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Orders of the Day — Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1964.

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10.59 p.m.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority Constitution Order 1964 (S.I., 1964, No. 893), dated 18th June 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th June, be annulled. I move the Motion, which is supported by the three hon. Members who represent Hull and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom), to protest on behalf of Hull and the East Riding against the inequitable and incredible apportionment by the Minister of the 23 local authority members to this new Authority. Under the Order, East Riding is to have only one member while Leeds and Sheffield are to have three members each, twice the number of 1½ for Kingston upon Hull, which is to share a joint member with York.

I am pleased to see the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson) and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) here tonight. Unfortunately, through circumstances over which we had no control, instead of having 1½ hours for our debate we are limited to little more than half an hour—scarcely more than the time devoted to an Adjournment debate.

I served on the Standing Committee which considered the Water Resources Act, 1963. I attended all 17 sittings and perhaps made a contribution, although the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may not wish me to refer to the numerous controversies and to my verbal duels with him and the Minister.

The functions of the Yorkshire Water Authority will be the new functions of conservation and management of water resources and the transferred functions—land drainage, including fisheries and river pollution—formerly exercised by the two river boards in the area. The Authority is to consist of 45 members, 22 of them with special background, appointed by Ministers, and 23 appointed by the local authorities.

The principle of the apportionment of the membership is for the Minister to decide initially the number of ministerial appointments and then to add one to that number over the local authority number in order to provide a majority of one. There have been two shots at this in Yorkshire. On 26th March, the membership for land drainage and industry was five and three respectively, but, in the Order we are now discussing, this is to be increased to six and four respectively. That is an increase in the ministerial appointments and also necessitates an increase in the local authority membership by two, bringing total membership to 45.

My main concern is the improper apportionment by the Minister of the 23 local authority members. Section 7 (2) of the Act says: The number of local authority members … shall be determined by the Ministers having regard to the appropriate penny rate product. … The original proposal was for 21 local authority members. Leeds and Sheffield were to have two each, Bradford and Hull were to have 1½ and Hull was to share its half man, or perhaps its half woman, with York. Hull protested and pleaded for two members, and the Minister replied: Leeds and Sheffield each have an appropriate product above that necessary to entitle them to two members each but not enough for three each. This Order was laid on 18th June. It increases the ministerial appointments by two. Consequently, as I have pointed out, the local authority membership is increased by two. Every unbiased person would have assumed that, with two extra local authority members, the opportunity would be taken to apply common sense to the previous arithmetical apportionment and give one of these two additional members to be divided between Hull and York and, also, that Bradford's 1½ would be reconsidered. This was not done, however.

The result is that both Leeds and Sheffield, already in a favoured position with two members each, have their membership increased to three, while both Bradford and Hull remain with their original 1½ and York will also still have only a. half, sharing one member with Hull. This is an incredible failure of common sense. The Minister's decimal arithmetic is also wrong. With a total appropriate 1d. rate product for the Authority of £791,588 for 23 members, the amount is £34,417 per member.

The number of members per 1d. rate product is: Leeds, 2·62; Sheffield, 2·53; Hull. 1·54 and York, 0·53. The Minister insists that the allocation must be restricted to the 1d. rate product, but what is the result? Leeds gets an extra, third, member for ·62 of a 1d. rate product and Sheffield for only ·53, while Hull is refused a half member for ·54 as against Sheffield's ·53 for one, and York is also refused a half member for ·53 for which Sheffield gets an extra, third, member. However much the Parliamentary Secretary may shrug off this argument, the position is that Sheffield and Leeds are now to have three members each and Hull only one and a half, which is incredible and untenable.

In a letter of 14th May, the Minister said that he was of the opinion that the apportionment was fair and proper. If two members for Leeds and Sheffield was fair and proper on 14th May, the present apportionment, made only a month later on 18th June, is obviously unfair and improper. The number of Leeds and Sheffield members should have remained the same. I say nothing about the second extra member, except that Bradford might well have been considered, but the first extra member should have been apportioned half to Hull and half to York, to give York one member and Hull two, the same as Leeds and Sheffield. Why not?

I want now to say a few words about the Minister's questionable decision that Hull and York should share a member. I am pro rather than anti-York, and I hope that the hon. Member for York will be able to voice the views of his constituents. York is nearly 40 miles from Hull and the two cities have nothing in common for the purposes of the Water Resources Act. Hull's water interests are confined to the East Riding, whereas York's interests are essentially linked to the River Ouse. Their water resources are completely divorced geographically and geologically by the Yorkshire Wolds, and Hull has a public water supply whereas York has company water. It will, therefore, be quite impracticable for a joint Hull-York member adequately to represent the unrelated interests of both cities.

York is much nearer to and has more in common with Leeds than Hull, and both York and Leeds are in the same present river board area. Any question of York's sharing a member should, therefore, be considered in connection with Leeds and the apportionment of its third member, or with the West Riding, which has eight members, and certainly not with Hull which has only one and a half members. With Leeds entitled to 2·62 and York ·53, the total is 3·15 members. Thus, the two are entitled to only three members, namely, Leeds two and a joint member with York.

I will now say a brief word about the apportionment of local authority members to the three Riding County Councils. This is quite incredible. West Riding has eight, North Riding one and East Riding one. Again, this may be arithmetical, but it is not common sense. Not only are Leeds and Sheffield favoured with three members each, but their Riding with eight to the other Ridings' one each gives a block vote of 14, or nearly two-thirds of the local authority representation of 23 members, as compared with only 2½ for East Riding and Hull together. This makes nonsense of the 1d. rate product apportionment.

There are further water resources factors, some of them a long distance outside the city, which are the responsibility of Hull Council. Time will permit me to list only two. Hull's water undertaking supplies one quarter of the East Riding. There are nearly 200,000 acres outside the city boundary, and the Corporation may well have to take water from Farndale, 60 miles away in the North Riding.

Secondly, the new Hemphole abstraction works are 12 miles from the city, and Hull is responsible for river levels for a further 6 miles upstream, making a total river length of 18 miles. No other constituent council of this Authority has such heavy responsibilities in excess of its 1d. rate product functions; and, consequently, these should be taken into account when considering an additional half—or even two-quarters—of a member for Hull.

To sum up, there is no question but that if Hull and the East Riding are joint partners, as they ought to be, they should have three local authority members—two for Hull and one for the Riding—for the reasons which I have given. Failing that combination, Hull should have its one and a half members increased to two.

There is also no question but that Hull should receive favourable consideration for the Ministerial appointment of special background members, with which I have no time to deal. Admittedly, the Minister has informed me that consideration is to be given to the question of a water undertaking member, but there are also strong arguments for consideration of a drainage and sewerage system, and particularly, as a low lying port, of prevention of flooding and sea inundation, for the reasons that I have given.

One of the most important tasks for this authority will be the disposal of the £¾ million 1d. rate product and applications for Government grants. Obviously charity will begin at home, and Hull and the East Riding are likely to be left to fight alone the serious North Sea intrusions on their Yorkshire coast and river lines.

I hope that in the short time at my disposal I have said enough to put the Rivers Humber and Hull, the City of Hull, and the East Riding on the maps of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, where they have not been before, for the purposes of water conservation, and in conspicuous colouring on the maps of this new Yorkshire River Authority.

It is also to be hoped that this area for which I have spoken will receive the consideration and attention which it deserves, not only because of its local importance but also because of its national importance.

11.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Longbottom Mr Charles Longbottom , City of York

I am pleased to support the plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), and I ask my hon. Friend to look again at this Order.

As my hon. Friend knows, York Corporation has taken up this whole question with the Minister. I submit that the Minister's view that the York representation should be based on a rate income, and on no other considerations, is wrong. York Corporation has very special interests as trustees of the Ouse navigation. As such, it is responsible for the navigation of 42½ miles of the River Ouse. I appreciate that as navigation authority it will be represented by two members on this Authority, but these will be nominated by the Minister after consultation with the Authority, the British Transport Docks Board, and the British Waterways Board, and, clearly, York City Council will not have the option of selecting who should go on the river authority.

The special interest of York Corporation which I want my hon. Friend to bear in mind is the weir which the trustees maintain at Naburn. This provides a considerable reservoir of water for the York Waterworks Company, which supplies York and vast areas around the city. Without the weir, York Waterworks Company's supply would be in jeopardy, and the new Authority's responsibility for the conservation of water made much more difficult.

I therefore submit that York should be represented by a member of its own on this Authority. This will be of value to the Authority in developing co-operation and close links between it and the navigation authority which will be for the benefit of this whole area.

The York City Council has always taken its responsibilities seriously, irrespective of party allegiance. For many years we have had Alderman Ward as the council's representative on the Authority. He is a man of great experience and many years' service, and is of great: benefit to the Authority. If York is not to have this close representation, its only influence will be by remote control. I submit that that is wrong, for it is responsible, navigation-wise, for 42½ miles of river. It has a great historical background on the banks of the River Ouse.

I hope that my hon. Friend will look at this matter again.

11.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Coulson Mr James Coulson , Kingston upon Hull North

It is not very often that I agree with the views of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), but that happens to be the happy position in which T am this evening. As I can speak for only a few minutes in order to allow my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary time to reply adequately, I shall not go over any of the grounds covered by the hon. and gallant Member.

The arguments likely to be advanced by my hon. Friend tonight are probably the same as or very similar to those which he used on 9th July, when replying to the Prayer which sought to annul the River Severn Authority Constitution Order. I have read carefully what he said on that occasion. I appreciate that the idea behind this Order is that the proposed constitution should be of a corporate body. In other words, it will be not merely a collection of delegates acting in a representative capacity, but a created body which as a whole represents the views of the area of the river board. This, obviously, is very desirable, but what might be desirable in theory is, in plain fact, that the local authority representatives, to carry out their functions properly, must be capable of representing. If that were not the case there would be no argument for having representatives; a body of fair-minded experts could do the job as well as a representative body.

One cannot ignore the fact that representatives are there as representatives because they are presumed to have special knowledge of the individual areas they represent. As the hon. and gallant Member pointed out, Hull has special problems which cannot be understood by someone not closely connected with the city and carefully briefed on its problems. I do not know what sort of appointments will be made, but assume that they are for three years. In one of the three years Hull might be represented by two members and York might be virtually disfranchised. In another year Hull might be represented by one Member and York providing the other member, who could not adequately represent the views of Hull. We might have a member half representative of Hull and half representative of York and representing conflicting interests. That would present great problems.

York and Hull are very great historic cities with proud records and great aspirations. So that both may be adequately represented, I ask my hon. Friend to consider withdrawing this Order and revising it so that each separate area can have representation.

11.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

It may help if I run quickly through the background of the Order to which the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has referred.,

As he reminded the House, the first operation here is to determine the numbers of the special Ministerial appointees who will provide the skills and experiences which are laid down in Sections 6 and 8 of the Act. Section 8 lays down that in the case of this river authority there shall be a member of the National Coal Board. Section 8(3) provides that where a river authority, in comparison with other river authorities may have an important effect on navigational functions, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport may appoint special representatives in respect of that interest. Section 6 lays down that at least one member with qualification for drainage, fisheries, agriculture, industry and water supply, shall be appointed either by my right hon. Friend or by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to each river authority.

As the hon. and gallant Member said, the only sensible way in which we can start the exercise is to try to determine the number of these Ministerial appointees. As he reminded the House, we have had two shots at this, as we have had two shots at most of the river authorities. Having got out a list agreed between my right hon. Friends, it is a statutory requirement to consult the various interests concerned. In this case we started with the Coal Board representative, two navigation members, five land drainage members, three for fisheries, two for agriculture, four for public water supply and three for industry, making 20, and, therefore, requiring a total of 21 local authority members in order to balance the appointees and to give the local authorities a majority of one.

As a result of representations from the various bodies consulted, we decided to increase the land drainage members by one and the industrial members by one. We therefore arrive at 22 appointed members and 23 local authority members which makes a total of 45. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member, however, that, having revised the total numbers, one automatically has to do different sums. Whereas under the first proposal we had an arithmetical situation in which one member represented £37,694 of appropriate product of a 1d. rate, the revised figure is £34,417.

It is wrong for him to say that it follows, if two members each for Sheffield and Leeds were adequate and just in the first proposal, they are adequate and just now, because we are dealing with a different factor when we have a different total number. This is the place at which the hon. and gallant Member has gone wrong with his calculations. He said that we should have given the extra members to Hull and York, and possibly to Bradford. Had we had two members each for Bradford and Hull, leaving also two members for Leeds and Sheffield, we should have had a situation in Bradford and Hull where there was one member for approximately £26,000 of appropriate 1d. rate product, while in Leeds and Sheffield the figure would have been about £44,000. It is obvious that we should have had a considerable over-representation for Bradford and Hull compared with Leeds and Sheffield.

By far the fairest way of doing it on an arithmetical calculation was to increase the membership for Leeds and Sheffield and to leave the representation of Hull at one, with another one shared with York. My hon. Friends the Members for York (Mr. Longbottom) and Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson) made the point that they would wish to consider the local authority members as representatives. It is of some interest to point out that had we taken the view that every local authority in the two classes—county councils and county boroughs—should have a representative, we should have had 83 local authority members and the total membership of the Authority would be 165.

This would absorb a very large proportion of the farmers and fishermen in the neighbourhood to make the figures balance. Even on the more modest proposal of giving a full member to York, if the membership of other local authorities were made up in proportion we should have a river authority with 43 local authority members, and a total membership of 85. Again, if we had two for Hull, then on the same arithmetical calculation we should have had 59. So I think that my hon. Friend and the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East will agree that some of the arguments if carried to any degree of logical conclusion, would produce the most absurd results from the point of view of carrying out the administrative functions conferred upon the authorities. However, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that Hull has certain functions in addition to those which some other kinds of borough have. But it is clearly laid down in the Act that the water supply interests should be catered for separately in the Ministerial appointments. The local authority representation is there as representing the people on whom the precepts are made. It is in that capacity that they are there, and it is, therefore, entirely logical that their representation should be based on the product of the 1d. rate.

The point has also been made that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was wrong in putting this forward as the sole criterion, but it is clearly specified in the Act that this is to be the basis of the distribution of the local authority members and I would also remind the hon. and gallant Member that it is also clearly laid down in the Act that the two types of local authorities—county councils and county boroughs—are to be considered separately for this purpose. It is no part of the Ministers' power to say that the county council ought to share a member with a county borough and, equally, the fact that the total number of representatives in the West Riding or the East Riding does add up to a certain figure, is something which is entirely irrelevant for the purposes of the Authority. What we are concerned with is a distribution on the basis of the 1d. rate product for county councils on the one hand, and for county boroughs on the other. The former have 11 members, and the county boroughs have 12, although arithmetically, the latter are entitled to 11·6 so that, again arithmetically, the county boroughs have slightly higher representation.

So far as his figures are concerned, I do not disagree with the sums which the hon. and gallant Member has done, but they have been done on the assumption that one can draw conclusions from the first proposal and then apply them to the second, when, in fact, the arithmetical results are quite different. The Leeds and Sheffield entitlements work out at 2·62 and 2·53 respectively, but Hull is entitled to 1·54 and York ·53; so that, if extra members had been given to Hull or York or, for that matter, to Bradford, then one would most certainly have under-represented Leeds and Sheffield in proportion.

It so happens that Leeds and Sheffield together are slightly over-represented, but that is inevitable when one is faced with a sum of the sort with which we are concerned. However, I assure the hon. and gallant Member that it has been worked out only with a view to showing the utmost fairness, and the Act enjoins and, indeed, provides that we must pay attention to the 1d. rate product of the local authority members.

Question put and negatived.