—including my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) whom I am glad to see in his place.
The River Severn has a very strong stream and, particularly in the lower reaches, a formidable tide, culminating at its highest periods, in the well-known phenomenon of the Severn bore, a wall of water six or seven feet high moving at great speed up the river. It is a very impressive sight, and it can occasionally be dangerous.
That action of the waters and the stream of the river tends to erode rather more than usual the banks of the river which are, at any rate in my area, mostly made of soft earth and are not rocky. They are, therefore, particularly susceptible to erosion. In the past that erosion was countered by various works, and when labour was cheap the great landlords who owned a lot of territory there built groynes out into the river to prevent the action of the water on the banks. A good deal of land was won back from the river estuary in that way and added to the agricultural land available. Today the great landlords have mostly gone. Labour and materials are not cheap, and it is beyond the purse of the riparian private owners to repair those groynes under modern conditions and prices. As a result, there has been a sharply increasing loss of valuable agricultural land. One small landowner in my constituency has lost 20 acres to the river in the past few years.
There are river authorities and other bodies up and down the river which have certain powers, but I understand that the Severn river authority does not consider that its responsibility extends to carrying out works solely for the purpose of adding to, or preventing the loss of, agricultural land, although it is certain that it would carry out those works if the consequence of not doing so was to cause flooding, or in some way interfere with its purposes as a water undertaking.
Local authorities have no powers in this regard, unless they happen to be riparian owners, which I do not believe to be the case, at any rate to any important degree. I therefore suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is concerned in the matter because of the loss of agricultural land.
There is a second consequence of the erosion, arising more in the estuary than in the upper reaches. The groynes which were built out into the Severn provided mooring places for fishing boats, on one side of them or the other according to the state of the tide. The Severn is a most important fishing river. The salmon, the elvers—the baby eels which come at this time of the year—and other fish are a very important source of revenue to fishermen. Fishing on the lower reaches of the Severn is very largely a commercial undertaking, not a sporting one. I therefore suggest that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is again involved because of the difficulties imposed upon fishermen through their not having the possibility of mooring their boats conveniently or anywhere near their fishing grounds.
This is a permissive Bill. It is designed only to make it possible for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to intervene where it thinks it is necessary and where it thinks that the expenditure is justified to prevent the loss of good agricultural land.
At present there is no public authority with any specific powers. The vast majority of the owners have no capability, financial or otherwise, of carrying out the necessary works. These works are now, after many years, all falling into disuse more or less at the same time and the problem will be increased sharply in the next few years. I suggest that the Bill could fill a minor but valuable purpose and that it would be in the public interest that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have these powers.