HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc821-6
Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I beg to move, in page 24, line 25, at the end to insert: (c) in so far as the water is abstracted for use in any operations far the winning and working of any metal, mineral or stone and is abstracted from a disused mine or quarry formerly worked for the same metal, mineral or stone. I am longing for the chance to thank my right hon. Friend, as other hon. Members have so graciously done, and I hope that this Amendment will give me the opportunity to do so.

During the Committee stage this Clause, which provides for certain exemptions from the licensing requirements of Clause 23, was amended. It was amended to secure that water abstracted from an excavation such as a china clay pit and used for mining operations should be free from the licensing provisions of the Bill and should, therefore, be free from any charge levied under a charging scheme.

The industry uses about 14½ million gallons a day for its normal requirements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said earlier, it is very important to the industry that the charge should not be too high, because at the moment the industry is not finding it easy to make a profit. At one time it had almost a monopoly in exports, but America has found that it has similar clays which it is using. Therefore, any extra charges imposed on our industry will drastically reduce the already narrow profit margin.

Therefore, this concession was given in Clause 23 freeing the industry from the licensing restriction, and from charges in respect of about 6¼ million gallons taken from and used in the working pits. Another 8 million gallons are used daily. About 6,370,000 gallons of the 8 million gallons are taken from disused pits. It is to this point I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention. I gather that the industry accepts that, in relation to water taken from rivers or streams, there is no justification for putting the industry on a different basis from any other extractor.

I know that my right hon. Friend would agree that that is reasonable. The industry is not asking for anything very special with regard to water drawn from rivers or streams. The industry suggests that an exception should be made in relation to water taken from a disused pit and used in working pits. I ask my right hon. Friend to free this water from restrictions and from charges.

I raised this point in Committee by tabling an Amendment to Clause 24. Unfortunately, the Amendment was not considered acceptable. I hope that my right hon. Friend will now agree that water taken from disused pits and used in working pits should be free from restrictions and charges, because this will be of great benefit to the industry.

Sir Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I support the Amendment. I shall not try to emulate the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers). The china clay industry, which some of us have the honour to represent, is an important industry. I want my right hon. Friend to realise that the Amendment deals with a disused pit which has water. If that water should be taken from that disused pit and put through meadowland or agricultural land and allowed to seep away, there is no charge. On the other hand, if one believes in what some people have believed, namely, waste not, want not, and uses the water, one is charged. This is absurd.

I am certain that, on reflection, my right hon. Friend will see the absurdity of it. I sincerely trust that he will accept the Amendment.

Mr. G. Wilson

I want to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Sir Douglas Marshall). These so-called disused pits are pits which are not being used at the time. It frequently happens that a pit which has not been used for some time is subsequently used. Meanwhile, it fills with water. Under the Bill as it stands, if the firm concerned pumps out the pit so as to use the pit again, and if the water is pumped into the nearest ditch or stream, no charge arises. However, if the firm uses the water in another pit which is in use a charge is made.

The charge, even if it is only 1d. or 1½d. a unit, will be a substantial sum overall. It will amount to about £20,000 or £30,000 a year on the whole industry. This is an export industry which is facing very keen competition, and an increase in charges to the industry of £20,000 to £30,000 a year will be a grave blow. The trade unions agree with this point of view.

Sir K. Joseph

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would tell me where he got that figure.

Mr. Wilson

I got it from the trade union and also from the managing director of English Clays Lovering Poching and Co., Ltd. Assuming that the charge per 1,000 galls, were 1d. or 1½d., the total extra cost to the industry would be £20,000 to £30,000 a year, I am told. This assumes a low charge for the water. The union representative attended the House the day before yesterday and saw hon. Members who were interested in this matter. He felt keenly that something should be done to obtain an exemption in respect of water taken from a disused pit and used again in a pit being worked. He very reasonably pointed out that if an unnecessary charge of £20,000 to £30,000 a year were made, there would be that much less money with which to pay increased wages to the workers or to use in a reduced selling price in competition with others in the export trade. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give due weight to these points and accept the Amendment.

I was horrified when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary earlier compared the user of china clay pits with the necessities of cows. The quantities of water concerned are in no way comparable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) said, 14¼ million gallons a day are abstracted and 60 million gallons a day are in circulation, in a small area. The number of cows required to drink that quantity of water could hardly find standing room on the area involved.

Sir H. Studholme

Important though cows are, I shall not refer to them at the moment. I shall concentrate on the important china clay industry. Under the Bill as it stands, if water is pumped out of a china clay pit and used again in the workings, there is no charge. If there is water lying in a disused pit and the firm concerned chooses to pump it out and let it run down the drain, no charge is made, but if it makes use of it in other workings a charge is made. This is neither fair nor logical. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment.

Sir K. Joseph

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I have stood up to attacks frequently during the proceedings on this Bill but never to such a co-ordinated offensive from all the representatives of an industry as in this case. I congratulate my hon. Friends, though I fear I shall have to try to argue them out of their case. It is most unfair that a concession which my hon. Friend and I were persuaded to make in Committee, so as to enable no charge to be levied where water which is within a pit is allowed to be used for the process of manufacture, should be prayed in aid and used against us in argument for a far wider concession.

Under the Bill there is licensing control over all abstraction of water. To breach that without very good reason is a serious matter. It is also a serious matter if it be true that an industry's exporting power could be seriously weakened by a rise in the price of one of its main commodities. Water is one of the main elements of this important industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), who has moved this Amendment and so many others so cogently and briefly during the passage of this Bill, has painted the picture at its absolute blackest. My hon. Friend is not taking into account the fact that two powers exist for the use of river authorities which will mitigate any harshness which might otherwise be caused by the charging system.

8.0 p.m.

First, if there are pits that have gathered water in such a way as not to prejudice the main water supplies of the area—and, therefore, will not have implications for other abstractions—there is power for river authorities to exempt that source of water from the licensing and charging system. I must add, in honesty, that I am advised that many of these pits fill not from surface water but from seepage; that is, seepage from underground strata. Under these circumstances if they are constantly being used and constantly refilling themselves by drawing on underground strata, that might affect the river authority in the supply of water to many other abstractors.

It is inherent in the Bill that there should be control over water so that the river authority will not be forced to go in for large works and, thereby, charge its abstractors more money. I can complete this part of my comments by saying that where pits are quite separate from the main sources of water in the area the river authority can exempt them.

Secondly, regarding the licensing fee, the river authority can grant a licence which covers a multiplicity of sources if they are all part of the same water resource. Several pits might be covered by one licence fee. For both of these reasons I believe that my hon. Friend painted the grimmest possible picture she could—a picture where all the water was licensable, separately licensed and all charged. It may be that in the sort of case my hon. Friends have in mind some of the sources about which they speak may be exempted from both licensing and charging. Certainly if the water comes as easily as they think—without any effect on other water sources in the area—I would expect there to be either the use of these exempting powers or a very small charge indeed.

I hope that in view of this reasoned cases—and without mentioning the considerable concession that has already been made—it will be possible for the china day industry to accept that it is in its interests, like every other industry, to ensure that water is sensibly, properly and economically used, which is the main purpose of the licensing system, which is the backbone of the Bill.

Mr. G. Wilson

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has the thanks of the whole china clay industry for the concession he has already made. I am equally sure that my hon. Friends and I do not intend to convey any reflection on the fact that we are grateful for what has been done.

Amendment negatived.

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in line 45, at the end to insert: (7) The restriction imposed by subsection (1) of the last preceding section does not apply to any abstraction by machinery or apparatus installed on a vessel, where the water is abstracted for use on that, or any other, vessel. In Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) expressed concern about the implications for ships in harbours or ports of the licensing system of the Bill. He asked whether they will have to have licences to take water on board for normal uses. The Amendment makes it abundantly plain that they will not.

Amendment agreed to.