HC Deb 01 February 1961 vol 633 cc1097-101

Mr. Galbraith I beg to move, in page 8, line 12, at the end to insert: or by a sewerage or water authority in carrying out, or paying compensation in respect of, any operations for the diversion of a sewer or, as the case may be, a water main, being operations connected with the improvement or alteration of a watercourse and specified in a flood prevention scheme made by that local authority. It may he convenient to discuss at the same time the Amendment in Clause 13, page 8, line 30, leave out from "incurred" to "in" in line 31.

The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

If that is convenient to the Committee, yes.

Mr. Galbraith

As I have already explained, in Standing Committee I undertook to look at the drafting of the Bill to see whether anything could be done to allow local authorities to carry out work on a sewer or water main to the extent that such work was necessary to prevent urban flooding.

I also said that I would not wish to exclude the possibility of co-operation between authorities, or different departments of the same authority, for that purpose. The Committee will recollect that the point arose because the definition of the word "watercourse" in Clause 2 (2) expressly excludes any sewer or water main.

I am afraid that it has not been found practicable to proceed by way of amending the definition of watercourse in the Bill, because this would have the effect of giving a flood prevention authority power to carry out work on sewers or water mains itself and thus to encroach on the statutory functions of sewerage or water authorities, and we have dealt with that matter.

I believe, however, that we have achieved the desired result in that, where it is necessary to divert a sewer or water main which is causing an obstruction likely to cause urban flooding, it will be possible to include the work in a flood prevention scheme, and because of this to obtain grant on the expenditure even though the work is to be carried out by the sewerage or water authority.

I think that the most convenient way to achieve what is wanted is to give the flood prevention authority power to make contributions to the sewerage or water authority for works of this nature, provided that they are an essential part of the operation and are specified in the flood prevention scheme.

I know that hon. Gentlemen were equally concerned with the financial aspects of the matter. The Bill as originally drafted not only precluded the flood prevention authority from carrying out any work on a sewer or water main, but also expressly prohibited grant from being paid on any expenditure incurred in connection with a sewer.

I cannot think that that situation is likely to arise very often, but I appreciate that it might conceivably cause a local authority, faced with heavy expenditure, to think twice before moving a sewer or water main, and that it might thereby act as a brake on its flood prevention scheme.

The Amendment in Clause 13, page 8, line 30, puts the matter right. If a flood prevention authority ever finds itself faced with the sort of situation that we have in mind, it will be able to arrange with the sewerage or water authority to re-site the main and to reimburse that authority in the form of a contribution under Clause 12 and to claim grant on this expenditure.

This fully meets the undertaking that I gave in Committee, and I am glad that it has been possible to do so. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will feel that we have made a good job of this.

Mr. Ross

We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the attention that he has paid to this matter. It must have caused him considerable trouble to decide how to fit it in.

I am not as happy as he is about having met the undertakings that we sought. In Committee upstairs he said: … I agree that there may be a case for any necessary alteration in the location of the sewer or water main which is carried out by the local authority to be done as a flood prevention job under this Bill. That is when there is a need for a diversion. He went on to say: There may also be cases, though I would think they would be comparatively rare, where it might be convenient for a local authority to provide extra capacity to deal with the flooding in a new sewer which is needed in any case for the purposes of the Public Health Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 8th December, 1960, c. 55.] The hon. Gentleman led us to believe that he appreciated two particular instances where, in relation to flood prevention, it would be desirable to have operations affecting sewers and water mains. The Amendment refers to operations for the diversion of a sewer, or as the case may be, a water main, being operations and so on.

9.0 p.m.

In other words, the hon. Gentleman has dealt only with the one specific case of diversion of a sewer or a water main and not with the question of the inadequacy of a sewer in relation to flood prevention. So, although he has done well, he has not done well enough. While we are grateful for what he has done, we would point out that where one is taking steps in relation to flood prevention, and it is obvious that in order to obviate that flooding it will be necessary to spend some time and money on a new sewer, then specifically to omit that from one of the things to be done is somewhat illogical. I hope that, while the Under-Secretary of State appreciates that we are glad that he has done what he has, he realizes that we are still rather dissatisfied about this point.

Not only is his Amendment limited to the diversion of a sewer; it is limited to operations connected with the improvement or alteration of a watercourse. Why did the hon. Gentleman still further limit it? It may well be that, as it is empowered to do under Clause 2, a local authority is creating a new watercourse and the creation of that new watercourse might mean the diversion of a sewer or water main. According to this Amendment that would not be covered, because it is limited purely and simply to the words: being operations connected with the improvement or alteration of a watercourse, unless he is now going to tell us that "alteration" includes a new watercourse.

There is a ring of familiarity about the words improvement or alteration of a watercourse". We find them in Clause 2 (1, c) which refers to: the improvement or alteration of any watercourse. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the first thing we did today was to put in some words there to make it read: the improvement, alteration or major reinstatement of any watercourse". Does the hon. Member propose to include major reinstatements in this case as well? I think that that is absolutely essential. If he is to carry forward the phraseology of Clause 2 (1, c) into Clause 12 he should also include that.

There are two points on which we have not been met, one arising from an Amendment that he has made. I am sorry that the Lord Advocate is not here, but I would ask the Under-Secretary of State—on a point which was raised in discussion a little earlier with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis)—where this fits into the whole pattern of a flood prevention scheme. We have already had a definition of a flood prevention scheme in Clause 4. A flood prevention scheme is a flood prevention operation other than maintenance, and this provision is for other than maintenance. To get a definition of the words, "flood prevention operation" we are sent back to Clause 2, which specifically says that flood prevention operations shall not include work done on a sewer or water main.

How is a local authority to be able to satisfy the requirements that we are now asked to specify in the Amendment, when it would appear from Clause 4 that the definition of a flood prevention scheme is limited to flood prevention operations that specifically exclude sewers and water mains? This is why we are being so insistent. The quite unnecessary ingenuity of the Scottish Office has led it into considerable difficulty. It has got round this, but has done so very clumsily and not without incurring a certain measure of legal doubt.

There is also the other aspect, of introducing new authorities. We have had a certain amount of discussion on that. Although the Government Amendment meets our point about sewers and water mains half way, it is really quite unsatisfactory. The Scots are not in the habit of looking a gift horse in the mouth. We subject it to a minute examination, and having done so on this occasion we find that, although it is wanting in certain respects, it is possible for us to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.