§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Debate Resumed:
§ LORD S1LKIN
My Lords, I believe that this is the first time the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has introduced a measure, certainly a measure of this importance. And it is important, as the House appreciates because of the large number of noble Lords who are going to take part in the debate. It will be some comfort to the noble Lord if I tell him straight away that his impressions about compulsory purchase were right, and that my impressions were wrong. I saw Section 61 (1), but overlooked Section 62 (2).
This discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill follows fairly closely on the debate which we had on May 23 last on the Government White Paper. I think it is true to say that, broadly speaking, the Bill differs very greatly from what was forecast in the White Paper. I think that the noble Lord explained that there was some difference in the constitution of the river authorities, but, apart from that, I think that what he then said about the White Paper would probably hold true about the Bill itself. One more piece of congratulation, not to the noble Lord particularly, but to the Government. I congratulate them upon the promptness with which they have introduced this measure. We very often have to criticise the Government for their slowness in implementing a Report, and it is a pleasure to be able to say on this occasion that they have been quite prompt in following up their White Paper, which itself was fairly prompt, and in dealing with the Proudman Committee.
The other piece of congratulation is this—and then, having finished with congratulations, I shall go on to the other part of my speech. I am very glad that a large part of this very complicated Bill is due to the desire of the Government to carry out a measure of consolidation. A large part of it is, of course, repetition of what is in existing measures; and for those who have to study these Acts later on it is very convenient to find them incorporated in one measure and not to have to search 999 through a large number of Acts of Parliament in order to see what the law is. We had a long and, I thought, a fairly good debate on May 23. In that debate I think every noble Lord, except one, was critical of certain aspects of the White Paper, with which I will deal later on. I am sorry to find that, while the noble Earl who replied for the Government promised to consider these criticisms—and I have no doubt he duly brought them to the attention of his right honourable friend—the fact is that not one of those criticisms has been met in the Bill. If I am wrong again, I shall gladly give way.
§ LORD SILKIN
I doubt whether I am always wrong, but we shall see. If I correct what I have said to "the main criticisms", then I think I should be right: there may be some minor criticisms which have been met, but the main criticisms, as I understand them, and with which I will deal as we go along, have not been met. I think that where the White Paper differed from the views of the Proudman Committee, by and large the White Paper view has been incorporated into the Bill itself.
I do not propose to go over the ground covered in our debate of last May; I think that most of what was said at that time by most noble Lords will stand. I think we can express pleasure at the fact that, at long last, we are getting a national outlook on water supply. We may not be getting all we want, but there is, by the setting up of the special Resources Board, a body charged with the duty of looking at the question of our water supplies, and at the need for conserving, redistributing and augmenting, from a national point of view instead of, as at present, a large number of bodies each looking at their water requirements from a purely local angle. That is, of course, a tremendous improvement in the position. But the first question we want to ask ourselves is: are the duties and powers of the Board wide enough to carry out these functions, and is the structure sound? So I should like to say a few words about the duties and powers, and I have some 1000 doubts as to whether these duties and powers are adequate for the purpose.
I said a moment ago that the noble Earl had promised to consider the representations that had been made by practically every noble Lord who spoke in the debate. I think there was an obligation on those same noble Lords to consider what the noble Earl had said in justification of his point of view. I may say, for myself, that I have considered the question of these duties and powers, and I am not prepared to be as dogmatic as I was about the need for executive powers for the Water Resources Board. I think that it would be justifiable to leave those powers as they are, but to provide in the Bill for the possibility that something stronger will be required. I propose in due course to move some form of Amendment, if I can draft one which will hold water, which will give effect to that, and if it should become necessary to confer upon the Water Resources Board stronger powers than they already have it should be possible to do so without the need for introducing amending legislation. Knowing how long it takes to get amending legislation through, I am sure it would be a wise insurance to have something of that kind in the Bill.
One of my doubts is as to what is to happen if what is probably the major responsibility of the Water Resources Board has to be carried into effect; and that is the transference of water from areas where there is a surplus, to areas where there is a deficiency. The Bill strikes me as being somewhat vague as to how this can be carried into effect, and certainly the procedure that is contemplated strikes me as being long and cumbersome. Let us take as an example what would happen in the case of Manchester or Birmingham or one of these larger authorities requiring additional water which it is not able to get from its own area. It would have to get its water from the area of another river authority, and I presume that the Water Resources Board would in the course of its duties investigate the position and make certain recommendations. I am not at all clear how in actual fact this procedure would be carried into operation. I know it makes recommendations, say, to Authority A, where there is a surplus of water, that water should be 1001 transferred to Authority B, where it is required. What happens then? Perhaps the noble Earl could explain how this would work. Perhaps he could also explain who would be paid for it.
One of the reasons why many of us rather favoured executive powers for the Water Resources Board was exactly this kind of case, where we felt that it was rather burdensome on the authority with a surplus of water to carry out works for the purpose of supplying some other authority with water where they were deficient. There would be an understandable reluctance to carry out the works, on the part of the authority with the surplus of water, and certainly there might be difficulties and delays. But I should be glad to hear from the noble Earl exactly how it would really work. As I say, it is for that kind of case that it may turn out that executive powers are needed. But I will not press that point at this stage, because I feel that it may be desirable to give the Bill as it stands a fair chance and to see whether it will work with the existing powers.
I am, of course, aware of Clause 96, the clause which provides for default powers, under which the Minister may in the last resort, after a local inquiry and after default by the authority concerned, transfer to the Water Resources Board such new functions as the river authority in default may not have carried out. To that extent, as I understand the Bill, there is a measure of executive power, a contingent executive power, conferred on the Water Resources Board, but that is the only case so far as I can gather. But this is very slow and cumbersome, and certainly would take many years to carry out from beginning to end. I should like to see some more satisfactory procedure introduced into the Bill.
Then the powers of the Water Resources Board are limited. They are limited under Clause 12 to the new functions conferred on the river authorities, which are defined in Clause 3, subsection (5). In other words, the Water Resources Board would have no powers in respect of the transferred functions. Therefore, put in concrete terms, they would have no powers in respect of land drainage, fisheries, navigation, river pollution, flood control. Now I wonder why that is so. No doubt the Government have very good reasons for exclud- 1002 ing these particular functions from the powers of the Water Resources Board, but I find it difficult to understand why. To exclude these functions, especially land drainage and pollution, from the duty of conservation, which the Water Resources Board will have, seems to me arbitrary, virtually unworkable, and technically unsound. I hope that if I am right the Government will reconsider this, and certainly we will put down Amendments on this point. I may say that there is a very large amount of technical authority for the view that these functions, which are excluded under the Bill, should be included in the powers of the Water Resources Board.
Then there is the possible confusion with the duties of the Central Advisory Water Committee. That is the body responsible hitherto for the remarkable series of Reports upon which the Bill is based. The Central Advisory Water Committee were set up under Section 2 of the Water Act, 1945, and their duties are almost identical with those of the Water Resources Board. I will, with the permission of the House, just read very shortly what are the duties of the Central Advisory Water Committee. They are to advise the Minister concernedupon matters connected with the conservation and use of water resources; advising any Minister concerned with the administration of enactments which relate to or in any way affect the conservation or use of water resources or the provision of water supplies, upon any question that may be referred by him to the Committee in connection with the operation, or proposed amendment of the said enactments".Those are not words identical with those which set out the duties of the Water Research Committee, but they are very similar, and unless something is done to co-ordinate the responsibilities of the two bodies I foresee that there is a danger of confusion, or that the Central Advisory Water Committee will become redundant. But the Bill says nothing about that, and I think the Government ought to direct their mind to the question of what is to be the future function, if any, of this Central Advisory Water Committee.
As regards the structure, I think that the Bill is reasonably satisfactory. I think the membership is about right. T myself should have thought that probably it would be desirable that the six 1003 or seven members should be full time, but I would not wish to be dogmatic about that; and perhaps the noble Earl will express the views of the Government on what is to be the position of the members of the Water Research Board.
I want now to come to the river authorities, and here I think there was an almost universal criticism as to both the number of river authorities that were to be set up and their constitution. The noble Earl promised that he would give those matters consideration and, again by implication, I think those who criticised were guilty of not giving further consideration to their own criticisms. As to the membership of the river authorities, I have myself given further consideration to it and I am bound to say this. I am sorry that the noble Lord who introduced the Bill did not tell us about this. But if the idea is that these 21 to 31 members are to constitute a general committee but that the actual work will be done by sub-committees, I think that that is a perfectly understandable way of carrying out their work, and from that point of view it may well be that a rather larger membership is necessitated than if the Committee were to work as one body without sub-committees; and if the right people were on the committee I would think that that could be quite an efficient way.
There is the other point, which I understand. You are going to have a considerable number of interests on that body. There will be local authority representatives, not only from county councils but from other local authorities, which is an innovation, and, I hope, from industry and agriculture. As I read the Bill, I do not think that they are particularly enumerated, but I hope there will be on the river authorities representatives of industry and of users of all kinds. If that be so, I can well understand that it might be desirable to have a rather larger membership than I had originally contemplated or than the Proudman Committee had. But when we come to the number of authorities themselves, I feel that the Government have gone wrong. They have acted against the views of the Proudman Committee and against the views of most noble Lords who spoke in the debate; 1004 and I myself can see no justification for this large number of authorities except on the basis of the Government's desire for a quiet life and to conciliate as many of the existing river boards as they possibly can. I gather that they have reduced the number by some five or six, and I well understand the wish of any Government for a quiet life and not to do anything which might antagonise existing bodies. I realise also that it is much easier to create bodies than to get rid of them once they exist.
But is this not really looking at the matter from an entirely wrong point of view? What we want to secure is the most efficient bodies for the purpose of conservation, supply and augmentation of water; and it seems to me that the Government have failed to look at this matter from a technical point of view—the hydrological, the geological and all the other "ogical" points of view which arise in connection with the consideration of this problem. Looking at the subject scientifically and technically, I find, on the best advice I have been able to get, that a proper number would be roughly the number which was recommended by the Proudman Committee—something like 40; and I hope that the Government will be prepared to look at this matter again, or at least to justify on technical grounds the reasons for the number now proposed.
Moreover, even from a financial point of view it would be desirable to have a smaller number, first, because there is going to be a difficulty in getting the numbers of technical officers that would be required. The numbers available for this kind of function are limited, and it would certainly be much easier, if the number were reduced by half, or thereabouts, to get the requisite officers of the right quality, than if the numbers are those that are in the Bill. Secondly, among the river authorities—I am not going to be specific at this stage; that would be more appropriate in Committee—there are a number which look as if they may not be able to obtain the financial resources to carry out their duties. Some are wealthy or are in wealthy areas; some are in relatively poor areas. I should have thought that it might be possible to get some kind of unification. The supply of water is a thing which should be looked at (and 1005 the Government have attempted to do so) nationally, and it might be that the right thing is to finance it nationally as well. But if you are going to maintain this local method of financing, then I think there should be some attempt to incorporate the better-off areas with the less-well-off areas, so as to create areas which are, broadly speaking, capable financially of carrying out their duties.
Now I want to say a word about the statutory water undertakings. Broadly speaking, they are not mentioned in the Bill. There is an incidental mention of them, but there is no proposal for dealing with them. When I spoke on May 23 I suggested that they might be incorporated in our considerations. After all, the former distribution system forms a very important part of our water system. We have to provide the water and we have to distribute it, and I could see no adequate reason, except the fact that water undertakings exist and there would be tremendous resistance to tampering with them too much, for not doing so.
Apart from that, if one were starting afresh, certainly I doubt whether one would decide to create separate water undertakers for the purpose of distribution as against bodies that were concerned with the supply of water. But at least I should have liked to see some definite association between the two, and this Bill provides little or nothing of that kind. If it is not possible at this stage to incorporate the water undertakers in the Bill itself, I should hope that the Government might at this late stage consider some method by which they could be brought into the general scheme, without their necessarily being taken over. There is also the danger of overlapping of functions. Some of the functions of the statutory water undertakers are similar to those of the river authorities, and even of the water research committees, and I should be glad if this point also could be looked into.
I am very glad that the Bill, although in very brief terms, makes provisions or recognises the need for the protection of amenities and the preservation of natural beauty. I am not sure that the provisions of Clause 93 are adequate, but at least it is a start that there is a recognition that those concerned with the carrying out of work must take into account the claims 1006 of amenities. As I say, this aspect will be given further consideration as we get on with the Bill.
My last point is on the question of industry. As I read the Bill, industry is being put in a specially invidious position. In other cases people who have existing rights to draw water will be able to go on drawing it, but the Bill seems to differentiate when it comes to industry and to take away from it existing rights. This strikes me as being in the nature of confiscation. I am not going to labour that point, because other noble Lords are able to speak more effectively for industry than I can. But if that were so, if industry were being placed in an invidious position, even as against agriculture, I should deprecate it. In all the nationalisation measures of the Labour Party there has never been an element of confiscation. There may have been arguments whether compensation was adequate, but we never deliberately designed our measures in order to confiscate existing rights. It would be a pity if the present Government set a bad example in that direction. If I am wrong, again I will apologise; but it did strike me that there was this discrimination against industry. At a time when we want industry encouraged, and when we are talking so much about the need for a prosperous export trade we do not want to put an unfair burden on industry itself.
I have said enough, I think, to indicate that in my view these particular provisions as to the licensing of the supply of water and of the payment by industry, where it has existing rights, should be looked at again. I have also said enough, I think, to indicate that this is a very difficult Bill, and one that will require very close scrutiny. The House will not therefore be surprised if I asked the noble Earl in charge of the Bill to ensure that we have adequate time to consider the Bill fully in Committee. There will be, I am sure, a very considerable number of Amendments. I am sorry that the Chief Whip is not here at the moment, but we are sometimes rather harassed and jockeyed along, and have to cut our discussions short because of time. I hope that this Bill will have all the discussion it needs and deserves. I can assure the 1007 noble Earl that we on this side of the House will not take a Party political view of this Bill. Water is a matter which concerns us all. We all want sufficiency of good, clean, pure water for domestic use, for agriculture, for industry, for fishing and all other purposes, and we will give the House every possible assistance in that direction.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD DE RAMSEY
My Lords, in this modern world we assume that, even if water is not as free as air, it should be both on tap and as plentiful. We are entitled to assume this since the Proud-man Report showed not only that we have sufficient water but that nine-tenths of all surface water has to be got rid of as surplus—by, of course, efficient land drainage. That Report proved that what we lacked was conservation, and, as the eminent Chairman emphasised repeatedly, sufficient conservation to make controls unnecessary. His Report made a good start in tackling the problem. This was improved on by the White Paper, and it is still further improved on by the Bill before your Lordships this afternoon. I welcome wholeheartedly the comprehensive aims of the Bill, and I am both impressed and in broad agreement with the means adopted to achieve them, even if I think that it can be improved in its passage through this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has explained clearly, if I may say so, how the Bill, besides transferring the present functions of river boards, sets out to co-ordinate the demands for water and to develop the resources. The demands, in order of national importance, are, I think, domestic, industrial and agricultural. I propose to deal mainly with the agricultural interest which your Lordships will notice I have placed last. This unenviable position is, I believe, simply facing the facts of life, and it has a significance and bearing on the provisions of the Bill which, in so far as they are not already met, I am sure your Lordships would wish to provide for, if practicable.
First, may I take representation? The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dealt most fairly with the constitution of river authorities, and I have only one point 1008 to make; and that concerns the internal drainage boards. So far as the main Board is concerned, I must frankly admit that I do not see what further steps the Minister can take, apart from Clause 65, without upsetting the delicate balance proposed. However, provided that land drainage committees are set up, the power of the co-option on to committees under the River Boards Act is continued, and it should, where necessary, be exercised to the limit. Apart from arterial water courses the problems of land drainage are special and localised—more so in some areas than in others. It is often difficult now to get proper coverage of these in the membership of river boards, and it will be quite impossible on river authorities without a land drainage committee. It is incumbent on river authorities to set up a finance committee, though it is inconceivable that they would not do so. It is not quite so inconceivable that they would not set up a land drainage committee—and what is more, it is not incumbent upon them to do so.
While on representation, I should like to ask the Minister, if he cannot follow the river board procedure in laying draft orders—the difficulties of which may have been exaggerated—whether he can give an assurance that the interests will be consulted on the nominees he appoints to represent them. I have always understood that the civil servants welcomed this consultation before making their recommendations to the Ministers.
I should like now to turn to the deeply painful subject of payment so far as it affects agriculture. Although spray irrigation is a new aid to agricultural efficiency, a matter of some moment to taxpayers, the rewards from it, by reason of our climate, do not compare with those of the traditional irrigated areas of the world. The cost of water can represent a very high proportion of the expenses, and water from any new conservation works by river authorities is, in my opinion, all too likely to be uneconomic for farmers, particularly when the cost of distribution is added.
Moreover, because agricultural claims for irrigation water are last in order of national importance, they will be the first to be cut off in times of real shortage, which is when it is of the greatest value to agriculture. Clause 44 makes 1009 special provision to enable river authorities to do just this, the ugly necessity for which I accept. Incidentally, as it stands it does not make any provision in these circumstances for reducing the charges for the water authorised. But much more important, the powers under Clause 44 are not taken into account under Clause 56 (4), which sets out the relevant circumstances in drawing up a charges scheme. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to consider both these points before Committee stage.
Again, as I understand it, under Clause 56 the water that will be paid for is that authorised in the licence, which may bear no relation, owing to our erratic climate, to that consumed by the farmer. The difficulity here, to which I do not know the answer, is that of the physical measurement of water extracted by farmers. I presume that other extractors, such as industry, can make a reasonably accurate assessment of the requirements, and the water authorised in one year would approximate to what they consume. Not so in agriculture. At the one extreme, no water may be required at all one year, but will, it appears, have to be paid for; at the other, by reason of "exceptional drought or other emergency", it will be cut off but that authorised will still have to be paid for. Some more satisfactory means will have to be found for charging farmers other than by reference to the water authorised in the licence. This difficulty can be largely, though perhaps not entirely, got round where the farmer builds his own reservoir, since its capacity will be known. But there are other and far more important reasons why he should be encouraged to build a reservoir.
Water resources will be fully developed—I was going to say, by putting all hands to the pump, but perhaps that is an inappropriate metaphor—only by both public and private enterprise. It is uncertain whether agricultural irrigation will be able to bear the cost of water from new works provided by the authority. It is quite certain that it will be uneconomic for the authority to provide for irrigation water against an extreme drought, particularly when we consider that one farmer with a modern 100-sprinkler unit can consume as much water in a day as a town of 10,000 inhabitants. Again one acre of potatoes requires as much water during the irrigation 1010 period as an acre in this city. The farmer moreover, will require this water only for approximately 40 days in a year in any case—another factor which would make it uneconomic for the water authority to make provision for irrigation water in all circumstances.
In everyone's interest, therefore, farmers should be encouraged to build their own reservoirs or to co-operate together in providing these "turkey ponds", as the Australians call them. They will provide, by the way, land free of cost to the taxpayer and avoid the odium of compulsory purchase by the authority. Clause 58 seems to provide some encouragement to them, but is it enough? I am anxious to know whether, under this clause, they can expect to impound surplus or flood water free, and not just at a reduced charge. And I am sure the noble Earl will appreciate that I am not asking for them to be paid for reducing the flood. If I have taken up a lot of your Lordships time on what I have described as the last on the list of national importance, it is because I hope and believe that domestic and industrial needs are adequately provided for in the Bill, and I am anxious that agriculture should not be the Cinderella of the party.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I rise to addres your Lordships for the first time, not without some sense of trepidation. That is not unnatural on such an occasion, but at least I am fortified by the knowledge of the indulgence which your Lordships invariably extend to maiden speeches, whatever their imperfections may prove to be. I cannot say, as a noble Lord said in his maiden speech recently, that I made my maiden speech in another place in this Chamber during the years when your Lordships were accommodated elsewhere. But I did make a number of speeches in this Chamber during that time, more speeches, I hope, than I shall be tempted to inflict upon your Lordships—and, indeed, I made more than one speech on the subject with which your Lordships are concerned this afternoon.
I am sure that this Bill will receive a general welcome, not only in this House, where it has already received a very generous welcome, but also from those engaged in the supply of water and in 1011 the management of rivers and underground water resources. But, as not infrequently occurs when a Bill is greeted with general approbation, some of its provisions do not escape censorious criticism at a later stage. That, I feel, may well be the fate of this Bill. Indeed, I myself intend in a few moments to express some modest criticisms, appropriately tuned to the conditions of a maiden speech, of some of the provisions of this Bill.
The creation of these new river authorities which will assume responsibility for the management of rivers in all their aspects is, I am sure, an important step in the right direction. I think the Government are to be congratulated on having decided to take this step so promptly. At present, as the noble Lord pointed out, these responsibilities are divided between a number of different authorities—river boards, fishery boards and various navigation authorities of different kinds; also, quite a large number of local authorities have an interest in the subject. As I understand it, all these interests will now be gathered into the hands of a single authority, and that, I am sure, is a good thing.
This Bill, I think, can be regarded as the second stage in the development of what has been called a national water policy. The first stage was, of course, introduced by the Water Act, 1945. Although that Act was passed some seventeen years ago, very little was done under it until quite recently. The present Government have certainly been active in eliminating the numerous and, in some cases, weak supply undertakings. The number of water undertakings has been reduced since 1956 by amalgamation from something of the order of 1,000 to about 600.
The Act of 1945, as your Lordships will recall, dealt mainly with the distribution side of the industry. This Bill now deals with the resources side. The demand for water, as we are all aware, is increasing rapidly, and this is due not only to improved housing and sanitary conditions but to the increasing demands of industry. The Central Water Advisory Committee has estimated that the demand will have increased by something like 25 per cent. by 1965. When I recall my own experiences as a direc- 1012 tor of a large water undertaking supplying a growing industrial area, my own view would be that that is probably an underestimate. The rising demand for water will have to be met by new storage accommodation, which will involve a considerable capital expenditure upon the undertakers; by the conservation of sources, both surface and underground sources; and (I should like to stress this because the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to it also) by the transportation of water over much greater distances than is common to-day. It is to these problems that this Bill is very properly directed.
In addition to the new river authorities, it is proposed to establish another new body—namely, the Water Resources Board. In order to judge the efficacy or otherwise of this proposal it is necessary to look back to the Act of 1945 and to see what has happened since then. As your Lordships know, that Act made the Minister directly responsible for promoting the conservation and proper use of water resources. That was a novel experiment, because it made a Government Department directly responsible for a public utility. It had not been done in any other public utility: electricity supply, gas and transport had been treated in a different way. Government Departments, of course, have always possessed supervisory powers over the public utility undertakings, but it had never before happened that the Minister had been made the prime mover in a public utility. This Bill carries that process a stage further and it affords us an opportunity to review the arrangement and correct it, if correction appears to be necessary.
The view is widely held, I think, that the policy of making the Minister the active executive authority in a public utility has been a great source of weakness. I myself hold that a Government Department is not so constituted as to exercise successfully the executive functions which are needed in a public utility. I should not like your Lordships to assume that I am reflecting in any way on the ability, industry or competence of the officials who are responsible for the administration of the water service; nor, indeed, am I reflecting in any way upon the Ministers who have been responsible for it. But it seems to me that 1013 there are in the constitution of a Government Department two inherent obstacles to the discharge by a Minister of this particular function. One is that the Minister is responsible for many other problems. At one time, perhaps, he is absorbed in the organisation of the National Health Service; at another time he is absorbed in house building, and now he is absorbed in slum clearance. That makes it difficult for the Minister to give the appropriate attention to the development of a public utility.
The other reason why it has always seemed to me that a Government Department is not really a suitable body for this purpose is the constant change in personnel which takes place in a Government Department. The water industry has been fortunate in having many highly efficient officers at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to deal with their affairs; but they tend to be birds of passage, and knowledge of the complications of a public utility service is not acquired in a short time. For those two reasons, I regret that some change has not been made in the fundamental basis on which the Act of 1945 and this Bill are based.
I think that what is required is an executive body, to which can be assigned, either by transfer or by delegation, some, at least, of the executive functions now exercised toy the Minister under the Act of 1945. The water supply industry has long desired that a body of this nature should be set up. Your Lordships will find a parallel to what I am suggesting in the establishment of the Electricity Commissioners by the Electricity Supply Act, 1919. The electricity supply industry made very rapid progress under the directions of the Commissioners from the end of the First World War until reorganisation took place after the Second World War.
Not only did the industry desire that a body of this nature should be set up, but it was, I think, the recommendation of the sub-committee of the Central Water Advisory Committee that there should be an executive body of this nature brought into being and entrusted with some, at least, of the functions which are at present vested in the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The proposed Water Resources Board is really not such a body. It is, I think, 1014 a purely advisory body. I listened carefully to the noble Lord when he was dwelling on its functions; and, indeed, if your Lordships look at the appropriate Clause 12, it is evident that this body is to be an advisory body, and no more.
There are six special matters enumerated in subsection (3), and in each of these matters the functions of the Water Resources Board are to be advisory. They are:To consider in what way action needs to be taken… to keep under review the progress made …to bring to the notice of the Minister and of the river authority concerned any case where it appears to the Board that the arrangements in force in any river authority area with respect to any such matter … need to be revisedand so on. All through the enumeration of their functions it is quite clear that this body will be no more than an advisory body. That, I believe, is not what is wanted.
Now I come briefly to another point, and this will be my last. The Bill provides that extraction of water from existing sources and, I think, from underground sources as well, shall be subject to licence by the new river authorities. The existing statutory water undertakers have developed these sources, and in many cases they have acquired them at considerable cost. Now their right of abstraction is to pass from them to the new river authorities, and abstraction in future will be by their consent and licence. These statutory water undertakings at present enjoy a statutory and legal obligation—I will not say they enjoy it, but there is vested in them a statutory and legal obligation—to supply their areas with water. Their ability to do so will now be made dependent upon the consent and licence of the river authorities, and the river authorities will have many other interests besides water supply.
True it is, as the noble Lord pointed out, that existing abstracters will receive a licence as of right. But I listened to the noble Lord very carefully hoping to hear that these licences will be irrevocable. I do not understand that they are irrevocable. They may, in a change of circumstances, be revoked at any time by the river authorities. I hope that when the noble Earl comes to reply he will be able to give us an assurance that these licences as of right are not 1015 revocable licences. It is not only the statutory water undertaker who is to receive a licence as of right. Other persons who are abstracting water at the material time will be entitled to a licence as of right as well. That means that an abstracter who is to-day illegally abstracting water may well, by this procedure, cure the defects in his present title and become entitled, through his licence of right, to extract water in circumstances which were illegal when the abstraction began.
This seems to me to be a reversal of the proper order of priorities. If the supply of water to the public is to be maintained, I should have thought that the statutory water undertakers should be confirmed in the use of their existing sources and the new authorities given a right of appeal to the Minister if the use which the statutory undertakings are making of their resources is regarded by the river authorities as prejudicial to the proper use of the river. I should have thought that the statutory water undertakings have at least the right to expect that.
These matters which I have been raising are no doubt matters which can be dealt with more effectively at a later stage. As I have said before, this Bill, I am sure, is assured of a general welcome. But I hope the noble Earl and the Minister will not be too ready to brush aside those who have given this country what is, I think, universally admitted to be a service of public water supply unparalleled in other parts of the world.
§ 5.8 p.m.
THE Earl OF WOOLTON
My Lords, it falls to my very pleasant lot to be the first speaker to offer the congratulations of the House to the noble Lord who has just spoken for the speech which he has delivered, and to express to him—and I do it in no formal sense—the hope that very often we may have the pleasure and the privilege of hearing his views. I hope, having said that, that your Lordships will forgive me for the dreadful brick that I dropped just before the beginning of this debate. The Whip said to me, "You follow Ilford. You will say something about him, won't you?" I said, "Ilford? Who is he?" The Whip was in a hurry—why I do 1016 not know. I got very little out of it until I met his Lordship in the corridor, and, knowing him as an old House of Commons man, I said to him: "I say, do tell me. I'm going to have to say the customary things about a fellow called Ilford who is going to make a maiden speech in the House. Do you know anything about him?" The reply I got was, "Yes, it's me." I was very embarrassed, my Lords, and full of apologies, but there have been certain circumstances which have prevented me from being in the House for some time. I had missed the point and I was very sorry he had not stuck to the name of Hutchinson.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord to you. I have known him for a very long time. He is a very distinguished Parliamentarian. He has done more, I think, than any other man I know to offer counsel and encouragement to members of local authorities in this country to persevere in the work that they were doing. He has, of course, been a most distinguished head of the National Assistance Board. You will have heard that he is a clear and powerful speaker and he is an administrator of high standing. On all those grounds I venture—and I am sure the House will agree with me—to hope that he will intervene in our debates frequently.
I am conscious not only of the terrible error I made in the corridor outside but of the fact that he had some criticism—very kindly criticism—to direct to the Act of 1945. Those of your Lordships who have the virtue of antiquity will remember that I was the person who introduced that Bill into this House; so the noble Lord got his own back without knowing that he was getting it. I felt very uncomfortable when he was looking at me and making those observations, but I am sure he was really looking at the noble Earl on the Government Bench who is going to reply to him later on.
Before I go further may I, with great respect, offer my congratulations and thanks to the noble Lord who introduced this Bill with so much detail and with so much quick understanding, for one phrase he used which, if he forgets it, I shall not. It was:We shall have no more debates in this House such as we had on the use of water from Ullswater.1017 This Bill is complex and there is a great deal of it, but if it prevents our having another debate like that, a particularly painful debate to me, especially as it was followed by the loss of a very old and dear friend, we shall he grateful to him.
I have maintained an interest in water supply all these years. I have a technique which was born for my business life and which I cannot alter: that when a question of this nature comes up I do not read these terribly difficult Bills in detail in order to understand them; I go to the people who are operating them, or who are going to operate them and whose business it is, and ask them to tell me how it is going on and what they think about it. So when I felt I wanted to address your Lordships on this Bill I went to the West Sussex officials and asked them if they had read the Bill. My word, had they read it! They began to tell me about it and I begged them not to. I asked them to tell me how it would work and what they thought about it. They were good enough to give me quite a lot of their time.
Noble Lords on the Government Benches will, I think, be relieved to know that they told me that they welcomed the Bill, although they had much criticism to make of it. They understood it—that was abundantly clear—and they welcomed its general provisions, though they had two points which they wanted to make, which, in fact, they asked me if I would make and which were issues of principle. They were these. They felt that everybody had a right to have an inquiry into the decision of officials, and they pointed out to me that in this Bill the Government, for some reason which is not clear to me, have secured a double system, a sort of two-decker system. The officials have been round the country—at least I hope they have—and have decided that there are certain areas where amalgamation should take place and certain other areas where there may be public inquiries. This is a combination of Clauses 3 and 10.
It is very difficult to get over a decision by officials, and the people I spoke to in particular in this Sussex area regret that they are not going to have the opportunity of a public inquiry. They say that this Bill, good as it is in general, will have the effect of increasing the cost of 1018 administration; that it will create another body, a third tier in administration. They say that they have an excellent system, and they claim, I understand, that public authority has approved of it in West Sussex. There is also an excellent system in East Sussex, and they are going to be amalgamated under this Bill. They have no redress against that except to go to the Minister and beg him to have a public inquiry.
Those of us who have had the honour of sitting in Ministerial chairs know just what happens when representations are made in matters like this. The Minister, with the greatest of courtesy, listens to the representations. He has already, of course, been thoroughly briefed by his officials. His mind has been made up; that is to say, the official mind has been made up and transmitted to the Minister, who is very busy with a multitude of things more important than the minor representations that are made. We have all done it in our time. We thank the people with the greatest of courtesy for the information they have given us; we tell them that we hope that they will come again—that is one of the Ministerial white lies that I hope are not recorded elsewhere—they go; and that is the end of the story.
What is going to happen in East Sussex? I raise this as a matter of principle; otherwise I should not have raised it on a Second Reading such as this. It may be paralleled in other parts of the country; in fact I know that it will be, and I do not raise the issue and name them because I happen to be a landowner in those particular parts. But consider what is going to happen in East Sussex and West Sussex. They have two very highly efficient pieces of organisation, running very economically, and when the amalgamation takes place not only will the two organisations still be necessary but a third, a new, building will also probably go up: there will be a third tier of administration to which the present people will report. The cost will be not less than £50,000 a year, I am told, to West Sussex; and I suppose that East Sussex will be in the same condition.
The problem that I venture to put to Her Majesty's Ministers is: wherein lies the profit in such an amalgamation?—unless of course you have been misinformed geologically, and that is always 1019 possible for the Minister. Perhaps you think that the waters of East Sussex and the waters of West Sussex all come from the same place; that they have something to do with each other, and that amalgamation is reasonable. But, my Lords, the waters of East Sussex, like the people of East Sussex, will not have anything to do with the waters of West Sussex. There is, in fact, a barrier between them: a barrier of chalk, a deep barrier on which Brighton is situated. So there sits Brighton, astride of this ridge. If amalgamation takes place it will mean another tier of administration, at what cost I do not know. But I would beg the Government, as they are considering the various matters that will be raised this afternoon, to ask themselves again whether it is really necessary to have this amalgamation; whether, in the interests of economy, two bodies of people who are doing the work very well, and very economically, might not be allowed to continue in their welldoing. I hope that Her Majesty's Ministers will not be unduly influenced by the City of London, which of course is loving this process of take-over. My belief is that whenever the Government take over something they increase the cost of administration, burden the ratepayers still further and do not, in fact, create a better organisation.
Therefore, my Lords, as a matter of principle I venture, in giving general commendation to this Bill, to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would not be well advised to recognise this very well-established right of public inquiry, where information is elicited; where, indeed, information and the reasons for conclusion are given to the public. That practice is a great satisfaction to these gentlemen who have voluntarily given their lives to this form of public service, who want to continue in it and never can be quite as happy if over and above them there sits another body—I hesitate to use the sentence I was going to use, because I am greatly indebted to the Civil Service of this country for a great deal of help which they have given me in the various offices that I have been privileged to hold. I do feel that to put another body, in their minds an unnecessary body, over and above the people who have been 1020 working is not a good thing in public administration.
I have a great many notes here, as your Lordships see. I had intended to occupy more of your time, but I am very troubled by the fact that 22 people are going to speak in this debate. I have asked what was going to happen, and I am told that it will continue beyond 9 o'clock. I am sure that some of your Lordships are going to be very hungry by the time the debate is over, and perhaps that will not be for the general good. Therefore, I am not going to make the other observations that I had intended to make. I hope you will agree to the Second Reading of this Bill to-night and I hope that, with some gratitude for the consideration of the House, Her Majesty's Ministers will deal with the points that noble Lords have already raised in criticism of the Bill.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I am sure that I shall find favour with your Lordships in that I shall be very brief in my remarks and shall probably occupy only about five minutes of your time. But before I raise one or two matters for consideration it is my privilege from this side of the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, on his maiden speech. The noble Lord spoke from the Cross-Benches and made certain suggestions of which I hope the Government will take notice. I had knowledge of the noble Lord's interest in water undertakings, and I am certain that in his present office he is doing excellent social work on behalf of a certain section of the people.
What I have to say may have been already covered, and will certainly be covered during the course of the discussion that is to follow. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, in his opening remarks about the Bill, gave it very wide coverage. Unfortunately, for what was likely to happen after his speech, I thought he was very quick in covering the Bill, but at any rate it was good to hear that the Bill had many good points. There are also other points which will no doubt have to be dealt with in Committee, but in general terms we on this side of the House welcome the Bill. The noble Lord said that it was in some respect designed to make an 1021 improvement of supplies in rural areas. My interest in the Bill is of a rural nature, and I am concerned particularly with what happens in regard to our agricultural industry. I was glad also to realise that the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, was in his place this afternoon and was able to give your Lordships the benefit of his wealth of experience in water matters. The noble Lord raised a question on the representation of the drainage authorities and the various other authorities, and I would endorse what he said in regard to that; not only that there should be representation but that there should be full consultation at all stages with the recognised drainage authorities of this country.
The noble Lord also raised a question about the charges in regard to the supply of water for public purposes. The Bill provides for the levying of charges, more or less on fixed rates. There is one clause which deals with the question of the fixation of charges over the period of five years. I hope that when we further consider it there may be some alteration in the length of time, if that is the definite time for a particular charge, because, as the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey said, the taking of water for agricultural purposes is uncertain in regard to various periods and for different circumstances. However, I am encouraged in what I have said with regard to charges, in that Clause 56 (5) (b) says:The charges levied under the scheme in any financial year of the river authority shall be levied at such rates (not exceeding the maximum rates specified in the scheme) as appear to the river authority to be requisite for balancing their water resources account.That conveys to my mind that there is no question whatever about profit making and that this particular undertaking will be a great national service, and for that reason must be commended
There is a point on which I should like to have further information. It concerns the licence fee of £5 in regard to agricultural supplies. Is this £5 to be an annual fee? If so, it may fall rather hardly upon certain smallholders if their holdings come within the scope of the Bill and they are subjected to it. It is well known that generally the supply of water in the countryside is by way of wells or boreholes. I wonder whether in the case of new wells being sunk or 1022 new bores being put down this fee of £5 covers the additional supply of water which might come from the particular sources.
There is another question regarding the point of precepts. Clause 79 deals with the question of precepts on county councils or county boroughs. I am wondering what the position is in regard to precepts on those particular bodies so far as they relate to the amount of money which may have to be found by rural district councils or borough councils. Precepting seems to be on the county councils and county boroughs, and it is obvious. I think, that if a rural district council has a water undertaking they will have to meet the rates which arc levied by reason of those precepts. In the ordinary way at present there are certain water rates in country areas, and whether we obtain water or whether we use our own wells we are due to pay this additional water rate in our ordinary rates. I wonder, therefore, whether the additional precept which may have to be made and which may fall eventually on the rural district councils or the borough councils will have to be passed on to the people using the water. I do not want to trouble your Lordships further in regard to those points.
There is one final point with regard to the composition of the river authorities. Having read the Bill, I feel that these bodies are likely to be unwieldy in regard to membership. I wonder whether some alteration should be made to limit or curtail the membership of a river authority. Its present large membership may be rather unwieldy and it may be difficult for it to perform its function.
§ 5.35 p.m.
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence in rising to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House, on two scores: the first is lest I should be contentious. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, at the beginning of his speech in introducing this Bill say that a Water Bill is a contentious and controversial Bill. In thinking how to approach the point I have to make, and in order to be uncontroversial, I asked the advice of a friend in another place, who remarked that water is always controversial. So I feel some admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who managed in his maiden speech to avoid being controversial.
1023 When I considered the difficulties and dangers of being controversial on this score, I felt that it was not so much to noble Lords opposite, or indeed to noble Lords on my left, that I might appear controversial, but that the danger might be, as noble Lords opposite are often quick to notice and indeed to point out, that I should be controversial to noble Lords sitting on the Benches where I sit. However, if I am controversial—and I shall do my best not to be—I hope that noble Lords who follow me will castigate me for it suitably.
The second score upon which I ask your Lordships' indulgence is lest I should appear to be talking "parish pump". There is a nice balance, I think, between coming here to your Lordships' House and talking on something about which one feds one knows something, and in talking just about parochial affairs. I come to you to talk on this Bill as a member of a river board. I have been either a member of a river board or a co-opted member of a river board committee for almost the last twelve years—in fact, almost from the time river boards started. I hope that there is a nice balance between what I am going to say, which really concerns my own river board and which might be said to be (and I think it is possible that certain opponents of what I have to say may feel that it is) "parish pump", and coming here. I hope that you will be able to agree with me afterward that it is not mere parochialism.
I feel that what I am raising is a most important administrative issue, and it is one that really concerns Lakeland. I use the term "Lakeland" because it involves those parts of two river boards of Cumberland and Lancashire which are to be amalgamated, and that part of it with which I am particularly concerned is the Northern part. Before I come to this administrative issue, I should like to say that I welcome the basic purpose of this Bill. Conservation, and the idea of putting conservation with the existing functions under one authority, seems to me a most admirable arrangement and one that can only lead to a better use of our water supplies. I think that practically all of us are agreed on that score.
As I say, my criticism is one purely of administration. We had a White Paper, 1024 and in the Appendix to the White Paper it was suggested that the Cumberland River Board should be amalgamated with part of the Lancashire River Board. We had certain informal assurances. I think we put forward this as being our view, as well as its being, as it turned out, the view of the Government. We had informal assurances on this issue that the existing Cumberland River Board with that part of North Lancashire which goes down to the Lune would be included in the new board suggested by the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said in his speech that there would be room for modification, and I beg the Government to consider this point very seriously, because it seems to me, in view of some of the issues I am going to raise, that there is room for going back to the original idea.
Under the Bill, which is different in this respect from the White Paper, Clause 3 and the First Schedule envisage the proposed river authority as stretching from the Border down to Wigan, from the Pennines to the Irish Sea. It embraces all the old Cumberland River Board as well as the old Lancashire River Board. We in Cumberland and in North Lancashire are not happy about this at all. We cannot quite make out why there has been this change of mind. Is there a conflict of opinion in the Ministry about it? It seems to me very much as if there is. If that is so, I can fully understand it because it is an extremely knotty point—one to which we have certainly given a great deal of thought and in regard to which, evidently, the Government have made a very definite change of plan.
As late as July, the Government were still thinking in terms of the area for Cumberland as laid down in the White Paper; then suddenly, when this Bill was laid on the Table on November 7, we found this change, a change which we had not expected at all. It seems to me that there are very cogent reasons against this. The area envisaged by the White Paper—that is to say, Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire, which I call "Lakeland" because, after all, the Lakes are to be found in those three counties—has a very strong affinity, which arises from its central mass of mountains. It seems to me that it is hydrologically one, it is topographically 1025 one, and that, from the point of view of water conservation, land drainage, agriculture, fisheries, and the rural nature of the area, which has its own peculiarities, it hangs together as a unit. A chief factor in this hanging together as a unit is the National Park. It is the largest and most renowned National Park in the country, and it seems to me that you cannot add a substantial part to this area and still have your National Park. The characteristics of Central Lancashire are wholly different, it being largely an urban, industrialised area. It has absolutely no topographical affinity with the Lakeland area at all. I very much doubt if it has a hydrological affinity with it.
This is, I think, a more difficult problem to answer, and is really one for engineers and experts to work out, but it seems to me that the Lakeland area is one, with the central massif of these mountains and the rivers belonging to it—namely, the Eden, the Lune, and all the Lakeland rivers themselves. The Ribble, which is the river which concerns Central Lancashire, is really quite different: it is a Pennine River and has no affinity with the rest of the bloc at all. Again from an administrative point of view, I do not know whether your Lordships realise how difficult it is to travel North-South in this area. Where, for instance, would the headquarter meetings be? Would they be at Preston? If they were held at Preston, or even Wigan or some other place in the South—and I think that the weight of population would demand that they should be there—it would be extraordinarily difficult to administer from the point of view of officials, staff and the members of the boards. I feel it would discourage a good many people from serving on such boards, particularly people who live in the Northern part of the area. I cannot help feeling that the extra administrative cost would be out of all proportion to the gain in efficiency.
Then, most important of all so far as we are concerned, is the question of representation. Central Lancashire, if it is added on to this Lakeland area, is going to overwhelm us in the proportion of something like eight to one. As it is, in that area the five county boroughs of Central Lancashire are already clients of Manchester. Your Lordships will remember that you had certain discussions in this respect in February, and, 1026 although I was not then a Member of your Lordships' House I read the report of the debates very thoroughly. In fact, if I had not had flu at the time I would have been sitting on the steps of the Throne.
But I cannot help feeling that the Bill was thrown out primarily because it was really a short-term expedient; it had a limited objective, and these limited objectives and short-term expedients, it seems to me, damage long-term planning. I think that is really the reason that moves me most in urging that your Lordships should reconsider this point—the feeling that if you tag a wholly urban and industrialised area on to this great Lakeland, National Park area you are going to get an imbalance which is going to be disastrous. If this does happen, one will inevitably be forced by the pressure of consuming and extracting interests into short-term expediency and limited objectives. Why should one not add Central Lancashire, this Ribble bit, to the South, as originally thought, or make it a separate river board on its own?
Both the noble Lords, Lord Woolton and Lord Wise, have suggested that possibly some of these units are already administratively unwieldy. I admit there have been others, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested, which were not big enough. My Lords, there are two views on this question, and if one were to give the Ribble area its own river board one would have an area with a rateable value of something like £15 million; it would, in any case, already be bigger than most of the existing river boards.
There are these two possibilities, and I beg the Government to consider very seriously whether they cannot revise their opinion, either to go back to the suggestion of the Government as put forward in their admirable White Paper, or to make the Central Lancashire area a separate area. In suggesting that it should be a separate area, I want to make an even stronger plea for this Lakeland authority, which it seems to me would be the right one to have. If, first of all, you take rateable values as an indication of relative strength, then the Lakeland authority would be bigger than eight of the river authorities that have been proposed.
1027 I admit that rateable value is not altogether relevant here, because under the new water conservancy arrangements rateable value is not going to be the factor determining finance, but at any rate it is an indication of financial strength. As I say, a Lakeland authority as envisaged by my river board would be bigger than eight of the existing ones; if we were to take area as the criterion it would be bigger than eleven. Neither of these things has very much point, because size in this respect is not a matter of financial strength; nor is it altogether a matter of area, except from an administrative point of view. The thing that is really important is the conservation problem, and if we look at this as a conservation problem then it seems that a Lakeland authority is big enough and could be viable in every way. I listened particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on this problem of the viability and size of the thing, and, taking into account everything he said, it seemed to me that you still cannot shoot down my suggested Lakeland authority from the point of view of size.
Lastly, with regard to the Lakeland National Park and the whole of this Lakeland area, the position is absolutely unique. I think one must consider that there is no other area quite like it in the whole of England and Wales. It has a conservation problem. Sometimes I think our opponents in this rather suggest that we look upon conservation in the ordinary everyday sense of the word, and not in the sense in which it is used in this Bill, but I assure you that we do not. We realise that we have vast quantities of exportable water and that the consumer must come first. But I beg your Lordships to remember that consumers do not consume only water; they consume other things, and the Lakeland National Park is one of those things. I think that we might very seriously damage it if we were to tack it on to an area with which it had nothing in common, creating an administrative unbalance as well as a representational unbalance. I cannot see that being a good working arrangement. I do therefore hope that you will see your way to thinking very seriously about this again.
Obviously, as I mentioned before, you have thought about it very seriously and have changed your minds. There is a 1028 conflict of opinion within the Ministry about this. There must be. It stands out a mile that, for some reason or other, you have suddenly decided that your original suggestion must go and that you must have this one in. It is not for me to make suggestions as to how this decision has come about, but when the time comes I should like to move an Amendment that we should go back to the proposal in the White Paper. If we cannot go back to that, can we in some way leave the door open, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, suggested at the beginning of his speech, so that we are not now presented straight away with the river authority as is suggested in the Bill but that is struck out of the Bill and we can try the other methods or see what happens without constituting a new authority? I am sure that that can be done. I see that a good deal of interest has been taken in my point on this by the noble Lords sitting opposite. May I urge them once again to remember that this Lakeland authority, this Lakeland Park which is unique, has a viability of its own as a water authority, and beg the Government to reconsider their decision?
§ 5.54 p.m.
My Lords, I have the very great pleasure and privilege of congratulating the noble Lord who has just sat down upon his maiden speech. I congratulate him for a very large number of reasons. I think he is to be congratulated on his title. "Henley" is a very suitable title if you are going to make a maiden speech about waiter, although when we heard his speech it was about an area very much further North than the River Thames. He wondered whether he would be controversial. I can assure him that he was not controversial within the meaning of the Act, and that he did not talk "parish-pump" politics. He brought his own special knowledge to bear; and that is one of the great attributes of this House; that we have in this House people with specialised knowledge and that they speak to that specialised knowledge. I thought that it was a wholly admirable speech, and a very powerful one, and I have no doubt that there is a good deal of worry on the Front Bench as to how it shall be answered That is as it should be.
1029 My Lords, I should also like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on the comprehensive and admirable way in which he introduced this very complex and long Bill. But I should like to express my great disappointment, that I am unlikely to be able to be here this evening to hear the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, wind up. I have already apologised to him, because I have to leave to catch a train, but I feel that I owe an apology to your Lordships' House as well. I realised recently, when I sat a little lower down than I am at the moment, what a frustrating thing it is for a junior Minister to sit all the way through a long debate, carefully noting all the points that are made in order to answer them, only to find that there is nobody in the House to hear one do so. I therefore apologise both to the House and to the noble Earl: it is not my wish that this has to be.
In speaking to this subject we must all declare an interest, and I have to declare at least three interests. I have for long been associated with a water company; I have been associated with the River Boards' Association; I am also an agriculturist, and very much involved in this subject, and I have a personal interest, in that one of the first speeches I ever made in your Lordships' House was about water. I am delighted to find that one of the points I was then making—this was way back in 1957—is now in the Bill; that is to say, that we should have to use the rivers very much more for water supply purposes, than we had been accustomed to think of using them in the past.
I do not propose to speak on the agricultural points. They have already been well covered by the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey. All I should like to say is that, on the whole, I think, farmers welcome this Bill. They are glad to see that the vital land drainage duties of the river boards will be carried on under the new Bill, and will be carried on under the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture. The farmers realise the necessity for the control of irrigation—this great new use of water. It was most impressive when the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, told us that an acre of potatoes is as thirsty as an acre of Londoners, and can use as much water. Agriculturists realise that this new use of water 1030 must be controlled, but they are worried, and I think rightly worried, as the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, pointed out, about some of the charging provisions in this Bill as they will relate to them. Incidentally, the agriculturists are glad, I am sure, to see that the Minister of Agriculture retains his responsibility under this Bill. The farmers would not have liked, I think, to see a Water Resources Board with executive powers, or an autonomous Board, such as some other sections would have liked. Agriculturists also, I think, echo the fears that were expressed in our last debate by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, that it may not be practicable to bring all the river authorities into existence on the one date. This is a matter to which I should like to return later.
As for the river boards, they welcome the proposals to establish these new authorities, and they accept the need for the new approach. They think the Government were right to set the membership of these new authorities at between 21 and 31, and they would not have wished to see the setting up of small authorities, as was recommended in the Proudman Report, of 10 or 15 people. They are glad that the county councils will be represented and will have a bare majority. I am sure that your Lordships were interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on that point as to why the county councils have got back into the picture; and the explanation was completely satisfying to me. The local knowledge of such people is immensely important.
Of course, when we talk about the amalgamation of the existing river board areas, or the enlargement of them, this is a very difficult subject indeed for river boards. Your Lordships were reminded that originally there were to be 7 amalgamations, that 18 river board areas would remain unchanged, and that there would be 2 conservancies remaining, the Thames and the Lee, so that we should have 27 authorities in all. But we see in this Bill that there will now be only some 6 amalgamations, so that there will be 26 authorities, plus 2 conservancies—28 in all. The authorities have actually grown in number since the White Paper was issued. This has been brought about, of course, by the dissolution of the marriage 1031 between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, or perhaps I should say the fact that it has been announced that the marriage will not now take place.
The difficulty of these amalgamations is very great, but there are those (and I think I number myself among them) who still believe that these amalgamations will have to come, and that there are far too many river authorities envisaged in the First Schedule to the Bill. But we have heard to-night, from the powerful speech by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, and the maiden speech of Lord Henley, that two of the proposed amalgamations at least, of East and West Sussex and of the Cumberland and Lancashire Boards, are far from welcomed locally. So what difficulties there will be if the Government do have to use their power ultimately to force more, I do not know. However, I must admit that I wondered why, in the case of the Cumberland and Lancashire area, this change was made. It was not in the White Paper, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has said, and at that time, when I was apt to know more of what was going on, it certainly was not envisaged. But we shall no doubt hear from the noble Earl who is to wind up the debate what were the reasons for this change.
My Lords, I should now like to direct your attention briefly to one or two points connected with the statutory water undertakers. These are nothing to do with funerals, but this is the jargon in the water industry. We always refer to ourselves as statutory undertakers—meaning the supply companies who have statutory duties under the Act. This point was well made in the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford; and the whole point that I want to make here could have been so much better covered by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, who spoke so cogently on this matter in the debate on May 23. Unfortunately, however, he had another public engagement which he had to keep; he knew that he would have to leave the House about now, and he was therefore not able to put his name down to speak.
Now the water industry accepts the need for future measures for the conservation and management of water resources in England and Wales, and the Government's decision to legislate on the 1032 lines of the White Paper and on the discussions which have taken place is welcomed. But, though the provisions of the Bill generally are welcomed in principle, there are sincere doubts which I want to bring to your Lordships' attention as to whether the provisions of the Bill will be workable or effective. The water industry wonders, for instance, whether in this Bill the Government fully recognise their special position as statutory water undertakers. Your Lordships will appreciate that this group of water users, who are also the suppliers to the public, is the only group which has a statutory duty and obligation to furnish supplies to those that are entitled to demand them.
These statutory obligations are, of course, contained in the 1945 Water Act, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I quote a short passage from paragraph 31 of the Third Schedule to that Act, because it puts the matter beyond all doubt. This paragraph reads:The undertakers shall provide in their mains and communication pipes a supply of wholesome water sufficient for the domestic purposes of all owners and occupiers of premises within the limits of supply who under the special Act are entitled to demand a supply for those purposes".My Lords, the trouble about this Bill is that in Clause 14, which gives us the duties of the water authorities, there are no priorities set out. Is it unreasonable to ask that, as this Bill goes through Parliament, there should be added to this clause something that will make the duty to supply which is contained in the 1945 Act the paramount duty, and that there should be set out who shall have the right of priority to the resources of the river authority?
Paragraph 19 of the White Paper (Cmnd. 1693), which we debated in May, seemed to go a good way to meeting the point—and I quote:River authorities will have a positive duty of water conservation, with the object of ensuring that water is available for all legitimate needs",and it went on to refer to the statutory undertakers. Paragraphs 35 to 37 of the White Paper, under the heading, "Relationship between River Authorities and Statutory Water Undertakers", took the point well. Paragraph 35 says:Statutory water undertakers, because of their statutory duty to maintain a constant supply of water, have a special interest in a new system for water conservation1033 These admirable sentiments which I have quoted from the White Paper have not, however, been carried into the Bill. There are no words comparable to them in the Bill. In the Bill we find much more a situation that all are equal under the Bill, and that it will be for the new river authorities, the Water Resources Board, the Minister and everybody else to make up their minds from time to time which user or potential user has a priority.
My Lords, I think that this is a real worry. I think that this is a point to which we shall have to return a great deal while we are discussing this Bill; and I do not apologise for emphasising it strongly now. In fact, as the Bill proceeds I think it may be necessary to try to get new words written into the Bill, rather than—and I say this with great respect—to rely simply upon assurances that may be given from the Government Front Bench. The form of words which, if written into the Bill, would help, would more properly, I think, be considered on Committee stage.
The next point to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships—again through the eyes of the statutory water undertakers—is the Water Resources Board itself. Was I not right in thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was perhaps a little on the defensive when he spoke about the Water Resources Board? I am glad that he thought it necessary to speak at some length and to try to reassure us this was really a strong Board. But as proposed in the Bill, this is certainly not the body that the supply authorities hoped to see in the Bill. There is, of course, to be a balance between the autonomous executive body and the advisory body, but the scales have been weighed very heavily on the advisory side.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in leading for the Opposition, mentioned this point, and felt that it might be necessary to come with an Amendment here, and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, also deal: with this point. I wonder whether one of the ways of dealing with this might not be (this really should be deait will) in Committee) to add to the end of Clause 12 (2) some words enabling the Minister to give certain delegated executive powers to the Water Resources 1034 Board if he felt it necessary. One could add:and of dealing with such matters as they may be required by the Minister to deal with under authority delegated by him".This would keep the door open. We feel that at the moment as the Bill is drafted, it has become closed. I suspect that the noble Earl will say that under Clause 12 (3) (a) the door is open. Well, I hope that is enough, and I shall be very interested, if I am not here, to read what he has to say about that if he refers to it to-night. Lord Hastings emphasised that the Board had duties. Indeed it has duties, but as I read the Bill, the Board has duties to advise, not duties to do.
To turn to the river authorities, the main criticism many of us feel—and certainly the water industry does—is that there are too many of them. The subsequent regroupings are allowed for under the provisions of the Bill. This will be very difficult once we have set up these bodies under their new style and title and constituted their membership. If the Government still think there are rather too many it would be better to reduce them now, rather than rely on being able to reduce them later. One reason, it seems to me, why it is dangerous to have too many authorities is that there is a great shortage of capable technical staff. These river authorities will be quite useless unless they have very high-quality staff in their employment.
That leads me to the next point, which was made by Lord Sinclair of Cleeve before he left—I wish he were here to make it himself. If the Government insist that there must be this large number of authorities, would not a good compromise perhaps be that they should not all start functioning on the same day, the second appointed day? To make them all in a fit state to function on the second appointed day is going to be a strain. Perhaps this idea can be reconsidered. I know that it was referred to in the last debate, and I read the reply which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, then gave. But the difficulties of administration are not always insuperable if there is a will to surmount them.
Next, a word on representation: If the statutory water undertakers have their duties recognised, as I would wish them to be recognised, in the Bill, it will 1035 not be so important that the representation of the water supply undertakings should be numerically adequate. But if there is to be no change of that sort in the Bill I beg leave to doubt whether representation is at the moment quite adequate. There is one other point regarding representation that I should like to make. Under Clause 8 there is to be some special member representing a special interest, and I submit there should be a duty on the Minister to appoint an alternate member. May I elaborate for a moment? Suppose the Minister feels that under Clause 8 he is entitled to appoint a representative of, say, the Transport Executive or the Coal Board or some such body. It would be wrong if, while the appointed member were ill or otherwise absent and a decision had to be taken, there was no special representation of that organisation which the Minister himself felt ought to be represented. I know the difficulties are again administrative, but I think they are only there to be surmounted.
This brings me to another point, that river authorities should work very largely through sub-committees. They are very large authorities with up to 31 members. Under paragraph. 32 of the Third Schedule it would seem that the river authority could appoint a subcommittee and co-opt experts to that sub-committee. I hope this is so. I am not a Parliamentary draftsman and I am always a little doubtful of how important a paragraph in a Schedule really is compared to a clause in the Bill itself. But if this is so it would have the effect of preventing the authority, which is rather big and unwieldy, from trying to become even bigger, but experts on the authority could work through subcommittees where co-option is possible.
The two main sub-committees that river authorities should have would be one for conservancy and supply and another for the drainage and pollution matters, which would be wholly under the other Minister. When this matter was raised in a previous debate on this subject, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe replied that he was chary of laying mandatory duties on an unborn baby. The baby is now very much nearer to being born and perhaps when it is born he would not be adverse to laying duties 1036 on it here in the form that I would wish. There are many other matters that are of interest and causing concern at the moment to the water industry: some matters relating to licences and some regarding changes. But I will not worry your Lordships with them now; they can be taken at a later stage in the Bill.
In conclusion, I would say just this. If a Bill of this nature is to become an Act which will be acceptable and workable, it must take a middle course. Obviously, it is a contradiction in terms that the status quo should be retained for certain of the interested parties, while others have to change because of the very nature of the reforms and new policies that are required. But I believe that the Government have come to just about the right balance in this Bill, subject to details and qualifications of points that have been made already and will be made later in this debate. I believe that it is absolutely essential that the various interests work together and do not take up positions and fight for their own existing rights. That is why a middle Position, a compromise position, a proper balance, is so essential. If there have been any hatchets bought in the past by various interests in the water world, now is the time to bury them, and per contra this is certainly not the time to go out and buy hatchets with the feeling that this Bill means that those interests must defend themselves against their great rivals.
This is a formidable Bill of 122 pages of print, of 119 clauses, and with 11 Schedules. Obviously it is going to occupy a great deal of your Lordships' time in the coming weeks, but I think that this time will be well spent, because this is a valuable measure on a most important subject. I, for one, give it a sincere welcome and beg leave to commend it to your Lordships.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD FLECK
My Lords, I would wish to associate myself with the congratulatory remarks that have been already extended to the noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon. I believe that both of them have made contributions that are of substantial value to the discussion of this Bill. I venture to intervene in this debate in your Lordships' House because I have had industrial experience 1037 over more than thirty years, when the importance of the availability of water to industry was firmly impressed on me. Therefore, it is as an industrialist that I venture to address your Lordships. In particular, my experience has lain in the water resources of the Tees Valley, and therefore to that extent I declare that I had a specific interest, although I no longer have any specific interest now.
In the course of that experience I have been brought into contact with the views of the Nature Conservancy on water matters and I wish to emphasise that, in my opinion, the views of the Nature Conservancy on water matters usually contain much of substance and should be given a weight of due importance. That does not mean, of course, that the views of the Nature Conservancy have to be accepted wholeheartedly and completely, but I emphasise that they are very good and I would hope that when this Bill is being amended there will be provision for the formal record of the Nature Conservancy views whenever a new water project is being debated.
By that means I would hope that both agricultural and industrial needs can be developed without in any way doing harm to the natural phenomena of our country and that its natural beauties and natural resources will be preserved. I know, of course, that Clause 93 urges the Water Resources Board to take due cognizance of natural phenomena, but I would suggest that we should make provision for the views of the Nature Conservancy to be formally and definitely recorded.
So I am one of those who welcome in broad principle the objectives of this Bill. It seems to me that it comes timely upon the hour, when there is a lot of world movement to promote the best use of water and water resources. I need only refer to the coming into existence of the International Hydrological Programme, supported as it is by UNESCO, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and by the World Meteorological Organisation. If we are to play our part in such international work, the assessment of our water resources and water position, as mentioned under Part III of this Bill, will be of very considerable value.
1038 The establishment of a strong Water Resources Board, with its small membership of seven and almost adequate powers, seems to me to be a very worthy piece of centralisation which in time will be fully justified, provided always—and the point has already been made by the noble Earl, Lord Waldegravé—that the proper steps are taken to have it adequately staffed with well qualified technical staff. I said "almost adequate powers" because I notice that the Bill denies the Board the right to come in for dealing with interests in pollution, land drainage and flood control. That, of course, does not apply to the river authorities but, so far as I can gather, it does apply to the Water Resources Board. To my mind it is essential, if the assessment of water resources as outlined in Part III of the Bill is to be properly carried out, that this discrepancy between the Board and the river authorities should be remedied and removed.
In terms of its practical application, however, I must also express some criticism of the proposal to set up 26 river authorities. This number has already been criticised by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I join with them in the criticism. By all the rules of good organisation, of which I have knowledge, surely this is an excessive number of boards? The National Coal Board divide the country up into eight divisions. The Gas Council go a little further to eleven. The Electricity Generating Board go back to five. All these organisations have financial responsibilities running into many hundreds of millions of pounds per annum and social responsibilities. Such a large number of authorities as are proposed, I feel encourages the development of parish pump discussions and gives all too readily opportunities to develop local viewpoints against national interests.
I have not heard Members of your Lordships' House refer this afternoon to the symposium which was organised some four weeks ago by the Institution of Civil Engineers. It was on the subject of water resources and, to my mind, is a valuable contribution to the technicalities of this whole question. One of the important points brought out was the need of integration for the control of 1039 water resources, both surface and underground. In particular, I should like to mention the paper by Dr. Buchan, of the Geological Society. Among other things he deals with is artificial replenishment. This consists of diverting surplus surface water in times of plenty to underground strata from which it can be pumped in drier times. There are no doubt technical questions in this matter still to be solved; and there is, of course, the economic complication that the person who spends money and effort in diverting and recharging the aquifer (if I may be allowed to use the technical term) may find that someone else reaps the benefit.
Another subject dealt with by Dr. Buchan is the complementary and integrated use of surface and ground waters; that is to say, underground sources are rested in winter, when there is an overabundance of surface supply, and pumped in summer when surface waters are scarce. In other words, the proposal is to use underground aquifers as reservoirs—and, after all, can anybody else devise a cheaper source of a reservoir than that already provided underground? On a small scale—and I emphasise that it is a small scale—some of us on the North-East coast have already had experience of this method, and on the evidence so far available it has been found to be good.
I wish to emphasise strongly that to operate these devices to the maximum benefit one authority should be in control of both the surface and the underground sources. Unfortunately, underground geological strata do not conform with surface water river systems. Consequently, the proposals in the Bill for 26 authorities, most of them being relatively small, are unlikely to encourage this desirable form of conservation. To get the full benefit each authority must be as large as is practicable. It is not for me this afternoon to sketch possible larger river authorities so as readily to meet this need for integration. One sketch map that I have seen shows five possible regions. Another section of the symposium to which I have already referred speaks of a possible re-examination of the 80-year-old papers on national water supply, written by five authors, published by the Royal Society of Arts, all of whom 1040 divided the country into districts and none into more divisions than 14. In any case, I would add my voice to a plea that the Minister should reconsider the definition of the number of river authorities, and possibly, if there is no better administrative way, deal with the point by Order, after the Bill has become law.
Criticisms have also been raised against the composition of the river authorities with a membership of between 21 and 31, where a majority of the members, as I understand it, will come from constituent councils and there may be only one member well equipped to speak for industry. This surely is a very ill-balanced piece of organisation. I consider myself not at all liable to underestimate the value of agriculture to this country; but, equally, we must always, in season and out of season, recognise the importance of manufacturing industry. And so it is essential, above all, to my mind, to see that a proper balance is maintained between those two interests. Neither should dominate over the other.
In the proposed constitution of the river authorities, by the very nature of the source where the majority of member come from, it seems to me that there is a liability amounting almost to a certainty, that people with an agricultural outlook will be very prominent—they may even be dominant. And lest there be any doubt about this, the Bill provides for a number of members representing agriculture, land drainage and fisheries. The one man nominated because of his industrial experience may have a formidable task, not only because of his numerical inferiority, but because on any industrial river he may represent the greatest use, both in quantity and number of users. And, as has already been pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, he may even be absent on proper business on a crucial day.
I should hope, therefore, that before this Bill receives the Royal Assent two things will be provided for: first, that the total number of members of a river authority will be reduced to say, between 10 and 15, in order to make the authority more of a working unit and less of a public meeting; and, secondly, that steps will be taken to ensure that the various interests—statutory water 1041 undertakings, landowning interests, agricultural interests and industrial interests—will have their responsibilities acknowledged by some measure of representation comparable with their integrated financial and quantitative responsibilities. I noticed that in the debate in this House in May last the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe referred to the:understandable principle of no taxation without representation.If he relates industrial representation to the total industrial contribution towards the finances of each river authority, then I am confident that justice will not only be done but will be seen to have been achieved.
So, as I approach my conclusion, my Lords, I would refer briefly to licensing. Industry on its own account abstracts over 2,000 million gallons per day from rivers, streams and underground. This is at least as much as is taken by the statutory water undertakers. Most of this industrial load is abstracted, as I understand it, by legal right. By this Bill these rights are confiscated (and perhaps I may associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in using that word) without compensation, and the amount of water thereafter can be obtained only at the discretion (that is the point I would emphasise) of the river authority; and, furthermore, there is every prospect that the industrialist will have to pay for it. No other group is treated in this way. The statutory water undertakers are to be entitled, as I understand it, to as much as corresponds as nearly as may be (and that is the phrase used in the Bill, I think) to their existing statutory right. The agricultural user is given, I believe, as great a right or even a greater right than he now enjoys, to abstract all he needs; and he needs no licence and pays no charges. Why, then, are these very great discrepancies made in the treatment of the industrialists? Here, again, my plea is for something approaching equality of rights.
Finally, I would ask that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should give us some assurance that he will take a greater positive official interest in industrial water. This can be assured only by a development in the Ministry's organisation as we know it at present. We should like to know 1042 that there is in the Ministry staff definitely assigned to industrial water considerations. It is not for me to elaborate or even sketch the precise machinery within the Ministry, but I suggest that some permanent section of the Ministry or office or locus of action is definitely required.
As I have already said, industry abstracts at least as much water as the water undertakers. If this large amount—and it is a very large amount; and there are a very large number of abstracters, running, so far as we can estimate, into many thousands—is left out of the Minister's specific purview, and allowed merely to rely on some chance consideration, how with thoroughness can he "promote the conservation and proper use of water resources" as he is required to do under Clause I of the Bill? In addition, he is liable to have many appeals on industrial water problems referred to him.
My industrial friends would welcome this development of machinery which would be evidence that industrial water is getting an adequate place in the Minister's organisation. At present, the industrial water users have no Minister charged positively to be interested in their problems. This is evidenced in many parts of the Bill. I have already mentioned licensing, and would close by pointing out that when minimum acceptable flows are being assessed, as outlined in Clause 19 of the Bill, industry will be affected, I believe, more than any other user, and yet industry is not officially to be consulted: they are not in any of the four specified categories that the river authorities are required to consult, and the industrialists can object only after a decision is made. I should welcome an assurance from the Minister that he will accept the duty that I have outlined.
These, then, are my critical points. If I am asked to be positive in the machinery for tackling them, my first suggestion is that, on behalf of industry, the river authorities or the Water Resources Board, as may be appropriate, should seek the assistance of the regional boards for industry which are looked after by the Board of Trade. In England and Wales there are eight of these regional boards, and they would appear to be sufficiently administratively close to the reduced number of river 1043 authorities we hope for, for them to be a successful and helpful piece of administrative machinery.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the congratulations that have fallen from the lips of other noble Lords on the two maiden speeches we have heard to-day. I think the conception of a national water policy, beneficial to all interests, based on a number of competent authorities administering considerable areas, can be welcomed if, in the final result, the Bill works in that way. Alternatively, the proposals can be regarded with some measure of misgiving if, while trying to meet industrial and urban needs, present and future, they override or do irreparable harm to other interests of vital national importance, such as agriculture, fishing and nature conservancy. Which interpretation is given to those two alternatives depends upon the final form of the Bill and the Government's willingness in the Committee stage to consider many of the criticisms which have been put forward to-day from all sides of the House; and, of course, eventually, which of the two alternatives is achieved, the beneficial one or the one that must cause us misgivings, must depend on the Water Resources Board, the river authorities and the Minister's use and administration of the large powers that are centralised in them by the Bill. The final picture, as I see it, is of a national water network where the deficiencies of one area can be made good from the water resources of another. That seems to be one of the basic points of the Bill.
The second main point seems to be where in each area the minimum acceptable flow of every river is determined by the new river authority on which the previous interests of agriculture and fishing are halved in numbers, compared with the previous river board weight of representation. It is in the exercise of the powers in respect of both these two main provisions of the Bill by the river authorities that there is no appeal by dissatisfied minority interests, even to the Minister, much less to an uninterested independent adjudicator. That was a point my noble friend Lord Woolton dealt with with some force. The Government, I am sure, will there- 1044 fore understand if we wish to write into the terms of reference of the river authorities, as defined in Clause 4 of the Bill, some words imposing on the river authorities the duty to promote the conservation of quality and high standards of our river system—some words which we must think out later on.
Secondly, I am sure the Government will understand if we wish to see in the Bill some provisions for appeal by minority interests of nature conservancy, agriculture or fishing, against decisions of an industrial and urban-weighted river authority (which I think must be the case having regard to the form in which the representation of river authorities is defined) in their interpretation of what is the least that can flow to satisfy the requirements of Clause 19 (5), which noble Lords will find on page 18 of the Bill. I need not read them. Public health, drainage, and all the various interests are defined, but it is not the definition in the Bill that counts; it is how it is interpreted by those who have to administer it. My fear is that there will be river authorities which are overweighted with industrial and urban interests which will override these others.
Again, the Government, I am sure, will understand if we wish to write into the Bill some safeguards against one river authority, or a combination of river authorities, obtaining what I call industrial urban preponderance, a right to transfer all resources from an unwilling river authority. I cannot see in the Bill any provisions which deal with that particular possibility. Whether it could be done by making any such resisted transfer subject to the Affirmative Order procedure instead of the Negative Order procedure is something which we must consider at a later stage. I submit to your Lordships that it is a point which must be considered.
I was, I must say, rather horrified—with no offence implied—by my noble friend Lord Fleck, who seemed to me to disparage local viewpoints as being always liable to restrict national interest. My Lords, the "big boys" always talk about national interest, but it is the little ones, sometimes with local viewpoints, who really must not be ignored.
My criticism of the dangers of this Bill is that it must not become the handmaiden of the needs of industry and 1045 urban water requirements and become a "Dry Rivers Bill," in a desecrated countryside with its beauty stripped in the service of machines and residences. I would remind your Lordships that if this Bill had been law there would have been no "Manchester" debate, no speech by the late noble and learned Lord, Lord Birkett, and no expression of the views of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Woolton said that the "Manchester" debate was a painful debate. It may have been painful to some noble Lords, annoying to other noble Lords, irritating to the Government or those who were promoting the particular scheme; but I think it was a glorious instance of Parliament's asserting its views and its rights; and I should very much regret if we arrived at a position where the Executive could decide such matters without Parliament having an opportunity of expression. I know that there is the Order procedure, but there certainly would not have been the "Manchester" debate in the form that it took had this Bill then been law. Does the noble Earl wish to interrupt?
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I interrupt him for just one second, merely to point out that the debate was not irritating to the Government.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
It was certainly irritating to certain noble Lords, not necessarily the Government.
I think we all acknowledge that water is a raw material which has been taken for granted for far too long. I think that our water demand probably goes up on an average by 2½ per cent. per annum for domestic purposes, and on an average 5 per cent. for industrial purposes. There is, of course, plenty of water from the heavens which falls within our frontiers and plenty of water around us as we live on an island; so I think that for the foreseeable future the problem is fundamentally an economic one and not a technical one. There is no technical difficulty in pumping water from the North-West coast to the South-East coast. There is no technical difficulty in distilling fresh water from sea water; it is purely a question of economics and the question here is how best can we supply our future needs.
1046 It is well to remember that water costs are bound to rise very considerably as large capital works are required for new areas. Present water costs will rise steeply and therefore economic comparisons for future needs must not be based on present water costs but on likely future water costs. So I would ask your Lordships to turn your minds for a very few moments to what I believe is the greatest hope for the future, the economic distillation of fresh water from sea water.
My justification for bringing this matter forward on the Second Reading is that one of the responsibilities of the Water Resources Board is research. Therefore, it is within the ambit of this Bill. If we could but distil fresh water from the sea at a cost anything comparable to the cost of the new supplies our worries over domestic or industrial requirements, over agriculture and our river levels, over our entire conservation problem, would disappear. I think it is the greatest vision of the twentieth century. The possibility of an endless supply of fresh water from salt water could, I believe, alter the whole economics of the world. If the deserts of the world could be green, the economics of countries could be altered; the hungry could be fed. The expenditure of money and effort in this direction is, I believe, well worth while. It is not beyond the range of possibility.
Much, my Lords, has already been achieved, some of it here, mainly by industry, with some, but very little, Government support, and a great deal has been achieved in America largely with United States Government aid. Attention to this problem is increasing, and already in localities in arid areas the high cost is accepted; and where high cost is secondary the needs of the community can be supplied by this means.
There are three instances of which I should like to tell your Lordships. In Kuwait there is a plant to-day distilling 700,000 gallons a day. There is a little place called Luderitz, in South Africa, a small seaport in an arid area where there is a plant with a capacity of half a million gallons a day. A Glasgow firm are making a plant with a capacity of a million gallons a day in the Sinai Peninsula for an Egyptian phosphates 1047 company which as now State-owned. Also, in Guernsey, there is a plant which produces approximately half a million gallons a day and it is found to be economic having regard to the capital reservoir costs which would be entailed by ordinary orthodox means of construction. In the United States progress is enormous, and interest is much greater than it is in this country. It has been active in the United States since 1953. They have an actual department called the Office of Saline Water in the Department of the Interior, which has a Budget of no less than 11 million dollars this year for this particular project.
Yet in the United Kingdom the Central Water Advisory Sub-Committee Report, which I quoted to your Lordships in this House on December 3, 1959, dismissed the subject in one paragraph. I read the paragraph and I said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 219, col. 1173]:In the future the processes of de-mineralisation and distillation may be further developed to a point where it will be practicable to use more tidal water for both industrial purposes and public supplies, but at the present stage of development the cost is in general greater than that of piping water over long distances.Of course it is. In the United States they have been working at it and they have four or five demonstration plants which are producing water today at 6s. to 7s. per thousand gallons. That figure is too high, but it is a quarter of what it cost in 1952 and they now have a study of a 50-million gallon a day plant and the cost would be at 2s. 6d. per thousand gallons. It is really becoming economic.
I was depressed at that single paragraph in the Central Water Advisory Sub-Committee's Report dismissing the project, and when I think that the Wright Brothers were laughed at in 1903 and we now have jets spanning the Atlantic, and that Marconi managed to get some signals across the Atlantic in 1902 and to-day we have television in all our homes, I am not at all impressed by the experts who say that it costs so much that we ought not to think too much about it. There is much research going on in the United States on this project. I would not for a moment suggest we should duplicate it by doing research here. But there is one practical step I ask Her Majesty's Government to consider. I have the backing of the 1048 Water Research Association and the Civil Engineering Research Council for this request. It is that we should have our saline man in the United States, so that we can really keep in close touch. It is not a case of any nationalistic rivalry; there is no politics involved: there is nothing but the benefit of mankind concerned in this. One is quite sure the laboratories of the United States would be open to our man, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will at any rate consider that suggestion which I put forward with the authority I have just quoted. I make no apologies for pressing this point. Who are we to doubt? Our task is to have faith and make endeavour in these new fields, and with the results of our faith and endeavour we may solve this water problem in a way which will revolutionise the future of this country, and I think possibly many other countries of the world.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should first like to express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Champion, who, in order that I may keep another engagement, has kindly agreed to change places with me in the list of speakers; and at the same time express my apologies to your Lordships for leaving after making this speech—for any discourtesy in not waiting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, and the noble Earl who is to reply. Also, I think I am the first speaker from these Benches who has addressed your Lordships since we had the pleasure of hearing the very well-informed and interesting maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Henley. On behalf of my friends here I would congratulate him and add my hopes to those already expressed that he will frequently address your Lordships. I would add my own personal congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, an old friend of mine at the Bar.
I wanted to speak in this debate principally on behalf of the amenities societies, whose interest in this subject is very well known to all your Lordships and which has in fact been very well brought out in a number of speeches this afternoon. I think I may safely say that all the societies which are collectively described as the "amenities societies" (in some ways a rather unfortunate 1049 phrase but one which has come into vogue) welcome in principle this Bill and the national water policy which it lays down. I think every speaker this afternoon has gone as far as that, although the speeches added together come to a considerable volume of criticism, because after welcoming the principle, almost every speaker has had something critical to say. I am afraid that I shall be one of the critics.
Of course, I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin in welcoming the amenities clause, Clause 93, and I agree with him that nevertheless this clause is really not strong enough. It is a clause which we succeeded in getting into the Electricity Act in 1957 pretty well in exactly the same terms, and it has not in fact proved strong enough. I should like to see this clause strengthened so that the point which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye in his very interesting speech might be given effect to and this question of saline waters be gone into before decisions are made to take water from lakes like Ullswater, to which he and the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, referred. All this clause says is that natural beauty must be taken into account. That is not very strong. At Trawsfynydd, in North Wales, they took it into account and decided that natural beauty must go by the board in the interests of a very large power station. I am afraid that is likely to happen, because to a water engineer the most beautiful thing in the world is a large expanse of water in a reservoir. It is very natural; but I think that if he is not to give reign to his love of natural beauty of that sort we need in the Bill a stronger clause than this.
Actually I attach more importance to Clause 67 (3), which has not been underlined to quite the same extent. That is the one which in effect makes planning permission necessary in regard to developments, which I take it means physical developments. I think it is very unfortunate that, so far as I can see, apart from this particular subsection, there is practically no reference in this Bill to the importance of planning in regard to this matter. The wider aspects of planing, which I should have thought were very closely bound up with the whole of this water development business, seem to be pretty well ignored, and I under- 1050 stand that none of the planning boards, the National Parks or planning authorities has even been brought into consultation with the Ministry on matters of this kind, which I think is very unfortunate. On the face of it, it looks as if it might be hamhandedness, but one wonders whether there is not something more behind it. I hope not. It is very important, particularly in the National Parks areas, that the interests of the National Parks should be borne in mind, and how can that be better done than by bringing the National Parks' authorities into consultation at a very early stage, which so far as I can see has not been done.
The Bill empowers the new river authorities to permit by licence extraction or impounding of inland waters—and this is a point made by more than one speaker—and unless the Minister exercises his power under Clause 38 to call in any particular application or class of applications for his own decision, it appears that the licence may be granted by the river authority without any reference to the Minister whatever. Section 26 of the 1945 Act, which has up to the present time regulated this matter, is repealed, so that there appears to be no way out of this unless we amend the Bill. If the water authority refuses a licence the applicant has a right of appeal to the Minister, but if they grant a licence objectors have no such appeal. I would underline what has been said by others earlier in the debate. It would be most unfortunate if this goes through and produces the sort of situation which existed in the early days of planning, which after a very great deal of trouble has substantially been put right. If we do this, we are making a mistake which was made in the past and which led to a great deal of trouble.
It is important to note that, although the abstraction and impounding of water as such will be directly under the licensing control of the river boards, planning permission will still be required for any works which may be involved, and in this connection the existing safeguards will remain in force. Following from this, I Chink one of the important duties of the river boards is to survey their rivers and, under Clause 19, to prescribe minimum acceptable flows. I do not think I have heard this point made 1051 this afternoon. That, therefore, will be one of the principal criteria for the authorities in deciding what licences are to be granted for the purpose of abstracting the water. Clause 19 (5) provides that the flow which is to be prescribed in this sort of way should be… the minimum… needed for safeguarding the public health and for meeting the requirements of existing lawful uses of the inland water, whether for agriculture"—I hope that your Lordships will notice the particular interests which are singled out—fishing, industry, navigation, water supply or other purposes and the requirements of land drainage.It is noteworthy that the amenities factor is omitted from this list, which leads me to suppose that this earlier clause about amenities is really put in as a matter of form, and that the officials who were responsibile for getting out this Bill really did not have the interests of amenity much at heart.
Again in the composition of the river authorities, which, as your Lordships have heard, is dealt with in Clauses 6 to 8, there is no sort of provision for the amenities interests. All sorts of other interests are provided for, but amenities are nor; nor are the local planning authority brought in here, as they might very well have been if the Ministry had had these matters in view in the way which I submit to your Lordships they ought to have done. County councils and county borough councils will be represented, but the national parks, where the joint planning authorities or joint planning boards have been set up for the express purpose of dealing with the position, are not to be represented at all. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a serious weakness in the Bill as it stands. So far as amenity interests are concerned, I suggest that these could be most conveniently represented by providing, on the lines of an interesting section which was put into the New Forest Act in 1949, that one or two members of each river authority should be appointedby such body of persons as may be designated by the Minister as being specially concerned with the preservation of the amenities of the countryside.I hope that the noble Earl will give consideration to that suggestion, and will 1052 see, when we come to the Committee stage, whether he can help us to get something of that sort into the Bill.
Exactly the same sort of point arises in connection with the composition of the Water Resources Board. Again, there is no sort of provision here for the representation of interests. I was most interested in the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, that the Nature Conservancy ought to be brought in. They are greatly interested in this question, just as much as are the amenities interests. I would remind the noble Earl who is to reply that in the Electricity Act it was provided that, in effect, there should be an amenities representation on the Central Electricity Board. That most distinguished architect, Sir William Holford, was appointed, and he has undoubtedly performed valuable service in his position on the Electricity Authority. I would suggest to the noble Earl, if he can see his way to doing it, that it would be most useful either to have something in the Bill itself or, at any rate, to have an undertaking that the National Parks Commission, whose Chairman I am happy to see is with us, will be brought into this matter. Because I am quite sure that if the Minister would undertake to consult them in making at any rate one of the appointments to this Resources Board, that would be a most valuable step.
I am also far from clear on the point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, as to how far this Bill affects the existing procedure of Private Bill legislation in connection with water undertakings. He assumed that it swept it aside. That was also my own first impression, but looking at the Bill again I am not sure that I am right. In fact, I wrote a little note to the noble Earl to ask him whether he would deal with this particular point—is Private Bill legislation procedure abolished? In other words, will the water undertaker in future have to apply to the new river authorities and not bring a Private Bill before Parliament?
To take the concrete case which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, what will be the position if Manchester attempt to revive their Bill, as I have seen it stated in the newspapers they propose to do? 1053 Can they do so, or will they be told that they have to apply under the procedure of this Bill?—I am assuming, in posing that question, that this Bill is in operation. In any event, can they take the alternative of using this procedure, which eventually would mean that the decision would be given by the Minister and not by Parliament? That I suggest, just as did the noble Lord, is an important matter. One remembers the sort of attitude which was taken up by the Ministry at the time of the Ullswater debate. If this new procedure had been in operation and had been obligatory then, it would have been the "kiss of death" for Ullswater. This is a situation which we in the amenities movement are anxious to avoid.
As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, pointed out, if the Private Bill procedure is abolished, it means, as the Bill stands, that Parliamentary control over these matters will be lost. I was glad to hear him suggest that it might be possible to put down some Amendments which would require that an Affirmative Resolution should be passed by Parliament before, at any rate in regard to national parks, undertakings which were going to have a great deal of effect on, and possibly damage, the beauties of the Lakes, and of the Dales, could be brought into effect I think that is a matter of the greatest importance, and I hope that we shall be able to secure safeguards when the Committee stage is reached.
That brings me to my final point, which is, in a sense, a Committee point because it is dealing now with a particular area. And your Lordships may not be surprised to hear, after what I have said, that that area is the Lake District. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, when he introduced the Bill, that the Cumberland River Board was to be amalgamated with Lancashire. That appears in the First Schedule to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye is absolutely right in saying that this means that we have the urban interests predominating.
As I understand it (although it does not appear clear from the Bill itself), it means that Cumberland and Westmorland will get about two representatives to stand up to about fourteen representatives from urban Lancashire. The 1054 people who are using the water in industry are given an absolute dominance over the people in the Lake District who are trying to defend Ullswater and the other Lakes against predatory inroads by the Manchester water undertaking and all the other undertakings who are now brought in under this plan. With the dominance which this Bill gives to the new combined Cumberland-Lancashire water authority the unfortunate people in the Lake District will have to defend themselves not only against the might of Manchester but also against the might of most of South Lancashire; and that seems to me to be an uphill task. I hope that when the time comes it may be possible to do something to safeguard the situation.
I understand that the Minister has really not given county authorities or, as I said before, the joint planning board, or indeed the Cumberland River Board opportunities for consultation. Your Lordships may have seen in The Times this morning, a most useful letter from the chairman of the Cumberland River Board setting out the position very clearly from his point of view. That is a Board which has done most valuable work, under the efficient chairmanship of Mr. Thompson, who signed the letter. But as I understand it, none of these authorities was brought into consultation with the Ministry before this Bill was tabled in Parliament. This seems to me to be altogether wrong. They themselves feel that a reasonable area would include the whole of the Lake District, together with the Lune Valley and the area depending on the Lune which is peripheral to the Lake District, and that the Ribble and the urban part of South Lancashire should go in with the Mersey. Since the latter is already an urbanised district the two would fit well together.
My Lords, in closing I should like to emphasise the fact that the River Boards Association itself has emphasised to the Minister the need for full consultation (which has not occurred in this case), and for paying some attention to local feeling about these matters. I was very glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about this, because local feeling in the Lake District is very strong. They have not really cooled off, so to speak, after the attempts of Manchester to steal Ullswater from 1055 them. After the protestations made by the noble Earl—I have no doubt very genuinely—during the Ullswater debate, I feel that to put something forward which is against the interests of the Lake District is really heaping coals on the fire. I can assure him that it is going to make it more difficult to persuade people that the Government are earnestly attempting to find a way out which will preserve the beauties of the Lake District, particularly Ullswater Lake, which was in such danger last spring.
My Lords, since the noble Lord has informed me he will not be able to be in the Chamber when I come to reply, may I interrupt him for a moment? I do so because I am at the moment chairing a conference which is discussing this very matter of Manchester's water supply. At that conference, despite what the noble Lord has been saying, the fullest co-operation has been given by everybody concerned, not only on the Manchester side but also on the Lake District side; and I do not think the tone of the noble Lord's comments at this particular stage are necessarily very helpful.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl. Of course these consultations were going on before this Bill was published. The Bill has been published for only a very short time, and I think that he will find it will make a great deal of difference. I have had trunk calls from the people with whom he is in consultation—county clerks, Cumberland, Westmorland, chairmen of river boards. All these people who have been attempting to work with him in order to find a solution to this problem have been put off by what I have described earlier on as the ham-handed conduct, if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, of the officials who have been organising this Bill. It is really most unfortunate that this atmosphere should have been established in this way.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but I cannot permit him to attack officials who cannot defend themselves. I do think that it is unfair to use expressions like "ham-handed conduct of officials".
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I shall try to get back from my engagement to hear the noble Earl's reply, because I shall be interested to hear his explanation as to why these authorities have not been brought into consultation in any way on this matter. We were all very glad to hear that the noble Earl had agreed to chair this conference, because we know that so far as he himself is concerned he is on our side—so far as he can be. But those of us who have had the experience of working in the sort of position the noble Earl occupies know how difficult it is to persuade the officials to take the point of view of the Parliamentarian. The whole history of this country over the last years has been a case of Whitehall grasping from Westminster, and—with great respect to the noble Earl—this Bill is a very good example of what has been going on.
I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time. I hope that, in his reply, the noble Earl will be able to give me some assurances in regard to the very important matters which I have put before you tonight.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill and should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on introducing it this Session, because it is urgently needed. My noble friend, Lord Hastings, took us through the clauses of the Bill with great clarity, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that it follows, broadly speaking, the recommendations of the White Paper on Water Conservation which was published in April this year. Such differences as there are in the Bill from the White Paper in my opinion are improvements; but, from the point of view of industry, I think we can still make some improvements in the Bill while it is going through this House.
The first point I should like to make concerns the duties of the Minister in Clause 1. It seems to me that if the problems of industry are to have proper consideration, as other noble Lords have said, the technical staff of the Ministry need augmenting. As the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, has pointed out, in this Bill industry has no parent Minister. Under Clause 1, subsection (2), "the Ministers" means the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the 1057 Minister of Housing and Local Government, acting jointly. So if industry has no Minister to look after it, let us at least be sure that the Water Resources Board has a properly qualified staff to deal with the problems of industry.
I suggest that the position of canals needs clarification. Canals would appear to fall within the definition of "water resources" in Clause 2 of this Bill. Yet the abstraction of water from inland waterways is governed by Section 63 of the Transport Act, 1962. I should be grateful if we could have some clarification from the Minister as to whether the provisions of this Bill or the Transport Act prevail in respect of canals.
I should like to say a word about the river authorities which are to be established as soon as practicable after the passing of the Act. As has been pointed out, Schedule 1 of the Bill gives a list of 26 river authorities which does not include the Thames and Greater London areas. I suggest that if the proposals for conservation in this Bill are to be effective, there must be a very simple procedure for transferring water from one river basin to another. The more river authorities you have, the more opposition you will get to proposals to transfer from wet basins and the more scrambling will there be by the dry basins for new sources of supply. In my view few authorities, properly grouped, will provide a much more efficient conservation machine. Also, the Water Resources Board would be much more effective, and would need a much smaller staff, if the number of river authorities with which it had to deal was small. It is obvious that the conservancy load on each river authority is going to be very susbtantial.
In the debate in your Lordships' House on May 23 my noble friend Lord Jellicoe emphasised that conservation is not just an extra item but a new conception, and demands a thorough-going reappraisal. He also said that the new authorities will not be just the existing river boards writ large. Now, my Lords, I feel sure that the staff which will be needed by 27 river authorities to do the job properly will not be available. The Federation of British Industries has devoted a great deal of time to studying this question of the size and grouping of river authorities, and it has reached the conclusion that 14 would be a 1058 maximum. So I suggest that the Minister should reconsider this question of grouping and deal with it by order after the Bill has received the Royal Assent.
Clause 6 lays down that one or more members of the river authority should be appointed by the Ministeras being qualified in respect of industry other than agriculture.When we consider the constitution of the river authority, we should remember that industry is the largest single class of water user. Industry is more concerned with water conservation than is any other group, except possibly the water undertakers themselves. It should be remembered that industrial abstracters will be the largest group of licence holders in many or most of the areas of the river authorities. Yet on the board of 21 to 31 members of a river authority, industry is to have only one or more members appointed by the Minister. Surely, the basis of membership of river authorities should bear some relation to the use of water and the financial contribution to the authority. I am most anxious that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will deal with this point. I do not think it should take him by surprise, because I feel sure he has read the letter in The Times of November 20 from Mr. Hopthrow, who was a member of the Proudman Sub-Committee. Mr. Hopthrow strongly supports ray argument, and goes so far as to say that:The Proudman Committee's recommendations were sound, the Bill, which is down for … reading in the House of Lords… is not.My Lords, I am glad to see that this Bill gives the Water Resources Board a much more positive character. This is a welcome improvement. In the debate we had in this House in May of this year, I and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I remember, suggested that the central authority mentioned in the Government White Paper needed strengthening. But I think there is still a weakness. The duties of the Water Resources Board are concerned only with certain aspects of conservation and not with land drainage, flood control and the prevention of pollution, which are an essential part of a comprehensive conservation policy. I suggest that to deny the Water Resources Board any functions connected with pollution and flood control is completely at 1059 variance with the statement of my noble friend, Lord Jellicoe, in this House on May 23 when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 240, Cols. 1040–1041]:we envisage the proposed central authority as being the expert body responsible for seeing that there is a broad and consistent approach to water conservation and for planning and co-ordinating… measures on the national scale.My Lords, I have touched on some of the points which are worrying industry, but there are quite a few more, such as licensing, and I know that later in the debate my noble friend Lord Merrivale is going to deal with some of them.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, I count it as a privilege to have the opportunity this afternoon of joining those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Ilford, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on their wholly admirable speeches. I am sure that we shall look forward to further contributions from the noble Lords. I was very interested, too, in the contribution which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made, regarding the distillation of fresh water from sea water. Perhaps I may add to the illustrations that he gave, that Israel has recently entered into a contract with a Canadian firm in order to carry out that type of work. In addition, if my memory serves me correctly, a sub-committee of the United Nations Organisation recently called attention in a report to the very same matter as being of great importance, particularly in time of war. I mention those things because the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, brought them into his speech.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, so lucidly explained in introducing this measure, the Bill authorises an entirely new system of managing and controlling the water resources of England and Wales. The existing river boards are to be dissolved and replaced by river authorities with much more extensive powers. In addition, a new central authority is to be set up with advisory and supervisory functions. These proposals, it seems to me, are a recognition of the growing importance of our water resources and rivers to our national economy. But while we recognise that, I think one should put on record the excellent work which has been accom- 1060 plished by the river boards since 1948. Between 1951 and 1962 schemes involving a capital expenditure of nearly £50 million have been carried out by river boards in the land drainage field alone, and this work has been accomplished because, since 1948, the river boards have built up highly competent technical and administrative staffs. These staffs too, have been admirably assisted by the lay members of the river boards.
Mention should also be made of the work of the River Boards' Association, in which I assume I have to declare an interest, as I have the honour of being one of its vice-presidents, as have other noble Lords. In no small measure this Association has helped the work of the river boards. By regular meetings of the technical staffs for discussion of the many problems arising in the day-to-day work of the river boards, and with the co-operation of the lay members of the boards, the Association has been able to gather the collected views of its members for the consideration of the Ministry, not only in connection with this Bill but on many other problems.
My Lords, there was a most informative symposium organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers at the end of last month, when a number of most interesting technical and other papers were discussed, some contributed by officers of river boards. To give one example, the paper of Mr. Nixon, chief engineer of the Trent River Board, on "Flood Regulation and River Training in England and Wales", while giving many instances of this work, included some fascinating pictures of completed schemes. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to give the concluding words of this paper:Much has been achieved by river boards since they were set up following the River Boards Act of 1948. Nevertheless, the proposed new river authorities will inherit many flood problems and more will arise from time to time. It is hoped that the new authorities will be given sufficient flexibility to enable them to deal with these problems effectively within the framework of an integrated development plan of their area.My Lords, the Bill, as previously indicated, will set up a new Water Resources Board on a day appointed by Order made by the Minister, this Board to be charged with the duty of advising the new river authorities as to the performance of their functions and of advising 1061 the Minister as to the performance of his functions in relation to a national water policy. The Board's duty, as further explained in Clause 12 (3), can be summarised as including a general and continuous review of the water resources position; the initiation of desirable action by giving notice or making representations to the Minister and river authorities; advising, encouraging and assisting the river authorities; and assembling and publishing information as to actual and prospective water resources and demand. The Board will be able to carry out research—a very important point—and to give technical assistance to river authorities. Furthermore, Part III of the Bill, which deals with the assessment of water resources and related matters, imposes certain express duties and functions on river authorities which to a large extent are to be subject to the detailed supervision of the Water Resources Board.
The Board is to consist of not more than seven members, all to be appointed by the Minister, and the Minister is not required to have regard to any particular qualifications. There is provision for the members to be paid and to have pension rights, of course. But I submit that, as will be seen, the functions of this new Board are of a kind which might well lead the Board to seek the services of employees of existing river boards. There is, however, no provision in the Bill for the transfer of any employees of existing river boards to the Water Resources Board, and the only provision with regard to the appointment of employees by the new board is contained in paragraph 5 of Schedule 5.
This paragraph empowers the Minister to appoint officers and servants to such number as the Minister—that is, the Minister of Housing and Local Government—may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine; and empowers the Minister to pay these employees such salary or other remuneration as he may, again with the consent of the Treasury, determine, and such reasonable allowances as may be so determined for expenses properly incurred in the performance of the employee's duties. As I read it, the whole of the expenses of the Water Resources Board are to be met out of the Vote of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. At a later stage it may be necessary to con- 1062 sider whether any special provision, including superannuation rights, should be given to cover the position of any employees of river boards who are offered employment by the Water Resources Board.
To pass now to the position of the staff at present employed by the river boards, Clause 86 confers on the two Ministers power to make regulations as to registration of title—and I quote:… and for any other matters for which provision appears to the Ministers to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of securing the effective transfer of any assetsto a river authority under Clause 85. It would, of course, be possible for regulations of this kind to deal with matters affecting the situations or duties of employees. But on this point, perhaps, we may have some clarification at a later stage in the Bill.
The remaining matter which arises in connection with the transfer of employees to the river authorities is compensation. Clause 90 (1) requires the two Ministers, by regulation made by statutory instrument and subject to annulment by either House of Parliament, tomake provision requiring the payment by such river authority as may be prescribed by or determined under the regulations, subject to such exceptions or conditions as may be so prescribed, of compensation to or in respect of persons who are, or but for any national service of theirs"—that is, service in the armed forces or other employment prescribed by regulations—would be, the holders of any such position place or employment as may be so prescribed who suffer loss of employment, or loss or diminution of emoluments, in consequence of any of the provisions of section 5 or this Part of this Act.Part IX of the Bill includes the transfer provisions. My Lords, it is, in the usual way, provided that different regulations may be made in relation to different classes of persons, and that such regulations may be so framed as to have effect from a date earlier than their making, provided that this retrospective effect is not to place any person other than a river authority in a worse position than that in which he would have been if the regulations had not been retrospective.
To pass now to Clause 90 (2), regulations under this clause may include provision as to the manner in which, and 1063 the person to whom, any claim for compensation is to be made, and for the determination of all questions arising under the regulations. These provisions in general follow a usual pattern. There arc two points, however, which occur to me in relation to subsection (1). The first is that the compensation provisions of this Bill are required, in relation to each authority, for all employees of the river boards, or boards which will be replaced by that authority. But there may be instances where some local government officers may be involved in the new set-up, and I am sure it would not be the desire of the Minister that they should suffer. I should like at some later stage to raise this point so that we can have the necessary explanation by the officials of the Ministry.
Secondly, the corresponding provision in the Transport Act, 1962, Section 81 (1) requires the regulations to cover the payment of compensation to persons who suffer loss or diminution of pension rights or whose position is worsened by the reorganisation under that Act. Neither of these points is covered in the present Bill and, while reference to pension rights may be unnecessary, it might well be helpful to include a reference to persons whose position is worsened as a result of the transfer. I need hardly say I trust and hope that these regulations, when they are framed and before they are issued, Will be the subject of consultation between the Ministry and the associations representing the staff involved in the changes. It may be desirable to include an express provision that nothing in Clause 90 of the Bill is to be construed as enabling regulations to be made prejudicing the rights of any person under Section 30 of the River Boards Act, 1948, or Section 18 (6) of the Land Drainage Act, 1961. Similar provision was made in Section 81 (10) of the Transport Act, 1962.
As to the proposed grouping of river boards, it may be necessary during the Committee stage to consider the grouping in more detail, on its merits, and particularly the proposed grouping in the North-West area which earlier has been the subject of some voluminous communications to Members of your Lordships' House. In the course of the debate various opinions have been 1064 expressed in regard to the representation given to local authorities. I have not been able, and I do not know whether anybody else has, to assess the contribution to be made by local authorities to the work of the new river authorities. I can only speak of my experience as a member of a catchment board (the River Roding Catchment Board)—it is a long time ago—when, if my memory is correct, the bulk of the money for the work of the river board was supplied by precept on the councils concerned, and this was frequently the subject of adverse criticism by the chairmen of the respective financial committees of the councils involved. While I think the question of the number of local government representatives might be gone into at a further stage, I feel that a bare majority is hardly sufficient, if my calculation that the local authorities on precept will supply the bulk of the money turns out to be accurate.
My final point is this. I personally welcome this Bill, so far as one is able to grasp its many complicated details—I would mention in passing that The Times newspaper, commenting on the Bill, said it should have a fair trial—but in practice it may well lead to difficulty and frustration. I hope we shall approach the provisions of the Bill in no Party spirit but with a desire to make it an even more effective measure to ensure that our great national assets of water resources and rivers are fully utilised and, above all, properly conserved.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ THE Earl OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, before I begin I must declare I have a certain interest in water supplies, because I am a director of a statutory water company which operates in Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. I was also a member of the Proudman Committee and signed the Minority Report. I am delighted that the noble Earl should be steering this Bill through the House. He showed tremendous ability and flexibility last May when he replied to the Motion on a National Water Policy, and I must congratulate him on the production of this Water Resources Bill and on his producing it so quickly. To my mind, the Bill incorporates all the important points that have been developed from the Proudman Report, the Government White Paper, and the debate on the White Paper last 1065 May, and I am quite certain in my mind that the scheme propounded can be made to work. What is really required is the good will and efficiency of all those concerned up and down the line of water resources.
To my mind, the key to the new structure is the Water Resources Board to be set up to advise the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the river authorities on water conservation matters and to stimulate schemes for the transfer of water where necessary. I would say that the new river authorities will be thoroughly capable of looking after affairs in their own territories and of doing whatever may be necessary, within the limits of the finances available, both to drain land and to conserve water. Historically, it is fair to say that bodies of this sort in their own localities have ideas, and very good ideas, and plans, which far outstrip the resources available to them. One might almost argue that there is an automatic Parkinson's Law in the technical field.
At this point I should like to mention the constitution of the river authorities and, as one of those who signed the Minority Report of the Proudman Committee, I am extremely well pleased with it. But the matter of supreme importance—and I feel it cannot be overemphasised—is that the members should fully appreciate the extent of their responsibilities. Possibly some of the newly-appointed members will have to go out of their way to make themselves fully conversant and knowledgeable in their duties. This would probably apply mainly to some of the members of the constituent councils who, before election, may have had little or no experience of this sort of work. I may add here, on this important note of efficiency, that I have heard fears expressed that possibly a few of the existing river board staff appeared to be—what shall I say?—not quite adequate even for their present duties. With the additional responsibilities and the ever-growing importance of water, this fear, I think, may become very real, but I am sure that I can ask the noble Earl to see that an ever-watching eye is kept on all-round efficiency.
There is again a certain nervousness that river authorities may not take sufficient heed of the re- 1066 quirements of the public water suppliers; for certainly the public water suppliers must be able to carry out their obligations without a hitch. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, dealt with this aspect very thoroughly, and I will not go into it again. I appreciate that Clause 14 (1) (b) refers to it. Obviously, the Water Resources Board have an important duty to watch this matter continuously and with great vigilance to see that the river authorities play their part.
The real problem, surely, lies not only in what is done within a locality to solve the problems of that locality but also in whether there are local supplies of water which enable the river authority to meet all demands made upon it for supplies. In many cases this is not going to be easy. Particularly must this be true of the drier parts of the country. Therefore the question of the transfer of water becomes an essential and major problem. Everyone is agreed that if all the water we have in this country could be properly conserved, we should never have the slightest danger of a shortage; but much of it runs to waste in the plentiful times of the year, and consequently shortages emerge in the dry spells.
The problems of the transfer of water are not, I believe, as one noble Lord said, the problems of short distances, and this is where the Water Resources Board must think and plan in a big way for the country as a whole. Under Clause 13 (1), the constitution of the Water Resources Board shall not be more than seven members appointed by the Minister. This small number would, I believe, make for administrative efficiency, and that must be all-important, in view of the suggested duties of the Board. I know that there have been ideas that the Water Resources Board should be more representative, but I would say that the river authorities themselves are fully representative, particularly when one remembers that the Third Schedule provides for the making of regulations to set up sub-committees which (apart from the finance subcommittee) may include a number, not exceeding one-third of the total number of members of the committee, of persons who are not members of the river authority.
1067 The Water Resources Board, by its terms of reference—namely, to advise—would seem to have little power. Nevertheless, it must be sufficiently forceful in character to act as a catalyst to ensure the production of a broad national policy and the development of a plan of operations looking well into the future. If it is to be an advisory board of this nature, then I would say that its servicing and staffing will be a matter of prime importance. Indeed, I wonder whether, in the field of water conservance and supply, this Board might not well fill the sort of position which seems to be intended for "Neddy" in the national economic field. "Neddy" seems to have no lack of high-powered officials to support it. In the event of a river authority's refusing direction from the Water Resources Board, the Water Resources Board reports the situation to the Minister, and the Minister then decides his course of action. Other noble Lords have cast doubt on this procedure, but it seems to me to be truly in line with the general spirit of the country.
In order to carry out the planning duties I have referred to—that is, of encouraging and assisting the river authorities in the formulation of such plans as would seem necessary—the Board has powers to direct and collect information from river authorities. And I am glad to see that, in Clause 14 (2), a time factor is incorporated in the Bill; that is, that river authorities have to make their full reports at intervals of not more than seven years. Also, there is obviously intended to be little waste of time at the start, for the new river authorities are expected to submit hydro-metric schemes within a rather short time, and minimum acceptable flows and charging schemes as soon as possible thereafter. A point that I wish to stress is that minimum flows are of the utmost importance for land drainage and fisheries. Hence I should have thought that the Minister responsible for them—the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—must be included for consultation with the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Minister of Transport, under the Bill, is quite rightly included where there are problems of navigation.
Following on from this, and to make full use of the important and wide in- 1068 formation which the Water Resources Board will be collecting, the Board must be in close touch with all the research that is going on. I am glad to see that the Board have powers to carry out research and powers to direct river authorities to collect facts and carry out experimental work in the field. Under Clause 94, they are able to place the services of any of their officers at the disposal of a river authority. I think that that is an extremely good idea. In addition, the Hydrological Research Committee will be continuing their excellent work, in conjunction with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Here I should like to suggest (and I regard it as most important) that the Water Resources Board should have a representative on the Hydrological Research Committee. This would help to avoid duplication in research, and the Board would be more easily able to identify any gap in research and to guide research in the direction where it is most needed.
The Government must, of course, make it clear that every effort should be made to find new economic methods of increasing our water resources, by such methods as artificial recharging of underground aquifiers or by distilling from the sea, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I agree with him that we may have great success on these lines in possibly the not too distant future, so I hope that a certain amount of money will be made available for this kind of research. Finally, my Lords, I have no doubt that the scheme set out in the Bill, with possibly a few amendments, can be made to work, and to work efficiently. And it is essential, for the prosperity of this country, that this should be so.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I would join the noble Earl in congratulating the Government on the presentation of this Bill within a comparatively short time of the publication of the Proudman Report. Certainly a much shorter time has been taken by the Government in this regard that was taken by them to act on another of the Central Advisory Water Committee's Report—namely, the Heneage Report, published in 1951. The Land Drainage Bill which flowed from it was presented to another 1069 place in 1960—a period of gestation of nine years. Even the elephant is not as tardy as that. But here we have a period of gestation of nine months—a period that I can understand—and this has produced a very weighty and useful baby. On the whole, I would say that this is a very good Bill, which I think we shall be able to improve on the Committee stage. That is always the hope of the Opposition and, of course, of Members of Parliament.
Like my noble friend Lord Silkin, I must admit to being a little worried about the overlapping that will be created as a result of giving to the Water Resources Board functions which are very similar to those of the Central Advisory Water Committee and the Welsh Advisory Water Committee. One is bound to wonder if it is wise to give differing bodies much the same task. Paragraph 54 of the White Paper tells me that nothing in these proposals will affect the continuance of the Central Advisory Water Committee. So it is clear that, although the Committee will have functions Which overlap those given in this Bill to the Water Resources Board, the Central Advisory Water Committee will remain in being with the same terms of reference.
However, there seems to be an element of doubt about the functions of the Welsh Advisory Water Committee after this Bill becomes an Act, because we are told in the same White Paper that the Minister will consult with the Water Resources Board and the Welsh Advisory Committee on the question of their respective functions. If there is a case for such a consultation, surely it must apply equally to the Central Advisory Water Committee. This paragraph (and I mention it here because clearly we shall not have a chance of talking about this aspect of it on the Committee stage of the Bill) seems to me to place the future of the Welsh Advisory Water Committee in some jeopardy. I would advise the Minister to tread warily here and mot to do anything which would make Wales feel that she is being placed in an inferior position as a possible result of his actions or of the advice of the Water Resources Board.
Wales is one of the parts of this island with an exportable surplus of water, and 1070 the less that is done to exacerbate feeling in this matter, the better for everyone concerned. Welsh feeling can easily be exacerbated, as I am sure the noble Earl knows, on this matter of the export of water. Wales, rightly I think, tends to say, "Bring some of the industries to us rather than take our waiter to them." And there is a lot in that when we look at the crazy build-up of industry and population in the South-East corner of this island.
§ Clause 13 deals with the constitution of the Water Resources Board, but there is nothing in this clause which tells us what sort of people they are to be. The White Paper said that they are to have a wide range of professional and technical experience and be drawn from England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, rightly stressed the importance of the personnel of the Board. I must say that I should like to see something of this in the Bill, particularly something making it obligatory on the Minister to appoint one or more Welsh members to the Board. A few words in a White Paper is nothing like so binding or so satisfactory as the appropriate words in am Act of Parliament. This is one of the things to which I hope to return when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ On the financial provisions of the Bill, I am very much concerned at the failure of the Government to make any provision for Exchequer assistance for the river authorities, excepting in drainage matters, and that, of course, is a continuation of the assistance already existing under other Acts. As I understand it, the main sources of income for water conservation purposes will be from licences, charges for water extracted and from precepting upon local authorities in their respective areas, the latter to meet any deficiences of expenditure incurred in water conservation. It seems to me that that income might well be sufficient to enable the river authority to carry out the necessary works for the requirements of its own area. But I do not think we can hope to meet the future requirements of this country on a river authority area basis.
It is the case (the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, referred to this) that recently there was a conference of civil engineers, and
at that conference Dr. Buchan succinctly told the civil engineers:
Nature frequently delivers the water either in the wrong place or at the wrong time. Sometimes too little is delivered, sometimes too much. One way of correcting this uneven distribution would be to make a substantial increase in surface reservoir capacity, particularly in areas of high rainfall and adjacent to great rivers. Then an extension of the pipeline system would be necessary to dispatch the water to places with a high demand and low rainfall.
As I see it, that means the construction of great reservoirs in one river authority's area for the transfer of the water to the area of another. Indeed, the Minister is required by Clause 1 of the Bill to formulate
a national policy relating to water, to include such measures as he may consider necessary or expedient for augmenting the water resources of areas in England and Wales, for redistributing water resources in any such area or for transferring water resources from one such area to another.
§ In the same clause he is given powers of control and direction to ensure that his policy is effectively executed. As I understand the intention, it is to solve the problem of meeting the future water requirements of this country. It is not the Government's intention that we shall go on living on a hand-to-mouth basis, but rather that the preparations should be made now to meet the country's estimated requirements of ten to twenty years hence.
§ Do the Government really feel that they will be in a position to direct, say, the Wye or the Gwynedd authorities, areas of high rainfall, to execute great conservation works now in order that in a few years' time they might be able to sell the water to the Midlands? I mention those authorities merely by way of illustration, because they are poor authorities. The Gwynedd Authority, for example, covers the whole of some and part of others of five counties, yet the total rateable value upon which it may draw is only £2,600,000. Obviously, such an authority is not going to embark on great conservation works unless it is given the finance to enable it to do it. If that sort of authority is going to concern itself only with the fiddling little powers of licences and compensation water and the like, we are not going to meet the challenge of the future water requirements of this country.1072
The Proudman Report recognised these difficulties and said in paragraph 147:
We also think that, in view of the importance of water in the national economy, circumstances may arise in which it would be in the national interest to make financial assistance available from Exchequer funds.
§ The Government have ignored this very sound advice of a knowledgeable Committee. If there is a case—and of course there is—for Government grants for land drainage, there appears to me to be an infinitely stronger case for grants for water conservation. Drainage is important, but the very life of this country in twenty years' time might depend on the actions taken to ensure that there is a sufficient water supply for industry and for the population. This Bill provides the necessary alternative administrative machinery for water conservation. But the Government, it seems to me, must ensure the means to enable the Water Resources Board, and particularly the river authorities, to carry out this task which we in this House to-day are beginning to place upon them—namely, to ensure that, by our conservation works to-day, in twenty years' time we shall not be bothered talking about the water problem of this country.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ THE Earl OF ALBEMARLE
My Lords, we have had the most wonderful set of speeches, and one can certainly say that the various points have been fully dealt with. At this hour I will not try to say what has been better said, and I have only two points. We may have felt that the balance of opinion is for larger packets. I am very much impressed by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I am quite sure that we have to get the thing going, and not worry whether a grant cannot come because it is not a national concern but is only the concern of those who are immediately going to benefit. That also cannot apply to the amalgamations of larger local authorities and counties. Anything to do with Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or any of the great conurbations is much more than local. It cannot be considered locally. What you do there reflects on the whole economy of the country.
I dislike very much reading what happens to an authority which might have felt unwilling to incur for its ratepayers burdens which they did not feel 1073 able to support, and that, therefore, if they sit inert and do nothing, they are liable to fall foul of the Minister and to be put in default with all the other penalties in those relevant sections. I do not think that it is at all possible. In fact, I consider that the whole concept is to marry the richer ox more powerful areas with weaker areas, and those who have water to spare with those who need waiter. Some Members of this House will say, "Of course, we have to get the wet bobs to help the dry bobs." That is what the whole thing is about. If we try to make these small packets, we shall run on the rocks and there will be an uneven advance. Disappointed little chaps who do nothing will hang back and perhaps spoil the pattern for their neighbours. They will not be taken forward with the other more powerful and more able authorities.
That is why Cumberland is a very great example, provided we can save the amenity there, provided we can make something of a balance so that fellows from Cumberland and Westmorland do not feel overburdened the whole time in the presence of their more numerous and influential co-members, and also provided the Minister can explain what compensation, not necessarily in money but in benefits, for those more rural counties could come out of their co-operation with Lancashire. It worries me very much to think that this enormous territory from the Esk down to Wigan can feel hurt in their feelings by being treated as poor relations and not recognised as the givers of the water that the richer people want.
There is only one other point with which I will trouble your Lordships, and perhaps the noble Earl will help me. We have heard over and over again the principle enunciated that all water management should come within the territory of one authority. Is that lip service? Is there a diarchy? If the noble Earl will answer that, I shall be grateful. It seems to me that within our territories there is a second authority. I have read the subject carefully, but I may have misread it. It seems to me that there are three classes of canals. I have read the Bowes Report backwards. There is only one class that is viable, and that is for the wider boats leading down to the ports.
1074 I have put a map just inside the door of the Royal Gallery showing very interestingly the virus pattern spreading throughout England of that great canal network which is only partly viable now. I have had it there for people to see how the inland waterways, under the Ministry of Transport, are inside ourselves as a host. I do not think they should share our gathering grounds if they cannot use them and we want them. They should not use the narrow canals which we could use as waterways. They gain £500,000 a year from selling water to the factories on their banks. That money does not really belong to them. We are breaking so much of the Common Law, and taking new departures, that I am sure we could put that right if it were thought more equitable. That £500,000 should come to us, and also the £140,000 which they get paid for fishing licences. That is the second question I would ask the noble Earl to touch upon in his reply.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this Bill with, however, one or two reservations. It has become increasingly apparent that there is need for co-ordination of the various sources of supply of water in England and Wales, as well as for measures to augment our water resources; and here I should like to say how interested I was by the speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, especially when he came on to this question of transformation of saline water, and I sincerely hope, as he does, that Her Majesty's Government will keep very much au fait with research and development on this question in the United States of America.
As other noble Lords this afternoon have referred to the Water Resources Board I propose only, at this late hour, to echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Jessel. He referred to its positive character, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, would like it to be a stronger Board. I would also support the idea of fewer river authorities. It seems to me that this would have the effect of simplifying procedure with regard to the transference of water from one river basin to another, and to substantiate my remarks I should like to quote very briefly from a paper that was presented 1075 by Dr. Buchan at the symposium which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Fleck. This gentleman said:Larger units would necessarily have to be based on rivers but a single river basin does not everywhere form an ideal unit. The formation of a group of basins would in some instances secure a better balance between surface and underground resources and also ensure that the unit was self-supporting in relation to the domestic, agricultural and industrial demand likely to be made on it for a long time ahead.In this context, it is interesting to note, as has been mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Fleck, that over 80 years ago five of the authors of essays which were presented to the Royal Society of Arts recommended 14 divisions, and again to-day we see, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jessel, that the Federation of British Industries also recommend 14 divisions, or authorities as they are called in the Bill. I feel that the task of the Water Resources Board would then also be facilitated. As the Board will have to consider the needs of England and Wales as a whole, such action as it will become apparent to the Board will need to be taken could I feel be more effectively taken if there were a smaller number of authorities.
With regard to the basis of control of abstraction by minimum acceptable flows, how can an authority know what industry's requirements are if, as laid down in the Bill in Clause 19, there is to be prior consultation only with the following bodies: the statutory water undertakers, the internal drainage boards, navigation authorities and the Central Electricity Generating Board, before a draft statement can be made by the authority and submitted to the Minister?
While accepting the need for a licensing system, such licences, I feel should, in the case of established abstractions, confer upon the holder the right to abstract to the full extent to which he has done in the past. I regret to be somewhat repetitive with regard to this aspect of the problem we are considering to-day; it has already been mentioned much more ably than I can by my noble friend Lord Fleck, but I think it is an important one. He stressed industry's needs, quoting a figure of around 2,000 million gallons a day—a not inconsiderable figure. Generally, these past rights were acquired by 1076 prescription based on long use, and in Appendix II of the Proudman Report these Common Law rights are referred to in detail. It would appear to me that under Clause 42 the authorities will have the power to refuse, review or curtail existing rights. If that is the case, I feel strongly that there should be adequate compensation, either in cash or in kind, at the election of the interested party. Rights to abstract water, whether underground or, indeed, surface water, are valuable rights appertaining to land; and, therefore, any diminution of property rights should be compensated for. Here I would say that I particularly have in mind the minerals industry—that is, cement, chalk, clay and so forth—for the minerals industry, in the main, satisfies its requirements by putting down boreholes to obtain supplies of underground water.
With regard to Part V of the Bill it is difficult to comment constructively until further information is provided about what is intended by Her Majesty's Government—that is, on Clauses 55 to 60 inclusive. So far, it is said that river authorities are to prepare charging schemes based on the quantity of water to be abstracted, with identical circumstances giving identical rates. I should therefore be grateful to my noble friend if, when he comes to reply, he could expand a little on paragraphs 32 to 35 in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, and also, if I understood my noble friend Lord Hastings aright, on the kind of circumstances in which charges would be diminished or nil.
Finally, my Lords, I note that there is a provision for the Minister of Housing and Local Government to secure by order that certain cases, classes of cases, appeals and references to the Minister shall lie to a tribunal which would be set up by the order itself. Would it not be preferable that such appeals or references to the Minister should lie to the Minister, provided—and I would stress the word "provided"—his staff has full knowledge of the industrial uses of water? Provided there is that qualified staff it would seem to me to be a more effective means of dealing with these appeals and cases and so forth. I may be wrong, but I believe I may be right, that these tribunals would not have the specialised knowledge to deal with such cases, and different verdicts may be 1077 reached on similar cases. Also, with time, industry and others would come to know along what lines the minds of Ministry experts were working; and that, I should have thought, should facilitate and simplify matters. However, perhaps when my noble friend comes to wind up he may be good enough to state to the House in what circumstances the Minister would be influenced to set up such a tribunal. That is all I propose to say at this stage of the Bill, except that I should like to reiterate the words of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin (I do not wish to misquote him:"We do not want to put unfair burdens on industry."
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, it is very difficult to get excited on water. We have had a very sober debate, as one would expect, but a very effective debate, largely due I think to the two very excellent opening statements we had from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and my noble friend Lord Silkin. My noble friend was, as one would have expected from an Opposition Front Bench, a little more critical and very probing. But both the opening speeches were a very wide and detailed survey of the Bill. May I also from this side of the House join in the congratulations on the two maiden speeches that we have had to-day, both of which were well delivered and well informed. Those of us who worked with the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, in another place expected the type of speech that we had from him. We on this side of the House and I am sure those in all quarters of the House, will hope that both noble Lords will participate in our debates from time to time.
Every range of interest (and I do not say this unkindly, because it is quite right it should be so) has been raised by various noble Lords in the debate to-day. There is certainly not one that I can think of that has not been already covered—river boards, statutory undertakings, the agricultural industry. The noble Lord, Lord Fleck, in addition to making an admirable statement on the position of industry and the attitude of industry towards this Bill, was to an extent critical of the general organisational structure of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Burden, again, brought in quite rightly the position of staffs affected by this Bill. I suppose that when speaking in this 1078 House we all try to speak from a basis of knowledge and experience. My own general trend of knowledge and experience from a local authority angle is with the statutory authorities. Therefore, I tend to look at this Bill from that point of view.
However, before I turn to deal with the Bill from that point of view, I must cross swords with the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, who, if I understood him aright, was taking an attitude in regard to British Waterways which I think is likely to be detrimental to them. In fact if I have a criticism of the Bill it is that in Clauses 2 and 4 the interests of British Waterways are not sufficiently protected, and we intend during the Committee stage to see whether we cannot make the protection a little firmer. The British Waterways Authority were set up recently as a result of the Transport Bill, which we discussed for hour after hour in this House. That Bill places upon the British Waterways Authority a responsibility for making the industry viable. The sale of water is a very valuable source of revenue to British Waterways and to interfere with that source of revenue would be detrimental to their financial standing and their financial competence. It is something which I think must be protected.
In Clause 19 there is the duty put on the river authority to consult with the inland waterways authority; but as I read Clause 19, particularly 19 (4) (c), and subsequent clauses, although there is a duty to consult with those who have responsibility for canals and waterways there is no machinery provided for in the Bill for dealing with a dispute in the event of a disagreement between the river authority and British Waterways. That again is a point we shall have to raise at the Committee stage of the Bill, unless the noble Earl when he comes to reply can tell us that there is some machinery for dealing with this.
From all quarters of the House the Government's decision to introduce legislation on water resources has been generally welcomed, and I think it has been particularly welcomed by those of your Lordships who have spoken from the point of view of the statutory authorities. In looking at this problem, I think there are two criteria by which one can judge the Bill. The first is a question 1079 of national planning. Does the Bill make workable proposals for the effective planning of the development of the water resources of the country? Secondly, the priorities of the Bill: does the Bill make provision for allocating water resources in accordance with the essential priorities, which to my mind are, first—and here perhaps is a bias because of my local authority associations—the nation's public water supply on which the public health of the nation depends; secondly, the supplies for industry and for agriculture; and thirdly, the use of water for amenity and pleasure.
If one may turn back to the first point of national planning, the proposed Water Resources Board has been welcomed from all sides of the House, and quite rightly in my view, because it is the first positive step in the setting up of machinery for the national planning of the country's water resources. Certain noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lord Silkin, Lord Ilford in that admirable maiden speech of his, and the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, expressed regret, in which I join, that the Water Resources Board has very limited powers, and the powers which are given to it in the Bill make it essentially an advisory body. The main powers are power to obtain information and make plans; but it has no real power, as I read the Bill, to put those plans into effect.
The Water Resources Board as proposed in the Bill is not a body which most of those associated with water distribution expected to see. To my knowledge, the British Waterworks Association has, for it must be twenty years, urged the setting up of a powerful Water Resources Board to act as the agent of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, not only in preparing a national plan for the water resources of the country but also in administering, allocating and developing. The Board proposed in the Bill is, again in my view, a half-hearted acceptance of what has been proposed by the water supply industry over that long period of time.
The fundamental conception of the Bill is the local control of water resources by river authorities under a general direction from the Minister of Housing and Local Government. To the extent to which there will be a transfer of power from the centre to the 1080 perimeter, again in my view, this is a detrimental step, or a step backwards. For instance, at present water authorities obtain an order from the Minister to make new sources of water supply, or they promote a Bill in Parliament. Under the new scheme the water authorities will have to go to the river authorities for a licence to abstract, and this local machinery of licensing will replace the present central control by Parliament and the Minister.
The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, dealt with what he termed priorities in the allocation of water resources, and the fundamental change proposed by the Bill is the setting up of river authorities with wide powers over the water resources in their areas. In future, virtually no water can be taken from any source without a licence from the river authority, and such a licence will give a new legal right to the holder of the licence.
All applications for a licence made to the river authority will, under this Bill, be treated in the same way, whether it is by a statutory undertaking, an agricultural interest or an industrial interest. There are no priorities and no recognition of the special position in which the statutory water undertaker stands. The statutory authorities are in a special position, because they are responsible for the safety and adequacy of the public water supply which, as I mentioned earlier, is the foundation of public health. They have a statutory duty to give supplies of water from their mains, and because Parliament has placed upon statutory undertakings a statutory duty, it has also given them a statutory right to abstract water that they require in order that they can fulfil their obligations to the public whom they supply. Under the new scheme the existing rights of the statutory authorities to take water are to go and are to be replaced by a licence which the water authority will be obliged to obtain from the river authority.
It is true, I admit, that there axe to be licences of right. But licences of right will be subject to revocation in the same way as any other licence. Moreover, the statutory water authorities will be in no different position from any other abstracter. Any person who has been abstracting water in the past, lawfully or unlawfully, will be able to obtain a licence of right. In fact, anybody who 1081 chooses to become an abstracter of water, at any time, possibly within the next two years, will when the scheme comes into operation be able to turn his abstraction into a lawful abstraction by obtaining a licence from the river authority. To me, this is a fundamental weakness in the scheme. Clearly the existing statutory rights of statutory water undertakings should be preserved in the Bill, and the question of giving automatic licences of right to other abstracters should be further considered.
Once the new scheme comes into operation water authorities requiring new sources of supply will not, as at present, go to Parliament or to the Minister for their authority to abstract; they will be required under the Bill to go to the river authority for a licence in the same way as any other abstractor. The river authority is not obliged to give a licence to anybody, and therefore the water authority has no certainty of being able to obtain the water it needs. If the river authority refuses to give a licence, then the water authority may appeal to the Minister. Thus, the water authority may be obliged to go cap in hand from one river authority to another to get the water it needs. Again, this is a fundamental weakness in the new scheme which we shall try, if possible, to cure during the Committee stage. If the water authorities are to be denied the right to go to the Minister in the first place, then they ought to be given certain fundamental rights to abstract water against which the river authority can appeal to the Minister if that authority felt it was adversely affected.
Certain criticisms have been made to-day in regard to charges for abstraction. The charges for abstraction are fundamental to the new scheme: that the river authorities shall be able to have the power to charge for water abstraction by licence holders. Statutory water authorities are generally the highest single abstracters, and it seems likely that they will therefore be obliged to find the larger part of the money for the operations of the river authorities in the field of conservation. Clearly, in respect of their existing abstractions of water the water authorities ought not to be required to pay. Often at great expense, they have already paid for the construction of the necessary works. If the water 1082 authorities are to pay in respect of future abstractions then they ought to have adequate representation on the river authorities.
It is proposed in the Bill that the river authorities shall keep water resources accounts and that they should be obliged to appoint finance committees. This was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, who made the obvious comment that one would have expected an authority such as a river authority, with the duties that it has, to appoint finance committees. But in fact, of course, the Bill places that responsibility on them by legislation. I should have thought it would be logical to require the river authority to appoint a water resources committee, and to give the statutory undertaking who have the duty of supplying and meeting the needs of the public and of industry membership of that water resources committee.
This Bill, as I said earlier in my speech, has been welcomed, although with some reservation, and it will be our duty during the Committee stage to try to improve the Bill. I hope we can; I think we can. I would reiterate the plea made by my noble friend Lord Silkin in asking the Government to allow reasonable time for the Committee stage of the Bill, because this is a technical Bill. Although we have had a large number of speakers to-day, the number of your Lordships who will be taking a detailed part in the Committee stage will, in relation to the House generally, be comparatively few. Therefore, we ought to have a Committee stage which will allow for ample discussion, consideration and preparation of the Amendments to be put before the House. My Lords, we on this side of the House support this Bill on that basis: that we will try to improve it when we get the opportunity to do so at the Committee stage.
§ 9.2 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the close attention you have given to this highly important measure. We have had a full, useful and, at least for me, an educational debate. I think it has also been a debate which has been particularly distinguished by the two maiden speeches which we heard—extremely well-informed, if critical, maiden 1083 speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Ilford and Lord Henley.
The debate has demonstrated a number of things. The first is that your Lordships' long and passionate love affair with this precious fluid remains quite undiminished in its ardour. The second is that because your Lordships are deeply involved—drenched—in this matter, the debates on it in this House have, I think, a particular value. It was, I believe, no coincidence that the River Boards Act, 1948 (of which the present Bill is to some extent the heir and successor), was born in this House. It was again no coincidence that it was in this House, and only in this House, that the Government's White Paper on Water Conservation last May was fully debated. We have had, since the war, as your Lordships know, a large body of legislation on water. That legislation, it seems to me, owed a great deal to Amendments and improvements made in this House. I have confidence that, if anyone can improve this splendid and virtually perfect Bill, it must, in fact, be your Lordships
My third point is this. Some noble Lords, perhaps more candid or more experienced lovers of this Bill than I am, seem to have discovered some small blemishes in it. They may possibly be right. In any event, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren (and through him, if I may, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who also mentioned this point) that we shall have plenty of time to discuss this Bill, warts and all; although, of course, we must allow time for its proper consideration in another place. Be that as it may, this debate has successfully shown, I think, that it was high time we arranged the water affairs of this country on a broad, comprehensive and, indeed, national basis, and paid due regard to the need to conserve our water. The debate has shown that your Lordships believe, with the Government, that that principle is plumb right. It has also demonstrated the fact that, even given a full Parliamentary programme, your Lordships endorse the Government's view that we are right to treat this matter, and the need for legislation upon it, as one of real urgency and not just wait for something to turn up, like Godot, or a flood or a drought.
1084 Earlier to-day (and looking at the clock I must confess, rather wistfully, that it seems quite a long time ago) my noble friend and colleague led your Lordships with cogency and lucidity through the watery maze of this Bill, with its 119 Clauses and 11 Schedules. My Lords, I do not propose to do so again; nor, at this hour, can I answer all the questions which have been put to me. So, if I may, in winding up I will confine myself to certain broad themes which seem to have come out in the debate this afternoon and evening, and to answering those few detailed points to which I think I know the answers.
The first theme on which I should like to touch is the matter of amenity. I do that quite deliberately, not only because your Lordships' love affair with amenity is almost as passionate and prolonged as it is with water, and I think that has become clear also in our debate to-day, but also because I think it is quite obvious that the results which flow from this legislation in time—the great works of conservation which this country needs, and will have—could have a tremendous impact upon the beauty of some of the most beautiful and remote parts of this country. The rain in Spain may fall upon the plain, but, in Britain, it tends to fall upon the Celtic fringe. But, of course, a great deal will depend upon how these great works are sited, how they are designed, how they are landscaped, and all the rest of it. All I wish to emphasise this evening is that the Government fully recognise this point. If we did not have this Bill we should, of course, still need water conservation; but, without this Bill, the conservation measures would be quite unco-ordinated and therefore the total impact upon our countryside that much more serious.
If I may quote the example, say, of a water undertaking wishing to build a big reservoir, it would still, if this Bill becomes law, need planning permission for those works, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, pointed out. It also will need either the consent of the Minister under Section 23 of the 1945 Water Act, or the consent of Parliament through Private Bill machinery. Here I should like to make it clear to those noble Lords who have asked about this, that, as I understand it, the Private Bill machinery in this respect will be quite unaffected and quite unimpaired by this Bill. Moreover, the position will be much the same 1085 for a river authority which itself wishes to undertake major conservation works.
However, in addition to all this, there is the amenity clause, Clause 93, which, whatever has been said in this House to-day, is. I think, pretty far-reaching and comprehensive. It certainly lays a clear duty on everyone concerned to lake into account the very detailed, minute considerations, including the sort of nature conservancy points to which the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, quite rightly drew attention. Again, in determining the minimum acceptable flows river authorities will be required to have due regard, as a result of subsection (5) of Clause 19, to the character of the inland water and its surroundings. That again will inevitably bring in amenity considerations.
Certain noble Lords have felt that, from the amenity point of view, the defences in this Bill could perhaps be strengthened. That may possibly be so, and, if there are Amendments which they wish to bring forward in that respect, we can look at, them when they come. But so far as I am concerned, I would claim that in this Bill the Government have shown a due and proper attention to these very important considerations of amenity.
My Lords, the Bill necessarily represents a balance—it does, in fact, preserve a proper balance, as I think my noble friend Lord Waldegrave termed it. I am not altogether surprised that noble Lords who speak with particular knowledge of particular interests which may be affected have tended to criticise it so far as that particular interest was concerned. Nor have I been surprised that, in the nature of things, those criticisms have tended somewhat to cancel each other out. We have, for example, heard a good deal this afternoon—and quite rightly so—about the possible effects, the deleterious effects, of this Bill upon industry. The noble Lord, Lord Fleck, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, I think, referred to certain aspects of it as bordering on confiscation. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye feared that in this respect the Bill might be the handmaiden of the needs of industry. There was quite a difference of view between noble Lords here.
1086 May I give my view? It is true that, like other abstracters, industrialists will need to obtain a licence from the river authority before taking or impounding water. But this, my Lords, is not confiscation without compensation of industry's unassailable legal rights to water, as I read in an admittedly well-informed letter which appeared in The Times recently, and which was quoted by my noble friend Lord Jessel. The Bill says merely that industry must apply for a licence in the same way as everyone else. If the industrial abstraction is an existing one, there will be a licence of right; and the basis of this licence of right will be fundamentally that recommended in the Proudman Committee Report. Of course, we recognise that industry ought not to be cut off in midstream, as it were, and the Bill ensures that this will not happen.
This seems to me, my Lords, a very odd form of confiscation. On the contrary, far from being confiscatory, the licensing system should be, I would claim, of material benefit to industry. Once a licence has been obtained, there will be no question, in the vast majority of cases, of an abstraction being challenged in the counts as it can now be. No longer will industrialists have to rely on Common Law or prescriptive rights; and to industrialists who wish to expand this can be a very important advantage. And remember, my Lords (and no one, of course, knows this better than the noble Lord, Lord Fleck), that many of the growth industries in this country are just those industries which have the biggest appetite for water. I believe that a further gain to industry is the establishment of the river authorities, with a clear duty to consider industrialists' needs for water, and to plan to meet them; and industry, of course, will have its proper voice in the affairs of each river authority. Subsection (3) (e) of Clause 6 makes it quite clear that the membership will include persons knowledgeable tin their needs, and it is not going to be necessarily just one member: the Bill clearly states one or more, as circumstances dictate. Apart from this there will be many other members of the river authorities with interests and knowledge similar to that of industrialists, especially, of course, those representatives from the urban 1087 authorities. I would claim, therefore, that the interests of industry are in general fully and adequately safeguarded by this Bill.
I would also make the same claim so far as the statutory water undertakings are concerned, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, has said. To obtain and impound water they will, of course, in time require to obtain a licence from the river authority, and not, as formerly, from my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but if there is difficulty they will be able to come to the Minister on appeal. The river authority will, in any event, be acting in the light of an assessment of general resources and demand, to which the undertakers will themselves have contributed, and, of course, under the direction of the new Water Resources Board which will have the national picture in view. There is no withdrawal of the undertakers' present rights to take water, and no invasion of their responsibility for treating and distributing it. Nor is there any prohibition on the construction in future of impounding and storage works for the sole use of a water undertaking, if that fits in with the plan.
I recognise that the statutory water undertakers have expressed some aversion to the whole idea that they should be beholden to a river authority for licences to obtain water. But they seem to underrate the position which members experienced in public water supply will hold on those authorities, and they assume, in my view quite wrongly, that the authorities will be motivated by sectional interests. I personally cannot accept that. I believe, on the contrary, that the clear duties imposed on the authorities, coupled with the right of appeal to the Minister, afford a perfectly effective safeguard of the undertakers' admittedly extremely important interests.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked me a question in that respect, about the association of water undertakings with the river authorities. I personally believe that it is both useful and desirable Chat a proper, practical association between the two should be achieved. But I do not think that the sort of combination of the two authorities which at one 1088 time I understood him to be advocating is at all desirable, since their functions are, in my view, quite different.
What about the farming community, whose thirst for water, especially in Southern and Eastern England, is going to become increasingly great in future decades? Here it is true that the taking of water for spray irrigation from whatever source will require a licence and will be chargeable. But the charging arrangements—and I will, when I come to it quite shortly, answer the specific points which the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, put to me on that—will enable full recognition to be given to the provision of associated local storage in farm reservoirs, which will have the great virtue, of course, of enabling the taking of water from the river to be largely confined to the time when the rivers are full. I know, of course, that the farming community may have hoped that the coming of water conservation organisation might mean the end of taking farmland for impounding reservoirs. I do not think this can be so, as I am sure the noble Lord would recognise. But I think that proper conservation measures can, and will, mean that the most effective and intensive use is made of any site taken for a reservoir.
Before finishing what I wanted to say about this balance of interests between the main bodies concerned, I should like to echo the words which I believe both my noble friend Lord Waldegrave and my noble friend Lord Malmesbury used. It seems to me that this is the time for real co-operation between all the interests concerned, and for the burying of any hatchets which there may be lying around.
Could I now turn to the Water Resources Board? In our debate last May a number of spokesmen suggested that the Water Resources Board was rather a poor, weak thing, and that it should at least have sharper executive teeth. I was not, therefore, entirely surprised to hear the same point made in our debate to-day. Now I have always thought, my Lords, that there were strong and powerful reasons for trying to shed from the Minister concerned as much of his promotional activity as possible, because there is always a danger that, when a Minister is promoting big water schemes, 1089 he will get into a very embarrassing position, for he also has an appellate function. It is quite possible that he may have promoted, or have helped to promote, a scheme a month or so ago which then, in another capacity, he will have, as it were, to judge. That has always seemed to me one very strong reason for "shuffling off" as much of the promotional activity from the Minister concerned as possible on to the Water Resources Board.
Now promotion in its widest sense—promotion, for example, of these great conservation schemes which will be coming—is likely to become increasingly important in the future, and that is why I welcome the fact (and let there be no doubt that it is a fact) that the new Board will have clear-cut promotional responsibilities. I think this was pretty clearly explained by my noble friend earlier this afternoon. He said, if I got his words aright, that this was not a paper exercise. This Bill makes it a duty for the river authority both to formulate schemes and to carry out schemes implementing the recommendations of the Board, and that duty of the river authority to implement the recommendations of the Board is clearly set out in subsection (1) (c) of Clause 14 of the Bill. I think it was the sort of power which several noble Lords were advocating should be placed upon the Water Resources Board (or the Central Authority, as it was then called) in our debate last May, and perhaps it may have surprised some of the more cynical Members of your Lordships' House to note that we have in fact taken their advice and have given the Board this clear directive power over river authorities.
My Lords, although I would urge that it is right that the Board should have these clear-cut responsibilities, I would suggest at the same time that it is equally right that the ultimate authority for sanctioning schemes should still rest in the Minister. As I explained in our debate earlier in May, there is a dichotomy between the principle of Ministerial accountability to Parliament and that of an entirely independent executive board; and, if you think that it is right, on a matter so important and vital, and which touches everybody so intimately, as water, that the Minister should be ultimately responsible and accountable to 1090 Parliament, then you cannot opt for a total executive board.
Some noble Lords have also criticised the composition of the Board as being a little weak. On that, I really should like to say only two or three things. The first is that, although provision is made in the Bill for either part-time or full-time members of the Board, it is left quite open and the Government have not pre-judged that issue. I think that is right. In this sort of area, it is sensible to retain a degree of flexibility. What is important is that we should obtain the services of first-class men on this new Board. What is important is that both Parliament and Government Departments, industry, agriculture and everybody else, should have full confidence in it, and they will not have full confidence unless the Board is really well equipped in its personnel, both Board members and staff.
On that point I was greatly impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, said in our debate last May. I think it was a great pity that he was not able to join in our debate to-day. He suggested, as some noble Lords may remember, that there should be six special forms of skill and expertise represented on the Water Resources Board. I suppose we should all agree that it is vitally important that the Board should have a first-class chairman with energy, drive and management ability. I would merely suggest that it is not entirely coincidental that, apart from the chairman, the Bill provides for six other members; and I think I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that I have no doubt that at least one of those members will be a Welshman. So much for the Board itself.
As for its staff, there again all I should like to say is that, so far as the Government are concerned, we are determined that the Board shall be equipped with a really good, full-time and highly-qualified staff. If it is not, it will not be able to undertake all that is required of it—and a great deal is going to be required of that Board, including, of course, the very important research functions and responsibilities which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, my noble friend Lord Malmesbury and my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. On the question of research, I 1091 think it was valuable for us to have those three well-informed speeches stressing the need for research in this field.
Noble Lords referred in turn to our need to pay due attention to the possibilities of salt water distillation. I would certainly not dissent from that. The noble Lord, Lord Fleck, referred to the need to pay due attention to the possibilities opened up in the field of artificial recharge of aquifiers, and I would not dissent from that. He also referred to the need for the complementary use of surface and ground water. All that is recognised; and the stimulation and coordination, to some extent, of research in that type of field will come within the orbit of the Water Resources Board, as it will of the Committee on Hydro-logical Research. In reply to my noble friend Lord Malmesbury, I think I can there assure him that there is no doubt that the Water Resources Board will be represented on that important Committee.
What about the river authorities? Several noble Lords have again urged that the authorities we are proposing to set up under Clause 3 and Schedule 1 are too many, too small and too weak: but your Lordships will appreciate that that clause and that Schedule do not represent the law of the Medes and Persians. If there is real and continuing force behind this argument fox more amalgamation, and if that is supported by our experience, then the machinery of Clause 10 for making further amalgamations can, of course, operate. Meanwhile, I think we must remember that we are not starting out here de novo. The interests of land drainage and fisheries may well call for a rather smaller area than conservation pur sang and they cannot be ignored. It would be wrong for me, I think, to comment in any detail on a Second Reading on particular amalgamation proposals.
We heard an admirable and forceful maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on the proposal to amalgamate the Lancashire and Cumberland River Boards. We heard equally forceful comment from my noble friend Lord Woolton on a proposal to marry East and West Sussex, which seemed to him to be virtually unmarriageable. There will be plenty of time later on in the course of our discussions on this Bill 1092 to justify, or to fail to justify, particular proposals.
A point of principle was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, to which should like briefly to refer. He asked why we were adopting a different procedure under this clause of the Bill from the procedure laid down in the 1948 River Boards Act, which provided an elaborate procedure of inquiry. I think the answer is about threefold. When we legislated for river boards in 1948 we were dealing with a number of authorities whose functions had been discharged by a number of entirely different bodies covering quite a variety of areas. In some parts of the country these functions had not been discharged at all. The determination of areas for river boards was therefore a major operation. Now of course we have to a large extent a ready made pattern—that of the river board areas. This is known to be perfectly suitable for the transferred functions. What we have now to do is to make some adjustment for the new function of conservation. We have felt that in this situation it was right for us to set out the proposed new areas in the Bill itself, so that Parliament itself could decide on them. One of the advantages of this is that it will enable Parliament to discuss comprehensively how many areas there should be, and how they should be divided. The advantage of this procedure has been shown, even at Second Reading, by the well-informed comments we have had from noble Lords.
Then there is the actual composition of the river authorities. Here again, a number of noble Lords have pressed for them to be smaller. All I can say is that while the Government initially saw all the advantages of having small river authorities, we found, after due consideration, that it would be impossible to give sufficient representation to local authorities and other interests with river authorities of only 10 to 15 members, as we should have liked. In the circumstances, I would submit that the present balance is about right. But of course, over all this, and over the actual appointments the Minister will make to river authorities, I would not dissent from the ideas which the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, urged: that there should be some consultation with the local authorities or 1093 interests concerned, though I would suggest that we might be wise to avoid formal statutory obligations. Let us by all means have informal consultation which everybody would desire, but I am sure that many noble Lords would grant at least in certain respects, that as soon as all this gets unduly formalised then we start to slide down the slippery slope which leads to "Buggins's Turn."
There was one further point regarding composition on which I should like to touch. Several noble Lords, including Lord De Ramsey, urged that the importance of land drainage was so great it should be a mandatory requirement on each river authority to establish a special drainage committee. There is, of course, no mandatory requirement of that type in the River Boards Act, and I would urge, my Lords, that what was right in that Act is right in this Bill. Land drainage is obviously a vital function of these new authorities; but so are fisheries, so is conservation and so indeed is pollution. And if we are to establish a mandatory land drainage committee, by the same token we should establish a mandatory fisheries committee, a mandatory pollution committee and a mandatory conservation committee. I think it is wrong for Parliament to be too grandmotherly over this sort of thing. Let us allow these new authorities a certain freedom of action; let us allow them to manage their own business and paddle their own canoes whether by functional committees or by area committees or by whatever arrangements may be chosen, so long as they are sensible and best for their own needs.
Finally, I would refer to charging. I have been asked a large number of questions about charging. I have not the time to answer them all but I should like to say this. It is of course very difficult at this stage to be precise about the level of charges in the absence of full information about the amount actually abstracted at present or about remission from charges which will be granted to abstracters who have built their own conservation works. However, given, as the Bill provides, charges based on quantities authorised to be abstracted, we believe that the various river authorities should have no difficulty whatever in making ends meet even without the type of Exchequer grants which the 1094 noble Lord, Lord Champion, was urging we should have included in the Bill. We believe they will have no serious difficulty in making ends meet without the imposition of charges in excess of a few pence, a very few pence, per thousand gallons abstracted from rivers and charges at a lower figure, a much lower figure, for abstraction of ground water and water for cooling purposes, which as your Lordships know can then be restored to the river. Our estimates show it should be perfectly possible to sustain the sort of conservation effort we believe the nation needs without pricing water conservancy out of the market.
The noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, urged that where a farmer builds his own reservoir and takes water into it at times of high flow he should not be charged anything. He also suggested that charges should be based on quantities actually abstracted, rather than on quantities authorised. I can certainly go a rather long way with him on that first point. Quite clearly, abstraction in winter at times of high flow will merit lower charges than at times of low flow. We want to encourage precisely this sort of thing, and clearly the best encouragement is a differential and favourable charge. But at this stage I should be rather chary about agreeing to the principle of no charge at all. On the second point, I should be even more chary. I am prepared to look at this point, but I cannot at present see how an authority could possibly see where it stands, balance its accounts, or make its plans unless it could base charges on authorised abstraction. This is a point that we shall be glad to look into.
My Lords, I am very conscious that a great many noble Lords who have had the kindness to wait to the end of this debate have not had their questions answered. I hope that, in view of the time, they will forgive me. I will undertake, however to answer any questions, by correspondence or personally, if noble Lords wish particularly to have replies to them. But I hope that T have said enough to convince your Lordships that in our proposals we have tried to do justice, and no more or no less than justice, to all the many interests concerned with water. We have had to build upon a very complex structure 1095 both of existing legislation and of established rights. I should be the last to claim that we have succeeded at this stage in every particular, or that the Bill is entirely without its warts. There will be plenty of opportunity for dealing at the later stages of the Bill with any possible warts or blemishes.
What I do claim, however, is that this Bill is sound in its basic essentials, and that, if passed into law substantially unamended, it will ensure that the most vital of our national resources is managed and developed in a balanced manner and in the best interests of the community as a whole.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.