HL Deb 13 July 1992 vol 539 cc48-85

5.49 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

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

The interest in the Bill appears to be increasing. The last time that I introduced the River Usk Barrage Bill to the House on 13th March 1991, there were 10 speakers on the list. I am glad to say that this evening we have 13 speakers. In fact, the Bill has engendered a great deal of interest over the past year.

Noble Lords will know that the joint promoters of the Bill are the Borough of Newport and the County of Gwent. The purpose of the Bill is to, empower Newport Borough Council to construct a barrage across the River Usk; to empower Gwent County Council to construct roads and to carry out highway improvements … to empower the said Councils to carry out other works and to acquire lands; to provide for the control and development of part of the river Usk for amenity and recreation". As I said on 13th March last year, the Bill is the cornerstone of a sustained and long-term plan by Newport to regenerate the centre of the town and to attract inward investment.

Noble Lords will know that Newport was, this year, commended by the Audit Commission as one of the two most effective councils to carry out economic development strategies. The Audit Commission's review put Newport Borough Council in top joint position with Bolton, and was based on the results of a study of the economic development strategies of local authorities in England and Wales. Those economic development strategies were examined on a value for money basis. The Audit Commission's award is a tribute to both the commitment and the enthusiasm of the council, and of its officers, in pursuing bold and well thought-out plans to bring investment and employment to Newport. That is just exactly what they should be doing.

As a result of Newport's economic development strategies, the TSB, Panasonic, the Patent Office, Newbridge Networks and the Imperial College of Science and Technology have all relocated in the town. Imperial College has joined with the borough and the Welsh Development Agency in setting up a 50-acre science park at Duffryn and Imperial House. That, in turn, is part of the bigger Celtic Lakes development which will eventually cover 170 acres and is set to become one of the most prestigious science and business parks in the whole of Europe.

But although the borough of Newport has been successful in attracting development to sites with immediate access to the M.4 motorway, little new industrial or commercial investment has been attracted into the centre of the town. The tendency of companies to take up sites along the M.4 corridor and around Newport's "green belt" is posing an acute dilemma for the council. It naturally wishes to continue to attract such investment and generate new jobs for the high number of unemployed within Newport and Gwent. But, at the same time, the council also wishes to protect the beautiful countryside which surrounds Newport from development pressures. Such pressures will undoubtedly be there and, indeed, are there at the moment. Equally, the council is concerned to improve the heart of Newport town itself. Part of that will be the regeneration of the Pillgwenlly area which at present has the appearance, in my view, of a downtown area in some big American city.

The last objective is one that cannot easily be understood by those who do not know Newport and who have not visited the town. I had the privilege of visiting the town at a time when the tide was extremely low. It does not surprise me that the Usk's unpleasant mudscapes, which are used as industrial and domestic rubbish tips, and the river's wide open sewer, deter potential investors.

The fact that the river is an environmental and visual mess helps to explain why, since 1988,15 companies intending to relocate within Newport expressed substantial interest until being shown the town. As a result of their perception of the town, those 15 companies did not proceed further. Between 1987 and 1992 Newport attracted £179 million of inward investment. Of that, only £3.3 million went to the riverside.

The distortion in the direction of private commercial investment can also be demonstrated by a comparison between the £155 million invested in the periphery of the town against £23 million invested in the centre.

Newport's position as the first major urban area with assisted area status on the M.4 from London provides an important advantage in competing for highly mobile foreign and domestic investment. It has low land premises and labour costs if compared to similar costs in Cardiff, Bristol and Gloucester. However, the increasing problems of congestion on the M.4 itself and the pressures that further development will place on newport's "green belt", have increased the borough's determination to deflect investment from motorway sites and from countryside areas into the already developed centre. I should have thought that we would all say Amen to that. Is that not in fact what we want? As a result, this must be a scheme which needs, and which should have, very good consideration.

Newport has high rates of unemployment in its centre. The unemployment figure now stands at 3,874 in Newport East and 3,978 in Newport West. For the Newport travel-to-work area, it is 9.6 per cent. of the available workforce. Of the 20 borough wards in Newport,42 per cent. of the total unemployment in April was concentrated in just six riverside wards. I emphasise that fact.

The town's municipal leaders are aware that it is primarily the young who are being affected by this unemployment; for example,49 per cent. of those who had been unemployed for over a year in April 1992 were between the ages of 20 and 34. Opportunities for the young people of Newport to obtain and develop new skills in a rapidly changing work environment are constrained by the lack of investment in the town centre. At the same time, Newport is suffering from outward migration. Its white collar and professional workers cannot put their talent to use with firms in Newport, as they should be able to do. It is precisely to attract jobs for that type of worker and to progress job and promotion prospects as a whole, that the borough council has embarked on this bold economic development scheme, together with others.

We must all remember that outward migration of Newport's young people is largely to already overcrowded areas of the South-East. I live in Reading where we also suffer those pressures. If we are to improve the environment of the South-East, we need to provide opportunities in areas like Newport so that young people do not have to leave their homes, their relatives and families to go elsewhere. So improving the environment and job prospects of Newport people will also help keep down jobless levels in many areas in London and the South-East, and improve the environment.

This Bill is central to the vision of Newport's leaders for their town. It has all-party support and the borough is confident that the scheme can be funded from existing balances, from projected land sales, from contributions made by other parties and from modest long-term borrowing.

I have some experience of the enthusiasm felt for this scheme by the people of Newport because I visited the exhibition, which has been placed in the heart of the shopping centre so that as many people as possible can have the opportunity to see it. It had been set up by the council as part of its process for consulting the citizens of Newport. The exhibition was packed. I could hardly get in. I heard only positive and enthusiastic comments about the scheme from the people who visited. The people of Newport know that it will revive their town and will help bring together communities to the east and west of the turbulent River Usk. Opinion surveys have shown that approximately two-thirds of the people of Newport felt that the barrage would make the town more attractive and that it would attract more jobs to the town.

As I have previously indicated, the River Usk has a dramatically wide tidal range of 45 feet, second only

in the world to the St. Lawrence river in its tidal variation. That high tidal variation affects people and property, for at high tide there is a very real threat of flooding especially in the area of Crindau.

Flood tides occur when the tide exceeds a peak of 7.9 metres. Floods have occurred on four occasions since 1960: in 1981 when it reached 8.4 metres; in 1985 when it exceeded 7.9 metres; in March 1989 when it was 8.01 metres and as recently as February 1990 when the tide reached 8.17 metres. The floods which devastated Towyn also caused flooding in both Newport and Caerleon. Flooding also occurs whenever heavy storms are accompanied by high spring tides. That happens on average twice every five years, and may well happen with increasing frequency as a result of the greenhouse effect.

The Usk River Barrage is intended to address three main major development objectives, the first two of which cannot be achieved without the barrage. They are, first, to attract investment to the centre; and, secondly, to prevent flooding due indirectly to the tide. That will protect lives and property in Newport. Thirdly, as part of the barrage scheme, the objective is to divert raw sewage outlets, something which I am sure we all applaud. An additional and very welcome benefit will be the development of the river as a pleasant recreational area for the people of Newport, which will replace the unsightly mud flats which face them at present.

Your Lordships will know that Newport first deposited its Bill with this House in March 1991. Unfortunately the drought of both that and the previous year prevented the authority from completing its water quality studies and from carrying out further groundwater studies. The council therefore withdrew the Bill to give petitioners adequate time to consider the council's environmental assessment.

As a result of further studies undertaken since May 1991, the council feels even more confident that a suitable high water area can be maintained. The research undertaken has demonstrated that both the volume and the period of tidal intrusion over the barrage will be less than originally thought. The council now believes that a suitable high water area will be maintained with no significant sedimentation or water quality problems.

Water quality studies have demonstrated that NRA standards can be met. Favourable results have also been obtained from the algae model. Just as important, the council's groundwater studies give it confidence that there will be no significant groundwater problems arising from the barrage project. Nevertheless, the council is promoting an additional provision to the Bill which will provide for compensation for residents who may be affected by any rise in groundwater levels. There have been further feasibility studies during the year including that for the design of the fish locks. That brings me to the most controversial aspect of the barrage; namely, its likely impact on the passage of salmon up and down the river.

Newport has been taking continuous advice on the most appropriate design for a fish pass to maximize the passage of all types of fish. Your Lordships will know that modern engineering and environmental estimates are iterative processes. Newport Borough Council is keen to ensure that "state of the art" techniques are used in the construction of the barrage. The council has continuously sought improvements rather than relying simply on proposals currently before it.

That approach or methodology is to be applauded and indeed Dr. Richard Creswell of the NRA said at a consultative meeting with Newport that technology regarding fish pass design is progressing all the time … and both the NRA, MAFF and Newport's consultants are aiming to get the best design". The fish pass will now be made up of twin fish locks measuring 30 metres by 9 metres (97 feet by 29 feet six inches). It will help your Lordships visualise the size of those locks if I tell you that your Lordships' Chamber measures 80 feet by 45 feet. Your Lordships will then realise that the locks are very big indeed. They will be able to handle the fish reasonably easily. I tell your Lordships that because it will give you some idea of the size of the locks and what Newport is trying to achieve.

The locks will be similar to a boat lock on a canal. The advantages of the fish pass are that it can pass fish at all states of the tide; a far larger flow of water can be accommodated (the equivalent of the normal summer flows of the river); and fish do not have to expend great energy in negotiating the pass. The pass will in effect act as lifts in a hotel do, except that in this hotel there will always be a lift open on the ground floor. The locks will operate throughout the day at a 20-minute cycle with fish being able to enter the lock 24 hours a day.

For almost 60 per cent. of all tides the river will overtop the barrage and fish will be able to swim freely across for a period of between two and two-and-a-half hours. Secondly, all normal river flows will be catered for by the fish locks and the overflow gate next to the locks.

Finally, and just as importantly for down stream migrants, the maximum fall over the barrage structure will be 5 metres. Newport's expert, Dr. Solomon, believes that fish will be able to cope easily with that fall.

I do not want for a moment to offer meaningless assurances to salmon fishermen about the impact of the barrage on migratory salmon, nor is the council in a position to predict what that impact may be. The truth is that nobody knows and no one will know until the council undertakes its comprehensive monitoring programme once the barrage is built. But we must get this all into perspective. If fishermen visit mid-Wales for an angling holiday and if all they hoped to catch were salmon then we could presume a major effect on businesses dependent upon salmon catches. Clearly, however, anglers rely on the Usk more as a brown trout river than as a salmon river. The reason I can say that with some confidence is that anglers are estimated to spend almost 13,000 rod days on the Usk. However in the past three years fewer than 400 salmon per annum have been caught by rod; in other words, there have been over 30 days of fishing for each salmon caught. Clearly it is not the salmon fishing which is the major attraction to anglers visiting the upper reaches of the Usk Valley.

Mr. Ernest Jones, a seasoned local fisherman who writes for the South Wales Argus notes in a recent article that compared to catches in the 1960s anglers "are not getting the run of fish in the river of that period". He points out that in May 1963 over a 10-day period 100 salmon were recorded. During July, August and September 1991 only 57 salmon rod catches were recorded. That emphasises what I have already said.

The municipal leaders of Newport do not want the environment of their town and of the upper reaches of the Usk to be pitted against the interests of the people. For them, that would be a completely false position. Naturally, their concerns are to improve the living standards and prospects, particularly of the young people of their town. They have watched their children leave home and make for other conurbations where opportunities have been greater. They want to bring a halt to this migration. At the same time, they wish to preserve the rich and marvellous character of the river.

I believe that the Bill and the environmental and engineering research that underpins it represent the best opportunity for Newport to protect both its citizens and its wildlife. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Stoddart of Swindon.)

6.10 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, introduced the Bill in a clear and helpful way. This morning I also had a useful discussion with representatives of Newport Borough Council and their expert advisers and I am grateful to them for what they told me.

When we discussed the earlier Bill, on 13th March 1991, some of us suggested that it had been put together without adequate consultation. On that occasion I said: Surely the sensible way to proceed is to have thorough consultations with all the bodies concerned—first and foremost in England and Wales with the National Rivers Authority but also with the Nature Conservation Council, its successor bodies and all the non-governmental organisations concerned—and to modify the plans as necessary to meet their concerns".—[Official Report,13/3/91; col; 262.] The promoters—I believe wisely—withdrew that Bill and have since had extensive discussions with the NRA. They have done their utmost to resolve the many outstanding problems. For this they should be given credit. They have also established consultative groups, the membership of which is listed on page 11 of their Environmental Statement. This, I am sure, is helpful. However, the fact remains that they have not been able to satisfy the NRA or the Countryside Council for Wales that some of their principal concerns can be met.

We now have 47 petitions against the Bill, more than double the number petitioning against the earlier Bill. Among the objectors are the NRA, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, the Brecknock and Gwent Wildlife Trusts, Brecon Town Council and Brecknock Borough Council. There are a good many important points in these petitions; for example, objections to Clause 65 of the Bill which would give the Newport Borough Council power to make by-laws for the upper river. That seems to me a highly questionable proposal. It is the NRA which should propose by-laws for our rivers.

The NRA, which in this matter is wholly unprejudiced, issued a position statement in February which in most respects, I am told, still represents its considered views. In the statement it said: Notwithstanding the more detailed Environment Statement and subsequent Fisheries Report now produced by the promoters, the NRA continues to have serious concerns about the damage this proposal may do to the aquatic environment, and in particular to fish stocks and fisheries". I understand that good progress has been made on flood defence and water quality. On flood defence, the provisions have not been finally agreed, but the NRA does not expect serious difficulties. On water quality problems—sedimentation, dissolved oxygen, salinity, algae, microbiological quality and the handling of sewage effluent—the NRA is not yet, I understand, fully satisfied, particularly with the provisions for the river upstream. However, it believes that it will be possible to overcome these problems. The discharges of raw sewage into the river from Newport will have to be dealt with anyway by Welsh Water and are not therefore strictly relevant to the barrage plans.

It is therefore primarily fisheries problems on which the promoters have failed to satisfy the NRA, which has of course been given by Parliament the statutory responsibility to maintain, improve and develop fisheries. I have no personal interest in the Usk or its fisheries, but I have a great interest in and concern for all fisheries in Wales.

When we discussed the earlier Bill on 13th March 1991, I went into some detail at cols.266 to 268 of Hansard about the problems which would face migratory fish in the Usk—salmon, sea trout, twaite shad, eels and lamprey—if a barrage were to be built. I reminded noble Lords that Usk fish are threatened with two barrages—this and the proposed Severn barrage, which might in future constitute a double obstruction which few fish could hope to pass. I described the problems which would face incoming and outgoing fish which I concluded were enormous and probably insurmountable. I shall not repeat them now, as the Committee will have available the record of our earlier debate. I would just say that all those problems remain unsolved, although fish migrating downstream will no longer have to fall 10 metres over the barrage, but only five metres at low spring tides, into a pool five metres deep.

The NRA's concerns are spelt out in detail in section 3 of its February position statement, which I am sure the Committee will wish to study. Its conclusion is that: Despite the provision of facilities for fish passage, the NRA fears therefore that the construction of the barrage will:

  1. (1) delay or obstruct fish passage;
  2. (2) increase mortality of young salmon and sea trout;
  3. (3) adversely affect salmon stocks and/or the dependent commercial and rod fisheries;
  4. (4) reduce the number of eels within the river.
Furthermore, the provisions for monitoring fish stocks and fisheries, and mitigating the anticipated damage are wholly inadequate". The NRA also raises the question of conservation issues, for which it is responsible. It mentions in particular otters, which are heavily dependent on eels, and the once common but now scarce and extremely vulnerable twaite shad—an anadromous fish of the herring family. It says that unless the promoters, formulate a satisfactory monitoring programme and identify acceptable mitigation measures, the NRA will not be satisfied that the conservation interests in the river upstream have been adequately protected". Anxieties about otters and twaite shad are also expressed in the petition from the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales. The Countryside Commission for Wales is particularly worried about the danger to the twaite shad.

The NRA's overall conclusion is that: Notwithstanding detailed consideration and discussion with the promoters, their experts and advisers, the NRA remains of the view that if the Usk barrage were to be constructed it would create an unacceptable risk to the fisheries, particularly in view of their high conservation and commercial value. The Environmental Statement and Fisheries Report relied on in support of the Bill do not adequately address these concerns or provide acceptable proposals for mitigating the potential damage which may be caused if Parliamentary approval is given to this Bill". In the light of that conclusion what should be our attitude? When he introduced the earlier Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said: Clearly the promoters have an obligation to convince the NRA that statutory obligations will be met by their plans to ensure water quality standards and that the design for the proposed fish lock facilitates the passage of migratory fish".—[Official Report,13/3/91; cols.257–258.] I am glad that the noble Lord recognised that the promoters had such an obligation. But 16 months have gone by and, as I have made clear, the NRA has not been convinced that its statutory responsibilities for the maintenance of fisheries can be met. It describes the risks involved as unacceptable. Perhaps between now and the autumn, the promoters can come up with new proposals. However, I wonder whether they can satisfy the NRA's proper anxieties.

There is no precedent anywhere in the world for a fish pass through an estuarial barrage with a tidal range of 45 feet—the second highest in the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said. Migratory fish would have to negotiate a greatly changed estuary, find the fish pass, swim through a ball and lift, suddenly instead of gradually encountering fresh water, and then travel through a largely stagnant artificial lake,11 to 12 miles long. On the return journey they would have to undergo similar hazards. It seems to me that, almost inevitably, first the easily damaged and relatively weak shad and then the salmon would be rapidly reduced in number. Before long, the runs of migratory fish in the Usk would come to an end.

It is not surprising that so many petitions from angling organisations and individuals express alarm about this. Once built, the effects of a barrage would be irreversible. Your Lordships' Committee will need to consider carefully whether it is right that the populations of migratory fish in the Usk should run a real risk of extinction in order that a barrage should be built for purely cosmetic reasons to cover up the mud flats in Newport and create in their place an essentially static lake of murky water.

There is another point. There is now great public concern about our rivers. The public are concerned about low flows, pollution and much else. Parliament has established the NRA to look after the rivers in England and Wales and has given it appropriate powers and responsibilities. When, as in this instance, the NRA objects on solid, professional, technical and scientific grounds to a development proposal on a major river, I think this House should think long and carefully before setting aside the NRA's views and overruling them.

I have not said anything about ground water. I believe the problems are still being investigated but I am sure that the Committee will wish to satisfy itself that serious problems will not arise or, if they do, that all remedial costs will be met by the promoters.

I shall now say a few words about the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper. Paragraphs (b) and (c) are virtually identical with paragraphs (b) and (a) of the Instruction I moved on 13th March last year, at col.284 of the Official Report. That instruction was agreed by the House. I fully support the regeneration of Newport and its economic development but I do not think the promoters have established that a barrage, with all the damage it may do to the ecology of the Usk, is essential to achieve that. The Committee should examine that matter carefully.

I also think the Committee should consider whether there is room for another investment-related barrage in south-east Wales. The economic climate has become worse since March 1991 and Canary Wharf has shown us what the results of investment gambles may be. I think that among other things the Committee should consider whether, if expectations about proceeds from land sales are disappointed, the financial burden on the people of Newport would be within acceptable limits.

Paragraph (a) in my present Instruction is designed to help the Committee by directing its attention to the essential question that it must, in my view, determine. All three paragraphs need to be considered against the background of the significance and importance of the River Usk. Your Lordships' Committee will hear all the evidence from the promoters and the petitioners and will consider what is said in the House today. The Members of the Committee will have to weigh up the arguments for and against a barrage. However, if they conclude that a barrage is not indispensable for the development of Newport, or that it can only be constructed by taking unacceptable risks with the ecology of the Usk and the economy of the Usk valley, or if the NRA's concerns cannot be satisfied and the Committee shares my view that on such a question the NRA's views relating to a major river should not be overruled, the Committee should reject this Bill.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, if one is chairman of the National Rivers Authority and one's speech follows immediately the speech of the chairman of the regional fisheries advisory committee one's task is rendered a good deal easier and shorter than it might otherwise have been. Indeed, as I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, I wondered whether there was anything I could usefully add to the debate.

When this Bill last came before the House I spelt out the principles that must guide the National Rivers Authority. I am speaking today because 1 believe it is useful that the House should understand the NRA's position. Before I turn to those matters I hope I may be forgiven for expressing pleasure that we are to hear two speeches in this debate that will be particularly interesting. We are to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, who made an immensely valuable contribution to the work of the National Rivers Authority in its formative period and whose wisdom on fishery matters was greatly valued. It is also a great pleasure that my noble friend Lord De L'Isle is taking part in the debate. I well recall that on the previous occasion we discussed this subject my noble friend's father spoke. That debate occurred only a few weeks before the death of my noble friend's father.

I should make clear at the outset that the NRA has no reason at all for criticising local authorities' desire to improve the environment of Newport, to provide amenities for its citizens and to encourage development and job creation. I would be the last person to raise obstacles to such eminently worthwhile objectives. If local authorities can achieve those objectives in a way that does no harm to the things that the NRA has a statutory duty to preserve and protect, we would, of course, withdraw our objections. Our interests centre on our statutory responsibilities for water quality, the protection of fisheries, conservation, recreation, flood defences and navigation.

Much discussion has taken place since the original Bill was presented. As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, told the House, the promoters have clearly undertaken a significant amount of further work to support their environmental statement. A number of issues have been clarified and some of our anxieties—for example, about water quality—have been moderated. However, fundamental issues remain about which we are by no means satisfied. The NRA's petition is lengthy and spells out those objections in great detail. I need not repeat all the points. However, the most essential for us to consider is that of the Usk fishery, an important fishery despite what has been said about the poverty of the salmon catch in recent years. The stocks of salmon, and to a lesser extent sea trout, in the Usk support a valuable rod fishery and also contribute to commercial fisheries in the Severn estuary. Despite a decline in anglers' catches in recent years, the Usk remains one of the five most prolific salmon angling rivers in the Welsh region.

In addition, Usk salmon stocks are heavily exploited in the Severn estuary. They contribute approximately one-third of the catch of local commercial fisheries and about 5 per cent. of the total commercial catch of English and Welsh salmon in home waters. There is also a small commercial fishery for eels, both as elvers and adults, associated with the river.

The barrage would constitute a major obstruction both to the upstream and downstream passage of migratory fish, including salmon, sea trout and eels. Migratory fish would have to negotiate the barrage itself, pass through the altered tidal zone downstream and an 11-kilometre stretch of impounded water upstream. When I refer to an 11-kilometre stretch of water I am being rather more modest than the noble Lord, Lord Moran, as I believe he mentioned an 11 or 12 mile stretch of water. I suspect the problem here is one of defining exactly how long this semi-stagnant stretch of water will in practice be. However, taking the most conservative view, it is clearly a long stretch of relatively still water through which the fish will have to pass.

To help facilitate the passage of fish across the barrage, facilities for fish passage—as we have heard—have been included, at the authority's request, in the proposed design of the barrage. The authority has been consulted on a variety of designs for these works but it has yet to be convinced in principle that such a facility will be adequate satisfactorily to secure the unhindered passage of fish migrating both to and from the river. The petition states: There exists no tested precedent for a fish pass in such an estuarine situation, and recently several authoritative sources have expressed deep reservations as to the efficiency of fish passes in fresh water. Therefore, although there have been discussions between the Authority and the Promoters on the detailed design of the proposed fish pass facilities, these are subject to the Authority's grave doubts as to the effectiveness and efficiency of any fish pass in an estuarine situation and the consequential effect of the barrage as an obstruction to migratory fish". Even the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in moving the Motion, confessed that the truth is that nobody knows. So, at best, we are confronted with serious uncertainties.

The NRA believes that even if the upstream passage of fish past the barrage was completely unhindered, the salmon would be delayed in the environment upstream, as the promoters have themselves indicated. The NRA considers that the rod fisheries throughout the river would be detrimentally affected because fewer fish would move into the fishing reaches during the rod fishing season. The NRA cannot accept the delay in the upstream migration of salmon and sea trout which is expected to result from the barrage and the impoundment. Nor is the NRA convinced that fish survival would not be jeopardised by downstream passage past the barrage. We also fear that eel stocks will be significantly affected.

Comparatively little is known about the estuarine and marine fish utilising the Usk estuary. As a result the NRA asked the promoters to commission a baseline survey to determine their diversity and significance in the area which will be affected. The promoters have undertaken a preliminary assessment but have so far not demonstrated fully the significance of the species found. While they propose further survey work it is a fact that it will not be possible to judge the results until after the construction is complete.

Indeed, the noble Lord himself confessed that we shall not know the result of any aspect of the proposal fully and adequately until after the construction is complete. Many feel that by then it will be too late. Until the results of such surveys are known it simply is not possible to judge the effect of the barrage on estuarine and marine fish populations nor whether effective mitigating steps can be taken to protect them. The same is true of the river itself.

Even if the NRA's concerns could be satisfied there will remain an element of uncertainty. Should the barrage proceed it is therefore essential that a comprehensive monitoring programme is undertaken. We are by no means satisfied that the monitoring arrangements suggested by the promoters will be adequate. That is also a matter which needs to be examined by the Committee which will consider the Bill.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the monitoring process, we have to consider whether effective steps can be taken to mitigate the undoubted consequences. Here again the promoters have not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the NRA that effective mitigation measures could be employed to compensate for any effect of the barrage on fish stocks.

Therefore, the situation is that despite the provision of a fish pass the NRA fears that construction of the barrage will delay or obstruct fish passage, increase the mortality of young salmon and sea trout, adversely affect salmon stocks and the dependent commercial and rod fisheries, and reduce the number of eels within the river. Furthermore, the provisions for monitoring fish stocks and fisheries and for mitigating the anticipated damage are not adequate.

I have indicated that real progress has been made on water quality issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said. If I do not dwell on the other issues, including water quality, at any great length, it is not because I do not think that they are important. They, too, will have to be adequately examined. However, we have made progress and I believe that there is a good chance that it will be possible to resolve the water quality issue.

I freely acknowledge that a great deal of progress has also been made in developing and calibrating computer models. That will be most helpful in assessing the impact of the barrage on water quality. If I am right in thinking that the water quality problems can be overcome by effective barrage management and technical means, we still have to satisfy ourselves about flood defence requirements. Here again I am optimistic. The design of the barrage meets the standards laid down by the NRA and we believe that it will provide flood defences which are at least as good as those we have at present. I also believe that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was right in saying that the sedimentary problems can be adequately dealt with.

Our fundamental objection to the Bill is that we believe that it poses a major threat to the fish stock and existing fisheries on the river and consequently to the conservation of fish-eating birds and mammals, particularly otters, which feed upon migratory fish in the river. I am conscious in making that remark that many fishermen may say,"Splendid. It is the best thing that we have heard so far if some of the fish-eating birds are done in in the process." However, I do not believe that most of them will be very pleased if there is an adverse conservation impact on the river. Certainly the NRA, with its statutory duties, cannot take that view.

We have a statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries. We have responsibilities for further conservation in the riverine environment. In those circumstances I believe that we have no alternative but to maintain our objection to the Bill. Of course, if at the end of the day the Committee can be satisfied and we can all be satisfied that those consequences will not follow, then I shall join with those who hope that Newport will be successful in attracting new jobs and improving its environment. We all want that. The question at issue is whether the price is worth paying.

6.37 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, after listening to three such authoritative speeches it seems hardly necessary for the rest of us to say very much more. However, one reason why I did not take part in the earlier debate on 13th March 1991 was that at that time I was engaged in moving my main domestic base in South Wales from Cardiff to Cwmbran, from Glamorgan to Gwent. My Welsh friends will understand the significance of that. Since that time I have naturally taken a closer interest in the possible developments in and around Newport, such developments being the main reason for considering a barrage at all.

Like my noble friend Lord Stoddart, I find the great mud banks of the lower Usk depressing, particularly as one approaches Newport railway station on the train travelling from London. One cannot help wishing that at that point the river could avoid low tides altogether. Aesthetically it would undoubtedly be much more attractive.

Appearances, however, are not everything. Nevertheless, if I were a member of the Newport Borough Council or Gwent County Council I should certainly be concerned about that aspect. I feel a great deal of sympathy with those members. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Stoddart on his eloquent exposition of the needs of Newport and of its population, particularly the younger members. However, I am still not convinced that a barrage is necessarily the only way. Of course, I am very much influenced in my opinions by the overriding consideration, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made clear, that there still remains opposition from the major statutory authority in charge of river quality and usage; in other words, the NRA. I have before me, as others of your Lordships will have, a copy of its petition against the Bill. In paragraph 18 the authority specifically states that it objects to the Bill and in subsequent paragraphs the reasons are spelt out. Also included are doubts about the financing of the scheme as well as about fish stocks, flood defences, water courses, water quality and so on. Those views are repeated in the final paragraphs 41 and 42.

Although, since the petition was first before us, some further progress has clearly been made, there remain substantial difficulties which really ought to be solved, preferably before the barrage is built. It is easy enough to say that you cannot tell much about it until after the barrage has been built, but if you are going to have a barrage of the dimensions described by my noble friend it is difficult to suppose that you can do much about it after the event. I must say that I find this a very difficult situation indeed.

I am particularly worried by the fact that, as I understand it, the main study for the proposed barrage was carried out several years ago when barrages and marinas were at the height of their popularity. Since then the cost-benefit analyses have become a good deal less assured, and the bright, blue waters of the advertisements are greeted with growing scepticism. Legislation to sanction the Cardiff barrage is expected to emerge some time in late autumn or even next spring from the other place. One is tempted to suppose that it might be better to see how Cardiff gets on and then try to avoid its mistakes.

Meanwhile there have been several important developments in government thinking about how we should handle the very intricate problems of coastal protection and planning, including the estuaries and inter-tidal areas. I do not know whether all your Lordships have yet had an opportunity to digest the Government's response to the very impressive report from the Commons Select Committee on the Environment. This we could obtain, I think, only last Friday morning; so no one has had much time to take it in. However, it makes some extremely interesting and important comments upon the difficulty of dealing with these very intricate areas in the environmental scenario.

We have already recognised that the Usk estuary is one of the most important examples, not just in Britain but in the world, by reason of its extreme tidal range and its fast-changing upstream flow characteristics, which ought not to be entirely overlooked. These are challenging conditions, far beyond what the relatively small size of the river might suggest. It is not just a matter of the salmon fishermen against the rest, although it is easy to suggest that this is so. There are other matters which plainly have to be dealt with, with very considerable skill and concern. In addition, we are not sure how far the conditions in the report to which I have referred, and the Government's response, will be carried. If, as is customary in this House, the Bill secures a Second Reading and the Instruction moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is accepted, the Select Committee on the Bill will have a daunting task adequately to examine all the pros and cons of the proposals.

This brings me to another consideration which has come about since the first presentation of the Usk Barrage Bill; namely, the Transport and Works Bill, which became law in March this year. Its main purpose was to transfer the kind of intricate local problems we are now facing in the River Usk Barrage Bill away from the Private Bill procedure altogether. The argument is that it would be far better to deal with such matters through ministerial consideration combined with adequate local public inquiries. I would refer your Lordships to paragraphs 40 to 43 of the report which we received last week, Coastal Zone Protection and Planning. The report emphasises that Private Bill procedures in such situations can prove cumbersome, expensive for objectors and remote from public scrutiny and it recommends that they should be less frequently used.

Of course it is obvious that we would be obliged in this instance to follow the customary Private Bill rules, as the Bill was presented before the Transport and Works Bill reached the statute book. But the procedural thoughts strengthen some of the arguments so ably deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and touched upon also by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. We are very much indebted to both noble Lords. I hope that the Select Committee to whom, no doubt, this Bill will be referred, will not find its task too overwhelming but will give us some firm guidance as to how we can proceed in a very puzzling situation.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Rees

My Lords, I intervene in the debate with some diffidence. I can hardly now describe myself as a fisherman. I am not an expert on water management and I am not really a botanist. However, I am a resident of Monmouthshire or, as I suppose one must now call it, the county of Gwent, and I hope that I may welcome the noble Baroness who has just sat down as a neighbour, albeit a distant one. I am also a local government taxpayer and of course a central government taxpayer, and therefore I hope it is right for me to express some concerns that I feel about the measure.

I am full of sympathy for the aspirations of Newport Borough Council, at least as they underlie the proposals embodied in the Bill. No one visiting Newport regularly, as I do, can be impressed by the sight of the river and its banks at low tide. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness who preceded me have commented on that, and I find myself in total agreement.

It must also be right to control the discharge of raw sewage out of the Usk. There may also be a case for a further downstream crossing; that is to say, downstream of the present bridges. If all these proposals result in the creation of a pellucidly clear 11-kilometre or 11-mile stretch of water and if it can be financed by the creation of acres of amenity and development land, then we can all applaud—provided of course that all this can be achieved without detriment to the residents, fishermen, farmers, landowners and businesses further north in the county.

So many of your Lordships are highly informed about the likely impact of the barrage on the migration of salmon, twaite shad—a fish which I must confess I have never killed and have not even consciously seen—eels and other fish that I would not presume to make a point on this, or indeed on the economic impact of any restrictions on migratory runs, on riparian owners, anglers, hotels, and the population generally. No doubt such issues will be the subject of exhaustive inquiry in due course by the Select Committee. Nor will I weary your Lordships with my view of the likely impact of the barrage on the bed of the river upstream and the quality of water there, in particular if heavy rain carries down a mass of silt. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that he was half way to being persuaded that that might be remedied in some way. I am happy to leave all those aspects to expert witnesses who will no doubt be called before the Select Committee.

I will not add any comment about the need for further bridges or crossings over the Usk except to remark that that must be considered in the context of the projected second Severn bridge. We have been asked to consider the proposal in a rather narrowly parochial context.

However, I wish to comment briefly on the financial impact of the proposals. I must admit to not having secured the two reports commissioned from Coopers and Lybrand by Newport Borough Council. I was surprised to discover that no copies have been deposited in the Private Bill Office although no doubt copies will become available to the Select Committee in due course.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will allow me to say that I was also surprised that he did not touch on the financial implications either tonight in his elegant and lucid speech or in his earlier intervention in March of last year. As I understand the position, the major source of finance for this great project is the sale of development land along the banks of the river created by the barrage. I am prepared to accept that development land would be created. I am also prepared to accept that for some miles upstream of the barrage the river will be considerably improved, that the water may be purified and that the surroundings will become considerably more attractive than at present. But who can forecast with any confidence whether there will be a robust market for such land for office or recreational developments in the five, seven or 10 years' time that the project will take to develop? Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, winds up he will tell us the estimated cost of those proposals.

What part of the costs is to be met by the borough council under the most recent substitute for rates proposed by the Government? What part is to be met by the county council? What part will be met and over what period by the sales of development land? It would be unfair to expect utter precision in answers tonight, but I am sure that it would assist the House if the noble Lord could offer some assistance when he winds up.

I wish to address a question to my noble friend Lord St. Davids who will speak on behalf of the Government. Perhaps he can enlighten us. If the calculations of Newport Borough Council have been over optimistic and the land either cannot be created or there is no robust market for the sale of such land—the timescale over which such land can be unloaded on the market may become important—will the full burden of the project be shouldered by the ratepayers of Newport, if I may so describe them, although perhaps inaccurately? Their enthusiasm for the proposal might be somewhat tempered if they learned of that possible risk. Alternatively, will the Government, perhaps the Welsh Office—I turn to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who has so much more experience in these matters—be prepared to shoulder part of such burdens? If my noble friend on the Front Bench cannot give an unequivocal answer, no doubt he will write to me and publish his views at a later stage.

I hope that if the Bill proceeds to a Select Committee, the committee will wish to address those matters and question how much private capital is likely to be drawn to Newport as a consequence of the proposals if they are implemented? I believe that in one of the Coopers and Lybrand papers a ratio of £11.8 of private capital to £1 of public capital has been suggested. If that is so—I admit candidly that I have not had an opportunity to read the paper—I should like to know the basis for the suggestion. It would be churlish for me to draw any analogy with Canary Wharf, although the proposers of the Bill may care to ponder on some of the lessons to be drawn from that melancholy scene. But it is right to observe that Newport will probably be in keen competition with the development of Cardiff Bay, a matter obviously well known to your Lordships.

In conclusion, although I shall not vote against the Bill tonight, since, as I said earlier, I am in sympathy with the aspirations of the borough council—at least on this matter, although I do not back all their political views—I unhesitatingly support the Instruction proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, it shows the hand of one well versed in the drafting of important papers of state. The Instruction raises most of the questions on which I and others outside this House will require reassurance. Unless I receive such reassurance in the months to come, I shall find it difficult to support the Bill on Third Reading.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, my interest is in the conservation of salmon. Over the years I have drawn the House's attention to the North-East drift net fishery in which the indiscriminate use of nylon monofilament gill nets constantly threatens the salmon on their way to the spawning grounds of the North-East of Scotland. I mention that as an example over which the Government are relatively inactive. They take no positive steps to curtail that activity. If the Government are so complacent on salmon conservation, I have no faith in the Government if the Usk Barrage goes ahead. If the local authority, the developers, or whoever are in authority over the barrage, are not interested in salmon conservation, salmon stocks are threatened. We could not therefore look to the Government for help. Therefore, we have to be assured at the outset on the preservation of the salmon in the River Usk after the barrage has been built.

As a council member of the Salmon and Trout Association—I express the association's views—and a rod and line fly fisher, I take an interest in such affairs. However, I have my doubts about the Bill. There is no doubt about the widespread opposition. Many conservation and environmental interests are opposed. The Salmon and Trout Association and the National Rivers Authority in particular are anxious. Those are no mean bodies. The Salmon and Trout Association is a national association of great repute and standing in the fishing world. The National Rivers Authority is now well established and ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Its theme, to be guardians of the water, plus its regional organisations, established to preserve our rivers, increase the quality of the waters and develop, maintain and improve our fisheries, is a legislative requirement, a statutory duty. It is on that latter point that I believe the NRA's Welsh Fisheries Committee has serious doubts that those policies and objectives can be pursued if the Usk Barrage goes ahead.

With that background, one has to recognise that the River Usk is one of the major game fishing rivers in Wales. It also has a large commercial and recreational salmon trout fishery. The worry of the Welsh Fisheries Committee and the Salmon and Trout Association is the effect that the barrage will have on the natural migration of the salmon and sea trout. They fear that severe damage may he caused to fish stocks and that much of that damage could not be repaired by restocking.

I appreciate that anxiety, as chairman of the Anglers Co-operative Association, a national organisation representing thousands of anglers and angling clubs. The organisation takes the polluters of our members' waters to court when their beat, river or lake has been polluted and thereafter replaces fish stocks. But it is never the same. Indeed, just as we fear with the Usk Barrage, the River Usk's ecology could be permanently impaired. In that respect it is best to conserve what we have; the present natural river environment is preferable to the many unknowns and imponderables which we fear from this development.

I understand that the National Rivers Authority believes that restocking the river would be difficult and expensive and even considers the task to be impractical. If that is true the Salmon and Trout Association, the Welsh rivers and fisheries committees and the N RA would continue to oppose the barrage. Salmon conservationists also believe that the genetic composition of the Usk salmon would be endangered.

It is likely that the Usk Barrage would impair the quality of the river, change its ecological structure and adversely affect the quality, quantity and genetic make-up of the Usk salmon. If all that were placed in doubt anglers and tourists would know that the River Usk and its local environs had lost its attraction and that would cause a serious rundown in the local economy.

From the speeches we have heard it is obvious that there are grave doubts about the development because so many important organisations seriously question it. Indeed, the number of petitions of opposition is constantly rising and now stands at 47. I am sorry to inform my noble friend Lord Stoddart that my doubts still exist. As he said, the effects on salmon cannot be truly predicted until the barrage and the pass have been built. By then it will be too expensive and too late.

7 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, as a fisherman there is little that I can add to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. I speak as chairman of a salmon district fishery board and I wish to mention a problem that has not yet been dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that the fish would get over the barrier by swimming through the system of a lock as big as this Chamber and by being able to get over the weir at certain levels of the tide. One clear fact, not yet stated, is that any artificial obstruction which delays the passage from the sea of a salmon, or grilse, immediately reduces the enthusiasm of that fish to take. Any form of artificial obstruction spoils the sport.

Your Lordships may be aware of Dr. Mills' comment in the Spring 1989 report of the Atlantic Salmon Trust. He pointed to the abandonment of cruives and fish passes throughout the salmon rivers of Scotland, telling a sorry tale of their proven failure. Furthermore, it is true that in any run of fish one will catch a lower percentage if the fish have had to pass over a natural barrier. Any obstruction reduces the sport.

I and members of my fishery board have doubts about the damage caused by some of the new fish counting devices which everyone is so keen to install. They comprise of an electric current passing through a weir and cause less of an obstruction than what is proposed in the Bill. However, it is significant that even the small obstruction of a modern fish counting device on the River Torridge in Devonshire has spoilt the sport. The device has been abandoned on the famous Laxford river in Sutherland, having been proven to be detrimental to the sport.

What has happened in the case of another authority which began to obstruct our rivers; namely, the North Scotland Hydro Electric Board? It admitted that its dams and weirs would spoil the sport and therefore they bought out the angling rights. I have seen not even a suggestion that the promoters of the Bill might buy out the angling rights along the river above the weir. Noble Lords will know that in the case of the North Scotland Hydro Electric Board many of the angling rights were restored later, using artificial stocking and many expensive means far beyond the pockets of the existing riparian owners. As the noble Lord, Lord Mason, said, fishing in those restored rivers is not the same as in natural rivers. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, dealt with the equally important problem of how the migratory fish smolt. How will the smolts get back to the sea without being damaged by the artificial obstruction at the mouth of the river?

My second concern is the problem—not so far mentioned—which Members of this House face as regards Private Bills. My concern has been reinforced by my experience on the committee dealing with the Calder Valley River Bill which sat for almost a year during the previous Session. In that case the local authority, using ratepayers' money (or poll tax money, or whatever) promoted the Bill. Often that can involve unlimited expense. The petitioner—in this case there was only one petitioner—out of his own pocket had to employ Queen's Counsel and expert witnesses to put the case. Even if the doubts are upheld and the petitioners win in the end, under our procedure there is no system for them to be awarded costs.

Erskine May states that there is little precedent for the Second Reading of Private Bills to be debated and that certainly there is no precedent for them to be thrown out on Second Reading. However, I remind your Lordships that in 1937 this House threw out the North Devon Water Bill because it would destroy the fishing in the Devonshire rivers. Subsequently, the House threw out the North Devon Electric Power Bill on Second Reading. Therefore, there is a precedent for throwing out such Bills on Second Reading.

Having regard to the doubts which have been expressed tonight and the number of petitions raised against the Bill one is tempted to throw it out on Second Reading and not to put the petitioners and all the riparian owners throughout the rest of the watershed to the expense of appearing before the committee and employing expert witnesses and counsel.

We must hear the rest of the debate before reaching a conclusion. However, I suggest to your Lordships that, in view of the number of petitions against the Bill, there is sound precedent for saying "Not Content" to a Second Reading.

7.7 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I spoke in a previous debate on behalf of the Bill. It is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Kimball and to hear his moving appeal in the cause of sport. That subject has been the main source of tonight's debate. Perhaps it has become a case of town and gown with the NRA sitting in the middle as proctor, but I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, will accept such a suggestion. Certainly it is a case of the council versus game fishing interests.

By definition, therefore, two interests are involved and your Lordships have said that fishing is the most important. I suggest that the town of Newport deserves a great deal more respect. Two needs must be addressed; those of the town of Newport and those of the the fishing interests. Perhaps I may deal first with Newport. It has a rundown port area which has been in decay since coal shipping ceased, which was long before the end of coal mining there. It also has a decrepit housing stock and unemployment at 50 per cent. above the national average. The area is part of the Severn estuary, which means a 13 metre tidal rise and fall. There are 20 feet of mud banks at any one time and at low spring tides they will be about 40 feet for one week in four.

There are 18 raw sewage outfalls which must be dealt with in any event. However, that is part of the scheme. Only those of your Lordships who have toured the area can imagine the soul destroying aspect of that part of our country. The council has vital responsibilities to restore the area and we must examine what it has done.

First, it appointed Coopers & Lybrand. That is a firm of experts and when one pays for an expert, one expects to take his advice. A consultation paper was prepared and ERL has been retained to act as consultants, as it was on the Mersey Barrier and the Thames Barrier. That company was commissioned to evaluate tidal conditions and water quality. The consultants prepared comparisons for a bridge and a barrage but they came down firmly on the side of the barrage which would provide total regeneration of the area by cleaning up the mudbanks and rebuilding the rundown immediate area of the port. All plans are vital to the human aspect of regenerating housing, providing employment and paying for a totally new sewage system, which is required in the name of common sense as well as required by the EC. It is clear that only a barrage can overcome the mud flat problem and, no less significantly, prevent upstream flooding, which is an important matter during spring tides and sou'westerly gales.

There is a considerable demand for factory space in the centre of town and on the banks of the river. That has been clearly established by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Coopers & Lybrand has estimated that 8,500 new jobs will be created and 4,200 man hours of construction work during the seven to 10 year period required to build the barrage plus the labour and infrastructure benefit from the construction of the barrage. Those may sound extravagant figures but Newport is quite clearly able to run parallel with Cardiff and the attraction of business to that area is well established.

The Newport business plan is not a kind of Canary Wharf project. There is no City of London corporation which can suddenly increase its business area by one-third by altering its by-laws. The demand is there; it is clearly demonstrated.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has already spoken of the business which has been brought into the town. Coopers & Lybrand estimates that 25 million square feet will generate £44 million per annum of increased income to the area at a cost of £70 million. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Rees is not in his place to hear that. That would be as a result of introducing 8,500 new jobs.

In respect of the demand for space, Coopers & Lybrand said: First, demand may be growing at a rate over the medium term which can only be met by increased supply from both Cardiff Bay and Newport. Second, the development potential at Newport may be different in scale and nature from that at Cardiff Bay and therefore not competitive. Third, developments at Newport may offer greater choice to inward investors in the region and may therefore enhance demand for location sites within it". I shall not continue with that, but there is a firm case for regenerating the area and for putting new business into it. That strong case is borne out by professional advice and in terms of the instruction proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, it will be clearly shown by expert evidence to the committee that business wants to come and will not come while the mud-flats are there. In my opinion, the barrage will answer those problems.

There will be a constant flow of water through the impoundment with complete water change every 1.4 days in normal conditions. The barrage will allow partial water intrusion into the lake on 58 per cent. of tides when salmon will be able to migrate upstream without hindrance. They will be able to migrate upstream over the sill for two to two-and-a-half hours per tide.

On the other hand, with the flushing rate every hour, there would be a rate of one cubic foot per second providing that flow through the lake at all times. Therefore, there will not be an impounded lake which is absolutely still. The flow of water will be 235 cubic metres per second. That shows that there will always be a stream against which the salmon can swim. They will wait to get over the sill because they do that when they wait for the tide.

With regard to fish locks, there will also be a permanent flume of water flowing through the fish locks which will attract fish and will give them an opportunity to continue into the fish lock and then be transported upstream in a positively Rolls-Royce manner.

As regards the economics, I believe it is agreed that between 1986 and 1990 on average 560 salmon were caught each year. According to The Times recently those catches generate a capital value of about £6,000 per fish. Therefore, if my calculations are correct, that gives a capital value of £3.5 million for salmon fishing in the Usk. At 10 per cent. per annum that is an income of £350,000 per year. The barrage will generate £44 million per year. Surely we must put the human scale into context.

Of course, that is only part of the equation. We must also consider the remit of the National Rivers Authority, as clearly stated by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. There is a requirement that fishing quality should be maintained. I believe that expert advice to the committee will be able to convince it that while quality may change it will not be damaged.

On that point, I recall that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell has only recently had to take fairly strict measures against the local water boards in southern England, which have allowed six fishing rivers to run dry. That surely points to the fact that there is a human factor involved in the requirement to look after fish stocks and to provide for human need.

The barrage will not stop all salmon. As my noble friend Lord Kimball said, there may be a reduction but they will not disappear completely. We are advised that while fishing methods may change at the head of the impoundment, the catches will not be affected because the number of salmon will probably be the same, although they may not be catchable because they will be going upstream at a different time of the season.

The council has made proposals and suggestions supported by professional advice to the NRA. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, explained that in some detail, so I need not do so. The authority is obviously not satisfied at present. I hope and pray that the committee will be allowed to receive sufficient professional advice to proceed with the Bill. In particular, I believe that ERL, which has been responsible for the hydraulic research, fish pass and barrage design, has established new theories regarding siltation which were not known previously to the NRA but are now accepted.

Water quality and algae bloom are another problem. It is again recommended and believed that that can be controlled, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell agreed. If there is a requirement for the fish rights to be bought out, perhaps the council may consider buying them for £3.5 million against an investment of £70 million with £44 million income. I should have thought that that would not be a problem.

I have given only a brief review of the appraisal. Detailed facts and proposals are available for the committee, to which I thoroughly recommend the scheme.

Lord Moran

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down perhaps I can remind him that at the outset of his earlier speech he declared a personal interest. I wonder whether he can tell the House whether that personal interest still applies or whether circumstances have changed.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I have a relation who is employed by the lobbyists for the Bill. However, I speak entirely from my own conviction, having been to Newport and seen the area.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, no one born and bred in Cardiff as I was can fail to have an interest in the future and fortunes of our neighbour, sister and rugby rival, Newport,11 miles upriver. I must also declare an interest as a trustee of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, which is concerned about the presentation and progress of the Bill. I help to look after its money though I stress not a penny of it comes to me.

Clearly the barrage and all that goes with it offer considerable benefits and opportunities to Newport. The borough and the county are to be congratulated on the enterprise and energy with which they have developed the Bill before us, so ably presented by my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Equally clearly, no benefit comes without cost; there is no such thing as a free barrage and we must weigh the one against the other with the presumption that we should seek to satisfy legitimate objections if we possibly can.

When the Bill came before your Lordships' House for Second Reading four months ago, a number of noble Lords pointed out the piscatorial problems and they have not lacked their defenders today. I marvelled then as I do now at the mysteries of the modified Borland lift. It is clear that the kelts, smolts and twaite shad have many and vigorous defenders to protect their interests. My concern has been engaged more with the hydrological and geological consequences of constructing a barrage both on the rural and, more especially, the urban environment of the river.

Newport Borough Council has long been aware of the problem that the barrage would create in the disturbance of water levels and particularly the groundwater in the area immediately adjacent to the barrage. Since the first Second Reading—if I may put it that way—we have had added to the Bill the clauses, amendment and the new and extensive Schedule 5. However, Malcolm Fraser, the arboricultural officer for Cardiff City Council, studied the nature and location of trees and amenity areas in and around Newport. His report makes clear that, as a result of the barrage, tree cover will certainly be lost or at least reduced in quality and health. The fabric of the landscape and public open space areas will be seriously affected making them in some cases sterile and unusable, particularly during the winter. The financial implications of those facts will be considerable and yet they seem, as yet, not to have been taken into account.

But trees are only a minor problem. The borough council was aware that the groundwater levels were an unknown factor in the proposal. To its credit it commissioned a report by its consultant engineers, Rendel, Palmer and Tritton—known as the RPT report. Even to a layman's eye—and in these matters no eye is more lay than mine—the RPT report leaves some questions unanswered and some unasked. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales sought a second opinion from Dr. John Miles of the School of Engineering in the University of Wales College of Cardiff. Dr. Miles has studied at some length the potential groundwater effects of the proposed Cardiff Bay barrage and is clearly well equipped to report on the Usk barrage scheme.

Dr. Miles, in his report, has a number of technical objections to the RPT report on such matters as the relevance here of the concept of "classical valley sink situation" and perched water tables. But his central criticisms are, first, that he does not believe that RPT has made any serious attempt to calculate the hydrological budget for the lower Usk valley and, secondly, that there are serious shortcomings in the standard of its groundwater modelling. He concludes, Given that the crude financial value which could potentially be damaged by the impoundment of water … is of the order of £100s of millions, not to mention the potential ecological damage then RPT's lack of understanding of the groundwater flow mechanisms is extremely worrying". Even from an academic, those are stern words.

There is considerable detail behind that conclusion. Dr. Miles analyses the likely leakage from water mains in the urban area; the RPT report does not. Dr. Miles is sternly critical of RPT's investigation of leakage to sewers, estimated at 10 per cent. of the flows in the sewers. Dr. Miles comments, Given the number of guesses necessary to arrive at this figure it must be regarded as being a very crude estimate". He is equally worried about the RPT's "groundwater modelling" which, as your Lordships will recall, is the name of a process which involves the use of computer programs containing equations based on the fundamental laws of groundwater motion, to try to represent what occurs in reality. Although that sounds rather difficult, it is not particularly difficult to do. Programs are readily available and the computing power required can be provided by any personal computer bought in the high street. As Dr. Miles said, So for a few thousand pounds anyone can set themselves up as a groundwater modeller". All the more serious therefore is his conclusion that, all that can be concluded from a study of RPT's modelling is that they have little appreciation of how groundwater currently moves in the Usk valley. One cannot determine from their results what the significance of vertical flows through the alluvium are likely to be, how much water flows through the gravels and marls to the river and how much of the incoming water budget is removed from the made ground by the sewers". The urban areas' impact could be grave. Land drains would be required, possibly spaced 20 to 30 metres apart. Think what that would mean in a block of terraced houses. Pumps would not solve the problem, especially beneath large buildings where there is the possibility of water leaking up through the floor slabs. Considering the effect of the proposed barrage on groundwater levels, Dr. Miles ends his report with these words, In some areas of Newport, groundwater levels will rise to the surface, leading to swamp conditions. Also in the rural parts of the valley there will be some areas of land that will be lost although the extent of such land is likely to be small". The publication of Dr. Miles' report shattered any complacency the residents of Newport may have felt, and initiated an intense public debate which is still continuing. Newport Borough Council has now resolved to offer compensation to reassure its citizens of the efficacy of its barrage proposal. Accompanying the current version of the Bill is a fairly extensive piece called,"The River Usk Barrage Bill (Additional Provision)". The additional provision is a late addition to many documents which we already have on the proposal. That in itself may cause your Lordships to wonder whether everything that it is necessary to take into account, has been taken into account.

It is certainly an earnest of good intentions on the part of the proposers but there is as yet no clear understanding of the extent and nature of the groundwater problem. Certainly until there is such an understanding there can be no accurate computation of the costs which may be very considerable. That additional provision which comes with the Bill offers a kind of insurance without knowing the risk which is being insured against. Details of compensation are not clear and it is not known what funds are available or will be available to meet it.

I believe that it is beyond doubt that the effect of the barrage on the groundwater situation in Newport and upriver has not yet been satisfactorily studied. If the RPT report is as imperfect as Dr. Miles suggests, the cost of the scheme might be many millions of pounds. We have no reassurance that Newport Borough Council has taken that fully into account.

Mr. John Bowers of the University of Leeds Business School, was also commissioned to make a similar examination of the economic appraisal made for Newport Borough Council by Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte. Without going into detail, Mr. Bowers clearly expresses many reservations. He is quite unconvinced about the likely development demand from entrepreneurs in the various scenarios. He concludes: All that the barrage in fact achieves in addition is to create conditions akin to a permanent state of high tide". So there are unresolved doubts about the effects of a barrage on the water-table and about the economic appraisal, and questions remain about such crucial components of the scheme as the leverage ratio for the barrage option which, as Mr. Bowers points out, at 1 to 11.8 is higher than the schemes cited as comparable and similarly much higher than has been calculated for the Cardiff Bay barrage". The most important petitioner against the Bill is without question the National Rivers Authority. We have heard authoritatively about it tonight from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. The NRA is concerned about the impact of the barrage on its statutory responsibilities. In its most recent position statement the NRA seems more or less satisfied with the situation proposed for flood defence, but it still has grave reservations about fisheries, conservation and water quality.

The Committee of your Lordships' House to which I fervently hope that this Bill will be committed, will need to give close and rigorous attention to satisfying itself on these matters if this Bill is to proceed successfully. I have commented only on the hydrological, geological and economic considerations though they, likewise, still present unresolved difficulties.

Writing so long ago as 1651 the great poet of the River Usk, Henry Vaughan, the silurist, born at Trenewydd and buried within sight of the river at Llansantffraed, said, prophetically, of the River Usk: In all thy Journey to the Main No nitrous Clay, nor Brimstone-vein Mixe with thy streams, but may they passe Fresh as the aire and deer as Glasse". Let us hope that this Bill may achieve a similar tranquil and unimpeded passage when all the reservations which we have heard about tonight have been removed.

7.34 p.m.

Viscount De L'Isle

My Lords, perhaps I may first thank my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for his kind remarks about my father, who spoke at the last Second Reading on this matter 14 months ago. I must immediately declare an interest in that my stepmother and stepsister are riparian owners on the banks of the Usk. My father and stepmother married in 1966 and in the ensuing 26 years on many visits I have learned to admire the unrivalled Usk Valley with its swift-flowing stream where salmon have run since time began.

Any fast-flowing river brings enchantment not only to fishermen, which I am not, but to lovers of nature and countrymen who can delight in living waters that are pure enough to allow the annual passage of these magnificent migrant fish up and down stream.

The Newport Borough Council proposes a barrage scheme. The purpose of this scheme is not to prevent the occasional flood nuisance, but is principally cosmetic. Cloaking unsightly mudbanks in water, it is hoped, will encourage development of a run-down area of Newport in a manner similar to the Cardiff Bay project.

The impounding of the water will make it difficult for migratory fish which include salmon and the twaite shad, which we have heard so much about in this debate, to make their passage upstream through a redesigned but still unproven, fish ladder into an area of impounded water which the National Rivers Authority is still not convinced will be of sufficient quality. That does not bode well for both fish and other wildlife dependent on the fragile ecology of a swiftly-moving river.

Were this Bill to pass into law it would be too late to reverse the damage it would do to the wildlife along the Usk, as so many noble Lords have said this evening. Gwent County Council and Newport Borough Council are attempting with this scheme to regenerate the economy of a part of Newport. The result further upstream will be to damage the fragile rural economy which is becoming more reliant on fishing to generate income as agriculture and local industry enter a deepening recession. Fishermen and their families visiting the Usk provide employment for ghillies, river keepers and support many hotels and bed and breakfast establishments. The impact of the estimated £650,000 per annum spent is greater than the sum suggests.

Should the barrage be built many of these jobs and businesses will disappear and the landscape will be damaged as it will no longer be economic to maintain it, thus further damaging wildlife habitat with the consequent effect on flora and fauna on the river banks and flood plains. Here lies the dichotomy. We are told that the barrage will bring a new economic dawn to Newport while its effects could drive the Usk Valley, its people and wildlife, into a dark abyss.

In summary, I should like to quote from Hansard of 13th March 1991 (cols.279– 80) which was the last time that my father spoke in this House at the first Second Reading of this Bill. He said: I am not persuaded that the reasons for the barrage scheme are in any way connected with the preservation of this great natural resource. Shortly after the Second World War, Alexander Cordell wrote a book entitled The Rape of a Fair Country. It called attention to the unhappy industrialisation of so much of the beautiful countryside of South Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries. I hope that this House, and Parliament in general, will not earn itself the title of the rapist of a fair river". That is a view with which I heartily concur.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Elibank

My Lords, I intervene in this debate not because I have any intimate knowledge of Newport, but because I was a Member of your Lordships' Select Committee on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. A number of the problems which occurred in that Bill have appeared in this one although a number of the details are quite different. One of the most serious problems as regards the Cardiff Bill was that of groundwater which, until the noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke, had been largely ignored in the debate and indeed in much of the documentation and reports that preceded it. It forms one section of the NRA's petition and that is the only objection to it that I know of so far. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, did well to raise that as a serious point.

The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill contained elaborate provisions for compensation for those householders who might be affected by groundwater. There were provisions for inspection both before and after the barrage was constructed and for compensation as appropriate. Your Lordships' Select Committee thought that those provisions were not adequate, and we enlarged them. The Bill then went to another place where it had a rather chequered history. I understand that the chief item of contention there also was the effect of groundwater.

We are talking about a serious problem because it affects what for most of us is our principal investment in life—one's house. Damage to one's house can be catastrophic, affecting one's financial position and one's sense of personal security. However, a groundwater problem is not insuperable. It can be dealt with both by proper engineering investigations and testing, and by proper measures for compensation following such testing. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, pointed out, that is expensive and it will be a likely burden on the promoters of the Bill, I suspect.

I have only two thoughts on the issue of fish. The first is that all fish passes seem to be unique. There are special conditions surrounding each river and the tides affecting it. That means that there is no standard accepted model to which we can turn with total confidence. Each fish pass is an experiment in itself and its success or failure can only really be measured when it is in place. Therefore, one goes ahead with hope and perhaps with a measure of confidence, but there can be no measure of certainty.

My other thought about fishing echoes the views of the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, who is not in his place. Where there is a conflict, as there inevitably is here, between those who are keen fishermen, those anxious to protect fishing rights, the fishing industry and the sport of our country and between the citizens of Newport, it seems to me that, if no other issues are involved, we must get our priorities right. No concern about salmon fishing—or about any other fishing—should supersede the citizens of Newport's requirements for financial prosperity. Although I realise that it is not a straight question between fishing and the barrage and investment, that is certainly one of the main subjects that has arisen in this debate. There is a strong fishing lobby—and very good luck to it—but as the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, said, we must bear in mind the fact that the wishes of the citizens of Newport must surely come first.

I have one postscript under this heading, and it is about mud flats. I, too, find mud flats varying between the boring and the positively repellent. However, in your Lordships' committee I was quite surprised to hear the number of petitioners who actually liked mud flats, who appreciated the rise and fall of the tides over a 24-hour cycle, and who found that much more attractive than, as they would see it, a rather sterile lake. That is a minority view, but it is a quite strongly held minority view and one that we should perhaps bear in mind.

When I came to the debate I had assumed that most of your Lordships would have a copy of Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte report, but it seems that that is probably not so. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, has however given a fair summary of most of its proposals. It purports to make a comparison between the results of the barrage proposal, of a high level bridge and of a low level bridge—I suspect that Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte was instructed to do that by the council—but it gives a slightly unreal element to the report because it is pretty clear from reading that and the other reports and documentation that Newport either goes ahead with its barrage or does nothing specific in that area. Other alternatives seem to me to be unrealistic.

The report is very clear about the increasing shortage of development land in the Newport area. Apparently, development took place fairly recently along the M.4 corridor where a number of sites that were suitable for development were duly developed. That source of land has now apparently largely disappeared. Paragraph 412 of the Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte report states: In our assessment, supplemented by the results of our survey of developers, investors and property agents, it is unlikely that much development discouraged from M.4-adjacent sites would take place elsewhere in Newport without the barrage or other major activity". I take that to be something quite divorced from the barrage proposals. If one relies on the judgment of the report, it is the barrage or nothing.

I should like to make just one or two points in conclusion. There is a very real risk that Cardiff will prove a serious rival to Newport. Again in the Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte report it is said that Cardiff will attract the major users of land—the bigger firms—and that Newport will satisfactorily accommodate smaller firms and somewhat smaller businesses. I think that that is quite unrealistic. Firms will no doubt examine both sites and will make their judgment on the attractiveness of both sites. One must accept that if the Newport barrage goes ahead, although late in the field it will be a rival to Cardiff and there will be competition between the two for industrial development. I am optimistic enough to think that there will be enough business for both, but that is perhaps an article of faith.

The report also deals fairly comprehensively with the economic evaluation of the project. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, has already mentioned some of the most important figures in the report. To me, it is almost a subjective thing. It is a question of how far one considers what is largely a freshwater lake to be a positive attraction to a business that is expanding or seeking a new site for development. That is a matter of personal judgment. It is very difficult to produce figures to reinforce one's judgment on this matter one way or the other. I personally think that the barrage will provide an attractive site for building and investment, and I formed the same opinion about the Cardiff barrage.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned the problems that might well arise over the price of development land and the estimates of capital sums that would accrue by sales of such land to potential investors. He commented—I think a little pessimistic-lly—on how calculations under that heading might go astray. An economist cannot tell us the economic position in five years time. We must all form our own judgment on it as best we may from the facts at our disposal. Again, speaking purely subjectively, I am inclined to think that the situation will have improved; that land values will have improved and that both Cardiff and Newport will attract the kind of development that they want.

Finally, perhaps I may return to a point that I made earlier. We must look to the opinions of the democratically elected local representatives of the citizens of the County of Gwent and of the Borough of Newport. They have thought long and hard about this; longer and harder than anyone else. To them will come the success; on them will rest the price of failure. We must assume that they speak for their citizens and that they speak with a majority voice. They are firmly behind this proposal. I think that we should back them in that.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, this is a Private Bill and there is no party line. The views that I express from the Dispatch Box are therefore my own personal views. I should add that I have no interest to declare except that I have much affection for the historic township of Caerleon and its Roman remains which adjoin the banks of the Usk.

The Bill is similar to the one which was presented to the House in March 1991 and which was given a Second Reading. Your Lordships will therefore be familiar with the complex arguments for and against the barrage project. But the points which have been made today arc the points which were also made last time round the course. The Bill was then given a Second Reading. I believe it is fair to say that we in this House have regard for precedent. I therefore very much hope, notwithstanding the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, that the Bill will be allowed to be considered by the Select Committee which, as usual, will be unfettered in its examination of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Stoddart in introducing the Bill set out very clearly its purpose and scope. He emphasised the conviction which is held by the elected representatives of Newport Borough Council and Gwent County Council that the Bill will attract new investment into that rundown part of Newport, which is to be found more or less in the centre of the city on both banks of the meandering river, and then provide much needed employment to the community and to its young people in particular. Many noble Lords have spoken in support of that objective in principle.

My noble friend went on to indicate that the project will bring other substantial benefits to the area. It should prevent the tidal flooding which has affected properties in parts of Newport with regularity in the past. We have heard how the untreated sewage outlets will have to be diverted. My noble friend also told your Lordships that the promoters, having taken advice, are satisfied that the barrage development is the best strategy for Newport.

However, there are 47 petitions which reflect the genuine concerns of local organisations, individuals and businesses, who believe that their interests or the environment will be damaged by the barrage. I have analysed these petitions. Of the 47 objectors,40 fear its impact on fish life—that is their main concern; 30 are concerned about damage to the ecology of the Usk Valley generally; 26 are concerned about water quality; 25 complain of inadequate compensation arrangements for the consequential loss that they might suffer; 20 fear siltation of the river; and 14 express some anxieties about the effect on ground-water levels and the lack of compensation provisions in the Bill. It is clear that the objectors have many friends in your Lordships' House today. I listened with great respect to the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, who delivered a speech which was worthy of his father. There are concerns but we can be sure that they will be listened to with great attention by the committee to which I very much hope the Bill will be referred.

We have often heard this evening that the Usk has two distinguishing and dominant features. Of all the rivers of the world it is reputed to have the second biggest tidal rise and fall, with the result that the quality of its waters up to the tidal limit is constantly maintained by a natural flushing process twice daily. Some 26 of the objectors fear that the quality of the waters, either upstream of the barrage or downstream of the barrage, will be adversely affected because the barrage thrown across the river will effectively stop the cleansing process. On the other hand, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that the promoters believe that the water quality standards of the NRA can be achieved and maintained. I rather thought that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, supported that view.

A second distinguishing feature of the Usk is that it is still one of the major salmon rivers of Wales. I was born and bred in the countryside and I have an appreciation of salmon fishing in Wales. The barrage will interfere with the free movement of salmon and other fish upstream and downstream. While the design of the barrage provides for the construction of a fish pass, I believe that there is agreement in the House that its detailed design may be the stiffest problem facing the promoters.

I do not intend to cause offence to any of the other objectors when I say that particular regard will have to be paid to the petition of the National Rivers Authority, which is the body with the prime statutory responsibility over the matters in question. We have had the benefit of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, giving us his assessment of the position as the NRA sees it. Indeed I was glad to learn from the noble Lord that there has been much co-operation between the promoters' experts and those of the NRA. But I saw when I read the petition that the NRA had not been satisfied, when its petition was filed, on a number of key issues. Indeed the petition seems to put the promoters to strict proof on several points. However, the technical advisers of the promoters and those of the NRA are by now in agreement on a number of issues which are mentioned in the petition.

Reference has been made by my noble friend Lady White to the Coastal Zone Protection and Planning Report, which was published last week. In fairness to my noble friend, I should say that she alerted me to the existence of the report. Your Lordships will appreciate that the promoters have not had an opportunity to study this important report. But clearly, wherever it is relevant, it will have to be considered and taken into account.

It is fair to emphasise that the promoters have been listening, as was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. During the 15 months which have elapsed since the original petition was deposited the promoters have undertaken further studies in order to see how best they can meet some of the outstanding concerns which have been voiced. On the question of the groundwater level, the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, who was chairman of the Select Committee which considered the equally complex Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, has spoken with particular knowledge of that subject. One knows how people in Cardiff were concerned about the effect on their properties. Nevertheless, in the list of amendments before the House, we at least have an amendment which would provide compensatory safeguards for the people of Newport, if their properties are damaged. However, there is no concession at present that the properties will be damaged.

As I said, I believe it is fair to say that the promoters have listened carefully to what has been said and have come forward with certain safeguards. But, having said that, there will be outstanding matters. There will be issues which remain unresolved. We must all accept that fact. That is usually the case where there is a conflict of competing rights as there may be in this instance. Moreover, it seems to me that the standards of proof demanded by the promoters in some of the petitions imply that such standards have an absolute significance in every respect. Well, that will be a matter for the Select Committee's consideration.

Therefore, I trust that the Committee to which I very much hope the Bill will be referred bearing in mind the fact that the first Bill was given a Second Reading and that, on the whole, we tend to follow precedents will form a judgment, after examination of all the petitions which have been deposited and consideration of all the evidence relating to the matters in dispute, in the light of the best of existing experience and knowledge.

The Bill is important for Newport. That is the testimony of the leaders of the borough council, supported by their constituents. It is important for the Usk Valley and for south-east Wales. I believe that the Bill deserves a Second Reading and that it should then receive the very careful attention of a Select Committee in accordance with normal practice. Such an examination would be unfettered by any rules, except those in relation to a search for the truth.

With regard to the Instruction tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, at first I wondered whether it was necessary as the three considerations referred to therein are covered in one or more of the petitions. Nevertheless, I should have thought that the considerations would not cause any difficulty for my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, on the usual understanding that they are not mandatory but permissive. In the words of Erskine May: They"— that is, the considerations outlined in the Instruction— should not fetter the discretion of the committee in dealing with the bill". The Instruction is not in breach of that principle.

8.3 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I should like to give a brief indication of the Government's views on the Bill, introduced so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

When a Bill to authorise the construction of a barrage across the Usk came before your Lordships' House in March 1991, the Government took a neutral stance. That is the position which, by tradition, the Government take on Private Bills. There is nothing in the Bill before us which lead the Government to take a different position. We have considered its contents and have no objections in principle to the powers being sought by Newport Borough Council. It is now for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers which they seek are justified.

My noble friend Lord Rees raised the question as to who would be the recipient of the ultimate liability should the promoters' financial forecasts be optimistic. That is a question that I shall answer in writing in due course. I am aware of the concerns about the possible environmental effects of the proposed barrage, especially the effects on migratory fish. A large number of the petitions against the Bill deal with that aspect. Petitioners will have the opportunity to present their objections to a Select Committee of this House which will, I am sure, want to examine the issues in detail.

The Government see no difficulty with the Instruction, to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and would not wish to stand in your Lordships' way in the matter. I hope the Bill will receive a Second Reading and that it will be allowed to proceed in the usual way to a Select Committee for detailed examination.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, we have had a long and most interesting debate. I do not quite know how I shall be able to pick up all the points—and the very relevant points that were made. I was pleased to hear the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, say that the Government's stance of neutrality had not changed since the Bill was last debated in your Lordships' House and that he believed the Bill should now proceed to a Select Committee so that it can be examined in detail.

I believe that noble Lords have done a service to the Bill in their remarks and, indeed, in the well-prepared speeches and points that were made. It is necessary that a Bill of this sort and magnitude, affecting as it does many interests and many people, should be given the time and attract the quality of debate that it deserves. I believe that we have had that this evening.

Perhaps I may now deal with some detailed points. I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, had a meeting with Newport Borough Council and its advisers. I am extremely pleased that he found those discussions helpful. There is no doubting the fact that the promoters want to be helpful; that is, not only to Newport itself, but also to the surrounding area. Indeed, they want to try to meet the objections of people who are at present opposed to the scheme.

It is true that 47 petitions have been lodged against the Bill. Of course, many involve the same objections, problems and worries. Nevertheless, those petitions have been lodged and they will have to be taken seriously. I hope that the Bill will proceed to a Select Committee so that such matters can be dealt with and argued in a proper manner.

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, accepts that Newport Borough Council and Gwent County Council are concerned about the interests of their people and that he finds the scheme acceptable; that is, in relation to the employment that it would provide and the improvements it would make in Newport. He feels that the major problem with the Bill is the risk to migratory fish, especially salmon—and, indeed, other fish—of extinction. That is something which must worry us all. I have to say, however, that the risk to migratory salmon over the past decades has not been from the proposed barrage, but obviously from other factors. I say that because rod catches have been reduced by such an enormous proportion over those decades. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, seems to disagree. However, the records show that there has been a drop in rod catches over a period of time.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I should not have dreamt of intervening except for his reference. I was merely going to observe that our studies of all rivers suggest that it is rash to reach conclusions about this matter on short-term cycles. There are short-term problems and short-term cycles, but it is the job of the NRA, at any rate, to look at the long term and the potential and ability to restore a river to what it was in the past. I do not believe that we have any evidence to show that the problems in this river that have been confronted in the recent past are any more capable of resolution than they have been in other rivers which have been equally afflicted but which are now restored to the quality of days gone by.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I would not disagree with the noble Lord, but I felt that I had to make the point that over the period I have described salmon catches have been dropping for some reason. We do not know what the reasons are. Perhaps we should do more to find out and to ensure that, whatever happens, rod catches increase.

I return to the Instruction of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I intend to accept it. The promoters do not see that it presents a difficulty.

As chairman of the NRA, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has not just the right but the duty to ensure that any scheme on the River Usk will benefit the river, people on all stretches of the river, the fishing and the wildlife in the river. I hope that he will agree that Newport Borough Council, with its engineers and advisers, has kept up a constant dialogue with the NRA in an attempt to resolve the real difficulties and differences which exist between them.

I am sure that the noble Lord will understand that Newport Borough Council, the promoters, wish to continue the dialogue. However, when all is said and done, a decision has to be reached. We cannot argue the detail this evening. The detail will have to he argued in committee. Much of what the noble Lord said will be the subject of argument in committee. The committee will have to be satisfied that the borough council has met in full the objections of the NRA, in particular. The fears that he has expressed will be dealt with by the committee. He was right when he said that it was not possible to know the result before the event. That is the most difficult problem that the promoters and everyone else have to confront, but with the best advice available, Newport Borough Council believes that its proposals, especially the fish locks, will ensure that game fishing in particular is not damaged unduly.

The noble Lord said that agreement had been reached on water quality. That is so. The NRA is now more satisfied about flood control than it was when the Bill came before your Lordships' House in 1991. Some progress has been made. I hope that further progress can be made in due course.

My noble friend Lady White, whom I thank for her kind remarks about my opening speech, believed that substantial difficulties remain. As we heard, substantial difficulties do remain. She believes that we should see what happens to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill before we proceed with this Bill.

Baroness White

My Lords, I am not worried about the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. I am worried about Cardiff Bay's performance.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I understand. But this is a different Bill, involving different impacts on the environment. It raises problems different from those raised by the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

Baroness White

My Lords, both of them have bright blue water in their advertisements.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, my noble friend is obviously thinking about blue algae. While blue algae might be a problem—I do not know this—in Cardiff Bay, I believe that it has been agreed that it will not be a problem in Newport.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—if he will forgive me—is obviously struggling as he winds up on the Bill. Will he say whether there is anything improper in rejecting the Second Reading of the Bill because many voices have been raised against it during the course of the debate?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I am not struggling. I am trying to answer the detailed queries that have been raised. He always tried to do that when he was a Minister, and he did it well, although at times he appeared to be struggling. It is necessary to deal with the points that have been made. I shall come to the other point he made in a moment when I deal with the speech made by his noble friend Lord Kimball.

My noble friend Lady White also criticised the Private Bill procedure. Many noble Lords on both sides of the House agree with her. But we have to deal with the Bill under the existing procedure; so I am afraid that it is before your Lordships' House tonight. My noble friend also referred to the Government's response to the second report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment entitled Coastal Zone Protection and Planning. It is a useful document. I looked especially at paragraph 125 which states: The Government will seek, through sensitive planning and management, to integrate conservation and development in the coastal zone. Whilst conservation may be the dominant aim on the undeveloped coast, protection of the environment and of the coastal resource will be an important consideration in assessing development proposals on any part of the coast. On the urban coast, the emphasis will be on improvement and regeneration to improve attractiveness and to encourage development to locate there and relieve pressure on the undeveloped coast. This approach is reflected in draft Planning Policy Guidance on the coast which is currently out for consultation". That is what Newport is trying to do through this Bill.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Rees, felt some sympathy for the Bill and for the people of Newport and Gwent, he was worried about the financing. He wanted to know how it would be dealt with. As I understand it, the total cost of the scheme will be £70 million, of which £20 million has already been set aside in balances by Newport Borough Council. A further £5 million will be obtained, by the time the scheme is running, by the provision of a £1 community charge over the next five years. It is estimated that land sales will bring in about £15 million; borrowing will be £15 million; and contributions from other parties are expected to be about £15 million.

My noble friend Lord Mason also entered the fray; he was worried about the fishing. I have tried to answer some of the points which have been raised, and I thank him for putting his views. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said that any form of artificial obstruction in a river impairs the ability of the fish to swim up river and spawn.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, we agreed that the fish could get through, but the effect of being held up makes them reluctant to take. I agree that a percentage gets through, but the hold-up destroys their ability to provide spawn.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, that may be so. The noble Lord is an expert on the matter and I am not. However, I understand that in many rivers fish are assisted over locks and have not necessarily been affected. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, suggested that there was absolutely no reason why there should not be a vote on Second Reading. He quoted two Bills—I believe, the North Devon Water Bill and the North Devon Electric Power Bill, the Second Readings of which were opposed in 1937. That was 55 years ago and there has been no precedent since then.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will be so gracious as to give way. I took a Private Member's Bill on boxing to a Division on a Second Reading debate last year, and won. So there has been a precedent since 1937.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I believe that the noble Earl is confusing a Private Member's Bill with a Private Bill and therefore his precedent does not apply. There is no modern precedent for a Private Bill of this kind to be opposed on Second Reading. Frankly, I believe that it would be unfortunate if it were opposed on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Elibank, believed that the Bill raised many issues which should be pursued and examined by a committee. I believe that that is the correct course. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, will not press the Bill to a Division tonight but will allow the committee to examine it in the detail in which it should be examined, so that fairness applies to all sides.

I welcome the support of the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, who dealt with many of the points which had been raised previously. My noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris made an interesting point about groundwater levels, but I hope that he will agree that Newport Borough Council has dealt in good part with what he said by putting an additional clause into the Bill.

The noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, was worried about the difficulty of passage for migratory fish and about the water quality. I hope that I have dealt with those matters so far as I am able in replying to other noble Lords. I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for his support of the Bill. He knows the area extremely well and believes that the measure should be given a Second Reading.

I said to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that I would be prepared to accept the Instruction. I believe that it is not necessary because the issues are covered by petitions. Nevertheless, I see absolutely no reason why we should not agree to the Instruction. Rather than having a debate when it is put to the House after the Bill has been given a Second Reading, I welcome it now. Again, I thank noble Lords for their interest in the Bill and hope that it will be given an unopposed Second Reading.

8.26 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be read a second time?

Their Lordships divided: Contents,24; Not-Contents,24.

Division No.1
Airedale, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Clanwilliam, E. [Teller.] Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Elibank, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gregson, L. StoddartofSwindon, L. [Teller.]
Hamwee, B. Tordoff, L.
Howell, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Wharton, B.
Judd, L. White, B.
Lockwood, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Monson, L. Wynford, L.
Aldington, L. Lucas, L.
Barber, L. Margadale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Moran, L.
Cox, B. Newall, L.
Cross, V. Palmer, L.
De L'Isle, V. Rankeillour, L.
Dilhorne, V. Reay, L.
FaithfuII, B. Renton, L.
Glenarthur, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly
Jenkin of Roding, L. Seccombe, B.
Kenilworth, L. Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.]
Kimball, L. [Teller.] Skelmersdale, L.
The Deputy Speaker (The Viscount of Oxfuird)

My Lords, there being an equality of votes, in accordance with Standing Order No.54 which provides that no proposal to reject a Bill shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such rejection, I declare the Motion agreed to.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, as the Bill has now been given a Second Reading, I beg leave to move the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper to which I have already spoken. The Instruction aims to point out the key points that I believe the committee needs to address. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the Bill is committed that in view of the significance and importance of the River Usk they shall consider

  1. (a) whether the extent of any damage or the risk of damage to the ecology or the economy of the Usk Valley or to the passage of migratory fish resulting from the construction of the Barrage has been fully appraised and is an acceptable cost;
  2. (b) whether there is a sound basis for financing the proposed development particularly in the prevailing economic climate and in the light of other intended developments such as the Cardiff Bay barrage; and
  3. (c) whether the economic regeneration of Newport and the adjacent areas could be better achieved by means other than building a barrage.—(Lord Moran.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.