§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."1037
§ Mr. Speaker
In calling the Amendment, which is perhaps a little unusual, I have taken note of the exceptional circumstances which exist now, and I am going to allow a rather wider Debate than is normally permitted. I am taking into consideration the fact that Private Members have not the chance of raising such matters by a Private Member's Motion. I hope that the Debate will not go too wide. We are discussing two local Bills, and their relation to a national scheme should be borne in mind. This must not be taken as a precedent.
§ Mr. Levy (Elland)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add:this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill, on the ground that it is undesirable that further powers should be given to individual water undertakings until such a time as legislation has been passed dealing with the national water resources.I would like, with your permission, Sir, first to make a personal statement. It has come to my knowledge that a number of hon. Members are apparently under the impression that I have some interests in water undertakings. I would like to say at once that I have no such interests, financial or otherwise. Whatever I have done in regard to water has been done in the national interest.
A number of hon. and right hon. Members will remember that as long ago as 1931 and 1932, in the last Parliament, I advocated a national water plan and a national water supply for the whole country. You cannot have a national water plan and a national water supply unless you link it up with a sewerage and a drainage scheme. No local authority or private undertaking, or combination of local authorities or undertakings, is capable of providing this country with an adequate water supply and drainage system, unless it is dealt with by the Government in a national water plan. In 1933 I put before this House what I considered to be a constructive plan for a national water supply. That plan was that this country should be geographically divided into watershed areas; that there should be a national water board, and also a regional control over all the various watershed areas, and each of the controllers should be responsible for providing an efficient water supply for the whole of his area, as well as drainage. The regional controllers were to be responsible 1038 not only for the adequate and efficient supply of water throughout their areas and for the drainage but for the creation of reservoirs, in order to conserve the water, to enable them to have the supply which is necessary, because the water resources of this country at present are quite insufficient to give a tap-water supply throughout the whole country unless we conserve the water. I divided the years into the wet seasons and the dry seasons. In the wet season you get waterless houses in the midst of waterlogged territory. When I was touring some of the waterless districts in 1934 I said to one gentleman, "What is your position here with regard to water?" He said, "In the summer I have a river at the bottom of the garden, and in the winter I have a garden at the bottom of the river." All that water went to waste.
I am of opinion that the Minister of Reconstruction should have the control of water supplies in this country. What is the use of talking about rebuilding houses, location of industry, dispersal of the population, without any water? What is the use of building houses and insisting that every house shall have a bathroom, with no water? What is the use of an Education Bill, to educate the people in hygiene, if when they go home there is no water? What is the use of a Health Bill? What is the essential for good health? It is cleanliness; and how can you have cleanliness without an ample supply of water? Of all the commodities that we use, only two have not got a standard of purity: one is water, and the other is milk. I ask hon. Members not to confuse a standard of purity for milk with the fatty content. After all, milk is 87 per cent. water. In the rural areas you see cattle standing up to their knees in putrid and stagnant water, excreting in it, discharging their urine in it. That is the water they have to drink. Thousands of dairy farmers cannot get a Grade A certificate for their milk because there is no water to wash the utensils, and no water to wash the cattle. Why is it that the Government are endeavouring to insist on the pasteurisation of milk? Simply because there is no purity standard for milk. Why do they not have a purity standard for water? Because they are afraid; they dare not. If you had a purity standard for water to-day nearly all your service wells would be condemned, and a number of urban 1039 supplies even would be condemned. Therefore, a national water supply is essential.
The other day several hon. Members said to me, "If you advocate a national water plan for water supply, which obviously cannot be dissociated from sewerage and drainage, it is going to cost a colossal amount of money." To-day your water supply is patchwork, haphazard, piecemeal, overlapping. There never has been a plan. In 1933 and 1934, when I made speeches galore on water supply, I took a lot of trouble in research, going back over the records of the last 80 years. There have been innumerable Committees set up to report on water; there have been innumerable Royal Commissions set up with regard to water. All have been set up in order that the Governments of the day could sidestep the issue; and they have sidestepped the issue. For the last 70 or 80 years nothing comprehensive has been done. I am not attacking the Minister of Health personally, because he is new to the job, and I believe he is going to do what he can. But I am attacking the Ministry of Health—and I will attack them more severely in a minute—because they have done nothing for the last 70 or 80 years with regard to water supply.
Let me call attention to the great potential dangers in swimming pools, both those in the open air and those which are covered. I make this statement with a full sense of responsibility as a Member of Parliament, and I am bringing a grave charge against the Ministry of Health. Before 1914, all swimming pools were cleansed by what I shall describe as the fill-and-empty system. The pools were cleansed when they were empty; and they were emptied and filled sometimes once, sometimes twice, a week. But the water supply is such that there is not the 100,000 or 150,000 gallons which is necessary to fill the baths. What did the Ministry of Health do? They made by-laws. These by-laws are a disgrace and a scandal. They provide that an open-air bath shall be filled at the beginning of the season, and the water is not changed at all until it is emptied at the end of the season. A covered bath that is open all the year round need only be cleansed once a year.
How can you clean the sides and the bottom of the bath unless you empty it? The chlorination system, which I know 1040 quite well, is utterly incapable of properly disinfecting the water, although it passes through every six hours. People say that it does cleanse the water, but, believe me, I have been in touch with a large number of distinguished medical men, and the Medical Association will not deny the charge that I am bringing against the Ministry of Health. You have some distinguished doctors in this House of Commons. There is not one of them who would dispute what I am going to say. I have been in touch with a number of distinguished medical men, and one of them, who is outstanding, gave me the reasons why the public baths in the country to-day—and I am speaking of swimming pools—are a potential danger. So I said "I wonder whether you would be good enough to write that down for me, because all Members of Parliament, however well informed, would be pleased to know the fact with regard to this matter." He said "Yes," and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read it to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt. I said we could have a wide Debate. I presume that this is only preliminary, leading up to the Anglesey Water Bill. I have not heard the word "Anglesey" mentioned yet.
§ Mr. Levy
I am obliged to you, Sir, and with regard to the Ruling, would it not be true to say that everything that applies to Anglesey, equally well applies all over the country, whether we apply it to rural parts of the country or any other part? It applies all over the country. May I ask your leniency, Sir, because I consider this so important for the country as a whole that attention should be called to it? What is the use of my right hon. Friend bringing in a Bill with regard to health and nursing and medical attention when this state of affairs exists? Then, with your permission, Sir, I wish to call the Minister's attention to this matter and it is only right, if I may say so with respect, that these facts should be known. Why should we allow ordinary folk, in their ignorance and innocence, to use some of these baths, which are a potential danger to their own health?
This is what the doctor said:The organic material in the water itself normally decomposes, you get contamination from the atmosphere, discharge of urine, some of which is infected by the bacillus coli or 1041 even the typhoid bacillus itself, discharges from the ear, nose and throat, containing various types of germs, such as the staphylococci, and the far more dangerous streptococcus and the pneumococcus and the cold and influenza germs.Chlorination does not kill them off.You have also gonorrhoeal discharges and the syphilitic organisms.This is what he finished up with:Such is the filth that accumulates in very large quantity in a bath open for a year. Would any self-respecting person with this knowledge bathe in such a bath, whatever guarantee might be given to them with regard to the cleansing effect of chlorination?
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
Will the hon. Member say exactly whose opinion that is? He has not mentioned his name.
§ Mr. Levy
I am not going to give the name of the doctor, because I understand it is not in accordance with the etiquette of the medical profession to do so. There are very many hon. Members in this House who are doctors, many of them very distinguished, and if they take part in this Debate, as I hope they will, I feel convinced that they will confirm it and not dispute it, but I have not the permission of the gentleman concerned to mention his name.
§ Mr. Morrison
Is it not unusual for an hon. Member to make such sweeping charges on the effect on health of chlorination, without stating the source of his information?
§ Mr. Levy
I take full responsibility for my statements without giving the name, and I consider that this House is the right place, and the only place, to state these defects in anything which any hon. Member considers to be in the national interest. I hope we are going to get a national water supply. I shall not be satisfied until we do get a national water supply. A number of our rural areas are worse than South African villages. Children are being sent to country districts from London, and a number of them suffer from stomach troubles because they have not been acclimatised to the type of water they drink. The majority of people have thought they had eaten something that disagreed with them.
I remember, years ago, taking many samples of water from surface wells. I got a medical officer of health, whose 1042 name I will not mention, to analyse them. He said "This water ought to be condemned, but what am I to do? There is no other water." I will not detain the House any longer, except to say that the Minister is about to issue a White Paper. If that White Paper is not a national plan dealing with the whole country for a water supply correlated to drainage, then I shall be one of his most obstinate opponents. It is no use the Minister coming with a White Paper saying that he has got the consent of the Treasury to give certain grants to certain local authorities, or to private undertakings, to assist them in some more overlapping water schemes. How can it be right? My hon. Friend who sits for a Birmingham Division—
§ Mr. Levy
I sit for a more distinguished constituency. Unfortunately, my constituency has to rely on outside constituencies for water, although we could bore down no more than 50 feet and get our own water supply. But, under some contracts that have been made with the Ministry of Health, we are not allowed to do it and we had to look for water elsewhere. I was about to say to my hon. Friends who sit for Birmingham divisions, that they buy their water from Wales and they bring it a large number of miles through arid areas, and the areas through which their supply pipe passes have no water. I am not blaming them, I am not blaming Birmingham; I am blaming the system and preceding Governments. This country has got to have a proper national plan and a proper water supply, and, therefore, I say to my right hon. and learned Friend, who is going to issue a White Paper and who may presently be making a statement, that, if there is anything less than a national water scheme for a national water supply throughout the country, I shall criticise it as severely as lies in my power, because it will not be enough.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
I beg to second the Amendment.
When we put down the Amendments to this Bill and to the other Bill which is to be taken next, it was not from any desire on our part to deprive the inhabitants of Anglesey, Chesterfield or Bolsover of those supplies of water they so urgently require, but because it did seem, at that time, to be the only way in which we could ensure that this House should have an opportunity to discuss a matter which is, after all, one of very urgent national importance. At that time, it was not known that my right hon. Friend was about to present a White Paper on this subject; but, nevertheless, this Debate will serve a useful purpose, inasmuch as it will give the House an opportunity to consider now whether this piecemeal method of allocating water supplies and of appropriating water sources, represented by the two Bills now before the House, is a system which is capable of meeting the needs of the country at the present time, or whether it should not now be replaced, or, perhaps I should say, supplemented by a more comprehensive system upon a national basis. I take it that, in this discussion, we shall not be precluded from drawing attention to those features which we think such a comprehensive national system ought to possess.
It is, as my hon. Friend has already pointed out, notorious that, in certain parts of the country, the existing water supplies are insufficient to meet the needs of the population, and that, in certain areas, no proper supplies are available at all. I do not propose to dwell upon that aspect of the matter, because my hon. Friend has already dealt very fully with it. I would, however, remind the House that this was one of the matters to which the Scott Committee drew atttention in their report, and the House will find very well stated in that report the difficulties, particularly from the standpoint of rural districts, which the present inadequate use of our water resources has involved. This unfortunate state of affairs is not attributable to any lack of consideration of this subject in recent years. Going back no further than the last ten years, in the 1934–35 Session, a joint committee was appointed by Parliament on water resources and supplies with the duty to consider and report on measures for the better conservation and organisation of water resources and supplies in England 1044 and Wales. In the following Session, a joint committee was again appointed with the same terms of reference.
Later on a departmental committee—the Central Advisory Water Committee—was appointed by my right hon. Friend's Department to consider very similar matters and to offer advice to those Government Departments who were concerned with this subject. They presented a voluminous report in the Spring of 1939, and, more recently, in August of last year, they presented a further report covering certain aspects of the matter. The House will recollect that in the last Session a Bill was introduced and reached the stage of its Second Reading—if my recollection is right, the Second Reading was moved in this House—and the Bill was then lapsed at the end of the Session. The House greeted it and then said farewell. In all this elaborate circumlocution, one is struck by the complete disparity between the volume of this industrious consideration and the action which has resulted from it. It is a fact that part of our law upon this subject still remains an Act of Parliament which was passed nearly 100 years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that much of our law on this topic is really out of date, and needs to be brought into line with the urgent requirements of to-day.
What is perhaps an even more serious aspect of this matter appears to be that at present there exists no adequate machinery to ensure that full use is made of our existing sources of supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) has said that our existing sources will prove adequate if they are properly utilised and properly conserved.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sorry if I misinterpreted what my hon. Friend said, but I do not think there is much difference of opinion between us. I understood him to say that the existing sources are sufficient as long as they are properly conserved.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
This aspect of the matter is very controversial and I know different experts take different views, but I think my hon. Friend and I agree that it is essential that adequate measures should be taken to conserve and to utilise properly those supplies of water which descend from the heavens, as well as those which rise up from below. I think the House will certainly agree that it is essential to ensure the full use of all those known and existing sources of water supply and that we must take adequate measures to ensure that those districts which are at present inadequately supplied or not supplied at all should be provided with a supply from those sources from which a supply can most efficiently and readily be afforded.
In the past there has been a scramble to obtain control of the existing sources of supply. That, to a very large extent, is the position at present. The existing system of promoting Private Bills has resulted in a completely haphazard method of allocating existing supplies. The question whether a particular district should be supplied from any particular source has depended under this system upon whether the inhabitants of that district had the energy or the enterprise at the time when that particular source of supply was being appropriated to ensure that a supply was afforded to their neighbourhood. It has also depended on what is perhaps an even more important consideration, whether at the time when a particular supply was being appropriated the need for water in their district existed at all.
There are many cases where a particular source of supply has been exploited by a district situated a very long distance from its source while no supply has been made available to a neighbourhood situated between the source of supply and the district exploiting that supply. That is a very common case and one which has arisen from the present system. Unless a demand existed at the time when the water source was exploited, it is very difficult for a district to obtain a supply from that source although that particular source may be the best source from which the 1046 supply should be afforded. It really all depended in the past on whether the need existed at the time the water sources were developed and also, to some extent, whether the inhabitants came forward at the right time to ask for their supply.
I make the suggestion to my right hon. Friend that there should now be a complete survey of all existing sources of supply. That, I suggest to him and to the House, is the essential preliminary. Such a survey ought to comprise all existing sources of surface water whether at present allocated to any existing undertaking or not.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
If my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed with my argument, he will not find himself in substantial disagreement. I was about to say that the result of a survey such as I have suggested would be to put us in possession of a complete picture of the surface resources of this country. We should then be in a position to say from which particular source any particular neighbourhood ought to be, and could most efficiently be supplied. I am aware, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that a survey of this sort has been going on for some years, and I believe that it is the case, as far as the survey of surface sources is concerned, that the Inland Water Survey undertaken by the Ministry of Health some years ago is now almost complete.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
It has been interrupted but I understand that the survey itself is practically complete. When that survey is complete—and we should like it to be completed soon—it ought to be followed by a complete review and reallocation of existing surface sources. It should be possible to determine in each neighbourhood the source from which the supply could most conveniently be afforded, and, having determined that, it would then be possible to decide how supplies 1047 from that source could most conveniently be made available. As far as that part of the matter is concerned, it is not really practicable to have any universal plan, such as a national water grid. You have to take into account varying circumstances in each locality. It may be that in some cases a supply could more conveniently be afforded by tapping the trunk lines of an existing undertaking, or by taking the supply from an existing reservoir. It may be that, in other places—and this is true of some of the rural places—a supply could be more conveniently provided by pumping from underground sources either by electrical machinery or by the use of Diesel pumps; but it is impossible to say that any particular scheme would be capable of universal application. First of all, you have to determine from which particular source a particular district can most conveniently be supplied; when you have decided that essential preliminary consideration, you have to go on to consider under what conditions the supply can best be made available. Involved in that matter would be the question of what public assistance, local or national, could, or ought to be made available to set up the necessary machinery for providing the supply from the allocated source.
The survey of surface sources to which I have been referring ought also to be supplemented by a survey of underground sources. The Geological Survey at South Kensington has already made very substantial progress with their survey of underground sources. Although that work is not by any means complete, there is sufficient material already available to enable many of those sources to be used for the purpose of supplying those localities, which can be more conviently supplied from underground sources than from surface sources. Not only should a survey of surface resources be completed but it should be supplemented by a survey of underground resources based upon the existing geological survey.
I would remind my right hon. Friend that, when you come to consider the question of the use of underground sources, you are really embarking upon a new field of legislation involving the control of the utilisation of underground sources by private individuals. In this country we have had very little experience of dealing with 1048 that particular matter, but it is a subject which is becoming extremely urgent in certain parts of the country. Underground sources are already being developed for private purposes, and, if they are exploited too far they will have the effect of draining away the underground supplies from other localities which could conveniently be supplied from the underground source. I understand that in the United States the problem of the utilisation of underground sources of supply has been an urgent one for many years. In some of the States in America they have had considerable experience in working legislation for controlling this matter. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that one of the things he might consider would be to send a small mission out to the United States of America to examine on the spot the working of their legislation governing this particular subject.
I come now to another aspect of the matter to which no less importance ought to be attached. The responsibility for the water supply of this country is at present divided between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. Experience shows that joint responsibility usually results in delay, and in this particular case water supply has been no exception to the rule. I say frankly to my right hon. Friend that I do not believe that he is the right person to undertake this matter. The allocation of water resources is really a planning question and I suggest to him that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should plan the water supplies of a particular neighbourhood when he approves plans for the development of various districts. Just as after the last war, the powers which my right hon. Friend's Department now exercise in relation to water supplies were transferred to him from the Board of Trade, so, I believe, the time has come when these powers should be transferred by his Department to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The Minister of Town and Country Planning ought to assume full responsibility for undertaking this survey which I have advocated and for allocating water resources to those districts to which they can most conveniently afford a supply. It is an essential and logical part of the process of planning the needs of a locality. I am sure that it ought to be undertaken 1049 by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Some time we must make a reality of this new Ministry of Town and Country Planning. It is hardly a reality to-day.
We know that the Minister has been hard at work for many months but what the results of his labours are likely to be are not at present known. I suggest to the House that the responsibility of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning could and ought, and could be, usefully extended by including within their jurisdiction this question of the proper allocation of water sources and the appropriation of water supplies. If we make it the responsibility of one Department, instead of the responsibility of two Departments as it is to-day, we are more likely to ensure that this comprehensive national plan which we all desire will be brought into effective and efficient operation.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I would like in the first place to give the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) an assurance that he need not really concern himself about swimming pools in Anglesey; it is surrounded by a particularly fine swimming pool. I would also like to congratulate him in the second place upon a very remarkable achievement. He has divided the seasons in this country into two—dry and wet—a thing which no one else has ever been able to do. Hon. Members who are opposing this Bill have made out a convincing case for the need for a comprehensive system of water supplies in this country. I think very largely they were speaking to the converted. Anyone who knows the conditions in rural Britain cannot fail to recognise the imperative necessity for having a national scheme of water supplies in this country backed by national finance. I think there would be general agreement on all sides of the House with the picture that the two hon. Members have painted, of the conditions in the rural areas. We have only got to regard one fact. In 1929 it was estimated that at least 1,000,000 of the rural population were without piped water and that 3,000 out of 11,000 larger villages in England and Wales were without pipe water supplies. It seems to me that an adequate water supply is an indispensable condition of a prosperous agriculture. It is essential, if the rural population is 1050 to enjoy the amenities, and the housing standards that their fellow citizens in the towns are, we hope, going to enjoy. It is the only condition under which young people will remain in the agricultural industry and in the countryside.
The Government, some considerable time ago, set up a Committee, to which reference has already been made, presided over by Lord Justice Scott. That Committee recommended that the Ministries of Health and Agriculture, in conjunction with the agricultural industry, should review the whole position of water supplies in this country, with special reference to the provision of a main supply to all towns and larger villages not at present supplied. That was their main recommendation on this point. That Report was presented to this House nearly 18 months ago. We are getting used, though not reconciled, to this time-lag between the publication of Reports and decisions upon them. No one would wish to attach any blame to the Minister, he has but newly come to the Ministry. The other day he told us that this Report, in so far as it affects water, is to be taken down from the shelf where it has lain with its companions, the Barlow, the Uthwatt and the Beveridge Reports. I understand they are occasionally taken down for a dusting and airing, sometimes for intensive study, but never for decisions.
The Minister said the other day that the Government propose, as part of their general reconstruction programme, to introduce legislation on this matter. He said that they are going to ask for powers to enable the Exchequer to give further grants to extend pipe water supplies in rural areas. I would like to say one thing on that. Before the war a grant of £1,000,000 was given to assist in the provision of water supplies in rural areas. Unless the Government is thinking on entirely different lines from that, it is going to be completely useless. Only one of the Bills which is under discussion now, the Anglesey Bill, is going to cost very nearly half a million. That is for one area in the country. What on earth is the use of granting £1,000,000 to cover the needs of the whole country? The Government must consider this question on another scale than that.
The Minister has gone as far as to say that he hopes to introduce legislation on this matter during the current Session. 1051 I hope he is going to do so, but some of us are a little sceptical, as I have said, about this time-lag. I would therefore stress that the Bills which are before the House deal with very urgent cases; the lack of adequate water supplies are matters of very great concern to the public health administration and to local government in these two areas.
It may seem strange in this Debate but, if I may, I would like to say one word about my constituency. There really is a very strong case there for special measures in this matter. There has been very great poverty in the island. All attempts to develop its resources, to give additional employment to its people, to house its people decently, to give them tolerable living conditions, have been impeded by the lack of adequate water supplies. The conditions in this respect are really lamentable, as anyone who has visited the island will realise. With the exception of five villages, none of the villages has a pipe supply, and in the rural districts the inhabitants have to rely upon public wells or rain water tanks, and many of them have to carry their water from large distances in all kinds of weather. Taking the highest figure, it would not be safe to say that more than one-third of the population are adequately supplied in that area, and the shortage in some districts is very acute. Indeed, there is not sufficient water to meat the present requirements of the county, and there was a moment when the Minister of Health had to be warned that it would be unwise for further population to be brought to the island, or a very serious situation for the health authorities might arise.
It also has a very important bearing on the future of the area. As I have said, the island was practically a distressed area before the war. Unemployment was extraordinarily heavy for a rural area, and the whole future of the island will depend upon this, whether it is intended to develop its resources as a seaside resort or maintain its industries or attract fresh industries. Above all, the future wellbeing of agriculture will depend upon it. I do not wish to detain the House any further, because I think the position is already plain. I think I have said enough to show that this matter is not one that can be shelved for a single hour or a day. It has been supported by all the local authorities in the island and by the 1052 population of Anglesey as a whole. I do not think the Members who have opposed this Bill—for reasons we well understand—need fear that any scheme put forward in this Measure will cut across any part of a national scheme which may hereafter be brought before the House. I would remind them that Anglesey is a self-contained unit and in providing its own water supply is not, therefore, likely to affect any scheme which might be decided upon for the adjacent island of England and Wales.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
This Debate, as we all know, is not really concerned with the two Bills which have been put down by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Those Bills have been blocked primarily for the purpose of raising a discussion as to the national organisation of our water supplies. Certainly, neither the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), nor myself, wish that purpose anything but well. Indeed, I doubt very much whether it would be pocsible to find two Members in this House to tell against a Motion in favour of the national organisation of our water supplies. Frequently, important requirements of this kind are hung up because of powerful vested interests, butt question very much whether there are any powerful interests holding up the national organisation of a water supply. There is no reason whatever why this matter should not have been dealt with 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, save for the inertia on the part of Government Departments. [An HON. MEMBER: "Divided responsibility."] That may have been one of the stumbling blocks, but if it were not for this inertia divided responsibility could not hold up this matter for six months. What rather interests me are the arguments used by the Mover and Seconder of the rejection. The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) complained that the water supply was patchwork, haphazard, piecemeal and overlapping. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) demanded that it should be organised on a national basis and also referred to exploitation for private profit.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
No, the expression I used was, "exploitation of the water resources." That expression is quite well known to everybody. I did not mean it in any offensive sense.
§ Mr. Benson
It depends upon the point of view. Exploitation for private profit may or may not be offensive. The attitude taken up by the Mover and Seconder, was that the national interest must prevail over private concessions. Does the hon. Member opposite deny that?
§ Mr. Benson
But the local authorities are not national. The case the hon. Member put forward is that the national interest must have preference over sectional interests—
§ Mr. Benson
I am quite prepared to accept that version. The main point the hon. Member is trying to establish is that if you want an efficient water supply it must be organised on a national basis.
§ Mr. Benson
You will not find anybody in my party disagreeing with the contention that organsiation should be on a national basis. Indeed, we are astonished that hon. Members opposite have just wakened up to this fact. We have been saying it for the last century. I am still a little puzzled as to why we should limit it to water. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If a sectional attempt to organise national resources is bad in the case of water then it is bad in every other similar instance. It applies most certainly to the land if it applies to water—
§ Mr. Benson
Yes, Sir, we have been getting rather wide. The complaints made by the hon. Members opposite were that this sectionalisation of water supply led to excuses on the part of some authorities, to shortage and want on the part of individuals and to waste of resources and that unless there was adequate machinery to utilise national resources we should get into trouble. With that we agree in every 1054 respect. Were it not out of Order I should say that we should apply it to other things than water.
The question of money has been mentioned. It has already been said that if the Ministry of Health think that they are adequately performing their duties by making an inadequate grant of money they will not satisfy the House. But it is not so much a question of whether it is a large or small sum of money which is granted; it is the use to which the money is put. I do not know how many pounds have been spent in the past on the provision of water supplies but I do know that the spending of money on sectional schemes, where the problem has not been visualised as a whole, has been wasteful and extravagant. You have Birmingham and Liverpool fetching water from Wales and Manchester dipping into the Lakes. You have a great muddle of water conduits up and down the country and organisations dependent entirely upon which water authority gets in first. That method of organising your water supply is bound to be extravagant. I would sooner the Minister of Health provided a plan and no money rather than money and no plan. Planning is far more irnportant than Government assistance—not that he can hope to get away without providing both, but first of all planning and then money.
I suppose I ought to mention my constituency's Bill. I can say very little more about the Chesterfield Water Bill than the hon. Lady said about her Bill. Here we have a comparatively small water scheme which has been forced on the local authority in war time by immediate urgency. The shortage in Chesterfield is not quite, but almost entirely, due to the fact that our water consumption has increased enormously owing to munitions production and it is impossible that this increased supply, in view of the purposes for which we require it, should be denied by the House while there is a war on. Certainly, I do not see that either Anglesey or Chesterfield can be expected to wait for an increased water supply until the time when the Ministry of Health wakes up. It has been sleeping for a long time and we have no guarantee that it is going to wake up at 8 o'clock in the morning, and we must have our water supply immediately. Actually the proposal that we put forward is a perfectly simple one. There is a river flowing 1055 through Chesterfield. It is a little stream which starts inside our area. We propose to tap it on one side of Chesterfield and to turn the effluent into the same stream on the other side. We are not taking water from anyone nor reducing to any great extent the flow of the river outside our own borders. We are not cutting into the supplies of any other water board or catchment area. Though not quite so isolated as the Anglesey scheme, from the point of view of national planning it is comparatively innocuous. Owing to the smallness and harmlessness of the proposal we are putting forward I think the House is not likely to deny us a Second Reading.
Turning to the main question, hon. Members opposite have had a majority in the House for many years. If the Ministry of Health has been sluggish, as it certainly has, and somnolent, theirs is the responsibility. We welcome this sudden enlightenment. I am not quite sure whether it is a conversion yet but we shall hope for a wider conversion when we see further signs of it. They bear the responsibility for the sluggishness of their administration and they ought not to take it out of Anglesey and Chesterfield when they have suddenly seen the light.
§ Major York (Ripon)
I support the Amendment, though I should like to say to the hon. Members for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) and Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) that I, and I am sure my hon. Friends, bear their constituencies no grudge. Particularly in the case of Anglesey I should like to help the hon. Lady to give a water supply to the villages in her area. I felt that it was somewhat unnecessary to make a misguided attempt to introduce party politics into an atmosphere of unanimity. I cannot allow it to be said that my hon. Friends and I put any sectional interest before that of the country. In fact, it is the main theme of the group to which I belong that the national interest shall be pre-eminent. There has been, in the rural areas in particular, a complete lack of interest throughout all the years between the wars on subjects such as producing water supplies to villages, and the farms from which our milk supplies come, and making the amenities of rural areas rather more equivalent to those of urban areas. There is a great deal of overlapping in Government 1056 Departments. In the district in which I live the Ministry of Supply, an entirely different Department, suddenly steps in and sinks deep bore holes all over the place. They are all below the level of the existing bore holes and wells and when I, without geological experience, try to explain to the Ministry what they have done I am told I am talking nonsense and that their bore holes have nothing to do with anything they have done. If there was some national plan by which all water supplies were covered, that sort of thing would not happen. It is, therefore, a pointer to the importance of a national plan with one single authority for the whole country to undertake the business.
I have mentioned rural dwellings, and my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) gave illustrations of the way in which certain areas of the country were inundated with water on the surface, which was flowing about with great profusion, but were unable to find a supply to drink from. I live in such an area and, although I have, with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, been able to alleviate in the very near future that predicament, there again is another Government Department stepping in and dealing with this single commodity of water. Throughout the country there is a most urgent need for some system whereby a pipe line is carried to every small town, village and hamlet. In my own area every summer we are practically without an adequate supply of water. Our own bore holes have been overloaded owing to the increase in population and the water which is probably being drained from other sources by deeper wells, and probably the rain water which is falling upon the catchment area is going into another strata. I do not know the exact reason, but the fact remains that we are short of water. If there were a national plan and one authority dealing with all the supplies, we should have an emergency pipe line coming from the reservoirs which supply other authorities. I do not know what has held up this reorganisation of water in the past. I cannot help feeling that it is something more than inertia on the part of the Ministry of Health. I feel that there may perhaps be some local authority vanity, or the reason may be financial. Whatever it is, if we had a real scheme to deal with the problem finance would count as one item before this House and it could 1057 be discussed upon its merits. Therefore, I support the Amendment and I hope that the Minister of Health and the Government will not leave the question where we leave it to-day, but that when we have, as no doubt we shall, given a Second Reading to these Bills, we shall start on the real work of making a national water supply.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
The House owes an apology to the promoters of the Anglesey and Chesterfield Bills for having used an old Parliamentary device in order to discuss something which has very little to do with the Bills. I am certain that the House will be unanimous in giving the Bills a Second Reading and that the Amendment is only put down for the purpose of having a discussion which some Members have been anxious to get for a long time. They asked the Government to introduce the Water Undertakings Bill, and some of us wanted then to express our views on the matter, but the Government decided not to go on with it. I hope that the position taken up by the last Minister of Health will not be followed by the present Minister. The last Minister's way of dealing with water was the Water Undertakings Bill. It was first to get that Bill through and then to consider the general question of the water supplies of the country. I wanted to say, but I did not get the opportunity, that the reason why so much opposition was stirred up against that Bill was that it was putting the cart before the horse, that it would enable a whole multitude of water undertakings to dig themselves in without any national plan, and that, therefore, the national plan ought to come first.
Another reason for using the opportunity of two Private Bills to give Members an opportunity to raise this matter is because of their desire to draw attention to the general lack of action on the part of the Government in regard to water supplies. I also welcome the keen desire that has suddenly developed on the opposite benches for the nationalisation of the water supplies. There are 1,100 water undertakings in this country, of which 230 are private companies selling water for private profit. While we all hold our own opinions about Socialism, Conservatism, private enterprise and the rest, I believe that there would be an overwhelming majority in the House for the view that water is one of the things that should not 1058 be sold for private profit. I hope, therefore, that the speech of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) means that he accepts that principle and agrees that this House should say to private enterprise, "Hands off; no exploitation from the sale of water."
The hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hntehinson) made a reference which, in view of the wide latitude of this Debate, I may be allowed to amplify, because it is something that calls out to be said very urgently to the Minister of Health. The reference was to underground water. Under the law there is nothing to prevent any individual sinking a well anywhere, drawing as much water as he likes, and doing what he likes with the water, irrespective of its quality. If, however, a big water undertaking like the Metropolitan Water Board wants to sink a well, it must promote a Bill in this House. The result of that policy, which I commend to the Minister's attention because it is an urgent question, is twat many new factories in London, in Greater London, and in other parts of the country for all I know, such as laundries, breweries, hotels and factories which use a great deal of water, sink a well as one of the first things they do. They are then at liberty to draw what water they like, and they draw it from the common supplies.
To such an extent is this going on that in a recent report which the Minister has in his Department it is stated that over a single area of London the water level below the chalk has been falling from one to three feet per year for the last 20 years, and that it is now from 60 to 80 feet lower than it was 20 years ago. Nobody is doing anything about it, and it is getting worse. Everybody who is interested knows that last year we had the lowest rainfall in this area for over 10 years. The effects of that will be seen in a few months' time, and I beg the Minister of Health to pay attention to it as one of the urgent things to be dealt with. I know it is easy for Members to make speeches and say we want a national water scheme, but somebody has to make a beginning somewhere, and I ask the Minister to give his urgent attention to the drain upon the underground water supplies and to consider whether it is not possible to take steps to stop anybody else boring wells. If he is not able to come 1059 forward with legislation, I hope he will prevent people after boring a well and drawing water out of it then leaving it derelict with the slime oozing down to the underground water supplies on which undertakers are dependent for their own supplies.
All this has nothing to do with the Anglesley and Chesterfield Bills, and I can only apologise to the Members concerned and their local authorities that the House has taken the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Minister of Health the urgent necessity of somebody doing something about the water problem. My friends tell me that it is most difficult to get anyone at the Ministry of Health really to get his teeth into this question. If they do find somebody there, the question of water is only an incidental part of their work and they have a lot of other bigger things to do. The hon. Member for Elland, who delivered the most eloquent speech on water that I have ever heard and left me speechless, has left the House, but I presume that he has no intention of doing anything to oppose the passage of these Bills.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
We ought to be grateful to the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) for raising this matter, and I am sure that the two hon. Members who are concerned with the Bills which are before the House are really most grateful. It was the only way in which they could bring to the attention of the House the position in which their two districts are placed. If the Amendment had not been put down, the Bills would have passed through in the ordinary way. Anglesey would have had to deal with its own position, without having put before the House what its real condition is. I want to congratulate Anglesey upon its courage in bringing forward the Bill. That courage is the measure of its necessity, and it is the measure also of the complete failure of the Ministry of Health to deal with a situation about which they have known year after year, from the reports that have gone into them from the medical officer of health, to have been appalling; but they have done nothing, except to sit still and let little Anglesey do the best it could.
Let the House pause and see whether it is fair to ask Anglesey to undertake such an enormous burden as this. The 1060 cost of this matter alone is going to be £473,000. That is merely for water, for which they will get some assistance from the Government. The mere bringing in of water and leaving sewerage untouched is adding to their difficulties. They will have to provide their own sewerage system and get no grant from the Ministry of Health to meet the cost of it. The grant is for water alone. Certainly in the last 50 years Anglesey has suffered from bad housing, which also affects the health of the people of Anglesey. It has got to tackle that position, which is really serious. What that cost will amount to I do not know. A Committee of the House of Commons is dealing with the Education Bill. The cost for Anglesey will be the same for that, I imagine, as for Montgomeryshire. The cost to our ratepayers of putting the schools right in Montgomeryshire will be £500,000. It will also cost £500,000 for Anglesey. That is £1,000,000, thrust upon us, because of the nation's failure to undertake its duty towards such places as Anglesey.
Again, let the House just pause and see what has happened. A 1d. rate produces just £610 a year in Anglesey. The Ministry of Health have known of that position throughout, and have done absolutely nothing. It is no good blaming one particular political section. Those facts and figures have been known to a whole succession of Ministers. I must say that nothing was done when hon. Members, now above the Gangway on this side of the House, were sitting behind their own Government, between 1929 and 1931.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Would the hon. and learned Member enlighten the House as to what the Liberals did for the water supply of the country?
§ Mr. Speaker
We are discussing water, and I must therefore pour some cold water on the flames of this discussion, as it is getting rather heated.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I have dealt with Anglesey. Perhaps I may take the other case, dealt with by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), when he spoke 1061 in favour of his Bill. Again, it shows what they have to do in order to meet a situation which is really a national situation. Their difficulties have been increased because of people coming into the munition factories there. The cost to them is going to be 465,000. I asked the hon. Gentleman what his 1d. rate was, and he told me it was £1,600, nearly three times that of Anglesey. It is right that the attention of the House should be directed to these matters. We are all apparently agreed now that there should be a national scheme of water supply. It is just silly to ask local authorities all the time to provide for their own local requirements, as if the germs knew where the boundary of one local authority ended and another began, and as if health were a purely local matter and had nothing to do with the nation as a whole. The situation is just ridiculous.
Take our situation. Our local districts are badly supplied with water, yet we are supplying Liverpool and Birmingham with water, and we are not allowed to touch a pint of it all the way from Rhaiadr to Birmingham or to Liverpool, and it is at the public expense, because local authorities have to come here, to Parliament, to get their Acts to purchase the land and the easements, as is proposed in these two Bills. I dare say that, when that has been done, any money which the local authorities require over and above what they acquire parsimoniously from the Government, they have to raise by loan from London or from the nation as a whole; and still we persist in these patchwork schemes. One is glad of the opportunity of pointing these things out to the Minister of Health and of reminding him that the Department, which was created when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister, ought to live up to the name which was given to it in 1919. It should not regard itself all the time as merely the old Local Government Board, exercising a not-too-careful supervision over local authorities and not concerned with health. It is about time that it lived up to its name.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
We all owe a very great debt of gratitude to the two local authorities who have thought right to proceed in this way. At the present time we are faced with a -dilemma from which we cannot escape. 1062 Either we must have a national plan for water supply, or water undertakings up and down the country must promote Bills of this nature to put right the position within their areas. We ask the Minister of Health to let us have a clear and definite understanding when he replies as to what is to be the future of water supplies in this country. I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) and the hon. Member far North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) refer to the question of underground water. I rather imagine that they were speaking with a London outlook, but London is not the only part of the country in which the problem of underground water supplies is grave and difficult. I am thinking of the South of England, where several local undertakings feel the gravest possible concern as to their future water supplies. Even now, at the wet time of the year, water is being taken in carts to supply cattle and children in the farms, yet within 10, 15 or 20 miles from the area millions of gallons per day are gushing out of the earth, are being used far the production of watercress, and are passing into the drains. This in itself is presenting the drainage boards with inescapable problems in dealing with such enormous quantities of water.
I know that since he has been at the Ministry of Health the Minister has concerned himself with these matters, and that nobody could have been more kind or courteous, or more interested in these problems than he has shown himself to be while he has been there. I am extraordinarily grateful to him for all he has done. I say to him that we are sorry he has come to the Ministry at a time when this matter is so urgent but it really brooks no delay. Either we must have this national scheme to put into effect so that the local authorities, the undertakings, the persons responsible for supplying water now, can see on what lines they must proceed, or alternatively these undertakings must take upon themselves the responsibility of promoting Bills similar to this which will come up and occupy Parliamentary time, and when the whole thing has been done we shall have nothing but a patchwork quilt.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I am in the rather curious position to-day of having to rise and give advice to the House which I do not believe it needs in 1063 the least and which it hardly requires to hear from me. My position here, of course, is not that of one speaking on behalf of a Government proposal. It is limited at most, as I understand it, to advising the House on whether it should take a usual or an unusual course. This Debate is, so I am told, of a slightly unusual kind. An amending Motion in respect of a water Bill of this nature has not been moved for many years, but I do not in any way deprecate what has occurred. What has been said to-day will be most useful to me and I shall study it in full detail.
I should like to assure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Davies) that whatever may have been the case in the past—and this is no occasion for delving into the past—neither I nor my Department are idle with regard to this matter at the moment. It may indeed interest the House to know that on the very first day I was at the Ministry of Health I began to apply my mind to this question of water supply. I should also like to assure him, because he does not seem to have in his mind a recollection of what I said in answer to a Question a few weeks ago, that the first Bill I propose to introduce with regard to rural water supply, the most urgent matter of all, will deal with sewerage as well as water supply. I think I should say at once that I would advise the House to let these Bills—or perhaps I should, to be in Order, say this Bill—take its usual course.
May I remind the House of what will be the programme? I have promised not only to introduce this rural water Bill, covering sewerage in addition to water, but to lay a White Paper. Again, if I may make one observation with regard to my hon. and learned Friend's remarks, it is that it is perhaps a little unkind to the present Minister of Health to say that the last few weeks have indicated that the Ministry is taking no interest in health. There has been a measure of tangible evidence that the Ministry is taking a considerable interest in health. It is also taking a considerable interest in water. There is no doubt, as has been stressed, and it has not been controverted, that there is a real urgency about the proposals dealt with in these two Bills, no doubt whatever. I would not 1064 distinguish between them. All that was said by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) is confirmed by the advice I have. In the ordinary course, if this Motion is rejected, the Bills will go upstairs; but they will not be considered until the Government's general proposals are available. Therefore, the Committee will be able to consider these isolated, proposals in the light of the general proposals which I have promised shall be on a national basis. My Department, of course, will have the opportunity of first carefully examining the Bills and then of making its report to the Committee. That report will be made with reference to the main proposals, which, I repeat, will be on a national basis.
I know that the House will not expect me, either by reason of my personal position or in view of the promise that I have made, to discuss the various specific points that have been raised to-day. They will be for me to take into account in the drafting of the White Paper, and in the discussion on the White Paper. But the way I view this whole matter may, perhaps, be put in this way. I am not content, nor are the Government as a whole content, with the existing arrangements for water supply, either the local arrangements or the general arrangements. There is no doubt that, in spite of what was said by one hon. Member, our scientific knowledge of river flow and of underground water is as yet insufficient. Particularly with regard to river flow, this is not a matter which can be dealt with in a short time. It is a long-term assessment which is necessary and it is of very great importance in connection with that complicated question of compensation water. The most urgent short-term need is undoubtedly the further extension of piped supplies in rural areas, and the Government's proposals will be on a scale which will, I hope, be considered generous. But there are all these other things to which we are giving our attention—better planning, scientific measurement of resources, better rural supplies, water for industry, a more vigorous central initiative, amalgamation of undertakings, equalisation of charges over wider areas—all these matters are in our minds and in making our proposals what has been said to-day will be given close attention and be carefully observed.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman be good enough to say whether the matters also include the reduction in the number of authorities in the country?
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, and indeed that is a matter on which prima facie the Anglesey Bill is in accordance with our general ideas. In Anglesey the local authorities have got together, as I understand it. They cover the majority of the undertakings and the minor authorities are agreed with the projects as a whole. Certainly that is one of the matters on which we are in complete agreement.
This is no time to go back into the past but let it not go out that our water supplies in this country are such a disgrace as might be thought by some. Ninety-five per cent. of the people of this land have a piped supply. Our typhoid deaths are, I believe, the lowest in the world. Let us not, in our anxiety not to be complacent, fail to realise that there have been great accomplishments in this sphere of water. Yet we have much more to do. We intend to put our proposals before the House, I hope—though I must not be taken to be making a promise—before Easter, or at any rate very shortly afterwards, in conjunction with the Bill dealing with rural water.
§ Mr. Benson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says his proposals are coming possibly before Easter, and that the Bills will not be considered until the proposals are before the House. Does that mean he proposes to hold up further consideration of these Bills until afterwards? Will he guarantee if he does that, that the Bills will be considered this Session?
§ Mr. Willink
I am assured that in the normal course these Bills, if they are given a Second Reading, will reach the Committee upstairs in the month of May. There is no question of delaying them. In the ordinary course, the House would have an opportunity of considering the subject when the White Paper comes before it, and another opportunity on the Third Reading of these two Bills.
§ Mr. Levy
Will my right hon. and learned Friend have some regard to the potential dangers, which I pointed out, with regard to swimming baths, and will he take medical opinion of the highest character, to see whether it supports the charges I have made, because I am sure 1066 that something ought to be done if my right hon. Friend is going to congratulate himself on all the health services he is going to give?
§ Mr. Willink
This seems to be, of all the matters which have been raised, the most remote from Anglesey; but of course I will note what my hon. Friend has said, and I will see that it is given consideration. I suggest that there is really no advantage of any kind to be gained by rejecting these Bills, and I hope that these Amendments will be withdrawn, and the Bills given their Second Reading.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
There is one problem which I think has been forgotten in this Debate. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery Mr. C. Davies) made the point that Welsh local authorities on the pipeline from Liverpool to Birmingham were not allowed to tap that supply. I want the Minister to have regard to quite another type of case. Where the main pipeline of a large authority runs through agricultural districts or through small townships, the small local authorities cannot on occasions come to an arrangement with the large supplier, and some of these smaller authorities, consequently, are at the moment talking of establishing a local supply for themselves. It seems to me that, because of difficulties prevailing between very large water undertakings and small authorities, it is a waste of public money for anything like that to be done. I speak with some little knowledge on the point. Then, I am sure it will interest the House to hear that those of us who are connected with friendly and kindred society work can very nearly tell from sickness statistics the conditions of the water supply in a district covering the membership of the society. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman talks of a vast scheme of health services, better hospitals, and larger sanitaria, I would assure him that, whatever contribution he may make to the health services of the community, in that direction, there is nothing he can do better than to provide a clean water supply for all the people of this country. Might I add another to the many bouquets which have been thrown to the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy)? He has persisted in this vital matter ever since he came to this House. He has metaphorically drunk water, talked water, and he has almost walked 1067 on water all the time. I hope he has advocated so much that, in the end, the main object which he has in view will be achieved. I would not like, however, the promise made by the Minister, concerning the larger proposals that the Government intend to make, to preclude these two Bills which are before the House to-day, being passed. I am glad that the Minister has had ample cause at last to know that we want him to wake up in this vital matter.
§ Mr. Levy
In view of the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend, in which I understood him to give a promise to bring in a national water scheme, and not side-step the issue by setting up more redundant Committees—and may I say, with great respect, that we never had any intention of refusing water supplies under these two Bills—
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.