HC Deb 22 July 1968 vol 769 cc110-29

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

I understand that the scope of the debate on this Motion is very narrow, almost as tight as that on Third Reading. Therefore I propose to confine myself to the factual content of the Bill itself and to outline the case for the Bill. Should any detailed questions arise during the debate I hope that there will be an opportunity for them to be answered.

The Bill is promoted jointly by the Great Ouse and Essex River Authorities. The purpose is to transfer water from the area of the Great Ouse Authority to the Essex Authority to deal with a serious deficiency of water which might occur in South Essex if these proposals are not implemented. The Bill proposes the extraction from the Ely-Ouse Pond near Denver Sluice of water to be taken in a variety of journeys ending in Hanningfield and Abberton reservoirs. If any hon. Member has a detailed point to make about the variety of journeys, I shall be able to answer.

An extra 24 million gallons of water a day in Essex would be achieved without the need for constructing further reservoirs. The House might ask whether this is desirable or necessary. I suggest that it is necessary. The population of Essex is very nearly 2 million. It is an extremely dry part of the country, although I find that difficult to believe this summer. In many summers there are already restrictions on the use of water in some of these areas. In the past there have been periods of considerable drought, particularly from 1933 to 1935 and as recently as 1965 and these could occur again.

At the moment the demand for water in this area exceeds the reliable yield and we can concern ourselves only with the reliable yield and not gamble on what might be an unreliable yield. By 1978 the deficiency is expected to be 24 million gallons a day. By 1971 there will be a considerable deficiency, 20 million gallons a day, part of which will be met by local schemes other than that put forward by the Bill. Even so, if an urgent start cannot be made on the work outlined in the Bill during this summer, there is great risk that there will not be an adequate supply by 1971 and a serious situation could arise.

I understand that there is no objection in general terms to the scheme but two petitions have been lodged—by Norfolk County Council and King's Lynn Borough Council—in which it was requested that a Clause should be added to the Bill to require the promoters to come to Parliament again if at any time it was necessary to move more water from the Great Ouse basin to the Essex River Authority.

The great fears of Norfolk, I understand, relate largely to the possible cost of water in the county. Some people are particularly concerned about the underground tunnel from Blackdyke Farm to Kennett, which could carry 175 million gallons a day, although the limit in the Bill is 100 million gallons a day maximum, or 17,500 million gallons in any 18-month period. I understand it is feared that considerably more could be sent through.

There is also a pilot scheme for ground water extraction going on in the Great Ouse area at the moment. It is feared that the tunnel and other works could be used not only for the transfer to the Essex authority of surface water from the Ely Ouse River but also for the transfer of ground water. I refer hon. Members who have studied the petitioners' case to paragraph 20: It would be unreasonable and unjust to the inhabitants of your petitioners' county if the supply to them were restricted to more costly water and they were thereby prevented from using less costly water drawn from sources in their own county and diverted to users in Essex ". I appreciate the very understandable fears of Norfolk County Council, but in reply to its case I point out that evidence was submitted to the Select Committee that in discharge of its statutory responsibilities the Great Ouse River Board would have to have regard to local needs. In addition, the Water Resources Board, and in the last resort the Minister, would have to ensure that there was no undue financial burden placed on local inhabitants in the export of water.

I understand that the Bill has the full support of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and also of the Water Resources Board. If at any future date such a proposal as is feared by Norfolk County Council be made to divert local water to Essex in the interests of national water policy, a Ministerial decision would be required. I understand that an undertaking has been given that before such a decision there would have to be a public inquiry and Norfolk County Council would have full opportunity of making its case at such an inquiry where the usual procedure would be gone through. Perhaps that assurance could be repeated by the Parliamentary Secretary from the Government Front Bench today.

The Select Committee decided, rightly or wrongly, not to accept the contentions of Norfolk County Council and King's Lynn Council and accepted the Bill virtually as presented on Second Reading. I ask the House to consider the Bill now and to pass it into law before the Summer Recess. I remind the House that the Water Resources Board's Report on Water Supplies in South-East England says clearly that by 1971 in the Essex River Authority area for all purposes there will be a deficiency of 20 million gallons a day and by 1981 a deficiency of 60 million gallons a day. The Board considers it essential to have a scheme of this sort.

It is also essential that if possible the work should start this summer. Otherwise there is a real risk of that even by 1971 there may be a deficiency of nearly 10 million gallons a day for the urgent needs of South Essex. Particularly is this true if we should have a dry winter at that time.

The Bill has passed another place. It has received a Second Reading and been fully considered by a Committee in the normal way and received its approbation. It has the support of the Government and the Water Resources Board and meets the serious and critical needs for water resources in Essex without infringing the liberties or pockets of those in other parts of the country, I hope. If there is any danger the Minister has given an undertaking that there would be an inquiry before a situation deleterious to them could possibly arise. In these circumstances, and in view of the urgency of starting work as soon as possible, I hope that tonight the House will feel inclined to consider the Bill and allow it to proceed to the Statute Book before the Summer Recess.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) quite rightly has risen to argue in favour of his constituents' need for more water. Representing as he does a seat in thirsty Essex, I well appreciate his anxiety to see the Bill passed by the House. I have no intention of seeking to divide the House against it. On the contrary, I recognise Essex's need for water and the duty that falls upon those parts of the country that have water supplies in surplus to help in providing the water needed by those to the south of us.

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the Minister's undertaking that a public inquiry would be held before any application to increase the amount of water to be taken from the Ely Ouse is agreed to. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is the case, and that, in the event of there being an application for more water to be taken than is allowed for in the Bill, he will not place those who then object in the invidious position of having to show why Essex should not take the water. I hope rather that he will say that the River Board of Essex will have to come and show cause at a public hearing why it should have the water and that it is needed.

I have four points to make in what I suspect will be a comparatively short debate. The first is that I should have thought it better if the Board had had to come back to Parliament and not simply go to a public hearing in order to increase their volume of water, and I ask the Minister to deal with that point.

My second point concerns the disturbance that is inevitable in my own constituency of Bury St. Edmunds during the course of construction of the considerable capital works that will be needed for this programme. The Minister will know that there is to be constructed a 72-inch internal diameter pipe between Kennett and Kirtling Green, and beyond that a 66-inch pipe between Wixoe and Great Sampford. By no means the whole length of this pipe lies through my constituency, but a good deal of it does, and it is in respect of those portions which affect West Suffolk that I am making these representations.

In order to do this work, a swath of land 150 feet wide will be taken from the farmers through whose land the pipes will go, and during the period of construction this 150 feet swath of land for many miles will be out of cultivation. Even when the pipes have been laid and the water is flowing—and I emphasise that I want to see that water flowing— there will still be a 40-feet swath of land taken out of cultivation. My own estimate, which is confirmed by the Clerk to the Essex Water Board is that something like 110 acres will go out of cultivation in the course of contraction and afterwards. I appreciate that pipes cannot be laid without land being taken, and the amount of land in question is not so considerable. I am also well aware that farmers are to get compensation, which I think is 10s. 6d. per yard run. There is no quarrel between the National Farmers' Union, certainly not the Bury St. Edmunds Branch, and the Water Board over the compensation which, on the whole, is probably adequate, but I hope that the Minister will appreciate that in addition to the simple loss of land, which no one wishes to see, there is bound to be a great deal of disturbance in the course of construction.

I am raising this matter so that my constituents may know now, before the lorries start churning up their land and before they find it difficult to drive along their lanes. It is inevitable that during the construction months they will have to put up with a good deal of noise, a good deal of disturbance, a good deal of mud, and they may not like it. I refer to this point in advance, so that it is made clear to them, and they will have no ground to object if they suffer later from such inconveniences.

The county planners of no less than four counties have been brought into the matter, and they have laid down fairly sensible rules which the Water Board has agreed to accept. Perhaps I could say in passing that, having myself met the Clerk to the Essex River Authority, I am most impressed by the care with which he has dealt with objections. He has met fully each point and his public relations, particularly with local farmers, have been throughout most excellent.

For all that, there are one or two minor matters which I put under the heading of amenity and disturbance on which I wish the Minister to comment. The pumping station at Kennett is a matter that concerns both the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and myself. There is concern among my constituents as to whether this substantial building will be an attractive feature of our landscape or whether, as so often has been the case in the past, an ugly and unattractive building is to be put up. There are to be planning obligations on the Water Board in respect of elevations, landscaping, tree planning, etc., but I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the capital works programmes that are carried out in the lovely countryside of West Suffolk conform as far as possible to the contour and charm of the area. I will not deal with the matter of the tunnel. My hon. Friend may wish to make that. Neither will I deal with the pipelines and other amenities. I content myself with asking the Minister to confirm that the amenity aspects will be thoroughly enforced on the Water Board.

My third point is a crucial one to the farming community in the southern part of my constituency, and conceivably in the northern part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk). Modern and advanced farmers in this area are using more and more spray irrigation. This is a heavy water use, and many of them are fortunate in that they are already licensed abstracters by right. In other words, they have their own source of water on their own premises.

Section 58 of the Water Resources Act, 1963, deals with the charging schemes that may be laid down by water boards in matters of this kind. It was under Section 58 that the Ministry prepared and sent out the memorandum of advice laying down how charging is to be organised, paragraph 13 of which says that the cost of any major work of bringing water into a river authority can be, and indeed should be, charged to the users. In other words, those who benefit ought to pay.

The only beneficiaries of this scheme are the two statutory undertakers, the public water boards. Any benefit that the farmers in the southern portion of my constituency may get are entirely fringe ones. They will not get any more water. They have plenty already, and they are concerned about the possibility of being charged additionally to finance the capital works programme of this board, although at present they have all the water that they require from their own licensed sources. It is that to which objection is taken.

I have had a meeting with the authority's clerk on this point. The authority maintains quite rightly that the Ely Ouse scheme will halt the deterioration in the existing supplies of water in the chalk aquafer in the southern part of Suffolk. However, the local branch of the National Farmers' Union has put the following point in reply, and I hope that the Minister will comment on it. It says: Since agricultural abstractors in the Stour Valley have in fact been denied new licences for at least six years now, they should not and cannot be held responsible for any deterioration that may have taken place in the chalk, and therefore they ought not to have to pay for a scheme which augments the present deficiency "— that is to say, which augments a situation that they themselves have had no part in creating.

The point of principle here is simply that farmers in my part of the Stour Valley are licensed water abstractors, and they will find themselves paying for water that they do not want but which will be used by industrial and domestic consumers elsewhere. I do not claim that the charges here should be universal. There should be some way in which the farming community in the area is let off at least some of the very high capital charges. If it is not, it will not be encouraged to go ahead with spray irrigation.

We are confronted with a Bill which in itself is perfectly sound, with the few minor exceptions which I have indicated. However, once again it is tinkering with the problem. Furthermore, it leaves water users throughout East Anglia with the feeling that, instead of the main job of providing water for our eastern counties being tackled fully and in the round, it is being dealt with piecemeal —here a reservoir, there a reservoir, here a little piped scheme and there a tunnel —when, instead, the water resources of East Anglia should be considered as a whole.

If the Minister were to go to the people of our Eastern Counties with a programme which looked forward to the utilisation of the Wash and the integration of water supplies in the whole area—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I am afraid that we cannot deal with what the Bill does not do.

Mr. Griffiths

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing that out. I was about to say merely that the Minister would not have come across the difficulty that he has had with this scheme and several others which my hon. Friends could mention if he had tackled the problem as a whole. That is my comment, and I hope that that at least is within the terms of order.

I conclude on behalf of my constituents by saying simply that we are concerned that this scheme may make more likely the deprivation of farmers in the Great Bradley area of land needed for a storage reservoir there. We are concerned about possible effects on our amenities. Above all, we are concerned about the lack of a general policy involving the Wash.

I do not wish to prevent this Bill passing. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West is right when he says that Essex needs the water. By all means let Essex have the water, but let it not be at an expense which is too great for some of my constituents to bear. Above all, let it not happen without at least a sideways glance at the larger and more fruitful scheme which the Government should be considering.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I do not disagree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said about Essex's need for water, nor do I oppose its getting this Bill, which seems to be sensible as it is diverting water which otherwise would run to waste into the Wash. This is a matter to which we ought to be turning our attention, and I hope that my hon. Friend and hon. Members representing other constituencies in Essex will join in urging any Minister who may have this problem on his desk as a matter of urgency to continue studying the wider aspects to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) addressed himself just now.

I also agree with everything which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said. As for the pipeline to which he referred, as a practical man who has had to deal with problems of compensation in respect of pipelines, I hope that in this case they will be dealt with in the way in which the Gas Board has approached similar cases in the past. That Board has had very good relations with the farming community. It has dealt with matters in a sensible and practical manner by meeting people on the spot, which is the only way.

The proposed pipeline involving a swathe of land 150 feet wide will cause many problems to farmers. It will cut through roads and disturb buildings by cutting them off for a time. There is no doubt that the huge vehicles of contractors working across the land will cause considerable inconvenience, upset drainage and result in serious permanent damage to the land unless the work is done very carefully.

I have been involved in this scheme for a very long time. I am a member of the Norfolk County Council and was involved personally in this objection to the Bill which was aimed at securing some safeguard for what we thought were the rights of Norfolk ratepayers who, at one time or another, will want this water.

Practically all the channels referred to appear on a very good map which the authorities have produced for our help. Very large parts of the relief channel between Denver Sluice and the Wash and the cut-off channel run through my constituency and very close to my home. Both those channels were initiated following the floods in 1953 and they were undertaken by the former Conservative Government at a cost of many millions of pounds. For many years ahead they have safeguarded the rich and productive Fen area from flooding. In fact, of course, it is carrying out Vermuyden's plan of 1600.

From this relief channel and from the cut-off channel, Essex will pipe and tunnel back water which would otherwise run to waste. I applaud it for doing so, but I am sorry that King's Lynn did not think it advisable to abstract the water flowing past it before Essex got hold of it.

I wish to explain the reasons why we want some assurances. In addition to piping the water from the channels, the Bill provides for a far bigger capacity tunnel than that of the amount of water which could be taken from the channels. Undoubtedly, as has been said in evidence, the promoters' idea is that, if in the chalk reservoirs of Norfolk sufficient water can be found from the study and exploration now going on—strangely enough, this water is referred to as "ground water", although it comes from underground—it will be taken from the underground reservoir, on which many towns in South Norfolk rely at present, and will be pumped into the relief channels or in some way diverted down the same route into Essex.

The purposes of Norfolk County Council trying to get safeguards written into the Bill were twofold. First, the County Council was concerned that there might not be sufficient water left for its own development. Anybody who has studied the plans of the Economic Council for the Eastern Region will know that there are large schemes for the development of industry and population movements into that area. We in Norfolk were worried that there might not be sufficient water left for our own use if too much water was diverted from the underground reservoir.

Secondly, we thought that the cost should be at least as little as it is costing Essex. We hope that we will be able to have it cheaper. We understand that the Minister has given assurances that an inquiry will be held before any extra water is diverted. We are glad to hear this. We hope that the Minister will repeat this assurance tonight.

Those are the two fears of the Norfolk County Council. They were not accepted by the Committee of the House. I nevertheless draw them to the Minister's attention. Norfolk County Council and Norfolk are not dog in the manger. We do not wish to see water run to waste. We know how valuable it is. Practically the whole of my area, although not thickly populated, is under water restrictions every summer, and I believe that certain areas are at present under water restrictions, which is ridiculous in view of the weather we have had in the last few weeks.

Fears are held by farmers over a wide area. The so-called ground water, which I would rather refer to as underground water, comes from an area which is very light land. If the water table is so lowered as to damage the crops growing on this light land, as can happen in a very dry spring, we hope that the Mini-try of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—I am sorry that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry has now left the Chamber, but I hope that the Minister who is present will draw his attention to this point—will watch these bores very carefully and ensure that not too much water is extracted and that damage is not done to crops on this light land.

I ask the Ministers concerned to give assurances to the County Council and to fanners so that their fears may be put at rest. In particular, I ask for an assurance that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will carefully watch the harmful effects to crops.

I do not wish to oppose this scheme. I wish it good luck. I hope that it proceeds rapidly. I hope that the farmers through whose land these tunnels and pipes will pass do not suffer too much hardship from the dislocation of their farming work. I certainly hope that the whole question of water supplies for Eastern England is urgently and carefully examined as a whole, and in particular the Wash Barrage Scheme.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

I suppose it is inevitable that a debate of this kind will tend to turn on constituency points. As the hon. Member whose constituency is possibly more affected by this scheme than almost any other, perhaps I should follow in the tradition set by those who have preceded me. I agree wholeheartedly with the more general point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) that piecemeal schemes of this type would not be necessary if there had been better planning by Governments of all political colours. However, I know that I must not go too deep into that argument.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be out of order to enter upon a discussion of what other schemes might have been put forward. We can discuss only what is in the Bill.

Mr. Kirk

I had anticipated you on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I knew that if I went further into the point I should be out of order. I was merely supporting the point which my hon. Friends had made.

With the exception of a few small disturbances in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, the major disturbance involved in this scheme all takes place in my constituency—a very large part of it within the parish of Steeple Bumpstead, where I have the honour to live. Therefore, I have a close interest in this. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) spoke eloquently in favour of the Bill, as befits an inhabitant of the more industrial and more populated part of Essex which will benefit from the scheme and which will have none of the disadvantages which will arise from it.

As one who represents an area which will have virtually all the disadvantages perhaps I might also support the Bill to the full. I have a feeling that what has not been overlooked by the farmers in my area is that any increase in water supply to the Stour and Colne Valleys, in whatever part of the valleys it takes place, is bound to assist them. The water situation in Essex at the moment is very bad. By 1971, unless this scheme goes through, it will have become desperate, and by the later part of the 1970's it will have become impossible.

Not only is there restriction on the use of water throughout the whole of my constituency. There is even restriction on building throughout the whole of my constituency because of the shortage of water. Unless the Bill goes through, life will gradually grind in this aspect to some sort of a halt. Therefore, failing any other scheme, this scheme becomes absolutely vital for all parts of the community.

I quite see the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that farmers are naturally worried that they may not get their fair share. However, the farmers to whom I have talked in my division take the view that any general increase is bound to benefit them, because if the supply of water runs down in the way in which it looks like doing over the next five or 10 years, not only in Essex, but on the other side of the Stour as well in my hon. Friend's constituency, they will all suffer together.

It is true that the disturbance involved in these works will be very considerable. It will involve a large number of my constituents between the right bank of the Stour and Great Sampford. They will be faced with a long period when a large part of their land will be unusable and a period afterwards when a rather smaller part of their land will be virtually sterile. I hope that the Minister will impress upon the authorities concerned the need for adequate consultation and the need—this is much more important than compensation—for adequate consultation at every stage. Many of these schemes have run into endless difficulties, not because anybody opposed them, but because people were not consulted. The farmers who land lies along the line should be told precisely what is involved from the start and should be kept informed all the way through. I hope that the Essex authorities will do this. Knowing them, I am certain that they will.

I quite understand the reservations felt by some people in Norfolk and which my hon. Friend has given expression to. I understand the anxieties of some of the farmers I represent, particularly those in the Steeple Bumstead area, where much land has already suffered great upheaval because of flood prevention works. Nevertheless, I am certain that the Bill is in the general interests, not only of Essex, but of East Anglia as a whole, and I hope that the House will wish it on its way tonight.

7.40 p.m.

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

I think that it might help the House if I were to intervene at this point and put the Government's view on the Bill. It is not for me to reply to the debate as it is a Private Bill, not a Government Measure, but I congratulate those who have brought the Bill forward. It is the product of a remarkable piece of collaboration between these two authorities which have come together to work out a solution to common problems, making an extremely interesting experiment in the movement of water. The scheme has the great advantage that it will, to a large extent, use existing watercourses, which will have a good deal of effect in avoiding damage to agricultural land such as might arise from other schemes.

I have no hesitation in advising the House that, in my view, the Bill should be approved. It has been through a Select Committee, before which everyone had a chance to have his say. It was fully considered by the Select Committee, and at this stage I suggest that we should pass it as soon as we can.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) adopted, if I may say so, a thoroughly public-spirited attitude in recognising that the worries which he and his constituents have should be seen in the perspective of the wider problems involved, and all the points which he raised were constructive. He asked why, if there were to be a further use of water, the matter would be done not by a Private Bill but directly through a public inquiry. The answer is that the powers under the Water Resources Act would be used. The reason why the same procedure was not adopted for the present purpose is that there were certain gaps in that Act, gaps which the House put right this year. That is the reason, no doubt, why the promoters thought it best to come to the House on this occasion.

If the groundwater pilot scheme which is now going on in the Great Ouse basin is successful and it is desired to develop and use it permanently for supply, it will be necessary to obtain licences and orders for the works required, and this will mean that anyone who objects will be heard. My right hon. Friend intends that, if there are objections, he will call in the application for determination by him and a public inquiry for the purpose will be held. The burden of proof in any application of that sort will in the first place be on the people wishing to use the water, but, equally, there will be a responsibility on the objectors to make out their objections and not be merely obstructive. That assurance can readily be given.

The hon. Gentleman asked also about the pumping station at Kennett. Here also the matter starts in local government. It would be for the local planning authority to approve the application. Planning permission would have to be given. The planning authority would discuss with the Essex River Authority whether the design was suitable and whether it would detract from amenities.

Next, the hon. Gentleman asked what fanners who had licences of right would have to pay to meet the cost. I am in a difficulty here—I am sorry not to be helpful—but the Ely Ouse-Essex charging schemes are at presentsub judice, and I cannot comment on them for that reason.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I understand that difficulty. Would the hon. Gentleman kindly undertake that, when the matter is no longersub judice, he will reply to a Question so that we have the matter clear?

Mr. MacColl

Once the schemes are no longersub judice, I shall be bursting to answer any Question the hon. Gentleman cares to put down, but it will have to be when the final decision has been taken.

Responsibility for the works and for avoidance of too much disturbance by them is primarily one for the river authorities. They will be operating under the Bill, not under our directions, but they will have heard and studied the proceedings both here and at earlier stages, and, no doubt, as publicly responsible bodies, they will take fully into account the great importance of doing all that can be done by consultation and of doing as much as possible to avoid damage.

Now, the question of the water table. The pilot scheme is designed to study the water table and see what the effect upon it is. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will watch the interests of the industry for which he is responsible.

Those are, I think, the main points on which I can help the House. No doubt, if others are raised, another hon. Member, on behalf of the promoters, will be able to assist.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I am concerned partly because some of the borings lie in my constituency and have some effect, perhaps indirectly, upon water users in my constituency, particularly the farmers. I echo the feelings expressed by other Norfolk Members in that, although we realise that Essex must have this water, we have residual anxiety about the future in Norfolk. It is clear that development in Essex cannot go forward at all unless water moves south from Norfolk, and to that extent the scheme under the Bill seems most imaginative, and I hope that it will be successful. Nevertheless, I have in mind longer-term developments in the future, developments which may be substantial in my constituency and adjoining constituencies. We have town expansion schemes going forward, with industry coming in from other parts of the country, all of which makes a considerable new demand for water in addition to that needed for agriculture.

There has already been emphasis on the high water demand in this area of light land, where, in most years, we frequently approach conditions of near drought. Irrigation is, therefore, greatly used, but it is rationed under statutory powers now. Farmers in my constituency, therefore, are a little anxious about the future of the water table. I was glad to hear the Minister say that the water table will be watched, though I am not sure which Minister is responsible for the level of the water table as such, whether Housing and Local Government or Agriculture.

Mr. MacColl

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be better at watching water tables than I should be.

Mr. Hill

But the hon. Gentleman's Ministry may well be the principal remover of water. I am concerned, therefore, that the two Ministers should share sufficient powers of liaison to ensure that the water table is not lowered in the future so as to inflict damage upon agriculture and upon the urban developments to which I have referred.

In the past 10 days we have received an important Report from the agricultural Neddy, putting forward great possibilities of substantial agricultural expansion. If, as I hope, the Government wish to see that Report implemented it follows that agricultural demand for water will greatly increase. All root and horticultural crops, and the livestock expansion to which the Report refers, will be heavy water consumers. Broadly speaking, in nine years out of 10 it pays farmers to irrigate, not merely to get increased crops but to ensure that their cropping and planting programme is not checked through lack of rain.

Therefore, I was relieved when the Minister said that on future extensions of the scheme it will be open to those concerned to object and to have the advantage of a public hearing. I hope that this will be a sufficient administrative safeguard, though it cannot meet the danger of there being a cumulative demand for water which may exceed the supply available. Therefore, concurrently with the execution of the scheme, it is most important that the Government, and particularly the Water Resources Board, should continue to examine the whole question of future supplies of water for Eastern England and give them a very high priority in their thinking and actions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot allow discussion on general policy. We must confine the debate to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Hill

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I fear that if the Bill is a success and more and more water is needed it will not afford a sufficient answer, because the demand for water in Eastern England has increased and is increasing, and it cannot be diminished.

7.52 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

The House owes a great debt to all my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate. The opinions of East Anglia have been well voiced from this side of the House, although hon. Members opposite have perhaps not been quite so outspoken.

I have known the Great Ouse River Authority for many years. Some very worthy constituents of mine serve on it, not least Alderman Leonard Childs, for many years chairman of the Authority and the Board which preceded it. The Measure is typical of the imaginative approach which that authority has always had in trying to serve the needs of the people in its area.

I think that this is the first Bill which involves the major transfer of water from one catchment area to another since the Water Resources Act became law. Therefore, it is only right that considerable concern should have been shown to ensure that the Act was properly implemented in the promotion of the Bill.

I have studied the entire proceedings before the Select Committee on the Bill. Many of the points which were rightly raised again tonight were fully dealt with in that hearing. I wish particularly to mention the question of the tunnel size. There is no doubt that the tunnel will be larger than the immediate demand for water might indicate, but the Committee was told by Mr. Hetherington, a member of the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a member of the Institute of Water Engineers and a member of the Association of Consulting Engineers, that it is cheaper to build a tunnel of the size proposed, with a diameter of 100 inches —just over 8 feet, than a smaller tunnel.

Having studied the evidence before the Select Committee, I am satisfied that making the tunnel that size should not be taken as an indication that its maximum capacity will inevitably be used to the detriment of people relying on underground water resources in Norfolk. I am sure that this has been worked out thoroughly scientifically and that many of the fears, with which I fully sympathise, voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) are not substantiated by the evidence before the Select Committee.

I also naturally sympathise with the anxieties which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) expressed about the effect of major works across a farmer's land. Anybody who lives in the fenlands or has seen fen farmers at work knows that now and again considerable earth works must take place, but there is general recognition that they are in the best interests of sound agriculture. We have learnt a great deal since the laying of the natural gas pipeline about the methods which can be adopted in laying pipelines. Although it is a much bigger pipe—72 inches in diameter—that will be laid through part of my hon. Friend's constituency, we are witnessing very big changes in the technology of laying pipelines and we must hope that in the supply of water, just as in the supply of natural gas, modern methods can be employed to minimise difficulties for the farmers and other land owners across whose land the pipeline will run.

There has naturally been some anxiety by those in Norfolk who have relied on underground water supplies, or foreseen themselves doing so in the future, that if the scheme goes forward their charges will rocket up in line with the capital cost involved. But Essex is carrying the major part of the capital cost of the scheme, and the evidence before the Select Committee shows that the likelihood of deliberately transferring ground water from Norfolk unnecessarily is so remote as virtually to be unrealistic. The matter was probed very deeply, and the evidence of both Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Bissett, the Clerk of the Authority, clearly shows that the likelihood is very remote and that the matter is being dealt with highly scientifically, as is only appropriate in this case.

That there is a desperate need in Essex, there is no doubt. Perhaps the object lesson to be drawn here is that if one plans a vast expansion of population or industry in a certain area of England and does not first go into the question of the water supplies likely to be necessary, one has only oneself to blame if one suddenly finds everybody running short. There is no question that this is about the only scheme which could meet the crying demand from Essex in time. Perhaps if a lot of people had been wiser originally other schemes might have been thought of, but in the time now available there is no doubt that this is the only one that could possibly meet the need likely to arise in the near future.

For that reason, I hope that the House will give it every possible support.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly.

Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third Reading) suspended; Bill to be read the Third time forthwith.—[The Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

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