§ Mr. Graham Page
I beg to move, Amendment No. 5, in page 4, line 27, 680 leave out 'twenty-eight days' and insert 'six weeks'.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 6, in page 4, line 29, leave out 'that period' and insert:'a period of fifty-six days beginning with the date of the first publication of the notice';and Government Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.
§ Mr. Page
Paragraph 1 requires the authority which is asking for an order to submit a draft order to the Secretary of State and to give notice that it has done so in one or more newspapers circulating in each locality. In paragraph 2 there is set out a list of what shall be included in that notice. Paragraph (e) says that the notice shallspecify a place in the river authority area where a copy of the draft order and of any relevant map or plan may be inspected by any person free of charge at all reasonble times during the period of—it says "twenty-eight days"—beginning with the date of the first publication of the notice;Paragraph (f) says that the notice muststate that any person may within that period, by notice in writing to the Minister, object to the making of the order".So taking those two paragraphs together, there is a period of 28 days for the objections to be made after the notice has been published.
The Amendment would increase that period to six weeks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) had an Amendment down in Committee extending the period to two months. There is some precedent for the period of 28 days in the Water Resources Act, 1963, but there is also a precedent for a period of six weeks in planning law on notices very similar to those set out in this Schedule. Not entirely by way of compromise, but by way of giving way to my right hon. Friend's powerful arguments on this point, I decided that it would be right to have regard to the time which is familiar to those concerned with planning law, six weeks, within which to object, and therefore to substitute here six weeks for 28 days.
We must strike a balance between giving objectors time in which to learn 681 of a draft order and to make their objections known and having the sort of delays which might result if we allowed too long a time for objections.
One will embark on this procedure because the conservation of water is needed in some areas very badly or because the transfer of water from one area to another should take place This is done for the good of the community and nobody will embark on this procedure unless the matter is of some urgency
We must, therefore, balance legitimate private interests against the public good. Because, in planning law, the time of six weeks is known as a reasonable period for objections, we have chosen it in the Amendment. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are consequential on Amendment No. 5.
§ Mr. Turton
I am obliged to the Minister for this concession. I agree that six weeks is better than the period originally suggested. Considering the remoteness of some national parks and reservoir areas, it is not always easy to ensure that all concerned are made aware of proposals of this kind, particularly as the postal service has not improved lately.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
It was on this point that, as a result of advice given to me by the water industry, I pressed an Amendment in Committee. I, too, wish to express my appreciation to the Minister for the change he has made in the Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in line 35 after "situated", insert:
- (b) every navigation authority, harbour authority and conservancy authority appearing to the river authority to have functions relating to any inland water into which any of the proposed discharges may be made;
- (c) all statutory water undertakers appearing to the river authority to be entitled to absaract water from any inland water or underground stratum at places at which it appears to the authority that the flow, level or quality of the water may be affected by any of the proposed discharges;
§ Mr. Speaker
I suggest that it would be convenient for hon. Members to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 8, in line 35 after "situated", insert: 682(b) any statutory water undertaking having the right to abstract water from the inland water or underground strata in which the flow level or quality of water may be affected by any of the proposed discharges;
§ Mr. Page
The Schedule points out in paragraph (1) that a notice must be published in the newspapers about a draft order submitted to the Minister. A copy of that notice must be served on certain bodies, and they are described in paragraph (3) of the Schedule. In (3)(a) it must be served onevery local authority within whose area any discharge point is situated.In paragraph (3)(b) it must be served onevery person who has given notice to the river authority requesting them to notify him of applications by the authority or orders under section 1 of this ActIn Committee we discussed whether these requirements were sufficient and it was suggested that other bodies, such as navigation, harbour and conservation authorities, should have an automatic statutory right to a notice. I have in Amendment No. 7 endeavoured to provide for a statutory notice to be given to such bodies, and the Amendment refers toevery navigation authority, harbour authority and conservancy authority appearing to the river authority to have functions relating to any inland water into which any of the proposed discharges may be made.The Amendment goes on in its second provision to refer toall statutory water undertakers appearing to the river authority to be entitled to abstract water from any inland water or underground stratum at places at which it appears to the authority that the flow, level or quality of the water may be affected by any of the proposed discharges.6.45 p.m.
It is in connection with the words "appearing to the river authority" that Amendment No. 7 differs from Amendment No. 8, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), for if we were to set out specifically that this notice shall be served on certain authorities whose functions do certain things or who may be affecting certain inland waters, it is possible that the river authority's opinion might be different from a court's opinion as to what authorities are included within that category.
I have deliberately left it in my Amendment to the opinion of the river authority as to what authorities may be 683 the right authorities to serve with a notice. I do so because I want to avoid the danger of the whole proceedings being invalidated by a court later saying, "This particular authority had functions which related to the inland water with which you were dealing and you should have served a notice on that authority." In that event, we would have to start all over again.
I do not think it likely that a river authority will go wrong on this. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in relying on the opinion of the river authority as to which of these kinds of authorities described in the Amendment should be served with a notice. This is certainly imposing on them a greater duty than would have been the case under the Bill as originally drafted, but I believe this to be the right course, having regard to the points made by hon. Members, and particularly by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), in Committee.
§ Mr. Turton
I am not as happy with this Amendment as I was with the last, mainly because of the words "appearing to the river authority". In a recent case a large reservoir was proposed and the local water authority learned that one of its abstraction points would be inundated by it only after the Bill—in that case it was a private Measure—had got some way forward. I regret that this point has not been more clearly defined.
Is it not possible for the Minister to make the position absolutely clear by instructing river authorities that they must notify all statutory undertakers in whose areas a discharge point is located and from which water is to be abstracted? I am sure that a clearer form of words could be found. Indeed, I would have thought that the wording in my Amendment would avoid mistakes being made.
Will my hon. Friend give the matter further thought? The Bill has yet to go to another place. Between now and then he might be able to find a form of words which will be somewhat more binding than those in Amendment No. 7. However, I am grateful for the way in which he has met the remarks that were made in Committee by myself and a number of hon. Members. We pressed him for proper notification and we are bound to 684 be disappointed at the weak type of language used in the Amendment.
I do not understand why the Minister insists on talking about "stratum". What is wrong with "strata"? This is new terminology to me. Water is usually found in strata and not a stratum. If my hon. Friend wishes to be pedantic, that is up to him and I will complain no further. I ask the Minister to look again at the words "appearing to the river authority". It might mean a rather recalcitrant river authority making the same mistake as in the past of not notifying the statutory water undertaker early on, and that makes it very awkward.
§ Mr. Spearing
I confess that yet again I have some sympathy with the point made by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). At the same time, I can see that the Minister wishes to guard against a complicated scheme being held up by a relatively small point. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for accepting the sense of the Amendment which stood in my name in Committee and incorporating it in paragraph (b) of the Amendment before us.
This matter primarily concerns navigation, harbour and conservancy authorities. These authorities will be concerned more often than not, if not always, with tidal waters. It was to protect their conservancy function regarding their waters that the Amendment was originally made. Where a natural inland river discharges into a tidal river, creek or estuary, the quality of the water being discharged is of great significance to the harbour or conservancy authority concerned.
I concede that in this case, with the discharges which we have in mind, the quality and quantity of the water, for which there is already statutory provision, may be increased and that, rather than cause these harbour or conservancy authorities any great trouble, it is probable that any increased discharge will make their problem a little easier. Nevertheless, it is right that they should automatically get a notification of changes in discharge. They will then have a forward-looking picture. We all know that the Bill, in relation to another piece of possible legislation in the next year or two, may change the structure of water movement throughout the country because rivers will be used more for 685 transfer of water from one place to another rather than pipelines.
I am grateful to the Minister for having incorporated these safeguards in his Amendment. However, I understand the caveat which he has put in, which is the only difference between this Amendment and the one I originally moved in Committee.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) properly expresses his appreciation to the Government for ensuring that when a river authority applies for an order under the Bill, navigation, harbour and conservancy authorities get proper notification.
The Minister will recall that my concern in Committee related to statutory water undertakers, as did that of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I know that the statutory water undertakers will be grateful for the extent to which the Minister has met their point. They are now written into the Bill and have the right to see any such notifications.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that when we look at the words which the Minister has found to meet our point, at first sight it seems surprising that this right is limited by the unfettered discretion of the river authority. I listened to the Minister with interest and I appreciated the dilemma in which he found himself about having these matters determined by the courts. If this is thought to be a matter of difficulty, then he has made the best of the situation.
The whole matter turns on whether river authorities can be expected to play the game. Whilst there has been the odd case—important, even if odd—where it has not happened, I prefer to think that river authorities are responsible bodies which will always give the statutory water undertakers the requisite notice if they are convinced that they are concerned.
I am sure that if an instance occurs where that does not happen it will be through inadvertence, not deliberate intent, on the part of the appropriate river authority. In any case, the Association of River Authorities, which has from time to time been briefing me and, I imagine, other right hon. and hon. Members who took part in the Committee 686 stage, is willing to give the appropriate guidance to its members to see that the Amendment is implemented in the spirit as well as in the letter. The long stop is that, if the worst fears of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton are ever proved accurate, the Minister, or his successors, would want to take an early opportunity of expressing a view and having another look at the situation. I do not think that that will happen. I think that the river authorities will notify all the statutory bodies. In that confident belief, I support the Amendment.
As this is the last opportunity we shall get before the Bill goes to Third Reading, I should like to say that this has been a very agreeable Report stage, not least because of the Minister's attitude. On behalf of the Opposition, I should like to express our appreciation.
§ Mr. Graham Page
With the leave of the House, I should like, first, to deal with the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mallon (Mr. Turton). I think that the singular "stratum" is right, not the plural "strata", when it comes after "inland water". If it had been "inland waters" then "underground strata" would be right. Anyway, everybody seems to know what it means.
Adding these paragraphs to the Clause as it stands will draw the attention of the river authorities to the fact that they must apply their minds to this matter, even if they have to service notice only to authorities which appear to them to be doing something. They must consider whether those authorities appear to be doing it and whether they should serve them with notice. I am confident that the right people will be served with notice by calling attention to it in the Bill.
I am grateful for the kind words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). It has been a happy Bill and I think that we have been constructive. Thanks are due to the Opposition, led by the hon. Member for Small Heath, for the way in which they have helped by putting forward constructive points. I hope that we have now got the Bill in a form which will be helpful to all concerned. I am grateful to those who have helped to put it into shape.
§ Amendment agreed to.687
Further Amendments made: No. 9, in page 5, line 6, after 'to', insert:
'the period of twenty-eight days referred to in'.
No. 10, in page 5, line 7, after second 'to', insert:
'the period of six weeks referred to in'.—[Mr. Graham Page.]
§ Motion made, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent signified]
§ Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.