HL Deb 24 June 1901 vol 95 cc1175-80

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Morley.)


My Lords, before this Bill is read a third time I ask leave to say a few words, on behalf of the county authority of the West Riding of Yorkshire, as to what occurred while the Bill was upstairs before the Select Committee. This is an important Bill for improving the water supply of the City of Leeds, and as such is, of course, favourably looked upon by the county authority; but it appeared to us that there were various minor points as to which objection might reasonably be taken and upon which safeguards were needed. Accordingly, the West Riding Rivers Board, as representing those interested in the rivers of the county, was instructed to prepare a petition against the Bill; but when the Bill came before the Committee, over which my noble friend Lord Hawkesbury presided, they refused the Rivers Board a locus standi to appear before them. We have been rather unfortunate in coming into collision with my noble friend, because some years ago, in a somewhat similar case—that of the Rochdale Water Bill—we were obliged to call in question in the full House the action of the Committee over which he presided. As a result of the discussion which then took place Standing Order No. 105D was added, which expressly gives county councils locus standi in cases in which the water interests of the county are likely to be affected. The West Riding Rivers Board is a large body, composed of eighteen members of the County Council, and twelve representatives of the great cities and county boroughs in the West Riding. When the matter came before the Committee the only argument that was used, so far as I can gather from reading the evidence, against the locus standi was that strictly the Board was only concerned with the actual pollution of the rivers; that is to say, unless there was a risk of foreign matters of an objectionable kind finding their way into a river through the provisions of the Bill, the Rivers Board had nothing whatever to do with it. On the other hand, it was argued that, as a matter of fact, there was actual risk of pollution occurring through the cleaning out of the filter beds, etc., and it was also contended that abstraction of water from the river, interfering with its flow, would increase pollution. But what was argued with, I think, still greater force was that, a locus standi having been expressly given to county councils in this matter, a fortiori the Rivers Board, which is the county council plus the representatives of the great Yorkshire cities and towns, morally demanded a locus standi unless very strong reasons could be adduced against it. That argument does not appear to have appealed to my noble friend's Committee, and, so far as this House is concerned, there is nothing more to be said, for I do not propose to ask your Lordships to throw out the Bill, or even to recommit it. But I would point out that the locus standi of the Rivers Board was admitted on the Halifax Bill, where it was a case, not of pollution, but of interference with continuous supply; and also, if I remember rightly, in the case of the Rochdale Bill. My noble friend said, on the latter occasion, that the Committee had made an offer to hear the Rivers Board, although they showed themselves unwilling to hear the County Council. My object in bringing the matter before your Lordships is to make an appeal to my noble friend the Chairman of Committees to consider whether it would not be reasonable to amend Standing Order 105D, so as to put the admission of these great Rivers Boards beyond doubt. Our procedure upstairs has many merits, but certainly not that of extreme inexpensiveness, and anything which tends to concentrate opposition instead of encouraging a great number of petitions must be to the advantage of this House. I therefore ask my noble friend if he will consider, when he comes to make amendments in the Standing Orders, whether it would not be possible for him to include these great Rivers Boards, which are, for all purposes connected with water, the county councils of the counties in which they exist, in the Standing Order.


My Lords, I regret that I did not arrive at the House till too late on Friday to hear this question discussed; but I was not aware that the noble Earl (Lord Northbrook) was going to raise it on the Third Reading of the Harrogate Corporation Water Bill. The noble Earl, however, has since told me the points he raised on that occasion, and, perhaps, I may be allowed to answer them at the same time as I reply to the remarks of my noble friend who has just spoken. I understand, from Lord Northbrook, that the first point he raised was that, in his opinion, the West Riding Rivers Board was included in the words of Standing Order 105 D, and, therefore, had a right to be heard. I cannot agree with the noble Lord on that point, and I do not think anyone who reads the Standing Order will take that view. I recollect the circumstances alluded to in which the Standing Order was amended—it was for the purpose of admitting County Councils. Nothing was said of the claim of Rivers Boards to be heard against such a Bill, and I think it was obvious that it was never intended to include them. As to the question of locus standi, which we disallowed, I may say, with regard to the first Bill—the Harrogate Corporation Water Bill—that the ground which was proposed to be taken by the promoters for their reservoir was entirely in the North Riding. Although, of course, the Committee would not refuse to give due weight to any arguments in support of the claim of the West Riding Rivers Board to a voice in the matter, in view of the fact that the water of the Pott Beck eventually reaches the river Ure, and flows thence to the Ouse, we could not help taking into consideration the fact that the North Riding Rivers Board had not intervened in the case, and that it was outside the jurisdiction of the West Riding Board. With regard to the Bill now before the House—the Leeds Corporation Water Bill—a portion of the proposed works was within the West Riding, and therefore (though this portion of the works has since been struck out of the Bill) the case was then different. The case of the Halifax Bill, which was before Lord Poltimore's Committee in 1898, was brought forward as a plea for giving them a locus standi. That case was handed up to us, and I believe the reason a locus standi was then given was that the mill owners had the right of impounding the water on Saturday and Sunday nights, leaving the bed of the river dry in that interval, and it was proposed to continue that right in the Halifax Bill. That was a different case entirely from the present one, and, as Lord Crewe has said, it necessitated the appearance of the West Riding Rivers Board as the sanitary authority. At the same time it was brought before us in evidence that in the Barnsley case and also in the Sheffield case, where the conditions were different, a locus standi was not granted. I now come to our main reason for declining to hear the Board. The Rivers Board is a sanitary authority, and takes its powers under the Rivers Pollution Acts, 1876 and 1893, which were passed with the object of preventing persons putting solids, refuse, and other deleterious matter into rivers. There was nothing of that in this case, and, therefore, the Committee could not see, and I fail to see at the present time, any relevance in the appearance of the West Riding Rivers Board. It was urged that in cleaning the filter beds there might in the future be some pollution, but it appeared to us that if that should hereafter happen, then would be the time for the Rivers Board to intervene. As to the suggested alteration of the Standing Order, I cannot help thinking that it would be unnecessary, for I feel sure that no Committee would refuse to hear any evidence that might help them in coming to a decision. Besides this, the Standing Order, as it reads at present, may be useful in making these bodies consider carefully before rushing into opposition, and in preventing what in many cases may be a waste of the ratepayers' money. I therefore hope that the Standing Order will not be amended.


My Lords, I think there is no doubt whatever that my noble friend who presided over this Committee acted absolutely within his right in refusing to grant a locus standi to the West Riding Rivers Board. I do not think there can be any question that the Rivers Board is not included in Standing Order 105 D, which gives to county councils an imperative locus standi. I have looked carefully through the proceedings of the Committee, and I think, from what my noble friend has just stated, and from what I have gleaned from reading the proceedings, that in this particular case no injustice or harm has been done by refusing the locus standi. At the same time, no doubt, there has been, as there always is in these cases, a certain amount of inconsistency in the way in which locus standi has been given to local boards in the past. There were peculiar circumstances in the Halifax case, which rendered it necessary, in the opinion of the chairman of that Committee, that the Rivers Board should have a locus standi. There are, I think, only three of these Rivers Boards in England—the Mersey Board, in Lancashire, and the boards of the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire. They exercise considerable influence, and, as administrators of the Rivers Pollution Acts, have even more powers than the County Councils. Except in these three cases the County Councils administer these Acts, especially the Act of 1876, and it was in respect of that qualification that the House thought fit to lay down, by the Standing Order which I have already quoted, that where waters in their districts were concerned they should be heard. It leaves no option to the Committee to refuse to hear them. I confess it seems to me that, in dealing with these very important bodies, which not merely represent the County Councils but the county boroughs within their area, it would be desirable for Committees to strain a point in listening to their evidence. I would venture, with all submission to the Committees, to suggest that where this occurs it would be desirable, as I have said, to strain a point to hear them. But as the application from such bodies for a locus standi are few in number, I do not think it is worth while to go so far as to alter the Standing Orders. If that were done in this case, I might be called upon to alter them to meet the cases of other similarly constituted bodies. I will, however, consider the matter carefully before the Standing Orders are altered in the present year, but I trust that the expression of opinion which I have ventured to give to the House may have the effect my noble friend desires.


My Lords, I am glad to hear, from the statement of my noble friend, that he considers that these Rivers Boards have some claim, at all events, to be heard before Committees on occasions of this kind. There are but three such boards, no doubt, but they are important bodies. The Rivers Board of the West Biding of Yorkshire is entrusted with very large and very difficult powers, for there are few things more difficult than the management which is necessary to prevent the pollution of rivers in manufacturing districts, and I should regret anything which would place it in a position which even appeared to be one of inferiority to the County Councils. In that event I think it would be inevitable that the County Councils would themselves petition, in which case, as the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees has pointed out, they would have an imperative locus standi. Inasmuch as this particular business has been handed over from the County Councils to the Rivers Boards, I venture to think that they should be placed upon the same footing as the County Councils in the matter of locus standi. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Hawkesbury in deprecating the habit of some County Councils of petitioning unnecessarily against Bills, but it is not a good method of stopping that practice to deny a locus standi to a public body which has a claim, at all events on some occasions, to be heard.

On Question, agreed to; read 3a and passed, and sent to the Commons.