§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Select Committee.1072
§ LORD KILLEARN rose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be committed that they should examine the Bill to see whether it would in any way affect the existing amenities of the town of Rye and also of the harbour of Rye as regards the use, navigation and mooring of vessels, and if so, what provision should be made for mitigating the position. The noble Lord said: I rise to lay before your Lordships the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Before proceeding further I would ask for your indulgence, because just before I came into this House I found that I had lost the key of the pouch in which I have all my papers and notes. If I am a little hesitant, therefore, I hope you will be, as I say, indulgent. I have, however, written down a few notes to which I shall refer.
The first point I should like to make is that this Motion is not mandatory. Your Lordships may have noted that similar Motions put down recently have had several forms. Each one of those forms I have prepared with the best technical advice I could obtain in the House. I have also ascertained that I shall be in order in putting down this Motion at all. The Lord Chairman of Committees has earlier to-day given quite a long dissertation on the right procedure, and he mentioned, in one of his passages, that it was in order, that it was right and proper, to move a Motion of this kind for an Instruction. So I am at least in order, if nothing else. But I was very anxious not to call it an "Instruction", but rather an invitation; because that is what I wanted to do: to invite a Select Committee, if and when appointed, to direct attention to these particular points. Apparently, however, it is in order that it should be an "Instruction". I suppose the idea is that your Lordships can only instruct a Select Committee whom you appoint —I do not know. I still feel that I should rather have preferred to "invite" the Committee to look at these matters.
May I turn now to my Motion? I am one of the staunchest supporters in your Lordships' House of the system of Select Committees. It has been my privilege to sit on a few of them; it is most impressive and most instructive, and the last thing I should wish to do is 1073 in any way to impair the efficiency or the authority of the Select Committees. At the same time, there are occasions, of course—it has been explained to-day by the Lord Chairman—when we have a right, as Members of this House, to call attention to particular points which strike us and, if necessary, to put down a Motion such as I have done.
The Motion, it seems to me, in its present form, is unexceptionable. What I am inviting your Lordships to do is to instruct the Committee to examine whether this Bill
would in any way affect the existing amenities of the town of Rye and also of the harbour of Rye as regards use, navigation and mooring of vessels, and if so, what provision should be made for mitigating the position.
I cannot see that anybody can really oppose those two principles. If they were to be opposed it would surely lead to a sinister suggestion: does anybody really propose to affect the existing amenities? To me it seems a rather curious idea that that should be possible —which, of course, brings me back to commending this wording to your Lordships.
In moving this Motion my intention is to invite the Select Committee—I use the word "invite" advisedly—to pay particular attention to the impact of this Bill on the ancient town of Rye, which is, if not the last, at any rate one of the last of the operational Cinque ports. From the Preamble to the Bill it is clear that the Promoters, who are the Kent River Board, have in mind one main object, the improvement of the drainage of certain land bordering the River Rother. The method chosen for achieving this improvement is the construction of a sluice and a lock near the mouth of the River Rother. I am sure that the people of Rye and district would be the last to oppose any scheme for the improvement of land drainage merely for the sake of doing so. On the other hand, they are entitled to expect that the River Board, who, one must remember, are also the port authority, will pay careful regard to Rye's access to the sea. This access is provided by the River Rother and its tributary, the River Tillingham. If anything were done to interfere with the navigation of the three rivers, much of the character and commercial usefulness 1074 of Rye would slowly but surely disappear.
Lest any impression exists that the ancient port is becoming defunct, I should mention that when I visited Rye a few days ago I observed in the port ten fishing trawlers, two of which came from Cornwall. I was told that last year the fish landed at the jetties known as the Fish Market were worth £20,000 sterling and that for many years past the fish in Rye Bay have never been more plentiful than they are at the present moment. The Strand quay, on the other side of the town, which is below the river, is regularly used for the landing of timber brought in by freighters up to 250 tons. Yacht-racing at Rye goes on all the year round, and in the summer the harbour is alive with pleasure craft of every size and rig. All this maritime activity is noticeably on the increase, despite the standard of mooring and bunkering facilities, which is said to fall a long way short of those provided by other harbour authorities, and which is controlled entirely by the Kent River Board. It is not surprising to find that the popularity of Rye is increasing, because such is the boom in sailing to-day that in some harbours further west it takes five years to obtain a mooring. Furthermore, Rye is the only natural harbour between Newhaven and Sandwich. It is because of the unique natural and historical advantages of Rye that this Bill assumes greater importance than an ordinary drainage measure.
My Lords, I do not know how many of you have been to Rye—I should imagine many of you—and I am sure that if you have you will agree with me that Rye is a unique place. It is not long since we had an historic debate in this House, with Lord Birkett making one of the best speeches of his life, about the preservation of Ullswater as a national asset. Ullswater lies in a National Park; Rye does not. But if anybody has any doubt about Rye a visit to the town will dispel any doubts about its particular character. And if that is not enough there is a recently published book which I commend to your Lordships (I do not imagine you are hard up for reading), an enthralling book the title of which is The English Channel, written by a Mr. Williamson. He develops the story of how the 1075 Channel came to be at all, how it came up, first of all from the west, and then gradually from the east; how in fact we became an island. Then follows the history of the various régimes and reigns—the Romans, the establishment of the Saxon shore about which we have all heard vaguely in the past; and, later on, how the Cinque Ports were set up. And Rye played a great part in this history as from that time down.
I will not labour the point. It seems to me that we are a very odd people. First of all we talk about Ullswater, almost dispassionately; and now, in a smaller degree—I grant you a lesser degree—we are talking about Rye with no national feeling about it, no sense of emotion, of historical retrospect. That seems to me a most extraordinary thing. If this Bill goes through what will your Lordships be authorising? The River Rother will be turned into an agricultural drain. That is all. My Lords, it is not right.
You may ask how it is that I should be getting up and pleading this cause. The point is this. I am a near neighbour of Rye. I do not live there—I wish I did. But the feeling in the neighbourhood of Rye is very strong and I think very justified; and I felt this was one of the exceptional cases in which a Motion might be put down. I should still have preferred to put down the Motion in the form of an invitation and not an Instruction: I still stick to that, because that is what I mean. I should like an invitation to go to the Select Committee before whom the whole scheme will be pleaded, with learned counsel for the Promoters and for the Petitioners. The whole matter will be argued out fully; but I still feel that there are sometimes occasions on which a Member of this House not only could, but should, get up and make a special point. I beg to move.
Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be committed that they should examine the Bill to see whether it would in any way affect the existing amenities of the town of Rye and also of the harbour of Rye as regards the use, navigation and mooring of vessels, and if so, what provision should be made for mitigating the position.—(Lord Killearn.)1076
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, this Bill has fifty-one clauses and three Schedules; so it is a Bill of some length. Perhaps I could state its object quite shortly if I say that it is to improve the drainage of low-lying lands and to prevent tidal flooding; and it proposes to do this, again putting it quite shortly, by building a lock and a sluice across the River Rother at Rye, or a little below the town of Rye.
Unlike the two other Bills which we have been discussing to-day, this is an opposed Bill. There are three Petitions set down against this Bill: first, by the Port of Rye Protection Society, which I have been informed was formed ad hoc to oppose This Bill; secondly, by the Royal Yachting Association—here may I declare an interest, because I am one of the 13,000 members of that Association—and, thirdly, by a group of owners and occupiers of land in the neighbourhood which may be affected. The Instruction which the noble Lord has just moved would be to the Select Committee. He has described it rightly. The key word, as I see it, is the word "examine". I do not think the noble Lord need be unduly worried as to whether it is called an "Instruction" or an "invitation". Of course the word "Instruction" is a Parliamentary one, and the noble Lord will lose nothing if he will allow us to use that word instead of the word "invitation".
If this Instruction is passed the Select Committee will be in duty bound to examine the Bill, as he said, to see whether it would affect two things: first, the amenities of the town; and, secondly, the amenities of the harbour, having particular regard to navigation. May I just say here that with regard to this question of amenities I do not think that consideration of this Bill is quite so easy as the noble Lord thinks? He said in his speech," Can anybody oppose the amenities of such a place as Rye?" or words to that effect. I would respectfully remind him that the duty of Parliament in these cases is to consider whether, if there is injury to the amenities, it ought nevertheless to be allowed having regard to the public interest. As I see it, that is the duty of Parliament. It would be going too far, I submit, to say that once injury to amenities is proved, however 1077 small it may be, that is the end of the matter.
I hope it will not be thought from what I have just said that I am taking any sides in this matter, because it is my duty to be strictly neutral. But I wanted just to point out to the noble Lord, if I am right, that it is not quite such an easy question as from his speech he appeared to think. For example, every now and again the Electricity Authority puts up pylons in the countryside. Few people (I understand there are some) think that pylons improve the amenities; but, nevertheless, Parliament frequently authorises and allows the pylons to be put up, because of course Parliament considers in those cases that the injury to the amenities is outweighed by the public advantage. I am not saying that that applies to this Bill. It is not for me to say that; that is a matter for the Select Committee. I am only saying that in certain circumstances it might apply to this Bill.
Unless any of these three Petitions is withdrawn, the Select Committee will be obliged to consider the very points which the noble Lord has raised this afternoon —in fact, they will do that whether this Instruction is passed to-day or otherwise. Let me just try to prove my point by quoting quite shortly from two paragraphs in the Petitions. First, dealing with the amenities of the town, paragraph 16 of the Petition of the Protection Society says this:Your Petitioners object to the Bill because, … the construction of the works … would seriously detract from the amenities of the town of Rye.Need any of us fear on that that the point will not be fully considered? Surely, the issue is joined on the amenities to the town. Secondly, with regard to the harbour, paragraph 16 of the Petition of the Royal Yachting Association says this:Your Petitioners object to the Bill because … the construction of the works … would have the most serious consequences upon the use and operation of the port and harbour of Rye for navigation.Again, need any of us have the slightest fear that there will be any lack of consideration given to this point? And again I say, the issue is joined on the question of the amenities of the harbour.
The House may want to ask, what is gained by passing and agreeing to this Instruction to-day? As the noble Lord 1078 rightly says, it is not a mandatory Instruction. In my view, it is all the better for that. I am prepared to advise your Lordships that this Instruction can be accepted because it is in no way objectionable. It does not compel the Select Committee to alter the Bill in any respect. Therefore, I suggest to the House that it could be accepted, in spite of the fact that what the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, wants done must in any event be done upstairs by the Select Committee if justice is to be done both to the Promoters of and to the Petitioners against the Bill. It seems to me that if that objective of doing justice is achieved, then it is inevitable that these particular points must be thoroughly considered.
I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for drawing particular attention to these points and inviting the House to do so, and for putting down this Instruction. But I would remind the House that this is a most controversial Bill. It is, in my view, essentially one for a Select Committee; and the members who are appointed to sit on that Committee, whoever they may be, will not in any event be allowed to ignore the significance of the points which the noble Lord has properly and rightly put before the House. My Lords, I hope I have said enough by way of guidance to your Lordships. Whether this ought to be passed is a matter for your Lordships; but I, for my part, can see no objection to the passing of this Instruction.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I have no complaint to make about the manner in which the noble Lord moved his Motion; nor do I wish to suggest that he is not perfectly in order in doing so in the terms in which he did. My object in rising is to express my own feeling that Instructions of this kind are undesirable. Surely, when we set up a Select Committee we have confidence that they will do their job. When in fact the Select Committee are obliged by the very wording of the opposition that has been filed to have regard to the specific points, it seems not only unnecessary, but in my view objectionable, that they should be instructed to have regard to these points.
The noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees is always so fair and 1079 objective that I do not like disagreeing with him, but he took the view that this Instruction is unobjectionable. I think it is objectionable. If I were a member of the Select Committee and had this opposition to the Bill in front of me, I should strongly resent being told that I was to have regard to things which, in the normal course of events, I would have regard to. I should assume that the House had some special purpose in asking me to have regard to them; that, in fact, the House was leaning towards expressing some kind of sympathy with the points that were contained in the Instruction.
The noble Lord, the Lord Chairman, quite rightly said that there may be injury to amenity, but that is not necessarily fatal to the Bill. You must have regard to general public interest, and he gave some very pertinent examples. But if there is an Instruction contained in the Bill that the Committee are to have regard to something, surely they must pay some attention to that Instruction over and above the opposition that they will meet. They will say, "Parliament has specifically told us to have regard to these points", and there is a danger that they may attach undue emphasis to them. So I should hope that the noble Lord who has moved the Instruction, having achieved his purpose of ventilating the matter, being satisfied that it will inevitably be taken into consideration, will not think it necessary to overburden the thing by giving the Instruction. But if he presses his Motion, I must say, even if I am the only opposing voice in this House, that I shall have to vote against it, and that will be a great pity, because if the House refused an Instruction of this kind it might be regarded as damaging to the cause which the noble Lord has at heart; just as I think that, if it were to pass it, it might give improper emphasis to the point. I would appeal to the noble Lord not to press this Motion, now that he has put his case so fairly and ably and, in my view, achieved what he set out to achieve.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, I have no exception to take to the manner in which my noble friend Lord Killearn, has submitted his Motion to the House, 1080 and no one who knows Rye can fail to be charmed by its beauty and impressed by its historic associations. I intervene to give just a brief outline of the scheme and perhaps to show that the Promoters of the Bill are not vandals or Philistines who would willingly destroy anything of a traditional nature which we wish to preserve in our old England.
I ought, I suppose, like the Lord Chairman of Committees, to declare that I have a slight interest, inasmuch as I happen to be a Vice-President of the River Boards Association, which is, of course, interested in this Bill. This Bill is promoted, as has been said, by the Kent River Board, and its main purpose is to authorise the construction in the estuary of the River Rother of a sluice and lock and certain other works, including river walls and slipways, near the mouth of the river and south of the town of Rye.
The Board is the responsible body for land drainage purposes, and—this is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, may have had in his pouch but did not submit to your Lordships—in regard to the Rather valley and the adjacent areas draining into it, a large part of it is at, or only slightly above, the high tide level of the estuary of the river. In consequence, large areas of agricultural land in the valley are regularly subject to flooding. The gravity of this problem may be illustrated by the fact that in the latter part of 1960 more than 20,000 acres of land were inundated, and in the low-lying areas extensive floodwaters covered the land for periods stretching into months.
I am advised that the Kent River Board ever since its formation in 1950, have had under active consideration a number of schemes for improving the land drainage of the Rother valley area, and in this connection the fullest discussions have taken place with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The scheme eventually agreed upon in principle, of which the works proposed by the Bill form part, is divided, one part being for the improvement of the drainage of Shirley Moor, one of the inland areas of the river valley that has been most affected by flooding; and the other part is the construction of the sluice and lock in the estuary of the River Rother. These two 1081 parts are sought to be authorised by the Bill. The two parts of the scheme are interlocking, in that, by excluding the tide, the sluice and lock constructed side by side will increase the discharge from the river to the sea by more than 20 per centum. In addition, the works will afford protection against tidal flooding by making it possible to exclude abnormally high tides.
The harbour of Rye—and again this is a point which may have escaped my noble friend's notice—was originally under the jurisdiction of commissioners appointed under an. Act passed in the year 1797, but the revenue was inadequate to enable them to fulfil their functions. Therefore, in the year 1932 the undertaking of the commissioners was transferred to the Rother and Jury's Gut Catchment Board by a deed of arrangement made under Section 40 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. The functions of the said Catchment Board were transferred to the Kent River Board by the River Boards Act and the orders made thereunder, and the Board are now the harbour authority.
The harbour is a fishery harbour, as my noble friend said. It is also used by yachtsmen for recreational purposes. But the capacity of the harbour is strictly limited as regards both the number and the size of vessels which can utilise its facilities. The Board, however, intend to interfere with navigation no more than is necessary to enable them to carry out their proposals in regard to land drainage. It is for that reason that the lock for the passage of boats is to be constructed alongside the sluice, so that it will interfere as little as possible. Of course, the rights of navigation over so much of the channel as is enclosed by the sluice will obviously be extinguished. The lock, however, will accommodate all boats now using the estuary and the harbour of Rye, situate further up the river, except for a boat which uses the harbour for the importation of timber on about four occasions a year in the summer months, when it is expected that neither the sluice nor the lock gates will be closed.
It will, of course, be appreciated that, under the terms of the Bill, the opening and closing of the sluice and the lock will be at the discretion of the Board. But here again may I point out the care- 1082 ful way in which the Board have proceeded? There have been long discussions with the local authorities and other interests, and, as a result, agreement has been reached in principle. Without going into detail, Amendments to implement this agreement will be moved in the Select Committee, now that your Lordships have given the Bill a Second Reading.
I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, to bear in mind that since, the transfer of the harbour authority undertaking from the commissioners, its condition has been considerably improved. The revenue from the undertaking has been insufficient to pay for these improvements, or for ordinary maintenance. In consequence, they have been subsidised by funds paid by the Board and their predecessors, in their capacity of land drainage authority. Most of these funds have been provided by the ratepayers of the County of Kent. I do not say that they have not done that willingly, but in their precepts are included amounts for this very desirable work.
My Lords, I have an assurance that the Board intend to continue their policy of maintaining the harbour and its facilities, notwithstanding that the harbour revenue is insufficient for the purpose. The construction of the sluice and lock, and their operation, will have no appreciable effect on navigation by private boats or yachts; and, indeed, in some respects an improvement will be effected. Alternative facilities will be provided for those who have been displaced as a result of the construction work. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind the flooding, which, as I said, occurred in 1960, and which may happen again on any day in the future unless this work is put into operation. Substantial benefit to agriculture will result from the implementation of the proposals, but not at the expense of the yachting and other interests involved in the navigation of the harbour.
As has been rightly said, the Select Committee will examine all these points. There are three Petitions against the Bill and, with my noble friend Lord Silkin, I think that the passing of Instructions such as this, well-intentioned though they may be, is not a desirable practice for this House to induge in. There may 1083 be instances where it is necessary; but, after all, Select Committees have a long and arduous task to perform. Moreover, as my noble friend has pointed out on the wording of this Instruction, if it is negatived pit will have one effect, and if it is accepted it will probably have no effect at all, because the Committee will do their job—and I am sure will do it thoroughly. In the circumstances, perhaps the wisest thing for the House to do would be not to accept the Motion, knowing that the Select Committee will do their utmost to give effect to what is mentioned in the Motion and to many other points which will arise in consideration of the Bill.
§ 5.57 p.m.
My Lords, I rise simply because I happen to be a member of the East Sussex County Council, whose statutory duty it is to examine this Bill. We have various interests in connection with land drainage, and we appoint representatives to the Kent River Board. The planning authority are interested in amenity, and we have some rather more general responsibilities for looking after the navigational interests.
My Lords, we have exercised that duty. We have been over this Bill very carefully with the Promoters, and we have secured a number of undertakings in regard to Amendments in Committee, to which reference has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Burden. As these undertakings had been given, we did not see the necessity for petitioning or opposing this Bill, in the first instance, although we are reserving the right to do so in the House of Commons Select Committee, if necessary. I mention these facts only because my noble friend Lord Killearn made a number of strictures on this Bill, and the fact that we were not opposing it might lead some people to imagine that we had not been doing our duty.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, while greatly regretting my inability to agree with my noble friend the Lord Chairman, I wish to align myself very closely with what has been said from the opposite side of the House. I myself have never been enamoured of these Instructions which are moved to Committees. I 1084 know that they are in order, and I know that they are perfectly proper. But I myself have always thought, after a good many years' experience of Committee work upstairs, that they have an element of being objectionable in principle. I believe that, as a general rule, they serve no useful purpose. Indeed, I feel so strongly about it because I think that they inject a certain element of prejudice into the minds of what should be a completely unprejudiced Committee. The Select Committee is there for one purpose and for one purpose alone: that is, to examine every facet of and every implication in the Bill, and in my humble opinion they should not be saddled with these Instructions. I beg my noble friend sitting on the Cross Benches not to press this Motion.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, I fully agree with what my noble friend Lord Silkin has said about the undesirability of continually moving Instructions to tell Select Committees what they must do. However, following the speech of my noble friend Lord Burden it occurs to me that there are implications in this Bill which are more important than merely the interests of those persons who use the harbour of Rye. It strikes me that this is a case where there is a conflict between the interests of agriculture and the interests of a port and those who use that port.
In a sense, there is a national question at issue here because, according to my noble friend Lord Burden, the Promoters are making a considerable point of the fact that, as it is, the harbour is not economically self-supporting; that it does not pay its way. Are the Promoters therefore going to run the place on a commercial basis and spend only so much as they can afford without running into a deficit? In other words, are the River Board going to accept their responsibilities as a harbour authority? If so, they must surely maintain and improve the facilities of the harbour to allow for whatever traffic happens to use it. For instance, we were told by my noble friend Lord Burden, in a rather light-hearted sentence, that the lock being built in the harbour will accommodate all the ships that at present use the harbour except one, and that, it appears, is the only one that brings a 1085 commercial cargo. If this ship happens to want to come at a season of the year when the tides are such that the sluice has to be closed, then that ship is excluded from the harbour.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, on that point, may I assure my noble friend that the timber boat comes four times a year, and then always in the summer, when everything will be available for it.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
So my noble friend says, but it appears that the continued use of the harbour for commercial and transport purposes is a secondary consideration to the land drainage. It is conflicts such as this, my Lords, which obviously can be threshed out only by a body such as a Select Committee, which has plenty of time and which has the opportunity to hear fully developed the technical case on either side. I therefore hope that the Bill will go forward to the Select Committee. If after it comes back there is anything, objectionable in it, it is always open to your Lordships to discuss it and to criticise it on Third Reading.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I desire to say only a very few words about this matter, but there is one small point which concerns me a little. As I understood it, the tenor of the speech of the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman of Committees, was that this Instruction moved by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, was possibly a little superfluous in view of the existence of more than one Petition filed by persons who are very concerned about the amenity aspect of the matter. But I think we all know that the mortality rate of Petitions which are filed before the time that a Select Committee actually sits is in some cases extraordinarily high.
I have no reason to suppose that these Petitioners are likely to withdraw their Petitions in this case, but, my Lords, suppose that for one reason or another they did. Then, it seems to me, the attention of the Select Committee would no longer be riveted so closely upon the amenity aspect of this matter as would otherwise be the case if the Petitions remained outstanding and were argued by counsel before the Select Committee. For that reason, my Lords, in view of the possibility of the withdrawal of 1086 Petitions before the Select Committee sits, I feel that perhaps this Instruction might cease to look quite so superfluous as it may appear to some noble Lords who are here this evening.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I do not think I need say very much about this Bill, because I think that almost everything that could be said about it has been said. I must stress the fact that this is a Private Bill, and an opposed Private Bill at that, which means that it will be sent upstairs to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is unnecessary—indeed, it would be inappropriate—for me to deal in any detail with the merits of the Bill. What we are concerned with this afternoon is the merits of the Instruction to the Select Committee which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn.
Your Lordships have heard from the noble Lord that the proposals in the Bill are designed to empower the Kent River Board to construct a lock and sluice in the estuary of the Rother at Rye Harbour. Improvement works on the Rother further upstream have been assisting, and are continuing to assist, the drainage of Shirley Moor, and these works will almost certainly result in an increase in the flow of the Rother. Your Lordships have already heard about that aspect from the noble Lord, Lord Burden, who went into very considerable detail on the Bill, on its desired effects and, indeed, on its probable effects.
The construction of the sluice and lock would be designed to enable the river to receive this additional discharge of water at an increased rate. The lock and sluice could also form part of any larger subsequent drainage schemes which might be drawn up in this area. They could, in addition, afford protection against tidal floodings by making it possible to exclude abnormally high tides from the river. That, my Lords, very briefly, is the scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, referred to turning the Rother into an agricultural drain. My Lords it is not for me to pass any judgment this afternoon: the Select Committee will no doubt go into that. But I think I can at least say that an agricultural drain is a 1087 very necessary thing for the English countryside. The noble Earl, Earl Lucan, remarked, I think, that there appeared to be a conflict between agriculturists and users of the port, but this may not turn out to be so after examination by the Select Committee—and agricultural drains are not necessarily disadvantageous to the surrounding urban districts. But, as I say, I pass no judgment to-day.
The noble Lord is quite rightly concerned about the effects upon the existing amenities of the town of Rye, and also upon the harbour as regards the use, navigation and mooring of vessels. In so far as the construction of these works is concerned, I understand that it is the intention of the River Board to carry them out in two stages, and in such a way that it will not be necessary to close the river to navigation at any time, except possibly for an occasional day while the contractor is moving machinery. After the completion of the lock and sluice, it is intended that interference with the navigation of vessels will again be kept to the minimum. Another undertaking which, I understand, has been given by the River Board is that the present landing stages by the Fish Market, which are in a very dilapidated condition, will be put into a reasonable state of repair.
My Lords, these and other details will be threshed out by the Select Committee upstairs. As your Lordships have heard, there are three Petitioners, and I have no doubt that, in the course of their evidence, the question of fishermen's rights, navigation and general amenities, as well as the merits of the drainage schemes concerned, will be gone into most thoroughly. The Department for which my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is responsible will, of course, be submitting to the Select Committee its views upon the scheme from the point of view of land drainage and also from that of fishing. I am not, therefore, in a position to say any more about that this afternoon. In short, everything that the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, wishes the Select Committee to examine will in fact be examined whether this permissive Instruction is passed by the House or not. I think that point was made perfectly 1088 clear by the Lord Chairman of Committees when he spoke. These matters will be examined because the Bill is opposed and the Petitioners are concerned with those very matters with which the noble Lord is concerned. In addition, as I have said, the opinions of the Government Departments concerned —and I understand that will include the Ministry of Transport from the point of view of navigation—will also be expressed to the Select Committee.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to inquire whether the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, comprehending planning, will also be consulted?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I understand from my noble friend the Lord Chairman that they will report. I have not actually had a briefing on this occasion but I understand that they will be reporting. Therefore, my Lords, this permissive Instruction—the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, was "invitation" but one might call it either an invitation or an instruction—is in no way necessary for the protection of the town of Rye or of the harbour of Rye. That does not mean to say that I am not sympathetic with the noble Lord's interest in the matter, for it so happens that I know Rye and the harbour quite well, and was there only last week-end. My visit had nothing to do with this Bill, because in any case I visit Rye two or three times a year privately at my leisure. It is quite true that it is a lovely old town—I agree with all that the noble Lord said about it—full of charm and fascination, and beautifully sited. There are magnificent views both from the town and up towards it from far away across the marshes. But, nevertheless, if the noble Lord wishes to divide the House on this matter, I am bound to say that, in all the circumstances, I shall not be able to follow him into the Division Lobby for the reason that this permissive Instruction is not necessary. This is not the same as opposing an unobjectionable instruction, as he put it; it is simply because the Instruction is not necessary.
The noble Lord has heard already that he has opposition in this House if he divides and it might indeed be a pity if he were to divide and not to carry 1089 the House with him. But in point of fact I think that, whether the noble Lord wins or loses the Division, it will not materially affect the position. If he were simply to withdraw his Motion his main purpose would already have been fulfilled—namely, to draw the attention of the Select Committee to the matters mentioned in his Motion.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, we have had, to me, at any rate, an extraordinarily interesting debate. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part for the very friendly way in which they have received this Motion of mine. Even in the quarters which did not like it, it was received kindly. There is one point I want to be quite certain about. Lord Silkin said that he would go into the Lobby against it. I thought Lord Burden said that he would go into the Lobby for it.
§ LORD KILLEARN
Then I misheard. In any case, the hour is late and it is a very thin House. I do not know how many of your Lordships are here now, but I think very few. I feel that this matter has been very largely disposed of, not only by the speech we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, but by what the Lord Chairman of Committees said at the start. The point has been fully covered. If I won the Division, it would be all right; if I lost it, it would not do anybody much good—I think that is about what it comes to. Having had my say, and with a sympathetic listening from your Lordships, I feel that I have achieved my purpose. Presumably the Select Committee may read some of this debate in Hansard, but certainly they will have the Petitioners in front of them. So with your Lordships' consent, I will withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at seventeen minutes past six o'clock.