HL Deb 18 December 1962 vol 245 cc1067-126

5.6 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 LORD AILWYN in the Chair.]

Schedule 1 [River Authorities]:

No. Names of river authorities River board areas
1 The Northumbrian River Authority. The Northumberland and Tyneside River Board area and the Wear and Tees River Board area.
2 The Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority. The Hull and East Yorkshire River Board area and the Yorkshire Ouse River Board area.
10 The Sussex River Authority. The East Sussex River Board area and the West Sussex River Board area.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved to omit the reference to the Northumbrian River Authority and to substitute:

"The Northumberland and Tyneside River Authority. The Northumberland and Tyneside River Board Area.
The Wear and Tees River Authority. The Wear and Tees River Board Area."

The noble Viscount said: My noble friend Lord Swinton, most unfortunately, has not been able to come to your Lord- ships' House this afternoon. It therefore falls to me to move the Amendment standing in his name on the Marshalled List. It is unfortunate indeed that he is not here because, of course, the North East of England is his own part of the world, and I am afraid that my knowledge of it is of a very transitory nature. Nevertheless, I have looked at the papers he has given me in support of this Amendment, and I feel that I am justified in asking your Lordships to consider it most seriously. I will do my best to put the merits of my noble friend's case before the Committee.

Since this is the first of a series of Amendments which are put down on the Marshalled List dealing with the proposed areas of the new river authorities, I think it might be as well if I were to attempt to lay some sort of foundation to show the sort of questions the Committee will have to consider. The main questions, of course, are what are the functions of the river authority, and what is the correct size of the area in which the river authority ought to use the functions which it is being given? The White Paper (Command 1693) sets out the basis of the Government's thinking on this matter.

As part of their justification for having the new river authorities at A, they start by saying that conservation, land drainage, and flood control are all so much a part of the single task of water management that the Proudman Sub-Committee regarded it as essential for them to be the responsibility of the same authorities. Then, later on, the White Paper describes the full range of functions which the river authorities will have under this Bill. The main conservation functions are the assessment of water resources and requirements, the control and development of resources, and the allocation of the water between users by a system of licensing. Those are the new functions under the Bill. The transferred functions which come from the old river boards are the functions in respect of land drainage, flood control, defence against sea-water, administration of fisheries, and prevention of pollution both over and under the ground. This, of course, is a different jurisdiction from that which the old river boards have exercised under the River Boards Act, 1948.

My noble friend, Lord Jellicoe, in his Second Reading speech, said something about this in a passage which I think is remarkable in that, in four lines in the OFFICIAL REPORT, there is same Latin and some French. If I may freely translate what the noble Earl said, it was that the interests of land drainage and fisheries may well call for a rather smaller area than full-blooded conservation. Therefore it seems to me that the Government have set about the task which was first opened to them by the Proudman Sub-Committee with some sort of idea that the river authorities they envisaged would be put into operation in the Act might be fewer and larger than were the old river boards.

This is not altogether the case, as your Lordships will see if you compare the two parallel columns of proposed authorities—the one in the White Paper and the other in Schedule 1 to this Bill. In fact, it is remarkable how many of the old river boards are now being left alone and reconstituted into a new river authority for just the same area as the old boards used to administer. Nevertheless, there are a few amalgamations, one of which is the amalgamation of the Northumberland and Tyneside River Authority with the Wear and Tees River Authority. It is this particular amalgamation with which your Lordships are concerned in this Amendment. My noble friend Lord Swinton really intended his Amendment to be made on behalf of the Wear and Tees River Board, and it is from that River Board not from the Northumberland and Tyneside Board that I have obtained most of my information, on the basis of which my case will largely be made. I do not think that that means the Northumberland and Tyneside River Board disagree with my noble friend's Amendment, but they are not, I think, the prime movers in this matter.

The White Paper goes on, in paragraph 27, to lay down three criteria for the area of a river authority with its new and enlarged series of functions. First of all, it says: Conservation will entail units which, hydrologically considered, are consistent in character, are large enough and will involve enough conservation work"— and I think this is the second point— to justify the employment of full-time technical staff,"— then the third point— and have the necessary financial resources". So, as I understand it, the three points within the framework of what I have said are: that the new area is to be hydrologically consistent, whatever that may mean; it is to involve enough conservation work in itself—that is, enough of the new functions—to require full-time staff; and it must have the full, necessary financial resources. I realise that, when I am talking about those three criteria, they are to be discussed against a different and enlarged background from the similar sort of criteria which governed the size of an old river board, I hope that in what I say I shall not be thought to have lost sight of this, and simply to be arguing on a status quo for the old river board with its old functions. This is not what I intend at all.

Nevertheless, if I take the first point, that the new unit is to be hydrologically consistent, as I understand it I do not think the new complete area, stretching from Whitby, in the South, to Berwick and the Tweed, in the North, is hydrologically consistent. It does not appear that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government thought so either, since as late as 1961 that Department published a survey on the Wear and Tees area by itself—and this was one of the four areas in the whole country which were taken for survey. They came to the conclusion that development in that area was going on as it should be, and that all the necessary forethought and co-operation was present. I frankly do not know what "hydrologically consistent" in this sense means, but the interesting thing is that it seems to follow, from the amalgamation in this Bill f the two authorities, that my noble friend and his Department, or his late Department, must think that this whole area is in need of less conservation than are the areas which have been left in their old state and under the old area of the river board. Otherwise it would seem to me unnecessary to amalgamate them at all, since the whole point of amalgamation is to provide enough work over the new area for an increased staff. Perhaps my noble friend can tell me whether this is so, whether he thinks that there is very little conservation work to be done in the North East, and that it is for this reason that he thinks the new river authority should have a wider area; rather than that there should be two river authorities both taking control of the old river boards and their areas.

On the second point, the question of the full-time staff, it is important to remember that not only will the full-time staff necessary under this Bill include staff for the conservation functions (those are the new functions under the Bill; and for that reason it may be that in some cases the river authority's area should be wider because there is less to do), but the staff of the river authority will also have to deal with the old transferred functions of the river boards; and these are very different matters indeed. The existing Wear and Tees River Board is. I am informed, a very fine organisation at the moment, and deals very well with the various duties that it has as a river board. It has dealt extremely well with the question of river pollution, and I see from its latest report that, for the first time on record, a salmon has been seen (I must get the river right, because it is very important to know where salmon are coming back) in the River Wear itself, below Wolsingham. This is the first time that they have had an authentic report of a salmon ever being found in the River Wear, and this must be the direct result of the River Board's fishery policy, together with its success in combating pollution.

Secondly, their land drainage functions have been fulfilled with great vigour since this River Board was set up in 1950, and £1 million has been spent in this respect within their area. They have now a full network of gauging stations to measure the flow of water throughout all the rivers under their control; they have a fine laboratory which deals with thousands of samples, and (a most important point) they now have all the local contacts which are necessary to deal with the transferred functions under this Bill—that is, the functions of the old river board. They have assisted greatly in establishing some industry in that part of the world, and, goodness knows! new industry is sorely needed in the North-East, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, could tell your Lordships.

There is one particular success they have to report. and I think that your Lordships will be interested to hear of it—at least, it is not a success, but it is a negotiation which is at present going on. I believe that it is a very important one, because if it were to succeed it would establish employment for 750 men near Darlington. They are discussing the abstraction of water from the Wear, a flood prevention scheme, and a scheme for the discharge of effluents into the river. That is the sort of key role that the river board, and indeed the new river authority, will have to play in the attraction of industry to some of these areas of the country which are at the moment so hard hit. Therefore, it seems to me to be quite essential that the new river authority, whatever size it may be, should retain the local contact, the local knowledge, the local expertise of its staff, which has been so reliably demonstrated under the existing Wear and Tees River Board.

Then the third criterion that the White Paper sets out is that there should be sufficient finance for the new projects and for the new functions under the Bill. This is a somewhat remarkable instance. I do not think that this can be one of the criteria that applies in this case, because under the old list of river boards the Wear and Tees was, I think, No. 9 in the league table for financial strength. I cannot believe that there is any criticism of it, on the score of its financial capabilities, which has led to some suggestion that it should be amalgamated. After all, Her Majesty's Government themselves have departed from the recommendations in their own White Paper, by splitting up the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight River Board into separate river authorities; and surely there must be others, such as, perhaps, the Isle of Wight, which are much less strong financially than is the Wear and Tees. So I hope that there will not be any suggestion that, on the grounds of finance, the two river boards should be amalgamated into the new authority.

Apart from these criticisms and this negative approach, I think there are some positive disadvantages which are bound to arise out of an amalgamation of the two areas. First of all, and very important, it may be necessary that a river board should be hydrologically consistent, but I think that it must also be common sense that it should represent some coherent area which can be looked at as a whole, and as a coherent whole. The new area proposed for this river authority, as I said, extends over quite a large proportion of North Yorkshire right up to the Scottish Border; and, however admirable may be the characteristics of each and every part of that area, surely no Member of your Lordships' Committee could say they form a coherent whole. When it comes to the point of discussing finances, grants and the payment of schemes in the various parts of the area, there will be no community of interest whatever among the different members of the board representing the different areas; and how could they possibly know and have the local interest in those parts of the area which are further away from those which they themselves know and represent?

That brings me on to the membership. The amalgamated authority will, I suppose, probably be one of those which has a total membership of between 21 and 31, but on it there will have to be, simply on the local authority side, representatives who will come from the following authorities: the Northumberland County Council, the County of Durham, the North Riding of Yorkshire County Council, and the County Boroughs of Newcastle, Gateshead, the Hartlepools, Darlington, Sunderland, South Shields, Tynemouth and Middlesbrough. That is ten authorities, all of whom, I have no doubt, will have full claim for representation on the board; who will be very upset if they are outnumbered; and who, added together, will make 10 out of the 21. Under the present scheme they could not possibly have two members each; and I think the very size and the very number of constituent authorities inside the area is going to make the representation on this river authority almost impossibly difficult to arrange.

Furthermore, since there will be fewer members from a very much larger area, no member can expect or can hope to have the local knowledge which is so necessary for at any rate some of the functions of these new river authorities—and again, perhaps, I might particularly refer to the old transfer functions of the river boards. But, of course, since the river authority has more functions than had the old river boards, there will be more business to be undertaken by the members who represent the various interests and authorities on it. They will have to come from further afield; and I wonder how easy it is going to be to get busy and knowledgeable people from that part of the world to travel for quite long distances and spend a great deal more time than even the members of the existing river boards have spent on discussing these important problems. Would it not again be better, and be much more likely to provide for good administration, if there were two smaller areas with their own limit of 21 to 31 members for each, with the possibility that the members of each will be much more locally aware of the circumstances which they are discussing?

The new proposed area, of course, apart from having to have new staff, will almost certainly have to have a new administrative centre. Goodness knows what that will cost! I do not think that Darlington, which is the present seat of the Wear and Tees river board, could possibly be a suitable centre for an area covering that which is proposed for this new authority; and I do not suppose the present headquarters of the Northumberland and Tyneside river board would do, either, even if there were room for them, which I doubt. Therefore, there will be new central offices, and if there are new central offices there are bound to be new central officers, so that an additional echelon will arise in the sphere of water conservation and control, because I have no doubt that the district officials, as they will become, the officials of the present river boards, will remain just as necessary as they ever were before, with their local knowledge of their areas; and yet, on the top of that, there will be a requirement for new, skilled men co-ordinating the two, adding to the expense and the cost, and I have no doubt such men are very difficult to recruit in a field where experts are not easy to find.

Those are such of the merits of the case for the division of this proposed area as I have been able to put before your Lordships' Committee without being interminably long, but the Wear and Tees River Board is not alone in thinking that it should be allowed to continue on its own as a river authority in its own right. In this, it is supported by the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Board, the Hartlepools Water Company, the Durham County Water Board, the Sunderland and South Shields Water Company, the North Riding of Yorkshire County Council, the Durham County Council and the local National Farmers' Union. It seems to me that local opinion very firmly says "No" to Her Majesty's Government's scheme. Is this the case in which the lady or gentleman in Whitehall really knows best; where this shotgun wedding is going to be forced upon these two river boards willy-nilly?

I lay the onus on my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to show why he thinks this is necessary. I can find no reason, and nobody else has been able to find any reason in this case. I must say that I would expect a very persuasive speech from my noble friend; but, nevertheless, it would have to be very persuasive indeed to overcome these difficulties which I have found in his proposed amalgamation. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 101, leave out lines 5 to 8 and insert—

"The Northumberland and Tyneside River Authority. The Northumberland and Tyneside River Board Area.
The Wear and Tees River Authority. The Wear and Tees River Board Area."
—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

5.27 p.m.


I much regret that my noble friend Lord Swinton, as a good Yorkshireman, was not here to move this Northumbrian Amendment, but, as one would expect from my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, he has moved with great skill the Amendment on Lord Swinton's behalf, proposing that we should forbid the banns of this proposed marriage between Northumberland and Durham.It is always a pleasure to hear a good advocate doing his stuff. I am susceptible to good advocacy, and I usually find myself persuaded if the good advocate has the ghost of a good case. I have not found myself persuaded by the case which my noble friend has just deployed, although he has done so with all his usual acumen and art.

I hope my noble friend, and I hope your Lordships, will not take it amiss if, instead of straightaway meeting or attempting to meet some of the more detailed arguments which my noble friend has advanced, I first put certain wider considerations before the Committee. I will come back later in our discussion to some of the detailed points made by my noble friend. I will do so gladly, since I do not think there was a single one on which there is not a convincing reply.

This Amendment—and it is an important one—is the first of a series of Amendments all designed to put asunder those whom the two Ministers have sought to join. As a result, certain common considerations apply in the case of all these Amendments which we shall be discussing under Schedule 1. If we were to accept them in their totality, I have no doubt at all—and I should like to repeat that with such conviction as I can command: I have no doubt at all—that we should be making a fundamental breach in our whole scheme of things in this first attempt to place the water affairs of this country upon a firm and broad basis. We have already debated this Bill at some length. It is quite right, I think, that we should have done so, since it is an important and, indeed, a complicated measure. It does not surprise me that our discussions so far, although quite free from any Party bias whatsoever, have disclosed at points a measure of disagreement. But so far as I know no one has yet argued that this Bill is neither necessary nor urgent. We are all agreed that we need a Bill of this sort, and that we need it soon.

Why is that so? I think the basic reason is quite simple. We all agree, in sum, that we have come a long way since the days when each town, each factory, each farm in our Islands could draw more or less on its nearest convenient source of water. Because of the pressure on our water supplies we have come to a moment which demands a comprehensive system of water conservation.

I do not think it is necessary for me to emphasise to this Committee, who are fully seized of this matter, how vital it is that the organisation we now set up should be as good as we can make it. It will have to cope with the growing demand for water for domestic consumption; with industrial demands which are growing still faster; and with the comparatively new but potentially enormous demand for spray irrigation. It is surely more vital now than at any time in our history that our industry, including agriculture, should be at the highest peak of efficiency. One essential prerequisite for this is ample water, of the right quality, and at the lowest possible price.

Those who would throw our proposals for amalgamation into the waste-paper basket must necessarily take the view that the right areas for water conservation are the areas of the existing river boards. No one would deny that the river board areas are the correct ones for the functions which river boards perform. But it would be dangerous to assume that, because these areas are right for river board functions, they are right also for water conservation. We have not felt justified in making this assumption. I believe we must pay due heed on this matter not only to understandable local feelings but also to those whose need for water is greatest. There are the statutory water undertakers. Those of your Lordships with intimate experience of public water supply—for example, my noble friends, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, Lord Waldegrave and Lord Ilford and the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren—have all called for more amalgamations. Then there is industry. We know what the F.B.I. feel about this. Their views are embodied in the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Jessel, Amendment No. 132. They want 14 river authorities excluding the Thames basin.

Then there are the water technocrats. It emerges clearly from many of the papers presented to the recent symposium on the conservation of water held by the Institution of Civil Engineers that expert technical opinion in this country also favours large coherent river authorities. This view is also shared by many, like my noble friend, Lord Malmesbury (who was a member of the Proudman Committee) who are well aware of the need to take due account of agricultural interests. Moreover, the Proudman Committee made their view crystal clear. In paragraph 139 they stated: We envisage some amalgamation of river board areas. The Government, having considered this matter of amalgamations very carefully, firmly decided that in the interests of providing an efficient service river authority areas must be fewer than those of the existing river board areas. We have, of course, not gone so far as some would have wished. If we had been thinking of water conservation alone, I have no doubt that we should have been certain to have gone further. But I suggest that our proposals represent, or should represent, an acceptable compromise, and they need not, in any event, necessarily be the pattern for all time.

Our reasoning on this has been very simple. We have felt that some amalgamations were required for the following principal reasons. In the first place, we firmly believe that we shall obtain a more efficient management of our water resources to the best advantage of all if a large area is under a single authority rather than if it is split among two or more authorities. A single authority is better able to survey resources on a comprehensive and uniform basis, to decide which resources should be developed first—balancing all the relevant factors, including, not least, amenity—and to marry fresh demands with the most suitable source of supply. It is for these reasons that we propose a single authority for the rivers which serve North-Eastern England (those to be discussed under this Amendment); for the rivers and lakes of the North-West; for the chalk of Sussex; and the chalk of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Secondly, it is obvious that we shall need in the future to move water for considerable distances from one part of the country to another—for example, from Wales and the Upper Thames Valley to the East Midlands or East Anglia, and, in the future, from North to South. The fewer the river authorities involved the more likely are we to be able to carry through such big and imaginative projects quickly and efficiently.

Thirdly, I would remind your Lordships that one of the objects of this legislation is to secure co-ordinated management of surface and underground water, the point to which my noble friend Lord Fleck drew our attention during his very interesting speech at Second Reading. But the boundaries of surface watersheds and of underground water-bearing strata rarely coincide. The necessary co-ordination will be greatly facilitated if the conservation organisation comprises a relatively small number of large units—as was made clear by Dr. Buchan of the Geological Survey in his paper at the Symposium which I have just mentioned.

Fourthly, as many of your Lordships know, hydrologists and other water technicians are rare birds. A small number of units will make for more economical use of staff. Each area should be large enough to attract good staff, and must give rise to enough work to ensure that the staff are fully used and have adequate career prospects.

Fifthly, I would claim (and this is my final point) that we shall get better co-operation in the future, and more efficiency between statutory water undertakers and the river authorities, if we keep overlapping by their respective areas down to the minimum. Water undertakers are now, as a result of a consistent policy pursued for some time and with a great deal of energy, being formed into larger units under the regrouping policy. There will be much overlapping if river authorities are not reasonably large too.

There are some of the principal factors which we have tried to bear in mind in considering the whole question of amalgamation. Considered in isolation, they certainly point to a smaller number of areas than the 26 provided for under Schedule 1 of this Bill. I will not disguise the fact that we originally hoped we could secure a smaller number—not the F.B.I's. 14, but, say, 20. However, we must in this matter try to balance these factors with the other functions which river authorities are to perform, notably land drainage and fisheries administration. Such functions do not necessarily fit into the same mould as suits conservation.

It was with this in mind that the two Ministries concerned, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, when they knew that this legislation was impending, undertook a really searching review of the present river board areas. In this review some amalgamations which prima facie seemed desirable—including some of those suggested in Lord Jessel's Amendment—were ruled out because they might have damaged land drainage or fisheries. The upshot—the new amalgamations now proposed in Schedule 1—were finally agreed between the two Ministers as representing the best mix which we could devise at this stage between the new requirements of conservation and the older functions of land drainage and fisheries.

I should like to develop later in this discussion, if others have not already done so for me, the particular justification for this particular amalgamation in the North-East. But in conclusion of what I fear may be termed the first instalment, I should like to deal with one criticism which has been made of the way we have gone about this. We have been criticised for lack of consultation. It has been argued by some of the river boards affected that before the blueprint for amalgamations, which was set out in the White Paper last May, was produced, we should have discussed what was in our minds at length, around the table, with all the river boards who might be affected. I know that there is resentment that we did not proceed in this way, and I can understand it. Arranged marriages are not very fashionable these days. But I suggest that we should be practical about this. Should we, by this process, have secured agreement to the amalgamations we propose? I am inclined to doubt it. And what delay would have been entailed, if we had gone about matters in this way? Should we have had legislation ready this year? And is there not a good deal to be said, in any event, for the way in which we have proceeded—namely, by outlining our proposals, then giving every opportunity for those affected to shoot at them, and finally leaving the matter for decision by Parliament?

In concluding these general comments, there is one point which I should like to make absolutely clear. Our proposals for amalgamation stem from the functions which we propose to entrust to these new river authorities. They do not stem from any belief on our part that the river boards concerned have not done their job, or not done a good job. But I would grant straight away that we are asking a lot from those affected by amalgamation. We are asking them to alter an organisation which has served well the purposes for which it was created; and we are asking them to do this in the interests of a new service, with the requirements of which they cannot yet be familiar. We are asking them not to think in terms of 1943, or indeed of 1962, but in terms of 1982 or 2002—because those are the terms we must think in, in matters of water conservation. But we have the weight of expert opinion behind our contention that amalgamations are necessary for efficiency, and I put it to the opponents of amalgamation that they should ponder very hard before brushing aside the claims of efficiency in a basic service Which is vital to our prosperity.

I hope that your Lordships will not feel that I have detained the Committee too long in putting these general considerations. But I thought it right to do so at the outset, since they have been in our mind, and I hope will be in your Lordships' minds when you consider the particular amalgamations and the particular Amendments. I also thought it right to advance these general considerations because, in my view at least, they have very great weight—so great that I would suggest that the burden of proof is not on us to show that particular amalgamations are right, but on the noble Lords who are opposed to them to show that particular amalgamations are wrong. However, I am perfectly prepared to argue the case for these amalgamations and the others on the basis of their positive advantages.

The case for the amalgamation with which this Amendment deals rests on three legs. The first is that the combined area which we propose forms what is essentially a homogeneous region—the North-East. It is homogeneous hydrologically, geographically and economically, and is entirely suitable for administration by a single river authority. The second is that the most important aspect of water conservation in this region will clearly be the maintenance of an adequate supply of water for the domestic consumers and industries of the area. There will, therefore, be advantage in having a single authority to manage all the water resources of the area, and this will be possible without overtaking a single conservation staff. The third leg is that the new Northumbrian River Authority we propose will be well endowed with financial resources for both its new and transferred functions, and will also be able to offer really worthwhile responsibilities to its members, and taxing, and rewarding, jobs for its staff.

I have spoken quite long enough at this stage, and I feel that others may wish to enter this discussion. All I would hope is that your Lordships should not only view each particular amalgamation on its own merits, but also view them against the back-drop of the more general arguments that I have sought to deploy.

5.48 p.m.


I was fortunate in having this Amendment moved by a noble Lord with a skill and ability not too common in your Lordships' House, and I should have left the matter there had it not been that I am so directly interested and have a story that is not quite so beautiful as the one which the noble Earl has just been telling us. I am sorry that this matter has been dealt with in the way it has, because I have a multitude of friends in Northumberland and I know the county well, both on its modern and on its historical side. When we have an area which is served by both the Wear and the Tees, as well as by the Tyne, I do not think it right that the title of the new amalgamation should be limited to one side of the area.

The fact is that in this county of the Wear and Tees there has been a grave declension in employment in the last two years. Would your Lordships believe that a large number of the youngsters leaving school have had to join the unemployed queue? Is it not right that a proper weight should be given to our side of the area, in order that these youngsters should have a chance to go to work? Will the Committee believe that, when the Jarrow march was held—and we are getting very near repeating the Jarrow march in Durham now—there were mines open and that we always had them to go into? But now the mines are closing to the right and to the left, and boys who would normally have gone into the mines are unemployed. That is a fact. There has already been talk about a march from Durham. I put it to the noble Earl that Tees and Wear people should have absolute control over their own business; that they should have the authority of the name of a county who are doing good business for themselves, although they are afflicted by lack of employment. I think the case put by the mover of this Amendment is an unanswerable one.

I am sorry to have to stand here and take this line this evening. I have multitudes of friends in Northumberland, and, as I said before, I love not only the county but its history, and I have spent many holidays in that part of the country. So I say to the noble Earl, in spite of the fact that he has made a very able case, that he will find ultimately that what might almost call this robbery of the right to use their ability and skill will have a reactionary effect. The combination of the two areas will afflict a great population and, on the whole, in spite of the skilful case the noble Earl has put up tonight, I am sure that local authorities will not take this lying down.

5.53 p.m.


I think it is only fair to say that the case put forward by the noble Earl is an admirable one, and the principles he enunciated with regard to water conservation and all the other factors we can all accept. However, I submit, with all humility, that in deploying the general case in that way he is begging the question of the Amendments. Because nowhere, so far as I am aware, has he demonstrated that the proposed divorces in the Bill would in any way conflict with, impair or hinder the work which this Bill sets out to achieve. Therefore, with due respect, I suggest that, admirable as those principles are, it is unfair to assume or to imply that those of us who are standing by the Amendments do not accept those principles.

What I suggest is that the matter has not been approached in the right way. If these admirable principles, which we all accept, and which I believe the existing river boards would all accept, had been presented to the river boards concerned, and if an overwhelming case had been demonstrated to the representatives of those river boards, then I believe that a reasonable body of men would have come to an agreed solution. Instead of that, this is being imposed on the river boards, as was admitted by the noble Earl, without any consultation with them, leaving the river boards and us here to endeavour to prove that the proposed separation would enable the work of conservation and other admirable duties to be carried out by the river boards.

The noble Earl, Lord Woolton, foresaw this position, I believe, when, at an earlier stage of our proceedings in Committee, he endeavoured to get the status quo maintained in regard to the existing river board areas, leaving the Ministry in the position of having to demonstrate and prove, if they wanted amalgamations, that they would be considered and dealt with on their merits. As I understood the noble Earl's Amendment, that was its purpose. But now we are switched right round, and we have to endeavour to prove that the amalgamations are wrong. And against our arguments the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, puts up a number of principles, to which we can all readily assent, implying that we are violating those principles by proposing an alteration of what Whitehall is endeavouring to impose on the river boards in question. That is the impossible position in which those of us who are supporting these Amendments find ourselves this afternoon—and one by one we shall be shot down—whereas we should have had fairer play if the procedure had been the other way round. I ask the noble Viscount who moved this first Amendment if he is going to support the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, in regard to Sussex and so on, right throughout the other Amendments. That is the impossible situation in which we find ourselves this afternoon—if I may say so, very carefully manœuvred.


I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord while he was speaking, but there are two points on which I should like to touch. The first is that I remember explaining at considerable length, when we were discussing Clause 3, why we have adopted this procedure. I should not wish to go all over that again, but it was explained, as I thought, at fairly considerable length and, I gather, approved by this Committee. Secondly, on the question of consultation, I should like to say that, since we have had the White Paper, any single river board which has wished to discuss the proposals in the White Paper with the Ministries concerned has, of course, had a standing invitation to do so; and almost all the river boards concerned have availed themselves of this invitation, including the two affected by this particular amalgamation. In one case at least, the one with which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is concerned, that process of consultation has resulted in a change of mind. I know it is one which he does not like. But there has not been a closed mind on the part of the Ministries concerned.


I am sure the noble Earl does not intend to mislead the Committee on this issue, but it is not true to say that any board has had the opportunity of getting what so many of them, I am sure, want, and that is a public inquiry. All that is offered is that they may go and talk to the Minister whose officials have told him, I am sure quite rightly, what they think is the right solution. It is a very different story from having a public inquiry, and the noble Earl, if he will forgive me for saying so, did not make that clear.


I naturally accept the correction, especially coming from my noble friend, but I was not aware that I was in fact misleading the Committee. I said that there had been opportunity for consultation, and I confined myself to that. When my noble friend reads Hansard to-morrow I do not think he will find that, either wittingly or unwittingly, I was misleading your Lordships.


Obviously I am not in favour of this Amendment, as it seeks to do exactly the opposite to what I want to do by my Amendment No. 132. I am in favour of reducing the number of river boards to fourteen and this Amendment, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, is trying to prevent the first amalgamation in Schedule 1. Of course, in the case of every recommended amalgamation local authorities are going to put up a good case for the status quo; they will say that things are quite all right as they are, and that local knowledge is essential for the efficient functioning of river authorities. But I must point out that the existing river boards are doing a limited job, and that the duties of the new river authorities are far wider. Being perfectly fair to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, I must say he made a great point of this.

As to local knowledge and expertise, surely these can still be made use of under the provisions of paragraph 11 of Schedule 3, which are very wide and give power to appoint all sorts of committees for all kinds of things. Personally, I was convinced by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on the general question of amalgamations, and also by his argument against this particular amalgamation. I shall certainly vote against the Amendment.


I rise to oppose the Amendment and to ask your Lordships to allow the Schedule to stand as we now see it in the Bill before us. The reason for my opposition to the Amendment is that I believe we now have a most worthwhile opportunity of achieving an act of amalgamation and rationalisation which can contribute in two important effects, that is, to the increased efficiency of water usage on the North-East coast and to better technology in water conservation.

The steps in my argument are threefold. First, there is the unitary nature of the North-East coast, and I emphasise that in spite of the remarks made by the noble Viscount who introduced the Amendment. The North-East coast is a well defined region, for both industrial and social purposes. Its boundaries are clear: the Cheviots to the North, the Pennines to the West and the Cleveland Hills to the South. This is not the time to speak of what is wrong with the basic heavy industries within that region. Suffice it to say that, in adversity or in prosperity, industrial water within that region is of great importance, and provision to meet that important need, and, I would emphasise, the increasing need, can be best met if the needs of the region as a whole are considered by one authority. That, to my mind, would be in itself an adequate reason for the unification that is proposed in the Schedule as it now stands. I have mentioned industrial needs in the forefront of my argument, but I do not forget that water of proper quality—and I emphasise the words "of proper quality"—for household and drinking purposes for the population of the region can also in my judgment, best be met by one authority.

The second line in my reasoning for one authority lies in the physiographical characteristics of the region. There are certain outstanding geographical characteristics which to me make an important contribution to the argument for one authority. I emphasise again the boundaries of the region: the Cheviots, the Pennines and the Clevelands. Within those boundaries the whole region has certain common geographical characteristics. First of all, I would mention the moors. You see the common features if you travel from, say, the moors just on the North side of Richmond, through Barnard Castle and High Force, through Allendale or Alston, through West Woodburn or the Ottercaps to the Cheviots at Carter Bar. The whole region, I submit, is uniformly good collecting ground where conservancy can best be achieved by being looked after by one authority.

As we come away from the collecting grounds towards the coastal plain the country is, of course, dominated by the three rivers the Tyne, the Wear and the Tees. So great is that domination that some of us who move in these parts frequently refer to the whole region as the Three Rivers Region. It is, I believe, in this locality—that is, in the coastal plain—where provision could best be made for mutual support of one local catchment area by another for example, the Wear and the Tees. I would remind your Lordships that, to the best of my knowledge, it is only a matter of two years ago since the Tees had to make arrangements for water to go over to the Wear area.

My third reason concerns underground water resources. In an earlier discussion in this House mention was made of underground water resources and the need to make sure that these were adequately replenished. In the region we are now discussing there is one important underground source, and that is the porous Permian sandstones of Eastern Durham. One of my submissions is that that source can better be looked after if there is one authority looking after the three main rivers, so that the best possible judgment can be made and applied as to where and when water can be taken to replenish these underground reservoirs, for re-use when the occasion demands it.

Those are the three reasons why I should like to see a unified water authority for the North-East. In asking for that, I am by no means forgetful of the good service given by the present water authorities. My personal appreciation goes mainly to the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Board, whose methods are more fully known to me personally than the others, but I have no doubt that had I had the opportunities of contact I should be enabled to speak equally highly of them.

I would now make a general observation, and that is that times, of course, are always changing and just as these high moorlands no longer contribute to the economy of this country by the production of lead as they have done in years gone past, the use of these moorlands must be changed so that they contribute in the greatest degree to a full water conservation policy. In this country we have never been short of good water engineers. There was that earlier Member of your Lordships' House, the Duke of Bridgewater. At the height of their importance this country had over 4,000 miles of inland waterways and I believe that the only time that we faltered in a major way in water engineering was in Fenland development, and I quote from Singer's History of Technology when I repeat: Indeed a major fault was a failure to appreciate that the drainage of the Fens was both a technological and an administrative problem. It is because I believe that modern water conservation is both a technological and an administrative problem that I urge your Lordships to reject the Amendment so that the administration may be in as few hands as is reasonable, and thus enable the technologists to exercise their technology to the fullest degree, first in matters of bulk transfer of water from one consuming area to another and again in concerned measures to maintain underground reservoirs at their maximum usefulness.

I should not like noble Lords to think that these ideas of transferring water are merely "pipe dreams" and I would end my remarks by quoting from the Hydrological Survey for the rivers Wear and Tees published about two years ago, and to which reference has already been made. Its conclusion reads: The authors conclude that, given the necessary forethought and co-operation, the natural beauty and amenities of these two rivers could be preserved or even improved, whilst at the same time the needs within the area "— I emphasise this next phrase— or perhaps to some extent beyond it, could be satisfied by the development of some part of the affected resources".

6.13 p.m.


My speech this afternoon has been made very much easier by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, because I differ from many of my colleagues on the general purport not only of this Amendment but the policy which is really surrounded by this Amendment. Because, may we make it quite clear, this first Amendment, though it is the first Amendment and on one particular area, is really a test case as to whether or not the rest of Schedule 1 is to be kept intact. I do not know whether he really meant it, but my noble friend Lord Burden almost invited the noble Viscount to join hands in "You support me and I will support you" right the way through the Schedule. I really do suggest that that is not the way in which your Lordships normally do business, nor is it really the correct way in which we should face this problem. The real problem is what is best in regard to the general arrangements for the future water supply of this country, of a commodity which is in short supply and which, if we are to maintain our general industrial and agricultural activity together with healthy facilities for the growing needs of the population of this country, will tax our resources to a very great extent.

My further difficulty is—and I hope the noble Earl will not mind my saying so—that his speech really was a first-class advocacy of the Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, which is later on the agenda; and my view is that we really ought to have fewer than the 26 authorities which are suggested in Schedule 1. That view, too, was put forward by my noble friend Lord Silkin on the Second Reading, but I have taken part in political, trade union and local government activity long enough to know that one cannot get all that one wants at any rate all the time, and I am prepared to accept Schedule 1 as the best or the only compromise which is available at the present time. I would urge your Lordships really to consider the general principle behind the Bill and behind Schedule 1 rather than individual, particular areas and individual loyalties in local areas, and I think it only fair to say that, should the matter go to a Division, I would support Schedule 1 in its entirety.


I, too, was greatly impressed by the specific local arguments adduced by my noble friend Lord Fleck. It is not, however, on local but rather on general grounds that I feel I must oppose this Amendment; and may I say here how sorry I am that for once in this long road of the Committee stage I find myself in an opposite camp to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross who moved this Amendment so persuasively.

I agree, of course, with the general presentation of what I think he called the back-cloth which the noble Earl gave. I agree, too, with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, when he said that if this Amendment is accepted then we must accept the fact that it will be exceedingly difficult for the Government to resist the other Amendments, and we shall then be in a position of having river authorities coincident in their areas with the areas of the river boards; and that would seem to me to defeat very largely one of the main purposes of this Bill. I believe that a good deal, I do not say all, of the opposition to river authorities comprising more than one river board area rests on the belief that it necessarily involves an amalgamation of river boards. I do not think that in practice that is by any means necessarily so.

On this point I agree with a great deal of what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said about the river boards in moving the Amendment. Their work has to go on if this Bill is passed, and if it is passed including Schedule 1. The work of the two river boards in the Northumbrian area has to go on very much as it does at present. From my knowledge of some other river boards I readily believe how valuable the work of the Wear and Tees River Board has been, and a great many other river boards can claim similar credit. Forgive me for repeating the obvious: their functions are land drainage, flood control, prevention of pollution. This work must clearly be carried out on a river and not on a regional basis, and the people to do it must be the people who have knowledge and experience. But that work is widely different from the new function of conservation, which includes the development of new sources, the approval of or in some cases the direct responsibility for the construction of new works, the transfer of water from one area to another, and so forth.

That is why I have always envisaged that in practice the river authority must have two main sub-committees, in addition to the finance committee which is specified in the Bill, one dealing with conservation and the other dealing with the transferred functions. Because the authority itself must not be too large, these sub-committees should have power to co-opt when they consider that additional knowledge and experience is required, and in the case of the subcommittee dealing with the transferred functions their co-option means bringing in substantial representation of the river boards as they exist to-day. For a time, at least, the river boards would, I think, inevitably function very much as they do now—but with this difference: while they would be responsible in the first instance to the new river authority they would, as I have said, have large representation in the sub-committee dealing with their functions, and indeed under Clause 6 (3) (a) and (b) they might well have (and I should think in all probability would have) direct representation on the river authority itself. I do not see these bodies being wholly disbanded or anything dike it. There may well be some saving in technical staff in time, but that will come about only when it can be shown that it can be achieved with greater efficiency. The whole purpose of the Bill, as I see it, would be negatived if there is not, as I think the noble Earl phrased it, some compromise.

May I touch on another and related point? These new authorities will require for their new functions new and technically qualified staff who understand what is involved in conservation—and the noble Earl stressed this fact. I am sure that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government have already given much thought to this problem, but I doubt if they know how all the specialised staff required for 26, let alone 34, new river authorities are going to be found all at once, or even between the first and the second appointed days. It will be a difficult job; and for that reason it has always seemed to me that there would be much virtue in attempting to tackle this problem by stages, first appointing the Water Resources Board and, with their help and advice, setting up a relatively few river authorities and gradually proceeding to appoint the remainder. We might learn from experience.

I know—because I raised this point in the debate on the White Paper last May—that the Ministry find considerable difficulties in accepting that suggestion. Perhaps these difficulties may be more theoretical than real; I feel that they might be. But I will not pursue this point too far now, because it is slightly off the Amendment, relevant though it is to the general question. I believe that we must aim for a small, or relatively small, number of river authorities, as small as practicable, and from the point of view of effecting transfers of water from one area to another there are obvious advantages in such a course. There are also obvious advantages from the point of view of efficient staffing of these authorities. Moreover, there are organisational and administrative advantages in the Water Resources Board having fewer river authorities to deal with, as well as advantages (which the noble Earl mentioned) from the point of view of financial viability. The whole problem of conservation, as I see it, must be looked at regionally and not by single river board areas. The number of river authorities can be reduced with advantage to conservation and without disadvantage to the discharge of the existing functions of the river boards. For all these reasons, I feel that I must oppose this Amendment.

6.27 pm.


I do not wish to say anything on the merits of this particular Amendment but only on the general argument in order to question one of the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. The noble Lord made a comment on the speech of his noble friend Lord Burden with which I must say I agreed. I do not think it is possible that we should make bargains, that if one of us supports one of these particular Amendments we should all agree to support them all. But I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, appeared to fall into a similar error when he asserted that, if we had sympathy with the general propositions put forward so persuasively by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, that necessarily committed us to opposing all these Amendments. Of course it does nothing of the kind. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was careful to point out that there was one important change between the Bill as now drafted and the proposals in the White Paper. Presumably the Government had the same principles in mind that he has so eloquently and so persuasively deployed this evening when they drafted the White Paper. That is all I wish to say. I fully accept what the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, said about the argument of his noble friend, but I must point out that each of these Amendments must be considered on its merits.


I am sure we must entirely agree with the last sentence spoken by my noble friend Lord Conesford. I, for one, having listened to the Amendment most ably moved, and to the noble Earl rebutting it, feel that the arguments which the noble Earl used on the general principle have completely convinced me. As we must deal with these Amendments on their individual merits, we are all greatly indebted to the detailed speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fleck. He spoke of the administrative technical and detailed problems of the case in point, the actual Amendment we are discussing, these actual areas, from an intimate knowledge of this district himself, and he spoke in a way that I think will be very difficult to rebut. He convinced me. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will feel able to accept the advice of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and reject this Amendment, and not forget the point made by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, it is so easy for us all to say "Surely our little parish, as it now exists, is right. Why should they pick on me?" These small areas, the river board areas, set up for a different purpose, will in effect still go on continuing to do their work. That must be done river by river, and the new river authorities which are going to do this conservation work must be something bigger. I hope that we shall be able to reject this Amendment without having a Division; but if we do have a Division, I am quite clear to which Lobby I must go.


The noble Lord, Lord Burden, twitted me just now for dealing only with the general and not with the particular. But, as his noble friend Lord Lindgren said, this is, to a certain extent, a test case. That was why I felt it right to try to outline the general considerations.


May I say that I did not twit the noble Earl for dealing with general principles. All I twitted him about was the position in which we find ourselves; that we have, if we can, to prove that our Amendments conflict with these admirable general principles.


I should like briefly to say that I think that the general principles and the particular argument against this Amendment coincide. At the start of this discussion I said that, as I saw it, the case for this Northumbrian amalgamation rested on three main legs. The first was that we were dealing with an essentially homogeneous area; the second was that the water problems of this area called for unified management of its water resources, and the third was that if we created this authority and rejected this Amendment it would be strong enough financially fully to discharge its responsibilities.

I should like to come back to those three legs. Before doing so, may I apologise for having to speak twice in this matter? First of all, there is the homogeneity of the area. Of that surely there can be little doubt. When we talk of the North-East surely we all know what we are talking about. One thing which gives this area its distinctive character is its physical geography. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, that an important feature of that physical geography is these three major river systems, the Wear, the Tees and the Tyne. It has been argued that, hydrologically speaking, this area is not a unit. I cannot accept this. In the first place, all three major rivers rise within a few miles of each other near Cross Fells, and it is clearly right, in my view, that they should be measured and managed as one water unit.

My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross made great play with the fact that the hydrological survey covered only the Wear and Tees. But, given the fact that at the moment we are dealing with river boards, it was quite natural that that survey should be restricted to the area of the river board. But I would claim that the cohesiveness of this area extends far beyond its physical characteristics. The whole area possesses a character and vitality of its own, and I would defy my noble friend to argue that the essential unity of this area is not recognised by those who live there. It is certainly recognised by their Parliamentary representatives, as a glance at yesterday's debate in another place on unemployment makes quite clear. It was also recognised by its admirers, as will be agreed by anyone who had the privilege of hearing the speech made in this House some three weeks ago by the most reverend Primate.

I think that the essential unity of this area is recognised in many fields of public administration and commerce. The whole area is treated as a single unit—in some cases, I would agree, along with other areas—for gas, for electricity, for coal, for railways, for the regional board for industry and, indeed, for the North East Development Council. It is true that the units for these various bodies may vary. But they all include—and this I would submit is a significant point—Teesside, Wearside, Tyneside and the remainder of Northumberland. It could, of course, be claimed that what is right from the organisation point of view for these utilities may not be right in the case of water. But I find that hard to maintain or to argue in the teeth of what I would claim is the hydrological consistency of this area.

Next, unified management. The new functions which are being entrusted to river authorities demand areas which, hydrologically considered, are large enough to justify large full-time staffs. This will certainly be the case in this area. Indeed, it has been argued that the area is too big. I should like to come back to that in a moment. Next, financial resources. It is true that each of the existing river boards has considerable rateable resources. It is also true that, Individually, they are richer in rateable resources than some of the small areas proposed in the Schedule.

But rateable resources are not the only criteria which should be borne in mind here. The conservation is to be self supporting on the basis of income from charges for authorised abstractions, and while there are undoubtedly some large abstractions in this area, as the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, knows, many of them are made possible by conservation works which will entitle them to receive a reduction in the standard rate of charges under the charging scheme embodied in this Bill. Over the combined area, however, there should, ill our view, be ample resources and no fear of prejudicing conservation works by lack of funds. Those, as we see it, are the principal reasons why the general considerations which I have advanced fit this particular amalgamation.

May I now turn briefly to sonic of the criticisms which have been made against it, most ably, by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. It has been claimed that the area will be "too big for its boots", as it were—too big for a single authority to administer. I would grant that the proposed amalgamation, this Northumbrian river authority, will be among the bigger authorities in this country if it is established. In size it will be fifth following the Yorkshire use and Hull, the Severn, the Trent and the proposed Lancashire and Cumberland river authorities. It will be fourth in population. It will be fourth in rateable resources. It will be sixth in the combined length of its main, rivers. Finally, it will be seventh in the length of its coast line.

I grant that this will be a big authority. But the figures which I have given, I would suggest, speak for themselves. They show in fact that there will be nothing out of the ordinary about the size of this authority. Of course, many members of this proposed new river authority—the busy and knowledgeable people about whom my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross spoke—may have a rather long drive when they wish to go to meetings. But I think we should keep a sense of proportion here. It will not be the case, surely, that all members will have to travel from Berwick-on-Tweed in the North to Redcar in the South. Moreover, road communications in this area, as I know well from recent personal experience, are improving rapidly. If the matters that the members of the river authority will be discussing are as important as I think they will be, and as my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross suggested they would be, there will be plenty of incentive for the members of the river authority to make journeys which I do not think it will be unduly laborious for them to make.

The next objection is that each of the existing areas is already big enough and strong enough to stand on its own feet. I would agree that it is possible to point to areas similar in size and resources to either of the existing river boards in the North-East, and that those areas will be perpetuated if Schedule 1 is accepted. But I do not think that argument is really to the point. We have to bear different considerations in mind in every case. What I submit is that, looking into the future, there are in fact, for the reasons which I have tried to explain, positive advantages in having a single authority over this particular area.

Again, it has been suggested that the existing functions of the river boards—land drainage and fisheries, in particular—might be prejudiced by amalgamation. I would grant that some reorganisation here may very well be required. What precise form that reorganisation should take would be a matter for the river authority itself to decide, but the river authority will have a considerable degree of flexibility.

I fully took the point made by my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve in his very interesting speech about providing for co-option and some flexibility in this respect, but that is already, to some extent at least, provided by the provisions of paragraph 13 (2) of Schedule 3. which is to be found in pages 107 and 108 of the Bill. But, in any event, I am advised that there is no serious land drainage problem in either area we are discussing in any way comparable with those in, say, the Yorkshire use and the Trent areas. I am also advised that there is no reason to believe that fisheries should suffer as a result of this proposed amalgamation. I would add that in my experience the Ministry of Agriculture are very good at looking after their own, and I do not think we could have got them to agree to this amalgamation if they had not been fully satisfied with the scheme of land drainage and fisheries.

Finally, the claim has been made that the existing conservation schemes have ensured sufficient water for this area for the next decade or two, and that there is no water conservation problem that cannot be solved by sensible co-operation between the two existing areas. I would grant straight away that as a result of the work done by the water undertakings of the area, assisted, I freely acknowledge, by the two river boards, excellent schemes of reservoir construction and indeed river regulation have been put in hand, and they reflect credit on everyone concerned. But these days estimates of how long supplies will last have a habit of needing revision much earlier than most people would expect. Industry in the North-East is being transformed, and, as we all know, modern industry's thirst for water can be intense. I was very impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, with his vast experience of industry in this region, had to say in that respect.

It is not part of the Government's claim that immediately after amalgamation there will need to be vast and radical changes in the organisation of water supplies in this area, or that their present demands can be met only by the Northumbrian River Authority. But we must remember—and I have very much in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said here—that all of us wish to attract more new industry into this area; we must also remember that it is precisely the new industries which tend to be very heavy drinkers of water. That is one reason, and a principal reason, why we believe that it is eminently sensible to create a single authority here to plan the water resources of the North-East in order to secure maximum advantage for both the North-East and the country as a whole.

I have been into this at some length, for which I apologise; but I have done so because I feel that your judgment and decision on this issue are of very real importance. I have attempted to argue that many general considerations point the way to the need for amalgamations, and our decision as regards amalgamation has not been lightly taken. I have also attempted to demonstrate that it is no coincidence that Schedule 1 includes the specific proposal to bring the North-East within the orbit of one single river authority. That, too, has been a wry carefully pondered decision. I believe that there are compelling reasons for that decision. I further think that we shall be doing a real disservice to the whole principle of unified management of our water resources, and indeed to the North-East, if we run out on that decision. In all the circumstances I very much hope—and I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave said—that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, will not press his Amendment. Should he choose to do so, as he is eminently entitled to do, I would ask your Lordship, and I do so with confidence, decisively to reject it.


I am genuinely grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part in this debate—apart from anything else, for the instruction which I have received from all the speeches which have been made. As I have said, I am dealing with this Amendment rather at second-hand and, consequently, have learned a very great deal from what has been said. But, further than that, I think your Lordships' debate this afternoon will be of the greatest value not only to the river boards which are concerned in this particular Amendment, but to any other river board or future river authority who may be worried About amalgamation under this Bill. A great deal of what has been said this afternoon must be of general application and of great value and interest to people who are concerned in this particular problem. Therefore, I am sincerely grateful to noble Lords who have spoken.

Having said that, I am afraid I must pick a quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. This is no test case as such. This Amendment happens to be the first of a group. It happens to be the first because my noble friend on the Front Bench has dealt with Great Britain in a clockwise fashion, starting at 1 o'clock. If he had started anywhere else, this Amendment might have been fifth or sixth, and it is no test case as such whatever. Naturally, one has to deal with the general principles, and it is most important to find out what they are. I think that they have been generally ventilated this afternoon.

The next thing to do is to see whether those principles apply to the particular case in question. If they do apply to this case, and apply in such a way that I am proved wrong, so be it. That does not necessarily mean that they apply equally to any other case that may be argued hereafter. I hope your Lordships will not feel that you are committing the House, the Committee or anybody else to any future Amendment merely by the decision you take on this one this afternoon.

I am not altogether surprised, to be honest, that the Wear and Tees River Board are a little unhappy about this. Several noble Lords this afternoon have spoken in general terms about the need to have fewer river authorities and have given, I have no doubt, extremely good reasons for that view. I do not know that this principle is necessarily wrong, and I do not know that it is necessarily in conflict with the Amendment I am putting forward. After all, as I have said, it is extraordinary how many of the river boards are in fact going to be river authorities. There is nothing in the least inconsistent in principle with keeping the status quo in this case. Therefore, it must in the end come down to the particular merits.

I should just like to see whether the five points put forward by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe as general principles do in any case bite, before I get on to the three specific points he dealt with. His five points were as follows. First, the requirement for more efficient management and resources. That, I think, in this particular case I will deal with as one of his specific points. Secondly, he said that water will need to be moved possibly from North to South. I suppose this may very well be so, but surely this particular river authority, being on the very fringe of England, in this particular respect will hardly be one of the ones which will first come into contact with the need to move water. It cannot, after all, be moved West, nor would anybody want it to be. So far as I know, there are probably sources further South which can send water to the drier areas of this country more quickly than water could be moved from the area we are now discussing. So I am not sure that that is a very good principle in this case.

Thirdly, the co-ordination and management of both surface and underground water have different boundaries. I do not think that any particular weight has been placed on that general principle in this case, and I do not think it needs any further discussion. Fourthly, my noble friend said that the hydrologist was a very rare bird, and must be given a full-time job when he can be found. I have still not had an answer to the point that I made in opening, when I suggested that there was work for a hydrologist in each of these river boards' areas. There was work for one in each, and if my noble friend says this is not so, he is, presumably, saying that there is no great conservation problem in the combined area, and I did not understand him to say that this was the case. His whole case rested on the fact that, although it may be all very well at the moment, this situation is not likely long so to remain. So he has to that degree been inconsistent in his answer to me.

Finally, my noble friend said that the amalgamations would result in greater co-operation and efficiency between the river authorities and the water undertakers. In this particular case there seems to me to have been already, under the present set-up in the North-East, a most admirable example of co-operation between river boards and water undertakers. There is a reservoir, spelt the same way as the name of my noble friend Lord Derwent (though possibly pronounced differently) which has been constructed in the Northumberland and Tyneside area and which serves part of both areas, that area and the Wear and Tees River Board area. This is the sort of intelligent co-operation which has already been commented upon and applauded in this area, and I cannot see that it is necessary for amalgamation to take place in order to better the record they already have.

Then my noble friend came on to the question of the specific need to apply the general principles in this case. First of all, he dealt with the homogeneity of the area. I am at a hopeless disadvantage in this respect. My noble friend Lord Fleck made out what would seem, at any rate to one of my ignorance, to be an overwhelming case in this respect, and other noble Lords have thought so, too. But it occurs to me to wonder whether the analogy that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe used can be taken quite as far as he took it. He said that the area between the Cheviots, the Pennines and the Cleve- land Hills was always treated for various purposes, for statutory undertakers and for this and that, as one. But so, after all, are other parts of the country. I think, for the sake of argument, of Wales, which we presumably take as a whole for many purposes. And what about the South-West of England, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, which I know much better than the North-East? That is far more often than not treated as a whole. Yet there has been no suggestion in either of those cases under this Bill that there should be only one river authority. The hydrological homogeneity may be more formidable, but about that I have no means, I must admit, of countering what the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, has said.

I feel, however, that I am on much securer ground when I deal with my noble friend's other two points. First of all, he admitted that both of the existing areas on their own have very considerable resources in the line of rateable value. He said that this was not the only point. But the noble Earl will know very well from the Bill itself that, for the purposes of the conservation schemes, the income from the charging schemes is only one part of the income the river authority will receive. Another and, I am sure, equally if not more important part comes from precepts on the rating authorities in the area. So it seems to me that their rateable value resources are of the greatest importance in establishing their financial independence; and this my noble friend has conceded to me.

Then he says that there is need for a unified management, because the large full-time staff that would result from that would be fully justified. There we come to the split between the two functions of the river authority. The new functions, the conservation functions, have received applause from my noble friend himself. He says that, so far as conservation and planning ahead are concerned, both of these two river boards as they at present exist have done a very fine job. He then goes on to say: "Oh, but of course they may not continue to do so. They may not continue to be adequate". Why does the noble Earl think that? What grounds has he for supposing that, if they have shown themselves capable in the past, they will not show themselves just as capable in the future?

On the other side, my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve had a most ingenious and, to me, new way of dealing with this difficulty of the more local and specialised problems. But whatever may be the provisions of paragraph 13 of Schedule 3, there is no doubt whatever that the local problems would remain even more local, and even more apt to be dealt with by the people who know the true facts of the locality, if these two river boards were not amalgamated, and if there were two river authorities each of whom could co-opt under Schedule 3.

Therefore, it seems to rile that no case has been made out. I put it in this way because, although there is no learned judge to decide upon whom the proof must lie, I can just as easily argue that my noble friend must convince the Committee why there should be amalgamation, as he can argue that I should convince the Committee that it should not take place. I think that I aim far from satisfied that the Amendment which my noble friend Lord Swinton put down is not a good one on the whole, if we take the balance both of the general principles and of the attempt that has been made to apply them in this particular case. I hope that your Lordships will not have been swayed by my noble friend to such a degree that you cannot support me in suggesting that this Amendment should be carried.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

6.57 p.m.

LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH moved to omit the reference to the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority, and to insert instead:

"The Yorkshire Ouse River Authority The Yorkshire Ouse River Board area
The Hull and East Yorkshire River Authority Hull and East Yorkshire River Board area"

The noble Lord said: The debate which has just taken place has dealt in principle with at any rate part of the ideas behind this Amendment. The area which we discussed under the previous Amendment differs in a number of respects from the one with which I am concerned, and it is not inappropriate that this Amendment dealing with another area should be considered. May I make it clear that I am not moving this Amendment as a Party spokesman? We are not all of one mind here, as noble Lords on the other side are not all of one mind. Therefore, there may well be differences of opinion, and it would not be fair on my part to try to commit all my colleagues on the matter.

I happen to have the honour of being High Steward of the City and County of Kingston upon Hull, a very fine city of the North. They, together with the Hull and East Yorkshire River Board, have asked me to move this Amendment this afternoon; and the parish councils of the area are also supporting it. If I mention parish councils, I hope that I shall not be met with the retort as somebody said during the previous discussion, "Well, don't be parish-minded". If anything were less dike a parish than the two proposed areas, I should like to meet it. Therefore, it is ridiculous to talk about people—including the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment—being parish-minded, in view of the size of the areas which are involved.

I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount who moved the last Amendment, as I think we all can, on the great ability and clarity with which he moved it, and the ability and clarity with which he contributed the final speech in the debate. Having done that, I will also congratulate the Minister of State at the Home Office, who speaks for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, on the great ability with which he delivered the views and possibly the arguments supplied by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I think he did it very well. I had at times to deliver Departmental briefs myself in my time. I always hated it; but I must say I never did it so well as the noble Earl did on this occasion. In fact, if one had not had that experience one would not have known that it was a Departmental brief that he was expounding at all, and I can pay him no higher compliment than that.

Here the difficulty is that there are these two river boards, the Hull and East Yorkshire River Board and the Ouse River Board. Between them, they cover a vast area. The number of members of the authority to be set up is strictly, and no doubt deliberately, limited, with the result that it will be exceedingly difficult to get appropriate representation, not only of the various local authorities but of the water undertakers and the other bodies which are concerned. It must also be remembered that the new amalgamated bodies are going to have a great variety of powers, as indeed has been stressed by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe: water conservation, fishing, drainage and pollution. I am much obliged to my noble friend Lord Williams of Barnburgh for his prompting there: I have found it difficult to keep them all in my mind. They are a considerable variety of functions. Therefore I do not know that that makes a case for making the areas bigger, because it increases the work of the authority—and, make no mistake about it, the distances to be travelled to the headquarters are going to be very considerable. It is all very well to pick out an extreme case and say that they are not all Eke that. That is true; but there will be enough long-distance travelling to be wearying and to be time-taking of the people concerned. Therefore, people in this area say that the area is too big and that it is beyond what is reasonable to seize upon as an administrative unit of this sort—and I must say that I think they are right.

The Hull and East Yorkshire River Board itself says: In conclusion, it is submitted that the areas of the two boards proposed to be amalgamated are not hydrologically considered consistent in character, and therefore do not meet with the stipulation set out in the White Paper; secondly that the present board is financially sound, employs time, qualified staff and could undertake the functions of a river authority without undue financial strain; thirdly, its conservancy problems will fully justify the employment of all necessary technical staff, and are peculiar to this area and not akin to the Yorkshire Ouse; and, lastly, the representation from this area on a combined board would be totally inadequate. From what I know of the area and the general problems of public representation, I must say that I think they have a case which ought not to be easily or lightly set aside.

The trouble with the attitude which has been taken by the Government—and I think it is rather particularly special to this Department, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—is that they have developed a passion for the largest areas they can conceive, and for making them less local in character. I think they have overdone it, and they are continuing to overdo it in various ways. The Minister of State said that there was a complaint on the part of the river boards that the Minister did not convene something like a round table meeting with the representatives of the river boards, round a table at the Ministry or elsewhere, so that they could talk about it. The Minister of State said that they could not see their way to concede that, and his defence seemed to be, "If we had called them together, it is tolerably certain that they would not have agreed with us"—that is, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I must say it is a new argument for ineffective consultation with local authorities, to say that, if you bring them together, it must be upon the basis that they are going to agree with the Minister and the Department, and that they are disqualified from meeting together if they are not going to agree with the Department. I thought that was a highly bureaucratic attitude for not bringing the river authorities round the table: to say, as the Minister of State said, that if they had done that they would not have agreed with them. I am afraid that is another characteristic which is not untypical of this somewhat curious Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

I think that the Department has gone too fat. I think the Minister of State went too far. He proved such a case for these big areas that he nearly proved a case for making the whole set-up national instead of what it is in character. I hesitated about "what it is", because it is not local. It is not even regional; these areas are bigger than regions. Therefore, having gone so far, I should have thought that he had made a case for water conservation and acquisition to be a national concern, for getting the water supplies which are needed. There would be no need to take over the distribution; that could be done by the counties and county borough councils, so as to give them proper local government functions. I am not saying that this is necessarily right, and it does not necessarily represent the views of the river board on behalf of whom I have been speaking; but he proved such a case for bigness that he might as well have gone the whole hog and made it a national concern instead of this extra-regional concern, which it is. You can prove too much in arguing these cases, and I think that that is what the noble Earl did.

I move this Amendment on behalf of these people who very sincerely think that it is right, who are worried about the vast area it is proposed to set up and who are not convinced that this argument of uniformity and of bigness short of national administration is right; and I hope that the Amendment may commend itself to the Committee's sympathetic consideration.

Amendment moved—

Page 101, leave out lines 9 to 12 and insert—

"The Yorkshire Ouse River Authority The Yorkshire Ouse River Board area
The Hull arid East Yorkshire River Authority The Hull and East Yorkshire River Board area"
—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)

7.8 p.m.


This is the second of five comparable Amendments, and I am therefore not proposing to repeat, and I do not think your Lordships would wish me to repeat, anything of the general and background arguments so powerfully propounded by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. As a Yorkshireman replying to this particular Amendment, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, on representing, however misguided we think he may be, what he regards as the interests of some of my fellow York-shit-omen in the East Riding. I would certainly agree that he has taken very seriously the duties of the High Steward of Hull, established in 1661, which include giving the House of Lords, his aid and assistance in relation to legislative measures, either local or general, calculated to promote the interests of the town. We think this is such a measure, and I am glad that he followed his duty and joined in. I hope that his efforts may also be recognised in the traditional manner by the presentation of a cask of ale, Or else something which jingles rather than clinks in a silk purse. The noble Lord has suggested—but I may be mistaken—that Hull had not been given the opportunity of consultation. All the river boards affected by this Bill and by the White Paper knew that they could make representation after the publication of the White Paper. In fact the deputation from Hull came to London and did so.


That is quite true. What I was criticising was the attitude of the Minister of State, as against a proposition which had apparently been made, that the Ministry should meet all the river boards together so that they could have a general discussion. He said that that would have been wrong because the river boards would not have agreed with the Ministry, and they do not like to meet people who do not agree with them. So they had representations one by one, and I agree they saw representatives of the city of Hull separately. But that is also part of their doctrine of "Divide and conquer" —or flood.


I appreciate that the consultation was not in the precise form that the noble Lord would have liked; but I thought I ought to make it clear that a form of consultation was offered and did, in fact, take place. There are two main reasons for seeking this amalgamation which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, does not like. The first relates to the water resources and the second to organisation. As to water resources, the Government think it essential to secure that the water resources contained in the Yorkshire Wolds and in the rivers which flow from them are managed as a whole. We see positive advantages for water conservation in having a united area in this part of England. Looking at the map, I think it is difficult not to see those advantages at first sight. The Hull area is, as it were, a large mouthful taken out of the Yorkshire Ouse area. As to water resources, that is, I think, the plainest, first-sight, prima facie evidence.

As to organisation, there is also no doubt in our mind that East Yorkshire by itself is too small a unit to justify the employment of the technical staff required in the water conservation business of a river authority; too small to sustain the cost of water conservation organisation without its resulting in charges which are needlessly high to those living in the area. I did not notice that the noble Lord pointed out that only one party to this arrangement is discontented. The Hull and East Yorkshire Board have deployed their arguments against it both in correspondence and in discussion with the Departments and these arguments have to-day been powerfully reinforced by the noble Lord. But it is worth noting, before proceeding further, that the Yorkshire Ouse River Board is quite content that the river authority which supersedes them should have control over a wider area. They see no difficulty in the provision of land drainage, fisheries and prevention of pollution services in a territory which has been increased by the 800 square miles and 190 miles of main river contained at present in the Hull and East Yorkshire area.

The matter of water resources of the Hull and East Yorkshire area is one on which the river boards and the Government Departments concerned do not see eye to eye. The river board maintain, and this argument was repeated by the noble Lord to-day, that the East Yorkshire-Hull area is hydrologically self-contained. Investigations made some years ago by the Geological Survey, on which the Government rely for advice, have shown that one-third of the flow from the springs of the Wolds goes westwards into the Ouse area and not eastwards into the Hull area; and the Government have no doubt the proper management of these resources requires them to be brought as a whole under the purview of a single authority. That is the hydrological point. It is true that, so far as can be seen at the moment, public water supplies in the Hull and East Yorkshire area may be safely secured even for a period of years from within the area, without any major capital works.

The project for bringing water into the area from outside has been a live issue in the past and the city of Hull obtained powers, and kept them alive for a number of years, to impound and convey water from the North Riding. A project of that sort may well arise again. In different circumstances other areas may be fed from the resources in the Wolds. We cannot accept that the situation of the present should dictate things for the future. We are planning ahead to meet future problems. We cannot accept that this area should contract out of the national give-and-take upon which the adequacy of water supplies for the occupants of England and Wales must depend.

It has been implied by the noble Lord that these two areas proposed for amalgamation are so different in the character of the people and the land that they cannot successfully be put together. That, of course, involves a question of local patriotism, and one does well to tread delicately. I, as a Yorkshireman of the West Riding, am quite unaware of any antipathy of this kind. But even if there were such antipathy or distrust, I should ask if it is possible to settle this business of comprehensive water management and national oversight of resources, or the use of water resources, on the basis of local patriotism—and I should submit it is not.

As to the characteristics of the land, I may tread here more firmly. I have heard what has been argued in the past about the dissimilarity of the two river boards and their areas—the highly industrial Yorkshire Ouse area and the very rural East Yorkshire area. However, the highly industrial Yorkshire area was able to produce a very distinguished Minister of Agriculture. There are vast acres of farming land in the Yorkshire Ouse area and there are lowland drainage problems in the hands of the 50-odd internal drainage boards of the Ouse area which are comparable with what one finds in East Yorkshire. The urban problems of the Ouse are many and widespread. The population of Sheffield and Leeds is larger than that of Hull. The population of Bradford is approximately equal to that of Hull. So there are certainly those in the present Yorkshire Ouse area who have great experience and great sympathy for the problems of those living in Hull. It is true that these problems in East Yorkshire are concentrated in one town, but there are no fundamental dissimilarities which make amalgamation of the two areas unworkable.

There is some fear that the important drainage works to which I have referred cannot be satisfactorily managed along with that of the Yorkshire Ouse area. Put bluntly, it is that the drainage of East Yorkshire cannot be managed from Leeds and the local contact with farmers and industrialists would be lost.

But my right honourable friend and I should not be supporting this proposed amalgamation area if we were not satisfied that the execution of land drainage works and fishery administration would not suffer.

Attention has been drawn on previous occasions in the Committee to the powers which river authorities will have to establish committees and co-opt others on these committees. We are quite positive that adequate means of handling this work can be found. I recognise, of course, that a city such as Hull, where the containment of water built up by a high tide is a growing problem, would be especially sensitive to changes in the organisation for flood prevention, but there are existing examples where this sort of arrangement has proved workable. The present Trent Area River Board illustrates the case where a powerful inland local authority, Birmingham, contributes to the tidal defences of the river Trent, within whose catchment area it lies.

As to land drainage, there is no alteration in the Bill in the powers and duties of internal drainage boards. The fears expressed about the well being of drainage and fisheries under the proposed new dispensation spring from the size of the combined area and the representation which would be afforded on the authority. The matter of representation, of course, is of some concern to the city of Hull. The new river authority will certainly be smaller than the bodies it has to succeed, which muster 62 members between them. There is bound to be a reduction of the numerical strength of the representation from any local authority or from any one of the interests now on the river board, but this does not mean that their interests will be less well protected.

Arrangements for the institution of the authority will be made by the Ministers of Housing and Agriculture, after consultation with those concerned, and local authority representation will be settled fairly between the local authorities as a reflection of the size of the contribution they make to the income of the river authority. Admittedly, it is unlikely that Hull itself will have more than two or three members on the new authority. The situation will certainly differ from the present, where Hull has a representation of eight to the East Riding's four.

Because that is different, it does not mean that it is unfair. I think that we should not confuse these two things. Hull will not be less well treated than any other city.

I have been dwelling upon, these arguments to show that the combined area would not be too large. What about the contrary point, which is that the Hull and East Yorkshire area, left on its own, would be too small? It has been argued, as part of the case for the continued separateness of the Hull and East Yorkshire area, that its conservation problems will fully justify the employment of all the necessary technical staff and that the present Board is financially sound and can undertake the new functions of the river authority without strain.

These arguments were all adduced by the river board in their representations. The first of these points—that the conservation problems of the area justify the separate handling of them—is a little contradictory to what has been advanced about its self-sufficiency in water supply. Be that as it may, the Government do not accept that the area would afford enough conservation works to justify the separate employment of a staff for itself. It would be a unit of half the size that is in general thought likely should be the minimum set-up for water conservation purposes. In any case, water conservation is not something to Which small units are suited. It must be planned with a broad look. I think that this has emerged throughout every stage of the debate. The decisions required must turn on proper hydrological advice and that advice is scarcer than has sometimes been thought in the course of this debate.

My noble friend has earlier explained to your Lordships the general factors Which bear on this matter of the size of the areas chosen for water conservation purposes and particularly what effect the size of the area will have upon the effective use of the technical skills required. The Hull and East Yorkshire area, with its 800,000 square miles and 190 miles of main river and pennyworth production of £23,110, is too small for the functions of a river authority as envisaged for the future. It is altogether too far down the league table in each of these respects. To give it a water conservation staff would be wasteful of the skills which I have said are so scarce and would put a local burden of cost upon the users of water in the area which they should not be asked to carry alone. It is really, I think, no kind of argument to say that as two river authorities share the responsibility on the South side of the Humber, there can well be two on the North side. This was not brought up by the noble Lord, but it has been said.

All these amalgamation proposals rest on an appreciation of local facts. I have sought to show that there are positive advantages to be gained from amalgamation for the purposes of drainage and the new functions placed upon the river authorities, and that the suspected disadvantages will not arise. It is true that there will be changes that neither the county areas nor the city of Hull may welcome at first blush, but there is no unfairness in this to either and no invasion of the responsibility of the city as a statutory water undertaker. I hope that the proposal now in the Bill may become accepted as a sound one and that, as a result of what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, for all his eloquence, will not feel like pressing the Amendment.


I am sure that we are all much obliged for the full exposition of the Government's point of view which the noble Lord has given us. I wonder if he could give me this undertaking? Would he make representations to the Minister that the matter should be looked at again between now and Report stage or, at any rate, between now and when the Bill leaves this House for another place?


I may be wrong, but I have not the sense that that would be the wish of the Committee as a whole. Naturally, I respect the wishes of the noble Lord himself, but even he is unable to sway me.


I do not want to startle the noble Lord into thinking that I am going to deliver a speech. I can confess readily that when I saw this Bill my first thought was that, instead of there being fewer river authorities, as some noble Lords have suggested throughout our discussions, we should really need more river authorities, in view of the increased obligations imposed upon them. It has been brought out several times during the afternoon that, if we get areas that are too large, we are going to provide a sizeable problem for members of these authorities who have to attend the meetings.

After listening carefully to the debate this afternoon, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the Government have reached just about the night balance. But unless the noble Lord who has just spoken had satisfied me that the East Yorkshire area was too large from a financial point of view and was not quite so easy from the water conservation point of view, I should have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth. But having reached that conclusion, and since at least noble Lords on these Benches are not necessarily always thinking alike, like some noble Lords opposite who occasionally slip up here and there, forgetting their duty to their Whips, I can say this. I think the Minister has made out a reasonably good case for this amalgamation.

I should go no way at all with those noble Lords who think in terms of fourteen river authorities, despite the fact that during the last fourteen years river boards north, south, east and west have done an extremely fine job of work. I can quite understand why the Yorkshire Ouse River Board feel competent to amalgamate with the East Riding Hull Board, because of the work they have put in over the past fourteen years. If the drainage had not been undertaken as early as it was and the work that has been done had not been carried out over the past fourteen years, then I should have felt that landing this new responsibility on to river boards would have been piling on the agony; that looking after drainage, prevention, of pollution, fisheries and so on, plus water conservation, would have been too much, and members of these boards would have had almost a full-time job; and nobody, I am sure, wants to see that. But since a good deal of useful, constructive and helpful work has taken place, particularly with drainage, members will not be burdened in the 'sixties as they were in the 'fifties when they were doing the job for which they were appointed.

I do not think I could have gone into the Lobby with either side on this Amendment, and, as the noble Lord who moved the Amendment has merely asked the Government to look at the problem again and would be satisfied with that, I shall also content myself with being satisfied if the noble Lord will ask his right honourable friend to look at the matter between now and the later stage.


I am very pleased that this request was not made with any hint of a threat, and that being so, I will naturally take pleasure in putting the views of noble Lords and their words before my right honourable friend; but I cannot feel that this will bear the sort of fruits that both noble Lords would desire.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

7.33 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH moved to delete the reference to the Sussex River Authority and to substitute:

"The East Sussex River Authority. The East Sussex River Board Area.
The West Sussex River Authority. The West Sussex River Board Area."

The noble Earl said: I have consulted with my noble friend Lord Woolton and he has asked me if I would move this Amendment, on which I have done a little work in his absence. I do not propose to detain your Lordships for long over it, but there are certain arguments which I think should be restated. They follow very much on the same lines as those of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross and of the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and I was hoping to have considerable support. But I think I should reiterate certain of the points which I made when we were discussing Clause 3 (2) of the Bill on that foggy afternoon the week before last.

My noble friend Lord Woolton and I still consider that it would be folly on the part of Parliament to provide the sort of unnecessary, costly and complicated official machinery which would have to be brought into being if the East and West Sussex River Boards were amalgamated for the various reasons, geographical and hydrological, which I gave in discussing Clause 3: the fact that the rivers flow north and south and that the roads go in the same direction. For those reasons, the existing organisations of the two river boards—and I underline the word "organisations" of the river boards—not the river boards themselves, would have to remain in being. I might mention, in parenthesis, that the East Sussex River Board have only just built a fine new headquarters at Hailsham, which would obviously continue to be used. In addition to that headquarters, there would now have to be not only the headquarters in West Sussex, but a third and new combined headquarters, this third echelon. This would have also to be created, presumably in the Brighton area, and a further staff recruited for it. Unlike the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, in the case of Northumbria, in regard to Sussex this would mean not fewer but more hands under this scheme of amalgamation. I only wish that Professor Parkinson were a Member of your Lordships' House or was permitted to express his view on this subject.

As I told your Lordships when speaking on the Amendment to Clause 3, the existing two river boards in Sussex have been performing their functions admirably and have been congratulated by the Ministries concerned. What is the point of creating an additional body which will cost the ratepayers (and it can be only the ratepayers, unless the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has his way and the Minister is empowered to make grants) at least another £50,000 a year? Both river boards are on record as not wanting the amalgamation, and I cannot for the life of me see what we shall gain from it. Although I did not press the Amendment to Clause 3, I hope that the Government will also think again about holding a public local inquiry to consider this proposed amalgamation. I was hoping that if the Government will not reconsider the question of the amalgamation, other noble Lords, led by my noble friend Lord Woolton and my other noble friends, including Lord Hawke, Lord Chorley and Lord Burden, would follow me into the Division Lobby.

As your Lordships know, Clause 10 makes provision for the alteration of areas and the designation of new areas after the holding of a public inquiry. I am still convinced that this is a reasonable way in which to deal with the proposed amalgamations. I find it difficult to capitulate in what has been described as this battle for the Brighton hump. So far as water conservation is concerned, the important new function relating to this would not be prejudiced by allowing these two areas to remain separate. But the new headquarters will still be charged with the duty of looking after land drainage, coastal defences, fisheries and the prevention of pollution. As I said on Clause 3, these functions require local interest and personal contact. They would be materially affected, and I would say seriously harmed, by any falling back in the standards achieved in the two existing areas.

Have the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food really gone into this question? I have the impression that they may not have done so, otherwise they would surely appreciate the damage that these amalgamations may do to the other import ant work—land drainage and the rest. I fear that the Ministry may have been somewhat bemused by the water conservation interest to the exclusion of other functions. The present standards have been achieved by working the two areas as separate units, and I believe that only in that way can they be worked efficiently and economically.

At this point I think I should refer to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, regarding the amalgamation of Sussex and Hampshire. I am even more appalled by this prospect. In the first place, the Hampshire River Board area extends to just this side of Bournemouth in the West and about ten miles South to Newbury. Secondly, the Hampshire board appears to be chiefly interested in looking after the game fishing, for which their rivers are quite important, but they appear to display comparatively little interest in land drainage and the other functions which I have already mentioned. Therefore, their organisation is quite different from that in West Sussex.

Having said all this, and having said that I did not wish to capitulate, I admit that I fully appreciated the cogent arguments of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the noble Lord. Lord Fleck, and others who have spoken in this debate, on the general question of amalgamation, or on the general issues which might be said to affect each case. In view of the general consensus of opinion which has been demonstrated in the moving of the previous Amendments, I do not intend to press the matter to a Division, although I think it is my duty formally to move it.

Amendment moved— Page 101, leave out lines 25 to 27 and insert the said new words.—(The Earl of Bessborough.)


I should like to say how much I agree with everything my noble friend has said. I am quite certain that, on an issue of such importance as this, when the House has already expressed its opinion on the first Amendment, no useful purpose would be served by our pressing our views to a Division. Therefore I am very glad that the noble Earl has decided not to do so.

7.43 p.m.


My noble friend has outlined almost all the arguments against this particular amalgamation, but I think there are one or two that remain. The existing boards, particularly the West Sussex board, are really drainage authorities. The water supply in Sussex consists of the great sponge of the Downs, and the river boards are concerned to see that the water gets away from the heavy Wealden clays, and that Sussex is not converted to what it was in the 17th century, which was an impenetrable swamp. As I said on a previous occasion, one must remember that the county is roughly 80 miles long, and as the major portion of the time of the officers of this board will consist in supervising minor drainage works on the small ditches and tributaries, they are going to be much too far from their headquarters if the headquarters are set up either in Hailsham or in Chichester. Moreover, one must also remember that Sussex farmers have discovered that it is profitable to irrigate their crops, and I think one will find that a great deal of the energies of these officers in future will have to be devoted to seeing that the farmers are not irrigating their crops when they are not allowed to do so. It is extremely difficult to do that if you are 40 or 50 miles away from your home base.

This Bill imposes what appears to be a comparatively new function on the combined hoard, and that is the production of a hydrometric scheme. This would appear to involve to a large extent a water survey of the Downs, which is the water-holding strata of Sussex. I should have thought it would have been perfectly possible for the boards to set up a combined unit to report to both boards on a hydrometric survey of Sussex as a whole, and the towns in particular. I think that would get over the Minister's objection to their remaining separate. I support my noble friend's Amendment.

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest care to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, who moved this Amendment so ably and, if I may say so, so eloquently. And I need hardly add that I have also read again the speech made on this subject at Second Reading by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, and the speech of my noble friend Lord Bessborough when, on our first Committee day, he moved the Amendment to strike out Clause 3. I am most grateful to both my noble friends for speaking with such brevity on this occasion, but I think it is only fair, in view of the arguments they have deployed, and which necessarily went unanswered on Second Reading and on Committee stage on a different clause, that they should receive the full Government answer this evening, even though the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough, did not go over all the arguments of the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, on a previous occasion.

There is one thing which has struck me very forcibly about the speeches of the noble Lords in relation to this proposed amalgamation of the East Sussex river authority and the West Sussex river authority, and I think I can say this without fear of contradiction. No hint whatsoever has been given that the people of East and West Sussex either dislike each other or go in fear of being taken over one by the other. That is a great gain and confirms everything that I know about Sussex and its people, which, I am happy to say, is a good deal. Although the two counties in which I live and have interests to-day are Norfolk and Northumberland, I can say with complete justification that, during my childhood and youth, Sussex was, after Norfolk, my home from home. I spent much time there with my grandparents and among my relations who still proliferate in that county. More recently I have renewed my contacts with Sussex, and I am a frequent visitor to its various parts. Therefore I know that its people are friendly and co-operative, and not given to petty jealousies. I respect their views in this matter under discussion, as represented to us by the two noble Earls, and I repeat that I am very glad their arguments are based on technical and economic grounds: for in these spheres logic must, and surely will, prevail; and logic, as I hope to prove, is upon my side.

Before turning to the technical and economic arguments. I should like to revert for a moment to the suggestion of my noble friends that a public inquiry should be held before this or any other amalgamation of river board areas is agreed to. As for the larger issue, I think the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, will agree with me that when he was moving the omission of Clause 3, he found the feeling of the House was against him, as a result of which he withdrew his Amendment. I do not think this issue can fairly be raised again—indeed, it has not been so raised, because we are now discussing the particular case of Sussex.

As for that case, although I know it does not give much comfort to either of the noble Earls, I should like to make it plain that the river boards of both East and West Sussex have had every opportunity to put over their views. In May, they sent in a joint memorandum to both Ministers concerned setting out their arguments against the proposed amalgamation. There was then correspondence at official level, followed by a meeting between representatives of the two boards and senior officers of the two Departments concerned, the Ministries of Housing and Local Government and of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There was then further correspondence, after which representatives of the two boards were seen in October by the Minister of Housing himself and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. There has been no wish or attempt, therefore, to ride roughshod over the two river boards or their representatives, or to do less than justice to their case. Their case has in fact, been most carefully considered and reconsidered, and the reasons for the decision to continue with this amalgamation are technical and economic, based upon logic and facts.

I turn now to the technical objections of the river boards. My noble friend Lord Woolton, at Second Reading, made great play with the well-known fact that there are a number of rivers flowing from North to South through East and West Sussex, curiously enough quite independently one from the other, and that they do not have their courses particularly close together. That is perfectly true, but the noble Earl overlooked the fact that it is expressly stated as Government policy that the new river authorities should not control just one river basin alone. The purpose of this is, in the words of paragraph 15 of the White Paper on Water Conservation, to secure and co-ordinate the promotion by river authorities of major conservation schemes, particularly schemes for the transfer of water from one river basin to another". Both noble Earls have also made considerable play with what I will call the "camel's hump", upon which lit appears that the good people of Brighton unwittingly, and no doubt most uncomfortably, are perched. According to my noble friends, this hump divides the people of Sussex inexorably and for all eternity, and must inevitably result in their never being able to share the water in the underground strata of the chalk Downs which lie upon either side of the "camel's hump". But even the camel, patient and long-suffering though it is, must eventually drink. And the people of Brighton, who even now have sufficient water only as a result of controlled pumping operations, are casting envious eyes to the West, although they are situated in East Sussex. What Brighton is doing now, the rest of Sussex will have to do in the future.

The main source of water in Sussex is the Chalk of the South Downs. From this most of the fast-growing coastal towns draw their supplies, and the chalk, of course, extends on both sides of the hump. Geological and meteorological conditions are identical in the two areas. A careful hydrometric study must be carried out in order to ascertain the quantities of water available, and abstraction of water must be controlled in the light of the results. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that there should be a combination of the present two organisations to carry out this survey really does not hold water because it is very difficult to serve two masters, and the job would be much better carried out centrally and by one organisation.

It may be true that the ground water does not flow through the chalk from one area to another. It is certainly true there is a considerable variation in the structure of the chalk and that the flow of water through it is not uniform. Therefore there is all the more reason why a system of controlled pumping should be developed, in order that boreholes can be rested in turn as the level of water sinks, and others brought into action as the level of water rises. The importance of this is, I suggest, highlighted when we remember that the population of Sussex has increased in the last ten years by nearly 20 per cent., and that a further increase over the next ten years of another 10 per cent. is expected.

It has been argued by the objectors that each area of Sussex will have sufficient conservation work to justify the employment of full-time technical staff. I would remind your Lordships that East Sussex is the smallest of the river board areas except for the Isle of Wight, and that, West Sussex is among the six smallest. Therefore, we deny the truth of this assertion that there would be sufficient conservation work in each area. Not only do we deny this, but we wish to emphasise once again the sheer difficulty of obtaining sufficient technical staff of the right calibre. What is needed at the top of the organisation are high-powered hydrologist engineers, and they are few and far between.

Apart from this difficulty, I hope that what I have just said on technical matters has convinced your Lordships of both the desirability and the necessity of managing the ground water in the Sussex chalk as a single unit. I would add that it would be uneconomic and wasteful to have two organisations carrying out the work which can be done with better effect by one organisation. I might add also, in view of the argument of my noble friends that the proposed amalgamation will result in administrative waste, that it does seem extraordinary that they should now propose to employ two full-time technical staffs when one would be sufficient.

That brings me to the argument of the movers of this Amendment, that the proposed amalgamation is wrong on economic grounds. They have suggested, quite without justification, that a three-tier staff will be necessary, and that the extra cost will amount to at least £50,000. The extra cost, if any, would not fall only on the ratepayers, for conservation work is designed to be self-supporting. In any case, I submit that my noble friends cannot substantiate either of these claims. In the first place, there are already in existence river board areas which are larger than the whole of Sussex, and they function very well on a two-tier system. There is no reason why headquarter staffs need be duplicated if this amalgamation goes through. Nor is there any reason why the area organisation of which each of the two existing river boards is so proud will have to go by the board—if I may be excused a rather bad pun.

Clearly, area organisations will be required; and the operations of land drainage, whose representatives are predominant on the existing boards, can be carried out equally well by co-option on to land drainage committees, which is allowed for in the Bill. Lord Sinclair of Cleeve made special reference to this in a very clear speech and showed that, far from being diminished, these land drainage operations may even increase. They must certainly go on, and there is no reason to disrupt the present organisation. The idea that there would be a loss of local interest or local knowledge is quite erroneous, and this suggestion goes not only against the requirements of the particular situation, but also against all that I know of the community spirit and sense of pride of the people of Sussex.

In connection with the administrative problem and the probable installation of the central headquarters, it has been argued that the communications between East and West Sussex are so bad that it would hardly be possible for the headquarters officers to travel economically or speedily upon their various tasks. I know the roads of Sussex well, and while admitting that there are no great motorways from East to West, I say that to suggest that from a central point it takes a Sabbath Day's journey, or even longer, to get to any part of Sussex is really stretching the imagination beyond reason. Sussex is no Texas: and those who live there may well be thankful for that.

This question of communications has also been prayed in aid of the noble Lords who have expressed anxiety about the responsibilities in relation to coast protection and flooding. Coast protection and the prevention of erosion is, of course, the responsibility of the local authority concerned, and not of the river boards. As for the risk of flooding, this is confined to some 20 miles of the Sussex coast, at Pevensey and at Selsey. Noble Lords have said that -urgent decisions must be taken by an engineer with chief officer status, and cannot be left to the decision of a district officer. Even if this were true, it is surely insulting to suggest that an engineer of chief officer status, operating from headquarters, is incapable of giving the necessary direction to his district officer in emergency, or of taking charge of the situation within a very short time.

To sum up: noble Lords are well aware of the general arguments on amalgamations which have been elaborated so convincingly by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. Efficient and economic management of water resources will be facilitated by setting up a single authority in Sussex for the co-ordination of surface and underground supplies. First-class technical staff of the kind needed for water conservation are scarce and should not be squandered on smaller units than necessary. The proposed amalgamation will lead to economy, rather than the reverse, whereas to leave the river boards of Sussex as they are would mean that the charges falling on water consumers as a, result of the new functions of river authorities would be disproportionately high. And, finally, the interests of the people of Sussex, whether in respect of water conservation and future supplies, of land drainage and flood prevention, or of all the other matters with which river authorities will be concerned, will be fully protected. Indeed, we claim that not only will their future interests be better protected, but their prospects of future prosperity will be enhanced. Therefore, I hope my noble friends who have moved this Amendment will see fit to withdraw it.

8.1 p.m.


I must thank my noble friend Lord Hastings for a most complete and conscientious reply to the various points which have been raised by my noble friend Lord Woolton and myself. Whilst I cannot say that he has wholly convinced me on the various points to which he has given his reply, I have already told your Lordships that I should be willing to withdraw this Amendment. I must repeat that I deplore the fact that while the Government have engaged on certain consultations they have not agreed to a full local public inquiry. Moreover, I do not consider that the noble Lord has shown that the present river boards would not be fully capable of performing the functions required of them. Nor do I think that he has shown that it will not be more costly to establish this third headquarters, or that he has fully shown that it will give greater efficiency. Despite these qualms, I will withdraw the Amendment, in the hope that these points may be reconsidered before the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I think it was the understanding that we should adjourn our discussion in Committee at 8 o'clock this evening, and in view of that I beg to 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.

House adjourned at three minutes past eight o'clock.