HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc807-11

In any case where, by reason of exceptional shortage of rain or other emergency the holder of a licence is in urgent need of an additional supply of water, it shall be competent for a river authority, on application being made to them in that behalf, to grant to the applicant a permit authorising, on such terms and conditions as they may think fit, the abstraction, during such period as may be specified in such permit, from a new source of supply of such quantities of water as may be prescribed therein and the laying of such pipes and construction of such works as may be necessary for that purpose:

Provided that the river authority shall not grant a permit under this section unless they are satisfied that the applicant has obtained the consent of the owner and occupier of the lands on or through which any such works are to be constructed and on or under which the source of supply is situate and that the abstraction of water from the source of supply in question will not result in material prejudice to the holder of a licence authorising the abstraction of water from such source of supply or to any other person having an interest therein.—[M. G. Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I did not have the good fortune to be selected for the Standing Committee which dealt with the Bill, perhaps because I was serving on another Standing Committee which was sitting at the same time. So I was not present during the previous debates on this matter. I understand that in Committee the point to which this Clause refers was mentioned but not debated. It is a small point but one quite important to the china clay industry, the principal works of which are situated in my constituency, although my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) has a very big clay pit in his constituency.

As no doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, the china clay industry is much larger and much more extensive than most people suppose, providing the raw material not only for the potteries but for at least eighty other industries to a greater or lesser extent. Among other industries concerned are: rubber, plastics, textiles, linoleum, pharmaceutical products and cosmetics; and it is also a very large exporting industry, 70 per cent. of the 1,600,000 tons produced a year going for export. So it is important that the production of the material should be continuous.

The production of the material is totally dependent on water. The clay is washed out of the pits by powerful jets of water from monitors and conveyed in suspension in water through pipelines to the driers, the pipelines sometimes being of considerable length so that very large quantities of water are consumed. Though perhaps it is surprising in this country to envisage conditions of drought or circumstances in which one might not have enough water, that situation has arisen on several occasions in the clay-producing districts and can be a very serious matter indeed, because if there is not sufficient water to maintain the monitors and the flow of water through the pipelines the whole industry comes to a halt.

Clause 23 prevents any person from abstracting water without a licence, and Clause 36 prohibits the construction of any impounding works. But it would seem that by Clause 28 considerable time would have to be taken to obtain a licence—perhaps a month. Therefore, if the normal sources of water supply are put in jeopardy by a drought or some other cause, the clay-producing companies may be in very serious difficulties if they cannot put in an emergency supply at very short notice. There have been instances in the past when they have actually had to make use of the fire service in order to obtain emergency supplies at short notice. There does not seem to be in the Bill any provision for obtaining an emergency supply at short notice. There is provision about fire fighting, but there does not seem to be anything else.

Therefore, the new Clause seeks to provide a means for a temporary emergency measure, subject to safeguards for the owner of the land affected and for fishing and other interests.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

I support this Clause. It interests me particularly because in my constituency there are some very large china clay workings. This is a very sensible and desirable Clause. I know that in the past there have been occasions when additional water supply has had to be provided temporarily and quickly because of serious drought, since otherwise the operations of the workings have had to stop.

The Clause seeks to ensure that in such emergencies extra water can be speedily provided without a lot of rigmarole and red tape. At the same time, it is so designed as to safeguard the interests of all those other parties concerned with the use of water from that particular source. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to consider the Clause sympathetically.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I support my two hon. Friends on this Clause. I was a member of the Standing Committee and put forward some of these points of view, although not so eloquently as they have done since they have more detailed knowledge than I. In view of what they have said, and the fact that we are only asking for this as a temporary measure in an emergency, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the Clause. I cannot understand why he should not do so. We are providing for exceptional circumstances of dire need.

Mr. Corfield

Of course, one has sympathy with the object of the Clause, but unfortunately when there is dire need in one industry because of shortage of water there is bound to be dire need elsewhere as well. That is the real difficulty. In the first place the Clause would allow the river authority to permit …the laying of…pipes and construction of…works;…for that purpose: I am not sure what that has to do with the river authority, unless it affects the immediate banks. It would appear to be rather a master for private contract and for the Town and Country Planning Acts for planning consent. It is hardly a matter for the river authority. The Clause goes on to say that the authority must be satisfied …that this abstraction of waiter from the source of supply in question will not result in material prejudice… to other users.

This Clause goes right against the whole concept of the Bill. Other licence holders would have their rights derogated from by action endorsed or initiated by the river authority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) said, this Clause would operate in time of shortage due to exceptional drought. But it is at this very time that other licensees will also be most vulnerable.

There is no provision in the Clause for advertising to let other licensees who might be prejudiced know what is asked to be done so that they might object that their need is every bit as great. I am sure that these of my hon. Friends from the lovely rural part of the South-West will not think that the danger of cows dying of thirst is any less serious than a shortage of water for the china clay industry.

Mr. G. Wilson

Yes, I do.

Mr. Corfield

My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion, but I do not think that his farming constituents would agree.

It is wrong to say that this sort of emergency is not covered already by the Bill. It is clear that there will be no difficulty under the Bill as it stands in obtaining a licence covering the disused pits in the china clay industry or other sources of water. As long as they all come from the same source of supply they can be covered by the same licence. Presumably what is worrying the industry and my hon. Friends is not that it may suddenly want more water than usual but that, although it wants the same quantity, less will be available.

But provided the licence covers its normal intake of water and that it has a licence for abstraction from the same source of supply, it will be covered. The new Clause would introduce instead a rather ad hoc method of meeting an emergency which is almost certain to arise with other abstractors at the same time.

I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment. I hope my hon. Friends will appreciate that, under Clause 30, there is means of covering this sort of eventuality if it is properly thought out and arrangements are made with the river authorities, as indeed they can be made at present.

Mr. G. Wilson

While accepting my hon. Friend's statement, I hope that he will appreciate that 6,000 or 7,000 men are employed in a very small area of my division in these works, and I would consider that if they were thrown out of work it would be a greater tragedy than a few cows having shortage of water.

Mr. Corfield

The whole of the farming industry in the South-West might be affected.

Mr. Wilson

This Clause arises from circumstances of a similar nature when it was necessary to call in the fire brigade. However, if my hon. Friend says that other Clauses already in the Bill would cover the point, we will not press this matter further at this stage.

Question put and negatived.