HC Deb 29 June 1909 vol 7 cc307-19

Order for third reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

Mr. KEIR HARDIE moved to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day three months."

At the outset I desire to make it clear that we are not opposing this Bill on its general merits or demerits, but solely in respect of one particular clause. The point at issue is really a small one, in so far as it affects the general purpose of the Bill, and it is a very large and important one, in its bearings upon a portion of the Constituency which I represent. I may say that, before bringing the matter before the attention of the House, we have endeavoured, by negotiation and by conference, to get the point at issue settled, but I hope to show in the course of my remarks that we have to complain of a very serious breach of faith on the part of the promoters of the Bill. The point at issue is, whether Aberdare shall be forced against its will to come within the scope of this Bill. Aberdare is an urban district in the county of Glamorgan, comprising over 15,000 acres, and is governed by a council of 20 members, with a population estimated now at 50,000, the increase for the last 20 years being at the rate of over 1,000 per annum. The estimated rateable value of the area for 1895 was £163,600. and the assessment value £130,912. Those are the figures for 1895, those for this year are £195,194 rateable value, and £167,213 assessable value, and the value of the place is steadily increasing. In 1900 the general district rate was 3s. 6d. in the £. in 1909 it had fallen to 2s. 9d. in the £. Therefore it may be assumed, if for any purpose the county council of Glamorgan should desire to compel Aberdare to come within the scope of any scheme of theirs, it is obvious that from the point of view of wealth and assessable value, it is worth making the effort to obtain. Since the public authority began to supply the inhabitants with water, altogether £200,000 have been spent, of which only £33,000 odd are now outstanding, the whole of the rest of the capital having been redeemed— the stock having been redeemed. For some years there has been an effort on the part of various authorities in the county of Glamorgan and in the county council, to come to some arrangement whereby the supply of water can be centralised, and to that general proposition I have not only no objection, but it commands my heartiest support and sympathy. It is obvious that, as the population increases, it will become more and more imperative for some general arrange- ment to be made, whereby one district shall not be allowed to monopolise favourable water supplies, to the exclusion of other districts.

For years, I say, there has been an effort to find some basis of agreement in regard to this matter, and so late as 12th March, 1909, a conference was convened by the county council to discuss the position and endeavour to come to some arrangement. The meeting was held at Neath, and was attended by a Mr. Franklyn, the clerk, and other members of the county council, and also by the various authorities affected, including Aberdare. After considerable discussion the clerk of the county council undertook to modify the Bill they were preparing, and particularly to insert a clause to the following effect: "That no water district created under the Bill should include any city, borough, or urban district having a population exceeding 7,000 without the consent of the council of such city, borough, or urban district." The county council accepted the principle at the conference that no authority with a population exceeding 7,000 should be compelled to come in without its consent, and as the population of Aberdare, within the area of the Aberdare Council, is now 50,000, it is obvious that they are well outside the scope of the limit which the Council then agreed to accept. In the Bill subsequently framed to give effect to this agreement, it was provided that no water district created under this section shall include any city, borough, or urban district, having a population exceeding 7,000 without the consent of the council of such city, borough, or urban district, and sub-section 3 of the same clause provided that no area not within the limits of supply of any such mentioned company or authority shall be included without the consent of the local authority having jurisdiction within such area, unless such local authority shall have failed to supply the same area with a proper and sufficient supply of pure and wholesome water. That gave the proposed Water Board power to compel people to come in where it could be shown that the water supply was neither pure nor sufficient, and neither of these charges can be laid against the water supply of Aberdare. We ask that that agreement be adhered to. As far back as 1876 new waterworks were completed 850 ft. above the Ordnance level at a cost of £55,000 and with a storage of 40,000,000 gallons, to supply a population of then 38,000, the daily supply being 820,000 gallons. In 1898 an additional and new reservoir was built to the west of the old one, at a cost of £43,000 and a holding capacity of 73,000,000 gallons. The consumption now is just over a million gallons a day, and the reservoirs have a storage supply of 110 to 120 days. It is obvious, therefore, that Aberdare has not failed in any of the respects contemplated by this clause. Then, in the event of Aberdare being compelled to come within the scheme of this Bill, it would have to do so at considerable financial sacrifice. Clause 7 provides that where the works of a private company are taken over the Lands Clauses Act shall operate, which means the full price as a growing concern, plus 10 per cent.; and under Clause 16 it is laid down that where the waterworks belong to a public authority they shall be acquired at the cost of construction less depreciation. Therefore, a private company speculating for gain is to reap an advantage when their works are acquired under this Bill, and the public - spirited public authority is to be called upon to undergo considerable financial loss. At the present time, owing to sales of water to public companies and other large concerns, Aberdare's income is £1,700 per annum. There is no provision whatever for compensation for the loss of this income. The income arises from the public spiritedmanner in which the affairs of Aberdare have been managed, and now, because of their foresight and business capacity in providing this excellent supply of pure water, they are to be penalised.

I ask, in the first place, that Aberdare shall not be compelled to come within the scope of the Water Board which this Bill creates without its own consent, or, if that be not conceded, that at least the financial position of the council shall be so safeguarded that no financial loss shall ensue. In taking up this attitude I expect to have the support of the President of the Local Government Board. Every objection which Aberdare takes to this can be found in the Report which Mr. S. B. Travis issued before the Committee sat upon the Bill, in which he analyses it clause by clause and generally condemns it. It is obvious that so far as the Local Government Board is concerned, this Bill is no favourite of theirs. Mr. Travis, in his Report, says: — The Board are aware that the water supply in several areas in the county is deficient, and there may be difficulty in finding separate sources of supply suitable for meeting the separate requirements of those areas…It is to be observed that the Bill does not propose to authorise the acquisition of any new sources of supply, and that the works proposed are mainly for the utilisation of a source of supply authorised by the 1908 Act of the Pontypridd Water Company.

The object I have in view in reading these two paragraphs is to point out the danger that Aberdare is in. It has an abundant supply, which, no matter what the extension of the population may be, can be relied upon to last and be adequate for many years to come. A number of the areas which have been taken in by this Bill have a deficient water supply. The risk, therefore, is that this Water Board, if set up, may desire to bring Aberdare in so as to draw a portion of its present superabundant supply to make good the deficiencies of other parts of the county. On the point of compulsion Mr. Travis goes on to point out that in all former measures of this kind the county council did not take part, but they were usually effected by agreement between the local authorities, who had statutory powers for the supply of water. Then in the same paragraph he adds:— The Board submit for consideration whether a measure of this exceptional nature should he allowed to succeed without the effective concurrence of the local authorities and ratepayers who will be affected by its provisions.

That is our case put in a single sentence: that provision should be made in the Bill that Aberdare shall not be dragged in against its will. That is the opinion of the Local Government Board, and I hope it will be given effect to in the measure now before us. This Report also points out that there are no precedents for a measure of this kind, and that the only apparent precedent is the Metropolis Water Act of 1902, but that there are special circumstances which justify that Act, and which do not apply in this case. The Report also deals with that, and points out that the local authority may have its financial position worsened unless some safeguard be inserted. These are the words used in the Report:— It is proposed that the consideration for the purchase of so much of the undertaking of a constituent authority as is to be acquired under the Bill is to be the cost price after allowing for depreciation, and is to be determined in default of agreement or on the requisition of any other constituent authority by the standing arbitrator, whose remuneration is to be fixed by the Water Board. As regards the company's undertaking, however, the purchase price is to be determined, in default of agreement, in accordance with the provisions of the Land; Clauses Act, and the companies will therefore receive the value of their undertakings as going concerns, with the addition of 10 per cent, in respect of compulsory purchase.

Here is the moral which this Report draws from that statement:— It is to be observed that the constituent authority may be provided with a source of supply ample for its own requirements without any guarantee that the cost of obtaning a bulk supply from the Water Board will not exceed the cost of its present supply. I think when a Department like the Local Government Board sounds a note of warning so serious as the one I have just read, it is incumbent upon Committees considering these Bills, the Department in charge of them, and the House of Commons itself, to see that the lead here given is strongly followed. The final quotation I shall make from the Report deals with the possibility of a district having its supply of water worsened. The Report says:— In the case of a deficiency in the water supply such as is referred to in sub-clause 5 of clause 30, the district which draws last on the distributing main might conceivably be left with very little water if clause 37 is construed literally.

It so happens that Aberdare is beautifully situated at the very top of the valley, and that at the present time, under its old supply, it has abundance and to spare, but if brought within the scope of this Bill it may find itself one day not only bereft of its own supply but without a sufficient supply for its requirements, public and private. For these reasons we ask that provision shall be made in the Bill that Aberdare shall not be compelled to come in without its consent. The retort may be made that the position of Aberdare is safeguarded under Clause 5 of the Bill, which sets forth that no district outside the scope of the Bill shall be brought in save by Provisional Order introduced by the Local Government Board. That means practically that the proposal would come before both Houses of Parliament for inquiry and discussion. It means inquiry by the Local Government Board, and I have no doubt that Board would be anxious to do the right and proper thing by the authority that is being brought in, but the Aberdare Council and the inhabitants prefer to safeguard their own interests. We know what the Local Government Board is, and we know what its President is. We know that we are perfectly safe as things are to-day, but we do not know what the Board may be like five, eight, or ten years from now, and so we prefer not to take any risks. There is this further consideration: An inquiry of that kind would involve tremendous expense. A Provisional Order requiring to be opposed would involve the Council in great outlay, and I submit that, without good reason shown, it is not fair to a progressive local authority to act towards it in that manner. That is the case for our opposition. I trust that we shall have an assurance from the Chairman of the Committee perhaps, or from the President of the Local Government Board, that when this Bill reaches another place words will be inserted to safeguard the position of Aberdare, so as to prevent the possibility of its being compelled to come unwillingly into this agreement; or, at least, if that cannot be done, that its financial position shall be safeguarded so that, if brought in, it will not be in a worse position, either as to the cost of water, or as to its position generally, than it is at the present time. The clause as drafted is very loose. It may be construed to mean that not only the county council, but any local authority, may apply to the Local Government Board to have Aberdare brought in. The promoters of the Bill have expressed their willingness so to amend the clause as to make it clear that only the county council shall have power to make application. That is so far good, but remembering the fat, rich area which the Aberdare Council represents in regard to rates, the Country Council doubtless will be only too desirous to have it brought in. For these reasons we prefer that words should be inserted, that nothing shall be done to compel the Aberdare Council to come in without the free and willing consent of the persons affected. I beg to move.


I beg formally to second the Amendment.

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."


The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) has stated that this Bill provides for the constitution of a Water Board in the county of Glamorgan, and that the area of the Board will comprise a considerable portion of the county. During the past few years considerable sums of money have been expended by the County Council of Glamorgan, and by various local authorities—borough, urban and rural councils—in promoting and opposing Bills for a water supply in the county of Glamorgan. Ultimately Parliament passed a measure some three years ago giving the County Council of Glamorgan power to make inquiries with regard to water supply, and to bring in a Bill so as to constitute a Water Board in the county. It is in pursuance of that Act of Parliament that the County Council of Glamorgan have promoted this Bill. It is a very intricate and complicated measure. When I mention that it con- tains no less than 97 clauses, and a number of schedules, the House will recognise that it is a measure of very great importance to the county of Glamorgan. This Bill has occupied the attention of a Committee for a good many days. The county council, as the promoters of the Bill, and the various urban, rural, and other authorities, water companies, colliery companies, and a great many other interests affected by the Bill, were represented by counsel before the Committee. In the end the Committee were unanimous that the Bill was promoted in the interests of the various districts within the proposed area. There was also included in the Bill, words giving power to the Water Board, to be constituted under the Bill, to apply at any time after the passing of the Act to the Local Government Board in order to obtain a Provisional Order to bring within the area of the Water Board all the districts in the county of Glamorgan which are at present left out of that particular area.

It is in regard to the words in Clause 5, and only in that particular clause, that the Amendment has been moved by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Keir Hardie). I certainly think it would be very disastrous to the county of Glamorgan if on this small question as to Aberdare the county should lose the benefit which this Bill will provide. In 1906 Parliament set forth in a Bill which then was before the House of Commons, and ultimately became an Act of Parliament, that Glamorgan was in a special degree in the position of having its water supply in such a condition that it was absolutely necessary for the county council of the county to take steps in order to make provision for the inhabitants in large and populous areas in that county. With regard to the question of Aberdare, as well as other urban and rural districts lying outside this particular measure, evidence was given before the Committee, and Aberdare was represented by counsel and witnesses. After hearing witnesses with regard to the special clause mentioned, the Committee came to the conclusion that within a very short time it would be necessary in many parts of Glamorgan that the districts outside should be joined within the Water Board to be established by this Bill, and the promoters added words in Clause 5 to the effect that if a year after a Water Board came to the conclusion that it was necessary that any district, including, of course, Aberdare, should come within the area of the Water Board, the Water Board should have power to apply to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order. Evidence was given before the Committee, and after carefully considering this point the Committee were unanimous that it would not be right or proper to give power to apply for a Provisional Order to the Water Board to be constituted under the Bill, but that it would be best in the interests of outside districts to confine an application for a Provisional Order to the County Council of Glamorgan, who would be entirely independent of the Water Board to be established under the Bill; and the Committee accordingly came to the conclusion that they would so alter the clause that on the application of the County Council of Glamorgan, or any one of the urban or rural district or borough councils left out of the area, the Local Government Board should be empowered to issue a Provisional Order, and that stands in the Bill to-day.

The hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) states that his great objection to this particular clause is that Aberdare, like any other outside authority in the county of Glamorgan, might be compelled to form part of the area of the Water Board against its will. I do not think that that could possibly happen under the provision of the Bill and under clause 5 as it stands to-day. What would be the provision of Aberdare? If a year after Aberdare thought it was expedient for the district to come within the Water Board they could apply to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order. But if, on the other hand, the council of Aberdare took no steps in the matter, but the county council, which represents to a certain extent for water supply purposes under the Act of 1906 the district of Aberdare, in common with all other districts throughout the county, came to the conclusion that it was necessary with regard to Aberdare that it should form part of the area of the Water Board, then the county council could apply to the Local Government Board, and the first step of the Local Government Board would be to send down an inspector in order to make local inquiry at Aberdare with regard to this water supply and the proposal to bring it within the area of the Water Board, and if after hearing witnesses and obtaining the Report of the inspector the Local Government Board came to the conclusion that a Provisional Order should be made, then, after that Provisional Order was made, Aberdare would have the right to appear before a Committee of the House of Commons and to have a Committee appointed so that the question of the Provisional Order with regard to bringing in Aberdare should be finally decided upon. Therefore there would not only be a Committee of the House of Commons, but if the House of Commons passsed the Provisional Order there would also be another appeal, and Aberdare could go to the House of Lords. But what would be the provision suppose we had not put in this clause in this particular Bill? We placed it in this Bill because we found that there had been an enormous expenditure by local authorities throughout the county Glamorgan, and that it was necessary to put a stop to this large expenditure. And as we knew that under the Public Health Act and other Acts of Parliament Parliament had laid down that a local authority could come to Parliament through the Local Government Board by means of a Provisional Order and obtain an Act of Parliament at very little cost, we thought it was expedient that we should give this power to the local authorities within Glamorgan and to the county council of Glamorgan, so that they might-be placed in the position of any other local authority throughout the county.

That is the sole reason why we gave this particular authority. The hon. Member states that if the county council of Glamorgan came to this House for a Provisional Order great injustice financially would be placed upon Aberdare, and that they would have to come within the Bill, the third reading of which is now under consideration. But there, again, the Committee after considering the points raised by counsel on behalf of a number of local authorities, such as Aberdare, and including Aberdare, unanimously came to the conclusion that we should so alter the clause in the Bill with regard to applying for a Provisional Order that any outside authority hereafter to be brought within the Water Board should only come within the Water Board here on terms to be decided by the Local Government Board, and should not be obliged to come in under the terms of the Bill itself. What the Committee did was this. We inserted a provision that any Provisional Order made should contain such terms, conditions, and provisions as the Local Government Board thought fit, having regard to all the circumstances in each particular case, including Aberdare.


May I ask whether the cost of the undertaking would not be governed by Clause 27?


I am quite clear that is not so. That point was brought before the Committee, and we so elaborated Clause 5 as to make it clear that if a Provisional Order was made in regard to any outside district that might hereafter be brought in by Provisional Order, the Local Government Board would have full power to insert in that Provisional Order the terms and conditions and provisions of their case, and according to the inquiry which had been made. Therefore those terms are safeguarded. I appeal to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil to withdraw his Amendment, which would destroy the Bill if it were passed. The opposition of Aberdare is on a small point, though perhaps, from Aberdare's point of view, it is one which they may consider to be prejudicial to them, but I can assure the hon. Member that the Committee were absolutely convinced that within a very few years after the establishment of the Water Board constituted by this Bill there would be applications to bring other areas in the county of Glamorgan within the Water Board. If this clause were not inserted, the county council of Glamorgan would have power next year, or in the following Session, to bring in a Bill to put Aberdare within the Water Board if the county council thought it was expedient to do so. We only put in these words with regard to a Provisional Order in order to save the cost of a Parliamentary inquiry, if it was possible to do so, by the parties coming to terms on the question of the Provisional Order itself. I do hope that the hon. Member, after having heard this explanation, will withdraw the Amendment. Any question of the clauses can be considered in another place. The Committee have fully considered this question, and have come to the conclusion that they would not be doing their duty if, in addition to constituting the Water Board provided by the Bill, they did not also pass a clause, with the alterations I have mentioned, to enable the county council of Glamorgan, or any local authority, to apply for a Provisional Order, so that other districts, without incurring the expense of bringing in a Bill, may have the benefit of the Water Board such as is now being established.


After the clear and admirable speech made by the Chairman of the Committee, which sat upon this Bill, I hope that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) will not press his Motion. I would add as an additional argument to those advanced by the Chairman of the Committee that if the hon. Member's Motion were carried this Bill would be destroyed, and it does seem to me that would be a very serious responsibility to undertake upon a Bill that contains some 97 clauses in 84 pages, that has occupied three weeks of Parliamentary time, and has, I believe, cost the district concerned nearer £20,000 than £15,000. If the hon. Member really wishes to secure the point he has raised that Aberdare should be adequately treated, instead of moving that this Bill be read this day three months—because that destroys the measure—it would have been a better course for him to move that it be recommitted so far as this particular point as to Aberdare is concerned. In my judgment even that is like trying to crack a nut with a steam hammer. The facts brought forward by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil himself were adequately revealed to the Committee by competent and expert counsel, and Aberdare had all the advantage of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member during a fair and adequate hearing upstairs. If the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil be right upon the broad facts, namely, that Aberdare has a superabundant water supply, is at the head of the valley, and commands, almost dominates, the watershed to which it and neighbouring communities have the right to get access, it seems to me that is a condition of things on which both Glamorgan and all the communities in that area have a right, through the agency of a Parliamentary Committee, to say that such particular area shall not be so dominated As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil himself frankly confessed, to prevent one local authority monopolising for itself what Nature intended for all, seems to be the object of this particular Bill, and I appeal to him not to press his Motion. There are many arguments in support of the Chairman's view, the chief in my judgment being that Aberdare has not got a particularly strong case for preferential treatment. It has a good water supply out of which it makes a profit by supplying; water to others.


For public works within the area.


It is the same thing. Aberdare, having a super-abundant water supply, has power to make a profit by exploiting either the industrial or commercial necessities of the area, while lower down the valley there are other communities equally entitled to the water and to the protection of Parliament, and who have no right to be put under disability during which Aberdare can make a handsome profit to the detriment of those other communities. The Local Government Board, as guardian of the local authorities, does not treat a particular one as a pet lamb, that shall have all the pure and abundant stream to drink from, while in the lower regions of the valley they are to have none at all, and it would promote a Provisional Order Bill, after a local inquiry had been held, at which Aberdare had an opportunity of putting its case, and it would be seen that Aberdare got just, generous, and co-equal treatment, more than which it has no right to claim over and above other local authorities, whose water rights ought certainly to be taken into consideration. I would ask the hon. Member for Merthyr to rest content with the Chairman's assurance, and above all, he can rely on it that the Local Government Board will do its best to safeguard all the local authorities, and from now until the Bill reaches another place I am pleased to hear that the promoters are prepared to make things a little more clear with regard to the phraseology of one or two of the clauses. I trust with that assurance that the House will give this Bill a third reading.


May I ask leave to withdraw? I do so on the understanding that it is only the county council has the right to make the application. May I suggest, also, that the wording of Clause 5 should be made clear that in acquiring an undertaking like Aberdare the financial position would be safeguarded. That would be simply carrying out what is the intention of the Committee, and which I am not sure is clearly expressed in the Bill. Aberdare does not want preferential treatment, but asks not to be penalised.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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