HL Deb 13 March 1911 vol 7 cc423-32

My Lords, I rise to move, pursuant to notice. "That it is desirable that the Metropolitan Water Board (New Works) Bill [H.L.] be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament." It will be necessary, I think, for me to say a few words in support of this Motion. The inquiry will have to be a large and expensive one, and it seems to those who have looked into the matter and are chiefly concerned that it would be desirable that it should be done before a Joint Committee rather than before two separate Committees for the saving of expense and time and for other reasons. There is another Bill—the Thames Conservancy Bill—which should probably go alongside this Bill, but that Bill originates in the other House of Parliament. There is not, so far as I know, any recent precedent for referring Bills which originate in different Houses to a Joint Committee. At any rate, it is quite clear that we in this House cannot send a Message to the other House of Parliament asking that their Bill should be referred to a Joint Committee, but I have reason to believe that if this Motion is agreed to to-night the other House, in responding to this Motion, will probably ask that their Bill should be referred to the same Committee, and then any technical difficulty that there is can be got over.

I shall, as a matter of course, if the Motion is agreed to, give notice on a subsequent day of a Motion extending the time for depositing petitions, so that no petitioner may be put to a disadvantage by this procedure. The reason for that, as many of your Lordships know, is that sometimes opponents reserve their opposition to the second House of Parliament, and as this Bill is originating in this House some who desire to oppose may be postponing their opposition until the Bill reached the other House. To obviate that difficulty and to be perfectly fair, I shall, if this Motion is agreed to and the other House assents, ask your Lordships to extend the time of petitioning, so that any petitioner in that position should not be prejudiced. I do not propose to say more, and I certainly shall not attempt to forestall what the noble Lord will say in proposing the addition to the Motion of which he has given notice. But I may remind the House that in all probability it will be quite unnecessary.

I may tell your Lordships that there are sixty-four petitions against this Bill and questions affecting public and private interests will be raised from very many points of view, and that, in addition to complaints of apprehended injury to the locality directly affected contained in the petitions of practically all the public' authorities, the question of actual injury to the scenery of the River Thames—the main point in the Amendment which my noble friend will propose—and its amenities as a pleasure resort is expressly raised by the Thames Conservators, time Surrey County Council, the Kingston-upon-Thames Corporation, the Walton-upon-Thames District Council, and two or three parish councils, as well as by a considerable number of land owners. In the meantime I confine myself to making the Motion which is on the Paper.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that the Metropolitan Water Board (New Works) Bill [H.L.] be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament—(The Chairman of Committees.)

*LORD EVERSLEY rose to move, as an addition to the Motion, "And that the Committee be empowered to consider the proposals of the Bill in relation to the public interests, as well as to the various interests directly affected, and to inquire and report whether any of the works proposed will seriously interfere with the scenery of the River Thames and with the interests of the public using the river as a pleasure ground, and what safeguards are necessary for the protection of such interests."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposal of my noble friend the Chairman of Committees is to refer this important matter to a Joint Committee of both Houses. Consequently there will be one inquiry and not two as in the case of ordinary Private Bills. If. therefore, there is any mistake committed or any injury not sufficiently considered, there will be no opportunity of revising the matter by a second inquiry in the other House. It is on this account that I think it desirable to move the Amendment of which I have given notice, in order that there may be a full inquiry into the interests of the public as regards the River Thames in respect of the proposals contained in this Bill.

Probably very few of your Lordships estimate what the real effect of this proposal of the Metropolitan Water Board is in respect of the reservoirs in the Thames Valley. The proposal is to construct no fewer than eight reservoirs near Staines and Walton. Each of these reservoirs is to be over 300 acres in area—that is to say larger than the area of Hyde Park, including the Serpentine. These reservoirs are not to be excavated in the ground so that when full of water the water would be on a level with the adjoining ground, but they will be above the ground and surrounded by immense embankments raised to forty or fifty feet above the adjoining level and, in my view, of a most hideous character. It is possible to form some opinion of them from the reservoir which has already been constructed near Staines. It is a reservoir containing about 400 acres of water, and I think any one who visits it and sees the gigantic embankment round the reservoir will admit that it is a great eyesore to the whole district, and one which it is not desirable to repeat if possible.

One of these eight reservoirs is to be constructed within a few yards of the River Thames at Walton, and over a distance of a third or a half a mile the huge embankments, forty feet high, of this reservoir will overtower the river, and. in our view, entirely destroy its amenities in that district. Two other reservoirs are to be constructed higher up the river at Wraysbury, and there, again, for something like a third or a. half a mile these monstrous embankments will overtower the river and destroy its amenities and the scenery of an extremely beautiful reach. I may remind the House that the River Thames has been specially dedicated to the use and enjoyment of the people of London and the people of other towns in the Valley, first by The Thames Preservation Act, 1885, and later by the Thames Conservancy Act, 1895. It is specially mentioned in both of these Acts as a place of recreation and of resort for the people of London. These are the words— With the intent that the river should be preserved as a place of regulated public recreation. It appears to me, therefore, that no interference with the amenities of the river or with its scenery should be allowed, except after very careful and deliberate inquiry.

It will no doubt be represented—in fact, already my noble friend has represented—that the interests of the public of London in this respect will be sufficiently safeguarded by the numerous petitions which have been presented in respect of this Bill; but I am informed by those who have carefully examined the petitions that there is not one which approaches the subject from the exact point of view which I do—namely, from the point of view of the people who use the river as a pleasure resort. There are two or three petitions which deal with the amenities of the river, but there is not one, I am told, which deals with the question from the exact point of view which I have endeavoured to present to the House—namely, the interference with the scenery of the river and with the enjoyment of the river by those who go to it for pleasure in the manner contemplated by the Acts I have quoted.

There is one petition to which I think it necessary to advert—namely, that of the Thames Conservancy. One would suppose that the Thames Conservancy would be deeply interested in preserving the amenities of the river and its scenery. In one clause of their petition they do speak of the interference of this scheme of reservoirs with the amenities of the river, and they say that the construction of the reservoirs must of necessity impair the general amenities of the riverside. But they go on to ask, not that the reservoirs shall not be constructed or that they shall be withdrawn to a distance from the river where they would not be destructive of its amenities, but that the embankments may be planted with shrubs and trees. The planting of the embankments with shrubs and trees will in no way remove the difficulties and objections I have raised. It appears to me, therefore, that there is not much to be gained out of the opposition of the Thames Conservancy; and I believe it is generally understood that the Thames Conservancy have come to an understanding with the Metropolitan Water Board, and that they raise no substantial objection in principle to the erection of these monstrous embankments close to the river. I do not know whether the Chairman of the Thames Conservancy is in his place, but, if he is, I should like to ask him whether it is not the fact that an agreement has been arrived at between the Thames Conservancy and the Metropolitan Water Board which admits in principle the construction of these monstrous reservoirs.

I move this Amendment in the interests of an association called the Thames Preservation League, a body which was created some few years ago. It consists mainly of representatives of other associations deeply interested in London questions, and especially in open space questions, and was formed for the purpose of resisting attacks on the River Thames in Parliament very much of this kind. It has, however, no locus standi to appear before the Joint Committee, nor has it any funds to fight a great Parliamentary contest. What I ask is that it may be put in such a position, through the Amendment which I propose, that the Committee may, if they think fit, call upon this body or any others to present a case on behalf of the public against these reservoirs as now proposed. I could quote many precedents for the course I propose. When I was in the House of Commons I took part in many discussions where Motions were made for Instructions to Select Committees, directing them to take into consideration the public interests in respect of Private Bills under consideration.

It has always seemed to me that one defect of our Private Bills Committees has been that the public interests are not sufficiently considered. The Committees have before them counsel and witnesses representing different interests, and if those interests come to an agreement the public interests may be left in the lurch. It is on this account that in many cases I have thought it expedient and wise to ask for the instructions of the House that the public interests might be duly considered and reported on by the Committees. One very important case of the kind was the Birmingham Water Bill in 1887. In connection with that Bill I moved an Instruction that the Committee should receive evidence and report upon public matters of great importance relating to a large area of land which the Birmingham Corporation proposed to take in Wales for the purposes of their scheme. The Motion was strongly opposed by Mr. Chamberlain, very much on the same grounds as those on which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will probably oppose this Motion. It was opposed on the ground that the same points might be raised by other opponents to the Bill, and that the Corporation of Birmingham were sufficiently aware of the interests of the City of Birmingham, and that it was unnecessary that the interests of the public should be presented to the Committee by evidence in the manner proposed. But the House of Commons did not take this view. The House agreed to my Motion; we had the opportunity of laying evidence before the Committee; and the Committee eventually decided in our favour and inserted all the clauses which we considered desirable and necessary.

Another case of the same kind somewhat later was that of the Lochearnhead Railway. In that case it was proposed to construct a railway where it would interfere greatly with the amenities and beauties of the valley and river in that district, and we moved an Instruction to the Committee to the effect that they should take into consideration the possible effect of the Bill in destroying the scenery of the district and the amenities of the valley. There, again, the House of Commons agreed to the Instruction, and the Committee took other evidence than that presented by the ordinary petitioners. They took evidence which was presented independently by those who had no locus standi, and eventually decided on making various alterations in the Bill which completely met our views. It is precisely on the same ground that I ask your Lordships to pass this addition to the Motion of my noble friend, and authorise the Committee to consider other interests—the public interests in the matter—than those which are brought before them in the usual way.

Your Lordships will see that my proposed Instruction to the Committee is less mandatory than it was in the Lochearnhead case and in the Birmingham case. It merely asks that the Committee shall have authority to make these inquiries. I do not ask that it shall be mandatory for them to do so. Therefore I venture to hope that in this moderate form your Lordships will agree to my Amendment and will give some security that the public interests in this matter shall be fully and fairly considered, so that, if possible, the evils which we believe would result from the erection of these enormous reservoirs so close to the river may be obviated. With that view I beg to move.

Amendment moved— To add at the end of the Motion the words, "and that the Committee be empowered to consider the proposals of the Bill in relation to the public interests, as well as to the various interests directly affected, and to inquire and report whether any of the works proposed will seriously interfere with the scenery of the River Thames and with the interests of the public using the river as a pleasure ground, and what safeguards are necessary for the protection of such interests."—(Lord Eversley.)


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down having appealed personally to me as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board, I should like to assure him that the agreements which the Board have arrived at after four years' litigation, or threatened litigation, with the Metropolitan Water Board have nothing to do with the exact position of the reservoirs, or how they may possibly obstruct the flow of flood water or interfere with the amenities of the locality. The Board are fully alive to their duty to preserve, as far as they legally can, all the amenities of the River Thames. In fact, they have petitioned against this Bill and are at the present moment engaged in somewhat delicate and confidential negotiations with the Metropolitan Water Board in order to insure that the amenities of the river should be preserved, as far as is compatible with the proper supply of the great metropolis of London with water.


Do I understand that the Thames Conservancy Board oppose the construction of these reservoirs close to the river?


We have at present offered general opposition to the construction of all the reservoirs, and negotiations are going on to see whether we cannot get the Metropolitan Water Board to remove the reservoirs sufficiently far from the river so as not to interfere with its amenities.


I do not understand from the petition of the Conservators that they oppose the construction of these reservoirs. What they ask is that some modification should be made in the way of the planting of trees and plants on the embankments. I think that is futile.


I hope our negotiations will not be futile, and I have every reason to believe they will not.


My Lords, I hope the House will decide this matter upon more general grounds than what are the exact contents of the petition of the Thames Conservancy Board. I should like to say, before proceeding to discuss the merits of the proposal, that I hope no one will understand that, although I oppose the Amendment of the noble Lord, I am the least careless of preserving the amenities of the River Thames. On the contrary, I think, from such information as I have, that there is a great deal to be said against some of the proposals in this Bill. But some part of the remarks of the noble Lord seemed to me to go rather in the direction of Second Reading opposition—that in no circumstances was any reservoir large enough to supply London to be constructed in that part of the Thames Valley which is available.


I certainly did not go that length.


That being so, I shall not proceed with what I was going to say in regard to that. The point, therefore, between us is narrowed to this. There is no doubt a case for inquiry. There is no doubt a strong presumption that those who are engaged in. the duty of supplying London with water are more concerned with getting it as cheaply as they can than with preserving the amenities of the river. Let that be common ground between us. My point is that there is no risk of the danger being incurred which the noble Lord presupposes. I leave out of the list of petitioners the Thames Conservators, because they are evidently under some suspicion. I leave out the Port of London Authority. But, besides those two important bodies, there are petitioning against the Bill no fewer than five county councils, four municipal counties, including the City of London itself, ten urban district councils, three rural district councils, three parish councils, six water companies, six railway and canal companies, and no fewer than twenty-six different landowners. That is a formidable list of petitions, and I can assure your Lordships that in at least a score of these petitions the question of the amenities of the river and the use of the river as a pleasure resort is absolutely and entirely raised. The Joint Committee will be fully competent to deal with all the large public questions which will be raised by the petitioners, and having regard to the representative character of those petitioners and the thoroughness with which I believe the provisions of the Bill will be considered by the Joint Committee in relation both to public and private interests. I venture to think that it is unnecessary to hamper the inquiry by bringing in those who have not petitioned, and who, perhaps, cannot petition.

Your Lordships all know that the rules of locus standi are not so strict in this House as they are in the other House, and in the case of Joint Committees the rules of our House regulate the matter of locus standi. In the other House of Parliament the question of locus is not reserved to the Committee itself; but in the case of Joint Committees and Committees of your Lordships' House the question of locus is absolutely left to the Committee itself. I venture to say that, in the interests of the important body for which the noble Lord spoke, it is better for them that they should have their witnesses heard through some of these other bodies who have petitioned than that they should go before a Committee without the aid of counsel and agents and so on. It will tend to a great saving of public time that it should be so, and I cannot conceive that these important bodies who are petitioning will overlook the importance which they will add to their case by getting witnesses who can speak with the authority which attaches to those in whose interests the noble Lord has moved this Amendment. But what I do deprecate is giving a sort of general roving power to anybody to come before a Committee. After all, Committees are conducted upstairs at great expense, and if people are themselves not spending any money but simply spending their own time it is likely to tend to a great increase of expense and to a great prolongation of the inquiry, which is extremely undesirable, and no public interest would be served by it. I do not believe that these county councils or landowners will be so failing in their own interests as not to take all the evidence I they can get, and there is nothing in the procedure proposed in my Motion which will exclude the calling of any witness at the discretion of those who have a right to appear before the Joint Committee. I therefore venture to hope that, in accordance with usual precedents, the inquiry will be confined to those who have a locus standi


My Lords, it is the usual custom in this House that we should allow ourselves in a matter of this kind to be guided by the advice of the Chairman of Committees. There are occasions, I think, on which the House has decided against that advice; but it does not seem to me that this is one of those occasions on which, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I could recommend such a course to your Lordships. There is a great deal in the proposition of I the noble Lord which appeals to all of us. We are all concerned in maintaining the scenery of the River Thames. We all remember that large sums of money have been collected in the past towards preserving, for instance, such a view as that from Richmond Terrace; and the interests of the public who use the river as a pleasure resort are, I am sure, fully before your Lordships. After the proof which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has given that there will be ample opportunity for these public interests to be heard and for their representations to be fully considered by the Joint Committee, I venture to think that the noble Lord who has moved this addition to the Motion will probably find himself in accord with the majority of your Lordships' House if he is satisfied with the assurances of the noble Lord the Lord Chairman and does not press his Amendment to a division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to: Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Commons to communicate this Resolution and to desire their concurrence.