§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, this Bill, for which we are asking a Second Reading this afternoon, is based, as your Lordships know, on the Report of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage that was appointed by the last Government in 1927, and presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe. The Bill follows very closely the lines laid down in the recommendations of that Report. I am quite sure that all your Lordships will agree with me in regretting very much that the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, is not here this afternoon to see his work brought to fruition, and to render us his aid in understanding the complexities of the Bill. The Report was issued in December, 1927, and it may seem that some time has been taken in preparing a Bill, but I would remind your Lordships that there has been a very great deal of work to be carried out before the Bill could be finally laid before you. You will realise that there was a great deal of surveying to be done. The catchment areas which have to be set up under the Bill had to be surveyed and mapped out, and altogether there was a great deal of preparation to do. For those and other reasons it was impossible to introduce the Bill earlier. I am quite sure your Lordships will agree that certainly no charge of delay can be laid at the door of the present Government. You will also notice that we have chosen to introduce this Bill into your Lordships' House first. That will save a great deal of Parliamentary time. It will ensure that this House has ample time to discuss and consider the Bill, and it will give to the Government the benefit of your Lordships' consideration and aid.
It is probably impossible to stress too much the essentially non-controversial, or shall I say non-Party, character of this Bill. Not only are we carrying out the recommendations of a Royal Commission appointed by the last Government, but the late Prime Minister himself actually said last year that if he were returned to power he would introduce a Bill himself based on the Report of that Commission. This subject, looked at from certain aspects, would seem to be composed of a 68 vast number of technical problems which it is difficult for the ordinary man to understand, but I think it must be clear to all of us, no matter what our experience of this subject may or may not have been, and whatever our political views, that the question of proper land drainage is of vital importance not only to the great industry of agriculture but also, and increasingly, to industries which are carried on in urban and semi-urban districts; that the maintenance of our great rivers in a proper condition to discharge their functions of carrying off great volumes of water from the land is essential not only to the prosperity but to the health of the country at large; and, lastly, that the longer the facilities for carrying out remedial measures on a really effective scale are left unprovided, so much the greater will be the danger of some serious catastrophe such as we were threatened with, and indeed actually experienced, in 1928, and so much the greater the cost of ultimately putting the damage right.
The Royal Commission, which considered this subject and dealt most exhaustively with it, took a very serious view of the present situation. They found that no less than 1,700,000 acres of land were in immediate need of land drainage, and, enormous as that figure may sound, it includes only land that is suffering from lack of arterial drainage, and does not include land that is suffering from lack of field drainage and subsoil drainage. That figure, I think, will give your Lordships some idea of the large scope of the problem with which we are dealing. They found also on investigation that the present legislation, dating as it does right back to the reign of Henry VIII—I think the first Act in connection with drainage was in the year 1531, and much of our present legislation is still based on that Act—was extremely defective and completely inadequate, and that the existing drainage authorities, working as they do in complete independence of each other, with no facilities for co-operation, are quite unable to carry out the tasks that have been allotted to them. Further, there is now no supervising authority at all in respect of the main channels of our great rivers.
That, I think, brings me to the main basis of the Bill. The two main points on which the Royal Commission laid particular stress and the two main points 69 with which this Bill is designed to deal are these. First, to assert the necessity for having one supreme authority responsible for the whole catchment area of a river. That, as your Lordships are quite aware, is the area bounded by the watershed. The second point is really consequential on the first—that is, the importance of extending the area rate-able under the existing law for land drainage; so as to embrace the whole of that catchment area to a greater or lesser extent—I will come to that point later—for rating purposes.
I have already pointed out that we are still bound by a law that was passed in the reign of Henry VIII, and that law has been interpreted to mean that it is only legal to rate for drainage purposes those persons whose land benefits as the result of land drainage or escapes danger thereby. That may at first sight seem quite reasonable, but I think I shall be able to show your Lordships that this principle of what we may call "No benefit, no rates" has resulted in the growth of a great conglomeration of small drainage authorities with small areas and with a power to rate limited to those areas. There are actually over 370 of these drainage authorities in this country and that does not take into account a number of smaller areas which are the result of various awards under different Inclosure Acts. As a result of this particular limitation of the present law, none of these authorities is in a position to exercise any jurisdiction over a main river whatsoever, and practically none of them, or very few of them, have any jurisdiction that will in any way help them to deal in anything but a limited way with any portion of a main river.
As a result these main rivers have, in many cases, become silted up, and it is becoming increasingly impossible for the great quantities of water that have to be carried by them to be properly evacuated. It means greatly increased rates for those authorities that are in this inadequate way responsible for carrying out their limited drainage functions, and it also means that the work does not get done. The only attempt to set up a comprehensive authority for a large river and its tributaries, which was made in the case of the Great Ouse, produced something very nearly approaching 70 chaos on account of the impossibility of raising sufficient funds from the limited areas which alone, under the present law of "No benefit, no rates," can be made to pay for the necessary works. Let me give your Lordships some examples. I will take first this example of the Great Ouse. Under the present law only 470,000 acres are rateable, but actually the catchment area of the Great Ouse is 2,000,000 acres. I will give you another example, a more extreme one. In the Thames area only 250,000 acres are rateable for carrying out drainage works, but the catchment area is 2,500,000 acres, exactly ten times the size of the area that can be charged with responsibility for this work.
The most important, therefore, of the Royal Commission's recommendations may be said to be that advocating the setting up of this comprehensive authority for each of the more important catchment areas—firstly, with direct power to do such works as are necessary on the main river or rivers into which all the water falling on or arising from that catchment area discharges, whether that water comes from the lowlands or the uplands; secondly, with power to charge the whole catchment area with the consequent cost of these works; and thirdly, with an over-riding control over all the internal boards whose water find its way into that main river.
The two examples which I gave a moment ago show the particular importance of this rating question, and if, your Lordships will bear with me for a moment I would like to enlarge on that and make it, as far as I can, clear. It has been already indicated that the present law is interpreted to mean that only an area which may be said to benefit or to escape danger as the result of the execution of works can be rated to pay for such works. Each of the many existing district authorities is at the moment bounded by a line which separates the comparatively small benefit area from the rest of the catchment area, which is nevertheless all within the same river basin. This disregards the fact that the water that falls upon or rises within that surrounding area sooner or later no matter where it falls, must find its way into the rivers or channels situated within the rateable area. The works which are carried out within that rateable area 71 have, therefore, to be designed not only to carry the water from the lowlands but the very much larger quantity of water, or perhaps an equal quantity of water, coming down from the uplands in the same basin. For centuries the lowlands have had to provide a passage for the water coming from the uplands, and, as far as we can see, that is always going to be so.
Of course, in the past it has been argued, or at any rate it has been attempted to argue, that the uplands actually gain benefit by the operations which the lowlander is forced to execute for his own protection, but that argument has not really been able to carry the day. At the same time the fact cannot be lost sight of that it is the additional volume of water that comes from the uplands—more especially that which comes rapidly, say on account of great urban development, with its macadamised roads, sewers, water supply undertakings and sanitation, and also on account of any operations of agricultural drainage, because any farmer in an upland area who puts in land drains to carry off water from his land is dealing with water which sooner or later has to find its way down to a river—that helps to involve the lowlander in the crushing burden of taxation to which he is now subjected in the matter of drainage rates. All the things I have mentioned tend to increase the volume of water sent down to find its way ultimately to the river, and the lowlander at the present moment has to provide a channel sufficiently large to carry that water away or else it will flood over his land.
The Royal Commission at once recognised this point, but I would explain to your Lordships that this is not the first time that this conclusion has been reached. As long ago as 1877 there was a Select Committee of your Lordships' House appointed to enquire into the question of land drainage, and I think it might be appropriate if I read to your Lordships what that Select Committee said. They said:There does not appear to be any injustice in rating uplands to the maintenance of a channel to which they contribute their quota of waters, and the case is still stronger with respect to towns which are at present exempt from taxation for this purpose. Having regard to these considerations, and looking to the extreme difficulty of rating lands according to the benefits derived, the Committee think that the rates 72 should be distributed over the whole area of a watershed, the land and houses below the flood level being rated at a higher amount than those above it, and other graduations and exceptions being made to meet particular cases.If this was true in 1877, it was certainly found to be doubly and trebly true in 1927. At all events, the Royal Commission wholeheartedly endorsed the views that had been put forward by your Lordships' Select Committee fifty years before, and had no hesitation in recommending that the whole catchment area—namely, the area bounded by the water parting—should be rated to pay for the operations carried out on the main river.
Apart from these two important questions that I have tried to deal with in general—(1), the appointment of a comprehensive authority for the catchment area; and (2), the increase of the powers of rating that are to be given to this comprehensive authority—the Royal Commission dealt with other points in the existing law which in their opinion required drastic alteration. I do not think that it is necessary for me to go into all of them in detail. We shall have ample opportunity of doing so in Committee. There are, however, a number of clauses that I think it would be worth while to consider at this stage; but before doing so, perhaps I might mention some of the other points that the Royal Commission dealt with. These include the commutation of existing liabilities under some of the old awards, the removal of obstructions, the purchase of land for the purpose of drainage works, power to make by-laws, control of banks, powers for dealing with derelict navigations, and so forth. On all these points, as I have said, the Bill follows very closely the Report of the Royal Commission, and I think it fair to say that they are matters upon which it will be found that the Parties are in fairly complete agreement. It is, I think, quite obvious to all of us that a code of law that originated in the reign of Henry VIII and really ends in 1861, must, for all practical purposes, be out of date to-day and must need some re-conditioning in the light of modern developments.
Perhaps I may be allowed to deal for a moment with some of the more important clauses of this Bill. I think your Lordships have the White Paper (Cd. 3534) which gives you some explanation 73 of the clauses and endeavours particularly to make clear the distinction between those clauses which are conferring completely new powers on some new authority and those which are in the main re-enactments. Clause 1 provides for the creation of drainage districts. These are not the catchment areas, but the drainage districts within those areas. The clause saves the powers of existing authorities, without, of course, prejudicing their being dealt with subsequently under the Bill in their relations with the superior catchment boards. I have already mentioned that there are 370 of these existing drainage authorities, and the majority of these, in so far as they are internal boards with purely local jurisdiction, will continue to function, although their constitution may, in some cases, be to a certain extent altered.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention particularly to subsection (5) of Clause 1. Perhaps I may be allowed to read that subsection:—The districts (other than catchment areas) to be constituted as drainage districts under this Act shall be such areas as will derive benefit or avoid danger as a result of drainage operations.This is very important as defining the area for which a drainage board may be set up as the area which, as a result of drainage operations, derives benefit or escapes danger thereby. From this subsection your Lordships will see that this is substantially the modern interpretation of the existing law of drainage rates, and it means that the old interpretation of benefit will stand in so far as it concerns only the internal drainage boards. That is to say, the rate will be on the principle of "No benefit, no rate."
§ LORD CLINTON
Will the noble Earl make this quite clear to my understanding? In these internal drainage boards there will practically be no uplander who will be rated at all. They will all be those who will be within the area of benefit. Will the drainage board, the people who levy the rate, levy only upon those who receive benefit?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The position is that the internal drainage boards will really have their areas allotted on exactly the same basis as they are allotted to-day. To a large extent they will actually be the same areas as exist to-day, but where new ones are created 74 they will have to apply to the Minister, just as they do to-day, for sanction of their area, and the Minister will give or refuse his sanction to the choice of those areas on exactly the same basis as to-day. I think this really meets the noble Lord's point. If I may repeat myself, the old interpretation of benefit will stand with the internal drainage boards, and the new conception of what I may call extended liability or benefit will apply only to the catchment boards. Later on in the financial provisions in Part IV, we shall be able to see what this distinction actually means in financial terms. It means really that land in an upland area will be subject only to the general purposes rate of a county council or a county borough, and, as your Lordships know, this brings agricultural land in an upland area under the Agricultural Rates Act of last year, with its exemption from rates.
Clause 2 deals with the constitution by order of the Ministry of catchment boards, which will be the new comprehensive authorities which the Royal Commission recommended. The list of catchment areas will be found in the First Schedule. Clause 3 deals with the composition of those catchment boards, and your Lordships will notice that it ensures a majority on the catchment board of those who have to pay. In other words, there will be a majority of representatives from the county councils and county boroughs. That, I think, is a great safeguard for those who have to pay the rates, and it also solves the problem of bringing these boards under public control, and even a form of electoral control, without having to go through the difficulties and the evils of an election for an ad hoc body.
Clause 4 is important. It requires a catchment board to submit schemes to the Ministry: (1), for transferring to itself the powers of any authorities now operating upon the main river which comes under its control; (2), for dealing with that portion of its area for which internal drainage boards are capable of being set up; either by setting up new authorities where now nonexistent, or perhaps by regrouping existing authorities, or reconstituting them, where necessary, on an elective basis, or by abolishing existing commissioners of sewers. The procedure for the confirmation 75 of these schemes your Lordships will find in the Second Schedule of the Bill.
The next few clauses are, I think, mainly machinery, until we come to Clause 8, which gives permissive powers to catchment boards to submit to the Minister schemes for revoking or amending existing awards dealing with land drainage. There are a number of areas in different parts of the country where these awards do exist, and this clause enables them to be dealt with on lines which have already been accepted by Parliament in the Doncaster Area Drainage Act of last Session. Clause 9 requires catchment boards to commute all liabilities affecting the main river for which they will be responsible. That is part of the scheme for making them entirely responsible for the main river. Clause 10 enables a catchment board itself to exercise the powers of an internal drainage board that is not carrying out its duties properly. Clause 12 is a further default clause, enabling the Minister to enforce the performance of duties by the catchment board if it is not adequately carrying out its duties. I might perhaps have also mentioned that Clause 11 provides for the transfer of powers from the internal drainage board to the catchment board for reasons other than those of default.
That brings us to Part III of the Bill—Clauses 16 to 18. They are really very much the re-enactment of the present law contained in the provisions of the Land Drainage Act, 1918, which deals with the setting up of drainage boards. Those clauses refer only to those drainage boards which are not in any catchment area and therefore do not come under Clause 4, which we have already discussed. In Clauses 19 to 31, in Part IV, are contained the financial provisions of the Bill. I do not think it is necessary to deal with this part of the Bill clause by clause, because a great number of these clauses are only machinery and to a very large extent common form. The clauses contain the rating powers both of the catchment boards and of the internal drainage boards, both those at present existing and those which are going to be set up under the Bill. As regards rating by catchment boards, it should be understood that the Royal Commission recommended the charging of a whole 76 catchment area for the works for which the catchment board were to be responsible.
It was intended that the catchment board should have power to precept on the county councils and county borough councils comprised in the area for such money as they required. The Royal Commission, however, recommended that there should be a differentiation in the amount of the rate to be levied in what they referred to as the upland area and the amount of the rate in the lowland area. These two areas may be defined roughly in this way. The lowland area is that portion of a catchment area which may be said to receive benefit or escape danger—which is going, in the words of subsection (5) of Clause 1, to "derive benefit or avoid danger as a result of drainage operations"—while the upland area is the area lying at a higher altitude, which cannot be said to obtain such benefit. Therefore it becomes clear that while new land is being brought into the rateable area it will come in on its own basis; that is, at a lower rate than the land which receives direct benefit. It might really be said that lowland is to pay both for benefit derived from the work and for the use of the channel, while upland will pay for the use of the channel only.
Your Lordships will remember that when the Royal Commission reported there was no question of the derating of agricultural land and productive industries, and therefore it has been necessary to consider how far it is possible to apply the recommendations of the Royal Commission now that derating has taken place. Obviously if the Commission's recommendations were literally applied, and if the catchment boards precepted upon county and county borough councils only for their expenses, the result would be that agricultural land, and of course to a very large extent productive industries, would make no contribution at all to the catchment board's expenses. That would obviously be unfair, and accordingly we have had to devise some new method, and what we may call a fair middle course has been adopted. The Bill provides, as your Lordships will find in Clauses 19 and 20, that the catchment boards can obtain their revenue from two separate sources. In the first place, they shall precept on county and county borough councils for most of their expenses, 77 agricultural land, therefore, as a result of being derated, making no contribution, and in so far as that rate is concerned productive industries of course will only pay on the basis of a quarter of their assessment. In the second place, in order that agricultural land and productive industries in the lowland area shall not escape, the catchment boards shall precept upon internal drainage boards for a contribution to their expenses; and, as your Lordships know, the drainage rate which is levied by the internal drainage board is not subject to the Derating Act.
Therefore agriculture in the lowland area, that is, in the area of the internal drainage board, will make its fair contribution. Where no internal boards exist the catchment board has power under Clause 4 to set them up. The result of this procedure is that the catchment board will first decide how much money is required to carry out its duties. It will then settle how much of that money can reasonably and fairly be provided by the lowland area through the internal drainage board and by the general area through the county authorities.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
Will that be a lump sum to start with, reaching probably into millions? Would they indent upon that at once?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think obviously they would only raise such money as was required for immediate work. There is no question of their levying great sums in order to pay for work that is going to be carried out in the future.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
But could they raise money for survey work? It is obvious that you must begin by surveying before you produce any plans. Is there any provision for that?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes. In so far as they need money for carrying out any duty that is imposed on them they will of course raise money for it. There is a further financial point that I will deal with right at the end, which will also to some extent, I think, meet the point the noble Lord is asking about. The necessary money, therefore, will then be raised by a precept, served first on the county and county borough councils, and secondly on the internal boards. It should, however, be understood that the 78 internal boards will collect the sums required as the result of their precept, at the same time as they collect their ordinary internal drainage rates, and rates collected by internal boards are not affected by the berating dealt with in the Local Government Act, 1929, as drainage rates are expressly excluded from the scope of that Act. Thus, all hereditaments will be liable to pay the rates imposed upon them by the internal boards, including those intended to meet the contribution required to meet the catchment board's precept.
Various appeals are provided for in connection with the calculation of the sum to be collected from county and county borough councils. These are the necessary consequential matters which are dealt with in Clauses 20 to 22. I think perhaps, however, it might be as well to call your Lordships' attention to Clause 20 (2). This enables a catchment board to make a contribution out of its funds to internal boards, where such contribution is justified either on account of the amount of upland water which that internal district receives, or by reason of the time which will elapse before that internal district can receive any benefit from the works carried out by the catchment board. I think that a little meets the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, a moment ago.
The rating powers of drainage boards other than catchment boards are set out in Clause 23 and following clauses. They really follow existing legislation, and are largely re-enactments. Rates are of two kinds, owners' rates and occupiers' rates, but all rates have to be served on the occupier, without prejudice to his being able to recover from the owner where it is clearly an owner's rate. The drainage board may rate as at present, either on the basis of annual value or acreage, these existing alternatives still being provided so as not to interfere too much with existing machinery. It is, however, provided that where an acreage basis is adopted, this only applies to agricultural land, other properties being rated on a proportionate annual value basis. For the rating of land used for a railway special provision is made which follows the agreed form adopted in all recent drainage orders. There is no alteration there. Clause 30 is perhaps of 79 interest. It substitutes for the present rather archaic system of collecting arrears of drainage rates the normal summary jurisdiction procedure. At the present moment drainage boards act as their own court. They therefore sit both as judge and prosecutor. It may be added that they have considerable difficulty in enforcing their decrees. Clause 31 is a re-enactment of Section 5 of the 1918 Act, and enables a public health or highway authority to contribute to the expenses either of a catchment board or of an internal board.
This brings us to Part V. It deals with the members and proceedings and powers of drainage boards, including catchment boards, except where the context obviously does not so require it. Clause 33 is substantially a re-enactment of the existing law. Clause 34 is also a re-enactment, and the next clauses up to Clause 39 are mostly machinery. Clause 40 is a new clause, and is of considerable importance. It enables the Minister, after consultation with the Minister of Transport, by order to do away with a navigation right in cases where the existing navigation is for various reasons either dead or moribund. It may still have certain rights that impede the action of the drainage board, and yet actually be fulfilling no navigation function. It is most important in such cases that that condition of things should not be allowed to go on. There is a certain procedure under the existing law dealing with this question, but it is very cumbrous, and in actual fact is not put into practice.
Clause 42 is an important amendment of the existing law. It provides drainage boards with the necessary power to deal with obstructions, such as mill dams and weirs. This is a power the need for Which has been very much pressed upon the Ministry by almost every county council in England. The existing powers are wholly inadequate, and the powers under this clause which are conferred on drainage boards, and, by Clause 48, upon county borough councils, enable them in future in deal with the situation. Where a navigation is affected and appeals to the Ministry against a decision of the drainage board provision is made for consultation with the Ministry of Transport. Clause 43 is also important. It enables drainage boards to secure land for the purpose of carrying out their obligations, 80 either by agreement or by compulsory methods. In the latter case the procedure is covered by the Fourth Schedule of the Bill.
Clause 45 is based on a clause that was in the Doncaster Area Drainage Act, and therefore has already received Parliamentary sanction. It enables a drainage board to make by-laws for certain purposes, and incidentally—I think it might be worth while referring to it here, as there is some public interest in the matter—in so far as questions of pollution affect drainage paragraph (c) of subsection (1) gives to the boards power of dealing with drainage. Further than that, of course, a Drainage Bill cannot go. I do not think it is necessary to go into Part VI in quite such detail. It sets out the powers of the county councils and the county borough councils. All these clauses have formed the basis of discussion with the representative associations of the bodies concerned, and really, in effect, they leave the county and county borough councils in very much the same position as they were in before under the Acts of 1918 and 1926. These powers, as your Lordships are probably aware, are, firstly, the serving of notices requiring the cleansing of drains (that is in Clause 34); the preparation of small schemes for areas for which a drainage board cannot be conveniently set up (that is in Clause 49); the right to exercise the powers of a drainage board which is not properly fulfilling its duties; the power to assume the duties of a drainage board by order of the Ministry (those last two powers are in Clauses 10 and 11); and the power to enforce a liability (which is in Clause 35). The re-enactments in Clause 52 particularly safeguard the existing powers of the various councils.
In Part VII, Clauses 53 to 58 are reenactments, the most important probably being Clause 56, which gives protection to water undertakers. Clause 59 is a new clause and is designed to give the new catchment boards, which in many cases will control very large areas, some power of supervision over the construction of bridges for the main rivers within the meaning of this measure. Where any new bridge is to be constructed it will require the consent of the catchment board, subject, however, to an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Transport. Clause 68 is a very important 81 clause, and is designed to deal with cases where, as the result of carrying out drainage operations, land becomes accreted. The clause provides in such a case that the advantage shall not go to the frontager who would normally be the owner of the accreted land, but to the catchment board, which is enabled by this clause to purchase such land by agreement or compulsorily, without any account being taken of the enhanced value due to the operations of the catchment board. Your Lordships will agree, I think, that it is a perfectly fair provision that where land becomes accreted as the result of the expenditure of public money that increased value should go to the public who have spent the money.
The clause further provides that where any Government grant has been made towards the carrying out of work of this kind the Commissioners of Crown Lands can require a catchment board to sell such land to the Commissioners, or the right of reclamation over it, at the price paid for it. It is anticipated that, especially in the Wash area, the carrying out of very extensive drainage works at very large public expense will lead to a very considerable accretion of land which, in the absence of this clause, would merely benefit the frontagers who have done nothing whatever towards securing the accretion of the land. This clause, therefore, is very important in asserting the principle. It is also very important in enabling us to proceed with work in the Wash area which, without the clause, could not posibly be embarked upon with public money. Lastly, Clause 70 and the Seventh Schedule deal with the constitution of the Thames Conservancy and bring that constitution as nearly as possible into line with that of other catchment boards. The Royal Commission recommended that the existing Thames Conservancy should act as the catchment board for the Thames catchment area above Teddington, and the clause really provides an addition of drainage powers to make it possible for the Conservancy to carry out its new duties.
I am afraid that I have been rather long, but without detaining your Lordships at too great length I have tried to lay before you the general principles of the Bill and the more important details with which it deals. It is mainly a Bill 82 of machinery and of preparation for work to come. It opens up, I think, the possibility of a great frontal attack on an evil which every year is increasing its ravages in our countryside. All that is needed to complete this work is more permanent support from the State. It was intended, originally, I think, to deal with this matter separately from the Bill and there is at the moment, therefore, no reference to it in the Bill; but it has now been decided to include a reference to this point in the present Bill.
Those of your Lordships who have studied the Report of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage will have observed, in paragraphs 140 to 142, certain observations which the Commission found it incumbent upon themselves to make with regard to Government financial assistance. Perhaps I may quote the exact wording of paragraph 142, which refers to the matter:—The arguments in favour of national expenditure upon land drainage are particularly strong as regards the effective clearance of detritus and sea-borne silt at the mouths of the estuaries and larger rivers and the preservation of sea walls and embankments against the excessive and violent encroachments of tidal water. Even more cogent is the claim for such expenditure where the deepening, widening or stabilising of the outfalls of main rivers is involved, particularly those flowing into sandy estuaries. We are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that until the State is prepared to accept due financial obligations with regard to such works as those above indicated, very little progress can be made, even under the scheme which we have adumbrated, towards the realisation of the ideal of an 'efficient system of arterial drainage'.His Majesty's Government recognise the strength of the Commission's argument, and realise that if work, which it is advised is urgently necessary if not essential in many of the larger rivers of this country, is to be carried out at all, a financial contribution from the State will be required. The steps necessary to implement this decision are being considered and will be settled when the Bill reaches another place.
In the meantime, the present grants for drainage works (which constitute part of the Government's unemployment relief programme), will be continued as long as that programme remains in force and in so far as the grants are not replaced by a new system of grants after the proposed catchment boards have been established. Your Lordships will probably 83 agree that the proposed addition to the Bill will very much increase its value in dealing with the problem with which we are faced to-day.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
May I ask the noble Earl whether these new financial proposals will be laid before us before the Bill leaves this House?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
We very much regret that the provisions were not actually ready to-day, but unfortunately, as your Lordships know, my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is very much taken up at the moment with other affairs, and it has been rather difficult to get a decision from him on the exact wording of the provisions. I do not quite know when they will be settled, and I am afraid I cannot give your Lordships an assurance that they will be ready in time for this House.
§ LORD DANESFORT
May I ask whether it is proposed to put in these new financial provisions in Committee, or whether we shall have any notice of them before we reach Committee stage?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I am not at all sure that they will be ready to be inserted before the Bill leaves this House. If not, they will be inserted in another place.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Does the noble Lord and the Government seriously ask this House to pass a Bill which is going to contain some very important provisions which this House is not to know until after it has passed the Bill? The thing is impossible.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I am not saying that they will not be ready. At the same time I think that the provisions would be purely financial.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
May I suggest that if the noble Lord wishes to go on he might make his speech later? I much regret that this insertion has not been made already, but I am quite sure that when your Lordships do see it you will realise that it is a very great improvement to the Bill, and that with that insertion in the provisions of this Bill land which has gone out of cultivation will be able to be restored to use, and land 84 which has been soured and deteriorated by bad drainage will regain its fertility. The farmer will gain in prosperity, labour will be required for the carrying out of the schemes under the Bill and for the subsequent working of the land, while the country will gain by the more effective development of its capital resources in agricultural land, and by the opening out of new opportunities of life and employment in our own country. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
My Lords, under Clause 70, the last of the clauses which my noble friend opposite was good enough to read, it will have been observed that the Thames Conservancy Board has been appointed the new catchment authority, and, that being the case, as I have had some little experience in regard to that river, I hope I may be able to offer certain criticisms on this Bill. I understand that the scheme of the Bill is this—first of all, a drainage district is defined and a drainage board set up. These boards are to have the power of rating over their areas. They have a power of rating land which, I may say in passing, has just been freed from rates, and, having been set up by the catchment authority, they will have absolute jurisdiction.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
This is a new rate altogether, or at all events it is in certain areas a new rate. It is really a new rate under the Bill. As regards the Thames Conservancy the district boards will be very important bodies. The Thames catchment area is 3,812 square miles in extent and includes fifteen counties—the Counties of Bedford, Northampton, Worcester, Warwick, Herts, Middlesex, Bucks, Oxford, Wilts, Gloucester, Berks, Surrey, Hants, East Sussex and West Sussex—and it will be perfectly obvious that any body such as the catchment board which has to set up these district boards should have every opportunity in the first place of carrying out a most careful hydrographical and engineering survey. To do that it must, of course, have money. The boards will 85 start, as I understand, with no money, but with a power of raising rates. The catchment board will get its money from the district boards, and also from the county and borough councils. I understand that they can precept the councils to any amount; no amount is specified. That is very important when we come to the later stages, especially in the Thames.
There is absolutely no limit to the amount which the catchment boards or the Thames Conservancy could ask the county councils or the other bodies in their areas to contribute. I do not think there is any limit to the amount of money which will be asked for, and if the schemes which have been foreshadowed by my noble friend opposite are carried out, the sums required will be very large. As regards land, I understand that it will pay one rate, but for urban property there will probably be two rates, one a rate of the district board and the other a rate of the catchment area. I may say in passing that those rates may be very substantial, as I shall hope to show later on. There must be a very careful survey of the whole of the district before the board is set up and that will cost a good deal of money.
Take the Thames, which is 136¼ miles long, with six important tributaries on the north side and six on the south. It would probably be convenient to set up a district board for each of those big tributaries. There are besides any number of smaller tributaries. On the north side there are the Windrush, the Evenlode, the Cherwell, the Thame, the Wye and the Colne, and on the south a similar number. What I should like to impress on my noble friend opposite is that anybody who has had experience in dealing with rivers would wish to have a very careful engineering and hydrographical survey of the district before he thought of setting up these district boards with their rating powers. That would cost a great deal of money. Any body which has to deal with the tributaries of the Thames would have to have some sort of idea, after careful survey, of the amount of water which is likely to come into the tributaries as a result of the new drainage which my noble friend alluded to, and what amount of water, additional to the water that usually comes in now, is likely to come into the river from those twelve tributaries. They will pour down 86 into the Thames a great deal more water in a short space of time than is done now. Therefore one must insist on a most careful survey and upon a staff and money to carry it out. The amounts which will be required will depend on the magnitude of the scheme.
My noble friend opposite made some references to the Royal Commission. With regard to the taxing of land, I must say that the Royal Commission was very guarded. The reference to the Royal Commission was that they were to consider and report whether any amendment of the law relating to land drainage was needed to secure an efficient system of arterial drainage without any undue burdens being placed on any particular section of the community. Lord Bledisloe and his fellow Commissioners qualified their recommendation by expressing the opinion that the depression in agriculture was so serious that additional burdens could not be placed upon it without disastrous results. They said that:Great caution should be exercised by the newly-appointed authorities, in initiating drainage schemes of any magnitude, in order especially to ensure that expenditure should not be incurred in cases where the cost of efficient drainage would exceed the consequential increase in the value of the land based on its productive capacity.It is well known to agriculturists that land drainage does not always pay. There is much land in England that is not drained because of the cost. Six months ago I was offered 250 acres of land in Norfolk for nothing. As I did not know the land I thought there might be something in this kindness which would need a little inquiry. I found that the drainage rates on the land were £250 a year—£1 an acre—with a possibility of going up to £400. Naturally I declined the offer. That is a concrete instance which happened in my own experience, and it shows that it does not always follow that because you spend a lot of money on drainage the value of the land will be improved. In fact in that case the value of the land was nil, because no one would take it—at least I would not—as a gift. I say that by way of a word of caution.
I do not propose to go through the clauses of the Bill, but I must say that when I came to Clause 12 I read it with a great deal of astonishment. Clause 12 says: 87If it appears to the Minister, whether on a complaint made to him by the council of any county or county borough, any drainage board"—then there are these ominous words—or any other person appearing to him to be interested in the matter of the complaint or otherwise. …I do not know what is the meaning of the words "or otherwise." Do they mean not interested in the complaint? I do not know whether it is a legal drafting term, but anyhow it is perfectly plain what the Minister can do. The Minister when he receives a complaint from anybody who appears to him to be interested in the matter—I will give you the "or otherwise" as well, although I do not know what the phrase means—can do certain things to which I will draw the attention of your Lordships shortly.
A great many people in the Thames Valley certainly have cause for complaint. If I were the owner of a bungalow which I had built in the flooded area and the floods came into my bungalow, I should certainly be a person who would appear to the Minister to be "interested in the matter of the complaint," and also, I should think, "or otherwise." I should certainly complain to the Minister. I should say: "Now this is a terrible thing." I should go through a long list of complaints about damage done and I should say: "Really you must stop this thing." I should not pause to consider if I had any right to build a bungalow in a flooded area, which I do not think anybody really has. I should want the floods abated, naturally, as I should not have to pay much, although it would cost someone £10,000,000 sterling, even up to £15,000,000 sterling, which I hope to prove later on.
The Minister, then, receives a complaint from a person interested in the matter, and what can he do? I do not think such a proposal has ever appeared in any Bill yet put before Parliament. What can the Minister do? He can:himself exercise in such manner and by such person as he thinks fit"—I do not know why there is only one person—any such powers or perform any such duties.88 The person is not even to be a qualified person. He may be anybody, not necessarily a hydrographer or a person knowing anything about agriculture. The Minister or this person can take over "any such duties." That is to say he can abolish the catchment area, or he can indent to any amount, because there is no limit, on the unfortunate ratepayers in the county, and he can also get money through the means of district boards. In fact he himself alone—there need not even be a board—or such person as he thinks fit, can take over these things and manage the whole of this area of 3,812 square miles. He will be king and he can rate and drain them and do anything that occurs to him.
This, I think, may be a little dangerous in the future. We know what Ministers we have got now, but we have not the slightest idea what Ministers we are likely to have ten years hence. We may even have a less economical set of Ministers—perhaps that is the wrong way of putting it; a more uneconomical set of Ministers than we have at the present time. With the march of progress and "Socialism in our time" you cannot tell who may be here. Mr. Saklatvala may be Minister of Agriculture, if he is progressive enough by that time, and in this clause there is nothing to prevent Mr. Saklatvala, as Minister of Agriculture, going down with his butler and taking over the whole of this area—that is what the clause seems to me to mean, if it means anything at all—and the whole of the rating powers. In this Bill there is no escape for the ratepayer, because it is laid down that if the county councils do not pay up the precepts they can be proceeded against by mandamus. I do not know whether your Lordships will be very much inclined to pass the Bill as long as that clause is in it, and I think your Lordships will be less inclined to pass it if there is not put into the Bill before it leaves this House some provision as to financial assistance from the Government.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships too long, but I should like to draw your special attention to the River Thames. There is one thing which I do not see mentioned in the Bill at all, and that is the water supply which is obtained from these rivers and especially from the Thames. The Thames area covers 3,812 89 square miles. It is a very clean river because nothing is allowed to be put into any ditch which communicates with any tributary which eventually flows into the Thames that would cause any contamination of the water supply of London. Without the Thames London would be quite impossible. The Thames supplies considerably more than half the water consumed in London. I do not know whether it has much to do with this Bill, but I doubt whether your Lordships fully realise the extent of the great undertaking of the Metropolitan Water Board. The Metropolitan Water Board supplies a population greater than that of the whole of Australia. The pipes used by the Metropolitan Water Board which go underground would reach from here to Cape Town. They would also reach the United States of America, and if the United States went less dry and did not want the water, there would be enough pipes to bring it back and put it into the Thames again, with plenty left over. All those pipes and the reservoirs are useless without water. The water is to a very large extent supplied by the Thames.
What I should like to know is what is likely to happen to the water supply of London if these drainage schemes are carried out in a very extensive manner. One would like to have some information as to that. Supposing all this water is run away quickly in the winter, what effect will it have in the summer? That is a very important point, especially for London. There is another point that occurs to me. Last year is a very good example both of drought and of flood. From January to September we had the driest period of which we have any record for the last forty-three years. The British norm is based on a period of thirty-five years. We had only about half the normal rainfall (I think 10.22 in.) in the Thames Valley. What was the result? As your Lordships know there was a danger of London having to go rather dry. I am glad to say that, so far as the Thames was concerned, we were able to keep up the supply by closing weirs, keeping the water in the subsoil (a very important point) and letting the water down to the Metropolitan Water Board when it was required. I am happy to think that the Board recognised those services. What 90 happened, nevertheless? The River Kennet, which drains over 400 sq. miles, dried up for thirteen miles. It did not dry up quite so much as in 1921, but the Kennet is our best supply of spring water for the Thames and its biggest tributary.
What is exercising my mind is this. If these great drainage schemes for all these areas and tributaries are carried out, and the water is run off with greatly increased rapidity, shall we lay ourselves open to the danger of a great shortage of water in a dry summer? That is my point regarding the shortage of water. It is all very well talking about drainage, but one of the most important matters for this country is the storage of water. The water question is going to become serious in this country. My noble friend opposite has been on many Parliamentary Committees dealing with water supplies, and so have I. We fight any company that comes and tries to get the water out of the Thames catchment area. These people go to Parliament and try to promote a Bill, and my noble friend opposite and I have experience of the Bills of water companies who come and try to get water from our areas. What we want is water storage. Infinitely more water is now being used for washing cars, for baths and other purposes. The rainfall in this country is not really very great, and the shortage will be serious unless steps are taken to store water. Personally I regard this as much more important than drainage.
I pass from the shortage of water to the excess of water. We had both last year. When it began to rain it rained with some heartiness, and the rain went on through October, November and December. There were 17.11 inches of rain in the Thames Valley. That was too much rain and it fell in too short a time. It means a tremendous volume of water. One inch of rain in the Thames Valley is a body of water 620 miles long—about the distance from London to Caithness—and the size of the river at Henley, that is, 250 feet wide by 10 feet deep. If you have 17 inches of rain it is obvious that you have an immense body of water to deal with and people must not be surprised if the river rises. We had a flood last year, as everybody knows. It was not a record flood, being less than the flood of 1915, 91 but it amounted to a flow of over 10,000,000,000 gallons. That is about half the amount of the flood of 1894, but still it was a great volume of water. The Thames itself can take off 4,500,000,000 gallons in the day—that is from midnight to midnight. It is all measured at Teddington. This year we had a flow of 10,000,000,000 gallons. It is obvious that to carry off that water you really want two rivers the size of the Thames.
The point that arises in my mind is this. If you are going to increase the amount of water that comes in from the tributaries you have got to alter all your estimates. You will need an entirely new survey. At present it would not be possible to carry that extra water off, and you would have to draw up new plans and know the amount of water to expect in the Thames before you could do it. You would have to know how much extra water you must expect to get through these new drainage schemes. In 1914 the Thames Conservancy Board had a survey of the whole river and brought out new charts, with the idea of taking off a volume of water that would be equal to a flow of 7,000,000,000 gallons at Teddington—that is an ordinary flood. This would be done by deepening the channel, by making a good many crosscuts, by dredging and, incidentally, by doing away with all the masonry bridges. There are sixteen big bridges that would have to go, and 100 subsidiary bridges, and the towing path for ninety-five miles would be affected. That is to deal with a flow of 7,000,000,000 gallons.
Perhaps your Lordships will be interested to hear more of this scheme in detail. The statement presented to the Royal Commission on behalf of the Thames Conservators says:—The scheme above described would necessitate the purchase of upwards of 1.200 acres of land, the excavation of some 12,000,000 cubic yards of material and its disposal in bank formation and spoil grounds. Most of the by-pass channels, owing to steepness of gradient, would require protecting with concrete pitching"—which is not very pretty—making a total area of some 500,000 square yards. Some 16 main and over 100 minor bridges would have to be modified or rebuilt.The bridges at Henley and Maidenhead would have to go.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
The statement goes on to say:—The question of mill rights would have to be dealt with. About 95 miles of towing path would have to be reformed and numerous minor works undertaken. The total estimated cost is £3,000,000It would cost a good deal more to-day to provide for a flow of 7,000,000,000 gallons. It would cost at least double for a scheme that would not include the tributaries, which might account for another £3,000,000. We are getting into big figures and, if you are really going to drain the catchment area, we should get into bigger figures still. The Thames flows through Oxford, Reading, Windsor and Kingston, and in those areas, where building is going on to a large extent, you cannot always get the land that you want.
What I want to emphasise is that, before you start any of these great schemes, you ought really to give the whole matter very careful consideration. You ought to go into the question of water storage. I should be very sorry to go into this matter without surveys by the very best hydraulic engineers before entering upon any district scheme. Let me give one more illustration of what I think is a better way of dealing with drainage and catchment areas. Your Lordships probably know that the River Wey is being dealt with at the present time. That is a purely voluntary scheme, while this is a compulsory scheme which may even fall into the hands of the Minister. The Surrey County Council determined, after several meetings, to drain the Wey. We then had to make provision to receive the extra water in the Thames. Two Government inquiries were held, the Middlesex County Council came in and we all co-operated in a scheme costing about £500,000. It was done entirely on a voluntary basis, and we certainly got a good deal of experience out of it. If you have these navigable schemes you have to deal with navigation difficulties, and if you have water schemes you have to deal with millers' rights and ancient rights before drawing up any comprehensive drainage scheme. That scheme has gone very happily up to the present, and it will increase the capacity of the Thames from Weybridge down to Teddington up to 7,000,000,000 gallons.
93 I am afraid I have detained your Lordships rather longer than I had intended, and I will not further criticise the Bill, but I hope that it will be possible on the Committee stage to introduce Amendments, or even a new clause, embodying certain criticisms. I think it ought to be provided that money should be found for a comprehensive survey of all this land with a view to drainage—namely, the 3,812 square miles. It is also necessary to get the approval of the local authorities. They should be called together, and the scheme ought to be submitted to them, for they have to find the money. Subject to such criticisms as I have made, and subject, I hope, to the deletion of Clause 12, which puts too much power in the hands of the Minister, I do not rise to offer opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, this Bill has already had an unusual career. Originally the Second Reading was put down before the Bill was circulated. Then it was put down quite lately for Second Reading last Tuesday, and without any notice being given it was moved on for to-day. When I eventually obtained a copy of the Bill I read it through very carefully and I found that the Preamble was unusual, for it was declared to be an Act "to amend and consolidate" at the same time. I am very glad that we are not very often called upon to deal with Bills which amend and consolidate at the same time. I was very puzzled after reading through the Bill. It is a very long one, containing seventy-four clauses and eight schedules, and I find in the schedule that there are sixteen Acts of Parliament repealed by the Bill and four others partly repealed. That led me to ask the Government to provide us with a Memorandum setting forth what was the new law, and what was the old law, and I have already thanked the Government for their kindness in granting my request.
That Memorandum or White Paper has been very useful to me, and on reading it through I found that this Bill was very largely based on the Report of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage, which was issued in the year 1927, as pointed out by Lord De La Warr. I must say, however, that there is one most important reservation made by the Royal 94 Commission which the Government have ignored. The most important words of that reservation are:—We consider that the prevailing depression in agriculture is so serious that additional burdens cannot be placed upon it without disastrous effect.Then again:—We think that great caution should be exercised by the newly-appointed authorities in initiating drainage schemes of any magnitude.Then again:—We are, therefore, strongly of the opinion that until the State is prepared to accept due financial obligations with regard to such works as those above indicated, very little progress can be made.I would ask, my Lords, whether agriculture in 1930 is better than it was in 1927, for in addition, as I pointed out on the Scottish Drainage Bill, we are subjected to the dumping of foreign cereals, which we were not to any extent in 1927. I see now why the late Conservative Government did not bring in a further Land Drainage Bill based on that Report. It was because agriculture could not stand it.
The noble Earl, Lord De la Warr, told us that there are going to be some financial proposals, but those proposals are not in the Bill and we do not know what they are and, therefore, we must deal with the Bill as we find it at the present moment. Under the Bill the cost will fall upon the landowners, occupiers and ratepayers. Personally I do not wish to add to the burdens of anyone. The powers of the Minister under the Bill are tremendous. I doubt whether any Bill has ever given a Minister such powers as this Bill gives. I might say that he is a Tsar and a Lenin in one. When a drainage scheme is put forward all that is required is the fiat of the Minister. He can confirm it and it has the force of an Act of Parliament. I am amazed that the Royal Commission recommended that Parliamentary sanction to a scheme should not be required. I wonder why it was then that the Government in the Scottish Bill, the other day, put in a clause that schemes were to be submitted to Parliament, and your Lordships went further and said that a Resolution of both Houses in favour of schemes must be passed before a scheme could come into force.
Just consider the powers of the Minister under this Bill. I will not go into 95 them all, but here are just one or two. He can add to the areas, he can vary awards under Public or Local Acts relating to land drainage, and he can commute the obligation to repair. In Clause 6 are his powers in relation to a main river, and in Clause 33 we find that a drainage board can cleanse a river, deepen, widen and straighten it. That means making at times a new cut, like a new arterial road, in order to avoid a big bend; and as far as I can see the Minister's decision is final. That may cost thousands and thousands of pounds, and as the Bill stands that will fall upon the landowner, the occupier and the ratepayer. The State does not find the money, although I hope, from what we have heard, that we may get a grant. I notice that regulations are to be laid before Parliament, but the schemes themselves are not to be laid before Parliament.
I think I have a shrewd suspicion why this Bill is brought in while agriculture is so depressed. It is to give the Government, through the Minister, an opportunity of pushing forward huge land drainage schemes and putting unemployed persons to work. That would not necessarily be objectionable, in fact it might be a wise way of doing it, if the State found the money. But the State is not going to find the money. Agriculture is not in a position to stand any further burden. The noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, is at this moment presiding over a Commission to enquire into the powers of Ministers. I do not know what that Commission would say if they had this Bill before them, seeing the powers that are given to the Minister in it. I think your Lordships would be well advised to pause before you give these powers to a Minister, and you should also allow an aggrieved person the right of appealing to Parliament.
LORD MONK BRETTON
My Lords, I do not propose to offer opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. I believe that a Drainage Bill is due, and I say that because I was a member of a Joint Committee of both Houses which two years ago under the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, had the Ouse Bill before it. We threw it out. I think we threw it out chiefly on the ground that such changes in the system of rating were so 96 great that it was not a matter that ought to be proceeded with by way of a Private Bill. But I am not going to-day into the question from the point of view of the rural areas. I want to say a word with regard to the effect of this Bill in London, and I would ask the noble Earl at once to consider whether it would be a great sacrifice for him if he would on the Committee stage accept an Amendment to the Schedule of the Bill to remove the Thames and the other two little rivers, the Lea and the Roding, out of the Schedule of the Bill. I do it simply because of the danger which I see to London from the passing of the Bill immediately in its present form.
I must give your Lordships a little bit of history. The London County Council succeeded to the Metropolitan Board of Works in their responsibility for the defences of London. And be it remembered that the London County Council is also the authority for the main drainage of London. The Thames is a difficult river. It has always been a difficult river. In 1881 we had very serious floods, 17½ ft. above ordnance datum. That was in the time of the Board of Works. The Board of Works said the defences must be 18 feet, and that was done. In 1928 we had still more serious floods, and on that occasion there was damage to property and loss of life. There was loss of life in Grosvenor Road, close by, and in Hammersmith. There are thousands of people to-day living in basement dwellings in the flood areas. I am not so sure that it was a matter of more than an inch or two whether the water did not come into the cellars of your Lordships' House. If that was so you can realise what the effect would be if such a thing happens in the basement dwellings all over London.
It was a serious matter, and the Prime Minister of the day recognised that it was a serious matter, and he called for a conference of local authorities and others, and they eventually reported to Parliament. They reported recommending new levels. They wanted 18 feet for the Lea and 19½ feet between Putney Bridge and Hammersmith—a good deal higher, I think, than the levels outside these Houses of Parliament. These changes are very expensive things. They may cost anything from half a million to a million. The County Council is responsible 97 for saying what is to be done, but the persons who have to pay are the riparian owners. For them it certainly is a very serious matter. And lastly, the higher you build a wall the greater the strain that wall has to bear, and consequently the greater the anxiety.
May I look for one moment on the question of how these floods occur? They occur from causes some of which are calculable and some incalculable. They occur from high spring tides. Those high spring tides are calculable by the hydrographers of the Admiralty and can be estimated. They also occur from storms in the North Sea. There are surge waves from the North Sea that have come as far as Southend. These storms are not calculable. There are also flood waters that come down in stormy weather from the Thames Valley. When all those three things occur together—the high spring tides, the storms in the North Sea, and floods in the Upper Thames—I venture to say that it is not possible to calculate too nicely what may happen to London in certain circumstances. Anyway, the conference which the Prime Minister appointed in 1928 asked for an investigation by a body that was singularly well equipped to go into matters connected with tidal rivers—the Liverpool Tidal Institute—and a report from the Hydrographie Department of the Admiralty and the Meteorological Office. There is one thing that I should lay the greatest stress upon in regard to that investigation: it did not include anything above London Bridge.
I venture to say therefore that this matter has not been fully explored. This Bill, if it is going to achieve anything, must provide for the sending of more flood water down the river. That is obvious. We members of the London County Council are very much concerned with what may happen if the three things to which I have referred occur together—the high spring tides, storms in the North Sea, and floods in the Upper Thames—and if at the same time the body over which the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, presides succeeds in letting down the water more rapidly from the upper reaches of the Thames. Therefore it was only last month that the London County Council, being seised with these troubles, passed resolutions demanding in the first place that there should be further inquiry as to the probability, 98 the frequency, and the amplitude of surges from the North Sea; secondly, that a technical inquiry should be held regarding the effect of the water as it conies down before effect be given to the Report of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage; and lastly, that a conference should take place between the London County Council, the Thames Conservancy and the Port of London Authority as to the co-ordination of all activities relating to the tidal waters of the Thames. If you look back into the history of the floods on the Thames you will see that it is ever a question of increasing floods and higher walls. If that is to go on the investigation I have suggested becomes more important than ever. There is even a theory that I have heard put forward on fairly competent authority, that there may be a sinking of the soil of London in the riverside areas. It is not known whether that is so or not, but it is at any rate a reinforcement of the argument for further investigation.
As I have said, I do not wish to oppose the Second Reading, but I ask that there should be time to look very carefully into the dangers that may arise in the Thames Basin. Under Clause 2 of the Bill the Minister can create new catchment areas or annul old ones. Therefore, I would ask the noble Earl, if any of my friends or I bring forward an Amendment on the Committee stage to cut the Thames, the Roding and the Lea out of the Schedule of the Bill, whether he would have any objection and what his objection would be? Under the same clause the Minister can put those rivers in at any moment. My object is to secure time to consider the very dangerous circumstances in which London may be placed, and I think we may have to ask the noble Earl to consider such an Amendment on the Committee stage. As it is a very important matter, I wish to give the earliest possible notice of it.
§ LORD EBBISHAM
My Lords, I am desired by the Corporation of the City of London, of which I am a member, to point out to your Lordships the serious effect the proposed Bill will have of denying them representation on what will be the future authority in the Thames catchment area; and that in spite of the fact that the area of the Corporation as Port Sanitary Authority actually extends 99 up to the lower boundary of the Thames Conservancy and, indeed, overlaps that part of the river for a short distance. In those and other circumstances the Corporation press for the retention of their present representation.
May I express to the noble Earl my warm appreciation of the consideration he has given me in consultation with him and members of his Department, because they have promised seriously to consider the possibility of retaining this representation. For purposes of record and as a matter of history may I also mention that the Corporation of the City of London themselves promoted the Thames Conservancy Bill of 1857 and before that were conservators of the river? The Corporation are also the Sanitary Authority of the Port of London from Teddington to the Nore, a jurisdiction exercised at the sole expense of the City and without cost to any other area. For these reasons and coupled with their immemorial rights, I ask the noble Earl to consider on the Committee stage the advisability of retaining their present representation.
§ LORD BAYFORD
My Lords, the last two speakers and the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, dealt with this case from the point of view of those who represent London. I would ask to be allowed to say a word or two about the matter exclusively with regard to the country districts. I do not think that anybody Objects to the principle of the Bill. We are all agreed that drainage must be done and that it must be done by combination.
My friend Lord Dynevor raised just now the burning question as to how far the country land can afford the drainage that undoubtedly would be of great benefit to it. The real point is not that there is any doubt as to the improvement that would be effected, but whether the return on the increased value is greater than the cost of procuring the increase. If, in a great many country districts at the present time which undoubtedly and evidently would benefit very much by drainage, the question was asked why their drainage is not done, the same reply would always be given: "We cannot afford it at present costs.' Consequently, I was very interested to hear that there is a prospect of a grant being made. If that grant is made I hope it will have reference not only to the millions foreshadowed by the noble 100 Lord, Lord Desborough, as being required for the Thames, but that some smaller amount of money may be available for the drainage which is necessary in the country districts if the land is to be not so much improved as even maintained at its present standard of fertility. I hope, therefore, that the country districts will get some share of the grant which the Minister has foreshadowed.
My chief object, however, in rising this evening is to emphasise a point which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Dynevor. It is probably a Committee point, but it pervades the whole Bill so thoroughly that I think it amounts to a Second Reading point. It is the unrestrained power that is to be given to the Minister. Something was lately said in high legal circles about the evils of taking away power from the Law Courts in order to give it to the bureaucracy. I do not know whether this is the reply of the Government to that pronouncement, but I do not think there has ever been any Bill in which the bureaucratic element was so very much stressed. My noble friend Lord Dynevor compared the position of the Minister under the Bill to that of a mixture of the Tsar and Lenin. It might be said, I think, with equal fairness, to be half Mussolini and half Pooh Bah. My noble friend also gave your Lordships a list of a few of the Minister's powers. I have looked at the Bill very carefully, and one or two things have been pointed out to me by those who are interested in the Bill, and curiously enough, the points in the powers of the Minister which have impressed themselves or have been impressed upon me, though fairly considerable in number, do not even include those which were mentioned by the noble Lord opposite.
Under the various clauses the Minister can increase or diminish the number of catchment areas; he can define the constitution of the boards; he can confirm or reject plans for internal drainage areas; he can decide whether any work is or is not arterial drainage; he can authorise a catchment board to act in default in case of a drainage board refusing to do so; he can transfer the functions of the internal drainage board to a catchment board; he can enforce performance of duties by catchment boards; he can constitute drainage districts or drainage boards outside the 101 catchment areas; he may revoke or alter such orders; he may enforce the constitution of internal boards, and this he can do by mandamus. That I believe is a new power to give in such a Bill as this. I do not remember such a provision in any similar Bill. In fact, so unfamiliar was that provision to either the draftsman or the printer that he has actually not spelt mandamus correctly. Then the Minister can confirm an order for exempting certain areas, or charging a lower rate thereon, by the drainage boards. The matter of obstruction has already been referred to.
He can also authorise compulsory purchase of land, and that can be done without any appeal. Yet an appeal has been most strongly advocated by the Royal Commission on whose Report this Bill is based. I want to know why was that provision left out? Amendments will be put down in Committee asking that that appeal may be given, as recommended by the Royal Commission, and I do hope that the Minister will give favourable consideration to such Amendments because I can assure him if he does so it will make the Bill go much easier both in this House and in another place. After all, the decision of the Minister in all these cases under the Bill is to be final. The Minister cannot, of course, do it himself in all this long list of instances that I have read out. The decision must be given by the officials whose special affair it is to look after thedrainage question. I have no doubt whatever that they are perfectly fair and impartial men. I have no doubt whatever that they will do their best, but after all their job is to promote drainage, and when a question comes up in which it is a matter between the interests of the drainage authority and the interests of a private individual, I think it is inevitable that they will have, I will not say a bias, but they will have a certain tendency in favour of the drainage authority, and that is why some protection is wanted.
There is not even the protection that is so often given in an Act of Parliament that orders made by the Minister must lie on the Table of both Houses. Clause 66 says that certain things are to be laid on the Table of both Houses, but, subject to correction by the Minister, I do not 102 think it applies to such cases. I do not think it applies to the orders to which I now refer. In some cases the decisions of the catchment areas themselves are to lie upon the Table of the House. In two cases they are to have an appeal to an arbitrator. In the case of the Minister's decisions, however, there is to be no appeal at all, and I think it would make the passage of the Bill very much easier if the Minister would give favourable consideration to Amendments to be put clown in Committee on the point of an appeal from the decision of the Minister.
My Lords, I venture to make one remark and to pose one question to the noble Earl who introduced this Bill, and it is to point out the contradiction between Clause 3 and Clause 70 as to the constitution of these catchment boards. Your Lordships have perhaps heard unduly much as to the Thames to-day, but in this instance the Bill places it in such an entirely exceptional position that I feel justified in calling your Lordships' attention to this point. The noble Earl in introducing the Bill emphasised the fact that under Clause 3 those who had to find the money would be fully represented on the catchment boards. For some reason this principle has been wholly lost sight of when we come to Clause 70, and the upriver counties of the Thames are very anxious as to their positions in this respect.
In Clause 70 the drainage board of the Thames catchment area is said to consist of persons who are for the time being the conservators of the river Thames. The conservators of the river Thames are stated to be thirty members who are appointed in the manner specified in the Sixth Schedule, and those act together with such additional members, not exceeding three, as the Minister may appoint. I gather, subject to the noble Earl's correction, that the effect of this would be that any county council would have, we would say, not more than two members to represent it, athough it might be called upon to find sums of money running up to figures in the hundreds of thousands. I believe it has been calculated that to carry out the adequate drainage of the Thames catchment area would cost £9,000,000 and that this would amount to a contribution per 103 acre of something between £3 and £4. I venture, therefore, to bring before your Lordships the strange inconsistency of allowing an ad hoc body to have the spending of these enormous sums, although they have not the finding of the money.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I will take the last point first, and I think I can answer the noble Lord's question. If he looks at Clause 3 he will see that there are to be two-thirds county council representatives and one-third appointed by the Minister in the case of the ordinary catchment board. In the case of the Thames Conservancy, I think your Lordships will all agree that it is obviously desirable that we should not attempt to create another body. Therefore we took the Thames Conservancy. That has not turned out to be as inconsistent as the noble Lord suggested. If he looks at page 70 of the Bill he will see there the Sixth Schedule, and if he counts up the number of representatives he will find that there are nineteen county council representatives out of thirty. He will see that within one you have exactly the same constitution for the Thames Conservancy as you have for the ordinary catchment board. Perhaps I should not use the word "exactly," but "almost."
A number of other points have been raised, and I think probably they can mostly be best answered by saying that we do regard this Bill as a non-controversial Bill and that the Minister is very willing and anxious to meet all legitimate criticism in Committee. The questions of the powers of the Minister has been referred to at considerable length. We all of us recognise that this problem of the powers of the Minister is exercising the minds of a great many people at the present moment. I think this Government have a right to claim tolerance on this point because we have so far recognised the importance of this matter that we have appointed a Committee to go into the whole question. While that question is still sub judice it is only natural that we should continue in our legislation on the same lines as hitherto. As a matter of fact, I think if I went into all the powers that have been mentioned in this debate I should be able to show your Lordships that the great bulk of these powers that are given to the 104 Minister in this Bill are really re-enactments of powers that the Minister already possesses.
The noble Lord, Lord Desborough, raised certain points. He started his speech by implying, I think, that the freedom from rates wihch had been given to the farmer by the Local Government Act, 1929, was being taken away from him by this Bill. That is not so. There is no new rate at all on agricultural land and I think I can show that the new land that is brought in by extending the area responsible for drainage works is upland. The way in which rates will be raised from the uplands is by a precept on the county councils and the county borough councils on the general purposes rate. As your Lordships know agricultural land is exempt from paying that rate. In the lowlands the farmer will continue paying the drainage rate as he does to-day. There will be no alteration there at all, no new rate. Many noble Lords have mentioned the point of imposing fresh burdens on agriculture which agriculture is not in a fit state at the present moment to bear. I would like to stress this point: that the ultimate decision as to whether a scheme should be carried out or not rests with the catchment board with a majority representation of local interests. It is a matter entirely in their hands. They have to consider as local representatives whether their locality can stand the expenditure, whether it is going to be a paying proposition or not, and whether it is in the interests of the locality to carry out a particular scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Desborough, raised the question of protection for water boards and I would draw his attention to Clause 56. I think he will see that by that clause water boards are given very thorough protection. I will not weary your Lordships by reading the clause. No doubt the noble Lord will look into the matter before the Committee stage.
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. My point was that if you run off all the water in the winter you will not have any in the summer.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That will only apply, I think, to surface water and not to the streams. This Government is 105 making very extensive provision—I cannot give the exact figure, but it has been published—for increasing the reservoir capacity in this country. We quite realise that it is a point which will have to be met, and if the noble Lord has any suggestion to make in Committee we will consider it; but I think he will find that it is met in the Bill and in the provisions that we are making for increasing reservoir capacity. While thanking your Lordships for the very friendly and generous reception you have given to the Bill, I should like to emphasise again the fact that we are anxious to do everything in our power to meet noble Lords who are interested in this legislation and are desirous of improving the working of the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not rise to take any part in the debate. I really desire to call the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to a matter of which he is probably already aware, and that is the great complication of a great deal of this measure. I do not want to mention it in any aggressive manner, but it is a very complicated measure. In addition to that there are a certain number of very controversial questions which are raised. I would venture to ask the noble and learned Lord not to hurry us too much in going into Committee. The suggestion I am going to make, subject to his much better judgment, is that he should be good enough to confer with some of us on the reassembling of Parliament before the date for going into Committee is effectively set down. Some day must, of course, be set down now, but before the day is effectively set down I would suggest that there might be a little consultation so that your Lordships' convenience in the matter may be studied.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I quite recognise the importance of the point put to me by the noble Marquess. The date I had in my mind to put down for the Committee stage is Tuesday, May 6. I think myself that will give sufficient time. I do not want the Bill to linger on too long.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble and learned Lord will put it down provisionally for that day.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I will consult the noble Marquess. Although he says provisionally I hope it will be final, but we can consider that at a later date. At any rate I will put it down now for Tuesday, May 6.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.