HL Deb 21 February 1946 vol 139 cc829-44

had given Notice that he would move,

That it be an instruction to the Select Committee, to which the Bill may be re- ferred, that before authorizing the construction of the proposed reservoir in the Manifold Valley they should satisfy themselves that—

  1. (a) due consideration has been given to the consequent effect upon a large area of agricultural land that is now producing up to one million gallons of milk per year, in addition to other much-needed foodstuffs; and
  2. (b) there is no suitable alternative source of supply.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving this instruction I intend to restrict myself to the agricultural aspect of the problem. I have been approached by the National Trust, the Standing Committee for National Parks, the Joint Committee for the Peak District National Park, anti many other bodies connected with amenities, but as there are other noble Lords who wish to speak on this instruction, and who will deal with that aspect of this problem, I do not intend to touch upon it.

My attention was first drawn to this question by agricultural interests. I must confess that when I heard the case my first instinct was to ask your Lordships on the Second Reading to reject the Bill. It then seemed to me that that would not be right or proper, because although there are certain general principles at stake here, there are also a number of technical questions involved and your Lordships will no doubt want to have this question first considered by one of your Committees. I looked back into the past for precedent as to what action to take, and I thought I really could not do better than follow the lead that was suggested to us a short time ago by the now Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, when addressing your Lordships on the subject of the Metropolitan Water Board Bill. In order to make quite sure of receiving his support, I drafted my instruction, as far as possible, in the same words and terminology as he used only a few months ago.

I can put the position before you very briefly. The Leicester Corporation are anxious to extend their supply of water. I need not take your Lordships into technical details, but at the present moment they receive their water supplies from three reservoirs of their own and also from the Derwent Valley Water Board. So far as I can ascertain, there is no ques- tion of their suffering from any shortage at the moment, or in the near future. Not only are they large sellers of water, but they have also informed potential purchasers that they are able to continue to supply to them for some time. The reason why I felt it was necessary to bring this matter to your attention was very largely due to the nature of the lie of the land affected. It is situated in the Manifold Valley, and comprises a very large area of some of the most fertile land in this country. As your Lordships know, usually when a new dam is constructed in order to form a reservoir, it is possible to find land which slopes down steeply between hillsides, and by enclosing that land comparatively little damage is done to food production. Usually, only a small area of unfertile land is affected. That is not the case concerning the valley we are discussing.

The effect of the proposed reservoir will be totally to submerge twenty-two homesteads, including an area of not less than 2,000 acres. Twenty-three homesteads mean twenty-three farmers and their families, and that does not take into account the labour that is also employed. It means partly submerging another area affecting seventeen homesteads, or 1,000 acres. That means that in fact it is going to immobilize almost completely that number of farms, because large and important portions of the farms will be cut off. In addition, there is another area of 9,000 acres, affecting twenty-nine homesteads, which will come under control. As your Lordships know, that control is sometimes of a very capricious nature. Some time ago, when I was Chairman of the Committee on Hill Sheep Farming, I came across two areas controlled by a water board, in one of which farmers could plough and not have stock, and in another of which farmers could have stock but not plough. A total of something like just under 1,000,000 gallons of milk is going to be affected by this scheme. A total of over 400,000 gallons is going to be completely destroyed. May I say, to give your Lordships an illustration, that that amounts to something like 150,000 weekly rations at the present ration of two-and-a-half pints a head. The total agricultural production that will be affected is worth over £50,000 a year. That includes milk and other products.

When destruction of this character is going to be brought about, I think it is only natural that we should ask ourselves certain questions. Is this really necessary? I have already told your Lordships something about the present water supply position of Leicester, but I think it would be wrong of me to go further in that connexion, because it would seem that I was attempting to anticipate the inquiry of the Committee which your Lordships will be appointing. Are there other possibilities? Again, it is not for me to attempt to answer that question. I can only tell your Lordships what has been communicated to me by people who are distressed by the prospects of this scheme. They told me that they had attempted to get into touch with the appropriate authorities employed by the Leicester Corporation and that they had received short shrift.

Then, I think we are bound to ask ourselves another question. Last year, Parliament passed a Water Act, and the purpose of that Water Act was to ensure that the country, as a whole, should make the best use possible of its water resources, and that for that purpose there should be some sort of central consideration and planning. Why is it that, within a few months of the passing of that Act, the Leicester Corporation feel it right, or indeed respectful to Parliament, to proceed now, or to attempt to proceed now, by means of a Private Bill that avoids the machinery laid down in that Act? Therefore, I lay this instruction before your Lordships for your consideration.

Before I sit down, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say one further word on a more general point than is raised by this particular Bill and the effect of this Bill. Only yesterday, in this House, we were discussing the present food position in this country and, indeed, in the world. We are all fully aware of that position. Equally, I think we are all aware that it is not such a short-term problem as some people like to think, and that when the world food supply once again increases we are not likely, in this country, ever again to be in the happy position, which we were in before, of having our food brought to our door without feeling any anxiety as to whether or not we were going to be able to pay for it.

In the past obtaining our food supplies was merely a matter of collecting debts on our investments and of the ships to bring the supplies here. To-day, the national food supplies are dependent to a very much larger extent than for many generations in the past on work applied to land—our work applied to our own land. Therefore, I do want to utter this warning to all intending promoters of legislation of this character. We are no longer in a position, as a country, to treat our resources in land with the prodigality, almost frivolity, with which we have treated them in the past, and there are a number of us in this House who have pledged ourselves to watch very carefully, in the future, legislation of this character, in order to see that some of the things that we have done in the past with our land shall not be repeated. I beg leave to move the instruction that stands in my name.

Moved to resolve,

That it be an instruction to the Select Committee, to which the Bill may be referred, that before authorizing the construction of the proposed reservoir in the Manifold Valley they should satisfy themselves that—

  1. (a) due consideration has been given to the consequent effect upon a large area of agricultural land that is now producing up to one million gallons of milk per year, in addition to other much-needed foodstuffs; and
  2. (b) there is no suitable alternative source of supply.—(Earl De La Warr.)

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in asking that this instruction should be given to the Committee. It seems to me that your Lordships' House is doing no less than its duty if it does from time to time scrutinize and criticize these Private Bills which come before us before they go upstairs to a Committee. I hope that that practice will be largely followed. The noble Earl, I thought, in the very short but impressive statement that he made, put an absolutely unanswerable case for the instruction to this Committee. He told your Lordships of the really devastating effect that this scheme, if it goes through as presented, will have on milk production. He told us of the very large number of farmers who would be displaced and of the very serious losses to agricultural production in general that would result. For these reasons, I most warmly support the action he is taking.

I would like, if I may, to add a further reason. This area, which I happen to know, is an area not only of great historical interest but of very great natural beauty, and it has been a most popular holiday resort for people who live in the Midlands. It has been used by holidaymakers, by hikers, by tourists and by visitors, and that particular district on the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire is so highly thought of that a very large area—I do not think it actually includes the part that it is proposed to submerge—in the immediate neighbourhood has been acquired by the National Trust. The object of the National Trust, as I understand, is to preserve in perpetuity, for the recreation and for the benefit of the public, such areas as they think ought to be devoted to those purposes. The Dove, which is a very tine river, and the Manifold river, of course, rise pretty much in the area which is under discussion.

If the Dove and the Manifold rivers are reduced to mere trickles by reason of these operations then, of course, the whole character of the scenery and of the district is changed. If that be so, then the object of the National Trust in acquiring this property so that its natural beauty should be maintained is entirely defeated. I would like to ask the noble Earl who is going to answer on behalf of the Government this quite definite question: Have the National Trust been consulted at all about this matter, and if so what are their views? Further than that, as we know certain areas of England have been designated as suitable districts and areas for national parks and that is a scheme which I understand is sponsored by the Government. This area, which is quite adjacent to the Peak, is one of those areas which has been scheduled for the purpose of a national park.

The second question I should like to ask is, has the Minister of Town and Country Planning been asked what he thinks about it? Quite clearly he should have been consulted as to what his views are if it is proposed to utilize for the purpose which is indicated this area which, as I say, has been scheduled for purposes of a national park. These, of course, are reasons in addition to those reasons which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, gave when he told us of the serious effect on agricultural production. I think that the Select Committee should be asked to consider whether there are not other areas which would not have devastating effects upon agriculture and, as I believe, upon natural beauty, before they pass the Bill in anything like its present form.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should also like to support the instruction which Earl De La Warr has moved. He has gone so fully into the detail of the scheme that I think no one could have put the case more clearly. It is time, in my opinion, that some stand was made in this House against these activities of the great cities which seek to develop without any regard to the effect on agricultural life and production in the area concerned and without considering the immense value that a particular district is to the country. Nobody wants to obstruct the legitimate activity of this or any other city so that it will be short of water, but what we do want to make sure of is that these objects can be attained without causing great loss to agricultural production. We have one Act in regard to the water supplies of this country, and we hope to get a complete scheme for control and co-ordination in this country which is so badly needed.

Now Leicester Corporation has jumped in with this scheme, and I think that any scheme of this magnitude should be subject to that form of control which I hope will be dealt with more fully when the Government has finished with its more political activities. I speak with some feeling about this, because in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where I come from, we have experienced considerable difficulties through the need of great towns to expand. No one wants to prevent their expansion, no one wants to prevent them carrying out housing schemes and so on, but we want to make sure that before land is taken away from agricultural production there should be certainty that there is not some other suitable area which will not involve that amount of agricultural depletion. I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion of the noble Earl and I hope very much that we shall receive a favourable reply from the Minister.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I support this Motion of my noble friend Earl De La Warr in the main from the same point of view that he has taken, the agricultural angle. I need not go into the case he has so admirably put, in view of the figures he has already quoted, but no fewer than forty-nine farmers and farmsteads are involved in this, and the effect upon agricultural production is considerable and should receive careful consideration at this time. It is not for me to enlarge, after the debate yesterday, on the need for the greatest possible development of agriculture in this country with a view to implementing and maintaining the supply of food to the country. But there is one remark by my noble friend Lord Llewellin which I should like to quote. He said, "Let us get the land"—this is in another connexion, of course—"out of the sterile occupation of Service Departments who are not using them." It seems to me that the effect of this Bill would be to sterilize very valuable land which is urgently required for the production of foodstuffs, whether it be milk or any other commodity.

Further than that, I do not wish to do more than point out that this Bill projects this Manifold reservoir into a county outside Leicestershire, and I am informed by the President of the Agricultural Society in that county that they have passed a very strong resolution protesting against what I venture to think will probably be a misuse of the land in question. I hope, therefore, that this procedure which has been recommended to your Lordships' House will be adopted and that the Select Committee to which the Bill will be referred upstairs will pay the greatest attention to the directions which are embodied in this Motion and will satisfy itself completely that there really is no alternative source of supply. For those of us who have had opportunities of hearing what the feelings are of those directly concerned in the agriculture of this area, one cannot but be rather surprised, in view of the facts and figures, some of which have been given by my noble friend, and ask whether or not this vast amount of water is really necessary for the Corporation of Leicester. It seems to me—I speak, of course, only on information given to me—that the Leicester Cor poration is looking into the very far future. However that may be, that is a matter which no doubt will be investigated by the Select Committee, and from experience of many years of Private Bill Committees I know with what care and attention these matters are looked into. On those grounds I warmly support the Motion of my noble friend Earl De La Warr.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I did not expect to intervene in this debate, but I thought it might be rather useful for a representative of the county concerned to say a few words upon the question.

We have heard from the noble Earl, Lord De la Warr, about the agricultural aspect of the question, but there are two other aspects. There is the question of Staffordshire water, and the interference with the amenities of the district. I may tell your Lordships that there is universal condemnation of this Bill by all the authorities in our county. The County Council are against it. The Farmers' Union, the Agricultural Society, the Ramblers' Association, the Society for the Preservation of Rural England and a few others are dead against this Bill. We feel it will affect this most marvellous beauty spot in the Midlands, a beauty spot which has a worldwide reputation, and which will be injured if this Bill passes into law.

We feel that the reason why the Leicester Corporation want this particular water is simply financial. We are to be robbed of our water to enable Leicester to have a cheap supply, when water could be procured elsewhere if they chose to pay the price. I believe I am rightly informed that His Majesty's Government propose a nationalized water scheme. There is no hurry for this. Why not wait until the Government scheme appears? I hope it will be very shortly, because we are all suffering from a shortage of water. It would be much better to leave it to that body which will be appointed by the Government than have the hurried, ill-considered scheme which is before your Lordships' House at the present time.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like most cordially to support this Motion on the ground that has just been stated so emphatically and eloquently by my noble friend, the Earl of Harrowby. It is only a few months ago that we had an interesting debate in this House upon pure milk, and I think we all recognized that in order to ensure both clean and safe milk one essential factor was the supply of pure water in ample quantity, not to dilute the milk, but in order that cowsheds may be supplied with sufficient water to ensure the cleanliness of those sheds and of the utensils that are used therein. As the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, has just said, we have lately passed a Water Act, which, if I understand it aright, was passed upon the understanding that there is in this country a sufficiency of water, if it is only equitably distributed. Surely the wrong way to go to work to ensure an equitable distribution is to allow various municipal corporations to come forward with their own Bills asking—before even a survey has been taken either of the national or the local water resources—that a certain undue proportion of the available water in a district should be allocated to an urban population.

I want to say emphatically that the time is coming when in the matter of both electricity and water there must be available supplies on equitable terms and at the same cost to all users in the country, whether they be urban or whether they be rural. I remember in the old days in the House of Commons—and I see several noble Lords present, including my friends, Lord Bingley and Lord Croft, who were in that House—Corporations used to bring in what were called omnibus Bills with milk clauses, and we agrarians used to troop into the Lobby against these mill: clauses on the footing that legislation ire such matters should be of general application and not merely of local application. I remember so well what I may call the" Agrarian Whip "in another place when pointing the way to the right lobby for us to go into to vote, used to say," This way to Dung in the Milk." Well, although that direction was somewhat unsavoury, with what I may call mens conscia recti we all trooped into the-Lobby and invariably defeated he milk clauses in those omnibus Bills. That is exactly what we have got to do in this connexion. I most warmly support the noble Earl. I would ask the Government in their reply to indicate to what extent they are going to allow these local Bills with their water clauses to cut into the fair operation of the Water Act which was passed only about five months ago.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to add my support to those who have already spoken. From the agricultural point of view, every water project is the basis of dispute. That is natural enough. Not only is a valley submerged, but a large catchment area is restricted when any waterworks are constructed. I claim there is only one approach to the subject. The onus is on the authors of the project to prove that the project is of the greatest good to the greatest number and has been planned with a view to causing the least hardship to the smallest number. This Bill is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. I submit, however, we cannot go wrong if in each case we apply this test. You have already heard from other noble Lords that Leicester Corporation seek power to carry out a considerable undertaking in the erection of waterworks. They contend the demands upon them for water have increased and are continuing to increase.

That is the situation all over England. They do not, I think, contend that the available supply is insufficient for the normal consumer, but it appears that their object is to sell increasing quantities of water to other water authorities. If their demands have increased, so also have their supplies. Their resources, among others, are three large reservoirs. They have recently become constituents in the vast undertaking of the Ladybower Reservoir, and I am informed they get daily 12,500,000 gallons from it. In 1944 a White Paper was published on national water policy. The White Paper treated the whole question of water in this country as a national need that is always increasing, and our resources as a national asset to be controlled to achieve the greatest benefit to the community as a whole. With your Lordships' permission I will quote one paragraph from it. The White Paper says: There is great need also for continuous survey over a period of years of the bulk demands for water, particularly for big industrial centres, and for checking the development of the policy of grab, or first-come first-served in the pursuit of new sources. The reasons advanced by the Corporation, I claim, entitle them to no high immediate priority. Had the site chosen been some stony valley with a catchment area of little use to agriculture, there would perhaps be no objection to their carrying out this project as it stands, but the site chosen for the reservoir, which the water will submerge and the catchment area comprise as valuable agricultural land as you will find in England. The milk produced from that area is close upon a million gallons a year.

Here, again, I would quote from the White Paper: Thirdly, everyone is interested in water and the building up of a water supply system affects and may injure many different interests, Clearly, sectional interest must be set aside if national interest requires it. No one would question that at all. It goes without saying. The sixty-nine families who would suffer if this scheme goes through, including twenty-three families whose homesteads will be submerged, will indeed have to suffer if the House can be convinced that hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of other families will benefit. Those who listened to the food debate yesterday and heard the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, will remember that he told us very frankly of the gravity of the food situation. The claim of the Leicester Corporation, as I have said before, is not higher than a medium priority, against nearly 1,000,000 gallons of milk which has the highest priority in the world today. Which then, I ask, is the sectional interest, and which the national interest? The claim of the Corporation would appear to me to be a purely sectional one and the claim of agriculture in this case to be not only the national but the international one. If this Bill, as it stands, receives the power of law, I say to you we have made a very bad start on a national water policy. I entirely support the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in his Motion for an instruction to the Committee.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, whilst I assume you have heard sufficient to convince you of the wisdom of the Motion moved by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, I wish to mention two points in connexion with my own share in Committee work upstairs. I was on the Committee dealing with the Metropolitan Water Board's Bill when we received an instruction from the House in regard to the allocation of certain lands. In that case we followed the instruction, although the area of land to be acquired for the purposes of the Metropolitan Water Board was infinitely smaller than that now being demanded by the Leicester Corporation.

There is a further point. I was Chairman of the Committee dealing with the Dement Valley Water Board Bill, and the Leicester Corporation figured as opponents of that Bill, but during the whole of the proceedings they never raised the point that they were short of water or that the Derwent Valley Water Board was not treating them properly. Since then this Ladybower Reservoir has come into operation, and I am certain the Leicester Corporation are sure of getting all the water they require. It may not perhaps be proper to raise these points which have cropped up at other Committee meetings upstairs, but I think they have a bearing on the question and may help your Lordships to appreciate fully the wisdom or otherwise of this particular Bill.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to add yet a few more words to the unanimous support that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has received this afternoon. He very properly spoke largely of the agricultural side, with which he is so well equipped to deal. I would refer to the other side which has been mentioned, which, for want of a better word, is called the amenities. The two, in point of fact, invariably march hand in hand. What injures agriculture injures the beauty of the countryside, and the opposite is also true.

This countryside, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, mentioned, contains a considerable area which is considered by the National Trust as being of great beauty and which would be gravely injured if this measure passed. He asked the noble Earl who is going to reply what the attitude of the National Trust on this matter would be, and as I am Chairman of the National Trust perhaps this is almost the only question which I can answer more authoritatively than the noble Earl opposite.

The National Trust opposes this Bill and will present its petition against it in Committee upstairs in the usual way. It believes that this area is one of paramount importance. Much of it in the North has already been gravely damaged by a series of reservoirs, including the Ladybower to which reference has been made, but these particular valleys, the Manifold and the Dove—Isaac Walton's favourite river—are unspoilt and of the greatest beauty. They are, moreover, in the area which is already designated by Government policy as being one of the first areas to be set up as a national park, not only because of its great beauty but because of its accessibility to the great industrial populations of the Midland towns. Sir Arthur Hobhouse, on behalf of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, is at present considering the exact limitations and conditions of these national parks. Surely, as that policy has been accepted, to destroy a national park—because it does mean destruction—and then to create it a national park, is a negation of good planning and the height of folly.

We will be told, no doubt, that the Leicester Corporation needs this water. Similarly we were told that it was essential in the great cathedral City of Durham that the new generating station should be placed in a position which would irreparably damage the greatest group of medieval buildings in the world. Public pressure was put on the authorities, and of course it was found that an equally good site which would not so damage the beauty of Durham could be found; and that decision has now been taken. I believe that the city of Leicester can find other sources of supply for its water which will not have the effect on agriculture and on the amenities of the Peak District which this proposal will. I therefore most cordially support the views expressed by the noble Earl and, indeed, by everyone who has spoken this afternoon.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I want very briefly to support my noble friend Earl De La Warr in his Motion with one or two arguments which I think have not so far been used. As the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, said, this probably will not be the last of such Bills to come forward, and I would point out, in reinforcement of that particular argument, that as we progress to a higher state of civilization, so do we me more and more water. We are reaching the very extraordinary situation that on one side of the picture we have the great centres of population desirous of impounding more and more water, to the detriment of our countryside, while on the other side of the picture we have the catchment boards and the drainage boards who are desirous of getting all the water they can away to the sea as quickly as they can. I think that that curious anomaly makes it obvious that there should be some very definite and settled policy dealing with the water problem of this country. One other point that I want to make is this. I was a member of the Scott Committee which dealt with the utilization of rural land; and if there was one broad conclusion that can be drawn from the Report of that Committee above all others it is that in this country the area of land in relation to the total population is very small. It is very necessary, therefore, to scrutinize very carefully how that available land is being used. The utilization of large areas of valuable and fertile land merely for the storage of water is obviously a case which needs the most careful scrutiny.

The instruction which my noble friend Earl De La Warr has moved seems to me at least to be extremely mild. It leaves absolute freedom for the Select Committee to give to Leicester all the water they want if they can find no other method than the one proposed. We are not depriving Leicester of water by agreeing to this Motion; we are merely asking that tit most careful consideration should be given to the proper utilization of land, and we are asking, virtually, that Leicester should prove their case up to the hilt. I do hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree to the Motion.


My Lords, I think this debate has not only shown the high level of the debating qualities of your Lordships' House but also a striking unanimity of opinion on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. It is rather difficult, as noble Lords will appreciate, for me to say very much on this subject. The Motion put down on the paper by the noble Earl asks that the Select Committee should be instructed that in considering whether or not they should authorize the proposal to construct a reservoir in the Manifold Valley they should pay due attention to agricultural conditions and that they should satisfy themselves that all possible alternative sources of supply have been fully inspected. These are matters which it is quite proper that the Select Committee should pay attention to in reaching a decision; and for myself I am sure that whether or not this House gives them a special instruction to do so, the Committee will give proper attention to these questions in the light of the evidence placed before them. The instruction may perhaps be telling the Select Committee to do something which it is already their duty to do, but if your Lordships feel that it is desirable that their attention should be specifically drawn to these matters, the Government are quite prepared to accept the noble Earl's Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.