§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
We pass from the consideration of dyestuffs to the consideration of drainage. We fortunately pass from matters which have excited vigorous party controversy to matters which cut right across all party lines in this House. We pass from affairs of yesterday and the clay before yesterday to problems of water levels and reclamation of low-lying land which go back to the very earliest stages of our history. We are now discussing measures the first principles of which were laid down so long ago that it is impossible to put any definite date to their origin. The actual legislation, which was amended by succeeding Statutes of which this Bill is one, goes back to the days of Henry VIII. The area which we are considering was drained by Vermuyden under contract with King Charles I. It is full of delightful and characteristically English nomenclature, such as the River Idle and the Ancient Drain which are water channels of this area. Yet it touches very closely the property, the happiness and even the lives of a number of His Majesty's subjects. It is within the recollection of all of us that the immediate urgency of dealing with this problem arose out of certain floods which occurred, particularly in May, when the Ministry's Estimates had a separate day's Debate devoted to them on account of the floods which had taken place in the Bentley district, which lies within the Doncaster drainage area.
At that time the Minister of Agriculture was pressed by members of his own party and Members on the other side to deal in some way with what everyone recognised as a blot upon the administrative skill and the friendliness of our countryside. There was an area which, for the second time within six months, had been flooded out, an area which was complaining bitterly that nothing was being done. Many conferences had been held, many commissions had sat and many investigations had taken place, but, all the same, twice within six months the floods had laughed 1872 at us all, and come pouring into the cellars and ground floors of the houses of those poor people. In spite of all that Parliament was saying or doing, the people were not getting defence against flood water. All of us agree that that situation had to be met, and on 8th July, in response to a question addressed to him by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), the then Minister of Agriculture announced that it was the intention of the Government to introduce an amending Bill in the autumn, and this is the Bill which is to carry out that pledge.
It has fallen to the lot of another Minister of Agriculture to carry out the pledge of the previous one; but the history of this area and these controversies is chequered by the comings and goings of Ministers of Agriculture and, indeed, of Governments. It has seen out dynasties, let alone Governments, and there is no doubt that this is not the last we shall hear either of the catchment areas of England or of the Doncaster area in particular. But we have this Bill to deal with a situation which everybody admits must be dealt with, and that is the first point. The next point is that we deal with it in a Bill which, after laying it down that it isexpedient to make provision for the better drainage of the Doncaster drainage area"—provides for the dissolution of the Doncaster Drainage Board. To deal with that it is necessary to go back a, little way. The problem of the floods and the low-lying lands of England had engaged the attention of many people and of successive Governments, and consequently a Royal Commission was set up by the Government in 1927—it happened to be a Conservative Government—under the chairmanship of Lord Bledisloe. That Commission reported before the end of that year. During the year 1928 survey work was undertaken to carry into effect the principles which the Commission had decided upon. It was clear, however, that the De-rating Act would mean a recasting of the finances of the scheme, and therefore, to cut a long story short, it fell to the lot of hon. Members opposite to introduce and carry through the Act of 1930, which is the main Act dealing with the whole of the drainage problems of England, constituting the catch- 1873 ment boards and the rating provisions on all hereditaments within the catchment areas.
This Bill is ancillary to the Act of 1930, though not necessarily a consequence of the Act, but I think all will agree that the Act of 1930, the great standard Act, having come into effect, it is desirable that, as far as possible, these subsidiary arid pre-existing bodies should be merged in the great catchment areas set up under that Act. The Act of 1930 found certain bodies in existence, of which the Doncaster Drainage Board was one. This board came into existence because this low-lying area, in which many of the main river channels are artificial and not natural, was specially liable to floods. That board was brought into existence, let me repeat, before the Act of 1930 was passed, and consequently that area presents certain special features. For instance, it straddles across two catchment areas, the area of the Ouse and the area of the Trent. Furthermore, it has certain special rights in relation to the coalmining undertakings of the region, for, in addition to the disadvantage of being flooded out by reason of the fact that a great portion of the area is no more than 25 feet above sea level, it is honeycombed by underground workings which, through letting down the surface, may flood areas or even may reverse the flow of rivers, so narrow is the level of difference by which these rivers find their way to the sea.
In that area, the coalmining industry accepted certain special responsibilities, which it was difficult to get them to accept then, and which I believe it would be impossible to get them to accept now. They accepted certain principles with regard to responsibility for damage caused, and a very special responsibility that if a mine were closed a fund should be constituted which would enable the expenses of damage done to be met out of the colliery undertakings as a whole. We have, therefore, the Act of 1930 constituting the catchment areas, and the previous Act setting up the Doncaster Drainage Board, cutting across two of those areas, and the Doncaster Drainage Board having special rights, rights not merely of rating the hereditaments within the area of the board but special rights granted to it against the coalmining industry in the area—rights concerning not merely the 1874 present, but concerning future damage which may be done by coal undertakings.
In spite of these Acts of Parliament, this area, is, as I have said, still fated to suffer from floods, in part because through a series of legislative changes it was impossible for the Drainage Board to get down to its work. I shall not attempt to recount the numerous accidents of administration which delayed the coming into full operation of the work of the Doncaster Drainage Board, save to say that they are the sort of administrative delays which make one realise how many a slip there is between the cup and the lip. The Doncaster Drainage Board has not, in fact, become fully operative. Another tragedy came to the Doncaster Drainage Board of which I wish to speak quite frankly. Section 55 of the Act of 1930 laid it down that it was possible for the Treasury to make contributions towards the expenses of these catchment areas and the House accepted the proposals of the Government contained in that Act and gave them legislative sanction with the very distinct understanding that these contributions would, in fact, be made. It is still the Government's desire and intention, when financial circumstances permit, that assistance of that kind shall be given. Unfortunately, the financial crisis which affected so many other things had a crushing and a stunning effect upon the fortunes of the Doncaster Drainage Board, and this relatively small area had to be informed that contributions towards its expenses from the Central Fund, to which it had been looking forward, could not, in fact, be made.
It is a, small area and an anomalous area, and also an area, in violent financial straits. That is the reason for the Bill now before the House. The method taken by the Bill to deal with the position of the Doncaster floods, to which I must always revert, for it is this recurring emergency which makes this legislation necessary, is that the Doncaster Drainage Board should be dissolved and its responsibilities, the distribution of certain property, rights, functions and liabilites —be divided between the Catchment Board of the Ouse and the Catchment Board of the Trent. The difficulty lies in the word "liabilities." Let me speak quite frankly. We are not discussing this in any party spirit, but we are discussing 1875 a problem which is of great importance not merely to the people in Doncaster but to the people in the county boroughs, who feel that there is a danger that a burden may be placed upon their rates which, as hard-up boroughs, they feel is a scandal not to be borne. They feel that this burden may not only be placed upon their rates, but placed upon their rates by precept, and of all ways of burdening rates a burden imposed by precept is the most intolerable to local authorities. A she-bear robbed of her whelps is as nothing compared to the chairman of a finance committee whose surplus has been removed from him by somebody else's precept.
But I hope to show, first, that this Bill does not impose any liability upon the local authorities to which they are in fact, though not in theory, not subject at the present moment; secondly, that it is a reasonable proposal to put not merely before the House but before the local authorities themselves; and, thirdly, that within the Measure there are safeguards against any unreasonable action either by the Catchment Boards or by the Boards within the Doncaster area, the Central Board of which is now to be broken up and is to that extent relieved from the immediate responsibility for its own affairs. The liability upon county boroughs to contribute towards the expenses in connection with drainage works was not imposed by this Act, it comes from the Act of 1930, which came in turn from the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
It is true that the liability of a catchment board is limited to the main rivers of that catchment area, and the transfer of the rivers in this area may be said to impose a new liability upon the catchment areas which take them over; but I hope to show that that is not so, in that already the Catchment Boards may make contributions towards the expenses of the Doncaster Drainage Board. It is true that that is a voluntary contribution, but as the Catchment Boards have already signified by vote their willingness to take over that area it may be taken that they are friendly to it and would, in fact, pay contributions to it. Indeed, they have already made contributions towards it, although of a relatively limited 1876 amount. But, it is said, how does that bring in the boroughs? It brings them in in this way—that if the catchment area makes a voluntary gift to the Doncaster Board, while that is voluntary as between the catchment area and the Doncaster Board, it thereupon becomes compulsory as between the catchment area and its relative constituent parts, of which the county boroughs are a very great portion. Therefore, it is very possible for the county boroughs to be rated and precepted for a contribution to the Doncaster Drainage Board, the precept being a voluntary gift by the Catchment board towards the Doncaster drainage works.
The boroughs have complained about this, and have said that they, who contribute the greater portion of the revenue, have an insufficient voting representation upon this Catchment board. That position derives not from this Act but from the Act of 1930. If this House were not to proceed further with the Bill which I am laying before it to-night, the under-representation of the county boroughs on the catchment boards, and their liability accordingly to be out-voted and find themselves forced to contribute to this Doncaster drainage, would remain absolutely unchanged. It is asked: What safeguard have the county boroughs against an extravagant and unreasonable precept being placed upon them by a catchment area in pursuance of some fantastic and extravagant scheme? They have, of course, the general limitation that the expenditure cannot be above a 2d. rate. To many of the county boroughs even a 1d. rate would be a very serious thing, and a 2d. rate would seem altogether out of the question. The Minister has the power, at present, if he thinks that unreasonable proportions are being laid upon the county boroughs, to come in in a judicial capacity.
That is one of the difficulties of my position to-night. I must commend these proposals, and I do whole-heartedly commend them to the House, as in every way reasonable, but I do not wish to press the argument too strongly, since some vital decision might come before me in a judicial capacity, in which case it would be most desirable that I should not commit myself. I hope to prove to the House that, even if these proposals are not adopted, that safeguard will continue. If the Doncaster drainage area is broken 1877 up and placed in the areas of the Ouse and the Trent, it will still be possible for the Ouse Catchment Board or the Trent Catchment Board to propose a scheme and to rate accordingly their constituent parts. While the county boroughs have the power of appeal to the Minister against such a scheme, on the ground that the areas which are to benefit have not been sufficiently precepted upon, there again the Minister is a judge and acts in a judicial capacity, and from him there is no appeal. I do not wish to commit myself on this point, save to say that it is clear that if the catchment area were to put through a scheme extravagantly rating the county boroughs, while demanding no contribution whatever from those who are to benefit from their scheme, the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the scheme would be very seriously taken into account by the Minister. Such appeals as are possible are not dead-letters, since I think that three of them have already been heard and determined by the Minister of Agriculture.
I think I have shown the House, first of all, that the liability of the boroughs is not in fact, although it is in theory, increased by the proposals which this Bill contains; and secondly, that the safeguards which the county boroughs have in another form are still maintained, under the Act of 1930, if the Doncaster Drainage Area is dissolved and merged into the two Catchment Boards. Further, I would point out that the county boroughs themselves actually sit upon the board undertaking the works, and that those following them through, as only members of a, committee can follow through the proposals, by examining them, will be in a much better position from the point of view of strictness of economy in carrying out the proposals than in appealing against being precepted upon by a board which is making a voluntary gift to some other organisation in carrying out the work.
That the catchment boards of Ouse and Trent are more suitable for water engineering schemes scarcely requires argument. They are in the charge of engineers, and they have knowledge and responsibilities far beyond what is possible to a small board like the Doncaster Drainage Board. The argument, the House may say, is superficial, and rather means that a liability exists which is to 1878 be shouldered by someone, and which should not be placed upon two areas in England but should be borne by England as a whole. Let me point out to the House that other catchment areas have their problems also, and that to say that the cost should be borne by England as a whole is to say that on areas far removed from the Ouse and the Trent, like the Thames and the Severn, should be placed the burden, in addition to their own water burdens, of contributing to the support of areas which however far they may be from the Don, the Tome, and the sea, these regions are much nearer than the head of the Thames or the Valley of the Severn. The difficulties of the Ouse and the Trent are very considerable, and a city such as Birmingham is a long way from the region where the Ouse reaches the sea; yet all the water which goes to the main channel of the city has to fall somewhere, and in fact it does not fall into the Don area. Most of that water falls in some other area and has to be conducted to the sea through the channel of that area.
In some cases the problem is rather accentuated by that great city tapping watersheds outside its own area, and bringing water from those watersheds and discharging it into its river channels, which were small when Vermuyden made them in 1600, and have not grown since. Therefore, the case for dealing with the catchment areas for Ouse and Trent is strong. They are heavily burdened, and cannot bear any further expense, but I ask the House to consider, even in those areas, whether there is not a responsibility of neighbourship towards the people who have suffered severely twice within six months. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are hundreds of miles away !"] A man may be hundreds of miles away from another man and still be a. good neighbour. I consider that being downstream everyone has regarded as one of the elements of neighbourhood. People who live by the water, such as in the Thames Valley, have always regarded each other as neighbours although living a great deal farther than 100 miles away from each other, There is a certain homogeneity in living in a river valley. It is a geographical fact that the water coming down from even a hundred miles away has to come through the area, of each one. I ask the boroughs and the neighbouring counties to consider the re 1879 sponsibility of good neighbourhood towards those people downstream. It would be difficult for us to say that we wash our hands of this responsibility entirely or even for the rivers and the head waters. To say that we wash our hands entirely of the responsibility for the water once it flows past our own doors is not a position that can be maintained, if we accept the principle of a certain amount of responsibility for those down the waterway.
Let us consider whether the procedure proposed by this Bill is not the most appropriate to deal with the problem. Here is a Bill in regard to which we ask the House to act as a grand jury. We have to decide to-night whether this Bill should go to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses and be examined in the most searching way for such a Bill to be examined, not by the casual discussions of Members of Parliament, well or ill-instructed and moved by a certain amount of partisanship and political faith, but by a Committee of both Houses sitting in a judicial capacity on points raised by skilled counsel on either side. It has been said that a postponement of the matter would result in it being settled. I ask the House to consider whether any inquiry could be better than the inquiry which is now offered under the procedure of this House, acting as a grand jury. The boroughs have raised very important points which will now have to be considered by the Committee sitting on this Bill, points of great importance, which can be properly argued by counsel and properly determined by Members of the House sitting in a judicial capacity.
That is the case for the Bill. The Government recognise their responsibilities, first of all in the desirability that the financial contributions envisaged in Section 55 of the Act should not be regarded as having altogether lapsed. I can assure the House that the Government do not regard those responsibilities as having altogether lapsed, but as postponed, merely because of the financial stringency which makes it impossible for the central authority to envisage the raising of loans for local authorities at a time when local authorities are restricting their expenditure. Secondly, the Minister, speaking for the Government, 1880 recognises the responsibility of the Government to see that the powers are not inefficiently or extravagantly used. The power of the Minister to act as a judge, I can assure the House, will not be waived or thrown away. There are no great schemes, amounting to 1,000,000 or £2,000,000, which have been brought forward, and it is not our intention that such vast work should be undertaken in any light-hearted spirit. The liability is not to be increased; the judicial power of the Minister remains unimpaired; and it is the desire of the Government to give assistance. I again reiterate that to the House, and I hope that, with these three points settled, it will be possible to allow the Bill to have a Second Reading and to go to that close and searching examination which such Bills properly have under the procedure of the House.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman sits down, may I ask him a question? Would he say definitely that we may rely upon a contribution by the Government under Section 25 of the Act of 1930?
§ Major ELLIOT
For my hon. Friend to ask me such a question before I sit down is, I am afraid, rather a super-Scottish proposal. It would be entirely impossible for me to give such a pledge. I have explained the reasons which make it impossible to give such a definite pledge. Obviously it would need the sanction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Government as a whole. I could not give that pledge. I can only ask my hon. Friend to take it as an assurance from the Government that they recognise their responsibilities in this matter.
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I cannot allow all these questions. Hon. Members had better wait for an opportunity to speak later.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
For once in a way it is my privilege to welcome a Bill introduced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Had I had any doubts as to the action that I should take on this Bill, I should, in view of the fact that he has pointed out that the carrying out of this work has now become a duty, have consented in any case to agree to his suggestion and allow the Bill to go 1881 forward. I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech should dispose of many of the fears and anxieties of Members representing towns in the area, and it seems to me that all that there is left for me to do, in supporting the Measure, is to supplement his observations. I hope that any lingering doubts, even on the part of hop. Gentlemen representing counties 100 miles away may vanish in the light of the truth and realities of the situation.
There may be two opinions as to whether or not a certain part of the Don Valley ought to be drained at all—as to whether, for instance, the expenditure involved in draining the area is worth while, or whether thousands of acres of potential agricultural land in that area ought to be left flooded permanently and rendered valueless, either for the purpose of producing food or for any other purpose, even the production of coal. That opinion may be held by some hon. Members even in this House, If, however, we agree that we cannot afford to allow such a vast area of land to be permanently flooded, permanently unusable, and uninhabitable by human beings, and that we cannot for all time desert the coal reserves underlying the area, it seems to me that the matter is one of great urgency, and that the work must be carried out as quickly as possible. We have as witnesses three Royal Commissions who have stated very definitely that this work ought to be carried out. The Royal Commission of 1923, dealing with mining subsidence, drew the attention of the country to the urgency of the Doncaster problem; the Royal Commission that sat exclusively to deal with Doncaster was very definite in its determination to get the work put in hand; and the Government of 1929 produced a Bill which brought into being the Doncaster Board.
The first argument advanced by the county borough councils is this: As we have a Doncaster Drainage Board, and as the Doncaster people were very insistent upon their preserves being cared for and left outside the scope of the Catchment Board, why, it is asked, do they now, three years after the passing of the Doncaster Drainage Act, want to relinquish their duties and obligations and have them transferred to the Catchment Board? I think that the county 1882 borough clerks who have produced the case in opposition to the Bill might well have served the catchment areas better if, instead of spending time and money in producing a case consisting of many ambiguities and half-truths, they had helped the Government to secure the passage of the Bill and to secure control of this area which requires draining at the earliest possible moment.
On behalf of the Doncaster Drainage Board, may I recall to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen the series of events which have tended to retard the putting in hand and carrying through of the work? The Bill was passed in 1929. The first meeting was held in October, 1929, and by 1930 the board bad appointed officers, secured rooms, and commenced to examine the problem which confronted them. Almost before they had got a thorough knowledge of the problem with which they were faced, the Land Drainage Act of 1930 was passed. That altered the situation entirely, but, in the meantime, Section 8 of the Doncaster Drainage Act imposed upon the Doncaster Board the duty of setting up district drainage committees throughout an area of 211,000 acres.
In a vast proportion of that area there were no committees in existence at all, and, although the county borough clerks declare in their opposition case that the Doncaster Board have been indifferent and apathetic, and have made no pretence of effort to solve the problem, I would point out that they have already, under Section 8 of the Act, set up 13 separate district drainage committees, and I understand that several other committees are almost completed, and Orders are being prepared which will ultimately receive the ratification of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Since, however, in some parts of the area there are these district drainage boards, while in other parts there are no district boards, no rate can be levied until all the area has these district boards, in order that, once a rate is levied, it may be levied equitably over all parts of the area. I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), and other Members representing county borough councils, that the Trent Catchment Board and the Ouse Catchment Board, appreciating the difficulties of the Doncaster Drainage Board, advised them not to levy a rate 1883 until they were in a position to levy it upon every acre in the Doncaster area. Consequently, as the county boroughs form part of the Catchment Boards, they themselves, directly or indirectly, are responsible for the fact that no rate has been levied in any part of that very difficult area. [Horn. MEMBERS: "They are in a minority."] We are in a minority in this House, but we are able to express our opinion, and we must accept decisions once they are taken, just as the county borough councils must when Catchment Boards have reached decisions on one point or another.
There is another very great difficulty confronting the Doncaster Board. The method of levying a rate, when they are in a position to levy a rate, is totally different from that under the powers given to the Catchment Board. For instance, we have here an area of 211,000 acres, with many thousands of individual hereditaments, and the Doncaster Board, in levying a rate, must levy it on each individual hereditament. When I tell hon. Members representing borough councils what was the problem confronting the Doncaster Committee, perhaps they will appreciate some of their difficulties. They invited tenders at the latter end of 1931 for the production of a valuation list. The least tender obtained was for £7,000 and the person who advanced that tender wanted 15 months in which to prepare the list. To levy a rate in these circumstances was well nigh an impossibility. Therefore, a new situation having arisen as the result of the passing of the 1930 Act bringing further complications because of a different rating scheme altogether, almost made it impossible for the Doncaster Board to continue their work. Then we had on top of this two very severe floods in the Bentley area in the short space of seven months. All parts of the country were moved on learning that over 4,000 people had to desert their homes and live in elementary schools and elsewhere because their houses were flooded, not by water that came from the Heavens and descended upon the Don Valley area but because of water that found its way there from the higher levels over the river banks and ultimately flooded not only fields but houses and shops and all kinds of premises.
1884 What is the real problem about this Don Valley water? The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) is presumably submitting the point of view put to him by the town clerk. He says, "Leeds is 30 miles from Doncaster. We do not send a single spoonful of water into the Doncaster area. Why should we be called upon to provide rates for the purpose of draining the Don Valley area?"
§ Mr. DENMAN
I hope later on to have an opportunity of speaking and it is not desirable that the hon. Gentleman should quote arguments that I have no intention whatever of advancing.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Member has retracted within the last 24 hours, I am very pleased to find that we have one more supporter and that his original arguments are no longer going to be used. Members from the higher reaches have declared that no water is being sent there from their areas. The river Don is 21½ miles long and two-thirds of it is outside the Doncaster area altogether. That is to say, two-thirds of the river is inside the Ouse catchment area. Of every eight gallons of water that passes down the river, seven gallons come from the uplands, an area of approximately 335,000 acres, as compared with 71,000 acres inside the Doncaster area. The hon. Member for Central Leeds and my hon. Friend who represents South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside), except in this case where he is misrepresenting it, say, "Why should Leeds be called upon to pay a single penny towards the draining of land below Doncaster?" Almost every pint of water that is used for sewage or that descends from the heavens on to Sheffield and Doncaster finds its way into the river Don. Not a penny piece per annum would it cost the Ouse Catchment Board for draining purposes for Sheffield or Rotherham. Does the Ouse Catchment Board refuse to receive the requisite rate from Sheffield and Rotherham because it does not cost them anything Not a bit of it. They will collect the rates from Sheffield and Rotherham and elsewhere. Doncaster must pay for the removal of the water that descends upon those towns.
The truth of the matter is that Leeds and Bradford and other county borough councils go out 20 or 30 miles to other 1885 areas, picking up millions of gallons of water per day for domestic and other uses, and dispose of it by sending it down to the lowlands, and then the lowlands are confronted with the problem of dealing with the water used by Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and the rest. The area, that drains into the river Don within the Doncaster area is 71,000 acres. The area served by the river Don outside the Doncaster area is 335,000 acres. Obviously, therefore, the uplands, Sheffield, Rotherham and the rest, are responsible. If called upon, the Catchment Board are obliged to make a contribution and, if the contribution is not large enough, the Doncaster Board, assuming that the Bill fails to get a Second Reading, could invite the right hon. Gentleman to increase the grant that the Catchment Board had to make to the Doncaster Board. The Catchment Board really is as much responsible to-day as it will be if the Bill passes. Any contribution that the Trent area will be called upon to make to the Don Valley area is so infinitesimal as not to be worth attention. It is true that Burton and Birmingham are 60, 70 or 80 miles away from the seat of the Don Valley trouble but there is an area of 42,700 acres which drains itself into the river Went, and finally into the Don, but two-thirds of that area is in the Trent area, as remote as the Don Valley is from Birmingham. Doncaster is in no way responsible for the geographical situation and for the fact that rivers run one way instead of another.
If the Trent Catchment Board were called upon to accept responsibility for the very small portion referred to, there would be no colossal sum and no great burden imposed either upon Birmingham, Burton, Chesterfield or any one of the county boroughs in that area. Indeed had it not been for the urgency of the Doncaster problem, and the fact that the Doncaster Bill was passed in 1920, automatically that portion which it is suggested in the Bill should be handed to the Trent would have remained part of the Trent Catchment Board area, and. that portion which the Bill suggests should be transferred to the Ouse Catchment Board would automatically have been part of the Ouse Catchment Board area. It is merely the urgency of the problem that creates the necessity for the Bill at all. I have a telegram here from the clerk to the West Riding 1886 County Council which is an indication of what is taking place. In addition to Bradford and Leeds, which do indirectly send large quantities of water to the north side of Doncaster, Sheffield at this moment has the power to collect from the Derwent Valley 6,500,000 gallons of water each day, all of which finds its way ultimately into the river Don and to the Don Valley.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member leaves me guessing when he talks about backwash. The only backwash that L have been acquainted with for several years is the backwash that the Don Valley suffers from the uplands, who do not contribute a penny towards the misfortunes which have overtaken the residents in that area. They are responsible, and they are liable under Clauses 21 and 30 to make a contribution. The only point is whether they would prefer to allow the Doncaster Board to carry out the work and then charge the Ouse and Trent Catchment Boards with some financial responsibility which will ultimately be settled by the Minister. I should have thought that the local authorities, and county borough councils especially—and the county councils in both cases support the Bill and both the catchment areas support the transfer suggested in the Bill—if the work has to be undertaken and carried out, they being called upon subsequently to make a financial grant, would have preferred to design the work or have it designed for them by their engineers, to determine the cost, and to have full control over expenditure in the whole area referred to.
I would point out that many hon. Members wish to speak on the Bill to-night, but, if we have these constant interruptions, it will be impossible for all of them to do so.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I do not think that the argument that county boroughs are in a minority is relevant at all. If the county borough councils were in a majority on the catchment boards they would either oppose or support this Measure. I am not at all satisfied that 1887 the county councils are less able to reach a fair and equitable decision than the county boroughs; and the county councils, who, apparently, with some other members of the catchment boards constitute a majority, have agreed to the possibility of taking over those two areas and tacking them on to the catchment boards. With regard to the question as to whether the uplands flood the lowlands or not, I think that the best evidence one can obtain is from the report of the Royal Commission who examined the problem for a very long time. In paragraph 39 they state:The waters from the Uplands reach the outfall much more rapidly than they did formerly, and a much greater volume of water is poured into the outfall in a much shorter space of time than would pass by natural means. This has driven the Lowlander to expend vast additional sums on protective measures in the shape of barrier banks and on increased outfall facilities.In paragraph 41 they say:Again, during the last century the population of these Islands has multiplied exceedingly. Villages have grown into towns, and the population has become so dense that for hygienic purposes artificial systems of sewage have of necessity been resorted to, and foreign water supplies installed, drawn either from other catchment areas at a horizontally distant source or vertically from deep wells fed from pervious rock outcrops, so that from some large towns many millions of gallons of effluent are daily voided into the outfall river, with results in time of flood which may be bettor imagined than described.In paragraph 42 they say:To put it shortly, rivers under modern conditions of roofing, paving, roadmaking, water supply, sanitation and agricultural under-drainage are called upon to discharge functions for which they were not designed by nature.That was the considered opinion of the Royal Commission who sat to examine the problem. I am prepared to take their word for it, though there seems to be no doubt about it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, by the way, as hon. Members already understand, is to vary the map of the Ouse and Trent Catchment Boards and that will put an additional length of the River Don within the catchment area. This leaves in existence the benefits of Part II of the Doncaster Act where colliery proprietors are obliged to make some contribution as the result of subsidence occurring from the working of their collieries. It seems, 1888 therefore, that the catchment boards in their own interests, particularly if they fear large financial burdens, ought to welcome an opportunity of having transferred to them the powers to levy rates upon mineowners who are very largely responsible for many of the difficulties in such an area as that at Doncaster. However, Doncaster cannot do that by itself. If the people in various parts of the country want coal, colliery proprietors will persist in sinking coal pits. Once they spend £1,000,000 upon the sinking of a pit and the developing of a colliery, they require 3,000 men who with their families make a population of from 8,000 or 9,000 people. Such is the case below Doncaster at the moment. Therefore, in the production of coal the necessity for housing and the social welfare of these people ought to be a consideration to Leeds, Burton-on-Trent, Bradford and elsewhere. We should be able to persuade them of the fairness of calling upon them to pay for ridding the low areas of the water which falls on the uplands and descends in course of time.
It is said that the Ouse Catchment Board cannot afford bigger burdens. That implies that the vast areas of the Ouse Catchment Board, with a rateable value of £18,000,000, and of the Trent Catchment Board with a rateable value of £21,000,000, canont afford to pay a penny extra in rates for ridding themselves of surplus water, and that the small area of Doncaster ought to be compelled to foot the bill. This vast rateable value cannot afford it, yet the very small area is to be made to afford it! It 'scarcely seems equitable. When I tell hon. Gentlemen that at the moment one of the drainage boards inside the Don Valley is paying a 4s. or 4s. 6d. drainage rate, they will see what it will mean to the farmer if they impose a further burden, upon him, not only of draining his own land but of providing drainage for land many miles away from him.
To the right hon. and gallant Gentleman I would say that I hope the House will see the wisdom of accepting his Measure. It is certainly the only possible means of obtaining any finality with regard to the terrible problem in the neighbourhood of Doncaster. I wish hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to see the wisdom, fairness, equity and justice of supporting the Measure. I want them also to assist me in persuading the right 1889 hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Government, because of their negligence over such a long period, have some responsibility to see that the work is carried out. A definite statement was made by the late Minister of Agriculture that Government grants would be forthcoming to help to carry out such schemes as the one which we have in mind. I do not think that the Government, despite the desire for economy, ought to imagine that it is economy to withhold Government funds for such a desirable purpose. I think that the problem is a joint one and that a Government grant ought to be forthcoming. The local authorities should be called upon to make some payment. Mineowners will ultimately be levied as a result of this work. The internal drainage boards will be called upon to pay increased rates, and the county and county borough councils will be called upon. It is a five-handed reel. If we accept the Bill, and I hope it will receive a unanimous Second Reading, I trust that the representatives of the county borough councils will see the fairness of accepting the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman and appreciate the desirability of undertaking the work as quickly as possible.
If this work is to be undertaken it will cost a large sum of money, but not the £2,000,000 referred to by some of the county borough clerks. The maximum figure that has ever been mentioned by any of the experts who have examined the problem, notably the two mining engineers who gave reports to the commission in 1923, visualising a gigantic scheme, was about £750,000. Other schemes have been produced estimated to cost £250,000. I think that such a scheme as that might have been undertaken with a big enough Government grant, but not any scheme costing £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 as some Hon Members have been made to believe. The five bodies should be called upon to make a fair contribution towards the cost, because the work is urgent and it is of national as well as local importance. Therefore, I hope we shall get a Second Reading for the Bill, and that it will meet with little or no obstruction in Committee, so that hope and security can be enjoyed by a large number of coal miners, farmers and others in the area, who have enjoyed no security for the last two or three years.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
The Bill is symptomatic of a number of movements of the same character. I make no criticism or complaint of the way in which my right hon. Friend has introduced the Bill and the procedure which he proposes to adopt. It is obviously the most convenient and probably the least expensive machinery to arrive at a decision after the Second Reading of the Bill. There are, however, several matters in the Bill which are matters of principle rather than of local detail. I deprecate the remarks which were made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who seemed to disparage the energy and diligence of the town clerks who have been looking into this matter and acting for their town councils, as the officers of those bodies. I do not think that disparagement was deserved. I note that the hon. Member quoted, without the slightest blush or hesitation, a document which has been provided by the clerk to a county council. I do not wish to introduce any personalities into the Debate, and therefore I will leave that matter.
The Bill proposes to take over a very difficult and very expensive area for drainage purposes. Great urgency is the explanation of this course. A Royal Commission sat to deal with the Don Valley area and as a result of that Commission an Act was passed in 1929 and a board was set up which, without any disparagement or criticism, does not appear to have been able to effect very much since its creation. We have heard that they received a sum of money from the Ouse Catchment Board, which they have spent in one way or another. They have created officers and gathered together a staff, but beyond that and the cutting down of some willow trees we have seen very little of their activities. Shortly after the board was set up a far reaching and wider Act, the Land Drainage Act of 1930, was passed. That created a great number of difficulties and embarrassments. Those who have been some time in this House will remember the constant trouble we had and the many documents we received dealing with the drainage in other areas further south. These catchment areas cover huge dis- 1891 tricts. I happen to be in the Trent catchment area which extends from the Highlands of Staffordshire, through the Potteries to Wolverhampton, astride the watershed to Birmingham, falling into the Trent, and receives the waters of Leicestershire and of the Highlands of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and also waters from Lincolnshire, and so into the sea. That is an enormous area and takes a long time to survey. These matters cannot be dealt with in a burry. Water has ways of its own. It is a very intractable subject to deal with. It requires great study and observation. To think that water will adapt itself to any scheme that is devised is perfectly useless. It is hopeless to try to force water where it refuses to go. Therefore, you cannot proceed with these matters in great hurry.
The Minister proposes that the Doncaster area shall be taken over by the Ouse and Trent Catchment areas, and the Government thereby is relieved of the necessity or the obligation of making the grant which was proposed by Dr. Addison. We in those catchment areas feel extremely uneasy in taking over these enormous and unknown liabilities. The hon. Member for the Don Valley spoke about a scheme costing £750,000, as if it was a comparatively small sum. Even the £250,000 which has been mentioned is a very considerable sum in these days. The people in the catchment areas to which I refer view with anxiety the taking over of great liabilities which they did not conceive when the catchment areas were set up. It would be another thing if the Minister of Agriculture were to carry out the obligation and the undertaking of its predecessor. If the Don Valley scheme was set up, with the main works constructed and in operation, there would be something to take over; but that is not the case. A big undertaking is necessary, and no one seems to be in a position to know what to do about it. There have been many subsidences in the Don Valley. They very often occur in colliery districts and, therefore, there has been a great deal of flooding. The water has to be pumped out and drained.
There has been a most striking and inexplicable lapse on the part of someone in the Don Valley, because land which is marked on the Ordnance Survey as liable to flooding has been built upon by large 1892 housing schemes. Either the local authority, or the county council, or the Minister of Health, should have taken action to prevent such a thing occurring. But there it is, and we have heard lamentable accounts of the disasters which have occurred owing to floods. There were floods all over the catchment area at the same time and a great deal of expense was entailed. I remember the plight of Derby, and Burton for the first time for 50 years experienced floods in the town. Other minor catastrophes and losses were also entailed by the flooding of villages in the agricultural areas. All these matters point to the fact that the catchment board has a great deal to do themselves without having cast on their hands the burden of a new undertaking, a very costly undertaking and a very risky undertaking. In the case of the area of the Don Valley which it is proposed to transfer to the Trent Catchment Board it must be remembered that there are a number of old drains which will have to be renewed, machinery kept up and maintained, in some cases renewed, and banks which will have to be kept in constant order. Naturally everyone in the catchment area is somewhat alarmed at the proposal.
It must be remembered that the county boroughs are liable for about 60 per cent. of the expenses of the catchment board, while they have only one-third of the representation. Many of these county boroughs contribute nothing at all considerable to the problem; they do not empty any large quantities of effluents into the streams, yet they are already liable, without undertaking these greater liabilities proposed by the Bill, to very heavy charges being made upon them. The Minister talks as if the Bill will entail no larger liability upon county boroughs than a 2d. rate. That is true, there is a maximum of 2d., but why should the maximum be reached? The Minister is making certain that the maximum will be reached by putting this burden on the area. Naturally they are alarmed. During all the time that there has been this flooding in certain areas due to the fact that more modern trenches were not built to deal with the rush of waters, we have been spending money in order to look after ourselves and protect ourselves, yet we are to be precepted and rated in addition for some other authority who have not been so 1893 vigorous in dealing with their own difficulties. That is very hard.
This Bill is wrong in principle as it transfers a large area to another catchment board. I do not wonder that the hon. Member for the Don Valley rejoices over the Bill because his interests are being relieved of a very great liability, which other people will have to carry for them. That is a very serious matter, especially in these hard times and particularly when the burden is to be placed upon people who have interest in the area, no obligation, who have done them no damage or put them to any expense; which is the case as far as the Trent Catchment Board is concerned, and also, as far as I heard listening to the argument, is the case as regards the Don area. The Don area might very well be left to its own scheme until it has set up at least the main works which are necessary, and until the Government have discharged the obligation undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture only two or three years ago. I view this Bill and its consequences to many of the county boroughs with alarm and, therefore, I must ask the House to support me in my opposition to the Measure.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
The right hon. and gallant Member who has moved the rejection of the Bill has covered the ground so adequately that he has rendered my task easy. It is easier because the Bill undoubtedly commits greater injury to the Ouse Catchment, Area than to the Trent area. If it hits the Trent area with whips it hits the Ouse area with scorpions. Let me recall a piece of advice given some years ago; when the two Front Benches are in agreement the rest of the House had better look out for itself. I give them that warning, because it was an extremely suspicious alliance of the Front Benches on a subject on which I think they ought to have been in disagreement. However, in this Debate we are not really in much disagreement about facts. It is a disagreement almost on morals; the facts are admitted—the fact of the flooding of the Don area, the need for a considerable undertaking to relieve that flooding, and the effect of this Bill in taking a considerable amount of that expenditure from the Doncaster District Drainage Board and imposing it on the catchment areas of the Ouse and Trent. Those things are common ground.
1894 The Mover and the supporter of the Bill in their arguments proved rather too much when they said that they had adequate powers to do all this under existing law, and that the Bill really made no difference. If that is so we have only to reply, "Very well, leave us as we are and we are content." But that is not the fact. The Minister, of course, guarded himself with accuracy by saying that in theory there was a difference. But the theory runs into practice. The difference of making the Ouse Catchment Area responsible for the normal upkeep of the lower Don is a heavier obligation than the existing obligation to contribute towards that, by reason of the fact that it is responsible for the upper waters. I had better allude to a few words in the Act of 1931, that make the position of the Ouse Catchment Board quite clear:Where it appears to an internal drainage board that by reason of the quantity of water which their district receives from lands at the higher level…it is fair that a contribution towards their expenses should be made by the catchment board. They may make an application…That is a Clause under which the Ouse Catchment Board has made a contribution and under which we should, of course, continune to make a reasonable contribution; but when we are asked, as we are by this Bill, to upset that scheme, to upset the careful balance of 1929–30, and to impose the entire obligation of the upkeep of the lower Don on the Ouse Catchment Board, we say there is no justification for it. We are having imposed on us a burden without one single corresponding advantage of any kind. The question of the representation on the Catchment Board has been raised. There, so far from the position being met with some kind of counterbalancing advantage the position is made worse; instead of having one-third of the board, as now, we shall have a. lesser proportion in future by reason of an addition which is quite clearly necessary if the Bill is to be carried. There could be some compensating advantage from a device for guarding them without undermining the scheme of the 1930 Act. It would be possible in this special Catchment Board to create a finance committee on the precise analogy of a county council finance committee, with the powers of a county council finance committee, composing that entirely of those 1895 responsible for the payment of the money. That would be a real method of giving us some countervailing advantage for the burden that is proposed here.
That is simply our case. The Bill is imposing a new burden without a shadow of reason. Are the Government wise in using the vast powers of their majority to override the very clearly expressed wishes of the borough councils? I say that no Government in this century could have done that, except this Government. I am thinking of the War Government, and I remember that even that Government had limitations to its powers. But no Government at all could have overridden the great boroughs in the way that this Government proposes to do. We admit that the Government can do it. But what are the Government doing by overriding the wishes of the great boroughs? They are teaching those boroughs that a strong Government is a danger, that they cannot be sure that they will have fair play from a Government strong enough to come and use them as the universal cow to be milked. That is not a good lesson.
Then we are asked by both the Minister and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to show neighbourliness. I should very poorly represent my Yorkshire constituents if I did not show a real appreciation of that request. Of course we show neighbourliness, but it is reasonable for us to ask that the Minister should have regard to the conditions that make neighbourliness possible. The classical example of neighbourliness was the Good Samaritan. [HON. MEMBERS: "He paid his 2d. !"] He paid the 2d. yes, but what happened when he did it was not that a policeman came up and said, "Fork out 2d. or I will take you to the court in Jerusalem." That attitude would have killed all spirit of neighbourliness. If I know the spirit of the Good Samaritan in the least I am sure he would have reminded the policeman that they were on the road to Jericho and would have invited him to go there; and the 2d. would have remained in his pocket. I know that the Minister desires us to show a neighbourly spirit and desires to inculcate a spirit of good will. That being so, let him come to an agreement on the subject within the powers of the existing Acts. Admittedly those powers are very considerable. The hon. 1896 Member for Don Valley told us that we of the boroughs had said that we had no responsibility for the upper waters. We never said that. We agree that we have some responsibility.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member is misinterpreting my remarks. Some hon. Gentlemen representing Leeds and Bradford, 30 or more miles from Doncaster, declared that they did not send one spoonful of water into the Doncaster area, and that we controvert.
§ Mr. DENMAN
Geographically that is true; but it does not affect the fact of the case, which is that we know we have to contribute financially to the Don Valley by reason of being a portion of the catchment area and being represented on the catchment board. But we resent this extra burden. Let the Minister revert to what seems to be the method of treating this matter in a spirit of good will. It is admitted that the real problem is the carrying out of one major work in the lower Don. Cannot we isolate that and treat it separately? Cannot we leave the Doncaster District Drainage Board to carry on its normal work, and leave the catchment area and so on, and take out this particular work and come to an agreement between the Ouse Catchment Board, the Doncaster District Drainage Board and the Treasury, jointly to undertake this work? Assuming that it is £200,000 and allowing 4¼ per cent. for interest and sinking fund, that is a sum of £8,500 and surely that amount could be found between those three authorities in one way or another. That is a method by which we could come to a really amicable understanding and meet the urgent necessities of the case which everybody admits.
There are financial advantages in that method. The Minister would obviously feel great difficulty in approaching the Treasury at the present time for a general grant for drainage. It would be quite different if he were to approach the Treasury for a special limited grant for a specific purpose like that isolated act of drainage in the Don Valley And he would have a much better chance of success. It would also avoid legal costs. The Minister spoke of this select committee as a judicial body. No doubt it will give an admirable decision. I should not be surprised if it found the Preamble of the Bill not proved. But who is going 1897 to benefit primarily out of it? Surely it is the lawyers. This will be a long inquiry, fought bitterly by the borough councils and I am sure I speak for every borough council when I say that they would prefer to spend the money not in legal controversy but in useful work in the Don Valley. Further, there is the question of time. Obviously this committee cannot be set up before we reassemble next year. It will be some time in February before it gets to work and the Minister knows the congestion which there is at that period of the year. If he gets his Bill by Easter he will be extremely lucky.
Compare the process of good will with the process of the steam roller. If he isolates that scheme and gets the three parties together and comes to an agreement all that might be done this year. I do not know what the position is as to the plans for doing the work but everybody will agree that the sooner the work care be got on with, for the benefit of the unemployed, the better. Therefore I urge the process of good will rather than the process of the steam roller. I shall reluctantly have to divide against this Bill if the process of the steam roller is to be used. I shall do so with the greatest reluctance because I am not only a loyal but an enthusiastic supporter of the Government, and I have often, in public and in private, gone out of my way to applaud the special virtues of the Minister in charge. It would be a cause of great regret to me to have to divide against the Government. If, however, the Minister gives us an assurance that he will actively pursue the path of good will, I admit that in those circumstances lie ought to have a Second Reading of this Bill because, should negotiations break down obviously he would want to get on with it. I suggest that we should, by general consent, give him a Second Reading, on the assurance that he will do his best to come to an agreement within the ambit of the existing law.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
There does not seem to be a great deal more to be said in opposition to dm Bill after the speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I should like to compliment the Minister on the conciliatory and pleasant way in which he has brought forward this matter and glided over all its difficulties. 1898 I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was hardly so clever and it is a matter of regret to me that on a question of this sort he should have committed the error of judgment which in my view he did commit. He ought to have made it clear that he was only speaking in this matter for himself and not for the Front Bench, or for the second or third benches either, on this side of the House.
It seemed to me that my hon. Friend was rather laboured in his defence of the Doncaster Drainage Board. There is an old French proverb to the effect that he who excuses himself, accuses himself. My hon. Friend devoted two-thirds of his speech to defending the Doncaster Board against the charge of not having carried out the duties imposed on them by the 1929 Act. I believe that that board was constituted very shortly after the passing of the Act and that it has had voluntary contributions from the Ouse Catchment Board. I understand that it has not even prepared the rate books necessary to enable it to levy any, sort of rate from its constituent parts and that it has not done any work at all on that part of the river committed to its charge, namely, the lower Don. As the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) has said, it has a staff and a suite of offices arid no doubt its members meet and have a cup of tea arid a good cigar out of the contributions made in such a friendly fashion by the county boroughs. But it is grossly neglecting the work committed to it by this House. That may be a good and proper reason for taking its powers from it, but it is exceedingly hard on the county boroughs to have this additional obligation imposed upon them.
I would like to add to the appeal of the hon. Member for Central Leeds to the Government not only for good will but for something in the nature of financial help. I had a good deal to do with the passing of the Land Drainage Act of 1930, in regard to which there was agreement on all sides that a national contribution was necessary. That was an important factor in determining the attitude taken by all parties on that Measure. It may be said that the county boroughs took that Measure very complacently and very easily. So they did, because they took at their face value the assurances given by Members of all 1899 parties that the Government of the day would make a national contribution. During the Committee stage of the Money Resolution the then Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Addison, said:The principle that we recognise is that in connection with this work there must be national grants…I think it is recognised as was set forth by the Royal Commission that if this important work, which is not only of a local but of a national character, is to be taken in hand there must be some national contributions in aid.Further, Mr. Guinness, as he then was, who led the then Opposition when that Financial Resolution was under consideration said:It is quite evident from the course of the discussion that it is in accordance with the general wishes of all parties that assistance should be given from the Exchequer to these drainage areas. It is long overdue. The present system has involved great injustice by concentrating upon small and poor sections of the community what, in reality, owing to the growth of civilisation which has accentuated the probelm of drainage, is a national responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1930; cols. 1515–1519, Vol. 240.]There was clearly an understanding which I think the Minister of Agriculture does not deny, that that national contribution should be forthcoming. The right hon. Gentleman pleads the present economic situation as justification for not making a firm offer of some kind of aid, although I gather that we have his good will and that he will press the question of a national contribution if this work is undertaken. He pleads the present economic situation, but I would point out that the economic situation affects equally all the county boroughs. One knows that in almost all of them there is a very great amount of unemployment and that rates are very high. The curious thing is that we have my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley—who lives next door to the race-course of Doncaster which has a very small rate, indeed, much smaller than the City of Leeds—seeking to impose an additional obligation on the City of Leeds and other cities, while himself enjoying, by reason of the race-course largely patronised by those who come from Leeds and other cities, the position of living in comparative ease.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that the Doncaster 1900 ratepayers have enjoyed no benefit from their race-course in the last three years?
§ Major MILNER
I was not aware of that fact. The hon. Member has offered to invite me to the races, though the formal invitation has not yet been forthcoming. I would point out that the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills), so recently as the Debate on agriculture in June, suggested that national money might well be better spent on land drainage work of the character we are discussing rather than en roads and bridges and matters of that sort. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, together with the hon. Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), sat on the Royal Commission, and he knows a good deal more about this problem than most of us, and he has told the House on more than one occasion that this matter is one for national contribution. He has made a practical suggestion, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite will convey to the proper quarter, as to how these moneys might very properly and fairly be found by the Government who, as the Minister says, will continue to recognise their responsibilities.
There is one other matter to which I would like to refer. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley rather led the House to think that the Doncaster drainage area was only a small area and a poor one, which was unable to meet any large financial obligation. In the first place, I would point out that the area it covers is something like 330 square miles, including seven collieries. The Royal Commission thought the area well able to bear financial responsibility and the Act of Parliament set up a fully representative board to deal with the powers committed to it. Owing to the inaction of the drainage board it is impossible to say what the precise financial position is, and, through their not having prepared the rate books or levied any rates, it is impossible to say with any precision what sort of funds might be forthcoming from that area.
I should like to make this further point. The House ought not to be left with the impression that the position, if this Bill now before the House is passed, will be the same as it would be in regard to voluntary contributions under Section 21 of the Land Drainage Act. The over- 1901 riding words of that Section are that., if it is fair that a contribution should be made, then the internal drainage board shall receive such contribution from the catchment board. It seems to me it might well not be fair to ask the whole of the Ouse catdhment area to make a large contribution under Section 21, whereas under this present Bill the Ouse Catchment Board will have to deal with the whole area equitably and fairly, and presumably will have to lay a considerable burden on the county boroughs, as on the whole of the Doncaster drainage area.
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) made a number of extremely valuable suggestions which I hope will be considered in a friendly spirit by hon. Members and by the Minister of Agriculture. I hope the Minister will have regard to the position that at present the Government appear to have withdrawn—I will not use stronger language which I have heard suggested in regard to the Government's action in this matter—from the partnership which they voluntarily entered into when the Land Drainage Act was passed and when the financial responsibility was placed on the drainage boards, the county boroughs, the county councils and the Government. They have withdrawn from that partnership and through the medium of this House they are asking the county boroughs to carry the baby which they undertook to hold at the time when the Act was passed. I hope that by the vote we have on this Bill to-night some indication, at any rate, will be given by hon. Members of their views on the action of the Government, and. I trust by the time the Bill comes before the House again they will have considered their present position, and that it may then be possible, in the spirit of neighbourliness which has been suggested, for the county boroughs to enter into the work which undoubtedly requires to be done, and to do it feeling that not only the Doncaster area but the Government are contributing to what must be an expensive task.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
I agree with much that tae previous speaker has said and that this work has to be done. The flooding which took place this year must be stopped, and the real question we are discussing to-night is who is to pay for it? I would 1902 remind the last speaker that this is not only a question which concerns the county boroughs. It concerns the non-county boroughs who are subject to the county rates, and a large part of the cost will fall on them. I am not sure that ultimately the cost will not fall on the country districts, for it will be spread all over the area of the Ouse and Trent, and all parties will have to pay. However you look at it, this Bill does place a charge on those who are now free from the charge, and, whether they are in Leeds or Ripon, the inhabitants of those very diverse cities will equally be hit by the extra rate.
The Bill throws the whole cost not only of this work but of future work—and let it be remembered that future work may be very expensive—on to the Trent catchment area and the Ouse catchment area. I think it is agreed that by far the larger part of the cost will fall on the Ouse area. All through the report of the Royal Commission, and all through our discussions, ran the under-current that it was impossible to drain England effectively unless the Government contributed, and at the end of our report, after saying that in many Continental countries this obligation is recognised, we went on to say, of a Government contribution:The principle involved can readily be justified in this country so long as the present system is maintained, whereby only a small proportion of the national income is chargeable for defraying the cost of essentially national services from which the whole community derives benefit.Here we are charging a small proportion of the country with a charge from which the whole country benefits. Then again, as has been said before, Dr. Addison, when he was Minister of Agriculture, practically promised a Government contribution, and it was on that understanding that that very controversial Bill got through so easily. Lastly, Section 55 of the Land Drainage Act lays down the way in which the Government can contribute. May I remind the Minister that no economy is involved here? The work has to be done. Anyhow, the work will be done. We cannot save money by not doing the work, for we have to prevent the flooding of the constituents of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and of other hon. Members as well, and the only question is, Who pays for it?
1903 There is a very strong case for a grant, but I fully realise the difficulties. I know how hard it is to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give a grant. I do not ask for a grant in this case, but I plead very forcibly for the use of some of the money which is now spent on roads. Too much has been spent on roads. The speed tracks that are built all over the country do not benefit the locality, for they largely carry through traffic that does not stop, yet the maintenance falls on the area through which these roads run. In drainage we have national work of an essential character, in some cases of a productive character, a far more useful use of that money than spending it on roads. I hope the Minister will consider that point, because the money has to be spent.
The country cannot allow what occurred the last time to happen again. It has to be stopped somehow, and I can imagine no better object for expenditure than this, and no better source or spring from which to draw that money than the swollen coffers of the Road Fund. Otherwise my constituents will be taxed for the benefit of the constituents of the hon. Member for the Don Valley. I am told that the urban district council of Bentley with Arksey built these houses, or some of them, on land that they knew, or ought to have known, was liable to flooding, and I do not think that that is denied. It is very hard on those who live miles away from this district and have no community of interest with the people in the Don Valley area that they should be called upon to pay for what is, I admit, a great misfortune, but still a misfortune which arises from their own lack of foresight.
All of us who think as I do have the serious question to put to ourselves as to whether or not we shall vote against the Bill on Second Reading. It would be very easy to do so; at the same time, I have to bear in mind that the Bill will not go through the ordinary course, but will go to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, before which all interests can be represented. But I am bound to point out to the Minister that the big, wealthy county boroughs, such as Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, and Birmingham, are able to brief counsel, call expert witnesses, and fight their case before the Joint Committee, but a non-county 1904 borough, with its smaller financial resources, and still less a small local authority, cannot do that. It is not, therefore, a complete answer, and it all brings me back to the equity of a grant from the Road Fund. I thought the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) put the matter very well when he talked of a partnership between the State and the localities, and I think the State ought to bear its share. For my part, though it is very tempting to vote against the Bill on Second Reading, I do not like doing so, when the Bill has this detailed and useful procedure to go through afterwards, but I think all of us should reserve our right, if the points we have in mind are not met to some extent anyhow, to vote against the Bill on Third Reading.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. MOLSON
In supporting the Bill, I would like to respond to the invitation of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), when he suggested that instead of the Bill being put through by what he was pleased to call steam-roller methods, some attempt should be made to secure an agreement in order that the country boroughs and other interested parties should be spared the cost of fighting the Bill upstairs. I believe that some of his reasons for opposing the Bill are based to a certain extent on a misapprehension, and I feel that this Debate will have served a useful purpose if we can arrive at what the present position is and at what the position will be if the Bill is passed. When that has been done, I hope it will be possible for the county boroughs to withdraw their opposition.
The hon. Gentleman spoke as if the Bill was an attempt to introduce an anomaly, and he said that it would be a departure from the principles laid down by the Royal Commission on Land Drainage. which were incorporated in the Act of 1930; but that is the exact reverse of the truth. The two principal findings of the Royal Commission which were put into effect by the Act of 1930 were, in the first place, that the channel of a main river ought to he under the control of the same drainage authority, and, secondly, that the cost of maintaining a main river should be spread over the whole of the catchment area. I would like to quote a few extracts which really go to the root of the whole matter. 1905 Paragraph 61 of the Commission's Report says:In our opinion if drainage is to be effective the first requirement is to clear the main stream of the river beginning with the outfall and working up to the source.They go on to say:In view of our recommendation that the whole of the main channel of the river from source to mouth should be under the control of the catchment area authority, it is eminently desirable that in setting up the catchment area authority all subsidiary drainage authorities on that main channel should be abolished if their powers are confined to the main channel or, if they are also charged with internal drainage, should be deprived of their powers in relation to the main channel.Arising out of this principle which they law down as being necessary for the proper carrying out of drainage operations, they go on to say at the same time, treat the cost of these operations should be spread over the whole catchment area. Then they say:The consequence of the rule of benefit"—that is, the old rule of law by which only those people who have benefited can be called upon to bear the cost of a drainage system—is that in the majority of cases drainage authorities have wholly inadequate areas over which they may levy rates for carrying out necessary drainage works…For these reasons, we are of opinion that the area of benefit should be extended and…comprise the whole of the hereditaments in the catchment area of the river.These were the two principles upon which the Act of 1930 was based, and here we have, in the case of the Don River and the Doncaster Drainage Board, a perpetuation of those two very anomalies with which the Act of 1930 sought to deal. It is the only case in the country where the upper reaches of a river are considered to be a main river and then, when the river gets bigger and boarder, when it gets down to the mouth, it becomes a river of an internal drainage authority. Take the Don in its upper reaches where it passes through Sheffield it is there being maintained at the cost of the whole of the Ouse catchment area. Further down, when it comes to Doncaster, the whole of the burden is ostensibly cast upon the ratepayers of the Doncaster area, subject of course to the right of a contribution, to which I shall refer later on.
It may well be asked why, when the Act was passed in 1930, a special excep- 1906 tion was made in the case of the River Don. The obvious first answer is that Parliament was naturally unwilling to kill a babe within about a year of having given birth to it. Because of the urgency of the drainage problem in the Doncaster area, the Doncaster Drainage Board had been set up only in 1929, and only on the 16th October of that year had that drainage board held its first meeting. When the comprehensive Act was carried the following year, an obvious consideration was that an attempt should be made to fit the Doncaster Board into the catchment area and yet maintain its autonomy. The second reason was that exceptional, and, in fact, unique powers, were given to the Doncaster Board for imposing on the coal-mining interests the whole of the cost of drainage works which are necessitated by subsidence. At the present time there is no opposition from the coal-mining interests to the transfer of those powers to the catchment board, provided they are given additional representation. Had the Government in 1930, when they were setting up these catchment boards in other parts of the country, given special representation to the coal-mining interests in Doncaster, they would have had similar interests demanding representation on other catchment boards. These are the reasons why Doncaster was left in an anomalous position in 1930.
After three years' experience, the Government have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to bring the Doncaster area into line with other parts of the country. The first reason is, of course, that the responsibility for these very extensive areas which have to be included bears very hardly on a comparatively small area like that which is looked after by the Doncaster Drainage Board. This has been made more acute by the necessary withdrawal of Government grants. There is also the question of the rating books. I was sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) went out of his way to attack, upon very insufficient information, the Doncaster Drainage Board. The board has been confronted with a problem of great difficulty. It was only at the end of 1931 that it obtained the figures for assessments for Schedule A of the Income Tax upon which it could make any calculations.
§ Mr. MOLSON
Under the Act of 1930, after the board had been in office nine months, the whole basis of rating was changed from acreage to annual value, and it was only at the end of 1931 that it was able to get the figures upon which to calculate. From that time onwards, and indeed before that, the Board has carried out its obligation to set up boards inside its area, and it has been constantly pressing the Government to enable it to do what catchment boards have been enabled to do, to precept boards inside its area. No drainage authority in the country is faced with the problem of the Doncaster Drainage Board. There are no less than 17 catchment boards which exercise jurisdiction over a smaller area than the Doncaster Board, and, whereas catchment boards have been provided with machinery to precept the drainage authorities within their areas, the Doncaster Board has been called upon to levy individual rates upon each hereditament within its area.
I have dealt with this at some length, because it is unfair and unjust that people who have been struggling against great difficulties during the last few years should be attacked in the way that they have been in the House of Commons in order to prejudice the House against a Bill to which that particular matter does not seem to be altogether germane. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) made a statement, which he said was not disputed, that the local authority of Bentley had built houses below the 23-foot contour line on land which is part of the survey of land liable to flooding. It is true that houses have been built in the flooded area, but I am instructed that not a single one was built by the local authority. The local authority, in fact, had not the power to prevent speculative builders from putting those houses up in that place. The local authority referred the matter to the Minister of Health, who advised them that as the by-laws had been complied with, he had no power to prevent those houses being built.
The opposition to this Bill comes partly from the county boroughs in the area of the Trent Catchment Board, and partly from the county boroughs in the area of the Ouse Catchment Board. With re- 1908 gard to the Trent area, I think I can say they need have no apprehension of any works being carried out on the Torne at any time in the near future. There are many other urgent works further up the Trent, but as far as the people in the neighbourhood of Doncaster know there are not any large works to be carried out on the Tome. With regard to subsidence, under the Part II provisions which are transferred to the catchment board if damage or subsidence caused by coal mining leads to expense, the whole of that cost can be put upon the coal mining industry and does not fall on the ratepayers.
With regard to the Ouse the opponents of the Bill can be divided into two entirely different kinds. There are those who are actually upon the Don, upland dwellers who are sending the water down, and I would suggest that in all fairness we should be able to claim a very large contribution from those uplanders. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said seven-eighths of the water which flows through Doncaster comes from the uplands. According to my own independent figures, it is six-eighths, but there is not much difference about that.
What is of vital significance is that our drains have automatic sluices, and when the water reaches such a height that it would come over into Bentley those automatic sluices are closed, and on the two occasions when those great floods took place those automatic sluices were closed, and all the water that did the damage was water which came from outside the Doncaster area. No one is going to persuade me that when those automatic sluices were closed the water of the Doncaster drainage area climbed up and got into the River Don. The injury was caused by the water coming down from the uplands, where the rainfall is higher and the area upon which the rain falls is immensely greater.
There are also areas like Leeds and Bradford which claim that they are not upon the Don, and that therefore they ought not to be made liable. The answer to that is that that objection ought to have been made in 1930, when the Land Drainage Act was passed. It was then laid down, following the recommendations of the Royal Commission, that the country should be divided up into drainage areas, and we in Doncaster 1909 have been suffering from that principle. Works have been carried out on the Don which were not in the smallest degree of interest to us, but Doncaster loyally paid the precept, and very pleased we are to think we could contribute to helping those in need of drainage works on the Derwent. Now the same thing arises again. Those who should be pleased to help are raising objections. So far as Leeds and Bradford are concerned, they are sending us water which has the effect of blocking up the outflow of the River Don and causing a banking up of the water. That water which they send down into the Ouse Catchment Area is, much of it, brought from outside that catchment area. It is therefore only right that they should be called up to pay some of the cost of these great drainage works, which are a necessity, and are made more costly because Leeds and Bradford are importing water into the area.
If this Bill failed to pass there would be only three courses open. It is possible there would be a revival of an old suggestion to set up a special Don Catchment Board, in which case, of course, Sheffield and Rotherham would be called upon to make their contribution towards the costs of the work on the Lower Don. The hon. Member for Central Leeds referred in his speech to its being possible to carry out this change by purely executive action, and said why was not that done? Under Section 5, I think, of the Act of 1930 the whole of the Don could be coloured by executive action by the right hon. Gentleman, as being the main river of the catchment board, but if that, were done it would be doubtful if the Part II powers could be transferred. There is no question that the main river could be transferred. That could be done by colouring the map.
§ Mr. DENMAN
The hon. Member will recollect that the recommendation has to come from the catchment board and the Minister has to hear objections to it. It is by no means an automatic procedure on the part of the Minister.
§ Mr. MOLSON
That is perfectly true, but as the Ouse Catchment Board are asking for the Don River to be handed over to them, if the opponents of this Bill were successful in defeating it it does not need a great stretch of imagina- 1910 tion to assume that they would be willing to petition for the transfer by executive action.
§ Mr. DENMAN
There was not a very large majority on the Ouse Catchment Board in favour of asking for the Don River.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I can hardly be expected to go into the question of the majority by which a catchment board came to a decision, but that does not alter the fact that that request has been made. The position is that in that case it might not be possible to transfer the Part II powers imposing liabilities upon the coalowners in the district.
The third alternative would be for the position to remain as it is at present. I am not going to say definitely that under this Bill there will not be some slight additional cost imposed upon the county boroughs, hut I am going to say that it is impossible to say whether that will be so or not, because at the present time the initial cost of these works would rest upon the Doncaster Drainage Board, less such contribution as the Minister of Agriculture, acting in a judicial capacity, could hold was fairly to be called for from the uplanders; and I have produced some evidence to show that in flood time 100 per cent., and out of flood time some 80 per cent., of the water which comes down to Doncaster comes from Sheffield and the Penistone area and the other uplands.
It is true that at present the county boroughs have a right to appeal to the Minister if they are called upon to make too high a contribution, but under the very same Sub-section—Sub-section (5, b) of Section 21—there is a counter right of appeal in the event of the Bill being passed, so that it will be seen that in every case the county boroughs do still have a right of appeal. At present they have a right of appeal if the contribution made by the catchment boards to the drainage board is too high, but, alternatively, if the works are undertaken by the catchment board itself they have a right of appeal, if the catchment board does not precept the area which is benefiting by those works to a fair extent. If the Doncaster Drainage Board is abolished, the catchment area will be undertaking responsibility for those works, and round the area where the drainage board now has authority there 1911 will be internal drainage boards. Under the Measure it is not permissive, but obligatory, on the catchment board to precept those internal drainage boards for a preliminary contribution towards the work, and it is only what remains over that is subsequently spread evenly over the local authorities in other parts of the catchment area. If the representatives of the county boroughs are in any doubt as to whether Doncaster would and could be made to pay a fair contribution, they have, and would have under this Bill, an appeal to the Minister on the ground that Doncaster had not been called upon to pay an adequate contribution.
I apologise for having spoken at such length and in such detail, but this is a matter which affects my constituency very intimately. This House showed great sympathy with those who suffered in the floods which happened twice in seven months at Bentley. The Government, who have been pressed to do something, have been in consultation with the two great catchment areas in the Doncaster drainage area, and the catchment boards responsible for the drainage of that area have come to the conclusion that the best and simplest way of dealing with this problem is for this Bill to be carried. I appeal to the opponents of this Bill to withdraw their opposition on the ground that it does away with an anomaly that has resulted in great injustice to the Doncaster area. I have endeavoured to show that under the provisions of this Bill there is adequate security by means of appeal to make certain that no unfair or excessive contribution would be asked from the county boroughs.
§ 10.7 p.m.
I rise to support this Bill. I consider that it is the only practical way of dealing with the drainage difficulty that now confronts the district surrounding Doncaster. I remember when the Doncaster Drainage Bill was passed in 1929. I was then a county council member, and many of us opposed that Bill on the ground that we foresaw that the limited area and the limited powers which were embodied in that Bill were not likely to meet the requirements which were necessary for the draining of the area of the borough of Doncaster and district. The drainage board had many difficulties to 1912 meet when the Committee was set up, but they have endeavoured with all their might and main to operate that Bill, as far as their powers will allow.
Hon. Members who were here at that time know that the alteration in the valuation of land and the raising of rates for this purpose, which were brought into operation by the passing of the Land Drainage Acts, 1930, made it nearly impossible for the drainage board at Doncaster to start anything of a very large character. Moreover, a position has arisen in the drainage of this district, since the passing of that Act, that makes it just that the Minister should ask that the drainage board should be transferred to those two catchment areas. The Royal Commission, on whose report the 1929 Bill was based, visualised that the only right way to deal with drainage where rivers were concerned was to allow the catchment board to deal with it from the commencement to the end. A rather anomalous position, of which perhaps some hon. Members are not aware, exists in this drainage area. There is the Ouse Catchment Board, dealing with the area of Rotherham and Sheffield, higher up the valley than Doncaster. Rotherham and Sheffield are responsible on the hillside for sending down an excessive amount of water, which joins the river Don through its tributary the Rother. When the water gets down to Doncaster it leaves the authority of the Ouse Catchment Board and comes under the Doncaster Drainage Board. We consider that the board's area was very largely agricultural land that was under water many times, and therefore that the responsibility for draining that part of the river was a responsibility that ought to have been taken over by the bigger authority.
Although I am not living in Doncaster, but close by, I have seen the destruction that has taken place to land and to property in the Doncaster area and the distress that has been caused by flooding of houses, and I am delighted to know that the Minister is to act as judge. Every hon. Member must recognise that this is a result of very minute investigation that has taken place in the district during the last two or three years, where experts' opinion has been given and where they have come to the conclusion that the transference of the functions of the board to the larger authority is the only 1913 possible and practical way to deal with the general situation. During the discussions on the Doncaster Drainage Act, many of us in the county area contended that the method of raising revenue in order to deal with that part of the South Yorkshire coalfield was an injustice to the ratepayers of that area. Their difficulty arises from the water being sent from the higher land towards the Pennine Range.
It is very unfair for anyone representing boroughs or anywhere else to say, because they live on the hillside, that flooding in the low valleys is no responsibility of theirs. We have to recognise the fact that Rotherham and Sheffield pay very big contributions to the Ouse Catchment Board. Therefore, their water, which is very largely the greatest trouble that we have in the Don district, ought to be dealt with by that large board which has a bigger authority than the Doncaster Board could ever hope to have, and which will get contributions from boroughs whose water is troubling the Don district. I do not think that any borough Member has put forward a case in this Debate which justifies opposition to the Bill and a great deal of useless expenditure in preparing briefs for the defence of a Measure which, after all, does not propose to put any excessive burden upon any of the boroughs concerned. There is, however, one thing that I should like to say.
I trust that the Government, if they receive support for this Bill, will not endeavour to get out of their responsibility as regards the financial arrangements which we were promised in the Measure that we are now proposing practically to repeal, thereby abolishing the Doncaster Drainage Board and handing over its rowers to the Ouse Catchment Board. I think that the Government must by now appreciate fully the fact that draining of this description is a national responsibility. During the past two or three years, many miners and agricultural labourers have paid a tremendous contribution in the loss of their family comfort and, in many instances, of their property and their weekly wages, and anything that can be done to remedy that state of affairs should be welcomed by every Member of the House.
The borough members, when they oppose drainage schemes such as this in 1914 the lower areas, must not forget the fundamental truth that their own districts are very largely responsible for bringing water from the watershed and the higher lands for domestic purposes—which we do not grudge them—and that the surplus water of Leeds, Sheffield, and many other distant boroughs is brought into the surface streams and rivers, and very largely helps to create the difficulties that are experienced in the lower regions of the county, like the Doncaster district. I trust that the borough Members who have offered opposition to the Bill will, after the explanation that has been given by the hon. Member for the borough most affected, and in the speech of the Minister in introducing the Bill, see the justice of bringing this drainage area into line with all others in the country, so that a practical attempt may be made to remove a very great difficulty and to bring back some security and safety to the unfortunate inhabitants of the area.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. EADY
Although I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing my opinion on this important subject, I cannot, as a loyal supporter of the Government, say that it will give me pleasure to have to vote against this Bill, but, personally, I am in favour of the Amendment. I represent Bradford, and am also a member of the Bradford City Council and, to a certain extent, responsible for raising the money to pay the rates. In the earlier part of the discussion mention was made of the support and assistance which has been given to the Members representing the different towns by the various town clerks. I have received a telegram to-day which I should like to read. It is as follows:Bradford Corporation representatives urge that in fairness to the county boroughs affected the Bill should he withdrawn. Their representations can be made to the Minister of Agriculture before he proceeds with the amendment of Drainage Act. 1930. If Second Reading is agreed to, much needless expense will fall on the county boroughs in opposing the Bill in Committee.That is signed by the town clerk. There are things in that telegram which would fit in very nicely with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake), and, although we in Bradford are many miles from the Don Valley, we have always been willing to 1915 recognise the rights of the Ouse Catchment Board. We have heard that a neighbourly spirit should exist throughout the whole area of the board. We in Bradford have to pay rates of 16s. 7d. in the pound, while the rates in Doncaster are 12s. I do not remember any occasion when the neighbourly spirit of Doncaster was exercised in the form of offering us assistance.
Everyone in the country sympathises with the people in the Bentley area. When the Minister of Agriculture promised that something should be done to prevent a recurrence of flooding, the Government were making 75 per cent. grants to unemployment schemes. I want to ask why this matter was not settled at that time. It would have been a much better suggestion to bring it within a scheme which would have given relief to the unemployed. Although we are told that all grants and subsidies have finished, surely some arrangement could be arrived at in the way of setting up some kind of committee to go thoroughly into the matter without having to pass this Bill. If it goes through, it will entail an expenditure of £250,000. The hon. Member for Don Valley said the utmost limit that had been recommended was £750,000. The report says the total expenditure would amount to £926,000 for a 4-foot subsidence and £1,925,000 for a 10-foot subsidence. If it has already gone to the extent of four feet, and there is every probability that this will continue, where is the liability going to end?
Up to the present all within those catchment areas have been in agreement, and have worked amicably together. We have been willing to pay our precept, and at this juncture I would remind the Minister of Agriculture that in his opening remarks he practically said that there would be no further precept, or that there would be a limitation. I hope that, in reply to the Debate, he will confirm that assurance. If we in Bradford were certain that 2d. on the rates would meet everything for which we had to be responsible, I do not think that I should have stood here and raised objections to the Bill. But I know that when you begin upon a scheme of this character and, for instance, start off with £250,000, it will not be the end. There is always some— thing which crops up. It has been said 1916 that the Trent Catchment Board will have to pay only a minor amount. If there things continue and £2,000,000 has to be spent, I am afraid that the money will fall upon the Trent Catchment Board. The Minister of Agriculture commented upon the question of Section 55. Personally, I feel that if some grant could be given by the Government it would be a much more satisfactory business.
An important point has been raised as to the amount of water which passes from Bradford and Leeds. I should like the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to note that we do not pass the water into the River Don. It does not interfere with the backwash or the flow of the river, and consequently we ought not to be held responsible. Why was not this question settled in 1930? Why did not the Doncaster area ask for permission to have the question divided up at that time? I have not heard from any of the previous speakers why the matter was left over entirely until a disastrous flood took place. The River Ouse and the River Trent Catchment Boards were constituted after the 'passing of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, and the Doncaster Board was not interfered with when that Act was passed.
If this Bill goes through it will add a very great liability to the county boroughs and the boroughs. As a member of a town council in a district where the rates are something like 16s. 7d. in the £, I say that we can ill afford to go any further. Certainly, it ought not to be left to the catchment, board to raise the precept, but it should be put into more responsible hands. I hope that if the Bill is not withdrawn it will be left so that some arrangement can be made for appointing a committee to go further into the matter, in which case probably some good could be arrived at. In the circumstances, if the Bill goes to a division I shall, unfortunately, have to vote against a Government that I loyally support.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. SOPER
I rise to support the Bill. I think I am the only county borough Member who has spoken this evening, apart from the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson), who has supported the Bill. I do so for the reason that we in Barnsley have suffered, as Doncaster has suffered, from flooding. 1917One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.but when I hear hon. Members talking about neighbourliness, and then they say that they do not think they should assist or be called upon to pay, I think there is no neighbourliness in the matter. We are not Robinson Crusoes, living on a desert island. We are made up into hamlets and constituencies, and if there is trouble in one area it is only right that other areas should come to the aid of their less fortunate friends.
In the town of Barnsley, which I represent, there are several hundred houses liable to flooding up to the bedrooms. When I was Mayor of Barnsley two years ago a serious flood occurred, similar to the Doncaster flood, and I shall never forget the plight of the citizens of the town that night. A few months afterwards the same thing occurred again. It is not only the inconvenience and damage that is caused by the floods from which the people suffer, but there is mental stress. Whenever there is excessive rain there is agitation and fear that once again the floods are coming, and that makes it terribly hard not only for the men and their wives but for the sick children and the old persons who inhabit the homes. I would ask the House not to be impressed by the strength of the opposition against the Bill but to consider rather the force of the arguments in favour of it. My own town council, of which I am a member, as all hon. Members know, perhaps, received a letter from the town clerk of Sheffield asking them to comment on a draft statement in opposition to the Bill, but my council declined to make any such comment. They expressed the opinion that this is Bill which ought to be supported. The flooding that we experience is not directly from the River Don but from the River Dearne, but it is clear to us that if an improvement is made in the Don then we who are on the Dearne will benefit. It will minimise the risk of flooding, and that is why we do not feel that we can offer any opposition to the Bill.
It is true that we shall be called upon to pay, but we are called upon to pay now, under the present scheme, for things which are less directly beneficial, even if they benefit us at all. We have had to pay a precept for work on the 1918 Derment 30 miles away, for work which has benefited some of the very councils who are now opposing this Bill. They never suggested that because this work did not benefit Barnsley that we should not pay. We made no complaint and paid, and there seems to be nothing unjust in asking them to pay when the position is reversed. We in Barnsley accept the position that the flood menace in our area will not be relieved until we have dealt with the River Don, and until this is done the Ouse Catchment Board will not pay any attention to the smaller River Dearne, which is our own immediate anxiety. Therefore, I ask the House to accept the Bill as providing the only means of rescuing scores and hundreds of homes from a danger which constantly threatens them, and which safeguards the huge amount of public money that has been invested in these houses. It is useless to talk at this hour—
§ Mr. SOPER
I have sat here from half-past seven o'clock and I believe in using my chance when I have it. It is useless to talk at this hour as to whether these houses should have been built where they have been built. If everything that has been said in criticism of the sites was true, and it is not, it would not afford a single reason why the House should not pass the Bill. The issue before us is whether the House is genuinely anxious that this evil should be combated in this resolute manner, or whether there is any other method, other than that provided by the Bill, which can le, so immediately effective. I do not think there is, and that is why I support the Bill.
§ 10.38 p.m.
Mr. GURNEY BRAITHWAITE
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Soper) has made an eloquent speech in support of the Second Reading. Barnsley is not cry far from Sheffield, and the voice of Sheffield has not so far been heard in the Debate. Therefore, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments in order to put the case on behalf of a near neighbour of Barnsley, and I put the case with the approval of my six colleagues who have the honour to represent the other Divisions of Sheffield. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that he found himself in 1919 the somewhat pleasant but unusual position of supporting a Measure introduced by the Minister of Agriculture. I find myself in rather the opposite position. I well remember when reading of the appointment of my right hon. and gallant Friend feeling great delight and looking forward to supporting him in sweeping measures for the assistance of agriculture. I even went so far as to expend one shilling of my Parliamentary salary in sending him a telegram of congratulation. Little did I expect that the first Measure to be introduced by him would be a drainage Bill. But history is on his side. I am sure he will recall that a distinguished figure who once sat on the Treasury Bench was accused of having only a policy of sewage; but Benjamin Disraeli lived to survive that jibe and became Prime Minister, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will do the same.
There is one particular issue, with regard to this Bill, which I desire to emphasise. We all know the difficult financial situation of the Government.. I appreciate as much as anyone the point of view put forward by the Minister. But is there no financial stringency among the local authorities? Do we not know full well that rates are, if possible, a more oppressive form of taxation on the back of the producer than the taxation levied from this House? In an area such as Sheffield rates of this kind press on the producer as heavily as, if not more heavily than, direct taxation. I appeal to the Minister to think once again before he places on the depressed areas—they already are a great problem for the Government—an additional burden such as this. My right hon. Friend drew a rather fine distinction between what can be levied in theory and what can be levied in fact, but hon. Members in all parts of the House know full well that in the times in which we are living when it is possible in theory to levy a rate upon industrial hereditaments it is a very short time before that theory is translated unhappily into fact. I ask the Minister to consider that point.
He told us also—and I gather that he was commending the Bill on this ground —that as the Bill was going to a Select Committee the local authorities would have the advantage of the services of skilled and learned counsel, who would 1920 put their case before the Select Committee. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) told us that there were some areas more capable than others, from the financial point of view, of engaging learned counsel. What are the facts? No local authority in these depressed industrial areas is in a position to incur large expenditure in order to employ skilled and learned counsel. That argument does not commend the Bill to me. There was another argument put forward by my right hon. Friend. When I listened to that part of his- speech I wished that he were once more a private Member, and that Glasgow came within the area of the Ouse Catchment 'Board, because it was a very persuasive argument—the argument that neighbourliness is to he one of the considerations in persuading us to bear an additional industrial burden. Neighbourliness is not extinct. One of the most remarkable features, even in these hard times, has been the way in which, in industrial areas, the poor have helped the poor. But on one consideration: They want to know what effort the individual has made to put his own house in order. I suggest that that test applied to Doncaster is one which makes us think twice before accepting the argument of the Minister.
Even at this late hour I am going to make an appeal to the Minister to withdraw the Bill and adopt a method which would surely appeal to the National Government—the method of conference. A conference on this subject would not last as long as the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. It would arrive at a conclusion more quickly and, even if such a conference were to have an unhappy result, the Members of this House and the people of our country have become familiar with protracted conferences at the end of which we have to pay even though we think it unjust. I suggest that this problem might be referred to a conference of all the authorities interested in this area and representatives of the Ministry and all those concerned, but if my right hon. and gallant Friend is determined to go ahead with the Bill and to resist the very strong case put up by its opponents to-night, let him at least give a greatly increased representation to the great boroughs which are going to suffer under the Bill. They have to find 60 per cent. of the money in order 1921 to deal with the back-slidings and neglect of Doncaster. If we are to go to the assistance of Doncaster let us at least have adequate representation and representation in some proportion to the huge sum which we have to find, I appeal to the Minister to consider the situation once more before we go to a Division, otherwise I shall find myself in the unhappy position of having to go into the Lobby against a Government which I was elected to support.
§ 10.46 p.m.
I feel that the representatives of the county boroughs are putting their case much too high. The hon. Member who has just spoken said that he had hoped that the Minister of Agriculture would have introduced sweeping measures to deal with agriculture. The hon. Member is behind the times. The Minister has already done that with regard to meat, and this Bill, so far as a very important agricultural district in Lincolnshire is concerned, is one of the most helpful Measures he could introduce. There has been so much talk about Doncaster that one might imagine that it was only the area round that important town which was affected, whereas the floods of this spring were disastrous to hundreds of farmers in the part of Lincolnshire with which I am concerned. It is true that illustrations of the Minister of Health going about the streets of Bentley, in what looked like a gondola, were widely published and that there were very few pictures of the fields of the farmers in the Isle of Axholme who lost the better part of their crops as a result of flooding by the water which Sheffield makes use of and then kindly passes on to us to cover our rich lands. That is what happened and we feel very bitterly about it and we are grateful that steps are at last being taken to deal with it. As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) have already spoken, I must protest against the remark of the last speaker about the "back-slidings and neglect" of Doncaster. There have been no backslidings and there has been no neglect. At the most, all one can say is that there has been a great deal of bad luck over the whole affair. The Doncaster Board was originally set up ahead of the report of the Royal Commission as an emer- 1922 gency. A land drainage Measure was hurriedly passed through Parliament to deal with an urgent situation and then the Royal Commission reported and the whole question was in the melting pot.
I think the Doncaster Drainage Board was set up on an interim report with regard to subsidence. Then there was the Land Drainage Royal Commission and the Bill founded on that, which exempted the Doncaster district from coming in to one or other of the catchment board areas into which it would otherwise have come. When those areas were delimited, there was no complaint from the county boroughs about coming into the areas when they knew they would have to pay for drainage works lower down the river. The Bill was accepted as the result of the Report of the Royal Commission, as far as I know, by everybody concerned. It is only now that, owing to the unfortunate breakdown of the Doncaster district area affairs, and when they have got to come in, that we hear anything about it. It is only now that some of these towns and county boroughs have heard about it, that they are complaining. It it had happened two years ago, and it had been in the original scheme, we would never have heard anything about it in this House any more than we have about any of the other county boroughs which are in the highlands and the catchment areas. As no hon. Member seems to take any exception to that statement, I take it that it is correct.
I want to urge the House that it should not work itself into too great a controversy about this matter. It is proposed, if the Bill gets a Second Reading, that it should go to a Joint Select Committee and if it is any satisfaction to the opponents of the Bill, I would give them this small pleasure, that the last Drainage Bill propounded by a Government that went to a Joint Select Committee was thrown out by that Committee, of which, incidentally, I was a member. The House can therefore be well assured that all the points made in the Debate will be thoroughly put by probably even more competent counsellors—because they are paid for doing it—before that committee than they have been to-night. Just because I feel that, on behalf of my own 1923 constituents, I must do everything I can by word and vote to support the Minister in his efforts to-night, I do trust the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT BIRD
Very early in this Debate we learned that there were considerable and animated family bickerings between members of the group of Yorkshire local authorities and although we in Staffordshire and Wolverhampton can look upon such family bickerings with complete detachment, we regret them nevertheless, because they hang around what we are agreed is a very great misfortune. But one thing we cannot look upon in Wolverhampton with detachment is what the Minister of Agriculture referred to in an expression in his speech at the opening of the Debate, namely, that a burden by precept was the most burdensome of all. We in Wolverhampton, situated as we are at a most remote point from Doncaster, some 115 miles, can give no harrowing tales of floods and difficulties such as those to which we have listened this evening, but with no interest whatever beyond that of common sympathy with the misfortunes of others, we are called upon to pay the piper, nevertheless, and we gain nothing at all from the proceeds and precepts that are raised in our area. Wolverhampton stands astride the great central ridge of England. In fact, it is not very remote from the spot which is considered by tradition to be the very centre of England, and in consequence of that, we happen to be on the edge of two great catchment areas, the Trent catchment area and the Severn catchment area. The boundary between those two areas goes through the very heart of the town, and therefore we are liable to have precepts from both the Trent area and the Severn area levied upon us. As a matter of fact, they are regularly levied. I believe that we enjoy the signal and rather doubtful distinction among all the county boroughs of having double precepts levied.
Perhaps some hon. Members may think that because of these double precepts the town of Wolverhampton is a town of rushing torrents, whose waters tumble and leap from rock to rock, and that when there are heavy rainfalls they carry maybe destruction and risk of death such 1924 as have occurred in Bentley, but that is far from the truth. The burden of these precepts arises solely because we possess three sluggish driblets—that is all they can be called—two of which, the Smestow brook and the Graiseley brook, trickle gently toward the west, whilst the third, the Pendeford brook, trickles at no greater velocity and volume, towards the east. The least important of these three brooks, the Graiseley, is no more than six feet across, and the Pendeford has a maximum of 10 feet. The waters of the one which flows east add an insignificant amount to the volume of the great River Trent. Nevertheless, we have to pay for it relatively very dearly. In fact, there are some in Wolverhampton who hold that that water which flows east is almost as costly as their beer.
We have a great anxiety over the liability which may fall upon us from the precepts, and that anxiety has not been lessened by the course of this Debate. Very large figures have been used. These catchment boards as public bodies have hardly got into their stride, but I am informed that the Trent Catchment Board started off with a modest precept of no more than £6,500, but in a very short period of time, rather less, I believe, than 12 months, it levied further precepts amounting to £44,500. Therefore, we feel that our anxiety is justified, and I want to stress the fact that we have no benefit whatever, direct or indirect, from any of this money that has to be paid. Now this Bill comes along, and whilst we were formerly anxious, we are beginning to become alarmed. Here are very necessary but costly works to be started for the improvement of the River Don, and in due course it is probable that relatively heavy precepts will be levied upon us for those works. If it could be advanced that the money to be spent on the improvement of the River Don would mean work for our 10,000 unfortunate people who lack it, we in Wolverhampton would look upon this Bill in a somewhat different way, but we cannot hope that a single penny of the proceeds of the precepts which will be paid by Wolverhampton will ever enter the pocket of any unemployed man or woman in Wolverhampton. We consider that this Bill is unnecessary. We feel that there are already adequate powers for carrying out the improvements to the River Don, and 1925 that these powers should be exercised. In that way, we, disinterested but sympathetic onlookers of what is being done to remedy the misfortunes in Doncaster, will be spared the precepts which will be laid upon us. On these grounds, I propose to follow my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) into the Lobby if his Amendment goes to a Division.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Major ELLIOT
We have had a Debate for a considerable time, and all the arguments for and against the Bill have been advanced with considerable thoroughness. It is true that there are several Members in various parts of the House who have not yet spoken, but I wonder if it would be possible to appeal to the House now to come to a decision as to whether the Bill should be allowed to have a Second Reading. Many hon. Members have expressed doubt whether the Bill is necessary. I will only say that two great river authorities who have to handle this problem—the Ouse Catchment Board and the Trent Catchment Board—have both said that it is necessary. It is a considerable responsibility for those who oppose this Bill to go against those two river authorities, set up by Statute by this House for the purpose of dealing with these very problems. It is said that there is danger of unreasonable expenditure falling upon the county boroughs. Those dangers have been rather stressed, particularly by one hon. Member who referred to the Doncaster Drainage Act Reports and Proceedings, and suggested that very large sums might fall upon the catchment boards by reason of coal-mining subsidence. It is for the very purpose of preserving the powers to recover the expense of coal-mining subsidence that we bring forward this Bill instead of acting by executive authority, as the Minister mght do by merely bringing in a, new map delimiting the Don Valley as part of the main river areas of the Ouse and the Trent.
I have been asked whether I can give an assurance as to Government grants. It is not possible for me to give any such assurance at the present time. The Government will do their utmost to implement their obligations under Section 55 as soon as financial conditions permit, but any specific assurance on that point it would not be possible for me to give. 1926 The other points brought forward deal, it seems to me, rather with the general principles of the Act of 1930 than with the specific problems which we have to face. We must take the Act of 1930 as a, general settlement which it would be most undesirable for us to revise in ad hoc legislation of this nature. I suggest that in spite of what has been said as to conferences, the best method of dealing with the problem is to pass the Second Reading and allow the case to be argued before a Joint Select Committee. The method of conference has now been tried, and it has become increasingly obvious that the only effective solution was for main channels like that of the Lower Don to be taken over by the Catchment Board concerned; but while we were conferring the floods came again and subjected the unfortunate dwellers in those areas not merely to physical loss but, as the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Soper) has said, to mental strain. The dwellers in the small houses know that if there is long and continued rain they and their goods, and possibly their children, will be placed in very considerable danger, and even peril.
I beg the House to consider whether they desire to take the responsibility of further delay in this matter. Do they not consider that the time for delay has passed? We are now at the period of the year when heavy rains may reasonably be expected. How would these of us who might go into the Division Lobby against the Bill feel if, after defeating the Bill, we read in the papers that a week or 10 days of rain had taken place and the rivers had flooded and the same melancholy catalogue of catastrophe was being repeated? I beg the House to think twice or three times before taking that responsibility. Let the House act with expedition. A solution has been brought forward which appeals to the two great catchment boards most immediately concerned; which appeals to the neighbouring county councils, and on which the West Riding County Council has circularised every hon. Member; which appeals to the boroughs not merely immediately concerned, like Doncaster, but to boroughs not so immediately concerned, like Barnsley; which affects agricultural land as well as town land; and affects coalmining as well as other industries. Let the House con- 1927 sider all those things; and then I would ask those of my hon. Friends who have spoken with eloquence and force against the main principles of the Bill to consider whether they cannot allow it to have a Second Reading and carry their opposition to the place where they will more fittingly be heard in argument by counsel before a Committee of both Houses.
That it is expedient that the Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons."—[Major Elliot.]
§ Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.