HL Deb 17 February 1970 vol 307 cc1099-114

4.15 p.m.

LORD REDMAYNE moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill is referred that they give special consideration to:

  1. (i) the Interim Report of International Land Development Consultants N.V. (I.L.A.C.O.);
  2. 1100
  3. (ii) the effect of the proposed Empingham Reservoir upon local agriculture, visual amenity and local communications;
  4. (iii) the question whether the storage capacity of the proposed reservoir is excessive;
  5. (iv) the possibility of increased supplies from existing sources or major national schemes; in relation to which the Select Committee on the Bill in the House of Commons reported specially as follows: "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."
And that in order to enable them to examine these considerations fully the Committee should be authorised to hear evidence tendered by persons other than the parties.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the need for this Instruction arises from a situation which was discussed but was not certain on Second Reading, and that is the financial inability of certain important Petitioners to take their case further in your Lordships' House. I will be brief, and I certainly will not rehearse in detail any of the arguments on the Bill, which will be very much the business of the Select Committee. I should like to express to that Committee my thanks for their labours, because those labours will not be small, and my thanks also to the Lord Chairman of Committees for so helpfully ensuring that, all being well to-night, in spite of certain procedural difficulties the Committee will be wholly capable of giving to this Bill the attention which it deserves.

The nub of what I have to say lies in those words, "the attention which the Bill deserves", because although this Instruction necessarily draws attention to some of the factors which make this reservoir undesirable in itself, its broader purpose is to ensure that this House, as represented by the Select Committee, or on consideration of a Report from that Select Committee, will have looked most carefully into the reasons for the Special Report which was attached to the Bill by the Committee in another place. As your Lordships will know, the very existence of that Special Report is a warning light that care is needed in respect of this Bill. I think I am right in saying that it is the only occasion on which such a Special Report has been made.

The attention which the Bill deserves is not on account of Empingham reservoir alone but is in pursuance of what one would hope would be a more progressive, and certainly a more urgent, policy of water use and water conservation, not in the distant future, as we so often discuss, but in the near future. For that same reason I hope the noble Lord, Lord Milne, who is going to move the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, will not pursue too strenuously his Amendment to my Instruction. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has been most helpful to me in withdrawing other Amendments and in discussing in what ways this Instruction could be acceptable to him, and now only this one Amendment remains. Of course I will not discuss it in detail. However, I want to say that the report to which this Amendment refers, which was commissioned by the Petitioners who have withdrawn, suggests that the urgency of this reservoir may possibly have been exaggerated and that there is time to look to other resources. That is the whole measure of this report.

I rather gather that the main argument against having this report referred to the Select Committee may well be that if was not produced in evidence in Committee in another place, and therefore cannot be admissible here. Frankly, I do not believe that that argument can be valid. It may be a legalistic argument (and I say that without any disrespect at all to the profession), but I do not believe that it is a Parliamentary argument. I think that a Select Committee of this House should have access to any evidence which can help them to reach a fair conclusion. In any case, as I have shown to your Lordships, the report is not a very large document.

Let me conclude by saying this. On Second Reading of the Bill on November 11, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said (col. 604) that on this Bill depends the development of the East Midlands during the next 50 years. With all respect, I think that is another over-argument, another exaggeration of the type which has been used throughout the case of those who support the need for this reservoir. At the same time he expressed the hope that the House would give the Bill a Second Reading, as it had done for similar Bills "on every occasion in the last seven years". In the event, the Second' Reading was obtained on a Division. I had a part in that Division, and I was not at all ashamed of that. I think it was a fair warning, as indeed was the defeat of the Calderdale Water Bill in another place a week or two ago, that lowland reservoir Bills will be increasingly difficult to obtain, certainly in this House, unless there are much more positive signs of urgency in seeking alternatives to them.

May I again express the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Milne, will not press his Amendment too far, and hope also that if all goes well this House may look forward to a Report from the Select Committee which will not only guide us as to our attitude in respect of this particular Bill, but also will give us guidance, based particularly on the Special Report in another place, as to what should be our policy in respect of water Bills and water conservation in general. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill is referred that they give special consideration to:

  1. (i) the Interim Report of International Land Development Consult-ants N.V. (I.L.A.C.O.);
  2. (ii) the effect of the proposed Empingham Reservoir upon local agriculture, visual amenity and local communications;
  3. (iii) the question whether the storage capacity of the proposed reservoir is excessive;
  4. (iv) the possibility of increased supplies from existing sources or major national schemes; in relation to which the Select Committee on the Bill in the House of Commons reported specially as follows: "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 1103 therefore strongly recommend that a feasibility study of the Wash Barrage be undertaken immediately."
And that in order to enable them to examine these considerations fully the Committee should be authorised to hear evidence tendered by persons other than the parties.—(Lord Redmayne.)

4.24 p.m.

LORD MILNE rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, to leave out paragraph (i). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Ilford. I am sure the House will hear with regret that Lord Ilford has met with an accident and cannot be present here to-day. I do not know whether more sympathy is due to him or to me, in the predicament in which I find myself in attempting to act as his understudy at such short notice.

My Lords, I feel that paragraph (i) of the Instruction contained in this Motion is more likely to confuse and delay matters rather than to assist. The noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, as he has stated, would instruct the Committee at this late hour to take notice of a document which we have not seen and which, though it was in existence at all times and was commissioned by an earlier Petitioner, was never put in evidence before the Committee of another place. Nor in fact did its authors even represent the Petitioners before that Committee.


My Lords, may I intervene? The noble Lord says that we have never seen the document; but he will of course agree that this document is in this House.


My Lords, it may be in this House, but it has been in this House for such a short time that I have not seen it yet, and I am sure that a great many other noble Lords in this House are in the same situation. While all this may be unfortunate, it does not seem to me to pose nearly the difficulties which appear to arise if this report is to have the special consideration of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. That report is presumably the private property of a Petitioner who has since withdrawn, and although no doubt it will be made available such a document will require expert evidence in support. Here the Committee will be in a difficulty, for questions of cost will arise, not to say the necessary powers to compel the attendance of witnesses, if necessary, from overseas. I will not dwell upon these difficulties, as the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees will no doubt explain these when he comes to speak.

What of the document itself? The little we know of it is derived from the evidence. It is variously described as a report, an interim report, a sort of feasibility study needing some two years to complete its object. Even the Petitioners' water engineer was not clear on this, or about the terms of reference. These appear to have been stated variously: one, to find an alternative to Empingham; two, to survey the water resources of South-East England. In any event, so far as Empingham is concerned, it was stated in evidence by the water engineer of the Petitioners himself to be a failure, since no alternative to Empingham was suggested, and as: useful, but not meeting the urgent needs of Northamptonshire. This, then, is the document which the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, in his Instruction, seeks to direct the Committee to consider: one which I submit, on the evidence, is inconclusive and irrelevant to the problems of the Bill, and one which will pose considerations to the Committee that it is not really within their province 1o consider. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Line 4, leave out paragraph (i).—(Lord Milne.)

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Milne, on his courage in stepping into the shoes of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, at such short notice. I believe that he heard only this morning about Lord Ilford's accident. Much as we regret the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and the reasons for that absence, no doubt we would agree that he has found an intrepid substitute.

My Lords, there are certain procedural considerations relating to matters raised in the Instruction and the proposed Amendment to which, if I may, I should like to draw the attention of the House and ask the House to consider. This Bill, as the House knows, is an opposed Bill and is referred to a Select Committee as there is a Petition against it deposited by the Peterborough Corporation. This Petition deals with rates of abstraction and seeks protection in regard to the discharge of sewerage effluent. The House will appreciate, therefore, that it is in fact a Petition for amendment rather than a Petition of general objection to the Bill. As the Petition is concerned only with sewerage effluent, the matters raised in the Instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, would not be considered by the Committee without an Instruction from the House. If the House wishes to agree to paragraphs (ii), (iii) and (iv) of Lord Redmayne's Instruction, there is no procedural objection to their so doing. The effect of the agreement of the House will be that the Committee will be required to consider specific matters not raised in the Petition, and to hear argument and evidence on them. The Committee may also be expected, as this is the usual procedure, to make a special report to the House on these questions.

Regarding paragraph (i) of the Instruction, which instructs the Committee to give special consideration to the interim report of International Land Development Consultants N.V., which is, I believe, usually referred to as I.L.A.C.O., I think I must point out certain procedural difficulties and objections to its inclusion in the Instruction.

This report was compiled by the I.L.A.C.O., who are a firm based in Arnhem in Holland, in December, 1968, at the request of the Rutland County Council and the Rutland County and Stamford Branch of the National Farmers' Union. As both noble Lords who have spoken have pointed out, it deals with present and future water use; with future water demand in the Welland and Nene river areas; with the reservoir calculations, and comments on the proposed Empingham Reservoir and other types of reservoirs. It is an extremely complicated and technical report, but it is evident that it deals with the subject matter of the Bill and is therefore entirely relevant to the Instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne.

Practice would require bodies commissioning such a report—bodies such as I have already referred to—and who wished to have its conclusions considered by a Select Committee on a Bill to deposit a Petition against the Bill. This would enable them to appear as parties to the proceedings and to adduce evidence to amplify and support the report and to answer any arguments against it. The Select Committee would thus have sufficient evidence to assess the value of the conclusions contained in the report.

In this case, however, I must point out to your Lordships that none of the bodies who commissioned the report have seen fit to deposit a Petition against the Bill in this House, and I understand that the report was not made available and was not, therefore, considered by the Select Committee on the Bill in another place. It is correctly stated in the Notes for Peers which have been sent by the Promoters of the Bill on the Motion for the Instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, that only certain references were made to it before the Select Committee in another place by the Petitioners' consulting engineer. For these reasons—and I must emphasise the importance of the fact that the parties responsible for the report are not parties who would appear before the Committee —I must advise the House that in my opinion it would be inappropriate to refer this report to the Select Committee on the Bill.

However, should the House see fit to agree to this paragraph of the Instruction, further difficulties will then arise. The Select Committee will wish to hear witnesses, but the Committee itself has no power to send for them nor to pay their expenses or any fees that may be incurred. In my view, this is a case in which the responsibility for doing so should not fall on the Promoters of the Bill. If this responsibility were carried out by the Promoters, they would be expected to call witnesses on behalf of the Committee, and to pay their fees and expenses. They would then cross-examine them on their evidence in support of the report, and of course in opposition to the Bill. I think it would be unreasonable to expect the Promoters to do all this.

Lastly, with regard to paragraph (iv) of Lord Redmayne's Instruction, I should like to make a general observation on the current practice of instructing Select Committees on Private Bills to consider matters which go right outside objections contained in Petitions against a Bill. As Members of the House who have sat on Select Committees will know (and I see many noble Lords who have done so present in the House this afternoon), normally they are asked to consider the provisions of a Bill in the context of local need balanced against local opposition. However, there have been a number of cases recently where it has been felt that the powers asked for in certain Private Bills raise considerations of public policy. In such cases the House has seen fit to agree Instructions to Select Committees requiring them to consider and call evidence on matters which are not raised in Petitions. In the long run, if it were generally adopted, this practice could have the effect of transforming Select Committee proceedings into a type of general inquiry such as is more usually carried out by Select Committees on public matters or. indeed, by a Royal Commission. The parties who appear before such a Select Committee cannot always be expected to adduce the kind of evidence which will enable the Committee to reach a decision on the matters raised in the Instructions. The Committee may, therefore, find themselves at a grave disadvantage in endeavouring to carry out the duty imposed on them by the House.

The type of procedure to which I am referring is not envisaged in Private Bill Standing Orders. For instance, as in this case, the authority of the House is required if a Committee is to hear evidence other than that tendered by the parties. It is important, I think, to remember that such authority has only rarely been given in his House, and not in the House of Commons since 1896. But with the increasing interest which this House is taking in the public policy aspect of Private Bills, I think that this practice is likely to increase. If this proves to be the case, I am sure that the House should be aware of what is involved, and of the extent to which this new procedure differs from that which it has evolved to deal with the ordinary Private Bill. Current Committee procedure is perfectly adequate to deal with Bills in the usual way. I think I can say that it is completely satisfactory to all concerned with the passage of Private Bills through this House. I think that the House can take some pride in the reputation it has acquired for the manner in which it deals with Private Bills. But this ordinary procedure cannot be expected, without grave distortion, to suffice when a Committee has received a wide ranging Instruction from the House and perhaps, in addition, authority to hear evidence other than that tendered by the parties.

The House will note that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has a Motion pending proposing a Select Committee to consider how far, and in what manner, matters of public policy should be allowed to affect the consideration of Private Bills in Parliament. The debate on this occasion will give the House a useful opportunity to express its views on this problem. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for the chance he has given the House to express its opinion about the desirability of inquiring into this matter by means of a Select Committee. My own view is that the House would be well advised to take advice from a Select Committee which would enable it to reach a considered decision, rather than to drift, which is the danger at the moment, into a new procedure which may prove unsatisfactory.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very much indebted to the Lord Chairman for the careful way in which he has dealt with the various procedural matters which arise under this Instruction. I do not know what view by noble friend Lord Redmayne will take of the Amendment to delete paragraph (i). I must say that I was impressed by the arguments on procedure which the Lord Chairman of Committees adduced against this particular paragraph. I feel rather inclined to ask exactly what would be the effect of omitting this paragraph.

Speaking for myself, I do not think that anything much would be lost if deleting this paragraph meant only that the Committee were not required to give special consideration to this report, in view of the difficulty that undoubtedly would arise in probing the facts and the figures adduced when the report is from a foreign firm of consultants and, as the noble Earl the Lord Chairman has pointed out, no funds are available for bringing witnesses over and for having the whole matter probed. On the other hand, I should like an assurance that the deletion of this paragraph does not mean that the Select Committee would be debarred from reading this interim report and, if necessary and if they wished to do so, asking questions of witnesses in order to ascertain whether the facts and the figures are correct.

This is an interim report which is admittedly chiefly destructive in its nature, because there was neither time nor money to enable this firm of consultant engineers to go at immense length into the very great problem of what, if any, alternative source of supply there might be. But I think it certainly should be open to the Select Committee to read the facts and figures as adduced by the consultants. For example, the kind of thing that they point out is that the calculation of the water requirement in the year 2000 is not the minimum but the maximum which is possible. They naturally ask whether it is reasonable to plan all that distance ahead on the basis of a figure which is only the maximum which might be reached.

Similarly they draw attention to the topography of the site and show that it is an extraordinarily unsuitable place for a dam, according to any normal engineering considerations. An immensely large area of land has to be submerged in order to obtain a relatively small quantity of water. The topography of the land is such that after a drought it is quite likely that one-third of the whole area will be mud and not water. I do not want to go any further into the details of this matter; I only want to be assured that if we agree to the deletion of this paragraph it does not mean that the Select Committee will be obliged to blind themselves to facts and figures which are available and which are extremely relevant to the consideration of this difficult and extremely controversial Bill.

I was grateful to the Lord Chairman of Committees for what he said about the Motion for No Day Named which I have put on the Order Paper. We have now had a lot of Private Bills where various considerations of public policy have arisen, and we have dealt with them in this House with a flexibility which, if I may say so, does credit to your Lordships' House and enables the normal procedure to be modified in order to meet the special requirements that arise. A Private Bill is by way of being a dispute between two private individuals as to whether certain things are to be done which otherwise would consist of an infringement of the right of one of them. It is extremely expensive to argue cases of this kind before a Select Committee in either House, and when some general matters of public policy arise it is almost impossible to find any means of having those considerations put before a Select Committee, with the expert witnesses, Parliamentary agents, expensive counsel and so on, which are necessary.

That is why I ventured to put this Motion on the Order Paper, and I am very glad indeed that the Lord Chairman of Committees welcomes my initiative in this matter. I shall certainly take an early opportunity of trying to obtain a day for putting it forward, and I am glad to know that the Lord Chairman, with his extensive experience of these matters, welcomes the initiative that I have taken. I should be glad if the Lord Chairman could give us an assurance on the point I have tried to put, that the deletion of this paragraph will mean only that the Committee will not be obliged to give special consideration, and that they will not be obliged to blind themselves to the facts and figures that are contained in the memorandum.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I would not have entered this debate this afternoon but for a statement by the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, that the urgency of water supplies in this area had been overstressed. As some noble Lords may know, I had the honour for 15 years of representing in another place the Wellingborough Division. The urgency of the need for better supplies of water was evident in those days, and that is ten years ago now. During the period of that time there has been extensive development at Corby; Welling-borough is an expanded town; Daventry is an expanded town; Peterborough has been made an expanded town with a development corporation, and the question of water supplies for this area is a very urgent matter if the water undertaking is to fulfil its obligation to supply a pure and satisfactory water supply to the residents in that greatly expanding area. It is on the urgency of the matter that I lay stress. I should not like to go unchallenged the inference from the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, that this problem was not urgent and that the urgency had been over-stressed.


My Lords, I have no interest to declare, in that I am not the chairman or a member of the Committee concerned, but I am deeply worried about one statement which my noble friend Lord Molson made. He said that supposing this first Instruction was deleted, it would not prevent the Commit-tee from studying carefully the I.L.A.C.O. paper. It certainly would not, to my mind, with the experience I have had on Committees—which is a fair one—prevent the Committee from studying that paper; but I know that the Lord Chairman will tell me if I am wrong. However, if it is to be produced in evidence, brought up in the Committee, then it has to be proved and evidence has to be called as to the accuracy of the figures. That would entail, to my mind, as the Lord Chairman has said, our having to bring people from abroad. That was the fear I had in regard to this paragraph (i).

The only other point I should like to make is that on instruction (iv) I have discovered—and I am speaking only for myself—that there is great difficulty in calling witnesses other than those called by the Promoters or the Petitioners. Whom do you call? When are you satisfied that the evidence they have given has proved the case on an enormous question such as the Wash Barrage? It widely extends the situation of the whole Committee. It is not that I would vote against this paragraph at all but I think one has to be very careful when giving an Instruction of this sort. One must realise the difficulty it puts on the Chairman and the Committee as a whole.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I have only one point of substance to make, and that is that the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Grenfell, both spoke as though the Water Resources Board did not exist. When the Committee come to consider this Bill they will not do so in a vacuum, but will do so in the knowledge that the Water Resources Board has surveyed and published a survey of water resources in the South East of England for the next two or three decades. In that survey the Water Resources Board, which is the statutory adviser to the Government in these matters, considered various combinations of means for obtaining the necessary increase of water in the South-East. None of these combinations excluded a reservoir at either Empingham or Manton. Manton is now forgotten, so it is fair to say that none of these possible combinations excluded the reservoir at Empingham.

I turn now to the question of the Amendment to the Instruction. I am advised that if the Amendment is carried the Committee will not be debarred from reading the I.L.A.C.O. report, nor from asking questions about it. On the matter of witnesses, the Lord Chairman has already given the House his advice. I think it only remains; for me, on the point of the Instruction and the Amendment to it, to say, first of all, that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, will agree to accept the Amendment to paragraph (i), in view of what the Lord Chairman has said, and to advise the House that that would be the best solution. On the general question of Instructions and Private Bills, about which the Lord Chairman has spoken, I would only associate the Government with what he said in welcoming the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for a debate on this matter not too far ahead.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, may I add one word from these Benches on this matter? I do not wish in any way to be thought to be taking sides in the dispute which has led to the proposed Instruction and the Amendment to it, and I must immediately confess that I am bound to approach this from a legal point of view, because it is my nature. But I am very concerned about the points made by the noble Earl the Lord Chairman of Committees. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said, it may well be that if the first paragraph of the Instruction is removed the Committee can read for their own benefit this I.L.A.C.O. report. It is a very technical report and it contains a number of graphs and figures, with which I should think other authorities concerned with water in this country would not necessarily agree. But be that as it may. They can also, no doubt, read the reports of the Water Resources Board and any information produced publicly by river authorities or water undertakers or anybody else.

But the point I am concerned about is whether there should be argument based upon the contents of the I.L.A.C.O. report. These matters of reservoirs are sometimes dealt with by a Private Bill but much more frequently by way of a Water Order. If it is done by way of a Water Order, the procedure is not dissimilar in that it is a quasi-judicial hearing, but the inspector who presides over these matters is a qualified man, and the Minister who finally makes the decision is ably assisted by a number of highly qualified people in his Department. They are therefore able to assess the argument, as well as the evidence, given on the one side and on the other. In the present case, if the I.L.A.C.O. report is to be the subject of argument, without any evidence having been brought by either side upon which the strength of the argument can be assessed, then (although I do not wish in any way to disparage the wisdom of noble Lords who might be sitting on the Committee) I myself should be very hesitant indeed in knowing what to make of the figures and the technical information in the report. I should not consider that I was able to judge whether this is the correct conclusion or an incorrect conclusion, or whether the real truth lies somewhere in between the two.

Therefore, although the report may go informally before the Committee for reading and background material, this Instruction seems to me to require formal notice to be taken of it, to invite argument about it and to bring in all the difficulties about evidence which the Lord Chairman mentioned. I very much hope, therefore, that my noble friend Lord Redmayne will accept this Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Milne, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has now received the assurance that he sought, and that we shall not have what I believe could be a very unfortunate precedent in the way of an Instruction of this nature.


My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and I certainly accept the good advice that has been given. I should have made the same point as my noble friend Lord Molson, and I am grateful for the assurance that has been given. I perfectly well understand the misgivings that have been expressed. That would therefore seem to be the end of the matter.

At one moment I rather trembled when I thought the Lord Chairman of Committees was going to refuse me my Instruction as well. I assure your Lordships that it is not my wish that I should be in any way an accessory to"drifting into new procedures", and I think the House will acknowledge that. But it is very hard in respect of these Water Bills to be asked on every occasion to consider only the Bill and to leave the policy rolling on without discussion. This is where the House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Molson for the opportunity which will come to us, and no doubt there will come a considerable and beneficial change in our procedure. I accept the Amendment as it stands.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.