HL Deb 10 December 1970 vol 313 cc1042-54

My Lords, I have it in Command from Her Majesty the Queen and from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales that they, having been informed of the purport of the Water Resources Bill, have consented to place their interests, so far as they are concerned on behalf of the Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

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

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 2 [Supplemental]:

LORD KENNET moved an Amendment: Page 3, line 7, after ("Park") insert ("or an area of outstanding natural beauty").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it may be to the advantage of the rather full House that we have at present if, before speaking to my Amendment, I remind the House, not many of whom were present at the Second Reading debate, what this Bill is about and why I am making so bold as to bring forward an Amendment at the Third Reading.

This is a Bill (to the general content of which noble Lords on this side of the House readily assent)which has the effect of removing from Parliament and leaving to the Secretary of State for the Environment the decision whether or not a reservoir shall be permitted in a certain place. The procedure that it institutes contains full provision for local inquiries and we are satisfied, as I believe are the Government, that it will be for the convenience and to the advantage of both the promoters of reservoir schemes and their opponents to argue the matter out locally in public; that the Minister should then take his decision; and that this will be better for everybody than going to the great expense and trouble of arguing it out before a Select Committee of Parliament.

So much, my Lords, is agreed between the two sides. During the course of this Bill the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, "Would it not be better if Parliament were to retain a simple "Yea' or "Nay" control over Reservoir Orders in certain places and in certain places only? "His proposal was that Parliament should retain this negative control over reservoirs proposed in National Parks. This would not be a form of Parliamentary endorsement which involved setting up a Select Committee; it would simply mean that when the Order was provisionally made by the Secretary of State it should be laid before Parliament and it would then be open to any Member of either House to pray against it in the normal period for the Negative Resolution procedure. The Government agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that this was desirable and at an earlier stage of the Bill introduced an Amendment which noble Lords on this side of the House supported which would make this the case—a negative check on the Minister's provisional decision in the case of reservoirs in National Parks only.

At both earlier stages of the Bill I advanced the proposition that if it was right to do this in the case of National Parks, it would also be right to do it in areas of outstanding natural beauty; that if the one place is worthy of that little extra bit of Parliamentary attention then, I thought, so is the other.

At the earlier stages, the Government had not readily shared this view and it is therefore at the Third Reading that I have put down an actual Amendment to give effect to this. During the course of the Bill through Parliament, an event has happened which to my mind changes the whole lay of the land in this matter. That event was the rejection by a Select Committee of the House of Commons of the Dartmoor National Park Reservoir Bill—Swincombe Reservoir. We have had, in the course of only a few months, a series of three rejections by Parliament of reservoir proposals which have come forward under the old procedure. The conclusion that I draw from this is that Parliament valued a measure of control over these proposals and that the Bill as it is now brought to your Lordships for Third Reading does not contain enough Parliamentary control.

I would therefore urge the House to accept this Amendment and in doing so would remind your Lordships of what effect it will have. Somebody wants a reservoir; the Minister sends an inspector; there is a local inquiry; the Minister is convinced that the reservoir is right. In most cases that is the end of the matter. In the case of a National Park or an area of outstanding natural beauty that is not the end of the matter. The Order is made provisionally and is laid before Parliament where it may be prayed against—the Negative Resolution procedure—during the standard number of days. I beg to move.


My Lords, the Government have treated me extremely generously and, as I said the other day, they have been extremely wise in accepting the principle of retaining Parliamentary control over the location of reservoirs in National Parks. I have listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I do not despair at all that having gone so far the Government will be prepared to go even a little further. Clearly, areas of outstanding natural beauty do fall—although they are usually quite small in area—into much the same category of precious countryside as National Parks. While I should not be prepared to press matters against the Government, who have already treated me so fairly and generously in this matter, I hope that they may be prepared at this last stage to make one more concession in the same direction.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a very few moments. So far as I know, there is no substantial objection to what is proposed. The difficulties which water undertakings are experiencing, even with the necessary Parliamentary powers to carry out their tasks, are very substantial and extremely hard to overcome. I sometimes wonder that anyone is able to obtain any wafer at all. I have no doubt that the powers will be used properly and that they will not add appreciably to the difficulties which the water undertakings experience to-day.


My Lords, as this Bill refers primarily to river authorities who have to make these applications, perhaps I ought to add that they are very apprehensive of an extension of the concession which the Government made in response to my noble friend Lord Molson. I would not fear Parliamentary procedure by Negative Resolution or indeed an Affirmative Resolution procedure for any of these developments, which are clearly in the public interest. Nevertheless, my Lords, we must have some regard to the public authorities responsible for promoting these schemes; and because my noble friend Lord Sandford has, as I think, been helpful and generous to my noble friend Lord Molson and made the concession over the National Parks—which clearly are in a class by themselves—it would seem to me rather hard to press him to go further, as I hope your Lordships will agree.

After all, where should he stop? Should he go on being pressed from one point to another to make concessions over this whole field? There is substance in the objection to extending the concession. Indeed, there were many who did not wish to see the concession made at all. But my noble friend thought that he had got the right balance by making a special case for the National Parks. I hope that he will feel that he has met the reality of this point and that he will not agree to accept the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has moved so persuasively.


My Lords, this is a marvellous opportunity for the Government to do two things: first, to demonstrate their respect for Parliament; and secondly, to show that their concern for the amenities of our countryside is genuine. I should have thought that both those things were consonant with the philosophy which is held both by the Government and also by the Opposition.


My Lords, may I say this about these areas of national beauty, in addition to what the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, has has said? I was a member of the Committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse which reported on the whole problem. We found that there were areas of practically the same quality as the National Parks, but they were too small to be made into National Parks; therefore we devised this scheme of areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is quite as important that they should be protected in the same way, because their beauty is of exactly the same kind. They are very small. Therefore, if a large reservoir were put into one of them even more scenery would be destroyed than in the case of a National Park. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will push this Amendment to a Division, if necessary, but I hope that the Government will, as was said by the noble Baroness, see their way to accept it.


My Lords, I should like to support the Amendment. I think there has been a marked change in public opinion recently. Public opinion has now got to the stage when it is not prepared to accept the drowning of valleys as being necessary as a means of providing the water that is needed. Public opinion recognises that alternative means must be found, and therefore I think that these Orders are necessary. I would go even further and say that I think that all these Orders that will come before us ought to be subject to Parliamentary control. Therefore I support the Amendment.


My Lords, I hope that I have the greatest respect for Parliament and an equal love of the countryside. I have sought to demonstrate that, at ail the stages in which I have been dealing with this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Molson said yesterday, fresh water and clean rivers are for many of us, and particularly for himself, a top priority. In 1963 Parliament took the same view. They constituted the river authorities and gave them powers to get on with their job. However, the 1963 Act under which that was done did not cater properly for discharges. The powers conferred, or which ought to have been conferred, in 1963 could not be effectively used, and since then river authorities have had recourse once more to Private Bills. This was irksome for the river authorities and very expensive for the amenity societies and other objectors. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet has reminded us, it enabled Parliament to forestall some proposals for reservoirs in National Parks and on National Trust land where recreational and amenity considerations have particular weight.

In this Bill, as we have now amended it so far, we are aiming to get the best of both worlds and to strike a fair balance between the large number of different interests that are involved. We are trying to achieve a reconciliation of the views of amenity and preservation interests on the one hand and of the river authorities and clean water protagonists on the other. We are remedying the defect about discharges and thus freeing river authorities to get on with their urgent and important job by means of public local inquiries; but at the same time introducing a Parliamentary stage where National Parks are involved. The Parliamentary process has always been, and is still, required when National Trust land and common land is involved.

My Lords, I believe this is the right balance. To have ignored and disregarded what Parliament had agreed that it was necessary to do in the past seven years would indeed have been wrong. But to take away more freedom from the river authorities to get on with their urgent job of cleaning up our rivers and putting our water supplies on a proper basis would also be wrong as it would be to extend the Parliamentary process as a matter of course to all water works in all areas of outstanding natural beauty. If we did that, why should we draw the line outside areas of great landscape value and sites of special scientific interest? That would be a further constraint on the freedom of the river authorities to get on with their job. I fully admit that it would be desirable from some points of view, but on balance I cannot recommend it and I invite your Lordships to reject this Amendment.


My Lords, in the brief discussion that we have had several noble Lords have used the word "concession". That sounds as if my Amendment would be a concession by the water undertakings to the amenity bodies. That is not so; it would be a concession, if you like, by the water undertakings to Parliament. The purpose of this Amendment is not to tip the balance in favour of amenity interests and against water interests; it is to tip the balance in favour of Parliamentary control in this matter as opposed to Executive control.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, told us that the river authorities would be apprehensive of such an idea, although he himself would not fear the Negative Resolution procedure. This is the crux of the matter. Anybody who knows Parliament, as Lord Nugent does and as your Lordships do, would not fear the Negative Resolution procedure; whereas those outside might find that it raised all the old spectres which have so bedevilled the working of this Act in the last seven years, as I would be the first to admit. Several noble Lords raised the question: where do we stop? If we include areas of outstanding natural beauty why not go further and include all the country? We stop here. The Amendment includes areas of outstanding natural beauty and does not include anything else, and the argument that it might include something else seems to me a highly theoretical one.

I want to make one point very clear; that is, that this proposal is not going back to the cumbrous procedure of the Private Bill, which has clogged us for so long. Far from it. It is a simple negative. Yea or Nay, ex post facto, exactly as the Government propose in the case of the National Parks. All things considered, I think it would be right to have this Amendment and I would invite all those who care for the countryside, all those who care for democratic control in the decisions about where we get our water, and especially all those who are not afraid of Parliament, to come with me into the Lobby in favour of this Amendment.


My Lords, could we have some information about what is meant by "areas of outstanding natural beauty"? Are they

defined? We know what a National Park is, but I am not clear how much your Lordships are informed about the extent of what they are voting about. I do not know how much of the countryside these areas cover, and I think that it would be very helpful if we knew exactly the extent of the areas on which we are about to make a decision.


My Lords, the acreage proportionate to that of the. National Parks is about seven-ninths.


My Lords, the areas are statutorily defined. It is quite clear what we are talking about. The areas are proposed by the Countryside Commission to the Minister and confirmed by him. So that the marks on the map are just as statutory in their case as in the case of the National Parks themselves.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 100; Not-Contents, 50.

Airedale, L. Garnsworthy, L. Plummer, Bs.
Amherst, E. Geddes of Epsom, L. Rankeillour, L.
Ardwick, L. Gladwyn, L. Rea, L.
Audley, Bs. Glasgow, E. Reay, L.
Avebury, L. Gray, L. Roberthall, L.
Baldwin of Bewley, E. Greenway, L. Robertson of Oakridge, L.
Balogh, L. Gridley, L. Rochester, L. Bp.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Haddington, E. Royle, L.
Beswick, L. Hamnett, L. Sainsbury, L.
Bourne, L. Hanworth, V. St. Davids, V.
Bowles, L. Henley, L. St. Just, L.
Brockway, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Sandys, L.
Burntwood, L. Howe, E. Segal, L.
Byers, L. Howick of Glendale, L. Sempill, Ly.
Caithness, E. Hughes, L. Serota, Bs.
Champion, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Shackleton, L.
Chorley, L. Ingleby, V. Shepherd, L.
Clwyd, L. Jacques, L. Shinwell, L.
Conesford, L. Kennet, L. Silkin, L.
Cromartie, E. Killearn, L. Somers, L.
Crook, L. Lauderdale, E. Sorensen, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Lindgren, L. Stonham, L.
Delacourt-Smith, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Stow Hill, L.
Derwent, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.] Strang, L.
Diamond, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Dowding, L. Loudoun, C. Swansea, L.
Effingham, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Terrington, L.
Falmouth, V. Meston, L. Thurlow, L.
Faringdon, L. Moyle, L. Vivian, L.
Fletcher, L. Napier and Ettrick, L. White, Bs.
Fulton, L. Nunburnholme, L. Williamson, L.
Gage, V. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.] Winchester, L. Bp.
Gaitskell, Bs. Platt, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Aberdare, L. Dudley, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Rathcavan, L.
Alport, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Reigate, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Fortescue, E. Rochdale, V.
Ampthill, L. Grirnston of Westbury, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Auckland, L. Hailsharn of St. Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) St. Helens, L.
Barnby, L. Sandford, L.
Bethell, L. [Teller.] Hankey, L. Stamp, L.
Brentford, V. Hives, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Bridgeman, V. Ilford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Sudeley, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Lothian, M. Suffield, L.
Cottesloe, L. McCorquordale, of Newton, L. Swinton, E.
Courtown, E. Merrivale, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Craigavon, V. Mills, V. Windlesham, L.
de Clifford, L. Milverton, L. Wolverton, L.
De La Warr, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller]
Drumalbyn, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, I should like to say that the points that were made on the earlier stages in Committee and on Report about certain difficulties which the statutory water undertakers might feel themselves to be in, although they will not be taken into account in this Bill will of course be considered in a more comprehensive review on the Water Resources Act generally which is in hand within our Department. The point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, on Report stage, about the way in which these Orders will be dealt with in Parliament when they come forward, will also be taken into account. Before I sit down, I ought perhaps to say that other representations have been made about compensation for displaced farmers when their land is required for reservoirs, and those aspects will be taken into account in another review concerned with the whole field of compensation generally, which is going on within the Department.

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


My Lords, I am pleased to hear the noble Lord say that these aspects of compensation will be taken into account. I accept that in effect all this Bill does is to make Section 67 of the Water Resources Act comply with its original intentions. I also accept that there is general agreement about the procedure by Order being cheaper than procedure by Private Bill; and, furthermore, that it is coming to be preferred that there should be a public inquiry in the locality. In the country there is sometimes a sort of feeling that the Private Bill procedure is a rather hole-in-the-corner performance, and I know that many of us regard it, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, as cumbersome.

Nevertheless there is one small point which ought not to be overlooked, and it is that the Private Bill procedure enables river authorities to offer better terms to dispossessed owners than under a Ministerial Order. It is because the terms are so often inadequate, and are increasingly being recognised to be so, that schemes are held up by every device known to the men who are being dispossessed, at a cost to the river authority in time, and hence money, far greater than if the river authority were able to make a deal direct, offering terms which make for a willing seller rather than for an unhappy and disgruntled one. The river authorities are anxious to offer these better terms. The very expense of Private Bills has its advantages, in a paradoxical way, for those who wish to amend these Bills, because promoters, in order to lessen the expense, are anxious to be accommodating. Indeed, they may so draft the original Bill as to avoid opposition.

In the case of Bills for reservoirs, which is what this Bill is concerned with, the river authorities may, either in the first instance or after the negotiations, offer better compensation, or reinstatement, than would have been possible under the Order procedure. As the cost of land is in most cases, or in average cases, only about 5 per cent. of the total cost of building the reservoir, the reservoir authorities are only too glad to give these better terms as this means quicker progress at less cost. Representations have been made to the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned, and the river authorities themselves are considering ways in which they can improve the position. I am glad to hear that these important issues have been taken note of by the Government.


My Lords, I should like to make a plea to the Government on one technical point. If we are going to have comprehensive legislation dealing with water, it would be helpful to Parliament if, before the Bill is introduced, the existing Water Acts could be consolidated. At present it is an extraordinarily difficult task to find out exactly what the, law is. There have been four Water Acts, and a great deal of the original Water Act of 1945 has been either repealed or amended. I am sure that it will be well worth while to have it consolidated before further legislation is introduced. I quite understand that the argument will be advanced that if the Bill is going to be amended still further, there is no need to consolidate it at the present time. It would immensely simplify the task of amending the law if it were easier for legislators in both Houses to know what the law is at the present time.


My Lords, may I say a few words on the Question, That the Bill do now pass? This Bill is the last instalment of the great reform of the water industry which took place in 1963. It is not the beginning of a new water industry; it is the tidying up of a bit that was left over from the last reform. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree that it will be good to get on as soon as possible to the next major reform which, because of the rapid advance of technology and the increase of the population, we all know is now to be deserved.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord who has contributed at all stages of this Bill. It is a minor matter, but it is quite clearly a matter of major public interest. It has been carefully considered by your Lordships. Everything that your Lordships have said will be taken into account, particularly the last remarks of the noble Lord.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendment, and passed, and returned to the Commons.