HC Deb 18 July 1963 vol 681 cc885-7

10.30 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 133, to leave out lines 7 to 9 and to insert:

26 The Lancashire River Authority The Lancashire River Board area.
27 The Cumberland River Authority. The Cumberland River Board area.

This Amendment is tabled in fulfilment of an undertaking given by me in Committee: to leave the river board areas in the North-West of the country as they are and to create for each one of them—namely, Lancashire and Cumberland—a river authority to match the present river board area.

This was in response to the strong local feeling in the area as evidenced particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who supported him. As the House will remember, I did not conceal from the Committee my views on the subject: that the Bill as drafted was correct in merging these two areas in the one river authority. However, in response to the strong local feeling, and recognising the strength of it, the Government undertook to table this Amendment.

Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)

I do not wish to oppose the Amendment. While I would not be in order in raking over the controversy which has raged in connection with another matter with which the Schedule is concerned, at Nos. 1 and 2, does my right hon. Friend consider that he has been entirely consistent? As I say, while I do not wish to go over the controversy again, I remind my right hon. Friend of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) in Committee and the discussion in another place.

I understood, from correspondence and conversations which I and other hon. Members had—hon Members on both sides of the House—that it was necessary, for technical reasons, that, regardless of local control, these boards had to be at least as big as one stretching from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Whitby. My right hon. Friend has now given way. He tells us that he has done so reluctantly. I hope he will not think that there is any lack of strength in feeling on the right side of the Pennines about the size of the river boards. Does my right hon. Friend consider that he is being consistent? Before he replies, I would like to pay tribute to the courtesy that he and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have shown in correspondence and conversation with me over many months on this matter.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

Many hon. Members will wish to thank the Minister for leaving these two river authorities as they were prior to the introduction of the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there has been considerable discussion on this topic. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courteous way in which he has replied, both in the House and in Committee, to questions affecting the areas with which hon. Members have been concerned. Can some consideration be given to the future re-division of certain areas in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's, powers under the Bill?

Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) and by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne). I do not wish to oppose the Amendment in any way, but I find it very difficult to appreciate the consistency between this Amendment and what was said by my right hon. Friend in the Standing Committee about the necessity for and expense of hydrologists and scientists for these authorities. I do not see how my right hon. Friend's Committee stage arguments succeed if we accept this Amendment.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

In the Standing Committee I had no constituency interest in the matter at all, and I am glad that the Minister has in this case acceded to the request then made. I think that the members of the Committee may feel that though my right hon. Friend may not have been completely consistent in so doing, the case that has been put has merit even greater than the merit of consistency.

Sir K. Joseph

I appreciate the defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), which I shall adopt. I appreciate also the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton). I cannot pretend that this Amendment is consistent. The fact is that, on the technological merits, the organisational merits, the hydrological merits and the financial merits, I believe the river authority areas in the Bill are the correct reconciliation of the interests of the new and of the transferred functions of the existing authorities.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I have become experts during this Session in the delicate process of merging and amalgamating different bodies—sometimes they are boroughs, sometimes they are urban districts, sometimes river boards. We have come to detect the difference between the objections raised honourably, sincerely and vigorously by members and, in some cases, by officials, and those that arise passionately from the populace.

We believe that in the case of the north-west of England, the people of the Lake District—the people of the Lake District, and not only the members and officials of the river boards concerned—genuinely believe—wrong-headedly, I am sure—that the amalgamating of the river board areas concerned would, to some extent, have jeopardised the beauty of their priceless heritage. Since the Lake District is a unique asset of the country, the Government thought, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton has suggested, that acceptance of this point of view was of higher merit than consistency. That is the only reason why, in this case, we have been inconsistent, and I hope that the House will accept the explanation.

Mr. Denis Howell

I accept and welcome the delightful new doctrine announced by the Minister that mergers should be stopped if there is a genuine emergence of feeling from the population and, as is undoubtedly the case in London in respect of the London Government Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman now give an undertaking that he will take that wretched Bill away, and that we shall hear no more about it?

Amendment agreed to.