HC Deb 28 April 1965 vol 711 cc564-86

9.22 p.m.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Resources (Licences) Regulations, 1965 (S.I. 1965, No. 534), dated 19th March, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st March, be annulled. These Regulations are extraordinarily complicated. Everyone is agreed on that, if not upon everything else in them. They are a vital part of the mechanism of the water supplies of England and Wales and follow upon the principle Statute, the Water Resources Act, 1963. I feel that the House and the country are entitled to some explanations of these Regulations. We must recognise that there is a considerable degree of urgency about these Regulations, because the persons and organisations who are entitled to licences of right have to have their applications in at the latest by 30th June of this year.

Recognising this fact, I believe that one of the matters of importance is the publicity which is given to the Regulations. I have the good fortune to read the farming Press pretty regularly, and I am glad to say that in the farming Press recently considerable publicity has been given to the subject of our future water supplies. In the Farmer and Stock-breeder on the 13th of this month there was a headline, "Now we need a water licence". I think that the farming community have therefore already been alerted to the fact that licences to abstract water will be required throughout England and Wales for all abstractive purposes. In the same issue, the Farmer and Stock-breeder gave details of an irrigation scheme covering about 700 acres on the Trumpington Estate in Cambridgeshire and described it as one of the most extensive and efficient irrigating systems in England. It is only one of the extensive and efficient irrigating systems in England at present, and it may be one of many in the comparatively near future.

The Farmers Weekly also referred to this matter in its issue of 16th April, in which there was a headline, "NFU chief calls for clamp on water waste". I think I have made my point, that in the farming Press at least there has been considerable publicity for the fact that water is important, that we must conserve it and that every abstractor will require a water licence. That is what these Regulations are about.

I would ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether he would give encouragement to river authorities to give the maximum publicity in the local Press to these licensing regulations.

I have spoken to people who are closely connected with river authorities, and I know Out they are wondering, if an application is put in out of time for a licence of right, whether they should accede to that request or whether they will be unable to deal with an application for a licence of right which has come in after 30th June. We should be very clear on this point, because, as I read the Regulations, if an application is made after 30th June, the river authority will have to deal with it as an ordinary application and not as an application for a licence of right.

River authorities are comparatively new organisations in this form. They have recently taken over from river boards, and they have vastly increased functions and responsibilities. At the present time, and certainly up to 30th June, they will be inundated with applications for licences of right, and these licences of right have to be dealt with by 31st December of this year. This means that during the period when river authorities are dealing with these licences they will be unable to deal with any new applications for the abstraction and impounding of water.

I have had it put to me by the National Farmers' Union that a great number of new schemes are being held up at present just because river authorities have laid upon them the duty of dealing in the first place with licences of right. I think that I am correct in saying that at present the Ministry of Agriculture will not give any grants-in-aid to new schemes just because they cannot guarantee that these schemes will obtain a licence to abstract. Therefore there is a considerable hold-up of all new schemes, and I shall be asking the hon. Member the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can indicate the time-table within which these applications will be dealt with.

I believe that the question of the timetable is of considerable importance in more than one respect. It is appreciated by the House that licences of right have to be dealt with first, but until ordinary licences are being issued there can be no contribution whatever from the charging schemes which are designed to pay for all the water conservation schemes throughout the country. This means that until such time as the ordinary licences have been issued, only a provisional charging scheme can be in operation, and until that provisional charging scheme is turned into a full charging scheme, the cost of water conservation falls upon the local authority concerned and is therefore a considerable burden upon the ratepayers of this country.

I should like the Government to indicate the time-scale which they expect for the issuance not only of licences of right under the Regulations but of ordinary licences, in order that some guidance can be given as to when local authorities will be relieved of the cost of water conservation and the water conservation will fall, quite rightly, on the charging schemes which are operative under these particular licences. I have spoken to river authorities about this matter, and I have had it indicated to me that river authorities will not be able to issue ordinary licences until minimum acceptable flows have been laid down.

The Parliamentary Secretary did not have the good fortune of sitting on all the stages of the principal legislation. It was his misfortune. It was my good fortune to speak at every stage of the Water Resources Bill, and hon. Members who took part at every stage became familiar with the technical terms used in the Regulations.

The minimum acceptable flow was recognised as the basis for river regulations throughout the country. Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary consider that river authorities will be able to proceed with the issuance of ordinary licences to abstract, in advance of minimum acceptable flows being laid down for any particular river? I stress the importance of the time table under which the Regulations operate.

I turn to some matters of rather more detail. It is significant that every model licence form in the First Schedule refers to "inland water". We should be clear at this early stage—although I will have some searching questions to ask later about the phrase "inland water"; indeed, that is why I am making this point now—exactly what is embraced within the term "inland water". As I understand it, it covers rivers, streams and lakes, underground water—and now we come to the main difficulty—it also embraces estuarial waters and parts of the sea.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) and myself were very exercised about the area of a river authority. Due to pressure from that hon. Gentleman and myself, at a very late stage—in fact, at the last stage—when the Water Resources Bill, was proceeding, a second, very long Schedule was included entitled "Seaward boundaries of river authority areas". Under those seaward boundaries the area of a river authority is defined. I will return to this point because it is of great importance in terms of the definition of "inland water", particularly since all of these Regulations refer to the control regulations which will be operative within the inland waters of this country.

The main object of the Regulations is to obtain information in the right form so that river authorities will be able to issue licences to extract even before minimum acceptable flows are determined. I congratulate the Government on the consultations which they have had with most of the interested bodies. The only criticism I have heard about the consultations is that the second draft of these extraordinarily lengthy and complex Regulations were received only a day or two before comments on them were demanded by the Association of River Authorities. I have been asked to make it clear that, to a large extent, the Government have met the points which were put to them on the draft Regulations. There are, however, certain points still outstanding on the draft Regulations, and I am moving this Motion to clear them up.

Concerning Model Forms 1 and 5, which applicants for licences to abstract will have to fill in, it has been put to me that these forms are applicable equally to all normal applicants and to spray irrigators and statutory water undertakers. I think it is recognised that the problems concerning spray irrigators and statutory water undertakers are almost in a class by themselves.

They are very much more complex and difficult problems than those with which the normal applicant will be faced. I would ask the Government whether it will be possible under these Regulations, and under Model Forms 1 and 5 to which I have referred, for normal applicants to fill up a good deal less of the data which is required from the spray irrigators and the statutory water undertakers, who are recognised as being the most difficult cases. I know that the river authorities would be happy themselves with something rather less complicated, and perhaps we may have an indication that the Government may acquiesce in an application form rather less complicated than Model Forms 1 and 5.

Model Form 5 refers to applicants for licences of right under the Regulations. Most licences of right which are referred to in Section 33 of the principal Statute are for applicants who have been using the same source of supply over the preceding five years; that is, the years preceding 1st April, 1965. The small Table 2 in paragraph 8, page 40, of Model Form 5, asks for details of the machinery which the abstractor has been using. What I think is more desirable than the details of the machinery—or, perhaps, ancillary to those details—is the date on which that machine was installed. It will possibly be within the credence of the House that people who are at present installing machinery may not have had it in operation for very long, and may be seeking to obtain a licence of right to which they would not be entitled. I therefore hope that, in addition to the details of the machinery, the date of the installation of the machinery will be given to the river authority concerned.

There is another point concerning discharges of water after use. The House will probably appreciate that the river authorities will base their charging schemes on the net amount of water used; that is, the amount of water abstracted less the amount of water finally returned to any particular river or stream. Very significantly, in Model Form 1, which is referred to in the Regulations and which will be applicable to all new applicants for licences to abstract water, applicants are asked in page 20 to give the approximate proportion of water that is likely to be discharged after use.

The river authority will therefore know the net amount of water which any individual user is applying to use, but in Model Form 5, which is applicable to applicants for licences of right, there is no mention whatsoever of discharge of water. This is an omission. I think that Model Forms 1 and 5 should be identical in this respect, and I should like to be told the reason for this difference in two forms of application which are, in fact, to be used for the same purpose of basing charges for water by any river authority.

The House will appreciate that one of the ways in which we can augment our water supplies in future will be by the recharging of our underground aquifers. Very significantly, there is a model form dealing with applications for licences for abstracting water from underground. Naturally it will be a requirement of the Water Resources Board, in order that it can build up a water balance-sheet for the whole country, that it shall know the water level appertaining to the underground aquifers. It has been put to me—and I know this is of concern very much to the Thames Conservancy—as to why Model Forms 2 and 5, particularly in paragraph 5 of Model Form 5 do not require the abstractor to give the level at which water is first struck in the underground aquifer. The only information required is the level from which the water is abstracted.

To put it in a different way, the abstractor will have to give only the level, say 100 or 200 feet, below the level of the water at which the aquifer has been struck. In order that the Water Resources Board can build up an account of the levels throughout the country and know about the underground aquifers it should have a complete picture of the underground pattern of water supplies or it will he handicapped in furthering the recharging of the underground aquifers.

Another matter is the information required to be given by an applicant for a licence to abstract. I draw attention to what I believe should be termed the priorities which will have to be used by river authorities when curtailing the amount of water which can be abstracted by any user of water. It would be pleasant to feel that at all times there was plenty of water for all users, but I am afraid that that is not the case. River authorities under these licensing regulations will at times have to restrict the use of water by respective licensees. At that stage the river authorities will have to rely on information obtained from the applicant under the licences which are part of the regulations. That will be the only information the river authorities will have.

On page 22 the river authority is given a description of the information to which it is entitled. The purposes are described in sub-paragraph (j). The two purposes to which I refer particularly are "spray irrigation" and use in a process of manufacture (other than for cooling purposes)". This point has been put to me by the Association of River Authorities. The Association is very much concerned about getting sufficient information in order that when applicants apply for licences there can be a judgment of the importance of certain applications against that of others. The Association believes that in the case of spray irrigation it should have knowledge as to whether the spray irrigation is to be for grassland, for arable land, or horticulture. If the spray irrigation were to be used for grassland and that irrigation was cut off for a time the grassland would suffer, but it would not be killed altogether. If the spray irrigation were for horticulture and it were cut off for a small period from a horticultural crop, the crop would perish and wither and would be of no use. This is a comparatively important point.

It is possibly even more important with regard to the second matter I mentioned, use in a process of manufacture. River authorities will be set the difficult task of deciding the priorities amongst the various applicants for supplies of water. They will have to know, not only that it is a process of manufacture, but whether it is for the chemical industry, whether it is for the paper-making industry, or whether it is for the mineral water industry. If it were, say, for the chemical industry, it would not require such a high quality of water as would be required for a mineral water undertaking. Again, there may well be certain processes which would be carried on by a dry process and would not require water as a major priority in a dry spell. Those processes of manufacture could indeed carry on with a very much smaller water supply.

My point is that priorities will be increasingly important and as the only information which the river authority will have is that contained in the application form for a licence that licence must be as full and as detailed as possible.

I turn to the form of the licence itself. Regulations 17, 18 and 19 refer to a register of applications and licences the revocation or variation of licences and fishing rights. When one turns to try to discover what a licence to abstract means, the matter is not carried very much further by the interpretation Regulation, which says: 'licence to abstract' means a licence under the Act to abstract water". That does not carry us very much further.

I have had the opportunity of having once again a consultation with a man whom I regard as one of the foremost authorities on water conservation and river regulation in the whole country, who was till very recently Chief Executive and Clerk of the old Dee and Clwyd River Board, Captain Gerald Wright. He told me that he thought that the most important thing in these Regulations was the licence to abstract. Therefore, it seems strange to me, having studied these Regulations carefully, that, although we have model application forms of all kinds and descriptions, there is no model licence form whatsoever contained in the Regulations.

This is a matter of very great importance, because all the Regulations to which I have referred—17, 18 and 19—depend on information contained in the licence. Unless there is reasonable uniformity between the information contained in the various licences, set out having regard to a model form, I think that river authorities and anyone serving notices referred to in the Regulations will be in difficulties, and there will be an especial difficulty wth regard to the transfer of water between one river authority and another. I very much hope that the Government will be able to say something tonight on a form of model licence, because I know that it is a matter which will have to be dealt with by river authorities in the very near future.

It would appear from these Regulations that all abstracters and impounders of water will have to have a licence. The National Farmers' Union has drawn my attention to Section 25(1) of the principal legislation—the 1963 Act—under which river authorities may apply to the Minister to exempt certain areas from licensing. This is where I come to what I referred to initially as one of the very difficult parts of the Regulations. That is the definition of "inland water" which is contained in every model licence form and in effect takes in part of the sea and estuarial waters along with what one would normally term the inland waters of this country. It seems, if I have read these Regulations and the model forms correctly, that indeed the areas of the river authorities will take in, in the case of the Mersey River Authority, all the dock and harbour area of Liverpool and Birkenhead; in the case of the Humber Estuary, all the docks—

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl) indicated dissent.

Mr. Temple

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but I have great experience of Schedule 2 and the seaward boundaries of river authorities, and I know that I am correct in my contention. I contend that the area of a river authority will contain these areas of the dock and harbour authorities. In that case, the dock and harbour authorities will have to seek a licence in order that they can impound the sea water in the docks of their own particular dock complex because that will be within the area of a river authority.

I ask the Minister, therefore, whether he has had any proposals from the river authorities for Section 25(1) orders to exempt dock and harbour authorities from seeking licences, in order to conserve waters within the dock areas of their particular organisations. I can hardly conceive that it would be the Government's intention to make these organisations subject to this licensing procedure because the main object of the licensing procedure is to enable river authorities to bring in a charging scheme, and there could be no cost attributable to river authorities for the conservation of sea water. If that is a fact, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could give us some advice about his Section 25(1) intentions and state whether all abstracters and impounders within the area of a river authority will have to apply for a licence, whether that licence is applicable to fresh water, estuarial water or sea water.

Now I come to two points on the Regulations, as opposed to points on the licence application forms. In Regulation 11 for the first time we come across a reference to a "multiple licence of right". There is no definition, either in the principal Statute or in the interpretation Regulation, of a multiple licence of right. It is a new terminology which has appeared in these Regulations and I suppose is another term of art in what I call the water world, but I think we are entitled to have an explanation of exactly what is meant by a "multiple licence of right" because it is not referred to in the interpretation Regulation.

The other point on the Regulations to which I should like to refer is the very substantial addition to the law which is being made by these Regulations. I think all of us who participated in all stages of the 1963 Act realised that there would be a good deal of extension of the law by regulation. In these Regulations there is a very great extension of the law. Regulations 11, 13, 14 and 15 extend some 11 Sections of the Principal Act. I know that this will not be the last set of Regulations which will be brought before this House under the Water Resources Act, 1963. I should like the Government to consider bringing in consolidating legislation in order that these new extensions to the law could be consolidated.

I appreciate that the matters with which I have been endeavouring to deal under these Regulations are detailed and complex. Therefore, I am particularly glad to have sitting alongside me my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) because he was paid a very well-earned tribute by "Cross Bencher" on Sunday of this week. Cross Bencher described him as A master at dealing with complex issues with skill and precision". If my hon. Friend has the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I know that he will deal with these complex matters with more skill and precision than I have been able to bring to bear upon them.

I am grateful for the opportunity on behalf of the Opposition of bringing this Motion before the House, because we recognise that the proper control of the nation's water supplies is extremely important. I hope that the Government will have some satisfactory explanations of the various points which I have put before the House.

9.56 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) told us that he had spent many months immersed in water. If I say that his speech showed some signs of that I hope that he will take it as a compliment rather than as having any other implication. The hon. Member has gone through the details of these extremely complicated Regulations with great thoroughness and I will do my best to try and deal with the points raised. If I miss any or get them wrong I will certainly write to him and clear them up.

The first point was about publicity. The hon. Member very rightly said that those people who are members of associations, either water consumers or water undertakers, who are concerned with these matters will receive the usual competent and good advice, publicity and information from their organisations which are always provided for them. The main problem is that of the odd men out, the independent small men. We are very much concerned about the importance of bringing this procedure to their notice. We are paying some attention to getting short advertisements repeated in newspapers. We are paying particular attention to local newspapers in areas where there is much private extraction from underground, such as in East Anglia. We hope to do this during the next two months.

Leaflets are also under preparation for free distribution, especially in farming areas. We have written to the river authorities on a number of matters, an the first matter mentioned in a circular letter of 31st March is: River authorities will no doubt take such opportunities as present themselves locally to fill in and supplement this general publicity. They can usefully take steps to make known the address to which inquiries, including applications for licence forms, should be sent. We are doing what we can in co-operation with the river authorities to see that the importance of these new Regulations is drawn to the attention of the people who have to make them effective.

The hon. Member asked what would happen if a licence of right was out of time. He asked whether there was any discretion to give a licence after the expiry of the date of 30th June. The answer is "No". A licence of right is a privilege, and it must be claimed by the prescribed date.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the time table. I can give him a rough indication of how it is likely to work. Applications for licences of right, as we have said, must be in by 30th June. As regards these licences, if they are applied for up to 30th June, there will be a wait of up to three months from that date. In the case of new licences applied for after 1st July, there can be a wait of three months from the date of application. This is rather like planning approvals. If it is agreed to extend the period, then it can be extended. If no decision is given, the applicant has the right of appeal to my right hon. Friend.

The licence charges will not have to wait until ascertainment of the minimum acceptable flow. It will be possible and necessary for the river boards to go ahead before they have that information in order not to hold things up, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I suppose that there is some risk involved if they do not obtain estimates, but we consider that this is a risk worth taking. There may have to be public inquiries in respect of some charging schemes, but it is expected that they will be approved and in operation by 1969.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of having a simplified form of application. The difficulty here is that we cannot start changing our minds—to use an appropriate metaphor—in midstream. We have started with these forms and we must, for the present, carry on with them. Forms in respect of the licence of right will be finished with very quickly now, in only a few months, and, therefore, nothing much can be done about those. The forms in respect of the other licences will, of course, continue to be used indefinitely, and we shall watch what happens with some care, noting any criticisms which are made with a view to altering them at some time, if necessary. At the moment, we do not want to cause any delay by interfering with them.

The next point of which I have a note relates to dates of installation of machinery and rates of discharge from pumps. As regards applications for licences of right, we shall know from the forms the date of the abstracting and, therefore, it is not quite right to say that we shall have no idea of the sort of historical background, whether it is new machinery, how long it has been there, and so on. We shall have information—this is on page 41 of the Regulations—about the date of the abstraction.

The short point is that, in the case of the licence of right, there is not really a discretion. The licence must be given and, therefore, we do not want to put an undue burden on the applicant. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was trying to run two horses at the same time on this because he was emphasising the complication of the whole operation and the difficulties and obscurities of the form while at the same time asking for more information to be put in it. We do not want unnecessarily to burden the licence of right applicants, that is, the people who have been using these services. Naturally, the tendency will be for people to be a bit irritated if they are asked for information to defend something which they have been doing for some time. We want to keep things down to the minimum, making it possible for river boards to do their two main jobs, to estimate the demand for water which they must meet and to deal with the problem of the charges.

Water discharge is not relevant in the case of the licence of right. On the other hand, in the case of the level of water in underground aquifers, it is true that the licensee of right would know probably from his experience but the new licensee would not know because he would not yet have started and would not have any information. It is true that the existing abstractor will not have to supply the information, but if necessary it can be obtained. The river authority has power under the Act to obtain information, and it can inspect records if necessary.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the priorities as between users. This rather surprised me. He is a master of the Act, having spent so long on it in Committee, hut his impressions of what it meant to do differ from mine. As I understood the spirit of the Act, it was that the river authorities were there to supply water to meet the needs, and they were expected to supply water, and unless trey had very good reason for not supplying water, they could be subject to civil action. They are not rationing bodies. It is not the philosophy behind the Act that they should be exercising judgments as between the comparative merits of different forms of agriculture or industry. They are providing the service. The two big exceptions to that, because of their complications, are the statutory water undertakers and the people who use spray irrigation, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. They are dealt with separately.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about a model licence. I am advised that there is no proposal to introduce a model licence. What has to go in the licence is laid down in Section 30 of the Act. Because of the variety of individual cases which arise, it would be very difficult to have a standardised model form. As there are so many variations, it is thought better to leave it to the discretion of the licensing authority.

Another subject raised by the hon. Gentleman was estuarial waters. If I am wrong about this I will apologise and write to him. It is perfectly true that some estuarial waters are within the areas of river authorities. However, when the hon. Gentleman started talking about the Mersey, a constituency penny dropped. I thought—I may be wrong—that the area ended at the Runcorn Bridge, an old and familiar landmark of mine, and, therefore, that the Mersey Docks do not come within it. If that is wrong, I will withdraw it and apologise.

The Water Resources Board is writing today to some river authorities in areas where ground water is a minor resource of only local significance, where exemption from control is likely to be justified, but they are mostly cases where there is hard, impervious rock. In general, the responsibility rests with the river authority to decide how it is to exercise its powers under Section 25 to exclude. It is a matter for the authority. No doubt it will be considering the matter. As far as I am aware, we have not had any approaches on the matter. It is primarily a matter for them and they have a good deal to do because they have only got going very recently.

The multiple licence of right is defined in Regulation 11(1). As I understand it, one may have a number of separate points of abstraction which are sharing a common source and, therefore, although each of these points of abstraction has an amount of water that can be taken, one cannot simply multiply that by a certain number and say that this is the total amount for which one will give a licence because these points are mutually interrelated by drawing from a common source. If one drew all the water from one point one would reduce the others. One must take them together and give a multiple licence covering all points of abstraction which are mutually related in this way.

Those are the main points raised by the hon. Gentleman. I will not take up time by making many general remarks about the Regulations. They are vital and important to the operation of getting the Act, the river authorities and the licensing system going, which we all want to do as swiftly as we can. It is true that the timetable under which we have had to operate has been rapid. It is significant that the new river authorities came into operation on 15th October, 1964. One doubts whether historians will regard that as the greatest event on 15th October, 1964. There may have been other events of greater importance.

At any rate, the authorities have had this short period in which to get organised. We have had to do our best to get these complicated Regulations out. We have done our best, as the hon. Gentleman said, to consult all those concerned. We have been racing against time, since the longer one takes in consultation the greater the danger that one fails to produce in time the regulations needed. We have been anxious to get them out in time and my right hon. Friend would like me to express his warm appreciation to the river authorities for the work they are undertaking. We hope that this system will get into comparatively smooth operation. It will be a big operation and it will, I am sure, be very successful.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) gave the House the benefit of his great knowledge of the subject in his detailed examination of the Regulations and I congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on countering many of those points. The hon. Gentleman tiptoed through the queried Regulations very elegantly, stepping over such things as the minimum acceptable flow, which I suppose will become "miniflow" in due course. But, in doing so, he showed up some of the inadequacies of the Regulations.

Some of the points, of course, arise out of the Act itself. Application for a licence of right cannot be made except under initial right, so there can be nothing in these Regulations which gives anyone the right to bring such an application in out of time and the Regulations show up the fact that there will be a freeze-up of schemes for a period. That will be necessary to get a full picture, but it will cause some difficulties.

The real difficulties will come in the use of these forms and in trying to understand these complicated regulations. The Parliamentary Secretary rather dismissed the idea of amending any of the forms, or even considering any of them again for some time. He said that he did not want to interfere with them, but would watch to see how they worked out. However, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester disclosed a great fault in the forms at one point. That was the purpose for the discharge of water in the case of a licence of right. Surely the river authorities have to judge the flow of water in their areas and will therefore want to know not only what water is being discharged, but of what type. They might wish it to be discharged into an already unclean area instead of a clean area if they knew the purpose for which it was being discharged, and although they could not alter that purpose, because it was a licence of right, they ought to be given that information on the forms.

One thing which seems extraordinary about these Regulations is the absence of the model licence itself. The Parliamentary Secretary said that Section 30 of the Act set out what should go into the licence. However, the Act sets out what should go into the applications to a great extent, but there are forms of applications in the Regulations. I cannot agree that the regulations should not provide a model licence. The Minister should not leave this matter to the river authorities or we shall have various forms of licence issued by various river authorities, and confusion may arise out of that.

Looking at the Regulations as a whole; I think that they will tax the sleuthing ability of a Sherlock Holmes. Finding out what form should be used is a complicated matter, and anyone wanting to put in an application before the end of June will probably have to spend from now until the end of June to find out which application and which form he has to use, because there is no identification of the forms in the regulations.

This is quite unusual in Regulations of this sort. One usually looks at the index to find the title of the subject which one wants to look up and then finds in the Schedule the reference to the form to be used, and even on turning to the Schedule one finds a reference at the top of the form to the regulation to which the form applies.

For example, I recollect that at one end of my constituency there is a golf course which uses its own water supply, abstracts water and has been abstracting it for more than five years. It will be able to apply for a licence of right under Section 33(1,b). From the index to the Regulations, I would assume that Regulation 7 would be the one to which the club would refer an application for a licence of right. Turning to Regulation 7 to find out what form of application to use, one finds that it is absolutely silent about which form in the Schedule should be used for an application for a licence of right.

Incidentally, if the prospective applicant starts to read through Regulation 7 and gets as far as the seventh line he will wonder what the printer has done with the bracket, because as it reads at the moment the line is unintelligible. The bracket is opened after the word "provision"— other than an order made under the Water Act 1958(a)", and there, I think, the bracket should finish; hut it goes on for another seven lines without the closing bracket appearing anywhere. Therefore, the whole thing is quite unintelligible. We could on this alone divide the House and ask the Minister to take back the Regulations and put the bracket in the right place. I hope that in future printing of the Regulations the Parliamentary Secretary will decide where the bracket ought to go—I will not say where to put it—and ensure that it is introduced in the right place.

Suppose that a prospective applicant, having decided that he would not bother about trying to understand Regulation 7(1), goes on to read more material stuff, he still will not get much assistance. He may have read earlier Regulation 4(3) which tells him that there are model forms in the Schedule. It says: The particulars asked for in each of the model forms of application set out in Schedule I to these regulations are the particulars prescribed for inclusion in an application of the description to which that form relates, and any reference in this part of the regulations to the appropriate particulars in relation to al application shall be construed accordingly. That will not help him at all. The Regulations operate in a circle. He may then refer to Regulation 5 which deals with applications for licences. It finishes by saying: In this regulation the appropriate form', in relation to an application, means a form which asks for particulars which are the appropriate particulars as respects the application in question. Some depth of wisdom is shown in that provision, but it does not carry the prospective applicant further towards the form. He would then have to turn to the Schedule and, after thumbing over 22 pages, he would find the title to a form which seems to fit the case.

This is not very much help to the type of applicant, a layman, who will be applying for licences of right—not every applicant will be a farmer who has read the farming Press—and he will have to find his way about the Regulations. They could have been made a lot simpler.

Again to use a local example, the docks are at the other end of my constituency. It is a serious point as to whether docks, such as the Liverpool Docks, come within the Regulations and will, in respect of existing docks, have to apply for a licence. Frankly, I do not know whether under the Act or these Regulations there is such a thing as a licence of right for impounding. Undoubtedly a dock impounds water. If there is a licence of right for impounding, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will have to try to find in these Regulations the right form in which to make its application for a licence of right to retain the Liverpool Docks and to make its application before the end of June.

There is on foot a great extension of these docks. I assume that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will have to apply for a licence to impound in regard to the£65 million dock extension scheme. Surely this is not the sort of thing which was expected by the Act or by the Regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester asked for an assurance that there would be an order made under Section 25(1) exempting that type of body from complying with the Regulations and the Act which were obviously never intended to refer to such statutory bodies.

Mr. MacColl

The hon. Gentleman is rebuking me for not giving an assurance. He knows the Act much better than I do. My impression is that the appropriate authorities have to apply. How on earth can my right hon. Friend given an assurance about something which Parliament, under the guidance and sway of hon. Members opposite, specifically entrusted to the appropriate authorities?

Mr. Page

Yes, the authorities may apply to the Minister. Perhaps, however, an assurance could be given that the Minister would look kindly upon any such application and that the intention was to exempt authorities of that sort. This is one of those questions which I do not press upon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at this stage, but I hope that we shall have an answer in some form in due course so that we know whether these large authorities are expected to come under the same sort of forms and regulations as the smaller user of water.

One other matter on which the Regulations leave us very much in the air concerns Regulation 12, which deals with appeals from a river authority. If a river authority has refused an application for a licence, the applicant may appeal to the Minister. Regulation 12 refers to the notice of appeal being in writing, and so on, and to a copy of the notice being forwarded to other interested people, but the Schedules provide no form of notice of appeal. It would have been helpful to everybody if the form were standardised. There will, of course, be different grounds of appeal, but one is used to that; in the form of notice of appeal, sufficient space is left to state the grounds. A standardised form of notice of appeal would, however, be appropriate.

The Regulations deal only with notice of appeal and they do not take the appeal any further by way of the question of preparation for and the hearing of an appeal. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows, in many cases we are presented with a fairly elaborate order concerning the procedure on an appeal of this nature. I hope that we shall have further regulations setting out the intended method of preparation of an appeal and the procedure to take place upon appeal.

Again, I compliment the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the answers which he has tonight given us. If I am pressing further questions upon him, it is not that I am not grateful to him for the answers which he has given and the way in which he dealt with the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester. I hope that if the hon. Gentleman does not tonight answer the questions which I have put, he will consider them and let us know at a later stage whether any of them can be met.

Obviously, the Regulations had to be brought forward now because there is pressure of time. Applications for the licences of right have to be made by the end of June. In many respects, however, the Regulations show a lack of full consideration and a lack in drafting which would help the layman to understand them. We can be certain that we shall get more regulations under the Act and I therefore endorse the appeal of my hon. Friend when he asked for an assurance that the Regulations will eventually be consolidated. I hope that when they are consolidated, they will be made a little simpler for the layman to find his way about them.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Temple

The House is obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his great care in replying to many of the rather difficult points which I put to him, and I am sure that the House is equally obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for his great expertise in these detailed and intricate matters. I contgratulate him upon spotting the fault in the Regulations that a bracket is missing.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that in the form in which they are presented, the Regulations are not only complex but difficult to follow. I hope that that point will not be lost upon the Department concerned so that we shall have not simpler Regulations but Regulations in a rather more comprehensible form brought before us on another occasion.

I raised several points, the first of which was very kindly dealt with by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. That was the point with regard to publicity. I am obliged to him for the reply which he gave on that. It will be tremendously helpful throughout the country, and I feel that the efforts which are being made by river authorities and the Department will ensure that very few applicants who are entitled to licences of right will miss their opportunities of making these applications. I was also pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary was able to give some indication as to when the charging schemes would be brought in. I think that 1969 is the target date and that it could well be adhered to. I hope that by that time the ratepayers will be relieved of the cost of paying for water conservation throughout England and Wales.

I was also obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his saying that he would watch the question of a more simplified form of application, but there were two points on which I should like to press him further. One was in respect of model licences, a subject on which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby gave me considerable support. I do not believe that there are insuperable obstacles to producing a model form of licence, if model forms of application in such detail are attached to these regulations. I know that the Association of River Authorities is at the moment considering a model form of licence which will be applicable throughout England and Wales in the areas of the members of the association. I would ask the Government to co-operate with the association, and I hope that a standard model form of licence could be adopted.

I mentioned at the end of my speech the difficult matter of the area of a river authority, and I went further than the Parliamentary Secretary did. He referred to estuarial waters; I referred to estuarial waters and parts of the sea. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the interpretation Section in the principal Act, Section 135, which refers to inland water in subsection (1,c), and defines it as: so much of any creek, channel, bay or arm of the sea as does not fall within the preceding paragraphs and is within any of the river authority areas. I know that the intention is that all the area of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will fall within the area of the Mersey River Authority. I give this only as one example in England and Wales. I think I am correct in saying that practically all the dock areas in England and Wales—with the exception of the area of the Port of London, which is an excepted district and is the only area in the country which is not treated as a river authority—will come within the area of a river authority.

I remember very well that I found that the Government's advisers on the principal Act were at fault in the original drafting of the Act with regard to the seaward boundaries of river authorities. This was something which I pursued throughout discussion of the 1963 Act, in which I had the assistance of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). That gives me some confidence in feeling that I may be correct in what I have said with regard to the encompassing within the area of a river authority of the areas of docks and harbour authorities. If that is so, a dock and harbour authority will have to apply for a licence to the river authority to impound the water within a particular docks system. I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will look into this matter carefully, because if what I have described is the case then they should be treated as excepted districts.

With those two exceptions, I can say, on behalf of the Opposition, that we are satisfied with the explanations which have been given by the Government tonight. I wish the Regulations well and hope that they will be extremely effective in bringing about a sensible regulation of the water supplies of this country, for the benefit of all concerned.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.