HL Deb 16 February 1961 vol 228 cc886-908

3.18 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in 1958 your Lordships passed the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act. That Act encouraged landowners to drain agricultural land with the assistance of Government grant. After a somewhat slow start, improvements under this Act are now beginning to be made. This Bill deals with the prevention of flooding in urban areas, and it allows work to be done on agricultural land to the extent that prevention measures are essential there also, if urban land is to be protected.

Under the Bill, the prevention work is to be done, as it should be, by the local authorities, acting, where appropriate, in conjunction with other local authorities or private owners. The local authorities have welcomed the Bill, and it seems that action under it will start more quickly than was the case with the 1958 Act. Already we know of three local authorities who are waiting for the Bill to go on the Statute Book in order to submit schemes costing between £9,000 and £36,000.

Fortunately, urban flooding in Scotland, though sometimes very serious, is not extensive. There are, however, a number of areas where there is recurrent flooding during periods of heavy rainfall, and the local authorities have so far had no power to deal with it. As a generality, unlike flooding in England, the floodings have occurred in narrow valleys and affecting comparatively few people. This has made it impracticable for us in Scotland to follow the English pattern of creating river and drainage boards, boards which have comprehensive area functions, designed to deal with large-scale drainage problems. The cost of the work in relation to Scottish conditions would place an undue burden on those directly concerned. Nor could our urban flood prevention works bring into use large areas of at present useless land. So our urban Flood Prevention Bill is designed primarily for the protection of life and property in the small narrowly defined areas that are likely to be affected.

To turn to the Bill itself, it has two broad functions. Under Clause 2, subsections (1) (a) and (b), the local authorities are for the first time empowered to maintain and service watercourses. In many cases, action under these permissive powers will be an adequate insurance against flooding, but there will be cases where work must be carried out on a much larger scale, and it is this need with which the Bill is primarily concerned. Where any works other than those of maintenance and management are proposed to be carried out, a flood prevention scheme has to be prepared under Clause 4 and advertised under the Second Schedule.

I know that there are differing views on this point, but we feel that there are so many bodies who might be interested and must be advised that, rather than refer to each one, we have drawn the Second Schedule, paragraph 3, in very wide terms. This avoids the danger that if particular bodies were specified it might be taken that they were the only ones who had to be notified. If there are objections to a scheme, a public inquiry has to be held and it is only after considering the objections and the report of the inquiry that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State makes his decision. All very democratic and proper.

But the work has to be paid for, and whatever the total cost of the scheme may be, the Secretary of State is empowered, under Clause 13, to make a contribution. The Bill puts no lower and no upper limit to this contribution, but the intention is that normally the cost of the capital work should carry 50 per cent. grant. My right honourable friend will have to judge each case on its merits. And then, apart from Government grant, a local authority can make contributions to other people carrying out flood prevention work or receive contributions from other local authorities or anyone else towards their expenditure.

The carrying out of flood-prevention works and the results of those works may on occasion give rise to justifiable claims for compensation. The Bill deals with this in Clause 11. This clause does not, of course, add anything to the complainer's right under Common Law to receive compensation for damage done, but Clause 11 admits the obligation of the local authority to pay compensation in certain circumstances and it is the intention of my right honourable friend to aid by way of grant the compensation attributable to the capital operations in carrying out approved schemes. Your Lordships will be glad to see that under subsection (3) of Clause 15 the definition of "land" for the purposes of the Bill, which includes compensation, includes a reference to salmon fishings.

Once the watercourses are put right, either by way of maintenance by a local authority on its own responsibility or by a grant-aided scheme, it is necessary that they should stay right. Clause 6 will help. This clause gives the local authority power to make by-laws regulating or prohibiting the deposit of rubbish that might lead to flooding. The existence of by-laws may in some cases make any remedial action unnecessary. There is no intention to harass riparian owners about trees that may fall into a river. The by-laws can be directed solely against deliberate dumping of rubbish; but the powers are necessary.

My Lords, this Bill was closely scrutinised in the other place and the Government now have in mind only two or three straightforward Amendments. But I shall listen most sympathetically to any suggestions that your Lordships may make for improvements in the Bill.

Once this Bill is on the Statute Book, it and the 1958 Act together will, we hope, meet Scotland's immediate needs. The two measures are complementary, since there will be ample scope for cooperation between the local authority operating under this Bill and the landowner carrying out a scheme under the 1958 Act. The local authority is required to give notice to affected parties, and that will mean, in practice, opportunity for advance consultation. But, quite apart from that formal procedure, local authorities will be encouraged by the Secretary of State to carry out the fullest consultations at the earliest possible stage, even before formulating a flood-prevention scheme, so that in those cases where separate schemes can usefully be carried out under the 1958 Act and this Bill they can be mutually adjusted so as to produce the best combined effort.

Furthermore, St. Andrew's House will be aware of all schemes proceeding under the two Acts, and will help if necessary. It will then be up to the people on the spot to decide whether, in the case of agricultural land, the economic benefits, and in the case of urban land the social benefits, which will arise from the abolition of flooding, will justify the expenditure of the money necessary to effect this. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Craigton.)

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for rising to speak on this Bill, but this is occasioned by the fact that our two Scottish Peers, who would undoubtedly have wished to speak on it, are both at home ill and cannot be here this afternoon. I hope your Lordships will excuse any shortcomings that I may display in dealing with a Scottish Bill. I will do my best to make a useful contribution to the debate.

I expect that all noble Lords have in some way or another been concerned with flooding problems, which are not restricted to Scotland. We have recently been through a period of persistent flooding, but we must be thankful that we do not experience such terrible floods has happen abroad; nor, so far as I can see, by the nature of our countryside and our rivers, are we ever likely to be so afflicted. Our own floods are disastrous enough and have been known to have tragic consequences. We can recall many areas in the South and West, around Exeter, Lynmouth and along the Severn Valley, in the Thames areas and adjacent to many of our rivers, completely covered by water. These have all caused distress, in some cases panic, and loss in the flooding of agricultural land and the destruction of crops.

Nor have we been immune from sea flooding. The death-dealing East coast break-in of the sea and the very high tides of a few years ago are a very recent memory with me, for the tide receded when within only a short distance of my own property in the East Anglian village in which I then lived. What has happened to us in the Southern Counties and in the East has also happened in the North and in Scotland. It is appropriate, therefore, that we should take all practical steps to ward off and prevent occurrences which may be more disastrous than those we have already experienced. In our country, if I may refer to it that way, as the noble Lord mentioned, our drainage boards and river boards do excellent work (though apparently similar bodies do not exist in Scotland), and help to prevent flooding on this side of the Border. In connection with the East Anglian floods, I have it in mind that several years of constructive work and the expenditure of much money has now, I hope, made the Fen country around King's Lynn safe from similar disasters. Foresight in flood prevention in other areas may have the same result.

I may be wrong in some of my thinking. We cannot always choose where we should live, but if we are called upon to live in a village or an area where the risk of flooding is always possible, then I think we have a right to call for community protection through State action. That seems to be what may happen as a result of this Bill—for I assume that is its object. The Bill applies to Scotland only, and I shall find favour with my Scottish friends if I say that it is no worse or less important because of that fact. Behind this Bill, although it has to be operated by town councils and county councils, is the Secretary of State. No scheme for flood prevention can be brought into being without his confirmation; and he can arrange for payment from Exchequer funds of the whole of the costs, or such portion as he agrees to, with the consent of the Treasury. I hope that schemes initiated, planned, arranged for and necessary in the interests of the people and the areas for which the appropriate local authority is responsible will not be delayed or held up unduly by local authorities or, maybe provocatively, by Treasury action when the Secretary of State is willing to confirm them.

If the Bill passes through Parliament, as I expect it will, I hope that it will be operated to the advantage of those who otherwise might suffer by delay. It will be on the Statute Book as a preventive measure, and its usefulness can be made or marred according to the degree of good will, diligence and enthusiasm of the members of local authorities, and their co-operation with the Government and those interested or affected parties. It has been thought in another place that possibly the Bill may not turn out to be as useful as one would like, but in the circumstances I do not think we can discuss that point here this afternoon.

I now turn to one or two points in the Bill which I think should be mentioned, and which at a later stage may require further consideration. Perhaps these points are already covered by what the noble Lord has said in regard to Government Amendments which we may expect. I have already said that some of my friends in another place were not very impressed with the usefulness of the Bill, and attempts lasting many days were made to improve it. But there were stumbling blocks—which I hope, from what the noble Lord said, now have been overcome—and much time was spent in arriving at the interpretation and meaning of words and sentences.

May I say a word or two about the various clauses of the Bill? In Clause 2 (1) no fewer than six sub-headings describe the powers which are given to local authorities. These seem pretty comprehensive, and I hope that they may be effective. It may be open to discussion whether those powers are correct, but I hope that they will be of assistance. Clause 3 carries those powers even further in respect of land outside the area of the local authority concerned.

Primarily, the Bill seeks to prevent flooding of non-agricultural land, but I gather that, in certain circumstances, appropriate agricultural land, near or far, can be brought into the scheme. I hope I am correct in that, and certainly I think it should be so. I quite appreciate that if schemes were too confined in their influence they might understandably fail because of that limitation. The reason for flooding may not be found in the immediate non-agricultural area, on the outskirts or within the town, or the smaller confines of the villages. There seems to be some confusion in the Bill as to what work in connection with flood prevention can be classified as maintenance work, for which a local authority or some individual may be liable, and what would come within the category of a new prevention undertaking. This point may be material in any decision by a local authority with regard to the initiation of a scheme; and if doubts are still likely to arise a more detailed examination of the clauses of the Bill may clear up any possible misunderstanding. Perhaps that will be done at a later stage.

The question of sewers also creates some confusion in the Bill. They are exempted under Clause 2 (2), but reappear again in Clause 12, with a definition in the interpretation clause, Clause 15. Acquisition or use of land necessary for the carrying out of a scheme is provided for, and compensation is payable where damage is done or depreciation occurs. The long period of up to ten years is allowed in which claims can be lodged. This seems to be a generous length of time, and should satisfy all possible claimants. In the event of disagreement, arbitration by reference to the Lands Tribunal for Scotland is provided for.

Penalties for various offences which might take place in the carrying out of a scheme are set down, and in this comparatively short Bill no less than four sets of penalties, monetary and imprisonment, or both, confront the transgressor. The provision of these shake my belief in the law-abiding habits of my Scottish friends. Co-operation between interested local authorities is advocated, and payment may be made for services rendered by one authority to another.

On looking at the Schedules and the Bill generally, I have a feeling that the time involved from the first survey of the land and area which may be covered by a scheme to the date when approval has been received and the first spade is put into the ground, may be a deterrent to the willingness of the local authority to undertake the work. The time seems very long indeed. I hope this may not be so, but several of the stages of approval or disapproval appear to invite awkwardness amongst those who may wish to delay the work. I trust that the Bill will not become a lawyers' paradise.

I cannot deal with the financial aspects of the Bill, but I understand that, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, the small sum of £20,000 is suggested for the first year. I realise that time is necessary for the local authorities to get into their stride in the matter, but this sum cannot be nearly sufficient for annual expenditure. The noble Lord has already mentioned one or two authorities who have started to think in terms of schemes, and it is obvious that the money which will be involved will be very much in excess of any amount which has already been mentioned. I hope that money will be made available when schemes are propounded. I hope that the schemes which are now under consideration will be carried through, and will prevent disastrous flooding in the future. I wish them well. So far as we are concerned, as the Bill has had such a long innings in another place, we will agree to the Second Reading to-day.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I want first to declare a twofold interest, First, I am a riparian owner, and secondly, I am a member of a county council, so I am thoroughly implicated on both sides. Having said that, I should like to welcome this Bill, which I think will be very useful, and the few brief comments I have to make on it are purely for the purpose of trying to get a little clarification where I have not quite understood it. I do not want to criticise or try to hold up the Bill, or anything of that sort. My comments may have been answered already, and I may not have understood them.

In the case of damage occurring to bridge foundations and potential danger and potential flooding thereby arising, or in the event of the collapse of a bridge, would the cost of repair be covered by this Bill, or how would it be dealt with? Another point relates to the protection work carried out on agricultural land for the prevention of urban flooding which may quite easily have to be done and which may also relieve considerably the potential flooding of agricultural land. How will the cost be apportioned between, say, the agricultural interests and the urban interests, and who is going to pay? I should like to have a little more clarification on that matter. There is a problem which is, or has been, acute in my part of the world and which has resulted in the past in considerable damage to urban properties: that is, the flooding of roadside ditches. In Scotland, the roadside ditch appears to be nobody's baby, and I should like a little clarification, if it is possible to give it to me, on that very difficult subject.

May I now turn to the Bill in a little more detail? The local authorities are given powers to carry out various necessary works. They are allowed to deposit …any mud, gravel or other material removed from the watercourse in the maintenance thereof, and to cut and lay aside or remove any bush or scrub timber growing on the banks of the watercourse … If one is dealing with agricultural land, it seems to me that when these things have been removed the agricultural land should be left in an agricultural state; it should not be left with a lot of gravel dumped all over it, not even levelled out but left in heaps. A great many weeds will start to grow, and that land cannot be used for agriculture. Possibly one would be compensated, but I do not think one should be left in that position at all. Possibly I may have misunderstood the Bill, but that is the way in which I read it.

There is another point there which seems rather alarming, though perhaps it is not. It is Clause 3 (1), paragraph (b), which says that the local authorities are empowered to remove any dam. In my part of the world there are a number of paper works, and paper works require a great deal of water, the control of which is a very tricky thing. If the local authorities are allowed to remove dams I can see difficulties arising there. I am a little alarmed about that. I know there will be an inquiry, and so on, but it seems a little alarming to have that provision in the Bill without any sort of explanation.

It is a pity that the Bill is not clearer about the advantage that could accrue to local authorities if they were to go in certain cases to industry, for example, to paper works and people like that who have already water works across these rivers, the Don and the Dee, and consult them as to whether a combined scheme of the industry and the local authority would not be a better proposition than putting up an individual scheme and having it appealed against by the industrial interests. I think that is possible, and I consider it might be emphasised more. It is a point of considerable importance. I know that the Federation of British Industries are a little worried about that matter, because it looks as if an opportunity is possibly being missed. One does not want to go through all the procedure and then have appeals against the schemes, which will cause delay, if a scheme can be agreed beforehand.

I think the notification provided for in the Second Schedule is more adequate than is normal in many Bills. There is one point which, although I do not feel it should go into the Bill, would be of material interest in Scotland, and that is, if the Scottish Landowners' Federation, who are a body who look after the interests of most landlords in Scotland, could at the same time be informed when a scheme is taking place. If that were done as a sort of courtesy measure, it would be up to the landlords to see that their own federation kept them informed. Quite often those things are published but the landlord may not be there at the time, and sometimes in the past things have got by and caused trouble for that reason.

There is one other point on which I am not clear. Will this Bill enable a local authority to carry out maintenance work in the first instance, without having promoted a scheme? Because in many cases all that is really necessary is maintenance work. I am not clear whether the local authority can go ahead, with its powers of entry and all the rest of it, without having first promoted a scheme. I should like some clarification on that matter. Otherwise I think the Bill is excellent, and I should like to welcome it.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to be able to join in the general welcome that has been given to this Bill, but I wonder whether my noble friend, Lord Craigton, could add a few words of clarification in answer to the point that has just been made by my noble friend Lord Stonehaven. The machinery for putting a scheme into effect under the Second Schedule seems to me to involve three stages. First, the authority formulates in its own mind the scheme which it desires. I am very glad to hear that that will be done in consultation with as many interests as possible. When it has done that it is then required to do two things: put a notice of the scheme in a newspaper and theGazetteand send a copy of the scheme and also a copy of the notice that has been put in the newspaper to the various people mentioned in the third paragraph of that Schedule. At that stage the scheme is only in draft form and has not finally been decided upon by the authority.

But as the Bill stands at the moment I cannot see that there need be more than about two weeks between that circularisation of the draft scheme and its submission to the Secretary of State. Once it has gone to the Secretary of State it can then be amended only by means of objections, with or without a public inquiry. If the Secretary of State is minded to take account of any of the objections and modify the scheme, he has to go through a tremendous rigmarole, which appears in paragraph 7 of the Schedule, re-submitting the modifications to all the people mentioned in the third paragraph, and he has to do quite a number of things which are going to have exactly the effect which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, mentioned, of holding up the coming into effect of the scheme.

Therefore, it seems to me that the stage at which consultation is vital is between the publication of the draft scheme in the newspaper and by notice to the various persons interested and submission of the scheme to the Secretary of State. If a longer time were allowed at that stage for the various persons interested to put their views informally to the local authority so that it could incorporate them in the scheme before it was submitted, I think a great deal of time would be saved. It would prevent objections from being raised when it comes to the Secretary of State, and the whole thing would be more satisfactory. I do not know whether this needs an Amendment at the Committee stage or whether it could be done merely by means of a circular to the local authorities concerned, but I am sure it is very necessary that it should be done; and if my noble friend could give some assurance on this matter I should be grateful.


My Lords, although I am only a quarter Scot, I do not think it is necessary for anyone who has seen, as I have, the misery and the hardship and financial loss, and indeed the terror, which can be caused by floods to apologise for faking part in this debate, nor indeed supporting any measure which in some degree at least is likely to mitigate the effects of flooding. I was greatly encouraged to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, as native Scots, say that they are pleased about this Bill. I have not had the advantage of reading what has been said in another place, if that is an advantage; nor can I claim any close local knowedge about flooding in Scotland; but my own view is that this is a rather "fiddling" little Bill which will be about as effective in preventing floods as King Canute's famous instruction to the tides.

Indeed, I would say to the noble Lord. Lord Craigton, that in my view the words in the 1E.xplanatory Memorandum are at least misleading. It says that county councils and town councils in Scotland are allowed to take measures for the prevention or mitigation of flooding of land. I admit at once that this Bill, properly applied, may mitigate floods, but i say that it is quite impossible to use this Bill to prevent floods. Further on it says that Councils are empowered to cleanse and maintain watercourses and to carry out works designed to remove the risk of flooding in their areas. This cannot be done with the limited schemes apparently envisaged in this Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord has already confirmed my fears, because he said that already three local authorities are itching to go ahead with schemes costing from £9,000 to £36,000. You can dig a pretty good ditch for £9,000 provided you do not dig too deep or too far, but you cannot do very much effective work with regard to flood prevention with that kind of money.

The noble Lord pointed out that flooding in Scotland occurs in small areas, mainly narrow valleys. It is only a few weeks ago that on television there were actual pictures of some severe floods which did a great deal of damage over a wide area in Scotland. While I am prepared to accept that there are quite different circumstances, and that in the main you are concerned with perhaps the possibility of deep and serious floods only in restricted areas and in narrow valleys, I cannot believe that the principles with regard to water and the control of floods are any different in Scotland from those in any other part of the United Kingdom, or, indeed, any other part of the world.

The principles that I would put forward are these. The first is that the local authorities in areas which, as it were, give rise to floods—shall we call them the "upland authorities"—are those who are least interested in controlling them, and the local authorities in the valleys are the authorities who have the least power to control them. That is the first principle. My noble friend Lord Wise and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, expressed the fear that I have over the working of the machinery in this Bill, because the initiative will necessarily always be taken by the receiving authority, the authority which receives the water and is in danger of flooding in its area, and it will then have to approach all the others who have less interest.

Noble Lords who have taken any part in Private Members' Bills upstairs will know that nothing so much excites men's passions as water and the control of water. You discuss it for clays, and it is amazing, as it seems to me, that there is no other subject on this earth which so much excites controversy. The noble Lord was absolutely right in saying that some of these things will take a long time. I should not be surprised if, in some cases, the lawyers' costs exceed the cost of the scheme, even if it ever takes place. That is why I call this a "fiddling" little Bill, which is hopelessly wrong in conception and will do little good in execution.

The second principle, which I do not think can be controverted and is not nullified by local knowledge, is that you always get a heavier rainfall on the hills and water always runs downhill. It is no different in Scotland from anywhere else. The third principle is that you cannot prevent floods unless at time of heavy rainfall you can hold the water, or at least some of it, and prevent it from coming down to the lowest level.

If you cannot hold some of the water in the uplands, then the lowlands and the valleys are bound to be flooded. That is why I say that this Explanatory Memorandum is misleading, and what it claims to do cannot and will not, be done by this Bill. Indeed, the cleansing and the repair of the upper stretches of watercourses, by quickening the flow, actually increases the danger of floods unless adequate corresponding action is taken all the way down.

I know that these things are self-evident; I know that they are known to all noble Lords; but on studying this Bill, nobody would believe that they were known to the Government. Certainly, if they are known to the Government, there is no attempt in this Bill to cure them or to take adequate steps to prevent floods. Indeed, administratively there is an underlying great weakness of the Bill: it allows several local authorities to work together in a joint scheme, but how many of them will work together when their degree of interest and their financial liability is governed by altitude? I do not think that the local authorities at the receiving end are going easily to persuade the others to come in and take their share.

My noble friend Lord Wise spoke of his experience and knowledge of East Anglia and floods there. I have had an intimate knowledge of flooding in the West Country, in Somerset. Throughout recorded history the Somerset plain, 150.000 acres of otherwise good land, has been flooded every year for weeks or months; and every 20 years or so the towns have been flooded too, as indeed they were again last autumn. It is always the same pattern in that area. The ranges of hills, the Quantock, the Brandon and the Blackdown, half a million acres, all drain into one river, the River Tone; and that area of half a million acres last October alone had 140.000 million gallons of rain on it. The point is—this is the hill and the valley point again —that above the town of Taunton the Tone drops 1,000 feet; beyond the town of Taunton, over fifteen miles. it drops 50 feet. When you get heavy rainfall and a raging torrent it is inevitable that there must be flooding. There are no arrangements of any kind in that plain that can take the water away sufficiently fast to the sea, particularly as the tides themselves affect the outflow in the estuary.

Therefore, the point I want to make to the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, which I hope he will deal with when he comes to reply, is that, whether he calls them valley authorities in narrow valleys in Scotland or whether he calls them, as I do, lowland authorities, they cannot get rid of the water without the co-operation of the people in the uplands: in other wards, if we think of them as some authorities dishing it out and others taking it, then those who are taking it cannot hope to control the intake without the co-operation of those who are dishing it out. In my view, the only solution is one comprehensive authority. The noble Lord has said that in Scotland it is impossible to have river boards as we have them in England. I must accept that. But it seems to me that you will get little or nothing done unless the machinery that you put into operation can act much more quickly and over a much larger area than is envisaged in this Bill. You can clean out your watercourses and raise and strengthen the banks and the barriers. That will do some good; it will mitigate, but it will never stop the floods.

Indeed, the noble Lord committed himself, as I understood it, in his opening speech. He said that in most cases the Bill ensures adequate safeguards against flooding. I question that most strongly. It will have to be a very little flood that this Bill will stop. Indeed, the floods will be stopped only when the water can be held at least for a time above the plain so that its flow is not so fast. So far as I am aware there are only two ways in which that can be done: one is by artificial reservoirs. It may be that it can be done through artificial expansion of the lochs or taking advantage, where they are available, of natural hollows in the ground which could be turned into reservoirs where water can be retained at least for a time. The only other way of helping to hold water of which I know is the natural way, through the planting of trees. Trees hold an extraordinary amount of water. I know there are a very great number of trees in Scotland, but I have been informed that in some areas there would be advantage in having a good many more.

I want to put two questions to the noble Lord. He said that Her Majesty's Government have in mind two or three straightforward Amendments for a later stage of the Bill but that he would consider anything which was put forward now. I would ask him, first, whether Clause 2 (1) (a), which permits works for defence against flooding, would include the building or provision of intermediate or hillside reservoirs, for use where required or, if necessary, for permanent use, as works for defence against flooding.

My second point is that the Bill gives power to cut down trees. That is stated twice, so that we can be certain that the Bill gives that power. But although I have searched the Bill twice, I cannot see anywhere where power is given to plant trees. Therefore I would ask the noble Earl whether the Bill as it stands does give power to plant trees, or allows a joint scheme, for example, between local authorities and the Forestry Commission; because if not, I should hope your Lordships would agree that the Bill could, with advantage, be amended to provide that power, thus bringing a little more sense into it.

My main point is that we must somehow contrive to remove or simplify this administrative tangle, and if we cannot have a river board authority we must make some arrangement to have a larger authority. There is power, of course, for objection, but it seems to me absurd for the noble Lord so specifically to underline the democratic nature of the Bill and how easy it is for everybody to object, when we want to make it easy to prevent floods. The definition in Clause 1 of what a county council means expressly excludes the burghs in Scotland. Except for one or two, burghs are not very large, and cannot be very large local authorities or do anything very effective against flooding. I would submit that somehow we must have one control over a river from its source to the estuary. There is absolutely no room at all for the "parish pump" in this water problem.

I do not want to deal with the fact that there is no real water surplus, or to "plug" again what I believe is necessary: that we should have the development of a National Water Grid. But I do want to emphasise once again this point of holding water if we are to prevent floods. The Lynmouth disaster, only nine years ago, occurred within hours of a deluge on treeless Exmoor. Afforestation there, as I pointed out at the time, would have delayed that flood for days, which would have meant that it would not have happened at all, or at any rate not in a disastrous form. I then said exactly what I am saying now; but there are still no more trees on Exmoor, because we have not had a comprehensive scheme.

Since it is to be ineffective in any real sense, I should have thought that the wise thing would be to drop this Bill altogether; but since I have heard it supported by two noble Lords opposite, who believe it can and will do some good, I should hope it would be possible to amend it in the two particulars I have mentioned. I hope, also, that Her Majesty's Government will produce another, larger and more comprehensive Bill to prevent flooding in Scotland and perhaps to deal at the same time with questions of water pollution, and also make provision for enabling water to be conveyed where it is wanted, when it is wanted, and really to prevent floods. I am sure the noble Lord is glad that I supported the Bill in the first sentence I uttered. I make no apologies for the criticisms I have made, because I believe they are merited. I think it is important that we, in our generation, should at long last, after all these years, really attempt to deal with floods; and I can only hope that before long the Government will produce a real Bill for that purpose.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think this is a "fiddling little measure". It is one which may do very much good, and I think most of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, are due to the fact that he has not really envisaged what is the problem in Scotland. The only places I can think of now where houses are not subject to flooding are places to which the noble Lord's remarks would not apply. But I have not got up to harangue your Lordships on the merits of the Bill but for one reason only: to reinforce what was said by my noble friend Lord Stonehaven about bridges. I know of one bridge, and there may be others, constructed in the past to carry quite important highways, on land which is known to be marshy, probably to a very considerable depth. For that reason, the bridges have been constructed in a peculiar way, being built all in one piece and given a concrete sill at the bottom, so that the bridge is all one block.

The trouble with that type of construction is that in past days when it was adopted the sill was almost always made too high, and that has given rise to a good deal of flooding in consequence. The danger is that if, with a view merely to avoiding flooding, we set to work to break that concrete sill, considerable work may have to be done in renewing the foundations of the bridge to a very great depth. As that is something which might be embarked upon by local authorities without sufficient knowledge of the facts, I feel it is right to reinforce what was said by my noble friend on that point.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wise, for batting for Scotland on behalf of the Opposition. I was not quite sure whether his noble friend was agreeing with him, but the last few words of his speech put me on the right track. I thank him for his welcome for this Bill, and I very much agree with his general theme that the success of the Bill depends upon co-operation between all concerned. He is quite right on that matter. There is one point I should like to make. I was glad that two noble Lords opposite spoke for Scotland. I am sure that we in your Lordships' House have been glad to see more lively opposition in another place, and I look forward to the time when shall have livelier opposition from Scottish Lords in your Lordships' House. It will help me a great deal here.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, said there might he in the Bill some confusion as to what is "maintenance and management", but I think it is clear in the Bill that maintenance and management is covered by Clause 2 (1) (a) and (b), and that anything that is not maintenance and management is covered by the subsequent paragraphs of this subsection. There must be a stage at which a local authority say: "If we are to do this work, are we to get grant aid for it or not?" And, apart from what is written in the Bill, the dividing line will be the proper, old-fashioned argument between the local authority doing something entirely on its own charge and the Secretary of State being asked to give some grant. I believe in the end it will be at that point that a settlement will be arrived at, by negotiation between the local authority and the Secretary of State as to whether the work is properly work of maintenance. The noble Lord mentioned sewerage. We hope to clear up an obscure point about sewerage in Clause 12, which I think will make the position clear.

There was some doubt in noble Lords' minds as to whether too long a period was allowed for consideration of the scheme: it was thought that the local authorities might "go cold" on it. But we have to allow for all concerned to make representations, and I believe that the arguments for and against the time allowed for consideration seem to come down in favour of more, rather than less, consultation. Far more people are concerned that they should really know all about the scheme before it goes ahead than are concerned that it should be only a short time before the scheme is formulated and the local authorities give it to the Secretary of State for passing as an approved scheme. So far as money is concerned, my right honourable friend will be glad to find whatever money should be found—and the more the better under this Bill. The figure of £20,000 which the noble Lord mentioned is not in our mind as a ceiling at all.

To turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, he went on the general line that it was impossible to use this Bill to prevent flooding. It depends on what the flood is and what is spent. My right honourable friend and the local authorities cannot in the ultimate end do what Noah did. There must be a limit to what is a reasonable expenditure to prevent flooding, and there could be some cataclysm which it would be quite impossible for any works to withstand. But we are satisfied, even if the noble Lord is not, that Scottish conditions can be, and will be, improved by this Bill. I do not support him at all, either, in his condemnation of the Bill or of the ability of the local authorities to work together. The Scottish local authorities will work together. The initiator will truly be the receiving authority and the Bill allows the appropriate authority, the authority most concerned to work with other authorities. We believe, contrary to what the noble Lord believes, that there will be cases where the local authorities wilt take steps to hold back or control the flow of water coming down.

The noble Lord asked me two questions. First, would Clause 2 (1) (a) include reservoirs? As I read the Bill, if a reservoir was essential as part of the scheme it would include a reservoir. He asked also whether a scheme could include planting trees. I should like the noble Lord to give me notice of that question. I think it does, but I could not find out while sitting on the Bench.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I do not know when the next stage of the Bill is to take place, and perhaps the noble Lord does not know himself, but could he let us know meanwhile what is the position on those two points? We could perhaps put down suitable Amendments and explore the matter further.


My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that my Department will prepare a letter which I will send to him.


My Lords, if I may intervene, I think that this question of planting trees is very important. I hope that the noble Lord, after consulting his advisers, will be able to give us a favourable reply. I should have thought it reasonable in this case that local authorities should have power to plant, and even that private enterprise should, though I know that some elements of the community think that no trees should be planted anywhere except after a permit has been granted from Whitehall. But I hope that, so far as this Bill is concerned, all that can be brushed aside and that freedom to plant will be given to individuals or to some private enterprise group or to local authorities. I am sure it is very important in this context, as indeed in others, and I should be very grateful if we could have an early assurance on that point.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, deals with the planting of trees could he make it clear to the House whether he means planting trees to con serve water, or planting trees on the banks to try to hold the banks together when there is flooding? If the latter, it is one of the very worst things one can do; because when the floods come up they loosen the roots of the trees and wash the trees down and they come down and crash into railway bridges. In the bad floods in 1947 three railways bridges were put out of action for that reason.


My Lords, I am glad to know that Scotland is not so very different from England. I meant the planting of trees for conservation.


My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords. It is right and proper that these points should be raised, and that the Government should answer them to the satisfaction of your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lord Stonehaven welcomed the Bill and asked me a number of questions to which I will try to give a short reply. He asked—and my noble friend Lord Saltoun was also concerned—about bridge foundations being damaged, and who would pay. If a bridge was causing an obstruction or flooding, it could be removed under the Bill. But rebuilding would have to be dealt with under other powers, such as road powers, and by a different authority, such as the highway authority. So, in short, everything is attended to, but it would require co-operation between the authorities concerned.

Then he asked me about the prevention of agricultural flooding as part of the scheme, and who pays: if a farmer's land is going to be drained, is the farmer made to pay for it, or what is the situation? The answer is that it is a matter of negotiation on the merits of the case. Contributions can be received from the farmer by the local authority, and I think that with ordinary common sense the Bill should work satisfactorily.


It sounds like the parish pump.


That is right.

Then the noble Lord asked about flooding of roadside ditches. That comes under maintenance in Clause 2 (1) and would be dealt with by the local authority, normally at its own expense. He also spoke about leaving an eyesore behind after work was done. I think he will find the answer in paragraph 6 of the First Schedule under "Disposal of spoil". If there were any likelihood of that, the proprietor of the land could raise objection.


My Lords, it says only "may". There is no obligation to burn rubbish.


My Lords, I quite appreciate that it says "may". But, on the other hand, if it were not in the scheme and it was done there would be genuine grounds for objection to the scheme.


That objection can take place only before the scheme is done: the nuisance is produced when the scheme is finished.


My Lords, I promise to look into that point. But I think that even on that he would be entitled to compensation under the Bill, if there were any danger. The noble Lord asked about local authorities removing dams. That, I think, is quite clearly in order because it comes under Clause 2 (1), paragraphs (c) to (f), and is part of the scheme to which the whole inquiry procedure applies.

Another question raised concerned the advantages of the local authority doing a combined scheme with industry. How right my noble friend is! There is nothing whatever against that in this Bill. Indeed, it is our intention to encourage local authorities to carry out all possible consultations before they even formulate a scheme. That, I think, answers the point raised by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. Obviously there must be consultation before a scheme is prepared. Once the scheme is prepared and circulated to everybody, then even if it is altered after consultation between the local authority and, shall we say, the landowner, the Secretary of State can approve that alteration to the scheme; but it would be unfair to everybody else if he did not come back to everybody else, and say, "I have made these modifications". It is therefore far more in the interests of local authorities and all concerned to get a scheme cleared by everybody who might have an objec- tion before it is set down as a scheme; and that is what we hope will happen.

The last point asked, I think, was: does the Bill enable a local authority to carry out maintenance work without promoting a scheme? The answer is, Yes.

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