HC Deb 08 June 1944 vol 400 cc1544-65
Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "such," to insert "general."

The object of the Amendment is to improve the working of the Bill. As it is at present, the wording is too rigid. It is insufficiently elastic to encourage local authorities, and might make it possible for the Treasury to hamper the Minister. I would remind the Minister that on the Second Reading he was asked about the phrase "such conditions as the Treasury may determine" and he said that the interpretation was that as on the last occasion, certain general conditions would be agreed. If that is his opinion still, I trust that he will not put any difficulties in the way of making this small Amendment.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will not think that I am being in any way discourteous if, on the very first occasion when I have to deal with an Amendment from this Bench, I have to advise the Committee not to accept it. The spirit of what my hon. and gallant Friend has said is entirely in accordance with our intention, and the only reason that I take this attitude is that it is always undesirable to add to a Bill a word which really makes no difference, and might create questions. I would remind the Committee that the phraseology of the Clause is exactly that of the 1934 Act. There was no difficulty about the scope of the conditions and, from contacts I have had with the rural districts, it is clear that the machinery of administration worked very well. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that narrowing conditions will not be implied by the Bill as it stands and that the conditions will be general. In those circumstances, I should be reluctant to see a special difference made between this Measure and the earlier Act, and I therefore cannot accept my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

Before I ask for permission to withdraw my Amendment I would recall to the Minister that on the Second Reading of the Bill he did say: Certain general conditions will be agreed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1944; Vol. 400, c. 408.]

Mr. Willink

That is so, and that is the intention and will, in fact, be the position. There are general conditions which I think it is reasonable should be arranged between me and the Treasury, but then, of course, there are special conditions in every case, because this is very much a matter in which every case differs from every other. I think, however, that we should be prepared to accept general conditions with regard to the general level of rates below which grants should not be made.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman

Mr. Molson.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

May I ask, Major Milner, why you have not called my Amendment— In page 1, line 20, at end, insert, "or to provide drainage facilities of a major kind.

The Chairman

The hon. Member's Amendment is not in Order. It is outside the purview of the Bill. His Amendment appears to deal with drainage, and the Bill deals with water supplies and sewerage.

Mr. Stewart

I must accept your Ruling, Major Milner, but in that case I would later on wish to move the deletion of the provision to which my Amendment refers.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I beg to move, in page r, line 20, at the end, to insert: and that the scheme provides for the economic use of the sewage as a fertiliser or otherwise. At the present time we are looking for a great increase in agricultural production in this country, and it is very desirable that we should obtain as much fertiliser as possible from inside this country. Very large importations of fertilisers were taking place before the war, and it is an extraordinary commentary upon the lack of scientific development in this country that very large quantities of sewage were being completely wasted. I understand that this matter has been engaging the attention of the Agricultural Research Council and that reports upon some experiments which have been made have been passed from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Health, and I am raising this matter partly because I hope the Government will be prepared to accept this Amendment but still more because I wish to ask for an explanation from the Government of what is being done. Obviously there is immense scope for saving what in the past has always been regarded as waste but could be used to immense advantage in this country.

Sir R. W. Smith (Aberdeen, Central)

On a point of Order. Does the word "drainage" not include the word "sewerage," in English parlance? It is very necessary that we should know what meaning is being given to it.

Mr. H. Stewart

In other words, when is a drain not a sewer?

The Chairman

The hon. Member cannot raise that question now, when we are discussing the Amendment of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson).

Sir R. W. Smith

I apologise, Major Milner, but are we not allowed to refer to a Ruling which has been given by the Chair upon a certain point, in order that we may be clear about what is meant?

The Chairman

Not on this Amendment, which refers to another matter.

Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)

I should like to support the Amendment which has been moved so cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and to express my sincere hope that His Majesty's Government will accept it. I do not propose to elaborate the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend, but I would refer to certain general considerations. We have to maintain the fertility of our soil at the highest possible standard, for the sake both of the quantity and the quality of the food to be produced, and to save our soil being destroyed for lack of manure and lack of care in maintaining its fertility. We are allowing to run down our sewers and out to the sea an enormous amount of material which is of the greatest possible value in agriculture, and steps ought to be taken to preserve it. Wherever in the world we find soil which has been fertile for hundreds or thousands of years, as in China, we find operating the law of returns, with everything which has come from the land going back into the land, and that maintains the fertility of the soil.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

While I am in favour of this proposal I would say to the mover and supporter of the Amendment that I am not sure that this is the right place in the Bill at which to insert it. I am certain that they do not want any scheme to be held up until what they propose has been done. I think that in every new scheme their proposal ought to be one of the factors to be taken into account, because there is no doubt that we are on the verge of very great changes in the use of compost. The engineers are now busy with that problem, but that does not mean that they are yet ready or could be ready in time for some of these schemes.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

I am very much impressed with the importance, of the proper use of sewage on the land from various points of view. Let me put the point of view of national security. In this island, with its very large population for its comparatively small area, and with the world in the state it is at the present time, it is a major matter of importance to maintain a very high yield from our agriculture for a long time to come and for that reason it seems to me quite impossible that we should continue to lose all the immensely valuable mineral and organic contents of sewage, as we do at the present time. The sewage from the great cities would not be a relevant subject for discussion upon this Bill, although it is one which will call for urgent attention before very long, but in the case of the countryside it is most important that we should not, under the fallacious idea that we are improving sanitation, do away with one of the chief assets in improving nutrition.

This may appear to some Members to be a curious subject, but it is one of the utmost importance. There is no doubt whatever that from the point of view of its mineral content, from the point of view of trace elements, to which attention was drawn in an article in "The Times" the other day, and from the point of view of organic matter, the use of human sewage on the land of this country is a matter now of first class importance and will be of even greater importance in the future. Let me put it in another way to those hon. Members who may be inclined to think that that is not an accurate statement of the facts. What would be thought of a proposal, put forward in the name of sanitation, to remove all the manure of cows and horses from the land and from the stables and put it into the sea? All the farmers in the country would be up in arms at once. The use of human sewage on the land will be of almost as great advantage as the use of animal manure at the present time.

Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)

I should like very much to support the object of this Amendment to promote the greater fertility of our soil, and if that could be done their proposal would receive great commendation from agriculturists, but at the same time I would support what has been said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), because there is great danger that if this Amendment were inserted it would delay the action which we are hoping to take under the Bill and also add to the cost. In that way it would not be to the interests of agriculture, because of the delay, and in some cases it might even perhaps prevent the adequate provision of water supplies. Therefore, I could not support the Amendment, although I have great pleasure in saying that I agree with the sentiments which are behind it.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

While my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture may find it difficult to accept the Amendment for the reasons put forward by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) and for obvious technical reasons, I hope that he does appreciate the serious view which Members of the Committee are taking of this matter, and that in his reply he may give us as full a report as he can of the intentions of the Department upon this important matter.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I wish to raise one or two aspects of this matter which have presented themselves very forcibly to local authorities in recent years. I am very much concerned about the lack of recognition of the need for co-ordination of effort on the part of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and one other Department in relation to sludge digestion plants. Many local authorities around London are not able to dispose of their dry sludge on account of vested interests or organisations which will not help them out of their difficulties. I would mention the big sewage plant of the West Kent Sewerage Board, near Dartford. They were able to do a fine job of work in disposing of the sewage over a vast area, but their accumulation of dry sludge presented them with a serious problem. The Minister of Health could not help them and the Minister of Agriculture was not interested at one time, but since the war they have come along and given all the help necessary towards making the fullest use of the dry sludge.

It must be recognised that in recent years as regards modern sludge-production plants, local authorities were acquiring knowledge and were acquiring plant, but they were not acquiring help from the Ministries to dispose of the fertilisers which the plants create. I believe, for example, that it should not be a local authority's responsibility merely to set up a plant to convert the sludge into the necessary fertiliser. The basic material is there. I think the Ministry itself ought to recognise the need for collecting everything—that immense fertilising material, the raw material, although I forget the particular name or term given to it—but I believe it should be their responsibility to see that it is all used and not merely dumped, like the pittings have been dumped in the North of England, and left there to rot and decay as it has been doing in the past.

Mr. Richards (Wrexham)

I should like to support this Amendment. I think that it is a most valuable suggestion that we should really make use of this most valuable asset which we are at present allowing to run to waste. I feel that the Minister of Health has a great responsibility in this matter, particularly if we are going to extend, as is the intention of the Bill, the sewerage system to the remote country villages. If some of the villages are treated in the way that many of the smaller towns are treated, it would simply mean that the sewage would be taken away from the towns and deposited all over the countryside. I think that the scientific members of the Ministry of Health should tackle this question in a thoroughly scientific fashion as, otherwise, one result of this scheme of introducing a sewerage system—which is very greatly needed, we all agree—in the countryside will be that certain villages will be entirely inaccessible on account of the stench that would result from such a scheme. If the Ministry will really do something scientific to deal with it, as suggested by an hon. Member on this side, I think we can look forward to a great advance. If it is to be done by the local authorities in the way it is already being done by some of them, I think it will be a great disservice.

Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)

I also support this Amendment most heartily from another point of view, on the ground that our rivers are being so badly polluted. Not only in the rivers themselves, but right out to sea fish are being killed by the crude sewage poured out at present. This is very bad for the health of the people, but it is the more deplorable when we consider that such important use could be made of that sewage in agriculture. A doctor friend of mine estimated that the food production in this country could easily be doubled, merely by putting the sewage back on the land where it used to go in past generations, before piped water supplies were available. This is a very important point. Where there is a piped supply, there must be adequate sewerage, and the possibility of the reclamation of the important organic matter that the land requires. Therefore, I heartily support the Amendment and hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, even if he cannot accept the words, will accept the spirit which inspires it.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I only want to point out, as I think the Noble Lady pointed out, that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) is wrong when he talks about no new principle in this Amendment. The trouble in this Bill, excellent as it is, is that in many of the rural areas where at the moment we are putting the waste on to the gardens and fields, that will no longer be possible under the Bill and, therefore, unless either this Amendment is accepted, or the Minister takes some alternative action, we shall lose the fertility in the soil, that we have at the present time.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Tom Williams)

While I appreciate the sentiments of almost every speaker who has intervened, in the desire to add to our fertiliser supplies, I am afraid I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment. I think most hon. Members will know why, without my developing it to any extent. The need for sewerage, or the disposal of sewage, in a rural locality rests on public health grounds and not on grounds of fertility and, in deciding whether to make a contribution to any scheme, it is perfectly obvious that the Minister of Health will take into account all matters relevant to the point. It certainly would not be proper, however, to debar him from making a con- tribution to any scheme, merely on the score that it did not enable an authority either to obtain revenue from sewage matter or to make some use of the sewage themselves, by turning it into a fertiliser. For instance, there may be no market for it. The cost of treating it in certain areas may be out of all proportion to the price which would be obtainable by the local authority and, surely, hon. Members would not insist that my right hon. Friend could not make a contribution in circumstances such as those; but this Amendment would prevent those areas from having a contribution towards their new sewerage system.

The treatment of sewage as a fertiliser is still in the experimental stage. It may be true, here and there, that some large, wealthy local authority has been able to make some use of its sewage sludge in one form or another. We all welcome that kind of thing, but when hon. Members suggest that we ought to do this in a scientific way, they must, of course, be the first to admit that it is a question which must be left to the scientist. My hon. Friend below the Gangway said that I ought to say something about what is happening with regard to sewage sludge.

Dr. Haden Guest

Is it not true that at this present time the question of the scientific use of sewage as a fertiliser is being investigated by Rothamsted and else-where, and that a report is expected on the subject in under two years?

Mr. T. Williams

If the hon. Member had given me the opportunity I had intended to tell him that, instead of being told it by him. I was just about to say that research is proceeding under the supervision of the Agricultural Research Council, to ascertain the value of sludge, alone or as compost, but no final recommendation is forthcoming yet. We anticipate a report very shortly, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will welcome the interim report if it indicates that even some of this sludge can be made available for fertilising the land of this country. However, until the fertilising value of the various types of sludge is known, with some degree of certainty, it will not be possible to fix a price to the fanner, and we shall not know whether it would be an economic proposition for a local authority. To that extent, therefore, to compel every local authority which desires a new sewerage system to make use of its sewage sludge, by sale or otherwise, economic or otherwise, would be doing it a disservice.

In the meantime, I think hon. Members will agree, since they now know that this matter is under scientific investigation and that we are anticipating a report very shortly, that it would be wholly wrong to hold up a sewerage scheme which, after all, is a health service, until we know the true value of sewage sludge as a fertiliser. I hope, therefore, that the Mover of the Amendment will feel that, while experiments are taking place it would be wholly inimical to the interests of rural authorities, where they want a new sewerage scheme, to prevent my right hon. Friend from making a contribution under this Clause.

Mr. Barstow (Pontefract)

Is the Minister aware that I can give the name of a big firm where this sludge has been used entirely for many years? It has been used with very great satisfaction too, and in my rural area sludge is advertised by the local authority, which has no difficulty whatever in disposing of it because it is a valuable manure.

Mr. T. Williams

If the Agricultural Research Council will give us the appropriate advice and guidance, I am quite sure that both my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture will take a much wider view of the whole question when contributions are under review. At the moment, however, whatever may be done by one authority is not universally applicable, and unless we are to have the advice of the scientists on a matter of this description, it is conceivable we may do more harm than good to the land of this country.

Mr. Loftus

May I ask my right hon. Friend to deal with the very important point raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton)? He said that in many rural areas we are putting the waste on to the gardens and fields, but that under this Bill that will no longer be possible unless this Amendment is accepted or the Minister takes some alternative action and that when this scheme comes into effect that waste will be lost and the fertility of the land will go down unless some counter-action is taken.

Mr. T. Williams

I think my hon. Friend will agree that we ought not to abolish all our water systems and collect crude sewage in the streets, as was done in my young days, and cart it off to farms in its pure state. We have moved on a little bit since those days and it is true that the movement is continuous. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me when I say that although a change would obviously take place where a sewerage scheme is introduced and where none exists at the moment, it is necessary to secure scientific guidance before preventing my right hon. Friend making a contribution to a new sewerage scheme.

Mr. Molson

I confess I am somewhat disappointed at the general tone of the reply by my right hon. Friend. There has been quite a remarkable consensus of opinion from all parts of the Committee that it is becoming a matter of urgent importance to arrive at a more economical use of sewage than is customary at the present time. When I drafted this Amendment, I put in the word "economic" in order, expressly, to exclude the point which the right hon. Gentleman made that some local authorities might be obliged to prepare the sewage when there was not a market for it. That, obviously, would not be an economic use of the sewage. I also tried to emphasise, and did not expect that the sewage should be used in its crude form, that I wanted some information as to what the Government are doing to encourage scientific research in order to ensure that there should be no damage to the public health while at the same time retaining the valuable properties of the sewage. The general impression I had of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is that the Government are so much impressed by all the difficulties in the way that they are not really very much interested in what has been put forward by hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the Committee who have spoken. I wonder whether we could not be given this assurance, that the Minister of Health, in considering the making of these grants to the local authorities, will at any rate bear in mind that this is one of the matters where he should encourage the little authorities. Would my right hon. Friend give us that assurance?

Mr. T. Williams

I am rather sorry to hear that my hon. Friend was disappointed with the reply. I could not, of course, tell him all that has happened or all that is happening with regard to the investigations into the utility of sewage. I can, however, tell him that a tremendous amount of work has been done, but any experiment on a farm takes a very long period of time. You must grow several crops before you can be satisfied that a fertiliser is effective. It would ill become any Minister of Agriculture to take chances until he had some sound authority on which to base his action. I can assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend is not only deeply interested; he is watching very carefully all the progress which is being made by the scientists in dealing with this particular problem.

Mr. Molson

I am inclined to say that my right hon. Friend's second speech was a great improvement on the first, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I beg to move, in page 2, line 28, at the end, to insert: Provided that the contribution shall not be withheld or reduced where the local authority is able to show that responsibility for any default or unsatisfactory work is not that of the local authority. This is an Amendment which I am moving largely for the purpose of obtaining information and, I hope, an assurance, from the Government. I move it at the direct request of the Fife county council because, on reflection, they entertain considerable doubts as to the meaning of the Bill as it now stands. The Committee will observe that in Sub-section (4) there are three paragraphs. The Sub-section says that the Minister may withhold or reduce the amount of the grant, if it appears to him either (a) that any of the works have been executed in an unsatisfactory manner; meaning, presumably, works executed by the local authority, since the whole purpose of this Bill is to make grants to the local authority to do certain work. As I have indicated, the first provision is that the Minister may withhold the grant if any of the works executed by the local authority are thought to be of an unsuitable type. The Sub-section continues: (b) that the effectiveness of any of the works is substantially less than as estimated in the proposals submitted to him by the local authority,… or (c) that there has been any default in the carrying out of the transaction. These seem on the face of it very sensible provisions. They mean that the Minister makes a certain agreement with the county council that they will do certain things, and in return the Minister will make a certain grant of money. It is quite reasonable for the Minister to say "My grant is subject to your doing what you undertake to do, and to the work in fact being good work." But this is the situation which arises, or the doubt expressed by the Fife county council. Perhaps I should read a passage of a letter I had from the county clerk, which says: Presumably this reference is to default on the part of the local authority. There might conceivably be, however, a situation in which the contractor employed defaults and where the local authority has taken all reasonable precautions to secure the proper carrying out of the work. It is probable that in such circumstances the contribution undertaken to be made would not be withheld, but the Secretary of State, as the Bill is worded, would be entitled to withhold the grant in whole or in part. That is the doubt in which at least one important county council in Scotland finds itself placed. If my right hon. Friend can give me an assurance that this is not, in fact, so, and that they will be safeguarded in circumstances in which the fault is not that of the local authority but of the contractor I shall be satisfied.

Mr. Willink

I shall have to advise the Committee not to accept this Amendment, but I think I shall be able to give the assurance which my hon. Friend hoped I would give. Perhaps I might remind the Committee that, here again, we have a Sub-section which exactly reproduces what was in the 1934 Act. Of course it is necessary, where grant is being made by myself, and where the county will become involved, that wherever I make such a grant there should be a proper control over the efficiency and propriety of the conduct of the matter by the local authority, which is the responsible authority for making the arrangements. The work may be being done actually by the local authority itself, I suppose by direct labour, but it is more often by contract. There may be what is called a transaction. In a formal sense I must look to the local authority to see that all is properly done. There is one case, which is the case dealt with in Sub-section (4) (b) where, in spite of every care and precaution, something goes wrong, say a scientific or a geological difficulty, which may give rise to the works being less effective than was expected without its being anybody's fault. On the other hand the works may be less effective than was expected and this may be due to lack of supervision and lack of care. I can assure my hon. Friend, and the county council on whose representations he has moved in this matter, of the anxiety which the introduction of this Bill indicates for the improvement of our water supply and sewerage. This discretionary power is there only for the proper protection of the taxpayer and the county ratepayer, and it will be exercised in a most sympathetic way where there is any reason to suppose that a generous view is proper. With that assurance I hope my hon. Friend will see his way to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Stewart

If I could have an assurance that in this matter my right hon. and learned Friend is speaking also on behalf of the Secretary of State, I should be happy to agree to his suggestion.

Mr. Willink

I can certainly say so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I would like, if I may, to deal now with the matter of the Amendment which stood earlier on the Order Paper in my name. It is an important matter and may well have been misunderstood. The Amendment referred to "drainage facilities of a major kind," and you, Major Milner, might possibly have regarded that as land drainage, whereas I was dealing with general drainage. It is the proviso to Sub-section (1) of this Clause to which I take some objection, and here again I am speaking on behalf of the Fife county council, though in the remarks I shall make, I may be representing the concern of quite a number of local authorities throughout the country. This is a very important matter. The Committee will observe that in the Title of the Bill it is set out that the intention of the Bill is to make provision as to water supplies, sewerage and sewage disposal in rural localities.… Quite clearly sewage disposal is regarded as equally important with water supplies, and I confess I cannot see how you can have one without the other. There can be no sewerage and drainage scheme without a water supply, and I cannot conceive of any situation in which a sewerage scheme would be constructed, if water had not previously been provided. That being so, I find it exceedingly difficult to understand the reason for the proviso. If Members will look at the beginning of Clause I, Sub-section (1), they will see that the Minister may undertake to make a contribution towards the expenses incurred by a local authority (b) in making adequate provisions for the sewerage, or the disposal of the sewage, of a rural locality; and here you have this very extraordinary proviso: Provided that the Minister shall not undertake to make a contribution towards the expenses of making provision for the sewerage, or the disposal of the sewage, of a rural locality unless he is satisfied that the need for making the provision is due to anything done or proposed to be done…to supply, or increase the supply of, water in pipes in that locality. So that it appears that no grant can be made by the Government under this Bill for any sewerage work unless that sewerage work, in the opinion of the Government, is needed to supplement a water scheme. What that means is that unless the Secretary of State for Scotland, for example, is satisfied that every drainage scheme undertaken by the county of Fife is directly related to another water scheme carried out by the county of Fife, he will not be able to give a grant.

As the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland knows, we in Fife have spent a great deal of time on this business of both water and drainage schemes. He will recollect that we had a private Act of Parliament in 1940 giving exceptional powers to the Fife county council. This Parliament gave these powers to construct sewers and works connected therewith and to make provision for preventing sewage or polluting or discolouring or offensive liquids, flowing into the Rivers Leven and Ore and the tributaries thereof. I would remind my hon. Friend of the very great importance which the Ministry of Agriculture attaches to the need for avoiding river pollution. In the Debate on 3rd May, the Minister of Agriculture said: My advisers estimate that the total food production of the rivers of this country would be materially increased if we could get rid of pollution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1944; Vol. 399, C. 1436.] Therefore avoidance of pollution, which is one of the objects of the 1940 Water Act of the Fife county council, is of first class importance, and Fife county council has powers by that Act to do these things. It is estimated that the costs of these works may amount to something like £100,000. I think it is quite probable that when, after the war, materials and labour are available, Fife county council will proceed with these works and apply to the Department for some aid. In the opinion of the county council, as they are at present advised, the Secretary of State for Scotland will be unable to grant any aid to these schemes because of the particular wording of this provision. The county council said: It would seem, from the wording of the proviso, that the Minister would be debarred from making a contribution towards that expenditure, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to give an assurance on the point, but I, as well as the county council, feel the greatest doubt about the form of words now contained in that proviso. If my hon. Friend is not able to give that assurance, I shall desire to secure the rejection of Clause 1.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

I would like, from the West, to supplement what has been said by my colleague from the East. I am particularly interested in this Clause and in the discussion on it, because in my constituency, which is partly rural, there is a very urgent need for sewerage in several villages. I hope that with the collaboration of the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Fife county council, that sewerage will be obtainable. It is peculiar how this question is approached in this Committee. There are those who see sewerage as something of the greatest value to the health and well-being of the people of the country: others think how some money can be saved on sludge. There are several villages in Fife with no sewerage of any kind. One was condemned before the war, and would have been completely wiped out had it not been for the war. We should not concern ourselves with whether the farmers have been getting sludge, but with how soon we can bring recognised civilised standards to the county districts. Here is a letter, which I received this morning: School House, Lassodil, Fife. 5–6–44. Dear Sir,—May I endeavour to reawaken your interest in this 'deserted' village? Since your last visit the place has gone from bad to worse with regard to housing conditions. The drains have been choked for six months, all sanitary services and refuse collections stopped for over a year, and in desperation the tenants have refused to pay any more rent until something is done. It is almost unbelievable that such a situation could exist in a modern community. There are other similar cases. It may be necessary, in one or other of these places, for the Fife County Council to bring relief to these people at the earliest possible moment. Does the Minister say that if that is done they cannot get any consideration from the Ministry? I am glad that the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture here was not sidetracked by the Amendment about sludge. This is not a question of whether sludge can be used or not. It is the deplorable condition of many of these rural areas which should engage our attention, and the local authority should receive every stimulus to get sewerage introduced. Any provision for dealing with sludge can be dealt with afterwards: the big thing is to bring immediate relief to these people.

Mr. Pearson (Pontypridd)

I wish to seek an assurance from the Minister that too narrow an interpretation will not be placed on the words "rural locality." It is rather astounding to me that any misgivings should be created on this score, but, under the 1934 Act, it happened in my constituency. There is a joint scheme of sewerage, and the ancient borough where a penny rate will bring in only £20, is a very material authority in the question of proceeding with a sewerage scheme. I have given the Minister certain particulars, and I hope that he will give some assurance that in this case there will be a generous interpretation of those words, so that, when there is any doubt, a small community of that sort will not be looked upon as urban in character, but as coming within the term "rural locality."

Mr. Willink

Perhaps I may deal, quite shortly, with the point just raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson). The phrase "rural locality" is not defined in this Bill or elsewhere. Its vagueness is deliberate. This Bill is intended to deal with the countryside. I believe that the ancient borough to which my hon. Friend refers must be one of the most rural boroughs in existence, because its population is about 1,000. We shall take a broad view of what constitutes a rural locality, although I cannot commit myself as to the precise size which would take a district from being rural to being urban.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I raised this very point in a previous Debate, and I am not quite satisfied with the answer which the Minister has given. Certain urban authorities may have populations of not 1,000 but as much as 80,000, the populations having been increased as a result of the last redistribution. These authorities may have a lot of rural people brought in. They must have consideration from the Minister.

Mr. Willink

This is rural.

Mr. Griffiths

That is why I am raising the point. There is a case in my own division. Our people are watching this matter very keenly. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that, where there are rural portions of urban districts, they will get the same consideration as is given to entirely rural areas.

Mr. Willink

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he asks for, at once and in express terms. It does not matter what the statutory type of local authority may be. If my hon. Friend examines this Bill closely, he will find that that is so and there may be rural localities even within the area of a county borough.

Mr. Griffiths

Thank you.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)

I must advise the Committee to resist vigorously the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) that we should delete Clause r, for the simple reason that if he succeeded in his intention, which I trust he will not press too vigorously, the whole Bill will go down the drain or sewer, as the case may be. I trust that that is not his design. This Bill is related mainly to water schemes. My hon. Friend is right about the limiting factor of the proviso. It has been made quite clear that the main intention of the Bill is the provision or improvement of water supplies in rural areas: and of the sewerage necessitated by that action. My hon. Friend touched upon the question of pollution. That does not come within the scope of this Bill; neither does land drainage; neither does the question of effluents. Those matters will be dealt with later. In fact, if my memory is correct, the Secretary of State is consulting with local authorities on those points. This Bill is designed to get the water into the countryside, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the supply of water necessarily stimulates the need for more drainage, and so on. So the Bill is limited to that. If the major drainage facilities which my hon. Friend has in mind, are necessitated by the provision or improvement of a water supply in a rural locality, quite clearly there is no point in pressing his opposition to this Clause. That position is covered by Clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) gave an interesting account of the conditions in his constituency, and referred to a letter which had followed upon his last visit some time previously. But this Bill is designed precisely to meet the difficulties to which he referred.

Mr. Gallacher

The Bill provides for assistance for the local authority only if it brings sewerage to these villages in relation to the development of water schemes. The county of Fife has an abundance of water: it has been the cost of bringing a sewerage scheme to these villages that has prevented the introduction of such a scheme. If the Minister would assist the county council, some of these villages could be saved. Otherwise, they will become deserted villages.

Mr. Chapman

In a case where the water supply is greater than the sewerage capacity, the case would be considered on its merits. The proposal of my hon. Friend from East Fife to reject Clause 1 would defeat the general intention of the Bill. Both my hon. Friends referred to the scheme put forward by the progressive county council in Fife—I think it was by Provisional Order, in 1940. I trust that they will appreciate that it is not possible at this stage to say whether a particular scheme promoted by a local authority will qualify for grant under the Bill. Each scheme will have to be considered on its merits, in the light of all the available information, which the local authority will be asked to submit. The test to be applied is that laid down in this Clause namely, whether the need is due to an increase in the supply of piped water in the locality either before or after the passing of this Bill. Any schemes that will not satisfy that provision will not be eligible for grant.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Suppose that, in the areas mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), the Fife County Council proposed a scheme for proper drainage facilities for a certain part of the county, to take place now, and to be followed in a year or two years by a water scheme. Would that come under the Bill?

Mr. Chapman

Anxious as I am to meet my hon. Friend, I cannot anticipate what will be decided eventually. It would want almost a latter-day Moses to decide at this stage of the Bill where the water will flow in future. All I can say is that the intention of the Secretary of State is that this water supply, and the sewerage necessitated by it, shall be provided as far as was explained in his speech on the White Paper. Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend this general assurance.

Speaking of schemes in general, there is no question of any scheme being excluded from consideration for grant, either because it has already been sanctioned by Parliament, or because, in my hon. Friend's own words, "it provides drainage facilities of a major kind." Any scheme would be considered entirely on its merits in the light of the conditions laid down in Clause I, and I think that both my hon. Friends know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is very keen on this Bill. We shall not be unsympathetic to the general schemes put forward. I wish to state, specifically and very clearly now, to both my hon. Friends that we cannot, at this moment, say whether such-and-such a scheme would be approved or not. We must, in the light of subsequent decisions, judge each case absolutely on its merits. I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friends will not feel the need to go to the disastrous length of trying to induce the Committee to reject Clause 1.

Sir R. W. Smith

With regard to the case of Fife, where there was no sewer- age system, supposing that a village is to put in a new system, and, for the supply part, proposes to put in a pipe one-eighth of an inch larger than the present supply pipe—which would, of course, be increasing the water supply—will it then be entitled to a grant?

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Member has mentioned a point on which I touched. Where there is an increase in the facilities for supplying water, under an agreed scheme, then they would be eligible for consideration under the Bill. I am not committing myself in any way, because it is quite impossible to do so at this stage. The letters "M.P." after my name stand for Member of Parliament and not for "Minor Prophet." The cases would be eligible for consideration and I cannot go beyond that.

Sir R. W. Smith

That is all I am asking. If there is an increase in the water supply, would the locality be entitled to the grant?

Mr. Chapman

Each case will be judged entirely on its merits.

Mr. Richards

I wish to ask a specific question regarding the position of rural district councils in connection with water supplies. I have in mind a county where there are five rural district councils who will help to operate the Bill, but, in the area, there happen to be five independent boroughs. The question of sewerage in these boroughs is a very serious matter for them, as I know. How can they avail themselves of the provisions that are given in this Bill, if they are within the area of a rural district council, although, of course, they are autonomous local bodies? Can they avail themselves of the facilities offered by the Bill to help the rural councils to do the sewerage for them, because they are a part of the area?

Mr. Willink

This is a general question rather similar to that raised by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson). The purpose of this Bill is, of course, to benefit the rural localities. In the submission of schemes, there will sometimes be schemes which will cover several rural localities. It may also be appropriate for a scheme to be one which, in part, covers an area not itself a rural locality but, in so far as the authority asking for the grant is an authority dealing with a rural locality, the grant provisions will be available for that authority. This is a Bill for the countryside, but that does not mean that you may not put in schemes which, on a reasonable basis, may also affect other areas.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.