§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months."
Holding as I do a large bundle of documents, I hasten to assure the House that these are not merely the notes for what I have to say. The bundle includes some of the documents which I 1046 have read and considered before tabling the Amendment.
There is a good deal of fact about this which one has to consider before deciding what to do, including a long report from a hydraulic testing station, reports from Ministries, and the Minutes of Evidence given to a Select Committee in another place. I have tried to read and consider those so as to put what I have to say on a factual basis.
This is an enabling Bill. It enables the Kent River Board to carry out works which have many consequences. I am concerned with only two, and to my mind these are the principal ones. The first is that if these works are carried 1047 out they will cost the taxpayer £250,000, because the work is grant-aided. The maximum grant is 85 per cent., and I am credibly informed that there is no known instance of such a project being carried out unless the maximum grant allowed was paid.
It appears from the minutes of the Board's case that it regards £250,000 as a comparatively small sum. I beg to take and advance the view that that is quite a lot of money, and before so much of the taxpayers' money is spent this House should be satisfied that there is a compensating public advantage for it.
The second principal consequence with which I am concerned, and which I shall develop as speedily as I can, is that the Bill entails placing works in a public river. It entails doing something which the Board could not do, despite its wide powers, without the authority of this House, and it entails doing something which many people do not want. It entitles the authority to take powers of compulsory purchase and the like.
The view that I wish to place before the House is that if anybody, be it an individual or a public authority of this kind, or anyone else, wishes to have authority to do something having those consequences, a very heavy onus is placed upon such an individual or body to satisfy the House that there is a sufficient public advantage in the works to justify those two consequences.
I will take the last of the consequences first. It may be said that not many people object to the Bill. There is a society called the Port of Rye Protection Society. I have no connection with it, but I have taken the trouble to ascertain that its President is Lord Killearn and its Chairman is a man called Bagley, who was Mayor of Rye in 1957–58 and 1958–59 and the Speaker of the Cinque Ports in 1958. It has about 600 subscribing members. Many associations must wish that they had 600 subscribing members. The Association objects to the Bill to the extent of having invested much money in opposing it, with the aid of professional representatives, before the Select Committee in another place.
The Royal Yacht Association also opposed it in another place. I do not 1048 know how many members that organisation has, but I believe that it is a substantial number. The inshore fishermen have taken the trouble to send a letter to every hon. Member, opposing the Bill. Other local clubs oppose it. Forty-six farmers have now presented a Petition to the House in opposition. I hope that the House will not be misled into thinking that these are merely 46 rebels or trouble-makers. They are 46 of the people who, if there be any benefit in this scheme, will reap that benefit. Let it not be thought that they are farmers who farm tiny acreages; between them they farm 6,300 acres of the land which it is said will be benefited.
This will not be the first time that it has been said that if all these people did but know it the Bill is in their interests. That proposition does not appeal to me, and I hope that it will not appeal to the House. Surely we should retain the position in which people may form their own view whether or not they want something done. All the organisations and people that I have referred to are against the Bill, and together they constitute a very substantial body.
The next thing that I tried to ascertain was how many people were for the Bill. This was extremely difficult. We just do not know. Part of the Board's case in another place was that nine branches of the National Farmers' Union had a special meeting at which a resolution was passed, 65 to 7, in support of the Bill. That is a powerful majority, and if my Motion has that sort of support I shall not be displeased. But only 72 members attended out of the whole area.
When the matter was before the Committee in another place it was asked how many people benefited from the scheme or would be affected by it. It would be interesting to know these numbers, but no figures are available, and we are left in a position of knowing that many people, rightly or wrongly, do not want it, while an unspecified number are said to be wholly in support if it—all of whom are persons who would presumably derive benefit from it.
I submit that in those circumstances it is incumbent upon the authority seeking these powers to present a very strong case justifying the granting of those powers, which it intends to use in the 1049 face of substantial opposition, especially when it involves the spending of so much public money.
I now turn to the second part of the case that I wish to present. I ought to explain, albeit very briefly, my interest in the matter. It has been suggested—and therefore I grasp the nettle—that this is a case of a Member of the House being put up to oppose a Bill by factions, or even by an individual who opposes it. My hon. Friends have accepted my assurance that that is not so, and I hope that the rest of the House will.
This area is my second home. My mother is, and I easily might have been, a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine). I have spent a great deal of time in the last 20 years in the area immediately surrounding the scheme and in the area which will derive benefit from it, if any does. For between six and nine months I have been listening, virtually every day of every holiday that I have spent in the area, to one side or the other arguing the case. I have heard many friends and relatives, all presenting their views, either for or against it.
In the course of time, two things began to emerge from the discussion. First, there are widely different ideas about the scheme. Many people in the early days were very doubtful about it and, as the days went on, grew more doubtful about it. Secondly, there has been much confusion in people's minds. I heard all sorts of stories about what it would do and what it would not do—some of which had to be wrong. It was for these reasons that I became deeply interested in the matter and sought to acquire some knowledge of it. I felt that I should follow the matter up by endeavouring to acquaint myself with all the material facts, including those contained in the large bundle that I have here, which consists of the Minutes of Evidence taken in another place. It is on all this that I base my case.
This matter has many facets. There is the question whether the harbour will silt up; whether navigation will be improved or ruined; whether the amenities of the town of Rye will be improved or ruined; whether the yachtsmen will have better or worse tides, and so on. About 80 per cent. of the time spent by 1050 the Committee in another place was concerned with these questions.
The House will be relieved to know that 1 shall take no time on any of those points. My two concerns are those which I have already mentioned—whether, irrespective of those facets, a case can be made out for spending a substantial sum of public money and also for giving somebody powers to do something that a substantial number of people do not want done. Before either of those cases can be justified, a substantial public advantage must be shown to outweigh all the disadvantages.
I now pass to a brief reference to the scheme itself. The House will appreciate that I can deal only in outline with this aspect of the matter; otherwise I should detain the House for a very long time. I can assure the House that I will try to be selective, although not unduly long. I have been at great pains to make my selectivity fair. The scheme concerns the drainage of that part of Kent which drains into the River Rother and then through Rye to the sea. It is an area of rich farming land, which the Ministry has encouraged to improve itself over the years since the war, so as to secure an increased and better production of food. Great improvements have been made, and I pay tribute to the part played by the river board in this respect.
The land is now infinitely better drained than it has ever been before to the knowledge of any living person, and it is therefore more suitable for farming and food production. But that does not mean to say that we can go on and on spending public money.
There are three special areas which I had better name, so that when I refer to them the House will know to what I am referring. There are three areas affected. One is called Shirley Moor, one is called Walland Marsh and the other is called Wet Levels. They are all liable to some flooding and this is valuable land in production. No doubt it will be more valuable and no doubt there will be some increased production for every improvement made. The question here is whether the improvement is sufficient to justify itself when it entails the expenditure of so much public money.
1051 The matter has developed in this way. In 1951 the Board put up a comprehensive scheme for very substantial engineering works over quite a length of the River Rother which would have had much greater benefit than this scheme. Right through the evidence one finds that the only really satisfactory answer for Walland Marsh or Wet Levels is substantial engineering works to the river. That scheme was turned down by the Ministry on the basis thatthe scheme as proposed is too expensive in relation to the benefits which are likely to accrue.—not simply on the terms of cost, but that the cost was too great for the benefit which would accrue.
Then the Ministry indicated that it would give serious consideration to proposals for Shirley Moor alone, that being an area of about 6,000 acres. Then, quite properly of course, the Board devised a scheme for Shirley Moor which was in two parts, direct works at Shirley Moor followed by the provision of a sluice. In general terms that was approved by the Ministry, but it is relevant to bear in mind that at that time the total cost of both parts was thought to be £244,000 and at the time of the Ministry approval it was thought that it would give some benefit to about 20,000 acres.
It is also necessary to know that it entails putting a permanent barrage or sluice across the River Rother at Rye Harbour with a lock for navigation, so that there would be a permanent reservoir in the river from there upwards. Plainly, since there would have been substantial benefit all the time, it was on that basis that the Minister approved the scheme in principle. The Board, wisely, went to expert engineers to see what effect, if any, that would have on the harbour and whether it would disturb the tidal flow and result in blocking up the harbour altogether. The Board went to what I think is called the 'hydraulics testing station and was advised that the scheme was dangerous, that it would entail a dangerous silting up of the harbour.
A compromise suggestion was put forward by the station, that instead of having a permanent sluice, there should be a sluice which would remain open 1052 most of the time and a look which would remain open most of the time, but which could be closed in times of flood. This immediately brought about these two significant results. First, we had to have a different kind of sluice, costing a further £150,000, and making the cost of the second part of the scheme £290,000. The original cost of the sluice was estimated at £150,000. That was the first consequence of finding that the first scheme was dangerous from an engineering and from a silting point of view.
The second consequence was that whereas the permanent barrage, as a layman can appreciate, would provide a large reservoir permanently, if the barrage was open most of the time and closed for only about 43 days of the year for flood purposes, immediately there would be a substantial reduction in the benefits deriving from the scheme. So at that stage one finds the cost of the scheme going up by about £150,000 and in addition—although in the Select Committee and in another place there was imposed an obligation to man the sluice 18 hours a day throughout the year, and a dredging operation and so on—the usefulness has gone down very substantially. As was said in another place over and over again, this was a compromise.
All hon. Members have seen the statement about this matter from the promoters of the Bill and that is not unusual. I appreciate that when people have to send out a document which is reasonably short, they may by having to compress everything into it, not express everything as plainly as they had hoped. I take the view that there is one source of information which is reliable and that is the evidence given on oath by witnesses of the Board and which was subject to scrutiny and cross-examination. Indeed counsel for the promoters said that what would be achieved by way of drainage was a matter of evidence. I am content to take this as so and what I am saying is based on that evidence given on oath and subject to cross-examination. This is what appears from it.
First, and to put it shortly, what does this scheme do? It is said in the evidence, time and again, that primarily it is for Shirley Moor—6,000 acres. It 1053 may give some benefit to other land. The Shirley Moor scheme is in two parts. First, there are the works to the extent of £100,000 which are now going on. The figure is roughly £100,000. The second part is the sluice. Let us say the cost is another £300,000. It is said that it is necessary, if the present £100,000 worth of work is done, to spend another £290,000 so as to get the maximum benefit from the £100,000 now being spent. Looked at from that point of view it amounts to £400,000 being spent to benefit 6,000 acres—I stress that it is when looked at in those terms—and it amounts to £67 an acre which I suggest is a bit "hot".
The next question to consider is whether the expenditure of a further £290,000 is necessary to get value for the £100,000. In one sense the promoters were pointing a pistol at the head of Parliament. Their counsel said that there would be a substantial risk of disaster unless something was done to the river and that it was essential to carry out the second part of the work. The evidence of the Board's engineer fell very far short of that. One ascertains from the evidence that the work at Shirley Moor is now half done and that already considerable benefits are being felt from it. It will be obvious to a layman that when 2⅔ miles of a substantial canal is dredged by 4 ft. obviously the reservoir capacity is increased and that water can be drained off the land to a very useful extent. Also it was said in evidence that the improvements already made to Shirley Moor would be sufficient to deal with a sudden disaster such as occurred in the summer of 1958–59. A witness from the board said:One reason why we proceeded with the Shirley Moor section of the scheme as far as we have is because we can make it work without detriment to any other part of the Rother Valley if we get an occurrence of this type of railfall and flood.That was without the sluice.In ordinary weather Shirley Moor does in fact already derive considerable benefit.So with the expenditure of £100,000 great benefit is experienced by Shirley Moor even without a sluice. Instead of being able to let all the water from Shirley Moor drain into the river at once it will have to be controlled, but the works already done make a very 1054 considerable benefit and they are only half completed. If it is not essential to do the second half to get the benefit from the first half, what does the second half achieve?
It is said that when the sluice is in operation the capacity of the river will immediately be increased by 25 per cent. 12½ per cent. to take up the water from Shirley Moor and 12½ per cent. from the rest of area. When one examines what that means in terms of who will benefit and how much, one finds this sort of thing. The question was put to the engineer:this scheme which is now before the Committee does not purport to solve the problem in the wet level, although as a sidewind it might improve the rate of draining slightly. Is that the true picture?The answer was,Quite true, yes".Another witness called by the board was asked about his land and said that when the flooding came down it took a month for the land to dry out and then he could use it. Asked what benefit it would be to him, he said that his land would be usable for a slightly longer period. Another witness called by the Board was asked:How many farmers are going to benefit? How much of your land is grazing? How much is arable?He was not able to say. These are the questions to which one needs to know the answers before seeing what the advantage is.
One final matter to which I refer before offering comment on the statement before the House suggested that the scheme will stop flooding in Rye itself. I speak with personal knowledge of this and I checked my facts as recently as this morning. If this House should hear what a benefit this would be in stopping high tides coming up to Rye it is right to know what happens when they come up, perhaps on an average two or three times a year, maybe sometimes more. The water comes over the top of the quay. If someone parked a car there not realising that this would happen, he would have to paddle to get the car back again.
I am credibly informed that no houses were flooded last year. From my personal knowledge of these matters the statement we have all been given is a very substantial exaggeration. The only refer- 1055 ence to this matter was in the evidence when the Chairman of the Port of Rye Protection Society was asked about it in the Select Committee in another place. He said that it was unimportant, it did not matter and it did not bother people if the quay was flooded two or three times more a year. I think that perhaps he ought to know.
That is the stage in which the matter was left on the evidence. It is also important to be clear about what the scheme will not do. It is said that it will not guarantee that there will be no flooding of Shirley Moor and that it will not stop flooding on the wet levels or Walland. It will not stop exceptional floods such as those of 1959–60, 1960–61. A question was asked on how many days there were floods in the last 12 years and it was stated that in some years the number was 20 and sometimes it was more. In 1959–60 it was 71 and in 1960–61 it was 113. It was also said that for 200 years there had never been rain like there was in that area in 1961. It would not stop that and it would be no answer to say that it would stop such summer floods as there were in 1958–59. That can be dealt with by the work which has been already done.
It was said by the hydraulic testing people that any substantial improvement in Walland and the wet levels could be achieved only by a direct engineering attack on the River Rother. The whole thing was summarised by three leading questions which were put to the board by the counsel for the promoters at the end of that part of the promoters' case. He put to his witness:We have never said this is to guarantee, to prevent, any flooding at all in Shirley Moor, not even there?The answer was "No". He said:It would substantially and materially assist the position?The answer was "Yes". He went on:would it be right or not to say that it is part of the Shirley Moor scheme, and an essential part of it, that certain other lands will get some benefit from it?What those "certain other lands" were and what that "some benefits" was, were matters left in the air.
I wish briefly to return to the statement received by all hon. Members today and to make comments on it in order to illustrate the problem with 1056 which the board is presented and I suppose therefore it hopes to persuade this House to grant these powers. It was said in paragraph 3:The gravity of this problem may be illustrated by the fact that in 1958 the farming community in one part of the valley suffered damage as a result of flooding to the extent of £24,600.I think it unfortunate that that was stated. It may not have been intended in the hurry of preparing the statement, but it suggested that there was an inference to be drawn from that. It is that this Bill would help in the matter, but it would not do so. The evidence is that the sluice would not help in that kind of flooding and the flooding on Shirley Moor is already dealt with by the works which have been carried out there.
On the second page of the statement the argument is advanced thatConsiderable progress has been made in the carrying out of the land drainage improvements in the Shirley Moor area but, as it is dependent on the other part of the scheme it cannot be completed without making the position worse in other areas also draining into the River Rother.That is not in accordance with the evidence put before the Committee. It is said that substantial benefit has already been obtained without drainage into the river. Of course it cannot be used to the full, but that statement is not correct. I ask hon. Members in reading the last part of the statement about the number of acres said to benefit from the scheme to compare that with the views I have put before the House and to form their own opinions.
It may be said that we ought to support the river board because it is a good river board. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] My hon. Friends apparently agree with that. If that means that we ought to support a river board simply because it is a river board and has done good work, I beg to differ. I suggest that every river board, like every other public authority, must stand on the merits of each scheme it puts up This board has enjoyed a considerable measure of confidence and support. I believe that the total spent by it in the last ten years has been about £11 million. That does not mean that every scheme put forward has been good simply because the board put it forward. Nor does it mean that we ought 1057 blindly to say, "This is a good river board; we should support it."
It may he said that in these areas a large number of people have complained over and over again in the last year or so about floods on their lands. I dare say that this was because in the last two years we have had quite exceptional floods, particularly in 1960–61—the worst for 200 years.
But if that sort of evidence is put before hon. Members, I ask them to weigh against it the picture which I have tried to give of what the scheme will achieve. It is admittedly not capable of getting rid of all these floods. Possibly there will be comparisons with other drainage schemes. There has been a big one in my area. But I submit that these are not relevant. If the scheme will not stand on its own merits, then comparing it with others does not improve its merits.
It may be said that the matters with which I have dealt are for the Minister to consider on application for grants. With respect, I beg to differ from that view, and I will give two reasons for doing so. First, my hon. Friend's officials are concerned essentially with drainage, and they do not have to consider, as I respectfully submit that the House should consider, the other interests which are involved. My hon. Friend apparently demurs. This may be a matter of opinion. The Minister will have to consider the suggested benefits in detail. This is plain from the report made by one of his officers to Parliament when the matter was before another place, because the report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the other place ended by stating that when the applications for grant are submitted the Minister will have to consider the specific proposals dealing with the benefits which it is thought will be secured.
I submit that this is the wrong way round. Let the specific proposals be put to the Minister first, let his officials comment on them and let them then be brought back to the House so that the House has the information which it needs in order to decide whether the public advantage in this scheme outweighs the disadvantages of the expense and of doing what many people do not want done.
1058 Every hon. Member could list a dozen projects known to him on which a quarter of a million pounds could be spent to great public advantage, with great public satisfaction and without upsetting a single person. But time and again every hon. Member has been told, "We quite agree that so-and-so is a positive disgrace but it must take its turn in the priorities and we have not yet got to it." I feel that this sort of expenditure must also take its turn.
The House has very little control over public expenditure, and this is one of the few instances in which an opportunity occurs to Parliament, when enabling powers are sought, to have a little say in it. I respectfully submit to the House that we should have presented to us a much clearer and more specific case of the advantages which are sought to accrue so that we may decide for ourselves whether the public advantage is adequate. If the board has a good case, the decision to postpone Second Reading will in no way kill the Bill. It can put its specific proposals to the Minister and these can be examined by his officials. His further report will be fuller and more useful. When the Bill comes back to the House, if the board decides to proceed with it, we shall then know on what to base a decision.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) must have been more fortunate in some of his visits to these areas than I have. On many occasions I have specifically gone to inspect the flooding which has taken place. I recall, in particular, the visit which I made in September, 1958, when I saw a considerable area of farming land which had been flooded—a situation which I certainly do not want to see perpetuated. In 1960 the floods occurred again and covered 30 square miles. If my hon. Friend takes the view that this House ought to sit back and to leave such a situation without taking immediate action, I must differ from him.
§ Mr. Irvine
I have given specific examples of two occasions in two years. I do not know the exact acreage of the 1059 1958 floods, but they were certainly very serious, and I was implored by my constituents to see that some action was taken. I am not satisfied to sit back and allow the situation to be perpetuated, particularly on the sort of arguments which my hon. Friend has put forward.
He also said that this matter about houses in Rye is of very small importance because, as I understand him, in his view there are no houses in Rye which could possibly be harmed by floods.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
It will be of interest to him to learn that I have been there on occasions when houses have been flooded. Not many months ago he could have seen in the local Press, if he had been there, pictures of houses with water in their ground floors. If there are, as the board says, a thousand houses which would be affected by this scheme, that is a reason for taking immediate action. Perhaps I need not remind my hon. Friend that when I see people in that situation they urge upon me that some action should be taken forthwith to see that the desparate situation in which they are living is relieved. I do not believe that this measure should be put off. It should have the support of the House, and for that reason I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I understand that two points have been made against the Bill. The first is that a large number of people are opposed to it. First, my hon. Friend mentioned the Port of Rye Protection Society, which has 600 or so members. I am certain that everybody in the House wishes to protect the Port of Rye, and if I had the slightest feeling that there would be any damage to the Port of Rye or the amenities of Rye, I should not be commending the Bill to the House.
The second group of opposition to the Bill which my hon. Friend mentioned was the Royal Yachting Association. He will have noticed that the Royal Yachting Association has decided not to oppose the Bill in this House. 1060 Whatever the position was in the House of Lords, the Royal Yachting Association is not coming here with a Petition. As my hon. Friend knows, certain Amendments have been made to the Bill to deal with points raised in the other place by the Royal Yachting Association. I therefore ask him to remove that Association from his list of people who were strongly against the Bill.
I understand that the National Federation of Inshore Fishermen has taken the trouble to communicate with many hon. Members. The Federation has not given me the benefit of its views, perhaps because I have already disclosed my views about the Bill. It must be borne in mind that the Federation did not petition in the other place, nor has it petitioned in this House. Its chairman gave evidence before the other House. It may well be that the points which he made there and might wish to make here were considered by the other place and found not to carry as much weight as my hon. Friend would like them to carry.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
Many of us, who are in a sense acting in a rather different capacity from the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) and others, who have passionate views either for or against the Bill, would like the position of the inshore fishermen cleared up. I know Rye Harbour. I should like to know categorically whether the scheme would harm the interests of inshore fishermen. Is that why they have made their protests? The statement on behalf of the promoters of the Bill says thatthe Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee who are concerned to protect the interests of the local fishermenhas not opposed the Bill.
However, I am informed that on 12th April the same Committee passed a resolution opposing the Bill. Who is right? I am an outsider, a person rather detached about the Bill. We must be certain of our facts. I received in my mail this morning the statement on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, which contains an assertion that the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee has not opposed the Bill, but I understand that on 12th April the Committee passed a resolution opposing the Bill. Perhaps 1061 the Ministry can clear this up, otherwise we shall be in difficulties, because the evidence submitted to hon. Members is conflicting. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows that I made speeches on the Sea Fish Industry Bill, which has nothing to do with this, showing my great bias towards inshore fishermen. I speak for my own port of Mary-port——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is coming a little close to turning this interruption into a speech.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
By a stroke of good fortune, I have with me the minutes of the Sussex Sea Fisheries District, Local Fisheries Committee. A meeting was held at the Town Hall, Brighton, on Thursday, 12th April. There is a very lengthy item in paragraph 7 headed, "Kent River Board (Harbour of Rye) Bill". If the hon. Member wishes to have a look at the minutes, I will hand them to him. It may meet his point if I read the last sentence of the paragraph.It was resolved that the Clerk attend the Proceedings before the Select Committee and that a letter should be sent to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food informing the Minister of the Committee's views in regard to the matter.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
The clerk was to attend and listen. That is all that appears here. I will gladly hand the minutes to the hon. Gentleman, but there is nothing in the paragraph to show what the Committee's views may be. Perhaps the Minister can help us. I will make some further inquiries. Whatever the Committee's views may have been, it is not petitioning this House.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I have here the minutes of the proceedings before the Select Committee of the House of Lords on 16th May. I will read a passage from the evidence of Mr. George Steel:Q. Do you give evidence on behalf of the Sussex Sea Fishery Committee …? A. I give 1062 evidence on behalf of the Sussex Sea Fishery Committee and as Chairman of the Federation of English and Welsh Inshore Fishermen...Q. And has the Sussex Sea Fishery Committee passed a resolution authorising you to give evidence on their behalf? A. They did at our last meeting.…That was the meeting of 12th April. Anybody who reads Mr. Steel's evidence will agree that he is opposed to the Bill. Whether the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee has formerly petitioned or not does not disguise the fact that Mr. Steel was opposed to the Bill. He told me this afternoon that the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee has no standing in the matter and that is why it has not petitioned.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
Far be it from me to adjudicate on what the standing of the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee may be. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Steel is a member of the Committee.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
Strangely enough, if he is chairman he was not in the chair on this occasion. It is news to me if he is the chairman. Mr. Cheal was in the chair of the Sussex Sea Fisheries District, Local Fisheries Committee, on 12th April, 1962. Mr. Steel may well be chairman of the Federation which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. There is no indication in the minutes of the meeting that the Sussex Sea Fisheries District is against the Bill.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
Or for it. One would have thought that the Committee has had the opportunity to decide whether it wishes to petition this House. It has apparently decided not to petition. I was under the impression that the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee is the statutory body charged with the duty of looking after the interests of fishermen. It has given no indication to me that it opposes the Bill.
As to the position of fishermen, it may be of assistance to the House if I indicate the dimensions of the problem. I am informed that in 1955 there were five fishing vessels in the Port of Rye. In the present year there are 35. I am informed that there are only nine professional full-time fishermen. In these circumstances, and as I have no indication that the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee is against the Bill, I suggest that 1063 there is no indication that there would be any real damage to fishermen if the Bill went through. I find it difficult to see how there could be damage to fishermen, because they will be able to use the port at all times, with the exception of when the gate is closed. When the gate is closed it will be manned and the lock will work. It would be a question of going through the lock. I see someone on the Opposition Front Bench with naval experience. I need not explain to him that going through a lock is an operation which can successfully be undertaken by fishermen.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As the hon. Gentleman knows, in this matter we all speak for ourselves as private Members. The fishermen are troubled, first, about the danger of silting up. There is no guarantee about clearing the silt until after it has occurred. They are worried, secondly, about the difficulty of getting to their quays. They are likely to be denied access to them. They are worried, thirdly, about the difficulty of getting in and out of the harbour on one tide. There are a number of difficulties which have been put to me by the Federation of Inshore Fishermen of England and Wales—old friends of mine—which I see no reference to in the Bill.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
These are matters which could be ventilated in the Committee. They are not matters which would lead anybody to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport. Their fears about the grave danger of not being able to get to their quays and possible difficulties of getting through the lock are the sort of points which should be discussed in the Committee. We cannot settle such points here today, nor do they constitute valid reasons for throwing out the Bill on the Floor of the House.
Silting is a usual argument when civil engineering works are proposed at the outlet of various rivers. This is one of the points which has been considered.
The Hydraulics Research Station had its mind specifically directed to it, and it is on its advice that this scheme has been accepted. Evidence was given in another place about two rivers of similar situations and dimensions to the River Rother, both in Western Germany. One 1064 is the River Leda, which is a tributary of the Ems, and which has been working a similar scheme to this since 1954, with complete success and no suggestion at all of silting. The second is the River Este, which is a tributary of the Elbe, and which has only recently been completed. These two rivers were selected because they are in very similar situations to the river that we are discussing.
I was interested before the war in the matter of the flood protection schemes in the Great Ouse and if anyone is anxious about the possibility of silting and looks at the work which has been done there he will find that, notwithstanding the very difficult situation at the mouth of the river, the work has not led to the difficulties which many people forecast at the time.
There is in the current issue of the Journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers a report on a visit to these works, and there it will be seen that the gates are closed all the time the water is coming in and they open when the tide is going out. In those circumstances there has been no material silting, and I would say that silting has been rather exaggerated in the context of this Bill. That is the position of our inshore fishermen. I have no indication either that there is any opposition from what I regard as the responsible Committee coming to this House, or, indeed, that there is any real reason for anxiety by the fishermen.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
I shall be very happy to mention it. My hon. Friend dealt with it only in a side wind and I had in fact not decided to deal with the details of what it says. If it would be of some assistance to my hon. Friend's case, I will deal with the points which the Port of Rye Protection Society has sent to us today. The first is that it believes that there is a very grave risk of the proposed barrage spoiling the beauty and jeopardising the future prosperity of the ancient town.
I have already indicated that I would find it difficult to believe that there is any hon. Member who would not want to protect the beauty of or who would want to jeopardise the prosperity of that town. Nothing has 1065 been brought to my attention either, during the period that I was attending the Committee in another place or elsewhere, which would lead me to believe that there was any genuine risk of that happening.
Secondly, it says that the sole purpose of the barrage is to improve the drainage of Shirley Moor, an area of only 6,000 acres. I have already indicated that there are other benefits which will be granted if this scheme is brought to fruition. The first that I have mentioned is that houses and schools are flooded in Rye and the second is that the total area benefited as a result of the scheme is not 6,000 acres which is the direct total but a total of 20,000 acres which is the evidence given in the other House. If the benefits which are expected from adjacent land are also included, the total may well be in the area of about 40,000 acres, which is very considerably more than the 6,000 acres set out there.
The £400,000 is more or less agreed. Then it is said that the matter is highly controversial. I was dealing with some of the people who were alleged by my hon. Friend to be against the scheme when he asked me to deal with this other point, so perhaps I could now complete what I was considering by saying that when we look at the people who are against the scheme, we find a total of 46 farmers who have put their signatures to the petition, if my hon. Friend's arithmetic is correct—I have not done the sum myself. What he did not mention was that there was this meeting of nine brandies of the National Farmers' Union, at which only five people were against the scheme——
§ Mr. Percival
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to misquote me. I gave the precise figures: 65 voted for the scheme, and 5 voted against it.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
My recollection is that I quoted that figure of 5, which my hon. Friend gave, and which I believe is the true figure——
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
I apologise, because I know that my hon. Friend did mention it and quoted the figures. What 1066 he has not mentioned is that a good many other people connected with the farming world certainly are in favour of the scheme. The farmers are represented on the Board, not only by the county chairman of the National Farmers' Union in East Sussex but also by one of the East Sussex representatives on the Council of the National Farmers' Union.
When dealing with the body of opinion against the scheme, my hon. Friend did not say that none of the three councils elected and responsible for the area—the Rye Borough Council, the Battle Rural District Council and the East Sussex County Council—has found it necessary to oppose this Bill in either House. Therefore, when my hon. Friend suggests that there is a strong body of opinion against the scheme, I can say that there is certainly a strong body of opinion in favour of it.
That brings me to the last point in the Port of Rye Protection Society's document, which deals with there being some method of conserving water as a result of Measures we are expecting in this House in the not far distant future. It so happens that the engineer to the Board was a member of the Proudman Committee, so he, above all, should be well aware of this problem of water conservation. He tells me that if the Board were invested with all the powers proposed for the new river authorities he could not suggest that a scheme other than the present one should be undertaken, or that the scheme should be modified in the interests of water conservation. Water conservation was raised in another place, and I do not think that any more can be done about that at the present time.
My hon. Friend suggested that it is the cost that has really led him to oppose the scheme——
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
Yes, but if we take the amount to be spent, and divide it by 20,000 acres, which is the minimum that will be directly benefited, it works out at £14 10s. an acre; on 40,000 acres, of course, it is £7 5s. If land drainage is something that should be undertaken at all, we can compare that figure with the cost of some other schemes. The 1067 Great Ouse flood protection scheme, begun in 1954, involves an expenditure of £9 million and deals with 189,000 acres. That works out at £47 an acre, which puts the cost of the Rye scheme in a very favourable light.
Next, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a scheme in his own county of Lancaster. It is the Crossens scheme, which covers the land behind Southport and Birkdale. That scheme was completed in 1961, and £1 million was spent on it. That affects 32,000 acres, as against the 14,000 that the present scheme will benefit——
§ Mr. Percival
I have listened very patiently to my hon. Friend's mathematics. He says that 20,000 acres will be directly benefited, but will he do what has never yet been done, and tell us precisely what benefit those 20,000 acres will get? The evidence merely states that it will be of direct benefit to 6,000 acres, and of some benefit to certain other land. The scheme he has mentioned, which is not in my division but just outside it, is one to which I myself referred. That is a major engineering works of the kind contemplated in the comprehensive scheme. The two figures are not comparable, but if my hon. Friend wants to develop the case, he should tell us what are the benefits accruing to the 20,000 acres and to the 40,000 acres.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
If my hon. Friend will contain himself for a moment, I shall quote from the Minutes of Evidence but, first, I want to finish what I was saying about that other scheme. From the figures I have just quoted it will be seen that it benefits 32,000 acres, so that the cost works out at £31 an acre, which is very largely in advance of the cost for the scheme we are now considering. Therefore, if my hon. Friend is desirous of working on this principle which he has enunciated on several occasions—the small public benefit which is to be obtained from the scheme—the might have enunciated that principle a little nearer to his own constituency rather than doing it in mine.
I promise my hon. Friend that I shall not deal with the technical evidence given on behalf of the Board, but with that given by Mr. Horace Denton Morgan, who was called on behalf of one of the 1068 objectors. Mr. Morgan is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and senior partner in the firm of Sir William Halcrow and Partners. He was asked:9. I think the object of this scheme is to achieve the maximum degree of temporary storage for river flow at minimum cost? (A.) That is correct, yes.10. And to be quite fair about this, if that were the only consideration and if that could be done with no effect on other interests, I do not think you would criticise it as a method of doing that, would you? (A.) No. It is the right engineering choice leaving all considerations aside, getting the result you want and not having to worry about any other interests.11. Chairman: Would you say that again? (A.) I am sorry, if one ignores completely all other interests—interests of navigation, interests of yachting, everything else—for simply getting the effect that you want, well, it is the right engineering choice in my opinion to place it where it is proposed if that is the only consideration.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
That evidence was given by a witness called by an objector, and he says that this is the right answer. I have dealt with most of the other interests, such as navigation, yachting and so on——
§ Mr. Callaghan
I must say that the Bill seems to be drawn wholly in the interests of drainage and not at all in the interests of navigation. The inshore fishermen have every right to object to such things as Clause 11 (3), which deals with the number of days in each year, especially in the winter, when the harbour can be shut at the discretion of the Commissioners, without accounting to anyone but the county council. I am all in favour of the county council, but what about the fishermen?
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
As I think the hon. Gentleman agreed just a moment ago, that sort of point can very well be taken elsewhere.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman earlier when he mentioned that, but that is why I am willing to support the Amendment. Representations have been made about this, but no reply has been received. All the inshore fishermen knew about it was when they were presented with the Bill on the morning that it was presented in the 1069 House of Lords. I do not see why we should deal with these chaps in this way. They are not so well briefed as the powerful river boards are, and must look to hon. Members to study the procedure. If they had had an assurance and had been dealt with fairly, I would not be here tonight, but I do want an assurance from the hon. Member, the Minister, or someone about the treatment of these men, whose livelihood will be affected.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
In the circumstances, then, I greatly regret that the hon. Gentleman has found it necessary to attend this evening. Unfortunately, I cannot give him the assurance for which he asks, but I can say that over the many months during which this Bill has been under consideration, I have made a great many efforts—I do not say with the inshore fishermen, because they have not approached me at all, but with a great many people who said they were not in favour of the Dill—Ito see whether they would discuss the matter either with me or the Board, and not one appointment has been kept——
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
But, if I may say so, at an extremely late hour this afternoon. Had this matter been put to me or to the Board at an early stage, or even at this stage, there is no reason to suppose that some accommodation could not have been reached. I am not aware, even from what the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has said, what the real objection is, because there is a lock. As far as I know, I have been given no indication by the fishermen of any real difficulty. If I were aware of it, I would do what I could to urge their case with the Board. I therefore hope that, for the various reasons I have advanced, the House will give this Bill its Second Reading.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
At the serious risk of being asked, "What has this to do with you?", I would make it clear at the outset that since the Bill affects Kent and the River Rother—although I do not intend to engage in a private war that seems to be raging among hon. Gentlemen opposite—I want to make certain that the Measure does 1070 not have any adverse effects on people who fish in inland waters.
The inshore fishermen go out to sea, catch their fish and return with them to get the best prices they can obtain. The plight or otherwise of inshore fishermen can be dealt with on another occasion, certainly by hon. Members who are better versed in the subject than I. It is stated in Part I of the Bill:And whereas it would be of public and local benefit to improve the drainage of low-lying lands the drainage of which is directed to the river and to afford protection to such lands from tidal flooding and this can be achieved to the best advantage by the construction and operation of the sluice and other works by this Act authorised, as in this Act provided.I am concerned with drainage that goes into rivers and the effect of people leaving open sluices which should be shut.
I realise that some hon. Members represent the interests of yachting and it is a fact that yachts will sail as long as the water is deep enough and the wind is available, irrespective of whether or not fish is in the water. I happen to be the chairman of the County Palatine (Lancashire) Anglers Association and, therefore, have a certain degree of knowledge of this subject. I recall that just a few weeks ago a certain sluice was left open and tens of thousands of fish got out to sea. That meant death for them because they were not salt water fish.
I took part in a small fishing competition last Friday night. Only seventeen of us participated in a works competition. It is worth mentioning, in this connection, that at the moment Britain is beset with many evils, not least of which is the discontentment among workers. All the time, even though spending more money, the workers who fish in these works competitions and who sit on river banks are finding that less fish is available and there is less free water for them to fish in.
If I thought that the money proposed to be spent under the Bill would have an adverse effect on these working-class fishermen I would certainly oppose its expenditure. After all, several hon. Members would like to see £250,000 spent on our canals. An awful lot of canal improvements could be achieved for an expenditure of that amount.
1071 I urge the Minister to ensure that when any work is done—and I am a practical fellow who realises that £250,000 is never readily spent by any Government, particularly this one, unless there is a good reason for doing so—the interests of the angler are not prejudiced. I do not want to see money spent on the production of sluices that will provide an easy access for effluent into the sea, particularly if the effluent is not of the right type. Money spent in this way to defray the cost of proper effluent sluice work would be unwise expenditure.
At present 3½ million people, including many women, peacefully sit on our river banks fishing. More and more are taking part in this recreation all the time and, unfortunately, the banks on which they can do their fishing are becoming restricted, as is clean water in which they can fish. I am talking about a decent crowd of fellows. They are not unduly concerned with politics, and when they go to work on a Monday morning after having spent a part of the weekend fishing I can assure hon. Members that they have got more out of their recreation than have those who have spent their leisure time at Wembley, Old Trafford or even Lords. What would the spectators at Lords say if someone came along and threw a lot of dirty water over the ground? They certainly would not like it, nor would the patrons of Old Trafford. There would be a riot. It is for this reason that I urge the Minister to ensure that any money spent under the Bill will not have a detrimental effect on the River Rother.
To be quite frank, I have never seen the River Rother. I have heard a lot about it and now intend to visit it. I trust that the Bill will not have a detrimental effect on our inland water fishermen and that their interest will be safeguarded.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I wish to say a few words tonight, not least because some of the land which this Measure is designed to protect is farmed by my constituents. In some respects I would sooner have taken no sides whatever. Hitherto, I have not done so. I have friends on both sides of the River Rother and have been 1072 approached persuasively on this matter, as have other hon. Members, by those who are for and against the Bill.
Frankly, up to now I have felt that my obligation lay in trying to give to those who have approached me a fair run. I think I have done so. Everything at the moment concerning the arguments against and in favour of the Bill appears to be seen in black and white according to which side—against or in favour—one is on. In reality, however, having done my best to study all its implications, the whole thing is a great deal less simple. I say this because I am neither a nautical man nor an engineer.
Those who have petitioned against the Bill—and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) leads them here tonight—are not opposing it merely for the sake of doing so. Nor are the Bill's sponsors mere extravagant bureacrats, as some would make them out to be. A lot of money will be spent if the Measure goes through, no matter how one averages out the number of acres on which it will be spent or which or what will benefit by the expenditure.
When one is dealing with nature, moreover, particularly nature in this part of the world, one is dealing with something that is wholly unpredictable. I do not accept that because certain things are being done it is certain that certain things must necessarily follow. We are discussing a strange part of England. If one examines the history of this part of the country one finds that curious changes have occurred on the coastline and also to parts of the former entrances to the rivers. Thus one must be careful before asserting that what the technical experts say must be right.
Looking at this from a non-technical point of view, one must consider the interests of the farmers who use this marsh area. And ultimately one has to judge where the balance of advantage lies. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who will, no doubt, touch on some of the doubts that have been raised, will help hon. Members to see where the balance does lie. It would seem to me that the Bill should be supported.
Some of the aspects in favour of the Measure have been mentioned by my 1073 hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) while the objections to it have been stated by the hon. Member for Southport. I always find the latter is at his best in waters deep or shallow. We have met on a similar occasion here before. It is flattering that our part of the kingdom should rouse this amount of interest from hon. Members so distantly connected with it.
There are, however, aspects of expression against the Bill to which I must call attention. The opposition began, as it reached me, largely as a defence of Rye, its harbour and its fishermen and there are good reasons for defending all three. Rye harbour is of great natural beauty and historical importance, and to claim that it is only a playground of yachtsmen is quite false. It is of immense value and provides a livelihood for fishermen in the vicinity—just as the surrounding marsh provides the livelihood of farmers. Then there were technical difficulties raised, in respect of which I find myself rather out of my depth. Whether a sluice or a barrage should be provided and what the consequences would be I find it difficult to judge adequately. But as we went along I have noticed a tendency for this legitimate opposition to broaden its channels. What began as simple opposition on simple grounds has tended as it were to gather sticks in order to beat the backs of the river board. One expression that I read in a letter was "A gross waste of public money". If that convinces some hon. Members, it does not wholly convince me, because I wish to dwell on the point which really affects my constituents—the damage that flooding can inflict on the land.
The River Rother is a notorious flooder. When in flood, which may occur as many as three times a year, it can cover about 5,000 acres. At its peak it can inundate three times as much land. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Southport will "pick me up" if I am wrong. I am trying to be fair. The risks are not negligible. They have been experienced.
Apart from agricultural damage, this flooding can have the most disagreeable consequences. In 1958, the year mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rye, the floods on Shirley Moor did something that I have never heard of before. They rotted the crops which 1074 were waiting to be gathered, and the flood water entered the Hythe Military Canal, killing all the fish. I do not say that was a national disaster, but the local angling society, with which I have some connection, suffered some mischief and the river board bad to re-stock the whole canal. I believe that I am quoting from history here. This only indicates the curious results which can occur when Shirley Moor floods. The most vulnerable part of the area is Shirley Moor and its 6,000 acres. I do not attempt to exaggerate its farming qualities, but it is excellent farming land.
§ Mr. Percival
My hon. Friend invited me to "pick him up" if he said anything on which I thought something might usefully be added. The 1958–59 floods were in August and September. They were most exceptional, and the evidence is that a sluice would not have helped at all but that the work that is in hand, costing £100,000, which does not depend upon this Bill, would deal with such floods. I had some personal connection with those floodings, and I know that they were very serious, but this Bill would not help in that kind of flooding.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am not quoting the floods in 1958 or what I believe was an exceptional event to justify a sluice itself. My hon. Friend knows that £100,000 is being spent on the drainage of the area, and towards making that £100,000 job a surer job than it might otherwise be a sluice would make a contribution.
It is not quite right to say that a sluice would benefit only Shirley Moor's 6,000 acres. The whole of this low-lying basin of some 20,000 acres, I am informed—I cannot prove it—may get relief, and twice that area may gain indirect relief from the effect of tidal flooding. If that is incorrect, I am sure my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say so. It is fair to add that farmers and agricultural interests are in favour of the scheme. This is not marginal land. It is some of the best agricultural land in the country.
It has been suggested that these powerful agricultural interests are opposed only by a handful of yachtsmen who use Rye harbour and some fishermen. That is totally unfair. Rye harbour is not simply a pleasure ground, and those who support the Bill on such grounds do 1075 their cause no good. The fishermen have their interests and their livelihoods, as do the farmers. I hope my hon. Friend will answer the doubts raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) because I concede they are important points. Yet I find it very hard to believe that the Corporation of Rye, with which I have no close concern, would support a Measure which is inimical to the fishermen of the port but would help farmers some way outside the responsibility of this corporation.
We are told that this scheme is grossly extravagant. I am not going to compare it with other schemes. Figures have already been given, but the fact is anything that one does not want is always grossly extravagant. The sum of £400,000 sounds a great deal. I am satisfied that, on balance, it is proportionately not more than ought to be—and sometimes is—spent on this kind of work. The House will recall that on more than one occasion when coastal defence and sea defence work has been discussed in this House the problem has usually been one of neglect and not one of over-emphasis. Anything to do with coastal defence is expensive.
I also believe that there is some feeling on the subject of siltration. This is alleged to be inevitable without increased dredging of the tidal estuary. The petitioners make a strong point of the suggestion that the result of the barrage would be increased siltration and the ruination of this piece of river and the harbour. I do not dismiss that at all, but I think the burden of proof lies on them to some extent. They say that it would jeopardise the existence and the future development of the Port of Rye. I do not belittle the development of the Port of Rye. I would prefer the expansion of some of these ports, particularly when we are to develop trade with Europe, rather than have the creation of one channel tunnel to act as a bottleneck between the two bits of land. But I think in this sense the petitioners are trying to prove too much. I would refer hon. Members to Clause 12 of the Bill which appears to give reasonably solid assurances on the obligation to dredge and on what would happen if siltration were to occur.
1076 One of the principal points raised by the Port of Rye Protection Society is the question of amenities. I do not think any hon. Member will accuse me of being careless about amenities. I have troubled this House on that subject on a number of occasions. I have a strong affection for Rye. The view of Rye Harbour is not only entrancing, but I find it very consoling as I play golf on the adjoining golf course when my golf is below par, which usually it is.
I think that the right attitude to strike in defending amenity such as this is not to say, "No, not at any price will we have a sluice or a barrage" but to make acceptance conditional upon the new development harmonising reasonably with the surroundings. I have looked into this, and my impression is that the authorities have not been altogether un-co-operative in discussing that aspect of their plan. It remains true that all the local authorities concerned, if not in favour of the plan, have expressed no opposition to it. I do not over-rate the value of that, but it is, I believe, the fact.
I have deliberately dealt with generalities, and I admit that I am vulnerable on matters of technical detail. It may be said that the real menace lies in such matters of technical detail. All I can say is that these questions were argued at some length, for seven days, I think, before the Select Committee. If such technical danger lies in the Bill, it has not been brushed under the carpet.
I think that the opponents of this measure have had and are still having a very good run. They have done a most valuable job because a great many matters have been raised which, otherwise, might not have been heard of. Their diligence and persistence has elicited some assurances and changes which otherwise would not have been forthcoming. On balance, however, I hope that they will not take hon. Members with them into the "No" Lobby tonight. Speaking as a landlubber here, with no nautical interests whatever in this business, I can only claim to put half the story, but I suggest that the land interests are strong. The stake held by the farmers is considerable, and I think it ought to prevail. In my view, the Bill should have a Second Reading.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
Like the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) I find it very difficult to come to a decision here because of the large and varied interests which are affected by the Bill—fisihing, yachting, amenities, housing and, of course, the interests which particularly concern me, the land interests. I do not know much about the other interests. I do not know much about fishing, I do not know anything about yachting, but I have been approached by a number of agriculturists in the district, and I wish to spend a minute or two discussing their side of the matter.
A number of farmers have petitioned against the scheme. I dare say that some of them are yachtsmen as well as farmers, and I wonder whether this may be clouding their judgment a little in favour of yachting and against the land interest. The total of £400,000, £250.000 plus another £150,000, is a large sum of money, but we must relate it to what it is to do. The hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) tried to put the figure into proper perspective. Our consideration of whatever sums may be involved must depend on how many acres will be affected. Some of the people who have approached me have said that the benefit will spread to a much larger acreage even than that suggested by the river board. On this land enormous private drainage schemes have already been carried out. They have been very successful, and they will be successful provided that the water gets away. If the water from those private drainage schemes does not get away, all the money which has been spent privately and the grants which have been made for the purpose will be virtually wasted. This must be taken into account.
We must consider what type of farming is done by those who make the objections. A man who does a lot of grazing, who keeps sheep on the land, for instance, is not so much troubled by flooding. The arable farmer, on the other hand—I know some of the farmers here and I have been to the area—particularly if he is growing potatoes, a pertinent consideration at this time, knows that flooding is fatal. If potatoes are flooded at any time during their growing life, they are destroyed. The attitude of the 65 farmers who objected and of 1078 the local farmers' union, with its almost overwhelming vote in favour, depends entirely upon the outlook which each has, whether the interest is grazing or arable farming.
I ask the House to consider how the Dutch would treat this matter. In Holland, enormous sums per acre are spent for this purpose. What is £7 10s. an acre or even £67 an acre if the land is made into good arable ground compared with what the Dutch are sometimes prepared to spend, even as much as £200 an acre?
We must relate this £400,000 to what it will do to the land and what it will produce for the future and not merely say that it is a very large sum. I am sure that if the scheme is worked out carefully it will benefit a large area of agricultural land and will have long-term results. In that case, I feel that I should support the Bill.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine), I have the honour to represent a number of constituents who live in the area affected by the Bill. The particular area which I represent is part of the wide expanse of Romney Marsh, which has such a romantic and historic background. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred to this particularly from the fishing point of view. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) made a special point about the effect which the Bill had on freshwater fishing. I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said because the hon. Member for Rotherham was out of the Chamber when he said it. We have had a good deal of trouble and a large number of fish have been killed because flooding has taken place and there has been rotting of agricultural produce which has got into the rivers and subsequently into the Royal Military Canal. Unfortunately, I have no experience of freshwater fishing, but so many of my friends enjoy it that I am sure that it is an extremely good sport.
I have some experience as an engineer, and to that extent I declare my interest. However, my experience is in a very special branch of engineering. 1079 I am also a yachtsman and vice-commodore of the House of Commons Yacht Club. It may be said that I should oppose the Bill because of the effect it might have on Rye harbour. However, I take the opposite view. I think that the effect of the engineering work will probably improve Rye harbour.
I have a number of inshore fishermen in my constituency, at Dungeness. I am friendly with most of them. I have had no direct approach about the effects of the Bill, but I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). These men may not fully appreciate what is involved. I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading, and should they have any fears in this respect I undertake to do my best to make representations to the river boards, which I have always found most helpful in these matters, to see whether anything further can be done to improve their lot.
I should now like to refer to the trouble which has taken place during flooding in my constituency. This has not happened, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) said, once in 200 years. I have had the honour to represent my constituency for only three years and I can recall two floods during that time. Let me quote a letter which I have received dated 9th November, 1960, from the Clerk to the Romney Marsh Rural District Council. As a result of a survey which he made of flooding, he said:As a result of the recent heavy rains, large areas of agricultural land were waterlogged and farmers were unable to proceed with harvesting their potatoes, sugar beet and other root crops or to do any cultivation. There were also several instances of houses on low-lying ground being flooded. On the estate at Newchurch, which lies inland, we had to keep pumps going night and day to prevent water entering the houses. However, on the whole, the drainage system of the Marsh appears to have worked fairly well, the only apparent weakness being that with such heavy rainfall the surface water sewers become overloaded and the existing sluices are unable to get sufficient water away between tides. As a result of the height of the water in the main sewers, the water in the petty sewers and private ditches is unable to get away and there is considerable backing up. The remedy would appear to be the provision of further sluices.…1080 He concludes:It is, of course, possible that the general position in the Marsh would have been worse if the period of heavy rainfall had happened to coincide with high tides. Fortunately, it did not.As I see it, the whole purpose of the proposal is to deal with this state of affairs. The engineering proposals are to ensure that should the large tides from which we suffer in the Channel coincide with heavy rainfall, the tidal sweep does not go up the river and interfere with the storage of water. The proposals are simply that a sluice can be put down so that at certain times the high rising tide should be prevented from filling up the river. It is as if there were a barrage at Tower Bridge which allowed the stretch of river here to take the flood water from the Thames. It is as simple as that.
I cannot understand the worry of the fishermen or the yachtsmen. During the summer months, the barrage does not work at all. All that they want is an improved bank and improved river works. I say this with reserve, because I make no claim to be a hydraulic engineer. I merely happen to be a contractor who does a certain amount of hydraulic engineering work. It is, however, common sense that if the river board wants to make proposals to get the water away, it will not put forward proposals to silt it up. It would be against the board's interests. Its interest is to get the maximum reservoir to store the water prior to its being pushed out to sea. Therefore, why should the river board put forward proposals that would cause silting up, which would prevent the board from getting the very thing it wants?
In the same way, by having the sluice gate, if the sluice gate is open and the velocity of water is increased, the effect would surely be to wash the water away downstream, which would give the fishermen better access.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Does the hon. Member know from his Welsh experience that in the Bristol Channel, where we have the largest rise and fall in the world, we also have some of the worst silting in the world?
§ Mr. Costain
I do not pretend to have great Welsh experience. I know that the Bristol Channel has its own tidal bore and has a number of special features, but we are not thinking of a channel the length of the Bristol Channel. We are concerned merely with about a mile of river. The two cases are not parallel.
I call in aid the fact that during a time of heavy flooding, those of us who are familiar with Rye Harbour know that at certain times of the year a bar builds up at the bottom end and the river turns to the east, because the bar silts up. At a time of heavy flooding, this can be seen by aerial photographs. The swirl of the river and the extra water passing down the river breaks the bar and gives a channel straight out. Evidence put forward indicates the possibility of an improvement in this respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has dealt with this matter extremely fairly, giving both sides of the picture, and I should like to associate myself with him. In Kent we are all extremely proud of the beauties of Rye, but I cannot think that there is anything in the scheme which would detract from them. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) spoke of Holland. I have had the opportunity of seeing a great deal of Holland. Some of the river works and sluices there keep the water at higher levels, but in that way add to and do not detract from the beauty of the area. I recall places around Amsterdam which are extremely attractive.
There is a good deal of unnecessary apprehension in Rye about the effect of the scheme on the beauties of Rye. This apprehension has been produced by a number of well-meaning people who are always worried about the effects of new engineering works. One hon. Member suggested that there were other ways in which £250,000 could be spent without opposition. I wonder whether that is so. From my experience I cannot think of anything which has been built without someone finding some jolly good reason why the money should not be spent.
I have contacted every person in my constituency who is likely to be affected and in only one case have I found strong objection. I must admit that it 1082 came from a very powerful gentleman who, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, sees things not grey, but black or white. He is a man of great ability at putting his point of view, and I admire him for it. He is able to say what he means to the Tomato Board and the Potato Board and other bodies, and I admire him for it, but it is possible that in his enthusiasm to do what he thinks right—and I take full cognizance of that—he has whipped up extraordinary but unnecessary opposition to the Bill.
I summarise what I have to say by saying that the Bill is necessary because the harbour works are required for the drainage of the whole area. There seems to have been some doubt about the acreage and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) wondered whether it was 40,000 acres. I refer him to the evidence of Mr. Taylor given on the first day, when in answer to Question 14 on page 31—What is the acreage of these lands that are below the level of high water?"—he said:40,000 acres are below high tide level.Any land below high tide level must be directly affected by the Bill, because all that land has to be drained by pumping into the River Rother. In fact, this could be called the River Rother Reservoir Bill, and whatever may be said about the Shirley Moor or the Walland Marsh, all the area of Romney Marsh below sea level must be directly affected and therefore improved by the Bill.
I can see no reason for opposition to the Bill except that of expense, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport made some comments about that. But I think that those comments have been adequately dealt with from both sides of the House. If hon. Members have any doubts, let them bear in mind that if something has to be done one day, if it is not done this year, it will probably cost more to do it next year, and more again the year after.
If the hon. Member for Southport is in doubt about this, if he goes to the Library and asks for a book on the history of Rye, he will see that Rye harbour started to silt up in 1600. There was an appeal to the then king who arranged that there should be a special collection 1083 in every church and chapel of the country for money to clear the harbour. I suggest that such a collection would not bring in much today. In consequence, I do not think that anything is to be gained by delaying this Bill for three months, and I ask the House to approve it and allow my constituency to get over its flooding problem.
§ Mr. Percival
My hon Friend talked about 40,000 acres. This is one thing which I have been trying to discover in my researches. Can my hon. Friend tell the House what benefit these 40,000 acres will get?
§ Mr. Costain
I thought that I had dealt with that most adequately. I explained that the 40,000 acres were land below sea level, and I explained that the only way to get the water off was to pump it away, and to pump it into this reservoir to which I referred. What more does my hon. Friend want?
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I make no comment about the drainage of the land, It seems to me that the promoters of the Bill have made out a good case for this, and clearly we all ought to be in favour of draining agricultural land so that farmers know where they are. If that is the case, I do not protest. I just do not know. Nor do I protest about this on amenity grounds.
I have one interest in the matter. For many years I have worked with the Federation of Inshore Fishermen. When I say worked with the Federation, I do not mean that it employs me. I mean that we are old friends. Its members helped me with the prevention of oil pollution, and I am delighted to help them now. I am sorry that they have not been to see the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine).
§ Mr. Callaghan
I told them that I regret their not going to see the hon. Gentleman, and I think the answer, though an inadequate one, is that they knew that he was on the side of the Bill and therefore did not think that it was worth while going to see him. I assured them that all hon. Members have such open minds that they could well have 1084 put their points to the hon. Gentleman. Anyway, they have circularised all hon. Members today. They represent 35,000 inshore fishermen, and are a levelheaded, sensible body of men whose chairman is from the county concerned.
Having listened to this debate, I think that we are entrusting substantial powers to a board whose interests are not those of the inshore fishermen. By its constitution, the Kent River Board's only interest is to get the land drained. It is interested in Rye harbour only because it wants to protect the surrounding land. But I have another interest. I want to protect the interests of the fishermen and make sure that they can continue their livelihood.
Having listened to this discussion, I wonder whether we are right in giving this power to a river board whose interests are so one-sided. I do not mean that the board will not exercise its powers in a judicial manner. I am sure that it will, but its interest is to get the land drained, and not to look after the livelihood of the fishermen.
The hon. Member for Rye said that the number of inshore fishing boats using this port has doubled during the last ten years. The figure used to be four, and it is now nine, although I think that the hon. Gentleman said that the figure was eight. This may not seem a large number, but to anyone who knows how inshore fishing has declined in recent years, it is a remarkable increase. The Federation employs between 40 and 50 men, and perhaps another 10 or a dozen are employed ashore. As far as I can see, every provision in the Bill is weighted against these men's livelihoods.
Where is the nearest port to Rye? If they cannot use the port because, for the purposes of the Bill, it is being used for other interests, I suppose that they will have to use the open beach at Hastings or Dungeness. That is a fairly severe thing to ask these men to bear. Otherwise they will have to move much further along the coast. I ask that more protection should be given to these men before the Bill is given a Second Reading.
They tell me that undertakings have been given them which have not been carried out. For example, I am told—and I speak subject to correction—that 1085 they were promised a depth of water of 10 ft. at the Newlyn ordnance datum. In fact, it appears in the Bill as a depth of 7 ft. 6 ins. I do not suppose that the Minister can give us the answer, but somebody should be able to tell us. At any rate, this point should be cleared up before the Bill goes through. The fishermen say that they were promised an answer on this point but they were not given it, and that the Bill was suddenly published.
Another point that they put to me is that the Bill provides that the depth of water at Strand Quay, which they use at present, should be not less than 4 ft. That is all right for an existing boat of 25 ft., or perhaps even 35 ft., but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said earlier, it may be that much larger boats will be built. If inshore fishing prospers, as I hope it will, there is no doubt that larger boats will be built, and I hope that some will be built in the port of Rye. If they are built they will require a greater depth of water. I should think that an 80-ft. boat would require a depth of 5 or 6 ft. But it is written in the Bill that the promoters must provide only 4 ft. at Strand Quay, which is where the fishermen have their gear and tackle at the moment. The Bill is clearly designed in the interests of the River Board and not in the interests of the men earning their livelihood in the harbour.
There is also the matter of the lock. I believe that the Bill provides that it shall be 70 ft. How will an 80-ft. boat get into a 70-ft. lock?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was not aware of that, but I am willing to accept it. At any rate, if the inshore fishing Bill means anything we can surely assume that boats will become larger.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The inshore fishermen tell me that that is so. However, I do not want to make too much of that point.
I am not sure whether I really understand Clause 11, which deals with the operation of the sluice and the lock. Everybody will agree that the interest in 1086 the operation of this sluice and lock may be very different if one is a farmer than if one is a fisherman. Clause 11 (1, b) provides that:the sluice and the lock shall not be closed except on the incoming tide and when the water in the river is either at or above a level of 4 ft. above ordnance datum at Blackwall Bridge.…That sounds all right until we examine subsection (3) which says:After the completion of Works Nos. I to 6 the lock and the sluice may also be closed … to enable the Board to carry out works in or adjoining the river for the purposes of any of their functions …Their functions are to drain the land and not to assist navigation for inshore fishermen.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
The river board is also the harbour authority. It is wrong to give the impression that it is only a drainage authority. It has a much wider interest.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If it has a much wider authority—I am glad to hear it—I am surprised that we have not heard more this evening about its interests in relation to fishing and the use of the harbour. The whole of the argument, surely, has been about the preservation of the amenities, the interests of the farmers and whether Rye is going to be flooded.
I accept that this is the constitution of the board, as the Minister said. But from what I know of the functions of river hoards—not necessarily this river board—I would say that they are much more concerned with drainage than as acting as harbour authorities. I put it to the Minister, who I am sure will carry out his job properly—he is responsible not only for agriculture but for fisheries as well that he has a duty to see that this Bill is drafted in such a way that the legitimate interests of the fishermen are protected.
It says in this Clause that not only can the lock be closed in order to carry out works but also in order to carry outexperiments as to the effect of closure on the flow of the river …That is a drainage requirement. It is not a harbour authority requirement. The subsection states… between the thirtieth day of September in any year and the following first day of April 1087 on not more than forty days in the aggregate or such greater number of days as may be agreed between the Board and the county council …The county council is not a harbour authority, and from what I know of the Kent County Council, or the Sussex County Council, I should not be surprised if there are one or two farmers among its members. The subsection continues:or in default of agreement as may be determined by the Ministers …The Ministers come into this and can act as referees and that provides a bit of protection. But to close the lock to fishermen for 40 days during the winter could be a considerable hardship to them. Anyone who knows anything about fishing will agree that for a fisherman not to be able to use his harbour or even to be locked in the harbour—although I am sure that they would be given warning and be let out of the harbour if possible—would be a hardship. But suppose it is not possible to let them out. It is likely, it could happen, that for either of these purposes, neither of which is concerned with the harbour, they could be Jacked out of the harbour for all these days.
The Minister has pointed out that Clause 10 provides that the public shall have a right of passage through the lock at all times free of charge. But I should like him to reconcile the provisions in Clause 10 (2) with those in Clause 11 (3), because the fishermen are under the impression—which has been conveyed to me only in the last half-hour—that the provisions in Clause 11 (3) override those in Clause 10 (2) and that they can be kept out of the harbour. If this is so, can they get in through the look even when the harbour is officially closed? I think that the fishermen are right and I should be glad to hear the views of the Minister on this matter.
I put forward these points only because, as I am sure the House will agree, they ought to be put forward. Whether the fishermen are right or wrong, they feel that they have been overridden by the board. They have met the promoters of the Bill only on three occasions, and they feel that the promoters have not paid sufficient attention to their representations, or the amount of attention which 1088 might have been paid to the representations of others. I cannot be judge of it, but I can say that [that is the feeling of the fishermen. They certainly do not feel that all the things which were promised have been put into the Bill and so I put these points to the Minister. I hope that he will be able to give the fishermen some satisfaction.
§ 9.13 p.m.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
May I now intervene briefly in the debate, not least because the responsibilities of my Minister have been mentioned more than once and I appreciate that this is a House of Commons matter entirely? I am all far the kind of vigilance which one hon. Member referred to earlier in the debate, and I hope that what I have to say may be taken as an attempt to be of some small help in relation to some, if not all, of the questions which have been raised this evening.
Neither the river board nor the Department is interested only in drainage. I made a note to make that point at an early stage in the debate. We have a much wider field of interest which includes not least fishery matters, both freshwater fisheries and sea fisheries. But I should like to return to that point a little later in what I have to say.
This scheme is a river board scheme, and this is a river board Bill. It is a peculiar scheme, not so much on account of its size—several hon. Members have spoken about the cost of carrying out work on this scale—but because of the need to come to Parliament for special enabling powers. River boards frequently plan and carry through bigger schemes than this under the general statutes. It is unusual, but none the less important, that this gives us the chance once in a way of discussing proposals of this sort in some detail.
I make the point that they are regularly considered on their merits without private legislation. Any proposal which may finally be put to my right hon. Friend under this Bill will be considered on its merits when he knows the details, in exactly the same way as any other big scheme which is prepared by a river board without the need for special legislation. Therefore, it would be wrong to suppose that any detailed 1089 large scheme would automatically be carried out if this Bill completes its stages through Parliament.
The sort of merit which my right hon. Friend considers is the benefit which in the main is to agricultural land when one is considering land drainage schemes concerning thousands of acres; but there are other benefits concerning highways, buildings, village prevention of flooding schemes and so on. It would be impossible to say how many pounds per acre is needed, for one area may have a very different figure from another. There is also the question of engineering soundness to be borne in mind. That applies to harbour works in a composite scheme of this kind just as much as to the more straightforward drainage engineering.
There is the question of cost and always the question of priority between competing schemes for the funds available for land drainage which are not inconsiderable, but there are more claimants than there are funds to satisfy them. There are frequently also consultations about amenity, particularly where amenity considerations are important as they are in this case. So every big scheme has a long way to go, a very long way, from the time it is first thought out until the time any part of it is approved and carried out.
Far more often there is pressure on Ministers the other way in Adjournment debates because for one reason or another an hon. Member considers that we are not willing to give a high enough priority to a scheme affecting his constituency. It is quite unusual for us to be asked to check in detail a scheme such as this. Incidentally hon. Members may be interested to hear that recently the Exchequer contribution towards land drainage—which is a big service which I think most of us support whole-heartedly—is in the neighbourhood of £4 million per annum. That includes grants towards half a dozen schemes of the same magnitude as this.
It is true that approval was given to the Shirley Moor scheme some time ago. It has now been about half completed, and that was done in the knowledge that some work would be necessary lower down the river if full value was to be gained from that work and from other work in other parts of the same catchment area. It would be fair to say that 1090 provisional approval was given to some form of sluice if full value was to be gained, not only from the Shirley Moor scheme but other areas where drainage would be necessary.
Provisional approval is given, quite apart from a Bill, to a river board in the early days of planning if it is considered that it is working on the sort of lines on which ultimately consent will be given to allow it to go ahead. Speaking in general terms, it may be said that this scheme is not far out of step with others. The ultimate benefit could be very much more than in Shirley Moor and Walland Marsh in particular.
Consideration and discussion has been going on for some years on the River Rother scheme, with the Ministry of Agriculture always on the side of simplicity and economy. There is no question of our being anxious to see large sums of money spent without ample justification. Hon. Members who have spoken about extravagance may be quite satisfied that we are fully aware of the need to ensure that all money is spent to give the maximum benefit, because if one is extravagant in one scheme, another scheme is cut out, because the total funds are not unlimited.
Some of the arguments by hon. Members on the engineering side were answered by other hon. Members who have greater engineering knowledge than I have. I think that hon. Members agree that many of the points raised were more for the Committee-type discussion than for this debate. On the other hand, there were one or two points made by several hon. Members to which the House would like me to refer, concerning fishing and navigation.
I have said that in this case the Kent River Board is also the harbour authority. I have seen a model of this sluice, and I understand that it is intended to cross the river roughly in the middle of the area where this small number of fishing boats are accustomed to moor. There are, therefore, traditional moorings both inside and outside the sluice. It is also, I believe, the river board's intention to ensure that where any moorings are disturbed, at least equal if not better, facilities will be provided. I am not a harbour engineer nor have I the experience of the hon. Member for 1091 Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) on navigation, but I should not be surprised if at the end of the day, when works of this sort are completed—I am not necessarily referring to the detail—the facilities in the harbour were more up to date than I gather are the pretty simple installations available today.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I absolutely agree with the hon. Member. Given proper precautions and reasonable safeguards for the fishermen, they may well end better than they started, but they must have these precautions.
I entirely agree. It is no good our just hoping and then, at the end of the day, discovering that something has not been done which should have been done. The numbers of these people are not great, but that does not mean that they do not deserve our full consideration. From what I am told, it seems unlikely that there will be a large increase in numbers or in the size of the boats likely to use this harbour. There are moorings both below and above the line where a sluice—no one has agreed the final details of any particular sluice—could be built if the Bill were passed. I am told that the lock is of ample size to accommodate any vessel likely to require to use it, and that is confirmed by some hon. Members.
I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East will forgive me if I cannot answer all his questions about feet and inches. They are on the record and we will look into them, as I am sure the river board will look into them, too, because as he made his representations it was clear that from the fishermen's point of view these are not trivial points. These are genuine fears which should be met.
Mention was made of days when the sluice may be closed and the lock closed, too. I understand that the governing sentence is in Clause 10, by which the publichave a right of passage through the lock at all times free of chargeand that the provisos in Clause 11 were designed to enable the board to carry out works in the area adjoining the river for the purposes of any of their functions 1092 —and that includes experiments, repairs and any emergency. The hon. Member pointed out that if advantage were regularly taken of the figure of 40 days without good reason it would be a great disservice to fishermen, even though they might be able to moor outside. The hon. Gentleman also pointed out that my right hon. Friend comes into the operation of these provisos. I can only say now that I will look into that and ensure that justice is at least done in the sense that the House of Commons would approve.
The Bill has already been considered in general terms and in detail before a Select Committee of another place. I should have thought that after this debate not only the promoters of the Bill but also those who object to it would consider that the right thing to do in accordance with our traditions would be to give it a Second Reading tonight and send it to a Select Committee of this House where the points that have been raised tonight and other points can be considered in greater detail and at greater length and accorded more justice than is possible here on the Floor of the House. If that is the decision of the House, I would give an assurance that we for our part will take account of what hon. Members have said and I am sure that the river board will do the same.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that this is a somewhat peculiar Bill. I agree with him about that. I would much prefer a river board to operate under the general Statutes. Indeed, not long ago we considered a major drainage Bill in this House.
The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is not a question of choice, of the river board deciding to move in this way. It could not do a scheme of this sort under the general Statutes, for various reasons.
§ Mr. Peart
I accept that. I was merely repeating what the hon. Gentleman said. I would have preferred a river board to operate under the general legislation. In that sense the Bill is a peculiar Measure, to use the Parliamentary Secretary's words. I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the 1093 Minister when discussing this will be guided by simplicity and economy, as always. I can only assume that the Ministry is guided when it is dealing with matters of major importance in agriculture by the doctrine of extravagance and complexity. I do not think that the doctrine of economy is pursued by this Government.
However, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he would carefully consider the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not merely look at a model but will, in view of what has been said this evening, go with his officials down to Rye and carefully consider some of the difficulties which face the inshore fishermen. I know Rye, although I have not been there since the Bill was produced.
We have had a conflict of opinion this evening. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) has not met the inshore fishermen who are affected. We are not arguing about who is to blame. All we know is that consultation has not taken place. I trust that the Minister will bear in mind the very forceful argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East. The inshore fishermen have a case. We expect that their interests will be safeguarded. They may well be.
§ Mr. Costain
I do not think that I made it clear in my speech that the shutting of the harbour will at no time stop the fishermen getting in, except in dire emergency. It is simply the sluice gates which will be shut.
§ Mr. Peart
Clause 11 has been referred to. I only ask that this point will be considered. In the end the inshore fishermen may well benefit. Nevertheless, there are still fears. I have mentioned the correspondence that we have received today from a representative of the Federation of English and Welsh Inshore Fishermen. I interrupted the speech of the hon. Member for Rye to say that on 12th April the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee apparently passed a resolution opposing the Bill, although the promoters of the Bill give the impression in their statement that the Committee more or less supports the Bill. That is why we ask that the Bill will be considered carefully when it goes to a 1094 Select Committee of this House. It is true that it has appeared before a Select Committee of another place, but here we are dealing with Commons procedure. It is the intention that if the Bill is approved it shall go before a Select Committee of this House.
I feel that so far there has not been enough discussion about the Bill and that the interests concerned have not been fully consulted. I think that the case of the inshore fishermen is very formidable and one that must be considered. I hope that the Minister's assurance will be considered and that, whatever the decision of the House this evening, this matter will be carefully considered by the Select Committee and by the promoters.
Even although, as my hon. Friend has said, only a few fishermen are affected, they are an important body. We have discussed the sea fish industry on another Bill and we have been anxious in this House to protect the inshore fishermen who not only fish but man our lifeboats and provide a very important service. I am sure that in Rye the inshore fishermen who are affected are very important citizens, and their case should be considered.
On the agricultural side, there is a conflict of interest. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) indicated that several agricultural interests in his own constituency support the Bill. On the other hand, I am informed that there are other agricultural interests which have petitioned against the Bill and that there is a conflict of evidence. This is a matter which the Committee must consider objectively. There will be careful scrutiny.
I trust that the Minister will carefully consider this matter because this is only an enabling Bill and in the end the Government will have to make a decision. As revealed by the promoters of the Bill, this will be part only of a major scheme, and in their own document, which they have submitted to the House, they state that a major scheme will be pursued at a later period. A lot of money will be devoted to the project, the Government will have to accept responsibility and their engineering and other technical personnel will have to advise them.
1095 The Government will have to take this matter very seriously, because it is not just a matter for the board. The Government's own engineers will carry out a survey and that the Minister will himself look at what is to be done in the area. I know that it is asking a lot for a Minister who works hard and has his constituency in another part of the country, but I hope that he will go to see what is proposed there and consult the interests concerned before he finally makes his decision.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I shall be very brief but I think that we have to get this matter into perspective. We have all had this morning a document from the Federation of Inshore Fishermen which begins by stating that large quantities of fish are landed at Rye. That is absolute nonsense. Contrasted with all the other ports in this area, Rye is by far the smallest. The total landings of fish are negligible; last year the total was under £13,500.
§ Mr. Wells
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue because I want to be brief. The other ports in the area are very much bigger. The Federation which has written to us largely represents other fishing ports. The board has been in the closest consultation with the actual fishermen concerned as opposed to the gentleman called Mr. Steel who comes from somewhere else. The fishermen of this port have been well and closely consulted and they are well-satisfied. I have every assurance of that.
Secondly, I am assured that the catchment authority, now the river board, in its capacity as harbour authority, has improved the harbour very considerably. The lock gate will never be closed, except in an emergency or because it is jammed. It will never be closed to prevent the ingress and egress of vessels, so that all this fishery argument in regard to the local people is hot air from a federation from another part of the country——
§ Mr. Callaghan
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the reputation of the president of the inshore fishing industry, who has no power to defend himself here. I put it to you, Sir, that, in accordance with the normal practice and custom of this House, the hon. Member should allow me to intervene on behalf of a gentleman whose reputation has been attacked—I think quite unjustifiably.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I only want to say that I have known this gentleman for 10 years, and have always found him extremely moderate in his statements. He comes from East Sussex, not from another part of the world. He is on the Sussex Sea Fisheries Board. I think that the hon. Member should be careful before using the House to make an unjustifiable attack on the gentleman's reputation.
§ Mr. Wells
I do not seek to attack the gentleman's reputation. I only say that the local fishermen are satisfied, which makes it seem to be part and parcel of an attack on the Bill coming, from people remote from the immediate area, and I deplore it. I have no desire to attack this gentleman personally, but I wish to stress that the local people are satisfied.
The yachting interests must be seen in perspective. The harbour board, which is the river board, has improved the harbour, and has done excellent work. I understand that its income from yachtsmen is only about £200 a year, and the yachting fraternity, of which I am one, should not complain when it is offered these amenities. I therefore hope that the House will realise that much of the objection emanating from those two interests is not strictly in the interests of the immediately local people concerned.
1097 As to the agricultural interests, I have the privilege of attending the county executive of the Kent Farmers' Union, most of whose members, as far as I know, wholeheartedly support the agricultural proposition. As the yachtsmen, the fishermen and the farmers are all satisfied, I trust that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Percival
In view of my hon. Friend's assurances of further detailed examination and investigation, and in the hope and expectation that all that has been said tonight will receive the careful consideration of the Committee, and in the hope that, even at that late stage, we may hear what benefit will accrue to the 20,000 acres, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.