HL Deb 23 March 1972 vol 329 cc890-912

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It has two purposes. The first is to deter people by penalties from depositing poisonous and polluting wastes in circumstances in which they can subject persons or animals to material risk of injury or so as to threaten water supply, and secondly it is to give local authorities and river authorities information about the nature and quantities of wastes being deposited in their areas, through a system of notification. As we have seen recently, there is an urgent need for stronger measures of control to deal with the growing quantities of industrial wastes that there are for disposal. But that is not to say that there should be a total ban on the disposal of these wastes to land in all circumstances—and I should like to emphasise that sentence. Industry must be able to dispose of As waste and, in doing so, should not be forced to adopt complex practices which may not be necessary and which might be prohibitively expensive.

Though the irresponsible dumping of wastes containing cyanide is a proper cause for concern, that is not to say that all the disposal to tips of wastes containing cyanide which have taken place in the past need be regarded as giving rise to an environmental hazard. In fact, I am advised that refuse tips do have some capacity for rendering cyanide wastes less harmful, and where these have been buried in tips for a long period they are likely to have become changed in nature and relatively harmless so far as underground water is concerned. This is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, raised with me in a Question the other day, and upon which I could go further if he were here to ask me to do so. What is important is that disposal to land takes place under conditions that have regard to the best and latest advice available to us. Sites must be carefully chosen and, if necessary, specially prepared.

The Technical Committee on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Waste devoted a chapter of their report to the operation of tips receiving toxic wastes to reduce pollution from them. The Technical Committee certainly did not conclude that all such tipping should be discontinued. Indeed, they thought that such a policy would be quite impracticable to operate, at least in the foreseeable future, because other methods of disposal for all wastes which could be toxic or polluting just could not be provided on the scale that would be required. But disposal to land is not necessarily the best possible means of disposal. Industry itself needs to look to the possibilities of alternative methods of treatment, particularly for cyanide wastes.

It is not the purpose of the Bill to stop the legitimate activities of those who carry out the essential task of disposing of industrial wastes, provided that disposal does not involve the use of unsatisfactory sites or methods and that it is undertaken with full regard to the health and welfare of society at large. It is certainly not too much to ask that where wastes are being systematically and regularly deposited on land, the site should be subject to supervision and that all the recommended procedures for the carrying out of tipping operations should be observed, especially those relating to the covering of tipped material at the end of each working day. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment spelled this out in a circular which he issued in April, 1971.

For the future, it is certainly hoped that no producer of chemical waste will allow that waste to leave his premises without satisfying himself that it is being disposed of properly and that no environmental hazard is being created. Those who do not measure up to these standards will find themselves faced with local authorities who are better informed about their activities and who have effective powers of intervention and a greater readiness to invoke them when needed. There are already powers to prosecute those who pollute rivers or water sup- plies, but the Bill stops up some loopholes and provides for higher penalties. It is those who are tipping in circumstances which show no regard for the public interest who have anything to fear from the Bill.

This Bill is an interim measure and does not provide the full control which could be achieved by more comprehensive legislation on waste disposal, and I commend the Bill as one to be considered in that light. It does not achieve all that one might regard as necessary, not least because it has to be recognised that not all local authorities as at present organised and staffed are in a position to exercise the degree of control which is necessary in the long run. Indeed, in this period before local government reorganisation comes fully into force, the notification procedure and the need for investigation of the operation of individual tips will put some local authorities under a good deal of pressure.

I will not attempt a detailed explanation of all the provisions in the Bill. Essentially it falls into two parts. First there are the new offences and the new heavier penalties for those convicted of committing the new offence. Clause 1 creates the new offence. That is the deposit of poisonous waste in such circumstances, in such a manner, or in such quantities as to give rise to an environmental hazard. A environmental hazard arises if the deposit of waste subjects persons or animals to material risk of death, injury, or impairment of health, or threatens the pollution or contamination of any water supply. Subsection (5) of Clause 1 provides the penalties: on summary conviction a fine of up to £400 and up to six months' imprisonment, or both; and on conviction on indictment—and here the new arrangements for Crown Courts will be important—up to five years' imprisonment or a fine, without limit, or both. One of the criticisms of the legislation on which public authorities have had to rely in this field in the past has been the inadequacy of the maximum penalties as deterrents, and this Part of the Bill put this matter right.

Subsection (6) of Clause 1 provides certain statutory defences, and we think that this is right in a measure of this kind. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who is going to take part later in this debate, has given me notice that he has some points to raise on this subsection, but, if I may, I will wait until I have heard what he has to say before I enlarge on this subject. Subsection (7) of Clause 1 is important, not least because it excludes waste disposal activities carried out under the Town and Country Planning Acts from certain exemptions from prosecution. The inadequacy of control of waste disposal under the Planning Acts was commented on in the departmental reports dealing with wastes, and indeed this underlies the recommendations which were made for a more comprehensive control.

Clauses 2 and 3 take us to the next part of the Bill which deals with notification procedures. These procedures ensure that local authorities and river authorities have full information about the nature and quantities of particular categories of waste being generated or disposed of in their areas. The procedures do not of themselves give those authorities any new powers of control, but the availability of information will provide the opportunity for investigation if it is thought that an environmental hazard is being created. The provisions in the Bill concerning notification are somewhat complicated at first sight, but in the majority of cases the procedure should not prove quite so onerous in practice as it may seem.

Under subsection (4) of Clause 2, my right honourable friend is given power to make regulations exempting from the notification procedure wastes of certain descriptions and wastes disposed of in a prescribed manner. It would be his intention to exempt from this procedure as many activities as he can with safety. Indeed, in his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, my right honourable friend gave some specific assurances to the farming community in this connection. Subsection (7) of Clause 2 makes provision for a fine for failing to give the required notices or for giving a false statement. This provision is qualified by the statutory defences available under subsection (8) of Clause 2 to those who have acted in good faith but have, nevertheless, committed an offence relating to notices. With regard to the penalties for an offence involving a deliberate falsehood, it will be possible, where necessary, to take proceedings in serious cases on indictment under Section 5 of the Perjury Act. The penalties provided under that Act are imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both.

Local authorities are themselves required under Clause 4(3) to give notices to river authorities providing information about wastes deposited on their own tips, except where the materials or operations are exempted from the procedure. Local authorities are also required under Clause 4(4) to keep records of the description and quantities of waste which are subject to the notification procedure and which are deposited in their areas. Civil liability in respect of damage or injury caused by deposit of waste in contravention of Clause 1 is a matter on which the Government consider that express provision is desirable and will bring forward the requisite Amendments to be taken at the Committee stage of this Bill. I hope I have said enough to explain the purpose of the Bill and the manner in which it will work. I commend it to your Lordships and look forward to your comments upon it. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Sandford.)

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill is so important that I shall certainly not do anything to delay it on its way to the Statute Book, and the various weaknesses which I think will still obtain after we have passed it we can discuss when further legislation is before your Lordships' House. Indeed, if the Secretary of State would prefer, many of us would happily postpone consideration of the European Communities Bill in order to find time for wider legislation this Session. But I am bound to say that the commendable speed with which the Secretary of State has acted involves certain dangers. I think that most of your Lordships will agree with me in disliking hasty legislation, because there is always the possibility that new abuses may arise. But if the present Bill is applied rigorously and full advantage is taken of the various powers which exist in a wide range of legislation, the main problem will be under control when this Bill is passed. However, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will agree that the situation would be only relatively mitigated and less objectionable if these toxic materials found their way instead into the sea.

I fully understand the view which the Secretary of State expressed in Parliament last year, to which the Under-Secretary of State has referred, that the transfer of the new responsibilities in this sphere should conveniently await the reorganisation of local government. But events have overtaken all of us and bodies like the Royal Commission have been proved right. But I am not aware that there was any Parliamentary or newspaper criticism of the Minister's original view. I think it is only fair that we should say that, in emphasising our view that the basic legislation should be both severe and catholic in its scope when it is introduced.

I do not wish to delay your Lordships' House, but there are two points which I should like to make. One relates to the exchange of views between my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, a few days ago. My noble friend has written to me on this subject. I must confess that I did not feel that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, thought himself on very sound ground at the time when that exchange took place, but clearly he has gained in confidence in the few days that have intervened. But my noble friend Lord Douglas has asked me to point out that taking an occasional sample of water really cannot afford any assurance that a water supply is not at times polluted. He added that run-off from polluted sites may take place only at times of heavy rainfall, and said that recently in the United States rules of sampling have been laid down which show how many samples should be taken in a water supply serving a population of a given size. He expressed the view that we have nothing of that kind in this country, and I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he can allay the doubts which my noble friend Lord Douglas and I both have. I do not think any of us would want to be alarmist, but, clearly, it is very necessary that every practicable step should be taken to satisfy the public that the water they are drinking is free from contamination of that kind.

I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, when he said that it was not the Government's purpose to stop legitimate activities. In that con- text, I really am amazed at the effrontery of some of the disposers of waste in illicit dumping. I have no doubt that many of your Lordships will have studied with interest the articles in the last two issues of the Sunday Times on this subject, and I think it is hard to credit the cynical lack of any sense of social responsibility which Purle Brothers (Holdings) Ltd. appear to have shown. I say "appear to have shown", and I shall continue to believe that they have shown this cynical lack of any sense of responsibility until they issue a credible statement of their past activities. Mr. Peter Newman, described by the Sunday Times as a director, is reported as having offered the firm's drivers that Purle's would pay £25 for every new site they found which was suitable for fly-tipping, and £1 for every load they got rid of in that way. The irony is that if they deposited the loads on legal tips they had no bonus. In this way, it appears that the weekly total tipped illicitly was 150,000 gallons or 700 tons.

I confess that it is not clear to me, from the reports I have read, how much of this waste was toxic to the same extent as the loads which recently gave rise to so much anxiety, but it certainly appears to have been the drivers' disquiet at what they were being paid to do which brought about some diminution of the practice. I think it is sad to find that so well-known a firm should be resorting, through Mr. Newman, to conduct which is socially harmful and potentially dangerous to children, and indeed offering bribes to their workers to do something they knew to be illicit. One is tempted to say that we are sorry that the Bill cannot be retrospective in its effect. I am sure your Lordships will agree with the company's unfortunate Press officer, when he said: Our management should have checked on what has happened. Thanks to the action which the Government are taking, there will be every incentive from now on for the management of these companies to check on what their employees and their directors are doing.

In conclusion, may I say that I hope the Government will appreciate that we strongly support the policy which they are adopting and the Bill which is before your Lordships' House. But I must say again that rushed legislation is always dangerous. It may prove to be bad legislation, and we must be sure that legislation, even of an interim nature, is soundly based. I regret, therefore, that at this stage the Government are proposing Amendments to the Bill. We shall of course look at those Amendments carefully and sympathetically, but I think I should be failing in my duty to-night if I said that we should necessarily facilitate the Amendments before we have had a real chance to consider the implications of them. But with that reservation, my Lords, I warmly support the Bill which the Under-Secretary of State has introduced to your Lordships' House.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am happy to be able to extend a welcome to this Bill from these Benches, and to thank the Minister for presenting the Bill in such a clear, comprehensive and, if I may say so, concise way. The facts that have recently come to light regarding the extent of improper and unsafe tipping have rightly caused great public concern. They amply justify the urgency with which this Bill has been brought forward, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that we would have wished that longer consideration might have been possible before the Bill was brought to Parliament, because, like him, I think there is some evidence of hasty drafting.

The Minister did not call attention to a fundamental difference in approach which we find in this Bill as compared with earlier legislation—for example, the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Acts, which are based on a consent procedure; that is to say, the organisation which has waste of which it has to dispose seeks and receives consent, subject to certain conditions. The offence which may thereafter be committed is the offence of discharging without consent or in breach of conditions. In this Bill, the depositor of waste is in a different position, because he remains always at risk. First of all (if I may put it in this way), he puts his head into the lion's mouth by telling the local authority precisely what he is doing, and then he has to wait to see whether he is to be prosecuted for doing it. It is true that, under Clause 1(6), if ha is charged with "causing or permitting waste to be deposited" then, under paragraph (b), he has a defence if he can show that he took all such steps as were reasonably open to him to ensure that no offence would be committed"— that is to say, to ensure that the deposit of the waste would not create an environmental hazard. But your Lordships will observe that if he were to be charged, not with "causing or permitting waste to be deposited" but with "depositing waste" under paragraph (a), then this defence is not available.

My Lords, when I first read this clause I thought that paragraph (a) was probably intended to refer to the driver of a lorry who was actually engaged in physically deposing waste upon a tip, and that in the event of prosecution he would have the defence that he acted under instructions or relied on information given to him which he had no reason to doubt. But if the company producing the waste—and legally a company is a person"—were charged, not with "causing or permitting waste to be deposited" but with "depositing waste" by their agent or servant, then it appears that the reasonable defence provided in paragraph (b) would not be available to them. This is a point that I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, earlier to-day, and I hope that when he comes to sum up lie may give us some help about it. On the face of it, it seems to me a little unreasonable; and, as I shall say later, I think it is important that the Bill should be, and should be seen to be, reasonable, because if a Bill is not seen to be reasonable the great danger is that its provisions are not fully observed.

I appreciate, as has been said, that this is an interim Bill, and this is not an occasion for carping criticism. But our duty in your Lordships' House is to examine carefully legislation that comes to us, and this we must do. It seems to me that the mechanics of the Bill are unnecessarily complicated. If one looks at them in relation to a single act of deposit, if I may put it that way, they seem reasonable enough. But what of the manufacturer who is continuously producing and having to dispose of waste products?—it may be even to his own tip, or to a settlement pond within his factory. Is it really necessary to notify in advance every day's throughput? I believe that in another place it was suggested that there might be some procedure of (as it was called) a season ticket nature, by which the producer of the waste could put forward a future programme with a reasonable amount of latitude as between one day's discharge and another. This would be rather in line with what is done by, for instance, river authorities when they receive effluent. They usually make an arrangement that over a period the effluent will not exceed a certain quantity and certain quality, and that on any one day there will be no more than, again, a certain quantity of effluent. It seems to me that it is causing a tremendous amount of trouble to people who are regularly discharging effluent—which may be perfectly harmless effluent—if they are required to submit, three days in advance, an estimate (and it can be no more than an estimate) of how much they will have to dispose of on a given day. It may depend on the way the works are running. Even if some "season ticket" arrangement is possible, it cannot apply in relation to Clause 3, which provides for notification to be given of material received in a tip. That clearly has to be given within three days of the material being received, and so far as I can see it would be necessary in a case like this to have practically a daily return, three or two days in arrears, of what had been deposited. I wonder whether this is really necessary. Would it not be possible to have a weekly or even a fortnightly return of what had been received?

Then there is another point. Clause 2 requires that in the notification the chemical composition of the waste shall be described. I believe that this will give rise to great difficulties. One can imagine that a great deal of industrial waste is mixed up with all sorts of things, and I should have thought it was very difficult indeed, if by "chemical composition" is meant the chemical formula applying to the mixture, to produce the information required. I was thinking of the perhaps rather extreme case, but not at all an unlikely one, of a warehouse that had been set on fire; where the fire had eventually been put out with water and perhaps some other agents, and there was a mass of mixed produce—wet, charred and possibly stained—to be disposed of. Nobody could possibly say what the chemical composition of that was. It seems to me that here there is an undue rigidity. I mention these points not to suggest relaxing any necessary control, but because I always fear that if it is made unnecessarily difficult to comply with the law then there is a greater risk that the law will not be observed and that means will be found to circumvent it.

I hope that it is not out of place to suggest at this stage that when the further legislation comes forward it will follow the recommendations of the Key Report, to which reference has already been made, and also the report of the Working Party on Refuse Disposal; and that it will adopt a consent procedure similar to that which applies in the case of effluents discharged into rivers. I feel very sure that this would be a much more satisfactory way of dealing with this problem. Indeed, this is what was recommended in the Department of the Environment Circular 26/71. In this connection, I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that it is not proposed to ban altogether the deposit of toxic wastes on tips. The Key Report actually said at one point, in paragraph 353: … it would be advantageous if refuse disposal authorities accepted more toxic solid industrial waste for disposal than they do now. Here again it seems to me that there is a difficulty under this Bill. It is the tip operator who is able to ensure that toxic waste is so treated on the tip as to limit its environmental hazards. But if the tip operator—who may be the local authority—fails to do so, then it is the man who provided the waste who is liable to prosecution. This seems to me to be a slight anomaly which I hope can be rectified when we come to the rest of the legislation.

The other matter I would mention from the Key Report is that if we are to be successful in disposing of toxic waste there must be more facilities for receiving them. Your Lordships will agree that in the cognate matter of oil spillage at sea one of the first steps to progress was taken when it was made mandatory to provide facilities ashore for the reception of oily waste. In my view, it is of tremendous importance that we should see that facilities are provided for the reception of these difficult wastes. The big firms may be able to provide for their own but that may not be possible in the case of the smaller firms. I am not suggesting that the facilities should be provided free of charge: they would be charged for like other facilities which are provided.

My Lords, that brings me to my last point. I hope as we proceed in our war against polution in this and other fields that we in this country will continue to keep a sense of proportion. I say "continue" because we have up to now kept a good sense of proportion. Here I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. For better or for worse we live in an industrially-based country, an industrially-based society. We could not maintain our population in these Islands without industry; and industry—and this does not apply only to large-scale industries but even to small primitive ones—cannot avoid having some impact on the natural environment. We want to ensure that the impact not only of industry but of technical advances like motor cars and aeroplanes and, if I may put the word "advances" in inverted commas, transistor radios is controlled and limited. Our aim should be to control it to such an extent that it does not inflict an intolerable burden upon us. We must accept that there will he impacts and that, in seeking to get the picture right, we shall have to accept a certain amount of industrial impact on our environment.

I think I might finish by quoting from the last words of the Key Report. These also have relevance to what Lord Sandford said. They are: We would emphasise that legislation and regulation cannot provide the whole answer. It is also important to foster a spirit of mutual co-operation and helpfulness, to provide more suitable and safe facilities for disposal,"— a point I have already made— and not to begrudge the unavoidable cost there must be.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I speak this evening as chairman of the Committee for Environmental Conservation which is a federation of most of the voluntary bodies which are concerned with the environment. Needless to say, we welcome this Bill. It is only a stopgap but it is urgently needed and we welcome it as such. I should like to emphasise however that, having been promised a comprehensive measure for dealing with this matter by the time the new local authorities come into operation in 1974, we hope it really will be a very comprehensive and adequate measure for dealing with an ever-increasing problem.

We must look at this Bill against the background, first, of the Second Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and, secondly, against the Report of the Technical Committee on the Disposal of Solid Toxic Wastes, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, several times referred. The Second Report of the Royal Commission is, in fact, an appeal to public opinion. I do not think it is in any way an appeal to public opinion over the heads of the Government. I know from conversations with Ministers in the Department of the Environment that they are genuinely and sincerely anxious to do all that can be done; and it is of the utmost importance, if they are to be successful in that way, that public opinion should be aroused on this matter.

The Second Report of the Royal Commission deals with three matters which, it says, should be publicly discussed. Two of them are strictly relevant to the Bill which is before us to-day. There is a section in the Report which deals with the disposal of toxic wastes on land; and what they say on that subject is of very great importance. They say: … we have been struck by the insistence upon confidentiality over the nature and quantities of industrial wastes released into the air or into rivers and estuaries or dumped on land or at sea. We doubt some of the reasons for this confidentiality and our doubts are shared by many of the witnesses from industry with whom we have spoken. … That is why we want some public discussion about it, They also say at page 6 of the Report on the particular matter of this Bill: There is no specific or direct control by central or local government, even of a voluntary kind, of the direct disposal by tipping on land of industrial solid and liquid wastes, including toxic wastes from manufacture and processing. The Secretary of State in another place said that these procedures do not of themselves give local authorities or river authorities any new powers of control. That indicates that this Bill—and I recognise that it is an interim measure—does very little to meet two of the important recommendations of the Royal Commission which are contained in subparagraph (b) and sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 31. Sub-paragraph (c) says: river authorities and river purification boards should be empowered to take action in the courts to secure an injunction to restrain tipping by anyone of such toxic wastes … They go on in sub-paragraph (d) to develop the same point. When we look at the 38 recommendations of the technical Committee we see how very far short this Bill falls in dealing with the problem of toxic wastes upon which the technical Committee devoted some six years. We look forward to the substantive legislation which we have been promised, and I hope that in fact it will deal very comprehensively with these matters in a way that the Bill cannot do.

Clause 2 of the Bill is the beginning of a register of notices. This may be valuable, but the problem of secrecy to which the Royal Commission referred in the quotation I read, makes one ask exactly how available this information will be to the general public. The idea of industrial secrets running out through the plug holes of waste is dismissed by the Royal Commission as being unrealistic. I am glad to know that a number of the biggest and most enlightened chemical companies are of the same opinion. They have no desire that there should be this artificial secrecy preserved in the case of their effluent. For example, the Shell Company say they, do not believe that disclosure of the nature of our effluents would give any useful information to our competitors. Speaking on this Bill in another place, the Secretary of State appeared to accept this view. He said: I accept the basic premise … that there is no element of secrecy attaching to the great proportion of effluent from industry which is pouring into rivers and sewers. In another passage he said: While there may be cases where the secrecy has to be preserved because there may be a few cases of that kind there is no ju2tification for a general miasma of security over the whole subject. If that is the view of the Secretary of State, I would ask my noble friend why Clause 4(2) is to be found in this Bill. It imports into this new legislation the secrecy provisions of the Public Health Act 1936.

My Lords, the Secretary of State has said that any member of the public can bring a prosecution and that it is not confined to local authorities. Obviously, if that right is to be effective, it is extremely important that the public should have access to the notifications given to the local authorities and river authorities about the nature of the wastes which are being dumped. This Bill does not deal with the point whether the notices sent to the local authorities are to be treated as confidential or whether they are to be available for perusal by the public. I am inclined to think that under the Secretary of State's rule-making powers he can probably cover this matter, but I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give us an assurance that these notices which have to be given by those concerned with toxic wastes to the local authorities and the river authorities will be made available for perusal by the public.

Naturally, my Lords, I welcome this Bill in so far as it will increase the penalties for the dumping of toxic materials upon land. But the word "land" implies that it does not apply to estuaries or to the sea. We are awaiting a report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution dealing with estuaries, and there is not the slightest doubt that the estuaries of this country are at present being used as dumping grounds for toxic materials of every kind. The effect of the tide going in and out means that these toxic materials are going to and fro close to the coast. We also have to be concerned about the sea. I could hardly believe my ears, but I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, say that he hoped that these toxic materials would be taken out and dumped in the sea.


No, my Lords; I am afraid that the noble Lord completely misunderstood me. I said I hoped that all the powers under the various Acts would be fully used, because the improvement would be very slight indeed if, instead of being dumped on the land, the toxic wastes were dumped into the sea.


My Lords, I am very glad to know that. I misheard the noble Lord. I hardly thought it possible that he was expressing that view. One of the very few respects in which the Report of the Royal Commission does not support the Report of the Key Committee is on the matter of dumping at sea. The Royal Commission say that they do not share the confidence of the Technical Committee: We do not share the Technical Committee's confidence in the voluntary consent system operated by the appropriate Department. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary will tell us something about the voluntary consent system and whether he is quite satisfied that it will stand up to the additional strain likely to be put upon it if this Bill is effective in preventing the dumping of toxic materials on hind. Secondly, it would be extremely valuable to know whether he can tell us anything about the prospect of a convention to control dumping in the North-East Atlantic, referred to by the Royal Commission, who say that the Government expect a convention of that kind to be signed in the near future.

My Lords, this Bill will not be effective without a general spirit of co-operation between the Government and local authorities and industry. I speak for the environmental movement and not for industry, but we want to obtain the cooperation of industry. But we think that that co-operation cannot reasonably be expected unless industry is fairly treated. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has said, modern industry inevitably results in toxic residues and it would be intolerable if the community forbade the dumping of toxic materials in the wrong place without doing anything to ensure that there were proper places for this toxic material to be dumped. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us that something is being done to ensure greatly increased facilities for dumping in the future, in order to make the temptation to the fly dumper and irresponsible actions by some companies less probable in the future than in the past.

There are those concerned in this industry who take an entirely responsible view in these matters. I had a letter from one of the largest disposers of toxic waste in this country only to-day, and I should like to read one paragraph from it. He says: The effect of the Bill will be to drive out some of the less responsible waste disposal operators. It will also cause some of the major companies to conduct their affairs in a more responsible manner. The waste disposal industry, through the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, has been framing a code of conduct in harness with the Institute of Chemical Engineers. This Bill will give teeth to that code of conduct. I think that that is a most hopeful prospect for the future. We welcome this Bill as a useful interim measure. In the short time available, and at a time when the new structure of local government has not yet been put into operation, we recognise that it inevitably falls far short of the needs, but we await with confidence the larger and more comprehensive Bill which the Government have promised will be introduced in good time for the new local authorities to put into operation in 1974.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up more than a minute or two of your Lordships' time. Naturally we are all concerned that a Bill of this type should pass. I would, however, ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will pay a little more consideration to the technical matters involved. I realise that they have already given some consideration to them. But the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has already made reference to a code of practice, of which I happen to have a copy here. This is the code of practice which has been drawn up in consultation between the Institute of Chemical Engineers and the contractors involved. It is important to realise that, despite what the noble Lord indicated in the letter from which he quoted, not all members of this Institution feel happy about this Bill. They feel that the lack of definition in the Bill is unfortunate; that there is no attempt in the Bill to define what is meant by these materials; that it is essentially left as something to be decided post hoc and is not something that can be decided in advance.

In fact, the Minister in another place, when challenged on this point, said: I am putting a much greater onus on them. I am saying they are responsible if they dump any waste that proves to be dangerous, which is much tougher than giving a list of substances and saying 'You are guilty if you dump them'. This is just not true, my Lords. If a list of substances is given, it is possible to define the substances which should not be dumped, or should be dumped only in certain places. This then clarifies the position. But to say that a decision is taken afterwards really means it is taken because it so happens that someone spots later on that there has been a dumping of this type which has caused some trouble. Therefore it is not true to say that it is better not to define things. I feel that this is a mistake in the Bill and I would ask the Minister to look at it again. In particular, I would ask him whether he will invite the Institute of Chemical Engineers, if they have not already submitted this document to the Ministry, to do so, because I think the code of practice that they have drawn up will be of considerable importance in operating this Bill.

I do not want to delay your Lordships, but there are one or two other matters that I would mention briefly. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to Clause 2(2)(b) of the Bill and, in particular, the words, "the nature and chemical composition of the waste". This is an extraordinarily vague phrase. It sounds as though it were definite; but I happen to be a chemist, and I could express to your Lordships the formula for a substance in an entirely confusing way. It is extraordinarily easy, when dealing with an organic substance, to give its chemical composition in half-a-dozen different ways, and it takes a lot of working out to decide which is the one you are really concerned with. In other words, it is not enough to refer just to "the nature and chemical composition". I seriously suggest to your Lordships that this Bill requires considerable amendment in order to make it a serious Bill from the point of view of what we all want to do.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should first declare an interest in that I am a director of a company that operates one of the largest waste disposal units in this country: it is not the one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the industry in welcoming the Bill. It will do a great deal to raise the standards of waste disposal in this country, and will help considerably to tidy up our environment. The trouble to-day is that people think that waste is cheap or of no value. The problem is to get rid of it, and this is a costly business. However, a lot of people have been doing it cheaply by fly-tipping and tipping anywhere. I personally should like to see some of the regulations in the Bill apply to normal waste, because a great deal of fly-tipping of that goes on and it makes a terrible mess of the country.

The noble Lord who spoke last has left the Chamber, but he said that he had a copy of the code of practice. We should like to see the code of practice. I do not know where the noble Lord secured it from. I hope that the code of practice will be available before long so that we may see whether it is a practical code and one which can be operated in a satisfactory manner.

So far as poisonous waste, to which noble Lords have referred, is concerned, surely the time must come when there will be central stations for the disposal of such waste. The other day we heard of cyanide that had been found in the Midlands having to be taken all the way to Southampton to be disposed of. Surely a station in the Midlands would help to get rid of the poisonous waste in that area. I am sure that the industry and the responsible firms connected with waste disposal welcome this Bill, which will raise standards.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the acceptance that this Bill has received, and the fact that the acceptance comes from noble Lords speaking from the points of view of waste disposal contractors, industry, political opponents and conservationists is most encouraging. It at least indicates that we have the balance right. I made no claims that we regarded this Bill as perfect, or even complete. As my right honourable friend recognised, we are open to a charge that the Bill is not complete in all details, and is certainly no substitute for comprehensive legislation in due course. Perhaps I may go through some of the various points that noble Lords have raised and deal with their questions as best I can.

I think the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, as I understand it on behalf of his noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, require me to expand somewhat on the extent to which cyanide is rendered less harmless in certain circumstances as it lies on tips, and also to expand somewhat on the degree of guidance under which water undertakers operate as regards the frequency and nature of their tests. These are matters which would require me to go on for some considerable time in each case. It might be better to deal with them in writing and, if the noble Lord agrees, that is what I should like to do. He will, I am sure, agree if I do no more than take note of what he said about some of the unsatisfactory instances to which the Press have been drawing our attention. I believe that the noble Lord agrees that although this is not a complete or a perfect Bill, we have chosen the lesser of two evils and, in the circumstances which now prevail, it would have been wrong to continue along the line we had previously chosen—that is, of waiting until the new local authorities had taken up their duties before introducing comprehensive legislation. I agree that there are hazards involved, and we have not managed to avoid all of them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked me to say something about the defences, and I shall be glad to do this. These arise from Clause 1, subsection (6), paragraphs (a) and (b). The main purpose of paragraph (a) is to provide a defence (and the noble Lord reminded us that we are dealing here with a phrase which is deliberately ambiguous, for it covers both the firm generating the waste and the person who is an employee of the firm actually depositing the waste) for the individual person who is actually depositing the waste. Paragraph (b) provides a defence for the contractor who is undertaking the disposal of the waste on behalf of the company that generates it. I think your Lordships would agree that a defence in the terms provided by this paragraph would be appropriate for him; but I think your Lordships would also agree that when it comes to the company responsible for generating the waste being charged with depositing it in a harmful way or in a way which causes environmental hazard, neither of the defences provided here—for the driver in the first case, or for the contractor in the second case—ought to apply, because the company itself ought to be fully aware of what it is doing and take responsibility for its actions. I hope that is a satisfactory explanation, but I am conscious that this is a rather technical and detailed legal point.

The noble Lord asked me about season tickets. I would confirm that in general terms the possibility of obtaining a season ticket is certainly within the legislation. There would be some circumstances in which it could not be used, as, for instance, where there were fluctuations. Where a firm or a contractor can say that they will be depositing waste at such and such a time within certain categories upon such and such a tip, then there is no reason why a season ticket should not be used: and indeed there is every expectation that it would. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, asked me about definitions in two slightly different contexts. The fact of the matter is that there is no necessity for the detailed kind of definition that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, referred to to be included in the notification supplied to the local authorities, to give them an indication of the nature and general harmfulness of what it is they are proposing to tip. The guiding principle is that it should be for the manufacturer to accept the responsibility of ascertaining what is likely to cause environmental hazard in waste. He should know with precision and in considerable detail how it is made up; but should specify it in a notification to the local authority in no more detail than is necessary for a layman to understand the matter and then, if necessary with professional advice, to pursue the hazards. I hope I have satisfied the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with that explanation.

I shall not have satisfied my noble friend Lord Molson about definition, because he asked about it in a slightly different context; that is, the confidentiality of the composition of waste. There is one grade of information which can be obtained and which must be obtained by public health inspectors. The 1936 Act, to which the noble Lord referred, comes into this matter in order to protect the company from the improper disclosure of that kind of detailed information acquired by a public health inspector when he secures entry to a firm which is generating poisonous wastes or conducting particular operations which require his attention. There is a need for confidentiality in respect of that kind of detailed information which is not required in respect of the more general information to which I referred just now in reply to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. The degree to which the public have access to this particular kind of information is illustrated by the fact that the information will appear on the agendas of council meetings of local authorities. To that extent the public will have access to it, but the main responsibility for prosecuting under this legislation will fall on local authorities. The notifications go to them, and it is for them to use the information as they see fit. It is not that the information will be deliberately withheld from the public, but neither will it be displayed and provided for them in the same sort of way as is done in planning applications, for instance. I hope I have succeeded in explaining the difference between the two kinds of information involved here: that one kind of information needs to be given certain protection and the other kind does not need the same sort of protection.


My Lords, in order that I may be quite clear, may I ask my noble friend this question? He has said that the notices required under Clause 2, subsection (1), paragraphs (a) and (b), are of a more or less general and not very detailed nature. Those are what have to be sent to the local authority and then passed on to the river authority. Those, as I understand the situation, will be available to the general public if they wish to see them. If I may just make one further point, my noble friend referred to the primary obligation which rests on local authorities of prosecuting in suitable cases. He will remember that his right honourable friend said that it was competent for any member of the public to prosecute also.


My Lords, I should like to confirm that. I believe my noble friend and I are now generally in agreement on this subject. My noble friend also asked me about estuaries and the degree to which we have advanced towards an agreement about dumping in the North-East Atlantic. I should prefer, if I might, to write to him about that when I am sure that I have all the available information on the matter. I am very glad to have the view of his correspondent on the likely effect of this Bill, which certainly accords with our own.

The only other point was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, who is no longer in his place, but I will, nevertheless, answer him. There is room for argument as to which is the best method of proceeding; namely, whether you start from a catalogue of the precise chemical substances which cause an environmental hazard or whether you lay the responsibility on the firm that is generating toxic wastes for them to form a view as to what is likely to cause an environmental hazard, and in what circumstances, and then take the appropriate action. I should have thought that there were pretty strong arguments in favour of taking the second course of action, because all the evidence is that so much depends on the extent to which the noxious substances are diluted, the way in which they are disposed of, the concentrations, the frequency and the way they are treated when they have been disposed of. I am aware that there is an argument to be put forward on both sides.

My Lords, I hope that I have dealt with all the points raised by noble Lords. I am particularly grateful for the comments of my noble friend Lord Brecon, coming from the source that they did. I am satisfied, and my right honourable friend is satisfied, that the Bill will have the effects which the correspondent of my noble friend Lord Molson said it would have, and for that reason I have no hesitation in commending this Bill to your Lordships.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as one noble Lord has a copy of the code of practice, could my noble friend make it available for others? I do not know where he obtained it from.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord is not here. When he first produced it I was not quite sure whether it was the notes of his speech or the code of practice, but I was delighted to hear that it was the code of practice.

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