HL Deb 04 February 1970 vol 307 cc656-744

4.27 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, may I return to the Motion which has been so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Molson, and begin by congratulating him on his judgment in putting this Motion on the Order Paper and in dealing with the subject so comprehensively and authoritatively. He and noble Lords will probably have noticed in the Sunday Times of last Sunday that the public opinion poll showed that the subject of preventing pollution in our rivers turned out to be the top priority in the minds of the public. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his most interesting and authoritative answer to my noble friend, which I felt went some way to answer some of the points on which we have had anxieties.

I have to declare a personal interest in these matters, first, as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy—and I thank my noble friend Lord Molson for his references to the Thames Conservancy and its work; secondly, as President of the Association of River Authorities; and thirdly as a member of the Central Advisory Water Committee which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and his right honourable friends have set up to review this field. So I am rather deep in these waters, but I hope that that will not seem to prejudice me in making some fairly detached comments about a subject of such great interest.

I am sure that the noble Lord and his right honourable friends are quite right to review the whole structure. Although the river authorities have been so recently set up, obviously the Report of the Maud Commission, to which the noble Lord has just referred, and the Government's action necessitate a fresh look at the whole of this picture. The interest of the general public, to which I have referred, is naturally directed to the amenity aspect; the recreations of boating, fishing, and bathing in the rivers, and the pleasure of looking at the rivers, are naturally what interest the public most, and nowadays they are very quick to react to any pollution which interferes with these activities.

Important though these matters are, even more important, of course, is the role of our rivers in supplying our daily water supply. Already, as has been said, water undertakings draw a large part of their requirements from our rivers. But as the demand for water grows, the quantities taken out of our rivers by direct abstraction, both for human consumption and for industry, will grow substantially in the coming years. Not only will the demand grow, but the water will have to be used more than once, and possibly even more than twice, as the years go by.

The River Thames; has been referred to in a number of illustrations, and in this context it provides a good example. The citizens of Swindon, Oxford, Reading, and dozens of other smaller towns, use the water of the Thames before it reaches the abstraction points for the Metropolitan Water Board, who then take it in for the use of the citizens of London. Two-thirds of the water of London is taken direct from the Thames by the highly efficient processes of the Metropolitan Water Board. Already the figures make quite dramatic reading. The total effluent, industrial and domestic, discharged up the river averages some 225 million gallons a day, and the total average intake of the Metropolitan Water Board is 270 million gallons a day. So their calculations are not far out. Of course, the figures vary greatly from one period of the year to another.

The degree of re-use of the water in our rivers is bound to increase rapidly in the coming years. About half of all the effluent is now discharged into our rivers, and as we are expected to double our demand for water by the end of the century it is obvious that the quantity of effluent going back into the rivers will also be doubled, with an even greater degree of re-use of the water. In passing, I would make this comment. Evidently the importance of keeping our rivers clean is even more vital than the average citizen thinks. If the average citizen realised just how dependent we are going to be on the quality of the rivers for our water supply, he would be even more anxious.

I should like to refer to the re-use of water, because this causes some alarm to people who are not familiar with it. The fact is that it is safe, provided that management is strong and efficient. Most countries in the Western World are already engaged to some extent in the re-use of water, and all of them expect to be engaged in it a great deal more. The classic example, of water re-use comes from the United States. There, in Kansas, in a township called Chanute, during the very long drought of 1956, for five months the same water was circulated and recirculated through the city. At the end of five months it was still bacteriologically safe. I am told that the flavour, foaming and smell was not all that attractive, and that the citizens of Chanute were progressively taking to the bottle. Nevertheless, the water was safe.

In the intervening years, more sophisticated processes have been developed which, with the use of nitrogen stripping towers and so on, will remove especially the nitrogen and phosphate which tends to accumulate in the water. There is a plant now on South Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada, which I visited a couple of years ago, where these processes are so complete that the water goes back into that marvellously clear lake just as clean as when it came out. The cost is fairly high, but it is not so high as desalination.

Just to mention an achievement of our own—to show that America does not get all the honours—some twenty years ago, when the Harwell atomic station was set up, the effluent from the station, which of course would be radioactive, immediately constituted a serious danger to London, and to London's water supply. British engineers designed the purification plant which is so successful in removing the radioactivity from the Harwell effluent, and the effluent which now comes out from Harwell has in it less radioactivity than the natural water that goes in. So these things can be done. The point I am making is that there is no physical or chemical difficulty in keeping water absolutely clean, or in cleaning up even the most noxious effluent. The only problem is paying for it, and the cost may be high.

During the two excellent speeches that we have already heard reference has been made to the question: how dirty are our rivers? The 1958 survey has been quoted. This is the most authoritative survey that we have, and it shows that the majority of our rivers are clean. But this is not to say that in the Mid-lands and in the North (to which my noble friend Lord Molson particularly referred) there are not some very heavily polluted rivers which are an anxiety to all of us. But they are a minority. Most of our rivers are fairly clean. There is no insuperable problem. I would certainly confirm what has already been said about cleaning up the dirty ones, and keeping the clean ones clean. All that is needed is time, money and good administration—and I would emphasise time.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred with approval to the history of the Thames Conservancy. They really constitute a prototype for the modern river authority. They were set up over 100 years ago, in 1857, and gradually further powers, which were pretty complete by 1894, were granted to enable the Conservators to clean up the river. When they started in 1857 the river was so filthy that solid sewage actually clogged the navigation in the locks; so to start with the Conservancy had quite a job.

Progressively they set about their work with the powers that Parliament gave them, so that by the turn of the century the water in the river was satisfactory. This was vital for London's water supply. Here I should very much like to endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and my noble friend Lord Molson, who said that during the process the engineers in this country had pioneered the design of sewage works to deal both with domestic sewage and with industrial effluents in order to have clean effluents going into the river. During this century, despite having had such a good start, the Thames Conservancy still had a major problem as the population of the Thames Valley dramatically increased, and as industry also increased throughout the valley. However, they succeeded by asking for progressively higher standards of effluents as greater volumes came into the Thames.

I think it would be true to say today that the quality of the water taken in by the Metropolitan Water Board is probably as good as it has ever been, despite the fact that it has contributed to the lives of millions of people from Gloucestershire to London, and of course, is providing boating, bathing, fishing and amenities for hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the river as a pleasure ground. My Lords, this is an example of what can be done. But I would emphasise again that the Thames Conservancy Board have had over 100 years in which to do it. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, rightly said, only since the 1951 and 1961 Acts have the river authorities had the powers which the Thames Conservancy Board have had now for a very long time—in fact throughout the whole of this century. The point is that time is required.

It may be of interest to say why time is needed. The actual work on the ground is carried out by river purification inspectors. Their job is to monitor regularly the quality of the effluent which comes from the sewage works or from the industry. This is done by taking regular analyses at many significant points of the water, both in the river and in the effluent. The inspectors are then in a position to go to the sewage works manager, and, where an effluent is falling short of the necessary standards, to ask him to improve it. As these are qualified men, they can make helpful suggestions as to what should be done in order to correct the situation.

Here I think is a very important point: although at the end of the day authority may have to be asserted if there is a real conflict, most of the relationship is one of confidence. The inspector must win the confidence of the sewage works manager; he is there to help. He is not going to be Draconian and is going to help the sewage works manager to meet the requirements of the river authority. That clearly does take time—years rather than months. Therefore it is not surprising if some of the river authorities have not yet made dramatic improvements. They are building up the relationships which must exist. Of course, if a new sewage works is needed, or a major extension is required, that is bound to take at least five years, possibly ten in the case of building a new sewage works, with all the planning inquiries and so on; and the cost will run into millions of pounds.

The noble Lord has told us that the river authority fixes the standard of the effluent but the local authority or the industry has the right of appeal. This is the machinery, and I shall have a word to say about that later. I do not think that the river authorities would expect to get support for an unreasonable standard, but what they are normally asking for is a sensible standard, related to the quality of the river and what the water is going to be used for. Looking at the record of the Thames one sees that, broadly speaking, all Governments have supported the Thames Conservancy in the standard they have asked for. Latterly, they have asked for very much higher standards than the Royal Commission standard of 1912.

I will not confuse your Lordships by quoting the scientific figures, but the standards for which they have asked have been supported by the Minister because this affects London water. However, it is clear that a river like the Trent, with its immense problem from the river Tame, which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was speaking about, will not only require large sums of money but will require considerable time, running into decades rather than years.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the bringing into existence by the 1963 Act of the river authorities as they now stand. There are some 29 of them—I would not say that this number is sacrosanct but it is probably not too far out. They are now all at work with the same powers. The majority of their members come from the local authorities; and here I should like to make a point on which I do not think my noble friend Lord Molson was quite right. The local authority members of river authorities come from the county authority; that is, the county council or the county borough council. The county borough council is usually a sewerage authority, but of course the county council is not. Therefore, the county council members are completely independent of the sewerage function. I think the general experience would be that the river authorities set about this work in a sensible and responsible way to make a good relationship with the sewerage authorities, but certainly not to favour them.

I would say, with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that the powers that river authorities have to-day under the 1961 and 1951 Acts are not far from being right. The fines are too small, but the powers are probably not far out. What is needed is time, co-operation from the sewerage authorities and support from the Minister of the day.

The sewerage authorities are in a less satisfactory position. There are no fewer than 1,400 of them. Obviously many of them are small, and many are in-efficient. This is not to say that there are not many which are extremely efficient, including the small ones. But far too many of them are reluctant to give the co-operation that river authorities want. No doubt in the survey that the Central Advisory Water Committee are making, which will cover river authorities and sewerage authorities and water undertakings, this will be one of the points which will be looked at. If a sewerage authority is small it could be efficient, but if it has to deal with industrial effluence it is always in a difficulty. The handling of industrial effluence is a highly scientific matter. If a difficult effluent, say an effluent from some metallurgical process, comes into an ordinary sewage works it can easily upset the whole working of that works; it can upset bacteriological action and thoroughly upset the condition of the effluent. Therefore, the calibre of the manager has to be rather high if he is to manage successfully a modern sewage works which is going to take industrial effluence—which more and more of them do, as industry quite rightly now tends to send its effluence direct to sewage works rather than into the river. That is the first point about this large number of small sewerage authorities.

The second point—and it is very simply stated—is that there are no votes in sewage. I have yet to meet the local authority which sets about with enthusiasm spending the ratepayers' money on a new sewage works. And we really cannot blame them if they are very reluctant to do that; there are so many other things they prefer to do. Nevertheless, it is the job of the river authority to press them to do this, and it makes it difficult for both parties that always this seems to be the bottom priority. I am inclined to think (and I am anticipating something which will obviously be thought about much more by the Central Advisory Water Committee) that a structure which has grown up in this large field, that of the joint sewerage boards, which consist of a number of local authorities coming together, is a promising one. There are about a couple of dozen such boards operating now. They have the advantage of being a big authority. Therefore, they can employ first-class managers and first-class scientists. On the other hand, they are independent with one purpose only before them — to make successful management in their sewage works. Although they can be awkward, too, of course, they have the capacity to do the job. I believe that this could be the best pattern for the future.

The majority of their members, again, are drawn from local authorities, and if unitary authorities are set up in the future on the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in the White Paper, they would come from the unitary authority and we should then have the independent river authorities with members coming from the unitary authority, on the one hand, and the independent sewerage boards with members coming from the unitary authorities, on the other. Thus we should avoid the kind of pressures which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, feared which might come if the local authority were the sewerage authority as well as the body controlling the river board or river authority.

Finally, there is the role of the Ministry. The Minister's influence in this is of course decisive at the end of the day because it is to the Minister that appeals go. Here I must join with my noble friend Lord Molson in a word of criticism about Circular No. 64/68. It has been a discouragement to river authorities— there is no question about that. It has had an influence on local authorities who are not anxious to spend a lot of money on improving their sewage works, in stiffening their resistance. They tend now to go out and take samples in the river and to say, "But you are asking for a higher standard than the river water itself, and this does not conform with the Minister's circular." The river authority then feels in a weak position to let this question go to appeal, because when the Minister has taken his position that it is the status quo only which is to be held, naturally it is rather a doubtful prospect to go to appeal.

Therefore, I very much hope that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, may be put into practice: that when these various reports to which the noble Lord referred and told us about with such interest have been received by Government in the coming months, the Minister of Housing and Local Government will look at this circular again and produce a new circular which will define a more progressive policy, so that, on the one hand, river authorities who are trying to improve the quality of their rivers will have the prospect of support—provided of course that they are reasonable, because very large sums of money are at stake—and, on the other, authorities who are trying to maintain the quality of their rivers, and can do so only by asking for higher standards of effluence since they are getting bigger volumes and lower dilution all the time, will be supported, too. If we can look for that, then there is a good prospect of the river authorities' continuing to do the good work on which they have started, and following the pattern which the Thames has had in its history over the last 100 years.

Those are the three elements, and as the noble Lord has told us the present Government have to their credit the setting up of a number of important committees which are taking a fresh look at the whole situation. I hope that by the end of the year we may see a resolution of all these factors so that we may settle down to the immensely important job which, however well we set up the structure, will take a long time to do and will need constant support from all Parties. I have very great pleasure in supporting my noble friend Lord Molson.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think anyone will be surprised at the sudden upsurge of public interest in this particular problem. After all, 10 million —probably tens of millions—of our population live without seeing a stream of unpolluted water flowing through its natural surroundings; and millions—and tens of millions—of our children are brought up without ever seeing that sight unless they have the good fortune to be taken for a holiday to Dartmoor or North Wales, the Lakes or Scotland. Remembering the experiences of my own boyhood, that is a depressing thought. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that much must be done and can be done, not merely to check the pollution with which we are threatened but to recover much lost ground and, as he puts it, to purify already polluted streams.

I do not profess to remember what the Thames was like a century ago, but I remember very well what it was like half a century ago. Fifty years ago I had a friend who lived on Chiswick Mall, and on a summer evening he and I could walk down over the clean gravel banks in ordinary shoes, and at the turn of the tide catch a basket of dace with a fly. If I may say so to my noble friend Lord Simon, who sits beside me, he and his skilful officers have a considerable way to go yet before they get back to that stage. But, after all, nature herself can recover and can act; and I suppose to mark the opening of European Conservation Year last month, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, will have noted, a porpoise chose to celebrate the occasion by swimimng past this House up to Richmond and back, and appeared to be none the worse for the voyage. Now I am not going to invite the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to undertake a similar swim, but I suggest that he might do as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has proposed: go back into the warmth and comfort of his office and persuade his right honourable friend to do now some of the things which require little more than the stroke of a pen and the alteration of the words of a circular.

I do not want to take up much of your Lordships' time and I will say no more about dealing with the difficult problems of the industrial rivers in the Midlands and the North of England, which are a standing disgrace to this country. I am convinced that a great deal can be done on the lines mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and by the methods to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has drawn attention. What is needed is time—a reasonable time but not dilatoriness; money—a great deal more money ungrudgingly given or provided perhaps by larger authorities than are now responsible; and, of course, good administration. To that might I add a fourth requirement: namely, well-informed scientific 3rd biological advice, brought to bear in all the authorities concerned and on all the problems at the proper and early stages. I would agree that with a combination of all those requirements the problem could yet be met and much ground recovered. But is it not important to think about not merely the horribly polluted streams in the industrial areas but all our rivers in the South of England? I do not feel that it is necessary to wait until we have classified the exact degree of pollution in every brook or stream in the country. All of us who are concerned with any sort of river know that they all ought to be cleaner.

I confess to being a fisherman, and I fish one of the headwaters of a tributary of the Thames which is kept a reasonable fishing river largely by the vigilance with which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his skilled staff look after it. But is there not a great risk, with the industrialisation of agriculture, that what is at present not at all a desperate picture may change? We are told that farms must be treated as factories and that the livestock which they produce are just articles on a production line. If that is so, it seems to me that agriculture ought to be subjected to at least the same degree of supervision—and perhaps a stricter one—than industry itself. Am I not right in thinking that the water authorities have no right to be told by the riparian owners with what chemicals by way of pesticides or herbicides or fertilisers they are dosing their lands? Yet all that stuff may, within a matter of hours in some conditions, be in the river.

May I quote one instance which came to my notice quite recently on the stream to which I referred? The riparian owners have been told by the Thames Conservancy that if they have concrete floors on the cattle sheds they must treat the manure from the cattle before putting it straight in the river. That is a recent development, and I wonder whether it is being done by every water authority in the country. My point is that if only we can keep the headwaters of the tributaries of the big rivers completely clean then all the problems of pollution lower down will be eased; but if we do not do that then they will all surely be aggravated.

The other point is the constant lowering of the water table. I wonder whether that is not being carried too far in the presumed interests of agriculture. Apparently a farmer can get a grant for draining what the old writers used to call "places paludious". But those places paludious were just what helped to keep the water table up in a hot July or a dry season, and I doubt very much whether the return upon the land is worth the trouble. Some years ago the late President Kennedy said he was not going to tolerate one Department of State undoing by its policies of subsidies or grants the attempts at conservation of the countryside which another Department was promoting. I welcome the new Government machinery which will ensure a greater watch being kept over the whole problem of the environment and not merely pollution. I hope that will also be a means of getting a much better co-ordination of policies between Departments whose interests—and certainly whose actions—now sometimes conflict.

By and large, I think it is a very satisfactory thing that public opinion, in Parliament itself, in the Press and among the general public, has gradually become roused to this problem. For my own part, I regret that that feeling has come so late and so much water has flowed under the bridges. But it is not too late, and this perhaps is the year, this European Conservation Year, to make it clear where this country stands, where our Government stand, and to take such action as can be taken on the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has indicated.

There is indeed a risk, if we do not act now while the climate of public opinion is favourable. I do not think that Professor Fraser Darling in his Reith Lectures a week or two ago was expressing at all a fantastic fear when he said that if we delay, people will have again got so sick of the word "ecology" that they will cease to do anything about it before they have even half appreciated what is needed. Now is the most favourable possible moment for some definite action to be taken and, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, we need not wait for a great deal of further investigation, further industrial and scientific research and all that sort of thing, before being able to do something about it. The argument which one used to hear not very long ago seems to be muted a little now; that this was only a care for scenery, for amenity, for birds, for fish or flowers or something like that, but that the human interest demanded that people should be able to pour what muck they liked into any stream, canal or lake wherever they could get rid of it. It is a shallow view, I think a completely misconceived view and a quite wrongheaded view, and people are now taking a very much larger view.

I am often reminded of something I said myself nearly twenty years ago, speaking primarily then with reference to the pollution of the seas by oil but also with reference to the general threats to our environment. I said, in effect, that we had gone on long enough converting our rivers into sewers, and I ventured to say that if man makes himself a nuisance to the rest of nature, of which after all he is part, and continues to befoul his environment, the consequences will come back upon man, upon man's health and upon man's recreations. I believe that that is universally, or almost universally, realised now. It is at last realised that the country, industry, agriculture, and the Government themselves can and should do much more about it. I therefore welcome the Motion moved this afternoon in such telling and forcible terms.

I hope that I have not stressed too much the interests of the fishermen. I may be told that when we want to fish we can fish in a reservoir and stop objecting to every reservoir it is ever proposed to make simply because in our view it is generally misplaced. That may be some consolation to some anglers. For my own part, I should reply by echoing the words of the anglers' song written some 350 years ago, which said: Fresh rivers most my mind do please ". I hope that this House, when it can act, and the Government generally, will do all they can to keep the fresh rivers that we now have and to restore many more stretches of the now polluted rivers back to a purer state.


My Lords, I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that farmers have to comply over pollution in exactly the same manner as any other industry; and furthermore they have to comply over extraction of water as do industrialists.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, especially in his last words, when he said, "Fresh waters most my mind do please". I hope the House will forgive me—I am sure they will—if I do not further enlarge upon the subject of sewage farms and how they should be dealt with. After listening to my predecessors in this debate, I am sure the House now knows what the problem is and what we have to do to put it right. We need the will to set about the job, and above all we need to allocate the necessary money. That is, the sewerage side of it.

I wish to talk about something rather different, and that is the subject of accidental spillage into our waterways, where I consider the position is far less satisfactory than it is in the sewerage world. In the sewerage world it may be that we have not entirely got control of the situation, but we know how to do it. In the accidental spillage side of the problem the situation is getting worse. Accidental spillages are increasing enormously in numbers, and also in the seriousness of each spillage. So far as I have seen, nothing adequate is being done. The fact of the matter is that rivers and streams are at the bottom of everything, they are the downhill part of our world, and anything that gets spilled anywhere, into a little brook, a canal, into the surface drain of a road, or just the plain drainage off a field, all goes into our rivers. The result may in some cases be happy, but in other cases it most definitely is not.

The position is being disadvantaged all the time, partly by greatly increased use of oil—which for various reasons is a very serious pollutant—and also by the fact that the use of our riparian land, the land alongside our rivers, streams and canals, is altering very rapidly, especially on the industrial side. Along many of our rivers there used to be cargo wharves and small industries. Many of these have now ceased to exist, or have changed their purpose. Often they have changed over to some other form of industry, and in a very large number of cases they have become garages. I regret to say that in many of these cases where industries have changed their purpose no adequate concern has been taken to see that the surface water from these premises was either of a pure nature, fit to go into the local stream, river or canal, or, if it was not of a pure nature, was put down into the sewage system where somebody or other at: he other end would attempt to deal with it. I know of case after case where factories or garages have had accidental spillages of oil—and in some cases even worse materials—on to the concrete surface of their hard-standing or buildings, and it has simply been hosed away, regardless of where it went, when in fact the local surface drain went straight into the local river or canal. I could quote several serious examples of this. I remember a big drum of oil which was upset in a garage. Of course the men just hosed the oil away, and straight into the nearest waterway which was right alongside the garage.

I know of another case which had even more serious results. There was a big factory with its back premises facing a canal. Like so many of our industries it had ceased to use the waterway for transport, and its wharves were simply a place where anything was kept at the back of the factory. It had large storage tanks for burning oil for use in the factory, and at Christmas time a couple of years ago a road tanker came to refill these tanks. The driver put the hose into the tank and, seeing that it was a long job, having switched everything on, and it being Christmas time, went round the corner to the local to have a drink. Unfortunately, a tanker from the same firm had filled up that tank only a couple of days earlier, and nobody had told him. The result was that by the time he got back from his Christmas drink the greater part of the contents of the tanker had overflowed on to the hard-standing at the back of the factory, and gone down the drain straight into a waterway, in which it caused much trouble for several weeks. In fact, that waterway, which happened to flow through a major city, probably caused that major city more trouble than almost anything else that had happened there for a very long time.

I honestly believe that if we are going to keep our waterways clear, we must do a great deal more in strengthening the planning side; in deciding where new industries are to be put. We must also conduct a survey into the condition of all the old industrial sites close to our waterways, close to our streams, or close to any drainway that is used for surface water and goes straight into our rivers without going through the sewage works. If such a survey can be made I believe that we can stop a great deal of surface pollution, which is on the whole the most dangerous kind. You may have an overloading of a sewage works—that does happen—but you can also get these sudden disasters which are due to polluted surface water. The Rhine disaster, which was mentioned recently, was a surface water disaster. If the stuff had gone into the local sewage works, no doubt it would have caused immediate objection on the part of the managers of the organisation, and possibly they might have stopped the stuff getting any further. As it was, it flowed through the surface water drainage into the river, and caused enormous damage before anybody could even find out where it came from—and it took them a very long time to find that out.

In my opinion, therefore, it is utterly essential that if we are going to stop that kind of sudden disaster, which when it happens can be quite devastating, we must plan through the planning authorities that any factory, any farm, any garage, any organisation—anything which is likely to have dangerous and polluting materials in their works or standing about—should dispose of its liquids into the drainage system and not into the surface water run-off. Otherwise, I cannot see how we are ever to get away from these great sudden emergency disasters which are becoming more and more in number, and, as I said at the beginning, each one more and more serious. You may be able to purify a river, build up its fish stocks and make it a real pleasure for all of us who enjoy these waterways, fishermen, boaters, walkers—the lot of us. But it needs only one of these sudden disasters and you have your river strewn with dead fish; not just one dead fish, but you can have every single fish in the river dead and may have to spend possibly years putting that river right. I hope that this is a side of which my noble friend the Minister will take particular notice. The drainage side is important, and I will back up to the hilt noble Lords who have spoken on that so far. But I would urge my noble friend also to take much stronger steps in controlling the surface waters that enter our rivers, because that is where the most rapid and greatest disasters can come from.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to keep your Lordships very long until a fellow fishermen, the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, mentioned land drainage and the water table. This tempted me to take issue with him. However, I will resist that temptation and keep to two main points which I wish to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, mentioned that it was nearly one hundred years ago that the first legislation on river pollution was enacted. I think in fact that it was 1876 under Disraeli, and it is indeed sad that, having made such an early start, we have not kept up that momentum and that we are not in a better position to-day. Be that as it may, energetic action now is needed under the right form of administration.

I want to draw attention first to something that has not hitherto been mentioned; that is, that pollution is only part of our water problems, and that all of them are more and more closely integrated as the management of our rivers becomes more complex. May I take sewage as an example, and the pollution caused from it. We have an option of spending large sums of money on new sewage plant or, on the extraction side, on water purification plant. Which is the more economical? That is a matter for experts to work out, but it is an indication of how these two matters are tied up together. Clearly, water resources are more involved in the standard of purity, the lack of pollution in our rivers. But the management of pollution can involve one stretch of river that is suitable for industrial extraction, and another stretch that is suitable for potable extraction. How complex this can become, and how necessary it will be to rush to a computer, becomes more and more evident the more one learns about the subject.

On the water resources side, what potential has the economic cleaning up of our rivers to contribute? I think the Water Resources Board estimated that in the South-East area some 200 million gallons a day could be economically obtained from re-use, and that over the whole of England some 500 million gallons a day could be obtained. That is clearly important as a potential contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, suggested that that could go a long way to solving our water resources problems before the end of the century, but that I do not believe. One has only to look at the figures to see that that could not be so. We are at present extracting 14,600 million gallons a day, and by efficient pollution management we might save only 500 million gallons a day. However, it is obviously a valuable contribution and as a landowner and farmer I view it extremely favourably. The land use factor involved in re-use is clearly a small one, relative to a proliferation of surface reservoirs, and I—and, I expect, fellow farmers and landowners—support this means of water conservation if it can be justified economically.

The other point that I wish to emphasise concerns the modern conception of river basin management. Although we all accept it now, it is a very modern conception. The catchment boards were introduced in 1930, and they were really apart from the Thames Conservancy which has always been in a unique position. That was the first time that the basin conception of rivers was legislated on, and then it was basically concerned with prevention of flooding, fisheries, with navigation occasionally thrown in. Then gradually the conception developed, and river boards were formed in 1948 with added responsibilities in regard to pollution. Finally, there were the river authorities as we now know them, with the very complex interrelated responsibilities which they bear.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, pleaded for time. Obviously, these new bodies need time to show what they can do, but already there is an excellent joint scheme of water conservation between the Great Ouse authority and the Essex river authority. However, there is also great urgency and I wonder whether we have the right administration so far as some of the responsibilities such as pollution are concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, mentioned that there are 1,400 sewerage authorities. He might also have added that there are 5,000 sewage disposal works, which seems a large number. Is this the most efficient form of organisation and administration? Water undertakers have recently been reduced in number from about 900 to 120. I believe that, provided we have the right administration and a sense of urgency, the pollution problem, along with the problem of water resources and other matters, will be tackled successfully. As a fellow member, with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, of the Central Advisory Water Committee, I am sure that we shall feel encouraged in the future in our work on that body.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Molson on initiating this debate to-day in the early part of the European Conservation Year, and at a time when I think public opinion is wholeheartedly behind the efforts being made to improve the quality of our rivers. However, in considering this question I feel that the complexity, magnitude and, certainly, the cost of some of the problems to be faced should be realised. It should also be realised that industry in England and Wales uses—excluding cooling water—about two-thirds of all water abstracted, and that 95 per cent. or more of that water is returned to rivers, streams or estuaries as effluent, either directly by industry or via local authority sewerage systems.

While the idea of improving our environment is an eminently suitable one, and, according to Jeremy Swift in the Observer last Sunday, one with obvious political advantages when talked about, I hope that we shall still wish for our industrialists to be less roundly attacked than those in the United States, where I understand public sentiment against them is strong. I am very glad that in this context there has not been much said' against our industrialists to-day, and I am very pleased to have heard the tributes paid to the C.B.I. by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. If any blame is to be attached to any organisation, some should go to certain local authorities for not providing adequate sewage works.

While on the subject of moulding or influencing public opinion, I might refer to an article in last Sunday's Business Observer, which stated: Jeremy Bugler takes a stroll along the Irwell, identifies the firms and factories that have turned its waters to a foetid swill", and so on. An interesting point emerged from a survey of the Mersey and Weaver River Authority, dated July 16 last year, which said: Among the schemes which will need to be considered are ideas for abstractions on the River Dane, the River Weaver, the River Irwell … Later, it goes on to say: The fact that the River Irwell can be included in the list of possible sources shows how marked an improvement there has been in the quality of this water. So much, my Lords, for the article by the gentleman I have just mentioned.

Implementation of the powers given to river authorities by legislation, and in particular the 1961 Acts, would seem, therefore, to have resulted in increasing action by industry to instal treatment plant. But would the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, not agree that perhaps greater action is needed on the part of certain local authorities? The Redcliffe-Maud Report, in paragraph 65. page 21, says: Sewerage and sewage disposal is one of the oldest of local government's responsibilities and tends to be taken for granted. But many sewers and sewage disposal works are out of date. The state of many rivers, into which the treated sewage must find its way, bears witness to the need for modernisation of the arrangements for treatment and disposal. Further on it says: A larger scale of organisation is needed for sewerage and sewage disposal as for water supply. The Minister will no doubt be aware of the C.B.I.'s recommendations to the Central Advisory Water Committee on this question. They are proposing a smaller number of river authorities and that the number of local authorities as sewerage authorities should be drastically reduced to the unitary authorities proposed in the Redcliffe-Maud Report, thus making for larger and more efficient units of management. I did not wish to question the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, when he made his Statement earlier on, but I am not sure whether, in accepting in principle the recommendations of the Redcliffe-Maud Report, the Government would also accept the idea that there should be the same number of sewerage authorities as there are unitary authorities.


My Lords, if the noble Lord would not mind my intervening, I would say: No, not at all. We have neither accepted nor rejected this idea, but have thrown it to the Central Advisory Water Committee for their advice on how the water, sewage and sewerage industry should be reorganised at the same time as local government.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification, which shows that the Government still have an open mind on this subject.

In the context of sewage plants—and, judging by some of the noble Lord's remarks earlier on, I have a feeling that he will not accept this—would the Minister consider making grants available to local authorities, as to industry, for centrally-situated plains? I think this is a question not only of the grant but of the large number of plants, which was commented on by the previous speaker. I should have thought it was perhaps worth considering a greater number of centrally-situated plants, rather than every firm having its own effluent treatment plant. Wtih a view to seeing that the money available is spent where most needed and that the priorities are correctly assessed, could not the Water Resources Board act in a co-ordinating and directional capacity with regard to the setting up of these plants, or any work that needs to be done with regard to the cutting down of pollution of our rivers? I am particularly thinking, when talking of this question of centrally-situated sewage plants, of our old-established industry in built-up areas, where I think such plants could be particularly beneficial. It is also more beneficial, I should have thought, to have a centrally-situated plant rather than having, all along a river, a number of firms discharging into the river from their own treatment plant.

In this context, the case of a factory built one hundred years ago comes to my mind. The cost of installing treatment plant was about £250,000, but the cost of redraining the factory so that all effluent would pass through their treatment plant was almost £500,000. With a view to seeing for myself, to some extent, how industry is tackling this problem, on Monday I visited a modern paper mill near Maidenhead which, with a labour force of 500, produces 12,000 tons of paper per year and an average total effluent of 400 millions gallons per year, too. In 1960, the cost of the treatment plant and beds was £70,000, while the running costs are £10,000 per year. I understand that the treated effluent is discharged at around the Royal Commission's standard.

I mention cost because I think it is most relevant to our discussions to-day; and possibly the remark I am about to make would be better directed to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, than to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I understand that there is a rumour to the effect that the Thames Conservancy are considering enforcing a much reduced B.O.D. figure than the present Royal Commission standard. I have a feeling that this was, in effect, answered in the course of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, when he said that it was approved by the Minister. If that is so, the cost of treatment of the effluent of the firm I visited would then be quite prohibitive unless there are (I put it in this way) in the pipeline some new and cheaper techniques to treat effluent which may readily be available.

Still on the question of cost of effluent control and the conservation of the environment, Peter Stone, in a publication called Industry Week, quoting Ministry figures, said last month that within the next thirty years public demand for clean rivers will power a total investment of £1,000 million. If these are Ministry figures, I am wondering whether four times that amount would not be a more correct figure than the £1,000 million mentioned by Mr. Peer Stone.

My Lords, industry already contributes around £100 million per annum in charges levied by local authorities for pollution prevention, in sewage rates and on treatment plant construction. Industry is willing to play a further part in reducing the pollution of rivers, but surely any improvement in the wholesomeness of rivers must be phased over a period of time, related to the cost involved and to any changes that take place in our technology. At this point, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, whether the question of costs has yet been considered, in terms of general application, by the Water Pollution Research Laboratory for this advanced process, the process of reverse osmosis. They have considered it, and I believe it has a great future; but in their last report—this was some months ago—they said that the question of costs had not yet been considered. A leading article in last Sunday's Observer, headed, "Paying for the Environment", among other interesting comments, said: … getting rid of pollution is not something which can be done on the cheap. It will add to both industry's costs and to the financial burden on the community. This is not an argument against adopting a vigorous anti-pollution policy. But it is an argument for pursuing it in full consciousnes of the cost. The question of cost, I think, is highly important. In the context of the on-cost to industry the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, in a paper on "Pollution and the threat to our health and survival", said last year: It is necessary eventually to get some sort of world-wide agreement as to what in fact should be the standards of anti-pollution measures so that one country does not have an advantage over the others. With that I would agree. In fact the C.B.I. is actively engaged in the inter-national aspects of the prevention of pollution in our rivers and coastal waters. The Water Resources Board have also taken part in discussions regarding the exchange of information and useful work is no doubt being done by the E.C.E. Committee and its new group on water pollution control problems.

But in the end, is not a lead required by Her Majesty's Government for some co-ordinated effort, with our European neighbours, to achieve a standard of anti-pollution measures which could be applied by all? Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, stressed with an impressive list the number of surveys which are being undertaken at the moment in view of the European Conservation Year. But could not a lead be taken by Her Majesty's Government to convince other European nations who are our allies and who will be our friends, at least in the Common Market, in the not too distant future to see whether they could not adopt the same standards that we would adopt?

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has given rise to some feelings of optimism, especially when one considers the achievements of the Thames Conservancy under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. It has also given rise to some causes for pessimism. We know now that river pollution could be prevented. If preventable, why not prevent?—as I think King George V said when somebody referred to maternal mortality as preventable. Part of the answer was given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet: that it is partly a question of expense. But one element in this debate which to my mind gives rise to some pessimism was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, when he referred to what is in fact a confronta- tion between the river authorities and the sewerage authorities. And that was further elaborated by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. It appears to be a factor which is holding up the campaign for the purification of our rivers.

We are faced with an enormous complex of local sewerage authorities, some of them large and effective (such as those to whom the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, referred), and some of them small and ineffective. But when we discussed the problem of water supplies way back in 1966, Lord Kennet said: … sewage is, and I think must remain, essentially a local business. There is no need for considering it on a nation-wide basis. He added: There are no local shortages of sewage, as there are shortages of water."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19/10/66; col. 106.] God knows that that is indeed true! — and will be more and more true in the future. Here we have, it seems to me— especially in view of the advantages of the large regional combined sewerage authorities elaborated by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent—a case for the treatment of sewage on a national scale. This is very well illustrated by the Report of the Water Resources Board on its South-East scheme. There is a case for the treatment of water on a national scale. Indeed, that was what was proposed as early as 1962 by the late Lord Birkett in the last speech he made in your Lord-ships' House in opposition to the Manchester Water Bill. He then said: It will urge upon the Government the immediate necessity of producing that national scheme which … will give natural justice to every interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8/2/62, col. 237.] The word "nationalisation" is an awkward word. I was once warned by a producer against using it on the Third Programme because he thought that the listeners would be emotionally conditioned to regarding it as something sinister. I do not think that even noble Lords on the opposite Benches will regard it as sinister when it is applied to the control of water resources and sewage disposal. That, it seems to me, is the final solution of these closely inter-locked problems of sewage disposal, water resources and river pollution. They must be treated as a single problem and they must be treated on a national scale. Her Majesty's Government of late years have evolved a very effective technique for combining, enlarging, re-drawing and creating Ministries. I would suggest that here is a case for applying that technique to the creation of a Ministry to deal with these combined, interlocked subjects on a national basis. I would suggest a name for that Ministry. It might well be called the "Ministry of Clean Water"; but I have no doubt that someone eminent in the corridors of power would be able to invent a more complex and less descriptive name for the same thing.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to remind her that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is already responsible for all the subjects she has mentioned.


My Lords, there are so many things involved that it is very difficult to treat this particular group of problems as a single one.


My Lords, I thought that the noble Baroness was on the point that water conservation, water supplies, sewerage and sewage—


And river pollution.


And river pollution should all be the responsibility of one Minister. I confirm to the House that they are; and that the Minister is the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, the subject which, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, we are discussing this afternoon is a subject in which I have taken an interest for a long time and, indeed, one in which I have a formal interest to declare, because the Port of London Authority, of which I have the honour to be the chairman, is the pollution authority for the tidal Thames. Also I recollect that I had the privilege of guiding through your Lordships' House the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill 1961 which became the Act of that year. So I have kept in touch with this problem in a fair amount of detail. I should add that since 1966, again as a result of a Parliamentary decision, the pollution functions of the Port of London Authority are carried out through a Joint Standing Committee which includes representatives of the Greater London Council, the Lee Conservancy Board (I am not sure of its correct title), the Kent and Essex River Authorities and also a representative of the Confederation of British Industry. When that set-up was established I confess that I had some doubts about it. I was afraid that we might find ourselves in the position where authority was divided and perhaps counsels divided as well. But three years' experience has taught me that this was a very good idea, and the working of this Committee reinforces what has already been said, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that far greater progress is made in matters of this kind by co-operation between all the interests concerned than by making one person a policeman and all the other people potential criminals.

My Lords, I am not pessimistic about the progress that can be made with the polluted rivers of this country, because I can look back with pride—without any personal pride; it has had nothing to do with me—on the enormous improvement in the tidal Thames in the last 15 years as a result of following a steady policy. Twenty years ago the tidal Thames was in a really shocking condition. I can remember newly painted ships coming into the river and within hours their paint was discoloured. This was due to our old friend from schoolboy days, the stuff you put in a stink bomb—hydrogen sulphide. As your Lordships know, that is produced when the oxygen in the river is completely used up and the little micro-organisms which are working on the organic stuff that is put in the river have nothing else to do but to go for the sulphate; and then they release the hydrogen sulphide.

I should say that the condition there was not really the fault of anybody. It followed the war, when a great deal of work was held up. It was prolonged because the London County Council, as it then was, had great difficulty in getting financial permission to expand its sewage works, which was a vital necessity. The Council was in the queue with many other people for the very scarce resources, at the end of the war. The start of the reform, if I may put it that way, was due to my very illustrious predecessor at the Port of London Authority, the first Viscount Waverley, whom some of your Lordships will remember as a man of great power and influence. He really got things moving. He persuaded the Government of the day that the L.C.C. must be permitted to get on with the expansion of its works, and this was done; though even then, as has been mentioned earlier, it took probably from six to seven years to come to fruition.

Just over ten years ago, as your Lordships may remember, we had a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House on a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. Looking up that debate, I was reminded that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, remarked that there were no fish in the Thames below Putney Bridge; and that was perfectly true. In the 1950s there were times when the river was practically devoid of oxygen all the way from Chelsea to Tilbury. To-day there are plenty of fish in the river. I do not say that they are all fish that my noble friend, Lord Hurcomb, would bother to go and catch, but there are plenty of fish; so many indeed that the Central Electricity Generating Board finds it a great nuisance as so many fish are caught in its cooling water intakes. In addition the teredo and the horrible gribble have returned. It may not be well known to your Lordships that these are the crustacea that bite into timber under the water. They were driven out by the pollution, but they have come back again; and this perhaps reminds us that when we purify everything and go back to our pristine ecology we may be inviting in some creatures that we would rather not have. I do not pretend for a moment that the tidal Thames is yet in a fully satisfactory condition, but it has improved so enormously in these 15 years that I feel we should not despair of any river at all.

I should like to try to tell your Lordships briefly how this was achieved. First of all, after the initiative taken by Lord Waverley we had the benefit of two massive reports which showed the way to a scientifically based attack on the problem. This is the essence of it: that it must be a scientifically based attack. The first of those reports was published in 1961. It took an extremely long time to come out, but it was very thorough. It was made by a Committee under the chairmanship of the late Professor Pippard, a distinguished civil engineer of whose death I read only a few weeks ago. He made one very interesting point in this Report. Up to now we have been working on established standards of purity for effluent which those of your Lordships who have studied the matter know are based on an assumed 8 to 1 dilution when they get into the water. Of course, it is known that they do not always get that dilution and so adjustments have to be made.

The Pippard Committee pointed out that everything depends on what else there is in the river where this effluent arrives—what the condition of the river is before it arrives. You may have an effluent which is quite up to Royal Commission standard, but if the river into which it is discharged is already short of dissolved oxygen that standard may still be inadequate and it may be necessary to get a higher state of purity. The general conclusion of the Committee was that the river should be so managed as to prevent a recurrence of offensive conditions and to provide a margin of safety.

That sounds fairly obvious and perhaps to some noble Lords who are keen on this subject it may sound as if it is not going very far. Perhaps I may return to that in a few minutes. After we had examined the position, this point in the report was interpreted as meaning that we should maintain a minimum 10 per cent. saturation of dissolved oxygen; that is, 10 per cent. of the maximum possible, throughout the river throughout the summer. There, again, noble Lords may think that it is not very much, but the difference it has made to the river is quite startling. If all the rivers of the country could reach that condition I think we should hear much less complaint about it.

The Pippard Committee also examined a very important question which has been causing us a lot of worry: the effect on the pollution of a river of heated effluents, particularly the discharges from power stations which take in water for cooling and discharge it at considerably higher temperatures. That has been going on round about London to such an extent that I am told that the average temperature of water at London Bridge is now 4½ degrees Centrigrade higher than it used to be. The interesting outcome of the Report was that the heated effluents did no harm in themselves, but owing to the raising of the temperature two things happened. First of all, the micro-organisms that are responsible for the oxydisation of the polluted matter in the water acted more quickly, so they used up oxygen more quickly. If that particular part of the river was already short of oxygen they could produce unsatisfactory conditions too quickly; whereas if they had more time they would not produce the unsatisfactory conditions at all. The other thing that happens is that the increase in temperature, although fairly low, slightly reduces the intake of oxygen from the air, which is the way the river re-aerates itself.

Alongside that Report we had a report from the Thames Survey Committee. That Committee was chaired by Mr. Cremer, a very distinguished consulting chemical engineer who had been, both before and since, our adviser in these matters. This is a highly technical report which I could not explain to your Lordships even if I thought it desirable to try to do so. It was intended to show our technical people how to apply the principles of the Pippard Report. That, indeed, is what we have done, and that is the reason why we have succeeded during this period in obtaining this great improvement in the condition of the river.

I may say that it was particularly difficult, because in a tidal river the movement of the water is not easy to analyse, the downstream fresh water being super-imposed on an oscillating estuarial water. I think that in an ordinary river the application of these principles would be easier, although the tidal flow has certain advantages. It has one advantage which I think is often not understood. I have sometimes seen it said that the effect of the tide is that the polluted conditions that exist outside the main sewage outfalls are carried up the river to the city. In a sense this is true but, provided there is enough oxygen in the river, of course, this is simply spreading the polluting load over a larger area of water and is therefore an advantageous thing to do. I would emphasise that much of this polluting matter is not in itself offensive, assuming that the sewage works have done their work and broken it down. It comes out, not offensive in the sense associated with sewage works, but it still has in it polluting matter which has to be broken down in the river by the natural micro-organisms that live in it

I have been speaking so far purely of this organic waste. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, spoke about oil spillages. They are in a class by themselves. They usually arise from carelessness or from defective equipment, often due to carelessness in maintenance. Spillages have one great advantage: they are generally fairly easy to spot. They have to be tackled by physical means, because they are not dealt with by the organisms in the river. There is also inorganic waste coming from factories employing various processes. Our experience is that factory owners are usually keen to limit this kind of waste, because these inorganic materials are of value to them, but they have to be watched, particularly in the case of radioactive waste, of which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, made some mention.

There is also the problem, which I do not think has been much mentioned this afternoon, of what I used in my youth to call"microbes" but which are now called "bacilli." At a sewage outfall one is bound to find a certain concentration of bacilli. I understand that this is because the removing of bacilli from sewage after treatment would mean putting it through a whole new series of processes. The conditions in sewage works are generally favourable to bacilli because there is a rise in temperature. When they get into the wide world, into the river, they often die. Our belief—and it is supported by scientific evidence—is that though it is not a good thing to bathe immediately off a sewage works, and certainly not to drink the water, the bacilli in fact do little harm. They are very local and short-lived.

My Lords, I have been speaking about what we have been doing and your Lordships may have been struck by the fact that we are not achieving anything like 100 per cent. purity. Are our targets too low? Ought we to be aiming higher? Well, in time the community can get any state of purity it desires, but it becomes increasingly expensive. We must always remember that Providence has made the rivers into a wonderful cleansing agent that performs the work that is done under concentrated conditions in sewage works. During the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Burden, quoted the well-known words from one of Keats's poems: The moving waters at their priest-like task Of pure ablution … This is going on all the time. The muddy, turgid waters outside in the River Thames are engaged at this moment on that task. If we were to try to do this by artificial means, it would cost us many millions of pounds. I think that in this matter we should be sensible and at least allow the rivers to do as much as possible of the job for themselves, so long as we do not get dangerous or offensive conditions. After all, we are a small country, with a large population, living by industry, and to expect to have all our streams as they were 1,000 years ago is to try to do something which in present circumstances is quite uneconomic, and for an advantage which would not be all that great.

I hope that what has been done in the Valley of the Thames will be an encouragement to others. It is true that changes cannot come overnight, but they can come in time. What is needed is this. First of all, we must have dedicated people. This means deciding on a policy and on how it is to be implemented, and then going for it day after day, week after week. I think we may have had a little advantage in being quite independent of all bodies concerned, but I do not know that this is particularly important. I do not think it matters who the river pollution authorities are, so long as the person in charge is dedicated to the task of getting the river clean.

Then we need a scientifically based plan. The reports that we have had cannot, in my view, be applied immediately to other rivers, but they would form a very good basis. This plan has to be doggedly followed up. Then we must have co-operation (this point has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and others) of the local authorities, the sewerage authorities, industry and, of course, the Government. As regards the local authorities, the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, spoke about taking industrial waste into public sewage plants. We believe that this is an advantageous step. The big public plants can much more easily deal with a variety of effluents than can individual factories, who tend to produce effluent all of one type. There is also the disadvantage that in those factories, working only five days a week, the plant does not work very well when first started up and often loses part of its efficiency. Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, said, they are very costly for industrial users.

In this context, I believe that local authorities, in their capacity as planning authorities, ought to be very careful of the siting of new industries, having regard to where their effluents can be taken. I think that point was made by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. So far as industry is concerned, works and factories often have a real interest in this matter. I was fascinated by the account of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, of his visit to a paperworks, because we have had a good deal of trouble and a great deal of friendly co-operation with the large paper works on the Thames. It may interest his friends at Maidenhead to know that after we had insisted on an improvement in their effluent, and after they had initially told us that it would be very expensive, I am informed that they have now put in further cleansing plant and have found that the materials they save out of the effluent are paying for the plant. I hope that this may be so also in the case of his friends.

Finally, I should like to say a word to the Minister. I am sure it is important that high priority is given to schemes for improving the treatment of sewage. The noble Lord said, if I heard him aright, that although sewerage schemes could be rejected on the ground of cost they were never rejected on the ground that the pollution authority's requirements were too stringent. I was interested in that observation and I was delighted to hear it. But I had brought to my notice not long ago a case where it was said that something different had happened. However, after inquiry by the inspector, the Minister had said that he would authorise the scheme if the conditions were made less stringent. To my mind, it would be better in a case like that for the Minister to say:"We have not now enough money ", and for the scheme to be postponed, rather than to press for a relaxing of the conditions which the pollution authority have found.


There may be some confusion here between the Minister's function in giving loan sanction to a local authority to build a sewage treatment plant and in determining an appeal by a local authority as sewerage authority against a level set by the river authority for given effluent. The functions are related, but they are not the same. It is true that at the moment the Minister is not sending away proposals to build new plant on the grounds of cost, although 1hc House has seen the circular which gives advice on that point. The question of effluent is separate, and of course each case is different.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, and it may well be that I have been confused about the two functions of the Minister. But this is a point that I should like subsequently to lake up with the noble Lord, because I think there is something here. It seems to mo that expenditure in this field should be very high on the list of priorities. This is very necessary for public health, and when we think of the millions of pounds that we spend on the National Health Service I feel that money spent on public health may well save many times that amount in the National Health Service.

I should like to say one last word about co-operation. I recognise that there must be a legislative framework which necessarily gives powers here and obligations to comply there; but if we have a common aim the use of those powers ought to be quite unnecessary. I think it is important to remember that we have this or that authority or committee, or whatever it is, but the executive decisions and executive actions are taken by people. We all know—I think we all feel the same—that people do not like being told what to do, and particularly, perhaps, they do not like being told what to do by a faceless official whom they have never met. It seems to me that it is enormously important—and the experience that we have had with our joint committee has helped me to come to this conclusion—that all the people concerned, the pollution authority and the putative polluters should sit, not across a table with the law on one side and the victims on the other, but round a table trying to decide what is the best way to achieve the aim which I am sure is the common aim for everyone. The noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, spoke about confrontation. This is just what I think we must avoid, and what I think can be avoided if we get this approach to the problem. Some noble Lords may think that [ am a little naive about this, bur all I can say is that not only in this particular instance but in other instances in my life I have found that it works.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for introducing a discussion upon this important and in many ways complex subject. When I was a boy in Scotland I remember being told by my elders that once upon a time the farm labourer insisted as part of his contract of service that he was not to be fed salmon more than three times a week. That was something which was within, or very nearly within, living memory at that time. Many of the rivers which then produced salmon in such abundance are now sewers through which all kinds of filth is carried down to the sea. But there is still a chance of retrieving the situation in the course of time, difficult though it may be.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to sewage purification and to the satisfaction of the standards laid down by the Royal Commission some 55 years ago. That, of course, is perfectly feasible when you are dealing with sewage in the narrow sense of organic matter from domestic houses. But rite problem now is a great deal more difficult than that because of the numerous chemical sub-stances which get into sewers or get into water courses and rivers. There is, for example, the run-off of herbicides, insecticides, nitrates and phosphates from agricultural land where these things are being used; and there are in industrial centres the waste products of industry which tend to find their way into sewers thus making the problem of sewage purification a great deal more difficult.

We are dealing now with problems which are only beginning to be fully understood. For example, a recent American investigation has shown that some pesticides when they get into water reduce the photosynthesis, the process by which the sunlight is utilised by green organisms in order to build up the compounds of carbon which form the structure of a living plant. In this investigation it was found that a dilution of only a few parts per thousand million of D.D.T. was sufficient to bring about that result. This raises very serious problems indeed, because our sewage purification processes are not sufficient to deal with minute quantities of that kind.

There are other problems. A great many of our water supplies are inclined to be somewhat acid and therefore capable of dissolving the lead out of lead pipes, which are used very extensively. A recent survey, which was published in the Lancet some three years ago, showed that out of 43 county boroughs, 41 had a water supply which was sufficiently acidic to dissolve lead. It does not follow, of course, for this involves a number of factors, that if you take random samples of water you will find a substantial amount of lead. Another investigation showed that when samples were taken in the morning, after the water had lain in the pipes all night, an appreciable number showed amounts of lead in excess of that recommended by the World Health Organisation. Curiously enough, that investigation showed that this happened in a number of places where the water was alkaline and where one would not expect it to happen. That is another illustration of the complex problems which are involved in this subject.

Analysis of water supplies has shown that there are in many cases phenolic substances dissolved in drinking water. A survey on that, which was carried out a year or two ago, showed that in 24 large towns, with a population of 7 million people, in every case the concentration of phenolic substances was in excess of 32 microgrammes per litre. Thirty-two microgrammes per litre does not sound very much, but the standard recommended by the World Health Organisation is only two microgrammes per litre. Therefore in all these cases there were 16 times as much as the maximum so recommended. This, again, involves a very difficult problem.

Reference has been made to detergents which enter sewers in very large quanti- ties and which may emanate from industrial establishments as well. I drew attention to this problem at the time when Mr. Harold Macmillan was the Minister in a letter which I wrote to The Times, and 1 pointed out that nobody knew what the results of drinking water containing deter-gents might be. Within a very few days after the letter was published, Mr. Macmillan appointed a Standing Committee on synthetic detergents which has been sitting ever since.

It is certainly encouraging to know that as a result detergents now used are broken down in the sewage works to the extent of 84 per cent.—I think that is the correct figure. What the products broken down are I do not know, neither do I know what the effects of the remaining 16 per cent. are. At any rate, deter-gents in that degree may or may not be poisonous in themselves. But we know that they are a means of making other things more soluble, and in the human body may very well be the means of making certain toxins penetrate through the bowel walls. This, again, is something which deserves consideration.

Recently a new development in this field has taken place with the introduction of enzyme washing powders. Whether these are broken down in a sewage works I do not know—that is certainly some-thing which ought to be thought about. I mention these things not merely because of their individual interest, but because there is always the possibility that when a number of chemicals are mixed together there may be what are called synergistic effects—one chemical seems to stimulate the toxicity of another. This was illustrated only recently in some American research, sponsored by their Department of Agriculture, into a disease of pine trees. It was then discovered that the atmosphere contained some sulphur dioxide and some ozone, both in themselves relatively innocuous when fairly well diluted, but apparently they reacted with one another and made the atmosphere a great deal more poisonous for those trees. Again, there is a possibility that a considerable amount of our sewage may presently contain fluorides, which are extremely active chemicals, and what their reaction will be with other chemicals I do not know.

It is a very difficult problem to know how to deal with all these matters. So far as drinking water is concerned, there are no standards laid down in this country. The obligation of a water supply authority is simply to supply wholesome water—that is to say, water which is suitable for domestic use—but there is no definition of what that may be and it is very difficult to ensure that it is wholesome. Some countries, I believe, set maximum standards of possible pollutants of water supply, and the World Health Organisation, as I mentioned just now, has made recommendations with regard to lead and to a number of other elemental substances, but these are only a handful out of the possible chemicals which can get into water supplies, and it seems extremely difficult to set a standard which would cope with every possible contingency.

Therefore the only feasible solution must be to try to ensure that the pollutants do not get into the water supply to begin with. This is a very great difficulty in the case of water supplies from rivers which have already passed through industrial areas and have already received sewage effluent, and although the Metropolitan Water Board has achieved a very remarkable standard in the water which it supplies out of the Thames, one still is left with a number of unanswered questions about micro-pollutants which might be present.

There is one principle, at any rate, which I think we ought to adhere to, and it is this. We ought to try to prohibit as rigidly as possible the entrance into water supplies which are going to be used for human consumption of any kind of substance which is entirely alien to human experience during the long period of human evolution. A body, especially a complex organism like that of a human being, cannot possibly be expected to adapt itself suddenly to entirely new conditions. We know that micro-organisms do so; and that is how they defeat the pesticides, the antibiotics and so on. But the human body, with its long life, is not nearly so adaptable, and we cannot rely upon human evolution to combat any possible perils of this nature.

There is one other point. Half, or more than half, of the water supplies which are provided by water authorities in this country is used for industrial purposes. As has already been pointed out in this debate, the amounts con- sumed in certain industries are enormous in relation to the volume of the product produced. Then there is all the water which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, observed, is used for cooling purposes—a problem which is particularly aggravated in London, where there is a whole series of enormous power stations along the River Thames. It is possible now to achieve cooling without such extravagant use of water, and indeed it is done in certain places where the water is not available. It is probably more expensive.

With regard to other industrial uses for water, it seems to me that very large users of water should be placed under some obligation either to economise in it or to ensure that it is returned to use without any pollution of any kind whatsoever in it. It has been said this after-noon that the paper mills restore water, satisfying the requirement of the Royal Commission with regard to the biological oxygen demand; but that of course is only one part of the problem of pollution. I do not know what chemicals there may be in it to which biological oxygen demand has no relation whatsoever. That also is something which requires investigation.

I am glad to hear that there is so much activity in this field, and I hope it will bear fruit in the near future. It is a long time yet, I suppose, until many of our polluted rivers are restored to any-thing approaching an agreeable quality, but that is something which ought to be done, and we no longer have the excuse which possibly existed in the earlier days of industrial evolution, that it is too expensive to do it. This is now a relatively affluent country, and it is worth while to spend some money upon improving the conditions of life generally and restoring some of the amenities which have been lost by ill-considered action in the past.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships have already listened to ten extremely well informed speeches from experts, and I certainly do not wish to detain you long. We have heard speeches from no fewer than three members of the Association of River Authorities—the President and two of his Vice-Presidents. We heard, I thought, a remarkable and very well presented speech from my noble friend Lord Molson, whom we have to thank for having initiated this very useful debate. I regret that the noble Lord who is to reply is not at the moment in his place as I wished to give him also a posy, but perhaps it can be passed on to him. I thought that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was full of hope for us all. This is not surprising when we know that he was the author of this very interesting pamphlet, Controlling our Environment, which he wrote for the Fabian Research Series. I was not surprised at the content of his speech.

But—and, speaking as I do from this side of the House, there is apt to be a"but"—there were a great many promises. I am reminded of what the taxi driver who brought me here this morning said as he went past the House of Commons. He turned back to me and said,"We call that the House of Promises". He did not tell me what nickname he had given to the House of Lords. It remains to be seen how many of the hopeful indications made in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will in fact be realised. I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in expressing my great anxiety over the tone of Circular 64/68 to which he referred. I do not myself feel that the passage which he was accused of having suppressed in any way alters the situation. Really, the position is that even to stand still we must make progress. A directive of this kind must (and I think my noble friend Lord Nugent confirmed this) have made the work of the river authority far more difficult and slowed it up.

There are still, surprisingly enough, one or two points that I should like to raise. I hope that the noble Lord who is occupying the Front Bench will pass them on to the Minister concerned. We know that the Association of River Authorities is going to produce its pollution survey. Could we perhaps be given a definite date of when this will be published? Perhaps my noble friend Lord Nugent could tell us whether it is going to be this year.


My Lords, we hope so.


My Lords, I should like to know when it is going to be published; I think we should have this information.

Another point strikes me as strange. I do not believe, unless I have misunderstood the situation, that there is in fact a minimum standard of acceptance for river authorities. I quite appreciate what the Royal Commission standard of 1915 is, but I should like to know whether there is a minimum standard below which river authorities are not allowed to go. I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply could give me an answer to that question.

Then I would join with the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, and I think also with the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks— although perhaps she did not present the matter in quite the same way as did Lord de Ramsey: the large number of sewerage authorities seems to me, as a layman, to be an impediment. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will give careful thought to finding out whether it is possible to reduce the number of separate sewerage authorities and, if possible, to encourage joint sewerage boards. Already there are about twenty joint sewerage boards, and I am told that they work well. As larger units they are able to employ managers of high calibre, and the whole maintenance and the whole management of their sewage farms is of a high degree. Surely this is something for which we do not have to wait a very long time. Surely it would be possible quite quickly to bring about something of this sort.

I quite appreciate that my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who is not only the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy but also President of the A.R.A., might be inclined to emphasise the point that it has taken a great deal of time for the Thames Conservancy to achieve what it has done. He also pointed out to us that the other river authorities are very young: they have only recently come into existence, and he pleaded for time. But, like the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, I question how much time we have available at the moment. I hope that my noble friend will do all that he can—and I am sure he will—to accelerate the more efficient disposal of effluent. I do not believe that we can wait for over a hundred years.

Of course the Thames Conservancy is to be congratulated. Some of your Lordships may have noticed the small cartoon in the Evening News to-day. It happened to catch my eye before coming into the Chamber. There is a noble Lord in tweeds with his fishing rod and his creel and he is saying "Dammit, Frensham, I wouldn't have come if I'd known there were no salmon in the Thames." Perhaps he did not know also that there are now no fewer than 40 different species of coarse fish in the Thames, whereas forty or fifty years ago there were practically no fish at all. And the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who was telling us about the green muck on newly painted boats, can confirm the wonderful achievements that have been produced in the River Thames. Let us hope that there is a real sense of urgency and that the same sort of treatment will apply throughout the country.

In this connection there is one point which I should like to draw to the notice of Her Majesty's Government for consideration. At this very time, because of the European Conservation Year, the newspapers have been running (if I may put it this way) the whole idea of conservation; and the pollution of rivers has come in for a great deal of discussion and many articles have been written. That is all very well for the moment, but I wonder whether it would not be helpful if in our schools our children were taught to understand what is at stale. Noble Lords will remember the success of the campaign in regard to the "litter bugs"— quite successful, quite imaginative; it caught on and I think probably had some effect. I am not saying that the school-children are responsible for the pollution of our rivers, but the schoolchildren of to-day are the legislators of to-morrow. They will be the members of river authorities, the local authorities, the sewerage boards, and so on, and I think it might be helpful if steps were taken to educate them into understanding what is in fact at stake. It may be that it is already being done. If so, I shall be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will tell us so.

There are other points which have caused me anxiety. I have been told by experts that the closed collieries are a source of danger to the cleanliness of rivers. I understand that the water that flows into the disused mines becomes polluted by acids and iron which is leached out of the walls of the mines. This water obviously has to discharge somewhere, and eventually it gets into the rivers. As I understand the position, the National Coal Board considers that once a colliery is closed and the pumping is stopped, any of the flow or seepage of water from the closed mine becomes an act of Nature and is not caused or permitted by the former owner. I should like to know whether that is the case and whether it would be possible for Her Majesty's Government, who set up so many excellent surveys, to look into this point also.

There is also the question of estuaries. There are the 1951 and 1961 pollution prevention Acts and, as I understand it they refer only to rivers. The 1960 Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act only brought new and altered discharges within the control of river authorities. It would seem therefore that all pre-1960 estuarial discharges are still uncontrolled. 1 should be grateful if I could have advice as to whether or not I have understood this correctly. If it is the case, surely it is necessary to bring in legislation to correct this. I understand also that there is no law (and the authority for that statement is the little pamphlet to which I have already referred) dealing with the protection of sea fisheries in Scotland. This seems to me to be a serious omission and not something that we should necessarily have to wait for. The sea fisheries arc, of course, polluted by what goes on in the estuaries of the rivers. I should be grateful if that point also could be looked into.

Finally, my Lords, I come to the declaration by the Prime Minister on December 11 of the intention to form a Standing Royal Commission to advise on matters, both national and international, concerning the population and the environment, on the adequacy of research in this field and on the future possibilities of danger to environment. I should like to know whether this Royal Commission has yet been set up, and whether it includes in its membership—or, if it has not yet been set up, whether it is intended that it shall include in its membership—representation of the river authorities. If not, I think it is a great mistake, and I hope that, if they have been omitted, (he position will be corrected.

Before sitting down I would just quote to your Lordships a little quotation from Jonathan Swift which I found in the excellent Year Book of the Association of River Authorities. He said this: Whoever can make two gallons of clean water flow in a stream where only one gallon of dirty water flowed before would deserve better of mankind and would do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, like others before me I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for giving us the opportunity of reviewing this enormous subject. I am apologetic in that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate, owing to a long-standing engagement. Like other speakers before me, I have to declare my interest. This time it is as Chairman of the Standing Committee of Prince Philip's "Country-side in 1970" Conference. This long-sighted venture started way back in 1963 and has many things to its credit, which I would not dream of boring your Lordships with to-day. It comes to a climax in October with a conference which will review the whole of the environment of this country, and I am glad to tell the noble Marquess that we shall be making a special point of concentrating our energies and our attention on youth, in the sense that they can be of great help in this work.

This Standing Committee has been recognised by the Government as the official body for this country in European Conservation Year. That is why I shall be joining the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the Minister in Strasbourg at the week-end. I was reviewing the people on this Standing Committee, and without giving your Lordships the full names of the various societies to which they belong I found that they represented coal, birds, forestry, traffic, the Highlands, electricity, agriculture, social services, town planning and British Railways. I thought that was interesting, first of all because it shows how we try to combine all these various bodies in our deliberations, and secondly, when I reflected on it I found that they were all mixed up with water pollution in one way or another. I belong to none of these institutions. Perhaps that is the only reason why I am chairman of the Committee. And I am, I think, the first person to-night to admit that I am one of these wicked industrialists.

I hasten to add that for my part I fully subscribe to this European conception which is to be emphasised at Strasbourg, where it was said that the basic concept of the European Conference is that conservation is not merely a palliative designed to put a stop to the impact of growing population numbers and technological progress on our physical environment; it must be a concerted effort to make the right choices in improving the quality of the environment and creating surroundings that satisfy man's present and future needs.

The difficulty, as others have said to-night, is the question of cost. I see that the new Chairman of the Council on Environment Quality in the United States has said that he believed that people are ready to meet higher production costs that resulted from efforts by industry to stop air and water pollution by waste products. I imagine he is probably right when speaking of America, but I am not so certain that there is anybody in this country who can say that quite so confidently. And yet when we add up the totals discussed to-night and when we realise that they come from Government expenditure, from rates and taxes, and from the industrialist putting down the capital or the running costs involved, as one of the wicked industrialists I know that, whatever way that money is spent, in the long run it is going to come out of the people's pockets. There-fore I think it is very important to mount a public relations movement, in the nicest sense of the word, in this country to ensure that the people can make up their own minds as to what they want in the way of environment and amenities.

We have had to produce a report on industry for the Strasbourg Conference, and of course this also has implications on river pollution. In this report we are making the point, with which I think everybody will agree, that the impact of industry is primarily beneficial. If we do not agree with that we might as well pack up shop and go back to the Stone Age. But there are these secondary effects which cause pollution. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I feel that we owe a great deal to our predecessors for what they have done to ameliorate conditions.

One of the studies that I looked into was that of the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, a magnificent laboratory which devotes one-seventh of its time to coastal pollution, one-third 10 pollution in rivers and estuaries and one-half to treating waste water and sludge. I did a bit of arithmetic and I found that there was l/42nd left over, but I think that must be when they are devoting their time to making tea. But they do magnificent work, as indeed do the Greater London Council in their project for dispersing London's digested sewage sludge by pipeline to the sea. This is a new venture which we can only hope will come to fruition. There is also the work of the Jeger Committee. There have been—I do not think this point has been emphasised enough—many new techniques in industry recently which have reduced very substantially the use of water in industry, particularly the steel industry. For my part, I think that in an Island such as we live in, with the industrial part so close to the sea, we must not dismiss desalination as part of the solution to our problem.

I feel that I should mention the European scene in a general way, and if that sounds a little odd when we are talking about British rivers I would point out that when we are in trouble it is sometimes useful to look further afield. I should not dream of trying to summarise the reports of the 21 nations gathering at Strasbourg at the weekend, but there are three generalisations. There are the newly developing industrial countries, like Cyprus and Malta. In a way it is rather pathetic, I think, that they cannot see what their future may be like if they are not careful. Water pollution could have a very serious effect on their tourist industry. The recently industrialised countries, such as Italy and Switzerland, have also, like us, to be careful. I see that the Lake of Zurich, which was once described as clean and productive, is now an evil-smelling, muddy sewer—and it is not the only lake in Europe in that state. Thirdly, the fully industrialised countries such as France, Britain, Germany and Belgium, can now see that they have these problems to tackle. The only point I would make is the obvious one, that if we are in the same boat we may as well all row together.

On the international aspect, I should like us to feel that we can look at some of these things in an international way. Sometimes the projects are the same, and I know that our own Government are perfectly prepared to help others in these difficulties. Another point that has cropped up once or twice in this debate is that one could foresee a very unfortunate effect if we, for example, were the only country in Europe which took seriously the job of looking after our environment. Somebody once said that pollution is part of the price paid for civilisation. If that is so, I think we can say that civilisation should share the cost of eliminating pollution. We must be ready to talk with others in Europe to ensure that our standards are common ones.

Finally, I would emphasise that the cost, from whatever source it comes, will come back to the people in the long run. It is therefore important that everybody in this country should realise that this environment is theirs, and that if they want it to be maintained they will have to make their contribution in a variety of different ways to that very good end.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, it is my duty at this hour to be extremely brief. I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for so use-fully introducing this Motion on this subject. I am interested that we have heard so many speeches about London. Both on London and other parts of the country I have learned a great deal, and I think one should concentrate on the good things and realise just how marvellous the London situation is. One should not only praise the Thames Conservancy but, for instance, Sir Joseph Bazalgette who 100 years ago made all the intersecting sewers at right angles to all the old brook tributaries and thus secured the clean rivers. The very opposite situation of course applies in a river like the Irwell. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, seemed to be rather against the article in the Business Observer of last Sunday by Jeremy Bugler, but I should like to quote from it. It appeared under the heading, "Can Industry Afford to Come Clean?" The writer said: If you fall in the Irwell you will be rushed to hospital and stomach pumped. While I was looking last week at the foetid swill of the Manchester Ship Canal which at that point was the Irwell canalised a police-man was moved enough to get out of his car and tell me ' Don't fall in there. You will ruin my afternoon'. I was out of the House for about a quarter of an hour, but I do not think anybody has mentioned the brilliant Ministry of Technology Report, Water Pollution Research, 1968, which was published last year. I nearly fell out of your Lordships' speaking order in this debate, because I realised that this is so much a subject of local government and technical matters; but I thought that I could still make one or two tiny asides. I have this inherent interest in these brooks, now storm sewers, in London, and it seems to me that this situation of the Irwell may be like the tributary of the Rhine, the Emscher, which comes out pure working and immediately it gets to the edge of the Rhine the river is completely cleaned as a deliberate operation. It is a sort of "writing off" of the river, in one way.

It is rather interesting that in this year not only Mr. Nixon, in his annual message to Congress on the state of the Union, but also my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in New York, both greatly emphasised the clean air and clean water approach. Mr. Nixon said that the great question of the 'seventies is shall we surrender to our surroundings or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done? Clean air, clean water and open spaces—these should once again be the birth-right of every American ". In a highly industrialised country, quite obviously, from cost reasons and control reasons, nothing very cryptic can happen, but no doubt it will happen if we do not get hysterical but keep at it.

As a matter of interest, I took a sample of water from below your Lordships' Terrace of this Palace of Westminster. I must say that it looked remarkably white—almost as white as gin. I think this is encouraging. The situation in the rest of the country, including the Birmingham and other tributories, of the Trent such as the Tame, is obviously serious, and we must not be too complacent and smug. My Lords, I feel that that is all I want to say at the moment.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for raising this subject. May I couple my thanks to him with a word of congratulation on having received a quite "oncoming" reply from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, with regard to the possibility of looking again at the famous offending, if not offensive, circular. This debate is basically about man's upsetting the balance of Nature, turning water courses that were designed by Nature for carrying surface water to the sea into means of transport, as well as drains for industrial effluent. We are looking at this, I take it, bearing in mind that the waste of existing resources is nothing else than the uneconomics of growth.

There is little doubt about the urgency. As I see it, the critical facet of the urgency of this problem is that at the end of the century we appear likely to need just about twice the volume of water that we consume at the present time; that this in turn can only mean the further re-use of great quantities of water, and that it can only mean, also, the further recharging of, and drawing upon, aquifers and underground storage sources, to say nothing of schemes for linking river systems in some sort of national grid.

The problem of river pollution is not, therefore, only one of whether or not drinking water can be had from this or that water course: it is also a question of whether we may inadvertently be permitting the poisoning of underground sources of water, from which we hope to draw anyway, and from which at points rivers are themselves fed through springs. The significance, surely, of these under-ground sources of supply is to be seen in the estimate which I saw published some while ago from a responsible source, that in South-East England, which is a deficiency area, something like 270 million gallons per day can be drawn from about 250 boreholes sunk into the aquifers of the Thames Valley chalk and limestone, at a capital cost of something like one-tenth of the sum that would be needed to cover no less than 30 square miles with surface reservoirs. If that be the order of saving (and I stress that I quote from a responsible source) the significance of aquifers hardly needs to be restated.

Whether or not there is a danger of sewage or contaminated water finding its way down into aquifers, there are certainly fears among some of the river authorities—and I am speaking now from conversations with officials in the Trent Valley—that bacteria might clog the spores of some of the sandstone and lime-stone in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, and not only contaminate the aquifers below but possibly make it difficult for the water to get down into them.

But quite apart from the danger of that form of contamination and blockage, there is a serious danger of petroleum contamination to which my attention has been drawn by experts in this field. First of all, there is the danger of seepage from pipelines which now begin to straddle the Kingdom, and from storage tanks, some of which continue to be placed underground. There have been some critical examples where soluble phenolic constituents from tar waste have been known to travel several kilo-metres through the triassic sandstone of central England. Even light fractions have been known to travel several hundred metres from the sources of contamination. Petroleum contaminants have been known to move several kilo-metres through chalk and the limestone or Lincolnshire. Gasolene contamination has been found, and has proved that it can persist for several years. A chalk adit some 46 metres below the surface was found contaminated from, so it is believed by experts, whale oil distillation that took place more than a century before. Mineral oil has been known to persist for several decades. At one point in Germany kerosene was detected seventy years after the date of contamination. So there is good cause to worry about chemical contamination which may arise from quite accidental leakage or seepage.

Then what about contamination by new chemicals that have scarcely been known until latterly? For example, my attention has been drawn to the polychlorinated biphenyls—I quote now from Industry Week, which draws attention to the fact that this seemed to be the cause, or part cause, of the deaths of sea birds last autumn. But these are chemicals which until 1944 were hardly known even in museum specimens. The generation of new chemicals is in itself a hazard to which we must pay heed.

Of course in all this the Yorkshire and Trent exercises are of capital and critical importance. I must say that in regard to the Yorkshire experience, I am rather reminded of the jingle: Problems worthy of attack Prove their worth by hitting back. The Upper Rother river owes part of its most recent contamination to the by-products (if that is the right word) or at any rate the effluent disposal of the coal carbonisation industry brought into being to create smokeless fuel. This is an example of one new ill arising from one new good. There are other rivers corrupted in Yorkshire, like the Don, which is corrupted by the Rother, the Dearne, the Calder and the Are, and there has developed at the confluence of the Humber the Trent and the Ouse a belt of de-oxygenised water which the responsible river authorities are taking most enterprising measures to try to counter. They are taking salmon above this de-oxygenised belt and then down again, in the hope that when the salmon return they will fight their way through to spawn.

The Trent Valley exercise is described in the Water Pollution Research Report to which the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, referred. It is referred to in that document as of "strategic" importance. It is strategic in a dozen different ways. First of all, unless I am mistaken, in the summer something like 700 m.g.d. of water are available, but of those no less than about 300 m.g.d. are polluted. Because of that pollution, which appears to originate very largely in the upper reaches of the Tame (though elsewhere as well) the Trent's capacity to contribute to a national grid, particularly as it flows from East to West, is severely limited and may restrict the development of a grid in the future. It is, of course, critical to the supply of the new towns which are to be expected from the conformation in that area of the new routes of communication now being developed, the M.62, M.18—the new towns that will arise and are beginning to arise on the approaches to, and on, Humberside itself.

I was very interested to see a report from the Director of the Water Research Association who wrote to me the other day in these terms; namely, that a solution of the Trent problem, could represent the future position in relation to quality of other rivers' sources if adequate forethought is not given to the problem of discharge of effluents. The Trent performance, the Trent operation, is a test case, and it would be a pity if this debate were to pass away without a word of greeting and good wishes from this House to those who are taking part in the Trent study. It is. of course, a combination both of economics and of biology and chemistry. I understand that the sort of treatment that is in view, that is being experimented with in a pilot plant, is a series of operations beginning with biological oxidation, continuing with conventional treatment, coagulation, sedimentation, filtration, and then finishing up, all being well, with activated carbon treatment and disinfection. The object is to test the capital merits of cleaning the river as against importing better water from elsewhere. I under-stand that the undertaking is on such a scale, and is being carried through to such a depth of research, that it is on a scale unknown in the world hitherto, and that an account of its progress will be eagerly awaited by the San Francisco Conference of the International Association of Water Pollution Research Organisations later this summer.

I was much taken with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, at the beginning, when he limited himself to commenting on administrative measures which could be taken by the Government at the present time. But when one looks at the governmental set up in this field one is reminded again of a jingle: To make a name for learning when other roads are barred, Take something very easy and make it very hard. We have no fewer than five Government Departments involved in this water business. There is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government represented by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet; the Ministry of Agriculture has an interest; the Ministry of Transport has an interest; the Welsh Office has an interest in Wales, and of course the Scottish Office a complete interest in Scotland. Then you get the next tier: you get the Water Resources Board and the British Waterways Board. Then you get a third tier of the critical 29 river authorities. But, believe it or not, there are a lot more besides. There are 260 water undertakings; 365 drainage boards; 1,242 local authorities respon- sible for sewage disposal. There are 21, as I understand, joint sewage authorities; there are 126 local authorities responsible for sewage only. That is a total of 2,043. Well, it is of course surprising that that coagulation of disparate organisms should together be able to spend any money intelligently at all. The fact is that some-thing like £350 million a year is spent together by these organisations, which no doubt would be spent much more effectively if it was spent from a central planned source according to a centrally planned scheme.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment, the noble Lord is advocating nationalisation of the whole outfit, is he not?


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for rising like a fish, happy to find his river no longer polluted. However, I was not coming to nationalisation at all, and perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to proceed along the lines on which I was intending to proceed.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me again, he did advocate that this total sum should be spent from a central source, and he criticised the excessive number of bodies. To me that sounds like nationalisation. I am not against it; I simply want to clarify the situation.


My Lords, the central source is the taxpayer; the central plan may be something quite different.


My Lords, that is including the ratepayer?


Well, including the ratepayer, obviously. The weakness of the local authorities' responsibility for sewage seems to lie in the fact that sewage does not offer many votes to councillors, and it is of course difficult for them to get their councils interested in spending money on it. You often find—and I am quoting now from the deputy engineer of the Upper Tame Main Drainage Authority, that a town with first-class educational, transport and library services may have antiquated sewerage. Then, of course, standards vary between one sewerage authority and another. I again quote from the same source, because I think that the deputy engineer's views on this are really worth getting on the Record. He points out—and I apologise for the length of this quotation— Sewerage systems are affected by the topography of the district much more than other Public Services. Acceptance of local authority boundaries which do not necessarily have any topographical significance imposes severe restrictions on the design of the main sewerage network. He concludes: A local authority generally operates one or more treatment works within its own boundaries and in a heavily polluted area this will result in a chain of works lying along the river valley system, each one operating in isolation. River authorities' powers are limited, and there is no point in my repeating points made far better by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, at the start of this debate, but may I just draw your Lorships' attention to the fact that between 1964 and 1968 the Trent River Authority undertook prosecutions of one local authority, 11 industrialists, 4 nationalised industries— I am sure that will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet— and 11 individuals or farmers. Public money was spent on chasing, among them, four nationalised industries and one local authority, all to achieve total fines of £1,700 odd. Yet, in one case a local industrialist, threatened with prosecution, did in fact put matters right before it came to court, and that involved him in expenditure of something like £1,100. So the irrelevance of the scale of fines is something to be deplored, and something which really is a limitation on the operations of river authorities. The fact that nationalised industries are as capable of being guilty as others speaks for itself. My source for that information is Mr. W. F. Lester, Pollution Control and Fisheries Officer of the Trent River Authority.

I took the point of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and do take it, that it is a little hard to expect river authorities to commit those that they do not represent to the expenditure of public money, which others raise and must justify, and I think that was the point he made in his speech earlier on in the debate. But I would, with respect, draw his attention to a very interesting lecture given by the Under-secretary of his own Department, Mr. J. H. Street, to a joint symposium held last March by the Institutions of Public Health Engineers and Water Engineers, and the Institute of Water Pollution Control, on the future organisation of river, sewerage and water authorities. He then drew attention to the point of the Proudman Report, that the job facing river authorities ought to be an integrated one. Surely the point is borne out by river authority engineers and others to whom one has spoken—and I am thinking of several river authorities whose engineers have said this— who consider that river authorities ought to be the exclusive river basin managers, with the whole hydrological cycle under their control. This is particularly so when one comes to consider the conjunctive use of water supplies, to say nothing of the fact that aquifers inevitably overlay catchment area boundaries. The merits of strengthening the river authorities surely lie in the point that if they are responsible for effective purification they can then determine priorities for sewage purification schemes. and can better ensure that their plans for water resource development do not fail for lack of acceptable water quality.

We have to-day the White Paper on the Redeliffe-Maud Report, but, at a quick reading, no evident comment on that Report's recommendation that sewers and sewage disposal works should be the responsibility of the metropolitan or unitary authorities and, by implication, not of the river authorities. May I ask the noble Lord—I am sure he will pass this on—whether we can legitimately hope that when the Green Paper on local government finance comes along it will be found to have faced this problem? Dare we accept the Maud proposals as they stand? I believe not. Can we accept prolonged fragmentation? I believe not.

My Lords, much of what I have said is technical; much is political. I recall as I prepare to sit down the words of Christopher Marlowe: By shallow rivers to whose falls Melodious birds sing madrigals. Our common will is to restore our rivers as the limpid poetry of the earth.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for bringing this Motion before us to-day. The debate has been very enlightening, and I have found it particularly comforting, especially because the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said he was satisfied that the necessary Parliamentary powers exist to deal with the purification of rivers. I have always been puzzled why people could tip into a river any old rubbish that they would not dream of tipping on to a railway line or in a public thorough-fare. A river seemed to be "fair game" for everybody. But if he tells me that the legislation is satisfactory to deal with the situation, given time, then, knowing his vast experience in this field, I am very satisfied.

The noble Lord made another comment which interested me: I think the way he put it was that there are no votes in pollution, sewage and drainage. That is perfectly true. But there can be, and there should be, votes in what can follow as the next part of the process. While it is the river boards, drainage boards, local authorities and port authorities who have to get on with the rather prosaic job of dealing with pollution, the drainage of rivers and the disposal of sewage, there is a vast body of voluntary associations in our life who tend to be more mobilised in this campaign. One thinks of the Countryside Commission— perhaps not quite a voluntary body—the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the National Trust, the Civic Trust, the Footpaths and Commons Association, the Wildfowl Trust and all the many people who are concerned with the use of our rivers. In my own mind, I cannot divorce the use of our rivers from the use of our land, because I feel quite certain that once there is a river which is not polluted the public will demand access to it. That will involve the banks of the river and the water meadows, and any other derelict land that may be lying around. I want to put before your Lordships to-night a scheme which, within my own experience, has done precisely that. I want to say a few words about the Lea Valley Regional Park.

The Lea is the second important river in London. It rises, not very poetically, in the Luton sewage works and it flows into the Thames at Blackwall—not a very promising course for a river which goes through London's backyard. The Civic Trust, who were asked to prepare a Report on the Lea Valley, had this to say: Thus, the Valley is London's kitchen garden, its well, its privy and its workshop— and is treated as London's backyard, because it lies at everybody's boundary. Ever since King Alfred made it the frontier between Wessex and the Danelaw, the old course of the Lea has been a watershed between communities and men have turned their backs on it. To-day lorry drivers and commuters cross it from East to West and hardly know it is there. The forgotten boundary wiggles forlornly through the centre of the reservoirs and gravel pits along the line of the old riverbed. The land not used for heavy necessities re-mains damp and derelict, unheeded and ill-kempt. Land, which in this case cannot be divorced from the river which runs through it, is an essential commodity of which we are very short, and in 1964 or 1965 there was a chance, for which Parliament gave ample and willing powers to the Greater London Council, to tackle this problem. As a result of that, after 12 or 15 years' work there will be re-turned to the active leisure use of London no less than 4,000 acres of land and water. This is an enormous gift to the people of London, in this hard-pressed land-shortage time, and something which can be used for every kind of sporting activity. I believe it is even the first time in this country that we shall have an up to Olympic standard rowing course. If all these things can be provided out of land left derelict on the banks of the river, then surely this is an opportunity to be seized as a follow-up to the time when the pollution has been removed from the river.

I want to make another short point connected with the statement which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made this afternoon. This great scheme in the Lea Valley is something which could have been tackled during the last forty years, but for the fact that there were too many authorities involved ever to thresh out an agreement. After the passing of the London Government Act and the re-organisation of local government in the area, there were really only three authorities concerned—the Greater London Council and the Essex and Hertfordshire County Councils. It was discovered that if they were prepared to contribute over a period of fifteen years the equivalent of a penny rate then this great task could be accomplished. This, I think, is a pattern that could be followed in many parts of the country, certainly where a river runs through a clearly defined and unused river valley: and I hope that this example and this follow-on from dealing with pollution will be accepted by your Lordships as a necessary part of the whole process.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, if your Lordships will forgive me I shall not attempt to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, who brought the good news from Lee to Thames—and I am sure that all your Lordships will have been delighted to hear what he told us. I would just say, with regard to some of his recent remarks, that in a debate where we have heard some poetry quoted there is poetic justice in that Lord Kennet's busy day involved his making an announcement about local government immediately after the Government speech on this topic. Your Lordships have noted, of course, how inextricably these two subjects are linked; how the future of our planning for rivers—and not only for rivers, but for our atmosphere and environment generally—is infinitely and closely linked with the problems and challenges of local government. I have been racking my brains as to what qualifications I could bring to your Lord-ships' debate on this subject The only one I can think of is that I lived for a year on the shores of Lake Erie, which has been mentioned, quite rightly, as a sort of "hell-hole" so far as this topic is concerned. No words of mine can possibly do justice to its horror, especially in late spring, when you can see the melting ice floes turning slowly putrid as they get sucked into the effluent in that water.

As an ordinary citizen, I am worried about the dangers, especially in Conservation Year, of over-exposure of this subject—over-exposure being a modern ailment to which even monarchs are prone. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, talked about the good work done before this subject became fashionable. I am always worried about how quickly subjects can become fashionable and then be dropped in favour of another subject, the essential matters then being allowed to go by. As a university lecturer I was horrified, though also amused, when a student of mine said to me. as we were talking about the H-bomb, "But that was a 'fifties thing, wasn't it?" I should not like it to be thought that environment was simply a late 'sixties or early 'seventies thing which was then passed over in favour of something else.

If, as I cannot help hoping, my noble friends are returned at the next Election, I hope they will pay attention to the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who made excellent sense, I thought, in his appeal for this subject to become of primal concern and part of our primary education; and I am sure his point about the "litter-bug" campaign had great relevance and usefulness. My noble friend Lord Merrivale, too, talked from the industrialist's point of view with great precision and knowledge. The only thing that bothered me a little about his speech was that, quoting Lord Ritchie-Calder from the other side on the necessity to get international agreement, he was concerned that one country in Europe should not take advantage of another's work in environment, with the higher costs, the loss of exports, et cetera, involved. I believe—and I say this particularly to my noble friends —we should resist this idea that nothing should be done unless international agreement is achieved. International agreement, in Europe certainly, is very much in its infancy, and the best thing for us to do is to go ahead with what is right as to our own environment and hope to show leadership by example.

Of course, this involves colossal sums of money. My noble friend Lord Merrivale, I think it was, also quoted Jeremy Swift (who is, incidentally, a good friend of mine) as saying that these sums of money would add both to industries' costs and to the financial burdens on the community; and Lord Hayter pointed out how, in the end, it was the ordinary citizen who was going to pick up the tab for environmental improvement. If I may make a quick suggestion, I would say that it seems to me that the ordinary citizen might well object to paying another tax indiscriminately to be dealt with as the Government in power thought fit, or as the Treasury thought fit; but if a tax was clearly and particularly ear-marked for something affecting us all, affecting the lives of our children—such as the environment—I do not think there would be so much objection.

There might also be little objection if it were seen that industry was picking up an equivalent piece of this tax without passing on the results to the consumer. I am not sufficiently an economist to know how this could be done, but I do have experience, again in America, living in Massachusetts, of old-age pensions being paid for largely out of a sales tax on all goods—and this did not in fact involve nearly as much administrative tangle as its opponents originally predicted. I would suggest that, so far as the environment is concerned, we could take the entire subject in one lump—rivers, atmosphere, auto-exhausts, whatever it may be —and charge a sales tax of, say, 2 per cent. on all goods, 1 per cent. being met directly by the public and another 1 per cent. being taken from industry itself in such a way—on directors' salaries or employees' salaries—that it would be clearly seen that industry could not pass the tax on to the consumer. A shared burden would then be seen to be effective—and we are all agreed as to the excellence of its ends.

Of course, when we start talking about taxation it involves politics, and the politics of pollution is too big a subject for me to go into at this late hour. All I would say is that we could borrow a trick, which was excellently used, I think, by the Institute of Contemporary Arts— the Gabriel Society of the Tate, I think it was—some years ago, when I took an interest in such things. That was that an individual was chosen and given large sums with which to buy pictures. His taste, his choice of pictures bought with the money he was given, was not questioned; but he was sacked automatically after five years. It seems to me that this extension of, if you like, the American Presidential system of giving a great deal of power for a limited period of time to one body or one authority is something that we might borrow in respect of this problem of pollution. The essential point here, of course, is continuity. You can-not deal with a problem which involves decades of work, as my noble friend Lord Nugent pointed out, if you are subject to the fluctuations of Party politics.

If I may close by making another reference, less to noble Lords on the Benches opposite than to my noble friends, Mr. Chataway said in the House of Commons yesterday, in the debate on a subject connected with this, to which I listened, that on the whole conservation was something that should not be too foreign to Conservatives. People are perhaps rightly supicious of the ways in which Mr. Nixon and perhaps the Prime Minister are using a bland, generalised appeal to good will about fragrant ether and the like, and clear water, as a political vote-getter. Nevertheless, if we apply our minds to precise policies about this whole environmental question in this European Conservation Year we Conservatives really have, I feel, something to offer the people.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome and heartily support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, demanding the purification of our polluted rivers. Pollution is a state of affairs which must be tackled by the authorities as it is now fast becoming such a danger and menace that it will affect our well-being and our very existence. Technology is not of nature but of man, and in my view is becoming the new god to which man seems inclined to relinquish his power of free will. The oil industry is a good example of what has been called the technological exponential. The great car assembly lines create aggregations of people, new towns, roads, services and recreational facilities. This is called by people "the expanding economy" and they feel pretty well about it. The gross national product looks better every year.

Let us turn to the other side of the picture. What about that? There are junk heaps of worn-out cars which could be dealt with as offensive sights; but pollution remains less obtrusive visually. It has been said, and I quote: Population and pollution are the two great problems of our age. Pollution is a function of population increase though it need not be so. Most pollution in our rivers and land comes from getting rid of waste at the least possible cost. It seems as if we are not prepared to pay the price of our technology, the cost of cleaning up after ourselves. The thousands of acres of dereliction in Britain are just the bare bones of our degradation: the more subtle effects of air and water pollution have never been presented in any national balance sheet, but they must be very bad indeed. I hold the view, and I hope that other noble Lords do so too, that escalating technology has produced many of the enveloping forms of pollution which could be turned the other way if we were willing to pay for it. When we say, "We have never had it so good", could we not see also that we have never had it so bad? So little of the so-called goods would need to be sacrificed to relieve some of the threats of envelopment by pollution of rivers and land.

My Lords, in conclusion I urge the Government to tackle this serious problem in Britain. As a world problem, pollution and population pressure are partners, spectral and sinister—which leaves one to ask the question whether they are going to shrink our lives to a condition of life in death. I sincerely hope that the Government will do all in their power to stop this frightening and ever-growing menace of pollution before it gets completely out of hand.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, Henry Williamson has described the birth of a river as the "faint cry of a river new born". It is from the birth of a river that a whole countryside is watered and brought to life. The river is a living organism which needs looking after from source to mouth. On the river where I live, the Tweed, the pollution position is not serious. We give a fair amount of water from our headwaters to Edinburgh Corporation who adopt an enlightened approach. The water is held up in reservoirs and is let down in such a way as to level out the peaks. This helps the flow at low summer levels when the river is kept reasonably clean and the danger to fish life is reduced. The reduction in the size of spates in winter is caused partly by this controlled flow and partly by reafforestation which slows up the run-off of rainwater. I think it is true to say that it is not necessarily the best thing for a river to reduce the big floods, because without them there is no real scouring out—and rivers need scouring out to get rid of those smelly holes and backwaters which mar the waterside.

The amount of compensation water which is to be poured down the river and the amount of water which is being taken from the upper reaches is managed by the various river and local authorities in such a way as to ensure that the river flow is of a reasonable standard and capable of providing for the needs of industry which is slowly but gradually increasing along the lines advocated in the development plan drawn up for the Borders by Professor Johnson-Marshall. It is safe to say that at present the river is cleaner than it was a few years ago. Trout flies now hatch out freely again, the oily substances discharged by certain mill systems are now reduced and it is many summers since we lost a lot of salmon through the lack of oxygen and since we suffered from the algae which made fly fishing so difficult. Except for some froth, the effects of detergents is pretty small. For all this we have to thank the River Tweed Purification Board, and also various local authorities as well as the Tweed Commission who manage the fisheries, for their good work.

My family has abstracted a good deal of water, added to it certain other substances and put it in bottles—whisky bottles; but a good deal of water is being used for other purposes by different kinds of industry on the Tweed to-day. With the future build up of industry and the days ahead of more intensive farming, with more plant, machinery, fertilisers and pesticides available to the farmers, there is going to be a real need for care about water abstraction. There is a need for legislation which will give some more positive control to purification boards. At present the Purification Board have a vague control; but when they receive notification of a new abstraction they can only say that the abstraction should be "so and so", and leave it at that. Any occupier of land with the Common Law right to abstract can abstract as much water as he wants.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out the need for good river management. On our river we have a twin management set-up. There is the authority for fisheries, the Tweed Commission (comprising representatives from both the salmon netting and the salmon rod proprietors), the local authorities and the trout angling associations; and, on the other hand, the Purification Board (comprising county councillors and individuals with river interests) appointed by the Secretary of Stats. In Scotland this system works very well and I hope that the Wheatley Report will not bring it to an end. In England, the responsibilities for managing the various functions of a river have been amalgamated, and this system too works very well. It can be said to be wrong to have divided responsibilities; and the English river authorities system is held up by many as the ideal way to run a river and to control pollution.

My Lords, I should like to put in a plea for the preservation of the Tweed Purification Board Tweed Commission set-up. Though I should avoid blowing a trumpet as a commissioner, there is merit in preserving the Tweed Commission because it is doing its job well and is working in satisfactory liaison with the Purification Board. There is a need for a specialist body to deal with the many urgent fishing problems to-day, when the salmon is a valuable asset which is coming under pressure; when intricate relationships between rod and net anglers and between trout and salmon anglers have to be considered, and when salmon disease problems have to have expert handling. We on the Tweed have a form of administration which lets the fisherman and the fishing expert get down to fishing problems in a way which might not happen if fisheries and purification were combined.

I understand that under the English river authority system in many cases the chemist who deals with pollution is also the fisheries officer; and as fishery representation is in a much less proportion than local authority representation, fishery problems are apt to get less specialist attention than under our system. Fisheries are such an important part of our Scottish economy that they deserve specialist treatment; that is to say, governing bodies concerned solely with fisheries and advised by competent specialists qualified in that field. I am not saying that English river authorities are not composed of professionally experienced members, which in fact they are; but rather that we should be allowed to retain our Tweed Commission and Purification Board system which has been so successful over the years in the task of reconciling all the river uses, as a salmon and trout river, and as a river for water extraction and for recreation.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said that there should be stronger legislation making it obligatory to have proper storage for poisons used by farmers and industrialists. At present I believe it is an offence to cause or permit the discharge of oil or poison or to upset bottles of pesticides left by the dipper, but fines are imposed only after the event. As an example of inadequate arrangements over the storage of poisonous substances, I would refer to an incident on our river at a gas liquor store when half an eggcup-ful leaked out by mistake and killed fish for almost a thousand yards. Again, a man turned the wrong tap in an oil storage plant and some 1,000 gallons of diesel oil went into the river. The diesel was comparatively harmless, but if this had been gas liquor it would have been a major disaster to fish life. As has already been pointed out, the disaster on the Rhine might well happen to us one day. At the present lime the purification board can take action only after a disaster and there is a need for legislation giving power to supervise storage arrangements to reduce the possibility of an accident to the lowest possible limit.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, also touched on the need for tightening controls over the design of tankers used for transportation of poisons by road. I believe that legislation is needed to ensure that tankers are of a strong enough structure not to leak or spill if involved in an accident. Glass carboys carrying poisons should not be carried in open wagons. Drivers should know what they are carrying, and in the event of an accident they should be authorised to inform local officials what they are carrying, so as to stop the road being washed clear into the drainage system. Farmers too should be prevented from cleaning out their spraying equipment and sheep dips without a soak-away.

One of the chief components of expanding Britain is the New Town or, as in the case of the Borders Development Plan, the new settlement. One of the qualities of the proposed Darnick scheme is that in it all the disciplines have been brought together and can go ahead with-out destruction to the river. However, there is always the danger that borderers who need industry will play down the cost of treatment of effluent. As we are a development area, new or expanding communities can be helped over the cost of sewage works on the grounds of increased housing and industry. I hope that they will be given reasonable priority when it comes to spending money in the form of grants. The adverse effects of sewage and of fertilisers on our river have been greater than those of pesticides and detergents, due to the build-up of nutrient values within the river which cause the growth of algae. Although these visible signs of the effects of sewage have been largely removed, thanks to the installation of purification plants by the Border burghs up and down the river, there are still signs at low level of latent pollution in the form of slightly smelly, greenish, cloudy water in which it is un-safe to bathe. Gone are the days of the silvery Tweed when children could bathe, and I think this is a pity in an area of natural beauty where amenity is one of our greatest assets.

My Lords, if we are to carry out out development programme, which will add about 25,000 to our population of 75,000 in the next ten years, and if we are to keep our rivers clean, we must see that the rivers are properly managed. I believe that in fact we could double our water usage by industry provided the river is properly managed. Finally, on the subject of amenity and recreation I would refer to one point in the Johnson-Marshall Plan which involves flooding an area of the Tweed Valley near Inner-leithet) for boating purposes. This project would, I think, be unpopular with fishermen in the Borders who are loath to monkey about with the upper reaches of a river. From the pollution point of view, once the loch reaches a balance it could do no harm and no doubt it would do good, in that there would be a build-up of flora and fauna which would help to purify the river. There is one snag, in that there is an overflow sewage pipe running near the river, and in times when this pipe was running full the sewage could get into the recreation area and spoil the fun of the boaters. I hope that the development department will look into this project before taking any steps to carry it out.

In general, my Lords, I believe that in this Tweed valley, which is an amenity area, we should think very carefully about conservation. Let us preserve the river, not alter it nor build along its banks, and let us keep it clean. Let us not despoil it for the sake of money. It is our heritage, and we must hand it on to our descendants to enjoy as we our-selves enjoy it.

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that I have found this debate quits fascinating. When I arrived this afternoon and found myself the last speaker on a very long list my inclination was to scratch my name off and go home about tea-lime, but I think I have heard the best part of every speech and out of every one of them something has emerged of considerable interest to me and, I am sure, to all the other Members of your Lordships' House who have been present. Indeed one could, I think, comment profitably on every one of the speeches which have been made, which would take up to about 9 o'clock. But I am not threatening your Lordships with doing anything of the sort.

One would expect a really valuable and interesting debate to follow from almost any Motion introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Molson. The grasp and width and obvious hard work he has put into his speech this afternoon I thought very compelling, and I join in the tributes which have beer paid to him. We are dealing with rivers, my Lords, and I think that there is no feature of cur natural habitat which appeals to the Englishman as much as rivers. There are beautiful rivers all over the country and I consider it significant that we have had more poetry quoted to us this after-noon than in any debate that I can remember. We had a poet in Jacobean times who was called the Water Poet, because his poetry centred round the River Thames.

My own interest in this problem goes back to a time when the river close to which I was brought up, the Kent, in Westmorland, which flows through some of the most beautiful scenery in England, was suddenly and heavily polluted by effluent from a local paper mill which killed all the salmon and trout in the river right down to the sea. This was a very long time ago. It was exactly similar to what happened on the Rhine recently though on a much smaller scale. Seeing all these beautiful fish floating in hundreds, belly upwards, on the water has never faded from my memory. The Kent may almost have been in Tennyson's mind, if I. too, may quote poetry, in what is not perhaps one of his finest poems, The Brook, in which he describes the flow of a stream right down to the sea. My own river might say: I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally, And sparkle out among the fern, To bicker down a valley. It was not for a long time after this holocaust of fish that I became closely interested in the problem of pollution when, I suppose some forty years ago now, I became interested in the work of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, one of the societies which my noble friend Lord Fiske was urging to get down to the job of dealing with pollution. I was glad that he described the magnificent Colne Valley scheme, with which the Greater London Council was so closely concerned when he was prominent in that greatest of our local authorities. I well remember that the C.P.R.E. gave a great deal of help with that scheme. I can assure my noble friend that ever since I had anything to do with the C.P.R.E. the problem of the pollution of our rivers has always been very much in its thoughts and on its agendas. Numerous cases have been brought to our Committee and I have joined with my colleagues in their efforts to bring these dangers to our rivers to the attention of the public, because we are an organisation which tries to keep the public alive to the pollution of the countryside and also to persuade the Government to do something about it.

Persuading Governments, an occupation in which I have been engaged for a long time, is a terrible job, whether we are dealing with social evils such as kerb-crawling, about which, as some of your Lordships know, I have been very un-successful for several years, or with problems of health and beauty. It is difficult to get the Government to move, except to give promises—I will not say specious promises, but attractive promises, which seldom are completely implemented except possibly in the very long run. And as Keynes said years ago: in the long run we shall all be dead. I know from experience how difficult it is to get reforms put into practice. They are Always resisted and there are always very good reasons. A large number of the same sort were produced yesterday afternoon, if your Lordships will permit me to say so. Yet, when a reform is eventually carried out, it is accepted by everybody and nobody ever seems to realise how great was the resistance to it.

An analogous case was the problem of dealing with advertisements on the road-sides, in which I was interested for a long time. Suddenly we got what we wanted and the countryside of England is now practically free from objection-able advertisements. It is difficult to carry one's mind back to when it was littered with them, but if one goes to the United States or to Italy or to some other Continental countries for a motor tour, one's mind will go back to what ii was like in England. I suggest that it would be a good contribution to the 1970 Year if we could persuade some of our Continental friends to introduce similar legislation about advertisements.

To-day we are concerned with a different matter, though it is the same type of fighting for amenities. To the C.P.R.E., whose object all the time is the real beauty of the countryside, the problem of pollution is one of the greatest difficulty. The Council is a voluntary body, with a small staff and a little office in London, and it is far more difficult for us to cope with complaints from all over the country where in many parts pollution is prevalent so that there are thousands of examples, than with a large project like an overhead electric line or water reservoir. To deal with all the different cases of pollution which are reported to us from all over the country is an extra-ordinarily difficult problem. When the Act of 1951 was put on the Statute Book, we thought that here was something which would enable the authorities locally to get to work. Actually it was not long before we realised that it was not a very good Act. It did not give the powers needed and did not provide the machinery for handling the situation. The Act of 1961 went a stage further, but that Act is still far from what we really need.

I agree that a great number of people would help, especially if approached in the way that was indicated by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, whose speech I thought was one of the most interesting and valuable that we have had this after-noon. I am entirely in favour of his method of what I would call the gentle approach. In a large number of cases it works. In the Thames Valley, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, described, this kind of outlook has been established over a long time, it works pretty well, but I wish that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, would go up North and look at some of the big rivers, like the Trent. It is not just a question of industrial effluent going into sewage works; it is poured straight into the Trent, and some parts of that river are worse than the Thames could ever have been.

The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, mentioned the Trent and Irwell. I appreciate what he said. Yet not so long ago I knew an old gentleman, a well-known Member of another place, who came from those parts and who assured me that as a boy he had fished in the Irwell. It was a very different river in the 1860s from what it is to-day. While it may well be that the powers on the Thames are sufficient, I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in believing that the powers that exist for dealing with the problem all over the country are sufficient. I do not think that without much stronger legislation you can deal with the position on the Trent and the other great rivers into which these poisons are poured day after day.

I felt great sympathy also with the point made and rubbed in by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, that we cannot wait for a very long time. The situation grows worse. The bad rivers certainly are not improving, and there is a danger all the time that the good rivers will soon be taken with the virus. There is the movement of light industry into the country, where it tends to establish itself alongside or near rivers. Light industry does not, on the whole, produce the same heights of vicious poisoning as the heavier industries, but it all adds up, and all the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, pointed out in his interesting speech, all sorts of new types of pollution are being brought in. Hardly a year goes by without several new deter-gents, chemicals or other materials being introduced into industry, where they have great use, and each one should have attention paid to it. Unfortunately, attention is not paid to them until some concrete evil arises and people begin to get poisoned, or something like that happens: then there is a hullabaloo, a committee of inquiry is set up, and an attempt is made to deal with the situation.

The price of purity in our rivers is constant vigilance, and this must be borne in mind. I think the debate that we have had this afternoon has produced many new ideas and drawn attention to many interesting and important facts which cannot fail to be of great value to the Royal Commission which the Government are proposing to set up. I hope— and this was underlined by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne—that they will go ahead quickly with this, because time is not: on our side. We must get on with the job, because otherwise our good rivers will be getting polluted and our bad rivers will become even more seriously polluted.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, because his name was not last on the list: mine sneaked in just after him. However, I promise not to keep your Lordships long. One advantage of being at the end of the list of speakers is that you can cross out things that you might have said if other noble Lords had not already said them. I think 1 can produce only one new idea. I was going to declare an interest—and I will still do so—in that I am part owner of a partially polluted river which runs into the North Sea a few miles south of Aberdeen. I feel that in a debate of this sort the best contribution is to look at what happens at one's own doorstep and speak about that: and this is what I propose to do. The noble Earl, Lord Haig, has this evening taken us down the Tweed. I was going to take your Lordships down the Bervie, but I will not do so, even though it is a much shorter river than the Tweed.

The point that I was going to make about the Bervie, which is also partly true of the Tweed, is that about 80 per cent. of its watershed is agricultural land, and most of it is intensively farmed. The remaining 20 per cent. is forestry land. The agricultural industry in the arable areas has had to take a number of actions to assist in reducing pollution. I have already heard in the case of sheep-dip, for instance, that the sheep-dip as it is now, without the more harmful pesticides, is not so good as it was, since it is not as quick acting, which means that the farmer has to dip twice or to dip more thoroughly. This involves more cost to the farmer in labour and materials.

In the case of silage effluent, which is a scourge on most of us, this can be prevented from being harmful by putting a lid on the silage pit from which the effluent is removed before it gets down to the river. This creates more cost to the farmer. In our area the farmers are doing their best to intensify, and this means the introduction of new crops, such as peas and beans, which are new to our district and which require insecticides and pesticides to deal with them. I have seen a tractor driver washing out his spray container in our river. This is to be deplored. It means more super-vision and care by the farmer, and more cost to him. Yesterday morning I thought I would contemplate the river and ponder on some of the remarks I might make this evening, but I spent an hour or so taking 40 fertiliser bags out of 800 yards of river. After our last flood these have become a form of pollution and they cause all kinds of obstruction. Again, the farmer has to take trouble to get rid of these instead of throwing them into the river.

Of the two points that I want to make, one relates to the local authority. Our river is about to endure its fifth local authority tip. It so happens that the geology of our countryside produces steep dens coming down to the river, cutting through the old red sandstone. The arable land runs to the edge of these denes, and they are ideal as unofficial tips for every kind of agricultural and other refuse. They have also been used by the local authority as rubbish tips. The first point I want to make, therefore, is that the whole business of pollution and rubbish collection and disposal cannot remain a small one, handled by a small authority. Unfortunately, this authority of ours did not take up the chance of forming a river purification board, and we are one of the small areas in Scotland not covered by a river purification board. I think that this was small thinking. It was a regrettable action, and I hope that this sort of debate and the thinking that is coming into European Conservation Year will create through-out the whole of Britain a realisation that the handling of pollution is not a matter for small thinking: we must do it in a big way.

The other point I want to make comes back again to the question of the agricultural land on either side of at any rate our river, and probably of many others. The noble Lord, Lord Fiske, made the point that one cannot divorce the land from the river when it comes to management. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcornb, remarked about the industrialisation of agriculture and the possible dangers of pollution from this. Our river has for many centuries been generally used to provide domestic or agricultural water supplies. This is largely a thing of the past. It will continue to be an agricultural drain. I think it will have an increasing use as a fishery, which has been of slight importance in the past. My experience is that the interest in the fishing permits that I am able to give has increased 200 per cent. in the last three years. But if I were intending to put money into the improvement of a fishery, and particularly a fishery for trout, salmon or sea trout, I must confess that I would not do this on the East coast of Scotland or on any river that has intensive agriculture practised alongside it. I think that the West or North of Scotland is the place for that.

I am not as happy as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is about the problem of eutrophication, which I think is with us in Scotland. I believe that one of the largest inland loch fisheries is already affected by it, and I think we shall find this is happening on our East coast rivers as well. I should not look upon this as a question of pollution, but as a matter of change. I do not think we should, in a sense—if that has come out of this debate at all—condemn intensive agriculture for a change in the constituents of the water which it might create.

I come back to agriculture, and to the point of how far the agriculturist can contribute to the reduction of pollution. At each point where he is encouraged by purification boards or any other authority, it means that he has to dip into earnings after tax. In this European Conservation Year, one of the best boosts that could be given to conservation in the countryside, where, as I have said, 80 per cent. of it is covered by the farmer and landowner, would be to give that man the encouragement he needs to continue to bear this responsibility which he has willingly carried for so long. This is probably an unfair point to put to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, but just now I think that this is a possibility that can be realised— a better return for what the agriculturist is doing to cure, or at least to alleviate, pollution.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, with other noble Lords who have spoken to-day, I should like to add my own gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for having put down his most important Motion. At this stage in the debate, and after two excellent speeches by my noble friends on either side of me, and some admirable speeches from noble Lords behind me—and even, I admit, in front of me—there is little more to be said to underline the significance of your Lordships' concern about the river situation in Britain. I should, however, at the outset like to associate myself with what my noble friends have said about the Ministry of Housing and Local Government's offending circular. It seems to me quite clear, from what several of your Lordships have said, that water supply cannot be divorced from pollution control. And deferment of this problem is out of the question.

I regret in some ways—and I do not think anyone else has said this—that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, did not en-large his Motion to include pollution of all kinds, because I feel that the dangers from air pollution are equal and perhaps more serious than the pollution of our rivers. I think not only of toxic fumes of motor vehicles and aircraft, but also of the radiation hazards from nuclear fall-out, to which reference was made at Question Time earlier to-day. In our constant aim for economic survival, it is I think a sad reflection upon all the advanced nations on earth that we have only in comparatively recent years become aware that our quest for scientific betterment may indeed be endangering our very survival and that, through pollution of the whole of our environment, we are upsetting the very balance of nature itself. I understand that some doctors and scientists now wonder whether the considerable increase in the incidence of cancer among young children may not be connected with the build-up of strontium in the atmosphere.

However, I will not be tempted to discuss these other dangerous forms of pollution, but will confine myself to rivers. We in Britain were one of the first countries to introduce comprehensive legislation, as most of your Lordships know, covering all aspects of this problem and it can be reasonably claimed that control here is closer than in any other country. Nevertheless, our debate has clearly shown that there are weak-nesses in our arrangements. And because of the enormous increase in our population, the problems grow larger while the interim measures become sometimes inadequate, and the eventual solutions become more difficult and remote.

As other noble Lords have said, one of the greatest problems is the need for the repeated re-use of water, and its eventual almost complete deoxygenisation. We have examples throughout the country of our rivers flowing with nothing but turgid, dead water; rivers in which neither fish, plants nor insects can live. One of the main contributors to this situation is the obsolescence of much of our sewage plant which is, I understand, inadequate to deal with the quantity of daily effluence. I understand that there is also a shortage of qualified engineers to administer the sewage disposal stations. In a remarkable paperback, Pesticides and Pollution and in his more recent article in The Times—more balanced, I think, than Rachel Carson's classic work, Silent Spring—Dr. Kenneth Mellanby, the Director of the Monks Wood Experimental Station, points out that ideally sewage should be returned to the land as fertiliser. Indeed, if all the salts which we pour down the drains, and eventually into the sea, could be recovered, they might well replace the greater part of our imports of chemical fertilisers, and replace them in a more desirable form.

Pollution of water by industrial wastes and new chemical fertilisers used by farmers is also, though perhaps to a lesser extent, a cause for concern. The latter often leads to the build-up of nitrates and phosphates which are washed into our rivers and streams. This leads to excessive eutrophication. Eutrophication is now the"in"word. It was used by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and, I am glad to say, by my noble friend Lord Arbuthnott, and I understand it to mean the enrichment of the water with plants or algæ. Natural eutrophication may be all right. It is only when it becomes excessive that it results, among other things, in a dangerous degree of deoxygenisation. And this is a danger not only to the water and its fish life, but to man himself. The danger is that when nitrate is taken into the intestines—particularly of young children—it can be converted by bacteria to nitrite. This is poisonous, and can cause asphyxiation—that is to say, what we commonly call the"blue baby" disease.


My Lords, before the noble Earl goes any further, I am sure he will readily agree that no cases of this have been known in this country. What he is saying will stand on the Record.


If the noble Lord can tell me that no cases have occurred, I shall be most grateful. Can he give us that assurance?


I can assure the noble Earl that I have heard of none, and I believe the article from which he is quoting refers to the United States.


My Lords, the noble Lord may well be correct. I hope that there have been none in this country, and that there will be none. I do not intend to dwell on the problems; they have been ably dealt with by previous speakers. But I should like to reemphasise that if you overload a river, lake or reservoir with treated sewage, you get this massive plant or algae growth. As some of your Lordships may have seen in that remarkable Thames Television documentary last week called"And on the Eighth Day", Grafton Water in Huntingdonshire is covered with algae which extends to within six yards of the shore. And reservoirs in Newcastle. Aberystwyth, Abingdon, Bristol and Kings Hall all have periodic algae blooms. When the algae die they rot and the river is excessively enriched with exactly the same kind of organic waste that was treated in the sewage works in the first place. So here we have a vicious circle. Our best sewage treatment technology turns out, therefore, in a sense, to be a signal failure by achieving exactly what it set out to do.

As Dr. Mellanby points out, the sew-age which has been treated—what he describes as"clean sewage effluent"— can have a more rapid and, in some ways, more undesirable effect on the vegetation than the same amount of untreated sewage. I was interested to read in the New Scientist of November 6 last year that the Swedes (I do not think anyone has mentioned this) at their Institute of Physiological Botany at Uppsala have discovered a virus which attacks algae of the anabaena strain and that this discovery has applied value, since it can kill the bloom on ponds or reservoirs. I do not know whether the noble Lord can tell me whether we are taking advantage of this Swedish discovery in this country, or whether any similar research is going on here.

As I said earlier, we were one of the first and are certainly one of the most advanced countries dealing with this problem, which is of course world wide. Only last Friday, as we heard. President Nixon appointed Mr. Russell Train to head a top-level group of prominent conservationists to clean up the environment. And deeply concerned as his and other departments must be in these problems, I wonder whether it is not almost asking too much of the Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning to include this vast and vital problem in his responsibilities. Of course, he is bound to be concerned, but efficient though the noble Lord's right honourable friend undoubtedly is, and as the noble Lord is too, Mr. Crosland has many other things to do, and I wonder, speaking personally, whether what we need is not one man to co-ordinate the efforts being made to control pollution. On our own side, my right honourable friend Mr. Heath has done the right thing in making this subject the sole concern of Mr. Christopher Chataway, whose speech in another place yesterday on air pollution we must all have read with close attention.

As usual, one of the principal handicaps preventing rapid progress in the field is the shortage of funds for research and for the urgently needed new plant and machinery. The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, mentioned some of them. I was very much interested to read the long list of firms and consulting engineers in the booklet on water pollution control engineering of which Dr. Downing of the Water Pollution Research Laboratory was the consulting editor. In addition to the firms mentioned there, I am much impressed, as are some of my friends in the research establishments concerned, by what is being done by the Purle Organisation. This group is a success in my view because, on the one hand, it applies scientific principles to the collection, handling and disposal of pollutant materials, and, on the other, has shown industry that safe handling of such material saves a great deal of trouble and money. At a time when there is a certain amount of"knocking"of Britain, it is good to mention these achievements. My noble friend Lord Nugent mentioned others connected with the Atomic Energy Authority.

This organisation, Purle, has shown, too, that it can reverse the brain-drain; that its techniques and know-how are sought all over the world. It has a number of subsidiaries in the United States, South Africa and Australia, and has been approached by industry in France, Spain, Italy and Japan. I should add that I myself have no connection whatever with the group. I see that their plant in the United States is capable of neutralising or incinerating pollutants at the rate of 250,000 gallons a day, and that some 70 million dollars is to be spent over the next three years on some twenty similar plants. All this is tremendously impressive.

However, since finance is as difficult to obtain as is the solution to the problem itself—and I must say that, taking the Water Pollution Research Laboratory alone, the predicted sum of £368,000 expenditure during 1963–69 is not an enormous figure—could not the Government consider imposing fines on municipal authorities who offend against the common interest by river pollution? —and we know that certain firms have already been fined. And could not the money raised by the fines be added to the research grants? A great deal of money is required. The Congress of the United States saw fit to appropriate no less than 800 million dollars in their current budget for the purpose of cleaning up their country's rivers, and President Nixon gave formal recognition of it in his State of the Union message last month as a major political issue.

From what we heard in another place yesterday, and have heard in your Lordships' House today, I cannot help feeling (this is a purely personal view) that, despite the leading article in yesterday's Times, if things got worse this whole question of pollution could well become an Election issue here as well as in the United States. A most intelligent speech by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie—particularly his remarks about Lake Erie— made me feel this perhaps even more strongly. As some of your Lordships know, I am constantly advocating that we develop an adventurous spirit in regard to scientific achievements, for surely only in this way can we progress. Now I am advocating an expensive and equally challenging onslaught on pollution, not to ensure our progress but this time to ensure our very survival itself. Perhaps it does not trouble some people that our noble River Thames is nothing more than a common sewer and that the water flowing past your Lordships' House at this very moment has been extracted, used, and reused five times before it reaches us; but it does trouble us here and has troubled your Lordships in this debate. It worried the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in particular.

Incidentally, we have our own famous river in Sussex—the noble Viscount, Lord Arbuthnott, spoke about his famous river and I should like to mention ours in Sussex. It is the River Arun, which flows through the land we know, and this river is still, as your Lordships may have seen in a letter in the Sunday Times only last Sunday, the recipient of raw sewage discharged into its formerly unpolluted waters. What is to be done in the case of these very small boroughs which cannot on their own afford to acquire a modern sewage disposal plant? I gather that in this particular case no Government assistance has so far been forthcoming. Water can no longer be treated as a cheap and plentiful commodity. It is now a precious raw material. There must be an adequate supply and we must use it sensibly. It is surely the duty of us all to insist that pollution abuses be reduced to the minimum.

Mr. Crossman, when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, stated in Brighton, on June 27, 1966—and his speech was quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, in your Lordships' House on April 26, 1967—that he could "see no case for spending vast sums on treatment inland"of sewage. Yet this same Minister is now in charge of our social services. Can it be that the health and welfare of our people is not balanced against the purity of the water they drink, the air they breathe or the food they eat? I hope his medical officials have briefed him differently by now. Where is the sense in spending vast sums on the Health Service to provide cures for people who have been made ill possibly by pollution which we are ourselves creating? It is one thing to cure the disease, but surely it is wiser medication to prevent it from "developing in the first place. Why else do we vaccinate children and animals?

Before concluding. I should like to pay a tribute to all the local authorities and the river and sewerage authorities who are trying to tackle these immensely difficult problems; to the Water Resources Board; the Water Research Association; the Filtration Society, which I happen to know well; to the work of the C.B.I., and to those firms who have designed equipment; as well as to our own research laboratories, the Water Pollution Re-search Laboratory at Stevenage (which I have already mentioned), the Experimental Station at Monks Wood, the textile research associations, which are doing good work too; and even our Hydraulics Research Station at Walling-ford which I visited on Monday and which in addition to research on the proposed Thames barrage had. I found, done excellent work in designing different types of booms to prevent oil pollution of our estuaries. This is river pollution, and it is a point which has not been made so far in the debate. This form of river pollution should not be forgotten. I understand that their conclusion at Walling-ford is that booms are not effective in the larger estuaries but that they are at the entrances to smaller rivers and inlets. I gather that all local authorities concerned have now been circularised with this information. At least they will now know which are the best types of booms to use in given cases.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is taking these matters seriously. I read his green pamphlet Controlling our Environment which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. I was rather interested to see the date printed inside this booklet. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has noticed it. It is dated November, 1669! I know that this is an old and historic problem, but I think this pamphlet was in fact published a little more recently than that. I was glad to read it, and I am glad to see that the noble Lord is taking a strong line in advocating the tightening of pollution laws.

Let me just say this: despite what we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Haig, in a most interesting speech, and from the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, my conclusion from what we have heard from other speakers in the debate is that on the whole it seems that existing legislation, if properly implemented, should be adequate, but that what is needed is more funds. In my opinion the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did the right thing in banning cyclamates. We have to watch these things very carefully, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will continue to do so. If things got worse, or if there was any slackening of efforts or further serious incidents or disasters such as the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, mentioned, there would certainly be further public outcry.

We have Mrs. Lena Jeger's Committee, we have the Central Advisory Committee, as well as, in the future, the new Royal Commission, to say nothing of the many other organisations, some of which have been mentioned to-day. We have all the reports mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and all the surveys which have been or are being made. All well and good. But what is required in this age of white-hot techno-logical revolution is not so much further discussion but action now by the present competent authorities. There is some urgency, as both my noble friend Lord Lansdowne and the noble Lord, Lord de Ramsey, said. There is urgency.

I end with a cautionary verse by William Juniper, written some years ago: And if from man's vile arts I flee And drink the water at the pump I gulp down infusoria, And quarts of raw bacteria, And hideous rotatoria, And wriggling polyastricae, And slimy diotomaceae, And various animalculae, Of middle, high and low degree. My Lords, let us act now, and on a European and international scale. If we are to survive we must control our environment.

8.45 p.m.


My Lords, I will speak as shortly as possible, but many points have been made on which I think I should touch. I should like to take the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, first, because his speech was clearly a run-up in the Tory plank on pollution in the Election. I was delighted to hear him. The Thames Television programme, from which he took a great deal of his ammunition, can in one respect be judged from the fact that throughout it called the reservoir in Huntingdon"Grafton Water ", instead of"Grafham Water "— indeed the noble Earl also called it "Grafton Water" instead of "Grafham Water ". The programme was a notable one in respect of the contributions of Professor Mellanby and Dr. Connover. For the rest, no one could have gained the faintest inkling from it that there was now or had ever been anybody who was attempting to rectify environmental pollution in this country or in any other. It was almost wholly a scare programme, and I took the greatest pleasure in discussing it the next night on Thames Television and in making this point.

The noble Earl referred to the River Thames—not the company, but the River —as a"common sewer ". I do not know what his noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford thinks of that. I do not know what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, thinks of that. I do not know whether the noble Earl heard their speeches or whether he entirely dismisses the true claims which have been made for the degree of purification which has come about in this river in the last few years.


My Lords, I recognise of course that great efforts have been made, and there is a great improvement; but still the Thames has sometimes been described in these terms, as has any other river.


My Lords, I think that on this side of the House we all welcome the appointment of Christopher Chataway in the House of Commons to be solely concerned with this matter. He is a fine speaker, a fine Parliamentarian. I enjoyed listening to his speech last night, and I hope that the noble Earl enjoyed hearing him completely blown off course by my honourable friend the Minister of State and my right honourable friend the Paymaster General later on. It was a very good debate. I welcome his appointment because I think it: probably does take three members in that House to mark: Mr. Crosland. It is a good idea that Christopher Chataway should be doing environment solely, and perhaps the noble Earl can tell us which other Front Bench Members in the House of Commons are marking the other subjects at present entrusted to the Secretary of State.

The noble Earl made the suggestion that we should fine local authorities for not improving the standards required and that, instead of those fines being paid into the Exchequer, they should be kept in a special account which would then be devoted to research. That is an interesting departure from the normal fiscal principles and I shall watch its progress in the Election campaign with the greatest interest. On the American programme, the noble Earl quoted the fact that Congress has voted 800 million dollers to clean up rivers. I do not know whether he can tell the House for how many years that is, or whether he would be prepared to make any calculation that would make dollars comparable; with pounds and make the American population comparable to the British population. If that were possible, one would get the true measure of the comparison which the noble: Earl was seeking to make.

The noble Earl quoted my right honourable friend the present Secretary of State for Social Services as having said in Brighton that there was no need to spend large sums of money on inland sewage treatment for coastal towns and resorts, and the noble Earl expressed the hope that in his present Office the medical people had briefed the Secretary of State differently, because it was better to avoid disease than to have to cure it. From this I took the implication that the noble Earl believed there was disease caused in those places where sewage was at present discharged, without chemical or biological treatment, into the sea. If he was making that implication I must immediately and definitely reject it on the basis of published professional advice to the Government over many years— advice which was received by the Government when the Conservative Party were in office. It has not changed and my right honourable friend has not been differently advised where he is now. There is no health risk from this practice. I think I need not labour the point.

There is just one more thing I should like to say about what the noble Earl has called the"offending circular ". He did not say in what way it offended: perhaps it was the fact that it was seeking to restrict Government expenditure at a time of economic difficulty—I do not know. This was about the phrase"unusually stringent or not". It was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and I should have referred to it earlier but it escaped my memory. The Minister told river authorities that they must ex-plain to industrial dischargers why they were setting a standard, whether that standard was unusually stringent or not. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, seemed to interpret this as a hint that they should not even set normally stringent standards. That of course is not the point at all. The purpose of this admonition to the river authorities was to get them to educate industrial dischargers—and really some of them need it. It was to get them to cease the practice, which I do not think is very widespread, but some of the river authorities have been doing it, of saying,"We say you must do this and we are not bound to explain why you have to do it". It was simply to put an end to that and to encourage the river authorities to say,"We think you have got to do this, and here is the reason ", and give an explanation of it to dischargers who are expected to spend money and do something. There was no bias in it—Lord Molson's word was"bias ". It was not a policy of bias; it was a policy of explanation.

The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, asked whether the Government had considered paying grants to local authorities and to industry. The Government pay grants to local authorities for this function as for virtually every other function that local authorities undertake. Grants to industry are another matter. A couple of years ago the C.B.I. came to see my right honourable friend and me about this subject and discussed it in a rather general way—grants or tax remissions. We said, "Can you think it out a bit further and bring evidence of what happens abroad?". They went away and I have not heard any more; but people know that I am always there at any time.

On the question of international arrangements in Europe, which the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, also raised for the purpose of seeing that no country gets an advantage in the coming fight against pollution, which is an international one, I very much take his point. It is some-thing that I shall have uppermost in my mind when we go to Strasbourg next week. There is going to be no negotiation in Strasbourg then, or, I think, for a year or two to come; but if the C.B.I. would like to have contact with the Government on the matter I am very much at their disposition. The noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, is no longer with us. The House was most interested, and I personally was, in Lord Simon's authoritative account of how the work is done in one case, and in Lord Douglas of Barloch's technical points, about which I will write to him, because they were technical.

I turn to Lord Lansdowne's series of questions. With regard to the date of publication of the pollution survey, I have no more to say than I said in my opening speech. He asked whether there is a minimum standard for effluents. That is not how it works. River authorities set up a standard which they think will be tolerable in a given river at a given point, so the concept of an absolute minimum does not apply. On this point I think I am addressing the noble Lord, Lord Molson, too.

On the question of the Royal Commission's standard as a universal minimum, I am not sure that it is any longer valid. If there is a place where you have a very small factory which wants to discharge a small amount of filthy effluent into a very large river with absolutely pure water, that will not do much harm. On the other hand, if it is an enormous factory wanting to discharge a vast quantity of only slightly polluted effluent into a rather small river which is already pretty filthy, that ought to be prevented. The standard has to be set according to the place concerned and what it is desired to do. On the question of legislation and a reduced number of river authorities, this is something very much in the minds of the Central Advisory Water Committee which, as I explained, is examining the structure of the industry.

With regard to the responsibility of the Coal Board about drainage from disused mines, I speak here in honest ignorance. I am not sure to what extent it is a significant problem, but if it is something that the river authorities themselves think they cannot handle under their present powers I shall be very ready to take it into account, and if the River Authorities' Association can tell me about it we will see what the position is and what ought to be done.

The question was raised of pre-1960 estuarial discharges still uncontrolled. It is pre-1951 discharges which are not under control unless a tidal waters order has been made in respect of the estuary in question. Fourteen such orders have been made but they do not cover any of the major polluted estuaries. This is, I believe, one of the matters which the Jeger Committee has under consideration.

Lastly, on the question of the Standing Royal Commission, as the House knows Her Majesty has agreed to appoint, on the advice of the Government, the first Standing Royal Commission to have been appointed during the life of the present Government on the protection of the environment. The Chairman and members will be announced shortly. It will not have representative members; they will be there as persons of experience. I think that answers the noble Marquess's questions.


My Lords, there was one other question on the protection of sea fisheries in Scotland. I understand from the noble Lord's own little book that the sea fisheries in Scotland cannot at the moment be protected. Do Her Majesty's Government intend to supply the protection?


My Lords, if the noble Marquess wishes me to confirm the truth of what is in my own book, I do so. With regard to whether the Government have any intention, that is one of a number of things we are looking at. It is a matter of priority, in money and legislative time. We shall be awaiting the advice of the Royal Commission in this field.

I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Fiske. Listening to his account of the Lee Valley Regional Park, I thought to myself, as I am sure everyone else did, that when that is there it will be a sight to show the world, an historic achievement indeed. What the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said about the bandwagon impressed me very much. I think there is a slight danger of public opinion running away with this. I must say that ever since I first spoke about the inseparability of the various aspects of the environment as regards Government control in this House in July, 1968, I have been thinking that we have to get public opinion going on this. We have now done so, and for me personally it is a very welcome experience to think that perhaps it is time to put the brakes on rather than having to crank it up, which I think many of us felt we were having to do in recent months.


My Lords, I raised the question whether any effort is being made to draw the attention of children to the importance of environment protection.


Yes, my Lords. I think the noble Lord, Lord Molson, may know more about this than I do. There is an organisation or group within the voluntary sector concerned with this. Mr Jack Longland, an educator and communicator if ever there was one, is concerned with it. He is coming to Strasbourg and I hope to follow the matter up with him in that pleasant place.

Lord Gowrie also put forward the interesting idea that there should be un-limited power in this matter on the lines of the Tate Gallery buying policy, given for a period of live years to one man, after which he should be unquestioningly and instantly dismissed and another one put in his place, again unlimited power to follow his own taste in priorities. I would ask the noble Earl what he thinks a Secretary of Slate is, if not that.

The noble Earl, Lord Haig, and the noble Viscount, Lord Arbuthnott, gave interesting accounts of their own rivers: I was enthralled, as I am sure were all noble Lords. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount knows about the eutrophication research going on at Loch Leven, which may be of interest to his river. I was appalled to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Haig (I am sorry he is not here) that there are in the world lorry drivers who are not allowed by their companies to tell the police what they are carrying, if there is an accident and the load spills. If that is true, it seems to me scandalous, and I will look into it. I hope it is not true. I will communicate with the noble Earl about that.

Many other valuable points were made, and they will be studied and taken into account. The debate has shown, as we all knew it would, that there is a general feeling that we must get on with this work. The Government intend to get on with it. I have spoken a great deal about the financial difficulty. We are in a good position in this country as compared with others: things are not getting worse, and in many ways they are getting better. What is changing is public demand for a marked improvement. The Government endorse that public demand, and I believe have led it to a certain extent. We shall get the improvement. It will be slow, it will be extremely expensive; but it will be done.

9.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my deep gratitude to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I think it has been extra-ordinarily informative and interesting and has provided an opportunity for valuable exploration. I was surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary complained that I had declined his request to postpone this debate until some time in the summer. I should have thought it most valuable that we should have a debate of this kind in this House. The very fact that public opinion is so deeply stirred upon the matter makes it particularly appropriate that we should have an opportunity of this kind.

I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary has done himself justice. He has made two speeches of extreme interest and value. He complained about the scare propaganda on television last week. I should think that he would have welcomed an opportunity to reply to it to-day. I think he has done so; and in my view extremely successfully. We are deeply grateful to him for the two speeches that he has made. We are glad to know of the forward-looking views of the Government upon this problem. Regardless of Party—and Party considerations have come into this other-wise detached debate for perhaps only five minutes—I am sure that we all wish him and his colleagues a most successful visit next week to Strasbourg. We are confident that they will show that Britain is prepared to play her full part in European Conservation Year. I ask your Lordships' permission to with-draw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.