§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," resumed.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling
We now go back to the River Boards Bill, and I was saying when we were interrupted by the Private Business that although I represent a constituency with a 12-mile frontage to the River Thames, and I am also a member of a local authority on the same river, that river is outside the scope of this Bill. My interest in this Measure is as a member—I think the only one in this House—of the Executive Committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which, as hon. Members may know, co-ordinates the efforts of 44 different national associations concerned in preserving rural scenery and the amenities of the countryside, and in protecting them from injury. This Council holds very strongly—and in agreement with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards)—that on each of the river boards there should be one member, or more, appointed for the specific purpose of representing the interests of amenities, and with the prime duty of guarding them from injury.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) asked for a definition of amenities. I will define amenities in connection with this Bill by defining the threats to amenities. These are fourfold: 2024 first, there is the threat of the pollution of rivers by sewage or trade effluents, about which we have already heard a great deal in this Debate. The second danger is that river boards may widen, deepen, and straighten river courses beyond what is necessary for proper drainage. I could give a very good example from my own constituency—the River Colne. It is not affected by this Bill, and is not the River Colne to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred; this Colne flows from Hertfordshire through Middlesex into the Thames. It has been deepened, straightened, and embanked to an entirely unnecessary extent, and to the ruin of its scenery. The third threat to amenities from river boards is the destruction of trees and aquatic plants, with the inevitable disturbance of fish and, very likely, their extinction. The fourth threat consists in general injury to riverside landscapes, to which the beauties of this country owe so much.
§ Mr. Keeling
I am not suggesting for a moment that adequate steps should not be taken against flooding.
The Minister suggested that councils of counties and county boroughs could be trusted to protect these amenities, but under this Bill there is no obligation to take them into account. Clause 2 (5), which makes representation on river boards proportionate, to some extent, to rateable value, does not suggest that at all. The hon. Member for Huddersfield said that people with broad minds were wanted on the boards, but what reason is there to think that the representatives of local authorities would be selected for their broad minds? There is nothing in the Bill to ensure that. The hon. Member also said that we did not want any sectional interests on these boards. What about the fishery interests, which are to be specifically represented? I suggest that they are a sectional interest, and that amenities are not a sectional interest. There is no one in the country who, in his heart of hearts, is not interested in protecting the amenities of our rivers. I believe it is a mistake to suggest that representation of amenities on these boards would be the representation of a sectional interest. I do not understand how there could possibly be any real 2025 objection to it, and I hope that when we reach the Committee stage the Minister will agree with that view.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I hope the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) will forgive me if I do not follow up his remarks, although I must add that I am very sympathetic to most of the points he has made. I join in welcoming this Bill, chiefly because I understand from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that we may regard it as the precursor to specific legislation. That legislation is, I believe, long overdue. Action in connection with pollution of our rivers, drainage, and fisheries is extremely urgent.
I want to deal particularly with the question of pollution and fisheries, with some special reference to my own constituency. The tendency to take away from local authorities some of their functions, while quite inevitable—and we must recognise it these days—is, in some respects, to be deplored. But in this case I do not shed any tears at all over the elimination of 1,600 local authorities concerned with river pollution, and their replacement by, I believe, about 29 new boards. These boards can at least take a large and comprehensive view of the wide areas which will come under their control.
At present, the position seems to be this: that the control of pollution is shared by far too many different bodies operating on one and the same river, with the result that those well downstream may just as well do nothing if the stream has been contaminated in its higher reaches, or if it is likely to be contaminated below them. I hope that the public conscience will be really stirred as a result of today's Debate. It is an absolute scandal that this country's lovely rivers and waterways have, in many cases, been allowed to become stinking ditches and open sewers. That is strong language, but it is language which, I think, can be appropriately used. It is more true, of course, of industrial areas than other parts of the country.
So far as the industrial areas are concerned one would except to some degree the West Riding of Yorkshire where efforts have been made to counter and overcome this trouble of pollution. The threat to health and the threat to angling interests, however, as well as to amenities, 2026 cannot be exaggerated, so long as the present general situation continues.
I now draw the attention of the Minister to what is going on in my own constituency. Bedford and the river which it is on are partners in establishing a pleasing atmosphere and a pleasing setting for local people and for visitors alike. There is in my constituency a flourishing angling club. I will read a letter that I have here from the Assistant Secretary of the Bedford Angling Club, which deals with the recent disgraceful pollution of the Great Ouse in the vicinity of the town. The letter states:May I record my disgust and alarm at the great mortality of fish in the town stretch of our river this past week. There must have been many thousands of small fry dead or in the last throes of suffocation. I learn too, of the death of three swans also in the town stretch, and that a fourth is not expected to recover.All this is due to coal tar or coke residue poisoning. It can be observed rising from the bed of the river, and it appears to explode on reaching the surface, sending out a large patch of oily substance. This on a fish's gill-cover means certain death.But the main thing is that polluted streams are the source of our drinking water. Scientists are still only working on elementary data as to the cause of typhoid, paralysis, and (among cattle) foot and mouth disease, and it is my firm belief that when a stop is, put to rivers running like open sewers we shall see an improvement in the position regarding bacterial diseases.The culprit in the shocking case put forward in the letter I have read is none other than the local gas works. Public opinion in my constituency has been very deeply disturbed by what has happened. A visiting angler has told us that he has seen roach, tench, dace, gudgeon and minnows jump out of the water on to the bank where they died. This particular individual has very sensibly sent samples of the water in the polluted area to the Ouse and Cam Fishery Board at Cambridge. Of course, the Bedford Gas Company has apologised. I would add that had this particular undertaking been nationalised at the time of the incident I have mentioned, I would, naturally, not have allowed them to get away so lightly.
I ask the Minister for an assurance that under Clause 2 (2, b) he will see that in the Great Ouse Catchment area as a whole, fishing and drainage interests will be as largely represented as possible on the appropriate river board. This particular Clause appears to allow for some 2027 flexibility in the numbers serving on the board for a particular district. My question is put because of the great importance of both angling and drainage in Bedfordshire and in the surrounding area. Incidentally, I was glad to hear, in reply to a question which I put to the Minister in his opening speech, that the words "fishing interests" include anglers as such, and fishing interests are not for the purpose of this Bill confined just to the net fishing interests in the estuaries or mouths of rivers.
Speaking of estuaries, enables me to draw attention to the abominable conditions which obtain in many parts of the country where rivers run into the sea. These conditions provide an impenetrable barrier for fish that want to go up the river as well as for smolts on their way down. Let us take the River Lune in the North Western part of the country as an example. I am familiar with this particular river from where it rises in the charming part of the country known as Ravenstonedale in Westmorland to where it runs out to the sea, in a filthy mouth, in Morecambe Bay. In 1945, no fewer than 52 salmon were picked up dead by water bailiffs within a mile or so of the town where the river enters the sea. Many of them had been fed on by gulls flying inland where infection could be spread as the result of the fish being in a poisoned condition. The figures for brown trout caught at a given point at the mouth of this river declined for the particular year 1921–22 from 872 to a mere 63 in 1946.
It is this river which pours water into the sea in an area covering 150 miles of coast line from Liverpool to Barrow-in-Furness where the discharge of crude sewage for every mile each 24 hours is reckoned to be in the region of not less than 200,000 gallons. This represents, roughly, 40 large bucketfulls every yard daily. In this particular cesspool, thousands of bathers disport themselves in the summer months, and many of the shrimps and prawns we eat live and feed in the area. Cod fish and flat fish in the vicinity are often caught with their eyes out and their fins and tails corroded by the acid which is discharged into the sea. All I have said illustrates the urgency and the magnitude of this problem of pollution.
I have not the time to go into other aspects of the situation which are covered 2028 by the Bill, but if it helps to clear up some of the shocking and disgraceful things I have described, it will have proved well worth while. At any rate, I wish the Government well in going ahead with its provisions, and I look forward to some early legislation to follow.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) has some connection with my constituency in that Bedford is on the Great Ouse, which passes through my constituency, out into the sea. It is one of those rivers which do go into the sea. I have yet to know one that does not. The Debate has gone according to the expectations of the Minister, and the various interests have been discussed. It is obvious that many of those interests conflict. The Bill is the outcome not only of the latest report but of White Papers, reports, and Royal Commissions which go back as far as 1865. My feeling is that all those inquiries have never really faced the fundamental trouble of our rivers. They have said that there are many interests which conflict and they recommended a compromise which, while it does not satisfy all the points demanded by one interest, does not offend any of them so grievously as to make it oppose the plan.
I want to draw attention to the purpose of a river. When we are talking about river boards, it is important that we should get the purpose of a river clearly in our minds. Paragraph 4 of the Milne Report says:It is, in fact, impossible to give an order of importance which would apply to every river.I disagree with that statement. I believe it to be evasive nonsense. The Ministry ought to get back to nature. If they went back to the natural causes of rivers, and even if they were in favour of the realisation of the Vision of St. John the Divine, in the 21st Chapter of Revelations, that there was no more sea, they should at least accept the fact that rivers perform a perfectly natural function, which simply is to carry off the rainfall, sleet, hail or snow, which the earth cannot hold. I believe the purpose of a river to be to carry off the rainfall which the earth will not hold, and to get it away to the sea.
2029 We have known since the Creation that man's interference has upset that process. I would like to remind the House of the origin of the word "drainage." It comes from a very old English word "dreahnian," which means dry. Unless one is a manufacturer of mackintoshes or umbrellas, one would like to think that everybody would remain dry. Hon. Members have given us a historical account of the rivers that run through their various constituencies. They have gone back as far as Charles I. Perhaps I might go further back, to the Creation. We must remember that the dry land was first ordained on the third day, and that food has been produced from that dry land ever since. Fish were ordained on the fifth day, but man arrived only on the 6th day. Ever since then, our rivers have suffered as a result of man's interference.
On this matter of drainage, I want to stress what I believe to be the fundamental purpose of the drainage of a river. I shall not say this only because I am particularly interested in drainage authorities, but because I believe that unless we try, in the Bill and in the legislation which will follow, to realise the fundamental purpose of a river, we shall land ourselves into confusion which may have very disastrous results not only upon our own generation. I do not believe that we can accept the hopes which have been expressed by some Members who gave evidence before the Milne Committee, that the idea of serving a river will inspire all the interests concerned to forget their own antipathies and to work purely with esprit de corps for the sake of the rivers; it is putting the river on the same basis as the Golden Calf and I do not believe that that will succeed. We have to realise that the Great Ouse and the Red Sea have different characteristics, and that just because the Red Sea was divided to let the Israelites through, we cannot expect that the worship of a river, which seems to be indicated in the Milne Report, will succeed.
I will now quote from paragraph 57 of the Report, which states:We are of opinion, however, that the principal defect of the existing system is not the overlapping functions, nor the possibility of conflict between interests, but the fact that no single body is charged with the duty of co-ordinating the various river interests or with the duty of ensuring that the requirements of all such interests are fully weighed when questions affecting the river are under 2030 review, with the result that the river is not used to the best advantage of all the interests concerned.The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) referred to these points. The conclusion we must come to in asking what are the interests which will serve a river is that those interests can be summarised under three heads. We must curb, and if possible, eliminate, the possibility of river flooding. We must have an assurance of pure and adequate supplies of drinking and domestic water for three-quarters of the population of England and Wales—from the Milne Report that is the percentage of population which relies upon water supplies coming from rivers—and we must ensure that the fishery interests have the opportunity to catch healthy fish. Those are by far the most important considerations affecting all rivers. Particular places may have interests of considerable local importance, but I believe that none of those subsidiary interests exceeds in importance the three which I have stated.
I am sure that the Minister desires that Members who serve on the river boards should be experts. He said so in his opening speech today. If that is so, let us see who the expert ought to be, to serve those three main purposes which I mentioned. Obviously there must, first of all, be drainage, water and fishery experts. The Minister announced in his opening speech that he proposes to put back Clause 2 in its original form. That is a great betrayal of the drainage interests. I suggest that the Minister of Agriculture should tell us why he said that we should not talk about a vote on the matter. Was he forgetting that there is a different sort of vote from that which is going to be cast inside the river boards themselves, a vote of the county boroughs for the political party? I very much wonder whether this matter has something to do with what is happening. This decision will affect agriculture in a disastrous way.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I thought I had made my meaning quite clear. I was saying that the county borough councils obviously represent a great interest in the country. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will let me pursue my 2031 point, I think I can make it clear. I believe that the decision to restore the original drafting of the Bill is disastrous to agriculture. It is obvious that the moment we start discussing drainage we think not of agricultural drainage, but of the drainage of the urban areas. I am not suggesting that the urban areas should be overlooked, but I believe we should be up against a problem of the proportion of representation between the two. I believe the Minister has come to a wrong decision in giving so much representation to the county boroughs.
The Bill is really based on contributions. Though the Minister said we should not have representation on a proportionate basis, I believe that the reason the county boroughs are being given such a prominent place under Clause 2 is because they are the people who often contribute big amounts. I believe that to be wrong. Other Members have said that those who pay should get representation on the basis of he who pays the piper calls the tune. I should have thought that this Bill would treat the rivers as one complete entity from the source to the estuary, and do what is best for them. If that be so, it is not always true to say that those who contribute the most are the most likely to serve the best interests of the river.
There is another basis on which we might work. It is possible that we might conceivably work on an acreage basis, but the difficulty there is that the drainage of one acre of urban land can clear more water than the drainage of one acre of agricultural land, because of tarmac, rooftops and the like. There is another basis which is very sound from the point of view of this Bill, and that is risk. What happens if the drainage goes wrong and the water is not got away to the sea in the way it should be? Who are the people who suffer most? The right hon. Gentleman has a sufficiently vivid memory of last spring to know quite well that the agricultural interests often suffer grievously and in particular is that so with the Fen area, upon which he relies a great deal, as does the Minister of Food, for an important item in our diet, namely, potatoes. There is no area more affected by flooding than the Fens. It is risk that we should work on.
I am interested in this matter of why the county boroughs should be chosen. 2032 About 50 years ago, the buying of commissions in the Army was abolished. What the Minister is now asking is that, because the county boroughs may be in a better position to pay than perhaps some of the internal drainage boards for the work done by the river boards, they must have the greater say. That principle is interesting when it comes from a Government whose views about profits, and that sort of thing, are those of the present Government. I would have thought that money would have been the last consideration which would have been allowed to creep into this. The Minister would improve this Bill if he based it on the risk involved rather than on anything else. If something goes wrong, whose is the greatest risk? If those people with the greatest risk are given the greatest representation on the river boards, we would have a far more stable set-up.
§ Mr. Alpass
Does the hon. and gallant Member say that there is no risk in water getting into a house and spoiling its contents?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Not for one moment do I suggest anything of the sort. I hope I made it clear that there are two aspects of drainage, agriculture and urban, and obviously both must be represented. I am not suggesting that we should exclude either one or the other, but it seems to me that the proportions about which we are arguing at the moment are wrong.
There is another matter that I wish to mention, and that is the matter of water supplies. Clause 9 gives great powers and, as has been indicated by the Minister in his speech, these powers will enable river boards to conserve water. No one will quarrel with that, and it is one of the best points of the Bill that Clause 9 exists. Before the Bill finally becomes law I hope the Minister will also give some thought to the steps he might take to reduce the consumption of water. The amount of water used today is very much greater to do the same sort of job than it was 100 years or 50 years ago.
Any of us who served in the desert during the war had a horrible awakening as to what had to be done with a small amount of water, and it is quite extraordinary what can be done in a one half-pint mug of water. One could wash one's teeth, shave, and wash one's socks and 2033 handkerchiefs in that one half-pint of water. I am not suggesting that a Socialist Government should impose such a stringency upon the unfortunate housewife at the present time, for she already has to go through a good deal, thanks to the Government. I urge the Government to give more attention to the actual consumption of water as opposed merely to conserving it. There is no mention in Clause 9 of underground resources, and before I conclude, I shall say something on that point. Several hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer), mentioned the matter of the amendments to the Land Drainage Act, 1930, not being before this House before this Bill was presented. I very strongly support all that he said, which was borne out by the hon. Lady the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills). It would have been highly desirable to have produced an omnibus Bill incorporating all the water legislation, including that at the present moment administered by the Minister of Health.
Some of the Clauses in this Bill will be out of date in a short time if the Amendments to the Land Drainage Act are considered as soon as I hope they will be. In particular, there is the second paragraph of the Third Schedule of this Bill, which states categorically which Sections of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, affect this Bill. I have been looking at some of the amendments which have been suggested to the Central Advisory Water Committee, and, if the Minister does not know it, I want to inform him that the Sections stated in the Third Schedule to this Bill will be out of date in a very short time if the amendments which have been recommended to that Committee are put into effect.
I do not know whether the river boards—for it was not clear from the Minister's opening speech—are to be on the lines of the map at the end of the Milne Report. I rather gathered there is to be some variation in that matter. What I feel strongly about in this respect is the Fen area, because on that map the Nene and Welland Catchment Boards are merged into one. I do not deny that there is a great need for closer liaison between the catchment boards, although they have done very good work in the past, but if the argument for merging the 2034 Nene and Welland Catchment Boards is the fact that, between the area of those two boards, there is a barrier bank which, if it breaks, allows the water from one river area to enter into the area of another, that argument equally applies to the barrier bank existing on the southern side of the Nene Catchment Board area, which, if it breaks, will allow the water of the Nene Catchment Board area to enter that of the Great Ouse Catchment area. In other words, if a barrier bank breaks anywhere the water from one river area will go into the area of another board.
On the basis of that argument, if that is the argument—and I do not know whether it is or not—that induced the drawing of the map at the end of the Milne Report I would say that if carried to its logical conclusion it would mean that all the catchment boards in the Fens at the present moment divided by barrier banks ought to be under one board. I am certain that that would be a very great mistake, because there is nothing in this matter as important as local knowledge, and already some of the catchment boards have been criticised for the fact that they tend to be too remote. It is, therefore, important that we should look around and see if there is another way of doing it. I believe there is.
We shall have to thresh it out in Committee, but I am putting forward a suggestion to the Minister now in order to give him as long as possible to consider it. I suggest that a permissive Clause should be inserted in the Bill to allow the Minister to set up liaison committees between contiguous river boards, in particular in places where more than one river board drains out into the same estuary or bay. The sort of areas I have in mind are the Wash, the Thames, the Severn and the Humber estuaries. In the Humber estuary the Lincolnshire, Hull and Yorkshire Ouse river boards might be concerned in a liaison committee for that area; in the Wash estuary, the Ouse, Nene, Welland and Witham river boards; in the Severn estuary, the Wye, the Severn, the Avon and the Somerset river boards; and, so far as the Thames is concerned, the Roding, Essex and Kent river boards, the Thames Conservancy Board and possibly the Port of London Authority as well.
2035 I put that to the Minister in the hope that he will give it his consideration because I believe there are some things which affect all these rivers, and that if one river takes its own line it may make it very difficult for one of the other rivers also draining into that estuary. I suggest that the membership of it should be approximately two per catchment board, with the clerks of the respective present catchment boards or the new river boards taking it in rotation to be secretary to the liaison committees. We should be able to achieve quite a considerable improvement when calamities happen or when there is any question of building training walls in the sea and so on.
I would like also to deal with the matter of governmental administration. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) touched on it. It is said that it is very difficult for a man to serve more than one master, but this Bill has the bright idea of imposing three on the river boards. It reminds me of the old limerick:There was an old person of LymeWho married three wives at a time.When asked, 'Why the third?'He said, 'One is absurd,And bigamy, sir, is a crime.'I am not suggesting for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman has not given this matter some thought. While the name of his officer will be a very important one in connection with the work done by river boards in the future—Agriculture and Fisheries—at the same time I am inclined to think that we shall suffer from far too much interference from the Ministry of Health. Navigation will obviously be one of the subsidiary interests in many of the rivers, but the last thing we want is to have the Ministry of Transport suddenly popping up and querying a decision already made by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I would rather see the right hon. Gentleman taking the title of Minister of Land and Water and being responsible for all the water administration of the country. I dread to think what will happen to these unfortunate river boards if they are to be administered by the Minister of Health one day, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries another and the Minister of Transport occasionally.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I dare say that will come into it. If this Bill aims at centralisation, which I believe to be right in this case, it is very stupid for the Ministers concerned not also to aim at the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to encourage the river boards to take far more interest in pollution. We had a slang expression in the Army, "To brass up people." When concluding his speech, the right hon. Gentleman, instead of brassing up the river boards, blew his own trumpet, which was the last thing he should have done. Having blown his own trumpet, he seemed to forget that what he is doing in this Bill is to make it far more difficult for the agriculturists in the country to do the jobs they are at present doing.
The point I wish to leave in the Minister's mind is that the first people who will suffer if things go wrong in the river boards are the agriculturists. Therefore, he should be a little more favourably disposed towards these people who are not only experienced agriculturists but have consistently served the main purpose of the rivers since they were first created, and that is, to get the water away and keep the land dry. Let him remember that the water was there before the land. As far as my constituency is concerned, the lower he can keep the level in the Fen rivers, the better pleased we shall be.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
In introducing the Bill, the Minister spoke with a certain amount of enthusiasm for it, and in listening to this Debate, I have heard expressed in all parts of the House an enthusiasm which will be found among a large number of people outside this House. This is an attempt—only one of many attempts which, I hope, will be made—to solve a problem which has been troubling this country very materially for a good many years, that of flooding. It also deals with river pollution and the beautifying of our rivers and waterways, and I shall refer to all three subjects. While I express a certain amount of enthusiasm for the Bill, I have also to express a certain amount of disappointment at the constitution of the new river boards. I hope we shall have on these boards men of real enthusiasm for their 2037 work, as we have had on the catchment and drainage boards.
I must express a tear here that, as in the case of the catchment and drainage boards in the past, these new boards will suffer from a lack of funds. I wonder how the Minister arrived at the figure which he believes will materially assist these boards in their work. There is at present a great amount of work to be done if we are to prevent the happenings of the past. I live in and represent a constituency which for many years has been subjected annually to very severe flooding. If we are to tackle flooding, it must be done on a national scale and the application of measures to prevent flooding will involve an enormous amount of money. It is, therefore, only right and proper that the national Exchequer should be responsible for the money which must be forthcoming if this problem is to be tackled, as it must be tackled, in the immediate future.
On the question of river pollution, Clause 9 lays down that the river boards can from time to time report to the Minister. I believe that the Minister will be responsible and not the river boards, and I would like this answered because it is important. While certain powers are laid down and the Minister will ask for reports, who will be the authority to take action against firms which send their trade waste into the rivers—or private individuals or, let it be said, county councils or boroughs, which still send their effluent into the river on a large scale and are at present the greatest culprits in river pollution?
That has been allowed to go on for a long time. Am I to understand that if a report is made from a river board to the Minister concerned, he can then be in a position to take, and will take, responsibility to see that the nuisance is examined immediately? I remember a case not long ago of a river which fed a large turbine plant in connection with a generating station. The screening plant was clogging materially, and it was impossible to get a sufficient volume of water throughout the plant. After careful consideration and analysis it was discovered that crude sewage was responsible and, after investigation, it was found that the crude sewage was being put into the river some six miles away from those works. It might have been a serious 2038 matter for the local authority had immediate action not been taken by them and the nuisance obviated. Reference has been made to the enormous expense which will be involved by any local authority at present discharging this effluent into the rivers if they have to put down a sewage plant. In the interests of the general health of the community, however, they should put down this plant, and they should have done it years ago instead of waiting till now. So I am concerned about river pollution from what I have seen and know of it.
I pass to the plea made in all parts of the House, which I hope the Minister will accept, that the river fishermen of old England shall have better representation on these boards. I am an enthusiastic fisherman. I know of no better sport and I know of no better way of spending a day than sitting by the side of a river alone with Nature and one's own thoughts, away from the hurly-burly of the world and at peace. It is the fishermen who, in the main, will help to protect and preserve our rivers because of their close association with the rivers, because of their desire to be able to catch fish instead of finding that, as a result of river pollution, the fish are floating on the water dead, or that there are no fish to be caught because they have been poisoned by effluent. These are the people who will give more assistance than anybody else towards clearing our rivers of this pollution, and will report to the Minister or anyone else should they find it. The plea has been made from all parts of the House, and I ask the Minister to reconsider this because, in the set-up of these boards, the fishing interests are not being represented properly. If he will do that, he will earn the grateful thanks of the million or more fishermen who want to see the rivers improved considerably.
I am interested also in water conservation. It has always been to me a strange and idiotic thing that in times of flooding we have enormous amounts of water and then, during the summer months, along has come a drought and farmers have had to get rid of their cattle and sheep and pigs, and crops have been allowed to be burned up because of lack of rain. While in this country nature has provided us with more water than we need throughout the year, because we have failed to take 2039 effective, scientific measures to preserve the glut of water during the floods, we have to suffer on an equivalent scale during the droughts. So, from the standpoint alone of the possibilities of an occasional glut, it will be in the greatest interests of this country and in the end, despite the cost, which will be on a large scale, it will save in the value of crops probably thousands, if not millions, of pounds in summer when we have long periods of drought, if we do something about water conservation.
I regret that because of the short time at my disposal I have to conclude now. I am keenly interested in this matter, and I look forward to the next Bill, which I hope will be introduced almost immediately, dealing with water drainage and the prevention of flooding. I welcome this Bill as a preliminary to what is to follow, I hope it will follow soon, I congratulate the Minister, and I hope I shall have the pleasure of doing so on the introduction of his next Bill.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) with great interest, both as a brother angler and because he said a great deal which interested me. I shall not follow him because, in my short speech, I wish to touch on some of the same points. I welcome this Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. River legislation and administration in the past, from a layman's point of view, has been involved and confusing. I believe there are 45 fishery boards, 53 catchment areas, and 1,600 pollution boards. Yet quite a lot of districts have not any boards to deal with their rivers at all. In my own part of the world, near the headwaters of a river, I do not remember in 24 years any member of any board coming to see me about anything. Therefore, I agree that consolidation is needed and is overdue. The River Pollution Act of 1876, even when it was young, was not very efficient, and now it is 72 years old. It is really ridiculous that in all that time we have never altered regulations such as those which allow mines to discharge absolutely untreated water into a river. I hope this Debate will help the work of the Central Advisory Water Committee, and that on the Committee stage we shall 2040 get some Amendments, and that the Debates will help the next Bill, which I hope will not be long delayed.
As regards representation, I am sorry that the Minister will not accept the alteration made in another place, for I believe that alteration was right, and that what the Minister said in his arguments against it proves that the weak part of the Bill lies in the financial provisions rather than in the arrangements for representation. I suggest that the money deficit on the part of the fishery and drainage boards might be made up by a grant from central funds without having to upset the balance of power, as one may call it. It has been my experience on local authorities that you do not get them to take much interest in fundamental matters relating to rivers, that is, drainage and fisheries. We put some of our members on various boards where, I have no doubt, they do excellent work, but the councils seem to take little notice, and these subjects are seldom discussed. I had an example the other day which was to do with county boroughs and that impressed on me what the attitude of many county boroughs is towards rivers. A new satellite town is being built in a corner of my constituency and the chairman of the council designing and arranging it had meetings at which people were allowed to ask questions. Someone asked what was going to be done with all the excess water which was going to be discharged into the neighbouring brooks as the result of miles of tarmac roads in a town of 60,000 inhabitants. He said that it would go into the brooks, and then into the River Mole, after which it was the concern of the Thames Conservancy. To all intents and purposes he said, "That does not worry me, that is their trouble." But this is a very serious matter, from an agricultural point of view.
I fear that the main interest of many local authorities is keeping down the rates rather than preventing pollution and improving the fertility of agricultural land. Although county councils will do their share I do not think county boroughs will be very much interested in drainage or fisheries. At the moment they are much more concerned about the way in which the rates are going up because of new fire brigades and new schools, and they will not spend money on big schemes to prevent pollution.
2041 Like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) I am on the committee of the British Field Sports Society, which is investigating pollution in a great number of rivers. It has issued two reports, copies of which I see in the hands of some hon. Members. The evils of pollution cannot be exaggerated. It affects us in various directions. It affects the question of water supply in the first place. Especially in the East of England water supply gets shorter every year and in spite of the efforts of the Minister of Fuel and Power I think we shall require more water for baths as time goes on and have difficulty in finding it unless something is done about pollution.
I come now to the question of fresh water fisheries. There are hundreds of thousands of anglers who, like myself and the hon. Member for Kidderminster, get pleasure and recreation from fishing. A noble Lord in another place said that there were two million fishermen.
§ Colonel Clarke
Fresh water fish today provide a certain amount of food. I know that in the old days they were not so palatable as sea fish, except in the case of trout and salmon, but we do get a few calories and proteins from them, and if the pollution could be got rid of in the area of spawning-beds upstream, and the estuaries could also be cleansed, there would be an increase in the supplies of salmon and trout. That would mean a substantial increase in the amount of food. In 1871 from the River Tyne no less than 121,600 salmon were taken. They were taken by commercial fishermen, not by anglers just fishing for sport. Yet in the last quinquennial period, 1941/5 the average catch was only 701 fish. I think the Minister of Food would be very glad today of that great number of salmon which used to be obtained. They are a very high class food, not only high class in price, but in actual food value. I believe a good deal of the sport of anglers could be improved because in many rivers there would be salmon to be caught by anglers where today there are only coarse fish. Not that I want to say anything against coarse fish. I think that a really good roach fisherman is as good a sportsman as a salmon fisher and the man who gets up at dawn to catch carp is as good as 2042 the man who goes out in a boat after a 9 o'clock breakfast to catch trout.
I regret that the Minister could not see his way to arrange for panels of fishing representatives from whom he could choose members for the river boards. Failing that, I think it would be worth while for every river board to have a statutory fishery committee. The fishery boards are being completely abolished under the Bill and there is a danger that valuable accumulated knowledge will disappear and be lost. There will be a loss of continuity and we shall have to build up a tradition of technique again. I think the Bill has great potential value. It is really only paving the way for a bigger Measure to follow. I hope the Minister will put into cold storage certain suggestions which have been made today for that later Bill. I was a little surprised that he was so pleased about this Bill because I believed the motto of his Party was more that of facing the future than of consolidating the past.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)
Like other hon. Members I welcome the general principles of the Bill. It seems perfectly logical that in the new river board areas the various interests, local authority, fishery, drainage, pollution and so on, which in the past have worked independently, should now be co-ordinated. But that co-ordination can only be really successful if the various elements building up the river board feel satisfied that they have got their rightful place on that board.
I make no apology for devoting the few moments available to me for putting forward the case of one group which still feels a sense of grievance. I hope that the Minister will do all he can to remove that grievance. I refer, of course, to the anglers. The Minister may well feel that he is doing justice; it might even be argued that he is, but it is not enough merely to appear to be doing so, it must be manifestly obvious to the people concerned that he is being just. They feel that rather than gaining something under the new Bill they are losing something they have had for many years. Under the old fishery boards the angling interests had direct representation. That now disappears, and those who represent angling interests, are to be appointed by the Minister.
2043 It is, of course, true that the Minister has conceded a little during the progress of this Bill in another place. At first, under the Bill, the representation of the angling interests was to consist ofpersons appointed to represent fishing interests in the river board area. …nothing more. Now the Minister has agreed to add that those persons shall be appointedafter consultation with any association or person appearing to the Minister to represent a substantial fishery interest in that area.That is an advance, but it still withholds from anglers the opportunity of having direct representation by persons acceptable to them and to their organisations.
Nothing definite is laid down as to what the representation of fishery interests shall be. It would be a good thing to try to make it more definite. Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, the anglers were given the right to nominate their representatives on the fishery boards. It was quite logical that they should do so because they have paid and do pay a considerable sum for licences, and it is right that their point of view should, by statute, be represented. If the Minister says, "That is all very well, but there are many societies and associations of anglers, quite uncoordinated, and how am I to decide which is to be considered in this matter of representation?" He will find that the point can be met by an Amendment which has been put down by some of my hon. Friends to empower the Minister to accept a scheme submitted jointly by the fishery interests. In other words, if the Minister is prepared to accept a scheme, then a scheme will be forthcoming.
My next point concerns the matter of committees. Under the Bill, the boards have to set up a finance committee, but they are left free to decide what other committees they shall set up. It would seem reasonable and logical to lay down that there shall be special committees to deal with such matters as drainage, pollution and fisheries. I would like to see in the Bill a definite instruction that a board shall have a fishery committee.
My next point refers to the funds of the existing fishery boards. So far as I understand the position the new river boards will take over all the finances of 2044 the existing fishery boards, and will, of course, take over all the future revenue from licences, etc. This income has in the past been used by the fishery boards exclusively to promote fishery interests. Under the Bill as it now stands there is no guarantee that these funds shall be so used in future, and it seems as though they will go into the general pool. Anglers feel that money which has been collected specifically for fishery matters should in future continue to be used for fishery purposes. The Minister may say, "If this is done, and if the money so given is to be used for fishery interests, you must accept the converse that only such moneys—and no others—must be used for fishery interests," and that therefore there might be nothing further forthcoming for those interests. If the Minister puts forward the point of view that there must be a pooling of all the moneys, that money cannot be reserved for fishery purposes, it becomes all the more essential to ensure the full and adequate representation of those fishery interests.
In view of the short time at my disposal I will not go into this matter of pollution, much as I would like to do so. To make these river boards work it is essential that there should be the enthusiastic co-operation of all the interests which are to be brought into a co-ordinated whole. The anglers who, as has been mentioned, number somewhere between one and two millions, are very much interested in this matter. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have not been given full and fair treatment so far. I hope that between now and the Committee stage the Minister will think again, and see what can be done to make sure that these river boards start off happily and harmoniously.
§ 8.57 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) spoke about the amenities which can be affected by river pollution. He confined his remarks to the destruction of these amenities within the close range of the river itself, such as tow paths, walks by famous beauty spots and so on. I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to another aspect of this same question. It can happen that the pollution of a river may affect the amenities of the countryside a very long way away, even a hundred miles away. I will give a particular and important example.
2045 An hon. Member who represents a Liverpool constituency mentioned how serious is the pollution at a river mouth in his constituency. I will show how this contributes to the spoilation of the Lake district. Where the industrial areas of South Lancashire find they are unable to draw water from their own rivers to supply their needs, they search further afield. The easiest place for them to find good water in large quantities is in the Lake District. Now, therefore, we have the unfortunate spectacle of one lake after another being turned into a reservoir. I hope the time may not be far distant when the Lake District may become a national park. When that time does come it is to be hoped at least some lakes will be left in their natural state. We do not want to be protecting merely a chain of reservoirs. There are some people, of an engineering turn of mind, who see a great deal of beauty in the enormous concrete dams which we find at the outfalls of these lakes, but the majority of people in this country would prefer to see the lakes left in their natural state and the polluted rivers of Lancashire cleansed.
I would ask the Minister to say how he envisages that these river boards will connect up with the county agricultural executive committees. Those committees have certain responsibilities for land drainage and I hope that he will be able to explain that the link up has been properly worked out, and that there will be neither duplication of functions, nor a gap which will leave part of the field covered by neither authority.
Now I wish to refer to the River Tees. One hon. Member representing a Huddersfield Division spoke about the "guilty men" whom he hoped would not be allowed representation on these river boards. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) spoke at some length, and quite accurately, about the pollution by industry at the mouth of the Tees. Further up that particular river there is another sort of "guilty man," and I do not know whether hon. Members realise how important this other "guilty man" has become. I refer to Government Departments. Very wide powers are granted to Government Departments to build installations of one sort or another. They may be camps for the Army. This is a case of the Ministry 2046 of Supply building a factory. I think that it is worth while, in one minute, to explain exactly what happened. During the course of the war the Ministry of Supply built a factory in that area, and because of security, or so-called security, reasons, the local authority had virtually no knowledge of the purpose for which that factory was being built, nor had they any power to enforce the by-laws. I believe that in fact plans were deposited as a matter of courtesy, but it was not generally known what the object of the factory was. It happened to be the production of penicillin which produces an effluent of a particularly noxious kind.
Since that factory started work, a long argument has been going on between all the authorities concerned and today, although this sounds like Alice in Wonderland, the effluent from that factory is being carried by road in tankers from Barnard Castle and deposited in the sea, I think, at West Hartlepool.
To the best of my information, it has not yet been finally settled. Even if the matter has been settled, it does not detract from my argument which is that for a long period of time, at great expense and inconvenience, effluent from a factory has been carted by road and dumped in the sea because the local authority had no real knowledge or power over the Government Department which settled in its area and built this factory. I would not have mentioned this matter but for the fact that I understand that the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Lavers) is ill and unable to be here today. I thought that it was such a flagrant example of bad planning that this Debate would be incomplete if it was not mentioned. In conclusion, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy himself?
It was erected during the course of the war. Of course, that made it easier for the Department concerned to plead security reasons. None the less, what has happened once could very easily happen again. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be sure that, before this Bill finally leaves this House, he or some 2047 other Minister has powers to ensure that this sort of lack of planning and waste of time, effort and money, is not going to be repeated in the future.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
We spent a great deal of time yesterday, and we have spent the greater part of tonight, discussing water, yet I think it is true to say that the House will agree that this Bill and the Measure we discussed last night only touch the fringe of the problems which concern us in connection with the water supply and the water resources of the country. Our discussions on this Bill have really centred around two particular topics, the representation on the river boards and the question of pollution. I do not think that any voice has been raised in disagreement with the general proposition that river boards should replace the catchment boards, the fishery boards and the 1,600 authorities responsible for the prevention of pollution. We accept the view that it will be better to have one board discharging these duties in one area.
However, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the warning given in the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) of how very serious it will be if the River Tamar is included in the Devon River Board. I hope that he will appreciate the real risk that he may run of being involved in another civil war if that mistake be made.
A good deal has been said in the Debate as to whether the lowest limit for county council and county borough representation upon the river boards should be kept at a half or increased again to three-fifths. The right hon. Gentleman announced that he proposed to put the Bill back as it was before it was considered in another place. I must say that, listening to his reasons, I did not find them in the least convincing. I cannot conceive why it is that a Minister of this Government, who have shown themselves so avid for power, should be reluctant in this instance to accept an offer of greater flexibility, of greater scope for operation than existed in the Measure as it was first introduced.
Indeed, it may well be, particularly in connection with the Welland Catchment Board area, that the alteration the 2048 right hon. Gentleman proposes to make will involve a departure from the principle which runs right through this Bill. As the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer) pointed out, he who pays the piper will call the tune. When the Parliamentary Secretary winds up this Debate, I hope he will be able to give a satisfactory assurance and promise that, in the sort of case to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) referred, the biggest contributor will not be over-weighted on the river boards by the representatives of county councils and county boroughs.
The hon. Member for Lincoln emphasised the amount that his city was paying in drainage rates, and made an eloquent plea, which must have impressed itself upon the right hon. Gentleman, for more representation for that city upon the river board. I apprehend from what has been said that these boards will be quasi-local authorities intended to represent men from all parts of the areas covered by the boards. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) whom I see in his place, said he thought that they should be composed of men of broadminded views. I hope they will be. He then thought that it ought to be left to the tion of totalitarianism.
One thing is quite clear from what the hon. Member for Lincoln said. He accepts the view, as, indeed, the Government do—and it is the principle of this Measure—that those who contribute most to the funds of the river boards shall have the greatest say in the expenditure of those funds and in what the river boards shall do. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is the principle behind the constitution of these river boards I see that he nods his head in agreement. If that be so, I shall be interested to hear him expound his view, if he will, and I shall be interested to hear the hon. Member for Lincoln expound his view, when we discuss another Bill: for, surely, to be consistent, he will then have to contend that the man who makes the biggest contribution to the Exchequer—the highest Surtax payer—should have the highest representation in this House of Commons. That is the argument behind this Bill. That is the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Lincoln. I am sorry not to see him here.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am trying to deal quite shortly with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Lincoln, and the principle behind this Bill as put forward by the Minister of Agriculture. When I defined the principle, he nodded his head in agreement. He did not see the logical conclusion of this argument. I think that, whether we adopt that principle or not when considering the question of representation, we cannot avoid consideration at the same time of this problem of pollution, on which so much has been said in this Debate.
These boards will carry on the functions of their predecessors, the catchment boards and the fishery boards. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to the good work done throughout the country by those who have worked so hard upon those boards. That is a tribute which ought to be paid, although I did not notice that the Minister said very much about the work they have done. They will disappear, and we ought to express our thanks to them.
As I see it, the chief problems these river boards will have to tackle will be connected with pollution. In my experience, this question falls into two categories: first, industrial pollution, industrial effluents; and secondly, the pollution from sewage and sewerage works, due very often to the sudden incursion of storm water which sweeps out the sewers, and sweeps down even more dirt than the amount with which the sewerage works are designed to deal. With regard to industrial effluents—this is not a party or a political point—in the last century, people of all political views have been far too apt to conclude that by erecting a factory and producing something, and using water for the purpose, one is at liberty to discharge that water in a filthy condition, without regard to the effect it may have on those who have to receive it lower down the river. That is a general attitude, which must be deplored. I hope that when planning industries and factories consideration will be given to the future discharge of effluents—whether they be nationalised or not—the need for which was demonstrated by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), for it is a matter of great importance.
2050 The hon. Member for Huddersfield in a strong speech, argued that there should be no industrial representation upon river boards. He said that industrial representatives would not be interested in preventing pollution. Summarising his argument, he said that guilty men were not interested in establishing their own guilt. If that argument be true, it applies with equal force to county and other small boroughs. Yet what do we find? Under this Measure some part of that half or three-fifths proportion of the river board—an undefined part—will consist of county borough representatives.
I, personally, consider it very important that, while county boroughs should be represented—I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, were his argument developed in connection with local authorities, by saying that they should not be represented—it is important to provide that their representation should not exceed that of the county council. I am inclined to the view that this Bill would be much improved if it placed some limitation on the percentage of members who come from county boroughs; otherwise, if it is left vague, and if the financial basis of selecting representatives is adopted—to which I referred just now—it may well be that in particular cases the local authority element on a river board would consist possibly of 80 per cent. county borough representation, which would be very wrong. It would be disastrous.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Can the hon. and learned Member indicate any part of the country, according to the Milne Report or any source, where there is a vague possibility of a county borough having a one-half representation on any river board?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
My reply to that is, firstly, that the areas of the river boards are not specified in this Measure, and, secondly, even if we accept the areas shown in the Report as being the areas of the river boards, it will be very difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion, taking into account the exclusion of certain nationalised industries from rateable valuation. I can comprehend that in a thickly-populated industrial area we might well get a case where the financial contributions coming from the county boroughs would exceed the financial contributions coming from the county councils. If that be so, and if we apply the financial basis in selecting representatives, 2051 it will follow that the number of representatives from county boroughs will exceed the number from the county councils.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Surely, the hon. and learned Member is forgetting that at least two-thirds of the total membership of the river boards will consist of non-county council or non-county borough representatives. If the hon. and learned Member looks at the figures again, he will see that it is well-nigh impossible for a county borough to have a majority on a river board.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that in any circumstances the county borough representatives should have a majority on a board. I was saying that the county borough representatives could have a majority over the county council representatives. I am sorry if I did not make that clear, but that was my argument. It would be an improvement if the Bill could be amended so as to provide that that cannot happen.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I was dealing with 80 per cent. local authority representation. I hope I made that plain. If I did not make it plain to the hon. Member, it may be his fault or it may be mine. Perhaps he will look at HANSARD if I have put the argument too swiftly for him.
The real object of this Bill is to prevent pollution. There are two methods to stop river pollution. The first is by means of instruction and persuasion—and I hope that every effort will be made to use that method—and the second is by taking legal proceedings, either by prosecution, or by proceedings in a civil court for an injunction. While I hope that persuasion will be effective, I have my doubts, having regard to what has happened in the past. So far as local authorities are concerned, it may be that the choice which lies before them will be either to indulge in a theatre, or to create a new sewage works. I fear that the municipal theatre may win, and that the polluted waters will continue to run down 2052 the rivers. Prosecutions are really not very satisfactory. We shall never cure pollution unless we can find some easier method than now exists of establishing the fact that pollution is occurring, and the source from which it comes.
I can speak with some experience. I was engaged, some time ago, in a case in which it merely had to be proved that a river near London was being polluted. It was an attractive trout stream, and people from London enjoyed its beauty. For the best part of two miles the bed of that river, below the effluent, was covered with sewage fungus. Fish were killed, and all the rest of it. In the summer people could be found bathing there, unaware of the extent of the pollution. To establish the fact—which was obvious, I think, to any impartial person—that pollution was occurring took 31 days in the High Court. The blame for that might be put on the lawyers, but I would make this point: it was a bitterly fought case from start to finish, and the local authority were denying pollution. In the end new sewerage works had to be created, and cost a great deal of money.
Whatever authority is made responsible for stopping pollution, there is always the difficulty of proving the actual source of the pollution. It is so easy to say to someone, "You are causing pollution," and for that person to reply, "You are quite wrong; the pollution comes from higher upstream." It is easy for someone to pour in effluent which does not last long, but which is highly poisonous and spreads down the river, killing fish in the process and doing a great deal of harm. If an angler reports that fish are dying, and a sample is taken of the effluent, it is probably found that it is clear, because the poisonous effluent has gone. It is, therefore, a difficult matter to prove guilt. In this respect, it is very unfortunate that we have not had an opportunity of considering a Bill to improve the law in connection with the prevention of pollution before considering a Measure to create authorities which will operate the law as amended.
A great deal has been said on both sides of the House about the need for securing more representation of fishing interests on river boards. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to define more fully than the Minister did the expression "fishery interests," which is no definition 2053 at all. There are fishermen and fishermen; some call themselves anglers, and some do not, but it would at least be valuable for us to know the classes which the Minister had in mind when he referred to fishery interests.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am delighted to hear it, and I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection on the arguments put forward from both sides, will recognise that he will be doing justice if he increases the representation of fishing interests on the river boards. I do not think it is necessary for me to say any more on that subject.
I want now to turn to the question of the relationship of the river boards to the water boards which will be constituted under the Water Bill. It will be remembered that power is taken in that Bill to create new waterworks, which may mean impounding more streams, the creation of more reservoirs, and the fixing of compensation water at certain levels. I think it is of the utmost importance that, at the earliest possible stage at which any proposal of that sort is even contemplated by a water board, approach should be made to the river board for its views and to obtain its reactions. What happens now is a very expensive and unsatisfactory process. If it is intended to create a water board and objections are raised, what happens? There is a public local inquiry, with the water board and possibly the catchment board and various other interests objecting. When we have a river board taking over all these functions, it would be an improvement if the Bill creating the river board provided for the closest possible liaison with the water board, whose duty it is to deal with the extraction and collection of water for health purposes.
This is a simple Bill. I think it is capable of some improvement in Committee. It is a step in the right direction, but no one who appreciates its contents can possibly pay it the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to it in the course of his peroration. No one can say that this is a Bill which will stop pollution. It does nothing to stop pollution. I cannot help thinking that the tribute which the Minister paid to the Bill, and paid to himself, was done deliberately, because he feared that no one else, either on this 2054 side of the House or on the other side, would give it that degree of praise. This is only a machinery Bill. It is not the first machinery Bill that the right hon. Gentleman has introduced into this House. Like the Agriculture Act, it is largely machinery. We hope the machinery will be used in the right direction, and we on this side of the House hope that it will not be long before we get the other Measure which is promised—a Measure which will facilitate the cleansing of our streams and rivers, the prevention of pollution, and the making of the countryside more attractive for those who live in it and a pleasanter place for healthy recreation and enjoyment.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I was sorry to hear the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) take such exception to what I thought was a very unexceptionable remark by my right hon. Friend. It is perfectly true that every hon. Member who has spoken for the Opposition has referred to the terrible lack of interest in these related problems during the last 70 years. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) took us back to Ethelred the Unready, or about that time. Hon. Members have referred to decade after decade and century after century of Government by hon. Members on that side of the House, during which time even this much has not been done. We have, at any rate, done this, which is a good deal more than the other side have done. Therefore, I think that my right hon. Friend ought to have been allowed to express a little satisfaction not only with himself but for a Government that is prepared to find the time for a Bill of this kind.
We have had a good deal of discussion about one or two particular points of principle, which I will pick up as I go along. May I refer to the argument which the hon. and learned Member for Daventry used about the pity—I think that was how he put it—of our not having a wider Bill, dealing with the amendment of the law with regard to pollution, before this Bill. It seems a rather topsy-turvey argument that, because, by the nature of things, it has taken us a little time since the Water Act, 1945, to get a report, consider it and be ready with a Bill to put before the 2055 House, we ought not to go on with a Bill for improving the machinery. If by the time we have the report of the Central Advisory Water Committee we have our Bill ready and our new river boards established and straining at the leash, we will be much further advanced than if we waited a couple of years marking time before trying to set up our river boards.
There is one matter of detail which I should like to answer here. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry asked me about the relations between the water boards, to be set up under the Bill we considered yesterday, and the river boards, to be set up under this Bill. I am advised that both catchment boards and fishery boards are required to be consulted by the water authority and have power to object. Our river boards will inherit that right, and therefore, be in the position which the hon. and learned Member, quite rightly, wanted them to be in.
There is general concern on one point, which was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member and which he attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer). In passing, may I say that the hon. and learned Member ought not to try to create mischief amongst us on this side for we can do that among ourselves without his help. It was the matter of the piper calling the tune, a phrase which he used in regard to the majority on the new river boards being from local authorities. That seems to me, again, to be quite the wrong approach. If, in fact, there is to be given to certain people on these boards the obligation to contribute most of the money, and also at the same time a veto on the raising of the money over a particularly low figure, which is 4d., and if those people were denied the larger representation, we would be running pretty headlong for a situation in which we would not get the money at all.
It would he much wiser to give them an effective voice, even a majority voice, in the spending of this money if we want them to vote the money and see that it is used wisely. We feel it is much better to follow what I believe are the recommendations of the Milne Committee—I may be wrong in that, because I have not looked it up—and give an effective majority to the local authorities so that in that way we shall both get the money for the river boards and encourage them 2056 to take an interest in them. I shall come back to that in a moment. I should like to say a word about the county borough representation. It is difficult for me, as a county constituency Member with no vested interest in this matter, to understand why there should be this quite unexplained prejudice on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite against the county boroughs.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Gentleman cannot have listened to some of the speeches from his own side of the House, particularly that of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), who said that the county boroughs saved a great deal of money by discharging untreated sewage into the rivers.
§ Mr. Brown
I have that in mind. If the restriction which was in the Land Drainage Act, 1930, were removed, which is what we are proposing to do, I frankly cannot see anything in the Opposition's attitude to that but prejudice. We are certainly not conferring any new privileges by that, as was suggested by the hon. and learned Member. The hon. and learned Member will accept the proposition that it does not follow that, because an individual county borough somewhere or other has, in fact, allowed untreated effluent to be discharged into streams, county boroughs everywhere ought to be under an abitrary restriction, which prevents them having representation on a board, which, if they were something else, they would get anyway. It seems to me that there is a prejudice against county boroughs, and I do not think it can altogether be brought about because one on Merseyside misbehaved itself.
§ Mr. Keenan
It did not misbehave itself. I pointed out that because of the report of the Scientific and Research Committee, it was relieved of the obligation to do it and, after all, it was not a Government-aided but a rate-aided scheme, and that is why it had to be done cheaply.
§ Mr. Brown
I am not clear which of us heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, but we will both read him in the morning and sort it out. If we have a county borough which is not, or has not been, a good fellow in this respect, and if we put it on a river board, it may be found, as very often happens, that it will take on a great enthusiasm for the job it is doing. That is a traditional feature of British 2057 local government. We are much more likely to find that in the case of a county borough which in the past has not been up to standard on the job.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Gentleman will recognise—I say this in view of the words he used—that I did not suggest that every county borough was an offender in this respect. I only suggested that in the past some of them had been.
§ Mr. Brown
Is that not exactly my point? If it is not argued that they have all been offenders or that the majority have not, why is it argued that they must all suffer a quite arbitrary ban for the misdeeds of individuals? I will turn now to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the Opposition—[Interruption.] I gather he is only an hon. and gallant Gentleman; I hope that some time he will be "right."
§ Mr. Brown
He began by suggesting what has been a theme song for many people—the hon. and learned Member for Daventry used it—that this was only a small Bill, a machinery Bill, which reduced the number of authorities but did nothing more. That does not do justice to this Bill. The removal of the enormous number of authorities in this field, about which the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) spoke, does an awful lot. It is not just a little thing. It is perhaps a beginning, but to get adequate modern machinery takes us a very considerable way. There are new powers. We will, for example, now have powers of default against a river board which does not do its job in regard to pollution, powers which we had not in the past. That must surely be a considerable step forward. Taking this step now does not suggest that we shall delay the major measure.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked about the special navigational arrangements in the Humber, which he compared with the Thames. The answer is in Clause 20, which gives one river board, or two or more river boards in concert, with the Minister's consent, the power to promote local Acts. Our view is that the matter he had in mind is much more appropriate to a local Act promoted in that way than to genera] legislation of 2058 this kind. He asked whether river boards will be empowered to finance the smaller internal boards which may otherwise be in difficulties. That would appear to my right hon. Friend to involve an Amendment of the 1930 Act. Indeed, the sub-committee appointed by the main Committee at our request to deal with land drainage is specifically concerning itself with the financing of land drainage works in future and will, therefore, cover the point he has in mind. He then went on to use bad language. It is just my luck that whenever I have to follow him he uses bad language. He said that he was shocked.
§ Mr. Brown
He was shocked to hear of the restoration of the three-fifths, and he told us that although what we were doing would seem to reduce the total local authority representation, the county councils did not oppose it. I am surprised to learn that they will be prepared to cut off their nose to spite somebody else's face, which is what it looks like. I can only repeat what I have said already, that we regard it as unquestionably desirable that the local authorities should have the greatest confidence in the machine they are being asked so heavily to finance. We believe that the risk of their operating a veto is not nearly so likely to occur if we give them, in effect, a majority.
I believe that the individual example of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not altogether a good one. I do not know whether he could have picked another one if he had tried, but the answer to the Welland Catchment Board, and the fact that specialist interests are the main contributors there, is that if you argue this in the case of the Welland, then you argue that representation on the board should altogether go by contribution; whereas, we have been saying that there is a certain specified membership, as high as one-third, which shall go to specialist interests because we need their guidance and their specialised knowledge, and what they contribute has nothing to do with it. They are there as specialists and are important, and if you use the Welland argument too strongly, you run the risk of having the other argument used and losing some of your specialist representatives elsewhere, and we thought, on balance, that would be wrong.
2059 There is the other point that under the old boards local authorities had a minimum of two-thirds, whereas in this Bill we are giving them a maximum of two-thirds. I believe it is in the Yorkshire Ouse where we are reducing local authority membership very considerably. My right, hon. Friend made it quite clear that this Bill is very much a matter of compromise between a variety of interests each of whom will fight, have fought to some extent, and also to a large extent cancel each other out. On the whole, we believe we have achieved the best balance between the various interests, and that the least mischief will be done if we reinsert at a later stage in the Bill the original provision about three-fifths which got lost in another place. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not lost."]
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked me, as did other hon. Members, whether fishery interests include upstream anglers; whether, indeed, they include all these people now on the fishery boards. The answer is "Yes." An angler is a fisherman for the purpose of this Bill and we regard the fishery interests to be consulted as being those on the fishery boards. I can go further and say that it will be the intention of my right hon. Friend, when setting up these new boards, to regard as the representative of fishery interests to be consulted the existing fishery boards. The position gets a little difficult when he comes to reconstitute at a later stage, because then there will be no fishery boards. It is my right hon. Friend's desire to have the utmost consultation with the people who ought to be consulted, who have the specialist knowledge, and who make it work. It will simplify his position considerably and the whole scheme as well if between the boards being set up and the subsequent reconstitution, fishery interests will form voluntarily amongst themselves associations and groupings of associations which the Minister can consult.
It appears to us to be wrong to try to tie this down in a statutory way. These new boards will be new organs of local government, and it is not usual in any of our local government machinery to tie down local government bodies as to the form their consultations should take, and the people with whom they should consult. That emerges, and they do the job 2060 reasonably and properly. If any behave badly, there are all sorts of ways in which to deal with them. I have had experience of this long before I came here. One of the leading officers is an old friend of mine and was a colleague in a different sphere from this. I am perfectly sure that if they form their associations and take steps to see they are in a position to be consulted at the time when we get beyond the setting up of the first Board, there will be no difficulty.
There has been so much said about anglers that I wondered at one time if it had been overlooked that the idea was not to prevent angling but to prevent pollution. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond and the hon. and learned Member for Daventry talked about pollution and said that it is getting worse every year. We ought not to be read lectures about that from the other side of the House. We realise that it has been getting worse every year and that it is a big problem which should have been put right. In providing this machinery, we are moving as quickly as we can to put it right. I was asked if I could give a date for the report of the sub-Committee, and whether the report would be published. Clearly, I cannot give a date. So far as I know, no one is in possession of a date. I am told that it is not thought unlikely that the report will be available some time this year, but I must not be tied down on that, although I think that a quite likely timetable. There is also no reason to assume that it will not be published when it is produced.
I was asked whether it is our intention to move quickly. The answer to that is absolutely certain. We intend to move as quickly as we can. The heart-cry about Cornwall was taken up, and we were asked whether we intend to keep the awful searing blank on the Milne Committee map. The answer is that this Bill envisages River Boards for the whole of England and Wales apart from the three exceptions mentioned. I cannot commit my right hon. Friend as to what will be the river board areas. There is quite elaborate machinery for consultation, public inquiries, Parliamentary procedure and so on, but there is no intention in this case to leave any blanks at all. I hope that all those dead on the shores of the Tamar will return to their graves happily.
2061 My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln welcomed the restoration of the three-fifths provision in regard to county boroughs. He asked a specific question as to why we alighted on the figure of a 4d. rate. Not too much emphasis should be put on the 4d. rate. It is not the Government's view of the amount which should be spent, but the 4d. rate is the stop point beyond which local authorities must consent by a majority to more money being raised. As to whether it is right in relation to the 2d. rate, we believe it to be so, with the increased costs, since the figure was first arrived at, and with the wider powers we are giving. With those wider powers the 4d. in relation to the 2d. represents the right sort of figure.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
In fixing the figure of 4d., has the hon. Gentleman borne in mind the reduction in the rates owing to the electricity and railway undertakings being removed from local authority rating valuation? Has he thought of the effect that will have on precepting for the catchment boards?
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, we have had that in mind. We are not dealing with the amount of money to be raised, or the amount to be spent, but with what is the proper figure in these circumstances to relate to the 2d., and we feel that 4d. is the right figure. The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) thought it was a pity that there was no third sub-committee of the main water committee dealing with water conservation. The answer is that water conservation is in a general sense as much a drainage function as draining water away. Drainage is not merely a matter of getting water away, but of seeing that water is in the right place when it is wanted. I emphasise that a good deal of work and a good many schemes are already in train by the Ministry of Health for dealing with water conservation in the sense in which it was meant by the hon. and gallant Member, when conditions permit us to do so.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) asked me about the power of sub-committees to prosecute. He was thinking of pollution in relation to fisheries. I understood him to feel that there ought to be a fisheries sub-committee, and that when there was one it should have the power to prosecute on 2062 behalf of and in the name of the river board. We have regarded it as an absolute principle that the setting up, or not, of such committees is a matter for the river board. The reasons we take that view and are not in favour of statutory sub-committees are, first, that conditions will vary as between river board and river board, and in some cases a fishery committee would be unnecessary. Secondly, this case, if there is a case at all, could be made not only for a fishery sub-committee but for a drainage sub-committee and a navigational sub-committee, which in other areas might have much more relative importance and weight than a fishery subcommittee. Thirdly, we believe that except in the case of the finance committee, which stands on a different footing and is common to all river boards, the proper thing to do is what is already done with other organs of local government, to leave it to the authority to do the sensible and proper thing.
We should expect that in an area where fisheries are of great interest it would be sensible to have a fishery sub-committee and to co-opt on to it the proportion laid down in the Measure of non-members of the main river board to serve on that sub-committee. We do not regard it as proper to make it a statutory obligation on the boards to make that provision any more than we do in the case of other authorities. The power to prosecute must clearly remain with the river board and not with the sub-committee, subject to the state of the law at the moment. The river boards inherit the law which applies to other bodies. The law needs strengthening and we hope that ultimately, when the main Bill is brought forward, it will in fact provide the necessary strengthening.
I have been asked about the retention of fishery revenues for fishery purposes. The answer is that there is a certain limited amount of money in so-called fishery funds raised in the past under local Acts, and specifically reserved for this work. They will remain reserved for this particular part of the river board's work. But fishery revenues, derived mainly from licences, etc., will go into the general fund. It has been argued they may be used for building a block of offices. The answer to that is the one which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds) tried to face 2063 and did not, that if we say that fishery revenues are to be used only for fishery work we invite the other parties on the river board to say, "Very well, other revenues are not to be used for fishery work." We believe that the fishermen will not lose, but that in fact they will gain by having representatives on these boards with much wider powers than they used to have, able to use other people's revenue—much more than they could raise themselves by their own licences. We think they will stand to gain considerably, and to argue the other way may not be doing them the best service in future, if one thinks about it carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) both raised a point about amenities. Indeed the hon. Gentleman spoke specifically about a member for amenities on the river boards. That is tantamount to saying that the board itself is not expected to be an amenity board. We are here back again to the old argument about the sins and wickednesses of county boroughs and local authorities, and their inability to understand and take care of these things. If a river board does its work of keeping down pollution, raising the standard of fishing and doing drainage work properly, it will be improving the amenities. The answer is that it becomes a board for amenities on which one member so labelled is not required with the implication that everybody else is labelled as the member against amenities. I have already dealt with the question of statutory committees.
The hon. Member for Bodmin raised a particular point about a veto by the Minister of Health on prosecutions in regard to pollution. The answer to that is that the amendment of the law falls into its place in the consideration given to the report from the sub-committee of the main water committee. I have figures here, which I have not time to give, but which show that it is not true that the Ministry of Health veto has been the hampering factor in securing prosecutions. Of all the applications that came through from 1930 to 1939, only one, in fact, was "permission refused." In no other case was the veto by the Ministry of Health the hampering factor. The real hampering factor has been the enormous number of 2064 authorities who have not done their job, and that position is dealt with by the Bill.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) raised a point regarding the representation of all interested in the river. The answer to that would seem to be that unless representation is limited to contributing interests, the result would be a board of such a size that it would, in fact, become a mass meeting. The point which the hon. Gentleman made with regard to the National Coal Board is answered by the fact that the National Coal Board does contribute, and does do its own work.
There are many other points with which I would have wished to deal, had time permitted. They have all been noted, and will be thought about. I cannot hold out any great hopes that we shall be able to make great concessions in these matters of principle. We believe that, on the whole, we have the right idea, and I commend the Bill to the House, again saying how pleased I am at the opportunity of carrying on in this Labour Government the work of the last Labour Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.