HC Deb 18 February 1935 vol 298 cc113-43

7.40 p.m.


I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Work No. 1, Work No. 2, and Work No. 3 from Clause 5 of the Bill. I move this Instruction with some reluctance, but with some reason. I admit that the activities of such a body as the Metropolitan Water Board are entitled to our consideration, but, on the other hand, there are other activities throughout the country that are entitled to the same consideration. Works Nos. 1, 2 and 3 which are mentioned in the Instruction would affect the activities of one of the most remarkable research farms in the country. It is not large in area, but it is very large in the estimation of the public. It has been developed for a period of years and devoted purely to research work. Its work has met with the approval of great scientific societies in this country, such as the Royal Society, the Geological Society and the Scientific Development Society. Each one has gone down and witnessed the experiments that have been carried on on that farm, and it is an extraordinary thing to me that at this time, when the country is talking so much about agricultural development and the encouragement of agriculture, this farm should be put at the disposal of the Water Board with a view to its permanent elimination. The farm has been set up its an area where, after long consideration, the soil has been found to be congenial and where the activities of the people operating the farm have proved beneficial to science and to the world.

The farm is small in area, comprising 187 acres, but in that area many curious things are being developed. There is one acre under glass, where every experiment in the growing of vegetables that will militate against the importation of foreign vegetables is carried out. There are three acres under frames, and miles of water tubes under the land so that every experiment can be made with a view to the development of the agricul tural industry in this country. It is calmly suggested that after this farm has been in existence since 1909 it should be eliminated and handed over to the not very essential needs of water in that particular area. There are many opportunities for establishing waterworks elsewhere, and if anyone travels down the valley of the Thames he can see many suitable places for such development. It is peculiarly objectionable to find the argument being put forward that this site is essential, when we know that for experimental research into agriculture it has the soil suitable for the purpose. The particular soil of a particular area is the desiderata for such an undertaking, whereas, as regards waterworks, so long as there is clay or other suitable formations, it is possible to meet the immediate needs of mankind for water. This is being done, although it is not proposed, at this immediate juncture, to construct these works.

Meantime, what will be the disaster to this experimental research farm? From the moment that the scheme is proposed the development of research work there is held up. People cannot go on with research work and development when they are told from day to day that Parliament may at any time and in any way give power to this board to oust them from the farm. Even supposing the Metropolitan Water Board do not propose to erect their works at the present moment, the proposal militates against any possibility of development or success on this research farm, because no longer will those running it have the encouragement or the support of anybody outside to go on with it. At a time when we are saying that we must devote our attention to agriculture as a means of solving many of our problems, it is absurd to suggest that one of the greatest research farms is to be obliterated—held to ransom for a period of years and finally put out of existence. The man and those associated with this farm have already been turned out in years gone by because of what were called developments in one part of the country and another, and now, at long last, after he has developed this farm and maintained it to the admiration of all people of scientific knowledge, making it a place to which people can go to see what can be done, he is to be warned off, told that he is not allowed to go on with it. I agree that the man is a business man, but he is a research man, and he has got all the experience and the right people with him.

There is permanent employment there in research work. There are research men working there apart from the ordinary employés. They are to be kicked out and the whole result of their endeavours is to be hurled away and cast into the dustbin. Is that quite right when we are talking of what should be done to relieve unemployment? The farm is an implement of encouragement to agriculture in this country. Last year 600,000 crates of vegetabes were sent out from that farm, 140,000 of them being crates of lettuces at a time when we had to import from abroad the lettuces we did not produce in our own land. That is a wonderful tribute to the acumen, energy and knowledge of the people on the farm. When we talk so much about the importation of foreign foodstuffs and vegetables we ought to consider those who, by their genius and activity, have done something to militate against the perpetual incursion of these things from abroad.

But it would be wrong for me to go on with a speech—though I think it will be of interest to the House, whatever differences of opinion there may be—and I would only suggest that hon. Members should consider whether it is right to destroy at one fell swoop, or to hold to ransom, one particular area in this country where the soil has proved its value by these experiments—to throw that away when the Metropolitan Water Board can look right down the whole Valley of the Thames and find areas where they can put up what they consider necessary for potential water supplies in the future. What is the real argument which they put forward? It is a very curious fact that they submit that any difference of opinion as to the suitability of the sites selected for the purpose of the proposed storage reservoirs, or as to the alleged availability of other sites equally suitable, is a matter which can only be determined satisfactorily by a Committee after hearing technical and other evidence. Then why do they try the case beforehand? They only gave notice at the end of last year that they were going to do this thing. Is it not rather hard on this man, with his technical knowledge and experimental staff, that the board should act in this way? I submit with all humility that while it may be impossible for the House to accept this Instruction they should not rule out consideration of this man's experiment, which has been of vast value to the country and great use to the individual employés and to the very large number of people devoting their intelligence to research work in agriculture, horticulture and vitamin development, as regards the inculcation of good stuff into the vegetables of this country. I beg the House to give this matter a little consideration. I know that the view is held that when any big institution like this board puts forward a proposal we ought not lightly to stand in its way, but I am not sure that that is always quite the right view especially when we have also to consider the claims of people of virility, vigour, intuition and imagination who are working out for the benefit of the country a definite scheme, agriculturally inclined and horticulturally inclined, which has proved to be of benefit, employs men, and will yield undoubted advantages to the people of this country if it is allowed to continue.

7.53 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON

I beg to second the Motion.

There are a few additional facts which would like to submit to the House. The annual turnover of this farm is approximately £30,000. The wages bill for the last ten years has averaged something like £10,000. About 100 men are employed there from one year's end to the other, icluding 14 apprentices who are working for wages and are there because there is no other place in England where they can receive such fine technical training. It is true that if this Instruction were carried and the reservoir were not to he built in that place some time would elapse before a new site could be found, and it might cost more money. But I have no doubt whatever that if those who feel that the employment of labour should have first place—and I am one of those—will balance the prospects of 100 men permanently employed as against temporary employment being found for 200 or 300 men for perhaps two years—and that is just about all that one can expect to employ upon modern works where a vast amount of excavating and other machinery is used—it will be found that there is a very strong case for the selection of an alternative site.

May I turn to an alternative line of thought which I suggest should be of interest to the House? The Minister of Health has, within the last two months, notified his decision to appoint a Water Survey Committee to advise on the progress of measures undertaken for a comprehensive inland water survey. That was on the 7th December. I suggest that pending the result of the labours of that Committee—a very highly qualified Committee—both the House and the Metropolitan Water Board would be very well advised to hold their hand in relation to this scheme. The board have done magnificent work in the past. Their plans were so magnificent that they stood up to the unparalleled drought of the last two years. Surely it is a reasonable risk not to anticipate an equally unparalleled drought during the next 12 months or two years? Royal Commissions have invariably been appointed to consider the problem of London's water supply, which has never been regarded as a local but as a national matter. There have been two Commissions in the last 30 years, the second of which, under Lord Llandaff, reported in 1897 that: the supply from the Thames should be sufficient in quantity and quality up to 1941. They added: It remains for consideration whether it is advisable regularly to deplete the Thames of so large an amount…(300,000,000 gallons)…of water, and whether it would not be well to search for supplies outside the present limits of supply. I think the time has come for us to go back to the wisdom of our forefathers, who were just as capable of planning as we are now, and to consider whether London should not meet its future needs by the construction of a pipe line from South Wales, which would render these reservoirs unnecessary. The cost was estimated by the Royal Commission at something like £20,000,000, to be spread over 10 years. London is the only great centre of population in England, I believe, which has not found it desirable to draw its water, or a portion of its water, from areas beyond its own locality. The Welsh scheme was very strongly supported in the 'nineties and in the first decade of this century, and were we to undertake it now, with the close co-operation of the Metropolitan Water Board, not only would London get a sufficient supply for the next century, but it, would be possible to supply a large number of towns and villages between South Wales And London—of course at an additional cost, but much less than the present cost of some of these very elaborate schemes of purification and pumping which are now necessary. Anyone who will take a map and draw a line from South Wales to London will see that it passes through a large number of centres not all of which are well supplied with water.

I do not think I am out of order in suggesting that that scheme put forward by the Royal Commission 30 years ago is beyond practical politics to-day. This is not really a national question. Meanwhile we have to face the problem of today and to-morrow. I am not satisfied from the reports of the Metropolitan Water Board that there is any real urgency for this reservoir. Nothing they said or did during the last 12 months gives me any reason to think that they are really nervous; and, of course, this Bill was drafted before the Minister ever reached a decision to take a broad and comprehensive view of the national water supplies. We hear a good deal of national planning. Those who believe in it should be prepared not merely to pay lip service to it but to request and require the Metropolitan Water Board to come into line with the general scheme for Great Britain as a whole, and to consider dispassionately and deliberately, with the assistance of its own experts and those from elsewhere, whether it should continue indefinitely to rely on the Thames. There are other cities besides London on the Thames. There is the question of sewage disposal, which may or may not become serious. The more water that is pumped out from the river the more has to go back in the form of sewage—after being purified, of course, but never quite the same from the point of view of the fish. This land has been in possession of one man since 1919—a portion only of the land.


My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir A. Boyd-Carpenter) who represents the constituency, gave the date as 1909.


I do not attempt to represent the constituency. I can only say that, from the information which I have received from one body, that the land has been in the possession of one man since 1919. I did not say which man. A great deal of money has been largely devoted to irrigation with water which is supercharged with oxygen and nitrogenous and mineral salts. The soil has no parallel in England, and it cannot be reproduced in less than four or five years. The Metropolitan Water Board may have to wait for 12 months to get a new site, but the owner of this land will have to wait four or five years. Ten thousand tons of manure have been dug into this land, and that has no parallel anywhere else in England, so far as I know.

There have been widespread protests from persons who are entitled to respect. Eight of the leading horticulturists in England wrote a letter of protest which, so far as I can see, has been completely ignored by the Metropolitan Water Board. I was informed, I think I am permitted to say, that the Royal Society have recently addressed a protest to the Metropolitan Board, and in other directions, in regard to this scheme. The Royal Society have always been regarded as the unofficial adviser of the Government in matters of this sort, and I suggest that their doubts cannot be resolved if this House decides to pass the Bill without the Instruction.

Finally, we have to consider the ultimate effect upon agriculture. Two or three times in the past few years good farmers within a few miles of London and close to the markets have been turned out at a few months' notice in order to make room for development. In no language in the world except English is land which is devoted to agriculture described as sterilised, while land which is devoted to the construction of shacks and bungalows is described as developed. We ought to consider agriculture as one of the major needs in the vicinity of large towns. There is no substitute for really fresh vegetables. I referred to the wages bill as £10,000 a year; that is only the wages paid to the men who are actually working on the land. There is all the transport, and other charges to be reckoned in.

From the point of view of direct labour, this reservoir will deprive the country of the regular subsistence of a, far larger number of men than will be given employment by its construction. There are other reservoirs, as the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Sir A. Boyd-Carpenter) has said. There are other areas, but more expensive. Surely it is worth while for us to require the Metropolitan Water Board not to consider solely its own interests, to consider, not solely the interests of those who drink water, but of those who eat as well. Man does not live entirely by drinking water, and even if some of us have occasionally to do with our baths only half filled with water, that is better than having our stomachs only half filled with food.

8.6 p.m.


The appeal which has been made by my hon. and gallant Friends would have a great effect if the House were not to hear the other side of the case. May I clear up one mistake? The hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said that the gentleman for whom he was speaking, the scientist in the agricultural world, had been in possession of this land since 1919. The petition which that gentleman has presented against the Bill stated that he came into possession of a lease for 10 years in September, 1933.


There was a landlord, who was also an agriculturist, who had the land in his possession, I am informed, since 1919. It has been used solely for the purpose of farming since 1919.


I am not contradicting that. I am only saying that the petition to the Metropolitan Water Board, on the ground that this farm was one of our great national possessions, stated that the farmer had been in possession of the land since 1932. I am not going to attempt to oppose any of the claims which have been put forward. I am speaking for the Metropolitan Water Board, which is not a commercial undertaking but which is a great body set up by this House to provide, and indeed to safeguard, the requirements from the water point of view of the great population of London and of the very large district outside. The hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin said that we cannot live on water alone. We should be in a very bad way if we had to live lettuces alone. We could neither grow our lettuces nor eat our bread unless we had water.

There has been a shortage of water in this country, and there are still a good many districts which have a shortage of water. The Metropolitan Water Board supplies water to 7,000,000 people, and to the industries which are settled in and around London. Those people are dependent upon the board for the supply coming up to their requirements. There has been an ever increasing demand upon the board for the supply of water. Let hon. Members visualise the burden which has been thrown upon this body by the great development of outer London. People have gone into modern types of houses and have left the crowded centres of London. They have learned to use water in a way they never used it before. The supply to the new houses is greater and the baths are more numerous. The claim per head of the population has, generally speaking, been greater during the past 10 years than it was previously. The annual increase in supplies has gone up by leaps and bounds. In 1925 the increase in supplies was 10,492 annually, but each year the increased supplies have risen. The increase for 1934 was 30,251. The board have so far managed to keep abreast with the demand, but in 1933–1934 the demand solely tried their resources. It is easy to speak now, when the emergency seems to have gone, but hon. Members will remember the view taken by this House, and by the people of London when supplies had to be cut down by the board in order to meet the emergency of last year. I think the House will agree that the greater responsibilities of the board must be met, and in a reasonable way.

The powers sought under the Bill are for an extension of works. I speak as a member of the Metropolitan Water Board who has been through a good many of the discussions which led up to the decision of the board to apply to Parliament for further powers. The decision was not taken in a wanton or light-hearted spirit, or with an utter disregard of those who occupy the land on which the board seek to execute their works. Every consideration has been given to the needs and desires of all interests in and around those particular works.


Why was it that the Metropolitan Water Board never exchanged correspondence with the owner of the place? The owner wrote the 1st November to the Metropolitan Water Board the first time he heard that there was any such suggestion. He had a reply on 3rd November, and he replied on 9th November, but he has had no communication from them since


I am glad my hon. and gallant Friend has raised that. I have seen the correspondence—


I have it here—


And I have a copy of the last letter, which states: I realise not only that your board has an important duty to fulfil, but also that it is a powerful and wealthy body, whereas I am simply a private individual doing my best to produce fresh fruit and vegetables in the face of fierce foreign competition. Nevertheless my last hope is, and must he, an appeal to Parliament: much as I deplore having to oppose your board's wishes as also the expenditure incident to a Petition against your Bill which, to me, will mean a good deal. The board in their letter of 3rd November had set out three reasons for the line which they were going to take, and expressed regret that in all the circumstances it is not practicable for the matter to be reconsidered. The board could only have replied to the letter of 9th November by way of acknowledgment.




What have you to do with it?


The first intimation he had of it was through an incursion of Metropolitan Water Board employés on his land, who told his employés they would soon have to get out, as something was going to be done there.


Those are ex parte statements. Let these matters go before the Committee upstairs who can go thoroughly into them. They ought to be thoroughly tested by the Committee, under the procedure which has been settled by this House in order that all matters may be gone into fully and carefully. It is no good bringing statements forward in this way in order to prejudice matters. The board have been set up by Statute in the best interests of the people for whom they operate, and very full, proper and careful consideration has been given to all the circumstances of this case.


And two months' notice.


There is no two months' notice yet. I have not heard of it, and I know of no evidence that has been produced to the board on that. The board have sought the best advice they can with reference to this scheme. They are prepared to produce their technical and other advice. I have no doubt that the petitioners against the Bill will be prepared to produce their 'evidence and have it tested by examination and cross-examination. This is not the place where we can go into the merits or demerits of the petition put forward. There is another place where the merits of the Bill and the merits of any application against the Bill can be properly heard.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin addressed a letter to-day to the "Times" in reply to a letter which had been put in by the chairman of the board. I do not think he wants to mislead the House, but he has not made a full note of the report of the Llandaff Committee. Perhaps he is not aware of the provisions of the paragraphs to which he referred in his letter. My hon. Friend's first quotation, from paragraph 123 of the report, is based on the assumption that the population of "Water London" will be 12,000,000 in 1941, whereas up to this year, 1935, it is only 7,250,000; and from the information which we have obtained and the calculations that have been made, it would seem we shall not reach in 1941 anything like the population figure suggested by the Llandaff Commission.


The per capita consumption has doubled.


As I have said, we have taught people to use water. The position arrived at is based entirely on the assumption that the population of "Water London" would continue to increase at the same rate.

My hon. Friend, in his second quotation, introduces the figure of 300,000,000 gallons, but as a matter of fact the commission were considering, not the figure of 300,000,000 gallons which he has interpolated into his extract from paragraph 131 of the commission's report, but 400,000,000 gallons. That figure does not appear in the paragraph. It says: It remains for consideration whether it is advisable regularly to deplete the Thames of so large an amount of its total flow, or whether, in view of the constantly increasing population, which would render even this additional 100,000,000 gallons shortly again inadequate, it would not be more prudent to seek for supplies outside the present limits of supply. As a matter of fact, the commission were considering 400,000,000, and not 300,000,000, gallons. Therefore, I would beg my hon. and gallant Friend not to be misled, and not to put forward points which are likely to mislead the House. With regard to the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend in his letter, that this matter should be referred to the committee which has been set up recently by the Minister of Health, that suggestion, no doubt, will be dealt with by the Minister himself.

I do not want to prolong this discussion. I hope that the House has fully made up its mind as to the necessity of the board's obtaining further supplies of water in order to meet the demands upon it. The other question is as to whether the board are right—whether their information is right, and whether they have been rightly guided by the experts who have advised them. I do not wish to say a single word against the work which has been done by Mr. Secrett with regard to agricultural development and scientific research. We want it; we want to get all the work we can for the agricultural workers of this country; and I should never stand up and say that the board would endeavour to kill that industry and research merely for the sake of not themselves making proper research and inquiry with regard to their scheme. I believe that the board have made full inquiry. They will be able to produce their evidence, and those who are opposing the Bill will produce theirs. I am satisfied that, after a right and careful and proper inquiry, the Committee must come down on the side of the Metropolitan Water Board.


May I point out that my hon. Friend has not stated to the House why this particular site has been selected by the Metropolitan Water Board as against some other possible alternative site which would avoid the difficulties with which we are now confronted?


This site is the site above all others which is desirable and necessary for the development of the Metropolitan Water Board's scheme. Other sites have been considered, but there is no other site which is so appropriate and which can be carried on at such little cost to the community. Further, in no part of the river are we better placed for obtaining our supplies of water than at this proposed site.


Is it the considered opinion of the Metropolitan Water Board that there is no other site which is adequate except this particular one? Is not that my hon. Friend's allegation?


My allegation is that there is no other site in the Valley of the Thames that is so suitable as this for the supply of water for London.

8.21 p.m.


This House is always interested in a Private Bill, and I think my hon. Friends who have moved this Instruction have done so with a consideration which we must appreciate. But we already see indications of difference between those who are proposing this Instruction, and my hon. Friend who speaks with knowledge as a member of the Metropolitan Water Board, and it seems to me that we have had sufficient evidence even thus far to show that this is a matter which the House itself could not be expected to settle in a satisfactory way. In the first place, if the Motion of my two hon. Friends were carried, the effect would be that the Committee set up to deal with the Bill would have no opportunity of investigating the matter at all. Is that the right way to deal with a matter of this kind? I have had some little experience both of sponsoring Bills and of being interested in the opposition to Private Bills, and I have always found that every Private Bill Committee of this House has acted with the utmost fairness and impartiality. I express no view whatever either on the points which have been raised by those who have moved the Motion or by my hon. Friend who speaks for the board, but I think that the question which has been raised is essentially one which would be best considered by a Private Bill Committee.

It would be a mistake on the part of the House to deprecate the ability of its own committees to settle these matters properly. There is no body that is likely to deal more fairly with any such matter than a Private Bill Committee of the House. No one in the House will desire that any injustice should be done to any individual, but, on the other hand, no one would like to be a party to preventing such an important institution as the Metropolitan Water Board from carrying out its important public duties. That is a matter for evidence and investigation. Some of the remarks which have been made with regard to the details of the scheme obviously raise matters upon which there is difference of opinion, and it would be a great pity if, on the ground of some suggestion that there had been some little discourtesy, there were, I would not like to say prejudice, because that would itself be a prejudicial expression, but any idea that the House should think that this great authority was attempting to make an undue use of its powers.

I was very much impressed when my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir A. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned this matter to me in conversation, representing, as I do, an agricultural constituency and being very keenly interested in agriculture. I made it my business to try to find out what I could with regard to the other side, and I have gathered sufficient information to convince me that this is a matter which ought to be placed before a Private Bill Committee. The subject of employment has been mentioned, and that is a matter which we are all very anxious to safeguard, but I am sure it will be agreed that the development of this scheme will take a long time, and, if it is going to be delayed while other schemes have to be prepared, there will necessarily be delay in embarking upon the construction of these reservoirs, wherever it is decided that they shall be put. Is not this question of delay worth considering on the ground of employment? I think it more than offsets the suggestion of my hon. Friend. He has mentioned the fact of 100 people being employed, but, from what I have learned of the proposed undertaking, it will mean the employment of hundreds of men for a very considerable period on the constructional work.


Five hundred men for five years.


I am glad that that information has been given to the House. The House will take what certainly seems to me to be a wise course in submitting this to a Private Bill Committee and not deprive them of any opportunity whatever of considering the evidence submitted to them on this point.

8.25 p.m.


I join in this Debate to inquire why the reservoir is to be here rather than to consider the hardships that this research farm is suffering, although that question does interest me as I have tried to overcome the difficulties of our climate and temperature by laying pipes in the soil. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) has really not explained in any degree why it is proposed to put the reservoir at Walton. Why should it be in this place? Are there no alternatives After all, the main consideration is a clay bottom to prevent leakage, but I gather that, apart from that, cost has been almost the only consideration which has guided the Water Board, because it is near a pumping station and near an intake from the Thames. Those are right and proper things to consider but is it right to look at the thing from such a short angle as the immediate first cost in this way when you have to consider this capital city of the Empire and its expansion in the years to come from a very different angle, as many of us do?

Reference has been made to consumption, and to the number of inhabitants of the district. It has been said that the increase is not as great as was anticipated by the Llandaff Commission. That is rather remarkable, because we are all aware that of late this increase has been maintained not only on the population side but also on the industry side. Estimating the consumption at 80 gallons a head, which is not my own figure but one given in a paper the other day, I compute that we shall require four times as much water for this district as we take at present.


The consumption today is 40 gallons per head, practically the same amount as when the Llandaff Commission sat in 1911.


I am well aware of that fact. I have also all the figures for almost all the towns in the country. I am not putting my own figure forward but am accepting the figure of someone who has surveyed the situation and taken the general increase that is liable to come from the increase of different types of houses and all other considerations. He has taken 80 gallons. With a figure of nearly four times the amount that is taken to-day, it is surely rather short-sighted to lay your plans upon a, reservoir, or a couple of reservoirs, in the way this scheme proposes. I feel that, while they are no doubt escaping from the dilemma set up by the late drought and while it will keep them clear for some years, it is hardly the policy that you would except from the biggest water company in the country, one of the biggest in the world, with all the experience of other undertakings before them. So far as I know, the comparable case of water taken from a long distance is Los Angeles, where about 300,000,000 gallons a day are taken from 230 miles distant.

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

I must remind the hon. Member that we are not now discussing the Second Reading but an Instruction.


I was only trying to illustrate what arises out of the change in venue proposed by this Instruction to strike out the reservoir. I only meant to indicate that the alternative scheme, which is not a scheme which I am proposing myself but one that 'has been brought up on more than one occasion and has been considered by the board, is to bring water from Wales. The scheme has been gone into in detail and it has been shown that the water required to be brought from Wales—


I must rule that out of order. If the Instruction were carried, it would not and could not affect any such scheme.


Then I must turn to another angle, which is why the reservoir should be in this particular place. I expected to bear more detailed information about that. If it had been said that the ground was sandy or that the second reservoir was at Staines where the ground was suitable, one could understand it. If it had been said that North London, which takes a very big supply, has already one big reservoir in the Lea Valley, that would have helped us. The difficulty is that the limitation to the consideration of this site has not allowed those concerned with the farm to understand why it is so desired, and that is why I have risen and why I was disappointed my hon. Friend did not give further explanation as to what is proposed. I should like to confirm what has been said by my hon. Friends about this farm. If it be as good as it is made out to be, it is not the issue of 100 men working there and the wages paid them, it is the issue of creating a far bigger industry to do away with the importation of vegetables. We have tried in the North to do this very same thing. I tried myself to the extent of being part of a company that we tried to get up for the purpose of overcoming climatic difficulties and growing vegetables. We depend upon the research work of a farm like this, and, if you are going to shut this down, inevitably four or five years will be lost. On the other hand, looking at it purely from an engineering point of view, if my hon. Friend had assured us quite definitely that there was no other suitable position in the Thames Valley for a reservoir, one would have been able to gay that there is absolutely no alternative.

8.34 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel LLEWELLIN

It seems to me that the greater part of my hon. Friend's speech has been an argument for sending the whole of this matter to a Committee upstairs. It is clear that this is not the place in which we can go into technical details. It is surely a matter for technical experts appearing before a Committee of the House and being cross-examined by people who are properly instructed for the other side.


The great difficulty arising out of this matter is the cost. Those who are against it are not able to put up the case which the water board can do.

Lieut.-Colonel LLEWELLIN

We must approach this matter really from this point of view. This House has set up a great institution in the Metropolitan Water Board, which is responsible for supplying some 560 square miles of the most thickly populated area in the whole world, and some 7,250,000 people. We all had a certain amount of misgiving during the second dry summer. It was a ques tion whether the water supply of London would hold out during that summer or not. In fact, it did. We are short-lived both in our political memories and in other memories in this country. but surely our memory is not so short-lived as to forget entirely that we had grave misgivings during the months of last summer as to whether the water supply of this great area would hold out or not, and we had, of course, to place restrictions on the supplies of a large number of people. Now this board is coming to the House and putting up a scheme for two large reservoirs. The effect of carrying the Instruction would be to cut away one-half of the Bill. It would leave it with only half its value as a supply proposition for the Metropolis.

Are we going to do that after just hearing in this House ex parte statements on one side or the other, or are we going to send the matter to a Committee upstairs? That is the whole and sole point that this House has to decide when it votes, if it does vote, on this Instruction to-night. There is not one of us who would like to see a man, apparently like Mr. Secrett, dispossessed of a farm of which he has made full use. After all, the Metropolitan Water Board will have to pay him full compensation for all these miles of pipes, and probably 10,000 tons of manure as well, and rightly so. But when we are informed that this is the best place in the opinion of the board, I do not think any of us can say that this big public body has just said, "Here is a good agricultural farm; we will take it." They have, obviously, gone into this matter from the point of view of knowing where best to get their supplies of water. This farm happens to be near their main intake. This new reservoir therefore happens to be an extension of the existing works, and from this point of view it is really the right place in which to put the reservoir, if indeed no better place can be found. But the people to decide whether another and a better place can be found are a trusted Committee of this House, after hearing the evidence on each side, and I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Secrett, who has been able to organise considerable opposition in this House, will be able to put up quite as good a show before the Committee to whom, I hope, the House will allow the whole of the Bill to go.

8.40 p.m.


I cannot claim to speak as an agriculturist, but I can claim to say something as a member of the Metropolitan Water Board. The Water Board does not wish in any way to belittle the work which is being done on these two farms. We appreciate what is being done, but we are in the position in which we cannot help ourselves. The petitioner asks that the whole question shall be put to the strongest possible proof. We welcome that, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin) has just said, we ask that the Bill shall be sent to a Committee of Members of this House and for the hearing of the evidence of experts of all kinds. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) wants to know why we want the reservoir where we propose to put it. The board bring this site to Parliament because they must. It has to be remembered that the board are not a private but a public corporation spending public money and bound to bring the cheapest and best proposition to Parliament, otherwise we would be failing in our duty. Therefore we bring this demand along. The hon. Member for Platting suggested that it would take four or five years to get a new start with this farm, but I would remind him that Holly Lodge and Crown Farm were set down in two years and some months, so that it will not be such a long job to get restarted if the proposition in the Bill is carried by this House.

Another reason for coming forward with this suggestion is that the Water Board already, as successors of the old Chelsea Water Company, have part of the site on a very long lease and are therefore already in possession of it. There are other factors. Proximity to the existing intake has been mentioned and proximity to existing mains. These things are of importance because the water which London has is river water, and storage is part of the purification process. That is one of the factors which determined Parliament in deciding that the Metropolitan Water Board should not go to Wales. That proposition has been put to Parliament and rejected. If I am informed correctly, the London County Council have tried again and again to get powers for a scheme to draw water from Wales. I know that it is wrong to discuss that matter, but I should like to say, speaking with information that was not available then, that a water supply from Wales would be a very dangerous thing in certain eventualities. A pipe line from Wales could be blown up.


The hon. Member is now getting out of order.


I am sorry. Storage is part of our purification process. It was proved by the late Sir Alexander Houston, who died last year, by experiments on his own body, that river water, impregnated as it is sometimes with the typhoid germ, can be purified, as far as that part of the bacteria content was concerned, by storage. He discovered this fact by research. He experimented upon himself a number of times before he announced the discovery, and it was that fact which decided Parliament to allow the water supply of London to be drawn from the Thames. Therefore, if it is part of the purification, it is necessary to have it near the intake and the plant that deals with purification, so that the process may be as cheap as it is possible to make it. The need for further storage has been admitted. The Second Reading of the Bill has been passed formally, and I ask the House to send the Bill upstairs to Committee for the consideration that it ought to have. It is no use to suggest that the Metropolitan Water Board can wander about looking for sites for reservoirs. The area is strictly limited. It is strictly limited by the geological fact that is known as the London clay. There, the engineer can build and get his reservoir much more cheaply than by going somewhere else. For these reasons I ask the House to give the Bill, un-mutilated, a chance to go to Committee upstairs.

8.96 p.m.


I oppose the Bill as an unprejudiced observer, who knows nothing at first hand about the district. I came here to-night hoping to hear some arguments from the supporters of the Bill why it was necessary to take this farm land for the purpose of the reservoir. Except for the fact that the land appears to be near another reservoir and near the intake of the river, we have had absolutely no arguments from any of the three hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill why this particular piece of land should be chosen. I cannot hope to compete with the forensic skill of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin). He made out, from his point of view, the advocate's case, if I may say so without offence, for sending the Bill upstairs to be considered by a Committee which can take evidence and cross-examine witnesses. That would be all very well if the contesting parties were on an equality.

In this case you have a powerful and wealthy corporation, who are determined to get their own way, and who have the power of forcing their opinions through, while on the other side you have a private individual, who has devoted his life to agricultural and horticultural pursuits. No doubt he is very skilled in his own line of business but he has neither the money nor the skill to prosecute a case before a Committee of Parliament. Therefore, we have very unmatched opponents. My hon. and gallant Friend asked that the Bill should be sent upstairs, but I submit that the fact that the two antagonists are so ill-matched makes this procedure extremely unfair. Therefore, this point of principle ought to be argued and decided here and now on the Floor of the House. The promoters of the Bill have known all along that this was the case they had to meet, and yet they have come here totally unprepared with any arguments to meet the case that has been put against them. In my submission, they have entirely failed to make out their claim to have this Bill sent upstairs to a Committee, and for that reason I very strongly support the Instruction.

8.49 p.m.


It is, perhaps, to a London Member, a little distressful to hear the Metropolitan Water Board referred to in this House as "a powerful and wealthy corporation, determined to get its own way." If that allegation were made out, there would be every reason to vote for the Instruction to the Committee, but I suggest that the House would be very ill-advised to take up that attitude of criticism and judgment upon the Metropolitan Water Board, which has served London so well. The board has brought Londoners up on Thames and Lee water, and the purification of this river water has been a lifetime study for the skilled officers of the board. With the skill that they have acquired in the study of the problem they have preserved millions of Londoners from epidemics. The suggestion that the board's officers should be cut off from utilising a supply of river water whose management and purification they understand so well, and should by Instruction be told to look elsewhere, is a menace to the health of Londoners, which responsibility the competent officers of the board would not like to take over. The board has made London possible for the teeming provincials who crowd into it for their livelihood and their careers. An overcrowded London would not be tolerable in its present state of housing but for the way in which the board year after year has supplied it with ample quantities of pure water. The board has never yet, to the knowledge of London Members, misplaced the trust that we have in it, and I ask the House to say that the board should not have a public rebuff, while it is preserving the amenities and the health of the London which it has served so well.

8.51 p.m.


It is extremely important that the House should realise how serious the question is. In the speeches which have been made there has been a suggestion that there is no real excuse for coming forward with a scheme of this sort. As a Member of the Thames Conservancy, I can say that our officers have been regarding the situation of the Thames with very great anxiety for a long period. We have had two years of drought, and the water levels in the Thames basin have gone down, I think, something like 40 feet. Many tributaries of the Thames have dried up at their sources. It is true that we have had some rains lately, but they have not had the effect which might have been desired, and the result is that it is absolutely essential that further water resources should be provided. If we are to have another series of dry years, the outlook will be serious indeed. I had not intended to speak to-day, but in view of the fact that the danger that is being run is a very real one, and as no one has brought out that fact, I have thought it necessary to do so. Nobody regrets more than I that any land should be taken which may be vital in other directions, but in view of the general situation the House will be taking a great responsibility if they do not allow this problem to go before the Committee, to be thoroughly thrashed out. I hope, therefore, that the Instruction will not be agreed to.

8.53 p.m.


It ill becomes me to oppose any movement for a greater supply of water for London or elsewhere, in view of the fact that for a long time I have been advocating not only an extra supply of water but a national scheme of water. In these circumstances, however, we find that the Metropolitan Water Board, for the purpose of building their reservoir, are acquiring land which is essential for research in agriculture. There is no reason whatever, as far as I can see, why their reservoir should not be built on some other site. The reservoir that they are proposing to build is one which they suggest will provide London with water, but that is an illusion, seeing that they will, before very long, have to go to Wales for their water. Therefore, I am opposing the Bill, because I consider that they are not doing the right thing by acquiring this particular land which is so essential to the agricultural industry from the research point of view, which the whole of this House is so anxious to revive. The Bill should be turned down by this House and the Metropolitan Water Board asked to pick another site so as not to interfere with land which is essential to agricultural research. That is my only reason for opposing the Bill. In the present state of agriculture we must conserve, as far as possible, all farms which are doing research work so essential for a revival of agriculture. I am not opposing the Bill because I want to deprive London of any reserve of water, but I have not heard any argument which has proved that it is impossible to find other land upon which to build the reservoir.

8.57 p.m.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

The House has listened with the greatest attention and interest to a closely reasoned and most temperate Debate, which has been remarkable for the even balance of opinion on both sides. I have lost count of the exact number of speeches for and against the Motion. These circumstances are rather unusual on a Private Bill when we are more accustomed to all the speeches being on one side. The Minister of Health in addressing the House on such an occasion as this does not, save in the most exceptional circumstances, consider that it is his duty to argue for or against the Motion. There may be circumstances in which it would be his duty to maintain one side as against another, but I am sure hon. Members will agree that this is not such an occasion. The function of the Minister of Health is to do his best to assist the House to come to a conclusion and form a free judgment on the question.

The position to-night is that if we pass the Instruction it rules out from the consideration of a Committee of this House the proposals of the Metropolitan Water Board with regard to a water reservoir at Walton, which, as has been rightly said, is half the substance of the Bill. If, on the other hand, we do not pass the Instruction, it is clear that we are not thereby coming to a final conclusion on the matter. All we are saying is that this Bill should follow the ordinary procedure of the House and go to a Committee, who can deal fully and adequately with questions of this sort. What is the frame of mind in which hon. Members find themselves on this Bill? I think hon. Members may find themselves in the position of saying that as it is an issue involving a matter, of public moment, so great and vital, that the House ought not to come to a swift decision and remove it from the consideration of their own Committee.

What is the nature of the issue? It is not my intention, and I do not feel competent, to take a part in the arguments before the House, but it appears to be a case in which both interests are public interests. The case put before us on behalf of the Metropolitan Water Board, by the hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) and hon. Members who have supported the Bill, is that it is a matter involving the strongest and highest public interests, but, on the other hand, the case put before us by the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir A. Boyd-Carpenter) and those who support him, is that there are also strong public interests on the other side as well. As to the nature of the interests involved in the case of the Metropolitan Water Board I will not state them in my own words but invite hon. Members to look at the manner in which they have been set out by the Metropolitan Water Board. I have before me a statement of the Metropolitan Water Board, and when I try to form a judgment as to the nature of the issues involved my attention is attracted by the following passage: The proposed sites are not only the most suitable but also, in the case of reservoir No. 1 at Walton, the only practical one for the purpose in view. That is an opinion which deserves the consideration of the House in arriving at a judgment. What is the purpose in view? I am sure the House will recognise the magnitude of the issues involved. On the second page of their statement they say: The urgent necessity for additional storage accommodation to meet the growing needs of London and adjoining districts cannot be disputed. It is not disputed by anyone, and such necessity has been emphasised in my experience at the Ministry of Health during the recent prolonged drought. I can confirm that statement from my own knowledge, because I remember during last summer being applied to by the Metropolitan Water Board to issue emergency orders. The next statement is one which I think sums up the great importance of the issues involved: The board feel impelled by a sense of their public duty and responsibility for the supply of water to state unequivocally that the powers sought by the Bill are essential for ensuring an adequate supply, and that if these powers be not granted the supply will be seriously imperilled in the event of a period of severe drought. The observation which must arise upon that is that the House has entrusted the vital responsibility for the supply of water to the people of London to the board, and when the body to which this important task has been entrusted says that such and such a measure is essential for securing an adequate supply, the House will certainly be inclined to think that that statement requires most careful investigation and consideration. I am sure we shall all do well to think once and twice before deciding whether it is safe or wise to judge the matter without giving it that full consideration.

Let me turn to the case as put before us by my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey. There, again, I am sure that the House will find matter for serious interest. My hon. Friend dwelt upon the question of food supply. No consideration that raises that point can be lightly dismissed. He dwelt upon the national need for employment. Again, however small the case might be, that is an argument which the House will not lightly turn aside. There was a third point to which the House will attach even greater importance, and that is the extreme importance of doing nothing to discourage successful efforts in the way of agricultural research. I must not presume to have any acquaintance with the technicalities of that matter, but I feel the strongest sympathy with the argument that we cannot spare any profitable and useful work that can be done in the direction of such research.

The position then emerges from the discussion that we have here these great and serious public interests on the one hand, and on the other hand we have to consider the material, relevant and weighty matters advanced in the case put before us. If the House came to the conclusion that matters so serious should be judged with the most, I will not say elaborate, but the most searching procedure which this House has instituted, would not that indeed be a sound conclusion? There is one matter on which I must say a special word. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) argued that this matter ought not to be decided until a report has been received from the Inland Water Survey Committee which was recently established by me for the purpose of water research. It is most natural, since that committee is only a recent institution, that there should be some misunderstanding, but I should make it clear that it would be altogether a. misapprehension to think that such a matter as that which we are now considering would come under the consideration of the Survey Committee. That committee has been established for the purpose of a statistical research into the water resources of the country, and it would be quite outside its terms of reference for it to take into consideration specific schemes of water supply.

One last word upon this bearing of the case. The House might very naturally be inclined to say that the Minister of Health has a special interest in water supply, that he is likely to have water on the brain in these days, that he is likely to take a more favourable view of water supply than of any contrary interest, and that he should co-ordinate water supply with the other interests of the nation. I thought it right on this matter to consult with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who is acquainted with aspects of which I cannot have knowledge. The result of that consultation is that the Minister has asked me to inform the House of his opinion on the matter. He is very much concerned with the interests of such institutions as the farm in question, with all its importance to agricultural research, but he agrees that the appropriate and most thorough way for considering these interests and their coordination with the public interest of water supply would be by reference of this matter to a Committee of the House.

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Chertsey and Mitcham for having called attention to aspects of the matter which, in the opinion of all of us, deserve the most careful consideration, but my own conclusion in this Debate is that all these things can most properly be considered by a Committee of the House. In that event my hon. Friends will be able to congratulate themselves that by their action they have done what is necessary to secure attention to the interests concerned.


Is my right hon. Friend quite certain that giving a Second Reading to this Bill and defeating the Instruction leaves it open to the Committee upstairs to review the matter of principle that has been raised? Is it not more probable that the Committee upstairs may assume that the passing of the Second Reading and the withdrawal or rejection of the Instruction is approval of the principle to which we are objecting? Is it not also a fact that this is the last occasion on which the point of principle can be decided?


Would the Minister say whether the passing of the Second Reading now would not practically be agreement to the particular site to which we object? That is very important. It has been said by some speakers in the Debate that we who oppose the Second Reading of the Bill are opposed to water supply or are questioning the necessity for water supply. We are doing nothing of the sort. It is not at all a question of the supply of water, but a question as to the site of the reservoir for the storage of water. We want to be sure that if the Second Reading of the Bill is passed now we shall still have the power in Committee to ensure that full inquiry is made into the question whether there is any alternative site available.


My hon. Friends will understand that I have no authority to speak for the Committee upstairs, and I can only express my opinion as to the procedure likely to be adopted. I have tried to explain that if we pass the Instruction to-day we do decide the matter against the Water Board, but if we do not pass the Instruction we leave the matter open to the Committee upstairs to come to any decision it thinks advisable en all the matters that have been discussed to-day.

9.14 p.m.


After the very eloquent appeal of the Minister, that we should send the Bill upstairs to the Committee appointed by the House, a committee of experts who will hear evidence, I feel that that is probably the best method of dealing with the matter. As, possibly, the only Member of this House who spends a considerable amount of time in dealing with horticulture and horticultural exhibitions, I wish to put a point of view which has not yet been expressed in this Debate. We have been told by various hon. Members that the proper thing for us to do is to send this Bill up to the Committee. Now I am not saying anything whatever against the Metropolitan Water Board, but we all know that when there are very difficult legal questions involved in a Bill which is going before a Committee of this House and when, on the one side, there is a private individual and on the other side a great body like the Metropolitan Water Board, the individual is brought under a pressure which is very hard indeed. I do not think that the House is wasting time in taking a couple of hours to deal with the case of the private individual as against the big company in this particular instance.

As far as I know there is not one of those who have put their names down to the Motion who does not wish to see the most plentiful and most perfect supply of water possible made available for London. On the other hand, we are not satisfied with the position as we have heard it explained in this case. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) presented his case with that clearness and fullness which we expect from his legal training and knowledge but I wonder why he never told us when these works are to begin. Is it to be in one year or in five years? We are told that this would mean work for 400 or 500 men for several years but when are they going to get the work I In the meanwhile I would remind hon. Members that you have hundreds working there at present in what is one of the greatest institutions of its kind in this country. Why should we hold up the development of a place of that kind?

A slight mistake has occurred due perhaps to the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend who opened the Debate which I would like to correct. Reference was made to the ownership from 1909 to 1919. The present owner began in 1932, and actually this was market garden land from 1919. The district was gradually being built up and he took it on because it had advantages as regards soil and in other respects which enabled him to use it in this way. Not only have those who are supporting the Bill not told the House when they are going to begin; not only have they failed to explain what steps they have taken to find some other place for this purpose, but they have said, "These are not matters for the House at all, but for the Committee upstairs." Well, I am prepared to leave it to the Committee but when it goes to the Committee certain facts which have not been dealt with fully here will, I am sure, be considered in detail. Such questions as when the work is to commence, and whether it is really urgent or not will, I am sure, be gone into by the Committee.

I feel certain that if there had been a factory involved employing the same number of men there would never have been any question of bringing a Bill such as this before the House. But because it is something which is attached to agriculture, the poor Cinderella among industries, all these considerations are to be put on one side. I think the Committee upstairs will probably go into the matter also from that point of view. We ought to realise the actual position here. We are not proposing to take over an ordinary market garden, or an ordinary centre of intensive cultivation. We are dealing with an exceptional place which produces the highest standard of vegetables and the highest ratio to the acre known here. This is a centre which is turning out men and women who are qualified to act as instructors and managers all over the country. We hear a lot about bringing people back to the land. The work which is being done here is not only that of bringing people back to the land but of providing trainers and instructors for those who go back to the land.

I spend a considerable amount of time in judging at the Royal Horticultural Shows and at other shows, and the produce of this farm has won as many as seven, eight or nine out of 10 first prizes for vegetables during the last few years. We have something here which is above the average. I come from the West Country and I might be prejudiced against this farm. But as one who takes a keen interest in the production and marketing of vegetables in this country I realise its importance to the whole industry. We should hesitate before agreeing to a Measure which would take away from us this remarkable farm to which so much brains and ability have been devoted. Even to interfere with its development is almost as bad as taking it away altogether. If we do so, we shall be doing something which will affect not only that one district and those men immediately concerned, but the whole horticultural industry. It will take away the example on which we are building throughout the country. As one who has a close connection with the industry, I do not want our best example to be destroyed. I would say to my hon. Friends here that I think we might withdraw the Motion. It should be realised by now that when anything exceptional is involved in a case like this the House of Commons realises that the strongest possible appeal should be made for the individual as against any board, however powerful, and my concluding words would be that we do not wish to stand in any way against the development of the water supplies of this country.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.