HL Deb 25 November 1948 vol 159 cc622-52

4.10 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in January, 1947, the Prime Minister responded to a question in another place, and replied in the following terms: His Majesty's Government have decided that the general responsibility for dealing with problems of coast protection shall rest with my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will, however, retain jurisdiction in regard to works on low-lying lands carried out by land drainage authorities in England and Wales. Legislation will be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time permits to increase the powers and duties of county borough and county district councils … in regard to coast protection, … It is, I think, a matter for gratification that in a world where the conditions are what they are at present, and when the Government and Parliament are occupied with so many matters of great importance, time should be found in the Fourth Session of this Parliament to deal with this matter. We sincerely trust that we shall receive from all parts of the House, not merely a welcome for the Bill but co-operation in putting, it through as early as may be.

One could talk of a great number of things which would provide a reason for Government action in coast protection, but I think it would be wrong to-day to attempt anything in the nature of a prolonged survey. There are, however, a number of items which it would be well for us to remember, because they provide the reasons for some of the important clauses in the Bill itself. First, in these days especially, very heavy engineering work has to be undertaken, involving on occasions long stretches of coast line, many owners and several local authorities. Work done at one part may affect the coast some distance away, and the shingle, which, generally speaking, is a good coast protection, may be affected by offshore tides which put it somewhere entirely different. Adequate works are, therefore, necessary—works which are, on occasion, far beyond the powers of private persons and, indeed, beyond the powers of some local authorities. It can be said that if work is undertaken on a scale less than is necessary, the conditions after the work has been completed may be even more dangerous than before it was begun.

As the law stands at present, local authorities can act only for the protection of their own property. They cannot insist on a contribution from private interests towards the costs that are involved, nor do they possess the necessary powers to control the work of private citizens in the interests of general arrangements and organisation. This Bill, recognising all those points, in the first place, therefore, establishes new coastal protection authorities. If this Bill goes through, maritime county boroughs and the county committees of county councils will, in future, become the responsible bodies for looking after the coasts in their respective areas. It may be necessary from time to time to bring a number of these local authorities into one board, because it may frequently occur that works are to be undertaken covering the areas of a number of them.

The Bill, therefore, proposes that in addition to the bodies I have named there shall, where necessary, be established coast protection boards. They will, in the first place, cover the borough councils and the district councils involved, but they may include any of the following: any sea defence commissioners, river board, drainage authority, harbour authority, fishery board, local fishering committees, any highway authority responsible for the maintenance of any highway likely to be affected, the British Transport Commission, and any other body or person having interests or responsibilities therein. The Minister will have the necessary power, when these boards are established, to lay down the representation of the constituent authorities on the board; to provide for the incorporation of the board so that they can own land; to authorise the board to defray or contribute to the expenses, of carrying out coast protection, and to make provision for the raising by borrowing or otherwise of any money required for the board. Apart from the board, however, one or more coast protection authorities can, by their own arrangements, form joint committees, and, if such committees are appointed, the authorities can depute to them such of their own powers as they desire.

I would point out that the boards, if they are formed at all, will be in England and Wales; in Scotland no boards will be established. The Scottish authorities, if they want joint action, will depend on the establishment of joint committees. In addition to the joint committees, if the authorities desire a somewhat looser form of joint organisation, they can establish advisory committees for the purpose of receiving from them all the help and co-operation that may be possible.

I want to say three things about the powers of the new authorities: first of all regarding the general powers of these coast protection boards or the powers which can be operated and exercised without special permission, after consultation with any interests which may be involved. Under those powers, it will be possible for one of the boards, or joint committees, to do coastal work in or outside their own area if the land in their own area needs protection. They may be able to acquire land for any purpose suitable to their work, and they can acquire that land either by purchase, by lease or by exchange. Under powers of this kind, the boards and the authorities will have no compulsory right to override restrictive covenants, to do work on private land or to levy contributions. They must proceed, as it seems to me, by agreement. Those who feel dissatisfied with the work it is proposed to do will have the necessary opportunity of objecting, of having their cases listened to and, finally, of bringing in the Minister if necessary to decide the issue. But the boards, or the authorities, although under this clause they must proceed generally by way of agreement, can, in moments of emergency, act rapidly and without having secured the necessary agreement to begin with.

Under Clause 6 of the Bill, an authority or a board may draw up a scheme for confirmation by the Minister, in order to obtain, first of all, the compulsory powers that may be necessary from time to time, and, secondly, to enable them to impose a coast protection charge on the owners of land where it can be proved that the land has benefited by or will benefit by the work performed. I ought to add that, should the operations of one of these bodies bring about a deterioration in the value of the land, it is later on provided that the owners may have the right to claim compensation. Here, as in the case of the former clause which I have mentioned, there is a long procedure which will enable those interested in land adjoining the coasts to make their objections, have them attended to and receive, if they believe they have been unjustly treated, the just treatment to which they are entitled.

So far as the charges are concerned, when the scheme is first proposed it must indicate the land which is likely to be affected by such charges. When they are imposed, the charges are not to exceed the difference in the values before and after the operations. There must be notice to the owner of the intent, and the owner may appeal. If there is a dispute, this will be settled by arbitration, and if the arbitration goes against the owner, it is possible for the charges to be spread over a period of thirty years.

The third point as to the powers that I desire to mention has reference to maintenance. After schemes have been operated and completed, the completed works will require attention from time to time. Where the original works have been carried out under a scheme approved by the Minister—that is to say, by compulsory powers—then the cost of the maintenance will fall on the coast protection authority. But where maintenance falls upon the proprietors themselves, under whatever covenant may exist, then the authority or the board have the power of insisting that maintenance shall be properly undertaken. If maintenance is not properly undertaken, then the board or the authority have the right to do the work and then to charge the cost to the owners.

I think it would be better for the House if I now read my brief, because certain items of finance are involved and it is particularly important that your Lordships should be clear as to the meaning. There are, however, one or two other points which are of some importance before I begin to read. The authority will pay compensation for depreciation and disturbance, and the depreciation will also be based on the difference in the value of any interest in land caused by the carrying out of the work. It is not intended that this Bill should relieve anyone of the obligation he already has—that is to say, by reason of tenure, custom or local Act—to carry out coastal protection work.

Clause 16 enables the authority to enforce any such obligations. Anyone who wants to carry out building or other such development on the seashore, will have to get a certificate from the coast protection authority saying that " the development can be carried out consistently with the requirements of coast protection" before he can get permission for the development under the Town and Country Planning Act. The excavation and removal of materials from the seashore may be prohibited or controlled if necessary, and this, too, of course, is a matter which will have to be looked at from the coast protection angle. The Minister is aware that in certain parts of the country shore sand and gravel are very valuable for agricultural or other purposes, and any orders affecting such places would be a matter for consultation between the Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or other Minister concerned.

County councils are to contribute to the expenses of county district committees in carrying out coast protection work, and if the amount is not agreed it will be determined by the Minister. County councils can also contribute to the expenses of other persons in protecting land in the county, and a coast protection authority may similarly contribute to the work of others. The Minister may make grants in aid of coast protection authorities' expenses, and the Bill also gives statutory authority to the scheme of grants in aid of work commenced by local authorities since V.J. day with the Minister's approval. The Minister may also assist county councils to carry out work to protect county roads, and this assistance will take the place of the previous grants paid to them by the Minister of Transport from the Road Fund. It is the Minister's intention to make capital grants, instead of the grants in aid of local loan charges previously contemplated. There will not, however, be Exchequer grants in aid of the year-to-year maintenance work which will be necessary. It is roughly estimated that coast protection authorities will spend between £500,000 and £1,000,000 per annum in the early years after the Bill becomes law. The Minister's grant will vary according to the circumstances of each case, but overall it may average perhaps 50 per cent.

These are the main provisions of Part I of the Bill, although it is of course impossible, in a single speech, to explain all the complex provisions which have been inserted in order to hold the balance as fairly as possible between the various public and private interests concerned. Under Part II, Clauses 29 to 31, operations below high water mark which might result in obstruction or danger to navigation will in all cases require the consent of the Minister of Transport. This provision makes general a control which already existed in the case of works done under local enactments, and it will be generally agreed to be very desirable. Part III of the Bill, Clauses 32 to 35, transfers from the Minister of Transport to the Commissioners of Crown Lands the powers of management of such Crown foreshore as was under the management of the Minister. This transfer will take place as from an appointed day and will give formal effect to the arrangements already working on an agency basis.

Part IV contains supplementary provisions which do not call for special comment at present. A word should, however, perhaps be said about the Fourth Schedule. There is no satisfactory general definition of "seashore," except as one which extends as far as the tidal limits up all rivers. The practical purposes of the Bill, however, are confined to the coast as the ordinary person understands it, and to make this clear the Schedule excludes from the purposes of the Bill the waters of all the more important rivers above their seaward limits in England and Wales. Above those seaward limits, problems can be dealt with, generally speaking, by the drainage authorities under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Owing to the different circumstances of Scotland in this respect, Scottish rivers are not included in the Fourth Schedule. It should be mentioned also, in connection with the drainage authorities, that coast protection authorities will have no power or duty to take action in places where coast defences are already maintained by a river board or drainage authority.

These then are the main features of the Coast Protection Bill, and the Government hope that your Lordships will give it sympathetic consideration, in order that, within the present restrictions on capital expenditure, a great deal of badly needed work may be done. I beg to move.

Moved, That this Bill he now read 2a.—(Lord Shepherd.)

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, we have all listened with interest to the noble Lord who has outlined the provisions of the Bill for which he has just asked a Second Reading. If he will allow me to say so, I thought, from such knowledge as I have of the Bill, that he was completely accurate in his remarks about it, even before he came to what he said was the reading of his brief. I did not find very much difference between his speech when he was referring to his own notes and when he came to the reading of the brief.

Everyone will agree that it is desirable to prevent erosion of our coasts, and the encroachment of the sea. It is true that the sea is not encroaching on our agricultural land half as fast as the Sahara Desert is encroaching on lands to its south every year; but the sea is taking away parts of our land, and that is a thing we ought to try to bring to an end. This Bill sets up these protection boards and authorities in order that something may be done about it. Under Clause 6 these boards are given power to carry out such coast protection work as may appear to them to be necessary or expedient; and what appears to them to be expedient will, of course, depend largely upon the cost involved. It is therefore important to consider not only the setting up of machinery, but who is going to pay. There are four kinds of bodies or persons who will contribute under this measure as it comes before us. The first group (though they are concerned only to a small extent) are persons interested in the land that will be saved. The second is the coast protection authority itself, who (as I understand the Bill) can obtain contributions from everybody represented on the board—which means local and district councils, fishery boards, navigation authorities and bodies of that sort. The third is the county councils who have what I may call a sea front—the maritime counties—and the fourth is the Exchequer.

Under one clause of this Bill an owner cannot be charged more than the value by which the land has appreciated as a result of the work. I think that, by and large, that is fair, although one may find that in certain circumstances it will be quite a hardship on a man who perhaps is farming the land himself and has not the extra bit of capital to pay the unexpected charge. I hope that in such a case a charge will not be made upon the farmer. When it comes to maintaining other works, I notice, the owner will have to pay a considerably greater sum. Therefore, I think that on the Committee stage we shall have to discuss between us whether it is not fair to limit the maintenance charge on the owner who happens to have, sticking out from his land, a groyne or some kind of mole, which apparently, under the Bill, he will have to keep in repair wholly at his own expense. That, of course, as one well knows, will benefit land other than his own, and for that kind of work I think we ought probably to have something similar to the provision, to which I have referred, in the clause where there is a works scheme.

So much for the owner's contribution. I think it right to consider on what theory maritime county councils and county districts, and no others, are charged, became it seems to me to be a theory as out of date as Hampden's contention that nobody except those who lived on the coast should pay ship money. It is clear that this is really a national matter, and not one for the inhabitants of the local districts. The noble Lord was good enough to give some indication as to how much the Exchequer contribution was likely to be. I observed that those words came out of the brief and were, of course, very carefully chosen words: "It may average perhaps 50 per cent." Of course, that does not get us anywhere. It may average perhaps 50 per cent.; it may perhaps average 10 per cent.; or it may average perhaps anything! So far, that is no great indication as to what the Exchequer contribution is to be. If it is meant to indicate that the contribution will be about 50 per cent., then in my view it is not enough, because this is really a national charge. If we have an invasion of our coasts by the armies, navies or air forces of a foreign Power, it is the National Ex chequer which pays for the defence of our coasts. If that attack is made by the sea, as it is in the case with which we are dealing, it seems to me that the sea should be repelled mainly by the efforts of all the subjects of His Majesty.

If we take, for instance, the case of trunk roads, they are now paid for wholly by the Exchequer. When it is a case of preserving the size of a county, that seems to me to be mainly a national concern. It might be right to say that the local councils should pay some small contribution, because they are having a part of their rateable value preserved to them, but that would be a far less contribution than the 50 per cent., which, as I understand it, is at present envisaged. This 50 per cent. is a great burden to impose upon the district council, the county council and the ratepayers between them. For instance it is difficult to see how the man living on the northern boundaries of Sussex gains any more benefit from the rates that are levied on him than does the person who lives on the southern boundaries of Surrey, the latter, if my geography is right, being just about as near the South Coast as is the former. If we want to get anything effective done under this Bill, the National Exchequer will have to take a larger share; they will have to consider the matter in a rather different light from what is, as I gather, their present intention.

I am not at all sure that in this Bill, too, Scotland has rot something of a grievance. I think that in a matter of this sort, Scotland might well have had a measure of its own. In Clause 2, a very important clause, your Lordships will find that in subsection (10) it says: This section shall rot apply to Scotland. As the noble Lord himself indicated, as you go through the Bill you find that the Scottish rivers are not mentioned in the Fourth Schedule, because a different system applies in Scotland. I think that when there are as many differences as these between the ways in which the measure is to operate in the two countries, there would have been a legitimate claim to have the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, bringing his own little Bill to deal with Scotland.

I should also just refer to one other matter. In Scotland "land" seems to include salmon fishing, but in this Bill salmon fishings are nowhere mentioned in regard to English rivers. In that respect, I would just remark that there are some extremely good salmon fishings in the English rivers; they are not the sole monopoly of Scotland. I do not know where he found it in the Bill, but the noble Lord who moved this Second Reading said that if anybody wanted to build a house, or to put up any kind of structure on the sea front, he would have to obtain a clearance certificate from the coast protection authority. Good gracious me, my Lords! Why cannot the town and country planning authority be the one which knows what areas should not be built on from the point of view of the coast protection authority? Why should not the coast protection authority inform the town and country planning authority so that an area will not be town planned for houses if it is wrong to build them there, so that the wretched person who wants to get permission has not to go to yet another authority—very probably, one in a completely different town from the one in which he lives—to obtain his clearance certificate? Why this cannot all be brought into the purview of the town and country planning authority, I cannot for the life of me think. I hope that eventually that will be done.

There are one or two other smaller points that I would like to make. Clause 7, although an important clause, has not the usual provision, that lands and here-ditaments shall contribute to the cost in proportion to the benefits they receive. It has long been the law from the earliest Acts, with the Sewers Act some time in the last century, and it has long been the principle, to collect rates only in accordance with value or with benefits received, and I think some provision of that sort should be in the Bill. I am glad to see, under Clause 15, that where a man's land is depreciated he is given a claim. I would just comment, however, that it often takes some time after the provision of the groynes, and so on, before one can see whether neighbouring land has been adversely affected by these coast protection works. Therefore I think we shall have to consider in Committee whether the word "immediately" which appears in Clause 15, subsection (2), ought not to be left out.

I think this is a Bill the general lines of which will raise no contention between us. It is, of course, clearly in the national interest that measures should be taken, in regard to the encroachment of the sea on our land. Whether that is done or not will depend largely on how much assistance is given in regard to these works, which, as the noble Lord has said, nowadays take a considerable quantity of machinery and are very substantial operations—I think his actual words were "too substantial for private owners to do, and too substantial for many local authorities to do." That reinforces my contention that, if we are to get any considerable action under this Bill, the Treasury will have to be more generous than they are at the present time. Nor do I think there will be much contention in regard to Part III, which states that the management of the Crown foreshore should be transferred from the Ministry of Transport (which is rather an odd place for it to be anyway) to the Commissioners of Crown Land.

The noble Lord who introduced this measure asked that it should be put through as early as possible. I can assure him that there will be no obstruction at all on our part; but, if I may say so, we are getting rather into the habit in this House of holding the Committee stage too soon after a Second Reading. That may be very well when a Bill has been introduced in another place. Then everybody is aware of its contents, and people outside this House have time to consider it while it is going through its stages in another place. But where a Bill is introduced for the first time into your Lordships' House, I think that we shall have to ask the Government to give us rather more time between the Second Reading and the Committee stage. I believe it is the endeavour of all noble Lords to see that any measure that is introduced here for the first time, when it is sent down to another place is in as perfect a form as we can make it during its passage through this House.

Therefore, although nobody wishes to delay this measure, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that we must be given a reasonable time before we take the Committee stage. I understand that this has been called the longest Session of Parliament, so there ought to be ample time for these measures, or at least enough time to ensure that we do not hustle them through too swiftly. I understand that the other place has one or two considerable Bills before it which will take a good deal of Members' time, and that House will probably not be dealing with these smaller measures until the summer, at the earliest. I make this appeal to the noble Lord, although I assure him that this Bill is not going to be a highly contentious measure between us. That is the way in which I respond to his invitation to us to see that it does not take too long to pass through.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express a word of congratulation to the Government for having tackled this old and thorny question. I speak with a little feeling on this matter, because I happened to become associated with a sea defence commission some two years ago, at rather a critical time in its history, when most of the defences had collapsed by reason of neglect of maintenance or the impossibility of maintenance during the war. Moreover, not only had our defences collapsed, but our finance had collapsed as well. The small contributions that we received under our local Act were quite inadequate to pay for the repairs, and a new Act was needed. Indeed, at a critical moment all the work had to be held up because the company doing it were not at all satisfied that they would be properly paid. Therefore I am glad that the Government are now providing us with proper general powers to deal with this situation in an orderly way. I am also glad that, at any rate by implication, the Government are accepting the principle that coast protection is a national and not merely a local interest, for the reasons just put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin.

I am glad, too, to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the national interest is to be expressed not only in the matter of grants. I cannot claim anything but the most superficial scientific knowledge, but I would certainly agree, so far as I am able to judge, that jetties and other works built into the sea bring about the most unexpected results and may well increase coast erosion further down the coast, possibly quite a long way away. I do not believe that hitherto any official body has been examining this side of the ques tion. Now that there is a Minister with general responsibility, I hope that his Department may become a focus for research of all kinds, not only into that matter but also into such questions as the construction of sea walls and groynes.

Having expressed this gratitude to the Government (because certainly their move in our case was an extremely timely one) it may perhaps seem a little ungracious to say anything at all in criticism of the Bill. Nevertheless, the contrast between the present attitude of the Government and the attitude adopted two years ago is so remarkable that I feel impelled to make one or two comments on it. As I said, in 1946 the authority of which I happen now to be Chairman was in a very tight spot. The seafront of the town of Seaford, in Sussex, looked as if it had experienced a heavy naval bombardment. Masses of derelict masonry were lying all over the beach; the town recreation ground was a salt water lake. About the only thing which saved half the town from inundation was a road embankment, strengthened by a sewer, plus, of course, the devoted efforts of a few hard-pressed engineers with a team of men working under extremely difficult conditions.

In spite of the fact that at that lime we were in that state, and that we were bankrupt, it became apparent that although the Ministries in Whitehall expressed sympathy, gave us moral support, and gave us priorities, none of them could or would do anything to help us. That was in 1946. It does not appear that from 1949 onwards we shall ever again have to complain of either lack of interest in Whitehall or of lack of power there. From having had to rely entirely on our own resources and initiative, we shall in future be able to do nothing without supervision, regulation and authorisation from Whitehall. That, anyhow, is what the Bill says. In fact, about the only bit of independence we shall have left is that which is provided by a little subsection at the bottom of page 7 of the Bill which says, in effect, that in case of emergency the local authority shall cut out "red tape" and take action. I am very glad to note that that subsection is in the Bill.

As for powers, I would point out that under Clause 25 the Minister can compel a district council to undertake any work that he is satisfied they should undertake, and can put the whole cost on to the district council. Alternatively, under Clause 19, he can order a county council to contribute to the cost apparently up to any amount. Under Clause 26, he can amend or repeal any local Act. Yet, when it comes to the Minister's own contribution, all the Bill says in Clause 20 is that he "may make grants" subject to such conditions as the Treasury may lay down—whatever they may be. These are not merely powers; they are dictatorial powers. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will tell us that, however the Bill may be drafted, the Minister will always use these powers in a reasonable way. I am sure he will say that, despite what might be thought to be occasional appearances to the contrary, the Minister of Health is never moved by prejudice, and that he will never treat any particular local authority with harshness or interfere with them unduly.

Indeed, judging from such experience as I have had, I am convinced that that is the intention. We have been enjoying a pre-taste of this Bill under a special arrangement which was announced by the Prime Minister in January, 1947, and which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I feel bound to say that although I was somewhat apprehensive, in the first place, about the conditions attaching to these grants, the grants themselves have been substantial, there has been no undue interference; in fact, we have been treated very reasonably, and (and this may seem rather surprising) matters have been dealt with very expeditiously. All this makes it the more strange, to my way of thinking, that the Bill should have been drafted in this way. If His Majesty's Government really intend to be fair and reasonable to local authorities, why is it necessary to take powers, as they have done, to behave unfairly and unreasonably?

I do not know what may be the attitude of other associations of local government bodies, but I do know that the County Councils' Association are opposed to the whole principle of the Bill as it is presented. I understand that they want a separate national service, financed out of national funds, with contributions from local authorities. I do not suppose that at this stage His Majesty's Government will be prepared to recast the entire Bill. For my own part, I confess that I see considerable difficulty in having an entirely separate service, because—certainly in the case of built-up areas—it seems to me that it would involve two separate authorities dealing with different aspects of the same sea front. But I think we can all sympathise with the County Councils' Association in the apprehensions which they feel as to what may be done under the Bill as drafted, and particularly as to what might happen to their finances. I am wondering, therefore, if the Government can foreshadow any possible line of Amendments which they might introduce, to provide some safeguards to meet the fears of these local authorities. After all, the local authorities are the people who will have to carry out the provisions of this Bill, and if the scheme is to be forced upon them it will be rather like going in to bat with a team, half of whom do not want to play in the match at all.

Apart from the points I have raised, I have no other criticism of the Bill except for a few small Committee points, with which I will not bother your Lordships to-day. But there is one question which I should like to ask. Clause 7 contemplates a complicated system of levying charges on private property. This may seem rather elementary, but I would like to know whether the term "land" includes all existing buildings on the land. My point is that, under modern theory, all value in land over and above its existing use value—as I understand it—now belongs to the State. Therefore, I cannot see that any authority will be able to make much money out of this provision except by taxing existing houses—unless, of course, it is to be permissible to levy tax on the central landlord. It would be interesting to know whether that is contemplated under the Bill. It seems to me that the trouble involved in levying this charge, in order merely to obtain some of the increased agricultural value out of the land, would be somewhat disproportionate.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not take up much of your Lordships' time, because I have found that, in the few days at my disposal—and no doubt other busy members of your Lordships' House have had the same experience—it has been extremely difficult to master the complex matters which are involved in this Bill. The main reason why I rise to speak is to protest against such a Bill being first presented on November 16 and then read a second time just over a week later, so that we have little more than a week-end in which to study and digest its forty-five clauses and fifty-odd pages. I feel that we have a right to complain of the Second Reading taking place so soon.

Naturally we welcome the fact that at last we have a Coast Protection Bill in being. It has come at least twenty years too late, but at any rate there is a hope that now much needed things will be done. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult, however good the intentions of the Bill may be, to pass it conscientiously on Second Reading when there may be matters of principle which have to be taken into consideration as well as matters of detail which can be discussed in Committee. Landowners, farmers, local authorities, surveyors and engineers, are all closely concerned with this Bill, either in the matter of their own bread and butter, or through their expert knowledge as to how the Bill would work. I should like to stress what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, about what he conceives to be the possible danger of an insufficient maintenance provision of a national order to meet the cost of coast protection. The charter which the Royal Agricultural Society drew up about four years ago, a document remarkable for its agreement as well as for the sound sense and the constructive ideas it put forward, mentioned among other things that it was the opinion of all present who sponsored that document that coast protection should be a national charge, though, of course, there may well be occasions when real benefit to an individual person argues that an individual charge ought to be levied. I think we are going to see a great danger of local authorities waiting too long before taking action, because they are not quite certain of what they will be able to get out of the Treasury. It is so easy to delay—and then have to spend £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 more than would have been spent had the matter been dealt with in time.

I will give two instances which may be familiar to your Lordships. In my own county, as in that of my noble friend who has just spoken, we have had instances of coast erosion which have been neglected. A small encroachment at Lymington has involved a cost of tens of thousands of pounds because of delay. Then we have Mullion Harbour, where the sea has eroded under the defences of the harbour and is now breaking down the sea wall. That could have been put right a little while ago, had the National Trust been in a position to do it at a reasonable cost. Every day it goes on, the cost is mounting. It may be that this delightful little harbour, of great local use to fishermen, will disappear completely. I am greatly concerned, because if there is not a much more generous conception of coast protection by national charge, local authorities will always hope that the boy will be able to keep his hand in the dyke through the night. They may forget, in their care for immediate financial economy, that shutting the stable door after they have let in the white horses is a costly procedure.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like my first word to be one of very sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the able, concise and lucid way in which he commended this Bill to your Lordships. But I confess that at the same time I should desire to support very strongly what was said by the noble Earl who spoke last, and by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in respect of the time that has been allowed for consideration of this Bill. If your Lordships will look on the back of the Bill, you will see that it was ordered to be printed on November 16. That meant that harbour, conservancy and navigation authorities, who are concerned very intimately with such a Bill as this, had no opportunity of seeing it until last Friday, November 19. It is almost exactly forty-three years since I first entered the House of Commons as Liberal member for Rochester and I have encountered a good many intricate Bills (and I have introduced much longer Bills into your Lordships' House when I was a member of the Government), but in all that time I do not remember a more difficult and intricate Bill to encompass than this one. I think we are not being given sufficient opportunity of going properly into its provisions.

I must crave your Lordships' indulgence to point out that it is necessary that we should secure from the Government some form of undertaking that facilities for consultation will be offered to such authorities, in order to discuss the Amendments which they may consider absolutely necessary. Although the authorities have had a proper opportunity of going into some of the aspects of this question since the reply in another place, to which the noble Lord referred, they have not yet had a proper opportunity of going fully into this Bill and there are some Amendments which are not only necessary but without which, I submit, the Bill would be unworkable. I ask permission to refer, even at this early stage, to one or two that are so evidently necessary that attention should be drawn to them at the earliest possible moment.

In Part I, dealing with coast protection authorities, the Bill apparently contemplates setting up two forms of coast protection authority. The first may be the council of a maritime county borough or county district. Clause 1, which sets out this form of coast protection authority, does not provide for any representation whatsoever of a harbour, conservancy or navigation authority. Incidentally the Port of London Authority is all three. The second form of coast protection authority is the coast protection board, which may be set up by the Minister of Health under the provisions contained in Clause 2. This protection board, which can be set up by order, provides for representation not only of councils of county boroughs and county districts but also of harbour, conservancy and navigation authorities, but only if the order setting up the coast protection board provides for such representation. It is therefore quite conceivable that the Minister may set up a coast protection board upon which these authorities are not represented at all.

Then I would say a word as regards the extent of jurisdiction. Having regard to paragraph 111 of the Fourth Schedule of the Bill, it is a little difficult for the harbour, conservancy or navigation authorities concerned to find out the extent to which they may be affected by the provisions of this Bill. Clause 44, the Interpretation Clause, defines "seashore" as the bed and shore of the sea, and of every channel, creek, bay or estuary, and of every river as far up that river as the tide flows … So far as the conservancy powers of the Port of London Authority are concerned, the tide flows up to Teddington, but for the purposes of Part I of the Bill coast protection of the seashore does not include the bed or shore of any water specified in the Fourth Schedule. In Paragraph 21 of the Fourth Schedule the River Thames is shown as The River Thames, above a line drawn from the London Stone, North Level, Isle of Grain, to the westernmost point of the boundary of the County Borough of Southend. Paragraph 111 in that Schedule, however, states: The Minister may by order vary the foregoing provisions of this Schedule either by the inclusion of any waters not for the time being specified therein or by the exclusion of any waters for the time being so specified. If the Bill is passed in this form, the areas affected can be varied from time to time by ministerial order. But, as Paragraph 21 of the Fourth Schedule is at present drafted, as I read it, it means that for some ten miles above the seaward limit of the Port of London the Thames is "sea" and "seashore" for the purpose of Part I of the Bill.

I say that because, as provided in the Fourth Schedule, the up-river limit of "seashore" conforms to no existing specified boundary in relation to the Port of London Authority's jurisdiction—or, rather, it makes another artificial line in relation to that. It agrees with the former seaward limit, on the south side, of the Thames Conservancy, and thus of the present limit of ownership of the Port of London Authority of the bed and shores of the Thames; but on the other side of the river the line is taken to a point west of the Crow Stone (the former Thames Conservancy limit on that side) to the western boundary of Southend, which now includes Leigh-on-Sea. This point is, I think, some ten miles above the seaward limit of the Port of London, and for that distance the Thames is "sea" and "seashore" for the purposes of Part I, thus making quite gratuitously, I submit, another artificial line.

I do not want to indulge simply in destructive criticism and, therefore, I would like at this stage to make a constructive suggestion. It is that Paragraph 21 in the Fourth Schedule, instead of defining the River Thames as it does, should define it as: The River Thames above a line drawn through the Nore from the Kent to the Essex coast. I make that suggestion because that is the limit under the present statutory authority of the Port of London Authority.

Now I would like to say a few words as to the interference with existing statutory powers. Clause 18 of the Bill provides that a coast protection authority (which conceivably might be a local borough situate within the estuarial waters of a harbour, conservancy or navigation authority) can by order apply the provisions of that clause as respects the whole of that portion of the seashore, or any part thereof as may be specified in the order. That could prevent a harbour authority carrying out dredging which is considered necessary, unless excepted from the order, or only under their licence. I am sorry to weary your Lordships, but this is a very serious point. Clause 18 is to take the place of the Coast Protection Act, 1939—which is to be repealed—and provides that … notwithstanding anything contained in any other enactment, it shall be unlawful to excavate or remove any materials (other than minerals more than fifty feet below the surface) on, under or forming part of any portion of the foreshore to which the provisions of this section are applied. They are to be so applied by an order to be made by a coast protection authority under the machinery of the Second Schedule to any area within, or seaward of, the area of the coast protection authority and thus be applied by, say, the Southend Corportion, both to the area in front of Southend and seaward thereof, possibly as far as the Nore.

The Port of London Authority's dredging powers and duties extend to the Nore, under Section 216 of their Consolidation Act of 1920, subject to the limitation in Section 312 of that Act; and if the matter were left there the Authority's powers would be abrogated. It is, however, provided in Clause 18 (3) that an order applying the clause may except from the prohibition the carrying out of operations of any such class as may be specified, and any exception may be either unconditional or subject to specified conditions. Subsection (5), too, provides for the granting by the coast protection authority of a licence to do anything which would otherwise be a contravention of the prohibition.

An order made under Clause 18 must comply with the provisions contained in the Second Schedule, which do not provide for the service of any notice of the order on any authorities that may be affected thereby or concerned with it. Apparently it is the intention that such authorities should have to rely upon picking up the notice in the London Gazette or a local newspaper. In the Coast Protection Act, 1939—which, as I say, is to be repealed by this Bill—a full saving was incorporated, under which nothing in that Act, or any order made there-under, was to: take away, diminish or prejudice any rights, powers or privileges in relation to conserving, maintaining, or improving the navigation of a tidal water … conferred by any public, general or local or private Act on any harbour authority, conservancy authority, or navigation authority. It is difficult to conceive why a similar clause was omitted from the present Bill.

I should also like to draw attention to the fact that Clause 26 empowers the Minister by order to repeal or amend the provisions of a local Act. The First Schedule contains the procedure for making orders and provisions as to the validity of orders constituting coast protection boards. Part I of the Schedule provides that before making an order the Minister shall prepare a draft, and shall cause notice to be served on various authorities, including a harbour, conservancy or navigation authority, known to the Minister to be exercising jurisdiction within that area, and for objections to the draft order. Under Part II of the Schedule, if a body on whom notice is required to be served does not withdraw its objection to the order it is subjected to special Parliamentary procedure. A navigation authority that is not within the area, but is on the borders of it—to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made reference in his speech of introduction—might be vitally affected by any proposed order, but is not entitled to the protection of special Parliamentary procedure.

I would now like to say just a word, in regard to works detrimental to navigation. In Part II of the Bill, Clause 29 provides that no person shall, without the consent in writing of the Minister of Transport, carry out operations such as the construction of works below high water mark of ordinary spring tides, and for the purpose of this Part of the Act the seashore within the Port of London extends up to Teddington. It does not stop at the boundary of Southend and the London Stone on the opposite shore. Under the Port Authority's own Statutes, works upon the bed or shore of the Thames must be approved by the Minister of Transport. It would now appear, as the Minister pointed out this afternoon in introducing this measure, that a further consent of the Minister of Transport must be obtained if he is of the opinion that any such work may be an obstruction or danger to navigation, a function which both he and a harbour authority can already exercise under local Acts. Every pier and jetty is a potential obstruction or a danger to navigation. Are we to continue having to obtain consent after consent to do the very things for which we already have statutory power?

I do not want to weary your Lordships with other technical details, but I would emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, that we should have ample time before the Committee stage, in order that the authorities should have an opportunity of consulting with the Ministry and be given the chance of suggesting Amendments that would make it workable under their own present statutory authorities.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I have only a very few words to say from the point of view of Scotland. I would like to echo the point made by my noble friend Lord Llewellin, that it would seem that it might have been better to have a separate Scottish Bill. Before I add to that, in case the noble Lord who introduced the Bill thinks that I am ungrateful, I wish to say that I welcome the provisions of the Bill as a very definite step forward in dealing with the danger of coast erosion.

Coast erosion, or the action of the sea, has been a matter of British history since the time of King Canute, and it will certainly be recorded that this Bill makes a practical effort to deal with the problem. But I feel that the case of Scotland is so different from that of England—as is shown by the Bill itself—that it would have been a cleaner job to have a separate Scottish Bill. In a Bill covering fifty pages, I find that on twenty pages there are subsections specially applying the measure to Scotland, while the important Clause 2, which constitutes the coast protection boards, does not apply to Scotland. In saying this, I make no criticism of the purpose of the measure, but observe that we might have been better served by a separate Bill for Scotland.

There is also the question of time. I know that the Secretary of State has machinery for consultation with local authorities—he is generally most careful about consulting them—but it is one thing to consult local authorities about the general purpose of a Bill, and it is another thing to let them actually see the measure itself, so that they can have time to make suggestions and frame Amendments. The time available in this case has been very short, and I trust, therefore, that it will be possible to give a reasonable period for consideration by the authorities concerned before the Committee stage. My final word is this. The maritime counties are not rich, by any means. The coastal counties in Scotland are amongst those with a low rateable value. There are many striking cases and I could give examples, but I will not weary your Lordships. It is not clear whether the great cities can come to their aid; it will depend upon definitions, and I am not myself quite clear whether the great seaport cities, where a high proportion of the rateable value of the country lies, are to be included or not. That will be made clear in time. I would, therefore, re-state my view that the local authorities should now be given a period of time to examine the implications of this Bill and, if they wish to do so, to frame Amendments. I conclude by saying that I welcome the measure as a step forward in dealing with a dangerous problem.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to apologise to the House, and particu larly to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, for having endeavoured to gate-crash the debate at an earlier stage. I did not know that there was so lengthy a list of speakers. I want to intervene in this debate as one connected with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. As your Lordships know, that body has stations all round the coasts of the British Isles, and we are only too painfully aware of the degree of coast erosion which is going on in certain areas. For example, we have on the seashore at Selsey a lifeboat station which was established, comparatively speaking, not very long ago—I mean about twenty or thirty years ago. I well remember that station being established, and now, as a result of the coast erosion there (which has been proceeding at the rate of twenty-one feet a year) our lifeboat house stands out at sea, a considerable distance off shore. We have become a pier authority, and we are extending our pier back to the shore every year in order to keep pace with the erosion. I can remember fields where I have seen cows and sheep grazing, but which are now just open sea.

Having said that, I would like to reinforce what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, and other noble Lords, that we should have ample time between now and the Committee stage in order fully to consider this Bill. It may considerably affect the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. We have to establish stations round the coast, often not exactly where we would like to put them but where we have to put them, because of the difficulty of launching our boats, which have to be able to go to sea in any weather and at any state of the tide. That very requirement may possibly conflict a good deal with the requirements, for instance, of such a body as the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which will be concerned with the operation of this measure. I do not know whether we shall have to move an Amendment in order to try and safeguard our position so far as may be. We may have to extend below high water mark a big slipway, or something of that sort. There are all kinds of snags of that type which may arise. Again, as a body owning property which borders on a maritime county, or whatever it is called in the Bill, we might conceivably be invited to share in the cost, but I do not know whether we have any power to do so. Our charter empowers us to save life at sea, and there is certainly no power to do anything in the way of providing against coast erosion. Therefore, the Bill, as drafted, might produce considerable difficulty for the body to which I have the honour to belong.

Apart from those considerations, I welcome the Bill, because we know in the Institution how very badly this Bill is required in many areas. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, spoke of Seaford and Seaford Bay. We are only too welt aware of the terrible series of storms which did so much damage there. I hope the Bill will do something to help particularly the county councils of East and West Sussex, where coast erosion has been proceeding on an appalling scale, and also certain maritime counties on the East Coast. I plead again that we should have as much time as can possibly be arranged between now and the Committee stage, so that we may have a chance to study the Bill in all its implications and to frame Amendments which may be required in order to safe guard our position.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I also would like to support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, about the position of Scotland. I will reinforce what I have to say by a short description of a portion of the coast which is familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and myself, and which will illustrate the points I wish to make. It is a portion of the coast where in recent times there has been some gain from the sea. I will not say that there has been elevation, but there has been gain. If there has been any elevation at all, it has ceased, because the local river—a short one — has cut down to what I think is called its "logarithmic bed." Sometimes in the past we were afraid of marine invasions when the wind was in a certain quarter and there were very high spring tides, and the coast was strengthened by sand-hills held together by what is called "bent grass" or what is known in England as marram grass. After an extension of the harbour breakwater at a point of the coast well out to sea, the set of the currents was so altered that the river changed its course and there was actually, to the relief of everybody, a gain of land.

The point I wish to make is that if we cannot have a Scottish Bill, and this Bill is to apply to Scotland, the coast defence authorities in Scotland will be the county councils. If that is so, I think that there should be a central expert advisory body for the whole of Scotland to deal with coast erosion, because I honestly believe that the county engineers—although I have a very high opinion of them—are not necessarily the people who ought to do that work. It is highly technical work, depending on the set of the currents along the coast. A large portion of the East Coast of Scotland is defended by the simple herb called bent grass, or marram grass, to which I have referred. I believe that that grass was introduced from Holland, and that it was regarded in the time of James III as so valuable that death was the penalty for anyone who destroyed it. To-day, however, it is being destroyed right and left by small boys. I think some noble Lords opposite do not believe in corporal punishment; but something of that sort should, I am sure, be applied when necessary if small boys wantonly destroy this grass which is such a valuable form of protection.

The noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, mentioned the maritime counties. Just consider, my Lords, the portion of the coast of Scotland from Inverness round to the North and then West and South to Glasgow. In parts of that area there may or may not be subsidence going on; but the authorities there are unable to pay for coast erosion schemes. Then consider for a moment the Islands. I think it is a pity to impose stringent penalties on people who build there such things as boat slips. They will do it, whether it is permitted or not. I do not like a law which everybody breaks, and I think some concession should be made there. I should also like to ask the noble Lord why, if the Minister of Health is the ultimate authority for the defence of our coasts from erosion, it is necessary to go to the Minister of Transport to find out whether one can put a boat slip or any such thing somewhere. I should have thought that one would have had to go to the Minister of Health, if he is the responsible authority. I should prefer to see a separate Bill for Scotland; but if Scotland has to be dealt with in this Bill, I beg the noble Lord to consider carefully the points I have put forward.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of what Lord Clydesmuir and Lord Saltoun have said concerning the reference in this Bill to Scotland. Noble Lords who have spoken with great experience from the English point of view, have referred to the complexity and difficulty of the Bill. That is greatly enhanced by the references to Scotland; parts of clauses are excluded or altered and in some cases become almost unintelligible without very great scrutiny and care. For instance, subsection (5) of Clause 31 provides that in England and Wales the harbour authority shall have power to enforce the provisions of Clause 29, but there is no provision for similar power in Scotland. Lord Clydesmuir also referred to the fact that the Secretary of State was having consultations with local authorities on this matter. That is perfectly true. The County Councils Association have a committee sitting, on which I have the honour to serve, and I know that those consultations are proceeding; but until this Bill was produced there was no opportunity of seeing the whole picture. As other noble Lords have said, the time allowed for getting at the root of the matter has been infinitesimal. I will therefore do anything I can to support the plea put forward by Lord Clydesmuir, Lord Llewellin and others, that we should be given ample time before the Committee stage, so that further consultations may take place with the Secretary of State and with local authorities in order that they may see how they are affected by the provisions of the Bill.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that the Government can be disappointed at the reception given to this Bill in your Lordships' House. They will understand that there is a genuine interest in the subject matter of the Bill amongst all Parties. I myself feel a great deal of pleasure at the reception your Lordships have given the Bill, because this is the first occasion on which I have taken the responsibility for such a measure; and you will understand that, apart from a certain degree of nervous- ness, I am not quite sure whether I shall adequately cover the points that have been raised. I should like first to deal with some of the smaller points before turning to the main speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I do so because I think most of the points raised in the shorter speeches at the end of the discussion dealt with matters which can be more effectively discussed in Committee; and, as they are taken separately in Committee, they will be seen by the Government for what they are and the Government can take the measure of them. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, suggested the setting up of a Scottish Advisory Committee to advise the authorities responsible for the coasts of Scotland.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I would point out that what I meant to imply was that the engineering side should be centralised in the Scottish Office; it should not be left to the professional staff of county councils.


Although we have been talking in terms of one Minister there are other Ministers involved. There is not only the Minister of Health in England but also the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is associated with him in the application of this measure to that country. It is suggested that it might have been better had there been two Bills instead of one, in order to meet the Scottish situation; but I would like to remind noble Lords that in addition to the two Ministers I have mentioned already, two other Ministers are very much concerned. There is the Minister of Transport, who will supervise or deal with works which are a danger to shipping and the like; and there is the Minister of Agriculture. As your Lordships know, I am a Lord in Waiting and am not a member of the Ministry of Health, but I presume that one of the reasons why there is one Bill instead of two is to enable all Ministers mentioned to take part in any discussions that may be necessary.

The point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has been noted, but I think he will agree that if there is any difficulty in the matter he can raise the subject when we reach the Committee stage. Indeed, that applies to a good many of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. What I can promise him is that the points he has raised will be fully considered and will not be lost because they are not being given detailed attention now.

The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, made a somewhat interesting speech, if I may say so. He uttered feelings of dismay at what he considers to be the autocratic powers wielded by Whitehall; but if he will look more closely at the Bill, and if he will bear well in mind that the powers under a Bill mast work, he will realise that on occasions the Minister must come into the picture. Obviously, if national money is to be found for these purposes, it cannot just be handed over to the coast protection authorities without the Government themselves having some say in it. There is another instance in which the Minister will interfere. Sonic authorities, it may be, will "go to sleep" on this measure. I hope that that will not be the case, but if it be the case the Minister has taken power to deal with it. If the noble Viscount will for a moment consider that, I believe he will agree that the Minister should have a power of that kind. At any rate, it is a power which seems to us to be necessary for success.

I come now to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and those sitting around him. First of all, there is the question of time for the Committee stage. On inquiry from my noble friend Lord Ammon, I have found that the actual time for the Committee stage has not yet been fixed, but he authorises me to say that the observations made by the noble Lord will be given due attention because the Government are not anxious—indeed the Minister of Health himself is not anxious—that this Bill should be so rushed through your Lordships' House that no opportunity of considering its importance is provided. A number of noble Loris have spoken on that point. I hope that they are satisfied with the explanation I have given.

Then there is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, with reference to the coastwise counties and the inland counties. Superficially, there is something to be said for it, but I venture to say that, when the Government make their contribution to the coastwise authorities, they will be doing so out of funds to which the inland counties have made their contribution. In other words, we must look upon this money coming from the Government not as a mere gift from Whitehall but as a joint contribution coming from both the Government themselves and the rest of the country. I think that what we have to impress upon the coastwise authorities is this: that although the country itself has an obligation, they have in their localities an obligation over and above that which applies elsewhere. If there are benefits arising, then the principal part of the benefits will come their way. If there are improvements, then the improvements will make themselves felt in their direction. If we weigh one thing against the other, and we have the Government contributing, as they suggest, then the coastwise authorities will have no cause to complain.

The noble Lord also asked me a question as to where the Bill mentioned the powers of the coast protection authority in relation to town and country planning questions. If the developments that are to take place are away from the sea coast, or not exactly on the sea coast (even though they may be in a borough or in a district which is adjacent to the sea coast), then the coast protection authorities are not involved. But if development is to take place on the seashore itself, then the coast protection authorities are interested, because they have to make quite sure that what is proposed will not help in the destruction of the coast itself. All that will be necessary in those cases is that the town and country planning authority shall receive an intimation from the coast protection authority that what is proposed is not likely to endanger the sea coast.

Another point raised by the noble Lord is the charge on farming and the like where the farmer himself may not be able to meet a somewhat heavy charge that may be placed upon him. In cases like that, where an agreement is not reached between the coast protection authority and the farmer, recourse can be had to the magistrates' court for a settlement. It will be within the power of the magistrates' court to decide whether the Minister or the coast protection authority should bear a larger part of the burden than those authorities themselves had contemplated. In other words, the magistrates' court could arrange a settlement in order to ease a case where there is extreme difficulty such as has been contemplated.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am glad to hear his explanation of that matter, because, of course, under Clause 13 the man is all right. It is only when there is a question of one of these works schemes that he may not be all right. If it is intended that he shall be able to go to the courts under the works schemes as well. I think it may be that there will have to be an Amendment to the Bill in that respect.


The noble Lord can take it for granted that there will be no attempt on the part of the Government, or on the part of the local authorities, to impose upon a farmer such as has been described burdens which he cannot bear. I think I have done all that I can in the way of replying to-day. I hope that I have met sufficiently the points raised, and I trust that the Second Reading will, therefore, follow in due course.

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