Orders of the Day — Water Resources (Thames Catchment Area)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th March 1965.

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7.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

I beg to move That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) (Amendment) Order 1965, dated 15th February, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved. The Order that I am inviting the House to approve makes two simple amendments to the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) Order, 1964. Briefly the background is this. The Water Resources Act, 1963, brings about on 1st April this year a direct transfer of functions from river boards to new river authorities. In addition to the land drainage, prevention of pollution and fisheries work of the river boards, the river authorities will carry out the new water conservation and management work provided for by the 1963 Act. In the Thames catchment, as also in the Lee catchment, there has been no river board as such. The existing jobs have been done by the Thames Conservancy, a special body with powers adapted to the special needs of its area. Special arrangements were, therefore, made by the last Government, in the Order now being amended, to enable the Conservancy to carry out also the very important new water resources functions.

Apart from giving those new functions to the Conservancy, the Order reconstituted the board, so that the basis of its membership became the same as that of river authorities—a bare majority of members appointed by the county, county borough and London borough councils on which the Conservancy precepts, together with ministerially-appointed members knowledgeable in respect of public water supply, industry, agriculture, land drainage, navigation, and the recreational use of the Thames. The Port of London Authority also appoints a member.

While the original Order was before the House, it was put very strongly to the then Minister that the Greater London Council would have such a great interest in the works of the Conservancy that it was highly desirable that it should have membership, as the London County Council has done in the past. The London County Council and the Greater London Council both pointed to the great recreational importance of the Thames to the citizens of London, and to the effect that abstraction from underground sources, which the Conservancy is to control, could have on the flow in the London rivers, other than the Thames, where the Greater London Council will be responsible for preventing pollution.

The then Minister decided, and in this I fully agree with him, that it was right to provide for a Greater London Council member on the Conservancy and he gave an undertaking that an amending order would make provision for this. The Order now before the House does just this.

The principle that river authorities should have only a bare majority of local authority members is being followed out in these special cases of Thames and Lee. Therefore, in amending the 1964 Thames Order by adding a Greater London Council member, provision is being made for an additional ministerial member. There is no case for disturbing the numbers and balance of those appointed in respect of land drainage, farming, public water supply and industry.

We have decided to make provision for a member who has a good knowledge of fisheries, an interest previously not represented except by the member appointed by the Minister of Transport after consultation with those concerned with the Thames as a place of recreation. The Thames is a great place for anglers, and the direct appointment of a person qualified on this side will be useful.

The amending Order also makes good something that was left out of the 1964 Order. That Order of 1964 applied, to the Thames Catchment Area, Section 128 of the Water Resources Act, 1963, which exempts from the general restrictions on the taking of water anything done under a "drought" order—that is, an order which my right hon. Friend can make under the Water Act, 1958, when it is necessary—because of exceptional shortage of rain—to allow water undertakers to do something outside their normal powers. So far as the Metropolitan Water Board is concerned, these orders do not apply to their abstractions from the Thames. The equivalent is an emergency order under Section 167 of the Thames Conservancy Act, 1932. These orders obviously ought to benefit from the same saving as the drought orders under the 1958 Act. The 1964 Order did not give it to them: the amendment Order does.

To sum up very briefly; first, the Order fulfills an undertaking given by the previous Government to see that the Thames Conservancy should include a conservator appointed by the Greater London Council. In doing this, it is necessary to have an additional ministerial member and in this connection it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to appoint a member who has a good knowledge of the fisheries interest.

Secondly, the 1964 Order included a saving provision which applies at a time when drought orders under the Water Act, 1958, are in operation. This did not meet the needs of the Metropolitan Water Board, but this amending Order does so by extending the saving to emergency orders made under Section 167 of the Thames Conservancy Act, 1932.

7.58 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I should like to say a brief word of welcome to the Order, first, because, I should explain, I have the honour to be Chairman of the Thames Conservancy and I look forward with pleasure to the Greater London Council being represented on the board. We have in the past enjoyed the company of a representative of the London County Council. We are glad that although we are to lose the distinguished membership of Mrs. Bentwich we will have a member from the Greater London Council, which will have strong interests in the River Thames.

In saying that I welcome, also, the new appointment by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I should like to make the point that although, as a matter of form, it looks well to have an appointment, directly made, of one qualified in respect of fisheries, a number of members of the board as now constituted are experts in fishing in one way or another and we take good care of fisheries on the river, both coarse and fly fishing.

The Minister has made the point that paragraph (3)(b) of the Order extends the 1964 Order so that Section 167 of the Thames Conservancy Act, 1932, continues to be effective. That might be an extremely important Section this year because, unless my memory is at fault, that is the Section that gives power, by order of the Minister, for the Conservancy to reduce the flow over Teddington Weir. The normal statutory requirement is that we should allow 170 million gallons a day to flow over Teddington Weir to give a good flush out in the Port of London Authority area.

If the flow of the river is low and the Metropolitan Water Board needs extra water, it is possible, by order, to reduce the statutory flow to replenish the board's reservoirs. I imagine that that is the effect of the Order. I therefore congratulate the Minister on making provision for it in a year which already shows signs of being, perhaps, dangerously dry. We hope that the rain may come during the coming months and make up some of the deficiencies of the winter months and that these dangers will not materialise. In any event, I am glad to welcome the Order.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I only want to add my few words of welcome, and indeed thanks, to the hon. Gentleman, because the Order fulfils an undertaking which I gave some months ago from that Box. I am delighted that the Order has been brought forward.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) said, there is a strong case for the special interest of the G.L.C. in the River Thames, and the representative of this great Council will be a great asset to the Conservancy. As one has to have a balancing Ministerial member, I think that it is right that there should be somebody with a special interest in fishery. Many of the present members have that interest, but a large number of anglers who are interested in the Thames have felt that without a specific appointment they have been somewhat under-represented. I hope, therefore, that this will be a valuable addition to the Thames Conservancy.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Thames Conservancy (New Functions of River Authorities in Thames Catchment Area) (Amendment) Order 1965, dated 15th February, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th February, be approved.