§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The dull title of this Bill scarcely does justice to its contents, because although it is necessarily full of details the Bill, in so far as its provisions are new, embraces a very comprehensive and important new principle. On that account it is a Measure of very great importance, and I think it may become, if we use it energetically, an instrument for securing a great national improvement and for providing much employment. I can truly claim that it is a non-party contribution to this subject, because it is founded mainly upon the recommendations of a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Bledisloe upon which men of all parties were represented. In order that hon. Members may understand the scheme and the general purport of the Bill, I must ask the House to survey the past history of this subject. It is a very ancient story. The Bill simplifies, repeals or otherwise deals with Acts of Parliament 300 years old which are still operating. The drainage law of this country seems mainly to be founded upon an Act of Henry VI, passed in the year 1427. There is no subject on which public opinion seems to have moved more slowly than the law of land drainage. This is still dominated by a very ancient Statute From time to time, during the last 300 years there has been a succession of drainage Bills establishing commissioners of sewers, special boards and elected boards, and the last Act, passed in 1926, conferred various powers upon county councils, and I have not yet found any disagreement with this comment of the Royal Commission in reviewing these 370 different drainage authorities:The administration of arterial drainage is conducted by a confused tangle of Authorities, established by the piecemeal legislation of 500 years, and exercising a great variety of powers and functions.That is a true description; but at the same time, in cancelling so many old 994 Statutes, we ought not to fail to recognise the invaluable work which many of these drainage boards have done.
Some time ago I was visiting Lincolnshire and was in the neighbourhood of the Wash. One of those who were accompanying me asked me whether I knew where we were, and it turned out that we were standing just outside a little village which was the place where King John lost his baggage, though the spot is now miles and miles from the sea. As you lock seawards you see a grassy bank running along. That bank was built and the land behind it was reclaimed from the sea. A large area of rich land has been reclaimed from the sea at one time or another by the engineers employed by different drainage authorities. Although many of them are decadent, some of them are still active. This particular case illustrates very well the need for this Bill, although there are many other illustrations which could be given. In that particular district water is taken away by the River Ouse, which in some places runs in its channel several feet above the surrounding plain. Gradually, in the course of time, the river has become silted up and, as the sea is retreating in that, district, unless the river is deepened and the water carried out into the Wash sooner or later a catastrophe must occur. It nearly occurred two or three years ago. The river channel, having become silted up, will be unable to carry away the winter rains draining from a large district, and the water will go over the top of the river bank and flood one of the richest districts in this country.
This Bill is not concerned simply with putting drain pines into fields; it is concerned with big problems of that kind. None of these drainage authorities can undertake a work of that magnitude. In the first place, the obstruction may not occur in their area; and in the next place they have not the financial resources. It is a costly business. As regards carrying a channel into the sea, it is nobody's business at the present time; it is not adjacent to any drainage authority; nobody has any power in the matter. The Royal Commission recognised that fact and made its recommendations accordingly.
There is one other set of considerations we ought to bear in mind. At the 995 present time our drainage law is dominated by a provision inserted in the Bill of Sewers of King Henry VIII, and I would like to read its quaint language to the House, because a great deal has depended on it:Who hath or holdeth any lands or tenements or common of pasture or profit of fishing or hath or may have any hurt, loss or disadvantage …. in the same places as well near to the said dangers lets and impediments, as inhabiting or dwelling thereabouts, by the said walls, ditches, banks, gutters, gates, sewers, trenches, and other the said impediments and annoyances: and all those persons and everyone of them, to tax., assess, charge, distrain and punish …. after the rate of every person's portion, tenure or profit, or after the quantity of their common of pasture or profit of fishing or other commodities there.4.0 p.m.
These particular words in the Statute of 1531 have been the source of great profit to the law, and, in consequence of that, we have had dominating our drainage law for 300 years what seems to be, at first sight, a very fair principle, that is to say, you have not to contribute to the cost of the drainage unless you derive benefit from what is done, or escape damage after it has been done. That sounds quite fair in itself, but when you come to consider its application, you see how grossly inadequately it has worked out, because you will see that that means that the people in the immediate neighbourhood of the area likely to be flooded are those charged with the whole responsibility and cost of preventing the flooding. It takes no account of where the water comes from, and there is no power whatever to remove the cause of the trouble.
The House will remember that a few weeks ago we were questioned about the troubles which arose at Winchelsea. That illustrates the weakness of this principle of Henry VIII. He was a very dominating monarch in many ways. It was his domination of the law of drainage which led to the trouble in Winchelsea the other day. There was a breach, and it, was owing to the fact that there was no authority competent to deal with the whole trouble that at last, owing to an emergency grant which the Ministry gave, and owing to the energetic efforts of the inhabitants, they managed more or less to stop up the gap. Apropos of this case at Winchelsea, one of our officers 996 yesterday brought to me a quaint illustration of one of the old laws on drainage in a case of this kind. It was a drastic proposal. It was this:Such as have walls or banks near unto the sea and do suffer the same to decay whereby the water entereth and drowneth up the country, shall be apprehended, condemned and staked in the breach where they shall remain for ever a parcel of the wall.That was a drastic and terrible law, and it is as well that it did not apply at Winchelsea a few weeks ago. [Interruption.] I am afraid that no engineer would have accepted that material as sound concrete. There is another illustration I will give the House which occurred last autumn in the Somersetshire area. Owing to the giving way of the banks of the River Tone, a branch of the Parrett, there was a complete inundation over a wide stretch of country, and I think 200 people were rendered homeless. In the emergency, there was a conference of the local authorities to see if anything could be done, but, the estimated cost of repairing the damage, of deepening the channel a long distance away from this particular place, was prohibitive, and the position is that until this Bill is upon the Statute Book, there will be no authority in that district capable of dealing with an emergency of that kind. It is quite evident that unless we have an authority capable of removing the obstruction and of keeping the channels clear throughout their length, this kind of disaster will not be prevented. Some time ago I paid a visit to Wellingborough, and there on the River Nene was an illustration of what was required. A certain authority had cleared the river, but it simply meant that the people a little lower down were worse off than they were before. What was required, of course, was the clearance of the whole stream.
It was estimated by the Royal Commission that we have in this country now 1,250,000 acres of some of the most fertile land in the country liable to that kind of inundation, and it was largely to avoid this kind of thing that these recommendations were framed. In the Preamble of the Act of 1531 the advisers of Henry VIII recited the reasons for that Act, which went to show that all the various Acts which had preceded it were insufficient. If it were not so long I would like to read to the House the choice language, 997 which we have not the pluck to use in these days, which formed the Preamble of this Act of Henry VIII. When we come to consider what authority we ought to set up to deal with this class of case, we must consider, as I said a few minutes ago, where the water comes from. In the case of the Ouse, the land over which there might be inundation is 470,000 acres, but it comes from 2,000,000 acres of land. In the case of the Thames it is even worse. There are now 250,000 acres of land liable to inundation, but it comes from 2,500,000 acres, the watershed of the Thames right up to the Cots-wolds. Even 50 years ago there was a Select Committee of the House of Lords which went into this question, and their recommendation is appropriate to-day. It shows how slowly we move in these matters. It is 53 years since the Select Committee of the House of Lords found thatif the channels and outfalls of rivers were properly cared for, any water flowing into those rivers from their respective catchment areas might reasonably be expected to be discharged by them in sufficient time to render unlikely any serious damage to agricultural lands by floods.In other words, they found that the responsibility should attach to the whole territory from which the water drains. But something significant has happened since 1877. We have had the great urban developments all over the country. For example, in the watershed of the Trent river, known in this Bill as the catchment area, there are 13 county boroughs. We can imagine what that means. Each of these county boroughs somewhere or other has a reservoir, or very likely two or three reservoirs. They draw water from distant places. Water also comes down from the roofs and the streets. It does not soak into the ground, and finally it finds its way to the sewers, down hill or somewhere or other into the river.
There is another contribution to which, apparently, I must plead guilty. There has been a great addition during the last 10 years to the number of baths provided in this country. I do not know, but hope that each one of those county boroughs in the watershed of the Trent has made its contribution. However, what that means is that these great cities have poured this additional water into 998 the main rivers, and so added to the difficulties of the people lower down. It is quite clear that you cannot have any arbitrary system of responsibility in matters of this kind, and therefore the Royal Commission recommended, and this Bill provides, that we should take the whole catchment area of the river as the responsible area, and found on that an authority capable of dealing with the difficulty. That is what this Bill does. We set up in the Bill, in the first instance, the catchment areas. Members will find them in the Schedule. We provide in each area that there shall be a catchment area board composed practically as to two-thirds from the county councils and county borough councils in the area, and the other third mainly from any drainage authorities in the district, and they have complete authority and responsibility for the whole district to draw up a scheme for dealing with it, and finally for dealing with it.
There is one other thing we have been able to do, I am glad to say, quite recently, owing to this scheme, and that is to bring in at last some hope that we shall get together a, body which will be competent to deal with river pollution. I remember some time ago being shown a ghastly photograph of tens of thousands of fish dead in a river which had been poisoned, and one knows that along the different rivers they are a good many sanitary authorities and various works pouring effluent of various kinds into the streams and killing the fish. It is a very difficult matter to prevent pollution, but I am glad to say that by negotiation with the local authorities and with their friendly co-operation, we have got Clause 54 in this Bill which enables us to set up an authority competent to deal in the same way with matters of pollution throughout the whole length of the stream.
The cost of the works and the amount of employment they will give, or may give, will be the last matters which with I will deal. The revenues of the catchment area board, whether the Trent, the Ouse or whatever river it may be, will be derivable from two sources—rates and national contributions. In the case of rates, it is proposed that they shall precept upon the county councils and the 999 county borough councils within their area, and as an illustration of what might be obtained from some of these areas by making them so wide, I will give one figure. In the Trent catchment area a penny rate will produce £88,234 a year. That shows that by taking a large area you will obtain a large revenue competent to deal with that considerable undertaking: The other side of the story is that there are some areas where a penny rate produces, not £88,000, but, in the case of Romney Marsh, only £586. However, the catchment area board in the first instance will precept on the county councils and the county borough councils in its area for contributions.
We came across a difficulty, which was no doubt unthought of at the time, and was produced by the Local Government Act of 1929. That was rather a snag. We have had to spend a long time finding a way round it. As the House knows, in the Act of 1929 agricultural land is relieved of rates.—[Interruption.] I am not complaining of that; I am stating the facts. But in these areas, of course, it is fair that on this scale of contributions, spread over so vast an area, you should have power at least to call upon those who are in the immediate district to make some modest contribution. We must have some basis of charge. The drainage boards can levy a rate either upon the annual value or upon acreage. I daresay that in Committee we may have some discussion upon that point. However, that is their power at present, and it was not altered by the 1929 Act. It is provided that the catchment area board can levy its precept upon the internal drainage boards within its area on the basis which they themselves possess. They will have to collect their contribution either on the basis of annual value of agricultural land, or of acreage. The Bill does not in that way alter existing practice, but it does enable the catchment area board to get a fair contribution from the whole of the area.
There is another very important ingredient of help necessary, and that is Government help. We shall, no doubt, have a detailed discussion on that subject on Friday, when the matter is to come before this House. There will be a new Clause providing for the basis of the 1000 Government assistance. It was not incorporated in the Bill in the other House, and perhaps that fact gave rise to some of the difficulties there experienced. The Government recognise that it is quite hopeless to expect that these works will be undertaken unless Government assistance is provided. That is obvious. It is also obvious that some of the poorer areas, which may have to be saddled with the carrying out of a very costly scheme, will be less able to bear the burden than others. I think the House will be satisfied that we propose to deal with this side of the matter, and I shall not trouble the House with details now.
Could the right hon. Gentleman not give us in outline the financial proposals for help from the Exchequer which we shall have to discuss in greater detail later?
§ Dr. ADDISON
The matter is to be discussed on Friday. We thought it was so important that Members would wish to have a special discussion on it. What it comes to is that the Treasury will be authorised to make grants to enable the drainage schemes that are approved to be carried out, but the Clause does not lay down the standard, and the reason why we have not provided a, standard I shall be able to justify abundantly on Friday. We recognise that it has to be a generous and an adequate contribution, and that it would be very hard on some of the poorer areas if we were to put in a standard. A standard that would apply with justice to the Trent would be exceedingly unfair to Romney Marsh. That explains the elasticity of the Clause.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication of the limits? Is it to be up to 75 per cent.?
§ Dr. ADDISON
It may well be that cases will arise where it will have to come up to that. I shall not rule out any figure at the moment. We are anxious to get on with the work. Some of the authorities are very poor and some very wealthy, and we have to recognise that fact.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Does that mean that the grants will bear some relation to the poverty of the districts?
§ Dr. ADDISON
That is the idea. That is why there is not a standard figure in the Bill. The fact that a penny rate 1001 in one watershed, that of the Trent, produces £88,000, and in the Romney Marsh only £586, is justification for our way of dealing with the matter.
§ Dr. ADDISON
They are penny rates for the whole area of the county council and the county borough council levied on the existing rate system. The figures are the yield of a penny rate in the area. In addition to the points I have mentioned, there is a vast number of others which can fairly be said to be Committee points, and I do not propose to deal with them at all. My wish is to give the House a picture of the general scheme of the Bill. We deal with re-enactments, with the method of submitting schemes and of their confirmation, with the acquisition of land, betterment, contributions and other things of that sort. On the question of the acquisition of land, where the authorities undertake to carry out improvements, so far as I have any influence I shall see to it that they use their powers in such a way as to safeguard the public interests. We shall not allow these improved rivers, where we have to acquire the land, to be afflicted with bungaloid growths and chicken runs along their banks. We shall try to preserve them as they ought to be preserved.
The House will see that a Bill codifying and simplifying drainage laws of this very complicated character has thrown a vast amount of work on a large number of people for a long time. I would like to pay a tribute to the staff and to those who have been engaged in this work, and also to the local authorities and drainage boards with whom we have had to negotiate. There will be special cases, such as the Thames area, where it is clear that we shall have to make considerable adjustments.
For two further reasons I think the House will be willing to accept the Bill. First, it is exceedingly urgent, owing to the danger to which I have referred; and, next, it is extraordinarily appropriate just now, because it may become an instrument for the provision of a great volume of employment, and a very useful kind of employment. It is on that account that I shall ask the House to 1002 disagree with two of the very important Amendments inserted in another place. One of them transfers the incidence of the Bill to 1933, and the other limits the charge to a halfpenny rate. I think that another place put that Amendment in perhaps to draw our fire in respect of financial contributions. But it is quite evident that, if you are to use this Bill at all, you must use it now. You cannot talk about postponing it until 1933. It always takes time to get these elaborate schemes worked out, and some of us have had—the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for instance—a fair dose of experience as to how long it takes to get things started. Some of the engineering schemes, of which I have a schedule here, are of a vast and far-reaching character, and I am glad to say that in a preliminary way we have made some progress with the surveys of most of them. I see, for example, that the scheme which, it is said, would be required in the Ouse district, would provide 10 years of work for 1,600 men.
§ Dr. ADDISON
£4,000,000; that is the estimate here. It is of course, very provisional. The Thames watershed is of a larger character, and there is a vast number of others providing among them, in the aggregate, an enormous amount of employment. On that I would say, first, that I think we must make the Bill operate at the earliest possible moment. We must put every ounce of energy we have into it to expedite the works of improvement which it will render possible. I think I shall have the common agreement of the House in that statement. But at the same time, having had a fair dose of experience in this matter, I would not like to suggest that enterprises of this kind can be got going quickly. We all know the amount of work which is involved in drawing specifications, in inspections and surveys and all the rest of it, and, of course, in many of these cases it is of first-rate importance to the soundness of the schemes that they should be done very thoroughly. Therefore, it is not the kind of work which can be got going in five minutes or even rapidly. For all that we cannot proceed at all until we have got this Bill and the power to do so.
1003 Every one of us who love our country will agree that the rivers of our native land, while they are more modest in their extent than those of many other countries, are perhaps not surpassed in their beauty. The hillsides, the meadows and the homesteads of British rivers have been a picture unequalled in any other place, to many of us who have lived among them. Many of these rivers, as you travel along them, have landmarks which are of the history of our race. Hitherto we have neglected to make full use of them. We have in fact allowed some of them to become a menace instead of an assurance of safety. We have in other cases neglected them so in the rush of industry and modern life that we have turned many a pleasant and refreshing stream into little better than an open drain, poisonous to its inhabitants and repulsive to look upon. We may by this Bill fashion an instrument of restoration. I would appeal to the House to deal with it in that spirit, and not to allow the discussions to be clogged by the many parochial and minor considerations which necessarily suggest themselves. It is because of the wide intention of the general purpose of the Bill, and its urgency, that I commend it to the House.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
I had the privilege in 1927 of serving on the Royal Commission, upon whose recommendations this Bill is largely based. I welcome the Bill, and I cannot imagine that anyone who heard or has read the mass of evidence that was placed before the Royal Commission can fail to welcome a Bill of this kind. I am speaking of its principles, and not of every detail. For the same reason, I am glad that the Government have decided to bring the Bill into force at the earliest possible moment, because I believe the position in many parts of the country to be one of extreme urgency. The Minister of Agriculture, in his able and interesting speech, has given an outline of the position. Perhaps I may be allowed to add one or two points to the picture that he drew so well. He told us that there are one and a quarter million acres of land liable to flooding. There are one or two other figures even more impressive than that. Quite apart from the land capable of being reclaimed, I am not speaking of that at all, there are nearly four and a 1004 half million acres of land existing to-day as agricultural land, the continued fertility of which depends entirely upon the maintenance of arterial drainage. Of that total nearly one and a half million acres are outside the area of any existing drainage authority, and there is no one looking after their main drains or channels.
The situation in many of those areas has been very much complicated during recent years by two factors—one, the modern urban development, and the other the break-up of great estates. I heard of one very serious case only yesterday, where in the past the necessary works to maintain the main channel to the river were carried out by the estate staff of a great landowner. Force of circumstances compelled him or his successors in title to sell large parts of his former estate, and the individual farmers, who in many cases have bought the farms, have not the means or the men to maintain the expensive works that in days gone by were carried out by their landlord. In this particular case, and I have known of a number of others, these works have been neglected. The neglect by one riparian owner-occupier of his work has led to the flooding and depreciation, possibly even the destruction, not only of his own land but the land of other occupiers and owners on the lower level, who may have been perfectly willing and able to do their own share of the work, but any work that they do is rendered completely abortive by the fact of one man's failure, possibly through no fault of his own, to maintain the channel. In these cases, where the work has been done in the past by the estate staff of a great estate and the estate has been broken up, there is urgent need of a drainage authority where none exists to-day. I mention this case because it covers part of the urgency in regard to the one and a half million acres that I have mentioned. Including the great part of the one and a half million acres, there are one and three-quarter million acres-which, in the opinion of the Ministry's advisers, as reported to the Royal Commission, are in urgent need of drainage. That was nearly three years ago, and the urgency has not decreased in the meantime. No time must be wasted if some of that land is to be preserved as a means-of livelihood and production in the future.
1005 The state of chaos so far as drainage administration is concerned beggars description. It is absolutely beyond belief. There are a number of admirable drainage authorities who are doing their work magnificently. One authority that bears comparison with any is the authority of the Commissioners of the Romney Marshes. They have done their work admirably ever since the days of Henry II. There are the Thames Conservancy, and others. In quite a number of cases we find an excellent drainage authority doing its work well within its jurisdiction but finding that its work is rendered more or less futile and useless by the fact that there is no drainage authority immediately above or immediately below it, or that those drainage authorities that do exist there are not doing their work properly.
We must have co-ordination. I have mentioned a case where the negligence or the absence of a drainage authority renders abortive the expenditure of a good authority. We may have the opposite case, where the excessive energy of a keen drainage authority may do great harm to other areas. There are many districts in this country which, from one point of view, are in urgent need of drainage, but if you drain those areas, take a catchment area tributary to a river, like the Wey, and you drain it adequately, before you have prepared the main channels of the river to receive the great volume of water, you may do infinite harm down below, and the harm may be infinitely greater than the benefit that you give to the area drained. All these and many other reasons make it imperative that there should be a co-ordinating authority who will secure proper co-ordination and liaison between existing internal drainage authorities, which will bring their operations into unison, fill the gaps where gaps exist and prevent slackness on the one hand, or excessive zeal on the other.
There is another difficulty, to which the Minister has referred. The drainage authorities that have been set up are limited under the old law to the very narrow power of levying contributions for the work which they have to carry out. In the earliest days the power to levy contributions were limited to the occupiers of lands actually liable to flood- 1006 ing. Later legislation included a rather larger area of land, within three feet or five feet of the flooded land, and in some cases I think it went a little further, but in every case in past legislation there was a very limited area. It was limited under the old idea to the people occupying the hereditaments that received benefit and no consideration was given to the hereditament that had caused or increased the necessity for drainage works. The Royal Commission very quickly came to the conclusion that no amendment or alteration of the drainage laws and no attempt to tackle the problem would be effective unless there was an extension of the old interpretation of the word "benefit," which appears in the Bill of Sewers of 1531. I should like to draw attention to a paragraph in the Report of the Royal Commission dealing with this matter, because it sums up the position quite well. Paragraph 36 says:We do not suggest that the doctrine of benefit should be altogether abandoned, but we consider that its proper and fitting interpretation is somewhat wider than that hitherto placed upon it, and that the benefit of land drainage to any given area is not confined to the discharge of water beyond its own boundaries, but includes some responsibility for its passage to the sea.That was our recommendation. Let me give a very simple and homely illustration, which I think will bring home the justice of that recommendation to anyone who has doubts about it. The householder who wants to get rid of the waste from his scullery sink or the dirty water from his bath does not think it unreasonable that he is not allowed to throw it out of the window into his neighbour's garden, or even into the street. He does not think it unreasonable that as a ratepayer he has to make some contribution to the upkeep of the sewer which carries that water away. That is all that the Royal Commission and this Bill asks should be done in the case of land drainage. In the past there has merely been the responsibility on the authority of any area to get rid of their own water, and they have never bothered as to what would happen to that water afterwards. We say that each area in getting rid of its own water must take some responsibility for the channels that carry that water to the sea, and the Catchment Area Authority will distribute the responsibility among the various authori- 1007 ties, upland and lowland, urban and rural, that puts water into the channel under its control.
There is one more point that I want to emphasise in connection with the responsibility for water after it has passed through the area. Many people have said: "There is a natural prescriptive right to get rid of your water. Nature provides rivers, streams and so on, and nature provides the rain, and you are perfectly entitled to carry your surplus rain water and throw it out of your boundaries, without any responsibility for what happens below." That might have been all right if we had left our land in its original state. If you have two inches of heavy rain on 10,000 acres of undrained moorland, it takes quite a long time, because it is a very gradual process, for that rain to dribble off into the streams; it does not make a rush of water or a flood, but if you cover that 10,000 acres with buildings and waterproof streets, that same two inches of rain will rush off in a few minutes into channels which may have been adequate for the slow percolation of the moorland but were never intended by nature to carry the increasing flow from a modern sewage system or a modern drainage system.
Take the big inland towns, the great cities of the Midlands, everyone of them importing enormous water supplies, not obtained from the catchment areas in which they are situated but from the Welsh hills, or elsewhere. It is astonishing how small a part of an imported water supply is really used up in its passage through a town. Very nearly the whole of it passes out. Evaporation is comparatively small, and we have cases of cities throwing into a stream after use volumes of water five or six times as great as the natural rainfall of that district would put into that same stream. It is absurd to suggest that there should be no responsibility upon the urban authority importing that water from another catchment area for maintaining the channel that carries that water through neighbouring districts to the sea.
This practice of importing water supplies is not limited to our great cities. There are many of our larger country villages now which have water supplies. 1008 The village in which I live, which is not a very big one, imports its water supply from the Mother Valley and throws it into the Medway. I do not suppose the volume is sufficient to do much harm, but it is an instance of water imported from one catchment area and passed into another, and if any justification is wanted, that, I think, is the justification for extending the definition of benefit and asking those who use and discharge water to contribute as well as those who have to get rid of it.
There is one point that arises from this question of contribution which is of some importance. The Minister has said that a snag was found owing to the fact that the Local Government Act of 1929 was passed after the Royal Commission on Land Drainage had reported. The Royal Commission recommended quite definitely that the contributions to drainage expenses should be on the basis of annual value and not on acreage. That may at first sight, and to people who have not given consideration to the matter, appear unjust, because rainfall is based on acreage and not on annual value, but the damage which the discharged water does, and the amount of work required for arterial drainage in consequence, is enormously increased by the very works that increase the annual value.
The acre of moorland requires practically no work on the main channels of a river to carry off the water that percolates from it, but the acre of roads and houses requires a very much greater work, and the building up of the annual value which the urban construction constitutes is a very good measure of responsibility for the requirements of an arterial drainage system. We came to the conclusion that equity as well as administrative convenience favoured assessment on the basis of annual value rather than on acreage. Consequently, I regret that the Ministry have seen fit to put the alternative method in the Bill, and I hope that on the Committee stage they will accept an Amendment on the lines of the recommendation of the Royal Commission, leaving the basis of contribution on the lines of annual value only and not of acreage.
I want to refer to two or three of the principal fears which one has heard expressed in criticism of this Bill. One of them finds expression on the Order 1009 Paper in an Amendment in the names of several of my colleagues. I regret that they have put it down, and I hope they do not mean to press it, because I feel that, however great need there may be—and I think there is need—of precautions in the launching of great schemes of capital expenditure, I am certain that anything like a postponing of the setting up of the administrative machinery contemplated by this Bill would be a real disaster from which British agriculture might take many years of costly work to recover.
The first matter which has given rise to a great deal of fear is the very wide power proposed in the Bill to be handed to the Minister. I know that in another place appeal machinery has been put in which to some extent modifies that power, but I suggest that in their own interests and in order to reduce the volume of criticism of this Bill, and possible hostility to it, the Ministry will be well advised, while retaining their overriding power in the setting up of machinery and in insisting on the necessary works of maintenance of a drainage system, to accept a limitation of those powers to override a catchment area board where it involves the initiation of costly new capital works, because that is where the fear comes in. The people are saying: "The Minister is, of course, keen to tackle unemployment, and he does not mind what the ratepayers will have to pay." I am quoting; I am not imputing these ideas myself. It is said: "He does not care what extra charge is put on the ratepayers. He will have an £8,000,000 scheme in the Thames area, a £4,000,000 scheme in the Ouse area, and a £5,000,000 scheme in the Trent area, and we wretched ratepayers will not have any say in the matter." That is the kind of fear that has been expressed, and I believe it can easily be met if the Ministry, in Committee, will accept some Amendments modifying their powers so far as initiating capital schemes are concerned.
I was very pleased to hear that the Government recognise the necessity of making substantial contributions from the Exchequer towards many of these new works. The Royal Commission, in the three concluding paragraphs of their Report, laid stress, as far as we were able to do within our terms of reference, 1010 upon the importance of this point. We should like to have said more, but we could not do so without going far and away beyond our terms of reference. We drew attention to the financial stringency of the country at the present time, and the difficulties which there would be for some of the catchment areas to undertake and bear the burdens of these works, and I am glad to hear that a really substantial scale of contributions is contemplated. Another point which is very much criticised, although these are local matters more than anything else, is the schedule of catchment areas. Two or three of them are up in arms about it, and I am not at all certain that that is not a matter which might be reconsidered with great care before the Committee stage comes along.
Last, but not least, I should like to say a word about the urgent need which I think there is for securing the co-operation of and a complete liaison with the authorities governing other problems. The Royal Commission would like to have dealt with it, but we could not because it was excluded by our terms of reference, but you cannot deal with the main channel of a river without getting up against water supply, pollution, fisheries, bridges—a very important matter—navigation, coast erasion, and harbours. I am not at all certain whether, in the interests of smooth future working, the Government would not be very well advised to consider whether other matters besides pollution, with regard to which they have already given powers, might not be included within the functions of the catchment area authorities proposed to be set up under this Bill. A multiplicity of authorities, and consequently of officials, carrying out different functions in the same area, over the same property, only tends to confusion, and I would urge His Majesty's Government to consider very carefully whether they have made adequate provision to secure that there is no conflict of opinion between the different authorities having a variety of control over the channels of some of our great rivers. I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading without any difficulty, leaving the minor points for consideration in Committee.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I quite appreciate the difficulties in speaking on this Bill, of one who has very little tech- 1011 nical knowledge of the problem, but there is an aspect of the Bill on which I may be permitted to make a contribution to the debate. Arterial drainage is not merely a matter of interest to the individual or to the locality. It is a question of urgent national importance at the present moment, and it is not merely even an economic problem. The Measure to which we are asked to give a Second Reading is therefore one which is desired in the interests of the community at large. There is another point of view which is of interest to a member of the legal profession, and that is the attempt which has been made to consolidate the law dealing with land drainage. Whether one is engaged in the administration of the law or is called upon from time to time to advise clients as to their position, one has realised in the past the enormous difficulties owing to the complexity of the various matters which arise. It was found to be the same in regard to the Act of 1918. One could not go very far before seeing the difficulties. The same applies to the Act of 1847. And so we go back until we are taken to the Act of Henry VIII to which the Minister made such interesting references. All that means an immense loss of time and expense. I think the attempt which is now being made to consolidate legislation relating to land drainage will meet with the gratitude of all those engaged in the administration of land drainage law. The main constructive proposal of this Bill was dealt with in a certain amount of detail by the Minister, and also by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who stated that the Bill set up a comprehensive authority to deal with the problem. Even more interesting and more eloquent than the report of the Royal Commission is the very valuable map which has been issued. Anyone who looks at that map, having in view the area which they know best, cannot fail to be impressed with the way some areas are dealt with while other larger areas are left without any authority to deal with the problem. That is a state of things which has existed far too long. I think the powers under this Bill which are to be entrusted to the authorities to be set up in each area are quite sufficient to justify them in coming 1012 to the conclusion that this problem can be dealt with in a way which was not possible in the past.
In the first instance, as we have already been reminded, the authority to be set up will have power to do work in connection with the main river or rivers in their area, and we shall have, for the first time, authorities which will have control of internal drainage in their respective areas. Although the existing drainage boards will not cease to function, I think they will find it increasingly difficult to carry out the duties imposed upon them by this Bill. At the present time many of them are overburdened with debt, which they scarcely know how to meet. I see that the Bill provides for the rearrangement of drainage authorities, and I can see very plainly that it will be essential, at an early date, to extend some of the districts. As soon as this problem is approached, those drainage districts and the Minister of Agriculture will be faced with this difficulty. If those districts are already overburdened with debt, how are they going to function in the future? I ask the Minister to consider the possibility, when the Act comes into operation, of doing something which will relieve those authorities which have endeavoured in the past to perform their obligations in connection with the difficulties which I have mentioned.
I realise that this is not the time to deal with Amendments in the Bill, but at the same time, having regard to the fact that the Bill presumably will be sent to a Committee upstairs, where we shall not have the opportunity of referring to certain matters, there are two or three points to which I will briefly draw attention. The Bill makes a distinction—in my opinion a very proper distinction—between the owner's drainage rates and the occupier's drainage rates. Obviously, in the case of a large amount of the expenditure by drainage boards, the benefit inures very much more to the owner than to the occupier, who may be only a tenant from year to year. I observe that in Clause 25 it is provided that if the occupier shall be called upon, in the first instance, to pay the drainage rate, he shall have the right to recover it from the owner. I do not know whether I am right in the assumption that under this Bill it is open to the owner and the occu- 1013 pier to contract out of this part of the Bill. In legislation on similar lines in the past, we frequently find a Clause inserted to the effect that any agreement to contract out shall be null and void. I trust that when this matter is dealt with in Committee something will be done on the lines of the provision which is made in the law relating to the Income Tax which will enable the occupier to deduct any payment which he has made in respect of the owner's drainage rate from the next payment of rent.
Another point I wish to refer to is the method of collecting the rates. The Royal Commission suggested that the drainage authorities should issue a precept upon the local rating authorities, and that those authorities should make the collection. The Bill confirms the arrangement existing at the present time, that the drainage authority and its officials shall make the collection except in urban districts, where it may be competent for the rating authorities to collect the rate on behalf of the drainage board. I do not know whether it would be possible to make some arrangement to avoid the setting up of two collecting authorities. There has been considerable discussion of this matter in past years, and we have adopted a consolidated rate in practically every area. Hon. Members will recollect that at one time we had a dozen or so different rates, including the district rate, the school board rate and the poor rate, and the system was not only very difficult to administer, but, in consequence of overlapping, the cost was greatly increased. There are a number of other points which I will not deal with now, because I think they will be dealt with more effectively in Committee.
There is one Clause about which I Should like to have some further information. It is Clause 72, which makes provisions as to the accretion of land resulting from drainage works. I think, if any accretion of land results in this way, the community should benefit by such accretions, and I would like to ask the Minister if something cannot be done with a view to the community getting a similar benefit in analogous cases. I have in mind a large tract of land which was practically a marsh not many years ago, of no use from an agricultural point of view, and practically of no benefit to the community. Drainage works and sea 1014 protection works were undertaken in that area, and, owing to developments in the neighbourhood, that land not only became to a certain extent of agricultural value, but it also became land suitable for building development. I trust that something may be done in Committee with a view to enabling the Minister to exercise the same power in connection with tracts of land of that character that they propose to exercise in connection with the accretion of land resulting from drainage works. When I came to look at Clause 78, I was rather surprised to see the provision:This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-three.We have heard from the Minister of Agriculture and the hon and gallant Member for Rye, who was a member of the Royal Commission which considered this question, of the necessity of urgency in dealing with this problem, and yet it is suggested, although the problem is one which should be handled at once, that the Bill, as presented to the House, should be postponed until the 1st of January, 1933. I trust that the House will unanimously reject that Clause, and that the Bill will come into operation on the very day on which it receives the Royal Assent. I would urge the Minister to press on with the Bill, and, immediately the Royal Assent is given, to proceed to set up the machinery which the Bill contemplates. When the machine is ready, there will be, I am quite certain, ample work for the bodies which will be set up. I have already said that the report of the Royal Commission indicates the necessity of this work, and I have referred to the map which appears at the close of the report. The shaded areas on that map are eloquent of the work that should be done and I do not know that they are not at the same time a reproach to our country that something has not been done in the past in this connection.
I do not know whether we realise that the area which ought to be tackled, in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, is equal in extent to the West Riding of Yorkshire, or to the county of Devon, or to the six counties of North Wales excluding Montgomeryshire. That is the extent of the problem with which the Government will 1015 have to deal under this Bill, and, from more than one point of view, it will be of enormous advantage to the community to deal with it. In the first place, steps will be taken to reclaim a large area of land, which will be available for cultivation and for the colonisation of our own people. Apart from that, it will be possible to deal to a very great extent with certain aspects of the unemployment problem. We on these benches have been challenged from time to time that our only suggestion for dealing with the unemployment problem was the provision of roads, but I am certain that Members of the House will know that among the large number of suggestions included in the Liberal programme for dealing with unemployment was that of extensive land drainage. I believe that, once this machinery is set up, the Minister will be enabled to do something which will contribute towards dealing with the pressing and urgent problem of unemployment, and I therefore trust that the Bill will receive a Second Reading to-day without opposition.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
It is very rare that the first three speakers, from all three parties in the House, should commend a Bill for Second Reading, and I rather regret that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who has put down an Amendment to postpone the Measure, should have been denied the privilege of moving, as he frequently does, that nothing shall be done for a few generations. I hope, however, that the debate, to which he has already been able to listen, will have so far convinced him of the necessity for this Bill that the Amendment will not be moved, and that a piece of real constructive legislation will be brought forward that will be threefold in its object. Certainly, we can compliment my right hon. Friend on the fact that such an extraordinarily complex Bill meets with the good wishes of Members in all parts of the House, and seems to be likely to secure a Second Reading with little or no opposition from any quarter of the House.
The Bill, undoubtedly, is long overdue, and, as the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) indicated by reference to the map attached to the Commission's report, if justice had been done 1016 to the land of our birth there would be no necessity for this Bill, since a similar Bill might very well have been made operative some 50 years ago. The Royal Commission of 1927 told us that there were 1,750,000 acres of land requiring immediate drainage, while 4,000,000 acres in all required drainage for the purpose of exacting the last ounce of energy from the soil; and that is sufficient warrant for this or any other Government proceeding as rapidly as possible to establish really effective drainage commissions in various parts of the country. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford suggests in his Amendment that the time is not opportune for a Bill of this description, in view of the distress in our agricultural districts. That, however, has always been the plea. On the other hand, we have the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who was an important member of the Commission of 1927, telling us that such a Bill as this ought to have been passed several decades ago. I think that hon. Members will be more likely to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Rye in the discussion and in the Division Lobby this evening.
If this Bill becomes an Act, as we hope it will very rapidly, three results are almost inevitable. It is bound to provide immediate employment for a fairly considerable number of men; the land will be improved in fertility; and to that extent agriculturists are bound to receive immediate benefit. I suggest that there are thousands of farmers in this country to whom this Bill, when it is fully in operation, will mean the difference between bankruptcy and prosperity. In my own Parliamentary Division, I know that there are many small farmers whose greatest worry is not price so much as the anxiety from which they are always suffering as to whether their land is going to be inundated by water; and if they, with thousand's of other farmers, can be assured that the drainage is good, thorough and effective, and that they can apply themselves assiduously to the production of food, there will be no doubt as to the economic results of the next harvest.
As the hon. Member for Flint has said, another important factor emerging from this Bill will be the safeguard to health, which seems to have received little or 1017 no consideration in the past. We have many waterlogged areas in the country, due, as the hon. Member for Oxford would have us believe, to economic distress. That waterlogging has brought economic distress due to ill-health and many other things in its train, and I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that, even excluding the questions of immediate employment, increased prosperity for the farmer, and permanent employment on the land for a considerably larger number of men, the question of health at least ought to encourage him to support this Bill instead of opposing it.
The present position is clearly indicated in the Royal Commission's report, and it has been further elaborated by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye. It may well be described as chaos personified. The position is, indeed, almost indescribable where there are hundreds of small drainage commissions, some functioning and others not, with no sort of co-operation, the efforts of one body being rendered abortive by the inactivity of some other body. It seems to me that there can only be one possible solution of a problem of this description, and that is to set up one supreme authority, which can not only guide and inspire, but which, in case of default, can step in and insist upon the work being done through its own organisation when any one of these smaller drainage commissions fails to function, as they often do. I suggest that the authority contemplated in this Bill, with the extended area for rateability, will have at hand such funds as will enable it, so far as arterial drainage is concerned, to make a much better job of the business than has been the case during the last century or two, and that both the principle of setting up one supreme authority, such as the catchment board, and the principle of the extension of rateability, allocating costs according to circumstances, are sound principles, upon which we can compliment the Minister in charge of this Bill.
The principle of differential rating already exists. Indeed, there are so many differential rates in some parts of the country that, were one to attempt to describe them, few Members of the House would really believe that such things could exist in the year 1930. I have, however, one particular case in mind, 1018 where quite recently a person who is chargeable for rates in respect of land which happens to run along a riverside is rated to the extent of one penny for one year, and already, during the last rateable period, he has received three letters from the clerk responsible for collecting that rate, each bearing a 1½d. stamp, costing 4½d. in all, for the purpose of collecting the penny which is chargeable to him. It seems to me that such anomalies as this prevent our land from being drained, from providing the maximum of employment, and from producing food here instead of either in the Dominions or elsewhere. These ridiculous and grotesque things, which are inevitable as the result of these small areas and small commissions, of which we have so many in this country, must be removed.
The Clause which embodies the power to revoke or amend existing awards duplicates a Clause in the Doncaster Drainage Act of 1929, and is a step in the right direction, as is also the power to commute liability. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that, when the catchment boards are operating in areas where coal mining or ironstone mining is carried on, wherever owners have received royalties for coal which has been produced, and those same owners are still in possession of the surface land, they ought to be made to pay considerable sums towards the drainage of those areas, as the coalowners and royalty owners in the Doncaster area of the West Riding of Yorkshire have already voluntarily undertaken to do, without any pressure upon them from this House. I repeat that the powers of the catchment board to intervene in cases of default are sound, and I hope that these catchment boards will not hesitate to do the job where small drainage commissions in the past have failed to function as they ought to have done.
Clauses 68 and 72, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Flint, concede to the State the power to purchase land which has accrued as a result of the activities of the catchment boards, and that, I think, is also a step in the right direction; and I would suggest that even in other places, where State funds are expended for the purpose of draining privately-owned land, some provision ought to be made whereby the State can receive at least some of the accrued 1019 value after having spent considerable sums in draining land which is owned by other people. I think that on the whole the Bill is a good Bill, a very desirable Bill, and one that ought to be on the Statute Book and operating at the earliest possible moment. I would, however, like to draw the attention of the Minister to one or two special points which I have no doubt can and will be remedied when the Bill goes to a Committee.
My right hon. Friend will remember that the Doncaster Drainage Act of 1929 gave to tale Central Drainage Board for that area powers almost identical with those now to be given to catchment boards, except in so far as they deal with arterial drainage, and I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether Clause 62 of of this Bill quite covers the case with regard to this new board at Doncaster. In accordance with the suggestion of the Royal Commission, in view of the urgency of this problem in the Doncaster area, where mining subsidence is taking place and a large area of land is in danger of being inundated with water, that Bill was passed, and the central board has commenced to operate. It would be folly if, as the result of this Bill, any of the power were taken away from that central board or if the activities of the board were in any way prevented because of a fear of any future catchment board interfering with the works that they have already undertaken. I want to ask if there is any necessity for Clause 4 (1, b iv) to remain in the Bill to apply to the Doncaster area at all. That Clause suggests theabolition or reconstitution of any internal drainage district and of the drainage board thereof.Is it necessary to retain the power of a catchment board to be able to do these things in the special area covered by the Doncaster Drainage Board? So with paragraph (viii). There appears to be no necessity for that to apply to the Doncaster Area Committee. It seems to me that Clause 62 (1), which says:No direction shall be given by the Catchment Board under Section seven to any drainage board which is a district board within the meaning of the Doncaster Area Drainage Act, 1929.includes a district board within the Doncaster drainage area, but it does not 1020 exclude from the Act the central board itself, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend should insert after Section seven the words "to the central board or." That would meet the case and would satisfy the Doncaster Central Board that no interference would be likely to take place as the result of the passing of this Act. I hope from the point of view of the immediate employment, which is bound to lead to the permanent employment of more people once the land is properly and effectively drained, and from the fact that it is bound to safeguard the health of large numbers of people, the Bill will commend itself to Members in all parts of the House.
Before I come to the Bill may I, as an old colleague, say how very delighted we all are, wherever we may sit, at seeing the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Agriculture, and it is a peculiar pleasure to me that in this debate, the first in which I have taken part since his promotion, I find myself in the position of generally commending the proposals that he is making to the House, because there can be very few who are familiar with the details of land drainage administration who can dispute the very great need there is for a fundamental reorganisation of the law. The system is hopelessly haphazard. No one could have described its shortcomings in more eloquent language than the Royal Commission. They pointed out how, in spite of the fact that many authorities are live and admirable in their work, there are others that are wholly ineffective. There is no uniformity as to the method of charge, and it is heartbreaking to see, as one did when in contact with this work, how the active and efficient efforts of certain authorities are completely defeated by the lack of co-operation or the neglect of their neighbours.
Drainage law and administration, from its origin and history, is an extremely intricate matter. I believe in the agricultural interest it is of vital importance that the matter should be brought into accord with modern needs, but my experience of the Ouse Bill convinced me that there are very considerable political difficulties in tackling a question of this kind. Opposition is inevitably provoked when you interfere with these very ancient authorities. We all, on this side of the House, learnt that to our cost, 1021 when we brought to an end the existence of the boards of guardians, but they were mere mushrooms beside the ancient and venerable authorities that control land drainage. The Commissioners of Romney Marsh were in existence before our assembly was even known under the name of Parliament in our Statutes.
This Bill is a very interesting example of how opinions change with responsibility. I cannot forget how three years ago hon. Members opposite opposed the Ouse Bill, which was brought forward to apply exactly the same principles as are incorporated in this Bill. They opposed it on the ground that they could not support the grant of any subsidy unless land were nationalised. That Bill proposed that £1,250,000 should be granted to the Ouse area. Now there is no limit to their generosity, in spite of their putting forward no claim to the condition that was then considered necessary. I congratulate them on their change of opinion, and I am glad to think the right hon. Gentleman's task will be far easier on this Bill than my abortive task was in the matter of the Ouse.
This Measure is rather an anticlimax. It is very satisfactory that, after more than a year of existence, this Parliament should at last be considering an agricultural measure. It is a useful Measure, but it is a little disappointing, after all we heard from the right hon Gentleman's predecessor in the autumn as to his eagerness at the earliest opportunity to unfold a great agricultural policy, because this is not a great transformation which is going to make farming pay. It is a useful reform based on the report of the Royal Commission which we set up. I gladly recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward a Bill which is a very fair and efficient attempt to apply the recommendations of that Royal Commission under rather changed conditions. It has been considered very carefully by agricultural Members on this side of the House, and they have for the most part decided to support the Second Reading, subject, of course, to Amendments in Committee. It may be that some of my hon. Friends will oppose the Bill altogether, but we well understand that there are local considerations and that the interests of the town are not quite the same as those of agriculture. I support it, because it offers to 1022 agriculture assistance through rates and taxes from the rest of the community, and for the first time takes off this crushing burden which they have borne alone hitherto and places it to some extent upon broader shoulders.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this financial reform is absolutely vital. The burden hitherto has been borne in a very inequitable manner. It may have been a suitable method four centuries ago, when the Statute of Henry VIII was passed, but since 1527 the whole area of local government has been completely transformed, and there is an equal need of transformation in the matter of land drainage. The old limitation of financial responsibility to those enjoying benefit or avoiding danger is no longer in any way suitable. Internal drainage was the only object that was in view 400 years ago when that limitation was accepted. Since then the outfall works on the main channel have become immensely important, although in the time of Henry VIII I suppose they were probably completely unknown. The uplands no longer soak up and hold the rain as they used to. The public water supply, drawing from the wells and diverting from outside resources, forces vast quantities of liquid down the sewers, and the vast increase of the urban areas has thrown very heavy costs upon small areas, the whole of which they have had to bear themselves.
My own opinion when at the Ministry of Agriculture was that the advice of the Lords Select Committee of 50 years ago was absolutely sound. When I was first at the Ministry we received the report of the Special Committee on the Ouse area. That area had got into difficulties owing to the setting up of a very ambitious scheme of joint drainage operations just at the end of the War. That joint body had to operate under financial conditions which were far too narrow for modern needs, and the Special Committee recommended that the uplands should bear a fair share. I recognised how far-reaching that suggestion was, and I persuaded the then Prime Minister to set up a Royal Commission, which I felt sure would reinforce the advice not only of the Lords Committee but also of the Ouse Special Committee in 1927. The Royal Commission reported as anyone who knew the facts knew they would report, 1023 but, unfortunately, the Ouse proposal was defeated, partly by outside hostility, but chiefly by internal opposition reflecting the jealousies of the authorities concerned.
Those who look at the Bill as it comes to us from the House of Lords will find that it is a very different Measure from that which we studied a couple of months ago when it was first introduced. In another place they have great advantages in a matter of this kind. They have members of exceptional knowledge and experience in all these matters of local government, and the Bill has enjoyed the advantage of their painstaking consideration. The Bill was introduced without any court of appeal. For some reason this was an instance where the Government did not accept the recommendation of the Royal Commission. As the Bill was introduced, and for reasons that we well understand, there was no provision for a Government contribution. Both these shortcomings have now been remedied. The financial arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman outlined this afternoon and which we shall discuss on Friday, seemed to me to be wise. It would be inexpedient to have a castiron limit of contribution. It is most necessary under this Bill to adopt the plan the Ministry have hitherto pursued of giving grants according to the need of the area on as elastic a basis as possible.
Pending the announcement which we now have about the intentions of the Government with regard to the matter, the debates in another place very naturally laid stress upon the importance of not increasing the burdens upon agricultural land at the present time. I imagine that the postponement which was embodied in the Bill was inserted very largely on account of those fears. In view of the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman has made and the new situation which will thus be developed, I hope that in another place they may now consider the new situation and be prepared to make some change in the date which they have inserted. Owing to the provision that the State is going to play a considerable financial part in the new drainage programme, the Bill now offers to agriculture a very great relief from its present burdens. Agricultural land will, of course, remain rated 1024 as at present in areas where it enjoys benefit or escapes danger, but there will not be a new burden. If new internal authorities are set up, they will be set up under what I understand will merely be the re-enactment of existing Acts under which the Ministry have in recent years set up several internal drainage authorities. The great change is that the whole of the local community whose development has rendered necessary those outfall works will at least contribute to the cost. Where main drainage works have been undertaken out of the slender resources of those internal boards, representing as they do a small fraction of the total ratepayers who should be concerned, those now paying will get relief and be able to shift part of the burden on to the broader shoulders of the ratepayers throughout the whole area.
I agree that this is not a time when the burdens upon agriculture can be increased, but if, as I believe, this very complicated Measure transfers burdens and relieves agriculture, I cannot see any wisdom in postponing its operation. I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the risk of delay, remembering that the Ouse area was denied the relief which it required and was refused separate consideration by the rejection of the Bill three years ago. The fate of the Ouse area depends upon the passage of this Measure which will amend the general law. Sir Horace Monro, in the report of his Commisison in 1926, gave a very grave warning, of which the House may perhaps be reminded, that menaced by the danger of the sea and menaced by the danger of water flowing from the higher land the Ouse district was exposed to unusual risks of inundation which long continued neglect made imminent. The passage of this Bill would enable the Ouse area to deal with its difficulties. The security which the House of Lords quite properly wished to find against undue burdens being thrown upon the local ratepayers will surely be found in the provision that the county councils will have two-thirds of the representation on these new bodies.
Inevitably, there will be a delay in the surveying of these new problems. That will, I think, prevent any drastic action being taken in the Thames Valley for a considerable time to come. There will be no coercion of catchment authorities 1025 to support these schemes. The Minister can only take action if there is a complaint by a county council, and nobody need feel seriously alarmed that the county councils will be unduly impatient and that this work will be put into operation before the surveys have been made. Other areas, however, are in a position to go ahead with their proposals. The problem is much simpler in the Ouse area, which has been so thoroughly explored that I hope that in the near future a scheme may be agreed upon. If the Bill is necessary, surely there is no ground for delay in enabling the catchment boards to take stock of the position and to initiate the necessary reinforcement of their local authorities from the funds of the State.
Although, as I have said, the Bill follows very closely the recommendations of the Royal Commission, there is one very important detail in which those recommendations are ignored. Paragraph 85 of the Report of the Royal Commission recommended that all drainage rates should be based upon annual value and not upon acreage. I believe that the system of basing rates upon acreage is unjust and unsound. I can take the right hon. Gentleman to farms in the Ouse area, poor land farms which do not need drainage so much as irrigation most of the year, where, by the accident of the contour line, they are now liable to rates which amount every year to a, considerably higher sum than the total annual value. On the other hand, in the same district I can show him rich lands gaining great benefit from drainage which are escaping their due share of payment for the advantages which they receive. The internal authorities have retained this system of acreage rating from the remote past, and no doubt they have kept it in order to save trouble, but there is intense feeling on the part of many ratepayers at the injustice of the present position.
A Provisional Order Bill is now before the House dealing with the Ouse area, and I have been asked to do my best to prevent it passing into law unless we can exact a concession that there is to be no future rating upon acreage. I felt that it would be a better method to raise the issue on this Bill. We have very strong grounds in the recommendation of the Royal Commission, and I hope that the Minister will give it careful con- 1026 sideration and that now when he is recasting the whole law he will take the opportunity of abolishing what really is a very grave error, and, by so doing, go very far to reconcile the agricultural ratepayers of these internal authorities to the new situation.
There may be differences of opinion as to some of the details in the Bill. Local considerations may load some hon. Members representing constituencies which have so far escaped making any contribution to drainage and have had the whole of this burden carried by other people, in the interests of their constituents, to oppose the Bill. Speaking for myself, however, I am convinced that this reform is urgently needed in the interests of agriculture, and I recognise that the Bill is a genuine effort to give effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I hope that it will be passed in substantial form.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
When I had the honour of being a Member in this House in 1923 I served on the Private Bill Committee which considered the West Yorkshire Drainage Bill promoted by the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council, and when counsel opened for them on that Measure he gave us some very amusing instances of the way in which small drainage authorities had been constituted for various rivers in the West Riding and had proved themselves quite incapable of carrying out their functions under modern conditions. Along some of the tributaries of the Ouse the repair and maintenance of the banks and the drainage of the land was a parochial matter altogether. In one parish it was provided by an Act of Parliament that the person to discharge the various duties was to be appointed at the annual vestry meeting from the persons then present, with the result that for many years no one had attended the annual vestry meeting, and it had been impossible to appoint anyone, and the work had fallen into disuse. An actual breach in the banks occurred in that particular parish, and there was no one who could be held responsible for it or who had the power to spend money on putting the matter right. I believe that Lancashire a year or two before had been compelled to promote a Bill to deal with similar anomalies. It is highly desirable, there- 1027 fore, that the law should be brought up-to-date and that as far as possible there should be a comprehensive scheme for dealing with these matters. I desire to direct my remarks principally to the provisions for dealing with the River Thames, which is treated in this Bill as an exceptional river. The constitution of the catchment area board is different from that proposed for other rivers included in the Schedule. In the first place, may I direct the attention of the Minister to one or two anomalies. The Thames in the Bill is described as the Thames and its tributaries above Teddington Lock, with the result that no part of the administrative County of London is included in the Bill, and the areas of the Wandle and Beverley Brook in the county of Surrey are also outside the area of the catchment board because they flow into the Thames below Teddington Lock. In the composition of the proposed board the London County Council is to have one member and the Corporation of the City of London one. As the vice-chairman of one of the county councils included in the Bill may I say that we regard this intrusion of the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London into this Measure in this anomalous way with certain misgivings. The Minister of Agriculture, in his speech, said that he proposed to give consideration to some of the matters of the Thames, and I was alarmed when I introduced a deputation from the county councils to find that one of the things then exercising his mind was whether he ought not to increase the representation of the London County Council on the board to be constituted for the Thames. While we pressed him to alter the arrangements we had no desire that they should be altered by increasing the representation of London.
The county councils of Surrey and Middlesex, which represent the lowest reaches of the Thames dealt with by the Bill, have recently proved their good faith in the matter of land drainage. In Surrey we prepared a scheme for the drainage of the Wey, and the inhabitants of Kingston-upon-Thames at once said that it was a fell proposal which would result in the submersion of Kingston-upon-Thames. If we drain the River Wey adequately the 1028 only result, it was said, would be that Kingston-upon-Thames, which claims to be an older borough than London itself, would be permanently under the waters of the Thames, and, therefore, in conjunction with the county of Middlesex, we had to undertake a scheme for the deepening of the Thames or removing some of the curbs to the flow of the water. We are carrying out at this moment, in conjunction with the county of Middlesex, under the supervision of the Thames Conservancy, a scheme for dealing with the Thames and the Wey. That is an illustration of the desirability of a board to include all the areas which are likely to be dealt with by the Bill. We feel that there is no ground for treating the catchment area board for the Thames differently from other boards. In Clause 3, Sub-section (2, b), it is proposed that in other boards there shall be not less than two-thirds of the remaining members appointed by the county councils.
In the Thames catchment area there are to be 33 members, three of whom are to be appointed by the Government and 30 in other ways, and the eight county, councils who are riparian county councils have only 16 out of 33 members. The Corporation of the City of London has, one member, and the County of London, which is not a riparian county at all, receives another; and there are certain other people who receive representation. There is a proposal, which is not found in regard to other boards, to give certain riparian urban district councils and non-county boroughs representation, but these are only riparian urban districts and boroughs along the main river of the Thames. In connection with our scheme for the Wey we found it desirable to take into consultation the urban districts of Woking and Farnham, which have large interests in the matter, and if the urban districts along the banks of the main river are to be considered there is no reason why urban district councils and municipal boroughs along the tributaries should not also be considered. Their interests are as vitally affected by the Bill as those of urban districts and boroughs along the main river. With regard to the selection of these members for urban district councils and boroughs, this may cause some difficulty when schemes under the Local Government Act, 1929, in connection with the rectifica- 1029 tion of boundaries are brought into force. From the consideration which has been given to this matter in the county of Surrey not a single one of these urban districts will be the same entity after the scheme has gone through as it is at the moment. I can find no ground for including urban district councils and non-county borough councils in the scheme of the Thames when they are not included in the scheme for any other river. It introduces an anomaly. They will not be precepted upon; they will not have any responsibility for the upkeep of the river or the raising of the rates.
These are matters of detail, and I should be sorry if the Minister thought that I was speaking against the main proposals of the Bill. They are quite unassailable, and everyone desires to see them carried out. The county councils of Surrey and Middlesex have certainly shown their desire to carry them out by the scheme they promoted during the past few years, but in this matter they desire that they should not be in a worse position than county councils along the banks of other rivers. The Thames, probably more than any other river, will present the difficulty between what one may call an urban county and a rural county. We had a conference of the counties likely to be affected by this Bill, and to our astonishment we found that one or two were quite ready to undertake the expenditure. The up-river counties were ready to undertake the burden. Oxfordshire showed a surprising readiness until one of their members let the cat out of the hag by suggesting that the drainage of Oxfordshire would be largely paid for by the ratepayers of Surrey and Middlesex, a suggestion which was received with little enthusiasm by the representatives of those two counties. Along the banks of the Thames you have the transition from purely rural counties to entirely urban counties so marked that it is highly desirable there should be some special consideration given to the river and to the constitution of the board. It may be feasible in other areas to remove any maximum rate to be levied, but I am sure it would assist the smooth working of the Bill if a Clause were inserted with regard to the Thames that there should be a maximum limit, which should not be exceeded except with the consent 1030 of the majority of the county councils concerned, That would lead to the Bill being worked with far greater confidence. Lord Desborough before the War had a scheme for dealing with the drainage of the Thames Valley which was estimated to cost £9,000,000.
§ Mr. EDE
That was another scheme. Lord Desborough adumbrated—I believe that is the correct word to use—before the War a scheme which was to cost £9,000,000. Allowing for post-War costs that would now cost between £13,000,000 and £14,000,000, and will anyone suggest that any such scheme could be put into operation over a short term of years? Hon. Members will, therefore, understand the misgiving of county councils in the lower reaches of the river when they find the heavy representation which is given to the up-river counties if anything like such a scheme is put forward. They desire to deal with the water sent down to them, but I am quite sure that the smooth working of this Bill would be assisted if a maximum limit was inserted which could only be exceeded if a majority of the county councils decided in favour. I desire to give the Bill my hearty support on its general principles. It is a sound Measure, which has been long overdue, and, if put into operation, will do a very great deal to relieve unemployment and make the health in many of the districts in the river valleys better than it is at present. No where is that more necessary than in the Thames and the tributaries of the Thames, and I am quite sure that public health authorities will welcome the opportunities for drainage which the Bill gives them. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, during the passage of the Bill, will endeavour to meet the legitimate desires of the county councils in the lower reaches of the Thames.
§ Captain BOURNE
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:in the opinion of this House, it is inexpedient to proceed with this Bill at this juncture in view of the present financial stringency in industry and agriculture.1031 If I needed any justification for moving that the present is not an expedient time to proceed with this Bill the speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has supplied me with ample justification. He says that a scheme has been worked out for the drainage of the Thames which before the War would have cost £9,000,000, but which to-day would cost at least £13,000,000 or £14,000,000. I accept that figure. I cannot conceive any measure of benefit which could possibly arise to the Thames valley by the expenditure of a sum of money of that magnitude. It is not a question of those who live in the upper reaches of the Thames sending water down. We do not desire to send unnecessary water down. It is a question of how much rain may fall in the winter months; and that is a matter which we cannot control. We have no power over it. If the rain comes, and we get it in such quantities as we did last winter in December and January, then no expenditure of money and nothing that man can do will prevent the lower valleys of the Thames being flooded and under water for weeks upon end.
In dealing with the whole question at land drainage there appears to be a great lack of perspective. I have looked with much interest at the map which has been produced by the Royal Commission, and if anyone studies it carefully he is bound to come to the conclusion that the problem of drainage is urgent, and very urgent in certain localities, notably in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the valley of the Ouse. Apart from those areas, the problem is much less urgent and even in the map which has been put out by the Royal Commission one finds very large areas, in some cases whole counties, in respect of which there are no recommendations for catchment boards at all and where the amount of land shown as requiring drainage is negligible. I do not think it is reasonable to alter a long-standing system of land drainage in order to deal with special and specific problems which occur in one or two counties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) said he hoped that it would benefit agriculture. In the first place, it seems to me that if the Government have money to spare, and are 1032 prepared to spend it for the benefit of agriculture, it would be much better to use that money in making agriculture profitable on those lands which admittedly do not require drainage at the present time, but which, admittedly, are not paying, rather than in attempting to bring more land into cultivation when, under present conditions, that land is very unlikely to give any return in the form of a living to those who work it.
In the second place, there is a point which seems to be overlooked in dealing with this question, although it is of great importance. Many farmers who live and farm their land close to some of the smaller tributaries are grateful when they get a winter flood. They thank Heaven for those floods, and the last thing they wish to do is to stop them, because, when there are no winter floods, when there are hard frosts and the water runs low, it is a serious matter for them, the reason being that to a very large extent the farmers in those districts have to depend on the winter water level for their summer grazing. Given good winter floods, the meadows affected are among the most valuable parts of their farms. It is quite true that occasionally there are summer floods which carry away the hay and sweep it down the current of the river, but, if one asks people who have practical experience of farming that type of land, one will find that they would far rather have the winter floods with the occasional risk of a summer flood than that their meadows should never be flooded, and consequently that they should lose the almost dead certainty of a hay crop which they would enjoy otherwise. Many of the people who farm land in the districts adjoining smaller tributaries fear that those tributaries, as a result of any schemes of this character, might cease to flood regularly every winter, and thus what now makes those farms valuable, both for dairy purposes and other purposes, will be destroyed without any offsetting advantage whatever to the occupier. The bulk of this land does not need drainage, and if the occupiers now resent intensely having to pay either to county rates or to other rates for a drainage which they do not require and for which they have not asked, they will resent it still more if they are made to pay rates in order to destroy what is at the present 1033 moment a valuable asset to them, and one which they cherish exceedingly.
We have had several speeches on the subject of health and flooding and, in reference to that aspect of the question, I would point out that the limits of the biggest floods on most of our rivers are fairly well known, and I believe that the county councils have power to pass bylaws to prevent people building houses in places which are liable to flooding. In that case, I hardly think it necessary to set up those catchment boards and to spent vast sums of the nation's money in order to deal with the discomfort caused to people who build in such places. Anyone who lives near a river should know the maximum rise of the river. Our ancestors knew and never built below a certain level, and it should not be necessary nowadays for us to spend great sums of money because certain people have not this common and ordinary knowledge. We are now in a time when it is admitted on all hands that agriculture is depressed, that trade is depressed, that unemployment is growing, and yet in this Bill we are proposing to spend a very great sum of money.
The Government, in their Financial Memorandum, indicate that the amount may run up to £13,000,000, but they very wisely abstain from giving a definite estimate and we are proposing to spend this money upon what can not by any stretch of the imagination be described as an economical proposition. If it were, this is a work which could have been undertaken years and years ago, but anybody with any knowledge of drainage matters knows that it is a very expensive operation and that the enhanced value of the land which results very rarely even begins to touch the capital sum expended. I do not think that this is the best way of spending our money at this moment. If we were in a flush of prosperity as we were before the War, one might say that this was a desirable thing to do. One might say that while it was not a paying proposition there were social consequences of advantage to be derived from it, and that the nation could afford to spend a few millions in order to get those advantages. But to-day we are not in that position. We are in a position in which this House ought to look at every halfpenny which we spend. We ought to be perfectly certain that we do not authorise the expenditure of one half- 1034 penny on an uneconomic proposition. I am certain that the bulk of the work proposed in the Bill is, in itself, uneconomic and this is no moment at which to embark on such expenditure.
The rivers of this country may roughly be divided into two classes, namely, those which are natural and those which are not, and one of the greatest causes of flooding in the case of many of our rivers is the existence of dams and sluices which are required in order to make those rivers navigable. I do not understand from the report of the Royal Commission how they propose to deal with that problem, but if we build sluices and weirs in order to keep a high level of water in these navigable rivers when there is a dry summer, then inevitably we shall have those rivers flooded in the winter unless we are prepared to spend millions and millions of pounds in building vast straight high-banked canals which will be an eyesore and will destroy part of the charm of England. If we are to have these rivers navigable, and we are often urged to increase the amount of water transport in this country, we must put up with the fact that one of the consequences of navigability is flooding after heavy rains. The natural rivers, without any of these artificial embankments, are, it is true, subject to flooding, but in that case the water runs down very quickly and the real bad permanent flooding occurs where man has interfered with Nature. I believe myself that the navigation of the rivers is desirable and that if more goods were sent by water it would be a benefit to the country, but we must realise that one of the corollaries of that is flooding. We ought not to attempt in this or any other Measure to try to obviate that result by merely throwing good money away, and for that reason I oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. WELLS
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do so because I also believe that the burden which will be imposed by the Bill on the general taxpayer and on the ratepayer will be out of all proportion to the advantages to be gained from it at the present time. The report of the Royal Commission is a very comprehensive one, and I should like to add my tribute to the care which they have taken in dealing with this question. It is an admirable report, it takes a wide view and is conceived in a bold 1035 spirit, but I do not believe that this is a time at which to undertake the work proposed in this Bill. The very immensity of the scheme is one of its greatest dangers. It is claimed that 1,750,000 acres of land are in need of immediate drainage, and I wish to ask whether these lands are grasslands which can be converted into cornlands. I ask that question because my part of the country is in the uplands and we have thousands of acres of valuable grassland subject to flooding, and the flooding of those uplands protects the lower levels from inundation. If we did not hold up the water, the Fen country would be swamped in a very short time. We do not object to the flooding of these grasslands. They are some of the most valuable grasslands in the county and the water leaves a "silt" behind it which in nine cases out of 10 is extraordinarily beneficial to the agriculturist. I do not think that the drainage undertaken by any board would stop the flooding of these uplands. The conditions of agriculture have changed since this report was made, and the de-rating of land is one important matter which was not under the consideration of the Royal Commission. I also believe that the extension of time in connection with the Bill given in another place was given because agriculture is suffering from such serious depression to-day. The Bill departs from the report in one respect which has not, up to the present, been mentioned. Paragraph 86 of the Commission's report states:We think that the proportion of rates to be paid in respect of the uplands should be less than that paid in respect of the lowlands but, in view of the very diverse conditions that exist in the several catchment areas, it would be undesirable to lay down any hard-and-fast rule as to what that proportion should be.The Bill, apparently, does not take that recommendation into consideration. It makes no distinction with regard to contributions save that such contributions as the Catchment Board considers fair is to be made by the Internal Drainage Board and, on the other hand, the Catchment Board may contribute to the Internal Drainage Board. The recommendations of the Commission and the provisions of the Bill propose to alter that great principle of drainage law for some hundreds of years, of which we have already heard, namely, that where an owner or occupier derives no benefit and 1036 avoids no damage by reason of drainage works, he ought not to be called upon to contribute to the cost.
One of the great catchment areas is that of the Great Ouse which has been mentioned several times. The Measure of 1927 which was very comprehensive related to the whole of the Ouse area, including parts of 11 counties, namely, Norfolk, Suffolk, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, and the Isle of Ely. The catchment area of the Ouse is 2,000,000 acres, while the Ouse drainage rateable area is 469,000 acres. Under this Bill many of the counties which come under the Ouse Board would also come within the areas of other catchment boards in other counties, and I suppose they will have to pay rates not only to the Ouse Board, but to other catchment boards as well. The Ouse drainage scheme at that time involved an expenditure of some millions of pounds and led to a very considerable amount of opposition. We were informed that the Ouse Bill in 1927 was rendered necessary because of urgent need and the immediate danger of inundations by which the Fen country might be ruined. A commission sat in 1925 to consider that matter, and they undoubtedly made such a recommendation in their report then, but a great deal of work has been done since, and, as far as I know, there is no danger of inundation to-day. That report proposed to spend £2,500,000 on the tidal part of the river only. That was a small beginning and did not include drainage works for any other part of the river. The idea that there was danger to the area was not shared by those who were connected with the area or those who represented the area, or by the Ouse Drainage Board itself. The result was that these proposals met with almost united opposition from the areas concerned. That Bill in 1927 passed its Second Reading. It was opposed by the party opposite led by the late Minister of Agriculture, who has since been transferred to another catchment area. The Amendment, which he moved on behalf of the Socialist party in Opposition, was thatThis House, while recognising the need for the efficient drainage of the area drained by the River Ouse and its tributaries, cannot 1037 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1927; col. 1217, Vol. 207.]The party opposite have changed their minds since they were in Opposition. The Bill of 1927 was sent to a Select Committee for consideration, and the Committee threw it out. We shall have the Bill revived under the present Measure, however, and in due time, no doubt, we shall have a ministry of drainage because of the immensity of the schemes that will come in hand, and we shall have a minister of drainage in this House. I have mentioned the cost of the Ouse drainage as £2,500,000, but this afternoon we have been told that the amount is increased to £4,000,000, showing an enormous expanse; and I would like to ask the Minister whether that amount is to be spent on the mouth of the Ouse, or whether it includes other works on the Ouse as well? I would also like to ask the Minister whether the grants which the Government will make will be percentage grants on works of maintenance and administration, or block grants? The maintenance and administration of great schemes are very costly. I understand that the Ouse Drainage Board in 1928–29 spent over £15,000 in administration, and nearly £22,000 in maintenance. Will all the expense of the catchment boards rank for grant? We should remember that under this Bill there will be 46 catchment boards, and the cost is likely to be tremendous.
I should like to point out what this Bill means to the ratepayers of the towns, such as Bedford for instance. The County Council of Bedford will issue a rate for the catchment board in Bedfordshire. The county is comprised of 240,000 acres, of a value of £620,000, in the catchment area. Bedford has 2,000 acres of a value of £300,000, so that, in fact Bedford will pay half the contribution levied. If the rating area extends over a whole county, the other large town in the county, Luton, will pay over one-third, Bedford will pay about one-third, and the county the remaining third. I am informed that in Cambridgeshire, the county town will have to pay 75 per cent. of the rates levied by the county council. Not one of these towns, however, will be entitled to representation on the catch- 1038 ment board. That is a matter that will need some amendment on the Committee stage. The town of Bedford, which will be called upon to pay this drainage rate, has already done its drainage work for many years, and spent thousands of pounds in keeping the river in order. Will Bedford receive any contribution from the catchment board for maintenance work?
One of the best ways of dealing with the drainage in this country is to make every county council its own drainage board. Every county council is responsible for its roads, and no one could accuse the council of having failed in its duties in that respect. Roads are a national necessity, and I believe that we could lead up to a national system of drainage by starting with county councils and making them drainage areas; in due time the areas could be enlarged by grouping county councils. By this means, county councils would understand their own problems in their own areas, but, by the method proposed under the Bill, we shall have huge catchment boards comprising as many as 11 counties, and each county will have only one member on the board, or, at the outside, two for the larger counties. What chance will one member representing 240,000 acres have of understanding the whole of the drainage problem? What will happen will be that the catchment boards will be governed by the officials and the engineers, and not by the people in the drainage areas.
There are special conditions attached to every river which are very important. When the River Ouse, for instance, is in flood, enormous quantities of water go into the rock and form a natural reservoir underground, from which we get our summer supplies. These schemes of drainage may upset the balance that nature has provided for our use, and in times of drought we may be short of water. This Bill is presented to the House after a season of serious drought. Last year in our area, water was being carted for miles for domestic purposes and for stock owing to the drought, and stock had to be sold at very low prices because of it. Yet with these huge drainage schemes, we may eventually have a position in time of drought even worse than it is to-day. If we had a Bill for supplying water to the country areas, to 1039 the villages and small towns and farms, it would be far more beneficial than the Bill before us to-day. The benefit would be more lasting and far more valuable. I do not know whether the House realises what people drink in time of drought; they have to drink water from any pond, and yet we are to spend millions of money in taking the water to the sea. The Bill was improved in the other place, and there will be serious opposition here because the Minister has said that he will not accept an Amendment by which a precept issued by the catchment area on the county council shall not exceed the proceeds of a halfpenny or a three-farthing rate. We all talk of economy, and yet when we get a huge Measure of this sort, by which millions of pounds are to be spent, it goes through the House as if it were nothing at all. If we talk economy in the constituencies or in this House and believe in it, let us vote against this Bill.
§ Mr. PRICE
The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) called attention to the instance of certain water meadows in certain parts of the country which, he said, would benefit by flooding. I am inclined to agree that, carried to a certain point, winter flooding of lowlands improves the land. Very soon, however, the danger point is reached; after a time, the main channels silt up, and flooding of the lowlands tends to become more chronic, and after a few years the herbage deteriorates by the coming in of rushes and growth less valuable to livestock. His argument is a pure obstructionist argument to anyone who has any knowledge of agriculture or the methods of draining or maintaining land.
I welcome this Bill, and I hope that it will be supported for two main reasons: first, it aims at developing the agricultural resources of the country, and, secondly, it is a contribution towards the problem of unemployment. I know it may be urged that it is a waste to spend money on draining land when agriculture is not paying its way, but that is a very short view. We must take a long view in matters of this kind, and if it is true that good land can only with great difficulty make a profit in view of the agricultural depression, it is the poor land that suffers first. The economic 1040 analyses and investigations that have been made by agricultural research stations in the last few years tend to show that high-rented land, that is, good land, is still able to hold its own, and that the class of land which is most suffering from depression is the second and third quality land. There are still farms in the country which, owing to their peculiar conditions, due to climate and the condition of the ground, and so on, are still able to pay, but there are others which are less favourably situated, and they feel the draft first. This Bill will take steps towards raising the general fertility of the soil in areas where the condition of the soil has deteriorated. Therefore, it is a real and substantial contribution towards dealing with the agricultural industry.
The second reason why the Bill should be welcomed is that it makes a contribution towards the unemployment problem. The drainage works which will be carried out mainly by this Bill will come in the southern and eastern portions of the country. Drainage works are of a kind which can very well provide employment for large numbers of persons who are thrown out of work in the northern industrial centres where the heavy industries are suffering from great depression. My constituency is mainly industrial, and I am sure the Bill will be able to find work of a nature which is suitable to those who are thrown out of blast furnace work. Therefore, the Bill has not only an agricultural, bat a social aspect. The rural population are inclined to be a little suspicious of a Bill of this kind, particularly because it is feared that it may increase the burden on the local ratepayers. When I first read the Bill, I began to feel alarmed, because I did not see that there was any provision for a State contribution towards the drainage works foreshadowed. We have heard from the Minister of Agriculture, however, that there is to be a Financial Resolution introduced on Friday, which will largely meet that objection. If there were no provisions for large Exchequer contributions, the Bill would be the cause of a very great injustice to local ratepayers, but I do not see how any one can raise objections on that score in view of what my right hon. Friend has said.
1041 I understand contributions are to be made from the Exchequer in proportion to the needs of the locality, and I welcome the principle that there shall be varying grants and not a flat-rate contribution. I know many waterlogged areas suffering from flooding where the annual value of the land is, taking an average, not more perhaps than 20s. or 30s. an acre, and where the expenditure needed would run into £25,000, £30,000 or £40,000. To raise that money by a, rate on that particular district might involve a rate of 5s. in the £, if not more, and there are abundant reasons why the larger areas should make contributions. By setting up these catchment boards the Bill creates areas going beyond the bounds of county councils. I do not think a county council is by any means the most suitable body for dealing with this matter, because a catchment area, a drainage watershed, may extend into the area of several county councils. The whole tendency of legislation should be to enlarge areas when dealing with problems of national development of this kind.
I am glad, however, that the Bill does not do away with the smaller drainage boards. They have carried on for a long time, and although their machinery is often antiquated I think they provide a means by which local experience and local knowledge can be brought to bear on a national problem. It is a good thing to have this "local touch," but it must not be made an excuse for obstruction, as I am afraid has been too often the case. That is a weakness of the present drainage law. For a number of years I have been a member of a drainage commission which was created by a statute of King John. The appointments are made direct by the Crown. The members of that commission are not responsible to any body; they are appointed for life, they cannot resign, and I think such antiquated machinery is not sufficient to deal with this problem. It is also a good thing that there are provisions in the Bill which make the local drainage boards responsible to the local ratepayers, as they are not to-day. In the case I know most about the commissioners are judge, jury and executioner all in one. I have frequently had to interview ratepayers and farmers who objected to the levying of a rate, largely because they 1042 did not understand the actual demands made upon them. If there were a more democratic system of electing those commissioners they would feel an interest and a responsibility in dealing with the problem. Autocratic methods of setting up local drainage boards are thoroughly unsatisfactory.
In Sub-section (1) of Clause 20 I observe that the catchment boards are empowered to raise contributions from the drainage boards. There is some feeling among local drainage boards that this may lead to a certain amount of unity. I would like to ask whether this money is to be used for the purpose of administration. If it is to meet the administrative costs of the larger catchment areas there is something to be said for the present system. Under the present system, I understand, the cost of administration of the county council drainage committees is found out of the county rates. If, under the administration of the larger catchment areas, the cost is to be found solely from the ratepayers in the drainage areas, and not from the county rates, the cost will fall heavily upon agricultural ratepayers. With all respect, I think this is a matter which might be looked into, but it is merely a minor criticism. In general I welcome this Bill, which. I believe will bring the drainage laws of this country up to the level of those of other countries on the Continent of Europe which are far more advanced than ours, and that it will make a contribution not only towards the prosperity of agriculture but towards a solution of the unemployment problem.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
My two hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Amendment based their objection to the Bill principally on their fear that its operation might be so misdirected that in many cases the beneficial effects of summer flooding would be prevented and harm rather than goad done to agricultural land. Surely we may feel that there will be enough common sense and discrimination amongst these boards to avoid that. It is the intention that the Bill should benefit agriculture, and there are a great many places where such benefit is sorely needed and where the operations of these boards will be very effective; and the boards will certainly 1043 not go out of their way to seek trouble by damaging agricultural land rather than benefiting it. We can welcome this Bill as being, on the whole, non-controversial. I do not mean to say that difficulties will not be raised in some areas, or some constituencies will not welcome it more than others; but I hope that the Measure is not merely a sort of gesture to agriculture from the Government. Agriculture is very glad to receive anything at the present time, even a gesture, but I hope this Measure is intended to be rather more solid than that; although whether the Government, in bringing this Bill in so late in the Session, intended to make more than a gesture I am inclined to doubt.
The Bill is based on the very valuable report of Lord Bledisloe's Commission. There is no doubt that our party would have brought in a Bill if the opportunity had arisen, but the whole question of drainage has been rather "blown upon" in recent years because there has been a tendency, particularly, if I may say so without offence, among hon. Members of the Liberal party, to look on drainage as a political stunt and to suggest it always as one of the best methods of remedying unemployment. I would utter this caution as regards the value of drainage works in relieving unemployment. Many hon. Members overrate the number of men who can be employed in this way. I have had occasion to do my best to get unemployed men working on drainage schemes, and I know the difficulties, which must be obvious to anybody who knows anything about the subject. It is difficult to employ more than a comparatively small number of men, in what is rather a restricted area, and it is also very nasty, wet, messy work. It is not the kind of job which will be suitable for all classes of unemployed, and I hope the House will be cautious about assuming that in this Bill there is a real remedy for unemployment, or that it is going to be of any real assistance to large numbers of the urban unemployed who are not accustomed to this sort of work.
The need for a Bill of this sort is, however, very great. When we think how things have developed in recent years; when we think of the great communities that have congregated in the uplands and 1044 the provision that has to be made for water supply by the creation of great reservoirs and the collection of water which otherwise would soak away into the ground and not be collected; and how eventually there is a precipitation of all this great mass of water down to the lower levels, we must realise that this has had a very serious effect upon river channels. The amount of water now coming down is much greater than it used to be, owing to this unnatural precipitation of water which has been collected, and if in addition there happens to be a storm, there is greater risk of flooding than there used to be. These are problems which are much too big for the owners or occupiers of particular lands to deal with, and it is right that the burden should be more widely spread and that those who send the water down should have some responsibility for the effect on the area of country to which they send it.
A very true remark was made by an hon. Member opposite when he alluded to the injury which regular flooding would cause even to good land. In time that land will deteriorate, and the herbage will become worse. In a great many of these lower areas there has been a great deal of damage through systematic flooding. There is a great deal in what has been said about the risk and danger of great schemes. We all know that the tendency of great schemes is to accumulate officials and magnify expense, and all this wants very careful watching. The objections taken to the Bill in another place will, of course, be considerably modified by the new financial proposals suggested to-day and which were not before their Lordships' House when the Bill was there. They repeatedly asked for some information about the financial proposals and were repeatedly put off, the Minister in charge not having the authority to make a statement; but, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-day, the difficulties as to the immediate operation of the Bill and the effect it might have of putting new burdens upon agriculture have been considerably modified.
I hope that full care will be taken to see that, although this money is coming from the taxpayer and not from the rates, it will not be wasted. I hope that 1045 every safeguard will be put in to see that we shall not have an aggregation of great schemes each run by ambitious people trying to make out that their scheme is more ambitious than the others. I hope that full safeguards will be inserted to protect the country from extravagance on schemes that might otherwise be very beneficial. I hope that this Bill is intended to be useful and constructive, that it is not merely a gesture, but that it shows that the Government is trying to do something at last for the agricultural industry. If this Bill can be made really useful in helping agriculture and dealing with land which in many areas is now waterlogged, then indeed a step forward will have been taken. I hope, however, it will not result in inflated schemes.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
There is one matter to which I would like to draw the attention of the House, but, before doing so, I hope the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will not mind if I point out that there is a bigger proportion of my party here than there is of his. He seemed rather to complain of the number of members of my party present. I do not complain of the party above the Gangway because they have had a wearying day and are feeling rather shattered. I would like to say also how glad I am to see the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. W. R. Smith) in his place, not merely because of the great knowledge and experience he has had in these matters, but because the matter I want to raise concerns his native county of Norfolk. When one studies Clause 4 and also what the Minister said when he spoke, it is quite clear that the Bill seeks to abolish those bodies of people known as the commissioners of sewers. It is a good thing to do, but my point is that you sometimes get, as in Norfolk, commissioners of sewers responsible only for coast defence.
I would like to put the position of a body in Norfolk known as the Commissioners of Sewers for the East Norfolk Hundreds. There you have a body which has done a good deal of work since 1855, when the Act was passed, in matters of purely coast defence. They have kept out the sea from an area of 60,000 acres and defended a coastline nine miles long with complete success, and with the absence of any complaint. They have nothing whatever to do with land drainage or with sewerage. If there has ever 1046 been any question of their possessing any powers of land drainage, they have always waived those powers. It would be a mistake to confuse these two subjects of land drainage and coast defence as they are very diverse. I am also raising this point because I see from the Royal Commission's report that this body did not have a chance of submitting oral evidence, though some members of it submitted written evidence. I cannot help feeling rather sorry that the Commissioners were not able to hear oral evidence from this body.
There will be confusion in this Bill if it goes through in its present form, because it mixes up coast defence and land drainage, which is as bad as mixing up salt water and fresh water. In such a case as I have mentioned I would urge that there should be no change at present, especially as I think that no larger authority such as the catchment areas which it is proposed to make would carry but these duties in a better way. They might very easily increase the costs by increasing the rates levied at the present time. As to these rates, they do not conform at all with the provisions in Part I of the Third Schedule of this Bill under heading B. These rates are differential. They vary according to the amount of benefit the land gets from the protection these bodies provide. They vary from 1½d. in the £ to 5s. in the £. That is very reasonable, and I do not think any catchment area could carry out its work at less cost. Another thing about these rates, and another reason why they do not conform to the main intention of the Bill, is that they have to be levied on situation, and not on acreage and value. The whole thing depends on how near the land is to the sea. That is another reason why standardisation of these bodies, as the Bill proposes, is undesirable. The present system works very well and there is a doubt in my mind whether the promoters of the Bill fully realise the state of affairs I have mentioned. I hope that the Government are prepared to consider this point because, if they do not and no change is made, the Government will find that they have bitten off far more than they can chew in the management of all the affairs of thousands of local authorities, such as the Sewerage Commissioners of the East Norfolk Hundreds whom I have mentioned. I hope that the Minis- 1047 ter will make a special case of this matter, as he said in his speech he might do in some cases.
§ Mr. STRACHEY
I hope that I shall not mar the harmony with which this Bill has been received on all sides of the House if I ask the Minister one or two questions to be replied to by whoever replies for the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed a new Clause to the Bill which will provide for a form of grant from the Government to the new authorities established under the Bill, the catchment area boards. I want, in the first place, to ask a few questions on these grants. He has already told us that he cannot tell us the amount of them. We can quite understand that. They will vary tremendously with the wealth or the poverty of the area in question. I take it that these grants will be analogous to the Unemployment Grants Committee grants which are made to local authorities for unemployment schemes. Perhaps they will be actually Unemployment Grants Committee grants, or will they be a new form of grant made from the Ministry of Agriculture? If they are actually Unemployment Grants Committee grants, I take it they will be subject to the provisions all too familiar in this House attached to those grants in the past. The chief of these is, of course, the question of transferred labour.
It is important for the House to know whether the same conditions attached today to the Unemployment Grants Committee grants in the matter of transferred labour will be attached to these new grants being established under this Bill. Many of us will readily admit that in some of these schemes, the larger schemes such as the Minister has hopefully foreshadowed in the Ouse and many other areas, it may be that it will be actually necessary to use transferred labour on such schemes. If they are of large dimensions there may not be the labour available there, and the new authority may be perfectly willing, and, indeed, anxious, to import transferred labour. All of us will be very glad if that is the case and employment found for men in distressed areas by that means. But I do ask the Minister that in the other cases, where within the area of the catchment authority there is plenty of unemployed 1048 labour, there will be no attempt to burden these new schemes with those transfer conditions, which, after all, have been the obstacle to getting any volume of work rapidly growing under Unemployment Grants Committee schemes.
Are we going to have any such condition attached to this Measure, which we hope is going to make some contribution—perhaps only a numerically small contribution—towards finding work? Are we going to hang the same millstone of the transfer condition round its neck which we have hung round the neck of all the schemes we have been trying to put into operation through local authorities up till now? I hope we shall get at this early stage some enlightenment on that point of transferred labour and as to what terms of grant are going to follow that transfer, because you cannot follow exactly the same figures as in the question of transfer in Unemployment Grants Committee schemes. You will find the poorer areas, the ones you most need to help, are not the ones most willing to accept transfer, and that you will have to give lower terms to these areas which are more deserving in order to get the transfer of labour, and you will find the whole equity of your scheme will be upset by the necessity of giving a bribe to areas to take transferred labour.
The real value of this Measure as a contribution to unemployment will very largely depend on the question whether these conditions are attached to these grants. Let us hope that they will not be, and that we shall get quite substantial schemes of work going within a reasonably rapid period. The Minister has described how difficult it will necessarily be to get work going quickly. Inspections and surveys have to be made—all quite necessary. Do not let us burden the Bill with another tremendous complication, because if we do I feel sure that the hope of a real contribution to the unemployment problem through this Bill will be largely gone.
The only other point with which I want to deal is a somewhat broader one. One cannot help feeling a certain sympathy with and a certain force in the point made by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. He put the fundamental point, what is the use of draining a great deal more land for agricultural purposes when you 1049 cannot sell the produce from the land which is in cultivation to-day? Of course, there are limitations to that point. It is true, as has peen said, that it is the marginal farm, the farm with marginal fertility, which is unable to sell its produce to-day, and that if by good drainage you bring into cultivation land which will be of greater fertility than that of the farm which is just on the margin of profit, then no doubt you will have succeeded in getting certain new land into cultivation, but looking at the matter from the point of view of employment this new and more fertile land will presumably knock out certain other land which to-day is just on the margin of profit, and you will get no net advantage whatever to the amount of land under cultivation at any given time.
Therefore, in giving our support to this Bill many of us feel that the Bill will be useful only if it is the first Measure of a well-thought-out and comprehensive agricultural policy which we trust that the Government are going gradually to unfold. Because of this I cannot say that the Bill seems to me, as a measure of agricultural restoration, which I imagine is its primary object—it may have other advantages, and I think it has—to be very hopeful, unless it is followed by other Measures dealing with other sides of the agricultural problem, dealing with the problem not of the production of foodstuffs, as this Bill does, but with the problem of the disposal and sale and the prices which those foodstucs will fetch in the market. The Land Drainage Bill is a Bill to assist the production of foodstuffs. It is analogous to a Bill which sets up further and extended productive machinery in industry. That may be all to the good, and we hope it is. But to-day, if a Minister came to the House and suggested to us that we should build, say, 20 new cotton mills in Lancashire, we should have rather grave doubts of the utility of such a Measure when they were 50, and far more than 50, cotton mills lying idle because they could not sell their production. Is not the analogy somewhat close with this Measure, which will give us new fields for the production of foodstuffs when we cannot sell the production of our farms to-day? These powers, useful and necessary and long overdue as they undoubtedly are, will be useful in practice 1050 and bring benefit to agriculture only if they are followed by a well-thought-out policy dealing with the marketing side of the agricultural problem. We believe that in the policy for which we on this side have always stood, the official policy of the party, we have a provision which really would deal with that side of the question. We have always stood for the import control board, especially to be applied to agricultural produce. We believe——
§ Mr. STRACHEY
Of course I accept your Ruling. I was mentioning the policy only as an example of which I hope that this Bill is but the forerunner. I do not believe that without Measures of that sort it will in fact be possible to assist the agricultural industry. There are a good many of us on this side of the House who will support this Bill wholeheartedly only in the hope and confident expectation that it is but the first Measure of a series of Measures along these lines, designed to assist the agricultural industry.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I would like for a moment to follow the line of argument of the hon. Member who has just spoken. He has made the assertion—an assertion with which I absolutely agree—that before you can or should embark on any scheme which would impose increased expenditure on the agriculturist, you should make sure that the products which he produces will pay for production. I suggest to the Minister that in introducing this Bill he is putting the cart before the horse. Before putting a further charge upon the agricultural industry he should have produced other measures which would put agriculture in such a condition of prosperity that it could bear the further charge. But to say that was not my chief object in rising. I have listened to many hon. Members who have spoken, and they have represented areas that are for the first time being brought into the contribution to drainage. This Bill is to benefit chiefly the lowland areas, to prevent the lowland areas from suffering from inundation.
I stand here as representing one of the largest lowland areas in the country— 1051 not political representation—the vast area within the Ouse catchment area. Any remarks that I make I am making as representing the considered opinion of that Bedford level, including the North, South and Middle levels of Bedford. I say at once that we recognise that the Bill is the outcome of the report of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage. We recognise that that report is an excellent report, and we congratulate the members of the Commission, and Lord Bledisloe, for making the report. In so far as the main principles of that report are followed in this Bill, we agree with it. In the first place there is the principle of charging with rates only those lands which benefit, and as far as this Bill alters that principle and charges not only those occupying the land who have directly benefited but brings the whole catchment area into contribution, we accept this Bill as useful for drainage purposes.
Secondly, we accept the principle that as far as this Bill co-ordinates the whole of the activities of drainage authorities on the main channels, it is useful. But I am bound to say that the present time is not an opportune time for bringing such a Measure before the House. The condition of agriculture is such that it is unable to bear any further financial burden, and the Bill does place a further financial burden on agriculture. We feel that the Bill will have such an effect upon the tenure and ownership of agricultural land that it may be detrimental to the future of farming operations. Speaking generally, the Measure gives an enormous power to the Minister so to effect drainage throughout the country that he will be able to interfere with drainage operations that have been so efficiently carried out in the Lowland areas in the past.
My main objection to the Bill, however, is on the financial side. In Clause 20 the catchment boards of an area have the power to obtain from internal drainage boards a contribution towards the expenses of the catchment area. In Clause 21 it is stated that the catchment board may issue precepts to the councils of counties and county boroughs and to internal drainage boards requiring payment of any amount required. The lowland areas within the Ouse catchment 1052 area are of opinion that the finance of the work that the catchment board will eventually carry out should be borne by three parties. First, the State is coming in to help with some contribution. For that we are grateful. Secondly, there will be a precept by the catchment board upon the county council, who will charge upon the general rate of the county a figure for the whole catchment area. That figure is limited to ¾d. in the £. If the costs of the work on the main channels are not met in the first place by State grant and in the second place by the limit of three-farthings on the precept of the county council, the remainder will be a burden which will have to be met by a charge upon the internal drainage area. I am very pleased to see that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head at that statement, because I can assure him that that is our fear.
I am an owner of land within the internal district of the Middle Level area, and I should like to inform the House of our drainage activities. We are acting under Acts of Parliament from George III downward. Our work in the Middle Level area is to pump the whole of our water from two feet below to two or three feet above sea level. We pay for our coal, and our engineers' wages, and we have never yet come to the State for any assistance. We are able to do this work efficiently and we charge ourselves an acreage rate amounting only to 2s. 6d. per acre. Having got rid of our water into the main channels of the middle level system, that system gets rid of the water into the Ouse, and we are charged an acreage rate of about 4s. 6d. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the view that if there is one efficient drainage authority in this country it is the middle level drainage authority.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman assents to that. Over and above that, we are now to a certain extent under the authority of the Ouse Drainage Board. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is difficulty over the Ouse Drainage Board levying a third supplementary rate upon us, because we in that lowland area feel that the Ouse Drainage Board is doing us no good. However, they charge us one shilling to 1s. 6d. an 1053 acre, for which we receive absolutely no benefit. After we have paid three drainage rates, this Bill is going to put on us a fourth drainage rate. Am I to be placed in the position of having to pay my district rate, my Middle Level rate, my Ouse Drainage Board rate and the Ouse Catchment Board rate? We are an arable area and we are incapable of hearing any further financial burden.
During the debate certain remarks have been made by the Minister that we in the lowland area are running great risks of inundation. One of the things that we object to in this Bill is that the Catchment Area Board will have control over the activities of the local drainage area authorities. We dare not within our lowland area hand over our banks to the keeping of this new board. This board will be composed of 30 members representing within the Ouse area the counties of Bedford, Oxford, Norfolk, Suffolk, and so on, with only one or two members representing the great area of the Fen country. There is a certain bank there which is essential to our very existence. Under this Bill the Catchment Board, consisting of members of the county councils, knowing nothing of drainage, will have control of that bank. We dare not run the risk of handing over that bank to the new Catchment Board.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I understood the hon. Member to say that they had received no help in his area. That is so extraordinary a statement that I thought it advisable that he should be accurate before he went any further. I find that we are at this moment contributing £60,000 to schemes carried out by the Middle Level area costing 2120,000, and in respect of new sluice works in the same area, costing £200,000, they are receiving a grant of 75 per cent. of the loan charges for the first 15 years and of 37½ per cent. for the next 15 years.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
As the one person responsible for negotiating that loan I am fully aware of the position, but I would remind the Minister that I said it was the internal district within the Middle Level area that had not received any grant, or asked for any grant. I accept to the full the statement that the Middle Level area has been very generously assisted by the Minister. I accept the main principles of this Bill, but I do not think that the present moment 1054 is opportune to put the suggested charge upon the country generally and to levy the charge which will be put upon the internal districts. We will accept the Bill at such time as the Minister will accept the Amendments which I shall put upon the Order Paper with a view to meeting the peculiar difficulties of the lowland area within the Fen district. When these matters are dealt with in Committee I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see the point of view of the lowland areas of the Ouse district, who approach this matter with the one desire of doing their very utmost to extend the efficient drainage of the Fen areas, which they have done so successfully in the past.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the very able and clear manner in which he presented this important Bill, this being the first Bill since he was appointed to his present position. We have been assisted this afternoon by the presence of two hon. Members who served on the Royal Commission on Land Drainage, the hon. Baronet the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who made a valuable contribution to the debate, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. W. R. Smith), who is to reply to the debate and whose contribution will be valuable. The main objects of the Bill are to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We have been taunted by one or two speakers that this is our first piece of legislation in regard to agriculture from the Government side. We must begin with drainage. If the land is not properly drained we cannot get practical results nor can we get the scientific benefits from the land. This is the first piece of legislation of an important character on this subject, and we trust that, combined with a policy for agriculture, it will be beneficial. It is the first step towards success.
I know from my own experience that a large amount of capital is wasted on wet land, land liable to flooding. It is a mistake to spend capital on land until it is properly drained. I have seen valuable crops destroyed through defective outfalls. The hon. Member who has just spoken mentioned banks. I know that it is costly to maintain banks, but it is not the object of this Bill to do away with the banks, but to make it possible to 1055 have a common area of drainage. On many occasions in my own experience I have found owners pumping water on to adjoining land, and it gets nowhere. The object of the Bill is to bring forward a system of drainage of a national character. We must make the best use of our land. We need every acre of land in this country to be drained and tilled to produce foodstuffs. We are only a small island. In the county of Lancashire we have thousands of valuable acres of land flooded, which could be made arable, if dry. Unless the land is dry it becomes sour and will not grow crops. It is possible on flooded meadow lands to get an additional crop, but you do not get the valuable herbage from flooded areas.
It has been argued to-day, and I have heard it argued outside by farmers: "What is the use of draining land and bringing more land into cultivation when we cannot sell the crops that are produced?" My reply is that we are buying crops from foreign countries at a cost of £100,000,000 or more a year which we could produce at home on these flooded lands if they were cultivated, and we ought to set about to produce a policy whereby we can cultivate every acre of this land. There has been good spirit in this debate. There have been only three speeches against the Bill. The mover and seconder of the Amendment made most eloquent contributions, but their arguments were the weakest of the lot. The good spirit that has been shown in this debate proves to my satisfaction that if we bring forward a reasonable agricultural policy there will be a large measure of support for it from all quarters of the House. It is a very poor excuse to say that it is no use bringing more land into cultivation, because we cannot sell our produce. Reorganisation, better marketing, and a suitable policy are required.
This Bill means the finding of employment for a large number of men. We do not want to be carried away by the argument that we are going to find employment for hundreds of thousands of men, but steady employment will be found for a large number of men who are capable of carrying out the work. When we spend this money on draining the land we shall have beneficial results all-round. There will be the cultivation of the land, 1056 equipment and the erection of dwellings for the workpeople, and in that way employment will continue for several years. I am not going to enter into any of the difficulties of the Bill from an engineering or from a financial point of view, as those will be dealt with in Committee. I wish to give loyal support to this very important Bill, which I feel is in the right direction. Both cities and towns and the rural parts of the country will benefit from the Bill, because it is of a national character, and the towns and cities will get a sure and certain outfall for their storm water. I welcome the Bill, as I am sure it will help national progress, and I trust the Minister of Agriculture will find it possible to secure that the Bill comes into operation not later than the beginning of 1932.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
As a member of the committee on the Ouse Drainage, to which reference has been made, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister, as one Lincolnshire man to another, on having introduced this Bill. If there is one county that is interested in drainage of all kind, it is Lincolnshire. I wish him luck, but I see that there are many snags in his way. In the Ouse area the Government are proposing to give nearly £2,000,000, or half-and-half, but I do not think the Government are proposing to give half-and-half in all the catchment areas of this country, and I see considerable difficulty from a good many of these catchment areas.
I must say that a Bill is required, and for that reason I shall not oppose this Measure. The existing law is in a state of chaos, and, although it has been said by a great many speakers that because agriculture does not pay at the present time, this is not the right time to bring in this Bill, I think the Bill is in rather a different category from a great many Bills. Like the Coast Protection Bill, it is a contentious Bill of a non-party kind, and for that reason I think the Government would spend their time very well in treating it as a Measure to be considered by a Council of State rather than on party lines.
I am sorry the Coast Protection Bill was dropped. There is another difficulty, and that is the point of junction between land drainage and coast defence against erosion. An hon. Member below the 1057 Gangway mentioned one difficulty, but I see several. I see a difficulty between Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, where we have the Trent. The Coast Protection Bill proposed to set up rather analogous authorities up to high-water mark, and the Trent goes a long way up. In the same way, there is the question of the Ouse, where the high-water mark also goes a long way up. Where is the co-ordinating authority between these two Bills? Either in this Bill or in the Coast Protection Bill there ought to be some co-ordinating authority, and that is a very suitable subject for an alteration in Committee.
The third point that I want to stress is the question of fresh water supplies for the urban districts, and, while pollution is not included in this Bill, I think something about fresh water will certainly have to be put in. I have the honour next Friday of addressing the Urban District Councils Association on the question of land drainage, and, while I know that at present they are not taking a very marked interest in this Bill, they have certainly spotted the difficulty of non-co-ordination between this Bill and the Coast Protection Bill. They are, however, most interested in the question of fresh water supplies, and I see a difficulty in some of the right hon. Gentleman's definitions in the Schedules to the Bill. He proposes to set up catchment areas from which water drains into the various rivers. The artificial means which have been adopted by the big towns in introducing water from other large areas will complicate his definitions, and no doubt that point will be put right. But the increasing tendency of the big towns to take more and more water from other catchment areas makes it very difficult for those below to deal with that water, and that is perhaps an argument in favour of the Bill as a whole.
There is one thing upon which I should like to congratulate the party opposite. When I was fighting my election I remember so well my Socialist opponents saying that all land, however poor, could be made to pay equally with rich land. Member after Member opposite has got up to-night and has said how hard hit the poor lands are at the present moment, and I am glad to see that, owing perhaps to the education of the 1058 Minister of Agriculture, they are at last understanding something about the subject. For that reason, the more debates we have about agriculture, the better it will be for the country as a whole. If I may use non-Parliamentary language, I may praise this Bill with faint damns, but I hope it will get its Second Reading. It will get a very hearty opposition in Committee, and I hope the Government will not be dismayed by that opposition. It is well meant. It is meant to turn out a good Bill, and, for that reason and with that warning, I should like to sit down with a modified blessing on the present scheme.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
I find myself in hearty agreement with the general principles of this Bill, very largely because I believe the Bill is intended to help some districts of the country which are water-logged; and those areas which have not expended large sums of money upon drainage schemes certainly now, after the statement of the Minister of Agriculture, look like receiving State assistance in order to get their land well drained. That will be a good thing for them. I support this Bill because I believe that in it there are arrangements which may be made and financial assistance which will be given by the Government, and in a measure it will relieve the unemployment that exists in the rural areas. It has been said that the amount of employment that will be provided is over-stated, but I do not mind that. The fact remains that there will be a measure of employment found for unemployed rural workers, and to that extent the Bill will prove a blessing to those workers.
I welcome the Bill, because I see an opportunity in it of dealing with the question of the pollution of the rivers of our country. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, mentioned the state of affairs that existed in my own Division as a result of the pollution of the River Witham, and I am glad to see a Clause in the Bill which will give the catchment boards power to set up a joint committee for the purpose of keeping our rivers fresh and clean and pure. I am sure that, if I offer any little criticism, the Minister will accept it in the spirit in which it is given, because I represent a very important agricultural constitu 1059 ency, and, so far as land drainage is concerned, a peculiar agricultural constituency.
I notice that under the Bill there are to be established new authorities where authorities do not exist. Certainly the catchment boards will be new authorities, and I believe that that is a step in the right direction. It is a step in the co-ordination of the work of the various drainage authorities that exist to-day. The catchment boards will have specific duties allocated to them, and, as I understand the Bill, those duties will consist of maintaining control of all the main rivers and the arterial drains, and they are also going to control—and here I am not quite sure that the Bill is really sound—the activities of the internal drainage boards. Those boards that are now functioning are composed of men who understand land drainage, and to set up a catchment board that will have power to issue instructions to internal drainage boards as to how they shall proceed with the drainage of the land in their particular areas may be a step rather in the wrong direction than a step forward.
I want to direct the attention of the Minister to Clause 3 of the Bill. I know he said that he hoped the House would take a large view, and not a merely parochial or local view, of the Bill, and I know that some of these things can be dealt with in Committee, but not all of us will be on the Committee, and therefore, I want to put one or two suggestions before the Minister. Under Clause 3, as I understand it, the catchment boards will be constituted of a number of members not exceeding 30, of whom one member will be directly appointed by the Minister, and two-thirds of the members of each board will be appointed directly from the borough and county councils in the catchment area. The two-thirds constitution of the catchment boards which comes from the borough and county councils may be a just proportion for some of our larger main rivers, but there are catchment areas that are very largely rural, where there are very few borough councils, but where the whole area is concerned with internal drainage. To give two-thirds representation of the borough and county councils in those areas, is, in my view, a 1060 mistake, while only one-third of the membership is to be derived from the internal drainage board. In other words, only one-third of the members of the catchment board will be directly representing the internal drainage of those areas. In Clause 21 I find that the catchment boards have certain powers to carry out their work of maintaining the main rivers and arterial drainage. They have power to issue a precept on county and borough councils which must not exceed a halfpenny rate, and, in case the council of a county are already liable for any drainage expenses, they can issue a prceept not exceeding a rate of three-farthings in the £. In the rural districts the amount of money derived in this way will be very small, and I think the charge ought to be spread over the whole area. My point is that the constitution of these catchment boards provides that they will have power to issue a precept on the internal drainage board for the bulk of the money required. They may increase the cost by 100 per cent., and the internal drainage board will have to find a large percentage of the money. I am aware that there may be a contribution from the State, but my paint is that the catchment board has power to issue this precept upon the internal drainage board, and the latter board will not have adequate representation on the catchment board. I seriously suggest that, from the point of view of the rural catchment areas, their representation on the catchment board ought to receive very serious consideration.
So far as the internal drainage boards and internal drainage are concerned, the people who are receiving the benefit certainly ought to pay a fair amount of the cost. I want the Minister of Agriculture to realise that the very best men he can get to carry out these duties will be the men who have given their life study to the question of the drainage of the land, and I suggest that, by giving a two-thirds representation to the members of borough councils and county councils, it is very likely that the men chosen will not be the best men suited for that particular work. I will give another reason which applies specially to the Fen district in my own Division in South Lincolnshire. There we have a very adequate system of drainage, and, with 1061 or without this Bill, the agriculturists of South Lincolnshire are determined to maintain a good system of land drainage. They have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in providing a system adequate to their requirements, and they believe that there is a positive danger that the water from the uplands may be driven down into the lowlands, and then the lowland authorities will have to deal with it. Unless the lowland authorities receive more money there is a danger that the lowlands of South Lincolnshire may become flooded areas. On this point, may I read an extract from a report prepared by a joint body representing the drainage authorities in South Lincolnshire in connection with the River Witham. This is what they say:Fen rivers like the Witham, the Nene, and the Welland ought to be separately treated so far as the representation of catchment areas is concerned. The Bill may work very well in the case of the majority of rivers which rise in the highlands and fall by gravitation into the sea, but in the case of Fen rivers, however, sea level or thereabouts is reached when the river is still many miles from the sea. Then it has to be embanked, and it may run at a higher level than the adjacent lands. They have to pump all the water into the arterial stream which then becomes, to an extent, artificial.From the point of view of protecting these lowland areas from the danger of flooding, the report suggests that they should be given further representation upon the catchment boards. There are one or two other points with which I should like to deal. Clause 11 gives power to transfer the functions of internal drainage boards to the catchment boards by way of representation to the Minister of Agriculture. There is no condition laid down in that Clause in regard to the circumstances under which that transfer may take place. At the present time the internal drainage boards do their work efficiently and well, and a Clause of that sort ought not to be inserted unless it is to penalise the internal drainage board for not functioning properly. As the Clause now stands, the internal drainage board may be working effectively, and yet power is given to take away the whole of their functions and transfer them to the catchment board. Is it the intention of the promoters of this Bill to use the internal drainage board for a time and then clear them right out of the way? There seems to me to be no justification for giving 1062 that power, and I think the Minister of Agriculture ought to insert in the Clause a provision that there must be some dereliction of duty on the part of the internal drainage board before their powers can be taken away from them.
Clause 37 provides for the disposal of spoil, and gives power to the catchment board to pay compensation to the local authority for the disposal of spoil. In various Acts of Parliament which are in operation to-day in connection with various drainage boards, there is a compensation Clause to cover the loss to growing crops and other damage caused as a result of tipping this spoil on the adjoining land. This operation goes on in my own constituency more than in other parts. We have a lot of large drainage schemes with agricultural land on one side and a road or a railway on the other side, and all the spoil is tipped on one side. Under the present system, the occupiers are compensated for any loss which they suffer. In this Clause, there is no power given to the internal drainage board or the catchment board to compensate the occupiers of such land.
Clause 55 deals with the maintenance of banks between adjoining lands. It sometimes occurs that two persons are under an obligation to clear out a particular drain. One of them may desire that the work should be done and the other will not agree, and may refuse to do his share of the work. In those circumstances, this Clause gives power to the occupier to compel his neighbour to do his share I think that provision is wrong. If the neighbour in this case will not do his share, then the first occupier can enter the drain, do the work, and sue his neighbour in the County Court for his share of the cost of doing the work. Surely that is not what is intended by this Clause. You have the internal drainage board and the catchment board which are set up to supervise a particular district, and they should insist on the responsible people clearing out drains when that is necessary. They are the authorities who should decide how this work is to be done and when it is to be done. I suggest that Clause 55 should be altered so that the internal drainage board becomes the real controlling authority in these matters.
I notice that in Clause 76, which is the interpretation Clause, there is a definition 1063 stating that the expression "Defence against water" includes defence against sea water. Surely the financial responsibility for defence against sea water ought not to be a charge upon the local rates, but ought to be a national charge. I think that definition ought to be altered so that "Defence against water" means water with which this Bill is really intended to deal. If it is intended to put upon the backs of the local ratepayers the burden of sea defence, I think you will be placing upon them a charge which they cannot stand. Generally, I welcome the Bill, and I am glad to have had this opportunity of putting my points. I trust that the Minister will give consideration to the points which I have raised, which I hope will be rectifier before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. B. RILEY
Among other reasons, I welcome this Bill because, as a member of the Select Committee on the Ouse Drainage Bill in 1927, I realised the difficulties of dealing with laud drainage under existing authorities, and I agree with all those who have expressed approval of what I may call the main principles of the Bill. The first of these is that it deals with the question of land drainage under an authority which is adequate to the natural conditions under which land drainage can be dealt with, namely, a catchment area authority. That is obviously a step in the right direction. The second main principle of the Bill is that it is equitable that the cost of land drainage should be spread, and should fall, not only upon the lowland areas which may be deriving benefit from drainage works, but upon the whole catchment area. With these principles I am in agreement, but I want to offer three criticisms in regard to the Bill, not, I hope, of a carping character, but to meet what seems to me to be necessary, where one agrees with the general object, to secure that the means applied to attain it shall be equitable.
In the first place, I want to refer to the composition of the catchment area boards. They have already been referred to by the hon. Member for the Holland Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Blindell), but I want to refer to them from a somewhat different point of view. As I understand this Bill, 1064 the financial responsibility for any works which are carried out, at any rate in most of the catchment areas, is inevitably going to fall very largely, if not overwhelmingly, upon borough ratepayers. Fears have been expressed by one or two hon. Members on the other side that this Bill is going to impose new burdens upon the agricultural community, but, so far as I can see, it imposes no additional burdens whatever upon the agricultural interest; it is going very largely to shift the responsibility of providing finance for drainage from the agricultural interest on to urban occupiers.
If I remember rightly, the Minister has already said to-day, in reply to a question which was put to him, that under the Bill as it stands no new obligation is to be placed upon either the occupiers or the owners of agricultural land or buildings. It is quite true that the occupiers of land and agricultural hereditaments within local drainage areas will still be responsible for the provision of finance for the drainage schemes which are now going on under existing authorities, but, as I understand the Bill, as has been affirmed by the Minister this afternoon, and as has been brought out also by agricultural representatives on the other side, the Bill, owing to the abolition of rates on agricultural buildings, will place no new obligation upon the agricultural interest.
With regard to urban districts, the Minister mentioned this afternoon that in one catchment area, namely, that of the Trent, there are no fewer than 13 county boroughs. He said also that a penny rate within that area would realise £88,000 per annum, and he contrasted with that the case of Romney Marsh. I am not aware whether there is actually a county borough in that area, but there a penny rate will only realise some £580. It is obvious that in a catchment area of the type of the Trent area, and also of those of the Thames, very largely, the Severn, and the Ouse in the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire, county boroughs will be liable for the great bulk of the finance required for any large schemes so far as the share of local authorities is concerned. It must be remembered that there is to be no new liability whatever upon any agricultural land or building, and that the only agricultural hereditament that will be 1065 liable under this Bill for a contribution to the catchment area precept will be the house of the farmer, or other buildings used for residential purposes, or factories, within the agricultural area. On agricultural land and buildings there will be no liability. Therefore, it is obvious that the great bulk of the local liabilities will be placed upon the urban rates.
What is the constitution of the catchment area boards? Under Clause 3 of the Bill, the catchment area authority will include one member appointed by the Minister, while such number, not less than two-thirds of the remaining members, as the Minister may determine, will be appointed, whether from their own members or not, by the councils of the counties and of the county boroughs whose area or any part of whose area is situated in the catchment area. Subsection (3) of Clause 3 goes on to say:Provided that—(a) the number of the members of a Catchment Board to be appointed by the councils of county boroughs shall not in any case exceed one-third of the aggregate number of the members to be appointed by the councils of counties and county boroughs.That means, as I understand it, that the 13 county boroughs in, for instance, the Trent catchment area will be entitled to appoint one-third of the entire number appointed by the county councils and county boroughs in that area. I think that the largest number of members of a catchment area board will be 30, and, assuming that to be the case, the county boroughs within, say, the Trent catchment area would have seven representatives out of 30, while the county councils and county boroughs would have about 14, and there would be nine or 10 appointed by the Minister to represent the district. I would submit to the Minister that that is a provision which will have to be revised in Committee.
I notice that the Royal Commission, in their report, state that wherever the financial responsibility is a large one there must be extra representation, and I would, therefore, suggest to the Minister that in those cases, which I think are likely to be the majority, in which county boroughs will inevitably, because of their liability in respect of their hereditaments, have to contribute 1066 largely to the finance of these schemes, they naturally have a right to a much increased representation. I am rather surprised to find that no word has been said during the whole of this debate with regard to the case of the county boroughs. It is no wonder that there has been great harmony and contentment, because everyone realised that this was a Measure more or less to appease and conciliate the agricultural interest; but we must remember that the Bill places upon urban authorities the obligation to find the money, and, that being the case, they will have a right to adequate representation upon these catchment area boards.
The second point that I want to urge is that, as I read the Bill, there is no provision in it whatever for either the local ratepayers or the State, which, combined, will be responsible for the finance for carrying out schemes of drainage resulting in land improvement to receive that enhanced value of the land which is bound to come from these improvements. That is a very deplorable defect in the Bill. The party on these benches has always said that such a policy must be embodied in any legislation under which public money is spent. On the other hand, I would call the attention of the House to the fact that there is a provision in Clause 33 which says that:Where injury is sustained by any person by reason of the exercise by a drainage board of any of its powers under this section, the board shall be liable to make full compensation to the injured person, and in case of dispute the amount of the compensation shall be determined in the manner in which disputed compensation for land is required to be determined by the Lands Clauses Acts.If the public give a benefit to private individuals, why do not the public also have a right to get a recompense? I hope something will be done in Committee in this direction. I do not question that the main purpose of the Bill is to improve agriculture, but it may be overlooked that immense capital value is inevitably going to be given to certain lands as the result of expenditure of money to which the owners will not contribute a single penny piece. Many references have been made to the River Ouse, flowing away from Cambridgeshire into the Wash. I remember very well the evidence that was given before the 1067 Committee in 1927. It has been stated by the Minister and by the ex-Minister that it is deplorable to think that in this Fen area there are half-a-million acres subject to being flooded every year. On many occasions large tracts have been flooded for four and five months in the year. It was stated in evidence that such land only paid 30s. but, if it was drained, it could pay £4 a year. The ratepayers and the State are going to contribute money to make that land worth £4 an acre. If that is done, there ought to be some provision that the community reaps the value of the expenditure.
I regret that I cannot discover in the Bill any provision that is going to give the Minister independent power to act where backward catchment area authorities may be negligent or in default. It has been stated by several speakers that we must not expect too much from the Bill. A warning has been issued that we are not to think it is going to find immediate employment for thousands of men out of work. I have no illusions about that either. I know how slowly machinery of this kind moves, especially in rural areas. Not only is the Bill put forward in order to make agricultural land more productive; it is also conceived as an emergency measure to give a chance of substantial additional employment to men who are out of work. I cannot see the farmers getting busy on these schemes. We have had speeches from Members opposite protesting against the additional expense they will have to bear, and I cannot see any great enthusiasm being engendered quickly to get the Bill into operation. The Ministry ought to protect itself by having some provision in case the new authorities do not act as they ought to do. With these criticisms, I welcome the Bill.
§ Major HILLS
I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) that we ought to make the best use of our land. I know very few countries in Europe which make a worse use of their land than we do. All over the Continent we find every acre that can be cultivated carefully drained, in Holland we find large tracts recovered from the sea in order to be cultivated, and we are allowing our land to go back 1068 to a state in which it produces far less than it did in 1914. I was on the Royal Commission, and we travelled and inspected a great many areas, and I was frankly appalled at what I saw. Land that 20 years before had been good arable land had got waterlogged; the water level had risen too high, and, instead of producing good crops, it was just a rough pasture that fed a few bullocks during the summer.
I want to take issue with the Mover of the rejection. My hon. and gallant Friend treated the whole evil as being one of flooding. Flooding is a very great evil, and the flooding of arable land is disastrous. It is only on certain sorts of land and under certain conditions that flooding is a good thing. But a far greater evil than flooding is the general rise of the level, the water not running off and rendering the land fit for cultivation. The reason for that is quite simple. In the last few years, and especially in war time, when labour and money were scarce, the main channel of the river was allowed to get blocked up and the water was not carried away to the sea as fast as it ought to be. The impression I formed was that, if this country were faced with a national crisis of the same character as in 1914, we are worse prepared to produce food than we were then. So much land has gone back that our productive power is lessened. That surely is a very remarkable state of things in the face of the fact that we are a very small island, and you would have thought that we should make every acre of land valuable.
The Royal Commission found that 2,250,000 acres are permanently waterlogged and a large part of that has become waterlogged in recent years and could be relieved from the evil under which it now suffers. I want to deal with two matters only. I shall leave aside many of the thorny questions which this Bill involves. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley), that the Bill is a controversial Bill but not a politically controversial Bill. Questions of the uplander and the lowlander, the rights of the urban districts and of the county districts, and the proportion of members on the catchment area authority to be appointed by each, and the powers allotted to the different local authorities 1069 are all very important matters, but I think that they are better thrashed out in Committee. They are big points, but they are Committee points.
The Royal Commission advised that the rating should be on annual value. In most matters the Government have kept to the report of the Royal Commission, but in this matter they have departed from it, and they allow rating to be either upon acreage or upon annual value. I hope that that point will be reconsidered. It was fully dealt with my my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), and I shall not repeat the reasons which he gave. We considered the matter with great care, and I hope that the Government, in Committee, will have reason to change their views.
§ Major HILLS
Annual value, yes. We say annual value in all cases, but the Bill provides an alternative, either acreage or annual value. The Bill bristles with controversial points, but it enshrines a great principle. It enshrines the principle of making our land more productive and adding to our national wealth. I know that the question will arise as to whom the benefit goes, and it is a matter which ought to be very carefully considered; but in a great many cases you have a problem which cannot be dealt with under existing conditions unless the State comes in. Take the case of the main channel of a river. The improvement of the main channel of a river may increase the value of farms situated a long way up the river, but the value will be very hard to assess, and, under the present unfortunate position of agriculture, unless you obtain substantial assistance from the State, the Bill will break down. It will not operate. I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House know that that will be the case. We have to come to a fair bargain between the different interests. All parties in this House want the Bill. I have never known a Bill receive such a small amount of criticism as this Bill has received, and surely, when we are agreed upon the principle, questions like that ought not to be hard to solve.
I want to look beyond the Bill and to call the attention of the House to the 1070 fact that drainage is only one aspect of a very big question. Drainage, water supply, pollution, fisheries and water power and navigation are all different aspects of the same subject. Under this Bill, we say that water which gets upon land ought to be hurried down to a drain and by the drain taken to the river and discharged into the sea; that the shortest time ought to elapse between the water falling as rain from Heaven and its being mixed with the sea. But in the same area alongside these lands which become waterlogged you often find a water shortage. Two or three years ago I was a member of a large deputation which went to the late Lord Balfour. It was composed of drainage authorities, water board authorities, representatives interested in the pollution of rivers, and of those interested in the amenities of the countryside. A statement was made during the conference—and it was not contradicted—that nearly all the big areas where you can "catch up" water and form reservoirs for the water supply of our big towns, were taken up and that the next supply of water for our big cities were the great rivers which run through them. Let the House think of the present condition of those big rivers and of the work which has to be done to purify them before the water can be made fit, to drink. Therefore, though in this Bill we are to get water off some kinds of land, a great many of our authorities are very short of water and some lands need water. A great deal of the lighter land is better for having water. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the fact that it is possible to take away water too quickly and too completely, and that they will always remember that water supply is also a very important national interest.
There is also the question of pollution. I welcome Clause 54 and the fact that the Government have very wisely recognised that pollution is one side of this question. But, if hon. Members will turn to Clause 54, they will see that the powers are not very strong. All that it says is that there shall be a pollution authority, who are to do—what? Who are to have power to work in co-operation with the catchment area authority, who are to carry out the Act of 1876. It is 54 years since that Act was passed, and I have not seen much improvement in the state of our river in those years. In fact, a great many of them have gone from bad 1071 to worse. I cannot think that an authority whose powers are confined to the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876, can do very much to purify our rivers. Certain Acts have been passed since that time, and they have done something, but the question still remains in a most unsatisfactory state. It is not only a question of pleasure and the amenities and of fishing interests, but also a question of our national life. Our rivers are a part of our national possession, and I think that all of us feel shocked when we see some stream which used at one time to be a beautiful, pure and healthy stream, turned into an open and evil-smelling drain. Therefore, I want to issue a note of warning. We are only dealing here with one side of the question. I do not say that we ought to have a single authority for all these matters. I do not say that water supply, pollution, drainage and navigation ought to be under one authority—that would be going too far—but there ought to be in the minds of the Government the closest regard to all the aspects of this question, and we ought not to apply our reforms only to one side of it. I hope we shall learn on Friday that the financial intentions of the Government are extremely liberal. The work has to be done. Who pays? You may say that the landowner should pay, or that the occupier should pay, or that the ratepayer and taxpayer should pay. When you have run through all these I think you have exhausted the objects of any charge——
§ Major HILLS
The consumer of water pays already, and you cannot put an extra charge upon him for water which he does not get. I do not think there is any possibility of imposing any substantial charge on the landowner and the tenant. The benefit is too remote. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) mentioned one case in which the land would go up four times in value.
§ Major HILLS
That is nearly three times in value, and the hon. Member will agree that such cases will be very rare indeed and that any increased value will only mature very slowly. As against that we shall have the greater productivity of the land. I recognise that a certain 1072 amount of employment will be created by this Bill, although it may not be as much as the Minister of Agriculture believes. But let me utter a word of caution against regarding this Bill as a Measure for the prevention of unemployment. It will employ people, but its first object should be to free the land of water. I am not quite sure that giving the largest grants to the most necessitous districts is the right way. You should spend money on land which can be improved by the expenditure of money. Incidentally, you are increasing the productivity of the land. I can imagine no better object for the expenditure of public money than the drainage of land which is lying waste at the moment. I do not know what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) thinks of this Measure. I read with great care the manifesto of the Liberal party at the last General Election and I was not able to accept their opinion that a vast expenditure on roads would be beneficial to the country, but when you come to drainage, a real evil, by which you can improve the productivity of the land, add to the beauty of the countryside and to the comfort and well-being of the people, I say that you have a very good case for the expenditure of public money. I have pleaded for economy but I shall not object to a substantial contribution from the Exchequer to the cost of the Land Drainage Bill.
§ Mr. A. SOMERVILLE
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) said that we must not expect too much from the Bill. I thoroughly agree.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
Let us hope that we shall get some good out of the Bill, but I fear that there will be a great deal of waste. The Minister of Agriculture recommended the Measure in a most genial and interesting speech. There is no doubt that he will get his Second Reading, probably without a Division, but, nevertheless, the Bill is somewhat dangerous. It is founded on the recommendations of the Royal Commission appointed by the late Government and presided over by Lord Bledisloe. That is so; and if it bad been in the hands of a sensible Government like the last my criticism would be disarmed. But when it is in the hands of a Government which is at its wits' end to provide some 1073 means for curing a small part of the unemployment which exists I have grave doubts as to the way in which it will be worked, and especially as it is in the hands of a Minister who is not famous for an economical expenditure of public money. Already, with the best intentions in the world, he has thrown a great deal of public money out of the window. Let us hope that by this Bill he will not throw a great deal of public money into the river. When the Bill was in another place Clause 12, which gave almost unlimited powers to the Minister, was greatly amended, and an appeal to a tribunal which has been put into the Bill is also a great improvement.
The County of Berkshire, a part of which I have the honour to represent in this House, is closely concerned with the catchment area of the Thames. In another place a limit was put on the amount of the precept which a catchment area board could ask a county council to levy. That limit was fixed at a halfpenny to three-farthings in the £. I was disappointed to hear that the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to accept that provision. His statement will be greatly regretted and opposed by the counties. He also said that he could not agree to postpone the operation of the Bill for two and a half years. He has accepted a proposal to postpone the operation of the Bill in the Thames Valley for two years because the London County Council, a powerful body, and the Thames Conservancy, of which I have the privilege of being a member, said that they could not undertake these schemes without full consideration, without a survey of the Thames basin and without some consideration as to how the increased flow of water will affect possible tidal floods like the one which caused such a disaster recently close to the Houses of Parliament. The operation of the Bill, so far as the Thames basin is concerned, is to be postponed for two years and is it not reasonable to suppose that similar considerations will apply in other river basins?
The Government, quite rightly, are anxious to provide some remedy for unemployment and want to force the Bill through as quickly as possible in order to get these schemes into operation at the earliest possible moment. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury has said, they must 1074 not expect too much. The amount of unemployment which will be cured in this way is not very great. We have an instance of it in the scheme in connection with the Wey and the Thames to which I shall refer later. The proposals in the Bill will not be very popular in the inland drainage areas because the inland drainage boards are to have an unlimited power of rating. Of course that power is conditioned by the fact that the representatives on the inland drainage boards will have some interest in keeping down the rates, but it is proposed to rate a large amount of agricultural land which is at present derated. The catchment area boards are to precept on the county councils for the rate which they require. That rate will be levied by the county council in the general county rate and will not be paid by agricultural land, but the rate levied by the inland drainage board, which will be considerably larger, will be paid by the agricultural acreage in that area—an arrangement which will be greatly resented.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the representation on the Thames Conservancy which will become the Thames Catchment Area Board. He objected to non-county boroughs and urban councils having representation on that Board. I suppose the hon. Member would confine it to county councils but, take the cases of Windsor and Maidenhead as examples. They will have to pay the county rate. They suffer from the flooding probably more than towns in any district in Surrey. Why should not they have a voice on the Board?
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
These towns have a direct interest in the matter and why should they not have a direct representation? As a matter of fact their representation is reduced by the Bill. The upriver non-county boroughs and urban districts have, at present, on the Conservancy Board seven representatives, but that number will be reduced 1075 to four when it becomes the Thames Catchment Area Board. The hon. Member also referred to the Wey scheme. It took years to decide upon that scheme and it will cost something under £600,000 and employ between 600 and 700 men—not a very great number. Whom is that scheme going to benefit? The riparian owners on the Wey. It is true that the Thames will get some benefit because the outfall will be widened between Weybridge and Teddington to deal with a flood of 7,000,000,000 gallons. That is a benefit, but the scheme would never have been undertaken if the Unemployment Grants Committee had not guaranteed 75 per cent. of the loan charges for the first 15 years, and 37½ per cent. for the second 15 years. Evidently the results to be obtained from that scheme are not commensurate with the amount spent, and yet that scheme has been thoroughly well thought out and is being very carefully worked by most competent people.
§ 9.0. p.m.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
The Bill confounds drainage with the prevention of flooding. The better you drain, the more you flood. The Wey is only one of 12 important tributaries of the Thames and I have mentioned what is happening with regard to the Wey. Under the Bill you will have an inland drainage board for each of these 12 tributaries and each of these boards will set to work to drain its own district, with the result that the water will fall into the main river very much faster than heretofore and floods will become worse, unless at the same time we increase the size of the channel of the Thames. What are the facts? I think it was the hon. Member for South Shields who referred to a scheme which would have cost £9,000,000. That scheme would provide for an ordinary flood of 7,500,000,000 gallons in the 24 hours at Teddington. That would involve the replacement of the bridges at Henley, Maidenhead and Kingston, the straightening of the river in many places, and other work. Yet in December and January last we had a flood of 10,000,000,000 gallons outflow at Teddington. To deal with that you would need two rivers each the size of the Thames.
1076 I am all for dealing with the floods in the Thames Valley because we suffer greatly from them, but we can only do what is reasonable. There are other matters which must be considered. When these tributary valleys are drained more perfectly the water is run off more quickly and there is the important question of storage. More and more water is used every month in the cleaning of motor cars, in gardens, and so on, and the question of water storage is most important. It is the fact that marshy districts are extremely useful in many places for storing water. A large part of Exmoor for instance acts as a sponge which retains water and produces a regular flow of water in the Exe and other rivers; otherwise the water in those rivers would run off much quicker. The arguments in this matter are not all on one side.
There is another point. If a great scheme were carried out in the Thames to prevent floods—I wish we could find some reasonable way of preventing floods—what would be the result? You would have to deepen and widen the channel and straighten the course of the river in many places with the result that you would interfere with the amenities of the river. Those amenities bring a large number of people to the Thames and result in the employment of a great number of people. There are boat-builders, boat-letters, and those employed by them. Thus you might create some employment but you would also produce a certain amount of unemployment.
The principles of the Bill seem to be good, but it, is not introduced at the right time and will not be of very much benefit to agriculture. If we have money to spend on agriculture, it is much better to spend it directly in the encouragement of arable cultivation, and to keep on the land the men who are leaving it as the arable land is turned down to pasture. There was a reference by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) to the much better cultivation abroad, and by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) to the necessity for cultivating all the land possible in the country. But would there be a square yard of land uncultivated if it could be made to pay? The reason that we do not do it is that we cannot grow the 1077 stuff at a reasonable profit. It has to be produced often at a loss, and I would urge the hon. Member for Ormskirk to persuade his Government not to allow dumped cereals to come into this country——
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I was led away by the hon. Member for Ormskirk. This Bill has been much improved in another place, and I regret that the Minister will not accept the Amendments there introduced; it will make the Bill much more unpopular in the counties. If, however, there is money to be spent on agriculture, spend it directly on keeping arable land from being laid down to grass.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
It is evident from the reception which I got on rising from the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), whose sotto voce voice penetrates almost to St. Thomas's Hospital, that he anticipates what I am going to say. In listening to this debate one becomes suspicious. When the hon. Gentlemen on the other side are not willing to contest the ground with this Government, I always become auspicious, and one has not far to look to-day to find out why there was a certain amount of compliance in the promotion of this Bill. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the owners of the land will benefit by the drainage under this Bill. We are going to pay for this by a levy on hereditaments, and I looked in the Bill to see if there were a definition of hereditament, and I could not find one. The words that appear in the Bill are:A drainage board may, at their option, make a drainage rate as either—One is anxious to know what is meant by hereditament here, because agricultural land is not now rated. There is the other alternative of an annual value rate which is
- (a) an acreage rate, that is to say, a rate assessed on the basis of acreage as regards agricultural hereditaments, but on the basis of annual value as regards other hereditaments; or"assessed on the basis of annual value as regards all hereditaments.This is like many Bills promoted in this House, for when it comes down to dealing with the question of raising the 1078 money to recover the cost for these improvements, we find evasive words. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), for whose opinions I have great regard, doubted if the advantage would wholly go to the landowner if the drainage were carried through. It is an easy thing to prove who gets the advantage. Supposing that the whole land of England fell into the sea to-morrow, and then some fishy Government promoted a scheme for draining the land and bringing it to the surface again. In the first instance, the owners of the land would lose their property entirely, and the net result of bringing the land to the surface would be to the advantage of the owners. After all, drainage is only a partial process of that kind. Every acre of land drained will be to the advantage of the landowner, and in raising the money to pay for the drainage, it surely should have been one of the objects of this Bill to reverse the de-rating process and definitely to demand that the owners of the land should pay for the advantages accruing from these improvements. A remark was made with regard to the purifying of rivers. What would happen to the riparian owners by that? The Bill as drawn does not specify that the riparian landowners as such shall contribute as such towards the expenses of the Bill.
§ Major HILLS
I cannot say what will happen in future, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he appreciates the fact that when burdens were taken off the land, such as rates, all the benefit went to the occupier, and not to the owner of the land.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I should be most anxious to follow that argument, but I am afraid that I should be ruled out of order. In passing, however, let me say that the late Lord Chaplin, who was no mean student of these things, said that when rates were high, rents fell, and that a relief of rates increased the advantage to the landlord. I will not pursue that, except to say that if I were an owner of land, and my tenants paid no rates, I would see that the rent included the rates which they used to pay and I would be only a good business landlord in doing it. If a polluted river runs through an area, you cannot develop the contiguous land to the same extent as 1079 you can when the river is purified, but who is paying for the purification of the river? Seventy-five per cent. comes from the Government for so many years, then some 37½ per cent.——
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I was only taking the figures given by the hon. Gentleman's colleague a few moments ago. The Government are guaranteeing money in the belief that it will give work to the unemployed. The Government will have to advance the money, and the people who own property other than the land will have to pay the rates. The burdens will fall upon the owners of improvements in the form of buildings on the land. The landowner will have his land drained and his rivers purified, and if the sea is threatening to invade his land, even that will be held back. Everything will be done for him by the good, kind, obliging ratepayer and by a good, kind, obliging Government, and yet we are being told here to-night that the landowner will not get much out of this Bill. The landowner will be only too pleased to have his land drained—he will not impede the process; and we can purify his rivers for him; the only matter in which he does not want to be embarrassed is in the payment of rates.
This reminds me of the late Duke of Montrose. The Duke claimed to be the owner of a bit of flooded land called Loch Katrine. He said it was his loch. In any unstable state of society and among primitive men that gentleman would have been put out of pain for talking like that, for his insult to the community in claiming for himself that which God had made for all. But we have become sophisticated, and we tolerate claims of that kind. He said that Loch Katrine belonged to him; it was waterlogged land. Glasgow wanted the water for the city, and he asked £19,500 for the right to take the water. Later, he threatened to build houses around Loch Katrine and to allow the sewage of those houses to pour 1080 itself into the loch. The Glasgow Corporation took him to court, because you cannot get a Scotsman to drop money for nothing. The litigation cost £30,000, and the Duke of Montrose was satisfied by a payment of £8,000 for not poisoning the citizens of Glasgow by running sewage into the loch.
Drain the land! Purify the rivers! As an hon. Friend near me says, "Drain your pockets." An hon. Member has said that we want to get rid of the water on the land. My suggestion is that we should get the landlords off the land first and deal with the water afterwards. In North Staffordshire we have land which is waterlogged as the result of subsidence in the mining areas. For years we have been trying to promote a scheme for draining the land by getting mining companies to join in a pumping scheme, but nothing could be done. I understand that under this Bill much of that land will be drained, and then land that is now let for nothing at all will rise to £4 or £5 an acre. That is part and parcel of the system that has gone on in this House far too long. We put forward the plea that we are finding work for the unemployed, but I am glad to say that it is noticed by some pious critics of the Bill that very little employment will come out of it. It is estimated that the Bill will involve an expenditure of £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 of public money.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The hon. Member is extremely inquisitive. My authority for that statement is no less than the late Minister of Agriculture. If I am misquoting him he cannot correct me, because he is in another place.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
He said the cost would be from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000, but that included something like £10,000,000 for the Thames Valley, and in my opinion, and in the opinion of those who know anything about the drainage of the Thames Valley, that is sheer nonsense. If the Bill is undertaken at all, from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 of money will be poured into the scheme, giving work to very few people indeed, but enhancing the selling value of a great deal of the land 1081 of this country. And let it be emphasised that the full cost and charge of the enterprise is to fall upon the ratepayers and upon the State. Under the De-Rating Act the landowners are saved from paying their contributions in those very areas where their land will be getting this advantage from the drainage operations. I enter my protest against this thing, and hope there will be a good strong observant Committee to deal with the Bill. The cost ought to be laid exactly at the door of those who gain by every penny we spend on drainage.
I agree with what has been said in some quarters to-night that we can overdo this business of regaining land from the sea. I wish to God people would use the land they have instead of trying to look for more land. The last speaker suggested that the land could not be used because we cannot get a good enough price for the food we produce upon it. Another confession of the incompetency of the men who own and control the land of this country. [Laughter] It is amazing how those clownish laughs come from that brilliant Front bench opposite. My remark would have provoked tears and not laughter from those who know the possibilities of this country. A friend of mine in Denmark, Jacob Lange, Who is connected with the Schools of Agriculture in that country, said to me when leaving London the other day: "In Denmark our smallholders always pray that Englishmen will remain blind to the possibilities of their own land." Now laugh at that! It is no argument to say that we cannot get good prices for the food we produce on our own land, because——
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I was just leaving the point. As regards the provisions of the Bill, whatever land we do gain by this expensive process, it is no argument to say that the land could not be used. It could, but I think there are ways and means of getting land drainage carried through other than going on with this iniquitous process—not merely in connection with land drainage, but road making and every other improvement brought in under the guise of giving work to the unemployed—of squandering millions of the taxpayers' money and putting 1082 millions into the value of land which will ultimately be reaped by the landowners of the country. Therefore, I hope the Committee of this House will deal with this Bill in an effective way, and that the public outside will know exactly what is the meaning and the import of the Land Drainage Bill which we are now discussing.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
We have listened to a characteristic, good-humoured speech from the hon. Member who has just sat down, the type of speech we were accustomed to hear from him when he was sitting on this side of the House and from which it appears that in spirit he is still on this side. In his criticism of the Bill he has overlooked the fact that it will be one of the primary functions of the new drainage authorities to maintain the main channels which carry the waters away from the great cities and towns. It is not simply and solely an agricultural question. It is also a pressing and important urban one. I would remind the hon. Member of the position in my own county, where there are over 20,000 acres occupied by small-holders who have been provided with small holdings by the county council. Under the hon. Member's proposal for nationalisation, I suppose he would consider that they are entitled to some benefit as the result of any drainage scheme which is put into operation? Surely it is rather unreasonable to say that no benefit must accrue to the landowner because the land owes its value to the community. Why, the hon. Gentleman himself owes his value in this very House to the community who are paying the fees for him to represent them here to-day. The fact is that we are all indebted to the communuity at all times during our period of life on this earth.
The hon. Members who have an Amendment on the Order Paper and who moved and seconded it in very eloquent terms, expressed fears and apprehensions in regard to the working of this Bill. They feared that the value of water-meadows would be destroyed and that, owing to the efficient work of the catchment area authorities, water would be carried away so swiftly to the sea that the water supply of the country might be placed in jeopardy. I wish it were the case that the drainage would prove as efficient 1083 as these hon. Members anticipate. I feel that these apprehensions rest on a misconception of what the Boards will do. It happens to have been my privilege to have served for two years as chairman of perhaps the biggest drainage authority in the country, namely, the Ouse Drainage Board. I served in that capacity until my duties here made it impossible to continue work on that Board. I am still a member of the Board, and I realise to the full the need for some comprehensive drainage measure if the land is to be adequately drained. This great problem must be properly solved. One of the speakers in this debate considered that the representation of the district drainage boards was inadequate and that the local authorities were over-represented by being given two-thirds of the representation on these new catchment area authorities. I can only say that there would be strenuous opposition on the part of the local authorities if their representation on these catchment area authorities were cut down and whittled away.
There will be general agreement in the House as to the need for improvement of land drainage. When a census was instituted in the industry of agriculture some four or five years ago, it disclosed the fact that over 1,700,000 acres were in urgent need of drainage and more than 500,000 further acres would greatly benefit and be improved thereby. It is, in fact, impossible to assess the national waste which is going on at present owing to the lack of adequate drainage of land, because land is the fundamental source of all wealth.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
With all the interest which we take in other industries, we must realise the paramount position which the land occupies in our national economy. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on this the first Bill which he has introduced and which in our opinion is a Bill which will do considerable good to the industry of agriculture. I hope he will follow it up by implementing the pledge given at the last General Election to make farming pay in this country. I 1084 support the Bill in its general proposals, but there are many details which I hope will be closely examined.
May I take the opportunity of voicing the views of the county councils in regard to the financial responsibilities which this Bill imposes. I would like to put before the House the standpoint of the County Councils Association. Under Section 135 of the Local Government Act of 1929, it was laid down that any material addition made to local expenditure by reason of provision of new services was to be accompanied by an increased contribution from the Exchequer to meet the expenditure required. We have been informed to-day that the Government are prepared—and we welcome the statement—to make substantial financial contribution. I wish, however, we could have received rather more information as to the form which these contributions will take. We hold the view that these contributions should not be limited to new works of construction, but that some contribution should in certain cases, and possibly in many cases, be given for maintenance works. It is also desirable that some contribution should be made towards administrative costs. In the case of the Ouse, it has been suggested that these costs will not be great and that only a small expenditure would be required. I would like to remind the House that the cost of the Ouse Drainage Board in 1928–29 for administration amounted to £13,000 and for maintenance to £22,000.
It is, therefore, clear that in certain cases administrative costs are very high. I do not anticipate that they will be, or need be, as high in the future as in the past, because the machinery set up under this new Bill will facilitate the working of the boards in future in a way which has not been the case in the past. All the catchment area authorities should nevertheless receive help in regard to administration, maintenance, and construction costs. They should receive Government grants to assist in meeting all that expenditure. At the present time the expenditure to be faced by ratepayers is mounting by leaps and bounds. Highways, education, mental deficiency—are all looming ahead. Wherever we turn we find that the local authorities are being confronted with new expenditure. In addition, enormous pressure—I do 1085 not say it is wrongly applied—is being put upon local authorities, to accelerate any schemes of work which can be put into force at an early date. The result of all these demands is that the financial capacity of the ratepayers is nearly exhausted and is reaching breaking point. It is for that reason that I most strongly urge additional financial help for these new drainage authorities.
In the report of the Royal Commission it was recommended that different rates should be leviable on the uplands as compared with the lowlands. That recommendation has not been embodied in the Bill. The Bill makes no provision for such differentiation, unless it he by way of the power of the catchment area authorities to levy different rates on the district boards. That method, however, does not appear to be satisfactory or to be sufficient to meet the needs of the situation. I understand that the reason given for departing from the recommendations of the Royal Commission is that the passing of the Local Government Act of 1929 has derated agricultural land and partly derated certain productive hereditaments, that is to say, factories. If that is the reason put forward, I suggest with all respect that it is not sufficiently weighty to warrant such a departure. Some steps ought to be taken to meet the recommendation of the Royal Commission in a practical way. Catchment boards should be required to draw a distinction between uplanders and lowlanders, and they should see that the call for rates from the uplanders is on a lower level than that made on the lowlanders.
Then there is the question of certain urban areas. I feel that in so much as the urban areas are smaller areas—for after all only so much water falls per acre in any and every part of this country—their contribution should be on a lower basis than that made by the other areas. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment pointed out that 50 per cent. of the rates leviable in his county will be paid by the borough which he represents. In my own case not 50 per cent. of the rates will be found by the Borough of Cambridge which I have the honour to represent, but no less than 75 per cent., and I feel strongly that some steps ought to be taken to meet exceptional cases of that nature, and that some adjustment 1086 should be made to provide for such very hard cases. Again, I would point out that these urban areas which are being so heavily rated in this matter in many cases have their own local Acts. We have our own local Act in the case of Cambridge, and considerable expenditure is incurred under it. Not only will the borough be paying twice, so to speak, but it will be paying at a higher rate than that at which it ought to be paying.
There is a small point in Clause 3 to which I would refer. Under that Clause, a catchment area authority is to consist of 30 members. The Minister is to appoint one of those members. Two-thirds of the remainder—it is difficult to know how to ascertain two-thirds of 29—are to be appointed by the county councils and county boroughs, and one-third by the district boards. It seems to me that it would be better to increase the number from 30 to 31, for then you could get 20 in one case and 10 in the other after the Minister had made his appointment. The question of pollution has been mentioned. I am glad to think that the matter is dealt with in the Bill. I think that the Bill has gone almost as far in that respect as it can go. We have authorities at the present time who are charged with these matters and their wishes must be considered.
There are many other matters in the Bill to which I would like to allude, but I recognise that the time of the House has been taken up for several hours in discussing the Bill. I will merely add that I welcome the Bill, and that, provided the Minister will be good enough to accept certain Amendments, I will do what I can to facilitate its passage through the House.
§ Mr. KEDWARD
I would congratulate the Government on bringing forward the Bill, and I am delighted that all parties in the House, with the exception of the small party represented by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), welcome the Bill. It seems to me that at a time when so many are unemployed it is a shame that a million acres of land should be waterlogged and practically useless, and that at no great cost other large areas which are submerged by the sea could be reclaimed by men who are now receiving unemployment pay. The 1087 hon. Member for Burslem made a speech which was just about 20 years out of date.
§ Mr. KEDWARD
Well, we will say 50. The hon. Member lives in the past. He evidently has not kept himself up to date. He seems to assume that the whole of the land of this country is in the ownership of rapacious landlords who do nothing but pursue the community and harry their tenants.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am a most devoted student of the speeches of the hon. Member's leader, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
§ Mr. KEDWARD
That confirms the suspicion that I had. Evidently the hon. Member has been reading my right hon. Friend's pre-War speeches and is entirely oblivious of what has happened since the War. After all, there has been a break up of these estates. The tenants have bought their own holdings, and they know how much it is costing them now compared with what it cost before. They are finding it very difficult to carry the burden. I know what I am talking about, because on the estate on which my father farmed and on which my brothers farm to-day, which has just been broken up, the landlord used to pay from £3,000 to £4,000 a year in order to subsidise the estate. He provided money for land drainage and for the repair of buildings, and he got no adequate return on his capital. To-day, I am having to take up cases on that estate where they are trying to get the old people out of cottages that are let to them by a rapacious landlord for the princely sum of 2s. a week. They know that there has been a change of ownership.
The tenants in certain areas have been bearing charges for a number of years for the drainage of land and for coast erosion. The tenants on Romney Marsh have been charged sometimes 2s., 3s. and up to 4s. and 5s. an acre. They have had to pay that to the Scots for drainage. In times of prosperity these things were not noticed and the payments were made, but now, in the time of agricultural depression, it is very difficult for them to meet this charge of maintaining the drainage and maintaining the sea walls 1088 from Hythe to Dymchurch. Those who know that area realise that unless some help comes much of the land must go out of cultivation, because they cannot continue to bear these very heavy charges. In the case of storms and abnormal weather they may be faced at any time with the land being inundated, and with enormous expenditure on the sea wall.
I was hoping that the Bill would lay down that any charge would be on annual value. It has always seemed to me that to base the charge on the acreage of the land was not altogether fair, because some land is worth £3 or £4 an acre while other land may be worth only 10s. or 15s. an acre. To take a flat rate charge merely on acreage seems to me to be rather an unfair arrangement. The hon. Member for Burslem seemed to suggest that if we drain this land all the profit would immediately go into the pockets of the landlords. I suppose that possibility would prevent him from making any roads or any railways, and that he would not even give the people the benefit of wireless, in case it should enhance the value of the land. If he can only get his own back on the landlords, he would retard progress altogether. He would not drain a marsh if he thought a landlord would benefit by it. He would retard progress until he had hanged the people who are the result of an imagination which is out of harmony with modern times.
I was glad that the Minister of Agriculture paid a tribute to some of the authorities who have undertaken this work for so long. In the constituency which I have the honour to represent we have the oldest corporation, the Lords of the Level of Romney Marsh, which has been responsible for long years for the drainage of that particular area. I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that they have done their work efficiently and economically. They fear that the passing of this Bill will mean that many ancient rights, privileges and picturesque customs are about to pass, and I was wondering whether it would be possible in Committee to insert a contracting out Clause for those authorities which have done their work economically and efficiently and with whom no fault can be found so far as their work is concerned. They know the land that 1089 has to be drained, they have been brought up on it, they know the area and they may be superseded by others who have not exactly that intimate knowledge. If they brought their constitution into harmony with these democratic days and into harmony with the Bill I thought that probably some contracting out might be allowed, provided that it is not against the public interest and that it is in the interests of the particular area of land to be dealt with. I would ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to a Clause of that kind. I do not know what the financial provisions are, but it seems that the time has arrived when a good deal of the money that is now spent on coast erosion by drainage boards should become a national charge. It is impossible for some of these agricultural areas to go on carrying that burden, and I hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to that point of view. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will give consideration to a contracting out Clause.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
At this late hour and after so many people have said so much on the Bill, it is difficult to say anything new. I have not got up to criticise the Bill but to congratulate the Minister and to express the hope that any opposition that may have been in the minds of any hon. Members may be swept away by the arguments that we have heard, and by one or two other points that I shall put. This Bill will be of very great utility from many aspects. It will be a social success. I think that the expense to agricultural land and other interests has been exaggerated and that we are going to get great value from the Bill. There are many things that we have omitted to do during the last 100 years in regard to development of our water courses and inland navigation. These things have been allowed to go into serious decay. In some of the canals there is no water left, and in many instances the rivers have been grossly and gravely polluted.
There is one thing that I would say to the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) who spoke on his favourite subject, as he always does, with ability and in some respects in a most convincing way. May I point out to him that in regard to land values, taking the question of pollution alone, great harm has 1090 been done to agricultural land and other land because the State and the local authorities have failed to prevent the pollution of rivers and streams running through the land. It seems to me that the owners of land bordering the polluted rivers and streams are entitled to have the streams and rivers cleaned out and the land replaced in the condition in which it was originally and in which it would have been kept but for the failure of the central Government and the local authorities with regard to pollution. I very much sympathise with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward). I represent a district on a similar scale a short distance along the coast, and I know that the drainage authorities there, the commissioners for sewers, have done their work, literally through centuries, in the most efficient way. It might be possible to do something in cases of that kind, where the work has been efficiently carried out, when the Bill gets into Committee. I hope the Minister will consider that point. Agriculture stands to benefit under the Bill through securing adequate and proper drainage and also from the point of view of remedying pollution. I think it is a good Measure, on which all parties can base a better and up-to-date system whereby agriculture can be made to pay.
The Bill has a qualified but considerable amount of support from a great many interests in this country. The waterworks companies are delighted, and the Royal Sanitary Institute and medical officers of health have taken an interest in it, as well as the Pure Rivers Society, the Society for the Preservation of Rural England, and a number of others. Last, but by no means least, I would mention the National Federation of Anglers. Although people may smile at people sitting on the banks of canals or rivers catching or not catching fish, it is a fact that there are more than 300,000 weekly wage-earners in this country who get a great and entertaining pastime by reason of their piscatorial activities. There is no getting away from it that an immense amount of good can be done by a further cleaning of the rivers and by bringing into play Clause 54, which is designed to that end; and I should like most heartily to congratulate the Minister on having had the courage to put it in, notwithstanding that it was not in the original Bill.
1091 I sit on a joint committee, and have done for some considerable time, and certain aspects in regard to the question of pollution clearly emerge from the evidence that has come before us. Although the industries if this country have, as it were, been allowed to run riot and pollute the rivers of the country in a very disgraceful way during the last 100 years, a great deal of good has been done in the past, and is now being done, by certain river boards in this country, with the result that certain rivers have vastly improved in that direction, and anti-pollution methods and methods of dealing with various forms of sewage and effluents from industrial enterprises are being discovered quite quickly. I need only mention the question of sugar beet, an agricultural industry which has been doing infinite harm, not only to its own agricultural people who live near, but to other interests on the rivers lower down. A solution of that form of pollution has recently been discovered, and I have no hesitation in saying that further discoveries will be made in the near future.
In regard to unemployment, the possibilities that arise out of this Bill may be a long way ahead, but they certainly exist, and I feel confident that a great deal can be done to create enterprises, to encourage local authorities to deal with sewage from the industrial factories, and so forth. At the present time many of them are utterly unable to deal with the matter because of the great expense, and I would compare this question of drainage and anti-pollution measures with the question of roads. When we are told that so much can be done in regard to employing people on the roads, personally I have no faith in that idea at all, but I am confident that a very great deal can be done to provide a considerable amount of employment by local authorities in creating sewage works and anti-pollution measures of various kinds. It will not only give employment, but gladden the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people in this country, if we get our rivers cleaned, deal with our sewage properly, and allow the public to have the amenities of the countryside and the joys of a walk by a clean river instead of by an arterial drain such as the Mersey and other rivers; and, as I said just now, 1092 the angling fraternity alone will stand not only to gain but, I hope, to catch fish. I would only ask what I know the Minister of Agriculture would agree to, and that is that some of the Amendments—I do not think there are any serious ones—can be made in Committee upstairs, and, so far as I am concerned, I should use my utmost endeavours to further the Bill in every possible way.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I, like others on this side, have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, because, like some other practical steps that this Government have taken, it is really nothing but passing a sensible and useful piece of legislation, the foundations of which were laid by the late Conservative Government. The Bill follows very closely the recommendations of the Royal Commission appointed by my right hon. Friend, and where it deviates from them, it has been necessitated by the carrying of the great reform of the de-rating of agricultural land since the introduction of that Report. Therefore, I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture, not only on his very successful maiden speech as Minister of Agriculture in this House, but on the fact that he is carrying out the policy of his predecessors. As long as he sticks on that sound line, I can assure him he will do very well indeed.
But do not let us be under any misapprehension that in passing this very useful and practical piece of legislation we are making a very important contribution towards solving either the agricultural or the unemployment problem. It is quite true that we have heard some very big figures mentioned to-night. We have been told that there are scheme in existence for dealing with the Thames which will cost £14,000,000, with the Trent which will cost £5,000,000, and with the Ouse which will cost. £4,000,000, and I believe that those figures are borne out by the Report of the Royal Commission. At that rate, taking all the catchment areas in this country, you quite easily come to a figure of £40,000,000 or more, but looking at the matter purely from the point of view of finding work for the unemployed, we shall find that this money goes an exceedingly short way. I have been assured by everyone who has had experience in this work that it is extremely disappointing to find how 1093 small a number of men can be employed at any one time even on a great drainage scheme.
To start with, your area is an extremely limited one. You cannot do one part of the work until you have finished another. It is work which must necessarily take a long time, and cannot be hurried. A good deal of the work has to be done by machinery, and the result is that, although you may be spending a great deal of money and the work takes a great deal of time, it employs very few men in any given period. If hon. Members opposite doubt that, I would refer them to the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon in regard to the Ouse scheme. The right hon. Gentleman told us that that scheme was going to cost something like £4,000,000, and that it would give employment only to about 1,600 men for 10 years. That works out at £2,500 per man spread over 10 years. I think you can tackle the unemployment problem far more cheaply than trying to do it in that way. If you spend the whole of the £50,000,000 at the rate suggested by the Minister of Agriculture, you will find employment only for about 20,000 men at a time, and that is only about the normal weekly rise in the unemployment figures under a Labour Government. Therefore, I hope hon. Members opposite do not really think that they are going to make any significant contribution towards solving the unemployment problem by this Bill.
The main point which I should like to press upon the attention of the House is, for whose benefit is this vast expenditure of money going to be undertaken? The only justification for expenditure on this large scale was that the creation of great cities had introduced an entirely new element into this problem. You have great towns with large covered areas of roofs, and hundreds of acres of streets with tarred and concrete roads. The consequence is that you have the water pouring off those roads at a rate which was never contemplated years ago, and instead of the rain water sinking into the earth, you have millions of tons of water suddenly precipitated into your main rivers. In addition to this, the great cities are taking millions of gallons of water supply from other catchment areas like Wales and the Lake District, thus throwing practically the same quantity 1094 of water into a totally different catchment area. Fgures have been given of rivers which receive five or six times their own volume in their drainage from other catchment, areas. That is an entirely new problem, and it is quite clear that a drainage system, and an organisation of drainage authorities which was designed to meet the conditions that existed years ago, cannot possibly cope with a situation like that which I have described.
That is why I differ from the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who moved the rejection of this Bill on the ground that agriculture did not need a further expenditure of this kind. I agree that agriculture does not need expenditure on drainage to the extent of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000; indeed, it needs only a fraction of that sum. I am not prepared to say whether these great expensive schemes are necessary or not, but if they are necessary, it is as a result of the new conditions which have arisen, that is to say, they constitute a problem which has been created by the rise of our great towns and the industrialising of the countryside. This is a townman's problem, and it is important from that point of view that we should reconsider the whole question of our catchment areas, because their capacity for receiving drainage is strictly limited. There are certain areas in Lincolnshire and the Ouse district where, no doubt, drainage is a pressing agricultural problem. There are also a large number of small areas where agriculture is adversely affected by the amount of flooding that occurs. There are many such areas in Yorkshire and one or two other parts of the country, but, generally speaking, those areas are very limited in size, although there are no doubt a certain number of them. The uplands, as a rule, do not suffer from flooding like the lowlands, but I should like to point out that the uplands have done nothing to contribute to the present difficulty, which has arisen as a result of great industrial towns and cities shooting their water from thousands of miles of tarred and concrete roads into the main rivers at a fast rate, causing the flooding from which agriculture suffers lower down the river. If agriculturists are to be made to pay for what is really a townsman's problem, if agriculturists are to be called upon to 1095 provide safeguards for townsmen against flooding caused by tarred roads, that will be most unjust and unfair.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I was explaining why I am opposed to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford. I do not think that the catchment boards will do any such thing. The members of the catchment boards are sure to be the same men who are carrying out the work at present—men of common sense and experience—and I see no chance of the men who are likely to constitute these catchment boards embarking on schemes to the tune of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 unless the Ministry of Agriculture is going to foot the bill. I think that, before the Bill leaves this House, we ought to get from the Government with much greater precision an account of what financial help they really contemplate giving in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman was extremely vague and elusive in that respect. I suppose he did not want to spoil the oration to which he is going to treat us next Friday, and, if that be so, I shall be very glad that he has not. We shall all look forward to it with greater pleasure. But, when he comes to deliver that oration, I hope he will tell us in much greater detail exactly what the Government have in mind, as I think he himself almost admitted in his speech that, if the Government had been a little more free in this matter in another place, the Bill would have had an easier passage there than it did have. What is true in that respect of another place will, I am sure, be true of the Committee of this House upstairs. If the Government can take the agricultural Members—I do not care what party we represent—a little more into their confidence, and give us a guarantee that the rural community is not going to be taxed for what I maintain is an urban need, I am sure they will find the agricultural Members much more friendly disposed towards the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman did give us one principle on which he said he was going to act, and I should like to question him about that. He said that he did not wish to lay down any fixed percentage, because, as I understood him, he wished to treat every case on its merits, to apportion his grant to the needs of the area; 1096 and he said in explanation that some, drainage authorities, such as that in the Trent area, would be able to raise, by a penny rate, £88,000, whereas in the Romney Marsh a penny rate would only bring in £580. But my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who in this matter speaks with equal authority, said that, the drainage scheme for the Trent area would cost over £5,000,000. I submit that a penny rate which brings in only £88,000 makes a very small contribution towards a scheme which is going to cost £5,000,000, and, therefore, the Trent drainage authority will really be no better off, in relation to the magnitude of the work which it will be called upon to undertake, than the Romney Marsh authority. The smaller the area controlled by the authority, the smaller, naturally, will be the return from any given rate, but also, generally speaking, the smaller will be the cost of the work that has to be undertaken.
Therefore, I thought that the two instances which the right hon. Gentleman gave did not go nearly as far to prove the correctness of the principle for which he was contending as he tried to make out. I warn him that this is a point on which we shall require a good deal more information before the Bill has gone through its further stages, and I am sure he will be anxious to give us all the information that he can. I believe that, if this Bill is to work well, and I think it will work well, the expenditure incurred under it is likely to be extremely moderate. It will be worked by men who are representatives of the ratepayers, and the Government, when they give their grants, will probably give them much on the same lines as the Unemployment Grants Committee give theirs. The agriculturist is not in a position to incur the expenditure of these fantastic sums of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 to drain land which does not pay even when it is well drained.
Looked at from the agricultural point of view, the Bill is of very little value indeed. The best drained land in the country does not pay. You are not going to make farming pay by draining 2,000,000 acres that are waterlogged. We all agree that they ought to be drained, but you are not going to help the agricultural community appreciably by doing so. The 1097 Bill is not going to help agriculture as a whole. It is not going to make farming pay. It is a much needed co-ordination of drainage authorities, treating the drainage problem on a coherent and a national basis, and is a guarantee that drainage work in future will be carried out on a carefully-thought-out and prepared system. As such, I welcome it heartily, but in Committee we must take care to see that, under the pretence of doing something to help agriculture, we are not being asked to put extra burdens on the farmers for what is really a townsman's problem. If the agricultural industry is not going to be injured—and I do not think it is the intention or the desire of the right hon. Gentleman to injure it—we shall give the Bill our hearty support and co-operate with the Government in every way we can in carrying out a useful piece of legislation.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. W. R. Smith)
In rising to reply to the debate, I have a task which is rendered very light because of the general welcome that the Bill has received in all quarters. One is very glad to note that the Noble Lord has been able to commend the Government for the step that they have taken. I should like to suggest to him that, if he will continue to view the proposals that came from this side in the same way that he has viewed this Bill, from the standpoint of the real national interest, as distinct from party interest, he will find many other points which he will be able to commend. If I do not reply to all the points that have been raised, it will be because they are largely points that can only be adequately dealt with in Committee. They are points in many respects that require close examination and, perhaps, somewhat more detailed explanation than it is possible to give in a Second Reading debate. That applies very largely to the points raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton). I can assure him that they will receive very careful consideration in Committee.
One point has been raised by several Members, namely, the question why the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been departed from as regards the basis of levying the necessary funds for the purpose of the Bill. 1098 It is true—and I can speak with some knowledge of the matter, because I happened to be a member of the Royal Commission—that we did unanimously recommend that the basis of levying rates for the purpose of drainage should be on annual value and not upon acreage. The only explanation which it is possible to give for the departure from that recommendation is the fact that since the Commission made their report effect has been given to the de-rating proposals of the last Government, and there are now no valuation lists so far as agricultural land is concerned, and therefore the recommendation has had to be departed from for that reason. I may say, speaking for myself, and, I think, on behalf of the Minister, that if it were possible to get back in any form to the principle of annual value as distinct from acreage we should be very pleased to do so. Whether it will be possible to find some way of doing so in Committee, remains to be seen. There is no question whatever in my judgment that annual value, and not acreage, is the only sound basis upon which to proceed.
A point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) as to the relationship of this Bill to the Doncaster Area Drainage Act, and he was somewhat fearful that we were taking some powers away from them. I want to assure him that no powers are being taken away. They are to remain untouched except in regard to the upkeep of certain banks of the main river which will be attached to the main catchment area board.
Points have been raised by a number of speakers, including the Noble Lord the Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward) about the abolition of existing bodies. When the Royal Commission were sitting, it became very evident, to us from the evidence which we received that there was a vast difference between the existing drainage bodies in this country as far as their efficiency was concerned. A number of them were absolutely useless, and they had, for one reason or another largely ceased to function. They had not applied themselves to their task with any degree of efficiency nor had they lived up to the responsibility which rested upon them. On the other hand, there were drainage boards which were very efficient indeed, 1099 and the Royal Commission felt that it would be a big mistake to disturb them in any way. But as a means of approach to this question it is necessary, first of all, to take certain powers. Therefore, the provision which is made in this Bill in regard to this matter is merely to give to catchment area authorities power to act, but it is on that distinct understanding. We feel that the catchment areas will only be too glad to keep in existence the efficient internal drainage boards, because it will be much better for their purpose to have continuity of effort in that direction by people who thoroughly understand the problem than to have the trouble of a new board which may or may not be composed of the people who have the accumulative experience of boards which have been in existence for so long. Therefore, the hon. Member and the Noble Lord who raised the point may rest assured that the intention is only to supersede the inefficient bodies in order that the work of drainage may effectively be carried out in all parts of the country where catchment area authorities are set up. A question has been asked with regard to transferred labour. All I can say is that that subject is now under consideration, and I believe that a decision may be reached shortly. I do not know what that decision may be, but it may remove a difficulty which exists in the minds of some hon. Members.
The method of making grants must depend on the kind of scheme under consideration at any one time. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said that he was anxious to have further information with regard to the financial proposals, hut, if I do not deal with them to-night, I hope he will not take it as indicating a desire to withhold information. It is far better to leave that subject until Friday when the Financial Resolution will be considered and when the fullest information will be given. Different methods may have to be adopted in regard to different schemes. Some of them may be looked upon as unemployment relief schemes, and may be dealt with by grants in that direction. Others may be dealt with in other ways, but the principle of grants has been accepted. He also referred to what he said was the inadequacy of the amount 1100 to be levied locally as far as the Trent catchment area is concerned, but on the basis of the figures given by my right hon. Friend a threepenny rate would provide a sum of money which would be equal to the interest and sinking fund on £5,000,000, and that would not necessarily constitute a very heavy burden on that area, even if there were no Government grants. It is also well to bear in mind that the whole of the £5,000,000 would not be raised at one time. As the Noble Lord said, these schemes will be spread over rather extended periods and, therefore, the Minister of Agriculture, in drawing attention to these figures, was justified, when the matter is looked at from that angle, in saying that there is within that area the possibility of money being raised of such a substantial amount as to meet an expenditure of £5,000,000 without adding to the burdens of the people of that area to any considerable extent. Where the possibilities are greater it may be that lower grants will be made from central funds.
The hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston (Mr. Blindell) referred to Clause 11, which transfers powers on petition to the Minister, from an internal drainage board to a catchment area authority. That is not a new proposal. It has been in previous drainage Acts and is purely an extension of that system. It may be taken for granted that there will be no capricious use of such a power and that it will only be exercised in the event of circumstances changing. The point with regard to sea water is one which can be better discussed in Committee, it is rather too technical to be dealt with on a Second Reading debate. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) raised the point that one of the dangers associated with a proposal of this character is that whilst it may be desirable to take water from waterlogged land and render more effective the main streams of the country for carrying away water in times of heavy rainfall there is a danger of too much water being taken out of the country and thus creating a shortage as far as the general public is concerned. It is rather difficult to provide in a Bill for matters of that description, but, if they are of opinion that it is a possible danger, the autho- 1101 rities who will be responsible for carrying out the provisions of this Bill will no doubt keep it in mind in any schemes they put forward.
There is no protection which exists in that respect. The catchment area authorities will be largely composed of representatives of other local authorities—the county councils and the borough councils—and, speaking in general terms, I think that those authorities are to a great extent responsible for the water supplies in their respective areas. Naturally and necessarily they will be alert in connection with any proposal which might place in jeopardy the water supplies of the areas with which they are associated and even if there is no specific reference in the Bill to this matter, the mere fact that the bodies which are to produce these schemes are constituted in the way I have described will considerably minimise any possibility of a danger of that kind.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Lane Fox) in welcoming the Bill put a rather important question. He commented on the fact that the Bill had been introduced rather late in the day and asked if it was only a gesture or did the Government intend to press forward the Bill. In reply to that question I think I am entitled to draw attention to the fact, that the term "late" in this connection can be used relatively, and that the Bill in fact was introduced some time ago in another place and has passed through all its stages there. That is evidence of the Government's intention to give it a place on the Statute Book. To the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and others who have any doubts or fears on the subject I would say that they can contribute very largely to what they regard as desirable in this matter, if they give the Government as much help as possible in the Committee stage and facilitate the passage of the Bill. By doing so they will help to get it on to the Statute Book perhaps earlier than would be possible otherwise. At any rate, my right hon. Friend the Minister will welcome all the assistance which can be given to facilitate the passage of the Bill through this House.
1102 It has been said that the Bill will not provide much employment but that view is, to some extent, speculative. It is impossible to say how many men can be employed or will be employed on the various schemes but at least we can say that any schemes of work arising under the proposals of the Bill will be of a useful and productive character and when the work has been completed the nation will have something to show for the money which has been spent. Let the numbers employed be large or small, the Bill has the merit that it is providing new and useful work which will produce some advantage to the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) asked what was going to happen in regard to the improved values of land which would follow from the work which it is proposed to carry out under the Bill and the grants which it is proposed to make. There is some slight provision in the Bill to meet their point. Clause 72 gives power to public authorities to acquire land which has been treated under the proposals of the Bill and the value which the land possessed before the drainage works were carried out is to be the basis on which it is to be acquired.
I wish it had been possible to have the land belonging to the community before we began spending public money upon it, but I would remind the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised us a Bill to deal with the taxation of land values, and it may be that when that Bill is placed on the Statute Book, we shall be able to recover much of the improved values that will accrue from the application of this Bill. It is a most important point, to which the House is entitled to give the closest attention, because undoubtedly in many areas the increased value that will come to the land may be very substantial. If as the result of the working of this Bill, land no longer becomes flooded, land on the banks of the main rivers may develop a building site value, whereas to-day it has relatively no value at all,. and it would be most unfortunate, to put, it on no higher basis, if that improved value, which accrued merely as a result of State action and very largely because of the expenditure of public money, was 1103 passed into the hands of private individuals. The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised another point. He said that there was not in this Bill any right of appeal, and that a catchment area authority could not act in default of an internal drainage authority.
§ Mr. B. RILEY
There is nothing in the Bill with regard to the powers of the Ministry in such a case.
§ Mr. SMITH
I understand that there was when the Bill was in another place, but that is a point to keep in mind on the Committee stage in order to see that the situation is adequately guarded. I want to deal with the relation of this Bill to agriculture. I am surprised to hear Members who represent agricultural constituencies, and who are connected with the industry, speak of this Bill as one that would place burdens upon agriculture. My submission is that it will take burdens off agriculture. Those who speak in that strain have little knowledge of the condition of things in many areas so far as the problem of waterlogged land is concerned. As a member of the Royal Commission, I visited the Stour Valley, and while I was there, a young farmer asked me if I would visit a particular field, of which he had the tenancy, to see the results of waterlogging and the need of drainage. There was the prospect of a Labour Government sooner or later, and he was anxious that I, as one of the Labour representatives should have first-hand knowledge of this matter. He assured me that not many years previously, when his father had the tenancy of the farm, that land, with the addition of a small amount of cake, had fatted stock. When I saw it, it was nothing but moss, and was drifting more or less into hog. While that land had deteriorated into that condition in a few years, because of the absence of drainage, the farmer had, during the whole time, to pay a drainage rate. That was land that was slowly but surely drifting from pasture land to nothing but moss and bog upon which no grass would grow. You can find similar instances in other parts of the country of farmers spending money on draining the fields.
I know of a farmer in Norfolk who spent money on tile draining his land and nearly doubled his profits. Where 1104 previously he had got 3½ to 4 quarters of barley he now gets 7 quarters of barley per acre, and there is a similar improvement in the wheat crop. It is idle to say that agriculture will not benefit from this legislation. If the water that now waterlogs land is taken away crops will be increased. There is no more difficult problem for the farmer than to attempt to cultivate land that is waterlogged; arable cultivation is futile in such cases, and pasture that would otherwise be good for feeding stock is more or less useless. Schemes of drainage work which have been carried out by the Ministry show that when you start to clean out ditches you come across field drains, and as soon as they are raked out they begin to function, although previously they were of no use in spite of the money that had been spent upon them. You may drain your fields and your ditches, but unless you have kept your main arterial drainage clean all the money spent in that direction is wasted. The situation, therefore, is not that money will be wasted under this Bill, but that money is being badly wasted to-day. The hearts of farmers are broken by the impossible task of attempting the cultivation of land that is waterlogged.
We are told about how land is going out of cultivation. There is a great deal of loose thinking on that subject. Sufficient allowance has not been made for the land that has passed away from farming through the encroachment of the urban population upon the rural since 1913. There is the case of Slough, where good agricultural land was taken for a depot during the War and has never been returned to agriculture. Agricultural land has also been taken for housing estates and for factories. All these encroachments represent a very large acreage in the aggregate. Other land that has gone out of cultivation has been very light land, on which it is difficult to farm under present conditions. Other land has gone out of cultivation because of the absence of drains, and this land is not poor land; generally speaking, it is good land, and therefore the loss to the community is very considerable indeed.
I am sorry it is not possible for me to go on longer in reply to the points put forward. I hope the House will now give us the Second Reading of this Bill. The Minister, I am sure, has every cause to be gratified by the tone of the debate. 1105 The Bill has been received as a contribution towards building up the prosperity of England, and more particularly the rural parts. If there are points in it about which hon. Members feel concerned and which require thought and consideration, we shall be only too pleased to give them the fullest consideration in Committee because we wish the Bill as it finally leaves this House to make as good a contribution towards the purpose aimed at as is possible.
§ Sir WILLIAM WAYLAND
I wish to say only a few words upon this Bill. In reply to the last speaker, I can assure him that many Members on this side of the House welcome the Bill, including, I think, the majority of those who represent agricultural constituencies. We are all aware of the enormous amount of damage done by water-logged land. If this Bill is a success, as it should be, in a few years many more thousands of acres of land will be put into cultivation, or will increase their productivity. The Bill itself is a good one, and I am sure that we on this side will do our best to remove certain, what I may call, errors in it. One of these, as the Minister stated, refers to the distinction between salt and fresh water. In a part of my constituency we have to deal with sea walls and the encroachment of the sea. One part of the Bill refers to fresh water, and, at the end of the Bill, it says that defences against water include defences against sea water. That will have to be explained. Then Clause 28 suggests that cottages will pay the drainage rate, and big houses and racecourses will be free. That must be wrong. Then, in regard to valuation, there is no reason, as far as I can see, why the valuation should not be based upon the 1925 Valuation Act. There are several other matters to which I should like to refer, but I do not wish to detain the House, because I think they will probably be capable of amendment in Committee.
There is a further question with regard to uplands and towns, about which I have received communications from different parts of my constituency. Take the case of Hythe. They will have to pay a drainage rate in connection with the Romney Marsh level, although it will gain no value whatever. It is suggested that that should not be included, and I hope that the Minister will consider 1106 whether that should not be acceded to. Romney Marsh is one of the best worked catchment areas in the country, and the Romney Marsh authorities have spent a considerable amount of money, and kept the drainage of their district in a high state of efficiency. They fear that because of other areas where that has not been the case, they will be called upon to pay more money, whereas for a considerable time past they have had to put their hands in their pockets for very large sums. Otherwise, I think the Bill is a good one, and I shall certainly support it.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.