HC Deb 08 May 1933 vol 277 cc1231-86

3.33 p.m.

Viscount ELMLEY

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof the words: this House appreciates the valuable work of bodies and persons engaged in local government and is of opinion that His Majesty's Government should keep closely under review the difficulties experienced by local authorities, particularly in rural areas with diminished rateable resources, in dealing with the problems arising from the relief of the unemployed agricultural worker, and the provision of adequate systems of water supply and sewerage. In a book which I read recently I found that local government was defined as the gentle art of living together, but it will be admitted that it is a far more difficult art than many people suppose. All the aspects of local government have this in common, that they revolve round the Local Government Act of 1929 like planets revolving round the sun. Today's Debate, therefore, must largely follow the same orbit. I would like to put forward one or two questions from the point of view of the rural authorities and to divide my speech into two parts, taking first the things which local authorities can in a large measure do for themselves with a modicum of assistance from the Government, and, second, financial matters for which more Government help is needed. Among the things which local authorities can do for themselves there will be general agreement that it is of first-rate importance that we should have a first-class water supply throughout the country. No words of mine are needed to emphasise that fact in view of its importance from the point of view of health and general convenience.

From the point of view of health, we had a terrible example not long ago at Mahon in Yorkshire of what can happen to people when the water supply becomes contaminated. Recently I was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital and was shown a big collection of stones which had been cut out of unfortunate people at various times, and the reason attributed for the commonness of that complaint was the hardness of the water. From the point of view of convenience, we need to live in a house which has no water supply and then in a house that has a supply to appreciate the great difference it makes to life. It is important, too, to the agriculturist. For instance, for a dairy farmer it is essential to have a good water supply in order that he can keep everything nice and clean and tidy. At the present time there are several reasons why progress ought to be made in this matter and attention paid to it. The cost of constructional work has much diminished recently, and I do not think that it is generally known that a parish can get a grant from the general purposes fund of a district council, which it was unable to get before the Local Government Act of 1929. That is one of the good changes which that Act made. That point is well worth remembering now because the Unemployment Grants Committee, from which grants could previously be obtained, has to all intents and purposes closed down.

The report of the Ministry of Health for 1932 says that in many rural areas conditions are most unsatisfactory, and in the last report issued by the medical officer of health for Norfolk it is stated that in that county water is mainly obtained from shallow wells which are liable to pollution. I hope that the points that I have made show that this problem is urgent, and it is not so expensive to solve as some of the problems which we have in front of us. This is an additional reason why steps should be taken immediately, and I suggest that if any district council wants to benefit the people in its area, and wants to do so without spending a great deal of money, they might do much worse than make a survey of all the sources of water supply in their area and inexpensively improve them. Obviously, the most convenient type of water supply is the piped supply, but unfortunately that it not always possible, especially in scattered districts where there are comparatively few people. On the other hand, I see in the report which the Minister of Health issued some time ago on the subject of water supplies in rural districts that there are many large villages with a stationary population which have no reliable supply in times of drought and that always of a doutbful quality.

Sometimes it is found that water companies are very slow to extend their area of supply on their own initiative, even when their income is guaranteed and when clearly they ought to do so. I suggest, therefore, that if their income is guaranteed, within, say, six months, they should be compelled to extend their supply where they have taken powers to do so. I would like to ask the Minister a question which has been addressed to me by several people about the operation of water supply companies. If a body of people feel that they are being charged too much for their water, is there anything that they can do about it? Can they appeal to the Minister of Health or get some impartial body to look into their complaint and to make some recommendation with a view to seeing that justice is done to them? Another good reason for having a piped supply is that it will attract builders. A builder will feel far more disposed to put up houses in a place if he knows that there is a good water supply.

Recently I had the advantage of being shown what the City of Chester is doing in providing an up-to-date water supply, and I cannot help feeling that what they have done is worthy of special commendation and that it could be followed with great advantage by a number of places, even on a smaller scale. The water is taken from the River Dee, and is pumped a distance of 1½ miles to a place where it goes through four different stages of purification. A substance which looks like a compound of sulphur and alum is first added, it then goes through quick-acting filters and through slow-acting filters, and finally a small quantity of chlorine is added to the water before it is stored in the reservoir. This is a somewhat elaborate plant, put up at a cost of £60,000, for the City of Chester is a big city, and it is possible for the water company to carry out such an undertaking, but I feel there are many smaller places in this country situated by the side of a river where something of the same kind could be done at a much lower cost.

The main trouble about providing a water supply is finance. As far as one can see at present, water supply must be a local rather than a national service. I understand that some of my hon. Friends who will follow me this afternoon have much greater technical knowledge than I have, and I do hope this aspect of the matter will be brought out, and that we may have the advantage of learning whether it would be possible to get a water supply more on a national scale than it is at present. The farthest we have gone in that direction so far appears to be in the case of Manchester, which gets its water from the Lake District, 50 miles away, and Birmingham, which gets its water from the Welsh hills, 70 miles away, and these in themselves are a kind of grid schemes. I am sure the House would be glad to hear whether we could extend that system to a wider area. The charges involved in providing a good water supply seem to me to be quite reasonable, and not beyond the capacity of many people to pay. The report of the Ministry of Health on the provision of water supplies suggested that the best way was to rate a parish as a whole, and to rate individual consumers more highly, and stated that it worked out at a charge of less than 1d. per day for each house and 6s. a year each inhabitant. I think that is quite reasonable.

Other sources of supply—wells and rainwater—are more primitive, and need special care and supervision, which they have not had so far. Pollution must be prevented, and it is where water is obtained from wells and rain-water that the local authorities can do most. Public wells should be encouraged in small villages, because they will be better constructed and maintained than private ones, and it will not be beyond the financial capacity of people to pay for them. Only water which is perfect should be charged for. If there is one good public well in a village, the others, if not in good condition, should be closed. Private wells are often very unsatisfactory. I believe that under the Act of 1878 the local authorities could close up a great many wells if they were so minded. On the other hand, referring to what I said a moment or two ago, I think they could inexpensively improve a good many wells. It does not cost much to put a parapet round a well or instal filters, to put a concrete surface round it or substitute a pump for a bucket. Such things do not cost much, but they do improve the water supply to certain extent. Rain-water is used a good deal throughout the country, and I understand there is no evidence whatever of ill-health being caused by its use. Here storage is the main problem. A house of average size, containing, say, five people, wants storage for at least 1,000 gallons, a quantity which could last that house 40 days in case no more rain fell. The bylaws relating to the construction of the tank, its size and situation ought to be more often enforced by local authorities.

To sum up on this important question, there is no shadow of doubt that in the future we ought to have regional planning as far as possible. Regional planning simply means this, that when a water supply is being installed it should not be designed with the object of supplying one place only, but those responsible ought to look around and see how many other places can be supplied at the same time. There was a scheme on those lines recently in the Wymondham district of Norfolk, under which they managed to supply several other places besides the central place. That sort of thing ought to be done on a bigger scale. I would like the Minister to tell us what progress has been made in this direction during the last year, and if he will encourage local authorities to work upon those lines. I should also like to know if he thinks it would be possible to have a regional committee, such as there are in one or two places in the Midlands, in a rather scattered county like Norfolk. If the Government would give a lead in this matter local authorities would follow it up, and a great deal of good would be accomplished.

The subject of water supply leads on to the questions of drainage and sewerage. There, the first necessity is a good water supply. If it came to a question of whether water supply or drainage is the more important, I should say that a good water supply ought to come first, because if it were afterwards decided to go on with a drainage system it would be found to be very much easier to do so. As in the case of water supply, a parish can obtain a grant for drainage work from the general purposes fund of a local authority. I do not think it is generally known that a private person can put in a drainage scheme provided he does not disturb the public roads. Under the Act of 1929 an important change was made. Prior to that Act there was a limitation on the borrowing powers of the local authorities for sewerage schemes. I would like the Minister to tell us what progress has been made in consequence of the Act of 1929. Here, again, progress is very well worth while, because a higher and higher standard of drainage is being demanded, largely because of the Amenities provided in towns. We should do all we can to get better drainage throughout the country.

I do not propose to say very much about housing, because a great deal has been said about it in this House recently. The two Acts which affect us chiefly are the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, and the Housing Act, 1930. I was very glad to see that recently the Minister sent a very strong circular to all local authorities urging them to do their duty and to exercise their powers, which are considerable, under those two Acts. The last Report of the Ministry of Health says that the situation in the country would be better if those two Acts were carried out to the full. Nobody who takes a walk around the countryside will be very long before seeing that there is a great deal of room for improvement in many respects. Here, again, building costs are down and money is cheap. This seems to be the moment to go ahead.

I would like to give the House a very good instance of how I think the Act of 1926 could be applied. I received a complaint about the very bad state of a house, and I went to see it. I am afraid there are far worse things in, say, Newcastle, but this was quite bad enough. I found that there was a family of eight people, father, mother, three sons and three daughters, living in three rooms. Anybody of average height would find it impossible to stand upright in any of the rooms, and everything such as cooking, eating, washing, and so, on, had to be done in the small central room. There were, as I say, only three rooms, and one was for the men, one was the living room, and one was for the women. If, under the 1926 Act, even another room could be added to that house, it would make a great deal of difference to those people. The house was not in such a bad state that it had to be pulled down; in fact, when I carried the matter further, I was like the fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. My idea was to get the house inspected by the medical officer of health with a view to having it condemned. The medical officer of health found that he could only condemn it on the ground that it was overcrowded, and, as a result, the local authority served a notice on the tenant to abate the nuisance of overcrowding. That did not do anybody any good, because the tenants were quite unable to get any other house, and matters still stand as they were. If, instead of serving that notice, the local authority had carried out their powers under the 1926 Act and had built even one more room, which could quite easily have been done, they would have made things very much better and more easy for that family. I take it that that is the kind of way in which the 1926 Act is expected to work. Of course, in the part of Norfolk which I know, there are a good many old houses built of wattle, daub or clay, and they are in such a state that if you tried to do anything to them they would fall down altogether. I do not see how under that, or under any other Act, you could put them into a proper condition.

I am sure that if the 1930 Act were carded out by the local authorities as it was meant to be it would do a great deal of good. One or two difficulties have presented themselves to my mind in connection with its working. I am informed that it is cheaper to build under the 1924 Act, unless the de-housed family consists of at least five people. Very often the houses are occupied by elderly people. There is no provision for the housing of overcrowded families under this Act, unless the houses themselves are unfit for human habitation. Then there is this point: In any improvement scheme under the 1930 Act, local authorities have power to buy land for the opening up of houses, but they have no power to charge any of the costs to the owner of the houses. The result is that the value of the property of the landlord is enhanced at the expense of the ratepayers, and that does not seem to be altogether right. Sometimes you find that the very situation of a house will cancel out any improvement that you make. You may find that the house abuts on to a road, and that you cannot improve the house without taking up space which the tenant would be very glad of.

I mention these points because I believe that they are ways in which the 1930 Act may be improved. There is a, difficulty that the Minister might find himself up against. Everything depends, in these two Acts, upon the good will and the energy of the local authorities. Suppose that the Minister finds that certain local authorities, like the horses which you take down to the water and which will not drink, do nothing whatever about them? I know that he has circularised them, and in the majority of cases that will get the local authorities on the move, but it may be found tht some are not ready to do anything at all. We had a Debate on housing last winter, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health announced with great pride that it was now possible to build, without any subsidy, houses to let at 7s. 2d. a week. That is all very well for the urban dweller, but in the country we need houses to let at a sum not greater than 43. 6d. a week, including rates. That is absolutely essential.

I would like to give the House a practical illustration of how the cost of a house without a subsidy would work out. Down in Norfolk there was accepted recently a, tender for a five-roomed non-parlour house to cost £250, or £275 altogether, with land and legal charges. Subsidies under the 1924 Act, and the county council grant under the 1930 Act, enabled that house to be let to agricultural workers at 2s. 6d. a week, plus rates which came to 1s. 2d. or 1s. 3d. a week, or 3s. 9d. in all. Without that subsidy, the charges on a 60 years' loan would amount to about £12 3s. a year, plus about £4 for management and repairs and so on, a total of £16 3s. That would mean a rent of about 6s. 3d., or, with rates, 7s. 7d., which is a sum quite impossible for the agricultural worker to pay out of a wage of 30s.


Will the Noble Lord be so good as to give the area in which those houses are to be built?

Viscount ELMLEY

I will tell the hon. Member later, because I have not particulars with me. The houses that we want should let at a rent of between 3s. and 4s. 6d. a week to be of any use to the agricultural worker, and I hope that the Ministry will bear those facts in mind.

I come to the more complicated of finance. There is a great deal of concern up and down the country to-day as to what is to be the position of a great many local authorities. For instance, I understand that Herefordshire, recently convened a meeting of other counties to be held in London to discuss their position during the next period of three years in which the formula will operate, which shows that they are alive to their position. There are, two assets—rates and Exchequer grants, but the surprising thing at first sight is that rates in a purely agricultural county like Norfolk should be the heaviest in England, and precisely the same as in Durham, which, I suppose, is one of the most industrial counties. In both cases they are 13s. 6d. in the £. There are some places in Wales, I believe, rated even more highly, but in the industrial parts of Wales I am sure they get such things as water, lighting, gas, and probably drainage thrown in, which we have not got at all.

Of course, the main reason for the high rates which we have is the low rateable value, which always means high rates, just as high rateable value means low rates. In Norfolk, for instance, a penny rate raises £4,248, while at the other end of the scale, in Middlesex, a penny rate raises £62,000. Another reason for the high rates is that big ratepayers, on account of conditions which exist at present, are leaving their houses which pay high rates, and are going elsewhere or moving into smaller houses. At this moment I can think of about six large houses around Norwich tenantless, paying no rates, whereas they used to pay quite a considerable sum. I think that that kind of thing, unfortunately, is happening all over the country. That is the reason why, I think, our rateable value does not increase.

With regard to the Exchequer grants, they are based on the formula, and are paid partly to the county council and partly to the district councils. With regard to the part which is paid to the county council, insured unemployment is a factor which is weighted, but we have serious uninsured unemployment in Norfolk. Last March, the latest for which figures are available, 13,216 people were getting relief in one form or another, and of those 7,556 are dependent on unemployment relief. In round figures, that means that about 3,000 men without their families are affected. Those men comprise agricultural workers and share fishermen, for whom there is no unemployment benefit whatever, and, therefore, in respect of whom no Exchequer grant is paid. I know there is a seasonal drop in the figures between May and December, but that rather illustrates a point which I was going into later. One of the unfortunate effects of modern agriculture is that it becomes more casualised, and, indeed, that drop in the figure between May and December rises very acutely from January to April, and, I think, it rather proves that point. But in other parts of the country you find that both unemployment insurance benefit and transitional benefit prevent unemployed people from being thrown upon the rates, and, as things are now, I think we should do very well to take care to think about the future, because although I believe that the measures which this Government is taking are going to help agriculture in the long run, there are other factors which ought to be considered. Although I believe that our present unfortunate relations with Russia were inevitable, yet they are going to have a very serious effect this year upon herring fishermen, all of whom are share fishermen.

I mention that to show that the situation may very well become worse, unless this unfortunate state of affairs improves. The result is that the county council has to spend £75,000 a year upon poor relief, to which must be added £15,000 for unemployment relief work, which means a 1s. 9d. rate. On account of the general increase in unemployment in the last three years, it follows that a great many places will get a bigger share of the pool which is available for distribution, at the expense of Norfolk, although unemployment has increased in Norfolk as well. On account of this, it has been calculated that we shall lose a sum equivalent to a rate of 1½d. I quite agree that the formula grant was never intended to be used for poor relief, yet equally, I aim sure, it was never intended that a county like Norfolk, as a result of the formula, should have to pay more for distress elsewhere.

Then with regard to the portion of the grant which is paid to the district councils, it is increased where the population has grown during the past three years, and this again will mean a, smaller grant to a county like Norfolk where it is stationary, and altogether that county will lose a sum equal to a 4¼d. rate or £17,000 on account of the formula, and which will have to be made up from the rates at a time when such a reduction of assets can least be afforded. What is to be done about it? Of course there is the very welcome and interesting statement made by the Minister of Health before the Recess, in which he stated that areas which were well off would be asked to contribute towards those which were not. I quite appreciate that, as negotiations are now going on, he cannot make a statement on that to-day, but I would like to express the hope that because a county like Norfolk is not an industrial county, it will not be assumed that Norfolk is a county which is well off; indeed, I think the figures I have quoted show very much the reverse.

As I say, the whole question is under consideration. There were two recommendations in the Holman-Gregory Report which said that the rate levied in respect of poor relief should not exceed 4d. in the £, and that local authorities should share the responsibility for poor relief. Also, I understand, under Section 110 of the 1929 Act the Minister has to make an investigation into the working of the formula, and that, I hope, may lead him to the conclusion that the low rateable value factor should be more heavily weighted; also the weighting of uninsured unemployed people would help a little. But, above all, what would help us in this and other respects more than anything is a revival of the agricultural and fishing industry, and that is what we all hope is going to happen.

Taking the debit side of the account, the problem of unemployment relief work is giving a great deal of concern at the moment. Many people have come to see me about it, not only people who are receiving it but people who have to administer it as members of the public assistance committee, and a great many other people in all walks of life have come to me and expressed their concern at its incidence and at the way it works out. As I said just now, the changed conditions of agriculture have caused unemployment to become a grave menace in Norfolk by transforming the agricultural workers into casual labourers. These applicants for relief work can only be put on to road improvement or to digging sand and gravel which is used in various ways by arrangement with the highways committee of the local authority. As I said just now, £15,000 a year is earmarked for this purpose from the rates. If this work were performed in the ordinary course, each man would have to be paid 9d. or 10d. an hour, but a relief worker gets only from 4₽d. to 541 an hour according to his circumstances, this scale being fixed with the Ministry's approval.

It is felt that far more would have to be paid by the local authority if this work was normally done, and that hence it is a kind of sweated labour. I understand the regulations are that this must be work which would not ordinarily be done, but I would ask the Minister to investigate and make very certain that that is the case. I know of one gravel pit, the name and situation of which I would be prepared to give the Minister, which used to supply gravel by contract to the local authority, and employed 20 men, and now is only employing four, and the gravel employed is exactly the same sort as is obtained by the relief workers. I do think that that question wants looking into. The grievance is caused by the fact that when you get these men at work on relief work one may be getting 5s. a day and the other only 3s. 6d. for exactly the same day's work. It is rather difficult for those of us who have never been relief workers to realise quite what that means, but it would be a very bitter thing if you were working precisely the same time as somebody else and getting 1s. 6d. a day less owing to your circumstances. Another point is that people have to walk considerable distances to their work and back, some 12 miles or so, and I was very glad to see recently that the local authority was considering making some allowance for time for people to get to and from their work.

Then there is the question of getting the National Health Insurance card stamped. As a rule—very properly I think—the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour have insisted as a general rule that unemployed men must go to the Employment Exchange and get their cards stamped in person. In certain cases, however, it becomes rather a hardship. I know of some places which are 12 miles from the exchange, and sometimes people may go there expecting to get their cards stamped, only to find that the office will not be open until the next day, and, if they have to go next day, they lose a days relief work. The suggestion has been put to me—I do not know how far it would be possible—that in such cases some official should collect all the cards from the men when they are at work, and take them away by car and get them all stamped at once. If that could be done, I think it would remove a sense of grievance. As matters stand, discontent and bitterness are growing up which until this year were non-existent, and I am afraid the result will be the destruction of the friendly atmosphere in which local government has, in the main, been carried on in the past.

Plausible but false statements are being made, and believed, that all this is part of a plan on the part of this Government to reduce people's standard of life and wages. I would ask the Minister this afternoon to give an emphatic denial to that, because it is certainly not the case. These statements are made and believed in some cases by people who ought to know a great deal better. It is generally agreed that, if a man is a shirker, and is trying to dodge work, it is reasonable in normal times to put him on relief work for a small sum weekly, but that is not the case in Norfolk at present. There we have men who are putting up a gallant fight against very difficult circumstances, and who are certainly not men who could be called "won't workers"; nor is it the case that they desire to get something for nothing; and it is very much resented that such a man may get something between 12s. and 16s. for four days' work in a gravel pit. Speaking academically, the result is that, although the Exchequer has been benefited by the tightening of these regulations, it certainly has not benefited the rates. I understand that this has been done in the name of economy, and it is being felt very widely in the country that, in this matter, at any rate, economy has gone a good bit too far.

What else can be done to try to improve these conditions? The remedies which I advanced just now for the general financial position of course apply also to this question indirectly, but, in addition, I would ask the Minister if he could not see his way to giving the local authorities somewhat more liberty in administering this relief. After all, it should be remembered that no grant whatever is being paid by the Ministry of Health in respect of these men, and, therefore, I think it is reasonable that the local authorities should have more administrative liberty. I cannot help thinking, also, that, where little or no increase of rates is involved, there is much useful public work that these men could be put to do. When a man is digging in a pit all day, or widening a road, he does not feel that he is really doing very much good to anyone; it is like the old case of digging a hole in the ground and filling it up again. If a man were draining the land, or improving the land, he would feel that at any rate he was doing something useful. On the other hand, a better remedy than any other would be a revival of agriculture and the fishing industry. I would ask the Minister very respectfully if he will consider these problems, because I assure him that they are causing a great deal of concern, at any rate in Norfolk, at the present time.

I will not say a great deal about the question of public health, except that I think everyone will agree that during the last 50 years the public health has immeasurably improved. For instance, I understand that a child born to-day can expect to live 17 years longer than was the case with a child born in 1850. For all that, however, I do not think that anyone going round the country to-day can feel absolutely complacent about things. In a great many places where I have been the children definitely do not look well. Even if they do not look hungry, they look as if they were getting too much potatoes and flour, and not enough meat, but, on going through the statistics regarding the children in the part of the country which I represent, I find that they vary very little from the average. Such things as tonsilitis and malnutrition are slightly higher than in other places, and I think everyone will agree that a great deal remains to be done in the way of helping to get a healthy nation, although much has certainly been done in the last 50 years. I am very glad to find, for instance, that Norfolk has been going ahead with the establishment of infant welfare centres, and now the whole county is completely covered, which, I think, is not at all a bad achievement for such a widely scattered area. There is one small point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister. When one reads that children are suffering from malnutrition, one generally takes that to mean, either that they are getting the wrong sort of food, or that they are not getting enough food, but I also understand that a child having something wrong internally, or being unable to assimilate food properly, is included in the official figures as suffering from malnutrition, and I think that a distinction should be made there, because otherwise it is rather misleading.

It is impossible to exaggerate the benefits of good local government. With bad local government, whatever may be done in other fields, the country will not be happy, contented and thriving, but, on the contrary, will be rather like an invalid who is suffering from some internal complaint and who may collapse at any moment. The subject is a very extensive one, and I have only referred to those points which are of the greatest importance. In this time of economic depression, it is very fortunate that our local government machinery is second to none, probably, in the world, that we have skilled supervision from the Ministry of Health, and that, in the main, our local government is conducted by devoted, capable and self-sacrificing people and by first-rate officials. We do not in this country hear of such unfortunate occurrences as happen in the United States of America, where only too often a city finds itself unable to pay its teachers and its officials, and, instead of paying rates, its citizens pay "graft." We do not find anything of that kind in this country. To show the advance that has been made in the last 30 years, I would mention that no fewer than 275 Acts of Parliament have increased the duties of local authorities, and, even in the last three years, no fewer than 269 Orders have been made which they have to carry out.

There are two erroneous schools of thought about the functions of the Minister. According to one school of thought, the Minister should be a kind of cosmic Santa Claus or fairy godmother, who has only to put his hand into a sack of infinite capacity to distribute gifts and largesse to all and sundry. According to the other extreme school of thought, the Minister should rule local authorities with a rod of iron. Like a good many extreme views, both of these are quite wrong. The local authorities and the Minister have to make the best of an imperfect world, and, while the Minister should fully encourage the energy and initiative and enterprise of local authorities, yet he should very sternly discourage any idleness or extravagance, because the people themselves will be the first to suffer from these. There are many problems which should spur us on to find solutions for them. I would like to conclude by quoting a passage from a book, written by a former Member of this House, Sir Ernest Simon, because I think that he expresses in that passage what we all feel, in whatever quarter of the House we sit. He writes: We have, I believe, a common object, for which we can all whole-heartedly cooperate—to make sure as far as lies in our power that every one of our children has a fair chance of growing up sound and healthy, knowing and loving his city, and determined to do his full share to help to make her yet a finer and nobler home for his fellow-citizens.

4.28 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do not propose to roam over such a wide range as the Mover, but to confine my remarks specifically to the question of water and drainage. I should like, first, to congratulate my Noble Friend on having been lucky in the Ballot, and, having been lucky in the Ballot, on moving a Resolution dealing with matters of such importance as drainage and water. When I was fortunate in the Ballot, I moved a similar Resolution, but I only had a few minutes in which to explain it.

In these respects, outside the big cities and towns, the conditions existing in this country to-day are appalling; they are an absolute disgrace to the 20th century and the greatest civilised country in the world. The matter is urgent, and it becomes the more urgent in view of the fact that we are preparing for an agricultural revival and the re-inhabiting of the land. Past Governments must be prepared to accept the greatest censure for the gross neglect which has occurred in regard to this matter, and I am going to lay a very strong indictment at the door of the Department of the Ministry of Health, although I do not intend to cast any aspersions on the present Minister, for neither he nor his colleague is to blame. There is no doubt, however, that the charge can honestly be levelled against previous Governments. I want the House to picture the conditions. The country appears to be classed, from the point of view of water supply and drainage, in two seasons. The one I will describe as the flooding season, and the other as the drought season. Let us try to picture the flooded areas which are dependent upon well water supply and the most primitive drainage, if it exists at all. The surface water is unfit for human consumption and, when it subsides, it naturally subsides into wells, which themselves become contaminated and impure. The epidemic of Malton is within the memory of the House. Malton was condemned 35 years ago. I am sure the Ministry of Health was not surprised when this new epidemic occurred this year, but was only surprised that it had not occurred earlier. Dr. Vernon Shaw's Report stated that the sewage ran into the River Derwent, which runs through the city. It was not purified and the enteric germs also went into the river.

I have here a large batch of authoritative letters from which I should like to read a few extracts. The medical officer of health for Spilsby for 20 years has been appealing for good drinking water. The medical officer of health for North Lincoln brought a specimen of water to the County Council meeting and the description of it was too nauseating for words. In the dry season they have to buy their water at a penny a bucket. They have no water at all at Horkstow, Barton-on-Humber, the only method of getting drinking water is from a cart which brings it round. At Friskney, a village with 34 miles of road, all the houses have to fetch their own water. In many cases farmers have to send water carts miles every day for months. During the dry season hundreds of people have nothing to drink except out of the drains running through the district. During last summer's drought a mother and baby at New Leake had to be washed with water fetched six miles by the doctor and the sanitary inspector. There was absolutely no water in the district. At Eastville last summer one home was not clear of fever for 15 weeks and many others had fever for shorter periods. All children are rationed to a half cup at tea-time. Farmers had to fetch water five miles and children could not be washed or kept decently clean. Clothes had to be washed in water from the drains and epidemics were prevalent all the summer.

At Harbury the supply is from wells, mostly surface water. There is a great shortage in summer and no supplementary supply. Water is often carried a quarter of a mile. This village has recently had a bad outbreak of paratyphoid. At Dunchurch there is one pump just below the churchyard, which is the parish burial ground. The water is certified as bad. It is all mainly surface water. At Southam they have to carry their water three-quarters of a mile. There are perpetual outbreaks of typhoid and diphtheria. At Berkswell there is one large open well. The water is not very good and is very hard. The distance to carry it is anything up to a quarter of a mile. I was talking the other day to an analytical chemist who works for one of the large boroughs, and he assured me that out of all the well water samples that he had been called upon to analyse there was not one that he was able to say was pure. In 1930 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was then Minister of Health, gave to the Ruston Rural District Council a water supply sufficient to supply all Malton. I should like to have asked him why he did not make the Malton Urban District Council take it as well. Their supply has been condemned for the last 40 years. I am not surprised. I was amazed a little while ago when the same right hon. Gentleman, discussing whether there should be a bathroom in the houses in a recent building scheme, entirely overlooked the very essential question whether there was or was not a water supply. There was a totally inadequate water supply to fill a bath had it been put there. That confirmed my opinion of Socialism. I have always regarded Socialism as a kind of mental flatulence. Those who suffer from it think they are filled with good things, but it is only political wind, devoid of all nourishment.


Can the hon. Member tell the House of a single rural council the majority of the members of which are Socialists where they have not a good water supply?


My information is not sufficiently extensive to cover the whole country, but I have here a tremendous quantity of information in authoritative letters which I shall be happy to place at the disposal of the Minister, should he so desire. I have not in my mind which rural areas are Socialist. But this is no party question. It is a national question, and it should be dealt with by a National Government.


Then why attack Socialists?


My definition of Socialism was applied because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield was losing sight of the substance and running after the shadow. A little while ago the Prime Minister, speaking with regard to unemployment and unemployment schemes, said that any scheme that was constructive and productive or was for the public benefit would be proceeded with even with grant aid. Surely there is no scheme of greater national importance than adequate and proper water supply and drainage? Some time ago I was comparing the growth of the unemployment figures with the growth of frozen capital in the banks, and I found that at the end of January last there was £1,772,000,000 on deposit and current account in the banks—£244,000,000 more than in the previous January. On the one hand, we have frozen money, and on the other we have unemployment, and sandwiched between them we have the present deplorable conditions of water and drainage. Is it beyond the wit of statesmen and industrialists to bring these together so that we can get on with this problem, which is so urgent? There is no work that gives more varied employment to such a large number of industries, and there is no work that employs more manual labour. The water supply as a whole except in large towns and cities is most unsatisfactory and the drainage is primitive, where it exists at all. There should be a comprehensive survey made with a view to regional water supply on an area basis, and drainage also ought to be dealt with.

I should like to put a few questions to the Minister which I propose to read for the sake of accuracy. Is water supply being left entirely to the local authorities, and, if so, what hope can there be of a proper supply to these almost waterless areas in which the local authorities are too small and too poor to cope with the problem? Will the Health Ministry specially circularise all water authorities, inviting them to prepare schemes of water supply and drainage, and offer financial aid where necessary either by grants or by guaranteeing interest on loans? Will the Minister give the House details of some survey of water resources which, I understand, is being conducted by his Department? How long has the survey been in progress, and how long will it take to complete it? Does the survey include examination of the possibilities of regional water supply and drainage by groups of authorities? Finally, and most important will the Ministry of Health call an early conference of water authorities throughout the country so that the problem can be examined in its local and general aspects and so that the responsible authorities can have an opportunity of presenting their own ideas and of correlating them. In this way, a real countrywide move of great value might be started. But the Ministry of Health must take the initiative. Will it do so? I am casting no aspersions or blame upon the present Minister or his colleagues. I hope he will display the courage, energy and ability that we know he has in tackling these problems in a comprehensive manner. If he has not sufficient power, I ask him to come to the House and obtain it, so that in years to come he will be able to look back upon his term of office not only with pride, but with satisfaction.

4.46 p.m.


I congratulate the Noble Lord the Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) on the admirable speech he delivered in moving the Motion. It bore evidence of very careful preparation and thought on the matter to which he wished to call the attention of the House. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who seconded the Motion, when he complains that the Noble Lord wandered over too wide a field.


I did not complain that the Noble Lord had wandered over too wide a range, but suggested that I had no intention of roaming over such a wide area as he had done.


I misunderstood the hon. Member. The Noble Lord has drawn us a very forcible picture of the present condition of the countryside, especially in the area with which he is familiar, and the hon. Member for Elland has told us about some other parts of the country in which he has described the conditions as appalling. Obviously, the matter raised by the Motion concerns the living conditions of numbers of people in the countryside—the cottager and the farm labourer generally. While I was listening to the Noble Lord I could not help but feel that he ought to have had a very much larger audience, and that if we had been discussing protection for the farmer the House would have been crowded with landowners and landlords who did not even think it worth while to come and listen to an admirable speech in regard to the conditions under which the labourer is living in the countryside. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are three of you."] We do not pretend on these benches to represent rural England. The representatives of rural England generally occupy the benches opposite, and I am merely pointing out that when questions of protection and the making of better conditions for the farmer are discussed, those benches are usually crowded. I imagine that they will be full on Wednesday when certain agreements are to be discussed, but when the Noble Lord brings before the House the question of the condition of the labourer and the cottager large numbers of Members do not think it worth while to be present.

Before passing on to make one or two comments on the speech of the Noble Lord, I ask hon. Members to think of the problems he has raised against the background of our present technical resources and knowledge. If they do so, they will very well understand that most of the problems to which he has called the attention of the House could easily be solved under certain conditions. He rightly informed us that on certain matters we were now at a phase in our national life where certain constructional work, which he emphasised as being necessary, could be undertaken more cheaply than has been possible in the recent past. He stressed that fact very much, and went on to point out that some of these problems could he dealt with by the local authorities themselves. Some were problems for which Government assistance must be given in some form or other. He talked about the necessity, in areas such as he described, of planning a regional water supply. He had some very admirable things to say.

I was particularly interested in what he said about housing conditions in the area with which he is familiar. He described a house which he had recently visited in which there lived a family of eight persons occupying three rooms. He said that a person of average height could hardly stand upright, and he only made a very modest request in regard to the particular dwelling. I was really surprised at the modesty of his request. He merely suggested that another room should be added, but when he began to make investigations as to the possibility of doing it he found that he was up against certain difficulties and was driven to the conclusion that he had better have left the matter alone. The only way in which the problem could be alleviated was by the sanitary authorities declaring the house to be overcrowded, and, if it was to be alleviated at all, the family would have to be separated. Therefore, the Noble Lord decided at the end of his investigations that it would be better to leave the matter entirely alone.

I was much more interested when he began to describe the conditions of some of the houses in the area. He stated that we could deal with rural housing under two Acts, one the Reconditioning Act of 1926 and the other the Act of 1930. He reminded us that the state of some of the cottages was so bad that no attempt at reconditioning dare be undertaken, because the cottages would probably collapse. I do not think that one could listen to a more powerful speech stressing the necessity for a great scheme of rural housing than that which the Noble Lord has delivered. The hon. Member for Elland began his speech by saying that he was going to bring a powerful indictment against the Ministry of Health.


The Department of the Ministry.


Obviously, the hon. Member wants to bring forward a powerful indictment without putting any prisoner in the dock, because he refuses to blame the Minister in any way.


I brought an indictment against the Department, and not against the individual Minister—I made that perfectly clear—and, in particular, against past Governments.


It appears that supporters of the Government, when they want to criticise the Government try to do it without putting the blame upon anybody. Hon. Members cannot be allowed to get away with it like that. The Minister is the responsible head of the Department and is responsible to the House for the actions of the Department. When the hon. Member gets up and says "I am going to bring a strong indictment against the Ministry of Health," and then says "against the Department," and goes on to say "I do not want to blame the Minister," he is merely bringing an indictment without putting the prisoner in the dock. The Minister who is now on the bench opposite apparently agrees with me when I describe the matter in that way. I was saying that the Noble Lord has stated a very admirable case for a comprehensive policy of rural housing. I am anxious to know what the Minister has to say about it. Will he tell the Noble Lord that it is not possible under existing conditions for His Majesty's Government to do very much about the matter at all? He probably will. He will prob. ably tell him that the Act of 1926 and the Act of 1930, if put into operation energetically and forcibly by the local authorities, will speedily bring about some change, but the Noble Lord has called our attention to the difficulties in which the local authorities are finding themselves.

I was very interested in what he had to say about rating in his area. He spoke about the low rateable value of the property and the consequent need for a high poundage, and I could not help but think that in association with that he ought to have reminded the House that all agricultural land and all farm build- ings have been derated, and that increasingly the burden of rates in areas such as his must fall upon the cottagers and the farm labourers occupying cottages. We know how assessment committees are constituted in such areas, and, being so constituted, they will, as far as they can, let the minimum burden rest upon the better type of house and put the maximum burden upon the poorer type of cottages and houses.


It happens to be just the other way about.


It may be that some have knowledge of these things and of how assessment committees work, but I am not going to accept what the hon. Member says for granted. I was interested in the Noble Lord's further argument. He wanted a readjustment of these adverse conditions by a further Exchequer grant. He wanted to get out of his difficulty by some sort of increased Exchequer grant. He desired that many of the urgent problems arising in the countryside with which the local authorities cannot now deal owing to the general conditions which prevail should be removed by the giving of further assistance by the Exchequer. You have to relate that matter to the policy which has been pursued in recent years in regard to de-rating, and to what has happened as a consequence of de-rating.

I was also extraordinarily interested in all that the Noble Lord had to say about water supply and sewage schemes and things of that description, and I entirely agree with him, as the hon. Member who seconded the Motion has reminded us, that there are many things which need to be done in the country districts. I would say to both hon. Members that they should use all their influence to bring pressure to bear upon His Majesty's Government to take steps to remedy—and I use the words of the hon. Member—"some of the appalling evils which now exist in the countryside." If., as a result of bringing the Motion before the House and of the Debate, they exert the necessary pressure, and can get His Majesty's Government to move, then out of the Debate some good may accrue to the cottager and the farm labourer of the countryside.

5 p.m.


Water supply is one of the most important questions that could come before us primarily because the country has not been for a number of years adequately supplied from large schemes. It has been dependent too much upon wells and surface supplies, subject to contamination, while the precarious nature of its continuance has been due to little reserves behind it. This difficulty, which might have been gradually met by ordinary measures, has changed entirely if we consider the effect of an active agricultural policy and also the effect of a change of trade from the north, where it has been stabilised, to country further south. Many trades have failed to maintain their old strength in the North and new industries have been started in the South. We are therefore faced with conditions which we ought to consider, and in any general planning of the country, we ought to try to balance one with the other.

Looking at the existing condition of supplies in industrial areas, we have the extraordinary position that Manchester years ago before the decline in trade, went in for a scheme of supply of additional water to cost £10,000,000. Since that scheme was started there has been a change in the condition of world affairs which has so reduced the trade demand, that, with the movement of new industries elsewhere, this great scheme is not now called for. In fact there is more than sufficient water from existing supplies in that area. We have, therefore, on the one hand in a certain part of the country a water capacity greater than of anywhere else except the London area, and against this we have the case in Lincolnshire, instances of which have been quoted, of a general dearth of water and in other cases of water being suspect. We have also an example from the city of Hull, which is now applying for powers to construct a large scheme at a cost of £1,500,000, drawing water from the Cleveland hills. In passing, one might say that this scheme would go near to the little town of Malton, where an epidemic occurred a short time ago.

When one realises that in one part of the country there is a complete dearth, in another there is more than sufficient water and in another there is the starting of new schemes one wonders whether the Ministry has sufficient power to guide or control the expansion in water supplies. In regard to the great Haweswater scheme of the Manchester Corporation, I do not know whether the Ministry have exerted their influence in regard to making use of the water of the scheme elsewhere if it is completed. Another example has arisen in regard to the city of Bradford having more than sufficient water and offering to supply the Hull district by means of a cross-main. This on a small scale somewhat on the lines of the utilisation of the Haweswater scheme. The question of this cross-main was considered in some detail at a meeting in Wakefield and turned down. Where does the Minister come in in respect of a question of this nature? In regard to this matter I should like to quote what has been said by the Chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board: Unless regional control and the pooling of supplies is established, there is going to be a great shortage of water for large populous areas. Norfolk has been shown to be short of water, and I have numerous letters indicating shortage of supplies, but it is not necessary for me to read them, in view of what has been said by other speakers. Suppose that, as a practical scheme, we were to consider the general supply of water from a trunk main to dry areas, you would probably begin by running that main down from the plain of Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire, through Cambridgeshire, into a small spur to the Norfolk area, and so down until it met the London regional control. Regional control of areas, except in London under the Metropolitan Water Board, is exceedingly vague at the present time. In London we must be getting near to the extent of our potential capacity of supply, and yet in this area there is going to be in the course of time a very great increase of population. Where is the water to come from? A trunk main running down the country would bring the water from the hilly areas of the Pennine Chain to the dry areas in between, and connect with the regional control in London, particularly if that region were extended to a 50 miles radius struck from the centre. That would then form the basis of the main trunk main connecting regional controls. One regional control might be set up in the industrial region of Lancashire. I was very delighted to hear from the Minister last week that he had set up several regional controls. There could be one in Lancashire and one in the West Riding.

Then it would be reasonable to have a cross-trunk main from the west to the each, which would interconnect to those other water undertakings drawing their water from the Pennine Chain itself, and in doing so make available supplies from one area which had more to another area which had less water than it needed. We have a case in the district of Denby Dale, which is short of water although near the hills. That would have been entirely prevented if we had had interrelation and interconnection of water supply before. This scheme is part and parcel of a water grid scheme, the supply of the main areas of the country from a complete connected network of water mains. It might be better described perhaps as regional control for great populous areas, linked up by trunk mains. Of this method of supply the best example is the great electricity grid, which was established some years ago and is now about to be completed. A water grid scheme bears a good deal of relation to the electricity grid, although it has been said that it does not. In my opinion a water grid has even more advantages and is more important than an electricity grid.

We have before us the prospect of the odd position in the future if population does move from the towns into the country in consequence of agricultural development, that we shall have light in the form of electricity all over the country, but nothing to drink. The public supply of water is the oldest and the most important of supplies, going back even to ancient Roman times, when acqueducts were so common and large supplies of 100,000,000 gallons a day of water to Rome were not infrequent. I would ask the Minister if he cannot hurry on this particular development. I am glad that progress is being made, but it is not fully realised how necessary it is to consider this question anew if we are to be prepared for the great developments in regard to agriculture and the movement of industry from the north to the south. In that new situation many things will be called for, and water is the most important. A thorough examination of the situation is necessary, together with an extension of the regional control which the Minister has started, followed by the creation of a larger scheme by the inter-linking of the areas, thereby supplying the dry country districts. To do this requires, as I have said, something on the lines of what has been done for electricity and the setting up of similar bodies. They have been successful in regard to electricity, why cannot they be successful in regard to water? Water is the most essential thing for life in a civilised community, and if we are going to re-equip this country and distribute the population over it, it is only fair and proper beforehand that we should make provision for what is the most important requisite.

5.12 p.m.


I am sure that we all join in thanking my Noble Friend for bringing forward his Motion in so admirable a speech. We all want to put special emphasis on the great difficulties of the small rural towns in regard to drainage. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) has drawn for us a very interesting and attractive picture of a sort of water grid. Without going into details on the matter or criticising that proposal in any way, I am a little nervous and a little frightened of drawing comparisons between one scheme and another. Because a grid was necessary economically for the delivery of electricity it does not mean that it is necessary for the economic delivery of water. I wish, particularly, to call the attention of the Minister to the difficulty which we experience in country districts in regard to drainage. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion pointed out how very difficult it was for local authorities who were too poor, whose resources were too inadequate, to carry out drainage or water schemes.

May I, as an illustration of the difficulties of some of the small authorities, quote the case of a town in my own division. I give this illustration because I feel that there must be many such cases throughout the country, which are very difficult of solution. Thornbury is an old country town which is built on rock, which means that the supply of drainage is very expensive for a small town. The cost originally of a scheme which was put forward was something like £30,000. The engineers and the local authority had the scheme ready, hut through no fault of theirs the scheme was not approved before it was necessary to stop grants owing to the national crisis. We then had this position, that we had a town with 3,000 inhabitants with no drainage. The conditions are so bad that in some cases it is necessary to carry the contents of the cesspools through the living rooms of the houses and put them into carts and take them through the streets. I do not think that anybody could defend a system like that in modern times.

How can a rural town like that get over such a scandal? If it wants to raise a loan it will find that the cost of the loan will be beyond the resources of the rural district council, and I do not think there is the remotest possibility of the Minister granting the loan. The county council have been approached, but they are not prepared to advance sufficient money to enable that scheme to be carried out. There you have a rural community living under mediaeval conditions in regard to drainage; and as far as I can see there is no way of overcoming the difficulty. I do not know whether the Minister has any powers of getting the county council to grant more money than they are prepared to grant, but if he has no power then they are up against a most difficult situation. There must be many similar cases, where it is very expensive to put in a drainage scheme, or rather where it is much too expensive for the resources of the local authorities.

In a speech which he delivered some time ago in regard to work schemes, the right hon. Gentleman said that the trouble with most of the schemes put forward to cure unemployment was that they were not schemes put forward by local authorities. That is true. To a great extent local authorities have anticipated their needs for many years to come, and I also agree that the schemes proposed by Professor Keynes and other inflationists are usually schemes which consist of digging holes and filling them up again. It is true that in drainage you are digging a hole but in that case you are putting a drain inside. I wonder whether it is possible for the Minister to give special consideration to small local authorities who are in the situation I have sketched. These schemes are not for the purpose of inflation or purely for the purpose of giving work. A drainage scheme is necessary for the health of the people. If you can improve the health of the people and safeguard against the danger of epidemics by a. drainage scheme it should have special consideration. Incidentally, you would give employment, although I do not lay stress on the provision of employment in this way, because I think the employment provided is somewhat disappointing in proportion to the amount of money expended. I ask the Minister to consider, where there are schemes like this, which could be carried out and which he would like to see carried out, but which are not carried out owing to the conditions prevailing in the smaller local authorities, if it is not possible to put them into operation for the benefit of the people and, incidentally, to find employment in rural districts.

5.19 p.m.


I only intervene because reference has been made to the township of Malton and the tragedy which occurred there last year. The hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Levy) mentioned that 40 years ago there was an adverse report by Dr. Bruce Low. I want to ask whether the whole of that report was shown to the local authority at that time?

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

To what report is the hon. Member referring?


To the report of Dr. Bruce Low of 1892, which is referred to in the report of the Ministry of Health. Many changes have taken place in the course of time, and probably there is no one in power in the locality, or in the House, who was in power then. Malton, which had a bad record before 1892, had a very good record for the 21 years previous to the outbreak in 1932. During those 21 years there were only 14 cases of typhoid. I am not defending anybody in Malton; I am making this point, that if there was any blame it attaches equally to the Ministry of Health as to the township of Malton. Between 1892 and 1932 Malton obtained loans from the Ministry of Health for its water supply. In 1930, when the Socialist Government was in power, and when the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was Minister of Health, Malton obtained a loan for the very water scheme which is now condemned in the report of the Ministry of Health. The Minister of Health in 1930 ought to have looked up the report of Dr. Bruce Low which was lying in the archives of the Ministry, not in the archives of the Malton District Council, and should have warned them of the perils in front of them.

The typhoid outbreak was the result of a most unfortunate concatenation of circumstances. First, we have the introduction of a typhoid patient from another district, and then, owing to a break in the sewers by electrical employés who were laying cables, the sewage went into the surrounding strata. In the surrounding strata there was a fault, and by that means the typhoid bacillus got into the water supply. Malton are taking steps to ensure that typhoid will not recur, and, in fact, were taking steps to deal with their water supply before the actual outbreak of typhoid. In May, 1932, Malton went in for a large sewage scheme, and the report of the scheme has now been accepted by the Malton authority. I am asking the Minister to-day to use his powers to see that Malton get Government help for this new sewage system on economical terms.

The problem of sewage in rural districts is an immense one. Sewage systems are badly needed; and they cost an immense amount of money. A penny rate in Malton brings in £96. The sewage scheme will cost £31,000. At the other end of my constituency, in Thirsk, they have decided to go in for a sewage scheme, but they are deterred because it will mean an addition to their rates of many shillings in the £. With the large amount of unemployment now prevalent in rural districts I think the Ministry should encourage schemes of sewage and water supply. Subsidies are not popular, but we can give these local authorities cheap rates for borrowing money, and if the Ministry of Health will encourage employment in the rural districts by lowering the rate of interest a number of local authorities will go on and bring their sewage and water supply up to date. The Government can go into the City of London and get money at 2½ per cent. Why cannot a local authority pay 2½ per cent., when there is so much unemployment and when it is a case of improving the public health These schemes will make rural districts much more valuable in the future. I am not appealing for large subsidies but that the Minister will take into account what the Malton rural district has suffered, and what other rural districts may suffer. It is not only in Denby Dale and Malton where the sewage and water schemes are not beyond question. Many rural districts are behind in the matter of sewage and water supply. We have spent a great deal of money on the roads which could have been wisely diverted to water supply and sewage.

The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) in his most interesting speech touched on the question of the Hull water scheme and the district of Malton. No doubt Malton would he perfectly willing to take the Hull water, but are we to wait for six years while the scheme goes through? And what protection have they if they take the Hull water supply? At present there is no provision in the Bill that these small areas will have this water at a reasonable price. There is no mention of a price in the Bill. If we are to allow these large aqueducts to be carried through a large part of Yorkshire, then the rural villages should have this water merely at the cost of carrying it from the reservoir at Farndale. I understand that Hull likes the better bargain and wants to charge the local authorities with the cost of the water installation in Hull. I suggest that this is unreasonable, and that we should make every endeavour to get a cheap and efficient water supply.

Malton at present has a good water supply, and everybody in Yorkshire felt proud when His Royal Highness Prince George drank a cup of tea in Malton. It may sound trivial, but we have suffered, and are suffering, from a distrust of the water supply, although it is absolutely safe. We intend to get the Minister of Health to allow us to have an independent source of supply which will be absolutely safe, and I hope he will hold out a friendly hand towards the endeavour of Malton to get an independent source of supply guaranteed from the geological and medical points of view. If he can point to any spot and say, "Get your water from there, and make it absolutely safe," Malton will join with him, and the Minister of Health will be popular in those Yorkshire districts.

5.29 p.m.


As one who has tried his hand at getting water supplies for country villages my sympathies go out to the Minister of Health, because I am certain that his powers are nothing like commensurate with his desire to see these laudable objects obtained. The whole difficulty is one of expense. That is proved by the statements already made that our industrial areas, or our larger local authorities, are, on the whole, well supplied with water. It is when you come to the small country towns, and more particularly the villages, with which I am more concerned, that the difficulty arises. In many cases the country village has no water supply as we know it. It draws its water from wells. It has no sanitary arrangements indoors, and for sanitation has to rely on cesspools or something of that kind. The village is often straggling. In my particular county we have fairly wealthy people living amongst us, but the village is often straggling, and to obtain a water supply for it means great cost.

You are met with two difficulties. First, you have to get the local authority to agree to a scheme, and then there is the objection that no scheme will supply the whole village or parish. The second difficulty is that no rate that you can fix will provide the necessary money, because it has been found by experience that no inhabitant will pay a rate of more than 2s. 6d. in the £. The inevitable result is that if you can devise a scheme you have to bring in a rate-in-aid, which is levied on the whole of the parish, one-half of which will very likely not get any advantage from having the water laid on to its houses. That means that, even with a, comparatively large village, you have a rate-in-aid of anything from 6d. to 1s. 6d. or 2s. 6d. in the £, and you add to that, in the case of those who get the water, a rate of 3s. or 4s. or 5s. in the £ for the water. It makes people hesitate very much in submitting to such expenditure.

But the trouble does not end even there. As soon as a water supply is obtained you have sanitary appliances put into the houses and water brought to the tap, and, naturally, extravagance and waste take place. I forget for the moment to what figure the consumption per head goes up, but I think it is 10 gallons or 15 gallons a day. The result is that almost immediately after you have a water supply you are faced in a parish with a demand, and an intelligible demand, for a drainage scheme. Take the parish that I have in my mind. It has a large area and a sparse population in a very hilly district. In many such cases you cannot put in a drainage scheme with a rate of less than 10s. in the £. Your water and your drainage pipes have to be laid over large distances. The problem is an extremely difficult one.

In the Local Government Act the late Minister of Health, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, did attempt in some measure to deal with the water supply of small areas. I did not come here to-day intending to speak, and I have not had time to look up the Statute. I believe it provides that the county council may, if you can induce it to do so, make a grant to the rural district council or the parish council which is proposing to deal with the water supply. But it is almost impossible to get a county council to make such a grant. What the county council say, and with great force, is that parish A has its water supply, its rate and its rate-in-aid, and that parish B has a water supply and has submitted to a high water rate. They ask, "Why should we go and make a grant to village C? Why should we call upon these people who are already supplying themselves at very big expense in parishes A and B to pay a rate that is to supply parish C with water?"

My experience is that county councils are not using the powers under this Act. I hope the Minister will tell us that my experience has not been his. I also hope he will say whether lie can see any way of meeting these difficulties by making the charge a national one, or in some way making it compulsory for county councils to see that the water supply in their area is spread over the whole area, and that the rates should be pooled and the charge made a common charge for water in the whole district. Every medical officer of health whom one meets says that this is a most urgent problem. I am not speaking for the moment of very small agricultural villages where the population is not increasing, but of the villages in Sussex which are growing and where there are a good many residential people. The medical officers will say, "We have not a good water supply. The wells are not safe; they are foul. Steps ought to be taken to get water and its concomitant, proper sewerage." We want these things. The Minister knows we want them. I trust he will give us hope of some scheme for meeting the financial difficulty. I agree with what has been said about getting money at the lowest cost. It is possible now to get loans from the Public Works Loans Commissioners at about 3⅝ per cent. I would urge the Minister to consider whether that rate could not be lowered, and whether it would not be worth while to lend money at 3¼ per cent. for such undertakings as these.

5.39 p.m.


I do not want to stand between the House and the Minister's reply on this most important subject. As one who for 14 years acted as a county medical officer, I saw the growing necessity for these schemes, and I feel strongly on the subject. The House has already shown that it regards the question as vital. The matters that have been raised to-day are the essentials of rural life. For the last 40 or 50 years rural life has been considered by most of the urban population as being merely a by-product of the nation, a moribund part of national life, but it is now recognised to be what we doctors have always tried to impress on the world that it is, absolutely the kernel, the nucleus of a healthy national life. This is becoming more fully realised to-day, as is shown by the general assent given to the schemes for the improvement of agriculture.

That is natural, and it is one of the obvious results of the improved communications which have brought the town out in the country. The people in the town are to-day able to go into the country more frequently and generally. I know that rather to my cost, as I live only 20 miles from London. Every single lane is occupied on Saturday and Sunday for most of the day, and even part of the night, by those who visit the country in small Austin Sevens or other cars from London. It is an admirable thing for people living in a town to be able in this way to skirmish round in the country, and bit by bit realise the advantages as well as the disadvantages of rural life. You cannot realise the one without realising the other; you cannot enjoy the advantages of the country unless you are prepared at the same time to accept the disadvantages. To the ordinary urban dweller the dis- advantages of rural life are felt so strongly in anticipation, and occasionally in actual experience, in the cold and windy, or snowy and frosty days of winter, or on wet bank holidays, that he is warned off rural life, and he says, "We like the country. It is a very pleasant place in which to spend a holiday, but we always want to get back to town."

I remember that a relative of mine used to help the girls of a club in which she was interested to spend a holiday in the country. She took them one year to a delightful place in Sussex. Next year she went to the club and said, "I hope you will like to go again. I have arranged another holiday this year. I think I shall be able to fix the camp in the same place." They replied, "No, not the same place, Miss." She asked why. They replied, "There is nothing to look at but field upon field upon field." That is the first experience of the town lover; the country is simply field upon field upon field. It is a terrible reflection upon the industrialisation and centralisation of the town, to which the present generation have grown up. I hope that a new generation will arise and understand the country more, and will recognise that the disadvantages and drawbacks, so-called, have very great compensations. For the sake of the country and the nation, I hope the new generation will realise that these compensations are infinitely greater than the disadvantages which they compensate, and that they will be more receptive of the wonderful beauties of country life.

To-day we are particularly concerned with the difficulties with regard to water supply. Here those of us who have had practical experience do not wish to exaggerate. The hon. Member for Eland (Mr. Levy) I think exaggerated when he suggested that the wretched conditions in some villages were representative of the whole countryside. For the greater part, and 'especially in the areas of the Home Counties which I know, the position is quite the opposite. In general the villages have a, fair standard of sanitation and health arrangements. There is certainly room for improvement and we hope that improvements will gradually be undertaken. Medical officers of health, I know, do not, wish to belittle the desire for improvement. But we must not judge rural conditions by an urban standard. There is always the danger that when those who are accustomed to town life examine and consider the conditions of country life they expect the amenities to which they are used in the town and they say, "What a terrible thing it is that these amenities do not exist in the country!" But there is all the difference in the world between the necessities of sanitation and the amenities.

It is not necessary in the country to have the ordinary fixed pipe-water supply for the purposes of health as long as the more primitive arrangements which do exist are sanitary and in proper order. No doubt it is a great nuisance to the cottager to have to go and draw water from a standard some distance from the cottage, or from a well, but it is not essential that there should be anything else, and generations in all countries have been used to that system of getting their water. It is quite possible, with modern bacteriological and engineering arrangements to see that such a water supply is kept perfectly healthy. The rest is only a question of amenity. The same remark applies to scavenging. You have to see, first, to what is necessary, and you can defer the amenities until you are able to afford them. One has to distinguish between what is essential and what is not.

Those who served in the late War in connection with the health services had to deal with a situation in which there was a great scarcity of necessities. In that case, as in so many others, necessity proved to be the mother of invention. I do not think that the lessons of the late War in this respect have yet been sufficiently recognised by sanitary science. It was then found possible to purify water by very simple methods, and also to arrange for scavenging and for the disposal of sewage in simple and effective ways. For instance, a simple incinerator costing very little can be put up by a couple of ordinary workmen, and as long as it is properly looked after, it will suffice for disposal of the rubbish from the scavenging of a village. People are often unwilling to provide for scavenging, because they think that a great deal is necessary in connection with the disposal. It is, however, necessary to see that dumps are not allowed to collect which will be a source of rats and flies and other nuisances.

My criticism of the suggestions of the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) is that while it is very interesting to consider these great water supply schemes for the big cities, and while they are magnificent and striking, we have to take other considerations into account. When the question of the London water supply came to a head about 1908 I was county medical officer for Hertfordshire and we were concerned then, as we still are, with the field of the London water supply. The Metropolitan Water Board were much influenced by a suggested great scheme for bringing the London water supply from Wales. My late chief in the Hertfordshire County Council, the late Sir Edmund Barnard, was chairman of the London Metropolitan Water Board and he turned down that scheme because he said that by improving the existing methods of collecting water it would be possible to provide for London under the present arrangements for the next 50 years.


But if the industrial population increases as a result of industry moving to the South that prognostication may prove to be wrong.


The hon. Member is quite right in prefacing his suggestion with the word "if," and it was because Sir Edmund Barnard recognised the very problematical nature of the case that he decided that it was not necessary to provide for financing this expensive scheme, which would have cost about £50,000,000, under the conditions then existing, and I am sure that he was right. It is of no advantage to provide people with the best amenities in the world if the expense is going to be a. serious burden on them afterwards. We have seen the experience recently of Stockton-on-Tees where a slum clearance scheme was shown to have had a detrimental effect on the persons who were removed from the slum area to better surroundings. They had to pay an additional 4s. per week and, while they had the better surroundings, they could not afford themselves proper nutrition. Expensive schemes in rural areas are going to increase the burdens and interfere with that process in which we are engaged of trying to get the industry of agriculture and rural life generally on to a proper business and financial footing once again. Until that is done, things will not look up in the countryside, either in regard to health or anything else.

I believe that it is possible to accomplish much by going in for cheaper methods than those which have hitherto been adopted. But co-operation is necessary to that end, and that co-operation was the object of the provision to which the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) referred. It was a provision by which the county councils might enable local authorities to a certain extent, to bear each other's burdens. It may be the case, as he says, that East Sussex is not prepared to take that Christian view of their duty, but in Hertfordshire and in other counties, we do a great deal in that way, and although there are difficulties, I think there is a possibility of getting the county areas to arrange for grants which would enable local areas to help each other. But I do not believe that it will be possible to secure a real general improvement in the countryside until you are able to get some form of central help. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has suggested an alternative method of help from the central Exchequer in place of grants and subsidies, but that is a question of finance as well as of policy.

I am certain, however, that if it is possible to find some method for providing the necessary finance, to be used under proper supervision, for the improvement of rural water supplies, it will be greatly to the advantage of the countryside and will advance the general policy of improving agriculture in this country. But, above all things, we must avoid waste, and there is great danger of being parsimonious in one respect and wasteful in another. That consideration will be borne in mind by all those who took part, in the proceedings on the Town and Country Planning Act. That Act showed a determination to put an end to the sporadic development which has been a source of a great deal of the present trouble. Even if we were to get water supplies for the existing units of rural life, we should in 50 years' time be faced with the same problem again if it were not for the Town and Country Planning Act—that is presuming that its provisions are properly carried out as I hope they will be. To allow builders to build, right out in the country, long lines of houses and bungalows, with teashops and petrol stations, means an immense amount of trouble. They must have water supplies, sewerage, and electric light, and so forth, but if they are built quite regardless of the nuclei round which they should be centred it is an immense extravagance on the public purse. It means that 30 years hence perhaps a future House of Commons will have to return to this question again and they will say, "Look at these places scattered along the roads. It is disgraceful that they have not proper water supplies and sewerage schemes." Then these will have to be supplied at immense and extravagant cost. We want to avoid that kind of thing.

The county councils, I think, could do a great deal more than they have done in helping the local authorities. I know the county councils do not want to be busybodies or to interfere unduly with local authorities, or discourage local authorities from taking responsibility. On the other hand, the county councils take a wider view and have a bigger scope and are able to employ officials of a higher grade than the local officials. Their help ought to be invaluable in providing against any false relaxation of effort in particular areas. A great deal of that has happened both as regards housing and other matters, in connection with which more could be done. I asked the Minister of Health some time ago about the melancholy occurrences at Malton. If the county council had done its duty there and had kept under supervision the conditions reported on by Dr. Bruce Low in 1892 the matter would not have been allowed to rest as it was. The county councils are given the power to report where public health administration is not being properly carried out and that is the opportunity for them to act, not as a duty, not by sending in report, but by giving advice of a helpful nature to the local authority, by acting as it were as a buffer between the local authority and the Ministry of Health.

The county councils could do a great deal in that way, and I wish they would do more, but for that purpose they must have officials. I have always advocated the appointment of county sanitary in- spectors. One or two counties have them; I think every council ought to have such an official who is just as necessary as a county medical officer of health—a sanitary inspector of high quality. What is also required is further education on these matters and especially education of the rising generation to fit them to take their part in the work of these local authorities. I do not think that, as a rule, in the rural schools, young people are taught sufficient about how to face the responsibilities of life in these respects. I wish something could be done to get our young people of 20 and 30 to go on to the local councils, instead of leaving all the work to the people of 50 and 60 or even 70 and 80. No doubt the young people might make some very stupid suggestions, but they would wake up those authorities and wake up the elderly people who at present do such splendid and self-sacrificing work. The younger people ought to take their share of that burden. A certain amount of further publicity is possible. Medical officers of health give this information in their reports, and I wish something of that sort, put possibly into more popular language, could be published, put on the stalls, and issued generally. The Press could also help in that direction. I believe that publicity would help this thing forward.

6.1 p.m.


The House has certainly found a very useful employment for the occasion of this Debate, and I think I can sincerely congratulate the House in that the Noble Lord the Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) raised this topic, just as I can sincerely congratulate the Noble Lord himself on the manner in which he discharged his function. He gave the House very full measure, pressed down and running over, and delivered with the most admirable clearness and temperance of advocacy. May I add my word of tribute to, and appreciation of, the manner in which the forces of local government in the country have been carrying on during the past two years? During these two years the depressed condition of industry and the distressed state of the nation as a whole have undoubtedly thrown strains upon the machine of local government and called for fresh sacrifices, devotion, persistence, and courage from those who are engaged in local administration. We in this House recognise with warm appreciation, on behalf of the nation, the manner in which their services have been rendered to the nation. I speak not only of those who voluntarily engage in the labour; I speak also of the great professional services of the officers of the local authorities.

I would say in this connection one word which it is pleasant for a Minister to say, and which I think the House is always glad to hear from a responsible Minister, and that is a word of warm appreciation too of the admirable relations which are maintained between the Ministry of Health and the local authorities. The whole success and smooth working of the co-ordination of central and local authorities depends upon the maintenance of those relations in a spirit of true cooperation, and it is very pleasant to be able to recognise how that true spirit of co-operation is maintained both upon the one side and upon the other.

The Debate this afternoon has turned principally round a matter which is certainly one of very great moment to the welfare, particularly, of the rural parts of the country, namely, the question of the water supply, and I have listened, if I may so say on my own behalf, with the sense that I was profiting from a number of suggestions made by those who have peculiar and special acquaintance with the subject. It is a matter which cannot but occupy the attention of any holder of my office, because we all recognise—I recognise as clearly as those who have spoken in the Debate—that this is one of those matters in which advance is possible. I refer to the improvement of the supply of water in the rural parts of the country. I do not go all the way with every word of criticism. Some, I think, has been exaggerated, but on the whole we are all at one in recognising that this is a matter in which advance is possible.

What is the nature of the problem? The problem as it confronts the practical administrator or legislator is, in the first place and almost wholly, a problem of finance. One cannot lay plans for this matter unless one recognises that it is impossible in many rural neighbourhoods —indeed, I would say in the typical rural neighbourhood—at the present time to supply a piped supply of water on terms that can be made to pay. The analysis of the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) in this regard appeared to me, if I may say so, entirely correct. Another aspect of that matter is the rather wide-ranging, far-reaching scheme of the grid, which was developed in particular by the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) and other speakers. I admire the boldness of the conception of the water grid, but I fear that perhaps imaginative thinkers may have been misled by a false analogy from the electrical grid. Close consideration on the basis of facts and figures teaches one that a water supply cannot be made to pay in a typical rural area which is situated at more than a certain and not very great distance from the actual passage of a main which is on its way to some urban area of consumption. I fear that, looked upon as a means of supplying an economic supply of water for rural areas, a grid, involving its costly outlay upon mains, is beyond practical consideration. That does not, of course, mean that full use cannot and should not be made of the mains laid in connection with general urban water 'supplies for the benefit of the areas that are situated along their course, and one of the objects of good administration is and always must be to make sure that such full use is made; and that is one of the objects which we have constantly in mind.

When I say that it is not an economic proposition to supply a piped supply which involves more than a certain cost for mains in rural areas, has one said the last word? No, indeed. It is the case that at the present time subsidies of public money are not available for such a purpose, but there remains after that the financial resource as laid down by the existing legislation, under which there is power in the county council, in the larger area, to come to the assistance of the poorer smaller area and to bear part of the cost of installing a scheme which is admittedly not economic. The use that has been made of that power in the past has not, been sufficiently extensive, and my next object at the present time is to secure that to the fullest extent use is made of that power, by which the larger area will come to the assistance of the smaller. I have no power to compel the larger area to do so, and that is the answer to many of the criticisms that have been levelled at the conduct of the Ministry of Health in the past in the course of this Debate. I have no power to compel the larger area to help the smaller, but, it is my intention to do all that I can to persuade them, under the powers given me by the existing legislation, to come to the help of the smaller areas, and I am taking the practical step of circularising the larger areas in the immediate future, using such arguments as I can—and I think they are very good arguments—to persuade them to make fuller use of those powers.

In this connection a question was addressed to me: What use has been made of the organisation of regional committees in connection with the supply of water to the rural areas? As a matter of fact, the recent developments of this movement have been encouraging. Six committees have already been formed—in the West Riding of Yorkshire, South West Lancashire, the Sherwood area of Nottinghamshire, Holland, Lincoln, the Isle of Wight, and South Buckinghamshire. For appropriate areas I believe that form of advance to be one of the most promising. Another object of my administration at the present time is to promote the formation of those committees wherever they will be useful, but I think it is to be recognised, because I would not found undue hopes upon the regional committee as regards the small rural areas, that a regional committee is only useful where you have some central source of supply and so much demand that you can pipe that supply by mains about the region. That is not the condition of the backward rural areas which we have been chiefly considering to-day. The condition of those areas is that probably their hopes of water supply must depend upon little local sources, and they cannot afford the mains to pipe it from a central source.

Under these conditions, we must not look for too much from the regional committee for the more backward rural areas, and that would draw me to this final practical conclusion about the smallest rural areas, which have, I may say, been occupying a very great deal of my attention and that of my advisers in our recent dealings with the efforts to improve matters in this regard. That conclusion is that the first line of advance as regards most rural backward areas—I use the word "backward" in no offensive sense—is in the careful examination and development of their own small local supplies, because they are the cheapest supplies and supplies which there is most hope of their getting without waiting for some imaginary happy day when water will be piped in big mains all over the country, which is a very distant day.

That is a work which is always going on under the eye of, and promoted by, the Ministry of Health. There is no special sort of advertised inquest or survey of water supply undertaken as a single act and then forgotten all about. All the time the qualified officers of the Ministry of Health are inquiring into the quality and quantity of rural supplies and into the possibility of improving them. It is being undertaken with a regular persistence, and where opportunities appear of practical suggestions being made for their improvement, those suggestions are made, and with the help and advice of the Ministry they will be carried out. That is the most practical way in which we can get this matter done under existing financial conditions.

I am in cordial agreement with the point of view, which I think was that of many speakers this afternoon, that if under happier circumstances the nation, so to speak, were to be in a position to come to the Minister of Health and say to him, "Here is public money which you can spend upon some public purpose for the benefit of the public health and the improvement of conditions"—I am in cordial agreement that there is no purpose upon which the money could be better spent than upon improving rural water supplies and sanitation, but we live in days in which those beautiful things do not happen. Under present conditions the course to which I have referred presents the best hope of improvement.

Let me refer to one or two particular questions which have been asked me by the hon. Member who opened the Debate and other hon. Members. The hon. Member for East Norfolk asked what is the remedy of the local consumer in the case of an over-charge for his water. In the case of companies and local authorities working under local Acts the charges are fixed by the special Acts, and the Acts usually provide a machinery for the revision of the charges by order of myself as Minister, so that the remedy is clear. Where local authorities work under the Public Health Acts the charges are entirely within the discretion of the local authorities, but they can, I think, usually be relied upon not to charge more than is necessary to make the undertaking self-supporting. The hon. Member asked what has been the result of removing the limitations from the borrowing powers of local authorities for this purpose. So far it would be difficult to trace any direct result, but the reason for that is that most of these schemes have been carried out with the assistance of Exchequer grants; in those cases the limitation of borrowing powers had already been temporarily removed, but undoubtedly the removal will be of assistance in the future. It removes a handicap which has stood in the way of a certain number of schemes which otherwise would not have come to fruition.

The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) asked me a certain number of questions about the detailed characteristics of the water supplies of certain special neighbourhoods. He had, unfortunately, not given me notice that he intended to ask these questions, and I cannot, of course, verify the facts of those special cases on the spur of the moment. In the course of the last few weeks the hon. Member has asked me. about two other places—Fullbrook, where the rural district council is already considering a scheme; and Ewhurst, where we have a report from the sanitary inspector that the supply is adequate. In those two cases, therefore, the hon. Member may find that his complaints were not so justified as they seemed to he at first sight.


With regard to Ewhurst, it must be within the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge that, apart from the cottages, the water supply at the school is definitely stated to be bad.


The sanitary inspector took another view.


It is stated in a report which the right hon. Gentleman gave to me.


That shows the difficulty of making detailed references without giving me the opportunity of considering them beforehand. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) referred to the regrettable circumstances of the epidemic of typhoid at Malton, with regard to which I have felt it my duty to keep the House closely informed. I feel that the House will agree that it would not be right or useful to argue here the question of responsibility for so tragic an occurrence, for it would not be likely to attain any useful or just result. It has, of course, been my duty to make the closest inquiries as to the relation of my Ministry to the circumstances which preceded that epidemic, and I have fully satisfied myself that the duties placed upon the Ministry were fully discharged as regards the water supply of that district, both as to assistance and advice, and as to warning of danger. I like to think that the source and the cause of the epidemic was discovered by a most brilliant piece of what I may call hygienic detective work on the part of the officials of the Ministry. As regards the future, the hon. Member knows that measures for the protection of the water supply are being taken by the local authorities under the advice of the officials of the Ministry. As regards the future sanitary arrangements of the district, I should like to mention that I am suggesting to the North and East Riding County Councils an alteration of boundaries to enable Malton to be joined with the adjoining district of Norton in order to facilitate the improvement of sewerage arrangements which are in prospect.

We had a very interesting and well informed speech from the hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton). With regard to the Manchester water scheme, I would observe only that the Ministry is not a party to that scheme or in any way responsible for it because it was a scheme sanctioned by Parliament. It has been referred to of late not unjustly in connection with the question of the development of water supply as an example of the danger of what is called the population trap, that is, the danger of over supplying a district with water and basing that future supply upon estimates of population which have been falsified by recent statistics. We must always remember that when we are dealing with supplies of water particularly for the larger urban areas. This afternoon, however, we are dealing more particularly with the more rural areas where that factor need not so much concern us. As regards the supply of Hull by Bradford, a difficult question to which the hon. Member referred, this has been most carefully examined by me and has not been found to be a practical scheme, because it is clear that Bradford will soon want the water itself and so cannot spare it. In the second place, it would cost Hull more than their own scheme. Those ate two very good reasons why the scheme is impracticable.


The regional committee has recommended the scheme. That was a committee set up by the Minister.


Attached to the question of water supply there is the equally interesting question of drainage. I cannot deal with that at length, but I would say that the question of the improvement of rural drainage is a very similar question to that of the improvement of rural water supplies. It is at first offset an economic question, and the same considerations of getting the larger areas to help the smaller apply in the one case as in the other. As in the case of water supply, the best help that can be given in drainage is the steady pressure to improve by the Ministry officials, by the ceaseless work without haste of the central administration, and by the local authorities co-operating willingly and seizing all opportunities that are suggested to improve the methods of each area. A special case was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Thorn-bury (Captain Gunston), I cannot, of course, compel the county to assist the local authority; I can only use such persuasive words as can he used. Possibly the circular which I am sending out may induce a revision of the circumstances by the local authority, and perhaps the result will be more favourable.

There is one more question to which I should like to refer, because it is of such enormous importance and interest that I cannot pass it over in silence, although the references to it in the Debate have not been so prominent as the references to water supply. It is the question of the nutrition of the people. A close watch is being kept, has been kept and will be kept by the Medical Department of the Ministry of Health and the Medical Department of the Board of Education, which is closely concerned, for any sign of malnutrition, especially in those areas where unemployment is most prevalent. It was anticipated that perhaps the first group to show any evidence of malnutrition owing to the long depression would be the children; but a careful scrutiny of the reports of school medical officers of England and Wales for 1931, the latest of which was written in 1932, establishes that the condition of the children has not really been affected by unemployment. This has been confirmed by my further inquiries in many areas during 1933.

The physical condition of the adult varies, no doubt, in different parts of the country. Generally speaking, it is good and, contrary to what I think might reasonably be expected, it does not appear so far to be affected by unemployment. It can be tested by the basic facts of statistics. In 1932 we had one of the lowest death rates recorded in England and Wales; it was down to 12 per thousand. We had an exceedingly low infant mortality rate, which was about 65 per thousand. We had fewer epidemics and less mortality. We had, on the whole, a favourable report of the health of insured persons. The medical officers of health are fully alive to the situation and are vigilant at all times to observe any departures from the normal in their districts. It is one of their definite and most important duties to acquire knowledge of any influences which may operate prejudicially to health in their areas, and to advise their councils and consult the Ministry of Health on questions affecting the health of their districts. It is their duty inter alia to send me a statement of any noteworthy conditions prejudicial to the health of their areas.

Those eyes and ears of the Ministry throughout the country enable the Minister of Health to know if there is any definite depreciation in physical condition or increase in morbidity, and I certainly find that there is no positive depreciation of that sort recorded. I mention the fact as being contrary, I think, to expectations. The question has occupied, and will certainly continue to occupy, my day-to-day attention, because I think it is obvious that it is one which must be watched most closely in such times as this. Indeed, I have taken special steps to secure that any facts which emerge are immediately known. This report which I can render on the state of nutrition is certainly one that may be surprising in its encouragement, but when one can report good things one is glad to do that as well as to have to report when things are bad. In this matter of the physical state of the people, from the point of view of nutrition, I think we can undoubtedly say that the present state of affairs is a tribute both to the excellence of our national system for dealing with the evils of unemployment and a tribute to the devotion and common sense of the parents of the country in looking after their children.

So I close my observations on a note of encouragement. I trust I shall not be told that I am merely complacent. It is based upon the closest inquiry, inquiry made with most anxious attention, and, indeed, a very ready willingness to observe and to report any failing that there may be, in order that steps may be taken to safeguard against it. In all these matters, as I have said, we recognise the good work done by the local authorities, and we recognise what has been said by so many speakers in the Debate, that the best remedy for the evils to which we have been referring is the one to which we all look forward, as it will relieve their anxieties as well as ours, and that is a return to a greater degree of national prosperity.

6.33 p. m.


While I would add my tribute to the value of the discussion which has been going on for the last three hours, I am not sure that I can fully appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's last observation regarding malnutrition. It may be that the report to which he refers is as pleasant as he would have us believe, but he has been very active during the past few weeks not only as regards water supply in rural areas but also as regards the work of certain county councils. I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a, certain case, so that he may know the effect of his communications to the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council and the public assistance committee. He tells us that he has not so far discovered any mal-nutrition as a result of unemployment, but I had a case brought to my notice during the past week concerning a man his wife and seven children. The man, unfortunately, is unemployed. He is in receipt of full transitional payment, namely, 37s. 3d. per week. Out of that sum 14s. has to be paid for rent, leaving 23s. 3d. for nine persons to exist upon. I am pretty certain that the right hon. Gentleman, even with the assistance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would not be able to lay out that 23s. 3d. on the needs of that family and prevent malnutrition being suffered by the children, the wife or the father. I attribute the position of that family very largely to the attitude of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health towards the West Riding of Yorkshire Public Assistance Committee during the past few weeks.

With regard to the problem of water supply, I entirely agree with the suggestions the right hon. Gentleman has made, but it seems to me that, as is usually the case with him in his very lucid speeches, he slipped very gently over the real problem without facing up to it at all. He truly said that we cannot expect to see all the rural areas with a good water supply coming to them in pipes to-morrow morning. That would be a very costly proposition, an almost impossible proposition. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that county councils have the power to assist small authorities which are anxious to secure a water supply, but that scarcely seems to meet the real problem. A large county borough, with a, population of half a million, and a high rateable value, can afford to stretch out for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or even 60 miles to collect water for their own needs and they can sell some of that water to smaller local authorities on terms laid down by the big council. So far as the big authority is concerned, that is all right; but a small urban or rural authority, with a small rateable value and unable to go beyond their own borders in search of water, are often confronted with an impossible proposition if they set out to supply themselves with water either through pipes or by means of deep wells. It is not sufficient for a county council, very few of whom, probably, have water supplies of their own, to be informed that they can render financial assistance to a rural council or a small urban authority.

Unless and until the water supply of the country is nationally organised, and regional committees who are really active are established to determine the collection and the distribution of the water in the most scientific and most equitable fashion, we shall lack a lasting solution of this water problem for rural areas. The Minister told us that he has six regional committees. I am credibly informed that one of those committees, that for Yorkshire, has not met for years. I cannot vouch for that statement, and I am rather sorry the Minister is not here to tell us whether that is so or not, but if he says that he has six regional committees dealing with the water sap-ply of rural and urban populations, and one of them has not met for years, it is, to say the least of it, slightly 'misleading to the House. I suggest to the Minister that he has certain powers of persuasion which could be used. When it comes to a question of Poor Law relief he has very forceful powers, and he has not hesitated to use them in dealing with the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council. I feel that the House would give hint powers for the establishment of regional committees to be permanently in session until we have almost approached a solution of this water problem in the rural areas.

As the Noble Lord who moved the Amendment said, not only is the provision of a good water supply important from the point of view of assuring pure water for the people, but if there is a water supply in a district, builders are encouraged to proceed with house building. Many farm labourers have to live in wretched cottages, which ought to have been destroyed 30 or 40 years ago, because they happen to work for the farmer who owns the property, and if through the lack of a good water supply there is no encouragement for house builders, these tied cottages, with all that they imply, will continue to exist. The water problem is closely allied to the housing problem in rural areas. Figures given by the noble Lord were very conclusive as regards local authorities operating under the Acts of 1924, 1926 and 1930. The agricultural labourer or the rural worker finds it quite impossible to pay a rent of round about 8s. or 9s. a week, and now that rural councils are denied the opportunity of erecting houses under the Act of 1924, with the subsidies given under that Act, it is obvious that no houses will be built in rural areas for rural workers. In view of this connection between water supply and the tied cottage problem, it is the duty of the Minister of Health, amid his multifarious obligations, to pay as much attention as is humanly possible to the water problem.

The situation at Malton has been referred to. I had a personal experience of an epidemic in my own area in 1921. Our water supply was very precarious. We took water from several sources—some from a colliery, some from Sheffield, nearly 20 miles distant, and some came from other sources. One part of the district which was very badly served was consuming water from a well. We had a typhoid epidemic. There were about 95 cases, and about 28 lives were lost. It cost that urban district, where a penny rate would bring in about £160, no less than £10,000. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) counsels the Minister to go slow, counsels hesitation and the exercise of wisdom, discretion and economy. Possibly that was an example of economy practised prior to 1921, but the local residents afterwards paid the price in cash and in human life. More recently they have paid the price in Malton in cash and in human life, and I think that sort of hesitation and discretion is the wildest form of extravagance. If a water supply can be made available at a reasonable figure, it has other advantages apart from giving a pure and plentiful supply of water for human consumption.


I am afraid the hon. Member has misrepresented me, and I cannot let his statement go unanswered. Of course, I should have no hesitation whatever in saying that authorities who "let things rip" in the way he has suggested are greatly to blame, but I say that, in order to get greater use out of our finances, let us to he economical with them.


Unfortunately, that has been the situation in the past. It is fair to assume, without reflecting adversely upon the local administration in the Malton area, that it has been that sort of hesitation which has prevented the area obtaining a plentiful supply of pure water and which brought about the disastrous situation of a few months ago.


Not a bit of it. No conceivable excuse can be made for neglecting a water-supply. If you are properly working these powers you use them where they are most useful. There should be no hesitation in using them.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman must appreciate that there has not only been hesitation, but in many districts where the local authorities are very small, the very attempt to produce for themselves an adequate supply of pure water would have been a financial impossibility. Think of an urban district with a 10,000 population. The council have no immediate supply within their own area. To what extent can they extend beyond the borders of their own area by co-operating with other local authorities, without the assistance of the Ministry of Health.


That is not hesitation.


That is not only hesitation but lack of power. Moreover, if some great county borough have actually collected water from that rural urban area, and have conveyed it to the county borough, in what position are the small local authority who have not the funds available with which to acquire water for their own purposes? I would like to put this question to the Minister. He has told the House that fie has six regional committees in existence, all dealing with the organisation of water supply with special reference to rural and small urban areas. I am informed that one of these Committees has not met for years. Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that, or am I to assume that that statement is correct? If it is correct, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the regional committees does not amount to much. There is another question that I should like to put to him. He told us that the county councils have power to render financial assistance to a local authority. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that that is sufficient? I would like to ask him one other question. Where a combination of local authorities find that for purposes of water supply they have to co-operate—


May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman in order to reply to his question about the county councils? It is not suggested that by means of that financial assistance you can make a scheme economic, which is uneconomic without it, but the financial assistance may, in many cases, be sufficient to enable a rural authority to complete work which otherwise would be uneconomic and would not be undertaken.


I can quite conceive a county council lending financial assistance to a rural authority and largely making it possible for them to secure a minimum supply, but the problem is rather bigger than that. No rural authority stands a ghost of a chance unless it is in association with other areas. A combination of such areas may secure a water supply much better than one rural authority could on its own. What encouragement does the right hon. Gentleman's Department give to rural authorities to combine for the purposes of a water supply? That should be the obvious duty of the regional committee, if they.are an active body.


The answer to the hon. Member is that every encouragement is given, where any useful purpose is to be served by the combination. I pointed out that if, owing to the topographical conditions of the rural area, there, is no common source of water supply available to the several areas, in that case joint committees are of no use.


The reply states the true problem which is confronting rural areas. If a combination of authorities find it impossible to provide themselves with water, how much more difficult is it for a single authority to do so, and how much more necessary is it that a regional committee should be a live and active body until at any rate a minimum supply of water is available, if not through pipes, then by means of wells, such as could be provided for the outlying and somewhat poverty-stricken areas.

I am pleased that the Noble Lord introduced this question. We shall never see a final and lasting solution of the problem of water supply unless and until organisation is imposed from above. Local authorities are very desirable people. I have been a member of a local authority for many years, and I know that we are all immersed in parish-pump politics, but when it comes to a question of life and death, or the health and well being of the people in such matters as water supply, then if local authorities, small, intermediate or large fail in their duties to their local populations, it is the obvious duty of the Government of the day, be it Conservative, Liberal., Socialist or whatever it be, to create some national organisation for the collection and distribution of water throughout all areas, so that local authorities shall get so far as that is humanly possible an adequate service of the purest water available. Water affects building, which affects the tied cottage which, in its turn, means misery and abject demoralisation for those who have to live in the country because they work in the country. I want to tender my thanks to the Noble Lord again for having introduced this Debate this afternoon.

Viscount ELMLEY

I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Main Question again proposed.