§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 29 [Determination by river authority of application for licence]:
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved to add to the clause:
(9) Where by virtue of the foregoing subsection a river authority grants a licence imposing any provisions limiting or controlling the abstraction of water thereunder, or refuse to grant a licence they shall at the time of granting or refusing such licence give to the applicant their reasons in writing for the imposition of such provisions or the refusal to grant the licence as the case may be".
§ The noble Viscount said: When an applicant applies for a licence to abstract water, the local authority may grant it unconditionally or grant it subject to various limitations or refuse it. If it is granted subject to limitations or refused, the applicant may appeal against the authority's conditional grant or refusal to the Minister. These are exactly the same circumstances as apply, of course, in the case of planning applications, and even in the early days of this type of procedure, in 1948, the conditions or refusal had to be explained in a document by the inclusion of the authority's reasons.
§ Since then, there have been the Franks Committee and the Tribunals and Inquiries Act and the statutory instruments made under them, of which there are to be more, and it seems to me that the atmosphere is now ripe for the requirement for written reasons for a conditional grant or refusal to go into the Bill itself rather than to be left for subordinate legislation made thereafter. It is important that the applicant should know exactly the grounds on which the river authority acted and prepare his case accordingly, if he wants to appeal. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend may be prepared to accept this Amendment in this place, rather 855 than leave it to some statutory instrument to be made hereafter, though I have no doubt that it would be included in such an instrument.
Page 26, line 39, at end insert the said subsection.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
§ LORD HASTINGS
The noble Viscount is quite right. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask and there is no objection in principle to it. It will, however, be only one of many provisions which will need to be prescribed in connection with the licensing system, such as the form of applications, the particulars to be included, the procedure for handling applications under Clause 40, and the period within which the river authority must deal with these applications. These are all examples. All these matters will be dealt with in regulations made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government under Clause 52. Those regulations will be subject to annulment by either House of Parliament, for which provision is made in Clause 116.
This is the procedure followed now under the Town and Country Planning Acts, and provision for the very point covered by this Amendment is made in paragraph 5 (9) of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order, 1950. The noble Viscount can rest assured that similar provision will be included in the regulation under Clause 52, which refers to the general regulations relating to licences. I hope that he will be satisfied with that.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I thank my noble friend Lord Hastings for that reply. I am well aware of the contents of paragraph 5 (9) of the General Development Order, but I think that the assurance that this particular provision will go in the regulations is satisfactory, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30. [Matters to be specified in licences.]:
§ LORD HASTINGS
This Amendment follows Amendment No. 72 which I moved yesterday, and I beg to move formally.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 27, line 2 at end insert "or on behalf of".—(Lord Hastings.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.
§ Clause 32. [Succession to licences to abstract water.]
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, in subsection (3), after "shall be" to insert:
apportioned by negotiation between the occupiers of the parts of the land or in default of such agreements shall be".
§ The noble Viscount said: What I am chiefly concerned with in this Amendment and also in the next is the word "rateably" on page 28, line 45. It seems to me that where there is a situation envisaged by this subsection, where land for which a previous owner held a licence is split up into two separate ownerships, there may be some difficulty in dividing the licence water (as it were) between the two parts of the land according to any strict mathematical formula. In one part of the land there might be a factory, and in the other part a garden, and if the licence was applied for and granted clearly for the purpose of the factory and not for the purpose of the garden, were this licence to be split up it would be far from sensible to allow each to have half of the supply of water under the licence.
§ I am not sure what "rateably" means, and I think it would be better to put in some such words as I have incorporated in my Amendment, so that the two new owners could agree between themselves what was a sensible division of the water under the licence. Only if they could not do so, should it be apportioned in some other way; and then, as my second Amendment says, rather "proportionately" than "rateably", because I do not think my noble friend means according to rateable value, and that is rather what this particular word looks like. I beg to move.
Page 28, line 45, after "be" insert the said words.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
I am grateful to my noble friend for his explanation of the purpose of his Amendment, which is rather different from what I anticipated. Perhaps, therefore, I should 857 explain briefly the considerations which have moved us to draft this part of the Bill and then come to my noble friend's Amendment. Then I think we might perhaps deal with the "proportionately" point on the next Amendment. Land can change hands in many different circumstances and we clearly need to make some provision in the Bill for such changes. We could have provided in the Bill that where a change takes place a licence for abstraction should automatically elapse. This would have meant that the new occupier would have to seek a new licence should he wish to continue the abstraction. It was clear that making a licence personal to the holder in this way would have had awkward repercussions: for example, it could seriously affect the value of the land. That is why we made provision in the Bill for Clause 32 making it possible on a change in ownership or occupation for the new owner or occupier to remain entitled to continue the abstraction.
My noble friend's Amendment would provide that the quantity of water should be apportioned between the new occupancies by negotiation, and that the apportionment as proposed in the Bill would take place only in default of agreement. I think the introduction of the possibility of apportioning by negotiation might well make for convenience, but it would have a possibly rather serious consequence in the longer term. I will try to explain why. In considering applications for abstraction licences the river authority is required under the Bill to have regard to the requirements of the applicant in so far as they appear to be reasonable requirements. This provision is, we say, essential to enable the river authority satisfactorily to manage the water resources at its disposal, and in particularto secure the proper use of water resources".It would enable the river authority to keep some check on wasteful use of water and on the preempting of excessive quantities against future growth of demand.
We have heard a good deal in this Committee, and quite rightly so, on the close relationship between conservation and economy. If we were to accept my noble friend's Amendment it would be possible for an abstractor by negotiation 858 to put himself in a position to abstract far more water for his land than the river authority would have allocated to that acreage under any reasonable scheme of management. For example, if a licence had been arranged in respect of, say, 500 acres and that were split into two equal halves of 250, it might well be possible for the owner of one 250 to get the whole of the water which had originally been made available for the 500. Thereby the whole system under which the river authority should have regard for the actual requirements of a given applicant might, we feel, in the course of time, progressively be undermined.
On the face of it, I grant that my noble friend's Amendment appears fair and reasonable and, indeed, convenient. But land changes hands fairly rapidly, and I hope your Lordships will not feel that I am exaggerating in saying that to accept the Amendment, certainly as it is now worded, might in certain areas and quite soon lead to the erosion of the balance which river authorities will be trying to establish between supply and reasonable demand. Therefore, I would hope that my noble friend, in the light of this explanation, might feel inclined not to press the Amendment, and we can then turn to discuss the next Amendment on "rateably".
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I think that is probably a convenient course. The only difficulty is this. While I appreciate what my noble friend has said, that it would perhaps prove inconvenient to leave it to negotiation in the first instance, I thank it would also be difficult to leave it purely to mathematical formula, whether or not he likes my word "proportionately" or whether he still prefers "rateably". And there seems to be a third possibility: that somebody else should hold the balance and have a discretion as to how much to allow to each of the two halves of land. It does not seem to me, if negotiation is not to be allowed, that we can leave it to some automatic formula. I wonder whether my noble friend would consider whether the river authorities themselves are the correct people to do this.
I am grateful to my noble friend, and I apologise for not covering that point. It is something that I noted as I went along. At first sight, 859 it seems that he may have put his finger on what could be a difficulty, and I should like to consider it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
This is really the same point, but "rateably" does, to my mind, envisage some rather hard and fast division simply of the area or the value of the land in the two different halves without any account being taken of the need of each half for the waiter. As I explained, it may well be that one half needs it all and the other half does not need any, and to proportion it rateably would not be the way to do it. It might be that proportionately would not be the way to do it either. But I do believe that "rateably" is the wrong word to go in here. I hope that my noble friend might also consider this when he is dealing with the whole problem. I beg to move.
Page 28, line 45, leave out ("rateably") and insert ("proportionately").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
I thought that we were only going to deal with the semantic problem, but there may be two problems here. One is whether "rateably" means "proportionately", the semantic problem, and the second is whether we should have "proportionately" or another word. As I have said, the larger problem of whether proportionately is right is one which I should like to consider. The smaller problem, the semantic one, I hope I can? resolve straight away. I cam inform my noble friend on the authority of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary that the adverb "rateably" is still current (I must say that I am rather surprised to hear it) and that it means "proportionately". The draftsman in his infinite wisdom has preferred "rateably" and my noble friend prefers "proportionately". I think I may be letting myself an for the most appalling rocket, and I do not like to think what the repercussions will be, but I must confess that I prefer my noble friend's word and I am prepared to accept his Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.860
§ Clause 33:
§ Entitlement to licence of right
§ 33.—(1) Where a person—
§ (b) has, otherwise than by virtue of a statutory provision, abstracted water from such a source of supply at any time within the period of five years ending with the second appointed day,
§ he shall, on application made to the river authority under this section before the end of the initial period, be entitled to the grant of a licence under this Act.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY moved, in subsection (1) (b), after "has" to insert "in pursuance of a right vested in him". The noble Lord said: This Amendment raises rather a difficult point. As your Lordships know, Clause 33 gives licences as of right to anybody who can show that during the last five years he has been extracting water. The object of this Amendment is to try to ensure that somebody who has been extracting water illegally does not through the obtaining of a licence as of right under this clause get his illegal act made legal for the future and at the expense of other people who have all the way through acted legally. It is a difficult problem, because one has to read this clause with Clause 54 (5), which gives certain remedies to people aggrieved by the grant of a licence.
§ May I put a specific case to the noble Earl to see whether he thinks it is covered? Take the example of somebody who abstracts a large amount of water out of a river and causes damage, say, to somebody down the river. The riparian owner down the river threatens the abstracter with an injunction. On receipt of that threat the abstracter ceases his abstraction and the other person does not then go ahead with the injunction, and the abstraction ceases. Now we come to this Bill. The abstracter proves that he abstracted that water and gets a licence as of right to abstract that water. Having got that licence to abstract water, he does nothing for the next three years, which is the time limit of Clause 54 (5). He is doing nothing, and he has his licence. There is nothing at that time to encourage anybody down the river to take action against him. Provided he does nothing for three years, all the other people, so far as I can gather, lose their right to object and he gets a licence as of right in perpetuity. He can then recom- 861 mence his abstractions of water and, as I understand the Bill, nobody can do anything about it. I may be quite wrong in my interpretation of the clause, but I should like an assurance from the noble Earl that these two clauses, when read together, are watertight to stop the illegal abstracter. Probably my Amendment may not be the way to do it, but I should like the noble Earl to consider this point. I beg to move.
Page 30, line 19, afer ("has") insert ("in pursuance of a right vested in him").—(Lord Amherst of Hackney.)
§ 7.23 p.m.
My noble friend said that this was a somewhat complicated and difficult matter, and on that I find myself in agreement with him. I should try, first of all, to explain the background to this clause. Clause 33 (1) provides that licences of right are to be granted to two categories of abstracters, First, there are those persons with a statutory entitlement to abstract water at the date when river authorities start to perform their functions—namely, the second appointed day—and, secondly, there are those persons who have been abstracting water at any time during the five years preceding that date.
I think I can assure my noble friend that, so far as abstracters are concerned, we are at one. I would go on to suggest to him that his Amendment may not be either desirable or, indeed, necessary. If I am not able to persuade my noble friend on the score of desirability, I hope that I may be able to persuade him on the score of necessity. I suggest that the Amendment is undesirable because where a person has applied for a licence under paragraph (b), the river authority would be placed by this Amendment under a statutory obligation to satisfy itself, by itself, as to the lawfulness of the applicant's abstraction. I cannot myself see how we can place that responsibility upon the river authority. It is essentially a matter which only the courts could properly decide.
I should like now to turn to Clause 54 (5), to which my noble friend rightly directed my attention. I suggest that the Amendment is unnecessary because the effect of Clause 54 (5), as he said, is to withhold for a period of three years from the second appointed day the immunity 862 against action which would otherwise be conferred upon a person by his licence of right. As my noble friend made quite clear, during this three-year period any person wishing to challenge the licence holder's right to abstract will be able to do so and will be able to have the question determined by the only body competent to determine it—namely, the courts. That, of course, is precisely what happens now under Common Law rights. There the central position, as I see it, would remain quite unchanged.
The difference between the approach which the noble Lord is suggesting and the approach we are suggesting is this. He is saying, by his Amendment, that what we should do is to get a procedure by which only the honest man can apply. The difficulty about that, as I see it, is over who is going to test the honesty of the applicant. I would suggest that in the nature of the case it cannot be the river authority and must be the courts. We are rather suggesting that anyone who says he is honest can apply, and we are providing in Clause 54 (5) an opportunity for his honesty (I mean honesty in the largest sense) to be tested by his peers, as it were.
On the specific question—and it was rather a poser which my noble friend asked me—I think I should like to be rather guarded in my reply, and have an opportunity of assuring myself on this particular point. I feel that he was advancing rather a hypothetical case, and one which I thought was extremely unlikely to arise, because I doubt whether people would go to the trouble of obtaining a licence and paying the abstraction charges, and then not exercise that licence. But I will grant that there is a possibility, albeit perhaps rather remote, and it is one into which I think we should look. I grant, however, that there is this remote possibility, and I should like to see whether we are as effectively safeguarded as I think we are. Perhaps if I give my noble friend an undertaking that I will consider the specific hypothetical difficulty which he has put, he will agree not to press his Amendment at this stage.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
I am very grateful to the noble Earl for the way he has dealt with this Amendment. I see the difficulties of accepting it as it stands, and that it would place 863 an unwanted and impossible duty on the river authority. I am very grateful to him also, for saying that he will look into this matter, and I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN moved, in subsection (1) (b), to leave out "second appointed day" and to insert "7th November, 1962". The noble Lord said: With this Amendment we can take the consequential ones, Nos. 98 and 99 in regard to Clause 35. We have been discussing on the previous Amendment the question of the period of five years, and that is what Clause 33 provides. The second appointed day is likely to be one or two years hence, and, as the clause stands, it is, to my mind, an open invitation to all-comers to abstract such water as they possibly can between now and the second appointed day. This, of course, is because the clause offers them a licence of right for any water that they can possibly take between now and the second appointed day.
This is not a hypothetical point because a specific instance has been brought to my notice in a letter from a general water board in the West Midlands—and if the noble Earl would like the name of it privately I shall be only too pleased to give it to him. The letter says:
Last week I had a call from a land agent, representing a riparian owner of land someway upstream from the Board's main intake. He is proposing to install plant to take water from the river in quite large quantities for the purpose of spray irrigation, and was quite frank that the only reason for the proposal was that his client would be automatically entitled to the grant of a licence to abstract, in accordance with section 25 of the recent White Paper on Water Conservation. He told me that within the last few weeks he had been concerned with upwards of three dozen such proposals, all intending to stake a claim as 'existing abstracters' and so automatically qualify for the grant of a licence".
The letter concludes:
If the proposal of automatically granting a licence to all existing abstracters becomes law, then the purpose of the proposed legislation, at least as far as the drier parts of the country are concerned, will have been defeated in advance by the very White Paper which introduced it.
§ The Amendment proposes to cure the defect in the Bill by substituting for the second appointed day the date of the 864 introduction of the Bill. I do not think that is unreasonable. When a Bill is introduced its provisions are known and those who take action even to the point of incurring expenditure after the Bill is produced do so with their eyes open and have to take the necessary precautions. I think that, as a protection for the water supply, we ought to accede to have the date of the Bill as the date of the right of abstraction. I beg to move.
Page 30, line 22, leave out ("second appointed day") and insert ("7th November 1962").—(Lord Lindgren.)
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
I should be very interested to hear the Government's answer to Lord Lindgren's Amendment, but before they give it may I just venture this observation? Parliament may wish to prevent people from jumping the gun, and it may be right to do so, but there may also be people who have a legitimate reason for installing machinery or for seeing an extended use of water, and that they should be barred entirely from doing it without any consideration whatever would seem to be going too far in the other direction. May I take the case of a firm—and here, I suppose, I must declare an interest, although I am not talking for the firm but for the principle—which owns land on the North bank of the Humber and which bought that land thirty years ago for the express purpose of establishing a plant there. It spent more than a million pounds upon it, and it chose that particular land because it had a good water supply in the subsoil. That firm, for all I know, may be contemplating an extension. It is always extending its plant and it is continually using more water. Is it to be prevented from taking more water after November 7th or from establishing plants for the purpose of taking more water in six months' time when its new plant is erected and requires the water?
I am not wholly out of sympathy with Lord Lindgren's desire to stop people from jumping the gun, but I think the Government should be careful to allow that legitimate development which is already contemplated or already in hand, or which naturally arises out of developments but is not already contemplated. There we come to a difference between 865 Lord Lindgren's fixing of a date and my proposal that reasonableness should be the key to this matter. Perhaps this firm or another cannot say at this moment, "We are contemplating using more water", or "On November 6th we were using more". But it may be that the plant they are putting down now will call for more in six months' time. Why should they not use it and then make their claim on the basis of what they can prove? Therefore I just ask the Government to be warned, if they are going to deal with the noble Lord's Amendment, not to go too far in it and stultify or limit proper and reasonable developments.
These Amendments touch on a practical matter of some real difficulty and I should like to say straight away that I am grateful to the noble Lords who have put their names to this Amendment for the chance which they have given me of explaining what has been in the Government's mind here. I think we are all agreed that the main factor to be considered in judging the entitlement of abstracters to a licence of right must be past performance. That, at any rate, was the conclusion of the Proudman Committee, and their view is clearly set out in paragraph 67 of their Report. I wonder, since it is relevant, if I could quote it to your Lordships. This is what Proudman said:Priority should be given to established abstractions, since they may be vital to the economies they support, and they should as far as possible be licensed to the full extent to which they have hitherto been made.… Establishing, uncontrolled abstractions is likely to present difficulties and we think it will be necessary to place the initiative on the abstracters to show that the quantities applied for represent usage over a given period…".The problem here is to choose the right qualifying period. We need, of course, to allow for a span of years, since the amount which many abstracters draw from rivers varies widely over a period of years according to the weather. On the whole, we have thought that five years was a reasonable period, and I gather from the wording of the noble Lords' Amendment that they would also agree that five years is in itself a reasonable period.
should now like to turn to the specific problem which exercises the movers of this Amendment. Clearly, the possession 866 of a licence of right carries with it real and obvious advantages. I can therefore appreciate the argument that the qualifying date should be that on which the terms of this Bill were published. That is the moment when the potential advantages of qualifying for a licence of right are there for all to see who can read the extraordinary language of Parliamentary draftsmen. As the noble Lord has mentioned, there are precedents for making a date of this sort coincide with the date of publication of a Bill. I would say straight away that the proposition advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, is an attractive one, but I think it may have more attractions in theory than in practice; because the more we have looked at it the greater seem to be the practical difficulties that this remedy would entail.
The first difficulty which we see is that the provision which the Amendment would change will cover a huge variety of abstractions, and in the past no general obligation to obtain records of abstraction has existed. The management of a vast chemical plant, for example, may well have kept accurate records; and I suspect that they probably will have done. But in all probability many smaller abstracters will not have kept even the most rudimentary records in the past and before the introduction of this Bill. For example, I doubt very much whether a farmer in a fairly small way in the Eastern Counties, if there is such a farmer—
—who goes in for spray irrigation is likely to have kept very accurate records before the introduction of this Bill as to the water he has been abstracting for spray irrigation.
Perhaps I could make the additional point here that the river boards themselves have had no duty to maintain records of the type of abstraction which we are discussing, and their knowledge of them, I know, varies very considerably; some river boards know a great deal of what has been going on in their area and others have much less knowledge. I would suggest, therefore, that in many cases it might be quite impossible to obtain really reliable information on which to base the licence of 867 right if it were to rest on the experience of a qualifying period from 1957 to 1962, which this Amendment would provide.
I would also suggest that it might well provoke a great deal of fruitless argument between the abstracter and the future river authority. I should have thought, too, that this sort of situation might open the door to sharp practice—not the form of sharp practice which the noble Lord suggested might ensue under the procedure suggested in the Bill, but nevertheless sharp practice—and that there would be a great number of resulting appeals to the Minister. In any event, the suggested procedure would also have the disadvantage of delaying matters, and I think that would be extremely disadvantageous, because claims for licences of right must be largely disposed of before the river authority can safely proceed to the licensing of any major new abstractions.
There is also the consideration to which my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale alluded. We have felt that the adoption of the Amendment might well unfairly handicap someone who had started to abstract in reliance on Common Law rights in the period between the introduction of this Bill and the second appointed day, and this would be a period of, I suppose, not less than two and a half years. The person concerned would have no idea whether he would be able to obtain a licence when that eventually became necessary. His investment would be made in complete uncertainty about how long it might be allowed to last; and, of course, as my noble friend mentioned, in the case of an abstraction from underground that sort of investment can be very heavy indeed. I think we therefore have to pay regard, too, to what my noble friend called legitimate development.
It was with these snags in mind that the Government decided to opt for a qualifying period extending right up to the second appointed day. Nevertheless, I would say straight away that we recognise that there are obvious dangers here. There are the precise dangers to which the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, has drawn our attention; and I gratefully 868 accept his offer of any knowledge of this matter which he may be able to pass over to me. I agree that the wilier ones may try to jump the gun by staking out exorbitant claims, through, as it were, artificially inflating their abstractions. It is just this sort of case which the noble Lord had in mind. I shall be very glad to look further at this particular difficulty, or possible difficulty, but it seems to me that there is one safeguard against the bogus abstraction: if the river authority find that a licence to abstract has been granted to somebody who does not intend to abstract, they can, of course, vary it or revoke it.
It was with that sort of danger in mind that we spelt out, in subsection (3) of Clause 34, the factors to which the river authority must have regard in considering the terms of any licence of right in the case of a non-statutory abstraction; and those factors specifically include the purposes for which the abstraction has been made and for which it is intended to be made. I should have thought that that language might well catch the bogus applicant. In any event, the river authority would be able to discriminate, where such discrimination is justified, against the jumpers on the water wagon. Although the river authority cannot refuse a licence of right—and I must make it clear that they would not have the right to refuse a licence of right—to a person qualified according to the period in the Bill, they can closely circumscribe the terms of that person's licence.
I am afraid that I have detained your Lordships too long in answering this Amendment, but this is a difficult matter, and I wished to put before you the considerations we have had in mind in drafting this clause in the way it has been drafted. In conclusion, I readily admit that we are faced here with a balance of disadvantages. I have been at some pains to try to point out the disadvantages we see in the method proposed by the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment. I would readily concede that there may be disadvantages, too, in the method proposed in the Bill, despite the safeguards which I have endeavoured to point out. But on the whole we think that the risks involved in waiting are to be preferred to the interruption of the old system before 869 the new begins, with the consequent injury which might well result to individuals going about perfectly legitimate business. This is not an easy matter. I would only hope that, having listened to my explanation, the noble Lord may feel that we have gauged this balance of admitted disadvantage aright.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I have listened with great interest to that explanation of what is obviously going to be a difficulty in some rural areas, including to small farms in the Eastern Counties. I suppose that a suitable explanation of the Act, when it is on the Statute Book, may help in this direction. But, of course, there is a constant pressure upon farmers, for instance, to increase their efficiency, and of not the least importance is the question of using irrigation in those parts of our territory which have low rainfall. The place in which I live is an island connected by an old Roman causeway, with a road put upon it across a seaway. I live upon an island where we have had rainfall at as low a rate as between 13 and 14 inches in a whole season. We are, therefore, under two handicaps. One is to get enough water for the stock, without having to pay for all of them all the time at high rates from the general water supply in the troughs. In this connection, some have regard to sinking their own wells. I have a well, and my house is called "Wellhouse Farm", so that I am particularly interested in this problem.
There is not only the question of watering stock in a dry season but also, quite apart from special irrigation—such as you find, for example, in the Evesham Valley, in the centre of the country, or in other places where they grow different kinds of fruits and other crops and where they use river water—there is the question of trying to maintain a sufficient grass supply in dry seasons. I should have thought that there ought to be reasonable appeals, and so on, that if one part of a farm begins to dry up and another is promising for a well, they ought to be able to sink it as of right.
I listened carefully to the repetition by the noble Earl of those words "as of right". I can see no inherent difficulty for myself, and I have declared my 870 interest as the owner of a farm called "Wellhouse Farm" in the Eastern Counties, but nevertheless I might want to change over. May I understand this: if the water emanating from an existing well proved to be no longer suitable for stock, would I be precluded from, as of right, sinking a well in another part of the farm, or is that going to be under regulation and control by a river authority? We have no rivers. A little information on this point would he most helpful to me. I am not arguing in any sense against the general implication of my noble friend's Amendment, but the noble Earl tempted me with his reference to the farmer in dry Eastern Counties.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
May I beg leave to add one consideration to the mind of the Government? The Minister spoke, I thought most fairly, but he said "a balance of disadvantage" as if it was all disadvantage. Do you not think we ought to look a little fundamentally at this clause? This is the nationalisation of private property. I make no objection to that because the public good is to be served by the nationalisation of water under the ground. But at this moment, or before this Bill was introduced, the water that I was referring to under the ground on the north bank of the River Humber, and in a thousand other places, belonged to the companies that had bought the land and, with it, the water and rights, and the Common Law right to uphold it. It was their private property. The State is taking it away. In doing so, surely it is not a disadvantage that they should give these people every possible chance of making and proving a proper claim to go on getting the water Which they need and which used to belong to them but is now to be taken away from them.
The private business or public company is going to be asked to get a licence, as of right, of course; to pay for the licence, and to pay gallonage for water which belongs to them already. This is an unusual step on the part of Government, and it is not unreasonable that Government should treat these people reasonably; and since this whole Bill is based upon the view that the water authority, this new authority, will treat all users reasonably, then it seems to me that this two years, or two and a 871 half years, during which proper and reasonable development may take place should be allowed to stand. I greatly hope that, with this consideration in mind, Lord Lindgren may perhaps not press his Amendment, which seems to me to be a most arbitrary way of dealing with private property that is being taken away. Let me repeat that I am not objecting to the taking away or to the tax now to be put upon the private property, but I think that consideration should be given to that fact.
§ LORD LINDGREN
May I first of all say that there is no need for the noble Earl to apologise for giving the detailed replies that he has given to these Amendments, nor for his handling of the Bill so far? It is of tremendous advantage, if I may say so from this side of the House, and we have tried to show our appreciation of it by not pressing Amendments too far. Certainly my intention is really to put probing Amendments in order that we can have on the Record what is the general view of the Government, why they have taken the line that they have, and what probably is the course that is likely to be taken in the future.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, need have any worry, although it is not for me to answer his points; it is for the Minister in charge of the Bill. All that we are trying to do by this Amendment is to stop those who are "jumping the gun", as the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, put it, and who are trying to take advantage of a situation which has arisen. In view of the noble Lord's statement, we are prepared to withdraw the Amendment.
Before the Amendment is withdrawn I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord for his kind words, which I and my colleagues handling this Bill greatly appreciate. I should like, before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment, to try to answer the noble Viscount's 872 question to me. As he may recall, we discussed or touched on this point tangentially yesterday and, as I understand it, the position is that abstraction could affect a domestic supply and must be licensed, as of course it now is in conservation areas under the 1945 Act. I think that the noble Viscount in fact lives in a conservation area. So far as underground abstraction is concerned, there will be no charge except for spray irrigation; that is made clear in Clause 58 (4). Wells for domestic use are exempted from the licensing system, but if he were drawing water from a well for agricultural purposes that would require a licence. There would, of course, be no charge, except for spray irrigation. But if he wished to change his well and to sink it in another place, I think—and I say this subject to correction, though I think I am right—that would require a new licence. I think that is the position under the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Although at the present time I have tapped water inside my house from my well, I also have a connection from that tap leading to a small trough of my own in the next field where poultry are kept, and to which we can attach a sprayer for producing tomatoes and other things in the back garden. Would that be subject to a licence?
I think I must turn off the tap at this stage because I might get this wrong. If I may, I should like to consider the rather detailed and complicated question which the noble Viscount has asked me. I should again like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord for not pressing this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I feel that we have, as it were, reached the appointed time. In view of this, if noble Lords agree, I move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.