HL Deb 13 March 1906 vol 153 cc1053-61


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill under circumstances which will be quite familiar to the great majority of your Lordships. But as some possibly may not be aware of them, I will simply state the reasons why I have been asked to discharge this duty. The noble Earl opposite, who is interested in the county, having given notice to move the rejection of the Bill, according to the usual custom which governs the etiquette in this House in these matters the Chairman of Committees does not move the Second Reading. I have, therefore, been asked by the promoters of the Bill to put in very general terms the case for the Bill before your Lordships, and to ask that your Lordships will be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading. In doing so, I shall carefully avoid anything like an argument upon the merits of the Bill, because, whatever its merits, or whatever its demerits may be, the main part of my case is that the contents of this Bill are matter for discussion upstairs in the Committee Room and not in a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House.

The object of the Bill is to get an increased supply of water for the two towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The inhabitants number 80,000 or more, I am informed, and in the summer there is a considerable influx of visitors and of fishing population. I need not dwell upon the fact that for great communities of this kind it is of the first importance, on account of considerations of health and general sanitary considerations, that the supply of water should be of the best and the most abundant. The water companies are advised that the sources to which they propose to go under this Bill are the best that are available under all the circumstances. That is a point which can be much better discussed upstairs, where the Committee which I hope your Lordships will ultimately appoint will have the benefit of the best engineering and first-hand evidence, and where that evidence can be tested by examination and cross-examination in the usual way.

There is no fear of the questions which are at issue in this Bill going by default. I observe that petitions have been presented against it, or against, I should say, some of the clauses, by the Norfolk County Council, the Great Yarmouth Corporation, the Great Yarmouth Court Commissioners, the London Drainage Commissioners, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England, and some private persons who think their interests are affected. They make in those petitions various allegations. They allege that the proposals of the promoters of the Bill will interfere with the navigation of the River Bure, with boating and the mooring of vessels, and with, I believe, sailing and water expeditions upon the Broads. Also, the purity of the water is challenged, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners say that their estates and their tenants will be injuriously affected. Those are the facts that are alleged. What substance is, in them I do not know; but, my Lords, I have read through the Bill and through the petitions, and with such experience as I am able to bring to bear on the matter I am able to say that there is nothing whatever in this Bill which is beyond the ordinary practice of Parliament.

It is possible that the water companies are asking too much. I have known promoters of Bills ask for too much before. I think it is probably very seldom that any Bill comes before your Lordships which is not open to criticism of that sort. It is possible that even the County Council or the Corporation of these towns may be putting their case too high. But my point is this, that these matters can be efficiently and best tested, not in a Second Reading debate in which noble Lords like myself or others will make ex parte statements on second-hand information, but before an impartial and fair tribunal upstairs. That is really the whole of my case. I can see from reading the clauses of the Bill that there are some drastic proposals made. There are proposals for preventing people putting refuse into the river. It seems to me that that is a reasonable proposal, whether you are going to use it for a water supply or not, but certainly much more so if you are going to use it in this way. There are also allegations that the mooring of vessels will be interfered with unduly and navigation interrupted; but my point is that the Town Council of Great Yarmouth may be thoroughly well trusted to bring all these matters to the knowledge of the Committee upstairs before whom I hope your Lordships will send the Bill. There is no fear of injustice being done if it goes there and a thorough examination is conducted into the merits of the Bill and the opposition to it; but I do think your Lordships will be taking, I will not say an unprecedented, but a most unusual course, if you stop investigation at the very beginning in a matter of this kind.

The broad facts of the case are these, that there are communities of from 80,000 to 100,000 who are desirous of a better water supply, and who come to your Lordships' House and tell you that this is not only the best but the only source of supply available. In these circumstances I move the Second Reading of the Bill. I know that negotiations are going on for the settlement of most of the matters which are alleged in the various petitions. I do not know on what ground the noble Earl is going to oppose the Bill; I do not know whether he is commissioned to act for any of the bodies I have named; the reasons for his action are undisclosed, and therefore I shall say no more on the subject at the present time, but, if it should be necessary, I will ask your Lordships to hear me in reply.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I am perfectly aware that it is not very usual to move that a Bill of this kind should not be sent for consideration to a Committee. My reason for doing so in this case is this. There is in the county of Norfolk an extraordinarily strong feeling against the water of the Bure being taken away to supply Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. To begin with, Lowestoft is not in the county of Norfolk, and we feel very strongly that as there is a pure river in Suffolk it could very well be made use of to supply Lowestoft with water. I am perfectly certain that the Bill, if it is not thrown out by your Lordships' Committee, should it be sent up to a Committee, will be thrown out in another place when it gets there; and for this simple reason. The Broads of Norfolk are the great playground in the summer months of all sorts and conditions of His Majesty's subjects, and if you take away a very small portion of the water from the River Bure you will inevitably destroy that playground. Many noble Lords know what a charming place the Norfolk Broads are, and if a very few inches of water only are taken from the Bure thousands and thousands of people will be deprived of the delightful holidays they now spend there in the months of August and September. That is one argument.

There is another very strong argument for not reading the Bill a second time. The Great Yarmouth Corporation have bitterly opposed it. Why? Nobody knows the reason for that action better than myself. The quality of the water is such that it is absolutely unfit to be given to the Yarmouth people to drink. I have been chairman of a rural sanitary authority hard by, and I know that the water of the River Bure is so absolutely impure that it cannot be used for any purpose. It is hardly fit for anything except for sailing up and down on. Many of the wells that have come under my notice as chairman of the rural sanitary authority to which I have referred have been proved to be absolutely impure and full of very bad organic matter. There was a very exhaustive inquiry and everything possible was done to prevent sewage matter running down into the Broads. It is, however, absolutely impossible to prevent the intakes into the River Bure. It is impossible to render it perfectly pure. The water is practically marsh water; it flows on mud. More than that, this is a tidal river and the tide comes up to the point at which it is intended to take the water. I do not think it is fair to propose to supply Great Yarmouth with brackish water, however much you try to filter it.

At the present time a Royal Commission is sitting on our public water-ways. The River Bure is a public water-way. There is a great deal of trade done on that river, and if you take water from it you will only take it in the summer time, which is the very time when it is wanted, not only for the amusement of the public, but also for trading purposes. The Port and Haven Commissioners are strongly opposed to this. One Commissioner is well known to your Lordships—I refer to Mr. Taylor. He has taken an enormous interest in this matter, and he assures me that if in the summer time we lose two inches of water it will materially affect our trading wherries. Again, if two inches of water are taken, or even if one inch only is taken, we shall be deprived of the facilities we now have for landing stone for our roads, and if we lose these facilities we shall have to convey stone by rail and our rates will considerably suffer in consequence. It may be said that we can dredge, but that is impossible.

There is another reason why I hope your Lordships will not consent to this Bill being read a second time. The Yarmouth Corporation say in their petition, not only that the water is bad, but that the supply of water—and I agree with them entirely in this—to a large place like the borough of Yarmouth should be in the hands of the local authority, and that no power should be given to a company to interfere with them or add to the price that will have to be paid at a future date on the acquisition of the undertaking by the Corporation. If this scheme is carried out the local authority, when they purchase, as I hope they will, will have to undo all that is done under this Bill. The people of Norfolk do not want to lose the playground which is a source of great income to them; the Port and Haven Commissioners do not wish to see imperilled the wherries that trade up and down; and, more than that, the Great Yarmouth Corporation do not want to have foisted upon them a water supply which I believe, and which they are perfectly certain, is absolutely impure. For that reason I move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— To leave out the word 'now,' in order to insert at the end these words: 'this day six months.' "—(The Earl of Kimberley.)


My Lords. The noble Earl has taken the course, which is not very usual in your Lordships' House, of asking the House to reject this Bill on Second Reading. He has alleged, as a reason for taking that course, that the Bill may interfere materially with the enjoyment of the general public on the Broads of Norfolk, and he has appealed to some of your Lordships who know that country to assist him in rejecting the Bill. The noble Earl said the water was impure. I happen to have had the advantage on more than one occasion of enjoying a cruise on the Norfolk Broads, and I have drunk—at least some of the crew drank—the water of the Norfolk Broads. I cannot charge my memory with what I drank on board the vessel, but the crew drank the water and so far as I know no one was any the worse.

The noble Earl informed your Lordships that the Bill would be strenuously opposed. By whom is it to be opposed? It is going to be fought by the Norfolk County Council; and I ask your Lordships whether any more proper body could be entrusted with the defence of the interests of the county, and, indeed, of all those who frequent the Norfolk Broads, than the Norfolk County Council. I venture to think that your Lordships, who are not acquainted with all the facts and circumstances of this case, may quite safely leave the defence of the Norfolk Broads in the hands of the Norfolk County Council. The whole of the circumstances will be gone into with the aid of able counsel, and I hope your Lordships will not refuse to allow the Bill to go in the ordinary course to a Select Committee. If it were not opposed by those quite capable of taking care of themselves, my view might be different. But in view of the fact that it is opposed by the Norfolk County Council, who distinctly allege in their petition that it will interfere with the pleasure traffic on the Broads; and by the Corporation of Great Yarmouth, who allege that the water is not of a quality that should be supplied to Great Yarmouth, I think your Lordships may safely allow the Bill to go before a Committee. I ask your Lordships, therefore, not to depart from your usual practice, but to send this Bill for consideration to a Select Committee.


My Lords, I would ask my noble friend behind me not to press his Amendment to a division. The noble Earl has stated a great variety of circumstances which he thinks tell against the Bill, but I agree with the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees that they are just the questions to be inquired into by a Select Committee. It would, I think, be very unusual, if not altogether inconsistent with the ordinary practice of this House, if we were to attempt to intercept this Bill on Second Reading on the grounds which have been brought forward. I venture to hope, therefore, that my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment.


After what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has said, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Scottish Union and National Insurance Company Bill [H.L.]. Presented; read la; and referred to the Examiners.

Milford Docks Bill [H.L.]; H. R. Baines & Company Bill [H.L.]; Crystal Palace Company Bill [H.L.]. Reported, with Amendments.

Wallasey Tramways and Improvements Bill [H.L.]. Read 2a (according to Order), and committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.

Dover Harbour Board Bill [H.L.]. Read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Bill [H.L.]; Penllwyn Railway and Road Bill [H.L.]; London and North Western Railway Bill [H.L.]; Great Western and Rhymney Railway Companies Bill [H.L.]; Barry Railway Bill [H.L.]; Western Valleys (Monmouthshire) Sewerage Board Bill [H.L.]; Cardiff Railway Bill [H.L.]. Report from the Committee of Selection, That the following Lords be proposed to the House to form the Select Committee for the consideration of the said Bills; (viz.), E. Verulam, E. Dartrey (chairman), L. Monson, L. Seaton, L. Somerton (E. Normanton); agreed to; and the said Lords appointed accordingly. The Committee to meet on Thursday, the 22nd instant, at eleven o'clock; and all petitions referred to the Committee, with leave to the petitioners praying to be heard by counsel against the Bills to be heard as desired, as also counsel for the Bills.

Mersey Railway Bill [H.L.]; Wirral Railway (Extension of Time) Bill [H.L.]; Wallasey Tramways and Improvements Bill [H.L.]; Accrington District Gas and Water Board Bill [H.L.]; Holyhead Water Bill [H.L.]; Fulwood Urban District Water Bill [H.L.] Wolstanton United Urban District Council Gas Bill [H.L.]; Preston, Chorley, and Horwich Tramways Bill [H.L.]. Report from the Committee of Selection, That the following Lords be proposed to the House to form the Select Committee for the consideration of the said Bills; (viz.), E. Cawdor (chairman), V. Hill, L. Ellen-borough, L. Abinger, L. Northbourne; agreed to; and the said Lords appointed accordingly. The Committee to meet on Tuesday next, at Eleven o'clock; and all petitions referred to the Committee, with leave to the petitioners praying to be heard by counsel against the Bills to be heard as desired, as also counsel for the Bills.

Wallis' Divorce Bill [H.L.]. House in Committee (according to order). An Amendment made; Standing Committee negatived. The Report of Amendment to be received on Thursday next.