HL Deb 03 December 1970 vol 313 cc741-51

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Sandford.)

Clause 2 [Supplemental]:

LORD SANDFORD moved as an Amendment: Page 3, line 2, after ("and") insert ("—

(a) a statutory instrument containing an order under that section authorising the making of discharges of water at, or of discharges of water taken wholly or partly at, a place which, on the date when the order is made, is within a National Park shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament;


The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment fulfils the undertaking given by me in Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, reminded us in Committee, Parliament has in the past, in one way or another, taken a direct part in deciding whether water schemes should or should not be approved, both in recent years as an inadvertent result of a defect in the 1963 Act and also, prior to the 1963 Act, under the Water Act 1945. The 1963 Act, among other things, repealed certain provisions in the 1945 Act which attracted Special Parliamentary Procedure, and the general intention in 1963 was that all water schemes should in future be authorised by a Ministerial Order which would not require to be laid before Parliament. However, the 1963 Act did not provide river authorities with immunity from legal proceedings in respect of discharges of water, and it has therefore proved necessary to seek authorisation for schemes, through the Private Bill procedure, in order to obtain this immunity. As originally introduced, the present Bill would have restored the intention of the 1963 Act.

In Committee, however, it was argued, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that Parliament should have the final say on discharges involving amenity land. In reply, I made it clear that in Her Majesty's Government's view the precise proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that several categories of amenity land, particularly areas of outstanding natural beauty, should have the same special consideration and close attention as National Parks would in our view be going too far. So also, in our view, would be the suggestion that all Orders under this Bill ought to be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. However, to meet what I judge to be the wishes of the House and to fulfil the undertaking given in Committee, the present Amendment provides that where a National Park is involved, but only then, an Order under this Bill will be laid before Parliament, subject to the Negative Resolution procedure in bath Houses.

The Amendment that I now move covers two types of cases: first, where an Order is made authorising a discharge at a place within a National Park; and, secondly, where, although the place at which the discharge is to be made is not itself within a National Park, the Order authorises the discharge of water taken wholly or partly at a place within a National Park. Paragraph 2(c) of the Schedule to this Bill already requires a river authority, when giving notice of an application for an Order, to specify the places at which the water involved is to be taken. The Negative Resolution procedure will apply to discharges by river authorities and to discharges by statutory water undertakers, and other persons by agreement with river authorities under Clause 1(5) of the Bill.

My Lords, in Committee I gave the Government's reasons for preferring the Negative Resolution procedure to the Special Parliamentary Procedure for which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has expressed a preference. We believe that either procedure would be an improvement on Private Bill procedure and would be far less expensive, both for the promoters and the objectors. But although Special Parliamentary Procedure was a step forward when it was first introduced in 1945, it does involve a detailed examination of the scheme, with counsel and expert witnesses, and that is expensive. Moreover—and this is the most important part—it duplicates, in our view, the public local inquiry which the Secretary of State will always already have held. The Negative Resolution procedure, on the other hand, complements the public local inquiry by providing an opportunity for Parliament, if it so wishes, to debate, in the light of the inspector's report, the broader issues involved in the Order. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation of the way the Government have carried out the undertaking which they gave on the Committee stage. They probably could not have gone much further than they have in the present Bill, in view of the Long Title. I recognise also that they have shown a much more sympathetic attitude than has normally been shown in the past by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, whether under a Labour or under a Conservative Government. I recognise with sincere gratitude the increasingly sympathetic view which the Departments are taking towards control by Parliament in all matters affecting amenities. I think that in one respect the Government could go further and include other places besides the National Parks, but I recognise, although I do not accept, the force of the arguments in favour of the Negative Resolution rather than Special Parliamentary procedure, put forward on the Committee stage by the Parliamentary Secretary.

I should like to take this opportunity, in digressing for just a few minutes, to draw attention to the difficulties which arise in connection with the efforts of the Amenities Society to ensure that the amenities of the countryside are defended. It may well be that part of the more sympathetic attitude that the Government are now taking with regard to Bills of this kind is the remarkable sequence of three cases where Bills, which I think in an earlier climate of opinion would have gone through without much difficulty, have been rejected. As a good constitutionalist and erstwhile Member of the other place I am glad that the actual decisions were taken in another place and not here; but we have now had a Bill which was considered very carefully here and against which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, made a very persuasive speech in this House, which was thrown out on Second Reading in another place. There is the case of Farndale which was thrown out by a Select Committee of the House of Commons. Perhaps more remarkable than any of them was when a Select Committee of the House of Commons did not even call upon the petitioners to state their case but came at once to the conclusion that the proposal to build a great reservoir in the middle of the National Park of Dartmoor was so obviously unacceptable to public opinion that the Preamble had not been proved.

It is therefore clear that public opinion is aroused to a greater extent than would have appeared possible even 18 months or two years ago about the need for a water policy which is not going increasingly to invade the countryside. It therefore is wise for the Government to agree that this should be amended in order to restore some considerable measure of Parliamentary control over orders of the kind that are contemplated in this Bill.

For a long time I have had on the Order Paper a Motion for "No Day Named": To move that a Select Committee be appointed to consider how far and in what manner matters of public policy should be allowed to affect the consideration of Private Bills in Parliament. A Private Bill, as I need not remind your Lordships, is something in the nature of a petition to Parliament by one subject to have transferred to him rights which under the existing law pertain to another individual. If, in the course of the inquiry, it appears that a reservoir, for example, could with greater general acceptance be put in a different place, it is not possible for that matter to be fully considered at the public inquiry. That is quite right. It is not merely a matter of Parliamentary procedure; but it would be monstrous if the rights of some other person should be affected without full notice having been given and without a full opportunity for stating his case.

But it does emerge from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and certainly is generally accepted among those with most experience of these matters, that none of the private legislation procedure which is enforced at the present time is entirely satisfactory. The original form was the Private Bill, which was extremely costly, slow and cumbersome. Then there was the Provisional Order Bill, which had many of those defects; and I find, despite the fact that in 1945 it was thought that the Special Parliamentary Procedure was going to rectify these defects, that it has not fully done so. Therefore I now intend at some convenient time to move that a Select Committee should look into these matters. I am sure that everything that has transpired on these Water Bills during the last few years makes it more desirable than ever that the whole question of this sort of procedure should be looked at. It was the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, dealing so wisely, if I may say so, with these difficulties, which really touched off my present agitation on the subject.

There is no doubt at all that when these Parliamentary procedures were originally devised there was nothing analogous to town and country planning. The whole of that code has now been established, with very wide acceptance, as being a satisfactory system, and it may well be that we can in future devise some new machinery by which the facts and the controversial argument may be dealt with later at a local inquiry, which is relatively cheap and where the local people could appear and express their views; and that the result of that inquiry would go, as at the present time, to the Minister of Housing and Local Government—under whatever name he may be going at the time. After he has taken his decision there might be some kind of appeal to Parliament where they could, if they so wished, differ from the view of the Minister. This would be broadly analogous to the system of the criminal law under which the Court of Appeal, when it considers a criminal case, does not go over all the evidence and try the case again, but can look at what is on the record. In that way it might be possible to bring our procedure more into line with the new procedure under the town and country planning legislation and avoid the tedious and expensive repetition which now occurs.

My Lords, if I may mention it, the amenity society with which I am concerned is going to be involved in a bill of over £4,000 in connection with the Swincombe Bill, despite the fact that the greatest amount of expenditure will never be incurred because we were not even called on to state our case. I am sure that there is a need for your Lordships' House to look again, with the advice of those most experienced in these matters, at the whole question of Private Business legislation Orders and bring them into line with town and country planning legislation. I feel, my Lords, that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government have gone a long way to meet us. I think that they are responsive to change in public opinion, and I welcome their generosity. I congratulate them on their wisdom and I am very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has moved this Amendment.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to welcome this Amendment and associate myself with the first half of everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, about the treatment of reservoir proposals in particular, without necessarily endorsing what he said about the possible future régime which could be set up for Parliamentary approval of Ministerial decisions. I look forward to the time when that can be debated as a general proposition. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has in mind to put down such a Motion.

My Lords, if this Bill had reached this stage yesterday I would have said, "Amen" to the Government's Amendment and sat down. But as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has pointed out something has happened to-day; that is, the rejection by the Committee of the House of Commons of the Swincombe Bill. We have recently had the rejection of the Farndale Bill relating to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and the Bill relating to the Hardcastle Crags Reservoir, also in Yorkshire. I suppose that one could reasonably regard those as sports or freaks of Parliamentary opinion, but with the rejection to-day of the Swincombe Bill, once again in a National Park, it seems to be becoming a habit. It seems that there is a profound switch in Parliamentary opinion and that Parliament rather likes having this control. If it exerts it with such regularity, it can only be that it thinks it ought to have the control.

The thought I wish to pursue is this: if we look at this run of three reservoir proposals thrown out by the House of Commons—Farndale, Hardcastle Crags and Swincombe—we see that two out of three are in National Parks, and would, if they had come under the present Bill, be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. But the third, Hardcastle Crags, would not. It is not in a National Park, and had it come forward under this new Bill, it would not have been caught by the noble Lord's Amendment and would not have been subject to the Negative Resolution procedure in Parliament.

I do not know what is the right thing to do, but my first reaction is that there may be a stronger case than at the last stage of the Bill for widening Parliamentary control to cover not only National Parks but also particular areas of outstanding natural beauty. I have not had time to talk about this with my friends in this place, or in another place, and consequently I have not put down a Manuscript Amendment to the noble Lord's Amendment. But I think that I ought to say now that I may, if reflection confirms my first impression and if consultation confirms that this would be a good idea, put down an Amendment on Third Reading which would have the effect of maintaining negative Parliamentary control over these matters in areas of outstanding natural beauty as well as in National Parks. Having said that, my Lords, I repeat that I think this Amendment is a great step forward. I very much welcome it, and I associate myself with the expression of gratitude which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has made in the direction of the Government.


My Lords, may I start by mentioning a small point in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet? It is that National Trust Land was involved in the Hardcastle Crags case, and therefore Special Parliamentary Procedure would have applied in that case. May I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his Amendment. I am most grateful to him.

At the Committee stage on November 19 the noble Lord, Lord Molson, voiced three objections to the Negative Resolution procedure, and he quoted Mr. Herbert Morrison (col. 1339) as having said in another place: The classical objection … is that it puts the burden on a private Member of keeping a House, getting his friends to stay there, and introducing, a Motion for Annulment in a House which is tired after Government business and wants to get home. That is a fair point which we have to recognise. That objection does not apply with equal force in this House but I should like an assurance that these Orders would not be debated late at night. They are very important matters, and I ask for an assurance on that point.

In putting his second objection the noble Lord, Lord Molson, quoted Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (col. 1339): The other point which can fairly be made is that it is difficult for a private Member to work up the requisite technical knowledge which may well be involved. Here again, my Lords, I suggest that this point does not apply with equal force in this House. Perhaps we have more time here than they have in another place. Lord Molson's third objection was that this House was reluctant to throw out an Order which had been passed in another place, and that indeed this had happened only on two occasions. These three points, I suggest, form quite a strong argument for having such an Order considered first in this House, if that is possible.

My last point is that if this House is to act as a final court of appeal on these Orders, it is essential, as I am sure we shall all agree, that the public should know that there has been an entirely free vote on these matters and that Party political pressure has not been exerted. If I may, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and whoever is speaking for the Liberals in this matter, for an assurance on this point. I would end by again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his Amendment.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken for their reception of this Amendment, and I am glad that it goes so far to meet the points they made at the Committee stage. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for his kindly attitude and remarks regarding the new Department of the Environment in which I serve. I hope he will understand if, on the Report stage of this particular Bill, I do not comment extensively on all the other matters that he has raised in his interesting speech, especially as we can all look forward to the further debate to which he referred.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared at Third Reading to say quite a bit about it, especially in relation to reservoirs, because what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has raised is very important.


My Lords, I shall be very ready and willing to deal with any points relating to discharges from reservoirs that noble Lords like to bring up, at Third Reading. That is what this Order is about; but I do not believe that it would be proper to deal at that stage of this Bill with the whole question of Parliamentary procedure on Private Bills.

Turning to the question which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised about possible extensions to the move we are making to give Parliamentary control over proposals for reservoirs in National Parks, I cannot give any undertaking or assurance that we will do more than take fully into account any proposals he makes to us about this. Of course, we will consider them, but I am extremely doubtful whether we shall feel disposed to extend the Amendment I have just proposed. We feel it is possible to draw the line at reservoirs in National Parks, but once we go outside this to areas of outstanding natural beauty, landscape of high quality and areas of special scientific interest, it will become extremely difficult to draw the line.

As my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford knows, the demand for water grows all the time and has to be met by some means or other. The urgency of the matter, the degree to which water undertakers and river authorities have made a proper search, are things which can be fully considered, with models, maps and expert witnesses, at the public local inquiry. I believe that we should look at this Amendment as something which will have the effect, the retrospective effect as it were, of concentrating the minds of all concerned—landowners, farmers and all others interested—on the public local inquiry to which these Orders refer.


My Lords, this is an extremely important matter, and one that concerns many parts of the country. The country of my own origin, Wales, is very much concerned with just this sort of problem. Is it enough to leave it to a local inquiry? Many of these proposals need to be tackled on a much wider scale. Is it not essential to force everyone to start thinking of where the sources of water should be, rather than rely upon a local inquiry dealing with a threat to a certain environment?


My Lords, the noble Lord is now raising questions to which the original Act of 1963 referred, and I am not keen on being drawn into that wide field; nor do I think it right, on this Amendment to an amending Bill, to go right back over the whole ground. We are dealing now with rectifying what everybody recognises to have been a defect in the original Act. That Act took the general line (it does not apply in every case, but it applies in a great majority) that when a river authority, with or without statutory undertakers, comes forward with schemes for the taking of water in particular places, the right thing was to make those schemes the subject of a public local inquiry.

The purpose of this amending legislation is to get back to the original intention when the Bill was enacted, and the effect of the Amendment I am proposing is. I believe, to concentrate the attention of all concerned when the Order requires the construction of a reservoir or other works in a National Park. It does not alter the fact—and this is something which I ought to say, to allay fears which have been expressed in farming and landowning circles—that the whole case will be heard at a public inquiry. It will have the effect of improving the quality of the inquiry. Once again, I am grateful for the reception given to this Amendment. I hope that noble Lords will not press me to go into all the matters which were raised. I look forward to hearing anything further said on Third Reading.