HL Deb 11 May 1964 vol 258 cc33-6

3.55 p.m.

Second Reading debate continued.


My Lords, I rise to continue, quite briefly, the discussion we have been having on this Bill, to which I should like to extend a warm welcome, as I am sure it is welcomed by all your Lordships. I should like also to congratulate my noble friend and his right honourable friend on bringing this Bill before us. The reason why I particularly warmly welcome this measure is that I happen to live on the banks of a river which in recent years has suffered from pollution as the result of the discharge of industrial effluent into it and also as the result of sewage. Unless there is some control over the abstraction of water from that river, the position of those who live on its banks will become quite intolerable.

Over and above that, I think I noted in my noble friend's speech a reference to the fact that we have plenty of water in our Scottish rivers. That may be so at the present time, but the enormous increase in the amount of water called for by industry and for domestic purposes is such that it may well be that in the future, steps will need to be taken to control the use of water even from our plenteous supply of the present time.

I should like to endorse the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, which has been supported by other noble Lords, that some protection should he given to those who have initiated this form of irrigation. It would he quite unfair if licences were withheld from those who have spent considerable sums of money, and granted to those who had merely followed in their footsteps when they had ascertained that the experiment was a successful one. I hope that my noble friend will inquire into that and see what protection can be given.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends for their interest in this Bill and for the constructive suggestions they have made. The point which has concerned most of your Lordships is the one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and by other noble Lords, that there is nothing in the Act to give any security to existing installations. This we will look into most carefully. But, as I see the position now, not every installation will need to be licensed; that is the principle of the Bill. Where a licence is necessary in any area, I think it must be for the board to approve everything about the extent of abstraction; and, on reflection, it might be unwise to give any priority to any particular person or installation, especially as, according to my advice, in Common Law no one has an undisputed right to take water now. So some of the people who have not put in installations may have hesitated to do so simply on those grounds alone.

My noble friend Lord Haddington stressed the difficulty—I think he spoke from a great deal of knowledge—that the board will have in holding the balance between all the interests concerned. What he said is what will face the board all the time under this Bill. He spoke about off-peak storage. As I said in my opening speech, there is nothing to prevent a farmer from putting in his own storage.


My Lords, it is very expensive for a farmer to put in his own storage. The only thing that might be done is two adjacent farmers on the river might combine and share the cost, or something like that.


Yes. Off-hand I cannot say whether two farmers joining together would be eligible for grant aid. I understand that some farmers have done this already.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, asked: Why the licence for one year only? This is a point I considered, but other people may want to draw water, and there seems to be no alternative, if we are to give justice to all concerned and are going to have proper conservation, to the consideration every year of the whole functions and future of an area. All we can hope, as I said in my opening speech, is that the boards will try to make the renewal of licence as automatic as they can. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, asked a question about Clause 8(b). I am afraid the answer is, No. These small additional net expenses covered by Clause 8(b)—that is, if there are any, after allowing for the licence fees—will be shared between the ratepayer and the taxpayer, and the clause refers to the Exchequer equalisation grant proportion of the expenditure.

My noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell has raised an important point about the notification required by the Schedule, which might entail 5,000-odd letters. I must tell him that the Schedule is based on the precedent of the Second Schedule to the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act, 1961. I know he will be the first to agree with me that we have to be very careful. I am sure that all concerned and affected must be advised. But both I and the Department are grateful to him for his warning. This is something we shall have to look at very carefully indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, raised the point of the £50 penalty in Clause 2(2) as being rather a small amount. I should tell him that it is the same as the penalty for discharging effluent under existing legislation. I do not know whether he looked at the sanction in Clause 6(1), which deals with the revocation of licences on conviction. Having said that, we shall look carefully at the point he has made, especially the one about subsequent offences, and I am grateful to him for having raised this.

I am grateful for the welcome given to this Bill. As the speeches have made clear, it is not an easy Bill to draft in detail. There are many conflicting interests. We have to make the right decision quickly, and we have to give justice to all concerned and let everybody know. I am grateful for the Committee points. The Government also will have Amendments to propose, and I look forward to the Committee stage, and commend this Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.