HC Deb 15 January 1971 vol 809 cc424-75

Order for Second Reading read.

1.5 p.m.

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr. Graham Page)

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

This is a Bill which seeks to do something that I am sure Parliament intended to do and thought it had done in 1963. By the Water Resources Act, 1963, Parliament created, in Section 3(1), the river authorities and it transferred to those authorities the functions relating to land drainage, fisheries, river pollution and similar river-controlled matters previously held by the river boards. Those transferred functions come in Section 5 of the 1963 Act.

Parliament also created new functions for river authorities which come under Section 4 of that Act. I must read Section 4 to show what was done in that time. Section 4 reads as follows: … it shall be the duty of each river authority … to take all such action as they may from time to time consider necessary or expedient … for the purpose of conserving, redistributing or otherwise augmenting water resources in their area, of securing the proper use of water resources in their area, or of transferring any such resources to the area of another river authority. Those were the new functions, as opposed to the transferred functions in existence before the 1963 Act. In short, all that Section 4 did was to say to river authorities, "You can build and own reservoirs". For that purpose they would need to acquire land and carry out engineering and building operations to construct a reservoir.

Section 67 of the 1963 Act gave the Minister, now the Secretary of State for the Environment, power to give a river authority power to acquire land compulsorily and to carry out the necessary engineering and building operations. The newly-created river authorities, if they wished to exercise the new functions given to them, would apply to the Minister for the necessary authority.

What Parliament said to river authorities, loud and clear, was, "If you want to exercise these new functions and to build the reservoir, then you have to justify yourselves before the local people. If anyone objects you will not get away with it without a public local inquiry. You must bring the matter before the local people and justify the case there."

This provision comes about by Section 67(2), which applies Schedule 8 of the Act. That Schedule lays down a formidable procedure through which a river authority must go before the Minister will give it the necessary order to carry out construction works. Schedule 8 provides for the publication of the draft Order notice to those affected and, if the Minister receives an objection which is not withdrawn, then a local inquiry under paragraph 6 of Schedule 8.

There is where we were on 31st July, 1963, when the Act of that year was passed. We had created river authorities, given them transferred functions, given them new functions, and said to them, "If you want to exercise these new functions by carrying out some work, by building a reservoir, or carrying out engineering and building works, you must have a local inquiry first and then the Minister will, if he is satisfied, give you the necessary authority".

Under the 1963 Act the Minister—and perhaps I ought to use the phrase "Secretary of State" as he is now the Minister—does not have to bring that authority before the House. The Water Resources Act, 1963, has an elaborate Section—Section 134—about which Ministerial Orders should and which should not be subject to parliamentary procedure. It is quite clear from that Act that at that time Parliament gave its mind to this matter and decided that a reservoir Order did not need to be brought before the House, provided that the authority had gone through this procedure of a local inquiry first, and what could be more straightforward than that?

But then some clever lawyer came along—and I can say that now that I am out of the profession—and said that Parliament had failed to cover all the necessary operations. He said that the Secretary of State can give a river authority the power to do these engineering and building operations, that is to say, give it power to build a reservoir and even to put water in it, but the 1963 Act does not give the Secretary of State power to give the river authority power to get the water out again. What a deliciously Gilbertian situation! A river authority can put water into a reservoir but it cannot discharge it from the reservoir. The Secretary of State can authorise a river authority to acquire land, even to the extent of laying pipes from the reservoir, but not to pass the water through those pipes.

This is not quite such a technical matter as it sounds when one says it in that way. We have deemed it necessary to make certain by the Bill what rights to discharge water there are vested in river authorities when they wish to discharge the water from their reservoirs.

There are a number of different types of water conservation schemes involving discharge of the water into rivers and streams which river authorities have either already embarked upon or are likely to embark upon in the near future. The three principal types are regulating reservoirs, the transfer of water from one river system to another, and augmenting river flows with underground water.

The first of those, regulating reservoirs, are usually in the upper reaches of a river, and they store peak flows and release them back into the river at times of low flow to sustain abstractions downstream. The second kind of discharge is when one is transferring water between river systems, intending to help those systems which are short of water. The third type, augmenting from underground strata, can be used in suitable cases like a regulating reservoir to augment rivers at times of low flow.

In all those cases the regulated or augmented flow of the river may exceed its natural flow at certain times and, except with the simple regulating reservoir, the quality of the additional water may also be different from that of the river into which it is discharged, if only to the extent that it may be harder or softer water.

These schemes will generally be beneficial, but it is always possible that some riparian owner may say that his interest has been adversely affected, and the risk is that if in those circumstances a riparian owner sought an injunction from the courts the river authority would not under present law be able to rely on the Secretary of State's Order for its defence, because the power of the Secretary of State to make an Order compulsorily authorising the building of works does not extend to authorising the discharge of water from those works. In other words, it is possible for a river authority to obtain an Order authorising it to acquire land to build a reservoir, but it can then be restrained in law from discharging water from those works and the whole object of the scheme can in that way be frustrated.

Because of this state of the law river authorities have during the past few years abandoned the procedure which Parliament wanted them to adopt in 1963—the local inquiry and the Ministerial Order—and in place of that they have brought to Parliament Private Bills to give them the necessary power in this one small item of discharging water from the reservoir, and they have decided that if they had to bring a Private Bill before the House for that one small function they should include in that Bill all the functions which they are required to carry out.

Hon. Members will know that the Private Bill procedure is extremely expensive. Individual interests, local interests and amenity society interests can petition against the Bill in this House and in another place. They can have two bites at the cherry, but for the ordinary local objector this procedure is quite prohibitive by reason of its formality and expense. The Bill will make that Private Bill procedure wholly inappropriate in future for giving powers to river authorities to build their reservoirs and conserve their water.

If the House accepts the Bill, all the necessary powers will be given by the Secretary of State's Order, and that comes about by Clause 1(1) which says: If it appears to the Minister that it is appropriate to make an order under this section with a view to facilitating the performance by a river authority of any of their new functions, he may on the application of the authority make an order authorising the authority, subject to compliance with such conditions (if any) as may be specified in the order, to discharge water into any inland water or underground strata. That fills a gap which was left in the 1963 Act, and it goes a little further in protecting local interests, because subsection (2) of that Clause says, The provisions of the Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to applications and orders under this section. and when one looks at paragraph 2 of the Schedule one sees there set out a whole list of things which must be put in the notice to be made known to the public when a river authority wishes to proceed in this way. There is a greater protection to local interests in the Bill than was given in the 1963 Act.

I have spoken so far of local interests in particular, because I think that in most cases this is what we in the House would wish river authorities to do before they are given powers. We would wish them to justify themselves to the local interests who are particularly concerned. I am sure that the case can better be argued by the people on the spot than by how ever brilliant an advocate amongst hon. and right hon. Members of this House.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

In the parent Act of 1963 provision was made for local public inquiries to be held. Can my hon. Friend tell us where those provisions are repeated in the Bill, which is an amending Measure?

Mr. Page

Yes. Paragraph 4 of the Schedule provides that paragraphs 3 to 6 of Schedule 8 to the prinicipal Act are introduced into this Schedule. Paragraph 6 of Schedule 8 to the principal Act provides for local inquiries to be held if the Minister has received objections which have not been withdrawn.

I have spoken of local interests which should be satisfied at local inquiries. We have also recognised that there are amenity interests in which Parliament should have an opportunity to become directly interested.

Clause 2(4) provides that The power to make orders conferred by the preceding section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and (a) a statutory instrument containing an order under that section authorising the making of discharges of water at, or of discharges taken wholly or partly at, a place which, on the date when the order is made, is within a National Park or an area of outstanding natural beauty shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament". So although, in general, the Bill carries out the law as it was intended to be in 1963—local inquiry and Ministerial Order without bringing them before the House—in cases concerning a reservoir or pipes in a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty the Orders can be raised in the House by the normal procedure of putting down a Prayer against them.

I must emphasise that we are not necessarily saying that no more reservoirs will ever be built in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. Every proposal must be examined in the light of the circumstances of the case. There are some areas in national parks which would be ruined by reservoirs, but equally there are others where the construction of a sympathetically-designed reservoir would enhance the quality of the landscape.

The Government recognise, in this subsection, that in the past for one reason or another Parliament has had a direct control over water schemes—even if in recent years this has been largely due to an omission from the 1963 Act—and that Parliament has shown a definite interest in proposals affecting national parks or places of outstanding natural beauty. We have therefore accepted that Parliament should continue to have some say in this special category of case, and that with cases of this sort more care than normal should be exercised in reaching a final decision.

This is a small but important Bill, designed to remove an omission in the 1963 Act. The proposed procedure will give opponents of a scheme an opportunity to object and the right to have their objection heard by an inspector, who will then report to the Secretary of State. Before the Secretary of State makes any decision on applications for orders authorising the discharge of water from reservoirs he will be in possession of all the relevant information on the issues involved. Furthermore, in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty a further safeguard will be provided by the negative resolution procedure of the House.

Any Bill dealing with new reservoirs is liable to attract the criticism that the Government should be thinking less about reservoirs and more about other forms of water conservation, such as barrages and desalination. A wider criticism of a small Bill of this sort might be that we should be thinking of a national water plan, and that no new reservoirs should be authorised pending, perhaps, a decision on a national water plan. I seem to recall having said that sort of thing in the past, from the Opposition Dispatch Box.

I can assure the House that research is being carried out into the alternatives to reservoirs, and even within the Bill some alternatives to reservoirs are contemplated, namely, transfers from one river basin to another and the artificial recharging of aquifers and underground strata. The studies being undertaken by the Water Resources Board in connection with desalination and the various estuarial proposals, together with their regional studies, when completed and brought together into a national study, will provide a comprehensive framework for planning the use and development of water resources in England and Wales.

The regional studies already completed for the South-East and the North, and the one coming along for Wales and the Midlands, together with the more detailed surveys by river authorities of the requirements and resources of their areas—as provided for in Section 14 of the Water Resources Act, 1963—go a long way towards the formation of a national plan. I look forward to collecting this information in the not-too-distant future into a plan which we can bring before the House and say, "This is the way we intend to proceed in the conservation and supply of water for England and Wales."

This little Bill does not pretend to be anything more than the restoration of a procedure that Parliament fully approved in 1963, and I hope that it will be accepted as such by the House.

1.27 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I am glad to follow the Minister from these benches in giving a general welcome to the Bill, but I wish to take a little further some of the points that he made in the closing stages of his remarks. The House must face the fact that a critical situation exists in respect of the supply of water in many parts of the country, especially the industrial parts of Yorkshire and the eastern regions. It is verging upon the ludicrous that in a country completely surrounded by water, and with an average rainfall of 18½ ins. per annum, we should from time to time experience drought, with considerable difficulties, in various parts of the country. That is the essential point to which the House must address itself. The public will not much longer tolerate such a situation, and I hope shortly to mention some ideas that I think should be examined in this connection.

I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Water Resources Bill 1963, and I entirely agree with the Minister that nobody on that Committee ever got anywhere near thinking that this situation was being left open. River authorities and statutory water under takers were given the responsibility for building reservoirs and collecting water, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind about their rights to discharge that water either into a river system—so that it could be picked up and used elswhere when needed—or into pipes or water undertaking works. In that context the Bill is necessary, and I am obliged to the Minister for the clear way in which he explained its provisions. Certainly, we on this side accept what he said about the necessary safeguards for objectors.

An Amendment was made to the Bill in another place which we now see in Clause 2(4). I imagine that this will need some tidying up and I should be grateful if that could be confirmed. What Parliament was trying to do in another place was ensure that if it were proposed to build a reservoir in a national park or a place of outstanding natural beauty, that should be subject to a special procedure of this House. We would not object to that proposal, the principle of which the Government accepted elsewhere, but it has been put to me—I am not sure whether this is right—that, as the wording now stands, any water originating in a place of national beauty or a national park, although collected elsewhere, would have to be subject to this procedure.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

A good idea.

Mr. Howell

It is an impossible idea, since it would completely nullify the objects of the 1963 Act. There is hardly any water anywhere in the country which does not originate in a national park or a place of outstanding natural beauty. Even if it were collected at the Bristol Channel or on Humberside, people would insist on this special procedure. I cannot believe that that is what the House intended or that it makes sense. I hope that there is nothing in this argument, but if there is, I hope that the Minister will put the matter right.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman is making such a fuss. What is wrong with Parliament using the negative procedure for Statutory Instruments, which is all that this subsection does? If the hon. Gentleman's interpretation is right, every Order would have to come before Parliament: that is the only difference, and that is a good thing.

Mr. Howell

Having been in the position of the Minister twice last year dealing with these matters, I do not think that it is as sensible as the hon. Gentleman believes. As the Minister fairly said, a Bill like this is very expensive to operate and bring to fruition. The period of gestation is remarkably long. I understand that, from the time that people conceive the idea of a new reservoir, because of an approaching shortage of water in an important industrial city, going through all the procedures—without trouble and with general agreement—to the time when they plan, survey and build the reservoir and it is actually operating, seven years can elapse.

Those of us who took part in the similar proceedings last year found that a large number of hon. Members, quite properly, have strong feelings about a specific proposal. We all know that this is not the sort of matter on which governments wish to put on the Whips, nor does the Opposition—

Mr. Robin Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

The Labour Government did last time.

Mr. Howell

I said that the Government do not want to do this, but they find themselves in difficulties. This is pre-eminently a matter on which hon. Members should be left to make a judgment. But when hon. Members throw out a Bill, despite all the cost and work which has gone into it, they are not applying themselves to the overall consequences of their action.

I am not complaining about some of the decisions, some of which I advised the House against taking, last year. Unfortunately, it took one at any rate against my advice, but I am always prepared to accept that the collective wisdom of the House is greater than my individual wisdom, although I may have doubts about that proposition when it happens.

Therefore, it has to be someone's job to consider the overall position, which is why I am opposed to this negative procedure. I believe that the responsibility for seeing that there is an adequate water supply must rest upon those who also have the power to pass on that water supply to our large cities and conurbations. That proposition is unassailable, but I agree that it follows from that that our present procedures are inadequate.

I had much more sympathy with the Minister when he said that there should be a national plan. It will be recalled that, with the Calderdale Scheme, the Derwent proposals and, at the end of last year, the Plymouth and South-West procedures, as well as the case of the Dowlais Valley—in which I understand that the Secretary of State for Wales refused permission even for a survey to ascertain the suitability of the site there for construction—there are at least four occasions in the last 12 months when Parliament, reflecting the growing awareness in the country on questions of environment, has succeeded in rejecting specific proposals.

I want to turn now to the serious situation facing the whole country. This is an opportunity for the House to assess the general situation. There is a growing need for water supplies. The rate at which our society is using and absorbing water is colossal. I do not think that there is anything particularly wrong, although, as I said, since we are an island with a heavy rainfall, and are surrounded entirely by sea, I suppose it reflects upon us as a community if we manage, under any circumstances, to organise a shortage of water, as we do from time to time.

The responsible authorities have been drawing the attention of the House and the Government to the situation over a period. As recently as July 1970, the British Waterworks Association, which represents all the water undertakers of the country—I had better declare an interest, since I have the honour to be a vice-president of that body—sent the Minister its assessment of the serious situation. They believe—I have examined the figures which they have put forward and I share their concern—that, by 1973, there will be a critical situation in some areas.

What is the Minister's assessment of this situation? Does he share that concern? Will the survey of the Water Resources Board or the national plan to which he referred enable the country to meet this situation by 1973?

The national demand for water continues. Indeed, the demand is continuing to grow by, it is estimated, 100 million gallons a year, which represents a total of 6,000 million gallons a day by the year 2000. Put more simply, in 30 years time every man, woman and child in the country will be using 100 gallons of water a day. That is the size of the problem which faces the water industry, local authorities and the Government and it must be solved if we are to meet the demands of the domestic householder and industry.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, no doubt inadvertently, he may be misrepresenting the position slightly? It does not mean that the amount of water about which he has spoken must be new water. If replacement and reuse schemes are encouraged, much of that 100 gallons per capita could be water that has been used before, but such schemes must be encouraged.

Mr. Howell

I was about to deal with that an I agree that reuse is an important matter. I see the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in his place. He has often spoken on this subject and I accept that too much water is frequently used and wasted; for example, it is said that on many occasions we use twice as much as is necessary to flush the toilet.

While reuse schemes are to be encouraged, I doubt whether such economies will provide the quantity of water we will need. It is regrettable, but people will continue to waste water. There are many additional requirements for water as society becomes more affluent. Dishwashers, washing machines and more homes being equipped with bathrooms all means more water being demanded. As, by 1975, we clear the slums in my city of Birmingham, more water will be needed because those who live in the 20,000 houses in the area without baths will be able to join their fellows in having a daily bath.

I am all in favour of reuse schemes and urging people to economise in the use of water—though this cannot be done by legislation; one cannot legislate against personal habits—but I do not think that any such schemes will significantly alter the picture.

The purification of used water to make it fit to be used again involves huge capital sewage works which I believe, will prevent any Government from committing themselves wholeheartedly to such schemes. The whole essence of my case is that we do not have the time to go in for those developments if we are to meet the growing demand for water.

I was referring to the increased demand that will occur in the coming 30 years. It is interesting to consider the extraordinary situation which arose in Ipswich last year. Independent investigations carried out in February, 1970, showed that there might be a serious shortage, amounting to about 8 million gallons a day by 1980 and 24 million gallons by 2001. Ipswich has only seven inches of rainfall a year compared with the national average of 18½ inches.

By last summer, only five months after those investigations, a serious situation had already arisen. Ipswich had already exceeded its available capacity by 1½ million gallons a day, and statutory restrictions on the use of hosepipes had to be introduced. On some occasions people were unable to obtain water from their taps and they were obliged to use standpipes.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) in his place. He has often drawn attention to the critical situation in Yorkshire, and the crux of my case is that we do not have time to build the sort of installations that are often referred to if we are to meet the demand that will arise in the coming years.

As the Minister said, some people put their faith in desalination. When I was in office I took some interest in this development, which offers hope for some areas, particularly those which have a large influx of visitors at holiday times and require additional amounts of water in the summer months. These areas probably would not justify the huge capital sums involved in providing large addi- tional quantities of water throughout the year. However, I do not believe that desalination could prove the sort of solution that many people expect of it.

Guernsey and Jersey are doing it and experiments are going on on the East coast, but consider the cost. Water taken from the sea must be treated and desalted before it can be put into the national system. Water obtained from normal sources can go into the national system extremely cheaply. Indeed, we are able to obtain this wonderful commodity for between 3s. and 5s. per 1,000 gallons in the normal way. I am advised that to collect water from the sea, desalt it and transport it into the national system costs about 15s. per 1,000 gallons, and I can not see the public accepting that.

There is really no shortage of water in Britain. There is plenty of it and at this time of the year it is overflowing our reservoirs. If, however, we have one of our occasional fine summers in a few months' time, we will be running into difficulty.

Nor has the problem of water anything to do with the ownership of water undertakings. In the past my hon. Friends have been guilty of concentrating too much on this aspect, which is nothing like as important as questions concerning responsibility for the supply and transportation of water. Getting the water we need from point A to point B is the crux of the problem and it is no one body's overall responsibility to do that.

I am attracted not so much by the national plan—though I agree that one must have a national plan before a satisfactory system can be evolved—as by the proposition that we should have a national grid system for water. If we can give the Central Electricity Generating Board the responsibility of ensuring that electricity is available wherever it is needed. I cannot see why we cannot do the same with regard to water.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

But are there not rather different physical circumstances to deal with in moving water throughout the nation as opposed to moving electricity?

Mr. Howell

The physical circumstances are different but the principle is the same. If there is a lot of water surplus in Scotland and Wales—and we are one island, after all—and a shortage in Devon or Cornwall, it should not be beyond the wit of man in 1971 to move that water from the area of surplus to the area of shortage. It would be possible if it were someone's responsibility to ensure that the water was moved in that way. At present that is no one's responsibility.

In the light of that situation, the Bill is a welcome step forward, because it enables water to be put into our rivers. Let me use as an illustration, the River Severn. Water collected in Wales is being put into the Severn at a determined rate and taken out for use many miles further downstream where it is needed; it could go on almost to Bristol, and there tapped for use in the South-West.

It is interesting to note that the grid method is now being used in California, where water is being transported for distances of over 500 miles from places of plenty to places of shortage—and I need not remind hon. Members that Glasgow and London are nearer than 500 miles to each other. If we had regional undertakings, with a central body having the authority to say that water should be released from one part of the country into another—brought gradually across the country—either by river or by a piped system, it would make a great deal of sense.

I am delighted to know that the Chairman of the Scottish Water Development Board has recently very wise and fairly said that he and his colleagues on the Board whose responsibility it is to collect water in the Scottish Highlands would be delighted to supply it to other parts, and particularly to England. I suggest that it is typical of the Scots that they, having supplied us with all our whisky over all these years are now prepared to let us dilute it at a reasonable profit to the Scottish economy. No one could reasonably object to that. If Wales were to adopt a similar policy I am sure that she would find it of great help to her economy. The good will and the means of dealing with the present situation are at hand.

I know that we shall be told that the cost would be astronomical, but we are not suggesting that such a service should be provided overnight. Such a big task would need a phased construction programme. But when considering cost let us think of those great pioneers who built our existing water supply system. In the City of Birmingham, Joseph Chamber lain and the Chamberlain family—and it is a hallowed name here, I know—had the foresight to build a tremendous water undertaking. We owe our present wonderful pure water system to people like that, who were about 50 years ahead of their time. Manchester owes a similar debt to her pioneers. The fact remains that when those undertakings were started everyone complained about the cost. The citizens of Birmingham said of Joseph Chamberlain and his colleagues all those years ago just the sort of thing that is now likely to be said of a national grid system but, looking back, we rejoice at the wisdom of those great men.

It is Parliament's responsibility to provide for the future. As I have said, I do not believe that the ownership of undertakings is as important as many people think, but what is important is that an organisation should be set up, or the Water Resources Board should be developed even further and given the responsibility and the power to move water from one part of the country to another. We want to ensure that our recurring debates on the subject will no longer be necessary, because only exceptionally would additional reservoirs be needed if our existing adequate supplies of water could be transported as I have suggested. It is because we on this side believe that the Bill goes some way to making such a state of things possible, that we welcome it.

1.56 p.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

This innocuous-looking Bill, presented for Second Reading on a quiet Friday at the close of Conservation Year, deserves more scrutiny than it has received from my hon. Friend and from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). The fact is that it provides that in future no reservoir shall ever be built under the Private Bill procedure; that the only method of objecting to a reservoir being built, however unsatisfactory it is regarded by the people, shall be under the procedure of public local inquiry and ministerial Order. The change is justified by my hon. Friend on the score of cheapness—cheaper for the river authority, cheaper for objectors—but economy purchased at the expense of justice can be a very poor bargain.

One has to look at the matter in the setting of our recent experience over reservoir Bills. The hon. Member for Small Heath pointed out that the last three reservoir Bills brought before the House—the Calderdale Water Bill, the Yorkshire Derwent Water Bill and the Plymouth and South-West Devon Water Bill—were rejected. The House refused a Second Reading to the Calderdale Water Bill, and in the two other cases a Committee of hon. Members found that the Preambles had not been made out. So it is now being sought to prevent public feeling over reservoir Bills being expressed under the Private Bill procedure.

One has to make certain deductions from the unfortunate experience of reservoir Bills in recent years, and the first deduction is that Parliament has at last awakened to the needs of conservation. European Conservation Year has a great deal to do with it. The second deduction is that there is very strong public disapproval of the river authorities' piecemeal approach to the solution of the problem of water deficiency and of the absence of a national policy for the supply and more economical use of water.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member's description of the growing use of water—the increasing number of cars; the increasing number of people having baths. Surely the car and the person can be washed in the same water. Why are certain water undertakings using and re-using their water while other water undertakings consider that every item of water for every purpose must be used once and then sent to the sewage plant or into the sea? It is vital that the House should encourage statutory water undertakers to find ways of re-using their water.

The hon. Gentleman dismisses this as too expensive. Why is it done in one part of the country and not in others? The plans for reservoirs come from areas where there are backward statutory water undertakers. Water authorities are proliferating schemes for the drowning of the countryside by small reservoirs which they must admit will in a very few years be inadequate to our needs.

The serious consideration is that which the hon. Member for Small Heath touched on, although he seemed to regard it as beyond the bounds of possibility. Parliament and the people demand that our water problem should be tackled by desalination plants, by water grids—there I agree with the hon. Gentleman—by barrage schemes, and by drawing on our ground water reserves, and that the senseless waste of water must be stopped.

It seems that the encouragement that the Bill will give to the cheaper and quicker procedure—the removal of reservoir schemes from close examination by the House—will have the effect that river authorities will be encouraged to embark on small, inadequate plans and not tackle the major problem.

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his figure of 15s. per 1,000 gallons of desalinated water. All the evidence I have received and my knowledge of what is being done in America and in the Caribbean on desalination experiments make me believe that the hon. Gentleman's figure is completely out of date. That figure applied three or four years ago. Now people are talking in terms of 6s. to 8s. per 1,000 gallons of desalinated water.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I should be delighted to be told of a scheme which has got the price of supplies of desalinated potable water down as low as 6s., 5s. or 4s. a gallon. The right hon. Gentleman questions the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), but can the right hon. Gentleman mention a scheme which is at present functioning at figures as low as those?

Mr. Turton

Israel is certainly doing it. Jersey is doing it. It is being done in Antigua and in Florida. Those are the four schemes that I know of. I am ready to give the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) further details.

Mr. Denis Howell

I am sure that the House would like to take this point up. Most of the schemes which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned are for places where the water is needed and used very near the point of desalination. My point concerned the added cost, according to my information, in addition to the figures the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned of getting the water in considerable quantities to places where it is needed. If we are dealing with a country as a whole and urban areas, the cost of transportation, so to speak, must be added to the cost the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

Mr. Turton

Certainly, and there is the hon. Gentleman's water grid. The hon. Gentleman talked with great sympathy about the problems of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. Hull is itself on the sea or on an estuary. Many problems of water deficiency arise where problems of long carriage from a desalination plant are not involved. However, I want to keep to the problem of the Bill rather than expand on the more interesting problem of water deficiency, on which the hon. Member for Small Heath concentrated.

It is significant that the Bill has been introduced at a time when Parliament is waking up to the problem and when the country has demonstrated its impatience with the present piecemeal, short-term policies. I know full well that this is a left-over from the previous Administration. The real putative father of the Bill is the hon. Member for Small Heath, and he more or less admitted paternity. The Bill reduces Parliament's power over conservation. It transfers the power from Parliament to the Minister and the Executive.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development will say, "That is all right. That is what Parliament intended to do in 1963. It was only through a muddle on the part of Parliament that it did not happen." That may well be. Times have changed greatly since 1963. There is in the country generally a greater alertness to the problem of the environment and a greater determination on the part of the people not to have their countryside despoiled without having recourse to Parliament. Next, there is a far greater suspicion of bureaucracy now than there was in 1963.

Before we substitute this change we must be satisfied that the substitute tribunal proposed by the Bill will be as democratic as Parliament and that all those who have an interest in the matter will continue to have the right to object, to appear before the tribunal, and to receive an impartial hearing.

I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but, as I see it, the new procedure will be that the river authority will apply for an order, the Minister will make the order, the local people will object to the order, then the Minister will appoint one of his own staff to hear the objections—

Mr. Graham Page

The Minister will not make the order at the stage stated by my right hon. Friend. The river authority will put before the public a draft order at that stage.

Mr. Turton

In that case, it will be the river authority's order until after the public local inquiry?

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Turton

I am obliged. That is what I wanted to have cleared up. In that case, the obvious first question is: who will preside over the inquiry? It was suggested in another place that the man who will preside over the inquiry will he a water engineer employed by the Minister. As I see the picture generally of these reservoir Bills, bearing in mind the three I have mentioned, the objections will not be mainly or even substantially on engineering grounds; it will be on the ground that the land proposed to be drowned should be used for agriculture or it will be on grounds of amenity.

I believe that a water engineer will not be well qualified to determine the issues raised by the objection. I recognise that a water engineer would need to sit and hear the inquiry in some form, but I think that the right procedure at these public local inquiries would be to have an impartial person not employed by the Minister, assisted by assessors who are engineers or planning advisers.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider this. I know that he can point to the procedure under the 1963 Act, but there is a growing feeling in the country that since 1845 the whole system of compulsory purchase has removed the protection of the citizen from the justices, as it was then, and from Parliament to the more partial judgment of an official defending his Minister's decision. In general, the country looks with suspicion on the great increase in the powers of administrative tribunals. The Bill deprives the citizen of his remedy in Parliament—in many other Bills he has been deprived of his remedies in court—and he is receiving a mere shadow of justice in these more bureaucratic substitutes.

I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister five questions to clarify some of my doubts about the procedure under the Bill, so that we may know clearly what it does. Will there be power in the Ministerial order to repeal existing Acts of Parliament? If so, will Parliament have the right to question the order? My understanding of the Bill is that it will enable the Minister or the river authority in its draft order to repeal an existing Act. As I read it, however, there will be power in those cases to use the negative procedure under Clause 2, which, for some reason, the Hon. Member for Small Heath found so objectionable. I think that he was confusing it with the Private Bill procedure.

Secondly, will the orders contain financial powers to charge those who receive no benefit with a share of the cost of the work that is authorised? Will they, therefore, be charging orders against which those who will derive no benefit but who live in areas which lose their water to the industrial areas elsewhere have no remedy, and will the charge be imposed by order rather than by Act of Parliament? This would be a form of taxing the citizen not by Parliament but by Ministerial order.

Thirdly, will there be any geographical limitation on the right to object? I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister when he dealt with this matter. Perhaps inadvertently, he divided the local objector from the amenity association and said that the local objector could use the public local inquiry, whereas for the amenity association we are providing the procedure of Clause 2(4) I hoped that my reading of the Bill was right, that all people would be able to object at the public local inquiry whether they resided in or outside the locality. It would be perfectly right for example, that the Ramblers' Association, the members of which do not live in the area and who may have their headquarters in London, should be able to object to a Ministerial order because it affected their liberty to enjoy the quiet of the countryside.

Fourthly, how are the public local inquiries to be conducted? Will oppor- tunities be afforded to objectors to cross-examine witnesses for a river authority? We are destroying the Private Bill procedure, which enables those who object to cross-examine carefully the grounds which the river authority has put forward for the building of the reservoir and its discharge. It seems to me important that those who object to any construction or discharge should have the same powers of cross-examination as they now have under Private Bill procedure.

My final question is whether the Minister will be bound to accept the report of his inspector. This could be taken both ways. It is a matter which we have frequently dealt with in other directions. When dealing with the objection of those who live near a proposed reservoir and its construction, it would be far better if we could get a form of impartial hearing and a Minister who would then be bound by the impartial decision of the inspector or of the judge who held the inquiry. The procedure would be removed from the administrative tribunal.

I see difficulties in that in view of the recent Report of the Roskill Commission, but we ought to be clear about it; otherwise what will be the use of a public local inquiry? If a Minister appoints his own officer to hold it, and the officer may be well satisfied that the objection is sound but the Minister can overrule him, what will be the advantage of the public local inquiry? The fact that there is no recourse to Parliament is a very great weakness.

I hope that my hon. Friend will answer these questions. He will, I hope, realise that there is deep concern at the probable consequences of the Bill. I know that, on a quiet Friday like this, the Bill will receive a Second Reading today, but I hope and trust that before the Report stage it will have been greatly improved in Committee.

2.18 p.m.

Mr. William Whitlock (Nottingham, North)

I welcome the Bill and I welcome the attention which the Government have given to bringing forward this Measure, for which, as has been pointed out, the previous Administration made preparations and commitments.

As the Minister has pointed out, there is undoubtedly a defect in the Water Resources Act, 1963, whereby that Act cannot be used for the purposes for which it was intended concerning water discharge. That defect made it necessary to proceed by Private Bill procedure for the discharge and river-regulation element of water conservation programmes.

I wish to speak about the Private Bill procedure to spotlight its defects, and, therefore, the necessity for the Bill. The Private Bill procedure is time-consuming and expensive for those who have to participate, and it is thus difficult for people or bodies with limited funds to take part in it. It is liable to produce, as I shall show, a flat rejection rather than a detailed appraisal of the merits of a Bill. Under the Private Bill procedure the scope for amendment of a Bill is limited and the procedure shuts out the possibility of a public inquiry. Under the procedure for obtaining Ministerial Orders, on the other hand, there is full provision for the giving of notice and the making and consideration of objections.

In contrast to the procedure by way of Private Bill, the public local inquiry which would he made possible under the proposed procedure will provide local interests with a more accessible and congenial forum in which to express their comments and concern, and that forum will be made available to them more cheaply in the sense that they will not have to bring to London and retain here, as they do under the Private Bill procedure, cohorts of learned counsel and experts of one kind and other.

I wish to talk of my one experience of sitting on a Committee on an unopposed Bill. I was greatly shocked by that experience. It was a Water Bill, the Second Reading of which had been carried by a substantial majority in the House. I was one of the five Members from the Committee on Unopposed Bills appointed to consider that Bill.

I shall preface my comments on what happened by a reference to Erskine May, page 951, in which a distinction is drawn between the Second Readings of Public and Private Bills: … a public bill being founded on reasons of state policy, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and affirms those reasons; but the expediency of a private bill, being mainly founded upon allegations of fact, which have not yet been proved, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, affirms the principle of the bill conditionaly, and subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee. On that occasion, the five members of the Committee had, therefore, to be satisfied that the allegations of fact in the Preamble to the Bill were well founded. In the usual way, we listened to the learned and expert evidence which was brought before us. We cross-questioned people in the usual way, and we then turned to deliberate on the Bill and all that had been put before us. But that deliberation was very brief and completely inadequate. It was quickly apparent that there was a division of opinion about the principles of the Bill and not about the facts put before the Committee. But the Chairman ruled, in accordance with Standing Orders, that those who had voted in the House on the Second Reading could not vote in the Committee at the end of the consideration of the Bill. Since three of the five members had voted on the Second Reading, only two were able to vote on the Bill at that stage. The two who had not voted on Second Reading included the Chairman, and, as the House knows, in that situation the Chair man has a vote and a casting vote.

Thus, at the very outset of the Committee's deliberations, the decision of one man was bound to prevail, and the future water supply of millions of people would be determined by how that man recorded his vote.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

If I remember aright, the hon. Gentleman used to be a member of the Whips' Office. The selection of Members to serve on Committees on Private Bills is almost entirely at the discretion of the Whips' Office.

Mr. Whitlock


Mr. Wells

I am dealing with fact, not fiction. Assuming that what I say is true—hon. Members on both sides will bear me out—all the hon. Gentleman's allegation now shows is that, at the time of the events of which he has just given his short history, the Whips' Office was negligent in doing its duty.

Mr. Whitlock

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The composition of a Committee which sits on an unopposed Private Bill is determined by the Office of Ways and Means.

I was saying that one man's view prevailed on that Committee, and water supplies vital to the people of the area concerned were determined by him.

The situation was made all the more bizarre as the Chairman happened to be an hon. Member for one of the Ulster constituencies who so passionately and so frequently complains in the House when we turn our attention to Northern Ireland.

I protested strongly in that Committee about the nonsensical and undemocratic procedure which took place. I gave notice that I should do my best to raise the whole matter on the Floor of the House. But, such is our procedure, I found that, once a Bill has been thrown out by the Unopposed Bill Committee, it is then dead. So the Bill was killed by one man.

I turn again to Erskine May and repeat the relevant words: … the House, in agreeing to its second reading"— that is, of a Private Bill— affirms the principle of the bill conditionally, and subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee. Those who voted against the Second Reading obviously did not affirm the principle of the Bill, and obviously they could not go on to consider the allegations of fact which were adduced before the Committee. But, surely; those who affirmed the principle of the Bill still had to be convinced of the allegations of fact.

Mr. Farr


Mr. Whitlock

That was their task, and, surely, they should have been able to vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we ought not to go into too detailed an explanation of the procedure on Private Bills, at least not without coming back frequently to the subject of the Bill before us. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will assist me.

Mr. Whitlock

In deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall accede to your request and cut short my remarks. I think that I have said enough to show that the Private Bill procedure on important matters like this is not the right kind of procedure for us to adopt. It is nonsensical and undemocratic in so many ways, and such obvious hazards as there are under that procedure should not be brought into play on vital matters such as the water supply for large parts of the country.

For those reasons, and for other reasons which have already been put by hon. Members on both sides, I support the Bill and hope that it will have a Second Reading.

2.28 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, this is but a small amending Measure, but the problems and questions lying behind the introduction of a Bill of this sort are of enormous importance. Over the years when I have been dealing with constituency problems in Derbyshire and in Cornwall, and in other capacities, too, these problems have caused me more worry and anxiety than many other matters seemingly of graver import. Questions such as whether agricultural land is to be flooded, whether men's livelihoods are to be taken from them, and so on, present problems of acute anxiety which are among the gravest with which we have to deal.

There is no doubt, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) said, that there is a growing national shortage of water. There was in the days when I had some small responsibility for these matters, and it has increased enormously since then. The figures which the hon. Gentleman gave regarding the position in 1980 are, I am sure, absolutely right, or, if anything, they are underestimates.

The problem of water shortage is of particular concern in our industrial areas. My constituency is in almost complete countryside, but close to it, within only a few miles, is one of the heavy industrial belts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The demand for water from areas such as Ilkeston in Derbyshire is large and is growing, particularly from industrial areas such as Birmingham and Manchester. This demand can only be met from areas such as the one I represent. Lovely parts of the country such as Derbyshire, the Peak District, Devon and Cornwall are being faced with demands for water from industrial areas which at the moment can only be met by flooding large tracts of land for reservoirs.

The 1963 Act, which I was in some part responsible for taking through this House, went some way to solve some of the problems which have been raised by hon. Members during this short debate. It was then the intention to establish a Water Resources Board which would have responsibility for co-ordinating supplies of water throughout the country. There was then mention of a national grid for water. I believe that the reason no further progress was made on that suggestion at the time was the huge cost of the project, which would still be the case today. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and the hon. Member for Small Heath that such a scheme will be essential in the near future. The sooner we begin to lay plans for a national grid so that water may be switched from Scotland, Wales or Cornwall, and the Peak District if necessary, to areas where there is a shortage the better.

At the time of the 1963 Water Resources Bill we had no idea we had left a loophole. The intention was to give power to the river authorities to acquire land, to build works and to discharge water for the purposes set out in that legislation. If we had known that the present situation would arise, we would of course have done something about it. I think that in 1963 it was right not to make provision for the Minister when making an Order to seek approval, either by affirmative or negative Resolution, of the House. If that Bill were now before the House, starting from scratch, I doubt whether the House would accept that procedure without a provision for the Minister to come before the House with his Order.

The whole climate of public opinion over the last seven years has changed. The public is much more aware of conservation and of the needs of agriculture. The public would now demand of hon. Members as their representatives to see that there was a procedure under which Parliament at least had a say in what was going on. I would ask the Minister to look at the whole way in which the legislation is now being used and to say how it will be affected when this Bill is enacted. This was the reason that I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Small Heath to ask what were his objections to extending Clause 2(4) to a wider field than that to which at the moment it relates. I see no reason why it should not be wider.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon was quite right. We are now abolishing the system under which river authorities have had to promote private Bills. Although I do not go all the way with the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock)—and indeed I was not on the Committee to which he referred—I agree that the proceedings were cumbersome and expensive. Since the proceedings took place in London, local people were excluded from the opportunity to give evidence; they were either not able to do so or did not understand that they would have to come to London. It was expensive and there was no local public inquiry.

Mr. Farr

May I correct my hon. Friend on that point? There was a local public inquiry, in addition to the proceedings on the Bill in this House. In fact, the river authority conducted the inquiry and met all the local residents publicly on several occasions.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

That is correct. The local inquiry was held by the river authority but it had behind it no force of law. The real guts of the examination, as my hon. Friend knows since he took part in some of these matters took place upstairs, in Committee where learned counsel pleaded their case and were able to cross-examine. However, this is a costly and cumbersome procedure.

If we are to abolish the present system, then if we cannot persuade the Government to be more flexible in their attitude in regard to negative procedures before the House, other than where national parks or places of outstanding natural beauty are concerned, we must certainly seek to persuade my hon. Friend that, where inquiries are held and Ministerial Orders are not to be subject to procedures in this House, there must at least be a right to cross-examine witnesses at a public inquiry. There also needs to be a procedure under which the Minister will have to think very carefully before overruling an independent chairman of a public inquiry in his recommendation. If he wishes to override such recommendations, he should give reasons to the House for so doing. If that matter were provided for, I would be prepared to accept the provisions of the Bill.

Subsection (4) (a) provides for a Statutory Instrument to be prayed against where such orders relate to a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty. I hope that we may have an assurance from my hon. Friend that when such a procedure is not followed, then safeguards will be provided and he will come to the House to explain why he refuses to accept the recommendations of the independent chairman. If we could also be assured that witnesses will be allowed to be cross-examined at the public inquiry, then I would be satisfied. If my hon. Friend is not able to give such an assurance, then we shall seek to move Amendments in Committee to extend the Statutory Instrument procedure in subsection (4) (a) to cover all Orders made by the Secretary of State. This perhaps would be a difficult procedure to adopt and my hon. Friend may be reluctant to advise the House to agree to it, but unless such a course is followed I do not believe that the public interest will be properly safeguarded.

This matter has caused me great anxiety over the years. Areas of great beauty in the middle of Derbyshire are liable to be flooded and many people in surrounding areas may lose their livelihood. People will lose their livelihood and their land. They will be paid compensation, but this is not enough and never is when one has lived all one's life, and one's family before, in that area. These are grave matters. I accept that we have to have more water as we are facing a shortage of it. It is of overriding importance that there should be sufficient water resources.

There are two prongs to the Bill. First, every possible effort must be made to conserve what water there is and to reuse it as much as possible. I was told that every ounce of water drunk in London had been through somebody else's system four times before it was drunk. But let us do everything we can to reuse water in every possible industrial and domestic way, and to start building a system whereby we can switch water by pipeline from one area to another. Let us do this quickly, and let us make the Water Resources Board take the responsibility for doing so.

Second, let us see that there is accountability, to the House and to the public, which can be seen and by which people can have the opportunity to object, to cross-examine and to see that they have been fairly treated before their livelihood and future are endangered by whatever may be done about reservoirs and covering land with water. If my hon. Friend will give those guarantees, I shall be happy to accept the Bill as it is.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am sorry that the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), is unable to be in his place—I understand why—for we are old antagonists in the matter of the conservation and supply of water. I enjoyed his speech. He is always a most thoughtful speaker. As when we clashed over the Farndale Reservoir Bill, it is the old tale of the city, or town and county, the cities of Kingston upon Hull and Sheffield combined with Barnsley, and the amenity and desires which the right hon. Gentleman wants for the hinterland behind.

When I find the senior Member of the House pleading for impartiality by commissions and inquiries and naming a certain commission, I wish also that he would name other commissions, such as the Wilberforce Commission, about which we on this side have certain feelings, and the Roskill Commission.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) opened up the debate wide indeed. He spoke about the importance of the future supply of water and about the need to conserve it. We tend to think of camels, the Sahara and the Aswam Dam. It is shattering to hear about places like Ipswich. This land, which is an island with a latitude of about 40° with a westerly wind belt and all the moisture picked up in condensation off the Atlantic, has insufficient water. We have to talk in terms of this nature about water supply and the need not only for household water but water for industry. I speak in the sad light on the defeat of our Bill a few months ago. Yorkshire and Humberside badly need water for industrial purposes. My city and North Humberside is now qualified for intermediate status. A large national firm, which shall be nameless, was coming to Hull in 1962. It would have made an enormous difference to our economy. Unfortunately, it did not come to Hull because there were inadequate supplies of water.

I will not say how bad the Government are, but they have given us this week two good bits of fare in our diet, the Oil in Navigable Waters Bill, which we welcome, and now this Bill.

We on Humberside welcome the new procedure which the Minister is incorporating in the Bill. I speak on behalf of all Yorkshire and Humberside Members, particularly Hull, Sheffield and Barnsley, when I welcome the Bill. Our town clerks welcome it, and the Yorkshire Ouse Authority welcome it. It gives them power to do what they were thwarted in doing some weeks ago. When I think of all the time, money and inconvenience spent in getting ourselves shipshape for this, and then to be turned down in the Committee upstairs—

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Surely all the people mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in Sheffield, Barnsley, and so on, and the hon. Gentleman himself, would not object to the Order which would flow from the Secretary of State coming before the House under the negative procedure?

Mr. Johnson

I will come to that later. I know what is in the mind of the hon. Gentleman. May I just proceed on the matter of what happened on the Farndale Bill, or Derwent Water Bill, and why we feel to incensed about that? The facts have been related by my hon. Friend, who was a member of that Committee. We accept the time, inconvenience and expense, and even inadequate procedure in the House. But who thwarted us in the Bill? I can be blunt about this after a lapse of time. We have been told that because some hon. Gentlemen voted on the Floor of the House that they were thought to be committed and therefore they could not vote in that Committee, and we were left with a Chairman who had two votes, as was so vividly told by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North. Sir Knox Cunningham—I can name him now—who sat for a constituency in Northern Ireland, took exception to any of us here attempting in any way to even influence the course of events there. Yet he was able to deprive Humberside, Yorkshire, Sheffield, Barnsley and elsewhere of the water they needed badly. In my view this is a complete perversion of procedure and against all the ethics of the House. I hope that the Minister will convey my appeal to the Leader of the House that he should look at this sort of procedure upstairs when we have these contentious Bills.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) ought not to look at it now too much.

Mr. Johnson

I humbly apologise. I could not applaud more the local inquiry. Local farmers can come along, with little expense. The local Press attends. It is an honest, decent and clean way of getting local people on the spot to burst out and explode on matters which concern their families and homes, within a few hundred yards of the proposed reservoir. No one can complain about this. Never mind haggling about procedures in the House.

Suppose that there is enormous local feeling, as there is in the South West of England, Scotland and North-East Yorkshire, about amenities and natural beauty. Clause 2(4) provides that an order affecting a National Park or an area of outstanding natural beauty shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. Farndale was a classic example. Even if the local population feels aggrieved, the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon and his colleagues can come to the House and get a second bite, or a second fight, as the case may be. I yield to no hon. Member in my desire to see daffodils on a hillside and to have the opportunity of going on beautiful walks with my wife in North-East Yorkshire. There is scope in the Bill for anyone locally to pursue his battle or objection on the Floor of the House.

I believe that even in national parks, which have wonderful amenities, with daffodil walks and the like, a reservoir can be sympathetically designed in these enlightened and modern days. It can enhance the beauty of the landscape and at the same time help those of us in Hull who have our living to make and give jobs to our people. The Humberside can have its industry and water supply. People in Hull like daffodils. It is complete nonsense to think that only farmers—I will not call them peasants—and people who make up rural populations desire to see beautiful landscapes. We like to go for walks in the hills, although lazy people take a car.

This is a joint effort. No one, in European Conservation Year, has a monopoly of fine sensibilities. We have a common heritage let no one say, "I stand for amenity and beauty and those philistines in Hull merely want more and more water". We are all in this battle together. We all want to ensure that we have the quickest and most efficient procedure to satisfy the needs of everyone.

I support the Bill. It is a big step forward, and the sooner it is on the Statute Book the better.

2.53 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I welcome the Bill to a certain extent, but I have one or two objections to it, chiefly concerning the way in which sections of it remove from parliamentary scrutiny some of the precautions which we had before new reservoirs were erected in the country. It is true that in another place Lord Molson and others were successful in adding Clause 2(4)(a) to the Bill, which provides certain safeguards to the provision of new reservoirs in areas of outstanding natural beauty and in national parks, but I am not altogether satisfied with this insertion by the Lords in the Bill.

I wish to deal with my objections to the Bill as framed, and in particular with my concern that if it reaches the Statute Book valuable powers which Parliament possesses, and which it needs in the 1970s, will lapse. I should like alterations to be made to the Bill before its passage is concluded.

Until 1963 reservoirs and constructions and works of this nature were decided under the special parliamentary procedure. But the Water Resources Act, 1963, did away with the special parliamentary procedure, which called for a committee of members on both sides of both Houses to meet to discuss the merits of the Bill which was presented by the proposers. This procedure worked fairly well until 1963. It was apparently the intention of the Government of the day that the provision of new reservoirs should be made by Ministerial Order. As we have heard, something went wrong, and this Bill is apparently designed to enact in 1971 the wishes of the 1963 Parliament.

Since 1963 there have been several examples of Private Bills being introduced. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) mentioned the last three which came before the House, all of which were rejected as not being satisfactory. I remember the Empingham Reservoir Bill, which was passed and accepted as necessary in Rutland, and the Farndale Reservoir Bill, which after careful consideration by a Committee over three full days, and after the hearing of expert witnesses from Yorkshire who presented their case very carefully, was not accepted by the Committee.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), who was not a member of that Committee, and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock), who was on the Committee, both criticised the conduct of the Committee. They suggested that it was improperly conducted. In view of what you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said a short time ago, I shall not go into that matter except to correct a misapprenhension. I was one of the five members of the Committee, and, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North will confirm, three of them, after hearing all the evidence over three days, were opposed to the Bill. There was no question of the Chairman having to make a decision which overruled the wishes of the majority of the Committee. Three of the five members, including one Labour Member, thought that the preamble had not been proved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think that we should pursue this matter. We should keep strictly to the Bill. Several other hon. Members wish to make a contribution.

Mr. Farr

I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Whitlock

I do not wish to pursue this matter, but the hon. Member stated that I had said that the Committee which considers unopposed Bills was improperly conducted. I did not say that, as HANSARD will prove. I said that the procedures are such that they make a nonsense of the consideration of important Bills and one man can get a Bill thrown out.

Mr. Farr

Another point is that it is said that if we substitute the present Private Bill procedure, which may have its defects, with a system of local public inquiry the people who live in the affected locality will get something that they do not possess now. That is not strictly true. The Farndale Reservoir scheme had a public inquiry conducted on the spot by the clerk of the local river authority. Everyone who livid on the spot had the opportunity of putting their fears to those who were hoping to build the reservoir. It is wrong for Parliament to lose the power of scrutiny, of saying "Yea" or "Nay" for new reservoirs, because there are larger issues which may be decided by Parliament and which may not be seen from the depths of some Yorkshire valley. The local issues will be dealt with by the inquiry held on the spot but there are many larger national issues which are the proper concern of Parliament and it is right that we should have the opportunity to discuss the provision of new reservoirs.

The Bill has had added in another place Clause 2(4)(a) which gives the House of Commons the power to debate an Order which may be introduced if the new reservoir is to be established in a national park or in what is called an area of outstanding natural beauty. This is an additional help but I do not think that it will be effective. We should not simply single out these areas and let other parts of the country have new reservoirs placed upon them without any recourse to Parliament.

It has been suggested by the Minister that we are enacting the 1963 wishes of Parliament. I would point out that that was eight years ago, three Governments ago and three Prime Ministers ago. Many new Members have entered the House since, and they may have different views. This Bill was drafted by the Opposition in February last year, and the then Minister of Housing and Local Government said that he hoped to introduce it in the summer. It seems that it is a fag-end that we picked up from the Socialist Administration without any amendment or improvement.

What steps have been taken to sound out the current views of Parliament on this matter? Has my hon. Friend satisfied himself that the House is prepared to abandon all forms of control for the provision and siting of new reservoirs, at any rate outside national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty? Is he absolutely sure that this policy will not slow to a halt the already snail-like progress of schemes for alternative ways of obtaining water? For instance, does he think that the schemes referred to fairly recently on the reuse and purifying of water are likely to be pursued with as much energy now that, if the Bill goes through, local water authorities can obtain new reservoirs? Are schemes for the desalination of seawater likely to be pursued with the same energy if the Bill becomes law?

What has happened to the Wash and Morecambe Bay barrage schemes? Have the Government decided whether they will carry out a feasibility study for the Wash barrage scheme, and, if they have not, when are they likely to take a decision? Many people are concerned to be told about this scheme; even if it were decided upon now it would be no help for 10 years. We were told that 10 years ago and we still have not got the go-ahead for the feasibility study. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), with whom I know the House will sympathise in having to absent himself to attend his dentist in Harley Street, particularly asked me to raise this point with the Minister and to press for a short statement in his winding-up speech on our plans for the Wash Barrage feasibility scheme.

Is it not also a fact that in these local inquiries, which apparently will take the place of Parliament's guidance and control over these matters, the presiding officer will be a representative of the Ministry or of the Secretary of State for the Environment who will report back to the Secretary of State? If this is the chain by which the procedure is to be completed, at no time will the advice or the views of the Ministry of Agriculture be sought or be brought into account.

I said earlier that I should like to explain why Clause 2(4)(a) is inadequate. It gives a slight added protection in areas of outstanding natural beauty and in national parks by providing that an order proposing a new reservoir shall come before the House but I fear that that will make it more likely that water undertakers will avoid these areas and instead steer their new projects to areas outside those places. This is more likely to result in the use of good agricultural land for reservoirs than would otherwise be the case.

The Bill as it stands is neither one thing nor the other. It would be better without Clause 2(4)(a) than with it, but it would be better still if, instead of that Clause, there were a Clause establishing once again the special parliamentary procedure which would apply to all reservoir schemes, wherever they were situated, so that Parliament could conduct the scrutiny which I believe the 1971 House of Commons feels it should conduct.

3.07 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I shall confine myself to two main aspects of the Bill. The first of these no hon. Member has touched on so far, and it is the way in which the Bill will impinge upon the duties of the British Waterways Board. The board is under the ministerial jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and, therefore, under the same umbrella as the Bill, but one must remember that in the past the board has been vitally affected by many Private Bills brought forward by various river and other water undertakings, and the interests of the board may well be overruled by the new procedures set out in the Bill.

To give examples of what I mean, I must quote certain recent Private Bills which have come before us. For instance, in the Trent and Lincolnshire Water Bill the proposal originally was that the contribution of the British Waterways Board to that Bill would be met by the payment to the board of, I think, about £250 for the inconvenience and extra costs that it suffered as a result of works required of it on the Fosdyke Navigation. As a result of deliberations in Committee in the other place, the sum that was finally pitched upon to be paid to the board was £7,500, when the original proposal had been £250. That wide discrepancy between the proposed and the actual was the result of deliberations of and bargaining by agents and their learned counsel both in private and before a committee of one or other House of Parliament.

The fact remains that under the old system, however, unsatisfactory that was—and there have been many speeches today indicating the unsatisfactory nature of it—the interests of the British Waterways Board could be properly protected. I therefore appeal to the Minister to ensure that before the Bill goes to Committee he will view the legitimate interests of one of the nationalised industries under his umbrella with a view to ensuring that its interests are properly protected.

I tentatively suggest the insertion of a new Clause 3 providing that if any dispute should arise between any authority and the British Waterways Board the Minister should act as arbiter. At the moment no arbiter is announced or provided for, although disputes undoubtedly exist. Under Section 91 of the Water Resources Act, 1963, provision is made for the Minister to act as arbiter. I urge on him the propriety of seeing that all authorities under his jurisdiction, whether they be nationalised boards, water authorities or other bodies, have fair play at his hands, and accept him as arbiter in the event of dispute between them.

It is interesting to note that in the case to which I referred, concerning the increase from £250 to £7,500, the waterway involved was the Fosdyke Navigation, which so far as I know was dug out by slave labour during the Roman occupation of this country. It seems a far cry from that day to this.

I now turn to my agricultural anxieties about the Bill. These have been well dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) in his grumblings about Clause 2 (4). All those who have listened to the debate are acutely aware of the dangers that we shall run by doing away with the parliamentary sanctions available under existing legislation. Although the public inquiry is convenient to local people, and is very much cheaper—and always appears to be fair and above board—it is a sorry thing to remove parliamentary sanctions.

The provisions contained in Clause 2(4) will mean that a water undertaker that wants to build a reservoir—and the Swyncombe Reservoir, promoted by Plymouth and South-West Devon, immediately springs to mind as an example—swill think very long and cold about submitting itself to the new procedure. It would much rather go outright for ruining agricultural land than come into a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty, if only to save itself bother and cost. It is desirable that all reservoirs, wherever built, should be subject to the negative Resolution procedure, as was well outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins)—I am sorry that he has momentarily had to leave his place—when dealing with the reviewing committee referred to "the Minister's inspector's report." He corrected himself and referred to "the report of an independent chairman". My hon. Friend's thinking is exactly the thinking of so many of us—that these departmental tribunals, which are on the increase, in which some minion of the Minister is both judge and advocate, are very un desirable. Although we all appreciate the cumbrousness and difficulties of the old parliamentary procedure—

Mr. Denis Howell

This is the second or third time today that this has been mentioned. Like the Minister, I have had some experience of inspectors. I am sure that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) and others do not intend to reflect upon the absolute integrity of those inspectors. In my experience and the experience of most of those who have dealt with these matters, we as Ministers rarely see them. I do not think that I met one inspector in my time as Minister. But one is impressed by their painstaking way of doing their duties and producing their reports. Whoever appoints them should have a man of integrity, and that is what we get under our system. Although the hon. Gentleman may wish to criticise the system, I hope that he will not reflect on the integrity of Ministry inspectors.

Mr. Wells

I will not follow the hon. Gentleman, because he is completely out of order. We are discussing independent chairmen, not Ministerial inspectors. Frankly, I do not go along with him, but I do not want to get into trouble with the Chair. Many of these Ministerial inspectors may be admirable and honourable and upright men who have never taken a bribe in their lives, but they live in a narrow and blinkered world. Far from having the unbounded admiration for them which the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I would only point out that he represents a party which believes in more bureaucracy, and I represent a party which believes in less bureaucracy.

Under Clause 2 (4) there is a grave risk that agricultural land will be more, rather than less, prejudiced. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) made the valid point that it is possible nowadays to design a reservoir with sympathy for the surrounding countryside. Those of us who are interested in getting people into the countryside—his must include the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), who used to hold the humorous post of Minister for Sport—must approve of a sympathetically designed resevoir on Dartmoor or any other remote area, without great offensive works sticking up above the dam when they can be tucked discreetly beneath or well screened by trees. If it were possible to get river authorities and water authorities to consider siting reservoirs on the best possible site and not put before them the extra hurdle of Clause 2 (4) it would be to our great national advantage.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) made an unwarranted attack on our former colleague, Sir Knox Cunningham. I appreciate that he was speaking to show up the absurdity of the Private Bill procedure, but I deplore an attack on a former colleague. I believe that when the hon. Member reads his speech he may have second thoughts.

3.19 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I must first declare an interest in that the company of which I am a member is retained by the Association of River Authorities.

This debate has naturally concentrated on the question of whether the Bill will deprive the House and, therefore, the people of control over something which could affect their amenities, whether it be the countryside or an area of great natural beauty. In fact, the Bill does no more, as the Minister said, than regularise a situation which I am sure the architects of the 1963 Water Resources Act would have wished to include had they thought about it more carefully.

Considering the paraphernalia and rigmarole which river authorities have had to follow in initiating Private Bills and getting them through the House, this Measure will result in a considerable financial saving to them and will speed up the way water is made available.

This Measure is, of course, about water for people and industry. While we may get steamed up at the thought of losing areas of countryside, of agricultural land and of natural beauty for reservoirs, and while we may feel that there must be some other way of finding the water we need, the fact remains that there is no other way of doing so at present. Unless we intend to limit people in the amount of water they have, we must accept that reservoirs will he required and that we shall lose certain areas for that purpose.

The Bill concentrates on regulating reservoirs and deciding how the water should be taken to maintain the flow of rivers, to ensure that the flow is never less than it should be and, to put it another way, to support the level of abstractions. The Bill will allow discharges to be promoted by Ministerial Order, resulting in more abstractions being possible than would otherwise have been the case. That is the technical result of the Bill. In fact, it will do no more than change a procedure which would otherwise have had to be adopted by the Private Bill method.

I would like to think that the Bill will mean the more economical use of water, in that water will be drawn off only when a river's flow requires support. I was largely in agreement with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) when he spoke about water care. He spoke of 100 gallons per day per person being required within 30 years. I was going to say that the present demand is 35 gallons per person per day and that it is likely to be doubled by the year 2000. Whichever figure is correct, the amount of water demanded will be enormous and we must somehow meet the demand.

This is, therefore, not just a question of the availability of water, as the Minister recognised, although perhaps this is the limitation of this Bill, despite the fact it calls itself the Water Resources Bill. We must ensure that water is used to the best advantage, and on this point I find myself parting company from the hon. Member for Small Heath because I do not believe that we can be profligate about the way it is used.

We cannot say that everybody must be encouraged to have a bath a day. This may seem a small and silly point, but it is relevant to our thinking on this issue. In the same way, people should not be encouraged to clean their cars daily, water their gardens regularly or have swimming pools as a matter of course.

When conservationists and others refer to the cost of meeting the demand for water, the only way really to count the cost is to ask whether water has not become too cheap a commodity and whether we do not take too much for granted the precious thing it is. We tend to think that it is always there, because nature intended it to be there, and that we need only turn on the tap for it to flood out.

As for any attack that might be made on river authorities or, by inference, on the Minister, why should it be assumed that the river authorities are vandals, that they care nothing about the countryside and that we alone care? The people I have met in the river authorities give me no reason to think that they care any less about this problem than I do. Nor do I believe that they look upon reservoirs as an easy way out. They know, and we appreciate it although we do not always admit it, that there is no other way out. They have to meet the ever-increasing demands made on them, and they must find new sources.

Talk about ground water or transfer schemes as being able to fulfil this need is not realistic, any more than is talk about desalination. Various figures have been bandied about today but the report on the Jersey scheme shows that the cost is so enormous as to make desalination not a practical proposition, and the Water Resources Board has turned desalination down as being uneconomic. The same goes for barrage schemes. These would be a marvellous alternative if they existed, but none exists at present. We cannot, therefore, just ask: "Why not have a barrage scheme?" Even to say that is to presuppose that the technical problems involved can be overcome almost at the blinking of an eye, when almost exactly the opposite applies.

It has been said, and headlines have told us, that the country is beginning to face a water shortage. Only this week, referring to London's water supply, the headlines simply said: "Water needs: no cheap way out." That headline emphasised the fact that there is a limit even to the number of reservoirs we can have and to the amount of money we can spend on finding new sources.

Therefore, perhaps widening the debate a little, I plead with my hon. Friend to appreciate that a very strong case must be made out for a different approach to the use of water. We have to educate people to realise that they and they alone have the solution of water supplies in their hands.

We have talked about domestic use; but by the same token we should talk about industrial use. Industry must be made to be more water conscious, even if we have to use financial compulsion to achieve that end. It is a curious irony that fresh water which may flow from the reservoirs into the river at so much cost can so quickly become polluted and dirtied beyond the use of human beings and has then to be treated again before it returns to anything like its original state. That is a fantastic waste of one of our great national assets. If by this small Bill we are now merely regularising the situation, and adding something which perhaps should have already been provided, we should look forward from it to the whole concept of future water supplies, and how we can use water far more economically and sensibly and with far less destruction than is now the case.

3.29 p.m.

Mr. David Knox (Leek)

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, because this problem affects my constituency. A number of investigations at present being undertaken into the possibility of regulating reservoirs have caused considerable alarm to people in my constituency, as such reservoirs would affect their livelihood, their homes and their farms. Indeed, they would affect the entire basis of life in these areas.

I think that, on balance, we should support the Bill, though I must make it clear that it is only on a balance of the arguments. There are advantages and disadvantages. I readily accept that the Bill with its order-making proposals, has advantages over Private Bills not only from the point of view of Parliament and of promoters of schemes, but also from the point of view of many constituents who may wish from time to time to raise objections.

From Parliament's point of view the advantages are fairly obvious. First, there is the time factor. Each water Bill requires several days of the time of the House. Several schemes are put forward each year. This takes up a lot of Parliamentary time. As we are reminded every Thursday, parliamentary time is valuable. So the provisions of the Bill will help in this respect.

Secondly, there is an advantage for Parliament, in that most of the aspects in the Bills that have come forward so far have been of peculiarly local interest. True, broader issues have arisen, but it is difficult to see how any Member representing a constituency in Central Scotland or in the South-West or even in London could become tremendously interested in a scheme to promote a reservoir in North Staffordshire. In some respects such Members may be inclined not to take a great deal of interest in them. If similar schemes were coming forward in their constituencies, I do not think that I should be terribly interested. In considering the existing Private Bills, Parliament tends to spend a lot of time looking at something in which there is not national interest.

However, it must be recognised that the Bill involves a reduction in Parliament's powers; it involves the passing of some power from Parliament to the Executive. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and my hon. Friend the Minister have said, under the Bill Parliament will be able to reject a scheme in a national park or in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Although either one or both of these categories would take good care of any scheme in my constituency, this is a rather unsatisfactory procedure, for the good reasons advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells). I therefore ask the Minister to give serious consideration to extending this essentially negative procedure to all schemes. With respect to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), I do not believe that this will involve any substantial increase in the time factor in promoting a reservoir.

I turn to the advantages and disadvantages from the objectors' point of view. This is the point which is of particular interest to my constituents and myself. Obviously, there are advantages to objectors in terms of the cost factor. The order-making procedure as outlined in the Bill will enable small people to oppose reservoir schemes much more easily and at much less expense than under the existing Private Bill system.

Equally, it will be much easier for objectors to state their objections in the very much less formal and less terrifying atmosphere of a local inquiry than before a Parliamentary Committee. There is also the convenience factor. The fact that it is a local inquiry will enable them to attend regularly at no great expense and without coming to London. This is a real advantage from the point of view of an individual who wishes to object to such a scheme.

However, it would be wrong not to accept that the public have certain doubts about public inquiries. They have a feeling, rightly or wrongly, that inquiries of this nature tend to be biased in favour of the Establishment—and in this case the Establishment would be the authority promoting the scheme.

Part of the trouble arises, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, because the most likely person to preside over a public local inquiry would be a water engineer —someone who has devoted his life to the provision of water, someone who no doubt technically knows a great deal about water and has a great deal to contribute on the subject of water engineering.

But is such a person the best person to pass judgment on environmental factors? Is such a person the best person to pass judgment on agricultural matters? I think not. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider requiring that a county court judge or similar person should preside over inquiries of this nature. That might go a considerable way to allaying the real fears which people, in my constituency and elsewhere, have about this question.

I turn briefly to the Schedule and, in particular, paragraph 3(b), which states that when people request information about applications for orders under Clause 1, the river authority may require those persons to pay what is called a "reasonable charge" for being so notified. Is this really necessary? Should people have to pay for being notified that their land or their homes may be flooded? In any event, what is a "reasonable charge"? I hope that my hon. Friend may have second thoughts about this. It is not asking very much that people, particularly those directly affected by schemes of this sort, should be notified free of charge of what is likely to happen to their homes and property. It is not enough simply to say that in the fullness of time compensation will be paid.

I come now to a more general aspect behind the Bill. I am not opposed to its basic principles—on balance, I come down in favour of it—but I have one or two comments concerning the broader question of water. I have no particular objection to the construction of reservoirs in steep, rocky valleys with no good agricultural land and little natural beauty, at least in the lower parts of the valley. Indeed, in such circumstances the construction of a reservoir may well improve the scenery and provide recreational facilities which did not previously exist.

I take strong exception, however, to the flooding of areas of gently undulating countryside containing good agricultural land and areas of great natural beauty. In such areas, reservoirs do not improve the scenery. They waste the already scarce agricultural land and they probably reduce—they certainly do not add to—the recreational facilities. Today, however, there are more and more proposals for regulating reservoirs in such areas. In some places, great mud banks will be visible in previously beautiful countryside whenever there is a dry spell.

In my constituency, two such schemes are being investigated by the Trent River Authority in the Manifold Valley and in the Hamps Valley and two other schemes are being investigated by the Mersey Weaver River Authority at Rushton and Rudyard. I understand that all these schemes will be subject to the provisions of the Bill if it is passed. All four sites involve the flooding of good farming land. All four involve the spoiling or the changing for the worse of places of great beauty. Even if the schemes are not proceeded with following the present investigation, it is obvious that unless we can do something about this in the longer term, sooner or later they will be subject to a real threat and reservoirs will be constructed.

I hope, therefore, that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies, he can reassure the House that the Bill is being brought forward to deal only with immediate water problems. When they are real and urgent, I would not deny their necessity. I was glad that in his opening speech—and I hope that in his reply he will reiterate this—my hon. Friend gave some assurance that to deal with the longer-term problem, investigation into matters like desalination, estuary barrages, and so on, will be undertaken with considerable vigour. I hope that some of the proposals which have been suggested by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath and others will also be pursued with considerable vigour, because these surely must be the sources which are expected to meet our rapidly rising demands for water in the middle and more distant future.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

May I have the leave of the House to speak again to answer the questions put during the debate and comment upon the many constructive proposals which hon. Members have made, which may improve the Bill as it goes through its later stages.

First, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) in asking the House not to judge the Bill upon some assumption that all river authorities are villainous vandals. They are boards composed of human beings, as we are in this House; they have just as much regard, I am sure, for amenities as we have and would not wish to be looked upon as vandals when they propose the conservation of our water supply in this country.

Next, I touch on the second overall point, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) when he said that the Bill, so it is alleged, will reduce the power of Parliament. I ask the House to remember that Parliament has already vested in the Secretary of State the duty to secure an effective water supply, and in so doing it gave him these powers of Ministerial Order in 1963, which should now be made completely effective. I recommend any hon. Member who queries the definite statement of Parliament putting this duty on the Secretary of State to read Section 1 of the 1963 Act.

I come now to the shorter points which have been raised. I say "shorter", but they may none the less have as much importance as the more substantial points. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) spoke of the British Waterways Board and all other authorities having fair play. I refer him to Section 91 of the 1963 Act which gives exactly what he was asking for in the law as it stands at present.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) asked whether Clause 2(4) would be redrafted. For several reasons, it has to be redrafted, not in order to remove it but to make it effective and unambiguous. I shall look into the point which he raised.

The hon. Member for Small Heath raised the question of ownership of water undertakings, saying that this was not of great significance, that what we were concerned about was the conservation of water, and it did not really matter to whom it all belonged. I think it important that we should have the ownership of the undertakings right, and we expect to receive in a week or two the report of the Central Advisory Water Committee on the ownership and structure of administration of water undertakings. I hope to be able to announce to the House the Government's views on that report as soon as possible.

Mr. Denis Howell

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has just said, but may I just explain the point which I made, lest it was not entirely clear? I meant that we had tended in the past—I include my right hon. and hon. Friends here—to concentrate too much on the question of ownership. That is important, but, in my view, it is nothing like as important as the question of supply and distribution.

Mr. Page

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right there. It has been said several times in the debate that we must subject all these Orders to Parliamentary procedure. I say again that that was not thought necessary in 1963, and the basis for proceeding by Ministerial Order to carry out the responsibilities put on the Secretary of State—or the Minister, as he then was—appears in the very first Section of that Act.

Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), I feel that the local inquiry is the important thing. There, it is a matter of local pleading by the people who will be most seriously affected. There, the local evidence can be brought forward in a formal or an informal manner as is done at these inquiries. The one inquiry of which I know which preceded a Private Bill, the Farndale inquiry, came nowhere up to the standard of the inquiries which are set up by the Ministry. It was, after all, only an inquiry held by the river authority and thrown open to the public for a time.

Mr. Turton

There was in fact no public inquiry. There was an informal meeting between the river authority and a few people who live in that particular dale.

Mr. Page

That is what I thought was the position. It has been said that this Bill would prevent public feeling being expressed. But has public feeling been expressed under the private Bill procedure adopted over the past few years? The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) showed the nonsense of that procedure on one occasion. In the three instances which have been mentioned the procedure provided by this Bill would have been just as effective as the Private Bill procedure in allowing the House to take a decision.

The Yorkshire Derwent Farndale scheme went to an unopposed Committee. There were no petitions before that Committee from the general public or from anybody interested in the scheme, and the Committee rejected the Bill. Farndale is in a national park. If an Order is made in respect of that, it can come before the House on the negative procedure. Exactly the same thing applies to Swincombe, which is in a national park and also will come under the procedure in Clause 2 (4) of the Bill. Calderdale is in an area of natural beauty—although it is not specifically designated as such—which was the basis of the whole argument on Calderdale. Therefore, when any important amenity occasion arises the proposed procedure will allow the House to have a voice.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked who would preside over a local inquiry—would it be a water engineer? The answer is not necessarily. It would be an inspector of the Ministry or an independent inspector. In our Department at present we have two sets of men as inspectors. It may be that one of those will sit, with a water engineer as an assessor. In technical cases a water engineer would be the inspector, sitting with a planning assessor. It is for the Secretary of State to decide the form of the inquiry, but whatever it may be it will be held under one of those inspectors, whose impartiality is unchallenged outside the speeches which I have heard in the House today.

I was distressed when it was said that these inspectors would defend the Minister's decision. The Minister has not made any decision before the public inquiry. Sometimes he does not agree with the inspectors; in about 5 per cent. of cases on which an inspector reports the Secretary of State finds himself not in agreement with his inspector's report. When my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) spoke of these inspectors as minions of the Minister, he cannot know their great impartiality and conscientiousness.

Mr. Farr

I did not make any such reference.

Mr. Page

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon for attributing those words to him. Perhaps they were said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton asked me five questions on inquiries. He asked whether the inspector would have power to re peal existing Acts of Parliament. The answer to that is "No", he will not. He then asked what were the financial powers to charge those who receive no benefit from what is being constructed —I believe that he was asking whether there would be any financial implications in the Order itself. The answer again is, "No"; these Orders will not deal with that side of the matter at all. Charging is governed by Section 58 of the 1963 Act and is within the hands of the river authorities. Thirdly, my hon. Friend asked if there were any geographical limitations on the right to objections at these inquiries. No, certainly not. Anybody can turn up at the inquiries, and if they have a relevant objection they can be heard. The fourth point, which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), was as to whether there would be cross-examination at these inquiries. There will be cross-examination. They are searching inquiries in which anyone who has to put a case, as the river authorities will here, has to stand up to cross-examination on that case. If ever an inspector's report which showed that he had not allowed cross-examination came to the Department, it would go back to him for the whole inquiry to be reopened—if any member of the inquiry had not already taken it to the High Court. Thus I can give a definite assurance that cross-examination will occur at these inquiries if the objection is relevant to the point of the inquiry.

The fifth point was as to whether the Minister would be bound to accept the recommendations of his inspector, and again the answer is "No". The Secretary of State has the final responsibility here. The inspector's report finishes with recommendations. The Secretary of State has to consider the whole report, the findings of fact, the conclusions from those facts and the recommendation of the inspector. On planning inquiries, for example, as I have said, about 5 per cent. of the inspector's recommendations are not accepted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West asked whether the Minister would be obliged to report to the House if he disagrees with the inspector. The practice is that the Minister's decision letter is published. A copy is sent to the national Press, and to anybody concerned in the inquiry. The whole matter is made completely public. Thus anybody can see, if they are interested in a case, whether the Secretary of State has agreed with his inspector or not, and any right hon. or hon. Member of the House can raise the matter in the ordinary way in the House, by Parlia- mentary Questions, by early day Motions, Adjournment debates and so on. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, and it is his responsibility to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked several questions. In particular, he asked what steps I had taken to sound the current views of Parliament. That is what I am doing today. More than that, the Bill has already been through another place and has received the debate there and the publicity of that debate. My hon. Friend asked if I was sure that this would not halt the other ways of obtaining water. I tried to assure the House, when I proposed the Second Reading, that this would not be the case, and that we hoped to go forward with an effective national policy as soon as we had collected the many regional studies which were being made. My hon. Friend also asked whether the view of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is taken into account. I can assure him that in all these cases, planning, roads, and reservoirs, that I am never left in any doubt of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture thinks about the land which it is proposed to take. We always have a report on the agricultural value of the land.

As the hon. Member for Small Heath said, we have a critical water supply situation on our hands. He expressed it very well by saying that we are completely surrounded by water and have a heavy rainfall and that in those circumstances we should be able to provide water for ourselves by barrages, desalination or other schemes. These matters are being studied. The Wash report is receiving careful study now. The Water Resources Board proposed that there should be fresh water storage in bunded reservoirs and that there should be a study on that. The estimated cost is £1.1 million. We must carefully consider this matter before spending that amount of public money.

The result of the Morecambe study is expected this year. We are studying the question of the reuse of water. There are problems of retreatment. The study on desalination is already continuing. One or two figures have been mentioned in the debate. The one which I recollect is the cost in the Channel Islands of desalination, which is producing water at 10s. per thousand gallons. So that the situation does not look very hopeful, but I do not abandon the idea.

There is a growing demand and need for water. I accept, by and large, the Water Resources Board's assessment as quoted by the hon. Member for Small Heath. I would not commit myself to figures or dates. But the matter is serious and urgent.

The Bill gives legality to a more economical use of water, but it does not deprive us of the benefit of all the other matters which are under careful study. We are a nation of washers, splashers and flushers. There is no bottomless well of supply. I admit that at present it is rather a wishing well, but I am determined that it shall, as quickly as possible, become a systematic, scientific and sufficient supply for this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).