Orders of the Day — Doncaster Area Drainage Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 15th March 1929.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

I want to express a rather restrained welcome for the Bill. As a resident in the Doncaster area, I feel that sufficient time has been wasted before steps are being taken to deal with what is a very real problem for that neighbourhood. Ten thousand of my constituents reside in that area, and, from the point of view of their health and of loss of employment through land becoming derelict for want of drainage, I have more than an ordinary interest in the Bill. Fortunately, it is an improvement upon the West Riding Bill of 1923, for there we had coalowners, royalty owners, drainage commissioners, and a certain number of local authorities opposing it. As a result of the Drainage Commission, which completed its sittings some 12 months ago, a drastic change has taken place in the mentality of a fairly large number of people. As the Minister has truly said, this is expected to be the largest coal mining district in any part of Great Britain, and unless steps are taken quickly, a very large area of land will obviously become submerged, and be of no further use for agricultural purposes.

Need I remind the House of one statement that was made by mining experts in this area, when they told us that certain parts of this area are only 16 feet above sea level? As there are approximately 35 feet of coal which ultimately might let down the whole of the land by approximately 21 feet, one can readily see the necessity for a drainage scheme of this description being undertaken at the very earliest possible moment. As a matter of fact, the taking away of the first seam has already let down the surface by approximately 3 feet 6 inches, and it is estimated that some 70 or 80 years hence the surface is bound to fall another two or three feet. Therefore, if one reflects for a moment one can realise the effect in the process of time upon the health and the general population of that area. This is also a very real problem from the point of view of the Agriculturist. Constant complaints are forthcoming from farmers who find themselves in a hopeless condition because of their land being waterlogged and they are unable to obtain the maximum quantity of food stuffs. Here is a statement which was made by the mining expert who was called upon to give a report on this particular area. I merely give this quotation from the point of view of the position of agricultural land and of food production. This gentleman states: The larger proportion of this land is excellent for farming if kept free from water, which constitutes no difficulty, except on grounds of cost. This valuable agricultural land to the East and North East of Doncaster can be made to produce the whole or greater part of the vegetable and dairy produce required for a larger industrial population. He continues: The provision of keeping this land free from water is a national necessity. This Bill is not premature, but long overdue, and I hope that in a very short space of time it will not only pass through the Committee stage but will be given the Third Beading, and that the essential Board will be set up. There are one or two questions which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. He told me in reply to a question yesterday that of the 25 inclosure awards in the area proposed under this Bill at least 14 of the awards were practically null and void because the beneficiaries under the awards were refusing to meet their obligations as far as drainage is concerned. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that when the Measure becomes operative, the Central Board will have full power to insist upon the awards being carried out, so that the original beneficiaries will not be able to saddle their responsibility on to property owners and other people resident in that area.

1.0 p.m.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what is going to be the real effect of the application of this Measure on the ordinary cottage tenant and on the ordinary property owner, and, in fact, on the hereditaments? Unless we can know something about that, I fear that suspicions may be created in the minds of some people and that they may attempt to hold up the Measure when the majority wish to see it put into operation at the earliest possible moment. I was looking at the original Act of 1833, and at the Act of 1918, and there I saw that powers were given to the Drainage Commission to make exceptions when rating various hereditaments in the various areas concerned. If the right hon. Gentleman can explain what the ultimate effect of introducing new drainage schemes or improving old drainage schemes will be upon ordinary cottage property all suspicions will be removed.

There is another point which, I think, is a fairly legitimate one. The First Schedule indicates how the Central Board must be constituted. I notice that while the District Drainage Board's representation on this Board is to consist of the West Biding of Yorkshire County Council, the Lindsey County Council, the Nottingham County Council and the Doncaster County Borough Council, with the Coal Owners' Association having three representatives, and the Royalty Owners three representatives, the tens of thousands of miners who with their families reside in this area do not get any representation at all. Although the Drainage Commission made representations on the lines of the constitution embodied in the Bill, it is a fairly legitimate claim to make on behalf of the tens of thousands of miners, who with their wives and families will indirectly not only be called upon to pay the share of the Royalty owners and the share of the mine owners but—and this is a more important factor—will be obliged to live in this district. They have a real interest from the point of view of health and of general environment.

Therefore I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider before the concluding stages of the Bill whether he cannot give at least some representation to the men who delve in the bowels of the earth and make drainage schemes necessary, and to the people who have to reside in that district. I should like to ask how it is that in Clause 20, instead of the Government making a financial contribution to what after all, is a scheme of national necessity, they demand actual payment from the Central Board for any initial cost that may be incurred for putting the Measure into operation. That seems to be a mean attitude on the part of the Government. If it is going to result in draining the area, in improving the health of the people, in increasing the amount of agricultural land available for employment, the Government ought not to be quite so mean Instead of demanding payment in respect of the cost of putting the Bill into operation, they ought to be making a real contribution towards this scheme.

Having said so much, I have no further criticisms to offer on the Bill I notice, however, that there is one omission. There appears to be no arrangement made for dividing the area into divisions for rating purposes. That may or may not constitute a difficulty in the future. There are arrangements whereby certain areas can withdraw from the scheme temporarily. That may have the effect of permitting certain areas to withdraw from the original scheme and avoid any of the initial costs, and come back into the scheme after other parts have been called upon to make big financial contributions. That point may very well be dealt with in Committee.

The Bill does not profess to be a permanent institution which will render the bigger scheme unnecessary. It is intended to be a temporary scheme which will fit into the bigger scheme when it comes along. That being so, and so long as this Bill helps to co-ordinate drainage schemes in the area and to provide them with a central board, which will have the necessary education to fit them for the bigger undertakings, the least we can do is to give the Bill a Second Reading, and to hope that the Minister will, as and where necessary, amend it on proper lines in the Committee stage.