HL Deb 11 November 1969 vol 305 cc563-618

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to authorise these two authorities, the Welland and Nene Water Authority and the Mid. Northamptonshire Water Board, to construct a reservoir at a place called Empingham, in the County of Rutland. The Bill will also authorise these two authorities to take water from the rivers Welland and Nene. Water which is abstracted from the rivers by these two authorities will be pumped to the reservoir which the authorities propose to construct.

This reservoir will be a storage reservoir. Water will be pumped from the rivers during the period of high flow in the rivers. In the periods when the flow in the rivers is low, water will be discharged from the reservoir into the rivers to maintain their normal flow and to enable those undertakers who depend on these two rivers for their supplies to pump during periods of low flow in the river at their normal rate to meet the demands made upon them. Under this arrangement the abstraction of water from the rivers can in no way do the rivers any harm. Indeed, it will make it possible to regulate the flow of the rivers and eliminate the periods of less than normal flow. There is no question about these proposals having any adverse effects upon the rivers. Nobody has suggested that there is anything which is likely to interfere with, or do injury to, them.

These two authorities desire this reservoir to enable them to meet the very substantially increased demands which they anticipate will be made upon them during the next ten or twenty years. The area served by the Welland and Nene authorities and the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board will change very considerably during the next ten or twenty years. Almost every urban centre in the area is anticipating expansion—not the normal expansion, what I might call the normal natural expansion. but the planned expansion of New Towns; expansion for the accommodation of overspill and matters of that nature. At each of the urban centres in their area there is a prospect of considerable expansion. Peterborough is to become a New Town; Daventry is to take in overspill population from Birmingham; Northampton is to become a New Town; Wellingborough is to take overspill population from London; Corby New Town is to be expanded. In all these areas there is substantial planned expansion; and all this expansion will vastly increase the population in the urban areas which look for their supplies to the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board and the other authorities who will be served by the river and by the reservoir.

It is not only in the urban areas that the demand is increasing. There arc substantial urban areas in the district of the river authority, but in the rural areas also the demand for water is increasing. All over the rural parts of the country changes are taking place which will increase the demand for water. There is a higher standard of amenities in the dwelling-houses. Water is laid on, instead of being brought in from wells. Agriculture is consuming very much more water than it used to do. Piped water is being brought into the rural areas, and water-borne sewage is taking the place of the older forms of sewage disposal. All these things combine to increase the demand which these authorities will have to meet in the coming years, and the need for additional supplies is evident.

My Lords, I am a little tempted, although I do not wish to overburden your Lordships with figures, to refer to the estimated expansion of population in this area. In the area of the Welland and Nene River Authority which will be served by the reservoir the present estimated population is 636,000. By 1981 it will have increased to 973,000, and in some 30 years' time, in the year 2001, it will have increased to 1,282,000. When one looks at the towns in the district one sees the same thing. To-day, Northampton has a population of 130,000. It is expected that in 1981 the population will have increased to 230,000 and in 2001 to 300,000. Corby has a present population of 45,000 In 1981 it will have increased to 75,000, and in 2001 to 100,000. Perhaps that is the most striking increase of all. Wellingborough has a present population of 34,000 which will increase in ten years to 86,000, and by 2001 to 110,000. Daventry, which is to take Birmingham overspill, has a present population of 7,000 which will increase to 37,000 in ten years, and to 50,000 by 2001. It is really not surprising that the water authorities are asking for this very substantial increase in their resources.

My Lords, the Water Resources Board, which your Lordships will recall was created by the Act of 1963, and which is charged with the conservation of water in all parts of the country, recently carried out a survey in an area which they describe as a "deficiency zone". The area extended from Northampton to the London Basin. The Board have recommended that the increased demand in that area shall be met by a succession of pumped reservoirs operating very much like the reservoir which this Bill proposes. It is recognised by the Board that the necessary surveys and preliminary investigations which the construction of these new reservoirs will involve cannot be completed in time to meet the increased demand which is known to be coming. They accordingly selected this reservoir at Empingham, and. alternatively, an adjoining site at Manton, as a site where the construction of a reservoir should be carried out at once, to be available for use in ten years' time. They made that recommendation because this area was remote in some ways from the deficiency zone between Northampton and the London Basin. It was accordingly selected because this was the only part of the area where it would be possible to complete the reservoirs as early as 1974.

I am tempted to read to your Lordships a passage from the Water Resources Board's Report. This is what they say: Increasing demands in the area of the Welland and Nene River Authority, particularly those of the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board, indicate that a reservoir should be completed and available for supply by 197475. The River Authority have accordingly decided to seek powers during the coming session of Parliament to construct a reservoir at Empingham. Although the Empingharn site will submerge more land than the Manton site— they were considering these two adjoining sites— we support the decision of the River Authority and urge that the necessary powers should be granted without delay. My Lords, those are the powers for which we are asking to-day. I ought perhaps to say a word about Manton although, so far as I know, nobody is now advocating that the Manton site should be used. Manton is quite close to Empingham. It would give a very much smaller yield than the Empingham reservoir. The yield from the Empingham reservoir would be 50 million gallons per day; the yield from the Manton reservoir would be only 40 million. The Manton reservoir would cost about £2½ million more than the reservoir at Empingham. There is the further advantage in taking the Empingham reservoir first, that it might never be necessary to use the Manton site, but if it did become necessary Manton could easily be filled from Empingham at a much lower cost than the cost of constructing the necessary pipe lines and appliances to feed it from the rivers. Accordingly, the Water Resources Board came down on the side of Empingham. So far as I know, nobody has revived the proposal that Manton should be used.

There are one or two matters of more minor consequence about which I should say something. One of the proposals made was that the size of the reservoir should be reduced by constructing what are called "truncated dams" across two points at what is now the centre of the reservoir. I do not know whether your Lordships have had an opportunity of looking at the model in the Royal Gallery, but there you will see that the Western end of the reservoir is divided into two arms by the village. If that were done, it would mean that the upper part of the area, which at present would be included in the reservoir, would not be flooded and would be protected by another dam.

That proposal would substantially reduce the yield from the Empingham reservoir. The Southern dam would reduce the yield to 38 million gallons; and if both arms were truncated the yield would be reduced to 34 million gallons, as against a yield from Empingham of 50 million gallons. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Molson is going to say about these two dams. On each of the truncated arms of the reservoir there would be a dam that has two faces, one upstream and the other downstream. I have never seen a dam of this sort. One of my noble friends says, "Neither have I". Certainly it would be a remarkable creature, and noble Lords who are concerned with the amenity aspect of the matter and with the general appearance of the countryside, when the work has been done may think that two or three dams would be a great deal more unsightly than one. But, of course, it would mean that an area at the upper part of the proposed reservoir of about 1,500 acres would remain agricultural land for the present.

I am told that this proposal can be adopted only on a temporary basis and that later these truncated dams will have to be removed. In these circumstances, it seems to me that this scheme is not one which is likely to appeal very strongly to your Lordships. Indeed, it has almost every disadvantage, except that for a short time, but only for a short time, it retains the land in part of the area as agricultural land. It is not high grade agricultural land; I am told that it is graded III by the Ministry of Agriculture. I think that I ought to say that if it had been possible to avoid submerging agricultural land, these authorities would have been very ready to do it; but, in fact, there is no practical way of doing it, and the loss of this land is almost inevitable. This loss has to be measured and balanced against the loss of water. The Board would certainly have regarded with a very favourable eye any proposal that would have saved agricultural land from flooding. I am told that 13 members of the Board are farmers, or have to do with agricultural matters, and I think that your Lordships can be assured that that aspect of the case has been examined with careful consideration.

I do not think that there is anything further I need put to your Lordships. This is a major scheme. This reservoir will be a very large one, but no larger than the need calls for, because this is one of the areas where a large increase in population is taking place, and this means that the public services, including water services, must expand at the same time. This scheme has the good will of the Water Resources Board and other authorities. It has been selected as the only scheme which could be completed in time to serve this new neighbourhood as it grows up. I hope your Lordships will consider that this is a proper Bill to receive a Second Reading, to be sent upstairs and to be examined by a Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ilford.)

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be of advantage to the House, when considering a controversial Private Bill such as the Bill that we have before us this afternoon, it I were to set out some of the procedural considerations affecting the Bill. First of all, may I say something about the Parliamentary career of this Bill? It started in another place last Session and was considered by a Select Committee in that House in proceedings which lasted nine days. It then had a Third reading, and at the end of the Session was carried over.

It has now been through its preliminary stages in this House. The position here is that there are two Petitions against the Bill, which is therefore at this stage an Opposed Bill. The Petitions have been deposited by the Peterborough Corporation and jointly by the Rutland County Council and the Oakham Rural District Council. Unless they are withdrawn, the Bill will be referred in the usual way to a Select Committee of this House. The Select Committee will hear argument and evidence from the Promoters and the Petitioners to enable them to decide whether or not to recommend to the House that the Bill should proceed. If the Petitions against the Bill are withdrawn, and the Bill becomes unopposed, I will undertake to inform immediately any noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon in opposition to the Bill. This will give them an opportunity, if they so wish, to put down a Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, with an appropriate Instruction. May I add that I myself will study carefully the speeches made by noble Lords in the course of the debate this afternoon in order to ascertain whether or not it is the wish of the House that this Bill, in the event of the Petitions being withdrawn, should be referred to a Select Committee.

I should like to end these. I hope, fairly brief remarks by emphasising that in giving a Second Reading to a Private Bill, the House does not, as in the case of a Public Bill, endorse the principle of the Bill. The normal practice in the present century is that the House contents itself with giving a formal Second Reading to a Private Bill. There are indeed few issues in Private Bills which the House can properly decide without the benefit of having heard parties and witnesses—that is to say, the Promoters, the Petitioners and any witnesses whom they may wish to call to give evidence on their behalf. It is therefore accepted prac- tice by your Lordships to leave the consideration of opposed Private Bills to Select Committees set up for the purpose. For these procedural reasons, I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for the explanation he has given to the House. I should like to ask him this question. Assuming that the Petitions are withdrawn and the Bill becomes an unopposed Bill, I understand that the House may still send it to a Select Committee for examination and report.


My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. I have the power under our Standing Orders to refer a Bill to a Select Committee even if it is not an opposed Bill. But of course, 1 should not do so unless I was satisfied that this was the wish of the House.


My Lords, may I say that if, in fact, the situation should arise in which this Bill becomes an unopposed Bill, then it would be the wish of the Promoters that it should be referred to a Select Committee. We realise that this is a Bill (if I may say so) of major importance. It is the first of a number of Bills which will be promoted for the construction of reservoirs in this area. The Promoters recognise that, and they recognise also that in the circumstances it is probably right that if the Bill is an unopposed Bill it should, nevertheless, be referred to a Select Committee for examination and report.


My Lords, I am afraid this is rather irregular. I would prefer, if the noble Lord will excuse me, not to ask again for the permission of the House to reply a second time, which I am afraid I failed to do the first time when the noble Lord asked me a question.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, it had not been my purpose to go into the details of this Bill, which can only with advantage be studied by a committee in detail. My noble friend Lord Ilford confirmed my wish to deal with this question on broad matters of principle, raising certain important matters of procedure, especially the new methods of procedure introduced by the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, when he said (and he gave your Lordships a warning) that this is only the first of a number of Bills which will be introduced in order to authorise the creation of a large number of reservoirs. He said that this is a matter of major importance. I entirely agree, and in what I am going to say to your Lordships this afternoon I shall be referring not to the details of this particular reservoir, not to the provisions of this highly technical and complicated Bill, but, first of all, to the whole question of the supply of water of this country over the next thirty years, and then the procedure which should be followed in Parliament by those who wish to promote Bills of this kind. Only on Thursday next your Lordships will be asked to give approval to another Bill, submerging another part of the English countryside in order to provide water by means of reservoirs.

This Bill was introduced in another place, and it did not receive there any very cordial welcome. It was referred in the usual way to a Select Committee upstairs, who sat for no less than nine days studying it. They then did not merely refer it back to the House with their endorsement, but they presented a special Report, which I venture to read to your Lordships. They said: Your Committee have sat for nine days and have heard evidence adduced by the Promoters of the Bill and by the Petitioners against the Bill. Your Committee have passed the Bill, with Amendments, but consider it their duty to bring to the attention of the House their view that there is an urgent necessity to study alternative supplies of water. They therefore strongly recommend that a feasibility study of the Wash Barrage be undertaken immediately. It is not surprising, in view of this special Report of the Committee, that a number of honourable Members on both sides of the House took the unusual course of dividing the other place against the Third Reading of the Bill. It was carried only by a narrow majority of 75 to 65. The debate was of great interest. I know that I should be out of order if I actually quoted from the speeches, but at paragraph 331 of Hansard of July 1 it will be found that Mr. Hazell, the Labour Member for Norfolk, North, expressed the fear that not sufficient attention would be paid to the recommendation for a full feasibility study being made of the Wash Barrage and he therefore recommended the House to divide against the Bill. He thought that if the Bill were thrown out a feasibility study would be undertaken, and he was fearful that if it were passed it would not be done.

I am entitled, I think, to quote from the subsequent speech of the then Minister for Planning and Land, when he said: A Wash Barrage is, in the Government's view, a most interesting idea." (col. 336). When the spokesman for the Government dismissed a matter of this kind as "an interesting idea", there was clearly justification for Mr. Hazell when he feared that if the Bill were passed it would not be treated with sufficient seriousness by the Government and by all those who are concerned with the provision of water in large quantities.

I think this is an opportunity, after the Government have had all the time since July 1 to consider this matter, to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in this House how the desk study of the Wash Barrage is progressing, and when it is likely to be published. I would ask him, in view of the time that has elapsed since the Report of the Committee of another place, to give an assurance that if the desk study is reasonably favourable to the project a full feasibility study will follow.

Reservoirs are not only immensely costly, but, in the view of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, of which I am the Chairman, and also of the National Farmers' Union, of which I am a member, the unending building of additional reservoirs for water, if not a wasting of good agricultural land, is at any rate a submergence of it. The Committee were told (and this was no doubt what my noble friend Lord Ilford had in mind) that eight more reservoirs are planned, and the Water Resources Board have said that by the year 2000 they consider that it will be necessary to double the whole of the resorvoir resources of this country. This is an appalling prospect. It is an appalling prospect from the point of view of those who are anxious to preserve the English countryside—and which of us is not?—and it must also be a serious problem for the Treasury when they consider what is going to be involved in this tremendous increase in the provision of water. The Wash Barrage is not the only alternative method of providing water. I am not convinced that the Government have taken sufficiently seriously the possibilities of desalination in connection with the building of new atomic power stations. In order to generate electricity it is necessary to use cooling water. It is possible at the same time to produce pure and potable water. This is not a new, hairbrained scheme; it is already in operation in certain parts of the world where conditions are particularly favourable, such as Bahrein and, I think, Kuwait. Incidentally, it is pleasant to reflect that it is British inventors and engineers who are the successful builders of these plants.

There is at the present time a great gap between the cost of providing water from reservoirs and producing it by desalination. All experience, however, shows that with the gaining of additional experience and technical knowledge the cost of a process of that kind is brought down, particularly when it is done on a large scale. I hope that the Government will not be alarmed at the gap—which I admit at the present time is a serious one—and will look forward in the way that this technologically minded Government are surely disposed to do, to the time when desalination in this country may be as economic as the storage of water in costly reservoirs.

I want this evening to raise a matter which I hope I may have the opportunity of raising in a full debate later this Session—I refer to the purification of our northern rivers. It is a most extraordinary anomaly that the greater part of the water which is used in London, and which is of highly acceptable quality, is derived from the River Thames. The water of the Trent, and of most other rivers in the North, is so polluted that it is virtually of no value at all as a water supply. In the case of the Trent, most of the pollution comes from the little River Tame, which flows from Castle Bromwich. Rivers like the Dove and the Cherwell, which have very pure water, are useless for towns lower down the Trent because of the pollution which has been created by Castle Bromwich, and other industrial areas further up the river.

I saw a most extraordinary circular issued by the noble Lord's Department on December 4, 1968, on industrial effluents. It is Circular No. 64/68. It is not a model of English—in fact, I have seldom seen worse official jargon. Its whole tendency is to reiterate the need for river authorities to be economic in borrowing money. Indeed, they are warned that they will not be granted authority to borrow money in order to carry out any purification of the water in their rivers unless such water is likely to be almost immediately available for use. In the case of the Thames there is less industrial development, and the record of the Thames Conservancy Board is a long and honourable one. At the present time they are trying the extraordinarily interesting experiment of recharging the aquifers in the Lambourn Valley. It is not as difficult to produce water of reasonable quality as it would be in the case of the industrial rivers of the North, but it will take time and money. I am quite confident, however, that if an efficiency cost study is carried out it will be found to be more economic to use nature's ordinary sources of water supply than to build a large number of artificial reservoirs. I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would to-day deal with the point of this circular. It would be extremely encouraging if he would indicate that the Government are now prepared to favour efforts made by river authorities to purify the rivers of Britain. As I have said, I hope to have an opportunity of raising this matter more fully later in the year, and I hope the noble Lords who are interested, whether from the point of view of general social interest or of fishing, or whatever it may be, will take part in that debate. Surely there is nothing more shameful than that a majority of our English rivers in the North can no longer be inhabited by the fish that were there 100 years ago.

I do riot intend to take too long, but I should like to turn from alternative sources of water and raise a certain matter of considerable importance in respect of procedure. It is not unimportant because it is a matter of procedure. Down to the present time, an authority seeking powers such as are contained in this Bill had the alternative of proceeding either by Private Bill or by an Order under the Water Act 1963. In either case there was an inquiry, but the inquiry was narrowly limited to what was contained in the Bill or in the Order. It was not competent for Petitioners against the Bill to say, "All right; we agree that water is needed, but you will do very much better to go elsewhere for it. There is a site we would recommend that would be very much better." That was not competent because it was outside the Rules of Order. That is the technical reason for it. The reason in equity was that a proposal that somebody else's land should be taken away could not be made unless full notice and opportunity had been given for anyone else to object.

Sections 61, 62 and 63 of the Town and County Planning Act 1968, which came into operation only this spring, provide for a new procedure, the Planning Inquiry Commission. That procedure, I take it, was included in the Bill by the Minister of Housing and Local Government because he realised that there were cases where the inquiry was required to be of a very much wider scope than was possible under the existing legislation. It was intended only to apply to important matters, considerations of national or regional importance, which are relevant to the determination of that question, and which require evaluation. I need hardly argue that the building of the Empingham reservoir, which is going to submerge a large proportion of the county of Rutland, is certainly of provincial and regional importance. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Ilford said that this was a matter of very great importance.

This new procedure, of which we have not yet had any experience under legislation, although it is very analogous to what has been done in the case of the third London Airport and the Roskill Inquiry, clearly raises an important matter for the future. I am advised that it would be quite reasonable to move the rejection of a Water Bill of this kind in future because a Planning Inquiry Commission had not been set up to go into the whole matter. We have been handicapped in dealing with one Bill after another because in each particular case it was possible for the Promoters to show that the Preamble, which did little more than say that water was required, had been proved; and we were precluded from saying that some other place was less objectionable.

This new procedure, which, as I say, although passed last year came into operation only this spring, should surely be the planning procedure adopted in the case of Water Bills in the future. It has of course been possible in the past for an authority to promote a Bill without going through the normal planning procedure; and that had the great advantage of obtaining for them, when they got their Bill, deemed planning permission under Class 13 (I think it was) of the General Development Order 1952. It is wrong that in a matter of this kind, when we are doing all we can to encourage planning authorities to take a broad and enlightened view of their planning responsibilities, Promoters of Bills should evade the normal procedure by coming direct to Parliament. They have not always done so. In the case of the River Mersey Act 1964 they went through the whole procedure; and in another matter which is perhaps more readily in the recollection of your Lordships, the Brighton Marina project, exactly the same thing was done, I think with great propriety, by the Promoters. There was a planning inquiry, and the Minister had given his consent on planning grounds several years before the Promoters came to this House.

My Lords, I make no apology for referring to these matters. We have had warning. We have had warning from my noble friend Lord Ilford; we have had warning from the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and we have had warning from the Water Resources Board that, as things are at the present time, it is intended that this should be only one of a large number of Bills authorising the submerging of the English countryside in order to provide water in this way. For the future I maintain that we must avail ourselves of the new procedure, in order that the whole matter may be properly probed. I am taking this opportunity of giving notice that we shall try out this new procedure under the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 and will argue that it is appropriate for use in the case of these large reservoirs. What is even more fundamental is that we feel that there are other ways of providing the water that is required; and that we have gone on too long having one local Bill after another, and that there is not yet a real national plan for dealing with the requirements of the future. If any of my noble friends decide to divide against this Bill I shall certainly follow them into the Lobby, and I hope that the small majority of 10–75 to 65—by which this Bill was carried in another place may vanish when it comes before your Lordships.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, this part of the world used to be largely my own constituency. It included Corby; it went to the boundaries of Peterborough, Wellingborough and Northampton; and I know well how sore the need for water there is. Hilaire Belloc came from Sussex, but he made the mistake of his life when he said that the Midlands were "sodden and unkind". They are to my knowledge not unkind and they are certainly not sodden. There is something in the geological formation there that prevents the water from accumulating sufficiently, and the need really is an urgent one on a large scale.

I am not going into the very interesting speech we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Molson. There were moments when he reminded me of the garage that kept up constantly a notice which said "Free petrol tomorrow". However that may be, the question we have to consider at the moment is whether or not this particular Bill goes to a Committee of the House. I was rather disappointed to hear him say at the end of his speech what I had not quite understood from the beginning of it, that he would vote against that proposition if there was a Division on it. I entreat your Lordships not to oppose sending this Bill to a Committee. If ever there was a Bill that ought to go to a Committee in order to be considered far more fully than this House is in a position to do, and with evidence of a kind that we cannot have here and one cannot always have even in a law court—evidence of water experts among others—this is that Bill. I have never seen a clearer case. I read through all the literature, and have deliberately kept it behind me lest I might be tempted to say something about it. Private Bills are not thrilling, and this is no exception. To read it more than once argues, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say, a certain devotion to the subject.

I am quite certain that for the people who are living in that part of the country this Bill ought to be carefully examined. I say no more than that; but it really needs to be examined carefully. One has to remember on procedural points that, after all, it has had a fairly full examination in another House and they have come to a decision on it. I make no comment beyond that, except to say that it shows that a full examination is proper for this particular Bill. One gets up and speaks about such things as the Wash Barrage, the possibilities of desalination and so on. All I am thinking about at this moment (and I hope your Lordships will take this from me) is the people who live in this part of the world who really suffer from a shortage of water. The ways they suffer and the extent to which they suffer will differ in different cases. It is a part of the world which has, among other things, very considerable industrial possibilities. Industry, of course, is a very large user of water indeed. I should think that Stewarts and Lloyds are about the largest users in this part of the world. In the long run, we are an industrial country and we must have water, we must have an increasing amount of water, and we must have it all over the country. That problem is one for the Water Resources Development Board in the long run; and, so far as this Bill is concerned, one for the Committee to which I earnestly hope your Lordships will allow the Bill to proceed. It would be a very great pity if it did not go and receive full examination there.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is sufficiently well known to your Lordships for you to have realised that he was not Lord Woolley, but so that there may be no confusion, perhaps I may make it clear that this happens to be Lord Woolley who is speaking now.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment to make a very humble apology to the House? I did not know that there was a list of speakers. I have never seen it. There was not one when I was outside and I apologise to noble Lords who were on the list and to the House as a whole fur "chipping in" in that unforgiveable way. It was only due to ignorance.


My Lords, I am sure that we accept the noble Lord's apology. I am opposed to this Bill for several reasons. First, because it proposes to drown an area of good farm land almost as big as Lake Windermere- -indeed, I think the total area of land that would be sterilised would probably be considerably greater than the area of Lake Windermere. First, I should like to say a few words about the farming aspect. Mr. Roland Murray of Oakham, who is a Fellow of the Chartered Auctioneers and Estate Agents Institute, and who is reputed to have acquired a unique knowledge of the land and the farming in this area over the past thirty years, prepared a very full report for the Select Committee in the other place, which so far as I know has not been challenged in any particular. In the time available I can do no more than try to give a brief résumé of that report.

The production pattern is arable crops and fat cattle and sheep. On the free draining friable red loam in the eastern part, the crops are barley, including a high quality malting barley, sugar beet under contract, and seeds hay for the winter feeding of cattle and sheep. On this free draining soil the lambs can be winter fattened on the arable ground, producing high quality mutton in the scarce period between January and March, and at that period there is a large influx of buyers from the Midlands. Beef, too, is winter produced and comes to the market at a time when it is most needed. Further West the land is a heavier loam, and wheat and feeding barley with grass are the main crops. This area integrates admirably with the eastern area which draws cattle and sheep from it for its winter feeding requirements.

I will not detain your Lordships by going into all the detail of Mr. Murray's report, but I would draw attention to his figures of crop yields, which show that for wheat and barley this area produces yields approximately 25 per cent. above the national average, For sugar beet the figure is 16 tons an acre, which is about the same as the national average, and crops of seeds hay of about 35 cwts. per acre, for which no national average figure is available but which I think many of your Lordships with farming experience and knowledge would regard as a satisfactory yield.

I think those of your Lordships who know this area will agree that the report from which I have just quoted confirms the impression that an inspection of the area makes on the mind of a farmer. At least this is the sort of impression that I got from going over this area, and certainly Mr. Murray's report brings out quite clearly that if this area of good land is drowned it will mean the loss of a valuable supply of bread grain, beef and lamb and sugar for the urban dwellers of the Midlands. Water is important, and I should like to make it quite clear that in my mind no question of antagonism arises. I am quite sure that we are all fully aware of the basic responsibility to provide an ample water supply, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has said. This is not in question. We are also, I hope, aware of the importance of ensuring that the good land of this country, which is a very small fraction and a very scarce commodity in this small island with its increasing population, is preserved, and so far as is humanly possible that these two basic human requirements go hand in hand and are not treated in such a way that one heedlessly destroys the other in order to obtain its particular objective.

My second objection to this Bill, my Lords, is that it would seriously and, in my view, unwarrantably, dislocate the lives of the people who live and work in that area. I am informed that while only a small number of farm houses and buildings would be inundated, over fifty farms would be injuriously affected as farming units, in varying degrees. Many of them would become completely unbalanced units with quite excessive capital sunk in fixed equipment and machinery and plant. In addition, Mr. Hazell, the President of the N.U.A.W. has stated that about twenty farm workers would have their livelihoods affected. As he points out, it is no light matter, even though it is only a small number of people, for them to find fresh employment, fresh homes, fresh schools for their children, and for them to be uprooted from the place where most of them have spent the whole of their lives.

There are many land use developments in which the loss of good land and hardship to good people cannot be avoided. Constantly and remorselessly this erosion eats into our scarce resources of good fertile land, but I submit that that is all the more reason why we should look hard and critically at such proposals as these. I am sure there are many noble Lords who are much more expert on water conservation matters than I am, but I think it is obvious to anyone reading the various papers connected with this proposal that there is considerable doubt as to real need for a scheme of this size and as to whether this is the best site.

Noble Lords who have inspected the model in the Royal Gallery may well think that it looks a most peculiar reservoir. It is indeed a very fine model and obviously this is an extremely extravagant project in terms of land area to water capacity. It is remote, both from its source of supply and from the majority of its potential customers. The rate of population growth and the amount of water they will consume appears to have been calculated at the top point of the possible variables and no thought is apparent as regards the possible changes in population growth trends that are beginning to appear.

Above all, my Lords, this scheme represents a bland continuation of antique water conservation methods that I submit cannot be justified in this day and age. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has already informed us, a Select Committee in the other place made the strong recommendation that a feasibility study of the Wash Barrage be undertaken immediately, and the then Minister for Planning and Land said that this must await the outcome of a desk study which he expected to be completed by the end of the year. We are now 4½ months nearer to the end of the year, and I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in being interested to hear fom the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary as to the present position. I believe everyone, including the River Authority and the Water Board, and those of us who have to come to a conclusion about these applications, would be in a better position to come to conclusions when the prospect regarding the Wash Barrage is clarified, as to whether it is a likely or an unlikely development in the future. We would know better what we are talking about. And it would be helpful to know the Government's views regarding the resources that the Water Resources Board might require to tackle desalination on a practical scale. I do not propose to go into that question; the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has already dealt with it very adequately, as indeed he has with the other outstanding question, the recharging of the underground strata which appear to have a great potential and of which we do not hear very much, though I understand this work is going on in the Thames Conservancy area.

There is a prevalent feeling, which I must admit I share, that we are shuffling along, one might say, in old soft shoes as regards water policy, drowning a few thousand acres here and a few thousand there, and on and on, with expressions of regret about inescapable necessity. Empingham is not only important as a project in itself; it is probably even more important as regards its significance for the future against the background of these projected eight or nine further reservoirs that will be needed. I believe that the time has come, and is indeed overdue, when we should put pressure on the Government to deal with water conservation policy as an urgent matter and within the context of modern technology. I believe that if we were to reject this Bill to-day we might well not only prevent a scheme going forward that is in itself unsatisfactory—and here I would make it clear that I am not casting any reflection upon the Welland and Nene River Authority; I think they have been charged with a very difficult task, to try to find an area in which this amount of water can be conserved; I think they have been virtually asked to do an impossible job within what I would consider to be inefficient technology—but one which may well prove, in the light of subsequent developments, to have been cast on lines that are too extravagant. Perhaps even more important, we may hope to invigorate the climate of thinking regarding new methods of water conservation that cannot be indefinitely ignored.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin, I am afraid, by declaring my interest, in that I am and have been for over twenty years connected with a statutory water undertaking in the West Country; but I would assure your Lordships that that interest does not lead me invariably or unquestioningly to support any proposal that may emanate from or be recommended by another fellow water undertaking or recommended by an association such as the British Waterworks Association or the Water Companies Association, for both of which bodies have a very healthy respect.

I confess that when I saw this Bill, the original scheme seemed to me at first sight to be inordinately expensive in terms of actual estimated cost for what it set out to do, as well as being open to the serious objections to which my noble friend Lord Woolley has referred as regards the submersion of so large an area of good agricultural land—large, I mean, in relation to the increase in supply thereby achieved. No one can lightly accept a scheme which requires the taking away of 3,000 to 4,000 acres of good agricultural land in order to provide an additional supply of 50 million gallons a day. And such experience as I have alerts me to the danger of attempting to draw straight comparisons between one area and another in terms of the best way to secure a requisite supply that a particular area may need. But, having looked at this thing very carefully, I must admit that so far as I can judge, the idea of a storage reservoir which in fact in this case becomes a regulating reservoir for the rivers Welland and Nene, to harness for the purposes required the periodic surplus flows of those two rivers, is a very sound idea.

As regards the estimates of requirements of the area, again from my own experience in the South-West and some knowledge of what is happening else-where, I should not regard the estimates of population growth and increasing consumption per head, including industrial consumption, which have been given in relation to this Bill as being in any way extravagantly stated. And I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison said as to the very real need in existing and prospective circumstances for a substantial increase in the supply in this area.

As a result of the detailed examination in another place which has already been referred to—nine days in Committee—the Bill has come to your Lordships' House (or the two Bills, to be strictly accurate) materially altered from the original proposition, in so far as the proposal now is to truncate one or both. but preferably both, of two arms, as my noble friend, Lord Ilford, has described, by the addition of two separate additional dams. This is clearly a reflection of the very understandable desire to avoid two things: first, the taking of more agricultural land than is really necessary, for the truncation of two arms will in fact save nearly half the total quantity of agricultural land taken—1,500 acres out of a total of 3,400; and secondly the spending of more money at this stage than is needed. It was to my mind very convincingly demonstrated in debate in another place that the cost of truncation is too high a price to pay; the cost, I mean, in terms of yield.

I realise that it would not be appropriate this afternoon to argue this matter in close detail on Second Reading, but perhaps I may be permitted to give a few of the salient figures which lead me to this conclusion. In twenty years' time the requirements will be, for the mid-Northampton area 57 million gallons a day, including Leicester, 4 million; in the South Lincolnshire Water Board area 14 million gallons a day—a total, that is. of rather over 70 million gallons a day. or an increase over the existing supply of some 46 million gallons a day. The yield of the truncated reservoirs falls short of that by about 25 per cent., and therefore, on the face it it, it must seem likely that the risk involved in terms of supply by the saving of these 1,500 acres of agricultural land is a risk which unfortunately is too great to be taken. The cost of the yield as reduced by truncation is estimated at roughly one-third more per thousand gallons than for the yield of the full scheme, and so I cannot see that the truncation proposal is justified.

Lastly, I would hesitate to dogmatise on the subject of economic desalination. I am. I need hardly say, wholly in favour of doing everything we can to encourage the research and effort that is being put into that subject; but, unfortunately, to be realistic, we cannot at this time count on economic desalination in this country within the period of twenty years. We certainly cannot count on effective aid in this context from the Wash Barrage scheme, in regard to which there may he. as my noble friend Lord Molson said, every argument for pressing on with the inquiry. But within the time scale of the needs that this Bill is designed to meet, one cannot see that this is going to be any solution, and, with all respect to my noble friend, I think a subsequent statement by the then Minister for Planning and Land, Mr. Robinson—and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would confirm this—made it very clear that that was his firm conclusion on the evidence he had.

For all these reasons, recognising the complications and difficulties of this proposal, I would most strongly support that this Bill be given a Second Reading and, so far as may be appropriate in the light of the statement by the noble Lord, the Chairman of Committees, that it be referred to a Select Committee for the detailed examination that I think it most certainly needs.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, before passing this Water Bill much more research should be made into the production of water for domestic and industrial use. There are three sources of supply: above ground, with the use of big reservoirs; below ground sources of supply; and thirdly, desalination. In the first, I include the Wash Barrage scheme; but the Wash scheme has the advantage that it will also bring into use much land for agriculture from the sea bed. We have been promised the desk investigation of the Wash scheme by the end of this year: then we have to get a detailed report that will most likely take a further two years, so it is not unreasonable to contemplate seven to ten years before any completion of a Wash scheme. Even so, I still think the Wash Barrage scheme is the most feasible. It is high time water supplies were considered on a national scale. It is no good relying on reservoir puddles: in drought they dry up; industry is brought to a standstill; domestically we go dirty: and good agricultural land is lost for food production. Economically every acre of land lost to agriculture increases our foreign adverse balance of payments by £50. This reservoir would cost us £200,000 per annum in loss of food.

Personally I am opposed to this Bill. though not all my Party is. They think that if they pass this Bill we might get a Wash scheme. I call this unsound in principle. If a Bill is good, pass it; if not, throw it out. What. I would recommend is that the desalination part should be installed to replace the Empingham scheme, and then a national water committee to be set up to explore the Wash scheme and further desalination schemes. I should like that committee also to go very thoroughly into reclaiming the Wash for agricultural purposes, even if we do not use the Wash as a reservoir for South-Eastern England. The cost of desalination is bound to come down. Cheap power can be obtained from North Sea gas. If the water supply pipes go parallel to the gas pipes, the power for boosting the flow of water in the pipes can be applied very cheaply by pumping. The beauty of this country should be preserved. Moreover, for 4,000 acres of the best of the Cottesmore Hunt to be lost forever seems to me a tragedy.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord. the Chairman of Committees, intervened earlier in this debate on the procedural point, I understood him to say that if in fact the Petitions against the Bill were withdrawn the Bill could go, at his discretion, to a Committee. He did not say 'that it would go to Committee, and I should like to be perfectly clear on what I am dividing to-night. I am not, I think as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison said, dividing on the question of whether the Bill should go to a Committee; I am dividing straightly on the Second Reading of a Private Bill. I think that is the right interpretation of the situation.

On that procedural point again, it is, of course, an open secret that the Petitions are going to be withdrawn. That was stated in another place, and I do not doubt that it is true. Therefore I would ask—and I am shamefully ignorant of the procedures of your Lordships' House—whether a Committee of this House set up without Petitions is, in fact, as thoroughgoing a procedure as a Committee which is considering the Petitions in opposition to a Bill. I would ask whether such a Committee would review all the evidence given in another place and whether it has power to do so. I would also ask whether it has a duty to do so. Is it bound to consider all the evidence, as I think that it should? I would also ask whether that Committee, if it were set up without Petitions being in existence, could in fact call for further evidence—whether, for example, it could call for a report on the desk study of the Wash Barrage scheme. Frankly, I think that unless such a Committee can do these things, we are deluding ourselves that it would provide any useful service to those who oppose this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred to the small Division in another place, and I also observed that. To me it said that the Government were not on very sure ground about this Bill. I know that it is too easily said that Governments do not interfere with Private Bill legislation; I happen to know, because I have reason to know, that that is not necessarily true, and it seemed to me that the very small figures of that Division (not just the small majority) were indicative of the fact that the Government were uneasy whether in fact the Bill should go through. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said it was notably a Division not on Party lines; it was also notably a Division which was not on the lines which sometimes appear on issues of this sort of town versus country. One often sees that. There were a number of Members of another place with strongly urban interests, who voted against the Bill. That again seemed to me to indicate that that House was by no means convinced that the Promoters of the Bill had made their case.

The Private Bill procedure in both Houses may be tedious; it is certainly tedious to those outside who take part in it. It is, however, more thorough than any other legislative proceeding of Parliament. I would say, therefore—and I say this in support of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley—that if we in this House observe that those in another place have seen fit in examining a Bill to make a Special Report upon it to their House, we should take very careful note of it. I have heard it said that this is the only time that such a Special Report has been made. I am not sure whether or not that is true, but it is certainly very rare and I should have thought it showed that the Committee were most reluctant in the circumstances to see the Bill passed.

Unfortunately, also, the Private Bill procedure is very expensive, and on those grounds alone we know—although it has not been stated in public—that the Petitioners to the Bill are unable to pursue their objections. In those circumstances, also, I think we should be much more careful about our attitude to the Bill.

I happen to know this part of the country very well. It would be a mistake to weary your Lordships with local patriotism, but the truth of the matter is that a piece of country less suited to building dams and reservoirs would be hard to imagine. That is proved by the open admission that the shallow nature of the reservoir will quite frequently leave as much as 1,000 acres, a third of the whole area, empty and exposed as a sea of mud. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said that it is a very peculiar reservoir; it is certainly a peculiar reservoir if a third of it is mud rather than water. The noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, seemed to imply—and I do not want to quarrel with him on this point—that the Bill has come to this House with the truncation propositions accepted. That is not so. Of course it is true that if those truncating dams were built the mud feature would disappear, but, as I understand it, they are not going to be built and no one is really proposing that they should be. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, showed a strange horror of a double-faced dam—I thought all dams were double-faced—but I am perfectly certain that the inhabitants of that part of Rutland would happily accept a double-faced dam as some amendment of the proposition.

There has been a lot of discussion about the eight further reservoirs. Members of another place were told—a little smoothly, I think—that they may never be required, or that they will not be required if schemes for the Wash Barrage, for desalination and for the replenishment of underground stores of water go forward. On that point I only want to say that there will be enormous benefits to the trade balance if we pursue desalination a great deal more fervently than we are at present, and if our opposition to this Bill happened to force a Government into seeing that progress was made more swiftly in that field, then we should be doing a most considerable national service. There is enormous money to be made out of desalination, in which we are already leaders of development.

I am perfectly certain that this is all going to happen again in regard to these eight further reservoirs. Every time these propositions are brought forward we shall be told that there are unavoidable reasons why we should accept them in detail. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said that the Manton plan might never be used. I am perfectly certain that when Empingham is well in hand we shall then be told that Manton is inevitable. The noble Lord further said that if the truncating dams were put in position they would sooner or later have to be removed. If ever there was an admission by a Promoter of a Bill that the reservoir policy was going to go on and on, it was, with respect, contained in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and I find it a very dim outlook indeed. All this will happen because this Government and successive Governments will be too slow to tackle the problem on a sufficiently grand scale; and any noble Lord opposite is free to make the point that past Governments also ought to have been more forthcoming in this matter.

We are always faced with the comparative costs of this reservoir, of the Wash Barrage, of desalination and so forth, but, to my mind, such arguments are penny wise and pound foolish, in the sense that the capital value of our ever-decreasing stock of good farm land cannot really be assessed in terms of to-day's pounds, to-morrow's pounds or the pounds of the day after. When farm land has gone, it has gone completely and it can never be replaced. Therefore I feel strongly, for all the procedural arguments which have been put and for all the technical arguments in support of the Bill, which, after all, are very marginal, that your Lordships should oppose this Bill not simply on the short-term merits or demerits but as a sign to this Government and to all Governments that the water resources of this country have to be planned and provided on the grand scale that the size of the problem demands. We have been spared the detail of the arguments and we know that they are narrow enough. No one is going to go thirsty or unclean if this Bill is not passed. But if we do not pass it then alternative policies will be pursued with better persistence, and I shall therefore vote against it.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by declaring a personal interest in this matter, because I am President of the Association of River Authorities. Therefore I have some knowledge and interest in the development of our water resources. Perhaps I should say that I also have interests in the farming world, as noble Lords who were present during the last debate, when I was developing the views of the National Farmers' Union about the Animals Bill, will recollect. Like many other noble Lords, I feel a conflict of interests, and indeed of feelings, when I come to look at the very difficult issues that we have before us in this Bill.

My noble friends who are opposing the Bill have advanced very powerful arguments, and I quite accept them. To take over 3,000 acres of farmland and change it into a huge reservoir is a gigantic change and is alarming, and I have great sympathy with the feelings of my noble friends who have expressed themselves on the matter. But, as has already been said, this is not a conflict between those who care about the farmland and about the amenity of our countryside; this is a conflict over the technicalities. The need for this water has already been established. I do not propose to go over the technical details, which my noble friend Lord Ilford developed and on which my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve touched in his very authoritative speech, and which another place, especially during the long Committee stage, found substantially proved.

I think it is germane to say a word about the composition of the Welland and Nene River Authority. No fewer than 13 of their 27 members are farmers, and I am sure they care very much indeed about the farmland in this area. Their dilemma must have been agonising. But it is fair to remind your Lordships—and especially I should like to remind my noble friend Lord Redmayne, who was a member of the Government at the time—that when Parliament put the 1963 Act on the Statute Book it was putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the river authorities—just such a responsibility as this. The river authorities have the responsibility to make a survey of their area, to make a forecast of future demand and then to make plans to meet it—and that is just what this river authority have done. They have had all the difficulty, the agony, of trying to reconcile their interest in the locality with their need to fulfil what they understand to be their national duty, as laid upon them by Parliament here—and this is the scheme they have produced.

Perhaps I may say just a word about the alternatives that have been referred to, and about desalination in particular. Naturally, having some expert interest in the world of water resources I have followed very closely just what the prospects are. The most up-to-date report that we have is the report from the Water Resources Board which came out this year, based on an investigation by the Water Research Association following a three-year study. So it is a very exhaustive study; and whether or no people will regard the Water Resources Board as partisan, they will certainly not regard the Water Research Association as partisan. The results of this study, my Lords, are that, on average, the cost of fresh water from natural sources at the point of supply is something like 2s. per 1,000 gallons, occasionally rising to as much as 3s. In this particular scheme, which is in the nature of things an expensive scheme, the cost will rise to something of the order of 2s. 6d. or 2s. 9d. per 1,000 gallons. From desalination, for an all-the-year-round supply, including pipelines to the service reservoirs, the cost is about 6s. per 1,000 gallons. This, of course, is by the best process that we have in commercial use at present; that is to say, by distillation. In exceptionally favourable circumstances, which have been referred to in the course of the debate (there is a Middle East plant where, of course, evaporation is very high), the cost is as low as 4s. 6d. per 1,000 gallons, but normally in this country at the present time 6s. is about the average.

My Lords, I attended an international water supply conference in Vienna last month at which some 60 nations were represented, and a very interesting paper on desalination was presented. That paper summed up the progress which has been made in the world as a whole and, broadly speaking, it confirmed the results of this survey to which I have just referred. The only bright spot on the horizon is the development of this alternative process, of which some noble Lords may have heard, called reverse-osmosis. This holds out the prospect of a cheaper process; but unfortunately it is very far from being fully developed for commercial purposes: it is barely out of the experimental stage. Small plants are being sold in America, but it certainly cannot he regarded as having been developed on a commercial scale.

When I was studying hydrological matters in California a couple of years ago I naturally asked them very closely about this. They have a project in hand there to build a vast nuclear power station outside Los Angeles, and to combine that with a by-product plant for distillation using the reverse-osmosis process. They hoped, and I emphasise the word "hoped") to get the cost down to 26 cents per 1,000 gallons. That would be 26 pence, and of course, this would be a very attractive figure. But, my Lords, in order to see the perspective of this, which means the timescale before this may happen, I should say that they were at the same time developing the biggest over-ground water scheme that I imagine has ever been conceived in the whole history of the world; that is, the Oroville Dam Scheme. It involved damming up the biggest reservoir which has ever been seen in the North of California and building an artificial river some 450 miles long—the distance from here to Edinburgh—from the North of California down to the South of California, about three times as big as the Thames, in order to provide themselves with natural water. So one might say that they were backing it both ways.

But the fact is that at present this new process is still some way off. I feel not much doubt that the engineers and scientists here and in America will perfect it, that it will then be put into commercial operation and that it will in due course become cheaper than natural water. The costs of getting natural water are bound to rise and the costs of getting fresh water by desalination will undoubtedly fall. But we are talking here, if we are realistic, of a time-scale of 10 years-plus, I should think, before we can hope to see large-scale commercial plants being built; and then I should hope to see them as a by-product of a nuclear power station. The second alternative that we have talked about is the Wash Barrage. This, I believe, is a hopeful scheme, and I hope that when Lord Kennet joins in the debate he will be able to tell us that if the desk study which is to be completed by the end of this year is favourable the Government will be willing to authorise the feasibility study which we hope will come forth. But this again will inevitably be a fairly long time-scale affair, and again we cannot hope to see any fresh water coming from there in the 1970s; it will he the 1980s before we get it. But I hope that this scheme will go ahead and that in due course it will produce large quantities of fresh water.

I am sure that it will not help the debate to go over any of the logistics of this matter. The figures for the population increase and the increase in demand have, I think, already been established. The only point I should like to deal with is the procedural question that my noble friend Lord Redmayne asked, as to what would happen if the two Petitions now down were withdrawn. He said that it was common knowledge that they were both going to be withdrawn. I think his knowledge is probably incorrect. One of them, the Rutland Petition, probably will be withdrawn but I think it is quite likely that the Peterborough Petition will remain. Be that as it may, as I understand the procedural position—indeed, as we have been told it by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees; and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford has told us—if both Petitions were withdrawn the Promoters would willingly accept the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee.

The Lord Chairman has also told us that he would consider informing those noble Lords who have spoken against this Bill so that they could put down an Instruction to the Committee to give a certain examination to this Bill. It would then be up to my noble friends who wish to oppose the Bill and who have specific points that they want the Committee to look at to put them in the terms of their Instruction. This would ensure that when the Bill went to the Committee, if there were no Petitioners, it would be very fully examined. But, my Lords, I suggest that here is a Bill of great complexity, one with enormous issues hanging on it. It is physically impossible for a Government —this Government or any other Government—to get water from any other source for many years to come. It really would make a travesty of debate in this House if we voted this Bill down on Second Reading. The right thing for us to do is to send it to a Committee and to ask them to examine it on any points that we think are relevant.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent—especially when one is more or less in complete agreement with them. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, put forward a number of points which I had wished to raise but he put them with an eloquence and capability which, though I aspire to achieve, I fear I never shall. I shall not bore your Lordships with reiteration, but there are one or two points that I should like to re-emphasise. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has given us figures of the increasing water consumption per head of population and also the enormous growth rate of population within the area which the proposed reservoir will serve. I think that the growth rate of population must be a matter of conjecture at the moment. I understand that some of the New Town development schemes are now a little behind schedule. Nevertheless, I think we must accept that the future demand for water will be greater than the authorities can possibly meet under existing conditions. However, provided that alternative sources of supply for water can he provided in time—and I think they can—the provisions under this Bill are not the real answer.

If this Bill is passed, this reservoir will obviously be the first of eight or nine similarly constructed throughout South-East England, involving the loss of some 35,000 acres of good agricultural land. This must surely be wrong. We are already losing far too much land for widely differing purposes and we cannot afford to continue to do this. Like Mr. Hazell, I am concerned that if this Bill goes forward the Wash Barrage scheme will be shelved indefinitely. I have been looking at the report of the Wash Barrage Conference that I attended in which Mr. Teggin stated that something like 1,000 million or 1,300 million gallons of water flow into the sea daily from the Wash catchment area. This must be the water that we must harness for our purposes. I understand that a question has been put to the Minister of Housing and Local Government by an honourable Member of the other place asking when he expects to receive a report from the Water Resources Board of the nature, extent, and cost of the feasibility study. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, also put a similar question to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I shall be interested to hear what he has to say.

It was argued by the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, that any benefit derived from the Wash Barrage will be too late to be of any use. This was also stated by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. I understand that 15 years is about the minimum estimated time by this Water Resources Board that the feasibility study and subsequent construction would take. But assuming that it is a viable proposition, I am confident—although I appreciate the immensity of the task—in the skill and ingenuity of British engineers that they could complete it in rather less time than that. It is a tragedy that the preliminary studies were not commenced years ago. We should not now be contemplating swamping thousands of acres of good farming land. I would suggest humbly th0at even though the estimated cost is between £300 million and £400 million, we cannot afford not to press on with the Wash Barrage scheme; for, irrespective of all the attendant long-term advantages for the country, it would surely solve our water supply problem for a very large area for all time. For this reason, I hope that even if the Bill is given a Second Reading much further consideration will be given by the Select Committee.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, the first debate that I heard in this House on a Water Bill I listened to either from behind the Bar or seated in the Gallery. It was seven years ago when the late Lord Birkett rejected the arguments which we have had to-day from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and again from my noble friend Lord Nugent, that it is our duty to see that a Bill like this is sent to a Select Committee. Your Lordships went into the Lobbies and deleted the water clauses from a Bill which Manchester Corporation had submitted to this House. That day was both a triumph and a tragedy, because it was the last time Lord Birkett spoke in this House, but I think that we all felt, after that debate, that we had justified hopes that it would be the start of entirely new national policies and thinking and of new procedures by water undertakers. That debate was followed quickly by the Jellicoe Committee. Then the Water Resources Act reached the Statute Book and we had the setting up of the Water Resources Board, which I think has proved a disappointment in more ways than one—not least because its writ does not run in Scotland where the bulk of unexploited water resources in the United Kingdom are to be found. We had new river authorities with additional duties of conservation.

Now, seven years later, in 1969, where are we? We are in exactly the same position as we were on the morning of that day before the late Lord Birkett urged your Lordships to reject those water clauses. We have spent seven years and have advanced not one step. We have the same succession of Private Bills coming before us. One must admit that they provide a good living for Parliamentary agents and the Parliamentary Bar; but beyond that it is an intolerable expense that we are perpetuating because objectors frequently cannot afford the costs of seeing that their representations are properly made before Select Committees. Where are the Orders that we expected to see under the special provisions inserted in the 1963 Act in order to simplify procedures? We do not see them—I believe because it is thought that the appropriate clauses are defective. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, can confirm that when he speaks and perhaps he can tell us when the Government propose to introduce an amending Bill so that this whole procedure can be made simpler and cheaper. We hear the same old arguments to justify the flooding of good land as we heard then. I have not heard the word "urgency" so often; something to do with "time-scale" appears to have taken its place. But it is all designed to the same end. They are the same old arguments to justify flooding good land or to turn other lakes (generally in a National Park) into reservoirs with a summer rim of unattractive mud which appears inevitable. To-day we are considering a Bill to flood the area round the village of Empingham. Other noble Lords have mentioned eight or nine other Bills which are likely to be introduced affecting South-East England. It may not be generally known, but before this month is out there will be yet another Bill introduced in Parliament to convert Bassenthwaite, one of the few lakes in the Lake District which has not yet been interfered with by man, into a reservoir. When are we going to stop this process? If the late Lord Birkett were here with us he would say "To-day!". I hope that your Lordships will agree with that feeling.

I am going to ask several pertinent questions. I do not wish to make a long speech. What I want to ask the Government is this. Can the noble Lord tell us what has been gained by delaying the Wash feasibility study?—unlike Morecambe Bay, where no desk study was, I think, undertaken as a first stage. Does the Wash desk study include also any work on the bunded reservoirs to be constructed near the shore? If so, what would he the capacity and what would he the construction time?—for this is one of the features of the Morecambe Bay study which promises perhaps more for the future than any other part of that study. I should like to hear whether those who are concerned with the Wash are working on the same lines.

My next question is: is any provision included in the present plan for the demands for water in the areas to be served by the Empingham scheme, or just over the boundary from it, should the third London airport come to be sited in that area, which I am told is a possibility—somewhere in the area between Northampton or Huntingdon? If it is not, where is the water for the new town which will grow up near such an airport to come from? Then on what grounds—I gave notice of this question to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford; I hope he will be able to give me an answer because I feel that this is a technical point—have the pits created by working brickearth and clay near Fletton, which is near Peterborough, been considered as a possible alternative to Empingham? As I said, I have given the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, notice of this question. I can clearly remember that their use as a water storage reservoir was considered as an alternative to the reservoir in Huntingdonshire, which was then called Diddington and I believe is now called Grafham, when it was constructed not so long ago. I think I am right in saying that it was turned down on the grounds of distance from the centres of consumption and because without actual extension of those pits the yield would have been barely sufficient for the then need. The urgency argument was no doubt brought into play then as it has been brought into play again this afternoon; but I should like to know what is the position regarding this very large and very unsightly series of pits to the south and the south-west of Peterborough.

Whether or not I vote against this Bill this evening will depend on the answers I may be given to those questions, which I think are very relevant. But even if the answers from the Government spokesman and from the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, convince me that at least I should abstain (I think that unlikely, but I should like to give them the benefit of the doubt) I would ask that the Third Reading of this Bill—if in fact the Bill is given a Second Reading this evening—should be deferred until after we have the report on the Wash desk study, which cannot be very many weeks ahead. Then we shall see the position much more clearly and there would be a delay of only a few weeks.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has immense resources of water, mainly, it must be admitted, in the West and the North. I should think that the greater part of the unexploited resources are to be found North of the Solway where, unfortunately, the writ of the Water Resources Board does not run, so in our debate here to-day, although several noble Lords have tried to widen it and to bring in general principles as well as the details of this scheme, we are in fact hindered from doing so as fully as we should like to do. The noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, said—I think I quote him correctly—that the water resources in this country should be planned on a grand scale; and we all agree with that. That means, I should hope, more imaginative planning than just accepting the flooding of one valley after another while leaving too many of our rivers, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, subject to serious chemical pollution and giving, it would seem, little thought to enonomy at the consumption end.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, obviously the House will want to know the Government's attitude to this Bill. It is one of regretful favour. It appears necessary to the Government that there should be this very large reservoir—and the Government very much regret the fact that there has to be this very large reservoir—because, at the time when the water is needed, there is not going to be any other way of getting it which makes remote economic sense. Let me take one or two of the points which have been brought out in the debate and answer as best I can, remembering always that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has another opportunity to speak and to answer many of the questions which were raised which it would be more appropriate for him to answer when he winds up the debate.

My Lords, the figure of eight Bills in the pipe-line has often been quoted, and I have to confess that it is not clear to me what eight Bills, or what eight projects, are being bandied around. If it is not clear to me, it seems very likely that it is not clear to other noble Lords; and this in itself seems to me a sufficient reason for getting it into Committee. I am sure that the Committee will, within its own rules of procedure, go as far as it can in establishing the surrounding framework for this Empingham proposal, and look at other places which have been rejected by the Promoters to see why—I repeat, always within its rules. This seems to me a good reason for putting it into Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, read the special Report of the Commons Committee and raised the question of the Wash Barrage which has figured largely in the debate since his intervention.

The desk study on the Wash Barrage is nearing completion. The component parts of it—because it is not all being done in the same place—will be available to the Water Resources Board for assembly, if I may put it that way, into a coherent study and report at about the turn of the year; and so far as I can make out the Water Resources Board hope to publish the study in the early summer. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who asked why there was not a desk study on the Morecambe affair as there has been on the Wash. In effect, the first part of the Morecambe study, I am informed, was a desk study. They did the paperwork first and then proceeded to the physical work.

I have been asked to give an assurance—in fact various different sorts of assurance—about what the Government will do about the full feasibility study on the Wash if the desk study recommends that it would be a good thing. The assurance I can give (I am afraid this will be the sort of assurance that all Governments always give) is that if the report concludes that a full feasibility study is a good thing; and if the Government are convinced by its reasons; and if the Government are convinced that the report has taken into account all the factors that it ought—I lay some emphasis on the last part—and if the Government are further convinced that there are no factors which the report was incapable of taking into account and which yet affect the matter, then the Government will proceed to the full feasibility study. But, obviously, we have to wait for the desk study before seeing what decision to take.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, put the matter very fairly about the present economics of de-salting. He gave certain figures. What stood out from the report produced by the Water Research Association for the Water Resources Board was that it costs three times as much to de-salt water as to get it from a reservoir if you set out to de-salt it alone; and it costs twice as much if you couple it with the generation of electricity. I do not know what noble Lords would be willing to go into business on a factor of three times as much, or even on a factor of twice as much, but it seems to me that it would be unjustifiable for the Government to set a day now when one would go into business on that factor, or anything like that factor.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, who said, "Throw out this Bill now on Second Reading"; to take that almost unparalleled step in order to force the Government to take research and de-salting seriously. I assure the noble Lord that it is not necessary to force the Government to do that. We are taking it very seriously indeed on the research side. We know all too well how it can be done and what it will cost to do it. I fully take the point that once you get into production prices come down and that one may budget and allow for it; but I think that it would be an irresponsible Government who were prepared to go into production on a process which cost three times as much as the other way of doing it at the present moment in our industrial recovery.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said how much better it was to use nature's sources of water, and it is for this very reason that the Government are pursuing—or rather, the Government have caused to be pursued—research into the possibility of using underground water supplies in the Thames and the Great Ouse basins. That study is going hard and the Wash desk study is going hard. I mention both those studies together in order to assure the House that the horizon is not black as regards an eternity of reservoirs in this part of England for the whole of the rest of time, though we must have this one. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked about procedures and complained about these Private Bills—


My Lords, I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal with my point about the purifying of the rivers of the North. The Welland is very much polluted at the present time, and I should be glad of an assurance that the circular of December 4, 1968, is not going to inhibit river authorities from purifying their rivers.


My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that shortly by saying that it does not apply to local authorities. The circular was giving advice to sewage treatment authorities and to industry on what they could do.


My Lords, may I intervene to tell the noble Lord (I am afraid that it will not be helpful to him) that this circular was sent to river authorities, guiding them in setting the standards they would require for the effluents being discharged into their rivers, and that the river authorities were very concerned with its terms.


My Lords, I should have felt rather humiliated if the Minister's reply had been fully justified. But paragraph 2 of the circular begins: The Minister commends the Memorandum to the study of river authorities, sewage disposal authorities and their technical officers …". and paragraph 3 begins: River authorities will be aware from Circular"— and so on. It is strange, when a circular refers to the river authorities, that it was not intended for them.


My Lords, both noble Lords are perfectly correct in picking me up. I should have said that it does not apply to river authorities' own expenditure but to standards that river authorities may or may not be expected to impose upon other authorities who are spending money. That circular is a reflection of the economic condition of the nation at the time it was sent out.

The House will be well aware that the whole matter of environmental pollution—and the pollution of rivers is very much part of this—is at the moment the subject of intense study, both inside and outside the Government; that the new Secretary of State for Regional Planning and Local Government, Mr. Crosland, has had a specific remit from the Prime Minister to concern himself and make recommendations for the protection of environment, which of course includes pollution; that he will shortly be doing so, and that, to put not too fine a point on it, I should say no more at the moment.

If the noble Lord, Lord Molson, wishes to proceed with the suggestion for a debate on this matter during this Session of Parliament, I should be entirely with him. I should welcome such a general debate, but I think that perhaps the question of river pollution is a little outside the question of whether or not we should give a Second Reading to this Reservoir Bill and, if he would agree, I should like to leave it to the time of the general debate.

On the question of planning procedures, it is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, that a Private Bill is not the most satisfactory method of promoting measures of this sort. It is not an ideal planning implement but it is a long standing one, and as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, correctly reminded the House, there is a defect in the Water Resources Act 1963. The river authorities have been advised (and the Government, in so far as it is proper for them to have a view, concurs in this advice) that an order cannot protect them against possible action by riparian owners downstream to prevent them discharging waters from a reservoir into the stream; a Bill can. An Order cannot take common land; a Bill can. An Order cannot provide a faculty to flood a church, as is sadly the case at Normanton; a Bill can. That is why the Promoters have turned to a Bill in this case. The Government have already said that they hope to take an early opportunity to correct this defect and have under continuous study the appropriateness of the Private Bill as a means of achieving these ends throughout the country in the future. On the particular question of the Planning Inquiry Commission, we could not have a planning inquiry into a Bill. That was not the noble Lord's point I know.


My Lords, it can only apply in the case where either the Minister has called it in from a local planning authority or where a decision from an appeal is made to him. Therefore, the way in which the Minister could meet my point is to call in any planning application of that kind.


My Lords, generally speaking, a Bill gives planning permission to do whatever might have to be done. But a marriage between a Planning Inquiry Commission and a Bill is virtually impossible. Between a Planning Inquiry Commission and a Water Order, it is difficult but not entirely impossible, but of course at the moment we are not discussing a Water Order.

I think I have covered most of the points worrying noble Lords and should come to my conclusion, which is to remind the House that if it votes against the Second Reading of this Bill, it will be voting not against a measure which it has considered and does not like, but against the opportunity of considering the measure to see whether it does like it or not. I was very much impressed by the detailed questions of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. He asked whether the third London Airport study had been reflected in this reservoir proposal. I would say: Let us send it to the Committee and find out. He asked whether the Fletton brickpits had been considered in relation to the proposal. I would say: Let us send it to the Committee and find out.

The noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, asked procedural questions about what the committee would or would not be free to do. I understand that he is receiving, or will shortly be receiving, advice from the Clerks of the formalities of that. I do not know whether my noble friend the Chairman of Committees intends to speak again. Broadly speaking, for the information of the House, the Committee can do the same without Petitions as it can do with Petitions, but we have been assured by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that it is unlikely that one at least of the Petitions will be withdrawn.

I would put it to the House in these terms. Those who divide the House and vote against this Bill will be voting out a proposal which takes a great deal of farm land and is bad for amenity and farming but on which, on the other hand, the development of the East Midlands depends during the next 15 years. The Government know of no better way of doing it. Whereas, if the House allows the Bill a Second Reading, as I hope it will and as the House has always done on every occasion in the last seven years on such Bills, then they will be able to study the report of our Committee and, as it always does, our Committee will look into those points which it knows have been troubling the House, because they have the Record before them. Therefore, I urgently invite the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether one of the difficulties of a Select Committee inquiry into an unopposed Bill is that there are no funds available to the Select Committee out of which to pay fees to expert witnesses whom it might wish to call before it?


My Lords, may I put a second point to the noble Lord? Can I be assured that if Petitioners are forced to withdraw their Petitions through shortage of public funds, the Committee can be empowered to look properly into the points which those Petitioners raised in another place?


My Lords, the House has been extremely indulgent and given me leave to speak three times already. I apologise for having to ask permission to speak a fourth time, but this is an important question addressed to me. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, that if an Instruction is given to the Committee to consider the points that were raised in either or both of the Petitions, the Committee would be obliged to do so and the Chairman of the Committee could call any witnesses whom he wished to call in order to give evidence on the matters referred to the Committee by the House, who had not been already called by the Promoters.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question for clarification? We have just been urged to give this Bill a Second Reading, and we were given various reasons why. But we were not told that we were possibly depriving those people who livelihood is being taken away from them, and whose property is being submerged, of the chance of representing their case fairly before the Committee—because everybody knows the immense cost of petitioning and making recommendations to such a Committee. Can the noble Earl assure us that no citizen of this Kingdom will be at financial disadvantage?


My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is correct in saying that no Committee of this House is able to cover the cost of, for instance, a barrister whom a witness might wish to employ. But the Committee is able to call anyone. No doubt noble Lords will remember cases in which witnesses have been called—for instance, Lord Holford was called to speak against the Brighton Marina Bill. Witnesses of that kind could be called by any Select Committee appointed.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, as I live on the Leicester-Rutland border it may be thought that I have some interest to declare. My only connection is that a corner of one of my fields comprising four acres lies in Rutland; other than that, I have no interest at all. But, living where I do, I know that this Bill is wildly unpopular locally. It is therefore with some regret that I rise to say a few words in support of the Bill. The reasons for my regret are not only my regard for local knowledge (not that I think it is a particularly bad Bill), but also because I am in sympathy with the farmers who are about to lose their land, and who will have to make a fresh start in order to continue to earn their living in the way in which they have been brought up to earn it, and in an industry in which they have spent their lives. In these days it is extremely difficult to make a fresh start in agriculture. So I would ask for an assurance that the compensation which the farmers will receive will be adequate; and I trust that this compensation will not be based on some academic calculation of x years' rent given for so many acres lost. The psychological, human and practical problems go very much deeper than that, and they should be taken fully into account.

I support the Bill, my Lords, because I do not believe that there is any alternative. A competent and industrious Select Committee sat for nine days and reached this conclusion, and after studying the matter as closely as I am able I am convinced that their finding is correct. However, I would say that I am strongly in favour of its being re-examined by a Select Committee, although I have no reason to suppose that the Committee's findings will be any different. The necessity for this Bill, in my view, stems from faulty planning at an earlier stage. A decision has been taken to build an industrial belt diagonally across the middle of England. Very large towns are being developed from Buckinghamshire to Daventry, via Northampton, Welling-borough, Kettering and Corby to Peter-borough—indeed, it will not be long before these towns become contiguous. The planners obviously considered that this decision was a wise one, but I can find no reason why this expansion was in one area. Would it not have been better to separate this development, and to bring some of it to localities where development is more important and necessary? This area includes some o fthe best agricultural land in the country, and the fact that it happens to be an area with a comparatively low rainfall seems to have been overlooked. Water is more readily obtainable where the annual rainfall is high, and these districts are not normally the best agricultural land; they are the areas best suited to, and in most need of, industrial development.

If urban development on this scale is to take place—which assuredly it is—water has to come from somewhere; and in this case it is from Empingham. Although most of us would admit that both water and aerodromes are necessary, no one ever wants reservoirs or aerodromes close at home. But they must go somewhere. If one happens to live where either is to be constructed, it is sheer misfortune, and the only hope is that generous compensation will be provided. The need for water and other services must have been given consideration by the planners, even if it was not so readily apparent or acceptable to the farmers of Empingham, with whom I have every sympathy. But the grumbles of the farmers would, in my opinion, be more rightly directed towards the planners rather than towards the Promoters of this Bill: and so would the grumbles of those in the more depressed areas where any expansion would have been welcome.

There is a great deal of talk, locally and elsewhere, about the loss of amenity which this proposed reservoir would create. In my view, reservoirs are not unsightly, and if used properly can give a great deal to many people. Provided that they are not turned into funfairs or amusement parks, which will not be done in this case, they do much to enhance the beauty of the countryside. Quite close to Empingham lies the Eye Brook Reservoir. I well remember this land before the reservoir was constructed. It is now, in my opinion, infinitely more beautiful than it was previously, and the reservoir provides magnificent sport for many anglers and much interest to many bird watchers. Nor do I believe that it is in any way resented now by the local inhabitants. It is probable that in due course the same may be said of Empingham.

Much has already been said about the Wash Barrage and the desalination of sea water. I can only hope that further investigation will he pressed on with all speed in both of these directions. It is clear that this particular scheme is not going to he the last. In my view, the only hope for the future, if the whole country is not to become flooded, lies in schemes like the Wash Barrage and the desalination of sea water. In my view, the promoters of the Bill have done everything possible to meet the obligation which this scheme imposes on them. There is a need for this additional water, and there is no other suitable source of supply. Moreover, if the development of these towns is to continue, time is short.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I share Lord Allerton's utmost sympathy in the wound which these proposals will inflict on Rutland. I also appreciate the significance of the farming land which is going to be submerged and the local disruption which is being caused. Unfortunately, on the evidence, which has been taken in the greatest detail, a reservoir at this moment in time seems an absolutely unavoidable necessity in that area. I feel, from what has been said to-day, that it would now be least damaging to Rutland that this Bill should go through all its stages with its major provisions intact, for only Empingham, as now proposed, is entirely satisfactory. All the figures are on the record, and most have been agreed. The noble Lords who have already spoken have reminded us of those which are pertinent.

To my mind the nub of the whole argument is contained in the agreed deficit in this area in 1986 of 35 million gallons of water per day. For want of alternatives before this date, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Lord. Lord Molson, land storage at this moment is indicated; and that, on technical evidence from both sides, suggests either Manton or Empingham. It was, I think, conceded that a reservoir is required in the area by 1975, that being the date when the local deficiency first becomes material. With 35 million gallons per day deficiency in 1986, rising on figures which have already been agreed to 48 million in 1991 and steeply thereafter, a modified Empingham is out of the question. Even the life of Manton, with a yield of 40 million gallons per day, would be too short to he economic. We are therefore thrown hack on the whole project as it is proposed to-day. My Lords, if further proof is required, we have had such to-day. On the wireless there was a proposal about the new town at Milton Keynes. This, admittedly, is not in the area which we are discussing, yet it could well affect the figures already given. In a matter of national importance, where figures are shuffled around like cards, we learn that Milton Keynes will draw 5 million gallons per day from the Great Ouse. That could well involve the Mid-Northants Water Board itself. It is drawing 16 million gallons of water per day from that Great Ouse basin, and 4 million gallons of these are tentative. If this deficiency were to be passed back to Empingham, the 1986 deficiency would be 40 million instead of 35 million gallons per day. The inference is obvious. However sympathetic we may feel to the case against this Bill, we cannot let that cloud our judgment to-day.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like very briefly to add my voice to those who are unhappy about this Bill. I will only talk about leading impressions and not technical details. I must say first that I am involved in agriculture and declare my interest there. I also feel inclined to declare another interest, and that is the interest of being a form filler. The Water Resources Act has inevitably led to plenty of this particular activity, and in that connection I have always felt that form filling is not conducive to the dignity of man if it does not produce constructive results. I am not entirely happy that our efforts so far are producing results which are as constructive as they should be. That is one of the reasons why we are unhappy at being confronted with this particular situation to-day.

I still tend to ask the question: are the Water Resources Board really being allowed sufficient latitude—probably financial latitude—to produce the result they wish? We have seen the straws in the wind to-day. They wanted a Wash feasibility study, and they said so, I think, in 1964. They received permission for the desk study, but it was belated. It is this consistent tendency of holding back that gives cause for concern. I think the narrow votes in another place were brought about partly by the somewhat unsatisfactory Ministerial replies—al- though they have been improving—that have been forthcoming. What people want is a particular assurance that Empingham will not be used as an excuse for further postponement of such things as the Wash Barrage.

Obviously, that is not the only thing with which we have to deal. This is a complex matter; there are many lines of research which must be indulged in. One is worried at the lack of progress. How near we are now to the completion of the desk study has already been mentioned. My noble friend Lord Inglewood asked what chances there were of delaying the Third Reading of this Bill until after the production of the desk study, the idea being, I think—as I am sure many of us do—that if it were known that a feasibility study was going to be carried out, it would soften the blow of Empingham. I do not know how long it is thought it would take from the time the desk study is produced to conclude whether to go ahead with the feasibility study, and whether the decision on the one rests directly upon the result of the desk study alone, or whether there are many other considerations. In this connection I should like to put another question. Is it appropriate to commence the full scale Wash study until the results of the underground water pilot scheme in Lambourn and in Norfolk are known? I do not know whether it is intended to delay a feasibility study, supposing for other reasons that it is worth doing, because of factors of this kind.

I am quite sure that if a delay could be made, and the Third Reading were delayed shortly so that we really knew more of what was happening over the Wash proposals, more content would be noticed. I have strong sympathy with the Promoters of this Bill: they are in the position of being pawns in this unfortunate game, involving great problems, many acres of land, many reservoirs, and so forth. Nevertheless, I remain extremely dubious whether we should not throw it out, however much I see the difficulties and regret the situation that we are in.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to detain the House for only a very short time, but perhaps as I come from Rutland your Lordships may grant me the indulgence of a few minutes. I must declare an interest in that some of my land is affected, but I do not mind that particularly because, of course, compensation will be paid. It is really only the loss of the amenity which one minds. But that is not my objection to the Bill. My objection to the Bill is that it will dispossess a large number of comparatively small farmers, and they have no course open to them other than to accept compensation, which is not sufficient. The other point I want to put is a technical one. The present water consumption per head per day is 50 gallons. It is estimated that by 1981 it will be 77 gallons per day, which is about double the figure for Western Europe. That means that we must be a very clean nation—although to judge by some of the people one sees walking about the streets one begs leave to doubt it. These figures have been put in the hearing before another place, and the Committee were satisfied that there was still a need for this reservoir.

I feel that the greatest difficulty facing us is that a Select Committee of this House will not get the full facts, because the objectors will not be able to afford to appear before them. They have already spent £20,000 in appearing before the Committee in another place, and no more money is left in the kitty. This money has been subscribed by the people who are going to be affected and by other sources, and there is no way in which these people can appear before the Committee except at their own expense. It is well known—and your Lordships with experience of these matters must know—that there is little point in their Lordships who sit on the Committee hearing amateurs giving their objections to the scheme. Objections need to be presented by a barrister, by professionals, in the proper way. That is why some of us feel that the time has come to say "Stop" to these schemes until the matter has been properly investigated.

The present situation is not necessarily the fault of the present Government; it goes back for many years. The fact that water shortage was bound to occur has been disregarded by successive Governments and as a result we now find ourselves in this position. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who is perhaps the greatest expert on these matters, has said that desalination is getting cheaper. There is the direct contact, the osmosis, method: and probably in 10 years that will be just as cheap as providing reservoirs like this, which is going to cost £30 million, and there are going to be eight more. If you multiply the figures you soon have the cost of the Wash Barrage. All these matters ought to be gone into by your Lordships' House but, because of the difficulties I have mentioned, I cannot feel satisfied that they will be so investigated under the Select Committee procedure. Therefore I am obliged to support noble Lords who want to go into the Lobby against this Bill.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will permit one further small intervention because I share all the anxieties expressed by my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton on this subject. I do not believe that river pollution is really outside the scope of this debate; in fact, I sincerely think that it is at the centre of it. We started off with the question of the industrial use of water. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, mentioned in some detail that industry is going to be a very large user of water—I think those were his exact words. I call in question this bland assumption that industry can go on being the principal abstractor of water, the principal user of water, and can go on, as it were, "ad libbing" continuously on the supplies of this country. In my view, the attitude that they should be permitted to do so is an entirely false one to adopt. I feel that legislation should be introduced compelling the industrial user to re-circulate and purify water. This is where I come in such close companionship with my noble friend Lord Molson, because this is the very centre of this debate: the use of clean water by industrial users and its re-use; the cleansing of our rivers and simultaneously the beautifying of a great natural resource.

I also have the very greatest sympathy with all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on the subject of farm-workers becoming redundant. I hope that no reservoir will be constructed if it means that one man will be put out of a job and made either permanently redundant or semi-permanently redundant; deprived of his home and livelihood and land. I have the greatest anxiety that the Promoters of this Bill are not fully seized of the necessity, as I see it, of finding an alternative source of water by means of re-circulation. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, is one of the unique experts in the fields both of local government and of administration as a whole; and I await his replies to the various questions that have been raised. especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, before I make a final decision as to which way I vote in this debate.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting and I hope an instructive debate. It seemed to me at times that it wandered a little far from reality, but no doubt it was none the worse for that. Most speakers have referred to the possibilities of the Wash; de-salinated water being derived from the Wash, and of course to Wash water being stored and used for distribution and supply. I do not propose to say very much about those two subjects because my noble friend Lord Nugent has dealt adequately with the whole topic of de-salination and the barrage as a cure for our water complaints. I would say just this about it. The Wash Barrage is not something that can be brought into operation to-morrow. It would be ten years if the works were to start it might be 15 years before the barrage was available to give water.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will yield for one second. To the best of the knowledge now obtainable to the Government, if things on the Wash Barrage go as favourably as they could imaginably go from now on, we could not get water, even under the quickest possible scheme, inside 12 years and perhaps 14 or 15 would be more likely.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether that includes bunded reservoirs?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, is being infinitely forbearing to tolerate this dialogue in the middle of his speech, but the desk study is looking at—I think the noble Lord will be content with this—every possible way of slicing the Wash.


My Lords, the conception that Wash water was going to supply our needs was reflected in the speech of almost every speaker this afternoon. Almost every speaker has said, "Well, there is the Wash in the background. What is the good of having this reservoir here now?" The Wash is not going to provide—and this is the only point I desire to make about it—water which would take the place of water which would be supplied from this reservoir. We should have to wait much longer than that. It really is not right to oppose this Bill on the assumption that Wash water will be available in any appreciable time. In the light of what my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has said, that is all I need say about the part that the Wash has played in this debate.

My noble friend Lord Molson made an instructed and most attractive speech, as he always does. He dealt with the question of procedure in these Water Bills and Water Orders. I must say that I go a long way with my noble friend. I think that before long we shall have to consider whether the procedure that we have adopted for dealing with Water Bills and Water Orders is really giving satisfactory results. It is very slow. There have been cases quite recently where four, five and six years have elapsed between the time when the water undertaking made up its mind to go for additional supplies and the time when the necessary proceedings were completed. At times it surprises me that anybody ever gets any water at all. I agree with my noble friend that we ought to look carefully at the procedure for dealing with these Bills and Orders to see whether we cannot do something which will safeguard everybody's rights, because naturally proposals of this sort infringe people's rights. We must look at it to see whether we can devise a procedure which, while safeguarding the rights of the parties concerned, will at least be a little shorter than the procedure we follow at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, made a short, but I thought a valuable speech. He drew attention to the social aspects of this matter and for a moment dwelt upon the needs of the urban population which he once knew well in this part of the country. I was grateful for that, because these questions of water supplies are very much bound up with questions of social needs and requirements. The higher standards of amenity which are being introduced into dwelling-houses, the growth and use of piped water in the place of the old wells, the increased use of water-borne sewage—all these things are contributing immensely to the welfare of the population. If this Bill is not passed, it will mean that those benefits will not be brought so quickly to the population which needs them as they will if the Bill becomes law. I am quite sure that this is an aspect of the question which we ought not to lose sight of, and I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, for referring to it in the early stages of the debate.

My noble friend Lord Woolley always makes a good speech about agriculture and we always listen with great respect to what he has to say. But this afternoon he was really talking about the Barrage, and everything that he said really turned upon the assumption that the Barrage would be available within a reasonable period. I thought that rather detracted from the value of the noble Lord's speech. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, who speaks from great experience and great knowledge. I thought he put the rather intricate technicalities of this Bill very well.

I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Redmayne for not having heard all his speech. I always look forward to listening to his speeches; they do not take place very frequently but when they do we look forward to them. My noble friend also seemed to be straying a little over the bounds of reality. He seemed to assume that there were different ways of obtaining water and of distributing it; that all these things were being neglected and that we were dealing with old-fashioned and out-of-date measures. He spoke about obtaining our supplies on a grand scale. I do not quite know what these references mean. I do not know of any method of distributing water which is much more efficient than the methods now being adopted. There is the recharging method, which is suitable in some pants of the country but not in others. Recharging is a very difficult operation, for which one requires a special lower strata and a specialised type of area. No doubt it will give good results in the right place. I hope that the experiments being conducted on the Thames will show what use can be made of it. But there again it is not available, and it will not be available for a long time.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, spoke about the loss of agricultural land. Of course we recognise that there will be a substantial loss of agricultural land which cannot be avoided. We have to choose between agricultural land which is not, I think, of a very high grade—


My Lords, most of it is Grade 2 land and not, as I think the noble Lord said earlier, Grade 3 land.


My Lords, I thought it was Grade 3 land. Of course we recognise the serious loss of agricultural land and the disadvantages which follow for the rural population. The authorities recognise that: they are really rural authorities and they are very much alive to the problems of rural areas. It is recognition of the problems and needs of rural areas which leads me to the conclusion that water is the first necessity for a rural population.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood was good enough to send me a question which he proposed to ask. He asked me why scheme after scheme turns down the reservoirs created by the brickworks at Fletton and elsewhere. The answer to my noble friend is that the first reason why they are turned down is because they are inadequate; they do not afford the space that would be needed for them to be used instead of the proposed reservoir. There is also another difficulty about them: it is doubtful whether the sides would stand up. They are built on an unsecured and moving foundation, which means that the sides are always in danger of collapsing. I think there are other reasons why these brickworks have proved not to be suitable for this purpose, but I believe the two reasons I have given are conclusive.

My Lords, I think I have covered the debate. I must apologise to two noble Lords who spoke after I had to go out for a few moments. I did not hear their speeches and I am sorry. This has been a useful and valuable debate, and I hope your Lordships will support the Bill in the Lobby. I am quite sure that if you do you will be conferring a great advantage upon the population living in the districts affected by these two reservoirs.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Select Committee.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-contents, 22.

Addison, V. Falkland, V. Merrivale, L.
Allerton, L. Ferrers, E. Milne, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Hemingford, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Beswick, L. Hill of Wivenhoe, L. Mitchison, L.
Blyton, L. Hilton of Upton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Bowles, L. Ilford, L. [Teller.] Nugent of Guildford, L.
Brockway, L. Kennet, L. Phillips, Bs.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Lauderdale, E. Popplewell, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Leatherland, L. Shackleton, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Burden, L. Listowel, E. Sinclair of Cleeve, L. [Teller.]
Champion, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Stocks, Bs.
Colville of Culross, V. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Strabolgi, L.
Denham, L. Longford, E. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Maelor, L. Williamson, L.
Abinger, L. Ferrier, L. Nunburnholme, L.
Airedale, L. Gainsborough, E. Redmayne, L.
Auckland, L. Hazlerigg, L. Sandys, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Terrington, L.
Chorley, L. Inglewood, L. Wise, L.
Crawshaw, L. Molson, L. [Teller.] Wooley, L. [Teller.]
Daventry, V. Monk Bretton, L.
Essex, E. Monson, L.