HL Deb 11 March 1958 vol 208 cc77-84

1.—(1) The applicants for an order under section one or section two of this Act shall cause notice in writing of the application to be served on the persons specified in the following Table—

All orders (a) Every local authority whose area lies wholly or partly within the limits of supply of the applicants.
(b) Such statutory water undertakers, if any, as the Minister may direct.
Orders which suspend or modify an enactment. Such persons (if any) as are specified by name in the enactment as being persons for whose protection it was enacted.
Orders which suspend or modify an agreement. The parties to the agreement other than the applicants.

Orders concerning the taking of water from a source or the discharge of compensation water (a) Every local authority in whose area the source, or the site at which compensation water is to be discharged, is situated.
(b) Any river board or navigation authority exercising functions over any watercourse affected by the order and, if any such watercourse is in the Thames Catchment area or the Lee Catchment area, the Conservators of the River Thames or the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board, as the case may be.
Orders which authorise the execution of any works. Every local authority within whose area the works are situated.

6.50 p.m.


had given Notice of three Amendments to paragraph 1 (1), the first being to omit "river board or" from paragraph (b) relating to "Orders concerning the taking of water from a source or the discharge of compensation water." The noble Earl said: I do not know whether it is possible for Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13 to be taken together. No. 13 is the substantive one, and Amendments 11 and 12 follow upon it. In my opening remarks, speaking to Clause 1, I made clear the point that is behind these Amendments. The short point is that I seek to put the river boards on "all fours" with the local authorities, and to make it a requirement that the Minister must always consult, or give notice to, as the case may be, a river board where, under the Bill as it is worded, he has to give notice to a local authority. It may be asked: why did I not move to add the words "river board" at an earlier point in the Schedule, so that in respect of all orders every local authority and every river board should have notice given to it. I did not do that largely for very technical reasons (I shall not go into them now, and I doubt if I could keep afloat if I did), not unconnected with the Thames and Lee Conservancy Boards and their Works Acts and requirements. I am advised by those who should know that it is best to put the matter this way. I hope that noble Lords will agree with me and leave it at that.

I contend that, as the Schedule is set out (and I remarked on this at Second Reading of the Bill), it rather begs the question so far as river boards are concerned. It says that notice shall be given to any river board exercising functions over a watercourse affected. That begs the question. We cannot always be sure what river course, or source, will be affected. It is a fact that the whole of England and Wales is covered by the thirty-four river boards, and I cannot see why these river boards should not have the statutory notice given to them. If they are not affected, they can make no objection; but if they are affected, they, like others in the Statute, will be protected in the same way as others in the Statute. There is a real point here that is connected not only with compensation water but with the abstraction of underground water, or the increasing abstraction from an underground source. It may well be that an issue will arise concerning the river board as to what abstraction does affect the watercourse. I think the only way that this can be overcome is by the river board automatically having the notice given to it. We should not beg the question as to whether it ought to have the notice given to it or not beforehand.

There are other questions involved here. I am advised that there might well be a dispute on the legal wording of the Schedule as it is now set out. For example, an application may relate to a watercourse which is not a main river, which contains no fish and which, so far as one can be aware at the time, is not polluted. In those circumstances it might be open to the water undertaker to contend that the river board were not exercising any function over that particular river and to say that no statutory notice was required. Those may be considered hair-splitting points. It may be that points of that kind would not arise, but here we are parting with Defence Regulations and enshrining these emergency orders in a Statute. Surely, when we are writing our Statute, we do not want to leave things to chance; we want to make abundantly clear what is going to be done and what ought to be done. Accordingly, I beg to move the first of these Amendments which materially alter the wording in paragraph (b), at line 30, and have the effect of making it obligatory on the Minister to give a notice to every river board when an emergency order is going to be made in its area.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 22, leave out ("river board or").—(Earl Waldegrave.)


What my noble friend seeks to do here is to provide that river boards will get notice of abstractions proposed from any source in their area. Under the Bill as at present drafted, river boards will get notice only of abstractions from water courses over which they exercise jurisdiction. The reason for the Amendment, as I understand it, is that the river boards think that abstractions of underground water near rivers—for example, from boreholes or mines, gravel pits and quarries—may affect the flow in the river. This is, I suggest, a theoretical possibility, but experience in dealing with licences under the Water Act for abstractions from boreholes does not suggest that it is very likely to arise in practice. In any case, before authorising any abstractions affecting underground water-bearing strata my right honourable friend the Minister would consult the Geological Survey, who are his advisers on all underground water matters and who would know, I suggest, much more about the risks in any particular case than the river board.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide an emergency procedure and, in the interests of speed, to which I have drawn attention more than once in the Committee this afternoon, it is desirable to cut down as far as possible the number of notices which have to be given. If I may say so with respect, we have in the course of the debate on these Amendments lost sight of that important purpose of the Bill.

Abstractions from gravel pits and ponds which have no outlet to a river are the sort of arrangements very likely to be made under the Bill. But to widen the scope of the notices to river boards would bring them into a lot of unnecessary cases, with very doubtful advantage to the interests of the river boards; and, for reasons which I have already outlined on previous Amendments I am afraid that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Abstractions of water from underground are, as the noble Earl has told us, controlled in some areas of the country by licences under the Water Act, 1945. The regulations about service of notices do not include the serving of notices on river board, and I think I am right in saying that the River Boards Association have been pressing my right honourable friend for some time to amend the regulations so as to bring them in, for the reasons I have already been discussing. My right honourable friend, however, has always felt that their interest is too remote to justify amendment of the regulations, and he has asked the river boards to produce evidence that their work has been hampered by their not getting notices. So far as I know no evidence has been produced since the point was last raised several months ago. I think that that serves only to give weight to the argument I have already advanced: that to do this would be cutting across the main purpose of the Bill, which is speed in a moment of crisis. I hope that the noble Lord will not think I have been too harsh against his Amendment, because I can see what he is driving at. I hope he will be good enough to consider carefully the arguments I have advanced, and I hope that one day I may convince him that speed, which we believe to be the essence of the contract, remains all-important.


I entirely agree that the essence of this whole contract is speed. But I am afraid that I am not absolutely convinced that any considerable delay would be incurred, or that any delay at all would be incurred, in recognising that the river boards have grown up. There is no question but that some local authorities may be obstructive. There may be such things—I do not know—as reactionary local authorities, no doubt very small and remote ones, who will say when they receive a notice: "Why do they want these extra orders?" Conceivably, they may be obstructive and delay proceedings. That is very reprehensible but it is conceivable that it might happen. But I do not think it is right for the Minister to say that he will give notice only to local authorities which can prove that they have an interest. By the wording, of the Bill, every local authority will have its notice, and I beg the noble Lord to allow river boards to grow up and be treated as responsible bodies who can be given their due notice. It should not be assumed that they are immediately going to obstruct and cause delay. That might happen only if the notice implied that the order ought not to be made, and that could happen with any of the local authorities notified. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has been very good to me on these Amendments, but I could not quite accept what he had to say on this one without a slight "come-back". I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

EARL WALDEGRAVE moved to insert in the Table, after "Every local authority within whose area the works are situated": and in the case of any order authorising the execution of any works in over or under or affecting any watercourse under the jurisdiction of a drainage authority, the authority concerned.

The noble Earl said: This is the last Amendment with which I shall worry your Lordships to-night. I hope that the Government will consent to this point. It is not an important Amendment and again deals with the question of notice. I beg your Lordships not to think that the river boards are asking for notice because of any amour-propre or for the sake of saving face. We feel that we are entitled to have these notices and cannot understand why we are not considered responsible people who are entitled to have notice when any works are going to be authorised. At the moment, every local authority within whose area works are situated has to be notified, and I maintain that every river board should be notified also. These works are on rivers and are bound to be either in an area which is under the direct control of a river board or which comes under a river board in its capacity as drainage authority. I will not delay the Committee, but I would suggest that this is a matter which the noble Lord could look at again, to see whether he can help us to receive statutory notice as of right. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 33, at end insert the said new words.—(Earl Waldegrave.)


I want to say only two words. This is an Amendment to which the river boards attach considerable importance. We got on with the first Amendment better than I anticipated, and on the last Amendment I hope that we shall get some measure of assurance that the Government will look at the matter again. I am sure that we have not been obstructive, but constructive, and if the noble Lord can help us, it would be greatly appreciated.


The noble Earl's Amendment provides that the drainage authority should receive notice about any order authorising works which affect a water course under their jurisdiction. I can tell him straight away that I accept the spirit of his Amendment, but I am afraid that the definition of "drainage authority" may need looking at in the light of the River Boards Act, 1948. If the noble Earl will accept this undertaking, I will look carefully at the wording. I give him a promise to put down an Amendment at Report stage to meet his point. And do not let me hear any more about stonewalling from the noble Lord, Lord Burden.


I am glad that it was not I who said something about stonewalling, because I am grateful to the noble Lord for meeting us in this way. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.


Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, may I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft? I am sure that he has not taken offence at the few words at the beginning of our debate.


May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whether he has any statement to make on the situation which will arise when Defence Regulation 56 ceases to be operative and thus power to make an order to deal with the user of the reservoirs of the Metropolitan Water Board is removed?


The Ministry has been in touch with the Metropolitan Water Board since we mentioned this matter on Second Reading and a meeting took place last week between representatives of the Board and officers of my right honourable friend's Department. It was pointed out that an amendment of the Bill to meet the Board's needs would be outside the Long Title of the Bill, which is restricted to meeting deficiencies in the supply of water due to exceptional shortage of rain. The Board, however, require an order to operate when there is plenty of rain and plenty of water in the Thames, so that they can have their reservoirs full before a drought arrives. Even if the scope of the Bill could be extended, it would not be much help to the Board to have an order which lasted for only six months at a time, because they would want to be able to rely on having powers for a reasonable period ahead. Similarly, it would not be much use saving the existing order beyond its present expiry date of July, 1958, as it could not be saved beyond the end of March, 1960. The representatives of the Board accepted the position that they must either find a remedy outside the Bill or do without the additional storage provided under the Defence Regulation Order. I am sorry that we cannot help more than this, but anything that we might put into the Bill would be nearly as out of order as is the noble Lord at the moment in raising this question at this stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.