Amendment made: In page 14, line 31, at end, insert:
constructed," in references to things constructed in the course of work done, includes a reference to things erected or placed in the course of the work with a view to their remaining in place as part of the thing constructed.—[Mr. Nugent.]
§ Mr. Nugent
I beg to move, in page 15, line 14, to leave out subsection (2), and to insert:(2) Earth getting or access road works shall be treated as falling within a provision of this Act relating to such work combined with bank construction in so far, and in so far only, as the work is proposed to be done or was done (whichever is relevant for the purposes of the provision in question)—1019 This Amendment provides a new definition in substitution for the one in the original drafting. There was some discussion in Committee about the definition of an access road combined with work on bank construction. With the assistance of the Solicitor-General we now have a draft which I think is rather more explicit and makes plain what access roads combined with bank construction are.
- (a) in the case of earth getting, on land on. or contiguous or adjacent to, a site of bank construction;
- (b) in the case of access road works—
- (i) on such land, and
- (ii) on a line following that of a bank, wall, embankment or dyke.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Queen's Consent signified.]
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I thought that possibly the Minister might have said something about this Bill before we left it altogether. Our proceedings tonight have been an object lesson to Ministers who are not quite as willing to consider proposals from the Opposition as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has shown himself to be in this case.
The discussions that we had in Committee and the Amendments which have flowed from them have made some quite considerable changes in the Bill but changes that are unquestionably a benefit to it. The fact that we have a much better Bill now than we had when we first considered it on Second Reading does not mean that we are entirely happy with it as it stands. Though it may seem strange to some hon. Members there were matters which we raised which have not been fully met, and we are still anxious about one or two things that remain in the Bill.
In particular, there must be some concern about the way in which the Bill may be used for rather wider purposes than were probably in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. In its drafting the Bill is designed to meet a special emergency which we are all concerned should be met as rapidly as possible. We understand that the Bill is to revive certain financial benefits, to enable work to be done more rapidly and to provide for a great speedup of procedure. We are somewhat concerned lest the river boards use this procedure for general work that cannot be properly classed as emergency work.
1020 While we have had an assurance from the Minister that he will keep a careful eye on this matter, and we have no doubt that the Treasury will do likewise, we still feel that it might have been better, if it had been possible, to insert words in the Bill that would give the Minister added strength in resisting proposals by river boards that might very well come under the ordinary provisions and procedures of the River Boards Act. We do not want to see this Measure used for a whole host of normal activities of river boards that could be dealt with under the normal procedure.
The second point is that, as the Bill stands, it provides, in Clause 11, thatThe Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make grants, subject to such conditions as he may with the approval of the Treasury determine, to river boards in respect of expenditure incurred by them in, or in connection with or in consequence of, the exercise of powers conferred by or under this part of the Act.That is not wording which, to us, seems to meet fully the assurance given in the House about the efforts to be made to treat this whole matter as one of national emergency.
I am sure that it was in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House that there was to be full compensation for all expenditure incurred in this work. But, as the wording is, the Minister certainly is entitled to give full compensation if he can get the money out of the Treasury, but he is not compelled to do it. We on this side of the House raised the point at some length during the Committee stage; we asked the Minister to take fuller financial power and more responsibility for this work. But he did not feel able to do so, and we thought of putting down Amendments for the Report stage; but, we were anxious to secure the rapid passage of the Bill into law so that there would be no check on the work to be done. Therefore, we did not table any Amendments.
We feel, however, that there is need to call attention to the fact that, as the Bill stands, and as it will no doubt pass from this House, while it gives sufficient power to compensate fully it does not require the Minister so to do. We feel that we are only right in calling attention to this fact, and to the fact that we, on this side at any rate, shall watch carefully the procedure carried out administratively to 1021 see if the right hon. Gentleman lives up to the promise that full compensation shall be given. If some authorities are not receiving full compensation which they certainly expect from the Bill, we shall call attention to it. We shall point out that the Minister is not living up to his intentions.
However, it has been very pleasant to co-operate so fully in the passage of this Bill and to receive so much consideration and assistance from the Minister and, as I have said, I hope that this is a good augury for other Measures which may come before this House, and for other Ministers who may produce Bills here.
§ 10.44 p.m.
The whole House realises that terrible things might happen if this Bill was improperly administered, and I appreciate what has just been said for that reason. What is being done has to be done because delay in this matter would be disastrous. We have accepted things in this Bill which we would not have accepted in a normal Measure, and I should like to thank the Minister for the way in which he has conducted the passage of the Bill and. also, for the manner in which he has carried out the administration of important matters before the Bill was introduced.
I would couple with that some thanks to his Department. We often hear of kicks at civil servants, but I think that the whole House should express its thanks on this matter to those of the Minister's Department who have administered affairs so far with great common sense.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) in thanking the Minister for the manner in which he has considered the Amendments which we moved during the Committee stage. 1 also share my hon. Friend's surprise that the Minister did not address the House on the Third Reading of the Bill.
We thank the Minister for what he has done, but there is one point which I wish to raise in connection with Clause 11. which says:The Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, make grants, subject to such conditions as he may with the approval of the Treasury determine, to river boards in respect of expenditure incurred by them in, or in con- 1022 nection with or in consequence of, the exercise of powers conferred by or under this Part of this Act.Upstairs, we had an argument about this. We talked about the date, which was then 30th September; but now not even a date is included. If we objected to 30th September, obviously we must object to a Clause which does not even contain a date.
Obviously, we all want the Bill, and we want it as quickly as possible, particularly those of us who represent areas which have have been seriously affected by the floods. Just as obviously, we shall not divide against the Third Reading. That being so, I beg the Minister, with more generosity than he might otherwise have been inclined to do if we had been going to oppose him, to consider the points which were raised in Committee. After all, the people living in those areas have themselves borne the full effects of the floods. They have been living for a long time in abnormal conditions, and they will live in abnormal conditions for a long time to come. That being the case, surely they are the last persons in the world to be penalised, and to be asked to contribute to the repair of the sea defences.
Since we have been so generous with the Minister in not dividing against the Bill and in not criticising him—indeed, we have paid him all sorts of compliments— I urge him to be generous to these people, to bear in mind what was said during the Committee stage, and to do his best to urge the Treasury to bear the cost of the defences. The Home Secretary gave us that promise on Second Reading; at least, we all thought he did. Once again, I ask the Minister to urge the Treasury to bear the full cost of the repair of the sea defences.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)
I join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) in thanking the Minister and in congratulating him upon the way in which he has met the points raised by those of us on both sides of the House who represent flooded areas. There is not the slightest doubt about it that his readiness to do so has speeded the passage of the Bill.
The one point that I want to make follows the lines of the observations of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). In many cases it will be im- 1023 possible for the river boards to carry out the work of repairing and strengthening the existing defences without carrying out some new works, which do not necessarily attract a 100 per cent. grant. This may be so in the case of Canvey Island, a poor community which has suffered grievous loss. I would urge my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the need for the utmost assistance for work of this nature. I would ask him to consider giving up to 100 per cent. I have much greater faith than the hon. Member for Thurrock—
§ Mr. Braine
Well, I am perfectly certain that when my right hon. Friend realises the dire need of this particular community he will prevail upon the Treasury, when the time comes, to make a 100 per cent. grant available. I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has met our points. I am certain that he will meet my point when the time comes.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
May I again press the point which we pressed so strongly upstairs and was even carried to a Division, in which the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite weighed to such an extent that they would not support us. I asked then what particular virtue there is about 30th September. I assumed, and was confirmed in this, that that is the date of the equinoctial gales. But the times of these gales are variable, though they may come by 30th September. Two hon. Members opposite with long maritime experience could tell us more about this matter. They could tell us that these gales do not necessarily happen on 30th September. The Minister should say that until the work is satisfactorily completed it shall attract 100 per cent. grant. I hope we shall be given an indication that if the work runs beyond over this date it will attract such a grant.
I commend the Bill. I think it is a good one, and that we on this side of the House did extraordinarily good work in putting Amendments into it. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) claimed credit for the work which he and his hon. Friends have done, but I do not remember a single Amendment from that 1024 side of the House which was not turned down.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Colonel J. H. Harrison (Eye)
On behalf of East Suffolk, which has a long coast line, I welcome this Bill. All I would ask the Minister is to see that emergency work carried out under this emergency Bill coincides with the long-term defence work which will have to take place. I would ask him to see that his engineers and officials consult not only the local authorities, but, as much as possible, the people on the coast, who have great knowledge of the tides, winds and currents. Years ago their forefathers built these banks, which in many cases stood for 200 years. If the people on the banks are brought into consultation the Minister will receive their willing co-operation.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Nugent
I am glad that the Bill has had a fairly generous reception, apart from criticisms in one or two quarters. In regard to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), although I understand his point, the expression of it was based upon a misapprehension. Clause 11, which he attacked, really does no more than give the Minister the additional power which he needs to make grants towards the work carried out under this Bill. His main grant-making powers are based on Section 55 of the Land Drainage Act of 1930. That Section is worded in the same way, namely, that the Minister may make grants in exactly the same way.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Is the hon. Gentleman agreeing that the Minister, while taking powers to make grants up to 100 per cent., is not in any way tying himself in this Bill to make 100 per cent. grants?
§ Mr. Nugent
That is correct. Under the 1930 Act, and under this Bill, the Minister has complete discretion about the grants he shall make. He has stated that he intends to make grants of 100 per cent. towards the work done by the River Boards in repairing coast defences up to 30th September.
I would make this point to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) who feels extremely strongly on this—
§ Mr. Nugent
He made the point to the House that we should have a special feeling for those who have suffered in these floods. We all agree with that, and we think that the best way we can provide for those people is by getting the coast defences restored. That is why my right hon. Friend sticks to the date of 30th September in order to ensure that the rivers board have the maximum incentive to get these defences restored before the winter storms start.
§ Mr. Nugent
The work is going well, and if circumstances change in any way my right hon. Friend has full discretion, both under the 1930 Act and under this Bill, to do whatever he thinks best. It is quite obviously in the best interests of those who have suffered in these coastal areas that we should do everything we can to speed the work that the river boards are doing, and that is why my right hon. Friend thinks it is right in all the circumstances to keep to his date of 30th September.
My right hon. Friend will have heard the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) about the new work, and, of course, it is impossible to make any commitment on that. It has been specifically stated that the 100 per cent. grant is to cover restoration to the previous standard, and while that may be given a reasonable and 1026 liberal interpretation, quite obviously if the standard is substantially raised not more than an 85 per cent. grant will be earned.
We shall certainly take note of the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) to get the advice and opinion of the local experts, not forgetting those in the parish of Walberswick. I fully recognise that local help is of the greatest value in this context.
I think that the Bill has been improved in Committee, and that the safeguards both for private individuals and public authorities have been strengthened. Everyone in this House recognises that this is an emergency Measure, and there are two aspects of it that are vital to its success. The first is speed; the second is the engineering consideration of getting the coastal works constructed in the right place. Therefore, the taking of the powers in this Bill by my right hon. Friend is justified. It is a Measure which will enable the river boards to do the vital work of restoring these coastal defences and safeguarding the lives and the property of those who live in these coastal areas. I am sure I can conclude by wishing my right hon. Friend and the river boards God speed in the great work which lies ahead.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Studholme.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute to Eleven o'Clock.