HL Deb 27 November 1973 vol 347 cc11-108

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Young, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It will be seen from the size of the Bill, from its table of contents and from the interest and comment it has already provoked, that the Bill forms an important element in the Government's legislative programme for the current Session. It has, moreover, been possible to agree with my colleagues that the Bill should start in your Lordships' House before going on to be considered in another place. This has two advantages. First of all, a substantial Bill of this kind, introduced early in the Session, helps to spread the load of the legislative programme more evenly between the two Houses. If this cannot be arranged we know only too well what happens: a thin business programme until the New Year, followed by far too heavy a burden in the last two or three months of the Session.

Quite apart from these considerations, however, the subject matter of the Bill covers ground which has for some years been of particular interest to your Lordships. Each of the Bill's four main Parts —waste on land, pollution of water, noise, and pollution of the atmosphere—relates to aspects of public policy which have been debated on many occasions in the past. As a result, the House as a whole has become more conscious, I believe, of environmental considerations as an additional perspective against which a whole range of legislative proposals needs to be judged. Our collective consciousness has been greatly informed by a number of noble Lords who have special knowledge and interest in this field. On looking at the list of speakers for to-day's debate we are able to recognise the regular and most valuable contributions made, for example, by my noble friends Lord Molson, Lord Nugent of Guildford and Lord Amory, and, on the other side of the House, by the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Henley, who have so often spoken on subjects of this character before.

Today I know I am speaking for the whole House when I say how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. The noble Lord, whom we welcome to this House as a most distinguished scientist and university administrator, is a leading authority in this field, and successive Governments have greatly benefited from his advice during the years he spent as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Whereas Lord Ashby has been concerned to prevent and limit the damage being caused to the physical environment, the noble Lord, Lord Holford, whom we also look forward to hearing this afternoon, has had a lifelong interest in the creative rather than in the protective aspects of the built environment and of the landscape generally, reminding us that man can create beauty and order as well as squalor and ugliness. Then there is the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, with interests in this case in the commercial disposal of waste on a large scale, who is always a particularly welcome contributor to our debates.

If I mention any more speakers I shall not get started at all on the explanation of the contents of the Bill and the background which lies behind the detailed proposals. It may be remembered that "participation" in the process of Government was for a time very much a vogue word, and although I am not sorry that the word itself is rather less used currently, the concept is of course one of which Governments (if they are wise) should be continuously aware. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for the introduction of this Bill, regards it as a real attempt to put forward proposals for higher standards of environmental protection which have emerged from an extensive process of consultation with a wide range of interested bodies and individuals.

Each Part of the Bill rests on foundations laid by a wide range of committees, studies and working parties. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who, as we know, keeps a very watchful eye on these things, sometimes asks what has become of a whole list of reports of committees of one kind and another. In this instance this Bill is a good answer since it represents the conclusions of at least eight published reports. Many of the recommendations made in these reports are included in the Bill, thus I would claim that it represents a measure brought before Parliament, not on any "take it or leave it" basis but as a group of proposals, translated into legislative form, which have already been the subject of much outside discussion and thought, but which can no doubt still be improved.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and Ministers in this House, will try to show that we have an open mind and that we want to listen to, and benefit from, the opinions and criticisms of those inside and outside Parliament who have knowledge and experience of these matters. Caution compels me to add, of course, that at the end of the day the Government have to decide. But it seems to us that the right way to go about things is to inquire and to listen, and then to decide. Too many people question the value of Parliament, and indeed of the whole political process, because they believe that the ordinary citizen, however much he may know or care about a subject, whether individually or organised in groups, is unable to influence the course of events. So, too often participation takes the form of protest after the event rather than of consultation before it. Thus on this Bill, which as I have explained is already some way down a long road of discussion and consultation, I hope we shall be able to adhere to our resolve to listen, as well as trying to persuade.

The need for some form of control over what happens to the physical environment which surrounds us was well set out in a published statement prepared by Her Majesty's Government for last year's Conference on the Human Environment. This conference, as some of your Lordships will know, was organised by the United Nations and took place at Stockholm. The British statement brought together a number of conclusions contained in the reports of a series of working parties which had been set up to collect and assess the views of voluntary and private bodies and individuals in this country on the matters which the conference was to discuss. It opened with these words: All species including man are creatures of their own environment, but man alone has the power to transform the world he lives in—for better or worse. We should recognise, in the context of a debate of this kind, that much of the transformation has been for the better. Large areas of the surface of the earth have been changed literally beyond recognition. Deserts have been cultivated, swamps drained and rivers harnessed. The standard of living of industrial man, notably in the Western and Northern continents, has outstripped the most optimistic dreams of his immediate forefathers. Yet agricultural man, mostly in the Southern and Eastern continents, remains for the most part impoverished —indeed, in some areas becoming more so as his numbers increase at a faster rate than his resources. There is, I suppose, a sort of natural justice about the process of industrialisation. Among all the huge benefits it brings, of wealth and comfort and relative freedom from disease, there lurks the bequest of the wicked godmother: pollution. So large in volume and so complex in nature are man's wastes becoming that they threaten in many areas to dirty the air and foul the water to a point where these common assets are hardly fit to be used. For years rivers and lakes, even parts of the sea itself, have been steadily poisoned by waste products so that they can no longer sustain fish—or, if they do, it is not fit to eat.

As we have seen in recent years, the demands made by mankind, by industrial man, on his natural surroundings have set in train deep anxieties over the condition and future of the world environment. Hence last year's United Nations conference, to which I have already referred. Increasingly, we have begun to realise that Nature, in the widest sense of the word, is man's most precious inheritance; that the physical world around us and the ecological systems that enclose us are not, as was once almost taken for granted, indestructible. They can be, they are being, destroyed. The British statement at Stockholm echoed what emerged as the underlying theme of the conference: We have only one world to pollute; if this one is ruined, we have no other. My Lords, I ought to come down to earth and return to the Bill. But as I do so, I do not think I shall be alone in some ways in feeling a sense of inadequacy. We may wonder what one Bill, however well intentioned, however carefully constructed, however many hours of consultation and discussion have gone into it, can possibly achieve when faced with a human problem of this magnitude. We do well to be humble about this, my Lords; but we can, I believe, take courage from the experience of earlier efforts to protect and to improve the environment. As a result of legislative measures that have been taken in the past, the air of this country is generally cleaner than it was 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. The rivers are less polluted; I believe it is a fact that as many as 63 species of fish, each carrying a heavy burden of hope and aspiration, have been identified struggling up the tidal reaches of the Thames, some even as far as Teddington Lock. Industrial effluents and chemical wastes, although much greater in volume and vastly more complex in character, are as a consequence of better control and increased knowledge less dangerous and less offensive than in the past. All this shows, I would claim, that appropriate legislation, intelligently conceived and diligently applied, can influence the physical environment and can do so to a noticeable extent.

It will be seen, my Lords, as I mentioned in opening, that the Bill falls into four main Parts and contains provisions relating to waste on land, pollution of water, noise and pollution of the atmosphere. It is a large Bill, and in a wide-ranging Second Reading debate of this sort I do not think that your Lordships would appreciate any detailed explanation of each of the 97 clauses of the Bill. However, it might be helpful if I gave a brief account of the aims and purposes of each of the four Parts of the Bill.

The provisions of Part I of the Bill dealing with waste are designed to bring into being a new system of disposal. This will rest on a careful and systematic appraisal by the new waste disposal authorities (that is to say, the county councils in England) of the wastes that are likely to arise and the facilities that either exist or must be provided in order to deal with them effectively and economically. The new authorities will then need to think not only of the contents of the familiar domestic dustbin, but also of the types of waste that occur in commerce and in industry, many of them intractable, some of them dangerous, some of them even at times potentially lethal. This does not mean that the new waste disposal authorities will have to contemplate providing all the facilities themselves. I should like to stress that in the view of the Government the private sector has an important role as regards undertakings which deal with disposal of industrial waste. Some of this work is of a highly technical nature, requiring specialised investment—for instance, in chemical treatment—and the employment of scientific staff.

Waste, whatever its origin, must be disposed of in such a way so as not to hazard the environment. Existing land use planning controls are not enough. Hence, there is to be a licensing system for all sites on which controlled wastes are disposed of, whether by tipping or burning or in any other way. Much collaborative work has already been done, and will continue to be done, in central and local government, to work out appropriate conditions to be attached to licences. These will appear in due course in regulations. It is only right that public authorities should carry on their own operations at standards as high as those which they impose on private undertakings, and there are measures to this end in Clause 9. Under Clause 16 the movement of dangerous and intractable waste, which under the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972 has only to be notified to the authorities, will in future have to be authorised by them. The provisions of Part I of the Bill both bring together much of the existing law, and look forward to more systematic procedures within larger authorities.

My Lords, turning now to Part II of the Bill, noble Lords will see that this deals with the protection of water from pollution. What we have sought to do in this Part is to extend and strengthen the powers which will be available to the new regional water authorities in carrying out their duties for water supply and for its cleanliness, and for sewage disposal. At present, there is a general offence against allowing polluting matter to pass into a stream, and there is a control by river authorities over all discharges to streams. But now, in Clause 23, there is provision for the extension of the general offence of water pollution to cover virtually all water within the Smile territorial limit, including underground water resources. Clause 24 and Clauses 27 to 36 relate to the control of discharges of trade and sewage effluent. Controls will now extend to discharges to the sea, and it will also be possible to control land-based discharges outside territorial waters. Applications for consent to discharges will be published, as will information about samples of effluent. There is also provision in this Part of the Bill for the control of discharges of sewage and sink wastes from boats, and after 1978, in five years time, there will be a general prohibition against discharges from boats into freshwater streams.

Part III of the Bill contains proposals for the abatement of noise. As noble Lords who have studied the matter will know, this is an extremely complex field and one in which a mounting volume of noise, whether it originates from industry or from a greater number of vehicles on the roads, or from construction work—all, incidentally, good things in themselves—constitutes a formidable challenge which I think it would be right to say we have not yet countered as effectively as has been the case with the two aspects I have just described. There also tend to be issues in this field which arise concerning the freedom of the individual: "pop" music festivals represent an obvious one; and there are others. I believe that most people would agree that the time is overdue when we should recognise noise as a form of pollution and make a genuine effort to establish some basic principle and some kind of standard to control or reduce the intrusion of noise into our lives.

I would draw the attention of your Lordships in particular to Clauses 52 and 53 which seek to control noise on construction sites. This is a new provision based on a recommendation in the Noise Advisory Council's Report, Neighbourhood Noise. Then in Clauses 55 to 59 powers are given to a local authority enabling it to establish what is described as a "noise abatement zone" and to set noise levels for classes of premises within those zones. One of the weaknesses of the Noise Abatement Act, the earlier legislation in 1960, which represented a good beginning in this field, is that it does little to prevent a gradual deterioration in the local noise climate, and nothing at all to effect a positive improvement. I should say that there is something of an experimental quality to these proposals on noise. Much will depend on the extent to which public health authorities will be able to secure the co-operation of factory owners and occupiers in a joint effort to improve the noise climate of this country.

Part IV of the Bill contains measures connected with preventing pollution of the atmosphere. Clauses 66 and 67 give enabling powers to make regulations about the composition of motor fuel, and to make regulations about the sulphur content of oil fuel. These clauses do not themselves impose any specific levels, but they do enable the Government to act to the extent that may be feasible and expedient at any time. Clauses 69 to 72 concern the provision of information, which is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, will know, one of the themes underlying the whole Bill. The effect of the clauses is to enable local authorities to obtain from industry whatever information is currently required for the administration of existing controls, notably the Alkali Act. This is analogous to the information about emissions to water, the authorisations of which have to be placed by the water authority on registers open to the public.

My Lords, there are two other matters that I should mention before concluding. These are charging and penalties. As regards the financial implications of the Bill, local authorities already provide a structure of control, and many of the provisions of the Act are in the form of additional powers and responsibilities placed on existing functional and enforcement agencies, or their successor bodies. The actual cost of pollution abatement and prevention will in the main fall on those interests which are responsible for causing the pollution. This has come to be known as "the polluter pays" principle and means that the polluter should, either himself or through an agent, bear the expense of carrying out those measures which are required by public authorities to ensure that the environment is in an acceptable state. In other words, the cost of these measures should be reflected in the cost of goods and services which cause pollution in production or in consumption. This assumes that such measures should not he accompanied by subsidies that would create a significant distortion in international trade and investment. The charges envisaged in the Protection of the Environment Bill, with one exception (contained in Clauses 44 to 45, to allow for discharges into estuaries and coastal waters), are charges by public abatement authorities for the services they render.

The penalty provisions in Clause 88 and in Schedule 2 are in fairly standard form, but represent in many instances considerable increases and rationalisation in the level of penalties for pollution offences under existing legislation. There will in future be a maximum penalty for the most serious offences on indictment of two years' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The latter is a new provision in many cases. In the magistrates' courts the normal maximum of fines up to £400 will apply for most pollution offences under this Bill when it becomes law.

But, my Lords, of course enforcement of the standards in a Bill of this sort is not just a matter for the courts; it is not a matter to be left solely to local authorities or to the various inspector- ates. In the end, real progress towards a better, cleaner environment can be made only when the whole community—Government (local government and central Government), Parliament, industrial management, workers and, above all, the general public—join together in a determined effort to bring pollution under control. In this task informed public opinion, steering a course between the twin perils of sensationalism and prophecies of doom, on the one hand, and complacency or indifference, on the other, is an essential element of the necessary change in public attitudes. As part of this process debates such as the one taking place in your Lordships' House to-day are not only interesting, well informed and valuable, they are crucial to the sort of life we shall lead in the future. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 23. —(Lord Windlesham.)

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, we join with the noble Lord the Leader of the House in welcoming the fact that this Bill has been introduced into your Lordships' House. It will give an opportunity to many in this House who have expert knowledge to endeavour to improve it. It is, of course, perfectly true that the Bill has been preceded by an unusually lengthy and thorough period of consultation. Some of us have had the opportunity of seeing some of the consultation papers which were issued. On the other hand it is not so very long ago since we ourselves received the Bill, and therefore one has not been able to carry out one's own personal consultations quite as thoroughly as one might have wished. I have been doing my best and information is pouring in on me almost every moment. We also would join most warmly in the welcome given by the noble Lord to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, who is to make his maiden speech on this occasion. As the first Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, quite apart from his own long-standing interest in the matter, there could be no occasion more appropriate for him to address our House, and we very warmly look forward to listening to him.

With such a highly technical Bill as this I think we shall have a pretty heavy Committee stage, but it is desirable this afternoon to look at the Bill in a fairly wide context. I hope I may not be accused of cavilling unduly if I say that the Short Title would read more accurately, "Control of Pollution", because that is what it is really about. Adequately to protect the environment one has to go very much wider than what is in this Bill, including, of course, land and resource use planning. There is perhaps just a hint of a bid for popularity in the Title as it stands. Nowhere in the Bill is there any declaration of a general duty to avoid pollution or to take this into account in decisions reached by public bodies. In its rather "no nonsense" way, the Bill plunges straight into refuse disposal. I know that these general declarations may be regarded as not very effective, but they can be used from time to time as salutary reminders, as with the amenity provisions in the Countryside Act.

Nor in this Bill are we asked to raise our eyes from the rubbish tip or the drain to consider the wider aspects of environmental responsibility which have found their way into legislation in various other countries. In Australia, for example, as well as in the United States, they have established statutory environmental protection authorities. In the United States there is the Council of Environmental Quality, with the specific duty of studying the total environmental impact of certain forms of development, particularly by public bodies, on a much more comprehensive basis than is the rule in Britain, including examination of possibly less damaging alternatives. There is little in this Bill directly linking probable pollution impact with planning control. The noble Lord quite rightly drew attention to the importance of a relatively minor aspect concerned with refuse disposal, but otherwise, while one can see the difficulties, should we not require a much more detailed environmental impact forecast from firms or enterprises seeking development consent? We in Wales, for example, have suffered considerably over the years from a reluctance to examine too closely the likely pollutant results of firms who offer to bring work to places where jobs are badly needed. The classic case, of course is United Carbon Black near Swansea.

We surely need an adequate early warning system both for the determination of planning applications and, with established plants, of new products or processes which could prove environmentally damaging. There seem to be particular problems with work covered by the Alkali Act which, of course, would escape a number of the provisions of this Bill. I am advised that in accordance with their usual tradition—and it is not for nothing that it is their 109th Annual Report which has just appeared—the Alkali Inspectorate keep confidential their discussions with prospective developers. As I understand it, there is nothing in the Bill to alter this, and although local authorities are given certain powers to obtain information I am not at all clear that they will have the fullest picture from prospective developers that seems to me to be desirable. If I am wrong in this I shall be more than happy to be corrected.

My Lords, the greater volume of pollution is not industrial but is a factor of population growth and rising consumption, accompanied by an increase in the number of motor vehicles and aircraft, of built-in obsolescence, of ever more elaborate packaging, including plastic and aerosol containers which present disposal problems, together with convenience substances such as detergents. Nevertheless, attention naturally focuses on industrial pollution because, though less in total volume, it is apt to be far more concentrated and potentially toxic in its effects. We have to ask ourselves how far this Bill is going to improve on the present situation.

One stumbling block in the past has been the issue of confidentiality, and I had rather supposed and hoped that the noble Lord would refer in greater detail in this. By "confidentiality" I mean the restriction on publication of detailed information about emissions or effluents in case some industrial competitor might benefit. This problem was brought into the open by Lord Ashby and his colleagues in paragraphs 3 to 10 of their Second Report on environmental pollution. If any of your Lordships have not read those particular paragraphs I would beg you to do so. I can quote only a few sentences: The legislation which protects secrecy over industrial effluents and wastes no longer safeguards genuine trade secrets. It is in the public interest that information about waste should be available. The waters into which the pollutants are discharged "— and one might add the air— are public property, and interest in the nature and quantity of these pollutants is entirely justified". The New Scientist commented, perhaps rather more pungently, by saying: The miasma of secrecy which has surrounded British pollution control since its Victorian inception is now of benefit only to the unscrupulous". The Royal Commission added, by way of analogy: The information which firms are now required to include in their financial accounts and balance sheets was at one time regarded as possibly prejudicial to their competitive position. It was, I think, Sir Frederick Warner with his great experience in these matters, who carried this analogy even further and said that the public should have the right to have the pollutant budgets of manufacturers "audited" by appropriately qualified persons to see that they kept to their declared intentions. This is particularly true of intentions declared at public inquiries into planning applications. I understand that in some American States performance bonds are demanded from which penalties can be deducted in case of default. Plainly, this Bill is not a great innovatory measure in these particular directions.

But, even within its limitations, we must satisfy ourselves that the Bill goes far enough. Certainly there is a considerable improvement where effluents are concerned—discharges into water courses. A power is given in Clause 29 for the publication of applications to discharge and for disclosure of samples, as the noble Lord rightly said. In Clause 34 provision is made for regulations requiring maintenance by water authorities of registers with details of consents, and if compiled such registers are to be open to inspection by the public. Although this is couched in permissive terms, one can assume that the Government have every intention of making such regulations and so activating that clause. There is an escape clause by which a prospective polluter cart appeal to the Secretary of State for protection.

It is when we come to emissions to the atmosphere that we become much more worried, because here the escape clause, Clause 71, is differently worded. In this escape clause, which appears to have potentially much wider application, the phrases "process of manufacture" and "trade secret" have crept in again, although they are not included in the escape clause for effluents. I should be greatly obliged if the noble Baroness, when she winds up, could enlighten us as to precisely what are the reasons for the difference of treatment of effluents to water courses and emissions to the air. I am not sure whether my suspicions are in any way correct, that the difference may be at least in part attributable to the fact that many emissions will still be controlled under the Alkali Act. I agree that one should not have dual authority and that establishments registered under the Alkali Act should not have to duplicate this work because of the Bill which is before us. One nevertheless cannot help asking oneself whether it might not have been wiser to subsume the Alkali Act into this legislation, and also whether these references to trade secrets and the like are not included in Part IV of the Bill in order to try to keep this within the tradition of the longstanding legislation called, rather inelegantly, the Alkali Etc., Works Act. I think we should be told; and we shall be grateful to know what the real difference of policy may be. There is no definition anywhere in the Bill, that I have been able to find, of what is a "trade secret", which can cover a multitude of sins, and these blanket references to "manufacturing processes", if interpreted in certain ways, might undermine a great deal of the otherwise beneficial effect of this section of the Act.

I should perhaps, in referring to these matters, in fairness say that some of our largest companies have in recent years set an extremely good example in being far more open about their trade processes and their pollution problems than heretofore. If I mention Shell in particular, it is partly in tribute to the late Neil Iliff, who was for many years their environment consultant and whose death was a very great loss. Shell has stated publicly that Simply abiding by the rules laid down by legislation is not enough". They have demonstrated, to give one example of many, that at their Carrington works they were able to reduce sulphur dioxide emission into the atmosphere to 15 tons compared with the 70 tons which was the level permitted by the Alkali Inspectorate. And they significantly reduced toxic liquid effluent, largely, they say, by informing each unit within the plant every 24 hours what its average pollution level had been. This shows that the best can be a great deal better than the officially permitted maxima. Will the machinery in the Bill not merely enable higher standards to be reached but ensure that they are positively achieved? It is this kind of question we must ask ourselves when we come to detailed examination in Committee.

We need to ask these questions because there is pretty widespread complacency in some directions and in some official statements and pronouncements that are made from time to time; for example, about clean air. We have very largely conquered fog and smog and can be proud of it, but if we think our air is really clean I would welcome any Minister or noble Lord to my flat—due notice being given—to breakfast any morning, and would ask him or her to examine the coating of black, smutty dirt on my windowsills. This flat is in full sight of the Department of the Environment and within reach of occasional very dark emission from their own heating plant, though in fairness I would say that I think the worst sources are elsewhere. But the price of cleanliness is eternal vigilance, even in Government Departments. So I do not believe we can be complacent.

We are told, and the noble Lord has rightly repeated it this afternoon, that our rivers are cleaner and that fish now swim where fish have not swum for many years. Well, maybe; but a recent angling contest on the River Thames was apparently not very successful; I think it was one three-inch fish that was caught. Only last week I read of the complaints of the Cardiff Sea Anglers' Association that conditions in the Bristol Channel have so much deteriorated that fish, are brought out semi-starved and so listless that they almost give themselves up". There are other areas where complacency might be misplaced: smells, or, as they are more politely called in legislation, odours. I had one or two very bad instances in my own former constituency about which I was entirely unsuccessful in obtaining any improvement. As I have been slightly critical of the Alkali Inspectorate, I was glad to see that in their latest report, published recently, they had taken notice of a vegetable processing plant where, "the smell of greens, mixed with slightly rotting onions, was proof indeed of the justice of the complaints".

There is one omission from the Bill, or at least an apparent omission from the Bill, which has been referred to me by a number of the amenity societies; that is, that little specific reference is made to the recycling or reclamation of waste products. There is in fact one reference, and it is quite true that in the first Part of the Bill, dealing with waste disposal, it is open to the authorities concerned to take steps. We have in this country a large reclamation industry—and we are particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, is going to take part in this debate, as I am sure that he will find occasion to refer to it—but there is a growing feeling among the public that still more should be done. Quite apart from the energy crisis which is upon us, recent months have brought home the shortages of newsprint, glass bottles and other accompaniments of life which we have come to take for granted. It is in the field of domestic refuse that many people think that more should be done.

Only last week in another place the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Eldon Griffiths, outlined some of the problems, and particularly that of cost. These problems are real; but are we spending enough on research in these areas, and might not local authorities be more positively encouraged to adopt the most efficient practices? One does not have to be a "doomwatcher" to feel that we are using up and wasting resources which might well be reclaimable or recycled for subsequent use. I myself should be happy, as a citizen of the City of Westminster, if the authority would provide me with separate sacks into which I could put the vast quantity of paper that I dispose of, which I suppose must be at least a ton a year and which at the moment is mixed up with other refuse. Perhaps as a responsible person one ought to do it for oneself, but if one did, one would have no guarantee that it would be collected separately, so one takes no steps. I hope that something more positive will be included in the Bill at a later stage.

It is quite plain that in this section on the disposal of waste a great deal will depend on how the new local authorities are going to tackle their responsibilities. In England, while the districts will collect refuse, it is the counties that will dispose of it, but in Wales both will be a district function. I must admit that I am not at all sure that this was a wise decision. Specialist staff is needed which simply is not there. Some form of co-operation in Wales would seem to be essential, and I should have thought that not merely should the county councils be consulted, as is provided for in the Bill, but in certain aspects, more particularly the use of land to be allocated for waste disposal, the agreement of the county councils might well be required.

I observe from our list of speakers that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, is to address us. I have little doubt that he will wish to emphasise what I understand is the view of the Association of County Councils that in the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the Bill the Government have considerably underestimated the likely cost in manpower and also in money of carrying out its provisions to the fullest extent. Certainly local authorities will not be able to carry out their full responsibilities if they are not encouraged by central Government, or if they are subject to undue financial restraint in those fields.

I have left to the last the section of the Bill dealing with noise. This is not because it is of lesser importance—far from it. Indeed, I was with Sir Rupert Speir, one of the sponsors of the Noise Abatement Act 1960. I have left it to the last partly because my noble friend Lord Kennet will be winding up on this side and he wishes to refer most particularly to this subject and partly because the Noise Abatement Society is such a vigorous pressure group that I am certain that the Department cannot be ignorant of its views. I will mention here only the proposals in the Bill to designate "noise abatement zones." It has been put to us by the Society that as the noise levels from industry in the proposed zones will still be permitted to remain comparatively high, the correct description should be "noise control zones." They also make an interesting suggestion that there should be stronger controls in non-industrial areas, and that "quiet zones" might be established. This seems to me to be at least worth examining. They regret, as we do, that for reasons one understands, aircraft noise is not included in the provisions of the Bill now before us.

All these matters of detail (and there are many of them), will have to be discussed in Committee. While we struggle with the details of this lengthy Bill, I am sure that we shall all have in our minds the growing public concern about our environment and about the whole balance of nature in our increasingly extravagant world. Whether one is a "doom-watcher" or an optimist, whether one sides with the Club of Rome, M.I.T. and Mr. Meadows, or with the more robust attitude of people like Sir Michael Swann, one cannot be indifferent to these wider issues. On this Bill we perhaps cannot discuss the fundamental morality of adopting ecologically faulty but more profitable technology, and only to a limited extent the cognate question of where the costs of environmental degradation should fall—on the polluter or on the community. But, within its limits and with some reservations, we on this side accept the Bill as at least a step towards a cleaner and more salubrious earth. We will do our best to improve it. I was delighted to learn—at least I hope I took the sense properly of the noble Lord's remarks—that on this occasion, perhaps compared with our rather difficult experience on the Water Bill, the Government will see fit to accept at least some of our Amendments.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has made a most interesting speech. She said that she had not had time to study the Bill, but it seems to me that she has mastered enough of it to have been able to give us a taste of what we can expect at the Committee stage. I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for what he has done in persuading the Government to start this Bill in your Lordships' House—and I hope that there will be many more. I hope that we shall do him justice when it comes to Committee stage by giving the Bill a real going over and trying to put right, expand and enlarge some of the points that the noble Baroness has so ably brought to our attention. I hope that the noble Lord will also bear in mind that he has a record to beat—that, I think, stems from the Attlee Government of 1945 —in presenting legislation in this House first, and I hope that he will set himself to do at least as well as that Government, and possibly better.

I, too—and this goes for my noble friends—welcome the Bill with certain of the reservations which the noble Baroness has mentioned. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it takes the work that has already been done with regard to air and water forward a little further, and tries to bring the different aspects of pollution together in a more orderly way than exists at present. I greatly welcome the prospect of hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, because he was chairman of one of those eight Committees, I think it was, whose advice the Government have taken. I hope that he will not feel that it is necessarily incumbent on him to follow the so-called tradition of your Lordships' House that a maiden speech should be uncontroversial. In this particular respect, I hope that if he feels like being controversial he will be.

My Lords, I too found this an extremely difficult Bill to read. It is very complex, it is fairly long, and it has a great many definitions which are not easy to grasp. I also agree with the noble Baroness that its name implies too much. This is a pity. It is dealing with only one aspect of the protection of the environment, and I think it would be a pity if we got it into our heads that by producing a Bill with this name we were doing all that was necessary or were covering as many fields as we ought to cover by legislation. Nevertheless, I think that it will work in the way in which it is designed to work. It will put quite a considerable strain on local government manpower, but I think we can overcome that. So often an Act of Parliament will work as well as people want it to work. I have not in mind those people who wish to get round the law; I have in mind those people who have to implement it, and here I mean local authorities. A good illustration is our own planning legislation. We have very much better planning legislation than in fact we give ourselves credit for. We could do more with our existing planning legislation; we do not use it as we might. This is really because the people who have to implement it—and again it is very often the local authorities—do not have the will to do so.

What I mean, my Lords, can be seen in Part III of the Bill, which deals with noise; that is page 69, Clause 63, "Best practicable means". I know that this deals only with noise, but in a way it is implicit throughout the Bill. It is almost an invitation to avoid taking certain action. Let me read your Lordships some of the phrases used. Clause 63(2) reads: In that expression ' practicable' means reasonably practicable having regard to local conditions and circumstances, to the current state of technical knowledge and to the financial implications". It means: … only so far as compatible with any duty imposed by law"; and it also means, —only so far as compatible with safety and safe working conditions". All those things are absolutely unexceptionable. Of course, it could never be suggested that anything should be done which was not in accordance with safe working conditions; but I think it draws attention to the fact that a great many of the things we wish to do will cost a great deal of money, and it must not be an excuse that because it is too expensive to do something, then it should not be done. One must not hide behind its not being "compatible with safety and safe working conditions" when what is really meant is that it is too expensive to make those conditions safe.

I think the phrases concerning what is practicable are ones which need to be watched very carefully. I need not remind noble Lords opposite of what Disraeli said about the practical man. He said that a practical man was a man who followed the practice of his predecessors, and he did not mean this in any complimentary sense. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of not doing as well as this Bill might enable us to do either because it is difficult or expensive. I hope that in fact we may get over part of that problem by the codes of practice. Here again, the codes of practice refer only to noise, but it seems to me that there is no reason why we should not try to make them operate right across the field. I think there is a certain danger—it has been shown in building by-laws, and things of that nature—that there can be too great a variety, but codes of practice can overcome the problem to some extent.

My Lords, I mentioned, "best practicable means", because it is in relation to noise that another example can be seen of how that kind of statement can render meaningless what you wish to do. The law in regard to aircraft noise—and, as the noble Baroness says, aircraft are not brought into this Bill at all—is such that in fact a pilot can make as much noise as he pleases, because he can pray in aid weather conditions and all the other practical reasons why he should not keep quiet. So I think that this is why, though it applies here only to noise, we must be extremely careful not to fall into that trap.

My Lords, there are certain difficulties about which, when we come to the Committee stage, we shall want some explanation and clarification from the Government. I think some of the difficult points may concern agricultural practices. When is a practice an established one? When is it a normal one? When is it a new one? When is it a dangerous one? Conditions are changing; and you have as an example the fact that pig slurry from, shall we say, 10,000 feeding pigs is no longer farmyard manure which can be easily spread on the land with good effect; it now is, in a way, a noxious liquid—partly noxious because of its quantity—which will find its way into the water courses. This is a difficulty which we shall have to clarify. I think that in some measure it will be met by the river authorities making charges. How far are these charges an aspect of "the polluter pays"? How far are they a service charge for some further treatment of a pollutant? In the same context—that of water—it is a pity that the Common Law right of a riparian owner is removed, because this was a safeguard. It enabled an injunction to be sought. It was a safeguard which it would be a pity to lose. I am not now talking about owners' rights; I am talking about pure rivers.

I echo what the noble Baroness said with regard to the information as to industrial air emissions. I think I am right in saying that the Sharp Report recommendations were not followed. I wonder why? The noble Baroness made one quotation. May I make another which seems to me to call for some explanation? This is on page 76, in Clause 72, which deals with regulations about research and publicity. Paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of Clause 72 says that regulations may afford to any owner or occupier of premises a right to require a local authority to refrain"— refrain, my Lords— from exercising any power to enter the premises in return for an undertaking by the owner or occupier to measure and record emissions on behalf of the local authority". This seems to me to be carrying secrecy too far. I will not say any more than that because the noble Baroness has said it already.

Again, I think that we shall want to know a little more about the guidelines for regulations that are to follow the past practice of the Alkali Inspectorate. While critical of the Alkali Inspectorate, it has had more blame than perhaps it deserves. It did as good a job as it could in difficult conditions, and it achieved something. Nevertheless, I am not at all sure that their past practice is the right answer.

With certain reservations, I welcome the Bill; I see no reason why it should not work. It would be a pity if the local authorities were to find themselves for one reason on another—be it money or manpower—bogged down in preventing quite easily-preventible pollutions when the really important stuff got away with it. I wonder whether this is the reason why aircraft noise has been left out of the Bill altogether. Is it something which is at present too difficult for us to deal with? —and certainly too difficult for the local authorities. We seem to have allowed it to grow without realising its extent until we have reached the stage where the amount of money involved in trying to reduce it is so great that we cannot do it immediately. It may be that in fact we cannot at present see our way to reducing it. Perhaps when he comes to reply the noble Lord will tell me whether this is the reason why aircraft noise has been left out of the Bill. Having said that, I hope to try to do my best at the Committee stage, either in moving Amendments or in speaking to them, to justify the noble Lord in having started the Bill in this House; and I wish the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, good will in its implementation.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have addressed the House and I ask your Lordships' indulgence. I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for their very generous references to me in their introduction. I am sure your Lordships will forgive me if I do not take up Lord Henley's challenge to be controversial in my first speech, although I should like to reserve the right to be argumentative at the Committee stage. Speaking on such a Bill as this, I think it is easy to follow the advice to maiden speakers to be non-controversial and to be brief: because there can be no controversy about the ends of a Bill to protect the British environment, although there will no doubt be a good deal of discussion at the Committee stage about means. I can be brief, because it is less than three years since your Lordships discussed this matter very fully in this House with debates which were led by the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Nugent of Guildford. Almost all the issues which needed to be raised about the environment and pollution were raised in those debates, and your Lordships will therefore forgive me if you hear nothing new from me this afternoon.

It is a great satisfaction to find that many of the points raised in those debates three years ago appear in this Bill. The Bill, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House mentioned, really embodies the advice given to the Government by a series of Committees; and I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of the members of those bodies, and particularly on behalf of the members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, when I say how, in finding so many things that they recommended appearing in this Bill, they welcome this happy outcome of their labours.

As your Lordships know, legislation on this subject has been going on piecemeal for over a century—generally stimulated by crises of one kind or another. There were, for instance, the crisis in 1858, when cloths soaked in chlorinated lime were hung on the Terrace outside the Palace of Westminster in an effort to keep the stink of the Thames out of this House; the 1952 smog; the discovery of cyanide in dumps in the Midlands. One piece of legisla- tion after another has been added, until we now have a very complicated and, on the whole, astonishingly efficient system of piecemeal legislation which, as compared with what has gone on in the other countries, has done a great deal of good to the British environment.

Your Lordships have already heard one example from the noble Lord, the Leader of the House. You can now fish off the Terrace here, with some patience, in the hope of catching something. That would have been impossible twenty years ago. There is now 70 per cent. more sunshine in London in winter than there was in 1950. Whereas in the 1950s something like 2.4 million tons of smoke were emitted in Britain, the amount is now 0.7 million tons—not due entirely to legislation, but very largely to the operation of the Clean Air Acts. So the abatement of pollution in this country has been, with a number of reservations, a success story. But very serious gaps and flaws have been left, and it is these that this Bill goes a long way towards repairing. For one thing, in the past the penalties for non-compliance with the law have on the whole been derisory; that will no longer be true if this Bill is passed. The control of estuaries and tidal waters has been very unsatisfactory; many estuaries have deteriorated. That state of affairs will be put right if this Bill is enacted and properly carried out. and the dumping of toxic waste, which until February, 1972, was hardly controlled at all, is now controlled, though not as well as it could be, and will be if the terms of this Bill are carried out.

But, overall, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, pointed out in the debate last week on the Second Reading of the Dumping at Sea Bill, there is a lack of cohesion and co-ordination between all the bits of legislation. That is what this consolidated Bill goes a long way towards repairing. So there has been a need for this kind of Bill, and I think that we now have before the House a consolidation of the legislation for protecting the environment from pollution, better at any rate than we had before or indeed than other countries in Europe have got. There are many points that will need discussion at the Committee stage, including some of those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White; and that will be the time to bring them up. But I venture to ask your Lordships to listen for a few moments now to what I consider to be three interesting general points about this Bill.

The first is that the Bill does not lay down rigid water- and air-standards, to be applied indiscriminately whether they are really going to improve the environment or not. That is a feature of the British tradition in environmental legislation. It is comforting to find that this tradition is maintained in this Bill, because a rigid attitude is adopted by some other countries and in my view it is both unscientific and uneconomic. The British approach is to give the authorities responsible for administering the legislation discretion to adjust what are really permits to pollute according to the circumstances of the place and time and industry or corporation concerned. Although the duty is laid upon the polluters to use (in the words of the Statute) the "best practicable means", a practice which sounds as if it might be woolly and easy to evade, in practice it has turned out, by and large, to have been a very effective way of controlling pollution into the environment in Britain.

It is very reassuring that such a great deal here has been achieved not by legislation but by voluntary consent and agreement. One good example is of the way in which hard detergents have almost vanished as a nuisance from our environment. So although it seems a very imprecise way of legislating for the environment, it is I think the merit of this Bill that it maintains this empirical approach. It is a very wise approach and one proven to give good results.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to bring some influence to bear on other countries in Europe who are tempted sometimes to cover Europe with a blanket of uniform standards which would be uneconomic and unscientific and less effective than the method which we use. For the control of pollution has to be adjusted to the climate. We are less fortunate than Italy in having so little sunshine, but the great advantage of that is that photo-chemical smog of the Los Angeles variety never appears in this country. We have a great deal more industry than some countries, but fortunately, as we are an island, many of the emissions from industry are blown away into the North Sea where, contrary to common assumption, they do not descend on Sweden as acid rain; they probably never get as far as that—at least most of them do not. So legislation for the environment should, and could, be adjusted to geography.

For my second point I welcome the lifting of this veil of confidentiality of which the noble Baroness, Lady White, has already spoken. It has been an anomaly that the penalties for disclosing what someone has put into a river have been a great deal more severe than the penalties for putting the stuff into the river. This Bill, if enacted, will remove that anomaly. I think it would be greatly welcomed by the public because the secrecy which has surrounded the material put into rivers and into the air has caused a great deal of unjustified criticism of people who are administering the regulations well; and, of course, has provided cover for any who may have been administering them badly. There will be great satisfaction that this blanket of secrecy can be removed.

So I welcome in Clause 34 the provisions for disclosing to the public the records of water authorities and, as the noble Baroness has mentioned, the provision in a rather more guarded way, in Clause 69, for disclosing what is put into the air; with—and it is still necessary—some kind of protection for those industrialists who can make a case to show that their trade secrets really would be betrayed if the material put into the air or the water were to be disclosed. But, from all the evidence we of the Royal Commission received, we became quite convinced that this situation would be very rare indeed.

Finally, there is the crucial question, how well will this Bill protect the environment? I think, my Lords, the answer to this question depends not just on the clauses in the Bill but also on the quality and training of the men and women who are to administer it. We are told in the Preamble that some 500 to 800 more people will be required by local authorities and water authorities, and about 25 more in the Civil Service, in order to administer this legislation. How can we ensure that young people with enthusiasm and expertise will apply for these jobs? To be labelled a "sewage manager" or a "pollution officer" or an "alkali inspector" is not the ambition of many of the brightest of our young technologists, and although—and I would emphasise this to your Lordships—there are in these services some splendid men carrying out work under these labels, they are jobs which have been greatly under-valued by society.

The training for many of them has been inadequate, the salaries and the status attached to them have not been commensurate with the responsibility and, as I say, the labels have not been the kind that attract the idealistic young technologist. Yet the work now requires considerable sophistication. If any of your Lordships have visited a large sewage works you will know that the console in the sewage works looks as complicated, and is almost as complicated, as the panel on the flight deck of a Boeing 707. These are jobs to be done by people who have had a highly technical training and who belong to a very sophisticated profession. So I should like to see emerge from this Bill something that might be called an "environmental protection service"; one which will send its professional men to serve in local authorities and water authorities and into the Civil Service, where they will find they have jobs commensurate with the comprehensiveness of this very important Bill. I believe that if the status of the professionals who will have to administer this Bill can be raised to match the comprehensive terms of the Bill the outlook for the abatement of pollution in the British environment is very good indeed. Therefore, as a Member of the Cross Benches, I welcome this Bill; I hope that it will be amended in ways that may make it a little easier to work and I thank your Lordships for your indulgence.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, to me falls the pleasure and privilege of being the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on his admirable speech about this Bill for the protection of the environment. We all, of course, know from his past record of the great distinction which he has won in academic circles not only for his bright intellect but also for his quite astonishing tenacity for duty. Any man who serves as a vice-chancellor anywhere is a hero, but to serve in two universities as vice-chancellor is to be a hero indeed. His heroism has continued in his public service, and in particular in this context as chairman of the Royal Commission for the Prevention of Pollution. We are grateful to him for the Reports which he has given us, and particularly for the last one on the protection of estuaries which has made such a big contribution to this Bill.

I am sure that all of us in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, felt—and indeed we know—what a great contribution he has made in this field; but also we felt that while his thoughts have contributed very much to the shaping of this Bill he has himself contributed much to the quality of the environment. He has only to appear in a meeting or on television for everyone to feel that a quality has arrived, and the world is somewhat better for his presence. So we feel a special gratitude to him for what he has done, and it is our great privilege to have been able to listen to him to-day. We look forward with great pleasure to hearing him many times in the future.

My Lords, may I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Windlesham on introducing this Bill. It is indeed a major measure and, I think, one which is unique in the range of its potential contribution to the improvement of the quality of life. The felicitous manner in which my noble friend introduced it gave us the impression that he is dealing with this subject continuously every day, whereas I know that he has many other things to deal with. I think great credit is due to him. The Department of the Environment has many times been criticised as being a large, ungainly octopus which flounders about over far too great a range. But here, perhaps for the first time, its existence is really justified because it is able to bring together all these strands in this one very important Bill. I believe that this Bill is a real response to the feelings of our people, in three ways: First ideally, in that it is the common wish of all of us to see the world, at any rate marginally, a better place for each one of us having passed through it. If that seems perhaps too high an aim for our very pragmatic nation, at least all of us could say that we should like to be sure that, by the time we have gone through our lives in this world, the world at least is no worse a place than it was for our having been here.

People to-day are becoming increasingly conscious of the danger of just that: that the rate at which we are using up resources, the rate at which we are tending to pollute the atmosphere in one way or another, the environment as a whole, is really making that danger a serious one and one about which we should all like to do something. I so much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that this situation is inevitable with our density of population. I suppose that we in these islands are particularly in danger. With the fantastic advance of technology in our lives, we are ever more able to command the resources of the physical world, to use them for our own lives and thus pollute the environment.

But I take a little comfort from the fact that, when we look around at superficial aspects of life, like the spreading of litter in which we, as a nation, are paricularly bad, although the litter louts are still pretty bad they are slightly better than they were. In the schools, children are learning to-day to take a little more care than perhaps their parents did. When I think back to when I was a child, I well remember the large notices in the Tubes and public places saying, "A fine of 40s. for spitting". Large red notices were put up everywhere. We never see them to-day; we do not need to. We have all learnt that it is dangerous and unhygienic to spit. We have learnt that one and I believe that we shall learn the litter one, too, gradually. It takes time, but we can learn and I do not doubt that we shall. So this is the first thing that this Bill does: it makes a great appeal to the idealism in us that we want to see the world a better place.

The second motive is that of recreation and amenity. We know that, with greater mobility, with our motor cars—despite possibily the temporary set-back of petrol rationing which may be looming ahead of us—and greater leisure time for recreation, the amenity of the countryside is more and more important to the whole mass of our population. The pleasure which people can get from sport and amenity, recreation on rivers and water generally, is an important aspect, and that just cannot be enjoyed unless the water or rivers are clean.

The third motive is the economic one. A major feature of our national policy is to increase the supply of water to meet the expanding demand of which we are all aware. This means that by the end of the century we shall need approximately twice the quantity that we use to-day. Therefore we must aim for cleaner effluents, cleaner rivers, so that water can be used more than once. This is already an important feature in regard to some of our rivers, and notably the River Thames. Here I was fascinated to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that in 1858 they hung up screens soaked in chlorine outside the Houses of Parliament, for it was in 1857 that the Thames Conservancy was created. I should hate to think that this was cause and effect. I rather hope that it was because of the work of the Thames Conservancy over the following thirty years that the condition of the river progressively improved so that those screens were no longer required.

The fact is that the River Thames has been well managed for over a century, and therefore its waters can be used, and are used to-day, more than once. It is used by the big cities all down its banks —Swindon, Oxford, Reading, and a hundred smaller towns—and then finally it is used by London at the end of the day through the excellent administration of the Metropolitan Water Board. This can be done to the great advantage of the beauty and amenity of the river, and also it is a very good economic proposition to use the water more than once. Therefore here we get a direct economic motive to give us the spur to clean up the rivers, because this will make a useful contribution to water supply. We get the combination of these three motives—the ideal, the recreational and the economic—working together to give real push behind this Bill, so that it will come into action progressively in the future.

My comments are directed primarily to the first two Parts of the Bill. Here I should declare my various interests in the world of rivers and water. I am President of the Association of River Authorities, and Chairman of the Thames Conservancy; and I am Chairman of the incipient National Water Council, which will have a brooding existence over the regional water authorities, to which the noble Baroness felicitously referred. My comments are directed to the first two Parts: namely, the disposal of waste on land and the protection of water from pollution. Both parts will substantially strengthen the law, and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that these powers will make a valuable contribution to making and keeping cleaner our rivers and coastal waters, and especially the estuaries on which Lord Ashby's last Report made such a notable contribution.

In passing, I should like to pay a tribute to my friends in the world of river management who have really battled away over the last decade or so, calling the attention of local authorities to the danger of seepage from their waste tips. The law has been quite inadequate to control pollution through underground sources into the ground water system. River managements have gradually, in consultation with the Department of the Environment, fortified by the noble Lord's Report, made out a case which is now reflected in this Bill for taking control of the ground water system.

I should also like to pay tribute to the city authorities, particularly those of London, who have made such a contribution in the estuaries. This was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. The Greater London Council, and the L.C.C. before them, have spent tens of millions of pounds in cleaning up the Thames Estuary, so that, as the noble Lord observed, fish are really there now. Indeed, I believe that salmon will be coming back into the Thames within the next decade. The river is almost clean enough now. It is rather had work for a fish to swim quite as far as Teddington Lock; it would have to put its nose above water pretty often to get enough oxygen to get as far as that, but it is on the way. What the new regional water authorities will have to do is to stock the fresh water part of the Thames so that the fry can grow up there and migrate from the Thames, and then they will want to come back again. This will perhaps take the next five or ten years before it is completed, but it is on its way and it is a tremendous achievement.

So Parts I and II of the Bill are really complementary to the 1973 Water Act which we passed earlier this year. This Acts sets up these multi-purpose water authorities, these 10 regional water authorities which cover the country. They cover every aspect of water management: the management of rivers, the distribution of water to waterworks, and the management of sewage works, which is at the present time in the hands of local authorities. This means that as from April I next year dealing with the main source of pollution in our rivers now, which is through the sewage works, becomes part of the responsibility of the water authority. There will therefore be the positive authority there to improve and strengthen the process of sewage management to establish a positive programme for cleaning up effluents and rivers. The only brake to this will be the financial one, for the cost is very high. The noble Lords's third point is very important here. The Bill requires publication of consents and a register, which can be public as well so that the public may know what effluents and what qualities are being discharged. I know that the regional water authorities accept this as a very proper safeguard, when the whole power is in one hand.

Turning to the economic motive, my Lords, I think this factor will have a powerful influence in determining the speed of the programme. While it will be very costly—it will run into hundreds of millions of pounds a year on the capital programme in improving sewage works—it will perhaps be a comfort to your Lordships to know that there will be the incentive to regional water authorities, in that not only will this help on the recreational side, to which they will be very sensitive, but it will be of major assistance to supply. The prospect lying in the future is that when a regional water authority is contemplating its overall water policy and how it is going to develop sources in order to meet the increasing needs of the future, often it will have the choice of either developing a major new storage system—a reservoir, barrage or what you will—or it can introduce a major new programme of reclamation, so that the effluents in the river reach a higher standard and the water can be used again in order to make fresh supplies available. This will create a natural incentive to improve the quality of the water at the same time as increasing the supply: and this very much on the same model as the Thames has been managed up to date. I think we can see here that the two motives which I have defined may combine together to accelerate the programme of giving us cleaner rivers.

I think we may expect to see this programme of re-use as a major feature in our water supply unfolding in the years ahead. But I would make this point which I think is of major importance, and which I know will be in the minds of all concerned in the years ahead. The more we re-use water, the more necessary it will be to know exactly what is happening: to have completely comprehensive systems of analysis; to have even more sophisticated parameters to ensure that there is no build-up of noxious elements which could be injurious to human life, animal life, or indeed plant life. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, will know of the interesting incident which occurred this year of the heavy mortality of the tomato crop in Essex. An intensive horticulturist in Essex, with his tomatoes being grown under glass and entirely dependent for their irrigation on the main pipe supply, suddenly found that the tomato crops were stricken and were dying at a terrifying rate. Nobody could discover the cause. After intensive investigation, which lasted for months, eventually it was discovered that the source of the mortality of the tomato plants came not from a river in Essex, but from the Great Ouse near Cambridge. There was a factory manufacturing plant herbicides and discharging effluent into the Great Ouse, which was acceptable to the river authority there. The Great Ouse has a magnificent water transfer scheme to Essex, which is a very dry county, and the Great Ouse water had been transferred into the Essex rivers, then into the piped system, and then went off to supply this horticulturist: and because his tomatoes were entirely dependent on the pipe supply—if it had been diluted by rainfall it would have helped—there was just enough of this dangerous chemical in the water, although it was infinitesimal, to cause the destruction of the crop. This is an interesting incident that nobody expected to happen, and it serves to underline the point of how careful we shall have to be as we proceed into the future with a programme of ever-inceasing re-use.

I should like to make a brief reference to the pollution of underground sources. Waste tips, of course, have caused serious pollution in the past, and there has been no system of control. If there is pollu- tion in a river, it can be cleaned up—it may be costly, but it can be done—but the worrying aspect is that if there is pollution in the ground water system, we do not know if it can be cleaned up. Once the ground water system becomes contaminated, we simply do not know how to clean it up. Therefore it is of absolute importance that we should have adequate powers of control to see that these waste tips, with their noxious contaminating substances, are located in areas where they cannot affect the ground water system. A most important part of this Bill is that the local authorities, in siting these tips, must consult with the regional water authorities before they do so. This, too, is a great gain which I am sure augers well for the future.

Finally, my Lords, may I say this about the estuarial controls. I hope that when my noble friend Baroness Young replies to the debate she may be able to give us some reassurance that if we make great efforts in cleaning up our estuarial and coastal water discharges, which is an immensely expensive thing to do, we are going to find equal co-operation from our friends and neighbours on the other side of the North Sea, and that they will make their contribution to this as well. It really would be a complete nonsense if we were making this very expensive contribution at the cost of our industrialists, while our friends over there were making no such contribution, and we were thereby putting our industrialists at a great economic disadvantage. I hope that there may be some assurance given that we are moving in step in this important field. There are most important financial implications here. The financial note on the Bill is misleading when it says that there will be no extra cost. If we are to see the pace of improvement that we all want to see, the costs will be very heavy indeed: and they have to be paid by all of us. Therefore it must be understood that, if we are to move ahead in the way that we wish, we want to see other nations moving ahead in the same way. We should use our influence in this direction to see that they move ahead with us. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege for me to be the first from these Benches to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on such a notable maiden speech. He is acknowledged as one of the world's experts on the subject covered by this Bill, and it makes a non-expert like myself very humble when I follow in his footsteps in addressing your Lordships' House. I think it is true to say that over the last few years the whole nation, private individuals as well as the world of business, has become increasingly concerned with the dangers of pollution and the importance of protecting our environment. It is also generally accepted that there is often a real conflict between the demands of economic and technological progress and those of environmental consideration, and that the time has come to give this subject much greater attention than it has received in the past. However, important as environmental protection is for the quality of life, let us keep the challenge in perspective. Pollution is not, as is sometimes suggested a new problem, as those who remember the 'pea soup" fogs of our youth will appreciate.

The protection of the environment cannot be left to private industry or to the individual's sense of social responsibility to this and future generations. It is an area in which Government must play an increasingly large role, whether by regulation, exhortation, example or direct action. The Bill before your Lordships' House is a recognition of this fact, and although it is possible to argue that it does not go far enough and is not sufficiently comprehensive, it must be welcomed as a further step in the right direction.

Pollution control and environmental protection, on the scale we now accept as desirable, are increasingly costly. Few people would argue with the contention that this cost must be borne by the polluter rather than by the taxpayer. This is not only a question of equity but a means of providing a disincentive to activities that threaten to despoil our environment. Industry and business, undoubtedly the largest polluter, must be made to face the full financial consequences of these activities. It is, however, idle to pretend, as some champions of the environment tend to do, that more than a small proportion of the cost involved can come out of profits. It has to be accepted that the cost of environmental protection and anti-pollution measures will inevitably be reflected in the price of the product concerned. Therefore, in the final analysis it is not the polluter but the user of the product in question who pays. Given current rates of inflation, this is not an attractive prospect, especially in view of the fact that many of the products responsible for pollution are now everyday necessities used by all of us. However, there is no soft option. If we want environmental protection we must all be prepared to pay for it.

My Lords, the Bill we are discussing covers many different aspects of pollution: waste on land, pollution of rivers and of the atmosphere, as well as the question of noise. I should like to devote a little time to the question of waste, partly because it is a relatively non-technical subject, on which a layman like myself can speak without too much fear of contradiction, and partly because it is a problem closely connected with packaging, of which, as your Lordships know, I have had some experience. The packaging industry is often attacked for creating unnecessary waste, and I do not think that all these attacks are wholly unjustified. In my view, good packaging must be functional. In the case of food, it must ensure adequate hygiene and it must protect the contents against damage and deterioration. As part of the rise in living standards, the consumer wants increasing convenience, so a good package must also meet this very important requirement. Furthermore, it must fit in with the handling techniques of the manufacturer and the distributor, and it must be of a pleasing appearance.

In the food trade, as in many other trades, a large number of manufacturers and distributors are mindful not only of the waste problem but of the need to keep prices to the minimum. With this in mind, they take great care to ensure that their packages do no more than fulfil these basis functional requirements. At the same time, it is undeniable that some packaging is primarily used as a means of marketing or as a means of giving an unchanged product a new and not infrequently higher-priced image. It is here that we get wasteful and unduly complicated packaging. It is here that industry and business have failed to face up fully to the needs of our environment. More could be done also in educating the consumer to dispose of litter thoughtfully, in conjunction with the "Keep Britain Tidy" campaign. Many companies, including that with which my name is associated, publicise the need for this, but I should like to see every carrier and paper bag, every tin and bottle, carrying a message to this effect.

But, my Lords, in improving methods of waste collection and disposal we must bear in mind that we are dealing with a potentially valuable addition to our resources. Just now, with the world-wide shortages of several raw materials, recycling is continually in the news. With the exception of one or two industries, the most obvious of these being iron and steel and paper, the recycling of waste materials is still very limited, mainly because of a failure to devote sufficient research to the undoubtedly complex economic and technical problems involved. Take for example the use of ordinary commercial and household waste for heating purposes. I understand that in Sweden several local authorities are now successfully using such waste products for heating homes and offices, with the result that waste collection is no longer regarded as a burden but is treated as a means of providing a valuable raw material. Experiments on these lines are also being carried out in one or two areas in Great Britain, but so far progress has been fairly slow and I feel that a stronger Government lead is necessary.

My Lords, it is undeniable that as a result of our relentless technological progress and rising living standards, we are faced with problems that pose a grave potential threat to our environment. However, I believe—and here I am supported by the Director of Research and Development at the United States National Centre for Resource Recovery—that we have the technology, the knowledge, to overcome these problems. The question, my Lords, is whether we also have the wisdom and the will to face this challenge firmly and resolutely.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, one always learns something from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who has just spoken. I am very glad to know from the noble Lord why it is that certain old-fashioned remedies like "Iron Jelloids" and "Carter's Little Liver Pills" are still cheap: in the first place, they do not change their packages in order to follow fashion; and in the second place, they do not need to advertise. Behind this trivial example I am sure there is great point to this Bill. I am deeply interested in the objects behind this Bill, although, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said in opening, I am not an expert in the means of achieving them. I am not an expert, either technically or administratively, in what is obviously a very difficult problem.

I intervene briefly in this debate for three reasons. First of all, I think it is especially appropriate that this House should give a Second Reading to a Bill which has these civilised long-term and disciplined aims, and which is not subject, as so many of the issues before Parliament are to-day, to so much Party controversy. Secondly, it is a great privilege to speak in the same debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has spoken for the first time. I use that phrase rather than the one he used, "maiden speech", because if I may say so without offence, Lord Ashby's judgment, insight and experience denotes the "matron" rather than the "maiden". I hope he will not misunderstand me. I have, as they say, sat under him on a Committee for a number of years. I attend his public lectures whenever I can. Now I have an added inducement to attend this House more often than, I regret to say, I have been able to do in the recent past. This is not all, because everyone in academic circles I hope is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, for among the most pregnant of remarks made about academic people—I hope he was the author of these remarks; I think he was. He said he thought academic degrees, like other perishable commodities, ought to have stamped upon them the probable date of expiry.

Lastly, my Lords, I want to speak very shortly about the constructive and inventive things which can be done, individually and collectively, if certain standards or certain principles of control and protection are understood and acted upon when the Bill is enacted, as I sincerely hope it will be. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said in opening the debate, I have been more concerned with the built environment, and with the design aspects of architecture, landscape and land use, than with the protective aspect of land, the complex social and scientific problems associated with pollution. So I, too, speak today as a layman.

I want to make the point that protection should not appear as a purely punitive and protective set of regulations, imposing onerous duties—and they are onerous in this Bill—on local authorities, industry, commercial firms and the public for non-compliance. Protection has also to create the warmer climate in which research and improvement can thrive, and thrive because it is worth while to do so. Research can very often thrive in matters where in fact it is negatived by the irresponsible actions of other sections of society.

This is not a Bill that takes the world for its stage. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has just remarked, that pollution knows no natural boundaries. Nevertheless, the Bill does not anticipate universal doom or pollution on a grand scale. It concentrates instead on: "this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England", to which it adds particular provision for "this Scotland" and "this Wales".

No one who knows either the wild, the cultivated or the garden landscapes of these delectable Islands would differ in any way from the objects of this Bill. Indeed, the preventive clauses are ingenious, if not imaginative. This is particularly true of Clause 2 on waste disposal plans, and on Clause 55 with its noise level registers and noise abatement zones. I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady White, preferred to call them noise control zones. The penalty clauses are not imaginative to the same degree. There is no attempt here to emulate W. S. Gilbert in "making the punishment fit the crime," and thus connecting in the public mind the anti-social causes and effects of waste, pollution, heedlessness and greed with the social sanctions and recriminations that ought to follow on them as a matter of course. Perhaps it is too much to ask of a Bill of this kind that it should in some way kindle the constructive and creative imagination as well as the retributive; yet I must confess that while it seems to me to touch the conscience of already conscientious people, it does not sound any bugle notes to indicate that this Bill is an essential part of our own preparation for a campaign to preserve our sources and stocks of energy, as well as our environment, which is largely dependent on our own energy resources. Nevertheless, for what it does to prevent the spoilation of land, the pollution of water and the insidious assault of noise on our ears, every architect, every patron of building and gardens, and every inheritor of this country's landscape tradition will certainly be grateful.

So far as the land and the atmosphere are concerned, the Bill, in Parts I and IV, very rightly brings home to the individual householder. the local councils and the county planners, the need for vigilance in dealing with every scale of waste, from occasional litter to large disposal works. Unless the individual understands the process of ecology, even in the simple way that the Chinese citizens of Hong Kong produce infinitely less garbage and more green vegetables from their congested tenements than we do from our far more gracious and spacious forms of housing, it is not likely that the authorities responsible for the collection and disposal of waste will even find people willing to man their services because they understand how important and essential they are to our whole way of life. Of that I could quote many examples from my own experience.

To illustrate this point I could also quote many examples from my own experience of conflicts concerned with competitive claims on land. These have been followed by long public inquiries only to end as fixed confrontations in which the contending parties, unable to negotiate any longer on a common ecological basis, have settled down into entrenched positions and nothing sensible seems likely to emerge. As your Lordships might accuse me of special pleading, may I quote just one example for which I hold no interest and no responsibility whatsoever. Audley Park is my example, on the fringe of Essex. It owes its beautifully designed landscape to "Capability'' Brown, who laid it out for the owner of Audley End House, Sir John Griffin at that time, between 1760 and 1766. The house, almost a palace in Elizabethan times, was "drastically pruned", as Miss Dorothy Stroud called it, by Vanbrugh in 1721 and was redecorated by Robert Adam. So it represents a wonderful example of some of our best architects and landscape architects. The great lawn stretches away from the house to a widened reach of the River Cam.

In the Park the local authority recently applied for planning permission to build a much needed sewage works on 14 acres and to use another 26 acres for playing fields. Essex County Council rejected the application for playing fields, giving as a reason, … that the use of this land for … the formation of playing fields, together with the associated clutter of goal posts and other playing equipment, and the consequent loss of mature trees would result in a most undesirable change in the character of the Audley End landscaped Park …", et cetera. And yet detailed proposals for the sewage works, approved last July by the town council, which I think is Saffron Walden, are still intended to be carried out. This situation is nonsensical. Looked at ecologically, as the Bill proposes, one hopes it will be realised that the very necessary sewage works are placeable elsewhere, and that Audley Park and Audley End House, which are irreplaceable, will be preserved and used for the recreation of citizens of all ages.

I should like to quote one other example on another point which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White; namely, the absence from the Bill of any reference to recycling of wastes and effluents. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, courageously warned us that in fact you need a rigorous analysis and testing of recycled effluents before they are allowed to be used, and this only adds to the point I am making. I want to mention an experimental house built by a young architect, at a cost of less than £1,000, in which he disposes of all his waste, except of course bottles and plastic containers. He heats his dwelling and his domestic water system by solar panels; he derives supplementary energy from the wind by means of a small home windmill, and he provides his own gas for cooking and the auxiliary heating of his house and greenhouse—in which I was delighted to observe only last week that he is growing such things as pineapples and bananas and green vegetables of all kinds. I am not going to give your Lordships the address of this house because the young man, Mr. Graham Caine, is making a serious scientific model. Everything that happens is being properly and scientifically recorded by the Thames Polytechnic or by King's College biology departments, and obviously he should not be plagued by too many unscientific visitors. But, meanwhile. similar and perhaps less primitive experiments in houses that absorb their waste and recycle their waste, and so on, are going on in Cambridge and elsewhere, on what might be termed generically "ecological lines". A feature of these experiments is that waste is reduced to an absolute minimum; costs are lowered, and where the systems are complete there is no pollution whatsoever. While therefore this Bill quite rightly asks for disposal plans on a local authority scale, it expressly excludes in Clause 3(5) waste on land within the curtilage of a private dwelling. I hope that, while protection is going on, these very inventive experiments will not in fact be caught by the regulations.

All our essential services are short of staff. The monitoring system which this Bill requires will of itself produce additional employments, but it cannot itself attract workers to what Bernard Shaw called, "the unpleasant trades". Although it is not relevant to this Second Reading debate, I cannot help commenting on the need to allow under-employed people and the retired to give more part-time help—and to have more fiscal assistance to provide that part-time help—than they do at the moment. Construction waste is another point which I will not go into in any detail to-day, but one has only to walk round parts of our towns, which are now subject to almost constant redevelopment, to recognise that pedestrians, visitors and residents are increasingly inconvenienced by the noise, the dirt and the obstructions created by the delay in dealing with building refuse in very crowded urban areas.

As to noise, this is a baffling and highly intricate subject—with a marked absence, I am afraid, of baffles. What is welcomed in Hong Kong may be very offensive in Kensington. Part III, Clause 54(2), permits a loudspeaker in a vehicle operated solely for the entertainment of … the driver … of the vehicle. It is true that this is qualified by the phrase: so … as not to give reasonable cause for annoyance to persons in the vicinity. Unfortunately — and this is the point I want to make — the entertainment of the passers-by is usually in inverse ratio to the entertainment of the driver. At close quarters one man's entertainment is often another man's incitement to violence. One is glad to see, therefore, that the Bill is taking very inventive, and almost revolutionary, steps towards the control of noise. At this stage I can only hope that those steps will be successful.

My Lords, I have spoken for much longer than I meant to, and I think I should end on a rather more amusing story about the scientific measurement of noise. The story is told by, or at least of, the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman. When he lived at Cloth Fair, in the City of London, he was leaning out of a window watching an elderly workman who was attacking a concrete deck of the road with an automatic drill. The air was hideous with sound, and to all Sir John's grimaces and gesticulations from the window he turned an absolutely blind eye and a deaf ear. Suddenly Betjeman said, "Do you notice an interesting thing? That man is wearing a hearing aid. I don't think that professionalism could go much further." I hope, my Lords, that this Bill will go a great deal further, not only professionally and scientifically but as a very considerable experiment in human relations; and it is for those reasons that I support the Bill.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, like all the previous speakers I welcome this Bill for what it does. It is not entirely easy at this stage to foresee exactly what its effect will be, and it will be only at the end of the Committee stage that we shall know exactly how far it is going to be effective for its purpose. If I understand aright—and I am following the Explanatory Memorandum—Parts I, II and III constitute codes of law dealing with these particular subjects. I take it that that is the meaning of the words replacing the provisions of the existing legislation upon the subject. When we come to Part IV, it does not claim to be replacing the existing law, but it amends and extends it. If that is so then I think it would be desirable, when the Bill is on the Statute Book, for an existing procedure to be followed and for there to be reprinted in a single publication the existing law as amended and extended by Part IV of this Bill.

Part I represents, I think, the first time that the problem of solid waste has been tackled in a comprehensive way. As I understand it, the disposal of waste will be under the exclusive authority of local authorities and of the Secretary of State, and the purpose of this is the prevention of pollution and the recycling of raw materials. I am very glad that a number of speakers have referred to the importance of the recycling of raw materials. There is no doubt that what would have been uneconomic when raw materials were relatively cheap will become economic in view of the really shocking increase in the price of raw materials during the last few years. Whether or not this is carried out effectively will depend to a large extent on administration and upon the expenditure of the necessary money, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has emphasised. That is not a matter with which we need concern ourselves while discussing the structure of the administration which is contained in this Bill, but I think there might be a useful debate in this House upon those matters at some time in the near future.

I had intended to speak at some slight length about water pollution, but in view of what my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has said about it, there is little to be added, except with regard to two particular points. I observe that Clause 36 provides that where a river authority has given consent to a certain effluent being poured into the river, the riparian owners in future will be deprived of the right of seeking an injunction if the effluent complies with the consent of the river authority. I think we ought to consider that point very carefully. I do not see why the riparian owner should be deprived of rights that he has under the law at the present time merely because the river authority has given its consent to a certain standard of effluent being poured into the river. Indeed, it appears to me that the very interesting case referred to by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford is very much in point here. If I understood him aright, the grower of tomatoes in Essex had almost the whole of his crop destroyed because of something that was in an effluent to which the river authority had taken no exception. I realise that the right of action for damages is preserved under this Bill, but there are many cases where it is not sufficient for damages to be paid and it is desirable that an injunction should be obtainable in order to prevent that nuisance from being continued.

Closely connected with that is a matter on which I am not quite sure what the powers of the river authority under this Bill are going to be. I am told that as a result of the ever increasing complexity of chemical processes, and also of the making of complicated drugs for men and animals, many of these substances, if put into the ordinary, even efficient, sewage works at the present time, will pass through the works without being broken down in the way that ordinary organic matter is broken down. It is immensely difficult for a chemist to find out what is in an effluent unless he knows what he is looking for. It is of the utmost importance that we should make sure that the existing deficiencies in the law are rectified in this Bill, so that it is possible to find out from industrial concerns what is the nature of an effluent that they are putting into sewage works, since quite a good deal will go right through the sewage works into the river. There is also the case of mineralised phosphates and nitrates, which go through a sewage works and can have the effect of causing proliferation of algae, which itself is extremely harmful to the navigation of the river and can bring about a secondary poisoning of the river when the algae die.

On Part III of the Bill, dealing with noise, I should like to associate myself with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady White: that it is not quite clear why these zones are called noise abatement zones, and I do not see that it goes much further than limiting, but not necessarily abating, the amount of noise in those areas.

I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, replies to this debate she will be able to explain whether this Bill does or does not deal with aircraft noise. If it does, it certainly is not apparent on the face of the Bill. If it does not deal with aircraft noise, I am bound to say that in my view the Bill is seriously deficient. I imagine that the reason may be that the noise of aircraft is a responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry and not of the Department of the Environment. But we all understood that the purpose of the Prime Minister in creating these great Departments—these amalgamations of a number of Departments—was to ensure that the Government were able to take a general overall view of some particular problem; and certainly if the Department of the Environment were to be precluded from dealing with aircraft noise, that would mean that the Department was most unsuitably named.

This is an extremely difficult and important matter. I was a member of the Select Committee on Special Orders. About 18 months ago there was an extremely complicated Order dealing with subsonic aircraft noise, which imposed much stricter regulations on aircraft that will be manufactured and used in future than those applicable to existing aircraft. I think we should know something about the rules which apply to aircraft at the present time. And what is the intention of the present Government with regard to Concorde, if it ever comes into use? The late Government gave an undertaking that Concorde would not be allowed to break the sound barrier while over this country. I am inclined to think that the present Government repeated an undertaking of that kind when they came into office, but we are still without any information as to how any regulation of that kind will be applied. I hope that the Government will consider at any rate enlarging the scope of this Bill in order to include aircraft noise if, as I think is the case at the moment, it is excluded.

My Lords, when we come to Part IV, dealing with the pollution of the atmosphere, this appears to be not a reformulation of the law on the subject but an amendment, or an extension. I do not necessarily complain about that, but it makes it very much more difficult to understand exactly what the law is on the subject. We all should remember that it was my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor who, when he was Minister of Health, introduced the first Bill, that has been so effective in bringing about the improvement in the atmosphere of London to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, referred.

I am surprised that this Bill appears to ignore the general recommendations made by the Royal Commission in their Second Report on Environmental Pollution. As the noble Baroness, Lady White, has said, the need for publicity was one of the main points of that Report. The Royal Commission devoted ten paragraphs to emphasising the importance of much greater publicity about these matters. I think it was an example of the modesty of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, in his very remarkable maiden speech, that, in his desire to avoid, as he said, anything that could be called controversial, he did not point out how little appears to he done in this Bill to give effect to these extremely important recommendations which were put in the forefront of the Royal Commission's Second Report. Since the noble Baroness, Lady White, quoted from it at length I shall try not to quote exactly the passages that she did, but at paragraph 7 the Ashby Commission say: It is in the public interest that information about wastes should be available not only to the statutory bodies which have a right to demand it but to reasearch workers and others who can make use of it to improve the environment. In the next paragraph, the Commission elaborate these points. They say: We believe, therefore, that this problem needs to he considered urgently. … Then in paragraph 10, in concluding that part of their Report, the Royal Commission say: We therefore urge the Government Departments involved in the control of pollution, particularly the Department of the Environment, to consult with the Confederation of British Industry to devise measures which will increase the availability and flow of information on the production and disposal of industrial effluents and waste. My Lords, so far from consultations to increase the likelihood of public information about these emissions, it appears that this is being restricted. When the Secretary of State is given power, in Clause 72, to make regulations dealing with these matters it is provided that in making those regulations he shall have regard to the existing practice of the Alkali Inspectorate. The Alkali Inspectorate goes back to Victorian times when ideas of trade secrecy and confidentiality were very different from what they are at the present time. There was a far greater need for it in those days than now, for reasons brought out in the Second Report of the Royal Commission. I therefore hope very much that during the Committee stage we shall be able to amend the Bill in order to provide for that greatly increased publicity which is one of the most important recommendations of the Royal Commission's Second Report.

My Lords, I welcome the Bill for what it does. I was very glad indeed to hear my noble friend the Leader of the House say that the Government hoped for participation, and that they would keep an open mind on suggestions for improvement. I hope that in some of the matters on which it is felt that the Bill does not go far enough the Government may be willing at the Committee stage to increase its scope.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, although the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when making kind reference to my participation in this debate, mentioned that I had an interest in this matter, I think I should myself remind the House that a company of which I am chairman includes among its subsidiaries the biggest single private industry waste disposal operation in the country. I mention that because your Lordships ought to bear it in mind while I am speaking. I can also say that to the best of my knowledge and to the best of my power of self-analysis, this particular connection does not influence what I say beyond making me more knowledgeable than otherwise I would have been.

My Lords, I think this is a good and necessary Bill, and I hope that its main provisions will find a welcome in all parts of your Lordships' House as, indeed, I think is already apparent. I do not believe that at the present time there will be serious objection to the main purpose of the Bill from any section of the community. Everybody must recognise the necessity for better regulation of waste disposal in order to preserve amenity, and more particularly in order to avoid contamination of water. Certainly responsible people in the waste disposal industry itself have become increasingly aware of such a necessity, and some among them have already done a good deal to foster the introduction of regulatory legislation such as that we now see before us. I know, too, that similar remarks can be made about responsible people in other sections of industry which produce industrial waste. They are prepared to accept the burden of good disposal practice, but quite understandably do not wish to incur competitive disadvantage by doing so in isolation.

Believing as I do that the broad intention of the Bill will meet with everybody's approbation, I shall not waste your Lordships' time by general argument in its favour. Instead, I start from the position that the Bill is intended to serve what is accepted to be a good and necessary purpose, and concern myself only with the effectiveness of its provisions as a means of establishing a satisfactory system of waste disposal throughout the country as quickly and as economically as possible. In this respect also, it seems to me that the Bill stands up to examination rather well. It has many good features and there is nothing explicitly expressed in it to which I see any serious objection. However, the Bill, understandably, is not explicit in all respects, sometimes not as explicit as it might be. This leaves room for some concern about the way in which its provisions may be applied—concern, I hasten to say, not because of Party political differences of approach because I hope we shall be spared those, but simply because the problem is a complex one and the waste disposal authorities who have to implement the provisions of the Bill by regulatory and direct discharge of responsibilities within their own areas may not have the same understanding and viewpoint as those who drafted the legislation.

It is understandable—almost unavoidable. I suppose—that the county councils of England and the district councils in Scotland and Wales have been designated as the authorities responsible for waste disposal. It is equally clear, however, that the resulting subdivision of authority bears no relationship whatever to the parameters which shape the problem. The more common forms of waste arisings, constituting by far the greater proportion of the whole, have a distribution pattern over the country which closely matches the density distribution of population and industry. For these forms of waste, landfill is, and will for a long time remain, the most suitable of the methods of disposal, but suitable sites are not distributed by any means uniformly over the country. still less are they distri- buted in a way that matches the pattern of waste arisings. Therefore, even in relation to the simpler forms of waste—those of which I have been speaking—any one W.D.A. may have a marked imbalance between waste production and suitable disposal facilities within its own borders and there will be very pronounced disparities in this respect between one waste disposal authority and another across the country. Moreover, this general imbalance will be intensified by the application of the more stringent criteria for determining the suitability of sites which will apply in future.

Facilities for dealing with even fairly ordinary liquid wastes are bound to be fewer and more unevenly spaced than landfill sites used for solid waste alone. Sparser still will be treatment plants for dealing with the relatively small volume of really troublesome, persistently toxic liquid or solid wastes. Economies arising from plant size will dictate that these plants will be very few in number and that they shall have to use major areas of the country as their gathering grounds.

Because of this ill-match between sources of waste and disposal facilities, and because county boundaries have little relationship to either, it is obvious that many of the waste disposal authorities will be far from self-sufficient in relation to their responsibilities, while others will be very favourably placed in that respect. It is true that the Bill clearly recognises that there will be some export/import business between waste disposal authorities, but it may be questioned whether it gives sufficient importance to the degree of unavoidable interdependence there will be between them. Yet because of this interdependence, before the authorities can formulate sound plans for their areas, as the Bill requires them to do, the Secretary of State will surely have to give them some indication of his concept of the integrated national waste disposal plan. Very likely he intends to do so anyway, but it would be well for the Bill to require that he shall.

There is in the Bill an apparent failure to recognise the magnitude of the financial and technical effort which will be necessary to establish the new standards, and this is accentuated by the exclusive concentration of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum upon only the direct and immediate burden placed by the Bill on public funds and public authority manpower. It must be inferred, however, that the Secretary of State is relying upon the waste disposal industry to provide a major part of the resources needed to establish new disposal facilities of a satisfactory kind. That being so, there should be an obligation placed on waste disposal authorities to consult with non-statutory bodies, and in particular the private sector waste disposal industry, and to do so during the preparation of waste disposal plans rather than, as the Bill now puts it, at the stage of "finally determining the content".

Another cause of concern, intensified by the feeling that the magnitude of the whole problem is being underestimated, is the absence from the Bill of time scales within which waste disposal plans need to be completed by the waste disposal authorities. Since many things cannot sensibly be started until the shape of local and national plans begins to emerge, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the authorities be required to produce, within one year, an interim or draft plan perhaps covering a period of only five years, and then to produce a final plan covering a 10-year period not more than one year later. Neither planning nor action can proceed very far until provisions subject to definition by subsequent regulations have been clarified. The definition of site licence conditions in Clause 4, of special wastes in Clause 16 and of water pollution avoidance precautions in Clause 23, will determine the whole effective meaning of this legislation and hence will determine the future shape of the industry. The sooner the necessary regulations can be formulated the sooner can firm planning start.

Some cause for concern arises from the provisions relating to licensing procedure. It is understandable that there must be a time-lag in the approval of existing sites, but sound planning and provision for the future will not be possible until many of these approvals have been given or finally refused. As Clause 3(4) is at present drafted, there could be a lag of several years before the future of some existing sites is finally settled. If waste disposal authority plans are to proceed to a reasonable time scale there will have to be provision for the efficient and timely hearing of appeals.

One admirable feature of the Bill is that it clearly sets out to establish the same high standards for everyone, whether in the private or public sectors. Bearing in mind the widely varying degrees of difficulty which waste disposal authorities in different parts of the country will experience in the discharge of their obligations, for reasons which I outlined earlier, it is doubtful whether uniformity of practice will be achieved unless there is some monitoring by a central Government Inspectorate. As the Bill stands, waste disposal authorities will supervise private sites but will themselves be exempted by Clause 9 from the provisions of Clause 3(1). I have always thought, since I came to consider this problem—and I have only had cause to consider it at all closely during the last couple of years—that the objective of establishing nationally uniform standards will be achieved only if there is a national Inspectorate.

There are a number of other minor but not unimportant ways in which I think this basically excellent Bill could be improved, but I will not take up your Lordships' time by detailing them now. I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that my objective is to support this Bill but to express a hope that it will be modified in such ways as to ensure that its admirable intentions will be fully and quickly realised. I support the Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? Does he not think that the Sea Fisheries Committee should be compulsorily consulted under the Bill, because they have played a great part in conservation.


My Lords, I do not think I am in a very good position to answer the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. He has got me at sea; I was on the land.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not attempt, either, to answer the question that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby has just put. I am sure the House as a whole will welcome the general aims and principles of this Bill, preceded, as it has been, by a number of very competent studies. Further, it seems to me exactly the type of Bill that is suitable for introduction into your Lordships' House. I should like to join the throng of speakers who have said how much we enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. How fortunate we are to have persons of his quality and experience as Members of our House. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holford, for recounting that alleged statement of Lord Ashby's, which I think is going to see me satisfactorily through my next degree-giving ceremony. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford is of course deeply respected in the very highest and most eminent water and sewerage circles. When we look at him we see a halo round his head which I think scientifically is composed of minute drops of the purest water spray; and the effect of the sunlight on it proves that that is so. I greatly enjoyed his speech this afternoon, speaking as he does with the greatest authority and knowledge of these matters.

This is a highly complex Bill which will lead, no doubt, to a strong flow of subsequent orders and regulations. It will, therefore, clearly require very careful consideration in Committee, and I am sure we shall all be anxious to give what help we can. The aims of the Bill seem wholly good and timely. I wonder whether by about the end of the century we may begin to get a little tired of this word "environment". In a search for a better word I looked at two dictionaries, but my search was unrewarding. I found, for instance: 'environment' means the act of environing or the state of being environed or that which environs". It went on to say that it really means: the aggregate of all the external conditions or influences or forces which affect and modify the life and development of an organism". So my search for a snappy substitute has failed, and, unless my noble friend Lord Conesford can come to our help, I suggest that we should perhaps after all close for the word "environment" as a nice short succinct word which we can learn to get along with until we find something better.

The welfare of our nation is clearly in the future going to depend, even more than on maximising our gross national product, which is the traditional measurement of economic benefit in monetary terms, on the improvement of the quality of life. That may sound and does sound a very platitudinous thing to say, but it is something we must keep continuously before us. It is important because it is bound to affect priorities. It seems at the present time that we are once again as a nation in much danger of being guilty of one of our besetting sins, which is trying to do too many things at once, with the result that we overstretch our resources and perhaps fail to do any of them as well as we ought.

The potentially damaging developments that this Bill seeks to control are developments which clearly must be controlled if life is to be tolerable in the future. At the same time we must remember that every new duty we lay on public authorities is bound to absorb, as has already been said in this debate, resources in money and manpower which are in scarce supply. I think the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to this. This applies too, of course, to those costs which are not laid on public authorities but are laid in the course of legislation on other bodies. I am not quarrelling with that in this case, but I think we must take note of that fact.

My experience is that the Financial Memoranda of Bills invariably underestimate the cost, in terms of both money and manpower; and that, I believe, is likely to prove true in this case. I agree that under this Bill it looks as if the central Government expenditure directly involved should not be large, but with the other authorities the situation is very different, as indeed the noble Baroness, Lady White and my noble friend Lord Nugent have mentioned. I fear that the figures quoted in the Financial Memorandum on this Bill may be positively misleading. Controls of the kinds proposed do in practice cost a considerable amount. Local authorities will be under public pressure, and rightly, to carry out with thoroughness these functions that have been allotted to them and will want to do so. At present, local authorities are under strong pressure from the central Government, on national economic grounds, to curtail the growth of their expenditure. Any new responsibilities that are placed on them are bound to make such a task harder; and it is hard enough already in view of their current commitments. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be realistic when they come to fix the dates for the implementation of these new costs. Some of them will directly involve county councils, others district councils and others the new water authorities. Obviously, close consultation between these authorities will be required, particularly with any authorities that have planning functions; and I hope that this will be appropriately provided for in the Bill.

Sometimes I think there is a danger that when conservation and protection of the environment are talked of some people rather speak as if it is necessary to accept the damage that has already been done, and that we are therefore concerned only with the prevention of further damage. I am sure your Lordships agree that such an attitude is wrong, and I am glad to say that it has not been reflected in any of the speeches to-day. In many vital matters we can surely hope positively to undo much of the damage that has already been done. Examples of success are, of course, the really dramatic improvements in health and amenity resulting from the clean air regulations. They have revolutionised the healthiness and the appearance of the trees and the gardens and have improved the weather in London. Gone are the London fogs; gone, or going, is the accumulated grime and soot of centuries. Often we do not realise how appallingly dirty London was for centuries, culminating perhaps in the 19th century. Now London and the Thames are acquiring what one might call an almost neo-Canaletto appearance. The same thing, thank heavens! is happening in many of the industrial cities in Northern England.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned that her windowsill in the vicinity of the Department of the Environment was not quite spotless and had soot on it, and invited a party of your Lordships to call on her one morning to see it. I should like to suggest to the noble Baroness that perhaps she should bring the same party on to view my windowsill, which is also in the vicinity of the Department of the Environment, because I maintain that any of your Lordships could eat luncheon off my windowsill. This would perhaps not be without inconvenience, because it is on the 8th floor, but I should be so glad to receive a party of your Lordships, though not too early in the morning!

So let us set our sights high and, scorning mere conservation of the present situation, be content with nothing less than positive improvement. I hope that the time will come when we value our inheritance so much that we finally exorcise that thoughtless, anti-social sin of litter, to which my noble friend Lord Nugent referred. He was very wise because it is true, as he said, that that horrible habit of spitting which was so common is now being eliminated on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of your Lordships who have crossed the Atlantic and visited our friends on the other side may remember, say, 50 years ago when you found yourself in a crowd and wanted to get from A to B, that it was not safe to do so without pretty careful reconnaissance, and the shortest distance was seldom the safest route to take.

I have always liked the saying—I think that I may have quoted it in this House before— That which thy forefathers have bequeathed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it. That is the sort of spirit in which we should set out to tackle plans to make the most of our national heritage, never forgetting that the actual measures that we have to adopt are bound to make demands on national resources which, in total, are already fully loaded. If, therefore, we conclude, as I am sure we shall, that the measures covered by this Bill are urgently necessary, then we must pay the price by making sure that we make room for them at the expense of something else which is not going to receive quite so high a priority. If these controls are sensibly carried out they should increase the true value of our national assets, and if they do that then the expenditure will be amply justified. I hope that the House will give a welcome to this potentially useful and sensible Bill.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with considerable trepidation. After listening to the very learned speeches that have been made this evening, I feel that I am in danger of sounding like a rather poor tape recording, and perhaps this section should be "deleted", as was the fate of a rather more famous set of tapes. I feel very humble following the most notable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby.

Along with other noble Lords, I too should like to welcome this Bill, although, I must confess, with a certain amount of disappointment. I hope that this does not sound carping, but I had hoped that it would go a little further. I would question one or two aspects of the Bill; first, the question of waste. I feel that this should be tackled one stage down the line, and that we ought to minimise waste. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, has talked about packaging. We waste a vast amount of metal every year on canned beers and canned soft drinks. It is a great pity that we cannot go back to non-disposable bottles on which there was a deposit paid, and then we should have less litter about the countryside and less for re-cycling. Secondly, there is the concept of what waste is. It is regarded in the Bill as a pollutant. Many of the pollutants are in fact valuable raw materials, and they go to waste purely and simple because it is regarded as uneconomic at this moment to reclaim them. If, as they should be, they were reclaimed, we could save a considerable amount of money in terms of imports.

For instance, at present a small plating company uses about a thousand gallons an hour of rinsed water, which contains chromiums, metallic cyanides, and other heavy metals. These are all valuable, but they are also highly toxic. It follows from this that the companies do not reclaim them because it is too expensive to get them back, and therefore they become dangerous waste. I have the feeling that it is the concept of the "polluter that pays" that is slightly wrong in this Bill. I should like to see it reversed, and the polluter encouraged to remove pollutants, and recover and re-cycle wherever possible. The cost to this small plating plant of removing these pollutants would be between £10,000 and £15,000. This is a large sum of money for a small company, but often it is not the small companies who have been the worst polluters. Therefore, if we could move over to a system, which I feel is more effective, of encouraging companies to remove pollutants by a system of grants, then we could save money. The question of performance bonds has been mentioned tonight, but if it was grants, in this case performance bonds would be the concept in reverse.

I should like finally to come on to the question of enforcing the Bill as it stands. I believe that if we had worked on a system whereby the companies were encourage by grants to remove pollutants, then we should have a more effective system. However, if we do not have the system of encouragement, we shall have to have a much more effective system of enforcement. Tribute has been paid to the hard-working and, I am afraid, probably underpaid Inspectorate. They do a tremendous job, but this legislation is pointless unless it is properly enforced, and the present Inspectorate is totally inadequate. I, along with other noble Lords, feel that the Preamble to this Bill is a little optimistic in saying that it will not require many more people to enforce it. I think that it will require a considerable number of people.

I was going to touch on a number of other subjects. For instance, I was going to mention the importance of re-cycling water, but after my noble friend Lord Nugent's speech, which was so learned, I would not dare, and I will dispose of that section of my speech without "recycling" it. I should like to end by welcoming the Bill and saying that it is a step forward, although it does not go as far as I hoped it would. It fits into the framework of legislation that has gone before, such as the Clean Air Acts, which have been extremely effective. Let us hope that this Bill will be as effective, but I fear that we shall have to go much further forward on this. Perhaps we can look forward to a Protection of the Environment Bill 1974 to follow the Protection of the Environment Bill 1973.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, this is in the main an administrative Bill dealing with organisation rather than with matters of far-reaching principle. Hence, it does not provide a great deal of scope for those vague generalities or philosophical speculations which are sometimes the best contributions which we on these Benches are able to make in matters of such practical importance as those envisaged in the Bill. I am, however, venturing to ask for a few minutes of your Lordships' time chiefly to assure your Lordships of the concern of the Church in this whole realm of the environment. It just happens that some time ago the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, of which I am chairman, produced a report entitled Man in his Living Environment, and it is encouraging and interesting for me to see how many of the subjects that were adumbrated in that report are now dealt with in a legislative manner in the Bill which is before us. I should also like to mention that before preparing this short speech I took the opportunity to have one or two conversations with our former colleague Bishop Fleming, now Dean of Windsor. We know how much we miss his scientific contributions to our debates, and we are glad to know that he is still concerned with the Royal Commission on Pollution.

With regard to waste, I make no comment on the allocation of responsibilities between the various authorities. I am more concerned about the way in which the authorities will exercise their powers. What principles or philosophy will govern their actions? I notice, for instance, that nothing is said in the Bill—perhaps it was impossible for it to be so—about the desirability of manufacturers using materials, particularly for packing, which are more easily disposable than those which are now being produced. It will be an unfortunate development of the affluent society if in the end we bury ourselves under a mountain of indestructible waste.

I am concerned, too, about tips into which waste is still deposited on a large scale. It is difficult to see how they can be entirely eliminated. A good gardener will tell you that every garden has to have an untidy corner; and I cannot forget the example of Jerusalem, which had its Valley of Hinnom, where the fire was not quenched and which became a symbol of the eternal fires of destruction. All the same, tips for waste are very ugly eyesores in our country, and sometimes worse than that. I know of one in Essex which is quite near to a number of houses, and I have been reliably informed that in the summer it is impossible for the inhabitants of those houses to open their windows because if they do so they are invaded by swarms of flies from the waste tip. "If we opened our windows", said one, "our bread and butter would be black with flies in a few moments". There are, of course, modern methods of incineration and of dealing with waste, but they are expensive; and like many others I have noticed that the Bill states that there will be very few financial con- sequences from the provisions of the Bill. Perhaps there ought to be some. Perhaps the Government ought to consider giving more help towards the capital installation of the most modern methods of the disposal of waste.

On water pollution, we all welcome the development of the control of pollution to all inland water. We are somewhat concerned that the pollution of water, or its possible pollution, from what is called "good agricultural practice"—Clause 23(2)(c)—is to be free from penalty. I think the Royal Commission have already suggested that farmers should turn away from practices which may lead to the further pollution of water. Among these practices are the widespread use of nitrogenous fertilisers and the swilling away into the surrounding waterways of animal manure where intensive farming is being carried out. I think it is acknowledged by all that the real place for animal manure is on the fields, where it would fructify the earth and maintain the cycle of dynamic change whereby our planet continues to give its fruit in its season.

We must not despair of the consequences that may be obtained from measures to improve the situation of our water. We have already had examples this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, in his most distinguished maiden speech—and how much we look forward to further contributions from him in the future! We are most fortunate to have one of his scientific expertise to help us; and who better than one who daily looks out from his college on what is perhaps the most beautiful combination of natural and man-made beauty in this country, the Backs of the Cambridge Colleges? The noble Lord mentioned several of the examples which I must admit I had culled from my friend Bishop Fleming, but there is just one that he did not mention and that is the progress that has been made in the matter of the disposal of sludge from oil tankers. I have been informed that, by the new method of loading this on top of the tanker instead of tipping it into the sea, already at least three million tons of oil have been kept from polluting the oceans. We are not primarily concerned with the sea in this Bill, but the same principle applies throughout the whole field. We must set ourselves the highest standards, and not allow our vigilance to falter. We have too long taken it for granted that waterways can absorb an indefinite amount of chemical effluent, and it is not until there is a sudden massacre of fish by poisoning, as happened not so long ago in the Rhine, that we realise the seriousness of the situation. Our environment cannot be taken for granted; it is delicately balanced, and presents a picture of stability and dynamic change related together in ways which we cannot always fully understand.

The next section of the Bill deals with noise. The recognition of noise as a nuisance has increased rapidly with the increase of noise from industry, road-works and traffic, although traffic noise is not dealt with in this particular Bill. Noise and nuisance are presumably etymologically connected. Some of us are familiar with the phrase "a noisome pestilence", which I suppose could be an equivalent of "a pestilential noise". Under this Bill a local authority has power to control many kinds of noise, but I feel it is important to mention that so far as the younger generation is concerned noise seems to be accepted as something quite other than a nuisance. It is usually self-inflicted by the use of enormously amplified bands. Serious danger to the ears can result from undue exposure to this kind of noise; and to the older generation it is almost intolerable. Recently I had to speak at a dinner held in a small hostelry, and one of these great bands was playing for a dance taking place within a few feet from me with only a very thin partition separating us. Presumably noise within a private building will be a matter for the proprietors to consider; but if the conditions of the Bill could be stretched to cover noise emanating from private quarters but constituting a nuisance to others, I think that would be a good thing for all concerned.

Finally, there is the question of the pollution of the atmosphere. Enormous progress has been made, particularly since the Clean Air Act 1956, and it is not necessary to give further examples to prove that point. The new Bill gives the Secretary of State power to control the composition of motor fuel. This may become very important if the number of cars continues to increase at the kind of rate which we have been seeing recently. Whether it will be so in the light of new petrol conditions no one can tell. Cars made in Britain and intended for export to America have to have pollution limits built in to the specification. It will be a good thing if the same conditions could be applied to cars being made for the home market. The Bill does not provide for this, I think, but perhaps some of the clauses could be stretched or amended to meet it.

Taking it all in all, the Bill shows the awareness of Her Majesty's Government to a group of problems: the disposal of waste, control of noise, and the pollution of water and air—and improvements in all four of these realms will certainly improve the environment. But in one sense the Bill deals only with the negative side, the prevention of pollution. We must hope that it will leave the way open for much objective improvement of the environment as and when this is possible.

In the last resort a vast amount depends upon public opinion and private standards. It is because the world is mankind's home that it is important to keep it clean, wholesome and tidy. Generally speaking, people do not foul their own "nests". Where they feel they belong, they also care. So behind all these detailed questions of the disposal of waste and the protection of air and water, there lies the deeper question of man's relationship to the planet in which he finds himself living and for which he is in large measure responsible. Mutual caring within the community, mutual respect between nations, care for all creatures great and small: these are the necessary conditions which alone can make the world a home for mankind. The more this sense of belonging to a community which is itself at home in the world, the less need will there be for the kind of warnings and penalties that this Bill, quite rightly, prescribes.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Henley, I should like to congratulate the Government on bringing this Bill into this House. I have listened to some speeches to-day which made me feel very humble; particularly so the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on which I congratulate him. I congratulate the Government for bringing in this Bill and I am proud personally of the Department of the Environment. I think we are the only nation in the world with a Department with this breadth of responsibility. Speaking as one who has many "hats" and who deals with the Department on a considerable number of subjects, I must thank them for the co-operation they show and the skill with which they deal with so many difficult subjects. With other noble Lords I feel that there are a number of Committee points to be raised. I will not touch on them now; but I have a few major doubts that I feel I must voice.

The first is the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White, and also by the noble Lords, Lord Holford and Lord Molson: that, bearing in mind the growing cost of raw materials and fuel, I wonder whether sufficient emphasis is being laid in Part I of the Bill on all aspects of reclamation. Should the collection authorities not have power to require certain specified items to be separated from the general body of waste and perhaps put into separate containers provided by the authorities? Should the collection authorities be bound to hand over to the disposal authorities all waste but waste paper? Does the relevant clause adequately cover the case where waste could be used for heating or lighting or similar purposes not yet properly developed?

There is one point on Clause 9 about which I should like to ask the Minister. The clause is concerned with provisions for land occupied by the local authorities and used for disposal purposes. As I read the clause as drafted, the public, and particularly the owner of the adjacent land, have no right to object. They do not even have to be informed if the local authority proposes to do work on its own land in connection with disposal. It is left to the discretion of the disposal authorities to decide whether the works are a serious detriment to the amenities of the locality. If I am right in thinking that owners of adjacent land have no right at all to speak or to be informed, it would be advantageous to clear up this point now, for it would involve considerable amendment to the Bill at the Committee stage.

So far as Part II of the Bill is concerned, after the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, we are all a little nervous when speaking about water; but I am concerned with one point on which I have some experience, the control of sanitary appliances in vessels. The pro- visions covering sealing of the appliance which discharges into the water are excellent, and in some areas long overdue. But what happens then? Two things must happen, yet neither seems to be mentioned in the Bill. First, the water authority should satisfy themselves about the alternative. I think the word used in Part I is "privy", but whether it is a privy or another device, the local authority should satisfy themselves that a proper alternative is provided. Secondly, they must make it easy and convenient for the people in the boat to empty and wash the appliance; because if they do not encourage the use of these appliances it is probable that the people on the boat will go ashore and find a quiet place to empty the effluent, and also to relieve themselves. This is an omission from the Bill that must be corrected.

Part III is the unhappiest Part of this Bill—not for what it says but for what it does not say. Perhaps it is my fault that I find it difficult to understand. Let me give some examples. Clause 73 provides for the installation of air pollution monitoring equipment. Part III seems to make no provision for the general monitoring and measuring of noise except where a noise abatement area is designated. Looking at the Schedule to the Bill, one sees that the designation of a noise abatement area is a very difficult process. I cannot believe that it is right to confine the monitoring of noise only to a noise abatement area.

Part III seems to make no provision for traffic noise. Should not the police or the traffic wardens be enabled to take the number of a car which is creating too much noise and then the owner have to prove that the car conformed to the regulations? But here again, even with the question of traffic noise, Part III does not seem to lay any obligation on a local authority to take any action itself. Certainly it can control adequately offenders who make a noise, but it seems to have no obligation which would enable one to say to a local authority, "There is such a traffic noise here that you, as the local authority, ought to do something about it." Part III does not ban the audible burglar alarm. Anyone who has tried to work during a weekend when a burglar alarm is going knows the irritation that can he caused. Part III does not seem to I make it possible to ensure the provision of silencers for chain saws. Anyone who has worked in the garden over the weekend knows how difficult that can be. I cannot find any powers in the Bill to deal with these things.

Perhaps I am wrong in saying that what is wrong with Part III is what it does not say, because it mentions aircraft noise, but only to exclude it. There is now no law to protect us against aircraft noise, not even action at common law, because this is expressly forbidden in the Civil Aviation Act. My noble friend may say that this is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but, as I understand it, they have power only to control noise levels, and they monitor them. I have not heard of any sanctions being imposed. I hope, and in this I am supported by other speakers, that some provision about the rights of citizens, however minimal, will be included in the Bill. The reason is that it would give the Department of the Environment the ability at least to talk to the D.T.I. about aircraft noise which worries us all so much.

In Part IV of the Bill the atmosphere is good and it will lead to tremendous improvement. Had this debate taken place a few weeks ago, one might have remarked about lead in petrol, but now perhaps that would be a little badly timed, and so I have only two points to make. One is that I think we all realise that local authorities and the Alkali Inspectorate will find it difficult to work together in harmony. I do not see anything in the Bill to help this. I know that there will be goodwill on both sides, but I think we ought to try to get the two authorities a little closer together. Secondly, and this point has been voiced before, the public should be given the fullest information. The Ministry does not seem to realise how much concern there is in the public mind about conservation. People will demand information about pollution at local works, or anything going on in their area which causes pollution, and the Bill seems almost to approve of a conspiracy of silence. Sooner or later we shall have to inform the public in a better manner, and here is our first opportunity. That, my Lords, is all I have to say. I hope to put down a number of Amendments to the Bill in Committee. Again I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill, and I support it most heartily.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to those paid so eloquently this afternoon to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby—an old academic colleague—for his admirable maiden speech. If I may say so, I think that he demonstrated once more how an academic, by going into public life, may very much enrich it. I hope, with other noble Lords, that we shall have many more opportunities of hearing the noble Lord taking part in our discussions. As I have been engaged for rather more than forty years in attempting to protect the environment, very often without much success, I felt that I should like to take part in this debate. My own experience has lain in the protection of the rural part of England, and this Bill is much more concerned with the protection of urban environment. But I would remind your Lordships that the town dweller does his best to get into the country whenever he can, and that the countryside deserves just as much protection as the urban areas.

There has been a chorus of praise for this Bill. No doubt most of us spend most of our lives in urban areas and we appreciate the value of its provisions for the protection of the environment there. But even in that respect the deficiencies in the Bill are fairly obvious, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, devote quite a bit of his speech to them. Several other noble Lords started off by saying how admirable the Bill was, and finished up by pointing out a number of important aspects in which it is deficient.

My Lords, I am very disappointed with the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady White, pointed out how absurd is the Title. It deals with the amending of three existing Acts of Parliament and it should have been called "a Bill to amend three Acts of Parliament". A wide range of the environment is completely ignored. Many aspects of this omission have been pointed out this afternoon. Noble Lords may say that it does not matter what the Bill is called, but I think it does. In indicates how ready the Government are to do a bit of "window-dressing" rather than devoting their attention to what should be done. They are trying to persuade the public, which is very interested in the problem, that this is a Bill for the protection of the environment as a whole; and it is not. That is almost a fraud.

When I saw the reference in the gracious Speech to this legislation I, with other friends of mine who are very concerned with the protection of rural England, thought that at last we were going to get something. This is a useful Bill up to a point, and I do not say that it is not. But if you were to pick up the agenda at any meeting of the executive committee of the C.P.R.E. (and I see two ex-Chairmen of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England in the Chamber) and look at the things with which we have to deal in the Council every month, you would realise that there are important aspects of the environment about which this Bill is completely silent. I think that a great pity. It is almost a fraud on the voters for the Government to come before Parliament with a Bill christened with a Title of this kind. Reservoirs, afforestation, electricity lines stretching across the countryside, mineral extraction and all sorts of matters of that kind concern the environment all the time, and there are no general laws relating to protection.

I appreciate that it is a difficult area in which to legislate, and at the present time it would be very difficult to draft detailed legislation. But I believe that the general principles could and ought to be laid down by Statute as a guide to those authorities concerned with such matters, and I have referred to only some of them. Particularly that would be a guide to planning officers on whom at the present time so much depends. The whole business of planning has come into existence during my adult lifetime and during the adult lifetimes of most of your Lordships. It is a most extraordinary thing that this Bill, which concerns this very important matter, as some of your Lordships, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, have pointed out, will depend enormously, if it is to be a success, on plans being properly made. Yet in this Bill there is hardly a reference to planning. I have looked it through. It is a long Bill, and it may be that I have missed some of it, but in Clause 4 there is a reference to one of the recent Town and Country Planning Acts. Here and there there are clauses which might be interpreted as meaning that planning officers should be brought in.


My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord would allow me to ask one question. I would agree with him about the tremendous importance of conservation of the countryside, and the illustrations of that which he gave, but does he not feel that it is sometimes a mistake to include too many things of a rather different nature in one comprehensive Bill? This Bill deals with certain things, and it is perhaps not a bad thing to stop there and then have other Bills dealing with other aspects.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Viscount that it is valuable to improve the existing Statutes which deal with these matters, but the Bill ought not to masquerade as a general Bill for the protection of the environment, which I do not think it really is.

As to the Bill itself, I was encouraged by what Lord Ashby said about its insistence on getting rid of the hush-hush policy. But after hearing the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and some other speakers, I wonder whether Lord Ashby is not a little too optimistic. Indeed, his own Report suggests that what he and his Commission wanted to do is not provided for in this Bill. I was interested to note how frequently during the course of his admirable speech he said that when it came to Committee stage he might become a little more controversial. I hope to goodness he will and that this Bill will be improved very much indeed.

Various matters have been raised which we must deal with carefully at Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, talked about taking away Common Law rights from riparian owners. Not only do I regard it as important on its own but, though I am not normally a protector of property rights, in this particular sort of case it is very valuable to have two arrows to one's bow. In my experience it is difficult to get local authorities, and even Whitehall, to move in matters where they ought to be moving and where, if we do not move quickly, we may lose the advantage of movement altogether. To deprive the riparian owner of the possibility of applying to the High Court for an injunction, when something bad is being done in the river which runs through his land, is very dangerous because he might well get the evil stopped by obtaining an interim injunction from the court at an early stage. It is always just as well to have two remedies in connection with any matter of this kind, and anybody who has had much experience of the practice of the law would bear me out on that.

One particular aspect of this pollution matter which to all of us who work in the countryside is of outstanding importance is that of litter. Litter is dealt with in the most peculiar way in this Bill. Clause 20, I think, speaking from memory, just calls for schemes. It is dealt with under waste, as in a way litter is waste. But it is a very serious form of pollution, and although the Bill calls for schemes which are apparently to be published it does not establish any sort of penalties. The penalties aspect of this Bill is one of its better aspects, but it does not deal with penalties for litter. It enables the Treasury to give grants towards removing litter, and matters of that kind, but I do not think one can deal with litter successfully until one has strong anti-litter laws, supported by heavy fines. Some local authorities, of course, have such laws under the powers which already exist. But these are not referred to, so far as I can see. Every now and then in the Lake District, when one or other of the local authorities has taken to making use of the law, for a while it has had a salutary effect. But it wears off. This is a matter to which considerable attention ought to be given. The peculiar way in which it is dealt with in the Bill does not seem to me to improve anything.

It is getting late and I do not want to occupy your Lordships with all the points on which I have notes. I should just like to say how very much I welcome the application of the proposed rules in relation to pollution in rivers, to the estuaries and also to coastal areas which I consider to be one of the most important innovations in this Bill. I agree with Lord Nugent, who said that we must get reciprocity from the other side of the Channel and the other side of the North Sea in regard to these matters. It will be difficult to deal with ships—we have already found this is so—which already pollute the sea shores with waste oil causing terrible inconvenience and damage to the clothing of visitors to the seaside, and the rather higher monetary penalties which it will be quite impossible to enforce against ships do not provide a remedy.

It occurred to me that the maritime method of arresting the ships might well be introduced. I suppose that that is a Committee point, but a ship which commits certain types of illegality and damage under the code of maritime law can be arrested and kept under arrest until its owners give security to meet any damages which may be awarded against it. It seems to me that that is the only effective way of dealing with ships which do the damage and then sail off across the sea. It is no good getting an award for £100 which you have to go to Nicaragua or some other country to enforce. On the whole, the increased monetary penalties provided in Schedule 2 to this Bill—which I do not think anybody has referred to this afternoon—are rather good. Some of the penalties are put up by as much as ten times, and in one or two cases twenty times. There are only one or two of these cases in which imprisonment is called for. I must say that I think that ought to be made possible in more cases. These are not innovations; these are cases which go back to the earlier Statutes. It is really time that we devised more than just monetary fines for dealing with this type of infraction of the law. Injunctions have been referred to, and very often the injunction is a much better method than straight imprisonment because it enables the court to keep the man there until he puts right the wrong he has done, whereas, if you just send him to prison for two or three months, he can come out and take no further steps about putting the matter right until he is prosecuted again. On the question of the right sort of sanction to apply, particularly in pollution cases, we at the Council for the Preservation of Rural England have had a great deal of experience. Up to a point, it pays an industrialist to pollute the water—and this was especially so under the existing law—because he can very often get away with a fine. The magistrates are rather namby-pamby about applying a fine of £50, if that is the maximum, and apply only a fine of £10 or £20. It pays manufacturers in some parts of England to pay the fines and to go on polluting the rivers.

We have all heard more than once about the splendid work that has been done on the Thames over the last one hundred years, but in many parts of England there has not been anything like the same improvement. In the debate that has been referred which was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, some months ago, some terrifying examples of pollution of rivers in the North and the Midlands were mentioned. One must not run away with the idea that, even if the local authorities are furnished with the weapons which this Bill will give to them, they will necessarily use them to the fullest effect. I think the whole problem of sanctions in connection with this Bill and other Bills is one that has not been sufficiently looked into. If your Lordships study the Schedules to this Bill, and look for the reasons for quite a number of the fines there set out, improved as they are, it is difficult to see why in some cases they have been put up by only two or three times, in other cases by ten times, and yet in other cases by as much as twenty times. These points, I think, deserve the careful attention which I hope we shall be able to give to them when we get the Bill into Committee.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to extend a welcome to this Bill and also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on his maiden speech, which I very much enjoyed. I support the noble Baroness, Lady White, in her suggestion that the Bill should be called the "Control of Pollution Bill", because it is dealing with pollution. I should certainly like to have a Bill entitled the Protection of the Environment Bill, but as it would probably have to be an enormous Bill of some 400 or 500 clauses in order to protect all the flora and fauna and the environment in general, I do not think it would be practicable.

My Lords, I propose to approach this Bill from my practical experience as a countryman, a landowner and farmer, which are my primary activities in life. I do not wish to detain your Lordships for too long, so let me go straight away to Part I and Clause 10 of the Bill, which refers to household waste. I have looked through the Schedules and I can see no definition of "household waste" in relation to where it has come from. Presumably it refers to waste that has come from houses. But does it refer to waste from offices, caravans, campers or picnickers? Perhaps my noble friend Lady Young can inform me about that.

Clause 10(1) says: It shall be the duty of each collection authority— (a) to arrange for the collection of all household waste in its area except waste— (i) which is situated at a place which in the opinion of the authority is so isolated or inaccessible that the cost of collecting it would be unreasonably high". From my experience, those inaccessible places are often beauty spots which attract great numbers of people, including campers, caravanners and picnickers. I have an estate on the West coast of Scotland, and unfortunately for me the Sunday Times road atlas has designated seven miles of this coast on my estate as an area of particular beauty. But it is rather inaccessible. What happens is that we get hundreds of picnickers (I do not like to object, although no doubt I could) and many caravanners and campers, and with the help of one or two farm workers we have to collect all the refuse that they leave. The local authority will do nothing about it. I was hoping that under this Bill the district council, as it is in Scotland, would have to be responsible; but apparently that is not so. I do not know whether this point is covered by Clause 20, which relates to litter. I feel that if a private individual has to collect other people's household waste—and I assume that the waste from campers and caravanners is household waste—he ought to get some rate relief or some financial benefit. Another trouble we have there is the tremendous amount of plastic waste coming from ships at sea. If the wind is in the West—and that is the prevailing wind—the beaches become covered with this plastic. No local authority attempts to clear it and, in desperation, we do the best we can. It is highly unsatisfactory. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Charley, was saying, this is really a Bill concerned with urban waste and not strictly country waste.

I turn now to Clause 20, which deals with litter. Clause 20(3) says: The Secretary of State may with the consent of the Treasury make grants to any body for the purpose of assisting the body to encourage the public not to deface places in Great Britain by litter. I have been trying for years, without success, to encourage the public not to deface Great Britain. How do you encourage them? You can put up notices, but frequently they are torn down. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me the answer to this problem. If you do not make it statutory law and impose quite severe penalties, I do not think all the encouragement in the world will make some members of the public not deface the countryside.

If I may now turn to the pollution of water, Clause 23(1)(a) refers to permitting … any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter any stream or controlled waters or any specified underground water …". As regards campers, how are we to prevent campers from polluting streams? I do not see how that can be done. Also, in the Highlands, and other wild country in Great Britain, there might be a house which is discharging sewage into a river, and it might be the only house for perhaps four miles of that river—of course it might be only a four-mile river, so that the house could be the only one putting pollution into that river. In such a case that house is not doing any harm by putting pollution into the river, because the volume of water would be so great that the pollution is dispersed. My own house is discharging sewage into a salmon river, but it does not in the least affect the salmon. So I think this provision might be rather hard on those who live in isolated places and have to alter their system of drainage, when they are not really causing any pollution.

Turning now to agriculture, Clauses 23 and 43 will restrict the use of fertilisers and animal manures in places which are adjacent to streams, controlled waters or underground waters. This may well affect crop production, and it will therefore place at a disadvantage those farmers who are near to controlled waters, streams or underground waters as compared with those farmers who are not so situated. Therefore, I think that perhaps these restrictions are going to act rather unfairly. It would probably be fairer for all farmers, irrespective of whether or not they are near to these waters as specified, to have the same rules applied to them. If a section of farmers is to be penalised one should then offer them some compensation—because presumably their land will not be quite so viable as that of farmers who do not have to endure these restrictions. Not all farmers may know that they have water below their land and thus they may quite unwittingly cause pollution. From the point of view of prosecution I think pollution will be very difficult to prove, particularly in regard to underground water; it will probably also be difficult for a farmer to prove in his own defence that he has not polluted such water. I think we shall get into difficulties here.

As a farmer I quite agree that in my own lifetime I have seen the flora, fauna and insect life of the countryside change drastically because of modern farming methods; but if we are to have intensive crop production I do not really see what can be done about that. I should like again to make the point that it is unfair to legislate against one section of farmers rather than taking them en masse. I should also like to suggest that if farmers have to curtail their activities and be restricted in their husbandry, then they ought to have grants to enable them to buy the necessary treatment plants for treating the effluent from their farms, whether it be concerned with animal manure or silage, or effluent from any other source.

I should now like, if I may, to say a few words about noise. I think this is a very difficult part of the Bill because many people I know are quite impervious to noise. For example, my daughter cannot work and cannot do examinations unless the most appalling noise is going on. I detest noise, and particularly continual noise: it is absolutely abhorrent. Perhaps it is appropriate here to mention pop festivals, because young people seem to adore noise—but this is a very tricky subject. It is a sad commentary of our times but I would guess that you could stand in any field in the South of England and hear some noise going on—the noise of an aeroplane, a chain-saw, a tractor, or whatever it may be.

Mention of aeroplane noise reminds me that this is an omission from the Bill. It has already been mentioned by a number of your Lordships, so I shall not dwell on it. Aircraft noise is not included in the Bill, and presumably there are good reasons for that omission. It is also somewhat surprising that private motor cars do not come within the scope of the Bill, because, looking at the Schedule, though one can see commercial traffic mentioned, private motor cars are not mentioned. The Government probably think that they are already sufficiently legislated against as regards noise—they must, of course, have silencers. There is one point which applies not only to private motor cars but to all vehicles: if you are in the country and are at all close to any major road or motorway, it is not so much the noise of the engine that you hear but the noise of the car going through the atmosphere, and tyre noise. This noise is practically continuous, and I was wondering whether any research is being done—presumably there must be some—on various road surfaces in an attempt to deaden tyre noise. It can be very unpleasant, especially if there is wind from the direction of the motorway.

I do not intend to speak for much longer, but regarding the pollution of the atmosphere I should just like to ask—I have often asked this before in Parliamentary Questions—why we do not do what is done in other countries, and particularly in the United States of America. Instead of going into the intricacies of deciding on the contents of fuel and petrol for a vehicle, why do we not make motor manufacturers fit those exhaust emission systems that take the poison out of the gases coming from vehicles' exhausts? I do not know why the Government will not do this. The only conclusion I can come to is that they are frightened of the motor manufacturers; the motor manufactuers do not want to do it, presumably because it is going to make the cars slightly more expensive. It is by far the best way to cure pollution of the atmosphere from car exhausts. America does it in many States; I do not see why we cannot do it.

I should like to end by saying that I welcome the Bill, but I should have liked it to go further. It is of course long enough; it is a complicated Bill. But, as other noble Lords have said, in this tiny island, with this vast population, 85 per cent. urban, it is probably harder for us, with the exception of Japan perhaps, to cure our pollution than for any other country in the world. That makes it all the more necessary for us to put our backs into it. We have done a lot in the past regarding curing pollution of the air and of water, but there is still a great deal more to do. I sincerely hope that this Bill will go some way towards doing it.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to deal with only Part II of the Bill, and keep your Lordships for but a few minutes. The object of Part II is to secure clean water. This seems so obviously desirable to-day that one wonders how some rivers have become so filthy in the past, especially as the first anti-pollution laws were brought in by Disraeli 100 years ago. Clearly they were imperfect. I have some criticism of the present Bill, but these are only matters of detail more appropriate to the Committee stage. But out of courtesy to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I will now briefly tell her the points I will raise. First, may I say I wholly support the views behind the Bill. Surely everybody in the country must do so, with all the speakers in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

I turn to the restrictions on good husbandry, both the general restrictions under Clause 23, and the particular ones under Clause 43. I cannot help wondering whether these restrictions are necessary or, if they are, whether they are practical. In any case, the evidence will be far from conclusive and a question of compensation must arise. As a generalisation I have no quarrel with the maxim that the polluter should pay for his pollution, but it does not apply here. Next, I am unhappy about the proposal to do away with the common law rights of the riparian owner to obtain an injunction against a polluter. I know that the Bill tries to replace this right; unfortunately, it does not provide an appeal to an impartial tribunal. It cannot be pretended that Clause 36 will do anything to help clean rivers, rather the contrary.

Lastly, I come to Clause 44, which empowers water authorities to make charges in respect of putting an effluent into a stream. I am not opposing this in principle because I do not know what it means. Unless far greater detail is given (and I hope it can be) this clause should be left out or deferred for future legislation. Let me say again that I wholly support the general philosophy of the Bill, and that I feel that I can claim that any criticisms I have put forward will not do anything to diminish its effect.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is generally accepted that the last man in makes the fewest runs, but I think the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, has probably beaten me to it. I shall keep my contribution as brief as possible. This debate has ranged as far and as wide as one would expect when a Bill of such scope is being discussed. It has also been noteworthy for contributions of such excellence by speakers so knowledgeable and expert; and I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on his brilliant maiden speech which we all so much enjoyed. Like my noble friend Lord Redesdale, I feel somewhat nervous at entering the list, particularly so late at night.

It would be difficult for anyone not to welcome a Bill which has such a splendid and imposing Title as this one. "Protection of the Environment" is short and to the point. My noble friend Lord Amory searched for an alternative noun but failed to find one. "Environment" (with a capital "E") is a word which has only recently come into prominence on a national scale, and I suppose that started with the creation of the Department three years ago. Previously, one's "environment" had a small "e" and was a much more personal thing. When one got into trouble sociologists would say, "Poor fellow; it is not his fault; he is a victim of his environment." Now, however, "the Environment", with a capital "E" covers a multitude of things: from the air we breathe to the water we drink; from the noise of traffic to the effluent of factories. Having discovered the Environment, we must now protect it.

What this Bill is aiming to achieve is not to protect the environment so much as to protect ourselves from the environment which we have created. It stands to reason that the more complex the subject of legislation, the more difficult it must be for those who have the responsibility for drafting that legislation to make it simple and easy to understand. That is particularly important in legislation such as this, which will have to be understood not only by local authorities but by all sorts of organisations and private individuals. I have in mind in particular the most difficult problem of definition. In Part I of the Bill there are the complex matters of waste causes, deposits, controls, the sorting over of waste and offences. I hope that all these matters will become clearer and more easily understood as time goes by.

In places this Bill requires most careful reading of the small print. For instance, it is not until one reads Clause 3(5) that it becomes reasonably clear that one does not commit an offence by making a compost heap in one's garden. It is not until one has carefully read Clause 22(3)(c)(ii), and Clause 22(4), that one appreciates that waste from farm premises is not commercial waste, and that sewage is not waste so far as this Part of the Bill is concerned. I have a further and more general criticism of Part I of the Bill, which is that it does not satisfactorily provide for the siting of disposal places on public or private lands. Nor does it give sufficient safeguards to owners and occupiers of land who may become subject to arrangements for disposal of waste; nor, indeed, safeguards to their neighbours who may be aggrieved by their siting. Phrases such as "become seriously detrimental to the amenities", which appears in Clause 7(1)(a), and "causing serious detriment to the amenities of the locality", in Clause 9(2), are not, in my view, sufficiently reassuring. In spite of these criticisms, which are intended to be helpful and constructive, I warmly welcome the intentions expressed in Part I of this Bill. But it is clear that there is considerable scope for tidying up at the Committee stage.

I should like to make two brief comments on Part III of the Bill which deals with the ever-increasing problem of noise. First, like other noble Lords, I am disappointed that it excludes aircraft noise, except that of model aircraft. For those who live near aerodromes, particularly military ones, noise is a major cause of worry and complaint. I do not at this stage attempt to offer any solution to this problem and only record it. Finally, my Lords, although it is possible that the metaphor may not be entirely appropriate, I should like to wish the Bill a fair wind on its legislative voyage through Parliament.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lady White said at the beginning, in effect, we on this side of the House support this Bill. We are convinced, and even more convinced after listening to this afternoon's debate, that it is facing in the right direction. The only question in our minds is whether in its various Parts it goes far enough in the right direction. My own view is that in some parts it does go far enough but that in some others it does not quite go far enough; and I propose to suggest how the House might attempt to put that right at the Committee and later stages. Perhaps I may begin by asking a general question. The noble Lord the Leader of the House, in presenting the Bill, said that it embodied the action of the Government on recommendations by no fewer than eight Committees of Inquiry. I can identify four or five of those from looking at the Bill, but it would help us fully to understand the background and preparation of the Bill if we could know the full list of the eight Committees of Inquiry whose work has gone into the Bill.

Let me start with Part I, about solid waste. I think this is the strongest Part of the Bill. It is very good that the waste disposal authorities should be required to prepare overall plans for what they are going to do about their waste. This, I take it, is devised on the analogy of the structure plan in planning law, which is a serious notion. It is to my mind the most serious Part of the Bill, and the most to be commended. Once somebody is forced to make an overall plan, and a statutory duty is laid upon him to do that, it is accessible for examination by Parliament and by central Government. Then one can say, "Yes, this is good enough", or, "This is not good enough." If it is good enough, one can then say, "You have kept to it"; or, conversely, "You have not kept to it." In that way we know where we are. This is the raw material of debate and social adjustment. It is in the absence of an overall plan that things go wrong.

If there is one striking omission from this Part (it has been mentioned by several speakers, particularly by Lord Craigton, but also by others), it is recycling, reclamation of the usable parts of waste. I know that recycling is not solely a pollution matter; it is also a resource use matter. It comes on the other side of the account also, in the rational utilisation of scarce national resources. This is not a resource utilisation Bill; it is a pollution control Bill, and the Government may say: "Well, we did not want to put it in this Bill because this is only about pollution." But there is not, so far as I know, a resource management Bill coming forward to Parliament in the foreseeable future, and I think that that fact constitutes a case for having in this Bill something about recycling. It is an opportunity to do it. Everybody who has spoken about the matter says that it ought to be done. I think that everybody knows that it ought to be done. I am thinking, obviously, of metal, a finite natural resource. I am thinking of waste paper—one of the grossest wastes of a renewable natural resource. Timber is renewable but it is pretty scarce, expensive and difficult. I am thinking even of the question of getting methane gas out of waste. Methane gas will drive cars and heat houses—but there is no need to belabour that point at this moment.

What could be done? If we agree that at the moment there is not enough recovery of usable materials and recycling, this must be because it is not worth people's while to do it. If it was worth people's while to do it, they would do it. Is it not the function of Government to make it worth people's while to do it? I am not sure whether we could devise an Amendment in this House to put in the Bill to make it worth while. It would have to be fiscal in effect; it might involve subsidies; it might involve taxes. It is a large and difficult matter. Maybe the Government will say, "We are not ready. The studies have not been done". But I think we ought to know why they have not been done and when they are going to be done, and whether we could not put in this Bill some provision to make sure that they are done—just something to make a start. We cannot let this Bill go through without doing anything whatever about this vital matter.

I have a question on the water part of the Bill and it may be convenient to have it answered now, so that we can see whether any Amendment is needed. It is about Clause 23 which, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, says that discharges from working mines—that is, discharges into water—hitherto exempt are brought under control. My question is this. Does that cover the National Coal Board? If not, why not; and if so, why is it not made clear? It is not immediately apparent from reading the Bill. This is a factual question. There is one clause of the Bill (Lord De Ramsey, I think it was, spoke about it, and other speakers have mentioned it), Clause 44, which causes us on this side a good deal of worry. This is the provision whereby the Secretary of State, I believe—not the local authority but the Secretary of State—is empowered to levy charges in respect of effluents put into certain waters. It is not quite clear—and was not quite clear from what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said in presenting the Bill—what is the purpose of these charges. If the purpose is simply to recoup the administrative costs of exercising control, then that is all right and I do not think anybody can possibly object. But if the charge is to be commensurate in some way with the amount of concentration of the effluent put out, then I believe it is open to the gravest objection. I believe that the House should know the answer to that question.

There are those, particularly in America, and I think also in Germany, who say that the best way to control pollution of waters, and indeed pollution of the atmosphere, is to say: "O.K. pollute as you want, but you will pay a thumping tax on your pollution." The State then pockets the tax and of course it just goes into the national funds in general and may come out anywhere. It does not come out on pollution reduction. We on this side of the House are committed to the principle that that is quite wrong, because in that way you increase the costs of the industry which is putting out the effluent, because it has to pay the charge, and you do not get any reduction of pollution. It is a negative, as regards pollution control. Whereas if you do it the other way, as we on this side commend —that is, simply say to a given factory or industry: "You may not pollute these waters more than such-and-such. Each given effluent may not be more concentrated or bulky than X, and you will bear the cost of it"—this has a desirable and sensible effect. Although it puts up prices, just as the other approach does, it produces a cleaner river. So if Clause 44 marks the thin end of the wedge of a pollution charge, we strongly oppose it and shall move for its deletion in Committee. If, on the other hand, it is simply an administrative charge to recoup costs, then we have no objection.

To turn now to the noise section of the Bill, there are two questions that I want to raise. First, are we sure that it is not yet time to introduce the possibility of regulating noise levels in places of entertainment? I am not thinking so much of "pop" festivals, mentioned by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in introducing the Bill, in the open air. The noise they produce may be a nuisance but I do not think it is a health hazard. On the other hand, if we consider indoor places—discotheques and "pop" concerts—I myself am convinced that there is a health hazard. I know that the Noise Council have been occupied on the matter for three years. I do not know why they have not yet reported: it seems to me a bit dilatory. But it is common experience, I think, for anybody who has ever been to these places (and no doubt those of your Lordships who are parents have been to them with your children) that the noise level permitted at present is obviously—I repeat, obviously—above the public health proper level. I submit to your Lordships that we are tolerating a concrete deafening of children; that it is permanent. I believe it is permanent and I do not think one will find any medical statistician who is in a position to deny it. The children come back deaf. They stay deaf. That is a fact. It is a rather intolerable fact, and I believe the Bill ought to empower local authorities to enforce in these places, indoors, noise levels that will not deafen children. Mechanically it is quite easy: you simply put a cut-off device on the amplification so that if it goes above the danger level it is cut off altogether, and if the disc jockey or the group want to carry on with their concert they have to come down below that level. There is no mechanical problem; it is simply a legal one.

One other problem in regard to noise has been mentioned by several speakers, and that is traffic. It is surprising to find a whole structure of noise control handed to the local authorities to put into action which does not say anything about traffic noise. It is so obviously a great burden on everybody out of doors in our cities at the moment. In this regard I have a question to ask the Government: has this been omitted because they are convinced that the existing law is sufficient to allow this Government and future Governments to enforce the production of lorries in the future which will be quieter? Lorries are still being produced which are insufferably noisy. Once again, no mechanical problem is involved in the production of quieter lorries; it is something that simply has to be enforced by a sensible Government upon an unwilling industry. If the law is sufficient to enforce this, why has it not yet been done, and why do we not already see the most modern lorries going through the streets and along the motorways emitting only a tolerable degree of noise?

Turning to the section on air pollution, I think we must emit a surprised cheer for the provision that the Secretary of State may regulate the composition of petrol. For myself, I did not know that he could not do so. It is very shocking that he could not; he clearly should be able to and I hope that he will use the powers which are to be given to him by this Bill. Beyond that it is difficult to find anything very good to say about the air pollution section because it is the weak part of the Bill. I am not surprised that it should be; I think it bears the mark of the thinking of the Alkali Inspectorate at every point. I know it is not customary in this House for politicians to attack officials or a branch of the bureaucracy, but I propose to do so. In my experience as a junior Minister responsible for this side of life, I found the Alkali Inspectorate a retrograde body. I found that originally it had its own laboratories and it was leading this country in air pollution suppression techniques. It was able to teach industry, and on the strength of the technology it was itself using it had a dominant position. It was respected and it fulfilled a socially effective function. During the Second World War its own research plant was bombed and by some lamentable oversight of subsequent Governments it was never again given its own research capability. Naturally enough, it has had to rely on research done by industry and I regret to say that it has become of no more purpose than a captive agency. I do not regard the Alkali Inspectorate as the proper agent for Parliament, Government or society to discipline industry, but rather more as a sort of diplomatic buffer between industry and Government, which as often as not will play the industry game and explain the point of view of industry to the Government. This is regrettable, and I think it is regrettable that that point should have come through in this Bill.

Let us look at what I mean. We find that in Clause 34 the various water authorities shall—I repeat "shall"—maintain public registers of all the pollution that goes into the river. They are bound to be public in all that they do about the emitting of effluents in what sort of consents they give and what sort of refusals they give. That is all governed by the word "shall". We find on the other hand that in Clauses 69 to 73 the local authorities and Government authorities are only empowered to maintain such registers which will be open to the public. It has also been pointed out in the debate that the Bill allows industrialists to refuse entry to all sorts of emissaries of Government if they do not want to let them in. It sticks out a mile that the air pollution provisions in the Bill are absolutely feeble compared with the water pollution and land pollution provisions. At the Committee stage we shall try to put this right. The word "shall" must govern the publicity and the availability to the public of all the air pollution proceedings just as much as all the water pollution proceedings. We want to get air pollution on the same footing as this Bill rightly puts water and land pollution.

There is another startling provision which comes out of the water pollution aspect in relation to agriculture in Clause 43, which is the only place in the Bill where the pollution of rivers by agricultural run-off is tackled. Many speakers have said that this is a grave problem. It says: If it appears to a water authority that any relevant waters— (a) have been or are likely to be polluted in consequence of"— certain agricultural practices— the authority may, by an application in writing made to the Secretary of State.… All this sounds very good and we are expecting something fairly tough to come out of it. They may request the Secretary of State—all right, the local authority proposes, the Secretary of State disposes. It may request the Secretary of State to do something to put an end to it. What may the Secretary of State do under the Bill? He may serve on the occupier of the place a notice. That is very good, but what does that notice do? It requests the occupier to prevent acts or omissions of that kind. What is the point of putting a clause in a Bill empowering the Secretary of State to request people to do that sort of thing? Parliamentary authority is not required to do that. He can request anybody to do anything he likes. The word "request" seems to me to be absurd, and it should be amended to read "orders".

My noble friend Lord Chorley raised the question of fines and I merely want to endorse what he said. It seems to me that Schedule 2, which sets out these fines, is no more than an inflation correction clause. It simply brings them up to date with inflation; it does not, in many cases, increase the real cost of the fines at all. If we look at page 95, in paragraph 4 we see that the Alkali Act of 1906–1906, mark you—laid down a fine of £10, and this Bill now says that for £10 there shall be substituted "£100". If I am not mistaken, that is just about the decrease in the value of money since 1906, and with the environmental revolution and the public consciousness in these matters I think merely to keep pace with a 60-year-old fine in inflation terms is not sufficient. Indeed, if we look at this Part as a whole, the question must come into our minds: why bother to lay down fines in a world with endemic inflation such as we have at the moment? We all know that the inflation will go on. Do we want to pass a solemn Act of Parliament every four or five years to increase the fines in this matter to keep pace with inflation? Would it not be more realistic to give the Secretary of State power to increase the fines by order, subject to Parliamentary approval, as and when he thinks fit? It seems to me at the moment that many of these increases are perfectly footling and quite unjustifiable in any real social terms.

Lastly, I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, in his important maiden speech, call for an environment protection service. I do not know whether he thought that such a thing should be set up by an Amendment to this very Bill. If he can think of an Amendment, I believe we on this side of the House shall all be glad to vote for it. Such a thing is perhaps for the longer term. I share his view that it would be desirable and better to run all these multifarious inspectorates into one. I know people have different skills, but that does not matter. They could be brought into one career service with good pay so that skilful people come in and are able to hold their own. At the moment they are not attracting the best people. If one could do that, this would be a net gain. It was the point which was the lynchpin of the environment policy produced by the Parliamentary Labour Party just over a year ago when a group consisting of Members from this side of this House and also the House of Commons got together and published their panacea for the problem. One of the main planks was the environment protection service which the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, called for to-day.

Lastly, I want to echo what the noble Baroness, Lady White, said about the Title of the Bill. It is not an Environment Protection Bill, although it goes in the right direction. That is rather a P.R. title. It is really a Pollution Control Bill, and maybe in Committee the House will rechristen the Bill, as it has a right to do, with that more modest title. I look forward to the Bill in Committee stage and to amending it later on.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very stimulating and wide-ranging debate on an important measure. In my winding-up speech I cannot hope to deal with all the points that have been raised, but I shall try to pick up some of the main themes which have run through the debate. I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, on his maiden speech. Anyone who has read the three Reports of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution over which the noble Lord presided with such distinction must be impressed at how far the legislation that we are now bringing forward reflects the recommendations and proposals in those Reports. We are particularly delighted that he has been introduced into this House at the very time when his work is bearing fruit. We hope to hear from him on many other occasions. Indeed, if I may say so, this debate illustrates to someone like myself, a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, the House of Lords at its very best. We have listened to one noble Lord after another speaking with knowledge and experience on a wide-ranging variety of aspects of the environment, and we shall certainly study with great care what has been said.

I am particularly glad of the general welcome which has been given to this Bill, and if I may pick out one phrase it is that of the noble Lord, Lord Holford, who said that the Bill has "civilised, long-term and disciplined aims". It is in this context that we view it and believe its aims are positive. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me whether I would let him have the list of Reports on which this Bill is based. I will certainly send him a copy of them because, of course, as my noble friend Lord Windlesham said in his opening address, the Bill is based on the result of an enormous amount of consultation and discussion, and the work of a great many experts in the field. Two important themes run through this debate. The first point is about the need for information. As in all forms of action, information is essential for an effective pollution control policy. In particular, we need an immense range of detailed information. We need to keep a comprehensive watch on the total state of our environment, and the effect which our activities are having on it. In fact, we need a monitoring system.

As noble Lords may know, over the past two years my Department has been conducting a comprehensive review of all the sources of information about pollution and the programmes for monitoring pollution in this country, and we shall shortly be publishing the results. The review shows that, although we have extensively monitored and already have a great deal of information, more needs to be done to co-ordinate the sources of this information and to provide a more useful basis for action by public authorities. In each Part of the Bill careful consideration has been given to what information the authorities will need to carry out their functions properly, and the powers and duties to collect or obtain this information are given to them. For example, under Clause 2 disposal authorities are to survey the wastes arising in their areas to enable them to plan effectively. Under Clause 4, they may obtain the information they need about a waste disposal operation in order to license it properly. Under Clause 16, they may require more detailed information to be kept about toxic waste. Under Clause 27, the water authorities may require certain information about effluents in connection with consents to discharge. Under Clause 56, local authorities are required to measure noise levels in noise abatement zones. Clauses 69 to 73 are a group of provisions laying down detailed procedures for local authorities to obtain specified information about air emissions.

My Lords, the second main theme is that of publicity, and a number of noble Lords have drawn particular attention to this. So far as possible, the Government believe that information about the state of the environment and about pollutants entering it should be open to the public. Since much of the information is largely scientific or technical, wherever possible it should be made available to the public in such a way that the layman can understand what the information means. Throughout the Bill this general approach has been followed. There are to be open to the public registers of conditions attached to waste disposal licences, of permitted discharges to water, of samples of effluent and of noise levels. In relation to air emissions, there are more difficult technical problems in deciding what information to collect and how best to present it in a comprehensive way, but the Government have thought it right to give to the local authorities statutory power to collect such information, and they accept that close consultation with local industrial interests on the collection and publication of such information is desirable. The Bill provides for this. At the same time, the Government recognise that there may be on occasion legitimate grounds for an industrialist to resist publication because he thinks it may prejudice a trade secret or the public interest. We consider that some safeguard is necessary to deal with such cases, and in Parts II and IV of the Bill it is provided that an industrialist or any other person may apply to the Secretary of State for a certificate that information about his effluent or emissions need not be published, although he must, of course, still disclose any necessary information to the controlling authority.

Noble Lords have mentioned Clause 83, under which it is an offence to disclose information outside the course of duty. This is simply to prevent officers of authorities disclosing all kinds of information about trade processes which they may have picked up in the course of visiting factories or other places. It will not penalise disclosure of information about pollution as such since, as I have explained, other Parts of the Bill require them to publish a great deal of such information. I think the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady White—


My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves the question of publishing information about pollution, may I put this point to her? She has said that there are more difficult considerations affecting air pollution rather than water pollution. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what they are, and why they are more difficult?


My Lords, I have not quite finished what I was going to say on this subject, so if I may continue it may well be that I shall answer the noble Lord's point. The general criticism which was levied at the Bill was that it was thought that its provisions for publicity were either ineffective, or, alternatively, that its enforcement based on the most practicable means was too lax and that we should have far more rigid standards applied. I think I can do no better than refer to the most effective defence of this long-established principle of raising standards by discussion—the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, asked me to say something more about the safeguards which are contained in Clauses 35 and 71, and to explain why Clause 71 refers to the protection of trade secrets and manufacturing processes and Clause 35 does not. Certainly we can look at the wording here when we come to Committee. I can assure your Lordships there is no sinister intention. We believe it is right that industrialists should be entitled to argue a case for keeping information about their effluent or emissions confidential in certain circumstances, particularly where commercially important information would otherwise be made public. If I may refer again to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, I was glad to be supported by him on this point. I can say now that we certainly do not intend to get somehow into a corner with industrialists. We shall only be prepared to allow industrialists to keep this information confidential to themselves and not disclose it to the controlling authorities where a very clear case is made out. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, raised the question of finance.


My Lords, I think the Minister has now finished her section about information and secrecy and I should like to ask, very sincerely and seriously, whether she can help the House. She said that as regards air pollution there were more difficult considerations than as regards water pollution. If she could give the House some help in understanding why that is more difficult we should start the Committee stage better informed.


My Lords, I think it is very largely a technical matter. My information on it is that it is a question of analysing the water and no doubt analysing the emissions into the air. I cannot go further than that at this point, but I shall be glad to write to the noble Lord if there are detailed technical points which I can put more easily in writing.

The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, raised an important point about finance, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, in her speech asked whether or not the statement on the financial effects of the Bill was in fact a true statement. I quote: The Bill will not have any significant effect on public expenditure by public authorities". My understanding of the meaning of this is that "significant" in this context means a large expenditure which would be more than the amount of growth in public expenditure than has already been allowed for in the coming years. We accept that on the public side we need a greater investment in sewage treatment, water purification and waste disposal, but within the limits imposed by necessary restraint on public expenditure we contend that substantial programmes are in hand and that adequate provision has been made for this rising trend.

The noble Lord, Lord Beeching, referred to the private side. We recognise that there needs to be a continuous effort to renew and improve industrial processes so that they produce less pollution and damage to the environment. A number of noble Lords quoted examples of what private industry has done. I understand that between 1958 and 1968 the 10 largest registered industries in the country spent altogether between them some £150 million on capital equipment, £5 million on research and development and some £324 million on the working costs of air pollution control. This I think is a very commendable record.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, raised a point about manpower, and I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, for his remarks when he talked about an environmental protection service. I would say that the Government are fully sympathetic to his plea for improved status and training for the vital staff which do the work in this field. We are all grateful for what has been done, but recognise that even higher standards may be needed in future.

I should now like to turn to the four main parts of the Bill. Nearly all noble Lords referred to the problem of waste disposal and in particular to the question of re-cycling. Not only the noble Baroness, Lady White, but the noble Lords, Lord Holford, Lord Nugent of Guildford, Lord Molson, I think Lord Sainsbury and Lord Kennet all referred to this. A great deal of recovery and reclamation of waste is already undertaken in this country. There are more than a thousand firms involved in the reclamation business, recovering metals, waste paper, rubber, textiles, oil, solvents and a wide range of other materials. Local authorities play a part in some areas in collecting waste paper separately for re-cycling, and separating some other materials such as ferrous scrap. Never- theless, the Government are sure that more could and should be done to encourage the positive use of waste materials, and there are proposals in the Bill to assist this. For example, a substantial difficulty standing in the way of recovery operations is the extent of ignorance about the nature, volume and location of the different types of waste that arise, particularly in the industrial sector. The surveys of waste arising which disposal authorities will be required to undertake under Clause 2 of the Bill should do much to fill this gap. Under Clause 12 the disposal authorities will themselves be able: to use, sell or otherwise dispose of the waste or anything produced from it", and this will enable them to undertake separation or recovery themselves in appropriate cases.

Apart from the recovery of materials, I should also like to stress the importance of making positive use of wastes for landfill and land reclamation purposes. I was glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, for this. Many noble Lords will know of sites in our towns and countryside where derelict land or old excavations have been filled with waste, covered and landscaped, and are now in valuable use as parks or playing fields. The Lord Bishop of Leicester, however, mentioned, an example of a totally unsatisfactory tip, and in such cases—tips which are squalid or have been poorly sited or which cause great concern to the neighbourhood and are a lasting eyesore—we believe that the new licensing powers relating to waste disposal operations will enable the disposal authorities to exert control.

The noble Lords, Lord Craigton and Lord Davidson, raised the point about the siting of waste tips, and particularly about the application of conditions to local authorities' disposal operations, and questioned whether the public should not be given a right to make representations and objections about such operations. I should like to say right away that our intention in Clause 9 is to subject local authorities to the same imposition of consultation and publicity as any other operator. It should be remembered that disposal operations can be conducted only on sites which have planning permission for this purpose. Planning applications will themselves be publicised so that there should be adequate safeguards for the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, mentioned the problem of litter, and so did the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in his interesting remarks about packaging, for which we are most grateful and which we will study with great care. We have included one clause about litter and we are, of course, anxious for anything which could be done to encourage people to "keep Britain tidy"; and any practical suggestions on this line will be most welcome.

I was grateful for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, on the matter of water pollution. The proposals in the Bill extend and strengthen the powers of the new regional water authorities established by the 1973 Water Act. In this new organisation and in the surveys which will be periodically up-dated we have a base line for measuring progress in the coming decade for cleaning up our rivers and cur tidal waters. But the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that he hoped the improvement of our estuaries would be matched by the improvement of estuaries in Europe discharging into the same sea, since otherwise our industries might be unreasonably penalised. I cannot give an assurance that we shall always wait for the others—we have, after all, a tradition as pace setters in this field, and someone has to be in the vanguard. The signatories of the Oslo Convention, the basis of the Dumping at Sea Bill at present before your Lordships' House, are now discussing a Convention for the control of land-based discharges to the sea in the North East Atlantic. So there is every reason to hope that improvements of estuaries, and thus of seas, will be a collaborative effort.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, and other noble Lords raised the question of the limitation of riparian rights. People with certain riparian rights over particular stretches of water have a Common Law right to apply for, and obtain, an injunction to prevent a discharge which is damaging their rights. The discharge may, for example, be killing their fish, but it may be merely appreciably changing the quality of the water without actually doing any damage. Clause 36 removes this right when discharges are publicised and conform to the conditions laid down by the water authority. The publicity provisions, we believe, make resort to an injunction less necessary, and it is in any case doubtful whether many injunctions have been sought against a legal discharge. Moreover, provision is made in Clause 30(3) for owners of riparian rights who feel they are suffering damage from a legal discharge to ask the water authority to revoke or vary its consent for discharge, and to appeal to the Secretary of State if the water authority refuses unreasonably.

As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, nothing in this Bill takes away the right to damages which the owner of riparian rights may have, whether the discharge is legal or illegal, in accordance with a consent or not. Finally, it is our intention to propose an Amendment to the Bill to make it the duty of the water authority to secure the restoration of any stream to its condition before a new polluting discharge was authorised, and, of course, to ensure that the discharge is improved as soon as practicable to avoid further damage.

The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, wanted to know whether water authorities are to make alternative provision for the sanitary appliances which, under Clause 25, may be sealed on boats or inland waters. They are given a duty by Clause 40(1) to provide or to ensure that provision is made for the collection and disposal of sanitary waste from vessels, and under subsection (2) of that clause a power to provide water closets and wash basins for the use of persons from vessels in their areas.

The noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, asked whether agricultural and other interests may be affected by Clause 23(5) and may ask for compensation. This is a matter which is currently under discussion. The powers in this clause are intended to deal with areas where, for instance, special geological conditions make water resources, often underground water, particularly vulnerable. Any orders will of course be made only after full consultation, and only where it is clear that the activities to be controlled are a real threat and that pollution is occurring or will occur.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked about Clauses 44 and 45, which provide for charges for discharges, and said he was entirely against the principle of a pollution charge. On these clauses the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on this matter; and the desirability and feasibility of charges for discharges into rivers and estuaries are being studied. At the moment I can give an assurance that we have an open mind on the subject and must see what the studies will show. If they do show that a system of charges would offer a more economic way of directing resources in the treatment of effluent, there will be full consultation about how such a system might be established. The noble Lord also asked about discharges from coal mines of the National Coal Board, and I can say that these are now covered by controls in the Bill. The exemption of mine waters was contained in Section 2(4) of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act 1951, which is repealed by Schedule 4.

I turn now to the question of noise. The proposals in the Bill are directed primarily to controlling neighbourhood noise, particularly noise from fixed premises like factories or farms, and to assist in controlling noise from construction and demolition work. But noise, as the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard said, is a tricky subject. What is a noise to one person is acceptable to another, and even pleasant to a third; and that is the reason why there is not an answer to all the detailed points which have been raised about noises—for example, noise from an electric saw. What the Bill does propose, and it does strengthen the law, is that a single householder can bring an action, whereas previously three householders were required.

Traffic noise and aircraft noise, however, are separate problems. On the question of quieter lorries, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet raised, the Road Traffic Act 1972 permits the Secretary of State for the Environment to prescribe maximum noise levels for vehicles. At the present moment we are discussing with our E.E.C. partners the future levels which will be set and which we hope will be lower than the existing ones. The quiet heavy vehicle project undertaken with the Department of the Environment's support is intended to provide a commercially viable lorry which may help us improve on existing types of lorry, and this matter, too, will be discussed with our E.E.C. colleagues. I think the main difficulty is the time scale. There are difficulties to be overcome. Many hundreds and thousands of lorries and cars are built to old standards, but improved standards are being imposed as they become technically feasible.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, made the point that aircraft noise was excluded from the Bill and wondered why this was so. The existing controls over aircraft noise are contained in the Civil Aviation Acts 1968 and 1971 and are among some of the most stringent in the world. This legislation already enables the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to specify the maximum noise levels that aircraft may make when taking off and landing. It limits the number of aircraft movements at any one point, the times during which an airport may be used, institutes schemes under which grants are paid in areas close to airports for noise insulation of houses and designates particular routes. It is not easy to see how further legislation could supplement these powers in any further way, and Britain could not act alone in so international a business. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, also asked about Concorde and sonic boom. Under Section 19 of the Civil Aviation Act 1968, powers are provided to regulate or prohibit supersonic flight. A decision on whether supersonic flight should be permitted over the United Kingdom will be taken before Concorde enters commercial service.

The noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, talked about noise abatement zones, which are a new and, I believe, important proposal in this Bill, and wondered whether they had been misnamed and should be noise control zones. Under these provisions local authorities will be empowered to measure and register the present noise levels for individual premises. Noise emissions will not then be allowed to increase above the registered level without the consent of the authority. The authority may require the reduction of noise emission levels under Clause 58, and in this way they should be able to bring about a real improvement in the noise level in a particular zone. This, I believe, is where they become noise abatement zones. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked why the powers in Clauses 69 and 72 on air emissions are discretionary. The answer is simply that not all local authorities have industrial air pollution in their areas on a sufficient scale to make it necessary or desirable for them to set the system in motion. For example, an authority in Devonshire might have no use for these powers at all, whereas other authorities would, of course, have very great use for them.

I see that the time is getting on. In conclusion I should like again to thank those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and given us the benefit of their experience and advice on many important issues. Your Lordships may be sure that we shall read with care everything that has been said.

My Lords, as a people we in this country have come to assume that the achievement of basic levels of public health, hygiene and sanitation are automatic requirements of any civilised society. It is right of course that these things should be automatic. But it is right that we should remember that they were not achieved, and are not maintained, without a great deal of effort and hard work, both by the reformers and administrators who established and run the new structure and by the many people who from day to day are dealing with waste, effluents and atmospheric emissions, and are endeavouring to maintain and develop the established basic public health standards.

This Bill is an enabling measure, enabling the various authorities concerned to bring about improvements in standards steadily and progressively, as and when the technical means become available, and as and when the resources of the country permit. None should underestimate the environmental problems that may lie ahead over the next 50 years with the increasing population of the world, the growing consumption of resources, and the growing pressures on the capacity of the world's natural systems to renew our air, water and land. We hope and believe, however, that the revised and strengthened framework of co-ordination and control proposed in this Bill will enable this country to deal with these pressures more effectively, so that we can achieve the secure, healthy, and pure environment which we all desire.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness answer one question that I have asked many times in this House? Why do they not make motor manufacturers fit new motor vehicles with exhaust emission systems which take the poison out of both petrol and oil fuel? I cannot see why we do not do that. It is done in America and in other countries. Why not here?


My Lords, I think there are a number of technical points which noble Lords asked and which I am afraid I have not answered in the course of the debate. I think the noble Viscount's point is one that we can discuss in Committee.

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