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Reservoirs Bill Lords

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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10.30 a.m.

I beg to move:

That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Reservoirs Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.
I hope that this important safety measure will be received with the general approval of both sides of the Committee. The information I have from my colleagues is that it is recognised on all sides that we need to protect the public safety, particularly in respect of reservoirs holding large amounts of water. Because of that, and I hope with the agreement of the Committee, I shall restrict my opening remarks to a general view of the case for the Bill.

Of course, I am anxious to give the Committee as much information as it might require on the detail, though I think that Committee points are better left to later stages. I say that in order that hon. Members will not think it discourteous if I do not go through the Bill clause by clause, but confine myself to replying to any points of interest that hon. Members may raise. Also, I am encouraged by the fact that the Bill comes to us from another place, where it received unanimous all-party support.

This is not a measure that has been hastily put together, Under successive administrations the Department has considered it over a period of time. The existing legislation on reservoir safety is contained in the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930. That Act was the result of two unfortunate experiences in 1925, which resulted in serious loss of life, one being in Scotland and one in Wales. In Scotland, five people were drowned near Skelmorlie, when a reservoir overflowed during a storm and destroyed the dam. The cause of that accident was found to be faulty design. In the Welsh disaster, 16 people lost their lives when the dam collapsed as a result of poor construction.

Therefore, Parliament at that time decided that measures were needed, and the 1930 Act was introduced. We have relied on that Act since that time, and it has served us reasonably well for 45 years. But it is clear, as a result of the growing demand for water, and because there are now larger and larger manmade lakes and reservoirs to contain the water, and particularly as a result of experience abroad, that we need to strengthen further the safety provisions governing reservoirs.

I can best illustrate the need to do this by giving the world picture. We estimate that there are 10,000 dams in the world over 45 ft high. I am appalled to find that on average, during the past 40 years one such dam has failed every 15 months, claiming an average of 50 victims each. That is the measure of the concern which the House is called upon to express and the reason for this measure. In the face of those figures we would be accused of great complacency if we did not from time to time review our existing legislation and strengthen it where necessary.

The worst of these cases occurred in 1963 at Vajont, Italy, where a landslide into the reservoir caused 40 million cubic metres of water to splash over the dam and nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. That shows the tremendous, destructive force of water and the need for maximum safety measures. That tragedy, together with the others I have mentioned in the early 1950s and 1960s, led to our own Institution of Civil Engineers to consider the matter in great detail. The Institution produced its report on reservoir safety in 1966, which proposed revisions for the 1930 Act. It is that set of circumstances which brings us here today, to consider those proposals and the conclusions of the Government arising from them.

The 1930 Act applies to reservoirs that are designed to hold, or are capable of holding, more than five million gallons of water above the level of the adjoining land. The fundamental principle of that Act is that only a qualified civil engineer can provide the professional expertise required to ensure the safety of the reservoir structure. A qualified civil engineer within the terms of the Act is an engineer who has been appointed by the Secretary of State, on the advice of a special committee of the Institution, to a panel specially constituted for the purposes of the Act.

Anyone wishing to construct or enlarge a reservoir of more than five million gallons is required to engage an engineer from that panel and to have the installation inspected at least every 10 years by such a qualified engineer. The water undertaker must also carry out any recommendations made by the engineer, subject to the right of appeal to a referee.

The 1930 Act has proved to be workable and desirable. But one serious weakness is that there is no adequate provision to ensure that the Act is complied with. Although standards are laid down, there is no force of law to compel an authority to have installations inspected for safety every 10 years, and so on. All that the 1930 Act provides is that a local authority whose area may be affected by an escape of water, or a private person resident nearby, can bring an action in the courts against an undertaker who has failed in his responsibilities under the Act.

The Government agree with the Institution that that is not a satisfactory situation. The law should be tightened to provide an absolute obligation on anyone holding a reservoir or lake, or any undertaker, to ensure the safety of the reservoir at all times.

In practice most of the public authorities—previously local atuhorities, now the new water authorities—have always been keen to apply the maximum safety requirements. In fairness, so have most other people. But the Committee will understand the extent of the problem—only one failure can cause fatal accidents—when I explain that the proposals not only cover all the major water undertakers of the country but include old mill dams, fishing lochs and lakes, ornamental lakes, and so on. Over 230 such lakes and lochs and amenity recreation lakes in this country would come within the ambit of the legislation now proposed. It is, therefore, a major undertaking.

Therefore we intend, with this Bill, to rectify that weakness. We are placing upon the local authority the obligation to ensure that this Bill is complied with, namely, that suitable civil engineers from the panel I have described are used. We think the local authority is the appropriate body to undertake this function since it is concerned with people resident in the immediate vicinity of the lake to be created by the dam. This should ensure, as best as Parliament and the local authority can, that no dangerous situation arises.

In preparing this Bill, we have accepted that the 1930 Act has proved satisfactory in practice. We wish now to build upon it and lay obligations upon local authorities to see that the proposals are complied with.

Turning specifically to this Bill, apart from strengthening existing legislation, I shall content myself with replying to detailed applications of the clauses as they affect hon. Members' interests.

In conclusion, reservoir construction and supervision is a highly technical subject and this Bill is not concerned with the details of civil engineering. It provides the legislative framework in which those best fitted to decide on technical matters—the qualified engineers—may operate. This is a formula whose effectiveness has been proved by the 1930 Act, and the new Bill seeks to deal with those contingencies which the passage of time has revealed need to be taken account of by Parliament, as a result of its own experience in this country and more disastrous experiences throughout the world.

10.42 a.m.

I must confess that this is the first time I have actually found myself on a Second Reading Committee. I was not even quite sure what the procedure was, and I would not have minded spending the rest of my parliamentary career without discovering it.

As the Minister has said, it is an important Bill, and we on the Opposition side of the Committee are grateful to him for the way he has explained its important contents. I am sure that he was right not to go into too much detail. I remember a previous occasion during the last Labour Government when he was speaking on a Friday and I was waiting for Private Members' Bills. He was under instruction that day, and he spoke for so long that I suggested that he was on injury time. But on this occasion I make no such complaint.

We all have to do that.

I am particularly glad that this is a Bill from the Department of the Environment with which, as the Minister knows, I had close connections for the first two years of its existence. On occasions it produces Bills that arouse certain controversies, depending on who is in charge. But it has a good reputation for having introduced many important and non-controversial Bills dealing with safety, air pollution, dumping and so on, and this Bill certainly comes within that category. I am strengthened by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), who was a Minister in that Department and who did such good work there.

This is a good Bill. We have the advantage of being able to read the debates in another place. They were not long and the cast—if I may call them that—made up in quality what they lacked in quantity. The noble Minister Baroness Birk and my noble Friend Baroness Young, and Lord Stow Hill, who intervened from time to time, raised some very important issues and it is to our benefit that they did so.

As the Minister has said, the Bill is well-timed, having been brought in after considerable deliberation. So often in such cases—this applied to the 1930 Act—Bills have to be introduced quickly because of some disaster. Happily, on this occasion there have been no disasters in this country since the passing of the 1930 Act, and the Minister has had plenty of time to adapt the 1930 Act to present-day circumstances.

But conditions elsewhere in the world are very different. The figures given in the House of Lords debate about the Italian disaster and about disasters occurring every 15 months in other parts of the world are terrifying. One wonders just what precautions these other countries take, and what notice is taken of them. Without wishing to seem controversial, I wonder whether we could use our position as a member of the European Community to pass on to other countries information about what we do here, or perhaps on a suitable occasion to have an international conference so that other countries may benefit and not suffer these terrible disasters at, unhappily, such frequent intervals.

This report was begun by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1964 and it has rightly pointed to certain weaknesses in the 1930 Act and the Minister has drawn attention to them. As he said, there was no adequate provision for ensuring that the Act was complied with, and where there were legal powers, it was possible that they could have been used too late, perhaps after some disaster. But again, happily, that did not arise. There was also the possible 10-year gap between inspections.

Would the Minister help me on one or two brief issues on the Bill itself? The important local authorities are the new county councils. I am not quite clear who will actually do the work. Considerable expertise will be needed to make sure that these reservoirs are properly constructed and maintained. Will extra staff be required for this important work, what will be the cost, and who will pay? Staff will also be needed for that. Areas in the United Kingdom such as Strathclyde, which has more than 100 reservoirs, and South Yorkshire, which has about 50, will have to pay more for this work, presumably, than other parts of the country.

We seem to have moved from gallons to cubic metres. Now 25,000 cubic metres is equivalent to 5 million gallons, but paragraph 11 of the report—Reservoir Safety, published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1966—to which the Minister referred, says:
"At present all reservoirs of capacity greater than 5 million gallons must comply with the Act."
Then it states that maybe that figure is too low. Paragraph 12 states:
"The Committee therefore recommends that the Act should only apply to reservoirs designed to hold, or capable of holding (measured to top water level), more than 10 million gallons above the natural level of any part of the land adjoining the reservoir."
There is also the question of whether volume should be the sole criterion. Should the height of the dam be considered, or the nature of the area—whether it is an area liable to flooding, and what there is around it; for example, whether houses are in the path of a possible escape of water?

I appreciate that that may be a new approach and complicated, but it would be helpful to know why we could not have a series of categories—not too wide, but a series—rather than just one basis. Obviously, that would cost more, but as we are talking about safety, that is what matters most.

Is the Minister entirely happy about the frequency of the reviews? Certainly in the civil engineers' report the experts seem satisfied about the 10-year period, but the occasion of a new Bill is surely the moment to check whether every 10 years is the right frequency. This report itself was written 10 years ago, and perhaps things have changed since then, so a shorter period between inspections might be recommended.

One of the advantages of the debate in another place has been that a number of queries that I might have raised at this stage have been answered. The definition of a reservoir has been cleared up. We know that quarries do not come into it. We know that canals do not come into it, but that artificial lakes do.

I presume that the 25,000 cubic metres figure includes all ornamental lakes. Many were formed by damming the lower ends of valleys. They qualify because they are above the neighbouring ground. Nevertheless, many have been there for centuries; I am thinking in particular of those formed by the famous gardeners of the eighteenth century. I wonder whether there could not be some exemption for them.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital that when the Bill is enacted there should be the maximum amount of publicity in the interests of the owners who have nine months to declare their ownership of reservoirs which come within the Act and for the safety provisions to be made available.

There is a matter on which I should like the Minister to comment. Clause 24(4) says:
"Every local authority shall during the three months after the date of the commencement of the Act take such steps as they think are reasonably required to inform undertakers of the requirements of subsections (1) to (3) above."
Could the Minister say what form those steps will take and whether it might be better to lay down in a little more detail what should be done to ensure that publicity?

In the debate in the House of Lords on Clause 12 Baroness Birk said:
"It is true that there will be a new panel of supervising engineers to carry out this function. I would point out that the qualifications for appointment to this panel have yet to be decided."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3rd December 1974; Vol. 355, c. 158.]
Have the Government got any further with that decision? It is an important matter and should be decided at an early date.

I see now that I have the awesome support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) who knows far more about reservoirs than I do. I am glad to see that he is with us.

This is a good Bill. It deals with safety and therefore its passage through the House should be expedited. It was lost in one General Election; I should hate to think it might be lost in another. Therefore we wish it well and will do everything possible to speed its passage.

10.54 a.m.

I join in the support given by my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) to the Bill. May I say how delighted I am to find that the Minister of State is the Minister in charge of the Bill. Not only is he a personal friend and an opponent whom I respect, but I know that he knows something—perhaps not quite as much as I do—about dams.

I have the largest artificial lake in my constituency, which the hon. Gentleman has visited, at Grafham Water. It has an enormous dam, which I believe is perfectly safe. Fortunately, although it, alas, covers a large area of farm land which had to be flooded, it is not a dam which has a tremendous drop on the downfall side. That enabled it to be built of earth, now grassed over with a road running along the top. I believe that even an act of God, so called, would be unlikely to disturb its stability.

I mention this because I believe that in choosing sites for reservoirs in future those experts advising the Government, and the Ministers who have to take the final decision, would be wise to choose those sites which do not involve a tremendous drop on the downfall side.

There is a dilemma, as the easiest way to build a dam is to flood farmland, because generally it is in relatively level country and, therefore, the problem of the downfall drop is not so great. But we simply cannot afford to go on flooding farmland. Therefore, I hope that in future reservoirs will be built in hill country where it will not be necessary to take any more arable land, or indeed good permanent grassland or temporary leys, both of which are scarce.

The Minister of Agriculture said in answer to a question the other day that no fewer than 62,000 acres a year are now being taken away from arable, permanent and good grassland. He cannot afford to go on losing it in that way.

In my constituency we have already made a fair contribution to the solution of the problem by the flooding of 3,000 acres of quite good farmland and the taking of another 300 acres, rather over-luxurious, for the administrative and other buildings and works which go with it. We are still theoretically threatened with the flooding of land at Abbotsley for a reservoir there, but I hope that that idea has been dropped.

I mention this—I think I am in order to do so—because the Bill talks of registration of reservoirs, a very wise provision. I should like to ask the Minister how many reservoirs with the qualifying capacity of five million gallons are already registered and how many the Minister contemplates will be registered within the foreseeable future, let us say within the next 10 years. In order that we may get the measure of the problem and know what we are legislating about, I think we are entitled to those simple facts and would be grateful to the hon. Gentleman—or is it the right hon. Gentleman?

It does not always. I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear those facts in mind and let us have as much information as he can. He happens also to be Minister responsible for sport, and, of course, the building of a reservoir provides greatly added facilities for the enjoyment of a variety of sport. Grafham Water is, I believe, a model to the nation in this respect. The Bill, perhaps understandably because it is a safety Bill, does not specifically mention the opportunities for recreation, so far as I know, but the need for using reservoirs for recreation enhances the need for safety and that, I trust, brings me in order in saying that I think the Government should be encouraged when building reservoirs, or having them listed under the Bill, to ensure that the opportunities for sport are not missed.

I wish next to speak about liability for damage caused either in the construction of a dam or, alas, after it has been constructed if the worst should happen and, because of some act of God, the dam breaks. The construction of dams is accompanied by a lot of blasting—I hope I shall not be accused of making puns when talking about damage and blasting and dams—and this in itself can be a source of very great danger to the men working on the job and to other people. If there should be very heavy rainfall during the operation, there could be danger to people living, for example, in a valley below. This is a matter which we should bear particularly in mind when considering what effect, if any, the Bill would have upon civil liability.

My reading of the Bill is that it has no such effect. In order to overcome the provisions of common law or of existing statute law, express words have to be used in a statute in order to alter the liability or, indeed, to change the law. I do not find any such express words with regard to civil liability.

In Clause 22 there are provisions relating to
"Criminal liability of undertakers and their employees."
It is as well that that clause has not included, although if it had not been, there would, under the general criminal law relating to manslaughter and injury wantonly caused, have been some liability. It is as well that this should have been dealt with, even though it meant adding to the criminal calendar.

However, I regret that fining limits have been included in the Bill. I should have thought that, bearing in mind the terrible destruction that could be caused by a bit of negligence or wilful default—the deaths, injuries and human sadness that could result—it was wrong to impose fining limits of this character. They are not great limits, bearing in mind the suffering that could ensue. Bearing in mind, also, 20 per cent. inflation a year, those limits would not be very deterrent within a year or two. I would rather see the fining limits cut out altogether.

I am sure that we ought to use some foresight in this matter. After all, we do not want to have to come back with a trifling amending Bill just to change the fining limits. I see that there is a fining limit of £400 on summary conviction under Clause 22(1), only £100 under subsections (2) and (3), and £400 again under subsection (4).

It may be said that when one appears before a higher court on indictment there may be no fining, but so many of these cases could be dealt with more satisfactorily summarily. The courts of summary jurisdiction have, in recent years, assumed a degree of responsibility of near professionalism, which 20 years ago they did not possess. In general—I confess that I am now applying a general argument which does not confine itself to the Bill—the courts of summary jurisdiction could be given powers of awarding greater fines, bearing in mind that there is always the right of appeal to the higher court if it is felt that there is any injustice.

My last comment is purely technical. I happen to be the chairman of a committee which, in due course, will advise Parliament, through the Government, on ways of improving the drafting of our legislation—a very difficult matter. We had a look at this Bill and found that it had certain merits which other Bills do not possess. One merit is Schedule 1, for which I know of no precedent, although I do not say that it does not exist. It is a very useful aid to those who have to apply the law, study the law and advise upon the law. The draftsman was wise to include an index of definitions. I hope that this precedent will be followed on other occasions by all his colleagues.

One could go on picking up points of detail, but they may be better left to the Committee stage. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the Bill.

11.7 a.m.

The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) raised an important subject when he spoke about limits for fines. After all, the undertakers who assume responsibility for existing and new reservoirs and the contractors whom they employ are not jobbing builders. If there is an opportunity to do so, we should look at this matter.

Inevitably, when constructional risks have to be taken, there is always a balance of cost as against safety, and a design engineer has to take that balance into consideration. Perhaps it has to be considered even in the method of construction. If it is considered, the risk in terms of fine will be part of the consideration. Thus, there is merit in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.

Earlier he referred to the height of the dams banks, and remarked that the lower the dam, the greater the area of land that had to be flooded in order to provide an equivalent volume of water. He suggested that with better safety provisions we lose land. As we have heard in previous discussions, at which my right hon. Friend was present, there has been great concern in the country about the flooding of farmland for dam construction.

The future storage and distribution of water may be somewhat different from what it has been. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be reassured if he were to read some of the latest recommendations of the Water Resources Board about transfer of water from head waters of rivers, where the sort of narrow and high dams which he said might be more suitable would be the practice and where the amount of farmland in lowland areas to be flooded by the construction of reservoirs might be minimised.

I have eagerly studied all the reports of the Water Resources Board and its predecessors. I confess that I was trying to draw the Minister. Having read those reports, I wanted the Minister to come clean—he has never done so; nor have any Government—and say whether farmland should continue to be flooded or whether flooding could be avoided. I hope to have the hon. Gentleman's support in trying to draw the Minister.

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's information. One of the difficulties 13 that the Water Resources Board no longer exists because the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues when in office decided to restructure water responsibilities and the new structure does not make central water planning so public or so accountable, at least to the consumers, as previously. That responsibility has disappeared into the maw of the many sided face of the Department of the 'Environment. That was one of the features that we deplored during the Committee stage of the Water Bill.

However, the final report of the Water Resources Board moved in the direction I have indicated. Perhaps later this morning we shall know whether the Minister accepted those proposals.

I suggest that even in the high reservoirs or dams, say, in the hills of Wales, there will almost inevitably be some agricultural loss. Any such valley which is suitable will almost certainly have alluvium at the bottom and be farmland even if the sides of the valley are rough pasture and grazing. Therefore, although there may be some advantages, there will clearly be some loss.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned amenity and recreation. Knowing my hon. Friend's interest in that subject, I hope that he will refer to what may be something of a difficulty in the application of the Bill. In the canal network there are many reservoirs that are filling the top pounds of the canals, which were built between 100 and 200 years ago. Although they were no doubt satisfactory then, and may still be, if there is any doubt about matters of safety, it would be those dams that might need some attention.

The public must be protected, but in these and other amenity reservoirs, perhaps those set out by private owners in parks or by local authorities, there may be some obligation for safety measures to be undertaken, which almost inevitably will be expensive. My hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulties that this sort of situation has caused in the provisions of the safety at stadiums and football grounds legislation, where, quite properly, it was decided that there should be tightened regulations. But there must be some financial onus on the existing owner or operator.

The revenue from the amenities, generally canals or lakes, is not great at the best of times. Some mechanism may have to be introduced, either by grants in aid or some respect in which the Minister will have some option, to maintain the amenities and at the same time to keep to the required standards of public safety.

I hope that the Minister can indicate that he will look favourably on such discretion and, if it is not given to him in the Bill, that public expenditure may be used in some other way, because there is a public expenditure clause that would presumably prevent his making grants. Perhaps we can consider that at a later stage.

I understand that the Bill replaces the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930. The first part of the Explanatory Memorandum is not, of course, part of the Bill, but it needs a little adjustment in that the Bill does not just strengthen that Act, but replaces it with strengthened provisions. That is a technical point.

The Bill is useful because those who are interested will need to look at only one Act rather than two, and I welcome the opportunity that has been taken to codify the provisions into one Act. I wish that this were done more frequently to avoid a lot of crossings out and to enable our statutes to be in a form more easily understood by those who must refer to them from time to time.

11.15 a.m.

As the Minister and hon. Members will know, I represent an area where reservoirs and issues of water conservation have generated a lot of steam. I remember 10 years ago attending in an unofficial capacity the official opening of a reservoir in the constituency that I now represent. That reservoir was constructed by Liverpool Corporation and caused not merely the disruption of farmland, but also the disruption of communities. For the people in mid-Wales whom I represent, the construction of reservoirs, both for water conservation and for electricity generation, has been a live issue, and the safety issue with which we are concerned today is naturally a matter that immensely concerns the mid-Wales community.

I should like clarification of the situation as respects, not only regulating reservoirs, which are the responsibility of the water authorities, but reservoirs for electricity generation. There may be specific problems concerning such reservoirs. I am thinking particularly of the fact that the regular alteration in the level of these reservoirs may create additional safety problems. I should like to hear the Minister's comments on these matters and to know whether there are specific provisions within the Bill covering any specific engineering problems which may follow the construction of electricity generating reservoirs.

I happen to represent two of these—the hydro-electric scheme at Tanygrisiau. A new reservoir is about to be constructed in Llanberis by the Central Electricity Generating Board. I should like to know to what extent the Bill covers the peculiar problems of reservoirs concerned with electricity generation.

I am also concerned in this context about the frequency of reviews. Members of the Committee will no doubt recall that one of the worst disasters concerning a reservoir for electricity generation occurred in North Wales 40 years ago in the valley where I was brought up. The frequency of reviews and inspections is a subject about which we are naturally concerned. I appreciate that the original report that pioneered the Bill was satisfied with a 10-year period. However, I should like to feel that the reservoirs used for electricity generation were inspected more regularly than every 10 years.

Another aspect of the safety factor concerns the enlargement of reservoirs. Discussions are already taking place, as hon. Members will know, between the imperialist water authority—the Severn-Trent Water Authority—and the so-called Welsh National Water Development Authority which, as we know, does not include the most important of Wales for the purpose of water conservation. These discussions have centred upon the possible enlargement of the Elan Valley complex. I will not comment, lest you call me to order Mr. Pink, on the merits or demerits of the project to expand the Elan Valley complex. My views on that would be coloured by the amount of revenue that could be got from the Severn-Trent Water Authority as a result.

The basic issue of the Bill relates to safety aspects. I should like to ensure that my understanding of Clause 6 is that enlargement of existing reservoirs will be covered by the same safety principles and codes of practice as the construction of a new reservoir. That is extremely important if there are to be developments such as the expansion of the Elan Valley complex undertaken by the Welsh authority, or by the Severn-Trent authority.

Finally, I have some queries about the impact of the Bill on local authorities in areas where they will become the authorities for enforcing it. As the Committee will be aware, the Powys County Council has one of the highest levels of rate-borne expenditure per head in the United Kingdom. Gwynedd, the other authority in North-West Wales, is not far behind. I should like an assurance that the expertise necessary can be provided by the local authority on behalf of Parliament to enforce the Bill, without requiring a massive increase in staffing and public expenditure.

I am aware that the Bill provides for the rate support grant to cover any additional expenditure. However, we have had bitter experience in some facets of local government of the way in which the rate support grant formula operates. It is not always equitable to areas of low population density. No doubt we shall have our disputes about this matter outside this Committee. But I am concerned that we can reach the safety standards necessary in areas such as Powys and Gwyedd without imposing a crippling burden on local authorities.

Those are the general comments that I wished to make. I welcome the Bill and I am sure that people living near reservoirs in North Wales welcome it. While we must have expansion of water conservation and reservoirs, it is essential that they should not take up arable land. It is also important that they should not take up, often unnecessarily and excessively, land in the uplands that could be used for alternative purposes.

We are still awaiting a major breakthrough in conservation technology that will enable us to look for estuarial barrages and so on. But while we have reservoirs with their attendant safety and community problems, the Bill is clearly a welcome improvement on present legislation.

11.22 a.m.

I have one or two brief remarks to make entirely about Clause 22. First, I should like to reinforce the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham South (Mr. Spearing) and the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) about the fine limits. If we are to include specific limits, the figures of £400 and £100 must be revised. In view of the potentially serious situation disclosed by the Minister's opening statement about reservoirs world wide, these figures partly invalidate the Bill and its intentions.

I am also concerned and puzzled by Clause 22(1) which states:
(a) "by the wilful default of the undertakers"
any of the various provisions are not complied with
"then unless there is reasonable excuse for the default … the undertakers shall be guilty of an offence".
I am puzzled to read that there can be a reasonable excuse for wilful default.

This drafting seems to have been an error on someone's part, and the Bill will not be satisfactorily operated in the courts if this provision remains. I strongly urge the Committee to take the necessary steps to ensure that we are not implying that there can be any excuse for a wilful default.

I would treat a "reasonable excuse" on safety matters with reserve in any case. We accept that there could be oversights, and reasonable excuses for certain kinds of failure, but not for wilful default. Therefore I ask the Minister to look at this matter.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady realises that it is an essential part of our criminal law, except for purely technical and fairly minor administrative defaults, that there shall be a degree of criminal intent or criminal failure, quite apart from there being a criminal act.

Or criminal neglect. This is a fairly common form way of both enabling the prosecution to establish that in a particular statutory offence there is some kind of criminal intent or neglect and to give the defence the opportunity, which on many occasions it needs if there has been a genuine error, of rebutting the suggestion of criminal intent or neglect. Mens rea is an expression familiar to lawyers. I know that people do not like the use of Latin, but that phrase implies a lot to lawyers who have studied these things.

I appreciate the hon. Lady's motive in her suggestion, but the drafting carries greater implications than she may have realised.

I am not prepared to accept that. I would be prepared to accept the statement that this drafting is not unique to the Bill. In that case, I suggest that that is one of the reasons why people often find the law extremely difficult to follow. By inserting the word "wilful" we are saying that there is an intent to break the provisions of the Bill. If there is no intent to break them, the action is not wilful.

If this drafting has been the practice in the past, it ought not to continue to be the practice to say on the one hand that to default is wilful and, on the other, that there may be reasonable excuse. There can be no reasonable excuse for a wilful default of a safety regulation.

I strongly urge the Minister to look further into this and to take legal advice, of course. It is very important, particularly when relating to safety regulations. I am not making this simply a general statement on the use of English. We are dealing with this wording in the context of safety. We should not allow the Act to imply that there could be any reasonable excuse for such wilful default in safety regulations.

11.27 a.m.

With the leave of the Committee, I should like to commence my reply to the fascinating short debate that we have had and the very interesting points that have been raised, by expressing my appreciation to all Members who have taken part for their constructive approach towards this measure and their general sympathy with it.

I will do my best to deal with as many of the detailed points that I can, but I shall be very happy to send fuller information to Members on certain matters which I shall indicate and, assuming that most Members here will find their way subsequently onto Committee, if they would like further explanation, I will do my best to provide the information on which the Committee can make intelligent assumptions about the Bill.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) for his general blessing to the Bill. He is quite right in saying that this Bill has been considered by the Department for some time. One might call it a consensus Bill so far as respective administrations are considered. I am sure we are all glad about that.

First, the points on local authorities. They have two areas of responsibility under the Bill—first, to enforce the requirements of the Bill, and secondly, to take action where necessary in the case of emergencies. The hon. Gentleman asked about staffing and the cost to local ratepayers. I strongly take the view that this Bill should be a local authority responsibility and this responsibility ought not to be put elsewhere, but I would point out that the functions of the local authority are purely administrative. The Bill places the technical responsibility for the construction, inspection and supervision of reservoirs upon qualified civil engineers, and it is the water undertakers who are required by this legislation to employ such engineers, which involves a very heavy cost.

We are saying here, as between the engineers and the undertakers, that we need a third party to protect the public interest, to ensure that a qualified undertaker has been engaged and that his reports are being acted upon and the public interest is fully protected. That is the function of the authority and it will consist mainly of recording information and checking that the Act has been appropriately applied. There will, therefore, be no need for the enforcement authority to take on any technically qualified staff. They will merely be recording and satisfying themselves, as the efficient custodians of public safety, that the provisions of the Act are being complied with. I hope, therefore, that ratepayers will rest content that Parliament is not intending to impose considerable additional burdens upon them.

The hon. Gentleman also asked why we had chosen volume as the consideration which applies in respect of the Bill. We took the view that it is the volume of water contained in a lake or reservoir, and not necessarily the height of dams and so on, which must be the factor determining the risk to surrounding population.

We also took the view—which I hold very strongly—that in setting down criteria in the Bill it should be as simple as possible so that everybody can clearly understand. The simplest criterion one could arrive at, whether in respect of an ornamental lake or loch, or any other water installation that came within the terms of the Bill, was to define it in terms of volume, so that there could then be no confusion or doubt about the situation.

I assure the Committee that in determining these matters we have had the widest possible consultation with all the appropriate professional organisations and institutes. We have consulted the National Water Council, which also represents the regional water authorities; local authorities; the Confederation of British Industries; the National Farmers Union, and the Country Land Owners' Association. I mention that specifically for the benefit of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire. I thought its membership would be rather thicker on the ground possibly than that of the Trades Union Congress. Nevertheless, we have done our best, and I am happy to say that all these organisations have told us specifically that they have no objection to any of the principles and the way in which we intend to operate them.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why we had chosen the figure of five million gallons and not 10 million gallons. The answer is that the 1930 Act itself relies on five million gallons. That has worked successfully and, therefore, in the light of experience, particularly abroad, I could not advise hon. Members to depart from something which has proved to be successful. I am sure that is the right decision, although I understand the Institution's carefully thought out arguments for the volume of 10 million gallons. Where there is any doubt at all, Parliament must err on the side of public safety and, therefore, it is better for us to accept five million gallons as the volume at which the Act would apply.

The question of the 10-yearly inspection was raised. I understand the point here. The 1930 Act was based on a 10-yearly inspection; we have consulted the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Institution is happy with it. I am advised that the critical period in respect of large reservoirs is immediately they are put into operation, when they are first filled and the full strain comes to be assessed. I am assured that that is the critical period. During that period, of course, the dams are under constant inspection by the manufacturers and the civil engineers concerned. Nevertheless, as some doubt has been expressed about whether 10 years is an adequate frequency, I shall give the matter further thought. No doubt, in Committee we can return to the matter after I have taken further professional advice.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have every intention of looking at publicity. We intend to take steps centrally, through the publication of guidance on the application of the Bill when it is enacted, and we shall write to all local authorities telling them their obligations under this measure to the undertakers and to any other interested person. We shall do our best to ensure the maximum publicity both to interested authorities and to the public.

In this connection, will the Minister of State try to gain some inspiration from the 1957 Renton Report on the electricity industry?

I am always happy to gain inspiration from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Indeed, we have done so this morning. I was much touched by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's modest claim that he knew more about these matters than I. It may be self-evident to everyone, but it is difficult to swallow! I shall bear in mind this further matter to which he has drawn attention.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked how many reservoirs would be subject to the Bill. In this country there will be about 2,000. That should enable the Committee to understand the size and importance of the problem. He also asked how many would be built in future. That depends on many factors. One will be the increasing demand for water, to which I shall come in a moment, possibly when I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). He and I spent many happy hours—in this very room, I think—on the Water Bill. The Water Act, as it now is, was designed possibly to reduce the number of manmade lakes and reservoirs that would be needed to be constructed in future, yet at the same time taking account of the growing need for more water, doing that by various means, including the recycling of water, using water two or three times over, rather than building reservoirs, using water once and then putting it back into the river system. But I shall come back to that shortly.

On the matter of civil liability, I am advised that it is totally unchanged by the Bill. But I shall write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in order to be quite sure that what I am now saying off the cuff is quite correct and to confirm it before the next stage of the Bill.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to Grafham Water in his constituency, which I know very well. He mentioned the sporting opportunities. This Bill is not concerned with enlarging sporting and recreational opportunities, but I take this opportunity to say that I made it perfectly and firmly clear to the water authorities that I expect reservoirs constructed at great public expense to be amply open to the public at all times, consistent, of course, with the safety and purity of the water. I am glad to say that that policy is fully accepted by the new regional water authorities and the National Water Council. I shall see that it is followed up.

Regarding safety in construction, though I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman specifically referred to nuisances by noise and other aspects of construction, which are of great concern to us, that side of the matter is covered by the Control of Pollution Act which was enacted in about July of last year.

Talking of control of pollution, would the hon. Gentleman like to turn round and look at the dark smoke visible through the window?

Yes, I am very glad to say that that is the responsibility of the appropriate local authority. No doubt, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will draw the authority's attention to it.

I have been to Canada to talk to Ministers there about environmental matters. I concluded my talks with them—we have a close Canadian-British association in international matters, especially environmental matters—and I invited them to come to my office on the eighteenth floor of the Department of the Environment so that they could look at the clean buildings of London to see how we have cleaned up this city with the help of our atmospheric pollution Acts. I am sad to see that slight departure today.

I should like to accept, on behalf of the draftsmen, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's appreciation of Schedule 1. He is quite right. I do not think that in 20 years I have seen a similar schedule. Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I hope that the committee reviewing the matter will draw attention to the advantages of such a Schedule.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) seemed to find a considerable contradiction in Clause 22. I shall confirm this, but I accept what she said about the need for that drafting to be looked at, and I undertake to ensure that it is. Not being a lawyer, I do not see how it can be possible that there can be a reasonable excuse for a wilful default. But I am not quite sure that her point is good, because at the end of Clause 22(1)(a) there is the word "or", which then refers to subsection (1)(b)
"or … the undertakers fail to comply with a notice".
The clause says:
"unless there is reasonable excuse for the default or failure"
to comply with a notice. I am not sure, therefore, that the "reasonable excuse" applies to paragraph (a) as much as it applies to paragraph (b).

The point needs to be clarified and I shall undertake to clear it up in the course of the next few days. I shall write to my hon. Friend about it as well as giving a further and fuller explanation to the Committee when next we deal with the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and I have served many times on local government and water legislation Committees and I am glad to say that we share a history and a common approach to these matters. He asked about amenity and recreational owners and the cost to them. The cost would be entirely dependent upon the circumstances of each specific case. It is therefore difficult to say much about that.

He also asked whether the 1930 Act would be continued. The Bill would repeal and replace the 1930 Act.

As did the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West, my hon. Friend talked about penalties. I should like to tell the Committee that the penalties were stipulated after consultation with the Home Office. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had a distinguished career in the Home Office as a senior Minister. As consultations about the Bill continued through many administrations before its publication. I am not sure whether he was involved in advising what the penalties should be.

But I accept that on the surface, and having regard to inflation and—more important than inflation—the dangers involved, we ought to look at this subject in Committee. No doubt hon. Members will ensure that we do so. I shall ensure that we have a more detailed reply to offer and will either accept or improve—if that is the right word—or strengthen the powers. At least I hope to be able to give a more adequate explanation about the existing situation.

There was an interesting exchange between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend on the powers of the Water Resources Board, which is not specifically involved in this legislation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the previous administration, unfortunately, failed to accept our views about the abolition of the Water Resources Board and relied on the precept that it would have a weaker National Water Council and stronger regional water authorities.

Since I came to this Department I have been informed that the previous Conservative Government created nine nationalised water undertakings. If one is to nationalise anything, the job should be done properly and a strong central approach should be adopted.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that we shall review the situation in these areas in about two years' time. We cannot consider water reorganisation in isolation from local government reorganisation. I will content myself with saying that I suppose that I go around the country as much as any other Minister, visiting local authorities in connection particularly with sport and recreation. Everywhere I go I find, irrespective of the political colour of the local authority, growing and continuing concern about the effects of the previous Government's local government reorganisation and water reorganisation and the costs. I say that to assure hon. Members that the Government are well aware of the situation. It is exactly as my hon. Friend and I and others predicted when we were discussing these subjects.

It is also true to say that we are certainly not happy with a situation in which existing private water undertakers are allowed to remain outside the public system. Obviously, when we come to review the situation that is a matter that we shall have to study.

The Good Lord in his wisdom provides the rainfall. Being a theological student of some merit I cannot follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman's modest approach to these matters. But I do not think that the Good Lord intended his water to be divided between private and public authorities. That is my approach to these matters, and I am sure that it will commend itself to my hon. Friends.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) for most of his observations and I am particularly grateful for his refreshing honesty. His concern seemed to be about revenue for his constituency. One can understand that. Since the revenue comes as a result of the capital investment made by my constituency in Birmingham, I trust that when he considers what charges he should be making for the water that Wales will supply to us, he will specifically have regard to the fact that very large capital investments have been made by the inititive of the citizens of Birmingham and surrounding areas over many years. I am sure that he would not wish to confiscate the whole of those capital resources without having regard to the rateable value and the employment opportunities that Birmingham's investment has provided in his constituency for many years.

I have been connected with the problems of water supply in Birmingham for many years—I know this applies to Liverpool, too—and I know that there has always been the happiest and closest relationships between the responsible authorities. We understand their problems and desire to meet them wherever possible to ensure that they have a fair return from these resources, but we must keep a sense of responsible proportion.

There is no specific provision in the Bill for electricity generating reservoirs. However, as the construction must be supervised by a qualified civil engineer,

Pink, Mr. R. Bonner (Chairman)McGuire, Mr. Michael
Benyon, Mr.Renton, Sir David
Berry, Mr.Spearing, Mr.
Dunn, Mr.Thomas, Mr. D. E.
Eyre, Mr.Weetch, Mr.
Howell, Mr. DenisWise, Mrs.
Kilroy-Silk, Mr.

who must issue a certificate, the fact that he issues a certificate must have regard to the specific need of each of the reservoirs that he inspects. Therefore, if there are constant drops in the water levels in electricity reservoirs, presumably the professionally qualified engineer in charge would have full regard to those circumstances in the issuing of a certificate.

The enlargement of reservoirs, for example, the Craig Goch reservoir, is covered by the Bill.

I hope that I have now covered almost all the comments that hon. Members have made. There remains the question of our international collaboration and whether we are having discussions with other governments. I am glad to advise hon. Members that this is a matter in which UNESCO is very much involved. UNESCO has recently held a conference specifically on this matter, no doubt because of the international situation that I revealed to the Committee in my opening remarks, and I can assure the Committee that we are playing our full part. UNESCO will therefore provide the opportunity for the wide exchange of information between the countries that we all desire.

I hope that these explanations have been to the Committee's satisfaction and will enable us to report that we are prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Reservoirs Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

The Committee rose at eight minutes to Twelve o'clock.