§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the need for a national water policy; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion which I have the honour to move is not one which arouses violent controversy or a very wide interest, judging by the number of speakers on the list. Indeed, it might even be described as dull. It has not attracted as many speakers as in the recent debates we had on the more exciting subjects of university grants or racial discrimination; and unless the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate is exceptionally political—but I do not anticipate that—there will be no Division at the end of the debate.
§ The subject is unexciting and dull until we have either too much or too little water, and in the last three years we have had both. The drought of 1959, which came in a season of maximum demand for water, was the result of the driest summer for nearly 250 years, and this was followed during 1960 by the heaviest rainfall on record for England and Wales, causing widespread flooding in Southern England and South Wales. Then the subject of water became exciting. In spite of these remarkable experiences in successive years, we have had no debate on water for exactly five years. We last debated it, if we may leave out the discussion on the Manchester Water Bill, which was 980 not really a debate on water at all, on May 29, 1957. The debate then was introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, and we had a well-informed discussion. I am afraid I cannot pretend that my qualifications for speaking, certainly for introducing this debate this afternoon, will be on a level with those of the speakers on that occasion.
§ It is sad to reflect that three of the speakers in that debate are no longer with us: Lord Waverley, Lord Glyn and Lord Haden-Guest. We shall miss them very much in this debate, because they made the most valuable contributions. It is further curious that not a single speaker who took part in that debate five years ago is down to speak this afternoon. All the speakers on that occasion were exceedingly critical of various Governments for failing to take action to deal with the increasing difficulties in connection with our water supply. The view taken generally was that the organisation for the supply and distribution was unsatisfactory, and that the governing Act, the Water Act, needed drastic revision.
§ The Government speaker on that occasion—and even he is not speaking this afternoon—informed the House that a Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee had been set up in 1955, which was to investigate the whole question. Its task was to consider the question of demand for water for all purposes, how far this demand was increasing and was likely to increase in future, and what action should be taken to meet the increasing demands, particularly by way of economies in the use of water, in the control over abstractions of surface water for agriculture, including, especially, irrigation, a great and increasing consumer of water, and for industry.
§ This Committee produced two Interim Reports, in 1959 and in 1960, and its Final Report was issued last December. These three Reports are most valuable contributions to our understanding of water problems, and the recommendations are sound and, in my view, broadly acceptable. The nation owes a very deep debt of gratitude to this Committee for their seven years of hard toil, and I hope that they will feel somewhat rewarded by the fact that these 981 Reports have not been pigeon-holed, as is too often the case, and that they have aroused great interest in water circles. Already the Government have produced a White Paper accepting many of their recommendations and have promised legislation to implement them in due course—whatever that may mean.
§ The Committee, however, have not been able to give a completely unequivocal answer to the question of whether our supply of water is sufficient to meet all likely demands, both present and future, all over the country. For one thing, full information as to all sources of supply, especially ground sources, is not available and these constitute our most important reserves. Nor do we know enough about the prospects of increased consumption. The future demands on water by industry, the Atomic Energy authorities, agriculture and, as I have said, especially irrigation are likely to be very high, and large, additional requirements will flow as we improve housing conditions by the clearance of slums and the rehousing of people in new dwellings with all modern sanitary conveniences.
§ These additional needs have not hitherto been assessed scientifically and on a nation-wide basis. Furthermore, neither our water requirements nor the supply of water are evenly distributed throughout the country. There is hardly a year when we do not have droughts and floods coming to this country. Rainfall is often higher in the West, in Wales and the North of England, while industry, the largest consumer of water, tends to congregate in the South, the South-East and the Midlands, where rainfall is less. A great deal of research is needed into finding economical methods of transferring water, sometimes over long distances, from areas where it is plentiful to areas Where there is a shortage.
§ Then, again, we ought to devise means by which we can store water when rainfall is high. I do not say that these means do not exist, but they do not exist to a satisfactory extent both for conservation to meet possible droughts and to provide immediately for the mitigation of floods. Nor have we done much in investigating the ways of economising in the use of water. We are, all of us, especially in urban areas, 982 inclined to take the supply of water for granted until we occasionally go short for watering our gardens. And as to quality, most people are completely un-discriminating on the question of the purity of our water supply. All these facts lead to the conclusion that we need a great deal more expert study and scientific research before we can take the comfortable and complacent view that we are blessed with enough rain to provide us with all the water we need or are likely to need. This research and study has not been, and could not be, effectively and economically carried out under the existing organisation of our water supply.
§ The Report of the Proudman Committee, the Final Report particularly, makes clear the defects in our water system as provided in the Water Act, 1945. They say that there is no machinery for promoting an active and comprehensive policy on a national basis for securing the conservation of water and the proper use of our water resources. So far as it is carried out under Section 14 of the Water Act, they say that it is inadequately done, in a piecemeal manner, by each separate water body, largely regardless of what is happening elsewhere. The Act gives no effective power of initiative to the Minister and does not deal with or control surplus water.
§ Then they say that there are too many authorities concerned with the supply and distribution of water; that there are 34 river boards for England and Wales; 400 drainage boards—and these cover less than 10 per cent. of the country; and there are about 600 water undertakings. Scotland, where there is a surplus of water, is administered, as in many other things, independently, no doubt for political and racial reasons; certainly not for economic reasons. Yet Scotland, where there is a considerably higher rainfall and less demand industrially for water, could make a substantial contribution to the future needs of England and Wales. The result of all this multiplicity of undertakings is that powers are limited; they are used in a haphazard manner, each exercising independent initiative to develop or not to develop their own resources according to their separate needs and policy and with little or no co-ordination. There is no machinery for transferring 983 surplus water from an area of abundance to an area where there is a shortage.
§ The same applies to planning and carrying out positive measures, centrally or locally, to conserve water resources or maintain rivers and streams in a wholesome state for the protection, health, recreation and amenities of the users. It is necessary, indeed it is vital, that information should be made available on all these matters. Research on the matters I have already mentioned, and on many others, such as quality, purity and suitability of water for particular industrial and domestic purposes, needs to be urgently carried out on a national scale and at the instigation of a central body.
All these defects on which the Committee have reported led them to a number of main conclusions which they set out in the Report. The first, in paragraph 148, was that
a central authority, accountable to the Minister, should be set up to promote an active policy for the conservation and proper use of the country's water resources.
§ This task, they say, would comprise among other things, the collecting and collating of information about our water requirements and resources on a national basis; integrating, and where necessary initiating, conservation schemes; allocating water resources between the areas of river authorities and the transfer of water from one area to another. This central authority would also, of course, undertake and commission research into all questions relating to the supply and the conservation of water, and would sponsor the programmes of the river authorities of capital expenditure.
§ Such an authority, the Committee say, would be responsible, for instance, for dealing with the problem of water for Manchester, which occupied the time of your Lordships some months ago. The onus would be on the new authority which they recommend to decide where Manchester should go for its water, and the anomaly of every local authority that is in need of water having to promote a Private Bill, with all the odium that is sometimes attached to it, would disappear. But this is, of course, on the assumption that the authority would have executive powers.
In the White Paper which has recently been published on this Report, the Government
say, in paragraph 50, that they see some objections to the executive type of authority recommended. I should like to examine these objections. They say, first:
It would be wrong for a body not accountable to Parliament to be able to direct river authorities to initiate works involving the spending of large sums of public money.
§ But, of course, there are many precedents for this kind of thing; and in any case the recommendation of the Proud-man Committee is that this executive body should be accountable to the Minister. That would mean that it would take the initiative in making the recommendations but that in the last resort, if large sums of money were involved which it would be against the country's financial policy to undertake, the Minister would have the last word. The essential thing, to my mind, and in the Committee's mind, was that the initiative should rest with this executive body and not with the Minister himself; nor should he be left to depend upon an Advisory Committee.
The next objection in the White Paper is:
It is not appropriate that the central body itself should execute conservation works.
§ No doubt the noble Earl who is to reply will explain that objection, if the Government still maintain it. But it seems to me no more inappropriate that this should be carried out by an executive body, accountable to the Minister, than that it should be carried out by the Minister himself. If, however, it is the Government's view that neither the Government nor an executive body should carry out these works in special cases, then I must confess that I fail to understand the purport of the White Paper at all. Because the White Paper, as I will explain later on, recommends that there should be 27 river authorities who will carry out the duties to which I have referred; and there are bound to be many cases where it will not be the function of any one of them to carry out work that would be in the interests of the whole country, and it must therefore be carried out centrally. Either the Minister will have to be responsible for it, or, in the view of the Committee, it must be a matter for an executive authority.
§ I cannot imagine, as I have said, that this central executive authority would 985 ever act in an important matter without consultation with the Minister and without getting his approval. All expenditure which would be incurred, either as a result of direction to the river authorities or as a result of the authority itself executing conservation works, is intended to be fully covered anyway by charges to the consumer. Therefore it is not in any case anticipated that the carrying out of such works would be a burden on the general public. It would be something which, as the Report explains, would be paid for by the consumers themselves.
§ The Government White Paper urges that the right course is to establish an expert body whose duty and powers would be advisory in character only, reserving to the Minister the power of direction and sanction of conservation works proposed by river authorities. I am bound to say that this is very much like the present position. At the present time the Minister has these powers, which in fact he has never adequately exercised. It is essential, if we are going to take the water problem seriously, that there should be some body whose job it would be to take the initiative and, where necessary, exercise executive powers.
§ According to the Government White Paper, the expert body which they suggest would consist of about six members, appointed mainly, if not wholly, on a part-time basis. Your Lordships may say this is a debating point, but the conception of undertaking national responsibility for the adequacy of our water supply on the basis of a part-time expert advisory committee of six members seems to me to fail entirely in understanding what is needed. It is timid and weak; it indicates, in my view, that the Government can have no serious intention to act, in this highly critical situation, with the energy and determination that is necessary. A part-time expert body would not be expected to act with vigour, partly because it was part-time, and partly because, as I have said, its duties would be advisory only. The Proudman Committee were emphatic and unanimous on this subject, and I would suggest that while, of course, we are under no obligation at any time to swallow the views of a Committee, we are bound to pay a good deal of respect 986 to the views of a Committee who sat for seven years; who included men and women who are expert in their subject; who were unanimous in their findings, and who have reported on this subject with great emphasis. I would ask the Minister to think again; to take a less timid approach, and to hesitate before finally deciding to disagree.
§ The second of the main recommendations of the Committee is the major change in the administration of the water resources of England and Wales. This involves the creation of comprehensive new authorities which are to be known as "river authorities", to manage the water resources, and river basins as well, and to be charged with a positive duty in water conservation, both surface and ground water. These will take the place of the existing 34 river authorities and, if I understand the Report correctly, also of the 400 drainage boards. The Government White Paper accepts this recommendation. But again they are unnecessarily timid.
The Report of the Committee contemplates the amalgamation of some of the existing bodies, and the incorporation of their powers and additional powers into the new authorities. The Government do the same; but they still retain far too many authorities for the purposes required, and in my view some of the new authorities should be much smaller to carry out the necessary duties. Instead of creating a small number of river authorites, they propose creating 27 new river authorities, leaving 20 of the existing authorities unchanged. In paragraph 104 of their Report the Committee said
that the criteria to be kept in mind are that the burden of work of each river authority should be such as to justify full-time expert staff, with proper facilities at their disposal and that the authority's financial resources should be sufficient to support them. The work of the river authorities … will demand a wide degree of professional and technical ability and experience in their staff.
§ In my view this staff will not be readily available in the numbers which will be needed by 27 river authorities. Furthermore, many of the authorities proposed in the White Paper would not have the financial resources to provide for a staff of the high quality envisaged. Here again, I suggest that the Government might look at the numbers to see whether they could not bring them 987 down to nearer, say, twelve or fourteen which is the number the Committee had in mind.
§ The Government also disagree with the majority of the Committee on the size of the membership of the river authorities. The Committee recommend the small number of about 10 to 15; the Government are thinking in terms of anything up to 21 to 31, and more in special cases. Again, I think the Committee are right. The work of the Committee will be of an executive nature; it will be far less deliberative than executive. There will be a high degree of technical skill required. While I appreciate that these river authorities will have the right to levy a precept on local authorities in respect of some of their financial resources, and that therefore local authorities should be represented on these river authorities, I doubt whether it is really essential, as the White Paper contemplates, that the local authority representatives should be in a majority. I think representation is right, but it seems that the weight of numbers should be on the side of the consumers of water, industry, agriculture and so on, rather than on the local authority side; and certainly I think that much smaller committees would be desirable.
§ Now I should like to say something about the water undertakers, the bodies responsible for the distribution of water, whose position is not seriously considered by the Report or in the White Paper. They number nearly 700. The last bulletin I had about them put, their number at 693, but I believe that that number has been reduced. They are constantly, although slowly, being reduced by amalgamation either voluntary or compulsory. I think that at one time there were something like 1,300 of them. But however they are reduced, and however rapidly it is done, the numbers are far too great. This small island of ours does not need anything of the order of many hundreds of water undertakers to supply us with the water we need. In my view, if we are to retain these water undertakers at all, their numbers should be cut down to something like the numbers of the river authorities.
§ I should like to ask the Government whether in their proposed legislation 988 they might not consider the possibility of conferring the functions of the distribution of water upon the river authorities themselves. I see no special reason—there may be some good reasons, but I certainly do not see them at first sight—why these two functions should be completely separated, the river authorities providing the water and the water undertakers supplying it, each having their own separate technical and other staffs. It is all very costly, especially in the numbers that exist at the moment. But even if substantially reduced, they are a heavy burden on the water consumer; and if we could cut down the cost by amalgamating the functions of the water undertakers with those of the river authorities I believe we should effect great economies. At any rate, I suggest that it is worthy of consideration. The Proudman Committee made no recommendation on the point, I imagine because they might have taken the view that it was outside their terms of reference.
§ A number of these water undertakings, I think about one-quarter of them, are privately owned. The noble Earl will be able to correct me if I am wrong. In any event, it seems to me anomalous that the provision of the most important commodity in the life of the community should be a matter for private profit, a factor obviously dominating and determining the policy of these bodies as it must be in the interests of their shareholders. Water should be regarded as a public service, publicly owned and managed. The question of providing a profit on capital and so on, while it is important, should be a secondary consideration, and this public service should not be dictated by the private profit motive.
§ There are other matters of importance such as finance, the quality of water, its suitability for industry and its purity, the prevention of waste and many others which time does not enable me to deal with to-day. They will all have to be considered very fully if and when in due course we get legislation on the subject. But I would mention one important and interesting recommendation which the Government have accepted in their White Paper: that both existing and new abstractions of water should be brought within licensing control. This, I take it, 989 is not intended to apply to consumption for domestic purposes but to industry and agriculture, and I think it is proper that there should be some control over the right of people to take their water from rivers and streams, or even from underground sources, without their having to account to anybody at all for what they take. I am very glad that the Government have seen their way to accept this particular recommendation.
§ I realise that I have given the Minister who is to reply a good many matters for consideration, but, after all, this is the purpose of a debate of this kind—that it may be possible in good time to influence the Government, even on major matters, before they finally make up their minds and present us with a fait accompli. I hope that the Government will give the various matters upon which I have touched serious thought and not lightly brush them aside. I have endeavoured to be as uncontroversial on this subject as possible, and in so far as I have been controversial it has not been in any way in a Party sense. By and large, I have agreed with the recommendations of the Proudman Committee, which is in no sense a Party Committee, and I hope that the Government will see their way to deal with the matter in exactly the same spirit. The subject of water, as I indicated at the outset, is of the greatest importance to the life, economy, welfare and happiness of the community, and deserves the fullest, most objective and courageous thought before action is taken. I sincerely hope that it will receive it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, I wonder whether I may be permitted to seek to qualify one remark made by my noble friend Lord Silkin in regard to the position of water supply in Scotland. Whatever the truth may be about the north-west of Scotland, the fact is that the large industrial belt of which Glasgow is the centre and which is concerned with the supply of water to almost one-third of the total of Scotland is by no means in the happy position in Which the rest of Scotland is supposed to be. It is true to say that Within only the last two or three years Glasgow has had to have an additional supply to its already large supply of water, and it is still concerned with adding to that supply. What is certainly 990 true of Glasgow is, I believe, almost equally true of Edinburgh. With that qualification, while agreeing with the general thesis of my noble friend, I hope your Lordships will feel my intervention has been useful.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, before I start on my few remarks I must declare that I have a certain interest in water supplies 'because at the present time I am, and indeed have been for a considerable number of years, a director of a statutory water company which operates in the Home Counties. There we have seen what the noble Lord referred to: the enormous increase in the demand for water. We do not get a great deal of industrial demand there, but we do get a very big domestic demand. With the increasing housing commitment the demand for water goes up every year, and, so far as one can see, there is no immediate possibility of its dropping off.
One thing I want to do this afternoon is to put out a suggestion, if only to knock it down again rather quickly. It has been said that one solution would be to go rather beyond what the Committee suggest and the White Paper recommends—that there should be a central authority—and that there should be some kind of national water grid made available rather on the lines of the electricity grid or in some ways similar to what has been done in the supply of gas. Although that sounds an attractive idea in theory, it has a certain number of grave drawbacks, one of Which is that it would be a very expensive thing to do. It is perfectly simple to transport electric current about the country, because it can be stepped up to a high voltage and carried in that way. In the same way gas can be compressed and carried in tubes, thus not taking up as much room as if it were not compressed. The trouble about water is that it is totally uncompressible. If you want to transport it about the country large, expensive aqueducts have to be constructed, and this is not a very simple thing to do.
Secondly, water occurs where God intended it to be, whereas, if you are going to manufacture electricity and gas, you can make them available where man wants them to be. The idea of what man wants and where the main 991 water supplies are situated are very different things. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the main supply of water in this country is to be found in the West of the Island, whereas the demand is greatest in the East, which is another serious complication. There is a third drawback, which is the difficulty of mixing waters. Waters do not always mix well because they contain very different chemical contents and it is not at all easy to mix all waters together. A certain number of them require quite elaborate forms of chemical treatment before they can be mixed, and sometimes the use of these chemicals in too great an amount may not be good for the consumer: therefore this rather restricts the amount of mixing of waters which can be done.
That does not mean that there could not be a great many of what one might call local grids for water. That is what I should like to see expanded on a much greater scale than now. I have one or two examples in mind. One is—if I am allowed to mention such a delicate subject—the question of the Manchester water supply from Thirlmere. We had a long discussion about Manchester a little while ago and I do not want to tread on any corns, but it was agreed long ago that when Manchester got their water from Thirlmere the local authorities on the line of the aqueduct should be able to obtain their water from the aqueduct, thus saving themselves a good deal of expense and bringing about an even distribution of water where it was most required.
The same thing occurs I think in regard to the Birmingham supply from Wales and also in regard to the Liverpool supply, which again comes from the Welsh mountains. One would like to see that sort of practice increased. There has been an example quite recently where a tunnel has just been completed under London to convey Thames water to Essex where there is a grave lack of water in very many parts of the county. One would like to see that kind of work carried out on a large scale. I think I am right in saying that there was a time when waterworks were extremely parochial in their outlook. I think that that is now passing and that they are far more prepared to 992 co-operate with one another for the greater good.
The noble Lord referred to the powers which the Government have in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—I think it is under Section 14 of the 1945 Water Act—where they can encourage water undertakings to amalgamate or, if necessary, compel them to do so. As the noble Lord said, the numbers have been reduced from about 1,100–1,300 to something over 600, but it seems to me—I agree very much with the noble Lord—the progress is far too slow. There are one or two cases which I have come across where negotiations have been going on for a very long time, five or six years. The general effect is that nothing happens at all. That is why I should like to support the idea of a central authority as mentioned by the Committee, and I think it would not be at all a bad idea to give it some kind of executive power, because the powers that already exist have been used so very rarely and so very slowly.
The noble Lord mentioned the large amount of money that might be saved from the amalgamation of water undertakers. That-indeed is true, but I wonder whether he was not being a trifle optimistic about the number of technical staff that might be saved, because if waters are coming from different sources—which would obviously be necessary no matter what kind of amalgamation you were going to have—it is necessary to keep skilled technical staff near the plant, to avoid contamination and all sorts of difficulties that may occur. So I rather doubt whether the technical staff, as opposed to the administrative staff, could be very much reduced if there were to be an extension of the amalgamation of companies and undertakings in that kind of way.
Another point to which I should like briefly to refer is whether or not one should preserve the statutory water companies. There again I have a certain prejudice in their favour, as I have already told your Lordships, because I worked for them for a very long time; but, so far as I can see, it does not very much matter if you have a well-run statutory water company or a well-run local authority. I can see no objection at all to amalgamating a local authority 993 with a statutory water company, provided Chat it is a good one, or amalgamating a statutory water company with a local authority if that is thought to be the best way. But I think it must be a matter of which will give the best kind of service, and we should not worry whether one is encouraging a statutory water company—which does not, after all, operate for profit. The amount of money it can give out in dividends is strictly limited by Act of Parliament and in a way it works very like a local authority.
I am sure that the thing to do is to encourage water undertakings to amalgamate and to join up together as quickly as they can; and not to try to impose some kind of national system on the country, because I think that would arouse a great deal of controversy. It would be very expensive and it might quite well waken up old and rather foolish antagonisms which are dying down, if indeed they are not already dead. Before sitting down I should like to say how much I support the noble Lord in his plea for a central authority, and I rather think that that authority should have executive power.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, the last time I spoke in your Lordships' House about water was when I moved the Second Reading of the Manchester Corporation Ball. After a long and at times emotional debate, the consideration of the water clauses was thrown out. One of the arguments against the consideration of those clauses was that Manchester was trying to "jump the gun", and should await the formulation of a national water policy which was just around the corner. We are supposed to have it now, in the Government White Paper, Water Conservation: England and Wales, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving us the opportunity of discussing it.
I think that a fair summary of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would be that he found the proposals of the Government timid—he used the word "timid" a good many times. I agree that there is some justification for his attitude, particularly in relation to the proposed central authority. The proposed constitution and duties of this body seem to me to be wide, but I think that its powers are insufficient. 994 What is needed is a strong central authority to formulate national policy, with powers to enforce it and to resolve in the national interest any conflicts between the various interested parities. I am in no way advocating nationalisation. As in the case of steel, I do not think that ownership is necessary. But some regulation, on the lines of the Iron and Steel Board, might usefully be applied to water. Therefore the central authority, in my view, should be composed of persons with knowledge and experience of water supply, including—and this is most important—industrial water supply in ail aspects of its use and disposal; and the authority should certainly have a full-time independent chairman.
Let us not forget that it is the industrial consumption of water which is increasing so rapidly. The Proudman Report estimated that from 1955 to 1960 this increase had been 5.2 per cent. annually for metered supplies only. As I pointed out in my speech on the Manchester Corporation Bill, industry is making great efforts to conserve supplies by recirculating and re-using water whenever possible; but there is a limit to this. I am reminded of a cartoon that I saw, many years ago. It was of some Army recruits washing themselves from buckets of water, and an angry sergeant was shouting at them: "Hurry up with that water! It is wanted for the tea." Industry cannot be expected to go quite so far as this in its economy, but it is getting very near it.
My Lords, I am sorry to refer again to the debate on the Second Reading of the Manchester Corporation Bill, but there was a good deal said then about the possibility of distillation of water. The cost of this is quite prohibitive. I am reliably informed that it is 10s. per thousand gallons, as against an average of 3s. per thousand gallons of treated water or potable water. In view of this, the only solution is to try to move the water from where it is abundant to where it is wanted; as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin said, from the North, from the West, to the South and the East. Incidentally, the White Paper deals only with England and Wales, but Scotland also must be brought into any realistic national water scheme. In spite of the difficulties of Glasgow, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, referred, 995 Scotland has plenty of good, soft water which should be brought across the Border.
It appears to be generally agreed that the proposed river authority areas are too numerous, and that some regrouping will be necessary. On this aspect of the problem, all noble Lords taking part in this debate will be interested to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, who has very wide experience of these matters. My personal opinion is, that the best plan would be for the Minister to set up the central authority first, so that it could carry out the necessary surveys as envisaged in paragraph 51 of the White Paper, and then make recommendations to the Minister as to the size and groupings of the river boards. I think this should be the general policy, but it may be that there are some cases where the problem is so urgent that river authorities, with suitably enlarged powers, should be formed at once.
My Lords, to carry out what is required to implement paragraph 51 of the Government White Paper will take a long time, so the sooner a start is made the better; and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will waste no time in introducing legislation. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, when he winds up the debate, will give us some indication of the timetable. Because, my Lords, many water undertakings are desperately worried about the future; so is industry, and so is Manchester.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence that I speak in this House for the first time. In the past, I have been highly critical of the composition and the functions of this Chamber, but that is not the main reason for my feelings of diffidence, because many Members more distinguished than I have come here bearing that very heavy burden. My main reason arises from the fact that for fourteen years I had the very great privilege of listening to debates in this House, and I learned of the high standards expected of, and achieved by, the Members of this Chamber. So I crave your Lordships' indulgence now, as I craved the indulgence of another place in November, 1945, when I made 996 another maiden speech from this very spot. I am sure that this has been said by so many of my noble friends that it might appear that we regard this particular spot as hallowed ground as a consequence of its being sanctified by our standing here.
But, my Lords, I am speaking to-day on this matter because of the tremendous importance that it has. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, refer to the fact that there is very little that we shall debate in the near future which will have a greater importance than this matter of water conservation. My interest stems from a general desire to see the necessary steps taken to prevent the awful consequences which would flow to the domestic, the industrial, the agricultural users from a grave shortage of water in this country. As the Proudman Report indicates, the use of water between 1955 and 1965 will have increased by 23 per cent.—almost a quarter; and I think it is a pretty safe guess that between the years 1965 and 1975 the increase will be very much greater than another quarter.
With that prospect in mind it seems to me that the preparation for those years must be made now. Now is the time to commence making these arrangements, though I feel that under the existing machinery the necessary arrangements cannot in fact be made. There is a multiplicity of statutory water undertakings—693 in this small island, leaving out Scotland—frequently involving the abstraction of water without too much regard for the others whose main safeguard in this connection lies only in opposition to Ministry orders or in opposition to Private Bills which these undertakings promote from time to time. So many authorities, so many interests, engage in activities which affect the use of water in this island, but as the Committee Report puts it:no single authority is responsible locally for co-ordinating the use and development of the water resources of a river basin as a whole, and there is no machinery for planning and executing measures locally or centrally to conserve the water resources in the general interest.It seems to me, my Lords, that here is a challenge which Parliament must meet.
My specific interest in this matter arises from the time when I represented 997 a part of Derbyshire. Three separate local bodies were promoting Private Bills to cover much the same areas for distributing and tapping the same sources of supply, They got their fighting blood up: they were all promoting Bills, and it looked like being a costly Parliamentary battle. Only the intervention of the Members of Parliament, who used their powers to block Bills, and the appeals to the good sense of the authorities eventually caused them to withdraw their Bills and arrive at a sensible compromise. I am not sure that the Parliamentary agents concerned were happy at our intervention, but certainly the local ratepayers were; for the result of our intervention was to save them very much money. The precept that would have fallen upon them, had this battle continued, would have been a very heavy one. They appreciated it to some extent; they did not appreciate it quite enough, because they turned me out at the next Election. That situation, my Lords, created by those competing authorities illustrates, I think, the stupidity of the existing arrangements for dealing with our water.
I had, too, some experience of the Private Bill Committees, where, in the squabble over compensation water and the bargaining to secure the unopposed passage of Bills, concessions and arrangements were made which we knew quite well would result in a serious waste of water. Each undertaking was concerned only with its own particular interests, only with its own particular little bits of supply, as it were. That is a situation which I hope will end when we have a Bill as a result of this White Paper. I hope that we shall end all this nonsense which we have seen in the past.
The last point I would make (and it really is the last; I hope that I shall not be like some preachers I know, who, having said "this is my last little word" went on for another hour. This can happen in Wales, as some of my honourable friends can tell you), is that flood prevention and water conservation are absolutely inseparable. The Report says:there is scope for a great deal of study and consideration of this problem to see whether means cannot be in time developed for combining measures for the conservation of water with those for the mitigation of floods.998 The Minister of Agriculture, in introducing the Land Drainage Bill, which is now the Land Drainage Act, 1961, saidif drainage systems up river are not matched by improvements lower down, they can, as we all know, result in worse flooding in the lower reaches.Many years ago I was engaged with my brother in hill farming in South Wales. We were 1,000 feet up, but we had a fairly large acreage of flat land which was very boggy—it was, in fact, a bog. It was like a sponge which soaked up water with the rainfall and gave it out, but very slowly. As I was walking over this piece of land with him one day, as farmers are apt to do, he said to me, "You know we shall never do anything with this ground so long as we have this stagnant water running all over the place." It was perhaps something of an Irish bull, but I knew what he meant. As a result of this discussion we set about the job of draining it, and the "sponge" disappeared. The rain flowed straight down the hill as it fell, adding to the problem of flooding below, and also, of course, preventing, to some extent, the conservation of water in that particular spot. As we do, as the result of land drainage and the rest, drain the "sponges", we shall not only be adding to the risk of flooding; we shall be adding to our lessening of the supplies to be drawn upon as the result of this slow coming off of the water.
Now, my Lords, it seems to me good sense that the Government propose in this White Paper that there should be river authorities for the positive conservation of water, and for its allocation between users; and, secondly, it is good sense that there should be a central authority. I must admit, with my noble friend, that I should have liked it to have very much greater authority than that which is proposed in the White Paper, and I should have liked to see, in its requirement of the things to be expected of the new authority, a greater stress on flood prevention and water conservation. I feel that perhaps a little more emphasis on this aspect of it should have been given. In conclusion, I am quite sure that the House will be grateful to the Proudman Committee for a job well done, for an excellent Report in every way. And for my part, and with the customary reservations of an Opposition Member, I welcome this 999 White Paper and look forward to the Bill which will follow from it.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
My Lords, before I say anything else, I am sure that all your Lordships who have heard him will wish me to express the pleasure with which we have listened to the maiden speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. He has had wide experience departmentally and he has had, as he admitted, the advantage of sitting in this place on many occasions before. He has made, if I may say so most respectfully, a most admirable maiden speech in these familiar and, I am sure, very friendly surroundings and I would offer him my very warm congratulations.
My Lords, I must declare an interest in two aspects of this problem: first, as regards supply; secondly, as regards industrial use of water. The first derives from my interest in, and connection with, a statutory water undertaking in the West of England; and the second from my connection with the Federation of British Industries. I am therefore familiar with the representations which have been made, and are being made, on this question by the British Waterworks Association and the Federation of British Industries, but I should like to explain that I am not speaking this afternoon in a representative capacity.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for introducing this Motion, which gives us the opportunity of bringing to your Lordships' attention certain points which ought to be considered before this draft legislation takes its final form. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for a very fair survey, if I may say so, of the general position. I am not going to pretend that I agree with everything he said about statutory water undertakings, but I may come to that later on. I think there are few who know this subject who would not agree with the proposition that the formulation and execution of a national water policy which, broadly, gives effect to the recommendations of the Proudman Committee, is an urgent and important matter; and I personally was delighted at the encomiums which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and other noble Lords who 1000 have spoken have paid to the Proudman Committee, who did a most admirable job.
I also believe that most of your Lordships welcome, as I do, the White Paper (Cmnd. 1693) in so far as it is evidence of the Government's wish to do something quickly in the desired direction. Nevertheless, I am afraid that a study of the indications of the Government's intentions given in that White Paper fails to convince me that what the Government at present have in mind is altogether sound in theory or likely to prove adequate to the needs in practice.
Let me say at once, lest I should appear to be offering a general criticism of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, that my own experience with the statutory water undertakings gives no ground for criticising that Department, either from the point of view of day-to-day dealings with the water division or the engineering division—they have in fact been uniformly helpful—or as regards its regrouping policy. I think it may be regretted that regrouping has not gone faster; but I doubt whether the slowness with which it has gone is by any means altogether the fault of the Minister. In fact, I think a great deal has been done, perhaps more than credit has already been given for, to reduce the number of statutory undertakings. The present figure, if my information is correct, is about 600 and there are under negotiation some 400 others. Therefore, I believe we are now within sight of the number of these undertakings coming down to what I would regard as the irreducible minimum.
I might also say here that I venture to think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, failed to take full regard of the fact that both municipal undertakings and the private undertakings are together largely governed by the provisions of the Rivers Act. They are not entirely free to do what they would like as regards rates and charges; they have to receive the approval of the Minister. The companies also have to receive approval of the Minister with regard to the raising of new capital.
There are various restrictions applicable both to private undertakings and to 1001 the municipal undertakings. As I believe has been pointed out, roughly 80 per cent. of the water supply is drawn through the municipal undertakings, and about 20 per cent. through the private undertakings. But, on the whole, leaving out the small ones which still remain to be amalgamated, these undertakings are business enterprises of very considerable magnitude and complication. They require considerable technical staff and considerable experience of the problems of abstraction, treatment and distribution. To attempt to land the river authorities with the responsibility of looking after and managing supply authorities, as suggested by the noble Lord, would be to place on these new bodies, who I hope will have a great deal to do, a perfectly intolerable burden which would not make for efficiency.
I ought perhaps to add that our experience with the river boards and their officials has also been very good. It is sometimes said that the river boards tend to regard conservation of water as a means of preventing its use rather than as a matter of developing its availability for the benefit of all who require it. I suppose there is just a germ of truth in that, because some of the functions which were assigned to them originally suggest this. But I think that a study of the functions of the river boards merely emphasises a point which I do not think is in dispute: that the river boards themselves are not geared to undertake the kind of responsibilities that we should like to see put on the new river authorities. What we are considering to-day, as I see it, is a further development of the national water policy so that existing and prospective requirements for water can be supplied economically and with as little detriment as possible to other river interests.
The statistical picture of the requirements of fresh water seems broadly (it is not very easy to get accurate figures about this) to be that industrial use, excluding the Central Electricity Board, is of the order of 3,000 million gallons a day, of which two-thirds comes from private and one-third from stautory undertakings. The public supply represents some 2,200 million gallons a day, of which 1,000 million gallons goes to industry. Then there is the enormous and unspecified demand for irrigation. This is unknown, partly because there is 1002 a lack of availability of water in certain areas where irrigation should be done and partly because irrigation schemes in this country are still in their infancy. But there is a very large potential requirement.
We are told that there is enough surface and ground water in this country to meet immediate and prospective requirements. We also know that in time—I do not take quite such a pessimistic view on this as my noble friend Lord Jessel—it may be possible, perhaps by developing and cheapening the process already established in the Channel Islands, of making seawater available for irrigation as well as for cooling, to reduce two of the major loads on the existing system. But that is not yet. Although there may be sufficient surface and ground water, we are not, under the existing arrangements, able to prevent wastage by floods, on the one hand, and occasional shortages, on the other. Neither are universal, but each tends to be recurrent in certain areas. Greater ability than we have at present to move water from one area to another is an obvious need.
The Proudman Committee said, in effect, that a national water grid is nonsense although it is physically conceivable, but implied clearly, as my noble friend Lord Amulree said, that a system of regional grids—the transfer of water between contiguous areas—makes sense. This leads me to the main argument that I wish to develop, on the outline of the organisation and its functions. This really takes up and amplifies a point which my noble friend Lord Jessel has already made. I would entirely support the conception of a central authority and river authorities, but I very much hope that the Government will be prepared to reconsider the scope, functions and composition of these bodies.
While I am sure that the outline in the White Paper has been carefully considered, I confess that to my, I hope, not too suspicious mind, it suggests a new arrangement which would cause the minimum of disturbance to Departmental or other interests; and which as to the areas of operation of the river authorities, is very much in line with the existing river board areas with the few and comparatively minor groupings 1003 listed in the Appendix of the White Paper. It might be expected to work smoothly, but it would not, as I see it, do the job required. The Ministers of Housing and Local Government and of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—for there is some degree of joint responsibility—are responsible to Parliament. In them, under Parliament, the final authority rests. But to make this new central authority almost wholly advisory is, to my mind, bound to result in argument and delay where quick and decisive action is essential. It could surely, by delegation, have some executive power, as various noble Lords have suggested.
Secondly, the proposal to appoint all the new river boards at once is fraught with dangers, on two counts. First, it involves defining the areas before the hydrological suveys are completed and, secondly, it ignores what I think is a very real difficulty, the difficulty of getting quickly all qualified scientific and technical staff which the authorities in total would require. Thirdly, I think that there should be some changes in the proposed composition of the river authorities. If I am not wearying your Lordships, I should like to be allowed to make some specific suggestions under these three headings.
As regards the functions of the central authority, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I much prefer the description of functions in paragraph 124 of the Proudman Report. I would emphasise the importance of the central authority's having direct contact with the river authorities and there being some definition of spheres—I do not think that there need be so many—within which, acting on authority delegated to it by the Ministers, it could give instructions to the river authorities. I would also emphasise the importance of further hydrological surveys and research.
As regards the composition of the central authority, if I may make the suggestion, I would like to see, first, a whole-time independent chairman and, secondly, the membership including one representative from each of the two Departments concerned, a civil engineer with experience of the construction work involved in the abstraction and 1004 storage of water, a scientist with hydro-logical experience, someone with experience of large-scale industrial operation and knowledge of the problems involved in the industrial use of water, someone with practical experience of the problems of the supply and distribution of water, an agriculturist with wide knowledge of land drainage and irrigation problems and a member with outside—that is extra-Departmental—financial experience. That makes a total of nine against the six suggested in the White Paper. I assume that the Departments would of course provide any legal assistance that might be required.
As regards the number and areas of the river authorities, there would appear to be wisdom in not fixing the pattern for the whole country until the necessary hydrological surveys have been completed and sufficient data about future regional requirements collected. Four hydrological surveys have been published in the last two years, covering the Severn basin, the Great Ouse basin, the Essex Rivers and Stour, and the Wear and Tees. But it can hardly be questioned that much more data is required for the country as a whole. These surveys have been undertaken by the Engineering Division of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I believe that they are excellent pieces of work, and within the limits of available data—in some cases, for example, measurement of flow has not gone on long enough for all data required to become available—they are as comprehensive as they could be.
There was also the Interim Survey for Wales and Monmouthshire, which has not been generally published. It is interesting to note in this connection that, having considered that, the Welsh Water Advisory Committee said in 1961 as regards the River Wye basin—and I quote:The Committee approve the use by abstraction, in England, of this exploitable surplus but only by the regulating system."—that is, with river flow controlled by regulating reservoirs.Subject to the proviso that part of the exploitable surplus of the Wye Catchment Area should be reserved to offset the deficit in the S.E. zone of Wales, the Committee feels that the Severn and Wye basins could provide the obvious Welsh resources to meet growing needs in England.1005 After the hydrological survey was completed for the River Severn basin, a Severn Water Resources Committee was set up. I think that the need for a large regulating reservoir in the head waters of the Severn was convincingly established. The difficulties already experienced of translating theory into practice—for example, in the apportionment of charges, to mention only one point—illustrate the need for the establishment of a river authority which can deal with these difficulties quickly. It may well be that it would be wise to link the Wye with the Severn in one authority. There may also be a case for linking the Nene and the Welland with the Great Ouse. The whole concept of the new conservation policy surely requires fewer authorities, each with a larger area than many of those prescribed in the Appendix to the White Paper. I have seen one suggestion for dividing the country into fourteen areas which seems to have much to commend it. But between now and final drafting, there will no doubt be opportunities for the Ministry to hear, if they are prepared to listen, detailed arguments for such a policy.
I would suggest now that consideration should be given to framing the legislation so that the central authority is appointed as soon as possible after the passing of the Act; that the river authorities are appointed by the Minister by Order; that two or three of the most urgent areas are defined and the authorities appointed as soon as possible, the appointment of the others to follow as and when the Minister, advised by the central authority, has sufficient data on which to base decisions. That would seem to me to be the practical approach to the problem.
As regards the composition of the river authorities, I would suggest this: again, an independent chairman, and 50 per cent. of the rest of the membership—not more—to be representative of the local authorities. I really do not see any justification for the complicated system of electoral colleges as outlined in the White Paper, or for the provision that at least four of the local authority membership should be representative of the rural district councils. I should have thought that the representation could be left to the county councils or 1006 county boroughs in proportions appropriate to the circumstances of each area. As regards the members to be appointed by the Minister, I see no reason to quarrel with the suggestions in paragraph 33 of the White Paper, save that I think it should be laid down, as perhaps it is intended, that the Minister will either accept nominations from the various interests concerned or will consult with them before making the appointments. I would further suggest that each river authority should have two sub-committees—one dealing with conservation, including, of course, availability for supply, and the other with the other functions now allocated to the river boards. Since the number of the main body should be, desirably, small, these sub-committees might have power to co-opt. Moreover, the appointment to the main body should provide for substitute or alternative members.
I have already talked too long and I apologise for that, but I felt that this was the appropriate time to raise this major question of organisation. I have discussed the plan I have endeavoured to describe with a number of people who have given a great deal of thought to the subject and whose practical knowledge is much greater than my own. It has not been criticised—on the whole, it has been generally welcomed. I hope, therefore, that if the Departments have considered something on these lines and for reasons which seemed to them good at the time they rejected it, they may at least give it further consideration before determining the lines on which the proposed legislation is drafted.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I should like, first of all, to be permitted to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve regarding the delightful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Champion, which denoted an extensive knowledge of the problems of water conservation.
After the introductory paragraphs, the White Paper, I think, rightly stresses the problems of rising demand. It seemed to me, however, to pay insufficient attention to the most likely fact that a rising demand will create increasing large-scale transfers of water. Your Lordships are no doubt well aware that the moisture 1007 of the Atlantic, carried to our shores by prevailing south-westerly winds, is deposited in the form of rain on the hills of Devon and Cornwall, the hills and mountains of Wales, the heights of Cumberland and Westmorland, and the heights of the Pennines. Therefore, in general, as has been mentioned before, there must be a movement of water from the north and west to the east and south. Water supplies for the large industrial areas must be taken from where nature deposits water to where it is actually needed. It is only the ordinary process of economic existence. I mention that because I particularly wish to draw the attention of your Lordships to some of the needs of industry.
As I said before, I think this White Paper does not refer sufficiently to the question of the transfer of water, which in effect is a steadily growing practice. With regard to a rising demand, I would stress that required for industrial use, in view of the more steadily rising demand of industry as compared with that for domestic purposes. As to the demand for the statutory water undertakers, my noble friend Lord Chesham said that in selected areas between 1955 and 1960 the average yearly increase of metered water—that is, mainly for industrial purposes—was 5.2 per cent. During those same years, however, the average yearly increase in industrial and domestic demand was only 2.4 per cent., which denotes the lesser increase in demand for domestic water. The industrial demand from private sources—that is, from boreholes, wells, streams, rivers, canals and so on—is greater than from the statutory water undertakers, and is increasing faster than the demand from these statutory water undertakers. I feel that supplies to industry from private sources should be assured—that is, guaranteed—by legislation. On the other hand, statutory water undertakers should be more ready to develop and supply non-potable water to industry.
I trust that my noble friend Lord Cornwallis, whom I see in his place, will agree with me when I say that in the papermaking industry fairly constant quality is more important than potability. The quality of the water is also of particular interest to the chemical industry—for instance, for process purposes, where water is used as a medium, 1008 and also, of course, for the important purpose of steam production. Here I should like to be permitted to quote a paragraph from the Proudman Report. Paragraph 128 reads as follows:A feature of the industrial demand for water is the attention given to the quality of water. Potability is not always important. The cardinal points of interest are suspended and dissolved solids, hardness, bio-chemical oxygen demand, permanganate value and metals. The treatment of unsuitable water to make it suitable for industrial purposes can be very costly, often more so than treatment for potability.I should like to turn to the question of the number and the composition of the river authorities, as well as to the question of the power of the central authority, which has been mentioned by so many of your Lordships before. In view of the fact that Her Majesty's Government recognise that there may be a case for a transfer of water between river authorities, as is mentioned in paragraph 51 (ii) of the White Paper, it would seem to me that there is an equally strong case for reducing the number of river authorities. I believe my noble friend the Minister will be aware of industry's proposals to reduce this number to fourteen. I should have thought that the effective conservation of water could be achieved only by larger authorities, which therefore means fewer river authorities. This would equally well apply to the question of the transfer of water, for larger, and therefore stronger, regional authorities could better achieve such transfers while ensuring that the various qualities of water available were properly allocated to the various users. It is possible, too, that large authorities might attract staff of a higher calibre.
As to the membership of these authorities—I know that the Government's proposals are a compromise between the minority recommendation and the majority recommendation of the Proud-man Committee—I feel that if they are not to be too cumbersome to be efficient and effective membership should be kept to a reasonable figure, and I believe that it is generally recognised, in industry at any rate, that a maximum of 24 would be a suitable figure. With regard to licensing, I would agree with the principle of control by means of a licensing system for surplus and underground water, providing that existing rights to draw water are very carefully considered. Though 1009 I appreciate that a review of the situation is necessary, I feel that, if it is humanly possible, existing rights should not be curtailed. I feel, too, with regard to the licence fee, that the maximum should be laid down by Statute.
Finally, I would say that it has been mentioned I think by all the speakers that the Proudmam Committee recommended a strong central authority. As was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jessel and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, it would appear that this central authority would be a somewhat timid body. It seems to lack teeth, if I may put it that way, for, as has already been mentioned, paragraph 51 says that this authority is primarily to be advisory in character.
One can assume, in view of this White Paper, that the Government recognise the need for promoting an active policy regarding the conservation and utilisation of the country's water resources, but their proposals give no power to the central authority to implement the policy that will become apparent when the central authority has built up a national picture of water resources and requirements. I should like to echo what has already been said: that the pursuance of an active policy by the central authority and the river boards could lack energy owing to an absence of appropriate machinery and Governmental authority for the issue by the central authority of directives to the regional authorities.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, owing to the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, I am allowed to gate-crash in the debating order, but I promise to be very brief, if for no other reason than that I have a meeting elsewhere. The Motion is to draw attention to the need for a national water policy. I take is that the whole House is in favour of that, as indeed the debate has shown. It has also, I think, shown that there are two angles to this question: the provision of water and the getting rid of an excess of water. There are those sides to the question, and I rise on the second issue, because it so happens that I am the chairman of an influential body in Rye who are much upset and disturbed by a pending Bill. 1010 It is the Kent River Board (Harbour of Rye) Bill, which, by your Lordships' direction was referred to a Select Committee here, and which I understand will be returning shortly from the Committee to your Lordships' House. When it does I may, or may not, have something to say.
My immediate point however—one which every speaker has stressed—is the need for co-ordination between those two aspects of the provision of water when it is insufficient and the getting rid of an excess of water where it is not wanted; and it is with that in mind that I say that this Kent River Board (Harbour of Rye) Bill, which, in fact, is a drainage Bill, ought to have come under the very close scrutiny of the Government Departments concerned. We are going to pay the very large sum of £400,000, I believe, to get rid of the problematical—I suppose almost certain—floods at different times, to get rid of excess water, whereas one or two Members of this House have emphasised the foolishness of doing that when here we have an excess of water that might be stored or somehow used. So my only reason for getting up was to point out, as the debate proceeded, that the Kent River Board (Harbour of Rye) Bill was really very intimately concerned with the whole question of a national water policy. That is all I wished to do. I wanted to call the attention of the noble Earl who will be replying to the fact that there is this problem; that it is not an easy one—indeed it is a very contentious one—and that it should be tackled. I leave it at that.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD AMHERST OF HACKNEY
My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for moving this important Motion. I certainly agreed with a great deal of what he said, although I could not go all the way with him. I am sure we are also extremely indebted to the Proudman Committee for the immense amount of work they have done, and for the Report they have produced. We are fortunate in these islands that they were able to say in paragraph 52 of their First Report:We are in no doubt that the rainfall in England and Wales is sufficient to ensure an adequate supply of water to all parts of the 1011 country provided that proper means of conservation and distribution are developed to keep pace with the growing demand.So that we start with a problem to which there is a solution.
Like many of your Lordships, I have sat on Private Bill Committees where there has been a question of the supply of water, and, when one realises the difficulty of supplying even our wettest parts, and the tremendously passionate feelings that are aroused, one has sometimes wondered whether, in fact, there was an adequate supply. It is therefore reassuring to be told that by a proper water policy we should be able to supply all our needs. I am sure we are all pleased that the Government have been able in such a short time to produce this White Paper. It shows that they are seized of the urgency of the problem, and we hope that, having taken note of the points raised in this debate, they will soon introduce legislation to implement the Report.
In general, I think the proposals are sound. I agree that one authority should look after all the aspects of water, and I agree that control should be localised in the way suggested—and here I am not, I am afraid, in complete agreement with a number of your Lordships. The main purpose of the debate is possibly to state where we find that we do not entirely agree with the White Paper, rather than to state where we agree with it. Therefore, I propose to deal chiefly with the points on which I have certain reservations or doubts.
The first is with regard to the constitution of the new authorities. I am glad that the Government have not adopted the majority proposals of the Proudman Committee. They proposed 10 to 15 members for each river authority. I think that those numbers were too small, and I think that the Government's proposal of 21 to 31 is much better. But I am not sure that they have gone far enough. River boards, which have more limited functions than the new authorities, have a membership of between 21 and 40, and even then it is not always easy to fit in all the interests. And here one is introducing a great many new people who have direct interests, such as the statutory water undertakings, industry, agriculture, which are, of course, mentioned in the Report. I 1012 realise that, since local authorities are to have fewer members on the new authorities, there is room for adjustment; but there will still be many new interests. I notice that the Government think that in some cases membership must be larger. They mention that in paragraph 30 of the White Paper. Perhaps the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, would expand that point a little and tell us in what cases he thinks the numbers should be larger. If we could be told in what sort of cases they envisage a large authority it would help one to make up one's mind. At the moment all I can say is that while the proposed membership in the White Paper may be sufficient, I am slightly doubtful.
Certainly I should feel happier if I could be assured that the new authorities will carry out many of their functions through committees. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, has already referred to this point. Although farmers are becoming larger and larger consumers of water as the practice of irrigation spreads, the chief agricultural interest must continue to be land drainage. It seems to me essential that land drainage should be managed by a body which has upon it people with an intimate knowledge of the whole locality. I think this can best be achieved, if the authorities are to be smaller, by delegating land drainage to a committee with power to co-opt outside members. In fact, I should go so far as to say that in my opinion this delegation should be mandatory. I understand that at the moment it is a general practice among river boards to operate through committees which are either area or functional, and that such committees already have the power of co-option. I hope that the new authorities will have at least the same powers. There are many precedents for making the setting up of committees mandatory. Under the Agriculture Act, 1947, the agriculture committees have a power to appoint committees, and the Minister has a power to direct that they shall set up committees.
I note, going through the White Paper, that there are numbers of matters falling within the purview of the new authorities on which reference has to be made to the Minister of Housing and Local 1013 Government. I do not object to this, but why is the Minister always the Minister of Housing and Local Government? Take one particular instance. One of the new duties of the new authorities will be to settle the minimum flow of water in water courses, and this flow is to be confirmed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. These minimum flows will be vital to land drainage, for they will affect the whole régime of rivers, and land drainage is the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture. Not only that; I should think that the technical knowledge on these points is to be found in the Ministry of Agriculture rather than in the other Ministry. Surely this is a matter where at least there should be some joint responsibility.
There are other matters on which a reference is made to the Minister. I do not wish to weary the House by citing all of them; I content myself with pointing out that where a river authority refuses to allow a surface abstraction there will be a right of appeal. One group of people who abstract a tremendous amount of water from the rivers are the farmers, and I should have thought that in this case, where there was a demand for water for agriculture, the Minister of Agriculture should come into that appeal.
I turn now, my Lords, to licences and charges. I welcome the fact that it is not proposed to license or control the taking of surface water by a riparian owner for domestic use or for normal farm use, other than irrigation, but I am a little puzzled by the fact that nothing is said about a licence fee. I wonder whether the Minister can say what is intended in that respect. A more important matter, however, is the proposal to charge for water. The idea of not having any uniform charge throughout the country, and to leave it to each authority to frame charges schemes, is undoubtedly sound; but I am disturbed by the proposal to charge for all abstractions. I am not arguing that people should get something for nothing, though one might suspect that that is just what the river authorities are going to get under the new White Paper proposals. I would agree at once that if these new authorities should do anything by way of conservation works, the effect of which is to provide more water, or to give a 1014 more regular supply, then the people who get this water should pay for it. This is really the old principle that operates in land drainage: that those who benefit pay.
I notice that the White Paper says, rightly enough, that the new authorities must have an income for management, control and the collection of information. But the White Paper gives no estimate of what this will cost. Until some estimate is given, the proposal to charge for water seems to be unjustified, because it may well be that all these expenses could be covered or defrayed out of the licence fees. Perhaps we shall be told later in the debate what is behind the Government's suggestion. I must admit that I am not impressed by the further argument in the White Paper, that unified control itself will produce more water.
The only other point on which I wish to touch is the proposal to set up a central advisory authority. I am glad that the proposal in the Proudman Report to have a central executive authority has not been adopted. I believe that, as the Government's White Paper suggests, the authority should be an advisory one. I do not think that a small, central, non-representative authority should have the power to give orders to the new authorities to carry out works for which local authorities and the people in the area, in the main, may have to pay. I am not quite sure at the moment, however, how all the technical advice from the advisers to the river authority and the advisers of the advisory committee and the advisers of the Minister will all be sorted out. To sum up, I think that one can say, subject to the few points I have mentioned, that the proposals in the White Paper are satisfactory.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, may I first apologise to the House for coming in late and therefore, I am afraid, not hearing the speech of the mover of this Motion and many others. For that I apologise, and therefore think it wise not to attempt to follow completely the debate; but perhaps I might be allowed to wander a little over some more general matters. I would say at once that I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put down this 1015 Motion in your Lordships' House, because there is no doubt that he has called attention to something that is of vital and urgent importance.
May I just take one section of the Water Act, 1945, and read it to your Lordships? Section 1 says:It shall be the duty of the Minister of Health … to promote the conservation and proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in England and Wales and to secure the effective execution by water undertakers under his control and direction, of a national policy relating to water.That was in the 1945 Act. I do not know that we have ever had a Minister who has carried out that policy. But I should like now to go a little further than that Act and leave out the words "by water undertakers". It seems to me that the Minister is then charged with a specific duty, and that he is not restricted to taking action only when something happens with one particular water undertaking. That seems to me to be an important point, and if we could bring that into our water policy now it might save a very great deal of trouble.
I must declare several interests because, first of all, I am a farmer, and therefore I am interested in all kinds of land drainage. Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, pointed out, I am a paper-maker, and therefore I use a tremendous amount of water in industry. Thirdly, and still worse, I suppose, I was for many years a member of a river board—in fact, I was vice-chairman of one for a long time.A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.Having been to the Chelsea Show yesterday, I realise why that is so. But we used to be called catchment boards, then river boards and now we are to be called river authorities. I do not believe that the change of name will really make any difference to the efficiency, or anything of that kind, of these particular bodies. What it is necessary to consider, however, is that the powers that these boards have had in the past—they may have been too small to have had others—were so restricted that the old catchment boards and river boards were limited in their thinking: they were getting rid of water much more than conserving it. If these bodies were given 1016 the power of conservation as well as the power to help the land and that sort of thing, we might have seen a very different state of affairs.
One other point that I am sure has been mentioned in this debate concerns the extent of the transfer of water from one area to another which is now taking place. It is becoming more and more important that that should be done. But I would point out that it is not only the transfer of water that is necessary; it is the transfer of population. When you transfer population you are also transferring industry, and I am sorry to say that a great deal of this movement is taking place without prior thought being given to the position in relation to water supply in the area concerned. In my own county there has recently been a large accretion of Londoners in the area of Edenbridge. Apart from this having trebled the prices of everything in that little country town, it is bound to bring about water problems. There is a very small river there, the Eden, and whether that is capable of dealing with what is envisaged—light industry and other water users—one does not know.
One day we woke up to find that a great refinery was being built on the Isle of Grain. I had to come here, much against my wishes in a way, and propound to your Lordships the Kent County Water Bill that was then before this House, because it was quite obvious that the small water undertaking would never be able to fulfil the duties required of it. I disliked having to do it; I loathed having to take away from someone something they had worked at and treasured and tried to make as efficient as possible. But it was such a necessity that I could not help doing what I did.
I would ask whether the Government realise just how much water can be got out of land if it is properly drained. In the last four years I have taken over some derelict land which I am trying to get back into a reasonable state of production. I neatly "herringboned" one field of about ten acres. We then had a good deal of rain, and I got an expert to measure the amount of water coming out of the central drainage pipe in that field. It was measured at over 400 gallons a minute, which was just going down a ditch into the beginnings of the River Medway. What happened to it 1017 after that, how much was lost on the way, I do not know; but if only there could be some conservation of the water that is running away, I think a great many of our water troubles would be overcome.
May I now say a word about the separate duties that are suggested in the White Paper? I am not at all sure in my own mind—though I do not like disagreeing with the noble Lord—that if you are going to appoint a central water authority it is much good its being purely advisory. If you appoint such a body to have an effect on water policy, it should have more than advisory powers. I imagine that before anything is done about the implementation of a water policy for the whole nation we shall debate the subject many times over, but that is my first impression. For example, I have long thought that the whole of the sea defences of this country should be under one control, and not left to small catchment area authorities to "hit or miss" as the case may be.
I am not quite happy about the point that was made in regard to giving certain duties to the Port of London Authority and the Thames Conservancy. Industry is using more and more water, and, being concerned with the Thames and the Medway, I see a tremendous increase of water consumption in those two areas. If industry were asked its views on this point, it would probably say that it would sooner have looking after water supplies somebody who knew something about industry. One finds it difficult to say whether the Thames Conservancy knows very much about industry, however brilliant it may be in carrying out its other duties. I would therefore ask the Government to look very carefully into those two intensely industrialised areas, to see whether that is the best way of dealing with the matter. May I once more apologise for having intervened in this way, and I would thank the noble Lords who stood aside to allow me to make my contribution.
§ 4.55 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I, too, apologise for intervening, but I will try to be very brief. My intervention arises not out of any sense of expertise on this subject, but rather from listening to various speeches by your Lordships this afternoon. I 1018 hope that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe will be able to set my mind at rest with regard to some of the problems which seem to me to have cropped up. When the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew attention to the need for a national policy for water, I am not altogether sure he did not pose a twofold question. Surely the basic problem is to be found in the definition the Proudman Committee gave to the word "conservation".
If I might remind your Lordships of paragraph 6 of their Report, the Committee had in mind, in using this word:the preservation, control and development of water resources (both surface and ground) by storage and other means and the prevention of pollution, to ensure that the largest possible amount of water is made available for all purposes in the most suitable and economical way whilst safeguarding legitimate interests.That, my Lords, seems to me to be the national water policy. What we are really talking about is the implementation of it. It is not so much that there is not sufficient water, because, as the Proudman Committee have said, there is. It is a question of its being in the wrong place, or of its being available at the wrong time. No doubt the real problem concerns the machinery that Her Majesty's Government are proposing to introduce to try to cure these defects. Therefore, it was with some interest that I looked at the proposed machinery set out in the White Paper.
Let me take one example of the sort of problem which must be causing trouble. The Proudman Committee in paragraph 39 of their Report, talking about the physical development of resources and what can be done in the development of a river basin as a whole, say this:Cases have arisen in the past where partial development of a catchment for a single limited purpose"—I think they mean, for instance, a statutory water undertaking—has curtailed or even prevented any future development of the remaining resources, and care should therefore be taken in future to see that reservoir catchments are developed in accordance with schemes which will eventually yield their full potentialities.That is no doubt all right for the future, but this problem is with us now, in a fairly urgent form; and I should have thought that not only were the future developments important, but also, if possible, mistakes which have already 1019 been made should be put right, where this can be done. Therefore, I should like my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to explain a little more what the various functions of the bodies are going to be. It seems to me that there can be four: the river authorities, at the bottom of the pyramid, who will be concerned in the first instance with local needs; above them the central authority; and, above them, again, the two Ministries. There will be a great diversity of people taking an interest in this. I think that what your Lordships are concerned to see is that all the enthusiasm and drive that should be put into this should not fall by the wayside through one authority leaving it to another to get on and do the job.
My Lords, who, in fact, would deal with the sort of case that I have quoted, where there has been some maladjustment in the previous development of a river basin? I suppose that in the first place it would be for the river authority; but if they failed to do so then above them it seems that the central authority must exercise a general oversight of the conservation organisation. That, presumably, means that the central authority will have some advice to give to the Ministry on the subject, and presumably, also, to the river board. Then, finally, at the top come the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who have two things; powers of direction and responsibility for sanctioning conservation works.
If a river board propose a scheme and the central authority—which has another general overseeing duty—approve, it then appears to have to go yet again to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for sanction. So that the scheme has to be examined three times by all the technical experts and with all the money spent and time expended in the process. At the end of it, while the Minister can sanction it he then has this power of direction. Does that word mean (and I should be very grateful for my noble friend's guidance on this) merely that he has a reserve power, in default, to see that something is done which should have been done by somebody else? Or is the mainspring of all this wider activity going to be the Minister, so that he has, as it were, the direction and the overall running 1020 of the matter from day to day? Because this seems to be the dichotomy of function with which your Lordships have been concerned this afternoon.
Again, my Lords, in another context I noted in the White Paper that the word "amenity", which is such a favourite in your Lordships' House, occurs in paragraph 41. I think the context is that there is a case for a contribution from the rates in respect of improvements, such as, presumably, an improvement to the River Mersey so that the oxygen content of the water is increased, the water is more pure, and possibly some fish might even be able to swim in it. There is, however, another context of the word "amenity", and in my experience this has occurred in connection with the hydro-electric schemes in Scotland. It certainly has occurred with reference to the Lake District and the Manchester Corporation's water policy controversy which we had the other day. It is under discussion in Scotland whether or not parts of that country are so beautiful and attractive that they should be exempt from development in the form of hydro-electric schemes. So, too, I imagine that many people would argue that the Lake District, and perhaps the Peak District of Derbyshire—I do not know—and parts of Wales should also have special treatment when it comes to putting in reservoirs, extracting water, varying the levels of lakes up and down and thereby leaving an ugly rim round the edge, and matters of that nature.
If one takes the Lake District alone, surely it is a matter which must be outside the responsibility of the new Cumberland and North Lancashire river authority, and is one that should be dealt with on a national basis. Who, my Lords, is going to do this? Who is going to say whether or not these areas—full of water though they may be—shall have particular protection? Is it the central authority, or is it the Minister, and how is he going to use his power of so-called direction?
In a smaller way, of course, the power given to the river authority to regulate minimum flows in rivers is no doubt important for land drainage, as my noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney said. But it is equally important that there should be some water in the river for 1021 people to look at when they go past. The question of the minimum flow, as in the case of compensation water for a hydro-electric scheme, is something that has a much wider importance than its effect on the downstream would-be takers of water from the river. There again, my Lords, I should have thought that oversight should be, as it were, condensed into one authority, or the central authority, and should not be allowed to fall between the two, as I have a suspicion it will do under this present scheme. Perhaps my noble friend will see whether he can relieve my mind on this.
I suppose that, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was drawn by the reference to Scotland, I, too, cannot resist the opportunity. I am sure that, when the central authority is making a study of our national resources of water, a similar study should be made in Scotland. I do not think your Lordships should blithely assume that England has an unlimited treasure house of water north of the Border on which, when it runs out of its own, it can draw to its heart's content. There are three points that I can think of. One of them is a small one, though it is important. At any rate in my part of the world, in Kincardineshire and Angus, there is to a large extent no public water supply at all at present, and just such a water supply from Loch Lee is being put in at the present time. I think that the same lack of public supply is to be found in other parts of Scotland, so there is quite a lot to be done domestically before we can start exporting.
Secondly, an enormous amount of the water is tied up, either in fact or potentially, with the hydro-electric developments, which are of great importance on their own and will not permit of too much meddling with the water upon which they depend. Thirdly, I should have thought the greatest difficulty of all is that, if the Proudman Committee have ruled out the idea of a national grid, for reasons of differing levels, distances and expense, it is surely a very considerable undertaking to draw water from, say (if I dare mention the idea), Loch Lomond and send it to Manchester. If your Lordships consider the geography over which the water would have to go, you will recall that there is Beattock Summit, and there is Shap—that is merely following the railway 1022 line—and I cannot believe that either of those would make it a very attractive or a very cheap product. My Lords, having thus been thrown off the track slightly to subjects North of the Border, I await with great interest what my noble friend will say when he replies.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should just like to take a few minutes of your Lordships' time in dotting some "i's" and crossing some "t's" in the excellent speech which the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat has made. Before I do so, however, as the first speaker from these Benches since we had the excellent and enjoyable maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Champion, I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate him. It will be obvious to those of us here that he adds considerably to our debating strength, and we are therefore very pleased to have him. I am quite sure that, after listening to his speech, everybody in your Lordships' House, on whichever Bench he sits, feels that the debating strength of your Lordships' House, too, has been much improved by his presence among us.
I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government to excuse me for not being able to be present when he makes his reply. As I have already explained to him, I have to catch a train in a few minutes, but I felt that, especially as until the speech of the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat nobody had referred to the amenities aspect of this problem, at any rate in its wider sense, it was very necessary that this point should in fact be made. I was grateful to the noble Viscount, not only for making the point, but for making it so clearly and so well. He asked: who is going to be responsible for looking after the beauties of the countryside, the beauties of England and Scotland, which are certainly as fine as the natural beauties of any part of the world? As the noble Lord pointed out, it is very easy to destroy a great deal of beauty very quickly with a reservoir scheme, if a great deal of trouble is not taken from the start to see that the thing is properly handled.
I am not at all sure that it will be satisfactory to leave the final word with the Minister. The trouble is that when 1023 these things get to the stage of coming to the Minister, too much work has been put in and too much money has very often been spent; and, however anxious the Minister and his civil servants may be to assist, they find it very difficult to do more than just a little tinkering. At that stage that may help a little, but certainly it cannot deal radically with a situation that went wrong at an earlier stage—and went wrong because the people who were concerned with it then were engineers, looking at the matter from a strictly professional point of view, and were not having a proper regard for the wider problem of the preservation of natural beauty.
We have seen this happen time after time. That great speech by the late noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, on the Manchester Water Works Bill, which those of us who were here had the pleasure—in retrospect, the melancholy pleasure—of listening to, brought out very clearly that unless one takes this matter in hand at the early stages it is too late. It is a great pity, to my mind, that the excellent Committee which was set up to discuss this matter was not strongly reinforced by representatives of the amenities movement, who, I am quite sure, would have been very glad to have assisted and to have given their advice. Then, perhaps, the matter could have been brought into proper conspectus.
I feel that the countryside aspect of the matter must be looked at from the very start. I am not, this afternoon, in a position to make concrete proposals on how that ought to be done, but I know that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, himself—and I think most Members of your Lordships' House know it as well as I do—is personally very interested in these problems. In the past he has given us much help. We have not always been able to see eye to eye with him, but his real interest in these problems is known to us all; and I hope he will be able to take back to his Minister a very strong representation of-opinion from this House—because I am quite sure, from my experience of your Lordships' views about these things, that you all agree with me about this matter—that this aspect of the matter must, we insist, be properly looked at, and properly looked at from the start.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords I should like at the outset to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Chorley and of other noble Lords in their congratulations to my noble friend Lord Champion. We knew that we had a strong recruit here and a very great help to us on this side; and, as my noble friend Lord Chorley has said, it is now clear to all your Lordships that our debates are going to be greatly strengthened by his presence.
This debate has ranged over a very wide area of the White Paper, and I am sure that by the time the noble Earl has finished his reply it will have ranged even wider; but there are two points which have been only lightly touched on and concerning which I should like to add a few words before dealing with a third, and most important, matter. First of all, there is the question of irrigation. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, who mentioned irrigation particularly, and I am very glad that he did, especially as he comes from a part of the world where the need for irrigation is not perhaps as great as it is in the eastern areas, from which I come. The unfortunate thing about irrigation from the agricultural point of view, is that, quite naturally, the need for it is greatest where the amount of water is least. Therefore it imposes a great strain upon our water supplies to acquire that water, to conserve it or to transport it to where it is needed. To ensure that that is properly carried out requires, I am convinced, not local planning but an overall national plan.
I do not want to labour this point but simply to give some indication of the magnitude of the problem. The Report of the Sub-Committee on The Growing Demand for Water itself suggests a figure rising to a maximum of 3,000 million gallons per day as being necessary to irrigate 1½ million acres of land. In an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph to-day, a figure as high as 8,000 million gallons was in fact given; but whether it is in fact the 8,000 million or the 3,000 million as mentioned in this Report, it is indeed a staggering amount of water. Compare that with the amount of water which has been extracted from public supplies, which (again I refer to page 7 of this Report) is estimated to have 1025 been 2,195 million gallons per day. in 1960. In other words, if irrigation reaches anything like the optimum amount that it might, it will mean that as much water is going to be required for irrigation as was required daily in 1960 for more normal domestic and industrial purposes. That is a pretty large amount to require. Admittedly, it is needed for only a short time of the year, but the demand comes at the peak period—the period of greatest strain upon our water resources.
In dealing with this matter of agricultural irrigation, I should like to point out the fantastic increases in yield which can be obtained by adequate irrigation. Of course, I am not sure that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, would at this stage be happy with any great increases in agricultural I yields in some respects: it may add still more to his headaches, and to those of his colleagues. But there is no question that it has been proved that sugar beet yields can be increased by anything up to 40 per cent. with suitable irrigation; that grass yields can be increased very easily by 100 per cent—and, thereby, that livestock Who eat the grass can be increased similarly; and that even grain yields, which do not respond so well to irrigation as do many other crops, can be increased by 30 to 40 per cent. also. So it is something which, if the water were available, would be of very great economic interest to agriculturists.
The second point I should like to touch on is something which was referred to in what, if I may say so, was the extremely interesting speech which came from the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis, and that is the question of the general location of industry with regard to water. If we are to have anything in the way of planning of our location of industry, this must be done in very close co-operation with the planning of our water supplies. I would even go so far as to say that it might be quite a useful weapon in the armoury of the noble Earl's Ministry if he were able to direct increased water supplies to certain areas where industry was, for other reasons, thought to toe desirable. There is no question about it but that at the present time our industry is located in the vast general London area and in the Midlands area—Manchester, Lancashire and spreading around from there—Where, 1026 although water supplies are strained at times, at least water is at the present moment available.
There are very strong reasons for trying to get as much of our industry away from those areas and for putting it in the more sparsely-populated districts, where perhaps there is a greater possibility of getting labour and where for general social reasons it is desirable to have more industry in any case. But, apart from any other difficulties there may be, there is this problem of water, and most of the areas which are at present more sparsely-populated and short of industry are, for some reason or another, also rather short of water. So, as I say, I suggest to the noble Earl that, as a weapon in helping him in the location of industry, the direction of water supplies might be of some use. As I came into the Chamber, I noticed on the tape outside that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in addressing a group of planners, told them that they were to "get down to earth". I am sure that that is sound advice, but they must also get down to water. I think that is something which has not been mentioned in this debate, but Which is of some importance in the general context of a national water policy.
May I now come to what seems to me to be the main consensus of opinion, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, concerning the central authority and whether there should in fact be a central authority or whether there should be merely an advisory body? In the first place, we already have an advisory body, the body which in fact was responsible for producing the Report on the Growing Demand for Water. There is a Central Advisory Water Committee, and although it undoubtedly has many functions which are different from those envisaged for the advisory body as described by the White Paper, it does not seem to me to be a really efficient set-up for the Minister to be responsible, or to have two separate high-powered bodies advising him on water policy. It seems to me—and, having listened to other noble Lords who have spoken with so much knowledge and experience of this matter, certainly my feelings in this are reinforced—that, however it is in fact arranged, there must be some executive body at the centre which has 1027 the power as well as the duty to direct and organise a national water policy for this country. Eventually it must be a Ministerial responsibility; but in my view—and, as I say, having listened to other noble Lords who have spoken, that view is strengthened—it would be best carried out by a form of central water authority, as recommended in the Committee's Report.
There are very many advantages in having this sort of organisation, and I will not repeat them all to your Lordships. Most of them have been mentioned, but there are just one or two which I could perhaps bring out once more. The main one seems to me to be the importance of being able to transfer water from one regional authority, from one river board, to another. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, I think quite rightly, spoke against a national grid. The Committee also advised against a national grid, and it seems that the arguments which they brought forward are far too strong to be refuted lightly. But, on the other hand, there is no question that there will be occasions—and there are already occasions—when water should be transported from one authority to another. If I may, I will quote from the Committee's recommendations in this respect. On page 12, in paragraph 43, they say:We were also advised that although cost was the chief objection to transporting water over long distances, this might nevertheless be a lesser difficulty than finding additional sites for reservoirs in some areas.They go on to say:The British Transport Commission pointed out that existing canals could sometimes be used to help to provide inter-connections between catchments.Accepting that there is a need for this, there must be some Central Authority which will not simply advise or request. but which will have the power to direct that water should be transported from one area to another. That, to my mind, is one of the main functions of this central executive rather than advisory body.
The second point which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, touched on is the question of amenities. It came to my mind that there will undoubtedly be local pressures in the question of water abstraction or water conservation. We have all met them on a 1028 smaller or larger scale. Some body at some time will have to decide whether in fact it is better, from the national point of view, that water should be obtained for the East Midlands by deep bores, with the resultant cost of that and possible interference with underground water supplies elsewhere, or perhaps by flooding a valley somewhere in the Pennines to supply water for the East Midlands, a valley which may well be in an entirely different river authority area. You can multiply the occasions when such conflicts will arise ad infinitum.
It cannot surely be left to the individual river authority to decide that point. It will naturally have its local responsibilities and its local loyalties, and if it has enough water for its own use, it will certainly not want to disturb some of its own (shall we say?) constituents by interfering with their valleys in increasing a reservoir, or action of that sort. It will say, "Let the other river authority carry on with its own responsibility of finding water for itself". But if we are to regard water as being a national responsibility and not simply a local one—and I think we are all agreed that we are to regard it as such—then there must be some overriding authority which can make that decision; not only the decision on grounds of economics, not only the decision on technical grounds, but also the decision on grounds of amenity. I cannot see that that will ever be done unless we have this Central Authority, not advising the Minister but actually with powers to co-ordinate all the activities of the different river boards.
My Lords, I am not going to go into the other question of the size of the boards, how they should be constituted, or anything of that nature. All I would say on that question is that my own preference would be for relatively small executive boards, made up of experts—technical and business experts—but not in any way of representatives of all the different interests which are involved. We discussed this principle yesterday and the day before during the Transport Bill, and the Government, I think rightly, took the view that they could not have the railways run by a group of representatives of different industries. The running of the railways is a technical 1029 job. Similarly, the conservation of water, the distribution of water, the drainage problems?, the irrigation problems, and the abstraction of waters are all highly technical jobs which must be carried on as a business.
When, as the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, mentioned, you come to the specialised functions of land drainage, undoubtedly people could be called in. Whether they would be co-opted on to the advisory committee I do not know, but it would be right to call in the people who are mainly concerned with land drainage to assist in this matter. But the ultimate responsibility must be with the skilled, professional, I would say full-time, or largely full-time, body of experts who had the whole job of co-ordinating in the area the conservation of water, the disposal of water, and all the rest of it.
Finally, and echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, said in his speech, I hope that the Government will regard this as a matter of urgency. We still have plenty of water for our proper needs to carry on with for the next three or four years, it is true. There is always ample water in the whole country. I made a quick calculation this morning, and I think I am right in saying that on one square yard of land in this country, one ton of water falls every year—quite a lot of water. It is ample for our needs, but it must come when and where we want it. That raises the question of regulating supplies, and we cannot delay much longer. We have heard in the debate on the Manchester Corporation Bill how urgent the matter is there. If the Government sit back, as I am afraid they sometimes do, wait, think and report, it will be years before anything is actually done about this. The water supply of this country is of vital interest not only to the ordinary consumer but also to the whole of industry and agriculture. I hope that the Government will regard it with urgency and will not wait more than a few months before coming forward with a really practical policy to implement this White Paper.
§ 5.31 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, I have noticed that it is customary at this 1030 point for noble Lords who have moved their Motions to be thanked for having done so. Whether it is customary or not, I do wish to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, not only for the manner in which he has moved his Motion, but also for its timeliness. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Champion, on his lucid maiden speech and, if I may say so, on the charming way in which he made it. Then, before I come to my reply, I would say how helpful it has been to the Government to have from your Lordships' House at this stage, in a number of extremely well-informed and constructive speeches, an expression of opinion on the proposals in the White Paper.
In a general way, I believe that in the past we have tended in this country to take our water a little too much for granted. This country is not richly endowed with natural resources. But, of our resources, water is quite the most precious, and quite the most indispensable. It is right, therefore, that there should be a growing national interest in our national management of our water resources. I am sure that the noble Lord's Motion will have been helpful in tending to focus and crystallise that interest, and it is particularly timely, following as it does on the heels of the Proudman Sub-Committee's Report and of the Government's own White Paper.
The noble Lord's Motion draws attention to the need for a national water policy. That need was recognised by the war-time Coalition Government, under whose ægis the 1944 White Paper A National Water Policy was produced. I would suggest that, since that Report, successive Governments, irrespective of their political complexion have in fact been following a pretty consistent national water policy. So far as the Statute Book is concerned, that policy has found expression, first in the Water Act of 1945, and then, subsequently, in five Acts—the Pollution triplets of 1951, 1960 and 1961, and the Land Drainage twins, the River Boards Act of 1948 and the Land Drainage Act of 1961. Within that statutory framework large-scale physical improvements, backed by a massive investment programme—for water and sewerage alone now running at some £80 million annually—have 1031 been carried out. Side by side with these material improvements, a consistent policy of regrouping the numerous water undertakings in England and Wales has been pushed forward. At the same time, the management of our water resources has been continuously scrutinised and investigated, not least by my right honourable friend's Central Advisory Water Committee.
I would therefore submit, my Lords, that we have in fact, ever since the end of the war, been pursuing a consistent national water policy. However, given the rising demand for water in this country, together with the increasing cost and difficulty of obtaining sufficient supplies at least in certain areas, it is becoming increasingly questionable whether our policy in these matters is now adequate. It was for that reason that as long ago as 1955 the Government asked the Central Advisory Water Committee to consider the problems involved in meeting the growing demands for water. And that is why in 1959 the terms of reference of the Sub-Committee concerned, the Sub-Committee headed by Professor Proudman, were extended.
This debate has naturally taken place—and rightly so—within the context of the Proudman Sub-Committee's Final Report and of the Government's White Paper. Before turning to these, I should like to pay my tribute to the work of Professor Proudman's Sub-Committee. I think that their Final Report speaks for itself. I think that anyone who has read it not only can immediately recognise the quality and experience of the members of that Sub-Committee, but can also readily appreciate the amount of work they put into it. We are very much in their debt, not least for the fact that when they disagreed among themselves, they said so very plainly.
The "guts" of the Report are embodied in paragraph 35. Since this paragraph is so important, and since it is so short—one sentence—I feel inclined to quote it.We consider that it should no longer be left to independent initiatives to develop the country's water resources according to their separate needs but that the situation now calls for new authorities to review the various requirements and plan the ordered development of resources to meet them.As your Lordships will see from paragraphs 14 to 16 of the White Paper, the 1032 Government fully agree that comprehensive action to conserve our national water resources is in fact urgently required, and that a new approach is needed. In sum, we accept the need for a new look and a new set-up in the management of our water resources. We do not have to look far to find the reasons for this new look. Most of us know that a kindly providence dispenses water with a generous hand over these islands. But most of it—90 per cent.—is never used before it disappears out to sea. In the past this may not have mattered very much, but now that the demand for water is rising so rapidly, it is beginning to matter very much indeed.
As many noble Lords have pointed out in this debate, the national thirst for water is becoming more acute every day. With a growing population and with growing prosperity—more baths, more washing machines, more motor cars to wash—the domestic demand is rising steeply. But we are probably nowhere near the peak. To-day, the average noble Lord or commoner uses, perhaps, 35 to 40 gallons of water a day. But in Transatlantica, the average is three times as high. With industry, as my noble friends, Lord Jessel and Lord Merrivale, and other noble Lords, have pointed out, the rise may be even steeper. It is estimated that to produce one ton of steel 250 tons of water are needed. To take a more homely example from another industry, to produce one ton of beer requires eight tons of water.
Here I should like to say that I agree very much with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and also by my noble friend Lord Cornwallis, about the importance of planning the industrial location of water supply. I would assure them that in all planning the question of the bringing of supplies of water is one of the first things to be considered, whether the planners are considering a town expansion scheme, a new town or an industrial development. So much, at this stage, for industry.
As for agriculture, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, the rise in demand may be even more dramatic. Some noble Lords may be aware that Professor Balchin, of Swansea University, has estimated that it requires 30 tons of water to produce one pound of beef. 1033 But the crops may prove even thirstier than the beasts. As the Proudman Committee have made clear, the whole question of the impact of modern methods of agricultural irrigation has recently been under close study by an inter-departmental committee. That committee has estimated, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned, that the potential demand for crop irrigation might rise to as much as 3,000 million gallons a day at peak periods. This report on irrigation is to be published later this week, and I commend it to the attention of those of your Lordships who are interested in these matters.
All this, of course, means that in one way or another we must ensure that more water is made available in this country for the housewife and her husband, for industry, and for agriculture. One difficulty is that these islands are unequally blessed with rain. It falls most heavily in the West, as my noble friend Lord Merrivale, with his usual perspicacity, has observed, while the thirst for it is increasing most rapidly in the drier East. Whilst I share the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, and, indeed, of the Proudman Sub-Committee, about a national water grid, I agree that we must increasingly plan to move large quantities of water about the country, preferably using rivers as aqueducts wherever possible. And all this can be sensibly tackled only on a comprehensive basis for England and Wales, supported by comprehensive and uniform factfinding to build up a national picture of supply and demand. On that there is a good deal of common ground between everybody who has joined in this debate this afternoon.
That, my Lords, is the background to the Government's proposals contained in the White Paper. I am glad that, by and large, with a qualification here and there, those proposals have received a modest welcome this afternoon. They are there for all to see; they have been pretty fully ventilated this afternoon, and therefore, I think that I need only summarise them briefly. What are they? I will try to boil them down into five short points. First, we propose that new river authorities should be set up, charged with the existing functions of river boards, but also—and this is vital—with the responsibility for water conservation 1034 as a whole. One authority will therefore be responsible in each river basin, or group of river basins, for the management of water in all its related aspects—that is to say, conservation and all the host of things that go with effective services for land drainage and sea defences, the prevention of pollution, and fisheries. Each authority will normally have between 21 and 31 members, with those appointed by local authorities in a bare majority. Perhaps I might here interject, for the benefit of my noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney, who asked when would the number go over 31, that the explanation of that appears in paragraph 34 of the White Paper.
Secondly, it will be the task of the new authorities so to manage resources that they will be able to anticipate and meet the growing demands on them. They will have to assess all water resources in their areas and develop them as they think best. This will be no light task. Nor will their responsibility for allocating water between competing users be an easy one. For it will be the duty of the river authorities to apportion water between all users, including the water undertakers, by a licensing system. Thirdly, it will be for the river authorities and the water undertakers to agree among themselves which of them should provide storage for water, or whether they should do this jointly. The water undertakers will, of course, remain completely responsible for the subsequent treatment and distribution of water to the public.
Here I should like to say that initially I was not at all attracted by the kite which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, flew, that possibly there might be some amalgamation of the duties of the river authorities with those of the water undertakings—some merging and marrying of functions. It seems to me, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said, that these are very different animals. They would have different jobs, one being the wholesaler and the other the retailer. I should have thought that they would have different preoccupations, and I should have thought also that different skills were required. Be that as it may.
Fourthly, we propose that conservation should be self-supporting, with the necessary expenditure on it—which 1035 could be large—being met from fees and charges from all extractors and users. Finally, we propose to set up an entirely new central authority, accountable to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to coordinate our conservation measures and to stimulate schemes for conservation and for the transfer of water between one authority and another. I will come back later to the question of the central authority, since that has occupied a good deal of our time this afternoon.
Those, in sum, my Lords, represent the broad proposals in the White Paper. I would not suggest that they are revolutionary; indeed, I would suggest that they fit naturally into the framework of an evolving national water policy. Nevertheless, I would suggest to your Lordships that in certain respects these proposals contain significant, indeed radical, new departures. For the first time, we are seeking to manage the water resources of England and Wales really comprehensively.
I should like to confine my remarks this afternoon to England and Wales. Mention has been made of a not unimportant country to the North, but without the support of my noble friend Lord Craigton I think it would be wiser if I were not to trespass too far over the Border, save to say that, whilst we believe that Scotland is not without its water problems, we think that they are, in general, of a different character and somewhat lesser in degree than those confronting England and Wales. Steps are being taken to solve them within the existing legislative framework. It seemed to me, as a Southerner, that on this matter, as occasionally happens, Scotland is about ten years behind the general evolution of progress in England and Wales.
My Lords, what are the new elements, the radical elements, in these proposals? First, the proposal to manage for the first time the water resources of England and Wales comprehensively. Again, for the first time a public authority is to be given positive powers to increase the amount of water available for uses other than the normal public supply. For the first time a licence will be required by all those who, save for one or two tiny exceptions in the case of individual 1036 households, wish to take water. For the first time all abstractors, with one or two insignificant exceptions, are going to have to pay for water. And, for the first time, there will be a new authority, outside the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, supervising these matters of water conservation.
It is our belief that these proposals meet the demands of the present situation. Stemming, as they do, from the recommendations, in the main—and we have heard where they do not so stem—of a highly expert body, I trust that they will commend themselves, broadly speaking, to your Lordships, not only now, but, if and when you come to consider them in greater detail, at a later date. That is not to say, of course, or indeed to claim, that our proposals are perfect in all particulars, or that all of your Lordships consider them so to be. Indeed, a number of criticisms have been voiced in this debate, and I should now like, I hope at not too great a length, to attempt to meet some of those criticisms. I may not, I fear, be able to answer all the points—there have been a good many—which have been put in the debate this afternoon. If I am not able to—and I think to do so would be to take up much too much of your Lordships' time—and where I am not able to I will, of course, communicate after the debate with any unsatisfied noble Lords.
A number of criticisms have been voiced to-day about the organisation, the set-up, for the new river authorities. It has been argued that the new authorities, composed of 20 or 30 members, will be too big. I think that was the majority view in your Lordships' House this afternoon although there was a minority view, I think, of one. This was the one issue on which that otherwise unanimous body, the Proudman Sub-Committee, split. The majority argued for a small and compact authority, with say, 10 or 15 members. I will not disguise the fact that we saw many advantages initially in that proposal. However, much of the new authorities' cash will be raised by precept upon local authorities, and local authorities have, therefore, a very strong claim to be represented, on the understandable principle of "no taxation without representation". After 1037 very careful thought we came to the conclusion that the tight little bodies recommended by the majority of the Proudman Committee would not provide sufficient representation for local authorities and at the same time adequately cover the other interests involved—water supply, industry, land drainage, fisheries, and so on. Our proposals are, in fact, in the nature of a compromise. But since we are dealing with England and Wales I do not think they are necessarily the worse for that.
There have been a number of specific suggestions made about the organisation, the size and the committee structure, of the proposed new authorities, not least by my noble friends Lord Sinclair of Cleeve and Lord Amherst of Hackney. I hope they will not feel I am evasive in not answering in detail some of those rather detailed points at this stage, but I can say that the points that they have made will receive very careful attention—and that is not a pious platitude. But there is one point I should like just to mention, and that is the suggestion that the new authorities should have, as it were, a particular committee structure. It may very well be that the new authorities when they are constituted will wish to set up particular committees on the lines of the river boards, who have, in the most cases, a number of committees, but at this stage at least I should be very chary of laying any mandatory obligation on these, as yet, unborn babies.
A number of noble Lords have expressed the view, very forcibly, that we are proposing too many and too small new authorities, and that it would be wise to feel our way by setting them up, as it were, piecemeal. We have in fact suggested some 27 river authorities against the existing 34 river boards. My noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, my noble friend Lord Merrivale, and others, would, I think, like to cut that figure down to something nearer 14. On this I would merely observe to my noble friends that it is no easy matter here to strike the right balance as regards size. We believe that the considerations set out in paragraph 27 of the White Paper are perfectly valid, and these have, in fact, governed our thinking in proposing the areas shown in the Appendix to the White Paper. But these are our present thoughts on this matter. Our 1038 mind is certainly not closed to further arguments about amalgamation, and we are, of course, very willing to receive representations on this point.
I must, I think, though, be more categoric and at the same time rather more negative about the penchant of my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve for piecemeal amalgamation, if I may so term it. The Proudman Sub-Committee themselves, in paragraph 36 of their Report, gave good reason against the piecemeal approach. They pointed out that there was need everywhere for fact-finding and for the preparation of coordinated plans, even in the areas where there was at present sufficient water. They also pointed out that early arrangements may be needed to transfer water from areas with ample resources to those areas less well endowed. These arguments again seem valid to us. Moreover, if we are going to make the change I should have thought there was a lot to be said for getting the inevitable disturbance over and done with, rather than take a number of bites at what might be a difficult apple. Again, I would suggest that it would hardly be practical to have two systems, an old and a new, of control of abstraction in operation at the same time. Indeed, it might be highly undesirable to have charges for the abstraction of water in one area and not in another; and that would be, as I understand it, the position if one followed the suggestion of my noble friend.
Again, I must confess to serious doubts about the wisdom of the proposal that we should not set up any of the river authorities until the central authority was established and in the saddle. The river authorities are intended, as it were, to be the eyes and ears of the central authority. Again, we shall need the river authorities to exercise the direct control of abstraction which is indispensable and urgent. I confess that this one is a new suggestion on me, but it seems to me to have at least those two serious disadvantages at first sight.
Before I leave the subject of the proposed new river authorities I should like to make two points clear, one a minor one, the other a more major one. May I take the minor one first? I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was under a misapprehension when he expressed the thought that the 400 or so existing 1039 drainage boards would go "down the drain" in the new set-up. That is not the proposal. The proposal, as I understand it, is that those drainage boards will, in the future, have the same relationship to the proposed new river authorities as they do at present to the existing river boards.
The major point is this. I have the impression that some people feel that just because we are proposing to add one more function, conservation, to the duties of river boards our proposals do not amount to anything very much. My Lords, we are quite convinced that this is grievously to underestimate the scope and importance of this new business of water conservation. This is our first attempt at really comprehensive water management; and conservation, at least as the Government envisage it, is not just an extra item, it is a new conception, a new prospect, and demands a thorough-going reappraisal. That is why we propose to institute the new river authorities, and why we certainly do not envisage those new authorities as just the existing river boards writ large.
May I now turn to the main criticism which has been focused against the proposals in the White Paper, criticism of the Government's proposals for the central advisory water authority. A number of noble Lords seem to feel that, lacking executive teeth, this may prove to be a rather feeble animal. This is an important issue, and perhaps I should explain, as briefly as possible but fairly fully, why we feel that the new central authority must in the main be advisory and in the last resort accountable to my right honourable friend.
The first reason is historical. Parliament has always in the past exercised close control over water undertakers. And in consequence my right honourable friend is charged under the 1945 Act with specific duties in this field, as indeed my noble friend Lord Cornwallis made quite clear. We feel it right in principle that this should be so. I would submit that water is not a commodity like gas or electricity or coal or oil. All these are invaluable sources of energy, as indeed is water. But they are interchangeable to a large extent; the consumer has a choice, and it can therefore be rightly argued that in the 1040 supply of these commodities to the consumer economic and commercial factors are possibly the principal ones involved, and that in consequence the ultimate Parliamentary control can be, as it were, indirect in certain cases. But water is different: nobody can live without it. Since, therefore, this commodity is in a sense unique, the Government consider that my right honourable friend should continue to be answerable directly to Parliament for water, for its conservation, development and exploitation.
It follows from that that a central body like that suggested by Proudman would not, in our view, fill the bill here. Such a body would have, as the White Paper points out, the power to direct water authorities. It would have control over activities involving the acquisition of great tracts of land and the initiation of vast and costly schemes. But I find it impossible to see how it could exercise these sweeping powers in a meaningful manner—and that is surely what executive powers mean—and not cut across my right honourable friend's accountability to Parliament.
I would submit that the choice here is really fairly clear. If you desire a real executive authority then you must relinquish, or at least diminish, close Ministerial accountability. But if you desire real Ministerial accountability then your central authority must be nonexecutive and essentially advisory. I would submit that we have been right to opt for this second choice. But of course we will weigh very carefully the opposite view which has been very fully expressed this afternoon.
Having said that, I should wish in no way to underrate the importance of the proposed central authority. Because we recognise that water conservation and the control and development of water resources is a national as well as a local problem, it is clear that central direction, co-ordination and guidance of the activities of the new authorities will be necessary. We believe that in this wide field the new central body will in fact have a crucial rôle to play, and because of my right honourable friend's appellate responsibilities it is also desirable that what I would term "promotional" work should be separated as much as possible from my Ministry. For that reason we envisage the proposed central authority as being the expert 1041 body responsible for seeing that there is a broad and consistent approach to water conservation and for planning and co-ordinating conservation measures on the national scale.
If I recollect correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that neither the Ministry nor the central authority have the power to erect the major kind of works which will be required, and he asked who will do that, I think the answer to that is that the new river authorities will do that. If they are unwilling or unable to do it, then of course it will be up to my right honourable friend, in his judgment but on the advice of the central advisory body, to direct either that they should do the work or that some other authority should do it. He also asked—I think I have his words right but I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—whether the new central authority would have powers of initiation. The answer to that is, Yes, it will have powers of initiation. Its proposed responsibilities are set out in the White Paper.
I should like, since it has been mentioned in this debate, to lay particular stress on the part which the central authority may well have to play in matters of research. It is difficult, I think, to overestimate the importance of research into all aspects of water. It falls naturally into two fields, basic research and applied research. As we see matters at present, the carrying out of basic research should remain the responsibility of the existing bodies—the very competent D.S.I.R. stations, the Hydraulics Research Station at Wallingford, the Water Pollution Research Laboratory at Stevenage, the Meteorological Office, the Geological Survey and the Water Research Association, and so on.
I should perhaps mention here that a special Hydrological Research Unit has recently been set up under the wing of the D.S.I.R. station at Wallingford. But, as it develops, the new central body will obviously be a candidate for representation on the co-ordinating Committee on Hydrological Research and will doubtless play its part in commissioning basic research. It should also be ideally placed to stimulate and supervise the no less important applied research which will fall within the province of the new authorities. There is much to be done before we can be satisfied that nationally 1042 our facilities for the collection and processing of hydrometric data are adequate, and we shall look to the new body to spur this work on.
For these reasons it is quite obvious to us that the new body will require its own permanent staff and will need to be served by a body of men with a wide and expert range of technical and professional skills. There has been criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and others of the fact that, at least initially, we envisage that all or some of the members of the authority should be part-time, but these members will be in charge of the general policy and it is certainly our intention that they should be served by independent, permanent and full-time skilled technical and professional staff.
My Lords, while I hope I have said enough to explain why we feel that this new central body should be in essence advisory, I also hope that I have said enough to indicate that we are not proposing to create a mere outstation for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. We are rather proposing to establish an independent body, mainly advisory in character but with powers to plan, co-ordinate, stimulate, prod and in certain cases to direct, and with a staff to enable it to carry out its duties. It is not the sort of body whose advice my right honourable friend or his successors will lightly disregard. Again there were a number of detailed constructive suggestions, in the main I think from my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, about the precise structure of the new central authority. I hope he will forgive me if I just say we will also study those specific suggestions very attentively.
May I turn for a moment away from the mainstream of our conservation proposals? The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, expressed some fears of a slow-up in the process of regrouping water undertakings. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, feels that here too little progress is being made too late, and that such progress as we are making may well slow up as we come up against the intransigent hard-core of the undertakings. I can assure the noble Lord that we consider regrouping a vital part of the policy of making the most of the 1043 nation's resources. My right honourable friend has no intention of relaxing his efforts here. Of course very real progress has been made; as the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, said, there were some 1,200 undertakings after the war and there are now 601. And I think we can anticipate that that figure is likely to fall to around 400 by the end of next year. I suggest that this is not too slow progress.
Like his predecessors, my right honourable friend naturally prefers undertakers to regroup by voluntary agreement. But because we are convinced that the strengthening of the water resources of this country by this process of regrouping must not slacken, my right honourable friend is prepared to continue to use compulsory powers when they are necessary. I do not think, therefore, that the noble Lord's fears about a slackening of the tempo are justified, either on our past history or by what I know of my right honourable friend's intention.
There was also a suggestion from the noble Lord (I hope he will not feel that I am being cursory in dealing with it briefly, but the time is getting on and there is another debate to follow) that we should consider bringing all water undertakings into public or municipal ownership of one sort or another. As to that, I think I should like to rest on the arguments advanced from the Benches to his right against that proposal. But I should like just to add that it has been my pleasure to see a number of undertakings, both municipal and private, and certainly it is not my impression that the best of the private companies are in any sense less efficient or less public-spirited than the best of the municipal companies. I personally should much prefer the pragmatic to the doctrinaire approach here. I should prefer to continue to base our policy on the criteria of efficiency, size and the service which water undertakings can render, irrespective of whether they happen to be in municipal or private ownership.
My noble friend Lord Jessel asked me about how these proposals were likely to affect Manchester's search for new sources of water supply for itself and for those areas which depend on it. I do not wish, certainly at this late stage, 1044 to go over old history. But my noble friend will recall that when your Lordships debated the Manchester Corporation Bill last February many noble Lords expressed the view that Manchester's proposals were precisely the sort of scheme which should fall to be decided within the context of the comprehensive measures outlined in the White Paper. I think there was great force in that argument. In any case, this type of scheme is, in fact, both an explanation and a justification for the proposals in the White Paper. Nevertheless, they will take some time to materialise, and because of that my right honourable friend asked me, following your Lordship's decision on Ullswater, to take the chair at a conference, the aim of which would be to try to elicit the real facts of the position which your Lordships discussed last February.
This conference has now met twice, and there have been meetings of its constituent committees and sub-committees. I am glad to say that all the responsible authorities concerned, on both sides of the fence, are participating in this fact-finding exercise; and they are doing so with complete objectivity and fairness. The exercise, of course, is merely designed to get at the facts in so fax as they are ascertainable. There is no thought at all, on the part of anyone, of derogating from the nights of anyone concerned, including your Lordships' House.
On the general question of amenity, which I think rightly comes in in this context, I think that at this stage I can say only this in reply to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, and also, in his absence, to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who told me that he had to leave to go to Leeds by train. It is certainly our feeling that the new central authority will be the mainspring, to adopt the term used by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. As such, its job will be to co-ordinate; and of course, in co-ordinating the important consideration which will be in the minds of the members of the authority and of its staff will be amenity. But the Minister will be in the long-stop position. I think that is right, because on these matters, including the question of amenity, it is right that there should be accountability to Parliament; and it is also right that there should be 1045 accountability to my right honourable friend in view of his statutory interest in the National Parks. I do not myself see any great difficulty in that particular point, but I will certainly undertake to bear carefully in mind the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and by my noble friend.
There are two other points I would mention, before I conclude—I can deal with them briefly. First, my noble friend Lord Cornwallis expressed some fears about what we are proposing regarding the Port of London and the Thames. I am sure he will agree that there are special problems here, and that therefore the normal organisation proposed in the White Paper may not be appropriate in this particular area. But since the matter is at present under discussion with the authorities concerned I hope that my noble friend will not wish to press me further at this stage. Secondly, several noble Lords asked when we proposed to embody these new proposals in legislation. I fear that I must be rather austerely proper about this, and I think it would be wise for me to confine myself to remarking that if our ultimate intention were not to legislate, we should not have gone to the trouble of producing the White Paper which your Lordships are discussing to-day. But I do not dissent from the note of urgency which has been struck in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
My Lords, I believe it is true to say that since the war successive Governments, irrespective of their political colour, have followed a consistent national water policy. In matters of water there is much for which the country can be grateful, and of which the statutory water undertakers in particular can be proud. Our public water supply is, I think, second to none; and, with regrouping, it is being steadily strengthened. In comparison, we may be perhaps less proud of our rivers: they are still far too dirty, and at times they misbehave themselves in other ways. Yet here, thanks to a steady policy, and to the unremitting work of the river boards, progress is undoubtedly being made. But this policy must be adapted to changing conditions and changing moods. The problem we need to face, and to face without delay, is how, as a nation, we should best satisfy the growing demands for water, while at the 1046 same time safeguarding other legitimate interests and needs. It is my belief that the proposals in the White Paper offer a useful and workmanlike approach to this problem, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in his maiden speech said, affects every single person in this country.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down could he help us a little in regard to one particular question? He said that the central authority would be primarily advisory, but that it could initiate schemes of great importance. The river authority, which has this new power of conservation, would have to carry out these schemes. Would the river authority be able to promote the necessary Bill before Parliament? I believe, as the Minister said quite rightly, that Parliament should have ultimate responsibility for water. But some body may have to promote Bills for the construction of works, reservoirs, and so on, for this conservation. If the Minister cannot answer that question now, will he bear it in mind, because I think it is an important point?
My Lords, I think I should prefer notice of that question. I believe that there are legal aspects involved.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, this has, in the event, turned out to be a more interesting and more important debate than I had originally contemplated. We have had four and a half extra speakers, and every one of the additional speakers has made a very important contribution to our debate. In the circumstances perhaps I may be allowed to withdraw some of the strictures I made at the very outset about what we were facing. The debate has been remarkable in two respects. The first is in regard to the maiden speech of my noble friend. Of course, we pay tributes to every maiden speech that is made. In fact, I have never heard a maiden speech that was not an "excellent performance", and where we did not all hope that we should hear from the noble Lord or Lady again in the future. But I would say quite sincerely on this occasion that my noble friend has given promise, as has been said, of adding considerably to the 1047 debating strength of this House. I should like to pay a tribute also to the speech—which was not a maiden speech—of the noble Earl himself in winding up the debate. It was a remarkable Parliamentary performance. We do not often pay tributes to one another after we have made our maiden speeches, but I think it is due to the noble Earl that he should know—and I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of the whole House—that his speech was greatly appreciated.
§ LORD SILKIN
That is not to say that I agree with what he said. There are a number of respects in which I still find myself in disagreement. For instance, I think he was a little perfunctory about my kite-flying as to the possibility of the river authorities undertaking the work which is at present done by the statutory undertakers. I can assure him he will be hearing more about that in the future. But I do not wish to debate that any further at this stage. I was glad that, while defending the proposals in the White Paper, he gave the impression that the Goverment had not said the last word. I think that that was as it should be. We are debating something which I would say is a little more than kite-flying, but does represent the first thoughts of the Government. I should hope that that is the position of every White Paper, and, when we come to discuss it, the Government ought to be influenced by the debate that takes place in this House and in another place, just as those who have spoken ought to be influenced by what is said in support of the White Paper. Speaking for myself, I have listened with great interest and have been somewhat impressed by what the noble Earl has said as to the functions of the advisory committee. I should like a little more information—further and better particulars—but we all ought to be prepared to look at the matter and think again. This has been a useful debate. It has served its purpose, and I do not think there is anything to be gained by pursuing the matter further this afternoon. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.