I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Measure, with which we introduce the new Parliamentary Session, is not likely to be controversial in character, and perhaps hon. Members in all parts of the House will bear with me if I only give a general description of the contents of it? After the Debate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will deal with any questions which arise, and he will also take charge of this Measure during the Committee stage. The House will probably recall that in 1906 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then President of the Board of Trade appointed a Royal Commission for the purpose of considering the question of coast erosion. That Royal Commission made a very elaborate review of the problem, after hearing many witnesses, in its third and final report in 1911. Since that time, on one or two occasions, draft legislation has been prepared, and during the present year my predecessor in office at the Board of Trade indicated that a Bill, substantially on the lines of the Bill which I am now recommending to the House, would be one of the early legislative efforts of the late Government if it were returned to office.
We have succeeded to that Measure this afternoon, and my first duty in moving its Second Reading is to recall, in short outline, the report of the Royal Commission in 1911 and also the principal recommendations which it made. That Royal Commission made a careful study of this problem round all parts of the coasts of the United Kingdom. Most of the districts severely exposed to coast erosion, as, for example, certain parts of the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk, one or two parts of the Scottish coast, parts of the Lancashire coast and other parts were described in very great detail, and much valuable information was submitted regarding the geological and other problems which lie behind a Measure of this kind. The Royal Commission directed attention to the fact that there is in the public mind a good deal of misunderstanding on this question. Hon. Members who have seen erosion in active process on the coast of Yorkshire, or in Norfolk, may, perhaps, be inclined to think that this country loses each year a very considerable proportion of its land due to the inroads of the sea. That is certainly true as regards those parts of the coast to which I have referred, and the Royal Commission in 1911 pointed out that over a period of approximately 35 years up to the time in which it was engaged in its analysis, this country had lost perhaps rather more than 6,000 acres due to that form of erosion. But on the other side, there is constantly in process accretion and addition, and during the same period no fewer than 48,000 acres or more have been added to the extent of this country by various forms of accretion, most of which were described in this report. So that taking a very long view on the basis of the evidence of appropriate witnesses, there have been added or gained approximately 42,000 acres up to the time the Royal Commission reported.
It is not possible to make any effective comparison as to the value of the land which is lost and which is added to this country year by year. For the most part, the Royal Commission indicated that the erosion takes place from the open sea front, whereas a very great deal of the acretion or the addition is in tidal estuaries and bays. I am afraid that it is beyond all dispute that we feel that a good deal of the land which is added or so far reclaimed is of no very great value, but whilst it is true that the net gain to the country is considerable, the importance of legislation of this kind is both urgent and considerable. It will be seen that there are parts of valuable agricultural land and, indeed, other property which have been lost by the inroads of the ocean. One of the early questions which confronted the Royal Commission was the kind of central control which was necessary in a problem of this kind, and the Royal Commission unanimously reported or recommended in favour of the transfer of certain powers and duties which fall to the Commissioners of Crown Lands to the Board of Trade in order to complete what had been begun in 1866 and to make the Board of Trade the responsible Government Department in this matter.
The first Clause of the Bill accordingly gives effect to that proposal, and as from the date the Bill passes, the Board of Trade will become the central authority having control of that fore-shore subject to the Crown, but excluding, of course, all those parts which have been lawfully enclosed or reserved, or have, been the subject of a separate bargain prior to the passage of this legislation. At the same time it makes it perfectly clear that that control does not extend to more than 50 feet below the surface in order not to interfere with minerals and other workings such as coal, which, as hon. Members are aware, in many cases, extend beyond the bed of the ocean. That is the first and the central part as regards the regulation of control in the Bill which I now introduce. Then the legislation proposes to take power to regulate the removal of material from the foreshore. As the House is well aware, a large part of the protection of our coasts depends on the accumulation of sand or gravel or shingle, as the case may be, and if that material is removed, sometimes in quite small quantities but occasionally in large quantities, then there may be not only immediate danger of erosion on the part of the coast from which that material is removed, but also danger to other and adjacent parts of the coast which have no power of interference over the section from which the material may have been removed.
This Bill has regard to all existing rights, and I desire at the very earliest opportunity to make it clear that there is no intention whatever of interfering with the normal removal of drift sea weed or other material which is necessary to agricultural processes or to any enterprises established in the locality. Even as regards the growing seaweed, which is a factor in binding the land together and preventing erosion, there may be cases, probably numerous cases, where the permission of the Board of Trade is necessary, but where it is advisable to allow such work to be continued; in such cases, permission will be readily given. The Bill has regard to every difficulty of that kind, and if there is any doubt as to the meaning of any of the Clauses for the purposes of Second Reading, I will give the fullest assurance that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will consider sympathetically any proposal which may be made to him under this head.
Then the Bill proceeds to the question of works which are either erected or carried out in or on or over the foreshore, and it takes power to regulate such works. Representations have been made to the Board in the interests of harbour and dock commissioners and canal commissioners, in connection with the proposals in Clause 4. I think that the Amendments to be proposed to certain parts of the Bill will enable the House to agree that provision is made for all dredging and other operations which are necessary for the preservation of a free channel to shipping to be carried on, and that before any scheme or any regulation is introduced under this Measure there will be the fullest provision for the consideration of objections and difficulties. On all those points the detailed proposals of the Bill may be regarded as providing sufficient safeguard, either now or as it will be before it finally passes through the House.
I come now to what is a larger and in many respects a more important question. When the Royal Commission considered the matter in 1911 it was suggested that many of the areas for the purpose of preventing coast erosion were too small. The House will be well aware of the facts. There might be active and indeed dangerous erosion at a part of the coast where there was only a small rural district council or an area in which the administration of the rating power was at the best very restricted. In circumstances of that kind it was quite impossible to undertake operations on the scale which was necessary for the protection of the part of the coast immediately affected and of other parts which very soon would be affected unless provision were made to deal with the matter. So one of the objects of the Royal Commission was to find out from representative witnesses and others what was the best area that could be adopted. Some of the witnesses suggested then and have since proposed that county areas might well be taken as a basis. But that raises all kinds of difficulties within the individual county. I have not the least doubt, for example, that if that proposal were adopted all the inland districts, those removed from the sea, would find it hard to come to an agreement regarding the levying of a rate of this kind.
In short, after a very full analysis of all the possibilities, the Royal Commission had no hesitation, so far as I can judge, in unanimously deciding that the county authorities would not be appropriate for the purpose, and that the only course was to set up special coast protection bodies. Let me explain as clearly as I can the way in which these bodies will be set up. There are many interests concerned in coast protection at the present time. It may be the interest of a local urban or rural district council. There may be a railway company with a railway or an authority with a road abutting on the sea. There may be the interests of the Ministry of Agriculture or of agriculture at large. There may be also the interests of local authorities in other forms of coast protection work which have been provided for the recreational facilities of districts of which Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast is one of the leading examples.
So it is plain that for the purpose of coast protection a combined or composite body may be by far the best proposition. Accordingly in the Bill and in the most important part of it, power is taken, under the regulations of the Board of Trade, to approve of the constitution of a coast protection authority which may include local authorities and may be exclusively composed of local authorities, railway companies, road interests, in fact any public or private interest which is associated in enterprises on the part of the coast affected. No doubt during the Committee stage hon. Members, particularly those representing coast constituencies, will wish to raise questions as to how far their interests are protected, and as to the rating powers of a body of the kind which I have described. Rating powers will be conferred, for the purpose of coast protection works, on those bodies which are set up, and there will be a power to introduce either a general rate for this purpose or a differential rate, by which is usually meant either a rate varying as between different districts within one authority or because of the distance of the lands rated from the defence works.
I think it would be perhaps by agreement between the Board of Trade and the various interests in the locality rather than by a process of direct election. But that is one of the many matters which can be discussed during the Committee stage.
I know that questions of that kind are involved, but, after all, there is a very valid reply in a matter of this kind which is so clearly in the public interest. In many cases it will be true that the local authorities which are elective will be associated with the scheme.
I could not say off-hand, but I have not the least doubt that over the whole range of local administration in this country something of the kind will be found. I should not like to pledge myself to detail at the moment; I am dealing only with the broad intentions of the Measure. Now I pass to the financial side of the scheme. When this was considered by the Royal Commission, it was represented that the whole cost of these coast protection works should be a charge on national funds. But, again after very careful consideration, the Royal Commission reported unanimously against that view. In any event, in the 18 years that have elapsed since 1911, the date of the final Report of the Royal Commission, many changes, not least on the financial side, have taken place.
I wish to say a word or two about the wider financial scheme, but the details of the Financial Memorandum may be simply summarised. One point relates to the circumstances which would arise in the event of the hereditary revenues being resumed by the Crown, in which case a payment would be necessary from the Consolidated Fund to the land revenues of the Crown in respect of any part of the Crown foreshore transferred from the Commissioners of Crown lands to the Board of Trade under this scheme. In all probability such circumstances would never arise, but according to the financial practice of this House it is necessary to specify a financial possibility of that kind in the Memorandum, and also to include it in the Financial Resolution which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is to move on Friday. Then there is provision also for any additional Departmental expenditure which will be involved—it must be small at the best—or any other outgoings attendant on the Measure; and there is a provision in respect of Stamp Duty. That is the limited scope of the Financial Memorandum and the Resolution.
But on the wider financial question many changes have certainly taken place since the Royal Commission was engaged in its task. In the first place there are three or four heads under which application might be made. It is possible that application might be made to the Development Commissioners, although I should think that under existing conditions that is probably rather an unlikely course. Then certain work, of course, will always be undertaken partly in connection with drainage schemes, and, so far as it is so connected, with schemes associated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; and it may be that grants would be available under that head. The third and probably more important place is taken by works which, it might be shown, will help in the relief of unemployment. They will be eligible for consideration. I am referring to coast protection works designed to provide work for unemployed men. It will be open to the new coast protection authorities to approach the Unemployment Grants Committee for assistance under this head if such scheme comes within the scope of the existing regulations of the Unemployment Grants Committee or of those regulations as they may be varied from time to time. Under this and other heads application may be made. The House will see at once that such a provision constitutes a substantial change compared with the time when the Royal Commission was engaged in its analysis of the problem.
There is one other financial matter to which I must refer. Normally an authority of this kind might not have the right to approach the Public Works Loans Com- missioners for loans unless that were definitely specified in legislation. Hon. Members know that local authorities can approach, and every week do approach, the Public Works Loan Commissioners for loans on certain terms, spread, as regards payment of interest and sinking fund, over a period of years. In this Bill a Clause is included specifically providing that the new coast protection authorities can apply to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. It will be open to the Public Works Loans Commissioners under the Bill to have regard to all the facts and to adjust the conditions. I think I have said sufficient to outline the general scope of this legislation. It is hardly controversial in character. My predecessor in office had committed his government to its early introduction. There will be the fullest opportunity for review and amendment during the Committee stage. Having regard to the importance of the subject to certain specific areas in the country and also the extent to which it will contribute to the provision of useful employment I have great pleasure in commending the Bill for Second Reading.
The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a Bill which is substantial not only in its length but in its importance. He is quite right in saying that if I had occupied his place to-day I should have introduced a Bill of some sort dealing with this matter. I am not sure that the final form of the Bill which I should have presented would have been quite the same as the form in which this Bill now stands, but I have always thought, and I have said so on several occasions, that when Parliamentary time was available it was very desirable that Parliament should deal with the question of coast erosion, and that it was essentially a matter which the House of Commons ought to mould, in the light of its own experience.
While the Bill does not raise party issues it does raise important questions of administration, local and national administration, which are just the kind of questions which the House of Commons ought carefully to consider, having regard not only to the individual proposals that find their place in a Measure like this, but also the kind of precedents which are being created. Hon. Members who sit for constituencies on the sea coast and who have personal experience of the problems which are raised in this Measure and also experience of local administration in dealing with these problems, are exactly the kind of people to consider in detail a Bill of this kind, and to mould it in its most convenient form. Certainly, were I in the right hon. Gentleman's place I should welcome the most careful and detailed consideration of the Bill in Committee, and any criticisms and constructive suggestions that might be made.
The Bill really divides itself into two parts. It makes two main proposals. The first proposal for dealing with coast erosion is by the constitution of new and combined authorities, on the lines indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. While there may be criticism in regard to detail and principle, I think that, on the whole, after mature consideration, most hon. Members will agree that some plan of that kind is right and necessary. The Bill also contains other provisions, which were dealt with rather lightly, I thought, by the right hon. Gentleman. It is proposed to vest in the Board of Trade very large new powers. Let me deal first with the proposals in Clause 8 and the Second Schedule, to set up the new authorities. Anyone considering a proposal of this kind for the first time would probably approach it with a natural aversion to establishing any more new bodies or new authorities, with a natural aversion to establishing any new staffs and, still more, with a natural aversion to establishing any new bodies with new powers of levying rates. That point was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) when he asked what direct or indirect representation on these authorities would there be for those people who would be called upon to pay the bill. That is the kind of very relevant criticism which has to be raised and must be satisfactorily met in Committee.
That may be the first impression of these proposals, but when you go more closely into the problem of coast erosion you find that, in order to deal effectively and economically with coast erosion, any proposals you make inevitably overrun the boundaries of existing local authorities. It has been pointed out to me very often that if we could do some comparatively small protective work at a particular point on the coast we might, at relatively little expense, protect not so much that particular part of the coast but we might be protecting in far and away the most effective and economical way large tracts of country which lie to the north or south of it on the coastline. To-day, that particular point, which could be a strong point against the encroachment of the sea, may be outside the area of certain authorities. It is necessary to construct some coast defence works at that point, but very likely the area itself is poor and not greatly interested in the other parts to be protected. There is, I believe, no power to-day for the various local authorities to combine and raise the necessary funds to engage in joint operations.
When we come to a case like that—hon. Members who sit for constituencies most affected will probably have similar examples which they can quote from their own experience—we come to the need for collaboration, and probably the only way or the best way, which was recommended by the Royal Commission, to secure that collaboration is by some sort of combined authority, on which all the areas and all the interests will be represented and where all local authorities, port and harbour authorities, individuals or corporations will be able to find some representation, in order most economically and efficiently to engage in an operation which is for the benefit of all. Speaking for myself I welcome, on the whole, the power to create a special authority of this kind, and I agree that when we get into Committee on the Bill it will be very important to see what is the best form of organisation. If it can be shown that, without the creation of some entirely new body, there is a practical way of enabling existing authorities and existing corporations to combine for this purpose, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give any such alternative his careful consideration; but some form of collaboration is absolutely necessary if effective and economical protection against coast erosion is to be given.
Now, I turn to the provisions in the Bill which give new powers to the Board of Trade. The House and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that if it is proposed to vest in any Government department—even the best of all Government Departments, the Board of Trade—large new powers, a strong case must be made for the vesting of those powers and for the manner in which those powers, if they are given, are to be exercised. The Clauses which deal with this matter are Clauses 1 to 7. Clause 1, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is not very important. All that Clause 1 does is to vest in the Board of Trade powers which to-day are vested in other Government Departments, chiefly the Commissioners of Lands. Therefore, we are granting no new powers to a Government. All that is proposed by Clause 1 is that the powers which exist to-day shall be exercised by one Department, and that the Department primarily charged with the responsibility for coast defence. That seems to be a practical and reasonable proposal.
Clause 2, so far as I can follow it, is incidental to that. Perhaps some provision might be inserted in that Clause or elsewhere to ensure, what I am sure would be the right hon. Gentleman's wish, that in exercising these powers special consideration should always be given to local interests. There are many farmers, many fishermen, and many local authorities who are interested in getting gravel, shingle and sand from the sea shore, and it is very important in the exercising of the powers conferred by the Bill that very careful and sympathetic consideration should be given to these interests. I am sure that would be the wish of the right hon. Gentleman and of the officials of the Board of Trade, but we are legislating in this Bill for all time, and therefore when I make a suggestion of that kind, or any criticism of the powers proposed to be conferred, I do so because it is necessary for the House carefully to consider what the powers are. In so doing, the House must not consider whether it will be the right hon. Gentleman or I who will have to administer the Bill, but they must remember that these powers, when once given, will be administered by various people. It has been the practice of the House to examine very closely all powers given to Government Departments.
I should like to know whether there is anything in the definition of foreshore and seashore in the Bill which alters the law as it stands to-day. There has been some criticism of the Bill to the effect that by the definition included in the Bill some additional powers were being given which were not very clear, or that the ordinary definition of foreshore was being altered. I am not sufficiently technical to know whether that is so or not, but it is a criticism which is being raised in some quarters, and any doubts on the matter ought to be effectively set at rest.
That is very important. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to take powers to interfere with anything we do on the Terrace or to remove any obstruction from the Terrace, it would become not only a question of the rights of the public but of the privileges of Parliament. Although the right hon. Gentleman said that he had not the least intention of exercising unreasonably any powers which may be taken under Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, we have to remember that these powers are given to the Board of Trade for ever. And they are rather drastic and arbitrary powers. Clauses 1 and 2 deal with powers which Government Departments already possess, but Clauses 3 and 4, as I read them, give to the Board of Trade wholly new powers over a foreshore not vested in the Crown and over which neither the Crown nor the Board of Trade have any powers, but which are private property or the property of a local authority or a corporation. Observe the powers given by these Clauses to the Board of Trade over a foreshore which hitherto has been outside their control. Clause 3 says:
Where the Board of Trade are of opinion that it is desirable for the protection of any part of the coast of the United Kingdom from erosion, or for the protection of navigation, fisheries or other public rights over the seashore"—
whatever those rights are—
the Board may, subject to compliance with the provisions contained in the First Schedule to this Act (relating to procedure and the holding of public inquiries) by order prohibit the removal of all or any materials (including minerals on, or not more than 50 feet below, the surface) from such parts of the seashore as may be specified in the order.
That is a very large arbitrary power to take; but if you go on you will find in Sub-section (3) of the same Clause that
An order made under this Section shall be binding on all persons, including the owners of and persons interested in any part of the seashore comprised in the order, and any drainage authority, or harbour local or other authority having jurisdiction over the area comprised in the order or any part thereof, and all road authorities and surveyors of highways, and shall have effect notwithstanding the provisions of any public general or local or private Act, or any alleged custom or prescriptive right, to the contrary.
That is a very large power. It is a power, not only over the owner of the foreshore or the occupier of the foreshore—they may be people who are not in your opinion deserving of very great consideration as they are only the owners of private property—but local authorities, harbour authorities and highway authorities, are all to be overruled. Then, look at Clause 4. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not say that I intended to take any of these powers. In meeting deputations I have always dealt with the powers given under Clause 8 of this Bill, and I think the House should be satisfied that there is a case to justify such drastic powers as these. Clause 4 says:
No drainage authority, harbour local or other authority, or other person shall construct, carry out or alter, or authorise the construction, carrying out or alteration of any works, on, under or over any part of the seashore to which this Section applies, or carry out or authorise the carrying out of any dredging operations thereon, or deposit or authorise the deposit of materials thereon, without the previous consent in writing, conditional or unconditional, of the Board of Trade (which consent the Board are hereby authorised to give), and if any person contravenes this provision or any condition subject to which the consent has been given, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act:
And when you come to Clause 7 you find that where any part of a work constructed on the seashore, whether in pursuance of the consent obtained under this Act or not, has fallen into decay the owner or occupier may be called upon to remove it. These are really tremendously drastic powers to give to a Government Department over property which is not Government property; and the Bill gives these overriding powers, not only over private individuals who happen to be owners of the foreshore, but over every local authority and harbour authority, who have been dealing perfectly properly with the foreshore in the past. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is not going to do anything unreasonable. I am
sure he is not, and that it is not the intention of the Board of Trade to do anything unreasonable. Then, why does he want powers so drastic as these? If you are going to put these powers into an Act of Parliament, you must make out a strong case, on the merits, why it is necessary for a Department to have these new powers.
What is the justification? Are the owners or the occupiers of the foreshore abusing their rights in any large measure? I am not sure that they are. The man who owns the foreshore generally owns the land behind it, and he is a man whose greatest interest it is to see that the land he owns is not washed away. He is anxious and active to prevent people taking away shingle and sand from the beach to the detriment of his property, which is likely in such a case to be washed into the sea. I have no reason to suppose that harbour and highway authorities are taking shingle and sand and gravel to the danger of the public. It has been the practice of the Board of Trade, where the foreshore is claimed as Crown property or where there has been a dispute as to the title, and they have been satisfied that the owner of the land has an interest in the preservation of his land, to give a lease at a purely nominal rate to the local landowner or the local authority of the district. That is evidence that they are people who really have an interest in preserving the foreshore and the coast from erosion. There may be definite and established cases which show that these powers ought to be granted, but the House, before it grants them, ought to know what is the justification for giving these large and novel powers.
Then, assuming that the right hon. Gentleman makes out a good case for vesting these powers in him Parliament ought to be satisfied that they are going to be reasonably exercised, and that they will not be used in an arbitrary manner. I say nothing personal at all. I should be content as long as I was dealing with the right hon. Gentleman, though not with some of his colleagues, that he would be very reasonable in the exercise of these powers. But we are giving these powers to the Board of Trade for all time and we ought to be satisfied that they will not be exercised unreasonably. Let me ask what is usually the first ques- tion: What Parliamentary control will there be over orders made by the Department? As I read the Bill I do not think there is any Parliamentary control at all over orders made under Clauses 3 and 4. There is control under Clause 8, but in the case of orders made under Clauses 3 and 4 there is no Parliamentary control at all; there will be no way of challenging any order except by waiting until Committee of Supply and then raising it on the right hon. Gentleman's salary. There is the regular procedure of the House under which any order which is made can be challenged, and if it is not challenged within 21 days in either House it goes through automatically. The House will probably want to be sure that it retains some measure of control over these orders.
Again, it seems to me that orders made under Clause 8 and paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Second Schedule will only come before Parliament if the Board of Trade is satisfied that there is a sufficient amount of opposition to the order to make it desirable to bring it before the House. That proposition has never been found in an Act of Parliament before. We have never been limited in our power to challenge an order made by a Minister to an occasion on which the Minister thought the volume of opposition was such as to make it reasonable for us to be allowed to challenge the action he has taken. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, on reconsideration, will amend that provision so that all these orders will come before Parliament, if not in a positive form, at any rate, in the usual regular form. There are one or two other provisions in the Bill which seem to me to be a little arbitrary. Clause 3 gives power to the Board of Trade to say to anybody that he is not to remove anything from the foreshore, and the proviso to the first Subsection says that if the Board of Trade is satisfied that it is an urgent case they can make an interim order and tell the local authority or the highway authority, without their being heard by any independent inquiry, that they are at once to stop taking anything off the foreshore. That is a power equal in law to an interlocutory injunction; and it is a very strong power to give to a Government Department, for obviously there is a dispute—in these oases there is always a dispute—as to whether their action is likely to be injurious to the foreshore or not. I do not think that that power can be necessary in a case which, it is conceded, has to go to an independent inquiry.
Then I would ask whether in all these Clauses—Clause 3, Clause 4 and Clause 7—there should not be some appeal to an independent tribunal. Here it is proposed to challenge, not only property rights, but the powers—the statutory powers in many cases—of local authorities and public bodies, and Clause 5 contemplates that in certain cases the inquiry shall be by an independent engineer. I think that in taking these drastic powers the fair thing would be to say that if their exercise should be challenged, the owner, occupier or local authority challenging the exercise of those powers should have the right to go to an independent tribunal and that tribunal should decide between the Government Department and the local authority or the owner. I suggest that in all these cases there should be a right of appeal—if you like to an independent arbitrator, to an independent engineer, or to the County Court Judge. These are not cases of tremendous technicality. They are cases in which there may be some conflict of evidence and where the measure of local convenience is at issue. I should have thought that either an engineer or a County Court Judge would be competent to decide these cases, and, as I say, if such powers are to be taken there ought to be an appeal to an independent tribunal. But, I ask, is it really necessary to introduce criminal offences into this Bill? I remember being challenged myself by hon. Members opposite on this point in reference to a Bill in which the introduction of criminal offences was much better justified than it is here. I am not sure that it is necessary to make breaches of this proposed legislation criminal offences for which people can be taken into Court, prosecuted and fined so-much for every day during which the offence continues.
After all, what are these offences? If someone has taken a licence from the Board of Trade and has not strictly complied with the terms of it, or if someone has failed to remove some obstacle which the Board of Trade says he ought to remove—these are offences. In these matters, however, there is a genuine dispute as to whether the conditions have been broken or not, or whether the requirements of the Board of Trade as to the removal of some protection on the foreshore, or the prohibition on taking sand or shingle, have been carried out or not. In all cases where the Board of Trade would want to prosecute there is a genuine dispute, and I should have thought that those were exactly the disputes which were proper for a civil Court and not for a criminal Court. A case of that kind is like a breach of covenant in a lease. No one would take a man to the police court for breach of covenant in a lease, and I think the natural thing for the Board of Trade to do, if it found that some licence was not being carried out, would be, not to take the man into the police court, but to apply for an injunction or for damages in respect of what is, in effect, breach of contract or breach of covenant. There are one or two other Clauses which call for comment. Clauses 11 and 12, upon which the right hon. Gentleman was silent, and which, I frankly admit, I do not altogether understand, seem to take away something from the inhabitants of Scotland and Northern Ireland—some right which they had.
No, Sir. These two Clauses turn really on the point of the establishment of prescriptive rights against the Crown in regard to foreshore. In the first place, under an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1617—which is going rather a long way back—the prescriptive period was fixed at 40 years, but under the Conveyancing (Scotland) Act, 1874, continued by a similar Act of 1924, that period was reduced in Scotland to 20 years, which comes to this—that very often by trifling acts on the foreshore, such as the collection of materials and the rest, owners may estab- lish a right to the foreshore as against the Crown over a very short prescriptive period. My right hon. Friend is aware that neither the Board of Trade nor any other Government Department could possibly keep a watch on these matters all round the coast, and, in fact, in a quarter of a century some 1,500 linear miles of foreshore in Scotland have passed beyond the reach of the Crown, on nothing more than claims of that kind, which, owing to the absence of evidence, the Board of Trade or other appropriate Department was unable to refute. All that this Clause does is to bring the practice in Scotland into line with the 60-year prescriptive period in England and other parts of the country. In other words, we in Scotland are now to be uniform with, shall I say, the less distinguished parts of the United Kingdom. Then as regards Clause 12, the crofters' legislation of 1886 under which there is a provision in respect of certain acts such as the collection of seaweed, is not in any way interfered with and this Clause merely ensures that it will not enable acts of that kind, necessary to the crofter for the cultivation of the soil, to build up a claim to the foreshore against the Crown. With both provisions I trust my right hon. Friend will agree.
If all that these Clauses do is to bring the Scottish pilferer into line with the more lawabiding subjects south of the Border, I, myself, would not challenge them at all, though I suspect that certain Scottish Members may take another line and may regard it as very hardy on the part of a Scottish Minister to introduce a provision so fair to England. There is only one other Clause which I wish to mention and that is Clause 18, which provides that an order made under this Measure may with the consent of the Government Department concerned, but not otherwise, apply to any land belonging to or in the occupation of any Government Department. I do not know why a Government Department should have different treatment from and have more rights than any other owner or occupier of land under this Measure. If we are going to give powers to the Board of Trade to control the foreshore, all owners, whether Government Departments, private individuals, or local authorities should be treated in the same way. While I give this Bill my support on Second Reading, because I am satisfied that legislation dealing with coast erosion is necessary, at the same time I feel sure that the right hon. Gentle-man will welcome a very careful scrutiny in Committee of the points which I have raised—and no doubt there will be many Other points of detail—and that he will welcome any alternative suggestion which may be made. As I said at the beginning, there are Members in this House who, from their own long experience in these matters can do much, if they have the time in Committee, to make a Bill dealing with coast protection the best Bill on the subject which the House could frame, and it is, I hope, in that spirit that the Bill will pass into Committee.
This Bill has to me some rather familiar aspects, and recalling the years when I sat on the bench which is occupied at the moment by my right hon. Friend the ex-President of the Board of Trade, I am reminded that when a new Bill came before the House it was almost invariably accompanied by the creation of a new authority. I find on my return to the House that the practice is still much the same and I was very glad indeed to hear from the ex-President of the Board of Trade that he intended, no doubt with the assistance of his colleagues, to exercise a very careful scrutiny of the Clauses of this Measure and, if possible, to eliminate any unnecessary new and expensive authority while leaving the best parts of the Bill to function. I heard the speech of the President of the Board of Trade and I heard the criticisms of the ex-President of the Board of Trade and I am left with a certain amount of dubiety as to the wholehearted sincerity of those criticisms. I am not sure that if this Bill had been presented by my right hon. Friend the ex-President of the Board of Trade, it would have differed very much from the Bill which is before us. Such are the ways of Ministers and such are the ways of Departments:
When the Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be. When the Devil got well, the Devil a monk was he.
It is really left very largely to the unfettered criticisms of the independent Members of the House of Commons to see that the rights of the public are maintained in these matters. I am not rising to oppose in any way the Second Reading of the Bill and I thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the lucid way in which he expounded the Bill to the House. Nor do I cavil in the least at the fact that one of the best Departments of the Government, the Board of Trade, has further powers given to it from the other Departments which constitute the administrative side of the Government. That I am entirely satisfied with, but I hope that there will be a very careful examination of the powers given to this new authority—not only as to its constitution but as to its powers to raise further money from already overburdened ratepayers and taxpayers. I want at once to say that as far as I am concerned I will give whatever assistance I can give in order to have clearly defined the powers of any new authority which is set up to administer anything, anywhere. Let us look at the provisions of this Bill on one or two points which have already been touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister). The first point is that although the Bill is seemingly a very simple matter, as soon as you get closely in touch with it you find that there must be scores of authorities along the coastline who will be deeply affected by it. I am quite certain (though of course I know nothing of it) that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has already had to receive many deputations, and has endeavoured to meet many practical points put by men of responsibility and experience. Let us take as an instance—and it is one of the main reasons why I trouble the House at all—the special interests of the part of the country which concerns me, the county of Cornwall. The coastline of that county is, of course, coterminous with the county itself. The question of erosion there really does not arise in any degree, but the powers given under Clause 3 of the Bill are of very material importance to the agricultural interests, and I have no doubt also to the fishing interests, of the people of Cornwall. It is especially to those interests that I should like my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to give sympathetic consideration.
The House will no doubt be surprised to know that the right of agriculturists
to get sand from the seashore reaches back as far as the year 1261, somewhere about the time when the existence of this Parliament itself started. That right was specially created by a statute which I have do doubt the President of the Board of Trade knows something about; but if the House will forgive me, I will read two or three lines of the important Section. The Act to which I am referring is a statute of James I, passed in 1609, and is entitled,
an Act for the taking, landing and carrying of sea-sand for the bettering of ground, and for the increase of corn and tillage within the counties of Devon and Cornwall,
The Act provides:
Be it therefore enacted …. that it shall and may be lawful to and for all persons whatsoever resident and dwelling within the said counties of Devon and Cornwall, to fetch and take sea-sand at all places under the full sea-mark, where the same is or shall be cast by the sea, for the bettering of their land, and for the increase of corn and tillage, at their wills and pleasures.
That is a very simple provision conferring upon every agriculturist the right to take sand. Not only that, but the matter came before the Courts in 1848, and then Mr. Justice Maule specially recognised the fact that the seashore in the Counties of Devon and Cornwall stands upon a footing different from that of every other county, in that it was made the subject of special legislation by the Statute to which I have just referred. I am not citing a case in the air; I am citing a case based upon the statute law of the land and also upon a decision in the Courts of law, which established and recognised a custom which has been carried on all these years.
Let us look at what the Bill proposes to do; and here I will adopt the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon. If the President of the Board of Trade will refer to Clause 3 of the Bill he will be able to follow the words which I desire to quote:
Where the Board of Trade are of opinion that it is desirable for the protection of any part of the coast of the United Kingdom from erosion, or for the protection of navigation, fisheries or other public rights over the seashore, that such an order as is hereinafter mentioned should be made, the Board may, subject to compliance with the provisions contained in the First Schedule to this Act (relating to procedure and the holding of public inquiries), by order prohibit the removal of all or any materials (including minerals on, or no more than fifty
feet below, the surface) from such parts of the seashore as may be specified in the order.
Before this House takes away special rights conferred by statute and confirmed by Courts of law, it must put in their place something very specific and definite. A right hon. Member sitting beside me has just made a reference to what is the present practice. The present practice is this: this right of removing sand from the seashore in this way is a very valuable asset for the betterment of pasture land in that part of Cornwall, and it is the regular practice for farmers to use this sand, because it contains so high a percentage of lime. We all know that lime is a very important factor in the manuring of land; its manurial value is very high. In one part of what happens to be my constituency, out of every ton of sand the actual value of the lime is about 12d. 1d., and that is a most important commercial matter. I believe Hartland Bay contains sand, the lime content of which is of a value of about 14s. 3d. per ton of sand—an extraordinary and remarkable factor in agriculture. Those who are responsible, in a Parliamentary sense, for Cornwall, have to see that that right is properly protected, and we are contending that not only should this Bill be examined very carefully in its general terms, but that an example like this shows at once how careful Parliament should be, when it sets out to introduce a new Bill setting up new authorities, that it is giving fair play to everybody and is not seriously affecting a great public asset.
Let me pass to another phase of Clause 3, and see what protection there may be under the First Schedule. Here I agree with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Hendon in criticising the Bill. The First Schedule provides:
Before making an order under Section 3 of this Act, the Board of Trade shall cause notice of their intention to make the order … to be published in the 'London Gazette.'
I believe it is the practice of the Board of Trade not to limit itself to the "London Gazette" but also to publish notices in other papers. We should like to have an assurance that full notice will be given to agriculturists of the intention to exercise the powers given by this Bill. What is really going to happen with regard to this? An Order will be made;
it will lie on the Table; and automatically, unless some action is taken after 11 o'clock at night, it will have the force of law. What I am going to press as strongly as I can—and I am sure I shall be supported by my colleagues and by hon. Members in other parts of the House—is that we cannot leave it there; there must be some further protection to prevent an Order being obtained in that way and having legislative effect in that manner. It will not do. There must be an appeal of some sort, or some special opportunity, and full opportunity, given to this House, by resolution or otherwise, not only of seeing that these inquiries have been properly held, but of ensuring that before these valuable rights are in any degree seriously affected, there shall be not only local inquiry, but public' approval of the result of that inquiry, before it has the effect of law.
I am in hearty support of the principle of the Bill itself, but I do give this warning that so far as the provisions of this Bill create new bodies and confirm new powers to levy more money and establish fresh officials, I shall exercise all the powers of criticism that I have in order to cut that down to the lowest possible level. Above all I do ask the Government especially to see that the two counties for which I have been speaking this afternoon have not only fair play, but ample justice extended to them.
I want to deal very briefly with one aspect of this Bill, because it is of enormous importance to Londoners. The Bill as drafted will have the effect of handicapping very seriously the work of the London County Council, without having the compensating advantage of achieving any of the objects which the President of the Board of Trade suggested in his speech. That arises from the definition of "seashore" in the Bill, because, startling as it may appear, the River Thames extending right up to Teddington is seashore, and anything which is done on the Thames or under the Thames, will come under this Bill and must have the approval of the Board of Trade. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade has no desire to handicap the London County Council in the execution of its public duties, and that when the time comes he will meet the council. The works which they have to do are continual works and frequent, works. One of their duties is to maintain, to alter and to repair the London bridges; they are responsible for the main drainage of London, which results in frequent alterations of the various works along the banks of the Thames; and, most important of all, they are the authority responsible for flood prevention in London, and in that capacity they have extensive work to do along the whole of the banks of the Thames, and very often extremely urgent work. The House will remember the disaster which happened about two years ago, when many people in London were drowned; and it may easily happen, and in fact does constantly happen, that the county council have, for the safety of Londoners, to undertake certain works urgently.
Amongst other works which the London County Council have to do are the maintenance and repair of their tunnels, their embankments and their ferry works. The object of this Bill is: "To make further and better provision for the protection of the coast of the United Kingdom against erosion"; and no one can suggest that if the County Council were exempted from this Bill, the erosion of the coast would be affected in any way. A second object is" For the management in the interests of the public of the shore and bed of the sea and other tidal waters"; and again, if the London County Council were allowed to maintain their existing rights, they would not in any way jeopardise the management in the interests of the public of the shore and bed of the sea. On the other hand, if they do come within the ambit of this Bill—and it appears to me that it is only by accident that they would do so, the accident being that the Thames happens to flow up to Teddington—they are convinced that it will seriously interfere with their work and will handicap them in carrying out their duties with the efficiency and expedition which they desire to show. When this Bill is considered in Committee their existing rights should be fully maintained in order that they may carry out their work. I am sure the President of the Board of Trade does not desire to handicap a great public authority like the London County Council in its important work, and I very much hope he will consider the attitude of the Council to be reasonable, as it is, and, when the appropriate time comes, will meet them on the Committee stage of the Bill.
I crave the indulgence of this House in addressing it for the first time. This Bill is of Considerable importance to a coastal town in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, the town of Morecambe, and in the view of the local authority, which I share, there are two main criticisms of this Bill. The first is that it is somewhat unfair to local authorities to bear the whole financial burden of sea defences. The President of the Board of Trade has minimised that to some extent, but I should like to be quite certain that the Development Commissioners will be authorised to include sea defence works in the definition of works of public utility. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned other bodies from which assistance can be obtained by local authorities, but I am sure that many local authorities will feel that they would much sooner have a right of contribution than rely upon fortuitous possibilities of assistance.
I am not going to weary the House with the details of the historical and legal arguments which might be adduced to prove that coast defence is a national obligation, but certainly, from the despotic powers given to the Board of Trade in this Bill, it might be inferred as the mind of the Government that it should be so regarded. The second point is that the Bill seems to be rather unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome, and will certainly prove very irksome to many local authorities when they come to work it. Might I ask hon. Members to imagine the procedure? A local authority applies to construct, say, a sea wall. First, there will be an application to the coast defence authority for consent, followed by an application to the county council drainage authority. Then there will be applications for the consent of the Ministry of Agriculture for drainage works, and for the consent of the central authority, the Board of Trade.
Then, if it should be a matter of a harbour or a railway, there will be application for the consent of the Ministry of Transport, and, if the applicant is a local authority, as in most cases it will be, there will be an application for the consent of the Ministry of Health. Finally, should a provisional order be involved, there will be an application for the consent of Parliament itself. In order to get a sea wall built, and maybe many less constructions, such as the removal of sand from one point to another, it may be necessary to run the gamut of seven Departments for their consent before the particular work can be authorised. Unless the President of the Board of Trade obtains power to stay the tides, they will be inundated before this complicated procedure is carried through; and I suggest that it may be possible to simplify the procedure at any rate for the less important coastal works at present within the ambit of this Bill.
Previous speakers have drawn attention to the multiplication of offences and the aggravation of penalties. I do not propose to detain the House on that matter, except to say that it is unfortunate that penalties in these days should be increased. I can quite imagine poor people, say, in my constituency unwittingly offending against no fewer than seven provisions under this Bill, and finding themselves liable, for some trivial offence, to a fine of £50 and £5 a day while the offence continues. In regard to Departmental orders, to a new Member it seems astonishing to read that an order issued by the Board of Trade should have effect notwithstanding the provisions of any public, general, or local or private Act. I expect most hon. Members used to be taught, as I was, that, it was a wrong principle for an administrative Department to enact or amend the laws that had got to be administered, and it seems to me that this Clause as it stands absolutely contravenes that principle. The provision to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) drew attention, namely, Sub-section (2) of Clause 8, is of a similar nature, but not quite so drastic, and I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that, important as it may be, and is, to defend our coasts from erosion by the sea, it is still more important to defend the jurisdiction of our Law Courts and the authority of Parliament from erosion by Government officials.
I should not have risen, as this is the first time I have tried to speak in this House, but for the references made to Clause 3 of this Bill. This question was raised, so far as Sunderland is concerned, as far back as 1907. There is not much here in the way of a young man in a hurry when we are only now getting down to it with the introduction of this Bill. In 1907 the Sunderland Corporation complained about this, and in 1908 there was a law case, as far as Ryhope and Hendon were concerned, and although the Attorney-General was prosecuting, no decision was then arrived at by the learned magistrates who heard the case, because they were given to understand that legislation was going to be brought in. That law case was brought because a certain gentleman had some land at Ryhope, I believe, or at Hendon—I am not sure which—and he was removing shingle, with the result that in the view of the authorities the removal of this shingle was having a detrimental effect on that part of the coast and erosion was taking place very rapidly. That was the cause of the law action, on which, as I have said, the magistrates gave no decision, and that gentleman is to this day, I am given to understand, removing the shingle from that part of Sunderland.
Therefore, in 1925, the Sunderland Corporation sent a deputation to wait on Members of this House on this subject, and in May of this year—that is not long ago—another deputation from Sunderland appeared here, asking the President of the Board of Trade, or whatever Department it was to take some steps in the matter. The reason for Clause 3, from my point of view, is this, that because the magistrates at that time did not come to a decision and this gentleman is still removing that shingle, it is high time that either the Board of Trade or some other Government Department had power and authority to say to such people, "You are not going to remove shingle, even if it is on your own property, if its removal is to the detriment of the coast and the town near by." That is the reason I wanted to say these few words.
I should like, first of all, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on having found it possible, so early in the Session, to introduce a Bill dealing with this very important and long outstanding matter. No doubt, as he hinted, we are indebted for that to the fact that it was considered, having regard to the highly controversial matters upon which we may shortly be engaged, that it would be well to commence the Session at all events with an innocuous Measure, in regard to which feelings of violence would not be roused and party feeling would not run high. But, although this Bill may be described as a nonparty Measure in that sense, it is certainly vary far from being uncontroversial. It is no doubt true that a Bill dealing with this question would have been introduced if the late Government had remained in office; and it is certainly true, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. A. Smith), who has just addressed the House, and whom I should like to congratulate, if I may, on his maiden speech, that there was a very largely attended conference of coastal authorities charged with sea defence convened in 1925, over which I had the honour of presiding. It was in response to or in fulfilment of an undertaking that was given by my right hon. Friend who was then President of the Board of Trade that we may be indebted for the inception, at all events, of this Bill. Owing to subsequent events, upon which I need not enlarge, it was impossible to proceed with this matter at that time, and, therefore, it came about that shortly before the last General Election a further conference of coastal authorities was convened, it being thought, perhaps not unnaturally, that that was not a bad psychological moment, just before a General Election, in order to make an approach to the various party leaders for sympathetic support. In point of fact, that was done, and replies were received from all three leaders, to which I will refer in a moment.
Therefore, I think we may take it that a Bill of some kind dealing with this problem would have been introduced, no matter what party had been in office, and certainly I may say at the outset that, so far as the general purpose and policy underlying this Bill are concerned, they are undoubtedly beneficial. But having said that, I do not pretend for a moment that this Bill is really satisfactory to the coastal authorities of this country as it stands, for the very simple reason that it does not go to the root of the problem, and the root of the problem is the question of financial responsibility. This burden of sea defence has continued in the case of many coastal authorities year after year, until it has reached in some instances an almost crushing total. I believe there are approaching 100,000 areas round the coasts of our country where millions of pounds, which the ratepayers have had to contribute, have been spent on sea defence, and it involves in some instances a rate amounting to as much as 1s. 6d. and 1s. 8d. in the £. I should like to emphasise this aspect of the matter, because I want to beg the right hon. Gentleman opposite to consider it further, and to see if he cannot consult with the Treasury and include some proposal in this Bill in its later stages which will give relief to very hard-pressed local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman himself, in introducing this Measure, referred to the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion, which reported in 1911. Before that Commission, it was argued with great force and pertinence that this burden of sea defence was properly one that should rest on the shoulders of the general taxpayers and not on those of the ratepayers in a particular locality, and it was urged for these reasons, none of which have lost their force to-day. Firstly, there was an obligation on the Crown to defend the coasts of our land against the sea, just as much as there was to defend them against a foreign enemy, and also to provide roads and bridges. These obligations were primarily and originally discharged out of national revenue, which was provided for by the Sovereign, but they have long since been taken over by Parliament, and it is difficult to understand why, if it is right for Parliament or the Government to assume national responsibility in the case of defence against a foreign foe, and in respect of roads and bridges, it should not be equally right for them to assume national responsibility for the protection of our coasts against the ravages of the sea.
It is also suggested that this obligation was inherent in the Coronation oath, and the legal position is still far from clear in spite of the Commission's findings. It must be admitted that after a full and exhaustive inquiry, the Commission by a majority reported against this being made a national charge, but I do not think it is accurate, strictly speaking, to say that it was a unanimous report to that effect. There was a reservation of a very strong kind by the then Town Clerk of Lowestoft, who was a member of the Commission. That was 20 years, ago, and it is quite true that circumstances in some respects, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, have changed in the meanwhile. Matters that were important in 1911 may not have the same force to-day; on the other hand, other aspects of the question have arisen. There is, of course, the question of the abnormal unemployment with which we are faced to-day. Here would be an admirable opportunity to make a definite contribution towards the solution of that problem by the employment of a very large number of men who could well be employed for a considerable period on these works of sea defence.
I would like to submit that there is no obligation whatever on the Government to accept the findings of the Royal Commission if their own view is definitely opposed to it, and I assume that their view is definitely opposed, for this reason. I mentioned a moment ago that there was a conference of local authorities convened just prior to the last Election. At that conference two resolutions were unanimously passed. The first was that this matter of sea defence ought to be made a national charge, and the second was that a Bill to give effect to the other recommendations of the Royal Commission—in point of fact, what is in substance this Bill—ought to be taken in hand. These resolutions were sent to the three party leaders with an invitation that they would express their views in regard to them, and I have their replies in my hand. The reply from the Liberal party—if I may trouble the House with a short extract—was:
A Liberal Government would certainly do all in its power to encourage the execution of necessary sea defence works, and would favourably consider such measures of financial assistance by the State as might be required to enable schemes of this nature to be carried out.
So much for the Liberal party. But what was the reply of the Labour party? The Secretary of the Labour party wrote:
I have not been able to consult Mr. MacDonald on the matter, but the Labour party policy is thoroughly in accord with your first resolution"—
that was one urging that this be made a national charge—
and there is no doubt that the carrying-out of the second resolution is necessary.
The Secretary of the Conference was anxious, having regard to the coming General Election, that there should be no doubt whatever as to where the Labour party stood about this matter; consequently he made a further inquiry, to which this reply was received on the 18th May:
I am obliged by your letter of the 16th inst. It will be impossible for me to consult Mr. MacDonald just now, as he is touring the country, and in the circumstances perhaps you had better take my last letter as setting forth the position of the party.
Therefore the local authorities—quite justifiably, I think—assumed that they had a pledge that the Labour party stood for the policy of making this burden of sea defence a national charge, and of removing it from the local rates. Having regard to that reply, it is certainly a little surprising to find this Bill brought forward and nothing whatever in it to give to the local districts the much needed financial assistance that they require. As I understand it, the position of the right hon. Gentleman to-day is that no further financial assistance is required because in existing schemes sufficient resources are open to those local authorities who require them. All one can say about that is that it is not consistent with the official view of the party as expressed in the correspondence to which I have referred, and it is certainly not the view of many local authorities throughout the country that the resources of financial assistance now open to them are in any way sufficient for the purpose Therefore I would like to impress upon the Government that they should reconsider this question, and that this should not be left, as apparently it otherwise will be, as another pledge given before the last Election to fulfil which no attempt is being made.
Having dealt with what the Bill does not contain, and having tried to make clear that in the view of many local authorities the main criticism against it is the sin of omission rather than of commission, may I say a word or two with regard to some of the actual proposals? These have been carefully considered by the coastal authorities. It is, of course, appreciated that the Bill does attempt to carry out the main recommendations of the Royal Commission, and to do something to remedy the present highly unsatisfactory state of affairs by proposing the establishment of a new central coordinating body. I agree that that is very much needed, and it is most important for a number of reasons, some of which have already been referred to. As everyone who studies this problem knows, works of coast defence carried out on one part of the coast often have the direct effect of increasing difficulties on another part; and the failure of one authority—it may be quite a small authority—often entails a very heavy expense on an adjoining authority.
There is a very good example of that in my own constituency, and already a certain amount of publicity has been directed to it in the public Press. The little, authority of Pakefield adjoining the borough of Lowestoft have a coast erosion problem of a very serious kind. A penny rate in Pakefield produces less than £20, and the immediate amount required to carry out purely necessary works of sea defence at that spot has been estimated at the round sum of £7,000. It will be obvious how utterly impossible it is for some of these small authorities to carry out even the minimum work required; and yet Pakefield immediately adjoins Lowestoft, where they have had to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to carry out elaborate sea defences. Then again, adjoining parishes often derive great benefit from sea defence work and contribute nothing towards the cost. For all these reasons everyone must admit, no matter what their views may be with regard to other parts of this Bill, that there is a necessity for some coordinating authority.
Many of the other proposals in this Bill need a good deal more explanation before they can be considered satisfactory. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would welcome any constructive Amendments. I shall endeavour to assist him by bringing forward quite a number, and I hope that he will give them sympathetic consideration. May I indicate one or two respects in which I think the Bill as it stands is open to criticism? The need for coordination is admitted, but at the same time it is most important that the rights and privileges of local authorities as they exist at present should not be unnecessarily interfered with or preju- diced. There is a real fear on the part of many local authorities that they will be. In other words, while local authorities are most anxious for assistance in resisting the encroachments of the sea, they are apprehensive of being submerged through this Bill by the encroachments of the Board of Trade.
The Bill is a striking example of what has been called the new despotism, to which a high legal authority has recently directed our attention. One finds that in nine out of eighteen effective Clauses in the Bill power is given to the Board of Trade to make Orders of one kind or another, and tucked away in one of the Schedules are words saying that they are to "have effect as if enacted in this Act." In other words, you are conferring upon the Board of Trade the power to make Orders—in many instances under very arbitrary circumstances—and these Orders, once made, are to have the full power and force of an Act of Parliament. As far as I have been able to study the Bill, there are not adequate opportunities left for appeal. There is an ominous suggestion in the Financial Memorandum as to a definite increase of staff immediately in order to carry out this Bill. We are told that the increase of staff will be small to begin with, but no one knows—not even the Board of Trade—exactly what may be required a little later.
In view of these facts, I suggest that local authorities are not unreasonable in feeling that they have legitimate grounds for apprehension that their rights and privileges may be interfered with. Many examples of this kind of interference could be given. Clause 3 confers absolute power on the Board of Trade to prohibit by Order the removal of materials from the seashore. There is no qualification or exception to that. It is suggested that local authorities ought to retain certain rights which they have possessed hitherto to remove chalk, sand, rock and other materials from the foreshore, which they have either purchased or leased, unless of course it is essential that such removal should not take place on the ground of sea defence. If hon. Members refer to the wording of Clause 3, they will see that it goes a great deal further than sea defence, because the Board of Trade can make an Order
for the protection of any part of the coast of the United Kingdom from erosion, or for
the protection of navigation, fisheries or other public rights over the seashore.
In other words, they can make Orders that may have nothing whatever to do with the real purpose of the Bill. They can make any sort of Order dealing with navigation or fisheries or other public rights, and it is not even specified in the Clause what sort of public rights are contemplated. The President of the Board of Trade said he thought that after the Bill had been amended sufficient safeguards would have been introduced, and I hope he is right. At all events it is comforting to know that he recognises a need for safeguards and for the amendment of the Bill in that respect. Another point is that before removal is permitted a licence has to be obtained from the Board of Trade.
Local authorities feel that it is most important that a provision should be inserted prohibiting the Board of Trade from requiring payment of royalties or fees for these licences. Also, the right of local authorities to make general bylaws as distinct from bylaws solely applicable to the seashore and connected with sea defences ought not to be interfered with. Under Clause 4, no works of any kind can be carried out without the previous consent in writing of the Board of Trade. There is not even a proviso, such as is customary in tenancy agreements, that such permission is not to be unreasonably withheld. The Board of Trade has power to act just as it pleases. If anyone fails to have obtained in advance their written consent he will be subject to penalties of a more or less severe kind. Many local authorities have a strong feeling that the provisions of that Clause ought not to apply to necessary works in connection with the maintenance or repair of coast defence erections already in existence: it may be a matter of emergency to carry out immediate repairs, and it ought not to be necessary to obtain the previous consent in writing of the Board of Trade.
Then I come to Clause 8, which is the most important Clause in the Bill, because under it we have the establishment of these new coast protection authorities. That, again, is to be done by Order, and, so far as I have been able to follow the Bill, there is no really adequate appeal; in other words, the establishment of these new bodies is an arbitrary proceeding. The Board of Trade can include anyone or any body in such an authority, or they can exclude any body. Further, the authority need not in any sense be a body which will represent the ratepayers, upon whom the burden is to fall, because this new body is to have the power to levy rates. Again, I cannot find that any excluded body which thinks it ought to form part of the coast protection authority has any redress; nor has any individual ratepayer who may feel that he is aggrieved. I suggest to the Government that it is imperative that provision should be made for the adequate representation on these coast protection authorities of all those bodies and persons who will ultimately have to foot the Bill. Unless that be done, this proposal will run counter to all recognised democratic procedure. It has been the policy of Parliament up to now to try to reduce the number of authorities which have power to levy rates irrespective of popular election.
Many local authorities have purchased the whole or a part of the foreshore and have effectively protected it. They may now be compelled to combine with or contribute to adjoining authorities which have done nothing. In that way those who have fulfilled their obligations may be penalised by being made to assist other authorities which have neglected to carry out their duties. Therefore I suggest that the new coast protection authority ought to be required to take over all existing and future charges for sea defences. I hope the Government will give full consideration to that suggestion, and that it may be found possible to add a Clause to that effect to the Bill. Unless that be done, it seems obvious that a position of the utmost hardship will be created. If a local authority is to be brought in by compulsion to form part of a mew coast protection authority surely it is only fair that it should not still have to shoulder the special financial burdens it has previously undertaken, but that they should be distributed over the whole area controlled by the new authority.
There are many other minor points in regard to which it will be necessary to submit Amendments and we know they will receive sympathetic consideration from the Government; but I would like to emphasise in conclusion what I said at the commencement, that the real crux of the matter is whether something cannot be done to give additional direct financial relief to those authorities which have been shouldering a heavy burden for so many years and now find themselves very hard pressed. It is in the hope that this will be done that I, for one, desire to support the Second Reading of the Bill: but if no assistance is given by the Government, in spite of their pledge on the matter, then I shall reserve the right to vote against the Bill in its later stages, and that, I think, is a view shared by many other hon. Members who represent coastal constituencies. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to promise that he will receive a deputation of coastal authorities before the Committee stage of the Bill is reached, in order that this aspect of the problem may be further explored. For that I should like to express to him my gratitude, using that word in its best known interpretation, namely, a lively anticipation of favours to come.
Although this Bill in its main lines commends itself to all interests concerned, certain of its provisions, particularly as regards its machinery, are causing the greatest anxiety to conservancy commissioners and harbour authorities responsible for administering a great part of the inland navigation of the country, and in my submission those provisions require most careful reconsideration. In the first place, it has to be observed that by reason of the definitions Clause all the great navigable rivers of the country come within the ambit of this Bill; it even applies not merely to harbours which are partly enclosed but to docks which are entirely enclosed. As this is a Bill to deal with coast erosion, it is a little difficult to understand why it should have been thought necessary to give the Board of Trade authority under it to deal with undertakings which are 10, 15 or 20 miles from the sea coast, especially as all these navigable water-ways are already under the control of conservancy commissioners or harbour authorities, which in many cases have been in existence for 100 years and have all the experience which is necessary for regulating and dealing with matters of navigation in their district. It is now proposed to override those authorities.
Take as an illustration the powers which the Board propose to operate under Clause 3. There is a power to prohibit the removal of any material from the seashore. As it is defined in the Act, that means that the Board of Trade can prohibit dredging in any of our navigable rivers. Take the case of the Tyne, or the Clyde or the Humber, which depend absolutely upon thorough and efficient dredging to keep them open for navigation and are the life blood of the ports on those rivers. The Board of Trade now propose to take powers to prohibit dredging; in other words, to control the authorities which already have the power to carry out that dredging, and prohibit it on the ground that it might somehow or other affect coast erosion. The only protection these authorities have will lie in trying to make some arrangements with the Board of Trade. I submit to the Minister that we should except from the provisions of this Clause any navigable waterways which are under the jurisdiction of conservancy authorities or harbour authorities. In the next place I suggest that we should exclude, if not from the operation of the whole Bill, at all events from the operation of this Clause, all that part of a navigable river which is more than two miles from the sea coast, because that cannot have any effect upon coast erosion.
Clause 4 provides that no authority and no person shall have any power to erect any work of any kind on the seashore, and that is to include the banks of a navigable river, or to do any dredging or to place any material on the seashore. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that this Clause is obviously wrong. It would make it an offence for any child to go to the seashore and deposit on it a bucket or a spade. It is obvious that some definition or what the Government really have in mind in speaking of material should be inserted in the Bill. From the point of view of the conservancy and harbour authorities there is an extremely serious objection to this Clause. At present, every conservancy authority has the control over its district and no works can be erected without the consent of the authority. If anybody wishes to erect, say, a jetty or a pontoon he has to go to the conservancy authority, who first consider the matter, and afterwards the consent of the Board of Trade has to be obtained. Let us consider for a moment how the matter is entirely altered by this Clause. The effect of the Clause is to wipe out entirely the jurisdiction of the local authorities, and it provides two things. In the first place the Clause lays down that no person or authority shall erect any works without the consent of the Board of Trade; and secondly, that the Board of Trade may give that consent. In other words, a person desiring to erect any works can go directly to the Board of Trade and ignore the conservancy board or the local authority. As a matter of fact the Board of Trade has power under this Clause to give its consent to such works without the local authority having anything to say as to whether those works ought to be erected or not. I cannot believe that that was the object of the framers of this Clause, but that is its legal effect; and I suggest to the Minister that the proper course to take is to redraft the Clause so as to provide that no person may cause any erection to be made on the seashore, including navigable waterways, without the consent of the local authority, and also to provide that the local authority must give that consent before the Board of Trade agrees to it.
The provision I suggest would ensure that the conservancy authority, which is the authority best qualified to deal with matters of this kind, shall first of all consider and have the control of the matter. I submit that that would be a suitable alteration of this Clause, particularly having regard to the effect of the next Subsection, which gives the Board of Trade power to authorise the building of bridges over navigable waters. What would be the effect of this Clause if a private concern wished to build a bridge over the Tyne? They could apply to the Board of Trade, and that body could authorise the building of the bridge without the Tyne Improvement Commission or any other local authority having any control whatever over the consent to the building of that bridge. That is absolutely wrong and contrary to what has hitherto been the well recognised practice with regard to the control of navigation being first of all vested in the local authority, the conservancy authority, or the harbour authority. It would be a grave departure if any alteration of that kind were made. Under Subsection (4) of Clause 4 the Board of Trade may hold a public inquiry if they think it expedient, and it is left to the discretion of the Board of Trade as to whether the inquiry should be held or not. My own view is that any local authority ought to have the right to demand a local inquiry in such cases.
I am aware that the President of the Board of Trade has under consideration an Amendment which will exclude from this Measure works which are specifically mentioned in local Acts, but I think all matters should be exempted which come under the jurisdiction of the local authorities at the present time. Clause 8 provides for the establishment of local coast protection authorities. I submit that the conservancy authorities in the case of navigable rivers ought to be entirely excluded from the operation of Clause 8. Take as an example the case of the Tyne, where the local authority have 19 miles of river waterway under their jurisdiction. The effect of this Clause would be that some authority might be appointed to take the control of certain matters out of the hands of the Tyne Improvement Commission, who have been in existence for 80 years. That would obviously not be a reasonable course to take, and the same argument would apply in the case of the Clyde, the Humber or the Mersey, and probably in the case of the Thames Conservancy Board.
The local authorities do not want to have any control over these matters of coast erosion, because they look upon that question as something outside their jurisdiction. There is the question of finance and the administration with which they do not want to have anything to do. I submit to the President of the Board of Trade that these river authorities ought to be entirely excluded from the operation of this Clause. I believe this could be done without in any way affecting the general structure of this Measure or the efficiency of its general provisions. Another point relates to the levying of rates, which can be levied not only on individuals whose land is benefited but on harbour authorities and other local authorities. There is no provision in this Clause which gives the slightest protection to those individuals or authorities as to how much is going to be levied upon them, and there is no provision which gives them the slightest right to object or to put their case before the proper authorities. I submit that there ought to be a statutory right for every person who may be affected to object in any case where he is going to be assessed.
May I call attention to the definition of "foreshore" which is given in Clause 19:
For the purposes of this Act, unless the the context otherwise requires—
The expression 'foreshore' means the shore and bed of the sea and of every channel, creek, bay, estuary and of every navigable river in the United Kingdom, as far as the tide flows.
In the opening speech of the President of the Board of Trade very little justification was given for that Clause. It may be that some navigable rivers would have no effect upon coast erosion in adjoining districts, and it may be that at Teddington or in the case of the Severn at Tewkesbury or the Medway at Maidstone they would have no effect on coast erosion and they might not be brought within the scope of the Bill. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will use his influence to modify the definition of fore-shore which is given in Clause 19, in order to exclude those parts of navigable rivers which are already under river authorities. I would like to point out the effect of the Bill and its Schedule upon such bodies as the Thames Conservancy, the Medway Conservancy and other river authorities, in regard to their rights and powers. It is provided in Subsection (4) of Clause 1 that:
Nothing in this section shall affect any public or other rights existing by law in, over, or affecting any part of the foreshore or of such lands as aforesaid.
No definition is given as to what is meant by public rights or whether what is meant is the existing rights of conservancy, harbour and dock authorities. I see no reason why this safeguard should not be extended to other Clauses in this Bill. In the Medway area we are faced with the fact that not a single load of material may be taken away without the consent in writing of the Board of Trade, no matter how much it may be wanted for commercial purposes. If the Board of Trade think fit they can delay matters of this kind and the local authority in
the Medway area would have no appeal. There is no provision whatever for taking a matter of that kind to arbitration, or giving the local authority power to protest against delay on the part of the Board of Trade. This would cause great hardship and inconvenience in the case of industrial areas which are situated on tidal or navigable rivers, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will consider an Amendment, which I intend to put forward, dealing with navigable rivers in such a way that this Bill will not infringe upon the existing rights and privileges of river authorities.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for East Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir R. Aske) upon his speech. I can assure the House that during the whole of the Debate upon this Bill, although it has met with a certain measure of support, we have not yet heard a single speech expressing unqualified approval of the Measure. I know that the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Markham) has made a special study of this question, and I am pleased to hear that he is on my side in opposing this Measure. The hon. Member for East Newcastle-upon-Tyne also has a great deal of knowledge of the locality of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and he has attacked the Bill is a very hearty manner. All of these speeches have been of a more or less condemnatory character. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill claimed, as one of his first arguments, that it was an inheritance from the late Government. If that be so, I should only like to say that my reasons for objecting to the Bill and moving its rejection are fundamental, and would have been just as strong had the Bill been brought forward by the late Government. It was quite clear, however, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) that he disapproved, as fully as I and a large number of other Members on this side of the House, of the whole structure of the Bill as what I can only term a monstrous example of bureaucracy. In the case of a Bill constituting coast erosion authorities, we ought first of all to have been told how those autho-
rities are to be constituted, what are to be their respective areas of jurisdiction, what are to be their powers of levying rates, and so on. This Bill is simply an abnegation of powers which inherently belong to this House as representing the great public outside, and a handing over of those powers, without the slightest attempt at control in the future, to a Department of State which is to issue Orders which are even to override Acts of Parliament. As to the constitution of these authorities, I would call the attention of the House to Clause 8, which says:
Any harbour, local or other public authority or any combination of such authorities, or a body representative of the authorities, landowners, occupiers, railway, or other companies, and other bodies and persons interested, may by order be constituted a local coast protection authority for the purposes of this Act.
I would ask—and this is the fundamental starting point of all legislation of this kind—to whom are these powers with regard to coastal protection to be given? We are not told that. The whole thing is left to be settled by Order of the Board of Trade. We might just as well say in a Clause of three or four lines, that this House in future takes no responsibility whatever for the protection of our coasts against invasion by the sea, but hands over the whole business to the Board of Trade, who may issue any Orders they like. That is really what the Bill does.
I am quite aware, representing, as I do, a sea coast constituency where we have had a great deal of trouble with coast erosion, that in the present circumstances the local authorities who have the responsibility of protecting the coast against erosion are far too small, and have not nearly sufficient powers for raising the necessary money. It therefore falls upon small localities and communities as a crushing burden. We have had recently to undertake very costly coast erosion works in the neighbourhood of Westward Ho, where there is a natural formation known as the Pebble Ridge, somewhat resembling the better known Chesil Beach. It was formed there by the pebbles rolling down and settling for many centuries, and suddenly it began to move away down the coast, producing a very serious problem affecting a number of acres of valuable land, and even buildings and so forth behind it. If the sea made an incursion there, it would be a very serious matter, and, accordingly, this work has had to be undertaken. I should welcome the constitution of coastal authorities with wider areas and stronger powers, who would be able to shoulder these responsibilities. The President of the Board of Trade has mentioned that the earlier suggestion that the county council should be the authority has been turned down, and I quite agree with that. The natural course would have been for the Board of Trade to go into the Report of the Royal Commission and consider, in view of the geographical conditions, what would be a proper area of coast to be controlled by a single authority. I suggest, so far as our own part of the country is concerned, that one coastal authority might have jurisdiction from, say, the port of Bristol down to Land's End, and another from Land's End along the South Coast to Swanage. Such areas would, I think, be of about the right size; but there is nothing of that kind in this Bill.
A far more serious objection, to my mind, to the whole structure of the Bill, is the extraordinary power which the Board of Trade is to be able to exercise by Order. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) referred to the powers under Clause 3, which, as he very properly said, are very drastic and, in his opinion, unnecessary. Subsection (3) of Clause 3 says that
An order made under this section shall be binding on all persons, including the owners of and persons interested in any part of the seashore comprised in the order;
and further on it says that such Order
shall have effect notwithstanding the provisions of any public, general, or local or private Act, or any alleged custom or prescriptive right, to the contrary.
I need go no further than that quotation to show that under this Bill the Board of Trade is being given powers to repeal and render nugatory Acts of Parliament which have been passed by this House—public Acts as well as local or private Acts. When we come to Clause 8, we find that this system of Orders is very elaborate. It takes very nearly the whole alphabet—from the letter "a" to the letter "p"—to define all the different things that may be done by these Orders. I will not trouble the House with the whole of them, but I want to refer just
to one or two. Paragraph (f) states that any such Order may
authorise or require, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, the construction and maintenance of works of coast protection.
That means that, although these coast protection authorities are going to be set up, the Board of Trade will be able to issue its orders to these authorities whenever it has settled what is to be done, and that in fact the Board of Trade is to settle what is necessary for the construction and maintenance of works of coast protection all round the coast. Paragraph (h) says that any such Order may
authorise, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, the removal or alteration of works on the seashore erected either before or after the commencement of this Act.
A few moments ago I referred to the extensive works which have had to be carried out in my constituency at Westward Ho. Under this Bill, apparently, the Board of Trade can order the removal of the whole of those works if they do not think they are quite satisfactory, without regard to their cost, which has been met partly by subscriptions from benevolent private people and partly by contributions from the county council and the local authorities. Paragraph (i), again, says that an Order may
authorise the acquisition by the authority of land and easements (by agreement or compulsorily) in such manner as may be specified in the order and for that purpose apply with the necessary modifications and adaptations any enactments relating to the acquisition of land by local authorities.
That, again overrides the powers of Parliament and enactments which it has passed. In paragraph (m) we find that an Order may
provide for the manner in which the payment of rates and contributions is to be enforced, and for that purpose apply with the necessary modifications and adaptations any enactments dealing with the like matters.
There is no limitation to the steps they might take to enforce payment of rates. They might re-introduce the thumbscrew. Paragraph (n) reads
provide as to the audit of accounts of the local coast protection authority, and for that purpose apply with the necessary modifications and adaptations any enactments relating to the audit of accounts of local authorities.
There, again, the Board of Trade is put over Parliament, and may have its own audit rules quite irrespective of what has been laid down in the Acts relating to
the audit of the accounts of local authorities. Lastly, under paragraph (o), an Order may
repeal or amend the provisions relating to coast protection contained in any local or other Act or order in force in the area of the local coast protection authority.
The Board of Trade is to be given these powers by Order to amend or repeal any Act which is now in force, and we are not told anything as to what Acts are referred to.
Again, with regard to the Schedules, Paragraph 6 of the Second Schedule certainly requires special reference. It lays down what is to be the procedure when an Order is issued, and it says that:
After an order has been settled and made by the appropriate department, it shall be published in such manner as they think best adapted for informing persons affected, together with a notice that the department have settled and made the order, and that the order will become final and have effect as an Act of Parliament unless within such period, not being less than thirty days, as may be stated in the notice, a memorial is presented to the department by some person or body of persons affected by the order and having such interest as may be prescribed as being sufficient for the purpose, praying that the order shall not become law without confirmation by Parliament.
There we find that, if an Order is made by the Board of Trade and if the local people concerned are not so wide awake that they get to know about it and realise what its importance is, it will in 30 days become as the laws of the Medes and Persians, which alter not, and nothing can be done to get it either approved or disapproved by Parliament, or to get it altered. I am struck with the period of 30 days. Last Sunday I was reading about Daniel and Darius and these immutable laws of the Medes and Persians, and I noticed that Darius, who was just like what the Board of Trade is going to be under this Act, made a special edict that, if any person worshipped God or man for a period of 30 days, he should be cast into the lions' den. The Board of Trade is repeating that ancient history, setting itself up as a Darius and making laws as immutable as those of the Medes and Persians. This Bill is not only a bad precedent, but is a shocking model for Bills the main purpose of which it to get rid of the authority of Parliament. The Government on this, the very first day after the Recess, in the very first Bill that they introduce, are starting, without
more than a certain amount of mild protest from this side, upon the business of entirely abrogating the powers of the representatives of the people in this House, and are setting up an authority of their own in a Government Department. This Bill is simply an abdication in favour of bureaucratic government. As such, I shall certainly not support it on Second Reading, because I do not believe it is capable of amendment. The structure of the whole Bill is bad. It does not tell us what we are entitled to know. Above all, it hands over to a Government Department authority which ought to reside here.
I beg to second the Amendment. I shall not occupy the time of the House for very long, as my hon. Friend has so fully expressed the views I myself held when I scrutinised the Bill. It has received a somewhat tepid introduction and a somewhat tepid blessing from both Front Benches, and therefore it behoves us on the back benches to examine it with more scrutiny than we otherwise should. It is true, as the President of the Board of Trade said, that it is an inheritance from the previous Government, but it is what is called in the canon law damnosa hereditas, which means a very objectionable liability. I am sorry that the Labour Government ever took it over. The Financial Memorandum which accompanies it is a curious contradiction. It says, in a very tame fashion:
One of the effects of the Bill will be to transfer to the Board of Trade all foreshore and accreted foreshore, with certain exceptions, now under the management of the Commissioners of Crown Lands, the object being to centralise the administration of Crown foreshore as far as possible in one department.
Why should we disturb the law at all? What is wrong with the Commissioners of Crown Lands? They say it will result in some economy. When we come to the end of this Memorandum, we find:
On the question of staff in relation to the provisions of the Bill generally, it is anticipated that, if the Bill becomes law, only a small increase in the staff of the Board of Trade will be necessary in the first instance.
Why cannot the gentlemen who are looking after the business now be taken over from the Crown Lands and continue their job? We are all groaning under the burden of the weight of officials, and we
do not want any more. That seems to be a wholly unnecessary provision. Then there are the Clauses my hon. Friend has touched on, giving the Board of Trade, for whom we have the greatest possible respect, though we do not want them to legislate, all these powers to repeal previous Acts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) mentioned an ancient statute that gives the right to take sand for the purpose of the lime in it. That may possibly be taken away. There are one or two Clauses which appear seriously to affect Scotland. In Clause 11, there is a very extraordinary provision giving the Crown 60 years' extension instead of 20 years. In 1617, when time passed very slowly, 40 years was considered quite long enough for a prescriptive period. Now, life has much accelerated, and, under various conveyancing Acts, a prescriptive period of 20 years has been thought to be quite enough for anyone, and it is quite enough. Why is the Crown to take 60 years? This may affect the very rights that the right hon. Gentleman spoke about. Then there is a Clause which affects crofters. It says:
No transaction or proceedings which have taken place or shall hereafter take place under Section 12 of the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886, shall be evidence as against the Crown of any right or title in the landlord or tenant or landholder to any foreshore in Scotland or to any interest therein.
They may say that the Board of Trade will be reasonable, but I do not know whether it will or not. We cannot guarantee that it will. There have been recently a great many publications in which it is shown that public Departments are not always reasonable. I remember the definition given by a celebrated Scottish Judge who was asked what an act of God meant. He said that it was a thing that no reasonable human being would ever think of doing. That might possibly apply to a public Department. I asked the members of all parties who sit here as private citizens to tell the Government that they ought not to consider that a defeat but simply an indiscretion on their part and tell them to redraft the Bill from start to finish. I am very doubtful about this coast erosion. There have been hundreds of thousands of pounds spent at Hastings
which would have been better spent in putting decent harbours for fishermen round various parts of the coast which I could mention. If there be erosion in one way, there is accretion in another, and a great deal of this coast erosion talk is like King Canute trying to keep back the tide. It would be better to leave us in the hands of Providence, and save the taxpayers' money.
It is an interesting fact that coast erosion has had a curious effect on the history of this House. When the Reform Act of 1832 was passed, it was necessary to disfranchise quite a number of boroughs that had disappeared under the sea centuries before, and one of the principal arguments of those who advocated the Reform Act was that there were Members sitting in the House for constituencies which had been eroded for centuries. Before the Commission of 1906 there was a very widespread impression that the erosion of the coast was a very serious matter. This is a subject in which I have long taken an interest, and I remember 30 years ago reading articles in magazines and other publications prophesying the most disastrous effects upon the country if coast erosion was not prevented. The Commission of 1906 for the first time inquired into the subject in a scientific and thorough manner. It collected a large body of evidence, and one result of the inquiry was to bear out what the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite has just said. It found that, whilst there was a good deal of erosion in agricultural areas, the agricultural areas that were gained were more valuable on the average than those that were lost. They said it was easy to exaggerate the extent and the danger of erosion, and they made this very interesting further statement from the national point of view, that the danger is by no means alarming. However that may be, the danger is sufficiently alarming to make it desirable that it should be dealt with, and this Measure is a welcome step towards that end.
In its main lines I entirely approve it, but I should like to point out one or two omissions. The Commission pointed out that very little was known of the laws that govern the movements of waters beneath the surface, and the influence of water on the land and on the cliffs, and they recommended that an advisory com- mittee should be appointed to assist the authorities, and that it should include experts who Could deal with these questions with scientific knowledge. It is not always desirable to stop erosion. In some cases, it is necessary for the preservation of the coast. The coast is protected by shingle and sand, which will be worn away in time if it is not added to, and so a certain amount of erosion from the cliffs is necessary to feed the beach of shingle and sand which is protecting the coast. There is a tendency for the shingle and sand to get washed away and, unless you have fresh erosion, the land is eaten into, so that erosion at particular spots is desirable. That is the kind of question that experts on an advisory committee could deal with.
Another recommendation of the Commission was that erosion could be prevented not only by forbidding the taking of sand and the erection of groynes and so forth, but by the planting of trees, and they pointed out that much benefit had accrued along the coast of the Moray Firth from the planting of pine trees in the sand hills. They pointed out that there were various methods which would not only prevent erosion but would help the accretion of agricultural land. Reference has been made to the protection of public rights, for example, of gathering seaweed, but there are other rights. There is the right of fishing, the right of walking and driving over the foreshore, and the right of bathing is very often most important. One knows cases of bathing, which was a source of profit to those who lived in the neighbourhood, being spoilt by the removal of shingle and sand. These are rights that ought to be provided for specifically in the Bill. These are one or two of the points which, in reading the report of the Commission, occurred to me as worth pressing on the Government.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) on having produced a new and very cogent argument in favour of the national treatment of this great subject of coast erosion. He has pointed out that in times past the constituencies of Members of this House have been washed into the sea, and I am sure that this House will have regard even to the lowest of its Members, and that members of all parties will agree that that is a most important aspect, and that further financial measures should be brought forward without delay. While I found a considerable degree of substance in what the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), who moved the Amendment, said, and in what the hon. Member who followed him said in regard to the enormous invasion of rights and privileges of well-established local authorities round the coast, I cannot but feel that it would be a pity for this House to reject this Measure. There are other interests. There are large numbers of poor communities round the coast of this island who find the burden cast upon them by the protection of their land from the erosion of the sea a very serious one indeed. They have looked to successive Governments, and they have looked to this House to bring them some relief.
May I just bring to the attention of the House the details in regard to such a case? What is the position of the agriculturist, faced with the possibility of sea invasion? If a break through occurs, what is his fate? He sees salt water flowing in, and that means that the labour of years is destroyed before his eyes. He may be a comparatively poor man. He may be a smallholder who has put all his savings into his little bit of land and possibly borrowed money in addition. Not only is the work of years destroyed and not only is he faced with the necessity of reconditioning his land, but he has upon that land the serious burden of the sea defence rate. In the Spilsby and Alford areas, I have had figures supplied to me by the clerk of the two Courts of Sewers in regard to sea invasion which took place in the year 1921. The total expenditure on the necessary works was £46,000. Grants were received to the extent of £17,696, leaving a burden on that community of £28,304. The acreage on which that burden rested was 9,550 acres, so that it was a burden of nearly £3 an acre. The rateable value was £13,500, and the actual rates varied from about 2s. up to 5s. in the £ on the unfortunate inhabitants. In addition, these people have a drainage rate of 3s. in the £ to pay. That makes in the most exposed part a rate of 8s. in the £. That is a very serious and a very heavy burden upon the people who are cultivating that land.
What is the Bill going to do to help them? It is difficult indeed to see where it is going to help them. Is it a step towards making this sea defence a national charge, which so many of us desire it to be? It may be that the co-ordinating parts of the Bill will do something in that respect, but the President of the Board of Trade, in unfolding the Bill, sheltered himself behind the Royal Commission which reported against making sea defence a national charge. There were perhaps considerable reasons why they did not do so. In regard to agricultural land, I think that perhaps one important reason they may have had has somewhat altered since they reported. The report was issued in the year 1911 and that was just about the time that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) launched his attack upon landowners and before the effects of that attack were apparent. Owing to the heavy taxation and possibly to the odium cast on them a considerable number of the old landowners sold their property, which passed into the hands of tenant farmers and smallholders. It is no part of one's business to go into that matter now, but it has a serious bearing on this question of the financial burden owing to sea erosion. The Commission may well have thought that the burden upon landowners or groups of landowners in protecting that part of their estate which was on the coast was a perfectly reasonable one, and that it might be looked at as a general outgoing of the estates. The case is entirely different when we come to the small owners and tenant farmers who were practically compelled to purchase when the old estates were split up. It is all very well to say that the landowner can pay for the sea defence, but it is another thing to say that the smallholder and tenant farmer can shoulder the burden.
I submit the time has come when the national aspect of the affair should be considered. There are many arguments which we have heard to-day which do rather seem to lead us to national assistance as the only solution. We have had pointed out by speaker after speaker what an immense invasion of ordinary rights this Bill proposes. Coastal resorts who have for many years undertaken the whole of the burden of sea defence and have perhaps bought their foreshore and the old manorial rights and have erected defences and made parades have not required assistance at all, and it is a very serious thing for the Board of Trade to go to such an authority which has managed its affairs admirably for years and years and is perfectly capable of continuing to manage them and to say to it: "You cannot shift a load of gravel without the consent of the Board of Trade."
The President of the Board of Trade was very sketchy in his description of that part of the Bill relating to the question of rates and the setting up of rating authorities. The authorities which he proposes to set up do not appear in any way to be ad hoc authority. It seems that they are going to consist of representatives from a number of existing authorities, and in that case it is surely obvious that they will have no direct contact with the ratepayers at all. There is no provision whatever for the assessment which may be made by such an authority being subject to any right of appeal. Large numbers of people who are not at present subject to sea defence or similar rates may be brought in, and the question may be put before them that they must make a contribution. I think that previous history of drainage rates and attempts to levy them will show that here are all the grounds for resistance. It is a very difficult thing indeed to prove to an individual not resident in the area of action that he stands in danger and that he is going to benefit from any particular works. We find that large numbers of these local authorities are up in arms at the idea that further rates may be levied upon them in respect of further areas with regard to which they consider they have no responsibility. Therefore, I cannot help thinking that the more we probe into this matter and endeavour to assess what any particular individual or local body has to pay the greater will be the difficulties that we shall get into. The bitter of compulsory co-ordination and increased rating powers can only be carried out, in my opinion, with the aid of the sweet of financial assistance.
I am disappointed that the President of the Board of Trade offered no sort of financial assistance at all except from the
Unemployment Grants Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) pointed out that in this Bill we are legislating for all time. Does the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade suppose that the Unemployment Grants Committee with their 75 per cent. grants are going to function for all time? He does not at any rate seem very optimistic concerning the effort of his Government if that is going to be the case. I was extremely disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not hold out hope that the Development Commissioners might take a hand and assist the poorer communities. That is directly recommended by the Royal Commission. I will read what the Royal Commission say on the point:
We therefore recommend that the making of grants from public funds in aid of sea-defence should not be encouraged; although we think that the Development Act of 1909 might in some cases be reasonably used so as—while primarily directed to public purposes—to give incidental assistance to some poor communities whose land is in danger of being destroyed by the sea—particularly where the authorities affected have done their utmost to provide adequate sea-defence.
I maintain that the authorities I have quoted have made such adequate provision at very great cost to themselves. Therefore, I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will listen with sympathy to the deputation which he has promised to receive on this subject and will see if he cannot offer definite financial assistance to the struggling communities who are bearing such heavy burdens to-day.
There is one further point on the financial side of the Bill to which I will draw attention. Clause 13 enables the Public Works Loan Commissioners to make loans, and it says that they may make loans. The right hon. Gentleman was quite encouraging on this point, but, in view of the fact that in the past local commissioners of sewers have been refused loans even when supported by the Board of Agriculture, we should like some assurance that Clause 13 is to be more than an empty phrase. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will assure us that the Government mean to make that Clause a reality and will see that loans are forthcoming for works that are neces- sary. The smaller authorities to which I referred, who deal with these matters, have no financial resources. They exist to carry out certain works, and the cost is levied on the people concerned. This Clause gives them the assistance of British credit, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that this assistance will be made a reality.
I will confine my observations to one or two points which I think are of substance and will deal with one point not already raised. The President of the Board of Trade, in his very lucid statement, indicated that this Bill was following up the recommendations of the Commission. Any gentlemen who sat on that Commission and are still taking an active interest in these matters may be glad to find that at last, after a long period of germination, their efforts are going to fructify and be put to useful purpose. As the discussion this afternoon has proceeded, it has become abundantly clear that it is where this Bill goes ahead of the recommendations of that Commission that the opposition arises. It has been clearly seen that there is the gravest apprehension in the minds of some port authorities of this country. The Bill takes powers to act in the most arbitrary way over parts of the country controlled by authorities who by common consent are doing their work in the most admirable way. This not unnaturally arouses opposition. It is most unfortunate that powers should have been taken which prevent the public authorities from welcoming the Bill and which drive them into opposition to a Measure which is greatly to the good of the country and for the protection of the sea coast.
The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) inquired whether this Bill alters the definition of foreshore and sea coast. That is precisely what it does, and in a way not foreshadowed by the Royal Commission. This Bill extends the definition of foreshore not only to the shore but even to the bed of the sea and of every channel and creek and all tidal waters. As has been pointed out, the Terrace of this House comes under the scope of this Bill; even Teddington would be on the sea coast. Furthermore, the inhabitants of Tewkesbury, if this Bill comes into operation, will be gratified to find that they are a coastal town. If the children of Tewkesbury go down to the banks of the Severn with their buckets and spades, they will have to have three permissions from the right hon. Gentleman. They must have permission to dig in the first place, permission to put sand in the bucket in the second place, and to drop it into the water a further permission will be necessary.
I want in all seriousness to illustrate the difficulties of this Act by an example taken from an area which comes within my own knowledge, namely, the estuary of the Mersey. This Bill will give my right hon. Friend power to suspend the dredging operations of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and to license some other body to carry out the work in their place. As to the operations of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, there is no more tiresome river with regard to dredging than the Mersey. It has defied scientists and those who have studied it for years to understand its extraordinary vagaries. Each day there are 68,000 tons of sand raised from the bed of the river. There are on the average 3,000 soundings a month taken in the bed of the river. The site of the dredging alters not month by month or week by week but even day by day. Sandbanks and shoals may appear overnight. It is essential to the life and existence of this port that it should be controlled by people who are watching it hour by hour. Under this Bill, powers are given which would be utterly impracticable to carry out in the Mersey. Before a dredger was moved from one place to another permission would have to be sought from my right hon. Friend. Not only would there be great cost and delay, but danger of loss of life might easily be involved. This is the sort of thing which shows how apprehensive the great port authorities are of the inclusion of any powers which appear to be unnecessary and wholly irrelevant to the purpose of the Bill.
On Clause 4, I would draw attention to another matter. There is provision made there that the assent of the President of the Board of Trade must be given in the event of anybody wishing to build a bridge over tidal waters, though I cannot see why it should be necessary to include provisions for bridges over tidal
waters in a Bill dealing with the protection of the coast and the erosion of the seashore. I am not concerned with that, but in that Clause there are set out certain provisions purporting to be for the advantage of navigation which affect those who are likely to use the waterway over which the bridge is to be built. Sub-section (2) (a) says:
(a) it shall not be lawful for the owner of the bridge for the time being to detain any vessel at the bridge for a longer time than may be necessary for permitting a vehicle traversing or approaching the bridge to cross the bridge, and for opening the bridge to admit the vessel.
This is a bridge which is to be erected over tidal waters and which in these days is not going to be there just for an occasional motor car to go slowly over it. If a bridge is built over tidal waters nowadays, it is because there is heavy traffic over it, perhaps a continuous stream of traffic from some arterial roadway. This particular paragraph is contrary to the whole practice of Parliament in these matters in the past. It is contrary to the powers taken with regard to the Tower Bridge, contrary to the practice of law as set out with regard to the Tees Bridge. The practice of Parliament in the erection of these bridges has hitherto been that the road transport shall give way to the river transport and for a very obvious reason. I have very little knowledge of navigation but it has frequently been my lot in my own constituency to see tugs proceeding upstream towing a large number of boats which do not go under their own steam. Just imagine what would happen if such a string of boats were approaching a bridge such as we have foreshadowed. To hold them up would be attended with the greatest possible danger. One wonders why the right hon. Gentleman or his advisers should have introduced this particular method of dealing with bridges and river traffic, because in the past they have adopted quite a different method. The method laid down in the Middlesbrough Corporation Transporter Bridge Act, 1907, where it is enacted that the bridge is to be used and worked in such a manner as to give priority to all vessels and traffic navigating the river over all traffic passing by means of the bridge, is the only practical way of dealing with such traffic. I mention this because no other Member has drawn attention to this
Clause which directly contravenes the accepted practice of Parliament in this particular respect.
It is unfortunate that there should have been drafted into this Bill powers and proposals which were not foreshadowed by the Commission and which do not appear to me at all events to be relevant to the Bill. It is rather a significant fact that there appeared before that Royal Commission no single witness on behalf of the Port Authorities or Conservancy Boards or others on behalf of whom opposition has been raised in this House this afternoon. The hon. Member for Newcastle East (Sir R. Aske), in his speech, made a suggestion for the redrafting Clause 3. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he would not lose anything in this Bill, and it would certainly facilitate its passage almost as an agreed Measure, if he were to withdraw Clause 4. That would probably go far to meet any opposition that has been raised to-day. I am anxious, as other speakers have been anxious, to facilitate the passage of the Bill and to do anything I can, in Committee or elsewhere, by means of Amendment, to meet the wish of the Board of Trade and to reconcile it with the views which are strongly held by those who feel that their rights are being prejudiced for no useful purpose.
On behalf of the railway companies, I may say that we offer no opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill, but there are certain Clauses which we hope will receive attention in Committee, and be drastically altered. The railway companies own large numbers of docks and harbours on which very large sums of money have been spent, on the authority of Acts of Parliament. We feel that if this Bill passes in its present form and those Acts are overridden, if the conduct and regulations of those docks and harbours are to be placed under the Board of Trade, and made subject to decisions of a departmental nature, unfairness may possibly be caused. To the main proposals of the Bill we raise no objection, but we do feel that the Bill takes away from the House of Commons certain powers which the House ought to retain in its own hands. We object to the departmental over-riding of Acts of Parliament, and I rise to make it clear that that is the attitude which we take up. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are, 'we'?"] The railway companies. We hope that when the Bill goes before the Committee our objections will be met. We think that there would be no real trouble in the right hon. Gentleman meeting our views. In making this protest on the Second Reading, I do urge that necessary Amendments should be made in Committee.
My excuse for taking part in this Debate is that I am one of the unfortunate people who own land that year after year is going into the North Sea. I calculate that over a period of 100 years my family has lost more than 100 acres in this distressing manner. I speak, therefore, with some feeling on a question of this kind. Owning land on the coast of Norfolk has brought me into very direct touch with the problem of coast erosion and coast protection. My family in the past has spent a good deal of money in putting up breakwaters on the Norfolk coast, and one has seen in a practical way, at first hand, the kind of problem with which the House of Commons is faced this evening. With that practical experience in my mind I say, first of all, that the main principle of the Bill is correct in extending the areas of the authorities which are dealing with the problem of coast erosion. The difficulty on the Norfolk coast is that you get one land-owner or one local body taking a particular kind of action, very likely putting up break-waters or other means of coast defence and protecting a little bit of coast, with the result that the breakwaters drive the sea along the coast and make it much worse for the neighbouring local authority or for the neighbouring land-owner. I could give hon. Members many practical examples of the way in which that is happening upon the coast of the eastern counties to-day. Let us by all means have wider areas and better means for dealing with the problem as a big comprehensive problem rather than the unsuccessful piecemeal methods that have been adopted in the past.
When I come to the actual provisions of the Bill, I feel some doubt as to the kind of authority that is being created. It seems to me that the Bill is going a good deal too far. The hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. Graham White), in a very interesting speech, pointed to one or two ways in which it seems to me the Bill is going a great deal beyond its main object, and even beyond the title of the Measure. Why in a Bill of this kind should we have all these conditions about navigable rivers? Why, for instance, should I find, to my surprise, that my own constituency of Chelsea, which one would think was sufficiently remote from the danger of coast erosion, seems to be brought within the scope of the Bill? What has happened in regard to this Bill is what very often happens in a Government Department, and I speak with some experience of Government Departments. A Bill is drafted for a very necessary and very urgent object, and the Department, quite rightly, say: "Here is a Bill being introduced; let us put into it all the various things that we have been thinking about for many years past. Here is a splendid opportunity of getting them through." I would, therefore, suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that when the Bill gets into Committee he should go for it with a pruning knife and cut out of it a great many of the Clauses which have very little to do with coast erosion.
With regard to the local authority that is proposed under the Bill there, again, I feel some doubt as to whether it is wise to create at this time of day a totally new body. I should have thought that when the whole trend of local government was not in the direction of creating new ad hoc bodies, but of concentrating all the local activities of a particular area into some existing organisation, like the county council, it would have been better to follow that principle. That was the principle upon which we dealt with the Poor Law in the last Parliament, and it seems to me to be a principle strictly in keeping with the general tendency to make our local government machine more efficient and more comprehensive than it has been in the past I should have thought—I am only now giving my own uninstructed opinion—that it was worth while considering whether it would not be better to take the county council, or, if necessary, a group of county councils concerned with the same problem of coast erosion, as the unit, and not to create a special body.
I should have thought that it would be better to leave the county councils concerned to deal with the problem as part of their ordinary work, through a committee appointed from their own members. That would have the result of removing some of the objections that have been raised in the debate this afternoon. The hon. Member for Horn-castle (Mr. Haslam) criticised the Bill on the ground that a non-elected body was going to deal with rating questions, and to have the power of imposing heavy taxation upon a particular locality. If these activities were brought within the county council, that objection would be to some extent removed. I should have thought that in a question of this kind into which, obviously, assessments must enter, it would be far better to have a body like the county council, which is already dealing with assessment questions and has already its own staff of surveyors and assessment officials, than to have some new and small ad hoc body which has no staff of its own, thereby necessitating the creation, at considerable expense, of a new staff which would very likely duplicate work done by the surveyors of the county council. I do not wish to dogmatise, but I throw out that suggestion for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, a suggestion which I hope will be further investigated when the Bill goes into Committee.
Lastly, I come to the very important question of finance. I am quite aware that the Royal Commission, 18 years ago, came down mainly against Government grants. They did go so far as to say that in certain exceptional cases the Development Commission might give some help to schemes of this kind. That was 18 years ago. At that time, it was very difficult to get a grant for anything. We were living in a different world. An extensive increase in local grants for this or that social service or this or that local need had not begun. Eighteen years have passed, and now we have a grant for almost everything. To-day, we see the Lord Privy Seal searching about to find some object upon which he can spend his money. In this new world, I should have thought that the case for generous local grants was much stronger than it was 18 years ago when the Royal Commission reported. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) said, representing as he does the various local authorities in the eastern counties, that if effective measures are to be taken to meet what is admitted to be an evil and a waste to the country there must be substantial national grants to make it worth while for a local body to undertake schemes. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee the right hon. Gentleman will go much further that he did to-day in undertaking to give national assistance on a substantial scale to approved schemes. Without substantial assistance the Bill is not worth the paper upon which is it printed.
Let me sum up in two sentences the suggestions I am making: First, that the right hon. Gentleman cuts out of the Bill all the many details which have nothing whatever to do with coast erosion; secondly, that he will consider the possibility of utilising the machinery of the county councils rather than creating new ad hoc authorities; and thirdly, that he will consider the financial position, and when the Committee stage is reached offer local authorities much more generous financial assistance than he has suggested in his speech this afternoon.
Perhaps this would be a convenient time for me to answer some of the points which have been raised in the discussion. I have no reason to complain of the tone of the Debate. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment to reject the Bill can hardly be taken seriously when they suggest that this is a matter which should be left to take care of itself, because constituencies like that of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) look upon this as an urgent Measure and are anxious that something should be done to bring this matter within the power of some authority so that the work of coast protection may be undertaken more efficiently than it has been in the past. Nobody who is familiar with the extent to which coast erosion has taken place on the East Coast, where houses have fallen into the sea because of the action of the sea, can agree that this is a subject which can be left to take care of itself, but he will agree that it is a matter which deserves the serious consideration of the Department.
I do not think I need reply seriously to the suggestion that we are taking away rights of the crofters under Clause 12. All that the Bill does is to lay it down that the rights given to the crofters under the Act referred to shall not give them a prescriptive right to become owners of the foreshore. That is a reasonable proposal. When the crofters were given the right to take seaweed from the foreshore it was surely never intended that the exercise of that right should give them a prescriptive right to the ownership of the foreshore from which they gather the material. It is therefore an exaggeration to suggest that the Bill takes away any rights in this respect. I agree with the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) that this is not a party Bill. It is a Bill which we have picked up. We look upon it as a matter of urgency, and the only purpose behind it is one of serving the national interest. I do not know of any subject which could be brought before this House in which mere party interest plays a less part. The only question is how we can evolve machinery whereby this problem if it is not entirely disposed of may be minimised in a material degree and its worst effects removed.
The criticism of the Bill falls under three or four heads. First, that the powers which are proposed to be taken are far too drastic. I will deal with docks and harbours later because a suggestion which can be made in this respect will probably remove many of the apprehensions which most properly exist in the minds of those who represent constituencies in any way affected by the Bill as it is now drafted. I would suggest, however, that it would be almost. useless to attempt legislation which has for its purpose the protection of our coasts unless you do place in the hands of the authority which controls the foreshore, that is the Board of Trade, powers which are drastic in themselves but under which they may act for the protection of the public interest. The right hon. Member for Hendon thought it was drastic to suggest that the owner of the foreshore should be prevented from taking material from the part of the foreshore in his possession, because he said nobody would take material from the shore if it was likely to damage the property which he owned. But that does, not cover the whole problem. Such a person may remove material from the shore and it might not damage his own land, but it may have the effect of causing erosion in another part of the coast a little distance away. Therefore, unless the House does give drastic powers so that the Board of Trade may have full control in this respect any attempt to deal with coast erosion would very largely fail of its object. That is the reason why these powers have been taken.
I ought to have prefaced my observations by saying that healthy and constructive criticism will be welcomed in Committee, and I willingly assure the right hon. Member that any suggestion from any member in the Committee which has for its purpose the improvement of the Bill and making it more effective for its purpose will be heartily welcomed. It is not possible for me to say now what will be accepted in regard to the various Clauses, but I will go so far as to say that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman will be carefully examined and considered and, if it is possible to meet his point, we will endeavour to do so in the Committee stage. I should like to assure the House generally on that point. This is not a party Measure; it is not a Bill in which any party seeks to gain any political advantage. It is a Measure put forward in the national interest and, therefore, we want to make it as perfect as we can for the object we have in view, and we will give fair and full consideration to any amendments or suggestions which are made in the Committee stage. I hope it will not be considered discourteous if I do not go into detail on the many points which have been raised and that this expression of view as to the attitude of the Government in Committee will be taken as an adequate answer.
In regard to docks and harbours, we propose moving an Amendment in Committee to the effect that Clause 4 shall not apply to any part of the seashore lying above the high water mark of ordinary spring tides or within any area closed by a lock or other artificial means used against the regular action of the tide. Possibly other Amendments will follow which will largely, if not entirely, meet the points which have been raised by one or two hon. Members and dispose of the possible dangers which they consider may arise from the Bill as now drafted.
The words are
closed by a look or other artificial means against the regular action of the tides.
I must leave the question of rivers open for consideration on the merits of the case. We must make the machinery wide, because some of the rivers towards their mouths have a big bearing on the question of coast erosion, and it is only to protect the interests of other parts of the coast that this is inserted; in case any action in a tidal water means the creation of a problem somewhere else. If words can be found to give protection of an adequate nature against the point raised it will be fully considered and every effort made to meet a reasonable request.
May I put this to the Parliamentary Secretary? We cannot discuss these proposed Amendments in detail now, but I gather that he himself will table Amendments to meet the criticism. I would also like him to give this undertaking. As practical men we know what we want to accomplish and what we want to avoid, but it is important that our legal advisers should agree and that local authorities should also have an opportunity to consider the precise words used in order to see whether they are adequate for the purpose which we have in view. Will the Parliamentary Secretary undertake to table the Amendments with such notice as to enable them to be adequately considered by hon. Members and by all parties who are interested?
I can give that assurance very readily, although not on all points which have been raised. We have a number of Amendments already in draft, and they will be presented to the House as speedily as possible so that they can have the consideration for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. There are a number of them, and they all deal with points which have been considered and have arisen out of certain objections which have been raised and which we have endeavoured to meet as far as we can.
On the question of Clause 8 and the setting up of a new authority, I do not know that we are particularly enamoured of the idea of setting up new authorities, having regard to the tendency which exists to reduce them to a minimum. I would however, call the attention of the House to the difficulty which naturally arises in regard to this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) mentioned the county council, but even the county council would not be adequate as an authority in this matter. There are many instances around the coast where this problem overlaps county boundaries, and even if we took the county council as an authority suitable for the purpose, it would be necessary to set up joint bodies consisting of representatives of more than one county council in order to deal adequately and effectively with it. Again, a number of other interests enter into the matter. There are railways and other interests, which I need not elaborate here, and for which adequate consideration has been demanded in connection with the formation of these bodies. When one visualises the big range of interests concerned the matter at once presents itself in a way which shows the impossibility of dealing with the problem unless by means of a new authority which will be fairly representative of all the interests concerned. I do not say any more on that point because I think it is obvious.
The question was raised of apportioning the coast line. How could that be done? It is difficult to say what is the exact problem until it has been subjected to examination. The exact range of coast line which may be involved, or which may be placed under one authority as a controlling influence, in order to make coast protection effective, can only be determined by examination of the problem, and the geographical marking out of the coast line would not, I think, be adequate. Therefore, we are bound to come to the conclusion—it may be reluctantly—that it is only by setting up an authority for the purpose that the problem can be dealt with properly. Another point may be mentioned in this connection. This is a limited and specific problem, and it is only authorities on the coast which are concerned with it. In the case of a county of some 40 miles across, it might be difficult to arouse interest in the problem among the people living in the extreme inland part of the county. They might view it from the standpoint of something that would mean an extra rate, and because of that, might minimise the problem existing on the coast. Thus, there might not be adequate treatment of the problem if it were dealt with on a county council basis. I suggest that there is no other way but the establishment of an authority to deal with this matter over an extended area, and see that the works carried out are fully protected. I think it is true to say that there are many cases to-day in which protective works would have been constructed by local authorities, but because of the fact that some neighbouring authorities would fail to do similar work, any attempt in that direction has been negatived. I think these are sufficient reasons to show that it is essential to establish some authority such as is proposed in the Bill.
I suggested in my opening observations that this could hardly be termed a party Bill, but I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman is trying to introduce a suggestion which is, more or less, getting on to party lines. Whether we believe in co-option or not, I do not thinks it affects this purpose. Nor are there any details before us at the moment as to how these bodies are to be brought into being. It is sufficient for the time being to deal with the principle upon which the whole thing rests, and which justifies the proposals in the Bill. The next point with which I desire to deal is the question of the powers to be taken under the Bill. A great deal of criticism has been levelled against the Bill in regard to the methods which it is proposed to adopt in order to give effect to the decisions necessary under these proposals. I do not think the Bill in this respect differs very much from the procedure laid down in connection with other Measures. I venture the opinion that it has been adopted, very largely because it is the only practicable way in which to deal with many of these matters. I think it is rather an exaggeration to say that we are taking powers which properly belong to the House of Commons. After all, in these days of publicity can a scheme be considered in any locality for a system of coast protection which may involve liability to certain bodies or persons, without all those who are really interested knowing all that is going on and taking steps to protect their interests by means of the powers contained in the Second Schedule? I think the 30 days' provision and the right of intervention by Parliament give ample protection to any interest which may be affected. If the House is to be asked on every occasion to give its time to the Orders which will be necessary properly to carry out the work of coast protection, I suggest that the House itself might be the first to protest against such encroachments upon its time. The provisions of the Bill are ample to ensure that the Board of Trade would not act in any arbitrary manner, or in a manner prejudicial to the interests of any person concerned. There is no reason why the Board of Trade should act in that way. The sole purpose of the Bill is to make it possible to protect our coasts. Surely it is right and proper that there should be full power to ensure that that protection is amply and properly given in all parts of the coast line.
The next point with which I wish to deal is that concerning the possibility that the rights of agriculturists or others might be taken away. One recognises the force of the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) when he quoted Acts which gave certain rights to agriculturists in that area. One can easily agree and sympathise with his point of view that the opportunity of removing certain material from the foreshore on to the land is a very valuable one, because of the mineral properties which that material possesses. One recognises that fact quite fully and if those operations do not contribute to the problem of coast erosion, and do not damage the coast in other directions, surely it is obvious that no steps will be taken to interfere with those rights. In Cornwall no problem of that description would arise. As far as I am able to judge, the situation there is that the removal of materials from the shore in no way constitutes a problem of coast erosion. But I believe that those who speak for the Cornish agriculturists would agree—at least I hope they would recognise the importance of the matter—that if the removal of such material did create a problem, then surely it would not be unreasonable that the people adversely affected by the removal of that beach material should have some kind of redress and protection. There is no desire to interfere with or limit the right of agriculturists to remove loose seaweed—which it may be advantageous to remove because it may become a nuisance if allowed to remain where the sea casts it up—and just as we have no intention of interfering with their rights to remove loose seaweed for agricultural purposes, neither is there any intention to interfere with the reasonable rights of other agriculturists to remove materials which are essential, and beneficial to their purpose as agriculturists in their own areas. The only point at which interference could or would arise would be if, in any action which they committed, they were creating a problem resulting in coast erosion in some other place. I think it only fair and reasonable that the House should agree with the principle that each and every one has the right to be protected, and if the action of one is prejudicial to another, then that action should be under some restraint, so as not to constitute a grievance.
I will very readily agree to a consideration of that, and, in so far as it is possible, to secure all the rights of people there, so long as those rights do not constitute a problem of coast erosion in the way I have indicated. It would be impossible in a Second Reading Debate to go into the details as to how that can be effected. It is sufficient for me to say now that there is no intention of interfering with the right to remove material so long as the removal does not create a problem somewhere else requiring action to be taken. That brings me back to a point which perhaps I did not elaborate sufficiently, namely, the need that this authority should possess powers to interfere if the action of anybody is pro- ducing in another place results such as I have indicated. I hope the House will see the necessity of having these proposals, in the main, established in any Measure which may be passed dealing with this matter, while at the same time agreeing that full consideration should be given to any question raised in Committee as to reasonable rights which would not be prejudicial to the main purpose of the Bill.
Another point raised was that of finance. This is a question which was very carefully examined by the Royal Commission, and they came to the conclusion that they could not recommend Parliamentary grants towards the main work of coast protection. There has been an endeavour, more or less recently, to get support for a movement in the opposite direction. I believe that those interested in the Lowestoft Division endeavoured to get the Chambers of Commerce to endorse a proposal that public money should be forthcoming. They failed to do so, and I do not think that any authority which has examined the question, has come to the conclusion that public money can be granted directly, or that the work necessary for coast protection can be made directly a national charge. I am afraid that is the position of the Government in this matter.
I am afraid I should have to examine that statement closely before I committed myself on the matter. My hon. Friend has referred to a statement which was raised during the election campaign. I have not the statement by me nor the resolution to which he directly referred, and I am without the opportunity of consultation; but, at any rate, so far as my position at the moment is concerned, I can only state that the Government do not propose to make the work of coast erosion a national charge; though that does not mean that local authorities will not get any help in the matter. I think I am correct in stating—and the hon. Member for Lowestoft knows it as well as I do—that his own Borough has received very substantial grants for coast protection work on the North Denes. I remember being there same few years ago and seeing those works in construction. After the main sea wall had been broken down, the Borough of Lowestoft constructed some coast protection works further back; and I believe those works were carried out with assistance from the Unemployment Grants Committee, and substantial grants were made in that respect All I can say in regard to the question of finance is that it is under those headings that grants-in-aid will have to be considered, and I think that on the whole it will be fairly satisfactory in its result. I am speaking from memory, but I believe I am correct in saying that nearly a quarter of a million of money has been granted to different authorities for coast protection works, and, if my memory serves me correctly, that is a fairly substantial sum and is an indication that local authorities which have big burdens placed upon them because of the problems of coast erosion which arise in their area at least do get consideration, and that the financial hardship which otherwise would arise is considerably lessened as the result of those grants being made. Then further, when they are dealt with under unemployment relief schemes, it means that local rates also are being helped by the provision of work for men who otherwise would be compelled to seek public assistance. I think, therefore, that when it is worked out it will be found that the financial arrangements under those headings, although they are not direct grants, very largely meet the points made in that direction.
It is, of course, very interesting to have hon. Members who represent these constituencies always putting up to me the contention that they ought to be helped. I suppose every hon. Member in this House has some problem within his own constituency which constitutes a hardship, and, if everyone of them comes along and makes a demand that that problem, because it constitutes somewhat of a special financial hardship to the district in which he is concerned, shall be met by Government grants, then it will be a very big problem for any Government to face. Under that particular heading, therefore, I am afraid that the only assurance which I can give to my hon. Friend in that respect is that the question of finance will be met in that particular way.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is asking me to give a guarantee which it is not within my power to give. Clause 13 says:
The Public Works Loan Commissioners may, in manner provided by, and subject to the conditions of, the Public Works Loans Act, 1875, as amended by any subsequent enactment, make loans to a drainage authority," etc.
I do not think it is possible for me to go beyond the terms of that Clause in the Bill. That Clause has been inserted there because previously this particular authority has not been available for loans for works of this description, and therefore this Bill is now giving facilities to authorities for this purpose which did not exist before; but, obviously, the Public Works Loan Commissioners will deal with this question within the powers which they possess, and I could not here give any assurance that they will naturally and necessarily grant any loan which is applied for by any authority in any part of the country. If my hon. Friend is asking me to give that assurance, he is asking me for something which I have not the power to give, but I can only imagine that Parliament, having made these loans open to authorities as a means of raising the finance necessary to enable them to carry out their works, the Public Works Loan Commissioners will, as I do not think they have ever failed to do, consider sympathetically any application which is made, and therefore constitute an avenue through which local authorities may be helped in the direction of raising the money necessary for their purpose. I do not think that at the moment it is possible for me to go beyond a statement of that description. It may be that in certain cases, as my hon. Friend suggests, application has been made, and has not been granted. I do not think I can interfere with the discretion of the Public Works Loan Commissioners, however much I may wish to do so. There-
fore, I shall have to leave the Clause as it stands, because I have no power to go beyond it.
May I ask whether the Government will look sympathetically on the making of grants by that body, and, having said that they may do so, will not give instructions that it really should not be done?
The only answer which I can give to that question is this: the insertion of this Clause in the Bill indicates, I take it, that the Government will give sympathetic and favourable consideration to it. The inclusion of the provision is in itself surely an indication of the wishes of the Government with regard to it. On the main points which have been raised in this Debate, I do not know that I have satisfied all who have criticised the Measure, but I can only conclude by saying, with regard to the many points which have been raised, that, in so far as it is possible to give them sympathetic consideration in Committee, every endeavour will be made in that direction. After all, the House must remember that this is a Coast Protection Bill, and that whatever may be necessary must be done to carry out those works successfully and in a way which will give the best result. That cannot be done unless first of all a proper authority is established, and that authority then given the necessary powers for its purpose. With that principle I think perhaps I may now leave the matter to the House; but I do hope that it will be possible for the House to come to a decision on this Measure very shortly. I hope I have answered fairly and well the points of criticism which have been raised, subject of course to the fair and full consideration which can be given to the subject when the Bill reaches the Committee stage.
I am sure that the House as a whole, and certainly our party, is bitterly disappointed at the reply which has just been given from the Government Benches. The local authorities who are affected fully hoped that the Socialist party would implement what they understood was a pledge to make coast erosion and sea defence a national charge, or at any rate to go some way towards it. Apparently, there is a strong suspicion that a definite pledge given at the last Election is now
being given up, like so many other pledges are, and is to be broken. The whole point is this: this Bill is of very little use to urban authorities on the coast without some measure of Government assistance other than a loan. The principle of Government assistance has been fully recognised since 1911, and I am Very sorry that the Government are still sticking absolutely to the letter of the report of 1911. Some hon. Members have criticised them for going too far, but 1911 is old history now. We had in 1927 a Drainage Report, and the two have got to be worked distinctly together. Before I leave it, let me refer to the old question of these works being a national charge. I beg to say that the President of the Board of Trade was to my mind not absolutely accurate when he said that the report against making coast erosion works a national charge was unanimous. We have here summaries of the argument used by one of the distinguished members, Mr. Nicholson. He said this:
The obligation to defend the realm against the sea is still binding on the Crown.
In this Bill the whole functions of the Crown so far as regards the foreshore are being taken over by the Board of Trade, otherwise by the Government, and I beg to say that, if that statement is correct in law, then, after this Bill becomes law, there will be a distinct necessity for the Government of the day to recognise the position that now coast erosion becomes a charge on the Government of the day as a national charge. I do not think that point has been raised to-day. If that be still true in law, we ought between now and the Committee stage to have a reconsideration of that question.
Let me turn to a second objection to this Bill, which is a Second Reading objection. It is an objection which has been raised by a great many Members before, and it is an objection to the whole idea of raising new authorities. I will suggest to the President of the Board of Trade a way in which he can get round that difficulty. Hon. Members know pretty well the recommendations of the 1911 Report on Coast Erosion. Since that date there has been the 1927 Report on Land Drainage. To my mind, it is extremely hard to say where land drainage ends and sea defence begins. I think we have seen from one or two indications to-day from the Government benches that the Government recognise that fact. Let them take the Report of 1927, and see whether they cannot work the two in together; because sooner or later a Land Drainage Bill on the lines of the 1927 Report will have to be introduced, and if, when that Bill is introduced, they find that they have tied up the sea defence and coast erosion question with a whole lot of new bodies, then either they will have to reconstitute the whole, or there will be some considerable confusion between the two sets of authority. In this country we have too many authorities; that is recognised. When voters go to the poll, how many of these elections are contested? Probably in most cases only the Parliamentary elections; in some cases the county council elections, too. If you are going to set up new authorities under this Bill and under the Drainage Bill which is bound to come, you are going to increase the confusion among the electorate. It was said that there was a difficulty in the geographical division of the coastline. Cannot the Government deal with the whole question of coastline by means of catchment areas, as is recommended in the 1927 Report on Land Drainage? If they can constitute a catchment area authority under the Ministry of Agriculture, with similar authorities on the coast under the Board of Trade, I venture to suggest that it will go some way towards meeting the difficulty about fresh authorities.
We have as far as we can raised as many objections as we see to this Bill. There still remain all the objections on the Committee stage; but, while we take the view that this is not the Conservative Bill which would have been introduced, we realise that it is a Bill which will be for the good of the country if it is thoroughly changed in Committee. Therefore, although we object to the Bill in its Socialist guise, we no doubt will give it our full attention and try to make a good thing of it in Committee.
I heartily agree with what the Parliamentary Secretary said on the subject of making coast protection a national charge. In our opinion that is quite impossible, and it is equally impossible to make the unit in the charge for coast protection the county council. To do so would not fail to lead to delays of every possible kind. It would be almost impossible to come to an agreement within the county council itself as to the amount of money which ought to be expended in protecting the coasts from the erosion of the sea. Besides, as has already been pointed out, a certain amount of erosion is necessary, and land which is taken away from one particular point is more frequently than not deposited at another point and protects what may possibly be, and probably is, much more valuable agricultural land. As the President of the Board of Trade pointed out, we are not suffering from a net loss of land; we are actually receiving a net gain. The actual loss is approximately 6,000 acres, whereas the gain has been approximately 48,000 acres, a net gain of 42,000 acres, and in the majority of cases the ground which has been reclaimed is of greater agricultural value than the land which has been swept away. But I cannot help thinking there will prove to be in the long run a lack of co-ordination between the Board of Trade and the great authorities which are already constituted, such as the Humber Conservancy Board, the London County Council, the Mersey Conservancy Board, and others, with regard to the maintenance of those great tideways on which the prosperity of this country so largely depends.
At first sight, it does not appear that there would be any great difficulty in co-ordinating the duties of these Various Conservancy Boards and the Board of Trade. After all, what they both want to do is to prevent the land being swept away from one place and deposited in the channels of these great tidal rivers; but, on inquiring more closely into the matter, one can see that there is a possibility of large differences of opinion arising between the Board of Trade and the river Conservancies. First, there is the question of dredging. I think we may take it for granted that the Board of Trade will take up a reasonable attitude with regard to that, but at the same time this Bill is giving the Board power to forbid the river Conservancies to dredge, where they may think it necessary. I do not say for a moment that they will exercise that power, but the power is here in this Bill, and that mere fact is agitating the minds of those who are charged with conserving these great tidal waters.
In addition to that, any work of coastal protection which has to be put up outside these great tidal rivers may influence the inflow of the tide to such an extent as to cause the silting up of the channel. The maintaining of the navigability of these channels is partly done by dredging, but that is quite a minor factor. It is the scour of the tides in and out which plays the greater part in maintaining these channels open to navigation. What man does by means of dredging is but a comparatively small piece of work compared with what the tides do day and night, and by putting up works of protection outside these rivers it is quite possible that the ebb and flow of the tides may be altered to such an extent as may cause the silting up of these channels. We see everywhere round the coasts, where reclamation has taken place, where piers have been built, and where embankments have been made, how the ebb and flow of the tides have been altered and how sandbanks and mudbanks have appeared where a few years ago they were absolutely unknown.
I must congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on taking power to prohibit the removal of shingle or ballast from the sea coasts. Up to the present time it seems to me that the Government themselves have been the worst offenders in this respect. I have in my mind a case in the Isle of Wight, where shingle was removed by the War Office for building a fort a little way back inland, with the result that the coast erosion there has increased to an alarming extent ever since, and it will take many years yet before a shingle bank has formed of the size that it was before the original bank was removed by the War Office or their nominees. But the principal objection which we have in the Humber is to the fact that this Bill gives the Board of Trade the power to completely override the local Humber Conservancy. That is a point which we feel sure ought not to be overlooked. It is only a question of some Amendments to Clause 4, and we have received a very modified assurance that Amendments of that nature will be introduced, but I sincerely hope that the Board of Trade can see their way to introduce such Amendments as will set at rest the minds of the Humber Conservancy, for after all they have been the people who up to the present have been responsible for maintaining the Humber in a navigable state, and it can only be disastrous to the prosperity of the Humber ports should anything in this Bill give power to the Board of Trade to do anything which the Humber Conservancy do not consider advisable.
When I first read through this Bill, I was forced to one conclusion, namely, that the Members of His Majesty's Government had been spending their holidays at the seaside, and that while they were there they had been making sand castles and did not like the way in which the waves came and washed those sand castles away. It may have reminded them of some of the castles they built in the air at the time of the General Election. I do not wish to detain the Parliamentary Secretary from his dinner, but I am bound to say that when I heard his speech this evening, I thought that the conclusion to which I had arrived on first reading the Bill was correct. He started his speech by telling the House that the Government approached this matter of coast erosion from a purely national point of view, and at the conclusion of his speech, in reply to a challenge from this side, he told the House that on no account was it right that this matter, which was one of national concern and importance, should be paid for out of national funds. The Government cannot have it both ways, but that is the Bill. The President of the Board of Trade shakes his head, but that is the Bill. The Bill definitely and absolutely takes possession of the foreshore of this country. In fact, in a word, this Bill is a Nationalisation of the Foreshore Bill, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would be concerned to deny that, because what does he take?
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House, first of all, that in Clause 2 (2), he takes unto himself complete control of the management of the whole of the minerals, quarries, or mines on or not more than 50 feet below the surface. He overrides the whole of the privileges given by the Crown Lands Act of 1866. He sweeps them entirely away, and in the same Clause he overrides all rights, whether public or private, such as mineral and other rights of ownership. They are all swept away by Clause 2 (2). In Clause 3 he goes a stage further and takes to himself power
to render the removal of minerals subject to a very heavy penalty, and he overrides all powers and rights of corporations, lords of manors and other persons which were given to them by the Harbours Act of 1814. These are very important rights, and I should like to allude to them in a little more detail. No wonder there has been a chorus from this side of the House from all points of view, and representing all bodies of opinion of this country against this Bill. I should like to voice the feeling of a body of men who are charged to-day with the management of foreshore and who have had a long experience in that management. We are charged with looking after the foreshore from many points of view, and we are very deeply alarmed at the whole of the purpose of this Bill. I want to allude in a little detail to the Act of 1814. I do not wish to take the House back more than a century, but this is a very important matter. In Section 14 of that Act power is given to the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, which was transferred by the Harbours Transfer Act 1862 to the Board of Trade, to prohibit the removal of shingle or ballast
in order to prevent damage being done to the shores or banks of the ports, harbours or havens in this Kingdom from which the Commissioners shall find it necessary for the protection of such port, harbour or haven or the works thereof.
That is one Section giving power to the Commissioners to act. Section 28 is one to which I particularly ask the right hon. Gentleman to listen. That Section provides that nothing in the Act
shall extend or be construed to extend to prejudice, diminish, abridge, alter or take away any right of property, privilege … held, possessed, used, exercised or enjoyed by any … person or persons whatsoever in, to, upon or over any of the ports, harbours, havens … of the United Kingdom.
Then it goes on in greater detail to secure that every right that existed was to be scrupulously retained and observed. Curiously enough, a very important case was fought in the courts on that very point not so long ago. I will bring the House to 1909. The case was known, as the Hendon Beach case, Hendon being near Sunderland, and it was a case where the owner of four acres of foreshore had increased his acreage by leasing a further amount from the Crown. The sole purpose of the lease was that the lessee might remove
minerals, which he proceeded to do. An order was passed by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to try to stop the lessee from removing minerals both from the part of the foreshore which had been leased to him from the Crown, and also from the foreshore which was his own actual property. The case was brought into court, and the owner was prosecuted for wilfully removing shingle. It was pleaded on behalf of the defendant that he was, as owner of the land, entitled to remove the sand and shingle. The magistrate refused to convict, and the Board of Trade applied for a special case to be stated before the Divisional Court. This was done, and the matter came on for hearing before the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Alverstone), Mr. Justice Grantham and Mr. Justice Jelf in 1909, when the appeal of the Crown was dismissed. In face of as recent a judgment as that affecting these very rights, we have a Bill which is going to sweep the whole of them away.
I draw the attention of the House to the seriousness of this Bill and ask hon. Members to consider this point. A claim was set up by the Parliamentary Secretary just now that the question of coast erosion was one of national importance. At the same moment, he claimed that the Bill carries out the intention of the Royal Commission of 1911. Does it? I am going to quote words from the Report of that Commission which will prove the exact contrary. This is what that Commission said on page 162:
We cannot see that there is any ground for the contention that sea defence is a national service.
That is quite definite. If that be so, on what ground does the State propose to nationalise the management and the ownership of the foreshore of this country? Alternatively, if coast defence is a national matter, as pleaded by the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary, on what ground can they refuse to provide the necessary money from national resources? The right hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways, and it is necessary that the House and the country should be clearly aware of the fact. How is the money to be raised? As usual, the charge is to come down on some poor occupier or landowner who happens to be in the district. It is quite fortuitous that a farmer is
farming in the proximity of a coast-line, and yet in dealing with a national matter we are told that the national purse must not find the money, but that this poor man, who happens to find that the land he leases or owns is in proximity to the coast, is to bear the burden of finding the money.
What is the real purpose behind the Bill? I am inclined to think that the Member of the Cabinet really responsible for the Bill is not the right hon. Gentleman, but the Lord Privy Seal. I think the Lord Privy Seal and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade must have had a conversation something after this character. The Lord Privy Seal said, "Have you got anything in your pigeon holes that will find work for my unemployed?" The right hon. Gentleman replied, "We will have a look," and in due course this Bill, which has been vegetating there for a considerable time, was produced. Had it been produced in the time of my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade, he would have taken a blue pencil and scored through at least half of it, but when it was produced to the present President of the Board of Trade, he took a red pencil and underlined all the worst parts. The fact is, that it is intended to provide coast defence work for the unemployed. That may be a most laudable thing in itself, but what I want to point out is that if that work is to be provided on the plea that it is a work of national importance, and that coast erosion is a matter of national concern, the money should be provided from national sources.
The House must realise that people who own and farm land round the coast, and in fact agriculture in general, are suffering from disabilities which are already too heavy to bear, and the House cannot be too often reminded of that fact. It is obvious that the Committee stage will be protracted. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary that they are going to be most willing to meet all the points which may be raised in reason against the Bill on the Committee stage. I can only say that I am very glad that the rejection of this Bill has been moved. I think that it is a thoroughly bad Bill; it is a thoroughly bureaucratic Bill, and a Bill which is going to sweep away a lot of rights, and one which will inevitably entail an enormous amount of litigation. It is a lawyers' Bill and it will help them. I know that members of the learned profession are in great numbers in this House, and that they will rally to the support of the Bill, because it is inevitable that when a Bill of such a far-reaching effect as this is passed, litigation on a large scale is absolutely inevitable. In conclusion, I think this Debate to-day should give His Majesty's Government occasion to pause. In no party sense, we have raised to-day a great many points on this Bill, the majority of which the right hon. Gentleman has admitted are points which will have to be met in Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head at that. Perhaps I am wrong, and it was his Parliamentary Secretary who said that, but at all events I think the Government ought to pause long before they continue with this Bill, because, whatever may have been their intention in introducing it, it is a Bill which is much more far-reaching than they appear to have realised. On that ground I for one shall vote against this Bill if the Motion for its rejection is pressed to a Division.
If I agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) and really thought there was a chance of litigation arising out of this Bill, I should not be so whole-heartedly opposed to it; but I object to it because I see no possibility whatever of any private individual or of the owner of any private right being able to appeal to the courts of law. The autocratic powers which are conferred by the Bill are quite unprecedented in character. There is no chance, or very little chance, of Parliamentary control, and there is no question whatever of appealing to the courts; that is perfectly plain. There is no right of calling in question a decision of the Board of Trade or any act which may be performed by the Board under this Bill. I think that is all wrong. Nothing, however unjust, can be called in question. There are no means whereby an injured person or an injured party can appeal to the courts. I do not know why this should be so. The right hon. Gentleman said there was no intention of interfering with the rights of individuals unless those rights constituted a problem, that is, unless they came into conflict with the rights of the public. If that be the intention, why not say so? Why not frame the powers in such a way that they are to be exercised only if and when such a problem arises, and leave the man or the body his or their right to appeal to the courts to determine whether that occasion has indeed arisen?
If that is the intention, why repeal Section 28 of the Harbours Act, 1814, the Section preserving the rights of private persons and parties? Why sweep away those rights if, in truth, the only intention is to interfere with them when they are in conflict with the rights of others? I cannot for the life of me see why these powers should not be guarded by some limitation which would enable a person aggrieved to go to the courts and ask the courts to determine whether such a contingency has arisen. Something has been said about financial powers. I think the financial powers which are conferred by Clause 8 are rather remarkable, because the Board can make an order which may provide for financial adjustment and
for the manner in which any money required for the purposes of the order is to be raised.
If that is not conferring a power of taxation, I do not know what is. To say that the Board of Trade may in their Order provide for the manner in which any money required can be raised is conferring upon the Board a power which has been one of the most jealously guarded rights of this House, and it is amazing to confer a right of that sort and not make it absolutely certain that the Order must come before Parliament for approval before it becomes effective.
I have two other main objections to this Bill. One is that it is extraordinarily badly drafted. I do not for a moment suppose that was intentional, but it does show how extraordinarily careless or hurried—I do not know which—has been the framing of this Bill. As an illustration of what I mean, I will take the case which was dealt with by an hon. Member for one of the divisions of Liverpool, the case of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the rights of dredging which they possess under three different Acts of Parliament, rights which are absolutely vital to the continued existence of Liverpool as a port. Clause 3 gives the Board of Trade power
to make an Order prohibiting the Mersey Harbour Board from continuing their dredging. Hon. Members may think: "That is all right. The Mersey Board have got their powers and, of course, the Board of Trade will not interfere in a case of that sort." But then we come to Clause 4. It has a most misleading marginal note, which says:
Control by Board of Trade over erection of works and deposit of materials on shore.
One would think that was a Clause dealing with the putting of something on the foreshore, but some rather important words have been slipped into this Clause. It says:
No drainage authority, harbour, local or other authority "—
shall do various things
or carry out or authorise the carrying out of any dredging operations thereon, or deposit
and so on. In the middle of a Clause which is dealing with the building of works or the depositing of materials there have been slipped in a couple of lines dealing with dredging and putting an end, the moment this Bill comes onto operation, to the powers of dredging of every harbour authority in the kingdom. I repeat that if you look at Clause 3 you think those powers are going to continue until an Order is made, but in Clause 4 there are words which terminate those powers at once, and they cannot be exercised unless and until the Board of Trade give a written authority permitting them to be exercised. That is an illustration of the careless way in which this Bill has been framed. Then, look at the number of offences which have been created in the most lighthearted way. I will refer to only one, the provision about bridges.
(a) it shall not be lawful for the owner of the bridge for the time being to detain any vessel at the bridge for a longer time than may be necessary for permitting a vehicle traversing or approaching the bridge to cross the bridge.
If he does so, he may be fined £50. When is a vehicle "approaching a bridge"? The owner may take the view, when he sees a motor car or a string of cars coming along 300 or 400 yards away, that they are approaching the bridge, and he may wait. But suppose somebody else takes the view that they are not approaching the bridge, that they
are not near enough to come within the words in this Clause. Who can say at what point you are approaching the bridge within the meaning of this Section? One man may take one view, and another man may take an exactly opposite view. You cannot constitute offences in language so vague as that which is provided in this Measure without any definition as to what is meant by the words "approaching the bridge." If a child throws a stone into the sea, that is an offence within the meaning of this Bill. If you pick up a stone and take it away with you, it may be held that you have removed material from the fore-shore. It may be said that in trivial cases of that kind nothing would be done, but in law that might be deemed to be an offence if some further definition of "removal of materials" is not inserted. It is to the vagueness of this Measure that I object, because it is so vague that anything you do is an offence for which you may be prosecuted.
We ought to know exactly what is meant by conduct which is to be liable to a prosecution. The foreshore rights are vested in the Crown with certain exceptions. In the case of a charge of trespassing, you know there cannot be legal trespass unless damage to the extent of 1s. is done, but there is not even a situation of that kind in this Measure. If the Bill provided that something to the value of at least 5s. were intended, you would at least know where you were. This Measure creates offences which are not offences under the present law, and I object to the inclusion of a lot of offences which have been ill-thought out, and which in my opinion justify the rejection of this Bill. It ought to be withdrawn, redrafted, and brought in afresh.
As a Scottish Member, I do not wish this Measure to be given a Second Reading until I have pointed out that in my judgment the method of dealing with well-established rights and carefully established principles of Scottish, land legislation in a statute such as this is a most improper way of proceeding. For a large number of centuries the method of acquiring rights over Scottish land by the subject has been established, and quite recently the long period of 40 years has been reduced to 20 years. It seems to me to be a proper principle that, if a man has been making use of land and dealing with it for 20 years, it is very unjust for somebody to step in and say "Never mind what you have been doing for 20 years; this is my land."
That question is not before the House. All that we are now considering is the claim for the foreshore as against the Crown for a trifling act which no one can justify.
I was simply stating the general principle. I am aware that it has been held that the long period laid down before rights can be established is out of keeping with the modern view. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite will agree that the very extensive revision of the Scottish land system in its legal aspect which took place in 1924 went as far as they would like, but let me say that it attempted to bring the Scottish method of dealing with land up to the modern practice. One of the changes made was to reduce the period from 40 to 20 years. What does the President of the Board of Trade now propose? He does not propose to bring the period back to 40 years, but he introduces by a bypath a period which is the longest known to the law of Scotland, and this Measure provides that before a man can get rights to the foreshore against the Crown he must have qualified for that right for a period of 60 years. I submit that the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind is not the proper time or place to alter a principle of the law of Scotland which has been revised so recently as five years ago. I do not think we ought at this stage to introduce an old-fashioned and antique point of view which has never before been introduced into the law of Scotland.
Hon. Members opposite, when they come before the Scottish electorate, often put forward the principle of Scottish Home Rule. I take a different view, and I say to the President of the Board of Trade that there is an identity, a separate life, and a separate point of view in Scotland which is represented to a large extent by the Scottish legal system. I am aware that we are not raising a very large matter, but, if there is this separate identity and legal system and separate life in Scotland, in my judgment it is a totally unsound principle vitally to alter the law of Scotland in a Bill in which it was quite unnecessary to alter the period, and insert a period which is not to be found in Scottish Acts, and which, if it is to be found anywhere, must be found in the law of England. I think that the Scottish Office cannot have been consulted about this, and that the Law Officers of the Crown can hardly have been consulted.
In any case, whatever their views may be, I want to take this opportunity of saying that, although I am not myself in favour of the granting of political Home Rule to Scotland, I deprecate upon wide and general grounds the alteration of a law which recently was carefully reconsidered by the whole body of relevant Scottish opinion, and which was put right in this House no longer than five years ago. I deprecate its alteration in so illogical a way as to make the relations between subjects themselves and the relations between subjects and the Crown totally different, and I am very sorry that, in a Bill where it is perfectly unnecessary, the right hon. Gentleman should have seen fit to introduce this provision. Although the Bill has been subjected to general criticism, and, I venture to say, most powerful criticism, it contains many good features, and undoubtedly it would make the law with regard to coast protection more valuable and modern; but I think it is a comedy to introduce, in a Bill which does these modernised things, a return to a figure with regard to the principle of prescription in Scotland so out of date that a very much smaller figure was abandoned no longer than five years ago by all who knew anything about the topic. I urge that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider that provision, and that in future even a Labour Government should not alter the law of Scotland in such a ludicrous and illogical manner.
Before this Debate is concluded, I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to direct his very careful attention to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, because there are two points in regard to which the hon. Gentleman gave no satisfaction at all. He ended by saying emphatically, and quite rightly, that this is a Coast Protection Bill, but the trouble which I and my constituents feel about it is that we, unfortunately, come under it, and we do not want to do so, just because it is a Coast Protection Bill. The subject of navigable rivers has already been mentioned several times this evening, but I hope that, before the Bill is taken through its further stages, the President of the Board of Trade will instruct his Department to look at the map and learn a little geography, and see what remarkable distances inland some of these tides go. For example, the town of Gainsborough, which I have the honour to represent in this House, is some 50 miles from the sea, and yet the tide comes up with a wonderful rush, and goes on some 10 miles further inland. I am certain that it is an error that we should be included in a Coast Protection Bill, and that it must be just a, mistake, possibly through ignorance or a slip of the pen. That is why I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will not get someone to study the map and see how many other rivers there are of a similar nature, and see that they are taken out of the Bill so far as their inland portions are concerned. Obviously the outfalls of such rivers have a very close connection with coast protection, but I cannot see how the inclusion of a portion about 60 miles inland can be in any way beneficial to any scheme for the protection of the coast.
The result has been that I have had representations from every business in the town, from the principal riparian owners, and the county and urban and rural district councils, all protesting; and, if all the authorities and private individuals protest, on the ground, for example, that under the Bill as it stands the local authority, should their sewers get choked up by a sudden downrush of water, would be unable without consent to open them up, it seems to me that there is a case which should at any rate be looked into sympathetically during the subsequent stages of the Measure. The second point in reference to which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to read through the speech of his colleague is the airy way in which the Parliamentary Secretary dismissed the great volume of opinion expressed on this side of the House regarding the powers taken by the Board of Trade to make Orders. The Parliamentary Secretary only said that what was in this Measure did not differ very much from what was in other Measures. I have heard the whole Debate so far, and I do not agree with that version of what has been said; but, even so, the principal Law Officer of the Crown is not such a stickler for precedent that he might not make this the occasion for changing the existing system under which Orders are passed. Within the last few years this matter has been debated time and again, and recently the Lord Chief Justice has called attention in public to the growth of these Departmental Orders. There have been debates in this House, many of them led by Sir John Marriott, protesting time and again, and successfully, against this great growth of Departmental power, and I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman that, whereas to-day there may not be any greater opposition than has previously been shown when attention has been called to these facts, yet he may very well jeopardise a Bill which, after all, is called a Coast Protection Bill, by insisting upon leaving in it this system of Orders.
Again, Clause 6 contains what seems to me to be a new principle in law, under which, when a person without lawful authority does certain things, the proof is to lie upon him. It is, apparently, to lie upon the delinquent to prove that he has not done certain things. That seems to me to be a bureaucratic power which is quite uncalled for in connection with coast protection. In the same way, the question of the cost of inquiries, dealt with in Clause 15, is one of the points about which my own county council has protested to me. Under Clause 15, apparently, if the Board of Trade causes an inquiry to be held, it is to be the judge as to who is to pay the costs, and the result, apparently, as my county council is advised, is that the costs might be charged on someone appearing at an inquiry even though that person had not asked either that an inquiry should be held or that he should be present. That is a matter which certainly should not be left to the whim of a Government Department, however efficient it may be.
Then there is the actual system of Orders as described in the Schedule—prohibitory Orders under Clause 3, and the confirmation of Orders under Clause 8. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will very carefully study those matters. He will see that in some cases the appropriate Department may give instructions for an inquiry, but why should there not always be an inquiry, at any rate where there is opposition? I hope, also, that he will be good enough in due course to see that the most extraordinary provision of all is dealt with, namely, that of Sub-section (6) of Clause 8, which provides that, although Orders may have been introduced into Parliament as the result of protests, and may have been confirmed by Parliament, yet an Order, even though it has been confirmed by Parliament, may be revoked by the Department. It seems to me to make Parliamentary discussion an absolute farce if an Order comes to this House and is discussed here, and then the next day the Board of Trade can quietly revoke it, in spite of the fact that it has gone to the trouble, under the Clauses of the Bill, of producing it for discussion by Parliament. I am no lawyer, but it seems to me that these points affect the common interest of every British citizen; it is not a question of legal disputation at all. It is just as necessary to-day as in the immediate past to which I have referred that some check should be put upon Government Departments taking over the functions of this House, and, therefore, I hope that on this aspect of the question very careful advice will be taken during the next few weeks. With regard to our rivers, I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to see that our points are met, and that rivers like the Trent are not brought into coast protection schemes.
I should like to put a question to the President of the Board of Trade before we proceed to a Vote, if a Vote is going to be taken. Mention was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) of certain objections of the Humber Conservancy Board, and I, of course, am interested in anything that affects the Humber water-way as a harbour of refuge for ships or a waterway along which ships pass. Certain correspondence has taken place between the Conservancy Board and the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and I understand from a communication I have received that a promise has been made that an Amendment to Clause 4 will be brought forward by the Government providing that it shall not apply to the construction, alteration, or the carrying out in accordance with the provisions of any local Act of any works authorised by or under that Act, or to the carrying out of any dredging operations authorised by any local Act in accordance with the provisions thereof. I should like to ask whether the President of the Board of Trade can give us an assurance that such an Amendment will be brought forward. If he can, that will considerably relieve the mind of the authorities responsible for the navigation of the Humber, and will possibly remove a good deal of objection on the part of other people.
If there is one reason why I should support my hon. Friend in his Amendment to reject the Bill, it is the speech made earlier this evening by the Parliamentary Secretary, and particularly those very vague phrases that he used defining the most objectionable system of the Bill, a system against which I have never ceased to protest during the whole time that I have been in the House, of a Government Department being given power by Order, or Order-in-Council, to do this, that, or the other, while we have not the slightest control over it afterwards when it comes into operation. I was rather surprised that during the very interesting Debate we have had the Secretary of State for India has not thought fit to be present. When he was in opposition, from almost the same seat from which I am now addressing the House he used continually to protest against legislation by Order or by Order-in-Council, and I entirely agree with him. The House of Commons is made the laughing stock of the country by some Government officials, and, while it may be quite correct to say the Minister may be the best Minister in the world, the Parliamentary Secretary the best Parliamentary Secretary in the world, and the Board of Trade officials may be the best officials in the world, they may make some mistakes, and the House of Commons has no chance of rectifying them. It is quite easy, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said, to put into legislative form exactly what the Government want to do, and I do not see any reason why this objection-able system of legislation by Order should be continued. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has said, the Lord Chief Justice has made some very strong comments about the way in which this bureaucratic system has grown up. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that this has been done several times before, but, because a bad thing has been done once, that is no excuse for it being done any longer. For that reason, I should like to enter a very strong protest against this type of legislation.
I should also like to express my strong condemnation of the bad drafting of the Bill. For example, under Clause 4 it is made illegal for any port authority to do dredging in the channel of its river without obtaining the permission of the Board of Trade. I have been associated for practically the whole of my life with the Port of Liverpool. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) said he did not know much about navigation, but I claim to know something about what happened in the Port of Liverpool during and before the War. The channel between Liverpool Bay and the North-West Lightship used to be dredged, and thousands of tons of sand were taken out of it. During the War they ceased to do that dredging, and after two years, although they had done no dredging, the channel was two feet deeper than it was before they started. The reason was that owing to the dredging the sides of the channel were falling down, making it less deep instead of deeper. What did the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board do? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that part of the Lancashire coast was suffering very seriously from erosion. I can only presume that he was referring to the parish of Bundellsands, where I once resided. At that place, over 40 houses have been washed away, and the probability is that there will be 40 more before two or three years have passed. It is stated that the revetment which has been built by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board outside the Port of Liverpool is responsible for those houses being washed away, but is it not of great value that Liverpool should be made into an efficient port without any interference whatever from the right hon. Gentleman so as to allow the greatest steamers in the world to come into it?
I should also like to point out that in Clause 19
the expression 'foreshore' means the shore and bed of the sea and of every channel, creek, bay, estuary, and of any navigable river in the United Kingdom as far as the tide flows.
The right hon. Gentleman must admit that wants some very considerable alteration. Is it possible for anyone to say how far the tide flows up any river? The Bill is worded in such a way that it wants the closest analysis in Committee. If my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) persists in his Amendment to reject this Bill, I for one will go into the Lobby against the Bill, because I think that the defence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was the weakest defence of a Bill, and particularly because he advocated a system of legislation by Order which is one of the worst kinds of legislation ever introduced into this House of Commons.
As the representative of a town affected by this question of coast erosion I want to say a few things about the subject. I appreciate the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) and the kind way in which he voiced the feelings of those interested in this important subject. He speaks for a town which, in my recollection, has been affected by coast erosion and has had to spend some hundreds of thousands of pounds. My disappointment is keen, at the re-opening of Parliament, when I was hoping and believing that after what the Labour party had said prior to the election they honourably meant to keep their word, to find that they should so quickly have broken away from their promises during the General Election. Their spokesmen gave a definite pledge which bound the party, to make a national charge of the cost of protecting this country against coast erosion. The town of Great Yarmouth, which I have the honour to represent, is now subjected to an expense of some £70,000 a year, or will be in the near future, in order to protect itself from this very danger. The Government party have been rather free with public money to serve sectional interests time after time. This money is for a definite national purpose. We claim that money should be found by the nation to protect this country from sea erosion, just as money should be found by the nation to protect it against foreign foes.
I am speaking seriously, because the town to which I happen to belong is faced with heavy expenditure for this very purpose. The Bill, in my opinion will effect very little good indeed, but will create endless difficulties. Clauses 3, 4 and 19 contain proposals which are harmful and which will very seriously hamper and restrict those authorities which have to administer the powers dealing with coast erosion. For instance, our town has a tidal river, the Yare, and we have been engaged in bridge building there. It is a navigable river, but mud banks formed and had to be removed. I can see what difficulty there will be for a Department troubled with applications to move this or that mud bank or this or that silt bank so frequently. I do not know how many officials will be needed to deal with cases of that sort, which are of a trivial nature but are important to authorities concerned with the administration of powers dealing with rivers.
The Bill should be withdrawn. I am not going to vote for the Bill unless it is materially altered in Committee. In Clause 3 there are proposals which will prevent sand and shingle and other materials being carried away. These very materials are often the means of protecting the foreshore from the further invasion of the sea. We want them for our sea walls. On each occasion when such material is needed are the Board of Trade to be bombarded with innumerable questions asking for permission to remedy that sort of thing? I believe that there will be a disposition on the part of those representing the Board of Trade to meet reasonable objections, and in Committee I hope to have the opportunity of mentioning in further detail and at greater length those things that I have mentioned here.
Before I come to the actual details of the Bill I should like to deal with the opening speech of the President of the Board of Trade. Some of us who have heard him on a considerable number of occasions have rather put him down as one of the "heavyweights" of the Government in debate. When he was dealing with the Bill I could not help thinking that he was not exactly going into it with whole hearted determination to make the best of a good fighting case—if there is one in it—as he might have done. This Bill is a matter of vital importance—if it is of any value at all—to a great number of industries and a great number of places. We have had speeches like that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Harbord) and that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) giving some facts relating to their own localities. The President of the Board of Trade having stated, as far as coast erosion was concerned, that it was not quite as big a thing as it might be, was driven back to the findings of the Royal Commission. Having admitted that during a stated period approximately 48,000 acres were added to our shores while 6,000 acres were lost, which resulted in a large addition in land, he said that a great deal of the land silted up by the rivers was not very valuable. I think that if he will look into the matter a little further he will find that a very large amount of the land affected by the silting up of the rivers is some of the best and most productive land.
The right hon. Gentleman was driven back, in defence of this Bill, to the findings of the Royal Commission. During the time that I have been in this House I have always noticed that if a Government found itself in difficulties it appointed a Commission. I have never yet discovered much value in a Commission except for the purpose of putting off an evil day or difficult question. The right hon. Gentleman did not give a report issued in the last few years, but the report of a Commission which reported in 1911. In other words, he is driven back, for the evidence on which this Bill is based, to the report of a Commission of some bygone days under a Government which, I believe, he would not join in praising any more than I should. There is his defence.
Then he dealt with the composite body which would be constituted—the coast protection authority. In such a composite body, if you are going to see that all parties are represented, you must have a large body covering a good deal of ground, and almost invariably it will be found that a body of that kind is rather divided in its opinion, takes a very long while to come to a decision, and in many cases comes to no decision at all. If, on the other hand, you appoint a smaller body of one or two experts, an official or two, and a representative of the Government, you run the risk of having a body which is accused of not being properly under the control of Parliament. In such a matter as this, the House ought to be very careful before it sets up a new body. A large number of these bodies have been set up and they are apt to become very autocratic in their ways. There are other dangers too. It has been pointed out that there is a distinct danger of losing Parliamentary control under this Bill. There is the further danger that a body of this kind, if it is active, is bound to come to Parliament over and over again for money. The primary duty of the ordinary Member must be to see that we do not set up bodies which will come to this House from time to time to make fresh inroads on the national purse. For that reason this Bill ought to be given Very careful consideration by the House.
I wish now to deal with a point which has been raised, though quite superficially, on Clause 3. It has been pointed out that in the West country, in regard to the taking of certain materials from the seashore, we are dependent on an Act of 1609. I believe the Parliamentary Secretary said that he was endeavouring to protect the interests concerned, which take the sand and seaweed from the shore. Having a considerable experience of seeing how those materials are used, perhaps I might point out how infinitely more important they are than is often realised. It is not a question of taking a certain amount of sand from time to time and putting it on the fields because it contains a large percentage of lime, although this sand is used in the main on land which is very short of lime. The whole of Cornwall and great areas of Devon are naturally very short of lime in any form in the soil. It is the shortage of lime which has made the people for generations use sand to dress their ground. The use of seaweed is a bigger question and is not merely one of replacing lime. First of all, in placing seaweed on the land you incidentally collect with it a very large amount of lime and apply it to the land. In addition you are placing in the soil an enormous amount of humus which makes a very valuable manure and so replaces waste. You are adding to the soil an element which is most important and necessary, not only for the crops growing there, but also for the animals feeding. Any medical authority or any authority on feeding stuffs will tell you that it is absolutely essential for human beings and cattle to have a very minute percentage—about two ounces in a cwt.—of iodine. There is no doubt that seaweed contains quite a perceptible percentage of iodine. That means not only an addition to the health of the stock and an increased capacity to produce, but it actually reacts on the human beings who consume that food.
From these points of view, therefore, this matter ought to be considered very carefully. I will take another point. I believe it is the object of every party to assist, as far as possible, the small occupier of land. These two manures, seaweed and sand, have this quality, which must commend itself to Members who are always asking for something for nothing—that hundreds and thousands of small people along our coasts in the West country can get the manures for nothing except the carting. Anything which might interfere with their livelihood by making it more difficult to obtain that great asset to their business should be carefully considered. I would draw the attention of the House to a speech already made on Clause 4, a Clause under which there is power to bring in an appalling number of regulations. The hon. Member who spoke, in one of the lighter speeches that come from the Liberal party, calculated how many permits a child with a bucket and a spade would require. I think there are really two more permits required than he said. That Clause needs drastic alteration. But there is another Clause to which I would draw attention. Clause 17 says:
Nothing in this Act shall affect the powers conferred upon the Admiralty under the Dockyard Ports Regulation Act, 1866.
The Bill, therefore, gives powers to interfere with every authority except the Admiralty, who have apparently at last awakened to the fact that they have some duties to perform and have got this Clause inserted. I will give an example of how these two Clauses will work. Take the River Tamar. There you have a tidal river which at the beginning is under one authority or possibly more. Then it comes
to Plymouth Sound, where it would be under the dockyard authority, and after that it comes again under the Board of Trade outside. If there was anything necessary to be done from the point of view of dredging or coast erosion you would have all these authorities. You would have first the local authorities, and possibly the Board of Trade, then the Admiralty, and then the Board of Trade again. Surely that Clause in the Bill suggests that it is necessary that some addition should be made so that in a case like the one I have quoted there can be proper co-ordination. Every hon. Member must see that in such a case there is a position of difficulty which quite easily may hold up the whole of the good work that should take place under the Bill.
May I draw attention to Clause 19. What is meant by the words:
The expression 'coast' includes the banks of a tidal estuary.
How far does the bank run up. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. We have had a case quoted from their own side, and if they had listened to some of the speeches from their own side they would realise that this is not a matter of such minor importance as has been suggested. It is a very vital question. Take the banks of the River Thames. A little further up from Westminster you come to Battersea Park. I want to know where the authority of the Board of Trade ends, and where the authority of the local body or the First Commissioner of Works ends. This particular part of the Bill must be closely inquired into between now and the time when the Bill is dealt with in Committee. The whole of the definitions that are laid down in Clause 19 must be looked into, because the position is most unsatisfactory from the point of view of the House, and from the point of view of legislation. I was sorry that the President of the Board of Trade in his comparatively clear exposition, for a Scotsman—it was not so clear as an Englishman would have given—did not give us a little more clarity on that point.
Almost every speech that has been delivered to-day has been more or less condemnatory of the Bill, of the construction of the Bill and particularly of the body that is to work it. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not send it to a Committee upstairs. It is a very important Measure and one which ought to be considered by, and can only adequately be considered by, a Committee of the Whole House. There is hardly any industry, any port authority, any agricultural or fishing interest that does not come into touch with the Bill in one way or another. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible for the Government to get a Committee upstairs which can deal with the Bill properly. If the Government wish to make it a really good Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw it!"]—and not to withdraw it, as some of their back benchers would recommend, they ought to leave it to the House as a whole, in Committee on the Floor of the House, and not to allow the matter to be decided in Committee upstairs.
I should like to draw attention to the very wide way in which the Bill is drawn. This is pretty much the same point that was made from the Labour benches by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss) and from the Liberal benches by the hon. Member for Birkenhead East (Mr. Graham White). It was also dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary. The question as to the body which is to control rivers under the Bill is of vital interest. It would not appear that coast erosion would affect my constituency of North Hackney, but it does, according to the Bill, because the River Lea runs through Hackney, and it is a tidal river. By the definition in the Bill, a tidal river is what is called a "foreshore." Clause 19 says:
The expression 'foreshore' means the shore and bed of the sea and of every channel, creek, bay, estuary, and of every navigable river in the United Kingdom as far as the tide flows.
That is a very important provision. I do not believe that by this Bill the Board of Trade intend to interfere with the independent controlling bodies, such as the Lea Conservancy, in the case of the River Lea, the Thames Conservancy, and the Port of London Authority. These bodies are, however, affected by the Bill. I understand that under the Bill the tidal portion of the river from the Thames to the Ford locks and the Temple Mills at Stratford, including the Limehouse Cut, would be controlled by the Board of Trade. The Bill will empower the Board of Trade to control the construction, alteration, repair works and also dredging of tidal rivers. The Parlia-
mentary Secretary dealt fairly adequately with the ports, but he admitted that he had not considered the question of rivers so closely. Is it intended that the whole question of control by these independent bodies should be gone into? If so, some of us may have our own ideas as to whether the present system is a good one or not. If that question is to be gone into, we shall want to talk about something more than the actual control by the Board of Trade. If they are going to interfere with the management of these rivers, we shall want to consider whether or not State grants should be made.
We ought to know clearly, and soon, whether it was the intention of the Government when they drew up this Bill that the whole question of the rivers should be gone into. If not, I fail to see why the Bill should have been drawn in such a wide way and why, apparently, the definition in Clause 19 of the term "foreshore" should have been made so wide. We have had an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that Amendments are being put down to deal particularly with the ports. I hope that he will also put down other Amendments so that we may know whether it is intended to deal with the River Lea, the River Thames and other rivers, or whether they are to be left out of the Bill. There is a great deal of apprehension amongst these river authorities, because they do not know where they stand. It is obviously ridiculous that a place like North Hackney should come under a Bill which deals with coast protection. Certainly, Hackney does not pretend to be a seaside town. I hope that as early as possible some statement will be made which will clear up this point, in order that these authorities may know exactly where they stand, that we can know what Amendments are to be moved, and whether it is the intention to interfere with the control as at present exercised.