HC Deb 27 July 1964 vol 699 cc1149-76

10.11 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I beg to move, That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in London Excluded Area) Order 1964, dated 15th July, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved. It may be for the convenience of the House if, with this Order, we discuss the other Order, Mr. Speaker. That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) Order 1964, dated 15th July, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved. The purpose of the second Order is, first, to confer on the Thames Conservancy the new water resources functions which are to be discharged elsewhere in the country under the 1963 Act by the river authorities and, secondly, to adapt the constitution of the Conservancy in conformity with those functions, broadly speaking, on the same line as the constitutions of the river authorities. At the same time, it is necessary to amend certain private or local Acts which, to date, have governed the Thames Conservancy in order to ensure consistency with the terms of the Order and of the Act.

The first Order—the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in London Excluded Area) Order-extends the conservation powers of the Thames Conservancy to the excluded London area in relation to the control of underground abstractions. The one Order, therefore, can stand on its own, so to speak, whilst the other is dependent upon it.

The general effect of the second Order on the constitution of the Conservancy, which is the matter that has given rise to the most interest, is to make it analogous with that of a river authority, plus additional navigational functions. My right hon. Friends have thought it right, in fixing the constitution, to have regard to the provisions of the Act with regard to river authorities.

Hon. Members may have some specific questions on the actual constitution, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to two points. The first is that there will be a navigation member, or what used to be a navigation member, representing the amenities, who will now be appointed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and not, as hitherto, by the Minister of Transport. The function of that member will be to represent the recreational interests in the Thames, and I want to make it quite clear that, in appointing that member, my right hon. Friend undertakes to continue the same consultations as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport hitherto had when appointing that member, but that, in particular, he will consult fishery interests.

I should add that since the Order was made, my right hon. Friends have given further consideration to the arguments advanced by the Greater London Council. Because the Excluded Area Order vests in the new conservators control of the underground abstraction, and this abstraction, in certain circumstances, can affect the flow of schemes in respect of which the G.L.C., and not the Conservancy, is the prevention-of-pollution authority, my right hon. Friends have concluded that it will be right to add one more member from the G.L.C.

I would ask the indulgence of the House in the sense that there is some urgency from the point of view of the Conservancy to have this Order passed, because unlike the river authorities it is an existing body. Its financial year begins on 1st January and it is necessary for it to make its estimates and precepts in October to December.

As the Order affects its financial position it is necessary, or highly desirable, that the Order should not be delayed. It is, therefore, the intention to have an amending Order towards the second appointed day. I am sure that the House will appreciate that there is no particular hurry because the new conservancy powers will not start to affect the Conservancy until the second appointed day. I apologise to the House, but this seems to us to be the sensible way to do it. The second amending Order will be simple and will not take up much of the time of the House.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

These are important Orders and I think that the House should spend a short time in considering them. There are a number of questions which I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary on both Orders. The House will appreciate that the situation in relation to the conservation of water in London and in the Thames and Lea areas is very complicated. It is a matter for some regret that the House has not been given more time to consider the Orders. Thames water is of vital importance to London's water supply, and we have been asked to deal with the Orders at very short notice at the fag-end of a Parliament. I understood that we were to have had the Orders way back in February or March. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can say why we have had to wait such a long time for them.

The first Order relates to the London Excluded Area which, in fact, is the Greater London Area. The effect of the Order is very limited when one considers the range of functions to be vested in river authorities under the Water Resources Act, 1963. This Order merely brings the control of abstractions from underground sources in the London Excluded Area within the powers of the Thames Conservancy. The control of underground abstraction is now exercised by the Minister under Section 14 of the Water Act, 1945, and this power will now be transferred from the Minister to the Thames Conservancy.

The House should know that the Order does not mention all the other powers which will shortly be given to river authorities. This in effect is the only new power granted to the river authorities by the 1963 Act which is given to the River Thames Conservancy. There is to be co-ordination and uniformity for the rest of the country but not in London. The Minister of Housing and Local Government said in Committee on the Water Resources Bill as it then was: It is intended that an Order shall be made under the Clause, and under Clause 126 (5, b) it will have to be by way of affirmative Resolution. At the moment the Water Resources Board is not in a position to cover the Thames and Lea areas, but the Board can advise the Minister on any matter that he puts to it, so that he could refer a Thames or Lea matter to the Board. But clearly, when an order is made under the Clause, the areas covered by the Thames and Lee Conservancies will be brought within the purview of the Minister, the Bill and the Board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F; 25th June, 1963; c. 723–4.] Now comes the question: is this as far as the Minister proposes to go? The other powers are now exercised by other bodies, by the Port of London Authority, and so on. Is the Minister satisfied with things as they are or has he further proposals which may be announced later? The House should be told this evening exactly what he has in mind for the future. Is the Thames Conservancy to be limited to this single power, or is there to be a further development at some stage when the Thames Conservancy will be given the powers exercised by all the other river boards in the country?

This is one of the difficulties confronting the House in considering this Order which deals with only one narrow aspect of the problem. When the Water Resources Bill was going through the House, we all thought that we were to have uniformity throughout the country, but it is now clear that this is not to be so.

What about the Lee Conservancy Board? When is the Order relating to the Lee Conservancy to be laid before the House? I understand that consultations on a draft Order are now laking place. How does the Minister propose to deal with that?

I turn now to the second Order which confers upon the Conservators of the River Thames the functions of a river authority in relation to water conservation as laid down in the 1963 Act. In other words, instead of creating a Thames river authority, the Minister is here adapting the Thames Conservancy and altering its constitution and finances. I have some comments to make about representation on the new board. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to this briefly, but I should like him to comment rather more carefully upon it.

At present, the Thames Conservancy consists of 41 members of whom the majority are appointed by county councils and district councils. Of the remainder, six representatives are appointed by the Metropolitan Water Board and one is appointed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government after consultation with seven statutory water undertakers drawing water from the river. The new constitution now created provides for 37 members a bare majority of whom are to be appointed by local authorities. Of the remainder, five are to be appointed by the Minister as being qualified in respect of public water supply and three of these are to be nominated by the Metropolitan Water Board. In addition the Minister is to appoint one as having special knowledge in relation to water supply in the London excluded area.

Thus, if we leave out the London excluded area, for which special representation has now been made, the statutory water undertakers are to be reduced from 7 representatives out of 41 members to 5 representatives out of 37 members. For the Metropolitan Water Board the number of representatives is to be reduced from six to three.

Moreover, the consultation which the Minister used to have with statutory water undertakers about representation is to cease, but the Minister will consult the recreational interests before making an appointment to represent these interests. Also, the Minister of Transport is to consult interested parties about his appointments. There are to be consultations with certain interests but not with what I should regard as the most important interest of all, namely, the water undertakers.

Is it not strange that the representation of the water undertakers and of the Metropolitan Water Board is to be substantially reduced at a time when Thames Conservancy is to assume new functions—new functions which will have a much greater importance for public water supply. It seems wrong, too, that the representatives of public water supply interests are to be reduced at a time when the Thames is growing rapidly in importance from the point of view of water supply.

I was glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that accommodation had been achieved with the London County Council and that the Greater London Council will have one representative on the new Board, but I feel that the water undertakers in this area have been shabbily treated. In considering this point we should have regard to what was said in the study produced by the hon. Member's Department, the South-East Study, about the importance of water supply in the Greater London area.

May I turn for the moment to the financial side? At present, the Metropolitan Water Board contributes about £280,000 per annum to Thames Conservancy. In all, the contributions from water undertakers in the area amount to £330,000 per annum. The financial details of this Order are very complicated and it is not quite clear what will happen when a charging scheme is introduced by Thames Conservancy. It will be the duty of Thames Conservancy under the Act and the Order to send a charging scheme to the Ministry for approval. What will happen? The statutory water undertakers will continue to contribute well over £250,000 annually to Thames Conservancy, and this is the question: will this sum be considered to be their payment for water abstracted or must they pay in addition for every gallon of water abstracted when the charging scheme is introduced?

This is the most obscure point in this Order and the most important question which the Minister has to answer. After the Order comes into operation, will the undertakers have to make a double payment—the payment which they make now of about £330,000 per annum, plus any charging fees which may arise under the charging scheme? There seems to be a good reason why the financial provisions covering a river authority should also be applied to Thames Conservancy. I do not think that it would be a good thing if river authorities worked to one set of financial rules and the Thames Conservancy worked to another set of rules.

There is also the question of fishery representation, and I mention this as a concluding point. The Parliamentary Secretary did not mention it, but there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who are concerned about it. The London Anglers' Association and other bodies feel strongly that the River Thames and the River Lea are of great value.

Mr. Corfield

I made it clear that in the appointment of the recreational member the consultations would include the representatives of the fishery or angling interests.

Mr. Hughes

The fact remains that although there will be consultations there is no certainty that out of those consultations will emerge a fishery representative on the new board. This is what the fishery representatives are concerned about.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

Is there not already a fishery representative on the Lea Catchment Board?

Mr. Hughes

I think that the hon. Member is right. There is at the moment. Unfortunately, the House is not in a position to consider the Order relating to the River Lea at the moment, a point which I have made. It is unfortunate that we are not in a position to consider the Lea Order as well as the Thames Order. I understand that there have been discussions between the Ministry and the fishery interests. We had lengthy debates in Committee on fishery representation on river authorities in the remainder of the country, but when it comes to the Thames the fishery interests are left high and dry.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us, when he replies, why these interests are being excluded. These are some of the more important matters upon which the House should be enlightened before we pass the Orders.

10.30 p.m.

Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

There is an important omission from the Order about which I am not at all happy. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, has referred to it in a general way. I refer to the fact that, for the first time, representatives from the joint riparian committees on the Thames Conservancy are excluded.

Ever since 1908—and, possibly, before that, for all I know—the riverside towns have had four representatives on the Thames Conservancy, two on behalf of the authorities between Abingdon and Walton-on-Thames and two others on behalf of the authorities below Walton-on-Thames. The fact that these are now excluded for the first time has, understandably, aroused strong local feeling. I gather that my right hon. Friend the Minister received a deputation on behalf of the riverside towns early this month, but, if my information is correct, the argument then put forward fell on deaf ears.

I must put this point to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The representatives of the riverside towns on the Thames Conservancy—I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) will agree with this—performed a very useful function. They were an essential link between the towns and the Conservancy. They helped to anticipate, to deal with, and to smooth out all sorts of problems which arose. Moreover, their functions were mutually beneficial both to the towns in question and to the Conservancy. Both interests gained by that representation. In addition, a point which the House should not overlook is that almost without exception, the representatives so appointed were men of lifelong interest and experience of the river.

Hitherto, Parliament has always regarded and treated the Thames Conservancy as different from other river boards, for obvious reasons, and in some respects the Order continues to do this. I am, however, very unhappy about the exclusion of representatives from the riverside towns, and I ask my hon. Friend to explain fully the attitude of the Government to this point.

I do not understand what interpretation can be put upon paragraph (8) of Article 9 of the Order in relation to the exclusion of any representatives from the riverside towns. It states: In the appointment of Conservators under paragraph 1 … the council or councils concerned shall, so far as may be practicable, select persons appearing to them to have a practical knowledge of the matters to which the functions of the Conservators will relate; and where two or more persons are to be appointed by the council of a county, the council shall … select persons each of whom has local associations with a different county district or group of county districts, having regard to the appropriate penny rate product … How on earth does that apply to the lack of representation of non-county boroughs like Maidenhead, in my constituency, with a population of well over 30,000, for whom the whole of the problems of the River Thames are vitally important? Are they not to have any representatives at all or any say in who represents their area? This is a very important point, and I ask my hon. Friend to pay attention to it when he replies.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has frequently said that in local government "local" is the operative word. I agree. But I am bound to tell him that I see very little evidence of that interpretation in the Order.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Reading)

It is in many ways surprising, when one comes to consider the Orders, how everybody takes water entirely for granted, particularly the supply coming out of their taps, until it does not come. One would hardly realise that these two Orders must be affecting the water supply of between 17 million and 18 million people in the area round the Thameside. It is for that reason that I agree particularly with the statement made by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) about the importance of the two Orders and the need to ensure that we understand them fully.

First, I turn to the Thames Catchment Area Order and the membership of the new Conservancy. I thank my hon. Friend for listening to the approaches made to him and my right hon. Friend about the representation of Oxford and Reading. I see the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, sitting on the Government Front Bench, and I am sure he would agree that it would have been an impossible position for the two towns to have shared one representative. I thank my hon. Friend most sincerely.

Having said that, I would also back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) said about the riverside towns. When one considers the very small majority that the local authorities have in this Conservancy and the admirable flexibility that the Minister has shown in bringing in another member from the Greater London Authority, it seems to me that it would not have been upsetting the balance to have allowed there to be a representative of the riverside towns themselves.

Turning specifically to the Order, and to paragraph 9(2) of Part III, there is reference to the appointment of those members for the water authorities. I am somewhat concerned about this. I think it is now widely known that of the five outside the one appointed for the Greater London Area, originally it was intended that there should be two representatives from the Metropolitan Water Board and three from the other authorities outside that Board. This has been reversed. I think this is an incorrect step. There are these seven other authorities with very different and varying interests, and I should have thought that we ought to have seen more than two representatives from them. I am also concerned about the fact that whereas the Metropolitan Water Board representatives are appointed by the nomination of the Board, the Minister himself has kept the power to appoint the two representatives from the other authorities.

I know that there would have been some slight disagreement on selecting the two future representatives out of the seven previous representatives but the Minister, in this Order, has recognised the difficulty in another instance, for it is laid down that, where there is disagreement in that case, the powers may be exercised by the Minister himself. It would have been useful had he extended that provision to cover the case of the appointment of two repre- sentatives by the non-Metropolitan water authorities. He could have asked them to get together to choose representatives and then, if they had failed to agree, made the appointments himself.

Let us be under no misapprehension. I have nothing but praise for the work of the Thames Conservancy. We are all grateful for it. There is no doubt, however, that certain of the water undertakers and independent water boards are concerned about the extra powers that are suddenly being given to the Thames Conservancy in responsibility for the supply of water.

The specific reason for this is that, outside the Metropolitan Water Board, one finds that the majority of other water boards are not themselves independently relying only on the Thames for their supplies. They are going to borings and raising the water themselves. There is no doubt that the Thames Conservators have no good experience of such operations and yet they are to be given a responsibility for the supply of water from these sources.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will assure me that he will see that the Thames Conservators pay particular regard to these slightly different interests and ensure that there is no undue interference in the proper and correct operations of these other water boards which, like the Thames Conservancy, have done a most excellent job in expanding the amount of water they have been able to produce for their specific needs.

What is the total liability that local authorities can come up against under this Order? As I see it, it appears, according to the Explanatory Note, that the total liability is to be a maximum of the precept of a 4d. rate. Is that so? It would allay a lot of doubt and suspicion if this could be made clear.

In the working of the new Thames Conservancy there must be the maximum co-operation between the up-river boards—those which are not Metropolitan—and the Conservancy in the use and supply of water. There is a great difference between those using the Thames as water supply and those which are not. This is a specific worry which we must ensure is done away with if the new concept is to work. I hope that it does work and work efficiently.

10.45 p.m.

Mr John M. Temple (City of Chester)

Throughout the passage of the Water Resources Act I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of many of the fishery interests, including the National Federation of Anglers, the Salmon and Trout Association and the Anglers' Cooperative Society. It was plain at that time that one of the most important functions of the new river authorities would be administration of the law with regard to fisheries.

I am aware that the Thames Conservancy does not have to operate the Acts concerning salmon and fresh water fisheries. On the other hand, there was a recommendation by the Bledisloe Committee that the salmon and fresh water fisheries Acts should come within the purview of the Thames Conservancy. In the not too distant future, when Parliament gets round to implementing the recommendations of the Bledisloe Committee, no doubt the fishery laws will be administered by the Conservancy.

There is no question that at present fishing in all its aspects is becoming more and more important. I would say that today it is the national sport which has more people individually following it than any other field sport. The Thames basin and all the river's tributaries are immensely popular as places where people can fish, and I must admit that it was a tremendous shock and surprise to me when I found that a river authority, the Thames Conservancy, was not as one in this appointment of a special representative or representatives to look after fishing interests. I was rather surprised when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the river authorities were more or less the same in constitution as the Thames Conservancy. I think that there is a considerable difference and I should like my hon. Friend to explain to the House exactly what is the difference between a conservancy and a river authority. I think that the conservators have the unique privilege of wearing blazers and yachting: caps but that in all other respects they are the same as members of a river authority!

I appreciated what my hon. Friend said about the appointee of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That particular appointee will apparently have the responsibilities of looking after fishing as well as certain transport matters on the Thames. Exceptional problems will be facing that appointee for he will have the difficult task of looking after at one and the same time the vessels travelling on the surface of the Thames, a subject which needs a specialised knowledge, and also the fish travelling within the waters of the river and its tributaries, which also needs a special knowledge. It is therefore disappointing that the fishing interests are not to have the normal representation which they have on all other river authorities in England and Wales.

I have been thinking about this matter at length and I have had the opportunity of discussing it with my right bon Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) outside the House. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend, who is Chairman of the Thames Conservancy, here tonight. I know of his interest in field sports, particularly fishing, and I can say that I have gained a great deal of solace because I have heard from him that not only is he personally interested in fishing, but that so are a large number of his conservators. I believe that we can take it that this is most reassuring news that the conservators, while not being definitely charged with the functions of looking after fisheries in the Thames, have a great interest in them. It may be possible for my right hon. Friend to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to tell us a little more about his proposals and those of the conservators for fishing in the River Thames.

When the principal Act, the Water Resources Act, was going through Parliament, an erstwhile Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now my noble Friend Lord Inglewood, was wise enough to ask a question about the Section under which this Order has been made. My hon. Friend asked whether the Thames Conservancy would in effect be the same thing as a river authority, and at column 723 on 25th June, 1963, my right hon. Friend said without equivocation "Yes". Sitting in my place, after a good many sittings of the Standing Committee, I was in no doubt but that the constitution of the Thames Conservancy would be very much akin to the constitution of a river authority.

On 22nd July I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture what were the numbers of members qualified in respect of fisheries that he expected to appoint to the various river authorities in England and Wales. During the proceedings on the Water Resources Bill my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary had said that it would be very unusual to appoint a single appointee. My hon. Friend has been proved right in the event, as there are only two river authorities in England and Wales where there is a single appointee appointed in respect of fishing. In all the other river authorities we have two, three, or four members specially appointed because of their unique knowledge with regard to fisheries.

When we come to what is in fact the most important river, and very much the largest river basin in England and Wales, we find that there is no specific appointee of the Ministry of Agriculture, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whom I am glad to see present, is a little disappointed that his Minister has not got direct representation in respect of fisheries on the Thames Conservancy. I think that in this instance we have to accept the position as it is, and hope that if there is any re-drawing of boundaries, as there may well be, a different state of affairs will pertain.

The fishery interests have asked me to ask one question with regard to the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board. It is a very serious question, which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to answer. As the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) said, consultations are going on with respect to this Order. It may be that the Order which we are discussing will create a precedent, because there is no direct fishery representation. I think that it would be wrong if we were to create a precedent, and this was quoted when the time came to settle the constitution of the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board. As I said, I think that we have to accept the position in respect of the Thames, but I must admit that it is a little bit of a disappointment for the fishery interests that they have not got their direct representation.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I, too, express some disappointment with the Order in respect of the Thames catchment area, but I do not do so from the narrow point of view of a constituency interest, or borough interest, although I have a very close personal interest in the Thames, first, because my constituency has nine miles of the river running through it, and secondly, because I happen to live on one of the tributaries of the Thames, the River Lodden. I also express an interest as President of the River Thames Society, which is an amenity body which takes a great interest in the river from the Cotswolds to Southend.

The point that I want to make, and which I hope my hon. Friend will take in, is that to millions of people who live in the Thames area, on either side of the Thames, it does not mean water supplies, or local authorities, or anything else. It means recreation and amenities. It means recreation, fishing—as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said—rowing, sailing, canoeing, motor boating, swimming, and the humble sport of paddling.

One of my friends told me that last weekend that the Thames between Chertsey and Shepperton was like Blackpool on August Bank Holiday, it was so full of people taking part in all these sports. After all, we want to encourage them—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) will agree—because we do not want people to spend time motoring to the seaside or cluttering up the roads. How much better to spend their weekends and holidays on the Thames, near at hand.

With that thought in mind, how does this Order match up to the needs of this interest in recreation. How does the constitution of the Thames Conservancy—which we all respect—match up to those needs? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government was good enough, in answer to a Question of mine on 20th July, to set out the exact constitution of the Thames Conservancy, as proposed. I was interested to see that local authorities would have no fewer than 19 members out of 37. Hertfordshire, which is not on the Thames at all, will have 3 members. Persons qualified in land drainage will have 3 members, and those qualified in agriculture, 2 members. Those qualified in respect of industry will have 3 members. The Metropolitan Water Board, which draws out 265 million gallons of water a day and supplies 70 per cent. of London's water, will quite properly have 3 members, and it might well have more; the users of the Thames for barge traffic—and as Member for Twickenham I have not seen many barges in the last few years—will have two members, who will also represent boat builders or boat letters and owners of pleasure boats privately used. Then, persons appointed after consultation with users of the Thames for recreation are to have one representative.

I suggest that it is not enough to have only one representative for recreation. Not only does he have to represent fishing, but such recreations as canoeing, sailing and swimming. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester referred to the National Federation of Anglers. Today I received a humble petition from the London Anglers Association, whose president is Sir Harold Morris, Q.C. Mr. Porter is chairman, Mr. Curtis is chairman of the Fisheries Committee, Mr. French and Mr. Newton, trustees, Mr. Wilson, treasurer and Mr. Davison, secretary. They say that Fisheries Functions and Fishery Representation have been ignored in the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in the Thames Catchment Area) Order 1964. They pray that Fishery Functions and Fishery Representation should be included in the Order as provided for in the Water Resources Act 1963, because they are an integral part of all River Authorities duties and Fisheries cannot be divided from Pollution Prevention work of such Authorities. In the view of your Petitioners there is no cogent reason for leaving out Fishery Functions and Fishery Representation and it is most essential for the well-being of the River Thames and its tributaries that the Fisheries in the Catchment Area should now be afforded proper protection, because this is the largest river in the country and urgently requires such protection. That puts better than I can the case for the London anglers.

The River Thames has been treated differently from all other river authorities. The Essex River Board has two repre- sentatives of fishing interests. As has been said, the Bledisloe Report recommends that the powers of the river authority for the Thames should include fishing. Generally speaking, the Thames really belongs to the general public who live on either side of it, whether in Oxford, Reading, Chertsey, Twickenham, Teddington, or any of the other towns bordering on it. People who live on either side of this great river are fundamentally interested in recreation and amenity and we should have greater representation of these interests on the Thames Conservancy.

If my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government wishes to ask a body well suited to recommend a new member, he could not do better than to ask the River Thames Society. I am greatly disappointed that this Order has left out fishery interests and has not provided for adequate representation of recreational interests. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he will bring an amending Order before the House to add further representation to the Thames Conservancy to look after recreation and fishery interests.

11.1 p.m.

Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)

I am glad, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to catch your eye and to be able to answer one or two points raised by my hon. Friends. I have to declare a special interest in the Order as the present Chairman of the Thames Conservancy. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) that the Thames conservators are very well aware of their responsibility for a great national pleasure ground, one of the greatest in the country. On our river hundreds of thousands of people enjoy themselves and I hope that they may long be able to do so.

Our primary concern is that the river shall be kept in the best possible condition both as regards purity of the water and appearance so far as we have control over it. Navigation is, of course, the principal recreation on the river and for that we give special attention to the maintenance of the locks, bridges and weirs. Today there are 7,000 or 8,000 craft registered as regularly using the river.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham was incorrect in saying that these recreational interests will not be represented under the proposed Order. If he looks at paragraph 9(5) he will see that the Minister of Transport appoints two members to represent navigation and these are to be appointed after consultation with such persons or bodies representative of persons concerned with the navigation of the Thames for profit or pleasure as he considers appropriate. As there is hardly any freight traffic on the river now, this virtually means that two will be representing recreational interests. The third member, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, will be appointed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government and he also will be concerned with recreational facilities. I assure the House that we take all the trouble humanly possible over this matter.

I spent last weekend inspecting the lock gardens. It was the annual inspection which takes several days. We have a system of presentation of cups and prizes awarded to encourage lock-keepers to keep their gardens beautiful and so to add to the amenities of the river. We are mechanising the locks in order to ease the burden of the lock-keepers and to make the passage of craft through the locks quicker. It is our constant endeavour to meet the needs of river users, and lock-keepers and navigation inspectors are concerned to help the river users. It is sometimes said that bathing does not take place in the river, but during the week-end before last I saw thousands of young and old bathing in the river and obviously much enjoying it.

We have been taken to task on the question of fisheries. It is true that the Thames Conservancy does not incorporate a fishery board as do other river authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) asked what was the difference between the Thames Conservancy and any other river authority, except that the conservators wear blazers and white yachting caps. I suppose that anyone can wear a blazer and a white yachting cap if he chooses, but the system of the Thames Conservancy has been in existence for over 100 years, and in its present form for over 60 years. The Conservancy, therefore, has a very long experience and a history of some dis- tinction. It looks after a river that is unique in what it does for the country's recreational life. and in the water supply it brings down to London, so it probably does have features that distinguish it from other river authorities.

Here, I would say something that may give a little comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery). During these years we have to some extent performed the function that the new Water Resources Act puts on the river authorities; that is to say, we have been responsible to water undertakings—particularly the Metropolitan Water Board—for supplies of water to them, and have been paid accordingly. The result is that we have a very well developed prevention of pollution system which has been going on now for some 50 or 60 years.

This is a very difficult job. Inevitably, with the growth of the comforts of life, the effluents discharged into the river are ever larger and more difficult to dispose of. I would imagine that something of the order of 120 million gallons a day of effluents are discharged into the Thames from some 10,000 different points. It is a very formidable job to check all these continually and bring them to reasonable standard, but I believe that we have this matter under good control. We are continually trying to improve the standard of the effluent, and I hope that we shall continue to do so. There is no doubt that in the last 20 years since the end of the war we have made a very substantial improvement in the quality of the water. and we shall certainly continue to strive after that.

The position of fisheries on the Thames is that nearly all the fisheries on the tributaries are in private ownership and reserved—quite good fly fishing—but the main river from Teddington to Lechlade is nearly all coarse fishing—there are some large Thames trout in the upper reaches. The Thames from Teddington to Staines is completely public on both banks, so that anybody can fish there without let or hindrance in any shape or form. Above Staines people can fish on most of the bank, but some of the riparian owners now are taking control of their banks, and anybody wishing to fish there will have to make arrangements with them.

We have taken the view as a Conservancy that the coarse fish in the river are very plentiful because the water is reasonably clean and because the system of weirs and locks keeps the water always at a good depth so that fish life breeds in large numbers. When I was going up the river on this lock inspection, I saw what I believe were literally thousands of fishermen on both banks all the way up from Teddington to Lechlade, all obviously enjoying themselves. They come from London and the Home Counties, from the Midlands and elsewhere.

We take the view that there would be no advantage to the fishing public to our establishing ourselves as a fishery board and requiring rod licences, with people paying, perhaps, 5s. or 10s., a year for a licence, and with water bailiffs to turn away those without licences. It is very nice to see the many youngsters fishing on the river. I think that it is rather wonderful that there is something that people can do for fun now, and that it does not cost anything. They can please themselves where they fish on the Thames and no one will say them nay. It is an admirable state of affairs.

I am not unaware of the criticism from various quarters that we should do more about the fishery in the Thames in order to make sure that the coarse fishing is as good as I believe it to be. I should say that we have a system of byelaws, enforced by voluntary river representatives, which is, we think, quite adequate, and which deals with the usual matters of protection for size of fish taken out, close seasons, and so on. But to ensure that the fishery is adequate I have asked our officers to set in hand a survey of the whole area so that we may see whether the fishery is quite as good as it should be and, if it is not, whether there is anything that we should do to ensure that it is.

I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the form in which these Orders have come forward. Naturally I am sad to see the effect of some of the features in the constitution whereby some old friends may be in danger of losing their seats, but this is inevitable when big changes come along. I know how much a seat on the Thames Conservancy is prized. But the form of the Order in preserving the Thames Conservancy as such, which has been of great value in our national life. is warmly welcomed. The form of the financial structure which adds new financial powers is also welcomed. It at last puts us on a sound financial basis. The extension of our activities to cover the underground water of London is something which we do not exactly welcome, because we think that it will be a formidable task, but we accept the compliment that the Minister thinks that we are capable of performing it and we shall do our best to make a good job of it.

The Thames has an enormous function to perform in supplying the needs of the Thames Valley and London, not only from the Thames catchment area, from the river itself and from its tributaries and from underground sources, but also in future without doubt in bringing water from the plentiful supplies of the West either from rivers or from Wales to run down the channels of the Thames to supply the thirsty, dense populations round London both in South Essex and North Kent, as the South-East Study has forecast.

We are well advanced with our plans for the first supplementation of the natural flow of the Thames. I hope that we shall be able to come forward next year with our initial proposal to supplement the flow from underground sources back in the chalk hills of the west part of the country by up to 200 million gallons a day and thus make sure that we shall not be short for the next 10 or 20 years. Thereafter we shall go ahead with more massive schemes to bring additional water from the catchment area. I hope that the House will feel that the record of the Thames Conservancy is such that the Orders should be passed to give us additional powers and responsibilities and that these functions will be in safe hands to be carried out for the national good.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Corfield

It may help the House if I refer to the basic principles on which we have endeavoured to establish the river authorities and accordingly by which we have been guided in altering the constitution of the Thames Conservancy.

The whole object of the exercise was to produce an executive body, and not a collection of delegates, provided on the one hand with the skills and experience which were necessary for these new functions and on the other hand with a bare majority of local authority representatives because they are representatives of the bodies on which precepts are made. On the good old maxim of "No taxation without representation", this seems to me to be a sound approach. But, of course, this inevitably means that, unless one is to have an inordinately large body, some people who have hitherto had seats will lose them to make way for the new skills and experience which are required.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) criticised us because we had not put more people on the board. I remind him that, as a result of the new powers and duties, we have brought in representatives from agriculture who were not there before and representatives from industry who were not there before. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) pointed out, there are now, under the navigation head, three members for amenity. The barge traffic produces something under ¼d. in the £ of the total income of the Conservancy, and it was for that reason that we decided that it was no longer necessary to have somebody specifically representing the commercial use of the river for navigation. Consequently, the navigation members will be mainly, or almost entirely, representative of the pleasure craft, and I suggest that that would be adequately covered by the word "recreation".

This, I suggest, takes account of the problems which have been facing my hon. Friends the Members for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) and for Twickenham, all of whom have pressed for more representatives, particularly from the riparian authorities. If one were to accept that argument, bearing in mind that the structure of the Conservancy will be a balanced one between the appointed members and the local authority members, one would increase the size enormously. I have not made any calculations for this particular exercise, but, the other day, when we were discussing a similar river authority, it was clear that slight amendment would add anything up to 20 to 30 people to the board because it would mean that one would have to recalculate the sum on which the local authority representation was based.

What we do, having selected the skills and so on which are requisite on the board and the people to be appointed by the Minister, is to take the total number of local authority representatives, compare that with the total product of the appropriate 1d. rate, dividing it among the constituent authorities, county boroughs, on the one hand, and county councils, on the other, on the basis of the product of the appropriate 1d. rate in each of the particular areas.

That is the answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor. For instance, in a situation in which, on this basis, Berkshire works out at having just under two members, clearly, one gives it two, and if it so happened that half the rateable value represented by Berkshire were represented by Maidenhead, then the paragraph to which my hon. Friend referred would require Berkshire to select one of its members from Maidenhead. That is the purpose of the weighting in relation to the product of the 1d. rate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham should remember, when he is pressing for more and more representation of the people who live by the Thames, that these new functions will have to be exercised in relation to the whole of the Thames basin and, if he were to have that sort of representation for Twickenham, we should have a very large body indeed and, I suggest, a quite ineffective one in relation to its executive functions.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I was not pressing for a recreational member for Twickenham, another for Shepperton, another for Staines, and so on. I was merely pressing for one or, perhaps, two more recreational members additional to the 37 we already have. It would be nothing very extensive.

Mr. Temple

Will my hon. Friend make clear that the appointees of the Minister of Transport to whom he refers as recreational appointees are not recreational appointees at all? They are representatives concerned with … navigation … for profit or pleasure". There is nothing about recreation in that context.

Mr. Corfield

I am sorry, but I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). Boating for pleasure is a recreation by any ordinary dictionary definition.

I accept what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. But what he forgets is that if we put on even two more amenity members we must put on two more local authority members, because that is how it works, and that gives a total of 41. If we met my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, with more representatives for public water supply, that would mean two more for water supply and two more for local authorities—four more, again. I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that we must keep the total number within reasonable bounds if we are to have an executive body.

The Thames Conservancy has never been a fishery authority, and the powers of the Act are such that they enable us to confer upon the Conservancy the conservation functions of the Act but no other functions which the Conservancy does not already have. It leaves open the whole question whether at some future date, following consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, the Thames Conservancy should or should not be a fishery authority, too. It certainly closes no doors.

I cannot answer questions about the Lee Conservancy, which is a matter not before us. I can assure the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) that we are pressing on with that matter, but there is not the urgency about the Lee Order such as arises from the financial structure involved in the Thames Order. I am sure that he realises that because of the necessity for establishing 26 river authorities in addition to the Conservancy constitutional alterations, we have had a number of Orders to consider, and this is the sole reason that we cannot produce them all at once. I apologise to him if he feels that he has not had a full opportunity of studying the Order as long as he would like.

The hon. Member for Anglesey asked for more members for the Metropolitan Water Board and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading asked for fewer. The Metropolitan Water Board is in a unique position. It will be the only public water undertaking which has written into the Order a right to appoint. Throughout the rest of the river authority areas the people with the skills and qualifications in connection with public water supply will be appointed by my right hon. Friend to the various river authorities, but it so happens that in the past the Metropolitan Water Board has been almost the sole water undertaking which has made any substantial contribution to the Thames Conservancy, and it has always had a representation of its own. It will remain by far the largest undertaking not only in the Thames but in the country, and it has certain other claims in the sense that it is not only an extractor of water for immediate consumption in the London area but that it does a great deal of abstracting of water for transfer to areas beyond London. It seems sensible that it should be left with a specific representation. But it must be a reduced representation if we are to have people qualified in the other and somewhat different problems which are faced by other water undertakers in the catchment.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Reading that there is no intention, and I do not think there is any possibility, that these new powers conferred on the Thames Conservancy will in any way undermine the powers of water undertakers. He seemed a little nervous about that. The whole purpose is to enable the Thames Conservancy to exercise the new function with which to conserve more water for the purpose of making the very heavy tasks of many of the water undertakers easier rather than more difficult.

The hon. Member for Anglesey asked me about land drainage difficulties; or rather, about the differences between the Thames Conservancy on the one hand. and the various river authorities on the other, referring in particular to the London Excluded Area. The answer is that only limited functions apply to this area, the other functions being covered by separate legislation, which is largely local in relation to London because of London's peculiarities in these matters.

For example, flood prevention is the responsibility of the Greater London Council. Prevention of pollution is a statutory function, of the Port of London Authority in the tidal part of the river, while the Greater London Council is left with responsibility for the tributaries which flow into the Thames from the excluded area, although the Authority has a certain supervisory power in this. The only reason why this selective function is conferred on the Conservancy is that the other functions are carried out by the other authorities.

I hope that I have been able to answer all the questions which have been put to me, and I would sum up by saying that the whole object of the exercise is to build on an authority which has served us very well in the past something which will enable it to carry out conservation functions while, at the same time, establishing a body which will serve the people who pay. without making it too big.

I think that we have allocated the various functions well. I see that the hon. Member for Anglesey is rising in his place to say, I suspect, that I have not answered the question about the Metropolitan Water Board's payments. The payments to date represent payment for services in the past, and work out at about three-farthings per thousand gallons. In the future, payment will be related to any services carried out by the Conservancy from which the Metropolitan Water Board benefits, but there will be no alteration in the contribution made in respect of works carried out in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in London Excluded Area) Order 1964, dated 15th July, 1964. a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved.

Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) Order, 1964, dated 15th July, 1964 [copy laid before the House 16th July], approved.—[Sir K. Joseph.]