HC Deb 07 December 1932 vol 272 cc1745-50

I beg to move, That this House regards the provision of adequate water supply and drainage as a prime necessity, especially in rural areas where the primitive character of these services constitutes a great danger to public health. 10.42 p.m.

It is very late and I do not propose to detain the House. I will just give the broad facts without any elaboration. It is a question of the inadequacy of the water supply and drainage system of this country. It is not unreasonable to ask that in the greatest civilized country in the world, in this twentieth century, all members of the community should have a sufficient supply of pure, clean, cold water and that they should be provided with efficient domestic drainage. If a fairy godmother were to appear and say that she was prepared to grant one wish, the one wish we should all desire is that of good health. What are the two essentials to good health? The answer must be pure, clean water, and plenty of it, and a hygienic domestic drainage system. Whilst giving credit for what has been clone in the past, the conditions in the rural areas to-day, in a good many of the areas, can only be described as appalling.

The water supply in a number of these areas depends on a communal well, of doubtful purity, and the drainage is primitive in the extreme, and is a definite danger owing to water pollution to public health. In these rural areas an improvement could be made by public service lines, but the cost is so great that this is not possible; and the same argument applies to efficient drainage. It was not until the Local Government Act of 1929 that the cost of rural water schemes of a purely parochial nature was removed and gave place to more comprehensive schemes which would supply water for large areas. But the application and the consideration that has been given to these schemes has been very slow, and very unsatisfactory. For example, the unsatisfactory nature of these drainage undertakings is to be found in Middlesex. It was only last year that the County Council of Middlesex, with the authority of Parliament, undertook a scheme covering a large area. They took in 19 areas. They abolished 28 local sewerage works, and the density of these sewerage works can be well understood when I state that there was one sewerage works to every five square miles, and most of them were unsatisfactory. In these cases the remedy is being applied, but not in other cases up and down the country, in spite of the unhealthy conditions and the many complaints.

I will read a couple of extracts from reports of Medical Officers of Health. In his annual report the Lincolnshire Medical Officer said that it was much to be regretted that the local rural council, owing to the cost, had turned down a scheme for the provision of a pure water supply for five villages. Had the council carried out a proposed scheme at that time the Unemployment Grants Committee would have contributed 75 per cent, of the principal and interest, whereas now it had been reduced to 50 per cent. This meant that villages would never have a chance of getting pure water at a cheap figure. Obviously they are still getting impure water in those five villages.

The Medical Officer of Health in a report to the Pateley Bridge Rural Council said that serious problems were presented with regard to water supplies in surrounding districts. Within 10 miles of Bradford's reservoirs in the Nidd Valley, villages and isolated groups of houses were suffering from a water shortage, although many miles of pipe line from the Leeds Reservoir at Leighton in Wensleydale ran through the rural area. The Medical Officer of Health added that although the Bradford reservoirs were so near it would not be feasible at present to take water from their source. The most practicable course would be to buy from Leeds, but the difficulty was finance. Here is another case where the villages are not getting pure water. At a recent Ministry of Health Inquiry it was revealed that the village of Cwmdare, in South Wales, had been without a water supply each day from 9.30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon for 37 years. There is no need for me to weary the House with details of the epidemic that recently broke out and still exists in the Malton and Denby Vale district of Yorkshire. We all know that in that plague there were over 260 affected, that there have been 20 deaths and that the doctor who so heroically attended to the victims has died. We know that the epidemic was caused by impure water. There is no doubt that the contamination was through defective drains.

The provision of a proper water supply and proper drainage in this country must be regarded as a national service. I consider it is the duty of the Minister of Health and the Government to call all the rural and local authorities together with the idea of bringing forward a comprehensive scheme on a large scale, whereby the rural areas that do not at the moment get pure water may get pure water. If we go into a rural area and see a well on the one hand and cesspool drainage on the other, we must realize that the percolation of the impure water must contaminate the water supply. If it does not, there is always danger that it will.

I am making an appeal to the Minister to do whatever he can to see that the inhabitants of this country are provided with pure, clean water and asking that he shall call the authorities together, and that it shall be a part of his duties to see that proper drainage is provided. It is not sufficient for him to say that the responsibility is the responsibility of the local authorities. I say quite definitely that the primary responsibility may be with the local authority, but that there is a responsibility which rests on the Government and on the Minister of Health. Therefore, I say that, with the knowledge of their responsibility they should see that these undertakings are so arranged that the least we shall expect is pure water and modern hygienic drainage. I have not had time to develop any arguments, and I have endeavoured to stick rigidly to the facts, because I feel that the Minister would like to have an opportunity to reply.

10.52 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy). While I appreciate the absolute necessity for trying to improve the water supplies of the country, I realize that in a time of national economy, such as we have at present, it is very difficult to expect the Government, or for that matter the local authorities, to embark on elaborate schemes in regard to further provision of water supplies in the rural areas, and I do very respectfully suggest to the Minister of Health that a great deal can be done if only local health authorities will enforce and carry out the powers which they have already under their control, under Clause 2 of the Public Health Act, 1878, which definitely states that it shall be the duty of every local authority to ensure that there is an adequate supply of water within range of every dwelling-house. One has to appreciate that in purely rural areas it is quite impossible to have a main supply. Therefore, of course, one has to have water supplies from surface wells and storage tanks, but that is not altogether satisfactory, because with regard to purely local supplies, such as surface wells and tanks, we all know how rapidly the typhoid bacillus is able to spread. The House and the country have had a very painful experience of this during the last few months in the case of Denby Vale and Malton. Even though there was an adequate water supply from the public supply, it was possible for the typhoid bacillus to get into the water with very disastrous and very tragic results involving the death of many people in those two areas. If that can happen where there is a public water supply, how much easier is it for it to happen where there is no proper main supply.

It is, I suggest, a crime for local authorities not to enforce the powers they have to-day. It is a crime to allow houses to draw water from surface wells while at the same time there is very often within a few yards a proper supply of water running along the street or road from a water undertaking. I know that there are local authorities who do not carry out their duties properly under the Act of 1878, and, although there is an adequate supply of water going along the roadways in front of the houses, they are not compelling the people to take that water. With regard to the question of rating of water undertakings, there are, as the House knows, two types of water undertakings. There are those run by local authorities which are run on behalf of the ratepayers, and there are those run by statutory water undertakings. Although these companies are run for profit, the provisional Order or Act of Parliament under which they operate, strictly limits the profits. At present, the system of rating water undertakings is most inequitable. The rating is upon the basis of the difference between the revenue and the expenditure without any regard to other considerations. This method inflicts a great hardship on the undertakings and also on the consumers of water from those undertakings. The rates which the undertakings pay are not used for the benefit of the ratepayers in that particular locality. A large proportion of the rates are utilized by the county in which the undertaking is situated, with the result that those areas which have adequate supplies of water are contributing more than their fair share and those which have not an adequate supply have an unfair advantage over those which have. I suggest that there is great need for a revision of the rating of water undertakings in this country.

10.58 p.m.


I much regret that I have only a minute and a half in which to reply. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Glossop) for raising this question, and I sincerely hope that they will raise a subject of this importance again at a time when we can give all our minds to it and at a time which will enable some representative of the Ministry of Health to reply. May I suggest that such an occasion will arise on the Estimates if not before. It is a subject of vital importance and the danger of neglecting water supplies has recently been brought home to everybody, particularly in the Yorkshire district. Let me correct one misapprehension. If any local authority has a scheme, I do not want such authority to think that it is debarred by any economy circular from applying to the Ministry for consideration of its scheme. I want to make that perfectly clear. Although economy has to a certain extent affected the position, because as hon. Members know, the grants have ceased, nevertheless we are anxious to encourage the supplying of pure water particularly in rural areas, and if any hon. Member has any particular scheme in mind and if that scheme is submitted to the Ministry, it will have sympathetic consideration.


Then I understand that if these authorities submit their schemes to the Ministry those schemes will receive favorable consideration and that the hon. Gentleman asks them to submit such schemes?


Every scheme will, of course, be considered on the merits.


I appreciate that.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House regards the provision of adequate water supply and drainage as a prime necessity, especially in rural areas Where the primitive character of these services constitutes a great danger to public health.