HC Deb 08 June 1944 vol 400 cc1571-96
Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, after "shall," to insert "without unreasonable delay."

I know that the Committee feel that the Minister is very sympathetic and that his intentions are excellent in this matter, but there is no doubt that, in legislation of this kind, delays occur, and certainly there are in this country dilatory local authorities. I put forward the Amendment because the words are precautionary and they are wholly in tune and conformity with the words "reasonable cost," which occur no less than four times in this Clause. I read all the speeches in the Second Reading Debate, and heard most of them, and I welcome the Bill, but I heard speeches which indicated that the Bill was not nearly good enough and that there would be delays and that we should not get the water nor the piped supply. I could make a most emotional appeal, and, in the words of my old Service, I could bring tears to the eyes of the "t'gallant rigging," and for the benefit of those who are not initiated the "t'gallant rigging" is made of wire, and there is a loop at the end of it. At the same time, I say strongly that the condition of affairs in regard to piped supplies in great areas in this country, and in my own county, is little short of a scandal. If we have delays and they are unreasonable the Minister and the Government must see that something is done about it.

A very serious drought is impending in a great many areas which are without piped supplies. I am not going through all the miseries and discomforts which people have to suffer. It is not as though water is not available. It is available. It has been investigated. An example of the sort of delays we may very well get is to be found in the White Paper. A recent decision has been made to divide the county, a part of which I represent, into three groups. That decision has only just been reached after centuries of opportunities to provide the water. They are going to be turned into joint committees to investigate problems! The problems have been investigated, and the water is there, and has been there for countless centuries. It is available for placing in pipes. It is hardly to be believed that only at this stage has a decision been taken as to whether these committees, essentially a symptom of dilatory procedure, are to become statutory bodies or joint water boards. If that does not make for delay, I do not know what does. I sincerely hope that the Minister, with his broad outlook, will not think that the putting in of the words "without unreasonable delay" is going to make difficulties for him. They will be a precaution and a real help to people who at the present time are suffering the gravest inconveniences and disabilities.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

I rise to support the Amendment but for rather different reasons. We are living in a time of full employment and for a long time we shall have a very high level of employment. It is, therefore, no good any longer thinking that the provision of money is sufficient to get any public works executed. There is the provision of labour and material. Yesterday the President of the Board of Trade was explaining, during the Debate on the location of industry, that for a very long time there would have to be a licensing system for building labour and building material. That labour competes directly with labour that will be wanted for water schemes. Therefore, I would like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he could give us some assurance that no delay will occur through his failure to get put at the top of the queue when it comes to obtaining these priorities for labour and materials. I feel that none of these reconstruction projects which we are considering, for example school-building programmes or this Rural Water Bill, has very much meaning unless we can find a new technique by which we can put into the Bill something to establish the priority of importance between the particular project we are talking about and other competing uses for the resources necessary to carry it out. For that reason I support the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Sir R. Glyn

I would like to support this Amendment very strongly and ask the Minister if, in replying, he could give the Committee information as to whether he is asking for an inquiry into electric power, and when it is available. The Minister knows that cheap water is very much dependent on cheap power, and one of the first things we need to get is information as to what villages and districts will be properly served with electrical supplies. Any local authority knows that to get the piped water, which we all want, the cheaper the power you can use either for pumping out wells or boosting up gradients the better. It makes a lot of difference, and we cannot get on unless the Minister can give an assurance that the information will be forthcoming.

Secondly, in regard to the actual provivision of materials, the Minister knows quite well that to-day 70 per cent. of the water schemes that have been approved by the Ministry of Agriculture through the War Agricultural Committees are suspended because it is impossible to get pipes. If he will inquire in any county, or of the Ministry of Agriculture, he will find that pipes are said not to be in existence. All those projects and schemes are being held up and, on top of that, there is this very necessary demand for a piped supply to houses. Unless, therefore, steps are taken with the Ministry of Production and the Ministry of Supply at once to earmark factories which are able to turn out these pipes, our discussion here to-day is rather futile. I trust that the Minister will get his priority for this, recognising that without it the words we use in this House are sheer window-dressing, and that people will remain without water after having been encouraged by reading these Debates. Therefore it is essential that the Government should make some announcement as to priorities of material and labour.

Mr. Tree (Harborough)

In supporting this Amendment there is another aspect of the case which I would like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend. Many local authorities are making surveys of water at the present time, in order to get on to the rebuilding of houses just as soon as they possibly can, because they realise that if they do not, men coming back from the Forces will not be content to live in the houses that are available. Many authorities have already made these surveys, but what they want is to be able to ascertain whether the water is, in fact, there. Now the water engineers who are approached on this subject are not able to make the necessary bore-holes for the reason that at the present time no priority whatever is given to that kind of labour. Therefore, I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he will see that as soon as possible—quite obviously it cannot be done at this particular moment—labour will be released and priority will be given to this particular kind of work. I think it is well known to hon. Members that boring does not require a great deal of labour, in fact it can be done with a very few men. I received a letter a few days ago from one of the largest firms of water engineers in the Midlands in which they stated that they had asked for six labourers to be released—

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

I think I should point out that this is a very narrow Amendment. If we are going into the number of men used for boring, and all that sort of thing, the discussion will be getting rather wide of the Amendment, which is narrow and only urges expedition. It does not entitle hon. Members to go into questions of detailed technique.

Mr. Tree

I was just trying to make the point that it is very important that we should ascertain as quickly as possible where water is. As the Amendment says "without unreasonable delay," I was trying to make my point that we should ascertain where the water is, so that schemes could be developed at the earliest possible moment.

Mrs. Beatrice Wright (Bodmin)

I wish for a moment to take the Committee back to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) because he raised a point with which I have the very greatest sympathy. I would remind the Minister that the Minister of Agriculture, when dealing with the water section of the-Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and in reply to a Parliamentary Question which I asked him two days afterwards, made it quite clear that that subsidy would be available for the provision of electric hydrants to isolated districts for the pumping of water supplies. One hopes that the Minister will give in reply to the hon. Member for Abingdon the assurance that this money will also be available to bring to villages, without unreasonable delay, electricity to pump the water at the same time as the provision of water. I realise that I am a little wide of the Amendment again, but I rather hope that the Chair, having allowed the hon. Member for Abingdon to make his point, will allow me to support it.

Sir William Wayland (Canterbury)

I want to say a few words in sympathy with the Minister. I do not think anybody could conceive that this work could be commenced until the war is finished. The preliminary drawings may be made but, knowing the shortage of labour, one cannot see how anything can possibly be done now. No doubt it is necessary, but there are hundreds of other things. One of the first priorities must go to housing in villages and towns, and the agricultural community, as usual, will have to wait and take third place.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horshrugh)

I have listened to this discussion on the disadvantages of unreasonable delay and I gather that we were not discussing the unreasonable delay of the local authorities but what it appeared might be the unreasonable delay of my right hon. and learned Friend in preparing for investigations and supplies before the time this work could be carried out. On the points about electricity and bore-holes, I can only say that what hon. Members have said is being borne in mind. I would have liked to say something more on bore-holes, but I know, Mr. Williams, you have already said that is not within this Amendment, although I know something about the difficulties that have occurred.

In answer to the actual points that were brought to our notice by the mover of the Amendment, who was desirous that these words should be put into the Bill in order that the Minister should have this extra power of refusing grants if there were unreasonable delay by the local authority. Now we quite agree that everything possible should be done to prevent delay, but I would like the Committee to consider whether there are not better ways of doing that already in the Bill. If these words are added, I feel that they may lead to some waste of time in arguing what is reasonable and what is unreasonable delay. Even if it were decided that the delay was unreasonable and the grant refused, we should still leave the locality without water, and I would therefore suggest to the Committee that the powers which the Minister has already in the Bill would be more useful. If a local authority fails to carry out its obligations under the clause, complaint can be made to the Minister who will give a direction under proviso (b). Moreover, the Minister can himself initiate enquiries, even though no complaint has been made to him under the Public Health Act procedure, to which reference is made in Clause 4. Therefore, I would suggest to the Committee that the Minister has already powers to deal with the situation if the local authority is not carrying out the work with the expedition we require, and it would be better to leave those powers with the Minister rather than put in these words about which there might be considerable argument on definition, and which would still leave the locality without water.

Mr. Gallacher

In the case of a local authority refusing to carry out work which should be carried out, will the Minister have any power to deal with, and punish, the Tory majority on that council who are responsible for holding up the work?

Miss Horsbrugh

If the hon. Member will read the Bill, although he will perhaps be disappointed not to find the words "Tory majority" used—although such words might refer to many councils, we know—I can assure him he will find that the Minister has these powers. I am referring now to his powers under proviso (b) and the further powers referred to in Clause 4. I think that the short answer to the hon. Member is, that the Minister has the power of dealing with a local authority which does not carry out the work. I can assure the Committee that we thoroughly agree with every hon. Member who has spoken, that we have to carry on this work with the least possible delay, but we feel that the Minister's powers already in the Bill help him better than the suggested new words. We agree with the idea, but we can carry out what is wanted in a better way than in the way suggested.

Mr. Mothers (Linlithgow)

I realise the weakness of the words suggested by the hon. and gallant Member because they could be put in positively as "with reasonable delay" which is the same thing as "without unreasonable delay." I rise to ask whether the hon. Lady, in making her statement on behalf of the Minister, suggests that his powers include the imposing of a time limit for the carrying out of the work.

Miss Horsbrugh

I think it would be a pity to put into the Bill a time limit, because it is a difficult matter. However, I want to make it quite clear that the Minister will watch how this work is being carried out and, should he think it is not being carried out in the right way or too slowly, he can make an inquiry. In most cases, however, it would probably not be the best plan to lay down a time limit in order to ensure that the work is carried on expeditiously.

Mr. Mathers

I hope the hon. Lady does not misunderstand me. My point was that, finding it necessary to exercise his powers, would it then be possible for the Minister to lay down that, within a stipulated period which he considered reasonable, the local authority must carry out the provision of these services?

Miss Horsbrugh

I think it quite clear that the Minister, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, would be able to say to a local authority that they were dissatisfied and that the local authority should get on with the work in a certain time. Then, if the Minister still continued to be dissatisfied, he has the power given to him in the Bill.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

With considerable regret I have to say that I am not persuaded by what the hon. Lady has said. I remember very well the case of a councillor, who, at the end of a very strong appeal being made, and when everybody agreed that a piped supply must be provided for a particular area, was asked his opinion. He said, "I reckon it is going to rain again." That was ten years ago, and he was perfectly right. It has rained again. That is the sort of thing we have to check. In view of the assertion of the hon. Lady that the Minister will prevent unreasonable delay by other means than putting these words into the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

I beg to move, in page 3, line 17, after "schools," to insert: and such supply shall take precedence over the improvement of existing supplies and to the provision of sewerage or the disposal of sewage in their locality. What I have tried to do is to be consistent, and the object of this Amendment is to ensure priority, so far as possible, for a piped water supply before a supply of water for sewerage or sewage disposal. I do not think that the Bill, particularly Clause 1, sufficiently safeguards that priority. If water is to be married to sewerage and sewage disposal, then I fear that delay is, inevitable.

Mr. Willink

While I have every sympathy with the objective of my hon. and gallant Friend, I cannot feel that the wording of his Amendment is at ail prudent or wise. We want to retain complete flexibility in the administration of this grant and if one considers the wording and, indeed, the principle of this Amendment, one finds that the words, "and such supply," mean a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in which there are houses or schools. Nothing could be more seriously limiting than to say you must get water to every rural locality before you touch any sewerage at all, that you must not touch sewerage and water simultaneously—although that is a wise thing to do—and that you must not improve a bad water supply in a centre of large population before you have dealt with a small number of people in a rural locality. I feel confident that this Amendment would be restrictive and cause real difficulty, and I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will accept that view.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I beg to move, in page 3, line 17, after "schools," to insert, "or agricultural or horticultural buildings."

This Amendment and the next Amendment on the Order Paper deal with the same point, and perhaps I may be allowed to discuss them together. The object of this Amendment is to make mandatory the duty of local authorities to supply wholesome water in pipes not only to private dwellings but to agricultural buildings and farms. The Committee may not have appreciated the subtle dif- ference that is here involved. The words of this Bill say that pipes are to be laid to houses and schools and I am asking that that provision shall be extended to farms and farm buildings. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will probably say that this is not necessary, because to some extent it has been provided for in the Bill, which the House considered only recently, relating to agricultural miscellaneous provisions. May I remind the Committee what that Bill provided? The Minister of Agriculture, in introducing that Measure, said that Clause 5 dealt with water and implemented one of the proposals of the recent White Paper. The present water supply arrangements enabled him to give a grant of 50 per cent. for laying water on to farms and farm buildings and extending that new provision of the Bill enabled him to extend grants to cottages. I would like the Committee to remember that in 1941 the Agricultural Provisions Act enabled the Minister to make grants for the provision of water to farms and farm buildings. The Minister explained in the Debate on 16th May on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that he had taken that step and made that proposal in 1941. The Measure, he said, which he introduced in 1941 was brought in because, going round the country, he found such a large number of cases where food production was being hindered through lack of water—

The Deputy-Chairman

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to go on because there is a possible gap between the two Bills as regards water supply to farm buildings, but I do not think he ought to use this occasion for a long dissertation on extracts from the Minister of Agriculture's speeches, or anybody else's speeches, on food production and things of that kind. We must keep to the bare question of water supply for buildings.

Mr. Stewart

The point of my Amendment is to extend the provisions of this Bill to agriculture for the direct purpose of increasing food production. When speaking on food production I think I am speaking directly to my Amendment.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not think we can have that argument on this Bill, which is for definite health purposes and not concerned with food production.

Mr. Stewart

With great respect, Mr. Williams, I do not see how I am to speak to my Amendment if that is so. My Amendment seeks to add the words, or agricultural or horticultural buildings which would make Clause 3 read: Every local authority shall provide a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in their district in which there are houses or schools, and shall take the pipes affording that supply to such point or points as will enable the houses or schools, or agricultural or horticultural buildings to be connected thereto …

The Deputy-Chairman

I accepted the Amendment as it seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman might be able to show that there was a gap in water supply between farm buildings and farm cottages which he might persuade the Minister to fill. But that is no reason why there should be anything in the nature of a long argument on food production. It is not reasonable to make a long speech about food supplies or anything of that kind.

Mr. Stewart

I entirely agree, Mr. Williams, and have no intention of making a long dissertation. I was calling the authority of the Minister of Agriculture to my aid to indicate the vital necessity of providing adequate water supplies, not only to agricultural cottages but to agricultural buildings. I was recollecting that the Minister of Agriculture in his tour of the country found that to be so.

Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)

Has not the hon. Gentleman's point been already met by the Bill we passed recently?

Mr. Stewart

No, it has not been met under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The grant there—and it is only a 50 per cent. grant—is to be given where it seems a good scheme, but wherever there seems to be the slightest possibility of the local authority doing it as a public scheme the Minister of Agriculture may not give any grant. Therefore, public authority water suppliers are vitally concerned in this matter. In fact, when the Minister on that Bill was challenged he said that the question of rural water supplies would come up later and would be then dealt with. But here is the Bill and it does not deal with it; it does not make it mandatory upon local authorities to extend water supplies to farm buildings and farms themselves. Since it is not provided for in that Bill and it has not been provided for here I suggest that it should be now inserted in this Bill. I do not want to extend the direction you have offered, Mr. Williams, or to elaborate the matter but it is perfectly plain that unless British agriculture is provided with an adequate supply of water none of the health or food production measures we envisage can be made effective. Unless there is an adequate supply of water to farms how can the people in those farms and the stock be kept healthy? How can livestock in the fields be kept healthy? You cannot introduce the great new method of taking the plough from field to field unless you have water in every trough. Further, there is no provision at all for water to horticultural buildings.

Mr. Quibell (Brigg)

Did the hon. Gentleman say, "unless water is taken to every field?"

The Deputy-Chairman

This is clearly going too far. I gave the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) the benefit of the doubt as to whether I would call his Amendment, and a long talk on agriculture is not fair to the Committee.

Mr. Stewart

I could answer the hon. Member's challenge, Mr. Williams, but in view of your Ruling I will say no more.

Mr. Rhys Davies

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture who is sitting on the Front Bench may recollect that I had a case in my own constituency recently that would be affected by an Amendment of this kind, where a hostel was established and no water supply was available. Mine is an urban area, but there is also a small rural population there as well. I was told that it would cost between £500 and £600 to put in a piped water supply to that hostel and it occurred to me, while the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) was putting his case, that I might say a word or two on his Amendment. I am not wedded to what the hon. Member said, because although I was brought up as a lad in the countryside I never came across many farm buildings that were not quite near to houses in which the farmers lived. The main object of the Bill is to provide a piped water supply for houses in rural areas. It seems to me that there cannot be many farm buildings which are not fairly near the house in which the farmer resides. [Interruption.] I am of course only speaking of what I know. I do not know the district from which the hon. Member comes at all. I know a little about horticulture and I should be very much surprised if many horticultural buildings are far removed from the houses of the owners either. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are in many cases."] If I am wrong it strengthens the hon. Member's argument, but what occurs to me is that the Bill provides for water for the houses of the owners or tenants and therefore ought at the same time to supply farm and horticultural buildings as well. When the Minister talks of a piped water supply, does he at the same time touch the problem of bringing the water right into the houses under the Bill. I have come across some rural areas where they have a piped water supply but it is not taken into the houses; upright taps are fixed on the roadside and the people draw their supplies from those taps. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will be able to say something.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the Minister will be definitely outside the Amendment if he answers that question.

Mr. Davies

I trust the Minister will be able to say something on the point where the cost of providing a piped water supply to farm and horticultural buildings is so heavy that unless something is done in this Bill no such supply will reach them at all.

Mr. T. Williams

I am sure that your Ruling, Mr. Williams, is correct and, if I were to attempt to reply to my hon. Friend, I should be replying to a Second Reading speech which has no relation to the Amendment. The mover used the word "subtle" I think this is rather a subtle Amendment. What the hon. Member asks is that this Committee should impose upon every local authority the obligation to provide a piped supply of water to every agricultural or horticultural building.

Mr. Stewart

Nothing of the kind.

Mr. Williams

At least that it should become an obligation on the part of the local authority to take a piped supply of water to a point near to every agricultural or horticultural building, whereas the Bill confines the obligation on the local authority to providing a pipe supply of water to houses and schools, quite clearly as a health service and not as a service to agriculture as such. The Amendment, therefore, would be a gigantic extension of the proposals of the Bill and would certainly involve local authorities in colossal expenditure, which most of them would object to even were the Minister to contemplate the imposition of this burden. The local authority are responsible for the health of the residents of the village. They have no responsibility for providing piped supplies of water to every agricultural or horticultural building. The responsibility, obviously, lies with the water undertaker and that is a matter for the general legislation, which was foreshadowed in the White Paper on page 13. It said: The Government propose that water undertakings shall be placed under an obligation to supply water for industrial, agricultural and other purposes on reasonable terms and conditions. Hitherto there has been no obligation upon water undertakers to supply water either to industry or to agriculture. In the legislation foreshadowed here it will for the first time become an obligation upon water undertakers to provide a water supply at a reasonable cost to both industry and agriculture. If the Amendment was to be accepted it would be accepting an obligation at present undertaken by landowners. In the legislation the hon. Member referred to, where a Government grant of 50 per cent. can be given, it is only given if it can be shown that there may be an increase in the production of food on a particular farm and, where any owner of land applies for the grant, if the Executive Committee are satisfied that an increase in food production is possible a 50 per cent. grant can be drawn from Treasury funds. What the hon. Member wants is that the landowner should be completely exempt and the obligation transferred to the local authority. That is not part or lot of the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member in the general desire to see farm and horticultural buildings supplied with water. If agriculture is going to play its proper part after the war these things must be supplied by one means or another, but this is not the moment to attempt to import into this smaller Bill what is a matter of such general and wide application.

Sir E. Shepperson

If the owner of an estate at his own cost put down a piped water supply to supply certain farm buildings and cottages, would he be entitled to a 50 per cent. grant?

Mr. Williams

If the owner of the land can satisfy the county war agricultural executive committee that a supply of water is likely to increase food production on the land, he can apply successfully for a 50 per cent. grant.

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

I think what the mover had in mind with the Amendment was that water is to be carried to every sizeable hamlet at reasonable cost. The hon. Member feels that there is nothing in the Bill to provide water for the industry on which these hamlets live. Though it may be looking too far ahead to expect every agricultural holding to be supplied with water, in my country the vast majority of agricultural holdings are off the beaten track of the main pipe-line. Though the water will go to each hamlet, the industry on which the hamlets depend will probably be without water for years, because the side roads leading to the farms and cottages will have to connect up with the main pipe-line.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think this is exactly the point where we must stop. The Parliamentary Secretary has explained that that is dealt with under another Act. It is rather in doubt whether the Amendment should ever have been called. I called it in order to give a chance of putting a point, but I hope this will not develop into an agricultural Debate.

Dr. Peters (Huntingdon)

In sparsely populated areas where there is practically no water undertaking at all, how are these horticultural and agricultural buildings ever going to get water? The Parliamentary Secretary said this must be left to water undertakings. Where there are none, I cannot see them getting any water at all under the Bill or the White Paper or anything else.

Mr. T. Williams

I can only say that the Bill is not intended to solve the water problems of the whole universe, but it is a start. The object is to' enable rural authorities to provide a piped supply wherever there happen to be houses or schools, and if a piped supply can be taken to a village where houses and schools exist, clearly the next stage will be to the farmers. This Measure must be the first inevitable step.

Dr. Peters

Those who live in the countryside live amongst houses and schools and farm buildings. I am as anxious to see water taken to agricultural buildings as to schools and houses, but schemes in my own locality have been deliberately turned down and there is not the slightest prospect of getting a supply for many years.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

A Division was challenged, but the Chairman, on putting the Question for the second time, declared that the "Noes" had it.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

On a point of Order. I want to ask whether there is any means of getting a decision with regard to a Member who forces a Division and then is not prepared to produce Tellers. Is there any way of imposing a penalty of some kind?

The Deputy-Chairman

I am afraid that that is not a point of Order, and there is no penalty.

Sir J. Lamb

I beg to move, in page 3, line 31, at the end, to insert: and, where the request was made by local government electors, after consulting also the council of the county, if any. Sub-section (1) of this Clause imposes a duty on every local authority to provide a supply of wholesome water in pipes to every rural locality in their district in which there are houses or schools. That is a very wide and desirable power, but there may be cases where it is not practicable. Paragraph (a) says that a local authority shall not be required to do anything which is not practicable at a reasonable cost. That may be a matter of opinion, and it will, therefore, have to be submitted to the Minister for his decision. The Clause gives a right to the county council or ten or more local electors to appeal to the Minister. There is an appeal in the case of the county council, but where objection is taken by ten or more electors there is no obligation on the part of the Minister to consult the county council. We desire that where representations have been made to the Minister by the electors the county council should be consulted.

Miss Horsbrugh

My right hon. and learned Friend agrees that there should be consultation with the county council in both events. He considers that the Amendment will be an improvement and he is glad to accept it.

Sir J. Lamb

May I express my appreciation to the Minister, and say that the whole of these Amendments have been put down only with the intention of improving the Bill?

Amendment agreed to.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage (Louth)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, at the end, to insert: (c) the local authority shall notify the catchment board and pollution authority concerned of any scheme proposed. As the Parliamentary Secretary has accepted a rather similar Amendment to this, I have hopes that the principle of this Amendment will be accepted. If the legislation which is anticipated passes and the catchment boards and pollution authorities become river boards, it will simplify matters to put them in this Bill as bodies which should be consulted. The reason why consultation with them is necessary is that in the past water undertakers and local authorities have, in seeking water, neglected to consult catchment boards, with the result that they have often got water from most unsuitable places. There have been several expensive legislative contests in this House where undertakers have been divided and money and work have been wasted. The catchment boards have a tremendous amount of knowledge of where water is available, and I should like the Minister to accept the principle that water undertakers or local authorities looking for water should consult them about where wells, streams, underground streams and springs exist, because they know better than anybody else in the catchment area where water is likely to be found.

The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) will know that we have a bad example in Lincolnshire of hopeless boring for water; 150 bore-holes have been sunk and water is still running to waste, although they have tried to plug it, as a result of haphazard boring without consulting the authorities who would know where the boring should be done. The question arises of the actual flow of water in streams being interfered with. Although these are small schemes, they may affect the flow of water in the rural streams, which in turn may affect the supply of water for agricultural stock. The catchment boards know about the flow of streams in their areas and about compensation water, in which there will be a certain amount of difficulty with the Ministry of Health. It is obvious that water supplies will be followed by sanitation problems. The local authority will probably be the pollution authority also, but not in every case. The catchment boards are the pollution authorities in some cases and should be consulted. The consultation, I suggest, will hasten schemes, because it will ensure that the best knowledge available as to where water is to be obtained will be at the service of the water undertakers, and delays will be obviated.

Major Mills (New Forest and Christchurch)

I should like to support the Amendment. It is obvious that the catchment boards are affected in a large number of cases by the taking of water from a river or an underground source. They are also concerned with its discharge if there is a sewerage scheme in consequence of the supply of piped water. They are affected in two ways. They may be affected because the water is taken out of one river, conveyed over the hills, and discharged somewhere else, and affected also by the purity of the affluent. That applies with still more force to the pollution authority concerned.

Mr. Willink

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) is helpful to me in many matters and I want to say more than a word about this Amendment, which concerns a complicated matter. There are a number of difficulties about bringing in this new obligation. It is an obligation which was not present in the comparable Act of 1934. Unless it is absolutely necessary, I am reluctant in these days to increase the number of authorities with whom one person or another has to consult. One hears that very often with regard to Government Departments, and it should also be so in other fields. I am anxious not to bring in a new type of obligation affecting catchment boards or pollution authorities in a Bill which is dealing with only a very limited field, namely, water supply in rural localities. The whole question is a wide one and of a kind which ought to be dealt with comprehensively in later legislation setting up river boards and dealing with other matters foreshadowed in the White Paper. I ought to say a word about both types of authority, although they are sometimes coincident. It is accepted that they will all be amalgamated in the future river boards.

Land drainage authorities are to a large extent, if not entirely, protected by the existing law. Local authorities are not getting under this Bill any additional powers for the carrying out of works beyond what they have already under the Public Health Act, 1936. With regard to works on the laying and maintenance of mains, the powers and duties of local authorities under the Public Health Act are the same in the matter of notifying boards as they are with regard to sewers. We have to look at Part II of the Act to see what their responsibility is with regard to sewers. Wherever there is to be constructed a sewer, which will interfere with any water-course or works belonging to or under the control of a land drainage authority, they, must give notice of their proposals to that authority. The drainage authority has a right to object to the works within 28 days, and the local authority cannot proceed with what it is doing unless either the objections are withdrawn or the Minister of Health has given instructions for a local inquiry and the proposals have been approved in their original form or with modifications.

So if there is going to be any interference with water-courses or works in which catchment boards are interested, the existing law provides for the sort of case which the Amendment proposes to bring in. So far as information is concerned, of course we have already seen that the Department is to have an opportunity of making its observations. I myself, through my officers, will review the schemes. I am reluctant to complicate the matter still further by bringing in any other authority. My advice to the Committee is that it is not really essential.

Perhaps I might pass on to the next authority, described in the Amendment as the pollution authority, but perhaps more properly called the pollution prevention authority. At present there is no obligation to notify pollution prevention authorities about water supply schemes, so this is a new proposal involving an addition to the obligations of the local authorities. The whole question of pollution, effluents and so forth is a matter which we are under an undertaking to bring before the House in a comprehensive form, when the proposal for the river boards is brought into legislative form. I fear that I must advise the Committee that it would be better to leave the question of pollution out of this Bill, with its limited purpose, and to reserve it for full consideration, not only with regard to rural localities but industrial localities, which are much more important in this connection, until we deal with the whole matter of pollution in that legislation. For those reasons I must advise the Committee not to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Gallacher

I quite agree with the Minister that it is undesirable to complicate the position of any of the authorities by having too many counsels before a scheme is started upon, but the Minister, having satisfied my mind on that point, then presented a long argument which I think would have been better omitted, because it has started doubts. He says that if a scheme is prepared which is going to cut across existing water undertakings, the catchment board has a right, in the law as it stands, to make an objection within 28 days. That is not a desirable situation. What is proposed in the Amendment is that before a scheme is started there should be some consultation and understanding, so that the matter can never get to a stage after the scheme is prepared in which the catchment board has to consider an objection, and after the objection is put in there should be all kinds of arguments and discussions. The Minister should take power to enable him, when schemes are being considered, to decide whether particular consultations are necessary, and to order such consultations if he considers them necessary.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

I take the same view of the matter as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I am partly satisfied with the Minister's explanation, but when he tenders us certain advice as to catchment boards and other authorities being able to raise objections and hold up a scheme, I have fears on the point raised by the Minister. I would like an answer to the case of an authority I know of, which concerns itself with sewage at the moment, the Thames Con- servancy Board, a mighty powerful body. It can, indeed, handicap local authorities, however good their intentions may be. Does the Minister suggest to the Committee that, in the case of rural areas adjoining the Thames Conservancy Board, the Board can hold up any development such as a local authority may be so well intentioned as to wish to carry out? I am deeply concerned.

There is another case in the Don Valley. There is the Don Drainage Board and the catchment board for that area. I should be very hesitant about that position. I do not feel at all convinced. I think the Minister is entitled to ask the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw his Amendment, but he ought to give us the assurance that no further handicaps will be put upon local authorities than already exist—in fact, we want them removed if at all possible. That is especially true when we look at an area which is not far from that of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) in the Don Valley division. I believe there are something like 400 residents in the district, and 75 per cent. of the houses have not a water supply to-clay, and that is within 10 miles of Doncaster. I visited the village a few days ago in connection with the "Salute the Soldier campaign, and I was told that the only reason why a water supply has not been laid down is that the local authorities cannot agree among themselves. We want more agreement and fewer handicaps and we do not want any more authorities than exist at present interfering with the good intentions of a local authority whose duty it is to supply water. We want as many handicaps removed as is possible. I would like that assurance from the Minister.

Mr. Willink

The objective indicated by my hon. Friend is entirely mine, but we must appreciate that there are conflicting interests—I do not mean the interests of drainage, water supply and one thing and another—that have to be weighed up. This small Bill was not, I think the Committee will agree, meant to be an occasion for what might be termed a controversial review of the machinery under the Public Health Act. We do nothing to reduce the number of authorities, both in the field of water undertakings and drainage, so that the type of case to which my hon. Friend refers will not arise so frequently in the future. There will be cases, particularly with such an eminent authority as the Thames Conservancy Board, where it would be right and proper to see whether they have observations to make upon a particular scheme. There will be time for that to be done. I still feel that the advice I gave to the Committee was right, that the new obligation sought by the Amendment should not be brought in on this Bill. I shall do my best to see that the red tape and the knots are cut, in approaching the proposals of the local authorities, because we want to get on with all schemes arising out of this Bill as soon as labour and materials are available.

Lieut.-Colonel Heneage

An hon. Member said what a good thing it would be if catchment boards were consulted prior to any scheme being brought in, so that the knowledge available would be at the disposal of the local authorities before and during the time of the making of the scheme. It is the object of the Amendment to draw attention to the fact that very often knowledge is available to catchment boards, although not in every case, and it is available to the local authorities. It would be a help to them in deciding upon a rural water supply. I am interested in catchment boards doing all they can to promote inter-communication between each other and local authorities in regard to water supply. I hope the Committee will realise that that is our intention. Anyhow, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Beatrice Wright

I beg to move, in page 3, line 33, at the end, to insert: (2) In determining the priority between schemes necessary to carry out this obligation local authorities shall first consider the areas where no piped supply exists. There are, I gather, lying on the Ministerial table at this moment, a number of schemes awaiting the necessary funds, but they will not necessarily be schemes from the less enterprising or more deserving areas, the areas where there is no piped water supply. This is caused usually by one of two thing: the fact that it is extremely costly to supply water, or secondly, lack of enterprise in the local authority. There is also to be added friction between one local authority and another. If the Bill is really intended to bring to the most needy of rural authorities an adequate water supply, surely priority must be given to schemes which provide for the cases which are most needy. I hope the Minister will see his way to accept the Amendment.

Dr. Peters

I support what my hon. Friend has said, but I am in very great doubt as to how far we are going to get on with water supply. To my knowledge, two or three villages have already been turned down, largely on the ground of the lack of labour and materials, but I can tell the Minister that the labour and materials are there. In my own village the thing can be done at considerably less cost than is estimated. I want to know why a local authority cannot be given power to go to a firm willing to carry a pipe line to a place which has had to cart water for years, and also get a grant. I have a letter to my local authority giving a reason for the turning down of a scheme. It is signed by a gentleman of the name of G. J. Wild. So far as my local authority is concerned I think the Minister is on a wild goose chase. We do not seem to be able to get any authority to do anything. We want standpipes as a war-time measure, and we asked whether that would be capable of attracting grants, but we were told, "No. No grant will be payable either now or after the war." Why is that? Why cannot a grant be paid now or after the war? Are we to get any of these schemes put through during the war, or are we to wait five years before we get anything done? Are these villagers still to go on carting water for miles?

Let the right hon. Gentleman face the facts. I live in one of these villages. I have a very good water supply, so that the question does not affect me personally, but it affects other people. I am getting more than faint-hearted about this matter, I am getting very worried when I know that these little villages are suffering. We want to see a scheme put in operation now to bring water to those houses and cottages. I support the Amendment. Surely there ought to be schemes where there are no pipes at all. I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment, and will receive the deputation of local authorities, and that he will not tell them the things that I have referred to in the correspondence. That would not get us anywhere. If the Minister is going to deal with a lot of localities in the way he has dealt with those small areas, then this Bill will not be worth the paper it is written on, and the time of this Committee will have been entirely wasted.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

I want briefly to support this Amendment, because the necessity for priority is very clear in waterless areas. I ask the Minister, in his reply, to let us have a rigid and clear reason why this priority cannot be granted, and then it may be possible to do something in the interval until the water can be supplied. Therefore, I ask the Minister to make it perfectly clear, if priority cannot be given, what these waterless areas should do now.

Mr. Gallacher

I want to say a word in support of this Amendment. I know many villages—there are one or two in my area—where water has to be carried, and it is terrible, in times like these, to see people, day and night, having to go long distances in order to bring a supply of water to the house. I remember one or two occasions in recent years when I went camping. In the evening, when I sometimes felt like lying back and having a sleep, a slave-driver ordered me away for a couple of buckets of water, and I had to travel 300 or 400 yards to get it. I realised then what some of those people in the villages have to put up with. It is not enough to give priority where there is not an undertaking to supply water; it is not enough to have an Amendment of this character; if we are to get this problem effectively dealt with, we must have the grant taken out of the hands of the landowners, the supplying of water taken out of the hands of private enterprise and Tories taken off local authorities.

Miss Horsbrugh

I think I shall probably be out of Order if I follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) in the interesting political debate which he started. The point before us is whether these words should be inserted: In determining the priority between schemes necessary to carry out this obligation local authorities shall first consider the areas where no piped supply exists. We are in agreement with the spirit of this Amendment, and we believe that what it asks can be done by administrative action, but I would ask hon. Members to consider again—as we asked them to do on one or two other suggested Amend- ments—whether, if these words are put into the Bill, we would not have further difficulties and restrictions in working the scheme. For instance, suppose there was an area where you could get effective plan-ping by considering a comprehensive scheme covering both an unpiped and a piped area—if these words were inserted that could not be done.

Mr. Gallacher

That could not be done?

Miss Horsbrugh

That could not be done, because you could only deal with the area that had no piped supply and you could not deal with an area which only wanted an improved supply, because the first area would have to take priority.

Mr. Gallacher

You could do them together.

Miss Horsbrugh

Exactly. The hon. Member says, "Do, them together." That is exactly what we want to do, but, if this Amendment were accepted and these words were put into the Bill, we would not be able to do them together. It would he wiser, under conditions like that, to do them together, and the lion. Member for West Fife will see that that is the reason why we are asking the Committee not to accept this Amendment which restricts the scheme. I have already given an assurance, which I would like to give to the hon. Lady who moved this Amendment, that we believe that this can be done by administrative action. We agree with the spirit of the Amendment, but we think that if these words were put in they would create restrictions which hon. Members would find would make difficulties when we come to plan for a particular area.

Mr. Gallacher

If a scheme is prepared, the question of priority does not arise at all. If a scheme were proposed for a piped area and another scheme for a non-piped area then it would arise, but these words could not possibly affect the question of a scheme that covered a piped and un-piped area.

Miss Horsbrugh

I disagree with the hon. Member. If he will study the words of the Amendment he will see that it is exactly because of the difficulties of planning that we want to have a comprehensive scheme. If we accepted the Amendment we should not have a comprehensive scheme. We all want to get on with a scheme which will supply water where it is needed. We are in agreement on that, but we believe that it can best be attained by administrative action. I hope the Committee will agree to leave out these words, so that we may get on as quickly as possible with supplying water to those areas where there is no piped supply at the moment.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

I want to support the Amendment, but, to begin with, I would say a word against it. We hear claims made for a supply of water to villages. Local authorities have been in operation for I do not know how many years and representatives come to this Committee to-day and tell us that they have villages where there is not a drop of water. I suggest that the local authorities bear a large share of the responsibility for that, and the purpose of this Amendment would appear to be that local authorities who have spent none of their own money whatever in bringing water to their areas should now be able to say that they must have priority because they have neglected their villages in the past. I say that that would reduce this Bill to absolute nonsense.

Dr. Peters

I do not think we should accept the statement quite as my hon. Friend puts it. The reason why many of these poor local authorities have not been able to get on with any scheme is that there would have been a great increase in the rates, which the local people would not be able to pay.

Mr. Sloan

I have every sympathy with local authorities who have been unable to bear the necessary cost, but there are many local authorities which could have done this work and have failed to stand up to the cost. While it is true there is money provided in this Bill, it is not an unlimited pool from which to draw. I imagine that if there should be a priority for authorities which have no piped supply the position would be very carefully examined, and they would only draw out of this pool a sum in accord with what they might reasonably have been expected to spend themselves in providing water. I know of villages where the difficulties of providing water have been great, and every sympathy should be shown, but I think the Bill is better as it stands than with the proposed Amendment, which would definitely tie the hands of the Department to give priority to local authorities which were quite competent to do a great deal of the work themselves in the past.

Mrs. Wright

In view of the assurance given to us by the hon. Lady, and because I believe, like many other Members, that the Department and the Ministry of Health really desire to see these rural areas supplied with water as soon as possible, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.