HL Deb 18 November 1947 vol 152 cc707-50

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the River Boards Bill is a simple measure of administrative reform. It is a first step, and an extremely important one, in dealing with the many problems connected with water in this country. The rivers of our islands, which provide so much of our water throughout the country are extremely important to us to—day. We are indeed fortunate, speaking generally, in having an adequate rainfall, though its distribution varies. But as industry expands and the standard of life is raised; and having regard to the augmentation of the agricultural programme and the growing of food which is so necessary to-day, I think that the importance of our water supply becomes every day more apparent. We are only too well aware of the evils of pollution and the use, or abuse of our rivers as receptacles for sewage and trade waste, and I think that we should be very unwise if we did not at this stage take far reaching steps to control and administer our water supply.

I should like to pay tribute to noble Lords in all parts of this House who have been aware of this problem for many years and who have, from time to time, pressed for some measures to be taken in regard to pollution, drainage and fisheries. But may I make it clear to your Lordships that in this Bill we do not propose to alter the law or to take any new powers? That will have to come later when the Government have been able to receive and digest the reports of the Central Advisory Water Committee and its sub-Committees, which are now studying these questions. His Majesty's Government are convinced that reorganization must precede other legislation. In fact, without reorganization any new powers that were taken might not be used with proper effect. At present, there are in England 45 fishery boards, 53 catchment boards dealing with land drainage, and some 1,600 pollution authorities. This Bill proposes to replace all these authorities by river boards. They will be few in number and will have jurisdiction over the whole country, with the exception of London and the Thames and Lee catchment areas. The new river boards will take over from the existing authorities all their functions dealing with land drainage, fisheries and river pollution, and will have a general duty to conserve the water resources of their areas. They will be responsible for the measuring and recording of river flow and rainfall, and for the collection of information from private persons operating river gauges. They will have powers also, in appropriate cases, to take over functions from navigation, conservancy, or harbour authorities. The areas for which these boards will be responsible will be the watershed areas of one or more river systems, with certain areas adjacent.

These new local authorities will be large enough to have competent staffs and to call upon the best expert advice on matters concerned with their areas, and to give effect to it. Each river in England and Wales will, therefore, be under the control of a single authority from its source to its mouth. I should like to remind your Lordships that this is no new conception and that, in fact, the Land Drainage Act of 1930 embodied the principle, already applicable in the case of fisheries, that a river and its tributaries must be treated as a whole and must come under the control of a single authority, so that action on one part of the river can be carried through in another. Various Committees and Commissions have proposed the same thing over a long period of years.

The state of some of our rivers to-day is a sad indication of the defects of our present system, showing as it does the pollution and terrible wastage which take place. These Committees and Commissions recommended not only the treatment of each river as a whole, as regards pollution, but also that the pollution function should be combined with the exercise of other functions in relation to each river by bringing them under the control of a single authority. This they regarded as extremely important. It was left to the Central Advisory Water Committee, under the chairmanship of Field-Marshal Lord Milne, following a recommendation from the Joint Advisory Committee on River Pollution in 1937, to make concrete propositions which were embodied in their Third Report to the Ministers of Health and Agriculture, which was presented to Parliament in August, 1943. This Report was generally endorsed by the Government of the day in their White Paper on a National Water Policy in 1944. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a sincere tribute to the great services rendered by Lord Milne and his Committee, in this connexion.

I want to emphasize one particular point as certain noble Lords may contemplate referring to it. The Government do not need reminding that the powers given under existing legislation, and particularly those relating to land drainage and pollution, are in many respects in need of strengthening and amendment. But very controversial issues are involved. The Government thought that the establishment of these river boards was a reform of such great importance that it would be wiser to go ahead with it rather than to wait for the final conclusions on the amendment of the existing powers and then to bring in all the legislation at the same time. In fact, it may well be a great advantage to get these river boards fixed up and into the saddle before any new functions or new legislation are introduced. A Central Advisory Water Committee, the successor to the Committee I have just mentioned, was established some eighteen months ago. At the Government's request this Committee has set up two Sub-Committees—one to examine how legislation should be effected in regard to river pollution, and the other to deal with land drainage. These Sub-Committees have received a lot of evidence already. Obviously the Government's policy will be affected by and will be largely settled having regard to their Reports when they are made.

I should like now to come to the Bill itself, and I wish to go briefly through the main concepts; then, if your Lordships will bear with me, I will examine one or two of the major policy decisions and major matters of moment in their respective places. The Bill proposes a composition for river boards largely based—as noble Lords who have examined the measure will know—on the catchment boards under the Land Drainage Act, 1930. Generally speaking, a river board area will consist of the catchment areas; of one or more rivers bounded by the line of the watershed. Each board will have a constitution similar to that of a catchment board, one member being appointed by the Ministers and the remainder representing the councils of counties and county boroughs, drainage boards and fishery interests in the river board area. They will all contribute directly to the board's funds. Areas will be defined and boards established by order under a procedure set out in the First Schedule to the Bill, opposed orders relating to areas being subject to Parliamentary procedure.

Clause 4 and the Third Schedule of the Bill transfer the necessary powers given under general or local Acts to river boards, when they shall be set up, by substituting in any enactments concerned references to river boards and river board areas instead of references to the authorities from whom functions are transferred and the areas in which those functions are exercised. The Bill enables the transfer of the functions of navigation, conservancy or harbour authorities to a river board as recommended by the Central Advisory Water Committee, by order subject to special Parliamentary procedure if opposed.

A number of clauses in the Bill provide a uniform procedure in relation to such matters as borrowing, the acquisition and disposal of land, powers of entry and the making of bylaws to replace or supplement the diverse powers exercisable by the existing authorities. Further clauses provide for the transfer of assets and liabilities to the boards and are followed by important provisions relating to pensions for officers and servants of river boards taken over from other authorities and compensation to any who suffer financially by the transfer or by loss of their employment. As river boards will be important local authorities, we have tried to obtain the same procedure as is usual to local government authorities and their staffs. The Second Schedule to the Bill sets out, along the lines of the Land Drainage Act, the arrangements governing the proceedings of river boards, the setting up of committees and other matters.

Now I come to the important question of areas. Under Clause 1 the Ministers of Health and Agriculture must define river board areas for the whole of England and Wales excepting the Thames and Lee catchment areas and London and its environs. The areas, for reasons which I will explain later, are not set out in a Schedule to the Bill, as was proposed by the Milne Committee, but are to be defined individually by Order as soon as possible after the Bill has passed into law. The First Schedule to the Bill requires the Ministers to give notice of the draft order and to consider objections to it and Part II of that Schedule makes the Order subject to special Parliamentary procedure if opposed; that is to say, an opposed order will be of no effect until it has been laid before Parliament.

The areas proposed by the Milne Committee did not cover all the rivers of England and Wales, as the Committee thought that the circumtsances did not warrant it at that time—boards could always be formed later. It is true that the fast running rivers flowing mainly through rural areas such as Cornwall, a county whose exclusion was proposed by the Milne Committee, do not present the same pollution problems as the industrialized rivers of the Midlands or the same drainage problems as the slow-moving rivers of the fens. Nevertheless, in all parts of the country problems of drainage, pollution and fisheries do arise, and there is always the need to measure and record rainfall and gauge river flow. For these reasons, my Lords, the Government feel that all the rivers of England and Wales and their watershed areas should be brought under the control of river boards.

There is another important aspect to this provision. All round our coastline there are a number of important county boroughs and boroughs with comprehensive sewerage systems for the disposal of storm water, which discharge directly into the sea or into the tidal portion of rivers. Under present procedure these built-up areas are outside the areas of catchment boards and do not contribute to the cost of land drainage in the surrounding districts. I hope your Lordships will agree, however, that indirectly they benefit as much as anyone else by the drainage and other work carried on throughout the country, and the Government consider it proper that these areas should be brought into the general scheme of the river board system, so that every part of the country, whether urban or rural, shall contribute something towards the water control system., The principle of spreading charges over wide areas is a generally accepted principle in local government administration. It is the principle behind Government grants, including the block grants and contributions by county councils to local authority services in their area.

The principle that river board areas shall cover the whole country simplifies the question of deciding whether certain localities come into a river board area or not. It will not be a question of deciding whether or not a particular district should be brought under river board jurisdiction, since that is decided in the Bill. The question will be into which river board area any particular locality shall come and what size the river board area shall be. We have found from discussions with interested associations that that alone is an extremely controversial issue, and we thought it far better to leave those issues out of the Bill so that in the first place they could be decided by means of consultation, rather than by debate in your Lordships' House. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that that is a wise and speedy procedure.

Before passing from the question of areas, I should like to mention the provisional exclusion from Clause 1 of the Thames and Lee catchment areas and of London. The Milne Committee recommended that these areas, as they had very special problems, should be left entirely out of the river board scheme. It was thought undesirable to interfere with the powers of the Port of London authority in relation to navigation and pollution and the powers of the London County Council in relation to flooding. The Government recognized these arguments, but on the other hand considered that in a far-reaching measure of this nature it would be wiser to insert in the Bill provision by which we could, if it became desirable or necessary at any future time, bring these areas within the river board scheme. Accordingly provision is made in Clause 7 for the making of orders, which will be subject to special Parliamentary procedure if opposed, for bringing within the scope of Clause 1 all or part of these areas. These special provisions are necessary because of problems which do not occur in ordinary catchment areas, such as the relations of the Metropolitan Water Board to the Thames and Lee Conservancy Boards and the pollution functions exercised by the Port of London Authority.

I should like to mention one or two matters on which this Bill differs from the Land Drainage Act. Under the Land Drainage Act such number of members of catchment boards as the Minister may determine is appointed by councils of counties and county boroughs in accordance with their rateable value in the catchment area, and this number must not be less than two-thirds of the membership after allowing for one member appointed by the Minister. It will be seen from subsection 2 (b) of Clause 2 of the Bill that we are allowing a modest degree of flexibility as to local authority representation in the case of orders constituting river boards to allow for a somewhat larger representation of land drainage or fishery interests in appropriate cases. This Bill proposes that the number to be appointed by councils of counties and county boroughs shall be specified in the order and shall be not less than three-fifths or more than two-thirds of the membership after allowing for one member appointed by the Ministers. One case where obviously a lower limit might well be desirable is the Great Ouse catchment area. In that area, as some of your Lordships know, quite apart from the very special concern of the drainage districts with the operations of the catchment board, some half of the board's revenues come from contributions from those drainage districts. I think, in. fact, it might well be argued that in this particular case the fishery and drainage interests should have a very much larger representation, but if that case were put forward the converse would have to be agreed, that where drainage and fishery interests are very small their representation would have to be considerably reduced. So I think it is wise to keep to the procedure laid down in the Bill. In fact, it will be left to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to determine in each case how the representation should be allotted as between the two interests of drainage and fisheries. I think that we can rely upon him to perform what one might call his amphibious function with that discretion and partiality which is customary to the holder of that office.

Under sub-section 3 (a) of Section 3 of the Land Drainage Act councils of county boroughs are not entitled to appoint more than one half of the local authority representatives on a catchment board, whatever the rateable value of those county boroughs falling within the catchment area may be. The Government think it right to abolish this provision. It has been quite strongly suggested in favour of retaining it that the county boroughs are often the chief offenders in the matter of river pollution and that their representatives would not be over eager, shall I say, or show great enthusiasm for measures controlling pollution and insisting on efficient drainage to the benefit of agricultural land. The Government have carefully considered those arguments but believe that ultimately the representatives of our great municipal corporations when they have been given this new authority to look after large areas will take a broad view, not just for their sectional interests but for the main interests of the country. Therefore Clause 2 (3) of the Bill provides that of the total membership to be appointed by councils of counties and county boroughs, the distribution between those councils is to be determined by the Ministers having regard to the estimated amounts which those councils will respectively contribute to the board.

At the other end of the scale it has been suggested that county districts in the river board area should be grouped and have a right of direct appointment to the river board. Here again the Government are satisfied that no real provision of this kind is needed but that the county councils can be relied upon to give—in fact the opening words of Clause 2 (5) insist on it—adequate representation to the county districts. There is, however, one exception to this and that is where the district is such a large one that special representation should be allowed. Cases in point are obviously the boroughs of Bedford and Cambridge in the Great Ouse catchment area. Such special provision for the representation of the more important county districts is made in Clause 2 (5).

Before leaving Clause 2 I would like to make mention of the recommendations of the Milne Committee that all interests should be represented on the board, including navigation, conservancy, harbour authorities, water undertakers, and industry. That was a difficult problem but again after careful consideration the Government adopted the principle that only those who directly contribute to the funds of the river board should have representation on it; in fact, we thought that on the whole these different interests were more likely to make their wishes felt by the old established processes of consultation than by having a minority membership on the board. There is also the point that the river board have the power to set up a finance committee. Under the same clause they can set up other committees if they think it necessary for general or special purposes, and these other committees may include persons who are not members of the board up to a maximum of one-third of the committee.

I should like to come for a moment to finance which is dealt with in Clause 10 of the Bill. This clause confers on river boards powers to issue precepts to the councils of counties and county boroughs similar to those given to the catchment boards. We are making one change in this. Up to now the catchment board has had the power to levy a precept up to twopence without the consent of the representatives of the local authorities. Under this Bill this is increased to four-pence. The Government obviously did not do this without seriously considering the increased heavy burden which would fall on the rates, but relief is being given generally to rates under a Bill which is now before another place. I hope the House will support me in this, that if we are to set up river boards we must see to it that they have adequate funds. Already more than half of the catchment boards in England and Wales issue precepts for amounts in excess of the product of a twopenny rate, and a considerable number have reached a figure of threepence or over. A fair part of the present expenditure is in respect of loan charges on completed works and fresh loans will, no doubt, have to be arranged. The cost of maintenance of drainage works and expenditure on salaries and wages are much higher than before the war and if twopence was a proper figure when the Land Drainage Act was brought in in 1930, I hope your Lordships will agree that fourpence does not represent a great increase and is a more proper figure today. In the circumstances the Government are satisfied that river boards should have this authority and that only precepts above this level will be issued with the consent of the local authority representatives on the river board.

I do not think it is necessary on the Second Reading to go into the various other provisions of the Bill which do not really deal with policy, but would like to commend this Bill to your Lordships' House as a measure which gives practical effect to a reform which has been advocated for many years by responsible persons and bodies in England and Wales. The principle of the Bill is, I believe, agreed. The Government would be more than pleased to examine any suggestions made for the improvement of the machinery. The scandal of river pollution is fully recognized and must be dealt with. Last spring brought home to us the danger of flood and damage and the vital part drainage is required to play in our home agriculture. The country will benefit in food and in recreation, from the development of our inland fisheries. This Bill will enable a co-ordinated advance to be made in all these aspects of our national life. I am confident that its provisions should have the support of your Lordships' House, which has always shown itself so interested in the protection land development of our native rivers. Therefore, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill foe now read 2a.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all thank the noble Earl for the very thorough way in which he has outlined this Bill to us, and the very clear manner in which he has put before us many of the more important problems with which it deals. In the main, I would like to welcome what seems to me to be a very useful measure, and I welcome it all the more warmly because the noble Earl has stated quite clearly that he regards it as nothing more than a first step.

I had been prepared to be rather critical of the fact that the Bill contains no new powers whatsoever for dealing with the problems which are concerning us, notably the problem of pollution. I think the noble Earl would not consider me unfair in describing it in this way. It is really a bit of rationalization, rationalizing the machinery for dealing with a variety of matters concerned with rivers. The Bill reduces the number of bodies dealing with all these problems. I think the Advisory Committee mentioned that there are something like 1,500 to 1,600 bodies who now deal with these problems, and they recommended that the number should be reduced to twenty-nine. The noble Lord has given us No 1ndication of what number he really means to adopt for the new river boards. Some of us might feel that the figure of twenty-nine was a little on the low side. Not only is the Minister reducing the number of bodies but he is going to incerase their powers. The bodies we have described in the past as catchment boards—I think they were originally set up when Lord Addison and I were working together in harness, the noble Viscount being in the front of the tandem—are now to be called river boards. They are to deaf not only with land drainage but with the almost equally important subject of conservation of water, with pollution, with fisheries and, in some cases, with navigation.

On that point I would like to say a further word in a few moments. I think most of your Lordships will welcome the fact that for the first time we are likely to have bodies which are sufficiently powerful—or at any rate sufficiently large—to deal with these vital questions of pollution. I suppose there is not a noble Lord in this House who is not horrified by the state into which we have allowed our rivers to get at the present moment. There is danger to health, to pleasure, to recreation and to national life. I am glad that the noble Earl mentioned the question of food supply. When we remember that there was a time when a clause was inserted in every wages agreement in Scotland—I see the noble Duke is here, and he will correct me if I am wrong—which stated that no agricultural worker was to be compelled to accept salmon more than twice a week in part payment of his wages, we realize that something has happened to the fish which used to be in the waters in those days. Whether or not it is all due to pollution, I am not prepared to say, but most of us suspect that pollution has made the major contribution to the change in the situation.

Many of us will be glad, too, that this Bill deals also with the question of the conservation of water. So far, of course, it deals with it only to the extent of the furnishing of information; but at any rate the gathering of information on this subject is of some importance. Many of us have felt disturbed for a long time at the extent to which we thought almost solely in terms of land drainage—that is, getting the water away—and never in terms of its conservation. I know perfectly well that this matter was mentioned in the Land Drainage Act of 1930, although I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will agree that it was mentioned only by a side wind. The extent to-day to which we suffer in the winter from flooding and then, after a few weeks without rain, from an intense shortage of water, is really quite crazy. Noble Lords will see in Clause 9 (2) (b) that information has to be furnished as to the abstraction of water from any river, stream or inland water. Noble Lords who live in Hampshire have informed me that they are deeply concerned about what is being done there with regard to the abstraction of water and the head waters of the chalk streams. I know it is a matter of technical controversy, upon which I would not for one moment attempt to offer an opinion, but this clause has enabled us at least to gather information on such a point.

Disturbing statements have been made recently by those whom we regard as experts as to the way in which we are now dissipating our national water resources. Every year the demands for water are increasing, and I do not suppose that even the propaganda against washing by Mr. Gaitskell will lessen our increasing demands on water supplies. Having welcomed these provisions for handing over powers to possibly more effective bodies, and for the gathering of greater information with regard to the conservation of water supplies, I would endorse the point that has already been made by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, that this Bill contains not a single extra power for dealing with these problems. There are certain questions I would like to put to the noble Earl. I do not want to go into them in detail—perhaps the Committee stage would be more appropriate for that—but I would like to mention them to the noble Earl now.

The first is, perhaps, of a rather general character. I should much appreciate from the noble Lord an undertaking—which is perhaps inherent in some parts of his speech—that this Bill does not in any way rule out further amendment to the Land Drainage Act of 1930. There are many points in that Act that want looking at—and I say that with the full consciousness that I introduced that particular Act, as a Bill, to your Lordships' House. Any Bill, however perfect, can always do with amendment ten or fifteen years after it is passed. If the noble Lord can give us that undertaking, as I am sure he can, I need not deal at any length with the words that we should like amended. I wish to mention one point, however—the question of representation. I believe other noble Lords are to deal with that question, and so I will leave it at that, except to say a word about the representation of those concerned with navigation.

As I read this Bill, and as I understand from what my noble friend said, it is considered unnecessary or undesirable to give any representation to those who are interested in rivers from the point of view of navigation. I quite realize that this does not affect a great number of rivers, and it would be quite unreasonable to ask for representation of those concerned with navigation on rivers that are not affected. But, as I read this Bill, under Clause 8 it is in fact intended on occasion to transfer navigation functions to these boards. Under Clause 8, when that is done and the navigation authorities are actually made subject to contributions, they will not have representation. And of course in other cases, where they are affected but where the navigation functions are not formally transferred, there will be no representation at all. And, once the Bill is passed, no matter how successfully the navigation authorities convince the Minister that they have a strong case for representation, he will not be able to give them that representation. I would ask the noble Earl to look into that matter, because it is a matter which could be usefully brought up and discussed during the Committee stage.

I have already mentioned the number of river boards and the fact that a recommendation has been put before us (not by the Government in this Bill), that there are to be only twenty-nine boards. That reduces the number of boards from the present forty-five catchment boards. We all realize that by large-scale operations we frequently increase efficiency, and it is possible to obtain more highly-qualified and better staff and so on. But I hope the noble Earl will look at this matter very closely so that we do not overdo rationalization and thereby lose the benefit of local knowledge and local keenness and pride. It has been suggested to me that if the reduction from forty-five authorities to twenty-nine is made, it may well be for the purpose of obtaining a superficial tidiness, and may overdo the cutting down of authorities.

Finally on the question of the financial provisions, the maximum precept that is going to be allowed is, I think, the product of a fourpenny rate. Can that be adequate? In the Land Drainage Act of 1930 there was a limit of twopence, which personally I thought too small at the time and we accepted it only as a compromise. I do not think anybody would suggest that fourpence to-day is worth very much more than twopence in 1930. We are going to add a large number of duties—for instance, those dealing with river pollution, and fisheries—to these bodies, while virtually leaving them with the same financial provisions. Looking back over the last fifteen years or so, I think few of us would say that we are satisfied with the progress of land drainage during that time. Therefore I ask the noble Lord to look very carefully at the question of adequate financial provision. It is no good having these monster bodies sitting without sufficient finance to enable them to carry out the considerable duties that are to be placed on them. I close by wishing the Bill well, but I would appeal to the noble Lord to give us the fullest possible time before asking us to deal with the Bill in Committee, so that we shall have a chance to settle a few of these outstanding points.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches not only regard this Bill as a non-controversial measure; we warmly welcome the purpose it sets out to achieve. I wish it had been brought in at an earlier date. For the first time regional authorities are to be constituted for land drainage, fisheries, river pollution and the conservation of water. Up to now each of these problems has been treated separately; although there have been attempts at co-ordination there has been confusion and overlapping resulting in ineffectiveness. We hope that under this Bill that will cease, and we congratulate the Government on having introduced the measure.

I want to say a few words about each of the functions bestowed on these river boards. But before doing so there is one question of constitution which I should like to bring to the noble Earl's attention. River boards are to be established under Clause 2 of the Bill, and every board is to have not more than forty members, of whom, except, the one member to be appointed by the Ministers, not less than three-fifths and not more than two-thirds are to be appointed by the county council and the county boroughs in the river board area. So far, so good. But if your Lordships will look at subsection (3) of the clause you will see that the number of members to be appointed by the county councils and the county boroughs is to be determined by the Ministers having regard to the estimated amounts of the contributions to be made by those councils towards the expenses of the board. Under Clause 10 these contributions are to be apportioned according to rateable value. If this is right, it would appear that the county boroughs of which the rateable value is high will have the appointment of a larger number of members than the County Councils. That would seem to have rather an unfortunate result, because the members appointed by the county boroughs will surely not take the same interest in land drainage; and any question relating to pollution would be likely to affect not only the county boroughs but the whole river board area. I think that the county councils, therefore, should have a larger representation. The way to remedy that would seem to me to be that the Ministers should have more power of discretion and not be bound by this rateable value formula. In fact, I would suggest that, when we meet for the Committee stage of this Bill the last part of subsection (3) of Clause 4 should be omitted.

I am glad that the river boards are to take over the functions of both catchment and fishery boards. It is thought, much too often, that agricultural and fishery interests necessarily conflict. That is, I am certain, by no means the case. It is quite unnecessary for good land drainage that rivers should be dredged and straightened and turned into unsightly canals. Adequate land drainage, so that the land can be put to its best agricultural use, should neither injure nor seriously affect fishing. I am equally certain that fishing in no way benefits by the river being surrounded by badly drained or marshy land. I have had long experience of this matter because for five years I have been chairman of the Hampshire Rivers Catchment Board, which contains the two most notable chalk streams in the South of England, perhaps in England and even in the whole world—the Test and the Itchen.

No one who takes an interest in our rivers and water courses can but be horrified by the great and growing evil of pollution. I am not going to dwell on the subject in any detail now, because it was largely explored in a recent debate in your Lordships' House. I gather that the noble Earl himself is not satisfied that these new river boards will have the power at present to deal adequately with pollution. The noble Earl held out some prospect that at a future date new legislation would be introduced. That is all very well, but meanwhile the evil of pollution and the menace of pollution is growing. I earnestly hope that the Government will not delay in dealing with this very serious problem. I want to put to the noble Earl two questions on this point of pollution. First, will the river boards (I have in mind particularly the question of prosecution in cases of pollution) have the same power of prosecution as that to-day possessed by the Thames Conservancy Board? If so, I shall be more satisfied. If not, I think that they should at once be granted at least those powers. Secondly, will the river boards have the power to deal with pollution in estuaries? I need not emphasize the importance of that question too.

I come lastly to the conservation of our water resources, a matter which is dealt with in Clause 9 of the Bill. It is really difficult to over-estimate the value of the duty of water conservation being bestowed on the river boards. In this connexion, I would like to put to the noble Earl the question: Will the river boards have to be consulted before new borings take place, and in cases where existing borings are to be deepened? I do not know that the effect of these borings is altogether recognized. It is equally a very serious problem, particularly, at any rate, in the chalk areas. I know of cases where, within the last twenty years, rivers now rise one, two and even three miles from their original sources. I know of another case where, owing to borings, a brook which used to flow freely has completely dried up, and water has to be brought to nearby villages from other sources. Personally, I believe that some day we shall have to alter the whole system and take water from the rivers near the mouth and not continuously tap the water near the sources. I agree, however, that that is a major engineering scheme and at this juncture we obviously cannot afford or endeavour to undertake such an immense project. Therefore, we must do our best to conserve what water we can under existing conditions. I have put. to the noble Earl perhaps rather a large number of questions, and I hope he will forgive me. Before I sit down, I should like to make one appeal. When the Ministers have to define the river board area, I trust that they will remember, from what I have said, that the Hampshire rivers are sui generis and that, therefore, they will continue to treat them as a separate entity.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I have to congratulate my noble friend the Earl of Huntingdon on the very clear way in which he introduced this Bill, and also on the way in which he condensed his observations and yet covered quite adequately a somewhat complicated measure. In your Lordships' House, we seem to be specializing in Bills dealing with water. Not only have we this Bill initiated here, but I note also that the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, has another Bill dealing with water; and I hope it will not be long before the real Bill dealing with water comes before your Lordships. Certainly that is needed, as the noble Earl who has just sat down has pointed out, and as the noble Earl, Lord de la Warr, also reminded us. This is a step in the right direction, but it is only a step, and my noble friend quite frankly admitted it.

I have a few observations to make on the Bill. They are principally on behalf—so far as I can speak on their behalf—of 1,000,000 anglers, for whom I have had the honour of speaking before in this House. There are 1,000,000 anglers in the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This Bill applies only to England and Wales, but I have broken down the figures. I think I proved in previous debates that there are that number. They feel a grievance, so far as they have expressed themselves (I daresay the rumours have reached my noble friend), that they are not to be represented directly on these river boards. They may be taking too gloomy a view, because there is some ambiguity in the language of Clause 2. Clause 2, subsection (2) says: the remainder of the members … shall consist of … (ii) persons appointed to represent fishery interests in the river board area. By "fishery interests," I would understand the net fishery interests in the estuary or mouths of rivers; but if "fishery interests" includes the anglers up-stream, that seems to be all right. Perhaps my noble friend, when he comes to reply, will make that point clear. At any rate, the anglers seem to think that they should have direct representation and that they have not got it at present in this Bill.

I would like to read to your Lordships a resolution which was passed in May of last year at a conference of the National Federation of Anglers. The resolution has been sent to me by the London Anglers' Association, which itself represents 12,000 anglers—and that is only about one-twentieth of the number of anglers who set out from London to go to places where they can get fishing—a sober and decent crowd, thoroughly law-abiding, and, I am sure, worthy of protection. The resolution states: The Federation … consider it essential that licensed anglers should be accorded in the Bill direct representation on the new river boards in like manner as they are now given representation on the Fishery Boards under Section 48 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, and that for the purpose of appointing these representatives in any district, the licensed and rates fishery interests recognized by Sections 47, 48 and 50 of the Act of 1923 shall be reconstituted as a Fisheries Advisory Committee for that district. That, at any rate, is what they thought last year and, from the communications I have had, and no doubt others of your Lordships have had, they think the same to-day. My noble friend said that only those who contributed should 'be represented, but up and down the country there are these associations of anglers who do contribute funds to the existing machinery for looking after the rivers, particularly from the point of view of fish preservation and against pollution, and therefore they can be said to be contributing now. In any case, I am quite sure that the great majority of them would be glad—as many of them do already—to pay an annual fee to help this great work.

The other point I desire to make is this: that if we can directly interest these multitudinous anglers they will be the best watch-dogs on the river banks to report pollution. We cannot have a multitude of inspectors because it would be too expensive, but the anglers on the spot will be the first people to detect that kind of poisoning of the water. They will make a very efficient body of river watchers if we can directly interest them and throw the responsibility partly upon their willing shoulders. My own regret is that this Bill does not put the responsibility for the prevention of pollution directly on the shoulders of the two Ministers concerned, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I hope that in the much larger Bill which has been foreshadowed, that direct responsibility will be put upon those Ministers of the Crown. My noble friend, Lord Saltoun, I understand, is to deal with the financial aspects of this matter and I do not want to go into them in detail. He will doubtless point out that the weakness of these boards, as of similar boards in the past, will be that they have not sufficient funds for prosecuting local authorities and others who are offending.

One day, I suppose, when we have got through our present troubles and we are once more engaged in what is called capital expenditure—-which is really only a natural development—we shall have the great water grid system, the full plans of which I understand are at the present time accumulating dust in the pigeonholes of the Ministry of Health. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, spoke about drawing water from the estuaries instead, of from the upper reaches of the rivers. That is part of the great scheme of the water grid.


I said nearer the mouth.


I understand; nearer the mouth. That is part of the whole scheme of a water grid which I have heard described and discussed by engineers for twenty or thirty years. It takes far too long in this country to get a great scheme of that sort adopted. We talk about it for too many generations before we take it in hand. As the noble Earl, Lord de la Warr, pointed out to your Lordships in his speech supporting the Bill generally, it is ridiculous in this year of grace that we should first of all have floods and then, within a very few weeks, a severe drought. The terrible floods of the early spring of this year were followed by the serious drought in the Cheshire and Manchester districts. That really is absurd. As a civilized community we cannot go on like that. Therefore I hope this Bill is a stepping stone, as I believe it is meant to be, to the much larger scheme which is required if we are to make full use of our magnificent rivers in this country and prevent the scandals of pollution and ill use of water which are depriving us of their full benefit.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to detain your Lordships for only a few minutes in reference to one point, which has also been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Perth; and that is on the question of estuaries. It is a curious thing—or may be to some of us—that pollution in rivers often exists through estuaries forming a sort of barrier of pollution which prevents fish getting to the upper waters, which, being free from the estuaries, are also free from pollution. It is not so surprising to people who spend a great deal of their time on the tidal waters of the Thames. I have often been upset in these waters, and have swallowed a certain amount of water, and I am easily persuaded that there are a good many other estuaries in England where the pollution swings backwards and forwards with the tide, exercising a very deleterious effect on the river above by reason of the fact that fish do not get up there. I may remind your Lordships that there was a time when salmon used to be caught at Chelsea, and that whales passed almost as far as that in Stuart days; but they will not come now.

I think one of the reasons for that in late years has been that pollution has not been much under the control of the river boards, or the authorities that preceded them. That has resulted in the river above the estuary being carefully purged of pollution, where authorities probably exercised their functions, and yet constantly polluted a little lower down. I venture to think—I am not sure, because I have not given the time to this that I should have liked to give—that that is intended to be cured by the provisions of Clause 5 of the present Bill. I think that, as the rubric suggests, is an extension of the powers of the river boards in respect of certain functions. The clause states that: A river board area shall… for the purposes of the functions of the river board relating to river pollution include such tidal waters and parts of the sea adjoining the coast of the river board area as are included in a certain definition of "stream."

I have to admit, with regret, that I have not had the opportunity of considering exactly the extent of that definition, but I venture to suggest to the noble Earl who introduced the measure that he might make quite clear that this intention, as I think it is, to include tidal waters in the powers of the river board has been duly carried out.

It does not follow, of course, that in every case of an estuary the board are required to stop all pollution, because it may be that in the wider parts of the river it does no harm to anybody. On the other hand, there are parts of estuaries where it is desirable that the river board should have this power. As I have already mentioned, I am only suggesting that for consideration and, if I may, expressing my strong approval of the extended powers of river boards including that not unimportant question. For the rest, everything necessary to toe said on the subject of the Bill has, in my opinion, been said except, perhaps, that there has been no reference to the subject of finance. I am, myself, strongly in favour of the Bill as a first step in carrying out the very important business of cleaning the rivers of England.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great and somewhat unexpected pleasure to me to be able to extend an almost unqualified welcome to a Bill introduced by this Government. They will not last long now and it is nice to think before they pass—certainly for a very long time, and I think possibly, with their present composition for ever—into the shadows, that they have introduced at least one really good Bill.

The pollution of our streams has been going on for a very long time, and it has been grossly neglected. Really, it has been neglected ever since the onset of the industrial revolution. The writing has been on the wall for years, and countless Commissions and Committees have gone into the matter. They have made their recommendations and, generally, their recommendations have been pigeon-holed. Very few indeed have been reflected in legislation. I believe that this Bill does really make a beginning on a real reform. The trouble has been, I think, that the matter has been in the hands of too many authorities and too small. There have been something like sixteen hundred local authorities concerned with the question of river pollution. Many of them are too small, and are really almost impotent to deal with the question. Many, again, are very big and some of the greatest offenders are to be found amongst the greatest and most powerful local authorities. I do not suppose that there have been worse offenders in this matter than the London County Council, who certainly ought to know better.

I am inclined to disagree with my noble friend who spoke a little while ago from the Opposition Front Bench. I believe it is most essential that the authorities dealing with the question of river pollution should be few in number and powerful. No one dislikes taking away powers from local authorities more than I do, but I believe it is essential that these powers should be in the hands of large authorities who can take a really wide view of the whole area, the whole watershed. What has happend so often, in the past, is that an authority with some sort of powers to deal with pollution has said in effect: "What is the good of our taking action. The water when it reaches us is so badly polluted that it really does not matter what we do to it." So you find a stream getting more and more polluted as it flows towards its mouth.

Earl DE LA WARR: My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment to say' that the noble Duke must have misunderstood me? I welcome the reduction in the number of authorities. But with regard to the maximum of 45 I merely questioned the balance of merit as between 45 and 29. And I think that that is still open to question.


My noble friend and I need not quarrel about that. As I have said, I do welcome the Bill. I think that, on the whole, the powers which the Bill confers should be in the hands of a few large and powerful authorities, people who are able to take a really wide area view and not merely a parochial or county view. I hope that the Bill will open the way to reconciling all the various claims which arise from questions relating to rivers. There are many conflicting interests—land drainage, industry, public health and fisheries. The interests in each case are not necessarily the same. I believe that the Bill will open the way towards establishing authorities which will be able to deal with these subjects on really comprehensive lines. I have been asked by the Fishmongers' Company, a very ancient body of which I am. a member, and the Salmon and Trout Association, which flourishes under the wing and protection of that very ancient but still active body, to say that we do very warmly welcome this Bill. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the work of the Clerk of the Fishmongers' Company, to whose efforts over many years is very largely due the fact that this Bill has finally come into being.

I do not think the Bill is perfect as yet, and when we come to the Committee stage I shall have certain Amendments to put forward. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to meet me upon them because I think they are reasonable Amendments. For one thing, I think that the number of authorities should be defined and that river board areas should be scheduled in the Bill. My noble friend Earl De La Warr and I need not fight over points relating to exact numbers—those are questions for discussion. I think that areas should be scheduled so that when we pass this Bill—as I hope we shall do in the near future—we shall not be buying a pig in a poke, but shall know just what we are passing. That is a precedent which was followed, I believe, in the Electricity Act, 1947. The areas which it defined were scheduled in the Bill, and the White Paper on which this Bill is at least partly founded also said in so many words that an Act to provide for the constitution of river boards should schedule the areas for which they would be set up. I understand that this is a matter requiring a good deal of consideration and that there may be difficulties about putting these in the Schedule to the Bill. But I hope that the noble Earl will find it possible.

Another not very great matter is this. It relates to fishery interests and is dealt with towards the end of Clause 2 of the Bill. I have no objection to the councils of counties and county boroughs appointing not less than three-fifths or more than two-thirds of members of river boards, or the persons being appointed by the Minister to represent the drainage beards after consultation by them. But if you look at the Bill, you will see that whereas the Minister consults before appointing these earlier categories—this is in subsection (3) of Clause 2—he merely appoints the persons representing the fishery interests. I think that there should be some say in the matter by fishery interests (that includes those anglers for whom a noble Lord spoke just now—the so-called coarse fishermen, though I often wonder why they are called coarse seeing that they use far finer tackle and much greater skill than the majority of salmon and trout fishermen). I think both sides would feel that they might at any rate be consulted by the Minister as to their representatives rather than that he should merely appoint them.

I hope that this Bill will lead us towards a new era in the protection and preservation of our wonderful heritage—our natural watercourses. As the noble Earl who introduced this Bill has rightly said, one of our compensations for a somewhat abundant rainfall is the unparalleled beauty—as it should be—of our river system, too much of which we have converted into a system of stinking open drains, supporting no kind of life. I do not know if we can go so far as the ancient Persians of whom Herodotus wrote: We may not be able to achieve that extremely high standard, but even if we cannot I hope that we shall go a long way towards it and at least make our rivers fit to wash our hands in—if we are allowed to do so. How the ancient Persians would have treated a person who discharged undiluted sewage or industrial effluent into a stream I cannot imagine.

Quite rightly, I think, this Bill does not go into over much detail, or make substantive laws dealing with river pollution. That would be trying to go too fast. It must be for the boards, when they are set up, to make recommendations. I hope that in the not too distant future we shall see further legislation dealing with this very concrete question brought forward by these boards and that they will give us some guidance on this question.

We have heard references this afternoon to the so-called salmon Clause 1n the indentures of apprentices, by which apprentices were not to be compelled to eat salmon more than two days a week. I have heard of that from London, Nottingham, Bristol, Dundee and many other places, but the Clerk of the Fishmongers' Company, who has been hunting this clause for years, has not been able to find an authentic case of it. However, the mere fact that the legend exists does indicate that salmon was once a more plentiful and cheaper article of food than it is now. Think what an enormous commercial asset our rivers might be if they were not polluted. The pollution of the Thames is very bad below London Bridge, and although it may be taken that on rare occasions mature fish can ascend the Thames, I think it is certain that it is always fatal to young immature fish trying to go up the Thames by slow stages through the tideway. If salmon can pass up the river, the smelts can never get down from the spawning beds. As late as last week, on Thursday, a school of porpoises, neglecting the attractions presented by your Lordships' House, passed up the river and were seen disporting themselves upstream. But the position is not past praying for. If a salmon can get as far as London Bridge upstream, he is all right. The problem presents many difficulties, but it is not insoluble, like some other problems at which one looks almost with despair. I would congratulate the Government on having brought forward a Bill which tackles the thing in the right way. I wish them every success.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, this measure seems to have received an unexpected measure of praise from various noble Lords who have spoken. I must confess I do not find it so excellent as do some other noble Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in introducing it, endeavoured to disarm criticism in advance, a principle which he has carried out with effect in the past. In my case, however, he failed to disarm what criticism I have on the Bill. He said it is a purely administrative measure and creates no new powers—I think I am quoting him aright. It is not quite true to say it creates no new powers, because there are a few, but it is an administrative Bill.

The water problem in this country is a, very big and important problem. It covers water supply, pollution, and land drainage. In bringing in a purely administrative Bill which does not tackle the great problem of water supply, the Government are once again showing a propensity to take two bites at the cherry. We should have had a Bill dealing with the whole water problem. True, this is only a preliminary Bill, but we know from past experience that when we have a preliminary Bill any attempt to get a Bill which deals with the core of the problem, is met by the Government by the statement that they cannot spare the time and we had a Water Bill the other day. This Bill does not touch the great question of pollution, because it grants no new powers to these bodies. That is the criticism I have to offer. But I do not propose to oppose the Bill, which has certain merits. As has been pointed out, it does create one authority to deal with problems which are now dealt with by a number of different authorities who very often face the same problem in connexion with their area from diametrically opposite points of view. To that extent it is good. There is also one new thing, which I believe is new in any Bill dealing with water—it makes direct reference to the necessity of the conservation of the water supply. It is true it is a barren reference, because no powers are given to the new bodies set up to ensure that water supplies are in fact conserved. All the same, it is a welcome thing that there should be this recognition of the necessity for conserving our water supplies., because they are being increasingly depleted as the standard of living causes increased use of water.

So far as the Bill itself is concerned, I am not entirely happy about the actual composition of the river boards. It seems to me that the composition as set out in the Bill overweighs the representation of the centres of population as against those interests, which are very important interests, in the agricultural districts outside the centres of population. So far as my researches into the Bill go, there is no direct reference anywhere to agriculture, although this is a Bill dealing not only with conservation but also with drainage and various other matters which concern the agriculturalist very closely, and in many ways concern him more intimately than the dweller in towns. The latter is chiefly interested in water to the extent that he gets an adequate supply, and, moreover, he is not flooded out by the source from which the water comes.

I am not clear in my mind as to how the representation is worked. Clause 2, subsection (2), does state fairly specifically how the members shall be appointed, but one is left somewhat in the dark when Clause 2 (5) is considered. I do not know if any noble Lords read the last ten lines, but I read them through with some considerable difficulty several times and so far as I can see the subsection says that under certain conditions county districts will be represented in proportion to rateable value. But it takes ten lines to say that in the most complicated way. I commend to the noble Earl the suggestion that that subsection might be redrafted in a manner more simple and more easy to understand. On closer examination I think that the very difficult question of representation of the varied interests concerned might be the subject of Amendments at the next stage because, speaking as a countryman, I am not at all satisfied that a true balance of representation has been reached in this Bill.

As regards finance, my noble friend Lord De la Warr said a word or two on that and directed attention to the fact that fourpence to-day is probably not worth more than twopence when twopence was first allowed. I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, to tell the House when he replies whether he is genuinely of the opinion that he has made adequate provision for finance by allowing them to make a precept of fourpence. My own conviction is that that is rather too small a sum to enable these river boards to carry out even the restricted functions which they are allowed to carry out under this Bill. It certainly will not be sufficient to enable them to carry out those much greater functions which I hope most sincerely will be embodied in a subsequent Bill in the near future.

I do not want to detain your Lordships too long, but I would like to say a word or two on the question of pollution, which has figured in almost every speech that has been made so far on this Bill. What the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said is quite true, that it has a. considerable effect on fishing. The only point I wish to make is this. Pollution in its early stage; is very difficult to spot. It may be spasmodic and periodic, and it is not easy to spot it. It is quite true that the number of people who actually fish, compared to the total population of this country, is comparatively small, and the fishing interests in some cases—particularly is it so in the case of the area with which the noble Earl, Lord Berth, is concerned most—are the prerogative of those who have a considerable amount of wealth. It may be that some people will try to cry down the fishing interests in connexion with the pollution of water., I do not want the noble Earl to run away with the idea that they are not of value on this whole question of pollution. The first indication of pollution in any river is the disappearance of fish food, and then of fish life. It is most valuable to help the fishing interests in every way in order to ensure that, by proper reports as to the products of the industry of the followers of Izaac Walton, you may get an indication whether or not the stream concerned is suffering from pollution. The moment you have the indication you can follow up the question and probably discover the source of the pollution.


The noble Earl will remember that there are people on the banks who drink the water and who wash in it as well as those who fish.


I quite agree with the noble and learned Viscount, but I am inclined to think that the fish spots when there is a taste in the water rather more quickly than the man who drinks that water.


That may be so.


I would not condemn this Bill. It is, so far as it goes—the short distance that it goes—quite a useful measure. I do hope, though, that the noble Earl will stress in his reply that the Government are intending at a very near date—because the matter is so important—to deal with the whole problem of water supplies, pollution and conservation in a comprehensive way.

44 p.m.


My Lords, I am bound to say that I waited for this Bill with mixed feelings of fear and hope. I think both emotions have been justified, because my fear is that a bad or ineffective Bill (I do not think this is a bad Bill) is a definite obstacle to a better Bill on any subject to which it relates. I had great fears about this Bill. I approach it from one angle only, and that is an angle which I know has the sympathy of the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading. Therefore I will say quite frankly what I think about the Bill, because I know he will receive it with sympathy, and perhaps consider the points I wish to make. I am concerned with the question of pollution. I will not nauseate your Lordships by repeating the account of the pollution of the rivers of England which I gave in March of this year. I am bound to say that I know of very few rivers where, as my noble and learned friend Viscount Maugham suggested, people can drink of the river as it passes their door; they mostly get their water from very much higher up the stream.


It is the farmers who get the river water.


Sometimes. Before I come to the main question of pollution there are one or two points on which I should like to touch. In the first place, I also have found some difficulty in regard to Clause 5 of the Bill. I would suggest that the definition given in paragraph (a) should be adopted throughout. I think it is important that the authority of river boards should extend round the coast and from watershed to watershed, and meet at the appropriate point. In parenthesis I may say that I very much welcome the proposal in this Bill for the setting up of river boards.

I would also like to draw the noble Earl's attention to a small point in connexion with subsections (5) and (6) of Clause 9, coupled with subsection (8). It seems to me that a very small matter is being made into a very great crime, and in your Lordships' House I have always opposed this artificial manufacture of crimes. After all, the persons referred to in subsections (5) and (6) are going to be the best friends of the river boards. Almost everybody who lives on a river has a gauge of some sort and regularly gauges his river; and very often he keeps records. To say that any person who fails to give notice, or to comply with any direction, shall be liable on conviction to a fine of twenty pounds, seems rather a teutonic, mailed-fist method of approach. I suggest that any river board that knows its business is going to be in the closest touch with all these people who are watching the life and state of the river, without administering what you might call a slap on the back so severe as that.

I now come to the question of pollution, and what I feel is the greatest fault in the Bill. That is contained in Clauses 2 and 10. The noble Earl, in his introductory remarks, displayed a great deal of skill in trying to reconcile those two clauses, but I humbly suggest to your Lordships that they are in essence repugnant to one another, and directly contradictory, at any rate in regard to pollution. We are to have a river board which consists very largely of representatives of local authorities, and the expense of purifying the river is to be put on the rates. I wish to suggest to your Lordships a reason why that should not be done. The greatest offenders in polluting the waters of Britain are the local authorities. It stands to reason that they should be so. They are going to be very strongly represented on the river boards. If they have to provide the money, it will be found that there will be every incentive for them to oppose the purification of the streams with which they are concerned. Let me take a case. I will not mention any names. Each of your Lordships will probably think of a different place, but let me take the case of a great city of perhaps 1,000,000 people which is busily polluting the water that passes by the town, and polluting it to the extent that no fish or anything other than a few anaerobic bacteria can live in the water.


Sewage bacteria, is it not?


I am afraid I am not acquainted with the bacteria of these fishless rivers. If you try to introduce some scheme to deal with a situation like that, it must entail great expense— £100,000 will go nowhere in performing such a task. There is every incentive for the representatives of the local authorities on the river board to block any scheme that is suggested and to spoil the effort of the river board to purify the waters under its control. Moreover, if the board, in the teeth of opposition from a body of its members, does succeed in its work of purification, instead of it being a united body, agreeing on the business for which it is engaged, it becomes one which is divided.

Furthermore, I doubt the justice of the proposed step because any great town will be able to turn at once to the river board and say: "Why do you propose measures which entail such an enormous expense upon our town? If you insist on this, not only are you going to impose a great burden on our rates, but you are going to hamper the trade of the greatest firm in the town which gives employment to thousands. Altogether you are going to put the town in a very unpleasant and unfair position, because the pollution which exists, and which we quite acknow- ledge, has been carried out under the protection of an Act of Parliament." The Act to which I refer is an Act of 1876 against river pollution It says in that Act that it is an offence to discharge sewage into a stream unless it has been subjected to the best known means of rendering it harmless. It adds that the Department of Health … shall not permit proceedings by the local authority unless it is satisfied the proceedings will not injure the industry. That is the point which vitiates all the measures which have been taken by Parliament for the prevention of pollution From what I have seen of the rivers and streams of England and from the evidence I have heard on the matter, it seems to me that the problem is a major problem which should be tackled by the Government itself, and that a large proportion of the funds should be found by the central Government. It is quite possible that the river boards, constituted as is proposed in Clause 2, will get people who will work together with the greatest enthusiasm to purify the rivers of which they are given charge; but if they have to find the funds from their own localities and by local rates then something is being introduced which will change their minds altogether. I do not think it will be sufficient to do what the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggested, which is to give the Minister authority. Finance must be obtained very largely from the centre and not from the locality.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, I shall certainly not oppose this Bill. I wish it well, even where I disagree with it, because the urgency of the subject is more important than possibly anything else in the country. When our time ends and we leave behind us clean rivers, those who come after us—they may be our descendants, or they may be another community altogether—will say we have been a civilized race; but if we leave our rivers in a state of pollution we will be considered the most abject barbarians.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to be agreed by your Lordships on all sides of the House that the principle of unifying all interests under one authority, to be called a river board, is both desirable and necessary. I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, very rightly sounded a warning on removing a community of interest too far. This applies particularly to a long river such as the Great Ouse. I would like to feel that His Majesty's Government appreciated the importance of the community of interest where it applies to land drainage.

This brings me to the question of representation. I realize that at present the councils pay two-thirds of all the contributions towards land drainage, and that if their contribution is doubled from twopence to fourpence, that balance of payment is not likely to be altered. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, mentioned the exceptional position of the Great Ouse Catchment Board. Perhaps this is not a proper time to go into the details of an exception, but in the interests of the land drainagé of the Fens, in the interests of food production, and of the production of potatoes in particular, I hope that the noble Earl has not said the final word on the balance of representation on the Great Ouse Catchment Board, or what will become the Great Ouse River Board. I hope that in the interests I have mentioned he will give the Fens an option of increased representation for increased taxation. They are in a position to pay more and they might well welcome it in order to be better represented.

I am confused by the reference the noble Earl made to Clause 2 which deals with the area of river boards. I realize that the confusion is no doubt due to my own muddle-headedness, but I would like an assurance from the noble Earl that the principle of the Medway letter remains in force and that there is No 1ntention of diverting from the principle of "No benefit, no rating." With that assurance, and with some hope for proper representation for the Fens on the Great Ouse Catchment Board, I would most heartily welcome the Bill.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like from this side of the House to support what my noble friend Lord Strabolgi has already said, that we welcome this Bill as a good co-ordination Bill. I served a good apprenticeship upon the Yorkshire Ouse Catchment Board—I believe the second largest in the country. In reply to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, I would like to say that the cash was supplied by the great county boroughs in the West Riding of Yorkshire and the West Riding County Council. It is an old Liberal doctrine that where there is taxation there should be adequate representation, and I hope the Ministry of Agriculture will see to it that those great authorities which have provided the cash—in the case of the West Riding, 66⅔ per cent., as against 25 per cent. for the Great Ouse Catchment Board—and, I admit, the pollution, will be adequately represented. I would rather not issue a warning, but I hope that the Association of Municipal Corporations will watch this Bill and see to it that these great authorities are adequately represented.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, asked what will be the incentive to these great industrial authorities to avoid pollution if they are so adequately represented that they can control the river boards. I want to tell the noble Lord, at any rate so far as Yorkshire is concerned, that we have a most honourable record in co-operating with the agricultural areas who could not supply the cash. We have co-operated with them, and on only one occasion was war declared by the great industrial authorities I have mentioned; and that was on a conservative Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Elliot. The rebellion was led by the leading Conservatives and also by one or two of the Liberals who are left. I was brought in as conciliator to make peace between these warring elements.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think he must have misunderstood me. I probably expressed myself badly. I said that I welcomed local representation, but that the representative may find that a suggestion made means an imposition on his constituents.


What I want to emphasize—and I have a high personal regard for my noble friend—is that the industrial authorities have done a fine job of work with regard to land drainage and pollution.

There is a most excellent article in The Times to-day paying high tribute to these same industrial authorities for the work they have done in connexion with the rivers in the West Riding in the matter of pollution. My own authority have spent over £1,000,000 at the behest, and with the co-operation, of the river board which at the present time have to do with pollution. We were faced with the difficult problem of 20,000,000 gallons of sewage a day, domestic and industrial, containing fats from the sheeps' backs, produced in the course of wool washing in the great textile areas. We spared neither time nor money in research to find a solution to this difficult problem. The sewage is now treated chemically, and I may say that this solution can be recommended to authorities who may be faced with the same difficulty. You may go and drink a glass of the water after it has been treated, and if you did not know where it had come from you could drink to the health of the Labour Party. But knowing where the water had come from, I personally would prefer something of a different quality in the way of a beverage!

Actually, in the City of Bradford, we are making a profit out of sewage. The ladies are our best customers. Thanks to the wool fats they are able to beautify their complexions—from the sewage of Bradford. Not lipstick, but the finest soaps and face creams come from these wool fats. My own home town is a benefactor to the female section of the community in this way. On the fop of this we get from sewage fertilizers and similar things. I do not know where the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, lives when he goes to Scotland, but he does not seem to know what we have tried to do in England. If he did he would know that we have the incentive, in the way of public service. We are right to spend money in order that river pollution shall be abated; we have taxed ourselves to the extent of £1,000,000 in order that: our rivers shall be made safe—not for the industrialists but for the agriculturalists.


May I point out to the noble Lord, that most of my information is taken on the expert evidence given before a Committee of your Lordships' House on the Leicester Water Bill?


Well, never mind about Leicester. I will take the noble Lord, not to a backward area, but to Bradford. Bradford gets its water from the upper reaches. If the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, is going to carry on a crusade for drinking water from the estuaries of the Tyne or of the Thames, he is welcome to it; he has there body, meat, and drink. But my own authority have their own water grid. We supply twenty-six authorities besides ourselves. That is a happy example to the Government to go forward in providing a water grid for those authorities not so well supplied. That is what has been done in drainage, in preventing pollution and in the provision of a pure water supply. I have been asked by the Yorkshire Fisheries Board to say that they do not want a lot of representation but they certainly want a voice, so that they can once more get fish into some of our Yorkshire rivers. I passed over South Leeds bridge this morning and there was not a sign of trout, although there were plenty of signs of garbage. But, of course, Leeds is not so progressive as some other authorities I could mention. I welcome this Bill. I hope that the West Riding and the great industrial parts of Yorkshire will have adequate representation. The Minister can then be assured that there will be an incentive in the form of public service. We shall co-operate with him. But if he manhandles us we shall oppose him.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced the Bill said that one purpose of the Bill was to increase the rate leviable from 2d. to 4d. The noble Earl treated that as a quite natural thing. The noble Earls doctrine, as I understand it, is that because prices have doubled in the last ten years, therefore a rate of 20s. in the pound now is equivalent to a rate of 10s. in the pound ten years ago. That seems to me to be a thoroughly unsound doctrine. Your Lordships know only too well that the rates are creeping up all the time. The objects are always good, and no doubt these increases can be justified. But the rates have become a crushing burden. Almost every month we have an increase of 1d. for this or 2d. for that. I do think that it is the duty of your Lordships to regard with a highly critical eye any measure which proposes to add to that burden.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address the House for a few minutes only. I feel that it is my duty to do so, having presided about twenty years ago over the Royal Commission on the Land Drainage of England and Wales. I have had the opportunity of having a short consultation with two of the three surviving members of that Commission since I entered this building, one of them being my noble friend Lord Courthope and the other being that dear, sturdy old agricultural worker, Mr. George Dallas, whom I was delighted to meet in the precincts of this House. On behalf of them and myself, as representing the Royal Commission on Land Drainage in England and Wales, I should like most heartily to welcome this Bill, and to express the hope that, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, it will prove to be far more effective than have been the catchment boards—an expression for which, I believe, I am mainly responsible—created under the Land Drainage Act, 1930, which incorporated and embodied the recommendations of my Royal Commission.

I am not at all sure that I agree with my friend and neighbour Lord Raglan, when he expresses some anxiety about the additional burden that may be thrown upon local authorities when it becomes possible to levy a fourpenny rate for the all-embracing and important purposes of securing a pure water supply, of improving the land drainage of this country, now sadly defective, and also of preventing pollution. Indeed, I am inclined to think—and in this I share the views of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor—that it may prove to be an extraordinarily good investment, both from a national and a local point of view, if sufficient funds are made available for the effective and skilful administration of the new river boards. And may I add this? I have watched with real sorrow during the last six years the gradual disappearance by erosion of some of the most fertile land and alluvial land on my own estate which through erosion has been carried away, to the extent of from 50 to 100 acres. The main reason, as I have good reason to know, why drastic and effective measures were not taken at the outset to prevent that erosion, was the multiplicity of authorities concerned. It is because these numerous authorities will all now have their powers concentrated in one river board that I, for my part, most heartily welcome this Bill.

I would go further and say this. In connexion with the loss of this valuable alluvial land, to which I have referred, it was found that the internal drainage board had not sufficient authority or means to deal effectively with the stoppage of this erosion. It eventually was passed over to the catchment board. They similarly certainly had not the finance, even if they had the authority, to deal with it. However, because there was a danger of its undermining the Great Western Railway, which runs not far distant from the river bank, and also undermining an important plywood factory which, during the war, under Government control was providing material for aircraft, eventually the matter was referred to the Treasury, and really effective means were at long last adopted to check the erosion, which, I am glad to say, to all appearances has now ceased. I hope that your Lordships will forgive my mentioning that as an illustration of the effect of having that multiplicity of authorities, none of them with sufficient powers or sufficient finance to prevent the disappearance of a large area of extremely fertile land. I, for my part, if I may speak on behalf of the old Royal Commission on the Land Drainage of England and Wales, give my most hearty welcome to this Bill.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to say one word in support of the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. Down in the chalk stream areas, I think most of us have long ago reached the conclusion that, bad though pollution may be in those streams, the chief threat to their very existence is the abstraction of water. It is not the abstraction of water by small men; it is not the odd bore to supply a few farms that is going to be the trouble; it is the wholesale extraction by local authorities for perfectly worthy and praiseworthy purposes.

We, in Hampshire, have just undergone an extremely unpleasant experience; I have found it disagreeable. A local authority quite properly wished to obtain supplies of water. The procedure at present laid down was scrupulously followed and No 1nterests could possibly have any feeling of unfairness or of not having been heard, and so on. The agricultural interests were allowed to have their say; the landowners, whose private supplies to their farms were threatened, were allowed their say; the people interested in amenities, and even the humble fishermen, were given at least a semiofficial opportunity of having their little say. But the point was reached, as it always is and always will be now, when the decision had to be come to: Was this water to be allowed to go down the river fulfilling its functions, working presses and occasionally driving a mill or two, and then be abstracted as far down stream as possible, or was it to be taken from the water table high up and never allowed to get to the river at all?

This point was reached, and the local authorities did the only thing they could do. They said: "We must get a very big water expert on this." They did, and the water expert, of course, said that, to the best of his knowledge, there was plenty of water where they wished to bore for it. He admitted that he did not have the specialized local knowledge of somebody who had lived on the river all his life, but he said: "In my judgment, and to the best of my knowledge, it should not do very much damage to any of the local interests, provided that certain precautions are taken." Naturally, the local authority took the expert's advice. I do not see that they could have done otherwise. That was the position. There were at least four different practical everyday interests put forward by reasonable people living on that river, and yet they were completely upset by the opinion of one expert, who was an equally reasonable man. But the local authority had to follow his opinion.

I cannot see how, for all the setting up envisaged in this Bill, it is ever going to decide this problem of really big-scale water abstraction, and unless that is solved the river authorities in the South Country are not going to have a very long life or strenuous job, because the rivers there are not going to exist. It is a point which I think must be kept in mind. I should be very glad if noble Lords who are far more able than I would consider this matter and see what can be done to find some way of treating the various interests concerned rather more fairly instead of always taking the opinion of, perhaps, one expert. Subject to these observations, I think the Bill is a most excellent contribution, and I very much welcome it.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a most gratifying experience to any member of the Government to get a Bill welcomed by most noble Lords as this one has been this afternoon. We have had a certain amount of criticism and many suggestions, and I should like to say at once that the Government appreciate the importance of many of the matters raised—for example, in regard to pollution. That is obviously vitally important, and has to be dealt with on a large scale. There were also the fishery interests which have been so well sponsored, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. We do realize the vital importance of fish in our diet and the part that fresh water fishing, both as a pastime and as an industry, plays in our national life. Why, I saw in the Press the other day a story to the effect that when the husband is left minding the small child and the job becomes rather difficult, the solution is simply to put the child in the bath and pour in a pound of sprats!

I should like to emphasize that we do want to use the collective wisdom of the House and my right honourable friend the Minister will welcome any suggestion. We will carefully examine all the points which have been made this afternoon and see if we can improve the Bill on those lines. I would like to refer to certain matters which have been raised and try to satisfy noble Lords in regard to them. In the first place the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked specifically for an assurance that this Bill would not rule out amendments in the Land Drainage Act of 1930. Of course it does nothing of the kind. Drainage has been, and is being, examined by the sub-Committees and nothing in this Bill will stop further examination by the Government of that problem.

Another point raised by the noble Earl and others was this question of representation of navigation interests. This is a difficult point. Fundamentally the larger interests in navigation have been taken over under the Transport Act of 1947, but a certain amount of internal navigation may come under this Bill. It would seem to me however that their levied contributions are rather small. However, I think that when the river boards appoint committees other than finance committees in areas where navigation is a leading interest, they would almost certainly appoint a navigation committee in such circumstances, then in that way navigation interests would be quite well represented. Also many members of the local authority representation might well be people concerned with navigation interests. However, we would be glad between now and the Committee or Report stage of the Bill to consult with the associations and see if something can be done, but as things stand at the present I do not think that it will be possible to bring in further representatives to these committees.

I would like noble Lords to consider this point: that as regards the numbers which are finally appointed for river boards, they will comprise about forty people already, and it will be difficult to get adequate representation of local authorities and other interests if we are going to add any more representatives of navigation or industries or other different interests. It will be exceedingly difficult to get a true representation, and for that reason I think we shall have to resist bringing on to the river boards outside interests who do not pay direct contribution.

Of the further points that were raised, one that seemed to cause some anxiety concerned the representation of county boroughs. The large representation of county boroughs on the board mentioned by one noble Lord was related to an allegation that they are the greatest contributors to the pollution of rivers. This is a difficult point and Lord Calverley strongly gave the views of the local authority in this matter. But, after all it is the local authorities we are bringing in to help in this matter and they will probably be the greatest contributors from the financial point of view. That is a very definite aspect and I think they will demand, and rightly, a fairly large representation on a board which is going to require a large contribution from their rates. I think that is one of the things we ought to consider. The second is the fact that the responsibilities of a local authority comprise many different departments, and one would imagine that the wide outlook which is inseparable from their multifarious duties would be brought to the work of the river boards, to the advantage of fisheries, drainage and all the other interests. The question they would ask themselves would be: How can we work this area in the best interests of the community?


I beg the noble Lord's pardon for interrupting, but what he said just now is exactly what I was saying. I was pointing out the repugnance of such a situation and I was asking whether there is any possibility of getting grants for special schemes from the Government so as to diminish that repugnance.


I could not say off hand, but I will bear that matter in mind and bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend. I do not think so, but I would not like to answer that without notice. To go back to this question of the county boroughs; another aspect of the matter is that a river board will not be merely a representation of the borough councils. There will also be county council, drainage, and fishery interests, and it is by no means certain that in the composition of the boards county boroughs would have an absolute majority.


Is it, therefore, not true that the Minister will have power to depart from that rateable formula if the county council have a smaller number than the county borough?


My Lords, I think he will have to give consideration to the rateable value. It depends, naturally, on the balance between the wealth of the county borough and of the county council, as to the exact proportion to be decided between them. I wish to make the difficulties in this question quite clear. With regard to really big local authorities, the Government hope that they will take a broad interest in this matter, that they will not sit on these river boards as a sectional interest but will envisage the problem as a national one, and do their best to deal with it from that point of view.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, brought in the anglers very strongly. He is interested in fishing and I should like to give him an assurance that anglers as such are naturally included as a fishing interest.


I am very much obliged to the noble Earl.


The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, gave a certain qualified acceptance to this Bill. I think he liked the general principle, but was rather frightened of various possibilities. His general criticism, I think, was that this Bill might hold up a further Bill, which is badly needed to deal with this matter. I would impress upon the noble Earl that essentially this is a case of first things first. It would not be possible to implement legislation in this connexion, effectively, without getting the administration side built up and ready to receive an Act when it was passed. I can tell the noble Earl that the Government are waiting anxiously for Reports from the Committees concerned, and that they do recognize the vital need for legislation to deal with these very important problems. In other words, this Bill is not a sort of break or stop gap, nor yet a substitute for another big water Bill. Rather is it in the nature of putting into effect the first stage in our water policy.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships too long, but, of course, there were a number of other questions raised in the course of the discussion. There was, for example, the question relating to the four-penny rate. The noble Lord, Lord Raglan, seemed to be rather anxious about that. Other noble Lords, on the other hand, thought that fourpence was not enough. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that a fourpenny rate represents the only precept that can be demanded without the consent of the local authorities. With the consent of the local authorities, the precept can be larger, and, in some cases, probably would be so.

Most of the other questions, I think, concerned Committee points. The noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, asked about "no boundary, no rate." Of course it is true that this Bill does not affect the boundary of the internal drainage districts; it merely transfers powers from the catchment areas to the river boards.


My Lords, I asked the noble Earl three specific questions. He has not yet answered any of them. I do not know what his intentions are.


I apologize to the noble Earl; I had inadvertently overlooked my note on his questions. The first one, I believe, was as to whether river boards will have the same powers of prosecution as the Thames Conservancy. All that happens under this Bill is that there is a transference of existing powers to river boards. In order to give them additional powers we shall have to bring in new legislation. Then there was a question regarding estuaries. Will river boards control estuaries? At least in regard to fisheries, I think they will have control so far as concerns any exclusive rights which His Majesty's subjects may have in fishing.

With respect to pollution, obviously if we want new powers relating to estuaries we shall have to bring in new legislation. Next there was the question as to river boards being consulted in regard to boring under the Water Act of 1945. Under that Act notice must be served on catchment boards and that provision also will be transferred to the new river boards. I hope that I have not left out any other question which I ought to have dealt with. As I have said, I think many of the points which have been raised merit discussion in Committee. I should just like to add that I hope that the House, having welcomed the Bill, will now give it a Second Reading and help to pass it into law as soon as possible.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.