil transports on the very short list of only seven things that they think are likely to affect the whole ecology of the earth. This meeting concluded that if, as there may be in the 1980s, there are 500 S.S.T.s, flying seven hours a day, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and if their fuel has a sulphur content of 0.5 per cent., by their emissions of sulphur dioxide they will increase the particulate load of the northern stratosphere to no less than ten times that of 1962, and the water vapour by no less than 60 per cent. We must compare this with Mr. Corfield's remark that it is: unlikely to have any measurable effect on global temperature or climate". What about it, my Lords?

To turn to a more general approach, in the shorter run—and I emphasise this—and on the shorter view, cleaning up the environment is going to cost something more than it does already. And some one has to pay. It costs money to build the necessary cleaning gear in factories, and the necessary sewage treatment plants, and to use the more expensive cleaning process rather than the cheaper dirty one, and to find the land for the controlled disposal of waste, and to develop recycling, and properly to insure against accidents, especially in transport. One could go on listing expenses for a long time. Who should pay? The taxpayer, as such, or the consumer as such, through prices? I believe that the answer must be the consumer—that is only justice. If I do not consume some goods or other, the making of which polluted the environment, why should I pay to keep the environment clean in that respect, especially since as a non-consumer I am likely to be poorer than the consumer? And if I do consume them, why should I not pay for this just as I now pay for whatever safety measures manufacturers, under public compulsion, adopt for the benefit of their employees?

Prevention of the pollution of the sea by oil should be paid for at the petrol pump and nowhere else. At the moment it is paid for from rates and taxes when there is an accident. The "Torrey Canyon" pollution cost about £10 million to clean up. The British and French Governments will be lucky if they get more than half of that money back. The principle is of general application. We pay for our blue asbestos partly over the counter and partly in taxes through the Health Service, where they treat people who have cancer from working with blue asbestos for a lifetime. We pay for our cigarettes in cancer wards through the Health Service. We pay for our veal and our broilers through the Health Service, because the uncontrolled use of antibiotics in their rearing has led to resistance to cheap antibiotics in human beings, and rendered the more expensive ones necessary. We pay for plastics at the fish-mongers, We do so because the effluents from the petro-chemical industry are polluting the sea and reducing fish catches. We do so because they kill all the fish in certain rivers, and anglers do not only fish for fun; they fish to eat. That puts up the price of fish in the fish-monger.

Now there are two broad ways of making the consumer pay. One is that the Government should regulate the quantities, concentration, dispersions and so on, of pollutants which may be discharged into the environment and the degrees of insurance cover against accidents, and leave the producer to adopt the processes and install the gear necessary to get down to those concentrations and dispersions, and to pay the premiums necessary to get up to that insurance cover. The other way is that the Government should tax the emission or disposal of pollutants in such a way as to induce the manufacturer to avoid those taxes by adopting the cleaner processes, installing the anti-pollution gear and so on. In favour of regulation, is that it is simpler and it is quick. This is a changing field. It is complicated to devise a tax structure which will have the desired effect and no more, and such a structure cannot take effect quickly. In favour of taxation is that the Inland Revenue is, as a matter of history, less likely to fall captive to the industry to be taxed than a specific regulatory body is to fall captive to the industry to be regulated.

My Lords, if the House will permit me, I will have recourse to candles.

Examples are not lacking in this country—and they are numerous in the United States—of captive regulatory agencies. I daresay the right answer will be a mixture of tax and regulation, but it should lean more heavily on regulation. Both regulation and taxation will have to take account of international factors. So much is laid down in the White Paper we are debating, where it gives as one of the guidelines for British policy in the international field: To seek international standards of pollution control which will help to smooth the flow of international trade and avoid interruptions of normal trading patterns, through sudden and unexpected changes. The means of doing this have hardly yet begun to be discussed, let alone devised, and we must all look to the United Nations' Conference, to be held in Stockholm in the summer of 1972, to set the guidelines for what may prove to be one of the most complex multilateral negotiations ever undertaken by mankind.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to a pleasant Commonwealth aspect of this matter. The working papers of the Secretariat of the U.N. Conference are to be discussed in advance by a body called the Commonwealth Human Ecology Conference, which I hope will hold its second meeting next summer, in good time. Since the Commonwealth is nothing if not a cross-section of developed and developing nations, and since it has the great inbuilt communications advantage of our common language and our common system of law, this Conference could be an invaluable pilot project for the great United Nations' Conference itself. It is also, incidentally, another reason for making sure we actually have a Commonwealth after January, since there is no other way of devising a pilot project to help the gigantic and amorphous United Nations Conference through its work. I hope that the Government will bear this extra reason in mind for doing what we on this side so urgently hope they will do about the Commonwealth. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference has called on all member nations to set up a national committee in preparation for the United Nations Conference, and the United States' Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Christian Herter, responsible for this, intends to do so in America. I draw the attention of the Government to these facts.

It is increasingly borne in on those who have studied this matter that mankind cannot for long continue to use the cream and throw away the skim milk of spaceship earth's resources. We must re-cycle waste. We must use and recover the bits of the stuff we dig out of the earth which are not used by our present primitive technology but come straight through it. We must begin to go back to the war-time custom of re-using waste. There is a war, my Lords—there is a war between rising population and finite resources. Re-cycling has to become an industry, an industry as important, as dignified, if you like, as the industries of primary extraction and production. It is now an infant industry. And what does one do with infant industries? One protects them; one cossets them and coddles them with subsidies and special promotion agencies. I believe we should do that for the re-cycling industry. It has got to be knighthoods for the Steptoes, my Lords. Scrap will be our salvation, and rag-and-bone our frankincense and myrrh.

There is said by some to be a conflict between environment and economics—whatever economics are. I do not believe it. There is, if you like, a conflict between environmental conservation and orthodox national income accounting. There is, if you like, a conflict with the present entirely arbitrary list of things which figure in our gross national product. Do your Lordships know what goes into the G.N.P. calculation—that G.N.P. the growth of which we are all supposed to strive for as if it were virtue, or health, or understanding? I will tell you. If you have a housekeeper, the wages you pay her figure in the G.N.P. But if you then marry her, and you have a joint bank account, the money she takes out of that account does not figure in the G.N.P.

Again, if you own a house and there is a tenant in it, the rent figures in the G.N.P. Therefore, if you own a house and live in it yourself, though that house is the object of no transaction, though it is a component part, not of any economic process but solely of an economic state, but simply because you enjoy it, a notional sum for the rent you pay yourself figures in the G.N.P. But if you then step out of that house, and if on the doorstep you take a breath of clean air, which enables you to work well because you are healthy and if you look at an unspoiled view, which enables you to work well because you are happy, that air and that view, which are the subject of no transaction and are part of no economic process but solely of an economic state, just like your house, do not figure in the G.N.P. The moral is: Compare like with like and do not worship either.

We must indeed get beyond our present miserably restricted ways of measuring well-being. It is a waste of human and material resources to have to wash seven shirts a week for your husband instead of three, and to have to repaint your house every two years instead of every five. It is a form of remote-control hooliganism—but no less hooliganism than letting off a banger or firing a peashooter—that people should get tarry black oil on their bottoms when they go to the beach. And if our conventional economic calculations are incapable of measuring these forms of waste and of hooliganism, then it is high time we devised better ones.

Once upon a time there were forms of economic calculation which were incapable of handling the phenomenon of the dust bowl. The North American farmers who made the dust bowls thought they lived in a land where the frontier would never be reached; they thought they would always be able to go West. They were wrong. And our own economic ethos, which admires and depends upon built-in obsolescence, will soon appear as wrong as that. Disposables inflate the G.N.P.; consumer durables inflate the G.N.P., and the more often they are consumed the more often they inflate it. Two badly made cars, each of which lasts half as long as one well made car, inflate the G.N.P. But we have a frontier, too, and it is as hard as the Pacific coast. It is not geographical; it is ecological.

Economics is no more than the study of how matter can be arranged so as to meet human needs; and money is only a quick shorthand for alternative arrangements of matter. Pollution is an arrangement of matter which not only fails to meet human needs but very much annoys mankind. An economic theory which cannot handle that truth is a half-baked theory, and an economic practice which treats a half-baked theory as a sufficient oracle is an unjust practice.

My Lords, I look forward to an interesting debate for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and especially to the several maiden speakers whom we are to hear. I am especially glad that this is the subject on which they have chosen to make their maiden speeches.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his welcome to the maiden speakers. It is undoubtedly an ordeal for any noble Lord to address your Lordships' House for the first time, but it is an ordeal that is softened by the very warm welcome which anybody coming newly to your Lordships' House undoubtedly feels.

This is a very important subject, as the noble Lords who have already spoken have said; but it is a subject about which we can do something. Britannia may no longer rule the waves, but she might at least exert a little control over the pollution which goes into her inland waterways. We may no longer exert "dominion over palm and pine", but we could perhaps control our rubbish dumps and our slagheaps. So it is good to see that we are trying to get to grips with this problem.

I am slightly concerned at a little flavour of complacency that appears from time to time in the White Paper. We are told that the Government should "give a lead", but I am convinced that the people of this country are the people who have given the lead to Government. I am sure that the public will and the public demand far outstrip anything that we have so far shown ourselves willing to do, but I do not deny that there has been progress. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has drawn our attention to the excellent effects of the Clean Air Act. The London "pea-souper" is a thing of the past, but one still has only to take a deep breath on getting out of the aircraft at Aberdeen after flying from London to know the difference between clean air and smog-free air.

Many of our rivers have been cleaned up: the Trent may no longer foam like a tub on wash day, but it is still a far cry from the river described in one of Michael Drayton's sonnets as the crystal Trent for fords and fish renowned", or by Isaak Walton as one of the finest rivers in the world, and the most abounding with excellent salmon and all sorts of delicate fish". No, my Lords, success should encourage us, but there is no room for the merely better than bad. In the matter of the quality of our civilisation—which is what the Command Paper tells us this is all about—only the best can be good enough.

I fear that the evil genius of pollution may yet defeat us by employing the tactic of "divide and conquer", if we make too much or too complicated administrative machinery for dealing with it. If, for instance, we have one authority which controls domestic chimneys, another authority controlling factory chimneys, a third authority controlling pollutants which fall out of them on to the land and a fourth authority dealing with those same pollutants as they wash into rivers—if we have this we shall not achieve anything unless, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has suggested, we co-ordinate the activities of these authorities and make the Government Department responsible for all their actions and how they act upon each other. These are matters for planning in the broadest and best sense of the word.

Let me give your Lordships an example from my own home town. Some fifteen years ago Dounreay, many million pounds' worth of atomic energy research establishment, was set up some 10 miles to the West of Thurso. Elaborate and sophisticated devices were planned into it to ensure that it did not pollute the surrounding land, air or sea, and the whole set-up has been, and still is, carefully monitored at regular intervals to make sure that it is working. The result is that we in Thurso have suffered no real increase in the background radiation we receive. We get more from the cosmic rays which bombard us through our clean air; and certainly the citizens of Aberdeen receive more the whole time from the granite out of which their fair city is built.

But Dounreay was not just an experimental atomic energy research establishment in isolation. It meant people to work in it and to run it, and these people trebled the population of Thurso, which trebled the amount of sewage flowing untreated into Thurso Bay. When the sewage started to turn up on our beach, what did we do? We installed a comminutor which chopped it up small so that we could no longer see it. Nobody monitors it, nor have its effects ever been checked. My Lords, it was the same decision that gave rise to the radioactive liquid waste of Dounreay as that which gave rise to the trebling of the sewage outflow into Thurso Bay. Yet they came under different headings, so one was dealt with and the other was left. The point is that the machinery we set up must have the means of dealing with all the effects of the potential pollution of any development, social or industrial, on land, air or water; and this must be done at the earliest planning stage. It follows that no new development must be allowed, even indirectly, to increase an existing source of pollution.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to suggest a simple planning strategy which would make it easier to deal with the gargantuan increase of potential pollutants which the Command Paper warns us to expect. It is people who make pollution, particularly people in dense concentrations. It is false economy to go on increasing this density where it is not necessary. It is the negation of planning, and it does sinister damage to the quality of our civilisation. Yet while we allow this density to increase, apparently unplanned, and apparently unchecked, one-fifth of the land area of Britain—the Highlands of Scotland—is crying out for even a share of the growth that is enjoyed in the South of England. Twenty people share every acre of Greater London, while in most parts of the Highlands there are 10 acres to every man, woman and child.

I can remember the house we lived in when I was a little boy, when my father was sitting in another place. It was a farm, near the little village of Kingston Vale, in Surrey. There were hares and hedgehogs in the fields; and foxes and dormice. There was a pond with tadpoles, newts and sticklebacks. The woods were full of bluebells, blackberries and wild strawberries, and when the snow fell at Christmas it stayed white. Then the Kingston Bypass came through the bottom of our vegetable garden, and it was followed by a great rolling tidal wave of suburban development. Now, the fields which once grew Red King potatoes support red brick and tarmac, and the air shakes to the sound of traffic and reeks of unburnt hydrocarbons.

I am not so naïve as to fail to recognise the economic importance of this development, nor the fact that it was development such as this which has helped to raise the general standard of living of this country. But I would remind your Lordships that while this tidal wave of development was pouring out of London, unchecked and unplanned, other parts of Britain were withering from lack of growth. So I ask, why do we have to contemplate vastly expensive elaborate schemes artificially to increase the flow of some of our rivers, as well as other new ways of disposing of waste products, when by spreading development more evenly over the whole of Britain we can not only save some of this expense, we can not only see that some of our developments are placed where they can be properly planned, but also bring a share of prosperity to those who desperately want it. We in the underdeveloped regions of this country would gladly offer a share in the quality of our civilisation in exchange for a share in the full employment and prosperity which is enjoyed here in the South. If this could be done, I know that it would help to solve many of our pollution problems, and I know that we should all be the richer for it.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House would want me to begin by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for a speech which was elegant, effective, fluent and a real pleasure to listen to. I do not think there is any doubt that it is not only the Liberal Party but the Scottish Members of your Lordships' House and the House as a whole which has been immensely reinforced by his presence here and his first speech to us to-day, and we all look forward very much to hearing him again, and frequently, in the future.

My Lords, "man shall not live by bread alone"—and I do not say that because this Box with these candles has begun to look like a pulpit. His standard of living, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, reminded us, is not just an economic one to be measured in terms of what he will eat, what he will drink, what he will earn or what he will put into the bank. Our concern and his is rather with the whole quality of life, and if that phrase lifts our thoughts to the highest arts of civilisation it also takes them to the underlying gifts of nature, to fresh air, clean water, fields and forests, the birds, beasts and fish that belong in them, to golden sands and blue seas, in fact to the whole choir of the Benedicite, and also to the peace and quiet without which that chorus can neither he joined nor enjoyed. It is these natural gifts, these boons, that we can no longer take for granted. They need to be protected, to be conserved, to be cared for, to be fought for, in a war against the din and clatter, the muck and grime, the soot and slime which is fashionably labelled "pollution".

Her Majesty's Government are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and to their colleagues for the strategy that we have inherited in the White Paper that we are discussing. We are grateful, too, to my noble friend Lord Molson for giving us now an opportunity to debate that strategy in general and to discuss the Government's development of it in particular, and we look forward very much to having the benefit of the views of many of your Lordships on such an important topic. Your Lordships discussed river pollution in February and waste material in March, and another place discussed environmental pollution in general in July. Since then the Concorde has been making her runs up and down our western coasts, there has been the "Pacific Glory" and the sewerage strike, and smokeless fuel has run short. All these have specially sharpened public interest in the whole field of pollution and the war against it. Mrs. Jeger's Report on Sewage Disposal and Dr. Key's Report on Solid Toxic Wastes have since been published, and the machinery of central Government has been adjusted. So a fresh broad review of the whole subject in your Lordships' House is, I think, timely.

In my remarks, which I hope will not be too dull though they will certainly not be brief, I shall aim first to describe the new central Government set-up in the fight against pollution, say a word about penalties, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, particularly asked for, and survey each of the five fronts that have to be defended. My noble friend the Leader of the House, with his far greater skills and resources, will answer all your Lordships' questions, cover the international aspects, and sum up the debate.

As the Prime Minister has said in another place, the Secretary of State for the Environment is directly responsible for the control of certain kinds of pollution and has general responsibility for co-ordinating policy on environmental questions as a whole. I come first to the functions of the Department of the Environment in England. They cover the control of air pollution from homes, industry and motor vehicles, and for that purpose the Secretary of State has the Clean Air Council. They cover the administration of the water industry, including sewage disposal and the management of rivers. They cover the whole field of solid waste and refuse disposal. The Department is responsible for general policy on noise, and for that purpose the Secretary of State has the Noise Advisory Council. I will come to that again in a moment. The Department is responsible for policy over the disposal of radio-active wastes, for general policy on clearance of derelict land and on the treatment of oil on beaches. These are but a part of the whole range of duties that span the whole series of functions which affect people's living environment. The Department is also concerned, of course, with planning, with housing and the construction industry, and with transport planning, and it associates with these functions the preservation of amenity and the conservation of the coast and countryside, historic cities and buildings. This close inter-linking of planning and pollution control is apt, because so many of the worst instances of pollution result from poor planning, and because good planning can often ensure that pollution problems do not arise.

The Central Unit on Environmental Pollution is now within the Department. It exists to provide appraisals of pollution problems, to maintain contact with the very wide range of specialist groups within and outside Government that are doing research or have developed expertise in this field, and so far as possible their role is to see that potential problems are not overlooked.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the Central Unit, can he tell the House whether it reports direct to the Secretary of State, and if it does not report directly and personally to him, to whom does it report?


My Lords, inasmuch as it comes fully within the Department, it can of course report direct to my right honourable friend. But there are all sorts of arrangements within the Department which I do not think the noble Lord would want me to go into, unless I misunderstood his question.


My Lords, if I may put my question in very frank shorthand, can the head of the unit go and see the Secretary of State whenever he wants to?


My Lords, so far as I know, he certainly can. One of my Ministerial colleagues has special responsibility for this field. I had dealt with the Department, and I was now coming to the field of co-ordination across the other Departments having responsibility elsewhere in that field. Such Departments are the Scottish and Welsh Offices, responsible in their respective countries for many of the functions which the Department of the Environment discharges in England. There is the Ministry of Aviation Supply which undertakes research and development on aircraft noise; the Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for aircraft generally, including the noise and pollution that they create. The Department of Trade and Industry is also concerned with the pollution aspects of shipping, such as the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil (I will come to that in a moment); with the control of pollution from mineral extraction and seabed exploitation. The Department also has responsibility for the activities of the Atomic Energy Authority.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food retain executive responsibility for control of the use of pesticides, on which I shall be saying more in a moment, and for other pollution problems arising in agriculture and fisheries. The Department of Employment and Productivity is responsible for the working environment within factories. Under the Ministry of Defence, the Meteorological Office is conducting important studies into the possible consequences of pollution in the atmosphere, another subject to which I will refer more fully in a moment. Under the Department of Education and Science the Research Councils are doing a great deal of work on many aspects of pollution and supporting yet more in the universities. Finally, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is concerned with the numerous international bodies which deal with environmental pollution.

It will be apparent from all that that the creation of the Department of the Environment has not led to the centralisation there of all the responsibilities for pollution control, but it has brought together there some 70 per cent. of those responsibilities and given my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the major share of executive power to combat pollution in this country, while his wider responsibilities for co-ordinating will allow him, in partnership with Ministers of other Departments, to ensure that our national effort is consistent, that it is based on the same rationale and that it is related to priorities arrived at by comparable methods. We believe that in these ways the creation of the Department represents a real advance.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked me particularly about the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution continue their work. All the matters referred to them by the previous Government stand referred to them now. I understand that they hope to publish their first Report early in the New Year. We look forward keenly to reading that Report, and when we get it will consider their advice with urgency.


My Lords, before my noble friend leaves that point, can he say anything more about the size of the scientific and administrative staff at the disposal of the Royal Commission? A great deal depends on that.


My Lords, I was just coming to the question of staff in general. I hope that this will—it may not—deal with what the noble Lord was just asking. On the question of staff, it is our policy in the Department of the Environment to use the staff resources where they can be most effectively deployed, to increase the numbers actively concerned with the control of pollution and to reduce staffs engaged on writing minutes, briefs, and so on—though I pay tribute to the staff for the brief that we have been provided with for this debate. For instance, we have increased the number of engineers working with the sewerage and river authorities on their plans for dealing with wastes from houses and industry, and have arranged their work so that instead of scrutinising schemes in detail at a late stage in their development, their advice and assistance is being made available to the various bodies very much earlier. Within agreed staff ceilings we have allotted more staff to work on the River Survey; and we have plans to increase the number of alkali inspectors, if Parliament approves the additions which have been proposed to the list of scheduled processes. On the other hand, we have reduced the staffs engaged on detailed checking of authorities' and undertakings' plans.

Perhaps I may now turn to the question of penalties, on which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked a number of questions and made a number of points. When replying to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, on November 19, I explained that we were continuing the review of the scale of penalties for contravention of the laws concerned with the control of pollution. I said then that this is a complex and technical subject, and since it is sometimes suggested that it should not be difficult simply to increase all the sums in the Statute Book, I should like briefly to explain some of the general considerations in our minds as this review is conducted. I think there are three.

The first step is for those concerned with the administration of each part of the law to consider what the intrinsic gravity of each offence is in relation to the general pattern of the legislation. Secondly, the proposed penalties must be comparable to those prescribed for broadly similar offences elsewhere in the anti-pollution law. Thirdly, we have to consider the relationship of the offence and the way in which it is dealt with, with the provisions of the law generally. If it is appropriate for an offence to be dealt with summarily, it will usually be advisable for the maximum penalty to fall within the normal limits which may be imposed by magistrates.

The Government have, it is true, as your Lordships will know, proposed in the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill to make an exception to this, because of the need to obtain quick decisions in some cases where masters of foreign ships may be concerned; and we will consider during our review whether exceptions should be made in other cases. We will bear particularly in mind the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his speech.


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt? That is what the Government proposed; but some of their own supporters rounded on them in Committee, and the proposed £5,000 penalty by a magistrate was written up to £50,000.


My Lords, that, of course, is an exception. Your Lordships will have before long an opportunity to look at this particular Bill, and debate it, and to go into those points in more detail. At first sight the view that most penalties should be increased is attractive, but in practice penalties play a relatively small part in our pollution control system. The best results, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, are achieved by a policy of co-operation between the Government, industry, local authorities, private individuals and voluntary bodies, not least bodies such as Co-En-Co. This is well illustrated by the small number of prosecutions which, say, the Alkali Inspectorate has so far had to undertake. In this respect we are at the moment much better off than many other countries which have only recently begun to combat pollution; and we aim if possible to keep it this way.


My Lords, I am sorry to keep interrupting the noble Lord, but the argument seems to be that because there are few prosecutions, therefore there ought to be few prosecutions. Was there any part of the noble Lord's argument which proved that an increase in the number of prosecutions would not lead to a betterment of the situation?


My Lords, that is conceivable; but the point I was making was that we have managed to deal with a number of difficult problems, without resorting to prosecutions, by the much more positive, and I should have thought more satisfactory, procedure of gaining co-operation between all those groups of bodies I have just recited. That does not mean to say that in particular cases—and oil in navigable waters is a case in point—much heavier penalties are not needed to back it up. But one can still have the high penalties on the Statute Book and proceed by co-operation, and I believe this is much more desirable.

I should like to turn now to the five main fronts. The first is the battle for clean air. The purity of the air we breathe is under threat from three main sources: first, and worst, domestic fires; secondly, factory chimneys; and thirdly, exhausts of motor cars, lorries, and motor bikes. The pollution which all three cause is largely due to the same basic activity; the burning of fuel containing carbon in order to provide energy. All three produce two kinds of undesirable material: particles of grit, ash, soot or smoke, and invisible gases which may well be noxious though invisible.

May I deal first with domestic fires. The traditional open grate, which burns coal inefficiently and wastes much of the heat it produces, is still the worst single contributor of smoke to the British air. This is so despite the great progress that has been made since the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 were passed. As noble Lords well know, there has recently been a setback—and this is the field in which there has been the worst setback—because the Government have inherited a shortage of the solid smokeless fuel which many of the improved fireplaces in smoke control zones should burn. This has so far made it necessary to suspend 600 out of the total of 3,000 or so Smoke Control Orders previously operated, many of them in London and the North-West, for the remainder of the winter in order to make sure that no householder is left without lawful means of domestic heating. I believe that we have taken all possible measures, including those mentioned in the White Paper at paragraph 17, to increase supplies of smokeless fuel for the domestic market. We have relaxed the import controls on these fuels. Even so, the fact remains that the further extension of smoke control—to which this Government, as the previous Government, are fully committed—is out of the question during this and next winter.

Secondly, factory chimneys. Here may I say how much the Alkali Inspectorate will appreciate the tribute paid to them by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Fortunately, there is no setback in this field. Here the Government's policy develops the policy of their predecessors. As I indicated in answer to a question last month, regulations to limit the rates of emission of grit and dust from the chimneys of several kinds of furnace will soon be laid before Parliament. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will lay the Order. I told the House on that day of a public Inquiry held in October, and it is the report of that Inquiry which is awaited before the Order can be laid.

Next, motor vehicles. Like domestic fires and factories, motor lorries and motor bikes produce both visible smoke and invisible fumes. Smoke from diesel engines is a major nuisance which we are determined to tackle vigorously. There are two lines of attack here. The first is to improve the design of new vehicles: the smoke from diesel engines can be reduced to an almost imperceptible level by proper design of the engine. A new technical standard has been drawn up, and the Secretary of State will shortly be publishing a draft Regulation that will require that from April, 1972, onwards all new vehicles fitted with diesel engines should meet that standard.

The second line of attack on diesel smoke relates to existing vehicles. It is already an offence to make excessive smoke, but the regulation is difficult to enforce and this obviously reduces its value. Even so, there are over 2,000 prosecutions a year by the police, while the Department of the Environment's vehicle examiners from time to time hold roadside checks, after which offending vehicles are prohibited from further use until the defect is put right. Work on the development of an instrument that can be used instead of a visual check is going on, and once this is ready the accuracy and uniformity of the tests and checks should be greatly improved.

Motor cars running on petrol mainly produce invisible fumes. The chief cause of their smell, which many people find offensive, is unburned hydrocarbons. The draft Regulation mentioned in paragraph 28 of the White Paper, which will require all new vehicles sold in this country to have a crank case positive ventilation device, has now been published, and consultations on it are proceeding. This can reduce hydrocarbon pollution from cars by as much as 25 per cent., and as the device costs only around £1 per vehicle and substantially cuts down the fumes and smells from cars it represents very good value for money.

As noble Lords will know, the problems of air pollution posed by motor vehicles—especially petrol-driven motor cars—are the subject of a great deal of debate in other countries and international circles. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment spoke in general and illustrative terms the other day about this when he stressed that we must take a cautious view about the amount of pollutant of all kinds—such as lead, for instance—that we permit to be discharged into the atmosphere. The Government are watching this situation, assembling the latest available scientific information, and maintaining the closest contact with other industrialised countries, and especially those with a substantial motor manufacturing industry.

One possible long-term solution of this problem lies in the development of new kinds of vehicle. The United Kingdom leads the world in the use of electric vehicles. At present these use the lead/acid battery, which is the best available but is heavy and has a relatively low energy density. The performance, and especially the range and speed of the vehicles, are restricted in consequence. The Department of Trade and Industry has recently placed a contract for two prototype 26-seater buses using lead/acid batteries for loan to chosen transport authorities. The objective is to provide a means of evaluating their usefulness, and drawing up further specifications. The first bus should be available in 1972, and will be loaned to Leeds.

Another way of reducing the impact of vehicle exhaust fumes is to take steps to separate pedestrians from the traffic. Many towns are now, as your Lordships know, planning schemes to a greater or lesser degree in this way, and of course they are regular features of most new towns. We are encouraging schemes of this nature wherever they may be appropriate, and especially in historic cities and towns.

I turn now from clean air to land, and the pollution of land. The land in Britain is, as we all well know, small and very densely populated, but within its compass it has a very great diversity of landscape, of rock formations, and of sheer natural beauty which, linked to the monuments raised over the thousands of years of our history, have made it uniquely precious and attractive. No one will dispute how vital it is that this small island remains a place for its own inhabitants and their visitors from overseas to delight in—and for this good planning, one of the main functions of the Department, and the solution of pressing problems of pollution are essential.

There are four main threats to our land environment. The first comes from the need to dispose of toxic wastes and solid refuse. The second is that as a side effect of modern farming—the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had quite a bit to say about it—there are more wastes to dispose of, and residues of pesticides and fertilisers that can have consequences far beyond their source. 'The third problem, derelict land, is largely a legacy of the past. The fourth, the scattering of indestructible litter in increasing quantities throughout the countryside, is very much a malaise of the present. I should like to deal with each of these as briefly as I can.

First, toxic wastes and refuse. Following the Report of the Technical Committee on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes, my right honourable friend stated in another place on November 4 that the need to control the disposal of solid and semi-solid toxic wastes has been accepted in principle. It is obviously important, as that Working Party recognised, that we make sure that our water supplies are not endangered by the careless or unwise disposal of these wastes. Ways of improving their handling are being sought, as are methods for their disposal. One of the main recommendations of the Report was that the method of disposal in each case should be specifically authorised by some body with adequate technical and local knowledge that is, moreover, financially independent of what was decided. It was suggested that the authorising body should be the top tier local authority.

These, and other proposals by the Technical Committee, will be considered carefully. They must, however, be viewed in relation to the recommendations of another Working Party, that on Refuse Disposal, whose Report has been signed and will be published early in the new year. This Report is complementary to that on toxic solid waste. It seems certain that local authorities will have a cardinal role in both fields. The two Reports will therefore be looked at together and in the light of the prospective reorganisation of local government, with a view to bringing forward such fresh legislation and new arrangements as may be needed.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give us any idea of the timetable for all this? It is really beginning to sound as if you have one Report; then you wait for a Report which has something to do with it; then you wait for another Report which has something to do with it, and you finally wait for 30 years during which you have run around the complete cycle and come back to where you started.


No, my Lords. We have one Report. Clearly, some of it can be considered independently, but this business of whose responsibility it is to be ought clearly to wait for the next. While we are reorganising those authorities whose responsibility it is likely to be, we cannot possibly take snap decisions. I have indicated where the possibilities lie. The top tier of the new local authorities seems to be the likely choice.

To turn to the effects of modern farming, the White Paper rightly states that the problems of farm effluent disposal are particularly acute where the volume of manure produced exceeds the capacity of the neighbouring land usefully to absorb it. The problem is accentuated where urban development has brought the town dweller and the farmer into much closer proximity. Farm effluent disposal presents a number of difficult technical problems, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Agricultural Research Council are jointly undertaking research and development work to find economic and practicable methods of storing and disposing of excess quantities of manure.

Studies are also going on of the extent to which excess quantities of artificial fertiliser are liable to be washed off farmlands into lakes and rivers, thus contributing to the problems of pollution—a subject to which I shall return in a few minutes. Changes in farming practice have of course been profound in recent years, and the Agricultural Advisory Council has recently carried out an inquiry into the effect of modern methods of agriculture on the structure and fertility of the soil. That report should be published very soon—in fact, before Christmas.

It is well known that residues of organochlorine pesticides persist in the environment, may accumulate in the tissues of animals, and may have unintended effects on wild life at points far distant from their place of application. For this reason, further restrictions on these pesticides, including DDT, were proposed in the White Paper. These restrictions were proposed by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and other Toxic Chemicals, who were satisfied that they were justified in order to prevent hazard to wild life and because less persistent substitutes were now available. With the co-operation of the industry, whose record of collaboration with Government in the voluntary scheme to regulate pesticide use has been a welcome feature of the British pollution control scene, arrangements for the phased introduction of the withdrawals proposed by the Advisory Committee have now been made.

I now come to antibiotics—another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. These are widely used in modern livestock husbandry. The Government accept in general the recommendations of the Swann Report and are taking action to implement it. On August 20, proposals were announced to introduce controls on a number of therapeutic antibiotics, so that they would no longer be freely available to farmers. In addition, it was proposed that two new feed antibiotics should be made available. Talks are now taking place with the interests involved. The veterinary profession has also taken steps to see that the spirit of the Swann Report is adhered to. In addition to these measures, the Government are continuing to operate the Veterinary Products Safety Precautions Scheme, which ensures that all considerations affecting the safety of humans and animals are taken into account before veterinary medical products are introduced on to the market. This voluntary scheme will in due course be replaced by statutory controls under the Medicines Act 1968.

My Lords, I now turn to derelict land. The Government want to see the problem of derelict land tack led with vigour. Through three separate agencies for England, Scotland and Wales they are encouraging and helping local authorities to clear derelict land as soon as possible, with special emphasis on the development areas and then on the other priority areas. Grants in these areas remain at their present high rate—85 per cent. in the development areas, 75 per cent. in the intermediate and derelict land clearance areas, and 50 per cent. elsewhere, in the non-priority areas. Increasing funds will be provided as local authorities intensify their programmes.

As I said in answer to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, at the end of October, the Government accept the target for the clearance of derelict land set in Command Paper 4373—the White Paper which we are discussing. We look to local authorities to clear up their existing problems as soon as possible. We expect authorities in the worst hit areas to make every effort to get the greater part cleared within ten years, and the Government will give them the fullest support to enable them to do so. It is important that they set realistic targets and keep to them.

As indicated in reply to a Question in another place, the Government have decided to continue with their predecessors' proposals to change the basis of rating for the exploitation of minerals, including mineral wastes. We have recently put proposals to all the interested parties which would have the effect, broadly, of halving the rate liability on the extraction of mineral wastes as from April 1 next.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, can he indicate whether that relief is likely to be made retrospective?


My Lords, I will check that, but I think not. We are still considering the comments which we have had on these proposals, so that the point which the noble Lord has made can certainly be taken into account. We are also awaiting—and my noble friend Lord Molson asked about this—the Report of the Working Party which is investigating the potential use of spoil-heaps to provide road fill material. The idea of filling all these derelict holes with derelict waste from pitheaps and so on is very attractive, but it is not quite so easy as it sounds.

The Working Party held its first meeting in May, 1970. Its work of investigation is proceeding and consultation is currently taking place with the local authority associations. It should be borne in mind that the contribution which can be made—even if all the problems of transport, and so on, can be overcome—to the clearance of derelict land by using waste material for road fill is small, because there is so very much more material in the waste tips than could ever be needed for any conceivable road programme. Finally on the pollution of land, I should like to mention litter which is not included in the White Paper.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting again, but before the noble Lord leaves the question of industrial waste may I ask him this question? One appreciates that the contribution which can be made is small, but the problem is so very large that every little that can be done must surely be helpful. I would ask the Government to exercise their influence to ensure that the borrow pit, to which attention has already been drawn, which was opened even before planning consent had been applied for, is filled with industrial waste, because I believe that it is still open.


My Lords, I will certainly take that into account. I did not want to give the impression, when I was saying that only a small contribution can be made here, that the idea is not well worth pursuing—because of course it is. I should like to assure noble Lords that it is being pursued, and every possibility of, for instance, transferring sand from St. Austell to the building industries elsewhere in the country is constantly being looked at. But the sums have a tantalising stubbornness in not coming out the way you want them to come out.

To come to litter, nobody who goes into the countryside that flanks our towns and main roads, or explores popular picnicking places on the aftermath of a public holiday, can fail to be depressed by the huge amount of litter and junk that is strewn around. In recent years the problem has been made the more acute by the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, we have more and more ancient and worthless cars to dispose of, and more and more indestructible plastic containers and packaging materials. A proportion of these find their way into the countryside and, because the materials are indestructible, remain an eyesore until somebody else takes them away. Such dumping of rubbish is of course already illegal, but enforcement of the law is not easy and it is only rarely possible to trace the person responsible. Under the Civic Amenities Act, local authorities have established dumping grounds to which the citizen has access, and publicity and other campaigns, both by the authorities and by voluntary bodies, have had their effect. In the long term, this combination of publicity, easier facilities for cheap disposal of bulky and unwanted junk and legislative penalties for those who continue to offend offers the best prospect.

My Lords, I apologise for the length of this speech, but I am afraid there is nothing for it if this vast subject is to be dealt with comprehensively. I turn now to noise—pollution of our peace and quiet. We have been speaking of the problems of the countryside and of the impact on that countryside of the urban dweller and his waste. But there is one kind of pollution, different in character from most of those we shall be discussing, which increasingly pervades our countryside and is fast becoming intolerable in some of our towns, and that is noise. Noise probably disturbs and annoys more citizens in Britain to-day than any other form of pollution. In the debate in another place in July, to which I have already referred, it was noise, especially aircraft noise, which called for most comment, and it is right that we should take the matter seriously. In this, the Secretary of State has the benefit of the Noise Advisory Council, and he attaches great importance to it. The Council, of which my right honourable friend is now the chairman—I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me about this—started work in April, and they have met a number of times. They have now completed their first broad survey of the noise problem, and are getting down to the detailed study of specific matters on which they are likely to wish to make recommendations to responsible Ministers. In a few weeks they hope to be ready to report to the public on the broad outlines of their progress to date.

Now aircraft noise. The process of consultation and development referred to in paragraph 46 of the White Paper still goes on. On the important question of commercial supersonic flights over this country, the position is that the Government have powers to restrict or prohibit such flights under Section 19 of the Civil Aviation Act 1968. No decision has been reached on the extent to which this power will be used, and noble Lords will understand that in this context account will be taken of representations made about the trials and flights to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. The final point I would make is that a decision as to how far the powers will be used will be taken well before supersonic aircraft enter commercial service in about three years' time.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord before he leaves this point, there is one thing which always seems to me very obscure. Service aircraft have been supersonic for a very long time past, but nobody seems to have worried about them very much. Is there something different in nature about the size of the "Concorde" and other aircraft? Even bombers have been supersonic, I think.


My Lords, I will not go into that point in great derail, but quite clearly there is an enormous difference in the size. One has only to look at the aircraft concerned to see that. Secondly, of course, there is a different kind of priority when the defence of the realm is concerned; and, thirdly, even defence aircraft are not allowed to fly wherever they like.


My Lords, may I offer a comment on that last remark? I live on Exmoor, where low flying by Service aircraft is permitted, and I think it is the most fiendish noise we have. When they come low over the house everybody jumps. We put up with it because it has to be done somewhere, and there are not many of us who live there. Moreover, it does not happen terribly frequently. One does not jump more often than once in two or three days.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for those remarks. Perhaps he will develop the point a little more when he comes to his own speech, but I think mine has been far too long already.

From aircraft noise I go to noise from cars and lorries. New regulations, setting maximum noise limits for new road vehicles, came into force in April, 1970, and the trend towards increasingly noisy vehicles was thereby halted. The White Paper said that a phased programme of noise reductions would be implemented progressively during the 1970s. In that connection, a draft Regulation which would further reduce the noise level permitted for most classes of new vehicles with effect from 1973 onwards has now been prepared, and it is hoped to circulate it for comment before Christmas. The Government are determined to reduce noise from vehicles as fast as the necessary techniques can be developed and economically applied. Using existing techniques, it is the intention to seek substantial improvements over the next three years. In the longer term, we are determined to press forward with research and development to produce new and much quieter vehicle designs.

Regulations in this field are, of course, pointless unless they are enforced. The police are already doing their best to enforce the Regulations requiring the use of proper silencers on cars, and particularly on motor bicycles, and already secure 12,000 prosecutions a year in this field. A check on the noise made by heavy lorries to be made during the annual test has been agreed in principle to be desirable, and progress is being made with the technical problems involved there. Meanwhile, heavy lorries visiting test stations undergo a visual inspection of their silencing components.


My Lords, can the noble Lord go beyond his noble friend's "could" on that? This is a point on which the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, said that such a thing "could" be applied. Would the noble Lord be ready to go so far as to say "will"?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to what precisely in the last few remarks I made he is referring?


On the question of an instrument check on the noise from heavy lorries. I hope I am not getting this confused, but at the moment there is a listen and guess check, and we are talking about getting an instrument check on to it. Is that not right?


Yes, that is quite right, as with the visual inspection of fumes. When we have the instruments we can enforce the law much more readily and certainly.

My Lords, I should like now to turn to rivers and lakes, fresh water, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, assigned top priority. The Report of the Working Party on Sewage Disposal, chaired by Mrs. Jeger, has come to hand. We have recently seen the sad truth of the comment implied in their title, Taken for Granted, entirely justified, because it took the recent strike to awaken among the general public a quite unprecedented and, I suppose, welcome interest in sewers and in the hazards which arise when, for one reason or another, the vital work of sewage treatment is interrupted. We have been fortunate that the effects of that strike on the natural balance and life of our rivers have by and large been more localised and less serious than was at one time feared. To-day, the public, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, is enormously interested in the state of our fresh waters because they are the scene of one of the most popular sports, angling, and are also prized for boating and for being pleasant to sit by and look at. The steady improvement of our polluted rivers is therefore a matter of great public interest and concern. We know that a river can be, and many are, used for water supply and effluent disposal and at the same time remain a valuable amenity and place of recreation. The cleaning up of those of our rivers which are polluted and the wise management of those which are at present clean is one of the highest priorities in the whole field.

The prevention of fresh water pollution and of the pollution of the sea and beaches by sewage and industrial effluent is the subject of major recommendations by the Working Party, to which I have just referred. My right honourable friend has said that he is in broad sympathy with the Working Party's objectives. He has been consulting local authorities, river authority associations and other bodies about the 39 main recommendations in the Report. Their views are being considered, and he hopes to be able to announce his conclusions before very long. Meanwhile, a start has been made on the more detailed consideration of how to implement a number of the recommendations; for example, on the best means of preventing further increases in the number of accidental spillages which cause water pollution.

As I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, in November, local authorities have been informed individually that they may proceed with the sewerage schemes which had been deferred by the previous Government. These are the schemes referred to in paragraphs 80 to 82 of the White Paper. Good examples of the progress now being made can be seen in Wales, where no sewerage schemes now remain deferred. At Newport a major works is being built to treat sewage at present being discharged raw into the mouth of the River Usk. Sewage from Rhondda and Pontypridd will similarly be dealt with at a new works planned in Cardiff. Major improvements are being carried out by the three sewerage boards serving the Monmouthshire valleys. Unsatisfactory discharges to the sea from the Bridgend area, at Neath, Port Talbot, Swansea, Caernarvon, Llandudno, Prestatyn and in the Lleyn Peninsula will all be stopped when major treatment plants now under construction come into operation. The record in Wales is an encouraging one.

It is natural that we must give high priority to rivers that will be needed as sources for public water supply. But we are proposing to continue the high overall rate of acceleration in expenditure on sewerage and sewage disposal that has been characteristic of recent years, and we are providing for quite massive expenditure on river improvement for social and esthetic reasons. For example, we propose to support the rehabilitation of tidal stretches of the Tyne and Tees which will never be required for public water supply but which are at present a hindrance or barrier to the movement of migratory fish and an affront to those who live along their banks.

My Lords, I turn now to the river pollution survey. Until the results of the survey of river conditions in England and Wales referred to in the White Paper are available, we shall not know the full extent of the task facing us in cleaning up the rivers. The situation over this survey about which Lord Kennet asked, is as follows. Most of the river authorities have now supplied the information requested from them and it is hoped that all the data will have come in by early in 1971. This information must, because of its bulk, be processed by computer and there have been troubles of a not unfamiliar kind in getting the computer programmes running smoothly. None the less, it is hoped that the draft report will be available for Ministers by the second half of 1971. By the time it can be published it will already be a year or two out of date, but river authorities are being asked to consider ways in which information can be gathered on a continuing basis so that the records are brought, and kept, up to date.

While the report is being prepared, priority will be given to cleaning up rivers which will be needed as sources of public water supply. The report will be of great help in the further assessment of priorities as well as formulating an overall national plan for river management. In this latter connection the Government are looking forward to receiving the report of the Central Advisory Water Committee, hoped for by the end of January. This will help us to decide on the future administrative framework for the water supply and sewage disposal services and for taking the decisions at central and local government level in order to implement our overall plan. That plan must draw upon the detailed scientific knowledge we shall have, take account of local and regional priorities, consider what is feasible by set target dates and within the expenditure we can reasonably allow—and large though the sums we shall have to spend are, they cannot possibly be large enough to do everything at once, and so be an effective, practicable, realistic approach to the major demands that confront us in this field.

My Lords, I turn now to the sea; and perhaps you will be pleased to know that this is the last front upon which I shall be speaking. On October 23 this year we were reminded of one of the most acute problems of marine pollution in a dramatic manner. The tankers "Allegro" and "Pacific Glory" collided off the Isle of Wight, and "Pacific Glory" went on fire and later ran aground on a shingle bank four miles off the South-East corner of the island. Tragic though other aspects of it were, the incident did allow us a fine test of our organisation for combating oil pollution at sea. Seven sets of equipment for pumping dispersant chemicals on to floating oil were mounted into tugs and naval vessels under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry, and all the oil that escaped from the ship's bunkers and a damaged tank was successfully dispersed before reaching and polluting any beaches. Local authorities ashore stood by to put the standing schemes they had prepared following the "Torrey Canyon" incident for dealing with coastal pollution into operation. In these schemes the kind of treatment proposed is related to the nature of the beach, the extent to which it is important for public recreation or wild life, and the degree to which it adjoins shallow waters important for fisheries. We are convinced that the "Pacific Glory" incident demonstrated the basic soundness of our organisation both ashore and afloat: it also gave us some important lessons both for our own emergency arrangements and for international discussion.

Work continues in the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation on measures to reduce the risks of accidents to ships which may cause pollution, and to limit the outflow of oil into the sea in the event of an accident to an oil tanker. The United Kingdom is taking a leading part in this work. It will not be long before your Lordships have before you the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, which will enable the Government to ratify the amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil which were adopted last year by the Assembly of IMCO. The powers which the Bill will give us should strengthen our hand in seeking to prevent illegal discharges of oil from ships around our coasts. We are also introducing into the Bill a new provision which closes a gap in the law by prohibiting the discharge of oil into territorial waters from offshore installations.

With the ready co-operation of the United Kingdom shipping industry we intend to apply the provisions of the Agreement to British ships as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law, and not wait until the amendments come into force internationally, which may not be for several years. The United States Government has announced its intention to do the same, and we hope that other maritime nations will follow this example. In the meantime, IMCO is considering, on the basis of proposals put to it by the United Kingdom, how the amended Convention can most effectively be enforced on an international basis.

My Lords, a further question arises over the dumping of wastes and discharge of pollutants into the sea. Oil pollution hits the headlines, but other forms of pollution of the sea are now attracting equal attention and may prove equally serious. Waste enters the sea by many routes—borne on inflowing rivers, through industrial outfalls and sewers, by dumping from ships and by the settlement of droplets and particles from the air. Several recent reports, including those of the Working Party on Sewage Disposal and the Technical Committee on the Disposal of Toxic Solid Wastes have considered whether our framework of control over the disposal of wastes to sea is as good as it ought to be. There have been expressions of concern over dumping at sea in the United States and in international discussions.

As a small, industrialised country surrounded by sea water that is well mixed and has a considerable capacity to dilute wastes, Britain has in the past looked to the sea as a satisfactory place to dispose of many things. We still believe that there are many things we can safely discharge into the sea. But we believe that we should review this whole problem, study the scientific evidence and other arguments that have been expressed in other countries and international discussions, and examine our policies accordingly. To a large degree, of course, the solution of the problems of marine pollution can only be achieved through international agreement and action, but our review will help us to take an informed and critical line in the discussions that must precede such agreements.

My Lords, you will be as relieved as I am to know that I am now at the end. I thank you very much for your patience. I hope that I have at least reminded you of the enormous extent of environmental problems. I have, surprisingly, omitted many things I could have said, and have been asked to say. The essential point that I hope I may leave with you is this: that in this vast field that impinges on human life at so many points, we shall only succeed if we base our actions on a well-balanced and critical blend of scientific knowledge on the one hand and administrative commonsense on the other. We cannot possibly do everything at once: we cannot know what we should do first without a proper analysis of sound scientific information and attention to the needs of people.

Having chosen our priorities and our targets it is essential that we pursue them with consistency. This is not a field in which one can have a totally new programme every few years, or even every decade. We are fortunate in this country in having—despite the density of our population and the length of our industrial history—an environment of the very greatest natural beauty in which as yet, by good luck and good management, we have managed to avoid and to overcome some of the worst problems of pollution. I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House will share the Government's determination that all concerned should keep on top of this problem and keep pollution in all its forms at bay.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to make a statement about dinners. Dinners will be available to-night, but I am afraid that it will not be possible for your Lordships to entertain guests.


I take it, my Lords, that there is no adjournment for dinner.


No, my Lords.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for initiating this debate and congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on his maiden speech, with which in general I am in agreement. I should like to declare both my interest and also my disinterest in this subject. If that sounds rather confusing perhaps I may explain that for the last five years I have been the Chairman of "The Countryside in 1970" Conference. That somewhat ephemeral title has summed up the "ginger group" headed by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh which has been a powerful influence, I hope, in tackling our pollution problem. I declare my disinterest in that I hope I come to it without being influenced by either self-interest or partiality, but I thought it might be helpful to your Lordships if I gave you the consensus of opinion of that Conference as it took place about a month ago.

I was in the chair all the time, and there were 158 speakers. Those of you who are used to your Lordships' House will think therefore that the Conference must have lasted about two and a half weeks. In point of fact, it lasted two and a half days, because, somewhat arbitrarily, I decided that all speeches should be three minutes or less—that is to say, all speeches with one or two Royal and Ministerial exceptions. I think that most of the speeches were wise. Some were foolish, but on the whole there was a great fund of that very uncommon thing, common sense; and there were included some excellent speeches by students who were always critical, sometimes helpful and always invigorating. I would also remind your Lordships (I think it is the first time the word has come into the debate this afternoon) that this is European Conservation Year and "The Countryside in 1970" Standing Committee was charged with the responsibility for the United Kingdom in relation to that. What we were trying to do in Strasbourg, and here in London, was to influence the decision-makers on these subjects, like agriculture, forestry, urbanisation and industry, and the rapidly increasing leisure industry, which also has not yet been mentioned in to-day's debate. I think that on the whole we have been fairly successful.

Now, my Lords, I come to two very general conclusions which I hope will not shock you. The first is how selfish we all are; and the second, how mercenary we all are. Those conclusions are the result of listening to those 158 speakers. Three phrases stick in mind in connection with this mercenary aspect, and perhaps they are worth quoting. There was a suggestion at one time, when we were discussing agriculture, that if a farmer had to do things for the environment, for conservation, which would not necessarily have been done from the agricultural point of view, he should be recompensed. A noble farmer's wife got up and spoke. She said: Ownership of country land is a great privilege. I expect to make a decent living from farming this land, treating it and the animals on it in a proper fashion. I do not expect to get extra payment for behaving in a civilised way. That was one of the speeches that gained the most applause. There was one other remark, and I feel rather diffident about making it in your Lordships' House; but I quote Max Nicholson, who said in his summing-up speech on the last day: Will Ministers please remember that economists are among the most ignorant of God's creatures? The third phrase came from Mr. Toncic-Sorinj, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, who emphasised the international aspects of the problem. He said: Very soon holders of public office will stand or fall on how they ensure that the cost of transition to a quality-geared economy is fairly distributed. My Lords, one other generalisation as a result of that Conference: we are, I felt, creatures, like all other animals on this earth, and we can have a future only if we live in balance with the rest of Nature.

I should like to turn for a moment to the problems of industry and the problems of the Government. Perhaps the industrial side raised more heat than most in this Conference. The bad features of degradation and pollution were emphasised; also the good features of improved living conditions—the very point made by Mr. Eldon Griffiths himself at another conference I attended: that it is only if we have economic viability that we can afford to tackle some of these enormous pollution problems. Regarding industrial development, of course damage is sometimes caused, and of course sometimes it must be rectified. But ultimately the public bear the cost. This point came up in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, but I would point out that if the consumer does not pay, if the customer does not pay, since most companies in this country are limited liability companies it really falls back on the company and the shareholders to pay. As so many of us are shareholders, once again it comes back to us as taxpayers, ratepayers, shareholders or customers.

It seems to me that there are three good prospects so far us industry is concerned. Industry is talking with the conservationists. It has realised that it is not in its best interests to cause pollution, and it has the ability to anticipate, much more than it did some years ago, the possible social consequences of its own inventions. Fundamentally, I felt that the most hopeful sign at that Countryside Conference was the dialogue which is now working out between industry, on the one side, and planning authorities, on the other. It was summed up in a joint paper called, Working with Industry: the need for planning authorities and the public at large to take account of economic considerations; the need for industry to take account of special complications, and, thirdly, the need for all to recognise and accept that there is a price to be paid for amenity.

We come to the question which has been raised on the possible penalties for pollution caused by industry, and here I would just make the point that, like most industrialists, I want fair play. If—as I am doing—I am spending £55,000 on effluent treatment plant at a new factory, I do not want to do that only to find that my next door neighbour is allowing effluent to go down the same river. We also need international standards—this is an obvious point and one which was emphasised time after time—because, employed as most of us are in exporting industry, it is no good our obeying the laws as we think they should be in relation to pollution only to find that we have priced ourselves out of the international market.

Of course our Conference was full of good advice to the Government. Perhaps it was over-simplified by the suggestion that the Government should adopt the same techniques as they did in the Clean Air Act 1956. Incidentally, my Lords, confusion came about in Strasbourg when I mentioned the Clean Air Act 1956, only to find myself quoted in the French newspapers as having spoken of the "Clean Art Act 1956". But in a general way I think our Conference feels that there are four principles, some of which have been enunciated by Ministers both in this Administration and also in the one before. A favourite quotation of mine from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is that classic phrase, The product being put out is guilty until proved innocent. I am also delighted that Mr. Peter Walker, our first Minister for the Environment, has so clearly stated the second major principle that "the polluter shall pay for his pollution". But, as I have pointed out, this is not so easy as it sounds. Then, within reason, I think that the consumer should not be given an oportunity to pollute or not to pollute. As an example of that (I think that I am right in saying this, though it was not part of Lord Sandford's speech) from January onwards we may not use DDT on our own gardens. It is now banned for home use.

The logical approach seems to be, first of all, research; secondly, to make up our minds on choices and opportunities; thirdly, to watch public relations aspects, particularly that of education, and finally, action. On the knowledge and research side, as I have already hinted, there is no prospect at all of mankind becoming independent of the biological world. Therefore, it follows that we have to explore much more fully than we have done in the past this biological world. It is vital in connection with this that there should be regular monitoring. There are so many factors in our biological world which can be affected by extraneous items that it is only by regularity of monitoring that we can begin to learn what are the main factors with which we have to contend.

On choices and opportunities, many of these have already been considered, and I am sure that many more will be considered as the debate goes on. But how little we really know! It seems to my mind that pollution is the antithesis of environmental health. We have to go into a new world, explore it and find out much more than we know at this moment. As I travel the world, I find that one factor is uppermost in the minds of most people. It is the growing conclusion that unless a country has a comprehensive national transport system, it is heading for some disaster on the pollution side. A simple example of that is that when I went to Brisbane I found how much they regretted doing away with the trams which neither made smells nor polluted the atmosphere in any way.

On the public relations side, it is vital that the common will of the people should keep pace with Governmental policy; or, if you like to put it the other way round, that Government policy should keep pace with the common will; because it is only through public support that we shall get these measures pushed through in the right order and at the right time. I think that "The Countryside in 1970" over the last five or seven years has made a great contribution to this. There is hardly a paper you can pick up which does not say something about the pollution issue, and I am sure that that was not true eight or ten years ago.

In public relations the voluntary bodies, so highly praised to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, have been drawn together, I dare say with a push from our President His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. This has many advantages, not least of which is that when industries have to set up new plants and factories they can go to one body rather than to all the individual voluntary bodies, as they had to do in the past. But the voluntary bodies in this country are a peculiarly British phenomenon, and I would recommend that the Government should be kindly, helpful and generous in many cases to them, particularly where legal aids are necessary.

One other aspect of public relations is that of education. I cannot emphasise too much, speaking on behalf of educationists in our countryside, how vital it is to ensure that in the schools, starting wherever it is felt right, we begin to inculcate "wonder at the beauty and complexity of nature." That can be done at the earliest of ages, and if it is to be carried on through life there are two other courses which must be Pursued. We must ensure that in all professional educational establishments environmental thinking is a real part of the syllabus, and that goes as well for adult and informal education. We must keep on emphasising the choices that are open to us.

So, my Lords, if the Government pursue the course which I think they are set on; if they do their restructuring of the administration of Government to deal with the questions of pollution, as have seven other Governments—the French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish, Italian and American—besides ourselves, making eight in all; if they press on with this restructuring, bearing in mind this monitoring principle; if they watch over our public relations, and in particular our educational policies, and then act in our best national and international interests, I am sure that we shall get on top of this appalling problem. Civilisation has been defined as the use of reason and a sense of values. These are characteristics which we should apply to the problem of pollution. I ask only for that; but, on reflection, I think that in so doing I am asking for quite a lot.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time, I feel that my task has been made a great deal more difficult by the extremely well-informed speech to which we have just listened, to say nothing of the introductory speech by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was of a very generous nature. He covered, as he was in duty bound to do, the whole complex of the Government's intentions in this matter.

I will speak, if your Lordships will permit me, rather more on the international aspects of pollution than has been the case in the speeches that have been made. Before I do so, may I say that I was a little disturbed by the argument employed by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the penalties attaching to pollution. I know that up to now the principle has been that by shame a polluter should be brought to book and not by penalty in the ordinary sense of the term. I think that this is a principle probably engendered in another age. The propensities of great industries to pollute our countryside have increased so greatly that I think new measures must be found to bring them to book, as has been found necessary in the United States. If, for instance, one reads the reports of the river authorities—and I am particularly thinking of the reports of the Trent River Authority—one cannot help but be impressed by the fact that some industries appear deliberately to have continued pollution and faced the trivial fines which are imposed upon them rather than take the palliative action which was necessary and would necessitate big capital expenditure.

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, just now, that it is no use taking unilateral action from the British point of view, if by so doing we impose upon industry the need to establish expensive plant and make ourselves uncompetitive. At the same time, this surely emphasises the need for international agreement so that we in sophisticated and developed countries can agree on certain rules applying to the need to put in plant to deal with pollution. There are many organisations in this country which are trying to deal with the various aspects of pollution. I was very pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Molson, the distinguished chairman of Co-en-Co drew attention to the job of Co-en-Co in trying to secure a major lobby which can influence Government, if I understood him correctly.

There are, of course, people who attack this sort of co-ordination of energy. Your Lordships may have read in the news magazine, the New Society, in their edition of February of this year, a rather cynical attack of Co-en-Co., and certinly on its various objects, which I think was written rather from an ivory tower, and which demonstrates how difficult it is to organise the machinery of public opinion so that it bears on the Government of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had some fun out of the compilation of the gross national product. I do not criticise him for making that observation, because it is extremely difficult to find a yardstick whereby you can measure the relative importance of encouraging development and encouraging economic progress, and the disadvantages of curtailing economic expansion. If you do the latter, it is argued (and this was brought up in a report to President Nixon quite recently by the Environmental Agency) that you inhibit and prejudice the necessary finance for services such as education, health and housing.

So the public are left with these conflicting attitudes and opinions, though they know quite well that pollution is militating against their interests and the interests of their children. The public, I suggest, see pollution in its visible form; they do not obviously see it in its invisible form, and sometimes the invisible form of pollution is the more dangerous. In the visible form of pollution, for instance, in the dry effluent from cement factories or in the pollution of our rivers, the public can grasp what the trouble is and try to do something about it, if it knows how to do it.

We have 20,000 miles of rivers in this country, 5,000 miles of which are polluted, and 1,000 miles carry substantial and dangerous quantities of untreated pollution. But the invisible forms of pollution which the public do not see are the more dangerous, because in many cases they are a direct and almost violent attack on the health of the nation. I suggest that your Lordships should consider the position in this country if we had here the experience of the small village of Minimata, in Japan, when for some years nobody knew why people were dying: they were suffering from attacks of dysphasia, from mental illness, until somebody came to the conclusion that is had something to do with an adjacent factory which was pouring effluent into the sea containing high quantities of heavy metals, including mercury. Of the 130 people hospitalised because of the trouble, 30 died. This makes one think, when one realises that only recently the Atomic Energy Commission in this country sought permission to pour into the adjacent sea still greater quantities of isotopes, including a quantity of Strontium 90. The public do not see things like the effect on soil productivity of these new forms of wheat grain. You can extract ever-increasing amounts of grain, barley, wheat, but in the end the soil rebels. This itself is a form of pollution which the public do not see.

One of the questions that I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate is what information has been sent forward in advance to the United Nations Conference on Human Environment 1972 so that working papers can be produced. This has been requested by the Advisory Committee concerned with the Conference, and I suggest that it might be to the advantage of all concerned if we knew what the Government had in mind. I hope that they will take into account this problem in compiling statistical projections, that the discontinuity factor in these projects is something that we have not really studied enough.

The consequences of taking certain action of economic expansion are not always relevant. For instance, take the Aswan Dam. The result of the Aswan Dam heightening has been to affect the fisheries, because the fish could not get the nutrient through the silt which has been held up by the dam, and it has resulted in the spread of bilharzia: and this has been the experience in the Kariba Dam valley as well. These things apparently were not thought about, or if they were thought about they were not considered of sufficient importance to prejudice the building of the Aswan Dam or the Kariba Dam.

In the case of shellfish, to which I have already made reference, I am advised—I am not a scientist—that the absorptive capacity of shellfish is immeasurably greater proportionately than that of human beings. So consumption of shellfish in Japan, for instance, affects not only human beings, but bird life, wild animal life and the like.

Then there is the question of what is called the eutrophication of contained water—the reduction of the oxygen content—which has meant the distortion of natural evolution, the growth of fish and marine life generally, and the building up of large volumes of algae, which has produced distorted and rather unpleasant forms of biological life in those waters. The premature aging of water has resulted from the reduction of the oxygen content by the feeding into those waters of nutrients and other oxygen consuming elements.

To come a little nearer home (I was thinking just now of Lake Erie, which is a classic case of eutrophication), the Norwegians are saying that sulphur dioxide carried by the atmosphere to their forests, and causing spoilation of those forests, comes from the great industrial areas of the Midlands and the North of England.

For many years I was Member of Parliament for part of Staffordshire, and through that constituency flowed the River Tame, the most highly polluted river in England. In 1951, in another place, we passed up to your Lordships the Water Resources Bill of that year. The position in the Tame has got worse, not better: and if you read the reports of the river authorities, you will realise that legislation, so far, really has not had any appreciably good effect. But I think that one of the most important things we have to do in this country is to make the ordinary man in the street feel that he has responsibility. I feel some diffidence in saying so, but at present pollution is largely a preoccupation of the articulate middle classes. We have somehow to make the population at large understand what is at stake.

As I see it, these amateur agencies, these small corporate organisations, have a great role to play in fomenting discussion and securing redress of pollution as they see it. It is not easy for the ordinary man in the street to go to his local councillor and tell him about some element of pollution; for the councillor to go to his officials and try to organise some form of litigation against these huge industries. The ordinary local authority has some doubt whether they can manage the cost of litigation, which may or may not be successful. What we ought to do is to give an idea, to lay down some procedure, whereby complaints and expositions of pollution may be put to the influential authority concerned. I do not think the ordinary man in the street knows how to go about it.

Reference has been made to the Alkali Inspectorate. Those who have studied the most recent Report of the Alkali Inspectorate will have read that there is some irritation in the Report at the amateur complaints that the Inspectorate receives. I am sorry that that attitude is evinced in the Report. Far from discouraging the amateur complainant we ought to encourage the ordinary man to make these complaints. If your Lordships will read that Report you will find, for instance, that in the matter of dry dust emissions from various cement factories, and the like, the rate of dust emissions is increasing, not decreasing, in spite of the activities of the Inspectorate. Since I have been a little critical of one remark made in the Report, I should like to make a plea that the Alkali Inspectorate should be greatly increased to take account of the big increase of production which has taken place in this country in the matter of dry effluents.

One wants to ask this question: just where does the bug stop? The bug probably stops only when you get international activity. So much can be done to prevent what I fear may take place in this country: a hardening and indifferent attitude by the public. If you bring home certain facts to the public they soon will jump into activity if they know how to go about it. How many of your Lordships know that of 80 well-known seaside resorts in this country, no fewer than 16 pour untreated sewage into the adjacent sea? In the United States there are two principal organisations. We have to think quickly about establishing something like them in this country. There is the Environment Protection Agency charged with control and the enforcement of the law, and the Council of Environmental Quality, which deals with advisory matters, reporting and research. I fear that the standing Royal Commission will produce these sporadic Reports on which action may or may not be taken quickly. We want something more efficient in the handling of pollution intelligence and enforcement of the law which may be amended from time to time.

My Lords, I do not apologise for referring to the international aspect, for it seems to me that when this conference takes place in 1972 this country, as a sophisticated and well-informed country, has a great role to play. I look forward to hearing more and to the Government's intentions in due course.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord who has just spoken on his maiden speech in this place, the more so because I feel that conservationists—and we are all more or less conservationists nowadays—have gained a powerful advocate for our cause in the noble Lord. I am sure that not only on these subjects but on many others he will give us the advantage of his comprehensive and penetrating views on fundamental problems of the kind that we have been discussing.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hayter in everything that he said. I have had a good deal to do with "The Countryside in 1970" movement, and among other things the report to which he referred on Working with Industry. Until recently, and perhaps until the presentation of that report, there was a good deal of difference of view and positive friction between the great industrial organisations and the amenity interests. That seemed to me all wrong, and largely with help from the industrial side we came to an agreement, a consensus of opinion, on the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, has described. I think that, together with many other changes in attitude and a better understanding of the problems, great progress has been made in the past few years, and indeed quite recently. That has come about for many reasons. Powerful among them undoubtedly is the movement headed by the Duke of Edinburgh and labelled as "The Countryside in 1960" or "The Countryside in 1970", or whatever it may be.

We have had to move on from that and take a still wider view, and not only invent a new title but think of slightly different functions. Largely due to the influence of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, we have persuaded the Royal Society of Arts to take over a management and organisational role in the matter. Historically they provide an excellent link with industry and commerce. I have been interested also for a great many years, in conservation, not only in this country but also internationally. It is important that we should always keep in mind the international aspects.

At the recent meeting in London of the Wildlife Organisation, in this European Conservation Year, we had a remarkable assembly of people from all over the world. They were addressed in a very effective speech (if I may presume to say so), to which a good deal of reference has been made, by Mr. Peter Walker, the Secretary of State. The remarks of three outstanding personalities impressed me deeply. They were not primarily conservationists, but by their exploits all are famous throughout the world. First of all, there was Mr. Neil Armstrong. In a remarkable address he said that as he travelled away from this planet and saw it getting smaller and smaller, and knowing he was going to one where there was no life at all, he was forced to reflect: "What can man do? What is he doing to the planet I have just left?" He was followed by Mr. Heyerdahl, who said, if I remember the figures rightly, that in his voyage on his papyrus raft he was surrounded by oil in some form or other for two days out of every three. Then, Mr. Piccard the inventor of the bathyscape, said he had spent a lot of time exploring the depths of the sea but all that mattered to mankind was the very top layer of the vast ocean in which marine life could exist and which we were doing our best to poison.

Those three speeches from those remarkable men brought home to one that, behind these problems of pollution and conservation of Nature, there lies much more than the preservation of a few living forms of plant or animal or some piece of scenery. We really have reached the point where the impacts of man upon nature can be devastating and can devastate very rapidly. The scale of the problems we have to consider has multiplied enormously in the last few years. It is fortunate that the present Government, accepting from the previous Administration the idea of making a Secretary of State responsible for the environment and putting him in the Cabinet, have followed along the same lines and expanded his functions. The Prime Minister, in a speech to which reference also has been made but which, if I may say so, seems to have attracted far too little publicity (he was talking to the Countryside in 1970 Conference), emphasised in many ways what he expected the Secretary of State to do.

Something else my noble friend Lord Hayter said was to emphasise the need for education. In one of the Sunday newspapers a few weeks ago was a misconceived, and certainly mistimed and very misleading, article which suggested that the organisations concerned with wild life were wrong in regarding money spent on education as being directly applied to the conservation of wild life. This was completely off the mark. Surely nothing is more fundamental and more important than that the population at large should have some understanding of what underlies the balance of nature and the conservation of wild life.

One of the great needs of the moment is that more of the people concerned on the Government side, Central Government and local government, and particularly the planning departments, should have some background of knowledge of what used to be called natural history and is now called ecology—an insight into Nature. The planning staff, all the professions concerned with land use, very much require that, and I think (I expect Lord Hayter will agree with me) that middle management in industry is greatly in need of the same kind of background and training. There are one or two organisations which provide instruction in the field. That is the point. These people need to be taken out into the countryside to see there how Nature behaves—how mountains, rivers, and so on behave in Nature—and what the wildlife they are talking about really looks like. There is a great room for growth of education in those directions.

As regards our own problems, I am not going to take up time because so much has been said already. So far as pollution of the sea is concerned, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, knows more about that than I do, and I have no doubt that he will state his own views in reply. On the present evidence, I myself—and I am speaking purely personally—do not feel that vast expenditure should be imposed on industry, for dealing either with motor-car noise or with the fumes from motor cars. I feel that if the existing regulations were enforced—and as a mere citizen it seems to me that the police do not make the faintest effort to enforce the laws—a great deal could be done.

As regards pollution of the air, here in the past I have had good friends among the Alkali Inspectorate, for whose work I have great respect. But it was rather a chance remark by the Chief Alkali Inspector recently which gave rise to some misunderstanding. He emphasised that we must be practical. Perhaps he was aiming at the average between scientific knowledge and common sense, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred; and I know of no mathematician competent to strike that average. However, he said that we must be practical and that in the matter of air pollution our aim and policy ought to be to cleanse and not to purify. I feel that if your policy is to purify you may possibly get somewhere near cleansing; if your policy is merely to cleanse, all you will do is to make air and water slightly less dirty—and that is not good enough. But that is perhaps only a matter of emphasis.

The other immediate home problem to which I should like to refer very briefly is clean water. For the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, gave, I feel that this is a first priority. In the first place, the pollution is what is doing most damage to wildlife, to pleasure in the way of sport, and to amenity. In the second place, it is the one form of pollution that could be most readily cured. Thirdly, there is the administrative machinery for doing something about it. I was going to refer in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to what is happening on a tributary of the Thames which I know well and in which, I may as well confess, I have an interest as a fisherman. At this moment I am assured there are two local authorities putting untreated or half-treated sewage into that river. I do not see why that should be tolerated for a week, let alone the months through which it is threatened. That emphasises the importance of speed in dealing with rivers. These are views that have to go even further than is contemplated.

The noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, spoke about eutrophication, and that is not only happening in lakes and stagnant waters. Every small stream, from Dorset to Kent, is threatened with what is called eutrophication. It is not ordinarily regarded as pollution; what the farmer puts on to his land gets washed into the river—too much nitrate, too much phosphate. The result is a growth of weed which covers the bottom of the river, makes it impossible for the fish to spawn and destroys the insect lift. We do not want all these small streams from the Dorset Frome to the Kent Stour made lifeless.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for one moment, he mentioned eutrophication with regard to a stream. But is this really possible when there is flowing water? Is it not in stagnant waters that one gets eutrophication?


I was coming to that, my Lords. At the same time as the river is getting all the excess nitrate and phospate, someone is being allowed to pump the water away from the head waters of the rivers in order to avoid taking it lower down, when he might have to purify it. It is the double effect of the chemical action on the river and the diminution in the flow of water that causes the damage. I agree that if the water were not interfered with at the source there might be enough stream to roll away the weed or to dilute the nitrates and phosphates. But the two processes going on together are doing great damage, and one of the points that the Minister ought to consider carefully, when he starts cleaning up the river, is whether he should not say, "You must leave the clean water that is ready to come into it; not put it into a pipe and pump away, perhaps to some other watershed". That is one of the urgent and far-reaching problems, and I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that it is the most urgent of all the pollution problems. Even the tiniest brook "winds somewhere safe to sea", and if it is contaminated it is going to do harm all the way down until it gets into the estuary, and eventually into the sea. And I think of what M. Piccard said, that it is only the top two or three feet of these vast ocean depths that really matter to mankind.

At this late hour I shall not detain your Lordships much longer. It is encouraging to all conservationists to have had these two speeches, from Mr. Peter Walker and from the Prime Minister, in the last few weeks, with an outlook which hardly anybody would have been taking even three or four years ago, and I would urge the Government to cash in, if I may use that vulgar phrase, on the present temper of opinion. Sir Frank Fraser Darling is a good friend of mine and I do not think he was being altogether fantastic when he said, a year ago, that there was a danger that the public, the Press and Parliament would get sick and tired of the word "ecology" before the Government half understood what it meant or really started to do anything about it. I do not think that that will happen. I would not suggest that it is likely to happen, but it was not altogether fantastic, at least a year ago, to think that it might.

That brings me back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, about education. We must get the general public better educated in these things. When, in the course of an industrial dispute, millions of gallons of untreated sewage were poured into rivers, stopping short of danger to human health but killing thousands of fish, a few people did say, "What about the fish?" but no-one said, "What about the millions of invertebrate forms of life?". These are quite harmless—very few of them are harmful; many of them are beautiful and they are of great scientific interest and importance and essential to the preservation of the balance of nature. "Wipe out millions of them in a night—what does it matter?" I should like to see education of opinion, starting with the children in the schools, working up to management in all walks of life, to trade unionists, to planners, to the professions, and so on, until a situation of that sort is regarded as something grossly anti-social. Therefore I welcome what has been said on behalf of the Government in these matters and, if I may, I will quote what the Prime Minister himself said. He said—and he was talking to the conservationists— We have heeded your message and are acting in its spirit: Keep us up to the mark. We shall always listen and act. Let us keep him, and his colleagues, up to his word.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords speaking to-day, I too seek the indulgence of your Lordships' House, for this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships. I hope that, in your traditional kindness to maiden speakers, the lights will stay with me for a few more minutes.

The protection of the environment in itself is scarcely a controversial subject, and I hope that I shall not be at all controversial. Unfortunately it seems to have created three ugly sisters. The consumer, on the one hand, is blamed and attacked for his lack of concern, and for the continuing demands which he places upon industry for more and improved products. Industry is attacked for the smoke, dirt, dust, grime and noise which it generates in meeting the demands of the consumer. The Government, both this Administration and the last, seem to be somewhere in the middle and are blamed for lack of action, initiative and drive. Frankly, my Lords, I think that none of this is true.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, I feel that there is now a great degree of co-operation in industry. I believe, too, that the consumer is concerned and—to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—is now prepared to pay a higher price for anti-pollution. A recent survey has shown that just over two-thirds of the consumers in this country are now extremely concerned about pollution and believe that it will increase. As I understand that this is slightly lower than is the case in some other countries, it is an indication of the attention that has been focused upon this subject.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Burntwood, I would concentrate on the international aspects of pollution. Section 8—"International Work"—of the White Paper draws attention to the danger of overlapping work and wasted effort. I believe that this is particularly true now. On the international front there are so many organisations involved in the protection of the environment that, apart from duplication, I believe there could be some confusion which might easily dampen the enthusiasm generated by European Conservation Year.

Before this debate I attempted to find out how many international organisations there were involved in pollution. I wanted to know their terms of reference, how they were financed and, perhaps most important of all, what they had achieved and were hoping to achieve. I wrote to a number of friends of mine around the world—former colleagues when I have had an international job—and asked for papers from those countries that I thought were particularly interested in pollution. I became very confused, and, frankly, the greatest help given to me was given by the Chemical Industries Association, who sent me some most informative charts relating some of the organisations known to them. They showed over 70 different bodies, and there is certainly a considerable amount of overlap here. I should like to know which of these international organisations Her Majesty's Government are supporting, and what steps are being taken to ensure that clear terms of reference are laid down so that there is minimum duplication of effort. More than anything I believe that international co-operation is essential because of the sharing of the cost of research and experience and perhaps, in some cases, the saving of lives.

I should like to take the different areas and quote a few examples where I believe international co-operation has helped and could help. Pollution of the air is perhaps the greatest danger to life, and it seems to me that quite a lot more could be done in extending medical research on an international basis. There are two examples where I believe we have had some considerable success: pneumoconiosis, in the coal industry, and asbestosis in the asbestos industry, in which I myself have had five years' experience, so that I naturally feel very concerned about it.

Moving to a broader area in pollution of the air, I should like to raise again the question of sulphur dioxide and perhaps go a little further than Norway and mention Sweden—because the Swedes are very much concerned with this problem. The trouble is that it is extraordinarily expensive to collect data, since I understand that it involves installing numerous monitoring points and aircraft sampling. Certainly we want cleaner air, and certainly sulphur dioxide is a major problem. But it was quoted to me that to take the sulphur content out of fuel oil would cost something like £45 million a year and that the cost of purifying all stack gases could be £250 million a year.

I go on to pollution of the land. It may be that DDT, which we all recognise as a dangerous evil, will still have its uses. I understand that Sweden, which has recently imposed a trial ban on DDT, has had to make one exception already in the case of the large pine weevil. A further example is to be found in the United States. In New York, North New Jersey and Connecticut, where a total ban applies, the gypsy moth caterpillar is apparently out of control, and only DDT will control it. In another area of pollution of the land there arises the question of refuse. It is here that we need the experience of other countries who could help us to save money. And the methods they have used to tackle their problems could also be very helpful to us.

A figure currently quoted for domestic refuse in the United Kingdom is about 20 million tons a year—approximately a kilo per person per day; and whereas there have been estimates that this will increase by about 70 per cent. by weight, or 100 per cent. by volume, in the next twenty years, we find, if we look at the pattern of the United States and the Way consumer products and consumer durables have developed over there, that probably the rate of increase could be much greater. The United States at the moment have about two to three times that amount of waste per person. I was glad to learn that local authorities in this country are already on a voluntary basis making use of experience in the United States and in Holland. A big change is taking place in the composition of domestic refuse, which means that the bulk is increasing very dramatically: 34 par cent. is still paper, but other areas are coming up; although plastics, which we all criticise so much at the moment, account for only about 1 per cent. of all domestic waste. The Japanese and the Americans have already developed systems for dealing with a full dustbin. I understand that they can compress it into blocks some few inches square and thereby save time, trouble and money.

One point I should like to stress is that I am convinced that industry is acting in a responsible manner. I do not think that legislation should necessarily have such a high priority as many people wish to give it. I believe that voluntary work by industry, in conjunction with the conservationists, can do a lot, more quickly and more easily than many would believe. There are many examples of industry's responsibility. One, in the area of pollution of fresh water, is that the detergent industry have made a voluntary change from hard actives to soft actives, and I hope they will show the same responsibility when it comes to the question of NTA, which is also causing concern in other countries.

It is the oil industry, I believe, who have been most responsible of all. Apart from international organisations, like IMCO, there is the industry's own voluntary group set up by CONCARWE, competing oil companies. A major point is that within their own organisation the oil companies have environmental control committees reporting directly to top management. They are very concerned. I think that they, too, in due course will welcome legislation in all areas; but they would like, naturally, to work in close consultation with the conservationists. I would stress once more the need for closer co-operation on the international level, not simply because we are all faced with the same problems, but because industry is becoming more and more international. We must first of all introduce common standards. I had hoped to address your Lordships for the first time on the subject of metrication, and certainly it is my hope that metric terms will be adopted in all pollution areas. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will take the steps that have been suggested to obtain as much information as possible prior to the conference in Stockholm in 1972.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who has just spoken. I listened to his excellent contribution very carefully, and I was impressed by the fact that apparently his interest had been stimulated by the fact that he had worked in places in the country where he came across pneumoconiosis and asbestosis. I will not cross swords with him now, but the only point on which I differed from him was when he said that he did not believe that legislation could make an important contribution to some of these problems. For many years we left it to voluntary effort and we were not very successful in overcoming the two diseases he mentioned. We look forward to hearing the noble Lord again, and I feel sure that he will find ample opportunity to speak to the House and help us to elucidate some of these problems.

It is another most attractive maiden speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, which in some part makes the basis of my theme tonight, when he said to the House, "It is people who make pollution". I am addressing myself to the subject of pollution on lines which so far have not been touched upon. I feel that while successive Governments—nobody can blame any one Government in this matter—are familiar with the aspects of pollution dealt with in the White Paper, there is a reluctance to tackle the primary cause; namely, that of over-population. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Greenwood nod, because this, of course, is a very prickly nettle. Authorities of all kinds are reluctant to grasp it, and I believe that the time has come when a bold step must be taken.

The United Kingdom is the third most crowded country on the earth, after Holland and Formosa, and at the end of the century the population is expected to reach 66 million. I apologise for giving some figures, because I know that quoting figures in Parliamentary speeches is boring, but in this matter they are, I believe, very significant. Our birth rate is certainly declining; it has dropped from 18.5 per 1,000 in 1964 to 16.3 in 1969, but there is a long way to go before we reach 14 per 1,000, which would give us exact replacement.

No one has defined precisely what should be an optimum population. No doubt in different countries the definition would differ, but in my opinion there is no doubt that our standards of living, as measured by our social services alone, could certainly be higher if our population was less. At the present rate of growth, by the end of the century the under fifteens will have increased from 11.5 millions to 14.3 millions, an average increase of 2,000 each week. It has been estimated that two schools catering for 650 children each must be built every week for the next 30 years, while progress should still be made with some of the slum, overcrowded schools which we know demand our immediate attention. The extra 10 million will need to be housed perhaps in 30 New Towns which will be accompanied by the pollution which we have had described to us tonight, if I may say so ad nauseam, stemming from this increased urbanisation and industrialisation.

Every agriculturist here will know that we have been accustomed to producing 50 per cent. of the food we consume, but with the increase in population our farms must give a much higher yield by the end of the century; and although there is widespread use of fertilisers—which, again, we have heard discussed to-night—there is evidence that rising yields are already levelling off. My Lords, what is the answer? In the long run, it is the change in the average size of the family which will affect population trends. For exact replacement this must be overall 2.1 children per family, the extra .1 of course accounting for deaths. It is anticipated, however—of course these figures are always being analysed, and there are numerous reports on the subject—that the size of the family will remain at 2.4, and that young couples who marry early will have the largest families.

Then, again, illegitimate births account for one in 12 of all births, amounting to 67,000 babies in England and Wales last year. However, Professor David Glass estimates that the elimination of all illegitimate births would reduce long-term population growth by only 2 per cent. In a most interesting analysis on unwanted pregnancies Dr. Anne Cartwright, of the Institute of Community Studies, found that for the most recent births 15 per cent. of mothers, on questioning, were—and I quote her— "Sorry it happened at all." After the third baby, 19 per cent. were sorry. After the fifth, 39 per cent. were sorry, and for later births 50 per cent. were sorry. That is an indication of the number of unwanted babies born in this country now, but knowing women as well as I do, and having heard in the consulting room so often what they tell me about these things, I believe that it is an underestimate and that the average woman, if she does not want her baby, is reluctant to say so. These women must have felt desperate when they told this doctor precisely how they felt.

However, we must not assume that if these births were avoided the population problem would be solved. It seems that to reduce the birth rate to a desirable level parents must be persuaded that the family has not the right to have as many children as it cares to produce. There must be an entirely new approach. Having babies must be regarded as a serious act, not something which is haphazard, not something which can be done without thought and which can be regarded as an act about which there is no need to worry because the State will come along and look after the baby and the mother. I believe that we have to establish a new concept of family rights and responsibilities which must be based on society's needs. Various measures have been suggested, such as increasing the marriage age, of financial changes to benefit parents of small families, the adjustment of family allowances and so on.


My Lords, would my noble friend support subsidies for childless bachelors?


My Lords, if the noble Lord had given more attention to these matters instead of enjoying his bachelorhood we might not have these problems on our plate. I think that the celibate rarely makes a serious contribution on this problem. I have discussed these various financial adjustments, but I doubt whether any disincentive of this nature would work without a complete change in cur social climate. I believe that more emphasis should be placed on family reproduction rights in relation to the community. So many White Papers and Reports are produced, so many investigations are carried out and so many words are written; but so little is said about family reproduction rights in relation to the community. If birth control is used only for spacing a number of children, which is the practice of most family planning organisations—they tell mothers how to space their children—then they have failed in what we feel should be done in relation to over-population. They should take as their first theme: "Birth control is not enough. It must be supplemented by a desire to limit the absolute size of the family."

Nobody can deny the State's responsibility to the family; certainly I am not denying it. For many years I have urged that the State should play a greater part in helping the mother and the child. We recognise that the State is making an important contribution. On the other hand, with the threat of over-population this should not be allowed to obscure the family's responsibility to the State. It seems to me that it would be quite possible to establish a family code of behaviour by encouraging later marriages and teaching adolescents that irresponsible reproduction is anti-social. I think we might reduce much of the sex education in schools—I understand it is now being introduced into the primary schools—and use these important instructors and this time to teach that irresponsible reproduction is anti-social. That can certainly be taught to adolescents. I believe that to achieve a manageable population by the end of the century we need a very small change in the family pattern. It is only necessary to have one child less between every three families. Finally, in the light of this important problem, I say that this is a small sacrifice, having regard to the insidious threat of pollution and the increasing pressures on our social services and food supplies.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those that have already been felicitously expressed to the three members of three great Parties. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, will allow me to rise from the Cross-Benches to say how much we here, the irresponsibles, have enjoyed the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lords, Lord Burntwood and Lord Selsdon. May I also express my own thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for having started this debate in spite of the darkness which may descend on it at any moment.

This is a subject which goes really wider than the word "pollution" or even the word "environment" would suggest. The Fight Against Pollution was, I think, the sub-title of the White Paper produced by the last Administration, and The Protection of the Environment was the title. Personally, I think the word "environment" is not an adequate one to express what lies behind the great thoughts that have been expressed by your Lordships this afternoon and in the White Paper. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said in opening, it is something to do with the quality of life. I think that the enhancement of life is what we are concerned about, and certainly what I am most concerned about this afternoon. It is not only a negative thing of avoiding smells and darkness and dissolution; it is not even a protection of what we have; it is an enriching of the inheritance that we have received from the previous generations, in the hope that our sons, and still more our grandsons—however many or few, as the noble Baroness might wish there may be at the end of the century—will have something better than we inherited from our fathers.

This is the first chance I have had to say how greatly I applaud what the Government have done in the reform of Central Government. I am particularly glad that it is a bi-partisan measure, because in fact it carries one stage further what the previous Administration had done and planned. I must confess that though I listened with the greatest interest to the very careful analysis of what the Government were doing under the various headings and sub-headings of the White Paper, The Fight Against Pollution, from the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I was disappointed. I waited in vain for any clear pronouncement about the reform of local government: for any re-statement that the Government, however well they have reorganised Central Government and given us at last a Department of the Environment (like seven other countries, as we were reminded a few moments ago), however well their Party have changed, and drastically, in 1963 the government of the 8 million people who live in and around this Chamber in Greater London, have promised that they will produce their own ideas about local government reform in a White Paper before the end of the year.

If the White Paper comes as soon as my birthday, February 3, it will be very welcome. That was the day on which the previous Government produced their White Paper on local government reform. No, they did not take the opportunity in this debate—no doubt leaving it to the noble Earl the Leader of the House to do so—to pledge themselves that they would reform local government. I do not ask in what way they would do it, but I remember the noble Earl's speech when we were debating this some little time ago, when he used the words "drastic reform" and "urgent" as being what his side of the House then thought necessary. I very much look forward, if it is not impertinent to say so, to some statement that, to be quite serious, the Government recognise that you can deal with the problem of the enhancement of life, the protection of the environment, or the fight against pollution only by reforming local government as well as Central Government. There are myriad decisions taken day by day up and down the country, and they must be taken locally, they are taken within a framework which at present makes it almost certain that a great many of them, if not the majority, are damaging our heritage and are going to be things for which our children and grandchildren are not going to thank us.

So long as the present crazy 80-year-old framework of English local government exists—and of course I am not speaking of the Principality of Wales or of Scotland in this matter—it will be terrible if we do not get on the Statute Book (and it will take a lot of getting there) sensible and drastic reform of the procedure whereby we can make progress with the subject of debate this afternoon. When we think to-day of the environment and pollution, we are considering desperately difficult decisions about economic growth, which we all want. We want wealth to pay for twice the amount of water and disposing of twice the amount of sewage effluent which we shall all have to drink or dispose of at the end of the century; to find homes for the homeless and better homes for the ill-housed, and to find better employment for those who are in areas of declining employment. Of course we are all on the side of economic growth; but at the same time we are all on the side of peace and quiet and of a country which becomes lovelier as time goes on in spite of the urbanisation and the increased wealth.

This involves a reconciliation of claims, not always incompatible but sometimes. There are times when a choice has to be made between having a firing range for tanks in Dorset, or returning that country to agriculture and the people who want to enjoy the countryside. That is a very difficult decision. You cannot pretend that the two are compatible. However, there are often times when you can reconcile the claims. Reservoirs, for example, are things which sometimes are regarded as very naughty by my friends the conservationists—not, of course, by the wise ones represented in this House this afternoon. Sometimes the idea of a reservoir is equated with drowning a valley and destroying something of permanent value, and implying that it would be better left as it is. But we have the water. And would it be better to have desalination plants of unexampled ugliness, among the mud flats, when many of our fellow citizens really prefer a well landscaped reservoir in the right place, where they can fish, and even bathe, and enjoy wild life and picnics, and do the various other things that go with a lovely stretch of water among the hills? So do not let us think that there is always a conflict. But very often there is.

Under the present pattern of local government the odds are hopelessly against the admirable public-spirited representatives of the counties or the county boroughs, the rural or urban districts, getting the answers right in these hundreds of difficult decisions. Although the last word may lie with the central Government, the main discussion, discourse and debate about what the community really wants must be on the spot. Therefore I greatly hope that we may have some encouragement from the Government before this debate is over. I am not asking for a date or any details, but are they determined to get something on the Statute Book which will give us a more sensible planning system and abolish this ridiculous division between county boroughs and counties—some representative main authority, call it what you will, which will be able to look at the area that must be looked at if we are to get a right decision about where industry, homes, overspill, highways and New Towns should be?

I was much intrigued by that phrase that was so often heard before June 18 last: "Less but better government". What a splendid phrase, and how necessary in the field of local government! All of us agree. We have in England alone 1,200 excellent local authorities trying to do what they can, and some 8,000 parish councils or meetings—and we know that that is too many. We do not want to be over-governed locally; we want to be better governed locally. I therefore ask the Government whether they will, without saying what precisely they are going to do before the White Paper is ready, assure us that they mean to get rid of this county council, county borough division and rationalise the system. Let us have two, three, four, or five tiers, call them what you will, but let there be one main authority in each place which can rationally take decisions about where development is to go and where it is not to be allowed to go. Finally, I think the Government have a wonderful opportunity of using, as it were, as a guinea pig, for purposes of uniting Government and governed—their friends the conservationists. They are all raring to go in collusion with any Government that will accept the lead from them.


My Lords, my noble friend has used the conservationist as a peg on which to hang a subject in which he takes a special interest.


My Lords, I am aggrieved that my noble friend Lord Molson should have misunderstood me. I thought I was fighting on his side. I was going on to say that I certainly believe in a great alliance between all the voluntary organisations and Government, both central and local. This is absolutely crucial, and it has a good chance of happening—in view of the way that the conservationists have grown up over the last ten years. They are no longer "Betjemanic depressives". They have grown up, as my friend Sir John Betjeman has himself grown up. They have recognised that we are all inevitably on the move. Their eyes are on the year 2000. They are determined that this coming development shall achieve a country even lovelier than our present lovely country, and will bring in as allies of the Government the younger generations.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I rise at this moment not to give the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, the pledge for which he has asked but to inform your Lordships that it has been felt, and it has been agreed through the usual channels, that in view of the number of speakers, and the fact that we still have a longish way to go, quite apart from other possible circumstances, it may be wisest for us to adjourn at about 7 o'clock this evening and continue this debate on Monday afternoon. That would allow us time for one more speaker, and it has also been agreed that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, shall be the concluding speaker this evening, since he is not able to be here on Monday.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for that proposal, which seems to be eminently reasonable, and I am sure that it will commend itself to the House.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for his kindness in allowing me to speak ahead of him this evening. I had come armed with a suitable weapon in case of darkness, but it seems to be unnecessary. We are all immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for introducing this subject. He is, if he will forgive my saying so, the most socialist Tory that I have met for a long time. I do not think that remark is original; but I believe it was made earlier about him by a former Leader of his Party. But the way in which he has dealt with this subject has been immensely valuable to the whole House.

This subject of pollution is one which naturally concerns every person in the community. It is important that we should always have it in mind, and it is important that we should always be stimulating Government to take action. To be fair to Government, I think we must admit that in this country Government—and I do not refer to any particular Government—has in the past taken excellent steps in this matter of pollution. I believe that, on the whole, we have better legislation with regard to pollution on the books in this country than has almost any other country in the world.

As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said in his opening remarks, we are under a debt of gratitude to the Alkali Inspectorate, which is one which we cannot easily repay except by ensuring that they continue to get the support which they deserve. I think that if any other country had a body of men like the Alkali Inspectorate they would be very proud of them, and we should feel that the Alkali Inspectorate have done a magnificent job in this country. The term "Alkali Inspectorate" always sounds peculiar, and we have to remember that this body was created in order to deal with the alkali works which were set up in the middle of the last century. Those alkali works produced as their main noxious atmospheric product a poisonous gas, an acid gas, and it was because they produced that acid gas that the Alkali Inspectorate was set up, although most of their work—I stand open to correction by members of the Alkali Inspectorate—is concerned with acids and not alkalis, which is a somewhat odd point. But they have done an extremely good job.

When we talk about pollution we must realise that, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, there are three different fields. There is the field which concerns water, the field which concerns the atmosphere, and the field which concerns the oceans. We have to deal with all of these different fields in this problem of pollution, and it is important to realise that their importance is quite different. Where we are dealing with fields in which the pollution can be rapidly removed and mixed up, as in the atmosphere, the pollution, although locally objectionable, is far less significant and important. That is often forgotten. Because one happens to smell a diesel engine or notice the stink of motor cars in cities, one may think that those are the most serious pollutants, but they are not. They can be troublesome and serious, but they are nothing like so serious as some of the other pollutants. When we get pollution of water supplies, the problem becomes very much more serious. It is therefore important that we deal with that very serious type of pollution, the pollution in reservoirs and so on.

When we come to pollution in the oceans we have two problems. One is pollution in narrow waters where the pollution is not rapidly spread, and the other is pollution in the main oceans, which is a totally different problem. People tend to mix these up. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said that in Parliamentary affairs we do not like figures, but, my Lords, you cannot consider this matter without figures. Figures are the essence of pollution. A little pollution does not matter to anyone, but pollution on a big scale matters a lot; it is entirely a matter of quantity. Therefore, it is essential that the Government should continue to operate as they are doing now, with a central authority which is responsible for pollution.

But I would ask the Government whether they are prepared to go further. I was in America not so very long ago, and I found that in North Carolina the Government of America have set up a central laboratory for dealing with atmospheric pollution. That is acting as a centre for six other laboratories which have been set up. Each of those is cooperating with universities and other institutions throughout America in order to get courses for the training of people who can deal with pollution. This is an important matter and we have to realise that if we are to know what is happening and to be able to control it, we must have accurate figures about the extent of pollution.

It is easy for any one of us to see a little pollution on a water surface. It requires only a very small quantity of material spread on a water surface to make it appear that the whole surface is polluted. Therefore, it is very important that we should have quantitative data. I would ask the noble Earl. Lord Jellicoe, if, when he is replying, he will deal with this question of the quantitative determination of pollution and whether the Government are prepared to go further in the way of getting people trained to deal with pollution. I want to emphasise once more that I think alarmism in this matter is of no help at all. What is important is steady, concerted effort. This country has a good record, but it is important that we maintain it and that we remember that every new industry which is created brings with it new problems of pollution, and that we have to face these problems all the time.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.