Coast Protection Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."I think it is fair to say that the problem we are to discuss today is no new one—
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. As this is a matter of great importance, are we not to have the presence of the Minister of Health?
I do not see that there is any point of Order here. Unfortunately my right hon. Friend will not be able to be present today.
I do not see that any question arises on that.
Would it be in Order, Mr. Speaker, to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House in these circumstances? It is really disgraceful. The Parliamentary Secretary does not even apologise. This is a Bill of first-class importance to which the whole of the day is being devoted. It is really treating the House with gross discourtesy that the Minister is not to be present.
As this Bill also affects Scottish interests to a considerable extent, it is surely deplorable that not even the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present. I wish, therefore, to support the right hon. Gentleman.
That Motion cannot be moved under our Rules during a speech; a speech cannot be interrupted.
Perhaps I should explain that as far as the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is concerned, he expressed his regret that he could not be here for the opening of this Debate, but he certainly will be here very shortly and will be speaking in the course of the Debate on any questions that may arise affecting Scotland.
Did I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to say that only the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would be here?
Neither the Minister of Health nor the Secretary of State for Scotland will be here?
Although we cannot interrupt the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, we may have something to say about this later.
As I was saying, this question of the defence of the coast against encroachment by the sea is no new problem. Indeed, it is possible that the ill-fated effort of King Canute was an attempt to deal with this very problem. Certainly in the times of Henry VIII there was the Statute of Sewers, which provided for:
It is this same problem of providing against the great movements of the sea that we are to discuss today. Although it is true that for many centuries this problem has been before the people of the country, very little has been done to deal with the matter on any national basis. Although the Royal Commission of 1911 made a report which set out certain very valuable proposals—particular local proposals—nothing was done to im- plement them, in spite of an attempt that was made in 1929 in a Bill introduced by the then President of the Board of Trade. That Bill met with so much opposition that it had to be withdrawn. Apart from certain legislation on the agricultural side, which led up to the Land Drainage Act, 1930, and the more recent River Boards Act, 1948, all that developed on coast protection was the 1939 Coast Protection Act, which originated as a Private Member's Bill and dealt purely with the problem of excavating beach materials. It was not until my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his statement to the House at the beginning of 1947 that any real attempt was made to deal with this matter upon an effective national basis. Then, as I think is well known to all Members of the House, for the first time national finance was offered to aid in the development of essential schemes in this matter. Under that proposal of the Prime Minister in 1947, several schemes are today going forward which are of great importance and great value to the country. I might instance the cases of Seaford and Caister. Both are examples of essential work involving very large expense and which are being carried out today by the responsible local authorities with considerable Government backing for the expenditure. It is perfectly true that this problem of coast erosion is both long-standing and non-controversial in the ordinary sense. I do not think that there can be any question that this is an issue which concerns all of us. Therefore it is a matter upon which we would wish to proceed with general support. It is not, for that reason, a simple matter. It involves many complicated problems. In the first place, the difficulty of the present situation is that the local authorities or private owners who may be concerned to provide defences for their stretches of land can only act in defence of their own property. That is a limitation which is particularly difficult and makes action, particularly by a local authority, quite impossible in many cases. Secondly, of course, there are, as everyone knows, a multitude of interests in this problem of coast defence. It is not merely a matter for the local authorities or private owners who are immediately concerned. There are also drainage authorities, port authorities, and, among others, transport authorities in cases where there are railway lines or main roads near to the coast. Many other bodies are intimately connected with this problem. Therefore it is essential to secure the closest possible co-operation between all those interested bodies to secure the best possible results. Again, this is a technical problem in many ways. What is done at one point of the coast may very well affect the position on another adjoining part of the coastline. That has been proved to be the case in many of the instances with which the authorities are having to deal today. For example, on the South Coast I believe that one headland was increased further out into the sea by means of a groyne which, although providing necessary protection there, caused very real damage further down the coast, because it prevented the natural drift of sand which is the real and essential protection of the coast line. This, therefore, is not a simple issue. Not only is it important to keep in mind the effect of any works upon an adjoining area; it is also vital to see that the design of any works is properly carried out and that the very best technical skill available is used. That is something beyond the capacity of a small private owner, and indeed very often beyond the capacity of a small local authority. Finally, naturally following out of this, it is of the utmost importance that works that are needed should not be prevented from being carried out merely because of the expense that is involved. Obviously, many of these schemes are very expensive indeed. The problem with which we are faced today is one of very real importance, although it has been allowed to develop for many years, indeed for many centuries. In the inter-war years, particularly, very little indeed was done. That makes all the more important the necessity for tackling this problem today. Although the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in 1947 made financial aid available, it did not of itself provide any wider powers to the authorities concerned. Therefore it is highly important indeed that the Measure which I am introducing should be passed as speedily as possible, in order to give the authorities concerned those wider powers that they need. The main feature of the Bill, which will provide the necessary powers to deal with the problems that I have mentioned, is, first, that it establishes both national and local responsibility. As envisaged in the Prime Minister's statement. responsibility is focused upon my right hon. Friend in England and Wales, and in Scotland upon the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is equally important that the responsibility should be clear. Here, again, the Bill sets up local coast protection authorities of two different types to deal with the problems of their areas. In the first place it gives wider powers to county district councils or borough councils on the coast, and enables them not only to carry out works for the protection of their property, as was the case in the past, but also to carry out other works to protect their area of coastline. It is envisaged that in simple and straightforward cases of coast protection this particular authority should be able to carry out the necessary work with the financial support that will he forthcoming. In the second place, in cases where many interests are clearly involved, my right hon. Friend will have power under the Bill to make an order setting up a coast protection board which will be representative broadly of the major interests involved in that area. By doing so he will ensure that the danger of lack of co-ordination that has been so evident in the past will be overcome. The bodies selected to be represented on the coast protection boards will be expected to make contributions towards the cost of the work involved. There has been pressure in another place for a widening of the bodies to be considered for representation on coast protection boards, but it is desirable that these boards should not be too large or unwieldy in numbers. At the same time, conditions are bound to vary between one part of the country and another and it must be left to the responsibility of the Minister to ensure that the interests which are affected in certain areas are properly represented. The Bill provides the financial assistance which we believe is essential if major works are to be carried out. In the statement in 1947, it was made clear that what was then envisaged would not, in any way, interfere with the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in low-lying land because that responsibility is closely linked up with other agricultural problems in the area with which he has to deal. The drainage authorities who have been responsible for this work have carried out the work very efficiently. This Measure makes no change. It takes away none of their rights of dealing with their own problems. Indeed, it goes rather further in associating my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Agriculture and Transport in cases where their interests are directly involved, as in the question of the joint issue of orders setting up these coast protection boards and the hearing of objections from any of the interested parties. I have already mentioned that the Bill provides that there shall be two types of authority capable of dealing with the coast protection problems in their area, first, the coastal borough and county district, which will deal with the simpler issues, and these coast protection boards which are to be set up by the Minister where desirable. In addition, it is provided that these two authorities who may, very properly, desire to secure linking up with other authorities in their neigh-bourhood, may set up joint committees if they feel that it is necessary or desirable. Clauses 4 to 9 set out the general procedure to be followed to ensure that there is proper and full consultation with all the parties who may be interested in coast protection in their area and to provide the fullest opportunity for the hearing of objections. This means rather complex provisions in the Bill in some respects, but they are essential to ensure that every person concerned, whether private owner, board or authority, is properly consulted. Very briefly, this provides for the publication of schemes, including an estimate of costs, and for the hearing of objections by my right hon. Friend together with any other Ministers who may be affected, after which my right hon. Friend may approve, modify or reject the proposals. Where the scheme requires compulsory powers or the levying of charges on those who benefit, rather more detailed procedure is laid down. It is important to realise that where there is a case of urgency, full power is given to the coast protection authority to go straight ahead with the work. As I have mentioned, it is also provided that coast protection authorities in future shall have full powers to carry out work outside their boundaries if this is necessary to protect their own coastline. What is more, in future private owners who wish to carry out coast protection work must first secure the consent of the coast protection authority. This is essential if we are to ensure that measures taken locally will not in effect damage other work in other parts of the area. As to maintenance, maintenance of existing work by owners can be enforced, with full right of appeal. Again, it is vital that maintenance work should be fully and regularly carried out. It is clear that the lack of that maintenance work may often involve very large major schemes, such as the whole reconstruction of defences, which could otherwise have been avoided. At this point it is worth while mentioning that Clause 45 ensures that a river board or drainage authority shall continue to be responsible for any works constructed or maintained by them. That is in fulfilment of the promises and undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement. Clause 18 deals with a related problem but one which is not identical with the general question of coast protection, that of the excavation of beach materials. This Clause repeals the 1939 Act and provides on the whole a simpler and speedier procedure for ensuring that any withdrawal and removal of sand from coastal areas shall not damage the coast itself, and provision is made under the Clause for prohibition by order of the coast protection authority of the withdrawal and excavation of sand from any areas they may specify. This is a problem of particular importance in Cornwall, and in recent years orders have been presented to this House dealing with this matter under the 1939 Act. As is well-known, in Cornwall the problem is one not only of coast protection, but of securing an adequate supply of very valuable sand for agricultural uses. It is, therefore, most important that the two issues should be properly and fairly balanced. No one wishes to deny to agriculture sand which is of particular importance to it. At the same time, that should not endanger the coastline itself. Therefore, such prohibition of excavation of beach materials is subject to confirmation by my right hon. Friend, and in all cases where any agricultural interests are involved there will be full consultation with the Minister of Agriculture. Quite recently cases have been raised in this House regarding Rock Bay in Cornwall, which is a typical instance where the two national needs appear to some extent to conflict, and only recently interim orders have been made to restrict the area from which sand can be withdrawn in that bay. Under Part II of the Bill the consent of the Minister of Transport is required before works on the seashore below high water level are carried out. That is to ensure that there shall be no danger to navigation from any coast protection works which may be introduced. This is necessary because in some cases where either local authorities or private owners have built groynes into the sea, perfectly properly, to try to defend a portion of coast line, the work has been carried out to the danger of shipping and, therefore, it is right that there should be proper provision for securing the protection of ordinary navigation. Further, under Part III, the management of all Crown foreshore, which has in the past been under the Ministry of Transport, shall now become the function of the Commissioners of Crown Lands. In fact, since 1947 the Commissioners of Crown Lands have acted as agents for the Ministry of Transport, and so there is no change here in actual practice; we are merely confirming what is being done today. I know that hon. Members on all sides of the House will be particularly interested in the financial provisions of this Bill. It is true, of course, that the Bill provides for contributions from the national Exchequer—which is a complete change of attitude from that adopted in the past—but it also requires contributions from local authorities and from other parties who may receive benefits from coast protection work. First, so far as the Government grant is concerned, it would be quite impossible to lay down any hard and fast rule as to the precise proportion of Government grant to be provided. All that can be done is to insist that every case will be examined properly upon its merits, and the fullest regard will be paid to the actual needs of the area. Particularly we must have regard to the burden of work carried out upon the rates if any assistance were given. Also we must pay some regard to the benefit to the local authority concerned of the works carried out. As an example of what is being done today in the two schemes to which I referred earlier, Seaford and Caister, where large expenditures are involved, in the case of Caister, where something under £400,000 expenditure is involved, a 75 per cent. Government grant of those expenses which otherwise would have fallen on the several local authorities involved has been promised. It is estimated that a Government grant averaging about 50 per cent. is likely in the generality of case, and that public authorities may spend about £1 million per annum on work of this sort in the early years of the scheme. However, this can be nothing more than a general guide."defence against the outrageous flowing surges and courses of the sea."
Does that include Scotland?
That would include Scotland. Of course, this amount depends entirely upon the availability of materials, which in some cases involve large quantities of steel, and also upon the availability of labour in the area. This is in no case a fixed amount, but is merely an estimate of a very general kind which may be of value to hon. Members.In the second case, both county councils and county district councils will be expected to contribute. County councils will be expected to contribute to work done by their district councils and, if they wish, they may contribute to the work done by district councils outside their own county area. Although that may seem strange on the face of it, it may be a natural position where a county council feels its own needs affected by work carried out in other areas. Thirdly, there is provision for levies upon private interests which benefit from the scheme. Conditions are outlined in some detail in Clauses 7, 10 and 11. It is obviously proper that a private landlord, whether a farmer or house owner, whose property has been greatly improved by coast protection works, should make some contribution towards their cost, and full opportunity is given in this Bill for objections to be made and appeals to be considered. So far as general maintenance work is concerned, it is not proposed that any Exchequer grant shall be provided. This is a natural running expense which local authorities and private owners concerned can fairly be expected to bear. If, however, the repair work or replacement is on such a large scale as to amount to major new works of construction, the matter will be fully considered. Though, there again, if that work is merely necessitated by the fact that repairs have not been carried out in the normal way in past years, that would not be a proper reason for the Exchequer to make a grant. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) at Question time yesterday referred to a case in his own constituency where there was a danger to properties by coast erosion, and where the problem arises acutely whether or not any contribution should be made. It was claimed that in that case the ordinary repairs of previous years had not been carried out because of the war emergency. Naturally that is a matter which would have to be considered when the individual case was submitted. This Bill provides for the filling of a real gap in our national legislation. There has been criticism in another place that the procedure is too complex to encourage local authorities and those now to be made responsible to introduce necessary schemes for coast protection. I do not think that is so. The procedure of this Bill is necessitated by these real considerations of consultation with those bodies concerned in the area, and I do not believe that it should in any way prevent essential schemes from being formulated and proceeded with. Indeed, as I have mentioned, where there is an emergency, the authority can go ahead without the complications that are provided in the Bill, and I am quite satisfied that authorities throughout the country which have these problems to deal with, will seize the opportunities provided in this Bill to go ahead with their work. If, however, authorities should not be willing to do the work, adequate provision is made in this Bill for reserve powers and default powers to the Minister, who can either order the authority concerned to carry out the work, can empower the county council to do so, or can carry out the work himself. I believe that this is the first comprehensive Measure to deal with this great problem of coast protection that has been introduced into this House. It has been far too long delayed. The need for it is very real, and such a Bill is wanted by authorities in all parts of the country. If action is not taken today, much greater expense will be involved and the dangers to our coastline will become much more acute. At a time when we all recognise the importance of developing to the full our agricultural resources, it is of great importance that our coastline, which we are all, or most of us, willing to protect against an outside invader, should also be protected against one of the most insidious and dangerous invaders of all—the sea. I am sure that the Bill will receive full support from all parts of the House and I hope that it will have a speedy passage.
Members on this side of the House would certainly desire to treat a Bill of this nature in a non-controversial spirit. I mention only in passing my regret that the Parliamentary Secretary should have introduced an element of political controversy in his history of what happened in the past. The hon. Gentleman wound up his speech by saying that all of us in this country are anxious to protect our coastline from a human enemy, and he hoped, therefore, that we should be equally concerned to protect it from a natural enemy. On that we all agree. Therefore, we on this side of the House welcome the objects of the Bill. We are not equally certain, however, that its objects, although common to both sides of the House, are best carried out by the terms provided in the Bill. Although we do not propose to vote against the Second Reading, we hope during the Committee stage to put down a number of Amendments for its improvement.First, we believe that, owing to the changes which have taken place and the fact that during the war so long a period elapsed when defences could not be kept in the state in which they might otherwise have been maintained, the figure now suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary, and mentioned also by his colleague in another place, of an average contribution by the Exchequer of 50 per cent. is wholly inadequate. Because of the circumstances which exist today, the increased amount of work that has to be done, and the impoverishment generally of ratepayers in the countryside through the great rise in rates, we believe that this should be substantially a national charge. In particular cases, however, where there may be some element of betterment, the owners or locality concerned should be asked to make some contribution; but if the average Exchequer contribution is at the rate of only 50 per cent., it will be physically and financially impossible for many areas to carry out the defences and new works which everybody agrees to be necessary. Accordingly, we shall move the necessary Amendments in Committee. I should like to fortify our attitude by pointing out what was said at a conference held towards the end of the war by the Royal Agricultural Society, at which were present, quite apart from representatives of this side of the House, representatives of the National Union of Agricultural Workers and of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Both of those large and important—and, if we are to believe what happened in the House yesterday, influential—unions voted in favour of the cost being substantially a national charge. In fact, they went further and said that the whole, and not merely a substantial part of it, should be a national charge. The second point on which second thoughts may be desirable is the question of which authorities are to be entrusted with the execution of the new works. As the Bill stands, these bodies are to be county councils, district councils and maritime boroughs.
At present, as we understand it, catchment boards and their successors-to-be shortly, river boards, have within their area substantial lengths—53 per cent., I think—of the coastline. These catchment boards and their lineal successors, the river boards, have in existence already specialised organisations for coast defence. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that the subject of the Bill is highly technical. To us on this side, therefore, it seems odd, to say the least, that where there is already in existence a specialist organisation with all the technical officers required, with a long history of technical achievement behind it, the future of that work should be entrusted to a different and new set of bodies who, for the most part—I do not say all of them—do not at present have technical staff or specialist organisations. That is certainly true of individual county districts and landowners. The answer that that difficulty could be over- come by the constitution of joint boards is valid only if joint boards are to be set up by the Ministry for practically the whole coastline; otherwise it would be very much simpler to entrust the matter to the new river boards.As far as local authorities are concerned, the Minister knows that the new river boards will contain representatives of those authorities, and that therefore the people at present to be entrusted with the work would, under the alternative suggestion, equally have a voice in what is to be done. The Parliamentary Secretary repeated in substance the statement of his colleague, who said in the House of Lords that:
This, however, is a matter which can be dealt with in Committee upstairs. While that may be a state of affairs which we cannot now rectify, this can be raised on our discussions of Clause 45. So much for the question of who is to carry out the work. My third point is that, as far as England and Wales are concerned, we believe that the wrong Minister has been entrusted with the job. The person properly concerned should be the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and not the Minister of Health. Already the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is concerned, via the catchment boards, with 53 per cent. of the coastline, and that the most important part of the coastline, because, as the House knows, it is the low-lying part where sea defences are most important because of the danger of a breach in those defences and the resultant flooding of low-lying agricultural land. We can see no reason at all for the Minister of Health having been entrusted with this matter. He may say that it is because it has to do with local authorities but the Minister of Agriculture is also concerned with local authorities in England and Wales. We can only assume, without wishing to inject any political controversy, that this is another occasion on which the Minister of Agriculture has been "done down" by one of his colleagues in the Cabinet, not for the first time, unfortunately, as witness the meat situation. We shall take steps in Committee to try to remedy what we regard as a gross dereliction of duty in regard to the Minister of Agriculture. Finally, there is the question of Scot land. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that this was a very technical Bill dealing with a very technical subject. As I understand it, the technical aspects are very different in 'Scotland from those in England and if there were ever an occasion for having a separate Scottish Bill to deal with particular difficulties in Scotland, this is it. Hon. Members have only to read through the 50 pages of the Bill and count up for themselves the number of occasions on which special conditions are inserted to alter the provisions to enable them to apply to Scotland. It would have been much tidier, and would have saved the time of English Members, if the Bill had been split into two. That is a point on which my hon. Friends who represent Scottish interests will have something to say. Another point on which we think the Bill is defective is the question of maintenance. The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that, in regard to maintenance, the Bill proposes to leave the cost to be raised locally. We believe that, with the present rate of taxation and the height of the rates in most parts of the country, maintenance in many cases will be far too great to be carried locally and that there is a very strong case on all grounds of equity, as well as practice, for providing for a substantial contribution by the Exchequer to local maintenance, as well as making the original cost of the defences a substantial national charge. Those are the four criticisms we have to make of the Bill. We welcome it from the practical point of view, because, undoubtedly, it will enable a great many things to be done which require to be done, but in Committee we shall endeavour to deal with its practical applications."Coast protection authorities will have no power or duty to take action in places where coast defences are already maintained by a river board or drainage authority."
I rise to give a warm welcome to this Bill. Some of us have been anxiously awaiting its introduction since the early days of this Parliament; indeed, we have joined together from all sides in order to bring what pressure and influence we could on the Government to introduce the Bill. It is a source of very real satisfaction to us that we are now discussing this Measure. I think the Government are to be congratulated on having, in spite of all the major preoccupations and grave financial considerations they have to examine and the other difficulties confronting the nation, implemented the promise given by the Prime Minister in this House in January, 1947.Although a Coast Protection Bill may not seem important to the vast majority of Members, particularly those from inland areas, to us who represent coastal districts it is vital and urgent. We pride ourselves on being a maritime nation. We sing hundreds of traditional sea ballads, most of our people know the sea as a source of power and wealth and glory in our so-called mastery of it, and it provides a pleasant amenity at holiday resorts. But comparatively few realise the terrible havoc which is wrought in the ceaseless battle between the sea and the land, in which the sea always wins in the end. This Bill is long overdue. It should have been introduced many years ago at a time when our national and local resources were more flexible, when development projects could have been undertaken to absorb our unemployed, when material was plentiful and there were ample opportunities to build up and sustain a strong defence against coast erosion. Now, owing to that neglect and to circumstances arising out of the war, the accumulation of essential coast protection work has grown and the cost of what can be undertaken has been greatly increased. Particularly is this so in areas where, owing to prohibitions imposed by Service Departments for security reasons, there is denial of access to the foreshore. Sea-walls were undermined, groynes disintegrated and the natural protection of sand and shingle could not be maintained. This Bill has two main functions, first to ensure that the coast should be protected as far as possible, and secondly, to ease the burdens of those whose duty it is to prevent erosion. This Bill is good, or bad, in so far as it sets out to achieve those aims. My view is that it goes reasonably far to achieve them in the circumstances. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who criticised the designation of the Minister of Health as the appropriate Minister to carry out this work and be responsible for it. It has to be recognised that hitherto the responsibility was divided among many Government Departments and it was essential to have one overriding Minister for the whole of this important project. There were concerned the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Admiralty, in some cases, and, of course, the Ministry of Health in its relations with public authorities. As so much of this duty devolves on local authorities, as is set out in the first Part of the Bill, it is wise that the Minister of Health should be the responsible Minister. It is unfortunate that, owing to natural causes, the nature of the soil, the direction and force of prevailing winds and currents, the scouring power of wind and the destruction of binding vegetation and other causes, the erosion is greatest in those areas which can least afford the high cost of effective protective works. This applies equally to capital and maintenance costs. The areas most afflicted by erosion are non-industrial in character relatively thinly populated and having a low rateable value. Probably the most spectacular examples of the menacing power of the sea in this respect occur on the East Anglian coast, in parts of Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Sussex, Hampshire and the Welsh coast, but I would remind the House that even the granite cliffs of Cornwall are not immune from attack. Local authorities in those areas are faced with a perpetual burden, and their anxieties are growing year by year. The rate charged in respect of sea defence works by some authorities is as much as 6s. in the £ a burden which is intolerable and a perpetual hindrance to the development in those areas of other activities in which they ought to be able to engage. In Lowestoft, the constituency which I have the honour to represent, the capital and maintenance works undertaken since VJ Day amount to £255,000, while the rateable value of the port is only £258,000 and additional work contemplated brings the total estimated cost to £550,000. This is only one example of many similar cases around our coasts. We are grateful—and this must be said—for the relief afforded by the grants made in accordance with the Prime Minister's statement in January, 1947. The opinion has grown up, not only in coastal areas afflicted by this menace, but over the whole country, that this is a burden that should be more equitably distributed. After all, it is said that Britain belongs to all, and therefore all should protect Britain, not only, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, from a foreign foe, but from its perpetual enemy, the sea. If Britannia really rules the waves, let her see to it herself and not leave it to her poorer small daughters. It is remarkable that even those who oppose nationalisation most strongly as an economic and political expedient are the most persistent in urging the nationalisation of coast protection. At meetings in my area in connection with this subject, whether of catchment boards or local authorities, even where I was heavily outweighted politically—
it might be said—there has been a 100 per cent. nationalisation spirit prevailing. It is on its financial provisions that the Bill will be largely judged. To my mind, they are disappointing, but I will turn to that aspect in a moment. I am glad to note that those authorities which in the past have, in the main, done excellent work, are to continue as coast protection authorities. They may be small—they generally are—but they have accumulated a good deal of experience and a vast amount of technical knowledge, and, most important of all, they have a local knowledge. They know the workings of the tide, the stresses of the weather, and the particular aspect of the problem in their own locality, such as the basis of the soil, how far they have to go down to get stability, and all the technical points. They have the staff, the tools, and, what is more, it is primarily to their interest to see that the job is thoroughly done. The constitution and appointment of coast protection boards and joint committees are essential if sea defence work is to be co-ordinated. But the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to that, and I wish to endorse very strongly from personal experience that it is essential that this work should be really integrated as a part of sea defence over a considerable area. The danger is that sea works in one area deflect the currents on to unprotected areas. There are classic examples of that both on the East Anglian coast and the Sussex coast. It is claimed that the catastrophic collapse of the sea wall at Seaford is due primarily to the extensive sea works undertaken in connection with the Newhaven harbour. I have a certain sympathy with the catchment boards who feel that the work undertaken by them in the past is not sufficiently recognised in the Bill. I do not know whether their objections are as valid as they try to make out, but there is certainly a feeling among them that they have been neglected. It is as well, as has already been done, that one should pay a tribute to the work carried out by them in the past; but that work was limited, and they now have the opportunity to co-operate with the other authorities and to bring to those authorities their experience, knowledge, and also the enthusiasm with which they have worked over a long period. I do not think that the Bill neglects them to the extent that they seem to feel. I am a little anxious about the rather complicated procedure in regard to the preparation, presentation and inquiry ritual of works schemes. The Minister referred to this and gave certain assurances, but I hope that nothing will delay the commencement of urgent works schemes such as the long formalities required in order to get the sanction of the Minister, the courts of inquiry, and so on. That, of course, is a Committee point, but it should be stressed that in many cases sea defence is an urgent problem, and that any delay can be disastrous. The Minister, of course, has taken powers in the Bill to carry out the work if there is any undue delay or any sense of extreme urgency. I do not propose to say anything about the responsibility of private undertakings and individuals—I believe other hon. Members wish to refer to that—except that I hope we shall not allow private interests or predilections to interfere with a co-ordinated plan in connection with works schemes. Before I touch on the financial aspect, I would say that, in my opinion, it is essential for the Minister to take default powers. I hope he will exercise them, not only to see that the necessary works are initiated, but also to see that they are sufficiently adequate and comprehensive so as to be effective for a considerable time. In the past we have seen local authorities who, for economy reasons, spent £1,000 on erecting a groyne or sea wall. When the winter gales came along it disintegrated and was destroyed. The next year they spent another £1,000 and so it went on. I want to see the Minister take these powers and impress on local authorities that, in order to safeguard their own interests, both financial and in respect of coast erosion, they must erect adequate defences. It has been said that there is a demand for the greater spreading of the cost of sea defence. The Minister has divided the burden among the coast protection authorities, the maritime councils, and himself; but in the original draft of the Bill as it appeared in another place, there seemed no doubt that the liability to contribute was firmly placed on the county councils. As I see it, that was in conformity with the Prime Minister's statement, but, as it has emerged, the Bill limits the liability of the county councils in three respects. First, the obligation to contribute would only arise where the Minister himself was making a contribution. Secondly, the amount of the county council's contribution would, except with the consent of the county council itself—and I doubt whether such consent would be forthcoming in a good many cases—be limited to the amount of the Minister's contribution. Thirdly, the total of the obligatory payment to be made by a county in any financial year would be limited to the product of a ld. rate for general county purposes. It seems to me that county districts which are faced with big costs in respect of coast defence cannot view with equanimity a recession, if I may say so with great respect to the Minister, from his original proposals. It is quite clear that a great deal of pressure has been brought to bear on him by a very influential body. My own view is that to restrict the obligation of contribution to the maritime counties is limiting responsibility unfairly. I believe that there will be a certain amount of feeling among ratepayers in parts of these maritime counties who can be about 60 miles from the sea. It is possible that a rate might be levied in a small county district which is 60 or 70 miles from the sea. Some of our counties, Norfolk, Suffolk and so on, go inland quite a long way. Perhaps the Minister will look at that later on and see whether he can spread the burden over the whole of us."Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
There would be a national burden as well which would tax inland counties.
The national burden is also borne. There are three burdens borne by the coast protection authority, as it has also its own contribution to the county rate, and the contribution to the National Exchequer; so that in that respect the ratepayer gets hit three times, while some other people a few miles away may be clear.I note with regret that there is no grant for maintenance. The Minister made the point clear and I will not reiterate it. But in the case of extraordinary physical circumstances, such as a series of gales, synchronising with high tides as has been happening quite recently, terrific damage might be caused in one night which it would be quite beyond the capacity of one authority to meet. For example, there is the case of the great North Sea wall at Lowestoft where undermining by a succession of gales, and scouring operations, caused a collapse. That could not be regarded as a maintenance charge. We want it clear that these charges will be considered as new schemes of work. The Minister estimates that half the cost of capital works will be met by way of Exchequer grants. I think he is wise not to use a formula. It would be very difficult if there were a flat rate all over the country, and I think he is wise to go on the basis of the needs of a local authority. He thinks that the grants will amount to a quarter or a half a million for the first few years rising to £2 million later. In the engineering survey in 1947—I speak subject to correction—it was reported that the essential needs for coast protection at that time were between £10 million and £20 million in capital expenditure. I sugest that that money spent now would be an insurance against a much greater liability which will result if this work is neglected. Indeed, I take the opposite line from the Minister. I know that he is concerned with the economic necessities of the country, but I say that large capital sums expended now would be a more economical use of money and labour—if it were available—than making the sum progressively more as the years go by. I welcome the Bill. I hope that we shall be able to improve it a little in Committee. It goes a long way to meet the needs of local authorities and to remove a great many of their anxieties. Although we sing, "There'll always be an England" and I hope it may be so, unless we get on with this work there will not be very much of England left to sing about.
I am particularly glad of the opportunity to make a few remarks upon this Bill, because I have the privilege of representing the constituency in which Caister is situated. Although it is not a matter upon which hon. Members need enter into fierce competition to discover who has the most serious erosion problem, it is generally accepted that the situation at Caister where, as the Minister pointed out, some £400,000 has been expended, or authorised in recent months, is the biggest single erosion problem and one which called the attention of all concerned to the necessity for some early action.I would like, for once, to join with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) in expressing a word of welcome to a Government Measure. But the more one examines the Measure the more qualifications one feels bound to insert into any indication of approval. The Government are entitled to great credit for having introduced the Bill at this particular time. Nevertheless, we have a duty to examine with care any new Measure which involves expenditure of the order of a million or more pounds a year. It is no use hon. Members on this side of the House complaining that Government expenditure is too high and then welcoming something which may happen to suit the particular interests of their constituents. One has, therefore, to look at this Bill with a critical eye in that respect. I agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft that the payments under this Bill will be a form of insurance, and it is upon that basis that even in these hard and difficult times, the payments are, in principle, justified and are very necessary. The work which will be done under this Bill will in due course save not merely money. It will save land, in many cases very valuable agricultural land. I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in expressing regret that the Bill does not make this burden a national responsibility. That is a very serious defect in the approach to the problem. Although we can concede that a great deal will depend on the way in which the Bill is operated, and that in turn may depend on changes made later in Committee, it is obvious that defence against the sea is just as much a national matter as defence against any other form of enemy. As has been pointed out in another place, it is quite illogical that in due course a person living on the northern frontier or boundary of the county of Sussex will have to make a contribution—
I would like to be clear about this. I understood the right hon Gentleman to say that he did consider there should be a local contribution, so that there is not very much between us there. It is merely a question as to what the proportion of the local contribution should be.
I should like to make it clear that I said that we on this side of the House thought that the cost should substantially be met by the Exchequer, but we thought that a contribution should be received. We still think that it should be substantially met by the Exchequer.
In some cases it is almost impossible to set down a formula in the Bill beforehand. There might be cases where the Exchequer contribution would be exceedingly substantial. There might be other cases where the benefit to the locality itself would be substantial, where they would have revenues, and the grant would be affected by that fact.
I apologise for interrupting again. The 75 per cent. which the right hon. Gentleman quoted as being granted to Caister and reflecting great credit on Government generosity, is not our view of the meaning of the word "substantial."
If I might perhaps join in this interesting discussion, I was trying to point out that possibly there would be some rather larger burden on the ratepayers in, for example, the northern part of Sussex than there would be on the ratepayers just across the road in the southern part of Surrey. It is a pity that the Bill could not have carried out the principle that this would be a national charge, with perhaps some levy upon local authorities who obviously gained some direct benefit from the expenditure under the Bill. As drafted, the Bill does not contain any guarantee that we shall get away from the most unsatisfactory situation in which responsible local authorities find themselves now. They do not know what amount of help they will get from the national Exchequer. Although the Minister has been most helpful in the scheme I mentioned, possibly that was an exceptional situation, and I wish that the Bill contained a more definite guarantee so that authorities could embark upon schemes without the delay which I fear will result under this Bill.I join with those who have said that it is unfortunate that it has been thought necessary to set up an entirely new kind of authority. The catchment board; now to be known as river boards, already cover 53 per cent. in quantity, and probably more than that in importance and significance, of the land around our coasts likely to be affected. Perhaps I feel more strongly on this matter than some hon. Members, because the East Norfolk Rivers Catchment Board has provided an outstanding example of the skill and efficiency with which a body of that kind can tackle this problem. One cannot help feeling that it will be a long time before any of these new bodies will be in a position to approach their work in a manner as satisfactory as that of the East Norfolk Board and some of the other existing authorities. A great deal will depend on how this Bill is handled in Committee. It is a Bill which appears to be exceptionally capable of being remoulded in Committee in such a way as to meet the great problem of the sharing of the burden. Without going into Committee points, I should like to emphasise that one or two obvious difficulties are already apparent. Maintenance has been mentioned. We must remember that maintenance in relation to attacks by the sea is different from maintenance against the ordinary wear and tear of wind and weather. As has been said, one night's strong tide may undo work which has involved enormous expense. That has happened at Seaford and it may happen time and again. We may find a situation in which something which under the Bill may appear technically to be a scheme of reconstruction, is in fact maintenance from the point of view of those who have to do the work. I hope that in Committee provision will be made to clear up the question of maintenance and to ensure that the authorities will at least have as much assistance in the maintenance of their schemes as they hope to get in the initial construction of them. A great deal appears in the Bill about the responsibility which will fall upon certain private owners. Admittedly, their financial contribution to any new scheme is limited to the extent to which their land may be increased in value. But there is no such safeguard in regard to maintenance. I consider that the provision which gives authorities power to compel maintenance work to be done by a private owner will be found to be unworkable. The ownership of land fronting on the sea is by no means always vested in well-placed landowners or bodies with some resources. Often the land is owned by small people. So far as the Bill purports to obtain any great contribution from people like that, its provisions will become impracticable. There are two further points I wish to discuss. One concerns a Clause which I should like to see deleted from the Bill and the other concerns a Clause which I should like to see inserted. I much regret the inclusion of Clause 29 which gives the Minister such sweeping powers to override the provisions of local Acts of Parliament. There is a wide issue involved here. We should take our stand as the House of Commons against conferring upon the Minister such wide powers. There has already been an examination into this kind of Clause, by a committee which reported in 1932, and it was very seriously condemned. It is most unsatisfactory that measures contained in a local Act of Parliament, especially protective measures of great consequence to many people, can be abrogated by the action of the Minister. I hope that there will be fresh thought upon this matter. There is also an omission which is rather unfortunate. I refer to the omission of any reference to any machinery for the long-term study of this problem from the scientific and engineering point of view. In the findings of the Royal Commission in 1911, the one recom- mendation—I speak from memory—which they regarded as urgent, out of all the matters they discussed, was that the study of coast erosion ought to be dealt with quickly by the setting up of a body to examine the causes. I do not wish to detain the House by enlarging upon that point, but it is well known that there are many contributory causes of erosion. They are by no means confined to the more spectacular consequences of strong winds and high tides. At the other extreme, for example, it is thought that minute animals on the sea bed may play their part in the eating away of the defences which are built at such great cost. There is also the question of the drift of the tides, and I think I am right in saying that the only Government body which has any great knowledge upon the movement of sandbanks, especially those some way out, is the Admiralty. I should like to have seen something in the Bill—and if it cannot be dealt with in the Bill I hope the Minister will be able to see that this action is taken inside his Department—whereby some body could be set up in order that this problem with all its technicalities and perplexities might be studied from time to time and the benefit of the resultant conclusions made available to the many authorities who will now have direct responsibility cast upon them. I end as I began, by repeating that this Bill is one which we welcome. It would be quite inconsistent for those of us who have worked upon this problem for some time past, and who have a very direct interest in it on behalf of our constituents, not to be quite open and frank in our appreciation of the fact that this Bill has been brought forward at a time when there are very many other matters of great moment to be considered. Even so, we feel that the Bill is not quite so good as it looks and perhaps we may be able to render some assistance in the Committee stage in remedying its rather serious defects.
I must say at once that I join with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) in paying tribute to the Minister for promoting this Bill at the present time. Those of us who have agitated from time to time, who have had personal words with the Minister and have made ourselves a confounded nuisance, feel that we have now reaped our reward, and particularly are we grateful that the Minister at this time, when the manpower situation is grave, has softened his heart sufficiently to introduce this Bill. I speak with some difficulty because I feel rather like a husband who has received a present of a tie from his wife. When he does not like the tie because of its design or colour he has the rather delicate task of saying to his wife, "Thank you very much, my dear, but, really, I think we ought to change it."The local authorities in my constituency are also very grateful to the Minister, but at the same time we disagree with much in the Bill. During the Committee stage I hope the Bill will be altered in certain details. Where we disagree mostly with the Minister in the overall picture is that coast protection is not to be a national charge; we feel that the local authorities will be called upon to provide a large amount of money in contributions. One can best give illustrations from one's own experience within one's own constituency. In the local authorities in the Withernsea and Hornsea urban district councils and the Bridlington and Holderness rural district councils the approximate amount of money which can be obtained from a ld. rate is £100. At a meeting which I convened of all the local authorities and people concerned with coast erosion we established the fact from works which had been carried out and also tenders which had been received, that the average cost of work on the East Yorkshire coast would be as much as £50,000 a mile. The other figure which I gave, which is a typical figure for these local authorities, was that they raise only £100 by a 1d. rate. Even if the Minister agrees to pay, as he suggests, an average of 50 per cent. by way of grants—and that is an average figure—many local authorities must be called upon to pay a very considerable contribution. That seems to me to be entirely wrong.
I assume the hon. Member realises that in many cases—not always, but in many cases—the expenditure is revenue-producing.
In certain seaside towns there are certain amenities in coastal protective works. I appreciate that fact. When I talk of coastal pro- tective works, however, I do not include the cost of capital works such as building a promenade. The figure of £50,000 a mile was a figure of pure protective works and, of course, did not include building a promenade like that at Blackpool or Bridlington or any other seaside town. In any case, there will be a very considerable amount of expenditure which in this Bill will have to be levied against the local authority. The Government to a great extent are pledged to nationalisation, but on this occasion they have cold feet. We have supported them sometimes on the question of nationalisation; on other occasions we have not supported them. Here we would support them 100 per cent.In a rather poetical allusion at the end of his speech the Parliamentary Secretary drew an analogy between the attack by human beings on our sea coast which called for united defence and the need in this case for a protection of our coast from the attack of the sea. That is a very appropriate allusion, but, having used that, why is it that in times of war, when there was an attack by a foreign Power, we organised our defences on a national scale, while here, where we have the invasion going on the whole time, we fight shy of calling upon all authorities, all the people throughout the country, for a contribution towards this sea defence?
I do not want to keep on interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I believe his party were somewhat interested at the time of the 1911 Royal Commission, which certainly reported against any form of national charge.
Of course, the Liberal Party advance with the times, in contrast with many other parties. We are living in a different age, some 35 years later, than that time, and now and always we hope to be in the vanguard of thought. I hope the Minister will reply to the inquiry made by my own local authority of Bridlington which has a special problem. I mention this as there are other hon. Members who may find the same problem in their constituencies. I want to know the Minister's interpretation of the definition in Clause 47 of the word "Protection." It states that it means:
At Bridlington we have a special problem on part of the sea coast, on the cliffs, where the erosion takes place as the result of rainfall which seeps through the surface soil, penetrates into the crevices of the rock and then causes a fall of sea coast from the top of the cliff on to the seashore, from where, of course, it is removed by the sea. Would that type of erosion come within the term "Protection"? In other words, I should like to know whether Bridlington Corporation may consider this as erosion under the terms of this Bill and go forward with major work, which would probably mean placing a concrete wall in the soil to prevent this drainage from the top soil draining towards the surface of the cliffs? That is, of course, a very special problem, and I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that specific point when he replies to the Debate. I hope that during the Committee stage we may be given a little more help in the way of grants to local authorities for the maintenance of protective works. I was not satisfied, I must confess, with the reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary, who did refer to this matter. This question of repairs can be a major one. Who is to interpret to what extent damage to the sea coast and protective works comes into the category of repairs, and whether it is work of repair or new work? In many cases it will be cheaper, instead of repairing the old works, to build completely new works. I do not want the local authorities, particularly the weaker ones, to have to find large sums of money towards the considerable cost of this maintenance. I am very disappointed with the figure that the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned of £1 million. He stated that it was hoped in the first year to build coast protective works to the extent of £1 million, or to make a grant of £500,000 towards the cost of protective works. This is a very small amount, and will mean that probably only 20 miles of our sea coast will be treated. There is a much greater need than that. I do hope that he will not refuse to make grants to local authorities on a much greater scale, and I do hope that the local authorities will go forward quickly in perfecting their own plans for this coast protection work. I do not want to speak long because I understand that a very large percentage of the Liberal Party are anxious to speak ha this Debate. But, for the benefit of those who, perhaps, do not appreciate the difficulty that local authorities are experiencing on that part of the Yorkshire coast in which I take a very special interest, I would say that coast erosion is going on at a very quick rate—in some cases at the rate of 15 feet per annum. What is more, the local authorities in many cases have not been able to do more than defend small sections of coast. Consequently, at Hornsea, to give one instance, although a considerable amount of money has been spent on coast protection, the sea is eroding on.a greater scale than ever before, and sweeping round the ends of the present works, and if something is not done quickly, that part of the coast will be completely submerged, and the money that has been spent on its defence will have been wasted. We have heard many poetical allusions in the speeches so far made in this Debate. This is a subject which lends itself to such allusions. In my part of the country we have actually lost many villages in the last 100 years. I saw a map—a very interesting map—the other day which set out the villages that had been lost, and I understand that from one of those which have been submerged, at certain times, when the tide and wind are in a certain direction, one may yet hear the old church bell ringing. If it rings in future it will sound a message of grateful thanks to the Minister of Health for at this time bringing in this very important Measure."Protection against erosion or encroachment by the sea."
I should like to support many of the things said by the hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth). I should also like to support the general line taken on the Bill by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). I do not want to go, as he did, into the question of whether the Minister of Health is the proper Minister—or whether that right hon. Gentleman could ever be a proper Minister—but I am glad that a Minister has been made responsible. What I particularly want to discuss is the question of North Wales, as I am sure other hon. Members will certainly want to later. There is in North Wales a particularly hard problem. The poet talks of
"The moving waters at their priestlike task
In that task they produce some odd results, because what they do is, pick up bits of land from some places and dump them down in other places. That is what appears to be happening in North Wales. The ground is being picked up, and dumped down in other places, particularly along the shores of the Wirral. Our problem is hard because we have a sparse population, and a mountainous country, land because very great expense is involved. I think it is true to say that in North Wales we are a jump ahead in the question of co-operation. There was formed in North Wales in 1945 the North Wales Coast Erosion and Sea Defence Joint Committee, which is not at all unlike the joint committees which are to be set up under Clause 3 of the Bill. As I gay, we are suffering great damage and difficulty in North Wales, and certainly in my constituency the whole shape of the coast looks different from what it was when I was a boy. Not only that, but we have suffered great damage, and are suffering it every time there is a high tide or a storm. In Rhyl, about which I want to speak first, in the recent storm very great damage was suffered, and many hundreds of people living there saw the sea come into their houses. In Rhyl they are faced with an expenditure of something like £167,000, and a penny rate produces £700. In Prestatyn the case is even worse. There an expenditure of between £100,000 and £150,000 has to be undertaken, and a penny rate produces only £305. In Rhyl about 80 acres have been lost; in Prestatyn about 10 acres have so far been lost; but in both cases there is a danger of the sea's breaking in and of much larger acreages being lost in the near future. I believe that the worst case of all is at Barmouth, but I shall not enlarge upon that because the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) is here, and it is in his constituency. I would like to suggest, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), that more of this should be a national charge. I give these reasons: first, as has been said by all who have spoken on this subject, the sea is analogous to a foreign enemy, so far as repelling its invasion goes. Secondly, very great anomalies arise. Many people in Wales live on mountain sides. They may say that they are not very likely to be washed away by the sea but they are to be subject to very high costs in order to keep back the sea. Why should they be charged when others further inland are not? Third, the loss of land is important in an overcrcwded country such as ours. Fourth—and I think this is very important—if a council is faced with very high expenditure for protection against the ravages of the sea, the natural result is that they tend to delay the necessary work. They say, "The cost is too great; we cannot face it. Perhaps things are not so bad as all that. Perhaps we had better wait." The consequence is that nothing is done, and the damage increases.Of pure ablution round earth's human shores."
The hon. Gentleman is now talking about Tory controlled councils.
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should say that; it is an offensive remark, quite uncalled for, and without any relevance whatever to what I have been saying. I say that any council which is faced with very large expenditure which it cannot meet without incurring a very substantial rise in rates will think twice before incurring it, and rightly, too. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that everybody takes the same line as so many of his hon. Friends behind him do, that it does not matter how much money is spent, because, sooner or later—
The hon. Gentleman said that money ought to have been spent on this work but that certain councils, because of the burden imposed upon their ratepayers, would not do it. He believes the Government should step in and meet all the cost of the work, instead of the ratepayers making a contribution. That is why I said he was obviously talking about Tory controlled councils, which have-done nothing during the many years they have been in power.
Small local authorities, faced with enormous charges relative to their population and rateable value, have, without any assurance of substantial Government help, tended to delay the work, and the result has been that a greater charge has ultimately been incurred. That is a reason why there should be an assurance of substantial Government help.Fifth, there is this point, affecting roads and railways, particularly classified roads, in my constituency which are threatened by damage from coast erosion. The greatest possible difficulty has been found in inducing the relevant Ministries to help in any way at all with the charges that are being incurred. Last, these charges are crippling not only to the councils but, under Clause 7, may be crippling to many owners of small bungalows who incur a coast protection charge. Clause 19—the Clause under which Government assistance may be given—is unsatisfactory, because it is so vague. Under Clause 27, the Minister has the over-riding power to make councils do the work if they are held to have defaulted in their duty. But he himself is not pinned down w do anything at all. The Parliamentary Secretary, when introducing the Bill, said there could be no fixed charge on the Minister for obvious reasons but, as other people do when they use the phrase "for obvious reasons," he did not define those reasons. Very strong pressure has been brought to bear in favour of the view that the whole of this charge should be a national charge. I, personally, would not say that the whole of it should be such a charge; I think it would be asking a great deal of the Minister to make the whole of it a national charge. I should, however, like to see the great bulk of it made a national charge. The Minister mentioned Seaford and other places where 75 per cent. of all the works had been a national charge. What I should like to see is Clause 19 being made to provide that 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. shall be the minimum charge to the Minister, so that he can still pay the whole amount if it were right that he should do so in view of the poverty of the authority, but cannot in any case pay less than three-quarters of that cost. In other words, he should not pay less than, say, 75 per cent., and in addition the county councils should assist the local council that is faced with having to carry out the actual work. That would be fair and would ensure that the local council carried out the work as economically as possible. I certainly see the objections to the whole amount being paid nationally, but a high minimum is only fair and right. At present the councils are left in an intolerable position, because they do not know where they stand. I hope that during the discussion of the Bill something of this sort will be inserted in it.
This Bill, with the creation of coast protection authorities and the placing on the Exchequer of part of the costs of coast protection, will certainly be welcomed by all sides, although we may differ on details, for instance, as to the amount of the Exchequer grants. I agree with the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) that the Exchequer should not pay the whole of the cost, although I hope that later on the Minister will agree to increase the Exchequer grant above the suggested level of 50 per cent.No one has so far said anything about rivers. I ask for reconsideration of the provisions with regard to certain rivers included in the Fourth Schedule. I wish to refer especially to the north bank of the mouth of the Tyne, which is in my constituency, as an example of perhaps a larger problem. What I have in mind is that the special problem relating to the north bank of the mouth of the Tyne may also arise in connection with other rivers named in the Fourth Schedule. The Bill is limited by the Preamble to
and on page 42 "protection" is defined as meaning"the protection of the coast of Great Britain against erosion and encroachment by the sea."
and "sea" is defined as including"protection against erosion or encroachment by the sea,"
That is all right so far, but the Fourth Schedule excludes certain waters, principally rivers, for the purpose of the definition of "sea." In the Fourth Schedule the whole of the river Tyne is excluded from the seaward ends of the north and south piers. The test which has been applied, in excluding or including the mouths of rivers, appears to be whether or not the cliffs are undercut or subject to undercutting by direct sea action, that is, by the action of the waves. Our contention, with regard to the mouth of the Tyne, is that the cliffs within the piers on the north bank are subject to undercutting by direct sea action, that is, by action of the waves. I know from my personal observations that that is so, as I live there, and frequently visit that part of the river. We contend that the considerable erosion of the north bank of the mouth of the Tyne is the result of direct action of the sea, and not merely of the tides and of the river itself. An interesting point is that the piers were constructed at the end of last century and the rate of erosion has been as great since they were constructed as before, which bears out our case that the erosion is the result of direct sea action. The practical aspect is that part of the cliff on the north bank of the mouth of the Tyne is already protected; but the sea wall will have to be extended before very long, which is possibly going to cost £100,000. What we are asking is that the line of demarcation, as laid down in the Bill, shall be moved westward to the natural mouth of the Tyne, which has its own breakwaters, so that the local authority will have the advantage of the Exchequer grant for these protective works, which must be undertaken on the north bank of the mouth of the river. I understand that there may be objections to this proposal from the Tyne Improvement Commissioners, but the Commissioners are concerned only with anything that affects navigation, for example, where works may affect the currents at the mouth of the river. It would appear that the Tyne Improvement Commissioners are sufficiently protected by Part II of the Bill; if they are not, surely it would be possible to insert in the Bill some provision which would so protect them. I would point out, on the other hand, that the Commissioners would gain if these protective works were carried out, because they would have to spend considerably less money each year on dredging, which is a considerable amount at present. This matter is of great importance to the Borough of Tynemouth, and I have raised it at this stage, instead of waiting until the Committee stage, because it appears to me that other authorities at the mouths of rivers may feel themselves to be in a similar position. In other words, the problem of the mouth of the Tyne may arise in other cases. I ask, therefore, that when the Minister replies we shall not have a flat refusal to this request for reconsideration. If it is not possible for him to agree to a change at this stage—and I appreciate that it may not be possible—then I hope that he will express a willingness to consider Amendments on the Committee stage, because I am sure that such Amendments will be put down. The other alternative is that the Minister might indicate his willingness to use, for the purpose of securing greater flexibility, the powers which he will have under paragraph 113 of the Fourth Schedule. By that paragraph the Minister may, by regulation"the waters of any channel, creek, bay or estuary and of any river so far up that river as the tide flows."
I hope, therefore, that I and other Members who may be similarly concerned will have an indication at the end of the Debate that these matters will be open for consideration on the Committee stage, or that the Minister will use his powers under the Fourth Schedule to secure greater flexibility, and that reconsideration of the Fourth Schedule on the lines that I have suggested will not be completely refused."vary the foregoing provisions of this Schedule either by the inclusion of any waters not for the time being specified therein or by the exclusion of any waters for the time being so specified."
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman) has dealt, quite properly, with a point which is important to her and one which I have no doubt ought to be examined in principle by Ministers at a later stage. I hope that she will understand that I cannot follow her in any further argument so far as the Tyne is concerned. Such damage as the sea is doing to the coast in that area the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would no doubt attribute to the politics of the local authority concerned, to judge by his intervention in this Debate.I am concerned with the wider issues. The first point with which I want to deal is the question of who is to be the responsible authority under the Bill. I put this point shortly, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has already drawn attention to it. Weighing the arguments between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, I think there is a balance in favour of the Ministry of Agriculture. I can see that there is a strong argument in favour of the Ministry of Health, particularly having regard to the fact that certain sections of the coast are urban in character. The one which I represent in this House is urban. The local authorities in those cases are accustomed to dealing directly with the Ministry of Health. Taken all round, however, there is a great preponderance of coastal area which is not urban. I am finally persuaded in this matter by consideration of the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture is also the Ministry of Fisheries and is accustomed to deal with matters affecting the sea, the coast and the ports. In those circumstances, while the arguments tend to be evenly balanced, I think that the Ministry of Agriculture is the preferable body to administer the Bill. We come to the question of the compensation or the responsibility for contribution. I was disappointed when I heard from the Parliamentary Secretary this morning that he envisaged a contribution of something in the nature of 50 per cent. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was not binding himself to any particular amount in any particular case, but that appears to be the level at which contributions will take place. I do not think it is anything like enough. The whole question of contributions in the Bill needs to be recast. It ought to be approached from the angle of the Treasury having the first responsibility, and should provide that up to 100 per cent. will be borne as a national charge. In suitable cases, a contribution would be required back from the local authority. That is the proper approach. I very much endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint (Mr. Birch), which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland did not seem to understand, about the danger that a local authority that has a number of works to choose from, all requiring attention—following from an undoubted tendency in human nature and regardless of the politics of the local authority—will postpone those works which are likely to be very expensive. Coastal works are very expensive. If a local authority feels that it is going to have a very heavy burden up to 50 per cent. of an important coastal work cast upon it, there will be a tendency for it to put the work off as a matter of rather lower priority than other matters which will not be so expensive. That is why I endorse the contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport that substantially this should be a national charge. I quite agree that if we do not always want 100 per cent. national charge, it is difficult to express the matter in the Bill. That is why I suggest the recasting of the Bill in this respect, beginning by making this expense a national charge and then giving the Exchequer the right to recover from the local authority whatever amount is considered to be appropriate in particular cases. That becomes of considerable importance in relation to work now necessary owing to a long lapse of time in which it has been impossible to do the work. That is the major point to which I wish to direct attention. I was disappointed at what the Parliamentary Secretary had to say on this question of maintenance. He made it clear that no contributions would be payable to a local authority in respect of anything which could be described as maintenance. I quite agree with him, as a matter of interpretation of the Bill. That is the position, but that position will have to be amended, and very serious consideration will have to be given to it as a matter of policy.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman proposing that any general maintenance work ought also to be a national charge? If so, it is a very interesting turn in the argument.
I was not suggesting anything so stupid. If the hon. Gentleman had waited he would have found that I was just going to deal with what I am proposing. The hon. Gentleman said that there would be no contribution when repair work had become necessary by reason of lack of maintenance. I am not sure that he appreciates that there is at the moment a great deal of lack of maintenance which should be a national charge because it occurred as the result of the war. That is a point I am now making. I am not dealing with ordinary lack of maintenance, where there is failure or neglect by the local authorities to do work that should be done to keep foreshores in proper condition. There should be no national charge in those circumstances.
Let me develop this argument. If we look at Clause 20, which is the relevant Clause in this matter—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not make any reference to it when he opened the Debate—we shall see that it is an extremely important Clause. It implements the undertaking given on this matter by the Prime Minister in January, 1947. At least, it is apparently intended to implement it. I submit that it fails to do so. The problem with which many coastal areas find themselves faced now, and it is one which is particularly felt in the Borough of Hove, which is in my constituency, is that they have suffered owing to the fact that they were denied access to the foreshore over a long period when the military authorities were in possession of it. However willing they were and however good their intentions were, the local authorities were incapable of getting at the foreshore in order to carry out the necessary works. What the Ministry does not seem to have understood is that the longer we leave work of that kind undone the more accentuated it becomes. If we leave work undone for two successive years, at the end of that time we have more than two years' work to catch up, and if we leave it a third year, the work required is more than for three single years.
Is not that our problem since we have been here?
Like the Joint tinder-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) is trying to introduce politics into this.
I specifically referred to this type of case. With reference to a question put in the House by the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman), I said that we would certainly have to examine the type of case where war circumstances had intervened.
I know. The Parliamentary Secretary will not let me develop my argument. I did not interrupt him on this point when he made a passing reference to it. The Bill is not satisfactory on this point. In his opening remarks, the Parliamentary Secretary said that cases of that kind would receive sympathetic consideration. My point is that unless the Bill is amended he will not be able to do that. That is why I am referring him to Clause 20 which enables the Treasury, in fulfilment of the Prime Minister's undertaking, to make a contribution towards:
That means that where, since the end of the war, an authority has been put to expenditure in doing work, the Treasury may make a grant towards the expenditure involved. One has to consider what is the work to which such a contribution can be made, and that work is "any coast protection work." In Clause 47 "coast protection work" is defined as:"Any expenditure…incurred, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, by the council of a county, county borough or county district in respect of any coast protection work begun since the fourteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-five."
In other words, "for the purpose of the protection of any land" are limiting words which mean that if a local authority is put to the expenditure of doing work which is not for the protection of land but results from damage caused by war occupation and lack of maintenance during the war, the Treasury will not have the power to make the grant which Clause 20 intends should be made."Any work of construction, alteration, improvement, repair, maintenance, demolition or removal for the purpose of the protection of any land."
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I advise him to take the advice of the Law Officers on this. It is an important point. If the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me that he means the Bill to cover the cost of such work and that he will see that the Bill, if it does not have that effect, will be amended to achieve that object, I shall be satisfied, but my interpretation is that it does not have that effect. We cannot let the Bill go through its final stages without seeing that the point is properly safeguarded. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I have been in correspondence with his Ministry about the case of Hove, where great expenditure is involved. The town clerk and I, who have considered the matter together, are not at all happy that the borough will be able to get any contribution under this Clause as it stands.I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make quite sure before the Bill takes its final form that the kind of case where there has been denial of access is covered, and is covered not merely as an ex gratia idea. I had the impression that he was saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby yesterday, "We will look into it and give sympathetic consideration." The difficulty is that if the law does not allow him to make contributions, it is not much good giving sympathetic consideration. I want the Bill put into proper shape so that cases of that kind can be adequately covered. I see that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), whose constituency is, I believe, nearly washed away so that he is almost in danger of becoming a Member for a pocket borough, is anxious to rise, and therefore I will not detain the House much longer. However, closely linked up with this is the question of the amount of the contribution. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, the Parliamentary Secretary said that such cases would be given sympathetic consideration. Presumably that means sympathetic consideration within the bounds of the idea which he had in mind of 50 per cent. or thereabouts. If that is the basic idea throughout the Bill, I suppose the national contribution will be about 50 per cent. and therefore I suppose giving sympathetic consideration might mean giving something like 60 per cent. It is for such cases as that that I particularly want to see the idea of getting much nearer to 100 per cent. contribution incorporated in the Bill, and that can only be done in the way I suggested earlier, by recasting the contribution Clauses so that the principal burden shall fall on the Exchequer and the first step shall be full discharge of liabilities by the Exchequer and a subsequent recovery of such amount as is assessed as being the local authority's reasonable responsibility in its own local interests.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain how that will ensure any larger contribution from the Exchequer than is provided in the Bill, because the amount to be recovered will presumably be variable?
That is entirely a matter of ensuring appropriate wording in the Bill. There is great significance in words in an Act of Parliament, and if we provide that a contribution must be a substantial contribution, anyone assessing compensation will have to give effect to such wording. I do not think there would be any difficulty in devising suit- able words to ensure that the great bulk of the contribution came from the Exchequer.
The Bill which we are now considering is one of those good departmental Measures on which there is such general agreement that we can afford to bicker about details. For that reason I do not propose to join issue with the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) in regard to the question as to who is the appropriate Minister who should be finally responsible for the Bill. In fact, I intended to put the same point myself to the Parliamentary Secretary. But I should like to say how much I appreciate the reasonable manner in which the hon. and learned Member approached that problem. It was so different from the improper gibe made at the Minister of Health by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch).As it has not been done up to now, someone from this side of the House ought to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the able and lucid manner in which he submitted the Measure to the House. In the course of his speech my hon. Friend said that the Minister of Agriculture would be consulted in regard to any appropriate matters arising out of the administration of the Bill. I do not go the whole way with the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, but why should not the two Ministers he associated in the Bill in the same way as they are associated in the River Boards Act? Perhaps, too, it may appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary if I suggest that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should be consulted in regard to work carried out under this Bill. Last year we spent a long time on what is now the River Boards Act. which winds up the catchment boards although they reappear, altered in some measure, as river boards. I well remember an eloquent tribute paid by the Minister of Agriculture to the work of the catchment boards. It is worth repeating the point already made, that the functions of the coast protection authorities or the coast protection boards under this Bill will be largely analogous to those of the catchment boards and internal drainage boards which are now in process of being constituted, under the legis- lation to which I have referred, as the river boards. The functions of catchment boards and of river boards are to protect low-lying lands in their catchment areas against inundation by the sea. Such lands in many cases include (1) large areas of some of the best agricultural land in the country; (2) large industrial and commercial areas; (3) extensive residential areas; (4) docks and harbours; (5) lines of communication such as roads and railways. I put it to my hon. Friend that these are important functions placed upon the river boards, and this Bill ought in no way to detract from those legislative functions already placed upon the river boards; in fact, I would go further and say that it is vital that this proposed legislation should not interfere with the functions of the river boards, particularly in view of the importance of the damage which could be caused to low-lying lands by the sea flooding extensive agricultural and other areas. Perhaps, too, I might make another point in connection with the functions of the river boards. At present they have highly competent staffs, and those staffs will have many important functions to carry out in the future. I suggest that the work which the proposed coast protection boards will do will be similar to and, in fact, may be competing in some instances with the work of the catchment boards. If it had been decided to give this job to the new river boards instead of setting up this new elaborate machinery, expense would have been saved and it would have made for efficiency. I believe that in the set-up in the future, the work will not he left to the county districts or the county borough councils, except in a few instances, and new boards will be set up. These will require technical professional and clerical staffs. What is the position in the local government service at the present time? Owing to the competition of private enterprise and, be it said, also in connection with regional boards, local government officers are resigning because of the higher salaries that are being offered elsewhere. I know from experience that a local authority can advertise time after time for a technical officer and get no application from any competent person. The structure of local government salaries has been undermined by the competition to which I have referred, and salaries will have to be substantially improved in the near future. Does it mean that these proposed new boards for coast protection will enter into competition for the already relatively few people who are qualified to take on this work? Will they try to get their officers from the river boards? Are we to have another scramble so far as salaries are concerned? From my place in this House I have protested from time to time against the transfer of important functions from local authorities to boards. I have said before, and I repeat it again, that there is a tendency for us to become "boarded in" in many directions. It may seem strange that I am asking this afternoon, not for responsibilities to be placed on local authorities, but that I feel that the Ministry ought to be careful at the present time before they place additional technical responsibilities on local authorities for which up to now they have not had the requisite staff nor the experience to carry out those duties. My next point ought to appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary in view of his weekend hiking and other activities, shown by photographs of him in an attractive costume. I am sure he knows that footpath access to the coast and the coastal paths is often quite restricted. The Scott Report, which some of us have not quite forgotten, recommended,
I am sure that that will touch a responsive chord in the heart of the Parliamentary Secretary and I ask him whether he will see that in this legislation effect is given, somehow or other, to the recommendation of the Scott Committee and that something is done to improve the footpath around our coast. My final word concerns local authorities. I know how the chairmen of finance committees of local authorities are worried; if the Bill is carried through in its present form, the setting up of the new coast protection boards will mean another precepting authority on the local authority, a precepting authority over whose expenditure there is no direct local government responsibility. Nothing worries chairmen of finance committees of local authorities more than to be called upon to find money for something over which the councils have no real financial control. I ask the Minister, therefore, to think twice before he introduces another body of that kind into the set-up of local government. We are all agreed on the objects of the Bill. Our only concern is to make it the most workable Measure possible in view of all that is involved."the re-opening of the old 'coastguard's path' as a right of way for walkers around the whole coastline of England and Wales except where existing building or other constructional development…renders this impossible in which case inland detours should be clearly indicated."
In common with almost everyone who has spoken in the Debate, since I first came into this House I have eagerly awaited the introduction of a Bill for coast protection. As a Member for a maritime county, I welcomed the announcement of the Prime Minister in January, 1947, when he told us that the general responsibility for dealing with problems of coast protection would be vested in one particular Ministry and that in the near future a Bill would be introduced to deal with the problem as a whole. Today, so far as this House is concerned, that promise has been fulfilled.It is clear that there is some measure of controversy whether the right Ministry has been selected to carry the responsibility embodied in the Bill. I do not share the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in this respect. Under its terms the implementation of the Bill will be largely in the hands of local authorities or local bodies. I remark also upon the financial aspect, for I feel that the Minister of Health should at least be far more conscious of the great financial problem facing local authorities than would be the Minister of Agriculture. As the main problem in the Bill is one of finance, I prefer the selection which has been made to that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport and the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe).
But the Minister of Agriculture would be much more sympathetic.
I do not know about that. I do not propose to indulge in personalities, but I have memories of the Local Government Act and of the attempt at rate equalisation. This is an old problem. The Parliamentary Secretary found some delight in pointing out a change in the Liberal attitude since 1911. If the Minister were more conversant with his own language he might have turned to the Black Book of Carmarthen, written in the 13th century, for expert guidance on this matter.My concern is this. Will the Bill be implemented, and how much work will be undertaken as a result of its introduction? On this question I am deeply disturbed. Whilst in certain parts of the country it may work well, I have great anxiety that, under the Bill as it now stands, the Welsh coast will become virtually a dead letter. Let me say why. My anxiety springs, first, from the observations of the Parliamentary Secretary; that the responsibility for dealing with this matter should be quite clear and laid fairly and squarely on the shoulders of some particular body. I do not quarrel with that, but does the Bill really do that, and is the Minister satisfied that the body on which the responsibility is placed can carry it out effectively? Ordinarily, the responsibility would be that 'of the protection authority—the urban or rural district council in the area concerned. Leaving aside for a moment the financial aspect which is, of course, linked vitally with this question—I am somewhat doubtful whether some of those bodies, particularly in sparsely populated areas, have the necessary administrative machinery to deal with these problems. Take, for example, one of the protecting authorities which would be constituted in my own area, an urban authority in whose area the production of a 1d. rate is £20. Quite apart from the financial aspect, with which I shall deal presently, an urban authority of that size is not a suitable machine to deal with what might be a very large problem, involving expenditure of huge sums of money in relation to that particular area. The Minister may well refer to Cause 2 and say that this is a matter which can be dealt with by the setting up of coast protection boards. For my part, I should welcome the setting up of those boards in the areas in which I am particularly interested, but I should like something to be said by the Minister—I should prefer to have it incorporated in the Bill—to show quite clearly that if there are areas with problems so great that small local authorities will be in difficulty in facing up to them, the Minister will see that boards are established, and without delay. As many hon. Members have said, this whole problem becomes more and more acute. If we are to have the boards, let the Minister take the necessary action under Clause 2 without any delay. There is an element of uncertainty—uncertainty whether the protection authorities and the Minister can move in this matter; the position of the county council in that respect and in finance,and other matters. There is an atmosphere of airy uncertainty about so many things. The most important aspect is that of finance. Hon. Members have referred time and again, to the burden which is to be placed on the protecting authority under the terms of the Bill if any large measure of coast protection is undertaken. With my authorities it is not a question of burden, but of whether any work will be done, because, unless financial assistance is far more than was envisaged by the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, those authorities will not be able to commence to implement this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the fact that in Caister in a scheme of £400,000 a grant of 75 per cent. would be made.
Perhaps I may correct that. The £400,000 referred to Seaford. The Caister scheme is rather less expensive.
In the case of Seaford, with a scheme of £400,000 the contribution of 75 per cent. may enable Seaford to carry out the scheme without an undue, or intolerable burden being placed on the local authority, but in a case of a local authority, such as those to which I have referred, if the scheme was £200,000 and the product of a penny rate £20, could the local authority ever commence the work? Even if the grant from the Government amounted to 99 per cent. a very stiff burden would be imposed upon the local authority. Another difficulty is in regard to maintenance. Is a local authority, where the product of a penny rate is £20, £30, £100, or £200, to undertake a scheme even if it has a grant? Supposing the initial scheme is for £50,000, or £100,000, the burden of main- tenance would be too much and would deter the local authority from ever commencing the scheme. That is an additional argument for saying that the initial cost and the maintenance should be a national charge. Unless that is the case, some local authorities will not be able to derive any benefit from the Bill.There is an argument of principle for saying that for the basic cost the grant should be 100 per cent. The only argument against that is that undoubtedly there are local authorities which can make substantial contributions towards the cost of their coast protection schemes without an undue burden being incurred by them. It may be said that if such local authorities did not make a contribution the global sum the Government could lay out for coast protection would be affected and the amount would be less for local authorities least able to meet the cost. I can see some sense in that argument, but it has to be recognised that if we are not to place it squarely on the national shoulders and make it a national responsibility, any contribution made by a number of local authorities can hardly be more than a token contribution. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) has given examples, and I could give examples of authorities which, under the Bill, will be coast protection authorities, which certainly cannot go in for any scheme of protection because the cost contribution would be prohibitive, the maintenance would be prohibitive and the administration would be beyond their staffs, unless they had a 100 per cent. contribution, or virtually a 100 per cent. contribution. In those cases it would be a mockery to ask the local authority to contribute some infinitesimal sum as a gesture. It would be far better to lay down quite categorically that the grant should be 100 per cent. It may be that something on the lines suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton by which local authorities which benefit from the work carried out should make some counter payment to the national Exchequer could be adopted, but at present the protecting authorities, particularly in my area, will have to think and think hard before they initiate any scheme under this Bill. I hope that when the Bill comes to the Committee stage we shall have further, better and more helpful particulars relat- ing to the financial aspects of the Measure, so that the Cardiganshire coast may have the full benefit of a Bill which has certainly been introduced in the right spirit and which, if properly amended, can be of great value in the protection of the area I represent.
With some reservations, I wish to support the Second Reading of this Bill for two reasons—first, because I represent a constituency on the East Coast which, for many generations, has suffered increasingly heavy toll from the inroads of the sea, and, secondly, because I had the privilege of introducing into this House, as a Private Member, just 10 years ago, the Coast Protection Bill, which I succeeded in piloting through the House and which became law in July, 1939. Up to that time, very little had been done by the legislature to further coast defence and protection.In 1929, when a Labour Government came into office but not into power, the late Mr. William Graham, President of the Board of Trade, introduced a Coast Protection Bill. It was one of the first Measures introduced by that Labour Government, and the reason why it was one of the first was that it had already been drafted by the previous President of the Board of Trade, Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, now Lord Swinton, and was ready to come before the House as a non-party, non-controversial, Measure. The Bill introduced by Mr. William Graham had the sad fate of being defeated mainly because it placed on the Exchequer and local authorities an undefined financial liability. In that Bill, Clause 3, which did not affect finance, could be taken up in a Private Members' Bill, and the Bill I introduced in 1939 was really Clause 3 of the Bill of 1929. I am sure that if, in 1929, Mr. William Graham had been content to introduce a Bill embodying Clause 3 only, it would have gone through the House and we would have had a certain amount of coast protection from 1929 onwards. As I have said, my Bill became an Act in July, 1939. I know that the Board of Trade, who were then the responsible authority, were ready to act at once, and I believe they did in one case; but, as the House knows, the war came immediately afterwards, and the defence of the coast had to be taken over by the Admiralty for quite a different purpose than coast erosion. Therefore, up to now, nothing has really been done to improve the defence against coast erosion. I am glad, however, to feel that that small Bill of mine which has been on the Statute Book for 10 years, and is now being repealed, has not been lost because, in the main, its provisions have been incorporated in Clause 17 and elsewhere in this Bill. There is one thing which I hope will be reconsidered. I have always felt that coast protection is a national and not a local matter. I can give an example on the East Coast where erosion has taken place, and is taking place, not because of anything which is being done in that particular locality, but because in the next county an alteration has been made in the coast which has changed the whole flow of the tide and which has caused coast erosion in the next more southerly county to the one in which the excavation took place. Under this Bill, the local authority which had no responsibility whatever for such coast erosion—it having been caused by the authority in the more northerly county—would have to pay its share of the burden. Surely, in a sea-girt island like this, the cost of coast erosion should be borne by the whole country and not by the local authorities, even though they are bigger than the one mentioned so appositely by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). That is all I want to say on this particular matter at the moment, but may I, on behalf of my earlier Bill, say to the more comprehensive Bill which the Government have now brought forward, if I may put a well-known quotation into the singular, "Moriturus to saluto."
Everybody who has so far spoken in this Debate has welcomed this Bill. I feel that we ought to congratulate the Government and ourselves on having here a new Measure going on to the Statute Book as a result of the efforts made by some of us at the beginning of this Parliament to bring up this question as a national problem. Now we have the Bill, and it will become law. Let us hope that we shall have a number of Amendments put down in the Committee stage such as those indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) and the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) which, in my estimation, are all very good points and would improve the Bill. Then, presumably, this Bill will become law before 1950, and we shall be carrying out what I have noticed on some hoardings lately when coming to this House—"Labour gets things done." It will certainly have got something done for coast protection before we meet our electors again.I wish to take up one point made by the Opposition. They seemed to dispute the proposal that the Minister in charge should be the Minister of Health. It seems to me, on the structure of the Bill, on our experience of those bodies which have carried out this work so far, and on the character of those who are to carry it out in future, to be obviously a job for the Minister of Health. In any case, if that were not so, it will be recalled that when we first brought up this topic two or three years ago, we asked the Government to nominate a Minister. The Minister nominated was the Minister of Health, and it seems rather late in the day to criticise his nomination. However, I presume that he will carry on, and that we shall now be able to get down to the real facts of this problem. I agree that this is a national problem. The coast belongs to the whole nation. We all get the benefit of it whether we live in an inland town—and there is no inland town more than 100 miles from the coast of this country—or in a coastal town, and I am sure that we should all share in the cost of keeping our coast inviolate. If we follow out the system adumbrated at the moment, I can see a curious situation arising in my constituency in an emergency. We could have an emergency such as that in 1938 or in 1939 along with the kind we had last month when the great gales broke on the East Coast—one set of men defending the coast against nature, which means a big bill for the local council, and another body of men representing the Armed Forces building pillboxes and sandbag emplacements lower down the promenade as a protection against an enemy approaching our shores, in which latter case no question of local finance would be involved; all the necessary expense would be met by the Treasury. It seems to me that the points already brought out in this Debate should convince the Government that this must be a national charge. As we all share the benefits, whether we live in inland or fishing areas, we should not leave the cost to be borne by the localities in the maritime provinces. In the first Debate on this subject, I put forward the suggestion that we might explore what Hitler and the Nazis did when they used the national labour front in Germany on work of reconstruction on the Baltic Coast. I assume that all that work was of a national character and that its cost was borne by the German national exchequer. I also suggested that we might look at the experience of our good neighbours in Holland who rescued their country from the ravages of the sea. Perhaps they have some system which we could either copy or take over and amend, and fit into a system which we could use here. I do not know whether there is any possibility of making up what is lost on one part of the coast from what somebody else gains 'on another. For instance, people living near my constituency who are round about the age of my hon. Friend the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch), tell me that they have seen whole fields disappear on many occasions during their lifetime. We are told that what nature takes away in one place she puts back in another. I believe that at Southport the sea is getting farther and farther away in the direction of New York. Perhaps there is some advantage in that, and, if so, perhaps the people there could pay something to the East Coast from where it set off in the first place. In my view the financial side of the Bill as it stands at present is somewhat weak. There is a great vagueness about the cost which is going to fall on local authorities. We have heard the figure of 50 per cent. mentioned, and also some of the low rateable values of many of these coastal areas. The hon. Member for Cardigan said that one council has a penny rate which brings in £20. It is obvious that that sort of situation is going to arise all round our coast because few of our big towns are on the coast at all. I have heard councillors of all parties grumbling because they had to agree to a certain amount of their rateable value being given to catchment boards, and could see no direct benefit from that to the big inland towns they represented. When we come to the smaller areas, such as my neighbouring constituency of Lowestoft, we are told—as we were this morning—that it will cost £500,000 to put right the damage done in recent years, especially during the war, when what defences we had could not be reached on account of the defences we had against Hitler. There were colossal sums of money which the smaller boroughs and urban district councils had to find. It is true that if these people can avoid taking up these commitments they will avoid them and the coast in general is bound to suffer. It cannot be stressed too strongly that what occurs on one part of the coast may affect some other part, and the reasons for it cannot be traced owing to the vagaries of nature. We may find shipping, fishing and other activities being menaced on account of certain derelictions of an authority on another part of the coast who themselves cannot tackle their problems on account of local finance. I hope therefore that when we get to the Committee stage we shall deal with this matter of financial commitments, and it may be that the Government may be persuaded to adopt some of the suggestions which have been put forward. I am inclined to a view already stated, that as we have these catchment boards in existence, who have done this job for many years, if we set up the new bodies prescribed, we shall have to compete with catchment board staffs in order that they may carry on practically the same job under a new authority. If we can avoid any dislocation and continue to use the present bodies with their vast experience, it seems to me that we should maintain them. That should be linked up, with the question of research as was pointed out in the Royal Commission in 1911. During the war we had some results caused by blast which were similar to results caused by the action of high tides and scourings and so on. We never found out what really happened as the result of blast. We could not trace where it started or why it went in a certain direction, or why, when a bomb burst, the windows in one house were smashed far away from the explosion and the windows of other houses near where the bomb fell were not. We got experts working on the matter straight away and they achieved certain results. We need something similar to deal with the activities of the sea which is stealing away part of our coast, especially on the eastern side of the country. I should like to see some definite provision for research at some institution, like the Government institution for fisheries research at Lowestoft, because this matter is vital to our country. It is linked up with the question of maintenance and finance. These smaller authorities, if they are not encouraged with regard to the question of maintenance, will be very chary about embarking on any scheme of work even if they get all the money they want. We have seen in the first place, how authorities have spent money on getting into being what they thought were capable coast defences. But with abnormally bad weather and abnormally heavy tides like those of last month, work costing thousands of pounds has been found not to be sufficient to prevent damage. I have been impressed by the ease with which certain machinery comes into operation in some of our country districts on the occasion of snow storms. In many big cities the central parts of the city have been cleared of snow, but the outskirts have not been dealt with; but in many country areas which I know the necessary machinery comes into operation like clockwork. That is the kind of machinery we want to tackle the problems which arise in the Spring and Autumn when the gales are heavy and the tides abnormally high. I hope that in districts like Norfolk this kind of machinery will be set up and will be enabled to operate immediately. I hope that it will not be necessary for discussions to take place in London and so forth before any serious menace is tackled which might affect the district round my own town or even my own town itself. As the Member for Yarmouth I give my blessing to this Billl. It is epoch-making in Parliamentary history. We have been faced with this problem since the time of the early Britons, certainly since the time of the Romans, when my constituency arose from the sea as a result of this very erosion. Now we shall be able to set machinery going provided it is given adequate finance, to get rid of the many coast erosion problems which have faced this country since the time of Alfred and Canute.
There were practical points in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) with which I and everyone who represents a coastal area can perfectly well agree. I cannot help commenting on how essentially this Debate today has taken the form of a geographical survey of all the coastal areas. There was one thing which the hon. and gallant Member failed to bring out in his speech—it is also the principal criticism I have to make of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. He gave no indication whatever of the absolute and intense urgency of the problem which we are seeking to solve by this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth indicated that in his view it was a matter of congratulation that the Government, after having been prodded for four years, have at last produced a Bill.
I should like to ask the hon. Member how long hon. Members opposite were prodded over the past 20 or 30 years to get on with this problem?
I will certainly come to that, because there are two sides to the question. Twenty or thirty years ago there was a great difference of opinion as to whether a national scheme with national finance was desirable or not. At the present time there is no possible question that unfortunately it is essential, and that is the whole difference. The hon. Member for Merioneth expressed considerable pleasure at the fact that the undertaking given by the Prime Minister some years ago, that a Bill would be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time could be found for it—
Work has been going on.
Will the hon. Member admit that the promise of the Prime Minister that a Bill would be introduced has been honoured in the sense that the Government have been giving retrospective grants going back to V.J. day, and that they are being paid and have been paid regularly?
Having the power to make grants retrospectively does not give them the power or the ability to put back the coast in my constituency which has been eroded in the meantime.
That is up to the hon. Member's local authority.
No competent authority would act in the matter until they knew their position. I would inform the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) that I have recently tried to find out where we stand. On behalf of one local authority which has a long coastline within the area of my constituency I wrote to the Minister of Health at the beginning of this year, and asked what plan his Department had in connection with that particular area, subject to the passage of the Bill through Parliament. I said, referring to the local authority in question:
The reply I received was that the Ministry was not prepared to do this, but they thought it would be a good plan if the local authority went ahead. I am paraphrasing the remarks of the hon. Gentleman's predecessor in office when he replied to my letter. That left the local authority entirely to carry whatever burden there might be. As the Minister stated in his reply:"They are very anxious indeed to make a start and it appears to be evident under the procedure invisaged in the Bill that considerable time is bound to elapse between the preparation of a scheme and its being put into operation. It would therefore be of great help to them if they could know whether it is intended either that there shall be a coast protection board in their area or a joint committee, or whether they would be in order to proceed in conjunction with their immediate neighbours…in initiating the preparation of a scheme. Any guidance you can let me have would be greatly appreciated.…"
He thought:"We have no preconceived ideas about setting up boards or joint committees."
In other words, apparently the Government have no plan whatever. For the hon. Gentleman to say that two years have been spent in preparing the ground for this work is a statement which I certainly cannot gainsay, but I will state that there is so far no evidence whatever of the results of their labours."They will lose nothing by proceeding to plan their action in conjunction with their immediate neighbours."
Is it not a fact that many scheme have been initiated by local authorities and that they have been conducted with State money during the last two or three years?
That is as may be, but those authorities evidently have been more fortunate in the replies they have been able to obtain and the assurances they have been able to get from the Minister than have the authorities in my constituency.Considerable reference has been made to the desirability of the procedure under this Bill being under the auspices and authority of the Ministry of Health. I share the view that it would have been more desirable for the matter to have come under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture. I regret very much that the Minister is not in the Chamber at the moment. I hope that he will intervene in this Debate and express his view. He has the opportunity to make a substantial personal contribution to relieve the fears and anxieties held by many of the authorities and individuals concerned about the operation of this Bill by showing that they will receive a really sympathetic and understanding reply from him provided that he remains the effective Minister when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. I hope that he will take the opportunity to make an intervention which will give that feeling of relief to the anxiety felt by many of those concerned. I would remind him that there is still a substantial amount of doubt whether it is desirable to have a national scheme. I do not think that anybody doubts that, unfortunately, it is essential. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have pointed out that problems of coast erosion are essentially local. What may be an effective guard against erosion in one area may be completely devastating in an area adjacent to it. What may be an effective guard in one area may, as was indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary throw a greater strain on the coast defences of adjacent areas. A great deal of local knowledge and experience of the customs of tides and weather must be taken into account in planning effective coast defences. That gives rise to the feeling of doubt whether or not a national scheme is desirable. That is all the more reason why the local people, who in any event will have to implement this scheme by their knowledge and experience, should have the assurance that they will not be overridden by the Minister in all matters. We know from perusal of this Bill that despite the amount of verbiage contained in its 55 pages, despite the various duties thrown upon the different local authorities and the boards which they may constitute, ultimately the whole power for the carrying out of the scheme is in the hands of the Minister. In the end, the Minister can upset, override and order all these local authorities if he so desires. Unless the authorities and the local people concerned have reason to be assured that the reception of their needs will be on a sympathetic and understanding basis, they are unlikely to be able to build a scheme under the terms of the Bill into a satisfactory form of coast protection. I wish to discuss one other matter which has already been mentioned. I refer to the question of finances. The whole ultimate power in this Bill is in the Government. Therefore, I maintain that the whole ultimate payment for these measures should be by the Government. It is most difficult to understand the logic for this county burden which it is proposed to put upon the local county authorities. An hon. Member speaking from below the Gangway did me the honour to make a reference to part of my constituency. I should like to follow him, to go into rather greater detail and to give one or two figures. I refer to that part of Sussex which is known as the Hundred of Manhood and which contains the Selsey peninsula. Selsey is a very ancient part of England historically. It is one of the most historic parts of the country. In the very old days it was an island. But when hon. Gentlemen opposite indicate that little was done about coast protection until after the last war, I must remind them that, as the result of the endeavours of the then local representatives and the local authorities, such coast protection was carried out that Selsey was linked up to the mainland. Although we have had considerable fears about it recently. it is still a part of the mainland of England.
It was local authorities who were concerned.
It was before the days of the present local authorities. The point I wish to put is that, notwithstanding the efforts which have been made to protect the coast there, it is disappearing. One might quite literally and accurately say that it is being liquidated at the rate of 25 feet a year. We are losing to the sea fully an acre of ground a year just in that one narrow small strip of territory. That puts us in great difficulty. The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth)—I seem to be referring to most of the Liberals today—talked about Bridlington. He said that in order to carry out a scheme such as was necessary on the coast there, they were being saddled with an expense of £50,000 for each mile. The territory there was only receding at a rate of 15 feet a year. Our recession is at the rate of 25 feet a year. At the rate which he quoted, £50,000 a mile, it costs £10 for each foot. The cost of effective coast protection in the Selsey area is between £20 and £25 a foot if the job is to be properly done. Selsey is a parish in a large rural district area. It will be impossible for that area to find any substantial part of the cost of the necessary coast protection.It is vital that it should be protected because the Selsey peninsula is itself a protection for other parts of the coast, and the more the Selsey peninsula is washed away, the greater is the devastation caused on other parts of the adjacent coasts as a result of the erosion caused by the further inroads of the sea. Why should not the cost be borne by other areas of the country, rather than by the actual county which is concerned? The county runs up to the Haslemere border. People from within the county come down to Selsey and enjoy the seaside relaxation which they can obtain there, but so do the people from Haslemere, which is just over the county boundary. People within the West Sussex county boundary have a Haslemere post office address, shop in Haslemere, use Haslemere for all normal purposes, but if they happen to reside in Haslemere they will not have to contribute to the additional cost of protecting the sea coast in the Sussex area. It is ridiculous. If one were to take an actual figure, which it is not possible for me to do at the present time—and I say this after due consideration and with conviction—I believe it would be found that a greater number of man-hours spent in what we call the Hundred of Manhood and the Selsey peninsula are spent by visitors from the Midlands, rather than by the local residents or residents in the county. If these people come to the sea coast and enjoy their holidays, benefit from the relaxation and the recreation and from the good health which they gain by their holidays on the coast, why should they not equally be responsible for contributing towards the cost of the maintenance of that area where they enjoyed themselves and from which they benefited? This principle of throwing the whole of the additional weight of finance, over and above the Exchequer grant, whatever it may be, upon the county areas, is quite indefensible and completely illogical. There is another angle of finance to which I wish to refer, and it arises out of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary said that one of the factors which would be taken into account in assessing the amount of the Exchequer contribution towards any work which would be done would be the effect which the total cost would have upon the local rates. I am not seeking to quote him exactly. The point I wish to make is that that indicates that the more efficient a local authority has been in the past, the more thrifty it has been and, consequently, the lower rated the inhabitants of that area are, the greater will be the proportion which they bear of this cost, which should be completely a national charge. It is not fair to accept such a basis of assessment for the Exchequer grant if, as is bound to be the case, it will penalise the efficient and the thrifty local authority. If any authorities should be penalised it should be those—if there may be some; I do not know of any in my area—which are thriftless and which hitherto have failed to manage their affairs with economy and efficiency. Turning to the question of maintenance, I must say that I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary who has not had very long, by comparison with the time we have had, to study these problems while in his present office, can have appreciated how much is involved in the question of maintenance. It cannot be carried out without assistance. We must have some central assistance in maintenance or we shall have the sort of thing as that from which we are suffering now. In one part of the sea coast in which I am interested military operations took' place during the war which not only prevented the maintenance of the sea defences but also actively removed them. At the expiration of the war a claim was made on the War Office. The War Office accepted the claim and did works which they claimed, made good the damage. The old works which had been removed were groynes which had been sunk in concrete in the foreshore properly faced. They formed a very solid structure, indeed; the structure had lasted for a great many years and no doubt could have been expected, with proper maintenance, to continue for a great many more years. When they came to make good the job, the War Department did not reinstate the same type of defences but merely drove wooden piles of the same size into the sand. Four years later they have already been scoured out and washed away and the sea has come in behind the defences. If the coast protection authorities are forced into cheap schemes of maintenance it will not be satisfactory in the long run and it is, therefore, essential that the Exchequer should contribute towards maintenance as well as towards other matters. I impress upon the Government the urgency in this matter. I have here a letter which goes back some months, as do all these letters—and I have here a considerable correspondence on this subject extending over the past four years. I do not propose to ask your permission to read this correspondence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I think it may be of interest to the House to realise what people have to put up with, so I will read this letter from one of the municipal electors' associations of the parish of Pagham. It says:
—and I think hon. Members know well what happens on those occasions, and I need not tell them what happened here. The letter continues:"We are very seriously exercised about the fact that, slowly but surely, the defences against the sea existing at Pagham Harbour are breaking up, so that now residents here have perforce to watch the tides with the greatest possible care and anxiety in case they should be inundated by the sea. We have written to the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries—"
That is one letter from one association, and I have many letters. I beg the Government to realise that if they proceed along the lines indicated in the Bill it is clearly impossible to fix a date when anything will be accomplished. The Bill is full of powers of objection, rights of appeal, and many other detailed incidentals into which I do not wish to go now, but which obviously can hold up action indefinitely. Unless the Government are prepared to act in a far more effective way and give the local authorities and the people responsible the clear green light to go ahead and to say that they will accept responsibility for the financial outlay which is involved, the results of this Bill, which we all want to see effective, will be rendered entirely nugatory."You are doubtless aware that Selsey Bill, which is our natural defence from the West, is gradually being eaten away, and when I tell you that we have had to mount beach guards at every high tide, you will realise how very serious the matter is. If the sea defences at Pagham Harbour are breached the whole of the back lands at Pagham will be inundated to a depth varying from two feet to six feet, which means that 200 families live in dire peril at each high tide…I believe you know that. I am Chairman of this Association…and I write with a full sense of responsibility when I tell you that this matter is one of the greatest possible urgency."
I want to speak for two minutes only, if I can manage to tell my short story in that time. I am very concerned about the situation that exists at Buckhaven, and I should like the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to advise me about what can be done to help the Methil and Buckhaven local authority.On the foreshore of Buckhaven there was a reef of rugged rock. Superimposed on it was a sea wall. Behind that there was a harbour from which small fishing vessels and pleasure craft went sailing into the Forth. Behind the harbour was a bay with a beach of lovely golden sand, an ideal place for fishermen and for holiday makers. Then a mile or so up the coast, at the Wellesley pit there started the piling up of a redd bing. It got nearer and nearer the shore, at high tide the redd was washed along to Buckhaven, and now it is impossible to see the rocks. To get at the rock one would have to dig through three or four feet of redd. In the old days the heavy seas were broken by the rocks, but the rocks are now covered over and smooth, and there is no effective resistance to the seas, so the sea wall has been broken down bit by bit. As for the harbour, one can walk across any part of it. On the beach the sands can no more be seen. There has always been talk of getting that harbour clear. If, under this Bill, that job is undertaken, the Government will bear 50 per cent. of the cost. The National Coal Board must be responsible for moving the redd bing. But for the clearing of the harbour, will the National Coal Board or the local authority be responsible for the restoration? I hope the Under-Secretary of State will make a clear and definite statement on this matter, because it is one that has been concerning the Methil and Buckhaven local authority for many years.
Notwithstanding all the criticism that may be levelled against this Bill we should not forget the fact that the Bill represents a great advance on any previous Measure of the kind, and, therefore, it must be welcome. I think the most effective way of administering the Bill will be by setting up joint coast protection boards under Clause 2. I do not think the coast can he protected by local authorities working upon only small portions of the coast. The work is far more likely to be effective, and competent staff are more likely to be employed, if the Minister sets up joint coast protection boards without delay.As the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) said, in North Wales we have gone ahead and set up a joint committee, and we have gone as far as this, that at the moment we are preparing a survey of the whole coast. That is the only way to proceed, because work on one small strip of the coast only may react adversely on another small part of the coast. I think that the joint boards should include representatives of the old catchment boards, which have been doing the pioneer work, particularly in the rural areas. A word about finance. Every hon. Member who has spoken in the Debate has taken the view that the work of coast protection should primarily be a national charge. Every hon. Member has said that, except, of course, the Parliamentary Secretary. As I understand his argument, the only reason against its being considered a national charge is that in many cases the work will be to the advantage of particular places. That is an understandable argument, but I think the answer to it has already been made in the Debate, and that is, that the bias should be in favour of a national charge, and that if in any particular case there is a local advantage, it should be assessed, and a contribution made accordingly by the local authority concerned strictly on the basis of the local advantage. There is one respect in which I should like to see an Amendment to the Bill, and I hope that at a later stage an Amendment will be accepted. A satisfactory feature of the Bill is, that it enables the Minister to make grants in respect of expenditure incurred before the commencement of the Act provided that the work was done after 14th August, 1945. We have heard much in the Debate about two kinds of local authorities, those that have done nothing except let matters drift, and others that have gone ahead. There are local authorities that have gone ahead in spite of having but very low financial resources. There is one in my constituency, which, I think, having regard to its inadequate financial resources, has carried out proportionately what is, perhaps, the biggest sea defence work of any carried out in recent years. I say in proportion to its resources. I refer to Barmouth, a small town of about 2,000 population on the Merioneth coast, with a penny rate that produces only about £60, and a rateable value of only £15,000. That small town since 1930 has spent over £174,000 on sea defence. The bulk of that work was carried out between 1931 and 1934. That is a very large and enormous sum for a town with a penny rate producing £60. They did not want to do all that work at once. They thought they would tackle a scheme costing £20,000 and, then later another scheme costing £20,000, but it was a time of unemployment, and they were encouraged to go on by the Unemployment Grant and Local Legislation Committees, and they carried out a complete scheme. In the middle of it, after 16 months, a violent storm in a single night destroyed 16 months' work. That fact indicates how violent is the sea in that part of the world. All the work was approved and Barmouth received 75 per cent. of the loan charges during the first 15 years, but during the second 15 years only 37½ per cent. The loan charges in respect of this work are still running they will involve to the local authority a cost of £6,000 every year for the next ten years. At the moment the proportion of their rate applicable to past work of coast protection is 9s. 7d. in the £, which means that this small town, which is almost wholly dependent on the tourist trade, has a rate of 32s. in the £. There may be other cases of that description. I am not asking the Minister in such cases to reopen the position as regards the past so as to enable such towns to recover from the Exchequer what they have already paid out, but where, however, there is in future a continuing liability in respect of such past work, and where that continuing liability causes hardship, the Minister should be empowered to make a grant under the Bill. Otherwise, local authorities which have gone ahead will be penalised and benefit will only be conferred on the local authorities who have done little or nothing. Subject to that—and I see nothing in the Financial Resolution which would preclude amendment of the Bill in that respect—I desire to support the Bill. A measure of this kind is absolutely vital in North Wales, especially on the west coast, where poor local authorities are now spending money entirely out of proportion to their resources, in order to defend their land against the sea.
We have heard so much about the grievances of Wales in this Debate that it should not be thought that Scotland has no view of her own. The Debate opened with a complaint by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) about the absence of Ministers from the Treasury Bench. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman came in, saw and vanished; he threw a brick, but he did not listen to the Debate for two minutes, and that being so, I suggest it is rather hard that the defence of the coast of Scotland should be left to me.
Do not worry; I am coming along.
The hon. Gentleman is not a Conservative. Exactly where his spiritual home is I do not know. My complaint is that we have not heard enough about the Admiralty's attitude in this matter. Somebody representing the Admiralty should have been here to listen to the Debate. The Parliamentary Secretary very rightly said that the defence of the coast against the sea was just as important as defence against a possible enemy. I endorse that; I believe that the sea is a greater enemy to the coast of Scotland than the Russians can possibly be. If the Admiralty had had a responsibility in this matter there would have been a greater chance of getting money out of the Treasury than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will ever have.When the Bill was introduced we were told that coast protection schemes will cost between £250,000 and £1 million a year for some years. The Parliamentary Secretary put the figure at £1 million. This is only a small fraction of the £190 million we are spending this year on the Navy; 0.5 per cent. to be spent fighting the sea is a ridiculous sum when we consider the far greater amount of money involved in the problematical defence of our island against a possible enemy. The Bill is an excellent Bill, provided its operations can be put into effect. It is when its provisions come to be carried out that the trouble will arise. Clause 20 (1) says:
I have heard no one protest that the Treasury are not represented here today because, after the statement made by the Chancellor yesterday about future Supplementary Estimates, I regard the Treasury as enemy Number 1. If the Under-Secretary for Scotland asks for a Supplementary Estimate after what has been said by the Chancellor, there will be the strongest possible opposition from the Exchequer, and it will need all the authority of this House to insist that the financial obligations incurred under the Bill shall be met. A million pounds a year certainly will not meet the expenditure required for coast protection. I am not making any extravagant claims for Scotland but, considering the bays and inlets, the coast-line of the west coast of Scotland is six times that of England. I am not asking that six times the amount of money for England should be granted to Scotland, but even in Scotland we need far more than £1 million a year if our coasts are to be adequately protected. We need a very large sum on the west coast. In my constituency we are anxious to obtain the necessary financial assistance to enable us to proceed with the protection of our harbours. There are two small fishing harbours in my constituency, and when I hear that £400,000 has been spent on coast works at Caister, I wonder where our money is coming from. I am not suggesting that we should get 100 per cent. We are very modest in our demands. The little fishing village of Maidens, in my constituency, has already secured £3,000 to £4,000 per annum by way of contributions from fishermen, at the rate of 2d. per basket of herring landed at the port. Harbours on the west coast of Scotland need to be protected. They become silted up, and the small fishing fleets, which are absolutely indispensable to the fishing industry, especially in these days of meat shortage, are seriously handicapped through this encroachment upon the harbours."Subject to such conditions as the Treasury may determine the Minister may make grants towards any expenditure"—
That has nothing to do with this Bill.
It certainly has. We are dependent on this Bill for the protection of our harbours. Sand has silted them up, and when proposals have been put to the Government we have been told, "We cannot possibly encourage capital expenditure, but we will send you the dredger." The result is that this miserable dredger has been going from small harbour to small harbour on the east and west coasts. It no sooner gets to work than it has to go round to the east coast on some other urgent job. The dredger is simply tinkering with the problem. We are not asking for a 100 per cent. grant, because we are prepared to meet our local obligations. We are entitled, however, to some national consideration owing to the fact that fishing has become so vital to the country's economy.
Surely this question of the silting up of harbours does not come under this Bill?
I have just been looking at the Bill myself. The hon. Member is going a little too far. The Bill deals with coast erosion and not with the silting up of harbours.
I understand that the silting up of harbours comes under this question of coast erosion. This is not a coast erosion Bill but a Bill for the defence of the coast against encroachment.
Further to that point of Order. Is it not the case that if harbours get silted up there is a greater opportunity of coast erosion because it is more likely that the water will eat into the shore?
These will seem rather fine points to my constituency which is vitally affected. I have gone through the process of questioning the Secretary of State for Scotland about financial grants to towns like Girvan. Girvan is entitled to the same treatment as Caister. I am not asking for more favourable treatment, but for equal treatment as far as our little harbours are concerned.
I intervene only to explain that there is no question of Caister having received any preferential treatment. Had the sea broken in, a large area of East Anglia would have been inundated. It was a most urgent and exceptional case that deserved the kind of treatment given.
I am not begrudging the money that has gone to Caister. All I am saying is that Girvan and the Maidens are equally important and should also receive favourable consideration.This excellent Bill has had to wait until we got a Labour Government, and its purposes will be paralysed if we have to come up against the Treasury's everlasting "no." Not only is there the question of money, but there is also the question of labour. As I have pointed out, we are asking for only 0.5 per cent. for this defence as against the other kind of defence. It comes down to the question of labour. How shall we get the necessary labour to protect the harbours? I can foresee that we shall be short of labour and material, and that we shall have to go into the whole question of how to get that labour. That is the problem that will prevent the construction work. I hope that the Bill will go through Committee and will strengthen the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Ministry of Health to take a strong line towards the Treasury. If there is opposition by the Treasury, and if the Treasury say: "No, you cannot have Supplementary Estimates for this work," I hope that the House will take the strongest possible line so that the Minister can go forward with the work of necessary reconstruction.
I do not propose to follow in any detail the remarks of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I appreciate that in a Debate of this kind it is very natural for hon. Members to develop an inclination to be parochial and to deal with the problems of their constituencies. Much has been heard of the problems of Wales. One generally regards coast erosion as connected with the East and South coasts. We have a unique erosion problem, which is a matter of the greatest concern to all the authorities. One may wonder why it happens, but when we have sea with the Irish on one side of it and the Welsh on the other, there is bound to be trouble of one sort or another.One should fully realise, moreover, that over the whole surface of the world the sea is winning the battle against the land in the proportion of three to one. None of us will be here to see the outcome of the battle. Probably mankind will not be going back to Methuselah but going back to Noah. We welcome the Bill as our national attempt to see that Noah does not appear in our midst. We all welcome the Bill, but we have doubts about the efficacy of the proposed contribution. The County Councils' Association have strongly advocated a 100 per cent. contribution for coast defence work. There are parts of the Bill with which one will be able to deal in detail in Committee, but I would point out that Clause 19 (1) seems to make the sums which the county councils have to pay simply obligatory, whereas in the next Clause the contributions payable by the Minister are purely permissive. The Committee ought to examine that point closely. There is no mention in the Bill of a contribution by the Land Development Commissioners. Following upon the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, it is fair to assume that the building of protective works against the sea will constitute an amenity value which will improve the value of the land and in respect of which the Commission ought to be asked to contribute towards the costs. Finally, I would refer, with a certain amount of distaste, to the provisions of Clause 29 under which the Minister has power on his own absolute authority to repeal or amend any local Acts. This is the infamous old Henry VIII Clause, which received such a drubbing at the hands of the Donoughmore Committee in 1932. The House should hesitate very much to grant a continuance of these arbitrary powers which we all resent and which are so foreign to our Constitution. If the Minister is concerned, as he must be, with how the money is to be found, let him bear in mind that the best and most continuous work of coast protection have been done throughout the years by our railway companies. Examination of the figures will produce some astounding information in this respect. The railways now belong to the taxpayer, and the taxpayer will have to find 100 per cent., whether he likes or not, in respect of railway coastal protective works. There is therefore a good precedent for the Minister to enlarge his view and to provide in the Bill a substantially greater addition to the powers of contribution towards the cost of the works when they are completed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White) for allowing me a few minutes to speak on this Bill in which I am particularly interested because the sea coast from near Eastbourne to as far as the west side of Brighton and Hove is in my constituency. I was sorry that the Joint Under-Secretary hinted at a party political note during his speech, and I hope that throughout the further stages of the Bill there will be no further hint of that note. It is just as stupid to compare the present-day conditions of our coast defences with the conditions between the wars, as it is to compare the inter-war period with the pre-1914 period.I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that in 1911 a Royal Commission reported unanimously that there was no national advantage to be gained by any practical system of general de- fence of the coast against erosion and no ground from a national point of view for assistance being given from public funds towards the cost of defence. I cannot see that conditions today bear any relation whatever to the inter-war years and I hope that we shall not hear any more of that. If there were time I could give the Minister a good deal more of my views on that. I want to say a word about the extent to which the cost of new works and maintenance should be a national charge. On 1st May, 1947, the County Councils Association set up a sub-committee, of which the chairman was the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) and a member of which was the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch), to consider the Prime Minister's statement of 27th January, 1947. The committee said, among other things:
I hope that the two hon. Members, who have I know studied this question very carefully, will vote accordingly with their colleagues who have expressed similar views today. The views of the Association of Municipal Corporations, expressed on 14th November, 1946, are not dissimilar but not quite so definite. Those views were confirmed by a meeting of urban and rural district councils a few weeks later, towards the end of April, 1947. My own local authority which is most particularly concerned with this problem is Seaford where, as the Minister knows, the cost of repairs to the groynes and sea defences is £417,000, a colossal sum for a comparatively tiny place like Seaford. Generally speaking, I welcome the Bill. I most strongly hope that it will be borne in mind that for nearly four years an all-party committee, of which I have had the pleasure of being honorary secretary, has been working to get the Government to introduce a Bill."The Committee are, therefore, of the opinion that, in the general public interest, the cost of sea defence works should be made a national charge and they so recommend."
It is all very well for the Minister to say, "No," like that, but I am telling him that I have been the honorary secretary of this committee and that for nearly four years I and many of my hon. Friends on all sides of this House have been pressing him to produce a Bill. He cannot just sit there and say, "No."
Surely the hon. and and gallant Gentleman recognises that emergency measures were taken in order to deal with the pressing cases?
I am talking not about emergency measures but this Bill. I welcome it and I hope that it will have a happy and easy passage assisted by hon. Members of all parties. I wish the Bill good luck and I hope that any party controversy will be kept out.
As we near the end of this Debate it is apparent that the three or four main points referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) are the points to which every hon. Member has attached the greatest importance. It is a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman that he should have picked up the vital elements so soon. Indeed, the mild criticisms—exceptionally mild for him when faced by the Minister of Health—which he offered to the Bill have been echoed in one form or another by almost every speaker who has addressed the House. To take the first point, finance, I think the Minister himself must see that opinion is unanimous in the House that responsibility for the protection of our coasts should now become a national responsibility. And when we say responsibility, we mean responsibility for cost.
Once more I must ask the hon. Member, does he share the view of his right hon. Friend, that 100 per cent. should not always be borne by the nation, but that a certain proportion should fall upon the local authorities? What then, is the use of repeating that there are universal views that the whole cost should be borne by the nation when there is no such universality in any part of the House.
Let the right hon. Gentleman be a little more patient. If he will be kind enough to listen to me, I can satisfy him and let him go off to tea without being too greatly perturbed.
But the hon. Member made that statement.
There is no difficulty in saying both things: first, that it should be a national responsibility of cost, and, secondly, that any local authority which benefits thereby, should pay something towards it. These two things are not incompatible at all. It is easy to understand them.What is not so easy to understand is the Government's own scheme. Despite the lucid explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary at the beginning of the Debate, I have found it difficult to understand the criteria upon which the Government will advance Treasury grants. According to the Parliamentary Secretary they will work out on the average at 50 per cent., but he told us that in some cases the grant has been as high as 75 per cent., and the Minister of Health intervened—again because he was a little impatient—to give us the impression that very substantial grants would sometimes be made. I conceived that what he meant to convey to us was that there would be quite a number of cases of substantial grants. All right. If that was what the right hon. Gentleman sought to convey to us, it follows that there must be an equally substantial number of cases where the grants will be much less than 50 per cent. So that we really have not had an explanation today of what the Government intend should happen. I am sure that there must be many small schemes in the country, perhaps urgently needed, which will be effectively blocked by the fear of the local authorities that these schemes will rank for only perhaps a 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. grant; because somebody will have to be content with 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. Indeed, many people will have to do so if we are to reach this average of 50 per cent. That cannot be in the national interest. I do not think, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is what he wants either, and I am sure it is not what the House wants in this case. I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to help us a little more when he replies. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, I say quite frankly that I myself, after a good deal of experience, am satisfied that it is quite wrong in this respect to offer 100 per cent. grants to local authorities who will do the work, because under such circumstances the work is usually wasteful, uneconomical, and dilatory. Therefore, I accept entirely the principle that the party carrying out the work, and who will benefit by it, ought to make some contribution to it. But it need not necessarily be a contribution made in the way that is intended here. I commend to the careful consideration of the Government the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Brigadier Medlicott) and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), which the Minister will recollect was that the State should undertake to pay the whole cost, but thereafter levy upon the local authority concerned a variable charge according to circumstances. I think that is quite simple; it is not unusual, and should be easy of explanation for the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that the House was rather in agreement with the two hon. Gentlemen when they made this proposal. I turn now to the matter of the coast protection authority. First, let us look at the central authority, which is to manage the great new effort. Scotsmen, fortunately, are not directly concerned in the controversy about whether in the South it should be managed by the Minister of Health or by the Minister of Agriculture. We have our own Secretary of State for Scotland, who combines in his ample person the duties of both Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Health. If at any time his performance as Minister of Health is unsatisfactory, as it frequently is, we can turn to him in his other capacity as Minister of Agriculture and hope for something better. At least, we can beat him up if his performance is not as good as we expect of him. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that Scotland is entirely disinterested in the person of the senior Minister who is to manage the whole affair in England, for we know that in this Government English Ministers and interests rule the roost and Scotland has to accept the dictates of the South. We are, therefore, interested in the person of the senior Minister, and I have a feeling that the Secretary of State for Scotland is likely to come out of a fight with the Minister of Agriculture much less knocked about than if the conftict was with the Minister of Health. Of course, the Minister of Health ought to have a kindly eye for Scotland, because in a flash of common sense he married a Scots wife—a very sensible thing to do. That was a flash of common sense to which we all paid tribute. I do not know whether he has had any further flashes since. But the hon. Lady, I have observed, has been gradually losing, by her tongue, manner and political associations, nearly all her Scottish characteristics, and has become, I regret to say, almost entirely a Sassenach. Her Scottish influence upon the right hon. Gentleman is probably down to pretty small dimensions, and he has, therefore, reverted to his customary attitude of regarding anybody who disagrees with him as something less than the kind of things that grow under stones. That is a pity, but such being the case, I think Scotland would do much better under the Bill if the Minister in charge of affairs in England were the Minister of Agriculture. And now, regarding the operational local authority, the Parliamentary Secretary drew attention to the importance of the joint boards to be set up under Clause 2. According to him these boards were of the greatest importance; but Clause 2 does not apply to Scotland. It is very odd that that part of the Bill to which the Parliamentary Secretary, I thought, drew most attention does not apply to Scotland. Why not? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell us. If there is so much value in spreading the area of responsibility—I should have thought that was a good idea—why is Scotland denied that advantage? Under the Bill we are to be confined to a different kind of administrative authority. For that reason I—and, I think, most of my Scottish colleagues in this House, of all parties—would ask why we need a new authority at all for the administration of the Bill. I notice also that several English hon. Members—the hon. Members for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn) and the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden), for instance—have asked the same question. I am certainly entitled to ask it for Scotland. Why should there be a new authority? We now have our country planning authorities, with all the skill and experience, with as much staff as anybody else in Scotland, completely capable of handling this job.
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that it is exactly these authorities to whom the job in Scotland is to be handed over?
That is not exactly so. If there is any doubt, let me read a letter I have received from the Fife county clerk, who should know—
The hon. Member should read the Bill.
I do not require to read the Bill. I want to read the views of the Fife county clerk, who has examined this Measure with his colleagues in Scotland. It is not quite so easy as the hon. Member would assume. The county clerk says:
"The main objection to the Bill from the County Council point of view is that it sets up another authority to deal with a particular aspect of local administration and there are already more than enough separate authorities without it. To make it a workable Measure the coast protection authority should be the county planning authority."
Is the hon. Member saying that the town councils ought not to be authorities at all? Does he support Mr. J. M. Mitchell, or speak for his constituents in Fife?
The hon. Gentleman is speaking without knowledge of the facts. The Fife planning authority is composed not only of the local authorities but also of the burghs of Fife. The hon. Member should not speak about Fife without a prepared brief. The planning authority speaks for Fife burghs and county and that is the body which ought to be dealing with this matter. Now we have a multiplication of bodies dealing with coast protection: we have river boards, the new town corporations, harbour boards, the Transport Commission, the Fishery Board and other bodies. Why cannot we leave it all in the hands of one established, experienced, body which all of us know can help best? I think the hon. Gentleman will find this the only workable system. The planning authority is already responsible for planning housing projects, harbour works, industrial developments and similar matters.Why are Scottish interests mixed up in this United Kingdom Bill at all? Why have we departed from the traditional plan of producing a Scottish Bill for Scottish problems? No wonder the Secretary of State runs up against heated Scottish national opinion. He seems to go out of his way to annoy Scottish sentiment. I am not a Scottish nationalist, but I would not go out of my way to make people angry. Here is a Bill with 50 odd pages and every second one has a Clause or two applying, or not applying, the Bill to the Scottish case. That does not make sense. There is no doubt about the interest Scotland has with its hundreds of miles of coastline around the islands, firths and sea lochs. The Scottish coastline must be at least as long as the whole of England and Wales.
It is not far from being as long, when one considers the islands and lochs on the west coast. If we judge from the complexity of the Bill, to which the Parliamentary Secretary drew attention, and the number of Clauses devoted to Scottish needs, it is plain that the alterations of the law proposed in this Bill are going to be very substantial in the case of Scotland. Why not have a separate Bill? If we had a separate Bill Scottish Members would at least be able to look at it carefully and adequately. They could ask, for example, why only the Rivers Forth and Clyde are included and why the Rivers Tay and Dee are excluded. I do not know why; perhaps the hon. Member would like to answer. They could ask again, why Clause 29 is included in the Bill at all. This Clause gives the Secretary of State for Scotland powers by order to revoke any local Act of Parliament. I recollect that the Joint Under-Secretary was present at a meeting the other day of the Convention of Royal Burghs where the plainest words were spoken about the extension of government control and urgent expression was given to the opposition we all feel. I am a little surprised at the hon. Member putting this revolutionary proposal into a Bill applying to Scotland.We might also ask, had we had a Scottish Bill, what part of the £1 million is going to be spent in Scotland. That is what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked. In other words, how much is Scotland going to get out of this? As a Scottish Minister is to reply, we ought at least to know that. England has been told this afternoon, quite properly, what she is to get out of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, in that case, nobody knows. But I should like to know what part of that £1 million is likely to be spent in Scotland in the course of the next year. If the Joint Under-Secretary cannot tell us, it means that he has not looked at it very carefully. Had this been a Scottish Bill we could have had it sent to the Scottish Grand Committee, and could have looked at it in detail. But it is a United Kingdom Bill, and the result will be that there will be one or two or, at most, three, Scottish Members sitting on the Standing Committee giving attention to a Bill of great Scottish importance. That is quite wrong. We are raising a constitutional issue of real importance to Scotland.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he give some indication of the extent of the erosion problem in Scotland because, during the whole time that the Committee to which the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) referred, was in being, we did not see a single Scottish Member near it during the whole time that we were agitating.
I should be very pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman. In Scotland we have not the serious position which we find in England. We are a sturdier race, and our coastline is stronger. I will leave it to the hon. Gentleman to answer that one.When I was interrupted, I was speaking about the constitutional issue. In Scotland, as the House well knows, we are faced by a fairly strong body of opinion that desires the separation of Scotland from this honourable House. I am not going to say much about that, but a constitutional issue is raised. In this instance, Scottish Members are prevented, in fact, from carrying out a detailed, close examination of a Bill of considerable importance to Scotland. I say that is wrong constitutionally. The object of this Bill is one on which we are all entirely agreed. Hon. Members in all parts of the House are earnestly desirous of protecting, maintaining, and beautifying our coastline everywhere. That is a common desire. It is a great and noble task which the Government and the House undertake this afternoon. I feel that I can reasonably appeal to the Government, before undertaking that great task, to listen to the criticisms of the House. They have not been heated criticisms but serious criticisms; they have come from all quarters, not least from the Government's own supporters. Let the Government listen to those criticisms, and when the Bill moves upstairs let them amend it in such a way as to meet, as far as possible, the general wish of the House.
We have listened to a very typical speech from the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). We have often suspected in the past, and sometimes some of us have said we are quite sure, that when he came here to participate in a Second Reading Debate, he had not, in fact, read the Bill. This afternoon he has told us that he does not have to read the Bill; it seems to be enough for him to receive a letter from the Clerk of the County of Fife.
He is pretty good.
It would seem that the county clerk thought that the small burghs and the large burghs ought not to be coast protection authorities under this Bill. And since the county clerk has said so, the hon. Gentleman seems to think that it must be right. He went on a little later to say something about the Convention of Royal Burghs. I wonder what the Convention of Royal Burghs would have said if he had argued that on this question of coast protection the whole responsibility should be given to the county authorities? He did not have to read the Bill and he did not read it. And he did not think of these different points which arose in the course of his speech made, no doubt, as the result of not one but one or two letters which he received from certain constituents.The hon. Member went on to inquire why we had not a separate Bill for Scotland. The matter was first raised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). He together with his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities, being so perturbed about this matter, wondered why it was that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not in his place. I happen to remember that some years ago a somewhat similar situation arose, which was rather worse, and I got a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 5th July, 1937. On that occasion we had an Agricultural Bill given its Second Reading in this House. It was a Bill which applied to Scotland as well as to England and Wales, which gave functions to the Minister of Agriculture hitherto exercised by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Second Reading of that Bill was not moved by the Minister of Agriculture nor by the Secretary of State for Scotland; it was moved by the Minister of Pensions. There seemed to be a great perturbation on the other side of the House this morning because my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland were not in their place when the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health—the Department responsible—got up to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities supported the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) in complaining about the absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1937 when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was himself Secretary of State for Scotland, and on that same date, there were on the Order Paper nine Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland and he was in Edinburgh. So also was his Under-Secretary. The Questions that were answered had to be answered by one of the Whips of that day. It is as well to remember some of these things when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite behave in the somewhat disgusting manner in which they did.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is being offensive. He had better remember that what we complained about was that not only Was the Secretary of State for Scotland not present, but there was no one present from the Scottish Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary did not even have the grace to apologise for their absence.
There was no apology made on that other occasion when there was no Scottish Minister or Member of the Scottish office present in the House at all to answer questions. No apology was made by the Minister of Pensions when he got up to move the Second Reading of an Agricultural Bill on the occasion, and I am reminded that there is no Scottish Conservative Member present on the Opposition benches at the present moment.
I was born in Scotland.
Everyone realises that if a Minister has a public duty to do somewhere else he cannot be present, but what I would like cleared up is that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Minister of Health could not be here today, but it turns out that he could. That is the point I wished cleared up.
My hon. Friend said that the Minister could not be here at the time. The Minister could not be here at the time, and I could not be here at the time, because I was in the same place as the right hon. Gentleman. But we knew that we could both be here before my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary had finished, and that the House would not suffer much by our absence during that short period. On the occasion in 1937 Mr. Tom Johnston, who was then a Member of the House, moved the adoption of a Clause to the Bill which would give the Secretary of State for Scotland some of the powers which were being taken from him under the provisions of the Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland of that day, who was the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), did not even have the courtesy to reply to that Debate. The Debate was replied to by the Minister of Agriculture. All these facts can be seen by reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 5th July, 1937.As regards the Bill which the hon. Member for East Fife has not read, let me say that there really is no reason at all why we should have a separate Bill for Scotland. The principles are exactly the same. If there ever was a case for having one Bill for the whole of the United Kingdom, this is it. There is no ground at all for a separate Bill. Only when the Opposition are incapable of criticising the many provisions of the basic principles of a Bill, do they look for something quite extraneous and on this occasion it is the question, "Why is there not a separate Bill for Scotland?" It is right to say that most of our discussion today has been on the extent of Exchequer contribution towards the cost of works schemes to be carried out under this Measure. Some hon. Gentlemen have said that the total cost of all this ought to be met by the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport and one or two others—not all of his hon. Friends, because I should tell him that there is a little bit of disloyalty in his party this afternoon—think that the cost of the work should be substantially met by the Exchequer. Those were his words. But he did not think that meeting the charges to the extent of 75 per cent. was meeting them substantially. It is amazing that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should have the nerve to come here and to tell us that for 50 per cent. of the cost of this work to be granted by the Exchequer is totally and hopelessly inadequate in the circumstances, when no Tory Government of the past have ever seen fit to introduce legislation to make any contribution at all towards this necessary job. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Joynson-Hicks) seemed to tell us that he had been trying for so long. Then he said that he had been trying since 1945. I got the impression from his speech that coast erosion only began in mid-summer, 1945.
The situation be-before the war was completely different from that after the war. Before the war, both financially and from the point of view of materials and labour, local authorities and owners were able to keep the matter under control. Now it is impossible.
The hon. Gentleman knows that he is wrong. The matter was not kept under control before the war. There was a problem then. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) quoted from the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1911. The Royal Commission was set up because there was a problem. That Commission reported in 1911 that there should be no contribution at all from Exchequer funds towards the cost of this work. The local governments of the day, and Tory Governments ever since, rested on the recommendations of that Commission. But the Labour Government decided that there was a case for the Exchequer to give a contribution towards the cost of the works necessary to protect our coastlines from the encroachment of the sea, and they decided to bring forward a Bill proposing that the Exchequer should find approximately 50 per cent. of the money required. Suddenly, Tories who thought that no money, no assistance at all, was required, discover that 50 per cent. grants are quite inadequate for the purpose.
I hope that the Minister will not get too worked up about this. He might at least bear in mind that we have just fought a very long war and that during that time a large part of our coast could not be approached. There was no access to it and there was deterioration amounting to millions of pounds. There is no comparison between today and the prewar years.
There have been many wars fought since coast erosion started. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite should come forward this afternoon and assert that a 50 per cent. grant is quite inadequate. However, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made it quite clear in the course of his speech this morning that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will have regard to the circumstances in each case. He quoted a case where a 75 per cent. grant had already been given or promised. We believe that in many cases it will be desirable to give a grant up to 75 per cent., but we also believe that it will be unnecessary in many cases to give grants as high as 50 per cent. We believe that, in the generality of cases, the State will be meeting about 50 per cent. of the cost.In fact, under the provisions of the Bill the Minister could contribute far more than 75 per cent. of the cost of the works if that were necessary, but surely it is the fact that much of this work will be done to protect rate contributing assets in the local authority's area. That being so, and if these assets are to be protected, surely it is quite wrong to suggest that they should be protected at the nation's expense. Surely it is right and proper that the local ratepayers themselves should make some contribution towards the proposed works. Indeed, they should take the initiative in carrying out works and should make some contribution, and it is only in as much as the cost of the works will impose an unjustifiably heavy burden on the ratepayers that the State need come into the picture at all. It is only because we think that in every case there will be some burden which ought to be carried by the State and not by the local authority that we bring forward the Bill in its present form. The hon. Member for Chichester talked about an attractive part of the coast to which many people went for holidays and he asked, should not the people who go to this part of his constituency for holidays, and who live in another part of the country, make some contribution as taxpayers to the cost of the works which are necessary?
As ratepayers, not taxpayers.
Oh, no. These persons live in inland parts of the country and in the area of an authority which is not a coast protection authority, which is not a maritime authority at all. The suggestion is that they ought, as taxpayers, to make some contribution towards the cost of the works because they are enjoying the amenities which are being protected by the works. I would only say that where there is part of the country attracting a large number of holiday makers, for whom amenities have to be provided and in whose interest the sea has to be kept out by the erection of certain works, then those people will be making a contribution towards the cost of the works inasmuch as, indirectly, they contribute to the rates within the area in which the work is done. That seems to me to be right and fair, and it seems unfair that a person who does not take advantage of the amenities should have to make a contribution towards the provision of the amenities for those who have the good fortune to go and enjoy them.
May I explain what we were trying to make clear when we were anxious to get 100 per cent. grant? We did not expect that the State would make a contribution to the amenities. What we were trying to convey was that the 100 per cent. grant should be made only to coast protection works, not to amenities such as a promenade.
It is not always easy to determine when the utilitarian job comes to an end and the amenity begins. A promenade, as someone said, is very often a protecting wall. However, I have tried to make a short reply to the points that have been made on that question. No doubt there will be further discussion on it at a later stage.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the grants will be based on the principle that local authorities should bear a contribution proportionate to the local advantage, and that the State should bear the rest? Is that to be the principle?
No. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tried to make clear—and I thought he did so very well—that in making the grant the Government would have regard to the part of the cost of the works contributed by private persons or private bodies whose properties were being protected by the works done. As is appreciated, I think, by those who have taken the trouble to read the Bill, they are expected to make a contribution not exceeding the value to them of the work carried out. The Minister will have to have regard to any income from that source. He will have regard to the extent of the burden imposed upon the local ratepayers by the remaining cost of the work. If it is considered exceedingly heavy, the grant may be as high as, or even higher than, 75 per cent., but if it is accepted by the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland that it is not a heavy burden, the grant will be considerably less than 50 per cent. We think that is fair in all the circumstances.
Has any sum been budgeted for, or will this require a Supplementary Estimate?
It is not possible now to budget. My hon. Friend gave an indication of what we expect the cost will be. It will be appreciated that we are very much in the hands of the coast protection authorities set up under the Bill. They will exercise a little care in the working out of the schemes to be submitted to the Minister for approval, and they have all to be looked at in turn. Much of the work is now being done. We do not think there is likely to be more than £1 million worth of work done in the first year, but we do not know; we do not think there will be more than £1 million worth of work done in the first year; and we think it will go up a little as the years go by. My hon. Friend must not think the cost of this work is as great as he did imagine it to be. He thought it would take at least £1 million a year in Scotland, but, as far as we know, the work required to be done in Scotland will not cost much more than £1 million altogether.It has been asserted by many on the opposite side of the House that the Minister of Agriculture ought to be the Minister responsible for this Bill. However, as may be seen from Clause 45, we are not thinking in terms of agricultural land at all. That land is dealt with elsewhere separately. It is outside the scope of the Bill altogether.
Yes, the Savings Clause. It is quite clear that we are not thinking of drainage work. Drainage work on low lying land that is subject to encroachment by the sea is not work carried out under the provisions of this Bill. In as much as it is the Government's responsibility to see that agricultural land is protected, that is provided for elsewhere, and is not covered by this Bill. We are thinking mainly of land other than agricultural land around the coast of our country. On the point raised about rain erosion at Bridlington I must tell the House that that cannot come within the provisions of the Bill, although if rain erosion is responsible for damage it may be that any submission will be looked at sympathetically. I have dealt with the main points raised in the Debate, and no doubt other detailed matters can be further discussed in Committee.As I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) wants to say something on the Money Resolution before 4 o'clock, I will now resume my seat in the hope that we shall speedily go through the remaining stages of the Bill and that before long some much needed coast protection work will be done around our coasts.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
Coast Protection Money
Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84.— [ King's Recommendation signified.]
[Mr. BOWLES in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to the protection of the coast of Great Britain against erosion and encroachment by the sea, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—
(a) of the expenses of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State in making grants in respect of expenditure under the said Act of coast protection authorities or otherwise in respect of coast protection work, whether begun before or after the commencement of the said Act; (b) of the expenses of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State incurred under the said Act otherwise than in the making of grants, and of the expenses so incurred thereunder of any other Minister or government department; (c) of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under Parts I and II of the Local Government Act, 1948, and in the sums payable out of the Road Fund."—[Mr. A. Bevan.]
We do not propose to oppose the Money Resolution on the distinct understanding, which, I gather, is accepted, that there is nothing which will prevent us in Committee from trying to fix the Exchequer grants at an appreciably higher rate.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman means that the Money Resolution will enable any Amendment to be made to increase the charge, because that will not be necessary. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the terms of the Money Resolution he will see that there is no limitation. We can discuss in Committee what is in our minds, but there is no need to add to the power because the power is almost unlimited and does not, of itself, exclude maintenance.
I am much obliged, but we wish to discuss a specific Amendment to impose on the Exchequer the necessity of making higher grants, instead of leaving it to the discretion of the Minister when the Bill becomes law.
Maybe we can discuss that in Committee.
It is clear, then, that the right hon. Gentleman will not then say that the Opposition cannot increase the charge?
I do not say things like that; that is for the Chairman.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.