HL Deb 27 October 1970 vol 312 cc33-43

3.57 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, resuming the debate on the Bill amending the Water Resources Act 1963, I should like first of all to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford on the extremely lucid and efficient manner in which he introduced the Bill to the House. I must declare my own interest in the matter, first as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy, and secondly as President of the Association of River Authorities. In both capacities I welcome the Bill: undoubtedly it is needed. My noble friend Lord Sandford, was quite right when he said that the major purpose of the 1963 Act had been frustrated because of this defect which has been mentioned. As I see the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, looking at me, I should remember to thank him also for his good offices, together with his right honourable friends in another place in drafting this Bill while he was in office and for meeting the urgent representations made to him by the Association of River Authorities.

The fact is that in recent years river authorities, in any scheme they have brought forward for water conservation, have been obliged to proceed by Private Bill. Several such Bills have come before us, promoted jointly by river authorities and water undertakings. Each time the Private Bill procedure has had to be used and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has said, although in certain matters it is an excellent procedure, it is not particularly suitable for this purpose. It is very time-consuming for Parliament; it is restrictive from the point of view of objectors, who may well not have a status to appear before the Private Bill Committee, and it is also most expensive because they must appear by counsel. So there is no doubt that the procedure which will be possible when river authorities are able to proceed entirely by Statutory Order will have advantages for Parliament, on the one hand, and for objectors, on the other. This is especially so for local people, who will be able to go to local inquiries which the Minister may, and I should think undoubtedly will, set up. They will be able to go there and give their evidence conveniently to themselves in their own locality, and without cost to themselves.

It has certainly been my experience, in so far as I have been responsible for promoting a water conservation scheme, that this matters a great deal to the average person who is interested in these matters. The Private Bill procedure does not seem to them to be a safeguard which is really effective; and, as noble Lords will understand, if one of these projects is proceeding by Private Bill it would constitutionally be impossible for a Minister to order a public inquiry as well because it would be redundant: so they are mutually exclusive. But where I have been able, as I have recently, to tell a number of people in the locality concerned with a scheme in which I am interested that we are proceeding by this Statutory Order procedure, and therefore the Minister may order a public inquiry, there has been great relief. People have felt they really will get a chance to go and express their view without any cost to themselves and at maximum convenience.

I am sure that this will meet the needs of the public, and I think that it will also meet the Parliamentary needs. I am not absolutely convinced that this is reducing Parliamentary control, as has been said: I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made the point. In fact, this amending Bill, in Clause 2(5), subjects to Parliamentary control the power which may be given by the Minister to a river authority to discharge water into a river. This is a considerable development over the Part V powers in the 1963 Act, under which all the Orders can be made by the Minister without reference to Parliament, and I am sure that noble Lords should congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandford in that he has seen fit to put into his Bill this particular safeguard.

I do not know why it has gone in; I am not privy to these secrets. But I should think that probably it reflects the difference between 1970 and 1963: that in 1963 the general public were not particularly interested in these developments, and in 1970 they are. Therefore, Parliament wants to have a say, and I certainly would not complain. I think this does no more than reflect the general state of feeling outside the Houses of Parliament. This is an advance, and whether or no there would be any advantage in making amendments to subject to Parliamentary control the other powers in Part V—that is, the Minister's power to grant a compulsory purchase order for a river authority to acquire land; for the Minister to grant powers to do engineering works, and so on—I am not absolutely sure, because where any scheme is proceeding by Statutory Order Parliament will always have this power if the Order is prayed against. I note the Negative Resolution procedure, but I think the point is worth making.

Of course, river authorities are in the position to-day where they are the wholesalers of water. It is their responsibility to get the extra water that the water undertakings want; and they are wanting more and more every year. Therefore, if this had not been done there would have been an absolute spate of Private Bills. My noble friend Lord Sandford mentioned four. My information is that there would have been six in this Parliament, and in the next one I should think there would have been more, as there are at least eight or ten in preparation. This would have been intolerable, as both Houses would have been flooded with these Private Bills, and it would never be the wish or the intention of Parliament to proceed in that way.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Sandford in his reasons for the four advantages that he referred to, but I particularly stress the advantage of the local public inquiry. That is a major advantage in terms of the movement of public opinion. I am sure that there are big advantages here, and I hope that noble Lords will be willing to give this Bill their approval (there is every indication that they will) and that the other place will do so, too.

I should only add, from the point of view of river authorities, that although we are thankful for small mercies there are a number of other amendments to the 1963 Act that are needed, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, certainly knows, and others may know as well. I hope that it will not be too long before there is further legislation from the obviously very productive source of my noble friend Lord Sandford to deal with these other defects, some of which I know will be more controversial. I realise the reason why the amendment now being made was kept to such a limited scope, in order to confine it to a field that would not be controversial and so that it could be easily carried through. This will be a great help, as it will save a great deal of public money in promoting Bills, and it will give much satisfaction in permitting public inquiries in the localities concerned. I warmly commend the Bill to your Lordships.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships this afternoon for only a sufficient length of time to enable me to associate myself in the congratulations that have been offered to my noble friend Lord Sandford, who introduced the Bill in a most lucid and attractive form, and to say that this Bill is accepted and welcomed by water undertakings. It is, in itself, rather a complicated Bill. It will certainly require careful consideration at the Committee stage. It is surprising that the amendments which the Bill seeks to make are matters that were overlooked in the Committee stage and in the Second Reading debate. In particular, that applies—and perhaps this is the most important point—to the provision of Clause 1(3), which provides that a public authority shall be entitled to obtain certain compensation in certain circumstances. It was really astonishing that apparently it did not occur to anybody that a "public authority" might not include a statutory water company. Nevertheless, the water companies are advised that that is the case; I have no doubt that the advice which has been given to them is right. At the Committee stage I hope that that point and a number of other important matters will receive the attention they merit.

May I turn for a moment to another aspect of the Bill. I know my noble friend Lord Molson has referred to the procedure which applies to the obtaining of water powers and that that is a subject on which my noble friend has spent much time and much energy; and indeed the results of his energy are always of particular interest. This afternoon he added that the special procedure which was included in the 1945 Act should be revived and re-introduced into this Bill. There may be a great deal to be said for that view, but I hope we shall not change an established procedure which is relatively simple. I hope that we shall not go back on that and introduce amendments which will destroy the simplicity which the procedure now possesses.

It seems to me impossible for Parliament to consider water powers without becoming involved in the most complicated and protracted procedures and legislation. To some extent that is true in this case. It is true that when the amendment is made, a number of cases which at present have to come to Parliament as Private Bills will be determined by local public inquiries. Up to a point, that is a thing everybody will welcome, and certainly the water authorities will welcome, but it is of interest to look at the procedure by which a water undertaking will obtain the powers which this Bill seeks to give it. I hope I have correctly enumerated the various legal steps which must be taken, and if I have made a mistake then no doubt my noble friend will put me right when the time comes.

According to my calculations, in order to obtain the benefit of these powers a statutory water company would have to obtain two Ministerial Orders, two Ministerial licences, and one agreement under Section 81 of the 1963 Act. I should like to enumerate the Orders and the licences which they would have to obtain. They would, first of all, have to obtain an Order under the 1945 Act, authorising the construction of the works. They would then have to obtain a licence under the 1963 Act, authorising abstraction from rivers and streams to fill the reservoir. Then they would have to obtain a further licence under the 1963 Act, to impound the river or stream for the purposes of the reservoir. They would then have to obtain an agreement, under Section 81 of the 1963 Act, with the river authority, for regulating the discharge from the reservoir.

It is a most protracted and complicated procedure, and I hope that when your Lordships come to look at the procedure which is to be applied to these Water Bills you will bear in mind the fact that in order to give effect to this Bill something like five different Parliamentary steps have to be taken. That is realiy too many and too complicated. I hope that one day Parliament will set itself the task of trying to simplify the conditions under which water is obtained; indeed, they are so complicated that I am sometimes tempted to wonder how we manage to get any water at all. At any rate, I hope that this Bill will simplify matters, although it will not simplify the matters to which I have been referring, which I think can only be done by an amendment of the Act of 1945. The Minister should be given power to deal with the question of discharge from a reservoir at a time when he is authorising the construction of the reservoir. That seems to me the most convenient arrangement and it would go a long way to overcome the difficulty to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion, That this Bill be given a Second Reading, and in doing so I must declare an interest, inasmuch as I am chairman of a statutory water undertaking in the West Country. In that capacity I can certainly confirm all that my noble friend Lord Ilford has said, to the effect that this Bill will have the strong support of all sections of the water supply industry, local authorities and statutory undertakings alike. There are, however, a few points on which clarification or amendment will be required and, while it is obviously right to leave detailed discussion to the Committee stage, it might be helpful if I were to indicate now very briefly what those points are.

First, although it may be argued that the powers given to the Minister under Clause 1 are sufficiently wide to cover the discharge by one river authority of water obtained by that authority from within the area of a neighbouring river authority, it is not, I understand, incontestably clear that that is so. Therefore it might be desirable and proper, in order to avoid future doubt and argument, to include in this Bill a specific provision to enable that to be done by order or by agreement between the two authorities, with appropriate sharing of costs. It occurred to me, when my noble friend Lord Nugent was speaking, that this is a matter on which I might very well have given him advance notice or consulted him about beforehand. I apologise to him now for not having done so, and perhaps he will accept this as a point for later consideration.

Secondly, I should like to confirm the point which my noble friend Lord Ilford made, that it would be very desirable to include in the Bill a short paragraph to make it clear that the definition of "public authority" includes a statutory water authority. Thirdly, the Bill as introduced makes provision for a river authority to apply for an Order to discharge water, but there is no provision for a statutory water undertaking similarly to make application for discharge. Moreover, under the Bill the Minister may only make the Order with a view to facilitating the performance by a river authority of any of its new functions, which I believe are defined—this is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised earlier—in Section 3(5) of the 1963 Act. But these as so defined, as we can read them, are far from covering all the types of discharge that are or may be required, and I submit that it would be wise, in any event, to consider in Committee an Amendment whereby a statutory water undertaking would itself be able to make application for an Order with respect to the discharge of water from any works belonging to that undertaking.

Fourthly, subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 1 appear to require some clarification. For example, from time to time there must be discharges from mines or from industrial users and some of such discharges may involve some degree of pollution. So it would seem, in principle, desirable to provide in the Bill that where the consent of the Minister is required in such cases, that consent should be given by Statutory Instrument, thereby involving some degree of publication and giving agricultural, fishing and other interests which might be affected the opportunity to lodge objection. In conclusion, may I express the hope that reasonable time will be found between the Second Reading stage and the Committee stage to enable points of amendment to be discussed with industry.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and who have given a welcome to this Bill. I assure them that the points which they have made will certainly be taken into account by Her Majesty's Government, even if I do not mention them further in replying to this debate now. There are a number of points which I think your Lordships will agree can be better pursued when we come to the Committee stage, but there are a number of more general ones with which I should like to deal now.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, very rightly and properly, asked us to bear in mind that in dealing with this Bill we are dealing with something which, in his view, will have the effect of reducing the power of Parliament. I do not think I would have put it quite like that. I think that, in accepting and passing the 1963 Act, Parliament took a deliberate decision not to use the powers which it had in respect of certain events; namely, by granting power to river authorities to take the action set out in the Water Resources Act 1963.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has done your Lordships service by reminding you of what is set out in Clause 2(5)(a): a statutory instrument containing an order under the preceding subsection shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament". So that the whole matter is before Parliament at that point.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He said that the whole matter is then before Parliament, but subsection (5)(a) states a statutory instrument containing an order under the preceding subsection", which I take to be simply subsection (4) of Clause 2, which covers the Minister repealing provisions which are for local legislation, which seem to him to conflict with this.


My Lords, it is certainly not the full range of what we are discussing. In addition, I should like to add two other matters which the noble Lord, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, mentioned which also have a bearing on this point. A Bill would be necessary if the water conservation scheme involved the compulsory acquisition of certain categories of land; for instance, common land in the ownership of the Crown or land forming part of a metropolitan common. I think that is the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Ingleby, referred, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was more concerned with the continuation of the special Parliamentary procedure. This would in fact be continued in a number of cases because there are some categories of land which are specially protected with regard to compulsory acquisition in a different way.

These latter categories include inalienable National Trust Land and land in the ownership of local authorities and of statutory undertakers, and under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act 1946, any compulsory purchase order in respect of such land is subject, in the event of an objection which is sustained after the Ministry has confirmed the order, to special Parliamentary procedure. The order, as the noble Lord said, remains provisional until it is confirmed by Parliament, and for this purpose it is examined by a Joint Committee of both Houses. Whether or not noble Lords will want to pursue the matter further at the Committee stage in the light of those remarks I will, of course, leave to them, but the fact is that in all the normal cases the effect of this amending legislation will be that, instead of Private Bills, public local inquiries will be set up if there is any objection to the schemes being put forward by the river authorities, and these inquiries will be held under experienced and impartial inspectors, with a planning inspector sitting as an assessor if need be.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me one or two more detailed points. I will not deal with all of them, but some of them I can deal with fairly readily. As to the meaning of the word "new" in Clause 1(1), this refers to the new functions conferred by the Act of 1963. The reference to a "person" in Clause 1(5) is designed to cover such cases as that of a canal, the discharges of which could be usefully engaged in the conservation scheme which has been put forward by the river authority. As to the kind of thing referred to in Clause 2(4), this subsection is going to be used to bring into line powers which have hitherto been obtained by Private Bills but which are now in need of tidying up to bring them into line with the powers conferred by this Bill. I will not go into the other matters which the noble Lord mentioned except perhaps to say, in answer to his inquiry about desalination, that of course this is something which the present Administration are looking into and research into which is proceeding. I will not, if the noble Lord will excuse me, go further than that. As he will know, the research has not yet proceeded to the point where this can be considered as an economic alternative to the kind of water supplies for which this Bill will provide.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say, on desalination, that the Deben River plant, about which I specifically questioned him, was not intended to be economic. The idea was to get it there and, by experience, to reduce the cost of water, Is the noble Lord able to say anything about the present status of that project?


My Lords, I regret that I am unable to add to what I have said; namely, that this, together with a number of other research projects designed to find alternatives to the kind of reservoirs which we are considering, is being looked into.


I am sorry to harry the noble Lord, but this was not a research project. This was a construction project for water supplies.


My Lords, I did not say that it was a research project. I said that there were other research projects which are being looked into, such as the Wash barrages and the Morecambe Bay barrages. I hope that I have dealt with the various questions and points which have been raised. There were many other useful suggestions which noble Lords introduced into the debate, and these my right honourable friend will be taking into account and we shall be ready to look at again at the Committee stage. Meanwhile I hope your Lordships will give this Bill its Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.