HL Deb 07 May 1974 vol 351 cc398-444

4.12 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, one of the disadvantages of speaking third from the Liberal Benches is that one has to bring your Lordships back again from an interesting Statement on pensions to the control of pollution. May I say how glad I am to see this Bill back again, and back with a new name. I was one of those who at the former Second Reading said that I felt that perhaps the old name was a misleading one and that I would like to see it changed. I am glad that that has been done.

I regard it as a measure of the Government's good intentions that in spite of all the financial and other difficulties that we are in, they are still prepared to devote time to this extremely important subject. I am glad that the Government have also brought back the Bill virtually the same as it left. I wish that Governments would do this more often. I remember that when the new Conservative Administration came in in 1970 with a new Industrial Relations Act, a noble Baroness who to-day sits on the Government Benches asked me, "Would it not be very statesman like if the Conservative Government re-introduced instead the Labour Government's Industrial Relations Bill just as it stands?" That Bill was based upon In Place of Strife, and the Labour Government had to withdraw it for reasons which noble Lords will remember as well as I do.

I often wonder what would have happened if the incoming Government had re-introduced that Bill in virtually the same terms—it is an interesting speculation to make—and the Government have now done very nearly that. I think that they have done a very good job in revising the Bill. In particular, I agree with what has been said with regard to the recycling provisions. The Bill has been improved by taking account of so many of the Amendments that were moved earlier, some of which were not accepted and some of which were, shall I say, only half accepted. I am not sure how far noble Lords who moved Amendments will be satisfied that their points have been included in the new Bill. I think a great many of them have been, and I am happy about those that I raised.

There are one or two small points in regard to which the Government might have gone further than they have done. This speech should really be a Second Reading one, but we raised most of the points of principle when we first debated the Bill so I do not propose to do that again. What I want to do is draw the Government's attention to a very few more points about which the Government might have done better. First of all, the subject of penalties was debated during the Committee stage, and I think that the penalties proposed under this new Bill are still inadequate. If one compares the penalties proposed in the last Government's Bill and in this new Bill with the penalties under the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act, it will be seen that they are derisory. Under the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act, a polluter can be fined up to £50,000. Nothing like that is available under this Bill to deal with the pollution of water; for example, by chemicals which can have a much more damaging effect than oil.

Secondly, something must be done about Crown privilege. Clause 95(3) goes some little way in excluding lessees of the Crown, but one must go further than this. Prisons, hospitals and airfields are organisations which many of us have known to drag their heels faced with complaints about pollution. Very often, they drag their heels because they know that in the last resort they can plead privilege. I think that that position needs to be changed, and it must be made abundantly clear that the Government's own establishments should comply in every way with provisions of the Bill.

I believe that an Amendment moved by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, was accepted by the last Government. It dealt with the entry of pollution matter due to an emergency. On the face of it, it is perfectly reasonable that a polluter should not be penalised for having done something in order to avoid danger to the public. But if I may give your Lordships the type of example that I am thinking of, the fire service was very often leaned upon in the past by the water authority because they considered that the fire service was acting recklessly in hosing poisonous waste off a road where, say, a chemical lorry had turned over, and those wastes went into the streams and caused great damage, not only to rivers, but, even worse, to underground sources where the damage can be irreparable. One might say that water authorities trained fire services to take special care by using sandbags, booms and other devices to ensure that the pollution was less damaging than it might otherwise have been. I believe that it is reasonable to ask for the relevant clause to be modified in such a way as to require special care to be taken even in an emergency, which I believe was accepted by the last Government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already dealt with a rather curious anomaly with regard to agriculture; that is, the fact that something which is good practice, in agricultural terms, is something which, in pollution terms, must not be done. The Government have gone some way to meet this anomaly by making better provision for an appeal which, as the noble Baroness pointed out, is in the hands of both the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture. I know many people feel strongly that people's livelihoods are at stake and that possibly some form of compensation should be devised. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that the Government had thought about it but had rejected it. I know that my noble friend Lord De Ramsey will be raising the subject at the Committee stage and I think that he will be strongly supported; so that it may again be debated.

I said before, and I say again, that I am sorry the last Government, and the present one, have not thought fit to try to introduce the question of aircraft noise into the Bill. The answer given previously, I think, was that it was too difficult to do so. It may well be the case that we have allowed the situation to get out of hand and that there is nothing we can now do about it in this Bill. But if that is so, I think that very serious thought should be given to what other method can be devised to putting the matter right. From what the Government have said, and from the question put to them by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I note that extra teeth will be given to the Alkali Inspectorate, which has come under considerable criticism in the last week, and it may be that this is the time to make it a more powerful body than it is.

I hope that we can get the Bill through rather more quickly than we did the last one when we spent eight days—sometimes for many hours each day—and when the burden of the heat of the day was borne almost entirely from the Opposition Benches by the noble Baroness, Lady White, who follows me later to-day. I hope that we shall not go on for so long next time. We were, I think, too wordy altogether, important and complex as that Bill was. I am glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, admit that when looking more closely at the Bill he has realised, as some of us did last time, that it is a very complicated Bill indeed. I did not intend to speak for as long as 10 minutes, which I have now done. The average Government and Opposition Front Bench speech took 25 minutes. If we are to get the Bill before Whitsun, I hope that everyone will speak as shortly as possible.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to pay a very sincere tribute of appreciation to the Government for the line they have taken in virtually reintroducing the Bill which was before us in the last Parliament. I would congratulate the Leader of the House upon the persuasive tact with which he induces his colleagues to allow this matter to be resumed with something in the nature of an undertaking that if we deal with the matter with sufficient expedition time will be found in another place to ensure that it is on the Statute Book by the end of this Session. When we have heard about the way in which the Government intend to encourage recycling it is indeed a good augury that they begin by recycling this Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is right when he thinks that it will be possible for us to deal with the matter fairly expeditiously.

The long and careful study which we gave to the Bill in the last Parliament should enable us to make rapid progress. Indeed, that should be all the more possible because of the way in which the suggestions made by so many of your Lordships in the case of the last Bill have, as I think, very wisely been adopted by the Government in this Bill. Of all those who took part in those long debates, and whose suggestions have been adopted, I think that probably the highest scorer is the noble Baroness, Lady White. Indeed, those who listened to her during the earlier debates will think that that is not only just but inevitable. I should like to pay tribute to her remarkable grasp of the whole administrative machine and the diligent mastery of detail with which she pressed her Amendments.

In my Second Reading speech on the previous Bill I said that I welcomed it but that it had limitations. I said that it contained a number of detailed provisions which did not really lend themselves to any general discussion of principle and that it was only when we got down to the Committee stage that we should see exactly what it involved. If that was the case on the previous occasion there is obviously much less scope for a normal Second Reading debate on this occasion. Indeed, when I studied the helpful Memorandum issued by the Lord Privy Seal there were only two points which I thought were deserving of mention in a Second Reading speech. The first of those related to consolidation. In view of the laboured defence that the Leader of the House made of the failure to consolidate, I need not quote either him or my noble friend Lady Young when it was pointed out, and was generally accepted in all parts of the House, that a few simple Amendments would simplify the reading and understanding of the Bill and would be of immense help to all those, many of them lay people, who will be required in administering this measure to read, as things are at the present time, a number of separate Acts, some of them passed a long time ago. I have never concealed the fact that I do not share the admiration held for the office of Parliamentary Counsel and those who there practise their arcane craft. I have often complained that there is an extraordinary unwillingness by those responsible for drafting to accept even the simplest modification to what they have written, unless it comes from their own Department. I would make an appeal to the Government to say that during the considerable time that will elapse before the Bill finishes its stages in another place, at any rate some of these comparatively simple Amendments will have been incorporated. I refuse absolutely to accept this mumbo-jumbo that draftsmanship is necessarily so difficult. In many cases Bills from that office are extremely obscure. I hope that the Government will insist on something being done about that.

The second point I thought worth making was the one that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. It is of course entirely right that if what is even a good agricultural practice is likely to involve the risk of pollution of waters, and especially of subterranean waters, that practice should be prohibited. But if it is admittedly a good agricultural practice, then the general principle can hardly be held to apply that the polluter should pay the penalty.

My Lords, it has been generally accepted by both political Parties that, while compensation should not be paid to individuals or companies who abstain from committing an unsocial act, on the other hand, when somebody is interfered with in what has previously been a perfectly legitimate activity (by which I mean morally justified as well as legally justified) and his existing rights are taken away in the general interests of the community, the community should then pay him compensation. I would again ask the Government to have a look at this problem; and, even though they have at present decided in principle against the payment of compensation, I hope they will have second thoughts, for I believe such compensation to be based upon equity and, also, to be expedient. Whenever one refuses to pay fair compensation, it is extremely difficult to persuade those responsible to apply a sound principle if it will inflict individual hardship. I believe, therefore, that apart from justice to the individual it will be in the interests of sound administration to pay compensation.

My Lords, in his speech the Leader of the House made two additional points. I very much welcome the inquiry which the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to hold into the general question of the pollution of the air. I have always felt that, although it may have been justified, and perhaps inevi- table and necessary, that there should be two separate authorities, the Alkali Inspectorate and local authorities, dealing with this matter of the pollution of the air, it really does add greatly to the difficulty of ensuring that the end will be satisfactorily achieved; and I am sure it is good that the new Secretary of State has decided to hold an inquiry into this general problem.

I feel some doubt as to the wisdom of the Government's present intention that, because of the right of the riparian owner to have recourse to the courts for an injunction, the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, which was contained in the previous Bill, should now be removed. I should not like to be dogmatic on that point but I think it is a matter which your Lordships should consider carefully when we come to the Committee stage. With those few observations I therefore once again welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government upon it. Certainly so far as I am concerned, and I hope and believe those in any way associated with me, we shall do all we can to expedite the consideration of this measure.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, may I, too, say how glad I am that the Government have seen fit to bring this Bill back to your Lordships' House. It is a Bill with the aims and principles of which I am totally in agreement; and I am also in agreement in general with the measures it proposes. At the same time, I do not think that two major points which were raised during the course of our previous debate have really been taken into account. They are not points which I made, because unfortunately I was unable to be in your Lordships' House on the particular occasion concerned, although I noted them at the time; they were made by both the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. This was during the course of the Second Reading debate, when they drew attention to the magnitude of the financial and technical effort which would be necessary to define and to implement the new standards which are implied by this Bill. I do not see their fears reflected in the changes which have been made in the new Bill, and my own doubts on this score have certainly not been dispelled.

I sincerely hope, therefore, that as this Bill goes speedily through your Lordships' House some attention will be paid by the Government to the nature of what is implied, because the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum before us now repeats what was said in the previous one: The effects of the Bill on Government expenditure will be small". But these are only the direct effects. My Lords, it says that the Government may be compelled lo take on 25 additional staff, but that is surely not the point. In the earlier debate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said that the cost will in the main fall on those interests which are responsible for causing the pollution".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/11/73, col. 19.] So far as the nation is concerned—whether any component of the total cost is paid by the Exchequer, by a local authority, by the consumer, by the producer or by the manufacturer—there is clearly an additional cost. I therefore ask again whether the Government have considered closely enough what the total bill is going to be, regardless of who is paying, for each successive phase in the implementation of the measures which it is proposed to introduce once the Bill becomes law.

I go further and ask whether, because it is a national question which we are considering, these costs, or part of them, should not be borne nationally as opposed, at the present moment, to falling almost entirely on the local authority. As I understand it, with the present limit on the rate at which the rate support grant can grow, the additional costs of implementing the provisions of the Bill are likely to call for unacceptable rate increases. Because of the reorganisation of local government and of the water services, I understand that several counties have already experienced increases of up to 60 per cent. Where are the resources to come from in order to implement the measures of this new Bill? Is there not a real danger of overloading the local authorities with matters beyond their financial powers, and certainly beyond their manpower capabilities?

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to some observations which have appeared this last week about the Alkali Inspectorate—a body whose efforts I believe are unfairly denigrated far too frequently. They are an excellent body. But the point about this new report to which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred is that it asks that their powers and their duties be taken away from them; that they be an advisory body, and that their functions be handed over again to local authorities. How can this be done? Have the local authorities the manpower and the technical know-how to undertake either that work or the work involved in implementing the provisions of the Bill before us, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, remarked in the previous Second Reading Debate, is of a highly technical nature, requiring specialised investment … and the employment of scientific staff"?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/11/73, c. 16.] Are such staff available to the authorities? Could they become available to the authorities? Here I agree completely with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said earlier on in the course of this debate. This is an immensely important matter, which I trust will be taken into account at the Committee stage. It is not just a question of the availability, but also a question of the career structure of the people concerned.

But what will the cost be? I seem to remember reading that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, expressed some doubts at the previous Committee stage about this question of costs. I realise the dangers of over-centralisation, but in the field of pollution, where the need at present appears to be for adequate investment in skilled manpower and in equipment, there are obvious gains to be made from economies of scale. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it might have been better if the whole of a region's waste disposal services had been put in one single organisation. Had that happened, some of the apparent anomalies would not have occurred. For example, the regional water authority levies a rate which includes a proportion for sewerage on all properties, and yet the present Bill provides for a charge to be made for emptying cesspools. It also proclaims that no charge is to be made for house refuse collection when the cost is already apparent in the rates. Some people will thus pay twice for the same service; and this is a point which I trust will be looked at. On water pollution, justice will hardly be seen to be done if an R.W.A. withhold consent for discharges—application for which will be subject to public advertisement—when the bulk of discharge will be from the R.W.A.'s own sewerage works, which are not subject to advertisement. The R.W.A. becomes both judge and jury.

So far as air pollution is concerned, the Bill authorises local authorities to investigate discharges to the air and encourages them to undertake additional research, but they have no standing (let alone the necessary staff) so far as those discharges which are subject to the Alkali Act are concerned. Is it really easier for local authorities, as opposed to the Factory Inspectorate, to obtain adequate information from industry as to the nature of its various discharges? I also share the doubts expressed during this debate regarding the scale of penalties suggested in the present Bill.

While I am fully in favour of its aims, I am therefore uneasy because the Bill is very wide-ranging and could, without care, become too restrictive in practice. Also it could be difficult to implement for lack of resources. Legislation in a field such as pollution, where standards should not be absolute, is notoriously difficult. Some polluting activities which, because of their scale and geographical location, are now considered irrelevant and unimportant to the overwhelming majority should clearly remain so—we cannot afford otherwise—but suddenly new knowledge might transform the situation.

I should like to return to my previous point, which was also made by the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his opening remarks: what standards should we aim for and what can we afford? Have we indeed the expert knowledge—knowledge concerning amenities as well as scientific knowledge—to know precisely what it is that we wish to prevent? To me, the Bill has the appearance of being somewhat more wide-ranging and ambitious than either our scientific knowledge or our resources warrant. Even if this were not so, I would again ask: how much can we afford to do, and will the Bill make provision for what we can afford to implement? I sincerely hope that the Bill will not move so quickly through your Lordships' House that these matters cannot be examined during the Committee stage. I also hope that I shall be able to remain in my seat throughout the rest of this debate, but if that is not possible I should like to apologise in advance to your Lordships.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, as might be expected, I am among those who warmly welcome this Bill, and I am particularly gratified that the hard work which many of us put into the Bill in its earlier form has proved to be not entirely in vain. In its present form a good many of the Amendments proposed by noble Lords from all parts of the House have been accepted and thereby the Bill has been very considerably improved.

Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, that my noble friend the Leader of the House has made it quite plain that if we delay too long on Committee stage in this House it will be difficult for the Bill to be dealt with adequately in the other place and we might then lose the Bill and have to start all over again for a third time. I should think that most of us would wish to avoid that eventuality. Although I shall myself be proposing Amendments at a later stage, I appreciate that there is a certain urgency and therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, suggested, we should try to be fairly brief during the later stages of the Bill. Nevertheless, having said that, I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that there is room for at least some slight measure of consolidation in this Bill which has not been allowed for. I do not think this need take up a great deal of time. I shall be putting down some Amendments in that connection, of which I have given warning to my noble friend the Leader of the House, and I hope that though it will be only a minor measure of consolidation it may be acceptable and may save a good deal of time in future years before the Law Commission ultimately catches up with consolidation in this field. It is an admirable body, but it does move a little slowly.

I was particularly happy that my noble friend Lord Shepherd made it clear that the Secretary of State, Mr. Crosland, has decided that there are two areas touched on by this Bill which require further consideration and that he is therefore proposing to set up bodies to advise him on reclamation and recycling and also on the whole matter of air pollution control. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, that all is well in this field. I do not deny for one moment that the Alkali Inspectorate, in that part of the field for which it is responsible, has done good work in many ways. Nevertheless, I would draw to your Lordships' attention the report Social Audit issued last weekend on the Alkali Inspectorate and the control of air pollution. I think the report in extenso gives a very much fairer analysis of the situation than one might perhaps gain from the brief accounts which have appeared in the public Press.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene for one moment? I did not say that all was well so far as air polution was concerned: what I said was that the Alkali Inspectorate is frequently unnecessarily denigrated.


My Lords, it is for that reason that I was drawing attention to the full report instead of to the rather abbreviated references to it which have appeared in the Press; because if one reads the full report—which has been very well put together by Maurice Frankel—one sees there are very genuine problems connected with the responsibilities of local authorities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred. There is also the particular difficulty that in another place at this moment another Bill is being dealt with—the Safety and Health at Work Bill. This will have the effect of bringing the Alkali Inspectorate under the Department of Employment and co-ordinating it with the other Inspectorates: the Factory Inspectorate, the Mines Inspectorate, the Explosives Inspectorate and so forth.

There may be sound reasons of administrative convenience for this, but it is very awkward to have two Bills going through Parliament at the same time, each of which deals with different aspects of control of air pollution. We have one whole section of the Bill which is now before this House, but there are other considerations in the Bill which will no doubt ultimately reach us. I do not wish to go into details at the moment, but I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that it is a little difficult to have two separate Bills dealing with two different aspects of the same subject, and neither of them dealing very adequately with the relationship between the local authorities and the Alkali Inspectorate. For that reason alone I am very glad indeed that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has decided that there should be a fuller investigation into the whole question of the control of pollution in the atmosphere.

We have had several references to another area which has caused a good deal of concern and is touched upon by the Bill, namely, the treatment of agriculture. Your Lordships will recall that in the Bill agricultural pollution is dealt with differently from industrial pollution. One can see the point of this and I make no objection to the strengthening of the Bill, as compared with its predecessor, in bringing in the Minister of Agriculture where appeals and the like are concerned. That would obviously be welcomed by the farming community, and it would seem an eminently sensible thing to do. But one must recognise that with the growth of intensive agriculture it has now become one of the main polluting agencies in rural areas. Therefore one is very much concerned as to how it is going to be dealt with, and it is not very satisfactory not to have the detailed provisions for agriculture included in this Bill as they are for manufacturing and other industries. However, if one looks carefully at the Bill, and particularly at Clause 17, one sees that further consideration can be given to this matter and it may be more satisfactory than is apparent at first glance.

Several noble Lords have mentioned the contentious matter of compensation if something which is good agricultural practice proves to be highly detrimental to the environment, and is a cause of serious pollution. I do not want to enter into that matter at the moment; I am sure at a later stage we shall have further opportunity to discuss it. I should like to repeat something which I said in our previous deliberations: I wish Departments concerned with this matter would look more carefully at Continental practice where financial assistance is available to farmers, particularly the intensive farmers, for the establishment of proper processing plants for agricultural effluents. This costs money. Under our financial provisions it is true that if you have the money to spend you can obtain tax relief, but if you do not have the capital to provide such plants then you get neither relief nor grant aid. If we are serious about this threat of pollution through intensive agriculture—in some areas it is a very real threat—we ought to be prepared to revise our financial provisions.

I hope that the agricultural interests will not simply confine themselves to this difficult question of compensation, but will also look over the Channel to what can be found in Normandy and Brittany, for instance, where there are a number of modern plants for dealing with pollution from intensive farming for which grants of up to 55 per cent. are available, some from the national exchequer in France, and some from the departments based on environmental considerations. I am not sure that we can introduce any such provisions into this Bill, if only because I doubt whether we shall have the time available to do so. I would make a strong plea to the Departments concerned, to the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union and other organisations, to study this matter seriously, to see whether we can work out some improved procedure in this country.

There was another area of possible pollution which worried me under the previous Bill. I am still not entirely happy about it. I refer to toxic wastes from mines. We discussed this matter previously, but I am not persuaded that the present Bill is more satisfactory than was the last one. This is something to which in this place, or in the other House, some further attention may be paid. I come finally to confidentiality and how far this Bill provides that the public and their elected representatives, the local authorities, should have a right to know. Some of your Lordships may have seen a remarkable television programme with the title "The Right to Know" which was shown on April 23. I saw it and have the transcript of the programme with me. Unfortunately, I cannot take up time quoting from it. The programme was partly concerned with safety at work, but was also concerned with pollution of the environment. It pointed out the grave difficulties which many people have had up to now in dealing with some of the matters which needed reform because of the provisions in our law which prevent one identifying sources of pollution.

We have made a little improvement in this Bill compared with the last one. Perhaps I may claim a little credit for this, because whereas in the previous version one could be prosecuted if in certain circumstances one gave information concerning any manufacturing process, that at least has been dropped from the current Bill, and now one is left only with references to trade secrets. I have not been able to discover anywhere in British legislation—and I took some official legal advice on this matter this morning—any definition of what is a trade secret. It was noticeable that in the second Report of the Royal Commission on Pollution at the time when the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, was chairman, there was a remarkable passage, to which I referred in Second Reading on the previous Bill, in which they pointed out that nowadays it should not be necessary to debar references to trade secrets; that for the protection of the public it was not desirable, and for the protection of the industrialist it was not necessary.

One can envisage certain exceptional circumstances in which, nevertheless, some protection of trade secrets might be needed, and circumstances in which such a secret could be discovered by the various processes of measuring effluent or emissions to the atmosphere. Nevertheless I wish it were not necessary because I believe that the public have the right to know. Water and air are public, they are not private. The public have the right to know what goes into the atmosphere or what effluent goes into rivers. I repeat that I wish the Bill could be improved in that respect. Although I do not believe the Bill is perfect, it has been improved. Length is not necessarily a criterion of merit, but when the Bill first reached us it had 106 pages. When it left the Committee stage in the previous Parliament it had 109 pages. Now it has 119 pages. If all those additions are improvements at least we are making progress.

My Lords, I am very glad indeed this Bill has come back. There is still room for some improvement, and I hope we shall be able to amend it further without taking too much time over it, so that it may reach the Statute Book this Session.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I also wish to be brief as I spoke at length on the Protection of the Environment Bill and took part in the Committee stage of that Bill. I should like to congratulate the Government on this Bill and on bringing it back to this House, and on the change of name to Control of Pollution. I always thought, and in fact said on the Second Reading debate of the previous Bill, that if we had a Protection of the Environment Bill and included all the flora and fauna it would need to be enormous—two or three times the size of the Bill we now have before us.

For a few moments I should like to say something about waste collection. The other point I wish to raise concerns pollution of water. But regarding waste collection—I am now specifically referring to litter—I am very pleased to see that by Clause 20 the Government are to bring in new arrangements by which county councils in England and Wales will co-ordinate in a litter plan with the district councils. In Scotland, too, under subsection (2) of the clause, I see now that the Government are to bring the regional authorities into consultation and, therefore, we shall have the regional authority or the islands council preparing proposals for dealing with litter. From the visual point of view, one of the worst aspects of litter is the old mattresses and old beds and such junk which is far too big to go into dustbins and so is dumped in isolated places. I hope that through the new arrangement under Clause 20 these eyesores in the countryside will be cleared up.

Before I leave the subject of waste, may I say, as President of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Kent, how disappointed the Association is, as I imagine is the national Association, because, as I read this Bill, waste from hotels and restaurants is to be classified as "commercial waste". I was hoping it would be classified as household waste in the Bill because if it is so classified it is collected free. It will often surely be extremely difficult to make this distinction. As I think I said on the Committee stage of the previous Bill, one might consider a block of flats where the residents use a restaurant in the block. Is the restaurant waste going to be classified as commercial waste or as household waste? Presumably it all goes into the same receptacles. I hope that the Government will repent on this point, because in the South-East of England we have thousands of small hotels and boarding houses and presumably their house refuse will be classed under this Bill as commercial waste. It will mean that the landladies will have to pay for their refuse collection. Some of them can ill afford it.

I should now like to go on to deal with Part II and pollution of water. Several noble Lords, and the noble Baroness who has just sat down, have referred to agriculture. As others have done, I most heartily welcome the fact that now the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for the Environment will both hear appeals against orders made by the Water Authority under this legislation. But I feel that the Government are being rather unfair here as regards farmers. I made this point on the previous Bill. If one has one's land compulsorily acquired one is paid compensation. Yet if a farmer is carrying on good agricultural practice as he has done for years, a meritorious practice, which has always been legal, I do not see why he has to suffer loss under an order made by the Water Authority, and why he cannot be compensated. I quite agree that where a farmer has knowingly allowed effluent to go into a stream he should be severely punished. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in that I believe the penalties prescribed in this Bill are probably not hard enough. But I feel there is definite unfairness to farmers.

It is unfair not only to farmers and tenants but also to owner-occupiers and to agricultural landlords. I realise that landlords are a very unpopular breed of species to-day, but the situation is unfair to all these people. Take the agricultural landlord. If the tenant has suffered under such an order from the Water Authority, which the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture have upheld, presumably the tenant will have to have a reduction in his rent. But the landlord will not have had any legal control in preventing the tenant from causing pollution. So I hope that the Government will relent on this point. As I said on the previous Bill, if there are two or three small farmers in an area where the water has been polluted underground, I do not understand how one is going to prove who is the chief culprit. This situation, as I have said, would seem to provide a field day for lawyers. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady White, compared the case of industrialists with that of farmers—perhaps I am wrong in attributing that remark to her, but I think she did so. If industrialists have an order made against them for polluting, they are in a much stronger position because they can upgrade the price of their goods to offset any financial loss. It is difficult for the farmer because he cannot do so, his prices being controlled.

Before I conclude, my Lords, on the question of noise I would say that it is perhaps pertinent to remark (although this is only a small point) that the vehicles used by the local authorities in collecting refuse make the most appalling noise. Especially in urban areas they roar away at rather inconvenient hours in the early morning, and I feel that local authorities might try to use quieter vehicles. Having said that, I should like to say that I am sorry the Bill cannot give us much hope on pollution of the atmosphere, apart from the inquiry to be undertaken. Apparently, lead in petrol is going to be with us for a long time for various economic reasons, and I can only hope that a great deal of research is being carried on into means of electric transport on the roads. My Lords, having said that, and having run my allotted time, I should just like to congratulate the Government again on bringing in this Bill. I hope it goes through this House very speedily and that it will pass into law at the end of the Session.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House, in making a most excellent speech, tended to treat this Bill as just another public health measure. To those of us who are really interested in conservation I think it is an important Bill about important aspects of the protection of the environment. It is all about conservation. I agree with my noble friend Lady Young that what we are dealing with is a sub- ject of importance to everyone. In just two minutes I should like to look at this word "everyone" and see this Bill in a perspective wider, perhaps, than your Lordships' House.

It is less than twenty years ago, in 1957, when Article 2 of the Treaty of Rome made no mention at all of the protection of the environment. The phrase used was only the harmonious development of economic activities and the continuance of balanced expansion". How much has gone on in the last few years? Those of us who have talked to the officials of the E.E.C. and the Council for Europe will learn from them of the interest, encouragement and action being taken by every Member State, whatever their political persuasion may be. There is a growing awareness.

Only eight years ago I became a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund. We raised £75,000 that year. Last year, eight years later, we raised £800,000—more than ten times as much. What is the reason for this? This is not the skill of our fundraising: it is the growing realisation that something has to be done. There has been progress in the understanding and the knowledge of conservation which, I believe, in the perspective of history, has spread across the world more quickly than ever any political or religious thought. All nations are involved and feel involved. They are all on common ground, my Lords, just as we on both sides of this House are on common ground now.

I am not going to talk about conservation. What we are talking about is the destruction of the world as we know it. If mankind went on doing what they were doing less than twenty years ago, then the destruction would be there by any or all of three different measures—either the increase in population, or in pollution, or in the destruction of habitat. Looking at it from that point of view as a conservationist, we are thankful to have met with so much success.

This non-Party Bill is one of the successes that we have had. We do not expect to get steady progress. Of course we shall have setbacks. The lead in petrol is a typical example. One has to realise that there is another point of view, too, as well as the one that one should like to put across. Another danger just now—a great danger for Britain—is that of oil. We may be in danger of forgetting that the land, abused now to drain the land and sea of its wealth, must be handed back to the people of Scotland in fifty years or more—a very short time in world history—and that, to gain one short year of time now, we may be destroying for ever a heritage of nature and beauty that could have been preserved for ever for the people who will live there after that natural wealth has gone. Therefore, my Lords, we fight on and we must do our best—and, as I say, we must understand the other point of view. We cannot expect to win great wars but we want to make progress, and this Bill is real progress such as we want to make: nothing spectacular, but a series of steps in the right direction, and I am grateful to the Department of the Environment and to both sides of your Lordships' House for having brought it so far.

Mention has been made by a number of noble Lords of the improvements that have been made to the Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Henley that nearly all of the small Amendments that I have put down have been met. Reading the Bill through and comparing it with the one issued for the Report stage which did not take place, I find nearly 30 improvements, of which I rate nearly half as added protection for various aspects of conservation. Therefore, my Lords, I welcome it. I welcome the inquiry on air pollution. In your Lordships' House in the Committee stage I tried to move a rather fatuous Amendment about polluting fall-out from aircraft. All that happened was that a young, blonde lady got her picture in the paper and was on television. I gave my noble friend a little bag of fall-out and I have never heard a word since. But we have to realise, when we are talking about air pollution, that every year millions of gallons of petrol are thrown out into the air to fall upon the inoffensive heads of those of us who live in the vicinity of London. I am not going to put that down as an Amendment. I propose to put down just a few, none of them involving a major question of principle, with the view not, as so often has been said in this House, of making a bad Bill better, but with the view, I hope, of making a good Bill better.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the one point which I have to make to the House arises out of what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said—that these matters are of importance to everybody. First, however, I should like to express my gratitude to the Government and to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for re-introducing this Bill in this House. I think that it is a very good Bill. I know of no comprehensive legislation in any other country which is as good. I would venture to make just two or three comments which, if they meet with your Lordships' approval, might improve the Bill. They really arise from what the noble Baroness, Lady White, generously referred to as the philosophy of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The basis of that philosophy was that in this country it is better to use pragmatic methods, or the "best practicable means", than to have Draconian blanket legislation which in other countries leads to constant recourse to the courts. That has been the basis of what legislation has done in Britain. The Royal Commission's Second Report, which was quoted a great deal during the earlier Committee stage, was really aimed at giving the public confidence in this pragmatic method, and it is about that that I ask leave to speak for a few moments.

We all know that the expression "best practicable means" is a sitting target for critics. It gives the impression that the authority representing the public bargains with the polluter and reaches some kind of compromise, and many of the public suspect that the polluter often gets the best of the bargain. This is encouraged by sensational reports that appear in the Press. The difficulty is that the facts upon which one can judge whether or not that suspicion is correct are not easily available to the public. Therefore, the use of the "best practicable means" will continue to be our policy. What seems to be of the greatest importance is that we should command public confidence in that policy, and that point arises front what several noble Lords have said this afternoon about the need to have some education of the public in the policies which Britain uses to control the environment.

I believe, as did the Royal Commission, that the most important step is to get rid of what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, described as the "miasma of confidentiality" which surrounds the pollution control services. That is why the Royal Commission pressed so strongly in its Second Report for public access to information. We believe that the way to keep public confidence is to require from industry and from public bodies, who discharge waste into the atmosphere, that they do for waste what they have had to do for money for a very long time; namely, to publish how they dispose of it. In pressing for this we were not, of course, "gunning" for industry and, least of all, "gunning" for the Alkali Inspectorate, whose job it is to control pollution—not to be public relations officers with the public. I think it should go on the record that it was the industrialist on the Royal Commission, the late Neil Iliff, who pressed most strongly for this break into the tradition of confidentiality.

This Bill goes further than any previous legislation in offering this access to the public, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, said so eloquently at the Committee stage of the previous Bill, provision for disclosure about emissions into the air is not so satisfactory as provision for disclosure about discharges into water. I submit to your Lordships that this is a serious defect in the Bill, because, apart from noise, I suppose that air pollution is the kind of pollution which affects more of the public more of the time than other kinds of pollution. So I hope that at the Committee stage in your Lordships' House and in the other place there will be a reconsideration of Clauses 71 to 75 of this Bill.

For a moment, let me try to explain the kind of puzzlement which I have on looking at these clauses. Clause 71(1) refers to publicity, but it is publicity for investigation and research relevant to air pollution; not publicity for the actual records and notices referred to in Clause 71(2) and in Clauses 72 and 74 of the Bill. In defending these differences between the provision for public access in Clause 2 for water—which was good—and in Clause 4, the view was expressed in Committee that measurement was more difficult and trade secrets might be more readily exposed for emissions into the air than for discharges into the water. I beg leave to differ from that view.

First, as regards measurement, the Reports of the Alkali Inspector contain many examples of the sort of data which ought to go, and could go, into accessible registers. They refer to limits of emissions which must not be exceeded. They are not consents to pollute but they act as guidelines to the industrialist in controlling emissions into the air. They could also be used as guides to inform the public. I think it is only a question of local authorities systematically putting into registers available at the town hall the sort of information which already appears in many of the Alkali Inspectors' Reports. At this stage of the afternoon I must not trouble your Lordships with figures, but I should like to give two examples of the kind of information which ought to be much more easy of public access than it is at present.

In the 1968 Report of the Alkali Inspectors, there were two interesting passages. One stated that a named lead smelting process planned for North Ferriby must comply with a lead level emission not exceeding 11.5 milligrammes per cubic metre. That is a very low level, and it was deliberately set low because it was to be a very large factory. In the same issue, an example showed that the "accepted level", as it is called, of dust emissions from the cement works on Thames-side is 1,150 milligrammes per cubic metre, but only for old kilns with a restricted life. These are examples, which it is most important for the public to understand, of the flexibility with which the whole pollution policy of this country is managed. It is enormously impressive and efficient as a basis, compared with the rigid processes based on air quality and water quality standards in some other countries.

It is frequently protested that if these figures were published the public would not understand them and they would be quoted out of context. That is a risk that is inherent in all statistics, from the balance of payments to birth rates, and I am sure that your Lordships would be shocked if that were used as a reason for withholding this kind of information from the public. I believe that anyone who lives near a lead smelting works, for example, should have the right to discover from the local authority how much lead emission is being permitted, and be able to look it up at the Town Hall. He has no way of discovering whether that limit is being exceeded, but if he believes that it is he can, at least, ask a straight, clean question of the local authority: will they discover—in this case by inquiring from the Alkali Inspectorate—whether the level is being exceeded? But, at least, he will then know what the level ought to be.

My second point concerns confidentiality—the disclosure of trade secrets. The Royal Commission said: … confidentiality may sometimes be important where there is a single chemical operation on a single site". I think the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, would agree with me that that was a piece of commissioner's caution. I do not believe that any of us on the Royal Commission could have thought of one example, nor were we given in evidence one example, of any process which would fall into that category. On the contrary, we were frequently assured by industry that monitoring pollution would be quite a crazy way of discovering trade secrets. I am sure it is necessary to have provision in this Bill for the rare cases which may arise, but I hope that the use of this provision will be very stringently scrutinised by Parliament. I wonder whether the Government would consider introducing into the Bill some provision to the effect that there should be an annual report made to Parliament about how many exemptions have been granted under Clauses 36 and 73.

There is just one other point which I should like to add. At the previous Committee stage, there was a good deal of discussion about whether the powers given to the Secretary of State and to other bodies should be expressed as "may" or "shall". For instance, in Clause 35 there is the statement that, "Provision may be made by regulations …" for keeping registers of discharges into water. The noble Baroness, Lady White, moved an Amendment to have the word "may" changed into "shall" but she withdrew it when she was assured by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that "may" was the correct and customary expression for something which Ministers had every intention of doing. I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me if I say that, in my view, it showed rather unusual timidity on her part in withdrawing that Amendment.

Of course I accept what the noble and learned Viscount said, but there still seems to be an inconsistency because if we look at Clause 74(1) we find the statement that, The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe … ", and then there are particulars about research and publicity. I should like to ask whether a concession could be made to the many lay readers of the Report, so that things which this House feels deeply "shall be done" are expressed in that way, and things such as limiting the sulphur content of fuel—which may be done if the Secretary of State is obliged to do it by the E.E.C.—are expressed as "may".

So I ask your Lordships to consider whether in two or three places in this Bill we might insist on the use of "shall"; for instance, in regard to the regulations covering dangerous toxic wastes, as well as the compiling of registers for emissions into water and, I hope, the air. This will give to the public a clear intention of what I believe is in the minds of many of your Lordships. The purpose of this suggestion is to get public confidence in a flexible method of using the "best practical means", because without public confidence the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be difficult to operate.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the Government has thought fit to begin again in a new guise the Protection of the Environment Bill, on which so much useful time was spent in Committee earlier in the year. I appreciate the points made regarding the need to get this Bill quickly through this House. The human being in most activities creates pollution. It behoves us to ensure that this pollution should not be such as to cause short-term or long-term harm to the environment. Only a part can be achieved by legislation. I thought the noble Lord the Leader of the House spoke very much to the point when he referred to the point that legislation can do only a certain amount. It is a matter to which the whole population should give their attention.

My Lords, although industry is by no means the only potential polluter, it is clearly an important one. Many items vital to our existence, including some of the most important lifesaving drugs, may involve toxic by-products in manufacture. These have to be disposed of somehow. Most, if not all, industrial firms restrict the pollution to a level that will not cause detriment to the environment, which is often difficult and expensive. Most large firms who, by their size and by the nature of their processes, are the largest potential polluters, take pollution very seriously indeed and have done so for many years. I remember more than 40 years ago I worked in a factory on the North-East coast in connection with the reduction of pollution in the atmosphere. Highly skilled specialist departments and individuals are concerned in this. I am glad to see that the Confederation of British Industry and the many large companies, including the one with which I was associated for more than 40 years, have given their support to this Bill. If industry is to survive, the application of controls must be flexible. What is damaging in one area may not be in another. If no stringent controls are applied, it may be impossible or uneconomic for an industry to continue in a particular area. It may be desirable for that industry to move elsewhere for environmental reasons, but the social effects on employment must be taken into account. Indeed, if stringent controls are applied, then it may be impossible to carry on a particular process anywhere in the country. The effect of this situation on our balance of payments is another factor.

My Lords, as I have said, most large companies take pollution very seriously indeed, and employ specialist individuals or departments to go into this matter. Small firms may find it impossible to do this. If the emissions from small firms are found to be toxic, it may take research and much expense to put it right. Consultation is therefore vital if the difficulties are to be avoided and the undesirable effects removed. Great weight is given to the factor of consultation in the new edition of the Bill that we now have before us. I must say that I am sorry to see the Government have re-introduced Clause 45 in this Bill, enabling Orders to be made for charges to be levied on effluents. This was opposed strongly in Committee on the previous Bill, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady White. It seems to me right that the polluter should pay for correcting his pollution, either by himself or by a contractor, but this problem goes much further. If we allow a charge to be made for the discharge of polluted water into a river, it could lead to a pollution tax, or a tax according to the amount of pollution in the effluent; in my opinion both are equally undesirable. The noble Baroness, Lady White, likened it to a blank cheque. The last Government promised to review the matter, but wanted full discussion first. I hope that the present Government will consider this matter very carefully and will give us their views on it.

My Lords, there is one further point on which a certain amount has been said to-day; that is, confidentiality. There must be a right for inspectors to go into a works in connection with suspected or proved injurious emissions of either gas or liquid. In my opinion, it is very seldom that the results of pollution by both gas or liquid are not published. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, said about this. But I do think we ought to be careful about the powers of inspection in a factory. There is no objection at all to the skilled inspectors of the Factory or Alkali Inspectorates entering a factory to find out what is going on. But as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, said, local government will rarely have the properly trained people to do this work. I know of previous cases where the local authorities have employed consultants to do this work. There is a danger that, through the inspection of factories by consultants, there will be a loss of trade secrets. Presumably, trade secrets apply to industrial processes. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady White, welcomed the fact that reference to manufacturing processes was taken out of the confidentiality clause and is taken out of this present Bill, but surely a secret process can equally be a trade secret.

As I said before in Committee, it is not usually the general theory of the process which is secret, but the way in which it is operated. It seems to me that a company, if it has a successful process, should be able to achieve confidentiality on it. These processes are not merely the assets of individual firms, but are often national assets of great value to the country. Means should be provided by which the secrets are safeguarded. Let me speak of one process that I really know nothing about, that is, the float glass process of Pilkington's. Knowledgeable consultants going round the process and thereby acquiring knowledge of it useful to other companies in other countries are clearly going to be detrimental to this country if that were allowed. Firms should have the right—as I think they have in the Bill as it stands—to appeal to the Secretary of State if they fear the loss of confidentiality from visits of inspectors who are not directly employees of either local government or part of the Factory and Alkali Inspectorates.

My Lords, in order to obtain a licence to discharge, it is right that an industrial discharger should have to go through a procedure to ensure that the emissions from his premises will not be injurious. Quite rightly there are many safeguards to this in this Bill. But the Bill also provides a Common Law right to seek for an injunction to be retained, which was the subject of discussion in the previous Committee stage. In my opinion it is questionable whether it is necessary to include any safeguard, as in Clause 40, that the water authority can revoke a consent already given because the effluent is harming the fauna or flora in a stream. It seems to me this is almost incapable of adequate definition. There are many safeguards in this Bill, and it seems that this is creating an additional uncertainty in the minds of people running processes. Clause 31, for instance, it seems to me, provides adequate safeguard for this.

There is one further point I should like to mention and that is the question of compensation. I moved an Amendment to the previous Bill saying that the Secretary of State may pay to a person compensation in respect of expenditure directly attributable to a prohibition or restriction. If I may, I should like to quote from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who made the point very much better than I could. He said: I should like to press the Minister to accept in principle one simple proposition: distinguishing between people, who are stopped from doing things that they are not at the moment doing, or are able to do, from those who are stopped from doing what they may have been doing for many years and which they are perfectly entitled to do as the Law now stands. This power which the Government are seeking to obtain would be a power to prohibit them from doing that which they are doing and have done. I should have thought it was quite without precedent for the Government to which the noble Lord belongs to take away the right to conduct such an activity without any provision for compensation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24/1/74, Col. 1620.] Subsequently I withdrew the Amendment, because the Government promised to have a look at it. I should like to emphasise that the Amendment did not say that the Government had to give compensation; it said that the Secretary of State may give compensation. This does not only apply to agriculture; it may easily apply to a business, a small factory which has had the proper planning permission and has been operating for many years in the particular area, and which is, in effect, suddenly told that it must go elsewhere. It may drive that particular business out of operation altogether.

However, I welcome this Bill. Many of the points raised in the previous Committee stage have been met. I hope there will be further improvement in the Committee stage to follow.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, while welcoming the speedy introduction of this Bill, like my noble friend Lady Young I think it is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to repeal the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972 and incorporate its relevant provisions into this Bill. Your Lordships will recall on January 15 last, following the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Amory, the lengthy discussion we had on this matter and the assurance given by my noble friend Lady Young, speaking for the Government, that this question would be very seriously considered. The noble Baroness also made a proviso with regard to the question of drafting time. I take that point, but possibly the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, when he comes to reply, will be able to give the House some encouragement as to whether or not it will be possible to do something along these lines when the Bill reaches another place.

On the other hand, following the Amendment on reclamation of my noble friend Lord Craigton, on December 13 last, and the ensuing discussion, which included re-use and recycling of materials, one can congratulate the Government very much indeed on having incorporated into this Bill the provisions of Clause 2(4). It would also appear that the definition of "waste" has been improved so as not to include waste which may be required for reclamation purposes. However, as I mentioned on December 13, recycling, while appearing an attractive proposition, is a somewhat complex subject; the noble Baroness stressed that point, too. In some cases it can be impracticable and uneconomical. Therefore, consultation with interested parties, which is allowed for in this Bill, by the disposal authorities is essential, duly taking into account studies carried out by individual industries, research organisations and so forth.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the useful work carried out at Warren Springs. I think it also interesting to recall the very useful work carried out—I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady White, will know about this—at the Cardiff University Industry Centre which includes also the Department of Mineral Exploitation, where I am advised "the trash-piles of to-morrow lose their terror". Another very useful service is provided by the Hazardous Wastes Service at Harwell.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy will be aware that I mentioned last December that the glass, industry is taking very seriously this question of recycling. In tact when the report The Glass Container Industry and the Environmental Debate came out last November, the Federation called for a national policy for the reclamation and recycling of all materials from waste. On the lines of a national policy, I think it is interesting to note that earlier this year the establishment of a waste exchange market was proposed to Government Departments, and I am particularly thinking of the Department of the Environment. I understand that a committee was set up in February consisting of environment specialists from ten of the major chemical companies in the United Kingdom, to promote a scheme which would publicise certain waste products now discarded so that a use may be found for them. I feel that this may meet the point of my noble friend Lady Young, who was seeking for a market for the waste which was available. It would seem that the value of this idea, too, lies in the fact that the waste materials at present under consideration are those originating from manufacturing processes in general and not solely from chemical processes. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in the course of his remarks earlier on, referred to the fact that Her Majesty's Government were looking favourably on the idea of setting up a national advisory body on waste management. I am wondering whether the organisation to which I have just referred could not form the basis for such a body. At least it would provide the industrial expertise.

Turning now to the noise provisions of the Bill, I regret that under the rubric reduction of noise levels, in Clause 59 the Bill still specifies that where a person is served with a noise reduction notice with respect to premises within a noise abatement zone his right of appeal against the notice is to the magistrates' court. On January 29 last my noble friend Lady Young, speaking for the Government, believed that the magistrates would have the technical expertise for dealing with this particular kind of case. With the greatest respect, I query whether that would really be the case. Such an appeal would generally require an assessment of the highly technical considerations involved, and possibly a comparative evaluation of the merits of the differing proposals of, on the one hand, the local authority and, on the other, the company concerned. I think that decisions could be made on individual appeals without regard to general policy or precedent, and decisions on similar appeals could be different in different courts.

Finally, I should like to refer to the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution of September 1972 under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and in particular to the Minority Report of two members out of a total of nine members, for it appeared to be their recommendation which motivated the previous Administration and this Government to seek enabling powers for the Secretary of State to introduce at a later date the provision for charges to be made for discharges to rivers, et cetera; in other words, a pollution tax system. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, is not in his place at the moment, because he represented 50 per cent. of that minority. On this I feel that the need has yet to be proven, and I am informed, too, that there has been inadequate consultation regarding the introduction at a later date of such a pollution tax. The present system of control by the attachment by the authorities of conditions to consent to discharge works well, I am advised, and it can easily be tightened if needed.

I think it fair to say, as pointed out in the Minority Report, that it is often claimed that charges are impracticable because data are not available to permit an accurate calculation of the amount of pollution to be taxed. The Minority Report also recognises that in some cases verification difficulties may mean that the calculation of the charge will be inaccurate, and that in other cases the costs of operating a charging system would be excessive in relation to the damage done by the pollution. Therefore, in my humble opinion the inclusion of Clause 45 is premature if one bears in mind, too, the following words of the Minority Report, which I should like to quote because they are relevant and brief: The precise technical details both concerning the desirable level of charges and also the machinery for their collection are matters that will require a great deal of work at a local as well as national level involving administrative, technical, and scientific considerations on the one hand and economic analysis on the other. Therefore, bearing these facts in mind, I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will have a second look at this question. It might even be that, on reflection, the Government may feel that the directive powers of the Secretary of State contained in the provisions of Sections 30 and 31 of the Water Act 1973 are very adequate at this stage.

That is all that I have to say at this moment. I end by heartily congratulating the Government on introducing this Bill, and on the changes that have been made to it. I should also like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his courtesy, and for the information he has given before this Second Reading took place.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, it cannot be so very often that this House has had the experience of having substantially the same Bill introduced in such swift succession to the other. I have had the good fortune, owing to a case ending before it was expected, of being able to hear the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I also had the good fortune of listening to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in moving the Second Reading of the last Bill. They were both very good speeches. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had much the easier task because he did not have to explain, as did the noble Baroness what all the clauses referred to. He was able to take that as read, and to draw attention only to the changes that had been made.

Sitting here and adopting, I hope, a wholly impartial attitude, I must say that the noble Lord had a still easier task, because it has been possible for him to move the Second Reading of a better Bill than the one that the noble Baroness was called upon to move. It is a better Bill because the present Government have wisely had regard to the views expressed in this House, and to the acceptance of Amendments moved in this House to the other Bill. The noble Lord was good enough to refer to some of my activities in relation to the last Bill, so I hope that it will not be taken amiss if I make a few observations with regard to this present Bill.

In relation to the last Bill, I confined most of my activities to Part II dealing with water pollution and I propose to do the same again. It is a greatly improved Part of this Bill. In particular, we have lost that iniquitous clause, Clause 36. How it came about that a Conservative Government introduced a Bill which restricted the legal right of private individuals to protect their rights by way of injunction, if they could obtain one, I simply do not understand. I am glad that that has gone completely. I am glad, too, about the change of Title. I only hope that this Bill will live up to its Title and be effective in preventing pollution.

I have referred to the noble Lord's excellent speech in moving the Second Reading. I think that it is open to only one criticism; that is, that he did not stress sufficiently the importance of the subject with which this Bill deals. That being so, although one wants to see this Bill on the Statute Book, it is a Bill that must be carefully examined and, if possible, improved in the course of its passage through this House and the other House. There is one respect in which I do not find the Bill satisfactory. It is true that the right to obtain an injunction is preserved unqualified, but people do not lightly embark on the cost and risk of litigation. Usually it is only when pollution has been suffered, and is being suffered, that proceedings for an injunction are started. They could be started because pollution was threatened; but I have never known of that happening, for the reason that it may be very difficult to establish before pollution occurred that, in fact, there will be pollution by a certain discharge. Therefore proceedings by way of injunction are effective and have been effective to stop pollution which is occurring.

This Bill, however, is a Bill to prevent pollution, and it is in that connection that I suggest to the noble Lord that it requires strengthening. As the Bill stands at present, a person who applies for consent to make a polluting discharge has a right of appeal if consent to that discharge being made is refused. That is all very well, but the objector has no such right of appeal against his objection being rejected. One may get the case of a perfectly serious objection—I am not talking about frivolous objections; one can consider ways perhaps in which those can be dealt with and eliminated—but I am considering a serious objection by someone who has valid grounds for thinking that the proposed discharge will do a great deal of damage. If consent is given, that consent cannot be revoked—if I understand the Bill correctly—by the Water Authority, by a notice under one of those clauses, for a period which cannot be less than two years. If the consent is given, the person interested in the water will have to suffer that discharge for two years before he can get the Water Authority to alter it, or proceed by way of litigation. I must say that it seems to me that it would be much better that you should give such an objector also a right of appeal to prevent what there are good grounds for believing will be a pollution caused by the proposed discharge.

The noble Lord in moving the Second Reading said that it was unnecessary to give a right of appeal. I think that it is inequitable not to do so, and in the absence of a right on both sides it seems to me that the scales are tilted wrongly in favour of those who want consent to making polluting discharges, when this is a Bill to prevent pollution. I should like to see that inequity removed, and I hope that I shall get support from some of your Lordships in the Committee stage to secure that that objective is achieved.

Apart from that, I assure the noble Lord that I shall not take such an active part, or perhaps some would say, "be so troublesome"—I think that would be the description of the noble Baroness, Lady Young—as I was in relation to the last Bill. I hope that this Bill reaches the Statute Book. I wish to raise that point and one or two other perhaps minor ones, but that is the one to which I attach major importance. I shall certainly not seek to obstruct the passage of this measure.


My Lords, because I was uncertain about my movements to-day—


My Lords, perhaps I may say to my noble friend, that I understand my noble friend Lord Walston has already put his name down. Therefore if my noble friend agrees, perhaps my noble friend Lord Walston could make his speech first.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not stand between the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, and your Lordships for very long. There is only one aspect of this Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. It would be a brave man who would get up to-day and oppose this Bill, and I have no intention of doing so. I am a wholehearted supporter of it. We are all anti-polluters now and many of us have been so for a long time. But when we are discussing these problems of pollution and legislation to control it, it is well to remember who is going to pay for this control of pollution because the control of pollution is a very expensive business.

As I understand it, the theory behind this Bill, which is an admirable Bill and an admirable theory, is that it is the polluter who will pay; but in fact, unfortunately, that is not the case. With the possible exception (as is so often the case) of farmers, I doubt whether any of the organisations and the businesses which will be affected by this Bill, those who at the moment are polluting our our land, our atmosphere and our water, will reduce their profits by one penny piece. The cost of their product will rise. It is not even the polluted who will pay, but, on the whole, the consumers of the products which are produced by the polluting factories and businesses will have to hear the brunt of the cost and, to a certain extent—and I do not think we should lose sight of this fact either—those who are employed in what I shall call the "offending industries".

One particular case, which was drawn to my attention some time ago, concerned a factory in a certain area not very far from the Birmingham conurbation which, in the opinion of the Alkali Inspectorate, was causing considerable pollution. When this matter was drawn to the attention of the occupiers of the factory they accepted the findings but made it perfectly clear that if they were forced to take the necessary steps in order to reduce the pollution to acceptable levels, they would close down their factory and build a new, modern factory in another, more suitable district, or possibly enlarge one of their other factories to take care of the output of this particular factory. That is the sort of thing which we may well find happening as a result of the full implementation of this Bill: that the factory itself closes down and moves elsewhere, not only elsewhere in this country but very possibly to other countries in Europe, or indeed possibly to the United States. Therefore, we must be aware that the people who are going to pay in an instance of this sort are those who at present are employed in these factories rather than those who suffer from, or who cause, the pollution. I urge the Government to do all in their power to make quite sure that not only will our partners in the Community introduce legislation—many of them have legislation similar to this and at least as stringent as is ours—but will see that it is properly implemented, so that it will not be possible for a polluting industry or firm to close down its factory in this country and to move quietly across the Channel to a neighbouring country, there to carry on with a similar amount of pollution but exempt from our own particular legislation.

The second class of people who will pay for this type of legislation may very well be those who live many thousands of miles away from the source of pollution. I am referring in particular to such types of industry as the fertiliser industry, the chemical pesticide industry, and so on, whose products are of enormous value for agriculture and enable food to be produced at relatively low cost. Any extra costs to which these firms are subjected by reason of control of pollution will undoubtedly be passed on to the food producer, to the farmer—not necessarily in this country, but in countries to which they export their products; so that the plight of the starving millions in Pakistan, in India and in the Sahelian region will in fact be exacerbated, and the people who pay for our improved atmosphere, water and land will be those who are least able to do so.

This is in no way an argument against the Bill. All I am doing is drawing your Lordships' attention to the fact that while we can sit here and endorse legislation which is going to make our lives more comfortable, it is not we who are going to pay for it, but it is those people who we should least like to see having to foot the bill. Therefore, as a result of this type of legislation which, I repeat, I wholeheartedly support, we must realise the burden, however slight it may be, that is being placed upon others and when on other occasions we come to discuss the difficulties of those who are seeking work in declining areas in this country, or those who are seeking food in areas of great shortage, we should bear in mind the burden that we, for our own convenience and comfort, are placing upon them.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, as I was saying, my movements seemed uncertain this morning so I did not put my name clown on the list of speakers. For that reason, I shall not presume on your Lordships' time for more than two or three minutes. I am a waste paper fanatic. I suppose that this stems from the fact that for over forty years I worked in the production of newspapers and so, perhaps, helped to produce more waste paper than any of your Lordships in this House. But it stems even more directly from the fact that before I degenerated into journalism I held a middle-grade executive post in the salvage department of Birmingham Corporation. There we carried on a very large traffic in waste paper recovery and sales activities with very considerable benefit to the ratepayers of that city.

This Bill states, with a little more precision than did the original Bill of the last Parliament, some of the factors relating to waste paper, but I do not think it goes far enough. When that other Bill was under discussion in your Lordships' House I moved an Amendment, which did not proceed, to the effect that local councils should be compelled to recover and sell their waste paper, unless they received exemption from the Ministry concerned. I feel that it would strengthen this Bill if a similar provision were incorporated at a later stage. This country produces 5 million tons of waste paper every year. About 2 million tons of that is sold, largely by the waste paper merchants who skim the cream of the trade, and a smaller proportion by the local authorities. The average dustbin in a normal household produces about 28 lb. of refuse every week and 10 lb. of that is paper; that is to say, about 30 per cent. of the weight is waste paper and this waste paper constitutes about 60 per cent. of the volume. At present, our local authorities are paying out ratepayers' good money to transport that waste paper over long distances to a tip or a refuse distructor to be tipped or burned, and this at a time when we are importing over £300 million-worth every year of pulp and paper and board, and when the prices of those commodities are rising almost weekly with a very severe effect upon our disastrous balance of payments situation.

Only about one-third of the local authorities in the country are taking the trouble to collect and sell their waste paper at the present moment, yet the mills are saying that they could take an extra 200,000 tons a year of the kind of paper that goes into the dustbins. As I said, these councils are paying out good money in order to destroy that paper when they could be receiving from the mills revenue that could go to the benefit of their ratepayers. I know that for two reasons, some local authorities are hesitant. One reason is that at certain times of the year the mills may be overstocked and do not want the paper, and, secondly the accountancy systems of the local authorities sometimes convince them that they are not making money on the deal. I think that those two objections have now been overcome by recent announcements made by the mills. They are prepared to give local authorities long-term contracts at prices which have recently been increased, and which should make it possible for any well-conducted local authority to make a profit on the salvage and sale of its waste paper.

I asked your Lordships to permit me to speak for a few moments, so that is all I shall say. I hope that the Government will give some consideration to this matter between this Second Reading and the Report stage. It is one of very vital importance not merely to the commercial administration of our local authorities, but to the nation's balance of payments.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an extremely valuable debate. We have had fourteen speeches, each one of them encouraging and, if I may say so with the greatest respect, constructive and very helpful. It may be that the debate has not ranged quite so widely as the earlier one when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, first introduced these proposals in her Protection of the Environment Bill, last November. But since then we have all learned a great deal about pollution, as we learned about the more intricate details of the earlier Bill as it made its way through the lengthy Committee stage lasting eight days, as the noble Baroness said. I think we are now able to discern much more clearly the points of greatest importance in the Bill, and its major strengths and possible weaknessess.

The noble Lord, Lord Craighton, used a phrase that was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and I should like to re-echo what he said. He said, What we are dealing with is a Bill of importance to everyone. If the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, thought that my noble friend Lord Shepherd did not show quite the degree of enthusiasm which he thought he might, I can only say that I, and I think everybody who has worked with him in preparing for the Second Reading, have been tremendously impressed by his enthusiasm for this Bill. The House has this afternoon indicated its appreciation of the very great pains he has taken to be as helpful as possible, particularly having regard to the limited time that we have at our disposal. I believe that my noble friend appreciates, as I do, not only that a great debt of gratitude is due to my noble friend Lady White for the tremendous work that she did earlier, but that the House is also mindful and appreciative of the great work which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, did. We have been extremely fortunate in the part that those two Members of this House have played.

The subject of pollution is a difficult, complex and technical one to which there are no easy answers, and the proposals in this Bill derive from a series of lengthy and thorough studies by a number of independent committees and bodies set up specially for the purpose, including the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I think we all agree that that is the proper way to proceed in these matters. We first need comprehensive information and thorough studies of the problems before we can take effective action. The new Government hold the view that there is much that is good and valuable in this Bill, and we have no hesitation in commending it to the House. Indeed, I believe that the House has quite clearly indicated its acceptance of that viewpoint.

We think it right that we should make every effort to see that this measure is enacted in the current Session so that these environmental improvements can soon be brought about. Again that would appear to be the wish of your Lordships who have spoken this afternoon. But we by no means exclude the possibility that further measures in this field may be needed in due course. The reconstituted Royal Commission are labouring on a new report on the state of the environment which may require new Government action. My noble friend the Leader of the House, Lord Shepherd, has referred to the prospect of further studies in the waste management and reclamation fields which might of course lead into the much wider field of resource conservation. There may need to be fresh studies in the air pollution field.

My Lords, in short this is a growth area, and the present Bill is by no means the last word. The Government hope that noble Lords on both sides of the House, who have pressed for extensions and changes of this Bill, will not therefore seek to hold back the present measure. I know that some of my noble friends and other noble Lords are disappointed that we have not incorporated all the suggestions they made in our earlier debates. But as Lord Shepherd pointed out, the new Government, on taking office, have gone through the Bill very thoroughly in the time available and have made a considerable number of changes and improvements. I hope that we shall now be willing to give it a fair wind.

My Lords, I should like to deal with some of the general themes that have come up in the course of the debate, before attempting to answer some of the more detailed points on particular parts of the Bill. I certainly shall not be able to deal with everything that has been said, but may I say that everything that has been said this afternoon will be studied most carefully. I should like to say further to noble Lords that if they want any further information, the Department of the Environment will do whatever it can to provide that information. If they would care to come along to discuss matters, we will do everything we can to arrange for discussions to take place. What we want to do is to secure maximum co-operation from all sides of the House in proceeding as quickly as we can with the Bill that everybody recognises has so much to commend it and is so very desirable.

The first major theme that I should like to take up is the question of information about pollution. As I have said, accurate and comprehensive information is the essential basis of effective action in this field. Since pollution affects the whole community, and any or all of us may need to take remedial action, it is important that so far as possible this information about pollution should be publicly available to everyone.

First let me say a word about the collection of information about pollution. This is a difficult technical task, because the sources of pollution are so many and so various, and because the dissemination of its effects throughout the environment is so complex. It is a major problem, therefore, to settle how best to measure and to monitor pollution so as to provide adequate information. Obviously we cannot measure everything; and the problem is therefore to establish a reasonably effective and comprehensive monitoring system at reasonable expense. We have been greatly assisted in this by the recent Report on The Monitoring of the Environment in the United Kingdom which has lately been published by the Department of the Environment.

I imagine that most of your Lordships have read this Report, but if not, I think you will be able to get it from the Printed Paper Office. I warmly commend it to your Lordships. The report has reviewed all the sources of information in this field, and made proposals for developing and extending these sources where necessary. This is modest and backroom work, but it is obviously crucial to the formation and implementation of intelligent policies about the environment. Time and again we read in newspapers and elsewhere alarming stories of possible effects of this or that form of pollution, but it is only when we have reliable information about the incidence and effects of such pollution that we can react sensibly.

My Lords, the proposals in the Bill before the House will do a great deal to assist in this process of assembling information about pollution. We still know far too little about the arisings and destination of all kinds of waste in this country. The proposals for surveys of waste arisings in Clause 2, the licensing procedure of Clauses 3 to 9, and the special records of toxic wastes to be kept under Clause 16, will do much to remedy this. Under Part II of the Bill, the water authorities will have complete information about the nature and quantity of discharges to water. Under Part III, local authorities will be able to measure and record noise levels in a systematic way. Under Part IV, local authorities will be able to assemble detailed information about atmospheric emissions from all industrial sources. Moreover, the Bill provides that in general all such information shall be made publicly available and accessible. Under Clause 5 public Regis- ters will be kept of waste disposal sites, and the wastes that are allowed on them. Under Clause 35 there will be public registers of discharges to water. Clause 57 provides for a register of noise levels. Clauses 71 to 74 provide for the publication of information about emissions to the atmosphere.

My Lords, the Bill has kept some safeguards for industrialists in exceptional cases. We have to recognise, as the Royal Commission did, that there may be circumstances in which an industrialist has reasons of commercial confidentiality for wanting to keep details of his processes and their discharges or emissions private to himself and the controlling authorities. These should, however, be regarded as the exceptional cases. The Bill accordingly puts the onus on the industrialist to apply to the Secretary of State to show reason why the details of his discharges or emissions should not be disclosed in a particular case. We have made some changes to Part IV to make clearer that the onus is this way round. I think that goes some way, at least, to meet much of the matter raised by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown.

One of the Amendments proposed in Committee in the last Session was the insertion of a new clause giving the Secretary of State the power to prescribe national standards and objectives pertaining to acceptable noise levels and to air and water quality. The Amendment was defeated on the grounds that it ran contrary to the philosophy which underlay this Bill, and indeed the methods generally, by which pollution is controlled in this country. These are founded on the belief that, far from being desirable, uniform statutory standards are not an efficient way of securing environmental improvements. There are a number of reasons why uniform environmental standards or objectives are not prescribed in this country except for widely mobile or traded products such as vehicles.

The reasons are as follows: (1) that the environment has a natural capacity to degrade and disperse wastes which it is legitimate, and makes economic sense, to utilise. This capacity varies from place to place according to geographical and climatic conditions, and the quantity of pollutants which can be released into any given environment will therefore also vary from place to place; (2) the use to which different parts of the environment are put vary, and given limited resources and other social priorities it is wasteful to prescribe a uniform standard for environments put to widely different uses. For instance, to have to bring up to drinking-water standards stretches of river now only used to receive industrial effluence could be massive misallocation of funds; (3) our knowledge of the effects of pollution and the means of controlling it within economic limits are constantly improving. It is therefore essential to have a system which is sufficiently flexible to allow for continual improvements, if necessary on a plant-by-plant basis.

It is this principle which is embodied in the Alkali Act which does not precribe standards but simply requires that industrialists operate the best practical means to prevent obnoxious emissions to the atmosphere. "Best practical means" are interpreted by the Alkali Inspectors in the light of the latest scientific, economic and technical information and local circumstances. Statutorily fixed limits will have the disadvantage of needing to be set at the lowest common level with all the time lags in improvement inherent in measures requiring legislation. In many cases pollution standards involve a social as well as a scientific judgment. That judgment will vary from place to place as well as over time. Noise is the prime example of this. For these reasons policy has been for Central Government to allow maximum discretion to local government and other relevant agencies to set standards at local level in the light of local needs and circumstances. The role of Central Government has been not to prescribe national limits but to advise local agencies of medical, technical and other factors affecting standards which may be set and, in particular, to give firm guidance when necessary on minimum health requirements.

I hope the House will agree that the approach I have indicated is the best way to tackle the general problem of environmental or pollution standards. As I understand his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, is in general agreement on this approach, but he says that we might, at least, consider outside maximum limits on pollution on a national statutory basis. I have one obvious objection to this be- cause there might be a tendency to regard such maximum limits as acceptable standards. However, we will certainly look at the point again so that we can return to it in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, asked about education in pollution matters. I am sure that the whole House will agree that the whole area of environmental and pollution questions is eminently one that should be studied with profit in schools, universities and elsewhere. In fact, I do not think that educational establishments have needed any prompting by the Government on this matter. There has been a tremendous development of courses and study in the environmental and ecological fields at all levels of education. The Government have noted these developments with the greatest interest and approval, but where in addition we can provide assistance and support we, of course, are glad to do so.

For example, I shall mention the valuable education and publicity role of the "Keep Britain Tidy" group which does such good work, with Government support, in dealing with the litter problem. There is perhaps a more direct role for Government in encouraging and promoting the development and vocational study and training in the pollution area. This, of course, links up with the whole question of staff development and careers structures in the environmental field to which several noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have drawn attention. This is where they feel that the various bodies in the environment and health field are very active. I notice that in the growing concern with the environment there has been a considerable growth in the number of such courses and that there is a great deal of consideration of the future role of the various branches of the environmental health profession.

I mention the various branches deliberately because I think we must recognise that there are a number of different jobs to be done within the spectrum of the environmental field. They have to be done by different authorities. It may therefore be something of an illusion to pursue the idea of a single environmental protection service. Having said that, I am sure that we should give the closest attention to the relations between the different branches of this profession and the way in which they should develop to meet the growing tasks in this area. I cannot at present add to what is said in the Financial Memorandum about the actual requirements of the Bill, in terms of staff numbers, but we shall certainly keep in close touch on that aspect with the local authorities and other public bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised the issue of penalties. I noted what he had to say about the level of penalties in the Bill, but if he examines the provisions closely he will find in a number of cases that where conviction is on an indictment, what is generally proposed is a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

A great many questions have been raised. I am particularly grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, had to say about the Alkali Inspectorate. We shall read what they have had to say with the greatest care. My noble friend Lady White raised issues about toxic waste, compensation for agriculture and a number of other matters, as indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, raised a question about agriculture. I do not think that I can add anything of value to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had to say when he opened the debate. However, I think I can give the undertaking that we will do all we can to reply to the points raised in debate by noble Lords which have not been covered either by my noble friend in his opening or by myself in reply. I repeat what I said, that members of your Lordships' House wanting more information should get in touch with us at the Department of the Environment and we will do our utmost to be helpful. I commend the Bill most warmly.


Before my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy closes his excellent and informative speech, may I ask him about Clause 16 and Clause 92 dealing with intractable waste and atomic energy. Is he prepared to provide a document on atomic energy? The pressure of using atomic energy for the nation needs checking, and consequently as somebody who has spent many months on the Committee concerned with radioactive waste substances, I will be grateful if, after my noble friend's informative speech, we can obtain more information on atomic energy in relation to the environment. Finally, so that Parliament does not merely become an echo machine that legislates but a Parliament that epitomises efficient government, I shall be grateful if he will indicate his views following upon my line of thought on this subject.


It will be most helpful if my noble friend would come along to the Department and discuss the matter.


I thank my noble friend, and will drop him a note to save time.

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