§ Sir T. Dugdale
I beg to move, in page 2, line 14 to leave out "three-fifths," and to insert "one-half."
I am afraid that the House now comes to more controversial issues; in fact, I think I am correct in saying that this is the only issue which divides the two sides of the House. The purpose of this Amendment is to restore the Bill to the form in which it originally came to this House from another place. During the prolonged debate we had on this point during the Committee stage, the Minister emphasised 2160 that he and his Department were probably in a better position to know what was the right proportion for members of a river board than were Members of another place. We took the contrary view and although we were not successful in our arguments, having reviewed the whole position we are still of the opinion that the Bill would be improved if we could leave out three-fifths and insert one-half.
This deals with local authority representatives on a river board, and as the issue has been debated at great length on more than one occasion, I do not propose to weary the House this afternoon by going into all the detailed arguments again. I want to make my final appeal to the Minister, who in so many ways is a reasonable man, to see whether he cannot take his courage in both hands and have better administration of the river boards by accepting this Amendment. I ask him to do it on the grounds of flexibility of administration. This hidebound theory of administration seems to us on this side to be all wrong. The Amendment gives the Minister more freedom of choice and more discretion, and surely any Minister of the Crown should welcome an offer from the Opposition to have more discretion and freedom of choice in the selection of his river boards?
As the Bill is drafted—and this is a point I want to bring to the notice of the House—assuming that the river board consists of a maximum number of 40 members, the Minister's discretion will be limited to a maximum variation of two out of 40. That is all his discretion can be when he comes to decide on local government representation. That is the difference between 26 members appointed by local authorities, which is a maximum of two-thirds out of 40, and 24 local authority representatives, which is a minimum of three-fifths representation of local authorities.
In our Amendment, all we are giving the Minister—and we are literally giving it to him—is a discretion of his own free will of six instead of two. That does not seem to be a very great deal to ask of him. We attach considerable importance to it because of the representation of the other partners in these river boards—land drainage and fishery interests. Land drainage authorities in certain areas—and I do not propose to go again through the 2161 detailed areas—are providing up to two-thirds of the revenue of certain catchment boards. I do not say that they are the majority. They are not; they are a minority; but they do exist. Under the Bill as it is at present drafted, they will not even get their two-fifths of the membership of the board.
We must not forget the fishery interests. In our Debates in Committee the Minister conceded the point that it was probable that the fishery interests on any river board would be likely to have a minimum of three. Where the drainage interests are in the preponderance from the financial point of view, it will probably be in large rural areas, and there it is probable that, on the particular river boards, it would be advisable to have the greatest number of representatives of fishery interests. The drainage and fishery interests on that particular type of river board would be the two most important elements.
Yet under the Bill, tightly drawn as it is, the Minister has only a discretion for two. We want to give him discretion for six, to give him a present of four members, without compelling him to do anything. We say only, "We trust him and his judgment, but do let us force him to accede to a discretion of six instead of a discretion of two." Taking all these facts into account, it is, surely, foolish to suppose that adequate representation in accordance with contribution can be given to both land drainage and fishery interests if the Minister insists on refusing to accept the Amendment which I have moved.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think the Minister knows what my feelings are about this. I think, however, he is under the impression that I am looking at the matter simply from a fenman's point of view, and that I am inclined to grow web feet rather too fast. I hope he will realise that we have Yorkshire interests also at heart. This is not in any way an Amendment for local purposes. I do not know who it is that the Minister thinks is likely seriously to object to the Amendment, unless he is thinking of the county boroughs. I think he has over-estimated the objection of the county councils to it. I have here a letter from the Secretary of the County 2162 Councils Association to the chairman of the Association of Drainage Authorities. In that letter he says that although he cannot go so far as to say that his Association have no objection to the Amendment, nevertheless,I shall certainly let the Minister of Agriculture know that we do not propose to seek its alteration "—that is, alteration of the Bill. They have no rooted objection sufficient to make them want to amend the Bill as it came to this House from another place. Nevertheless, the Minister has seen fit to amend it.
I can only suppose that the objection comes from the county boroughs. I am rather surprised to hear that the Minister thinks that that is a substantial case, because the county boroughs are assured of what is virtually a majority representation, with the Minister's representatives, who probably will be kindly disposed towards the county boroughs. I do not think they have anything to worry about. I realise that there are some county boroughs that have subscribed considerably to catchment boards, and I think that it is highly commendable that they have done so. On the other hand, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, and we know that there are some drainage boards that have contributed largely to catchment boards. That applies not only to those in the Fens, although an outstanding example that I would mention happens to be one from the Fens. To the Witham and Steeping Rivers Catchment Board the internal drainage boards from 1943 to 1947 subscribed 67 per cent., 70 per cent., 70 per cent., 75 per cent., and 65 per cent. It seems to me that if there is a very strong case for saying that, because a county borough has subscribed more to a catchment board than any other interest, it should therefore get good representation, the same argument should apply to the internal drainage boards.
I am convinced myself that the Minister does not appreciate what effect this is going to have where there are considerable land drainage and fishery interests in the same area, because their representation has to be shared according to the proportion in the Bill, and the more that the one gets the less the other gets, and vice versa. Both interests are important. The Minister would be well advised, for the 2163 happiness of some of these boards—I do not say of all of them—to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. T. Williams
As the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. DUgdale) said, the arguments against the Amendment have been put forward at very great length at every stage of the Bill, and I think it would be tormenting the House to attempt to repeat them now. Since the river boards are to be important local authorities—I warn the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I emphasise that —administering functions directly or indirectly affecting a very wide variety of interests, I think it is essential that an effective majority of local authority members should be appointed to the boards. The Government are fully aware of the wide variety of circumstances amongst the boards, but that in no way affects the argument I advanced on Second Reading, and that I repeated, I think very effectively, in Committee, namely, that with a board of 40 members the drainage and fishery representatives would have a minimum of 13 members. They would have their 13 members if the contribution from the drainage authorities were very tiny.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked, Who would object to this Amendment, who is the authority or body of authorities to object? The person who objects most profoundly is myself, because I am more anxious than the hon. and gallant Member, apparently, to give representation to drainage interests and fishery interests in those areas where their contribution to the exchequer of the river boards will be very small.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond generously and kindly wanted to place power in my hands which I myself do not wish to exercise, I want to remind him of the complaint that has been made when we have been considering other Measures, the complaint to the effect that power proposed to be given to Ministers may be all right for present Ministers, but not for others in the future, when there* has been a change of Ministers. Well, there may be a change in this instance. Therefore, I do not want this power thrust upon me. I should rather be modest, and be content with the power I have given myself in the Bill.
2164 So long as the fishery and drainage interests retain 13 out of 40 members on a river board their specialist interests can be fully expressed and looked after. The Amendment, if accepted, would mean only an addition here or there of an odd two drainage members. I do not think that that can be justified, except on the ground of voting power. However, we have not thought of that; we have always thought, not of voting power, but of men or women coming together to do a fine piece of public work as a team, not as separate entities voting against each other. I would remind hon. Members that most of our very best drainage representatives are members of local authorities. Indeed, in my own county, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where we have a first-class catchment board at present, the first chairman of the catchment board was a farmer who was a county councillor with first-class knowledge of drainage; his successor, now chairman of the catchment board, is a representative of a county borough, but he has a first-class knowledge of all drainage matters.
Therefore, apart altogether from the 13 guaranteed members for drainage and fishery interests, there will be on the catchment boards many local authority representatives who will also be a first-class addition to the specialist body representing fishery and drainage interests. I do not think I ought to be called upon to go over the whole of the arguments once again that were put so effectively before. Thanks to my compromising attitude in all things, and my generosity on occasion, I think we have a fairly balanced representation. It is a compromise that most have wanted. I think that if there had been no such thing as the Isle of Ely it would have been unanimously accepted. I have with sympathy and, I hope, with understanding reviewed the whole of the circumstances again. I regret that I have not found sufficient justification for accepting the Amendment. I hope the House will agree with me that we ought to stand by the very balanced compromise we have in the Bill.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
It is really wrong of the Minister to cite Yorkshire as an example. He knows as well as I do that things are run so exceptionally well in that part of the country that it is difficult for the management of affairs in other 2165 parts to be compared with the management of affairs in Yorkshire, about which he and I know a good deal. But, the Minister is not meeting the considerable amount of heart-burning going on in the Internal Drainage Boards Association. Even in such a progressive and well run county as Yorkshire—although the Isle of Ely is more seriously affected—where things have run very smoothly for many years, even there, the internal drainage boards consider that the principle behind this amended Bill is wrong; and I do not think that the Minister has recognised or shown a sufficient degree of sympathy with their outlook. We admit fully the case of the county boroughs where they are providing a very large part of the money which is required. I cannot see why the county boroughs are not prepared to admit the same degree of justice to the internal drainage board in these minority of cases where the internal drainage board provide by far the largest amount of money.
The Minister said that he had no thought of voting power in his mind when drafting the Bill. He might not have had, but someone had, and that thought alone was in their heads when they made representations to the Minister. I cannot but think, and my hon. Friends cannot but think, that the main reason why the Minister has had to stand so firm—and there has been no compromise from him on this Bill—is because the county boroughs refuse to allow any of their voting power to be in any way endangered. I do not believe that is at all necessary, and I believe that it works against the principle of flexibility which we all want to see in the Bill. I believe that far from cementing the co-operation between the towns and the rural areas in those parts of the country where drainage is the main burden, it will work in exactly the opposite direction. I regret that the Minister has remained so determined on this subject, as I believe that he is working inevitably against the interests of the drainage of the country. It is an interest of which he ought to be the chief guardian. I, therefore, very much regret the attitude which he has taken.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I am quite sure that the county boroughs would be definitely against this Clause. I think that quite a number of the county 2166 council authorities would also be against it. I cannot see the purpose behind the Amendment in view of the statements that were made by the mover and seconder of the first Amendment today. They primarily wish the river boards to be substantial local authorities. In view of that, I cannot imagine the purpose behind the Amendment. The county boroughs are quite willing, I believe, if I interpret their wishes correctly, to accept three-fifths, but I am quite sure that in their hearts they think that there ought to be more than a representation of three-fifths. In view of what hon. Members opposite have stated on the previous Amendment, that these river boards must be substantial local authorities, that really takes some understanding, and I think that the Minister is right to oppose this suggestion.
§ Mr. Berry (Woolwich, West)
There seems to be some misconception of the functions of members of authorities of this character. If we interpret rightly the views of hon. Members opposite, they appear to be that when people are appointed to these bodies they are appointed as mere delegates of the bodies of which they are members, that they are mere delegates from drainage boards and county boroughs. Such an attitude is utterly contrary to the facts. I have been a member of several joint authorities. In one or two cases, I have been appointed by a substantial local authority, and I have never regarded myself as a mere delegate of that authority. On more than one occasion on the joint authority of which I have been a member, I have led the voting against my own appointing board. I believe that to be an individual is the proper position. There are people who think that Members of this House are mere delegates sent here to carry out the wishes of other people. That is utterly wrong. We are Members of this House, and in my submission members of river boards should be members of and elected from important local authorities.
I hope for the sake of the river boards that that will be recognised. I have no fear concerning the duties of the representatives of county boroughs or other local authorities on these river boards. The fear has been expressed in some quarters that these representatives would be prepared to condone the fouling of rivers by their own authorities. Such is 2167 utterly contrary to my own experience. Only last Monday, I was "pulling the leg" of a member of an important county borough about the action he was going to take against his own authority as a member of a joint authority. While I can appreciate that the amour proper of some of the internal drainage boards is touched in this matter, and while it may be that the fishery interests would like to have more representation and while I know that another very important section
§ of our national life, which is not mentioned at all, ought' to be represented, nevertheless it seems to me that the variant principle is not one which would help the efficiency of these bodies, and I am glad the Minister is not agreeing to the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That 'three-fifths' stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 222; Noes, 91.2169
|Division No. 150.]||AYES.||[5.37 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Dodds, N. N.||McAdam, W.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Driberg, T. E. N.||McAllister, G.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Dumpleton, C. W.||McGhee, H. G|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||McGovern, J.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwettty)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||McLeavy, F.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Balfour, A.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Ewart, R.||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Barton, C.||Fairhurst, F.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Battley, J. R.||Farthing, W. J.||Monslow, W.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Fernyhough, E.||Moody, A. S.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Foot, M. M.||Morley, R.|
|Benson, G||Forman, J. C.||Morris, P. (Swansea W.)|
|Berry, H.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Mort, D. L.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A (Ebbw Vale)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Mulvey, A.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Gallacher, W.||Murray, J. D.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Natty, W.|
|Boardman, H.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Nichol Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W||Gibbins, J.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Bowen, R.||Gilzean, A.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Gtanville, J. E. (Consett)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Orbach, M.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Grenfell, D. R.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Grey, C. F.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Guy, W H.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Pearl, T. F.|
|Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Burden, T. W.||Hardy, E. A.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Burke, W. A.||Harrison, J.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Reeves, J.|
|Byers, Frank||Herbison, Miss M.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Callaghan, James||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Robens, A.|
|Chamberlain, R. A||House, G.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hoy, J.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Royle, C.|
|Cluse, W, S.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Sargood, R.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Scollan, T.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Collick, P.||Jeger,, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Collindridge, F||Jenkins, R. H.||Shurmer, P.|
|Collins, V. J.||Johnston, Douglas||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Jones, P. Astertey (Hitchin)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Keenan, W.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Corlett, Dr. J||Kenyon, C.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Crawley, A.||Kinley, J.||Snow, J. W.|
|Daggar, G.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Daines, P.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Soskice, Sir Frank|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Leonard, W.||Steele, T.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Leslie, J. R.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Levy, B. W.||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Davies, Haydn (St Pancras, S.W.)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Deer, G.||Logan, D. G.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Diamond, J.||Lyne, A. W||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Taylor, Dr S. (Barnet)||Walkden, E.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Warbey, W. N||Williams, Rt. Hon. T (Don Valley)|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Watkins, T. E||Willis, E.|
|Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Watson, W. M||Wills, Mrs. E. A|
|Thurtle, Ernest||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Woodburn, A.|
|Tiffany, S.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)||Woods, G. S.|
|Timmons, J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Titterington, M. F||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Tolley, L.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Ungoed-Thomas, L||Wigg, George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Viant, S. P.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hutchison, Col. J, R, (Glasgow, C.)||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Birch, Nigel||Jeffreys, General Sir G||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Jennings, R||Renton, D.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Keeling, E. H.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Lambert, Hon. G.||Robinson, Roland|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Spence, H. R.|
|Carson, E.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Linstead, H. N||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lloyd,, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Low, A. R. W.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Teeling, William|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Lytlelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N|
|Duthie, W. S.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Touche, G. C.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon, A.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Turton, R. H.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D||Maitland, Comdr. J. W||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G Lloyd (P'ke)||Mellor, Sir J.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Grant, Lady||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||York, C|
|Grimston, R. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Pitman, I. J.||Sir Arthur Young and|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Major Conant.|
|Head, Brig. A. H||Poole, O. B. S (Oswestry)|
§ 5.45 P.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, at the end, to insert:Provided that where the Ministers after consultation with all the interests concerned are satisfied that an interest specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Subsection bears a risk exceptionally greater than that borne by any other of the interests represented on a River Board, they may by regulations so vary the representation of such interests as are specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Subsection as to ensure a reasonable representation to that interest bearing the exceptional risk and provided that any such regulation shall be made upon an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.It may be that some hon. Members will see very little difference in this Amendment and the one we have just been discussing, but perhaps I may describe briefly its effect. Where the three Ministers concerned with this Bill came to the conclusion that an exceptional risk was borne by one of the interests mentioned in Clause 2 (2, b and c) the Minister could so alter the composition of that river 2170 board as to ensure that the particular authority had a reasonably fair representation. This may be a solution of the Minister's difficulties in accepting our Amendment. I believe it can be, because he has been acting as a drainage authority trying to dam up an irrepressible current, so far as our Amendment is concerned, to put the Bill back into the original form in which it came to this House. We have failed to find one route to avoid that dam, and I hope this will be the solution, because it gives the Minister wide scope. On his own admission he has shown that he objects to putting the Clause back to its original form, and this should fit in nicely with that view in that it would be up to him largely as to whether or not any action was taken under this Amendment.
It is a permissive Amendment, and it is also subject to an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The Minister has been most reluctant to take 2171 undue power upon his own shoulders, or in any way to become a dictator of land drainage or river boards. We welcome that, and we realise that this Amendment gives him and his colleagues considerable powers, but we feel that by making it subject to an affirmative Resolution, there should be considerable Parliamentary safeguards, so that all interests, if they have any objection to take to any action of the Minister, can fully ventilate them in this House and in another place.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be prepared to accept this Amendment. I do not want an assurance that he will use the powers given under this Amendment because I hope it will not be necessary, but it will be useful to him in the event that his wishful thinking about the future of the river boards does not materialise. I am sure he is hoping for rather too much if he expects all river boards to work beautifully smoothly, and that no members appointed to them will tend to act as delegates. I agree with the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) that no member of a river board should be a delegate in any way but should realise that, once he becomes a member of that board he should serve the best interests of the river.
Let us face the fact, however, that there will be county councils or county borough councils who occasionally will tend to put on to a river board a person they know will never vote for any increase in the precept. It has happened in the past, and we have no doubt that it will happen again, although neither we nor the Minister want it to happen. In the event that it does happen, this Amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to put the matter right, and he may be glad of it in the days to come, to ensure that whereas an exceptional risk is borne by one interest which is not properly represented, he can so vary the composition of a board as to ensure that the interest is properly represented.
§ Mr. York
I beg to second the Amendment.
This is a new and quite different approach to the problem we have been discussing recently, and I think the Minister will agree that it obviates the main objection he put forward while defending the Clause. If we accept risk as a major consideration in drainage matters, it fol- 2172 lows that exceptional risk should have exceptional consideration. I am quite certain that as the Bill now stands, if it is applied in the catchment areas, the Minister or his successor will find coming into the open just those difficulties which we have been putting forward during the Committee stage of this Bill, if he so ties himself down by the inflexibility of this Clause no suitable variations are possible
Here we offer the Minister something which he ought to welcome, a suggestion which will give him that flexibility without altering any of the neatly balanced negotiations and agreements which he has achieved during the time the Bill has been under consideration. If the county boroughs are in any way nervous about what the Minister or some future Minister may do, then there is the additional safeguard that, before any Minister can make any variation, he has to come to the House with an affirmative Resolution. Hon. Members will know that that is a form of procedure which no Minister would care to adopt unless he had a cast-iron case.
We are only asking that in those cast-iron cases where exceptional risk has been proved, the Minister should allow himself the discretion, if he at that time decides that discretion is necessary, to come to the House and ask for powers to vary. This makes no alteration in the representation in the Bill, and it is on those grounds that I feel that county boroughs who were against altering the main fraction in the Clause will not have the same objection. I hope the Minister will give this Amendment a more sympathetic and reasonable answer than he gave to the last one.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)
I think this Amendment arises from a series of misunderstandings of the set-up and standing of the various bodies who will be on these river boards. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) talked as though a local authority has in this respect a precise interest on the board. The local authority is on the board as a social entity with a general interest in all the matters that are likely to arise and concern the river board during its deliberation. The drainage and fishery interests are there with a specialised interest in certain functions which the 2173 river board needs to have, but it does not mean, because the fishery and the drainage people are thought to have a special interest in those two functions of the board, that we are then to assume that the local authority representatives have not an interest in those functions. The local authority representatives have a general interest in all the functions of the board, and the other people are there, not to measure their interest in the particular function, but because they can bring a special contribution to the board which we think we ought to have.
In this Bill we have tried to maintain a fair balance between, on the one hand, these local authorities with their general interest in all the functions, and the specialised interests with their interest in one or two functions. I am not quite sure whether I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I thought he suggested that if the balance of membership is heavy in the interests of the local authorities, in the case where there is undue risk in one of the other functions, the local authorities might refuse to vote the necessary precept. May I make it clear that his Amendment would do nothing about that, since it is the local authority representation on the board which will decide by its vote the size of the precept that is to be levied for the purpose of raising money for the functions?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that where internal drainage boards are contributing most, and a decision is taken as a result of the set-up in the Bill which is absolutely detrimental to the interests of land drainage, the internal drainage runs exceptional risk in such a case?
§ Mr. Brown
It is to me quite inconceivable that one of these river boards will take a decision completely detrimental to land drainage. If they do, however, they will be abrogating one of their main functions, and we must assume that these substantial local authorities will act in a reasonable way. Unduly weighting the representation of one of the specialised interests would not prevent that happening; indeed, it might have the opposite effect. I have used this argument before in our deliberations on this principle. Giving what was thought by the local authorities, who are providing so much of the money, to be undue weighting of membership to one of the specialised interests, 2174 might well lead to such a lack of harmony, such a sense of grievance, that much more risk would be run of getting decisions taken about drainage which would not be as helpful as we would like, than if we leave the Clause as it is.
The hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) said we might need additional members from the specialist interests to make sure that those interests were adequately catered for. We on this side of the House do not believe that. We believe what was said by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) that the people who go on to these boards, from whatever interest they are drawn, will have a definite interest in all the functions of the board. Merely to add to the representation of any particular interest will not mean that the work of the board in respect of that interest will be done any better. Those who argue that the greater the risk, the greater the contribution or representation, must face the other half of their own argument: presumably the smaller the risk the smaller the representation. We have taken the view that, because of the great specialist contribution which they can make, there should be an irreducible minimum of representation from the fishery and drainage interests. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been loud in their anxieties that fishery interests in particular are never reduced below the provisions made for them in the Bill. If this argument were to be admitted it might well be difficult in certain areas to maintain the representation we have given to these two specialist interests. As far as fisheries are concerned there should not be any whittling down.
We are achieving nothing in pursuing the argument that the greater the risk, the greater the representation. We have tried to hold a balance with the local authority people who will provide so much of the committee and who will take a general interest in all the functions of the board. At the same time they will maintain a fair representation for the specialist interests who can bring a constructive contribution to the two functions of the board. I hope that, in view of what I have said, the House will not press this Amendment. We are unable to accept it; we believe it would be wrong to do so and that it might even be harmful if the issue were forced to a Division.
§ Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)
The Parliamentary Secretary has made an excellent speech, but it was really about an Amendment which has already been considered. The desire of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is to give the Minister a permissive power to alter the representation if it does not work properly. He is not concerned whether the Minister should appoint one half, or whether the local authority should have a three-fifths membership, of the board. That has already been decided. He wants to ensure that if the scheme does not work properly or smoothly—if, for instance, the drainage boards do not have a fair representation —the Minister has power to make alteration after coming before Parliament with an affirmative Resolution. That is not a big concession to make since the previous Amendment was defeated. If the Government cannot accept the Amendment I hope that reasons will be given why the Minister does not want this permissive power or does not think he should have it.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I support entirely the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York). On the grounds of flexibility we want the Minister to have the best river board in every case. This is an entirely new
§ departure in local government administration; a river board may well be a very powerful local government body centred in a particular rural or urban area covering the length of a river. When the Minister sets up the river boards, we want them to comprise the best possible representation. For this reason we want to give the Minister more flexibility. I shall ask my hon. Friends to go into the Division Lobby in support of the Amendment because we are so certain that flexibility of administration is a very important part of the whole structure of the river boards.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I wish to support what has been said on this side of the House. In speaking on the previous Amendment the Minister said that he did not want to be totalitarian, but that is how he is acting in not giving way to this reasonable Amendment. We know of the hopes expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) that the members of the Boards will be delegates and will act in a certain way. That may be so; but, equally, it may not be so. We are asking only for something in the way of a compromise which I should have thought the Minister could accept.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 95; Noes, 239.2179
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison
I beg to move, in page 2, line 37, to leave out "having regard," and to insert:and shall, as nearly as may be, be in proportion.This Amendment is designed to substitute a more precise wording for the permissive wording at present in the Bill. I suggest that the Minister should look at this Amendment very closely, because the words we propose secure without any doubt whatever that the representation of the county boroughs and the county councils shall be on the basis of the moneys contributed. I suggest that the Minister should receive this recommendation favourably, and with brevity I am moving it.
§ Mr. Deer (Lincoln)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like to imitate the brevity of my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Harrison). I merely point out that this is an alteration which will remove a great deal of the anxiety which the county boroughs have felt in the past, when they had to pay large proportions of the money and received very little representation in comparison with other local authorities. We ought to be knocking at an open door on this matter.
§ Mr. G. Brown
This is a case where instead of being urged to take greater flexibility, my right hon. Friend is being urged to adopt more rigidity. I should like to tell my hon. Friends that they are, in fact, knocking at an open door. The intention which my right hon. Friend has in this matter, which is clearly envisaged in the wording we have put in the Bill, is that representation in these cases shall, in fact, follow the financial contribution of the various authorities. The fear which my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer) expressed, about some of the authorities providing the greater part of the money and having little representation will not happen under the present wording of the Clause. My right hon. Friend would like to accept the Amendment, which has been pressed with such commendable brevity. We have examined it very carefully, but the difficulty is if we lost the slight degree of flexibility which the present wording gives us, it is possible to envisage a situation in which we would be prevented from doing something in the way of repre- 2180 sentation, which would put the individual authority in the position which my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln has in mind.
Apart from other considerations, we should run into trouble with fractions of representation. "Having regard" seems to us to be a form of words which most nearly meets the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham, and at the same time affords to the Minister sufficient flexibility for avoiding getting into difficulties. My hon. Friends are here on a good point, but we think that they would be well advised to leave the matter as it is. We feel that the point which they have in mind is covered, and I hope they will accept my assurance that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend to act in accordance with the principle laid down in the Clause. In those circumstances I suggest that they withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I am very worried by the words the Parliamentary Secretary has used on this Amendment. It is made clear that what the Minister intends to do under this Bill is to see that urban interests get undue weightage. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will now explain what I mean by that. In 1930, the last time when we were plagued with a Socialist Government, Lord Noel Buxton and Lord Addison brought in a Land Drainage Bill. That gave far more weightage to urban and rural areas and the county boroughs could not have more than 50 per cent, representation.
§ Mr. T. Williams
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) not on the wrong Amendment? Surely he is speaking to the previous Amendment.
§ Mr. Turton
If the Minister would listen to what I am saying instead of being unduly touchy when reminded of his illustrious predecessors, it would be better for the progress of the Debate. We have got the position that instead of having this 50 per cent., the county boroughs are to have a proportion in representation provided it is actuarily correct. That means that on a river board, where the river for the greater part goes through a poor county but where there are one or two rich county boroughs, they are to have undue representation. I 2181 hope the Minister will construe the words "having regard" rather differently. I want him to have regard to the estimated amount of the contributions to be paid and also to other relevant factors. I should have thought that that would have been the way to approach the matter. As it is, in the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, although this Amendment is being rejected the sense of it is being accepted, and it is a dangerous sense.
§ Mr. York
The point which makes me intervene is that raised by the Parliamentary Secretary that representation shall, in fact, follow the amount of contribution. If I understood his argument aright, it seems to me to be very little short of being hypocritical to advance that argument on this Amendment when he was opposing us for advancing the same argument on a former Amendment. On the former Amendment we were discussing the risk, the amount of contribution and perhaps some other things which were advanced by us as reasons for weighting the catchment boards in a certain proportion. Now we come to an Amendment put forward by county borough representatives, and we find the Government accepting that argument. Although they are not expressly providing for it in the Bill, they are going to use the weight of contributions to assess the amount of representation. Are the Government satisfied with that? They do not seem to have made up their minds about this, and if it is the case that they are going to use the weight of their contribution as between the county boroughs and the county councils, why do they refuse to accept the weight of contributions in the case of these internal drainage boards, which have a far higher amount of contributions to the catchment board than either the county council or the county borough?
§ Mr. T. Williams
I can answer the hon. Gentleman very simply. There are 18 catchment boards where the drainage authorities do not make any contribution at all, and still we give them and the fishery interests at least 13 representatives.
§ Mr. York
The Minister has missed my point. The point I was making was, where the internal drainage board has a greater proportion than the county council or the county borough why is there 2182 no weight there? Why does the Minister merely defend the case where a private board does not contribute at all? That is no answer to my case. We have already said we are willing to give the Minister that side of the case. He has not made his case either on this Amendment or on the former Amendment.
§ Mr. Harrison
In view of the assurance which has been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.