HC Deb 14 December 1926 vol 200 cc2777-80
Major OWEN

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for the inspection of dams, embankments, and reservoirs; and for other purposes relating thereto. The Bill is a small one consisting of three effective Clauses. The first Clause gives the Secretary of State for the Home Department power to inspect all dams, embankments and reservoirs both during construction and after completion. The second Clause empowers the Home Secretary to order the. repair of dangerous and effective construction of this character. The third Clause imposes penalties for the infringment of any order made under the Bill by the Home Secretary.

The need of legislation of this nature will be apparent to all hon. Members. The House will recall that on the 2nd of November last year a terrible disaster, involving the loss of 16 lives, occurred at Dofgarrog, Carnarvonshire, owing to the failure of the dam at Lake Elgiau, above the village. Subsequent inquiries in the form of questions in the House of Commons revealed the astounding tact that no Government Department has any authority to interfere in these matters. The coroner's inquiry showed that there had been culpable negligence on the part of somebody, but the remarkable fact is that no one has been held responsible for the disaster, and compensation, where it has been paid, has been, I am credibly informed, of a very niggardly character.

On appeals being made to the Home Secretary for a public inquiry to be held, he intimated to this House that he had no authority to order such an inquiry, but subsequently, by arrangement with the Aluminium Corporation, the people owning the dam, an inquiry was carried out by Messrs. Alexander Gibb and Partners, and their Report was made in July last, and is now available in the Library of the House of Commons. In the short time at my disposal it will be impossible for me to give more than one or two extracts from this serious and damaging Report, but, as I will show, it fully bears out the coroner's charge of culpable negiligence. The Report of Messrs Alexander Gibb and Partners shows that The ground on which the dam that failed is sited, consists of glacial clay overlaid by a bed of peat, and is suitable for a dam of the type and height constructed, provided the wall is carried to a sufficient depth and has an efficient cut off. That the wall bad not been carried to a sufficient depth is tragically proved by the following extracts from the Report: The foundations of the concrete wall are not in general carried deep enough to form an effective cut-off. The concrete is generally of poor quality and is not watertight. I would call the attention of the House particularly to the following paragraph: Had the wall been built throughout of good concrete in accordance with the typical section, and the base of the concrete taken down to a minimum depth of 6 feet into the clay, it is probable that the wall would have remained quite satisfactory and the disaster would not have occurred. But what do we find! Let me turn again to the Report: On the long arm of the dam, the investigations do not disclose a greater depth into the clay time 4 feet except in one pit at section 2280, where the depth is 6 feet. and on a length of 700 feet extending from section 1300 to section 2000 the base of the dam has only been taken down to a maximum depth of 2 feet 6 inches into the clay, and generally is but a few inches below the surface of sound firm clay. The breach occurred between sections 2000 and 2080 at the highest part of the long arm where the maximum head of water against the dam would be about 18 feet, and at the south end of the breach the base of the dam has only been carried to a depth of less than 2 feet into the material below the peat, of which at least 1 foot was soft and porous material. The conclusion arrived at is that as regards the depth to which the foundation is carried into good ground the dam, as constructed, more particularly throughout the long arm, falls short of what is required to make a satisfactory and safe construction to hold water. Not only was the base of the dam not carried deep enough, but the material and workmanship were unsatisfactory. The report goes on to say: From the observations made at the break and in the test pits, and on the exposed surfaces of the concrete wall, it appears that the concrete is generally poor and in plates very bad; that the workmanship in placing the concrete has not been satisfactory; that an excessive quantity of large stone displacers has been used and that these have been carelessly placed. It is, therefore, quite clear from the report and the extracts which I have read that this terrible disaster occurred owing to the base of the dam not being carried deep enough, and owing to the unsatisfactory material and the workmanship employed in the making of it. It is equally clear that had there been propel; supervision and inspection at the time of construction and periodically afterwards, as the law demands in the case of railways and tramways, this devastating tragedy need not have occurred.

The object of this Bill is to render such disasters impossible in the future, and it is particularly important that legislation should be enacted at once, especially in view of the fact that there are several other darns of this nature owned by the same company in various parts of the country, and more particularly in view of the fact that the development of hydroelectric power is likely to go ahead as a result of recent legislation passed in this House. In that area great anxiety and apprehension still exists as to the safety of the Llugwy and Cowlyd dams, and these apprehensions and fears have not been allayed by the report. In view of these facts I make bold to ask hon. Members of the House, irrespective of party, to support this Bill, and to give it a first reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Major Owen, Mr. Ellis Davies, Mr. Haydn Jones, Mr. Hayes, Sir Murdoch Macdonald, Mr. C. P. Williams, and Mr. Herbert Williams.

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