HC Deb 01 February 1961 vol 633 cc1102-13
Mr. Willis

I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, at the end to insert: (5) A local authority before making a flood prevention scheme shall consult with any improvement committee functioning under section three of the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act, 1958, where any land situated in the improvement area administered by such a committee is contiguous to or forms part of the land affected by the proposed flood prevention scheme. We are galloping through the Bill, as is customary with Scottish Members. One of our criticisms of the Government all along with regard to this Bill, the previous Bill and the Government's general attitude towards drainage is their lack of any idea of co-ordinating efforts to prevent and deal with flooding. The 1958 Measure made provision for a group of land owners to undertake work to prevent flooding and to form committees for the administration and maintenance of their schemes. They might, therefore, be involved in flood prevention work on land that is either contiguous to or which forms part of the land considered by the local authority for inclusion in its own scheme.

It does not require a great deal of thought, nor does it need a great deal of knowledge of how these things are done to appreciate that it is desirable that there should be some co-operation between the two parties. We do no want a local authority to take over work that should be done by the land owners. We know that the Government are always very courteous and kind to the land owners, and would like to do all sorts of things for them that they probably would not do for other sections of the community, but I am sure that in this case we do not want a local authority operating a scheme that overlaps one operated by a group of land owners.

That is the simple case. I should have thought that in order to prevent overlapping and any waste of public money—and that should appeal to the Government—it is desirable that there should be consultation between the two bodies in an effort to co-ordinate what is being done with what is proposed to be done. That is what this Amendment seeks to achieve. The Clause as it stands makes it obligatory on a local authority to consult other local authorities when the circumstances are somewhat similar. We on this side think that there should be the same consultation with an improvement committee functioning under the 1958 Act.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has sounded, as he usually does, a very persuasive and convincing note. I recognise that, in some ways, this Amendment seems reasonable and appears to make a constructive approach to close co-operation between the parties concerned with carrying out flood prevention and land drainage schemes. The hon. Gentleman has clearly stated what the result of this Amendment would be.

I agree in general principle that when there is any relation between a land drainage and a flood prevention scheme, there should be some consultation. In fact, if there were consultation between the people who are separately contemplating these schemes there might result, with mutual advantage, a joint scheme. I do not, however, think that consultation would be stimulated by inserting those words. The fact is that a requirement to consult in particular circumstances may actually discourage consultation where the circumstances do not arise.

If one puts in a requirement to consult in certain circumstances, the feeling is that, when what has been specified has been done, all the other obligations have been fulfilled and there is no need to do more. Not every land drainage scheme has a committee already associated with it, and by the time the committee has been appointed the scheme has been published and settled, and the result of such a requirement may be considerable delay and less prospect of collaboration.

It is not only land drainage interests that are involved here; one can think of a good many other interests, especially those mentioned in paragraph 3 (1) of the Second Schedule. A statutory obligation to consult all those bodies at the preliminary stage might give rise to serious and unnecessary delays. However, the Second Schedule does require that when a scheme has been prepared a copy must be served on every such body by the authority preparing it. This gives those bodies the right to lodge objections and, if necessary, pursue them at a public inquiry. In actual practice, it means that they approach the authority promoting the scheme in order to seek adjustment of any points which are causing them concern.

I therefore suggest to the House that the substance of what the Amendment seeks to secure is already incorporated in the Bill and that to write in what the Amendment suggests would unduly complicate the whole proceedings. It might lead to just the kind of delays which we are always trying to avoid in matters of this kind. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will not think it necessary to pursue the Amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I have listened with very great care to what the right hon. Gentleman said. A land drainage scheme is the sort of thing which normally causes flooding. The whole point of a land drainage scheme is to take water from the land a little more quickly than it has been taken hitherto. We find that a great deal of flooding in main water courses is occasioned by the improved drainage that has been effected in recent years.

In the circumstances, if a land drainage scheme is being carried through under the provisions of the 1958 Act and that scheme is contiguous to a small burgh through which the river runs and the small burgh has experienced flooding such as that experienced in Wigtownshire some months ago, the flood prevention authority would wish to consult the improvement committee because both schemes will attract money which we in Parliament provide under these two separate Measures. If there is a scheme in an agricultural area contiguous to a small burgh which has been causing flooding, it is concerned to have a flood prevention scheme made under this Bill. Before the flood prevention scheme is proceeded with we should require that there is consultation with the improvement committee. If the Secretary of State says that the objection to the Amendment is that there will not be an improvement committee in all cases, we should look at the drafting again, but surely there can be no objection to the principle.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

What is the point of consulting?

Mr. Fraser

The Secretary of State thought that there would be great advantage in consulting, but both schemes are subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. If as a result of consultation it were found that the two schemes were, if not one and the same, so closely related that they should be given effect to simultaneously instead of having the landward scheme under the 1958 Act considered by one Department of the Secretary of State's Office at St. Andrews House and the other scheme going through a small burgh being considered by another Department at St. Andrews House—

Sir J. Duncan

It is functioning already.

Mr. Fraser

I do not follow the hon. Gentleman. The land drainage scheme is in operation and that is for agricultural land. If the urban land has previously suffered flooding and the council of a small burgh—or a large burgh—seeks to initiate a scheme under this Bill, it has to submit the scheme to the Secretary of State for approval.

In the Amendment we seek to say that persons promoting a scheme under the Bill to be submitted to the Secretary of State should consult those who have been given approval for another scheme, the success of which will increase the flooding. Surely the authority submitting a scheme under the Bill to the Secretary of State for his approval should be fully conversant with what the other authority is doing, as should the Secretary of State's Department, which is considering the scheme under the Bill. As a result of these consultations it would be possible to see whether it was sufficient to provide works which would counter the kind of flooding which had taken place in the past or whether it was necessary to add some further works to take care of the additional water which would be a consequence of the scheme made under the 1958 Act.

This makes so much sense, and to fail to do it would make so much nonsense, that for the Secretary of State to allow the Bill to go through, dealing with flooding, without seeing that his own Department, in considering a scheme, will take fully into account any additional flooding which will be occasioned by a scheme under the 1958 Act, is quite beyond my comprehension. In view of all the consultations which have to take place between different authorities from time to time, there can be no more sensible requirement than to have consultations in these circumstances.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree to an Amendment to call the attention of the authority promoting the scheme under the Bill to the desirability of having these consultations. The drafting of our Amendment may not be as sound as if it had been done by the Parliamentary draftsmen or the Lord Advocate, but if the principle is sound I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept it and incorporate it in the Bill.

Sir J. Duncan

I intervene only because I twice interrupted the hon. Member and I wish to explain my interruptions. he started by saying that it is possible that as a result of a scheme under the 1958 Act flooding will be increased upstream, and he suggests that there should be consultation, in connection with the flood prevention scheme, with people downstream. But the Amendment implies that the improvement committee already exists, because the word is "functioning". It is of no interest to them. Their only interest is to get rid of the water in their area, and the point of consultation does not arise. There might be a point if there were a question of the improvement committee being set up simultaneously in the agricultural land with the flood prevention scheme in the urban land, but that is not suggested by the wording of the Amendment.

Indeed, all this consultation has been contemplated in the Bill and in my right hon. Friend's speech. There is provision in the Second Schedule to deal with this sort of thing. Under paragraph 3 all these people have opportunities of being consulted. Copies of the draft Order have to be made. Under paragraph 2 everybody has an opportunity of raising objections. In those cases there is provision for consultation, but in the other cases a proposal just for consultation and not for action seems rather futile. For those reasons I agree with my right hon. Friend that the Amendment would add nothing useful to the Bill and would be of no benefit in producing results from the Bill.

Mr. Manuel

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) shed much light on the subject and talked a great deal of common sense in stating our reasons for tabling the Amendment. I want briefly to advance one or two more reasons. I said in Committee that I was rather perturbed at certain implications of what was intended in connection with the presentation of schemes and, even more so, in connection with maintenance.

Clause 2 (2, b) says that the expression "watercourse" includes any ditch, drain, cut, canal, culvert, sluice or passage carrying or designed to carry water, together with the walls, pipes or other works containing or intended to contain the same. Ditches do not make themselves, and conditions may arise under which there has been a drainage improvement committee or a drainage scheme which has attracted grant from the Government. The local authority is now being called upon to undertake maintenance by clearing all drains and ditches. The people who own them and whose land the drains and ditches are making more fertile will be relieved of the burden of maintaining something for which they have received a grant.

I mentioned this in Committee. I had hoped that the Joint Under-Secretary would pay some regard to it and try to ensure that money is not squandered. If within the ambit of a scheme presented by a local authority there is an improvement committee or a drainage grant has been received by the land-owning interests, an attempt such as the Amendment makes should be made to ensure that suitable arrangements can be arrived at about maintenance of the ditches and culverts. We are sincerely trying to avoid a clash in connection with the ancillary drainage provisions if there is a conflict of interest between the two authorities and no consultation.

Mr. Steele

I was encouraged by the opening remarks of the Secretary of State. He led us to believe that the purpose behind the Amendment was a useful one and that he sympathised with it and recognised that consultations between the various bodies should take place and that it would be wise that each should know what the other was doing.

He went on to pour cold water on the idea, because he said that it was not a good thing to provide in a Statute that consultations should take place. He said—I understand and appreciate the point—that once a Statute provides that a certain thing should be done it can be argued that other things which are not mentioned should not be done. During the passage of another Bill concerned with the same principle hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite felt that it was a great victory when they wrote into the Statute that an English Minister had to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland. They thought that by getting this they had in fact achieved something.

9.30 p.m.

I can see that the Secretary of State recalls the incident. We said at the time that it was making nonsense of legislation when we had to put into a statute that two Ministers of a Government should consult with each other. I must confess that, although the Secretary of State for Scotland was sympathetic, the speech of the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) convinced me that an Amendment of this kind was essential. He said that the attitude of the land drainage improvement body was, "We will get on with our job. We are all right, Jack, never mind about the others".

He went on to tell us that if we turned to the Second Schedule we would see that provision was made for consultation. But that is not so. Provision is not made there for consultation. Provision is made for the Secretary of State for Scotland to publish a scheme and, if any one objects to it, he can enter his objections. The Land Drainage Board in this case is not objecting to the scheme. According to the hon. Member for South Angus, "It is all right and not in the least bit worried about it".

It is true that the improvement of land drainage means that more water will flow into the river more quickly and will proceed down the river more quickly. If, in fact, a local authority is making provision under a scheme to ensure that urban land is not flooded and goes to all the trouble of putting up a scheme to the Secretary of State for Scotland and having it published, and then, at that stage—to take the best from the speech of the hon. Member for South Angus—it finds that the Improvement Committee under the 1950 Act is in fact going ahead with another improvement, then, of course, the scheme which the local authority is putting forward is not sufficient and would obviously have to be looked at again. It is clear that the two things go together.

Surely it is only right and proper that a local authority should consult with this other body so that it can see what is happening and ask that body at that stage what further proposals it may have so as to avoid any difficulty in preparing a scheme. That seems to me to be sensible. If the Improvement Committee takes the view of the hon. Member for South Angus that, "We are all right, Jack, never mind anyone else", then that is, quite frankly, an indication that consultation is more essential than ever.

I hope that the Secretary of State will reject the speech of his hon. Friend. He was, in his speech, much more sympathetic. I am quite sure that he will be able to tell us, now that the hon. Member for South Angus has shown that it is necessary to have an Amendment of this kind, that he will be prepared, if not to accept it in its present form, at least to agree that in another place a suitable Amendment will be put forward.

Mr. Maclay


Mr. Ross

I was hoping to try to dissuade the Secretary of State from saying what he was about to say. I know him only too well. He started by paying a compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and said how persuasive he is. I should like to tell the Secretary of State what I think of his speech. It was far from persuasive. "Feckless" is probably a more suitable Scottish description of his speech.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there should be such consultation, but he then said there would be a great danger, and that if we put into the Bill a requirement for consultation it would just mean that a local authority would consult the improvement committee and nobody else. The trouble with the Secretary of State is that he has just arrived at this Bill. I ask him to look at subsection (4) which says: A local authority, before making a flood prevention scheme relating to operations on land in the area of another local authority, shall consult with that other local authority. What is that subsection doing there if there are all these terrible consequences to be expected from consultation? The hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said that consultation is futile. If he believes that it is futile, he should do his Parliamentary duty and table an Amendment to remove this provision for consultation.

There are to be two ways of dealing with flooding. This is not our idea. This is the brilliant concept of the Secretary of State, that flooding can be divided into flooding on agricultural land and flooding on non-agricultural land. We have one Measure dealing with flooding on agricultural land and another dealing with flooding on urban land. Of course, the waters which overflow the banks know all about this and divide themselves carefully into one or the other. What we want are comprehensive works for the prevention of flooding. Flooding is flooding, whether it is in town or in country. We have the 1958 Act and now we are presented with this Bill. In spite of that, we say "Let us make the best of this bad job."

Not long ago I asked a Question about the number of schemes carried out under the 1958 Act. At that time three such schemes had been carried out and forty-five other cases were under consideration. So here we have this problem, and a number of improvement committees are to be set up. Surely where flood prevention operations have to be carried out in one area, it is only sensible for the bodies which are administering these operations to act in co-operation and consultation. That is all we ask.

We are trying honestly and sincerely to prevent flooding, and the right hon. Gentleman refuses to give us any comprehensive plan in relation to flood prevention. So we say "Let us make the best of this". The hon. Member for South Angus talks about all sorts of difficulties which might arise. He says that there might not be an improvement committee in the area, and that, even if there were, they would need both circumstances to arise at the same time. Does he not appreciate that the problem is the same?

Here is an authority which has had the right from the Secretary of State to go ahead and carry out similar operations in the same area. If it could do nothing else, it might possibly give advice and the benefit of its experience of snags that might arise in operations in that area. I cannot see what is to be lost by accepting the Amendment. It is not an Amendment in the sense that it would destroy anything that the Government have in the Bill. It is an addition to, and it strengthens and makes more effective what the Government themselves propose.

I hope that the Secretary of State, having read this part of the Bill, will recognise the futility of his first arguments and that, having done that and listened to the persuasive speeches of my hon. Friends, he will at least suggest that he will think about the matter again. This is not the last word on the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman should not close his mind to such useful co-operation.

Mr. Maclay

I was getting worried that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) did not think that the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) had been as persuasive as I thought it, but he ended up by putting the matter right.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock based his argument a little on the fact that he did not know whether I recollected what was in the Bill. I have refreshed my memory on the subsection with which we are dealing. I would remind the hon. Member that the words are: A local authority, before making a flood prevention scheme relating to operations on land in the area of another local authority, shall consult with that other local authority. Confident as I am of the good relationships that exist between local authorities in Scotland, I think that it would be going a little far if one made it possible for one local authority to go a long way in thinking up a scheme which would be carried out on the land of another local authority without consulting that body. Surely this is elementary reasonableness.

It is another matter when we come to consider the substance of the Amend- ment. I am not in any disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) who put a perfectly good argument. It is tempting, Mr. Speaker, to relieve you of listening to a certain amount of argument which may seem to show that there is little between us; if I thought that the Amendment could be accepted without making the operation of the Bill unnecessarily more difficult, I would accept it. I am convinced, however, that the Amendment is unnecessary and that the purpose of hon. Members opposite will not be achieved by it.

There is some advantage in being an omnibus Minister, if that is what I am, in that I am responsible for both agriculture and health in Scotland. It is clear that there is no risk of a scheme getting going in one Department and another in another Department without their being brought together by administrative means. It is putting unnecessary obstacles in the way if we lay down in a Statute that there must be consultation with committees, none of which even exist at present, although there may be some in the future.

Mr. T. Fraser

Is it not a fact that schemes under the 1958 Act are considered by the Department of Agriculture, whereas schemes under this Bill will be considered by the Department of Health?

Mr. Maclay

I pointed out that I am an omnibus Minister. All these things come to me, much to my sorrow at times—though at times it is a convenience. I assure hon. Members that in principle everything that happens in my Departments is known by me. Each of the two Departments is bound to know what is going on in the other, and by administrative means we can achieve our purpose.

It is always difficult to get things just right for hon. Members opposite. Earlier this evening the hon. Member for Kilmarnock propounded the great principle, which he said always guided him and which sounded very impressive, that his approach to legislation was never to put a word in when one could take some words out. I would say to him that another good principle is never to put conditions in a Bill when one can leave them out without damaging the Bill and particularly when those conditions make that Bill more difficult to work.

9.45 p.m.

I think the House would be extremely ill-advised to risk holding up a procedure which can work perfectly well without the Amendment when the Amendment would make it a great deal more difficult to work. Therefore, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.