HL Deb 18 March 1965 vol 264 cc424-8

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships will remember, the Water Resources Act, 1963, was one of those noncontroversial measures that are fought long, hard, and in detail. It comes fully into operation on April 1 this year. The interval since the passing of the Act has been occupied by the setting up of river authorities who take over on April 1 the land drainage, prevention of pollution and fisheries work of the river boards, and will also be charged with the water conservation work that was the purpose of the Act. The Order that is before the House is a modest part in the establishment of the new system. In the Thames catchment, as in the Lee catchment, there is no actual river board, and the existing functions are carried out by the Thames Conservancy, established long before the river boards, and with rather different powers and duties.

The Act itself did not apply the water resources work to the Thames area: it provided that the application could be made by Order, and this was done last July by the Order that is being amended to-day. That Order also reconstituted the Conservancy on the lines of the constitutions provided in the Act for river authorities. A bare majority of the Conservators were to be appointed by the local authorities—county councils, county borough and London borough councils—on which the Conservancy precepts. The other members were to be appointed by the Ministers of Housing, Agriculture and Transport for their knowledge of public water supply, industry, agriculture, land drainage, navigation, and the recreational use of the Thames. There is also a member appointed by the Port of London Authority.

This constitution did not altogether satisfy the London County Council and the Greater London Council. They argued forcibly, when the original Order was introduced, that the Greater London Council ought to be represented on a body that would have so much effect on the work of the Council and the interests of Londoners. The London County Council have always had a representative—and, after all, many Londoners use the Thames for recreation. The Greater London Council, of course, will be responsible for the prevention of pollution on those splendidly named tributaries of the Thames—the Crane, the Ravensbourne, the Duke of Northumberland's River, and others. All this the Greater London Council argued, and all this the then Minister accepted. He gave an undertaking, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, informed this House, that the Greater London Council should be given membership of the Conservancy. My right honourable friend fully agrees that this is the right thing to do, and the Order before the House secures it.

At the same time it is desirable to keep to the principle that local authorities should have a majority of only one on the Conservancy, as on river authorities, and the amending Order provides for a member with experience in fisheries. The Conservancy have no statutory fisheries duties, but fishing is closely bound up with their other interests. The fisheries member will complement the experience of the other specialist apointments and will, I am sure, be generally welcomed.

One final point about the Order. Section 128 of the Water Resources Act exempts from the general restriction on taking water any abstraction under an order made by the Minister under the Water Act, 1958. These are orders that allow water undertakers, when there is an exceptional shortage of rain, to extract more water than they normally have power to take. They are commonly known as drought orders. But they do not apply to the Metropolitan Water Board's abstractions from the Thames, where the equivalent is an emergency order under Section 167 of the Thames Conservancy Act, 1932. It was an omission from the original Order that these orders were not given the same saving as the ordinary drought orders. The amending Order puts this right. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) (Amendment) Order, 1965, be approved.—(Lord Mitchison.)

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary for bringing this amending Order forward. As he said, one of its main purposes is to honour an undertaking which I gave on behalf of my right honourable friend the then Minister in respect of an additional member to be given to the Greater London Council, which in fact was simply carrying over a responsibility already held by the London County Council for matters of pollution. As he said, it is a non-controversial matter in which all Parties were agreed, and I am glad it has been done.

Of course, when I gave that undertaking I did not point out (although I think it was implicit) that it would be necessary to appoint another member among the ministerial appointments so that the local authorities would not have an overall majority of more than one on the Thames Conservancy. That extra member has been appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture for the purpose of representing fisheries. I would just remind the noble Lord—I am sure he knows this very well—that among the ministerial appointments, that is to say, the appointments by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, one member was to be appointed—and I quote the words: after consultation with such persons or bodies representative of persons concerned in the use of the Thames as a place of recreation as the Minister considers appropriate. I think I am right in believing that that was intended as a reference to boating interests on the Thames, and not to fisheries interests. I wanted to clear up that point, otherwise it would not have been necessary to appoint a member to represent fisheries. But I think I am right in saying that it was not found possible to award a member to fisheries interests, and the member was to represent boating interests. I am glad that this omission has been discovered. Having read the Memorandum supplied by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I think it is clearly essential that this power of reservation from restrictions should be inserted.

There is only one other small point, which the noble Lord did not mention: I can see that he may hardly have thought it necessary. In the amending Order, Article 3(e) says: in article 13, after the words 'the Minister of Transport' there shall be inserted the words 'the Greater London Council'". I am not sure that those words are necessary, because as a result of this amending Order the Greater London Council is, of course, already inserted in Articles 2(1) and 9(1) of the original July Order; and I should have thought, turning to Article 13 of that Order, in which reference is made to the necessity for the Conservators' to send their annual report and accounts to each of the constituent councils, that those words would have included the Greater London Council.

However, that is not the real point I wish to make. The fact that the reference to the London Council has been specifically inserted in Article 13—whether it is necessary or not—brought to my attention the fact that there is no mention in that Article of the Port of London Authority. They are listed, of course, in Article 9, but it seems to me that they are not actually a constituent council. Perhaps the noble Lord might look at that to see whether or not it might be advisable to insert the Port of London Authority, as well as the Greater London Council in Article 13.


My Lords, I will gladly look at the interesting point raised by the noble Lord—his second point. As to the first point, that the member was already on the Board to represent recreational interests, that member was appointed after consultation with both what I may call the boating side and the fishery people. What is happening now is that he is left to represent boating, and fishing has an extra representative. I think that is in accordance with the general intentions of the Act.

On Question, Motion agreed to.