I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Direction, dated 23rd April, 1948, entitled the Coal Distribution Order, 1943, General Direction (Restriction of Supplies) No. 17 (S.I., 1948, No. 833), a copy of which was presented on 26th April, be annulled.
This general direction is one of a number of general directions made under the Coal Distribution Order, 1943. These general directions affect all controlled premises, and controlled premises, as defined in the principal order, are all premises, excepting only those industrial premises, whose basic consumption, as defined in that order, exceeded 100 tons a year. It has been customary, since the war, to make an annual general direction prescribing the overall maximum amount of fuel which could be supplied to controlled premises. It is interesting to note that this general direction is substantially a repetition of the previous general directions which have been made anually in April since April, 1945.
It seems rather surprising that there has been no variation since April, 1945, in the overall maximum amounts of fuel which could be supplied to controlled premises. The amounts differ according to the locality. In the Midlands, North and Scotland, 50 cwt. of coal and 40 cwt. of coke are the maximum amounts which can be supplied in any one year to any particular controlled premises. In the South of England, the East and South-West, only 34 cwt. of coal and 40 cwt. of coke may be supplied. These overall maximum amounts have remained fixed ever since April, 1945, with one very slight exception. In 1947, the maximum permissible amount of coke was reduced by five cwt. It is rather astonishing that, in the three years after the war, the fuel ration for all ordinary households has remained unchanged. It is characteristic of the stagnation into which this Government has brought the country.
Last winter was famously mild, and it was of great assistance in helping to build up stocks. Having regard to the stocks which have been accumulated, it is high time that the allowances were increased. It may well be that, thanks to the mild winter, there was no exceptional measure of suffering through cold, but it must not be forgotten that many people are entirely dependent on coal for cooking and hot water and, whatever the weather may be like, their demands for those purposes remain virtually unaffected. If we have a severe winter there will undoubtedly be grave suffering through cold.
I think the experience of the winter before last should be a warning to the Government. They were found completely unprepared at that time and grave dislocation and hardship ensued. They ought to proceed on the assumption that next winter will be equally severe. They ought to be on the safe side, and not expose the unfortunate householder to the risk of grave hardship. It will be remembered how many households were afflicted with burst pipes which it was difficult to have repaired and that great wastage was consequent upon that. Surely this is an appropriate time to review that position —coming, as it does after a mild winter when there has been a chance of building up stocks. This order ought not automatically to repeat the figures which have appeared in previous Directions. It seems to have become a habit with the Government to go on prescribing an overall maximum of 50 cwt. of coal for the more northern parts of the country and 34 cwt. for the more southern parts. There should be an explanation from the Government why these precise figures are repeated.
My objection to this order is also because of its rigidity. Premises receive a certain fixed allowance, irrespective of the number of rooms or the number of people occupying those premises. The allowance takes no account whatever of quality, and surely in this matter quantity cannot be dissociated from quality. People have had to pay for all sorts of inferior stuff; they have been supplied with very inferior stuff, which has had very little combustible value, and yet they have been unable to obtain an increase in their allowances.
The Minister has admitted that the quality supplied is often inferior and has excused that on the ground of shortage of cleaning plant at the pit head. I do not think it can be disputed that there have been masses of complaints about the quality of coal. I received a complaint from one of my constituents today in a letter from the hon. secretary of the Sutton Coldfield Housewives' League, in which she says:
I am sending you by parcel post on Wednesday next a sample taken from a delivery of coal made to one of our members.
I am sorry it has not arrived, because I might have hurled it across the House in support of my argument. The letter continues:
This member has an elderly husband and is in rather poor circumstances, so it seems to us doubly hard for her to have to pay for absolute rubbish. As you know, we have made frequent complaints about the quality of the coal at the present day to the Minister of Fuel and Power through you, but the quality seems to be getting worse instead of better.
Letters of that sort are received frequently by hon. Members, and I am sure they reflect the great discontent in the country at the quality of the coal which is supplied.
Another point is that the Minister has recently agreed that a sub-tenant should count his quarters as separate premises for the purposes of the allocation of coal, conditional upon there being not less than two persons in the sub-tenanted premises. Why should it be necessary for there to be two persons? It takes just as much coal to keep one person warm as it takes to keep two warm. I think it is unreasonable that that stipulation should be made.
I criticise this order, again, in that it prescribes, as previous orders have done, that the overall maximum should be apportioned between the Summer and Winter periods, so that only a certain amount can be taken during the Summer and only a certain amount during the Winter. I cannot see the sense of that. I should have thought it desirable that people should stock up as early in the fuel year as they possibly can, because small deliveries of fuel must be most uneconomic and wasteful of transport resources. If people with storage capacity can stock up early it must make it easier to supply, during the Winter, those who have very little storage space.
The Minister made an order early this year saying that people who had not yet succeeded in obtaining their maximum allowance might take what would have been due to them during the Summer up to the end of April. Why should the carry-over have been permitted only during the last fuel year? Why should that carry-over not continue? Why should not, in fact, the maximum overall allowance be cumulative and be satisfied as soon as it can be satisfied? It seems absurd that these periods should be kept in their watertight compartments, and that people should be allowed to obtain only a certain amount in the Summer and a certain amount in the Winter, within the total overall maximum in the year. Surely, if they have not obtained the total they are allowed, they should be able to get it later on, whether in that particular period, or that particular year, or not. An overall maximum allowance should definitely be cumulative, irrespective of period of time.
A very serious grievance is the difficulty which people have in transferring their registration from one merchant to another, because very often they may find the quality of coal from a merchant is not what they desire. I say that they should be allowed to transfer to another merchant if they think they can thus obtain better service or better quality. What is the Minister's reason for making it so difficult to transfer a registration? All sorts of permits and licences have to be obtained. Why cannot people transfer at will from one merchant to another? The Ministry of Food has agreed to permit milk registrations to be changed; why cannot the Ministry of Fuel similarly agree about coal?
I was rather surprised the other day when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, in answer to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) said:
We can give no guarantee that delivery of the maximum permitted quantity will
everywhere be possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 1999.]
That is a most astonishing statement. Surely it is not disputed that stocks at the moment are quite adequate? Why cannot the Ministry at least guarantee that the maximum allowance will be available? Do the Ministry anticipate that stocks are likely to be inadequate? Why not say definitely that in all circumstances the maximum allowance will be supplied? I complain that the maximum allowance is not nearly large enough. Surely, the small amount that people are entitled to should be supplied to them as of right.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what plans the Ministry have made for next winter, supposing we have another very severe winter. Have they made plans, or are they going to leave everything to chance, and gamble again, as they did the winter before last? The public have a right to know what the Ministry have in mind, because the allowances provided in this general direction will at best be only very poor allowances. If we have a severe winter, what steps will the Ministry take to protect people from the cold? I have an uncomfortable feeling that the Ministry are not making plans, that they are marking time, that they are accumulating stocks as much as they can, and that their policy is going to be influenced, not primarily by the needs of the community, but very largely by the political situation. As with other commodities, they are hoping to accumulate coal so that they can release larger quantities and increase the allowances as the time of the next General Election approaches.
I hope that when the hon. Gentleman replies he will say what the Government plans are and rebut my suggestion, but unless he does I shall hold to my suggestion that the policy of the Government, not only in fuel but in other stocks as well, is to accumulate stocks so that they will be in a favourable position, when they decide to go to the country, to release stocks and then claim all possible credit for providing more fuel and other commodities. That, I believe, is the only plan they have. So I consider that this order is profoundly unsatisfactory, that it is very ungenerous, that it will inflict unnecessary hardships, especially if we should have a severe winter, and that it should be annulled.
I beg to second the Motion.
I think that all hon. Members on all sides will feel that a very considerable public service has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) in enabling this matter to be debated. I think I should begin by offering an expression of sympathy to the Parliamentary Secretary. I understand he has been somewhat busily engaged elsewhere, and I think it is rather hard lines on him that we should have to deal with a matter of this importance when he cannot possibly be feeling at his best. When I first saw the Home Secretary sitting beside him, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had come in to sustain him in the battle, rather as Aaron sustained Moses on a former occasion. When my hon. Friend referred to throwing stones across the Floor of the House, I thought that perhaps that provided a reason for the Home Secretary to be there.
I propose to examine this order on its merits for a few moments. In its basic form it may be a repetition of others. I confess quite frankly that I have not had time to review all the orders which have gone before it: one has a sufficient task in trying to keep up to date with the new productions. The first two matters I wish to raise are, I admit, only small matters of drafting. I observe that in paragraph 1 of this direction there is the phrase "furnished or acquired." I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House what exactly is the difference between the two expressions. For example, how can coal be "furnished" without its being "acquired"? I think one is entitled to know, in scrutinising this matter, what was the purpose of the draftsman in drafting the order in that form.
The second drafting matter with which I want the Parliamentary Secretary to deal is that of the use of the term "actual consumption." The term is used on two occasions, in the first paragraph and in the second paragraph. Then, for some unknown reason, the word "consumption" is used in paragraph 3 (2), the word "actual" being missed out. It may seem a small point, but I do think it is one about which we are entitled to have some explanation. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) will also take an interest in this accurate and definite use of the English language.
I can see a clear distinction between the words "furnished" and "acquired." Coal may be "furnished" from our own mines, whereas coal "acquired" may quite probably be coal which is purchased.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has given his construction. I have no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will be appropriately fortified thereby. However, I am certain the House will welcome a re-statement of the fact that it is not proposed to acquire more coal from overseas. The hon. and learned Gentleman in his characteristic manner, has come to the assistance of the House about the meaning of the phrase "furnished or acquired," but has not yet vouchsafed an opinion on the term "actual consumption." I cannot see how it is possible to have consumption which is not actual, but if there is any purpose in using the phrase "actual consumption," why is it not used also in paragraph 3 (2) as well as in the first two paragraphs? These are minor points, but I should like to have some gratification of my curiosity why these phrases are so used.
The substantive points to be made in regard to this direction are these. First, what is the point of putting in again this expression "whether or not for a consideration"? I understand that it means that if one member of a family takes along to another member of a family a bag of coal, because the former member of the family has not used all his ration or allowance, he is committing an offence. Why should that be so? Is there any real reason why that provision should continue? That is the meaning and effect of the reservation in brackets in the direction. I suggest to the House that it is pure nonsense that we should continue to have that sort of restriction upon ordinary individual liberty. I have known of cases in which a person with a small house has tried to help a member of the family with a big house, by taking along to the big house a portion of his coal allowance. Why should that be illegal?
The next matter is that of quality. I am not going to deal with the question of quantity because my hon. Friend has dealt with that. With regard to quality, it seems to me that an important comment to be made upon this order is that it is completely rigid in regard to the quality of the coal which can be supplied. In my constituency I have 116,000 electors, and I am continually being bombarded with complaints about the quality of the coal that is being supplied in that region. They are justified. I give the Parliamentary Secretary full credit for one fact. In one case I have succeeded in securing from him a rebate of 6s. 11d. for one of my constituents. I express appropriate gratitude for that fact.
With regard to the great majority of the complaints put forward, there has been no rebate allowance. One is in this position. One has to advise constituents that the ordinary rules of the law of contract apply, and that when they are provided with coal of poor quality they can proceed against their coal merchant, and the coal merchant, in turn, can proceed against the regional board, or whoever it may be. If the coal merchant is put in that position of having to take legal proceedings against the appropriate authority, it obviously prejudices his chances in the future. The customer is unwilling to put that sort of pressure on the merchant, and the merchant is naturally unwilling to have trouble with his sole source of supply. I seriously suggest to the Minister that there is unnecessary rigidity being exercised by the fuel overseers or whoever the appropriate persons may be. I was told within the last hour of a case which happened in the Lewisham district where the fuel overseer told a complaining customer that he could not do anything about the quality of coal he had supplied. That is quite wrong.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, in his last speech when moving the Third Reading of the Bill which has just received the approval of the House, said "Labour gets things done." One thing which they do not seem to succeed in getting done is convincing the people of this country that stone burns as well as coal I suggest that in this order there should have been some reservation with regard to quality. Quite recently I had left in my house a large parcel containing stone and slate. I sent it on to the Minister, without, I regret to say, receiving any acknowledgment from him of the sample that had been left upon me. Although one may laugh about this matter, it is in fact a very real problem.
I am not blaming the Minister for this fact, because we all know that through lack of washing and cleaning facilities we have in the present circumstances more stone with our coal than is ordinarily the case; but the fact is that consumers are getting a great deal of stone in their coal. I do not know if it has any political significance, but my constituency appears to be as bad as anywhere else in that regard. I think that a more liberal instruction could be given to the fuel overseers about the way in which they should deal with that matter. I criticise this order on the ground that there is complete rigidity of the supply that can be given and there is no question of a rebate or extra allowance if coal is of poor quality. What matters to the average householder is the calorific value of the coal. If the calorific value is very poor, I suggest that it should be supplemented in quantity.
My next point is of a similar nature. It is with regard to the rigidity of the period. I should have thought that the Minister would have been advised to take some power to vary the Winter period and the Summer period. Even under Socialism, it does not seem to be possible to have complete command of the weather in this country, and, under this order, if we have a very cold October there appears to be no power for the Minister to accelerate increased supplies. I do not think that even the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who keeps up a running conversation sotto voce, can control that matter. That is the second point on which I suggest that the Minister would have been wiser to have taken greater freedom of action.
The third matter I wish to raise is with regard to the size of the premises. It seems that there is no discretion at all for the authorities to deal with very large premises under this order. I should have thought that there were certain houses where, from the very nature of the thing, the present allowance is nothing like adequate for the purpose of heating. I should have thought that there should have been a reservation to the Minister to make powers to deal with those cases. It may be that in the present circumstances some system of control is still necessary, but the criticism that I make of this order is that it is a very clear example of over-control.
I do not want to make this discussion a lawyers' holiday, but the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn-Lloyd) appeared to base one of his main objections to this order upon certain words which are used in it. The words which he referred to were "furnish or acquired," and also the word "consumption." I have been looking at the order, and, so far as I can see, its object is to create an offence if the order is not observed. That offence, of course, is one which concerns two people. It concerns the person who supplies the coal and also the person who acquires the coal, and that is why the two expressions are used "furnished or acquired."
If we only used the word "acquired," then the only charge one could bring would be against the consumer who had acquired the coal for purposes in contravention of the order. It is also essential that one should be able to deal with the supplier, the person who supplies the coal, and in order to do that it is essential to use the word "furnish," because that is an apt expression which would apply to the supplier, and, in that way, we get a fair and balanced situation in which both parties—the party supplying and the person consuming—who break this order are amenable to the law. I think that is perfectly clear. I am quite sure that now that the hon. and learned Member for Wirral has heard what I have said, he accepts it.
The other words about which there seems to have been some obscurity are "actual consumption" and they are equally clear. What they mean is perfectly plain in the text of the order itself. "Consumption" means consumption, and it means that the person who supplies or acquires the coal has supplied or acquired it for the purpose of actual consumption. The order goes on to say:
in any controlled premises
That is to say, it earmarks the locality where the consumption is to occur, and it goes on to qualify the matter beyond any doubt, for it says:
and not for resale, during the current period.
I should have thought that as a matter of construction between lawyer and lawyer that renders the wording of that particular paragraph quite clear. Of course, these words occur throughout the order in various paragraphs, and in each paragraph they have exactly the same construction.
I am greatly indebted for the very clear explanation given by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). Can he explain why, on page 2 of this order, the word "actual" is missed out, and will he also say when consumption is not actual?
It is quite obvious, because it is not there. If one takes the text of the order and the context of the construction, it is perfectly clear that where the word "consumption" is used, it gets its dictionary from the earlier expression and it means "actual consumption."
Then may I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman why, the second time it is used, in paragraph 2, the words "actual consumption" are repeated, whereas the third time "actual" is not used?
The third time it is so well known what the word "consumption" means that it is unnecessary to use it again. It may be purely a slip, but whether it is a slip or not, it is perfectly clear from the context that "consumption" means exactly the same as "actual consumption." That seems to be the gravamen of the objection which the hon. and learned Member has raised, and now that has been cleared up, there seems to be no reason why the time of the House should be taken up any further with this order.
I have listened with great care to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) but I am more confused than ever. I am not a lawyer and I shall not try to emulate his legal arguments, but I would like to say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) for raising this matter tonight. During the past year we have seen in the papers and elsewhere that more and more coal is being produced, and my constituents expected to have an increase in their allocation of coal during the coming year. It is with considerable disappointment that they find that the ration is only to be maintained at the scale of the last three or four years.
It is particularly difficult for people in country districts to manage on the ration because, more often than not, they have no other form of heating in their house, and not only have they to heat the house but do the cooking as well, and the ration does not last the full period. The position is made even more difficult because the quality of the coal is extremely poor. Many people tell me that they get no less than 25 per cent, dirt and slate in the coal, which means that instead of getting two tons a year, they get one and three quarter tons. Two old age pensioners in a small town in my constituency find that they require at least one cwt. a week, or 2 tons 12 cwts. a year. The husband is 87 and the wife is 84. They find the greatest difficulty in filling in the necessary forms to get the coal, with the result that for a portion of the time they have to remain cold.
Another complaint is that one cannot get the type of fuel one orders. Many farmers have put in fuel saving stoves which require anthracite, and when they ask for anthracite, they are told that only coke is available. Coke does not burn so economically and it puts a great deal more work on the farmer's wife, because the stove needs more attention if the wrong sort of fuel is used. Again, there is considerable discontent in a rural constituency because the farm workers find, if they are short of coal, that they have to buy wood, and they hear that the miners get extra coal. I should be interested to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary how much coal a miner gets a year. It is, I believe, considerably more than the prevailing ration.
I am grateful for the interruption because what makes the farmer and farm worker particularly enraged in Devonshire—a county renowned for producing the best beef in the world—
—the beef is often, especially in Devonshire, sent to mining districts. The farm worker who is responsible for the production of this good beef sees it go to other workers while he gets beef of poor quality—
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, but hearing the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) and the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has brought me to my feet. The question is whether we are to continue with a ration and use all the available coal for export to bring in raw materials and the food and, at the same time, maintain our industries in full production, or whether we should increase the ration and thereby reduce the export of coal by that figure. Stocks are accumulating, and it is essential that stocks should accumulate so that, if a severe winter comes, we shall be able to maintain the industries of this country in full employment and not face what we faced last year, when factories had to close down due to shortage of stocks.
Therefore, I suggest that the Government are wise in again fixing the amount, leaving stocks available, and also increasing our commitment of 13 million tons to a minimum of 16 million tons this year to help the country win the fight of the gap. I put it to the House that the Prayer may be motivated by a meeting which has taken place elsewhere. Another point is that a target of 211 million tons is fixed for the mining industry this year. I speak as one who has spent 32 years in the pit, and I say frankly that 211 million tons from pit and opencast coal this year is a formidable figure for the miners to attain.
I will answer the question about quality if the hon. Member will wait. If 211 million tons are attained, we shall be able to get by export the extra raw materials that we need. It is such a formidable figure that the manpower problem is again rearing its ugly head in the mining industry. If we are to build up a bigger export trade people must recognise that their supplies are limited to the present quantities not because we like to keep them at this figure, but because it is essential, if we are to get the maximum food and raw material to keep our people in employment, to get the largest possible export of coal this year.
A lot has been said about the quality of coal. Under private enterprise this was always a burning question. One would think that complaints of the quality of coal have arisen only since the National Coal Board took over the pits. There have always been complaints, especially in the days of private enterprise. We cannot argue about increasing mechanisation and at the same time expect to get better quality coal when private enterprise, in the development of mechanisation, failed to build the washeries for mechanised mining.
I particularly did not mention private or public enterprise. I was not blaming anyone. I only gave reasons, including the lack of facilities, and suggested that where there is bad coal an allowance should be made. That is quite a different story.
That issue was not raised by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor). I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) but he did not say what he now suggests he said. Unless we build sufficient washeries in our pits and have intensive mechanisation, the problem will be difficult for years to come. We cannot avoid that issue. We have gone from higher seams to lower seams. They are dirty and that is bound to affect the quality of the coal.
I was trying to explain the question of quality which has arisen tonight and I am speaking of these technical matters in their relation to mining. I shall, however, accede to that request.
I can understand the point of Order which the hon. Member has made, but this order deals with quantity. I admit that in passing a reference can be made to quality, but that is not the burden of the Debate.
I accept the Ruling. I got up only to challenge the view of the Opposition.
Another question which has been raised is the amount of coal which miners receive. If any hon. Member would like to go down a pit, where there are plenty of jobs to be done, he can get his free coal. It is not correct, however, to say that it is free.
If the farm labourer goes down a pit he will not be able to do his proper job and there will be no food. We want both food and coal. The miner is getting a large quantity of coal but the farm labourer does not benefit in the same way.
The farmer gets things that miners do not get. It is a reciprocal argument. The miner's coal is part of his wages. Not even the National Coal Board dared to stop the miner's coal; they did not even attempt to do so. Much has been shouted in Parliament because the coal position has been difficult and that the miner who has had his coal since 1879 should have it abolished in 1948. If ever the Opposition get back to power and tackle this question they will find themselves in difficult waters. The miner gets coal as part of his wages and conditions of employment. A miner sometimes has to work in water or in bad conditions. There may be a family with three sons, all going to work in multiple shifts at different times of the day; the miner's wife is up from morning till night getting them to work. As regards the miner's coal, the least said the soonest mended. The order should be continued in the interests of our export trade. It should be pointed out to the people that, because we are trying to build up maximum exports to obtain food and raw materials, this order must be maintained for the next 12 months.
The House will have recognised the sincerity and interest of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) whose knowledge of his subject began with his youth. No one would attempt to laugh at or to water down what he has said, but I do not think—I trust I will not be out of Order—he has got the proper comparison between farmworker and mineworker.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This order, coming after three years of Socialist Government, is a perfect example to the whole world of the abject failure of the nationalisation policy. I do not want to go into the many details which have already been touched upon by my hon. Friends, but I can emphasise from the northern kingdom that the question of controlled premises getting the same amount of coal, whether large or small, makes a very great deal of difference to the citizen. If I lived in a large house which unfortunately had been left to me, it would not make it any easier to run it to have only the same amount of coal as the person with a small house. More consideration should be given to the actual area of a house which a person occupies, and which he cannot leave, even if he wanted to, because there is nowhere else to go. This aspect should be reasonably considered by the Minister.
I am afraid that this miserable allowance of coal for the people will go on until the matter is put on a better footing. Nobody denies the immense importance to this country of the mining industry. Nobody has a greater admiration for the miner than I have. In my own regiment we had Fife miners always in large numbers. I have been associated with them for years and have no greater respect for anybody than I have for the Fife miner. I wish the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) were present to hear me say this, but I shall tell him as soon as I see him. I recall the General Election and remember clearly big posters saying, "Vote Labour and fill your scuttle." It did not say what the scuttle was to be filled with, but I presume that it meant coal. As the poet said,
For dead as last year's golden leaves
Are last year's golden promises.
I am afraid that has come to pass and this order is a confession of failure on the part of the Government. I most sincerely hope that the House will agree to annul the order and let something come out that will show the Government's policy to be working better than this order shows that it is.
I do not want to enter into an agriculture versus mineralogy controversy, but to come to the problem before us. I want to ask the question—is there sufficient coal to provide an additional ration? That is a very difficult question to answer. I know that in North Staffordshire at the moment there is considerable over-stocking of coal slack. There are some factories which have 22 weeks' supply of coal and others with 10 to 12 weeks' supply. Power stations in the North Midlands have as much as nine weeks' supply. This is a very complicated question, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some indication, if he is not too exhausted, of the overall position. It is a difficult position on which to reach a clear conclusion.
In other areas there may be a shortage of coal, but it seems to me that the speech made by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), to which we all listened with interest and respect, indicated one thing, which was that the quality of coal, owing to mechanisation and a variety of other things, is at the moment below saleable quality. We have to face the fact that this country is finding it difficult now because of the price to export coal abroad. We have heard rumours of coal shipments being refused, but the position was brought home to me by information about one of the small coal mines in Scotland which was sending coal to Norway or Sweden—
There seems to be a sufficiency of coal in this country to allow for an increase in the ration. The rate laid down in this order creates extreme difficulty and hardship for many people. On the other hand, there are cases where the coal cannot be disposed of, and if it cannot be disposed of by selling abroad, the domestic ration could be slightly increased by it. We have the announcement that 4,000 men are going out of employment in small mines. They were producing something like one million tons a year, and that coal could be used for giving a hundredweight or two to the householders of this country. It is not wonderful coal, but it is as good as the coal which is being produced by opencast mining.
In considering this order, let us remember that there may be certain areas where there are over-stocks of coal, while in others there may be less than is needed to meet local demands. However, the point which I hope the Minister will consider is the possibility of a better distribution, possibly on a regional basis. After all, the present order works on a regional basis. The northern householder gets more coal than does the southern householder. There is more coal available in Staffordshire than in other areas, and surely the local people should be allowed to have some of this extra coal. The Minister should look at this very carefully. There is the difficulty of selling our coal abroad because of the high price, and we have also the information that there is not sufficient washing machinery to produce first-rate coal; so that there is an inevitable building up of stocks, which could be distributed to our people on a regional basis. I urge the Minister to take some steps in order that our people may be warm in the difficult times that lie ahead.
I am sorry that the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) is not present at the moment, because he made a suggestion that this Prayer was put down for some reason connected with something that is going on elsewhere, but that is not correct. I should like to assure the House that this Prayer was put down because of the importance of it to our constituents all over the country and as far as I am concerned particularly to the people of Southern England. They feel that after all the promises that were given at the time of the General Election as to what they would get when the mines were nationalised, and the bright prospects which were held out after the war, they would be getting more coal than they are allowed under this order. They feel it is harsh that this order should keep the coal ration at the same figure as it has been for the past year. In the South of England the people feel that they are being unfairly treated, because of the discrimination between them and the people of Northern England. If a study is made of the isotherm charts, London appears to be quite a cold place whereas Blackpool away in the North has quite a moderate and even climate.
In the South we feel that there is no reason why those in the North should be given such a much greater supply. England is a comparatively small country, and there cannot be a very great variation of climate except on the hills. Presumably all the people in the North do not live on the hills. We in the South feel that there should not be this discrimination. We feel that more coal should be distributed to us in the South. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) mentioned the question of families living in the same house. I cannot believe that the Minister of Fuel and Power has taken into consideration the unfortunate and we hope abnormal housing conditions that prevail in this country at the present time. One often gets a case where there is a young wife, her husband and baby living with her parents who are old people. That young couple are not allowed to have their own supply of coal, because they are all of the same family. Young people do not want to spend their evenings at the same fire in the sitting room as the old people. They want their own fire in their own room. They ought to have their own quarters and their own quota of coal. After all, it is hard enough that they cannot have their own house which is the fault of the Government. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite jeer at that, but I would remind them that they are in power and that they have the Minister of Health. He does not sit on this side of the House.
I will bow to your Ruling, but I will excuse myself by putting my digression down to the jeers of hon. Members on the other side. To continue this question, it is important that these families should get a share of the coal, and if they cannot have a house of their own and they have to share living quarters with their relatives, they should be given a coal ration. It is unfair, in view of the impossibility of them getting their own houses at the present time, that they should be made to share the same fire the whole time. We may get the reverse. We may get a grandmother sharing a house. She may not want to sit with the young people and the babies all the time; she probably wants her own fire. The Minister should consider these hardships and see if he can give his fuel overseers directions and power to deal more sympathetically with these cases.
I dare say that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) realises that babies have to be kept warm and require more coal for the drying of their clothes than the hon. Member probably needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield also mentioned a very burning point, the fact that householders are not allowed to change their supplier. For various reasons the coal may not be of good quality or they may not be able to get their supplies. It is very difficult in some cases because the supplier has a monopoly and as long as he gets rid of his coal, he does not worry very much whether he delivers it to everybody who needs it.
The instances I have given are founded on cases with which I have had to deal. In many instances the local fuel overseer has done his best to help, but all the time he has to say that he cannot go outside the regulations. The Minister should consider these points and see if he can widen his regulations in order to help these deserving cases. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may jeer at them, but these are genuine cases which have been brought to my notice. I would stress the importance which is attached to this Prayer by my constituents. They will look very intently at the Minister's reply.
I want to address certain points to the Minister before he replies. He has doubtless read the Economic Survey for 1948. In paragraph 88 there appears the very interesting sentence which concludes:
And in a successful effort to hold back home consumption to a reasonable level.
When they read that sentence, a number of my constituents rather suspected that their coal ration would be reduced a little further, and they will be relieved if the Minister can tell us that in the year ahead their ration will not be reduced. Several other matters worry my constituents. The most important is that coal has to be conveyed a considerable distance by rail to my area in the South of Scotland. My constituents are unable to understand why in this third year of Socialist administration the Government should bother to cart about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tons of stone. A very large proportion of the coal brought to the six burghs on the Scottish border consists of stone, a far greater proportion than in the years before the Government controlled the mines. My constituents would like to know whether there is any chance of getting a bigger percentage of combustible coal and a smaller proportion of stone—
As there seems to be doubt, this order is entitled, "Coal Distribution… General Direction." Copies can be found outside if hon. Members need them. I am dealing with the distribution of coal, and not only the coal but the stone which goes with it. The coal and stone having been brought a considerable distance to these border towns, much of it has then to be carried a further distance into the long valleys which we see in Scotland. It is an awful waste of road and rail transport with the amount of stone which is at present included. That is one of the matters—
One of the reasons there is an excessive amount of foreign substance in coal now is that only 42 per cent, of the screening plant is capable of cleaning coal because the coal owners neglected to bring it up-to-date.
In the days before 1939 the difficulty of the coal companies was to sell the excessive stocks of coal at the pitheads. It is only since the Government took control of the mines that there have been shortages of coal.
I cannot let this go any further. We are now getting on to something entirely outside the order. I would remind all hon. Members that we are dealing with quantity and not necessarily with quality.
It is "Coal Distribution…General Direction." Another point which worries a very great number of people throughout England as well as Scotland is whether anything of this restriction will be felt in Government offices. A large proportion of the population of Britain at one time or another every winter go into a Government office, and one of the first things they discover is that there is a great deal more warmth and apparently far more coal available in Government offices than in private houses. It would be interesting to know whether this restriction will be applied to Government-controlled offices. A lot of citizens would like to know that.
I would take the opportunity of saying what extraordinarily fine service the Ministry have had from their coal overseers in what must be very difficult work. I have nothing but the highest regard for the services which they have given. I cannot imagine how they have managed to give as much satisfaction as they have, when their allocations of coal have had to be the same whether to a large or a small family or to a large or a small house. It seems strange that when these new orders have come out, no attention should have been paid to an arrangement which seems hardly calculated to give satisfaction, or to the number of in- dividuals who are supposed to benefit by any allocation of coal. The amount allocated is the same, irrespective of whether the number of individuals is a couple or 20.
You have been more than generous, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in permitting this discussion to range fairly widely. I will not trespass upon your generosity but will keep to the issue, which is the Prayer against this order. I would, however, express my thanks to the hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) who sympathised with me for having been in and around this House for the past 32 hours, engaged at this Box on oil, upstairs on gas and now tonight on coal.
I accept immediately the statement made by one of his hon. Friends, in answer to some very wicked allegations by one of my hon. Friends, that this Debate had been deliberately designed to keep me out of the Gas Committee tonight. I accept immediately from the hon. Gentleman that there was no such intention. I cannot say that my hon. Friends will accept the same attitude. I imagine that they will have noticed that because the Tory Party are standing tonight for the right of the people to be free, to take the lid off and let the coal go unrationed and unallocated, there have not been more than six or seven Members of that party on the benches opposite. They may have deduced from that fact that there was possibly something in the contention of my hon. Friend suggesting that the Prayer had been put down to keep me or my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power from the Gas Committee this evening.
I assure hon. Members that I do not personally take that view. I know that they have come here in complete honesty and sincerity because they believe this order of ours to be a pernicious and bad order and one that ought to be prayed against. I have no doubt that they will take this matter to a Division. We recognise how strongly they feel about it.
Many questions have been raised by hon. Members opposite. I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who dealt so excellently with the legal points that were put up. We have listened to a legal argument between two hon. and learned Gentlemen and we have all benefited from it. I certainly have, and it has saved me having to deal with the same point. I would not presume to put myself on anything like so high a level as my hon. and learned Friend. Before I pass to the main theme I must say something about the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor).
He showed a pathetic eagerness to believe that childish delusion that the Government would be so wicked as to store up coal and then wait till within six months of a General Election. I do not think the Home Secretary, who has just come in, heard this argument suggesting that the Government would like to store up coal to within six months of a General Election and would then let it go free in order that they might win power for another five years. All I can say to the hon. Baronet is that this Government will win power next time on the strength of its achievements this time. I will go further and tell him that this Government never has and never will seek to bribe the electors. The trouble with hon. Members opposite is that for the first time in their political lives they have seen a Government come to power and carry out the promises it made at the General Election.
I feel certain that if I were to proceed further along those lines that you would call me to Order. If I were to give way to the hon. Baronet I would start another row. I am most anxious to get back to the Gas Committee. I think I can satisfy the noble Lord who was so eager to come in just now. Provided that we are back again at about 10 o'clock, nothing will have gone awry. If he feels disposed to come along and help the Committee by his cheery disposition and the smiling face that he always shows to the House he might come along.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought that would have been useful information for the hon. Baronet to know that we shall be sitting all night tonight and that he might like to come along. It would make it about 64 hours of still having had no sleep, but, coming fresh into it—
I must apologise. I have been driven off the proper path, as you will have observed, by the way in which I have been maliciously attacked by hon. Members opposite when I sat so peacefully and did not interrupt a single time, but had to listen to most awful imputations against my Department. However, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—
We are dealing with an order that my right hon. Friend signed and which is described as Order No. 17. I ought perhaps to describe this order. It is given under the Coal Distribution Order, 1943, and it prescribes the maximum quantities of coal fuels which may be supplied without licence to premises controlled under the order. The premises include all the domestic and non-industrial premises, and the smallest industrial premises. It may interest hon. Members to know that there are something like 15,250,000 premises, of which 14,500,000 are domestic premises. The maximum annual quantities for the house coal group are 50 cwt. in the northern regions, Wales and Scotland, and 34 cwt. in the southern regions. In all regions not more than 20 cwt. may be supplied during the summer period from May to October. Of course there is a second group, known as the boiler fuel group, for which a separate maximum of 40 cwt. of fuel can be supplied with not more than 20 cwt. in each half year. Fuels in this group are obtainable in addition to supplies in the house coal group.
The annual maximum for the house coal group is the same as for the past three years. For the second group the maximum is 5 cwt. more than last year, but I agree the year before it was 5 cwt. less, so we are back to the original position.
Consumers who have need of larger quantities than the general maxima should apply to the local fuel overseer, who has full power under Article 6 of the Coal Distribution Order to license additional supplies according to need. In the case of certain categories of consumers, such as consumers with larger domestic premises and those relying on solid fuel for heating as well as cooking, the overseers have been instructed as to the scale on which additional supplies should be licensed. To give one example, consumers in the north who rely on solid fuel for cooking and heating are licensed to receive an additional 10 cwt. during the year making a total of 60 cwt., and in the south they can receive an additional 20 cwt. making a total of 54 cwt.
Some comment has been made in relation to the increased production of coal and to the fact that we have not increased allowances for the domestic user here at home. My right hon. Friend spent some time on this matter when he spoke on the Budget proposals and dealt with some aspects of the Economic Survey. It may suffice to recall that in his speech of 13th April he pointed out that as a result of increased production and the fact that, consumption had been held down to about 3 per cent, more than last winter we were in the happy position of having very substantial stocks. I am glad to tell the House tonight the latest stock figure which at the end of April amounted to 13,098,000 tons—a great tribute to the industry and the miners who have produced it.
The Minister also informed the House that because of the high level of stocks he had given anxious consideration to the possibility of distributing more coal to the domestic consumer. As is made clear in the Economic Survey, however, the first call upon our coal supplies must be to meet industrial needs, and the second must be to take full advantage of the bargaining power of coal exports in trade negotiations. We must increase our exports as rapidly as possible in order to secure food and raw material to help the Chancellor of the Exchequer balance our foreign payments. The real question is whether we can do better for the houswife by exporting coal and so getting bacon, meat, and eggs which she and all of us need even more than a few hundredweight of coal for domestic consumption.
In the result, it becomes clear that any substantial improvement in supplies to domestic consumers must depend upon the overall output from the pits. We have, therefore, fixed a domestic programme on a basis which should provide deliveries at approximately the same level as during the last coal year, after taking into account the expected increase in registrations arising from the building of new houses and the concession announced recently in allowing separate registration of all sub-tenant families of two or more persons. This programme allows for house coal disposals of approximately 30 million tons during the year, and that compares with from 29 million to 29½million tons during the three previous years. It may interest hon. Members to observe the figure for pre-war years which was 44 million tons, so that there is not a very wide margin between the present allocation for the domestic user and that which was available during the pre-war years.
What would happen if this Prayer to annul this order were carried?
—and it would depend upon the capacity of the people to pay as to who got the coal and who went without. I think the Government are right. Much as it may annoy hon. Members opposite, the Government are right in doing with coal what they do with all other goods in short supply; that is, to ensure, in so far as is humanly possible, that there is a fair do all round. I am certain that the Government will not depart from that principle, no matter how long hon. Members opposite may want to pray in this House or elsewhere.
I cannot give way; I have got to get back to the Committee which is considering the Gas Bill. The Ministry of Fuel and Power have gradually built up and improved a system of control which has functioned with a very substantial measure of success, even during the severe winter of 1946. I think hon. Members are aware of the way in which that operates, and I will not weary the House with the details.
I have been asked what is the policy on relaxation. I think I have said sufficient to make it perfectly clear that at present we cannot relax controls to any material extent. The position, however, is kept under constant review, and whenever we are able to do so we allow some relaxation of the restrictions. At the beginning of March last, owing to the very satisfactory position of merchants' stocks, my right hon. Friend was able to make a concession to domestic consumers by abolishing for March and April the restrictions under which consumers who had received less than the maximum quantity in the earlier part of the year were prevented from carrying forward the deficiency, and from thus increasing the maximum they might purchase later in the year. Although this concession involved no guarantee that deliveries to this extent would be possible everywhere, it did permit merchants to deliver rather more to those consumers who had suffered from low deliveries earlier in the year.
In the general direction under discussion provision has been made for consumers in the South to obtain up to 20 cwt. during the Summer instead of 15 cwt. as last year. This will have a double effect, as far as supplies are available, of allowing consumers who want a ton during the summer to stock up their cellars to a greater extent than last year, and at the same time it will help to relieve the strain of winter distribution by merchants. We have also eliminated the quarterly restriction periods during the winter and substituted one half-yearly period, thus permitting greater elasticity in distribution during the winter.
At the same time, we have instructed local fuel overseers to permit separate registration during the current coal year to all sub-tenancies of two or more persons, and have thus moved an irritating restriction which formed a constant source of complaint, particularly for young married couples living in rooms, or with parents, because they could not obtain separate accommodation. We shall continue to keep the supply position under review, in order to make such further relaxations as may be possible from time to time in the light of the special position and the export programme.
In relation to the comment made about the ability of the consumer to change his merchant, the right exists at present if the consumer moves his residence, or it the business of the merchant is transferred to another owner. Change of registration is also permitted when there has been unsatisfactory service, for which the merchant can be held responsible. In regard to the larger problem of complete changing of registrations, all I can say is that that matter is under consideration. I am sorry I have been so long and have possibly wearied the House with a long explanation of this Order, and matters arising from it. I hope, however, that from what I have said the House will readily come to a decision, and if this is pressed to a Division, that my hon. Friends will support me in the Lobby, for the freedom of the people of this country to have a fair deal in regard to coal against the method by which only those who have large cellars can stock up to the limit.
Will the Minister direct attention to one particular injustice which arises out of the geographical position of the line dividing these two areas of England? As the line is at present drawn, the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, which are exposed to inclement and cold weather in the winter, come into the Southern half, with the result that the allocation of coal for Norfolk and Suffolk is the same as for Torquay and Bournemouth. I gather that the line was drawn as a result of reference to a very ancient document. I beg the Minister to have a look into the matter, as it has resulted in serious injustice to people living on that part of the coast.
I listened with gratitude to a number of explanations the Parliamentary Secretary has given and I listened with interest. But he has not satisfied me that this is a good order. Indeed, I am more and more convinced as a result of this Debate that it is a thoroughly bad order. If this order were annulled, the Parliamentary Secretary knows perfectly well that another order, a better order, could be made tomorrow. The Parliamentary Secretary said nothing about the rigidity of the order in that it prescribes a maximum which is irrespective of the number of rooms in the premises and the number of persons involved. He said nothing about the relation between quality and quantity. He said nothing to justify the apportionment of maximum allowances between Summer and Winter, and while referring to the very considerable stocks now in hand he gave no explanation why the maximum allowances could not be guaranteed.
Surely if stocks are as ample as he described, the Minister could perfectly well guarantee those very meagre allowances. Why could we not have that assurance from him tonight? He said nothing about the plans of his Ministry and this is a point on which I particularly asked for an assurance. He said nothing about the plans of his Ministry in the event of next Winter being as severe as the Winter before last. Apparently, the Ministry is going to gamble again on the weather.
Lastly, I should like an assurance on this point. When I said that his Ministry, in my view, was deliberately accumulating stocks with a view to releasing them and increasing the allowances just before the next General Election, I was not making an assertion which would affect his Ministry only. I say that it is the deliberate policy of every Department in this Government which controls any commodity—
|Division No. 151.]||AYES||[6.10 p.m.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Harden, J. R E||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Birch, Nigel||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Renton, D.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Jennings, R.||Robinson, Roland|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Keeling, E. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Snadden, W. M.|
|Carson, E.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Spence, H. R.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Low, A. R. W.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Cole, T. L.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Teeling, William|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||MacLeod, J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Turton, R. H.|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Duthie, W. S.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Mellor, Sir J.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Elliot, RI. Hon. Walter||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Winterton, Rt. Hon Earl|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||York, C.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Grant, Lady||O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grimston, R. V.||Pitman, I. J.||Sir Arthur Young and|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Mr. Studholme.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Foot, M. M.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Forman, J. C.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Orbach, M.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon H. T. N.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Gallacher, W.||Palmer, A. M. F|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Awbery, S. S.||George, Lady M Lloyd (Anglesey)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Gibbins, J.||Paton, J (Norwich)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Gilzean, A.||Peart, T. F.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Baird, J.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Balfour, A.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Greenwood, A. W J. (Heywood)||Reeves, J.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Grenfell, D. R.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Barton, C.||Grey, C. F.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Battley, J. R.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Robens, A.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon J. (Llanelly)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Gunter, R. J.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Berry, H.||Hale, Leslie||Royle, C.|
|Beswick, F.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Sargood, R.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Scollan, T.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hardy, E. A.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St Helens)|
|Boardman, H.||Harrison, J.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr H. W.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Shurmer, P.|
|Bowen, R||Herbison, Miss M.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Hewitson, Captain M.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Hobson, C. R.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Holmes, H. E (Hemsworth)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||House, G.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hoy, J.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Snow, J. W.|
|Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Burden, T. W.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Soskice, Sir Frank|
|Burke, W. A.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Steele, T.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Jenkins, R. H.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Byers, Frank||Johnston, Douglas||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Callaghan, James||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Keenan, W.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Champion, A. J.||Kenyon, C||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||King, E. M.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Cobb, F. A.||Kinley, J.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Collick, P.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Collindridge, F.||Leonard, W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Collins, V. J.||Leslie, J. R.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Levy, B. W.||Tiffany, S.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Timmons, J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Lipson, D. L.||Tolley, L.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Crawley, A||Logan, D. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Daggar, G.||Lyne, A. W.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Daines, P.||McAdam, W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||McAllister, G.||Watson, W. M.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||McEntee, V. La T.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||McGhee, H. G.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McGovern, J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McKinlay, A. S.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Deer, G.||McLeavy, F.||Wigg, George|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Diamond, J.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mellish, R. J.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Edelman, M.||Mitchison, G. R.||Willis, E.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Monslow, W.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Moody, A. S.||Woodburn, A.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Morley, R.||Woods, G. S.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Wyatt, W.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon- H. (Lewisham, E.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mort, D. L.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Murray, J. D.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Ewart, R.||Nally, W.|
|Fairhurst, F.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Farthing, W J.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Fernyhough, E.||Noel-Baker. Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Mr. Hannan.|
Resolution agreed to.
|Division No. 152.||AYES||[9.15 p.m.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Snadden, W. M.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Challen, C.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Maitland, Comdr, J. W||Thorneycroft, G. E P (Monmouth)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Turton, R. H.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S (Cirencester)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Foster, J, G. (Northwich)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Fox Sir G.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Odey, G. W.||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Gage, C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Pitman, I. J.||York, C.|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Young, Sir A S L (Partick)|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Ramsay, Maj. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Jennings, R.||Renton, D.||Colonel Gemme-Duncan and|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)||Sir John Mellor.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith South)||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Fairhurst, F.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Farthing, W. J.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Fernyhough, E.||Logan, D. G.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Fletcher, E. G. M, (Islington, E.)||McAdam, W.|
|Bacon, Miss. A.||Follick, M.||McAllister, G.|
|Baird, J.||Forman, J. C.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Balfour, A.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Barton, C.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon H. I. N.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Battley, J. R||Gallacher, W.||McKinlay, A. S|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||McLeavy, F.|
|Berry, H.||Gibbins, J.||Mallalieu, J. P W. (Huddersfield)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Gilzean, A.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Binns, J.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Blackburn, A R.||Grenfell, D. R.||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Grey, C. F.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Blyton, W. R.||Griffiths, D (Rother Valley)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Boardman, H.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon J. (Llanelly)||Moody, A. S.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Gunter, R. J.||Morley, R.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Bowen, R.||Hale, Leslie||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham. E.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mort, D. L.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Moyle, A.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Mulvey, A.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hardy, E. A.||Murray, J. D.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Harrison, J.||Nally, W.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Buchanan, Rt. Hon. G.||Herbison, Miss. M.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Burden, T. W.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J (Derby)|
|Burke, W. A.||Holman, P.||O'Brien, T.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Holmes, H. E (Hemsworth)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Champion, A J.||Hoy, J.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hubbard, T.||Orbach, M.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hudson, J. H (Ealing, W.)||Paget, R. T.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Collindridge, F.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Collins, V. J.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pearson, A.|
|Daggar, G.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Daines, P.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Popplewell, E.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jenkins, R. H.||Price, M. Philips|
|Deer, G.||Johnston, Douglas||Pritt, D. N.|
|Diamond, J.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Keenan, W.||Ranger, J.|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Kendall, W. D.||Rankin, J.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Kenyon, C||Reeves, J.|
|Edelman, M.||King, E. M.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellly)||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr E.||Rhodes, H.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Kinley, J.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Robens, A.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Leonard, W.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Levy, B. W.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Royle, C.||Sylvester, G. O.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Scollan, T.||Symonds, A. L.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Sharp, Granville||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Wilkes, L.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Thomas, John R, (Dover)||Williams, J. L (Kelvingrove)|
|Shurmer, P.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Willis, E.|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Tiffany, S.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Timmons, J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Titterington, M. F.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Tolley, L.||Woodburn, A.|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Woods, G. S.|
|Snow, J. W.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Yates, V. F.|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Soskice, Sir Frank||Viant, S. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Sparks, J. A.||Walkden, E.||Mr. Simmons and|
|Stross, Dr. B.||Weitzman, D.||Mr. G. Wallace.|
I do not want to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) into a discussion about the procedure which has to be followed because, in resisting this Amendment, I take my stand, as I did in Standing Committee, on a matter of considerable principle. We have already instituted through a subcommittee of the Central Advisory Water Committee a comprehensive investigation of the law in relation to the prevention of pollution. This sub-committee comprises persons who have a first-hand knowledge of the problem. They have been given a free hand. They are being assisted by expert assessors from all the interested Government Departments. They have taken written and oral evidence from every interest concerned and are, I am confident, examining all the problems, including the very question of the procedure covered by the Amendment. I put it to the hon. Baronet and his hon. Friends that it would be most unfair to the subcommittee if we were to pre-judge their deliberations in this manner. Nevertheless, I would be the last person to want to deter the House from doing something about pollution if I thought that something in this way could be done, or if I thought that not doing this would impair the work of the river boards.
The sub-committee are at work. They are considering the terms in which they shall report. I have every reason to expect that the report will be made this year, and certainly as soon as it is available we shall proceed with its publication. If it were possible to single out procedures or things of that kind there might be something to be said for taking this step today, but we have a well conceived programme for dealing with the whole matter in which we have carried hon. Members on both sides of the House with us. The programme is that, first, we should form the river boards—authorities with comprehensive powers who will be responsible for the whole river system—and get rid, by so doing, of the present patchwork of piecemeal administration, which is commonly agreed to be the greatest defect in our present system; and then, as closely afterwards as possible, give new powers to the boards and have a large programme of new works of sewerage, sewage disposal and so on as circumstances permit.
It is on the grounds that I am most reluctant to accept isolated amendments of the law while the whole matter is being reviewed that I resist the Amendment. I am quite sure that the time it will take after this Bill has become law to get the river boards set up and working will be ample for us to consider the report of the sub-committee, have it properly discussed with all the interested parties and, in due course, to confer the necessary powers on the river boards. I hope that the hon. Baronet will feel that in the light of this explanation he need not press his Amendment. I assure him that we are as concerned as he is about pollution, but we do not want to prejudge the issue and embarrass these distinguished people who are giving their time and energy to a complete survey of the problems involved in the law relating to water pollution.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that to accept the Amendment would not be fair to the sub-committee but by denying the acceptance of the Amendment he is not being fair to the rivers. Let us admit that the whole law of pollution must be remedied, but it will take many years before we get a Pollution Bill before the House of Commons. What hope has the Minister of Agriculture of getting a Pollution Bill into next Session's programme? If it is likely that there will be no Pollution Bill before Parliament in the near future, surely that is a strong reason for wiping out one archaic feature of the present law. Nobody on the sub-committee or in this House can defend the position that, having obtained the Minister's approval to prosecute and having held the local inquiry, there should be two months' delay while we haggle with the sanitary authorities. Surely we might remove the two months? That will mean that the rivers will be less polluted than they will otherwise be and our mechanism will be that much speedier. I agree that it now takes some 10 months from the time the nuisance first occurs until proceedings are taken in the county court. All we are doing is reducing the 10 months by two months but that is a great advantage. That is an interim measure, and after a few years when the Minister of Agriculture—I expect that he will be a Minister of Agriculture of a different political complexion—brings in—
The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) says that he has some hopes. I can tell him that his hopes are very probable expectations and he may well think about the future with little complacency. I am at one with the Parliamentary Secretary in wanting to get the whole of the pollution law into the melting pot and devising a new and up-to-date method of procedure, but let us not have this non possumus attitude that until that happens the Government will do everything to retain the archaic features of the system which our ancestors have handed to us simply because they feel that we must not do something piecemeal for fear of offending some sub-committee. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will press his Amendment to a Division.
Mr. David Kenton:
Again I find the Government's attitude quite incomprehensible. Several times through the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary the Government have agreed that the present situation is most unsatisfactory, and they have told us in the plainest possible terms that nothing can be done about it very soon. If the subcommittee were reporting next month and the Report being implemented by legislation this Session, I would agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be rather offensive to the sub-committee to pass this Amendment now, but the position is very different. The position is that the report may be available this year and we do not know whether there will be legislation even in the next Session. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee if there was any chance of it and he said that he could give no undertaking.
Bearing in mind that there is to be this very considerable gap before matters are improved, I should have thought the sub-committee could not possibly have been offended if the Government said, "We are not trying to hustle you or to prejudice your findings but, bearing in mind that your recommendations cannot be carried out for quite a long time, would you, entirely without prejudice, accept this stop-gap Measure in order to prevent delays until something more satisfactory can be arranged?" A committee of reasonable men could not possibly be offended by an approach in that manner, and for that reason, I invite the House entirely to disregard what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the feelings of the sub-committee.
I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on the Third Reading of this important Measure. We have heard speeches telling us that the Bill is in many ways a small one, but it is a step forward, and an important step forward. It has been welcomed from every side of the House. The welcome from the Opposition side of the House was, it seemed to me, a little lukewarm, but I gathered that their enthusiasm for the Bill developed as they were the more convinced that we were not going to operate it as Conservative Governments in the past would have done. I am not sure that we have fully convinced them about it, but it is clear that they ate more keen and enthusiastic about the Bill than they were when it was first introduced.
The Bill is an important step forward in the development of machinery and in the unification of control of our rural drainage systems. We have heard speeches referring to the archaic customs of our ancestors, and other such rolling phrases, but the fact is that we have been talking about unification of this control for very nearly a century, certainly for well over half a century. I might be forgiven therefore for saying how proud and glad I am that it has been left to this Labour Government to take this opportunity to proceed to the next step from the first step which was taken by the previous Labour Government, as a result of which land drainage has been in a very much better condition than it would otherwise have been. The River Boards Bill carries on that great work. It has been well said in other connections that Labour gets things done. The Bill bears out the truth of that well-known statement.
I have said that this is an important Bill. We recognise it as only a step forward. We have to complete that step forward. We have now to proceed to set up river boards. I would like to assure the House that we shall lose as little time as we can in carrying out the most important part of that step. Getting the river boards set up will involve considerable consultation with all sorts of people. Quite a lot of work will be involved, but no time will be lost. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend to proceed immediately with the completion of this step. The next step is the modernisation of the pollution and drain age legislation of this country generally. Sub-committees of the Central Water Advisory Committee are hard at work on the subject. In passing this Bill on its way I want to say how much one hopes, and is sure, that it will fall to the lot of a Labour Government, perhaps even of this Labour Government, to carry the whole thing a step forward by introducing important legislation for modernising our attitude on these matters If this task does not fall to a Labour Government then, unless the whole history of this country for the last century or two is to be falsified, the task will not be done at all.
The Bill is very largely a compromise Measure. It has involved taking into account the views of a variety of interests and keeping a firm and fair balance among those interests. It has followed, because of that, that my right hon. Friend has had to resist a number of Amendments which have had as their purpose the advancement of sectional interests. He has had to preserve the balance, in spite of the blandishments, and sometimes the accusations, which have come from the other side of the House. The result is that there will be a much happier atmosphere for the commencement of the operation of the Bill than if we had allowed ourselves to be persuaded to disturb the balance which had been so painfully reached. I am sure that the House will be in full agreement with the attitude that my right hon. Friend has adopted on that point. During its passage through the House the Bill has been improved in many ways. We would like to thank hon. Members for the very calm and careful consideration which the Bill has had. There was only one time when the calm was disturbed, and that was when an hon. Baronet opposite physically assaulted his right hon. and gallant Friend by heaving his glasses at him. On that occasion, my sympathies were equally divided between the hon. Baronet and his right hon. Friend. Otherwise we have had a very calm discussion.
The Opposition have suggested at various stages that the Bill showed an undue partiality for the interests of urban districts generally. It was suggested even that it was somehow a little indecent that my right hon. Friend, as Minister of Agriculture, should be concerned with urban interests in the way that has been alleged. We think it is wrong to suggest that the Bill shows partiality in any way to urban interests. The countryside cannot simultaneously get the assistance of townsfolk in dealing with these problems and at the same time expect to hold the townsfolk at arms length. It is important that we should get this point clear. We think that the townsfolk and the urban districts have to accept their share of responsibility for things which might seem primarily to be a countryman's interest but which are an important part of the general life of the country. If that is so, those who claim to have the interests of the countryside at heart must not try to keep alive all the antagonisms many of which are quite artificial and have the effect 'of divorcing and dividing that important community of interest.
The Bill seeks to give, and I believe it does give, to urban areas a representation which emphasises the responsibility which they are now being asked to accept. We believe that to be a fair and a very important principle, if the new river boards are to get off to a good start. For half a century or more we have overlooked the importance to our river systems of unification of control. When the Bill finally leaves us we believe it will lead to cleaner rivers and better sport for anglers, something which is very much the concern of hon. Members all round the House. We believe it will lead to much greater development of drainage work. Many of the older authorities, the Catchment Boards and the even older one, the Fishery Boards, have done extremely good work, but they have been cruelly handicapped very often by lack of support and facilities. We believe that the support and facilities given by the Bill will enable their work to be carried very much further. When the river boards are established and as their work develops, we believe that much that now shames us about our rivers will be gone for ever. It is in that spirit that the Bill marks an important step forward in this highly desirable, very necessary and overdue work of unifying the control of our rivers.
I know that I can associate myself and my hon. Friends on this side of the House with the closing words of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. We welcome the Bill in the main as being a step forward in setting up a comprehensive authority for all functions connected with rivers. We hope that the improvements that the river boards will be able to accomplish in their areas will be very marked from every point of view. We consider that the Bill is only a machinery Bill, although it is a very necessary bit of machinery. Its success or otherwise, as I said earlier in the evening, must depend upon future legislation dealing with pollution, which some Government of some complexion will have to carry through this House. I would not agree with the Parliamentary Secretary in his assumption that it must be a Labour administration.
During the passage of the Bill we have emphasised at all stages the overdue representation of the urban areas. We do not seek in any way—to use the Parliamentary Secretary's term—to keep old antagonisms alive. We take the view that urban areas with a high rateable value have been given undue representation as compared with rural areas, which are much more intimately associated and concerned with river problems of drainage, fisheries and pollution. They have had more experience in these matters. We therefore feel that urban representation has been overdone.
The Government have insisted that, irrespective of the financial contribution, local authorities should never nominate fewer than three-fifths of the total membership of any river board. We consider that proportion to be wrong and that is why we have argued that point through all the stages of the Bill. We admit that the number of cases where land drainage provides, say, three-quarters of the total income of an existing catchment board, must be very small, but this is the place in this country where minorities are protected. This House is the guardian of minority interests. On these benches we have done our utmost to safeguard the interests of these catchment boards and have tried to convince the Government that they should give further consideration to this aspect of the matter.
The Minister has tried to meet the point that we raised on Clause 2 in connection with fishery interests. We do not consider that he has gone far enough and we are sorry that he was not able to meet us by appointing a fishery committee for regu- lating matters connected with fisheries. The fishery interests of this country have done a great deal in all the river board areas under the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries Act, 1923. They feel very strongly that what they gained through that Act is now being taken away from them under this Bill. They have made a great contribution to improving the cleanliness of our river system, and we wish the Minister had been able to go further in that regard.
I want to raise one other point which I do not think has been discussed to any great extent during the passage of this Bill, that is, the taking of water from rivers. I urge the Minister to lose no time in setting up these river boards. The sooner they are set up the better. We may be faced—I think we shall—with the prospect of a severe drought in parts of the country during the Summer. This will mean that water authorities will have much pressure put on them to abstract water from rivers. I believe this to be a disastrous policy in the long run. You cannot keep on taking water from rivers and expect the flow to continue indefinitely. When more and more water is wanted in the country and in the great cities, I trust that the river boards will be strong enough and important enough to resist such pressure from water undertakings, and will be able to encourage the full exploration of possible alternative supplies, such as deep wells and other sources, before acceding to abstraction from rivers. As the usages of water, which are growing, expand still further, we shall find ourselves short of water unless definite measures are taken to watch the water supply. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he is dealing with that aspect of the matter, will take note of this point. Finally, I would wish, as I know my hon. Friends on this side wish, success to every river board when it is established. Each river board will have to do a very difficult job, a very important job, and a very necessary job for the wellbeing of the countryside and the nation.
Generally at this stage of a Bill we are able to rejoice that, by the efforts of Members on both sides, the Bill has been improved since it was introduced. On this occasion, however, I regret to have to place on record my view that this Bill is not now as good as when it first came here. I say that mainly because the representation on river boards has been altered, and because I believe the Minister has adopted an attitude there which is not likely, in the long run, to produce the best results. Bearing in mind the importance of angling and fishing interests—and it was not until I came to study this Bill, and heard it talked about, that I realised the difference between angling and fishing, and even now only realise that angling is fishing writ large—it seems to me that their representation by only two members is not enough. As the hon. Baronet has mentioned, it is most important that the interests of minorities should be protected in a democracy, and I do not feel that we have sufficiently represented on the river boards that very worthy minority of people who in their leisure time engage in angling and fishing.
The Parliamentary Secretary welcomed the support he had had from both sides of the House, but I felt that his welcome was a little besmirched by the party capital he tried to make at the expense of my hon. Friends above the gangway, as to the competence of one party or the other to make these river boards function well. I should have thought that, if we wanted them to function well, that was the wrong way to start off. In conclusion, may I ask the Minister when he intends to set up the river boards? If it is not in the nature of a red-herring, I should like also to have enlightenment on one further point: that is, if and when a river which is at present polluted is again purified, will the river board have power to re-stock the river with fish? Nature has wonderful ways of bringing fish to places where fish can thrive, but nature works very slowly, and it will obviously be necessary to consider the possibility of re-stocking the rivers. I should like to know whether river boards will have power to do so.
This subject is of deep interest to my constituents, many of whose homes were flooded in 1946, and to many others who are obliged to pay drainage rates although they cannot possibly derive any benefit from them, and in spite of the provisions in the Land Drainage Act of 1930, Section 1 (5). This is a good Bill, introduced by a good Minister—one of the best in the Government I should say—and I intervene only to urge him not to be weary in well doing but to go on with his good work. He knows there are many difficulties in the existing law, still embodied in this Bill, which need to be put right.
The operation of the drainage boards is one of them. On the lower slopes of Ilkley Moor, although well above the flood level, there are many dauntless Hampdens in militant mood who are very reluctant to pay their drainage rates. I know he will attend to this problem, because he has stated that a sub-committee of the Central Water Advisory Committee is studying this problem and he hopes that legislation will follow. I hope it will fall to him to introduce that legislation at an early date. I have only one other matter to refer to, and that is the question of representation on river boards which has been raised by several hon. Members. We feel, in my part of the world, that the rural interests are very well represented, and so are the large urban interests; but I can see no provision for representation of non-county boroughs. I did not feel it proper to put down an Amendment on this point, but when the Minister constitutes these bodies I hope he will use them to ensure that these areas are properly represented. With those few words, I give my full blessing to this Measure.
I think hon. Members in all quarters of the House are in agreement with the general intention of this Bill, which is to ensure that our rivers are cleaner and our land is better drained. However, as one who has the honour to represent an agricultural and rural constituency, I feel that the rural interests have been sacrificed for the urban interests. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) who expressed disagreement with the representation of the river boards. In my constituency, and in fact all over Devonshire, there is considerable apprehension among the fishery interests. They are wondering how they will fare under the Bill. I urge the Minister, in administering this Bill, to let them see that they will fare well, because they represent a considerable proportion of the community, and without their good will the working of the Bill cannot be as good as it might be.
In conclusion, I would like to put in the claim of Devonshire to have two river boards when the Minister draws them up. It is a large county and has many rivers —admittedly small ones, but they are of considerable importance locally. In addition, the county is divided by Dartmoor, and the people north of Dartmoor have little or no identity of interests with the people south of Dartmoor. Therefore, I urge the Minister to see that Devon is well represented.
I hope the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) will not mind if I do not follow him in his allusions to the inhabitants of Dartmoor. I think some of them would welcome an opportunity of doing a little fishing now and again. I want only to make a brief intervention to express the hope that my right hon. Friend will set up these river boards as soon as possible, and that in a reasonable time he will give us some idea of the geographical areas of the river boards. There is bound to be a good deal of local wrangling as to which areas should be allotted to any particular board.
In my own part of the country I do not think we shall have much trouble with the River Tees, because it makes a homogeneous unit for a single river board administration. We have heard so much about the differences of rural and urban areas as regards river boards, but we ought to stop regarding this as a kind of dog fight between the two. The river should be a unifying force, and not one which divides one community from another. It is the same water which starts at the source and finishes in the sea. We ought to look on the river as a unit and not as an interest to be fought over between rural and urban districts.
The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) said that this was a machinery Bill. I agree entirely. Then he said that it would not be of much use unless further legislation ensued. It will not be of much use unless we have the right men to work it. We want men with vision and foresight, men who feel that they have a mission to make our rivers really worth while. If we have those people now, we need not wait until further legis- lation ensues, because they can ensure by vigorous action that the best possible use is made of our rivers. I hope, whether it is a Labour Government or any other Government, that our deliberations will result in much bigger and better fishing for many anglers all over the country.
Dr. Barnett Stress:
As one who represents an urban constituency, I express my approval of this Bill. The River Trent runs through my Division of Hanley, rising two or three miles away, and for some time we have been suffering from great pollution of this river. We are also aware that a change has occurred, for certain reasons, which makes us the keenest advocates of a Bill of this kind which will help to clean up our own river. This evening there has been reference to the tension that exists between urban and rural interests. I do not agree that that tension really does exist today. With very little encouragement we can abolish this tension, because our interests are now becoming the same. The days of indiscriminate and licentious use of our rivers are now passing; great masses of our people, certainly in my constituency, want to see our own river cleaned up, and that must apply to the whole of the country.
We are particularly conscious that we gained a great advantage through the pollution of this river where it runs through my own area. We have near us a great estate where the Dukes of Sutherland and Trentham have lived. It virtually belongs to the city now, but we doubt very much whether we would have been allowed to use it if it had not been that by pollution of the river we drove the original owners out. We made it very offensive. We made it almost impossible for anyone who was sensitive to smell to live on the estate. We are, as it were, poachers who are now likely to become gamekeepers. Having obtained some privilege, we want to see it perpetuated, and we would like the original conditions to be brought back. That does not mean that we would welcome back the original owner, because 60 or 70 years' usage have made us so accustomed to the amenities of one of the loveliest estates and parks, particularly the Italian Park, that anyone has ever seen.
Anything that is done to allow simple, clean sport for urban dwellers is bound to have the fullest support of those who have to live in our cities. Therefore, anything that will help us in this direction must receive our support. There is no difference between the interests of those who live in the countryside and those who live in the cities.
Before we reach the final chapter of this Bill, I would like to express my thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly those who have followed the Bill through the Second Reading, Committee and Report stages. I believe the Bill may, perhaps, be slightly improved, compared with what it was when it first arrived in this House. As the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) truly said, this is a machinery Bill, but I think it is a Bill of great importance nevertheless. Once we can have the report of the sub-committee dealing with pollution and drainage, and we can clothe the machinery with the right powers, this Bill will be the foundation stone upon which we can build cleaner rivers, better drainage, agriculture, and fishing, and better sport all round.
I have about three points to reply to. I would like, first, to reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond and the hon. Members for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) and Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) who said that the rural areas were let down in this Bill. They seem to have forgotten, because they wanted to forget, that if there is a balance of advantage at all in this Bill with regard to urban or rural representation, the rural areas have got it. May I remind those hon. Members that in 42 of 52 catchment boards, drainage boards pay less than one-third of the revenue, and yet we give them at least one-third of the representation? In 18 catchment areas, drainage boards did not pay a penny, yet we give them at least one-third of the representation. I think it is right that that should be so, but it is utterly contrary to the suggestion that rural Britain is left out. In fact, in this Bill rural areas have been given a fairly big piece of the pie.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon referred to minorities and to anglers in particular. He will perhaps be happier when he knows that the main fishery boards, who have been operating very successfully, particularly in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire, are quite happy with the Bill as it stands. The anglers' national association are quite pleased with the assurance given them in Committee. Since then there has been no representation from them, but they are satisfied that we mean well and will fulfil our pledges and that minorities are safeguarded within the Bill. The hon. Member also asked when the river boards will be set up. I am afraid that before the last is set up one or two years, or even more, will have passed. I can assure him, however, that no time will be lost. Catchment boards are very anxious that the transformation shall take place so that they can start tomorrow where they leave off today. They are anxious to accept and fulfil their new obligations. No time will be lost in setting up river boards. The hon. Member also asked about restocking rivers with fresh fish. Presumably that will be an obligation on the part of the river boards to decide where anglers wish to fish and to seek to satisfy their desires as nearly as practicable.
I am thankful to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) for his personal observations. He can rest assured that we are fully conscious of the drainage problems in many parts of the country where, unfortunately, remedies have not been found for periodic floods. I know how unpleasant it is when people are called upon to pay drainage rates and yet know that from time to time they are not protected from floods. Wherever it is possible for a river board to use their power and ingenuity to resolve problems which have been with us for a long time, I hope the boards will not hesitate to spend the money and do the job.
With every other Member, I want to see those millions of anglers enjoying themselves and agriculture improved because of better drainage. If this drainage problem had been dealt with 20 or 30 years ago in as determined a fashion as it is now being dealt with through the catchment boards, it would have been a very minor problem today. I hope this small but very important machinery Bill, which has been welcomed in every part of the House, will lay the foundation stone for better drainage throughout the country.