HC Deb 08 June 1944 vol 400 cc1607-10

In cases where in order to carry out the obligations imposed upon it under section three of this Act any local authority operates through the agency of any privately-owned water supply undertaker and monies provided by the Minister or by any county, borough, urban district or rural district council, are paid to such undertaker towards defraying the cost of piping and other work involved, the total amount of public monies so provided shall be deducted from the valuation of the water supply service owned by the undertaker in the event of its being taken over at any subsequent date by any public authority.—[Mr. A. Walkden.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. A. Walkden

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I believe this will be a very valuable Clause if the Minister will accept it and put it into operation. This is in the general public interest, in the interest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the county councils and all the public authorities who may find sums of money for this water supply. As far as we can understand it, the scheme provided in this Bill involves the taking of pipes from existing supplies some distance further—it may be a matter of yards, or hundreds of yards, or a mile, or several miles. That piping is going to be provided with public money, firstly, with the appreciable grant of the Treasury, supplemented by the county council grants, and I suppose other local authorities will be asked to provide money. In the 1934 Act we had £1,000,000 provided by the Treasury which drew £5,000,000 more from the other authorities, so that if this £7,000,000 goes to water or sewerage that will be £35,000,000 of public money going into these pipes, many of which are owned by private undertakings, and will improve the value of their properties. The day will surely come, and I believe it will come during the term of the present Minister of Health, when the appropriate public authority will have to take over all these public services in regard to water. Water ought never to be a private service; it is so vital to everybody that it ought to be a public obligation—indeed, that is the principle of this Measure—but we are leaving it still in private hands, and the millions that are to be spent will appreciate the value of their property.

The purpose of this Clause is to ensure that public money shall belong to the public, and, when public ownership is instituted, we shall not pay over again for the money given to the private under- takings. I think that is in every way desirable, and the Treasury Bench should welcome it as a good principle, always to be borne in mind, that where assistance is given to a private undertaking, the cost of it should be earmarked for the community in the event of any further development taking place in a more enlightened period of progress.

Mr. Willink

I am bound to advise the Committee that in my view a Clause of this kind—apart from any detail in it—would find a most inappropriate place in this small Bill, the objects of which we know by now. It would really he most inappropriate for a general provision with regard to valuation of undertakings or compulsory amalgamation to be found in this Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Bill. It is the kind of question which will obviously come up for close and careful discussion on the major Bill, where we shall find provision made for compulsory amalgamation and matters of that kind, not only in rural localities but in all localities. This, really, is quite the wrong place for such a provision. I do not propose to delay the Committee by going into details on the proposed new Clause, but one difficulty is that it is not likely to be the case that the value of an undertaking will be swelled by the precise amount of the grant or of the rates that are expended on any part of it. The original capital cost is not usually the basis of valuation of an undertaking which is taken over. So, both on one detail of the Clause and on the general consideration that—as I myself feel confident—the proper place for any provision with reward to valuation is in a Bill dealing with the procedure for acquisition, and not a Bill which is primarily a grant Bill, I must advise the Committee not to accept the new Clause.

Mr. A. Walkden

Again I am very disappointed and surprised. The principle is so public-spirited and right-minded that I cannot understand it not being welcomed. It is entirely fair and square. The Minister says we are not giving anything to the private undertakings, but we are. We are giving the water undertakings pipes. They are selling water, and they do not take it to X because it is too far away and they say they cannot afford the piping. There are many cases where they could afford it, where they are paying a high dividend, but they will not afford it because they work for profit, and not for public service. We give them some pipes and they pay for them to be put in, and then they can sell the water some distance away at the public expense.

Mr. Willink

I think my hon. Friend misunderstands the position. He spoke as though the Exchequer would give pipes to private water undertakers, but they will not do anything of the sort. They will give grants to local authorities.

Mr. A. Walkden

Yes, but the Minister knows that in giving money to local authorities water cannot be provided where it is needed except through private undertakers, of which there are over 1,000. It is wrong not to earmark the cost so that when these undertakings come to be taken over the money will be safeguarded. I ask the Minister to give the matter his further consideration. Perhaps we can debate it more thoroughly when his larger Bill comes in which, I suppose, will be next Session.

Mr. Willink

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Walkden

Perhaps the Minister will then put into that Bill words which are more suitable than mine, but which will give effect to the spirit of my new Clause.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.