HL Deb 19 February 1947 vol 145 cc771-80

2.50 p.m.

LORD CRANWORTH rose to move, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred, that before authorizing the powers sought under Part II (Works and Lands) of the Bill they should satisfy themselves that:

  1. (a) due consideration has been given to the desirability of conserving the amenities of Dedham Vale; and
  2. (b) that it would not be possible to obtain the required water from any other source except at a cost which in the view of the Committee, taking into account the desirability of conserving the amenities, would be prohibitive.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I venture to hope that the Motion, a very mild Motion, which stands in my name will be one which will attract the sympathy of your Lordships. It arises out of a Bill to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading about three weeks ago whereby the Tendring Hundred Waterworks Company was given the right, inter alia, of setting up a waterworks in the village of Dedham.

First of all I fear I must take your Lordships back for a year or two as to the history of this Waterworks Company. The Tendring Hundred Waterworks Company was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1884. By that and subsequent Acts it is, inter alia, empowered to and in fact does supply water in the Borough of Harwich, the Urban District of Frinton and Walton, the Rural District of Tendring and the parish of Dedham. It also supplies in bulk a portion of the water required by the Urban District of Clacton-on-Sea. In 1912 the company was granted wide powers by the Tendring Hundred Water and Gas Act of 1912 to construct waterworks at Dedham, and in the same year sank one borehole upon land which it had purchased in 1911. No further work was done, and in 1919 the powers granted under the Acts lapsed.

Now, in 1947, the company seeks to take almost unlimited powers to develop the site acquired in 1911. I have two preliminary observations to make. The first is that since 1912 a good deal of water has flowed under the bridges, and we have, among other things, acquired considerably more knowledge about the necessity for water and the water supplies Of the country, and further we have gained an appreciation of the desirability of planning. The second observation is that I would not for a moment suggest—nor I believe would any of your Lordships—that the necessity for a water supply, not only to a town but to a rural district, is any longer merely an amenity; it is an absolute priority necessity. If the finding and the providing of such water necessitates the destruction of any feature of natural beauty, then the sacrifice has to be made. Indeed, I would go further than that. If the site on which it has to take place is substantially the most suitable, and substantially the most economical, then, even if it involves the destruction of some natural beauty, again the sacrifice must be made. If, on the other hand, a company such as this cannot show that this is substantially not merely the only place, but substantially the cheapest and most convenient site on which to place a waterworks, then in that case the objection to it not only may, but should, be considered.

This company, so far as I know, utterly failed to prove that. There was an inquiry quite recently by the North Essex Planning Committee, and they stressed that particular point, first, last and nearly all the time. According to my information, not only did the company entirely fail to prove their point, but the only argument they made was that if they took another site it would take them in all probability nearly a year to acquire it. Since they have had this site since 1911 and have done nothing, I hardly think that is an argument which will weigh very heavily with your Lordships. After all, how can this company suggest that this is an uniquely suitable site (I believe those are the right words) when, after all, they propose to tap the artesian water—that is to say, the water running through chalk and lime beds under the ground? I think everyone knows that this water lies on a fairly level bed; in other words, if you find it at a certain depth at one place you are almost certain to find it at an equal depth over a considerable area. In my part of the country it lies at a depth of 220 feet, and for a great many miles around it does not vary from that by more than 10 or 20 feet. Indeed, over the whole county it does not vary much more than 100 feet.

Furthermore, the depth and quantity of this water is known to my county council over the whole of the county. I know the Essex County Council to be a particularly up-to-date county council, and I have not the least doubt that the information is in their possession. Surely, it is a palpable absurdity to say that in order to supply water to the town of Clacton—which is some fifteen miles off—the fields abutting the main street of Dedham village provide the only possible site. I venture to say that that is an absurdity, and therefore I think we are right to consider what are the objections to this particular waterworks. First of all, may I point out the people who object to it? The first people who object to it are the Dedham Village Parish Council. I submit they are people whose opinion is very valuable in this matter, because after all, they are the people on the spot. They are the people who, among others, use the water, and they are the people who enjoy the amenities which are threatened. I understand that a parish council is unable to present a petition except by unanimous vote, and unanimity on a parish council is not easily acquired; but by unanimous vote they have asked the Essex County Council to protest in this matter.

The second parties who object are the. Dedham Vale Society, a Society formed in 1938, of whom the President is Sir Alfred Munnings, President of the Royal Academy. They are affiliated to the. Council for the Preservation of Rural England. They have a large membership, and I submit that their voice is one which, on the question of amenities, is very well worth listening to. The third group are the local Rural District Council—the people who are on the spot—and the fourth and last are the Essex County Council themselves who, after all, are supremely important inasmuch as the water to be used is within the area of their administration and so are all the people who are going to use that water. I venture to say to your Lordships that this is a pretty formidable list of people who object to this scheme.

Now I will take the grounds of their objections. The first is that to put a big waterworks abutting on the High Street of Dedham, which has been declared to be an ancient monument by the Ministry of Works, is in itself fundamentally wrong and contrary to all good planning. The second is that since the Bill went through in 1912 without opposition a good deal of change has taken place, and among other things the people in that area have seen what a waterworks looks like. They have seen waterworks at Langham and Stratford St. Mary. They have been told these waterworks are going to be similar and they know that such waterworks are totally incompatible with the beauties of the village. The next objection is on the ground of noise. Diesel engines which run these waterworks can be heard at a distance of three or four miles on an ordinary night, and the disturbance to a village or small town must be considerable.

I think the strongest objection, however, arises from another aspect—the spoliation of what is known as Constable's Country. John Constable has been admired by Sir Alfred Munnings as the finest landscape artist England or, as he goes on to say (and I think it may be said), the world has produced. I am not a competent authority to judge whether that statement is correct, but this I know, and your Lordships know it too: Constable has made Dedham Vale a place of the highest estimation among artists and other people, and every year thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands of people, go there. Many of them come from abroad to see the country that Constable has made so famous. They spend their money over here, and that is not without value; we have not so many assets in this poor country of ours now that even a small one can be neglected. It is really ironical that even from Clacton, on whose behalf it is suggested spoliation should take place, regular services are run to see the beauty of Dedham Vale.

Already Constable's Country and Dedham Vale have suffered very grave spoliation from the erection of a waterworks. Those at Stratford St. Mary, which have stopped the flow of the Stour, have, for a start, turned 200 acres of meadow of fine grazing into salt marsh, and down by Manningtree one sees the gaunt spectre of trees and the stricken landscape caused by the damning of the River Stour. I think the national conscience before the war was very largely aroused over things of this sort, and hence the C.P.R.E. and the National Trust have done so much. Naturally during the war that consciousness which was sharpened was blunted, though I hope and think that, as the years go on, it will be sharpened and continually sharpened again.

I would give just one other objection which is really my own, and it is this: all these large-scale borings in East Anglia are having a very serious effect. They have already lowered the water level appreciably, many springs have dried up, many wells which used to give a good flow of water have ceased to give any water at all, streams—beautiful little streams too—at which cattle were watered and which were a source of beauty to the country have dried up and now at best are muddied ditches after a storm. I think that is a particular aspect to which those in authority should give very serious consideration. I venture to hope that the reasons I have given and the objections I have made to the scheme are sufficient to attract your Lordships sympathy to the matter. You may possibly be impressed by the moderation of the Motion and by the fact that no opposition was made to the Second Reading of the Bill on the grounds which I have given. I therefore hope, my Lords—and more especially having regard to the views of the strong bodies on whose behalf I am speaking—that you will receive this Motion with sympathy and favour.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred, that before authorizing the powers sought under Part II (Works and Lands) of the Bill they should satisfy themselves that:

  1. (a) due consideration has been given to the desirability of conserving the amenities of Dedham Vale; and
  2. (b) that it would not be possible to obtain the required water from any other source except at a cost which in the view of the Committee, taking into account the desirability of conserving the amenities, would be prohibitive.—(Lord Cranworth.)

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked on behalf of the Company to accept this Motion. I have listened with great interest to the very able speech made by my noble friend, Lord Cranworth, and it is felt by the company that all these questions should be threshed out before a Select Committee of this House. Therefore, on behalf of the Company I accept the instruction embodied in the Motion which has been so ably moved.


My Lords, I would support in very few words the Motion by my noble friend, Lord Cranworth. It is contrary, I believe, to the customs of your Lordships House to go very fully into arguments for and against a private Bill which is going to receive full consideration by a Select Committee before which counsel will be able to represent the views of outside bodies, and I do not therefore propose to do so. But I understand the object of this instruction is that consideration should be given to the exceptional nature of this Bill; that it should not be considered the usual Gas and Water Bill but that it does contain questions of profound interest and importance to all educated people. The renown of Constable throughout the civilized world is unquestionable and a matter of pride to this country. I think your Lordships will agree that we should not destroy the beauty of a stretch of country which he has made so famous if there is an alternative site which could be found in its place. England cannot ignore, and I hope the Select Committee will not ignore, the name of one of the greatest of her sons.

Dedham Vale has both an historic interest and a natural beauty which would permit the National Trust immediately to accept it if it were offered to them. It is very high in the list of the areas which the Council for the Preservation of Rural England wish to preserve. I think your Lordships will agree that, in view of the strong feeling not only in this House but also outside, it would be advisable and wise to give the Select Committee this guiding instruction, which has a precedent in that passed in the case of the Manifold Valley. I hope that this Motion will receive your Lordships approval.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, as I am responsible to the House for Private Bill procedure, perhaps you will expect me to say a few words on this matter. I do not wish to say anything about the merits of the Bill for they cannot, I think, be fully examined on the floor of the House. For that reason I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Cranworth in that he refrained from asking the House to decide on the merits of the Bill on its Second Reading. He has accepted what has for long been a recognized principle of private Bill procedure namely, that in general the wise and fair course is to allow a Bill to proceed to its Committee stage.

The object of my noble friend's Motion is to ensure that his objections are fully considered by the Committee to whom the Bill will be referred. The proposed instruction to the Committee is, in my opinion, very properly so worded as not to tie the hands of the Committee in any way but to leave them free to exercise their functions in a perfectly judicial manner. Opportunity will be given both to promoters and opponents to be heard before the Committee and to call evidence in support of their cases. I would only add that when a Bill is reported from the Committee, if it appears that there is a general desire in the House to review the decision of the Committee, the Chairman of Committees has authority, under the Standing Orders, to recommit the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House. That is, however, a course which I think should be adopted only in very exceptional circumstances, as it has been the universal practice of the House to support the findings of a Select Committee whenever possible. There is, in addition, an opportunity on the Third Reading to raise any further matters. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will accept this Motion.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add merely one point to what has been said, for I am sure that the Select Committee will take into consideration what has been said in your Lordships' House in support of this very moderate Motion, and especially the excellent' and persuasive speech with which it was introduced. I have been asked to call attention to the fact that the Central Institute of Art and Design, representing rather more than 6,000 artists in this country and all, or almost all, the organizations of artists, is solidly in favour of the Motion which is now before the House. I trust that the Select Committee will bear that in mind sympathetically when this Bill is being considered.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, the Motion of my noble friend Lord Cranworth, which I cordiahy support, seems to me to raise a further and very important question. Your Lordships a little time ago named me a member of the Committee to consider the Manifold Scheme, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, has made reference, and I have consulted my Chairman as to what I am to say to your Lordships this afternoon. When we had to consider that Bill we were told that although a Water Act for England had been passed by the late Parliament, and a similar Act for Scotland by this present Parliament, yet those Acts could not be put into operation. We found that the neighbouring local authorities had made a water survey as laid down by the Act, but the petitioners came to us with the suggestion that the Act could not be worked, and the only method of working was under the old procedure. I submit to your Lordships that possibly this Motion does not go even quite far enough, if it is correct that the Water. Acts passed by Parliament are not workable.

Amongst other things we were told that a Central Water Advisory Committee had not been set up, and that for that reason it was not possible to operate the Water Acts. Those of your Lordships who follow the history of the countryside will know that more deep-seated and irreconcilable quarrels have taken place in the past over the easement or servitude, or right of water, than over any other single cause, because these rights are so important to life. I believe that under the existing Acts a man may not even have the right to water rising on his own land. In the circumstances, if Parliament has thought fit to vest these powerful rights in a Ministry and in the Government of the country, I venture to submit that these rights ought not to remain a dead letter. These Acts ought to be put into operation if they are workable. If they are not workable they should be amended and made to work.

Incidentally, in the evidence which was called before us we had testimony that the water table of the country is being lowered very much in the way to which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has drawn your Lordships' attention. I have ventured to say what I have said this afternoon because there is going to be a debate on water next month, and I would like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will consider if there are any obstacles to putting the Water Acts into operation. This Bill is, apparently, going under the old procedure, just as the Leicester Water Bill went under the old procedure. I ask the Government if they are going to put the Water Acts into operation, and how soon we may expect some results from them.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot reply on the spur of the moment to the questions which have just been put by my noble friend Lord Saltoun. I will, however, cause inquiries to be made and I hope that as a result I shall be able to reply to him in due course. I think that in all quarters of the House there will be agreement that in the very careful and moderate speech which the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has made, using his extensive local knowledge, he has made out a strong case in support of this Motion. It may possibly be of interest to your Lordships to have some further information about the actions taken by Government Departments in relation to the Bill, and also to know the view of the Government about the instruction which is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth.

This Bill is already being closely and exhaustively examined by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. These Departments intend to inquire into the effects on amenities of the proposals in the Bill—a point about which several noble Lords who have spoken have expressed concern—before they submit a Report for the information of the Select Committee. Of course, as the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, has said, it will be open for the Committee to consider any matter that is raised in the evidence brought before it, without receiving instructions about specific aspects of the problem from your Lordships' House, but if your Lordships consider that it is desirable that the attention of the Committee should be directed to specific questions, such as amenities or cost, the Government will raise no objection to the adoption of such a course.

On Question, Motion agreed to.