HC Deb 31 May 1951 vol 488 cc503-7
Mr. Dalton

I beg to move, in page 5, line 9, to leave out from "he," to the second "or," in line 12, and to insert: cleanses any part of the channel or bed of a stream from a deposit accumulated by reason of any dam, weir, or sluice holding back the water of the stream, and does so by causing the deposit to be carried away in suspension in the water of the stream. This is a drafting Amendment. The words which are to be omitted were put into the Bill during the Committee stage as the result of an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). I said that I accepted the Amendment in principle but that we should have to re-examine the words. I have done that, and the revised wording does not alter the sense of the subsection. I believe that the Amendment gives the hon. Member for Devizes what he wanted.

The Amendment aims at preventing as far as possible pollution arising from the turning into a stream of any deposit accumulated behind any dam, weir or sluice. This is where we must have a limited number of words in order to give the maximum effect. If we use more than a limited number of words we are likely to get less than the maximum effect. These three words are used in the place of the hon. Member's original proposal. The words that he wanted to use were mill, river dam, weir, impound or waterlodge. The three monosyllables, dam, weir and sluice, give the full meaning, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, in page 5, line 13, to leave out "and," and to insert "or."

This is an Amendment to a new Clause inserted in Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman indicated that he was prepared to accept such an Amendment. It was not possible to move it because it would have involved a second manuscript Amendment, and the Chairman of the Committee thought it had better come at a later stage. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept it now, I need not say anything further.

Mr. Dalton

I should like to consider it.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Perhaps in those circumstances I had better justify the Amendment. The relevant words in the Bill are that subject to this Act a person commits an offence punishable under this Clause if, by his wilful default and without the consent of the River Board, he cuts vegetation and leaves it in the stream.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) pointed out in the course of the debate that in his present constituency, and in my old constituency, there were many circumstances in which individuals cut vegetation which gets carried away in a stream without any default on the part of the person cutting the vegetation and without his having any very obvious obligation to seek permission to leave the vegetation where it may be carried away. The circumstances are the Wash lands of East Anglia which are occasionally flooded over very large areas, and where substantial quantities of vegetation may need to be cut and left about from time to time.

If the Bill stands as at present drafted, a person seeking to bring himself outside the terms of this clause would have to show not only that it was without his wilful default that the vegetation got into the stream, but also that he had obtained the consent of the river board to let it get into the stream. I do not think that can really be the intention of the Government. It is quite clear that these two expressions are alternative to one another; that where a person innocently allows vegetation to get into the stream he should not also be required to get consent.

My Amendment merely makes the two terms disjunctive and alternative. In those circumstances, a person will be guilty of an offence if he has either allowed the vegetation to get into the stream by wilful default, or if he has not obtained the permission of the authority.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to second the Amendment.

Major Legge-Bourke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for moving his Amendment, because it gives an opportunity to the Minister to elaborate a little on the correspondence which he and I have been having on this very subject. I think that he has overlooked the fact that in these Washlands flooding is often done deliberately in order to ease the situation higher up the river, that no warning has to be given to the people concerned, whether they be farmers or osier growers, and it is quite conceivable that the flood comes down and washes away all the stacked osiers and that technically there might be an offence.

I think the Minister has covered the point in his correspondence where it would have been the obligation of the river board to let the man know that the flood was coming, but there is no obligation, nor has the man got to ask permission normally from the river board, or the old catchment board in days gone by, to carry out this trade. What I am most anxious to avoid is that anyone should be put in the position of having to ask the river board for permission to carry out his ordinary trade. That is the point to which I hope the Minister will reply.

Mr. Dalton

As I explained in Committee, I am quite sympathetic to the purpose of the Clause. The only question is the words which best achieve what we all have in mind. I undertook to look into the wording again and I have, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) says, had some correspondence with him about it. I am advised by my legal advisers that the Clause as it stands, without any Amendment, would meet the point which the hon. and gallant Member has in mind.

As the Clause stands, before a person can be held to have committed an offence, he must have allowed a substantial quantity of osiers or cut-up root vegetation, or whatever it may be, to get into the river or stream by wilful default and without the consent of the river board. Wilful default has to be proved in order that he can be proceeded against. I am advised that if the vegetation is carried downstream without the consent of the river board, wilful default must still be proved. There would seem, therefore, to be no danger that an osier cutter, or any other person following a similar occupation, would be prosecuted if he had no reasonable grounds for thinking that his osiers would be washed away.

The argument that has been put to me, and which seems reasonable, is that if we accept the Amendment we make the position of the osier grower, not safer, but more insecure, in the face of the law. If we were to insert the word "or" instead of "and," the consent of the river board would be an alternative to wilful default; and if that consent were not obtained, it would not be necessary to prove wilful default and, therefore, the man might be caught.

Being, as I have said, anxious to assist these people, I think that on reflection it appears that they are very much safer with the Clause as it is, and that their position would be rendered more precarious if we adopted the Amendment. I suggest, therefore, to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who moved the Amendment, and to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that it would be better if we left well alone.

Mr. Mitchison

All I wish to observe is that this illustrates the perils of the Chancery Bar attempting to amend criminal legislation. This Amendment is, obviously, wrong.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Without in any way conceding to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), I see the force of what the Minister has said. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dalton

I beg to move, in page 5, line 17, at the end, to insert: (2) Paragraph (a) of the foregoing subsection shall not apply to anything done in the exercise of statutory powers conferred by or under any enactment referring to land drainage, flood prevention or navigation. During the Committee stage the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) raised this matter, somewhat resembling the Amendment we have now tabled, framed with a particular reference to internal drainage boards, to which the hon. Member referred earlier today. He said that the drainage boards have certain statutory duties, which is quite true, requiring them to undertake dredging and other work in order to keep watercourses clear.

I am advised, and it seems common sense, that one cannot work under-water without stirring up some mud which will be carried away with the stream. We must bear that in mind when drafting this legislation. That would mean that the drainage boards would be required to obtain the prior consent of the river boards before carrying out duties which have been put upon them by Parliament.

I have re-examined the whole thing, and the Amendment is designed to preserve unchanged the position of both the drainage boards and the navigation authorities, who have statutory powers to cleanse the streams. We propose to keep them in the same position as they are in now and to exempt them from the need to obtain the river board's consent for such work, which, I think, was what the hon. Member had in mind.

Mr. Turton

I rise to thank the Minister for putting down an Amendment which completely meets the point made by the Association of Drainage Authorities.

Amendment agreed to.