HC Deb 03 November 1937 vol 328 cc961-1022

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Quibell

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, experience has shown that the Land Drainage Acts cannot be effectively administered without further State aid, and that amending legislation is urgently required to remove the existing inequalities in the incidence of rating. I consider myself very fortunate in being privileged to-day to bring forward a Motion on a subject which affects Members from all parts of the country. It is a question which touches intimately and more acutely hon. Members opposite than those on this side of the House. I expect that I shall be met with the old cry which I have heard for some time, that the Land Drainage Act was passed by a Labour Government when in office in 1930. That is perfectly true, but it is also true that on the Committee which considered the Bill representatives of the Government were at that time in a minority. That Bill was framed largely as a result of the Report of a Royal Commission. On the first day of the Committee proceedings on the Bill, the Minister in charge said that he hoped the Bill was a non-party measure and he proposed to treat it in that sense.

For many years, the whole question of land drainage had been in urgent need of reform. The matter was inquired into by a Royal Commission, and the 1930 Bill, which finally became an Act, was largely based upon the Royal Commission's findings and Report. The need for action and unification was urgent and important in the national interest. The damage caused to some crops on account of defective drainage, and in some cases no drainage at all, land becoming waterlogged and going out of cultivation, were all matters that must concern every hon. Member who had at heart the interests of agriculture. For nearly a generation the subject had been shelved by successive Governments, until in 1930 a Government which, although it was a minority Government, possessed a good deal more courage than many of its predecessors, considered that the subject could no longer be left to chance, particularly in view of the decline in employment in rural areas, the ever-increasing number of unemployed, and the fact that land was constantly going out of cultivation. Therefore, it was considered necessary that Parliament should deal with the whole subject in a comprehensive manner and create the necessary machinery of administration and finance towards that desirable end.

That Bill completely changed the previous practice of levying a drainage rate. It had been the custom to levy rates on the basis of acreage, a system which, in the main, worked fairly well in some districts, but not so well in others, as the income was insufficient to enable the older authorities to carry out works of an essential and expensive character to any great extent. Improvements have become necessary, particularly in the main rivers, the more so because of the great development of water-bound roads and the generally efficient drainage of towns, so that storm water enters into the main rivers much more quickly than was formerly the case. I think the general principle accepted by hon. Members representing cities and towns is that the towns should have the responsibility of contributing to the main catchment boards because of the facts which I have just stated. Catchment boards whose task was to deal with the problem of main rivers were set up, and I think that in general they are functioning very well. I trust that further schemes for improving main rivers are receiving their earnest consideration.

I think the incidence of rating for these boards is just, and the larger cities and towns are only paying their fair share of the expense, which, as time goes on, may be less rather than more, since large capital expenditure will in many cases not need to be repeated. An important feature of the 1930 Act was the creation of internal drainage boards charged with a new responsibility and duty, but I am afraid that many of those boards were severely handicapped owing to inequalities of income, and consequently have not been able to carry out many of the schemes that they had in mind for improving the internal drainage system. Where they have carried out such schemes, the burden has in some cases been an almost intolerable one, and my submission is that the burden has not been met, as it should have been, by the Ministry making grants of amounts sufficient to enable the boards to carry out their duties under the Act.

Mr. Turton

Will the hon. Member be good enough to inform me under what Section of the 1930 Act the Minister has power to give any grants to an internal drainage board?

Mr. Quibell

I will deal with that matter before I finish my remarks. First, the Minister has not exercised his powers under the Act to make bigger grants of money to poor areas. I will tell the hon. Member where some of the grants have been made, and if they have not been made under powers given in the Act, then I hope attention will be drawn to the matter by the appropriate authority when we are considering the Minister's financial responsibility to this House and to the Committee. Secondly, under Section 4, the Minister has power to induce internal drainage boards so to alter and extend their boundaries that the burden shall be more fairly distributed and borne. The Minister has not thought fit to exercise that power or to suggest that measure of readjustment to internal drainage boards, despite the fact that his attention has frequently been drawn to the matter.

I will give to the House a quotation which emphasises the gross injustice as between one ratepayer and another. It is from a newspaper advertisement announcing the levying of a drainage rate in the Isle of Axholme. We find that in sub-district A there is an occupier's rate of 4s. 9d. in the £, and an owner's rate of one penny in the £; in sub-district B there is an occupier's rate of 3s. 2d. in the £, and an owner's rate of one penny in the £ and in sub-district C, an occupier's rate of 1s. 7d. in the £ and an owner's rate of one penny in the £. So it is that in the same area, and almost in the same parish, three or four petty authorities have different systems of rating. Many of the people are smallholders and overhead charges weigh very heavily upon them. Hon. Members can see how much new work is being done under the Act when they bear in mind that the owner's costs are one penny, because the charge upon him is for new works under the Act; but the maintenance of the work falls upon the small people, even upon cottage labourers in the areas that I have mentioned. It is no use the Minister saying that he knows nothing about the weakness of those sections of the Act. It is nothing less than a scandal that agricultural labourers should have to pay this amount.

The Minister knows that it is now nearly three years ago that I took this matter up in correspondence with the Ministry. Moreover, he knows that there have been scores of summonses, in some cases distress warrants, against poor labourers who have not derived the slightest benefit from the Act. I consider it is nothing but a scandal. Indeed it is a tremendous disappointment to me that anyone should attempt to move an Amendment to what I consider to be a reasonable, common-sense desire on our part. I want to help the Minister to meet what is admitted on all hands, even by my friends the agriculturists on the other side, to be the urgent need of amending the law in order that we may do justice to these poor people. I think the Minister could have taken certain action that would have met some of the shortcomings in the district I have mentioned. Section 4, paragraph (b), provides that: Every catchment board shall, within a further period expiring on such later date as may be appointed by the Minister for the purposes of this provision, either generally or in relation to a particular catchment board, prepare and submit to him for confirmation a further scheme or further schemes making provision for the following matters:— This is where the first and most important point comes in: (i) The alteration of the boundaries of any internal drainage district. Let me quote a case in point. I am not certain whether I drew the present Minister's attention to it, but at any rate the attention of the permanent officials of the Department was drawn to it. I believe that I interviewed the present Minister about it. In my division in the village of Brigg itself, there is the river and what is known as the Ancholme, and a little land between those two rivers right in the midst of the urban district of Brigg. That little area is charged with drainage rates. This is an illustration: There is the river running along, as it were, across the Floor of this House. At this side of it the men are paying a heavy drainage rate, but on the other side not one halfpenny is paid as drainage rate. The greater part of the urban district of Brigg is on the other side, the smaller part on this side, and the little householders, and indeed an old age pensioner, have to pay.

I have brought with me particulars of dozens of summonses in cases where proceedings have been taken by the drainage officials, not because they wanted to take proceedings but because the law compelled them to do so. They have done their duty sympathetically, and I know of officials who do consider the small man. But so far as that area is concerned their ability to re-survey the area and submit an amended scheme so as to spread the burden and bring in wider areas, does not exist; they have been incapable of doing it because it is a small authority and the engineer and clerk are unable to find the money to carry out a survey. Therefore, for six or seven years these people have been penalised. In one case I know that an old age pensioner with l0s. a week has been called upon under the Act to pay a drainage rate. I know that it was never the intention of hon. Members opposite, who sat with me on that Committee, that an old age pensioner should pay a drainage rate to improve the agricultural land of the country. We never intended that it should be a burden on the agricultural labourer.

Mr. Henry Haslam

Why did you put it in the Bill then?

Mr. Quibell

I shall tell the hon. Member before I sit down. He need not worry about that. I want to read now what I consider to be a pathetic letter from a man whom, since this drainage business became a burden to him, I have learned to think a good deal about and to respect as one of Nature's gentlemen. This man wrote to me: I should like to place the facts of my own case before you for your attention. I am 74 years of age, and my whole life has been a hard struggle to get going. Even now I rise at four o'clock every morning and work right through the day until six and sometimes eight to keep my little dairy farm business going. A teetotaller and non-smoker all my life. I have been thrifty and worked hard since I was seven. This has enabled me to acquire a bit of land, 17 acres. The Land Drainage Act demanded that I should pay 9s. 2d. per acre upon this as against 2s. 7d. per acre under the old Act. My latest rate amounts to £7 15s. 6d. and there has been no drainage done, none what-ever. Hon. Members opposite will understand that man's feelings, as I do. Nearly 100 letters I have received, and the reason is that the late Member for the Division told them that it was particularly a responsibility of mine. Of course my correspondents were not slow to let me know when they thought that I was going slow. Here is another letter: I pay £5 4s. yearly for the bit of ground around and upon which my caravan stands, so that I think with this and the ordinary rates I have quite enough to pay without 13s. additional per year for drainage. So one could go on. I am not the only Member who has received such letters. I know that hon. Members opposite must have had the same experience. When Clause 4 was being discussed I remember the then Minister of Agriculture saying: Circumstances may arise from time to time in which it may easily be necessary or desirable that there should be adjustments between the different drainage areas. Owing to the development of a scheme. It may be agreed on all sides that the boundaries should be altered, and we cannot fix for all time under the Bill contributions which must necessarily be subject to review and variation by agreement amongst the authorities themselves in the course of time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 8th July, 1930; Col. 1632.] The Minister does not avail himself of this very simple proposal, and that is my criticism of him. If carried out the proposal would very materially help to ease the burden of thousands of poor people who have had proceedings taken against them for recovery of rates. They are law-abiding citizens who feel that they are being dealt with unfairly. Here I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister, because while it is the duty of an Opposition perhaps to criticise and to take Parliamentary advantage of their opponents, yet there are times when we on this side are entitled to make our contributions to the solution of a difficulty. In the case of Brigg I say that power should be taken in any future Measure where an internal drainage board forms only a very small part of an urban area, so that the drainage authorities have the right to precept upon the whole of the urban district which benefits, instead of precepting on such a very small portion as I have illustrated.

I commend to the Minister the consideration of that proposal. I myself was sufficiently interested in this solution, because I believe it to be a practical one, that, I even went to interview the Brigg Urban District Council and the drainage authorities because of the very great difficulty we were experiencing there. I commend that suggestion to the Minister for dealing with that side of the difficulty. The other suggestion is that far greater areas should be brought in by producing new maps extending the area levelled. It seems to me that there have not been any levels taken since there was a flood. The authorities had no income with which to do it, and unless the Minister can come to their aid I am afraid that so far as new levels of extended areas are concerned we shall have to wait a considerable time. I have another suggestion to make, in order to remedy this grievance still further in areas like the Trent Valley and the Isle of Axholme.

At a meeting I addressed at Boston the question was put to me, "Can you do anything to amend the Land Drainage Act?" I can take any hon. Member who is sufficiently interested to places where there is not the slightest drainage of any kind and where they are paying drainage rate, places where there is not five yards of land outside the houses. Under previous Acts I believe it is the case that any one who has a garden of less than a quarter of an acre attached to a hereditament was exempted, but under this Act the whole of those places come in, and the consequence is that the Act has placed a burden on the backs of poor people in a way that was never intended. I know that we ought to have been wiser but we received assurances from certain quarters in the House that this would not be the effect. "I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

The proposal of the Bill as originally drafted and submitted to the Committee gave the choice of basing the rate either on acreage or annual value. In the minds of some of us in that Committee there was some anxiety as to how annual value would affect the small people, but we were assured frequently that all would be well if only we would be good boys, sit on our side of the Committee, close our eyes, open our mouths and say nothing. We were told that the greatest achievement would be to get the Measure passed and on the Statute Book. I have had my lesson on that score.

Let me refer again to the proceedings in Standing Committee. In discussing the Clauses of the Bill preceding the fatal Clause, which determined the basis of rating, we were frequently asked to leave over particular parts of particular Clauses until we had discussed and decided whether the basis of rating was to be acreage or annual value. A right hon. Gentleman who was an ornament of the party opposite—and I think that is a correct description—and who at one time was Minister of Agriculture, moved an Amendment in the Committee to base the whole of this burden on annual value. Those hon. Members who were on the Committee will recall that fact. The right hon. Gentleman who was then Member for Bury St. Edmunds came to the Committee and said that after due consideration and taking into account the report of the Royal Commission and other factors, he had come to the conclusion that the proper basis of rating under the Measure was annual value.

Here let me say that we all fell into the trap. The then Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Addison, fell into it beautifully and thanked the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment for doing so because, he said, it cleared a lot of difficulties out of the way. I remember that a Division was forced upon this Clause by the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson). He was not having any of it. He said that the system of rating on a basis of acreage was straightforward, and that there had been no trouble with it. He said that the charge in his area was very easy to collect and that they never troubled about the small man who had a little allotment. The small man under that system had not to pay any drainage rate. The hon. Member acted on that occasion with the courage which we all know him to possess. If he were not a man of courage, he would not come here day after day, suffering as he is, and stand the strain as well as the youngest of us in this House. I pay him a great compliment for that. On the occasion to which I refer, he forced a Division and some of us were not altogether pleased with him for doing so. But I have always sufficient courage to pay a compliment where it is due, and I say that in my view he was the only man of the Committee who was right on that occasion. It is manifestly wrong to ask an agricultural labourer to pay for the improvement of agricultural land and in some cases for the actual creation of agricultural value in land, while the landlord is allowed to escape, as he is doing now, with a rate of a penny in the £ The then Minister of Agriculture said: It is perfectly obvious that the number of acres a man has is not a proof in itself of his ability to pay. We can agree with that. He went on to say: It may be poor land; it may be good land. It is the value of, shall I say, the benefits received that determines."—OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 15th July, 1930; col. 1849.] If that was to be the basis, and if the intention was as expressed by the then Minister, then all I can say is that there are hundreds and thousands of people in these lowlands who are being called upon to pay and who receive not the slightest benefit, who have no drainage or sewerage schemes and many of whom have no water supplies. They have not received the slightest benefit unless it can be claimed that by the improvement of agriculture in general, their chances of employment have been increased. I say that as far as this additional provision by the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, it will mean in these internal drainage board areas that rates will be levied on annual values instead of on the usual basis of acreage. In the Standing Committee a very interesting interruption was made by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam). I see that the hon. Member is in his place. I hope I am going to take him into the Lobby with me this evening, because I am, to some extent, stating a case which I think he would have liked to have stated if he had not been given a lead of a different character. In the Committee he put this point to the Minister: Then they can continue to levy rates upon the principle of benefit derived."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee C), 15th July, 1930; col. 1854.] The answer of the Minister was "Yes." After that announcement we all felt, particularly hon. Members on this side, that we could vote for the proposal. We thought we were perfectly safe because 1:he principle of the degree of benefit received had been accepted by the Minister in charge of the Bill. The original wording proposed was: A drainage board may at their option, make a drainage rate as either (a) an acreage rate, that is to say, a rate assessed on the basis of acreage as regards agricultural hereditaments, but on the basis of annual value as regards other hereditameats.'' The right hon. Gentleman the then Member for Bury St. Edmunds moved to cut out that option and to substitute annual value for acreage in all cases. The effect has been to place upon the small man a burden which he had never previously carried, and which he should not be called upon to carry now. I do not believe it was ever intended by Parliament that he should bear this charge, and consequently I ask the House to amend the existing provision and to remove this injustice from these poor people. It is an example of a united front—a coalition of the worst type. Another proposed Clause read. A drainage board shall not be required to enforce payment of any rate made on any hereditament of less than a quarter of an acre. That shows it never was the intention of Parliament to impose this charge on the poor householder. The inequalities which are indicated in the Motion are numerous. Hundreds of law-abiding citizens have been summoned for non-payment of these rates, not because they are people who habitually run away from their liabilities, but simply because they feel that this is an unfair burden and an unfair charge. They protest against being required to pay a rate to improve the agricultural land of this country while they themselves are receiving no direct benefit whatever. Who are these people? There are smallholders such as the man whose letter I have read; there are agricultural labourers and general labourers. In my town the general labourer who lives on the top of the hill has no payment to make, but the man who lives down below has to meet a heavy drainage rate. They have to pay the catchment rate, then the internal board rate, and on top of that a pumping rate for the cost of pumping the water into the main river. In three ways they are touched in respect of drainage without any benefit coming to them.

I consider this to be a far more important matter than a great many hon. Members appear to have considered it hitherto—otherwise the question would have been raised in a very direct and practical way long before now. As I said before, it affects not only smallholders and agricultural labourers, but small traders as well, and even old age pensioners. An hon. Member opposite gave me the case of a butcher in business in one of these internal drainage board districts who because of his assessment pays more in drainage rate than farmers with big farms in the same area. That instance was given to me by an hon. Member whose word I can take, who still sits on the benches opposite and who will, I hope, continue to sit there at any rate until the next General Election. In a neighbouring area a small farmer bought his farm. He got rid of one landlord but he finds now that he has another landlord, because his drainage rate is actually in excess of the amount which he paid per acre when he rented his farm. That, of course, is a case where the rate is high, but it is a case where the grant should have been high.

We were promised that grants would be made up to 80 per cent. and in some cases 100 per cent. Fairly rich authorities could carry out these surveys without imposing undue burdens, but it is different with the small authorities, and I say that some of these small authorities should be amalgamated and should receive more State assistance than has hitherto been forthcoming. The present position is, I know, partly due to the economy proposals of the present Government. A great deal of the trouble arises from the fact that the grants have been insufficient to enable the little authorities to carry out the work. Some of them are actually still carrying out the surveys. I, myself, have interviewed three officers of drainage boards since I put this Motion on the Paper, and not one of them had completed the survey. That was because of lack of means.

The officers of the boards are not to blame. They have to carry out the law and they do their duty with every consideration to the poor people. I desire as much as anybody else that schemes should be carried out for the general improvement of the land so that we can make the greatest possible use of it. I know the difficulties experienced by farmers in trying to farm land which at times, often at vital times, is waterlogged. I have no difference with hon. Members opposite as regards the general desire to drain the land and improve its general character. We all desire to see a contented countryside. But we want this grievance removed, and I believe that the Minister can remove it by a small Bill once he has collected the necessary information. Let us, therefore, see to it that this great injustice which has been inflicted upon a deserving and hardworking class of people is removed. Let us see to it that justice and equity as between man and man shall, in this matter, be the rule of law.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Muff

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend has put before the House the human side of this problem, and he has done it forcefully but, I suggest, without exaggeration, and we are entitled to ask the Minister to come to the aid of these people, who are undoubtedly suffering from the administration of the internal drainage boards. As a member of the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board, I went through several parts of the North and East Ridings to see the work that we were doing, and I found everywhere this sense of injustice at occupiers having to pay rates of 4s. and 5s. in the £ to meet the precepts of the internal drainage board, while in some cases the landowner escaped almost scot-free. The Ministry has been responsible for yet another anomaly. If these occupiers, either large or small, pay these rates, this unjust incidence of taxation, they are at any rate entitled to representation on the catchment hoard, but the Ministry of Agriculture sees to it that they have no representation, but that, on the other hand, the landowner is well represented, and so far as the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board is concerned, the Minister himself nominates three landowners in order that they may watch their own interests and incidentally vote, if the Ministry requires them to do so.

I wish, before leaving this aspect of the situation, to suggest to the Minister, notwithstanding his speech on 25th May, when he told, I believe, the conference of the catchment hoards that he might not be able to introduce a Bill in this next Session of Parliament, that he has the chance to remedy a great act of injustice so far as some of the small occupiers who are mulcted in these excessive sums for drainage expenditure are concerned. A few months ago the Minister, with a fanfare of trumpets, rather gave this House to understand that he was coming to the aid of these people by making an increased grant, but he led me and he led even some of the catchment boards up the garden and into thinking that they were going to get something because he was making a grant of 50 per cent. for certain forms of drainage, for on examination it was found that he was really giving them nothing at all.

Then there was the famous letter, of which he admitted that he knew nothing, in which it was stated that the work had to be done during the winter months and that if the ordinary labour was used, that is, the labour usually employed by the catchment boards, these people should not receive the rates of wages laid clown by the Joint Industrial Council, but that in effect they should have their wages reduced, even if the work was close to an urban area, to the starvation level of the agricultural labourers living adjacent. Without political prejudice, a great catchment board wrote to the Ministry on this very important subject. I say "the Ministry," because the Minister knew nothing about the previous letter, and he may not know anything about this one. They wrote to the Ministry pointing out that most of the important schemes could not be carried out in winter at all, but had to be carried out during the dry summer months, and they appealed to the Ministry to allow the schemes to qualify for grant and to agree that the Joint Industrial Council's standard rate of wages should be given. But no; the Ministry again sent a letter refusing to come to their help in order that these schemes should be put in hand at the most suitable time.

In a speech made, I think, on 25th May, or else in the annual report of the Ministry, the Minister stated that 600 internal drainage schemes have been passed for carrying out, and I want to ask him whether those schemes are of great importance, what is the amount of money that is to be expended upon them, and how many men they will employ. We turn with relief from the continual debating of international affairs, not to discuss the internal catchment boards alone, but to look at the whole picture of land drainage throughout England and Wales. I do not want to waterlog the subject with too many figures, but I notice, from the Ministry's own report, that the problem of this House is that there are in the lowlands of England and Wales 3,593,000 acres of land which are called lowlands, and are, therefore, subject to flooding, and we wish to ask the Minister what steps he is taking in order to prevent flooding, either in the Great Ouse or similar areas, the Severn area, or even the Yorkshire Ouse area, because it is only, I believe, two or three months ago that there was actually flooding in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Minister, in his report, points with pride to the fact that £750,000 was expended in 1936, but the point is not what amount of money has been spent, but how far the Department has been able to ensure that there shall not be such flooding, say, in the Great Ouse area as there was last year.

I notice that there is on the Paper an Amendment, the usual stereotyped Government Amendment, noting "with satisfaction," and so on. I suggest to the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment that they should change those words to noting "with great self-satisfaction," because that seems to be the keynote of what is usually said on the other side. I suggest that, while there are more than 3,500,000 acres of lowlands in England and Wales subject to being flooded, there are still 900,000 acres which have not yet been touched by any internal catchment board. How much of those 900,000 acres of lowlands untouched are suitable for agricultural land, and how far, if they were immune from being flooded, would they be an asset to the nation? It only a half of those 900,000 acres could be proved to be an asset, I suggest that the smug self-satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman's Department wants doing away with and that what we should have is a forward policy. To-day, as I have said, only 2,602,000 acres have been touched, and I want to know whether the balance is good agricultural land.

I wonder whether the Minister realises that the Severn Catchment Board Area is the largest catchment area in the country, but that notwithstanding the large area of 239,000 acres for which that hoard is responsible, seven years after the passing of this Act the board has only attempted to tackle 76,000 acres, so I do not think there can be any room for too much self-satisfaction in that regard. I put it to the Minister that the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board, notwithstanding the rebuffs which is has received time and again from his Department, responsible as it is for 350,000 acres, is proud, be it said—I say it with a little self-satisfaction myself—that it has attempted, out of its total acreage, to deal with no less than 327,000 acres, according to the figures of the Department itself.

With regard to another small catchment area in which I am closely interested, namely, the River Hull catchment area, which is very small, with only 60,000 acres, some 46,000 acres have been dealt with, notwithstanding again that the Ministry has made it as difficult as it possibly could for that catchment board to carry on, because while it said to the town of Kingston-upon-Hull, "You raise the money," the Minister has refused to give representation, and we say that where there is taxation there should be adequate and proportional representation. He has refused that with the Hull Catchment Board, and he has refused it with the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board. Indeed, he has loaded the Board with his own nominees, so that the county boroughs of the West Riding County Council can be out-voted on every occasion. His predecessor in office cast envious eyes on the £21,000,000 rateable value in the West Riding, and he foisted on to us the carrying out of works in the North and East Ridings to the extent of a quarter of a million of money. The contribution of the East Riding for the next half-year is £285 out of a total expenditure of £32,000, and the contribution of the North Riding is about £600 or £700, while again the West Riding County Council and the great boroughs in the West Riding have to foot most of the bill.

Therefore, we want the Minister to review this situation in the light of the experience of the past seven years, and we say to him, quite frankly, that if there are injustices, unwittingly or wittingly brought about, that is no reason why they should not be abolished, and we on this side of the House would enter upon the discussion of any remedial measures without political prejudice or bias. We suggest to the Minister that he should copy the Ministry of Transport, which has undertaken to make the administration of 4,500 miles of trunk roads a national charge. The trunk rivers of this country should also be made a national charge. I quite agree that to expect the East Riding of Yorkshire to put its house in order when its rateable value is so inadequate is to ask the impossible, and the same applies to the North Riding, but that is no excuse for trying to "pass the buck" and asking some other authority to nurse some of the Minister's agricultural babies. We ask the Minister to see that the incidence of the burden of carrying out these works in spread out in a fit and proper manner.

We have all heard of the River Don and its overflowing. I went to the area on Friday when the Don was within five inches of flooding as it did a few years ago when 600 houses were involved and great hardship was caused in Bentley and the neighbouring villages. Is the self-complacent Minister going to wait until there is another flood? The trouble in that area has been caused by mining in a rich coalfield, subsidence of land being the cause of the trouble. The Minister agreed to an expenditure of £1,000,000 to remedy the state of affairs there. The great county borough of Doncaster will pay in the next half year as it share £627 2s. 8d., while Leeds, which has nothing to do with it, is to pay £6,635 os. 9d., and Bradford £4,552 1s. 3d. What are the people who have caused this flooding paying? The Minister has nominated two mine-owners on to the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board in order that they can vote for the expenditure of money from the West Riding County Council and the great county boroughs. He overloads the voting power against those who really have to foot the bill. We suggest again that that is not cricket. The Minister, speaking on 25th May, said: Some of you look upon drainage and some of the public look upon drainage as an unnecessary service. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. We know that it is vital to this country that there should be adequate land drainage. What we object to is his Department mulcting us in an expenditure of money when we have not the power on these boards to control it. Again, on 25th May, the Minister mentioned to the Catchment Board Conference that there should be more co-operation between the catchment boards and water boards, and said that the Ministry of Health was going into the matter with a committee in order to conserve our water supplies. I agree that we want to conserve our water, even flood water, instead of wasting it as it is wasted now. There are villages throughout the country short of adequate water supplies. With a little pride I would like to say that, thanks to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) and others like him, an agreement has been made with over 20 villages for an adequate water supply from Bradford, which has recently made an agreement also with Dewsbury and so saved that town great expenditure.

Some hon. Members are concerned with young men's labour camps and the work of youth labour camps. One or two Members would like this class of work to be extended. Recently, certain Members have seen compulsory youth labour camps in another country. Under the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board undergraduates from Oxford came forward to spend part of their vacation in the beautiful countryside near Helmsley, and there, with 60 or 70 unemployed fellows from the Teeside, thoroughly enjoyed themselves for four weeks doing a good job of work. They worked four hours a day, which is plenty long enough in the summer, and enjoyed the rest of the time in social intercourse. Not to be outdone 18 young fellows came from Cambridge and joined 80 unemployed young fellows without distinction of class, but all on the same job of work to try to make the river Rye flow the proper way instead of flooding the countryside. They were able to do it to the extent of 400 feet of river. I mention that as one aspect of the work of some of the catchment boards. All we did was to lend them the implements, and, remembering the experience some of us had in this House on a recent occasion, I should mention that every one of those instruments was returned in good condition.

I plead with the Minister to put away any hidebound theories which may have been foisted on to him by Rehoboam who preceded him in office. When he came to the throne, King Rehoboam asked for advisers. The young men said: Your father whipped them with whips; you whip them with scorpions. The catchment boards do not need whipping in order to fulfil their duties, but where there is a poor catchment board in an area like the Great Ouse, it is foolish to expect it to carry out their work without adequate financial resources; and those resources should be forthcoming from the Ministry of Agriculture.

4.54 p.m.

Major Mills

I beg to move, in line I, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House notes with satisfaction the progress made under the Land Drainage Act (as shown by the recent Report issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries), welcomes the further assistance provided for schemes of land drainage under the Agriculture Act, 1937, and considers that any review that may be necessary of the administration of the Land Drainage Act should be undertaken after consultation with the local authorities concerned. In moving this Amendment may I assure the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) that I do not think the Act of 1929 altogether a bad one. Again, he dealt with the matter in a non-party manner and I cannot do otherwise after the tribute he paid to the hon. Baronet the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) and after the impartiality of the hon. Member who has just sat down in applying the term "self-satisfied" alike to himself and to my hon. Friend and to me. The hon. Member for Brigg seeks to commit the House to a statement that experience has shown that the Land Drainage Act cannot be effectively administered without further State aid. In my view, there is more reason to say that experience has shown that the Act is being effectively administered under present conditions. It is only necessary to contrast the state of things when the Act was passed with the present conditions to see how wide of the mark the proposition of the hon. Member is. The hon. Member spoke mainly about internal drainage boards, but I propose to deal with the superior authority, the catchment board, with which I am acquainted. Like many other Members, I can speak with knowledge of the conditions before the 1930 Act was passed and the conditions to-day, because I was a member of a drainage board set up in 1918, and since have been a member of a catchment board.

On 1st August, 1930, when the Land Drainage Act came into force, there was a state of things which was described by the Royal Commission as a tangle of authorities of the most diverse origins and powers, none of whom, however, had jurisdiction over more than a part of any of the rivers of the country and none of whom had adequate financial resources. That is not the case to-day. We have 47 catchment boards which have complete jurisdiction over the entire catchment areas of the principal rivers. These boards have been provided with financial resources adequate to their responsibilities, which consist mainly of the direct control of the main rivers of their areas, including the principal tributaries, and exercising general supervision over all the drainage of the areas. The experience of the six years during which the catchment boards have been in existence has shown that truly remarkable things have been accomplished in bringing the administration of land drainage in England and Wales up to date and in getting areas better drained. There is a useful guide to what has been accomplished in a report on the operations and proceedings under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, from the passing of the Act to 31st March, 1937, which has recently been published by the Ministry. It is an interesting document and I commend it to the attention of all Members. I give them the warning that the first edition is being rapidly sold out and that there is a great demand for it. The chapter dealing with what has been spent and accomplished, Chapter 8, reads almost like a fairy story. It does not deal, of course, with all the schemes that have been put up and with all that has been done.

This chapter and Appendix 8, which deal with the question of State aid, to which the Motion particularly refers, show that on 31st March last 71 schemes, estimated to cost well over £6,000,000, would have been approved for grants varying from 15 to 75 per cent. Since then more schemes have been approved and the figure is nearly £7,000,000. In considering these figures it is necessary to remember that there was an unfortunate but inevitable slowing up in all such work between 1931–34. Up to 31st March, 1934, only 10 schemes estimated to cost £296,000 had been approved. Since May, 1935, the order has been "full steam ahead," with the result that works costing nearly £7,000,000 have been approved. In Chapter 8 will be found details of the schemes approved, such, for instance, as the Rye Bay Sea defence scheme of the Rother and Jury's Cut Catchment Board costing £177,000; the sea defence scheme of the North Norfolk Rivers Catchment Board costing £10,000; the training wall scheme of the Great Ouse Board which cost £85,000 to begin with and a further £30,000. There are other expensive schemes of that great and important board, and of other catchment boards.

The schemes of my own board are not given in any detail. We have a State-aided scheme amounting to £37,000, and that has been approved for a grant of only 20 per cent., but we have not complained unduly. We are putting up a new and enlarged scheme on which we hope to get a higher rate of grant. Although we are the eighth largest board in area we are not a rich board, as will be seen from the fact that the produce of a penny rate is greater in 31 other catchment areas than in ours. In addition to our big scheme our menagerie of "Tiger," "Panther" and "Cub"—those are the names given to our dredgers—has dealt with nearly 100 miles of the Stour and its tributaries in a preliminary way and has got out of them literally thousands of fallen trees and stumps, and in addition to that preliminary work, has dealt completely with 4½ miles of waterway. I was a little sorry to hear the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) criticise the personnel of some of the catchment boards, and I was glad to note that the hon. Member who moved the Motion made no such criticism.

Mr. Quibell

None whatever. I think they are doing well.

Major Mills

Thank you very much. I entirely agree. I think the catchment boards are composed of people who are admirably chosen for their job. Those whom I know are experts on engineering and waterways or have very great local knowledge, and they are getting through their business in a most efficient, quick, and economical way, arid we are fortunate to get their services.

It would, however, be more to the point to dwell for a moment on the schemes undertaken by the Ancholme and Winterton Beck. Catchment Board with which, I think, the hon. Member is closely concerned. I have made a few inquiries and find that the board have been extremely active and have done very well indeed. They have two big problems to face. The first is the defence of the catchment area against tidal water, and the second is to improve their main water-courses so as to provide adequate drainage for the low lands and to maintain facilities for navigation. In the first problem they were very early faced with the difficulty caused by the erosion of the banks of the tidal River Humber, which form their northern boundary, but they got to work very quickly. They got approval for a 50 per cent. grant towards the money they were going to spend. The net cost was £2,328 and the grant was £1,164. Since then they have originated two bigger and much more important schemes. One which is estimated to cost £37,000, besides being for the benefit of land drainage, will also protect certain important highways. The cost of that was, therefore, split between the two services, and the drainage half of that, £18,500 I suppose, has been approved to rank for a 60 per cent. grant.

They have another big scheme to cost £20,000, and for that they have a 662/3 per cent. grant. As regards their second problem, the improvement of water courses, they have a big scheme to cost £23,000, and that has been approved for a grant of 60 per cent. It will be seen that that catchment board has been very active and has done very well, and I congratulate the hon. Member on its activity. It is futile to argue, in the face of the figures I have given, that further State aid should have been forthcoming, I should reply that they have fared very well. It may be said that all boards have not fared as well, and that is true, but it was always intended that grants should vary according to the needs of the areas, and the variation in the needs of the areas is so great that the variation in grant percentages must also be wide. The areas which are better off must be content with a moderate percentage. Here, for once, we have a needs test of which, I think, the whole House can approve.

Coming to the second part of my Amendment, I would point out that the hon. Member appeared entirely to overlook the point that further State aid was recently made available for land drainage under the Agriculture Act, 1937. The provision contained in that Act was largely welcomed throughout the country as likely to confer much benefit on agricultural land. The Act has only just been passed and cannot possibly be in full swing yet, and it does not seem to be reasonable to demand more State aid so soon. The grant under the Act of 1937 is 33? per cent. in ordinary cases, rising to 50 per cent. in exceptional cases, if expensive material has to be used. That may seem a moderate percentage, but it shows that the Government appreciate the excellent start which has been made in improving main rivers and that they are willing to spend money on improving those minor water-courses which finally link up with the field drains.

As regards the last part of the Motion, the proposal to amend the Land Drainage Act is surely of vital importance to the bodies charged with the direct administration of that Act. The catchment boards have formed a Catchment Boards Association, which includes among its members the large majority of the 47 boards in existence. Their views are surely of the highest importance if there is any question of amending that Act. At their last annual meeting this summer the Minister definitely invited the catchment boards to consider this very question. My own board have sent in several suggestions to the association, and when all the boards have done the same and the association have carefully considered and harmonised those suggestions, no doubt they will send their views to the Ministry. I sincerely hope that the Minister will then bring forward an amending Bill, if it is found necessary, to remedy hard cases such as the hon. Member has indicated, but I am against the hasty legislation which this Motion seems to suggest.

It may be argued that catchment boards have no concern with rating as they are not rating bodies. That is so, but it does not follow that they have nothing to say, or that their opinions should be disregarded; on the contrary, I think their views must be valuable. The House must remember that the catchment boards were placed by the Act in supreme control in their respective catchment areas, and have the responsibility for the general drainage of those areas. They have been put over the drainage boards, which do levy rates, and, moreover, in certain cases they can issue instructions to those drainage boards. It would seem, therefore, that the catchment boards ought to consider this question of the possible amendment of the Act, even though they may not have direct functions to fulfil.

I am convinced that, having regard to the inevitable delay that occurred between 1931 and 1934, the Act has been efficiently and effectively administered by the Ministry and by the catchment boards, that further time is necessary to see what the effect of the 1937 Act is, and that amendment should only follow consultation with the local authorities, that is to say with the catchment boards or, where there are no catchment boards, the county councils. In conclusion, I should like to read three lines from a letter I received this morning from the clerk of my catchment board, as it pays a tribute to the way in which the Ministry of Agriculture have administered the Act: In conclusion, I am pleased to say that the happiest relationship exists between the Ministry of Agriculture and this Board, and speaking for myself I have never found the Ministry other than exceedingly helpful. I should like to call the attention of the House to the helpful spirit shown by the Ministry, to associate myself with this tribute, and to thank the Minister and his officers.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. De Chair

I beg to second the Amendment and, in doing so, I wish to say at the outset that I think the Mover of it did quite right in concentrating attention on the benefits which have already been derived from the Act. An attempt was made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion to draw a red herring across the trail and to imply that the Act had been of comparatively little benefit. The Mover concentrated on its disadvantages—at least that was the impression I got—and if his Motion were carried it would definitely go out that the House had called attention to the administration of the Land Drainage Acts and was of opinion that there was an unsatisfactory state of affairs and that they would not operate successfully without further State aid. I think it was Disraeli who said that it was the duty of the Conservative party to show a passionate interest in drains, and in so far as the hon. Member opposite and his Seconder showed an interest in this problem of land drainage they were actuated by Conservative principles. It is a matter of regret to me, or perhaps I should say of doleful satisfaction, that he and his Conservative-minded friends who represent the agricultural interest on that side of the House are in a minority in their party, and I never fail to impress upon my constituents that if the Labour party were returned to power he and his friends who advocate the necessity for land drainage and other important works for agriculture would be in a small minority in the party. They would be rather like Jonah in the belly of the whale—their outlook would be very dark.

I do recognise that the hon. mover showed a sincere desire, in the interests of agriculture, that the drainage of the land should be made as effective as possible, but he ought to have shown more recognition of the enormous advance made under the Act of 1930 in comparison with the state of affairs which existed previously. We admit the somewhat doubtful parentage of the Act, but we are honest enough to admit that the offspring is growing up sturdily—in point of fact, it was a departmental Act, the outcome of a Royal Commission—and we are concerned to see that it is administered as effectively as possible. I shall attempt to show that it has been administered as effectively as possible. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Christchurch (Major Mills) pointed out that in the second part of our Amendment provision is made for going into the details mentioned by the mover of the Motion in consultation with the county councils and the local authorities involved, but it would be a great mistake if we were to imply that the whole Act was unsatisfactory, and to create an impression that the Government had done nothing in the matter of giving grants to land drainage.

In my own constituency I have been concerned with the operations of the Ouse Catchment Board. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) asked what had been done in that particular area. It will be within the recollection of the House that a considerable part of the Ouse catchment area was under water earlier this year and that dangerous flooding was only averted by strenuous efforts on the part of all concerned. I can tell the hon. Member that there are in preparation schemes for the Middle Level amounting to £40.000 and for the South Level amounting to £266,000. Those are in the nature of flood precaution schemes.

Mr. Muff

How long will it be before the money is expended—five months, five years or 15 years?

Mr. De Chair

This work is being put in hand straight away and will be accomplished at an early date. The whole point is that the work required for flood prevention in the Ouse catchment area is of a very much larger character. I understand that something like £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 is required to strengthen the walls of the Ouse and the training walls of the Wash. That is an enormous sum, to which the Government are prepared to make a grant of 75 per cent., if the catchment board undertake the scheme. I think that offer represents the highest grant made in the country to any catchment board.

When the flood broke out in March of this year I complained with some bitterness to the Minister that, generous as the 75 per cent. was, the floods were in operation and that it was a pity that money could not have been provided before to carry out the flood precautions necessary. We cannot deny that 75 per cent. is a very generous grant, and I think the Ouse Catchment Board will not deny that, but they recognise that they are faced with the problem of whether or not, in a thinly populated and comparatively poor area, they can raise the remaining 25 per cent. If the work required to be done would cost £4,000,000, the Government's grant would be £3,000,000, that is 75 per cent., and it would remain for the Ouse Catchment Board to find the remaining £1,000,000. That is a very considerable sum, and the Ouse Catchment Board are no doubt setting about deciding how they can raise it most effectively. Under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, the position is that catchment boards can call upon the county and county borough councils in their area for a twopenny rate. They cannot increase that rate and compel those authorities to increase their contributions unless a majority of the councils agree.

In the Ouse catchment area the position is that a twopenny rate raises £28,000 per annum. That sum has to go towards ordinary expenses, the maintenance of the works already in hand and other works that the authority wish to undertake. Another source of revenue for the catchment hoard is the internal drainage boards. The Act lays down that they can decide what they think is a fair contribution from the internal drainage boards. The position in the area is that the catch- ment board are asking the internal drainage boards to raise £32,000. Hon. Members may say that they ought to be able to increase the contribution from the internal drainage boards, but the position is very difficult when you realise, for example, that in the village where I lived, Hilgay, a penny rate raises £4 12s.—not very much towards a scheme costing £4,000,000. That is one of the difficulties under which the catchment board labour. If they got £28,000 from the county and £32,000 from the internal drainage boards they would command £60,000.

The question arises to what extent they can finance a scheme for which they have to raise £1,000,000. If you assume that they can raise this sum at 5 per cent., as they can do with the sanction of the Minister, it would cost them over a long number of years £50,000 per annum for interest and repayment. That is the position with which the Ouse Catchment Board are faced if they are to carry out this very extensive work. They do not suggest that the Government's grant of 75 per cent. is ungenerous and they are determined to see if they can raise the remainder. Naturally, if the Government could increase the grant, the action would be appreciated. Some people take the view that flood is really no more of a menace to this particular area than that of air raid from a foreign country, in which matter the Government are prepared to make a go per cent. grant for air raid precautions. You cannot say that a 75 per cent. is ungenerous, and the Catchment Board do not consider that it is so. They are setting about raising the 25 per cent. with all the energy they have. I have no doubt that with the co-operation of the counties and of the internal drainage boards, who realise the urgency and the importance of this matter, it will be possible to raise that 25 per cent. and to get on with the work involved.

When you come to the question of internal drainage boards it seems that the mover of the Motion completely overlooked the matter. He is surely not expecting that he can condemn the Government for a lack of work done under the grants to internal drainage boards; the Act was passed only at the end of last Session, in July. The future will reveal the enormous difference that the Act will make to the administration of the internal drainage boards, and the grants which are being made to them may substantially help them in their contributions to the catchment boards. The bottom is knocked right out of one part of the hon. Member's Motion by the fact that the new situation has been brought into being. There has already been a considerable rush to carry out work with the aid of the new grant. In my constituency an application has been made to the Ministry by the Downham and Stow Bardolph Internal Drainage Board for a grant towards work that will cost £3,610, and in the Hilgay Great West Fen drainage area, work has been applied for and application made for a 50 per cent. grant in respect of work costing from £1,000 to £1,500.

It is worth while going into the position, because when the floods were on in March these very people came to me and said: "We have these enormous tasks to fulfil. We have in Hilgay, for example, an obsolete pumping plant. The boiler is completely worked out, and it will cost £600 to replace it. How are we to do it?" I and others put those matters before the Minister at that time, when no grant was available for the internal drainage boards, but the Minister, fully recognising the justice of those claims, brought in at the end of last Session these grants for internal drainage boards. That is an enormous advantage to the agricultural community. It would certainly not convey at all a fair idea of the picture if the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member were to go out from this House. It is explained in our Amendment that this new access of strength to the land drainage of the country has been introduced, but the details which the hon. Member raised seem to be such as he should have written to the Minister of Agriculture about. There were particular cases of hardship, and in those cases—

Mr. Quibell

The Ministry have known about those, because they have had their attention drawn to the matter for years past. It is nearly three years since this matter was taken up, but the Amendment pays no attention to those gross inequalities.

Mr. De Chair

The Amendment suggests that the whole of the question should be gone into with the local authorities. Surely it is the local authorities who know all about the kind of detail with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. I have no doubt that the Minister is bearing that point very carefully in mind. The main point is that the Land Drainage Act has been administered and has done an enormous work for the land drainage of the country, as was pointed out in the figures given by the hon. Member, but the new grants to the internal drainage boards will certainly bring a greater access of strength to the position.

In conclusion, I would say that from the agricultural point of view the question of drainage is of paramount importance, which I think the hon. Member recognises. When one considers that one-sixth of the land of England and Wales is now under the administration of these catchment boards one realises how the task is being taken in hand under the Act. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) will know the history of the Fens as well as I do, and he will remember how Hereward the Wake defied the Norman Conquest from the Isle of Ely. The Anglo-Saxon chronicler tells us how William, who was in camp at Cambridge, found it necessary to throw a bridge across to the Isle of Ely and drive Hereward out. It is significant that a great part of my district, the most prosperous part of it, was marsh land, or under the Ouse. Its reclamation and protection are going on steadily under the Land Drainage Act. If the descendants of Hereward the Wake and the people who live in the Fens can, with the help of this Act and the Government, complete the conquest of the menace of flood, they will have carried out a great victory.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Riley

I would remind hon. Members that the Motion of my hon. Friend is concerned with a specific grievance. I want to emphasise that fact in order to call the attention of hon. Members back to that grievance. In doing so, may I say that others who are standing for the Motion have no particular quarrel with the Land Drainage Act of 1930, which is quite a different scheme, except in certain respects. It is a mistake for hon. Members to say that we do not think it has done good work or that it has not even been efficiently carried on. The word "effectively" occurs in my hon. Friend's Motion, and, personally, if I may be allowed to say so, I do not quite agree with that word "effectively"; but the specific question which my hon. Friend has raised is the question whether, in connection with the experience of this Act of Parliament, there is not an injustice to a considerable number of poor people who come within the provisions, particularly, of the levy for district drainage rates. That is the real question, and it is the question to which I would ask Members of the House to direct their attention. As to the usefulness of this legislation, which of course we wish every success, there is no quarrel whatever, but I would ask the House to consider the position of a large number of humble people who are affected by this Act in villages where the district drainage boards operate.

I may remind the House that the incidence of this liability comes into two categories, as regards one of which there is no quarrel whatever. In the first place, there is the catchment area, and there are a number of catchment boards, whose finances are provided by the whole of the ratepayers in the area, including the drainage districts, the areas of borough councils and county councils, and so on. Under the Act they all contribute, whether they live in a city or in a village, but the contribution in that case is limited to a maximum of 2d. in the £; that is the most that can be levied for the purposes of the specific duties of the catchment board over the whole area. On the other hand, the Act provides that, in those areas where there are district drainage boards, the liability for contributions shall be, not 2d. in the £, but the full amount which is found necessary for carrying on both the maintenance of existing works and the initiation of new or the improvement of existing works.

The grievance is that, whereas the comparatively well-to-do populations in the county boroughs and in the great urban areas are only called upon to contribute once, and to a maximum extent of 2d. in the £, the people in the drainage districts contribute twice. They have to contribute on an equal footing with the well-to-do urban areas, and they have also to contribute on a very heavy footing for the district drainage rate. Hon. Members will have realised that the district drainage levy is not limited to 2d. in the £, but may be such an amount as the district drainage board find is necessary, and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, in his locality, and in other localities too, even the agricultural labourer living in a village, in a cottage without a yard of land attached to it, the shopkeeper, the blacksmith, the publican, and so on, are called upon by the district drainage authority to pay, not 2d. in the £—they already pay that to the larger area—but 5s. in the £, and even, I understand, it may be 10s. in the £, upon one-third of the annual value of their property. That is the prievance which my hon. Friend is voicing here this afternoon. We contend that it is a grievance which has got to be met, and I hope that the Minister will address himself to it when he comes to reply. It is a substantial grievance, and it is emphasised by the fact that, while we all recognise our liability as residents and citizens, where-ever we live, to make our contribution to the problem of drainage and to dealing with the danger of flooding—that is clone by all of us in respect of the catchment board rate covering the whole area—

Sir John Withers

The Mover of the Motion mentioned that the landlord pays 1d. in the £, while the hon. Member says that the tenants pay 10s., or whatever it is. Would he kindly explain the difference between the 1d. and the 10s.?

Mr. Riley

In the case of the district drainage boards, the rate is levied, as prescribed by the Act, on, in the case of land, the full annual value as assessed for Income Tax purposes, and, in the case of other forms of property, on one-third of the annual value; but, while the total sum is received from these two sources, the liability which can be placed upon the landlord as such is only for that portion of the expenditure which concerns new works and improvements, whereas the other portion is for the maintenance of existing drainage works, and that is where the difference in liability lies. The House will see that there is in the present situation a substantial grievance, and we are asking the Minister to consider it and see what methods can be adopted in order to find a solution for it.

Before suggesting a solution, I would like to emphasise the obvious unfairness of the present incidence of this rate in the drainage districts. It lies in the fact that practically the whole of the work of a district drainage board is concerned with improving and protecting, not the property of the blacksmith, the publican and other residents in the village, but the land. The expenditure is for the purpose of making the land better for agriculture and farming, and we say that it is unfair to ask the labourer on a weekly wage living in a village street, or the blacksmith, the shopkeeper, and so on, to find the money to provide drainage for the land which serves the large farmer. The present operation of the Act is unfair as between two kinds of agricultural occupiers or owners. In the case of the big farmer in a drainage district, with a farm of, say, 500 acres, his average rent may be 15s. or 20s. per acre, but there may be smallholders in the same locality. Generally speaking, their holdings will be situated near a road, for the purposes of immediate access, and their rent may be £2 an acre, or sometimes even £3 and £4. Therefore, this rate falls upon them two and three times as heavily as in the case of the large farmer with 500 acres.

We suggest that the Minister, in view of the experience which has been revealed so graphically by my hon. Friend this afternoon, and of which the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, might very well bring in a small amending Bill to exempt the occupiers of non-agricultural hereditaments—that is to say, the mass of the people who live in houses with no more than a garden attached to them—in a district drainage area, from liability for this rate. That would be a simple thing to do. Of course, the money would have to be found from some other source, and my hon. Friend suggests that it should be found by giving greater assistance from the State. I am not very much enamoured of more State assistance, especially for landowners. If the assistance is to be given by the State, if public money has to be found to drain landlords' land, then the nation ought to own the land into which the money goes. We are not, however, very much concerned about that. If the Minister cannot see his way to bring in an amending Bill which would exempt all these non-agricultural occupiers from liability for this rate, which is specifically a rate for the drainage of agricultural land, and does not benefit in any way the mass of ordinary village people—if he cannot do that, he might go half-way by issuing some regulation whereby the liability to pay the rate should be, not upon the occupier, but upon the owner, with the provision that the owner should not be entitled to add it to the rent of his tenants. One of the anomalies of the Land Drainage Act is that all these rates fall, not upon the landowners, but upon the occupiers of farms, houses, cottages or tenements. The rate is levied upon all of these people, and only the small portion for which the landlord is liable may be deducted from the rent.

In conclusion, I should like to say a word or two about the Amendment. I notice that it says: and considers that any review that may he necessary of the administration of the Land Drainage Act should be undertaken after consultation with the local authorities concerned. We do not mind that, but I should like to ask how hon. Members are going to vote for such consultation? What is the Minister going to do? Is he going to meet our case by admitting that our Motion is right, or is the Amendment going to be adopted by the Government?

5.45 p.m.

Sir Ernest Shepperson

I would like at once to express my very deep appreciation of the kindly words that were said of me by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) in moving his Motion, and to thank him for them. I am rather tempted to risk unpopularity with the hon. Member by saying a very wicked thing, "I told you so." I was extremely interested when I saw that this afternoon we were to have a Debate on land drainage, and that the Mover of the Motion was the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). He has moved the Motion in, may I say, a very eloquent way. His Motion is a suggested Amendment to the Act, and may be considered a criticism of that Act. It is interesting that that criticism should come from that side of the House and not from this, because, as he has said, it was an Act of his own party, sponsored by Dr. Addison, the Minister of Agriculture in the Socialist Government of 1930. Therefore, we might have had that criticism from this side.

The chief grievance of the hon. Member against the Act is the incidence of taxation. The question of taxation and the form of the tax was decided in the Committee which sat upon the Bill, and, as the hon. Member quite rightly said at the time when the Measure came before the Committee, he himself voted in support of his own party's policy. I was on that Committee, a Conservative opposed to the Bill, and I fulfilled, as I thought, my duty as an opponent and opposed the Measure; but, unfortunately, I was deserted badly by many of my colleagues. When the Division took place I found myself alone, the solitary opponent. The hon. Member's speech and the Motion clearly show that had he realised what was going to be the implication of that part of the Act he would have supported me. I am confident that many of my colleagues on this side would also have been with me. The position is that, before the Act of 1930, the lowland areas in this country, which had been accustomed to be flooded, in order to save their land from flooding, formed themselves into drainage districts. They applied taxation upon an acreage basis. A cottage at that time, on a few square yards of land, would only pay the rate on those few square yards, which was not worth collecting.

After the Act of 1930, the whole catchment area was brought within the scope of that Act, and catchment boards were set up to govern the catchment areas. They had control, not only of the catchment areas, which were new to drainage matters, but of the old local internal drainage bodies. They exercised the controlling influence over those bodies, and altered the incidence of taxation, by taking away the whole system of paying taxes on an acreage basis and substituting a system of taxation based on annual values. The hon. Member, quite rightly, has pointed out that a smallholder in those areas, with land adjacent to a high road, often has a high assessment. He has, perhaps, never been an Income Tax payer, and has never taken the trouble to appeal against that high assessment; and he finds himself, in some cases, paying twice as much per acre as a large landowner. These catchment boards govern the catchment areas without having money to function, and they look for their revenue to two sources. The first is a precept that they ask for, and obtain, from the county authorities within the upland areas and the whole of the catchment board. The second is a precept that they place upon the internal districts in that area. We have no quarrel against that. Our difficulty is that the precept taken from the county area, the whole area of the catchment board, is limited to 2d. in the £, whereas the precept upon the internal districts is an unlimited amount. The case might occur that a catchment board has already expended the 2d. in the £ on certain activities, and that any further activities can only be paid for by the unlimited liability partner, the internal district precept. It may happen that, the 2d. in the £ having been spent, the internal district will have to meet the cost of other activities, whereas the work done may be no good to the internal district, and may, in fact, do it harm.

Mr. De Chair

The hon. Member knows that if the internal district object they can appeal to the Minister.

Sir E. Shepperson

The limit is 2d. in the £. If the drainage board exceed that amount, they have no other call for revenue than from the unlimited internal revenue. If they could not call on that, they could not carry out their duties. That is the difficulty with which they arc faced, and that is the reason why application is being made to the Government for a State contribution to the expenses of drainage. I am not one of those who are going to-night to criticise the Minister and the Government for not having been generous on drainage matters. I accept that, not only this Government, but past Governments, have been generous to drainage authorities in making State contributions to them. I want to thank the Minister for the statement he made a short time ago, that he is going to give further assistance to local drainage authorities and catchment boards; but I want to make this appeal to him, that he shall not penalise efficiency, that he renders similar help to efficient drainage authorities as to inefficient ones. It is the case with many local drainage authorities that a board has been very advanced, has kept its plant up to date, has taxed itself up to the hilt, and borrowed money for that purpose. A neighbouring district may not have acted so efficiently, may, instead of spending its money in that way, have kept the money in its pocket. When the Minister is contemplating helping those internal districts I ask him to render the same help towards the loans that the efficient districts have raised as he is going to render for the plant and works that the inefficient districts are contemplating obtaining under this assistance. I know that in a short time he will bring in a Measure dealing with the whole of this matter, but I put it to him that he should encourage rather than discourage efficiency.

5.58 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House that I should make a short intervention at this stage, not to bring to a close a very interesting discussion, but in order to indicate the attitude of the Government. For my own part, and having lately come to the duty of administering the activities of my Department, I have found the Debate very interesting and useful. There are a number of questions connected with land drainage of an extremely complicated character. They are not entirely a matter of getting water off the land, but they arise from the fact that every step taken in that service brings you into contact with local authorities and financial provisions, sometimes of an extremely complicated kind.

The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), to whom we are indebted for this discussion, said it was a non-party matter. I think it is almost more than that, because the hon. Member criticised the Act, for which his party was responsible, and I am actually defending that Act. My chief claim for that Act is that, on the whole, the catchment boards have carried out their duties in an admirable manner, and great strides forward have been made in connection with the problem of land drainage. Past experience, though it shows that there are flaws in the jewel, on a broad view, should not make us too despondent when we reflect on what is being done. I think the hon. Member who seconded the Motion was the only Member who scolded the Ministry and the catchment boards, and I think the general impression he created was removed by my hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest (Major Mills) afterwards. I think that I can without exaggeration claim that the relations between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a Department and those who have to exercise the duties of catchment boards have, on the whole, been very harmonious and usually helpful. I say that because I should not like it to be thought that the somewhat grave charges which the hon. Member who seconded the Motion made represented the general relations between the public and the Department over the matter of drainage. I do not think that anyone really imagines that that is the case, so I will try to deal with one or two of the more important points.

Mr. Muff

The right hon. Gentleman mentions in the report the fact about inharmonious relations. He does not put it quite like that, of course.

Mr. Morrison

I do not think that any two administrative Departments will ever see eye to eye, but I can say with truth to the House, that the relations between the Department and the catchment boards have been friendly. There have been differences, but I think we realise the difficulties of catchment boards. Though this Motion covers the whole aspect of land drainage, it has, in fact, been concentrated upon one particular point referred to by the hon. Member for Brigg and the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley). It is the question of the burden of rates upon persons who now have to pay. The one general observation that I would make about that is that any tax or rate is doubly onerous, and is felt as such when it is imposed upon people who previously escaped it.

I have a feeling—though I say this without prejudice to the closest and most sympathetic examination of the facts to which the hon. Member alluded—that a great deal of agitation in this case arises from the fact not that the rates themselves are heavy, but that they have to be paid at all by people who previously escaped payment. I do not say that there are not cases where, on an examination of the whole position, the burden is heavy, but it is quite clear that one reason why people now have to pay this rate who did not have to pay it before is the provision in the Act which makes annual value the basis for assessment instead of the previously almost, although not quite, general acreage basis. That was a decision that was come to in the course of the proceedings upon this Act when it was a Bill in the House of Commons. I do not want to rake up anything or waste the time of the House upon old, unhappy things and battles long ago. We are all liable to make mistakes, and do make them, but I should not like it to be thought that there was no case for annual value instead of an acreage basis. The House of Commons, on both sides of it, came to the decision—I have been reading the Debates—after a good deal of argument had been adduced to show that there was justice in the annual value as the basis. For example, there is this consideration. The hon. Member for Dewsbury, in a very suggestive speech, dealt with this matter as if it were entirely a question of improving agricultural land.

Mr. Riley


Mr. Morrison

His general argument was that the non-agricultural hereditaments ought to be exempted from this payment because it was, on the whole, an agricultural matter. Under modern conditions, that is not quite accurate.

Mr. Riley

I spoke of the internal district.

Mr. Morrison

I am coming to that. In many of the internal drainage districts to-day, I am advised, there is considerable urban property. The case of the hon. Member who moved the Motion is a very typical example. I think that the House and the public are inclined to get a wrong idea of this service by calling it land drainage. It is true that in a sense it is drainage, but an accurate description of it from the public point of view is flood prevention. If looked at in that light and its place in our social services is assessed, it is quite obvious that, in the case of an urban or semi-urban community in one of these internal drainage boards, floods may create 10 times the amount of damage they do in agricultural districts. Viewed from that angle, there is, I think, a case for contributions from persons who are so situated as to be very greatly damaged by flooding. That was a consideration which weighed with the Committee when the Bill was passing through the House, and it is the same consideration as the hon. Member for Brigg advanced when he admitted the justice of asking boroughs to contribute to the funds of catchment boards. It would surely be quite wrong that a borough which sometimes imports into the water-shed, through an elaborate system of pipes, water from another area altogether, and then proceeds to discharge it into the drainage arteries of the district, should be exempt from the general burden of drainage.

Though it is asserted that this is entirely an agricultural question, it affects dwellers in urban districts who are interested, like anyone else, in the question of flood prevention. The hon. Member for Brigg drew attention to the disparity which he alleged existed between the rates charged to occupiers and to owners. I hope that that matter has been disposed of by the explanation given by the hon. Member for Dewsbury. That is a matter which is imposed by the Act itself. It is the case, as he said, that in these internal drainage districts the owner can only be assessed in respect of what roughly may be called capital expenditure, whereas the work of maintenance falls upon the occupier. That is the Act that I have to administer.

Mr. Quibell

That is why I want it amended.

Mr. Morrison

Of course, the expenses of drainage with regard to the proportion that capital expenditure bears to maintenance varies greatly from year to year. The drainage board has to bear a great deal of capital expenditure when it has to re-equip itself with machinery, which is the principal feature of many drainage districts to-day. That would be greater than maintenance expenditure, but on the whole it would be true to say that, when an internal drainage board has equipped itself efficiently, the bulk of the expenditure is maintenance. I merely say that because I am sure that the hon. Member for Brigg would not like his Motion to be advanced on the footing that those who were responsible for administering the Act, whether the Ministry or the catchment or drainage board, are not doing their best within the limits of the Act. It is for that reason that I refer to it.

The hon. Member says that our experience has shown that certain Amendments are necessary. What I said last summer, when I had the opportunity of addressing the Catchment Boards Association, was that it would, no doubt, be necessary to amend the provisions of the Act, and I invited the co-operation of the Catchment Boards Association in the meantime in framing what they thought to be proper Amendments to the Act. I did that for this purpose. I find, when I have come to consider the whole of this elaborate financial structure of 1930, that I am overwhelmed with good advice as to how it should be altered. There is only one thing that is unanimous about the advice, and that is that it should be so ordered that someone else rather than the tenderer of the advice should pay more. I would not like to bring before the House amending legislation of a half-digested character, which would mean that I should put forward proposals with which one-half of the authorities concerned agreed, and the other half alleged was full of inequalities. It is for that reason that I have asked the association to help me in the matter, and if they are agreed upon what should be good Amendments, then we can see what can be done. For that reason I prefer the Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman because there are a number of authorities concerned in this matter. The finance is very complicated. The rating problem cannot be solved in any easy fashion, and the experience of the hon. Member for Brigg on the Committee on the Bill of 1930 should teach him the folly of undue haste in assuming that he or I would understand the case to the full.

Mr. Quibell

I am not afraid of the right hon. Gentleman doing that.

Sir E. Shepperson

When my right hon. Friend consults the representatives of the catchment boards will he at the same time also consult with representatives of internal drainage districts?

Mr. Morrison

Oh, yes, Sir. There are more interests than those to consult. There are local authorities who are involved very much in this matter. They have their own financial responsibility which they are anxious to safeguard, and I would certainly give the fullest consultation on this matter.

I wish to say a word about the particular trouble of the hon. Member for Brigg. I do so because I want to make it clear that he mentioned this matter to me personally. He and one of his hon. Friends came to see me, and I have been made aware of the difficulties. I have tried to see what can be done, working always, as I must, within the four corners of the Act, to ease the position. I have appreciated that he has felt very deeply with regard to the position, and some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House are in a similar position. But whatever the rights and wrongs, there are a number of people who have to pay this rate for the first time, and do not like it.

Mr. Riley

Poor people.

Mr. Morrison

Yes, poor people. There are ways, of course, in which a matter of this sort may, to some extent, be alleviated by administrative action inside the Act taken by the catchment or drainage board itself. The House will realise that in the machinery which catchment boards may adopt, there is really no coercive power for me at all. These are independent local authorities. My power is really restricted to seeing that the works which they propose are such as to justify the expenditure of public money upon them. They are bodies which have an independent existence of their own, and I have only a sort of supervision over the whole question. One of the things that can be done by internal drainage boards is to make differential rating orders, and these, when made, are submitted for the approval of the Minister, and if approved by him, come into effect. In some cases of hardship that device has proved very useful as a means of getting out of a particular hardship in a particular area. The other thing that could be done—and the hon. Member for Brigg himself suggested it—is that, in cases where there is a large urban area inside the internal drainage board, the boundaries of the board may be so delimited as to include a larger amount of the urban population, so as to give a wider basis for lucrative assessment for the relief of those concerned. In the case of this particular catchment board I am glad to say that they are making progress in that matter. They have been a very active body. They have been up to date in dealing with the great problems which confront them. They are only a small catchment hoard, but they have tackled their problems with great resolution and success.

It is the duty of every catchment board to arrange its interior boundaries for the purposes of the Act, and in this catchment area, considering the difficulties and the preoccupations of the board with erosion on the banks of the Humber which if it occurred would bring disaster to the whole area, I am not surprised that the board have found difficulty in framing an interior arrangement of the best sort. They have made one scheme and they contemplate a second one for the internal district affecting Brigg to include more of the town. That may assist the problem of the hon. Member. I can claim also for my own Department that in this matter we have done our best to be helpful in putting the views of the hon. Member before the catchment board and seeing what can be done. This work cannot be done as quickly as might be thought. Expensive surveys have to be taken before the board can make a thorough job of this sort of survey. I feel satisfied that the board are aware of the position and are anxious to deal with it, just as I am anxious and doing what I can within statutory bounds for the relief of hardships of this character.

The hon. Member who seconded the Motion asked me how the new grants to internal district boards were going on. I found his speech a little difficult to follow. He did not seem to get quite clear the demarcation of my responsibilities, the catchment board's responsibilities, and the internal drainage board's responsibilities. For example, he accused me of having led the catchment boards up the garden when I announced the new grant for the internal drainage boards last summer. I never promised anything more to the catchment boards. The new money was entirely for the internal drainage boards.

Mr. Muff

I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I had that in. mind. I am sorry if I did not make it plain.

Mr. Morrison

I accept what the hon. Member says and am glad that the matter is cleared up. These new grants under the Agriculture Act of last summer have only been in existence for a short time but already we have had applications for 74 schemes, which will cost £163,000. These schemes have been lodged with us and a large number have been approved. That figure, although it is not a colossal one, shows that this assistance to these bodies will be a real aid to many of them, and it also shows that they are appreciating it and are anxious to take advantage of it.

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, which I prefer to the Motion, for these reasons. The hon. Member for Brigg says in his Motion: experience has shown that the Land Drainage Acts cannot be effectively administered without further State aid If that only means that the State, through my Department, is to continue making grants at the appropriate rate for approved schemes, then there is no harm in it, because that is the intention. We shall continue to make grants at rates which are considered appropriate from time to time. The original promoter of the Act, in his speeches, frequently pointed out that you must have an elastic system of State support for drainage schemes because the resources and the problems of each district are varied so greatly. For that purpose State assistance will be and has been forthcoming and we hope to continue it. If, however, the Motion means that in general there ought to be greater participation of the public purse in the problems of land drainage and flood prevention, that is not a contention which on the whole can be substantiated.

Land drainage or flood prevention, although it is of great national value, is and will remain to a very great extent a local problem. The persons who benefit from a great arterial road are those who travel upon the road, whether they live in one part of the country or another, and those also benefit who have their goods transported by road; but in the case of a flood prevention scheme there are certain persons who will benefit more from it than other persons, and those are the persons living in the locality. I do not say that the State has no obligation to assist people in carrying out these schemes, according to the necessities of the case, but I do think that there is a limit to the point at which you can ask the general taxpayer, living remote from the scene of the flood, to contribute to what is a local problem. The taxpayer has his own local problems. If he has not floods to contend with he may have other problems in his district which impose heavy local charges upon him. For that reason there is a limit to the amount that you can reasonably ask from a distant person for what is really a local problem in one respect.

Mr. Bellenger

What additional problems or burdens will the taxpayer have as a taxpayer?

Mr. Morrison

The taxpayer, on the whole, pays taxes for what are national purposes, and as a taxpayer he is vitally interested in seeing these national purposes carried out, whereas in the case of floods, whether it is a scheme like that of the Great Ouse or other schemes, the people who are primarily concerned in seeing that that scheme goes on and that the land is properly drained and defended from water are the people living in the locality.

Mr. Bellenger

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. He said that it was not fair to place any additional burden on the national taxpayer, who would have additional problems in his own local area. I asked what additional problems or burdens will the taxpayer have in his local area as a taxpayer.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Member has misunderstood my argument. What I was saying was, that there are all sorts of local problems that perplex different localities. It may be floods in one district, it may be a high poor law rate in another. There may be many other causes, the cost of which falls heavily on the rates. In regard to the districts affected by these drainage and flood prevention schemes, my point is that there is a limit to the extent to which you can ask remote taxpayers to contribute to a local necessity. In the case of the Great Ouse we have announced that we are willing to ask the taxpayer to provide 75 per cent. of the cost of whatever approved schemes are put forward, and we have every reason to believe that the board are setting about their task and that they realise that the Government are anxious to assist them to overcome their particular problems.

Mr. Muff

The right hon. Gentleman has just said that people who are remote from the scene of the drainage area or the flooded area should not be expected to pay. Why, then, should Leeds and Bradford pay £20,000 a year in respect of the River Derwent?

Mr. Morrison

I am not saying that people who live away from these problems should not be asked to pay. As I have pointed out, in some cases they are paying—there is the case of the 75 per cent. grant which I have mentioned—but under the Act of 1930 the area of taxation for flood prevention was made the catchment area and everyone inside the catchment area has to contribute towards that local problem. I have never subscribed to the view that cities and towns inside the area have no interest in flood prevention. Many of these great cities and towns import into the catchment area vast quantities of water for the needs of their own citizens and discharge it into the drainage system.

Mr. Muff

Not the Don and the Derwent.

Mr. Hopkin

Among the matters which the right hon. Gentleman will put before the Catchment Boards' Association will he ask their views on the question of bylaws and how the by-laws suit the work for which the catchment boards were set up? I have particularly in mind the fact that the Minister has now declared that two very important by-laws are ultra vices.

Mr. Morrison

My invitation to the Catchment Boards' Association is in the widest and most general terms, as I am willing to receive their views upon all the problems that beset them and to give due consideration to them, so that legislation when it is possible will be of a kind likely to meet the wishes of all those who are interested in this vital question. For these reasons I prefer the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. It puts the matter into a fairer perspective. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg will consider that as there is so little between us on this matter, and this question of land drainage has always been conducted in a very non-party spirit from its earliest conception, it may not be necessary to go to a Division.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

In view of the fact that so many hon. Members wish to speak, I do not intend to keep the House more than a few minutes. The Mover of the Amendment came into this House in 1932 when appeals were made to the then Minister of Agriculture for assistance, because thousands of our people were turned from their homes and had to live in elementary schools for nearly three months. Apparently, the hon. and gallant Member was pretty satisfied then, and he is satisfied to-day. He has put down an Amendment which the Minister, quite naturally, prefers to the original Motion. The Amendment asks the right hon. Gentleman to do nothing. It says that certain things are necessary but that certain other things ought to be done in advance, such as consultation with local authorities, whereas the Motion is very definite and specific. The Motion refers to an urgent problem—inequality in the existing incidence of rating. We expect that the Minister will accept the Amendment rather than the Motion as an excuse for not telling the House that he is going to do one thing or another. I am not specially disturbed about that, but I would say this to the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment that they are easily satisfied and easily content. But for the fact that we had very disastrous floods earlier this year in the Great Ouse area I am not at all sure that the 75 per cent. grant would have been readily made available. I am not at all sure that, had it not been brought to the notice of the country in such an acute form, any grant would have been offered for that particular area.

Mr. De Chair

I said that the 75 per cent. was in operation before the floods occurred.

Mr. Williams

Whether it is sufficient or not is a matter for debate, but local people have never regarded it as the appropriate amount. In the Don Valley we had three floods in 13 months and on each occasion 1,000 men, women and children were turned out of their homes into elementary schools. These floods occurred for want of clearance in the main channel. This was an obligation imposed on the catchment board, but they were unwilling, without Government assistance, to undertake such a gigantic piece of work. The Minister of Agriculture offered us £30,000 for a scheme calculated to cost £1,100,000. Year after year the board has been pushing the Government—most Governments are like a wheelbarrow, they go when they are pushed. The last Government was pushed until the £30,000 became many more thousand pounds, and finally the last grant for the scheme was £300,000. T he work is being carried out, but not until disaster has overtaken the area on three occasions.

We feel that the 1930 Act was suitable for its purpose. It may be, however, that as a result of experience some weakness has been detected which is inflicting hardship on certain sections of the community, and if a case can be made out—I think a case was made out this afternoon by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell)—for immediate examination by the Minister, I hope we shall get a promise that the Government will deal with a hardship which nobody intended in 1930. The right hon. Member prefers the Amendment to the Motion since it asks him to do nothing except to say that before anything is done there will be consultation with local authorities. I would like to say this to the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment. He referred to Disraeli and declared that the Conservative party ought always to have a passionate interest in drainage. If they were as passionate in love as they are in drainage matters there would not be a married man in the Tory party. He made the remarkable statement that the 1930 Drainage Act was a Departmental Act, because it was based on the report of a Royal Commission. Therefore, it was not a Labour Government's Act at all. That is a very curious argument. Is he not aware that the Royal Commission reported in 1927 and that therefore a Conservative Government was in office for two years after that report and did nothing? The hon. Member will perhaps see the necessity for importing some passionate effort into the Tory party—it has been missing for many generations.

On the immediate problem before us I want to ask this question: The Minister accepts the Amendment, but he makes no statement concerning the Motion. In all probability it would be a wise thing, before amending legislation is introduced, to remove the inequalities of existing legislation, that local authorities should be consulted in advance. I quite agree with that part of the Amendment, but I should like the Minister to say that he is going to consult local authorities with the object of removing the inequality. in the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925, Section II Sub-section (1), there is a provision that the rating authority may by a resolution direct that in the case of property below the value of £13 per annum the rate shall be imposed on the owner instead of on the occupier. If the right hon. Gentleman will consult local authorities and make use of this section of the Act of 1925 it would in no way affect internal drainage activities or the activities of the catchment boards. I must confess that catchment boards without any encouragement from the Government have done really good work in the country, and that particularly applies to my own division.

Will the Minister, instead of accepting the Amendment which means nothing, tell the House that he recognises that an injustice is falling on those who reside in rural areas, the very poor in the rural areas, that a very definite penalty is imposed upon them, and that he will consult local authorities with a view to removing it? I know that everybody who makes representation on the question of rating would saddle the rates on some other section of the community. We are all aware of that; but none of us was aware that the Amendment moved by Mr. Walter Guinness, as he then was, now Lord Moyne, an ex-Minister of Agriculture, would inflict this injustice on residents in rural areas, otherwise there would have been a great deal of opposition to it. It is no excuse to say that it was the fault of the Labour Government. If any individual is to blame it is a Conservative ex-Minister of Agriculture who moved the Amendment and persuaded every Conservative Member of the Committee with the one outstanding exception of the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), to vote with him. But whether it was a Labour Act or a Conservative Act or a National Government Act is no matter.

Mr. Turton

The hon. Member will recall that the day before that happened a Conservative Amendment that a drainage rate should be limited to is. per acre had been defeated by the casting vote of the Chairman, and that every single Socialist voted that there should be no limitation of a drainage rate to 1s. per acre.

Mr. Williams

Like "the flowers that bloom in the spring," that has "nothing to do with the case." When Mr. Walter Guinness, as he then was, moved his Amendment in Committee changing the incidence of rating, he was responsible as well as those who voted with him, including the then Minister of Agriculture, for the injustice which now falls so harshly on residents in rural areas. Still it does not matter who was responsible; if the injustice is there it should be removed, and I want to ask the Minister to take immediate steps to consult local authorities where this injustice has been felt most intently, and if he finds that a case has been made out to take steps to remove this injustice. If he will give us a positive reply on that point there need be no Division at all.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I will say this. I have been convinced that a review of the provisions of the Act will have to take place, but this is only one of the matters which will have to be reviewed. I undertake in the course of the review to pay attention to this particular question, to consult local authorities on the matter, and see if there is some injustice which can be remedied or whether some better system of raising the necessary money can be found. I will undertake to do that.

6.41 p.m.

Captain Briscoe

I propose to detain the House for only a few moments, but I should like to thank the Mover of the Motion for giving us an opportunity of debating this subject this afternoon. It is a matter of great interest to many of us, of great importance to agriculture and of great concern in connection with the employment of people on agricultural land in many districts of England. I should also like to thank him for raising the matter, because we have got from the Minister an assurance that he will consult the local authorities concerned and discover what amendments are necessary to the present legislation. There was one great shortcoming in the 1930 Act. It was that the poorer internal authorities could not get a grant from the Treasury, without which it was impossible for them to carry out work which they knew was urgently required. That shortcoming was put right in great measure under the 1931 Act. During the Debates last March some of us appealed to the Minister to put that matter absolutely right, and the Act which was passed in the summer has done so. I am delighted that the Minister agreed to do what we specially asked him to do on that occasion. But in the Debates last March I also asked a question about a particular internal drainage board in my constituency which has had the greatest difficulty in carrying out essential works in its district. I refer to the Swaffham and Bottisham district. I understand that this district has made an application to the Minister recently for two grants, one for clearing out the engine drain, and secondly, a grant to enable them to renew the pumping installation at the point where the Bottisham Lode is pumped into the Cam. I do not know how far he has considered these applications, but I ask him to give the most sympathetic consideration to both, to consider what appropriate rate should be given to each and to do his best to choose the higher rate of the two.

6.44 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

I do not propose to speak long on this Motion. Unfortunately I was not present when my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) moved his Motion. I do not pretend to be an expert on what is a highly technical matter, but as it has been brought to my notice by certain residents in my constituency I feel it incumbent upon me to underline the grievance which has been so adequately put forward by the hon. Member for Brigg. I should imagine, after what the Minister of Agriculture has said, that there will be little object in dividing the House, but that is a matter for the Mover of the Motion. This matter was brought to my notice by a few cottagers in an area in my constituency which was once very prosperous. They arc now, I regret to say, almost equivalent to a distressed area. The cottages are exceedingly poor; perhaps some might be termed dilapidated. Nevertheless, because of the rate levied by the internal drainage board, severe hardships have been placed on the occupiers, some of whom are unemployed. The people did not pay the rates, they were threatened with distraint by the officers of the internal drainage board; and they appealed to me to do what I could for them. I took the matter up with the clerk of the board, and after discussing the matter with him, I came to the conclusion that he could hardly relieve these few people from the drainage rate that had been levied upon them; but I ascertained in the course of my investigations that, as I believe the Minister has already said, it is possible to relieve some of the occupiers from the drainage rate, but not on purely compassionate grounds. I believe that has been done in one area by placing the rate on a large town, the name of which I will not give, and that no objection was taken to the action.

In looking at the Motion and at the Amendment, I can well understand that the Minister prefers the Amendment. After all, he is only human, and in the Amendment there is some tribute paid to him. so that we could hardly expect him to refuse that gift which has been proffered to him by one of his own supporters. However, the Amendment implies that there is some necessity for a change in the law, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has indeed admitted that, and has given some promise that at some future date he will remedy these grievances to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg has called attention. Although undoubtedly the occupiers of hereditaments, as distinct from the occupiers of land, get some benefit from the drainage that has been inaugurated either by the catchment boards or by the internal drainage boards, they do not get that benefit to the same degree that owners of land do. That applies particularly to the area which I have mentioned. Those cottages in the little village of which I have spoken have no gardens, and when flooding does sometimes occur, the water goes into their cellars. It is easy to understand that these people feel aggrieved when they are asked, on top of floods in their cellars, to pay the drainage rate. There is no need for me to labour the point. I think it has been generally agreed by all sides of the House that these injustices need remedying, and I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not allow the matter to go on indefinitely before he takes some action to amend the present Land Drainage Acts.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. de Rothschild

I wish to join previous speakers in congratulating the Minister upon the speech he made. As we are to-day dealing only with administrative measures, there are no very great political differences between opposite sides of the House. Still, I wish to join in the Greek chorus, and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. When the question of drainage was dicussed last year, I made representations to the Minister that the internal drainage boards should be given grants for capital works. That was done by the Minister, and I very much appreciate what has been done in that sphere; but it must not be forgotten that the improvements of the internal drainage boards increase the difficulties which there are at present in dealing with many of the main rivers, because the speeding up and aiding of the discharge of flood water into the main rivers make the burden of water carried by the rivers considerably greater.

In the case of the River Ouse, which interests my constituency particularly, the improvements of the drainage board have year by year contributed to the constant dangers which threaten the banks of the main river, as happened last winter. I should be the last to advocate the slowing down of the improvements of the internal drainage boards. The remedy must be found in the improvement of the main river, and in particular of the outfall to the sea. In the case of the Great Ouse, the remedy must be drastic, and it will be expensive. The total cost cannot be less than from £4,000,000 to £5,500,000. As we have heard, the Government are prepared to give a grant of 75 per cent., but, as was pointed out by the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, it would be very difficult for the catchment board to raise the remaining 25 per cent., which is a very large sum indeed for a catchment board to find.

I would like to know from the Minister where the Government stand in this matter. Does the Minister believe that any scheme yet mooted is a feasible and an economic proposition? What is his view on the method by which the scheme can be financed by the catchment board itself, with the help of the Government? What is the ultimate limit of the Government's assistance? Is it to be 75 per cent. and no more? If so, how, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, can the balance required be found and the burden be distributed between the different classes of ratepayers in the catchment area? In his speech, the Minister tried to shed some of the responsibility that falls upon the Government, but I hope that in this case the right hon. Gentleman will not merely confine himself to saying that the responsibility for doing this work and finding the money is on the catchment board, and the people living in the area. I think we shall find out how the money can be raised, and it will be for the Minister to say whether the catchment board has the necessary powers to raise the money and do the work. The apportionment of responsibility between the Govern- ment and the catchment board will not get the work done, and it will not save the fens from disaster if there is another flood. Sooner or later the work will have to be done.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Turton

When the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) said that the Debate was degenerating into a Greek chorus, he must have been thinking of the frogs' chorus of Euripides; but I intend to take a rather different attitude from that taken by previous speakers. I agree with the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell)—and it has been my opinion since 1930—that the Land Drainage Act was a grave mistake. Hon. Members on this side of the House, who were in opposition in 1930, took that view when the Bill was before the House. Hon. Members have spoken of the Act as being an agreed Measure, but the present Deputy-Speaker moved an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading, and 54 Members of the Conservative party voted against the Bill on Third Reading. The reason we took that view was that we felt the Bill would place a grave burden upon agriculture. Mr. W. R. Smith, who at that time was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, said, on the Second Reading of the Bill: I am surprised to hear Members who represent agricultural constituencies, and who are connected with the industry, speak of this Hill as one that would place burdens upon agriculture. My submission is that it will take burdens off agriculture. "—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 24th June, 1930; col. 1103, Vol. 240.] I think that every one of the remarks made by that late Socialist Member have been proved to have been false.

Mr. T. Williams

indicated dissent.

Mr. Turton

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) does not agree that the Act imposes burdens on agriculture, but if he came to my constituency or went to the constituency of the hon. Member for Brigg, he could be shown the inequalities and injustices of -.he Act.

Mr. T. Williams

If the hon. Member came to my division, where the catchment board is carrying out a big scheme of work, he would see that all the farmers within that area are reaping a benefit from the Act.

Mr. Turton

What hon. Members of the Conservative party tried to do in 1930 was to get a limitation of the burden, and in any reform which the Minister may make of this Act, I hope he will see that there is a limitation of the amount of the burden of drainage rates. In the first place, in 1930, we moved an Amendment to the effect that the Government should pay two-thirds of the expenditure of the catchment boards, and the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Agriculture supported that Amendment; but the Amendment was not accepted by the Socialist party who at that time wanted grants from the Government for land drainage to be small. The hon. Member for Brigg is to-day advocating exactly the opposite policy; he is advocating a policy which he voted against in 1930. We asked the Government to give a large grant of 60 per cent., and I voted in favour of the grant being a large one. When my right hon. Friend amends this Act I hope he will amend it on the lines of the Amendments moved in 1930 by hon. Members of the Conservative party.

We moved an Amendment to limit the amount of the drainage rate, not to 5s. in the pound, as happens in the Brigg division, but to a much lower limit; we suggested that it should be Is. an acre. We were defeated every time by those very Members who are now deriding the Act and saying that they are the friends of the farmer, the smallholder and the allotment holder. I remember that in 1931 I asked that cottage gardens of agricultural workers should not be subject to the whole rate, but my request was greeted with laughter by the Socialists arid it was defeated by 25 votes to 12. The gargantuan laughter of the hon. Member for Brigg was heard on that occasion.

Mr. Quibell

It was not that we did not want to exempt cottage gardens, but that no one in the Committee was able to define what was a cottage garden.

Mr. Turton

Conservatives at that time pointed out that it was very unfair that an agricultural worker should have to pay three times the amount paid by a week-end cottager. That injustice has never been remedied. I asked Lord Addison, on the Report stage of the Bill, why an allotment holder should pay in drainage rates three times the amount pa id by a man with a garden, and Lord Addison said, "We will not bother about that to-day; I will take it up in the Lords and have it remedied." But it was never remedied, and under this Act a poor man with an allotment has to bear the heavy burden of the full drainage rate. Let me pass from ancient history to what is happening to-day. The internal drainage boards are levying very heavy burdens from people in rural areas. I have had many complaints from my constituents about the incidence of the Land Drainage Act. First of all, they complain that the rates are based on the gross annual value and not on the nett. In other words, the man who is a tithepayer has to pay rates not only on his own produce of the land but also on the tithe that goes at the present time to the Tithe Redemption Commission. I do hope the Minister will consider the possibility of the rate being based on the net annual value as opposed to the gross.

I have further found that there are grave inequalities in what land is rated. If the Minister will go to the Rye Drainage Board he will find there that men who live at the top of a hill 150 feet high are paying very heavy drainage rates under this Act, while other men who are living on land 100 feet high, within one mile, are being exempted from all drainage rates. I know that what is called "The Medway Letter" does define what should be rated and what should not, but unfortunately "The Medway Letter" makes rather vague allusion to land with approaches cut off in the event of flooding. That has enabled the drainage board to rate land which is over 100 feet high. I think the House will agree that if you are going to rate such high land, and even land 150 feet high, you ought to rate the whole area. There is a strong feeling that if you are going to have a drainage rate you ought to spread it as far and as wide as possible. Spread it to the source of the river and I think you will find then that the burden will be much lighter.

In my experience of this Land Drainage Act, unjust as it is, I have found it to be most justly administered by the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and of the catchment boards. I have never heard any complaint about the way in which they have carried out the tasks imposed on them by this Act. One thing further is that the burden on the drainage board may be relieved considerably by Section 15 of the Agriculture Act that we passed last year, but let the Minister not stop at that. Let him amend the Land Drainage Act and secure that we shall get grants for field drainage, so that the fields are also properly drained.

7.3 P.m.

Viscount Elmley

May I thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) for putting this subject down for discussion to-day, and the Minister for his very helpful and encouraging speech? I strongly support the view that this question of flood prevention and land drainage should not be treated in a party way; but if that is done, we must face up to the fact, as we did here this afternoon, that if the Act is not working out properly, all parties must take the blame. After all, this Act, although put into operation by a Labour Government, was based on the report of the Royal Commission appointed by the late Conservative Government, and, as far as I remember, was generally supported by Liberals. Perhaps there is a certain measure of lack of foresight attaching to those of us, like myself and other Members who have spoken to-day, who were on the Standing Committee which considered the matter, though that does not apply to the hon. Member who spoke just now or to the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson). Experience has shown us the defects of this Act, and whether we talk in millions, as the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion did, or whether we talk in hundreds of pounds, as I am going to, we should recognise that it does affect people just as hardly.

In my constituency there is a place called Caister-on-Sea where there has been some trouble, and before I talk about that I would thank the Minister and his Department for the very kind way in which they helped me to meet it. I think from the Minister's speech this afternoon the path of safety was shown which could be followed up—if the catchment board will adopt differential rating or exclude this place altogether from the purview of the Internal Drainage Board. What actually happened, I think should be put on record, because probably the same sort of thing happened in a great many other places. This large village used to spend £10 a year in dealing with a dyke which had been nothing more than a slight nuisance in the way of flooding. That was until this Land Drainage Act came into operation. Then a local internal drainage board was appointed, and nobody knows quite what it did because its meetings were held in secret; but, at any rate, the people who live there became astonished and alarmed to find demand notes for rates coming out of the blue on to them. When they came to look into it they found that when those rates were collected annually they would not come to £10 a year but to £700 a year. You cannot really blame these people for being alarmed and surprised, when previously it was only thought necessary to spend £10 a year on this matter, and then to have these notes coming along for a sum which amounted to about £700. Not unnaturally they wanted something done about this.

It was discovered that this money was going to be spent on new machinery, pumping plant and so on, which no doubt ought to have been done a great many years before. But then the people who live in this place put this to me. They said: "We have never had any floods here before, and it does not look as if we are going to. We would understand, if the sea were coming in, that this £700 should be spent on sea defence. But it is not. It is going to be spent almost entirely on agricultural land. It is not going to benefit us and we do not see why we should pay to benefit agricultural land which is not really any concern of ours." I was very glad the Minister referred to this in his speech. People who were, for instance, old age pensioners, were very disturbed at getting a demand to pay what was to them a very big sum of money. I still do not quite know what is the position where somebody gets a demand of this kind and where he is not in a position to pay. I should like to find that out, if possible. The people of this place did overlook this fact that one of the differences between agricultural and urban land in this matter is this—that when the agricultural land gets flooded, as it often does, in the long run no serious harm is done, because sooner or later the water goes away and not much inconvenience is suffered. But it must be remembered that in urban land a great deal more harm and inconvenience are suffered if there is flooding of houses. That principle certainly has got to be borne in mind. The position is that the catchment board can, at their discretion, make a scheme of differential rating, or leave this place out altogether on the ground that it gets so little benefit, and that I hope they will do in this particular case.

There is one particular matter about the appointment of these boards to which I should like to refer. I was asked to find out if this internal drainage board was appointed in a constitutional way. I made inquiries and found it was. I would like to put this to the Minister. These legal statutory notices of which we read in newspapers are not very easy to see. The part of the newspaper that you avoid in reading most is that part containing legal notices beginning with the word "Whereas," and going on probably for about a column. I think the average person misses that out; he does not read it, and you cannot blame him. When a local drainage board take over any function which was previously done by a parish council, or any body of that kind, they should inform the parish council what they are going to do before they do it. There is no obligation on them to do that now, but I think it would be a matter of courtesy, and make for smoother working, if they would inform any body of that kind exactly what their intentions are going to be. Only recently was it that this internal drainage board sent their Clerk to a meeting of the parish council to explain the position and to offer representation of the parish on the board. Why it had not done that before I do not quite know. It seemed to me rather late in the day when so much work had already been done. In conclusion may I thank the Minister very much for the part of his policy which was announced last summer where he stated that grants would be made for cleaning water courses and for putting in new machinery. I think those things will help a very great deal, and will make the lot of the drainage ratepayer much easier than it has been before.

7.14 p.m.

Mr. Haslam

The Minister in his able reply summing up the drainage situation truly said that there is a very large number of inequalities and injustices in the working of the Land Drainage Act. Now I wish to draw the attention of the Minister and the House to a grievance which has not yet been mentioned by any previous speaker in this Debate, that is to say, the grievance that, after the 1930 Act, a fresh district which hitherto had not been included in an internal drainage area was so included. That district to which I refer is the old market town of Horncastle and the district around. It is an upland district drained by a small river which, in its upper reaches, is a fairly fast-flowing river, something like a trout stream; and the drainage of that whole district has hitherto proved satisfactory. They had, think, a drainage board of their own. and I believe the rate was only one penny in the pound, or even not as much as that. When they were included in the internal drainage board area, together with a large lowland area where pumping had to be carried out all the time, the rate increased from one penny to 2S. 6d. or even 2s. 9d. in the pound.

That increased rate fell on everybody concerned. It fell on large owners and small owners alike, on the well-to-do man and on the poor man, and, as the Minister very truly said, people who have been accustomed to pay a rate of one penny in the pound do take strong objection when they are asked to pay a rate of 2S. 6d. or 2s. 9d. in the pound. It is only natural that they should want to know how such an increase is justified. Of course, the reason for the large increase in this case was the fact that the lowland area, in which pumping work had to be carried out continuously in order to keep the land in a usable condition, had to bear a very heavy rate, and the method of giving that area relief was to include this other area, which, generally speaking, had been satisfied with its drainage arrangements up to that time.

The people of Horncastle, naturally I think, show the strongest objection to the change. A great many of those affected are poor people. They object on principle to the rate and have allowed themselves to be fined. Incidentally, when the Minister amends the Act he might very well do away with the part of it which allows fines to be levied. These people allowed themselves to be haled before police courts; they had their goods dis-trained with results which everybody knows. Painful scenes and much public indignation have ensued. There is a remedy for that state of things under the Act. I do not propose to weary the House at this late stage by quoting the terms of the Act, but the remedy lies in the differential rating to which the Minister referred. An internal drainage board is given power to divide an area into sub-districts and if it considers a district overrated it can reduce the rate or indeed abolish the rate altogether in respect of that district. The Act in this connection refers specifically to the question of altitude, using the words by reason of its height above sea level or for any other reason. In the case to which I am referring, however, the internal drainage board has steadily refused to put differential rating into operation. I would like to emphasise the fact that, according to the Act, they have complete power in that respect. They have to gain the consent of the catchment board which has levied the rate and there has to be confirmation by the Minister but if the internal drainage board in the first place say "No," that is an end of the matter. The Minister has no power. But although the Minister has no power, he is able to give reminders to the board, and I am very glad that my right hon. Friend did remind this particular internal drainage board a few months ago of their power in this respect. I am also glad to say that after three years of this heavy rate with all the trouble and indignation and expense in prosecutions which it has entailed, the board has consented to reconsider the matter and has set up a committee to examine the question.

I should like to express my appreciation and the district's appreciation of the Minister's action in this matter. Knowing what the Minister has done to remove inequalities to the best of his ability within the framework of the Act, I deprecate criticisms of his administration. I know from experience during the last three years how attentive the Minister and his officers have been in regard to the many difficulties which I, as a rural Member, dealing with these anomalies and inequitable cases, have had to encounter. As the Minister proposes to amend the Act there is one point to which I hope consideration will be given. It does not seem right that these powers in regard to differential rating should be vested in an internal drainage board which consists of representatives of the lowlands, of the uplands and of the urban people who are elected each to represent his own particular constituents. If any amendment of the Act is undertaken, consideration should be given to the proposition that some more impartial body should decide as between these different interests. At any rate, I suggest that there should be a right of appeal before a final decision is made.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer briefly. It is a very grave disadvantage, in my view, that all the catchment boards and drainage authorities do not hold their meetings in public. Catchment boards bring forward vast schemes. There is one coming forward now in my district. But the board meets in private and there is no explanation, no justification and no criticism of their proposals. That is contrary to the whole principle of local government, and to the principle which is followed in this House. When public money is being expended, there should be an opportunity for public criticism and public justification of the proposal. I believe that many catchment boards do hold their meetings in public and I express the hope that the drainage authorities in Lincolnshire ill follow the example set by practically all local authorities and by this House and that, as spending authorities, dealing with public money, they will hold their meetings in the presence of the Press. I will not detain the House further than to express my satisfaction at the fact that the Minister has promised to amend the Act. I agree with the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) that it needs amending at no distant date, because these inequalities produce great resentment and deep feeling, and hinder the operation of the Act.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. Liddall

I do not intend to join in the general chorus of congratulation which has been bestowed upon the Minister, because I am annoyed at the right hon. Gentleman for having intervened in this Debate as early as he did. After the proposer and seconder of the Motion and the proposer and seconder of the Amendment had spoken, there was only one speaker on each side of the House. We have heard a lot about the injustices that are being experienced in the rural areas, but I regret to say that the built-up areas, the areas which provide most of the money, have not been permitted to voice their complaint in the House this evening. I merely register a protest on the ground that no one has been heard from the built-up areas, especially the area which is more hardly hit than any other by the administration of this 1930 Drainage Act. With that I sit down, as I have promised to do, in order to permit the Minister to reply.

7.25 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

With the indulgence of the House I wish, in the few minutes that remain, to put forward an aspect of this question rather different from those which have been put forward already. I refer to a system which is intended to improve drainage, to improve the quality of water supplies, to improve fisheries and to equalise, or rather to spread the incidence of taxation. Having listened to this Debate, I am more than ever convinced that we shall never achieve real success in the control of our rivers unless we are prepared to centralise and co-ordinate in representative bodies, all the powers and duties which concern particular rivers and their tributaries. I refer lion. Members to the fourth report of the Joint Advisory Committee on River Pollution which should now be in their hands. In that report the recommendation is made that all the powers and duties in connection with a particular river should be centralised in one body. The report goes on to suggest that the whole question of this co-ordination and centralisation should be laid before an authoritative body which would look into the matter and make recommendations. I urge hon. Members to read that report. If they do, I think they will agree that a very strong case has been made out for centralisation such as I suggest.

Major Mills

I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, as I understand that the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) following on the Minister's statement, proposes to ask leave to withdraw the original Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Mr. Quibell

In view of the very sympathetic response of the Minister to our appeal, and the promise to inquire into the matter with a view to introducing amending legislation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.