HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1442-7


(1) A Commission may at any time review so much of the boundary of any county as lies below the high-water mark of medium tides and does not form a common boundary with another county and may make proposals to the Secretary of State for making alterations to any part of the boundary so as to include in the county any area of the sea which at the date of the proposals is not, in whole or in part, comprised in any other county or to exclude from the county any area of the sea which at that date is comprised in the county.

(2) The Secretary of State may direct a Commission to conduct a review under this section of a particular boundary or not to undertake during a specified period such a review of a particular boundary, and may give a Commission directions for their guidance in conducting a review and making proposals under this section.

(3) Subsections (1), (2), (5), (6) and (7) of section 62 above shall apply in relation to a review under this section as they apply in relation to a review under the provisions of this Part of this Act which precede that section.

(4) The Secretary of State may if he thinks fit by order give effect to any proposals made to him under this section, either as submitted to him or with modifications.

(5) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.53 p.m.

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

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

The extent to which Brighton beach, Bournemouth shore or Blackpool sands are part of Brighton, Bournemouth, or Blackpool is one of the intriguing mysteries of local government. Generally, the local government areas extend to low water mark, but certain waters have been recognised as parts of counties by decisions of the courts. There have been specific decisions extended to Poole Harbour, Milford Haven, the Solent, Humber and the Bristol Channel, but the precise areas to which they extend are uncertain.

More generally, estuaries involve consideration of Section 27 of the Poor Law Amendment Act,1868, which deals with accretions from the sea. That is now Section 144 of the Local Government Act, 1933. Accretions are dealt with in Clause 73 of the Bill, and do not need to be dealt with in the proposed Clause.

There are also the problems about the provisions of general Acts which extend the jurisdiction of local authorities to waters outside their areas. Some of those provisions are in the Public Health Act, 1936. There are the provisions for the definition of waters contained in the Coast Protection Acts and in the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960. There are the problems of jetties, piers, dock entrances and the like, and the problems from the drawing of a boundary of a new area along the low water mark at a certain time instead of down to the low water mark. Then we have the circumstances that Bristol is treated as including an area of the Bristol Channel, extending to Flat Holme and Steep Holme.

It is undoubtedly time that the whole of this complex subject was reviewed. It is likely to become more complex in the light of modern developments, such as oil drilling, pipelines under the sea, enclosure of bays, marinas, pollution and so on. It may be desirable to bring particular areas of the sea which are not now part of local government areas into such areas, and it may be convenient to take some parts out.

But it would be a great difficulty to the House at this stage of the Bill to try to do that in detail. We now have the instrument for that review in the Boundary Commissions, and we should take the opportunity to enable the appropriate Commission, whether that for England or that for Wales, to make proposals to the Secretary of State for the inclusion in local government areas in England or Wales of areas of sea which do not form part of such local government areas but which it might be convenient to include within them.

The Clause enables both the English and the Welsh Commissions to review at any time so much of the boundary of any county as lies between the high water mark of medium tides and does not form part of a common boundary with another county, and to make proposals for altering the boundary so as to include in the county an area of sea not part of another county or to exclude any area of sea from the county.

The Clause applies the provisions of Clause 62 regarding the procedure for the conduct of reviews and sets out certain subsections of Clause 62 which are to apply to reviews by the Local Government Boundary Commission when it is dealing with these matters of including areas of sea within local government areas. The Secretary of State is given power by the Clause to effect changes by order subject to negative Resolution procedure.

As I have said, I think it right that we should take the opportunity, now that we have these Commissions, to review the whole position of areas of sea within local government areas, and the Clause takes that opportunity.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

The Minister gave us some warning of the new Clause when we discussed the matter in Committee, but I wonder whether he could give us some further clarification.

The Clause refers to "A Commission". That could presumably be a specific commission set up for the purpose of defining the law in relation to seaward boundaries, but the Minister has referred specifically to the Local Government Boundary Commissions for England and Wales.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the law on the matter is a particularly complex body of law, and a number of ancient Statutes are involved. When the matter was discussed in Committee it was suggested that it might be more appropriate to refer questions of tidying up the law on it, as distinct from defining the particular seaward boundaries of individual counties, to a special commission. Could the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the new Clause inevitably refers to the Local Government Boundary Commission doing the work or whether it might be possible for the Secretary of State to appoint special commissioners to define the law in this matter?

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)

What I have to say will be said briefly and will not be new to the Minister because of what I said in Committee.

Flintshire County Council is worried about a possible change in the existing boundary with Cheshire, which boundary is in the Dee Estuary. This is of great importance to my constituency, in that at present the Dee Estuary is largely marsh land, but if the Dee crossing which is being considered by the Government comes into effect, and if there are allied industrial developments—we have the large Shotton Steel Works which many of us hope to see developed in the near future—there will be considerable revenue in terms of rateable value.

Compared with Cheshire County Council, Flintshire County Council is a small authority, and there is considerable concern that the existing boundary may be changed to the detriment of the latter. Has the Minister any comments to make on that? To conclude, may I remind him that the boundary to which I have referred is also the boundary between England and Wales?

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My hon. Friend will probably recall that within the last month I have referred to him a query from the Southampton Port Health Authority. I hope that the new Clause will clarify the position about how that authority will fare when the Bill becomes an Act, bearing in mind that it is under the direct control of Winchester I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to convince me that the authority is covered by the Clause.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)

Perhaps I may reply first to the point raised by the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones). What is exercising the minds of the members of the Flintshire County Council about the boundary between Flintshire and Cheshire is that it is a boundary between two counties and also between two countries, England and Wales.

The only provision in the Bill which allows for changes in the boundaries between English and Welsh counties is in Clause 64, which provides for the making of joint proposals by the English and Welsh Commissions with the consent of the county councils concerned. The new Clause confers powers on each commission with respect only to areas in the sea, and expressly excludes from those powers the power to review any county boundary which forms a common boundary with another county. Furthermore, the commissions are not able to propose the inclusion within a county of an area of the sea which is already in another county. As I see it, those two provisions make it clear beyond any doubt that the commissions will have no power to review any part of the England and Wales boundary which could lie in the sea at some point below high water mark at medium tides.

In the main—if not entirely—the boundary between Flintshire and Cheshire is in the River Dee. The new Clause applies only to areas of the sea in relation to boundaries below the high water mark at medium tides, and, therefore, does not authorise the commission to review any boundary in a river. But even if part of the boundary in question were found to extend beyond the mouth of the river into the sea the fact that is a common boundary between two counties would preclude the commissions from reviewing it. I think I can fairly tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no doubt that the proposed new Clause will in no sense affect the definition of the boundary between those two counties.

I know the controversy that has raged between the two counties on this topic. It is a matter for the two county councils to try to agree. If they cannot agree about where the boundary in the Dee lies, the matter will remain unresolved unless they take the issue to the High Court, because it is a legal matter which would have to be judged by the High Court. It is not a matter which should be dealt with in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) asked about the composition of the commission. The interpretation of "commission" is to be found in Clause 257 on page 187 where it says that "Commission" means the English Commission or the Welsh Commission and not a special commission.

The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) is one for the Southampton Port Health Authority, and is not affected by the new Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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