§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill, which has already passed a very close scrutiny in another place, contains important provisions for a unified control of the river systems in England and Wales. Fishery boards under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, have done, and are still doing, very valuable work. The same can be said of catchment boards which were established under the Land Drainage Act, 1930. Each of these authorities has, of course, a complete control over one or more important river systems. But, unfortunately, the unsavoury state of many of our rivers is a painful witness to the inadequacy of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876. There are, of course, exceptions in the Thames and Lee Valley, and in certain parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the authorities have complete powers under local Acts and are not frustrated by the neglect of neighbouring authorities. Taking the country as a whole, there are far too many authorities dealing with pollution, there being no fewer than 1,600.
It is clear, therefore, that for the prevention of pollution, as in the case of both drainage and fisheries, each river system ought to come under the control of one authority. That is the first thing which this Bill sets out to do. It may be regarded as a simple reform, but I think that it will have far-reaching results. The Bill goes further than that. Measures of control are needed, as works required with regard to drainage, fisheries, and prevention of pollution, are often complementary and interlocking. We believe that these matters are best dealt with as a whole by one authority rather than by the three authorities as is the case at the moment. It is our hope, therefore, than any differences can be resolved round the table and a unified policy developed.
The Bill provides for the setting up of river boards to take over existing powers of catchment boards, fishery boards and 1954 pollution authorities. The river boards will closely co-operate with navigation authorities. They will both have a common interest in maintaining the river banks and keeping rivers free from obstruction. In odd cases it may very well be that it would be sensible for the river board to become a navigation authority and, with full and proper safeguards, the Bill enables this to be done. To complete the picture, river boards will clearly have a major interest in both rainfall and river flow, for this knowledge must be fundamental to their work. Therefore, the Bill provides for the measurement and recording of rainfall and river flow by river boards and for the payment of grants for construction of gauges and other necessary works. Such information, when collected, will be made available to the Ministry of Health, providing a continuous up-to-date record of over ground water resources never before available for planning our national water policy. These are important and, I believe, far-reaching requirements.
But that is not quite the end of the story. The powers the new river boards are taking over are not nearly as comprehensive as perhaps many hon. Members, including myself, may wish. A great advance in drainage legislation was made by a minority Socialist Government in 1930. I believe that that Act worked very well indeed. It has saved for us scores of thousands of acres of land which otherwise might not have been available for food production. But after some 18 years, the time is ripe for a further improvement. The same applies to the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act of 1876 which has not worked so well. The fundamental defect was the multiplicity of authorities on different stretches of the same river. I hope that this Bill will remedy that, after 70 years in which little or nothing has been done.
Even with regard to pollution, I think the powers need modernising. When the Central Advisory Water Committee was set up in 1945, the Government requested them to set up a sub-committee to review pollution legislation and make recommendations. They have now set up another sub-committee to examine the question of land drainage, and both these sub-committees are now actively at work. In these circumstances, the Government thought it right to exclude altogether from this Bill any general amendment of exist- 1955 ing powers, in regard to either pollution or drainage. I have no doubt that, during the course of the Debate, many suggestions will be made, and I may say that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture are not without ideas themselves, but these matters, at the moment, are more or less sub judice, and I trust that the House will agree that we must deal with them in proper stages.
The administrative reforms contained in this Bill take us a long step forward. They prepare us for the next stage—the modernisation of drainage law and pollution law—and, once the two subcommittees have reported and made their recommendations, I hope that either this Government or some Government will not hesitate to proceed according to those recommendations. The setting up of these rivers boards, 29 in all, will be a long job. Indeed, it may very well be that, before the last river board has been finally established, we shall be ready with amending legislation, but, in the meantime, the new boards will exercise all the existing powers concerning drainage, fisheries and pollution.
The Bill, as outlined, is broadly based on the recommendations of the Central Advisory Water Committee in their third Report of August, 1943, which was generally endorsed by the Coalition Government; in other words, it was an agreed Measure in 1943, and I hope it will be an agreed Measure in 1948. Some details, however, had to be worked out, and several vital decisions had to be taken. For instance, the extent and definition of river boards areas, the composition of the river boards, and, of course, their finance, and I shall more or less confine my remarks to those three vital things. Despite our "sweet reasonableness" during the past several months, I fear that we have not been able to please everybody. There are so many interests involved that we have proceeded by way of the normal, natural, British compromise, and I think that we have reached a fair balance. None the less, I shall listen with great attention to any observations which hon. Members may care to make, although I anticipate in advance that they will more or less cancel each other out and prove that we have reached a fair balance.
Clause I requires the Ministries of Health and Agriculture to define river 1956 board areas for the whole of England and Wales, except London and the Thames and Lee Valley Catchment Areas. We take the view that on all the river systems in the country problems of drainage, fisheries and pollution arise to some extent. Then there is the need for measurement of all water resources. For this reason, all areas should be brought under control and equipped with proper powers, excluding, of course, London and the Thames and Lee Valleys, who have almost identical powers with those embodied in this Bill. We are, however, giving to them the powers and duties of gauging in their own interests and to complete the water records for the whole country. If, later on, these areas wish to be brought under a river board system, then Clause 7 makes provision for that to be done. The provisions of Clause I mean that all parts of the country, whatever their situation, will contribute through rates to the expenses of the river boards, and that implies that some areas will contribute for the first time to the cost of drainage in this country. We think, and I hope the House agrees, that it is just and fair for all the community to contribute to these services, just as they contribute to the health and highways services and other communal services in the country.
Not only local authorities, however, are concerned. There are many other interests involved in the manner in which the country is finally divided up. We all know the outline of the jigsaw puzzle, namely, the coast line of Britain. With the exceptions which I have mentioned of London and the Thames and Lee Valley areas, for the rest of England and Wales, the Milne Committee, on whose recommendations this Bill is founded, tried its hand at dividing the country into separate areas. It was clear, however, from the very start, that every area would be hotly contested, and that it would mean something like a super Speaker's Conference to bring about harmony among the various interests. I should like to emphasise that the boundaries of catchment boards and fishery interests rarely coincide, and they never agree with the boundaries of the pollution authorities, which are more or less based on local government areas. Not unnaturally, each district desires to be tacked on to its rich neighbour, and few have wanted to be tacked on to their poorer neighbours.
1957 I simply mention these examples to show the unwisdom of trying to schedule areas in a Bill of this kind. Rather is it far better to leave it to set up each area separately after the Bill has been passed into law. In a word, we want to establish a system of river boards that will endure, and to do so will call for a lot of tact and a good deal of patience at the same time. We shall see that all the various interests have their say, and we shall study all the implications, and then I hope we shall be able to go ahead. The Bill itself provides for consultation at all stages, and, in the last resort, should any objections not be withdrawn, then orders defining river board areas can be taken to Parliament under special Parliamentary procedure. The various local considerations, we thought, could not be adequately argued out on the Floor of the House of Commons, and we think the way we are going is the most democratic way.
The composition of the river boards also raises certain controversial issues. Here, we have endeavoured to settle the broad framework and much detail in Clause 2. Parliament will, of course, settle the general questions of principle in the Bill itself, and it should not be necessary, if objections are pressed here, for detailed proposals for individual boards to come back to Parliament later, for all these are matters that ought to be left to the responsible Minister or Ministers in charge. I should like, before explaining the detailed provisions in Clause 2, to refer to the questions of principle on which it is based, since the details will follow naturally from these general principles, and any proposals for amendment must be tested against them. We want the boards to be small enough to be manageable and yet large enough to enable the area to be adequately covered, and we decided on 40 as a maximum membership, compared with 31 for catchment boards, and we want the members of the boards to work together as a team.
River boards will have many functions, and their work will affect a variety of interests. We want these different interests, where they appear to conflict, to be capable of being harmonised by the board. They will have members directly concerned with their main functions, such as drainage and fishery interests, but these specialists, in my view, are not there as spokesmen for their special 1958 interests. They are there to contribute their knowledge and experience to the unified working of the board. It has been suggested that interests such as industry, water undertakings, navigation authorities and so on should have direct representation on the boards, but that is not the way in which our local government in this country has been built up, and smooth working is not likely to be achieved by any board composed of the spokesmen of a variety of interests. We should more likely get a series of dogfights, and very few sensible objective decisions. Moreover, such a board representing all the various interests would, perhaps, be too unwieldy, and, in the end, the interests would not get the protection which their advocates desire.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
My right hon. Friend talked just now of fishery interests. Does he comprise and include in fishery interests anglers, as such, and organisations which they represent, because that is a point about which many fishermen feel rather strongly?
§ Mr. Williams
When one refers to fishery interests, one means fishery interests in their fullest sense. I do not see how I can provide a better interpretation than that.
We propose that local government authorities, who will contribute substantial sums to the revenue of the board, should have the right to appoint a majority of the members. These representatives will have a broad, varied knowledge and experience of the activities and interests of the authority which appoints them to the board. In other words, they are representatives in a most comprehensive sense. I believe they can be relied upon, as they were as members of catchment boards, to secure a broadminded, wise, and progressive administration, harmonising the activities of the board with all the local interests affected by them.
In the Land Drainage Act, however, there was a discrimination against county borough councils, for, however much their ratepayers contribute to the revenue of the board, they may not appoint more than half the local authority membership. In relation to river boards, we think it proper to abolish that discrimination. I do not believe they will use their power to oppose necessary expenditure; neither 1959 do I believe that they will be split into various factions—county council, county borough, drainage, and fishery factions. On the contrary, I think that urban and rural interests will, in future, as they are doing in many areas today, work together as a team, aiming at good drainage, clean rivers, and pleasant sport for the fishermen whose interests my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) represents.
We are limiting membership to those interests which contribute direct to the funds of the Board, or which are concerned with the main activities—land drainage and fisheries. One member will be appointed by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. For the rest, the team will be composed of persons appointed, by county councils, county borough councils, and by the Minister of Agriculture to represent drainage boards and fishery interests in the river board area.
The burning question is, of course, how shall we divide up this representation? Many different views have been put forward, but I am afraid they are very largely partial. The popular view is that the division should be according to the contributions paid to the board. This is the basis on which local authority representation will be divided between county councils and borough councils—a proper basis, because they are like authorities. The view of the Government is that a different approach is needed in allocating membership between drainage and fishery specialists, and local authority members.
If hon. Members were to take the view, which the Government reject, that river boards will be battlefields of conflicting interests, it might be regarded as fair that those drainage boards which contribute the majority of the revenue should have the majority, or nearly so, of the membership of a river board. However, if that line were taken, then they must accept the converse, namely, that, in areas where drainage boards contribute little or nothing to the revenue, they should have little or no membership of the river board. The Government do not take that view; we do not think of these boards in terms of voting power, and there is no question about it of either fairness or unfairness. The sole object is to secure a balanced team. Every member has, or should have, 1960 a contribution to make, regardless of the sources from which the revenue is derived.
After all, the specialists are only experts on two functions, no matter how important those functions may be. On the other hand, river boards have a wide range of functions affecting many interests. This, obviously, calls for very strong local authority membership. Apart from this, local authority members are often experts on drainage and fishery matters. Some of the very best catchment board chairmen in the country were appointed by one or other local authority. Therefore, we need have no fear that the boards will be lacking in either sympathy or knowledge in regard to either drainage or fishery matters. Should any river boards forget the interest of fishermen—the anglers in particular—it will not take the anglers very long to remind them of their duty. Particularly will that be the position so far as local authority representatives are concerned.
Therefore, with such varied activities affecting so many interests, local authorities must, I repeat, have a majority of members. Indeed, I very much doubt whether the community which pays the rates would have confidence in the boards were that not so. On the other hand—and I would like to stress this—drainage and fishery interests must have a substantial proportion of the membership, however much or however little they contribute financially. After all, their advice and knowledge will be urgently needed. We know that the financial contributions from different sources will vary greatly from one area to another, just as, indeed, will the amount of work to be done, but that in no way affects the issue. In some areas where drainage is of special importance, such as, say, the Fens, in which the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) is keenly interested, it might be of advantage to have one or two extra members from drainage boards, but I can see no possible advantage in any greater flexibility than that.
I am afraid I have dealt rather at length with this matter because the Government originally proposed that, after the one member had been appointed, local authorities should appoint not more than two-thirds or less than three-fifths of the members. But, in another place, 1961 despite the arguments I have just advanced—I hope fairly—the minimum local representation was reduced to one-half of the board. The Government do not agree with that change, and we propose to move an Amendment in Committee to reinstate the original provision. It may, on the face of it, appear a very small matter. I am satisfied, however, that it is fundamental to restore the balance which we sought to achieve in the constitutional provisions of this Bill. It was argued in another place—I do not want to enter into strong arguments now—that, after all, it was only permissive, and that I need not use the power if I did not wish to. All I have to say is that I do not want the power since I am never likely to use it, and that I do not want any of my successors to be tempted by it.
The Minister of Agriculture will determine the allocation of members between drainage and fishery authorities, having regard to the relative importance in each area, and he will appoint those members when the boards have been constituted. I have looked quite sympathetically at proposals involving the direct appointment of the interests concerned, or of appointments from various panels, but we think that such proposals would be administratively unworkable, and are also unnecessary. Moreover, we are naturally anxious to appoint the best possible representatives of both drainage and fishery interests, and we shall, therefore, consult widely with people who are best able to advise, namely, the local interests themselves. Indeed, the Bill requires us to do so, even if common sense did not dictate this course.
Clause 2(5) contains a provision whereby larger county districts may, in appropriate cases, nominate persons for appointment by the county council as part of their membership of the river board. I think that is right, because the dividing line between some county boroughs and larger county districts is often very narrow, and in some counties one or two districts provide large parts of the county council precept. This provision, therefore, seems a proper one, and it will help to broaden the interests of larger county districts in the activities of the board.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
Is that actually the case? Is not the county council precept spread over the whole county?
§ Mr. Williams
In some counties one or two of the county districts pay a very 1962 large proportion of the county rate. Therefore, we give them the right to nominate to the county council a proportion of the county council representation on a river board. Subsection (7) of Clause 2 continues for river boards a long-standing arrangement under which colliery owners in the Doncaster area, where mining subsidence creates important drainage problems, have representation on the Trent and Ouse catchment boards. Later in the Bill, in Clause 8 (4) we have provided for an additional member to be appointed by the Minister of Transport to represent navigation functions where those interests are of substantial importance.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the constitution of the river boards, would he deal with a point which is the cause of very real difficulty on both sides of this House? I think the sooner he deals with this question the better. He said that all interests would be represented; he also said that local authorities would have a majority of the nominations. Subsection (5) of Clause 2 provides that the higher the rateable value of a district, the greater the representation on the river board. But in most cases the higher the rateable value the greater will be the probability of pollution. Amenity, on the other hand, has no rateable value. How, then, will the interests of amenity be represented on these boards? I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman has not even mentioned the question of amenity.
§ Mr. Williams
I should have thought that the hon. Member, who is so closely identified with local government, would at once have seen that the local authority representatives would be the representatives of amenity.
§ Mr. Williams
I should have thought that members of a town, urban or city council were appointed because of their wide and varied knowledge, and of the general interests they represent within their township or area. As these river boards will finally form very large local government authorities themselves, they will be responsible for amenities.
§ Mr. Perrins (Birmingham, Yardley)
The Minister has touched on every conceivable representation but one, namely, the interests of the people who use the river as drinking water. For example, Birmingham gets its water from Rhayader, 54 miles away. There are two small rivers, the Elan and Claerwen, which run into the Wye. Birmingham has no county interest to secure representation, although 1,200,000 people have their water from Rhayader, and in addition, we have waterworks undertakings there. Does my right hon. Friend propose that there shall be a provision for the water consumer interests to have representation on the board?
§ Mr. Williams
It is not generally understood that a drainage authority is responsible not only for sending surplus water off to the sea as quickly as possible, but also for the provision in certain areas of water for thinking purposes. In the case referred to by my hon. Friend, quite obviously Birmingham, a very large ratepayer, will have quite a sizeable representation on the river board affecting Birmingham, and, to that extent, it will have direct representation.
§ Mr. Perrins
What I wish to know is whether Birmingham will be given representation on the river board in the area from which it takes its water.
§ Mr. Williams
That depends on the geographical subdivision of the river board area.
Now I come to the all-important question of finance. The Bill largely reproduces the financial structure of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. The revenues of river boards will be secured, in part, from precepts by county councils and county boroughs in the river board area, and they will inherit the powers of catchment boards to require contributions from local drainage boards and to secure such revenue as may be available from the issue of fishery licences and levying fishery rates. Grants from my own Department, of course, will still be available under Clause 55 of the 1930 Act in respect of land drainage works, and will be extended to cover expenditure on the installation of gauges. I would refer particularly to Clause 10 (3). Under the Land Drainage Act, catchment boards can, on their own decision, levy a precept up to the produce of a 2d. rate on county 1964 councils and county borough councils. Precepts above that rate, however, can be, and in many cases are, levied, but only with the consent of a majority of members who are appointed to the catchment boards by local authorities.
In this Bill we have reproduced the same conditions, except that we have substituted a 4d. for a 2d. precept. There are many factors to account for this. In comparison with catchment boards, river boards will exercise functions in relation to fisheries, prevention of pollution, gauging and possibly navigation. I need hardly say that the cost of works, administration, maintenance and wages have all increased considerably since 1930. River boards will be administering functions and drawing revenue from areas previously entirely outside catchment board jurisdiction. For all these reasons we think the figure of 4d. is appropriate. We do not rule out any subsequent review of this figure, which may be proposed by the sub-committee reviewing the problem of either drainage or pollution, but 4d. seems the appropriate figure for this Bill.
I must emphasise the reason for this provision. I am not suggesting that the product of a 4d. rate is the most that should ever be provided by local authorities in any area to meet the cost of all the functions of river boards. Far from it. The needs will obviously vary from area to area. I believe that local authorities will vote whatever is reasonably necessary to carry out their work effectively, but it would clearly be wrong to give river boards which are only partially composed of members appointed by rating authorities, an unlimited right to impose a charge upon rates. Some limit, therefore, had to be fixed at which the decision to increase the precept will rest with persons appointed by rating authorities, and this Bill, therefore, fixes that limit.
I need not traverse in detail the remaining Clauses of the Bill which raise few or no general policy issues. On various matters, such as borrowing powers, acquisition of land, powers of entry and making of by-laws, the Bill provides a uniform up-to-date procedure to replace the differing procedures for separate functions under existing legislation. On certain other issues, such as the power to promote legislation, default powers and holding of inquiries, we are assimilating the procedure 1965 applicable to river boards, which will be important local authorities, to that applicable to local government authorities under the Local Government Act, 1933, and the Public Health Act, 1936. In particular, we are providing in Clause 28 that officers of the river boards shall come within the scope of the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1937, and the Clause also deals with transfer of pension rights, and Clause 29 provides for compensation for displaced persons on the lines of recent legislation.
Although this is a non-political Measure, I should like, in conclusion, to make what I think is one valid political point. Although the policy under the Bill is agreed, it is, after all, a Socialist Government which found time to introduce it. We have all heard a lot about the scandal of pollution, for many years, yet nothing has been done over the past 70 years, and it is left for a very hard-pressed post-war Socialist Government to do the job, as well as setting up the two sub-committees to which I have referred to carry the thing a stage further. We trust these two sub-committees will carry on the good work.
Moreover, it would not be out of place if I were to remind the House that it was a minority Socialist Government which passed the Land Drainage Act, 1930, which led to many important developments in this field. In fact, as we stand at the moment, our food production expansion programme demands efficient drainage all over the country and, whatever the cost, I am one of those who believe it is a sound long-term national investment. I therefore commend this Bill to the House as an important advance in the control of our river system. I also commend it as being in the tradition of my party, which has always been concerned with good local administration and, certainly, has always been concerned with the full development of our natural resources.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)
The Minister has given a very full discourse on the Measure before the House, but I cannot agree with the last passages of his speech. It may be that a Socialist Administration has brought in the actual text of this Bill, but, as the Minister himself said, the whole Bill is based on the 1966 third Report of the Central Advisory Water Committee, which was issued in August, 1943, under a Coalition Government, in which the party on this side of the House had a very preponderant majority. My right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House do not consider this is a Measure which divides the House on party lines, very largely because of that fact, and because the objects of this Bill are accepted by all parties and by all Members, in whatever part of the House they sit. On this side of the House, we consider this Measure to be a useful preliminary, and nothing more, to further reforms which are needed for the better management of our river system in England and Wales.
At the present time, there are in England 45 fishery boards, 53 catchment boards dealing with land drainage, and some 1,600 pollution authorities. In addition, there are many areas not covered at all by any catchment board authority. Under this Bill, it is proposed to replace all these authorities by river boards which will cover the whole of the country, with the exception of London and the Thames and Lee Catchment Board areas. We on this side of the House accept the need for the proposed change to enlarge the administrative units responsible for our waterways. In effect, this is all the present Bill accomplishes. It does not propose to alter the law or to take any new power, and much will have to be done before we can deal with the problem of pollution and improvement in the land drainage system. The only new powers taken under this Bill are in Clause 9, which deals specifically with the conservation of water resources and the provision of information in regard to each river board area. We accept these new proposals and agree with them, because we believe it is important that, not only should our waterways be made clean, but, looking into the far distant future, our water supplies should be conserved in every way possible.
Even in this last year, 1947, we had an extreme example of how, in certain parts of the country, we could get in a very short period of time alternative disasters due to floods and drought. In the spring of 1947, the House will remember, great damage was caused by floods, which were followed in the early summer by extensive drought in many districts. It is hoped 1967 that when the river boards become established, they will be suitable units to deal with this particular problem, although it may be a very long time before we see that position materialise.
The Minister has told us that the number of river boards is likely to be in the nature of 29 and that, no doubt, he has adopted from what is known as the Milne Committee's Report. I would like to refer to one curious omission from this Report, because I believe it is of great interest to hon. Members from West Country constituencies; in the map attached to this Report, out of all the areas in England and Wales, the County of Cornwall is completely blank, and apparently there is no provision for any river board in that county. I do not want to dwell any further upon that point, but if hon. Members from that part of the country should happen to catch your eye later in the Debate, Mr. Speaker, no doubt that point will be developed, because it seems curious that this important area should have been left out of the considerations of that Committee.
The Minister referred in his speech to navigation authorities, but I am not quite clear in what manner it is proposed that the river boards will co-operate with these authorities. Clause 8 deals with this point, and Subsection (4) provides for an additional member to be appointed by the Minister of Transport in certain cases. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to give us some more information on this point, and I would like to ask him the specific question whether, where navigational problems arise—as, for example, the areas with which I am particularly familiar, the Humber and the Tees—there will be some special organisation linked up with the river boards, to deal with them, as at present conceded in the case of the River Thames. I would like to have some more information on that point, if it is possible, at the end of the Debate.
I turn next to finance. The Minister dealt fully with the financial provisions of the Bill in which, he explained, the revenues of the river boards will follow the financial structure of the Land Drainage Act, 1930. The areas will now be larger and, in future, the river boards will be entitled to levy a precept of 4d., instead of 2d. We consider this increase 1968 reasonable, but I ask the Minister whether the new river boards to be set up under this Bill will be empowered to finance the small internal drainage boards, or whether an Amendment will be necessary to the Land Drainage Act, 1930? I ask this question because I understand that in many cases, owing to the incidence of drainage rates, the financial arrangements for small internal drainage boards are wholly unsatisfactory at the present time. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some more information on the matter.
Having in those general terms reviewed the set-up of the river boards, I turn to the three major points on which there are acute differences of opinion; although I think I am correct in saying that they in no way follow party lines. The first is the composition of the river boards; the second, the method of appointing the members of the boards; and the third, the prevention of pollution. For the most part, the details of the differences of opinion are Committee points with which we shall deal later. However, in regard to the composition of the river boards, a point of real substance has emerged from the Minister's speech.
I was really shocked to hear that the Minister proposes in Committee to move an Amendment to restore the original provision by which the representatives of county councils and county boroughs should not be less than three-fifths of the members of the river boards. In another place there were no fewer than four different occasions when Debates took place on this subject. The Government's representative in those Debates—and I have read them very carefully—was most sympathetic to the views expressed in them; and finally, after various suggestions had been made, the Bill was amended to substitute one-half in place of three-fifths. Why cannot the Minister accept the views expressed in the Debates in another place? I understand it is possible that the County Boroughs and the County Councils Association may not like the Amendment which was made, but I also understand, so far as the County Councils Association are concerned, that they do not intend to oppose the Amendment which was made. The Minister says in his defence that he does not want this additional latitude, and he expects us to use the argument that the Clause, as 1969 drafted now, is merely permissive. I think it is a very strong argument. Nobody is asking the Minister to do anything definitely. All that the Clause, as drafted now, does is to give the Minister power, should he think fit, to appoint up to one-half of the members of the boards to represent interests other than those of county or county borough councils. It seems to be a commonsense and reasonable attitude to adopt to give the Minister this discretionary power, and yet he comes to the House today and spoils the extremely good case for this Bill by striking this sledge hammer into the works.
§ Mr. Alpass
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman put the case for the Amendment concerning the representation of those authorities?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Yes, I am just about to do that. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to it. We accept straight away the fact that, in the case of the majority of the catchment boards, the greater part of their revenue comes from local authorities. In certain areas, however, the position is completely reversed. There may not be many of those areas, but there are areas where the position is definitely reversed. I will refer in detail to only one. In the Welland Catchment Board area, which is likely, I understand, to become one of the new river board areas, in the year 1946–47 the local authorities contributed £6,970 towards the total expenditure of that board. The internal drainage board contribution to that board amounted to no less than £25,532.
Can anybody, by the widest stretch of imagination, say that, if the Minister alters the Bill as he has said he intends to do, in that particular catchment area the principle underlying the Bill will be followed, namely, that representation should follow the amount of contribution to the board? I am at an absolute loss to understand why the Minister should take this attitude on this particular matter, because this power is only permissive. No doubt, we shall argue this further on the Committee stage, and my hon. Friends and I will, no doubt, put forward other arguments to try to convince the Minister.
I turn to the second bone of contention—the method of appointing members of the river boards. Those members to be 1970 appointed by county councils and county borough councils are selected by the local authorities on the basis of how much the ratepayers of those authorities contribute to the revenue of the river boards. There may be points of detail concerning that to discuss in Committee. The remaining members of the boards are to be appointed by the Minister to represent drainage boards and fishery interests. The Minister referred to other organisations and bodies which hope for representation on the river boards. I should like to support the remarks which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) made just now about amenities. The Minister did not mention amenities in his speech. I think that definitely amenities ought to be considered during the later stages of the Bill. I know that the Council for the Preservation of Rural England is very anxious in regard to this point. On the other hand, it would be quite impossible to allow to sit on the boards representatives of all the people who hope to be members of the boards under the scheme as it exists today. However, I think there is room for discussion of the matter in Committee.
As far as the drainage and fishery interests are concerned, I am sorry that the Minister did not agree that appointments should be made directly from panels nominated by the interests concerned. I would refer briefly to the fishery interests, because they feel very acutely that, under this Bill, they are to be deprived of a right which they have had up to the present time. Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923, the scope of their representation on fishery boards was increased giving all classes of fishery interests a right to be represented. Under this Bill that will not be the case.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make a little clearer the reply given to the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) as to exactly what the term "fishery interests" in Clause 2 means. Does it include upstream anglers and riparian owners, as well as commercial fishermen in the estuaries and mouths of our rivers? We want an answer "Yes" or "No," and not the general observation, "Fishery interests are fishery interests," because that would not make the position any clearer. I ask the Minister to consider, between now and Committee stage, the possibility of giving these 1971 fishery interests the right to form a statutory fisheries committee, in order that they may appoint representatives to serve on the boards when asked to do so by the Minister. They constitute a considerable body of people; I understand that there are a million anglers in Great Britain, some of whom no doubt live in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, but the majority of whom reside in England or Wales.
Apart from hoping that these upstream anglers will be able to enjoy their fishing in the years to come as they have done in the past, I wonder whether the Minister has ever considered that automatically these anglers are as good as unpaid wardens for all the river boards in the areas in which they fish. The fish will spot pollution long before a human being. If a stream is polluted the fish will die, and the river board will hear about it more quickly from the anglers than through any of the complex machinery which has to be gone through under the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876. There seems to be a very strong case for allowing these people representation, first, to show that they are not forgotten, and secondly, because I believe they would be of great service to the river boards in the areas in which they fish.
I know that many of my hon. Friends have questions to ask in regard to the evil of pollution, which is growing worse every year, and the cost and time involved under the provisions of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876, no doubt prevent effective action from being taken. We note from the Minister's speech that the Government are now awaiting a report from the Central Advisory Water Committee's sub-committee on pollution legislation. We are pleased to hear from the Minister that legislation on this subject might be introduced before all the river boards have been established. Can the Minister indicate when the report will be available; whether it will be available to hon. Members; and whether he will give an undertaking that, when it does become available, he will lose no time in investigating these problems with great urgency? As I see it, no river board set up under this Bill will be able to tackle the evil of pollution as long as there are countless pollution authorities responsible for different stretches of the same stream. I hope the Minister will 1972 be able to give some assurance on that point.
The Minister appeared very confident that these river boards would not break up into factions. I hope he is right, because if they do break up into factions, the time of this House, and of everybody engaged in this legislation, will have been wasted. It is vital that members of each river board should become river board minded. In our counties and county boroughs, local loyalties have grown up during the passage of years. The essence of local government is that it should be local, and we on this side of the House are often at variance with hon. Members opposite when they try to control our local authorities from Whitehall. Many county boroughs have football teams of which they are proud, and which are famous throughout the country; and the same can be said of counties which have cricket elevens. All those activities build up local pride.
Under this Bill we are creating machinery for a new type of local authority—the river board. Although members of the board may be appointed for various reasons, it is essential, if the objects of the Bill are to be achieved, that their main consideration should be for the river board area as a whole—from the river sources in the hills, down through the valleys and the rural districts where drainage is of such vital importance to our agricultural industry, past the great cities where the prevention of pollution will be the chief pre-occupation of the river boards, until finally, as we hope, clean water flows out from the estuaries of our rivers into the ocean. If that spirit can be instilled into every citizen who becomes a member of a river board, and if the river boards are given the necessary powers or amending legislation to the Land Drainage Act and the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, I believe that in the fullness of time this Bill will achieve its objects, the results of which will be of great benefit to our national life.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Deer (Lincoln)
While I welcome the Bill as a co-ordinating and administrative Measure, I must express regret that we could not have waited a little longer in order to incorporate into the machinery of this Bill the promised amendment to the Land Drainage Act and the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act. 1973 I feel that we are taking two bites, as it were, when it would have been far better to clear up all our difficulties in one comprehensive Bill. When this Bill becomes an Act and we have set up our river board authorities we shall be faced with the problem that the difficulties which arise out of the anomalies we encounter today in respect of land drainage—particularly the financial provisions for land drainage—will still be with us. However, here we have the first stage, and I support the idea of having a larger authority with additional powers.
The question of representation is one which vitally affects many of my constituents, and I compliment the Minister upon his decision to return to its original form the percentage which was altered in another place. In a moment I will give my reasons for saying that. The important thing is that today many local authorities feel that in the operation of the Land Drainage Act they are under-represented on the basis of their financial payments towards drainage. There is another side of this, which I think hon. Members may have forgotten. I was interested to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) quote the case of the Welland Catchment Board, where the amount collected directly from local authorities was much less than that taken by the internal drainage boards. He argued, therefore, that there was a case for the drainage boards to have more representation, and for the local authorities to have less.
I will give an example which may be of interest to Members. In Lincoln we pay a drainage rate to the Witham and Steeping Rivers Catchment Board. The rate is now 2d.—it will be 3½d. Against that, we have three internal drainage boards, and the equivalent of a 1s. 4d. rate is collected, if we take into consideration what the ratepayers are paying to the internal drainage boards. In other words, the small ratepayer and the large ratepayer, who come within the drainage area laid down for the city, pay a considerably larger sum for internal drainage than the sum levied by the main authority. I suggest that the Minister, in considering how the county borough of Lincoln shall be represented, should not take into consideration this problematic 2d. or 4d., but should take into consideration the fact that we are paying the equivalent to a 1s. 4d. rate.
1974 I will give an example of how this works out. The agricultural land surrounding the area pays anything between 1s. 6d. and 10s. 6d. an acre for drainage. That is the average paid to the internal drainage boards. On the other hand, a working-class district with normal working-class houses assessed at £13 a year, taking one-third of the average annual value, pays between 2£ to £50 per acre. In the case of a business area, with banks, shops and so on, it has to pay £500 per acre.
With figures like these, it must surely be entirely wrong to argue that agricultural areas must have an over-riding claim for representation. We are having to pay these large sums by way of drainage rates, but our representation is entirely inadequate. In the case of two drainage areas the city pays over 50 per cent. of the total drainage rate, whereas in one case we represent less than one per cent. of the area, while in the second case we pay 58 per cent. of the total drainage rate and represent only 5 per cent. of the area. In view of the fact that three drainage areas enter the city, and the bulk of their money comes from the city ratepayers, who are inadequately represented on the internal drainage boards, it will be appreciated that we regard the amendment of the present Land Drainage Act as more important than the machinery provided by this Bill.
I urge the Minister to give us at the earliest possible moment the right to place our case before the sub-committee which is to report to him. I understand that the general case of the municipal corporations is being met, and it is therefore, being suggested that there is no need for aggrieved municipalities to make individual representations. I contest that. I suggest that the figures I have given prove that a city like Lincoln should be able to go to the sub-committee and influence them in coming to their decision and giving their advice to the Minister. I urge the Minister to give local authorities the largest possible representation, based on the principle that he who pays the piper should call the tune.
This situation is not peculiar to my area, but is typical of the position throughout the country. If we take the case of the Ouse Catchment Board, we find that Leeds and Sheffield provide half the money by precept, but have only four represen- 1975 tatives, while the rest of West Riding have 10. That sort of thing should not be allowed to happen. People who are being mulcted by drainage rates ought to be given a fair deal by having representation based on the amount of money paid out. The water boards are obviously more interested in prevention of pollution than anyone else, and their claims for representation are as important as any other sectional claims which are being made.
Drainage is a national service, and it should be developed nationally by means of grants. It would be much better to deal with it in this way, than merely to raise the amount of contribution from local authorities from 2d. to 4d. I do not know what is the reason for this change, except perhaps the difference in money values. On the other hand, it is significant that many of the main catchment boards are still managing on a 2d. rate. The Severn and the Trent, and others, are still only calling for a 2d. rate. I think it would be much better to wait until we got the further legislation, instead of dealing with the matter in this Bill. It may be that we shall see recommendations calling for additional national grants, which would be a better way of dealing with the problem.
While welcoming this Bill, I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the unfair deal which many local authorities and ratepayers have had, the unfair representation they have had, and the unfair burden they have had to carry. I hope that in the new machinery which will be provided my constituents and others will be able firmly to believe that they are getting a square deal, instead of having to pay a drainage rate out of all proportion to what they ought to pay while, at the same time, being subject to flooding. In my constituency, men came round in a boat to collect the drainage rate because of the flooding in the streets. The floods of last year were unprecedented in my area. Only half the area which was alleged to be subject to flooding was, in fact, flooded, yet the other half still had to pay the drainage rate, although it was completely proved that they ought not to have been called on to do so as the flood level was based on a flooding which took place in the 1700's, when another river, the River Trent, broke its banks. My constituents are thoroughly indignant 1976 about it, and will, I am sure, welcome the amending legislation which will be a corollary to this Bill.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
I hope the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Deer) will forgive me if I do not follow in detail some of the points he has raised today, although I hope to be able to show that there are two points of view about representation on river boards. It is not necessarily the man who pays who is interested in the welfare of rivers. The Minister said that nothing had been done in the past by way of legislation to protect our rivers. The trouble about past legislation, to a large extent, has been that it has aimed at maintaining the status quo; it has tended to say, "Let us make matters no worse." Now we have reached the stage where most of our rivers are in such a bad condition that when we have legislation which will give river boards power to act, I trust it will not be of the same order, but will give the boards power to take action not only to keep rivers in their present condition, but make things better in the future.
Many of our streams are a sorry sight. Nothing lives in them. I happen to be fortunate in coming from a part of the world where some of the rivers in which I am interested are, to some extent, still alive. The Severn is partially polluted, as are most of the other big rivers in the West County. The Wye is partially polluted, but other streams are practically free. They all present very different problems. This Bill will be entirely dependent on subsequent legislation for its usefulness. The Minister said that he hoped this Government, or another Government, would not hesitate to proceed with legislation affecting pollution. In another place, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture gave an assurance that such legislation would follow this Measure at a fairly early date, and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in this House, when he winds up the Debate, will confirm that statement.
In considering the position of river boards, there are many conflicting interests. Those interests will naturally look upon the action of the board from their own point of view. I feel that everybody is, at heart, interested in the general well-being of our rivers, on which 1977 the health and happiness of the people who live on their banks depend. At present, pollution is the great menace. It must be stopped and, not only that, we hope that the present position will eventually be improved. It is, however, an extremely difficult problem, and the cost of curing pollution is monumental. This, in a way, affects representation on river boards.
The borough of Bridgnorth, in my constituency, pollutes the River Severn. This small town has some 6,000 inhabitants, and most of its sewage goes in crude form into the river. This is a very bad thing, particularly as Bridgnorth is a town which is visited by people from the Black Country, who camp below the town in great numbers on the river bank, as they do further down at Bewdley, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) knows. People bathe and swim in the river, little realising that it is the main sewer of the town of Bridgnorth. Fortunately, it is a river of considerable volume, which mitigates the evil.
From Bridgnorth's point of view, it is interesting to see what may be their attitude to the river board. To purify their sewerage system would involve an expenditure of £150,000, which would mean an increased rate of 3s. or 4s. in the pound. A good many ratepayers' representatives, confronted with that problem, would be prepared to say, "Let us spend £150,000: it is a good thing," but the average ratepayer would be inclined to say, "We have put our sewage into the river for a long time. It does not matter to us; it flows downstream and is gone, so we shall not vote for an increase in the rates of 3s. or 4s."
That emphasises the point that the composition of the river boards must be broadminded if it is to give unbiased attention to the problem of pollution. That same problem recurs all the way down the river, and is at its worst at Gloucester. The pollution of the Severn at Gloucester considerably affects the fishery interest in the river. The Severn was once a fruitful source of salmon, most of which were caught in nets below Gloucester. Only a few fell to rod and line higher up the river. The effluent from Gloucester has become a great menace, and the river is considerably polluted, with the result that the yield of salmon is falling off rapidly. It was con- 1978 sidered possible, before the war, to free the source of the River Tyne by an expensive anti-pollution scheme for Newcastle. The cost of this work would have been about £7 million. That, again, shows what a colossal problem this is.
It is not only the salmon interests that are affected from the fisherman's point of view. On the River Severn great numbers of coarse fishermen come in many busloads every week-end, and I have frequently seen half-a-dozen buses lined up in one place for angling competitions. The problem of estuary pollution is not covered by any legislation at present existing. It is quite the most important problem of pollution so far as salmon fishing is concerned. Once the estuary is polluted, no salmon parr can get to the sea. They have to wait for some time in tidal water before changing from fresh water to salt, and they are invariably killed in the process. I hope that when pollution is considered in the future, estuary pollution will be given careful attention.
Another problem is water conservation. The Minister mentioned a Central Advisory Water Committee and two sub-committees which are to be set up to deal with river pollution and land drainage. I am sorry that he did not say that another sub-committee would be set up to deal with water conservation. In my opinion it will be one of the most important factors to be considered in the future. Clause 9 makes some provision for water conservation, but when we have a more modern world there will be a tremendous increase in the consumption of water. There has been a tremendous increase during the past 50 years. As every house becomes equipped with a bath and running water, consumption doubles and trebles in no time. As water is laid on to farms, more water is used, because the tendency is to give up using dirty little ponds from which the cattle drink and to fence them off in order to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. I do not suppose that there will be any great increase in the amount of water used for drinking. It is a dangerous practice as it rusts one's inside.
Another purpose which will increase the use of water, and which will be a considerable problem in future years, is 1979 irrigation. I have lately examined an irrigation plant in the Vale of Evesham. A simple plant of minimum size, with a piece of pipe about 200 yards long, will irrigate one acre. It is a common sight in the Evesham district. Many farmers have two or three sets of pipes, and the consumption of water equivalent to one inch of rain on one acre of land is 12,000 gallons a day. That amount of irrigation can be done in 10 hours. The majority of farmers irrigate two acres in a day, which uses 24,000 gallons of water. It is not difficult to imagine that at least Loco of these plants will soon be in use, and some two million gallons will then be required. This, again, is a matter which should receive careful attention. By increasing the use of water for irrigation, we can increase the acreage output to a tremendous extent. Yields will rise by 50 per cent. or more, provided that crops, particularly brassicas and roots, are frequently watered.
We seem to suffer from alternations of floods and droughts. In the town of Bridgnorth we have in the last few years had to raise flood relief funds. I hope that when the river boards are set up, attention will be given to increasing the number of large-scale reservoirs to catch the rainfall in the head waters of the rivers such as we have in the Elan Valley and at Vyrnwy. If sufficient reservoirs were built—I realise their very great cost—we should be able to prevent floods, and also be able to make available water supplies in summer when the rivers are at present a mere tepid trickle.
I wish that a board had been set up to consider water consumption which, I am certain, will be a very great problem during the next 25 years. Once a great deal of water is taken from the head-stream of a river in the summer, and from down its course, the level of flow is decreased, and the danger of pollution is correspondingly increased. Any poison in the stream becomes more effective. We learned that in the Wye last year, when the sewage put into the river at Hereford, while the water was very low, resulted in 300 fish being taken dead from the river at the height of the summer. That may be partly due to the amount of water taken off above Rhayader in the Elan Valley.
1980 I would like the Minister to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins). He asked that the Minister should say whether representation would be given on the river board concerned with the Wye in the Elan Valley to people who came from Birmingham. The Elan Valley supplies water for Birmingham. There is no probability that the councils affected at Birmingham will have anything to do with the Wye river area. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say whether they have, or will have, any representation on the Wye river board.
When we come to discuss in Committee the actual representation of the boards, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that it is not necessarily the people who pay the piper who are affected to a large extent. The people who live in the town through which a river flows probably pollute the river, but it is of no particular interest to them to purify the river. The people who suffer are those in the next town downstream, or the people who draw their water to farms and dwelling houses between the towns, or those who fish in the rivers. The river boards must consist of broadminded people who are concerned with keeping a good level of clean water in the rivers available to everybody throughout their course. I hope that the Minister will make arrangements to see that the boards are so composed.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I believe that everybody will welcome the Bill and that the interests concerned with the maintenance of our rivers and the prevention of flooding and pollution will recognise it as a first step in remedying a state of affairs in the upkeep of our watercourses that has become gradually worse. I would repeat a question which was put to the Minister from the other side of the House by an hon. Member who supported the Bill. He asked the Minister what was the position of the navigation authorities and wanted a definite reply. I wonder whether a satisfactory reply can be given, under the terms of the Bill.
The most important interests concerned with river upkeep are the navigation authorities, but they have been left out of substantial representation upon the 1981 river boards. Those authorities have been working for years against a number of obstacles and one would have thought that they would be the first to be considered in relation to the Bill. I cannot imagine anyone being completely satisfied with any answer that the Minister can give under the present terms of the Bill. I suggest that he should carefully consider trying to strengthen the representation of navigation authorities upon the river boards.
We can be more happy in our commendations of the Bill when we turn to questions of flooding and pollution. Everybody who has lived in a large river valley will know that the prevention of flooding and pollution has been impossible for some time. The Bill will enable people living in valleys to be made more secure against continuing flooding. We hope that pollution will be seriously tackled. The chief cause of pollution has been the rather unsavoury behaviour of industries and trades, which have been most carelessly permitted to pollute our river system. Industrial pollution is the chief culprit. We hope that the Bill will make it possible, in connection with other Bills like the Drainage Bill, to prevent such careless and harmful pollution. A number of rivers have been mentioned, but a true description of most of them today would be "open sewers."
We hope for a lot from the Bill but many people will wonder whether the Minister is trying to promote the full use of our rivers for navigation. After a number of years of reactionary and harmful legislation, we have reached a moment in our history when inland navigation can proceed as it was destined to do, especially with the aid of modern mechanics. It can be built up into an effective transport system under the responsibility of the British Transport Commission. We are, however, seriously concerned about the navigation position and the apparently accidental and arbitrary representation upon the boards. We wonder if the Minister will find it possible to make that representation stronger, so that the interests concerned can be fully and effectively dealt with.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I agree with what the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Harrison) said about navigation. It might interest the 1982 House to know that only 100 years ago my constituency took some part in the export trade. Goods used to be sent from Huntingdon 50 miles up the Ouse to the sea and to any port in Europe. Now the river is so silted up and full of weeds and reeds that it is not possible in some places even to row a rowing boat or paddle a canoe in the river in comfort. One realises the contribution that could be made to the export trade if freight charges could be reduced by goods being taken straight from the factory to the foreign port of delivery. One should bear in mind the position of great manufacturing towns like Peterborough, which is already making a great contribution to the export trade. I feel sure that, without very much trouble, much less trouble than the clearing of the Ouse from Huntingdon would involve, ships of fair size could deliver goods straight from, or from very close to, the factories in Peterborough to foreign ports. My claim to the attention of the House is based on the fact that the river Great Ouse flows through my constituency for 20 miles, and the river Nene forms its northern boundary for about 10 miles. Both those rivers flooded a very considerable agricultural area last year, as the Minister well knows.
The first point in the Bill which arouses my curiosity is that there is a sort of dual ministerial control. We find that the Ministers of Agriculture and Health are to perform a Siamese-twin act in the administration of the Bill. At a later stage, in connection with navigation, we find that the Minister of Transport lollops into the picture. I am all in favour of co-ordination, liaison and planning, but we need to know as a House of Commons exactly where the real responsibility will lie. We want to know to which Minister we are to write. Do we write to either or to both? If we write to both, will it take twice as long to get an answer as it would to get an answer from one? To whom should we put our Parliamentary Questions? That very wise angler Izaak Walton used to say:that that which is everybody's business is nobody's business.We must know whose business it is really going to be. I suppose we may get some indication from the fact that the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary seem to be attending upon the House in this Debate to a greater extent 1983 than the representatives of any other Department. But it is perfectly clear that, in the Bill, the three Ministers are jointly concerned. If hon. Members will turn to Clause 23, they will find a rather extraordinary state of affairs. It reads as follows:The Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Minister of Health or the Minister of Transport may cause an inquiry to be held in any case where it appears to them or him to be advisable to do so in connection with any matter arising under this Act or otherwise in connection with any functions of river boards.…I can see a pretty administrative muddle arising from that state of affairs. It is a matter which, I suggest, should receive deep consideration.
With regard to representation, while, generally speaking, I welcomed the Minister's speech, apart from his later comments, I thought that his approach to the question of representation was a little unrealistic. He said—and we naturally agree with him—that he hoped there would be no factions on these boards. He then asked us not to think in terms of voting power. But can one really think of any representative democratic body other than in terms of voting power? Is not the vote the right hand of democracy? When the members of these boards come to vote, how will they vote? The county council members will, obviously, vote with due regard to the fact that they have been delegated by their county councils. The people appointed by the Minister—and, incidentally, they are not really representatives—they are appointees of the Minister on his view as to how they will best represent drainage or angling interests—they will presumably vote in such a way as neither to displease the Minister nor to fail to pay due regard to the interests they are there to represent. They will be in a slightly peculiar position.
We cannot exclude the fact that the voting power will be the ultimate determining factor. I personally think that the county councils, even with a 50 per cent. representation, are still over-represented. I greatly regret that the Minister is unable to accept the collective wisdom of their Lordships, and that he intends to undo what they have done. I am advised that, in some cases, the county councils may be doubly represented, because there are a few cases in this country where county 1984 councils are their own drainage authorities. Therefore, if the Minister should, by any chance, appoint further county council members as representing drainage interests from those authorities, there would be a double county council representation. That, of course, should be avoided.
As I shall attempt to show, it seems to me that the members of the county councils may very well have a conflict of interests or duties when attempting to exercise their votes on the river boards. So far as the appointment of the drainage people is concerned, I should be grateful for clarification as to the extent to which the internal drainage boards will be represented. It is rather vague at the moment. We should bear in mind that the internal drainage boards, which are to remain part of the scheme, are, at present, heavy contributors to the general income of the catchment boards. They will become contributors to the income of the river boards. Besides making those general contributions, many of them are over-burdened with heavy debts, due to special works done by the catchment boards for which the internal drainage boards are being made to pay.
I know of one small internal drainage board, of only 1,300 acres, which has already been charged with a debt of £6,000. It will be realised that 1,300 acres of rather poor meadow land just cannot make a very great contribution to agriculture when it has a debt of that kind hanging round its neck. However, it has to be borne in mind that, if agricultural areas of that kind must be made to pay these heavy charges, they will probably be more willing to do so—and we should feel more justified in making them do so—if they were properly represented on these river boards. But this, perhaps, is a matter which has not yet received, taking the country as a whole, the close attention it will have to receive. Consideration as to how appointments are to he made, and what the proportion of drainage representation should be, are matters which should be very seriously borne in mind.
In my constituency, as in those of several other hon. Members, we are fortunate in having good fishing water which gives pleasure to thousands of anglers every year. At the moment, however, 1985 the anglers are not happy about the question of the representation of their interests. Angling these days is, after all, not only a happy and agreeable sport, but a very democratic one. I feel that we should do everything we can to protect the angler's interests. Clause (2, c, ii) is exceedingly vague, in that the Minister is not instructed to choose the angling representatives in any particular way. It is just "as it appears" to him. We wish to know how he is going to appoint these people, and who they are likely to be. I have a suggestion to make to the Minister which I hope will appeal to him. It is that the angling society representatives on present fishery boards would be very suitable as some of the first people to be appointed to the proposed river boards. If that were done, it would, to some extent, allay the fears which anglers have about this matter.
With regard to pollution, it seems to me that we are rather going backward in time as a result of this Bill. One of its effects will be to reduce the power to prosecute for pollution, a power which already exists under the 1923 Act. That reduction of power arises in this way. Under that Act, the fishery boards have power to prosecute on their own initiative, and without consulting anyone. When this Bill becomes law, the fishery boards are to be replaced, and will disappear. When they disappear, their power to prosecute on their own initiative will disappear as well. In substitution for that, we find that the river boards may prosecute after consultation with the Minister. But is not that introducing an unnecessary element of delay, and also a very great danger?
The county council members of the fishery boards may decide that, if the county council is the body which ought to be prosecuted, such a prosecution would not be appropriate. There is always that possibility. The county council or county borough may fear that, as a result of such prosecution, a large charge will be laid by the court upon the ratepayers, and they may do everything they can to fight against it. A very simple solution to this difficulty is available to the Minister if he cares to accept it. It is that the fishery committees, envisaged under the Bill as committees of the river boards, should have power to prosecute on behalf of the river boards, 1986 and as agents of those boards on their own initiative and without consulting Whitehall. That would reduce the delay and would ensure that when he decision to prosecute has to be made, it is made by the people most affected.
With regard to the funds of the fishery boards which are being taken over by the river boards, I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that these have been contributed voluntarily by fishermen all over the country for protecting their own interests and keeping the rivers clean. Those funds are now, generally speaking, very substantially in credit and constitute a nice nest-egg. They should continue to be used for the same purpose of protecting fishing interests, and should not be used for drainage, building new offices, improving amenities generally, navigation or any other purpose. They should be entirely at the disposal of the fishery committees of the river boards.
I want to say a further word about pollution and to appeal to the Government, as one of the largest undertakers now that we have so much nationalisation. Among the worst offenders in a matter of pollution are bodies who are now nationalised or are going to be nationalised. Gas works, sometimes coalmines, sometimes railways and sometimes large motor transport depots, besides the large local authorities, have been great offenders. If the Government really have a plan, they should be able to take a strong line with these nationalised bodies.
I should like to have some indication when this Debate is wound up whether or not the Government really have in mind and already working—so far as the coalmines are concerned, one would expect it to be already in operation—some means of keeping frustrated in the matter of pollution these worst offenders among Government bodies. The rivers of this country can make a great contribution to our economic well-being by attracting tourists, by their improved navigation and by attracting fishermen. Let us hope that the soft, cool, clear pools and rivers in some of our better known beauty spots will be able to earn some of those lovely hard currencies which we need so badly if we are to survive.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mrs. Wills (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I want to refer to the representation on water undertakings, particularly with 1987 reference to the River Wye. The local authorities are to be represented on those boards, and I was glad to hear the Minister say that he will make the number three-fifths instead of one-half. That will cover those local authorities whose land and hereditaments hinge on the watershed of the river. Birmingham is not the only city which draws its water supply from a long distance away. The only way in which we shall get real understanding is to have all the interests of the river represented on the river boards because they will then be working together and will see each other's point of view, and that will help to prevent the misunderstandings which are so common when interests are distant from each other.
The position of the consumer must also be considered. The consumer of water is the person to whom it means life. It is a very vital interest. This is one of the cases in which the Minister might appoint consumer interests. Surely, the person who depends upon pure water to drink is just as interested in the preservation of the river's purity as the fisherman who fishes very often not for consumption but for pleasure and whose catch often falls by the wayside but is magnified to an enormous size by the time he arrives home. I would impress on the Minister the necessity to provide for consumer interests in this respect.
Amenities have been mentioned. The water sports which take place on many of our rivers, particularly in the lower reaches, should also be considered because they provide a healthy pastime for holidaymakers at the resorts which are coming more and more within the reach of people in the larger towns. I am sure that nobody grudges the use of water for that purpose. We want our rivers to be beautiful places, we want our water to be pure and we want the amenities of the countryside to be preserved. The people who want to make beautiful places of our rivers should be represented on the river boards.
I commend the Minister on Clause 9 and would like to say how much I welcome these provisions. They will be of advantage to all. However, I wonder whether the Minister would explain a little more fully the meaning of Subsections (8) and (9) as to directing the quantity of water which may be withdrawn from a 1988 river because that will be important to all those areas which draw their water for drinking and other purposes from the rivers.
As to Clause 15, does the Minister consider that the powers of sampling effluents are wide enough? It is all very well to start sampling water for pollution lower down the river, but water ought to be sampled right from the source of the pollution. Some such power ought, therefore, to be given to internal drainage boards which get waste, particularly industrial waste, into the sewers. I hope the committee which is reporting on this question will suggest ways in which power can be given to those internal drainage boards to take samples and to compel industries to notify the drainage authorities when they are putting into the sewers waste which will paralyse the bacteria beds, as very often happens, so that for days they are out of use and it is impossible to prevent pollution.
I, therefore, ask the Minister if he will have another look at the powers relating to notification of pollution and to the taking of samples in order to see whether we can get to the source of the trouble. We shall need these powers, whether in this Bill or in some future Bill, before much can be done about industrial waste. As has been said, gas works have been great providers of pollution, and so have chemical works, and the more we have, through chemical processes, ersatz this, that, or the other, the more pollution we shall have of our sewers and rivers. Therefore I ask the Minister whether some general power could not be inserted into the Bill, instead of every small drainage board and authority having to come before Parliament to get these overall powers. Such a general power in the Bill would help greatly. I commend the Bill, so far as it goes, and I hope that the Minister will be able to make some slight addition to its powers to help to provide us with the pure, clean and beautiful rivers which we all hope to enjoy.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I trust the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mrs. Wills) will forgive me if I do not follow the argument she has been adducing, not because it was not interesting, and not because I am not honoured in following her, but because I have some specific points I wish to put before the Minister. I think 1989 we all welcome this Bill and, equally, all of us hope that it is but a "useful preliminary and nothing more," as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) mentioned when he opened for the Opposition. We all realise the great part our rivers play in the life of our nation and that pollution affects not only the million or perhaps two million anglers—for we do not know the exact number—who enjoy themselves on our rivers; it affects also the health of our people, and nothing could be more important than that. A river is a great living organism composed of animal and vegetable life and, if pollution occurs, the oxygen disappears and the water becomes dead. So it is with living water that we are dealing.
In opening the Debate the Minister mentioned that this is a Bill of compromise, and that many and varied interests have played a part in it. All of us who have listened to this Debate would not disagree with him on that. Here I wish to put a point to the Minister in order to reinforce the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond with regard to the fishery interests. The numbers representing fisheries likely to take part in these boards will be small, and instead of the Bill saying that the river boards may set up a committee representing fisheries and fishing, I would like it to say that the river boards must do so, thereby seeing to it that the fishery interests can make themselves heard.
When one studies the Bill, it appears that the Minister has been subjected from time to time to urban influences which have brought pressure to bear upon him on certain matters. No hon. Member would wish at any time lightly to dismiss the question of river pollution. The Minister will know that under the 1876 Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, if anyone wished to prosecute with regard to pollution, they must first obtain his permission and, even when it was granted, a local inquiry had to be set up. The machinery is most complicated, and if one takes into account that in the nine years before the war, out of 28 applications made only 14 were granted—
§ Mr. T. Williams
Would the hon. Member complete that sentence? He said that out of 28 applications, only 14 were 1990 granted, but will he also tell the House that only one was refused?
§ Mr. Marshall
That may be true, but my point was that the machinery is complicated and I do not believe he will deny that.
§ Mr. Marshall
If by any chance Parliament can at any time make something less complicated, surely that is something Parliament would want to do? I would like to see it altered, first, so that when anyone puts up an application for prosecution, the Minister will treat it in a liberal way and secondly, that there should not first be a local inquiry. I would like an answer on that point from the Minister.
Two or three hon. Members have referred to navigation. In the time of Charles I, a Bill for making the rivers of Cornwall navigable was passed through this House with great acclamation. It reached another place but, four days later the Civil War broke out and it never became an Act. We come back to this point now. The shipping interests are very nervous of this point. They do not feel that they will be informed of where their interests are involved, and trust that the navigation authorities will play their part. Would it be possible, when these boards are considering matters of navigation, that they should first consult bodies representative of shipping and navigation, such as the British Chamber of Shipping? Then there is a point more suitable perhaps for the Committee stage than for Second Reading, but because Bills have a habit of going upstairs, some of us do not get a second opportunity. Clause 15 (1) says:A river board shall have a right to obtain and take away samples of any effluent which is passing from any land or vessel into any river, stream, watercourse or inland water in the river board area.I cannot see how anyone who is inspecting this matter will, under this Bill, be able to board a vessel. Some form of provision should be made, perhaps on the next page, whereby the captain of the vessel has to be contacted and a right given for the man to board the vessel.
Now I wish to show how this Bill affects the great Cornish rivers in my contituency. You know the great 1991 rivers of Cornwall, Sir, the Fal, Foyey, Lynher, Tidi, Seaton, Camel, and the "Great" Tamar. For the benefit and interest of hon. Members opposite I will say that the Camel has nothing to do with the animal called a camel, but it happens to be a Cornish word which means crooked, and it is aptly termed, as the river winds around. The Black Prince, ordered 200 salted salmon from the Tamar to be sent over to Bordeaux and in the 18th century at St. Dominick, provision had to be made that people should not eat salmon more than twice a week. I can remember when we had oyster beds in the Lynher at St. Germains. But all that has gone owing to pollution.
I wish to make it clear to the Minister that the Tamar, is in fact, a Cornish river. King Athelstan, the Saxon, declared in 938 that the boundary of Cornwall was the Tamar, and the great historian William Borlase stated in 1758 that this river is reckoned to be in Cornwall.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockon-upon-Tees)
The hon. Member spoke some time ago about the Civil War stopping legislation for Cornwall. Can he say whether that war has ended yet?
§ Mr. Marshall
I trust that I am not out of Order in replying that Cornwall has never forgotten the number of dead she had in the Civil War.
In regard to the Milne Report and the pollution of the rivers in Cornwall, mention has already been made of this map, which I hold in my hand and which is left completely blank as far as Cornwall is concerned. I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will look into the matter and take all these relevant points into consideration. I sincerely trust that he will add one more board which will look after the Cornish rivers, and give me his assurance of that fact tonight.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I wish to refer to the cost to local authorities and probably to the local authority of which I am a representative here. I happen to be chairman of the Rimrose Brook Drainage Board, which is nearly 1992 the largest scheme of this kind in the country. It is to cost £750,000 and only half the scheme is being done at present. The cost is being shared between five authorities. Bootle, which I represent on that board, is responsible for 45 per cent., or 47 per cent., of the cost. This is a drainage scheme which is long overdue, and for 20 years or more we have been trying to get it through, but we were only able to start at the end of the war.
The scheme will do something which hon. Members have been advocating, that is, enable the abatement of flooding in that area, and will assist drainage of that area. This authority has already been impoverished because of the blitz, but will be called upon, like the others, to pay its share of the cost, which is approximately £350,000. They will possibly be called upon to pay the product of another 4d. rate, which is rather less than £8,000 a year. Liverpool, one of the constituencies of which I represent in the House, may have to pay more than £100,000. I am concerned about many of the complications which enter into this matter in connection with Liverpool, and the effect that it will have on navigation. It is intended that representatives of navigation will come within the ambit of the river boards authority.
As chairman of the drainage board, I had occasion, before the war, to make representation to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to get permission to take our outfall sewer through the docks. I mention that because of what has been said about pollution of the rivers. I dare say many hon. Members know that practically all the sewage, solids included, is deposited into the Mersey without being treated, and that indicates the great problems we have to face. In 1936 or 1937 I was negotiating with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on this matter, and for two years they had held up an agreement we sought for the new outfall of the drainage scheme, which drains four or five square miles to the North of Liverpool, just outside the Liverpool area. It was held up because, as the authority concerned, they had referred it to the Government, and the Scientific and Research Committee were dealing with the question of whether the deposit of sewage into the Mersey by all the authorities, Liverpool, Bootle and the rest, was causing the silting up of the channels of the river.
1993 Although eventually the Committee decided that the sewage deposits were not responsible, and we got agreement and were able in that sewerage scheme to cut out what would have cost at that period considerably less than if we were doing the work now, the treatment plant for that scheme cost about £45,000 or £50,000. I think it is responsible for some of the silting which takes place in the channels of the river.
The river boards are to become responsible in some measure for navigation, which is tied up with the question of keeping the river open for shipping. That must cost the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board many hundreds of thousands of pounds, because they have a fleet of dredgers continuously at work to keep the traffic flowing on the river. Is that to be taken over by the river board? What is to happen? Here is the anomaly as I see it. The responsible authority in Liverpool, from which sanction has to be obtained to drain the river, is the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, who are the owners of the foreshore all round the docks on both sides of the river. An attempt to take over the responsibility for navigation would involve the taking over of responsibility for keeping clear the channels of the river. It would involve the question of keeping that tidal river open to ocean-going traffic, which is something that could not be done with the product of a 4d. rate. In spite of the fact that Liverpool would contribute to the extent of well over £100,000, that would not be anything like enough for that task. I would like to know from the Minister how far this Bill goes, and what is the intention about the inclusion of the navigational aspect of rivers. That will certainly not be met by a 4d. rate from the different authorities, on and around the Mersey.
The time has arrived for the Government to tackle this question of deposits in rivers. Although the drainage board of which I have been, and continue to be, the chairman escape an expenditure of about 50,000 because we were not called upon to treat the sewage before its discharge into the river, it is a serious matter that so little sewage is treated in this country. One can easily understand how difficult it is to get small local authorities to deal with the matter when Governments in the past did not force the authorities such as Liverpool, Bootle and 1994 others, which have a high rateable value, and which could have faced up to the problem, to do so, when they even allowed us to "get away with it" in spite of the fact that we have not treated sewage in any way. I hope that the Minister will look at that point, and let us know exactly how far navigation will be embraced, and, if it is taken over, whether the responsibility is also taken over for what relates to navigation in a river like the Mersey, which is not the only river that this question affects. Will the present port authority be relieved from the responsibilities involved, and, if so, from what source is the money coming to provide for that service?
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
Some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) certainly merit a reply, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to deal with those matters when he winds up the Debate. My purpose in intervening is twofold. I am anxious to make certain proposals, firstly, to seek to improve the position under the Bill of fishery interests generally, and secondly, of the fishing industry in particular. To deal with the question of general fishing interests, I would, as previous speakers have done, take as my first point the question of representation. In opening this Debate, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out how the constitution of the new boards will be provided for under Clause 2. Having done that, it must be apparent that those who are to represent the fishery interests must necessarily be few in number. We hope to see that those interests are best represented, by those who have knowledge and experience, who will assist the river boards in this direction.
Statutory bodies were set up to administer the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries Act, 1923. I refer to the fishery boards. In the membership of those boards great local knowledge and wide experience are represented. It would be quite wrong if that special knowledge and experience were lost. I do not for a moment suggest that that is in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. For the retention of that valuable knowledge and experience, I propose first that the fishery interests might be enabled to put up a scheme to the Minister of Agriculture whereby fishery associations may be 1995 formed in the various areas with the right of nominating to the Minister those who shall represent those interests on the new boards. In another place the Minister had an Amendment made which entitled certain consultations to take place, but I hope he will consider my specific proposal. My second suggestion is that the river boards, when constituted, should be enabled and entitled to consult the various associations to be set up under the scheme. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman or his officers have received a deputation from the National Association of Fishery Boards, and I do not doubt that he will give careful consideration to those two points.
The other point which I desire to deal with, namely, the interests of the fishing industry, has not been mentioned frequently during this Debate. If fishery interests generally are limited in their representation on the boards, it is plain that this section of fishery interests—the industry—is even more meagrely represented on the boards. First, I would request that those who earn their livelihood by fishing under licences granted by the existing fishery boards shall be enabled to have their voices heard on the new river boards that are to be set up. I believe it is right to say that these fishermen rely for their means of livelihood upon their fishing on some 30 of our rivers. Their numbers are not great, but they are quite sufficient to warrant proper representation.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
Is the hon. and learned Member now talking about the net-fishing interests only, or has he in mind other bodies of fishermen? He seems to be pleading for representation for a very small number of men indeed.
§ Mr. Nield
In order that there may be no doubt, I would say that the number approximates to about 2,500. It is a small number, but the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) would, I am sure, be the last to suggest that their voice should not be heard among the voices of the other industrial fishing interests.
Several of my hon. Friends have given historical surveys of the rivers in their Divisions. I think the Dee can go back in its history of fishing for salmon as far as any other river. The industry was 1996 exploited, we are told, during the three and a half centuries of the Roman occupation of the City of Chester. The salmon trap within my own constituency was mentioned in one of the earliest charters, in 1093. My particular concern is for the successors of the fishers of those days who are still in the area. In the Handbridge area of Chester, there is a community whose families for generations have fished for salmon, and earned their livelihood in that way. In recent times they have met with two particular difficulties, and this follows to some extent upon what has been said by others in this discussion. Their difficulties are the finding of obstructions in the stream and, most important from their point of view, the washing away of a certain length of the bank within, the confines of the City of Chester. When that arose, no person or authority would accept the responsibility for the repair of this bank from which these fishermen fished.
The right hon. Gentleman may recall that I wrote to him about the matter on more than one occasion, and he had to admit that his Department was powerless. So this state of affairs continues. The question, therefore, that I would seek to put is that, with regard to both these difficulties, will the new river boards be in a position to put these matters right? I have put it from a local angle, and I make no apology for that, but I am sure that the problems are of a much wider application. Let us have, therefore, proper representation and a further explanation of the functions of the new boards. In any event, I much trust that the Minister will give consideration to the points to which I have called attention.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
The Debate, so far in its course, has reminded me of one of those more pleasant, gracious and placid of our English rivers, which has gone steadily on from its source to the sea with an occasional ripple here and there, but, in the main, has not been polluted with any kind of controversy on Party lines. I welcome this Bill, first of all, as a Measure of administrative reform and simplification. Although it adds no new powers to deal with pollution and all the other points which have been raised, it should enable the various boards set up to take more vigorous action against these evils.
1997 The Bill deals with land drainage, fisheries—both from the point of view of recreation and food—with pollution and the conservation of water. The most important factor seems to be that it enables for the first time all the different bodies concerned with these functions to be coordinated into a reasonable whole. It fulfils the main provisions in the report of the Milne Committee which stated that:The principle defects of the existing system is the fact that no single body is charged with co-ordinating the various river interests or with the duty of ensuring that the requirements of all such interests are fully weighed when questions affecting the river are under review, with the result that the river is not used to the best advantage of all the interests concerned.I hope, as a result of this legislation, that all the interests of all the rivers in this country will be used to the full, and that no sectional approach will be allowed to stand in the way.
May I be allowed to give one example? I will take the River Tees, because it divides my constituency into two parts and it is the one river that I know best in the country. At the present moment there are 22 authorities, ranging from two county councils down to rural district councils, who are responsible for the question of pollution. There is little wonder that practically nothing has been done to prevent the pollution of this river. The main question agitating hon. Members in this House is the question of river pollution, which, as has been rightly pointed out, is gradually getting worse. In a few years' time, unless something is done, there will probably be very few fish alive in any of our rivers. If it is to deal with this growing menace the board must be a very powerful body.
I will again take as an example the River Tees, not because it is the finest river in the country—that goes without saying. It is one of the most beautiful in its upper reaches. It has been written about by our poets and dramatists, and it needs little praise from me to point its beauty to Members of this House. Regarding the question of salmon, it was, not so many years ago, one of the finest salmon and trout fishing rivers in the country. Its annual net catch ran into over 2,000 or 3,000 fish. Its pure, unpolluted water would have provided drinking water for all those great aggregations of people at its mouth, without the necessity of carrying it by pipes over 1998 many miles, as is done at the moment. Today, owing to the pollution in its lower reaches, the spawning fish entering the river find it almost impossible to get through. Even if one or two do manage it, the smolts, coming down the river, cannot get by. Consequently, while in 1926 the average salmon catch was 3,000, today it is nil. I am reminded of the miller, near Thornaby, who committed some misdemeanour many hundreds of years ago. He was ordered to stay in prison until he presented two salmon to the lord of the manor. If he were so confined today he could regard it as a life sentence.
The cause of this pollution seems to be something which must be tackled on national lines. In my own area the cause, in the main, is that the large towns of Middlesbrough, Stockton and Thornaby pour all their untreated sewage into the stream. One estimate is that as much as 12 million gallons of crude sewage enter the estuary of this river every 24 hours, and 13,000 tons of solid sewage enter the river in the course of a year. We are confronted with that in the report of the Tees Conservancy Commissioners made in 1944, which states:Mention might be made of the heavy concentration of solid sewage, or sludge, in the river. When these are disturbed by dredging operations the stench is so pronounced that crews of dredging craft have had, on occasions, to be issued with protective masksThat is an appalling situation in which to find any river in the 20th century, especially when all the remedies for pollution are known, and may be put into effect, providing the will and finance is there to do it.
It is a tremendous problem which faces the new river boards. In my view it is a problem which no single local authority can tackle. It would be impossible in my own constituency to bear the expense of putting filters on to their present sewage system. The only final cure will be that the cost of these measures should be borne by the National Exchequer.
The question of representation will probably cause more controversy than anything else. I think it is the only departure which the Minister has made in this Bill from the recommendations contained in the Milne Committee Report. They agree that, in the main, there should be direct representation of all the interests likely to be affected by the work of the 1999 river boards, whether contributing directly or indirectly to the expense incurred.
I know that a very strong case can be made that there should be no representation without taxation or equivalent contribution, but in my view a mistake has been made in departing too widely from the Milne Committee proposals. I would like to give reasons why I consider that it is necessary that all the interests in the river should be safeguarded. I will take two examples. First, there is the question of joint water boards. Here there is a clear case for direct representation of the various main water boards on the river boards. I take the example of the Tees Water Board which is the largest supplier of water in that area. It has been more concerned than any other body with the conservation and purity of the water resources of the Tees. Yet we find in the same river that one county borough, which has its own water undertaking, will have direct representation, and this water board, which represents one county borough and two non-county boroughs, will have to rely upon the good will of its constituent bodies for representation from their quota.
It may work out in practice that the right people will be appointed to the board, but there is no guarantee of that, and I wish that the Minister would give further consideration to the matter. I know that he considers that it is impracticable for the board to be made too large and unwieldy and for all the separate interests to have direct representation on the board. Clearly, he acts on the principle that those who contribute should have representation. He has, however, made two significant departures from this rule. We know that in Clause 2 (8) there is provision for the appointment of a member of the National Coal Board in addition to the 40 in two areas. I do not dispute that. I see no reason why the representatives of the National Coal Board should not be on the board where there interests are vitally concerned, but I cannot see why the Minister cannot apply the same principle to other interests which also have a vital concern.
While the local authorities are given the main representation—and I do not dispute that—that is not the only factor to be taken into account. There are many other interests. I will discuss the case of the anglers which has already been 2000 advanced with great skill. I personally am interested in safeguarding the rights which they now enjoy. I have spent many hours sitting beside a stream catching nothing, but able to think, and that, probably, is a very useful operation these days. It appears to me that at the moment they make a valuable contribution by way of fees for licences. They have representation by Act of Parliament on the fishery boards at the moment, but they are to be deprived of direct representation under the Bill. It may be that they will find some representation as representing fishery interests, but at the moment we do not know for certain. It has been said repeatedly that these million anglers up and down the country, organised in their local associations, are the best people that the Minister could have for preserving and conserving the state of our rivers. I wish that he could give them some guarantee that in the future, after he has first appointed their representatives to the boards, they will find some channel for making their wishes known to him.
My final point is on the value of research to which this Bill should give effect. The Milne Report stresses the value of research in the improvement of our rivers. I agree with it that:With the co-ordination of the various functions in the hands of comprehensive river boards with comprehensive functions and the consequent pooling of the financial resources of large areas, it should be possible to obtain the benefit of the full-time services of scientific and technical staffs.At present they cannot afford to employ them. Over and above that, I hope that the Water Pollution Research Board of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research will be called upon to play a much larger part in seeking out the causes of pollution and bringing in remedies, in that way helping to bring our streams back to their former greatness and glory. I agree with the Minister. I do not think that when his boards are constituted they will be acting as representatives of the various sections from which they come. At least, I hope that that will not be the case. Nothing could be worse than to have a kind of dog fight between the various interests represented on the boards. I hope that, with his advisers, he will be able to choose the right kind of persons, with experience and knowledge of the industries and interests 2001 represented, and that once they are appointed they will be able to get to work as a combined unit for the good of the rivers. I hope that the English rivers, of which we ought to be so proud, will soon again be worthy of our pride.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I hope I may be allowed to say how much I agree with the bulk of what was said by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and respectfully to congratulate him on his contribution to the Debate. It may interest him to know that I am a member of a society which has issued a rather interesting little booklet dealing with the Tees. He may find some interesting details in that publication.
§ Mr. Morrison
I wish to say a few words in general approval of this Bill, though there are points of detail which must be criticised. As I do not very often find myself giving approval to Bills promoted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, I like to do so when I can. There is no doubt that pollution is an important consideration from the point of view of national health and also from the point of view of fishery interests. I emphasise that fishery interests do not cover only fish. They cover the riparian owner, the nets at the bottom of the river, the angling clubs and the individual angler at the top of the river. Fishing gives untold amusement and amenity value to many people in these difficult days. The Minister said that this Bill was being introduced by the Government at a time when they were hard-pressed. I would remind the Government that the nation is hard-pressed for food, and that the bulk supply of fish was very much greater in days gone by than it is now. An improvement in the state of our rivers is essential in order to increase that supply.
Not many months ago a school of porpoises passed this House—so far as I know without stopping to look at its Members. They went as far as Teddington. That shows how our great rivers have been denuded of fish. Many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from time to time throw a fly or a bait across the Floor of the House. It may well be that Members of the Government would be only 2002 too thankful if those hon. Members on this side of the House were more peaceably occupied in throwing that bait from the terrace where we have tea in the summer.
I appreciate that the Minister said, in his opening remarks, that it might very well be that, before the last river board is set up, new legislation in the shape of an amending Bill will be ready. I regret very much that there are no more immediate steps being taken in regard to the subject of pollution, but I hope that, in winding up, the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an assurance that this will be covered at an early stage.
I want also to refer to the question of water conservation. It is a far cry from the River Tees to the bourne chalk streams of Wiltshire, but there is no doubt that, under past legislation, much has been done to help with the problem of flooding all over the country, but equal damage can be done over a period by a sustained drought, and particularly is that so on the chalk uplands of Wiltshire, where the chalk streams do not rise for seven or eight months after the rain. In my own constituency, on 12th January this year, it was possible to see farmers not very far from my own home carting water. I therefore welcome the fact that reference is made in the Bill to the need water. I, therefore, welcome the fact that will help as a first step to further progress in that direction. When one looks down on this country, from an aeroplane, one sees that it is a very small area compared with many lands, and, if we drain off all our water too quickly into the sea, when we get a long period of drought we shall inevitably suffer. The Minister of Agriculture will appreciate more than anyone how increasingly water is used in food production in agriculture, as well as for human amenities.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
In common with many hon. Members I very warmly welcome the Bill. My right hon. Friend is jointly responsible, according to the Bill, with the Minister of Health for setting up these river boards in every river basin throughout the country. That is a very considerable task, and it will probably be some time before all these boards are set up. The tasks that are awaiting these boards, when they are eventually set up, are very considerable 2003 indeed. I think we ought to realise that these boards are taking over the functions of several other boards which are operating at the present moment, and reference has already been made to the difficulties that are being experienced by these boards at present.
There are, for example, drainage boards, which have done a magnificent piece of work in the past, and their work will now devolve upon the river boards. They are also taking over the duties of various fishery boards, and we have heard a great deal during the last half-hour about the difficulties concerning polluted rivers. These boards are to be saddled with all these duties, and, in addition, it has been suggested that they should also be responsible, to some extent, at any rate, for navigation at the river's mouth. These are very formidable tasks, and, from that point of view, one rather regrets that the Minister has decided not to give extra powers to these boards in order that they may tackle wholeheartedly the various problems with which they will be faced.
We are all disappointed—and there is universal agreement here—at the fact that so very little has been done to prevent the pollution of our rivers and to make them pure, but that is an exceptionally formidable and costly task. We have to recognise that fact when considering what we expect to be done by these boards. There is some controversy as to the personnel or set-up of the boards, but I do not see very well how the Minister could have brought out a scheme very different from the one he has produced. He has placed a limit to the number of members of each board, and has suggested that it should not be more than 40, but, within that limit, he suggests that the representation of public authorities might vary from 50 per cent. to two-thirds of the membership. If we take 40 as being the average number, then, of that 40, from 20 to 26 members will represent the public authorities included within the area of the river board, and that will leave 76 or 20 representing all other interests.
I think we all recognise that the public authorities which will be represented on the river boards will have a prime say in the representation, because they are the people who are to provide the cash for the difficult work we expect them to 2004 do. It is a very delicate question who is to get the other places left over after the public authorities have received their share of the representation. We have heard a good deal tonight about the representation of the fishing industry, and I think that what has been said was absolutely right from every point of view. These are the people who know the rivers intimately and they have in the past, through their associations, done a great deal to preserve the amenities of the rivers, to encourage the production of fish and so on, and they are very keenly interested in this matter. We are then to have representatives of the drainage boards, because the new river boards are to do the work formerly done by the drainage boards. The Minister is in a very tight corner when he tries to settle this question of representation.
There is one other point I would like to make. It was suggested by an hon. Member opposite that nothing is said in the Bill on the question of amenities. I think this is a question of growing importance, and it is regrettable that no provision has been made in the Bill for the representation of those societies that are vitally and fundamentally concerned with the preservation of the health and beauty of our countryside. I hope that, when we come to the Committee stage, the Minister may find it possible to give more representation, even if it is only one person, to that point of view, which has so far been left entirely outside.
I was struck by another problem which, it seems to me, is not being faced. When we are considering the control of the rivers of this country, most people naturally think of the problem of flooding. There is no mention, as far as one can see, of the possibility of very large agricultural areas and urban areas being subjected every year or so to flooding. This is a question that has been neglected by the country. I was interested to read the other day a most valuable report upon the flooding of the Severn in the years 1946, 1947 and 1948. The striking thing in that report is that until this investigation was carried out, it was not realised where the cause of the flooding lay. It lay not in the source of the Severn itself, but in one of its tributaries which gives rise to very frequent and very sudden flooding. That tributary is the Vyrnwy, and the upper reaches have already been 2005 used as a gathering ground for the Liverpool Corporation. Reference has been made in the Debate to the possibility of having reservoirs of that kind built in the higher reaches of the river in order to prevent flooding. The tragedy of the position is that such reservoirs do not prevent flooding at all. The impounding of the Vyrnwy in the upper reaches does not prevent the flooding of the Severn and the same thing is true of other water courses too.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
If there were several such reservoirs and some of them were kept empty, to be filled up only when there was heavy rainfall, it would prevent flooding. The one on the Vyrnwy does not prevent flooding because it is always kept full.
§ Mr. Richards
In reply to the hon. and gallant Member, I would point out that it does nothing at all to prevent the flooding of that valley. If we built other reservoirs, it would, as we all know, be done at an extravagant cost, and they would be utilised only during a time of flooding. I cannot conceive of any Government or any other authority building up these dry reservoirs, if I may so call them, to wait for the rains to come, and then to drain them again. I am afraid this is a pretty hopeless proposition, and the engineer for the Severn Catchment Board, who naturally knows more about it than I do, believes that what we want is a great deal more information with regard to the rainfall at certain times of the year.
What we have to recognise is that we can do very little to prevent occasional flooding. All that we can hope to do is to reserve certain areas for the river to cover when it does come up, because, as the engineer for the Severn Catchment Board puts it, these rivers have an immemorial right to flooding. We have to recognise that fact and do the best we can to confine their activities to certain territories. This is one of the most interesting and difficult questions that these new boards will have to face. I am very glad that we are to have the rivers organised, so to speak; and that there are to be boards to deal with the whole of the rivers of the country, and not with only part of them, or with only one statutory duty. It is right that these boards should be charged with the responsibility for the 2006 whole of the misdemeanours of our many rivers.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
I shall only detain the House for a few minutes because most of what is relevant has already been said. I want to address the House on two points—first, the importance of agricultural drainage and of our water supplies; and, secondly, the question of the representation of certain interests on the river boards. The Minister of Agriculture probably has the best job of all the Ministers in the House, and certainly the most interesting from my point of view. As he knows, I represent an agricultural constituency in which there are two rivers of some importance, though possibly not so large or so important as the River Tees which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd); these two rivers flow into the sea in a joint estuary. I could quote the number of sewers that pour their discharge undiluted into them. Everything goes in completely unpurified.
I come now to the question of representation on the river boards. Clause 2 provides for the appointment of members and no less than one half or more than two-thirds will come from the county councils and county boroughs. There is no mention of the rural district councils and the only mention of the others is that they are appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries after consulting the interests of the drainage boards and fisheries. I draw attention to the words "after consultation." I should like to know from the Minister how this consultation is likely to take place. Unless some method is laid down in the Bill by which the interests of drainage and fisheries are guarded I can see that they will not be consulted. They should have some statutory recognition in the Bill as having the right to be represented on the river boards. How will the Minister carry out his consultation? Will he consult with the clerk of the river board, for instance? Probably the clerk of the river board is not interested in drainage or in fishing. He may be the last person the Minister should consult with regard to either.
The suggestion has already been put to the Minister that the fishing interests should have a panel from which names 2007 would be chosen. This is a sounder method than the one in the Bill. Why should not the local authorities nominate people or have people vote in compiling a panel from which the Minister may choose the names of those with whom he shall consult? To my mind that is the right answer and I hope that in Committee that will be dealt with.
In opening my remarks, I said I was only going to deal with two points. However, there is one other matter to which I would refer, and that is the inevitable question of pollution. In this connection I could quote from a little book which the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) helped to produce. It is a book on pollution, and it says that the Taw and the Torridge are two of the worst polluted rivers in the whole of England. This question of pollution affects very largely the question of amenities which has already been stressed to a great extent. North Devon is essentially an area where amenities play a very large part. This little book says that no less than 14 sewers drain into the Taw Estuary, which is comparatively narrow, and that the sewage is completely untreated. It also says that in the Torridge Estuary, which joins the Taw Estuary, there are six permanent discharges of untreated domestic sewage, and also effluent from a gas works and a milk factory. The people of North Devon are greatly disturbed by the fact that there is no power in this Bill for the river boards to take any action against those who pollute the rivers. I join with those hon. Members who have urged the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to give us a definite undertaking that legislation will be introduced which will deal with this very important problem of river pollution at an early date.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
Every speaker except one has pressed the Minister to ensure that some special interest or another shall be represented on the river boards. The hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) was no exception. He exerted his pressure, as so many other hon. Members have done, on behalf of the fishing interests. Other hon. Members have pressed on behalf of amenities, whatever they may be, and 2008 still others have spoken on behalf of transport, navigation and the rest.
The one exception, if I understood his words aright, was an hon. Member opposite who said that these boards should be composed not of representatives of particular interests but of men of broad minds. I agree with him. I hope the Minister will resist this pressure from all sides of the House to make these boards sectional. There is no objection in itself to having fishermen represented on the boards. It seems to me that their interests coincide with those of the community as a whole in almost every respect. They are a fine lot, and I am all for them. But if we allow the fishermen to be represented, what other interests shall we be able to exclude? We shall get all sorts of people on these boards, some of whom I would be determined to exclude.
§ Mr. Keeling
Has not the hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that, according to Clause (2, c, ii) fisheries are to be represented? Therefore, I do not follow his argument.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
A number of interests will be represented—for example, the local authorities—and in that respect the Bill is defective. I do not wish any special interest of any sort to be represented. I would prefer not to have representatives, but to pick people with broad minds who will consider the interests of us all.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North)
How does my hon. Friend propose to select these people with broad minds? Are they to be elected, or are we to confer on the Minister the prerogative of appointing them?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That, of course, is a point. Undoubtedly, there are difficulties. Personally, I would be prepared to give the Minister the right to appoint the members of these boards, and I cannot see that there would be any great objection to that course, but there would be a great objection to having certain interests represented on these boards. The interests to which I am referring are the industrialists. The chemical works, for instance, and in my area the textile mills, are the guilty persons so far as pollution is concerned. To some extent, the river boards will have to act as judges, in the sense that they will have to decide whether a prosecution shall be 2009 made against a particular interest for pollution. It would be a dangerous thing if the guilty men themselves were allowed to act as judges. Therefore, these river boards, which will play an enormously important role, should be kept as free as possible from sectional interests. In other words, keep them unpolluted.
I think, as we all do, in terms of the rivers I know best. The river I know best is the river which gives its name to the constituency of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—the Colne.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
No, this is the real Colne—the Colne Valley. It was the first constituency to return a really independent Socialist to Parliament—Victor Grayson. However, that is somewhat apart from the subject. I have traced every one of the sources of the Colne. I lived there all my life; I was born and bred there. I have walked all over the moors and I have seen the stream start from the great black moorland barrier of Standedge, from Nab's Sarah, from the Nabs and Wessenden. At its sources the water is absolutely clear. It is lovely Yorkshire moorland water—bright, cool and fresh. By the time it has come down into the valley and formed a river, and passes through the industrial townships of Marsden, Slaithwaite, and all the rest of them, and has reached the county borough of Huddersfield, the water is fresh no more. It is not a sparkling stream. It seeps its way rather shamefacedly along by-ways through the town, until it comes out on the other side. It has been coloured by the dyes from the textile works, and by chemicals; it has been filled with old skips and rusty hoops, and has become an absolute disgrace.
I do not want to see the people who are responsible for that disgrace having any say as to whether a prosecution for pollution shall be undertaken. I want these administrative boards to be as free and unfettered as they possibly can be, so that they can carry out the work which they are intended to do under this Bill. That work is nothing more nor less than to make the rivers of this country what they were years ago, and what they should be again. They should be the centre around which our industrial towns 2010 can be developed and built—the centre not of dirt and sewage, but of pleasure and of happiness, so that the towns can spread out from something that is attractive and fresh, and once again can be places not of drabness or dirt but of colour and good living.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
When the Minister of Agriculture was good enough to give way to me during his speech, he referred to my connection with local government. My only local government connection lies on the banks of that part of the Thames which flows a few yards behind these benches—
§ It being Seven o'Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding stood postponed.