HC Deb 16 June 1927 vol 207 cc1209-83

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Ouse Drainage Bill embodies proposals to solve nationally a long-standing difficulty which has been proved to be outside the power of the Great Ouse Drainage area to solve for itself. The proposals of the Bill are based on the very careful researches of a special and expert Committee. The Order Paper shows that it is opposed from two quarters, firstly, because hon. Members opposite argue that without nationalisation of the land any generous help to drainage is not justified. I think that argument will be considerably discounted by the House if they will look at Page 17 of the Report of this Special Commission, in which they will find an account of how the Labour Government, in 1924, offered up to £1,500,000 to the Ouse area—£1,000,000 on loan and £500,000 as a free gift—without any stipulation whatever about nationalisation.


Did the right hon. Gentleman say Page 17?


I beg pardon. It is Paragraph 17 on Page 8. The other Amendment is put on the Paper by hon. Members who represent the area. It is perhaps the only type of Amendment upon which the diverse interests of the uplanders and the lowlanders could possibly' agree, but I shall be surprised if the lowlanders can ignore the danger which has been reported in such grave terms by the Special Commission, or can seriously contemplate that six months hence we shall fall back, by the lapse of the Suspensory Order and the running off of the Government guarantee, to the deadlock of passive resistance which brought about a kind of civil war in the Ouse drainage area in 1923 and 1924. I think these districts would be very ill-advised to sacrifice the generous grant that is now offered and to undertake to bear unaided the heavy burdens which, so far, seem to be far beyond their local resources. The House will understand that local objection is only to be expected in a Bill of this complexity if they will consider the history of this controversy. With so many diverse and conflicting interests I do not think it is humanly possible to draft any scheme which would obtain unanimous support among those affected.

4.0 p.m.

The Ouse is the third longest river in this country. It rises in Northamptonshire, and it takes the waters of seven different administrative counties. It runs through a very flat country draining a total of about 2,000,000 acres, of which 360,000 acres are below the tidal level. The drainage of that vast area began long ago. It engaged serious attention in the time of Henry VIII, legislation was passed in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and it was undertaken on a great scale in the time of Charles I and the Commonwealth. The dykes constructed by the Dutch engineer, Vermuyden, which short-circuit the eastward bend of the Ouse River, and which run straight for 21 miles between Earith and Denver Sluice, are still the backbone of the system as it exists to-day. On either side of the tidal channel, 40 miles in length, there grew up numerous internal drainage authorities, but until a Provisional Order was passed in 1920 setting up the Ouse Drainage Board no single authority was empowered to keep order on the main artery of the drainage area. The system was so unsatisfactory that in 1918 the Ministry was petitioned to set up a central body, and the Act of 1920 constituted the Ouse Drainage Board, to cover an area of about 470,000 acres. Of that 470,000 acres, 120,000 being higher lands, the owners complained that they received no direct benefit, and they bitterly resented paying rates. Their position and the passive resistance which developed spread to the Fen area. The position became so grave that an inquiry was held in 1924 which showed that no amending Order to solve the troubles was possible under the present law. After protracted negotiations, which continued throughout the time during which hon. Members opposite were in office, a suspensory Order was passed under the present Government at the beginning of 1925 to take the upland areas out of the district until the end of the year 1927, and it was agreed with all parties that a Commission should be appointed meanwhile to examine and recommend a permanent solution. That Commission of experts which sat under the chairmanship of Sir Horace Monro, himself an expert of great experience in rating law as having been Permanent Secretary to the Local Government Board, made an exhaustive examination of the subject from the engineering, from the rating and from the financial standpoint, and they produced a unanimous Report upon which the present Bill is founded. I want to take this opportunity of expressing publicly our very great debt to that special Commission for the ability and the industry which they devoted to their task. That Report had a very wide circulation, and it was considered by the Ouse Drainage Board. That body, representing many conflicting interests, naturally objected strongly to certain recommendations, but none the less they united in a request to the Government to adopt this Report as the only way they knew of securing a settlement. Since then I have received several deputations on the subject, and, where possible to secure agreement on subsidiary details which did not affect the main issue of the Report, I have provided minor amendments in this Bill, but on all major issues we have followed the recommendations of the Commission.

I think I can best explain the scheme if I refer to the main Clauses of the Bill. The first two Clauses constitute a new drainage board for that district which is set out on the map deposited with the Bill. That district covers the whole catchment area of the River Ouse, nearly 2,000,000 acres. Within the larger district there is the Ouse drainage district proper, the district where there is a necessity for land drainage, and where it is not merely a matter of getting rid of flood water. The drainage district is bounded by a contour line 20 feet above Ordnance datum. Within that drainage district, which, for convenience, I may perhaps call the lowlands, the new Board will be able to levy rates and they will not be able to levy rates anywhere outside the lowlands. The remainder of the watershed, something over 1,500,000 acres, will make a small contribution under Clause 4 which I will explain when I come to it. The first two Clauses also provide for a new drainage Board to deal with what is to be called the South Level. That area will, for the purposes of the main tidal channel, like the whole of the catchment area, be rated by the Ouse Board for work for which they are responsible. The new authority will be responsible for the smaller arteries which discharge into the main channel and which include the rivers Wissey, Little Ouse, Lark and Cam. These rivers are all now administered direct by the present Ouse Drainage Board, and therefore the new Board will have a smaller direct responsibility for these drainage works than the existing Board has at present.

The third Clause deals with rating. As I have mentioned, rating is to be imposed only on the lowlands. It is to be assessed at a uniform rate in the £, not on the flat,acreage system which has caused such a feeling of injustice under the present scheme. All rates will be owners' rates, even though they are actually payable by the occupier. The occupier when he pays them will, of course, have a right of recovery from the owner. In the South Level Area, therefore, the rates will be either owners' rates or occupiers' rates as the case may be under the present law; but the rates of the new Ouse Board, will all be those of owners'. The property liable to these rates will be the whole of the area which falls within the 20 foot contour line as shown on the deposited map, and it will no longer be open to the ratepayer to appeal to Quarter Sessions on the ground that his land received no direct benefit in the drainage works.

Clause 4 requires contributions from the county councils in the catchment area. Those contributions will take two forms. In the area which is liable to rating direct, that is the lowland area, the county council will pay 6d. per acre as an insurance charge. The principle upon which the special Commission advised this charge is that the local authorities responsible for these low-lying areas stand to lose large sums by damage to public property and public health, and by the loss of rateable value which would result from extensive flooding of the area liable to inundator. They therefore propose that this cost should fall in the case of that district on the whole county, that the whole county should be responsible for this 6d. charge. The remainder of the catchment area, 1,500,000 acres outside the 20-foot line, will be called upon for a contribution of 2d. an acre for the whole of the acreage within the watershed line, but that contribution will be limited to an amount represented by one quarter of the total expenses of the Board.


Who will pay the contributions?


There is a distinction drawn in the recommendations of the Commission. In the case of the local authorities' contributions in the lowland area, they recommend that as it is an insurance charge it should in all cases be spread over the whole county. In the case of the 2d. contribution from the uplands, they leave to the county authority's discretion whether that 2d. is charged upon the particular land concerned or whether it is spread over the whole county. This charge of 2d. is, of course, a new principle. It will mean that this upland area of 1,500,000 acres will find itself responsible for one-eighth of the total expenditure, which will chiefly take the form of the service of loan. I know that this principle will necessarily excite a good deal of discussion and a good deal of opposition, hut although in this form there is no exact precedent for it, it is not altogether new. It was recommended by a Select Committee on Land Drainage which reported just 50 years ago. There is a precedent for such a contribution in a private Act of the county of Middlesex, where the whole of the county is liable to contribute to the drainage purposes over the whole administrative area. There are also provisions in Lancashire, in the West Riding of Yorkshire and in Surrey whereby county councils can charge any cost incurred by their respective Drainage Acts to the county fund.

But I do not ask the House to assent to this principle merely because of precedent. I ask their support to it on its merits. Under the conditions which obtain in the lowland area, the old doctrine of benefit dons not seem to be a-sufficient test for the fair incidence of charge, and it appears to be just to supplement that contribution by one representing the cost to the lowlands of the necessary engineering work for avoiding the water from those upland areas. The Ouse Board will only look after the main channels. The Fens will be responsible for their internal drainage, just as they are at present. These Fens live under the shadow of what is in effect a great reservoir of tidal water 40 miles long. This reservoir could easily rid itself of the water which the Fens alone pump into it over the embankment, but the problem of the Ouse and the danger of flooding arise very largely from the upland waters which have to be held up within this reservoir until the falling tide lets them escape into the sea. There is very little silting-up of this main channel owing to Fen water which, in its sluggish progress, deposits the solids for the most part in the Fen drainage area itself, and heavy cost is involved in disposing of the mud which is sent down from the uplands and deposited in the tidal channel. Great changes have taken place in the 250 years since Cornelius Vermuyden made his great dykes. Land drainage has enormously developed and has involved a far higher strain on those dykes than they were ever built to stand. Under drainage has been created, macadam roads, new houses and new towns have combined to send more water down to the tidal area. These new developments have decreased the amount of water which is disposed of by percolation through the soil or by filtration, and it means that a greater volume of upland water is sent more rapidly into the already over-burdened tidal reservoir. It is no answer in this case to say that the lowlands have borne these burdens since the time of Henry VIII. In the time of Henry VIII there was no education rate and there was no poor rate. But these charges have long ago been enforced even in the case of those who gain no benefit from the services for which they pay. There is, surely, a far stronger case for a communal contribution where, although there is no benefit on the part of the upland area, the avoiding of their water imposes a definite and heavy cost on other areas who are in no way responsible.

Clause 5 provides a Government contribution of one-half of the cost of the work recommended by the Commission and detailed in the Schedule. These works are estimated to cost £2,500,000. I recognise that it is a very drastic precedent for the Government to undertake to find so large a sum as a million and a quarter for this scheme. We think, however, that it is justified by the urgency of the danger, by the inability of local resources to bear the whole cost, and because we cannot allow this great tract of fertile agricultural land to go out of cultivation by disastrous flooding. The whole financial scheme, therefore, is now before the House. One-half of the cost of these new works will be borne by the State. Three-eighths of the cost will be shared between the ratepayers of the lowlands, and the contribution of 6d. per acre to be paid by the local authority on behalf of each acre in the lowland area. One-eighth will be found as a wayleave charge to deal with the million and a half acres which send their water down from the uplands.

The twentieth Clause deals with the purchase rights of the Norfolk Estuary Company. That company have for the past 80 years been given powers by Parliament to carry out drainage and land reclamation works. They have carried out extensive operations in diverting the mouth of the River Ouse, and incidental to those powers there are certain reclamation rights. Under the present Bill it is proposed that the Ouse shall be carried out between training walls into the deep water of the Wash, and it is expected that there will be a great accretion of land. As the works are to be paid for as to 50 per cent. by a Government grant, we consider that the benefit of any further reclamation should be enjoyed by the State. We have, therefore, negotiated the arrangement embodied in this Clause for a surrender of the reclamation rights of the Norfolk Estuary Company for 23,000 acres of land for a sum of £4,500.

The First Schedule lays down the membership of the new Ouse Board which will control the district during the period of ten or twelve years while the State-aided scheme of works is being carried out. It will consist of 11 members, with a majority nominated by the Government.

The Third Schedule gives a list of the works which are to be carried out with Government assistance on the main tidal river, besides the provision of training walls into deep water. They include the proper pitching of the banks of the main river for about 22 miles upstream and the cutting through of an important bend. It also makes provision for other works, for the building of certain sluices and the raising of certain causeways.

Much of this Bill is very technical and involves questions of rating and engineering details. For that reason, I think, it is not very easy to thrash it out in detail without experts on the Floor of the House. It will, of course, be a hybrid Bill—private because it affects local conditions, but public because it includes a very large amount of public money. In accordance with precedent, I shall move that this Bill be committed to a joint Select Committee of both Houses, so that these technical matters can be thrashed out by the expert witnesses only once and that promoters and opponents will be saved the cost of these proceedings in both Houses. I am aware that the Bill will arouse considerable opposition, but I am convinced that the diversity of interests in this district are so great that no Bill could be drawn which would not arouse objections from one quarter or another. The scheme which I have outlined is the result of Years of controversy and patient negotiation and examination by the Department and by the Special Commission. The Report of that Commission contains grave warnings as to the danger of delay. I think I need only read one short passage. After describing the conditions, they say: Menaced on the one hand by the sea and on the other by the ever-present danger of flooding from the higher lands above, this large district is obviously now exposed to unusual risks of inundation which long-continued neglect has now made imminent. There are many such passages in the Report. We feel that to allow these imminent risks to continue would be to incur a responsibility which the Government are not prepared to take.


May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has made any reference to the Royal Commission mentioned in the Amendment on the Order Paper.


I think I did just refer to it. I referred to the Amendment. I think I was interrupted, as a matter of fact, just at that point, when I was beginning to refer to the Amendment which proposes to postpone the Bill until the Royal Commission has reported. I am quite prepared now to deal with the necessity for acting upon the recommendations of the Select Committee instead of waiting for the Royal Commission. I had not intended to discuss that matter until I had heard the case of those who asked for the postponement, and, I think, in the ordinary way, it will probably be more convenient if I do not at the present time take up any more of the time of the House but reserve my answer until I have heard their case.


Will my right hon. Friend mind repeating the short reference he made to the County Council of Middlesex, because I think he is rather misinformed?


I had better try and find it in the Report: Under certain of their General Powers Acts the Middlesex County Council exercise powers of a drainage authority within their area and discharge the cost of doing so by a rate levied throughout the county. If I did not accurately represent that passage, I much regret it.


I should like to tell my right hon. Friend that I think even that passage is inaccurate. The powers possessed by the Middlesex County Council are really in relation to the pollution of streams and were obtained in 1898 as a result of the pollution of the River Brent. There is in operation in a portion of the County of Middlesex a joint drainage board to which members come from Middlesex, Essex anti Hertfordshire, but that is far from satisfactory. I speak as a member of the Lea Conservancy, which has only rights to regulate the water in the river itself, and is a pollution authority over the larger part of the watershed. I think that if the matter is inquired into it will be found, as to drainage, there are very inadequate powers.


I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: this House, while recognising the need for the efficient drainage of the area drained by the River Ouse and its tributaries, cannot approve of any method involving the granting of subsidies by the State which does not secure for the expenditure incurred a satisfactory return by means of the public ownership of the land affected. The question of the Ouse is a very urgent one, and it is absolutely sound policy on the Minister's part to bring forward a Bill to deal with it. We are in this difficulty, that while it has become an emergency matter the country is not provided, as yet, with a full inquiry into the general principles which should guide a drainage policy. It would have been happier if the Royal Commission had been appointed years ago and had been at hand with a report with regard to the practical schemes which the Minister embarked upon in the Bill of last year and which he is pursuing. The Minister said that he was at liberty to treat lightly the Amendment that I am bringing forward, because it is not consistent with the action taken by the Labour Government in 1924. The Minister said, "It is all very well for the Labour Front Bench, but when in office these very people made an offer of a million and a half towards the cost of urgent works." What they really did, was to propose that a million and a half should be spent, and that the Government should, after repayment of loans by the Board, be responsible for £500,000, one-third of the expense—a considerable difference, I may observe, between £500,000 and £1,250,000. But I do not defend, in principle, the policy to which the Labour Government, in the emergency years of 1923, 1924 and 1925 was driven. The matter is urgent, and it would have been, and always will be, a sound plan to proceed on the principle embodied in this Amendment, but while the Minister has power at his disposal, we were not quite free, as everyone knows, to follow what policy we chose.

Something ought to be clone and done quickly. The Minister suggests that we should have been consistent and that we should have proceeded to acquire land at the Ouse basin. Certainly it would have been a kind suggestion if he had made it at the time, but hardly a practical one if he wanted us to remain in office. Therefore, we followed the only practical course. That proposal was rejected, and we followed it up with the inquiry presided over by Mr. Jones, which was followed up by the Commission appointed in 1925. That Commission did its work extremely well, and I should like to join in the praise which has been accorded to the chairman and his colleagues for producing such an interesting report. But, while we admire the work he did, he would be the first to admit that from the financial side they would have been in a much sounder position if the Royal Commission on Finance had already reported for guidance.

Just at the start, what is the principle that ought to be followed in questions of public money spent upon drainage? Surely no one would deny that what the owner gains he ought to recoup—he ought: to pay for. There is no occasion for benefaction or dole. I will come to that later when I deal with the Bill of last year. Then you have the question how to assess the benefit. Where land is improved, it would not surpass the wit of man to devise a scheme, and the Minister in this very Bill proposes that, if the town gains as the result of the work, there shall be in the future a new assessment of the advantage accruing to King's Lynn, and a levy shall be made on the town. That seems to be an absolutely sound principle, and I should like to urge the Ministry to extend it more widely. Why cannot that which applies to one area apply to another? In such an area as the lowland district, it may be possible to assess the improvements which result. But that does not cover the ground, because here you are not dealing as you generally are in cases of drainage with adding to the value of land, but you are saving this land from destruction. It is a very peculiar case. You are really threatened, as the Minister put it, when quoting from the report, with inundations which would mean the return of hundreds of thousands of acres to primeval fen.

The fens are extraordinarily interesting and attractive districts. They produce valuable things in the way of natural history. If the Minister visited the Denver sluice he would be surprised as I was to find that it was an extremely good place for sea trout fishing. That is the result of artificial works. If you allow the fens to return to their primeval state, you would bring back the reeve, the swallow-tail butterfly, the will-o'-the-wisp, not to speak of the bittern. But it is a fact that it may return to that primeval state unless we are careful. What does that mean in regard to finance? It means in reality that the freehold of land in that area is not to be regarded as the same as the freehold of land in other places. It is a very precarious form of property It is like the fag-end of a lease which may be gone next year. The value which it has in the market, apart horn the expectation of State help, is a very few years' purchase indeed, and it is one reason why it is extraordinarily difficult to deal with the problem except on the basis of acquisition. It is not a very revolutionary idea. The whole area required may not be so great as the acreage of the public land up and down England.

May I say, in regard to the other Amendment on the Paper, that I agree as to the difficulties and the undesirability of committing the State to action before we have the Report of the Royal Commission. There are not any precedents for subsidies on any great scale such as is now proposed, and by making such a grant a this on this scale you will he setting an example from which it will be difficult to escape. Whatever the Royal Commission say afterwards, in the case, let us say, of East Norfolk, or of the Valley of the Trent which is below sea level, you are committing yourselves in a tremendous policy of expenditure which might easily run to ten millions or more by the fact that you are anticipating the result of the inquiry. That is reinforced by the recent Report known as the 'Agricultural' Output Report, which showed that the area to be saved is greater than we thought. There were estimates of one million acres when I was at the Ministry, but that Report showed that something like 2.000,000 acres is correct. A very large part of this area will be subject to drainage schemes and might land us in an even larger total sum than I suggested. The sum to which you are committing yourselves would undoubtedly be ample to buy the whole of the Ouse catchment area.

The Commission, I hope, will report before long. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us. It is surely possible for the inquiry to be rapid. It might not be impossible even to wait for the judgment of the Commission. Finance was outside the special sphere of the Ouse Commissioners, who are technically expert in other directions. Then there is another fact. The Minister himself promised a general drainage law. It was before any mention of the Ouse Drainage Bill. We were given last year the Drainage Bill dealing with small schemes, and we were assured that this year we should have the general Bill. That certainly reinforces the case for some delay. The Minister will remember that in Committee on the Bill of last year he spoke very definitely about his intention to produce a general Bill this year.

The main point I want to make is that the proposal is too generous from the point of view of the State. You are paying too much, and I must say that I was impressed by the Minister's readiness—I venture to say his almost abject readiness—to agree in the direction of generosity when the Bill was debated in another place last year. When you deal with the Ouse as a practical matter, and you must get it through, it is very tempting to avoid opposition, and yet you must be easeful that the finance of the Bill is just, not only from the point of view of the local owners, but from the point of view of the public; and it seems to me that the passage in the Report which advocates the 50–50 basis is not unfairly called rather airy.

This matter is not settled by the statement that the affair is urgent, expensive, of great value to the town of King's Lynn, and would create a great deal of employment. All these things are undoubtedly true, but surely irrelevant to the question of finance. The only relevant, argument seems to me to be the inability of the area to sustain so large a charge; but, when we are dealing with a very great payment and a very important precedent, ought we not to be furnished with something rather more objective than that? There should he some estimate of the possible gain, the possible chargeability of the area, and some evidence as to the financial value of the damage which would accrue if the State does not help and if inundation occurred. Then there is this passage on which the Bill is based. It ends in this manner: In all the circumstances, we think one half would he a fair division, That is surely quite airy. We can imagine the discussion as to what should be proposed, and it sounded a happy thought to split the difference. It deals with the case in a rough-and-ready way, but at the same time it is a case of taking the easiest way—the broad road which leads, if not to destruction, to great confusion. The area actually benefited and not so much the area outside it seems to me ought to pay more. It may be said: "Supposing this does end in advantageous circumstances for the owners of the land who would otherwise have possibly lost it all. Let that be; that does not matter." From our point of view, that does matter very much. It is a matter of high public morality that you should get as near as possible to the exactly equitable incidence of the cost in relation to the gain. Last year the Minister, in carrying through the Bill of 1926, was asked by myself and others about this question, and he pointed out in Committee that that Bill rightly made no charge upon the public, but that the cost was to be entirely recouped, and Lord Bledisloe in another place considerably amplified that statement. Those were much smaller and very different schemes, but I do not know that the principle is really different. It differs in this way: that you cannot say, in regard to a great scheme, that the owners must do it, all as you would in regard to county schemes, because there is an overriding public interest for which the owners ought not to be charged. But you should say that, where the owners do gain, they ought to contribute to an exact amount.

The Report discusses the time-honoured question between benefit, communal or individual, and it points out that for nearly four centuries the principle of recovery of benefits has been accepted. It surely should not be lightly abandoned, but an attempt should be made to get as near as possible to exactness. This imbroglio into which you have got between the principle of the Provisional Order of 1920 and the plan of the present Bill, shows the extraordinary difficulty of dealing equitably with drainage with a multitude of private properties. It would be simplified if it happened that Crown lands included the lowland area of the Ouse. We have often thought that the Conservative party are a little careless of public interest compared with private interest, and I should like to ask for much more proof of the exact facts, as nearly as possible, to substantiate the rectitude of fifty-fifty, because we ought to be jealous of the public interest as well as that of individuals. We might apply to ourselves a test of what we feel about this, if we imagine that for some purpose, shortly after the completion of these works, the Minister had occasion to bring in a Bill to acquire part of the land which had been saved by this public expenditure. Surely it would be felt that, with such a recent public expenditure owing to which the land was preserved from destruction, if the State were to acquire it the following year, some allowance ought to be made, some discount, on account of the fact that the State had been really the preserver of the land. If so, that shows that, according to your own standard, you do think the owner ought to contribute to the maximum of his advantage.

It seems to me that, in fact, the owners will gain very much more than they pay. They are faced with absolute confiscation. No confiscation threatened by a Communist government, if we had one, would be more imminent than the confiscation by natural causes with which they are faced if nothing is done; and the land, in many cases, is valueless except for the aid which is now proposed. About 300,000 acres are, you may say, going to be created, worth let us say, £30 to £40 an acre. You are going to create a value of £10,000,000. Supposing this were public land. If it had been one of the Ministry's farms, acquired in war-time in order to increase the national food supply, it would pay the State to spend much more than the £2,500.000 now proposed. It would be an absolutely sound investment, bringing in a very high interest. It would, indeed, be a sound investment if you spent anything, nearly, up to the value which the land would represent when created, because it does amount almost to the creation of land. Therefore, it seems to me that it would be no grievance to the owners if, to a much greater extent, the expenditure were made a charge upon them. It was two-thirds that we pro- posed to levy upon them, and surely that would be not at all an unfair burden. There is, of course, a public interest, and there ought to be some public contribution, but the owner ought not to be enriched, as in many cases he surely will be. Instead of losing his land, he is going to be presented with land, in a few years, worth, say, £30 an acre. I think he is only being asked to pay £3 an acre, the whole outlay being about £6 an acre. That, I think, is the case which I feel strongly has to be answered by much more objective argument.

I would like to ask the Minister if he would explain rather more exactly why there are two Boards, and why it would not be simpler to let the Ouse Board have the South Level, and unify the whole question. As to the Norfolk Estuary Company, why should the property not be transferred to the Ministry, rather than to the Crown? I do not see what reason there is for particularly preferring that the Commissioners of Crown Lands should control it. Is there any valuation of the rights of the Norfolk Estuary Company? That is not set out in any detail in the Report. I do not know, also, whether it would not be a simplification if the State acquired the whole property of the Norfolk Estuary Company? You get disputed interests and I should think that it would be simpler to make one bite at the cherry. I have always been rather puzzled to know why we deal only with the basin of the Ouse in this connection. If you travel across the Fens, I imagine no human being could tell you when you passed from the basin of the Ouse to the basin of the Nene, or from the Welland to the Witham. Is there any physical reason why the Nene Valley is not in as great danger as the Ouse Valley? The Report urges that it is quite fair for the uplands to pay their share. If so, I cannot see why the upland counties have been taken out. There was some trouble, and I suffered from it myself. There was burning, and violence, I think, in Buckinghamshire, but there does not seem to be a distinction between Buckinghamshire and West Norfolk. Certainly when you get to East Norfolk, which has its own expenses, and by no possibility can drain into the Ouse, there surely is much less obligation to find part of the sum pro- posed—2d.—than there is upon Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.


There has been a readjustment of the lowland area. The whole of the catchment area is left in the jurisdiction of the new Board, and so far as Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire include part of the Ouse catchment area, they remain in.


I was under the impression that certain counties have been taken out.


No such luck.


Then we ought to know why the counties concerned should not have more representation, both on the temporary board and the permanent board. Ought they not to have an option as to the incidence of the rate, both in regard to the lowland area and the upland area? It does seem to me that, it hon. Members opposite had not been prejudiced in favour of private land as against the extension of public land, the practical proposal would be immensely simplified by the acquisition of this particular area. It is not too big an undertaking. In this case, it would be simpler than in any part of the country, because almost everywhere else you are complicated by residential amenity value. The Fens are our one conspicuous example of purely business agriculture. There is very little amenity value, and the land is devoted to farming, almost exclusively, in a business way. You would have the incidental advantage of bringing under unified management the agency of the district. That is a benefit that would accrue through acquisition everywhere. You would get better control of repairs, of buildings, of management, and possibly a stimulus towards better marketing which everyone admits is wanted. In the case of the number of years purchase, I should suggest that, because of the absence of amenity value, Income Tax value would be quite unobjectionable to the owners of that land. Where exceptional treatment would be needed would be in regard to the number of years purchase, and you would want an expert estimate which would command respect.


What area and what acreage is it that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to treat in this way?


I should suggest the whole lowland area, because I think the lowland area would quite properly bear the whole cost which is not borne by the State.


The whole of the Fens.

5.0 p.m.


The particular area coloured in the map. If you went to an arbitration under the Land Acquisition Act, it might be claimed as land virtually permanent, and you would be asked to pay the ordinary market value. But the only ground on which it has a claim to permanency value is that it expects public aid. It is not really a reasonable expectation of public aid on which you can claim, because there has not been public aid up to now. Therefore, I think the State could quite fairly acquire that land at a very small number of years purchase, It so happens that the Crown Land Commissioners have investments actually on hand of the amount which it is proposed that the State should grant. Why should not the Crown Land Commissioners be empowered—the Minister might do it in a Bill this evening in Committee—to acquire land of that kind under a special assessment of its value? On a fair assessment, about £1,250,000 would probably buy the area in question. I urge that what I think we want is a real business Bill, and that is the only rational course by which you can recover the benefits of preservation or improvement which you are to confer. We would have a business Bill if there were not a prejudice in favour of one form of land holding.


I am sorry, after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) who has just spoken has seen his way to give his support to the proposal which stands in my name, that we on this side of the House cannot be expected to share the same views about his. We on this side of the House have very sincere sympathy with the Minister. From my own point of view, I have tried to co-ordinate a large number of interests in my constituency, and I fully realise the extraordinary difficulty which he must have had in getting these interests co-ordinated in this Bill. We do not want to embarrass the Government, and I wish to make it plain that, in any Division which may be taken upon this Bill, if we are compelled to vote against it, it will only be in the shape of a protest against the actual provisions of the Bill. I understand that the House will not have an opportunity of discussing the particular provisions on the floor of the House, and that means that hon. Members who are interested will not have a chance of expressing their view.


May I state that, on a hybrid Bill of this kind, there is a Committee stage in the House and there will be an opportunity if it is wished to discuss details.


Are we to understand that there will be a Committee stage as well as a Report stage?


There is a Committee stage and if the Committee amend a Bill there will be a Report stage. A hybrid Bill is dealt with exactly in the same way as an ordinary Bill.


If the Bill goes through the Select Committee un-amended, shall we have any opportunity whatsoever of discussing it?


The Bill will be recommitted to the Committee of the whole House.


I am glad to have that assurance because it will help us to put forward some Amendments that we do want to see made. The right hon Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture said he could not see his way to defer the Bill until the Royal Commission on Land Drainage had made its report, and I want to submit with all deference that the arguments which he put forward were really beside the point. If he will look at the date of the issue of this Report, he will see that it was in December, 1925, 18 months ago. If he has been able to wait for 18 months before taking the Second Reading of this Bill, surely he could very well wait another month or two and get the benefit of the Report of the Commission which has just been set up. He has said that, of course, he might not be able to get the Bill this year, and that the Order on which the present state of affairs rests only lasts until the end of this year. But is there any reason why he could not renew the Order for one more year and in that way have the benefit of the Commission's Report? The fact of the matter is that a Commission is used very frequently as an alibi for Government responsibility. Although, in this particular case, the Report of this Commission appears to me to be fairly good and I have had the courage, as it were, to recommend it as a whole to the Ouse Drainage Board. I said it was a case of making the best of a bad job, and I recommended them to accept the general Report of the Commission, and that, if they could see their way to do that, it was possible that the Treasury probably would be able to see its way to give them a guarantee or some sort of assurance with regard to their rates. I am very glad to say that the Ouse Drainage Board did not accept what I suggested, because I think they have not received the financial satisfaction to which they are entitled.

I am very glad, from my point of view, to have heard what the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture said, because I can assure him that it will do me no harm my constituency. We hold strongly that the contribution by the Government is by no means large enough. He made very light of the arguments in this Report, but there is one argument which he did not touch upon, and that is that, looking, abroad, we can see that drainage schemes have had very large subsidies. It is with the foreign importer that we have to compete, and if the foreign importer is subsidised to this large extent, it does not really amount to a subsidy to give a grant to the British producer on the same scale. There is another thing with regard to the work to be done by the Ouse Drainage Board. They do not actually represent any benefit to the fen lands. The condition of the land in the Fens at the moment is very good in many places. All that the works are intended to do is to save the Fens from the imminent disaster which the report foretells. In so far as this grant will be used to save a disaster, it will be a return directly to the Treasury, because, when you consider the large increase of national income coming from the Fen district, when you consider alone the Income Tax which these farmers must pay it must at least amount to the Government grant, and, if that grant were not made, it would represent a dead loss to the Treasury by at least that amount. I do not want to excuse myself and I do not think there is any need for me to do so. Although the great bulk of the opposition to this Bill comes from the uplands, the very most that they can contribute is 2d. an acre. I would remind the House that, in the lowlands, in the fenlands, the drainage rates will be in no case less than 10s. an acre, and in a great number they will be 30s. an acre. For that reason I submit that if this Bill is really to be discussed here, most of the interest should be given to the fenlanders. Because the uplanders have their objection is no real reason for refusing the Bill a Second Reading. They can be taken out if necessary in Committee.

I want to say a word about the actual state of affairs in the Fens, because it is worthy of consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has already said something about the internal structure of the drainage authorities. Roughly speaking, there are two big divisions of the Fens which are in the Ouse Valley, There is the Middle Level and there is the South Level. The Middle Level is a big area which has been fortunate; that is to say, it has a strong board who have been able to collect large rates and do good work and put their banks and rivers into good condition by means of a penalty which was laid, I think, by Parliament, in cases of rates in an ear. By means of a penalty clause the Middle Level has succeeded in putting themselves, I would not say in a prosperous position but in a very happy position, and they are quite contented that they run no immediate risk whatsoever of inundation or breaking of banks. The South Level has not been so fortunate. Up to date, they have had no real board of their own. They have been, roughly speaking, in the position of a subcommittee of the, main Ouse Drainage Board. As that has led to the works in their area not being so well done since 1920, when they were put into this position, there has been a considerable need for extensive work to be done in the South Level. The result of that has been that, apparently, the Ouse, Drainage Board, with the whole of the funds has been raising rates to be spent in the South Level alone.

The result is that a great deal of ill-feeling has existed on the part of the Middle Level, who thought they had been contributing to works which did not interest them in the least, and in the South Level, because of the natural reaction of the sentiment. If there is one part of this Bill which is necessary, it is that part which sets up a separate new South Level Board. There is nobody of any sort in the Fens who has any objection to that, and I would like to tell the Minister that we appreciate that part of the Bill, and that we will do nothing whatsoever to try to stop it. It would be perfectly feasible, if necessary, to pass a separate Bill, giving the South Level much the same powers as the Middle Level, putting it on a proper basis and giving it the power to impose a penalty for rates that are in arrears. I am told that, for some reason, it is difficult to get what is known as a Penalty Clause put into local Acts of Parliament, nowadays. I should like to have the reason given why that has not been done which has proved so successful in the Middle Level. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why he has not seen his way to insert a Penalty Clause in the Bill, as an assistance in getting the rates.

With regard to the Third Schedule, which contains the most contentious part of the Bill, it is difficult for us to, criticise it on the Floor of the House. Most of the works that have been put in that Schedule are of a highly technical engineering character, and I do not think that anyone in this House is in a position to say to what extent those works are necessary, and how urgently they should he carried out. There are a great many opinions on this subject. There is a very considerable body of local opinion which considers that the recommendation, so far as putting in the training walls from Lynn out to sea are concerned, is a bad one. There is a strong body of opinion which advocates something in the nature of a sluice, which would cost a great deal less money, and I believe there are other schemes which are favoured. In view of the fact that there are all these differing opinions, I am a little astonished that the Minister has not given us a more definite reason for the fact that he has accepted this scheme, without stopping to consider' any of the others. I am prepared to accept the argument, which he will probably put forward, that it is all part of the scheme and that we must either accept the scheme or leave it; but if the right hon. Gentleman adopts that attitude, he should make himself responsible for seeing that the scheme is a success.

The estimates which are put into the Report appear to me to have been worked out very loosely. It must have been an extremely difficult estimate to arrive at, more particularly the one for the training walls out to sea. There are many people who believe that the actual cost will be far and away more than is suggested in the estimate. It is possible that the suggested rate will be exceeded twice over in carrying out these works. If the Fens are to be treated in this high-banded way, and run by a Board which is entirely under the control of the Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Gentleman should say that he is prepared to guarantee the success of the scheme in so far as to say that if it costs a great deal more than is suggested in the estimate, he will be ready to pay the additional cost. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to put forward the scheme as it stands, I am not quite certain to what extent he will find it well received.

At the moment, there is a good deal of hope that in Committee alterations may be made which may make the scheme acceptable. I very much hope that those alterations will be made, because if they are not made, and if the fens are left discontented, there can be no doubt that this scheme will be wrecked upon precisely the same rock as the last scheme. Everybody will decline to pay their rates, and there is no real provision in the Bill which will make it easier than before to raise the rates. Not only will the people object to pay the rates, but the local authorities are already complaining that they will be prejudiced in the collection of their own rates. I believe they object to a considerable extent to the pew burden which is to be put upon them. So far as I read the Bill, although they are to be asked to collect the rates, there is no sort of constraint that they shall do so. It merely says that they "may" do so. If they say: "We cannot collect these rates," the effect will be that the new Board will be in precisely the same difficulty as was the old Board, and if the fens are not satisfied that they are getting proper treatment the position will be exactly the same as before.

The real difficulty is, that there are a great number of completely isolated interests which are always trying to get the better of the others, each with an admirable case for its own point of view, and each perfectly justified in holding its point of view. I will give a few examples. The uplanders say that they have no reason for contributing because, by the law of gravity, their water automatically comes down and that whatever the lowlanders may do, they will be drained. Therefore, they ask why should they the uplanders, contribute? That is a very sound argument. In the fen lands they say: "The uplands send down their water to us when we least need it. It is mainly due to the new work of drainage in the towns, and so forth, in the uplands that the water comes down quicker than it, used to do, and if the uplanders are to go on embarrasing us they, surely, should pay some wayleave for their waters." That, also, is a sound argument. In the high fenlands the farmers say that they do not run anything like the same risk of flooding and that, therefore, they should not pay so much as the low fenlands. In the low fenlands they say that it rains exactly the same on one acre as another, and as that water will live to be pumped over into the river, in any case, the payment should be equal in both.

Then there is the rich land and the poor land, in regard to which the argument runs on these lines: the rich-landers say "You get the same amount of water on the land," and the poor-land farmer says that the crops on his land are not nearly so heavy as those on the rich farmland and, therefore, cannot possibly be expected to contribute as much as the rich farm. I think that is a perfectly sound argument. Then there are those in the middle level who, in the past, have suffered from high internal rating. They put their banks into a very good state of repair, and they say that they should not now be asked to pay to prevent the catastrophe which is threatening other parts of the Fens. Those on the south level say that they cannot possibly pay for the whole out-fall because, in effect, it will benefit another division of the Fens, because it will make it easier to run the water out of the internal rivers. There are all these different sets of people and sets of opinions, and it is absolutely impossible to get any sort of scheme which will satisfy all of them.

I should like to submit my ideas as to what can be done, roughly speaking, to improve the scheme as it now stands. I want a new South Level Board set up with the same powers and the same authority as the Middle Level Board. In so far as the works are concerned, if they are really necessary, they can very well be started with the £1,250,000 which, I imagine, will soon be voted by this House. That amount of money will be amply sufficient to put into operation all these works, and to keep them going for a far longer time than it would take any Commission to report. Therefore, we could leave out of the Bill those Clauses which have to do with the collection of rates. I am not advocating that no rates should ever again be levied for the drainage of the Fens, but it seems to me that we could very well defer those Clauses until we get the expert opinions of the Royal Commission, and those opinions could then be embodied in a subsidiary Act, or an amending Act. The actual method of rating for the scheme could, quite well, be put off until next year, without prejudice to putting into operation a single one of the operations recommended by the report.

As far as the rating is concerned, I realise that it is a knotty point and that we should be in exactly the same difficulty in discussing a Bill in connection with that, as we are now. We have to take into account the various aspects which are presented by this question of Fenlands. In the first place, it does rain equally, on the average, upon one acre as upon another, and for that reason I think it is perfectly fair to say that there could be a flat rate per acre for a certain amount over the entire district. I think the rates might be raised in different ways, but at the same time, so as to make up a certain total amount, each division being taxed in proportion. There could be a certain proportion paid by means of a flat rate per acre in respect of the rain which actually falls upon any acre which has to be carried away. There is the question also of whether the land is rich or poor and whether it is high or low. There could be a separate division of lands, and it could be provided that above a certain level it should be so much, and below a certain level so much. Whether the land happens to be rich or poor, it obviously benefits more or less according to the size of the crops which the land produces. To that extent, the rate could be levied purely through the ordinary rating machinery, on the present assessment, which would give a flat rate to each farmer according to the benefit that he actually receives from the work done by the Ouse Drainage Board.

Finally, I think a penalty Clause is absolutely essential. If you are going to have evasions of rating it means that the man who succeeds in avoiding the payment of his rates gets the better of the honest man every time, and when the honest men see that they come to the conclusion that their only means of self defence is to refuse to pay their rates. In that way the whole district takes up arms and refuses to carry out the scheme, which only makes it more expensive for everybody in the long run. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will be able to give way in Committee to those Amend-which I have suggested, and that he will give us some idea this evening as to what extent he will be able to meet our demands.


I desire to support the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), not because I am opposed to the necessary work of drainage in the Fen area. I associate myself with what the right hon. Gentleman said, that we of the Labour party are as anxious as hon. Members opposite to see schemes of improvement carried through which will benefit agriculture. We do not underestimate the gravity of the situation with which agriculturists of the Fen area are face to face with to-day, and, therefore, we do not put forward this Amendment because we are opposed to the Government rendering all the assistance it can in order to improve the drainage of the Fen area for the benefit of agriculture. It is only when we come to the incidence of the cost that we differ from hon. Members opposite. The impression I got when the Minister of Agriculture was introducing this Bill was that such rating as was going to be applied in order to meet the costs of this scheme was really going to fall on the owners of land in the area. He said that of the £2,500,000, which it was expected would be required for the scheme, the State was going to provide £1,250,000, but, having said that, the Minister of Agriculture went on to say that the rest would be raised by rates, The impression I received, and other hon. Members on this side also received the same impression, was that for the rest the owners were to be responsible, but as he developed his argument he said that the incidence of the half which was not to be borne by the State would be a communal incidence falling upon all classes. How he reconciles his earlier statement with his later statement I do not know.

What are the facts as to the incidence of the cost of the scheme, even as set forth by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon, and also as set forth in the Report of the Commission, which I have read from the first page to the last. I have tried to make myself acquainted with all its implications. The facts are these; that there is going to be a scheme of drainage carried out which is going to be very beneficial, certainly to over a million acres of land and which, indirectly, will improve probably 2,000,000 acres of land. In the case of the grass uplands its effect may be somewhat small, but as far as the lowlands are concerned, as I hope to show from the evidence of the Commission's Report, the improvement is going to be very substantial indeed. The scheme is to cost £2,500,000, of which the State is going to provide £1,250,000. The occupiers, those who are liable for drainage rates in the lowlands, are going to provide three-eighths of the remainder, and as far as I have been able to find out up to the present time it is not the owners of the lowlands as such who are going to be liable for providing this three-eighths but he occupiers, as occupiers. The only portion of the £2,500,000 which may possibly fall on the shoulders of the owners whose land is going to be enormously improved is the one-eighth, which is to be contributed by the 1,500,000 acres in the uplands. And even that is optional. In the Bill it is optional as to whether that one-eighth shall be placed upon the general ratepayers of the area concerned. This one-eighth may be placed, if it is so desired upon the occupiers concerned.

What does that amount to? I submit that the scheme, from the point of view of finance, is entirely unsound, and is unfair to the remainder of the community. The whole of the taxpayers of the country, the taxpayers in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, and all the industrial centres of the country, are to be called upon for a contribution of £1,250,000 in order to improve the land of a certain number of landowners in the Fen area. I congratulate the hon. Member opposite on his honesty and straightforwardness in saying that he is not satisfied with this Bill, because the State is not finding all the money. He is making the most of a bad job; he is getting only £1,250,000 instead of £2,500,000 out of the taxpayers' pockets. I submit that there are only two equitable methods by which a scheme of this kind can be fairly carried out by the Government. If the agency of the State is to be utilised for special interests, in order to, give assistance without which the special objects may not be accomplished, and if that assistance is going to confer benefit on certain sections of the corn-inanity then those sections should pay for the benefits which are conferred. If that is not acceptable, then it is for the State to acquire the land at present-day values, expend money on improving it and reap the benefit from the expenditure. What does the Commission say with regard to the position of Fenlands under the present system of drainage. On page 49 there is this paragraph: Any failure of efficient drainage practically destroys the letting value of fen land for agricultural purposes. Properly drained fen land has at the present time a rental value of from 30s. to 40s. per acre, whereas lands badly drained and subject to the risk of summer flood, and devoid of a clay subsoil, will not realise more than from 5s. to 10s. per acre. We are told in the Report that much of this land, which it is proposed to deal with under this scheme, is now on the verge of becoming productive, but if this work is not carried out then inundation sooner or later is inevitable. That is land owned by private owners. Under this Bill we are being asked to spend over £1,000,000 out of public money to preserve the productive quality of land in the Fen area in order that owners may regain their rents of 40s. per acre. On the same page I also notice that the Commission, referring to the Wash Land Grazing says: The Wash lands lying between the Old Bedford and Hundred Foot River, containing about 4,765 acres, are very valuable pasture lands in a dry summer, and can be stocked for rather more than four months in the year (from May to September); they are very healthy for cattle and horses, the stock being able to obtain a plentiful supply of fresh water, and not being troubled with flies. A small part, probably not exceeding one-fifth, is mown for hay, but this is a somewhat risky venture, as a summer flood occasionally carries off the produce. Sonic 25 years ago, these summer pasture lands used to command an average rent of from 40 shillings to 45 shillings an acre, but in consequence of the increase in late years of summer floods they have been much reduced in value and realise from 25 shillings to 30 shillings per acre only. What is the purpose of the expenditure of this money, one-half of which is to be State money? It is to restore to those lands the rent-producing qualities which they had years ago. If that be not the purpose, then what is the purpose? I realise that there is a certain amount of general convenience to industry and commerce involved in connection with the port of King's Lynn and other ports in the Wash, but the inevitable effect is to increase the productive quality of the soil and restore the rents which depreciated with the decrease in productivity. When the argument is used from this side, in the public interest, that if we spend public money the public ought to reap the advantage, I know the reply is often made that it is not true to say that the expenditure of public money will increase the rents. I submit, however, that the testimony of the Commission, which I have just quoted, is to the opposite effect. Let me also give the words of Sir Francis Acland, who was formerly a Member of this House, representing an agricultural area. In a letter written to the "Manchester Guardian,'' only a fortnight ago, he says: As regards the tenant any improvement in the productivity of his farm is, by the ordinary play of supply and demand, translated within half a generation into terms of rent. And so the policy of the Government in this Bill is to utilise the taxpayers' money, drawn from all sections of the community, in order that the land in the Fen area may be so improved that the owners of that land may regain lost rents or maintain existing rents, or in other ways make their land more valuable than it is at present. I submit that policy is against the public interest, and I associate myself with the Amendment. We object to this Bill, not because it carries out a scheme of great benefit to this district but because the incidence of its finance is inequitable and unfair. If public money is to be spent in this way, the asset created by that expenditure ought to accrue to the State. That principle is embodied even in Clause 6 of this Bill in reference to the port of King's Lynn. Why is it not embodied in the Clauses dealing with the land in general? In Clause 6 we find these words: The Ouse Board may, at any time after the completion of any of the works specified in Part I of the Third Schedule to this Act, or of any part of any such work, require the mayor, aldermen and burgesses of the borough of King's Lynn, the King's Lynn Conservancy Board and the King's Lynn Docks and Railway Company, or any of those bodies, to pay to the Board, by way of contribution towards the amount falling to be defrayed by the Board in connection with the execution of the said works, an amount representing the value of the improvement which has resulted, or which it is calculated will result, to the port or to the trade of King's Lynn by reason of the execution of the said work or part of a work. Why should not the same principle apply to the whole value of the land? It would not be impossible for a valuer to compute the value of the improvement which is going to take place as a result of this expenditure. The only equitable way of dealing with the matter would be to declare that the owner should pay for the improvement which his land values receive as a consequence of the expenditure, or, on the other hand, that the Government should schedule the area, acquire it as public land and thus reap the benefit of this expenditure.


I make no apology for intervening thus early in the Debate and I may at once say that I have no interest in the Ouse area particularly, but I have a considerable knowledge of the drainage of the Wash and of the East Coast generally. We have heard to-day in the House a good deal of talk about the highlanders and the lowlanders which rather reminds one of the talk which one sometimes hears about the highlanders and lowlanders of Scotland. I felt that I should like to intervene between the highlanders and the lowlanders on this occasion and, indeed, I think that to do so will be of some public service. So far as my own personal interests are concerned I have had for many years an equal interest in the highlands of this country and the lowlands, but I have been largely concerned with the lowlands and I have considerable knowledge of the drainage of the Fens. As the Minister reminded us, it is now something like 50 years since we first thought of a Drainage Bill in this country. I remember it, I am sorry to say, only too well. For 50 years it has been a subject of discussion between highlanders and lowlanders, but very little has been done. I have listened to the arguments used by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite concerning their attitude on this question. Their fear is lest the landowner should get some undue benefit from this proposal. I would like to remind them that in the past the landowners have developed these lands and brought them into a high state of cultivation at very great cost to themselves.

What is the situation in regard to this problem? In the case of the Wash over the last 70 or 80 years there has been proceeding gradually a certain amount of accretion and it was in 1883 that the Witham Commissioners and the Black Sluice Commissioners, of which I now have the honour to be chairman, with the Boston Harbour Trust were enabled to make a deep cut into the Boston Deeps and thus save running their waters over the accretion of sand which occurred every year. I believe that our Trust was the only one that carried out that expenditure, and I may say that it has been justified time and again. Now there is talk, I believe, of developing the Welland area and also this great area of the valley of the Ouse. I think Members of the House, on whatever side they may sit, will admit that an accretion on the coast which is going to stop water flowing into the sea is a national calamity the removal of which ought to be assisted by the State. I believe the State fully realises their responsibility. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have themselves admitted that when they were in office they attempted to do something. They offered some assistance, but that assistance, probably, was not sufficiently generous, and was not accepted. At all events, they admitted the principle and agreed that something ought to be done.

In so far as the Ouse drainage area is concerned I do not agree in toto with the Bill as it stands. I am sorry that we cannot have a Bill dealing not only with the Ouse drainage, but with a general scheme of drainage for the whole country. I believe such a scheme is to be inquired into, and some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and on the other side as well, suggest that we should wait until we get that inquiry. We have all read of the Mississippi floods. I do not want to be pessimistic, but I have known for 35 years the area of which we are now talking, and I know that area has always, been in jeopardy. I have seen several breaches in that area and I know it is more and more in jeopardy every year, for this reason, that the banks across those Fens are made of soft black soil, and that soil is gradually settling and consequently the banks are gradually settling. If you consult the engineers there you will find that those banks are from 18 inches to 2 feet lower than they were 50 years ago. That is not the fault of the landowners; it is a question of time.

6.0 p.m.

In this Bill in Clause 4 it is suggested that the lowlands in a certain area should pay at the rate of 6d. per acre. In that connection I have in mind the parish of Thorney in Cambridgeshire. As most people in agriculture know, that parish has been very highly farmed and a great deal of money was spent on it by the late owner, and it is in a most efficient condition. There is a very high drainage rate, and though Thorney, drains through the Nene and does not in any way touch the Ouse, yet Thorney is going to be asked by this Bill to pay 6d. per acre in addition to the county rate which is to be levied on the whole of Cambridgeshire. I know the Minister will probably say, as I think he did say in his opening remarks, that if we take the land in the Ouse drainage area and keep it in a good state, we shall be able to rate it, but if it is allowed to become derelict, the country will lose much of the rateable value. That is all very well as an argument, but I think that Thorney has a right to say, "But if we had not spent money on our own drainage you would not have been able to rate our land." My own idea is that each county should have its own catchment area, and that the whole of the highlands should pay a rate of 2d. per acre, and that that amount should be taken out of the county rates and divided amongst the respective catchment areas. One part of the county of Buckingham, for example, drains into the Thames, and another part into the Ouse, but you are going to put a rate on the whole county of Buckingham, including the part which drains into the Thames, in order to pay for this Ouse scheme.

If when the Bill gets into Committee the Minister can see his way to make an alteration of that kind, I am sure it will be appreciated by my hon. Friends who sit behind me, and who, I believe, are interested in Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire, and various other shires, and I hope, after the remarks I have made, that they will not talk quite so strongly as they had intended in opposition to this Bill. For 50 years now this question of drainage has been before us, but comparatively little has been done, and nothing by the State. Year by year we have improved vast areas of the country both by underdraining and by pumping. There are large areas in the towns where the rain water, falling on the roads and on the roofs of the houses, gets directly into the sea very quickly along the drains, and I believe the Minister is right in suggesting that we ought to have taxation on the basis of rateable value rather than on the basis of acreage. I would appeal to all Members not to let this become a party question. After all these years let us do something in order to assist drainage. On the East coast, if nothing is done, a great deal of valuable land must go out of cultivation. I think this scheme for draining the Lynn channel through the Wash is a good one, and it is all important that we should not delay matters, but I do believe the day will come when we shall drain the channel of the Ouse, the channel of the Witham and the channel of the Welland all in one into the North Sea, and I think the Government will be able to reclaim a vast amount of land which may prove very useful to the country.


In common with other Members, I think it is very unfortunate that we are called upon to discuss this Bill to-day before we have received the findings of the Royal Commission. While many hon. Members who come from the area to which this Bill applies are very much in favour of the Measure, I think it will have a very disastrous effect upon the agricultural area and on the borough of King's Lynn. In speaking of the borough of King's Lynn I am including the corporation, the Lynn Docks and the Conservancy Board. The three objections I have to the Bill are these. First, that the rates are to be calculated on the rateable value instead of on the acreage. Secondly, I am very much opposed to the inclusion of the borough of Lynn in the scheme for the first time after all these years. The third objection is that the doctrine of benefit is excluded from this Bill. As to basing the rates on the annual valuation of the property, everybody knows the depression which exists in agriculture to-day, and all who have read in this morning's "Daily Mail" a letter Written by a lady living in my Division will bear out the fact that the area around King's Lynn is experiencing the worst period it has had for many years. As to the proposal to include the borough of King's Lynn, they have already a very good sewerage system, which they have to maintain, and theirs, also, is the largest county assessment in the scheme, and I cannot see that they can benefit in any way under the Bill in its present form.

As to the question of building the training walls, a great many of my constituents believe that the expenditure of that money will prove useless and unnecessary unless it is done in the proper way. It is provided in Clause 6 that King's Lynn Dock Company and Conservancy Board will have to make a contribution representing the extent by which it is calculated they have benefited under this scheme, but it is hard to see how the port of Lynn can benefit under that Clause. The Conservancy Board, I think, are quite prepared to pay something towards the expenditure if it is based on a larger tonnage basis. As the Wash channel is today, steamers of 13 feet draught can enter the port, and if the dock dues were greatly increased it would be very easy to avoid to them by moving cargoes to steamers of smaller tonnage. The value of this Bill to the Port of Lynn is very problematical, and for that reason the Bill as it now stands cannot have my support in any way. I hope that when we get into Committee all the various points that have been brought up by my hon. Friends will be considered, especially the question of putting payment on the acreage basis, excluding the Borough of Lynn from the scheme, and putting in the doctrine of benefit


I do not desire to follow the Mover of the Amendment into a discussion on the subject of nationalisation, but many people in the country will be amazed by the preposition he submitted to the House when he suggested that because about £1,500,000 was to be found by the taxpayers 2,000,000 acres of land ought to be nationalised, thus giving to the State a vast area including the cities, towns and villages comprised in it. Surely the State will find a sufficient return in the added Income Tax collectable, in the addition to, and the maintenance of, rateable values, and in the employment which will be found for the industrious people who reside in that area. No little credit is due to the Minister of Agriculture for the courage and pluck he has shown in tackling such a difficult question as that of internal land drainage, because the question always has raised, and probably always will raise, opposition from both friends and foes of a Government. I support the Bill on the ground that this is a great offer of financial aid and assistance to my district, and on the ground that it is urgently necessary that work should be undertaken, but in the confident hope that substantial amendments will be made in the Bill before it eventually reaches the Statute Book.

The Commissioners, in the course of their Report, stated that if the works recommended by them were not carried out the whole Fen area would return to primæval conditions. That, indeed, is a gloomy picture. I hope things are not quite so bad as the Commissioners visualise them. Nevertheless, the position is serious, and the difficulties of drainage in that area are, and always must remain, very great, for the simple reason that there is no finality in anything which is done. Just as a sponge shrinks when it dries, so does land in that area shrink when drained. In many places the level of drained land has fallen by one, two and even more feet. The final level of the land has not yet been reached, and no one can say what the final settlement will eventually be. This means that banks which are quite sufficient to deal with the water when a drainage scheme is first carried out, subsequently prove to be quite inadequate and have to be strengthened. Perhaps it is because of this need for more drainage, and of the financial assistance which is forecasted in the Bill, that the Ouse Drainage Board give general approval to the Bill. After all, the Bill is a straightforward recognition of national liability, and in that respect I welcome its provisions. It follows precedents which have been established in other countries. In Italy the State pays 56 per cent. on the expenditure of this kind. In France the State frequently pays half the expenditure on drainage schemes, and in Holland, too, very large sums of money are found. In our own country I suggest that it is also necessary for the State to shoulder some portion of the burden of drainage.

I would like to indicate one or two directions in which I hope the Bill will receive amendment. I think the Bill proposes that land up to 20 feet above sea level is to be assessable to drainage tax. Under the Act of 1920, a level of eight feet above the average river level was taken as the datum line for rateable purposes, and in place of that the 20-feet line above sea level has now been substituted. I am not sure that that is the right line to take, and I hope that point will receive careful consideration when this Bill comes before the Select Committee. That line brings a considerable area of new land under these proposals, although it allows a certain area to escape altogether, the argument being, I suppose, that land which is only 20 feet above sea level would be rendered worthless if the existing dykes were swept away. It appears to me that this is a very high level to take.


May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the 20-feet line on the ordnance is only 15 feet below the ordinary level of spring tide, and the line now proposed is only five feet above the highest tide.


I still think that there is some justification for revising this level of 20 feet. In regard to upland contributions, the old and well-established principle of dealing with this question according to benefits received is being done away with. This principle was established under the Bill of Sewers of 1531, and is now being done away with, and a flat rate of 2d. per acre is being substituted. Many local authorities have thought it unfortunate that the Government have not waited for the Report of the Royal Commission, because they feel that a new principle is being introduced in a relatively minor Bill. They believe that considerations of so large a character involving a new principle should have been decided on a major Bill. I would like to say a word or two about the proposed flat rate of 2d. per acre. I feel that some provision should be made in the Bill to provide for special areas such as Cambridge, which comes under this Drainage Bill, and which already raises money from its own ratepayers to maintain the River Cam. We feel that we are now being called upon to contribute twice, and that at any rate the money raised locally for drainage purposes should first of all be credited to us before any further contribution is paid over to another authority.

A rate of 2d. per acre is imposed on all upland areas. I would like to draw attention to the way in which this rate of 2d. per acre will work out in Cambridge. It has to be defrayed as expenses for general county purposes. This sum of 2d. per acre will not work out uniformly. First of all a general sum will be demanded at 2d. per acre, and subsequently that sum will be levied on the assessable value of the property in that area. The result will be that in some cases the charge instead of being 2d. per acre, will actually amount to 7s. or more per acre. There is, in short, a Transmutation Clause in this Bill by which the acreage toll is transformed into an assessment value levy through the medium of the county rate. It seems to me that it would be fairer if this rate were based on a parochial basis. If then you had a parish of 5,000 acres, it would contribute only 5,000 two-pences. Already there are special water rates, lighting rates and sewerage rates, and a greater measure of equity would be obtained if it were found possible to give effect to my suggestion.

I would like to draw attention to the proposed machinery for the collection of rates. I think the machinery under this Bill must be abandoned. The question of the basis on which rates are to be collected is a vital one, and it is on that very rock that the existing Ouse Board has split. The Ouse Board was set up as recently as 1920 and it has been confronted with enormous difficulties in regard to the collection of rates. Perhaps I may tell the House how great are those difficulties. Hardly anyone within the jurisdiction of the Ouse Board pays the rate unless he is compelled to do so. No less than 500 summonses are considered every month at the monthly Court. One-third of the ratepayers pay when they are summoned, and most of the rest pay at the Court or when served with distress notices In seven years there have been five rates levied and demand notes have been served for four rates. In the case of the first rate over 6,000 assessments remain unpaid; in the case of the second rate over 18,000; the third over 21,000; and in respect of the fourth over 11,649 assessments are still unpaid. One ratepayer may have many assessments, but each assessment must be separately proved before the Court.

Allusion has been made in the Debate to the desirability of either inserting a penalty Clause or giving some special discount. I hope that when this Bill goes before a Select Committee they will consider the question of giving some remission when rates are promptly paid or else consider the question of inserting some penalty Clause. There are many other points of detail to which attention could be drawn. I feel that it is the general interests of the area affected that such a substantial grant as that proposed, namely, £1,500,000, should be accepted, particularly in view of the fact that the present condition of things is a grave menace to a large industrious agricultural population who are doing their level best to improve the food supply of our country.


I think it is clear from the speeches which have been made in this Debate that that part of the county of Norfolk which I represent ought to bear no share in the payments which are to be demanded under this Bill. I will point out the reasons why I make that statement. I have looked through the Report of the Commissioners most carefully to find out, if I can, what are the bases on which it is considered right that contributions should be made. Of course, there is, first of all, the contribution that naturally arises if the area comes within the catchment area, and then, of course, there is a benefit. Then the suggestion is made that there ought to be a communal interest in the whole of a particular area like the area of the county of Norfolk. I think that that contribution should be a sort of insurance against a reduction in the rateable value. If ever there was a suggestion which seems to me to be futile or one which can be made on every occasion of exacting contributions from people who have nothing whatever to do with the matter, this is an instance.

If it be a question of sustaining the rateable value of any particular area, then the erection of new buildings in that area not only sustains but increases the rateable value, and if the argument which has been put forward is the one on which this contribution has been based, then we in East Norfolk should not come in because we are sustaining that communal interest. I think the argument which has been put forward is not really one which meets the case. Another argument which has been put forward for this scheme is that it is for the benefit of England especially to increase as far as you can the arable land of England. If there is one patriotic thing with which this House would thoroughly agree, it is to increase the amount of arable land in England. I thoroughly understand that argument, and it is a perfectly good one, but it is one which applies to the whole of England, and one which, if it is to be used and carried out, ought to be thrown upon the whole of the country.

May I point out how my own area is particularly affected? The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) alluded to the position in his own area. I believe that some portion of North Norfolk does actually touch the Ouse drainage area, but my area does not come even within 20 miles of the map as far as I understand this question. Further than that, there is a bread belt of high land which divides us entirely from this watershed. I possess a piece of land which has been some of the finest corn land in the country for a period of 300 or 400 years. A large proportion of the land in my constituency is below sea level. As a matter of fact, I believe at the Conquest the sea came right in as far as Norwich and a large portion comprising about 50,000 acres was flooded by the sea.

The great flood burst in, as it did in the case of the Zuyder Zee in Holland, about the year 1603, and this not only submerged, but filched away a large proportion of the county, and there are certain parishes remaining at the present day at the bottom of the sea. In consequence of this great flood, which carried away several parishes, and which left, during my lifetime, a church standing on the middle of the sands which used to be half covered at high water, an Act of Parliament was passed in the last year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, under the provisions of which artificial barriers were put up against the sea, and that is a burden which the landowners of Norfolk who were within that particular level have borne without repining and without any help from the Government, from the rates, or from any outside body. The erection of that barrier against the sea—the Marram bank, as it is called, in Norfolk, extending for a distance of eight or nine miles, from Caister to Happisburgh—has enabled a large area of land to be drained. Drainage has been carried out by the local landowners, and, at the present time, some 40,000 acres, which used to be flooded more or less by the sea, have been saved for England at very great expense. The annual expenditure on those 40,000 acres has been something like £20,000, which means about 11s. 2d. per acre on the actual acreage that is so drained. Those acres which we have given to England would now have been under the sea had it not been for the patriotic action of the landowners concerned. That land, some of the best in Norfolk, has cost 11s. an acre.

In addition, we have three rivers, which have at one time or another been arms of the sea. We have the Bure, on which most of the Broads remain, the Broads really being those small parts of the sea which it is impossible to drain. Then we have the Yare, which runs up to Norwich, and also the Wensum. All of these three rivers are in my constituency, and they also require a great deal of attention, because the banks of those three rivers, especially where they are navigable, as in the case of the Yare and some portions of the Bure and the Wensum, are continually being scoured by such traffic as runs on the rivers. That means that we have a very heavy expense for river walls, camp shedding, and things of that sort. Moreover, Yarmouth is doing what King's Lynn now desires to do, namely, making its harbour better, and has dredged out its harbour to such an extent as to make the scour in our rivers very much heavier than it used to be. We are, therefore, rather badly placed in regard to these matters, and that seems to me to be a very good reason why we should not be concerned in any way in the present scheme. The Minister mentioned that, menaced, as it is, on the one hand by the sea—we have lands below the level of the sea—and on the other hand by the ever-present danger of floods from the higher lands above, this large district is, therefore, obviously exposed to unusual risks of inundation, which has only been prevented by long-continued attention, through the patriotic action of the landowners and the expense which they have incurred. We have also another menace in our county which has not been alluded to. We are subject to the most intense erosion. Erosion is going on on some of our best corn lands, because the best corn lands that we have in my constituency are on the coast. To indicate what the effect of erosion has been on that coast, I may mention that my own great-grandfather's summer-house is now about three-quarters of a mile under the sea. That will show in what a peculiar position East Norfolk is placed, not only in having its land filched away by the sea, but in having to maintain a sea wall, at an expenditure of £20,000 a year, to prevent the sea from coming in, and for draining that land, which is practically given to England. If only this country could manage to multiply its land, say, by 10, so that, instead of having 120,000 square miles, it would have 1,120,000 square miles, I think most of our difficulties in England would disappear, because we should then be able to feed ourselves.

As we have spent that money, and are continuing to spend it year by year, we think that East Norfolk, certainly, ought not to be within the ambit of this Bill. Let us see how it works out. The adjoining county of Suffolk has had the good fortune, so far as this Bill is concerned, to be divided into two wapentakes, East and West, each having a separate county council, and, although the county of Suffolk is not so large as Norfolk, which I believe is the fourth or fifth county of this country in point of size, only a comparatively small portion of Suffolk is included under this Bill, because the East Wapentake has a separate council. The result, so far as Norfolk is concerned, is to be seen in the Report. It will be seen that the acreage runs into millions. We have 1,318,000 acres which, in some way or another, are connected with this area, while I do not know that Suffolk has so much as 1,000,000 acres—the actual figures, of course, are in the possession of the Ministry of Agriculture—but, luckily, owing, perhaps, to the foresight of our forefathers there, it divided itself in time, so that only a small portion of Suffolk is liable to pay this contribution, while the whole of Norfolk is roped in. It seems to me that these are considerations which differentiate this very picturesque district of Norfolk, which is, as I dare say most Members of this House know, one of the amusement grounds of a large portion of London, some 20,000 or 30,000 people coming there simply for the 200 miles of sailing and river ways; and it does seem that, if any part of the country ought to be excluded from having to pay any contribution at all under this Bill, it should be the county of Norfolk.

The way in which we come in is a rather different matter. The county council is given the power of spreading the rate of 2d., or 6d., or whatever it may be, over the rest of this area, on the ground that we have a communal interest in it, and it seems to me that that is a position which must be regarded as inequitable. An hon. Member on the other side talked about equity; the equity is that East Norfolk ought to be left outside, and I oppose the Bill on that ground. Everything else is splendid, so far as I am concerned. I love to see the Minister of Agriculture increasing the arable land of England. I think that that is a grand thing. If only it be put on the right shoulders, he could not do a better thing. But poor little East Norfolk has a tithe bigger than almost any other county in England, namely, about 6s. or 7s. per acre, and, if you add a flat rate with regard to our drainage, which comes to about 2s. 9d. per acre, and we are now spending something like £20,000, or 2s. 7d. per acre, that makes about 11s. per acre. The agricultural labourers, naturally, are asking for higher wages, but how can higher wages be possibly paid them when we have planked upon our land something like 11s. per acre for these matters, which I think the right hon. Gentleman whose Amendment we are discussing would agree ought to be put on the shoulders of England at large. I shall oppose this Bill.


I support the opposition of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), for rather different reasons. My hon. Friend is a lowlander, while I live in the high country of Bedfordshire, and we were partly the cause of the defeat of the Order of 1920. We consider that this Bill is not a Measure to meet a sudden emergency or danger; it is the outcome of numerous inquiries that have taken place since 1920. In 1918, when the inquiries were started, what was in view was increasing the acreage of plough land and growing more corn at a time of national necessity. The Bill of 1920 was opposed, though not so strongly as might have been expected. I think that one reason for that was a question that was put in this House by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer), who asked whether those who received no benefit would have to pay. The answer that he received from the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was this: Then I have been asked a question in regard to the incidence of rating. The principle is that it must be in proportion to benefits received, and the river has to be divided into sections and areas, and they are rated in proportion to benefits received by the different sections. My hon. Friend put the question, 'Supposing some- body received no benefit, would he be rated?' The Order makes no change in the law, and only those benefited can be rated, and if any person proves that he is not benefited he will not be rated under the Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1920; col. 1949, Vol. 127.] That was not carried out in the Act of 1920. If it had been carried out, I believe I am right in saying that there would have been no Bill before the House to-day. As it happened, the farmers in the upland areas at once had a grievance; they were called upon to pay, they received no benefit, and, therefore, they refused to pay—in other words, they practised what is known as passive resistance. There was considerable trouble in those areas. In 1924, as the Minister has said, an attempt was made to put the matter right, and, after a long inquiry, there was an offer of £1,500,000, of which I believe two-thirds was to be paid by the area, and the upland areas who received no benefit were to be cut out. I believe that the Ouse Board at that time were not satisfied that the Fen area could stand the extra cost on the rates. They certainly made an alternative offer, asking for a grant of £100,000 and a loan of £100,000 to carry on with the work. I believe that if that had been done even then, we should not have been troubled to-day with this Bill. Evidently, however, the Ministry were not satisfied with that. They set up a small Commission, and, who of course were ready to bring forward a complete scheme for the whole area. The Commission sat in 1925, and brought out a very big scheme, the cost of which, instead of being £1,500,000, was something like £2,500,000, or an increased expenditure in one year of something like £1,000,000. I think the Minister, by this Bill, has achieved what only a short time ago was considered to be an impossibility, that is to say, he has brought the uplanders and the fenmen into the same camp, though not for the salve reason, and we now have the very unusual spectacle of the fenmen and the uplanders fighting this Bill together. We have, and I admit it freely, very conflicting interests. Our interests are in no way identical with those of the fenmen. I have had many arguments with Members from the Fen country in this House with regard to the two areas. But there are included under this Bill now something like 12 counties. There are six counties which have no interest in the matter at all, and which receive no benefits, but which are to be rated under this Bill. They are Bedford, Bucks, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire and Essex. The counties interested in the Ouse question are represented by some 40 Members in this House, and I do not think there are more than one or two who will speak in favour of this Bill among all those 40 Members. I should be very surprised if there are two. At present there has only been one. This 2d. rate is, of course, only the start. All rates, I believe, start in this very small way. You get a very small rate and, as the years go on, it increases. But if we have even a 2d. rate I cannot see how any agriculturist is going to improve his position by a penny. He is not receiving any benefit.

I do not suppose any Member of the House would oppose a Drainage Bill if it were economically sound. We think this Drainage Bill is not economically sound. We think it is very costly, not only to the local areas but also to the nation. In Bedford we have kept our river in order by spending very considerable sums some years ago. We have not asked for Buckinghamshire or Northamptonshire to contribute to keep our river in order. I have heard the argument used that there are so many large towns that increase the burdens on the watercourses. I do not know of any very large towns on the Ouse or in the Ouse area. I suppose Cambridge is the largest. I do not think there are any large industrial towns on the Ouse at all. The Minister may claim that he has the support of the Farmers' Union in some of the counties in the valley of the Ouse who under the old Order were paying a very excessive rate. They are in a very great difficulty. They are between the devil and the sea. I will not go so far as that—it might be misconstrued—but they are between the frying pan and the fire. They have been scorched once and they prefer the frying pan now and paying a very small rate rather than risk being put back on to the 1920 Order and being charged at a very high rate again and having to put their fight through all over again. Of course, it will be recognised that the 1920 Order was a very costly matter in taking proceedings in law.

I should like to say one word on the question of urgency. The point to this is paragraph 129 of the Report. It says: If the works recommended by us are not carried out, serious inundations will follow, and in the absence of extraordinary effort and a very large expenditure of money, the whole fen area will return to primeval conditions. I had a letter this morning from the Huntingdonshire County Council, in which they ask that the Bill should be opposed as it is premature to deal with it till the Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into land drainage in England and Wales and its administration throughout the country has been submitted. They go further and say: I am further to point out that this Committee have considerable areas under their jurisdiction, and they are convinced that there is no immediate danger by a postponement of this Bill. I should like to go further and say I do not think that is a view held by the Ouse Board, who are the responsible authorities for dealing with drainage in the Ouse area. There was a question put before the board the other day in respect of this very matter, and the answer was: The west banks of the south level have all been strengthened and raised and the rivers deepened and the discharge through Denver sluice much improved. The water in the Little Ouse and Wissey has been lowered and shows, at Wilton Bridge and Stokes Ferry Bridge, a lower dry water surface of two feet. There is a less liability of any flooding than in 1919. That is very important, because after all in the last three years this authority, who are responsible for the safety of the Ouse, have spent nearly £200,000 in looking after their banks. If any authority should know what the position is I think the Ouse Board should know. They go on to say: Below Denver sluice the banks of the Ouse have been repaired and maintained, and though there was no immediate danger, some more substantial work would be required on these banks in the future. My informant tells me: The general opinion of the members, who know the fen country country well, is that the alarmist views of the Commissioners as expressed in their Report are quite unwarranted and exaggerated. The fen country is well protected by the main barrier bank from any general inundation, whilst any return to primeval conditions is out of the question. He also says it is the opinion of some of their members that it would be of advantage to still lower the low-water at Denver Sluice so as to improve the drainage above. I think that to a certain extent meets the point of the urgency of this matter. I do not want to deal with expenditure on the Wash. We all know that King John lost a great deal of treasure there and it is possible that we may lose more. It is one of those difficult problems that I do not think are properly realised by Members of the House. I have been all over the Ouse area and to the Wash to see it. You have a 25 foot tide in the Wash. It ebbs for nine hours and flows for three. You have a rise of 25 feet at spring tide in three hours. That is a very difficult problem to deal with and it is a question as to what is the best method of dealing with this rush of water. The sands are quietly coming up, and if it were not for the flood from the upper areas of the Ouse, and the water flowing down the Ouse river, it would be very difficult indeed to keep the outlet clear so that the water could get away at all. The Government have set up this Royal Commission on drainage and I think the Bill prejudges the issue at stake. It sets up an alteration in the method of drainage rating and it rates these counties, irrespective of any benefit received. I note there is agreat deal of opposition and I think the Minister is like a well known Egyptian King and hardens his heart when there is so much opposition.


I want to intervene for a moment or two because this matter concerns very closely a large number of my constituents—a great deal more closely than most of them care about. I agree that the Government, having appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question of the law concerning land drainage in England and Wales might well have waited until it had reported before bringing in this Bill. The Minister feels that there is urgency in the matter and references have been made to what doubtless is prompting him, namely, the Clause in the Report that if something is not done immediately and if an extraordinary effort and a very large expenditure of money are not made the whole of the fen area will return to primeval conditions. In Huntingdonshire there are about 50,000 acres of fen land and the Committee of the county council most concerned in the matter have unanimously passed a strong resolution urging the postponement of this matter. It is their opinion that there is nothing serious to fear and the Bill might well be postponed for at least another year. References have been made to the alteration in the principles of rating which it involves. It seems to me that the proposals of the Bill involve departing altogether from the old principles that have been observed for more than 300 years and, instead, they will make people liable, especially in the uplands, for paying the rate when they are not getting any benefit from it; and they are not being saved from any danger because, as I believe, no real danger exists. I do not think the Minister realises for a moment the very strong feeling of opposition and resentment which has been invoked in the minds of the uplanders by the Bill and by his desire to push it through at all costs. Because I feel this very strongly I must reluctantly oppose the Bill.


Because the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Sir R. Neville) has made out such a very good, case for his county I do not want the House to think that the rest of Norfolk is in agreement with the proposals of the Bill. My constituency is miles away from the Ouse Valley. It does not drain any water that way and we shall, of course, under the Bill be liable to the payment of a county rate for the Ouse Drainage Board expenses. At a time like, this, when the farmer is making great efforts to avoid the Bankruptcy Court, it seems a wrong thing to put even this small additional burden on his back. None of us like, rates. The only thing that reconciles us to them is the fact that we are going to get some benefit, and perhaps the fact that other people are bearing the, same burden. In South Norfolk we shall undoubtedly get no benefit whatever and, as regards bearing the same burden as other people, when the South Norfolk people meet their Suffolk friends just over the boundary they will find they are not paying anything at all. That will certainly make a great deal of ill feeling. I do not only wish to state the case for South Norfolk. I should like to say something from the point of view of the Norfolk County 'Council and the Drainage Board. I am a member of both bodies, and the Drainage Committee has given the Bill its very careful consideration.

It is felt that with the improvements which have already been mentioned at Denver Sluice and in the Little Ouse the chance of inundation is very small indeed and there is no case for carrying through this Measure before the Report of the Royal Commission. That recommendation of the drainage committee was brought before the county council and adopted by them and the county council is petitioning against the Bill. The feeling generally of the drainage committee, which consists of gentlemen who were elected on that body for their knowledge of the circumstances and the general conditions of drainage in the county, and many of whom are very familiar with the position of the Ouse river, is that the only possible justification for carrying this Measure through would be the fear of immediate inundation, and of that they say they have no fear whatever. In the circumstances, both as representing these unfortunate farmers who will be called upon to pay a rate to assist farmers who are farming far more fertile land than they are, and also as a loyal member of my county council, I feel I cannot support the Bill.

7.0 p.m.

Commander WILLIAMS

I only want to take tip a very few minutes in referring to this Measure, because, although I am not directly interested in the fight between the Uplanders and Lowlanders, we have heard a very great deal about their grievances, but nothing at all about the unfortunate taxpayer who is called upon to pay £1.250,000. In these days, when we hear that the general taxpayer is very hardly hit, as he is, and when we consider that there are people who are trying to see what can be done to remedy that state of affairs, I think the Government are bound, before calling on the taxpayer to put in this very large sum, to justify the position that, first of all, the people in the locality that are doing the damage are doing their full share, and also that the people in the locality who are going to benefit are doing their full share also.

May I look at the matter from this point of view First of all, there is the Uplander, as we call him, who says he ought not to pay anything, I believe a good many people have held that point of view. Of course, if I take a brick and throw it through someone's window, it does not matter to me in the least whether that window is mended or not, but in all probability I shall have to pay for the damage. In the same way, if you own or occupy land and you throw the whole of the waste water on to the low-lying districts below you, I think, as you benefit by getting that water away from the upland, you, at any rate, might contribute something towards taking that water directly to the sea. I think from that point of view the Government are absolutely justified in charging the uplands a 2d. rate per acre, provided it is clearly proved that those uplands are actually getting their water thrown on to the lower land. The criticism I shall make is that, considering the taxpayer's interest in this matter, which is undoubtedly small, compared with the damage which the highlands will do to the lowlands. I think, in the circumstances, the highlands get off very very easily, as compared with the taxpayer outside.

Then, again, take the lower land. They have to pay a 6d. rate or three-eighths of the total sum concerned. Under this Bill they are bound more or less to be the people who are incurring the direct benefit. The owners of the land may be saved from having their land destroyed entirely, and the same applies to the farmer and the worker on the land, whose means of living have to be presumed. I do not think it is right or just that the general taxpayer, who will benefit, of course, by preserving this great area, but who will benefit in proportion nothing like the people who actually live on the land, should be called upon to pay 50 per cent. of the whole. The Government are extraordinarily generous if they give as much as that. I think there are many people in that district who might reasonably be called upon to pay more. Although I welcome this scheme as a whole, and believe that Very much ought to be done in the matter of drainage, it is a very dangerous precedent for the Government to lay down that is provided by paying 50 per cent., because, after all, there may be other drainage schemes going on in wealthier or in poorer districts, and if you once lay down a precedent on a colossal scale like this, you are laying it down in such a way that it will be very difficult to refuse in other places to pay the same towards those districts.

For that reason, although I do not wish in any way to oppose the Bill, or to suggest that it will do anything but good, as far as that part of England is concerned, and will help their difficulties, yet I do think the Government ought to have a very strong case before they come to the general taxpayer and ask him to make this very large contribution towards this scheme. They ought to be quite certain that all the parties interested, or who will take any part in the scheme, are paying their fair share, and they ought to be absolutely certain that ultimately the scheme is going to be a great success, and a success from the financial point of view, in saving and in preserving and increasing ultimately the value of the land in the district, which, of course, in its way, will do something to increase the value of the whole of Great Britain.


This Bill, really, affects four classes of persons, first of all the ratepayers in the lowlands, then the ratepayers in the uplands, next the ratepayers in the counties which have part of their area within the catchment area but who are themselves actually outside that catchment area, and lastly the taxpayer. It is a very remarkable fact that this Bill has been criticised by all four parties. The Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that it was based on the recommendation of the Ouse Drainage Commission, which gave the matter very careful consideration, and made a Report. The Government accepted the Report and this Bill, he said, was framed on it. That, of course, is perfectly accurate, but I do not think it is quite the whole story. If you look closely at the Report you find, first of all, that the reference to the Commission clearly indicated that the matter was then considered as one which affected the Ouse drainage system only. The Commission had not been sitting very long when they came up against the general principles of drainage law, the principles of rating, either in accordance with benefit received or danger averted, and they drew attention to the fact that, in their opinion, it was necessary to depart to some extent from those principles. When they came to make their specific recommendations about the first of these departures from the general principles and to make recommendations with regard to the 2d. charge on the uplands, they used these words: Our inquiry has, of course, been confined to the Ouse, and our recommendations can relate only to that area, but we recognise that if the principle we recommend is accepted it may well be extended to the country at large. To my mind, when the Government got that Report, it was quite clear that the Commission thought if those principles were to be accepted they should be extended to the whole of the country. Therefore, the Government could have done one of two things—either they could have said, "These principles are perfectly sound, and we will apply them to the whole of the country, including the Ouse district," or they should have said, "We are not satisfied about this, and we will appoint a Royal Commission to go into the whole question and see whether these recommendations are, in fact, sound." The Government have adopted neither of these attitudes, but have carried out the recommendations as far as the Ouse is concerned and have not adopted them for the country as a whole. It is that attitude of the Government—a half-way acceptance of the Report—that does place me and many of my colleagues in very great difficulty. We should feel a great deal of difficulty in opposing this scheme, if it had been applied to the whole country, but we do feel that in applying it to this particular district and not to the country, an Government are puting many of us in a very difficult position.

Turning to the recommendations of the Commission, first of all there is this question of the rating of the uplands at 2d. per acre for every acre of land in the county within the upland area. Under the recommendation of the Commission and under the Bill, it is made a charge which the Council can levy either as a general county rate or a special rate only levied in the upland area. The second one is a 6d. rate for every acre in the county within the lowlands. This charge must, under the Bill and under the recommendations of the Commission, be spread all over the county. The hon. Member for East Norfolk (Sir R. Neville) and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) have drawn attention to the unfairness of applying that principle in favour of the watershed of the Ouse only, and there are many other counties in the country that have got watersheds, being partly in one and partly in another watershed. It is grossly unfair to make ratepayers in one watershed pay for the drainage of another watershed, when at the same time the Government refuse to give similar support to them. Either this principle of taxing the whole county for the benefit of one watershed ought to apply to all watersheds or none at all.

There is one other departure or modification of the existing Drainage Law to which I wish to draw attention, and that is the question of rating in accordance with the annual valuation basis as against an acreage basis. That is, in the Bill, obligatory on the Ouse Board, and as I understand the Bill is applicable also to the South Level Board. In his remarks I think the Minister said that the South Level Board in future would have the option of rating either in accordance with the acreage basis or the annual valuation basis. That is not my reading of the Bill, and I should be extremely obliged to the Minister if he will make it clear in winding up whether I understood him aright. As I read the Bill, Clause 3 provides that the Ouse Board have got to rate on the annual value basis. Then it is provided by Sub-section (5) of Clause 3, that:— Subject as hereinafter provided, the foregoing provisions of this Section shall apply with respect to the drainage rates to be levied by the South Level Board as they apply with respect to drainage rates to be levied by the Ouse Board: As I read that, it means that in future the South Level Board will have to rate on the basis of annual value. Personally, I hope that is so, and I shall be very much obliged to the Minister if he will make it clear whether I am correct or not.

Another alteration to the Drainage Law is that affecting my own county of Norfolk and which has a very serious effect. In Norfolk we have the largest area of upland in any of the counties affected, and we have also the second largest area of lowland. The result is that these 2d. and 6d. rates, respectively, amount together to a rate on the county of Norfolk of nearly £6,000 a year. If the county council levy these two rates as a general rate all over the county it will amount to a rate of just on 1d. in the £ per annum. If, on the other hand, they levy only the 6d. lowland rate on the county itself the rate on the county will be one halfpenny. The 2d. rate, which will then have to be levied on the upland part of the county only, will vary a good deal in different districts. To take one case only, that of the Swaffham district, it would amount to 5d. in the £.

There is one point to which I should like to refer, and that is the question of the representation of the county on the Ouse Board during the time that these big alterations are going to be carried out, a period of approximately ten years. The Government during that period will put down approximately £1,250,000, and in respect of that grant they will be entitled to six representatives on the Ouse Board. The counties affected will have to pay one-fifth of the amount, and yet they get no representation at all. I hope that point will be dealt with in the Committee stage.

With regard to this new principle of rating the uplands and the lowlands, and rating in accordance with annual value basis as against acreage basis. I, personally, would far prefer to defer any opinion on this new principle until the Royal Commission have reported, and we know whether they apply to the country as a whole. I think, with regard to the rating of the uplands in the Bill, there may be something to be said for it. If you have land in its natural condition, as nature left it, and water falls from that land and drains down on to the lowlands, I think the lowlander has a very poor case in asking the uplander to contribute towards it, but the moment the uplander deals with his land in any way that increases the burden on the lowlander, then, I think, the uplander ought to pay something towards the cost. Whether he does it by means of building towns, increasing the drainage by means of sewers and so on, or whether he does it by draining his agricultural land better and so increasing the flow on to the lowlands, I think there is something to be said for making him pay something towards the cost. I came across a very remarkable instance of it some time ago in the North of Scotland. Up to the time of the War, we had many of the hills covered with trees, which were of very poor value and which could not really be used for ordinary timber purposes. But the shortage of timber was so great during the War that these hills were very largely stripped of their timber. What has been the result? Previous to the cutting down of the timber, the farms which were in the hollows between these hills were dry farms, but the result of cutting down these trees has been to make the lowlands very wet indeed, and the farmers and landowners have been put to great expense in having to drain their land. That shows that the moment the uplander begins to deal with his land in any way to his own advantage, and throws a burden on his neighbour, there is a case for making him pay a proportion of the cost.

There are two reasons given for proceeding with this Bill now, and not waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission. The first is, that the suspensory Order, which was first introduced in 1925 and expired on the 31st December last year, is being continued until the 31st December this year, when it will expire unless something is done. To my mind, it would be quite sufficient, as far as that is concerned, to bring in another Bill extending the suspension period for another year, or, at any rate, until the Royal Commission has reported. The other reason given is that there is the danger of a flood. It is not quite clear whether the flood is anticipated as a result of the damage to the outflow of the sea or to the damage to the banks, but this question of the danger of flooding is not a new question. Anybody who has perused the reports of engineers for a long time past knows that this danger has been present to the minds of everybody who has ever reported on the Ouse district. In 1792 it was reported that the damage to the outfall was a progressive one, and it was reported again in 1884 and in 1917. There has been a number of reports calling attention to the danger that sooner or later they would have a flood. I dare say they were perfectly correct, and I am not prepared to dispute the opinion, but there is nothing I can see in the reports, or in the facts, as far as they have been brought to my attention by my constituents, to show that there is any real imminent danger of flood.

I know that the Commission at the outset of their Report called attention to this risk, as they had a perfect right to do, but, bearing in mind the history of this matter and the report of the danger of disaster, I think the Government would undergo no great risk if they postponed the introduction of this Bill until the Royal Commission have reported. I believe the Government could quite well have introduced a Bill suspending the Order to which I have referred for another period of a year. They might also have gone a little further, possibly, and introduced a Clause setting up a South Level Board, which everyone wants. I feel that in proceeding with this scheme at a time when a Royal Commission is considering the question of land drainage generally, the Government are proceeding on a wrong line, and on a line which will produce great hardship upon people living in counties partly under one watershed and partly under another. For these reasons I regret very much that I must oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.


I want to say a few words on the subject of this Bill from, perhaps, two rather different aspects. The point of a large Government expenditure has already been dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Torquay (Commander Williams), who is entirely outside the particular area. I am interested in it, not only because a part of the county in which I live, Hertfordshire, extraordinary as it may seem, is to be dragged in to make a contribution to this scheme, but because I take a very deep personal interest in the question of Ouse drainage. I spent the first years of my life on the banks of the Ouse, and I have known thoroughly well the lowlands and highlands, the course of the Ouse and its tributaries, during the whole of my life. I think the Government and the Commission which they set up to inquire into this matter are to be congratulated sincerely upon having gone into the matter so thoroughly and upon obtaining, on the whole, such a thoroughly good report.

Next comes the question—if I may deal, for one moment, with this from what I may call the national point of view—whether this heavy Government expendi- ture is justified at the present moment. That position is intensified by the fact that the Government are apparently contemplating—and, I think, rightly and properly—the necessity of considering what is to be done with regard to land drainage and river drainage generally throughout the whole country. That means this: If they are going to be consistent at all, as soon as the Royal Commission has reported, they are going to deal in some more or less analogous way with the whole country, and that is going to be an enormous expense. It may be a justifiable expense, but even when you get an expense which is justified, it is no use incurring it in such a way as to get yourselves into the Bankruptcy Court. It is a very serious question, really, for this House to consider whether they are going to pledge the country to this enormous outlay at the present time, or whether they are going to give the country a bit of a chance to recover and get into a sounder financial position before they embark upon this particular expenditure, however excellent it may be.

Let me take the question of the expenditure with regard to the Ouse drainage area alone. I have said—and I mean it most truly—that I think the Report of the Commission is a very excellent one, but even the members of the Commission themselves would admit that they may be wrong. These enormous and expensive works on the Wash and at the mouth of the river are matters upon which engineers differ, and differ honestly. The fact that there is a difference between great authorities is not a reason why you should not go on with the work, but it is a reason for waiting until you are quite sure that if the scheme does not turn out successfully you will be in a position to provide the further money that is necessary to prevent what you have already expended from being lost. On the face of it, unless there is some particularly good reason to the contrary—and with that I will deal in a moment—I think I may put it as high as this: the only sane thing to do, when you have got this Ouse question before you and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the position of the whole country, is to wait until you get the Report of that Royal Commission and deal with the country as a whole. Let me point out, that if you do not do that, you are bound to land yourselves into trouble in the end, because it may be taken as a certainty that whatever may be the Report of the Royal Commission, and even if they take the Ouse drainage scheme embodied in this Bill as a kind of precedent and attempt to follow it as closely as they can, it is perfectly certain they cannot fit this scheme in as it stands to any scheme which will cover the whole country. That means, therefore, that you are going to have uncertainty as to what will happen when you get the rest of the country dealt with. You are going to have a necessary change in the whole financial plan as soon as you proceed to deal with the rest of the country, and, in the meantime, everybody is thinking he is going to be better off some day and wishing you will wait until you get the whole scheme ready.

Let me examine the reasons which the Government gave for setting up this Royal Commission to inquire into the position throughout the whole country and proceeding at the same time with the particular detailed scheme for practically the biggest river area in the country, with the exception of the Thames. First of all, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture bases it upon the very serious warning, I think he called it, which is contained in this Report. It is perfectly true that this Report does use very serious words, and the danger is of a nature which everybody who knows anything about the Ouse Valley has known for a great many years. But if you read this Report with care, you will see that in not a single one of the many passages which refer to this danger do the Commission say that it is an immediate danger, or a danger which has got to be dealt with at once.


Imminent danger.


The word "imminent" is used, I agree once. That, I think, is in paragraph 129.


No, it is at the beginning.


No, they do not repeat it afterwards. It is in the earlier part of it—first of all in paragraph 5: any breach of the banks of these channels must result in a widespread inundation of the lower lands.… Menaced on the one hand by the sea, and on the other by the ever-present danger of floods from the higher lands above, this large district is obviously"— We get into rather high-flown language, and I am consequently a little inclined to mistrust some of the words in that passage: exposed to unusual risks of inundation which long-continued neglect has now made imminent. That is not, on the whole, a bad text for what I was going to say about the immediateness or the urgency of this particular Bill. As I have already said, I was born and brought up on the banks of the River Ouse, and I have worked and played on the fen-lands and on the heavier lands on the borders of the Fens. I have been there in floodtime. I have seen serious breaks, and I know the danger well. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells), and another hon. Member, said that the condition was less dangerous now than it was in the year 1919. It was far less dangerous in the year 1919 than it was in the year 1910. It was far less dangerous in the year 1910 than it was away back in the years from 1880 to 1890. Those were the days when there was real danger. Those were the days when there were constant small floods. But what happened? The patching-up of the banks prevented a greater disaster, and, with all respect to great engineers, I believe it to be the case—and, indeed, I doubt whether they would deny it—that there is no real serious risk of any flood of any magnitude which would destroy any of this valuable land within the next five or 10 years. For the banks and dykes—a dyke, as Members know, means a bank—can be carefully watched, and kept up and patched up. That is a matter which can be dealt with perfectly simply and easily at no very great expense. But the Minister says that it is urgent, because if you wait until the end of the year without getting this Bill through, the suspensory order dealing with the present deadlock comes to an end. I think he used the words in his opening speech that the people concerned in those parts would be shouldering the entire burden and refusing the Government grant which is now offered to them. You can put it in that way from a rhetorical point of view; but surely the Minister does not suggest that it is past the wit of himself or the Government to devise some other means of continuing that suspensory order and some method of doing what is necessary for this mere matter of bank-watching and patching in order to let this enormous and expensive scheme wait over until you deal with the country as a whole.

I venture to suggest very strongly, not only to Members interested in that particular district, but Members in all parts of the House who are interested in the financial condition of the country at the present time, that they support us in our endeavour to get this huge scheme postponed, and some satisfactory solution of the danger as far as it is immediate provided in the meantime, until we can get a scheme for the whole country which will prevent these inequalities and unfairnesses to which my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Sir R. Neville) has referred, and which will enable Parliament and the country to judge what is the way in which this question can be fairly dealt with. More important still, perhaps, is the question as to how far or how much of it it is absolutely necessary to deal with at once, and how much of it can be put off until such time as this extra burden on the country's finances will not be calculated to hinder and prevent that restoration of prosperity for which it is the business of all of us to work.


I rise with some considerable feeling of nervousness and fear because I, unlike the other Members who have spoken, am one of those unfortunate people who happen to be a landowner in the district. I say "unfortunately," but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) has made me feel that I am likely to be rather a grasping individual, because he says I am going, as the owner of land, to receive a subsidy which I do not deserve. I had no knowledge until I came into this House tonight that I was going to be particularly enriched by this Bill. The only thing I can say is that as I have some financial interest in the Bill, I do not propose to vote on the Bill in the division lobby. The land is in the middle level area, the area coloured green on the map. That area is the lowest area in the Fen Valley, and it is an area which it is supposed will be benefited by the subsidy or under the provisions of this Bill. It may have occurred to many Members of the House that it was a rather astonishing thing that the middle level Commissioners for whom I speak, and of whom I am one and whose area is to be benefited, should have objected to the Bill. I want to assure the Minister and the House that we do not disagree with the principle of the Bill. I, and I think they, accept the principles of the Bill. The only thing to which we can object are some of the Clauses. We recognise we are going to be bettered and that the State is going to help us. It would not be right or just that we should look a gift horse in the mouth, but this gift horse we are going to receive may cost more to feed than the value of the work it does if, having received it, we cannot get rid of it at any time.

This Bill has been made necessary because of the Order of 1926 setting up the Ouse Drainage Board. I think many of us would like to go back to the period before 1926. When the Board was set up in 1920 it took over certain obligations with regard to the repairing of banks and ditches carried out by other bodies. Those bodies are now dissolved, and so the present Ouse Board cannot be dissolved unless it be replaced by some other Board. This Bill does place a. new Board in the place of the old Ouse Board. We in the lowland area are accustomed to efficient drainage, and we did have, and have, a considerable feeling of dissatisfaction against the old Ouse Drainage Board with regard to its extravagance and not very efficient work, and we want, as soon as possible, the old Board replaced by the new. I have listened to-night to many of the objections against the Bill and nearly all of them are entirely financial. They come, in the first place, from Members representing the upland areas. What these Members say is this: "We have always had from time immemorial the right to send our water down. It is immaterial what happens to it when it comes through the Fen lands." There is some reason in that argument, but, as the Minister says, and as I say, there is reason in their argument as long as the water from the upland area comes naturally down. When they have artificial means to accelerate the rate of water down these rivers, then I think it is only fair, equitable and just that they should provide something because of the waters above which they so rapidly send down to us. We are able to keep up with the natural course of water coming down in the natural manner but not when it is accelerated. There is another point. The great part of the Bill is to cleanse out the mouth of the Ouse, which is rapidly silting-up. The reason of this silting-up is to a great extent due to the enormous quantity of weeds brought down. These weeds settle down in the Wash and assemble. They are upland, weeds brought down to the mouth of the Wash, and I think we are justified in saying that these upland owners and occupiers of land should pay something for removing their debris from the mouth of the Wash.


This Bill does not recognise that. It is only the waterworks areas which ought to pay, not the ordinary areas.


In answer to that, I would suggest that the acceleration of water is due not only to urban areas and waterworks, but to agricultural operations, including drainage and doing up ditches. It was only last year that we passed through the House a Drainage Bill the object of which was to facilitate drainage in certain areas, and in that Bill you can yourselves constitute the county council as a drainage board, and send that water down, accelerate the amount of water and increase the quantity with which we have to deal in the lower area. I think the second objection by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—and it is an objection held by many financial men in the House—is a purely financial one, as to whether the State should contribute. I want, on behalf of the lowland area, and I do so very sincerely, to thank the Minister and the Government for that contribution. I want to say to the economists that we have some justification for assistance. To the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) and other Members I would say that if we had a country mostly under sea level like Holland, would it be the duty of the Government to assist the country if the country were in danger of being flooded? The reply would be, "Undoubtedly." If I said to these economists, "Half of your country is in fear of inundation; will you not help?" they would say, "We will help." Now one half of a county is in fear of flood. Will or will you not make me a similar reply?

There is a precedent for such assistance. The Minister referred to the fact that the Fen drainage had started in Henry VIII's time and continued through Queen Elizabeth's time, but the State undertook the drainage of the Fens in the Roman times. The Romans were at that time the State. There are, in the Fen country, banks 150 miles long which were constructed by the Romans. There is a dyke surrounding the Fen country which was also constructed by the Romans, and I do think the assistance by the State for which we are asking is justified in this case. Hon. Members have heard objections from the other side of the House as to why they should not pay. We all agree that something should be done. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) and the Noble Lord, the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Fermoy), and I went out at low tide, about three weeks ago, on the third largest river in the country, and we grounded although drawing only two and a-half feet of water. This third largest river in England has not more than two feet of water at its mouth in the Wash, and, from that, I think everybody will come to the conclusion that something should be done. We are not agreed as to whether there is an immediate and urgent necessity, but we are all agreed that, if something is done, the other fellow should foot the bill. In the lowlands, we do not want to pay that bill any more than the uplands, but, in the lowland country, we do recognise that this Bill is going through and that we shall have to pay something.

On behalf of the lowlanders, I am going to make an appeal to the Minister, on Section 3, Sub-section (4), which deals with rating. We, in the lowlands, are prepared to pay something, but we do not want to have an unlimited liability hanging over our heads under this Bill. At present the lowlanders, particularly in the middle level, pay 4s. 6d. to the middle level Commissioners. They pay an internal rate, for actually lifting the water by power, from 3s. to 10s. All together we may be paying from 10s. to 15s. an acre in drainage rates. We are an arable country, and the Minister does not want me to remind him that there is, and has been, considerable distress in arable agriculture. We do not want to be burdened still further with an unlimited liability. I am going to ask him if it is not possible, during the Committee stage, to limit the liability of the lowland country. I suggest to him the figure that is in the Report of the Commission—the figure of a total charge on the lowland country not exceeding 2s. 6d. an acre. We are in favour of a tax on an agreed basis, in preference to a tax on assessment. As the Minister knows, the middle level has to protect itself from the flood waters coming down, both in the Ouse and the Nene. We have, in the middle level, two banks to maintain—the North barrier bank on the Ouse, and the South barrier bank on the Nene. Under this Bill, the North barrier bank on the Ouse is going to be taken over by the Ouse Board. The existence of that bank is vital to the middle level area, and I am going to ask the Minister to allow the middle level still to have the control and the repair of that bank which is so vital to their interest, the cost of which might be recovered by the middle level and should be recovered from the Ouse Drainage Board. There are many other points on the various Clauses of the Bill, but, as the Minister has undertaken that there will be a Committee stage in this House, it is not necessary for me to refer to them further. I make this final appeal to him, on behalf of the lowland country, to treat us, with regard to the financial provisions, as lightly as he possibly can.


Although the last part of the Debate dealt with the details of this Bill, I must remind the House that the issue before it, on the, Amendment, is whether or not we should make public ownership a condition of any assistance to drainage schemes from public funds. I hope my hon. Friends behind me, who have expressed their intention of voting against this Bill, will study the terms of the Amendment which has been moved and consider whether they can possibly commit themselves to the opinion which it contains. Before I come to details of criticism from those who represent the Ouse district, I had better say a word about the political argument which was originally advanced from the opposite side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk Northern (Mr. Buxton), who was Minister of Agriculture in the last Government, explained his action in offering a grant to the Ouse area without any nationalisation on two grounds. His first ground was that the grant was not so much in proportion as our grant, and that it was only one-third as a free gift and two-thirds as a loan. I have consulted my financial advisers, and am told that the £1,000,000 lent on the terms then proposed was exactly the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds down, and that, therefore, the Labour Government's proposal was exactly equivalent in its proportions to the proposal that we make to-day. My right hon. Friend suggested that they were justified in making this concession to the Ouse area because they felt that the matter was urgent. They knew they could not get nationalisation, and they had to do something. They must surely know that nationalisation is much more impossible to-day than it was then, and the ground of urgency is greater than it was then. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman felt that it was not right to wait in 1924, he must be convinced that there is an urgent case for action at the present time.

The area, without public assistance, cannot possibly bear the burden of the works which are held to be necessary. The Commission give figures on page 35 of what the burden would work out at, if no State aid is to be given. You find figures which show that agriculture, under those conditions, would become absolutely impossible. The Thetford district would have to find 26s. 2d. an acre. In the Conington drainage district it would be 27s. 7d. an acre. In the Woodwalton district it would be 27s. 11d. an acre, and in two more districts 29s. 7d. an acre. The Commission report that they could not contemplate imposing on this heavily rated area a charge in respect of the tidal river and works equivalent to a rate of 6s. 10d., and, unless some substantial assistance is forthcoming from other sources, the extensive works which are necessary could not be undertaken. This Government assistance is the only way of enabling these precautions against flooding to be taken, and, by that Government assistance, the burden thrown on the ratepayer for this new scheme is reduced from 6s. 10d. an acre to 2s. 6d.

8.0 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why it was that we propose to set up the South Level Board, and why we did not let the new Ouse Board take over responsibility for the internal arrangements of the South Level. We have consulted the general opinion of the district, and we have taken the opinion of the Commission that it is convenient to limit the responsibility of the new Ouse Board to the main channel. The drainage of the Cam, the little Ouse, and the Lark are small and local concerns. There is no reason why and no suggestion that the uplanders should ask the Government to contribute to these purposes, and it is therefore administratively better that a separate body and separate accounts should be charged with that local undertaking. Several Members asked why there was not more representation to some of the upland areas. If we gave representation to everybody, it would make the board of undue size. The present board numbers 42, and the House will remember, if they have read the Report of the Commission, that the proceedings were found to be cumbersome, and a great deal of trouble resulted. An even stronger reason is that the uplanders are really not concerned as to how their contributions are spent. Some of the upland witnesses said they did not mind in the least what happened, and, as they are not being rated because of any alleged benefit, but merely to compensate the lowlands for a charge which the upland water imposes upon them, they are not concerned in any way how the lowlands choose to spend this money which is available to defend themselves against the danger of flooding. As the danger is in the lowlands, it is for the lowlands to make their own provision against that danger; and the claim against the uplands is dealt with by the upland contribution, and does not in any way necessitate the uplands being represented. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Dean), and, I think, other hon. Members, raised the question of the incidence of the county charges, and I think all the hon. Members for Norfolk who spoke took up practically that same point. That is, I admit, a matter which has excited a good deal of controversy and on which there is a good deal to be said on both sides, but I would suggest that it really is the matter for the Select Committee rather than for this House. I would say the same about the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member from the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) about the penalty Clause for the collection of rates. I know there is a good deal of support for that suggestion. It has been pressed upon me by a deputation from his area. There, again, I think it is essentially a matter which is suitable for the Select Committee and it would be impossible, and, indeed, improper, for any speaker on behalf of the Government to prejudge action on a subject of that kind.

The main argument of my hon. Friend and those who followed him was that we ought to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission. I think that he forgets that this Royal Commission has been set up with a definite term of reference to consider drainage law and administration, and not to consider drainage works. That Commission is not the kind of body that can usefully go into the details of this engineering problem. I do not think there is any ground whatever to ask that body to retry the issue which was so thoroughly explored by the special expert Committee.


Would it not be possible to defer that part of the Bill?


I do not think so, because the part of the Bill which deals with the works is the part of the Bill which imposes the necessity for expenditure, and you clearly cannot expect the public to put down a large sum of money blindly not knowing when in future the locality will be induced to shoulder its share of the burden. They certainly have had very little encouragement from the locality to think that any proposal would be possible in the earlier years if it means that they are to contribute. It would be impossible for any Government to bring forward a scheme of legislation which gave money to the Ouse district to spend on these urgently required works and to leave over until some indefinite period the question of what contribution, if any, the area itself should make.

The point which I was making on this Royal Commission is that we cannot possibly expect a detailed report from them of the character necessary for this kind of very technical Bill to deal with the Ouse area, seeing that they have got to deal with the great problem of the country as a whole. If we were to put upon them this additional question, it would be out of the question for them to report in time for legislation in this Parliament. If we reject the case for urgency, if we say that we can wait, that the Ouse is to be considered with the rest of the country, that it is indistinguishable from the rest of the country, that is an argument we have heard not only from the Lowlands but from all the speakers, and if that is accepted then the whole case for special treatment goes by the board. If the Lowlands are going to wait for this general system, they will get a general system, in all probability, without any Government grant. I can assure them that no Government ever could contemplate a grant as part of a general scheme for the whole country with anything like the same generosity that is now proposed for this area. There never was any contemplation on the part of the Government or the Treasury, when they set up this Royal Commission, of applying the generous treatment with which we have met the case for the Ouse, on the ground that that was an unique area offering unprecedented problems, to the country as a whole.

If the representatives of the Ouse area succeed in postponing this Bill, and get the Ouse treated as a part of the new system for the whole country, one thing is absolutely certain, and that is that they will succeed in imposing an enormously heavier burden upon those whom they represent. I hope they will notice, and I hope they will bring to the knowledge of those whom they represent, and who, I know, have been pressing them to oppose this Bill, the arguments of opponents like my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert), who says that 50 per cent. is much too much and that we ought to wait and not give this area anything like what we are giving. What is going to happen if my hon. Friend who represents the Lowlands succeeds in defeating this Bill? He will bring about a far worse impasse to his constituents than that in which they now find themselves. I think it was the hon. Member for Watford who suggested that we should extend the present Provisional Order. That in this Session would be absolutely impossible. There was a great deal of opposition to the exclusion of the 120,000 acres at the 1924 inquiry, and I believe that if we were to bring forward a Provisional Order Bill to-day—


It was a Suspensory Order


It was a Suspensory Order, and it has taken out the 120,000 acres. It was strongly resisted and if that system was to be continued, and if the lowlands were to have the prospect of having to bear the whale burden, I should be surprised if you did not find a great deal of opposition developing. But, apart from that, I do not think it is possible in this Session to comply with the necessary Standing Order procedure in such a way as to enable a Bill to be passed. The rejection of this Bill would therefore mean that Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk would find that those areas which, as a result of the strongest opposition, have got exemption, would come back into the rating not on the new and Treasury aided basis but on that in the 1920 Order. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. Wells) talks about the frying pan and the fire. I hope he will not jump from the one into the other because his area is affected to some extent. I can assure him that it is out of the question for us to find any Parliamentary methods of extending the Suspensory Order which comes to an end with this Bill.


Could not the Suspensory Order be extended?


It is the Suspensory Order passed in 1925. I am not dealing with the merits of the Act of 1920. Whatever those merits be, the Suspensory Order still lapses if this Bill is rejected. I am not setting myself up against the opinion of hon. Members behind me, who may have a much greater knowledge of the area than I claim to possess, and who say that in their opinion there is no danger. I do not give my opinion, but I am advised by engineers and by the opinion of the expert Committee and we do consider it imperative—I do not say that this Bill should be dealt with this month or this year—that this issue should be settled in this Parliament. If we were to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission I say quite definitely that it would be absolutely impassible that this question could be settled in this Parliament. That means that the danger would necessarily go on for an indefinite period. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends behind me will not attach excessive importance to the small details which naturally cause a great deal of anxiety among their constituents, but that they will now give me a Second Reading of this Bill as the only settlement which anybody has been able to bring forward for a problem where expert opinion has given us very strong assurances that further delay would be dangerous.


There is just one point upon which the right hon. Gentleman has not touched and upon which I would like information. Can he see his way to give favourable consideration to the proposal for the collection of the 2d. rate on the uplands on a parochial acreage basis, instead of on the basis of assessable value for county rate purposes?


I have no views on that matter at all. Quite frankly, we have not attempted to depart from the recommendations of the Commission, except in those cases where we could do so with general agreement. Certain deputations have said, since the Commission reported, that they have come together and have agreed to make small modifications. They do not amount to much. We have made those modifications. Otherwise, where there was any dispute, we have left the details of the Bill as recommended by the Commission. The Select Committee will undoubtedly hear arguments as to whether that 2d. rate should definitely be a charge on the area, or whether the discretion should be left, as suggested by the Commission, to the county council to charge on the acre or the whole area. Personally, I have no strong views either way about it, and I think it is essentially a matter upon which the Select Committee ought to come to a decision, after having heard evidence.


I only want to say a few words about the possible effect of Clause 4 on my particular constituency. The situation of that constituency is such that it affords a particularly outstanding example of the possible far-reaching con sequences of this Clause. Like the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert), I was brought up on the banks of this river, and I have been familiar with it throughout the whole of its lower course from my childhood's days. But it is not for that reason that I am opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. Under this Bill a proportion of the uplands of the watershed of the Ouse are liable to a rate of 2d. an acre as a contribution in respect of the works to be carried out under this Bill. That rate is made at the discretion of the county council, being charged upon the particular area within the watershed or spread over the whole of the county. My constituency lies in a long corridor along the banks of the lower Thames, and if the county council decides to spread this rate through the whole county the effect will be that the long corridor along the lower Thames, not having the least connection with the Ouse or its drainage works, will contribute to the works and the drainage scheme relating to an entirely different river. We occupy a position in which, one day or other, we shall have a drainage scheme of our own. To incorporate in one scheme a principle of this far-reaching nature, that those who have a low-lying position on the banks of one river should contribute to the drainage scheme of another, is to go further than any legislature has ever attempted to go.

One of the demands made upon my right hon. Friend is that this Bill should be postponed until the Royal Commission has reported. His answer to that was that the Royal Commission was not concerned with works, but was concerned with drainage law. Surely, there cannot be a greater or more important principle in drainage law than the principle which is incorporated in Clause 4, which makes the owners of land in one watershed pay for the drainage scheme in another. That principle ought not to be embodied in a Bill of this description. It ought not to be embodied in a Bill for one particular watershed. If there is any justification for that principle ever to be embodied in a Bill, it should only he as a national principle, adopted throughout the whole country, on the simple principle of mutual benefits, whereby certain areas which derive no benefit contribute to something for those who do derive benefit because, in return, the areas which derive the benefit contribute to something under which the area first referred to derives benefit. The particular principle embodied in this Bill is so far-reaching and of so novel and startling a nature that it ought not to be incorporated in a Bill of this description. For that reason, I intend to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes. 143; Noes, 85.

Division No. 183.] AYES. [8. 20p. m.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Clarry, Reginald George Falle, Sir Bertram G.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Clayton, G. C. Fielden, E. B.
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Cobb, Sir Cyril Ford, Sir P. J.
Ashley, Lt. -Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Forestier-Walker, Sir L.
Atholl, Duchess of Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Foster, Sir Harry S.
Atkinson, C. Cope, Major William Galbraith, J. F. W.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Couper, J. B. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John
Barnett, Major Sir Richard Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Glyn, Major R. G. C.
Betterton, Henry B. Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) Gower, Sir Robert
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Grace, John
Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton) Curzon, Captain Viscount Grotrian, H. Brent
Blundell, F. N. Davidson, Major-General Sir John H. Guinness. Rt. Hon. Walter E.
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Gunston, Captain D. W.
Brassey, Sir Leonard Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Hall, Capt. W. D' A. (Brecon & Rad.)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Davies, Dr. Vernon Hammersley, S. S.
Briscoe, Richard George Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hanbury, C.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Dawson, Sir Philip Harland, A.
Buchan, John Dean, Arthur Wellesley Harrison, G. J. C.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Dixey, A. C. Hartington, Marquess of
Burman, J. B. Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Hawke, John Anthony
Campbell, E. T. Elliot, Major Walter E. Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth.S.) Ellis, R. G. Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle)
Chapman, Sir S. Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Nelson, Sir Frank Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Hills, Major John Waller Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Hilton, Cecil Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Sprot, Sir Alexander
Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Oakley, T. Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.
Hopkins, J. W. W. O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Hurst, Gerald B. Oman, Sir Charles William C. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Jephcott, A. R. Perkins, Colonel E. K. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Perring, Sir William George Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
King, Commodore Henry Douglas Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Tinne, J. A.
Lamb, J. Q. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Pownall, Sir Assheton Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Loder, J. de V. Price, Major C. W. M. Watts, Dr. T.
Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Radford, E A. Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. K.
Macintyre, Ian Raine, Sir Walter Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Rawson, Sir Cooper Williams, Herbert G.(Reading)
Mc Neill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y,Ch'ts'y) Withers, John James
Macquisten, F. A. Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint) Womersley, W. J.
Malone, Major P. B. Rye, F. G. Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)
Margesson, Captain D. Salmon, Major I. Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Merriman, F. B. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L
Meyer, Sir Frank Sandeman, N. Stewart
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W) Major Sir Harry Barnston and Mr.
Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Sheffield, Sir Berkeley Penny.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hirst, G. H. Salter, Dr. Alfred
Alexander. A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro) Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Ammon, Charles George Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Baker, Walter Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Barnes, A. Kelly, W. T. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Batey, Joseph Kennedy, T. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Broad, F. A. Kindersley, Major G. M. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Buchanan, G. Kirkwood, D. Snell, Harry
Burton, Colonel H. W. Lansbury, George Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Lee, F. Stephen, Campbell
Charleton, H. C. Looker, Herbert William Stewart, J. (St Rollox)
Christie, J. A. Lowth, T. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Cluse, W. S. Lunn, William Sutton, J. E.
Connolly, M. McLean, Major A. Thorne, W. (West Ham Plaistow)
Dalton, Hugh Maxton, James Thurtle, Ernest
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Tinker, John Joseph
Duncan, C. Morris, R. H. Wallhead, Richard C.
Dunnico, H. Mosley, Oswald Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Gardner, J. P. Murchison, Sir Kenneth Wellock, Wilfred
Gillett, George M. Naylor, T. E. Wells, S. R.
Greenall, T. Neville, Sir Reginald J. Wilson, R. J.(Jarrow)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld) Windsor, Walter
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Palin, John Henry Wise, Sir Fredric
Grundy, T. W. Potts, John S.
Hardie, George D. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Rice, Sir Frederick Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Hayes, John Henry Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Whiteley.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A.(Burnley) Ritson, J.

I have now to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

I must point out that those are not the words on the Order Paper.


I beg to move, That it is expedient that the Ouse Drainage Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.


I want to ask one question. None of us desire, of course, to oppose this proposal, but the Minister of Agriculture, in his reply, spoke about the necessity of getting this Bill through this Parliament. It would relieve some of us if we were to be informed that the Government did not regard it as absolutely necessary to get it through this Session. It wants a great deal of consideration, and we are rather under the impression that, if it is to be reported on by a Select Committee, then that is usually the foundation for a new Bill, in more or less an agreed form, to be introduced in a subsequent Session.


My hon. Friend does not, apparently, understand the procedure when a hybrid Bill of this kind, in order to avoid unnecessary expenditure on the part of the promoters and opponents, is committed to a Committee of both Houses. This is the course we are pursuing in this case, with every intention of getting the Bill, not before the Summer Adjournment, but before the end of the current Session.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the proceedings before the Joint Committee will be available for Members of the House?


I will consider that matter.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division:

Mr. Deputy-Speaker stated that he thought the Ayes had it; and, on his decision being challenged, it appeared to him that the Division was unnecessarily claimed, and, accordingly, he called upon the Members who supported and who challenged his decision, successively, to rise in their places; and he declared the Ayes had it, five Members only who challenged his derision having stood up.

Resolved, That it is expedient that the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.