HL Deb 28 April 1970 vol 309 cc1015-29

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Third Reading of this Bill. The Bill is promoted by the Welland and Nene River Authority and Mid-North-amptonshire Water Board. The purpose is to authorise the construction of a reservoir, which I think is already known as Empingham reservoir, in the upper waters of the River G'wash, in Rutland. The reservoir is required to meet the insistent and growing needs of this area for water. Your Lordships gave the Bill a Second Reading and committed it to a Special Committee. The Committee have now reported that the Bill should be allowed to proceed.

After the Bill had been given a Second Reading, the House passed an Instruction to the Committee to give special consideration to certain matters. A copy of the Special Report of the Committee has been circulated to your Lordships and in those circumstances it will not be necessary for me to dwell at any length on their recommendations.

The Committee were instructed to give special consideration to the effect of three matters, which are really matters of a local character. First of all, the Committee were required to consider the effect upon agriculture, by which I think is meant local agriculture. The Committee have found that the disturbance to agriculture will be serious—indeed, so serious that it ought not to be undertaken unless the need for the Bill is imperative. The Committee go on to find that the need for this Bill is imperative, and that in those circumstances, notwithstanding some disturbance in conditions of agriculture, it ought to proceed.

Another matter to which the Committee were required to give special consideration is what is called "visual amenity". I think we all know what is meant by "visual amenity". The Committee have reported that they are satisfied that the scheme will provide a new visual dimension to the area, and that they believe that it may ultimately come to be accepted as a visual asset. The Committee were very much impressed by the proposals which have been made by the Promoters to ensure that the visual character of this area is not unduly disturbed by the construction of the reservoir. There are proposals for encouraging the growth of grass and other things on the dam itself, which will have the effect, to some extent, of concealing it; for planting trees in different parts of the area; and generally they have invoked all the assistance that landscape gardening could give in avoiding disturbance of the visual character of this neighbourhood.

The last matter the Committee were asked to consider was the interference with local communications. After the Bill had been promoted, agreements were made between the Promoters and the local authorities dealing with the disturbance to local communications during the construction of the reservoir and after it had been brought into operation. The Committee were quite satisfied that those agreements will avoid any unnecessary interference with local communications, and they point out that the Minister of Transport, who was at one time concerned with these matters, has now withdrawn. The Committee were also required to consider two other matters of a more general character. They were required to consider whether the storage capacity of the reservoir was not excessive. So far from finding that the storage capacity was excessive, the Committee have found the opposite: they have found that it is only just adequate. I think that this disposes of that particular matter.

The Committee were then required to consider the possibility of obtaining in-creased supplies from other sources, of which the project for the construction of a barrage in the Wash was of great importance. The Committee examined the Reports of the Water Resources Board dealing with the Wash Barrage project, and a number of other matters. The Wash Barrage is only in the very early stages of its progress. I understand that what is called the "desk survey" has been completed, but that the "feasibility study", upon which the practical character of the proposal depends, has not yet even begun. The Committee join the Select Committee in the other place in urging upon the Government the urgency of proceeding with the Wash Barrage project. But even if the barrage proposal had reached the stage of approval, it would still not be possible for it to be completed in time to take the place of this reservoir. The demand for water which the reservoir will meet will be-come acute in about five years' time. It is not possible for the Wash Barrage scheme to make such rapid progress so as to be in time to contribute in any way to the requirements of the neighbourhood which this reservoir is intended to supply.

During the Second Reading debate a number of other possible sources of sup-ply were indicated by different noble Lords in the course of discussion. I do not think I need go in detail into those proposals. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Committee considered each of these proposals and, for one reason or another, rejected them. It is possible that certain limited supplies might be obtained from some of these sources: from the Lincolnshire lime-stone, and perhaps from the brickfields in Bedfordshire. In the first place, how-ever, the cost of the water would be very great, and in the second place—and this is perhaps more important than the cost of the water—the quantity available would be quite insufficient to meet the needs of this area. The Empingham reservoir will give a yield of 50 million gallons a day. The other sources, assuming that the water could be obtained from them, would give a yield much less than that. It would not be possible for any of these others sources to take the place of the proposed reservoir.

Now, my Lords, may I turn to two other matters? The Committee, at the end of their Report, draw attention to the embarrassment which they experi- enced in having an Instruction referred to them for consideration without any-body present at the meetings of the Committee who could explain the proposal to them. I can quite see that in those circumstances the Committee were placed in the position of the Judge and of the Inquisitor. They felt it embarrassing, and I think that your Lordships will probably agree with them. I am quite sure that a special Instruction ought not to be given to a Committee unless it deals with something which is individual and specific to the particular Bill under consideration. I am quite sure an Instruction to consider a matter which ranges outside the field of the Bill and impinges on public interests will always place a Committee in an embarrassing position. Many of us who have been concerned with these Bills passing through your Lordships' House have felt that the procedure for dealing with them is not by any means satisfactory. It tends to be dilatory, it tends to be ex-pensive, and sometimes uncertain. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is here and I imagine that he is going to reply for the Government. I hope that he will be able to tell us that the Minister is going to consider the procedure for dealing with these Water Bills. I hope that the result of his consideration will be that the procedure will be more effective than the procedure which we have to follow at present. In those circum-stances, I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.— (Lord Ilford.)

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words about one aspect only with regard to the Special Report of the Select Committee to the House; namely, what they say in the last paragraph of their Report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, towards the end of his remarks, also referred. The Committee mentioned in that paragraph the very considerable difficulty that they were in in considering matters raised in the Instruction which were not the subject of a Petition. The House may remember that in the debate on the Instruction which took place last February I drew attention to the procedural difficulties which are inherent in asking Select Committees to consider matters which go right outside objections contained in Petitions.

If I may remind the House, the basic principle underlying consideration of a Bill by a Select Committee is that its provisions should be looked at in the context of local need balanced against local opposition as expressed in Petitions, which of course may be Petitions for amendment of the Bill, or Petitions of general objection. Select Committees are equipped to hear witnesses and evidence on these matters and, having done so, to adjudicate on the dispute between the Promoters and the Petitioners. But, as soon as they are asked to consider a question on which the evidence adduced is not open to cross-examination or rebuttal by an expert witness, they find them-selves at the disadvantage in dealing with it mentioned in the Report.

The House will see that paragraph (iii) —if I may take the obvious example— of the Instruction calls on the Select Committee to consider, and I quote: … the possibility of increased supplies from existing sources or national schemes. That is an example of a case where a Select Committee is asked to take into account considerations of national policy, in this case with regard to the supply of water. On the last occasion I also referred to the Motion pending in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and said that the debate on the noble Lord's Motion would provide the House with an opportunity to consider how matters of public or national policy arising out of Private Bills could best be dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has been good enough to consult me and I am now considering whether there are any procedural steps which could be taken to meet the difficulties which are raised when the House or a Select Committee has to consider these questions when they arise in connection with Private Bills.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, very briefly, since I was in some small part responsible for the difficulties which the noble Earl, the Chairman of Commit-tees described, I should like to thank the Select Committee for their labours and the noble Lord for his co-operation. I think he will agree—although I accept entirely what he has said—that in present circumstances the action which I and others took was not wholly unreasonable. I think, if I may say so, that that has been justified by the fact that the Select Committee has wholly supported the Special Report of the Select Committee in another place that there should be a feasibility study for the Wash Barrage. I know that my noble friend Lord Ilford has said that the desk study is completed, but the feasibility study, in his words, has not even begun. I hope very much that we shall hear from the noble Lord who will speak for the Government that a decision has been taken as to that feasibility study.

It is true to say that the Report of the Select Committee also—at least by implication—agrees that there should be no further large, new surface reservoirs before 1975, by which time, one would hope, either from the Wash Barrage or from other sources, alternative supplies might become available. In conclusion I should like to apologise to your Lord-ships' House if I was in any way a nuisance in this matter, and I am grateful for the co-operation which I have received.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, having been called upon to be Chairman of the Committee which examined this Bill, I felt it was my duty to attend this debate in order to answer any questions which might be put to me and also to report to your Lordships' House that to the best of our ability we have tried to carry out the instructions which were given to us by the House. That I now do, I hope very briefly.

There are just one or two paragraphs in the Report to which I should like to draw attention. The first is that which deals with the Report made to another place by their Committee and with which we entirely agreed; and that was the one referring to the Wash Barrage. If we were in Holland, or if the Wash were in Holland. I personally am satisfied that the Wash Barrage would have been built a very long time ago; but for some reason we are more conservative than the Dutch are at work of this kind. I plead with Her Majesty's Government, in an entirely non-political way, that they should proceed with the utmost urgency with an investigation into the Wash Barrage. It is hearing the evidence placed before the Committee that has reinforced my view that no time should.

In the course of those proceedings I learnt for the first time the difference between a desk study and a feasibility study. I understand that the former leads in due course to the latter. But what I should very much like to know is what follows that, and when does a feasibility study lead to something further? I think we should be just a little ashamed of be lost in proceeding with this matter, ourselves as a country that we have done so little in this respect, because not only the Wash is concerned; there are many other estuaries in Britain which could be enclosed for similar purposes, either for reclamation of land or for the reclamation of water. We heard in evidence—and indeed it is well known —that in one of our present Colonies the very same thing has been done, and done successfully, for the production of a water supply. I refer to the work which has been done in Hong Kong. If they can do it, my Lords, why cannot we do it? It may, it is true, have been easier there than it would be here; but, still, we may have greater resources than they.

As to the details, I will take no time in repeating them because we have tried to report fully our view. I can only repeat that we appreciate the seriousness of the position when 5 per cent. of an English county is to be put under water. Because that is the case here: 5 per cent. of the County of Rutland goes under water. That being so, one approaches this matter with some seriousness. When I remind your Lordships once again that, in spite of that, the Committee came to the conclusion—without hesitation, I may say—that this Bill had to proceed, per-haps your Lordships will appreciate the importance of the matter and the fact that we really felt that there was no alternative. That is the position: there is no alternative to this Bill unless there is to be a very serious shortage of water in this particular area.

I want to say only one more thing, and that is to refer to the penultimate paragraph of our Report. I, greatly daring, went so far as to suggest that in Reports of this kind the paragraphs might be numbered, but I was assured that this would be a most revolutionary proceeding and it had never been heard of be-fore. I therefore dropped my suggestion quickly. But it might be easier if they were numbered. As the sections in an Act of Parliament are numbered, I do not see why paragraphs in a Report of this kind should not be. However, in the penultimate paragraph we mentioned the difficulty which has been referred to by other speakers. It is a procedural difficulty and I should be the last to suggest that the procedure adopted is wrong; I do not think it is. I think there is no better way than that Bills which involve this kind of study, and maps and reports and evidence, should be referred to a Committee such as a Private Bill Committee of this House. I cannot think of a better way. But we must face the fact that it is very expensive for people to petition against these Bills.

My Lords, I can only conclude these few remarks by saying that I suppose the day will come in the Welfare State when we shall have legal aid for petitioners against Private Bills. That being so, I hope I have satisfied the House that we have done our best to carry out the instructions given to us. I repeat that I can see no alternative but to pass this Bill.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I will just briefly support what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has said about the difficulty of a Committee of this kind considering a matter when they have only one counsel—for the Promoters—appear-ing before them. It so happens that I was the Chairman of a Committee on a Private Bill, which sought to demolish a Paddington church. An Instruction was moved in this House that we should consider certain matters, which of course we did to the best of our ability. But I found there, as did the Committee, precisely the same difficulty which has been highlighted by the penultimate paragraph of the Report of this Committee, and particularly the words which say in effect that the Committee were asked to be both judge and inquisitor. This is precisely it. First of all, you have to frame questions; you have to be to a certain extent in opposition to the Promoters; and then ultimately you have to take a decision which must be a fair, or ought to be a fair and a judicial decision. I cannot see quite which way we can get out of this difficulty, but I am sure that this is not the right way to deal with a matter of that kind.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has down a relevant Motion, no day named, on the Order Paper. I was hoping that we should have discussed it before to-day. But, after what the Chair-man of Committees has said to-day, I hope he will manage to ensure that before vary long we have a chance to discuss this, as I see it, very important matter. I rather feel, with the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, that eventually if the House decided to send a Bill of this kind to such a Committee which had the assistance of counsel on one side only, the House would be able to instruct the Committee to employ counsel for the other side. I can see the difficulties of this. It would add to the cost. Nevertheless, what the House clearly wants to do, and ought to do, is to ensure that both sides of a question of this kind—and invariably such questions are very important—have a fair hearing before the Committee. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will manage to get the discussion he spoke about before very long, and that the House will give it the attention it deserves.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, may I say very briefly that I endorse the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. May I also bear testimony to the wise championship, and sustain the eloquent ex-position, of the case for the Bill which has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. I was one of those who sat on this Committee, and I must state strongly that every attention was given to every aspect of the case. The possibility of alternatives was most carefully considered, and in the end we were unanimous in agreeing that the particular proposal within the Bill was indeed the only proposal that met the case.

This provokes two thoughts in my mind. First, the fact that in the days to come there will be an increasing need for water supplies. This opens up a vast question, particularly if our population expands too rapidly. The second thought is that one regrets very deeply when one hears that the inundation of a large part of one of our countries will inevitably mean the submergence of farms that are precious to the owners and to the farmers. Indeed, a great deal of fanning land is thus destroyed. I want again to express my deep appreciation of those who have to sacrifice in the national interest farms which are cherished by them. One feels strongly for them, but I am sure that in the end they come to realise that this is a matter of national necessity and although we greatly regret the passing of valuable farm lands and holdings, this is just one more illustration of how sometimes sectional interests have to be sacrificed in the national interest. Finally, I want to bear testimony to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, for his excellent control and direction of the Select Committee.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend Lord Ilford I am well aware that at this time of night brevity is the most acceptable form of oratory. I trust that noble Lords who have hitherto opposed this Bill will accept the Report of the Special Committee and will give the Bill a Third Reading. Although technically a Private Bill, this is surely one of national significance. The works involved have long been recognised as inevitable, both nationally and locally. The only question open was: where and when. This Bill is no more palatable to the Promoters than it was to your Lordships' House. We were party to the Act of 1963; we entrusted to the Promoters the responsibility to plan and provide for the water that is considered necessary. Now, when a Bill is presented by them, the evidence on which satisfied two special Committees of the other place, could we possibly frustrate it?

If, as I hope, the opposition is content to stop here, I believe that this Bill will have achieved much. Through the Bill, and the Special Committee procedures, local feelings have been fairly ventilated in a way that could not have been achieved by a Ministerial Order. Emphasis has rightly been placed on the lack of alternatives, but above all in this Conservation Year, under the pressure of population, pollution and other forces, and with the year 2000 only 30 years away, both the real need and the obvious difficulty of a really monster storage site have been highlighted. And I hope that this will put an end to what has aptly been described as a "rash of reservoirs".

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, as others have done, I thank the Select Committee for their work on this Bill. I should like to start with a small point. At one point in their Report the Committee refer to the impact of the scheme on local agriculture. The Committee point out that the Promoters had hoped that a large pro-portion of the (roughly) 1,000 acres of land situated between the limits of deviation and the minimum operational line would have been handed back for agricultural use. But the Committee go on to say that account will now have to be taken of the land required to meet the wishes of the Countryside Commission.

It has not been possible for the Countryside Commission and the Regional Sports Council to discuss with the River Authority and the County Council the details of the provision which ought to be made to cater for visitors who will, in any event, congregate at the reservoir. There were no discussions because, as the Committee were told, the Promoters decided not to enter into such discussions before the Bill received the consent of Parliament. My Lords, I have no idea why they thought this, and I think it would have been more helpful to the Committee if there had been discussions so that detailed information could have been available. The point I want to make now is that only a fraction of that 1,000 acres is likely to be required for this sort of purpose. The Countryside Commission have told me that they suggested in a paper sent to the River Authority and the County Council that about 100 acres is the likely need for recreation purposes, especially for car parks and picnic areas.

I come now to the reference in the Special Report of the Committee to the Wash Barrage. In the Government we have, of course, given thought to what the Select Committee had to say about a feasibility study, and we have consulted the Water Resources Board. That Board is busy preparing a report on the desk study from all the material which has been assembled, and it will report to the Minister not later than July. Publication of the report would have to come after that, of course, because it would take a considerable time to print.

So the first question our Committee's Report brings to mind is whether there is anything that could usefully be done during the period of perhaps three months between now and when the Board reports. I do not think there is, my Lords, because it would mean taking the Board off the work of the report, and that is a question, which I answered during the Second Reading debate, of how the Government should decide, once the desk study report is received. Obviously we have to wait for the report, and we have to read it. In doing so, the Government will be mindful of the recommendations of the Select Commit-tees of both Houses of Parliament who have considered the present Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, referred to the sequence—desk study, feasibility study, and what happens then. Of course, if the desk study is favourable, a feasibility study will be undertaken. If the feasibility study is favourable, a barrage will be built. That is the sequence.

The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, also said that if this were Holland the Wash Barrage would have been built already, and that even in Hong Kong such a thing had been done. But I am sure it will not have escaped his notice, or that of the House, that among the small group of nation States with a higher density of population than ours are to be found both Holland and Hong Kong. I think this is sufficient explanation of the fact that we take to barrages after those countries.

The noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees has spoken on what Parliament does when a Bill of this nature comes before it. This is in the context of the ability of our Select Committees to bring witnesses before them for examination and cross-examination. He spoke in the context of a paragraph in our Special Report which had something in the nature of a complaint of what they were able to do. I shall speak, therefore, only on what Bills are likely in the opinion of the Government to come before Select Committees of this nature in the future.

The Government will introduce a Bill, before the end of this Session, to remove a defect in the 1963 Water Resources Act which requires reservoir Bills promoted by river authorities to come before Parliament as Bills. They have to come as Bills because the defect in the Act is this: that although the Act gives to a river authority an undoubted right to build a reservoir, it does not give to the river authority an undoubted right to discharge water from that reservoir down the river, which is the point of the whole thing. This was an accident, and I make no complaint against the Party of noble Lords opposite who included that accident in their Bill: it can happen to anybody. However, it has to be rectified, and the Government will introduce a Bill to rectify it.

When this Bill has been passed river authority reservoirs will no longer have to come before Parliament, broadly (and I speak broadly), unless they take common land or inalienable National Trust land. There are a great many details about this, and reservations, which I do not think your Lordships will wish me to bore you with at the moment. But the broad picture is that, once this Bill has been passed —if Parliament accepts it—there need be no more Bills for river authority reservoirs unless common land or inalienable National Trust land is involved. Such projects will proceed by Order, the Minister making the Order after public local inquiry; and the Order will be subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure if certain factors are involved; otherwise, the democratic discipline exercised on these proposals will be by means of the public local inquiry, which is of course cheap and easy, and no longer by the Parliamentary Select Committee, which, as we all know, to our regret, is expensive and difficult.

To return to the Empingham Bill, the Government agree with the Select Committee appointed by the House to examine it that the Bill should now receive a Third Reading.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I briefly add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to the Select Committee, and especially to its Chairman, Lord Merthyr, for helping us with this altogether admirable Report on this very difficult matter. May I briefly make a comment on the information which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has given us, and thank him for it. First, on the Wash Barrage, it is welcome news that the Water Resources Board is now working on the production of the desk study and that the Minister will have it in the summer. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell us whether publication will follow as soon as printing can be completed.

On the noble Lord's interesting in-formation about the Government's intention to amend the 1963 Act, I take his point that this was something he inherited, a defective Act. But I am sure that he was very glad to inherit an Act at all; an Act which, of course, took a very great deal of setting up. There are, unfortunately, other defects in the Act. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is a little optimistic in thinking that Private Bills will only be needed when common land or National Trust land is involved. Inevitably, with a number of these water conservation schemes trial boreholes are needed in advance. There is no power in the Act for that. Pipelines are needed, and there is no power in the Act for that. Therefore, I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet knows that, unfortunately, in our 1963 Act, of which my Party was parent, there are other defects.

The amending Bill which is to come before us shortly will remedy the fundamental defect that there is no power at present in the 1963 Act for a river authority to discharge water into a stream. That will be a major achievement, and undoubtedly will suffice in some cases to save a river authority having to promote a Private Bill. But there will be, I am afraid, a number of other cases where river authorities will still have to go forward with Private Bills in order to promote the water conservation schemes they have to engage in.

These more comprehensive amendments will obviously have to await a future Government—no doubt the other side of a General Election—but I hope that this will be given some degree of urgency, because it was undoubtedly in-tended that these developments should proceed by Ministerial Order. It is far the best way for them to proceed in the normal way. This would give full opportunity for people in the locality to appear at the public inquiry, cheaply and with- out difficulty, and really would be better for everybody. But at the present time the Government are limited, understand-ably, to promoting a Bill which is non-controversial, which has to be squeezed into a very tight legislative programme. I fully understand this, and I fully under-stand that the Government could not include in this Bill any of those other desirable features which might have raised controversy.

For myself, I warmly welcome what the Government are going to do, but I thought it would be helpful to your Lordships to know that there will still be Private Bills coming forward. I need hardly say that the river authorities will not promote Private Bills unless they have to, but there will be some. May I conclude, as it appears that this Bill is about to receive your Lordships' assent, by giving my best wishes to this enormous project to which such care has been devoted, so that we may proceed rapidly with the development and supply of the extra water needed.


My Lords, if, with the leave of the House, I may speak again, there are two points to which the noble Lord referred that I would take up. First of all he asked whether the Wash desk study would be published. The answer is that it will. Then he spoke of the other reforms beyond the amending Bill the Government has announced it will introduce, and he said this will be a non-controversial Bill and it would have to be squeezed into the end of the Parliament. This is not so. This is a limited Bill because the Government is awaiting the Report of the Central Advisory Water Committee, which has been called upon to advise the Government on a total reform of the water industry. Such a total reform must in any case be carried out at the same time and as a result of local government reform, and if the Government provided by our Party continues in office it will undoubtedly be so carried out.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Lord Ilford.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.