HC Deb 17 March 1959 vol 602 cc291-319

Read a Second time and committed.

7.6 p.m.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to inquire into the extensive and unco-ordinated depletion of the water resources of Dartmoor that has taken place in the past; into the effect on agriculture, fisheries and amenities that will arise from the proposed abstraction of such a high proportion of the flows on the rivers East Dart and North Teign; into the effect that the proposals in the Bill will have on unemployment in the tourist industry in South Devon; and into a future re-organisation of the water supply industry in the South Devon area; and to hear such evidence as the Committee may think fit on these matters. I want to make it clear at the outset that everyone, as far as I know, agrees that Torquay needs more water, particularly in the dry weather during the summer months. I do not think anyone disputes that. The only question is about the best way to satisfy the water needs of Torquay and at the same time to do the least harm to the various other interests concerned.

The following bodies have petitioned against the Bill: Devon County Council, Devon River Board, Paignton, Ashburton and Buckfastleigh Urban District Councils, the Borough of Totnes, Teign Valley Preservation Association, the National Farmers' Union, Dartmoor Commoners' Association, Dartmoor Preservation Association, the Dart Riparian Owners' Association, the Dart and Teign Netsmen, the Dart Angling Association, Dartmouth Harbour Commissioners, the River Dart Navigation Commissioners and the Church Commissioners. I give this list in full in order to show that the objection is not frivolous and that there is a very large body of responsible people who are seriously worried and concerned about the probable effects of the Bill.

I have also taken the trouble to ascertain that by continuing to object, as we have done, to the Second Reading, my hon. Friends and I have in no way delayed consideration of the Bill. The fact is that, having been petitioned against anyway, the Bill must go to the Opposed Bill Committee. I am informed that it has been arranged for it to do so after Easter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) will appreciate this because he was at one time rather cross with me for opposing the Bill. The only reason why we have objected is to ensure that the issues involved are fully understood and that the fears and objections of those likely to be affected are carefully considered.

Statements from the Torquay Corporation and from the objectors have been circulated to hon. Members, and I do not think it is necessary for me to do more than to outline very briefly the proposals of the Bill and their probable effect.

The proposals are that the Fernworthy Dam, which lies high up on Dartmoor, should be raised by 20 feet and thus add to the capacity of the reservoir which provides just over half Torquay's present water supply. In order to find the extra water needed for this operation it will be necessary to divert into the reservoir the head waters of two little rivers, the East Dart and the North Teign. The Bill provides that a residual flow of water should be left in the rivers.

In my opinion and that of many other people, this residual flow will be inadequate and the rivers will be reduced to drought conditions. Neither the poor little East Dart nor the poor North Teign would get any compensation water at all, because the compensation water, such as it is, would flow out of the reservoir and into the South Teign. Ever since the Fernworthy Reservoir was built in 1935, the South Teign has been a sad trickle of its former self and is no good as a spawning ground. The North Teign, which joins the South Teign at Leigh Bridge, a well-known beauty spot, is still the happy little moorland stream that I have known all my life. It is still a good spawning ground and a beautiful little river to look at. If the Bill goes through the North Teign will become a trickle like the South Teign. So also will the East Dart.

By the proposals under the Bill, the Torquay water supply would get an extra 3.7 million gallons a day, which might be sufficient to last until 1990, although I understand these estimates of the amount of water which will be needed are often rather optimistic and perhaps 1980 would be rather nearer the mark. Torquay would get an extra 3.7 million gallons a day, but the extra compensation water to make up for the losses to the rivers would be only a miserable .15 million gallons per day. To be adequate, I understand the compensation would need to be more like .8 million gallons per day.

The total cost of the Fernworthy scheme, I understand, would be somewhere about £560,000. There is no practical objection to raising the dam, because it was originally constructed so that at some time later it could be raised, but when it has been raised the Fernworthy catchment area will be fully developed and, probably before 1980, Torquay will have to look around for another source of supply. Other authorities in South Devon may very likely be in the same position.

Therefore, it seems that there is a strong argument for embarking now upon a much larger scheme in order to satisfy the demands of a wider area. The time has passed when individual authorities should be allowed to get water on what I would call the "snatch-as-snatch-can" principle. There is a scheme suggested by the well-known and appropriately named expert on water supplies, Sir Arnold Waters, whom the Devon River Board has consulted. This is a scheme to take water, not from the headwaters of the Dart and the Teign, but from the lower reaches of the River Dart at Totnes Weir, just above the tidal waters.

It is true that the annual running cost of the Totnes Weir scheme would be more owing to the need for pumping, but pumping would probably only be necessary for a month or two in the summer when the holiday population is at its peak. Taking it all round, it is estimated that the difference in cost of water would not be more than about an extra 3d. per 1,000 gallons. On the other hand, the capital cost of the Totnes Weir scheme, including treatment, would be less. It would be somewhere around £400,000 as against £560,000.

For the County of Devon as a whole, the scheme suggested by Sir Arnold Waters would have very great advantages. It is believed that, unlike the Torquay scheme, it would not harm the Dart and its amenities. It would avoid ruining two beautiful moorland rivers, the North Teign and the East Dart, which many of us in Devon have loved all our lives. It would not upset the fishing and would not damage the local hotel industry, which is largely dependent on the fishing and the beauties of Dartmoor and its rivers. It would not, like the Torquay scheme, adversely affect agriculture by reducing the amount of water in the river available for watering cattle, and it would not cause financial loss to mill owners and industrial users of water from the river. Nor would it increase the danger of pollution, which the Torquay scheme would very likely do.

With the ever-growing demand for water, it is essential that we should conserve our limited sources of supply and make the best and widest possible use of it. In our opinion, the Torquay scheme does not do this. I believe it would be found that the Totnes Weir scheme would do so. I believe there are other ways in which Torquay could get water. There may be other very good schemes. I am not competent to judge of them, but they should certainly be considered.

I repeat, as I began, that of course I do not want to stop Torquay getting the extra water it needs. None of us does. I have always had a great admiration for Torquay. I think it a beautiful place, indeed, the most beautiful seaside resort on the whole south coast of England. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The most beautiful seaside resort of its kind in the whole of south-west England. Because I want to make certain that everything possible is done to avoid damage to all these wider interests in Devon—and I care very much for the welfare and interests of my county—I move this Motion, which I believe to be a very reasonable one.

7.16 p.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, I wish to make my position and attitude quite clear. Not being a Devon Member, I should not think of intervening in any merely local matter, and I hope that hon. Members representing that fair county will accept it from me that I intervene only because I consider that this is a matter of national concern, a matter of principle and real importance.

I believe that if this Motion were accepted it would not in any way damage the interests of Torquay. It would not, I am advised—and I believe there is no doubt about it—in any way prevent Torquay getting the water which my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) said, perhaps not entirely in a way which may not be misunderstood, they need so badly. I understand there would be no difficulty at all. If this were accepted it would allow the occasion to be taken for getting a general recognition of the vital need for a national and coordinated policy in relation to the abstraction of water.

In the past, the abstraction of water has been allowed to get out of control. I think it is generally agreed that it is largely through the lack of an appropriately thought-out plan and the consequent lack of enforcement of the necessary means to carry it into effect. I have an interest to declare—in fact two interests. First, I am a lifelong enthusiastic angler, and secondly, I have had much pleasure, and hope to have much more—certainly if this Motion is accepted—in fishing in the beautiful rivers of Devonshire. I do not feel it necessary to apologise for speaking on behalf of what are estimated to be more than 2 million anglers—certainly the largest body for which I have ever spoken. I may say that I have not asked their permission to do so, but I believe they will not mind it being said on their behalf that they are tired of being treated merely as nuisances who can be brushed aside.

If a mass lobby of anglers could be organised, we could all come to this House with our rods, our nets and reels—I do not know about gaffs—to show the public interest, but anglers do not do that sort of thing; they are quiet people. It is essential to realise that the cumulative effect of water abstraction from our rivers is terrible. It is not so much the direct effect of lowering the level of the streams—although that may be bad enough sometimes in relation to spawning fish and so forth—but the trouble is that there is a vicious spiral. First, the water is abstracted and used, and then it is returned either as sewage or effluent, and often it has not been properly purified. So an increasing amount of polluting matter goes into a decreasing amount of clean water.

That is not the end of it, because the next thing that happens is that the users of water down below say that the water is too dirty and that they must go upstream to get clean water from the uplands or from underground sources. The result is that down goes the water level again and up goes the pollution. As I understand it, there is good reason to believe today that if we could only clean up our existing rivers there would be enough water in them for all industrial and most domestic uses, and then we should avoid the unseemly scramble for water that is going on at the present time.

The matter can be put more simply, as I understand it was put in a quotation which was sent to me from proceedings before a Committee in another place on a famous Bill on which a Scottish ghillie announced that he wanted to give evidence. When he appeared before the Committee he was asked to give his evidence and not to be too long. He said "I will not be long, my Lords. I merely wish to state that it is a well known fact that where there is nae water there is nae fush." That seems to me to put the thing more clearly and certainly more shortly than I could have done, but it is a serious matter.

There are organisations all over the country which are interested in this matter, such as the Anglers' Co-operative Association, which is doing admirable work, the Salmon and Trout Fisheries Association, and many local associations. Fishing is not a rich man's pastime. It was interesting to note the other day that at the opening of the salmon fishing season on the River Coquet there were 200 members of the working men's association fishing there, and all over the country, though perhaps not so much near London, there are people from all sections of the population who are interested, for example, in sea trout fishing in the estuaries which many of us know. One of the delights which I have always thought fishing offers is that it is one of the things in life in which there are no differences of class, politics or anything else. The only feeling is whether somebody is going to get a bigger one than oneself, and that is quite a harmless thing.

I should like, therefore, to appeal to the promoters of this Bill to allow this Motion to be accepted. There is no ill-feeling about it, and I feel that perhaps the only appropriate thing about my being allowed to intervene in this debate is that I can say that it is not a local dispute in any sense, and I appeal to the promoters in that way.

I should like to quote some words from the greatest angler of all, or, at any rate, one of the greatest—Izaak Walton —describing the sort of people we are—these 2 million anglers. He said: No life, my honest scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well-governed angler; and, of course, anglers are all well-governed— for when the lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams, which we now see glide so quietly by us. It is a sad thing that these "silent, silver streams" of which Izaak Walton spoke are almost entirely gone. Rivers such as the Wandle, the Mimram, and, of course, the Lea, the worst of all, have gone out of existence altogether.

Those of us who are anglers, and I am sure that I can speak for all of them, feel that we want to stop the rot going any further, if we can. We want in a very friendly way to give a solemn warning to all the authorities concerned, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister, whom I am glad to see here, that if he does not live up to his declared intention to go down in history as the Minister for Clean Rivers, 2 million men and women will want to know the reason why.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)

When I heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) claim to speak for 2 million fishermen, I thought that I might, on the same basis of logic, claim tonight to be able to speak for all those throughout the United Kingdom who either drink or wash with water. There is no intention in the minds of the promoters of this Bill to object, as such, to this Motion going forward tonight in its present form.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme), who spoke first for this Motion, began his remarks with the observation that at one point I had seemed rather cross with him about his tactics. I shall have to content myself with the thought that whatever remarks we may have exchanged on this subject were made in private conversation, and it would perhaps be inadvisable to pursue them now, except to say that if there was any crossness I gained the perhaps fallacious impression that the feeling was mutual.

As regards the actual merits of this Motion, I do not think it would be appropriate tonight for me to consider them or any of the adverse comments which the promoters of the Bill might feel disposed to make from a study of the statement which has been put in by those who object to the Bill. The mere fact that I do not formally object, as I shall not do tonight, to the Motion should not be taken for a moment as meaning that the promoters of the Bill in fact accept all or any of the contents of the statement which has been issued in support of the Motion or that they accept the observations made by my hon. Friend who opened the debate on this subject.

Their real attitude is that all the points made in this Motion are in fact points expressly suitable to be discussed in Committee, when in due course this Bill reaches it, and, therefore, it would be superfluous to go through them in detail this evening. Indeed, I can say here, in declaring my own position, that although I am speaking in support of the promoters of the Bill and their case tonight, it is well known that some people in part of the constituency which I have the honour to represent are among those who object to it, and I have never at any time said that I agree with the Bill in every respect. All I would say here tonight is that I think it is eminently a Bill which, for the reasons given—that Torquay must have extra water—should be given a Second Reading and go before a Select Committee for the detailed consideration which it deserves.

I want to stress, too, that in some instances there has been quite a degree of exaggeration of the harm that this Bill would do, even if enacted in its present form. A spokesman in the Devon County Council recently said that if the Bill went through Dartmoor would become a desert. A little historical research shows that the extra water would come from the same source as that from which the old tin workings got their supplies—through the same old leats. The only difference is that considerably more water was then taken through the leats for the local tin mines than Torquay now proposes to take, but, as far as I know, Dartmoor did not become a desert—

Sir H. Studholme

I find that a ridiculous argument. In those days, very little water was used for the towns. The big towns did not use water in the same way.

Mr. Bennett

That is not relevant to what I said. I said that considerably more water was then taken from the higher reaches of Dartmoor than the extra amount now proposed to be taken, yet Dartmoor did not become a desert. In any case, I have too much respect for my hon. Friend to think that he really imagines that Dartmoor would become a desert—

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

Can the hon. Member inform the House when the tin mines of Dartmoor were last worked?

Mr. Bennett

I cannot give that information. In any case, it is not pertinent. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock does not support the view that in such circumstances Dartmoor would become a desert.

Another of the objections is that this scheme would lead to loss of or damage to agricultural land. I am categorically instructed that there would be no loss of agricultural land at all. All the land needed is already owned by Torquay. My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock murmurs that he never said that. I can only say that, however prominent may have been my hon. Friend's position in recent negotiations, others besides himself have made objections to this Bill. I am commenting on all the objections and not only on his. For, contrary to the idea that agricultural industry will be harmed, I may say that some of the increase is needed for rural and agricultural water supplies. This water is not intended just for the town.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey knows that I have some natural sympathy with his cause. In fact, we have fished the same rivers in Wales. However, it is right in this matter, too, to get and to keep a sense of proportion. It is interesting to note that before the Fernworthy Dam was made a large number of objections were made against that project by anglers on the grounds of harm being done to fishing interests. I have same interesting statistics. Between 1943 and 1946, 821 salmon were netted, another 85 were rod caught. Yet after all those grim warnings about the effects on fishing interests, the fact remains that six years after the Fernworthy Dam was completed—that is, between 1948 and 1950—there was a 30 per cent. improvement in the number of fish caught; in other words, 1,078 salmon were netted then as compared with 821 before the dam was built, and 111 salmon were rod caught instead of the previous 85.

Now, as to compensation, mention has been made of the ill effects on the Teign, but there will be 150,000 extra gallons of compensation water daily, which will therefore mean no loss of flow at all at the confluence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock said that if this scheme went through the Dart would be reduced to a trickle—

Sir H. Studholme

The East Dart.

Mr. Bennett

The East Dart, yes. It is all the more relevant to get the figures in proportion, and I confess that I am now referring to the Dart as a whole. The maximum loss at any time will be 3 per cent. of the flow, and bearing in mind the river's size I do not think that it could be said that there would be very serious effects on fishing or other interests.

The Motion speaks of … reorganisation of the water supply industry … My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in the water survey appertaining to this district, has recommended the raising of the Fernworthy Dam and the abstraction of water from the North Teign as proposed in the Bill. Therefore, two out of three of the promoters' proposals have not only been considered but have been embodied in the recommendations of the Survey.

The promoters of the Bill have not, at any stage, averred that this Bill is not capable of improvement, and they would certainly welcome constructive suggestions to that end. Paignton, in another part of my constituency, objects to the Bill. Therefore, I have no plea to make tonight except that this Measure should receive the normal fair consideration that any Bill receives by the appropriate Committee. I do not think for a moment that I would be right in opposing the Motion, for the very good reason that, as I have said, it albeit superfluously sets out precisely the sort of things that the Committee should consider.

It is worth placing on record that Torquay has a very real and urgent need for the water. It has a winter population of 87,500, rising to 150.000 in the summer. It is becoming increasingly popular as a seaside resort. Torquay can fairly claim the help of the whole county in this request for further supplies of water. It can make that claim for the help and co-operation of the rest of the county, because not only is it a particularly beautiful seaside resort, but it contributes very substantially to the finances of Devon. Torquay certainly makes a much greater economic contribution to the welfare of the county, with whose interests we are all concerned, than do many of the objecting bodies.

I hope therefore that we shall avoid any further delay in seeing that this Bill receives the consideration it deserves, and that it will now go to a Committee, either with or without the Motion attached to it, as the House may decide.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Mark Bonham Carter (Torrington)

I should like, first, to apologise to the House for speaking on two days running, and to assure hon. Members that I do not propose to make this a habit. I have not yet developed that political experience that leads some people, whenever they see two or three people gathered together, to feel an irresistible desire to address them, nor do I find it intolerable to listen to any speeches except my own.

I understand that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. Bennett) came down, in the end, in favour of the Motion so clearly put before the House by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme). I am glad that he did so. It would seem that in this House tonight we could cry, in the words of the song: I'm very fond of water, I take it noon and night, No mother's son nor daughter takes therein more delight. It is because of the importance of water, both to Torquay and to Dartmoor—some of which lies within the boundaries of my constituency—that I speak. In the earlier part of his remarks, the hon. Member for Torquay neglected what his hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock made so clear, and what I should like to repeat: everybody who has doubts about this Bill, and who supports the Motion, nevertheless agrees that Torquay must have water.

I am not altogether happy about the method by which Torquay proposes to get its water. I am not altogether happy, partly because of the effect it may have on Dartmoor. As the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said, it is a matter for national concern. Torquay is a national beauty spot. As the hon. Member for Torquay said, it depends very largely on the tourist trade. A large number of people go to Torquay to go elsewhere. One of the places to which they go is Dartmoor. Therefore, it is in their interests, as well as in the interests of Devon and of the country as a whole, that we should look very carefully at any scheme which does anything to impair the beauty of Dartmoor.

One has only to look at the people who have objected to the Bill, and their wide interests, to see that the doubts need to be dispelled. They are farmers, fishermen, the Dartmoor Preservation Society and the Devon County Council, which, after all, represents all interests.

Dartmoor already suffers from having an Army training ground. I feel that that is bad enough. I understand that there is a possibility—indeed, that it will be necessary—of erecting buildings or constructions on Dartmoor if the scheme as it stands goes through. I shall be very sorry to see anything which in any way impairs the extraordinary beauty of Dartmoor. For that reason, I support the Motion.

7.42 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I also should like to support the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) in such a very clear manner. I must tell the House that I am not speaking on behalf of the Plymouth City Council. For generations the Plymouth City Council has taken its water from Dartmoor. Sir Francis Drake in the 1580s constructed leats that brought in all the water by gravity, and that system lasted up until the recent war. It was not until the present rehousing schemes that we had to start pumping in our water. Therefore, I sympathise with the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and with the Torquay Corporation in the Corporation's need for further water.

I should like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that the time has come to make some definite plans, because 14 different water undertakings draw water from Dartmoor. My right hon. Friend may agree that his Ministry sent down Mr. Vail in 1952, who produced what is known as the Vail Report. The Report definitely recommended that the undertakings should be cut down to four water areas.

A regrouping is suggested by Torquay. It is not in accordance with the Vail Report, or in accordance with the Minister's policy as set out in Circular 52/56 of September, 1956. It has been pointed out by hon. Members that the water is likely to last at the most until 1990 only, and probably until only 1980. It is more likely that the former year will be the correct one.

Many organisations which have already been mentioned have petitioned against the Bill. Paignton should be especially noted. It has been suggested that there has been exaggeration about the shallowness of the rivers in the summer months. It is said in the circulars we received from the various authorities that Torquay needs the water urgently during the summer months. It is not an all-year-round problem. Therefore, I do not think that we can consider the whole matter as one of immediate necessity.

There are other ways in which Torquay can obtain its water. For instance, the Devon Water Board and the Paignton Urban District Council have a surplus of water. Therefore, if Torquay is in urgent need of water, I suggest that it might take some surplus water, at any rate on an interim period, from one of those authorities.

I should like to emphasise that the West Country depends a great deal on its tourist trade. It is not just Torquay that depends on the tourist trade. Cities like Plymouth also depend on it. Certain shops deal entirely with fishing gear. Trade will lessen if it is known that certain rivers will become unfishable.

We have very great difficulty in regard to employment. On Dartmoor and in the villages surrounding it there are a great many retired people and widows who keep small boarding houses for the fishermen mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), and also for people who like to go on walking holidays. It will be a great pity if the amenities for fishing and sightseeing are spoiled.

There is a great tourist trade by way of coaches. Coaches go to the beauty spots where the rivers meet. It will be very difficult for them to go there and ensure any interest in the landscapes if the rivers are very shallow, perhaps muddy or, in times of drought, very nearly dried up.

It has been suggested in one of the pamphlets issued by the Torquay Corporation that there are no suitable sources available in South Devon for water supplies other than the rivers. I have mentioned that two sources could supply Torquay with water, both of which obtain their water from the rivers.

Has any consideration been given to the use of sea water? I understand that a great experiment is taking place in Israel on the extraction of salt from sea water. Are any plans being made? If there is a likelihood in the not too distant future of some scheme like that being put into operation it would be helpful to our consideration if we could be told about it. Water from the sea might be used, particularly for bathing, if the salt was removed.

In regard to the shallowness of the rivers, nothing has been mentioned up to dale about the Middle Teign. Paragraph 10 of the Memorandum prepared by the opposers of the Bill says: The Bill proposes to increase the quantity of compensation water but as the capacity of the reservoir will he increased by raising the height of the darn the ratio of the compensation water to the yield of the enlarged reservoir will be reduced to one-quarter. That is a very important point, because we have been led to believe that it would not be reduced. Paragraph 10 continues: Moreover the river will lose the benefit of the freshets that it now receives from the overspill due to the fact that the River Middle Teign is at present under-reservoired. The loss of freshets will affect the small farm owners who use the freshets for watering their cattle, and so on.

Therefore, in the light of the representations which have been made, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that the Motion is worth accepting and that a great deal of work will be done to see that the rivers in Devon are not depleted any further. I hope that we shall have some concrete and organised scheme and not the many and varied small organisations which are in existence at present.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I rise to support the Motion. I need no excuse for saying that I am not a Devon Member, because the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) supported the Motion. But on my father's side I have connections with Devon. I ought to declare my interest at the outset, because I am a member of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which is one of the petitioners against the Bill.

I will confine myself to one petition to which the Dartmoor Preservation Association is a party. The Devon Branch of the National Farmers' Union also is a party to it, and I think that it ought to be made clear that that branch has 200,000 members. This is, therefore, an association, a utilitarian body, of very great consequence in Devon because it represents the greatest industry of Devon, that is, farming.

The Dartmoor Preservation Association was founded in 1883. It is an independent voluntary organisation which seeks to preserve Dartmoor's wild and natural beauty, its freedom and its antiquity as an invaluable heritage for the nation's enjoyment for all time. The association has a membership of more than 500, comprising not only local residents but also people from every part of the country who support the objects of the petitioners.

Again, there is the Dartmoor Commoners' Association. Obviously, the Dartmoor commoners have a very ancient interest in Dartmoor. The fact that they are concerned about the effect of the Bill upon the water resources of Dartmoor is a matter of some consequence. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey spoke about the great membership of the angling associations in this country. In my own constituency, we have many such organisations composed almost entirely of working men.

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) referred to the increase in the number of salmon taken from Dartmoor in recent years. It seems to me that we should also take into account the vastly increased number of anglers, many of whom, probably are working men who, for the first time in their lives, have had holidays with pay which enable them to enjoy Dartmoor. There are also the mill owners, whose position must be considered. Although it may seem odd that I, on this side, should be supporting the riparian owners, it is undoubtedly correct that they have rights, often very ancient rights, which should be respected. There are the rights of the occupiers of land adjoining the rivers which the rivers feed. Finally, there are in Devon the licensed netsmen, who also derive their living from the rivers.

There is very great concern about the lowered water table which the increasing demands on the water resources of Dartmoor is bringing about. This is becoming a nightmare to many of the inhabitants of Dartmoor who may live far from a piped supply. My information is that these people are already facing increasing difficulties year by year. If there comes a time when, for two or three years in succession, there is a low rainfall, such people, as well as the anglers, will have a very sorry time.

As the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Bonham Carter) reminded us, the amenities of the National Park can be spoiled by the erection of buildings. No doubt the Committee will give attention to that aspect of the matter, but one of the purposes of this debate tonight is to make it possible for the points made here by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides to be brought to the attention of the Committee. Those of us who have served on Private Bill Committees know quite well that Second Reading debates are drawn upon by counsel for the promoters and the petitioners quite freely.

The lack of co-ordination, which was stressed by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme), did not matter very much, perhaps in the past, but it is now becoming a menace. All sorts of authorities want to draw water from the same source. During this Session, we have already had a Bill, the North Devon Water Bill, which will impinge upon the water resources of Dartmoor at Taw Marsh, in the north. Although Dartmoor may be large, it is not all that large. On a high tableland of this kind, the water table is bound to be lowered if water is drawn from it at any point of the compass.

Because I objected to the North Devon Water Bill receiving a formal Second Reading and, again, because of objections by hon. Members on both sides to a formal Second Reading for this Bill, I have received correspondence from all kinds of people thanking me for opposing the Bill. They fear that, if it is carried into effect, their interests will be very seriously prejudiced. They include hoteliers, riparian owners, occupiers of land adjacent to the streams and rivers, and people whose businesses depend upon the water of the streams and rivers of Dartmoor.

Two years ago, I spent a summer holiday near Chagford. It was a very wet summer then, as many of us may well remember. There were two streams near where I stayed. When we arrived there, both streams were swollen roaring torrents the whole night through, but it was amazing how quickly the torrents subsided. It seems to me, therefore, that the fears of those concerned with this Bill, those living on Dartmoor, those whose livelihood depends upon the water coming from Dartmoor, are very cogent. There is, I feel, great justice in their fears.

One hon. Member referred to the seaside resorts of the Isle of Thanet on the east coast of Kent. This brought to my mind the Kent Water Bill, which was before an opposed Bill Committee of the House four years ago. The Committee sat for three months. The Bill was promoted by the Kent County Council to conserve the water reserves of Kent and to reduce the number of water undertakings there from 40 to 14. The Bill was approved in all its main particulars by the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Order. The hon. Gentleman may not go into questions about the Kent Water Bill.

Mr. Hayman

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was trying to illustrate the point that there is, as the Minister will know, a great need for a complete survey of the water resources of regions as well as of the country as a whole. The need is particularly great on Dartmoor.

The Motion makes four points. It asks that there shall be an inquiry into the extensive and unco-ordinated depletion of the water resources of Dartmoor that has taken place in the past; into the effect on agriculture, fisheries and amenities that will arise from the proposed abstraction of such a high proportion of the flows on the rivers East Dart and North Teign; into the effect that the proposals in the Bill will have on unemployment in the tourist industry in South Devon; and into a future re-organisation of the water supply industry in the South Devon area". It seems to me that all these points are supported on both sides of the House. As a member of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, as a lover of Dartmoor and of all our National Parks, I would add the plea that we should take into account a quotation from the Bible, and I hope that I shall not be considered blasphemous for making this quotation: Man shall not live by bread alone".

8.0 p.m.

Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)

I have an interest to declare in this Bill in that I am a resident of Torquay. There- fore, I am deeply interested in the provisions of a good and adequate water supply.

But a general principle is involved here, of which I am acutely aware, as I represent a rural constituency, and that is the principle to which most hon. Members have referred, namely, the need to avoid depleting the rivers and streams at their fountainhead. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) particularly emphasised the fishing aspect, and his remarks may be particularly appropriate to the rivers with which we are concerned in this debate. Generally speaking, however, it is more important still that there should be sufficient flow to maintain a healthy condition. Too great a depletion of our streams and rivers near the head waters where sewage effluent pours into them is a matter with which we must be increasingly concerned.

I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) on the amenity value of Dartmoor. I would stress particularly the amenities of Dartmeet, which is probably the most popular place in the whole of Dartmoor. Thousands of people and coaches by the score visit Dartmeet during the holiday season. The East and West Darts meet at this point, and the most popular place for holidaymakers is just up the East Dart, one of the rivers concerned in this Bill. When the Committee deals with this matter, I hope it will bear that point in mind.

I am convinced that the pros and cons of this Bill should be carefully considered at the appropriate place, which is not the Floor of this House but in the Committee upstairs. I fully support this Motion.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I support the Motion which has been moved so eloquently and clearly. On these occasions we do not always give reasons why we speak on behalf of a Motion, but I have noted that all Members who have spoken in this debate have given some reason for doing so, quite apart from the fact that they are either for or against it.

From my own garden at home, I am able to see Dartmoor. When I was young I went over most of Dartmoor with a compass during week-ends. Naturally, I love the place. Quite apart from the amenities of Dartmoor, I would emphasise the need for extreme care when considering water. Of course, every hon. Member wants Torquay to have clear and good water. The question which is before the House is whether there are alternative ways of accomplishing that objective apart from the Bill which we are now considering. We should be extremely careful and bear in mind the important relationship between trees and water. Future inhabitants of the world may well regret the present-day behaviour of some people towards trees, which may lessen the supply of water which is so necessary to the world as a whole.

I noticed with interest the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) on distilling water from the sea. I am certain that a number of hon. Members thought that this suggestion would involve excessive expense, but when she made the suggestion I could not help but also remember the great distilling plant in Kuwait and the vessel which arrived in the Thames lately containing natural gas. The chief cost of that distilling plant in England would be the power to operate it, and it is now possible to bring power to the ports in the form of natural gas much more cheaply than ever before has been contemplated. Although that matter does not arise directly from this Bill, I think it is worthy of consideration by the Minister.

I support this Motion, and I believe that even my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) has slight doubts about whether the Bill is perfect. There is no doubt that the proper place for different evidence to be sifted is in Committee upstairs. I trust that when that evidence is given, the Committee will bear in mind that nothing is more important than water, to maintain it and to see also that the trees are preserved for this purpose. Above all, in matters of this sort we should do nothing in a hurry, but do all we can to preserve the beauty of the locality and supply good water to Torquay.

8.7 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

There has been such a degree of unanimity in the House this evening that it may be that hon. Members do not wish me to intervene. At the same time, a number of references have been made to me in the debate and, indeed, one or two Members have almost reached the point of urging that the Government should accept this Motion.

This is not Government business and it is for the House to decide how it will proceed, but I think it may be desired by my hon. Friends the Members for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme), and by others, that I should say a little both in relation to the Parliamentary situation in which we find ourselves and in relation to some of the points which have been raised.

Two of my hon. Friends have suggested that the Minister or his Ministry is not sufficiently interested in the possibility of obtaining water for industrial or drinking purposes from the sea. I hope that hon. Members who have not yet seen it will obtain and read the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee on The Growing Demand for Water which was published last month, because it is obvious from this evening's debate that many hon. Members are keenly interested in water matters, and I think it is recognised throughout the water industry and by all those who study the subject that this is a Report of the first importance.

This is not a Government Report. It was prepared for the Central Advisory Water Committee by one of its Sub-Committees and it has been endorsed by the Central Advisory Water Committee. On this very point the Report says at paragraph 13: In the future the processes of demineralisation and distillation may be further developed to a point where it will be practicable to use more tidal water for both industrial purposes and public supplies, but at the present stage of development the cost is in general greater than that of piping water over long distances. I must advise the House that that is the most authoritative view that I can put before it at the moment, and it has not simply been thought up in my own mind.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is that Report published by the Stationery Office?

Mr. Brooke


My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock said that the fundamental question here was, what was the best way to meet the needs of Torquay and at the same time to cause the least harm elsewhere. I think the whole House would probably accept that these are questions the detail of which can be much better probed in Committee than in the House. Indeed, to the best of my belief the whole reason behind our procedure on Private Bills is that because so many of them concern matters of detail which could not be discussed at sufficient length in the House they are considered by a Select Committee and the House, if it approves the principle of a Bill on Second Reading, refers it to a Select Committee to which it may or may not give an Instruction. To that last Parliamentary point I will come in a minute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock raised the question of compensation water. He clearly feared that certain rivers would be allowed to run dry or virtually dry under the provisions in the Bill. He also touched on what I should have thought was one of the major questions which any Committee on this Bill would need to thresh out, and that is, whether it is more desirable to meet the water needs of Torquay by abstracting relatively unpolluted water from the headwaters of rivers and feeding it by gravity down to the coast at the risk—I am not prejudging any of these matters—of depleting the flow in those rivers or, alternatively, by abstracting water with a higher degree of pollution from the lower reaches and then having the expense of pumping it into supply. These are essentially matters for the Committee to deal with, and I would certainly not seek in this debate to pronounce upon them.

When I did become worried was when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and my hon. Friend spoke of abstraction of water being out of control. They spoke of an unseemly scramble, a snatch-as-snatch-can situation. I hope the House will forgive me for reminding it that Parliament passed the Water Act in 1945 and put direct responsibility on the Minister to avoid this kind of thing. I will explain in a moment how that happens.

Section 1 of the Water Act. 1945, reads: It shall be the duty of the Minister … to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in England and Wales. … If, therefore, there has been an unseemly scramble for water in the last 14 years Parliament ought to have been taking successive Ministers up upon it. For my part, I think it is disappointing that we have not had a larger number of debates in the House on water, because I have no doubt whatever that that is one of the supremely important subjects for this country.

Mr. Hayman

We all know the right hon. Gentleman's great concern for the water supplies of the country. Could he say whether on his own initiative he has made an examination of the effect of abstraction of water from Dartmoor?

Mr. Brooke

I will come to that in a moment, but we have in the Department—and this goes back long before my time—made engineering surveys all over the country. I think one of my hon. Friends referred to the Vail Report, which is that engineering survey which covers Dartmoor. Reports of these surveys have been made available to the water undertakers in the areas concerned, and I think they have been regarded as of great value and of authoritative quality, if not necessarily the last word on the subject, then an extremely useful, objective engineering examination of the water problems.

There is, I know, some suspicion, not so much in this House as outside, that despite the Water Act it is possible still to snatch as snatch can and to scramble for water. May be it is not for me to lay before the House an account of my stewardship in this, but let me again quote the Report to which I have just referred, the Report of the Sub-Committee on The Growing Demand for Water. In paragraph 27 it says: The Ministry of Housing and Local Government co-ordinates the needs and plans of public water undertakers and no sources car he exploited by them unless they are authorised by an Order of the Minister or by Private Act. A Private Act is an Act of Parliament: an order of the Minister is subject to Parliamentary control. So Parliament is in a sense blaming itself, if it still talks about the scramble for water. My own view is—I take no special credit for myself—that all my predecessors back to 1945 have been responsibly discharging their duties under the Act. I think Parliament has been carefully and thoroughly addressing itself to water Bills and, I am sure, has challenged any water order which needed to be challenged.

These phrases about the "scramble for water" are really at least 14 years out of date. That scramble can no longer take place. Indeed, we are seeing here in the very discussion on this Bill, and by the fact that this Bill must necessarily be referred to a Committee of the House, that there is ample opportunity for those of our colleagues who are appointed to that Committee to examine this Water Bill, and any other water Bill, from the angle of whether it does lead to proper co-ordination in the abstraction of water or not.

I cannot help thinking that one of the difficulties in a case like this—and it may well be part of the consideration which has led my hon. Friend to move that this Instruction be given to the Committee—is that the Private Bill procedure makes no provision for a public local inquiry. When the water undertaker is proceeding by way of a water order to which there is objection, then a public local inquiry must be held. I do not say that everybody is satisfied, but certainly everybody locally has ample opportunity to learn the arguments on both sides.

Mr. Hayman

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that some promoters of water Bills take advantage of this fact and promote a Bill to avoid inquiry?

Mr. Brooke

I do not know if it is for me to pronounce upon that, but it is certainly the case that if a water Bill is promoted then a public inquiry does not take place; but then, if there is a strong feeling that hon. Members whose constituencies or whose interests—I say "interests" in the best sense of the term—are affected, they may seek to debate the details of the Bill on Second Reading, in order that some of the pros and cons may be made known to the public in the locality.

I trust that without getting out of order I may make a passing reference to the fact that my task with the Liverpool Corporation Bill as it affected Tryweryn a couple of years ago would have been an easier one had a local public inquiry preceded the Bill.

Mr. Hayman

In connection with Dartmoor, the North Devon Water Board sought to promote a Bill in order to avoid a public inquiry.

Mr. Brooke

Perhaps I have been straying by mentioning other Bills. I do not think I had better make any comment on the North Devon Water Board or its Bill.

Those are the main points I wish to put to the Committee, and I have only this to add. Normally, if no Instruction had been moved it would be for the Committee itself to decide what was relevant to a consideration of the Bill, to receive evidence thereupon and finally to report its findings to the House. As one or two hon. Members have said, experience shows that every Committee on a Bill which has been already discussed in the House always pays attention to what has been said in the House.

The point that I wish to put to the House is this, and it is a matter for the House rather than for the Government. I suggest to the House that it should consider carefully whether it may not embarrass its own Committee if it agrees to this Instruction today. All the things which I have heard from hon. Members who feel strongly on this matter, in so far as they are relevant to the Bill, will clearly be discussed before the Committee, which will wish to obtain evidence. But I think that the House must be a little careful not to show distrust of its own Committees and, in particular, not to instruct one of its own Committees to cast the net of its inquiries widely beyond the field of relevance of the Bill.

To illustrate that point, this Instruction would require the Committee to inquire into a future reorganisation of the water supply industry in the South Devon area. I have little doubt that certain aspects of regrouping in South Devon may be relevant to the Bill, but I am not sure whether it would be wise to instruct the Committee to go into the whole question of any future regrouping in South Devon and whether it was relevant to the proposals in the Bill.

Furthermore—and I think that this point may weigh with the House more than what I have said about regrouping—the Instruction says that the Committee shall inquire into the extensive and unco-ordinated depletion of the water resources of Dartmoor that has taken place in the past". Certainly, the issue of present abstraction and depletion is relevant, but on this Instruction it appears to me that the Committee would be required to make a historical survey of abstraction of water from Dartmoor over hundreds of years past which may go far beyond the scope of current interest.

Mr. Hayman

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is misleading himself. The Committee surely cannot call witnesses but can only deal with the evidence put before it, either by the promoters or by the petitioners.

Mr. Brooke

I am not sure whether the hon. Member appreciates that this is an Instruction to the Committee to inquire into the extensive and unco-ordinated depletion of the water resources of Dartmoor that has taken place in the past". If there were no Instruction to the Committee, then the Committee could range over that subject as far as it thought it relevant to the Bill, and if it received evidence which in its opinion was irrelevant to the Bill, it could say "No". But if we pass this Instruction tonight we are saying to the Committee that in the view of this House every word in the Instruction is relevant to the Bill. Frankly, if we consider the Instruction carefully and examine the wording of it, I believe that the House will find that we shall be putting an excessive task on the Committee which goes beyond what is relevant to the Bill and which may delay its proceedings. We may, indeed, be embarrassing our own Committee and indicating that we do not trust it to judge for itself what is or is not relevant.

As the Minister concerned, it appears to me that I must put these considerations before the House. This is not a matter, let me hasten to say, for the Government. It is a matter for the House. But, having listened to the whole of the debate, it appears to me that even if this Instruction were not tabled the Committee would, in any case, have to range over all the things which have been said in the debate as being relevant to the Bill, and my fear is—I am speaking very sincerely and simply seeking to do my duty to the House—that if we lake the matter out of the hands of the Committee and give it this Instruction from the House we may be imposing an excessive burden on the Committee and somewhat blurring its examination of what we want to hear from it about, namely, the wide considerations which are relevant to the Bill.

Mr. Hayman

On a point of order. I should like to ask whether a Committee appointed to deal with a Private Bill has any power to call witnesses or to investigate evidence that—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

We have had a very interesting debate, and the suggestions put before us by the Minister raise issues of considerable importance. We must not assume that everything that is is right. Grievous harm may have been done to the flow of water in the streams of Devonshire in the past, which should be taken into consideration when the Bill is being considered. The natural flow of water is one of the essential things in the health of the community, and it becomes more essential as the country becomes more urbanised. I would have thought, therefore, that the first part of the Instruction was a very important guide to the Committee, and I hope that it will not be deleted.

Undoubtedly, great anxiety was caused in the House by the passing of the Water Act, 1945, and by the subsequent administration. But it has hitherto been vague and not of much use as a guide either to Committees or to public opinion. I would not have minded so much if the Instruction had never been moved, but since it has been moved, if the House does not adopt it ingenious people in the offices of Parliamentary Agents will say that, because the House did not adopt it, it did not support it. That will mean that efforts to raise this sort of matter before future Committees, when it may be more relevant, will be discounted by people who wish to get undesirable proposals through.

Mr. Brooke

I hope the right hon. Gentleman did not think that I suggested that it would be for Parliamentary Agents to determine what is relevant. Clearly it is for hon. Members on the Committees to determine that.

Mr. Ede

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever served on one of these Private Bill Committees. I did in my early days in the House, and I can say that the ingenuity displayed by Parliamentary Agents, the counsel they instruct, and the expert witnesses they call, show that they are past masters in the art—

Mr. Ellis Smith

Trust the legal men.

Mr. Ede

I am concerned not only with legal men but with expert witnesses coming from professions closely allied to my hon. Friend's calling. They are quite as bad as any lawyer when it comes to trying to cast dust in the eyes of Committees.

Since the Instruction has been moved for quite definite purposes, which have been well set out by the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) and the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), it would be very disastrous to future proceedings if this Instruction were not pressed, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Tavistock will not withdraw the Motion.

Sir H. Studholme rose

Mr. Ede

If the hon. Member wishes to interrupt me I am willing to give way, but if lie wants to seek leave to withdraw the Motion I shall not accommodate him.

Much has been said about the tourist industry in connection with the Bill. Such connection as I have had with Dartmoor in recent years has been confined to efforts to prevent the hulk of the population becoming tourists. Dartmoor is a delightful place, but in recent years we have had some objectionable behaviour on the part of charabanc parties and other people who are alleged to be touring, who spend far too many consecutive minutes looking at the wretched people on Dartmoor, who may be there because of wrong things they have done in the past but ought not to be regarded as being among the people in whom tourists ought to take a special interest.

I hope that the hon. Member will stand to his guns, because I am certain that the passing of this Motion tonight will mean that instead of being faced with the precedent of a Motion having been moved and then not pushed to a decision, promoters of these Bills will be faced with a precedent showing that this is the kind of wide-ranging Instruction which the House thinks ought to be given by Committees in respect of the promotion of Bills of this kind. I suggest that that is a very desirable precedent to establish, because if we pass the Motion tonight I do not think that it will be necessary to pass it in respect of similar Bills for many years to come.

8.30 p.m.

Sir H. Studholme

In spite of what has been said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), for whose opinion I often have a great respect—and I am sure that what he said tonight was said with the best motives and intentions—having listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend said, namely, that the Instruction in its present form might compel the Committee to obtain evidence which was not strictly relevant, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Motion. It would be a great waste of time to obtain irrelevant evidence, and I am sure that none of us wants to put unnecessary work on these Committees.

My right hon. Friend has said that everything which is relevant in the Instruction can and must be considered by the Committee. I am quite satisfied with that assurance, and I feel certain that my hon. Friends will agree with me. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House that the Motion be withdrawn?

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)


Question put:

The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.