HC Deb 06 March 1933 vol 275 cc957-65

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.22 p.m.


It may be convenient to inform the Committee that, although on the Second Reading opposition was offered by various boroughs and interests in the area in which the Drainage Board will operate, we recognise that the Bill has been before a Joint Committee in the appointment of which this House shared, and that this House is always very reluctant to disagree with the work that is done by its Committees, unless there is strong ground, or new ground, for doing so. The arguments against the Bill remain the same as they were on Second Reading. In regard to the grievances that are felt by the boroughs, representations were put forward to show that promises made to those boroughs, who are bearing a greater share of the burden, have not been carried out. We recognise, how-ever, that we should only be delaying the Committee by moving an Amendment, but we still hope that there may be future legislation to take more account of the inequalities which have been committed by this House in a Measure by which considerable bodies of people are being taxed to no immediate or remote advantage to themselves. Certainly, a new grievance has been created, and I hope that it will be remedied at a future date. I do not propose to delay the Committee or to ask it to consider Amendments.

11.25 p.m.


The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) has expressed the views of the Trent boroughs. Our grievance has not been met, and the Bill returns to us with precisely the same objections which we saw in it at the previous stage. It upsets the 1930 settlement and the balance then agreed to, and does not do anything for the advantage of the areas which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and I specially represent. But the Committee has unanimously declared against us, and at this stage there is no course open to us but to accept the decision of the Committee. The boroughs have never desired to delay the Bill. They have desired to defeat it, but not to delay it. Like an earlier nefarious act, if it were done, it were well that it were done quickly, and we all agree in hoping that, when the Bill is passed, action will be taken very quickly. For that reason, I do not propose further to oppose the Bill, but would only express the final hope that the Government will be able to see their way to help the board at a later stage of their duties.

11.27 p.m.


In supporting the remarks of the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), I desire to say a word on behalf of the City of Sheffield, which is very much affected by this Bill. When the Second Reading was taken, the Minister of Agriculture consoled us with the assurance that the county boroughs would be able to call in the aid of experienced and learned counsel in putting their case before the Select Committee. Unhappily, subsequent events have proved that, although they were able to brief experienced and learned counsel, those experienced and learned counsel have not had the opportunity of being heard. They have, in fact, become experienced and expensive counsel without the opportunity of putting their case.

It is an unhappy coincidence that, on the very day when the Committee stage and Third Reading of this Bill are being taken, the area of Bentley has once more been flooded. That is a matter which the whole House will regret, irrespective of party or constituency. But I think we are entitled to point out certain things to the Minister and to the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson). The hon. Member, on the Second Reading, pointed out at considerable length that the area which was flooded was no responsibility of the urban council of Bentley-with-Arksey, thereby conveying the supposition that the plans for these houses had not been approved by the local authority —that, in fact, the plans had not been submitted to any authority whatsoever. I am open to correction on the point, but I think he said that, although no plans had been submitted to anyone, and although due warning had been given, the houses were built in the flooded area. I think I am entitled to point out to the Minister that there is no magic in the chanting of incantations—that there is no magic in the words "Ouse Catchment Board" as opposed to the words "Doncaster Drainage Area"—and that these particular houses are likely to be flooded whenever exceptional circumstances occur. My right hon. Friend is perhaps endeavouring to emulate a previous Minister of the name of Canute, who a thousand years ago tried to prevent a flood by the chanting of incantations. While conveying that warning that the transference of the Doncaster area to the Ouse Catchment Board is no more likely to prevent flooding than were the incantations of King Canute, it is our duty as good citizens to accept the findings of the Select Committee and hope that the system that they have recommended will prove to be a better system for this distressed area.

11.30 p.m.


As one speech of welcome for the Bill is necessary, it may be as well to make it now instead of on the Third Reading. I wish hon. Members who have spoken could have stood on Doncaster Bridge on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday of last week and seen the hundreds of thousands of tons of water coming from the higher reaches into the lower Don and how the resi dents of Bentley, who had lived one or two nights of terror, were having their houses flooded, in many cases the water reaching to the ceiling, and being driven for the third time in 18 months from their homes lest they found themselves at the bottom of the River Don or in the tide of the flood. The cold, icy indifference of this House for 30 or 40 years has allowed a problem to grow up which was anyone's and no one's responsibility and has culminated in the cruel disaster which has overtaken those people so quickly and so frequently. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Braithwaite) can know nothing at all about the problem or he would not have dared to make the statement he has just made. All the water that is now in the homes of the people of Bentley and other parts of the Don Valley came from the Sheffield direction—at all events, it came out of the Ouse Catchment area. The Doncaster and Don Valley people are in no way responsible for dealing with the water that come from the higher reaches.


Will the hon. Member explain how this Bill will correct that situation?


I must point out that this not a suitable occasion to Debate the merits or demerits of the Bill. I allowed the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make a statement, but, if it is desired to have a general Debate, we must take it on the Third Reading.


I only want to say that these periodic floods are due to water that comes from the higher reaches, for which the Ouse Catchment Board must of necessity be responsible. The Bill deals with the transfer of powers or responsibilities, and I do not know how any one in any part of the House can complain. They have had their chance. They went before the Select Committee.


On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman in order in going into the merits of the Bill, and, if he is, should we be in order in answering him?


Surely, Clause 1 is virtually the whole of the Bill, and, unless one can talk about the intentions of the Measure under Clause 1, it is most difficult to know exactly what one can say.


Well, do not say it.


Clause 1 deals with the transfer of the present powers of the Doncaster Drainage Board to the Ouse and Trent Catchment Boards. I am not quite certain how far that affects the provisions of the rest of the Bill, but I do not think that the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," is a suitable occasion for a discussion on the merits or demerits of the Measure. It should be on the Third Reading.


If the Debate is to be restricted—and I only intended to occupy a few minutes—and what I am saying is objectionable to the hon. Gentleman, so be it. I will say what I have to say on the Third Reading.

11.36 p.m.


I wish to say a word on behalf of the small local authorities. In fact, I do not think that I should have spoken if it had not been for the very unhelpful speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). The Bill has been very fairly met by the speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton-on-Trent (Colonel Gretton). It is not only the county boroughs who have to pay; my constituents, without any sort of community of interest with the constituents of the hon. Member for Don Valley, do pay for the draining of the land of the constituents of the hon. Member.


On a point of Order. Is it in order for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to introduce the question of finance on Clause 1?


I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it appears to be a matter which would be more appropriate on the Third Reading.


We raised certain points on the Second Reading, and they have not been met. We have not got the Government grant which was the basis of the Report of the Royal Commission, and we have not the Government assistance which was promised by Dr. Addison. But I cannot oppose the Bill. I cannot oppose it, because it has passed through the Joint Committee, but perhaps chiefly because on Friday last I went through this flooded area. I have very seldom seen a more pitiful sight than the miles of flooded water out there. With all respect to the hon. Member for Don Valley, everybody admits that this work has to be done, and the only question which we who oppose the Bill raised was who should pay for it? That question is still unsolved, or it is solved in a way which is extremely unsatisfactory to my constituents.

11.39 p.m.


I think that I am within the limits of order in supporting what was said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton-on-Trent (Colonel Gretton). Like him, have the honour to represent a portion of a city which is financially very much concerned with this Measure. We recognise the fact that in the Committee, by an overwhelming decision, the case for the county boroughs was turned down. We recognise the force of that decision, and we do not propose to test it in this House by opposing the Third Reading. We consider that we are bearing a greatly unfair burden for the melancholy privilege of paying the piper for a tune which we neither enjoy nor find stimulating, and—on this we stake our claim—on a future occasion in this House we may have to reconsider the financing of this Measure, and the burdens that are placed upon the local authorities in the catchment areas.

Clauses 2 (Dissolution of Doncaster Board and transfer of property and functions thereof), 3 (Amendment of s.10 of Doncaster Area Drainage Act, 1929), 4 (increased membership of Ouse Board and Trent Board), 5 (Provisions as to rating), 6 (Compensation to officers of Doncaster Board), 7 (Saving provision as to land outside Doncaster District), and 8 (Short title and interpretation) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule and Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

11.42 p.m.


It is unfortunate that hon. Members representing the boroughs are not yet satisfied. I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) and the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that the work should be undertaken and that the Government ought to render some financial assistance. What crime have these people committed in the area? Largely, they are mine workers who must live in the area because their work is there. They have no summer house, no winter house. They are not housing experts in the sense that they can move from one county to another. They live in the area because no other houses are available and if, as the result of a heavy fall of snow or rain, floods take place, they are victims from a cause over which they have no control.

This Bill is simply to transfer powers, but the Ouse Catchment Board will have to bear the full responsibility for the work. I know that I need not invite the right hon. Gentleman's sympathy. He is in full sympathy with the miserable people whom I saw on Saturday and Sunday wading knee deep in water, carrying bedding, etc. to the school or other institutions where temporary accommodation will have to be provided for them for many weeks ahead. If through the transference of the powers of the Catchment Board and, incidentally, the transference of responsibility, there is any hesitation on the part of the Catchment Board, I hope the Minister will treat this as one of the cases to which he referred me on the 14th June last year, when he said that the position as regards grants remains as it was on the 14th June last, namely, that only in cases of the gravest emergency could an application for grant be considered. I have received a telegram from the Bentley Council, which I should like to read. It says: The people of Bentley and Arksey are grief stricken. The floods have invaded hundreds of houses and are still rising. The people are driven to the school for the third time in 18 months. Thousands of acres of agricultural land, with good growing crops, are standing from two feet to eight feet deep in water. The whole of the flooding has come from the higher reaches of the catchment area. Our people demand that the Government shall take such effective and vigorous steps to deal with the constant menace to their health, comfort and property, as would be taken in the event of an air invasion of their home by a foreign enemy. I do not know whether the suggestion of the invasion of a foreign army is culled from President Roosevelt's speech. But this is a case of grave emergency. I want to compliment the right hon. Gentleman for having done his best since 'he took office to get this Measure through, transferring the responsibilities and obligations to the wider area, which has the machinery at their disposal and, I believe, the finance, in the case of no national grant, to see that the work is carried out and thus prevent a repetition of the calamity from which these people are suffering at the moment. During the past 18 months they have had three floods and 1,200 people have been driven from their homes. They have also endured a mine explosion in which 47 lives were lost. While welcoming the Bill I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture to urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the necessity not only of encouraging the Catchment Board to carry out the work but to inspire them with zeal. Governments in the past have lacked a sense of responsibility and have allowed the problem to develop. Now I want the Government to provide some compensation for the cold icy indifference of the past by ensuring that in the quickest possible space of time the Ouse Catchment Board will undertake the draining of the area and thus prevent a repetition of the terrible calamity which has overtaken this area three times in the last 18 months.

11.47 p.m.


I want to make it quite plain that there never has been, nor is there now, any lack of sympathy on the part of any hon. Member for the inhabitants of this particular area. The matter has been one of principle; and one in which we thought that an inequitable burden was being placed on the county boroughs, and on the smaller boroughs. Some of us think that there has been a withdrawal from the agreement which was entered into by the last Government. I hope this will be clearly understood in the Don area, and that hereafter, in the words of President Roosevelt, we shall all be good neighbours. Perhaps some readjustment of the financial burden may be made in the future.