§ Every local authority and every statutory or private water undertaker shall furnish to the Minister such information or statistics relating to water supplies or distribution as the Minister may require either to determine the contribution he will make towards expenses incurred by the Council of any borough or urban or rural district, or by a joint board or joint committee, or for such other purposes as he may think fit.—[Mr. David Eccles.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.]1600
§ Mr. David Eccles
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time".
This Clause is designed to give the Minister power to secure information and statistics regarding water. The Committee will remember that, in the course of the Minister's speech on Second Reading, he used these words:What we intend this Bill to encourage is the drawing up of schemes now by the local authorities, who can be confident that they will not be frustrated by lack of means."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1944; Vol. 400, C. 370.]To be thoroughly good, a scheme must be based on all the relevant information. As things are at present, it is not possible to call on all those who have information and statistics about water resources and distribution to divulge. In putting down this Clause, my hon. Friends and I seek only to add power to the Minister's elbow. We have two distinct purposes. The first is that a rural scheme, however small, should not be passed if all the relevant information is not in the possession of the Minister. This is a real difficulty. I wish to read a short extract from a letter from an official of a local authority, on this point:I have been corresponding with a water company about the local shortage for nearly 40 years, and even now I cannot say definitely whether it is due to one of the four following causes"—Then he enumerates four reasons why the water supply may be bad, and goes on:There ought to be some definite power in the Minister to compel a limited liability company to provide detailed information on all such matters as these.If a local authority needs that power for a very small scheme, how much more is it needed for the comprehensive schemes which the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary referred to when she was rejecting the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Wright), just now. That is the first reason why we think that this power to get statistics is necessary. Secondly, the Minister promised, in his speech on the White Paper, to push ahead with the Inland Water Survey in: order to gather all the information of a background nature regarding water. He said on that occasion:First we need to build up and to have a far larger body of information about the yield and the quality of our water resources. For that, as the Paper indicates, the main instru- 1601 ment will be the Inland Water Survey, whose operations have necessarily been restricted, but which we wish to press on with at the earliest possible date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1342.]The White Paper itself says that, to get on with the work of the Survey, statistics of various kinds, from all substantial users of water, will be needed. Both because of the specific local schemes for bringing water to rural areas, and in order that the Minister may be able to press on, as he promised, with the work of the Inland Survey, I hope that he will accept this Clause. We cannot do much in carrying out schemes while man-power and materials are short, but we can get on with the planning. There seems to be no purpose in this Bill unless the Minister takes all possible steps to press on with plans, so that everything is ready for execution the moment the labour and the materials are available.
§ Mr. Willink
It is a very great satisfaction to me, that I am supported by my hon. Friend in this matter of information. I stressed, in my speech on the Second Reading of this Bill, the importance which I attached to the speedy development of all our information services with regard to water, both underground and otherwise. But I am bound to say that, in a Bill of this limited range, for the extension of piped supplies and sewerage in rural localities only, I am not sure that it, would not be quite beyond the scope of the Bill that I should collaborate with my hon. Friend in seeking to have inserted such wide powers as these, under which I could ask anybody for anything for any purpose, because that is really what the new Clause amounts to.
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, relating to water supply. It will be necessary, in the major legislation, which I hope is not too far distant, to have very full provision with regard to the maintenance of records and statistics and the obtaining of information. Over the greater part of the country there is already provision for my obtaining information and statistics from local authorities under the Local Government Act of 1933. I do not think it would be right to import into this limited Bill a matter which would clearly require full consideration of the type of records to be kept, the type of statistics to be maintained and the type of information for which I should 1602 ask. I welcome the interest of my hon. Friends in this subject, but I cannot advise the Committee to accept the new Clause.
§ Mr. Eccles
May I ask the Minister how long we have got to wait for these general powers, because he admits that we need this information in order to make the schemes? The Minister says he does not want to take the powers now. Have we got to wait until next Session? I ask because, in the meantime, some of us want to get on with the work of preparing the schemes, and we feel that, if the Minister took the powers now, he would only use them in order to extract information from statutory undertakings.
§ Mr. Willink
I think that, except in most rare cases, there should be no difficulty in preparing plans for these rural schemes now. We have, in spite of war circumstances, been increasing our information very widely, but if my hon. Friend has any difficulty about a particular scheme in which he or his constituents are interested, I hope he will let me know and we will do all we possibly can to help. It is intended that the major legislation should be prepared with the least possible delay.
§ Mr. Eccles
I regret that we cannot get this Clause, which I believe is necessary in certain areas, but, in view of the chance of major legislation coming fairly soon, I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.